Continued from Married with Horses: The Waiting Game
"She's doing well," said Mandy's doctor. "The condition of her eye hasn't changed much, but she's been eating and going to the bathroom normally."
"Mandy has a bathroom?" I asked
"So, I'll hear from you tomorrow unless anything unusual happens?" I revised.
Mandy seemed to be enjoying her stay at North Carolina State University's (NCSU) vet hospital. If a North Carolina horse needs an eye taken care of, NCSU is a great place. Mandy's fungus-infected eye was getting a medicated wash every two hours, and she was receiving regular and effective pain medication. The situation was probably as good as it could have been.
Kimberly had returned home from her grandfather's funeral and, after a full night's sleep, had recovered nicely from three day's worth of driving and visiting family. She had just left to run an errand when she called my phone.
"I'm about a half mile from the house. I think I just drove past Jack and Claudia on the side of the road holding a horse and talking with a couple of sheriff's deputies. It was a bay horse. Could you make sure Vander's in his stall?"
"Sure," I replied.
Vander was asleep in his stall when I entered the barn. He was covered in shavings. Vander raised his head a few inches and squinted at me. Ellie was standing in front of her fan with her eyes closed. I called Kimberly back.
"A-OK on the stall check," I said. "Was it one of their horses?"
"I don't think so," Kimberly responded. "Maybe someone else's horse got loose."
"I'll call them and see if they need any help," I said.
Jack answered Claudia's phone and explained what happened. Claudia was on her way to the store when she saw the bay horse trotting down the middle of the road. When Claudia pulled over, the horse made a bee-line for a nearby field with an open gate. She waited with the horse until Jack arrived with a halter and lead line. Someone else had apparently seen the horse, too, and called the sheriff's office. The deputies arrived shortly after Jack.
"She's a sweet horse," said Jack. "She came right up to us. She's got a pretty good cut on one leg and seems a little thirsty. Claudia stopped at every horse property around here and no one seems to be missing a mare."
Kimberly said horses won't usually stray far from home--especially not if there are other horses and a feed bucket. The mare's cut wasn't fresh, suggesting she had been out at least a few hours. Whatever the mare's story, she wasn't talking. Maybe she didn't want to go back.
Our county has more livestock than you can shake a stick at, but surprisingly, neither animal control, nor the sheriff's office had a place to hold large animals. The deputy who usually takes in the oversized strays was out of town. The city's mounted police patrol lives nearby, but she was at full capacity on her farm. Besides, nobody had a separate pasture where the mare could be held apart from the other horses. Without an immediate vet exam, who knows what cooties the mare might have picked up?
"We could put her in our front pasture over here," I said to Jack.
We had started fencing in our pastures on the west side of our property. We'd enclosed about two acres with no-climb fencing, though we had yet to put up the top rails. I figured Vander and Ellie could go out in the new pasture, and New Horse could have her own acre-and-a-half out front. I hung up with Jack and called Kimberly.
"That horse you saw..." I said, pausing.
"Yeah?" Kimberly responded.
"She's coming for a visit." I said. "The county doesn't have anywhere to hold her, and Jack and Claudia don't have a good option to keep her separated from their gang. I suggested we put her out front at our place."
Kimberly arrived home just before Claudia's car pulled into our driveway and Jack walked up with the mare. We hosed off her cut and put some ointment on it before leading her to the pasture. We had to use some treats to get her over to the freshly-filled water trough. She spooked at it, nearly pulling Jack across the pasture. She acted like she'd never seen a trough before. Jack continued speaking calmly and coaxing her with the treats. (Kimberly does the same thing with me when I spook.) Eventually, Jack got the mare to drink from the trough. Now that she knew where her water was we could let her graze. The gates and fencing were secure, and we had plenty of grass. Hopefully, New Horse might stick around long enough for us to find her owner and get her home.
New Horse wasn't the first wandering animal to find us. We've housed our share of wayward canines and felines. Typically, after a few days we locate the distraught owner who arrives teary-eyed to reunite with the long-lost pet. Granted, I'd never before heard of a "stray horse," but having a large, four-legged visitor didn't seem strange at all. Since our lives revolve around horses, I think I've started assuming that everyone else's lives do, too. I think I've also started assuming that it's normal to smell like a horse and have shavings or pony poop on your clothes. But not everyone has horses, shavings or pony poop, and it really isn't normal to find a horse just running down the road.
Fortunately, I could bring home about any animal without Kimberly getting upset. All of our animals are rescues, though let me say not a one of them was my fault. OK, I may have been complicit in a few of the "adoptions," but not solely responsible. I figure I'm saving my "Honey, he just followed me home" routine for when I really need it.
New Horse was a little skinny, with a knotted mane and bad feet. Jack was coming back later to trim her hooves. Her mild neglect made me think that she might belong to the dirt farm on the next road. They had a lot of muddy, overgrazed pasture filled with goats, llamas and a few horses. The animals were outside, storm or shine, and they always looked a little underfed and rain-rotted. Claudia had visited the farmhouse during her search for the mare's owner and told us about the conversation.
"It could be one of our horses," said the woman who stood in the doorway with a young girl, "but I ain't really sure."
"Daddy's the one who feeds 'em," said the girl.
"Well, are you missing a horse?" asked one of the deputies.
"No! It ain't one'a ours!" boomed a portly man, marching down the hallway toward the front door. "Our brown horse ain't escaped, an' besides, he's ain't a mare!"
The man's indignant response was likely due to the fact that the authorities had been called to his place several times because his animals looked malnourished. None had been seized, but the farm had spent most of the past year being closely watched.
The deputies canvassed the neighborhood looking for the mare's owner, but with no success. Door hangers had been left at the houses where no one was home, and the deputies had Claudia's and my cell phone numbers.
"Surely the owner will get home tonight, see their horse is gone and call the sheriff's office," remarked Kimberly.
"The owners could be out of town, or maybe they only check on their horses on Saturdays... who knows?" I responded. "And stop calling me 'Shirley.'"
I laughed, but Kimberly just stared blankly at me. Oh well. At least she usually thinks I'm funny.
That night we fed Vander, Ellie and New Horse--separately, of course. New Horse was very friendly. We stood with her until sunset, feeding her pieces of some pears we picked from one of our trees. She seemed to enjoy the snacks and the attention. By nightfall, we still hadn't heard anything from the deputies. I don't know what the county--or the mare--would have done if Claudia and Jack hadn't come along. But they did come along, and the mare was safe.
We can always count on horses to make life interesting. I could have written a column titled "Married with Geckos" or "Married with Chinchillas," but I think the adventures would have run out a long time ago.
For so many reasons, thank goodness for horses.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section, and share your comments in the forum.