Thursday, March 27, 2008


"Mama, a FIRE!" yelled Demi as she peered out the kitchen window. I stumbled out the back door into the early morning fog, my brain itself still foggy from a night's sleep and not even a half a cup of coffee. My first thought was: the horses.

The fire turned out to be a giant bonfire lit with the blessings of a Sonoma County burn permit. The culprits my hay-growing neighbors, who plucked the last of the beautiful 100-year-old walnut trees out of the earth last fall in a quest to squeeze another 10 bales of oat hay out of the field.

The sad remains of the much-loved old walnut trees sat in piles along our property line all winter, looking like brave but fallen soldiers. On Tuesday, they were set ablaze, just 100 feet from our barn.

The horses went mad as they watched the giant burn pile, with flames licking 30 feet into the sky. I could see the flames from the house. The way they reached up behind my barns, it looked as if all of Watermark Farm was on fire.

Early morning, and I was running around in my pajamas, sans the famous orange down coat. I was cold, and bra-less, and I am sure that the sight of me, --- really angry, breasts flapping freely with every long running step, tangled brown hair pinned wildly on top my head --- is still being discussed in circles of walnut tree murders and professional arsons.

"Do you have a permit for.....this?" I screamed and gasped at them. "Do you have any idea how frightened my horses are? The damage this could cause?"

The arsons blinked at me wordlessly.

I calmed the horses and moved a few into stalls without a view of the fire. I threw them some hay to distract them before running into the house to put in a venomous phone call to the hay farmer. There is right and then there is courtesy. They have a right to a permitted burn, but courtesy would dictate an advance phone call to me. The hay farmer apologizes profusely enough that I feel like a bit of a jerk.

I stood on the back porch a moment later, watching the horses, who seemed to have settled down and, for the most part, were ignoring the flaming pile in favor of their breakfast.

All except Argus, who had a nice view from his pasture (where he now spends most nights). Argus was standing with his friend Half Pint, who seemed to be taking it all in stride. Argus was not afraid, or even agitated.

He was excited. Not a bad, run-through-the-fence kind of excited, but a delighted "this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me!" kind of excited. He was wide-eyed, and happy! Fire!! Men skulking around it!! A huge backhoe standing at the ready! His dog-tired foster mom flapping and squawking her way through the barnyard! "This is so wonderful!" you could almost hear him say, "I've always loved watching fires!"

Argus stood and looked at that fire for several hours, hardly moving. I carried his breakfast to him, but his interest in eating was limited to the occasional bored bite.

The smoke filled the air. It was terrible. The other horses headed for the pasture furthest away from the fire.

Argus stood like a statue, watching happily, pressed against the comforting cold steel rails of the pipe pens.


Anonymous said...

What a strange and wonderful horse he is. I would take him if I could, he'd fit right in here.

Anonymous said...

That must have been scary to have fire that close to your barn. Argus sounds like he has quite the personality.

Anonymous said...

Has there been any progress on freeing Argus' sister from her prison?

Argus' foster mom... said...


Argus' sister and her three companions are still in prison. They are being monitored but it's a frustrating situation. If you live in the Northern California/Sonoma County area and want to help, please e-mail me privately at

Anonymous said...

I would be scared too, that would be way too close for comfort.

What a curious boy Argus is. Reminds of Ink, always interested in whats going on. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Katie - He is just the BOMB, isn't he? And it tickles me no end that he is friends with Half Pint. I adore thoroughbreds and drafts, and if I recall correctly, Half Pint is larger than the average - half pint! - With love to you and yours for helping him, and please, please, please give Argus a special skritch behind the ears, or pat on the shoulder, from his adoring fans in Seaside. - Jean

Anonymous said...

I would have freaked out too had I saw a large fire and smoke near my horses.

I'm glad everything turned out ok.

At least Argus enjoyed it all. I think most horses would have spooked looking at a fire. Argus is a very unique horse.


Schnitzie said...

Argus is simply extraordinary. Perhaps in all those years of imprisonment, the occasional outbreak of forest fires in the distance were one of those things that kept his mind occupied and saved our beautiful boy's sanity.

I too would have been outraged by the starting of a fire so close to your home and horses. With no notice? That is not just a courtesy, that is a safety measure. Permission from the local authorities ought to *require* providing written proof of notice to adjacent neighbors.

If any of your horses had spooked, you could have had a disaster on your hands. You had every reason to believe Argus would have been especially vulnerable.

That he was mesmerized instead was just another of those lucky and mysterious miracles he doles out so generously.

Many blessings on you.

Schnitzie said...

Question: How is Argus' weight? Any idea how much he has gained? How is his muscle tone?

Thank you again for taking such marvelous care of him.

Argus' foster mom... said...

Question: How is Argus' weight? Any idea how much he has gained? How is his muscle tone?

Argus has gained some weight and a ton of muscle tone. The weight gain has not been dramatic. Argus is not your garden variety neglect case, so we don't quite know what to expect, long-term. What effects does it have to feed a horse so poorly and restrict its natural movement? Malnourishment, orthopedic issues, lots of things. My experience with rehabbing starved and malnourished horses is that it takes a solid 10-12 months to see where you will end up, sometimes 24 months. I will post pictures of another resident rescue here at the farm, "Angel," so you can see the amazing difference over the course of a year. It took a solid year, though.

I am hoping that with 24/7 turnout now, we will see lots more muscle development in Argus. He has come a long way, but he still has a long way to go, and even then, this is a horse that will never be physically 100% normal. (Shhhh! Don't tell him that!)

Schnitzie said...

Thank you so much for the detailed answer on Argus' muscle tone! I am so thrilled to hear that he is "bulking up" in a healthy way.

Thank you, also, for the offer to post pics of Angel's development. It will be wonderful to see the stages of the transformation.

I'm not even a horse person -- I rehab shelter cats in NYC -- but I am learning so much! In May, I will be traveling to Seattle and Vancouver to visit friends with rescued mini-horses and Haflingers. They are the ones who turned me on to your blog. They're gonna make me ride a horsie!

Argus will be my inspiration to take on a new challenge -- despite my fear!

tina FCD said...

You should write a book! I thought that's a very exciting novel...:)

Callie said...

I agree on the curtisy call. Good grief! Bless Argus, to seemingly enjoy it all!

Anonymous said...

I've been following the story of Argus, during lulls in the work day. First off, thank you for rescuing such a wonderful animal! A friend of mine rescued a warmblood from 5 years of stall 'prison', and he became a great eventer in this region. He was still young, and the atrophied muscles got strong quickly.

Second, Argus sounds like he has SUCH a personality! I'm amazed that the fire didn't scare him!

kyryah said...

I am getting REALLY anxious to hear more about Argus and his buddies!

I hope that you have not been posting because you are currently negotiating your first writing contract :)

Anonymous said...

You are so funny - I often go bra-less, but never have to run frantically to check out a fire - what a wonderful writer!