Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Argus Takes A Real Nap

On Monday morning, I headed down the driveway with a carload of kids. Far away, at the edge of Neighbor Jim's pasture, stood two horses. At their feet in the soft dry grass were two large lumps, one white and one tan.

"Oh look," I said, "Odie and Ridge are taking a morning nap." I squinted my eyes and noticed that the gray horse standing had a full-length tail. It was Ridge.

I slammed on the brakes. It was as if I'd been hit with an electric bolt. "Did you see that? The tail?" I demanded. My poor confused children were asking me "Mom! What's wrong?" At this point, fat tears were already making their way down my face. A world record for crying.

The white horse sleeping in the grass was Argus.
Flat out.

Argus has lived here for more than 5 months, and in this time, I've never seen him lay down except to roll. I've seen signs that he's slept, but have been very concerned all along that he had somehow lost the ability to truly lie down and rest. Life in prison had robbed him of that. After all, it's scary to lay down in a 12 foot wide pen when you are afraid your stiff body will not let you get back up.

So back to the two sleeping lumps. Laying flat out in the pasture, obviously napping, Odie the mule and Argus were nestled in the tall grass, the only sign of life the occasional tail and ear flick. Half Pint and Ridge stood guard over them in a state of relaxed alertness. It was the way I had hoped Argus would learn to sleep --- as a horse does in nature with his herdmates to watch over him and sound the danger alarm.

Deep sleep happens even in horses, even though they are famous for sleeping standing up; to achieve deep, restful sleep (REM sleep) they must lay down. In fact, a well rested horse needs about 20-40 combined minutes of REM sleep in a 24 hour period. They do this in bits and pieces: 2 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Sure, they can go days, and, in Argus' case, months or years without adequate REM sleep, but a price is paid.

Argus is chronically tired, you can see it. He starts to collapse when he sleeps standing up. He will drift off, head sinking lower and lower, until his front legs buckle slightly and he wakes up again. He has chronic "bedsores" on his fetlocks from this. But now that I think of it, I haven't seen him do this in a while. Could it be that he's finally getting some REM sleep under cover of darkness, out in the pasture?

I felt proud of my horses Ridge, Half Pint, and Odie --- Argus' teachers ---- for showing him so many horse skills that he never learned, and that I could not possibly have taught him. They have taught him about body language, play, where to find the best grasses, how to flirt with a girl....and how to take a morning nap. They treat him with a patience and compassion that's unusual for horses. To these three geldings, who somehow seem to know that Argus is special in a way different from all others here at Watermark Farm, I extend my deepest gratitude. You are Argus' teachers, and you are my teachers, too.

I think I'll go take a nap now.


Mikey said...

That's so dang beautiful. I can see them now. Bless the other horses for making him feel comfortable enough to do that.
I have one here that left his lifelong (23 yrs) home in CO to come to us in AZ recently. His knees are so blown and knobby that the cold was killing him. He got here and I never saw evidence that he laid down for the first 6 months. I worried. I wasn't sure his knees made it possible for him to lay down, but was assured by his previous owners that he could indeed lay down.
Finally he's gotten comfortable enough to make his soft spot and I can tell by the blanket of white hair on the ground that he did sleep during the night.
Isn't it funny all the little things you worry about with horses?
I'm glad it wasn't too late for Argus. God Bless you for taking him and sharing it with us.

spotteddrafter said...

Oh, that's so hauntingly beautiful. Sitting hear with silent tears streaming down my face. God Bless you and your family.

Carolyn said...

Too bad you didn't have your camera!
That would have made everyone (including me) swoon to see Argus finally laydown during daylight hours.

you are doing a great thing for him and all the others you have rescued.
I wish I lived in CA so I could adopt him.

Anonymous said...

Katie, Thank you.

KD said...

That's wonderful news !

Susan said...

Wonderful that he finally feels comfortable enough to fully relax! I have a TB in the twilight of his life with some physical issues. Vet says as long as he can go down and get up again, we're fine so that is something I'm always watching.

Hearing about Argus' many strides forward does my heart good.

barrelracingmom said...

I am reading this at work and had to go to the bathroom to compose myself! Yay, Argus! I am so proud of his loyal teachers!

Jackie said...

Another great milestone for Argus in the journey to be a horse again!

I've been reading for several months now, and I've passed along an "I love your blog" award. I love what you are doing for Argus, and the beautiful way you share his story. Your blog is always educational, touching, and well written. Come over if you'd like to pick up the award.

Jess said...

that brings a smile to my face!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Katie - You deserve this, and so does that beautiful boy! Thank you, and thank Odie and Ridge and Half-Pint. And, let's not forget, thank Argus, for having more courage than any of us can even imagine, enough courage to believe in change. I, too, have to go wash my face now, after reading this at work... Oh, I'm SOOOOOOOOO happy!
With love - Jean in Seaside

barbara said...

Thank you for sharing this heart stopper moment. Thank you and the other horses for showing Argus that he can experience a good life. And, I agree with other writers, that Argus has such very courageous heart and kind soul - lesson for all.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing moment to witness; and for Argus, a timeless ritual he was deprived of. I check in everyday to see what Argus has learned and what he is doing.

God bless you, Ridge, Half-Pint and Odie for taking Argus under your wings and teaching him to fly.

Allison in Seattle

Paula said...

I stop here often to see how Argus is doing. It makes my heart happy to hear about him and see pictures of him embracing his new life.

Anonymous said...

He is safe, he is loved, He has friends who look after him, he is learning to truly be a horse. Bless this wonderful horse Argus!
Katie, as alway's your words brought tears to my eyes. Imagine what Argus would say if he could talk! I appreciate your ability to put what you feel in your heart into beautifully written words.
Bless all that you do for the horses.

Tinkerslady said...

I really hope you will reconsider and keep him so he never has to experience stress again a day in his life. He is so safe and warm and it does my heart good to read about his adventures. I have one I will never let go because I do not believe he would ever be safe. He is blind in one eye and has a fibrotic myopathy gait in his hind end. I got him at auction and he is the best trained horse I have ever owned. He is with me for life.

Anonymous said...

PLease please please publish your writings about Argus!
You write his story so eloquently. More people need to know his story through your words.

It's nice to cry tears of joy among the tears of pain, sorrow and fear.

Anonymous said...

That is so awesome! I come every weekend to check on Argus' progress (can't get on at work) and am amazed at every little step he takes in becoming a "normal" horse. Bless you and people like you who really care and do really GOOD work! You are truly one of Argus' angels.


PaintedPromise said...

thank God i am NOT at work... wow. wow Katie. wow!!!!! i can't stop the tears but they are happy tears. go Argus, you rock!!! Katie i agree, you should make this blog into a book... what an inspiration Argus is!!!

and bless those three boys for all their lessons...

Anonymous said...

Wow... beautiful... thank you for the latest amazing news on Argus.

Anonymous said...

My eyes are watering :-) after reading your description of the naptime. What a blessing you are to Argus, and also to us out here who read your words and come back for more. Thanks for taking the time to share your observations of this wonderful, ordinary life you have given to Argus.


mugwump said...

One of my biggest eye openers on how horrific life is for a stall bound horse was when I began conditioning a young horse for a client. She had just bought him and was planning on keeping him out on pasture with her other horses.
Starbucks was a six-year-old gelding that had lived in a stall since he was a long yearling.
He was in training so had regular riding, but no turn out.
Part of my job was to get him used to being in a herd environment.
When I was finally able to turn him out I was taken aback at what his choice of activity was.
He slept. Flat out, in the sun. For hours at a time, weeks on end.
It changed me as a trainer forever.

Cynthia said...


All your posts are incredible, but this one in particular got to me. It's comforting to know there are others out there that truly cherish every tiny step of progress with thier horses. My husband will never understand the obsession. When I look out and see my rescue horses, fat, shiny, happy and trusting, it means everything to me. It's time I come back over and give Argus a pat. You are doing such a super fantastic job with him and this blog!
Sonoma CA

RiderWriter said...

Although I've followed your blog for a long time, I have spent the entire afternoon re-reading each and every post from the beginning, and reminding myself of just why Argus is so special. And how much I love your writing!

I remember this post from the first time I saw it. Before you wrote about horses' need for REM sleep, lying down, I never knew about it. I'm glad that the Giant Warmblood I ride has a humongous stall where he can stretch out, plentiful turnout time, and a friend to watch over him. It makes me wonder all over again how miserable the lives of show horses who are NEVER allowed turnout must be...

Your journey with Argies is just as compelling the second time around. I may have to skip the part where he was so sick, though... I went around weeping off and on for a couple weeks every time I thought about him and his battle with pigeon fever.

All along I hoped and prayed you would keep him, and when I get to the post where you announce that you are, in fact, never letting him go - well, I'd better plan not to be at work because I know I cried buckets that day. It gives me the greatest pleasure to think of him spending his days peacefully with you now. Continued blessings on you and your (human and equine) family!