Friday, October 17, 2008

Katie Gets Her Day In Court

Do you live in Sonoma County? Do you have time to attend part of a trial next week? The trial "People v. Barrera & Valencia" is scheduled to start Monday, October 20. Salvador Barrera and Laura Leticia Valencia have been charged with felony animal cruelty. They are accused of starving three horses, one of whom died.

Katie, who has been profiled in earlier blog entries, was one of their horses. She survived by eating tree bark and her own feces.

Please visit the Sonoma CHANGE Program legal message board for trial schedule and details. If you live in the area and can attend, they'd love to have you. Filling up the courtroom sends the message to everyone that animal abuse will not be tolerated, and it will not be kept secret.

Thank you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Fourth Season

FALL IS HERE, ushered in by crisp nights and warm days and the first Canada geese to arrive, jet lagged and relieved, for their winter lodging. The stately old flowering pear tree's green crown is polka-dotted with gold and crimson leaves. Soon, it will be a fiery mass of red standing alone near the farm's entrance, ushering in another season with a joyful shout.

As summer slides into a casual California autumn, the horses wind down. Once sleek, they take on a fuzzy quality, silhouettes soft against the kind of fantastic jack-o-lantern sunsets that only October can bring. Sensing the change, the pasture residents wander in earlier in the afternoon, nosing about their feed boxes for scraps of hay and looking wistfully toward the warm box stalls in the barn. Andy the goat assists them, opening paddock gate latches with his prehensile lips, putting himself away with his best friend, Half Pint.

Argus is entering his fourth season of freedom, bringing full-circle the happiest year of his life. It's his first fall out in the world, and he's having so much fun. His life in prison came with a good view of a quaint rural valley dotted with cottages and trees, and Argus became an observer. His name, after all, means "watchful." Now Argus is a participant; he rarely raises his head to look for things in the distance now. He's a real horse, head down low to the earth, sharing grazing rights to the last of the summer grass with migrating birds, his three equine siblings, and a goat that thinks he's a horse. Last week, our first rain awakened sleepy seeds, and now fragile emerald green baby blades of grass peek out from the earth and reach for the sky. The horses are delighted with this sweet and unexpected treat.

Argus has been free for 10 months, and it shows. Even in bright sunlight, I cannot always tell Ridge and Argus apart, the words "which one are you?" constantly on my lips. Argus really looks like a Thoroughbred now, his body no longer kinked and atrophied. It makes me wonder how he'll be with another year of pasture life under his belt. I look at their tails, once the best indicator: Argus' tail was short from where it had been hacked off just below the tail bone. A year later, it's below his hocks, and soon to catch up with Ridge's. Argus proudly uses his tail to protect Ridge's face from flies.

These two are almost never apart, and move in unison in a way that I have not seen before in pasture mates, like an unmounted, unbridled pas de deux. They are so beautiful together. Ridge, whose hocks are fusing, and who is sore while we wait for this process to finish, prefers to move at the walk as much as possible. While the rest of the herd pounds in at a gallop, Argus jogs patiently alongside his friend. You can see it on his face, the restraint it requires to, for a few moments, gear down from his spectacular, ground-eating medium trot. He tempers his love for floating about the pasture with his admiration for his best friend, who cannot fly with him just yet.

All these things I observe closely, as I learn much from Argus: How to be a friend. How to appreciate quiet moments, like a tart fall apple, or a smile from a stranger in the grocery store. How a gentle hand and some patient words might alter the course of a life, although we may never know it. How to slow down and look around, breathing in the season at hand, sitting expectantly underneath an autumn sky. How to appreciate anger and sorrow as catalysts for change. How moments and days and weeks and years are woven into an intricate web that is a life.

We, the weavers, choose the colors of the threads, and the beauty of the pattern. It's behind us, within us, and ahead of us, a vision always in the making, never finished, continually changing. Our animals, our children, our friends and lovers, all part of this intricate pattern. Argus runs through my tapestry, a slightly tattered white thread that wraps itself around a myriad of events from my 40th year, sent here by forces unknown to remind me and the world that life, with all its pleasures and heartaches, is a beautiful creation well worth clinging to.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Handsome Caleb, Beautiful Katie, and Famous Argus

Last July, a 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding named Caleb (formerly called Cayenne) joined the adoption program here at Watermark Farm. Caleb was rescued from a feedlot -- and slaughter -- by my friend Nanci.

Here is Caleb when he first arrived at the farm. He was standoffish and unfriendly and just so sad. You can see the many bite and kick marks on his body, probably a result of putting him into a feedlot full of strange, and equally stressed, horses. Auctions and feedlots are very stressful places.

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Here is Caleb last weekend, with Nanci on board. He's now a happy fellow with merry eyes. He's come a long way, and is now officially available for adoption. Could you be Caleb's forever partner?

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Caleb is fun to ride (has a western background), likes to work and learn new things, and bathes, ties, trailers and travels well. He is a good trail horse. Caleb is learning elementary level dressage and enjoys basic fencework. He is quite sound, and a lovely mover.

Caleb has had dental care, chiropractic care, is fully vaccinated and wears front shoes. He has nice feet, and would be a good barefoot candidate.

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KATIE is happy in her new home in Colorado. Her new mom, Robyn, is riding her and getting help bringing Katie along in her training. Here is an excerpt of her latest update:

Katie has really settled in. She seems very happy to be back working. She was ridden 4 times last week and 4 times this week. As she's been able to handle it we've made each ride more interesting/ more work.....
....Katie knows I'm not the food lady. But I am the lady with the yummy stuff. I bring her a little bit of senior mixed with the probiotics and electrolytes. So I get nickers for that. Yesterday we had a good rain storm. The barn roof is metal so it can be loud during a down pour. Katie didn't care. She likes to stand with her head sticking out into her run (not when its raining) and watch what is going on in either of the outdoor arenas. And she does like her neighbor Blue the 27 year old - old guy. She nickers if he is out and comes back in. ....
I've made sure someone is babysitting me when I ride Katie. But I feel really comfortable with her. I think riding her is definitely within my abilities, but I like my back up team to help make sure we keep her relaxed and that I am fair about what/how I ask. I've got such a nice, soft, sweet mare I don't want to mess with that!!!


ARGUS, well, he's just Argus. He continues to build muscle and look more like a horse. His routine is the same every day. He's turned out 24/7 with Ridge. In the morning, Half Pint and Odie the mule are turned out with Ridge and Argus, and the four friends have breakfast together. After a long drink, they make their way out to the far reaches of the pasture to graze. Back and forth, back and forth, all day they come in for water and go back out for the brown, dry grass. It's a small turnout, only 6 acres, but to Argus it's an entire universe.

Every evening, Odie and Half Pint are brought back in, and Ridge and Argus, our two resident "skinny" Thoroughbreds, are presented with piles of hay and their buckets of feed and supplements. The only time I see Argus weaving, these days, is when he's patiently waiting for his evening feed.

If I ride Ridge, Argus watches calmly from his pasture. He's not herd-bound, and happily accepts the company of whatever equine is with him. Sometimes, I bring Argus into a paddock while I ride. Because he becomes a bit anxious at times when he's locked into a paddock, I keep these sessions short, and full of fun and feed. It's important that Argus retain the ability to be confined, but I cannot blame him for feeling anxious. I would, too!

The other night, I gave the horses a midnight snack, and spent a few minutes standing at the gate, talking to Argus. "Do you have any idea how FAMOUS you are, Argus?" I asked him. "Did you know that people from all over the world love you?" I gave him a hug as sidled up to the gate, telling him how much I loved him and how happy I was that he would stay with me forever. We ended the night with a smile and a hug. I really do think Argus understands.