Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas at Watermark Farm

By popular request, here is Argus' 2008 Christmas poem.
Merry Christmas to all!



'TWAS the night before Christmas
And all through the barn
Not a creature was stirring
Anywhere on the farm

The stockings were hung
On the stall doors with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas
Soon would be there

The horses were all snuggled
Into straw-banked beds
While visions of sweet feed
Danced in their heads

And Argus was in his blanket
Chubby Half Pint going bare
Both hoping and wishing
Santa soon would be there

When out in the arena
There arose such a clatter!
They leapt into their paddocks
To see what was the matter!

The moon on the puddles
In the wet winter pasture
Made the night light so blinding
They breathed faster and faster!

When what to their
Brown horsey eyes should appear
But a jolly red sleigh
And eight hungry reindeer

In the driver's seat sat Santa
All dressed up in red
And he winked at the horses
As they spied from their beds

Then something odd happened
The horses grew brave
And Santa addressed them
Which made them quite grave:

"Now Argus! Now Half Pint!
Now Odie and Angel!
Now Ginger and Caleb!
And Ridge in the stable!"

"To your herd mates be kind
And don't waste your hay!
Take care of your riders
And love each new day!"

As dry shavings that before
The wild hurricane fly
When they meet with the winds
Mount to the sky

And suddenly the horses
Who before felt quite shy
Felt themselves flying around
With Santa in the sky!

So around the farm
The horses they flew
They looked down on the home
They loved and they knew

And then, on the house top
They thumped on the roof
And the family inside
Heard the pounding of hooves

"What's that?" they shouted
As they woke from their beds
"We thought we heard horses
Loose overhead!"

So out to the stables
The family they ran
Where they found it quite empty
Save for the horse goat, An'

They peered at the sky
For a sign of the equines
And for a moment, saw Santa
Riding Argus just fine

Then suddenly, and quietly
The horses were there
Munching hay and looking sleepy
As if they had no cares

So the lights were extinguished
The excitement went "poof"
And the family missed Santa
Spying down from the roof

To each horse, he gave a gift
And when he got to the last
It was Argus, the white one
He'd seen on many a Christmas past

"You're a good horse, dear Argus"
Santa said with a tear,
You have suffered so long
So many a year"

"I promise you will always
Have a loving, peaceful life
With pastures and buddies
An end of all strife"

Argus thought quietly
About all the nights
And the bleak Christmases of waiting
For the arrival of light

This, his second Christmas
Of freedom and cheer
He'd been a real horse, a free horse
For more than a year

Santa sprang to his sleigh
To his team gave a whistle
And winking once more at Argus
He flew away like a missile

The horses heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight
"Merry Christmas, dear Argus!
And to all --- a good night!"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grateful Blanketing

It may sound silly, but I feel so happy when I blanket Argus.

As with any old horse, I casually throw the big green horse jacket up over his back, where I tug and slide it until it's in position. Argus eats his grain and regards me a bit warily, but stands. Alone in the barn, I am grinning.

Buckle the chest, buckle the belly straps. Pull Argus' unfairly enormously thick tail (I swear to God, this horse has the hair of 10 horses) out from behind the poop-encrusted elastic tail strap. Say "good boy!" in my most pleased tone, offer a grateful chest rub, and slip out the door.

Contrast this with two years ago.

Argus is standing, shaking with cold, in the dark, in a paddock. He has been out of prison only two weeks now. He is not sure if any of this is real. I death-grip the halter while carefully, carefully sliding the accordion-folded blanket over his withers. He is ready to explode, but you can tell he's trying to trust me. It takes 20 minutes of coaxing and crooning to the wild-eyed Argus to get the blanket on. Afterward, as he stands, warm at last, I swear he gets it. He gets what the blanket is for.

Or a year ago.

Blanketing had become a kind of dance. Haltered, Argus would now stand, quivering but calm in his own strange way, for the first part of blanketing, the blanket-over-the-withers part. Argus would stand for the chest buckling part. But the pulling-the-blanket-back-over-the-body part made him lurch forward. One hand on his lead rope, another on the blanket. We'd get the job done. But it wasn't always that much fun.

And this account doesn't even address the unblanketing part, which is to say it was only the aforementioned in reverse, only more exciting.

That is why, as I stood tonight under the stonewashed gray-black of a misty December sky, blanketing Argus as you would any old horse, I felt a wash of gratitude at this remarkable accomplishment. In saving Argus, I often think I've saved that part of myself that, child-like, finds meaning in everyday miracles. I smiled to myself, saying reverently "for this, I am grateful!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two Years!

For weeks after Half Pint's death, Argus walked out into the pasture every night around 10:30 pm. He'd face east, whinny four or five times into the darkness, then turn around and walk back into the barn.

Was he calling for his lost friend?

The three remaining geldings are doing well, although they remain a little sad without their herd alpha. Ridge has filled in nicely, and even though he lacks front teeth (they were removed due to gum disease), he kindly makes his point with Argus and Odie by 'gumming' them a bit when they get out of line. All in all, it works, and the three boys are managing. I think Argus does miss Half Pint quite a lot, though.

It has now been two years since Argus escaped his hell, two long, wonderful years of learning what it is to be a "real" horse. When he arrived, he was 15 going on two. Now he's 17 going on four, with the body, sometimes, of a 30-year-old.

Argus can now do all these things:

He stands quietly, even gratefully, for blanketing --- no halter, no fearful shaking, nothing! I can flip the blanket up over his back with great flourish, straps and buckles clanking noisily, just like a normal horse.

Dr. Miller can give Argus an IV injection without Argus rearing and plunging all over the stall, me twitching him and hanging on for dear life, Dr. Miller skillfully dancing in mid air in order to get the needle in. The other day, Dr. Miller came to inject Argus' painful knee joints. He gave the IV sedation right in the aisleway of the barn, and Argus just stood there, blinking calmly. Just like any other horse. I felt so proud of Argus, and Dr. Miller did, too. We celebrated by giving Argus his first monthly Legend injection, an IV shot that is helping Argus' arthritic joints so much that he is dancing in pasture again. Soon, I will be the one administering this injection. I never thought I'd be able to give this horse an IV shot.

Argus can come into his stall and paddock for a short time without getting frantic and weaving. In fact, he even likes it. Every evening, he stands at the gate to his paddock, knowing that a big tub of fattening food awaits him inside.

Argus has a best friend. He and Ridge move together through the pasture in unison. They look so much alike in their matching green blankets that I can only tell them apart by looking at their tails --- Argus has a much thicker, longer tail. He and Ridge have an unusual bond for horses. They do everything literally attached at the hip, grazing cheek-to-cheek for hours on end.

He can stand quietly when the farrier trims him. He no longer jumps when the farrier drops his tools. Argus cooperates. Argus likes the farrier. When Argus came to us, he had never had his feet trimmed, or even picked up, before. Now Argus likes it when people handle his feet.

Argus no longer stands for hours and hours, staring at things far away. His eyes, which were flat and shark-like two years ago (my theory is that he developed great distance vision, and poor up-close vision from 15 years of staring at distant objects), are now warm and brown and they actually see you. Argus looks at me with happy eyes, and much is said in his gaze.

Even so, old habits die hard. We often say that Argus is like a little old man hermit who peers out at the busy world around him through a curtained window. When the vineyards next to us are full of workers, Argus stands for long minutes, quivering, head high, alert, shaking, watching, studying. If on a cold day, the geysers to the north of us send plumes of steam up from the hills, Argus watches them, frozen. He gets excited and takes a break from his staring by doing his "dressage workout." Last week I watched him canter perfect 20 meter circles in the front pasture, punctuated by long, straight lines where he perfected his tempi changes. At one point, he was cantering calmly along, changing his lead every third stride. Those dressage riders who have schooled this movement know how demanding it is to teach. For our athletic Argus, even riddled with arthritis, dressage comes surprisingly easy.

When I enter the stall, Argus used to walk into his paddock, standoffish and not wanting me in his space. Close contact with people was something to be avoided. Now he stands, calmly eating his grain, and doesn't leave. He likes it if I scratch his neck, speaking softly to him while he eats. He even comes to the fence to see people now.

He's interested in us now. He wants to be haltered. He loves to be groomed. He's happy to be led out of the pasture and into the barn for some "beauty parlor time."

Day after day, he makes progress in small ways. I am amazed that after two years, he's still changing, still learning new things, still trusting us more and more, still growing, still becoming a horse, and discovering more and more joy. Just seeing him out in the pasture gives me the greatest rush of pleasure.

I am proud of Argus, and I tell him so every night as I buckle his blanket on. He stands, calmly munching his beloved tub of food, and looks at me as if to say: I am proud of myself, too.

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