Friday, July 22, 2011

The Happy Days of Summer

Argus after his first full-body soap bath ever. He was so proud of himself, he refused to put his boy parts away!

After a long, wet winter and a short spring, the glorious days of Northern California's summer are here. Balmy days graced by a gentle southwest breeze give way to cool evenings as the coastal fog stretches its slender fingers 20 miles inland to our farm. The horses enter their carefree summer routine of baths, horse shows, moonlight adventures, giggling children and fly masks. It is a happy time on the farm.

Argus is in his fourth summer of freedom and life is good. One day melds into the next as he wanders the pastures with friends, picking carefully through the dry layers of flopped-over native ryegrass in search of the ultimate blade of grass. Occasionally he stops his grazing to stand erect and frozen, sentinel-like, as he stares at something far in the distance: a lone figure walking on a ridge-top miles away; a vineyard worker shuffling down the rows of grapes; a ghost-like coyote hunting in the hay field out back. The other horses rarely notice these things. Argus sees everything. Watches everything. His ability to stand and study the world as it moves around him was how he stayed sane when he lived in Hell. After all, his name is Argus, which means "watchful."

A nudge from a buddy, and Argus comes back to Earth. His newest friend, Dallas, is a mischievous Thoroughbred who came to board with us and has filled a tremendous void left when Half Pint died: leader. Argus, who spent a year as reluctant head of the herd, did not do well without a boss. He was more nervous, less sure of himself. When Dallas joined us last December, life became easier for Argus, more predictable. With a casual glance, Dallas 'directs' Argus, who happily complies, relieved to be second in command once again.

Ridge is in the process of re-joining the group, which includes Argus, Dallas, Odie the Mule and Indy. Four white horses and one bay make for humorous comments from visitors. (Honestly! I did not plan to have four white horses!) Today is the second day Ridge has been turned out into the small pasture with Argus, and the joy on Argus' face is palpable. His bookend buddy, his 'twin,' his best friend is finally back in action, Ridge's badly bowed tendon finally having healed itself (as best it can) after 16 months of rest and rehabilitation.

Odie, Indy and Dallas come and go from the property, off at any given moment to a horse show, riding lesson, clinic or Pony Club event. Argus tolerates this for the most part, sometimes weaving nervously as we pull away, leaving Ridge to provide comfort. When we return, Argus is often waiting in the pasture, near the front gate, and heralds our arrival home with joyous whinnies and a gallop back to the barn that would put any racehorse to shame. Argus loves to see horse trailers arrive, but hates to see them go. Despite having ridden in a horse trailer only once in his entire life, he seems to understand what they mean.

I'm grateful to the people who help Argus have the best quality of life possible. Argus lives in a body that bears the legacy of a lifetime of abuse; the people in his life work hard to make every day of freedom a happy one.

My daughters, Demi and Shelby, work tirelessly in the barn without complaint, and who share my pride in Argus' accomplishments ("Mom," Demi gushed recently, "Argus was so good for the farrier that he was the best of all the horses!")

My mom, who slips me a check every month "for Argies."

Eric White, our farrier, who works slowly and patiently with Argus, and tell me what a good horse he is.

Years of confinement have riddled his body with arthritis; Dr. Suzanne Guyton gives Argus chiropractic adjustments and coaches us on carrot stretches, an essential therapy in a horse whose neck is so arthritic that is is threatening to fuse in places.

Most of all, I am grateful to Argus' good friend Dr. Grant Miller, who saved Argus to begin with. Argus is a quiet source of comfort and pride to both of us, this horse who fills hearts with joy and the sense that even suffering can birth beauty. Recently, Dr. Miller came to inject Argus' painfully-arthritic knee joints. We sighed as we looked at his enlarged right knee, wondering how long we could keep Argus comfortable on it. We remind each other that it's about quality, not quantity, but I selfishly want both for Argus. Afterward, we took advantage of the sedation to give Argus his first full-body soap bath ever, the vet and the housewife --- two unlikely friends who share a common bond in a form of a rangy white horse. Dr. Miller took the following photos of our spa day:

Even sedated, Argus was not crazy about the water. Dr. Miller had us face him into the barn wall to discourage escape, which worked!

Once clean, we went to work with Show Sheen, brushes, and scissors. Dr. Miller and Demi were upset with me for Argus' "high and tight" mane trim. This horse has enough hair for FOUR horses and I'm not combing out a long, thick mane every week! That huge tail is enough!

Enjoy your summer, and thanks for keeping up with with the story of Argus! Meantime, check out this story on NPR's California Report about Dr. Miller and The Sonoma CHANGE Program, which rescued Argus!

Katie, Argus & the whole gang at Watermark Farm