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Thistles and Hitchhikers and Itinerant Rams

Me and My Royal Consort preparing for the annual walk over to our barn for the winter. In April, the horses would return to the Ferry’s to fatten up on grass. Photo by Dana Ferry

The hardest thing about selling our house and moving, besides the obvious, was the question of what I would do with my horse, Buck. When people asked me, I would dismiss the question with a wave of my hand and affirm “something will manifest.” When we got back from Arizona this spring, I thought I had a year to kick that can down the road, but in September, circumstances forced me to accelerate my schedule.

There came a moment in late summer, when poor Buck stood all alone on someone else’s property without a pasture buddy, or even a human friend, in close proximity. Twice a day, I would go over to feed him and find him standing in the barn, stomping flies and staring off into space. The whole scene was very depressing and filled me with guilt.

I got Buck in 2002 after I took Thing 1 on a trail ride on his ninth birthday and infected him with the horse bug. He asked for lessons, and one day while he was riding, I hopped on one of the school horses, and despite not having seriously ridden a horse in 12 years I managed to ride like a warrior princess in front of an admiring group of spectators. I trotted, I cantered, I performed side passes and lead changes, I jumped low jumps, and when I dismounted, my exhausted legs collapsed beneath me and I found myself wallowing in a puddle of pure, unadulterated joy.

After Buck’s pasture buddy left this summer, I started looking around for his “forever home” as it is tactfully called. The act of finding a forever home is called “rehoming”. It is important to stick to this nomenclature because the whole process is fraught with guilt and is also a magnet for ruthless people who will gladly take a 30-year old horse off your hands and sell him for meat. The truth was that as much as I loved Buck, the experience of owning him had curdled into something different from what I had ever imagined was possible.

Owning Buck in 2017 felt like I had stayed too long at a party and was the last person standing in the empty hall, surrounded by shriveled balloons and dessicated hors d’eouvres. As for my horse, I imagined that after his pasture buddy departed in early September, he never left the barn on his own volition to graze. My twice daily trips were becoming eerily similar to a recurring dream I have had since I was little. In my dream, I go down the into the cellar of the house where I grew up and find a horse that I had forgotten about years earlier standing behind my mother’s freezer. The overwhelming feeling I get from the dream is guilt and regret.

Buck and his BF, Willie. These two had met for the first time moments before this picture was taken.

In my quest to rehome Buck, I used Facebook, I googled horse rescues, I networked, and did everything I could to avoid Craigslist.

I began my search by calling a few sanctuaries and was stunned when one in Connecticut informed me that I would be expected to surrender the horse and then pay them $2000 up front and an additional $600 a month for 72 months.

When my posts on the local equine forum fell on deaf ears, I went into the belly of the beast and posted on Craigslist. Within a few hours, I was playing phone tag with a girl who was living in an apartment, but if she could find a place with a barn, she would love to adopt him. I had a few more calls like that, and thought Lady Luck had smiled upon me when someone I actually knew answered the ad, but he too soon proved untrustworthy. The last straw was the guy who wanted to surprise his friend with a horse. After wishing I could punch the would be giver of gift horses in the mouth, I gave up and resolved to pay for two years of boarding and then reevaluate.

My friend brought Buck over to his new place on a Thursday, and on Saturday I got a call from a guy who did not immediately send up any red flags. He was the one who offered references before I could ask for them, while declining to follow up on any of mine because he viewed the adoption as a rescue. He and his wife had been through a harrowing illness and as part of her recovery, they had started working with rescue animals. They had started out with dogs, but had expanded their efforts to large animals and now had a few donkeys and a pair of goats. The references they provided were unanimous in their praise, and within a week, Buck was settled into his forever home.

Twice a year, I will make a donation to Buck’s new owners, which roughly corresponds to what it will cost them to feed, immunize and trim his feet for a year. He is their first horse and they are in love with him.

I don’t cry often or easily, but when I do it is next level. It was hard watching the trailer go down the road knowing I would probably never see him again.

I got Buck in 2002 and installed him at the property of family friends. I like to boast that I have been fond of, and close friends with, four generations of this particular family. When I was 12, I took riding lessons at the Ferry farm, which involved long rambles through the woods on horseback with a Ferry niece who I thought was a goddess and who I admired with every fiber of my being.

Growing up, the Ferry’s barn was the scene of the most important social event of the summer—the celebrated Barn Dance up in the hayloft. On this evening, everyone became beautiful and mysterious. There were no artificial lights, just candlelight and stars and the tips of people’s cigarettes glowing in the horse paddock. I remember swanning down the steep hayloft stairs in a richly patterned Indian Imports dress from my favorite store in town, Spectrum India, and feeling amazing.

I always adored the hostess of the Barn Dance, Mrs. Ferry, who was ageless, stunning and unfailingly kind to children. During summer school in college, I had the good fortune to take a drawing class with her, and get to know her better. Years later, when Thing 1 was a toddler, she summoned us over for the first of many tea parties.

When I decided that I wanted to get a horse, I called Mr. Ferry and asked if we could stay there, the idea being that my friend Hope and I would care for our respective horses cooperatively, and also help the Ferrys with their flock of sheep in exchange for board.

Buck busting a move!

During the horse heyday when Hope and I had three horses stationed there, our four kids groomed and rode the horses, played in the barn, ran around in the fields and woods, swam in the pond, and tried to get themselves invited into the Ferry’s house for cookies, backgammon and tea.

In the fall there were thistles and hitchhikers, itinerant rams and hundreds of bales of hay that needed to be wrangled. In the spring there was the return of the barn swallows and the arrival of lambs which always required some type of obstetrical intervention and bottle-feeding. I loved taking care of all the animals and being so intimately involved with the seasons on a daily basis. To take care of farm animals is to know and appreciate the power of all weather.

Actually riding the horses was like a gift from heaven. From the Ferry’s place it was possible to ride for hours through private property that was somewhat communal for neighbors on foot and on horseback. There was a surprising amount of drama that took place in those woods—a drunk husband passed out in car, a suspected bear, a wild-eyed caretaker with a propensity for crimes of passion, a cranky old man, a scary dog. There was the day I got caught in a microburst, and the encounter Hope and I had with an over-horsed woman riding a stallion. There were plenty of peaceful, uneventful rides early in the morning as well, when I would pack a muffin and a thermos full of coffee into my saddle bag and ride over to one of the camps on White Pond. I would drop the reins and let Buck graze, while I ate my breakfast.

Horses die and kids grow up and that is how Buck and I got left at alone at the Barn Dance. Mr. and Mrs. Ferry are resting in the bosom of Abraham and the four kids are in their 20s. After 16 years, I dumped out the water trough, swept the floor, and closed the barn doors for the last time. Buck’s new owners send me pictures of him grazing with the goats and the donkeys every few days and I can tell he is getting plenty of attention and that he is no longer bored and depressed. I am so grateful for their kindness and generosity.

7 comments

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  1. admin says:

    Thank you!

  2. thepainterchick says:

    So glad to hear. What a lovely rendering of the story. Big hugs from CT and hope you’re well in the wilds of the west.

    1. admin says:

      Thank you,

  3. Al Fermeglia says:

    Hey,
    As always, beautifully written. Sorry you will probably not see Buck again, but it sounds like he has lots of company where he is. You did a great job finding him a new home.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Al! Thanks for the kind words. Buck’s new humans found me—I had abandoned hope at that point!

  4. Kathy says:

    Sounds like you found a wonderful home for Buck, and your stories will live on. You all meant a lot to each other, and you can never forget that.

    1. admin says:

      I’m so lucky I have to pinch myself good and hard.

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