Our neighbor who I’ll refer to as, Buffalo, because he owns two buffalo cows, a bull, and the cows just dropped the cutest little buffalo babies on the ground a few weeks ago, told Darling Husband he wanted to join him on the next jaunt to the Cleburn Horse auction. We are at maximum equine capacity on the farm right now, and hoping that two of our full size charges will be leaving to live on other farms by the end of summer. There’s really no need for Darling Husband to be visiting horse auctions since he’s now a full fledged member of the Mustang Cult, but you can’t call yourself a farmer or rancher if you don’t consider a livestock auction a recreational activity. DH occasionally attends the Cleburn sale at the request of our friend, Transporter, and jumped at the opportunity when Buffalo mentioned his desire to attend. Buffalo really isn’t in the market for any horses either, but he’s mentioned on multiple occasions that he wouldn’t mind picking up a miniature horse for the grandkids.
Despite learning the hard way, multiple times, that Darling Husband can’t be trusted when he takes the trailer, well anywhere, I told myself the lie I always do, which is “He’s not shopping for himself.” Buffalo and Darling Husband loaded up in the truck on Wednesday night after I got home from work, and left Offspring and I to our own devices. I personally would have loved to join them, but Offspring has a hard bedtime of 7:00 pm (Offspring makes the rules, not me) and I also had to work the next morning. The auction most likely wouldn’t end until 1:00 am and then there is the hour drive back to Temple.
Offspring chased our chickens around the yard with a squirt bottle filled with water for a bit. He and I watched at least two Disney Cars movies while playing with cars on the floor, eating dinner (Offspring is the captain of this ship. I may rank as first mate, probably closer cabin boy though), and then he demanded milk and bed. Yes, sir! I began the nightly ritual of working ponies and horses. Odessa and I worked on her canter/flying lead changes bareback, then I fed, and put the farm critters to bed. When I checked the phone I had been ignoring, I realized I may be in trouble. Darling Husband had sent me pictures of a leopard spotted mule. First off, it was gorgeous! Secondly, we really didn’t need another equine, and I have zero experience with mules. I’m currently struggling with the differences between donkeys (Thistle) and horses. I felt safe in the knowledge that this particular mule, would probably sell for more than Darling Husband was willing to pay, but you never know.
Around 2:00 am in the morning, I get a phone call…”Come outside so you can watch me unload!” What!? The leopard spotted mule flashed in my brain, and I squashed the immediate panic I feel when we add another large animal I will be responsible for on the farm. The thought of more vet bills, dentals, and farrier work, not to mention working with a strange animal you know nothing about always gives me a moment of anxiety before the horse addict in me takes over. As predicted however, the mule did sell for more than Darling Husband wanted to pay, and instead I was looking at a harmless 36 inch pony. Harmless, I say like I don’t have multiple experiences and the blog posts to prove they are anything but. These little tornadoes in fur wreak more havoc on a weekly basis than the large horses do in a year!
“Happy Mother’s Day, Birthday, and Anniversary!” Darling Husband exclaims as I inspect the little mare through sleep blurred eyes. I look over at Buffalo, and ask “Isn’t this your pony?” Turns out the pony Buffalo had his heart set on, seemed to be lame when she went through the auction, and he didn’t want to risk bringing home an animal that may never be sound or may be extremely expensive to get sound. Darling Husband is so excited and proud of himself! “Isn’t she beautiful?!” he asks. “She was really sweet when I approached her in the pen! You know you want her!”
Ok, so Darling Husband knows my Kryptonite. I’m a sucker for ponies for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the little girl in me who never grew up, who’s dad was against all things pony, even though he loved horses. Maybe it’s that ponies are just miniatures of my favorite animal. I’m not sure the reason, but I was sure that I was looking at more work right when I thought my training calendar was beginning to look manageable. The little mare was a dark steel color with dapples and the whitest mane I’ve ever seen on an unbathed equine. She was a fat little thing, her feet looked freshly trimmed, and she gave the impression that maybe someone had worked with her. That illusion would be quickly dispelled the next day. We tucked her into our largest stall with fresh water, a huge pile of hay, and I headed back to bed while Darling Husband unhooked the trailer.
The following evening after work, I run down to the barn to give our newest addition a few treats until Offspring goes to bed and I can spend more time with her. When I entered the stall, she runs to/shoves her head in the farthest corner from me. I approach slowly, talking in a low soothing voice with my hand outstretched offering a treat. The pony responds ears pinned, by squealing and donkey kicks backwards at me. This is not the same animal we unloaded last night. This pony acts like she’s never been handled or severely abused when handled. I wave a hand to get her moving out of the corner and around me. I let her stop, but when she turns her rear to me, I make her move forward again. We repeat this a few times until she stops and turns her head toward me. Then I remove all pressure and exit the stall.
It surprises many people that when you purchase an auction animal, you pretty much start with zero information. Sure the person running them through auction may ramble out a back ground story, but you can never trust that person to be honest. Most auctions have animals moving in a very small space, and many soundness issues can be disguised. Even animals with severe behavior issues may appear tame, when frightened by the noise of the auction in a small space surrounded by humans. Unless the animal is extremely aggressive, they usually shutdown and allow the handlers to touch/move them in ways they will not in a less threatening environment. Such was the case with this pony. I checked her coggins paperwork, and reached out to the person listed as the owner in the vain hope he would respond and respond honestly.
Every time we entered her stall, the pony ran to the opposite wall and stood shaking. If we approached she would threaten or actually kick out. So for the next few days we would make her move her feet until she faced us, and then we would chill out in the stall for 15-20 minutes ignoring her. After about a week, she allowed us to touch and halter her. The pony would grudgingly take treats from your hand. Then I’d take her outside for 30-45 minutes of grazing on a lead while I would attempt to pet and touch her. Any disrespect aka pinned ears or turning her rear to me resulted in more moving of her feet, and yielding of the hindquarters.
When asked what we should name her after two weeks on the farm, Darling Husband responded “It’s up to you.” So taking into account the time of year, weather, her markings, and then adding in some obscure movie trivia from one of the top 5 greatest horse movies of all time, I named her Summer Cloud. If you read my blog, and know the movie please respond in the comments. I’m seriously dying to know how many people recognize the name, since it is only mentioned once in the film, and isn’t one of the main character horses.
Two weeks in Summer seemed to be doing better. I hate keeping horses stalled. It’s my personal belief that all equine are healthier when living as close to a natural life as possible, meaning they get to choose whether they are in or out, and have ample grazing/room to run. I decided to let her out one night, then spent two hours the following evening catching her. Nothing irritates me more than a difficult to catch horse. So she lost her turnout privileges for another week. One month into her stay on the farm, I decided to offer Summer parole for good behavior. I turned her out every evening with a rope halter attached dragging the lead. This strategy worked, and now she can be caught by walking up to her in the pony paddock. In fact now that she realizes sweet feed is exquisite and it only appears when humans are present, she’ll actually walk up to us.
Buffalo had mentioned to us several times, that he would be interested in starting his own miniature foal rather than picking up an adult pony. While I didn’t have any interest in breeding Apple Jack again, since I wanted to continue her driving workouts, I offered up the newest addition as a potential broodmare. Buffalo jumped on the idea, and this gave me the opportunity to improve the quality of life for both Beau Pony and Summer. I released Beau into Summer’s paddock, and she was more than happy to entertain his attentions. Both ponies seem grateful to have a pasture mate.
I had completely given up on Summer’s previous owner ever responding to me, but he finally did. I can’t be sure he was totally honest, but based on the story, I feel that I got the truth. Horses are social animals and develop strong bonds with handlers and herd mates. Any time we bring a new animal to the farm, I try to be sensitive to this fact. Just because I know what a cush life our animals lead, doesn’t mean they may not be mourning their previous environment or herd members. Apparently Summer was one of 20 plus ponies on turnout without much human interaction. She and her herd mates belonged to an elderly gentleman that passed away, and the ponies were sold to a local farrier/horse trader. He spent one week attempting to halter train them, trimmed everyone’s feet, and dropped them off at auction. The farrier knew next to nothing about the ponies except the little he gleaned while halter breaking.
Basically the pony Darling Husband brought me was wild, but no reason to believe she had ever been abused. Summer was also probably in mourning for the herd and pasture she was taken away from, classic Black Beauty tale. Summer’s been with us almost 2 months. Other than attempting to feed her treats, and touch her when loose in the pony paddock, we’ve just been allowing her to settle in. Once Beau performed his stud duties, he returned to second in the pecking order, and Summer now pushes him around. We’ll leave the two together until foaling time, but that gives Beau and Summer a year of companionship until she’s fully tame. Summer still occasionally kicks, and that is something I’ll resolve in the round pen beginning next month. She’ll eventually become a cart pony like the rest, but no rush since Apple Jack, Moonshine, and Thistle are higher on the priority list. We’ll let her have Beau’s foal before she gets any serious training. Right now Summer Cloud is learning that people are good and is enjoying the job of being a pasture pet…