Monday, April 18, 2011

A Taste of Freedom

When horses misbehave, it's generally the fault of the humans around them. This was no exception.

Saturday March 5th, 2011

I wake up with a start and flip open my cell phone to check the time. It's 6:15am. I've overslept. I have a vague, foggy memory of turning off the alarm a half hour ago. At the time I thought I'd just doze for another 2 minutes or so. Yeah, right.

I have to leave for work at 7:45, so I'm going to have to do the barn chores in record time if I want to fit in a shower and some breakfast first. I lift yesterday's barn clothes from the heap on the floor, and get dressed as I walk to the mud room.

Out at the barn, I dump grain into the horses' buckets, and muck the stalls while they eat. Thankfully, the stalls are fairly clean, and I figure I'll finish them just-in-time. I'm in Jaava's stall, tossing the last few forkfulls of manure into my wheelbarrow when I hear "clip-clop, clip-clop" on the wooden floor. I crane my neck around and catch a glimpse of Murray's navy blanket as he meanders down the isle. I'd left his stall door open-- as I always do.

I don't panic. I lowered the garage-style door behind me when I came in the barn. Well, I lowered it most of the way. There's a three foot opening at the bottom, but even if my 16.3 hand Murray were to crouch on his knees, that'd be a tight squeeze. All the same, his strut down the isle has the girls quite excited.

Jaava is astounded by the fact that Murray is walking the isle alone. She pokes her nose out the front of her stall and calls to Murray in her ear-splitting, high pitched voice, then she begins dancing in circles and rearing. Her door is open too, but the overflowing wheelbarrow is blocking the exit. I shimmy my way out of her stall so I can nudge Murray back to his before he starts a riot.

Now that I'm in the isle, I see that Murray, like the good-ole-boy that he is, is already making his way back to his stall. But Jaava doesn't seem to notice. She's bursting with excitement and clearly wants to be part of this unusual adventure. And before I have time to move the wheelbarrow and close her stall door, she sits back on her haunches and launches herself into the air. Suddenly, she's whizzing by my side as she leaps over the wheelbarrow. Unfortunately, she clips the edge of it with her hind toe and it, along with its smelly contents topple to the floor with a crash.

Murray is now trapped between a crazed-pony whom he dislikes, a toppled wheelbarrow, and an almost-closed garage door. I don't have a clear view of what happens next, but in an instant, there's another crash and I see the garage door flying violently up toward the ceiling, as Murray's blanketed body dashes out into the driveway. The door hits the end of the track and quickly springs back down again, only to be bounced back up as it hits jaava's round rump. Kicking up her heels, she gallops off in Murray's wake.

With two horses loose in the driveway, it's Maggie's turn for hysterics. She's now screaming in panic, and letting loose with furious, frustrated kicks against the back Wall of her stall. So, before I go after the two freedom seekers, I take some preventative measures. I raise the bars on the top half of her door (which are normally lowered so the horses can look out), to keep her from attempting any ill-fated leaps herself.

Then, I run to the feed room to grab a bucket of grain and the horses' halters. I'm annoyed that the horses are loose, but I'm not really worried. Murray's generally a chicken who's not interested in exploring. So, I figure that he'll loop around the front of the house, then turn back toward the paddocks to be captured there-- and I'm sure Jaava (who can't stand being alone) will follow his lead.

When I finally make it outside though, my heart skips a beat. Murray and Jaava haven't come back. I scan the horizon for a moment before I see them. Murray is standing in the middle of the road in the blind spot on top of the hill. We don't get much traffic, but the traffic we do get generally speeds up as it climbs the hill to keep from slipping in the mud, or ice, depending upon the season. From where he's standing, there's no way that oncoming vehicles will see him until it's too late. Jaava is just a few feet behind him.

I start shaking my bucket of grain and calling their names. Murray takes a few steps away-- down the hill. Jaava follows. Then, they have second thoughts. They turn around and head back up the road toward the driveway at a trot. I hold out the bucket of grain, but they don't even pause to consider my peace offering. Instead of turning down the driveway as I'd hoped, they ignore me and continue up the road. At least oncoming traffic will be able to see them now.

It's at this point, as I'm standing in the middle of the road, helplessly shaking a bucket of grain, and holding two halters, that I pull out my cell phone. I could really use another set of hands to help me round them up, and Dave is inside the house-- asleep. I dial our home number and the phone rings and rings, until the voicemail clicks in. I continue down the road toward the horses, and redial the number....still no answer. I yell into the phone "wake up and pick up the phone"! as Murray leads Jaava off the road and into the woods.

I call Dave again...just as Murray sinks up to his belly in snow and begins to flail around. Deciding that "off-roading" is not such a good idea, he and Jaava turn back toward the road. I call Dave again. He picks up. His slurred sleepy voice asks "what's going on?" and I know he's just seen us outside the window. "GET OUT HERE NOW AND HELP!" is all I say before hanging up the phone. I look up to see Murray and Jaava trotting back toward me. Again they ignore the grain, but thankfully turn into the driveway. This time, they head straight down the lane, through the open gait, and into to the pasture. Dave arrives, wearing rubber boots and fleece pyjama pants, just as I close the gate behind them.

At least he tells me that he'll handle the rest of the chores (including cleaning up the contents of the toppled wheelbarrow), so that I can make it to work on time.

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