The day before July 4th last year, we were out looking around and discovered that Ol’ Mama Horse had had another gray foal. Now, what to call him? We obviously can’t have another Silver. Traveler is too revered and Shadowfax is too fancy. So, since he was born close to Independence Day we are calling him Patriot. Because he was of Mama Horse’s brood, he has a tendency to be gentle, but he was still shy enough to where we couldn’t get our hands on him when we were feeding Mama. After we pulled Silver off to start working with, another fledgling stud that we call Amigo came up and he and Mama Horse and Silver made a kind of family. Around October, Dad and I were coming back from the hay field and we noticed that Patriot was all by himself in the Tallow Flat. The next night we went to check again and he was almost in the exact same spot. No Amigo, no Mama Horse. I started looking around and then I caught a whiff of death nearby. Mama Horse had gone on. We were not too surprised. She had never looked good and had of late been possessed of a skin ailment. So, her loss was felt, but not too keenly. We had talked of bringing Patriot up, but shortly afterwards he began to hang with Amigo. We kind of quit worrying about him.
A couple of months went by and Amigo started wandering off and we would find Patriot by himself, often in the Old Field. The weather started to turn colder and we kept talking about getting him up, but we never could make it happen. One day, it had been a while since we had seen him and Anna and I came across the bones of a smallish horse in the Old Field. I feared the worst. Then I found a telltale patch of white hair. I have to confess that I did not handle it well. I was furious at God for allowing this to happen. I was furious for letting Him grieve my wife so. I did not handle it well and had to ask forgiveness on my knees later. I am still ashamed.
Life goes on. We adjusted. We knew we didn’t have to worry about Patriot anymore. I regularly asked God for forgiveness for not trusting Him. I dealt with my feeling of rejection. We moved on. The rains eased up and the roads began to dry so we could start checking out the pasture again. About ten days or so after we discovered the bones and the white patch of hair we drove the Gator out to the Mineral Box Field. We could not believe our eyes, but there he was! Anna was uncontrollably emotional. It takes a bit of control to keep myself from being moved now, but I must since I am at work. At the time, I was just stunned. What we had seen was Mama Horse. Even after months of being dead, the coyotes finally discovered her tiny carcass and drug her out into the Old Field. It was her bones and hair that we had found. I felt even more foolish for my outburst at God. After all the hours of watching NCIS, we still failed to properly deduce what happened at the crime scene. I Gibb-smack myself on the back of the head.
It still took a week or so after that, but we regularly went out there and fed him. Amigo had gone on to bigger and better things, but Patriot was getting more and more accustomed to eating out of a bucket. He has been trying to move into the bachelor herd. Sometimes he was around, but most of the time not. Finally, we found a time when the other horses were not around and we led him all the way from the Mineral Box Field to the Pens. We started feeding him twice a day and only recently did we go to once a day feedings.
We hated for him to be alone so we decided to move Sarge into the pasture with him. This was the first use of our new horse pasture. We finally got to move the saddle horses back up to the front, so we gave Patriot the run of the New Horse Pasture. We are calling it that because the pasture itself is new, but also because we will use it largely for gentling down new horses. Of course, we are open to suggestions on the name.
Also, we have decided to turn Sarge out. The horse is just not getting over his skittishness. However, one of his good traits is that whenever we had a new horse in with the saddle horses, he was the first to adopt him. This was true with Leroy (a reenactor’s horse that we kept for awhile) and also with Silver. The goal would be to split a ration of food between Sarge and Patriot. This is all Patriot needs and it would wean Sarge off a full ration before turning him out to the main pasture. Out there, Sarge might be able to train other horses to come to food.
It has been difficult getting Sarge to break away mentally from his old herd in the front. He has spent lots of time hanging around the new fence, pining away for his old companions. It has been a little tough to watch, but when I think about the trouble he has caused it makes it a little easier. Ultimately, he will be happier in the wild. It is where his nature fits in. He has begun to adopt Patriot like we hoped. Now, we drive the Gator over to the pens and the two of them start to wander over together, like a herd.
Patriot is really coming along. We fed him for several days before even trying to halter him. Every time we fed, we would rub him down as much as we could. Eventually, he got more and more used to it. It got to where we could rub all over his neck and ears whenever he put his head down. This was the final step. After hazing around his head while he was eating, putting the halter on was easy. Now, he didn’t take it quite as well when he hit the end of the lead rope for the first time. His natural reaction was to continue backing, so I just went with him, keeping the slack out of the rope, but not pulling on it. He backed up to the gate and had to stop. I let him catch his breath, then gently took the slack out. He fought a bit, but we kept at that process a couple of times. Finally, he took a step toward me, taking the slack out. This is the key, of course. The whole idea is to get him to respond to pressure. By just taking out the slack in the rope instead of actually pulling on it, the horse is instantly rewarded when he takes a step. The slack automatically comes out. The lighter the touch, the more responsive to pressure he will be.
Since then, we have haltered him a couple of times and he is a really quick study. He is leading around pretty good, but still needs to do this a lot so that it is just habit. I have also gotten Anna and even her sister to do a little of this. Hopefully, Anna can start working with him without the benefit of my presence. My goal is to keep him up for another several weeks. We will go through as much of the training process as possible. That way, when it is time to ride he will have already had a saddle on, know the bit, and trust people implicitly.
As far as Patriot knows, he was never dead. The most dramatic thing that has happened to him was his mama dying. He doesn’t know that we thought him lost. He doesn’t know that, even though we know better, we feel like he has been resurrected from the dead. He just continues on in his little horse life. He eats, he sleeps, he follows the feed bucket, and now, he responds to pressure.