THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Living in Paradise offers a variety of sobering experiences. It’s like the farmers say. “The land is beautiful, and the land is hard.” Beauty and suffering come hand in hand. I make new discoveries everywhere I turn. Whether I want to or not.
Last week I made a discovery I wish I never had. The good news is that I know something I didn’t know before. The bad news is that what I know ain’t good.
It’s got to do with Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang. She’s a rescue we snatched away from a dog good company by outbidding them at the auction block after she was caught in a round-up.
The reason Elaine was caught is that she’s crippled. Her front legs are bowed and knock-kneed and very weak. It looks like rickets, although I’ve never met a horse person who would say, “Yep, horses get rickets.”
Whatever the cause, the effect is that Elaine’s movements are slow and stumbling. She becomes less awkward when an expert trims her hooves just right. Luckily, here in Paradise we’ve got such an expert, Dan the Farrier, a third generation blacksmith who gets along better with horses than Barry Bonds does with a baseball bat.
Dan last trimmed Elaine’s hooves about a month ago. But this time it didn’t help. She continued stumbling. Since then, she’s gotten slower and slower. One morning I awoke to find Burl Jr. the New Caretaker shooing away the dogs because Elaine was lying on the ground, trapped in the fence, and couldn’t get up.
All the activity got the mare so riled that a burst of adrenalin set her free, but now she’s so frightened she never goes more than two steps away from her man, Huck the Spotless Appaloosa. Huck’s usually a pretty impatient cuss, but he waits for her uncomplainingly.
As though he knows that without him Elaine won’t survive.
Over the last few days Elaine’s gotten much worse. Her left leg is rigid and can’t support any weight. The only way she can walk is to extend it slowly, then pull her right leg up even with it, and then hop forward so her rear catches up. It takes about thirty seconds per step. Thirty exhausting seconds.
When I first arrived in Paradise vets specializing in horses and cows and other “big animals” were the rule. Now they’re exceptions. Our dog vet, Sarah Bailey, has recommended someone new, recently arrived from Texas. He’s due over this afternoon.
Meanwhile, I’ve been buying horse pain meds at the feed store and getting advice from Dan the farrier and my neighbors who raise horses. Neighbors who look at Elaine and shake their heads, mumble a few platitudes about what a good life Gwen the Beautiful and I have given her up to now…and then try to sell me a filly they’ve bred.
Me, I’m no doctor of animals or men, although I‘ve got a few tricks I picked up back around Santa Fe. And Burl Jr.’s been following his farmer father’s instructions faithfully as we fight for Elaine’s life. We’re doing our best, and hoping our best as well.
For years I’ve tried to be the kind of person Elaine would want to be around. One of the ways I judge myself is by her response to me. It’s a good day and I’m a good man—better than I once was—when Elaine lets me touch her.
At least that’s how it was. Now Elaine acts like she’s tame. She flinches but doesn’t shy away from my hand. She responds warmly to soft voices and kind words, and especially to carrots and apples.
But that’s not really her choice. It’s just that she no longer is able to pull off her escapes.
This morning when I went outside to feed the horses I watched Elaine inch painfully to the hay, and I patted her neck and untangled her mane.
She stood quietly as I did it, and all I could think of at a moment I once would’ve considered a triumph was, “Please, sweetheart! Run! Run away!”
Postscript: The New Vet From Texas just left. Elaine had an abscess in her hoof caused by a stone lodged there. He scraped it out, applied heavy duty disinfectant and a stronger painkiller, and she’s already putting her weight on that leg.
Ah, Burl Jr. just hollered, “She’s running into the trees!
All’s right with the world.