Monday, 21 January 2013

The Not-so-Great Escape

It's humbling to be outsmarted by your animals. I'm used to it with the dogs, but I rely on their smarts - their senses and experience finding lost game helps keep my freezers stocked up. The dogs on the whole work in partnership with me.

Then there's Alan.

I mentioned in the last post that Alan is a smart horse. Kitty has the looks, but Alan has the brains. Mostly he uses them for his own amusement, and he seems to get most of his amusement exasperating me. It would not surprise me at all to find that Alan has a secret lair in a hollowed-out volcano where he hatches his devious plans.

We moved the pair to a small but greener paddock, for a change of scenery and a few days' fresh grazing. Within hours, Alan worked out how to unlatch the small pedestrian gate, and how to open it - inwards! - and took Kitty out for a walk. Of course, he waited until it was dark to do this. The gentleman who owns the farm where the horses live noticed they were missing and kindly drove to our house to let us know. Alan timed his escape to coincide with our dinner.

Worried that the pair may have wandered onto the road, I called our friend Tim, who's a local policeman, to ask who I should notify. Within ten minutes Tim and his wife Megan showed up to join our search. They're good friends, the kind who, on their night off, come out in the cold to help you search for your horses in the dark. We tracked the horse hoof prints in the mud to a nearby orchard, and using flashlights we eventually found them happily grazing in a hedgerow. We caught them up for the mile-long walk back to their regular paddock, and confined them behind electric fencing.

They were both out again in the morning. Alan used his thick winter rug to protect him from the shock of the electric fence and simply pushed the tape at chest height until it snapped. This time they walked to the farthest orchard behind some houses, to have breakfast with the owners. Alan looked completely unrepentant when I turned up. I spent the next few hours replacing and reinforcing their fencing.

The following morning both horses managed to breach the first line of defence, but were caught by the second. And I had another few hours of fence repair while Kitty and Alan ate their hay and watched me carry posts and tape, and a heavy post banger, up the muddy track. Of course, Alan broke the fence in the far back corner, the one place inaccessible by vehicle, so I had to walk everything in.

Besides reinforced fences to keep them from breaking out, I upped their feed and changed the regime to make it more stimulating, hoping to make them want to stay in. It's a 'carrot and stick' approach. Or in this case a 'carrot-apple-hay-mineral lick' and stick approach.

I understand that they are as fed up with the rain and mud underfoot as I am. I think Alan is looking for drier pasture where he won't slip when he walks. I explained to him that it's like this everywhere, we all just have to tough it out. He hasn't broken out since our chat (and the extra rations!)

I've been riding for nigh on 30 years now, but it never fails to surprise me how much I still learn from horses- whether I want the lesson or not.


Poppy Cottage said...

Such a lovely photo to end on. Hope he manages to stay in this time. Xx

Seester said...

ok, this might be a totally obvious question, but why do you have horses?
I know I should know this. They're not plow horses though, right? They're more like pets that cost a lot of money and drive you mad (like children)? I totally get why you have sheep, and dogs (which I also want very very badly) and even a husband (slightly less expensive and more maddening than a horse) and of course chickens, since they are useful and edible. I guess I just haven't read enough about your horses to get a feel for how they fit in. Although I guess I could use an animal that would take me to the pub and back. Though I reckon for the money I could just call a cab.

Anonymous said...

The first week that my horse was at his new place, he used the same blanket-hot wire trick to let all the other horses out. We put them back and he did it again, right in front of us, just to say he could. From that day on he lived without a blanket, in Maine, for five years. On rare bitter days he was allowed inside a stall, but hated every minute of it and the door had to be shut or he would sneak under the stall guard. A smart horse is a joy on the trail, but a pest on the farm. Love them anyway.

janice bendixen said...

It's better, I think, that your stallion (?) is more vexing than your husband. And who would want a stupid horse? Not you, I say!

Hazel said...

This is why I have no horses and only slightly dim dogs!

Love the last photo.

Jennifer Montero said...

so far so good, PC!

Jennifer Montero said...

Horse love is a sickness, and even though one end bites, the other end kicks, and the bit in the middle is just expensive, I would no sooner be without my little financial drains than I would the dogs.

That said, Alan was seriously free to a bad home last week.

Jennifer Montero said...

KVDbooks - you have summed it up: "a joy on the trail and a pest on the farm".

The next step was taking Alan's blanket off, and I told him so. Our winters are nowhere near as cold as Maine's and they have a shelter so it wouldn't be a hardship on him, just more for *me* to clean when I tacked up. Last time I put them in a stall, which we had built for them, Alan climbed out over the top of the door. I agree, love them anyway.

Jennifer Montero said...

Janice - Alan is a gelding who for sure thinks he's a stallion. He's ugly, has horrible ground manners, is completely co-dependant on Kitty and would stomp me into the ground before he lost sight of her, and knows his own mind. I'd say equally (thought differently!) as vexing as my husband :)

Hope you are surviving your arctic conditions. I thought of you when we had our piddly few centimetres of snow last night.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hazel - You are a sensible woman. Like I said, horse love is a sickness, probably a form of mental illness.

janice bendixen said...

Jen, please don't tell Kitty she's just got the looks. I'm sure she's a willing conspirator to that wily gelding. Our arctic conditions aren't so arctic at the moment: 24F above, no wind and clouds. Forecast is for colder, which means I'm hauling wood in the back of my formerly very nice SUV. Oh vell, one does what one must. But we're about to have sun in the house and approaching 7 hours of daylight. An important milestone on the march toward spring! If you had snow, I hope if got cold enough to freeze the mud - or at least present a diversion from your incessant rain. Keep your chin up!