Valentine's Day and a Goat Tail. I Mean Tale.

WM SpiritArthurIs it too soon to say the word? Sure, there’s more snow coming. You’d be nuts to pack away the tank heaters and long johns. Still, there’s a change in the light and the calendar agrees. The coldest part of winter is past and for some of us, Valentine’s Day is a cross between New Year’s and the first day of Spring. Horse people have their own sense of time. Let’s toast with chocolate.

We made it! If you have an elder in your herd, you breathe a secret sigh. He’s managed to steal another base and the game plays on. Each winter has a new set of challenges. It isn’t that the old ones have been resolved. The Grandfather Horse is still arthritic and his awkward lump hasn’t gone away.

Of course, he had his annual gastric emergency. I was recuperating from foot surgery and on a knee scooter when it happened. I called the vet and sat down while I watched him shift weight and furrow his brow. Then he walked down the run, sniffed my hair, and carefully laid down almost touching me. I checked the time and the pain in his eyes. Was this the day?

The Grandfather Horse is coming thirty. It’s an old thirty. If you can look past the elephant in the room, it’s almost laughable. We reminisced about close calls while we waited for the vet. Like that time two years ago, in the midnight ground blizzard, when he couldn’t stand up. And he never lets me forget the famous near-death emergency sheath cleaning incident. Okay, it was pretty funny.

Eventually the vet arrives to find the two of us sprawled the width of the run. He probably wonders if today is the day, too. Nope. Not today.

Less than a month later the Grandfather Horse started spitting out all of his chew-ed up hay. He’d been spitting out a random wad here and there for years, sometimes keeping a chaw in his cheek, but this morning, it’s two entire flakes of hay chew-ed up and spit out in a mushy pile.

It’s not that I’m cynical. Not exactly, but at lunch time I place one perfect flake of the greenest, leafiest alfalfa in his feeder. Consider it a reality check. The Grandfather Horse has grown persnickety about the exact texture of hay that he likes over the last decade, but he did it again. Spitting out alfalfa is like spitting out chocolate cake. I made the call.

The vet found a loose tooth and dang, it was on his good side. It’s been four winters ago now that he had that nasty infection on the opposite side, resulting in a complicated extraction and a long recuperation. I swore I wouldn’t put him through something like that again. The vet assures me it’s so loose, he can almost get it with his fingers. I agree, there’s a quick shot, and the tooth is out in a blink. Then it’s a full hour of trying to keep him balanced until he can stand on his own. Sedation is the scary part; we all try to act casual but no one takes an eye away for an instant. Once again, today isn’t the day.

I’d love to say the Grandfather Horse is as good as new, but that isn’t the way it works. At this age, they never come back all the way. It’s a negotiation; now he spits out about half his hay.

I hesitate to write about my Grandfather Horse at this point. People always tell me they cry and that isn’t my goal. I swear, this is a happy story. Please don’t feel sorry for his old heart… Last week he cantered a few strides in the snow and stayed on his feet. And the sun is getting warmer for his midday naps. Sometimes I see the two mares he gets turned out with cantering in circles, while he stands in the middle, lunging them with his eyeballs. It’s good to be king.

I suppose I should report one more injury. Arthur the goat, who loves to race the horses to turnout, bounded past me like that old riddle; what’s black and white and red all over? The blood splatter was so vibrant and far-flung that it startled me–especially on the run like that. Goat tying isn’t my event, so I went back the barn table and shook the grain can. Arthur bounded back just as quickly, blood cheerfully flying in all directions. It was the very end of his tail and it was missing. The very last vertebra of his tail was exposed–sticking out like just one finger at the end of a sleeve. The blood was starting to clot, so I dumped some grain out and ran for the amateur vet’s best friend: Google. I was careful choosing my search words, but no need. Dozens of articles appeared instantly. Apparently it isn’t a rare thing with goats and they recover without much help. I managed to clean it up some, but as previously stated, goat tying isn’t my thing.

Earlier, as I was mucking chew-ed up hay out of the Grandfather Horse’s run, I’d found a small patch of white hair still attached to a hunk of skin. It was bordering the next run, but that occupant is a bay. I thought it was odd, but then mice and snakes get baled up with the hay all the time. Egads, that must have been Arthur’s tail scalp.

If there were witnesses, no one was speaking up. In U.S. criminal law, guilt is proven by means, motive, and opportunity. Those pointy little hooves might be motive enough. Opportunity is a no-brainer; Arthur is always as close as kin. As for means–well, those long old front teeth are about the only ones he has left.

The evidence was all circumstantial. Besides, we don’t have a democracy here. Like I said, don’t feel sorry for his old heart. Game on. It’s still good to be the king.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Valentine's Day and a Goat Tail. I Mean Tale.”

  1. Great post, Anna! “Lunging them with his eyeballs” was hilarious. I could picture it easily. I’m ordering your new book today! 🙂

  2. I ❤️’ed The grandfather horse ‘tail/tale’. He sounds like a wonderful character, and it’s great that the old uns
    (my horsey friend is 25) still have the spirit and personality to make us smile. Long may he remain as well as can be!!

  3. So glad your old boy is still trucking on! I remember when Chico started spitting out wads of hay – tried wetting it – tried cutting it up – didnt work. So started bags of “condensed” hay (cant remember what they were called – senior moment) anyhow wet them & mucked them up and he could eat those fine. But he so loved his hay – still gave him a flake to gnaw on. You know – listening to them chew give you such a good feeling. He missed that & so did I. So sorry about the goat tail! But it sounds like you hurt worse than he did!!!

  4. Wonderful piece! Wondered if you have tried CHAFFEHAY. Sold in bags. My old guy (30)was doing the same thing. This product is great! It is chopped in small pieces. He really likes it and is very plump.

  5. I love the grandfather horse stories. You write so from your heart. I love old horses, and old dogs, and old cats too. They need a lot of watching and the view is sometimes amazing. I’m so happy grandfather horse and Arthur are ok.

  6. I love your blog Anna Blake….educational and always entertaining! No witnesses and you still have a story! Bravo! Enjoy entering into Spring!

  7. Gosh I am so happy to have stumbled across you writings. Beautiful. Here in AZ there was mare that wouldn’t eat anything much, or couldn’t due to COPD or something, I don’t remember. They gave her what they called ‘fines’ it was basically ground up alfalfa, or alfalfa/bermuda pellets. They wet them down a bit and she ate them right up. In England we used to do the chaff for the oldies too, but if your guy doesn’t like them then that’s no good. They also used to love soaked beet pellets, although my TB refused to eat them if I soaked them in warm water, he liked his cold soaked only. lol. Have you ever read Susan Garlinghouse’s story on the Beet Pulp and the Squirrel? Such a funny story Enjoy if you haven’t already. I could read it once a week, it’s hilarious.

  8. My grandfather horse was an Appaloosa that lived to the crusty old age of 40, I got to share more than half with him. In the last years, we traded hay munching for schlurping of soaked alfalfa pellets. Literally like soup. I made dinner at breakfast and so on so it had time to break down. I made it warm in winter. He aged so well, the new vet didn’t believe me when I gave his age until he looked in his mouth and found almost no teeth. “Can’t hardly kill an Appaloosa,” the vet mumbles. We added color to the musical freestyle scene. No classical music for us. I understand the sigh of releif when the spring shed begins. Thank you for your blog, I sure enjoy it.

  9. Well..I can’t read anything you write with out crying…happy and sad tears! Just received Relaxed and Forward. Can’t wait to curl up and start reading. Peggy Seale

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. Hi Anna! Wonderful story! My Grandfather Appy laid down peacefully at age 35. He was all bleached out like yours and quite healthy to the end. He had a couple of teeth tumble out into the vet’s hand once was all. On Feb 2, 2005, he just quietly lay down under his favorite tree. No struggle. Wish it could be that way for all the seniors. Last time I posted was a reply to “Shedding in the bedding” . You shared Walter’s diet program and I want to tell you that my dog Kyra-14 years old- is doing well even though our loving vet predicted she wouldn’t make it through the winter. So happy Valentine’s Day to us all! It does indeed feel like a milestone. I haven’t seen a post of Walter…is he still with us?

  11. An idea that was posted in my Natural Horsemanship Group not long ago may be helpful. A chipper like you would use to chop up limbs and yard waste was successfully used to chop hay as needed for horses with trouble eating. This person couldn’t find chopped hay in their area. I bet it is expensive if you can find it!

    • I’ve had good luck with those Standlee compressed bales for being chopped well. Most of the nutrition this horse needs comes from his concentrated feed, his teeth are bad enough that he hasn’t been getting nutrients out of his hay for a while… but the change in one day was alarming. Thanks for you comment.

  12. oh Anna, such a good good story! Old grandpa is doing well.
    I have 4 old grandpas! 30 is young in my little herd. But the boss man, old one eyed grulla, Smoke, at 34 looks to be living forever! I could write a similar story explaining why I spent almost $1000 trying to figure out what to do with a sore on his withers last summer. We finally gave up and it ended up healing completely on it’s own much to everyone’s shock. The old guy is tough as nails. A younger bolder big black gelding has decided to test the old guys boss position off and on this winter. It’s been scary when you are near them as they go after each other. So far, the old guy remains solidly at the top of the 9 horse herd.

    • That is wonderful that you elder is so strong. Mine isn’t so tough, but we all act like he is. There is so much to be learned by older horses; it’s a shame that they don’t get the respect they deserve once they have retired. Thank you for this sweet comment, and scratch that old pirate for me.


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