I have a neighbor, a couple of properties to the north, who brings his cattle home to calve each spring. The pasture is empty the rest of the year but then in one day, twenty-five head materialize, casually grazing. They’re hard to miss. The prairie grass is still a monochromatic tan color in all directions and his cattle are Angus–as black as those silhouette cutouts of howling coyotes or leaning cowboys. The contrast is dramatic. So is Clara.
My mare stands at the fence line hour after hour, simultaneously attracted and repelled. It’s her commitment that alarms me. She actually loses a fair amount of weight. Apparently it’s hard to eat with them lurking. This is the eighth year she’s held her position.
The job gets significantly more difficult about April. By then the calves are on the ground frolicking around like little pepper explosions. Sometimes the cows stroll off toward the rise and the calves dawdle long enough to scare themselves into a tiny stampede to catch up. Surely you can see Clara’s problem.
(Maybe some animals have species pride, or are born into predestined gangs, or just have karma to work out. Like dogs and cats. Like horses and cattle.)
In the early years, she could convince our entire equine herd to be concerned and form a line beside her. There was even one Saturday a few years back where all the horses in the group lesson out in the arena participated in some sort of contagious spooking incident, even though they had no idea why. She’s like that grade-school boy in the library peering up at the ceiling. I fell for it too many times, only to hear the taunt, “Made you look!”
The old joke isn’t funny to Clara; her childhood anxiety is real. I don’t know if she loves them or hates them, but she still sounds the alarm; a loud, sharp snort as she stretches a few inches taller. Her tail begins to float up and this time her snort trembles through her whole body. She’s universally ignored by the herd as she lifts the front half of her body up into the air and takes a circle so elegant and so sweet, that her hooves can barely touch the ground. In the split-second hang time of each stride, her ears point to the intruders. And their horrible, unruly children.
At the late night walk-thru, she’s still facing away, standing guard. She looks thin in moonlight so I try to coax her to eat her hay with an added flake of alfalfa. The only thing worst than fear is feeling punished for it, so after a few moments, I carry her meal to her work station on the fence line and give her a scratch.
Now her worry has become mine as well. It’s contagious. Fear is the most diabolical villain because we hold it close inside of us. From that vantage point, rational thought makes no difference at all.
It occurs to me that I finally understand why people bully fearful horses. It’s a defense. A line of demarcation to appear separate from the frightened one. Bullies are ironically afraid of being seen as afraid. It would be laughable if it didn’t do damage. At the same time, it’s probably why fear is such a worthy adversary.
Right about here you want to tell me to give that mare a chance to work stock; that chasing cows will make it all okay. And I hear you. I wasn’t born in a dressage saddle, you know.
But there’s time. You see, I’m just like Clara; I think too much. Sometimes I get worried about things beyond my fence line, too. All the common sense and rational thought in the world doesn’t break my stare. Fear, or the act of denying fear, are equally exhausting. Days like this, we could use a truce for the sake of our hearts. We’d do better to take time to rest awhile with our uncomfortable notions, and find some peace within the boundaries of our little lives.
After all, we don’t have to chase every silly cow we see.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.
46 thoughts on “Beyond the Fence Line.”
Every time I read one of your posts, I say out loud “this woman knows me!” Your words and writing are beyond amazing. Your posts are truly soul lifting and soothing, yet inspiring at the same time. Thank you so much for being the person who can bring thoughts and feelings to paper and be able to speak directly to me (well, to all the people who read your blog). I look forward to the photos and posts, keep them coming! Thank you from my horses, dogs, and yes, even cats. They surely must appreciate my gut instincts and intuition, when I listen to it. Kindest regards, Melanie Christensen
Thank you, Melanie. I always think we are all so much more alike than not, your comment makes me smile. Thanks.
You’re so right about fear, Anna. Please give Clara an extra scratch for me. BTW, I’m reading your book Stable Relation and really enjoying it. Great blog, too. Happy trails, Vivien
Clara and I will both feel your kind scratch; thanks for picking up Stable Relation. Hope you like it! Thanks for commenting.
This is how the horse betrays itself by demonstrating that it can, indeed, lift its back and get off the forehand 🙂
Heheheheh! Right you are…if only they moved under-saddle like they do at liberty!! Great comment, Alli.
This one made me laugh multiple times and as always shed some light into a little corner of my personal garden 🙂 ‘pepper explosions’!! I love it…
Nasty off-spring!! Thank you.
My old Arab gelding, Jade, stands vigilance quite often. I stand with him. Your words about bullies and fear are very timely on this earth day. It started for me when I was a young girl and would donate nickels and dimes to the anti-vivisection cause. It was able to align with other powerless beings. But we do have power. Jade and I stand together for the planet today. Clara is very blessed to have you stand with her, and we are blessed to have your sensitive words.
Thank you for this wonderful comment. We do need to stand with them, instead of against.
I love these blogs…just finished reading Relaxed & Forward, and totally enjoyed it..I would love all of my horsey friends to read it! Thank you so much for your writings, they make me think…oh and the pictures, really do enjoy them too!:)
Thanks so much. Selfishly, please do share the book. And just between us, sometimes the photos are my very favorite part!
Amen beautiful and so true about each of us,
Thank you, Terry. Breathe-always!
I think most of us become concerned “beyond our fence lines”. We are the most secure within them! Bullying and fear seem to be more prevalent right now – scary! On a lighter note, Chico (my app) also felt that cows – most especially black & white ones – were to be very feared (AND watched carefully). I guess that says we all need to watch the things (& people) we fear carefully – right? Is that what’s called a double entendre (?) not sure of spelling!
We are both full of double entendre! Thanks.
Outstanding post! Woke up restless in the predawn hours and read your post and it felt like you wrote it to me, for me, at this moment in my world. You put into clear words with meaning what I needed to hear. Thank you (again) Anna. I never miss your posts. Donna Scarpa
Well, Donna, I was up there restless with you. Thanks for reading!
Really great post, you could be describing me and Fin. He has a cattle fear too but mostly black and white dairy cows. I also worry mostly about things a have little control over. After a recent back injury I’m trying very hard to switch off and not stress or get involved in yard politics. Thank you for posting, I needed to hear today. ?
I am working at my switch, too… but I have to say black and white cows are especially worthy of distrust. Great comment, thanks.
OH I LOVE THIS!!!! <3
Anna this brings back memories from a couple of years ago. Our arena is across the street from a two hundred acre cattle ranch. Most of the time the cattle are way out somewhere unseen or unheard. But twice a year they come up to the upper pasture which is only about 30 feet across the street. They make a lot of noise. This day I was just trying to walk my Aruna in a straight line. I had been bucked off two weeks before when she panicked over a stupid thing that I had done. But when those cows started their noise she freaked out with me on her back. She wanted to run and the best I could do was to keep turning her head until she stopped. I jumped off and walked her over to the fence as close as we could go. We had one of our early “talks” and she settled down a little, enough where I could get back on her long enough so she could see that there was nothing to be afraid of. We have been through these interludes now three more times and each time we have to talk, but she gets a little better. And happily, I have not been dumped either.
I’d call that a great conversation. No winners and no losers. It’s perfect and you all live happily, and less fearfully, ever after. Just love you and your girls, Fred. Thanks for checking in.
About the time winter gives way to spring, my gelding spends several worrisome weeks on high alert.
He’s lived here on the farmette for almost seven years, but it only just dawned on me recently, that what monopolizes his attention to the point of not eating and drinking every year is a deer nursery hidden in the marsh just beyond the tree line. The does bed down out of sight of we humans, but nothing gets past Valentino. We do an extra feeding/water station at the far end of the paddock.
Thank goodness, once the fawns come out to play there’s no need to obsessively guard the perimeter any longer.
His senses are that much better than ours… and spring is a crazy time. Even for geldings. Give Uncle Vanlentino a scratch from me. And thanks.
My boy can often be seen doing the very same thing, the others not so much. We also have cows across the road a good part of the year. But still I had to do a hasty dismount when we encountered a few calves on our ride around the neighborhood. He is a flight kind of guy and I have a few seconds to make the decision, should I stay or should I go. We were able to say hi to them once I’d hopped off, if only hopping back on was quite so easy.
Nice job. There is nothing to gain from a wreck and if you two can both breath enough to calf chat, you win! Thanks for commenting.
Thank you for a wonderful post. Poor Clara, just standing there. I loved it!
Thanks Judy. Clara believes the rest of us are under-achievers…so she’s good.
This year, my neighbours cows calved next to my horse fields instead of 12 acres away. Unlike Clara, my mare tried to adopt a calf and actually did for one whole afternoon when the day old calf rolled under the fence board. My mare stood guard over the calf and would not leave it until mother cow came back and I went down to assist the calf back to it’s own side of the fence. Willow was even happy to allow the calf to check her belly to see if she had any milk. For about a week the calf would come daily to sleep beside the fence and Willow stayed with it.
Smile. My Clara is not so altruistic. Although my Grandfather Horse did adopt a baby llama. She still loves him. Nice to hear a good mare story, thank you.
Here it is not cows, in the spring we have sandhill cranes that nest in the marsh and do their jumping up and down love dance below our pasture and turkeys that fan their tails and strut in circles like German Burghers. Ember does the levitation and snort, then whirls to seek me out as if to say ‘look, look, do ya see what they’re up to?’ Meanwhile sweet Sal calmly watches the show with a bemused expression on her face and Winston, the mini donk gazes placidly as if he’s trying to figure out what the excitement is about.
Leave it to a donkey to be the sensible one… you have a interesting herd. Thanks for commenting.
I feel for that poor mare. Living in fear 24/7 must be awfull. Could it be coyotes? I dont know if you have some roaming around in your area but, calving cows with babies, that’s a free meal for these guys. Just a tought. We still have so much to learn about horse communication…. Another great story, I always look forward to reading it when I come home from the barn. Keep up the good work.
Thank you, Thérèse. And yes, coyotes are close by but the rabbit population keeps them busy. I agree that there’s a bigger picture than we are aware of.
Why are we so willing to acknowledge our fears (storms, spiders, heights), yet rarely work through them? But we expect our horses to ‘work’ through them and come out ‘cured’. What I know about horses fits in my little fingernail; new owner, new rider. Adopted a retired trail horse – BEFORE I learned he wouldn’t leave the barn without another horse… ‘Make him go, don’t let him get away with that’, ‘use a stronger bit’, ‘get a whip’. The terror in his eyes when I’d try to hack out was REAL. It crushed me. Because I knew how he felt. I was in an accident on a bridge. I now have panic attacks on bridges that span bodies of water. My fear is REAL; I feel I’ll die. Why is his fear different? The science in animal behavior is there. Why won’t we listen? Counter conditioning/desensitization now allows me to walk about 100 yrds onto the trail with him. He grazes peacefully. Eventually, when he’s ready, we’ll ride that 100 yrds. Thank you, thank you. I can’t remember how I found you, but immediately ordered your book and follow your blog. You’re real. You show your ‘sides’, if that makes sense. You ask us to think, explore and question, if we choose. I choose yes.
It all boils down to honesty… and that is more complicated for us than we like to admit. Thank you, wonderful comment. And congratulate your horse for me. He found a good one.
Thank you, yet again Anna, for yet another piece of refreshing, timeless wisdom. Always love your blog
Thank you… I work hard at saying things differently. I appreciate your comment.
Gorgeous shot & horse.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Horses always seem to look better all puffed up!
Thanks… Enjoyed your blog.
Thanks for reading it, Sharon.