Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nikki, our horse, got quite a Christmas present: a fellow equine.
Horses are herd animals, and we've worried about Nikki being alone since we had to euthanize Molly, our ailing, blind mule, a few months ago. Nikki did have the goats as barn companions, but they couldn't be pasture mates since the goats can't be trusted to stay on the property once they're out of their pen.
So this ad on Craigslist caught my wife's attention: "Looking for forever homes for trail horses. … We want them to go to great homes, where they will be loved and taken care of. All horses are very easy keepers!"
The horses had been on the job for years at Academy Riding Stables and were ready to retire –- hanging out in the pasture and going on occasional rides. We visited to check them out and quickly had our eyes set on two of them. There was Bryan, advertised as "15.5h (hands) black gelding, great temperament, awesome kids horse, 23 years old;” and Undies, "15h white mare, very relaxed and easy going temperament, 24 years old."
Margaret was first drawn to the majestic-looking Bryan. But then she got on Undies and immediately felt at home in the saddle. The same with our horse-savvy neighbor Shirley, who had come with us. With Shirley as the rider, Undies demonstrated a remarkably graceful trot, seemingly gliding over the ground.
And so Undies it was. The one thing that didn't grab us: her name. Undies is short for Undertaker, so named because she used to pull an old, horse-drawn hearse before she came to Academy Riding Stables in 2001 or so. To us, naming a horse Undertaker is like naming it Killer or Death Trap –- not very comforting. But she responds to the name Undies, so we'll probably stick with it. (A New York Times horse-racing blog compiled a list of "the worst-named horses" that included Indy Undies along with such winners as Gangrene, Cranky Pants, The Coffin and Toxic Tea.)
Tony Paris, manager of Academy Riding Stables, called Undies one of the queens of the herd. She was an old favorite at the stables; you could put anyone on her, he said, and the rider would always be smiling by the end.
Tony brought Undies to our place later that day. Nikki was excited when the horse trailer arrived, but was more subdued than we anticipated once Undies was in the paddock next to her. Both were remarkably calm.
We kept them in their separate pens for a week so they could get used to each other, then released them into the pasture together. They galloped as a pair, enjoying their freedom, and seemed happy to be together. Since then, though, there's been some jockeying for dominance, with Nikki trying a few times to kick Undies. That's pretty common, though Nikki is taking on a horse bigger than her in her effort to be queen. ("Even a pair of horses will establish some kind of subtle or overt hierarchical arrangement," notes an online article at thehorse.com.)
For the most part, though, things have been peaceful. It's still a pleasant surprise, though, to look out back and see two horses.
The return of Cow No. 17
It had been a long time between visits. A few years ago, Cow No. 17 (so called because of the red tag in her ear with the number 17), visited our property several times along with various bovine buddies, all from a nearby ranch.
We hadn't seen her since and thought the rancher had gotten rid of her, but on a recent evening, Cow No. 17 and what we assumed was her calf were in our front yard. We shooed them away, and they strolled down the road toward home.
Cow No. 17 returned the next night, though, this time with eight of her friends. Apparently, the shreds of vegetation in our garden were a lure, but the cows ended up checking out pretty much every corner of the property, judging from the cow pies they left behind.
We called the rancher to let him know his cattle were on the loose, and they either got rounded up or returned home on their own. But the visits demonstrate an interesting state law: Under the state fence statute, livestock –- primarily cattle and horses –- are allowed to roam pretty much where they want. If you don't want them on your property, it's your responsibility to fence them out. (There are several caveats, though; owners, for example, can be ticketed if they knowingly let livestock graze on roads.)
The neighboring rancher has always been a responsible livestock owner, but Cow No. 17 has an instinct for escape. In this latest case, another neighbor had been working on fences and left a gap.
Cow No. 17 may not be back for a while. She's quite visibly pregnant, so she may have her hands (well, hooves) full soon with a newborn.
Undies, now retired, is well known to riders at Academy Riding Stables. Photo by Bill Radford