You could easily overlook Sweet Lady Grey. She's a quiet one amongst all of the other horses who so readily hang their heads over the gates and push at each other for the pets of our guests. Sweet Lady Grey will usually be standing just outside the barn doors watching and observing, but gladly - at her own choice - keeping her distance from all of us Human Beings. Yes, Sweet Lady Grey is an easy one to miss.|
But if only this horse could talk! I would ask her why she is still - after 20 years! - so tentative around us? What ever caused her to be so suspicious? So easily spooked away? And so very, very terrified of being tied!!
Sweet Lady Grey came to me years ago - back in 1984. A friend of mine was at an auction in Southern Minnesota and she called me from the auction ring: "There's a registered Arab mare here - with papers. It's a divorce case and they can't decide who gets the horse. So she was sold and a kill buyer bought her. But now he won't kill her since she's pregnant. He paid $100 for her and he wants to make a profit. Want her?"
Well, I could go on and on about my plans for raising award winning Arabians. Heck, in my mind I was going to be the next Patrick Swayze! And this little mare did not fit in to my plans! I could go on and on, like I said, with the discussion that ensued in my head. Yes, I could go on and on.
Two days and $101 later, my sister and I are pulling a borrowed horse trailer with her station wagon and we are on our way to Southern Minnesota to retrieve the newest addition to my barn. I bought her sight unseen. Sweet Lady Grey was her name. And she was anything but sweet!
She was skinny with the start of a big belly. Feet desperately in need of a trim. Head jerking all over the place! And just waiting for a chance to run me over and get away from me - literally!!! To her, Humans were just something to get away from! That was certain! She was dangerous to be around, that was confirmed in my first encounter with her.
After Lady inaugurated me with a bloodied lip, flattened toes, and generally being pushed and banged around, we were trailed and on our way. Once home, she made horrendous noises at Ono, her new companion. Poor Ono just stood there and looked at her with this puzzled expression on her face. What was that noise? How did you do that? Neither of us knew that a horse - let alone a petite, little Arab mare - could make a sound anything like that!
Al, the farrier, came to visit the very next day. He tried and tried to clip the front feet (which were the worst of all), but his nippers would not go through the hoof. And Al is a strong man! But those nippers would not cut that hoof no matter how many times or at what angle he tried! So, Al began slowly trimming the hoof away with his hoof knife.
Lady stood perfectly still (amazing!) as stroke after stroke continued and Al removed thin slices of her deformed hoof. This long, curled thing on the end of her leg that we called a hoof was slowly taking shape. And thenů lo and behold, we found shoes in there. Yes, shoes. Her hooves had grown right over her shoes on her front feet! Al just shook his head. While I cried.
After her feet were trimmed, I focused on her body and feeding her and trying to get her through this pregnancy. She was grossly underweight and so flighty that she wouldn't stand still long enough to eat! The feed flew all over the place every time she took a mouthful and then started flinging that head of hers! She was a pure Arab, that was for sure!
Lady spent the summer with me and by the end of the season, she would come in the barn - at a walk! - and go directly in to her stall. She literally attacked her feed but she would at least stand and eat now. She routinely broke feed buckets from her hammering at her feed. But after six months, I had a horse I could at least walk within 10 feet of without having her run over me or kick at me or make that horrific noise of hers!
And she and Ono were becoming fast friends. Ono the mellow, kind of slow one and Sweet Lady Grey, as fast as the wind! What a pair! They were so good for each other and would spend over 20 years together as pasture mates!
Toward the start of the next spring season, Lady lost the ribs sticking out of her sides and soon came to know me as the "the one with the food". And that was all. She still wanted no part of me or any other Human Being. Just feed her and then leave. No touching allowed!
While trying to groom her, I found deep and profound scars on her rear, lower legs. That could explain her need to run from being tied. Had she been tied and bred? Tied and beaten? Had she been caught in fence or wire while tied? I was certain something terrible had happened to her while she had been tied. How else do you explain the broken rings in my new horse trailer? The numerous broken lead ropes? And the sheer panic in her eyes that tells you she will fight being tied until something breaks - the rope, the hook, or her neck!
The baby she was carrying? Early her first spring with me, Lady delivered a huge - absolutely huge - palomino stud colt. And he was dead. Full term. Ready for delivery. In fact, too ready. That colt was so large it tore her badly. But that was the least my worries.
Sweet Lady Grey did not "clean out" and the risk of infection was very high since she had literally pushed some of her organs outside of herself. Huge injections of anti-labor drugs were given and we stitched her butt cheeks together to "hold her insides in". It was very bad, the vet told me.
I spent the night with her in the box stall, still in my work clothes. I rested on a lawn chair next to her and watched her as the contractions made her stomach muscles roll. And I watched as tears rolled out of her squeezed shut eyes and down her face. She refused water, feed, and her favorite treats. She just stood there and ached. And my heart ached with her.
But by 3am she was getting some of her spunk back and tipped my lawn chair over - with me in it! Then she pushed at me. And finally, I got the message. She wanted out of that box stall! So I opened the door and she gingerly stepped out to find her Ono. And then quietly, she stood next to Ono and began to nibble at a bit of green grass. Ono smelled her body, checked out her huge butt stitches, and then accepted her. I was touched by the need for companionship and the total acceptance of that companion. What teachers these horses are!
When Earl, the vet, stopped by my barn at 5am the next morning, he found me sleeping in my lawn chair in her empty box stall. "What time did she go?" he asked. "About 3am or so", was my reply. And then I pointed out in to the pasture. "My Lord!" Earl exclaimed. "That horse shouldn't have made it through the night!"
It is now the close of 2006 as I write the story of this little mare who came in to my life. And yes, Sweet Lady Grey still graces the pastures! Throughout the years, she has shared in the excitement of Ruby's arrival, the true love his protection, and then the deep grief of her chosen one's passing. Soon after, we again shared the deep grief of the passing of her pasture mate, Ono. And not being one to befriend easily, Sweet Lady Grey has become a loner in the pastures.
But she still runs like the wind! And yes, you can still see those huge dimples in her butt from her stitches of so many years ago. And yes, she still resists my attempts to hug and love her.
But she teaches me of persistence and quiet strength. She teaches me to live life on my own terms. And to be a bit cautious before giving my all. However, from Lady's example, I have learned that when I do give, I must give everything I have to give. She is a good teacher to me. She watches me. She is continually alert to her surroundings - quite a good survival skill, don't you think?
And I still have those shoes that we found buried under her deformed front hooves. I hold them sometimes when I get a new horse on THE FARM and I cannot fathom the lack of care or their condition when they arrive. I hold those shoes and those shoes give me hope. And a touch of persistence. And a bit of the same determination and stamina that kept Lady alive in those conditions.
So began my life with Sweet Lady Grey. Not wanting me but needing me, she survived against all of the odds. Determined to save herself. Only wanting to be left alone. And willing to run and show off her beauty to those that will watch herů from a distance. She is a free spirit, indeed! And yes, every once in a while, Sweet Lady Grey is still willing to give me that noise of hers!