This is a hard post to write. I've been avoiding it for about a month now. It's fun to write the posts when you feel in the driver's sea,t with something interesting to say or some knowledge gained that you'd like to share, perhaps some insight that might help others as well. I have none of that to offer here. This time I simply must admit I failed, came to the limits of my courage and abilities. It's an admission of falling short of the mark I'd have liked to reach.
Pickle as most of you know is my favorite equine I've owned since I was a child. I got him from a woman that saved him from a kill pen. He'd obviously had quite a poor start in life and was at one time almost starved. The very nice woman and her husband had treated Pickle kindly, got some weight on him and then sold him shortly after that to me.
Some where in Pickle's past he was treated unkindly. He had some fear issues, mostly around men and sometimes his anxiety would build up and he'd buck and bolt when under saddle. He'd gotten much better with me. Work in the round pen, on the ground and many hours in the saddle had made him quite a fun and reliable horse to take out on the trails both alone and in company. Most people still could not catch Pickle loose in a pasture but he'd walk right up to me even if it was dark out. Pickle needed to trust people and to know they would not hurt him.
He'd learned that with me, but would sometimes still booger, buck and bolt when something like a bicycle or a motorcycle would pass him on the road. For that reason he was deemed by Bernie and I as a fairly unreliable road horse. Yet I decided that I would keep him and keep working on him in the round pen, sacking him out, doing ground work and riding a bike around him. I decided that when we were ready to travel, although not ideal, I'd use him as my pack animal when we were riding along roads.
I decided to find a very road broke horse to pair him with, that could become my main saddle horse when we ride along busy roads. So I started searching for a small, road safe horse. I found a lovely Haflinger mare owned by the Yoders of Rock Valley Farm in Strassberg, Ohio. Though it was a bit of a drive from our farm, Bernie and I took a road trip with Snookie (our old dog). We drove 6 and a half hours up to Ohio, had a look at the mare, tried her under saddle and then went for a drive in a cart with her owner at the reins. When a huge dump truck came clattering at us while trash was blowing under her hooves and passed us with out much of a reaction from the mare, we were sure that she would be a wonderful addition to our herd as my main road safe saddle horse. Pickle could be dallied to her far side carrying the packs as we road along roads.
The mare was indeed for sale but she was consigned to a horse sale and the owners felt strongly about not selling her before the auction. So Bernie and I waited two long weeks for the auction. When the day came, Bernie phone bid on her for me while I watched the auction streaming live on Bernie's computer screen. We had pre-agreed on a price that we would not go beyond. The bidding went up fast and I was sure we'd lose her. As our final number went roaring by I gave Bernie the thumbs up to go one more number up. We both knew we would not go any higher. It seemed for a moment that the bidding had roared on by, but then I herd the guy say on the phone to Bernie." I think you have her. Youve got the high bid." It was so exciting. Our first purchase ever at a sale and we were so excited to be bring home such a nice mare.
A week later Bernie, Snookie and I got up before light and drove back up to Ohio to pick up our new mare, which we named Pie. I called an hour out from the Yoder's farm to let them know when we'd be arriving. Debbie answered the phone and said that her five year old daughter wanted to ride her pony one more time before she left. We said that was fine. When we arrived Daniel and Debbie were in their barn and their five year old daughter, Eva was riding Pie who they had called Cami up and down the aisle of the barn. Little Eva sat so proudly and relaxed riding her pony bareback in an Indian war bridal up and down in front of the other horse, sticking their necks out into the aisle.
But when it was finally time for her to get off the realization that her pony was leaving for good overtook her and she began to cry as her father gently slid her off Pie's back and into his arms. She was so sad to be seeing her favorite pony leaving. I could see that her parents felt for her and I sure felt for her. In fact I felt terrible taking her pony away but it was their family business and very much going to be a part of her whole life. We gave her a moment as she worked to contain her sobs.
But then I heard more sobbing coming from another corner of the barn not near the child fighting to be brave as her pony was leaving. I turned around to find Bernie also consumed by tears. Boy, he sure felt that child's loss too. It's hard to lose a favorite pet. We all sure know that. Eva was so brave for her age. She got a hold of her tears and walked her pony out to the trailer, a really fine young horse woman in the making. Bernie too got a hold of himself and with promises that they could come and visit her anytime and that we would send updates and photos we left. Poor Eva. Little did I know that a few weeks later I would be holding back my own tears as I too said goodbye to my favorite pony.
We got home around 9pm and put Pie, for the night, in a temporary stall we'd made in our barn. The next morning I got up early and took her for a walk down the road so she could see where she was. Then I got Pickle out of the corral and brought him down to Pie's stall so that they could meet each other. I assumed that things would go well as Pickle has been very easy to introduce to all horses and mules. He's spent time at other barns and has always gotten along with pasture mates and has been good with all the mules we've ever brought home.
They sniffed noses and squealed. Then they arched their necks and sniffed some more. Then Pickle struck out with his front leg. They repeated these moves a few times then went back to munching. He on the grass right on the other side of the corral panel that separated them and Pie on the hay that was next to the corral panel on her side. I thought that was more or less it. I put Pickle back in his corral with the mules and went in for breakfast. After breakfast Bernie and I led Pie up into our round pen which sits inside our corral. We decided we'd let Pie loose in the round pen to eat some hay and let the mules and Pickle have theirs on the outside so they could all get to know her a bit over a fence before putting them all together.
Well, no sooner had we put Pie in the round pen when things started to go south. Pickle got very aggressive. He started striking at her with his front legs. Then he started running around the pen kicking at it. Then he started leaping up on the fence. Then he started trying to charge over it. He reared up on the fence almost getting over it. Not once but three times while we ran in and waved him off the panels with our lead ropes. He bent the round pen panels trying to leap over them. It looked very scary and dangerous. We were afraid that he'd hurt himself and her at any moment. So shaking with adrenaline I ran in and got a rope and halter back on Pickle.
Both Bernie and I grew up on horse farms and that was by far the most aggressive we'd seen a horse want to be to another one. We decided that an introduction, unless done off our farm where Pickle would not be on his territory was not a good idea and would be dangerous to both of them.
We contemplated taking them to another farm and doing a slow introduction over a fence. Perhaps it would have worked. In the end given Pickle's other issues we decided instead to retire Pickle to a farm in Virginia where I have another horse living the good life out in a herd of other retired horses. They run in big grass pastures and are checked daily by a lovely couple that own and run the farm. I have no doubt he will grow in to a stout but happy horse there but I will miss him so much. I will visit some when I can.
I know the tears that Eva shed when Pie left her, they are mine too when I let Pickle go in to his new life in a Virginia field. One pony in one pony out life goes on and we grow a bit from the pain.