Not long after the bum lamb incident, mother set about establishing the horse ranch she’d always dreamed of. Once a week, we’d drive out to the Talbot ranch to purchase whole, unpasteurized milk, fresh sweat cream butter, and eggs. Along with our dairy shopping, we occasionally bumped out to the mosquito-infested pastures to admire the Talbot horse herd. Mom’s own small herd owed its beginnings to these weekly excursions.
It began with the purchase of a young white colt for my sister. Each time we went out to admire young Blanco, a little chocolate-colored colt insisted on attention too. He had a unique way of asserting himself. Rather than nosing around for treats, he’d turn his rump toward the nearest human and inch his way back until his ass blocked out the horizon. He wouldn’t stop backing until a hand settled on that furry little rump for a good scratch. Then his hind legs would spraddle and his whiskery little nose elongated and twisted in ecstasy.
The purchase of the two colts necessitated land to put them on. Mom found property on Skyline drive, half a mile from the drive-in movie theatre. The sixty dry-acre ranchette included a house, which she rented out, and extensive barns, corrals, and paddocks. Her herd proceeded to grow. I think my pony, Jessie was next, followed by several more horses.
But sixty acres of dry land in Wyoming is scarcely enough to feed one horse year-round, so mom was faced with costly hay and grain supplements. Looking around town at all those freshly manicured lawns, she thought, why not supplement the expensive hay with some free grass clippings? So began our Saturday morning alley routine. Before we even had a pickup truck, we had a sedan with a cavernous trunk which we lined with a canvas tarp onto which we dumped boxfuls of freshly clipped grass. It was imperative to get to the clippings at the optimum time, before the sun had time to cook the mounds of grass. We developed sensitive noses to sniff out mold and fermentation along with heat-sensitive fingers to burrow deeply into each pile to inspect for freshness.
Mother considered this procedure to be sweat equity and keeping the kids out of trouble. For me it was humiliation. We sometimes raced the smelly garbage truck to snare our produce before it got hauled away. I felt like Oliver Twist as we scavenged the backsides of some of the nicest homes in town. We became intimate with certain family’s household routines—knowing precisely when Mr. Barr would be finished mowing his expansive, clover-studded backyard, for instance. My classmates lived in these homes and I shuddered to think what went through their minds when they saw me sweating over their refuse.
Our efforts came to a disastrous conclusion when, despite our careful monitoring, Jewell coliced on a bin of hay mixed with green grass clippings. Jewell was a beautiful sorrel mare with fine features and trim little ankles. She was pregnant when mom bought her and her foal was only a month or two old when the trouble began.
We had completed our morning grass gathering rounds, fed the horses and gone for a ride that day. Jewell, in the corral with her baby and one other horse, gorged herself on hay enriched with succulent green grass clippings. After unsaddling and feeding our mounts that afternoon, we noticed that Jewell was behaving oddly.
She walked awkwardly and switched her tail. She impatiently pushed the foal away from the dinner bag and stood with her legs splayed, occasionally kicking ferociously at her belly with a hind leg. These were ominous signs. When mother approached, the horse stood, glassy-eyed. Sweat dampened the hair on her shoulders, above her eyes and around her ears. Mom called the vet.
He instructed her to keep the mare moving slowly around the corral till he got there. When he arrived he administered mineral oil through a tube that snaked down her throat and into her stomach. He told us to keep her moving and warned us that if she didn’t pass gas or poop her chances of survival were minimal. It was best to keep her on her feet, even though she wanted to lie down and thrash__which could result in the even more deadly condition of a twisted gut.
A nightmarish vigil endured through sunset and into night. We took turns walking the miserable mare; at times it took one of us to pull and two to push just to keep her moving. We trudged on in the light of a flashlight, our hearts buried in our own rumbling stomachs. Eventually, around 10:00 PM mother called the vet again. Things were only getting worse. Jewell was exhausted and groaning in agony. The foal was hungry and bewildered. The other horses had been somberly observing the process through the fence rails. In a guttered voice, my mother begged the vet to come back out and put the horse out of her misery.
What to do about the foal?
In the wee hours of the morning, we faced a new dilemma. The orphaned filly would need near constant care for several weeks. So little Sandy became the next notable visitor to our urban zoo on 9thand Garfield. But Sandy would not be the last of our guests. The story continues in the next post.