Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Horse's Kiss of Love


Carol's scream pierced through the air like the shrill whistle of a CN train.  Mite knew she had hurt Carol.  I don't know if it was remorse or fear of repercussion, but she took off like a shot, clearing the fence in one big leap, racing down the road at full gallop never even looking back. 
When we ran to Carol's aid, we found her bleeding profusely from the mouth, her cut lip hanging limply over her chin hanging on just by the thin outside skin, her whole body convulsing in fear and pain.  I quickly took her indoors, washed the wound and after controlling the bleeding with wads and wads of soft bread, I lifted the lip back into position and taped her face to keep it that way.  Sending Jim out by bike to look for Mite, we packed the two shaking girls into the car and left for Dauphin and a doctor, forty miles away.
Carol, unable to do much with her mouth taped shut, sat silently in the back seat, but Connie, through heart-wrenching sobs, kept insisting "Mite didn't mean it.  She didn't! Honest!  She was just playing."  I think both girls were more afraid for Mite than for Carol's lip at this point and were worried we might try to get rid of their beloved pet.
Doctor Stephen, too, thought this might be a good idea as he examined Carol, although I do believe it may have been said with a tongue-in-cheek fashion.  After all, he had never before had a case where a child's lip was almost “kissed off” by a horse!  He stared at us in amazement when we told him what had happened.  Shaking his head in disbelief and speaking in a voice which was a strange mixture of astonishment, bewilderment, amusement and seriousness, he suggested "I think you should get rid of that horse."
Carol, her mouth taped shut again, but her eyes almost popping out of their sockets was shaking her head violently from side to side, her mournful "MMMMMM" echoing like a ghostly moan through the room.  Connie, in sheer panic now, broke into a fresh round of frantic sobbing, rushed to stand before the doctor beseeching him "She didn't mean it, she was only playing.  Mite wouldn't hurt her on purpose."
Dr. Stephen looked at this crazy mixed up family in front of him, probably convinced it was some bizarre dream he was having and told us that since the skin was not cut on the outside, we might be better off not to have it stitched to lessen the formation of scar tissue.  The inside cut would probably heal on its own provided it stayed taped and undisturbed for a couple of weeks.  This would mean Carol would have to exist on a totally fluid diet, consumed entirely through a straw for the whole period.  Carol's head bobbed up and down eagerly in agreement before he even finished the sentence.  I asked the doctor if he considered this advisable and he said that if we got some nutritional supplement to add to her milk, she could do this for a couple of weeks without jeopardizing her health.
That settled, but with some misgivings in spite of Dr. Stephen’s reassurances, we thanked the doctor, picked up the supplement at the drug store and drove back home, the girls both silent now, Carol with her mouth taped shut and Connie too spent by the emotions that had ravaged, and were probably still ravaging her.
When we got home, Jim was out in the yard consoling Mite whom he had found almost three miles from home.  She had come to him out of the bush where she had been hiding, when he kept calling for her. "She came to me slowly", he said, "and then she just stood there with her head down.  She didn’t mean to hurt Carol.  I know she didn’t".  He spoke with a sob in his throat and we knew that he, too, though concerned about Carol, was also worried about the repercussions for Mite. 
Assailed by three sets of verbal and non-verbal emotional entreatments that "Mite didn't mean it, she wouldn't hurt Carol on purpose", and seeing Mite's obvious remorse, we decided to forgive her and “not sell the horse”.
To be honest, I don't think we had even given much thought to Mite in the first place.  Our main concern had been Carol, to the exclusion of all else.  Anyway, Carol lived on milk and other liquid nutrients for two whole weeks, her mouth taped shut, her requirements communicated by means of sign language.  Jim and Connie were her willing slaves, jumping at her every beck and call, still fearing, perhaps, that Carol's demands might somehow jeopardize the precarious reprieve they had secured for Mite.
"Little Mite" had come to us as a gangly skittish colt barely weaned off her mother's milk.  The mare had succumbed to the dreaded sleeping sickness and left her young foal an orphan at a stage when her very survival was questionable.  The mare's owner did not wish to be bothered with the pitiful creature that would require much more care than he was prepared to give, so the foal was up for grabs.  Word of the tragedy spread through the community and we packed our young family, eight year old Jim, five-year old Carol and four-year old Connie and drove to see this pathetic little orphan. 
It was "love at first sight" for kids and parents alike and Joe's apt description of "Little Mite" fit her so naturally that naming her otherwise never even became an issue.  Arrangements were quickly made and Little Mite was loaded onto the truck, transported over the miles and released into a new world, with a strange but doting family, but not another horse in sight, let alone the mother she still needed and missed so terribly.
We tried bottle feeding her but I guess she considered it the ultimate indignity and would have none of it.  However, after a few tries, she did learn to drink cow’s milk from a pail and although we thought that was rather unusual, we decided not to argue with success.  Eventually she started refusing the milk altogether, but by then she was grazing, feeding herself successfully, so life just took on a regular routine and Mite continued to grow on her own.
The kids adored her and showered her with ceaseless attention but at first she was not used to children and invariably would prance coquettishly away whenever they crowded her.  Day after day, she wandered aimlessly within the confines of the fence enclosing the yard, grazing, drinking, sleeping, but always jerking her head up and expectantly, perking up her ears at each new sound that assailed her audible range.  But her mother never appeared, never answered her mournful neighs.
The kids attention never waned however.  They followed Mite around, never out of her sight and eventually their perseverance paid off when out of sheer resignation she would allow them to approach her, stroke her soft nose and sleek body and hug her neck till she backed off as if to say "Alright, enough already, leave me alone!"
Spring turned into summer and Little Mite was no longer the pitifully shy creature she had been when she first arrived.  She grazed contentedly around the yard and became great friends with Faline, the docile milk cow, with whom she shared the lush green grasses of the farmyard and Bimbo, the shaggy, black dog that was as much a member of this family as she was.
She revelled in the love of the children and was always there when they played their games, running along with them when they ran bases or played hide and seek, often to the point of becoming a nuisance when their friends came to play.  The neighbours' children enjoyed this however.  They thought it was neat to have the friendly colt running along with them in their games.  All around, Mite had captivated the hearts not only of our family but those of the neighbours as well, most especially the kids.
When the rest of the cattle were brought home for the winter, Little Mite was beside herself.  A hundred head of cattle, all shapes and sizes, had suddenly invaded the yard which she had considered her own private domain.  Often she could not get near enough to Faline to recapture that camaraderie that they had shared through the summer.  Faline did not seem to mind, she was at home with these creatures but with Jim at school, the girls indoors and Faline oblivious to her, Little Mite felt rejected and alone.  She wandered into the far corners of the yard trying desperately to stay out of this huge crowd that overwhelmed her by sheer numbers.  Eventually, she learned to tolerate them, but she always gave them a rather wide berth at the water trough or the self-feeder where they all ate.
The advent of spring meant new calves on the yard and new avenues for the kids affection whenever they were outdoors.  Mite would follow the children around, jealously trying to divert their attention from the newborn calves, and inevitably get in someone's way, provoking a rebuke that she would unabashedly ignore.  She relented, however, when the cattle were penned for the annual spring branding, immunizations, and other pasture preparations.  Their struggling and bellowing in the chutes melted her heart and she raced helplessly around the holding pens in bewilderment, obviously upset by their discomfort.
Finally the day came when the cattle, including those attention-stealing calves, were herded out through the open gate and driven off to their summer pasture.  This left Mite queen of the castle again, with Faline and the kids all to herself once more. 
But Faline, too, was in calf and when little Tammy was born; Mite immediately adopted her and willingly shared the children's affection with Faline and her calf.  She appointed herself legal guardian of the kids, Faline and Tammy and would go frantic if a stranger or intruder approached any of them.
Faline, being a Holstein, was a heavy milk producer, yielding three to four gallons of milk twice daily.  Tammy could not consume this volume and it had been common practice over the years to milk Faline down morning and night.  Between these milkings, the calves always thrived on what was left over.
Originally, I used to be the one that milked Faline but that year, early in the springtime, I had an unfortunate accident when I almost lost my middle and ring fingers on my right hand.  This left my right hand heavily bandaged for more than two months so Jim had to take over the milking duties.  Mite got used to this and I guess she liked Jim more than dull old me.  Jim could walk up to Faline, anywhere on the yard, pail in one hand, stool in the other, Faline would stop and Jim would milk her down as Mite stood by peacefully and watched.  It was a different story though if I tried it after my hand healed.  Mite seemed to think I was doing indecent things to Faline and would run around, nudging Faline to keep her moving, not allowing her to stop for a moment to allow me to milk her.  On occasion when Jim would be away and I had to milk Faline, we literally had to close either Mite or Faline in the barn for me to be able to milk the cow in peace!
When September rolled around and the kids went to school, Little Mite moped around the yard like a forsaken bride.  With Bimbo often hiding in the shade somewhere, her only consolation was Faline, and her calf and she was never more than a few feet away from her side.  They became inseparable.  When the kids got home from school, Mite was in her glory!  As the school bus stopped to unload, she impatiently ran wide arcs around the yard neighing excitedly until the children reached her.  She pranced around like a princess, overjoyed to have them back and allowed the children to hug her endlessly without ever backing away.
Mite’s nemeses were the pigs!  To her, they were obnoxious snorting imbeciles that belonged in a secure enclosure, well separated from all decent animals.  When Jim would go into the pen to clean, Mite would go into a frenzy, distraught and frantic galloping around the outside of the pen, neighing her heart out, convinced that her precious Jim was in some mortal danger of his life among those terrible creatures.
One day when one of the pigs rutted a hole under a weak point in the fence and got out, Mite went wild.  Faline and Tammy were near the pen and Mite rushed to their defence.  We literally feared for that pig's life as Mite, head low to the ground and bellowing dire threats in horse language, sent that poor pig squealing for cover. 
To be fair to Mite, perhaps her kissing Carol was a natural and invited practice.  The kids often had sugar cubes, pieces of carrots, apples or some other treat for Mite to nibble on out of their hand.  Often if they failed to bring a tasty morsel, she would nudge them on the back with her nose as if to say "Come on, where is it?"  She would smack those huge floppy lips till they laughingly ran back and brought her a treat.  Carrots or apples, in particular were often presented to her from the mouth.  In addition, in their affection, the kids would often kiss Mite right on those big soft lips of hers.  It was on just such an occasion, as Carol was delivering one of those kisses, and Mite deciding to kiss her back, that got Mite into such trouble that day.  Her big lip caught Carol's bottom lip, pressing it against her sharp top teeth, thus cutting Carol's lip on the inside till it hung only by the outside skin.  It wasn’t meant to hurt Carol.  It was merely Mite’s “kiss of love”.                                  More on Little Mite  another time.

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