Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Kiss of Love (continued)

The next summer, Carol and Mite had another episode which caused the kids much concern in regards to Mite's remaining with us.  Now two years old and almost fully grown, Mite was a beautiful horse, her graceful long legs invoking visions of thoroughbreds and racetracks.  Still too young to be ridden by adults, the kids could do anything they wanted with her.  Often, as Mite grazed, we would put one of the kids on her back - no saddle, just bareback - and they would ride that way while she just kept grazing, content to have them close around her.  Mite basked in the glory of their constant love and attention.  Even the kids' friends loved this peaceful pastime.  It was a Mutual Admiration Society all around.
One time, with Carol on her back, Mite was grazing beneath one of the countless maples on the yard.  Carol caught a branch, holding it back.  As Mite advanced, Carol let the branch go which sprang back, slapping Mite smartly on the rump.  Startled, Mite jumped.  Carol was caught off guard and fell backwards, landing on the hard ground, fracturing her shoulder blade.  Poor Mite knew she had dropped Carol.  Deeply concerned for her, she was nuzzling the crying figure on the ground as we rushed to Carol's side.
Once more we loaded the kids into the car and drove to see Doctor Stephen in Dauphin, who shook his head from side to side and gravely pronounced, "I think you should get rid of that horse."   Once more the kids entreated him with "It really wasn't Mite's fault.  She wouldn't hurt anyone on purpose."
The doctor x-rayed Carol's shoulder and told us that he could only put Carol's arm in a sling that she would have to wear for four weeks.  By avoiding excessive or sudden movement, the fracture would heal on its own.  Fearing to mention that horse again in front of those beseeching kids, he sent us home.
Mite hated intruders and jealously guarded her family, dominating and demanding the attention she believed belonged to her alone.  One day, my nephew and his wife, who lived in Florida, on their way to visit other relatives, stepped in to pay us a short visit.  They drove into the yard in their snazzy little red sports car convertible, and the kids were, of course, fascinated by this flashy vehicle.  They surrounded the car, admiring and inspecting its every detail. 
Repeatedly, Mite tried to divert their attention from the shiny red bug, but to no avail.  Victor offered the kids a ride in the car.  He didn't have to beg.  Thrilled, the kids eagerly piled into the car and off they went, leaving Mite standing there alone.  Dejected, she waited there sullenly until they returned, but when they got back, they were still ignoring her, so captivated were they by this fancy red convertible.  After a thorough inspection, everyone retired into the house without even a backward glance at Mite.  By then she had decided that she definitely did not like this big red beetle!
When we got up the next morning, Mite had had her revenge.  She had bitten off both aerials that had perched so proudly on the two rear fender wings.  She had also managed to rip off both windshield wipers.  These appendages lay on the ground beside the car where she had dropped them and Mite stood nearby, her head held high as if to say "So there!"  I guess it could have been worse.  At least she did not touch the plush red velvet seats that were also exposed.
By next spring, Mite was ready to ride and we wondered how she would train.  We bought a saddle and with the kids cooing to her, we put it on her back.  As we tightened the straps, she flinched and backed off.  The kids kept talking to her and she quieted down.  We kept putting the saddle on her back for the next few days and letting her graze with just the saddle on her back, just to get her used to the feel of it.  Then we put Connie into the saddle, holding on to the child, ready to snatch her off if Mite bolted.  She seemed reassured to have the child on her back.  We then tried it with Jim, who meant more weight, still ready to snatch him off if necessary but Mite was taking all this in stride.  She was used to having the kids on her back.  She didn't resist when John or I mounted either but she became skittish when anyone else would approach her with the intent to mount. 
One day, a friend of a neighbour came by.  He was immediately taken by Mite's graceful figure and asked if he could ride her.  We told him she was very particular about whom she allowed on her back but he said he'd ridden many horses and was quite sure he could manage her.  He was an experienced horseman, a good man, and he loved horses, so reluctantly we agreed to let him try.  She snorted when he put the saddle on and since the kids were not home to quiet her down, I felt somewhat concerned.  He kept talking to her though and eventually she allowed him to mount.
Then she decided she didn't like him there after all and suddenly made like a bucking bronco throwing him off in one minute flat.  That done, she stood back, quietly looking down at him as if to say, "Want to try that again?"  Feeling rather sheepish at having been thrown, the poor man got up, dusted himself off and conceded that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and left Mite alone.
Mite was three years old now, taking her place as a working member of our family.  When it came to herding cattle and Jim was in school, I would ride her, keeping stragglers and wayward wanderers in check.  She seemed to enjoy this.  It seemed to give her a sense of power and authority and an opportunity to lord it over these lowly creatures that annually invaded her territory and competed with her, sometimes even successfully, for the attentions of Faline and the kids.   If we needed to check cattle or pasture fences, Mite was always called on to perform her duty and she became an integral part of our livestock operations.
We had a wayward Charlais bull at that time that had a nasty habit of going AWOL every so often, hopping over the fence to join the neighbour's cattle and leaving our own herd unattended.  It seemed like we were always checking up on "Charlie" to make certain he was where he was supposed to be.
One particular day, after spending hours riding through bush land, searching for Charlie, I finally located him and Mite was brilliant as she cornered the bull, separated him from the neighbour's herd and deftly coerced the reluctant Romeo back across two miles of bush to rejoin our own herd.  We were all tired after that long day, Charlie no less than Mite or I, since he had fought hard to stay with his “new girlfriends”.  By the time we got him to our own pasture his tongue was practically dragging the ground from exertion.  After securing the gate and making sure the fences were intact, we decided to let Mite ride home on the back of the truck considering she had spent most of the hot day working.
John backed the truck to a dirt bank and I walked Mite onto the truck.  Securing the end gate behind her, we drove home.  At home John decided against backing up to the loading chute and instead backed up against an old manure pile to unload Mite.  The truck was high and because of the slope of the pile, John could not back right up against the high point of the pile. 
Mite must have looked with dismay at the drop below her as John vainly tried to coax her down.  She stood her ground refusing to budge as John first coaxed, pleaded, and scolded, then threw some unflattering names into the bargain, with a voice that matched his foul mood by now.  Realizing she was not going to win this battle, Mite decided to jump.  She misjudged her distance and her front hoof hit John in the leg throwing him down flat in front of her onto that cushion of soft manure below.  I'm certain, she must have taken her weight off that foot when she knew she had hit him because miraculously her hoof did not break his leg but inflicted a deep bruise on the fleshy muscle about midway between his knee and his ankle.
Wincing with pain, John got up and gingerly stood up on the leg to make sure it wasn't broken.  Convinced that it fine, he led Mite back into the yard and we thought no more about the bruise except to know that this would hurt for a while before it healed.  After all, it wasn't her fault, it had not been a convenient spot and she had initially tried to refuse to make that jump.
It was almost a month later that a tiny scab appeared over the discoloured area where the bruise was.  When John peeled the scab off, it opened a deep hole from which oozed copious amounts of ugly yellow pus.  This scared me and despite John's repeated objections, I insisted on an immediate trip to the doctor. 
Dr. Stephen examined the wound and asked what happened.  At the sound of the word "horse" his eyes widened and this time with no kids to deflect his advice, he put on a stern face and once again declared, "I told you before, and I'll tell you again, and I know you won't listen, but you ought to GET RID OF THAT HORSE!"  We said nothing as we watched him cleanse and dress the wound.
The wound had festered and destroyed a portion of the flesh the size of a golf ball.  As the doctor cleaned it out and swabbed it with antiseptic, he told us how lucky we were that the infection had not reached the bone.  Had it done so, John would have surely lost his leg.  He gave us antibiotics and told John to soak the wound in hot salty water for half an hour every morning and every night "until that hole heals!"  We thanked the doctor and drove home.
The doctor's advice was heeded only with respect to the care of John's leg, but "getting rid of that horse" was never an option.  After all, it had not been Mite's fault, and besides she was now a very valuable working member of our family and a beloved one.
Many years later, we did sell Little Mite, to a family with four young children all of whom adored Mite just as we had.  We had sold the farm and Mite had to move to another life.  Many tears were shed as she left our yard for the last time, but we took comfort in the knowledge that she would be just as loved by her new family as she had been by us.  She had learned to accept other people in her mature years and even allowed total strangers to ride her.  She was an intelligent horse and an asset to any operation and we had no misgiving about her fitting into her new role with a new and loving family.   
Mite will always hold a special place in our hearts and even now that she is gone to her heavenly reward, we remember her with warmth and timeless affection - and her kisses with guarded prudence.  She was truly one of a kind.  

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