Cold Ponies

Maya usually communicates with smiles, nods or frowns. She clearly enjoys company; she just isn’t all that talkative. When she speaks to me it’s usually asking for clarification of an instruction, a question about care or a correction of something that I’ve done and she felt was amiss. If we’ve had a really nice ride and she’s had a really good day, she will then share with me a concise and carefully worded story about her guinea pigs or her family. Sometimes she doesn’t talk at all and she doesn’t smile or nod or frown. That’s how I know when she’s had a tough day.

Last Thursday was one of those days. I would periodically prod her a question about school or her pigs or with a comment about riding, but her face remained still and introspective and her replies monosyllabic. By the time we were half way home, after having been out with the horses for the better part of two hours, I started to get a little worried. Grasping at straws, I said, “Would you like to hear the news about the foals in Paicines?” The look she gave me almost made me jump out of the saddle. It was the same as a cat looks when it’s spied a mouse.

Maya listened with unwavering attention for the next ten minutes while I told her about how we had wormed all the foals and how, because Mirage and Oona were now kept in a stall/paddock, on the next visit down we found massive quantities of dead, three inch long worms in their fecal matter. (Michelle says you usually can’t tell if they have/had worms because the birds eat them.) How this was a good thing because it means we will have a better chance at putting weight on Oona and Mirage, both of whom are struggling.

Of the seven mares in foal when Tim and Michelle took over care and operation of the ranch, the dams of both Oona and Mirage were in the worst condition, starvation wise. Oona is not developing properly, probably the equine equivalent of cerebral palsy and, of the rest of the foals, Mirage, though full sized, is also clearly having trouble.

When Haley and I took the first of a series of ski week visits to the ranch, at Haley’s suggestion, we force fed tubes of applesauce, molasses and moistened rice bran to all the foals. The idea behind this was to get them hooked on a “treat” so if it was necessary to feed medicine, it would be possible to do so and also to ensure that Oona and Mirage could get the extra calories they desperately need (rice bran).

(Of all the foals, it was the super smart, lead mare in training Vienna who caught on in a jiffy. After the first squirt, we would hold up the syringe, her nostrils would flare, her eyes go wide and she’d dive for the tube.)

That first ski week trip consisted of only Haley and myself and it was freezing cold and raining the whole time. One of the items on Michelle’s “we need” list was a blanket for the aging pony Midnight. Not wanting to stretch the budget too thin, I had passed on the blanket. But after a day in the cold and wet, I asked Haley to do her on-line shopping magic and find a few options for Middy, which she gladly did. I had the blanket second day aired and it arrived in time to beat the highly unseasonal snow, but it was not Midnight who wore it. It was Oona and it saved her life.

Oona was named after Oona O’Neill, a very sweet young woman (of Irish descent) who is now a freshman at UCSC. Because of Oona (the human)’s divinely kind and gentle demeanor, she is adored by all the girls and every younger child who meets her. Oona the foal was named after Oona the person because she was the sweetest and cutest of all the foals. But that was before we had any idea how serious her physical complications were. However, this has had the added effect of making everyone just that much more attached to her survival.

It’s difficult to keep track of the foals when they are out in the pasture and it wasn’t until Michelle brought Mirage and Oona into the barn that we realized just how poorly Oona was fairing, at which point Haley and I started shoving rice bran down her at every available opportunity. (The foals, being born feral, initially provided quite a bit of resistance to being contained within a stall and paddock and it was this small detail that had delayed Oona and Mirage’s move to the protection of a stall.)

During the snow weather event, Oona’s body temperature dropped to 93 degrees. It was the combination of the blanket and her now eager consumption of rice bran that saved her.

Maya didn’t get to come on any of the ski week trips. She hung on my words as if her life depended on it. By the time we got back to the barn, the grayish pallor had left Maya’s face and she was smiling, nodding and frowning again and also told me a story about her family.

Every trip to the ranch takes four hours of driving and leaves me with a days backlog of work, either at home or with the horses. Sunday is my day off. I think I’m going to be driving Haley down to Paicines. I’m wondering if Maya will be able to come.

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