Thursday, January 28, 2010

Foaling with the Army

When we all started having horses around here, after buying it, you either had to ride your animal home or it went into a big flat-bed truck with sides, where they were just thrown from side to side and dumped off on a hill, somewhere near enough that you could ride it home from there. When I bought Honda, the mule, she was driven to Vera and I had almost a day’s ride to get her home, but it was the closest hill they could find to put the tail gate on. I even brought some of the smaller donkeys home in my Nissan Vanette. Most of us had campo horses without papers or breeding, it wasn’t until later that things started to move up-market. Once a year, the Spanish military would bring some stallions to Albox and farmers could take their mares there to be bred to a pure-bed stallion giving the foal half papers and so on. The trouble was getting to Albox which is at least 40 kms away from where we live. The mares were put into a pigsty that had been cleaned for the purpose and the stallions were kept well locked away on the other side. They of course had the poor old teaser (an unfortunate and ultimately frustrated second-rate stallion) that had to see if the mare was receptive to the idea and then he was put away while the real stallion came out to take his place. The mares couldn’t wear hind-shoes and their legs were tied so they couldn’t kick the valuable stallion. The unlucky teaser had to go back unsatisfied only to come out and repeat his performance. It all seemed a bit awkward, with all the help they received and the lack of nature taking its place, but to protect the valuable stallions that is the way it worked.
One year a group of us decided to try this government service and found a German girl with an old clapped out trailer. With my horse having never seen a trailer and Casi suffering from claustrophobia, it was not an easy task to get them in. It took hours. We finally got my old Spanish mare called Mora in but there was no way Casi would go near it. Every one tried their trick but no-go. Because Casi was so spoilt and hand- raised - I didn’t ride her until she was nine - I finally got her in by having her shake hands all the way up the ramp. Well, it worked. When we arrived I told them Mora would be easy but that Casi was a special case and very sweet and innocent. Please be kind to her. It turned out to be the other way around, Casi was uncontrollable and Mora was so horney that she actually jumped through three pigsties with horses in them to go straight to the stallions, much to the amazement and ribald amusement of the military. Casi on the other hand broke people’s fingers and wouldn’t go near the stallions; she was a ‘right pain’ for the military. After a few weeks we were allowed to take our mares home. With all the military, farmers, gypsies and horse people they thought getting Casi in the trailer would be a breeze. With all the know-how and tricks and me in floods of tears at the horrible things they were doing to my little baby they had no luck. When I finally got a word in I said let me show you and I had her shake hands all the way up the ramp. That was a first for all of them. Mora had a beautiful foal and Casi was still a virgin. I know there is a much simpler way and more natural to accomplish this and it happened right here. Our daughters were riding in the ring when a man came up on a beautiful black stallion, to see if I wanted to buy him, although it turned out later that he was stolen.
I told the man to let me bring my girls in and their horses and he could show me what the stallion could do, even though I wasn’t in the market for another horse, but it never hurts to look. The man didn’t wait very long and came up the hill just as Amber and Mora were entering the corral. With Amber still riding and tacked up, Mora backed up, lifted her tail and the stallion mounted her right then and there with a very frightened little girl on top and there was no pulling the two horses apart. After thanking the man and telling him we weren’t interested we were blessed with another black foal eleven months later. So you see it can be done in a much easier way if you have a horney horse.
Then there is conception without a stallion or at least that is how it seemed. Our horse Nata was bought home by Lenox one day, having sworn that he could never be talked into buying a horse, but who had got drunk in a bar and came home with an albino mare for the girls. Thus we acquired Nata. After a year or so she seemed to be changing shape and losing weight and I was afraid she was very ill. The vet could find nothing wrong with her so we thought we would just watch her closely for a while. One morning I went to feed the horses and standing in the driveway was a new-born, peach coloured palomino with a long curly mane. I didn’t know where she had come from as we had no pregnant mares and no near-by stallions. When I checked Nata it turned out to be her foal whom she had rejected, so for a week we had to restrain Nata, both front and rear, put the foal between our legs and milk her ourselves. After a week she took to mothering. I think the whole thing was as much of a shock to her as it was to us. It turned out that the kids had ridden over to Manolo Coronado, a very famous painter, in Vera and they tied the horses up to go inside for some refreshment. When they returned all seemed fine, everyone was where they were supposed to be, we just never saw what happened when the kids were inside. Manolo had one of the few pure-bred stallions in the area, Galión, and it seem he jumped the fence for a quick-one while the kids weren’t looking and then returned to his stall. Eleven months later that is how Salsa, shown in this painting came about. Later as our horses got more up-market people started getting trailers and taking them for breeding and to shows or courses.
Vets were few and far between in those days so you had to depend on old remedies and common-sense plus experience. My mule had cataracts so a gypsy told me to grind up cod-bones and take a piece of bamboo and blow it into her eye and the cataracts would disappear. For colic, a bottle of lemonade down the throat. I actually found that ‘gripe water’ (a popular British mothers’ remedy for colic made from dill water) was very effective so always had some on hand. For hoof-rot an old man came out and put agua fuerte (nitric acid) in rags, flooded them and then nailed an open tin can to the horse’s foot. I have to say it was a bit off the wall but it worked. After we got a few vets in the area things didn’t change all that much. Two of my horses hated vets - they could smell them for miles, even I couldn’t catch them. We even built a ‘box’ to lock them in while eating so no one could get kicked and the horse couldn’t move. Javier the Vet was clever. To get near to my two cranky mares, he took riding lessons on them and did a lot of grooming, then when it came time for injections and inspections he would just get them out and start brushing and do what needed doing and the horse was none the wiser.
I have some great pictures for this story but you will have to be patient until I find them.

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