If there’s anything we’ve learned over this weird, wonderful, busy summer is that we only get by with the help of our equally weird, wonderful and busy friends. The saying that ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’ was clearly directed at the best and brightest by whom we are lucky to be surrounded.
Hay Ho, Let’s Go
As predicted, the hay guy rolled in with his balers and rakers and tractors and all manner of clanking machinery and cut the paddocks exactly when they needed to be cut. He left us with over 500 bales neatly marching in rows across our three big fields. We still had about 200 left from last season, which were taking up half of our precious hay storage real estate. Given we’ve been pouring all our hard earned into fence posts and tractors, our charitable donations over the past 12 months have been sorely lacking. In this part of the world hay is currency though and so we decided to donate the season’s excess to a lovely local horsey charity – Cherry Lane Equine Retirement. Knowing how much roughage it takes to keep golden oldies in good nick, it seemed like a good use of our ‘funds’.
With the sheds cleared though – there were still 500 bales to bring in. It had been a daunting task last year at around the 400 mark with just Dave and myself doing it in eight hours with one car and horse float and neither of us were keen to further that effort. Here’s where the friends outdid themselves… with naught but the bribery of a sausage sizzle (hey, it works for Bunnings) and some cold beverages in the esky, we rallied a crack team of drivers, trailers, stackers, BBQers (and plenty of kids to get in the way 🙂 ). Brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and friends… I don’t know WHY you would volunteer for such torturous (prickly, sweaty, dirty, dusty) labour but we love you for it. With three cars and trailers, a couple of buyers straight out of the paddock, and eleven people, the job was done in an incredible three hours on a warm (but thankfully not hot!) Friday evening. There is an adage somewhere about full sheds being akin to happiness and it is partially because it’s good to know you have the horse feed set aside for the winter months, but it’s also because that filthy job is DONE for another year.
The Gift Horse
Our lovely Clydesdale Sunny was worth her (considerable) weight in gold over the last few months of the senior Borrowed Farmer’s life. Patient and kind and appreciative of carrots and pats, she’d stand solidly to be rugged and fussed over with just a lead rope around her neck (putting a halter on even a cooperative Clydesdale is a job that is really only for tall people, or those standing on buckets).
When it came time for funeral arrangements, it seemed obvious that Sunny would be part of the proceedings. We didn’t know a lot about her past but we knew she was harness broken (and obviously working bred), so the tiny germ of a ‘wouldn’t it be perfect?’ idea was formed. The trainer who had broken Hugo into harness was called, and asked if he would take on an unknown quantity Clydesdale and see if her buttons still worked and if she might be called in for hearse pulling duty. Quite rightly he suggested we call John Allison Monkhouse and leave the equine funeral processions to the professionals, but he said he would humour us and give her a go.
She looked around at his yard, full of harness, carts and other horses, and visibly relaxed. She knew what this was about. Harnessed up for a quick long rein, she was expertly circled around the yard as the trainer worked out what ‘her’ words were…he tried a few until he realised she’d been trained by a real old timer and, switching his language, she in turn switched into gear. ‘She’s got a beautiful mouth – someone’s done a good job with her!’ She pulled a tyre along the driveway without flinching and looked absolutely thrilled to be showing off what she could do. It was if she was saying ‘Finally, they’ve figured out what I’m for!’ The trainer said ‘Go ahead with your plans – she won’t let you down’. He kept her for the week in preparation for the funeral and she didn’t put a foot wrong the entire time.
Of course, the next piece in the puzzle was a suitable horse-drawn vehicle. It needed to be small enough for a single old mare to pull, and the right height and shape to lift a coffin onto. The sheds at Wilandra had been stocked with gorgeous draught horse vehicles, long disused and draped in pigeon-poo-covered canvas sheeting, and I assumed that they were not in working condition and meant for a team of Clydesdales at Melbourne Show grand parades. But when the idea was put to Wilandra’s patriarch (now in his 90s), in the hope that he would know someone who had such a vehicle, he unhesitatingly offered his beautiful lorry – ‘it’s perfect for one horse, and doesn’t need anything done to it.’ And it didn’t – the covers had protected it beautifully from the marauding winged rats. With harness borrowed from the trainer and another trusted family member roped in to do the driving on the day (as well as the massive task of Clydesdale cleaning – those white feathers take some washing!), we had somehow managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat (or a retired draught horse out of a paddock). We (and Sunny) were being entrusted with a family heirloom, and with a family ceremony of the utmost gravity.
With her coat shining and the Essendon colours plaited into her mane and tail, with black and red feathers pluming from her headpiece, she completed her solemn duty with dignity and took her person home to his resting place. Like a famous player coming out of retirement for the big game, she knew what she was doing, put her head down and her shoulders into it and accepted the attention and praise with humility. She did her job well and did everyone proud.
She was collected a week after the funeral to go back to her previous home, as much as we would have loved to have kept her a while longer, having gladly taken over carrot feeding duty.
Seven weeks later, in a strange twist of Facebook fate, a post on a page I do not follow popped up on my newsfeed. I follow plenty of similar pages, but not this one specifically –it is a page that lists horses being sent to the saleyards up on the border.
A note about saleyards. They have their place in the equine marketplace but as a general rule you’re picking up a horse as an unknown quantity and as a result of some misfortune – someone needs quick money, has a horse they can’t afford, a horse they can’t manage, or just one they don’t particularly care about for whatever reason. It’s also the end of the road for plenty of horses with no reserve price.
So this saleyard page posted a picture of a Clydesdale mare. A Clydesdale mare with a distinctive hook in her blaze above her eye. The photo showed enough of her brand to pique my interest further. I read the caption – the description fit. My heart pounding, I noted that even though the page provided the option for bidding via mobile phone, the auction deadline had passed about twenty minutes previously. Still we rang and asked – could she tell us this horse’s name? She couldn’t (there were 120 horses for sale and she was taking lots of calls) but she said that the auction was running late and we were welcome to still bid via text. We hung up, and texted her saying ‘We think that horse is called Sunset Boulevard – and if she is, we have no maximum bid, please offer what you have to on our behalf’. She texted back with a picture of her papers saying ‘I don’t know how you know that – but this is Sunset Boulevard’. The auction was running so late that we didn’t hear back for a nerve-wracking three hours, but she finally confirmed – Sunny was coming home again.
Luck doesn’t begin to cover the events that brought her back to us – 120 horses for sale, and the only photo posted on their page was of Sunny, with a good enough picture to capture her unique markings and expression. We had been paid a bonus that month that hadn’t yet landed our accounts, but when it did it covered her purchase price almost exactly. To quote Nick Cave (with the appropriate gravity and timbre), even if you ‘don’t believe in an interventionist God’, it’s hard to credit chance with such a perfect storm of events. We’re grateful.
Again, friends helped immeasurably (say what you will about the horse community but it is full of generosity) – we had offers of transport, we were loaned a float more suitable than our own for a large horse on a long trip, cash was borrowed, and champagne was shared.
Collecting her was quite an emotional experience. We found her (after dashing back and forth along the gangways trying to find her pen) alone amidst rows and rows of steel yards in a gigantic livestock facility. She walked straight up to Dave and put her face in her halter, as if to say ‘Guys, this wasn’t even funny. What took you so long?!’ It was a sight to see her power walk out of there and straight onto the float, and even the prospect of a three hour trip didn’t seem to daunt her.
Arriving back in her paddock, she looked around with her wise eyes, took a long drink from her trough, and settled immediately back into her paddock ornament life – yet always ready for ceremonial duties should they be required.
We’re still not sure how he did it, but it seems that the senior Borrowed Farmer knew how to manipulate Facebook algorithms to bring his girl back home – perhaps to say thanks for her doing the same for him.