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Continued from Expansion

In between property management crises, we entertained the neighborhood with an unofficial and impromptu zoo. After the bum lambs, came the orphaned foal. One of the bizarre ways in which mother conserved resources, was to collect grass clippings to augment the hay and pasture for our horses. She couldn’t bear to see waste. Grass clippings dumped into the landfill represented a waste of nutrition. We spent Saturday mornings driving up and down the alleys in search of freshly dumped clippings, which we gathered with the aid of cardboard vegetable crates and dumped into the trunk of the sedan.

We developed a routine of ferreting out the ritzier homes that had high quality clippings (and of course rich classmates who watched Joan and me as we scrounged in the alley, just ahead of the smelly garbage truck.) I don’t remember either Joan or I complaining about this chore. Mom made it into a lark, like a treasure hunt, a contest to find the most and the best clippings. We learned to detect clippings that had sat too long in the hot sun. If you plunged you hand into a heap of green and felt warm breath on your skin, it was best to leave those clippings behind. Fermented grass expires into deadly gas in the tender belly of a hungry horse.

With the trunk full, we’d hurry out to the ranch to mix our bounty into dry, dusty hay to lessen the chance of it overheating in the summer sun and of the horses gorging too quickly on this rich salad. But one day, our methodology failed. Around dinner time, the tenant of the house on the property called mom to inform her that the mare with the foal was down and thrashing around.


Jewell and foal, Sandy, before disaster struck.

We hightailed it out there to investigate. Sure enough, the little four-week-old, sand-colored filly was standing aside, watching her mother alternately rolling from side to side, pawing at the air with her hooves and wringing her tail in an agony that brought deep groans from her throat. Mom borrowed the tenant’s phone and called the vet who instructed her to get the horse up, no matter what.

“Get that mare movin’ and keep her movin’. Don’t let her go down cuz then her intestines’ll twist and she’ll be beyond all help,” he warned. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

With one of us in front tugging on the lead rope and two behind pushing her tail end up, yelling, shrieking, clapping our hands, we got her onto four shaky legs. She stood, splayed, eye’s glazed, sweating despite the gathering cool of evening. We coaxed, we begged, we pleaded with Jewel to move, to walk. We would lift each leg in its turn inching it forward just a bit, pushing and tugging. Finally the vet showed up. He stirred a tarry-smelling concoction into a metal pail, then grabbed a six-foot strip of rubber tubing that resembled a hose and snaked that through Jewel’s nostril and down her esophagus. We could see the nasogastric tube progress down her long neck. When it was properly positioned, Dr. Allen lifted the bucket high above his head to let gravity draw the liquid into the mare’s stomach. I don’t know what the magic potion was; maybe it was horse-sized Gas-X.

By now it was dark in the corral. The other horses all stood huddled in a corner, watching the circus with trepidation. Dr. Allen instructed us to keep Jewel moving for as long as it took. The gas had to work its way through her system and out the back end because horses don’t belch.

It was the longest night of my young life and the first time that I escaped the dreaded command to go to bed before the excitement of the evening was finished. The tenants, feeling sorry for us, brought out hot chocolate and sandwiches. We worked by flashlight and occasionally shone the headlights of the car into the corral for a better view. Around 4 AM, Jewel groaned and pawed the ground, wrung her tail, and collapsed like a broken sawhorse. She was done. We were devastated, each of us.

Mom went down with her, echoing her groan of despair. “Oh Jewel, Jewel…I am so sorry. The grass was supposed to be a treat for you, not the death of you. Oh Jewel, why did you have to eat so much of it? Never again….”

“Come on mom,” Joan’s voice was huskier than usual. “It’s over. We can’t do anything more for her. But we gotta do something about Sandy, there,” she nodded toward the corner of the corral. “We can’t afford to lose two in one night.” Jewel’s dazed and hungry foal stood off by itself, the other horses nearby, but unable to offer solace or sustenance.