Chapter Three

Give 6 horses a half-section (320 acres) of pasture to play in and they will head straight for the nearest stretch of barbed wire to do their shenanigans. For the record I loathe barbed wire but in my part of the world, a rough patch of country given to cattle ranches and large pastures, it is ubiquitous. While I have recently purchased a part of the ranch I run and have a grand plan to section it off with drain-your-bank-account, horse and elephant-proof fencing, for now my horses and I must deal with barbed wire.

Today was the day I’d planned to turn Lynx out with the other saddle horses. Half-blind or not, he still needs to be a horse. He needs the freedom and the responsibility of making his living the way a horse should, on grass and on his own, if he is to fully adapt and grow into his new reality. To that end I’d done what I usually do to get a new horse ready to turn out with the rest of the bunch—let him socialize over the corral fence for a few days and put him with each of his new herd mates one at a time in a large pen to let them settle their hierarchical issues—plus I’d added an extra twist; I’d kept a more timid sort of horse who knows the ropes around this outfit in with him. It was my hope (and my mistake) to think that he would be pals with Lynx and would show him around his new world.

Everything seemed perfect for Lynx’s big debut: he’d had all the proper introductions, his new BFF was with him and the cavvy (saddle horses) had just come down and gotten a drink from the big tank that watered both the corrals and the horse pasture. They were now leaving, physically and mentally pointed towards open country and away from the lurking dangers of fences and fence corners. I opened the red gate that stood between Lynx and his new life to let him follow. It should have worked out but it didn’t…

Lynx’s new BEST FRIEND FOREVER turned out to be no more than his BFFN (best friend for now). After four days of eating dry hay, the tender new growth of early spring magnetized him to a spot about twelve horse steps from the corrals. Lynx was on his own. The other horses did not adhere to my plan either. They swapped ends and came at him with ears pinned back and fangs bared. To save his life Lynx took off.

Watching horses take off from the corrals and run across open country is normally one of the most stirring sights you’ll ever see, the joy they must be feeling, the exuberance, as they run flat out with their tails unfurled behind them like wisps of smoke, if that doesn’t give you butterflies in your belly nothing will. And to feel the ground shaking beneath your feet; I live for moments such as these. But this was not one of those moments, this was different. Instead of making the way smooth for Lynx, the prior interactions with the others had shown them something. They knew Lynx was handicapped and in this more natural world of horses, he was a liability to the good of the herd. 

So instead of a joyous romp around the pasture they took off on a more ominous chase. Lynx became the object of a foxhunt as each of the saddle horses showed him in the clearest possible terms that he was not to be allowed anywhere near them. It was harsh and it was relentless. It took them at a dead run to a fence corner.

Claire and I could see it coming. We ran to head them off but we were never going to make it in time. The worst of the wire would of course be on Lynx’s blind side. My heart stopped and I braced myself to hear the awful sound of stretching wire and tearing flesh I knew I was going to hear. I’ve heard it before and there’s nothing quite like it, nothing quite as wrenching. I closed my eyes.

It never came. Lynx must be adapting already because at the last instant he seemed to sense the wire and pulled off a spectacular rollback. He never even touched it. In fact Draco, his BFFAW (best friend for a while) had gotten swept up in the melee and came closest of all to getting sliced and diced, though he escaped unbloodied.

The fracas continued for quite some time afterward, if not so dramatically. Lynx learned his place. He was named an outcast and had to remain far away from the others, apart and alone. Hours later he came back to the corrals by himself, more or less unharmed except for a little swelling in his right foreleg and a few bite marks. He stood with his head over the same red gate he’d left through, asking for sanctuary.

Perhaps you’re thinking I left Lynx out there to let sort things through for himself. That’s what would have happened in the natural world after all, and most often that’s what I advocate—let horses be horses. But in this case I did not. I let him back through that gate. I think Lynx can find a place in the herd, he can fit in. Given a chance I know he can add value to the collective that is our little cavvy but we’ll have to start over if we’re going to make it work.

In rethinking how I’d handled things I realized I had been seeing this problem from the wrong point of view. No matter how much work I do to show Lynx how to fit in with them, the other horses will still see him as a liability. I can never train a left eye back into his head. It is the others who need training. To that end I have begun turning him out in the big pasture with one other horse at a time, starting with a meek and mild little gelding named Tup who wants trouble with no one. The others can stand behind the red gate and watch it work out. They’ll see that Lynx does not attract sabre-toothed tigers. Later, when he’s going well enough under saddle, I’ll use him to move the cavvy around. Having a human on his back makes any horse the temporary alpha (well, depending on the human…). It’s a great way to build confidence in a young or timid horse and Lynx is both. It’s also a great way to give the rest of the herd a little perspective.