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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Bremen Town Musicians ride again

I realize the Brothers Grimm tale of a donkey, dog, cat and rooster is fictional but mismatched inter-species friendships happen all the time. Take my trio of donkey, horse and sheep for example. Some animals just don’t like to be alone, so they pair up with whomever they can find. Others could care less, are quite happy in their solitude, and use their independence to torment the pack-dwellers at times. I am thinking of Donkey as I write this.
When the two Belgian horses arrived at the farm, Donkey was quite smitten. He followed them around the barnyard and they tortured him by gracefully shaking out their long blonde manes and thundering away across the pasture, leaving him to follow with his weird sideways trot.
After Ashley died suddenly and unexpectedly, Misty was left without her half-sister, best friend and leader. She climbed the manure heap, using it as a lookout post, and whinnied, tossing her head that way she does, looking for her sister. Every day for over a week she ran up and down the pasture, searching for Ashley. Eventually the Farmer pulled her aside for a long talk. He took Ashley’s old halter down off the hook in the stable and held it under Misty’s nose as he spoke. Then he put the dead horse’s halter on Misty, and Donkey got Misty’s discarded adornment.
That week Misty decided Donkey would be her new friend. She formed an attachment to the funny little guy and in many ways, he rose to her expectations. She no longer had to walk the pasture unaccompanied or sleep alone at night. When something truly scary like a barn cat or squirrel scurried by, Donkey got between it and the massive cowardly horse, protecting her.
Unfortunately, Donkey also likes to tease the horse at times. He doesn’t mind being alone, and is often strolling independently out to pasture while Misty isn’t looking. Many times she has come crashing out of the barn, in a panic, looking for her friend. She calls him again and again but he doesn’t answer. He just stands in the hedgerow out of sight, silently chewing and twitching his ears, as if he is amused at her discomfort.
When we sold the sheep I couldn’t give up Gracie. The Farmer warned that she would be ‘coyote bait’ without the rest of her flock. Safety in fluffy numbers, I guess. I am happy to report he was wrong, so far.
Her first week as lone sheep on the farm, Gracie stayed up at the barnyard, nickering and calling for her flock-mates. One day she even followed the truck that took them down the road to see if it would lead her to a reunion. She got distracted and wandered into the forest instead, and I had to go and pull her back out.
It took a long time for Gracie to get the courage to follow the horse and donkey down the field to the pasture meadow. But somewhere along the way, she decided that she would be safe from the coyotes – and from Donkey, who has been known to entertain himself by biting and chasing sheep – if she just stayed tucked in behind the horse. Sometimes she appears to be right under the horse. I just hope she doesn’t get stepped on.
I wondered what the horse thought of this new attachment. In the past she kept her distance from the sheep – particularly the lambs – because, I think, they made strange noises, she didn’t like the way they felt when she accidentally stepped on them, and anything small, fast and unpredictable is particularly terrifying her. It’s the elephant and the mouse story all over again.
The other day Misty started out to pasture, picking up the pace to catch up with Donkey. Suddenly she stopped, turned and whinnied at something. I went out onto the porch to see what she was excited about. Gracie was there, limping along. The sheep was favouring one foot that had been nicked in a hoof trimming session and it was slowing her down. The horse was telling her to hurry up. When the little sheep stopped to catch her breath, the huge Belgian trotted back up to the barnyard to accompany her on the long walk. I think she would have carried her if she could.


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