“I want my money back!” shouted our soon-to-be-ex-boarder, Mike.
I’d just informed Mike and Delores that we’d be closing down the horse boarding operation at the end of the month. I explained the situation with the impending construction on the house that would render it uninhabitable. They were unconcerned with our situation. I could see these “break-ups” with our boarders were going to be more fun than I’d imagined. Kimberly swore she wouldn’t make me do it alone, though she’d conveniently hopped in the shower just before Mike and Delores arrived at the barn.
“I’m not asking you to leave now,” I said. “I’m trying to give you guys as much time as possible to find another barn.”
“You were just waiting until we all paid board before you kicked us out!” Mike hollered.
The thought had actually never crossed my mind. It was only the day before that I had told our landlady we were moving out. Talking to Mike and Delores, I realized that some of our boarders might have made things difficult for us if I had given notice any sooner. Even when some boarders were weeks late with their payments, we didn’t–and couldn’t–do anything but continue to care for their horses. Now that Mike brought it up, I was glad we’d already gotten this month’s payments.
“Look,” I said, “if you leave before the last day, you can take with you whatever remains of the hay and feed we would have given Cracky and Boomer.”
“HA!” Mike shouted. “HAY AND FEED? After everything we’ve done for you, this is the thanks we get?”
I dug deep in my memories of everything that happened at the barn and couldn’t think of anything particularly helpful that a boarder had done. They arrived at all hours of the day, despite posted barn hours. They called at all hours of the day to make ridiculous requests. They also complained frequently. They weren’t bad people, but I was at a loss for memories of our boarders behaving like anything other than boarders.
“What have you done for us, exactly?” I asked.
“You know good and well,” Mike responded angrily. “Besides, I’m not playing your mind games! Come on, Delores. I don’t feel like riding any more!”
I stood in the barn aisle, watching them climb in their truck. Mike started the engine, ground a few gears and gunned it down the driveway, his tires throwing up gravel and a cloud of dust. I looked at Boomer and Cracky in the pasture.
“Sorry, guys,” I said to them.
They both shook their heads as if to say, “Don’t be sorry. We wish you’d gotten rid of them like that more often.” Then they went back to grazing.
“What’d I miss?” Kimberly said, walking up behind me.
“Just me resolving to do the other break-ups over the phone,” I said.
There had been enough drama at the farm, even without Rachael’s or the boarders’ contributions. Over the past weeks, there had been some ups and downs in our efforts to breed Ellie. She was staying with our vet at his horse farm. He had several other mares to breed, and adding Ellie to the list was simple enough. We took her to his farm after she finished 10 days of progesterone followed by a shot of prostaglandin.
The vet had warned us about that last shot. “Don’t watch her. It’ll look like she’s colicking, and you’ll freak out.” We had barely removed the needle from Ellie’s neck before the sweat started pouring off of her. She stopped eating grass and just paced. (Yes, against our vet’s advice I just stood there watching Ellie and quietly freaking out.) After pacing a bit, Ellie lay down in the pasture, sweating. I jogged over to her in the field.
“Oh, geez, Ellie,” I said, kneeling down beside her. “Good grief, you’re sweaty! It’s okay, baby. You’re going to be alright… and hopefully pregnant soon.”
Ellie lifted her head and looked at me. With her expression, she seemed to be asking, “Why this, again?” After years and years of having babies, I figured this experience was as familiar to her as it was unpleasant. Forty-five minutes later, she was up and grazing as if nothing had happened.
A day later we dropped her off at the doctor’s farm and called for updates. The tease did his job, though Ellie wasn’t particularly interested. When the vet checked her out, her uterus was full of fluid. He performed a lavage, and a day or two later he gave her a shot of prostaglandin and an oxytocin treatment. Despite the mildly disheartening updates, we were still feeling optimistic. Ellie is 23 years old, but she’s had so many babies. “Surely she can pull this off,” Kimberly and I said to each other. (Jinx! Buy me a Coke!)
Meanwhile, Vander was a mopey mess. It seemed he missed Ellie terribly. He didn’t even want to go out. He preferred to stand in his stall all day. I nearly had to drag him to the pasture. He’d slowly plod along behind me with his head hung low. It took a few days before he started eating normally, but even then he wasn’t himself. I know he’d heard Kimberly and me talking about it all. Maybe he was just worried about becoming an uncle.
Ellie was teased again, and the vet said she still wasn’t interested. That was when Kimberly and I started looking for another mare, which was really difficult. We love Ellie; we know exactly what kind of a mother she is and what sort of babies she throws. She passes on her large build, her athleticism and her wispy forelock. Everything else comes from the stallion. We were breeding her with a Dutch Warmblood from California. Californians are sometimes more liberal than average, though we thought he’d still be a great father.
Kimberly and I were fine-tuning “Plan B” when our vet called with good news. He had presented Ellie to the tease one last time, and she went crazy. When he told us, we went crazy. Ellie was inseminated the next day, and we picked her up a few days later.
“Are you with foal?” I asked Ellie when we got home. She wasn’t talking. We’d have to wait for the ultrasound. I had my fingers crossed hard. I really, really want a healthy foal. Kimberly’s voice brought me out of my daydream.
“This time next year we could be–well, grandparents, I guess.”
“You’re making me feel old,” I said, grabbing her and kissing her on the cheek. “Wow, you smell great!”
“So do you,” she said, giggling. “What is that?”
“Eau de beet pulp with a hint of orchard grass and a touch of poop,” I responded, wrapping my arms around her.
I kissed her again and pulled her in tight. As we stood there holding each other, I watched Vander and Ellie graze. Every few years I get a comforting feeling that validates my life and confirms my “progress,” for lack of a better word. Without getting too spiritual, this feeling tells me that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I hadn’t felt it this strong since the night Kimberly and I met.
The prospect of the family moving from the horse farm was exciting. We’d already begun snooping through the property listings online. We hoped to find a place of our own with some land. I knew I’d miss being around a barn full of equines, but I was emotionally “over” having boarders. I wanted a life that afforded me more time with Kimberly, and the opportunity to truly focus on what it means to be married with horses.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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