Hello, fellow homesteaders and folks dreaming of living on their very own homestead! This is the first installment in the occasional column about the lighter side of living off the land Dan and I thought y’all would enjoy.
I will be sharing with you our great success stories, hilarious failures, and a little bit of the comic relief that living on a large rural homestead brings without fail on a regular basis.
Dan and I had talked about starting this column not long after he took over the website. So many other projects were already in the works, neither of us had seriously revisited the idea.
But, today, on the homestead, this happened….
I was having a day, like a bad Monday all over again. A week before Christmas and I am still not done with the 24 or so homemade gifts I needed to make, we are still finishing out the tiny house cabin my daughter and her husband and their three wee ones put on our property, the tractor broke down.
I had really his my stress limit, and that takes a lot of doing to reach. My mother came down for a visit, which was really nice, even though it put me behind on my writing deadlines for the day – family first, always.
When she was ready to leave, I walked mother out the door, once again checked that she was going to be able to find her way back to town from “the wilderness,” which is what she still refers to our homestead as, and then out of town and back across the county line back home.
I had barely sat back down at my laptop when Mother came back in and said a woman stopped her at her car. We live ½ mile up in the woods in a very secluded spot. Unannounced visitors are an extreme rarity – although Jehovah’s Witnesses did happen up our winding dirt road a few days after we moved here.
“The woman asked if I had horses and I told her no, but my daughter does,” Mother told me. “She said the horses were out and down at her house.”
I, of course, quickly asked mother who the woman was and where she lived. Somehow, and I still don’t grasp how, my mother being an unflappable and very intelligent woman, forgot to ask for the very essential information.
I ran the door and stopped the woman before she started back down our hill. The kind woman told me where she lived, I knew the place and it was at an intersection just a few car lengths from our driveway entrance. She said the horses were in her feedlot and were fine.
Yeah, I thought, they are not going anywhere they are in a feedlot, that made the situation urgent and not an intense emergency. My herd consists of five horses and two mini donkeys – a new pony just arrived this evening, but he was not part of the great escape of 2017. Several of the horses belong to friends on a nearby but smaller homestead.
I called my friend Sarah to see if she was home, thank goodness she was, they have a horse trailer, ours is only large enough for the minis, cattle, and goats. Both Sarah and I can hook up and pull the horse trailer, but neither of us can back the dang thing up. Lucky for us, I could drive from her house to the neighbor’s feedlot and back to my house without having to back up and could make a wide circle in our lower pasture to let the first two horses out and go back for more.
I told Sarah I would stop and check on the horses at the neighbor’s feedlot before going on to her house to help her back up and connect the trailer.
I drove to the nearby home and saw a quarter horse palomino in a big and hilly field. I drove up to the horse and thought instantly that if all the horses were in the unfamiliar pasture, I was going to need to run back home and get a 4-wheeler to round them all up.
Once I got a bit closer, I saw the horse was not Andy, could have been his nearly identical twin right down to the break away halter, but it was not my hubby’s horse,. I looked around on both sides of the road that the woman and her son’s property spans. I did not see my Ruby and her herd (she is the boss witch of the field, it is so HER herd.) anywhere.
Figuring I had just missed them and they were at an auxiliary barn I had passed, I drove on up the road a ways and turned around to come back. Before I could get to where I thought I needed to go, a man adorned in camo from head to toe with only a small amount of his face showing, jumped out into the road and stopped me.
It took a minute, but I eventually put a name to the face. He asked if I knew the woman at the house at which he was pointing, that he had knocked but she wasn’t home and her horses were out. It was the home of the son and daughter-in-law of the nice woman who drove up onto my hill.
My heart sunk, those were my horses and where the heck had they gotten to. The camo guy told me he tried to stop them but they ignore him and were following a red mare (my Ru) on out the road towards the lake. The lake is on a real road, a state route with two nicely paved roads, a painted center line, and traffic.
I thanked him, called and gave Sarah the bad news, and drove towards the lake. Along the way I passed many pastures with hay bales in them, but caught no sight of the wayward herd. I was overjoyed when I finally spotted some manure on the road – good old Harley, she can’t trail more than 100 feet without dropping manure. At least I now knew they had not turned onto another side road, but that meant without a doubt, they were headed to the state route road that goes by the lake.
I got to the intersection to the state route, called Sarah again, who was rushing to help me as quickly as she could, and scanned the ground in all directions for more manure. I didn’t see a single dropping, but off in the distance I did see the break lights of at least 12 cars, in both lanes, stopped by the lake.
“I think I found our horses,” I slowly told Sarah.
I had no idea what I was going to find when I turned toward the rural traffic jam. The worst case scenario wouldn’t be an injured or dead horse, which would have been tragic and broken my heart, but wreck with people trying to avoid hitting the horses, who had gotten injured, perhaps cars with children, considering school had just let out.
Once I got as close as I could, it was easy to tell all the horses were there, no minis were anywhere in sight, but no animal, person, or car had been harmed. I got out of my vehicle and walked to within 20 feet of the herd and yelled, “Ruby, get for home. Get for home….now!”
She had the look of a child caught with his or her fingers in the cookie jar. She immediately walked into the westbound lane, followed by the rest of the herd, and began walking home.
Now, walking a herd of horses, even a small herd, down a road, is not a good idea, not at all. But, I had to get them off the state route, there was no where for Sarah to pull in with the trailer, even if either of us could back it up, where the horses were huddled between the berm and the water line.
If I had found the horses on a side road, there were ample places I could have walked them to and held Ruby by her halter until Sarah got there to start loading them all up. I had grabbed several lead straps so I also could have tied some of the horses to trees until it was there turn for a ride home. But our quickly and fairly well devised rescue plan was just not going to play out the way we thought.
My trusty blue heeler, Jovie, would lean her head out the back window and bark at any horse that ventured out of the right lane. Our little parade was quite a sight to behold, we were regionally Facebook famous before I ever turned off the state route – that is actually how my husband learned of this misadventure and headed home as quickly as he could. Sarah’s husband works for the railroad, all he could do was continue driving the train and shake his head – and hope we didn’t wreck his horse trailer if we ever actually managed to get any horses in it.
We made the first turn off the state route, with me channeling my inner John Wayne and driving them from inside my SUV instead of being saddled up. They turned into a field just a few car lengths after we made the turn. YES! I called Sarah, told her I was going to keep them in the field and we would start loading up from there.
I couldn’t pull off near the field or on the other side of the road because of the deep ditches. Before I could fine anywhere to pull off and get out of my car, Ruby noticed my absence and came back out to the street. I called Sarah back and told her we were on the road again.
We came to another back road intersection, they went the right way again, I kept using my best former coach voice barking instructions on what to do. The road back home, which was exactly 2 miles from where I found them, has multiple blind curves and hills. I prayed that the horses would stay in the proper lane and not cause an accident that would harm them or anyone else – and hoping I could fin another field to usher them into as quickly as possible. No such luck.
About one mile into our trek back home, we picked the minis up from a spot by a barn where they apparently stopped when their little legs got tired and decided to munch on someone else’s grass to see how much greener it tasted.
I took a few pics from inside the old farm SUV I was driving, as well – but only when we were stopped.
Fortunately we only passed a few cars once we got off the state route – all of which stopped and hung their cellphones out the window to shoot photos and/or video.
We carefully continued on until we finally came to the intersection where they had originally wandered into the neighbor’s feedlot – and the back out of it to go for a stroll to the lake. Two of the horses tried to turn that way, but Jovie barked them back in line.
When we got to our driveway, the lathered and tired horses knew they were back home and moved to the creek you have to cross to get up our hill, for a nice cold drink. After a short pause, I moved them the rest of the way up the hill and back to the barn. Then the fence line checking and ultimately mending, was conducted.
Things could have gone bad, very very bad, during the great escape. But as stubborn as my Ruby want to be, she does follow my commands, that made all the difference during this entire, hopefully once in a lifetime, ordeal.
It is now after 9 p.m. On my Appalachian homestead. I am going to pour a Jack and Coke, put my feet up, and keep repeating to myself, “I love my horse, I love my horse, I love my horse,” until I no longer feel like cursing her. Yep, gonna be up until midnight at least!