Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Greek tale retold: Beware the mares!

Who ever said barn work offers no opportunities to stretch one's intellect? Why, just the other day I had an experience that harkened back to my high school literature class,when we were reading Homer's The Odyssey. I never much cared for Greek mythology. At least in the epic tales, the guys get all the adventure and the women stay home and deflect suitors. The last time I worked at the barn, though, I had my own little odyssey.

My Homeric moment
Sunday morning I get to the barn early -- before sunrise -- do start chores. I zip through haying, feeding, and watering, and the sun is just starting to light the eastern sky as I get 25 horses ready to turn out. It's too dark to walk far from the light of the barn. I decide to depart from standard operating procedure and start turning out the horses closest to the barn first.

I lead out four mares on one side of the walking path, and two mares on the other, in separate fields. By the time I finish, the sun is properly risen. With adequate light, it's safe to turn out Monty and Ferris, who go out in the farthest field. These two geldings are both 17 hand thoroughbreds with a reputation for antics. But on this calm, windless morning, there is no reason to expect problems. I began to lead them down the path.

As we walk down the path to the far pastures, every mare in both pastures looks up, six pairs of ears swiveling intently in our direction. What's up with that? I soon have my answer, as the four mares in the right-hand pasture come trotting up, ears pricked, nickering and calling. Beanie, the grey mare, paces along the fenceline by the geldings. To my dismay, Monty halts and begins nickering softly. Ferris also stops and turns sideways.

"Stop it!" I bark. "You're GELDINGS! There's nothing here for you!" Snapping the lead ropes, I wish I'd put chains over their noses. Then Ariel, the mare on the left, starts careening around the pasture and calling out. Now Ferris and Monty are snorting and side-stepping. Monty now faces the wrong direction and Ferris is dragging me to the fenceline. Grabbing the end of the longest lead rope, I clumsily whack both boys to get their attention. It's an utterly ineffectual gesture, like wielding a wet noodle, but somehow it prompts forward motion. We progress down the path, and the boys looking wistfully behind them as we pass by the mares' fields.

Because there is no one anywhere nearby, I can talk freely to the horses, at volume 10 if I choose. "That was the song of the sirens, guys. I saved your butts." But they are not grateful. As I remove their halters, they both jerk their heads away, eager to ditch the mean lady that bullied them down the path. As they canter away, Monty kicks out in my direction, his personal commentary on the whole incident.

As I walk back to the barn, I walk past the mares. They are grazing what is left of the fall grass, and do not look up.

Sigh. Being a hero is overrated.


  1. Nice post. Brings back memories of my show gelding, Piggy, who watch the thoroughbred mares bring their foals close to his paddock for his inspection and approval. There had been an incident the year before where he had been turned out with the mares, and acted the herd sire. Wondering if perhaps the vet who had gelded him had missed something, I had him vetted and relieved to learn he had been properly gelded. Though before Piggy had been gelded as a four year old, he had actually bred a mare so I guess as far as he was concerned he was still capable.

    Mares can be absolute hussies around geldings.

  2. Boys are always boys. I swear the whole gelding thing is strictly birth control. Even dogs will still give a girl a shot even if they're just working with blanks.

    Glad you kept them under control. Maybe the boys need to be set out first and the sirens need to come out last... lol

  3. Oh I love any and all references to classical myth! Indeed o Hero, you did navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, and drag those geldings past the Sirens, and did a noble morning's work.

  4. The diagram of your Odyssey was a classic. Love the little siren icons on the mares' paddocks.

  5. Alas, I am most aggrieved, on that noble morning having displayed iron courage, yet all was of no avail. I have gained nothing in reward save $8 bucks an hour and a bad back. I am sorrowing bitterly.

  6. Lovely post! I grew up on a stud farm in South Africa - your blog brings back many happy memories!

  7. Oh can I relate to this! This is a daily event it seems at my farm. The girls know the sway they hold over the geldings. They will prance in the field looking at the boys, and the boys in turn will pick at each other, as if to say, "No, she was looking at me! Not you, you bedraggled pig!" My stallions on the other hand know the girls games, just totally ignore the behavior of the girls. The only time the stallions react is when they are presented with a single mare. Smart guys.

  8. Another excellent post, very literary in an appropriate way.

  9. Really enjoyed this post. Geldings, they just never learn! I have a Paint/QH mare who is a real siren, and also a flirt and a fishwife at the same time. After bossing my poor ol' gelding around mercilessly for an hour she will then stand and look at me wistfully as he walks off to the other end of the paddock for some peace, as if to say 'but why doesn't he LOVE me? By the way, do you you a 'Be Nice' halter? I swear by them in difficult situations, they're very effective but humane - and also brilliant for loading.

    Being a writer, I have to do a little promo - my story. 'Dancing With Fate, written for the Wild Rose Press romance series 'Song Of The Muses' is a tribute to a little endurance mare I lost last year. It's based loosely on Greek Mythology but my heroine, the muse Terpsichore, is definitely not one to stay at home and let the men have all the action!


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