I texted the feedlot owner again, saying I didn’t want to bother him but I was worried about my girl and wanted to get her settled. It had been over a week since he’d quarantined her at the lot. Was she better or worse?
“She’s actually doing well,” he wrote back.
I felt so relieved! “Will she be ready for pickup soon?”
He said I could get her this coming week. I immediately set up the pickup time and date with Jamie from Tinstar Ranch, where I was moving Raven for her 30 day quarantine after leaving the lot. I got the day off of work so I could drive to the feedlot with Jamie to pick her up. I only had a few more days to wait; after what had seemed like an eternity, I was going to finally meet my little black mare!
I was on the road by 6 a.m. on the day we were going to pick her up. I drove two hours to Tinstar Ranch to meet Jamie, a twenty-year old horse trainer who had a good head on her shoulders. We would then drive another two and a half hours from there to the feedlot in Sunnyside.
I jumped in the truck with Jamie and we spent the hours talking about horse training philosophy, horse behavior, bad experiences, mustangs, cowboy horsemanship, horse abuse, shows and rodeos, and everything in between. I got a good sense of how she treats her horses and the ones she took in for training, and I felt that I could trust the person sitting next to me to take care of my new mare. I was already protective of her, and it was a relief to feel that she would be safe with Jamie.
We pulled into the feedlot and Jamie pointed out the owner, who was standing with another man and looking over pens of horses. The horses there were all colors and beautiful – a lovely grulla, a flashy paint, a steel grey. Some were muscled, some skeletal, nipping at each other and eating or milling around in one big herd. They weren’t entirely what you would expect to see at a place that was the end of the road until they were herded onto a crowded semi-truck and shipped to slaughter. They were there for any number of reasons, not just because they were old or skinny or untrained. It was sad to see so many of them, so many spirits with the potential to love and be loved by people.
I took my Raven’s new blue halter and lead rope and approached the lot owner. I told him, “I’m Sasha, the owner of the black Arab mare that’s in quarantine right now.”
“Oh, I’ll get her, you can’t go get her,” he said, so I handed him the halter and lead. “It’ll be a minute.”
I went back over to the trailer next to Jamie and we waited for him to bring Raven out. Other trailers pulled up while we waited. A sign on the gate read If you weren’t invited, you’re not welcome.
The lot owner finished up his conversation with the other man and went to a far lot behind the house on the property. He haltered a little black horse that I could barely see from a distance and led her down between the pens and out of a gate. She looked so small, so pretty! She walked with him easily, her head up and ears alert. He led her up to the open trailer as we stood by and seemed ready to walk on to load her up, but he hesitated. My girl followed, willing to walk right on, but he had stopped, so she did too. After a tense moment (Jamie and the owner are not on good terms), he just stepped into the trailer and she started to follow. She didn’t fight or freak out; she just put her two front hooves in and briefly paused. With a few clicks from me and some gentle encouragement, she stepped right in.
Jamie had tied a hay net in the trailer for her, and Raven started pulling out mouthfuls of hay and munching. Jamie closed and latched the back trailer door and got in the truck. I looked at the lot owner and said, “Thank you.” Other people have had bad things to say about dealing with him, but he had dealt honestly with me. I had kept my interactions with him polite and he had done the same. I didn’t know how he could make a living doing what he was doing, but I thanked him anyway, because it felt like the right thing to do. After all, he could have picked her up at the auction and shipped her straight to slaughter, but he had allowed her to be posted and given her a chance at a new life. By doing that, he had given me a new chance at one too.
Before I got in the truck with Jamie, I entered the front of the trailer through the person-sized “escape” door to say hello to my new girl. She munched on hay as I pet her neck and looked her over – her feet were long but not as overgrown as some of the other feedlot horses’. They needed a trim, but they weren’t terribly neglected. I turned her face to me and saw the crusted mucus in her nostrils, but she was alert and eating, and I felt so glad to have her finally in my custody.
We drove the two and a half hours back to Jamie’s ranch, and Raven didn’t kick or panic or have any problems in the trailer. When I unloaded her, I asked Jamie to take a picture of us. I just stood and looked at her, overwhelmed with love. She was real, she was here, and she was safe.
I was excited to groom her, give her carrots from the bag I’d brought, and get to know her. Jamie measured Raven’s weight with a weight tape used for horses; she was around 780 pounds, which in horse terms (even for a small horse) is at least 100 to 200 pounds underweight. She was a little ribby and her hindquarters were sunken and had lost muscle, but she didn’t look to be on death’s door – her black coat was shiny and she was curious about her new temporary home. I led her into the small quarantine pen Jamie had set up for her and took off her halter. She stood dozing in the sun as I brushed her and talked to her. She seemed tired from the long drive in the trailer, and now that we had a chance to look her over, we noticed a few problems.
Her left front leg had a small open wound on the inside, and her leg was puffy and swollen from elbow to knee, double its normal size. I could see that after standing for a while, she didn’t want to put weight on it. She hadn’t limped off the trailer or shown any indication of lameness from the moment we saw her until now, but now that she was settling, it looked like it hurt. When Jamie returned with a bucket of grain with some bute in it for her pain, she looked at Raven again and said, “She has strangles.”
My heart dropped. Jamie pointed out the swelling under Raven’s jaw, a marble-sized abscess with a scab on one side, as if it had already drained and was healing over. Jamie flushed out her leg wound and I held Raven’s head as she punctured the abscess with a clean needle so it could drain. My Raven stood quietly and let us do it.
After we finished with that, Raven ate a little of her grain with the bute, but didn’t eat it all. She just wanted to doze in the sun. I brushed and pet her, gave her some carrots, and Jamie’s dad came out of the house to see the new horse.
“I learned to ride on Arabians,” he said with some pride. “She’s a good-looking horse. You chose well.”
I was worried about Raven having strangles; really, just having it confirmed, since I didn’t know for sure what she was sick with when I spoke to the lot owner. But Jamie told me that just recently, her own horse Ember had a really bad case of strangles; her abscesses had formed inside her mouth and had gotten so bad that she had trouble eating and breathing. Jamie said that with Raven, it looked like the worst part of it was over – her abscesses were small and appeared to have already been drained, so maybe the lot owner had kept her quarantined at the feedlot for so long because it had been pretty bad already. She had dealt with him before and said that he normally doesn’t keep them that long.
I had no experience with strangles, and here I had happened to find a person who knew what she was dealing with and how to help my mare get through it. She explained that once she had improved enough, we would need to take her to the vet for three separate strangles tests, two weeks apart each time, and that once she had negative test results for all three, she would be cleared of the illness. The universe had brought the right person into my life to help my mare, and I felt very thankful that she would be in good hands.
We had a few obstacles to work through now that Raven was in her new quarantine home, but I was energized by the new light in my life. Raven would be living two hours from the city I lived in, so I planned on driving up every Sunday to spoil her and get to know her. I was feeling worry, love, and gratitude for this new soul that had come to challenge me and help me grow more than I ever had.
As the saying goes, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
She came in the form of a spunky little black mare, and I was ready to learn.