I am astonished – for the first time, but certainly not for the last – at the Awesome Powers of Destruction that vest in the average, trained, well-behaved equine. It’s enough to rival the existing holder of the Most Naturally Destructive Animal, the Amazon Parrot. The parrot is an animal for whom it is imperative to buy toys with the single goal of being destroyed as slowly and interestingly as possible. Dogs, sure, they destroy things, but mostly because they need to do an awful lot of chewing, and the best and safest things to chew are things that will eventually fall apart. Parrots, on the other hand, destroy for the pure love of destruction. My former pet parrot, Echo, evidently hated bell clappers. The best way to keep Echo entertained for long periods was to buy a parrot toy with a bell on it that had a clapper that had been welded in. The clappers that had just been twisted in presented no interesting challenge at all – she’d have that sucker out within ten minutes. But the welded type…she’d advance on it, growling, and grab it with her beak. What you must know here is that parrot toys are hung from clamps from the top of the cage, so the mental image you need now is one pound of growling green feathers hanging upside down on a toy that is swinging from a chain, and grabbing the bell in her beak.
Really, she was entertained by this…but I daresay, she was not more entertained than I was.
She’d grab the bell bottom with her beak, transfer that to one of her claws (so she is now hanging upside down on a swinging toy with one foot) all the better to stick her head way up into the bell and start attempting to dismantle the clapper with her beak. Inevitably, she’d get so excited about this – growling the entire time, only now, with an echoing effect – that she’d grab onto the bell with the other foot and wind up dangling from the thing, with her head inside the bell, and her feet swinging freely in the air again.
When we didn’t have a new bell on hand – they lost all interest for her the second she separated out the clapper – the best toy I could give her was half of an ear of corn. Parrots have three hands, as you can see from above: two with claws, and one with a beak. And they use all three to climb. And it was an hour of sheer delight watching her scuttle to the cage floor to grab the ear of corn – which was at least half her physical size – and using her three hands, bring it back to the perches at the top. I wish to heaven I could provide an adequate description of this process, but I’m afraid it simply defies me. The effect, generally, was one of an elephant and a gazelle participating together in a potato sack race. With two sacks at a time.
Once she got the ear where she wanted, she’d methodically remove and eat every trace of a corn kernel, and then the fun would really begin: the hacking up, shredding, and pulverizing of the remaining corn cob. Destruction for the love of destruction.
I hadn’t encountered any other species that offered serious competition to parrots in the area of Destruction…until I started hanging out with horses. I mean, these are animals that EAT their freaking stalls unless you cover every horizontal wooden surface with metal. They upend and dance on their water buckets, which has the happy collateral benefits of destroying the thick plastic bucket and creating a big messy mud wallow in which they can roll. And roll, they do, with verve.
Last April I was visiting my new BFFs at the local tack shop (not the monster tack shop near Boston) to buy a piece of safety equipment, and found myself in a “No Shit, There I Was” discussion. The woman who told us about how she’d been hacking her mare across the pasture when another one of the horses silently snuck up behind the two of them and bit the mare on the butt, causing it to spook and rocket across the field, spilling the rider, who then had to be Life-Flighted out of the situation…she won. But at the time, I said “Why did the other horse bite yours like that?”
And everyone there paused, and looked at me like I was a teenager who still believed in Santa Claus, and then one of them said, “They’re horses.”
A general feeling of agreement settled on the group, and I understood that this was all the answer that question really required.
Probably there was some kind of herd dominance thing going on with that situation, but it’s also possible that the biter was just having a Good One on the bitee. The Horse Sense of Humor is a wicked one.
When I bought horse blankets this weekend, I noticed that several – but not all – of the brands prominently advertised how difficult it was to tear the fabric. I assumed they meant “tear the fabric on something in the barn” or “tear the fabric if the horse rolls on a rock on the ground” or “tear the fabric if the horse scrubs up against the rail”. And they might have meant those things…too. Because one of them dedicated some real space on the tag to explaining how this fabric is so tightly woven that it is very difficult or impossible for the other horses to grab it with their teeth and yank the blanked off and destroy it. Yes. Apparently, they like to pull each others’ clothing off and hack it to bits with their teeth.
Just last month I had Huey The Wonder Horse in cross-ties in the barn, grooming him up and getting ready to ride. He kept thrashing his head, which is unlike him. It wasn’t until I stepped around to his front to instruct him to lay off and settle down that I discovered that Clay, in the stall next to us, was taking advantage of my limited line-of-sight to grab one of the cross-ties and yank it around (thus pulling Huey’s head and making him thrash). I scolded Clay, he backed down, and by golly, as soon as I went back around to Huey’s other side to finish what I was doing, the thrashing started up again. I scolded Clay, he backed down, I went back around…but instead of resuming my work, I peered out over Huey’s majestic withers, and saw Clay, no kidding, creep his head out and look for me and when he didn’t see me, start to go for that cross-tie again.
Jeez, it was like a fifth-grade class with a boy that keeps blowing spitballs at the Good Kid when the teacher’s back is turned.
And just last week, I had Huey back there in the ties after a lesson, cleaning him up, when Max – Huey’s Evil Nemesis – freaking opened his own stall door so as to put his head out and attempt to bite Huey on the butt.
I mean, what do you say to this kind of thing? “Bad horse!” ?!?
One thing about Huey: he’s what my mother-in-law (your classic Jewish Mamale from Queens) would call a “good eater”. I am pretty sure he actually licks his grain bucket clean. Whatever he’s doing to it, it needs to be replaced, because he’s battering it into smithereens. And once, someone parked the muck barrow too close to him once and I found him nosing through a pile of manure, looking for any uneaten bits of hay. Good god, no wonder worms are such a huge problem for horses, they do this kind of thing.
Huey is happy to eat any hay he can find lying about, he hoovers any shreds of grain off his stall floor, but it is clear to me that his One True Love is fresh, green grass. He will actually try to graze with a bridle on and a bit in his mouth. Forget keeping his lips off the ground when all you’ve got is a puny little rope halter. I can tell it’s going to be a creative effort to impress upon him that he doesn’t get to graze when I’m on the other end of some piece of tack – rope, reins, you name it. The only time I have fallen off of him – not chosen to come down, but actually fallen off – was a couple of weeks ago when I’d been exercising him up a hill and needed to dismount outside of the arena. I got one foot over the saddle but before I could get the other out of the stirrup and jump down, the little bugger put his head down and lurched towards a patch of the Green. I wound up flat on my seat, with my other foot still hooked in the stirrup.
Really, if there is Grass anywhere about, his brain converges to a single track and a single train, and there isn’t room for any other thoughts in it.
Today I had Huey in cross-ties on the – yes – grass in front of the barn. The barn is undergoing some construction, and none of the regular hitching spots were available. So I hustled him out there and clipped him up before he could get his muzzle down. And I tried on his blankets to check the fit (he looked magnificent – royal blue and hunter green look great on a big red chestnut!). And I tried on his new fly mask (needs a little alteration). And I checked a spot where I thought he’d cut himself (no, insect bite). And I got all his stuff out. And I brushed him. And picked his feet out. And then I got the barn owner to show me how to “weigh” him (involves a measuring tape, incredibly). And all this while, he was stomping some flies and flicking his tail, and otherwise, behaving like a champ.
So I went into the barn for 2 minutes, to clean up his tack and put it away, and when I came back, he had managed to bust loose one of the cross-ties (so he was only anchored on one side), flung the broken tie ten feet away, and had horked his halter up over his ears…and thus, freed up his head enough to eat some grass. That’s right. He didn’t bust the tie because he was frightened. He hadn’t been pulling on it all that time. And having blown the tie out, he made no effort whatsoever to get out of the other tie. No. This was 100% about dealing with the pesky thing that was keeping his head out of the Grass.
I’m kind of glad that we don’t sign the paperwork on him until October 1, because I’m pretty sure I would need to pay for that.
I’m also pretty sure that this is the last time he goes into ties anywhere around the grass. Freakin’ junkie.
Today, we’ve got a side dish, and in honor of Huey The Wonder Horse’s Great Grass Roundup of this morning, it’s GREEN. This is a great dish to serve as a side with dinner, or to mix in with a salad, or to serve with crackers and bread as an appetizer.
Marinated Grilled Fennel
fennel bulbs, 4 small or 2 large (1 ½ to 2 pounds)
½ C olive oil
1/3 C balsamic vinegar
3 T honey
1 clove garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced, small
2 T fresh tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper
Cut the stalks and outside leaves off the fennel. Cut each bulb lengthwise (through the root) into 1/2-inch-wide slices through the narrow side. Run the slices on to skewers.
Combine the oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, shallots, and tarragon in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk to mix. Add the fennel and let marinate for at least 2 hours on the kitchen counter.
Preheat the grill to high. When ready to cook, remove the fennel slices from the marinade, season with salt and pepper, arrange on the hot grate, and grill, turning once, about 16 minutes in all. Toss the grilled fennel with any remaining marinade and serve warm or at room temperature.