It’s an alarming sight. The big red horse lunges at the smaller black one, ears pinned, teeth bared. The black horse stands his ground, bracing his legs and preparing for battle. Two handsome heads dart in and around as the animals feint and dodge, seeking an opening. Necks snake and twist, muscles bulge, manes fly.
Dust rises from their scrambling feet.
It’s an awesome display of fierceness and power.
“Brego! Redford! Knock it off!”
They stop, but not because of my command. Their little drama has run its course, so they now stand quietly, complacent, even.
I shake my head and marvel to think that, in the nine months or so since the bigger horse, Redford, has been with us, neither gelding has sustained as much as a scratch. Their antics are all for show. Their routine is as choreographed and ritualized as kabuki theater.
The skirmishes happen just before feeding time, twice a day. At all other times, you can find the two of them hanging out amicably, body language relaxed, tails swishing.
Sometimes, when it’s especially hot, their little act is abbreviated. Each horse will toss his head and make a mean face at the other, but they don’t even move their feet.
“OK, you he-men,” I tease. “Come get your grub.” Sometimes, as they walk into their stalls to eat, they’ll menace each other one more time for good measure, flaring their nostrils as they flip their heads in each other’s direction.
“Are you lookin’ at ME?!”
On this day, Redford hikes up his hip and directs a hoof at Brego, but the punch is pulled — as it always is— and no contact is made.
“Quit!” I growl out of habit. But it’s like telling the crickets not to chirp, or the trees not to grow. Mealtime macho, even if only for show, is hardwired into horses.
It’s a “battle” that must be fought.
There are other, grimmer battles taking place, as well. Inside the barn, as I peel off flakes of hay and slip them into frayed nets, I hear a loud buzzing. I turn to look. In a dusty spider web across one corner of the barn window, a fly is about to meet his end. Like Frodo in Shelob’s lair, the fly is hopelessly trapped, and every effort to free itself only tangles it more tightly in the soft, sticky filaments of the web.
I can’t bear to watch what comes next, even though killing flies is something I do routinely myself. This particular death, being bound inextricably and then pierced and sucked dry by the spider, is one of nature’s most gruesome. Shuddering, I head out to fill the horses’ water.
As I walk along the fence line toward the water tubs, I spy a baby jackrabbit scurrying back under cover of brush. He’d been nosing about the water spigot, where there’s a little drip. Seeing him reminds me of another grim battle, one I didn’t witness but inferred from the evidence one hot summer day several years ago.
I’d found a young jackrabbit drowned in the bottom of a water tub that had just four or five inches of water in it. The inside of the tub was covered with scratch marks. Thirsty, the immature rabbit must have fallen in while trying to reach the water, then been unable to hop out. Panicking, perhaps when one of the horses approached the tub, it may’ve overexerted itself trying over and over to jump out, and died from fright and exhaustion.
Had it just remained still with its head above the water, I would have tipped the bucket and set it free. But that’s not nature’s way.
Thinking of the baby bunny I’ve just seen by the spigot, I retrieve an old plastic water dish left over from the time we found a feral cat and kitten in the barn. I dust it off, set it next to the horses’ water tub, outside the fence, and fill it with water. Maybe that will head off another desperate struggle.
Then again, if the bunny comes to rely on the water and I forget to fill it… Or if one of my cats happens to notice him frequenting the water dish and lies in wait…
I try not to think about it. Dramas like these — some real, others not; some won, others lost — take place every day. Nature is unrelenting that way.
Life is grand, yes, especially out in the country.
But it’s not without its battles.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com.