On the way home from Monroe that first day we stopped at Dels in Auburn for a new halter, some basic grooming tools & TREATS before heading to Wal-Mart for rubber boots & a bucket. I also made a call to Ken at KCJ Stables and wanted to confirm that the stall he said would be ready at the end of the month would be for-sure because my situation had changed drastically and I really needed to get my horse out of its current situation. He understood and asked me to come by the next morning because he had an idea that might work out and we’d be able to bring Coconut to her new home in a matter of days instead of weeks.
KCJ Stables is a family run boarding facility nestled in a little equine enclave of Federal Way. The entrance is right on Pacific Highway but the horses and the facilities sit way back off the road. If you know to look there, you can see horses but most people drive by and never notice them. The farm is really peaceful and clean & it seemed like a really good fit for me location-wise. I went to see the pasture that Ken said he could offer us which currently held a stunning National Show Horse, Quincy. Apparently Quincy’s most recent pasture mate had recently moved out and he was lonely. Ken called his daughter, Kelli and arranged for her to come with me and haul Coconut home. Her next available day to do it was that coming Saturday, four days away. I left and returned to Monroe to check on Coconut (ok…a horse crazy girl with a new horse is not going to sit around the horse even in the best of circumstances…so OF COURSE I was going to make the one hour trip each way to spend time with her!)
With a bucket full of grooming supplies and treats I was quite the curiosity in the stallion pasture as I passed through. In fact I’m sure the smell of treats was unmistakable and the force and intensity of the herd who now wanted to get their noses into my bucket was almost overwhelming.
I took a closer look at everyone on the remote pasture that day. A black & white pinto and a leopard Appaloosa, both with fairly round bellies and a gray mare who was clearly the alpha. In fact I had to shoo her off so I could focus on Coconut who appeared to be low in the pecking order. I gave Coconut some treats and took off the raggedy old halter she was wearing. It looked as though it had been on for quite some time & she was clearly grateful for both kindnesses. Apparently the halter had been in place for so long that it wore a groove across her nose & a ring had broken but was tied together with a strip of fabric. I rubbed her face gently but she was a little head shy until I got up to her forehead. That, we’ve since determined, is Coconut’s sweet spot! When it came time to try on the new halter, she calmly lowered her head and nosed into her pretty new purple one (that didn’t fit quite so snugly). She never even reacted when I clipped on the lead rope & discovered there was actually no reason to hang on to her at all. She stood ground tied & perfect for her little pampering session. One of my flags from the previous day was that when I got up close to her legs, what had looked like black socks turned out to be thick black mud halfway up to her knees. She was fairly clean considering she’d probably had little if any grooming. She certainly had NOT been fixed up for our visit the day before. I was able to brush away her black socks and revealed 3 white hooves, one black one and four “white” legs. She loved the attention and brushing. She closed her eyes and I swear she smiled.
Coconut appeared to enjoy our time together and led like a dream. Not pushy and even let me get a glimpse of her sense of humor with subtle nudges. She had every right to be standoffish but she remained engaged. I was pretty impressed with this little horse. And I say “little” horse because she turned out to be more like 14.2 hands…neither the 15.2 nor “tall” she been advertised as. In fact, on the previous evening I’d spent quite a bit of time pouring over the photos I’d taken that first day comparing them because I wasn’t convinced that the horse I met on the pasture was the same horse in the ad. I actually zoomed in and had to compare spots before I finally believed that it had been the same horse but there must have been quite a time lapse from when the photos were taken and the day I met her. Her tail was just reaching her hocks in the ad photos but was nearly touching the ground in November of 2006. I admit that some of that length could have been taken up in tail position while she moved in the original photos but I don’t think it would be an 18” difference, would it? My gut was telling me there was much more to the story…if any of it were true to begin with!
About an hour into my visit a small white truck pulled into the stallion pasture and someone got out and dumped a bale of hay. Just one…and the boy herd attacked it ferociously. As I watched the white truck drive away without feeding the mares in this remote pasture I actually gave them an initial benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they weren’t feeding the mares because they knew I was there with Coconut and didn’t want to tempt her away. Surely they’d seen my car up near the road. But then I began to wonder how they would get hay back there for them. There was no way to drive over the creek and no one could carry a bale of hay across that footbridge. My heart just sank as I realized they were not feeding the mares. They currently had grass to graze but no grains, no supplements…and no water except Woods Creek, which was now receding after the flood.
My attention went back to the stallion pasture ….13…14…15…and stopped counting because I understood that one bale of hay could not support that many horses and even in my newly returned to horses innocence I instantly knew not all of those horses would get hay because the alpha horses would push them away. I saw horses that paced back and forth but never dared try to get close. I realized my $500 purchase might have just bought something Jean Elledge may have lacked…food for the horses. But $500 would certainly feed every horse out there for a little while… someone had decided only to feed certain ones. Coconut and her mare friends were not so lucky. I’m not saying the stallions and geldings were any more lucky…perhaps just a smidgeon so.
As I got ready to leave that day I released Coconut from her halter. I didn’t see a need to leave it on and trusted she’d come back to me when I returned the next day. She followed me to the creek and watched me cross. She inched as close as she could to the tree that the barbed wire was attached to next to the footbridge. As I got across I turned back and she had lowered her head and was watching me with those beautifully sad Arabian eyes. I know she believed I was there for her…and couldn’t understand how I could leave. I hope she knew in her heart I’d be back. It was clear I was something good in her life. I couldn’t let her down! I’d be back each day until I was able to take her away. But even as I crossed the stallion pasture & turned back over my shoulder, she was still there at the tree….watching…I kept turning to look as I made my way back toward the car...until I couldn’t see the tree, the remote pasture or her any more. I knew she was there.
The next few days were very similar…except that I never saw the hay truck again. As I walked the pastures I never saw any sign of hay in the manure. I saw horses in the stallion pasture who’d clearly been in fights. None of them had any recent grooming and their manes at tails were mangled dred-locked messes. One buckskin gelding’s mane was knotted, but pulled out of his neckline so it was tangled into itself and nearly dragging on the ground. Most of the horses looked like they had rain rot and their coats were clearly unkept. I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was as bad as my gut was telling me because I felt so unqualified to make those kinds of assumptions. I did begin to understand that there were an awful lot of horses being kept out there and no human supervision at all. Something could go terribly wrong and no one might know for quite some time. Even when I asked Jean about Coconut’s medical history the first day she told me she didn’t use vets & that she administered all of her own shots and worming. By the sheer number of horses out there I just knew she couldn’t be doing an effective job. And based on what my untrained eye was seeing, I think she fully understood that what she was doing was not customary or acceptable. I got the feeling she purposely did not have horse professionals out there…ever! There was no point even talking to Jean about any of my concerns. My intuition told me she’d try to explain it away. Clearly I could not trust anything she’d told me up to that point.
Saturday could not come quick enough and I met Kelli at KCJ at noon. I called ahead and told Jean we were headed out and to expect us no later than 1:30pm. I hadn’t previously met Kelli and I drove separate but had Corey ride with her so he and I could contact each other by phone and he might be able to help her with directions if needed. We arrived at the pasture at 1pm and hung out for a little bit. I thought I’d try to figure out how to get Coconut off that remote pasture. I crossed over and put her halter on and walked around but the place was surrounded by trees and a fence along the backside and the creek cut it off from the stallion pasture. It was practically an island. I could find no horse gate at all. I know the mares had to get back there somehow but I couldn’t figure it out. For a moment I thought about having Coconut try to cross the footbridge but it could be a little slippery, was not very wide and I wasn’t sure it could support her weight. If she lost her footing or the bridge gave way we’d both go down the 5’ drop. I just couldn’t risk an injury for either of us so that was out of the question. I was out there about 30 minutes and still no solution so I decided to join Kelli & Corey back at the trailer.
Upon arriving Kelli appeared very disturbed. While I was off with Coconut, a chestnut mare who appeared to be about 3 years old walked up to the fence line of the mare & foal pasture on the other side of the road. Corey asked Kelli to look at her halter. He thought it looked “wrong” and upon inspection she discovered it was a yearling sized halter. She reached over and undid it but it was embedded into her skull. Removing it peeled back layers of dried skin and hair revealing halter scars on her face. A grateful horse walked away. Kelli left the halter on the ground. Even someone with no horse experience recognized that was wrong!
I informed them that I couldn’t find a way to get Coconut off the pasture and I tried calling Jean to see when she was going to get there. She did not answer so I left a message. We waiting awhile longer and noticed some old rickety shelters with dangerous fencing, lots of exposed nails and saw a horse standing in what looked like a cattle chute. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the horse was actually trapped there. In an apparent attempt to escape the poor excuse for a paddock, he had gotten himself entangled in some rope that someone had tied cris-cross across this cattle cute as a makeshift fence blocking the exit. There was least a foot high pile of manure behind him so he’d probably been there some time. Corey climbed in there and untied the rope and freed the Appaloosa gelding who headed straight for a growth of weeds and began eating hungrily. I continued to try to get Jean on the phone but by 3:00pm it was clear she wasn’t coming and we were going to have to do something on our own to get Coconut off pasture island hell.
About this time a young couple pulled up and started walking around the pastures. I asked them if they knew anything about the fencing there and they said there was a place in the trees that you could un-do the barbed-wire and get thought to the back pasture & offered to show it to me. As we all walked through the stallion pasture into the wooded area, they explained that they were looking for their horse and wasn’t sure where Jean had moved it. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was possible I’d just purchased someone’s horse under false pretenses and was very afraid of what their reaction was going to be when I brought Coconut through. We got the fence unwrapped and Corey went over and clipped Coconut’s lead rope on her halter. They didn’t react and I was secretly very grateful but also felt bad because it was clear that Jean Elledge had a habit of sneaky and questionable behavior. They left and said to make sure that we reconnected the fence, as it was the only barrier between the mares and stallions. That and the creek!!!
Because of the flooding, the creek had risen quite a bit and now that it was receding there was about 15’ of deep thick mud on each side of if at this point. It was thankfully flat, unlike the 5’ drop just a little ways down stream but this mud was still a big problem. Corey had Coconut and just tried to lead her through it but she was visibly upset. She hesitated to step into the mud but put up quite a fuss when she got close to the water and would not cross the creek. Corey, if we recall, has ZERO horse experience and the sight of him on the other end of the lead rope from a very upset Arabian is one I will not soon forget. One thing I can say is that when he’s stressed, he’s very stubborn and he actually out-stubborned the horse that afternoon, forcing her, with Kelli calling out directions, to finally enter the water and cross over to the wooded area. We also discovered the source of Coconut’s temporary black socks. This had to be the only area the mares could get to water and they’d have to make their way through the nearly knee deep mud to get to it. The reality of her nightmare was becoming more and more clear.
We reconnected the barbed wire fencing realizing that it was inappropriate and dangerous but it wasn’t our fencing so I aimed to leave it as I’d found it. As we passed through the stallion pasture one last time, this time with a mare attached to us, I asked Corey if he wanted me to take her as I sensed he was frustrated and tired but he simply said, “I have it!” He wanted to finish the job and this part was actually the easiest so far. We got back to the trailer and let Coconut walk around a bit. While we were breaking her out of the pasture a woman with a young girl had arrived and was grooming a horse in the parking area there near our trailer. They were clearly watching us. I tried to call Jean one last time and, of course, she did not answer. Kelli opened the trailer door and it must have looked like a 5 star hotel to Coconut…clean, nice bedding and ….in a bag hung by her own window was…. HAY!!!! I no sooner stepped into the trailer, she followed me in and headed right for the hay bag. We clipped her in and closed the divider. Before we closed the back door, Kelli said, “I’m tempted to just load that buckskin and get him out of there, in fact, I have two more spots, I could fill up the trailer….” We were torn. The sad fact is that we’d be in more trouble for taking neglected horses than Jean would get into for actually neglecting them…but it was tempting…very very tempting. The woman with the young girl called over to us and asked, “Does Jean know you’re taking that horse?”…Really? Has she not seen the horrible conditions these horses live in or the lack of food, water or care? Uh…”Yeah!” I told her…I’ve been calling for 3 hours and she knew I was on the way so I’m guessing she purposely didn’t want to be here when I brought in “MY” team in case they might catch on to what she was doing! “Jean knows exactly what’s going on here!”
Next entry ….Coming Home!