First off...Happy Birthday to Basil who turned TWO on 4/1/2010. I started writing the story as a way to honor his birthday but the right hand is still casted and it's slow going...and much like the Coconut Chronicles, much too much tale to tell in just one sitting so here's the first installment, Enjoy!
You’d think his story starts with his birth day, but in Basil’s case it goes back farther than any of us imagined so I’ll start with where I came into the picture. Back in September of 2007 a new boarder came to KCJ with her paint mare. At first I noticed how the coloring of the mare, sorrel spots on white, almost perfectly matched the three Bassett Hounds the family owned. The red on all four of them matched the hair color of the owner, Billie Jean. I wondered if it was coincidence or preference (and I’m not talking the hair dye brand!). We learned that the mare’s name was Sugar and that she was in foal.
As months went by I began to ask if any of the other boarders had seen Billie Jean out because I certainly had not and it struck me odd. It was possible she just came during times I was not there but it seemed to be a common concern as no one had seen her out for quite some time.
Sugar was housed in a paddock with a wood shelter but it’s in a location toward the back of the farm that gets pretty muddy. When I used the round-pen I’d see her standing under her shelter but she never seemed to be curious about us enough to come to the fence even when I tried to bring her treats. I began to see her as disconnected or aloof.
As she got bigger and bigger under that blanket that had been in place for months now I began to wonder what they were going to do with her and a foal once it was born. There didn’t appear to be foal safe paddocks anywhere on the property and the April 14th due date was approaching fast.
On April 1st, 2008, Ken went out to do the morning feeding and discovered a newborn colt on the ground in the mud but Sugar attending to him. She’d foaled two weeks early, before anyone had prepared for it. Right there in her paddock, in her blanket and it was cold. Ken called Kelli to come down and help and she arrived to find him on the ground, spooning the colt trying to warm him up. They led Sugar and her new colt down to the barn where Kelli offered her stall to them before running out to get a foal blanket and halter.
The calls went out and by the afternoon we’d all been told that there was a new baby already. We were all very excited and everyone came down to the barn to meet the new arrival…everyone but the owner.
Sugar was a kind mother. She allowed us all to get in the stall with her and love on her baby. She appeared quite proud of him. In fact it was the first time any of us had really interacted with her and the first real inkling I had that she had any kind of personality. She clearly loved the attention. I brought my 3-year-old grandson, Daemon, down to see the new baby and to this day he remembers and reminds me when we pass the stall. The interesting thing is that while Sugar let us get in close to both her and the new baby, when my Grandson entered the stall, she carefully placed herself between Daemon and the colt. We tried several angles before I caught on that she wanted to keep them separate. I happily granted her that wish. So we held Daemon up so he could see from the gate. It was a happy day for most of us. New babies are adorable and he was probably the youngest horse I’d seen so far. I was smitten. A visit to the barn was not complete until I got to peek in the stall and see Sugar and her baby. Every day I gave her a smile and told her what a good Momma she was.
A few weeks passed before I heard that Billie Jean had come to visit the horses. Her husband had come down with their kids at some point in the first week, snapped a few photos to give her but I never quite got why she hadn’t come down herself until the following week. When I saw her I asked what she named him and she said she wasn’t sure but she thought she’d put “Spirit” in his name somewhere. I’m sorry, but to me Spirit is a stereotypical name for a horse, like calling your dog “Rex” or “Rover”. He seemed too cute to be saddled with some spiritual reference but it wasn’t my horse…
At 17 days old, Sugar and her colt were moved to an outside paddock where Ken had strung an extra line of hot-tape down low to be more colt-safe. That happened to be the day I met Leah Anderson when she came out to take photographs for a project she was working on about rescued horses: a photo book called “Forgotten”. As she was getting ready to leave I took her up to meet our newest neighbor and she took a couple of photos of him too. While we were there he came up and put his nose on the hot-wire and got his first lesson in fencing respect…poor little guy with his long legs and adorable face…. flying backwards unsure of why these ladies would do that to him!?
I believe he was six months old when I saw Dr. Best come out and was giving them shots. To my knowledge that was the first time a vet had seen either of them. The next day I noticed Sugar was gone, having been moved back down to her old muddy paddock with the shelter. Meanwhile high-pitched whinnies could be heard as the colt called for his Dam.
We have a rule at our barn that you stay out of other boarder’s paddocks and we don’t give other people’s horses things like treats or food without their permission. I’d go up and pet the colt through the fence but I could see his foal blanket, once too large, was now far too small & that his foal halter was looking pretty tight.
Late November I heard the rumors that the owner was behind on her board but I stayed out of it.
About this time I received an email from Artist Maeve Harris inquiring about volunteering for SAFE and offered to donate a painting that we might be able to use as a fund-raiser. She was having a show coming up and wanted some info on SAFE so I sent her some brochures. In the email exchange we discovered that we didn’t live too far away from each other so I invited her to my barn and lunch at some point. I think it was late December when she came out and I gave her a tour. As I took her past Sugar and mentioned that her owner never came to see her or the baby. She agreed that it was a sad situation but remarked that she really didn’t like Paints that much. I thought that was pretty funny since the name of the breed alone would make me think she would automatically be drawn to them!
After the barn tour we had lunch and just really connected. I told her later that I really enjoyed the day and felt like I’d spent it with an old friend. She agreed, but neither of us knew how fateful that day would become. Over the next few weeks she confessed that she just couldn’t stop thinking about those Paints.
About this time Ken asked me to check with my sources to see if anyone was interested in taking either of the Paints. He informed me that they were several months behind in board and were looking to get rid of them. I did start asking around and mentioned to Maeve that the Paints were at risk because the owner was looking to unload them and had even advertised on Craigs List, lowering the price each week and finally asking $800 for the pair. No one was buying…or trading (for quads according to one ad!).
SAFE was full and so I worked hard to find a way other than to have them go into rescue but I was told at one point that someone was coming to pick up the horses the following week. When I asked who, all I was told was that it was a someone that someone knew that knew Billie Jean. This unknown factor sent my rescue gene into full-tilt and the sight of a generic gray stock trailer rolling down Pacific Highway had me panicked thinking Ollie the slaughter guy was coming to get Sugar and her baby. I called Maeve and we decided to do something ourselves making a plan that we’d take the horses and try to rehome them after we evaluated them but we’d have to get permission from Billie Jean first.
John, my farrier, happened to be coming by on the same day I had Dr. Tooman out to see Coconut and we talked to them both about the horses. With Ken’s permission, I had John go out and give a quick look/minor file to the colt and had him trim Sugar. We determined that it had probably been two cycles since her feet had been done and he wasn’t even halter broke enough to lead out of his paddock. He’d obviously never had his feet handled before but he was fairly cooperative. We all agreed that Sugar needed to have her teeth floated and she was just an awful mess. I doubt she’d been groomed in months. We groomed her up a bit and she seemed to enjoy that a great deal. After her trim, Maeve took her down to the arena and did some basic leading around and discovered that if she trotted, Sugar would too & when she stopped, Sugar would do so on a dime! She seemed engaged for the first time ever.
I called Billie Jean and left a message saying that I wanted to talk to her about her horses but for two days she did not return the call. Maeve and I both felt helpless and frustrated. I think we both decided that it wasn’t in the cards for us to step up for these horses. The day we finally gave in and decided we were not going to be allowed to help, we pretty much gave up & Maeve left to go shopping. I stayed at the barn with Coconut until my phone rang…
It was Billie Jean! She had just gotten my message and wanted to talk about the Paints. I explained my relationship with SAFE and warned her about the current horse market and the chance that her horses could end up at the auction and/or slaughter. She broke down in tears and asked me if I would please take both horses and help them!? It turns out that she was going through some very difficult personal issues and could no longer care for them emotionally or financially. She’d grown up around horses and when she hit a rough patch in life, her husband bought her the pregnant mare in hopes of helping her through it. It turned out that having the horses there just made her feel guilty. That turned into a sad state for all of them.
I quickly called Maeve and caught her mid-purchase of a pair of shoes with the money she had set aside to help out with the Paints. She put the shoes back and headed to the barn where we made our plans and came face to face with our new project and the precious faces that embodied it. That day…. everything changed!