Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beau's Harem

My sixteen year-old thoroughbred is going to make a sociobiologist of me yet: what the hell is it about old males and young females?

The story is this: Sheri Thornley, the owner of Southwind Farm, agreed with me that Beau seemed sullen, if that's not too anthropomorphic an emotion to assign to a horse. Indeed, he has had a tough time of it in gelding herds as of late. At our previous farm, Beau was chased and tormented during an attack of uveitis, and, even worse, badly bloodied before we left for Paris, his back a tapestry of bites and wounds. I had to put him on a full course of antibiotics. Even at Southwind, where the gelding herd is far more benign, Beau came in from the field with bad cuts and wounds. Ostracized, he stood apart, grazing alone day after day. Looking at Beau in his stall one day, head hanging and eyes dulled, my friend Susan remarked, "that is not a happy horse," to which I readily assented.

After much discussion, Sheri and I decided to shift Beau to field board. There are three long rectangular fields at Southwind, all level ground with good run-in sheds and rich grazing. Beau's sight is diminishing, and we thought he might do better in a neatly contained space with no obstructions as his vision worsens. There is also the not inconsiderable consideration of my pocketbook, now that I am supporting two horses. Field board runs about half of stall board, making Beau's retirement more affordable.

Most importantly, we thought Beau would do better with just one or two other horses, removing him from the bullying environment of a herd. Sheri decided to put Beau with mares, much to my surprise. In the past, Beau hasn't seemed terribly keen on mares: he was, after all, a teaser stallion in his younger days, which is not an occupation inclined to make a horse of the male persuasion cozy up to females. Sheri, though, is a consummate horsewoman, and I trust her judgment. So mares it was.

I am told that within fifteen minutes, Beau and the three-year-old filly, Slipper, were touching noses. When I arrived the next day, the two were inseparable, grazing side by side and standing contentedly together in the run-in shed to avoid the mid-day sun. I pulled Beau from the field for grooming; as we walked away, he threw back his head and started screaming for his lady love. He continued protesting all the way into the barn. Finally he quiet down, but once we headed back out to the field, the screaming (highly uncharacteristic, mind you) resumed. To say that I am gob-smacked, to use my husband's British expression, is an understatement. Beau has, quite literally, gone overnight from a tired-looking, withdrawn gelding to a strutting Lothario--and I'm not kidding. It's even worse now that a second mare, Skyy, has joined their little group. Initially he bullied Skyy, attempting to keep her away from Slipper. Now both mares follow him around dutifully. It's like some kind of equine parody of Big Love, with Beau as the satisfied Utah polygamist.

Other boarders have sent me humorous e-mails, remarking that Beau seems ten years younger, which is absolutely true. As one woman put it, there's nothing like a cute young filly to put the swagger back in an old boy's butt.

I half expect the mares to be serving his majesty tea and biscuits when I next arrive.