I took Domo sight unseen because I figured that the one horse out of the hundred thousand plus sent to slaughter each year who had managed to convince his trainer to feed him for weeks on end even after the owner had stopped paying his boarding fees had something special about him. A phone call and $50 gas money brought him to my door and he stepped cautiously out into a whole different realm than he was used too. That was the easy part. At three and a half years old, Domo had already been through half a dozen owners and trainers, and god knows how many stable hands, grooms, exercise riders, and jockeys. Like the fox in St. Exupery’s tale of The Little Prince, Domo was looking for something more and he was not settling for less:
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a horse,” the horse said.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the horse said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean–‘tame’?”
“You do not live here,” said the horse. “What is it that you are looking for?”
“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”
“Men,” said the horse. “They have whips, and they hunt. It is very disturbing.
They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends.
What does that mean–‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the horse.
It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the horse.
“To me, you are still nothing more than a human
who is just like a hundred thousand other humans.
And I have no need of you.
And you, on your part, have no need of me.
To you, I am nothing more than a horse
like a hundred thousand other horses.
But if you tame me,
then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world.
To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
While he bonded quite quickly with Aspenite, the other rescue Thoroughbred I had at the time, convincing Domo that I was different from the many humans he had previously crossed paths with took some doing. Happily, Aspenite was fond of hanging out with me while I did yard work. The tasks were and are pretty much endless, given the state the property was in when my siblings finally left the vicinity at the end of probate. This put me on horse time as checking the perimeter, dealing with the trash left behind, and taking down weeds was as close as I, as a compulsively goal-oriented human, was going to get to a horse’s mindset.
By the time Domo arrived I was fixated on the goathead problem, and sharing weed pulling time seemed like a great way of settling down a skanky horse just off the track. Goatheads or puncture vines are invasive plants with no native pests that thrive in New Mexico’s arid soil especially when it has been disturbed. They are remarkably prolific, producing plentiful thorny seeds in a brief explosive growth period each summer. These particular goatheads were so healthy, large, and abundant they were even flattening the giant tires of the backhoe and when I realized that the footing in my arena was just about equal parts sand and goatheads I understood why there had been a problem with hoof abscesses.
Apparently, arena management had taken the form of waiting for the goatheads to set seed and then carefully spreading the crop evenly throughout the arena with the harrow. If it were almost any other plant being cultivated, I could admire the quality of work. I could not appreciate such dedication to a goathead harvest however, and while I eventually found a source for a biological control that has done wonders for reducing the goathead population (goatheads.com), pulling up the plants in highly trafficked areas is still the best way to reduce their spread.
So I collected my gloves, bucket, stool, and dandelion fork, and turned the two horses loose to graze. I had picked my spot and filled my bucket about half way when I noticed the two horses grazing nose to nose, rolling an cautious eyeball and flicking an ear my way on occasion. Since Domo came meandering over after a bit to check me out, I figure their conversation must have gone something like this:
Domo: Dude! What is that human up too?
Aspenite: Grazing, I think.
Domo: But she’s got a bucket. Buckets mean grain!
Aspenite: It’s the wrong time for grain
Domo: I don’t believe you.
Aspenite: I’ve seen her do this before.
Domo: Humans don’t graze!
Aspenite: Check it out for yourself, then. Just don’t spook her, or we’ll have to go back in our boxes.
Domo meanders slowly my way, snagging a bite every few steps and coming up to me at a gentle angle, slightly behind me on the bucket side. He stops and gives me an eye roll and a warm gentle exhale as greeting.
Sara: Hey beautiful boy
Domo: Whatcha got in your bucket?
Domo: Can I check them out?
Sara: Sure, just don’t knock my bucket over.
Domo sticks his nose in the bucket and pushes the goatheads around. He raises his head with a look of disbelief.
Domo: You eat those?
Sara: Yep, here’s another one I’ve just pulled up.
Domo: You want me to eat it?
Sara: Sure, it is all yours.
Domo pulls his lips back and takes the weed very carefully between his incisors. He swiftly tucks the plant between his molars, grinds the still green stickers thoroughly, swallows, and gives me the Look.
Sara offers the latest weed pulled: You want another one?
Domo pushes the goathead in my hand around with his nose, rejects it, and then steps in front of me. He searches the spot I am weeding and finds a young tumbleweed sprout. At a couple of inches tall, they are edible. Domo keeps a worried eye on me and carefully nips it off and chews it, all the while watching me carefully.
I search around and find a tumbleweed myself, pull it up, and hold the root while he nips off the good part, and chews enthusiastically, still keeping an eye on me. When we run out of tumbleweeds, he nibbles on some ragweed. I repeat the process and he happily eats the ragweeds I pull. Then the area around my stool is bare of all but goatheads. Domo steps away to better grazing and I go back to pulling up goatheads. Domo picks his head up, stares at me in scornful disbelief, and then marches straight over to Aspenite. They go back to their conference.
Domo: Dude! You were right. The bucket is full of goatheads. Ye-e-e-ch!
Aspenite: Told you so.
Domo: She gave me one to eat. I had to take it just to be polite.
Aspenite: Yep, I’ve done that myself
Domo: She does this a lot then?
Aspenite: Sure does.
Domo: Then I tried to show her better grazing, I even thought I was getting through to her but she was so stubborn, she would not even take one step, just kept on with the goathead fixation! What’s with that?
Aspenite: Humans! What more can I say?
Domo: I’ve never seen a human act like that before.
Aspenite: She does the best she can, poor thing.
Domo: I guess…I’m not at all sure I can trust such strange behavior though
The horses go on with their grazing and eventually I decide I’ve had enough goatheading and gather up my stuff.
Sara: HEY GUYS, ready for dinner?
Aspenite does a little bounce and stomp, tossing his head: Bucket time! I’ll race you to the gate!
Domo grabs Aspenite’s halter strap with his teeth and hangs on tight: You’re not leaving me behind!
Aspenite manages to twist his head around and nips Domo on the neck: Punk!
Domo crashes into Aspenite: Heee! That made me jump!
Aspenite does a shoulder slam in return. Horseplay ensues.
Domo: Body Slam! Body Slam!
Aspenite: Bite-n-Bash! Bite-n-Bash!
Sara: Mellow out guys, or I am not opening the gate.
Aspenite stops and glares at Domo: Chill out, Punk. The Lady speaks. Dinner Waits.
Domo lets go of Aspenite’s halter and freezes.
Aspenite then takes a lovely cadenced trot, coming my way in his elegant mode with neck arched and tail flagged:
Domo galumphs along a bit behind with adolescent awkwardness, long gangly legs flying, running downhill with his head stretched out long and low.
Aspenite smacks him square in the chest with one hock: Hey! Punk! That’s no way to present yourself to a lady. Pick yourself up and move with pride.
Domo: Wha ?- uh !
Aspenite repeats the hock action without breaking stride: SMACK
Domo sets back on his haunches and gasps in shock.
Aspenite: Better. Now match my steps.
For a brief moment, the two horses float along together, strides perfectly synchronized.
Aspenite stops by my side and drops his head to touch my hand in greeting.
Domo steps just a little nearer to us both, a zillion question marks in his eyes…