World of the soft touch

I am so accustomed to my cows, horses, pet pigs, dogs, and cats that the reactions of some city people toward our backcountry astonishes me. I remember a long time ago walking through a pasture with two people from a city back East. One of them looked at my grazing horses and asked, nervously, "Are those horses all right?"

"Oh, yes, they feel fine. They're healthy and lively."

"I mean, they won't chase us, will they?"

This amazed me. "Whatever made you think that horses chase people?"

She explained, "Once we walked through a farm in New England and two horses chased us. WE had to run."

I laughed. "Obviously they were someone's pets.they think that people carry carrots and apples to give to horses. Most horses would rather be out in pasture than anywhere else. A lot are hard to catch, because they don't want to be taken from the green grass. Don't worry."

Those visitors still looked slightly alarmed, but some who came the other day were just the opposite. Their only disadvantage was they didn't quite know how to approach a large animal who was in no way averse to being petted by anyone. Pete is a horse who seems to trust every living thing and likes people, but being rushed at caused him to back off. I suggested that a cupped hand offered slowly and quietly was likely to receive a soft muzzle, and this they were willing to try; but Pete continued to eye them from a safe distance.

I told them what I knew about Pete, who is not my horse. He belongs to Marguerite, who has a nifty job on the big thoroughbred ranch that adjoins our land. He was what you might call a city horse, and his life was trotting high and fast before a racing cart. Probably before he lived here he was never ridden on a rough trail where he had to scramble up and down steep places and push his way through heavy chaparral, nor had he worked cattle like any cowhorse. But he took to this strange new life with enthusiasm. He enjoyed this ranch more than the elegant neighboring one, because there he'd have to live in a paddock and here he was free in pasture.

The big pig, Little Brother, came around and made sociable noises, hoping to get his ears stroked and his back scratched. He had just eaten a nice bucket of scraps and his snout was smeared up. I warned my guests that he'd nose them and get them dirty, but they said they didn't care, they'd never had a chance to pet a pig before. So I told them that when Little Brother stretches out, having a sun bath, Pete likes tonose him and lick him in the same way that a mother animal shows affection to her young. To see a horse so treating a pig is an unusual sight.

Everyone wanted to see my ornery little cow, Cressie, about which they'd read. But Cressie took one look and vanished, leaving her calf in the care of his great-grandmother, Mamie, who is the most motherly animal I know. She adores both Cressie's calf and Valentine's and spends a great deal of every day keeping them clean. She is old and no longer has calves of her own, but she is happy to have any calves around to enjoy.

I told my friends that they were just as well off without greeting Cressie, as Cressie's hobby is chasing people. But I introduced them to the huge white steer, Calfalier, who loves attention and has a wide spread of horns which most people eye with suspicion. Calfalier got his share of being petted.

"I never was so near such a big cow or bull or whatever it is," someone said, and I had to tell about how Calfalier had been a small orphan calf who lived in the house, drank milk from a bottle, slept on my lap while I read or watched television. When he outgrew the house he lived on the front porch, and when he grew some more he was put out the back door to freedom. He roamed around and grazed, but twice a day he was bunting at the kitchen door, eager for his bottle. Even after he became shamefully big, he was still a bottle baby.

The other white animal (besides the small dog, Oso, who came here for help after someone shot him) is the burro. He was starved before he reached me and is now so fat and happy that he is a brand new animal. Ordinarily Domingo wants to be hugged and have his ears stroked, but this time he became bashful and shied away from unknown people.

In spite of a few rebuffs, the visitors had a great time with the animals, and so did I. They've all, people and animals, adjusted well, and the people did much better here than I would do in their world. That makes for big appreciation, and lessons galore. I think the animals and I all know this and like each other better for i t.

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