Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Tails From the Farm

Year of the Cat

Having a cougar hanging around from spring to fall, gives one a new outlook on things. I’ve always thought about skunks and bears when going outside at night. With the possibility of a big cat hanging about, I had more to think about. When you go out in the morning, and the horses in the pens nearest the bush are staying at the furthest point in the enclosure, away from the bush, it makes you wonder.
Our farm is surrounded by farm fields and a few homes, but almost everyone has a shelterbelt of trees, or a treed yard. Here on the Canadian prairies, it’s a must to have some sort of shelter to shield from the strong winds that can sweep across the land. In the summer, it’s simply windy, but in the winter, we can get cold winds that suck the breath right out of the lungs, and leaves a person gasping. With a windbreak like a nice, thick stand of trees, the wind is halted and that makes all the difference. Our yard is treed in quite nicely. It could always be better, but it’s pretty nice. The only thing is, an animal like a cougar can easily hide in a thick bush. It can be close, yet completely unseen. We always knew when it was around, by how the horses behaved. There are two pens near the trees, and the horses in those pens were our heads up to the presence of something scary. They would refuse to go near the north ends of their pens. One of these pens had a pasture off it, and the horses didn’t even want to go out to pasture, or come in again, because the gate was on the bush side. I didn’t blame them. After all, this was no kitten hanging about, it was a full-grown cougar.
It was following the deer, but was coming to the pens because it was thirsty. As it was a dry year, there wasn’t even water in the ditches. Everything needs water, cougars included. On the days the horses were wary of the bush, I would take a rake or pitchfork and smack it against the grass and trees on the edge of the bush, in the hope it would scare the cougar, or bear, or whatever, off. This usually worked really well. Whatever it was would move deeper into bush, and alleviate the horse’s trepidation, at least somewhat. The second they saw humans, they’d be calling to us, telling us what was going on, and could we make it better. This would last two or three days, then calm would return to the farm, until the next time.
During all of this, life still went on. There were chores to do, horses to work, and Robin’s filly, Honey Pizzazz was oblivious to anything but being a baby. Life was about having fun, kicking up your heels, eating and sleeping. She was incredibly agile, full of energy and for a foal, incredibly fast. There came a day, when this was a very good thing. Hubby had a dog, a Shar-pei named Chap. Now, chap had never bothered the horses, or the cats, or any other animal. Because of this, we were shocked when he suddenly took after baby Honey. A normally very well-behaved pooch, he was suddenly deaf and oblivious to us. He wanted to take down that foal, and had every intention of doing so. Robin was doing her best to protect her foal. Honey galloped like the wind, leaping, scooting from one side to the other, evading the sharp teeth of the dog intent on grabbing her. Hubby and I were trying to catch Chap with every inch of our being, to no avail. We were both beyond frightened by how Chap was behaving, and what would happen if he actually caught Honey. It went on and on, seemingly with no end in sight. It went on until our lungs burned and our bodies ached from the exertion. In the heat of the chase, he was ignoring our commands and we were getting desperate. At the point when we were beyond our endurance, beyond our ability to go on, yet still had to, hubby leapt like a stuntman at his dog. He sailed through the air as if in slow motion, and amazingly, pinned Chap to the ground. Completely exhausted, I sank to the ground where I stood to catch my breath, while hubby simply lay there, panting for breath, atop his struggling, whining with excitement, dog. If he hadn’t caught Chap, I don’t know what, we would’ve done. It was over, finally over. Robin and Honey were off in a corner of the big pen, staring at us with wide eyes, Robin snorting, Honey already beginning to play. Neither was as stressed or hot as we humans were, and thankfully, neither became afraid of dogs because of the incident. Here we were, worried about a cougar attacking, and our own dog was a bigger danger.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget how afraid I was, for Honey that day, or how close she came to be seriously injured. If she hadn’t been so agile and as fast as she was, the story likely wouldn’t have had as good an ending. Chap was never allowed loose around foals again, and we had our eyes opened very wide. The cougar continued to be something we had to be aware of, and for that matter, we’re still aware of. There are still days when the horses don’t want to go near the bush, or out the gate that goes to the front pasture. A few years ago, the long grass was flattened by an animal that had clearly tormented horses as they made their way up the aisle that leads from a different pen to pastures. The tracks in the mud, were big cat ones. We mowed the long grass along the aisle, and that problem was solved. There was no longer anywhere for anything to hide, and that made all the difference.
When Honey was a year old, she was sold, as were many other horses. You see, I had decided to go into breeding Morgans, and sold horses that weren’t purebreds in order to build a little herd. Robin went to a woman near Sioux Lookout, Ontario. All those miles of endurance and competitive trail had turned her into a sweet, amiable horse, perfect for a casual rider. Honey went to someone who wanted a beautiful, athletic horse, and of course, her colour didn’t hurt any. All in all, everything turned out great, but oh what a year we had.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB