Saturday, March 13, 2010
"Most horses pass from one human to another. Some horsemen and women are patient and forgiving, others are rigorous and demanding, others are cruel, others are ignorant. Horses have to learn how to, at the minimum, walk, trot, canter, gallop, go on trails and maybe jump, to be treated by the vet with sense and good manners. Talented Thoroughbreds must learn how to win races, and if they can't do that, they must learn how to negotiate courses and jump over strange obstacles without touching them, or do complicated dance-like movements or control cattle or accommodate severely handicapped children and adults in therapy stables. Many horses learn all of these things in the course of a single lifetime.
"Besides this, they learn to understand and fit into the successive social systems of other horses they meet along the way. A horse's life is rather like twenty years in foster care, in and out of prison, while at the same time changing schools over and over and discovering that not only to the other students already have their own social groups, but that what you learned at the old school hasn't much application at the new one. We do not require as much of any other species, including humans. That horses frequently excel, that they exceed the expectations of their owners and trainers in such circumstances, is as much a testament to their intelligence and adaptability as to their relationship skills or their natural generosity or their inborn nature.
"That they sometimes manifest the same symptoms as Romanian orphans-- distress, strange behaviors, anger, fear-- is less surprising than that they usually don't. No one expects a child, or even a dog to develop its intellectual capacities living in a box 23 hours a day and then doing controlled exercises the remaining one. Mammal minds develop through social interaction and stimulation. A horse that seems stupid might just have not gotten the chance to learn!"
-Jane Smiley, "A Year at the Races"
Monday, March 8, 2010
Henny Penny passed away unexpectedly in the early hours of March 6. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Smith Fork Ranch, where they will be used in the construction of a luxury high rise chicken coop in Henny’s memory. She is survived by her nemesis Scotty the cat, Nick, Nick Jr., Bea, CC, the half-tame fawn, and the five misfit horses and ponies she called her friends.
Henny Penny was never one to follow convention. When Henny and her three sisters arrived on the ranch, they immediately deemed their coop “unhabitable,” and moved instead into the saddle barn. Answering the call of their “inner cowgirls,” three slept snuggled on a suede saddle seat on the ground floor. Henny, shucking familial obligation, perched precariously on the top-floor saddle rack, featuring the bird’s eye view she preferred. A gap in the barn doors one night allowed a raccoon intruder access to their homes. One sister was brutally murdered, while the other two were terrorized and fled. Despite Henny’s protests, the remaining two sisters refused to roost near the scene of the tragedy, and made their home outdoors. Both disappeared shortly afterward. Although foul play has been suspected, no leads have surfaced, and the raccoon murderer has never been brought to justice.
Although deeply affected by the sad circumstances, Henny’s greater IQ prevailed, and she continued her customary habitation high above the reaches of potential predators.
As an “only child,” Henny flourished. When lonely, she would find a ranch hand to follow around, clucking away gaily at the barn gossip. She often spent time in Ciara’s office, sleeping soundly on Ciara’s lap, or pecking away at the phone or the pencil erasers. But Henny wasn’t often lonely. She spent the majority of her days expanding her horizons, trying new and gourmet foods, and assimilating flawlessly with the other animals on the ranch.
When the weather cooled, Henny moved into a large nesting box on the remodeled third-tier saddle rack she had previously inhabited, complete with fresh hay and a heat lamp. She truly loved her new home, and showed her contentment by continuing to lay eggs long after the days had shortened. She laid her last in February, just before deciding to move house. In typical Henny fashion, she bypassed the available saddle blankets, window sills and hay mangers for the relative luxury of a restored 1964 Land Rover, parked in the barn for the winter. In memorial of her sudden passing, this final home has been draped in black since her disappearance.
Although I am sad to have lost a friend, here was a chicken who lived life courageously, who knew no enemies, and who enjoyed every seed she pecked up to the fullest. Yes, Henny Penny knew the comfort of a heat lamp above her nest, but she also knew the excitement of challenging the ranch cats (and the half-tame fawn, the horses, Sadie, and any innocent bystanders) for control of the food supply. While most chickens find themselves content behind wire fences, Henny pushed the boundaries of her existence daily. True to her explorer roots, her disappearance in a blizzard, though tragic, is a fitting end to the life of this unconventional chicken. We’ll miss you, Henny Penny.