Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christie & Tiffany - A Love Story

As is the case with most young girls, I spent my days yearning for a horse. Every year birthdays and Christmases came and went without me finding a horse at the end of my bed or under our Christmas tree. The excuses I heard were many and varied, but the one that was dragged out every time was that there was no room in our suburban back yard. Then when I was 16 Christie entered my life. Christie was a Pinto pony, then 18 months old and not yet broken in. We bought her from a friend in Leichhardt (an inner Sydney suburb) where she had virtually no space to move and only a small park up the road for exercise, and moved her to Canley Vale (an outer Sydney suburb) with only a bit more room to move and a vacant block up the road on which to exercise. I broke Christie in myself, with a few minor injuries to my person, a great deal of angst and loads of help from Mrs Shaw, a neighbour well versed in horse lore.

Two years after I married Graeme we moved into a house on an acre of land near Mittagong, specifically bought to accommodate Christie. We were out driving one day when I saw a "Sheep For Sale” sign. Seeing that I had very recently acquired Aasta, an Old English Sheepdog as a friend for Deci our German Shepheard/Labrador pup. It just made sense to me to get a sheep for Aasta to round up. Being reasonably newly married and not yet twigging to the way I could acquire vast numbers of animals – Graeme made no demur and Tiffany came home to stay. When we got home we tethered Tiffany next to Christie in the back yard. We hadn't put up any fences yet and as the weeks rolled by we moved Christie and Tiffany from each eaten out spot to a new lush, grassy spot, while we continued to slowly put up fences.

A month or so after buying Tiffany we happened to put her in a different spot in the yard to where Christie was dining. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began to go down hill. We drenched her for worms and injected her with all sorts of goodies recommended by the vet, but she wouldn't eat. Finally, when Tiffany looked to be on her last legs, we decided to let her off her tether to see if she could find something in the yard to tempt her appetite. Tiffany immediately tottered over to Christie as fast as her weak, skinny little legs could carry her. She parked herself underneath Christie's belly and began to munch grass as if there was no tomorrow. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Whenever Christie and I went for a ride Tiffany was always waiting at the gate to greet Christie's return.

Someone came through Hill Top one night stealing horses. We woke up in the morning to find that Christie and Tiffany were gone, along with our neighbour's two horses. The gate to Christie’s yard was wide open and her horse blanket was on the ground. Why the horse thieves removed the blanket I don't know (a small streak of honesty maybe?). Graeme and I were inclined to think something was wrong with the scene before us. We couldn't see how anyone but a blind horse thief would take Tiffany as well. I mean surely he/she would have noticed the wool. We looked around our yard and found fresh horse and sheep tracks heading into the bush behind our block, and sure enough, deep in the bush, we found Christie and Tiffany waiting for us to show up. It seems that Christie had simply refused to be stolen and had taken her sheep to a safer location until the coast was clear of horse thieves.

After rescuing the pair Ken, our neighbour borrowed Christie to try and find some trace of his horses which had really been stolen. Tiffany tried to go along too. After the night’s adventures she wasn’t going to let Christie out of her sight. Ken’s wife Lynn and I ended up having to tackle Tiffany to the ground and lock her up so that Christie could travel more than a kilometre (Tiffany's trekking limit) in the search for the lost horses. When Christie returned, Tiffany ran over to greet her baaing little joyful baas only to be met with an irate friend. Christie had a tantrum, grabbed Tiffany by the neck and shook her, while she neighed at the top of her voice. Their first argument. After the initial outburst, things settled down and the friendship didn't seem to suffer at all.

Two years after Christie met Tiffany, Christie was sent to stud to meet a very handsome Arab stallion named Demetri. We told Ray and Sheila, the owners of Demetri, that Tiffany would have to come too or she’d starve to death in the two months it took to be sure that Christie was successfully mated. Sheila gave us a funny look (I'm used to funny looks where my animals are concerned) and agreed. If only we'd known.

Christie was given a roomy stable near the stallion's yard so that there was room for Tiffany too. As Sheila told us later, this was fine by Demetri who lived in the stable next door and had access to the adjacent horse yard shared by both stables. During the third week of Christie’s visit Demetri wandered over and obligingly opened Christie's door then waited for her to come out and play. Christie was tucking into some very tasty hay at the time and nothing, but nothing gets in the way of Christie getting her daily rations. Tiffany on the other hand thought the open door was an invitation to explore new territory. She slipped past the stallion unnoticed and walked under the spacious horse fences to explore the farm and meet new friends. Tiffany eventually arrived at the foals' food trough. This was more like it! A full trough of the most delicious mix a sheep could ask for! Tiffany lost no time in tucking into it.

It was about this time that the fun started. Christie, having finished her meal, looked around for Tiffany (to have a post snack chat I suppose). Tiffany was nowhere to be seen. All Christie saw in place of her best friend was a stallion standing in the doorway with a silly grin on his face (to be honest I added the silly grin bit). Well Christie knew what to think ... this stallion, no longer dignified by being given his name, had obviously done something with her sheep and Christie was inclined to think whatever he’d done wasn't good! She charged out of the stable, grabbed a hunk of Demetri’s neck between her teeth and shook as hard as she could, screaming abuse with every shake and demanding to know what he’d done with her sheep!

Then Demetri, caught off guard, let out a yell as if he was being killed. He was too much of a gentleman to fight back so he limited himself to calling for help to get this mad mare off him. Ray and Sheila heard what sounded like death and carnage among their horses and rushed to the scene. Tiffany, hearing the ruckus too, and always keen to see a fight rushed into the middle of this one ready to come to Christie’s aid should a small woolly duelling second be required. Tiffany arrived at the scene of the battle long before Sheila or Ray by running under all those horse fences again. Tiffany arrived to see her beloved Christie engaged in battle with a stallion and immediately threw herself into the fray in defence of her horse. Tiffany was seriously outclassed in size and kicking action but this didn’t prevent her trying her best to come to Christie’s aid. Unfortunately she was soon kicked in one of her back legs for her troubles and retired, limping to the edge of the yard where she continued to offer support and advice to Christie in the form of anxious sounding baas. Ray eventually pried Christie off Demetri and restored order. The vet was called to look at Tiffany's leg, but no real damage had been done. We heard none of this until we arrived to pick the girls up to take them home. On saying their farewells, Sheila added that while the sheep was always welcome they never wanted to see Christie again!!

This love affair lasted all of Tiffany's life. When Tiffany died at the ripe old age of 12, Christie lost interest in life and almost died too. She stopped eating and just moped around, even though she had her eight-year-old filly, Mahala (daughter of the much maligned Demetri), for company. By constantly drenching Christie with glucose, pestering her on and off all day every day and generally making dying an unattractive option, I managed to convince Christie that life was worth continuing. She’s lived to be a spy 36-year-old pony. Towards the end of her life Christie settled into a happy retirementand wandered around the farm with Mahala. Her only problem was horsy Alzheimer’s. She didn't know any of us any more and ran away if we got too close. Or maybe she was just avoiding me, knowing that when her time finally did arrive, I'd do my best once again to make dying an unattractive option.

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