She’s been asking for weeks to go with me beyond the fence. There is always a reason not to, and usually I can argue the legitimacy of those reasons. The days are short. I haven’t been well. I have to move hay, or fix the electric, or move cows out of pig pens and pigs out of goat pens and goats off of truck windshields. In truth, the tasks are few these days. The deep lethargy of winter has taken me over, the hours of daylight are frittered away easily. I do mean to. I just…haven’t yet.
One afternoon I reach an impasse in my work. The moment I’m alone with nothing to do, she’s in my head. Come. Take me out. I can’t argue.
As I drive to the farm, I mull about how to get her out without everyone (of every species) trying to follow. We have a complex system of fences and gates and electric, some of it temporary and some of it unfinished, most of it completely ignored by the animals, but there is a way to get a moment’s grace – long enough to safely get a pony through the barbed wire gate – if I can just get Firefly to the right position without anyone following her. It’s a relatively big “if”.
When I arrive she is with her herd, and the cows, and the pigs, industriously working on the round bales on the hill. Maybe she’s busy, maybe she’s changed her mind. I’m talking with my mom and considering a cup of tea when I see from the kitchen window that she’s coming into the barnyard. All the horses have a way of, when they want something from us, looking right up at the window even from a hundred yards away, their beetle-black eyes boring into whoever happens to be washing dishes or admiring the light on Sidina Mountain. Firefly shoots me a meaningful glance.
By the time I get my boots back on and myself out the door, she is standing in the alleyway, a channel between two fences that leads into the Great Beyond. The rest of the horses are still eating. This is precisely the position I need her in to get her out the gate without the whole bloody menagerie on our heels – the horses will follow her eventually, but if the timing is right, they will rush to the corner of the field and miss the opening into the alleyway. I quickly hurry the pigs into their pen, who have come trotting in from the field when they saw me, angling for an early dinner. I quietly betray them and close the gate – I do not have the patience to bring fourteen bratty pigs along today. The goats – thank god – are busy wreaking havok somewhere else.
I march right past Firefly and head for the gate to freedom. We have an hour of daylight left. She follows calmly behind. That she would wear a halter and a lead never enter my mind – she certainly can wear one, but in this context really doesn’t need one. This is partly the driving factor behind all these machinations: I know I can manage one horse at liberty (or “off-leash”) in the Great Beyond, and I have also chased enough animals through those woods by now to know not to push my luck with more than one at a time for now.
Fly waits while I unhook the gate, steps backwards as it collapses into the snow, watches me walk through, cocks an ear, and follows. The light is low in the sky and we are walking in an endless soft shadow.
She comes up the old logging road, but by now her herd has, as predicted, run to the top of their field. They call out and she turns to run back to them, and I lose sight of her.
“Firefly!” I call, rivaling their promise of security with my own promise of adventure. She’s been asking for this for a long while. I know she can’t resist.
Behind the spruce and alder, a shadow flits. I aim the camera and wait, until a bright little burr-crowned beauty emerges.
She comes to me and we reconnect, taking a moment together to scratch itches and inspect camera bags.
We wander up to the pond, taking turns breaking trail along the snowy road. One day, all this will be open to them. When we can fence the perimeter and open the inner gates, they will carve new trails and forage long into the winter. Besides the materials, equipment and labour, we need to consider how punching a fenceline through this forest will affect it. We need to locate and account for game trails, and plan so that the wild ones can still come and go. We need to decide how we feel about trees being taken down and soil being churned up. But it’s the biggest thing on the List. It will happen as soon as we can make it happen. I pass this all on to Fly, and whether she takes it in or not, she doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush.
I can feel her stretching the elastic connection between her and her family, even as she is pushing the boundaries of her own internally mapped territory. In one breath the tether reaches its limit and she wheels to tear back to them, kicking up snow as she careens through the avenue of evergreen.
I follow, slow as always, snow down my boots. She’s at the gate again, looking over her shoulder at me, oh Prehensile Being, to let her back in. Do you really want to go home already, Fly? I don’t mind. But you know how rarely I can let you out back here.
She turns casually from the gate, wanders a few steps, nibbles on a fluff of dead fireweed. Suddenly she is in no hurry to return. I watch her explore, and then find her way back to me. We muck around in the trees, on the open slope, in the ditches.
When we do return, it’s a mutual decision. We look at each other and shrug. Might as well get back. She waits patiently while I wrestle with the gate, then steps daintily back in. The other horses crowd us, welcoming and scolding and recalibrating. There is a thrill of leaving, there is a swell of return. We are reabsorbed into the collective. We promise each other we’ll do this again soon.
A barefoot hoof trimmer, a singer/songwriter, an amateur farmer – these are some of the hats Kesia Nagata wears when she’s not full to bursting with wondrous equine co-creation.
14 thoughts on “Rewilding the Herd – Firefly and the Great Beyond”
That last photo – so striking… conjures up all kinds of images and feelings… just striking.
I know! Thos sweet warm chests and bellies. Being surrounded. It’s delicious.
Oh JOY….excited you and the Fly girl could get your beyong the gate groove together on.
I am curious…is Fire fly the only horse that seems to want to take this one on one exploration with you? It’s Very cool that you 2 were on the same page …love that connection! ✌🏼❤️🐴
You helped! I was thinking. I better get her out or Fly AND Michelle will be on me! 😆
Fly is the most forward and the most direct about it. She initiates, she asks, she puts herself in a position to go out. And she, having been born into this herd and never trained or conditioned, follows me very willingly and entirely of her own free will. The others are less attached to or trusting of me as a legitimate bush buddy. They like to get out, but sometimes I have to lead them in order to convince them it’s a nice idea
Any of the original herd will come willingly with me to the back piece. Today the original herd were all quite a distance away and Makah was very curious as I headed for the back (to fix fences!) and invited him to come along, and Kaliah was watching closely too. I could feel Makah really wanting to come, daring to trust… but not ready yet. I see it as HUGE and marvelous that he was actually thinking about it. And that a big part of him wanted to come on an adventure. 🙂
Beautifully written and simply described. Thank you Kesia. Don’t worry about opening out the back to all the horses. We have done this for four of ours and they clean the land so beautifully and respectfully. We still have wild animals come and go, especially lots of wild boar, and neither the wild game not the horses seem to care. Today it is blowing a full gale and they are in the cork forest where there is barely a breeze rustling their manes. I love how they choose the best places to go. And so interesting to see what they choose to eat – they are leaving all the tender new grass and prefer the tougher growth from last year. They love acorns and compete with the wild pigs for them. And they love cork tree leaves. They will sometimes chew on the bark of the young cork trees but they seem to pick one tree and only do it to that tree. And they are great at trampling down excessive undergrowth, opening up the forest in a very natural way. And when they’ve had enough wildness (every 3-4 days usually) they come back to their home paddock where they get supplements, some hay pellets and normal hay. So definitely do it. We just have a single electric rope wire with a strong current.
Now as for the pigs and goats – I have no idea what they’ll do to the land. I can only speak for the horses.
Wowzers what a GORGEOUS pic!!! LOVE IT!!
Absolutely fabulous. I have no worries whatsoever about opening it up to them but your account just makes me more excited. If it were just them I could do the electric but with pigs, small cows and goats the fencing requirements get more complex. Plus 500 acres is a lot of fence material! But I can’t wait. I agree about the respectful and creative nature of how they manage the forests – even in their current 30 acres they and the other species have grazed it beautifully and carved trails through the woods. How much land do your ponies have access to? And where in the world are you, with wild boars and cork trees? I may have missed another conversation where you told us 🙂
This is a beautiful sharing from you again Kesia. As I read, I heard the snow crunching with each foot/hoof; I felt the cold/crisp winter air on my skin; I could smell the wilderness smells in the air; I could hear Fly munching on the winter goodies; I could feel the deep trust and emotional/spiritual connection between the both of you, as you shared your exploration together. I appreciated sharing the walk through your beautiful and descriptive writing; thank you and Fly.
Ah Paulette! How beautiful that you were there too! Come along any time… ❤
What a marvelous story! Your descriptive writing is evocative. I fell like I’m right there. And I am cultivating the skills and awareness as a relatively new horse owner to find myself and my horses in such a scenario. Thank you for bringing that vision closer to being reality by offering this look into how it can be done!
Oh gosh Willow, thanks for being a new and willing horse owner! Let me say…this scenario I describe would have seemed like a complete fantasy to me just a few years ago. I would have thought, how do I DO that?! What must I learn/teach my horse?! And to be honest, it’s about doing absolutely nothing. Minus the logistics, it’s like walking the dog. And really, why should our relationships with these species be any different from each other?
Much love and encouragement to you as you learn and grow with your horse people 😘
Just beautiful. thankyou for sharing magical moments!
Oh it’s my pleasure! Thanks for being here, Erin 🙂