Saturday, February 20, 2010

Van Reenen's Pass

A few months later, my fiancé got a job in Van Reenen’s Pass, near Ladysmith, running a service station, and I opted to go with him. He rented a horsebox and a bakkie to pull it, and Starr walked up the ramp, no problem at all. Donald, who usually wouldn’t do anything I asked him to, followed like a little lamb. We set off on the long journey to Van Reenen's Pass, about 300km away. We soon discovered that we had a problem, however, in that the bakkie my fiancé had hired wasn’t strong enough to pull a horsebox with a horse and donkey in it, and boiled on every hill. This made the journey longer and tiring, especially for me, sitting in the box with Starr.

The trip was a trial, and we had to stop frequently to top up the radiator. On one such foray to find water, my fiancé made the mistake of climbing over a fence into a field of cows to fill a bucket from the water trough. Somehow he got through the fence the first time without mishap, but upon his return he discovered that it was electrified as he straddled the wire. Ouch!

What happened next, however, would affect Starr for the rest of his life. My fiancé – inexperienced in driving horseboxes - pulled into a service station for petrol. The horsebox had concussion brakes, so when the bakkie braked, so did it. As he entered the service station, my fiancé braked too hard. The box braked, and the rubber mat that covered the floor slipped under Starr’s feet. He fell, sliding partway under the partition into Donald’s side. Within moments he scrambled to his feet again, however, apparently none the worse. That, I was later to discover, was not the case.

Further up the road, as it was growing dark, we encountered a police roadblock, and were forced to stop. Fortunately the officers spotted the horsebox and came to see if it was occupied. Seeing Starr and Donald in it, they stopped traffic and waved us through. Even so, the journey took far longer than it should have. When we finally reached our destination and unloaded Starr and Donald, I discovered that Starr had had his butt pressed to the back of the box for a long time - probably since he had slipped, and had rubbed the top of his tail raw.

We spent a year in Van Reenen's Pass, and I converted the double garage into stables, then bought a 13hh skewbald pony for my fiancé, who was a small man, and could have been a jockey. He didn’t fancy riding such a small pony, however, and after a few lessons I bought him a bigger pony, all of 14.3hh, pitch black with a small white star – a Black Beauty look alike – called Ebony. Our cottage faced the paddock, and the front door opened into it.

By this time Starr had figured out how to open gates and doors, and one day we returned home from shopping to find him and Donald in the lounge, chewing books and the radio aerial Apart from teeth marks in the cook book and a rather bent aerial, however, they did no harm, but I locked the front door after that. Starr was considered a big horse in that area, where ponies were the norm, and I had two Afrikaans farmers knocking on my door, asking if they could use Starr for stud. One wanted his size, the other his colour. I had a tough time explaining to them, with hand signals, since they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Afrikaans, that Starr was a gelding.

It was in Van Reenen that Starr saved my life. One day, while out riding, I chose to canter him up a hillside that had many rocks scattered over it. About halfway up the hill, Starr stumbled and fell to his knees. Naturally he was forced to halt rather abruptly, and I was flung forward onto his neck, which I clung to for dear life. Starr not only managed to keep his head up so I didn’t go headfirst into the rocks, but as soon as he stopped, he rose to his feet and just stood there, waiting for me to get off. Any other horse, in that situation, would have taken umbrage to having his rider hanging onto his neck, I’m sure, and either tried to shake me off, dropped his head or maybe even bolted. I inspected his knees for damage, and, since neither of us was hurt, I remounted and rode home.

Van Reenen’s Pass was a harsh place in winter. Although the horses had quite a large paddock, all the grass died and it resembled a desert. Having lived in the warmer climes close to Durban before that, I didn’t think to buy hay, and while I upped the concentrates so the horses didn’t lose weight, one afternoon Starr got colic. It was my first experience of it, but luckily I had an excellent vet book and realised what his problem was. I immediately called the vet, but he was busy and had a long way to travel. So there I was, leading Starr round and round to prevent him from rolling.

I phoned the vet again and again, as the hours passed and I grew exhausted. An acquaintance tried to help, but he didn’t pull Starr hard enough, and he simply flopped down. I had to smack and yell at him to get him back on his feet again, and took over the leading myself once more. It seemed like four hours later when the vet finally arrived, by which time I had run out of energy and taken Starr into his stable. To prevent him from lying down, I stood with him and rested his head on my shoulder. The vet gave him one injection, and it was as if he woke up from a bad dream. He raised his head, snorted a few times, and went over to eat his supper.

After that, I spent all day cutting grass with a bread knife, until we found a feed store that sold hay.

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