Friday, April 7, 2017

In the dark, and still dreaming. (Free *GOAT* story!)

A friend suggested that I should look to my memories for resolution. Resolution for what, I have to wonder, but friends are friends. So, memories it is!

There was a time when I worked on Kentucky's horse farms, handling horses insured for millions of dollars at times, and seeing a lot of worthless people and a few genuine gems among it all. A horse farm is a community. Grooms, office folk, veterinarians and farriers or blacksmiths, everyone gets to know their coworkers better than their in-laws, and for a fact, it's sometimes one and the same. One person's pain is usually familiar to the entire crew, and if there's a troublesome animal, we all know about it.

It isn't always a horse on a horse farm that causes complications. Let me introduce you to Larry.

Most creatures and I get along just fine. The serpent, for example, has had a bad name since Biblical times, though for several thousand years prior to that it was a symbol of wisdom and learning. I've never had a conflict with a snake; they seem to be rather reasonable if defensive animals, and give only as good as they get. There are exceptions to my enthusiasm, though.

When my niece and her husband started buying up goats to help clean up their new property, I slapped a hand to my forehead in mourning, and cried out the old Bedouin wisdom, "Where there are goats, there will soon be desert!" My niece looked at me strangely and asked in gentle, soothing tones if I needed to sit down or something. Hah!

Well, if she'd known Larry, she might have understood. Larry, thank goodness, was a one-of-a-kind, red-blooded, earth-walking demon on cloven hooves. That's an understatement.

If you read this story, you'll see why. Larry ... oh, Larry... please don't come back to haunt me!

Larry … !

Larry was a son of a ... well, goat. He was a sort of co-worker for almost two years on a Bluegrass horse farm we once lived and worked on. Unlike most billy-goats he had little smell, having been castrated early in his life to prevent that, also in an attempt to preserve a better, safer line of behavior. Whether his disposition was improved or not is a matter left to the individual interpretation, as I later found.

Goats are often kept as companions for horses for one reason or another, and Larry was no exception, having been shipped in with a horse and somehow managing to stay for a long, long time. Several times, he was shipped back out as a traveling companion to a yearling or other excitable horse, but always he came back, like the proverbial bad penny.

It seems so funny now, looking back at the antics of the silly creature. Larry was at once co-worker, companion, entertainment, and a royal pest. It was a love-hate relationship that the goat fostered almost without exception. As an equine's companion and training aid, he was a dead loss, being just plain too smart for the job. He'd be your friend as long as you had peppermint or some other illicit treat, but then he'd make up for it later, trust me.

Argh... the things that goat considered to be gourmet cuisine!

He'd catch a bottle of rubbing alcohol within reach, knock it over, and then lick up every drop. Thoroughly drunk, he'd go and quietly press his horned forehead against the cement-block wall of the yearling barn, back away a few centimeters, and gently butt the wall. Repeatedly. When he began to sober up a bit, he'd amble carefully off to find someone and demand more by threateningly pressing his long horns against the leg of his chosen victim. If he didn't get it, he'd end up going back to the wall, and thumping it far more aggressively. The throb of his head hitting the wall reverberated throughout the barn like a heartbeat sometimes. Talk about a head-banging drunk ... Larry surely was one.

Smokers had to be careful not to leave a cigarette lying around, lit or not, since Larry would look for them with relish. Many times, I've seen him rear up onto his hind legs to reach a smoking butt left on a high shelf, grab the thing, then consume it in great delight while the smoke rolled delicately out of his nostrils. He was so fast and so determined at it that there was simply no way to stop him.
Every spring, the barns all got a sprucing-up treatment, fresh paint, retouched trim, whatever. It was an absolute requirement not to leave the lid off the five-gallon buckets of latex paint.

You guessed it. Larry. He drank it!

The only sign that he'd consumed it was some often strangely colored feces left on the blacktop walkway for us to sweep away. We had to watch carefully any contractors who came to do repairs, since we regularly had leave our own work with the horses to chase Larry away from their materials. A full-sized goat wearing a dog collar with his head thrust happily out of sight into an unguarded container was not an amazing thing to any of us. We knew Larry a little too well.

Once, a new veterinarian attending for the horses’ regular de-worming process visited the barn where Larry regularly stayed. Everything was going as usual when the vet yelled out a warning when he saw a groom, followed by the inevitable Larry, worm a horse, then as a matter of course give the rest of the de-worming paste to the goat. Larry was expecting the "treat", and loved the stuff, so he was startled at the loud voice and jumped back in alarm. The groom was startled too, and froze in alarm, wondering what was wrong.

It turned out that the vet used to do a lot of work on dairy-goats. He explained patiently and in great detail that the stuff in the paste the groom had given Larry was sheer poison to goats.

At this, we all started laughing in relief. This was the very same de-wormer we'd used so many times, and Larry had consumed the remainder of every yearling's dose each time, with absolutely no ill effects. For several months consecutively. The nice veterinarian was stunned. He just shook his head in amazed disbelief at the disgruntled creature. Larry was not happy to have his goody-supply interrupted. He was butting the wall again.

The funniest thing, though, that I can remember him eating was a shirt. With the owner still in it!

We were taking a break one day, just sitting mostly in silence on any available perch in the tack room. I had a warm seat out of the sharpish spring wind in the corner on some relatively soft, sweet-smelling bags of feed, near our good friend of many years, Miguel. Jimmy was sitting atop the heavy feed cart, "Gomez" was sitting on an up-turned five-gallon bucket, and Beau (worn out from working the usual spring week of six long, ten-hour days, while moving house at night) simply squatted on his heels in the corner and cat-napped.

Larry approached looking for a handout. Miguel, who had made a pet of the goat and taught him to beg for peppermint, silently pushed the creature away. (Larry often tore the paper off the feedbags and ate it; he'd made a mess that morning that Miguel had to clean up.) Rebuffed, the goat made the rounds to Gomez and Jimmy, then me. Nothing.

Finally he saw Beau sitting asleep on his haunches, perfectly upright and propped firmly against the wall. The sun was warm in that corner where the block wall had soaked up the heat for several hours, and Beau was getting some rest while he could. His worn, sleeve-chopped flannel shirt fluttered gently in the faint breeze and soft snores issued from his lips.

Larry looked around to see if anyone was going to be upset, and when no one moved, he sidled up to the unsuspecting Beau and delicately nibbled the loose hem of the shirt. He rolled his eyes to see if that would get a response. We all sat in amazed silence, watching as the goat gradually swallowed the shirttail, then more of it.

When at last Larry got up the shirt far enough that he wasn't able to get more of it into his mouth, he gave a great yank at it as if it were a tough-rooted old weed. This dislodged poor Beau violently from his place and his pleasant slumbers. When the young man stood up, the shirt dragged up and out of the goat's mouth and throat as a matter of course, damp and well chewed. Larry was furious to have his snack essentially snatched from his very stomach, and promptly butted poor Beau.

At this point, none of us could stand it any more, and we burst into uncontrolled fits of laughter, pounding and thumping our fists on any available surface, including ourselves and each other. Needless to say, Beau took several hours to wind down from his cussin' spree.

"I can't believe you guys all let the damn goat eat my shirt right off my back, and didn' t even wake me up!"

It also took us several days to stop laughing over it.

Most of the time Larry was allowed to simply run loose, but at night he was put into an empty stall. If he was in the way the rest of the time, we tied him out in an unmowed alley-way between paddocks with a dog-chain so he could have a nice treat of thick weeds and grass. He didn't much like the chain, but since he went through or over the fences with ease, none of us had any choice in the matter. However, he did enjoy the weeds. His taste in plants was also questionable. Apparently...he liked things spicy!
My husband was largely raised by his grandmother, who loved growing things of all kinds, including some exotic plants. She had a bumper crop of a large, leafy plant commonly called "Elephant Ears" one spring, and gave me several. I was delighted, and sat them on my tiny porch where we lived in a small house on the farm, not far from the yearling barn. It faced east, so it was no wonder that the plants, cared for as prescribed by Granny Annie, thrived.

For a while. Until Larry noticed them.

I had noticed that the leaves were suffering damage periodically and was mystified as to the cause. Elephant Ears have an acidic juice that burns when it contacts mucous membranes of any kind. Pinching a leaf, then rubbing one's eyes is a bad, painful mistake. I suspected the birds that hung around the barn looking for loose grain or the inevitable flies might have taken an accidental bite of the leaf while grabbing for an insect. One by one, the leaves were damaged and dropped away.

Finally, of the several glossy emerald plants thriving on my steps, only one remained. I sat glumly staring at it. The leaves were gone. A new shoot, the last gasp of life, was thrusting a mere half of a finger's length above the soil in the pot.

I heard a little noise and looked up to see Larry approaching from the still-open tack room door of the shed-row type yearling barn nearby. It was after working hours and he should have been in a stall with feed, water, and a thick straw bed, but there he was parading around loose. I sighed. Obviously I'd have to go do that since the person who was supposed to hadn't, and Larry was clearly in a mood. It had been a long day, and I really didn't feel like chasing a goat. Torn and a bit rebellious at the injustice of it all, I sat there procrastinating with the old broom I'd been using before to sweep the porch lying at my feet in the grass of the little yard.
Daintily, Larry crept closer. His cloven hooves minced through the driveway gravel as sassy as always. Alone, I wasn't averse to some company, even that of a goat. So I let him come closer, thinking that he'd maybe be easier to catch if I just sat still.

It was a mistake. Larry wasn't looking for me to scratch his neck under the strong leather collar. He was stalking my last remaining stubby hope of growing an Elephant Ear!

By the time I realized what he was after, and that it was not some bird that had done all the damage to the precious greenery, he had his muzzle almost in the pot. His lips quivered, a pink tongue appeared, almost drooling in goat-ish delight and anticipation.
"...Larry!!!" I yelled in sudden comprehension. "Don't you dare!"

He gave me the minimal attention of one evil, slit-pupiled eye, and flicked an ear in disdain. Closer to the tender, delicate shoot of the plant his head swung... and his teeth snapped. The shoot was gone, and so was he. In a flash, he was gone, chortling with caprine laughter and bucking in delight across the freshly mowed bluegrass of the yard. His flipping tail was an apt punctuation to his clownish black and white hide as he ran.

I grabbed the broom up and gave chase, but it was too late. Not only was that Elephant Ear a lost cause, but Larry was long gone. Ronnie and I finally trapped him in a spare stall long after dark. After that, regardless of whether it was my day off or not, I personally made sure that the goat was properly locked in a safe stall every night. I have a feeling that if he hadn't been, I would have cheerily been guilty of murdering a stray goat.

Oh, Larry was a lot of fun, too. It wasn't all bad.

Often some groom would be picked up by his or her family after work, children in tow. It wasn't long before the Goat Rodeo was a regular thing. Larry was also entertained, obligingly tossing off one small, rambunctious rider after another. When he had enough, he simply put his head down low. Since he didn't have much in the way of shoulders for the tiny riders to grasp with their legs, they’d slip forward onto his neck and horns. From there, he had only to twist his head, disengaging harmlessly from the rider. He never tried to hurt a child.

Once, I remember clearly, the female farm owner showed up at the barn just before a yearling sale in a floaty designer dress, with several visitors to the area dragging along behind her. Larry hated her. Every time he saw her, he'd try to hook her with his horns. This was no exception.

He ran up and stabbed the annoying woman in the gauze-clad rump with a flourish.

Waving her hand negligently, the woman (who had been once upon a time a reserve rider for another country in the Olympics in her youth) gestured Larry gracefully away. "Not now, Larry! This is no time to be thinking of romance!"

Grooms rapidly found excuses to disappear into nearby stalls, from where mysterious snorting and choking noises issued soon after. Left standing in shock were the astounded visitors, looking at the big goat standing with his head stuck firmly up his owner's dress. I fled too.

Dogs brought to the farm (regardless of size) sent him scampering noisily, rumbling his disgust all the way to a distance open stall door and comparative safety. On one of the more memorable occassions, it was a six-month-old Jack Russell Terrier pup, and she gave determined chase. It was hilarious to see the tiny, ferocious dog with the apparently terrified big goat dashing through the U-shaped courtyard of the shed-rows. The veterinarian she belonged too was laughing so hard he staggered as he picked up the growling, snapping little dog from where she had the bleating goat cornered. Larry was certainly in no danger with the size of him, sharp hooves, and long, even sharper horns.

Anyone could set Larry to rout by lowering the top of their head in a goat-style challenge, or even just waving a broom. Larry... the pest... was a coward at heart!

As for Larry at work... as I said, he was a dead loss. One of the primary functions of a goat is to stop the repetitive and endless marching of a "stall-walker".

Stall-walkers learn the habit of walking in constant circles in any enclosed space out of restlessness and boredom, generally from another horse with compulsion. A goat (or sometimes a chicken) is put in the stall to disrupt the pattern and try to get the horse to stop its progressive destruction of bedding, waste of energy, and to preserve more rest for prospective racehorses. Thoroughbreds on the track are in a highly active area, and they tend to nervousness as a result. Any solution is considered worth the effort.

Larry, however, would protest vociferously upon being thrust into a stall with a horse. He knew what was coming. Without fail, when the stall-door was opened in the morning by the groom coming to get the valuable animal for daily turnout on grass in a paddock, Larry charged out with a nasty hook of his horns, bleating loudly a long string of caprine curses. He'd hidden beneath where the water-bucket hung; safe, sound, and lazy, all night long. As a therapy animal for horses, the goat was totally worthless. The horse still ground the thick layers of fine straw bedding into powder overnight. Larry's sanctuary corner was the only place anyone could tell that the straw had ever existed.

Many times, they tried to give Larry away, but his reputation across the Bluegrass must have been legendary. No one would take him. He was still there on the farm when we moved on to a better position on a larger farm.

I heard later, from Miguel, who heard the rumor from someone else of course, that they finally sent him off with a horse to a New York state racing stable with a note tied around his collar.

"FREE GOAT! If you don't want him, give him to someone else. DO NOT SEND HIM BACK, please."
It follows to order that the legends of this world are doomed to disappear into the mists of time. On this occasion, he also disappeared into the distance.

For some odd reason, I don't particularly feel like trying to find out whatever finally did happen to Larry...!

~ THE END of THE GOAT'S TAIL ... er, TALE ~

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I hope you got a laugh from this goat's tale. If you did, please feel free to comment. Thank you for reading.  ~ R. Lee Tipton