I have two ponies in my herd that are over twenty years old. As they age, I see they aren’t capable of doing what they once did, and especially in winter I watch them carefully to see how they’re handling our cold, snowy climate. I know some Cumbrian Fell Pony breeders take their older ponies off the fells, either selling them on to an easier life or keeping them closer to home where life is easier. People have offered me adoptive homes for Sleddale Rose Beauty, my senior Fell mare, but Beauty has made it clear more than once that she wants to live out her life with me. Each summer, I think it will be my last with her, and then fall comes and she’s so full of vim and vigor that it seems she has another winter in her.
Today I’m mourning the death of my duck-equivalent of Beauty, affectionately known as Moo, my eight-year-old Blue Muscovy hen. I bought her from Holdderread’s Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center after visiting there in 2003. I hoped she would brood eggs for me, but she had the same challenge with our dry air that I have had with my incubators. She lived most of her life, until this year, as part of my laying flock.
My duck flock is always young; my breeding stock is only a year old and serves just a single season, but I’ve kept Moo because she had so much character and she seemed so wise, just like Beauty. She once tried to protect the other ducks from a raccoon, sustaining injuries herself so the other ducks didn’t have to. I of course nursed her back to health. She even taught me a lesson in natural horsemanship. If you’re interested in my article “Natural Horsemanship…With Ducks,” let me know.
I am generally ruthless in culling my animals if they no longer serve a purpose here. Moo and Beauty, though, have proven that even if animals are past contributing to breeding, they can still play valuable roles. Moo knew the routines season to season and would happily greet the winter pond or the summer pens, teaching the ducklings where to go and what to do. Beauty is gentle but strong in teaching younger ponies and stallions their manners.
I know my animals well, and I could tell that Moo was going downhill this past week. This morning it was clear it would be her last, so I said good bye and blessed her as a friend. I trust that Beauty will also let me know when it is time. Others with senior horses have said that is the case. Until then I’ll continue to enjoy the company of this grand old pony and remember fondly her duck-equivalent.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011