Put us out to pasture? No, thanks.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you opened the paddock gate and just let your horses go free, let me tell you what transpired when we did that very thing: the horses went on a hunger strike and refused to leave the barn.

We recently moved our three geldings to a much larger property with perimeter fencing but no cross-fencing.  When they left their in and out stalls, they were free to explore a vast expanse of edibles, from wild grasses, rose hips to mouthfuls of alfalfa. In theory, they would have a life to die for, and we could finally stop feeding hay. Maybe we could even sleep in on weekends.

Naturally, they hated their new situation.  The head of the herd, now known as Prince Bluester, an aristocratic, blue-eyed white Paint who is extremely fussy about his appearance, quickly decided that he preferred eating take-out to grazing.

Why wouldn’t he?  What a life he had — an adoring mistress brought him premium hay four or five times a day, and made sure his water bucket was close at hand and always fresh. He had absolutely nothing to worry about, except the occasional fly or mosquito.

In exchange for a life of ease he just had to put up with the fussing, hugging and smooching that kept the treats coming, so to speak.  That, to the Bluester’s self-centred way of thinking, was a heck of a deal.

True, his paddock life was boring, but if things got really bad he would lean over and bite Mr. Bill, his crabby Appaloosa roommate. That was a sure fire way to liven up a long, hot summer afternoon.

Installed in their new, spacious and breezy barn, they waited for hay to be delivered to their stalls, as it had been for years.  When nothing arrived, they started to pace, and then called out to the take-out girl: “Where the heck is our dinner, woman?”

She did show up, slipped on their halters, and led them to the acres of fresh grass just beyond their barn.  They ran back to their barn and continued to wait.  In the morning, they were still there.

For once, their owner didn’t cave in to equine blackmail.  By day three of the hunger strike, they were drinking water and eating grain, but continued to refuse to graze.   They were in no danger of starving — their ribs were buried underneath layers of the good life.  But what if they colicked?   Their owner began to hunt for hay brokers to make an emergency delivery.

Then the sorrowful hunger strikers got busted, big time. Their distraught owner whistled for the dogs one afternoon and went for a long hike to forget about her unhappy horses.  She rested in a grove of poplar trees, by a pond where the neighbour’s cows like to drink.  Her eyes focused on a large pile of organic matter that did not come from the business end of a cow. A bear, perhaps? No, it was horse manure.  On closer examination, several piles of the all-too-familiar substance were discovered among the tall grasses.  And, it was very fresh.

She had, in the vernacular of afternoon television, an “aaaa-ha” moment.

So, the next morning she got up before dawn and went to the barn. It was empty, as she suspected it would be.  As daylight began to spread over the grassy fields she spotted her horses, walking single file in her direction.

Prince Bluester smelled her before he could see her.  He stopped dead, squinting at his former take-out girl, tapping her foot at the entrance to his stall.

Grass stains were later discovered around the lips of all three geldings, irrefutable evidence of their nocturnal activities.

The longest hunger strike in equine history ended that very day.

Anne Patterson is a local freelance writer and horse enthusiast. Contact her at

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