Some creatures are Survivors. It can be due to perseverance and their own intrinsic qualities, physical strengths and character. Grey Goose is one like that. She’s survived four major incidents in her life.
The first came when she was young: a farmer had been advised to cut down his horse numbers. An expert came and selected the best to keep and the rest were to be culled. But the farmer was a kind person, and felt bad, so he contacted us and we made a deal to take this wild bunch off his hands in return for two of them trained for farm work. Goose was one of that bunch. So she escaped the culling.
The second event was very different. We had set up a riding school in Graaff-Reinet, having hit hard times farming in the Sneeuberg through a terrible drought. We were transporting two of our horses destined for the riding school in a borrowed trailer as we did not have our own. The trailer was for cattle – with railings and a single axle.
Driving down Lootsberg Pass the horses were fooling around and the tow hook ripped free. The safety chain broke and the trailer picked up speed, veered off the road, onto the embankment and flipped over. One horse was killed instantly. The other got up and ran off down the road, bleeding from a gash in her side. That horse, of course, was Goose.
Well she recovered from her injuries, though she always had one ear that didn’t prick as high as the other, and one eyelid that didn’t open as wide as the other. She became a stalwart of the riding school and many, many children took their riding lessons on her. She had a foal, PSV Jedi, during that time. After weaning Jedi she started her endurance career. She even went to Fauresmith with one riding pupil, Graham!
I remember how she objected to being clipped that first time. The result was a shaggy dog effect. Her sire was a Basuto and her dam and Anglo Arab. The Basuto blood provided her with a very dense coat of winter hair. And set of genes for hardiness. Goose did many endurance rides, including a couple of Hofmeyr 100 milers. She developed very strong legs from all the training. Then it was back to breeding.
Goose produced a daughter, PSV Ochre, and then two colts, PSV Platinum, who is my husband Francois’ favourite horse, and PSV Quill, who is promising to be a super talented endurance horse. It was while Quill was still a foal at foot that the African Horse Sickness struck our stud. Platinum, Goose and Quill fell severely ill.
Yet, with unusual remedies and intensive nursing they all survived. Goose’s head swelled up and she had bags of fluid hanging under her chest. But she endured patiently and made a full recovery.
It was only a few months after helping her pull through the deadly disease that Goose was stolen. We had been battling a sudden rash of horse thefts during 2008.
Apparently bush racing, with accompanying gambling, had caught on in Graaff-Reinet. Someone had also realized that Perseverance horses were friendly, and fast. So they would cut the fences and steal two – to be raced against each other – till they could not run any more.
Each time we could usually recover the horses, traumatized, injured, hungry and thirsty. Stolen broodmares that had been whipped to race, aborted their unborn foals. One mare escaped their clutches, made her own way home through the game reserve to a remote part of our farm’s boundary fence, and died of thirst there, unable to get through to where she knew there was water.
It was a terrible time of anger and anxiety. Goose was stolen too but we could not find her. It was so hard for us, and we worried what had become of her. We even went to Nieu Bethesda once and searched the camps around there, in case. But no sign. Eventually we concluded she must have been sold to the Transkei, as rumoured. Maybe she was dead. Funny how we would look at each grey horse when we drove through the Transkei on long journeys. We always hoped it would be her.
Years pass and life goes on. Goose’s progeny excelled at endurance. Jedi was on the National team more than once. Platinum is a near perfect horse. Ochre produced the most beautiful filly last year, called PSV Umber. Quill is a goer. We thought of the foals we could not breed now that Goose was gone.
Then at the beginning of December 2012 Amber Nel posted a photo on my Facebook page with the question “Laura do you recognize this horse at all???”
A grey mare had turned up in Nieu-Bethesda. She was very thin, but as she started to gain weight, Grace Nel, owner of the Tumbleweed Fairy Cafe, started to feel she looked familiar. This grey mare was more friendly than the other local horses. She knew that a bucket meant a meal, not something the others respond to. Grace is a former a pupil of our riding school, as is her brother, Gabriel and sister, Amber. They had all known Goose. Together they decided to ask me. When I saw the photos, my immediate response was “This looks like Grey Goose.”
So off we went the next day to investigate. She wasn’t in the place she had been. So we drove up the hill out of the village for a better view, and there we saw horses above the road. We climbed the fence, carrying a white feed sack with oats. The grey mare started to walk off towards the other group of horses, but I recognised her even from a distance.
I shook the bag, as we used to when we went to catch our own horses in the veld. She reached the other horses, turned round and looked at me. She stood thinking for a while, while I spoke and rattled the oats. Then she walked away from them and came straight up to me and ate out of hand. She remembered.
We took Goose home. Her legs are damaged and the ligaments have thickened, but she still moves soundly. The years of endurance helped her. And she is such a strong mare, she doesn’t look her age. She is twenty years old.
Now she’s back with her horse family, has seen her sons, and is in the broodmare herd with her daughter and other old friends from riding school days, like Timarie Alpha. Maybe she wonders why it took so long for us to come and fetch her home? She had been gone for four long years!
Laura Seegers, December 2012