Quarter Horse and Wild Bird Forge Unlikely Friendship

August 7, 2009

Recent triple-digit temperatures have had a strange affect on the fauna inhabiting the pasture outside my office window. Unlike our suburban home, our office and warehouse occupy a semi-rural lot spanning a couple of acres. Several years back, my husband committed bribery when he told me I could get a horse if I would leave my teaching career to run our air conditioning company. Having longed for a horse since I was ten, I quickly caved. I took on the role of office manager and soon afterwards adopted Cisco, an eighteen-year-old rescue horse.

Theodore, our Sicilian donkey, was an afterthought. Horses are sociable animals which should not be kept alone and a bit of research revealed that a donkey would make an economical, low-maintenance companion. Four-year-old Theodore swaggers about the pasture like a gang member trespassing on some rival’s turf. At the same time, he has his soft side. If I ask him for a “donkey hug” (you ask a donkey, you don’t tell!), he’ll walk over and rest his extraordinarily heavy head upon my shoulder.

As the summer temperatures have soared, Cisco, the horse, and Theodore have been spending less time grazing side by side in the pasture, as the heat has driven them to pass most of the day beneath two widely separated shade trees.

The other day I looked out my window to see that Cisco had left the shelter of his tree to graze awhile on the sun-scorched grass and that he had acquired a new companion — a small, nondescript bird. The bird followed Cisco everywhere he went, hopping when the horse walked, stopping when the horse stopped. It had to be a coincidence, I told myself as I went back to work.

Fifteen minutes later, I looked out the window again. The horse and the bird were still together. Another thirty minutes went by and I looked again. The bird was still sticking close to his newfound thousand-pound friend. Occasionally the horse would walk away without the bird realizing it. Moments later the bird would crane his neck, turn his head to locate the horse, and hurry after him.

Eventually I figured out the source of this unlikely relationship. The sun was beating down upon the pasture and the bird was using the horse for shade. He was not so much following Cisco around as he was taking pains to remain in Cisco’s shadow.

Later, when Theodore ventured out from the shade of his tree, another bird tried to take advantage of his shadow, but the donkey would have none of it. Every time the bird got too close, Theodore swiped at him with his famous, dangerous sidekick. Not on my turf, Buddy. The bird soon gave up and flew away.

In this month’s issue of National Geographic, there’s an article about an astronomer, Roger Angel, who wants to launch trillions of thinner-than-tissue silicon nitride disks into space where they will, together, shade a section of the earth to counteract the effects of global warming.

If Angel has his way, maybe we should name the manmade silicon constellation Pegasus – the flying horse which shades us from the sun.

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