The Magnificent 7 Leave Switzerland

Pamela Jo Keeley

Pamela Jo Keeley | March 2, 2024

The Magnificent 7 Leave Switzerland

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     Lucky seven they say, but the morning I had to load that many strong-minded mustangs onto a lorry at the top of the Swiss Alps with a 4am deadline, it seemed a doomed number. Especially when lorry drivers with ferry schedules and EU regulations have famously short fuses. They have been known to back out of a job if horses take too long to load.

To understand what was at stake, you have to know the tiny stinking moving boxes horses are expected to walk into hiss, blow steam and have revolving flashing lights. Any sane horse led up to that gaping maw will give you the look, “I thought we were friends.” It’s like asking your steak to commit hara kiri with a smile on its face.

For this reason, every horse owner has their own method of getting a horse onto a trailer. I know a lady that swears by her grandmother’s red vinyl purse. Lay that sucker onto a horse’s butt and they scoot forward into anything. I’ve seen it in action. There’s no explanation but that it’s haunted by a grey-haired old lady who took no prisoners with that handbag.

I’ve seen strong volunteers physically lift a horse and propel them forward. As you can imagine, that method has its own hazards. Even winching isn’t completely off the table with some people.

We were shipping our horses to Ireland before moving everything else to County Wexford (And I mean everything else. My husband took his entire workshop including cans of used paint.) My only plan was to act like we had all day and give them time to think. The method of horsemanship we adopted is about trust and communication.

The other complication was herd dynamics. Two words that actually combine all the drama of kids play   groups, amateur theatre, and Tory politics. Our windows faced the turnout pens, so all day we followed the telenovela action. That week, the gelding in love with the mare who got pregnant by his rival but thinks he’s the father of her baby began flirting with her sister. Probably trying to make her jealous. It worked. The sisters couldn’t possibly load next to each other. That morning was like trying to decide who slept where on an Edwardian weekend when the king stayed over.

     Two brothers who were the catalysts for our move further complicated the loading order.  The last time, they escaped and terrorized the small alpine town where we lived; the police and  fire department got involved. (In my opinion they were bored and welcomed the excitement. You don’t need 25 guys and 3 squad cars  to catch two little horses.)The Swiss take their train timetables seriously. The brother’s game of tag-you’re-it on the train tracks had meant an 8 minute 45 second delay. Then there was the merry chase up the mountain with fire department in hot pursuit.

Those two were masterminds of mischief. They’d untie each other before the driver got to the bottom of the mountain. My brain went to that scene in the “Italian Job”, only it was the lorry balancing precariously above the abyss.

So I led oldest brother in first. He was the herd’s professor emeritus. The others should be reassured and follow. I slipped him an apple. He knew the score and walked in, munching his bribe with ostentatious delight. The lovestruck gelding, seeing that, went in and collected his own bribe. As did the flirtatious mare, the younger evil brother, the sister, and finally the one year old baby. They all loaded into the dragon’s maw with perfect aplomb. Then I led up the love rival who had to squeeze in next to his son.

He balked. Legs braced, nostrils flaring. It was a clear negative, Non, Nein, f’gedaboudit.

Reminding myself that the key was to make him think he had all the time in the world to make his decision I led him up the ramp but didn’t ask him to go in. Instead, I turned him and led him back down again.

The driver’s fidgeting grew with each circuit we made. His nerves carried to the loaded horses whose eyes were rolling back to watch us. The man, perfectly nice on most occasions, began saying things like, “I’ve got a stud twitch.” This is a loop of leather on a stick. Catch a horse’s lip in that and twist and most will follow you anywhere. Even the most testosterone pumped stallion. But this guy was a Spanish Mustang. His DNA went back to French cave paintings. Try that with him and it would be lassoing a tornado. I stuck to my plan. Trust his brain. He would figure out his choice was to go with his herd or stay behind.

The space the large stallion had to go into was barely wide enough for him to fit. It looked like a Tokyo subway car in there. He had to line up sideways and sidle in then hold that position until the ramp was raised and locked. Angels sang as the fifth time up the ramp he slid in like the final spoon in the spoon drawer. The driver let out a sigh as loud and long as the hiss from his lorry’s brakes. He drove off well within the prescribed time.

That’s how our move to County Wexford began one cold morning February 2017. Destination – 10 acres and a house built in 1922 to replace the one burned by the Black and Tans. We only found out it was haunted later.

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