Jewel's new Baby Doll sheep companions.

An Old Horse and a Young Sheep

Jewell has been our horse for twenty-two years. She arrived in our life when Chelsea was five and Logan was two. Her name was Wendy, but Chelsea said it didn’t suit her and renamed her Jewell. I wanted a horse that I could put both children on so I could get back to long hikes on the mountain behind our house. She was raised in the mountains so walking through rough terrain did not bother her. The kids always rode bareback and often liked to lay on her back as she wandered, grazing on fresh summer grass. She was very much part of our young family, which also included two dogs. Not long after Jewell came to live with us we decided to get some chickens, rabbits, and goats. All the animals were our pets. We decided to adopt baby male French Alpine goats. We wanted to get them so we could put small pack-saddles on them and take them into the mountains with us. We got them when they were only eight to twelve hours old. Male goats are discarded because they do not produce milk. So we brought these tiny boys home and bottle fed them. They loved to play and go for walks and would tag along on our outings with Jewell. The boys and Jewell became best friends.

Goats live about ten years and we had about twelve different ones at various times over the years the children were growing up. The last goat died about the same time that my son Logan left home for his post secondary education. I very much felt the loss of having the children gone and all the pets getting very old and also passing on. I was really experiencing the ‘empty nest syndrome’ as I had been very close to Chelsea and Logan and the lifestyle we had created. 

I didn’t realize at first that Jewell was experiencing the same emotions I was. She had lived with the goats as her companions for several years and now they were all gone. The emptiness in her pasture was very noticeable.  She was now alone much of the time. She was in her late twenties and that is considered elderly for a horse. The kids were gone now and I didn’t want to start getting new animals so as they passed away our family got smaller. It was around this time that Jewel started to really slow down.  We didn’t ride her anymore but we still took her out for walks.  But after the last goat died she didn’t want to go for walks anymore. She didn’t even want to walk across her pasture. She started laying down a great deal of the time. When I got the farrier to come to trim her feet I didn’t think she would even stand up, but we finally got her to her feet. She leaned into me as he worked on her feet and I felt like I was holding her up. Every day she hardly moved. She no longer wanted treats and lost interest in eating. You could feel her sadness. I felt when I was with her that she was telling me that she understood why we didn’t keep getting other animals but that she was very lonely.  I knew that she was close to dying.   

My sister had recently gotten Baby Doll sheep. They had lambs and there were two males she was looking to find a home for. I couldn’t stand to see Jewell suffer with her loneliness any longer so I offered to buy them. But I said if Jewell passed away soon, I might want to give them back. 

I brought the two little woolly guys home in my car. I decided to name them Mickey and Mac after two terriers that my dad had when he was a young man. Jewell took to the sheep instantly. She started grooming them by licking their backs.

She stayed as close as she could when they were feeding on their hay. And the transformation in her was immediate. She started to gallop down the pasture, kicking up her heels with joy. She was scaring me to bits, because I thought, “Jewell you are too old to be running, you might trip and fall.” But there was no stopping her, she was filled with new life and you could not keep her down. She started eating again and was very busy looking after her new children. She was very protective of them, and if a dog went by the fence or there was an odd noise she was alert and ready to protect them. But it was a two-way friendship. The sheep loved Jewell and they stuck close beside her, often walking under her tummy, and laying with her for afternoon naps. 

We’ve had the sheep for a few years now and they are still best friends with Jewell. She is particularly close to Mac and you can always find them together. Jewell is in her thirties but she is as bright as ever and going strong. 

I know for elderly people – really for anyone – being alone and feeling isolated creates illness. I have heard that some places now have programs that bring elderly people together with college students and provide opportunities for them to live together. Its been shown that when elderly people have companionship there is a significant improvement in their health. It was no different for Jewell, she just needed companionship to keep her happy and healthy.        

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