The goats came first, the week after Thanksgiving 2020, from east Georgia.
Shipped with love and care across the state line into Tennessee by our friend and mentor, Melanie Sue Bowles, founder and chief everything of Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary. Melanie was a friend to us before she even knew Kristina or I existed.
When we first entered into the service of horse rescue at Sixteen Hands Horse Sanctuary in Ona, Florida, little did we know that its founder, Robin Cain, actually began her horse rescue journey, at least in part, by working with Melanie Sue.
From 2010 through 2020, Kristina and I lived in Bradenton, Florida, just west of where Melanie Sue first started Proud Spirit and, later, where Robin opened Sixteen Hands. If you watch the PBS special that features Proud Spirit (check it out, it’s an Emmy winner, even though it was filmed in 2005), you can see an area of the world where we all converged, separately and in our own manner. Yet, we’ve all moved on and operate our own sanctuaries in different states (Melanie moved a few times since the show was filmed and ended up outside Boone, North Carolina).
While our individual missions are slightly different, we all strive for the same goal – the safety and well-being of abused, neglected, broken, and forgotten equines. We add a lot of Jesus to what we do here, and we’ve added other animals, like Peking ducks, and the aforementioned goats, of course!
Mel sent us three. Matilda, the mother of Banjo and Winnie. Winnie looks like Rudolph the deer. Banjo is stately and kind but fat as a keg. He likes grain, which he shouldn’t get, but how can we turn down his culinary passion? Matilda is the elder of the three, and her udders tell us she’s been down the mommy road before. But no more!
Our three fury friends came from some sort of farm in Georgia, where they were being fattened for the dinner plate. An acquaintance of Mel’s found them, acquired them, and convinced Mel to take them in. Long story short, Mel asked us, two months into our sanctuary journey, if the goats could find a soft landing here. Yep, a gift from God, we thought, we’d be glad to have them.
One thing, Mel said, is that they like to spend time on the porch, harmlessly lounging. That they do, indeed, lounging proudly. When the sun is warm and high, they’re there; when the rain falls, they don’t hit the barn; nope, on the porch they go. Here, they battle and bray and knock heads and chase the dogs and cats that flit by.
They are a wild bunch of troublemakers that once looked at us like they were food – scared and unsure. Now, after more than a year in our presence, they look at us, wondering where the food is.
Some misconceptions about goats: 1.) they eat anything, everything. In our case, not true. They actually are pretty selective in their grazing. They love grain, but too much can be dangerous. They eat leaves on occasion, and they love good quality hay, but their digesting anything, as if they are sharks, is myth, in our experience.
2.) All goats climb everything. Winnie loves being up high, but our two others, not so much. They are just fine on the ground, typically together.
3.) Goats are graceful. Winnie, again, is as graceful and a beautiful mover as a running deer — how she bounds — and Banjo has his moments of glory when he’s not trying to throw his horns, but Matilda is all knees and udders when she tries to run. Her rear flies to the right a bit as she stumbles forth, but she tries, which is admirable.
5.) Goats are just livestock. Ours love a good scratching and a nice long petting, like the family dog. When you reach just the right spot, sometimes they lean in and nuzzle, and lower their head and horns just so you can get a little closer to the heart of their matter. Then, like cats, they lay up against your leg, give you an eye (as a way of asking for attention), and seem as though they want to purr.
6.) Goats don’t listen. Ours do. “Hey, goats,” “Come on, goats,” “Here goats!” They come, sometimes they run, with curious looks and wide eyes they seek, it might seem, approval. When Kristina calls, they come; they know safety and a certain level of comfort are included in their stay here and good things, like grain, often await the call.
Goats are intelligent, though maybe not as highly intellectual as they are advertised, at least not in the sense of a Lassie or Flipper. More than anything, however, they are curious, as much or more so than cats. They tend to be just as cautious, and when something scares them (like the shutting of a garage door), they run for the safety of the barn like life itself is on the line.
Count us among the many people who love these mischievous fellows. For me, the specific moment I knew these three curiosos had my heart came recently. As I made my way to the back of the property to meet the tractor mechanic, the goats followed me with much gusto and energy. Maybe a bit of fear in being left on their own. As he and I spoke, they circled us and the tractor, keen to discover the special nature of our conversation. Of course, they couldn’t determine the reason for our meeting, but they found comfort in our presence and seemed to enjoy their exploration. They found and enjoyed some hay on the back of the tractor’s fork.
As I left and walked off, the three amigos suddenly became concerned at my disappearance. Searching, braying, shuffling, I was gone, and they didn’t like it.
“Come on, goats!” I called, and come they did – one with bounding grace, another with bravado and bounce, the other just came as best she could. But they all came along, like found friends, and met me as I walked back to the house. They followed gleefully! At that specific moment, I knew I loved having them on the ranch.