Monday, February 28, 2011

Of Moose and Horses

Moose are plentiful in Anchorage. Some estimate around 250 in the city throughout the summer and as many as 1000 during the winter months. We see them nearly every day. They are part of our Alaskana.
This morning there was a young cow moose eating trees at the school. Yesterday Gary watched one eat a tree at our friend’s house while she tried – unsuccessfully I might add - to shoo it off by throwing boots at it. Three days ago I saw one eating brush alongside the freeway. And a couple weeks before that I willed my car from 60 to 0 in the span of a couple hundred feet so I wouldn’t have a moose for a hood ornament. They are a constant here.
My first close encounter with moose-kind was horse-back. A friend and I were riding on the trails of our horse park here in town. Upon rounding a corner we saw four or five moose grazing about 100 feet off the trail in front of us. Naturally, I was alarmed and inquired as to what we should do; should we run for it?
“No,” my friend, Bernie, said, “There’s no point. We couldn’t outrun them if we tried. Let’s just keep on walking and see if they’ll notice us.”
Once we were sure imminent attack as averted I asked how fast, exactly, a moose can run. Bernie told me once he’d followed a moose on his snow machine down a groomed trailed at around 40 mph for some distance before it jumped off the trail!
 Not only are they fast, moose are huge! Since we’re talking horses, I’ll keep it relative. Standing next to a moose – which I don’t recommend, by the way – is like standing next to a good-sized draft horse. I’d estimate most full-grown cows and bulls exceed 18 hands high. Bulls of this size usually sport a rack of antlers with a span of anywhere from three to five feet.
In addition to all this size, moose can be highly aggressive. The spring and fall are when moose are the most dangerous. Springtime means new babies with aggressive mamas, while fall brings rut and aggressive bulls.
The kids, our dog and I experience “moosely aggression” firsthand while on a spring-time walk. About a block from our house we happened upon a not-so-congenial mama. We dove for the bushes where she kept us pinned for 10-15 minutes whilst (yes, I just used that word in a sentence!) she repeatedly huffed and charged, stopping just five feet from us. The kids were crying, the dog was hiding and I was praying. We were stuck until she decided to simply walk away, leaving us to continue on our way.
This level of aggression was part of the reason we decided to put up a perimeter fence around our Anchorage property. Our expansive 1.3 acre horse property sports a five-foot field fence to aid in the defense of our compound. I say to “aid in” because five feet truly doesn’t stop any moose! It does, however; make other paths slightly more inviting.
For the most part our fence has done its job. This fall, however, I began to notice there were a few moose coming around who must have missed the memo about not bothering the Chythlook property. It began with an adolescent female – stay with me horse people, this makes her about the size of a thoroughbred – who entered through the driveway gate. She arrived one warm, 40-degree fall afternoon (pause for a moment of perspective). She took her time wandering around eating whatever she pleased and thankfully missed the open shed where I keep my hay. She then proceeded, casually, to our fence and STEPPED over it!
I believe she must have talked to her moosey friends, because not more than a week later I looked out my front window to see a massive bull in my front yard. I grabbed the phone to call my neighbor who I knew had just missed out on such a moose the last day of hunting season. I figured it might be fun to watch him drool. By the time he’d run across the street, Mr. Moose had made his way around to the back yard.
I was relieved when he turned and headed back toward the driveway. My neighbor and I watched him from the front step. What a majestic creature! He was, in fact, drool-worthy.
Suddenly, the giant creature stopped and turned toward my horses. He broke into a fast, high-stepping trot, covering the 100 feet of yard in just five or six strides.
I began screaming at my neighbor, “Jerry, do something! Stop him!”
Jerry did something, he took a picture.
Mr. Moose covered the last few feet between him and the fence in an instant. I had visions of my sweet horses being gored with those giant antlers and stomped with his huge hooves. But what could I do? Maybe the fence would stop him, I thought.
It didn’t! He leapt from at least six feet away, clearing the fence and the water trough.
Have you ever had one of those moments when everything happened in slow motion? I was as helpless as I had been with my kids in the bush last spring. There was nothing I could do!
Then, from under her big tree, Brenna came at a dead run, ears pinned back, straight for that moose! His front feet hadn’t hit the ground before Brenna was halfway to him. I knew that moose could take her apart with his antlers, yet here she came - no fear.
He lifted his head toward her as his back feet hit the ground. In that instant, my little Icelandic mare seemed three times her size, with all her courage. I guess she must have looked that big to him too because he took one look at her and turned tail! Jerry and I watched dumbfounded as Brenna ran that huge bull around until he finally stepped over my five-foot fence and ran away.
Now, some have questioned the “horse-ness” of my 13.3-hand Icelandic mare in the past. I believe we’ve put those questions to rest. That, my friends, is a horse!
I’ve seen a lot of moose come around since that day; several other adolescents, a good-sized cow or two, even a big bull – bigger than Mr. Moose, but not one has come onto our property since. I guess the word got out, don’t mess with the Chythlook place! They may have a little fence but they’ve got a big horse in there and she’ll get you!
 Mr. Moose with Brenna in the background planning her attack.
Courtesy: Jerry, the neighbor

No comments:

Post a Comment