This is Texas, Highway 290. On the western edge of Houston, a place is selling horses made of concrete. They are spread in a yard, on display, along with concrete benches, fountains and some other animals. Lawn ornaments, I guess is what they are.
I’m for horses, but I can’t see decorating my yard with one mixed from the same bag as my driveway. Then I couldn’t understand either what Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy of the ’50s, did with his horse “Trigger” – he stuffed him and mounted him on a stand. I saw “Trigger” on display at the Roy Rogers Museum when it was in Southern California. The museum has since moved to Branson, Missouri.
But this is Texas – serious horse and cattle country. As for cattle, I didn’t see any cement cows back there. They must not do well as statues.
Anyway, I am headed for a monastery of an order of cloistered Franciscan Poor Clare Nuns. It’s just north of Brenham. They raise miniature horses. But their daily support, I discovered, comes from selling homemade ceramics, as well as admissions to those who come – often by the busload – to see their little horses that number about 80.
The ones I saw were a lot friendlier than the standard horses that I have known, probably because they are used to being approached and petted by friendly people. But they tell me that’s a trait. They interact well with us and are normally family pets. They eat about as much in volume as a big dog.
Owners often keep them inside, but they do better outside. Some horses are even trained as guide animals for the blind.
I was being shown around the farm by Becky. She and her husband Bill are the farm’s only employees. We were just coming out of a barn with Red Cloud, a 12-year-old stallion, in tow. I looked up to see a John Deere Gator headed our way, flushing out birds as it skirted the trees. It was Sister Angela.
She pulled up and climbed out from behind the wheel. In a tailored gray habit, bound at the waist by a woven, white belt, she defied the John Deere image of a Gator driver. But it’s her wheels – how she gets around the 98-acre farm.
She took Red Cloud’s rope; I took pictures. “He’s everybody’s favorite,” she said. “I would never sell him.”
Their yearlings sell for $500. The 2-year-olds can bring $1,500, depending on coloring and characteristics. Foals are born March through May. “They can pull a cart,” she said. “And two can work as a team.” They can’t carry much. Obviously, they’re not for riding. ”
When we started this in 1981, we wanted to develop the talents that God gave us, and these horses were intriguing. There were 20 of us at one time.” The monastery has only three nuns now. The other two are ages 88 and 95, so I’m guessing they don’t get out in the Gator much any more. Sister Angela prays that some younger nuns will join them, and soon. Selling the farm is a depressing possibility.
Their future uncertain, Sister Angela is totally accepting of whatever comes. “It will happen in God’s time,” she said. “But we are in the horse business until we’re not.”
Welcome to America’s Outback.
Bill’s e-mail address: [email protected]. Next month Bill will be in Kearney, Nebraska.