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Hankerin' to go rub an elm tree

link Baxter Black

On the edge of common sense

When I was a lad I remember my brother John wouldn’t go anywhere without his “blanky.” My son and daughter each had a stuffed animal, a fuzzy rabbit and a sock monkey named Chango. I think Grandmother Phyllis made them. Looking at the photographs, Fuzzy and Chango accompanied us on many vacation trips. Alas, the monkey jumped ship in Puerto Vallarta. It was traumatic.

I’ve also had puppies that drug favorite chew toys around, like a tire inner tube or a piece of carpet, of a goat’s bladder.

In my experience I can’t remember any Holstein baby calves that took an abnormal attachment to anything but a milk bucket, but colts do. Some-where between a cow (IQ just below a chicken and above a cinder block) and a horse (still above the cow but below the pig), certain species developed a cerebral capacity beyond simple instinct.

Janice is a horse person. She is deep in the horse breeding business and has raised hundreds of foals. Little racer was one to remember…a filly and quite lively.

The first few weeks Janice kept the mare and Little Racer in an empty pen to keep them away from the stud. In this pen a little elm tree has grown up in one corner. They are the survivor trees on the plains. At the time it was about 15’ high and scraggly, like most elms in western Kansas.

Little Racer took a liking to the little tree. Janice said she fell in love with it. On their first acquaintance Lil Racer approached the tree cautiously. She stretched and sniffed the bark. When nothing happened, she tried to climb it! Unable to scale the trunk, she sidled up and rubbed against the trunk…first one side, then the other. She tentatively examined a leafy twig and took a tiny nibble. She made a face like when kids do when they taste a green olive for the first time! Her lips burbled and the wounded leaf fluttered to the ground.

Janice was watching all of this from her front window. The filly scrutinized the tree trunk, then she nodded, as if on cue, backed up a filly’s length and bucked a coltish little dance, then faced the trunk again. For a second time she nodded and repeated her ungainly romp as if to say, “Watch this, Momma, watch this!”

Janice said that as long as the filly and mare stayed in that pen, whenever Little Racer took a nap she would lie against the tree. If she stirred in her sleep she would stretch out so at least one leg was touching the tree somehow.

Dr. Bob Miller (RMM) wrote a book about foal imprinting. Maybe Janice’s experience with Little Racer could be a useful training technique. Sort of a “protecting their territory” imprint. But it’s probably simpler than that. I still have a picture of Chango in my wallet. It makes me smile and reminds me of a time in my life when I had more and appreciated it less. Right now I have a hankerin’ to go rub an elm tree. I don’t think Little Racer would mind.

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at:


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