Kimberly Carlisle’s experience as an international swimmer for the United States, including the 1980 Olympic Games, informed her humane and global perspective from a young age, as did her deep sense of racehorses as fellow athletes. She is a passionate advocate and activist for human awakening to our impact on animals, the planet and each other. Through writing, speaking, photography and filmmaking, she tells stories that restore understanding, respect, compassion and empathy among all beings. Kimberly is a graduate of Stanford University and lives on Flag Ranch (flagranch.org), a sanctuary in northern California that is also home to a herd of more than 50 horses, 11 hens, three cats, two dogs, two roosters, a large and loveable spotted pig, and one very sunny goat.
Kimberly Carlisle is the Co-Founder (with Flag, of course) and Executive Director of Flag Ranch. http://www.flagranch.org , a horse + human collaboratory in California.
Cross-Species Friendship: A Goat Who Loved His Herd (of Horses)
Five years ago, we had to move our herd of 27 rescued horses as the property we were leasing had been sold. It would prove to be a harrowing, multi-stop journey until we finally found home, but we picked up a few gifts along the way. One of them was a remarkable black-and-white goat named Billy.
Billy had been left behind at the ranch that was our first stop, along with a few chickens and a llama. Whether it was his fear or his choice, no one could catch nor touch Billy. Our first horse to arrive was Flag, along with our blind mare, Caramel, and her mother, Tessa. No sooner were they settled into their paddock than Billy came around a corner and made a beeline for Flag and became an instant guardian to Caramel.
As more of the herd arrived, Billy made his rounds, reaching his small nose to their large muzzles, nudging his forehead to their chests. As the days and weeks passed, he stayed in the herd at his will, eating what they ate, standing under their bellies when it rained, with clearly no need nor desire for human care or interaction.
When it was time to move, I called the woman who had left him behind. “If he gets on our trailers, he’s coming with us.” “Okay” she replied, “but he won’t.” And he did. He wouldn’t get on the first trailer with Caramel, but when it was time to board Flag, Billy hopped in alongside him.
At our next way station, the herd would be separated into two groups – the younger more able-bodied members would be in a rugged pasture that sat below a plateau where Flag, Caramel and a few others with physical challenges would be housed in temporary paddocks. When the trailer door opened to the lower pasture, Billy ran out to greet each herd member. Then he followed Flag and me up the hill and chose to stay in the paddock with Flag.
A few weeks later, our new home finally appeared and it was time to move the herd. Once again Billy boarded the trailer with Flag. A short ride later, Billy and Flag were exploring their new pasture together. This property was large – 100 acres – with old cattle fencing that Billy could have easily wriggled through and gone anywhere he wanted. He could come and go from the barns and paddocks at will – we offered him shelter and special goat feed, but he refused it, choosing to live 24/7 on the land with the herd.
We knew the horses were protecting him from the coyotes who frequented our pastures at night, but we didn’t know how until one day two rogue dogs trespassed our acreage and began to chase Billy. We ran after the dogs who were running after Billy, but before we could reach them, the horses went into action: half the herd surrounded Billy while the other half chased off the dogs.
One day last fall, Billy came to the pasture gate uncharacteristically out of sorts – he wouldn’t eat, he was bloated and visibly in pain, and he had chosen to leave his herd. We rushed him to UC-Davis where they discovered he had a tumor larger than his heart sitting right next to it. With broken hearts, we had no choice but to help him transition. The vets estimated he was just shy of 10 years old, a good life for a goat.
We ask ourselves often – did we do right by Billy? We’ve been told goats must have shelter from the rain, they must have special supplements, they must not eat (much) alfalfa (we feed our horses primarily grass hay), or they will die. For his five years with us, Billy lived as naturally as a domestic goat can, entirely at choice. He would eat hay with the herd, and he would come up to the barn most days with some of the elders to share their buckets of mash. He was fine, until he wasn’t. And when he wasn’t, he let us know.
We have a new goat now, Sunshine, who came as a companion to another one of our blind horses. Sunshine is a goat of a different color, truly, with unique preferences and needs. He is clear, too, with whom he wants to be and what he is here to do, which affirms Billy’s choices and our support of them: he lived a life true that was true to him, on his own terms.
Flag passed on a few years before Billy did, at the age of 34, an extraordinarily long life for a horse. It comforts me to know he and Billy might be together again.
BILLY’S (BILLY LEE”S) COMMENTS :
Summer 2004, via The 1990 Institute, I arranged for a delegation from Hillview Middle School from Menlo Park, Ca. to visit CNCC ( China National Children’s Center ) in Beijing to paint a Mural together with Chinese children. We called the project “Xin Xin Jiao” or “ Heart to Heart Bridging”. Kimberly, a Hillview parent , joined the traveling delegation and returned with amazing video shots that impressed everyone. One part showed the students’ from the two counties first lined up opposite each other. Then they closed their eyes, with hands stretched out while moving slowly towards each other. This deeply moved and emotionally effected both the Chinese as well as the U.S. parents . Some were all smiles. Some were immersed in deep thoughts. A few were in tears. They all seemed to be imagining a Possible Better World for the Next Generation. She truly captured a Magic Moment.