Big horses, big love

The peaceful presence of equine giants works wonders for the soul

Laura Jean Schneider
ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 11/29/21

 

Ida Joy weighs somewhere around 1,300 pounds and loves to have her face scratched.

In the draft horse world, tradition dictates that each …

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Big horses, big love

The peaceful presence of equine giants works wonders for the soul

Posted

 

 

Ida Joy weighs somewhere around 1,300 pounds and loves to have her face scratched.

In the draft horse world, tradition dictates that each animal be named after a human, and 6-year-old Ida Joy’s real-life inspiration was a woman from Brinnon who has since passed on.

Then there’s Comet, Jewel, Duchess, Lacey – all drafts as well – and American Paint Horse “Cash,” the patriarch of the herd.

The gentle spotted draft mare has five other equine pals who have found refuge at Linger Longer Farm in Quilcene.

Elisa Cole-Johnson and her husband TJ Johnson have opened their pastures to a herd of horses with unique stories of their own.

Cash and Ida Joy have been with Cole-Johnson since birth. Rescues Comet, a registered Spotted Draft gelding, and Jewel, a Brabant Belgian draft mare, were the foals of so-called “Premarin mares,” pregnant female horses whose urine is harvested to make hormone replacement therapy drugs. Often the foals are of little value, and are brutally trained or slaughtered.

But these two lucked out, like most of the pasture mates at Linger Longer farm, a draft horse rescue and rehabilitation home where Cole-Johnson says, “dreams linger, longer.”

A recent visit involved a lot of mud, something the horses actually seem to enjoy. Cole-Johnson kept apologizing for patches of dirt and puddle splashes, but the horses didn’t seem to care.

At the sound of her voice, they came over, placing their massive heads gently against her chest.

“We both love the horses,” Cole-Johnson said, of her and her husband.

It wouldn’t be odd then, that they met at the Mason County Fair.

As a child in California, Cole-Johnson gravitated toward horses.

“I begged my parents for riding lessons,” she said, admitting that her father wasn’t fond of them. But he saw she was serious, and she ended up taking riding lessons from a family friend for $5 an hour, which was a stretch for the family of five.

Cole-Johnson’s feelings for her father, who died after a battle with locked-in syndrome, were palpable.

He was a career firefighter. She used to ask, “Daddy, please bring the engine,” she said, and he would swing by the house, delighting her.

“My father was my hero,” Cole-Johnson said. She stayed at home until she was in her mid-20s, helping her mother care for him after a stress-related stroke left him unable to move anything but the muscles around his eyes.

As Cole-Johnson spoke, she engaged in a slow dance with each horse, backing one up who was a little too pushy, kissing one’s nose, sidestepping a puddle.

Separated into three paddocks, the horses were eager to visit but calm overall. Mane hung heavy on their necks, forelocks reached the tip of Duchesses’ nose.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Cole-Johnson worked as a fire prevention officer and a water truck driver, navigating 5,000 gallon tanks of water so the U.S. Forest Service could fight fires. She worked as a camp counselor for burn survivors, and derived a lot of joy from working with youth.

Finally, she purchased her first horse, a watershed moment for anyone horse-obsessed. The palomino gelding cost her $600, and promptly snapped her ribs and caused internal bleeding after a bad wreck.

After the accident happened, she got back on the horse, and ended up stopping by the fire station her father used to work at on her way home. She was going into shock, and knew where she could go for help.

“Somebody really screwed up with him,” she said, adamantly explaining that it’s really people who mess up horses, not the other way around.

“You’re going to get out of them what you put into them,” she said.

Cash pushed his nose toward Cole-Johnson, his eyes bright. She explained that the two of them have been best pals for 24 years, going to the world show and placing eighth in their division during his prime.

Johnson was quiet and stoic, a fourth-generation Quilcene man grounded and stolid. It’s very much a partnership, Cole-Johnson said, their rescue of five horses in 10 years.

Johnson walked out to catch Comet, a 17-hand gray gelding who stands about 5½-feet high at his shoulder. But it seemed more like Comet caught him, and he walked in stride with Johnson across the pasture, through the muck and mud and over to Cole-Johnson, who had pulled out a bag of peppermint horse treats.

Cole-Johnson got her first team of draft horses in California, where she worked on a Christmas tree farm.

“I loved paint horses,” she said, referring to the splotchy coloring pattern most of her horses have. (To be technical, “pinto” describes a coloration, and “paint” describes a breed, which Cash is).

Duchess and Lacey walked over for attention.

When Lacey is old enough to start, Cole-Johnson envisions her as one half of a draft team, alongside Duchess.

Cole-Johnson skirted her own traumas, but alluded to their presence. She thinks the horses help what she can’t express. One of her grandkids is diagnosed with autism.

“She was nonverbal, and she’s verbal for them,” Cole-Johnson said.

Linger Longer Farm would like to become a nonprofit, and after a year of mysterious and significantly impactful autoimmune symptoms laid her low, Cole-Johnson is looking for like-minded folks with a passion for big equines. Going forward, she’d love to provide equine therapy for veterans, and people on the frontlines.

In the meantime, there’s feeding hay, fixing fences, checking water, and putting the finishing touches on a fundraiser she launched to help three local creature-friendly businesses this holiday season.

And then it’s getting ready for photos with Santa this Saturday in Quilcene, where Cole-Johnson will be bringing her vintage sleigh and “reindeer” bells to jump-start a festive holiday spirit for all ages.

It seems what lingers most at the farm is a spirit of goodwill and faith.

Nothing exemplified that better than Cole-Johnson, surrounded by several tons of horse, each with their own special story, each waiting their turn to show her some love.

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