Big Ben is right here in my hometown, Ojai, California. No, I’m not talking about the famous clock tower in London or the world champion show jumping horse. I’m talking about big Ben, the largest vegetarian at the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market.
When asked about Ben’s age, Ben’s owner, Vickie Carlton-Byrne, replied, “I don’t know for sure, but based on his teeth and the veterinarian’s opinion, he is most likely in his 13th year”. Vicki is uncertain of Ben’s age because he was a rescue horse.
“He was brought into this area from somewhere up north to be sold” she says. “When the people who purchased him discovered he had a foot condition in his right hind foot called canker, and what might be involved in treating him, they left him in a pen at a boarding stable on Creek Road. A friend who runs the stable took him up to UC Davis to be treated, then my son and I took him on, thinking he would be completely healed in a month.”
That was over six years ago. Instead of his foot getting better it got worse.
“Over the years we tried a little of this, a little of that” Vickie says. “He has had many talented professionals involved in his recovery, and it is the opinion of at least several that his vast improvement is attributable to working barefoot on the pavement. So, our trips to the farmers’ market are his therapy. Just when I have accepted that he is not going to improve any more, he surprises me by getting even better. His intermittent lameness is dissipating as his hoof grows and rebalances. On Mother’s Day, for the first time in six years, he took not one lame step the entire day!”
Just as Vickie is uncertain about Ben’s age, she is uncertain about his breed. I told her that he looks like a draft horse and wondered whether or not he was a Percheron.
“Ben is pretty coy on this subject,” Vickie says. “My guess is that he is either a Shire crossed with Percheron, or full blooded Percheron.” She also says that draft horses are bred to pull heavy loads, to stand quietly and that they have a calm, even temperament. Ben is all that.
I asked Vickie what Ben likes to eat most and, not surprisingly, she replied, “What doesn’t he eat!” Ben consumes 22 to 24 pounds of grass, hay and alfalfa per day. As a treat he gets carrots, apples, cantaloupe, watermelon rinds and wheat grass.
“Watching him eat an orange is particularly entertaining. And at the market, within seconds of pulling up to the curb, he looks over his shoulder at Steve, the egg vendor, who almost without fail has a carrot for Ben within 30 seconds.”
Vickie also says that Ben “ambushes people on the sidewalk, sticking his head into their market baskets and bags to check out the produce. I noticed him take a taste of a woman’s straw purse once, fortunately, she didn’t. He also seems to enjoy just visiting with people. If he can feel that someone really enjoys his company, he will play with their clothing with his lips. I am convinced that he has a sense of humor.”
When Ben feels good, he asks Vickie to get him ready so he can give carriage rides at the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market. This process takes about an hour as Vickie gets his carriage out, uncovers it, grooms Ben and then fits him with his harness.
Vickie says that during the hot summer days Ben likes to get to the market early. Look for big Ben between 9:30 and 10:00 am. Bring plenty of apples and carrots. Ben loves carrots.
For more vegetarian adventures, see Randy’s “Ojai Valley Vegetarian Blog” book at CreateSpace.com