Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Pied Piper of Alprilla Farm

That would be me.

This afternoon I found Counterpoint and Cholla lazing about the run-in while Ben pecked at the triage paddock. After completing my chores and bug-spraying Ben I led him out to his field, unhaltered him, and watched him set to on the grass near the ring. The C-boys trickled out to the lane, where they nibbled at the overgrazed, table-flat grass nubbins.

I noticed that, while the near-house field and the far field at the end of the lane were closed off, it appeared that the left-turn alley at the end of the lane, leading to the farthest field, was open. Why didn't the grayboys go out there? Was it because they were staying near Ben? I resolved to do something about it.

Interlude: For those of you unfamiliar with the landscape of which I speak, herewith a visual aid, taken back in May, when Ben was in with the other two. To Counterpoint's left is Ben's little triage paddock; directly above him is the gate to Ben's field. Above that, across the field, you can see a gap in the far fence; that is the gateway which leads to the farthest field, when it's open to Ben's side of the complex. Toward the top right, at the end of the lane, rightward of where that solitary large bush sits, is the gateway to the C-boys' farther field, and the left-hand turn into the fenced-in alley leading to the farthest field. That alley can be gated shut near the Benside gate.

Got that? Good; then scroll below the photo and on with my tale.

So I went into the lane, halter and leadrope over my shoulder in case I had to persuade them to move along, and walked up to and past first Cholla, then Counterpoint, offering a greeting and a face rub as I passed; then, a length or two beyond the Herd King, I turned back, beckoned, and said "Come on."

Counterpoint came on. Cholla followed.

We three continued down the lane, me - a length; Counterpoint - a length; Cholla. I turned the corner out of the lane, wondering how long they'd stay with me. They kept coming. I walked the length of the alley, with them close behind. I walked out a few yards into the farthest field. They followed, with an expression of "Hey, look at all this tall grass! Who'da thunk?" and dropped their heads to gobble.

Ben, meanwhile, was horrified that we were all leaving him behind. He rushed up to the closed gate between his field and the farthest field, a look of "What? Wait! Where are you going?!?" on his face. Reassured by the sight of the C-boys grazing just beyond the fence, he dropped his head into a part of his field he had heretofore left ungrazed and set to mowing.

By the time I left some several minutes later, Cholla had grazed his way toward the center of the fresh field; Counterpoint was working his way along the edge of the ditch on the outer edge; and Ben's muzzle was buried in grass up close to the boundary.

Oh, by the way, here's a look at that same area in late July, after yet another of this dour summer's flooding rains:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

My (not so) Little Pony's Spring Fling

There's a guy in my life I'm a devoted slave to. I serve his every need, fulfill his every whim, and gladly support his idle butt.

A very handsome butt, I might add, the culmination of 16.1 hands of beautiful bay Thoroughbred. He's aging (but then, so am I), not as spry as he used to be (ditto), and content to putter where once he galloped (ditto ditto). He's been my boy, my responsibility, my pride and joy, for eight years now. I board him at a friend's farm near my home and do the daily chores that horses demand. It's a lot of work, an unending commitment, and entails a fair amount of heavy lifting, but I wouldn't give it up for the world.

Besides the physical exercise, the mental refreshment is essential for my wellbeing. Taking time out from a deskbound occupation as a proofreader of often dry, dense, and tedious material to shovel real instead of metaphorical manure is a tonic for the soul. Mucking out a stall has multiple benefits: it leaves the mind free to ponder, in undistracted quiet, whatever that mind may wander to; it offers physical activity that tones the body without overwhelming an aging and creaky frame; and when it's done and the once-swamplike stall is clean and neat and Just. So. -- well, there's real satisfaction in that.

One of the pleasures of owning horses is watching them at liberty. Their behavior, as individuals and as part of a herd, is endlessly fascinating. Horses do not dissemble; once you can read their body language, you know what they're thinking, how they're feeling. Their wants and needs are simple, and easily met: Give them amicable companions, clean fresh water, a safe open space to move about, and good stuff to eat, and they are content. The transition from a winter diet of hay to the succulent new shoots of spring grass is a special treat for them, one which must be sparingly doled out at first lest they overindulge and make themselves sick. So when, this past spring, my Ben and his two companions had their first day out on grass, it was a joyous occasion.

The horses weren't let out into the fields themselves, as the new grass was still just poking its way up and could be ruined by too much traffic, to soon grazing. So the boys went out into what we call the lane, their access to the adjoining fields oncstraied by electric tape gates. Somehow, they managed to slake their hunger for GRASS!!!!


Ben, the bay, found plenty to occupy himself devouring. His grubby companion, Cholla (who never met a mud puddle he didn't like for rolling, wallowing, and generally filthifying himself) also dug in. Life was good.


The birds were happy to have the horses out on the grass, stirring up insects which our avian friends could gobble up. And yes, I have indeed seen birds perching on the horses' backs now and then.


There was just one teensy little problem in Paradise: Counterpoint, the Herd King, who considers it his duty to keep Ben and Cholla apart -- why, I don't know, since they got along fine when Himself isn't around -- felt compelled to rush over to break them up.


Ben, being no fool, fled.


Now, it's embarrassing enough to get rousted; but to have it happen in front of a snickering barn cat -- oh, the humiliation!


Nutmeg, the barn cat, proceeded to ROFLHAO.


Counterpoint, satisfied that Order Had Been Restored, turned away from his pursuit.


And so everyone got back to the business at hand: Eating. Eating GRASS.


Too soon, too soon, it was time to bring the horses in off the grass, to wait till tomorrow for their next feast. Was Ben wistful as he looked out over the once and again forbidden Paradise?