Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why I love winter horsekeeping

Since I rough-board, meaning I pay for the horses’ housing but buy my own feed and do most of the work myself, winter is not fun. In exchange for the farm owner doing some of the work (hauling hay bales from the barn to the run-in, doing a couple of hay feedings per day to my boys) I daily refill the water trough that supplies my two and their two, a clawfooted bathtub which fortunately has a floating heater in it so at least I don’t have to smash ice out of it. But I do have to get the hundred-foot hose out of their basement, hook it up to the barn faucet, unreel it to the tub, fill, then drain, recoil, and return it to where it won’t freeze, over whatever the footing may be – and they’re not into putting salty sand down because of salt leaching into their ground. I pull ice cleats on over my boots and walk like a very old person.

There’s also the fun of trying to pitchfork up manure that’s partially or wholly frozen to the ground. Ground which offers an assortment of rock-hard bareness (yay I'm safe!), snow, either fresh to sink into (huff puff slog lurch) or packed (crunch crunch), and ice (creep creep omg please don't let me fall). Normally the horses are out all the time in their run-in, paddock and fields, but in weather like this they come inside the barn, in huge, airy stalls. Huge, airy stalls which I have to muck out. In their stalls, Commander produces about one wheelbarrow load per day of manure and wet/dirty shavings; Ben does more like two. If it’s cold enough they’ll get ice in their five-gallon water buckets that has to be broken out. I get hay bales from the overhead loft and equally heavy bags of shavings from the storage place in the basement floor of the bank barn (built into a slope so the back entrance is one floor lower than the front main entrance where my stalls are), heave them into my barn cart, haul them to where they’re needed, and heave them out.

Sounds like fun, huh? Normally I go there every day, at least once per day, to do the chores. But thank goodness I won’t have to for today and tomorrow. I’ve set up the hay and grain for the two storm days in advance and the farm owner will see to feeding them and giving them water. I did that pre-feeding work when I brought them in late last night, having set up the stalls (bedding, hay, clean buckets waiting to be filled) the day before. No way am I going to go out in this mess!

Why, yes. Yes, it is a lot of work. And I’m almost 62 and getting creaky here and there. No, I don’t know why I do it, especially when it’s 11:00 at night, I’m having to lead two mildly excited horses (“We’re going inside! Into our stalls! With lots of hay!”) through a gate without it swinging back into and spooking them, get them turned around and sorted out so Ben is on my left, the side his stall will be when we get into the barn aisle, trying to pirouette them around me while keeping the leads from getting tangled – and Ben accidentally flings his head WHAM into my face, into my lip, OUCH! and suddenly there’s the taste of blood, it hurts like blazes, I can feel the gore welling on the outer corner of my lower lip, and I can’t do anything about it (other than whimper and curse) because I have the lead rope of a mildly excited (but mannerly, they’re good boys and they don’t actually lose it) horse clutched in each hand and I have to get them up around and into the barn.

Which I do, sneaking in mitten-dabs at my battered lip here and there as we walk, get them into their stalls, and then I can check to discover that, yes, I am indeed bleeding. Fortunately I keep a roll of paper towels in the tack room. The paper towel wad I press to the wound gets big red blotches quickly. I still have to set up the grain and lay out two day’s worth of hay. I need both hands for much of that. Thank goodness I did the water buckets before going to get the horses! I layer a fresh paper towel wad over the injury, chomp down on one corner to hold it there, and get everything set up. By the time I’m done and can leave, the bleeding has slowed from “Omigosh do I need to go to the emergency room for stitches?” to “Eh, just miniblots now; I’ll just go home.” This morning it’s ugly but healing.

Winter horsekeeping is so much fun!

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