I’ve kept horses in my backyard for almost 40 years, but I still I hate days like this. If I were a normal person I’d be inside, along with all the other sane people, doing sane-people things. But I have two backyard horses, and they need to be fed twice a day and cleaned up after twice a day too, even though it’s cold as a witch’s curse outside, with a wind blowing down the canyon so hard all our neighbor’s trash is now on our property.
I am wearing: a sleeveless tee, a turtleneck, an old sweater, heavy twill pants, knee socks, and slippers. I exchange the slippers for jod boots, pull a wool hat over my ears, wrap a scarf around my neck, slide into my heavy-duty Lands End jacket that’s good from 40 degrees on down. Down to what, I don’t remember. I just know it will withstand this wind. And then I pull on my cold-weather gloves. Roxie and I trudge out the side door, heads down, and proceed uphill into the wind.
All of my mucking-out implements have blown over sideways, including my wheelbarrow, and are lying—of course—tines up on the ground. I ignore them long enough to open the lids of the feeders, where I am greeted by a hollow whoosh of air. When I feed, I will try to shove the hay down into the feeder while the wind tries to blow it back up. In spite of my glasses, I have to close my eyes. Otherwise I will be blinded by tiny splinters of hay even smaller than a grain of sand, except—somehow—they’re sharp. Almost as bad is when they get stuck in your clothes. First you have to find them (all you will know is that they’re rubbing your skin raw). Then you have to get them out. Good luck to you.
The pipe corral was originally 24 ft. by 24 ft., but when I rescued Gunsmoke, communal living was not the best choice. He ate until his food was gone, and then—because his previous owners had only fed him once a week—he ate Prim’s food until hers was gone too. He turned into a butterball, she turned into a coat rack. Now they live together with a panel of stud wire between them and don’t have to share anything they don’t want to.
But Prim is 25 years old and gets preferential treatment—meaning, a supplement and some bute (Phenylbutazone) every day, to reduce the pain of her dropped fetlocks. I usually leave the top of her feeder open while I go inside the tackroom and prepare the supplement and the bute. Even with the door closed I can hear the wind banging the lid against the fence. Prim, of course, is at the far end of her corral because the noise scares her. Nothing scares Gunsmoke so much that he won’t eat.
After I feed Prim, I close the lid and clean Gunner’s corral. You have to be careful where you stand when you’re shaking shavings out of a forkful of manure. While I work, I look at Prim. She has positioned herself to pee, nose to the wind. Smart horse—she doesn’t want to get her back legs wet. But when she finishes, she swings her head around to her flank and noses herself. When she turns away I see a damp spot, where she has rubbed her muzzle on herself before. “Oh no,” I say out loud. “Please don’t be colicking! Not today!” (When I check her later, she’s fine.)
I call Roxie to see if she wants to go for a walk, but she’s gone. In spite of her thick Golden Retriever coat, when I get back to the house, I find she was scratching on the front door to come in about the time I was cleaning Prim’s corral. Maybe even a backyard horse-owner’s dogs are more normal (or more sane) than their owner.