Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice Follies

We're dealing with some real winter weather this weekend--about 2 inches of ice, to be exact, with some snow mixed in to improve the color.  Raleigh got enough snow so that the roads look like well-groomed ski slopes (beginner hills, mostly).  I know this because we drove the 50 miles between here and there to a concert last night.  Kris Kristofferson played and sang his wonderful songs for an hour and a half.  It was one of the best performances I've ever attended, worth every moment on the untreated roads.

The horses are getting lots of hay during this cold snap.  You'd think any creature with a brain would know to get in out of the sleet and freezing rain.  My horses have lovely (read: expensive) sheds for shelter, but they prefer standing outside, so they end up with ice and snow in their manes and tails.  Suzette had an icicle on her eyelash and chunks of ice on her back.  I put blankets on her, along with Abby and TBone, but the drafts were Iowa-bred, so I'm thinking they can handle the cold.   

Yes, Lucy and Joy are home again and have lost the orange tint they acquired at the training stable thanks to red clay in the pasture.  I haven't had a chance to drive them here, yet, but I'm sure they don't mind the vacation.  Today is definitely not a work day--the ice is crisp and hard, thick enough to support a 16-hand horse's weight without sinking.   The ice will melt later this week, and then we'll get to work. 

Mud, however, is eternal.  It lurks there, just underneath the white frosting, ready to break out at the slightest step and mire me in its ugly brown grip.  Thank goodness for rubber boots!

Drive carefully,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

On the Rocks or Straight Up?

The challenge of cold weather with horses, I'm finding, is WATER.  When the temperature doesn't get more than a degree or two above freezing, the ice that formed during the night on the horse troughs doesn't melt.  That's okay--I'm crazy enough to think breaking the ice in the morning is fun.  It's usually only a couple of inches deep.  No problem.

Well...except that if the water level is low, more ice forms.  Last week, I walked out to see that Suzette's entire water supply had turned to ice.  And Suzette isn't a fan of slushies.

So, we needed to fill up the tank.  Simple fix, except that the hose was frozen solid.

And to those of you who are saying, "Well, DUH," I can only reply that this doesn't happen down here very often.  This is the longest stretch of temperatures below 40 degrees I can remember in the last 14 years.  Since I've been living with the horses these last 4 years, it's never been so cold for so long.  So I'm still learning.

Anyway, buckets filled up Suzette's trough.  Now I have a trickle of water running through the hose, which keeps it from freezing.

But then I went into the wellhouse for the back pastures and discovered that the PVC pipes all around the well pump had broken.  Fortunately, the water was off, so we were spared the formation of an ice skating rink.  Instead, we got an emergency visit from the plumber to replace all the pipes with a big black hose.  And then I spent another hour or so wrapping said hose with insulation and duct tape.  I like my plumber very much, but I don't want to see him again any time soon.

I think we've handled the water issue for the time being.  The temperatures are supposed to moderate this week, going all the way into the 50s during the day.  Everything will thaw, including the mud at the back of my hay shed, which requires 4-wheel drive settings to get through in the truck.  But that's a tale for another time.

My friend in Iowa--where I found Lucy and Joy--offered to send me some snow and NEGATIVE temperatures.  They've been having really challenging weather.  He was smart, though, and installed an automatic watering system for his Cream Drafts.  The horses just walk up to this little water fountain and get as much as they'd like to drink.  I think that must be the perfect answer during the long, cold winters up north.  I told him I'd be glad to take the snow and cold, but the folks who came down here to escape just that sort of torture have me outnumbered.

For a funny look at the tribulations caused by cold weather in Oklahoma, check out The Pioneer Woman's archives, where she shows her husband chopping ice on a pond so the cattle and mustangs can drink:

Believe me, I know I've got it easy!

Stay warm,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

All Wrapped Up

First, let me assure those readers in the North and West that I realize we have it GOOD here in the Southeast, as far as winter weather is concerned.  I know, I's WARM here, compared to where you are.

But for us pampered Southerners, a daytime high of 34 degrees Farenheit is COLD, especially with the wind blowing.  We don't have snow to shovel through to get to the barn, but the ground is frozen hard.  We wear hats and gloves and heavy coats to feed.  Working the horses becomes an option, even though the sun is shining.

And because we need protection from the cold, we often think our horses do, as well.  In past years, I've left most of my horses in the pasture without blankets.  They do, after all, grow a thick coat of hair.  They run around to stay warm.  I've always tried to make sure they had enough hay for fuel.

This year, though, Abby is twenty-two years old, and doesn't run much.  TBone got clipped back at Thanksgiving and is missing hair on the lower half of his body, requiring a blanket.  And Suzette, the desert horse descendent, shivers if we have a cold rain.

So the three of them are bundled up today.  Each is wearing a wool "cooler"--a light blanket designed to wick away moisture when the horse has been working and sweating hard, to dry them off faster.  In this case, I'm using the cooler as an extra layer beneath the waterproof blanket on top.

When the temperature gets up to 40 and the wind stops, I'll probably take the coolers off of Abby and Suzette.  They do have fairly thick coats.  TBone may have to keep his until we get to 45 degrees for awhile, at night, at least.  Blankets add an entirely new dimension of preoccupation to the business of caring for horses.  Too cold?  Too warm?  Raining?  Dry?  What's the right thing to do?

The best part of  using a blanket is how clean the horses look underneath.  They still roll in the dirt, sand and mud, but it all stays off their coats.  On the other hand, horses without blankets tend to resemble the soil their grass grows in.  Lucy and Joy are quite a sight these days--I'm calling them American Creamsicle Drafts, after those lovely orange sherbet ice cream treats.  They're just the same pale orange color.

I drove them yesterday for most of an hour and enjoyed myself greatly.  We're beginning to get used to each other, and I feel our minds connecting through the reins.  I'm envisioning lots of good drives ahead!

Stay warm, wherever you are!


Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I find it hard to absorb the idea that we're now in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Ten.  The eighteen-year-old that is my inner self never believed I would get that old.

I have, though, which is a good thing.  I'm grateful for the life I get to live now--out in the country with my horses and my dogs and wonderful neighbors who share the same passions.  I love being able to talk about horses with others who love them and work with them daily.  It's not always an easy life--horses can be dumb and self-destructive, or else just downright unlucky.  Barometric changes in the weather can cause colic, and colic can be fatal.  Broken legs happen in the safest of pastures.  Loving a horse doesn't keep it safe, and you never know when you might face an unforeseen tragedy. 

I guess that sums up life in general, doesn't it?

But most days with horses are simply busy, often productive and, for me, a pleasure.  Warm muzzles, soft brown eyes gazing at me with trust and the expectation of a treat, strong shoulders and warm backs, solid butts and swishy tails...these contacts punctuate my outdoor time.  My herd gives me a reason to get up every morning and the feeling that I'm needed throughout the day.  Never mind the rain, mud or cold (it's supposed to be 38 degrees Farenheit for a high tomorrow), the blazing sun, torrid summer heat and stifling humidity (my personal worst weather choice)--the horses need feed and hay and exercise and that's what I do.  Every day, all day, all year.  Thank God.

I hope you have a busy and successful life to look forward to in this new year of ours, along with friends--animal or human--with whom to share.  I'm resolved to make my blog entries far more frequent in the coming months (a new computer will help with that) and I hope you'll check back often!

All the best,