My entryway smells strongly of horse. And has smelled strongly of horse anytime these past five months. No, I am not keeping Angus on the back porch – although that’s not an inherently bad idea. The horse smell is emanating from my barn clothes, which I put on three times a day to go do barn chores.
If I have Angus boarded somewhere, why am I doing barn chores three times a day, when it’s not four? An excellent question. It all began October 17 (not that I’m counting) when my dear friend Abby was knocked over by a horse and broke her right femur just above the knee. It wasn’t even a riding fall, just an accident that could have happened any number of other ways. The horse was merely incidental.
Horses are like small children: it doesn’t matter what shit goes down, they have to be fed and watered and handled and taken care of. And if the caregiver is broken, somebody else has to become the caregiver. As far as I am aware, there is no foster care network for horses. So, while Abby was laid up, I became the primary caregiver for what started out as seven horses (we’re down to five now, but that’s another story). To say nothing of Abby’s two young dogs. Large young dogs. I get paid to do this, mind you, but really it’s for love.
6:30 a.m. Feed grain to horses. Walk the dogs and feed them. Fill water tubs in fields and distribute hay, turn horses out into their paddocks. (Turn out is a little misleading, since it implies you open their stall doors and they walk out. In fact, you put their halters on and walk them down the driveway to their paddocks. This becomes relevant later.) Sweep the aisle. Set up supper buckets. Walk the dogs after their breakfasts.
4 p.m. Return to the barn, set up stalls for supper. Grain, hay, water. Collect horses in the paddocks, return them to their stalls. Set up breakfast buckets. Sweep the aisle. Walk the dogs and feed them.
9:30 p.m. Feed the horses a couple of flakes of hay, refill water buckets, pick out the stalls, walk the dogs.
Not terribly onerous. Except it’s every day. Every. Blessed. Day. Three times a day. And what lies between October, when this started, and March, where we are now? Yes, that’s right: Winter. This is New Hampshire and winter is very wintery here. This winter has been extremely wintery, starting with a big dump of snow on Thanksgiving Eve and continuing with cold, cold, cold and ice and snow. We still have more than a foot of snow on the ground around here and it was minus 14 last Monday morning, March 2.
So, that list up above? Is much more complicated in the winter. The water hoses freeze and then burst and soak the waterer. The good news is that at 14 below zero the water doesn’t wet you, it just freezes to your barn clothes. Yay. So you set up a rotation between the outside hose and the inside hose, because no matter how careful you are about walking the hose to siphon all the water out, they are frequently frozen when you need to fill buckets. In the barn, I just give up and fill buckets by hand, dispensing with the hose altogether.
The driveway freezes, too. So slick that the horses can’t be walked to their paddocks. And their paddocks freeze so slick that even if they could get to their paddocks it wouldn’t be safe to put them there. They have to stay inside and become bored and fractious.
The 50 gallon water tubs outside are supposed to be emptied at the end of the day every day so that they don’t become giant ice cubes with no room for water. On a single digit day the other barn helper fills the tubs to the brim and they freeze solid. I drag other tubs down, and the same thing happens. Now we are using muck tubs, which are smaller and can be dragged into the basement to thaw if they freeze. They freeze.
All this. Day after day after day. Abby thought she would be better by January 17. I had never really believed that. January came and there was no bone regrowth. February came and there was a little. Now it is March, and we can only hope.
Of, course, anyone who has horses or any livestock knows this story. I am full of admiration of Abby, who is 15 years older than I am, and who has been doing this every day for years and years and years. You can’t go to the movies. You can’t go out to dinner. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it is, in five minutes it’ll be time to go do something for the ponies.
But this is not all complaint. There are things I have loved about this endless winter. I have seen every sunrise and every sunset between October 17 and now (except for the one I missed when I went away for a wedding. I saw the ones when I was away for a funeral.) I saw the comet we had this winter. I have observed the winter’s coming and now I see its departure and spring’s tentative arrival. I have become acclimated to the outdoor temperatures, so that now 20 degrees seems warm and 40 is bikini weather. I have seen the moon wax and wane and wax and wane – going from a pumpkin to a lemon slice to a curved upholstery needle and back again. I have seen the night sky and watched Orion shift slowly around the sky. I have seen the Milky Way (god bless the dark skies of New Hampshire) and many shooting stars.
Once Abby is well, I don’t think I am going to go looking for another barn job. But, on balance, I wouldn’t have missed this one.