Wednesday, August 18, 2010

walking in their hoofprints

This morning when I went out to feed and do barn chores, I was quickly dripping sweat even though the temperature was not all that terrible. I didn't think much about it, but then noted that the horses were banging at their back doors ready to come in, even after they'd eaten breakfast. (I fed and then turned them back out to the paddock so I could get their stalls tidy and set up with hay.)

My daughter groomed and put fly spray on legs, and by that time I was sweating and getting itchy. I don't know why this summer is being so itchy, but I've heard other people say they're itching, their dogs are itching, and their horses are itching. I decided to mix up a bucket of a very mild vinegar rinse so we could wipe down faces, figuring it would likely feel good to them. They welcomed the extra attention, except for Keil Bay, who likes to stick his head up in the air. When he lowered it I found a small cut above his right eye, which meant I needed to get the wound ointment out. He allowed that with no problem - he was probably waving his head around in the first place to get me to notice the cut!

Finally we had everyone's stall set up and they couldn't wait to get inside in the shelter of the barn with fans, hay, and clean water. I headed out to do some paddock mucking. It was very humid. I figured out pretty quickly that if I just moved more slowly I wouldn't sweat as much, so I was literally taking a few steps, mucking a little, moving the wheelbarrow, stopping to look at the sky, mucking a little more.

The tulip poplars tend to leaf out very early in the spring, and they begin to lose their leaves much sooner than the other trees do, and as I stood in the paddock a tulip poplar leaf wafted down right in front of my face. For a moment I was astounded by the fact that the leaf seemed to be defying gravity, and then I realized it wasn't a leaf - it was a butterfly that looked exactly like a yellowing, browning leaf. The instant I realized it was a butterfly, it fluttered up and away, as if once I had gotten the message, the butterfly's job was done.

I made my way to the end of the paddock and out to the front field. I'm doing daily fire ant patrol right now, and I went around to the mounds I'd treated with DE yesterday and stirred the ants up again so more would come out and get into the powder.

Even in the shade of the trees, it was hot, muggy, and I was being dive-bombed by giant biting flies. I went all the way down the hill and to the front fence, around the perimeter, and back up again. By the time I was back at the barn I felt like I was going to simply melt or pass out. It was no wonder the horses and donkeys wanted in - being out today, even to just stand and do nothing, was work.

Sometimes I think we forget that there's always one easy way to see what's going on with our animals. Put ourselves in their footprints for a little bit. Turn off our churning brains, the cell phones so many of us carry around, and just let ourselves be in our bodies, feeling what we feel, imagining what they are feeling. It takes a few minutes, like today, when I took the extra time to muck and check ant mounds, to feel the effects of the heat. Sometimes we're in such a hurry we never actually get the full effect of something as simple as the weather.

And I wonder about things like loud radios in barns, and stalls that haven't been cleaned and smell of ammonia. All the things we don't really notice as we go in and out, not living the life they live, not stopping to feel what they might feel when they don't have the option to change it.

Today, if I was hot and sweating and literally feeling like dropping, I know for sure it felt worse to my horses. They are bigger, with hair covering their bodies. They can't easily escape the horrid biting flies, closing them out completely with doors and windows. The one way to get away from the big flies is to outrun them, but who wants to exert that much energy in this swelter?

I was happy we have shelter to offer them, and although I know many people (some members of my own family) think I go overboard sometimes with the animals I live with, I'm glad to do what needs to be done to make these extreme days (right now it's heat, but in the winter, it's cold biting rain and sometimes ice they need shelter from) more comfortable for them. Especially the seniors, who seem to appreciate the little things as much as the big ones.

It's why I sometimes sit down in the stall so I can smell what they smell, why I stop and just listen, and smell, and let the elements sink in for a few minutes. It doesn't take much time. It means a lot to them.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of trying to see and feel things from their perspective.

Our flies and mosquitos have been much worse than normal this year - the only advantage is that their are many more beautiful dragonflies and the barn swallows are cleaning up!

billie said...

You're so right about there being advantages to certain things we see as negative.

The autumn after our worst drought year had the most stunning colors I've ever seen. And this year, with all the heat and humidity and regular rain, we're seeing butterflies and dragonflies in droves. It's something to see.

I am constantly fussing about ants (the regular kind, not even the fire ants, though I fuss about them too) but I learned last year that ants eat fleas and flea eggs - so to have many of one means not many of the other.

Nature can be harsh but there always seems to be an up side!

Grey Horse Matters said...

We seem to do the same things regarding our horses/animals. We try to see things from their perspectives and treat the problems accordingly. Shelter, fly masks, showers etc. I know if I am uncomfortable with the annoyances of nature they must be too. My husband calls our place the Horsey Hilton where all the equines are spoiled rotten. We may go overboard a little but it makes me feel good to hear from people I don't even know tell us that they've never seen happier horses grazing in the fields.

billie said...

Arlene, I think I've written it here before - when the vet, trimmer, the chiro, massage therapist, other horse people, family, friends, etc. come they always remark on how happy and interactive our horses are.

I often laugh when the vet says something, because she is one person I think views me as slightly "out there" when it comes to some of the things I do with them. I'm not sure she makes the connection that they are happy and easy to work with BECAUSE of the things we do for them and with them.

Máire said...

I have often wondered about radios in barns in particular. When I had Mali in livery the radio was always on and I often thought how inconsiderate it was to impose constant human noise on horses confined to their stables. I won't even get started on the state of their bedding sometimes.

I think that as we have taken horses into confinement and restricted their once free-roaming lifestyle, it is up to us to allow them as much relief from the harsher side of nature as we can. And they do choose it. I love to seem either of my two standing in the always open stable. Despite having plenty of natural shelter from trees it is fun to see that something we humans provide can be chosen by them.

billie said...

Maire, I read somewhere awhile back that there was a research study done on horses that live in barns where music is played constantly. The horses had a higher incidence of ulcers. Makes sense to me.