PATRICIA SMITH: Going Soft In Cold Weather
One of my older horses and I hate the cold.
Luckily, in the Sandhills, if you wait three or four days, the cold weather goes away. And so does the snow for the most part.
Seeing snow brings back memories of gray winters in the North that lasted six months (if you were lucky) and gave way to muddy spring days. Mud -- I have to really stretch my imagination to remember what that is.
I have a photograph of myself riding Sherman in the snow some 25 years ago. I have on so many layers I look like Nanook of the North. But we're both smiling, having just completed a mini-trail ride on a snow-plowed circular track.
Ha, now if the temperature ventures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, all bets are off. I don't ride and I don't drive. The only thing that keeps my muscles from going all mushy is the need to go out and chip ice off the outside water buckets.
Here is a recap of a typical Northern winter day. I used to have to shovel a path from the house to the barn. Then I had to chip the ice away from the barn door in order to enter the barn. Then I had to change the horses' barn blankets to sheets plus turn-out blankets and rub Vaseline (PAM works as well) on the soles of their feet (to keep the snow from balling up.) Then I would schlep warm water to the outside troughs that were frozen solid. (And yep, it's true that warm water freezes faster than cold water.)
Then I would do stalls, stripping down layers as I warmed up only to freeze walking back to the house. I rode every evening in an indoor arena, stripping off a parka while riding and freezing while cooling out the horse. Luckily my horse was never bothered by the snow and ice sliding off the riding arena roof (sounding like a mini-avalanche). But, it sent some horses into sideways pirouettes.
Huey, a thoroughbred that was foaled in Florida, to this day hates the cold. He used to last about two hours turned out in a paddock when the wind was blowing and the wind chill factor was -10 degrees. Huey would wait for me by the gate shivering (under three layers of blankets) until I took pity on him and brought him in. He repaid my kindness that winter by chewing a hole in the front of his stall door -- not an easy feat considering the stalls had u-shaped grates on the front.
When Huey was three years old I watched in horror as he went skating across the fence-line of the paddock and promptly toppled over, having lost his balance on the ice. It didn't get any better in the spring. By noon the frozen ground thawed to become a foot of mud that sucked shoes off horses' feet.
As I'm writing this, the snow has stopped falling and I'm looking out on a winter wonderland. The horses are snug in their stalls for today.
Tomorrow will require breaking up ice on outdoor water buckets -- it has become a major pain in the neck when it used to be a daily routine in Northern winters.
Now it's more fun to recall winter memories than actually to re-live them. I guess I'm getting soft in my old age.
Patricia Smith can be reached at fotobytocco@ vbbi.us.m
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