It’s officially my least favorite time of the year…
Everything is soggy, mucky, and slippery. It snows, then it warms up and melts, then it rains, then it freezes at night and then melts the next day while its raining, etcetera.
Life sans indoor arena means walking the razors edge of keeping the horses inside or letting them out in the pasture.
Turning them out is nice because it means not having to clean stalls twice. However, it also means that they’re slip-sliding around like Bambi on ice. Oh yeah, and tearing the everloving hell out of the pasture.
I’m pretty sure I could set Charlie’s blanket on the ground and it would just stand up on its own, the thorough coating of mud and water acting as a type of plaster shell.
Keeping them inside is nice because at least I know the odds of great bodily harm is somewhat diminished. The downside is that after being cooped up in a stall, you know what they look like when they do go out? Bambi on ice… if Bambi had done several tequila shots right before hitting that frozen pond.
So the decision involves choosing the lesser of two evils. I’ve got no formal process for it — I generally just trust my gut and keep my fingers crossed that nobody does something stupid and breaks a leg (that’s a constant in horse ownership, to be honest).
Last Thursday showcased the true ridiculousness of Central Illinois weather by giving us a major case of whiplash: It warmed up to 60 degrees (F) in the early afternoon and then plummeted to 12 degrees by the evening.
Despite the shock of it, it was a brief but welcome respite from frigid winter temperatures. Winter just makes everything having to do with horses harder. Water buckets freeze, turnout is questionable due to snow/ice/slush/mud or any combination of those things, working horses is hard, and even grooming becomes an extra challenge.
Charlie arrived in Illinois with a little bit of New Jersey mud on him. He was also just grimey… dired-on sweat, dead skin, dust, and manure was stuck in his winter coat. I brushed him diligently, but what I REALLY wanted to do was give him a bath.
With temps below zero, though, that obviously was not a great idea. Instead, I concocted a coat conditioning treatment in a spray bottle. Some witch hazel, white vinegar and water made the base. A splash of mineral oil and some drops of essential oils finished it off. I’d spray it on the horses or on my brush, brush vigorously, and the grime would get lifted out of his coat. Vinegar in particular is good at clarifying hair, while witch hazel soothes skin.
This worked out well for both horses, and their coats really shined.
On Thursday, though, I learned an important lesson.
I was working the horses on their newfound buddy sourness. Simon has made a REALLY bad choice a night or two previous by paying too much attention to Charlie, not enough attention to me, and shoving past me. This is actually an offense punishable by death at my barn, but Simon lucked into only having a come-to-Jesus moment about it.
To work on the buddy sourness, I knew I needed to make being together more unpleasant than being apart. This is difficult since they do live in the same barn, so together time includes chilling out, eating, sleeping, etc. For this day, though, we worked on the idea that being apart was chill-out time, with Charlie tied in the barn (with hay and water) and Simon tied out on a tree (with nothing, since he was lucky enough to escape the death sentence) in our ring-shaped paddock. I’d take Charlie to the paddock near Simon, but while he was there he had to work. I lunged him, asking him to trot at a pretty good clip. Then he got to go back into the barn, away from Simon and eat, drink, and chill out. We repeated this a few times.
By the time it started to sink in a bit, Charlie was sweaty from his work, and Simon was a little warm from being outside on a 60 degree day with a winter coat.
They smelled like you’d expect a hot horse to smell, but with a distinct stank of VINEGAR.
I am not one to be sensitive to smells in the slightest, but dealing with these giant, hairy, buddy sour pickles made me queasy. Luckily, it was still near 60 degrees at this point, so each horse got a quick rinse-off bath and then got to spend some time under a cooler.
So I learned my lesson. As nice as vinegar can be on hair, there’s a reason it’s recommended as a hair rinse and not a leave-in treatment. Duly noted, I will not be making THAT mistake again.