Sunday, April 25, 2010

A day for hanging out with the horses

This weekend we've got six horses to look after: our two, two for a friend who's recovering from minor surgery, and two for folks who are either out of town or can't make it to the barn for a couple of days.

All these horses get their basic needs met without our intervention, mind you. They get grain twice a day and hay once a day. During the week they're turned out into the dry lot pasture and their stalls get mucked out. But on weekends they're stuck in their stalls all day, and it's not much fun for them, so most of us try hard to get out to the barn and get them out on Saturdays and Sundays.

I scarcely made it out of the arena barn. Spent a lot of time with "Raja", an elderly Egyptian Arabian who holds a special place in my heart because he taught me how soft horse muzzles are, and how gentle horse kisses can be. Raja's teeth are very, very worn, and he's been having a hard time eating the hard grain that the horses are fed at the barn. Over the winter he lost a tremendous amount of weight, and this spring he's alarmingly thin.

I think Raja is also a little depressed, because even when his owner switched his feed to the softer senior-type grain, he often simply refused to eat. He's had his teeth floated and the vet has looked him over without finding any illness or metabolic issues. He stands out in the pasture alone, head down, and refuses grooming or attention by the other horses. It worries me.

So when his owner said she was going to be out of pocket for a couple of weeks, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with him and see if I could get some weight back on him. We discovered that there is a different brand of senior feed (Nutrena, the one we feed Midnight) that Raja will eat if it's moistened. Sometimes he'll eat it on his own, but more often, he requires a little encouragement. Yesterday, by hand-feeding him, I got about 4 quarts of it down him. That' probably more than he's eaten in one day for months. We were very pleased.

Raja also will eat grass--in fact, he eats it greedily, so we spend at least a few minutes a day out on the lane. Can't let him have too much at a time. Horses have such weird digestive systems! This time of the spring, when everything is lush and growing and they're SO hungry for greens, they can easily make themselves sick in a matter of hours.

After a couple of hours with him, I put Raja back in his stall to nap and went down to get Galahad. I was going to ride him back to the arena barn like I always do, but as I led him out, the sky darkened and it started to thunder. Fortunately, I decided to lead him instead.

We had no sooner gotten to the arena barn than the tornado alert sirens went off and it started to hail. The arena barn has a high, huge tin roof, and Galahad was sure that someone was throwing rocks at him and he was going to be killed in the next instant. Being a horse, his instinct was to jerk away from me and bolt. I managed to keep hold of the rope and move with him for a minute or so, but eventually it was let go or be dragged. I thought he would run back toward his stall, but for some reason he wanted to go into the arena, and one of the lesson instructors standing at the gate caught the rope.

I wonder if he wanted to be with the other horses in the arena--there was a lesson going on. The lesson horses, having lived through thunder, lightning, and the crash and din of hail and driving rain on that tin barn roof for years, just stood calmly while their young riders dismounted. I let Galahad watch them, and eventually he did calm down and stand almost as quietly.

This went on for a good 45 minutes. The hail didn't last long, but the rain was torrential. After ten or fifteen minutes, the instructors continued the lesson, and about the time it finished, the rain quit and the sun came out. An exciting afternoon, but not one I'd really care to repeat.

The rest of the afternoon was much quieter. I hand-fed Raja, got food ready for the other five, cleaned and bandaged gouged fetlocks on two of them, and put all the tack and equipment away.

Riding wasn't even on the radar, but it was a wonderful day. Just hanging around horses is so satisfying. I'm counting my blessings.

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