February does not start out exactly warm, but pleasant enough. After all, it is February. Wende and I head out for another two-mile walk in the park. We have again forgotten the padlock key and have to climb the gate. Like ten-year-olds. She tells me she would be afraid to walk the park alone. Would I? I have never thought about it – am always on a horse or bike.
The remainder of the day is consumed with my husband’s doctors’ appointments.
It is FREEZING on February 2 – all day! The most I accomplish with the girls is having them back in-and-out of their stalls at treat time.
On February 3, I groom Sparky in the tack room with Luna running loose. When I ask Luna to sit quietly, she, well, sits momentarily. Back at the house, I help Gary into the basement for treadmill walking. Luna watches horse videos. And, bothers Gary.
It has been truly cold for the past few days. I have done little with the girls – mostly been shoveling snow from the drives. But, I help Gary down the stairs for his physical therapy and I pedal my bike for the duration. Luna watches television.
In the evening, my freezing fingers hold treats as the girls back in-and-out of their stalls three times each.
It is already February 13. There has been nothing but extreme cold and heavy snow for the past week. I am missing January! I feed the girls inside the arena in order to not waste hay in the better-than-foot-deep snow. I hand-shovel or snow-blow our drives almost every day and, on one day, I shovel twice. At least I am getting good exercise. I am sure not walking the park with Wende! I bring Ruby into the tack room for a couple of grainings, but do little else with her. When I sit on the arena floor near her hay one evening, she picks my hat off my head.
I have been concerned that Sara and Sparky have been getting the lion’s share of the hay, because I have just two hay nets in the arena – and because their midriffs suggest it. So, I put extra flakes on the floor for Zena but, of course, Sara and Sparky move her off them. And, they give her little time to eat through the hay nets before finishing the free hay and moving her off the net. So, today, I purchase six new hay nets with metal wall attachments – two for the arena and four for the outside pens.
February 14 – Happy Valentine’s Day. It is cold and the snow is deep. My fingers freeze while I install the two new hay racks in the arena. They work well.
Up at the house, Cat is slowly becoming comfortable having Luna around.
Gary turns on the noon news and we learn of the Parkland shooting at Dorothy Stoneman Douglas High School. Dorothy Stoneman Douglas was a life-long advocate for the preservation of the Florida Everglades. She never dreamed the nation would know her name for a far more insidious reason. Rights come with responsibilities. Not just personal rights and responsibilities; but social rights and civic responsibilities. If, as gun owners, we want easy access to guns, then we must be responsible enough to contribute to a solution to this national problem. We need to come to the table.
On February 18, I pull out the four wooden name plates that Kim and her granddaughters gave me for Christmas, and attach them to the girls’ stalls.
February 19 ~ Snow is sliding off the arena roof and making Sara crazy. The others follow suit. Silly crazy in and out of the arena.
On February 20, it RAINS all day! Amazing. For the first time in months, I think about whether my November roof-top tar patching will keep my dining room dry. The window thermostat reads 52-degrees at 8:30 in the morning. The yard is rough but green, with no more than a couple minor mounds of snow left from my shoveling. Out toward the round pen, fog rises off the remaining snow. The girls have spent the night with snow sliding off their arena roof and, when I walk in, I find them standing in the arena – tentative.
The tack room held the cool of the night and is now chillier than the out-of-doors. Everything is damp. Some might say this is dirty or dingy but I find it earthy, musty.
I toss my goose-down cap on the window sill and remove my jacket just long enough to pull my sweatshirt off over my head. Re-zipping my jacket, I head out to pick the arena – using the barrow because there is no snow on which to slide the manure sled. Afterward, I pick four more barrows from the chute and part of the pen; stepping with care to not slip on patches of muddied ice – until the drizzle becomes rain and I have to cry uncle. With the tools tucked away, I share a moment of each girl’s breakfast time, finger-scrubbing their withers as they pick at their hay bags. When I reach Ruby, I lay my back against the half-wall and slide down on my haunches. I could lay comfortably tucked down here, a foot from Ruby’s face, forever. She sorts through the stems with a surprisingly agile muzzle, searching for the sweetest leaves; stopping twice to touch my face before returning to the task at hand. When she wanders off for a drink, I wander up to the house.
February 21 and a beautiful 50-degrees. Scary but wonderful! I leave Luna up at the house because the pens are manure-y mud. It seems like a good morning to walk Ruby out back for breakfast, but she has other ideas and does not want to venture past the pine arch. So, we return to the arena and I finish picking the wet pens. Twelve yards of course chippy sawdust arrives in the afternoon. The driver deposits it in the far corner of the arena – in my old draft horse stall. When he drives away, I unchain the stalls and let the girls wander while I work. Ruby is the first to investigate. While I shovel new sawdust into the hay cart, she hangs so close that I can hardly swing the pitchfork. She walks at the side of my cart for every load of sawdust I take outside – like ten of them! At times, while I refill, I think she is dozing, or at least trying to. What a puppy.
February 22 ~ Luna is with me this morning. It is a chilly 30-degrees and surprisingly dry – considering how much water was standing around yesterday. I open the trail gate before returning to Ruby’s stall to halter her. By the time I unchain her stall, Luna is already out the trail gate, and Ruby goes trotting after her. By the time I get to the door, I see that they are past the end of the east pen. Ruby waits for me – or for my treat. Luna takes off again and Ruby follows, leaving me to catch up. We repeat this all the way back to the grain tub which is a-l-m-o-s-t to the back of the property. With Luna’s paws in the tub, they share Ruby’s breakfast. I finally have to use my switch to keep Luna out long enough for Ruby to finish the last of her grain.
Our return trip to the barn is jolly. What a funny word to pop into my head! Luna scampers off the path often. Ruby wonders at her but mostly stays with me. She trots on ahead, leaving me to think she is getting ready to canter to the barn but, then, she stops and waits. She can tell that I am repeatedly calling Luna back to the path and encouraging her toward the barn. Oh, Geez, am I becoming part of a girl-triangle? Maybe, Ruby trusts Luna as her field guide more than she trust me. They are going to become BFF’s without me!!! But, no, not yet. Luna runs ahead while Ruby stays at my side; and we enjoy each other’s company the rest of the way to the barn.
I fill and roll another five loads of sawdust into the back pen, and dump it where the rain runs off the arena roof. Ruby stands in the draft horse stall, sawdust piling around her legs, and communes with me; while Luna lays way across the arena at the chute slider, where she can monitor both inside and out.
Nasty sleet is supposed to be upon us by morning but, tonight, the barn is crisp and quiet. I ask each girl to back out-and-into their stalls. On the first request, I ask only for the front feet to come out. I think that sets them up for the exercise. On the second request, I ask them to bring their rump just to the opening and, on the third, I want them to come all of the way out, and then back in. This has been difficult for Sparky but, tonight, she comes out far enough to leave a foot of space between her butt and the stall – and successfully backs back in. Sara leaves two feet of space. Even Zena, who has trouble backing regardless of where I ask, comes all the way out and manages to back herself back in. This is all untethered – with no halter or lead. They could simply walk off into the arena if they wanted. It is Ruby who is having trouble tonight – and she is usually the best. As soon as she emerges, she swings her hip until it is too far to the side for her to contemplate getting it back into the stall. This exercise is actually a combination of Parelli’s yo-yo and driving games. I should be able to use just my eyes to ask her to line that hip up to the stall door opening. We will have to practice the driving game. While they are eating hay, Sparky comes to ask for more games. She is pawing the ground. That was the beginning of the lay-down exercise that I have not been able to progress. Tonight, for the first time, I am able to get her to back up while I am standing at her rib cage, facing forward. Ruby is a pro at that.
February 23 ~ I leave Luna up at the house this morning so that I can bring each of the girls into the tack room. One-on-one, we pick feet, spray manes and tails with conditioner, and trim three inches off each tail. I skip brushing because I do not want to work wetness into their undercoats. Considering the thawing manure we have had in the winter pens, their feet look surprisingly good.
Ruby takes my helmet off its hook, so I put it on my head. She picks up a brush and so I use it on her. She picks up a towel and so I scrub her all over with it. The saddle pad she pulls from the rack goes on her back; and so does the old Abetta saddle. But, I do not leave it there long because the stirrups and cinch are all piled precariously on top of it, and I do not want it to slide to the floor.
She again picks up the towel, so I put it on her back before asking her to follow me into the arena. But, she just stares out the door into the causeway, as if she is wary of walking through with the thin little towel on her back. This is still a fear holdover from that saddle scare months ago. How many tiny, little, negative, life-withholding triggers do we have stuck in the corners of our minds? Now, she walks on through and we go on with our day.
Luna joins me for evening feed and has a jolly good time with Sara and Luna. Both girls have their muzzles all over Luna’s head. How can that dog sit for that? I am so jealous of the trust she has with these horses. She sits stone still as an invitation for them to enter her personal space. Zena licks up her chest. I can see Zena’s tongue from where I stand by the wheelbarrow. Sara observes before venturing a little lipping of her own. I think I could learn a lot from Luna.
February 25 ~ Well, let’s Rock-N-Roll this morning! It is a crisp 40-degrees and Luna heads out as soon as I open the trail gate. When she realizes Ruby is still in her stall, she races back in to retrieve her. Ruby takes her halter and her treat before heading out after Luna. But, she stops at the end of the arena, at the open trail gate, and waits for me – and a treat. Then, with nary a moment to waste, she canters down the outside of the east pen, all the way to the end, where Luna is messing around in the pines. Ruby waits for me to catch up – for another treat. At sixty-five, I am only willing to walk. She pounces away, back up toward the barn, gives a buck, and canters back out past me and the pines. Luna is already off into the field. Every hundred feet or so, Ruby holds up for me, takes her treat and canters on. When we are vey near the black feed tub – and very near to where the path turns to the west, she pounces to a stop, lifts her ears high, and lets out a snort that would send the biggest buck running. I am wondering whether she actually did send a deer running, but I will never know.
She finishes her breakfast while Luna wanders well off into the pines to do her morning duty. Ruby lifts her head to watch. I am wondering whether she can smell Luna’s business from this far away. All we can do is wonder about their parallel universe. Well, that’s not entirely true. I find it fascinating to read what scientists are discovering through quantifiable and qualifiable peer-review research – but we sure have a long way to go! When Luna is finished, Ruby goes back to eating. Our return trip to the barn is almost as raucous as the trip out. Ruby trots and stops, nibbles the nothingness along the edges of the path, picks up a canter, trots back and, every so often comes to me, or waits for me, for a treat. When she reaches the pine arch she throws up a huge buck and high-tails it for the arena. When I amble on in, she is waiting by the water tank. Having drunk from the six inches left from last night, she reminds me that hauling out the hose is on my morning list.
While the girls munch hay in their stalls, I move five hay wagons-ful of sawdust out the trail door to reinforce the path that has eroded under the horses’ hooves and the runoff from the arena roof. Luna sits at the slider opening where she can watch the horses and watch me work.
After putting hay and the girls in the back pens, I lay a few loads of sawdust in the west side of the east pen and head up to the house. Gary has an appointment to pick up a pair of specialty medical shoes to even up a half-inch imbalance caused by minor scoliosis – a curvature of the spine. Inserts have not worked in the past so, now, they have removed the sole from a right shoe, attached a lift to the bottom of the shoe, and re-applied the sole. Hopefully, this will improve his balance enough for him to feel comfortable once again walking woodland trails. If this words, I will encourage him to invest in a similar pair of hiking boots. It would be good for his soul to be back in the woods.
I spend the early morning of the 25th spreading more fresh sawdust outside the trail gate and along the path that the horses have worn round the corner of the east pen, before heading off for a political meeting with a good friend from my NOW chapter.
February 26 ~ Well, this is interesting. I open the trail gate and Luna rushes out. I release Ruby from her stall and she trots down to the trail gate and … stops. When I catch up to her, she is still standing – pondering the bright new sawdust path. I step outside and encourage her to do the same. When she seems to be in tow, with Luna on ahead of us, I walk the length of the pen – but I do not hear Ruby coming behind me. When I turn, she is heading back into the arena. And, by the time I step back inside the trail gate, she is standing quietly in her stall waiting for her grain. I think it is just the fresh sawdust on the trail that has her confused. Whatever. I leave the four girls eating their first flake of hay in their stalls so that I can install the new hay racks outside without Ruby getting into my tools. I only have the time and energy to put up two before heading back to the house to take Gary for his physical therapy. I will have to hang the other two tomorrow.
February 27 ~ Fifty-degrees at the end of February. Who woulda thunk? In years past, Gary and I would just now be flying out of a hard Michigan winter with a couple dozen university biology majors – for snorkeling and studying Caribbean reef ecology – and hoping that we would not return to find our cars buried under a foot of snow at the airport! The two blue hay racks I installed on the east side of the divider fence yesterday seem to have worked just fine with afternoon hay. So, this morning, I install two more on the west side of the same fence. With the horses being able to wander between the two pens at will, Zena will be able to eat at peace from Sparky. I figure Sparky is not so much of a witchy-witch that she would make the effort to walk all the way around the fence row just to move Zena off her hay. The weather is beautiful all day; and we sleep with our bedroom window wide open all night. In February! In February!!!
It is the last day of February and 50-degrees. I walk Luna around the ten and tuck her back in the house before heading to the barn. I am thinking Ruby and I will have a quiet lead-line walk out back but, by the time we are halfway past the east pen, she has made it pretty clear she is not comfortable. I remove the lead and she settles right down. We walk all the way out together and, after eating, she walks all the way back with me. I need to do more work on the lead because there will be times where she will just have to be on a lead. Sounds like I am talking about a dog.
So, after picking pens, we play the circling game on line.
Gary appears with Luna and asks whether I want to walk the ten with them. This is the first time since his October surgery that he has donned his coat and ventured outside on his own, so I do not tell him that Luna and I already walked the ten earlier. Luna does not spill the beans either, and we enjoy a long slow walk.
In the afternoon, a second twelve yards of sawdust is delivered and I spread better than half of it. I ask the driver to bring another load next week.