Friday, September 02, 2005

This morning dawned misty and cool; rather typical for early September. However, by mid-morning, the fog had burned away, there were few clouds, and the sky was brilliantly blue. First on my list was to rinse out and refill the water vats in each pasture.

Because the horses live full time in pastures, we keep vats of about 40 gallons from which they drink. We have a rain barrel that has a hose out of the bottom, which we put onto the tailgate of the pick-up truck, fill, and then drive out to whatever pastures the horses are in. First I visited the Walker-Red-Sage pasture, and while dumping the vat and scrubbing it, Red had to come and stick his head into the vat to see what I was doing. Such fun, a horse head, my head, shoulders, and arms, and my brush, all scrubbing the bottom of the vat! He is always such a helper.

Once clean, I began to refill it. Red, of course, supervised most of the work, and as I was standing there making sure he didn't flip the hose out of the vat, like he loves to do, I felt this nuzzling on the back of my neck. I turned to find Sage "right there", up close and very personal. Mind, Sage and I are not what you would consider "pals"; his favorite past time with me is testing me..."Are you still leader?" he asks several times each day. So, I was quite surprised that he nuzzled me. I gave him a loving rub, and then went back through the fence to the truck.

Next-up was the Glory-Beau-Jack vat, and Beau was right there to supervise the work. Glory always trusts that I'll perform my duties correctly, but Beau occasionally likes to look on. Today, he too was feeling affectionate, and while I worked, he stood very close, with just his body hair touching me. Once or twice, he even wrapped his head and neck around me. So many people would be terrified by this behaviour in a stallion, but they don't know Beau. He lives for affection and to please.

Once watering duties were accomplished it was time to pick pooh. I was determined to really get it all out, as the rain two days before, from the remnants of Hurricane Katrina, had inhibited getting it out. There is nothing more wonderful than filling a wheelbarrow full of sodden, soaked horse manure, and then dragging said wheelbarrow though ankle deep mud to dump it in the pile. Why, you may ask, do I bother? Firstly, it is just that the pastures look more tidy, but most importantly, it helps with both control of reinfestation of parasites (gut worms) and with fertilization of the pastures. Manure, as it rots, will "burn" the vegetation, and if left in clumps, will not rot as quickly. Since we do not have a tractor yet, I remove the manure by hand, and make sure that what is left behind is thin and can either dry, or rot quickly, there in the pasture. Today's work was arduous and took the better part of four hours. I will not regale you with the stories of plopping and bouncing manure balls, but I can describe the time spent.

As I mentioned it was beautiful. The horses were happily grazing until the heat set in and the face flies became bothersome. I have learned to do my work with my mouth closed because of the flies, having had one attempt to visit my lungs, I have decided I didn't want to enjoy that sensation again. And since my hands are quite busy with the whatever work I'm enjoying, I have learned to flip my ponytail, and quiver my skin, just like our horses do to rid themselves of these tickling creatures. At one point, I found myself near one of our wild apple trees; these ones are red, and so I picked three. They are not big, but about the size of ping-pong balls. I have not tasted them, but the horses delight in apple snacks, no matter size or lack of sweetness. First up was Walker, and oh, her love of apples rivals Glory's! Walker is a slave to her stomach, truly, and I have used clicker training with great success with her. Yet, for all her love of food, she is always quite delicate when taking something from your hand. Walker is a strict alpha-mare, but highly conscientious about her duties, namely to make sure all in her herd are safe. Snatching something from a human is far from her mind.

Then I visited with Sage, but he preferred to play with his apple. Actually he is one of the few horses I have ever known that does not particularly enjoy them; carrots yes, apples "no thank you". However, that doesn't prevent me from offering, as with all youngsters, they can change their minds at any given moment. Sage eventually lost his apple to his mom (I did tell you she loves apples).

Red, waited patiently for me to make it to him. This is unusual with Red, as food is even more important to him than it is loved by Walker. You see, Red was rescued from a neglectful situation by his previous owner. She worked hard and lovingly to restore him to health and happiness; but his concern over not getting enough to eat will always be with him. He is often rather "bully-ish" about getting to his bucket, or his pile of hay, but today he was content to wait his turn. I made sure to reward that and gave him two small apples.

Later in my work, I found myself by another apple tree, and was surprised to discover that these apples are turning Yellow as they ripen! They are also much larger than the small red ones; perhaps the size of billiard balls. This I couldn't resist trying for myself! I found a branch with a nice sized one that I could reach over the electric fence. Getting zapped on the underarm was not what I had in mind for my fun today! I snagged the apple, examined it for worm damage (none) and brazenly bit into it. I expected a tart, slightly astringent taste/feel, but what I got was a lightly sweet and juicy one! YUM! Oh,oh, Red spied me, and looked expectantly. How could I resist our Patrick Stewart of horsedom? Red is fully, a handsome, loving horse, who has given his affection to us. I am, fortunately for him, a softee. I shared my apple with him. He enjoyed it.

I took a break for lunch, and to cool off some before going to work in Beau's pasture. Today, I worked quickly in here, which is unusual as Jack thinks that I am "his" and typically follows me around, presenting himself for scratches, or investigating the wheelbarrow, trying to lift the fork, etc. As I wandered over the hill, looking for my treasures, I was amazed to find that many of the clammy ground cherries had developed fruit in their husks. Clammy ground cherries, while toxic in both plant and unripe fruit, are related to the Chinese Lantern of ornamental gardens, and their ripe fruit can be used in jams or pies. When I first saw them growing this past spring, I had no idea what they were, but the leaf reminded me of a tomato plant, and the flower, a yellow, bell-shaped one with brown center, reminded me of tomatillos. While tomatillos can self-seed up here in Vermont, I could not imagine that any had been grown on this farm considering it had last been used as such back in the 1930's. I had to find my Audubon book of North American Wildflowers to discover what the plants were. According to the book, it is a member of the Nightshade family and related to Jimson Weed (look like wild morning glories) and Horse Nettle. The horses avoid them, as there is plenty of good forage in their pastures. As we can we will be liming the pastures, and this will help to bring down the number of broadleaf weeds that now grow in them. At any rate, I'm not sure that I'll ever harvest the fruit from the ground cherries, as I don't know anyone who knows when they are ripe, or how much sugar they'd need in a pie. Some things in my life will just go undiscovered.

As I made my way down toward the end of the pasture, Jack could stay away no longer, and presented himself to me. He adores scratches. His withers are good, but his favorite spots are his neck and chest. Scratch him there and he sticks his neck out like he was a giraffe, and his upper lip grows into the size of an elephant's trunk. At first, he thought to groom me while I scratched him, but gently I taught him that grooming a human wasn't acceptable. If Glory or Beau is near, he will reach over and groom them. The urge for mutual grooming is that strong! But he refrains from grooming me, though I can see in his eye the desire to. I tell him I am happy to have him just stand by me, and this he will often do. With me, he is polite and gentle. Not that he hasn't nipped me, or tried to. That is how youngsters of the horse world get others to play, by a little nip and a dash away. So, yes, he has snagged me twice when I was distracted, but there is never any aggression from him, and now I am ready for his playful moods and watch his eyes carefully. He is definitely his daddy's boy, as Beau had the same daring glint in his eyes when he wanted to play. When I see that in Jack, and find that scratching will not deter it, I find acceptable ways for him to play with me...often it is my hat. He loves my hat, and will pick it up, shake it, toss it around, and grab it up again. Of course, I tell him he is smart and a good boy when he does this, so he has learned that it is a good way to play with a human. Today, he was content with scratches, though, and quietly being together.

I am so blessed to be able to share my life with these beings. I have learned much, and the joy I have from just being in the same space as they, is hard to express. I would wish that everyone could find such peace and pleasure in their lives.