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If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ve met these characters many times.

And if you’re a new reader, welcome! Soon enough you’ll be on a first name basis.

I’ve dubbed them the “Herd of Oldsters,” which includes our two old sweeties, Bud and Pepper, Amigo, Red, Chickadee, Joe, Mama and Brio (the youngster of the group.)

Occasionally another horse or two gets into the mix, but on a consistent basis, this is the group that lines up at the fence for treats.

They know me. I consider them to be my friends and I think the feeling is mutual. As I hand out alfalfa cubes or horse candy, we talk. Well, to be a bit more precise, I talk and they listen.

Horses are excellent listeners.

I ask how their day is going. I comment on the weather. I hand out compliments, because who ever gets enough of those?

I recently learned that some of the other boarders have been watching me. Behind my back I may even be called “that crazy horse lady.”  No one’s said it directly to me, but you know how you get a vibe?  What I have heard is, “Oh, so you’re the one that feeds her horses out of the back of the car.” I nod yes, wondering briefly what they’re really thinking. Then I let it go, because really, I don’t care. It’s one of the benefits of aging. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin.

A few days ago, Red’s people were having a visit with him. He’s such a sweet old guy, even when he believes his own PR about being a wild and wooly Mustang. So there he stood with two mothers and four preschoolers fawning over him. He was the soul of discretion, and being so careful with the little ones.

But a small part of him was looking longingly toward me handing out goodies. He seemed torn – so glad to see his people, but hating that he was missing out on his share of treats. Even his owner noticed. “I think he’d rather be in the “cookie brigade,” she said.

That’s how our new nickname was born. The Cookie Brigade has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

By the way, I think she was mistaken, because Red appeared to be totally grooving on all the special attention he was getting. It always makes me happy when one of our oldsters gets to spend time with his or her peeps.

Now when you hear me use the term Cookie Brigade in future posts, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

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People often go to extraordinary lengths to feed their companion animals.

We buy rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, open cans of tuna and jars of baby food. We cook lamb and rice into a casserole of sorts for ailing animals. We fret when our beloved animal friends aren’t eating and vow to do “whatever it takes” to get them back on the road to health.

I’m no exception.

We have a fairly elaborate process of food prep for Bud and Pepper.

Some days I feel as if I’m on the Food Channel for Horses! A scoop of this, a pinch of that, a dollop of the other; add medicine and stir well.

Enticing our two old sweeties to eat has become my daily goal.

Keeping weight on aging horses is a constant challenge. Old teeth, old digestive systems and simply being “set in their ways” complicate things.

When horses lose too much weight, they don’t fare well. Especially in winter, they need every pound they can create to keep warm and healthy.

We had our veterinarian out to check Bud and Pepper this week. She was concerned that both had lost weight. Even with my efforts to supplement their hay with delicious, medicine-laced recipes.

And treats.

We can’t forget the pounds and pounds of hay cubes and horse candy we’ve gone through.

But the truth is this: winter is hard on our sweet old things. The pasture is bare and they have to wait for the hay truck to deliver their food. And once it comes, the oldsters are at the end of the chain. Because they are old and vulnerable, they don’t fight for their fair share of hay. When a younger, stronger horse wants their food, Bud and Pepper just move away. We’re not sure how much hay they are actually getting. This is where living with your horses would help so much.

Our vet suggested that we supplement their grain with oil – good old fat is what they need. “Pour a couple of glugs of corn oil or soybean oil on their grain,” she suggested.

If only it were that simple.

We did use soybean oil last winter. I remember how long it took Miss P. to accept it. I had to start with one tablespoon at a time, gradually increasing to a glug, and then a couple of glugs.

For those of you who don’t cook, glug is not an official cooking term!

Just being perfectly transparent here.

Well yesterday I blew it.

Totally.

I ignored the gradual reintroduction method and poured the tiniest possible glug of oil on both pans of grain.

Mixed well and served it up.

Pepper was the first to react. She took one sniff and walked away. Then she returned and sniffed again as if she couldn’t believe what she’d just smelled. But she was right. As far as she was concerned, I’d added poison to her food. She looked at me with those big brown eyes. “What were you thinking?”

She was incredulous.

Incensed.

Even huffy.

She kept nosing the pan until she finally spilled it.

“If you think I’m eating this, you are sorely mistaken,” she said in horse-speak.

She took a few nibbles of Bud’s grain, certain that he had fared better.

But of course he hadn’t.

He wasn’t eating much of his grain either.

I’d committed the cardinal sin of introducing a new food too quickly.

Too much oil.

Simple as that.

Eventually Bud dumped the rest of his grain too.

I guess he felt he had to make the same statement as Pepper.

I reluctantly returned them to the pasture, picked up the empty grain pans and headed for home.

Discouraged.

Disappointed in myself.

Worried that they hadn’t had anything to eat.

First thing I did when I got home was to find a tablespoon and set it beside the jugs of oil.

Tomorrow’s another day.

 

“It is after all December in Colorado,” I say to myself in a weak attempt to explain to my body why stamping my feet and wearing my warmest outerwear isn’t helping keep me warm.

We’re in a cold snap right now. Temps at night have dipped into negative numbers. And we’re all freezing.

Horse and human.

And cold horses mean hungry horses.

When the pasture is covered in snow, there isn’t much nourishment to be found.

And that hay delivery never seems like enough.

We supplement with daily grain feedings dosed with medicine for our two old sweeties.

I know it’s the difference between life and death for Miss Pepper, whose weight hovers around “scarily thin” through the winter.

While Bud and Pepper enjoy their grain, we hand out hay cubes or horse candy to the remaining members of the Herd of Oldsters: Amigo, Red and Chickadee.

On occasion we also give treats to Mama and her son Brio.

And Old Joe.

And sometimes one or two others.

Yes, we’re suckers.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you already know that.

I simply can’t turn away from those eager, hungry faces.

We’re friends.

And friends don’t let friends go hungry.

Period.

End of discussion.

One especially chilly day this week, I became fascinated with frosty whiskers. Amigo, Red, Chickadee and an unknown interloper became my quasi-willing subjects. Anything for a hay cube seemed to be their motto.

In the end, we all got what we wanted.

Isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Chickadee hasn’t been with the Herd of Oldsters for a while. She sometimes does this, so I wasn’t worried at first. She’ll spend time with others in the larger herd, and then rejoin the Oldsters. She fits right into both herds. I think it may be due to her docile nature. Chickadee is one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever met.

But after a few days of not seeing her, I decided to track her down. I’d had one bad experience with Baby being snatched from the herd with no warning, and I didn’t want another.

My emotions couldn’t take it.

And I suspect, neither could yours.

I found her in a stall in the barn. She’s had an eye infection before and I guess it flared up again. She’s being kept out of the wind and dust and hopefully with the help of the vet and medication, the infection is healing.

At the moment, Chickadee looks like one sad girl. She’s lonely in the barn. She misses her friends. She told me this when I stopped in to visit. As I entered the barn I heard her unmistakable nicker. She was inquiring if I’d brought a nugget or two of horse candy. And as it turns out, I did have a couple of treats in my pocket. No surprise there!

I stroked her neck and said as many soothing things as I could think of. I told her what was happening in the pasture and how Bud, Pepper, Amigo and Red missed her. Chickadee listened, though kept bringing me back to the topic of snacks. I read the feeding instructions on her stall. There was nothing written that said snacks were off limits, so I figured it was okay.  She snarfed down the two bites of candy and gave me a tender smile.

If you’ve had the pleasure of eating hospital food, you know how good a little snack tastes.

Something from the outside world.

Hopefully you have friends who would smuggle treats to you like I did for Chickadee. Hey, what are friends for if not to cheer you when you’re down and out?

P.S. Send your healing thoughts toward Chickadee and the barn. She needs to get back to the pasture and her pals.

“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

This quotation from author Ernestine Ulmer seems to be Pepper’s new motto.

About a week ago we started something new when we were feeding our two old sweeties. We moved the bucket of Horse Candy and the bucket of alfalfa cubes away from the back of the pickup. There’s a wooden mounting stand a few feet away, closer to the fence and the rest of the hungry herd. We set the two buckets there.

We moved the goodies to set up a separate coffee and dessert bar. Something upscale for our horses.

Okay, not really.

We moved them because Miss Pepper couldn’t concentrate on eating her grain, which is dosed with Bute. It’s made a huge difference in the pain in her old, arthritic knees, so getting the medicine into her is important.

My husband came up with the idea to remove the goodies from Pepper’s line of sight.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Right?

It was a good idea, and worked well for a few days.

When she and Bud finished their grain she would lead them to the dessert bar for their treats.

But Miss Pepper is one smart cookie.

Last night when we opened the gate, she walked straight to the dessert bar. No more messing around with the grain.

She was all over eating her dessert first.

She dipped her head into the bucket of alfalfa cubes and began eating. She seemed quite pleased with herself.

Smart cookie!

Rick got her pointed back to the truck and her pan of grain.

She took a few nibbles and as soon as we weren’t looking, back she walked to the dessert bar.

See what I mean about her being smart?

Once again we re-directed her to the pan of grain.

Big sigh from one brown mare.

And then slowly she began to chew her grain, bit by bit.

You’d think it was poison.

A couple of times she looked toward me, her brown eyes pleading for an invitation.

I had to make sure I wasn’t looking directly at her. I have no willpower. Have you figured out that I am the indulgent one in our family?

It’s not a big leap.

Finally, she was finished with her dinner.

Right away, she walked to the dessert bar, her head high.

“Now I know you won’t send me back,” her expression seemed to say.

Of course, she was right.

She gulped down as many snacks as she could possible get into her mouth at any one time. She looked like a contestant in a pie-eating contest at the County Fair.

It wasn’t all that pretty.

Bud was still at the truck, gleaning up every bit of grain he could find. He hasn’t quite figured out the new system.

Eventually he ambled toward Pepper, who was still happily munching on treats. Who knows how long she would stand there sampling dessert?

It’s a rhetorical question.

What woman in her right mind could answer such a question?

I can’t wait to see what Miss Pepper has in mind for tomorrow.

I love how she keeps us on our toes.

When I drove out of the parking lot of the grocery store in the late afternoon yesterday, it was raining. The sky was a dull blue-black color and the clouds were dark, menacing really.

The wind had blown leaves off trees and I wondered for a moment if we’d had a tornado.

Or microburst.

Come to think of it, I could hear thunder while I was rolling up and down the aisles, reading labels and trying to buy healthy food.

In the car with the wipers swooshing back and forth in front of me, I made a decision not to go feed the horses.

I figured they’d be hunkered down in the shed anyway.

And it would be a mess out at the pasture.

Was I really ready to deal with mud again?

Besides, I had a to-do list the length of my right leg, which happens to be slightly longer than my left leg. So my list was really long! (Sorry if that falls into the category of Too Much Information!)

We’re getting ready for company; I’m working on a big old project with lots of deadlines, and my husband was working late.

All respectable reasons to skip a feeding.

But in the middle of cleaning house, working, putting the groceries away and folding laundry, it stopped raining.

It got quite nice, as Colorado is known to do.

And I realized that I needed some horse time. Time that required me to slow down, settle down, and simply be with the horses.

So I loaded up grain and meds, changed my clothes and headed for the pasture.

I’m so glad that I changed my mind.

Because if I’d stayed home cleaning bathrooms I would have missed this gorgeous view.

It turns out my guys were in the far end of the pasture, not in the shed with the other horses. The ones they don’t care to be around.

The air was cool.

The sun was setting, giving a lovely glow to everything.

And the horses were playful. They popped up their heads when they finally recognized me.

Pepper started the caravan toward the gate.

At first they walked  with me, but that didn’t last long. And Miss H. (formerly Hanger, but still without a new nickname. We’re considering all your suggestions.) wasn’t with them. I think she has a boyfriend.

Hey, where is she?

Yes, they beat me to the gate. At first all I could see was a row of horse behinds. Then Pepper, ever the vigilant girl, saw me and turned as if to say, “Could ya get a move on?”

The other four continued to look for me outside the gate. Maybe they were looking for my husband who often accompanies me to the pasture in the evenings. Yes, that’s it. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Bud and Pepper went right to their feed pans once I opened the gate. They munched and crunched and nosed around for treats. Bud eventually wandered off to graze in the hay field while Pepper finished eating.

I thought.

I took this photo of Bud grazing and enjoying life. And while I was distracted, Miss Pepper decided to help herself. I heard the crash and knew immediately what it was.

Horse candy.

All over the ground. And one very proud-of-herself Quarter Horse thinking she’d hit the mother lode.

See for yourself. I have it all in living color.

Pepper is busted.

I picked up the spilled candy, and walked Pepper back to her friends. Then I did the same with Bud.

I gave everyone a rub on the forehead and one more treat for good measure.

As I drove toward home I realized my breathing was slower, my shoulders were back down where they are supposed to live on my body, and I was smiling. Actually I was laughing at the look on Pepper’s face as she dove into the spilled treats.

Ah…..horse therapy.

Thanks guys.

Then it was back to cleaning the bathroom.

I seem to be on a food kick lately. Hope you don’t mind.

We’ve been part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for several years now. Every week from June through October we pick up our share of veggies from Happy Heart Farm. It’s a wonderful way to eat local, support small business farmers, and have a supply of fresh, organic, delicious vegetables. The lettuce we’re enjoying right now has only traveled a few miles from field to our table. It’s wonderful – tender and sweet.

So right now at the farm the greens are coming on like gangbusters. Over the course of the growing season we typically get a lot of kale and chard. Both are power-packed veggies, so good for a person it ought to be illegal to eat them.

My husband agrees with the making them illegal part, though for a different reason. He’s suffering from chard/kale burnout. This isn’t a good thing so early in the season. He/we have many servings of kale in our summer future.

Last year the kale and chard were prolific. Every week I’d carry armfuls home from the farm. I steamed it, braised it, put it in soups and stews, and even ate it raw in a few salads. Neither of us was fond of that last option.

I don’t think Rick is alone in his lukewarm relationship with kale and chard. I’m betting most men would land on Rick’s side if a vote were taken. For some reason, men don’t really love greens. I know I’m making a sweeping generalization here, and I welcome your comments to the contrary. But in my small sample of one or two men, kale and chard always lose.

The noble mustang waiting for treats

Remember Red, Pepper’s mustang boyfriend? He’d be on Rick’s side.

I’ve talked about the alfalfa cubes and how Miss Pepper loves them. I’ve told you how Rick plays hay cube toss to entertain him and the horses.

And me!

The one horse out of our little band that isn’t thrilled with the cubes of dried green is Red.

The mustang.

Proud traveler of the plains.

Wild man of the west.

This bad boy has a sweet tooth the size of Nevada. He and Bud share a fondness for Horse Candy. When I hand out treats, Red is first in line, waiting not too patiently for his share of the sweet morsels.

Every so often I slip in a hay cube. And most of the time, Red spits it out. The look of disappointment in his eyes is almost painful to me.

If I weren’t smiling, that is. It kind of amuses me.

Does that make me a bad person?

I hope not.

The way his face looks when he gets that first bite of alfalfa cube looks very similar to Rick when he sees that kale is on our dinner table. Perhaps the only difference is that Rick doesn’t spit it out. In fact, he graciously eats whatever I cook. He’s learned that about making marriage work!

And I’m grateful.

How about you and your family? Greens eaters or no?

Bud absolutely loves this little treat. I mean to say he adores, is crazy about, goes gaga over horse candy.

Like good parents, we insist that he finish his grain before he gets to eat candy. Since he’s a food gobbler, as described in an earlier post, he can dispatch his pan of grain in short order.

That’s when he starts nosing around the candy bucket.

On many occasions, he’s been able to use those prehensile lips to open the lid, if I’m not paying close enough attention. The candy goes flying to the ground and Bud does his best imitation of innocence.

“Oops.” The look on his face tells me he’s as surprised as I am.

“I was just trying to get a little snack. I have no idea why the whole darn bucket of candy is on the ground.”

He noses around and then, never one to pass up a snack, he plucks one or two or twenty from the dirt. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

In his younger years, feeding treats to Bud was like plugging a parking meter with dimes. You just kept on feeding the meter, one after the other. He did a bang up imitation of a squirrel, with his cheeks packed with candy.

These days, he’s slowed down a bit because of his teeth. He’s missing a couple on the bottom, which make chewing more difficult. Translation: there’s a LOT of spillage.

But spillage or no, we have a routine, and as far as Bud is concerned, the routine is everything. First grain, and then horse candy.

Never deviate from the plan.

Never.

If you’re wondering about Pepper, she also loves horse candy.

What’s not to love?

A little grain and filler, nutrients and sweetness. Sugar and molasses are what make her tail fly up.  Most horses have a real sweet tooth and ours are no exception.

I can relate.

And by the way, I’m not promoting this product. Ranch-way feeds doesn’t even know I exist. I’m just tellin’ you what my horses like.

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