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It’s time to wrap my head around winter feeding.
And if I’m being completely honest with you, I’d rather not be plunged into winter. Right now I can’t find my heavy gloves–something to remedy pretty darn quick!
I’ve moved the feeding time back to early afternoon, aiming for the warmest part of the day. By December I’ll be out with the Golden Girls around noon. Amazingly they quickly figure out the schedule and make the necessary adjustments to be at the gate waiting for their grain.
Coats, a little extra feed and a lot of TLC is what I can do for these old sweeties.
Both are heading into winter in good shape, which really helps. But it’s a tough time for old horses. And these frigid record-breaking November temps have been a rude awakening for all of us.
Here in Colorado, February and March are rough months for the pasture horses. It’s when we must keep an extra sharp eye on Pepper because this is when she tends to lose her weight.
The herd is bored and hungry.
Horses by nature are grazing animals. Their idea of a good time is a field full of grass where they can nibble as long as they want. Which is all the time – a little bite here, a nibble there. And there is enough grass for everyone to eat their fill.
So now the pasture is blanketed in snow, covering even the few bits of dry grass that some horses try to eat. In winter, horses live for the sound of the truck that magically appears twice a day to deposit their ration of hay.
They play a game rather like the children’s game of musical chairs. Everyone starts out in a line across the pasture, each with their own small pile of hay. Then the stronger, bigger horses eat their fill and move on to the next pile, displacing the horse that was there. Who then does the same. And the next and the next all the way down the line.
And usually at the very end of the line are the Oldsters, including our sweet Miss P. They get nudged away from their hay by everyone. It’s one of the reasons we are so methodical about her daily grain feeding.
The rest of the day, the horses mill around nibbling up the last bits of hay, hanging out like boys on a street corner, just looking to stir up a little action. They’ll chase each other, nip and kick, pick fights or stand idly waiting for the sound of the truck and the next meal.
When we show up to feed, the word goes out. “The snack people are here!”
The horses jostle each other at the gate for the prime spot. And just as in the hay line, the bigger, more aggressive horses will try to nudge the others away from the gate.
But in our little corner of the universe, we don’t allow that behavior.
The pushy horses are “strongly invited” to leave.
We reward polite behavior.
Amigo always gets the first hay cube. There is something to be said for being a good friend.
I know everyone is bored and hungry. Believe me, I’m doing my part to entertain them with snacks, but we sure are ready for spring and a little green grass.
Come on April!
We’re into the winter feeding schedule at the pasture, which means the hay truck has become the new object of interest.
No more nibbling delicious sweet green grass. Breakfast and dinner come in the form of flakes of hay tossed from the bed of a pickup that has frankly seen better days.
But the horses don’t care what the truck looks like.
They just care that it comes.
At the regularly scheduled time.
And is filled with hay.
Somewhere around three in the afternoon, the herd gathers by the pond (and close to the gate) to wait for the truck.
A few mill about, but most are laser focused on the hay barn.
“Did you just see something move over there?”
“I can’t tell if it’s the truck. Keep a sharp eye. They should be here soon.”
The horses quickly picked up the shift from the summer to winter-feeding routine. They have no watches or timers, and yet they know exactly what time it is. Of course they’re hungry, which adds a significant incentive!
It reminds me of one of our favorite vacation spots in Mexico. It’s a wonderful little hotel completely off the grid.
That means no electricity.
We set our watches aside when we’re there. What’s the point?
So when the sun sets, the hotel guests begin to wander to the dining room.
We usually gather first in the lobby for a cocktail and to hear about the many adventures of the day. Like the horses, we quickly attune ourselves to the rhythm of the place.
We know exactly (give or take) when dinner will be served.
And like the horses we mill about, occupying ourselves with margaritas and small talk until the main event. I couldn’t tell you the actual dinnertime. But I can tell you that a meal is served every single night. And we manage to get ourselves there with no help from a clock or watch or dinner bell.
It’s amazing really what happens when we get in synch with the natural rhythms around us. I usually have to go camping or off the grid in Mexico to allow myself to wind down and tune in.
It’s something the horses have known forever.
Turns out she isn’t sick, though she is dangerously thin.
She’s in the round pen so that she can eat to her heart’s content.
She’s getting room service in the form of a big old pile of hay that is all hers.
Minnie is a sweetheart – a shy little mare that never pushes her way into a group. She hangs at the edge of the herd, even our Herd of Oldsters.
I suspect that she has been pushed away from the hay feedings all winter by the younger, stronger, more dominant horses in the herd.
The result: She’s lost a lot of weight.
And it’s weight she can’t afford to lose, since she was thin the first time we saw her. It’s why we named her Skinny Minnie.
Minnie seems lonely.
Horses are herd animals. They thrive on being with their peeps, so to speak.
She can see other horses, which I suppose counts for something.
But it’s like any of us being in the hospital. We don’t really care for it. We long to get back to our routine, our home, our family.
She nickers to me when she sees me drive in to feed our two old sweeties. I always walk down to greet her. And now that I know she’s not sick, I feel comfortable slipping her a few snacks.
I’m relieved that Minnie is receiving this special treatment; this tlc (tender loving care.)
I was worried about her.
In the wild, horses like Minnie, and yes, our two old sweeties likely wouldn’t survive the winter. The law of nature is survival of the fittest.
I get that.
I just don’t like it with the animals I’ve come to know and love.
Makes me so predictably human doesn’t it?
It creates anxiety and fear and an overwhelming feeling that you are not going to be okay.
And when you feel these emotions, you sometimes get crabby, or pushy or downright obnoxious.
Up until a few days ago, our horses were getting only one feeding of hay each day.
The pasture is frozen.
And horses were hungry.
They were jumpy.
Playing their dominance games.
And their anxiety wafted off the pasture like toxic fumes.
I never knew what to expect when I went out to feed.
Then everything changed.
That beloved hay truck started making not one but two trips into the pasture.
And a new pasture was opened.
There isn’t much nutrition in the dead grass, but it gives the horses something to do.
They’re grazers after all.
And the cold snap broke.
All of this contributed to a dramatic change in behavior.
Anxious horses grew quiet.
They weren’t as hungry.
Or stuck in scarcity.
The difference in the feel of the pasture is mind-boggling.
And a good reminder to me that scarcity is not a good place to live.
“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.
And friends don’t let friends go hungry.
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?
It must happen with horses too.
They need extra calories to stay warm.
Last week when I was feeding our two old sweeties, I watched three horses in a nearby paddock. These are barn horses that get turned out during the day for fresh air and more room to run and kick and play horse games.
But by late afternoon, they were so finished with all of that.
Horse games aren’t much fun when your stomach is growling.
Their focus had turned to something else.
The hay truck.
And darned if it wasn’t still parked instead of delivering hay.
Now these horses know the schedule exactly.
It was getting late, and they hadn’t yet been led back to their stalls.
They were ready for dinner.
So they tried the, “if you stare at it long enough, it will move,” approach.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work.
That truck didn’t budge.
Not even one inch.
More staring ensued.
To no avail.
I finished with Bud and Pepper, packed the car and drove toward the gate.
That’s when I heard it – a sharp whinny instead of words, but the message was crystal clear:
“You’re late! Where have you been?”
They turned their backs on her when she finally opened the gate – just to let her know they were not happy campers.
But one by one, she led them to their stalls and a big pile of life-giving hay.
As we head into this winter season, I am grateful beyond words to the little elf that gifted me with a pair of Bogs boots last year.
As you can see from the photo, the approach to the gate where our two old sweeties currently reside is a long stretch of dirt road.
In the last couple of weeks we’ve had two significant snowstorms that each dropped around eight or so inches of the white stuff.
And then, because it’s Colorado, we only had to wait a little while before the weather changed again. Enter several days where temperatures climbed into the fifties.
And all that snow melted into a mini-lake.
Now you see why I’m so glad to have my Bogs. I just wade through the mud and snow and water without giving it a second thought. In fact, some days I deliberately walk in the water.
Because I can.
I have no concern about getting wet, or muddy.
I splish-splash through the water without any worries at all.
For those few minutes inserted into some very busy days for me, I savor the feeling of being completely carefree.
And able to walk through every puddle in my path.
Do you have serendipitous moments like this that instantly transport you to childhood memories?
I’d love to hear about them.
Who in the world would even ask the question?
But as the temperature has plummeted here in Colorado, and we’re dealing with our second big snow, my dear, sweet Pepper has been forced to ponder this very question.
She’s been weighing the pros and cons.
Stay with Fred and his harem of mares?
Hang out with the Herd of Oldsters and be first in line for grain?
Thank goodness she has taken this dilemma quite seriously. “It’s a no-brainer,” she said after careful consideration.
In the winter when the pasture is frozen, food is on every horse’s mind. And Pepper is no exception. That daily feeding of grain keeps her warm, and in her own way, she knows it.
She needs calories more than sex.
Oops, I said it!
Sorry about that…
I’d never dream of asking you how you would choose if the same question was asked of you.
And if I forgot and happened to commit such a faux pas, I’d never expect an answer.
But my guess is, you’re thinking about it. Right this very minute.
You are, aren’t you?
Is choosing food over spending time with a hot guy really a no-brainer?
Hello heavy coat.
Hello horse blankets.
Hello winter hats.
Hello biting, freezing wind.
Hello hungry horses.
The snow will melt and the temperature may creep up to the 50’s over the weekend, but make no mistake, the season has changed.
I’ve grumbled about it, but in truth, when I was out feeding our two old sweeties yesterday afternoon, it was quite lovely.
The snow served as insulation, giving a hushed, surreal quality to the pasture.
The herd was quiet, where yesterday they were wound up. Horses don’t need a weather forecast to tell them a storm is on the way.
It is what it is.
It’s all good.