Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Never-Ending Winter

This afternoon found me racing a storm to the barn. Tempts were plummeting, and the clouds were gathering and darkening in my rearview mirror. By the time I parked my car, sleet was starting to spit and the wind carried an edge.

I hauled three blankets and two halters to the airlock. I left the blankets there. The herd was wound up. I had to move the pushy herd members off the gate. Once I had some space around me, both Steen and Laredo walked up to me, shivering in their thin coats and waiting a little impatiently for me to get their halters on.

I took the two of them into the airlock and unzipped one of the blanket bags. It was Laredo's, so I unclipped the rope from Steen's halter and unpacked the blanket the rest of the way. Steen stood waiting until I lifted the blanket off the ground. It got caught by this huge gust of wind and unfurled right towards Steen like a giant, angry horse-eating blanket-beast. He actually managed to stand there through the first unfurling, but then the wind hit it again and it flapped a few times, at which point Steen's courage failed him and he ran off to the other side of the airlock.

I was not that graceful getting the blanket on Laredo. The wind kept snatching it and flinging it around, but he was a total champ. He stood while it flapped all around him, shivering a little from the cold, but never moving a foot. I took it slow, coming back to give him lots of neck rubs. He was pretty rigid, but he handled it, so I was very pleased with him. These are the kinds of moments where all the time and effort we put into getting our horses quiet and able to trust our leadership feels worth it.

I put the blanketed Laredo back into the pasture, and went down to get Steen. He was at the bottom of the airlock, and he was upset. Both the pasture herd and the feedlot herd were running around, and he was trotting circles in the corner. I folded his blanket in thirds so it was less likely to flap around, and carried it down there. He saw me coming with the blanket monster, and got more agitated.

Fortunately, the airlock is narrow. I came close enough that he couldn't ignore me, set the blanket down, and put a little bit of pressure on him, asking him to come. His anxiety ticked up a couple of notches. He turned away from me on the fence twice, and each time he came out of the turn I blocked him and sent him in the other direction.

The thing I find interesting about Steen is how different he is emotionally from our other two horses. It's like there is a switch in his brain. If Steen's emotions overpower him, the 'thinking' side of him turns off. Entirely. In these moments it's literally like he doesn't recognize me. The horse looking out of his eyes is not Steen. He has become a pure creature of reaction.

It used to be I couldn't get him back when he flipped over that line. That's not the case now. I blocked him twice and told him everything was going to be fine. The third time he turned, he did it towards me instead of away, and then his head came down and he walked straight up to me and buried his head in my chest. I stood there and stroked his head for a while, then clipped his rope on.

The airlock has these little pens where the feedlot horses get their grain. I know I could have blanketed Steen in the open, but it might have taken longer. The temperature was dropping by the minute and the density of the sleet was increasing. So I led him into one of the little pens and shut him in there. I retrieved the blanket and carried it back towards him.

He got a little quivery when I approached with the blanket, but as soon as I touched him with it he understood what it was and quieted down entirely. He stood as still as Laredo had while I buckled him in.

Bear was by the windblock when I put Steen back with the herd, and came with me whilst executing this goofy sideways prance-trot because he hates walking into the wind. I've never seen a horse who cares about this as much as Bear does. But he stayed behind me and out of my space, so I didn't mind.

Bear took the blanket without much trouble. He was just a tad more inclined to fidget than Laredo, and he had his skeptical Bear-face on, but that is unsurprising. Sometimes I forget how little I have really handled Bear. He's just so much Brian's horse.

At any rate, we got through his suiting up without incident, and I put him back with the herd. I took the blanket bags and halters back inside, and right after I got in my car, the storm hit in earnest. I drove back home in the rainy darkness, feeling very glad we decided to get that third blanket "just in case."

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