Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Boss is Back

Dave survived his first stint as stable manager mostly unscathed-- and thankfully, so did the horses. Though there were a few bumps along the road.

I was halfway through my stint away from home when, during a phone call to Dave, he revealed that Murray was a "bad boy".

Me: Really? What did he do? Is he ok?
Dave: It was my fault.
Me: What did you do?
Dave: Murray bit my finger.

Now, at this point I knew that Dave was right, it was his fault. Murray is a quirky, complicated, flighty animal, but he is safe to work around and DOES NOT bite or kick. I did manage a quick "are you ok?" before grilling Dave as to what he must have done to provoke my innocent horse.

Here's what Dave told me:
It's evening, time to tuck the horses into their stalls for the night. Dave decides they deserve a bedtime treat, so he digs into the bag of carrots. He gives Murray a bite first then, while he purposefully crunches away, Dave turns toward Maggie's stall. She reaches her head through the open top-half of her door, and greedily grabs her allotted portion. Without turning to look, and while still coddling Maggie, Dave reaches his carrot-filled hand back toward Murray's searching muzzle. Murray (understandably) grabs what's left of the carrot. Unfortunately, Dave is not holding it flat in his hand. Instead, his fist is closed around it, and as Murray tugs the succulent orange treat into his hungry mouth, he can't help but tug Dave's thumb right along with it.

It's at this point that Dave feels a stabbing pain jolt through his hand. He instinctively attempts to yank his hand back toward his body. Murray, frightened by the sudden movement, instinctively leaps backward in his stall--without releasing his grip on the carrot, and the human appendage attached to it. Dave's thumb is torn free of the vice-like grip of Murray's teeth, and both Murray and Dave are left wide-eyed and frightened. Dave reluctantly looks at his hand and is relieved (and somewhat shocked) to find that his thumb, while throbbing intensely, is still wholly intact.


The next day, when I call and asked how things are, this is Dave's response:
"well, you'll be happy that I didn't burn down the barn".

My thoughts immediately turn to the heater mounted on the ceiling in the isle of the barn. Along with releasing heat, it also emits a burning smell when plugged in. It does help bring some warmth to the cold barn, but I rarely use it for fear that I'll forget to unplug it, and that it will somehow ignite the hay and shavings, and the barn will go up in smoke.

Me: Did you leave the heater plugged in?
Dave: No, nothing like that.
Me: Ok, what then?
Dave: It was the fence.

It's a cold, rainy morning and Dave is running late. Murray makes things worse by eating his grain even more slowly than usual (probably in an effort to put-off going out into the sloppy weather). With Murray leisurely lapping up his breakfast, Dave opens the door to Maggie's "daytime" stall, and props it open with a piece of concrete so that she can come in and out as she pleases.

Still waiting for Murray to finish (I'd told him not to let Murray out until he finishes his grain, or he likely won't come back to it, and he's too skinny to miss a meal), Dave plugs in the electric fence. He looks at the clock and curses Murray's slowness. But then, as he waits, he hears a clicking sound. It's the sound of the electric fence arcing. That's not entirely uncommon, but this time it's different. It's loud and it's very close. With time to kill, Dave investigates. He's about to step outside when he notices an orange glow which appears in time with the clicking. The glow is not along the line of the electric fence, it's along the metal edge of the stall door. Somehow, the energy from the electric fence is sending a current right through the door, by the floor of the stall which is covered in wood shavings. It's a fire waiting to happen, not to mention a cruel shock for Maggie if she happens to bump the door on her way out.

Perplexed, Dave steps outside to see that the piece of concrete he's used to prop open the door is actually pushing the metal-framed door back against the electric fence. Suddenly, it's all becoming clear. That piece of concrete had originally been behind the door, thick enough to keep the door from hitting the fence. But we moved it, thinking that its weight would work well to hold the door open. Dave turns off the fence and shoves the block of concrete back to its original position. He uses bailer twine to tie the door open. The clicking stops. Disaster averted. Thank you Murray for being so slow.

So, all in all, Dave and the horses made out ok, though he swears that when he went to work on Friday, the two of them were "talking" over the fence, and planning a mutiny. I guess it's a good thing I got back when I did.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Handing over the Reins

Monday March 22, 2010
Over the past three weeks, it's been difficult to coax myself away from the horses and our idyllic setting long enough to get groceries, much less anything else.
But now, I've been forced out of my dream-state and back to the real world, at least temporarily. I have to be in Moncton for the week, and that means this is Dave's first real test as "stable manager".

Dave is great with the horses. Even before we bought this place, he would come out to the barn with me to help with Murray. Over the years, he learned how to brush him and tack him up. He even figured out how to put Murray's bridle on, despite Murray's best lock-jawed giraffe imitation.

Now, with the horses at home, Dave is in the barn more than I expected. If he's back from work in time, he throws on his barn jacket and lends a hand in the supper-time routine. While I handle Murray, Dave leads a ravenous Maggie from the pasture to her stall. He's quite comfortable with her, and even insists with frequent "whoa's" that she maintain her ladylike manners. Inside, he prepares, and feeds her her infinitesimal amount of grain (often grumbling that she deserves more). As Maggie plunges her massive head cheek-deep into her feed tub, Dave deftly manoeuvres his feet out of the way of her plate-like hooves. He's just like an old pro. It's the same thing in the evening. He again traipses to the barn with me (voluntarily), he fills their water buckets, and throws them hay, while I quickly muck the stalls. He pretty much has the routine down pat.

That said, he's never really worked with the horses by himself. So, I'm a little apprehensive about leaving them completely in his care for a full five days. After all, there have been days when Dave's been home with the dog all day and "forgotten" to put her out to "do her business". Even Dave joked that he's just waiting for the morning when he's halfway to work only to realize that he forgot to feed the horses-- not funny Dave!

But don't get me wrong. I'm pretty sure Dave will feed, water, clean-up-after, and turn-out the horses. I mean, I have left him detailed notes, and I intend to call frequently. I'm not even that worried that he'll spoil Maggie with extra grain-- he's heard all my horror stories about colicky horses. No, my larger worry is that the horses will sense that the "boss" is gone, and will take advantage of him-- kind of like school kids let loose on a substitute teacher.

I have visions of Murray, ostensibly distracted by some invisible monster, spooking, leaping sideways, and "inadvertently" knocking an unsuspecting Dave to the muddy ground. A chase would ensue, and hours later the local volunteer fire department would be called-in to round up a loose, moose-like animal roaming the nearby farmer's fields.

Then there's Maggie. Emboldened by Murray's distraction, she would orchestrate a feed-room break-in, using her large, flapping lips to lift the latch on the feed room door (as it is, we've had to put an extra clip on her stall door because she has mystified us by twice succeeding in opening it on her own). I can already picture her in a Winnie-the-Pooh-like pose, with her ample behind protruding from the narrow feed-room alley, her neck stretched to its fullest extent as she savours the forbidden contents of the various feed tubs.

In an effort to stem any such revolt, the horses will be separated and confined to the smaller pastures for the week. Since each pasture opens directly into each stall, Dave shouldn't have to lead them anywhere, and so long as he remembers to keep the barn doors closed, there "shouldn't" be anyway for them to escape. Horse people know though, that where there's a will, there's a way. I'm just hoping the horses are so confounded by the change in routine that they won't have a chance to muster the will to seek out the way-- at least not until the "principal" is back to keep them in line.

Part of me realizes that if the horses do conjur some sort of plot against Dave, it will provide me with fodder for the blog. But I think I'd prefer blank pages to a damaged horse or husband.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking Beneath the Layers

Over the years, I've noticed that in the spring, people tend to compliment me on losing weight or at least ask whether I've lost weight. I always thank them and shrug, and say "perhaps", even though I know I haven't lost any weight at all. I just look thinner because I'm no longer wearing six layers of clothing in an often-unsuccessful attempt to keep warm.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The sun shines so bright and the weather is so warm that by noon, I take Murray's blanket off. I figure he might like the chance to roll "naked" in the dirt, or at least just soak up some rays (and possibly acclimitize himself to the sun so that his back doesn't blister this year--but that's another story). I catch him in the pasture, unlatch the straps, lift the hair-lined, mud-caked blanket off his back, and start to walk away. As I get to the fence-line, I turn back to take a look at my long-time friend. As I do, I feel a sudden pang of saddness and guilt.

Most days, I forget that Murray is soon-to-be 22 years old. His coat is glossy and his eyes are bright. When Maggie leaves the pasture, he trots or canters back and forth in the field, floating across the ground as if on springs. When she returns, he paws the ground impatiently, neck arched and tail held high. During those times, he looks like a mischieveous three year old. He appears strong and healthy. But the truth is, that for most of the winter his thick blanket masks his ageing form.

Of course I see him without his blanket several times a week. I take it off to groom him and ride. But at those times, I see him up-close, concentrating on completing my tasks. I rarely bother to stand back and take-in the whole picture. And today, the picture is not a pretty one.

Stripped down, with his blanket hanging on the fence to air-out, Murray looks not like a "noble-steed", but more like a skeletal alien from a science fiction movie. I force myself to really look at him. I note the xylophone-like quality of his ribs. I see his angular hip and shoulder bones jutting out at each side. His hindquarters look shrunken. His neck is thin and sunken. White hairs spread down his face and across his bony cheeks. There are even a few white flecks on his chest. Murray looks old, and thin, and un-muscled, and despite the copious amount of grain and hay that he eats, and all the attention I give him, he is all of those things.

I haven't ridden Murray as much as I would have liked over the past six months, and I know that's a big part of the reason he looks so bad. He's lost much of the muscle we'd worked so hard to develop over the years. I have several excuses for neglecting my duty as a rider: these days, his trembling knees buckle and stumble regularily, and I admit, I sometimes worry that he'll fall to the ground while I'm on his back. Also, he has heaves, and difficult workouts leave him coughing and gasping for breath. But despite these issues, I know Murray still can be ridden, and still enjoys it. The truth of it is, I often convince myself that I'm too busy, or too tired, or too this, or too that. Mostly I've been lazy.

Now that Murray lives in my backyard, it should be easy to get out and ride him everyday; but looking at him now, I realize what a long road we have ahead of ourselves if I'm going to bring him back to form. I will have to force myself to take it slow, Murray doesn't have the muscle to support his delicate tendons and ageing joints-- I was reminded of that when he pulled his check ligament last week . Because of that, it will still be a week or two, or three before I can ride again. But when I do, I'll have to walk a very fine line between working him hard enough to get fit, and protecting him from injury.

Beneath his blanket, Murray won't ever look like a "youngster" again. But I'm not going to simply let him waste-away. He may have retired from competition and jumping, but full retirement just isn't something that would ever suit him. Like a pensioned-old man who's worked hard all his life, then finds himself at age 65 with nothing to occupy his time or thoughts, Murray would languish away in boredom.

Murray stands under the bright sun in the middle of the field, far from the shade of the run-in shed. He lazily rests a hind-leg, his eyes half-closed. I'm tempted to throw the blanket back over his narrow frame. But while covering him up might make him look rounder and fatter, eventually the layers will have to come off, and I'll know that unlike me, he really has lost weight.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Feeling Fresh

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Maggie's feet have been trimmed, she's had two days off, and she's dropped about 40 pounds in the last 6 weeks. She's feeling good- almost too good.

Another sunny day, another schooling session with Maggie. She's her usual lackadaisical self as I groom her and tack her up. Down at the ring, for the first time, she stands perfectly still while I mount. But the moment we start moving, I notice there's a spring to her step.

Normally her walk is painfully slow, and I have to urge her to keep going every step of the way. Not today. Today, Maggie's walk is forward and purposeful. So is her trot. As we warm up, she even breaks into a quiet canter as if to show me that she remembers what we worked on during her last lesson. I'm encouraged by her energy, but I'm not sure how long it will last, so we get down to business.

We circle and serpentine across the sandy ring leaving dark hoof prints in our wake. Maggie's balance and flexibility improves with each turn we make, and she doesn't seem to be tiring. Finally, it's time to canter. I ask, and she responds to the cue instantly, even ending up on the correct lead. As we turn down the long side, I feel her picking up speed. I'm pleased for her, she's finally starting to be comfortable at the canter. Then, I feel it: as we pick up momentum her back starts to round, she tucks in her head, and lets out her characteristic squeal. In an instant, just as we're turning the corner, we're air born.

Thankfully, years of riding hot-head horses like Murray have given me a good seat, and as Maggie bucks, I manage to keep my behind firmly planted in the saddle. Even more thankfully, Maggie's not actually trying to get me off. She certainly hasn't put the full power of her ample hind end into her buck, and she doesn't follow up with anymore. It's the kind of buck that clearly says "I'm feeling GREAT".

Of course, seconds after her feet come back to earth, she wheels sideways as the dog streaks across the field in front of us in hot pursuit of some kind of scent. I rebalance myself, then decide that I'd better make use of this mare's energy before she finds another outlet for it.

Our canter on the other rein is comparatively uneventful. We head down the road to cool out. For the first time, Maggie tests me, making a few half-hearted attempts to turn around and go back to the barn. I press her into a trot instead, and by the time we're halfway up the hill, she's finally tired. Her energy evaporates, and she plods along pleasantly the rest of the way.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Turn-out Rituals

Scenario 1: I turn Murray out first in the morning: He skittishly prances alongside of me as we head to the pastures. Once there, I stand on my tip-toes trying to lift the crown-piece of his halter over his head which is raised, giraffe-like, to its highest height, scanning the horizon for early-morning bogeymen. With the halter half-off, he jumps in fright at some invisible monster, slipping out of the halter, and smacking me in the head with his chin.

I leave to go get Maggie. Murray, tail raised, neck still held high, runs back and forth along the fence-line. His nostrils flare and vibrate as an anguished high-pitched, trumpet-like cry is released from his trembling frame. Maggie may or may not return the call.

I reach Maggie's stall. The trumpet-like cries continue from outside, accompanied by the drum-like beat of hooves pounding their way across the frozen ground. Maggie leisurely walks beside me toward the gate.

Murray's loud calls become whisper-like, eager nickers. His ears are pricked and his legs tremble as he waits for his companion to be released into the field. The moment I slide the halter from Maggie's obliging head, Murray pins his ears, bares his teeth, chases Maggie to her appointed position in the pasture, and swaggers away to eat hay from his chosen pile.

Scenario 2: I turn Maggie out first. Maggie lumbers along beside me as we make our way to the pasture gate. She occasionally stretches her lips, and by extension her neck, to grasp at stray pieces of grass. I slip off her halter. She meanders from hay pile to hay pile, then returns to the fence to wait for Murray to select one for her.

In the meantime, Murray whinnies anxiously from the barn. The swish of sawdust between his never-still hooves can be heard even from outside as he spins frantically in his stall. I crack open his stall door and he absently shoves his head through the opening, allowing me one brief chance to throw the halter over his head before he attempts to blast through the door. I push him back, yell at him, demand that he behave, and he sulkily relents, walking calmly (relatively speaking) beside me. I cannot, however, manage to silence his tortured whinny.

We round the corner toward the pasture. He and Maggie lock eyes. She stands at the fence defeated, accepting of her role as the bully's subservient best friend/accomplice. I lead Murray through the gate, I stand on my tiptoes trying to lift the halter off his fully extended giraffe-like neck. He loses patience and yanks himself toward Maggie, ducking his head out of the halter, which flies through the air and smacks me in the head.

Murray ushers Maggie to her allotted hay pile (or sometimes to a desolate corner away from all hay piles), turns his back on her and begins to munch contentedly-- periodically shaking his head toward his black mare should she dare step from her designated location.

Magnanimous Maggie

Saturday, March 13, 2010

After last weekend's shenanigans, , I admit, I had some doubts about Maggie, but this big black mare is definitely growing on me. I've been riding her everyday. Everyday I teach her something new, and always, she remembers it the next time I ride.

On Thursday, Maggie is so good that I venture down the road with her to cool out. It's our first experience outside of the confines (and relative safety) of a ring. Dave is off at work, so if something goes wrong, I'm on my own. But as it turns out, there's no need to worry.

As we leave the driveway, Murray, with his high-pitched whinny, calls to her from the pasture. She hesitates, but with a nudge from my leg, and a reassuring pat on the neck, she's on her way again. She plods along as leisurely as ever, looking curiously from side-to-side (probably in search of something edible in the ditch). When we turn to come home, her pace stays exactly the same. Unlike Murray, there's no anxious rush to get back. I start to wonder how she'll ever keep up with Murray on a trail ride. Oh well, better too slow than too fast right now.

On Friday, I ride Maggie again, and decide it's time to try a canter. She's unsure as to what I'm asking from her, but eventually she figures it out, and her short legs propel her into the three-beated gate. We do one long-side of the ring in each direction. She's on the wrong lead both times, but there's plenty of time to work on technique later.

After the burst of energy required for the canter, Maggie is huffing and puffing, and sweating. Once again I take her down the road to cool down. This time we meet a car. Maggie watches with interest as it moves toward her, bumping over pot-holes on its way. I wonder how she'll react when it passes by us, but I don't get the chance to find out. It turns into our neighbour's driveway. Maggie (who still hasn't taken her eyes off this burgundy coloured beast) tries to turn in the driveway to follow it. I see the driver lifting groceries from the backseat, and wonder if it's actually the food Maggie's after. The rest of the ride down the road is much the same, plodding and uneventful.

Saturday comes and Dave is asking to ride "his horse" for the first time. I'm hesitant. Despite her progress, Maggie's still very green. I've only been on her back eight or nine times, and Dave is a beginner rider, with only a few more rides under his belt than Maggie. But, I decide we can give it a try.

I ride her first, and this time, when I ask her to canter, she knows exactly what I mean. We canter the whole way around in each direction-- still on the wrong lead, but we'll fix that later. She also goes on the bit at the walk, and somewhat at the trot. I'm impressed, and I let her know it with continuous pats on the neck and cries of "good girl".

When I finish, I reluctantly hand her over to Dave. She's doing to so well, I realize I almost don't want to share her. Nevertheless, we bought her for Dave, so I might as well give them the chance to get used to each other. Dave rides around at the walk until he gets a feel for her steering and brakes, then he tries a little trot. He does a good job, but it's clear by the worried look on Maggie's face that she's a bit unnerved by his lack of balance and skill. She doesn't bolt off or buck, or do anything bad though. Her only bad habit is that she keeps trying to turn into the middle toward me.

All in all it's a very good day. We reward Maggie by releasing her back into the sunny pasture with Murray. We reward ourselves by sipping a bottle of wine underneath the arbour overlooking the ring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ruffles, Meet Murray-- Take 2

Saturday, March 13
Ruffles' first encounter with his equine brother and sister didn't go so well . But the hissing and spitting seemingly left Dave undaunted.

Ruffles has only been to the barn once, but he does have a chance to observe the horses on a daily basis. That's because the big pasture where they spend most of their day can be seen perfectly from our living room picture-window. And of course, since the living room window offers the best view in the house, that's where Dave put Ruffles' functional, but less-than-beautiful, cat tree *sigh*.

Ruffles loves his cat tree. He lays on it, rolls around on it, bats his paws at passers-by from it, but mostly, it's his platform from which to observe his royal kingdom, and its lowly serfs.
Ruffles had been surveying his lands for a full week before the horses arrived, so he was thoroughly shocked when one day, he jumped upon his precious tree, only to see two hoofed invaders merely metres (at least 20 metres) from his sacred perch.

There he was, crouched, with his fur on end, his back arched, and a bone-chilling growling sound coming from his throat. He didn't seem to realize that the intruders (completely oblivious to his presence in the window) were separated from him by a pane of glass. No, he seemed to think he was in mortal danger. Suddenly, he leaped from the tree, a streak of black fur, skidding and sliding across the ceramic tiles on the floor, no doubt en-route to his basement sanctuary.

Somewhere along the way, I managed to scoop him up in an effort to comfort him. I scratched his chin and spoke softly to him as I walked slowly back toward the window. The closer we got, the more he started flailing and growling. Deciding I didn't want my arms and face shredded, I opted to let him come to terms with the horses in his own way.

It took more than a week, but Ruffles' finally re-claimed his throne, in spite of the large creatures wandering within view. Dave interpreted this as a sign that Ruffles was ready to once again try and meet with his loyal subjects.

On Saturday, we called to the horses from the deck, and to our surprise, they came trotting right up to the fence. I went over to scratch their necks and reward them with a few apples. Unbenounced to me, Dave went inside to get the cat. I had my back to the house, but turned abruptly when I heard vehment hissing, spitting and growling sounds. Dave was standing just a few feet from the fence. In his arms was Ruffles, clearly terrified, but also defiant. His ears were flat back, his mouth wide-open, exposing his long, snake-like fangs, and his legs were flailing in all directions in an effort to get away.

Dave: I thought he might be more comfortable coming to see them in the open, instead of in the barn.
Me: You are the cruelest person I know. Take the cat back inside!

Dave did return Ruffles to his natural environment (indoors), probably because the cat had managed to get some traction on his arm, and was preparing to leap away over his shoulder. He had no harness or leash on, and I think even Dave knew that once freed, the cat might find an impossible-to-locate hiding spot.

Thankfully, Ruffles doesn't seem to traumatized. He still sits on his cat-tree watching the horses from a safe distance, though the closer they get, the more his tail starts to twitch.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Friday, March 12, 2010

Murray's on vacation because of his leg, but Maggie still has to punch the clock.

I decide again to groom Maggie out in the pasture so we can both bask in the sunshine. I grab her halter, and her grooming kit (sans leather gloves), and make my way across the pasture to where she and Murray are picking at grass. I try and give Murray a quick pat, but he eyes me suspiciously, and when he sees the grooming kit with it's potentially horse-eating utensils inside, he moves off in the other direction. I put the kit down, and make one more attempt to get close. Nope, he's in a don't-catch-me mood. Well, that's just fine with me, I have another horse to work with.

Maggie turns her head to sniff me as I approach. She wriggles her monstrous muzzle accross my vest in search of treats. Realizing that I've come empty-handed, she returns to her patch of grass, while I brush her coat. I glance behind me and notice that Murray is scruitinizing us. I move to the other side of Maggie, and as I do, Murray's look becomes an intense glare, and he pins his ears and bares his teeth in an effort to scare Maggie away. I yell his name and move around to the side closest to him, and suddenly his glare turns to a look of complete innocence. This happens several more times--when I'm between him and Maggie, he's fine, as soon as her lumbering body is between Murray and me, he lunges toward her.

I suddenly recognize this game. It's the same one he plays with the dog. Murray tolerates Muscade so long as he thinks I'm watching. He'll stretch his nose out to her with his ears up, and he'll even let her lie in his hay. The moment my back's turned, however, he threatens to bite or kick, or stomp on her. When I turn back around, his expression instantly morphs into one of sublime innocence. He's the equine equivalent of Jeckel and Hyde.

Murray is jealous, it's as simple as that. The only thing I'm unsure of this time is whether he's jealous of Maggie for hogging my attention, or whether he's jealous of me for turning her attention away from him. I try to appease him by making another attempt to reach out and scratch him, but he's having none-of-that. He moves deftly out of my reach, and turns his back on both of us. What a sulky old curmudgeon.

I'm somewhat offended by this slight, but at the same time I can't help but laugh. The image that sticks in my mind is one of Murray as a schoolyard bully. He tries so hard to act like a tough guy who doesn't want friendship or love, but then he's jealous when he's left out of the activities around him.

Lessons Learned

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Murray's head is buried, cheek-deep in his feed-tub as I bend down to check his leg. It's a good thing I'm wearing a hat, since he uses his muzzle to send the less-appealing parts of his breakfast (mostly beet pulp) flying out of the tub and into the air. Wet beet pulp in my hair, not exactly the fashion statement I was going for.

The swelling on the upper outside of his left cannon is still there, and it's still warm, and it's still sore to the touch. I'm now fairly certain he's pulled his check ligament. I should have known better. I've had this horse for 13 years. I have known from the start (two pulled suspensory ligaments) that his long legs don't tolerate deep or wet footing. I've been so careful over the years, continuing to ride him indoors for weeks after everyone else is outside enjoying the sun. This time I guess I just got caught up in the moment. The footing in the ring was, and is great for just about any horse. But I know better than anyone that Murray's not any horse.

I refuse to keep him indoors on stall rest. He's 22, he's in a new place, and he needs to be outside moving around. I ice his leg, turn him out, and decide to bandage him overnight when he comes in.

I toss the horses some hay, and head toward Maggie, halter in hand. Even though Murray's out of commission, she still needs work. As I approach, I notice she's caked in mud, and every step she takes sends her short black hair flying through the air. It's sunny and warm, so I decide we'll probably both be happier if I groom her outdoors. I get her grooming kit and start brushing her right there in the middle of the pasture. She munches contentedly on her hay until she catches a glimpse of the box full of brushes.

I noticed Maggie's childlike curiosity within the first few days we had her. If there's something new, she wants to look at it, sniff it, and examine it with her lips (probably checking to see if it's edible). I find it fascinating, especially since Murray has the complete opposite reaction. If there's anything new in his environment, his first reaction is to turn and run, and not look back. I couldn't have chosen two more different horses if I'd tried.

So, Maggie's muzzle twitches as she starts riffling through the grooming kit. I let her, though I keep a close eye on her in case she tries to pick up the scissors, or something similar. Instead, she fixes her attention on my leather work gloves. Her lips smack as she forces them deeper into the blue-box, then, up comes her head, a yellow glove dangling from her mouth. Ok, time to step in. She's holding the glove between her teeth, and I have to tug hard to free it from her hungry grasp.

I drop the glove back into the box and divert her attention back to the hay on the ground, so I can continue flicking the mud from her coat. Moments later, I look up, and there's the glove, slowly disappearing into Maggie's mouth. I once again release the now slimy glove from her grasp. Perhaps this is a game I shouldn't have encouraged. If curiosity killed the cat, what did it do to the horse?

5:30 pm
Another beautiful sunset. I finally remember my camera. I bring it with me in hopes of taking a few shots before I bring in the horses-- perhaps the deer will be roaming in the field again (they aren't). The horses watch me leave the house, and immediately start jostling for position at the gate. They know it's almost supper time, and I'm their meal ticket.

I shove them back from the gate, and slip into the pasture. My camera is around my neck as I squelch my way through the mud to an area that will give me good light. At one point my pink rain boot is sucked down to the point that I nearly lose it in the muck.

Maggie follows so close behind me that I feel her breath on my neck, and Murray is following just as closely behind her. The two of them are quipping back and forth, pinning ears, and squealing complaints. They're cranky and hungry, and there's a good chance I'm going to get bowled over if they get into a real squabble. I yell at Murray to back off and he does (there's a certain irony in the fact that I've spent hours and hours over the past 10 years trying to catch him, and now I'm yelling at him to go away).

I try to take a few pictures, but Maggie keeps coming over to inspect my lens. Murray (jealous boy that he is) will have none of that. He chases her away, then stands in front of me waiting for whatever I must be doling out. I retreat and try again.

This game continues, and all three of us are becoming more and more frustrated. Finally Murray charges Maggie with particular intensity, mouth wide-open, showing his long, slanting teeth. His ears are pressed flat against his head. I stumble backwards out of the way just as he sinks his teeth into the ample flesh on Maggie's rump. There's a squeal, and a crack as she finally mounts an offence by kicking vigorously with both hind legs. One of them connects with Murray's shoulder and I'm suddenly very, very thankful that Maggie's not wearing shoes. I shout and wave my arms at them, and they grudgingly go their separate ways.

They're both ok, nothing more serious than wounded pride. But I abandon my photography for the night, and lead the sulking horses inside to their grain. Note to self: no matter how beautiful the light, don't try and take pictures of the horses at supper time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quiet Rides, Wildlife, and Disappointment

Wednesday, March 10th

Happily, the only thing causing the horses anxiety this morning is that I'm about ten minutes late in bringing them their feed.

It's a beautiful, sunny day with no wind, so I figure it's time for another ride. Murray needs to rebuild some muscle, and Maggie needs to learn the ropes so that Dave can hopefully start to ride her later this spring. That is what we bought her for after all.

I take Murray straight down to the ring, where the footing is now solid enough for a bit of canter-- even with Murray's delicate suspensory ligaments. We do some light work for about twenty minutes, but something just doesn't seem right. He's not lame, not even "off", just not right. He stumbles a bit, but that's not out of the ordinary for him either. I decide we'd better call it a day, and we head off down the road to cool down.

I'm once again amazed by his manners on the road. He leaves the property easily (despite Maggie's ear-splitting protests-- I'm sorry neighbours) and marches purposefully toward the dairy farm a kilometre away. When we get to the "marshmallow-like" bales of haylage, we turn back. Instead of speeding up and prancing, his walk slows to a crawl, and I have to actually urge him forward to get him home. Perhaps he had a brain transplant on the trailer on the way here?

I still think something seems not-quite-right with Murray, but I his legs look and feel fine, so I turn him out and bring Maggie in instead. She's a filthy ball of black fluff, and by the time I finish grooming her, my arms are sore, and I'm pretty sure that there's more hair on me then on her. Down in the ring, she's her old self, plodding and lazy, with only occasional bouts of sassyness. This is the Maggie I know.

5:50 pm
Just like yesterday, the golden hues of the sinking sun bathe the horses in a warm glow as I head to the pasture to bring them in. I MUST remember to bring out my camera one of these evenings. As they see me, the horses meander over to the gate. Thankfully, there's no sign of the anxiety that had them pacing the fence-line with fear last night. Maggie's first in line, and as I shoo Murray back from the gate, he turns his back to us-- clearly offended.

Just as I start down the gravel lane, I catch sight of something moving near the tree-line behind the manure pile. Maggie notices too, and she swings her enormous head around with such insistence that I'm nearly hauled off my feet. This is the exact spot that the horses were fixated on last night. I brace myself for the sight of a scruffy, growling coyote; however, much to my delight, what I see instead are two beautiful, healthy-looking does. They move into the field of weather-beaten grasses, and stretch their necks down in search of food.

By the time Maggie's in her stall, Murray (still outside) has noticed the deer as well. He's as still as a statue-- frozen with his head and neck raised majestically against the backdrop of a golden-blue sky. The camera, why can't I remember to bring my camera! I walk quietly over to him, and we stand shoulder to shoulder, mesmerized by the sight of the delicate creatures picking their way across the fields. They leisurely cross the land, and after two or three minutes, disappear into the woods with a flick of their short, white tails.

Perhaps there were deer in the woods last night, and that's what had the horses spooked? It's possible, but I'm still uneasy. The horses didn't seem at all anxious about the deer tonight, just curious, and as soon as they were out of sight, they seemed also to be out-of-mind.

As I throw some hay into Murray's stall, I notice a swelling the length of my baby finger on his left-front leg, just below the outside of his knee. It's soft, warm, and he flinches when I press on it. Possible check ligament injury? Go figure. His suspensory ligaments on the other hand seem fine. I guess he's just earned himself some time off.

Something is out there

Tuesday, March 9

The air outside is fresh and there's a pink glow in the sky as the sun sinks below the tree-tops on the other side of the dirt road. But the horses aren't admiring the sunset. They're looking in the opposite direction, toward the woods at the back of our property. Murray's giraffe-like neck is extended to its fullest, and his knobbly knees are shaking. Maggie stands slightly behind him and keeps shifting her gaze from the woods to him, and back again.

I scan the tree-line, but I don't have my glasses on, and the light is fading fast. I see nothing and hear nothing. I look over at Muscade. She's her usual self, frolicking in the pathway, trying not to trip over the soccer-sized ball she keeps tossing to herself. I figure maybe there were a few deer in the woods. I call to the horses, and try to catch Murray, but he's now pacing around the outside of his run-in shelter, still staring at the trees. This isn't his habitual game of evade-my-owner, he's just too distracted to even notice I'm there.

I decide to start with Maggie instead. She's not her usual dive-the-nose-into the halter, lets-go-eat self, but I do manage to grab her. As we head to the gate, Murray moves in close behind her. I manage to keep him from rushing the gate, but he's clearly anxious at being left behind. The usually quiet Maggie is jigging, and turning, trying to keep her eyes fixed on the spot where they've seen, or sensed something. It's all I can do to hang onto her and she turns from Murray, to the woods, and back again, with every step. When we get close to the barn, she practically barels me over to get inside, then she yanks at the lead line at every passing window so she can see Murray-- who's now whinnying desperately.

Maggie squeezes past me, into her stall, and immediately presses her nose against the window to lock her gaze on Murray's anxious body. He's pacing, and whinnying and still staring intently at the tree-line. Maggie maintains her vigil without even bothering to sniff at her pile of hay.

I have no problem catching Murray this time; he's still oblivious to me though, and I have to stand on my tip-toes to lift the halter over his ears. His eyes are wide, his nostrils flared, his knees shaking. He snorts loudly before I lead him through the gate, and he's uncharacteristically tugging at the lead line. He seems torn between wanting to head to the barn, and not wanting to turn his back toward whatever's out there.

When we make it to the barn, Maggie is swinging her head above her stall door, nickering softly to him. I'm shocked to see that she still hasn't noticed her hay. With Murray in his stall, the two of them turn to stare out the back windows. I bring their grain. Maggie doesn't try to shove her head in the bucket as I enter her stall, in fact it actually takes her about 30 seconds to move to her feed tub. As for Murray, he will only sprint to his feed tub long enough to take one bite, then he moves off to the other side of his stall to chew-- the side furthest from the tree line.

Even though Maggie eats her grain, she's not at all interested in the hay. Both horses are pacing their stalls, looking worried. A chill runs up my spine. I call to Muscade who's outside. I lock her in the feed room while I finish my chores. I don't know what's out there, but both horses sense something, and it's something more threatening than deer. Dusk arrives as I head back to the house. I stand still and listen and look for signs of whatever may be out there, but I guess my senses just aren't as acute. The hair on the back of my neck is standing up though, so I urge Muscade inside, and rush to turn on all the lights.

Two hours later 8:30 pm
Dave makes it home from a late night at work. We go to the barn together to check on the horses. They've settled somewhat, but are still agitated, pausing between bites of hay to listen, or look out the windows. Dave says there's a large brush fire burning just a couple of kilometres from here. Perhaps that's it, Murray has always been very, very nervous of smoke and fire. The only problem with that theory is that the fire isn't burning in the same direction as they're looking.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mellow Murray and Mischievous Maggie

Sunday, March 7th
Another beautiful, bright day. This time there's not even a whisper of wind to offset the surprising warmth of the bright March sunshine. I've decided to ride both horses today.

I start by taking Murray on another ride up the road (I make sure the gate to Maggie's paddock is well secured before saddling-up). This is the second ride in a row up this road, which means that Murray already has the lay of the land, that he's memorized the exact spot where we turned around last time, and that (if history runs true) he's bound to be slightly more neurotic this time.

After a few minutes, I urge Murray into an easy trot, might as well open his lungs and get the blood pumping. We reach the first house, a large (roughly 80 pounds) yellow dog runs towards us, barking steadily. His owner tries half-heartedly to call him back, but Murray doesn't spook, I call out that it's a beautiful day, and the dog stays in the yard. All-in-all, not so bad.

After that, we explore a side-road where the frozen ground has yet to soften up under the morning sun. We pass a house which I think may belong to a bootlegger. I see another large dog roaming the road up ahead. Murray and I decide to retreat.

We make it back to the main road, to the spot where we turned around yesterday. Murray makes one attempt to turn around and go home, but after a few seconds he gives up the protest and willingly trudges on. We ride the full length of the road, and he's an absolute gentleman.

The only time he throws a bit of a tantrum is when we run across another horse, in a pasture. Murray is frightened to death of the meek-looking quarter horse. For an instant, he's actually frozen in terror. Then, eyes-wide, and neck raised, he tries to run backwards down the road. The set-back is only temporary though. Warily, he lets me urge him past the small, non-threatening fellow-equine.

On the way home, Murray walks quietly on a long rein-- no dancing, jigging, or stupidity of any kind. It's possibly the best, most relaxing trail ride we've ever had. I'm positively beaming when I get back to the barn, and I'm even more pleased when I take him down to the ring to find that the footing is dry enough for us to trot a few circles.

Me, to Dave: Look, I'm riding my horse, in my ring, in March! I can't believe it! Actually, I can't believe I have a riding ring, at home, in my backyard.

I'm still on a high as I tack-up Maggie. I consider riding her down the road, but a little voice in the back of my head pipes up: "Is it really a good idea to ride a horse, who's only had someone on her back three times, on a road, in the open, by yourself?" Good point.

I take her down to the ring instead. I make Dave come with me. I consider getting on right away, I mean really, my biggest problem to date has been getting her to move. She's kind, lazy, unambitious, and halts abruptly the minute you yell Whoa! On top of that, she's probably not even fit enough to attempt a to buck or rear. Again, the voice chimes in: "She does seem to have much more energy in the paddocks these days. She's trotting and even cantering regularly, and I even saw her do something in her paddock that could have been called a buck. And don't forget yesterday's shenanigans". Ok, I'll lunge her first.

Well, it's a good thing I know enough to wear gloves when lunging. I ended up with mild rope burn as it was.

I turn Maggie lose on the lunge line, and instantly she's trotting, not waddling like usual, but actually trotting, only she's not turning as she should, she's continuing the length of the ring. I haul as hard as I can on the lunge line, but she dives her nose down and hauls harder. The only way I hold onto the line is by slipping my hand through the loop at the end (I know, not safe), and by running to keep up with her until I can force her to stop by making her run into the fence. We battle it out like this for about 20 minutes. She trots, canters, bolts, completely ignores all shouts of "Whoa!" and raises her heels in what can definitely be considered a serious buck (a hind-end that large can be pretty powerful).

Finally, I get her to stop, well, I get her to trot on a circle small enough that eventually she has to stop. We're both out-of-breath and sweaty. My arms feel like lead. I'm too tired to lunge her anymore, so I decide to get on. She jigs and fidgets while I mount. She trots off once I'm on. I try to stop her, and with some effort she halts. When I ask her to walk again, she squeals, shakes her head and gives a halfhearted (thank goodness) buck. This goes on for another 15 minutes. When I finally get her to walk around the ring once, in a cooperative way, I decide we're done.

Murray, you can be difficult, sometimes impossible to ride, but today you were an absolute dream.
Maggie, I'm not sure what to think of you. You're just too full of surprises-- and not all of them good.

The First Crisis

Sat. March 6th
The horses have been here for a week, but it's been too windy and wet to ride. Today is the first sunny day, and I'm ready to hop in the saddle.

The ground is still a bit hard, so I decide to ride Murray, who has shoes with ice studs. I consider riding in the ring, but it's still mostly snow-covered and wet, so I opt for a ride down the road instead. Now, anyone who knows Murray has heard tales of woe stemming from our out-of-the-ring rides. He is not a pleasurable trail-ride horse. He is obstinant, spooky, and when he becomes really frustrated, he's liable to throw himself into a ditch, up a tree, or off a cliff simply out of spite. These fits can come on suddenly, without warning, and when they do, there's nothing you can do but hang on and hope that he eventually chooses to stomp, leap and spin his way home (hopefully away from traffic). In case you're wondering, dismounting isn't generally a safe option in these instances, as he's liable run you over in a blind panic. It's just one of Murray's many quirks, so, I wasn't sure quite what to expect as I rode out onto our dirt road on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

Maggie calls out to Murray as we leave the driveway. I can see her trotting back and forth along the fence-line. Good for her, she needs the exercise anyway. At least Murray seems unperterbed. He's looking around him curiously, ears swivelling like mini-antennae. He catches sight of the large empty field across the road, and I feel him start to veer in that direction. I give him a nudge with my leg, and he reluctantly veers back to the side of the road. He jumps a bit as we pass a narrow road to what appears to be a gravel pit, and he quite typically stumbles in a pothole or two, but otherwise, all goes well, even when we reach the first houses a few kilometres up the road. He stares intently at the white siding, ready to leap should any monsters reveal themselves in the doorways, but thankfully there are no horse-eating ghouls today.

We've been walking for about 15 minutes. We're just past the houses, and since all is going well, I decide this is enough for one day, and we turn to come home. Now, this is the point at which Murray usually becomes unruley. He is a thoroughbred off the track afterall, and they are taught to run for home. I give him a long rein and stay as relaxed as I possibly can in the saddle. I hum silly songs like Rockin' Robin, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. That works for about a minute, then the jigging and dancing begins. I let him blast off at a massive extended trot for a bit to blow off some steam. After a few hundred metres I test the brakes to see if I have any control at all. I do, I'm surprised. He still dances and yanks on the reins, and swings himself slightly sideways, but for him, those are just minor inconveniences. I find I can even bring him to a halt if I need to.

As we approach the house, Murray tries to turn into the driveway on his own, but I decide to ride him just a little further, so he doesn't assume he can turn just because we're home. Maggie has noticed our arrival, and follows us along the fence-line, whinnying in frustration the entire time. The end of our walk is uneventful, and I wave to Dave in the barn as I ride down to the ring, just to see how it looks.

I'm almost at the ring when, suddenly, after a particularily desperate whinny from Maggie, I hear metal clanging behind me. I turn just in time to see the fuzzy, overweight black mare launch her entire 13 hundred pound body at the metal gate to the paddock. The screw-eye pops out of the fence post, the clip holding the gate comes lose, and Maggie gets her first taste of freedom.

I assume she'll come straight for Murray, and that's exactly what she starts to do, but then she seems to notice the as-yet unexplored field on the left (it's where we pile our manure). Her voracious appetite and never-ending quest for food easily win-out over her desire to see Murray. Halterless, she manoevers her way over the piles of decomposing manure, and into an open field of long, brown, dead grass.

I hop off Murray (who's clearly offended that his love interest has chosen food over him), and start yelling for Dave. It's windy though, and my voice doesn't carry. I run with Murray back into the fenced-in paddock, hoping Maggie with follow, but she keeps moving further away. I call again for Dave, and he starts walking non-chalantly toward me.

Dave: What do you want? How was your ride?
Me: Maggie's lose!
Dave (still nonplussed): What?
Understanding dawns on Dave's face just as Maggie abandons the field and barrels down the gravel lane toward him. I try to call her into the paddock, but she's drunk with freedom, and heading toward the front of the barn-- and consequently, the road.

Dave tries to cut her off, but she dodges him (she's much more agile than I would have given her credit for). He tries to herd her into the open barn doors, but that doesn't work either. I come running around the corner holding Murray (who by now is completely baffled as to what's going on). I arrive just in time to see Dave coral Maggie into a small pasture. The problem is, there's no gate, and she's getting ready to double back. Between Dave, Murray and I, we herd her further back into an enclosed paddock, and we lock her in until I can grab a halter.

We fix (and reinforce) the latch on the gate, and put the horses back out, thankful that no one was hurt. Crisis averted, but I'm starting to wonder if there isn't more to Miss Maggie than I first thought.

Post Script:
It's six pm and I'm bringing the horses in. Maggie's at the gate first, so I pull her halter over her ears and lead her through the gate. Once we're out, I turn back to latch the gate so Murray can't escape. Suddenly, I feel a tug at my arm, and the brand-new slippery (but pretty), nylon leadline slides through my fingers and onto the ground. This wouldn't be so bad, except that Maggie's attached to the other end of that leadline, and she's making a beeline for the manure-pile pasture she started to explore earlier today. I leap forward in time to step on the end of the line, but it's slippery, and she's oblivious, and she simply tugs it out from under my feet. She trots through the muck, occasionally stepping on the leadline, and jerking her head down in the process. Undaunted, she continues, always just out of my reach. Finally, after probably about two minutes, she steps on the leadline so high up that her nose is pretty much pinned to the ground. She stays like that until I can reach her (thankfully she didn't realize that all she had to do to free herself was to lift her hoof). Again, I'm left wondering what more I'm going to learn about Maggie and her wandering ways.

A Roll Interupted

Friday March 5th
The trees bend and sway as the wind once again whips across the property from the north. I'm glad the horses have a well-built run-in shed they can use as shelter (though as of yet, they haven't bothered).

I put Maggie outside first, and amazingly, instead of waddling over to the piles of hay, and hoovering her way through as much as she can before Murray arrives to chase her away, she waits by the fence, her long black mane rippling in the wind.

Inside the barn, her "personal-trainer" whinnies in anticipation and loneliness. He prances as I lead him outside. But when his anxious eyes meet Maggie's flirtatious lashes, he relaxes and walks quietly. She follows alongside from the other side of the fence. It seems that love is in the air.

Maggie waits patiently for her prince to arrive. Of course, the moment I let Murray lose, he turns on her, flashing his teeth, pinning his ears, and forcing her ahead of him down the hill. He chases her once around the pasture at a trot, then he manoeuvres her into a corner so that he can have a relaxing roll in a pile of snow, while still keeping an eye on her.

Maggie, however, isn't completely complacent. Just as Murray's wobbly knees fold to lower his bony frame to the ground, Maggie squeals and bolts up the hill as fast as her short legs can carry her. Murray, frightened, and convinced that banshees are chasing them both, jumps to his feet and charges up the hill after her, sure that some kind of monster is close on his heels. I'm sure that Maggie is laughing at her own little prank.

Independence Lost

Thursday, March 4th
Maggie had a taste of independence, but alas, Murray has summoned-up the courage to take his place as head of the horsey household. He now choreographs her every move, tossing his head and pinning his ears to direct her wherever he sees fit.

I take hay to the two of them. Murray's feeling generous, and allows me to pat him and scratch his neck. But his benevolence does not spread to Maggie. She settles in front of the closest pile of hay, but Murray (despite having his own pile) promptly gnashes his teeth and chases her away. She stands back and stretches her neck to its fullest extent, trying to grasp a piece of hay from beneath Murray's head. He scrunches his nose and flashes her an evil look. She moves on to another pile, but is immediately evicted from there as well.

And so it goes, round and round in their own version of "musical hay piles". Perhaps Murray has decided to take on the role of personal trainer, and diet coach.

Together at Last

Wednesday, March 3rd
I'm looking out my living room window at a chestnut horse, standing in a vast pasture, sprinkled with sugary snow and fenced in by immaculate black boards. The horse is Murray and while the scene is real, it still feels like a dream. I pinch myself and wonder how long it will be before our new reality sinks in.

The howling winds have finally died away to a faint whisper, but there's still no sun, and it's the coldest morning yet. There's no snow or rain falling from the sky though, so I decide that today is the day to put the horses out in the big pastures on the south side of the property. It will be their first time in these pastures, and their first time out together.

The moment Maggie appears in the pasture, Murray tries to herd her. He pins his ears, stretches his neck, and urges her to move down the field ahead of him. This is how it always is with Murray and mares, and this is why most of his female companions have had to move onto greener pastures after a few weeks or months with him as a "friend". Maggie's strategy is to simply trot away to the far corners of the pasture. This works because Murray is still too frightened to explore the area too keenly just yet. So, after a few minutes, he moves off on his own, and Maggie maintains her status as an independent woman-- for now.

I toss a few flakes of hay on the gravelly ground in front of the run-in shed. Maggie's food radar unerringly steers her to the lush, green piles. Murray ignores the hay, and continues moving his lips over dead grass, in a futile search for new pre-spring shoots.

The horses seem utterly content in these larger pastures. No pacing the fence, no "screaming", no fretting whatsoever. I don't know whether it's because they're settling in, or simply because they're together now. The downside is that Murray seems to have regained his typical confidence and arrogance, meaning that I can't get anywhere near him in the pasture. I wonder what will happen when I try to catch him tonight. *sigh*

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let me in!

Tuesday, March 2nd--
The winds roar through the barn, bringing intermittent ice and sleet with them. I turn the horses out in the small, individual paddocks accessible from each stall. In turn, those paddocks open onto medium sized ones. I like these "run-ins" because they offer the horses plenty of room for exercise, but also give them the option of periodically coming in out of the wind, snow, or (in the summer) sun.

I toss some hay into each paddock and send the horses out so I can clean their stalls. Maggie is intent on eating, while Murray is cautiously exploring. After five or six minutes in the blustery weather, Murray's had enough, and he trots purposely back into his stall-- the stall in which I'm standing with a wheel barrow and pitchfork. Murray doesn't seem to concerned by my presence. He finds a spot out of the wind, and delves into his left-over breakfast hay. I try and shoo him back outside, but he backs-up, raises his head out of my reach, and plants his feet in the thick straw. But he needs exercise, and the weather's not that bad.

I temporarily abandon my pitchfork and grab Murray's halter instead. He obligingly allows me to lead him back outside, to the "medium" sized paddock, just across the fence from Maggie. This time though, I close the gate so he can't come back inside. And that's when it starts: screaming.

Murray stands at the gate, screaming. His eyes are bulging with fear, his nostrils flared, his tail raised, and he's screaming as though he's on his way to the slaughter house. When I don't come running to open the gate, he starts pacing frantically back and forth along the fence-line-- still screaming. The hay htat I'd thrown to him is promptly trampled into the sticky, muddy muck. From the neighbouring paddock, Maggie glances briefly his way, then returns to eating-- probably lamenting the destruction of a perfectly good meal.

Murray continues screaming and pacing intermittently, seemingly for my benefit. As when he can't see or hear me, he seems quite content to wander his paddock and explore its sights and smells. When I'm done my chores, I sneak back to the house, but by noon, with the wind still whipping through the trees, and the icy snow still falling, I relent and decide to bring the horses back into their well-bedded stalls.

I could simply open the gate, and allow Murray to go back in on his own, but I decide to lead him in myself. For once, I have no trouble at all in catching him. He practically shoves his nose into the halter--eager to get his insecure self back indoors.

Can't talk, eating.

Tuesday March 2nd--I've always thought that horses should have hay in front of them pretty much all the time. After all, they are grazers by nature. Besides, I've mostly been exposed to skinny, picky thoroughbreds who burn off much needed calories simply by breathing. But owning the plump miss Maggie may make me rethink my position.

It's as though she's a magician using slight-of-hand. One minute Maggie has a full flake of hay, then, in the blink of an eye, every last trace of it has disappeared. She inhales her grain with equal enthusiasm, and the moment her food is gone, she's rattling her door, shaking her head up and down, and begging for more. I have to admit, I find it difficult not to fall prey to her dark, pleading eyes, especially at night, when her hay is long gone, and Murray's still munching unenthusiastically on his ample supply. I have to remind myself that it's up to me to help her lose the excess pounds weighting down her slender legs (I wish I had someone controlling my food portions for me).

Thankfully Maggie's not aggressive about food, just obsessive. When we walk by the hay stalls, she wistfully stretches out her rubber-like lips in hopes of pulling a mouthful from between the bars. Outside, she tears-out half-frozen, still dead, brown blades of grass as quickly as she can. We've got big pastures, but I imagine it won't take long for her to mow them down this summer.

It's ironic, for years, I've tempted Murray with as much high-fat food as he'll eat, in hopes of keeping even just a meagre covering over his bony ribs. Now, while I'm still waging that battle, along comes Maggie, and suddenly I'm withholding food in hopes that she'll eventually slim down to a healthy weight. I guess between the two of them, they average out to normal.

Ruffles, meet Murray

Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010-- after Canada's hockey victory

Dave has been wanting to "introduce" our evil, black cat "Ruffles" to Murray for years. I have always maintained that this would not be a particularly good idea.

For those of you who disagree, there are a few things you need to know about Ruffles. First, despite the joy he takes in digging his claws and teeth deep into our flesh, he's actually a scaredy cat. He hides under the bed when new people are in the house, and when new animals arrive, he disappears for days. Secondly, he HATES car rides. He howls and yowls, and cowers the entire time. That's why it never seemed like a good idea to bring him to a barn full of thousand-pound animals, and ruthless barn cats.

Unfortunately for Ruffles, I was so elated at having my horses at home, that I gave up trying to argue the point with Dave, and told him sure, Ruffles could finally meet the rest of the family; after all, he didn't have to ride in the car to get there. I did have enough wits about me to insist that we put a harness and leash on him first though. I didn't want to spend the rest of my evening reaching into unknown crevices in search of a frightened cat.

I was still putting on my boots and coat when Dave headed toward the barn, so I don't know exactly what happened in those first moments. I do know that when I walked into the barn, Dave was standing about 10 feet away from Murray's stall with a spitting, hissing, growling, writhing black demon in his arms. It didn't take much convincing to get Dave to bring Ruffles back to the house. I don't think we'll be posing for any full-family photos anytime soon.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pinch Me

Sunday, February 28, 2010

This is it. This is the day we bring the horses home.

It’s a dreary, grey, and wet day, but the weather can’t do anything to dampen my excitement. I arrive at Five Elms at 8am, trying to visualize how I’m going to pile 3 saddles, 2 bridles, and dozens of polo wraps, saddle pads and horse blankets into the cab of my truck. But before I can carry the first load from my over-flowing locker, I notice a Sobeys bag that’s been stuffed onto the top shelf.

Inside the bag are two 18 inch long pieces of wood, hand-painted with Maggie and Murray’s names on them. They’re perfect and beautiful, and I can already picture them above their stall doors. Thank you so much Roxanne, and Nicole and Laurier. There's also a gift bag full of hot chocolate, fudge and a martini mix. Just the items needed to deal with the stress of moving into a new home. Thank you Valerie! And don't forget the handmade cross stitch with Murray and Muscade's names on it from Kayla. I'm going to miss you all so much.

I'm going to miss the barn, but I'm ready for my new adventure. I do (somehow) manage to stuff all of Murray and Maggie’s belongings into my truck, though if I open the back door, it’s all going to tumble out. Murray’s outside with his friends, so with Roxanne's help, I chase him into the barn. Part of me feels guilty for taking him away from his buddies, especially when he has no way to know that this is the last time he'll see them.

Guy brings in Maggie, and we load the two of them into the trailer (which is already loaded down by the 136 bales of hay we've bought). Murray loads like a pro. Maggie loads well too, though it takes her a minute to decide that it's OK to stand beside this tall, old horse she's never met. She also seems to think the stall's a bit narrow for her rather large hind-quarters, but we squeeze her in, close the door, and hit the road.

An uneventful drive, and suddenly it's 2:30pm, and I"m pulling into our driveway, followed by a slow-moving, weighed-down trailer. Guy easily backs into our narrow driveway, but the mud rising almost to the rims of the tires shows just how close the trailer came to getting stuck in the slick, icky mess at the crest of the hill.

Dave escorts Maggie to her cozy 10 x 10 stall at the end of the barn, and I lead Murray into his "executive sweet" on the corner. It's a 10 x 20 foaling stall, and I wonder for a moment if it's wise to give an un-catchable horse so much room to roam, even indoors. Oh well, before long, the animals are munching hay, and sniffing each other through the bars. We stack the rest of the hay in the spare stalls, and Cheryl and Guy climb back into their truck for the long drive back to Moncton. We leave the horses to get settled in, while we settle-in in front of the TV to watch the momentous Canada-U.S. Gold Medal hockey game. Quite a day.