Monday, October 31, 2011

Maggie's Trick is no Treat for Murray

There's no question that Murray outranks Maggie in our three-horse-herd. He's less bossy than he used to be, but he still spends much of his days herding her from hay pile to hay pile, or forcing her to keep him company in the run-in shed while he naps. Overall Maggie doesn't seem to mind, but lately she has found a way to exert a bit of revenge.

Early one October Morning:

It's a morning like any other. As I walk into the feed room to prepare the grain, the horses begin their "feed me" rituals. Jaava pins her ears, shakes her head, trots around her stall, and rears several times. Maggie pins her ears and starts biting and licking the metal bars on Murray's stall wall. Murray stands patiently, but his nostrils quiver as he emits his "I'm hungry" noise. It's a whisper-like, high-pitched, not-at-all-masculine whinny.

Murray gets the most grain, and he's a slow eater, so he always gets fed first. I walk into his stall with a bucket of crumbly, soaked beet pulp in one hand, and a bucket of dry, hard, green pellets in the other. Murray spins around and follows excitedly as I walk toward the feed tub in the back corner of his stall. When he's halfway there, and at the point closest to Maggie's door, she stretches her head and neck close to him, then exhales abruptly through her nose to let out a sharp, loud snort. It's the noise horses make when they sense danger.

Murray, who's paranoid on the best of days, wastes no time in reacting to this call-to-arms. He abandons his breakfast, leaps sideways, sprints out the backdoor of his stall, and takes up an alert position in the centre of his paddock. His head is raised high. His ears are pricked, and his eyes scan the horizon for the invading army of enemies.

I turn back to Maggie to see if I can figure out what's caused this state of high anxiety. But she doesn't have the wide-eyed gaze of an anxious, spooked horse. The only thing she's staring at is me, and my buckets of grain. She shakes her head at me imploringly, rattling the long braids of her mane, so I give a shrug and go about dishing out the rest of the morning meal.

Murray, however, is determined not to be caught off guard. He stands outside for a few minutes, then eventually trots back into his stall. He picks at his breakfast distractedly, turning to look out his door between mouthfuls.

I forget about the incident until the same thing happens again a few days later. Just as Murray turns to follow me to his feed tub, Maggie again lets out a loud, urgent snort, and the whole scenario repeats itself. I start to wonder whether perhaps Maggie is frightening Murray on purpose.

Then, a few days after that, on a warm, sunny morning, it happens again, though in a different context. This time, the horses are out together in the larger paddock. I'm in the riding ring below, driving our truck around, and around, and around, in an effort to drag the ring and smooth the footing. I look up at the paddock and smile when I see Murray laying down for a snooze in a pile of hay. With his legs tucked under his body, he rests his chin on the ground, and closes his eyes. Maggie stands nearby to "guard" him. It's a peaceful scene.

The peace doesn't last long. After a few minutes, Maggie steps in even closer to the unsuspecting, dozing Murray. She then stretches out her head, closes her mouth, and snorts loudly through her nose. Murray's head snaps up instantly. Then, for dramatic effect, Maggie widens her eyes and trots two steps forward toward the fence-- purportedly staring at some immediate threat lurking beyond the treeline. Without any care for his arthritic joints, poor, old Murray leaps to his feet. The moment he does, Maggie relaxes. She turns back toward the hay pile and starts eating, as though nothing has happened. Murray simply stares perplexedly at the woods in search of a non-existent enemy. I swear there's a smirk on Maggie's face.

That was a few weeks ago. I don't know how often Maggie employs her decoy snort outside. But inside, she now gives a hearty "breakfast snort" every few days. And poor Murray falls for it every single time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are Nine Lives Enough? (Updated)

Monday July 25, 2011
9:30 pm

It's that in-between time of night. It's past dusk, but the sky is not yet completely envelopped by darkness. We trudge outside for a quick check on the horses, even though they're turned out for the night. Dave's in flip flops, and I'm in my winter-lined rubber boots-- because they're easy to pull on in a hurry.

We step out the front door with Muscade in toe. Within seconds, we hear the jackel-like cries. A pack of coyotes is yipping, and shrieking nearby. The bone-chilling sound is coming from somewhere down the hill-- though it's difficult to distinguish exactly where, and how far away (though definitely not far at all). Whenever I hear them like this, I always assume they've made a fresh kill and that they're gleefully tearing apart their prey.

I yell at Muscade to follow me "now!", and I practically shove her back in through the front door of the house. Meanwhile, Dave kneels in the driveway, coaxing the always timid Lilly out from under the car. As soon as she's within reach, he scoops her up in his arms, and we drop her off in the house as well. And then the high pitched cries stop. They stop suddenly, as though someone has muted the volume on their awful voices. We stand stock-still. We hear the distant barking of the fssive white-haired dog who guards the goat-farm down the hill. The farm is only a kilometre away, and the reassuring voice of the dog sounds much, much further off that that of the coyotes. When the coyotes fail to re-start their discussion, we stop holding our breaths, and head out to the pastures to check on the horses.

The horses have their noses buried deep within the dew-covered blades of grass. They're so intent on their eating, that they barely acknowledge our presence. But as we turn off the lights, my heart sinks. All the animals are accounted for-- except one. Zorro is nowhere to be seen. Normally, I would barely register his late-evening absence, but in the wake of what we just heard, I'm worried, and so is Dave. I start calling Zorro's name, and Dave goes back into the house in search of a flashlight. When he finally finds one (and replaces the dead batteries), we walk down the driveway, peering across the road into the black fields in search of glowing, green eyes. Nothing.

We change course and walk the length of our largest pasture, but the flashlight illuminates only weeds, and the large mounds of dirt which will soon cover the pipes leading away from our new septic tanks. We walk out to the garden, but find only undersized rainbow chard, and lush green potato plants. Still no Zorro.

We check the barn again, and Dave even climbs into the hayloft to see whether our tuxedo-cat may be in the midst of a particularily good nap on a sweet-smelling bale of our newest hay. He's not there. At my insistance, we get in the car and drive down the road. I open my window and call his name. At the corner, we turn around and drive back. Part of me is sure Zorro will be in the driveway when we pull in. But he's not.

If Zorro were around he would have found us by now. We call off the search for the night. As we resignedly re-enter the house, we pause in the mudroom to hug and hold Lilly. She squirms and struggles to get free-- to run out the front door. But we're not taking any chances. Tonight, Lilly's an indoor cat. All we can do for Zorro though is hope and pray that he's out hunting-- huddled in the grass somewhere, his body bunched, and ready to pounce. I hope against hope that he'll turn up on our doorstep in the morning, begging for his breakfast.

Tuesday July 26, 2011
1:30 am

I wake up as Dave peels back the blankets and gets up out of bed.
"What are you doing?" I ask groggily, though I already know why he can't sleep.
"It's hot," he says.
"Sure," I respond.

Then we hear it. It's not a pack of coyotes this time, it's a lone animal howling. Again, the goat-guard-dog down the road barks a response, but again the coyote sounds much closer. It sounds as though it could be in the bottom of our field.

Dave pulls on shorts and shoes as the coyote howls again. Then, I hear the door chime as he heads out into the night with a flashlight. He wonders around the property until swooping bats send him back inside. Still, no sign of Zorro. That's unusual. He does occasionally seem to roam, but he rarely disappears for more than an hour or so.

Dave crawls back into bed. "What if Zorro's not there in the morning?" I ask.
"He'll be there," says Dave, but I can tell he doesn't mean it. There's much tossing and turning before either of us falls back into a fitful sleep.


Dave's alarm wakes us both. Normally, he would hit the snooze button for another 20 minutes before crawling sleepily out of bed; but despite the restless night, he's on his feet right away. I hear him walking through the house-- from window to window. Normally Zorro has a sixth sense about movement in the house. Normally he's at the picture window or the front door meowing the moment one of us is awake. A few minutes later I hear the shower spluttering and I know there's no sign of our lively little cat.


In the kitchen, Dave is pouring cereal, and putting his lunch together.
It's my day off, so I try to doze a bit longer before heading out to the barn to feed the horses. If Zorro's not around by then, I'll know his fate. He never misses a meal.

Then, the sound of a spoon scraping against a cereal bowl stops, and moments later I hear the front door chime. Moments later, I hear Dave walking toward the bedroom. I'm hoping against hope for good news, but I don't expect any. Suddenly, I feel a thud against my side and I open my eyes to see Zorro scrambling across the covers. I look up at Dave and he's smiling. So am I.

Dave: "I truely didn't think I'd see him again".
Me: "Me neither".
Dave: "I went around to all the windows this morning and there was no sign of him. After I got out of the shower, I checked again. When he wasn't there, I figured that was it. He's always up by the time I get out of the shower."
Me: "I know."

I grab Zorro behind the front legs and pull him close to me. He's unimpressed, but I don't care. I hold him tight for a few minutes, then Dave pulls him onto his lap and mauls him some more.

"That's it," I say, "from now on Zorro's an indoor cat." But we both know that will never be the case. As much as Zorro likes to sneak inside, he'd be miserable if he had to stay here all the time. However, I vow to force him into the house at night--every night.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Update on Zorro-- A Visit with the Vet

I didn't get much sleep last night. I spent most of it tossing and turning, worrying about Zorro, and trying to figure out how to get him to the vet.

At 11:00pm, I tiptoed into the mudroom for one last check on him. The bits of dry food I'd placed on his bed earlier were still there. Clearly, he wasn't feeling well. The "normal" Zorro never leaves a scrap of food behind. He barely stirs as I stroke and brush his hair and search for any injuries I might have missed. When I reach his left hind leg, it feels as though bubbles are popping underneath my fingers. It feels like rice-crispies. I start palpating his leg and searching for a cuts, scratches or swellings in that area. I find what I think may be another puncture wound, but Zorro starts growling and squirming in his bed, so I decide to leave him alone for the night.

Friday June 17th

I turn off my alarm and drag my weary self out from under the duvet. I head straight for the mudroom. I don't think Zorro's injuries were life threatening, but I'm a worrier and I'm a bit afraid of what I might find on the other side of the door. Thankfully, when I open it, he's there, curled up in his bed, his rib cage rising and falling with every breath. The kibbles are gone and his water dish is empty. He purrs as I stroke his fur. Unfortunately, his leg still has that rice-crispies feel.

I leave Zorro and rush through my barn chores. By 7:30 I'm showered and ready to head to work. But first, I plan to stop at the vet's office and drop off the patient. They told me on the phone last night that I'd have to be there with Zorro for them to examine him, but of course I can't be, because I work. Surely though, if I show up with him, they'll take him and care for him-- for a fee of course. If they won't, then I figure I'll bring him to work with me, and take him to the Truro clinic on my lunch break. It's not a great plan, but if I don't get him antibiotics today, then I'll likely have to pay for an emergency call on the weekend, or wait until Monday.

I open the door to the cat-carrier and Zorro obligingly limps inside, where he curls up contentedly until the truck starts moving. Then he yowls at top volume for the entire 25 minute drive. Finally we arrive at the vet's, just as they're opening for the day. I gently maneuver the loaded cat-carrier through the front doors, then I announce that I don't have an appointment, but I do have an injured cat, and a dilemma.

The woman behind the desk (Kelly, I believe), recognizes me (sadly, I come here a lot). She has me sign a form, then tells me to go ahead and leave him, they'll make sure he is taken care of, and they'll call me with any questions or instructions.


I call the vet to see whether Zorro is ok. He is, and they've given him a long-acting antibiotic so I won't have to force daily doses of medicine down his throat.


Kelly rings up my bill as another girl brings Zorro out to me. They tell me he was pretty easy to work with. I'm not surprised. He never once tried to scratch or bite me last night, despite my poking and prodding. The vet rounds the corner and I ask whether she found the source of the "rice-crispies" on Zorro's hind leg. She gives me a blank look. "His hind leg? I must have missed that." The younger assistant pipes up: "no, we didn't find anything, but remember, he was the cat that didn't like us to touch his hind legs" (now to me, this would be a cue that there might be something wrong with his hind legs, but that's just me). "Well," says the vet, "bring him back here, lets take another quick look." Then she looks at me "this is why we like owners to be here when the animals are examined." Point taken.

A few minutes later, and I'm holding Zorro's cat carrier again. They found puncture wounds on each of his hind legs. They tell me the antibiotics should take care of them. It's time to take him home.

Zorro still spends much of his time in bed, but he has done some mudroom exploring, and he definitely has his appetite back. So, hopefully after a few more days inside, he'll be fine. I just worry that this all might happen again. Before leaving the vet's office, I asked whether there was anything I could do to deter the Tom cat from picking anymore fights. Kelly said no, but she told me that if I'm sure he's a stray, I can bring him in and they'll euthanize him for me. I just don't think that I can bring myself to do that though.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Vet-Bill" lives up to his Nickname

We'd only had Zorro for a month or so when Dave nick-named him "Vet-Bill". That was mostly because of the heart-stopping way he'd dash and weave between the horses' hooves. It seems our lovable barn cat will live up to that name, though in this case the horses can't be blamed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's 8:00pm and I'm just getting home from work. Dave's away on his annual golf trip with the guys, so the horses have yet to be fed. Jaava whinnies from her paddock as I lower myself from the cab of the truck. But, before I head to the barn, I run into the house to get changed and let out the dog. Looking back, I should have known then that something was wrong.

Muscade greets me with her usual exuberance, and once I throw on some already-dirty clothes, she follows me happily out to the barn. Lilly meets us halfway, meowing with her gravely, lounge-singer voice. I find it odd that she seems so relaxed, so willing to be out in the open. Usually she's on a constant look-out for Zorro and his relentless, though generally harmless attacks. But still, it's not until I'm in the feedroom, scooping out the cat food that it dawns on me that something must really be wrong.

I have the lid off the cat-food container and Zorro's not here. I rattle the food. He's still not here. Zorro has never, ever missed a meal. And now that I think about it, he's always, ALWAYS outside to greet us when we pull into the driveway. It's a reasonably nice evening, and I'm about an hour later than usual, so I think that perhaps he's out hunting--though I'm definitely starting to feel anxious.

Moments later, I open the door to the tackroom (where Lilly eats), and I'm relieved to see him standing in the back corner. My relief doesn't last long though. Instead of making a dash for Lilly's food, he creeps cautiously out of the room. He's clearly limping. His ear is partially flopped over, and there's a tiny hole in it. Across his back, there are many loose clumps of fur. The white of his tuxedo is matted with blood. He drags himself to the feedroom, and instead of leaping with his usual agile exuberance onto the washing machine (which doubles as his food station), he sits at the base of it, looks pitifully at me, and meows mournfully. I gingerly pick him up and gently place him on top of the machine. I fill his dish. Normally, he shoves his nose greedily into the bowl and licks it clean in seconds. Not tonight. Tonight he eats slowly, one piece of dry food at a time.

I leave Zorro momentarily to tend to the stomping, whinnying horses. I hurl grain into their feed tubs, then I pick up my beloved barn cat and whisk him into the house. I lock him in the mudroom to keep him away from Ruffles. I can't clean him up yet, I have a few more barn chores to do first, but I do call the vet. A young-sounding girl (with a voice I don't recognize) answers the phone. I tell her about Zorro. I tell her I'd like to bring him in the morning, and ask whether I should give him some pain killers (metacam) which I have on hand. She covers the receiver and has a muffled conversation with someone else in the office. She comes back on the line to tell me that I shouldn't give him metacam because it will limit what the vets can do in the morning. She also tells me I can have an appointment first thing at 9:00am if I like.

Unfortunately, I have to be at work in Truro (30 minutes from the vet clinic) at 8:45am. I ask whether I can just drop Zorro off (though I'd much prefer to be there with him). She covers the receiver and I once again catch snippets of muffled conversation. When her voice returns with clarity, she tells me that I have to be with the cat when he's examined. "But I have to work" I say. She tells me I can have an appointment at 2:45 in the afternoon if that's any better-- it's not, I work until 4pm. She tells me I can bring him into the emergency after-hours clinic tonight. I thank her politely and tell her I'll clean him up myself.

9:30 pm

I've finished my barn chores and eaten some supper. All the while, Zorro has been curled up in his bed in the mud room. It's finally time to take a closer look at his wounds. I place a dish of water in his bed, beside his head. He takes one sniff then laps up about a 1/4 cup without ever getting to his feet. I set the dish aside so he doesn't get sick from drinking too much. As he lies there, I brush his dull, ratty-looking coat. He tentatively begins to purr. There's a clump of dirt matted into his back. Judging by the smell, I'd say it's vomit. I put down the brush and dip some gauze into a warm prepodyne solution. I sponge the bloodied hair on the right side of his chest until finally I find the wounds: a deep puncture and a less worrisome laceration. Zorro's purr turns into a menacing growl, but he doesn't actually make any attempt to stop me as I cut away the hair closest to the wounds. I curse Tomlin, as the wandering, homeless tom cat is my prime suspect in this attack. He and Zorro have been sparring almost daily lately and their encounters have been getting more and more violent, despite my frequent attempts to frighten Tomlin away

After I'm done with Zorro, he drinks more water, then begins licking his wounds. He's definitely going to need antibiotics. So, one way or another, I'm going to have to find a way to get him to the vet tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Ponying" the Pony

My goal is to ride all three horses at least three times a week. Ideally, I'd like to ride them all four times a week, but between my work schedule and the nasty weather we've been having, that just seems a bit unrealistic.

The one who suffers most from my lack of time is Jaava. I ride Murray to keep the "old guy's" lungs opened up and his arthritis at bay. I ride Maggie to keep her quiet and workable for Dave. Then, if I have time, I ride Jaava. I really enjoy riding her, but I'm a bit big for her stubby pony legs, so I don't like to work her too hard under-saddle (at least that's my excuse). However, when I saw her waddle in from the pasture the other day, I realized she needs more exercise. I vowed to either lunge or ride her every day...even if it's just for 20 minutes.

Saturday June 11, 2011

It's a warm, sunny, Saturday evening. I worked all day, and am now putting the rest of my energy to use riding Maggie. I didn't lunge Jaava this morning, and it will probably be almost dark by the time I get Maggie put away. I start to feel guilty. It was just yesterday that I vowed to give "the pony" more exercise.

As Maggie and I serpentine around the ring at a trot, my mind drifts, and I try to think of ways to make more time for Jaava. Then, I get an idea.

I yell up to Dave who's puttering about in his workshop. I ask him to catch Jaava in the pasture, and bring her down to the riding ring. It's almost supper time and Jaava thinks she's coming in for her evening meal. She seems a little bewildered though when Dave turns her down the hill toward Maggie and me.

Dave leads Jaava up to where Maggie and I are standing in the centre of the ring. Maggie nickers softly and turns her head to nuzzle the pony's nose. Jaava gives a short sniff in response, then turns her head to look up at me. She's likely trying to figure out what's going on. I reach down and take the leadline from Dave's hand. I hold it in my right hand, along with my right rein, and I nudge Maggie with my legs. She moves forward obligingly and I hope the pony will follow. The lead line tightens and Jaava startles a bit as she's tugged forward alongside of Maggie.

We walk like this for a minute or so, then I tell Maggie to "whoa". Both she and Jaava instantly come to a halt. I'd forgotten how well Jaava listens to voice commands. I prepare for us to walk forward again, but this time I say "walk on" out loud so Jaava will know what to expect and won't be unwittingly dragged forward like she was the first time.

We do a few more walk-halt transitions together, along with some turns and circles. The "girls" seem to be getting the hang of this side-by-side routine, so I figure it's time to step it up a notch. I cluck my tongue and say "t-rot" in the same sing-songy voice I use when I'm lunging them. Jaava's hesitant, and likely a bit confused, but after a lag of a second or two (during which time Maggie picks up a trot), her pony legs propel her into the faster gait as well. She has to move at a pretty good clip to keep up with Maggie, even though she's on the inside. This will give her a workout.

After a few minutes, we've mastered this one-rider pas-de-deux, and are managing some nice walk/ trot and even trot/ halt transitions. Maggie seems thrilled to have a companion with her in the ring. Jaava, however, turns her ears sideways and slightly back, and seems thoroughly humiliated at having to trundle along in Maggie's dusty wake. I think it will be awhile before we're ready to do canter work together, but at least I'm able to spend 15-20 minutes exercising two horses at once.

Oddly enough, the one who seems most disturbed by this new training routine is Murray. With both girls in the ring, he has no one to boss around. He whinnies frantically, and, alone in his pasture, he abandons the grass and trots back and forth along the fence line that overlooks the riding ring. I'm not too worried about his behaviour though. When I think about, I guess it's good. This way I'm actually exercising all three of them at once.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Monday April 18
I'm on my way to teach riding lessons outside of Halifax. I'm sipping my tea, listening to the radio, and enjoying the sunshine that's filtering in through the windshield.

It's an ordinary day, and an ordinary drive until I pass Withrow's Farm Market, just 12 minutes or so into my hour-long drive. As the car slips into fifth gear, it shudders a bit. It's barely perceptible, but it's definitely an unusual feeling. I slow down, I speed up, and sure enough, it does it again. I keep experimenting to make sure I'm not imagining the sensation. I make a mental note to mention it to Dave when I get home. I hope it's nothing serious.

A couple of kilometres further down the country road, and one of the "check engine" lights starts flashing. The car shudders some more, even when I slow down. Then, the light stops flashing, and stays on. The shuddering disappears. Optimistically, I hope for the best, but within a minute or so, it starts flashing again, and the car starts shuddering again.

When I reach the exit to the highway, I pull into the car-pool parking lot and call Dave to ask whether he thinks I should keep driving. He tells me that if the light's solid, I'm probably ok. If it's flashing, I'm probably not ok. I tell him it keeps switching between the two. He's not sure what that means.

The light's solid now, so I decide to take a chance on the highway. I head down the exit ramp, and the light starts blinking and the shuddering returns. I experiment with various speeds, and occasionally the shuddering goes away, and the light stays solid-- but never for more than 30 to 60 seconds. I know there's a reliable little garage not far from the next exit, so I pull off the highway. The shuddering becomes almost constant as I drive the last kilometre or so to "McNeil's".

It's three pm. They close at five. They're busy and I don't have an appointment, but they agree to take a look at the car anyway. I call to cancel my lessons-- or at least the first couple. I'm hoping I can still make it for the last two.

In the waiting room, a couple of other customers read newspapers and books while the wall-mounted TV in the corner broadcasts an American daytime TV celebrity talk show. A larger bearded man in his fifties flips through a Dick Francis book he's brought to pass the time. I'm a huge Dick Francis fan, so we start a conversation-- which inevitably turns to horses since it turns out his University-aged daughter is a horse-person too. People coming in and out of the garage clearly know the man, and we all talk amongst ourselves during the hour or so it takes before the mechanic gives me the good/ bad news.

My car needs a new ignition coil. This has something to do with spark plugs and is apparently a fairly common problem in Mazda vehicles. It will only take 15 minutes or so to replace the part. "Great," I think, "I'll be able to make it to the city to teach my last two lessons."

Unfortunately, the garage doesn't have the part in stock. The very helpful and very friendly receptionist calls around, but can't find anyone who can get the part to them before the next morning.

"Is it safe to drive it to Halifax?" I ask.

The mechanic scrunches up his face in an apologetic way that lets me know the answer even before he speaks: "it's really not a good idea...not that far. And you risk causing a lot more damage."

I call to cancel the rest of my lessons.

As I give the garage the information they need to do the work tomorrow, the Dick Francis fan (Mr. Young) retrieves the keys to his car and pays his bill.

Young: "Do you need a ride?" he asks.

Me: "Oh no, it's ok. I'll just walk to the grocery store and loiter around there until my husband finishes work."

Young: "How long will that be?"

Me, glancing at my watch..."a couple of hours I guess".

Young: "Look, these people here know me. They'll tell you I'm loud, but I'm harmless. I'll give you a ride."

Me: "It's a pretty long drive from here". I'd already told him I have horses at home, and had given him a rough idea of where we live.

As I return to my conversation with the receptionist, Mr. Young makes a call on his cell phone. I hear him asking his daughter if she wants to come see some horses.

Young: "See," he says. "You'll feel more comfortable if my daughter comes with us, and she will get to see some horses."

So, I got in his car, we picked up his daughter, and we talked mostly horses for the entire 20 minute drive. It was much better than wandering the isles of the not-so-big grocery store for two and a half hours.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Three's Company

Well, Jaava's been munching hay and trotting around our paddocks for more than two months now, so I suppose it's time to explain why we added a third equine to the herd.

Friday February 4th-- mid-morning

With the horses fed and mucked out, I dig into a bowl of oatmeal and turn on my laptop. A new message pops up in my inbox. It's from one of the girls from Five Elms Stables-- the barn where I used to board Murray near Moncton.

The message asks whether I've heard the news-- the news that the roof of the 30+ stall barn collapsed overnight on Wednesday. My jaw drops and my heart starts pounding. Thankfully, the next line of the note answers the first question that comes to mind-- and yes, miraculously, all the horses are ok. In fact, the boarders have already been moved to other barns in the area, but the owners' horses and a couple of school horses (including Jaava and her "brother" Poet) are still homeless, and are currently living outside. I quickly write back asking her to let me know whether there's anything I can do.

As the news sinks in, I start thinking...we have two empty stalls. We could easily keep the ponies here for a few weeks or even months while the barn owners figure out what to do. I call Guy and Cheryl to offer what help I can.

They tell me how they walked through their two-acre apple-orchard in the morning, believing all was normal. They didn't see the devastation until they opened the door to the barn. That's because the roof collapsed over the back half of the barn-- the section furthest from view. It was a pile of rubble. Had there been horses there, they wouldn't have survived. However, for the first time in a dozen or so years, there were no horses there. That's because the stable had recently closed down its lesson program, and sold off most of the school horses. With fewer animals in the barn, they moved them all together to fill the stalls in the front isle.

After they tell me their harrowing story, I offer up the two empty stalls.

Cheryl responds by asking if I want a pony-- to keep for good.

Me: "Uh, what do you mean?

Cheryl: "Make me an offer, any offer."

Me: "For Jaava?"

Cheryl: "Sure, we could have her there by breakfast tomorrow."

Me: "uh, really?"

Cheryl: "yes, we need to find her a home. We might keep the others anyway, we're not sure, but not her. She needs a home."

This is not what I expected when I made this phone call. I expected to maybe temporarily house a couple of ponies, and have them off my hands by summer. I'm a bit flustered by this idea of buying one of them. But I'm also immediately tempted.


I worked with Jaava a fair amount when I was at Five Elms. I rode her her a couple times a week for the last six months or so that I was there. And I coached one of the more experienced girls on her as we started her over fences. Jaava is, and always was, a firecracker. She's naturally athletic, which means that when she spooks, she can spin on a dime, and can bolt from one end of the ring to another in a heartbeat. But when she goes well, she's a joy to watch. She's fidgety and insecure, but doesn't have a mean bone in her body.

I'd heard a few weeks earlier that Jaava was for sale. And for the first few days after I heard that news, I'd flirted with the idea of buying her. But, what the heck would I do with a pony? I already have two horses to ride. And while she's got oodles of talent, she needs an experienced rider, so even if I ever decide to start a small lesson program here, she's not an ideal school horse.

Buying her would mean higher shoeing and vet bills. It would also mean more work. I decided Jaava could find another home. I made peace with my decision, and started dreaming instead, of saving money for a horse trailer.

Then, the barn roof collapsed, and Jaava became homeless.


I tell Cheryl I'll think about it, and I hang up the phone.

I lift the receiver back to my ear and call Dave.

Me: "Um, so can I get a pony?"

Part of me genuinely hopes he'll say no. Part of me knows we can't afford another mouth to feed. Part of me knows this is going to disturb the well-established hierarchy that Murray and Maggie have settled on.

Dave says yes. I explain the situation to him, and he replies that we certainly should buy her.

I hang up with Dave and phone one of my best friends. "Am I crazy?" I ask. She tells me that no, I'm not crazy, and that yes, I should get the pony.

I call Cheryl back. I make an offer. She accepts, and says she'll have the pony, and 100 bales of hay here by 11 o'clock the next morning. I'll be at work. Dave will have to unload the hay and get Jaava settled on his own (thankfully though, our horse-sitter agrees to come help out).

I spend the rest of the day cleaning the empty stall next to Murray's. I wonder whether he'll remember his new neighbour from his old barn.

A Taste of Freedom

When horses misbehave, it's generally the fault of the humans around them. This was no exception.

Saturday March 5th, 2011

I wake up with a start and flip open my cell phone to check the time. It's 6:15am. I've overslept. I have a vague, foggy memory of turning off the alarm a half hour ago. At the time I thought I'd just doze for another 2 minutes or so. Yeah, right.

I have to leave for work at 7:45, so I'm going to have to do the barn chores in record time if I want to fit in a shower and some breakfast first. I lift yesterday's barn clothes from the heap on the floor, and get dressed as I walk to the mud room.

Out at the barn, I dump grain into the horses' buckets, and muck the stalls while they eat. Thankfully, the stalls are fairly clean, and I figure I'll finish them just-in-time. I'm in Jaava's stall, tossing the last few forkfulls of manure into my wheelbarrow when I hear "clip-clop, clip-clop" on the wooden floor. I crane my neck around and catch a glimpse of Murray's navy blanket as he meanders down the isle. I'd left his stall door open-- as I always do.

I don't panic. I lowered the garage-style door behind me when I came in the barn. Well, I lowered it most of the way. There's a three foot opening at the bottom, but even if my 16.3 hand Murray were to crouch on his knees, that'd be a tight squeeze. All the same, his strut down the isle has the girls quite excited.

Jaava is astounded by the fact that Murray is walking the isle alone. She pokes her nose out the front of her stall and calls to Murray in her ear-splitting, high pitched voice, then she begins dancing in circles and rearing. Her door is open too, but the overflowing wheelbarrow is blocking the exit. I shimmy my way out of her stall so I can nudge Murray back to his before he starts a riot.

Now that I'm in the isle, I see that Murray, like the good-ole-boy that he is, is already making his way back to his stall. But Jaava doesn't seem to notice. She's bursting with excitement and clearly wants to be part of this unusual adventure. And before I have time to move the wheelbarrow and close her stall door, she sits back on her haunches and launches herself into the air. Suddenly, she's whizzing by my side as she leaps over the wheelbarrow. Unfortunately, she clips the edge of it with her hind toe and it, along with its smelly contents topple to the floor with a crash.

Murray is now trapped between a crazed-pony whom he dislikes, a toppled wheelbarrow, and an almost-closed garage door. I don't have a clear view of what happens next, but in an instant, there's another crash and I see the garage door flying violently up toward the ceiling, as Murray's blanketed body dashes out into the driveway. The door hits the end of the track and quickly springs back down again, only to be bounced back up as it hits jaava's round rump. Kicking up her heels, she gallops off in Murray's wake.

With two horses loose in the driveway, it's Maggie's turn for hysterics. She's now screaming in panic, and letting loose with furious, frustrated kicks against the back Wall of her stall. So, before I go after the two freedom seekers, I take some preventative measures. I raise the bars on the top half of her door (which are normally lowered so the horses can look out), to keep her from attempting any ill-fated leaps herself.

Then, I run to the feed room to grab a bucket of grain and the horses' halters. I'm annoyed that the horses are loose, but I'm not really worried. Murray's generally a chicken who's not interested in exploring. So, I figure that he'll loop around the front of the house, then turn back toward the paddocks to be captured there-- and I'm sure Jaava (who can't stand being alone) will follow his lead.

When I finally make it outside though, my heart skips a beat. Murray and Jaava haven't come back. I scan the horizon for a moment before I see them. Murray is standing in the middle of the road in the blind spot on top of the hill. We don't get much traffic, but the traffic we do get generally speeds up as it climbs the hill to keep from slipping in the mud, or ice, depending upon the season. From where he's standing, there's no way that oncoming vehicles will see him until it's too late. Jaava is just a few feet behind him.

I start shaking my bucket of grain and calling their names. Murray takes a few steps away-- down the hill. Jaava follows. Then, they have second thoughts. They turn around and head back up the road toward the driveway at a trot. I hold out the bucket of grain, but they don't even pause to consider my peace offering. Instead of turning down the driveway as I'd hoped, they ignore me and continue up the road. At least oncoming traffic will be able to see them now.

It's at this point, as I'm standing in the middle of the road, helplessly shaking a bucket of grain, and holding two halters, that I pull out my cell phone. I could really use another set of hands to help me round them up, and Dave is inside the house-- asleep. I dial our home number and the phone rings and rings, until the voicemail clicks in. I continue down the road toward the horses, and redial the number....still no answer. I yell into the phone "wake up and pick up the phone"! as Murray leads Jaava off the road and into the woods.

I call Dave again...just as Murray sinks up to his belly in snow and begins to flail around. Deciding that "off-roading" is not such a good idea, he and Jaava turn back toward the road. I call Dave again. He picks up. His slurred sleepy voice asks "what's going on?" and I know he's just seen us outside the window. "GET OUT HERE NOW AND HELP!" is all I say before hanging up the phone. I look up to see Murray and Jaava trotting back toward me. Again they ignore the grain, but thankfully turn into the driveway. This time, they head straight down the lane, through the open gait, and into to the pasture. Dave arrives, wearing rubber boots and fleece pyjama pants, just as I close the gate behind them.

At least he tells me that he'll handle the rest of the chores (including cleaning up the contents of the toppled wheelbarrow), so that I can make it to work on time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Murray

Last year, Murray's birthday was overshadowed by Maggie's Kamikazee incident.
Thankfully, this year Murray had the chance to eat his birthday stud-muffins without all the chaos.

Monday April 11

The horses have been separated in their smaller paddocks for the past week to give their larger paddock a chance to dry out. Today though, with rain and wind in the forecast, they're to be reunited again-- so they can huddle together in the run-in shed if need-be.

"The girls" are already outside, choosing their hay piles by the time I bring Murray out. He walks obediently by my side, but I can tell by the spring in his step, that he's having a hard time containing his enthusiasm.

I open the gate, and walk him into the paddock. He turns his head toward the mares as I close the gate behind us. I stroke his neck and he jumps slightly. Yep, he's clearly on edge. I reach up to remove his halter, but just then, I notice that his blanket is crooked. I don't know why this bothers me. It's always crooked, and no matter how many times I fix it, it promptly slips back over to the left. But, for whatever reason, I feel the need to striaghten it before turning Murray loose.

The lead line slackens as I step to Murray's side. As I grab hold of the blanket, Murray can't contain himself any longer. He spins and bolts off at full speed toward the back of the paddock. I have a split-second decision to make-- do I keep hold of the leadline, or do I let go? I decide to hold onto it, partly because I don't want to risk having him running around with a leadline wrapped around his legs, and partly, because I don't want him to think he's allowed to do this. It's a long lead, he gains a fair amount of speed before he reaches the end of the rope. When he does, the force of the pull yanks my arm forward and nearly tugs me off my feet, but I hang tight, and Murray is forced to spin back around to face me.

He's clearly shocked to find that he's still tethered, and he balks at the pressure. He rears stright up, offering me a full view of his round hay-belly. Then he tosses his head and tries to yank the leadline from my hand, but I hold tight. I stalk up to him, glaring, and yelling: "YOU. DO. NOT. TAKE. OFF. LIKE. THAT. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!". But my anger is just a farce, and really, I'm having trouble keeping a straight face. After all, it's Murray's birthday. He's 23. I'm glad he still has the strength and energy to pull silly stunts like this.

Murray lifts his chin and offers an arrogant look which is clearly unrepentant, but nonetheless, he allows me to lead him back to the gate. He stands quietly while I straighten his blanket. He lowers his head as I slowly drop the halter off his nose. I give him a final pat on the muzzle, then whisper "ok". This time with my blessing, he explodes like a rocket into the middle of the paddock. He leaps into the air, bucking like a bronc the whole time. As he approaches "the girls", he tosses his head and twists his front legs sideways into the air, striking out at imaginary targets. He leaps and prances around them, trying to entice them into playing with him-- but they're thinking only of food.

Murray does another lap around the paddock in this half-gallop, half-bucking gait, then he pauses to rear up. He stands so tall on his hind legs that his front hoof clips the roof of the run in shed. After that, he spins in circles, then drops to the ground to roll in the mud. When he gets up, his blanket is twisted to the left. I don't even consider fixing it. I just laugh and wish my good old boy a very happy birthday.

Getting Naked

Sunday April 10

It's a warm, sunny day. I take off the horses' blankets so they can frolic naked in their paddocks. Of course, with their blankets removed, one of the first things they do is roll in the mud.

Murray's blanket's going to have to go back on as the temperature drops at the end of the day, so once the mud dries, I figure I'd better spend a few minutes cleaning him up. So, as Murray suns himself in the centre of the paddock, I start flicking a shedding blade across his fuzzy coat, sending dusty clumps of chestnut coloured hair swirling through the air. By the time I'm done, much of that hair is clinging to my own clothing, hands, and face.

In the past, there were times when I refused to use the shedding blade on Murray's thin, bony body, afraid I'd actually hurt him. But this year, I have to press into his flesh to find his ribs, and his hip and shoulder bones have lost their angular qualitites. He's also developed a low-hanging hay belly.

I kiss Murray's velvet muzzle, then step back to take a better look at his condition after the long, cold, storm-ridden winter. Last year, when spring arrived and I lifted off his mud-caked winter blanket, Murray looked old. This year, at 23, he still looks old. Grey hairs continue to spread across his face, and his lack of muscle means his back is starting to sink. But, at the same time, he looks, well, he looks good. In fact, for the first time in the fourteen years that I've had him, he's come through a winter without losing weight. Actually, I think I can legitimately say that he's fat.

There are probably a few reasons for his weight gain. First of all, all winter long, we offered him as much high-protein second-cut hay as he could eat. And, for the first time ever, he had the winter off (with the exception of a few rollicking romps together in the snow).

But it's not just his weight that I'm happy with. I worried that with the winter off, he'd be stiff, sore and arthritic by spring. But that's not the case at all. He's certainly unfit, but he's feeling great. I've given up on trail rides since I can't seem to contain his overabundance of energy when we're out on the road, but the few rides I've had with Murray in the ring have been fabulous. His trot is a springy and fluid as ever, his canter stride is big and bold, and he's as sound as he's felt in years.

There was a time before we moved here that I thought I'd have to retire him for good. His stride was uneven, he kept stumbling, and his right knee would completely give-out during almost every ride. But since moving to Nova Scotia, our new farrier has made some changes to his shoeing, and I can't believe the difference those changes have made to the way he moves.

I'm knocking on wood as I write this because it's early spring, and who's to say whether his soundess will last into summer. But I'm hoping it will because it's going to take quite a few rides to work off that hay belly of his. And, I haven't told Murray this yet, but Dave's been busy building jumps in his workshop, and if Murray's a good, sound boy, maybe he'll get the chance to try them out before the end of the summer. He won't be jumping any four foot oxers, but with any luck he can step over a few smaller fences just for fun.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Disappearing Horses

Sunday April 3rd We spend most of the day mending fences and cleaning up the "storage" stalls in the barn. By 4pm, we're finished most of our work and we decide to duck out to the corner store (on the corner 11kms way).

Before we leave, I toss the bored-looking horses a couple of flakes of hay. They're barred off from the large pastures to give the ground time to firm-up and the grass time to take root. They'll thank me for this when they're munching on an abundance of lush green grass in July; but right now, they're annoyed at being cooped up in the mud-hole which is currently their paddock.

A half hour later, we're on our way back from the store. Usually, as we crest the hill, I can see the horses meandering in their paddock. Not today. I press my nose to the window to catch a glimpse of the run-in shed. Murray spends many-a-day there, with just his head sticking out, his velvety muzzle breathing in the fresh spring air. He's usually easy to see since his red coat stands out against the painted-black shed, but today I don't see him.

The paddock disappears from view for a moment as we pull into the driveway. I wonder if maybe the three of them are hiding out behind the shed, perhaps gulping down some water from the large blue bucket in the corner. But no, they're not there either. This is odd. It is possible that they're in the shed, and I simply haven't seen them, but since we got Jaava, I've never seen all three of them in the shed. If she tries to enter, Murray usually chases her out, and leaves her to stand by whichever outer wall best blocks the wind. I mean really, the shed is only 10' x 20'. It's a bit cramped for three horses-- even if one of those horses is a pony.

Dave puts the car in park and I jump out, heading toward the paddock. Still no sign of the horses-- and Jaava always whinnies in greeting when we get home. The gate's closed, so it's unlikely that they're loose. Maybe someone stole them? But we've only been gone for half an hour-- and lets be honest, as much as I love my horses, they certainly aren't the sort horse-thieves would be after....if there even are horse-thieves anymore.

I walk toward the paddock. There are no heads peering out at gluttonous mares running to the fence in search of food. Finally, my boots squelching in the half-frozen grass, I reach the side of the fence and lean around so I can see inside the shed. I'm only about 10 feet away. "Hey guys", I yell, even though I still can't see any of them. Suddenly, there's the sound of a startled horse jumping in fright, and three fuzzy equines pop their heads out of the shed simultaneously. I can't believe it. All three of them have been standing there inside-- completely inside, without so much as a tail hair or a whisker poking out through the openings.

Now that they know I'm here, Murray and Maggie wade through the mud and jockey for position at the fence line, hoping that I might be there to dole out some kind of treat. Jaava hangs back warily. She knows by now that the other two will gang up on her and viciously chase her off if she tries to snatch her rightful share of anything I might have to offer. On the bright-side, it seems that as of today, even if "the big guys" aren't willing to share their food with her, they are willing to at least share their shelter. Score one for the pony.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From Nine Lives, to Eight

The hayloft is generally Lilly's domain-- a safe haven where the timid cat can sleep soundly in her hay-lined den, free of Zorro's relentless attacks.

But, when I go up to drop hay, Zorro, afraid that he'll miss something important (like extra food), always follows. On this particular day, he pops his head through the cat-door in the feed room the moment he hears me lower the fold-away ladder to the loft. As I climb the ladder, so does he. I move to the new section of the loft, which holds the better hay. As I sort through the bales, Zorro struts across the rafters, and at one point stands on his hind legs in an attempt to reach the black roof vents which spin furiously in the wind. I roll my eyes and shake my head. I'm not sure what kind of gruesome scene would play out if he put a paw in the vents, but thankfully, they're out of reach.

Within a few minutes, I've piled my chosen bales in front of the hay chute. It's a four foot square hole in the hayloft floor, which, for safety's sake, is generally covered by a sort of plywood door which is hinged on one side. I raise the door and start tossing bales. As the bales hit the floor, the hungry horses stomp their hooves and bang against their doors. Jaava, with her high-pitched voice, nickers greedily. Her stall is closest to the opening and she cranes her neck in hopes of snatching a stray strand of hay.

Like a foreman, Zorro observes the ritual from the edge of the hay chute. His eyes follow the bales as they tumble to the hardwood floor below. He leans precariously forward into the hole and I try to shoo him away, but he's enthralled.
I wrap my fingers around the orange baler twine on the next bale in line. I lift the thirty-pound mass of dried grass and swing it forward. Just as it crosses the threshold of the chute, a black streak jumps across the opening. I scream. I know what's going to happen, but I'm too late to stop it. My fingers have already let go of the twine.

Zorro is in mid-stride when the bale hits him in the ribs. I look down in time to see his legs flailing and white belly twisting as he falls with the bale to the floor, ten feet below. The bale lands with a thud. Zorro is underneath. Tears well up in my eyes. Then, I see a black streak dash across the barn and I release a huge sigh of relief. I clamber down the ladder to make sure he's ok. He stands wide-eyed in the isle, with a look of utter confusion on his face.

Thankfully, several bales were on the floor already. They broke his fall, and the space between them provided a gap for him to escape-- preventing him from being pancaked by the bale which assaulted him.

I wonder whether the experience might temper his enthusiasm for hayloft visits. I have my answer soon-enough. I climb back up the ladder to finish the job. Close on my heels is a black and white tuxedo cat. No one ever told Zorro that curiosity kills the cat.

Monday, February 28, 2011

At Least We're not the Only Ones.

Wednesday February 16th
I worked for CBC in Halifax today, so Dave and I carpooled into the city. It was dusk when we got home, and as we crested the hill and our driveway came into sight, we noticed the oil truck.

The cab of the truck was halfway out of our driveway, so at first we assumed he was leaving. Dave slowed the car and pulled over to the side of the road to give him room. But the truck didn't move.

Me (tentatively): "Do you think he's stuck?"

Dave: "No. He can't be stuck. (pause) Can he?"

Something certainly didn't seem right. The truck was definitely lilting to the left, and it still wasn't moving. We looked more closely and saw snow, lots of it, pressed into the undercarriage of the truck. Yes. The Irving Oil truck was definitely stuck.

Dave got out of the car and approached the driver, who, despite his predicament, was cheerful and friendly. He said he was backing into our driveway about 20 minutes earlier when it happened. He hit the icy hump at the foot of our driveway (a hump created by the plow's middle of the night passes, and our too-busy/lazy-to-shovel lifestyle). When he hit the hump, his liquid load shifted with a lurch, forcing the tires to jump the edge of our narrow driveway and into the ditch.

A tow-truck was on its way. We offered the driver a chance to come inside and warm up, but he said he preferred to wait in the truck... besides, the hose on the truck was long enough that he figured he could fill our oil tank from where he was, which he did.

The driver's one big concern was for the two other clients whose tanks he was supposed to fill. One was a private home up the road in Kennetcook. They'd been without oil all day, and the temperature was hovering at something like fifteen below zero. The homeowners called the driver several times to see where he was, and he had to deliver the bad news-- he was delayed.

His other client was a business which repairs large trucks. They too had been without oil all day, and weren't very happy about the situation. Dave and I felt a little sheepish. We had plenty of oil, about a quarter of a tank. We'd just called for a delivery because we figured better safe than sorry. We likely could have gone several more weeks without oil though.

Dusk turned to dark before the tow truck finally arrived. It was a huge truck (about the same size as the oil truck) with a heavy duty winch on the back. At some point, the oil truck driver whispered to Dave that they're supposed to drain the oil from the truck before having it towed. This wasn't done, and I had visions of the truck tipping on its side, spilling thick black diesel onto the bright, white snow. Thankfully, the truck was tugged free from the rutted ditch without incident--well, almost without incident.

With the oil truck out of the ditch and now blocking the entire width of the road, the driver jumped out suddenly and ran to the left side of the truck. I followed. I noticed a four foot long metal box dangling from the bottom of the truck onto the snowy road. It turns out it was a tool box normally attached to a metal frame on the lower left hand side of the truck. But with so much snow shoved up against the bottom of the truck as it was dragged out of the ditch, the frame twisted and the box fell off. Now, the oil truck driver, and the tow truck driver were both sizing it up, trying to figure out how to re-attach it so they could finish work and go home.

Eventually, they decided to use a few bungee cords to wrangle the box into place. The driver shrugged and hoped the box would stay put while he finished his deliveries. Having it bounce off while driving 100 kms/hour on the highway was not an experience he was looking forward to.

At least he can breathe easily knowing that we shouldn't need oil again until next fall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

7pm on a wintry Thursday evening
Ice pellets land on my windshield like thousands of tiny tap-dancers. The noise reminds me of small dogs with long toenails running on hardwood floors. The highway is an unplowed, slushy mess. One lane shows two narrow black strips of bare asphalt. The passing lane, however, shows no pavement at all. Yellow and white painted lines are impossible to see from either lane.

I'm only a few kilometres into the drive home, but already I know it's going to take longer than the usual 45 minutes. I turn down the radio, grip the steering wheel tightly, and lean into the windshield-- creeping along at 60-70km/ hour.

Just about the only other vehicles on the highway are transport trucks. They have no patience for my caution; however, they're reluctant to venture into the snow-covered passing lane. So, they try to hurry this station-wagon-driving lady along. One truck gets so close to my rear bumper that I can't see its headlights. Only its grill is reflected in my rear view mirror. When I can't be goaded into picking up the pace, the driver steers his 18 wheeler into the passing lane with reckless abandon.

Finding the passing lane to be an icy mess, the driver inches his monstrous vehicle sideways toward me and my two strips of black pavement. I yield as much as I dare, but I refuse to be run off the road, into a ditch. Finally, the truck edges past, tossing a slushy mess onto my windshield in its wake--leaving me temporarily blind. Luckily, I know the highway well. This cycle of intimidation repeats itself at least a half dozen times before I finally ease my car up the off ramp and onto Nova Scotia's country side roads.

There are no black strips of asphalt to guide my path on these back roads, but there are no transport trucks to rush me along either. After well over an hour on the road, I'm thrilled to finally see the flashing yellow light that marks the turn onto Indian Road. Just two turns and two more kilometres, then I'm home. I roll my head from side to side and shake the tension out of my shoulders as I climb the gentle slope of Indian Road. It's been plowed at some point today, so it's passable-- barely. A streetlight illuminates the yard of the Bonderosa dairy farm which marks the left turn onto our dirt road.

I'm partway through the turn when I realize that our road has not been plowed at all. On top of that, there's a large pile of snow where our road meets Indian road. I give the car some gas, but I know it's too late. The front tires meet the pile of snow with a dull thud, and the car slides to a halt. I can't go forward, but thankfully I'm not stuck. I back out of the mess, and prepare to try again, but given that I'm on a slight hill, with all momentum gone, the car will only move backwards.

I reverse nearly the entire length of Indian Road. until it flattens out, then I give the car some gas and race up the hill as fast as I can. This time, when I hit our road, the car fishtails, but continues forward over the hump. However, the entire road is covered with about four inches of icy-snow the consistency of a thick slush-puppy.

I press my foot even harder on the gas peddle. I may have gotten through the pile of snow at the intersection, but I still have to make it up our very steep hill. I pass the neighbour's house, and begin the steepest section. I'm sliding all over the place, but at least I'm moving forward. . I'm going to make it. I'm going to make it.

I don't make it. My wheels start spinning just 50 metres from the crest of the hill. I back down the hill, into our neighbour's driveway and call Dave from my cell phone. A few minutes later, our Dodge truck is parked on the road in front of me, and Dave's searching for a spot to attach the tow ropes.

He tries to pull the car up the hill, but the road is so icy and the hill so steep that the truck can't get any more traction, and after about 20 feet or so, we're at a standstill. We detach the vehicles and I back all the way down our road and into the well plowed driveway of the dairy farm. Our kind neighbours tell me I can park there until 10am tomorrow-- when the milk truck is scheduled to arrive.

As it turns out, I don't need to keep the car there overnight. Moments after pulling into our driveway (in the truck), we see the flashing lights of the plow at the bottom of the hill. After about 15 minutes, its blade passes by our driveway-- then the plow stops.

Dave goes to see if the driver needs any help. It turns out the tire-chains on the plow snapped while negotiating our hill. The friendly driver tells Dave that he, and all other plow drivers hate our hill. He says his plow got stuck partway up last year, and he had to call someone to come tow his massive rig. He tells Dave to wait another twenty minutes or so, and that once his tire chains are back on, he'll do another pass on the road so we can bring up the car.

After his second run (and another stop at the top of our hill to fix his chains), we go get the car. Ice pellets are still pelting the windshield, but with the road plowed, I'm able to make it safely into our driveway. It's 9:30pm, and I'm finally able to sit down to supper.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stuck Again...and Again...and Again

Our vehicles have expressed their collective dislike for winter by staging various forms of work stoppages over the past two months. First, my car wouldn't start, then my car couldn't make it up our hill. Then, as winter progressed, the other vehicles ...both the tractor and the truck, joined in the protests as well.

Tuesday February 8-- evening

It's been snowing all day.
It's late when Dave finally pulls into the driveway after a long drive on snow-covered roads. He's exhausted, so I feel bad suggesting (more accurately insisting) that he plow the driveway tonight. After all, we both have to work in the morning...and we both know he's not going to want to fire up the tractor at 5am.

Reluctantly, he concedes defeat. I watch his progress from the kitchen window while I wash dishes. The tractor has no lights, and before long it disappears into dakness at the end of the drivevway. I wait for it to reappear. The clean dishes pile up on the counter, and still, there's no sign of the tractor. I suddenly have visions of the tractor lurching sideways and landing upsidedown in the ditch, pinning Dave. I dry my shrivelled hands and rush to the mudroom to haul on my coat. Just then the chime rings and the front door swings open. It's Dave, covered in snow and wearing a scowl. The tractor is stuck-- but at least it's upright and he's ok.

In the dark, Dave has driven off the edge of our too narrow driveway and down into a deep drift on our front lawn. The four-foot high rear tires are half-way submerged in snow.

He backs the truck as close to the rear of the tractor as he can and attaches the tow-ropes. I hoist myself into the driver's seat as he makes his way back to the tractor, flashlight in hand. I shift the truck into gear and ease my foot onto the gas pedal. The truck strains forward, then the tires spin, searching for solid ground, finding only snow. An instant later, the truck lurches forward as the tow-rope breaks.

We give up on that idea. We consider leaving the tractor there until spring. But there's a whole lot more snow to be moved and neither of us is keen on doing that much shovelling. Dave shrugs and decides to attempt to drive the tractor forward across the lawn. What's the worst that could happen? It's already stuck.

He rocks it forward then back, forward then back. Finally, it's freed from the cradle-like ruts, and inches forward slightly. I clap and cheer them on. "Come on Dave, come on MF" (my nickname for our Massey Ferguson tractor which shares my initials). Thankfully there are no neighbours to offer furtive glances from their windows. He chugs ahead slowly through a winter's worth of deep snow, turning the tractor toward a gap in the line of stately evergreen trees which stand at attention the length of our driveway. Branches bend as the tractor emerges from between the trees and rises onto the driveway. Disaster averted-- for now.

The next morning-- Wednesday February 9

I wake to the sound of CBC radio announcers warning of treacherous road conditions. I look out our back window and see snow piled up above the doorknob on the feedroom door. The path to the paddocks is impassible with waist high drifts. I open the front door and a mini avalache of snow rolls inside. I look at the driveway and groan. Dave will make it out with the truck. But I'm taking the car today, and despite Dave's valiant efforts last night, the driveway is once again blocked.

It's not that it snowed much overnight. It's simply that Mother Nature has chosen to redecorate. Using winds gusting between 50 and 60 kilometers an hour, she lifted tens of thousands of snowflakes, swirled them around in the air and redeposited them in spaces made vacaant by earlier efforts with shovels and plows. I don't like to criticize Her work, but She and I certainly have different visions of how the landscape should look.

With no time to waste, I brave the ongoing winds and start shovelling. After an hour, I've carved a new path on Mother Nature's canvas. I lower a steaming mug of tea into my car's cup holder, toss my bagged lunch onto the passenger seat, and prepare myself for a long drive punctuated by icy roads and white-out conditions.

But as I shift the car into reverse, it refuses to move. Well, it moves a couple of inches, then stops, tires spinning. I get out, shovel around all the tires, and try again. Nothing. There's ice underneath, and I'm in a low point on the driveway. I curse my low-slung station wagon. I think of the four-tonne pile of traction sand back by the manure pile-- beyond a 30 meter stretch of waist deep snow. I'm not that desperate yet. I call my boss to tell her I'll be late. She's stuck in her driveway too. Upon hearing this, I feel better about myself.

I have a sudden epiphany-- cardboard. There are some old boxes in the house. I can slip the cardboard from the boxes under the tires, and I'll be good to go. I try. The tires simply spit the cardboard back across the driveway.

Then, another, better epiphany-- cat litter. I can pour cat litter under the tires instead of sand. It should provide traction, and I don't have to wade out to the frozen sand pile to get it. I try that. The car's tires dig deeper, icier trenches, and big wads of clumping litter stick to everything in sight. But the car remains firmly stuck.

Finally, reluctantly, I haul on my snowpants, grab the empty kitty litter bucket and wade through the waist high drifts to the sand pile. Once there, I heave three bales of frozen, rotting hay off the tarp which covers the pile. Then I use my gloved-hands to dig throught he snow until I find an edge of the blue tarp. I peel it back then chizel frozen sand from the pile with a metal shovel until my bucket is full. I wade back to the car. I'm freezing, and my mug of tea is no longer steaming, but at least I'm sure this will work. This is what traction sand is for-- right?

Wrong. It's no use, despite a bucket full of sand, the car's not moving. I can't even rock it forward and back anymore. I wave the white flag and dial the 1-800 number for CAA.

I retreat inside the warm house and wait. The tow truck driver who "rescues" me is the same one who towed our car when my license had expired.

Sat. Feb. 12
The path to the manure pile has been blocked with snow for three days now. For three days I've been dumping wheelbarrows full of manure on top of frozen, snow-covered flower beds in the backyard. I ease my conscience by telling myself it will make good fertilizer in the spring.

Today though, Dave has the day off and he's reluctantly agreed to spend much of it clearing snow. He manages to clear a narrow path down the lane before he clips the edge of our sand pile and the tractor sinks deep into the soft ground beneath. It's stuck. Again. We both sigh and agree to deal with it tomorrow.

Sunday February 13
I grab a shovel. Dave grabs some boards. Amidst firece winds, we begin our mission to liberate the tractor. As he jacks up the tires, I dig and dig and dig. Dave slides the boards into the spaces I've created. He lowers the tractor and tries to drive away. The tires spin and the chains rattle, but the tractor refuses to move. Choking on diesel fumes, I dig some more. There's hardly any snow left around the tires. The ruts are now simply flat ground. I'm sure Dave can easily drive it out. But no, the obstinate old girl holds her ground. "Come on MF, there's no reason for you not to move now", I shout-- discouraged.

Reluctantly, we agree to try plan B. I've been hoping it wouldn't come to this, but I can't see any other alternative. Dave gets his tow ropes and begins to back the truck down the lane. I'm nervous. Dave only managed to clear a narrow path before mother nature gripped our tractor's tires and sucked them down through the snow with her unrelenting grasp. The path's not wide enough for the truck and I know it. I halfheartedly offer to widen it with a shovel before we bring the truck in. But neither of us really want to make the effort. So, Dave cautiously manoeuvers the truck backwards. At first, it goes well. Then, I hear it... the sound of tires spinning.

It takes a lot to get Dave mad, but he's mad now. He gets out of the truck and slams the door-- swearing. I'm surprised he managed to get the door open at all since snow is now jammed up above the top of the tires. Exhasperated, Dave's convinced the truck is stuck until spring...which means the tractor is stuck...which means our only vehicle is the station wagon. Looking at the ice and snow shoved up underneath the chasis, I'm inclined to agree, but I don't tell him that. Instead I reassure him that we'll get the truck out. It will just take a little-- er maybe a lot of digging. So, I wade into the snow and start shovelling. My arms are sore from my earlier efforts with the tractor. But there's a job to be done.

We dig for a solid half hour. Finally, we've moved as much snow away from the truck as we can. Dave climbs into the cab, and I stand behind the truck with my fingers crossed. Snow crunches as the truck rolls ahead. It's free....but there's still the issue of the tractor.

We do a bit more shovelling in the lane, and with a path now cleared, Dave inches the truck backwards again. This time, the snow stays firmly packed underneath the tires. We attach the tow ropes, and on Dave's signal, I inch the truck forward. With barely discernable effort, the tractor is pulled free of Mother Nature's icy grip.

What a week-- I hope the groundhog is right and that spring is just around the corner.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Finding Maggie

About a year ago....

February 4, 2010
I usually enjoy my work at Greenhawk in Moncton, but today, I'm anxious to get out of the store. At 3pm, I'm drumming my fingers on the desk behind the cash, anxiously waiting for my co-worker to arrive to relieve me. When she does, I dash out the door-- giddy with excitement.

The twenty minute drive to the barn is unbearable. When I finally arrive, I shout a brief hello to Murray in his paddock, then continue straight down the path into the barn. Murray's stall and my locker are directly ahead inside the main door, but I turn left down the isle. I walk to the last stall on the left. Inside, a fat, black mare glances up at me from what's left of a pile of hay. Maggie was dropped off just a few hours earlier. She seems reasonably content in her new, albeit temporary, surroundings.

I started seriously looking for a second horse in early January 2010, when it looked like we really might be buying the farm. After all, I couldn't let Murray move here without a friend.

I knew exactly what I wanted:
-A horse big and strong enough to comfortably carry Dave
-A horse kind and quiet enough for Dave to work around
-A horse that is fairly young, not an old ready-to-drop-dead retiree
-A horse that's an easy keeper (no thoroughbreds this time around)
-And above all, most importantly, the horse has to be cheap

I spent hours and hours scrolling through classified ads on Atlanic Rider and scanning the "livestock for sale" column on Kijiji. Most of the horses within my price range (about $1500) were retired or unsuccessful standardbred racehorses, oddly bred draft horses, or quarter horse crosses of questionable backgrounds and training. But there were a few which stood out:

Mid-January 2010

The horses in most of the ads are easy to cross of the list, but there are two big draft crosses whose ads I click on several times a day. They're nice looking horses, who seem to meet all of our criteria-- except for the price. They're both priced above $3000. At first, I tell myself there's no way I'm willing to spend that kind of money on a "companion horse" for Murray (and Dave). But both of these horses are well-schooled, and would probably make good mounts for me (as well as Dave)-- I could compete at jumper shows and in events with either one of them. Looking at their ads in that light, I convince myself that either horse would be a worthwhile investment.

I hemm and haw for a few more days though before finally contacting the owners. Both horses have just been sold. Strike one. I'm disappointed, but part of me knows that neither horse was really what I was looking for, and that paying that kind of price would have put a serious strain on my ever-shrinking savings.

A few days later, another "horse for sale" ad catches my eye. It's for a Canadian mare. She's smaller than I would ideally like, and priced a bit above my limit at about $2000. In my experience, Canadian horses are generally strong, kind and friendly, so I don't rule her out, but I don't make any effort to contact the owners either. I troll the ads for a few more days, and I don't see any other horses which meet my criteria.

I casually mention the ad for the Canadian at the barn where Murray is stabled. Roxanne, a very talented young rider, immediately speaks up. "That's Nelly", she says. Nelly is owned by a friend of the family, and Roxanne had spent quite a few hours on her back. Both she and her mother are very fond of the horse. They say she's energetic, but safe, and think she'd make a great companion for both Murray and Dave.

That night, January 14th, Roxanne e-mails me pictures of Nelly. Dave instantly likes her. I decide to call the owners the next day.

The next morning, I fire up the computer and scroll through the ads. I can't find the ad for Nelly. I e-mail Roxanne for the family's contact info. She gets back to me with the bad news. Nelly was sold yesterday. Strike two.
It's back to the drawing board, so Dave and I decide to take a field trip.

It's a cold, but sunny morning and Dave and I are on our way to Amherst to see "Roger". Everyone in the horse world knows Roger. He makes a living buying and selling horses of all sizes, colours, and quality. Many end up in good homes. Many are eventually loaded onto a trailer and "shipped to Quebec" (which is a Maritime euphemism for being sent to slaughter).

We pull into a long driveway tucked down a lane behind the Walmart in Amherst. It's our first time here. In the minutes before Roger arrives to greet us, we glance around at a series of barns-- some very old, others quite new. Soon, a stocky, heavy-set man with a round, weather-worn face appears and we introduce ourselves to Roger. He tells us he has about 100 horses on the property. A few of the nicer looking ones belong to his daughter. The rest are for sale.

Roger is friendly enough, but he wastes little energy on words. He walks with us past a manure-covered paddock housing 15 or so particularly thin and unhealthy-looking animals. These unfortunate individuals, many of whom are unwanted retired standardbred racehorses, are due to travel to Quebec the next day.

We march morosely past them through the snow to a large field filled with several dozen much healthier-looking horses, many of whom are gathered around a large round-bale. A few are big draft horses, or draft crosses. One Clydesdale in particular catches Dave's eye. He's a massive animal, well over 17 hands high. We're told he has very little, if any training. Dave likes him, but there's something about this horse's expression that makes me wary, and he's just too big and too green for my liking. We're there for an hour or more. All of the horses we see are in need of good homes, but they're either too big, too small, or too green for our needs. We finally leave, telling Roger that if we don't find anything within the next few weeks, we'll be back to check out any new stock that trots in.

It's now mid to late January. I'm getting desperate. We haven't settled on a closing date for the house yet, but we know it will be sometime in mid-February. I will stay in Moncton for another few weeks to clear out and clean up our old house. But by the first of March, I'll have to leave. The problem is, I don't want to move Murray to our new home without a companion. I also don't want to move there without him. I need to find a horse...soon.

January 19, 2010

A few days after our trip to Roger's, I come across an ad for the perfect horse-- probably even better suited to us than Nelly would have been. "Trigger" is a plain-looking chestnut quarter horse crossed with something or rather-- likely a "Heinz 57". Attached to the ad is a link to a video of a seemingly inexperienced, adult, male rider trotting and loping around on him. The horse responds well and seems unfazed by the rider's slightly bouncy hands and unbalanced seat.

"Trigger" is for sale on Prince Edward Island, so I ask my good friend KK whether she knows anything about him. She does indeed know the horse. She says he's had experience as both a trail horse and a lesson horse. He's big enough for Dave, yet small enough that children won't be intimidated. She tells me he's perfect. And the price is right too.

It's Wednesday January 20th. I e-mail Trigger's owners. I'm working all week, but I set up an appointment to see him on Saturday. I spend Friday night dreaming about our perfect new horse. Saturday morning dawns bright and cold. I bundle up and drive off toward the Island. About a half hour outside of Moncton, my cell phone rings. It's Trigger's owners-- well, former owners. They sold him last night. Strike three.

Monday January 25

For what seems like (and probably is) the millionth time, I scroll absentmindedly through the latest "horse for sale" ads on Kijiji. One ad, just posted, shows a cute-looking Percheron x Quarter horse mare. I click for more information. There's not much more info at all, just a phone number, but I've got a good feeling...a really good feeling. I call right away. A woman answers. I tell her I'm calling about the horse for sale.

"Which one?" she asks.
"Um, the Percheron cross--a mare?"
"Oh," she says kindly "you must mean Maggie."

My heart skips a beat. My brother-in-law's dog had been named Maggie. She was one of the most kind, and beloved animals I'd ever known. We fell in love with our dog because she could have been Maggie's twin. The fact that this horse shares a name with what had been such a wonderful animal has to be a sign. This is our horse. Unfortunately, "our horse" is in Oxford, Nova Scotia. I'm working at Greenhawk all week, and teaching riding lessons most evenings.

"If she hasn't sold by the weekend, I'd like to come see her".
"Ok," says the kind voice on the phone. "I'll tell my husband, Ron, he's the one who deals with all this."

I'm on pins and needles all week. I check the ad on Kijiji everyday to make sure it's still there, and that the word "SOLD" hasn't appeared. On Friday I call Ron to confirm our appointment. "She's still there?" I say, with every finger and toe crossed. He tells me she is, and gives me directions to their modest farm.

Dave is home for the weekend, so we drive together to Oxford to meet Maggie on Saturday. When we arrive, we're greeted by an excitable, though friendly, young german shepard type dog. Soon, the dog is joined by Ron, a smiling, grey-bearded man in coveralls. He leads us to the barn where Maggie is tied in a straight stall. She has company in the form of a miniature horse, two massive Belgians, and two even more massive percherons. Maggie's a Percheron quarter horse cross herself, but she looks like a pony beside these gentle giants.

I walk into the narrow straight stall beside her. Her ears are forward, and despite the close quarters, there's no sign of aggression or anxiety. We bring her into the isle for a better look. She stands quietly while I run my hands through her thick, but shiny black coat, and down her legs. There's some swelling down the inside of her right hind. Her hooves clearly haven't been well cared for. Two of them are cracked from toe to coronary band, and large chunks are missing from all four.

Ron tells us Maggie was a PMU baby shipped from Alberta as a filly. At the time, she was sold to an older gentleman. Just two weeks ago, that man traded the now 7 year old mare back to Ron-- who has considerable experience with draft horses, but not saddle horses.

He tells us Maggie is broke to harness, but has never been ridden. He says she is gentle, though can be a bit "sharp" sometimes (meaning she occasionally has a stubborn streak). He's got too many horses right now, so she's been spending nights on his horse trailer, alongside his mini-horse (who looks like a dog beside all these drafts).

He leads Maggie outside into the bright sun. Despite her crumbling hooves, she walks just fine. He tries to trot her down the icy driveway for us, but she only manages to waddle a few steps before it becomes too slippery for both of them. It's almost impossible to tell for sure, but I convince myself that she seems sound.

I like Ron, he doesn't give us a sales pitch. He just answers our questions, seemingly honestly, and he sits back and waits for us to come to our own decision.

I look at Dave. He likes black horses, and he's been insistent that he wants a horse with big bone, something with substance so he can feel secure in the saddle. Maggie, with her elephant-eyes and docile temperament has won him over...and me too.

I'm a horrible negotiator. I don't even know where to start. I tell Ron we're interested, but that I'm a bit worried about her hooves. He drops the price from 12 hundred to 11 hundred dollars. I think some more. I tell him we don't have a trailer, and I wonder whether he could bring her to Moncton for us (it will cost at least $100 for me to hire someone else). He agrees, and says he can bring her sometime during the next week. I write a cheque for about half the cost.

Dave and I drive away both pleased and relieved with our decision. We've never, ever regretted our choice, and Maggie has become a much beloved part of our family.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dave's Joy-Ride

A few days ago, Dave and I were talking about the horses. I mentioned that it had been quite awhile since he'd been for a ride. This wasn't meant as an accusation, or a challenge, or a call to action. It was merely a statement of fact. I think though, that my loving husband may have misinterpreted my statement. His response was "It's supposed to be nice on Sunday, why don't we go for a ride then?". I wonder now whether he regrets his suggestion.

Sunday January 29th
It's a beautiful winter's day-- warm, sunny, and not a breath of wind. By 11:30am we're ready for a ride.

I'll be honest. I'm a little nervous about this mid-winter escapade. The horses haven't been ridden much. They're pretty fresh, and Maggie has managed to muster a considerable amount of energy during the few recent rides I have had on her. I don't mention my concerns to Dave, and I manage to convince myself that we'll just go for a short, leisurely, and safe walk in the snow.

Before we ride, I scope out the state of the road. It's been sanded, but is very icy underneath. I worry that the hill is too slippery for Maggie's unshod hooves. I'm also worried about the riding ring. There's a fresh layer of snow, but it's not thick, and lurking underneath is perfect skating-rink-smooth ice. I decide our best option is to ride the horses in the large, snow-filled, fenced-in field. The footing is safe, and we'll be in an enclosed area-- a large enclosed area, but enclosed nonetheless.

Dave is ready before me. As usual, he uses the round, two-foot-high concrete crock above our well on the front-lawn, as a step-stool to hoist himself onto Maggie's western saddle.

Me: "Forgetting something?"

Dave: "What? No."

Me: "Are you sure?"

Dave: "Oh, my helmet...I guess I forgot to tack myself up".

We giggle, and I lead Murray back to the barn to retrieve Dave's helmet. I'm a stickler about helmets. I've had two concussions from falls WITH helmets, so I can't imagine what would have happened if I hadn't been wearing the mushroom-like caps.

With his helmet securely strapped to his head, Dave urges Maggie down the path toward the pastures while I go back to the barn once again to smear Vaseline in Murray's hooves. It helps keep the snow from balling up beneath his soles.

From inside the barn, I suddenly hear a squeaky clip-clip in the packed snow, along with a series of ever intensifying shouts of "whoa" intermingled with: "whoa Maggie whoa". I grab Murray's reins and lead him abruptly from the barn as Maggie rounds the corner toward us-- eyes wide and nostrils flared. Dave yells at her and tugs on the reins, but she doesn't stop until she's right in front of us.

Me: "What happened?"

Dave (somewhat breathless): "I tried to ride her through the gate and she wouldn't go through. She spun around, took off, then reared, then took off again."

Me (dismissively): "Well, I think she's stressed about leaving Murray behind. Just wait for me and we'll go in together."

In the back of my mind, my apprehension over this ride is growing. I still don't mention it to Dave though. If I make him nervous, he'll make Maggie nervous, and things will go quickly downhill from there.

Dave has limited riding experience, but the experience he has had has so far has been positive. He's never fallen off, and until Maggie's uncontrolled rear/trot-back-toward-the-barn, he's never had a horse do anything more threatening than a mild spook (though he's watched enough of Murray's antics that he's well aware of how powerful and unpredictable these 12 hundred pound animals can be when they so choose). To this point, Dave's confidence on horseback is fully intact, and I'd like it to stay that way.

I brush my worries aside, and lead Murray to the well, so I can get on. Dave and Maggie are behind me, wandering in the snow on the front lawn. Murray and I make it about 20 feet down the path before I hear Maggie's gait quicken, first to a trot, then a canter. Again, I hear the chorus of "WHOA's", each one becoming more desperate. I stop and turn in time to see Maggie cantering through the knee deep snow in the lawn, with Dave tugging unsuccessfully at her reins (Dave has only ever cantered a handful of times). She leaps a small snowbank and hits the icy driveway at a fast clip. She slips, yanking the reins through Dave's gloved-hands. She manages to stay on her feet, but Dave's reins are now too long to offer any control.

"Sit up and shorten your reins!" I yell. Then I ad my own "whoa's" to Dave's efforts. Maggie slows slightly, to a half-trot-half-canter gait, but she's heading straight for the tractor. At the last possible second, she ducks to the left, nearly unseating Dave, who's still trying to shorten his reins to a reasonable length. Then, Maggie veers sharply to the left again and heads straight for our truck. Instead of crashing into it, she climbs the four-foot high pile of snow behind it, then runs up along the passenger side.

By now, I've jumped off Murray, thankfully Dave has readjusted his reins, and Maggie has exhausted the supply of vehicles with which she can play chicken. With a final "WHOA", and a sharp tug on the reins, Maggie comes to a halt a few feet in front of Murray and me. I reach forward and grab the reins, giving them a few unproductive tugs. I force myself to check my anger, and I look up to Dave to ask whether he's ok.

He's flushed, out of breath, and a little shaken.

Dave: "What a little B*^#&."

I concur.

Me: "Why don't you hop off, and I'll lunge Maggie in the field for a bit before you get back on?"

Dave: "Ok, I'll get the lunge line".

I hand Murray's reins to Dave, and I lead Maggie into the field, all the while whispering to her about manners, and taking care of Dave and how it's ok to behave stupidly with me, but not with him.

I let her out on the lunge line and she bursts into a bigger extended trot than I would have thought possible for her short legs. Then she canters, then she bucks. I dig my heels into the snow and hold tightly to the end of the lunge line until she tires. I figure that should happen soon; after all, she's careening around in knee-deep snow.

Maggie's more worked up than I'd hoped and I'm reluctant to let Dave climb back into the saddle. In the meantime, Murray stands calmly beside Dave, half dozing. I know Dave still wants to ride (he's never ridden outside in the snow before), so I consider the options for a few minutes, then suggest to him that he get on Murray.

Dave: "Really?"

Me: "Yeah, just stay fairly close, and just WALK".

Dave's ridden Murray around on several occasions. He even went over a very small jump on him on the lunge line before. It's certainly unusual for Murray to be the "safer" choice, but today, he seems just that. So Dave scales the fence and gently lowers himself onto Murray's English saddle. The two of them walk calmly back and forth through the snow-drifts while I try to keep Maggie from ripping my arms out of their sockets on the lunge line.

After a few minutes, I bring Maggie to a walk, and I decide to get on to test her obedience level.

I bring her alongside Dave and Murray and for a few minutes, we all walk contentedly through the snow to the bottom of the field. The snow is deeper here, and I notice Murray has added a bit more bounce to his walk.

Me, calmly: "Make sure you sit up, and keep your heels down".

Dave: "Whoa Murray".

Me: "Whoa Murray".

We round the corner so the horses' muzzles are now pointing up the hill toward home.
Murray simply can't hold back his enthusiasm. He bounds into a springy trot, which then becomes a rocking-horse-like canter up the hill. It's really just a lope, but with his 14 foot stride, Murray's lope can out-pace the canter of many-a-horse. He's bouncy at the best of times, but now he's also wading through a foot and a half of snow. Each stride must feel to Dave as though he's just been launched from the heart of a tightly wound jack-in-the-box.

In stereo, Dave and I yell "whoa". But Murray's enjoying himself. He doesn't stop until he reaches the fence at the top of the hill. Seemingly proud of himself for offering Dave such an amusing ride, he slows down. Then, Murray senses that Dave has lost a stirrup and is off balance. Unused to inexperienced riders, and very sensitive to any shift in his rider's weight, Murray becomes worried and confused. He glances down the Hill toward Maggie and I with a worried look on his face, then continues toward the paddock gait in a moose-like trot-- anxious to be rid of the bouncing burden on his back. I'm sure Dave's about to take a dive into the snow.

Miraculously though, Dave hangs on as Murray abruptly changes course and decides to come to "mom" for help. He finally stops when he's back alongside Maggie and me. The look of anxiety on his face matches the look on Dave's. Their eyes are wide, they're both breathing hard, and they both look confused. I hop off of Maggie and gently grab hold of Murray's bridle. With Dave still in the saddle, he relaxes, an within a minute or so, the old boy's eyes are closed and he's dozing in the sun.

Dave (still out of breath): "I thought for sure I was going to fall off".

"Me too. Shall we call it a day?"

Dave: "Yeah, I think that's probably enough of a ride for today."