We are well into December and we have had our first decent snowfall. I always like the first snow, especially if it has some volume to it, like the blanket we just got last week.
I always remember as a kid getting dressed up to go out, and that "let's go out and ram around in the snow feeling!". That never really goes totally away, even after the long months of a cold winter.
It lasted two days and we got about 6 inches of the white powdery stuff, with a good wind drifting. I like scoop shoveling out the doors and then coming in from the wild and woolly winter of Minnesota.
The tree work slows and I am kept busy (thankfully) at the adjoining horse barn there in Stillwater.
The day after and the wind has fallen off. We wake to a crystal blue sky and a pure white landscape. My drive to work goes by lakes with sparkling ice sheets that are soon, but not yet, dotted with fishing houses.
I pass white rolling hills with white capped tree-lines, and fence posts; each one holding up three strands of barbed wire and a small pillar of snow.
I see cows and horses and people getting the mail, or kids waiting for the bus; all of them with breath clouds that freeze tiny sparkly diamonds in midair.
Just before getting to work, I descend along a tree lined creek bed as it drops to the Saint Croix river, less than a mile further down the road.
On this particular day, the storm has past, the shoveling needs to be done, and the horses have been in the barn for over a day and would really like to go out.
Here is where it kinda separates those walking horses and those leading horses. ..and we will find out if you have been paying attention.
The main barn layout has the stalls facing inward towards the arena.
There is an aisle on either side of the arena. The stall faces are on one (outboard) side of the aisle, and a half wall with posts on the other (inboard) side of the aisle.
So if you are standing in the arena you can look into all the stalls on both sides and see the horses facing you.
They can also see you. When you are walking down an aisle and have hay, or are leading a horse, or whatever, the horses on the other side of the arena are watching you. And they react like you should expect, if you have been paying attention.
Some horses are patient, some are not. Some are down right a pain in the ass.
It is not wise to leave a horse alone, at least the ones that are used to being around other horses all the time, like the ones I work with. They are instinctively herd animals.
So the first ones out are usually neighbors, or are in the same paddock.
Some cannot be lead together. Some need boots or a blanket. Some need to be treated sternly, some are waay too timid and tender. And some are just old.
Some are young and are often unpredictable and a bother to lead.
So, as you get the horses individually harnessed up, out of their stalls, and into their respective and proper paddocks; a lot is going through your mind, or it should be if you've been paying attention and you're not just a fat-head, dragging your boots around, and just mucking stalls.
You must be in control and they must know this. This is done mostly through attitude, body movement and talking.
You don't need to be rough or gruff, just convince them that you will fend off the mountain lion when it comes jumping out of the tree.
I can spot right off, someone who is not really comfortable or aware around the horses. For some reason they often have a desire to try and hide this fact. You have to watch these people, they can cause problems until made more aware.
So as I am going about the business at hand I am thinking ahead a bit.
Priorities include: I am cleaning this barn so I want them out fast, cause they keep filling the stalls. I want the problem children out first, so their out of the way and not causing trouble for others. I want to make as few trips back and forth, so I like to double or triple or quad run the horses out if they are game for it. I want them to damage nothing, if they do it could halt everything and I will probably be the one fixing it.
After being boxed up for a day we are lucky to double up the less problematic ones.
It being cold out, I also like to shut the doors behind me when leading the horses in and out, it usually means a spin about at the door, but it helps keep the heat in, big-time.
So the way I start usually is to grab the two Arabian mares (-very flighty-) and harness and blanket them up and take them together, to their paddock down below. Then they're done and out of the way.
Well they were a little springy, all eyes and ears, and when I opened the door to the bright outside world the black one gave a little snort. Well, I let here know everything just fine and out they came. I shut the door and lead them, short leashed, as they pranced all the way down to the pen.
When I released them, they were off like a couple of springs, galloping up the hill, kicking snow and looking all over. Then they came back down to the hay for their morning munch.
By then, when you walk in the barn; half the horses are eyeing you, a third of them are pacing, and several are whinnying at you. "Hey me next! I wanna go out and play!" and in so doing are getting the others excited.
Oh, and some have to stay in per the weekly schedule, they get a flake of hay and I forgot and when I bring it they start hollering about that too.
Some, when taken together go at such different paces that you are nearly pulled in two between the slow poke and the "I want my hay" quick-stepper. Lots of pulling in both directions can leave you very frustrated, especially when your trying to shut a paddock gate snaphook and chain. Ahggg!
Sheesh, lets get these animals out of the barn and get some peace and quiet so we can get the stalls cleaned.
Some, like Sulivan, are such a pacing bother that they go out early and, being part of a set of four, he can go out with Max right now. Then I can get Dancer out on the return and start to take advantage of the back and forth pattern as I enter and leave one end of the barn, then the other, leading horses out to paddocks and their morning hay.
It's kinda like being a bartender at an unruly road house, or a manager at a hotel with very noisy and demanding customers.
You can't lead these two together but you can those two, but one has to have his halter removed at the paddock gate, he has a sore that is healing on the nose.
And on and on it goes, every day at many horse barns throughout Minnesota, as it has for decades, centuries...
And this barn eventually returns to a relatively normal routine as the horses go out into this winter wonder-land, snorting and stomping into paddocks, jumping and kicking...and rolling, lots and lots of rolling and then getting up and shaking and settling into some nice hay.
Now to clean the stalls.
It is kind of fun in its own annoying way.
So those of you, who I have spoken to, may see why, I talk like I do.