- Natasha Beddingfield
I woke up on the frosty morning of Saturday, February 28, with an unmistakeable feeling of excitement in my chest. After a few foggy seconds, I remembered what I had to be excited about. It was Horse Day.
Deb Williams – the very person who taught me to ride about thirty (cough) years ago – was to meet us at Ron Cooke’s farm at 10 am. She would be trailering our horses for us. The Farmer and I hurried through breakfast and sheep-feeding chores and took one last look at the empty stable before hopping into the truck.
For the past two weeks, since we met and bought the two Belgian mares, we had been reading up on the care and feeding of heavy horses on the Internet and in the handbook that Jack Little, another local Belgian owner, had lent us.
The Farmer read the book, drew diagrams, and spent several evenings fashioning the left side of our smaller barn into a couple of large tie stalls. He covered the gravel floor with sturdy wood, and built each horse a feeding station similar to the ones they had grown up with. We ordered a ton of corn and barley, covered the new wood floor with straw, and sought advice from other heavy horse owners.
As we pulled up to Ron’s place, we noticed that he had company. Ken Acton, another area horseman, was on hand to help with the big move. I had only found out the day before (Ron had no doubt told me earlier but for one reason or another it hadn’t sunk in) that Ashley and Misty had never been trailered before. I was relieved to see that we had plenty of experienced assistants at the ready.
I went into the barn and saw that Ashley and Misty were in their stalls, munching on hay. I spent a few minutes talking to them and feeding them handfuls of sweetfeed. I told them that they would have to say goodbye to their friend and caregiver Ron, but that the Farmer and I were going to do our very best to make them happy. I told them all about the farm, the sheep, the cows, and Donkey. The chewed and stared at me, as if they were listening. I noticed that when one of them stops chewing to listen to something, the other one stops too. When one starts again, the other follows.
As the truck and horse trailer rattled into the driveway, the girls cocked their ears. And turned their heads in the direction of the open door. And began to whinny.
“They know that sound,” Ron explained. “It either means a horse is comin’ or a horse is leavin’.”
Ashley, the older and calmer of the two horses, was the first to be led onto the trailer. She went willingly, but froze in her tracks when her first dinner-plate of a hoof hit the ramp.
“Yes, that makes a noise, doesn’t it?” Debbie worked her magic with the huge horse, leading her up and into the trailer and tying her to the rail.
Misty whinnied and craned her neck to see where her sister was going. Her eyes were a bit wild. She was anxious to get into the trailer too, but once aboard she insisted on being in Ashley’s spot. One week later as I write this, we have come to know that “musical stalls” is one of Misty’s favourite games.
As Ron loaded some hay onto the back of our truck, Ken wandered over to Farmer Fisher. He mentioned that he had driven past the farm recently, and noticed the silage in white wrap on the front field. “You know you can’t feed that to the horses, right?”
Oh my. Come to think of it, I did recall hearing that silage was toxic to horses. But I had since forgotten that important fact. Thank God we had been reminded. I wondered if I was far too ignorant to successfully care for these noble beasts. What other life-threatening things was I unaware of?
We feed the fragrant (smells like a combination of whisky and marijuana), fermented silage to the cows, Donkey and sheep. The animals will practically knock the Farmer off his tractor to get at it when he’s delivering a bale. The feeders are located just south of the new stable doors. So we have to lead the horses across the icy barnyard to the front field each morning and back to the stable every night.
Ashley and Misty are not used to being led either. Especially not by people who are as green as the Farmer and his Farmwife. It was on these initial walks that the true personalities of our new horses emerged.
On the first day, I slid right under Ashley and whacked my knee on the ice. I froze, afraid to turn and see where the big horse’s hooves were.
“Can you get up?” the Farmer queried. “She’s trying not to step on you.”
I shook off the adrenalin and grabbed hold of the lead again. With a horse that big, I have to reach my arm out as far as possible and push her away from me while leading or I end up underneath her.
A few moments later she trod right on my foot. And stopped.
“Ashley.” I pushed my rump into her side. “You’re on my foot.”
She did a little quick-step and I realized she hadn’t put her full weight on me.
These horses seem to know that they need to exercise caution and a little extra patience with their new humans. Once set loose in the field, they canter across the snow, tossing their blonde manes and snorting. I think this means they are happy with their new digs.
Donkey is quite curious, wandering into the stable to sniff at the girls in their stalls and to steal their hay when we leave a door open. He would follow them into their front pasture if we let him. But he has to stay with the sheep and do security. I reminded him the other day of his responsibilities but most nights when I return from work I find him standing at the fence with the calf, nose-to-nose with one of the horses on the other side.
The Farmer seems to be well pleased with our new charges. On the first night, I was returning from town when I heard a strange noise and noticed a light in the stable. I poked my head in to investigate and there was the Farmer, in his pajamas and parka, glass of wine in hand, talking (or was he singing?) to the horses. They seemed to be quite captivated by him.
“Oh. You interrupted me. I was just talking to my girls,” he smiled.
Yes, I think we’re going to get along just fine.