The Frozen Challenge
Let's face it. On a good day, caring for the horses can be hard work. Lugging around 50 pound bags of feed, 40 pound bales of hay, and impossible to grasp bales of bedding is tough enough. Add to that the never ending chore of cleaning a stall and dumping the manure and used bedding somewhere, somehow. And water? If you are lucky, you have some way to easily get water into buckets and troughs. If not, it's hauling it by heavy bucketfuls.
Not that I'm complaining. Horse care is also a rewarding endeavor. Not only does it help keep me fit, but the satisfaction of three horses safe, content, and happily munching hay in clean stalls is more than worth the effort. I'll admit, on some days, I wish I didn't have to do the work, but for the most part, I actually enjoy the effort.
But winter poses another picture and a new set of challenges, especially when the temperature drops well below freezing as it did this week.
First is the question of just how to dress. With the horses in my back yard, about 100 feet from the house, it makes it a lot easier than it was when I had to drive 15 miles to the barn and plan on being outside for several hours. Now, if I get cold or wet, I can always run back inside to warm up. But then, I always had to make sure I was dressed for every event, with extra clothes in the car "just in case." Insulated boots served well but most the the toastiest were always too fat to fit in the stirrups if I decided to ride. I used have oversized stirrups just for the winter, or I might even ride bareback if I was so inclined.
Long underwear? A must. Winter riding breeches? Yep. And even a pair of special insulated riding pants over top for the worst weather. I have some ski pants now, but they are slippery in the saddle. I'm allergic to wool, but a layer of long underwear and a cotton turtleneck would protect me from a wool sweater under an ski jacket of some sort. I never did worry too much about whether my ensemble was elegantly tailored or color coordinated--they way they do in all those catalogs--as long as it was warm.
On my head, I liked wearing a neck gaiter or balaclava made out of the same kind of material as my long underwear. It would keep my head warm, my neck warm and it fit nicely under my safety helmet if I decided to ride. Gloves? Always, and always a spare pair or two because gloves can get wet.
I know people who gear up in snowmobile suits and I've worn then too, but a "unitard" has its drawbacks when you need to go to the bathroom and it does limit some of your freedom of movement. And, when you start the barn chores, sometimes you need to peel off a layer as you work up a sweat, so the one piece outfit does not lend itself well to that. They are cozy, though, and certainly do eliminate a lot of the "what to wear?" puzzle.
But it's not about the clothing. It's about the work.
It's about frozen poo. Forget about picking the paddock or cleaning under the run in shed. You might as well use a jackhammer on a concrete sidewalk as pick up the outdoor poo. It sits in neat piles, mocking your every effort to dislodge it. And it grins in utter triumph when you trip over it, or lock the wheelbarrow's tire guard against it on your way to the manure pile.
Speaking of, unless you've somehow made a flat path to the pile before the ground had frozen, you are in for a bumpy ride to the dump spot. Since my horses have access to the area I have to cross, there are always dozens of lumpy hoofprints along the way to catch the barrow, twist my ankle or just generally shake my whole body to the core when the load takes a healthy bounce.
And the loading of the barrow has even been a challenge in the stalls, for the poo there can freeze as well. I've broken a tine or two on my plastic manure fork more than once hitting the rock solid poo pile frozen the the rubber mats in one of the stalls. A nice layer of bedding keeps it from freezing to the floor, of course, but my horses seem to find ways to drop their manure on bare spots. And even when they don't, trying to find all the elusive chunks in the bedding is like panning for gold. More often then not, I'll think the stall is pristine, only to find myself twisting my ankle when I step on a boulder of frozen poo when I go in to feed.
Water? Excuse me, ice. I have a hose hooked up that leads to the outside water trough, but on a day like today, it's frozen solid. Fortunately, I have a frost free tap, so I can still get water, but filling the trough is another story. I actually keep a spare hose on the back porch and drag it out to the barn when I need to really fill the trough. Once I'm done I make sure I drain it of water so it doesn't freeze up on me as well. Or, lacking the hose, I have to carry bucket after bucket of water from the faucet to the trough. Once again, I need to go through Toby's stall to get there, so the lurking manure balls are always ready to trip me up spilling water all over me and everywhere else.
Remember the spare gloves? There ya go.
I do have a water heater in the trough, so once there's water there I don't have to worry about ice. But more than once I've had to keep one of the Boys in his stall and then there is the challenge of trying to chip solid ice out of a plastic bucket without cracking anything more than just the ice. I did find the solid, flexible rubber buckets a help here, though. You can bang them around a lot, crack the ice out, and sill have a useful bucket in the end.
The whole trick here is that tasks normally taking an hour or so can easily double in the winter. By the time you get yourself dressed for the cold, sledgehammer the poo, drag the hose to and fro, negotiate the dangerous terrain, and crack the ice, who even feels like riding?
Besides, it's too cold anyway.
I think I'll make a cup of hot chocolate.