I was talking to my London-based sister today. She told me of a work colleague who has horses. The pipes in her yard are frozen, so after work she has to drive to the yard with water. But the locks on the gates are also frozen. So she has to get out, lug her water carriers over the gates, climb the gates and carry them up to the yard. After work, in the dark. She is one of many I am sure. She is in England and like us, they are not equipped to deal with the snow and a hard frost for any length of time.
What do I have to do? Well, this evening I left the fire, as I do each night, filled two large watering cans with hot water, carried them and a flash lamp and went up to the fence by the yard. (A serious design fault of ours: the gate is too far from the yard and the pipe is not buried. To be corrected I hope.) I carry the watering cans to a place where they will fit under the fence, climb over the fence, balancing the flash lamp, nearly stumble over an eager pony – Rosie tonight – fill water buckets, fill haynets, make up feeds, muck out under the trees by flash lamp, have a debate with myself, lose the debate, acknowledge that I must put more water into the buckets, go back to the house, fill watering cans, etc….I also do this in the mornings, and on the days I am working, these are very early mornings.
Would I even consider not doing it? Absolutely not. Do I get anything from it? Strangely, I think I do. Tonight as I left them, Ben and Rosie chose to stay in their stables munching hay and I felt an immense satisfaction for what I could provide for them. There is also an elemental grounding with this quite hard manual labour. The struggle with and adaptation to the season brings its own sense of unity with nature. Maybe everyone in this country at this time should have ponies at home.
Why do I, and so many others, do it? Just because.
The ripples in the water by the lake have frozen at a moment in time:
Yesterday morning I came out to find our first frost.
Thoughts of the approaching winter came and with it memories of last year’s winter: a month of torrential rain followed by an unusually hard freeze and snow that lasted for weeks. There was very little riding, and some quite hard work catering for ponies in the winter. During the rain, the front of the track poached very badly so that pushing a wheelbarrow through it became impossible. During the frost the water froze in the pipe to the yard, so filling watering cans in the house became a morning routine.
Clipping and rugging was also a consideration: I missed clipping Ben before the rain came so for four weeks he was too wet to clip. When I did clip I gave a chaser clip and he wore a rug for the rest of the winter. I was also advised to give Rosie one too, given her age. She had suffered from rain scald in November and wore a rug after that for the rest of the winter.
This year will be my second winter keeping ponies at home. It is reassuring to know that we all survived a winter that threw every kind of weather at us. In fact, they thrived. They emerged looking healthy, (very) well-fed and, in Ben’s case, very fresh. I have hopefully solved the problem of the front of the track poaching. Time will tell as we have had a dry autumn so far. Now that they are barefoot, I am changing my mind about rugging. Ben’s work, weather permitting, will consist of hacking. He probably needs at most a bib clip. So no rug for him. I have a new hay shed so I can clear the second stable for Rosie to use, if she chooses, over the winter. So she should not need a rug. The only exception will be if we get very heavy rain like last year. For those times I will give them a light rug each, for protection from rain scald.
Later yesterday I took Ben and Rosie to Sandra’s where we bravely faced a trimming session, with photos to be taken for Dermot to inspect. It is such hard work! We need to get a hoof jack before the next session. If someone took a photo of us trimming, on some occasions with one holding a hoof and the other rasping, it could have been entitled “girls trimming hooves”.
Ben was quite tense for the duration, but demostrated release from tension regularly with sighs and licking and chewing. Rosie did not like it and struggled with her hind leg dropping it on my foot and not moving it. She may be small but that was an “ouch” moment. Released into a field with the others, she rolled and then galloped and bucked. Lovely to see and reassuring us that she was still well able to move following our ministrations.
I have one stable free for the ponies. I leave the door open at all times except when Rosie needs peace to eat her feed. When Ben wants Rosie out of the stable, he enters, and she leaves fairly smartly. This evening, after their feed, Ben took over the stable for a rest. Rosie went over to the trees. After a while she called to Ben who ignored her. She moved towards the stable and called again, moved closer and called yet again. Ben came out. Rosie led the way up the track, Ben followed, not pushing her from behind, but following. She led the way up to the top where they rested.
The ponies’ Easter egg was a swede, halved in their feed buckets this morning. That kept them happily munching for quite a while. Ben always keeps an eye on me as I prepare the feed.
I also let them at grass, cautiously but there is very little growth yet. Rosie has not yet joined Ben at this grass: it took him about half an hour to allow her in.
An Easter egg of a different kind:
We overlook a very beautiful lake and our section of the lake frontage was grazing for the ponies last autumn. This is how it looked from the top of the track on Easter Sunday morning:
Much earlier, just after 5am, I headed out in the dark with my eldest daughter to the ruined church and graveyard that is further down the road and also overlooks this lake. There we joined an Easter vigil mass in the cold and dark, with dawn breaking, the stars gradually disappearing, the first birds starting to sing and our neighbours gathered around.
A kind aunt gave her youngest niece an Easter duck to decorate.
I am a city girl transported to the country, but always, I have thought, retaining some of the city inside. Today I was told that I am becoming a farmer. The reason was hay and just how much one little cob and one small pony seemed to have consumed over this last, cold winter. My hay was delivered – and stacked! – last summer. Now it is running out, the grass is not growing enough and anyway I will be on laminitis watch with Rosie over the next few weeks. So today meant a trip to the local mart, to check out the hay on offer, make sure I got a good price and stuff as much as I could into the trailer.
Mission accomplished. Price is still horrendous, €4.50 a bale. He had started by asking for €5. He managed to persuade another customer to help me stack the bales, while he merely tossed them down from his lorry. They both managed to persuade me that I could safely drive home like this. I successfully dodged a bull that got loose among the jeeps and trailers that were thronging the car park. And home I went, to unload and stack at home, with a patient husband helping. Who needs the gym when they have ponies at home?
And all that great loading work I did with Ben? He saw me hitching up the trailer and disappeared to the far side of the track, herding Rosie in front of him at the gallop.
When I was about seven, I begged my mother for a pony. She told me we couldn’t have a pony as we did not have a stable. I went out to our small, suburban garden, found some planks of wood, propped them against the side wall of our house and triumphantly announced that we could have a pony as I had built our stable.
Nearly forty years later we built our stable.
In fact, we built two with an adjoining shed. It started as a shed and a shelter and was converted later to two stables when I realised I would want to keep my ponies at home throughout the year. Then, of course, the track system came into its own and one stable does duty as a hay shed and the other is open at all times, except when Rosie is shut in there so that she can eat her meal in peace. Here they have just finished their evening feed, I have opened the stable and Rosie is eating from the haynet inside as Ben parks himself outside. They do this every night. After a while, Ben will move to the haynet under the nearby trees and Rosie will move outside to the haynet that is at the corner of the stable. I tie their haynets around the stable each night, rather than out on the track. I have done this since I needed them off the track at night during the worst of the winter rain and ice. Now I keep the track open but allow myself the convenience of haynets around the stable area to make the morning muck out quicker.
The stable. They seem to use it one at a time, Rosie favouring it the most, although I have seen both sets of droppings side by side in there in the morning at times. I would love to have a camera up there at night. I changed from straw bedding (very heavy and used lots) to wood shavings and now use wood pellets, which have much better soakage and are more economical. Ben would prefer the shavings I think. He always loved to roll on a freshly made bed, although he is starting to do so with the pellets now.
I put in a fresh 15kg bag approximately each week. I empty it into the wheel barrow with about half a bucket of water and leave to soak for a while first.