Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Horses are Cuckoo; It Must be Spring

Spring is well advanced in my part of the country, so much so that everything is blooming 3-4 weeks ahead of when it normally does. Lilacs in April? Sheesh! But the grass has been slow (everywhere but my yard), so the horses are hanging impatiently over the gates staring longingly at the pasture. I can feel them from here, this subliminal "I want out, I want out, I want out. Now!" sort of deal. They are manifesting their displeasure in brattiness on the lunge line and inattention under saddle, the usual spring nuttiness.

Fortunately, it only last a few days in that transition from winter sloth to "You want me to work?!" I wonder if, back on the medieval farm, the plow horses that had been happily eating their heads off all winter with nothing much to do ever gave a big "woo-hoo!" and took off bucking when hitched up for the first time in the spring. It would be a fun scene in a novel, a nice distraction when the hero needs it, or a chance for a down-on-his-luck farmhand to ingratiate himself into the farmer's household by catching the rambunctious beasts.

One thing to remember when turning the horses out, especially if it's for the first time in the spring. Step back. Way back. As in, get the heck out of their way, and not just because you might get run over in the stampede. Watch out for the exuberant high heels as they let fly with a buck or six on their way out through the gate. It feels soooo good to run and run after a winter cooped up in a safe stall or paddock. Often the enclosure is frozen in ruts where the churned mud has congealed iron hard. Sometimes there is packed snow and ice that forces the poor ponies to pussyfoot along in their restricted rounds. Very often the horse poop freezes in immovable piles before you can clean the place, which is like walking on round, unforgiving river rocks. For all those reasons, the horses can't wait to get out into the big pasture and go for it. So watch out, as they have no qualms about kicking you in the head on their way past.

And here's your bit of horse trivia for the day: the equine digestive system manufactures different bacteria to break down dry hay or green grass. That takes a few days, which is why when a horse is turned out cold-turkey after a winter on hay you are likely to be dealing with slimy green trails down his hind legs for days. We called that "scours" when I was a kid and it was just a fact of life every spring when the horses went out. The way to prevent it is to transition them gradually from hay to grass by turning them out for a couple of hours a day while continuing to feed the dry stuff in smaller and smaller quantities. I wonder how many savvy old farmers figured that out on their own?

Well...I was about to go out and play in the sunshine, but it's disappeared! It's pouring out there, doubtless related to that roll of thunder I heard a while ago. Must be spring!


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