I love the rain.
That is, I love the rain when I don’t have horses in my life.
When I have horses in my life, I hate the rain. That’s because, as all you horse-people out there know:
Rain = Mud
Horses + Mud = MESSY BOOTS, HYPER HORSES, NO TURNOUTS, AND VERY LITTLE GETTING DONE
Still, I don’t think I’ll ever have it as bad as I did when I worked at the Morgan/Warmblood ranch up in Northern California.
Northern California is a beautiful bit of country, with gorgeous rolling hills, and lots of green grass.
I know it’s stupid of me, but I never put together the fact that green hills are really only green because of lots of rain. But I digress.
Feeding was an interesting fiasco at this place because the horses kind of ran free, and I had to hand-walk the flakes out to the feeders (it was too far to throw them.) I’m not going to badmouth the owner, because in a certain way I still respect her greatly, but she definitely had WAAAY too many animals. There were, at any given time, approximately 60-70 head on her place at any time, most of whom were running free. You definitely had to be on your toes and make sure ALL of the horses understood you were INCREDIBLY ALPHA, and that they had to be MUCH MORE SCARED OF YOU THAN ANY OF THE OTHER ALPHA HORSES. This process involves a lot of hand-flapping and angry hollering. In fact, in order to do it right, you had to basically pretend that you were an angry howler monkey on crack, and that any horse that got within arms reach of you would instantly be digested. Until I had enough of the feeders filled that the horses could group around them comfortably, there was always a chance that one of the alpha mares would drive a lesser-ranking horse away from her… and into me.
So, whenever I would feed, I would start by sacrificing one flake into the mud/ground, and then engage in my angry monkey dance to drive the mares away, buying myself some time to make a decent escape.
I’d get about 20 feet away, throw another flake into the snarling mass of horses, and do my angry monkey dance again.
Rinse, Repeat. Rinse, Repeat. Eventually, I would make it to a feeder and be able to fill it with a full bale, and the pressure would ease.
Did I mention I hated feeding time? Well, I did.
Feeding horses can be a fun, bonding experience—- when it’s a fun, bonding kind of a day. Feeding 60 hungry horses in 30 degree weather while it pelts down icy rain on you is not fun at all. It’s a damp, itchy, soggy version of hell, and it always makes for one of those introspective moments when you start wondering why you don’t just get into dancing, drinking, and boys like all the other sensible young women out there.
When it rained, the process became way, waaaaay worse. This was because of MUD. This wasn’t just any mud, either. This was the Aston Martin of mud… this mud was the kind of mud that other little bits of mud aspired to be. If you’re a horse person reading this, this was MANURE MUD. I think you know what I mean.
Anyways, on the night in question I was grumpy as it was, because I expected the feeding to be finished by the time I came home, and it wasn’t. Not only was I angry that the horses had been left hungry, but I was also angry that I had to be tromping about in the dark, sloshing about through the icy rain. I expected the ranch truck to be working, and of course it wasn’t. Of course my truck decided to die again. This mean that I had the joy of hauling 10+ bales of alfalfa in a tiny little wheelbarrow all around the 16 acres in order to get everyone fed.
I loaded up the first wheelbarrow, and headed down into the melee of waiting, hungry horses. I managed to get the first few sacrificial flakes down, when I took a step back and sank into the mud until it reached the top of my mud boots. That’s what… a foot? Foot and a half? Whatever it was, it was a hell of a lot of mud.
The fun part was that I was walking rather fast, trying to escape the ravenous bunch of were-horses that were snarling angrily behind me. When my boot sank in, I was mid stride, and I faceplanted in the mud. It wasn’t any graceful kind of a fall, either. I went down, face-first into layers of that sticky, slimy mess. I couldn’t even get my hands out in time to brace my fall, either. I suppose I should be happy that it was muddy— under normal circumstances a fall like that would have broken my nose. The hay flew out of my arms, and I could hear the horses drawing near. I had a real moment of fear when I realized my position, but managed to spring up in time to drive them back again in enough time to make my escape.. I went back to the wheelbarrow and grabbed it, pushing it onto the next destination. I grabbed another few flakes of hay, and headed off for the next feeder.
This time I only made it about fifteen feet in before my boot got stuck in the mud. I managed to save myself from falling completely face-first this time, catchign myself on my hands and knees. Still— I wasn’t exactly singing Disney tunes when it happened. Bracing my foot beneath me to stand up, I realized that I had lost my boot in the mud. Seriously— I really lost it. I had to crawl around on my hands and knees looking for it. If it weren’t for the hazard of a horse stepping in it and injuring themselves, I would have given up. As it was raining and dark, there was little light, so even after I did find the boot, all I could see was a slightly dark hole where the boot had sunk. It was totally and completely stuck— I couldn’t even grasp the smooth tops of it as it was level with the muddy ground. I poked my squishy, muddy toe in (I lost my sock. To this day, I have no idea where it went to), but the problem was I couldn’t figure out which way the toe of the boot was. To make it even more interesting, the entire time I was doing this, I had to continue my angry monkey dance to keep the horses at bay.
So there I am, hooting and hollering at the horses, waving my hands above my head to scare them away, hopping in a little circle, pivoting around my boot, trying to find the toe. I must have done it for a full minute before my foot finally slid in. I finished feeding with a minimum amount of fuss (which is probably a good thing—if I had fallen again, I probably would have been angry enough to actually make good on my threats and eat a horse.) The shower felt good, but it took days to get the smell of that mud out of my skin. Sometimes I swear I can still catch a whiff now and again. Did I mention that I hated feeding time? Well, I did.