Horsing Around

My wife runs an equestrian facility on our property – boarding, training, therapy and recreational riding for those who enjoy horses.  It’s a lot of activity and it’s a whole lot of work to maintain.  When our barn help doesn’t show up, that’s where I come in.  I don’t ride but I can do the work.  I suppose you could say I’m a horse of a different color.  My wife and I knock out the myriad chores in about four hours (morning and evening combined), and I get a kick (hoof?) out of all of the terms and phrases that are uniquely “equine”.  Consider the five essential aspects of daily horse care:

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Grain – Are you “feeling your oats” today?  That’s a reference to horses (of course!) and the boost of energy derived from their daily dose of grain.  “Grain” means a lot more than “oats” these days.  Grain is a general barn term to include the endless supplements for the specific needs of a horse (i.e. fiber boost, joint care, digest assist, immune system boost, metabolic stimulation).  Solid, liquid or “mash” (something in between the first two), grain is measured in bins, sacks, and baggies; scoops, cans, and cups, and even tiny bits like pinches, eye-droppers, and capfuls.  When all is measured and done – voila! – your horse has a complete pan to feast on.  So remember – grain is not just grain.  That’s putting the cart before the horse.

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Grass – Have you ever been the recipient of a “haymaker”?  That’s a powerful, forceful punch (which means someone must’ve been really mad at you).  But a haymaker is also a machine that dries grass, thus creating “hay”.  And horses need a lot of hay.  You could start with a handful but your horse will probably demand a flake or a cube, and if he’s really hungry he will devour an entire bale.  But I’m talking the 50 lb. bale you see stacked in the fields.  If you want to seriously hay your horses (and take a two-week vacation), opt for large bales – round or square – which can weigh up to a ton.  Your horse will think he’s found an all-you-can-eat-buffet.

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Water – You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  When a horse does drink however, he’ll take in a gallon or more at a time; a glassful simply won’t do.  Watering horses requires everything from a hose to a pan to a pail to a bucket to a tank to a trough.  If you want to get really crazy you can even install a cistern (or a water tower) and then you never have to worry where your water’s coming from (even if your well dries up).  Finally, don’t forget the fishnet to keep the water clean.  Horses muck it up while they’re munching on hay.

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Cleaning – Speaking of mucking it up, are you a “muckety-muck”?  I hope not because that means you’re an arrogant, self-important person.  But come join me in barn chores and I’ll show you all the “muck” you could ever want.  A horse processes grain, hay, and water into a mountain of manure, and unfortunately for me a horse does his business wherever he pleases.  That means a lot of cleaning.  You’re going to need a muck rake for starters (and a hoe if it’s cold enough outside because then manure sticks to the ground).  You’re also going to need a muck cart – the wheels underneath the muck tub where you’ll deposit all of that manure.  Lastly your manure needs a final destination.  That would either be a manure pile (which is eventually removed by a manure hauler), or your pastures themselves, by means of a manure spreader.  Not to beat a dead horse, but your goal is to get all those “apples” as far away from the barn as possible.

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Enclosures – If it came straight from the horse’s mouth, y0ur equine would demand to be put out on pasture and never ever brought in.  That’s because he wants to graze all day and night, which is almost never a good idea.  So a horse “comes in”, which means he retires to a pen or a stall.  If he’s really lucky, his stall has a run, and sometimes he can hang with other horses in a paddock before he’s moved back to pasture.  If he wants a place to go when he needs some alone time or gets tired of the rain he goes into a loafing shed.  And when he’s actually ridden he goes to an indoor or outdoor arena, or perhaps for a trail ride (which is sometimes just called “down the road”).

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There’s a lot more equine-speak where that came from but it’s time I got off my high horse.  If you’re in the market for a horse I hope everything I’ve talked about here is enlightening.  To me it’s just horse sense.

Just Beyond the Spotlight

34.9 million people (including most of Jamaica) watched on Monday night as Usain Bolt claimed track and field legend at the Olympics by winning the Men’s 100m.  It was Bolt’s third straight gold medal in the event; remarkable considering he is eight years older now than when he won it the first time.  Like Michael Phelps and swimming, the hype leading up to Bolt’s latest victory was justified.  NBC covered every one of Bolt’s qualifying heats in prime-time, and delivered a good twenty minutes of back story before the final.  Bolt will be a household name if he is not already.

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The 100m run is one of several Olympic events I never miss.  It is a wondrous display of athletic power, and I’m always on edge to see who will become the “world’s fastest human”.  However, the prime-time Olympic spotlight need also shine on lesser known events and athletes.  Herein lies the oft-overlooked beauty of the Olympics: it is these “others” that emerge with the most inspiring stories.  They are not so much superstars, yet are still among the best at what they do.  A few examples for your consideration:

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Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain rode to a gold-medal performance in Individual Dressage.  Show Jumping may be the more popular Olympic equestrian event but Dressage is the more difficult (and defined as “the highest expression of horse training).  Dujardin and her Dutch Warmblood horse “Valegro” floated through an almost magical routine, completing one spectacular movement after another.  Dujardin and her mount were graceful, elegant, and significantly better – at least on points – than the silver medalist.  And her story became even more poignant when I learned Dujardin was engaged to be married shortly after receiving the gold medal, while Valegro has earned his last championship (of many) and will be retired from the sport.

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Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands leaped to a gold-medal win on the balance beam in Women’s Gymnastics.  It was the first women’s gymnastics medal of any kind in her country’s history.  Wevers’ routine featured several jaw-dropping maneuvers I’d never seen before, including several spins while balanced precariously on one foot.  The judges were won over by Wever’s creativity and skill.  American television tried desperately to keep the spotlight on our own athletes (who were favored to win), but Wevers was clearly the humble star this night.  And her story was made even more poignant when the cameras turned to her twin sister Leika in the stands – also a member of the Dutch gymnastics team – as she reacted to Sanne’s upset win with tears of disbelief.

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Molly Huddle of the United States ran what should have been a gold-medal performance in the Women’s 10,000m run.  Except she didn’t win the gold medal.  When a group of eight women broke away from the pack after several laps – most of them Kenyans and Ethiopians – Huddle broke away with them.  After twenty-five laps Huddle crossed the finish line in sixth place, breaking the American record for the event by almost nine seconds.  And her story was made even more poignant when I learned Huddle’s finishing time would have been good enough for the gold medal in three of the last four Olympics.

The Games continue for several more days.  More superstars will be at their best on prime-time television.  Just remember to look around and see what else is going on.  There are wonderful stories just beyond the spotlight.