- The Horse Lady
Standing over a malfunctioning pressure washer, a running hose, an empty trough on its side and a whole paddock of composted horse poop in thirty degree weather - yeah, I live for that. Having Suzy just off to my left, impatiently stamping her foot to hurry the filling of the trough does put just a touch of a smile on my face, But just a touch.
When you see Duke or Shannon at an event and their coats gleam and their manes flow in the wind, just bear in mind they didn't come that way. When they are at home, horses would prefer to be dirty. They scratch their necks in tree branches, and roll in the dust to defend themselves against insects and predators. They usually have some pretty nasty horse fly bites, not to mention that they attract insects like a pretty girl in a bar attracts guys.
Getting ready for an event starts early. Breakfast is around seven, and it's usually substantial, because there may be no lunch. It includes whatever caffeinated beverage suits your fancy, in fair quantities. For me, it's tea. There's no point in having a shower. Time for that later.
The horses are wide awake already and they know the lead rope in my hand means that somebody is working today, usually Duke. I bring him out to the hitching post in front of the cover-all building we use for a barn. He gets a good portion of the "treat hay" we keep in the barn. It's sweeter, greener than the big round bale in the back which is their usual fare. If the day will be very long or difficult, he gets a small portion of oats. Draft horses should never be fed too much rich feed, as they put on weight more easily than other horses. It would be like sitting me down in front of peach cobbler, apple crisp, and chocolate raspberry cheesecake all at once. I have one friend who calls oats "pony crack", describing how much horses like it, love it, want it, and will be stupid for it.
Once Duke's breakfast is seen to, I start collecting equipment and supplies. Brushes, combs, ribbons, silk flowers, scissors - like a craft convention. Oh yes, and we often (though not always) start with a bath. A warm bucket of water with soap and a scrub brush are all that's needed to begin with. They love the scrub brush. It feels good on their skin and lifts dead skin cells. And we scrub everything except delicate tissue around the anus and genitals.
There is one delicate issue for which there is a fantastic, and fantastically funny meme out there, far better than I could compose. You will find it if you google "cleaning the sheath of a gelding". I guarantee giggles. And make a note that we NEVER do this to a stallion, not without sedative. We want to live. In any case, although Duke will generally do anything for me, this is something he isn't so good natured about and has limited tolerance for. So I guess if it ever gets really bad we will have to call the vet. (http://www.equusite.com/articles/health/healthSheathCleaning.shtml
Once Duke is thoroughly soaped and coincidentally about the time the hay runs out, then begins the rinse. Have I mentioned we don't bathe in the winter? That's because the cold well-water from the hose is rather like a full body blast of that really minty gum that they advertise with icicles and frost. We rinse as much as needed and no more.
A horse's coat has interesting construction. If water gets under the hair, as happens with a bath, the hair holds it there, rather than letting it drain. The water becomes an extra layer of insulation. It will eventually dry but in the meantime the horse retains more body heat and can become very warm. So we have a special scraper that we use to squeeze out the water. And sometimes I will go over him with a towel..
The brushing and combing that follows the bath is actually fairly quick and often includes special bug repellent in the groin, on the ears, and other areas of the body if necessary.
When a customer approaches the Red Gate Livery for an event, we ask a lot of questions. This is where the answers to those questions come in Considerations are: does Duke have to match a colour scheme as with a wedding; If the carriage is decorated, how does Duke fit in; is it very hot out; and how hard will the process be on Duke? He tolerates a lot, but there are only so many braids one horse can tolerate in a day.
Next, a Clydesdale is born with beautiful white "feathers" on his legs. Oh wait a minute, they're not white. They're usually covered with poop stains. The soap has removed any active dirt, but we resort to a trade secret to make them really pop. And suffice it to say that when we are done for the next hour worth of stomping Duke does, he leaves behind a cloud of white powder.
Okay, what time is it exactly? THAT time?
Duke gets a second helping of breakfast, and I roar into the house for the fastest shower in NATO, or maybe just hands and face washed. Into my dress clothes, grab the top hat, and back outside at a run. Loading the trailer and getting Duke into his spot, and then into the truck we go. A brief moment to take inventory, and then off we go.
Which brings me back to the concept of glamour. If you want more glamour than this, choose a career at say, at a vets cleaning out kennels. My fingernails are always dirty, even though I clean them every night. I often look in the mirror while in the bathroom and see a big smear of dirt on my face that I didn't know was there.
But when we come home from work, and someone, somewhere is deliriously happy and we have been part of what made that happen, and we are tired and the horses are grazing contentedly in the field, that's a pretty wonderful feeling. Beats glamour any day.