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  • The Horse Lady

Its Winter

I was looking for a good, meaningful and vaguely Shakespearean title for this post, but all I could think of was "now is the winter of our discontent". The truth is, winter is not really a time of discontent here. It's a time of rest for the horses and a time of walks in the snow and seeing tracks that indicate who cohabits with us on this little twelve acres of land. A time of lavishing attention on our wood burning furnace (which I will admit borders on discontent). And a time of relief that the raw damp and mud of November have passed.

The Weather Network currently lists our outside temperature as minus five. However, as all good Canadians know, The Weather Network lies. In grudging small print below the temperature is the admission that the windchill is -12. To our unaccustomed bodies, which have long forgot the hardiness of last January and February, it feels more like -25 as the north wind hisses across the snow covered fields. That's not a literary expression either. It really does hiss.

So here are some pictures from this morning, bright, sunny, and brutally cold. I was late getting the horses. And Duke let me know it with a virtual aria of nickers and foot stomping.

Suzy doesn't need to be domineering in this case - she lets Duke do all the talking. She stands to his right, long habit borne of working as a team together where she was always the lead horse.

Shannon, in contrast the the Clydesdales, says little and waits off to the side. This is because she knows that she is number three in a band of three. She allows the dominant pair to take the lead and she hangs back so that they know she is content to be their subordinate. And while it's their job to protect her in a crisis, she would also die to protect them.

I walk around the outer perimeter of the paddock. It is much easier to open the gate from the other side than to traverse the frozen landscape of hoof prints. It doesn't seem to bother them, presumably because their species has done it for millenia.

When I get to the gate, instead of meeting me there, they are hanging back by the barn. Usually a visit by another Red Gate resident in the night is what causes them to stand pat and give me significant stares. This morning I know before I have gotten to the gate. We have a mating pair of foxes that live in our woods. We are delighted to have them, as they prey on mice, rats, voles, and other rodents. While I don't worry too much about mice in the barn because we store whatever grain we have in an old fridge with a magnetic seal on the door, I wouldn't want to be overrun. This close up of the fox footprints was only one instance. They were everywhere last night, and their tracks show they were hunting in the fields as well as the paddock. Even that wouldn't normally bother the horses that much, but then I found three or four examples of this:

The footprints leading in top left show a fox carrying something. Maybe it was still struggling, but it was being held fairly high. Then about the point of my shadow, the burden is dropped and the drag mark of its body in the snow obliterates the footprints, which means the item being carried is now being dragged and the fox is moving backwards. They don't normally drag their tails, so this leads me to believe there was a struggle of epic proportions in our field last night. And of course, the horses could smell it.

So I walked through the back gate after I opened it, and this is what I saw:

H:We're not going out there.

Me: What if I go first. If nothing attacks me, you can follow me.

H: You always say that.

Me: Yes I do, and aren't I always right?

H: Yes but you're a predator

Me: I am, but I will always protect you. I love you with all my heart.

H: Well..........

Me: Aren't you HUNGRY?

And after this exchange, they begin to relax and move forward, always with Duke in the lead. He assumes the role of stallion, stuck as he is with two females. He may not have the hormonal business but he does his best to be brave. But not without stopping to casually sniff that pile of poop in front of him there.

Once he satisfied himself that the poop did not belong to a mountain lion or a pack of wolves (he knew it didn't, he needed to have something to do to cover the fact that he was still scared) then we all proceeded to the back gate.

At this point I turned my back and went through the gate, waiting to take pictures of what I knew was coming. All thought of predators forgotten, Duke, being first, breaks into a trot and then a gallop. Then Suzy, then Shannon. After all, that big round bale is just across the field.

Duke crosses the ditch through the bushes. Its the one place where he gets his feet the most wet, and the most saplings poke him in the sides.

Suzy crosses in a much less bushy, much less wet spot. She is also slower to accelerate from a trot to a canter. She knows she doesn't have to rush. She eats where she wants, in the position she wants, and the other two fall away when she flattens her ears and shows her teeth.

After leaving an appropriate gap, Shannon canters out to the bale, arriving with much deceleration and much dipping of her head and assurance to the others that she has no intention of taking their spots on the bale.

And the bale is where they will spend the whole day, even in driving snow and pouring rain. For water, they will sometimes go back to the barn where the trough is full of clean fresh water sullied only by horse spit. Or alternately, they will walk to the edges of our pond where the ice is thin and the water deliciously cold.

H: What do you want?

Me: Don't let me disturb you. I just want to take some pictures of you to show my friends.

H: Fine. Don't get in the way.

Wow. It's nice to be needed.

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