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  • The Horse Lady

A new sleigh, busted reins and a fire that won't quit quitting!

Before you move to a farm, you think that farm life will be idyllic. Beautiful green fields in the sunshine, grazing horses with fat bellies, dogs playing, birds tweeting - you get the idea.

Well I'm here to tell you what it's really like. The straight skinny, honest to goodness, well, life.

As I write I am sitting in a large shop building that is bigger than some people's houses. This is where my office is, surrounded in a big room by carriages and tack, and two cats to protect everything from mice. Oh yeah, this is the first home truth. Every single farm building has mice. Cats help. Dogs not so much. We once watched our beloved hound dedicatedly follow the trail of a mouse for the better part of twenty minutes. The mouse he was stalking was about five feet from the end of his nose. We shook our heads.

(at left, Hudson, on couch, and Toby, our two hounds. They are two of the four dogs we share our lives with)

The shop building temperature is kept low, about 12 degrees, most of the time. There is a reason for this, but let me first tell you that my fingers are slightly numb as a work, which ensures that my work days are not spent exclusively at the computer. No sirree, I go out to the barn.

I do have something to show you that I am extremely excited about. This little item is our newest vehicle , a sleigh! The bed is covered with carpet (hence the tarp) to make the ride more comfortable. And best of all, this little number makes it so that Suzy Q can once again join the ranks of those of us who sing for our collective supper, and she will be so much happier. A work horse has to work.

But of course, Murphy struck again. We took delivery of the sleigh on Monday evening, and we even took the horses out for a spin. (more on that later). It was so much fun, and Suzy found out that her teeth don't hurt from the bit anymore and she has lots to offer! But of course, on Tuesday, it started to rain. It has been raining ever since, and now, on Thursday, the sleigh sits on gravel in front of the barn, forlornly waiting for snow.

Actually, the rain is kind of a good thing. Some of our equipment is pretty old, and the reins we have been using for driving teams is the worst of the lot. So on Monday, Suzy zigged, and Duke zagged and the reins broke. Oh, hmm, can't drive a sleigh without reins. So I took them to my neighbours and harness-makers, Joy and Keith Drynan. You can't imagine how cool it is to have harness-makers right down the road. I don't have to send things away to get them fixed, I just pop them in the vehicle and toodle on down to have coffee with Joy. These folks are the epitome of Ottawa Valley wonderful, speaking with a combination scots burr and hard Irish twang, kind, gentle, and they only show a little bit of a twinkle in their eye when I start to talk about Shannon this and Duke that and Suzy is the most gorgeous girl in the world,

So when I arrived in Joy's kitchen yesterday and dumped the reins on the floor (as instructed) I pretty much knew what her answer would be. Her hands ran over the worn leather, the large buckles and the torn ends, and she shook her head. No point in fixing them. Cost you less to have us make new. All the same, I really didn't want to have to shell out that much money. But I can't be without reins. So I took them out to their nice warm little shop and told Keith the same story. I told him what Joy said and he agreed. He spent yesterday afternoon cutting me a new set, one inch thick biothane, good and sturdy. I haven't picked them up yet. Rain.

There is one other reason the rain is kind of good. It's warmer outside. Which brings me back to the reason the shop is cold.

My husband and lifelong friend Brett Stewart is a pretty amazing person. Since moving to the farm, he has learned a tremendous amount about being a horseman. And you can imagine what culture shock that was. He has also learned to take care of my mother-in-law's hot tub, a science in itself as far as I can see. He has built miles of fences, scooped horse poop, and found out how to find things cheap rather than simply buying them. But this past year he has made the biggest leap of all. This year my husband became a lumber jack.

I don't say it to be funny. I am deadly serious. Our home is rather unique. We have radiant heating in our floors, augmented by passive solar heating through massive plate glass windows in every room on the south side of the house. Radiant heating means that there is hot water running through pipes under the surface of the floor throughout the house. It's kind of cool. You get up in the morning and walk to the kitchen and find with your feet where the nodes of the pipes are, and those the warm spots. And of course, if your feet aren't blocking the way, hot air rises.

But how does the water get hot? Ah grasshopper, patience.

Outside the back door of the shop is a little structure that looks like an outhouse. Its blue, not that it matters. Connected to that structure are underground pipes. At certain times in the winter you can see a two foot wide grass line from the structure to the house. This is the outdoor part of our heating system. And I hate it. With a passion. First off, it has to be fed at least four times a day, more if it's really cold. And its diet is picky. Hardwood please. Softwood is merely a brief snack. And if you miss meal times by more than a few minutes, the damned fire goes out. The first year we were here it cost $2500 to feed. Last year, closer to $3000. And we don't turn up the heat in the shop because then the house won't heat properly. (yeah, see how that came full circle?) I hate this heating system with a passion that approaches obsession. I don't need hair cuts. I merely open the furnace door and hear the sizzle of any wayward locks. I am pretty rough on my glasses, but I am sure they begin to warp as I simply come near that hell portal.

Me near the hell portal the first summer, before we knew how much it would dominate our lives. It seemed like such a good idea........

So the furnace is hubby's purview, whether he wants it or not. This summer, he planned a new strategy. He started cutting down dead trees on our property, tentatively at first. Most of our trees and therefore our deadfall is hardwood. Scrub species like alder and aspen, but hardwood. We left some. Not all are easy to get to. Some are habitat for birds. But he didn't stop there. He set an alert on Kijiji to alert him every time someone within a hundred kilometers advertises "Free wood". All summer and into the fall, he would have to rush off at short notice to go get "free wood" before someone else got it. He collected some hardwood and a lot of softwood from all over the Ottawa valley. And then something began to happen. Other men began to approach him. They had dead-fall on their property. They needed help cutting a tree down. He amassed a wood pile that could be seen from space. In fact, I know that Chris Hadfield has a picture of it. It was huge, I took pictures of it.

I would show you, but alas, it is gone. The voracious monster has eaten almost all of it..And it's only January. Now we get to be lumberjacks in the snow. But come think of it, that might not be a bad thing. We have a sleigh. That would make it easier. We take him out there, drop him off, take the horses away from the noise of the chain saw. And then when the tree is down and in manageable pieces, we take Suzy and one of her companions back out there, and we load the wood on the sleigh. This is a great plan! Suzy will feel useful, and we will have firewood for the hell portal. Good plan. And it will be colder on the weekend. No more rain.

Guess I better go pick up those reins.

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