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  • Margaret Toner-Gaston

A Day in the Life

When I tell people I "have horses", they usually react with something like "Ooooooh I've always wanted to do that", or they wish, or they want, or their grandfather did. The implication is that having horses is something only the rich can afford (rapidly becoming the truth in our economy, wrongly so). But everyone seems to think I walk around wearing a riding helmet and a pair of jodhpurs leading exquisitely clean horses, So I thought I would give everyone a window on my life.

By Thursday of last week, Saturday, yesterday, was shaping up to be a full but satisfying day. I had arranged to go pick up a family heirloom (a 150 year old organ) from a cousin. And then on Thursday, the farrier and I agreed that he should come in the morning. And there, just like that my day was full.

I opened my eyes yesterday (about 5 AM) and realized that we needed to run and get cash for the farrier. I said as much to Brett, who was at that moment briefly between REM cycles. We agreed that he would go around eight, and we would have cash in time to pay our farrier before he got to the farm.

Then Brett got up and went to the bathroom, which is situated right over the outside tap. Coming back to bed, and between MY REM cycles, he said "Did you know we left the water on last night?" "Nooooooo...........did we overflow the trough again?" He nodded and assured me that he had already been outside to turn it off, but we both knew what the paddock would look like when we got out there. Like a series of sewage lagoons spaced out across the low end of the enclosure. Mental note, make sure there is drainage between lagoons and to the ditch. Check.

We actually got to doze until about seven, when the natives began to get restless. Hudson, our 110 lb senior coonhound started to talk. Not growling per se, not aggressive, just a low grrrrrrr. I sat up and looked at him and there he was, his long ears appearing to make up most of his weight, staring intently at me.

I told Hudson to lay down and give me fifteen more minutes, but it was too late. Toby, the little red tick, lay between us, and he had begun to gently vocalize, the top fifty percent of his tail whapping on the bed with the frequency of a snare drum beating a hasty retreat. And then the phone rang.

And this is where things began to get complicated. My daughter had come out to the car that she had borrowed from my mother in law and found one tire utterly flat. Through closed eyelids and barely open lips and ears, Brett told her to get the jack and the spare out of the trunk and change the tire.

Crisis averted, we settled down for that last 15 minutes. Until the phone rang again. I stuffed my head into the pillow while I listened to Brett's side of the conversation. "What do you mean there is no jack? There's always a jack". Pause "Well did you look inside the spare?" Sigh. "Okay, I'll be there in a half hour".

Okay, morning chores are all mine. And I have to go get the money. Okay. Sitting up I looked out the big window in our room, and saw much to my dismay that our beloved hay burners had eaten what I had gauged to be a day and a half of hay all in one night. Before I even got out of bed, I wrote to our wonderful hay supplier and asked if we could have a bale before nightfall.

Right, whip out of bed, throw on clothes (clean not necessary for a day in the barn). I put out the dogs and fed them, tucked them back into our bedroom, and drove my eleven year old Volvo into town. Money thus procured, I whipped back home. Just as I pulled into the driveway, my phone made that beeping noise. Could he bring the hay at 8? I looked at my watch. 8:01. I texted back that 8:15 was better. I parked the car in front of the barn, left the stereo on.

Duke has had a problem with his right foot for quite a while, since last fall really. Last year was so horribly wet that all the horses had problems from their feet being constantly in the mud. Some might remember that Suzy was actually very ill. Duke had a big abscess too, but it opened and emptied. When it did so, it made a hole in the heel of the foot, right at the cleft of the frog. Because of its position it might never close up.

This summer, Duke has been lame once or twice, but if we bathed the foot and soaked in iodine, he was better by morning. Once it was clear this was a repeating pattern, I called the vet. I was afraid there was a foreign body in there. Her diagnosis is that this hole in his foot had become a thrush pocket. What's that, you say? That nasty little hole collects moisture and yeast lives in there very happily. So now he is being treated with a combination of metronidosol (a strong antibiotic) and iodine. And we don't put the pill in his mouth. We put it in the hole and soak it with the iodine so it turns into a paste and stays put.

I had told the farrier about Duke's latest affliction, and so he asked me to hold off on the treatment until he got there. Instead, I was to soak the hoof in javex. I'm not kidding. We have a special boot that fits over the horse's hoof, and putting javex in it and then putting in on the hoof kills all sorts of nasties. It also allowed the farrier to get a really good look at a clean hoof.

So after the hay man left ($55), I had maybe ten minutes to get the javex thing done. Also to lineament Shannon's back, as she seemed to have slipped something. Oh yes, and Silver is TERRIFIED of the farrier. This may seem benign to someone who has never had horses, but there is nothing benign about it. The day we found this out he almost killed us. So before the farrier comes, I give the little man some dorm-gel (sedative) so that he isnt so frightened. This is sooooo much preferable to the terror he suffered with before. And then afterward, he remembers the experience through a valium like haze, where the experience was easy and not frightening. We hope to get him to the point where enough positive experiences will negate whatever made him so frightened. But I have to give him the drug before the farrier gets there, so it can take effect in time.

So basically, I had ten minutes to do a whole bunch of things.

So, you remember me saying I parked in front of the barn? It was so I could leave the car open and listen to music while I worked. I had to turn it off when the farrier came, so that we could all concentrate on what we were doing. As he came up the driveway in his truck, I turned the key in the ignition, closed all the windows, turned the car off, closed it, and locked it. Hold that thought.

The farrier and I worked out way through the horses. Suzy, who tends to have very dry hooves that chip, otherwise has strong healthy feet, and stands like a dream. As he picks up each of her feet and trims them, she leans her face against me, now hugging, now kissing. We have a rapport, she and I.

Then it was Duke's turn, and he stood, mostly patiently, as his feet were trimmed. We also spent a lot of time hovering over that little hole (3/16 inch wide, 5/8 inch deep) and talked about the treatment and how to make it better. I showed him how I was administering the pill and iodine, and we talked some more.

Shannon's case was another complex one. She had been avoiding the others and staying right in around the barn for about three days. She would feed from the bale when the others went out to graze. At first I thought it might be social - they have ostracized her before. But when I watched them come in and all cluster around her, I realized there was something physical wrong. She was walking stiffly, but I couldn't find anything wrong with her legs, she showed no sign of lameness. So when the farrier came, we started feeling our way very carefully down her back, one vertebra at a time. And sure enough, mid way down, we found one that seemed a bit off. A few minutes of massage, a tug on her tail, and she was walking almost normally, and was able to pick up her back feet for him. And her feet are so beautiful, so durable and so strong, that there is never a problem for him to correct, just the need for trimming to make her feet better shaped to bear her weight.

Silver. By this time, the little man was leaning against the wall and snoring. He roused a little when we touched him, but then he just nuzzled his head under my arm and snuggled up to me. He knew his feet were being picked up, but he really didn't seem to care. For the first time ever, the farrier was able to pick up and trim all four feet. Bless his little heart. He got lots of loving for that. (The drugs are of fairly short duration, and within the hour, he was happily jostling for position around the bale, as if nothing had ever happened).

So when the farrier left, with all four horses much happier, and healthier ($180), I looked down at myself. I had mud and horse poop smeared on my legs and arms. My clothes were covered with horse slobber, javex, iodine, and lineament, and there was a smear on my cheek. Ah the glamour.

It was eleven AM. I went in and washed up and put on a fresh T-shirt. I had breakfast. Yep, I did all of that on an empty stomach.

Brett, long returned from the tire excitement, fired up the truck, and got ready to pull the trailer out. We were going to use the trailer to pick up the organ, because it is lower for loading and unloading. But before I was going to put any piece of furniture in it, let alone an antique, it absolutely had to be cleaned out with the pressure washer. But before I did that Brett wanted me to move my car away from the front of the barn. I trotted over, remembering that I had left the keys in it, meaning to move it quickly and get back to work.

I had, indeed, left the keys in it. On the driver's seat, in fact. And I had locked the door. This car, which I bought new when I was still working as an accountant, is, well, a better class of car. I firmly believe you get what you pay for. And in this case, one of the things I paid for is advanced anti theft programming. Damn. We agreed that we would have to address it after we came back if we were to do this on time, so we put the issue aside. But it was there, in my brain, pushed to one side, flexing its intellectual muscles to get back into the mainstream. So there it was. For the rest of the day.

So back to the pressure washing. Do you know what happens when you hit a pile of dried horse poop with a pressure washer? The pile of poop explodes into a million little flakes and flies in all directions, including in the direction of the person stupidly holding the nozzle of the washer. So I did get the trailer nice and clean. But when I was done, I was covered in poop, like a vanilla ice cream covered in flakes of shaved chocolate.

Another quick cleanup (I even brushed my hair) and off we went. The drive to my cousin's house is about an hour from home, and most folks here know that the big brown truck is now 21 years old. The seats are, well, not bad for being old seats in an old truck. Hold that thought.

Last March I was out with the dogs in the back yard on a day when the footing was a bit greasy. In a distracted moment I slid and fell down hard, directly on my tailbone. For any who think they might like to try this, in order to get reduced hours at work, special consideration in working conditions, etc, etc. Let me tell you, you DON'T want to do this. At all. Ever. I have a much closer understanding of the failures of the Canadian medical system than I ever wished for, and so far all the doctors can tell me is that I need to rest. Pffffft.

Driving to my cousin's home was a delight and picking up the organ was way easier than we thought it would be. We didn't get stuck on a car-crowded suburban street, we didn't have trouble loading this beautiful old organ that once graced the Methodist church in Woodstock, New Brunswick, and it was a pleasure to touch the keys once more over which my grandmother's hands had floated. The organ sat in her living room for many years, and we all had the pleasure of hearing her play and sing the hymns of her childhood.

Getting gas in a suburban gas station, however, not so easy! In order to get to the diesel pump on the correct side of the truck, we had to drive into the gas station, having seen the problem, drive out again, drive around the block and come back again the other way. And then our 40 foot length blocked the driveway into the gas station. You would think we would be used to this kind of problem, but the truth is we usually gas up at rural station where large vehicles have been planned for. Not to worry, we bought a 1/2 tank for the trip home ($50) and headed home.

Through most of the journey we had chatted amiably about the day, the organ, and the spare key for my car. It wasn't anywhere that we thought it should be. But about halfway home I began to talk less and less. There was the familiar ache in my tailbone at first, and then the sharper pain that spread through my pelvis, the pain in my hips, and the shooting pain down my right leg. Whatever plans I had for chores when I got home, there was no way I could carry them out. I was headed for the couch, the painkiller bottle, and a good British murder mystery.

We couldn't move my car, because we still hadn't found the spare key. We couldn't park the truck and trailer, because we couldn't move my car. And we couldn't put the organ away because we couldn't park the truck and trailer, and I wasn't up to it anyway.

Has anyone been adding as I have been telling this story? $55 + $180 +$50 = $285. Oh, and we forgot to get the horse feed. And we are not, repeat, not, rich. Just determined and a bit crazy.

By way of epilogue, I felt much better this morning (I usually do), we didn't have to rush off anywhere, and much to my relief, Brett found the spare key to my car. See? Now all is right with the world.

I'm heading out to the barn for some horsey time. Anyone want to come with me?

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