Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturdays At The Barn

Hi Folks! I'm glad you're back.

I know I've mentioned the fact that I volunteer at a horse barn in any number of blogs, but I've never told you exactly what we do on Saturdays, so I thought I might do that today. As you know, I've been volunteering at the barn for a number of years, now. I wanted to learn more about horses, and Nancy, who owns the place, is very generous with her knowledge. Nancy says the best time for anyone to learn is on Saturdays, when she's there to supervise and answer questions. So there's a small crowd of regulars who all come out on Saturday mornings.

The regular gang includes Mandy - who's a high school senior; Kaye - who boards her horse at another stable but seems to prefer this barn for the humans involved; Nancy; and me. We scoop poop, clean the water buckets, groom some of the horses - whatever needs done. We also do a considerable amount of yakking while we work. Kaye might tell us how her lessons with George the rescue horse are coming along, I usually rant about whatever is going wrong in my life, and Mandy uses the time to dog me incessantly.

Actually, Mandy and I spend most of our Saturday mornings bickering back and forth. Today, for instance, one of our new helpers, Laurie, was telling us how her daughter's grade point average is so high, the girl won a thirty-thousand dollar grant for college. I looked over at Mandy and said, "Too bad you're not that smart!" Mandy just smiled: she knew she'd get me back before the end of the day! She always does. And while I thoroughly enjoy working with and around the horses, I must admit that the high points of my Saturdays are always the times when Mandy and I are teasing each other. When Mandy can't make it to the barn, it's mighty quiet that particular day.

There are two critters out there who are free to wander the barn at will. First is Mikey, a retired barrel racer who's now so decrepit that he doesn't require a stall. The second is Cricket the donkey. Nancy will put Cricket in a stall when she starts becoming a pest; I'm happiest when Cricket is free to wander. Both she and Mikey spend their mornings browsing the stalls after the horses have been turned out. They're looking to eat everyone's leftover hay, and Cricket always makes sure to give the feed buckets a sniff, too, just in case.

Cricket and Mikey both have a habit of invading the stalls you're trying to clean, and they'll invariably block the door with their bulk while they munch on hay. Nancy finds this annoying enough that she threatens to "stall" them if they don't move along. I personally enjoy the company, but I've also learned the importance of keeping a physical distance between myself and them. Mikey's harmless enough, but Cricket is just so damned ornery that you never know when she's going to follow through on her threat to chomp your ankle.

Most folks don't know that a healthy horse weighs about a thousand pounds. That's a lot of horse! While Cricket is quite a bit smaller than a horse, she's still got a surprising amount of strength in her, as I found out the time I was minding my own business in one of the portable stalls. There was plenty of room for both of us, but apparently Cricket was in a mood because one minute, I was aiming my pitchfork at a pile of poop, and the next, Cricket had tossed me into the corner with one ornery flick of her head. "Cricket!," I hollered in my exasperated voice, "what're you doin'?!" Even I had to laugh, though: that's just Cricket being Cricket!

Cricket provides most of the comic relief, but many of the horses are interesting in their own way: there's Big William, who's so dopey that he seems to have the mind of a 5 month-old puppy; there's Nicky Naylor, who's just the calmest, nicest horse you'd ever want to meet. There's my personal favorite, Sidney, who's a mellow guy with big round eyes. Sidney endeared himself to me forever the day I sent him outside with a promise of snacks: "I'll bring some out later, Sidney," I told him.

Five minutes later, as I ducked under the electro-braid fence, I called, "Hey, Sidney!" That's all I said, but Sidney backed away from the horse he was standing next to and turned expectantly to me. He knew, you see. He knew that I was bringing that snack I'd promised, and I don't think I've ever been more impressed by a horse's intelligence as I was at that moment. If I could bring him home and keep him in my back yard along with the shrubs and rose bushes, I'd do it in a heartbeat!

My least favorite horse is Charlie. In my opinion, he's just plain mean. For no reason that I can explain, though, Mandy likes him, and he's her regular riding horse. One of the perks of volunteering at the barn is that sometimes, Nancy lets us ride for free when we've finished working. Mandy will grab Charlie, and I'll get Ruckus, and together, we groom and tack 'em up.

Grooming's an important element in the whole riding process. You want to check the horse from head to toe, making sure he doesn't have any wounds in places that a saddle would irritate. Picking their hooves is equally important - you want to pick out anything that might create a problem, like gravel, and usually, you can smell trouble before it gets too serious. Believe it or not, there's a "normal" stinky hoof smell, and plenty of abnormal ones that indicate an issue in the works. It's the abnormal smells that I keep my nose open for.

For whatever reason, Charlie takes an apparent dislike to having his hooves picked. Ordinarily, the horse is supposed to lift his foot on command so that you can get at the underside. When Mandy tries to do that with Charlie, he usually tries to knee-cap her in response. I'll hear endless rounds of, "No kicks, Charlie! No kicks!," which he ignores completely, along with any other rule he doesn't like. It's frankly a wonder he hasn't hurt her yet.

Horse owners are funny people. There are any number of them who own a horse simply so that they can tell people they own a horse. I've met Charlie's person and I'm pretty sure she falls into that category. Once in a blue moon, she'll come out and "help" at the barn. In her case, though, "helping" usually involves nothing more than taking an endless number of cell phone calls as she tries to order the rest of us around. I'm sure she views herself as a capable, assertive woman. I view her as an arrogant pain in the ass who's far more interested in herself than anything or anyone else - including Charlie.

As you can see, in addition to caring for the horses, there's a certain amount of gossip and intrigue going on at the barn as well! There are horses who were rescued from abusive owners, and there are past and present champion competitors. There's a crabby donkey, and great gang of women who think that scooping poop is a fun way to spend a few hours! We rarely miss a Saturday, and I'd be willing to bet that everyone else leaves there feeling as energized as I do. There's something very satisfying in knowing that I've helped critters in need. And insulted Mandy better than she insulted me!

So that's the barn in a nutshell. We're out there sweating in the summer, and freezing in the winter. We'll go even when we don't feel all that great, because it's our one day out of the week to get away from life's annoyances and do a little good for the animals. It's better than any drug I've ever been prescribed.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

No comments: