Back in my days in Santa Fe I worked extra jobs to augment my working student position, for, contrary to popular belief, it did not pay enough to support my outrageous lifestyle of eating and sleeping under a roof. One of the more interesting positions I took was the job of ‘kennel girl’, caring for the hounds and horses at a local hunt club. And no they did not hunt fox. They hunted coyote.
You can read one of my previous posts on caring for the hounds but this time we will be concentrating on time spent with my elegant equine friends. At the time and even now it is a bit surreal to think on that period. During the bulk of the day I cared for and rode box stall living, blanketed, supplement eating warmbloods who were loved by sometimes manically attentive owners. I would finish having a half an hour conversation with a client on the merits of whether a medium or a heavy weight blanket should be worn that night and then leave to care for a herd of twenty scruffy, mud caked hunt horses in a field.
These creatures were truly the jack of all trades of the equine world. Most of them were off the track thoroughbreds. Through the summer they moonlighted as polo ponies and once the season ended they transitioned into fox hunting horses, galloping over hill and dale. When winter set upon New Mexico they were turned out for three months in a herd, left to grow huge pelts and regress into equinuus primus.
Just as dogs are to wolves, these horses became something other than their more docile equine brethren. The laws of the herd ruled and when I entered their enclosure morning and night, I entered their world, bending to their laws while attempting to jog some flicker of recognition in them that I am, in fact, human … you know, one of those creatures you are supposed to respect? Right?
Their “pasture” had one entrance that bottle necked at one end. From there an icy hill sloped downward into mucky ‘lowland’ which became a bog for most of the winter. Every morning, before dawn, and then in the evening, after dark, the horses were fed. In winter the days were so short that I almost always fed the horses in complete darkness. I loaded three huge three string bales of hay into a wheelbarrow and strapped on my galoshes and work gloves. Around my neck hung a flashlight, in my pocket was my leatherman and in my hand I held a broom.
Once entering the pasture there was a sweet spot of where to park my wheelbarrow before I began feeding. If I went too far then the weight of the hay in the wheelbarrow would take over and I would slide down the icy hill into the bog lands. If I stopped too soon then I was not able to spread the hay evenly amongst the horses and the smallest of them would go hungry. Remember – it is the law of the feral herd horses that ruled.
I’ll never forget – once I was feeding and about six feet to my left a horse sitting flat on his ass swept past me and went sliding down the icy hill. He was a bay with a coat like a bear. He lost his footing and then gravity simply took over. But what still makes me laugh is all the way down that long hill he did not struggle to regain his footing, just sat on his butt, like a kid on a sleigh, not making a sound. I watched him disappear out of the light of my flashlight, sliding like a lunatic with the other horses making way.
Once I dragged the wheelbarrow out to that sweet spot on the pasture, the feeding began. Dragged, you ask? Why would you drag a wheelbarrow? Well, gentle readers, it is because one of the wheels was broken and so could not be pushed. I had to turn the wheelbarrow around and pull it as though I was an ox. An ox wearing a huge down coat that made me look like a refrigerator box.
This is when the horses began circling … like sharks. It was cold. They wanted the food. I had the food.
I would pull out my leatherman and slit the twine from the hay bales, pull them clear and drape them around my neck. In that moment if someone were to walk by they would see a manic woman screaming at a herd of horses to get back while waving around a broom with one hand and holding a knife in the other, wearing an enormous brown coat, rubber boots and a twine and flashlight necklace.
After the bale split four flakes tumbled off the front of the wheelbarrow and the horses who were circling around me, kicking at one another and squealing, began to close in. Gentle readers, there was no keeping them away. This was the time that I would give an Olympic shot putter a run for their money. Three flakes at a time I picked up a section of the bale and hurled it out into the darkness. Three flakes, throw! Three flakes, throw! Three flakes, throw! And first there was a flurry of motion. Occasionally I interrupted my tossing to wrack a horse across the rear with my broom when they tried to take advantage of my distraction and swoop in for a mouthful from the wheelbarrow
Finally, covered in sweat, I dumped the last dregs of the hay out of the wheel barrow and dragged it back up the hill to stage it for the next feeding. You might think that all was finished but nay, nay, twas not so. After I reset the wheelbarrow I re-entered the pasture and with a heavy heart made my way down to the bog lands. It is because one of the automatic waterers was ingeniously located at the deepest point of the basin. Because, you know, an area that geographically traps and holds moisture truly thrives with huge amounts of equine traffic passing through it constantly. What resulted was mud that was always somewhere between the freeze and thaw, creating TREMENDOUS suction. And I had to walk into this to check that the waterer’s heater was still functioning. Every. Single. Step. My. Boots. Sucked. Into. The. Manumud. That is a combination of manure and mud. I did not want to fall into the manumud and every fiber of my being worked to maintain my balance while straining to clap eyes on the agua inside the waterer. Was it liquid? Check. Was it below freezing out? Check.
And then I turned and began my slow ascent up the icy hill, covered in sweat, flecks of hay, smelling of manumud and listing to the baying of the hounds, who had not yet been fed.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy The Baying of The Hounds: The Golden Igloo City.