zero

after our long autumn, winter has finally set about us with its icy knives. even with daytime temperatures in the teens and twenties (fahrenheit), a breath of wind will tug the “feels like” temperature down below zero. the arctic air along with the foot of snow that we got early last week encourages indoor living, but i must get out and tend to the critters. it’s early enough in the season that i can still find my brave face.

right after the storm, i went jeeping, taking my little red wrangler out to blaze trails through the deep snow in places that don’t get plowed, but still need to be accessible. i guess normal people have snowblowers? shoveling is out of the question. my loop from the house to the shed to the hay is probably an eighth of a mile. someday i aspire to snowblower ownership, but in the interim, this is a perk of 4WD. it’s also fun to blast around in the deep snow in a vehicle that’s made for it, i’m not going to lie. it’s way more fun than taking a snowblower for a slow noisy walk.

to keep the horses healthy and comfortable, they need frequent small feedings when it’s this cold rather than the normal twice daily. their guts move fast, so spreading intake out over a full 24 hours keeps calories in them so they can beat the cold. they get forage all day, a grain feeding in the evening, and then forage all night. that means four trips outside every day at a minimum.

i’ve never weighed all the gear i put on to keep myself safe and comfortable, but i’m estimating about forty pounds of insulated overalls, tall neoprene boots, and assorted fleece and wool items to insulate around the edges to keep me moderately warm. all of that lives in a sinister heap by the front door. it goes on and off again so many times during the day, that i rarely hang or stow any of it.

two nights ago, i was waiting with a family member at the hospital for most of the day. one of my daughters was on hay duty, so the calorie flow never stopped, but i wouldn’t really ask her to grain or blanket the horses unless it was an emergency. that’s more specialized horsekeeping with a need for some specialized knowledge. making a mistake could result in a horse or a daughter getting hurt. so, when i finally made it home at 2300, in full dark with a real temperature of 1ºF and a thin, icy wind cutting through mere flesh like a scalpel, there was clean-up comforting to do. i ran inside, geared up, and faced my foe.

first thing: concentrates. the horses were shivering and their muzzles were frosty. big bowls of sugary cereal help with both. i gave them a few minutes to regulate (and to calm down), then buckled on their blankets. i had very responsibly hung all the blankets up for the summer season, but the mice didn’t care and had built tiny mouse hammocks in the folds and creases. i had shaken out all the nests a day earlier and left the blankets inside out to evict any remaining rodents. the nylon linings were ice cold and the horses all jumped a little bit when i first flung the chilly blankets onto their backs.

different blankets have different styles and numbers of buckles, but generally it’s velcro and two buckles in the front, two buckles that criss-cross under the belly, and two straps that run from in front of the back legs, cross-cross under those legs, then clip in the back by the rump. none of these buckles can be operated with insulated gloves on, so the gloves come off in the glisteningly cold air and buckling commences with red, chapped bare hands.

i especially hate trigger snaps on leg straps, because moisture gets inside the little spring mechanism and freezes the snap. that means you have to grip the snap in your bare hands until whatever heat is left there can melt the ice inside.

i’m also not a fan of the front mechanism of any blanket i’ve ever used. most blankets use velcro on the inside to keep a cozy wrap going and the buckles actually keep the blanket on the horse. my horses all like to mess with velcro, so i generally have to refasten their fronts a couple times a day. the bay gelding straight up eats the front of his blankets, so his chest is usually exposed regardless of what he’s wearing. some older style blankets had solid fronts, which meant a rodeo when you had to pull the damn blanket over the horse’s head, but after repairing a broken chest buckle in subzero temperatures with a piece of baling twine, i’m willing to concede there may be trade-offs.

some blankets have belly bands that keep the horse’s belly warm with a band of blanket that attaches to the main body of the blanket, but not on my velcro-happy horses. the spotted gelding’s favorite thing to do in the world is rip velcro. i let him take off his own boots because they close with velcro. you can’t wear teva sandals around him. his brother and mother aren’t quite as weird about it, but it does run in the family. most of the velcro on my blankets is long gone or badly damaged.

at any rate, with the help of my headlamp and three horses who genuinely wanted their blankets on, i got the little herd wrapped up snug and fed. i warmed myself up with a hot shower and a pile of flannel sheets, cozy for a few hours.

until the next feeding.