fear

after our two weeks of bitter, arctic cold, we had two days of thaw. it was 50ºF (10ºC) and rainy, which brought down the snow pack a lot and left hard, treacherous ice behind. i ran the hose twice: once at the start of the thaw and once at the end of it. three more days of subzero temperatures were forecast and i wanted to make sure the tanks were full up to the top.

the downside of the warm, rainy weather was that the horses went into the next round of deep freeze with wet fur. i couldn’t put their blankets on them when it was 50ºF; they would sweat and rub and get a nasty skin infection (fun fact: horses and humans are the only two animals that sweat). i couldn’t leave their blankets off them because they’d get wet and freeze and chill. i trusted in the hardiness of my little herd and left them nekkid.

when i went out to feed them on the first cold morning, they had icicles hanging off of their bellies, flanks, and rumps and a hard crust of ice on their backs, but otherwise seemed okay. the snow had mostly stopped. i took a shedding blade to them, scraping off the ice and slush with the serrated side, then flipping the blade and skimming off the water with the smooth side. some of the gnarliest belly icicles weren’t coming off, but they weren’t going to melt into their coats and cause any problems, either. the spotted gelding was having none of it. he tends to be thin-skinned and fussy at the best of times. having ice dragged off his hide was not his idea of a good time. he kept pinning his ears and snarling at me, then daintily trotting his butt away from me (his literal butt; the front end stayed parked in front of the hay while the back end avoided me). i got the wet stuff on his top line off and the worst off his butt and neck. that was all he was going to give me. his bay brother, meanwhile, came back to me for seconds. he’s an itchy kind of horse and likes a good, hard grooming.

by evening, they were drier and a little frozen. the temperatures were dropping sharply, so i piled them into their blankets with best intentions to undress them again the next day so that they could finish drying. i’d have to drag their blankets into the house to dry, too, but better that than pony-cicles.

as i finished up chores and was walking back to the house, i heard the sound of stealthy feet and loud panting. i turned, alarmed, sure i was being set upon by rabid coyotes, and found the labrador lolloping behind me. someone else must have let her out after i left the house.

i went out this morning and plunged my arm in under the horse blankets, groping for dampness. they all looked at me like i’d lost my mind and the mare looked downright offended. the two geldings were dry as a bone, as were the linings on their blankets. the mare had a little bit of dampness on her rump, so i fluffed her up a little and let them all keep their blankets on. the sun shone today, but it never got up above 7ºF (-14ºC). i just felt better letting them stay under cover.

it was wretched waiting for them to finish their grain tonight. when it’s this cold, i have to keep my mind busy, because my body just wants to lay down in the hay to fall asleep and die. sometimes i run multiplication tables and sometimes i practice my italian. tonight, i ran through what i need to do at work tomorrow.

they finally finished eating and i got up to get their dishes. as i stood, my headlamp picked up a pair of yellow-orange eyes along the stone wall on the east side of the pasture. they blinked out almost immediately. this time of year, wildlife eyes could only be a canid (fox or coyote) or a mustelid (pine marten or fisher). curious, i scanned the length of the stone wall to see if the eyes reappeared. at the south end of the pasture, near where i hay the horses, the light picked up a hulking black shape and green eyes. ‘i’m being stalked by a pack of coyotes!’ i thought. in my mind, i’m always being stalked by packs of things. usually it’s cats in my living room who are out of food. i froze as the green eyes started to come closer. and closer. and then close enough that i could clearly see that this stalking beast was the labrador. again.