We're Moved our Tales (or Tails, if you prefer)...
After much thoughtful, albeit one-sided discussion and consideration, Ping and I have decided to move our new stories to a new site. So, if you'd like to hang around the old blue barn and look back at what's happened to both of us during the past few years, the archives are still right here. Please feel free to stay and look around.
However, if you'd prefer to trot across the pasture and keep up with the latest happenings in the lives of good old Ping, his new and annoying stepsister Teddie, and and all their four-footed buddies, please visit our new site The Ping Chronicles, where we will continue (or at least attempt) to entertain, vaguely enlighten, and just plain old have a good time — at least, that's the plan!
Ping, Teddie, and their old manure shoveling pal ~ Nan
It was a good idea, but a little sad, when Ping and I moved ourselves, lock stock barrel, and tack trunks, from our blue home for the past four years to another barn. And, although the new barn was very nice and owned by a friend, let’s just says we were both a little down in the mouth.
I had been pretty happy with our horsey home. Even though there were things I would have done differently than current management, I really didn’t want to move. I suppose that could be said of my old four-footed friend as well. He liked his stall and his mane and tail-chewing buddies in the big blue barn.
It wasn’t so much the logistics of the move that were bugging me so much as the teary human faces and worried horses that were packing up and leaving one by one. We had really become, for the most part, a community of friends. We had been an almost daily part of each other’s lives for, in some cases, more than twelve years. We had celebrated the new arrivals of several foals and human babies along the way, wept and comforted each other as we waited for the vet to arrive to put down old friends. We had helped each other stack mountains (literally it seemed sometimes) of hay in the hot late days of summer. We had dug our way through snowdrifts packed against the barn doors in winter in order to clear a path to the paddocks for our horses so that they could get out of their stalls for an hour or two in the winter. We were a family of strangers brought together by a common love for a money burning, hay eating, manure producing animal that in many cases went un-ridden but much pampered, and always loved.
I headed up the loft steps to begin to organize and pack my five tack trunks, all the while a nagging thought began grow - to literally loom over my emotionally overwhelmed little head. All the hay! The hay I had fretted and worried over and over-bought was now stacked neatly overhead and I had two weeks to move it. Wow, Stable Boy was gonna love this!
So, just like Katie Scarlett O’Hara down in Georgia, I decided to worry about the hay tomorrow. I’d move my horse and all his stuff and enough hay to transition him to Rebecca’s hay, and figure out the rest later. After all, tomorrow was another hay.
It was enough to deal with moving knowing that Ping and I were going to be like a couple of rudderless ships in our new digs. We would wander in the desert of the nice new barn for several weeks, missing the rolling green hills and the smell of fresh oak mulch emanating from the great piles of the stuff stored across the road from our old home. Whenever we were out trailering around, we’d always know we were close to our old blue home by that strangely astringent smell that only comes from chopping fresh oak into itty-bitty pieces.
And so it was. Ah yes, the new kid drill. You know – what are the rules, where is my tack locker, how come I can’t find anything, where is Ping’s turnout sheet that was hanging over there but now seems to be missing, why won’t any of these people talk to me? I missed my friends that had scattered to the four winds.
Four-footed new kid on the block Pool Boy had his own newbie issues to deal with. He had to make nice with the new herd and he wasn’t very happy about the new situation. He struggled to make acquaintances, to find his level in the middle of the pecking order, to find the window that was no longer in his stall. In all fairness, he did like hanging his head out in the barn aisle all day – something that suited his gregarious nature perfectly. But, he stopped dealing with me altogether. When I walked in the barn, he’d turn his butt towards me, staring at the back wall of his new stall, where he thought his window should be. He was not a happy camper.
Obviously, he was a little angry with me for moving him. It’s funny but this horse really manages to make his displeasure known. The first and only time I was ever kicked (knock on mulch) by any horse was two weeks after I acquired the red head and he just wanted to let me know that he wanted nothing to do with me and I needed to send him back home to Kentucky where he thought he belonged.
Needling me in the very back recesses of my subconscious, throughout this transitional social experience, was the idea that I still had somewhat more pressing issue to deal with than anthropomorphic communication: We still had that big old stack of hay sitting in the loft of the old blue barn on the hill waiting for me to figure out just where I’d store it. Rebecca’s barn was not set up for partial care hay-hoarders. She ran a nice full-care barn and had plenty of hay of her very own. She really didn’t have room for mine.
When first purchased I thought this hay was another good idea. Keep in mind that this was just prior to the Midwest hay crunch that would have allowed me, had I been willing, to sell my relatively cheaply purchased hay for up to ten dollars a bale. I had no idea at the time that, in the long run, this horded hay was going to save both my and my red buddy’s tail when, first a late hard frost, then ensuing drought, would decimate the 2007 hay crop. I had almost a hundred bales up there. Even if I moved twenty or so bales to Rebecca’s for Ping’s feed transition, I still had another eighty plus to worry about (this running through my mind before I remembered that I had another twenty-five bales stored in another blue barn on the hill, waiting for a rainy day that literally did not materialize for most of the summer of 2007) - Yin and Yang.
Listening to my moaning and groaning about compressed dried grass, my friend Mary Beth, who’d had the foresight to see the writing on the wall and decamped a month prior to the demise of the big blue barn, had a suggestion. Why not call the owner and see if he’ll let you leave the hay there for a month or so until you figure out what to do? She suggested. Good idea! I’d always had a good rapport with the owner. He would drop by Ping’s stall from time to time in the middle of the afternoon. While I was cleaning tack or mucking my stall, we would chat.
I discussed Mary-Beth’s suggestion with Stable Boy who said he thought the talk with the owner was a good idea so I gave the owner a call and asked him if we could drop by. Sure says he. Another good idea!
Stable Boy and I drove back the long lane to the owner’s house. We talked of hay. Sure, says he, you can leave your hay there until you can move it. Turns out, he won’t be working on that barn until he gets a major part of the indoor arena built. Indoor arena? This is interesting. He really is going to renovate – make vast improvements – and reopen in two years. This is definitely better news than turning the place into a cattle farm as was suggested by one of the various rumors flying around.
We discussed our ideas for the place. I’d always thought the stable could be a great place if it had had a fair shot and someone to sink some money into it. The owner agrees and begins to ask pointed questions. How big does an arena have to be? What are some of my ideas to improve the property? Ideas fly back and forth. I begin to see a faint glimmer of an idea. But, he plans to keep the place shut down while he makes the improvements, then he’ll find a new lessee and turn the place over for them to run. He is retired and really doesn’t want to run the place, just make it a grand project - a show place.
Stable Boy and I look at each other. Silently, I wonder whether the owner would be willing to allow just a few boarders to inhabit one barn while he makes improvements to the rest of the property?
Suddenly, I hear a voice. It sounds vaguely familiar – almost, like my own - so familiar, and yet one over which I seem to have no control. The disembodied pod person voice speaks aloud: I’d be willing to run the barn! It says.
I was recently informed, by barn management, that the barn would be closing its doors for good at the end of the month. The owner wants to put in an indoor and replace the barn roofs. Granted, these are all facility improvements that, under ordinary circumstances, I would welcome. I just wish we didn’t have to move out to accomplish his goals. It wouldn’t be so bad except for the very short notice we’ve been given. Never mind that the contract states that we are to receive 30 days notice prior to eviction. We (all 42 of us naïve fools that trusted management) have to find new homes for our equine companions in less than three weeks. And, move out 75 bales of hay because yours truly can’t seem to do without a glut of hay in the loft. Let’s just say that there are quite a few unhappy campers around the barn these days.
I for one am not too worried. I have my ace in the hole, my friend Rebecca. Rebecca owns a boarding facility that is actually closer to home than Ping’s present accommodations. She has always said that Ping and I have a home at her place whenever we need it. Well, finally we need it!
You may be wondering why I did not move Ping to her barn in the first place. After all, it is a lovely facility – nice extra large indoor ring, large stalls, wide isles, plenty of pasture, a very nice lounge area to sit and watch the comings and goings, etc. Sounds great, and it is except for one tiny little thing.
Over the years, I have developed a strict policy that one should never ever board from friends. For me, it can be likened to loaning money to relatives. It is a sea of alligators, just waiting to snap your friendly relationship off at the head. It’s really a no win proposition for several reasons.
Boarding management is generally just one complaint after another. The stall is too small, my horse isn’t getting enough hay, the waterer is too slow, someone stole whatever, that horse has been standing in the wash rack for an hour, so and so left their saddle in the barn isle all day, these people never clean up after their dogs… You get the drift. Even if these are legitimate complaints, one is reluctant to go to one’s friend and Equine Exposition shopping buddy to gripe all the time. And, like forgetful parents, we tend to focus on the negative, without complimenting the positive as often as we should, or could. Instead, we tend to harp on the negative until the cows (or horses) come home.
If your barn manager is also your friend, you have to walk a very fine line between being a complaining pain in the backside to being a friend who listens to the laments of management. Just exactly whose side are you on anyway - your friends, or your barn manager? Straddling this fence can become painful, as I have found out in the past.
Let’s say your barn manager’s darling kiddies keep getting into your tack boxes and ruining your pristine arrangements (okay, I admit that I’m one of those finicky people who knows exactly where she puts all of her equine accoutrements because I like to lay my hands on my stuff is when I need it – silly me). And, foolish girl that I am, I’d like my riding helmet to be where I left it, not in the manager’s boat that is stored in the garage next to her house where her cute little kiddies left it!
Ordinarily, you could let management have it – get really self-righteous about the wandering helmet. But when the offending children are also friends of your child and often end up camped out in your child’s trundle bed for sleepovers, things can get sticky. I don’t like sticky…
In order to try to avoid this conflict of interest, I decided to go along with other evicted friends on a barn-shopping afternoon. We visited many interesting establishments. One had no pasture and a tiny dark hole of an indoor. I couldn’t tell if there was anyone in there or not… guess I’d have to purchase some of those nifty night vision goggles one sees in the movies all the time.
Then, there was one so close to the river that when the spring rains come, you can fish right outside your stall window! No need for a getaway fishing vacation – just drop a baited line and bobber out the stall window. You can catch dinner and muck at the same time – just try not to confuse the proceeds of the two endeavors!
Moving onto the next barn - the lovely new facility with a great indoor and a wonderful barn manager that knew your name and knew about Ping (maybe people really do read this column!). Great place except for the fact that the man who owns it is a landscape architect and didn’t want to let the horses out of the barn when the grass was wet so the horses stayed in their stalls for three weeks solid! (I don’t’ think this fellow really knows much about horses, although he’s built five miles of bridal trails that Ping would have loved!). But, Pool Boy would go berserk after three weeks in the stall. Sure, he could run around the indoor but I’m not in the mood to settle on this point. Ping really loves his time at liberty – just being one of the boys in a herd.
Finally, saving the best for last, there was the place where the owners bred (no pun intended here… just wait) lots and lots of horses, and fed them day old bread (now you get it don’t you) they get from the bakery store for ten cents a loaf (no I’m not kidding here – this is a true story)! Granted wheat is a grain, and whole wheat bread is a good source of fiber, and there are nutritional fortifications in the bread, but I think the folks at Nutrina® would frown upon this, shall we say, unique equine nutritional philosophy. Besides, I don’t think horses should eat peanut butter and jelly on their breakfast unless the bread is toasted first – this is a deal-breaker!
Therefore, given the circumstances and the fine selection of pickings out there topped by the short notice we boarders received from our present management, Old Pool Boy and I have little choice but to finally, and at long last, move into Rebecca’s.
Life at Rebecca’s will probably be just fine. She and I have discussed all the pitfalls of friends boarding with friends. We will be adults and work to separate business from friendship. (I have to make this separation all the time in this business because the equine world really is such a small one.) I know the barn, and some of the people who board there so it won’t be like the new geeky girl in school (I hope).
I figure that things could be much worse – I could not have a friend with an empty stall that is willing to take my homeless little horse and me in on such short notice. And, best of all, Rebecca’s kids are grown and gone, and she doesn’t have a boat, or a river right outside the window to float it on!
Last week’s horse trials were sunny and beautiful. A soft fall day, with sparkling water reflecting fluffy white clouds in a dazzlingly azure sky. Only one layer of polar fleece outer ware was necessary, unzipped of course. What joy - sitting in a chair, chatting with friends as they passed while walking the course - shooting away while gleaming horses swept by for hours? It was the kind of weekend that reminds you just why you started loving this sport.
This weekend, however, I attended the last horse trials of the year. To be clear, it wasn’t the last horse trials of the year, just my year. The sky was grey, the sleet was flying, the horses’ coats were either dull from winter wool, or clipped. No shiny, glossy bodies flying around this day.
I understand, but do not always embrace, the conventional wisdom that we event types are expected to brave the elements, no matter what. Yesterday proved to be the last hurrah for me. I kept jogging back to the car for yet another layer of some type of clothing to help to cut the relentless winter wind that seemed to pick up as the cloud cover thickened. Not exactly Reykjavik in the January (yes, I have been to Reykjavik in January and it is mind-numbingly cold unless you can soak yourself in one of those lovely natural steam bubbling thermal baths) but pretty miserable just the same. There’s nothing like sitting in a spitting freezing rain accompanied by a 30-degree wind chill stiff breeze to prompt you to end the season.
As the days get shorter, I curtail my eventing activities for several other reasons. For one, the horse trials in my area (Area 8) are pretty much finished by winter, except for the occasional combined test or fun show. The second reason is much more basic, more primal in it’s essence – I really hate mud – especially the thick, cold, viscous winter variety. Fall and winter horse trials here in the Midwest are always drowning in mud!
Granted, there is plenty of mud in the spring, but the spring variety is of a much more, to quote a former president, kinder, gentler variety. You have months of shining sun and gentle breezes looming on the horizon - Cadbury® Eggs, and fresh asparagus appear. The suddenly blooming apple trees permeate the air with their wonderful heady scent. Spring mud brings the promise of the flowers of May and sipping spring break Pina Coladas while lying on soft white sand somewhere down south. You can trail ride again without 5 layers of polar fleece and an Ian Flemings’ bad guy balaclava over your head.
Late Autumn mud, on the other hand, is simply the precursor of much worse things to come – bitter winds, knee-deep snow, horses slipping around on snowballed feet.
For the next two seasons, your horse (like George Schulz’s Pigpen character in Peanuts®) floats through a cloud of dust. If you don’t blanket your horse you have to scrape the mud out of his or her coat every day. No more figurative daily knock off, now it’s the real thing. If you blanket your horse you have to knock the mud off the sheet every day. Either way, you lose.
Ping is a mud dog – loves the stuff. After all, there is but the difference of one letter between Ping and Pig. If there’s a mud hole, he’ll find it, wallow in it, embrace it repeatedly to his heart’s content. As a result of this favorite of daily equine recreational activities, I have learned to keep him sheeted with something year round, except during the hottest dry months of the summer when he’s on evening turnout and all his favorite wallowing holes are long dried up. I keep him sheeted to save my arm and his coat.
There are those who do not wish to bother with the sheeting merry-go-round. Too many decisions to be made the night before – too many calls to the weather line to ascertain tomorrows forecast. Got to make sure you pick the correct sheet for the corresponding weather. However, it has been my experience that the same naysayer that will not bother with the sheet is always the first to comment about how good Ping looks (at least from the neck down) year round.
Turnout sheets do have one tiny drawback, they leave Ping’s legs exposed, and he is prone to mud fever. Therefore every afternoon I, killjoy that I am, hose off his legs up to the shoulder and hock, removing any traces of his good time lolling around with the boys. In the cold winter air, Old Ping really appreciates this procedure – lifting each leg as high off the ground as he can get it (Why can’t he lift his leg this high when I’m trying to pry five pounds of frozen mud sludge and rocks the size of baseballs out of his soles with a crowbar?), hiding his foot underneath his turnout, in the futile hope that I’ll give up and leave him alone.
At this seasonal juncture, one must ask some fundamental questions. Is your truck’s four-wheel drive working so you can push all the four-wheel drive-less folks up the barn driveway or tow their little cars out of snowdrifts? Have the mice in the barn managed to get into your blanket storage trunks, eating holes and making nests in all your $300 dollar winter turnouts? Do you have enough old holey tube socks in the barn because - while they are great to wipe the three-inch layer of mud off hooves, hands, and paddock boots - Stable Boy thinks no matter how bad the sock is, he can probably wear it one more time?
I have been known to (this is a great spring show tip, by the way) pull a couple of old tube socks over my boots. I keep them on until I’m through traipsing through the sludge, then pull them off, wiping off any lingering traces of mud from the boots with the clean upper portion of the sock, then toss them in the trash. I may look stupid walking around in tube socks but it keeps my boots clean and appeals to my recycler’s soul – giving me something to do with the hundreds of holey tube socks that knock around the house.
Therefore, in the spirit of my favorite horse-keeping season, I offer a few additional mud coping, sock utilizing methodologies. Just remember - don’t throw out that sock!
1. Use as a moist dressing to soften up granular tissue on chafed heels and ankles. Just cut the cuffs into tubes that fit an ankle. Slip it over the hoof after applying ointment and it will aid in the softening and removal of those stubborn cracked scabs that are a little tough to reach. This sock application is also good for mud fever treatment. 2. Use a water moistened sock to clean out your horse’s nostrils. Fits right over your fingers, and you can get up there pretty far. Just make sure there are no holes in the toe. 3. Pull over your horses foot and tape with vet wrap and tape to add extra layer of protection to hoof pack prior to duct tape. I have a fair amount of experience with this one and it really works. If I’m using the cotton batting for packing a damaged hoof, a sock slipped over and forcefully pulled up will hold that cushion material and any medication neatly in place until you manage grab the vet wrap and duct tape that rolled down the barn isle. 4. And last but not least, while not a particularly cool weather activity, my favorite sock re purposing - sheath cleaning. This is, to my way of thinking, the best use for the old worn out long tube sock. I really hate sheath cleaning and Ping tends to STRONGLY resist this procedure! My old four-footed friend must be slipped the proverbial Mickey in order to successfully accomplish this endearing horse-keeping activity. Ping also requires the services of Stable Boy to hold up his head and keep him from toppling over. A veterinary palpation glove covered with a good old long tube sock makes a great sheath washer, protecting the wearer from all manner of substances one finds in a gelding’s nether regions. This glove and sock combination really does the trick and gets all involved equine body parts squeaky clean. Then, just strip off both glove and sock in one movement and toss it away.
“Ping’s been charging the gate…” stated the barn manager flatly as I entered the barn one evening, getting ready to perform my usual evening ritual of the cleaning of the stall. “… Have you ever seen him do this before”? She quizzes. “Ah”, says I, “you are just bearing the brunt of one of Ping’s jokes…” Pool Boy can be a real hoot, or a stinker depending on the situation, but even most of the stinker incidents are funny once time heals the wounds, both literally and figuratively speaking, giving you a bit better perspective on a peculiar incident and, of course, the bruise finally fades. His sense of humor took me a while to figure out. Is this just bad behavior or his way of frustrating me? I would wonder. But as it turns out Ping just enjoys jerking human chain whenever he can. In the morning or evening, depending on the time of year, after being turned-out, Ping and his posse of geldings tend to bunch up around the gate, milling about, waiting to be let into their stalls. If Ping hears his name, no matter where he is standing in the throng of horse flesh, he stops, looks at you, turns his rear toward you and proceeds to nonchalantly saunter away in a very disdainful manner, like he’s the most arrogant horse in the barn and is completely disinterested in you, the barn or his waiting meal. About 300 feet out, he stops dead in his tracks, wheels on his haunches, does a little rear and buck, and gallops straight at you like he’s demon possessed. Right in front of the gate he does a sliding stop and just stands there, with a look on his face that seems to say, what took you so long? Then he stands like stone, waiting patiently for you to nab his halter and lead him through the gate. To the uninitiated, this behavior is unsettling, even scary, at times… will he come in or do you have to trudge out to the paddock through the mud, or snow, or rain? Will his crazy gallop toward you stop in time, or pin you against the fence rails or gate? Will he kick the slats out of you if he wheels and bucks back at you? All of these questions flash through your mind – filling you with a distinct unease – until, after the performance has been repeated about a dozen times, it dawns on you that he’s just jerking your chain - having a big old horse laugh at your expense! Ping is boarded in a partial care barn. We take care of him every day, rain or shine and this day in day out intimacy has taught us all a thing or two about Ping and his sensibilities, or lack there of. Old Stable Boy has found out for himself about Pool Boy’s funny side. When Ping is in the stall eating his dinner, my eager beaver barn help/husband isn’t about to let the horse finish his dinner in relative peace, before being led out to pasture. He’s going to wade right in and get that stall done. On the other hand, as far as relative equine newbie Stable Boy is concerned, working around a highly-strung thoroughbred while the horse is still in the stall is a situation fraught with peril. So, in order to keep the horse informed of his close proximity to four steel shod feet, Stable Boy has acquired the habit of chatting – albeit a very one sided conversation - with Ping while he works around him. Of course, some of Stable Boy’s soliloquy is not exactly flattering, or welcome, to ole Pool Boy. Maybe it’s the tone, or some weird type of animal/human telepathy, but Ping seems to gets the drift. “Hey Ping, Immigration called. You’re on the next boat back to New Zealand.” Whiz, a shot of nose-propelled grain flies across the bow of the grain feeder. Of course, staying away from the grain end doesn’t help much either. “Hey Ping, the glue factory called. You’ve been rejected, but the post-it note people are interested! How about a trip to Minnesota?” Swish, Ping’s tail slaps Stable boy right across the face. Other horses along my journey have had senses of humor as well. There was Beau, a chestnut thoroughbred that loved to play Toro with you in the indoor arena. He’d careen around until he’d run off some juice, then back himself into one of the corners of the ring and face you, snorting and dragging up dirt with a forefoot in a remarkable representation of a Spanish fighting bull – then charge you at a full gallop, only to swerve around you at the last moment. This game of chicken was repeated over and over until he’d had enough. Then he’d meekly walk over to you, wanting a scratch and treat. There was Babu, another chestnut thoroughbred, who loved to take beginners for a ride. He was a wonderful old preliminary eventer I leased from my instructor. He was fearless, unless he had to walk near those nasty white painted rocks along the side of the road. But when it came to jumping he would try take anything he saw that looked interesting whether you were inclined to go along or not – a four rail oak fence, the edge of a quarry, or my personal favorite, the concrete side walls of the bridge between my house and the barn that crossed a 40 foot deep river gorge. Depending on his mood, I would dismount and walk him over this fine cross-country obstacle rather than lose my life in the river below. But to Babu, it was all great fun! Babu took my low cross-rail jumping husband for a ride at full gallop straight towards the four rail pasture fence with me screaming behind him, “Sit up, sit up, for pity’s sake, sit up!!” At the last possible moment, Babu, knowing exactly what he was doing, ran out. Stable boy declined a ride in future. Babu hated to be blanketed and there were occasions when I’d tuck him up on a cold winter night with a nice blanket, only to arrive in the barn the next morning with the air frosty and cold and Babu’s blanket lying in shreds on him and about him, pieces hanging - like a hula dancer’s grass skirt - from his back. No matter how tough the blanket, Babu was tougher and would manage to tear it to pieces. I’m still not sure how he tore the nice long, grassy shreds, but I think teeth, patience, and his sense of humor, played a significant role in the process. My first pony, Peanuts (a black-point bay) would lead my father on a merry chase around the neighbor’s 200 acre crop field after she’d managed to squeeze herself through that tiny little gap in the pasture fence my father was sure she was too fat to get through. He’d chase her and she’d gallop just out of reach for hours, enjoying the whole game. It’s a good thing she didn’t speak English or she might not have been as pleased with his less than veiled threats about her next living accommodation. So when the barn manager said, …well, at first he’s just standing there. Then he starts to walk away. Then all of the sudden he turns… I just smiled, nodded, and thought to myself, now where have you been for the last thirty years?
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It’s 9:30 in the evening and it’s really hot. In July and August in my part of the world it’s always hot - hot, and humid, sticky and sultry, with very little breeze to provide relief from the oppressive mid-summer steam bath otherwise known as summertime in the Midwest. About the only time we get any relief from the stifling summer heat and humidity is when the occasional severe thunderstorm rolls through, bringing with it torrential rain, tornadic (my spell checker doe not like this word, but I believe it meteorologically correct because I’ve heard it used during severe weather bulletins as my family and I huddle in our basement in the middle of the night, following the advice of the man on the television by taking shelter in the nearest low-lying area of our home) gusts of wind strong enough to blow the iron patio furniture into the pool, and if we are really lucky, and the insurance company is not, hail of varying sizes from grains of rice to baseballs. But, on this languid summer evening, no air is moving. The stars are out and the misty night is blue and beautiful I’ve been at home for about ten minutes and am finally slipping into the pool – a moment I’ve been dreaming of all day. You see, I’ve been in the barn all day and am just now getting home. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have been at the barn so late in the day, but I had to wait for the hay man. I swept the sweltering, dusty barn loft in order to make ready for a hay delivery ordered last week, and promised by my friendly, always smiling hay-making professional, to be delivered at 4:00 this afternoon. The hay man did not show up. I gave Ping a bath. The hay man did not show up. I cleaned out my all my tack trunks, swept the barn isle. Still he did not show up. I waited all evening in the heat, dust and dirt for a rendezvous, or a telephone call full of regrets. Neither materialized. This kind, smiling farmer with the wonderful orchard grass/alfalfa mix that Ping, my little NZ thoroughbred adores, kept me waiting all afternoon and evening, in vain. He just stood me up. Around 7:30, Stable Boy called the barn. Stable Boy (my resident hay stacker) has been waiting for me to call so he can come down and help stack the hay. He is hot and tired, having just push mown the lawn, and wants to know when he should come down to help because he wants to get into the pool and cool off. With the patience of Job (I’ve been around this particular block a time or two) I inform him that the hay man is a bit late. I am resigned to my fate, as I have been dealing with hay delivery professionals, for what seems an eternity, and know that if I wait long enough, the hay man will come. But old Stable Boy, being a relative newbie to the world of horse and hay management, is not quite so tolerant of missed appointments - he thinks when you make an appointment, you should keep the appointment. His words are a bit more colorful than should I relay here, but you get the idea. He is fit to be tied. I, on the other hand, am just tired. Stable Boy knows that running low on hay stresses me out, planting a large kernel of sleeplessness into the fertile field of my worrywart psyche. I get decidedly nervous when the bale count falls below 30. My problem, in a nutshell, is that Ping, the direct beneficiary of my annual thousand-dollar hay budget, is not an easy keeper. So I like a nice, full hayloft at all times. If Ping needs a bale a day to keep his weight on, he gets a bale a day. The problem is that the loft only holds 100 bales, creatively well-stacked. When I first moved to this barn, a business degree, or maybe one in math – now there’s a stretch – would have better prepared me for figuring out just how many bales of hay one can fit in a 6 x 10 foot space that is, roughly, 10 feet high. I know my mathematician/physicist Stable Boy/husband would have appreciated this ability in advance of my ordering my first hay delivery just after moving into the barn. But, because I am a very right-brained artistic type, I over ordered. No problem, I think, because winter is coming on and too much is better than too little. I suppose you could say that it’s not my problem, because I don’t stack the hay. My husband (the hay stacker in residence) takes a rather different view of my overstocking the equine larder. It is because of my volume-calculating deficit that, rather than being home eating a nice hot dinner on a cold, blustery late November evening, Stable Boy had to stack and restack 120 bales so it would fit into a space designed for about 100 without overlapping anyone else’s space (barn condo neighbors tend be a little bit touchy about any encroachment into their territory, especially as winter rapidly approaches). Because of my limited hay-storage capacity, I have had to buy hay two or three times a year, depending on how many groceries Ping manages to get himself around. In order to assuage my hay insecurity, I have made it a practice to cultivate and maintain very friendly relationships with all of my hay providers (My parents would be so proud because all of those college classes in diplomacy have finally paid off!). I know where my, or perhaps I should say, Ping’s bread is buttered. I’m not going to complain about a little inaccurate scheduling for fear of irreparably damaging the vital hay provider/consumer relationship no matter how much Stable Boy complains. Like my farrier, these three guys have me where they want me, and they know it. Finally, at 8:45pm as the evening mist began to rise over the pastures, I gave up and came home. And so, the long awaited, highly anticipated cool, blue water restores my sanity and Stable Boy’s good humor – that and a cold frosty insulated mug filled to the brim. In the twilight he begins to whistle softy as he slips onto his floating mattress. The cool, clear water slips over me, washing away the salty sweat, barn dirt (makes you want to never, ever swim at my house doesn’t it?) and frustration that cover me from head to toe. Sighing, I try to let go, settling in for a nice, cooling float on the glassy surface of the water, watching the fireflies rise from the new mown, fragrant grass that surrounds the pool, deciding not to worry about the diminishing hay stores until tomorrow. I finally begin to relax – drifting off into a twilight reverie. Suddenly, the telephone jars me from my floating island of tranquility. I look at my husband as he answers the telephone. Stable Boy gives me an ironic small smile as he slowly climbs the steps of the pool, saying as he climbs: “It’s the hay man. He’s waiting for you at the barn.”
My resident Stable Boy calls my horse Ping and I Barn Warriors. When I first heard myself so described, I thought he was saying Barn Worrier (something not too far off the mark come to think of it). But, he really meant warrior. Stable Boy says Ping and I are entitled to this honorary title because both my trusty steed and myself are just a couple of walking wounded, both lame on the same leg - plus one. Ping (a.k.a. Pool Boy), my little New Zealand Thoroughbred, has been a rather gimpy throughout our brief association. Together, we have battled several trim-happy farriers, abscesses, a colic, upward fixations of the patella, sore stifles, touchy bruised soles, a half gainer over a pasture fence, and more recently, the absence of rather large portions of the hoof wall of his left hind foot! I estimate that in the 15 months since I received this gift, he has been sound for approximately six months give or take a month or two (mostly give - at least when it comes to money changing hands). Anyway, I figure I have spent just about the last nine months nursing, soaking, doctoring, painting with all manner of smelly concoctions, weaving hoof patches (I have invested heavily in the corporation that manufactures Duck-tape!), wrapping, packing, and fretting over one equine appendage or another. And, this horse has yet to be in competition, at least with me. I can’t imagine the frustration of trying to compete this fellow. You know the story – spending all that money on entry fees, tack, transportation, Coggins test, USEA membership, USEF registration, not to mention hotel and meals – only to have the horse turn up lame just before you enter the dressage ring. I might just as well send the organizer a check for their grandchild’s college fund and fly to Bermuda for the weekend. Recently, during one of those rare occasions when his soundness and beautiful weather converged, we took a trail ride. Hopping to the ground, I noticed a burning sensation near the Achilles tendon of my right foot. I chose to ignore this feeling, preferring to pretend that I am still in my late 20’s (how deluded can one person be, I ask you?). Rather than seeking the opinion of a qualified medical professional, I chose to walk it off, being sure that it would go away shortly. I mentally repeated the mantra of my middle age – “Ice, ice, ice and Advil® will fix this problem.” When this slicing, burning sensation persisted, I asked the advice of my most trusted confidant and a pretty smart fellow – Stable Boy. My husband is a physicist by education and is in no way affiliated with the allied medical professions. When he observed the swelling growing on my tendon, he remarked, “Honey,” (he is allowed to call me this as he pays the bills and cleans my stall) “I think you’ve bowed a tendon!” I decided to mooch some free medical advice from my best friend who just happens to be a Licensed Physical Therapist in a nearby state (if you knew my orthopedic history, you would understand why I cling to this valuable association tooth and nail, although this is not the only reason. She, upon hearing my symptoms, insisted that this was nothing to mess around with and I should seek the attention of a qualified Sports Medicine Physician. I demurred. You see, I am already under the care of another Licensed Physical Therapist who is working on my acute tennis elbow of the right arm caused by one too many years of jerking up an eight-pound camera 800 times a weekend at horse trials. Local PT, upon seeing my swelling tendon, also suggested in the strongest possible terms that I see a Sports Medicine Physician ASAP because if that tendon ruptured, I could lose the use of my foot and require major surgery and extensive rehabilitative therapy. I demurred no longer. In the midst of all this medical professional grousing, Ping’s farrier came out to the barn to trim, reset, and apply the latest version of hoof in a tube and Mylar® to his left hind foot. He then proceeded to pare Ping’s right sole a little too thin, tearing through it. This misfortune prompted a call to a my qualified Veterinary Medical Professional who said the foot required a soak in Epsom salts, a thorough application of Betadine, sheet cotton, and that all important commodity, Duck tape (I checked the label this evening and it really is spelled DUCK tape), all to be encased in yet another hoof boot (I should buy more stock!) With visions of multiple applications of Venice Turpentine dancing in my head I realized that my poor little guy now had matching diagonal feet enclosed in black neoprene hoof boots! The real tragedy, besides the obvious discomfort my horse was suffering, was that the mud lot had finally dried out enough for Ping to go out with his buddies. He’d been out only one day before this latest calamity befell. Now he’d be stuck in his stall for another couple of weeks. Over the past several months I have invested in a fair number of equine hoof boots of various designs, with prices ranging anywhere from $30 to $80. All made of that nice black neoprene, black foam cloth, and black rubber. All have a strap, wire, or Velcro closure, and all have a hard black rubber sole. All have had varying useful lives depending on whether they were lost in the mud lot, requiring a futile search by flashlight followed by a quick replacement, or managed to meet their inevitable demise due to normal wear and tear. When I finally visited the Sports Doc he smiled at the “bowed tendon” description telling me that indeed, that was exactly what I had done to myself. My Achilles tendon was tearing and it would have to be immobilized for six weeks! The good doctor informed me that I wouldn’t be able to ride for the duration of my recovery and I would have to wear a boot to keep my foot immobilized and protected from any further injury. But the good news is that just like a horse, the tendon should “set” and I should be fine in the long run. No more emergency dismounts and posting for a while (In all fairness, part of this problem could have been the result of that course of Ballroom Dancing Lessons that Stable Boy decided we should take to break up the winter doldrums …I just couldn’t resist the idea of doing the Tango with my blond barn cleaner), but all in all I should make a full recovery. The nurse brings in my boot. It looks vaguely familiar - black neoprene, foam, hard rubber sole, and Velcro closures. I mind reels with Déjà vu. The only difference between this two-footed version (it resembles Darth Vader’s ski boots) and the more familiar four-footed boot is the price - $500 – mercifully covered by my insurance. Maybe those $50 boots of Ping’s weren’t such a bad deal after all. And so, Pool Boy and I have bonded in yet another way. We are veterans of the Barn Wars, members of the Walking Wounded – a couple of old Warriors biding our time as we limp along in tandem, hand grazing through life in our coordinated black neoprene footwear. Patiently we wait for that elusive something called soundness because with only three good legs between us – we can’t afford any more trouble!
As spring approaches, ever so slowly, my thoughts turn toward the blue-green fields of Kentucky and the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day event. Actually, my thoughts turn toward Kentucky before Christmas when I realize I have a big deadline looming ahead - my annual Rolex Preview article for the USEA. It begins as a nagging kernel of thought in the midst of the push towards Thanksgiving, rearing it’s head when I get word from my editor that she would like me to work on another Rolex Preview. Please don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a privilege to work on the preview. I adore the RK3DE, as it’s affectionately known far and wide by those who work tirelessly on this premier world-class event or surf the net, looking for the Equestrian Events website. I adore the people who run it, design the course, and build the course. It has been my privilege to spend 3 or 4 hours every January with these hardworking and talented friends as we tour, laugh and generally have a great time discussing what will be coming and what will be deleted before the next event. I wouldn’t miss this snowy, bone chillingly cold rendezvous for all the Bourbon in Kentucky. They might be sick of talking to me about this year after year, but I will be forever grateful that they are too gracious to admit it. Every year about 80,000 or so of us eventing fans converge on the beautiful plateau that is home to Lexington Kentucky. For die-hard American eventers, this is the piece de resistance of the eventing year. We gather together in tiny hotel rooms, drafty tents, first-class recreation vehicles, horse trailers, or rely on the kindness of friends and the slightest of acquaintances for floor space, or better yet, an unoccupied guest room (the latter best describes my annual squatting in the guest room of my best friend who happens to reside on one of the lovely breeding farms surrounding Lexington. I am blessed. I get good grub, tolerance for odd disruptive hours, and more importantly, a bedroom of my own with a door that closes and fresh coffee in the morning. And, you can’t beat the price or the company of the hostess. What could be better?) For me, The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is a working vacation. Filled with stress but at the same time it’s just flat out fun. There are parties, barbeques, art shows, rendezvous at Jalapenos and DeShas. You can run into some pretty interesting horsy folks out and about – see things you wish you hadn’t, people you haven’t seen in years and people you hope to never see again. And, let us not forget the fun of that shrine of conspicuous equine consumption also known as The Trade Fair, where you can spend a packet of money in very short order. Why the dog and horse treat freebies alone are worth the trip. You can sell a horse, get a back-rub, or get your Danskos shined all in a matter of minutes. I must admit that the thing that makes it better for me than the usual, lonely location shoot in another state is sharing this annual (14 straight years and counting) springtime rite-of-passage with my family and friends. I’m lucky that I indoctrinated my husband and daughter to this premier eventing experience early in our acquaintance. My 15-year-old daughter can’t remember a time in her life when we didn’t make the trip to Kentucky in April so mom could work. I have photos of my daughter as a two-year-old sitting on the top of the bleachers lining the dressage ring, wearing her Rolex ball cap, having an earnest conversation with a still mounted Torrance Watkins as she leaves the ring after her dressage test. The red all-terrain stroller we pushed up and down the rolling hills of the Rolex course in Kentucky, rain or shine, still hangs in our garage. My daughter’s attendance is somewhat more reluctant the older she gets. She’d much rather hang out with her friends but she and I always watch the Thursday dressage tests together. It’s a tradition - Daughter, Scottish Terrier Raz, and I, picnicking and shooting pictures of all the tests. On the other hand, my husband refuses to set foot on the show grounds Thursday or Friday. Old Stable Boy succumbs to what I like to refer to as The Lure of the Four B’s. Stronger than the song the sirens in the Odyssey, The Lure of the Four B’s wraps it’s tentacles around him, relentlessly tugging at him the last weekend of April. He hangs out with his buddy, the breeding farm manager, going to the breeding sheds, teasing mares, generally immersing himself in the activities of the farm, then arriving at Keeneland at precisely 1:00 for the first race on the card of the day during the Spring Racing Meet, solely for the purpose of betting and losing as much money as he can during a five hour period. But, there are two more B’s that draw him relentlessly towards the Bluegrass (hummm - another B . . .) every spring. Bourbon and Beer. You see it is these last B’s that make Rolex so much fun for this non-horseman to whom I am married. Please understand that he is not a lush and loves cross-country day. It’s just that he’s spent 15 years of cross-country days stuck in a chair, shooting tens of thousands of riders as they go over the jump, over the jump, over the jump all summer long. For him, Rolex is one Saturday he can kick back and enjoy without worrying how many frames of film are left in his camera or whether or not his timing is off, or whether the sun is too low in the sky and is back-lighting the jump. The last of the B’s lets him immerse himself in the sheer joy of not working the show. He can traipse along, climbing hill and dale, going from effort to effort, watching the competitors gallop along - all the while without a care in the world save where is the next watering hole? Scanning the horizon for those bright yellow-striped awnings that herald the location of the adult refreshment center otherwise referred to as The Beer Tent whilst not getting himself run over by a golf cart or moped, is his only true occupation on Rolex Saturday except for lugging a backpack of camera equipment for me. He is content. And so, as spring approaches, my thoughts are turned south, towards Kentucky. I know that I’d better get the preview finished or I’ll hear from my editor. I know that my squatter’s digs are waiting in a beautiful house surrounded with rolling fences enclosing sleek fat mares and newly minted foals. I know that my daughter will be with me on Thursday, dog in tow, watching dressage. I know with certitude, God willing, that my husband will be with me on Saturday, bright and early. He’ll enter the press tent and grab a couple of orders of go for me, taking a highlighter, marking the rides I must shoot without fail. We’ll walk out to the first jump (for us, usually The Head of the Lake) sitting there for a while, until its time to move on. Then we’ll plot a course for the next jump while he, softly humming to himself, scans the horizon with a hopeful look in his eye and a glance at his wristwatch. Is it still too early...?