Married with Horses: Ponies on Ice

The colt Justin attempts to ice skate in the pasture while his fans struggle to stay warm in the frigid weather.
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The colt Justin attempts to ice skate in the pasture while his fans struggle to stay warm in the frigid weather.
| © Andy Myer

| © Andy Myer

Eastern North Carolina isn't made for snow, sleet or freezing rain. But that didn't stop all three from coming down during a single day this past week.

Schools and stores closed, tree branches and power lines sagged, and any traffic that hadn't slid into a ditch slowed to a crawl.

And forget making snowmen. The only thing this icy mix did well was turn the walk to the mailbox into a slippery, treacherous, hamstring-pulling, glute-busting--and potentially deadly--outing.

Even if you avoid injury, the minus-800-degree wind chill (my personal estimate) will get you. Unless the mailbox is stuffed with hundred dollar bills, it's best to skip the trip.

The walk to the barn wasn't any safer than the walk to the mailbox, but it couldn't be skipped. All the horses were inside. And despite what horses may tell you, they can't take care of themselves.

Which reminds me of some other things horses say that no one should believe:

  • "I'm low maintenance."
  • "I'm affordable."
  • "I don't need special care like other horses."
  • "I'm, like, totally bombproof."
  • "I'm immune to worms, fire ants, horse flies, wasps and holes in the ground."
  • "I'll take really great care of that expensive blanket."
  • "Just give me the whole bale--I'll pace myself."
  • "I don't even need a fence--I'm that well trained!"

Fortunately, our horses didn't have much to say on this cold afternoon. I suppose it wouldn't have mattered because we couldn't have heard them over the bitter, howling wind. Also, I think my ear drums were frozen.

I was bundled in several heavy shirts, a thick sweater, a down coat and a thick knit cap with a scarf wrapped around my face, but I couldn't keep warm. Even during the short walk to the barn I could feel my body temperature drop a few more degrees. If not for an invigorating fall on a patch of ice near the barn, I might have perished.

In some respects, conditions in the barn were better than those inside our house. Unlike us, the horses actually had free-flowing hot and cold water.

Despite running our home's wood-burning stove, two space heaters, central heat in the spare bedroom and bath, and leaving a trickle of water running through our most-likely-to-freeze pipes, the pipes still froze. We had no shower or bath, one working toilet and one cold-water-only sink.

Combining the fear of bursting pipes with my worries about the cost of the wood, gas and electricity we were using gave me a new, previously unattained level of anxiety. Luckily, Kimberly had a plan to help me relax: spend more time outside in the mind-numbing cold.

"OK," Kimberly started, "I'll drop these blankets in the pasture, and you grab Madison."

Kimberly sauntered off with the horse blankets and the camera bag. The sun had broken though the late afternoon clouds, and Kimberly thought it would be a good chance to finish taking some pictures for a client. I was just hoping the wind wouldn't carry us--or any of the horses--away.

"Brrrr!" exclaimed Madison as I led her from the barn. "What are we doing outside?"

"Blanket pictures."

"Oh, geez," Madison responded. "Only if I get to run around--it's too cold to stand."

Kimberly quickly changed Madison's blanket and handed me the camera. I handed it back. I needed a job with more body-warming movement.

"I'd better dress and guide the horses, lest I die of hypothermia," I said.

Unfortunately, Madison didn't need my help. Madison executed a perfectly paced lap in front of Kimberly and the camera and returned immediately to me for her wardrobe change. She obviously had no intention of spending one extra second outside.

"I have no intention of spending one extra second outside," said Madison.

"You want a treat?" I asked, reaching into my pocket.

"No time. Could you hurry it up with that tail strap?"

"Er... sure."

Vander needed even less help. He barely stopped moving long enough for me to get each blanket on him. At least jogging while securing his belly surcingles kept me warm.

We had a few blankets left to photograph when Justin started going crazy in his stall. Because we'd turned Ellie's old stall into a large feed room, Justin and Mandy were roommates during the bad weather. It was obvious Mandy had had her fill of Justin.

"Excuse me! I've had my fill of Justin," I heard Mandy holler into the wind.

"Maybe we should turn Justin out while we finish these shots," said Kimberly.

"I've had my fill of Justin," Mandy repeated as I entered the stall and clipped the lead line to Justin's halter.

"Yeah," I answered. "I got it the first time."

"Oh," Mandy said. "I wasn't sure if you heard me over the wind."

"MOM'S HAD HER FILL OF ME!" Justin shouted in my ear. I nearly fell down, barely catching myself on the open stall door.

"See what I mean?" Mandy added with a smirk.

There are two more unbelievable horse quotes that we could add to our list: "I'm invincible" and "I know all about ice." If not stated outright, both statements were clearly implied by Justin's behavior.

As soon as I unclipped the lead from Justin's halter, he exploded across the icy pasture. He bucked and jumped--he even bucked in mid-jump. I'd never seen that before.

"MOM'S HAD HER FI--" Justin shouted, but never finished his sentence. He wiped out, legs splayed, sliding about 20 feet before coming to rest with his head in a small, crunchy snow drift.

"Crunch," said the snow drift.

Justin raised his head and shook off the snow. He sat up, suspiciously eyeing the icy pasture, seemingly accusing the entire snow-covered acre of maliciously throwing him to the ground.

Justin rose cautiously, glanced around, and exploded again, but in the opposite direction. Again, he bucked and jumped and buck-jumped as well as jump-bucked. I think there may have even been a pirouette or a double axel, but again he finished his short routine with a fantastically ungraceful wipeout.

Justin quietly sat up with his back to us. He was uninjured, but seemingly confused and embarrassed. The horses in the barn who had seen Justin's performance laughed. Then those horses told the others what happened, and everybody laughed.

Justin remained seated, facing away from us for the next 30 minutes while we finished the blanket photos with Brownie. As with the other models that day, when Brownie finished we picked the snowballs out of his feet and returned him to his stall.

As Kimberly piled the blankets in our large wheelbarrow, I went out to check on Justin.

"You OK?" I asked.

"Yep," Justin answered

"You want to go back to the barn?"

"Nope."

"It's too cold to stay out here," I said. "Soon the sun will go down, and it'll get even colder."

"Yep," Justin responded.

"Come on," I said, clipping the lead line to his halter and pulling gently upwards.

"Only if you carry me back to the barn. I'm not walking in this stuff."

"Justin," I said sternly, pulling a little harder on the lead, "you'd better get--"

But I slipped and fell down mid-sentence, landing right on Justin.

"Ooof!" Justin wheezed. I rolled awkwardly over his back and onto mine.

I lay on the cold ground as if I were seated in a chair that had toppled over backwards. My knit cap was smashed down over my eyes, most of my scarf was caught in my mouth, and my legs stuck straight up in the air.

I tried to roll over and get up, but the lead line was wrapped around my right arm, looped around my back to my left side, across my stomach, and pulled taut against Justin's halter. I was pinned.

"When you're done playing around with Justin," Kimberly shouted from near the barn, "could you bring him in and pick out his feet?"

I tried to shout for her to come help us, but the scarf muffled my cries.

"I know you heard me!" Kimberly shouted. "I'll see you in the house."

It took a minute of squirming to free my face from the scarf, but by then Kimberly was well out of earshot.

"It's a lot warmer with us snuggled together," Justin remarked. "Mandy won't snuggle with me."

"It is kinda cozy," I said, realizing only then that I felt the warmest I'd felt all day. Even my shivering had stopped.

"You want a treat?" I asked, maneuvering my right hand into my pocket.

"Yeah!" Justin exclaimed.

I couldn't move well enough to hand it to him, but I was able to flick the treat so it landed in the snow near his head.

"Give me another one," Justin said.

I flicked another treat toward him. But instead of eating it, he picked it up with his mouth and tossed it so it landed in the snow beside my head.

"Don't you want one, too?" Justin asked.

I turned my head and grabbed the treat with my mouth. Perhaps it was something in the air, but it was the best horse treat I'd ever had.

"Are we getting up now?" Justin asked.

"In a minute," I answered, flicking two more treats to him. "And I'll show you how to walk in the snow."

"Good," Justin said. He ate one treat and tossed the other back to me.

I rested my head in the snow, chewed my treat and pondered our options for getting up. Beside me, Justin's body gently rose and sank with each relaxed breath. Above us, a few winter birds glided across the evening sky as its distant clouds slowly turned orange and then red.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina. Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.