There aren't many things I hate. On the other hand, there are several things I dislike. Among the dislikes are beef liver, wet socks and being awakened by thunder when the horses are still out.
Kimberly and I were awakened this morning by a deafening clap of thunder. Pepper leapt onto our bed and Jack, who lay beside me, dug his claws into my arm.
"The ponies!" Kimberly and I shouted as we flung ourselves out of bed, grabbed whatever clothing was handy and ran for our boots. The barn was hard to see through the sheets of rain, and we were completely soaked when we reached it.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed as we fumbled with the wet chains and snaps that secured the pasture gates. The horses aren't used to seeing us move so fast, and they felt safer avoiding us as we chased them around the pasture with the halters and leads.
Kimberly was able to grab Vander by his soaking wet fly sheet and get his halter on. Then Mandy and Justin approached, not wanting to be left out. Ellie and Madison stood in the adjacent pasture awaiting their turn.
Kimberly, Vander, Mandy, Justin and I were jogging to the barn when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blindingly white bolt of lightning hit not far from us. I took a tighter grip on Mandy and Justin's lead lines.
"Did you say, 'Oh, no! Here comes the loud, scary thunder'?" Justin asked me, wide-eyed.
Before I could answer, a deafening, cracking thunder filled our ears. Justin went left, Mandy went right and I barely had a hold of the wet knots at the ends of each of their leads.
"Easy," I said gently, pulling them back towards me as I stepped between them and moved toward the barn. They looked nervously around as they followed me into their stall. Kimberly ran past. I latched Mandy and Justin's door and ran back out into the downpour.
Kimberly haltered Madison, I grabbed Ellie and we four walked to the barn. As we latched the last stall door, the rain stopped, and the sun broke through the clouds.
Kimberly and I stood in the barn aisle, dripping and expressionless.
"Good morning," I said, turning to her.
Kimberly smiled and shook her head. "If we had left them out, it wouldn't have stopped. There'd have been a tornado or baseball-sized hail."
"Or both," I added.
We hung up the wet fly sheets and squeegeed off the horses. Madison--the overly sensitive mare that she is--shuddered and squirmed with every stroke. I think she may actually be ticklish.
Next I squeegeed off Mandy while Justin watched.
"Brush me, too!" he whinnied.
"This isn't a brush, it's a squeegee," I replied, making another pass across Mandy's side. "It squeezes the excess water out of your coat."
"I have excess water!" Justin exclaimed, stepping sideways toward me so I could more easily reach him with the squeegee. Mandy was mostly dry and too busy with her bucket to care who was getting squeegeed. After several passes across his neck and sides, Justin was almost back to his fuzzy self. Silently, he moved in to help Mandy with her bucket.
This summer in eastern North Carolina has brought a lot of rain. Unfortunately, it hasn't brought any major advances in meteorology.
Most days carry the ubiquitous 30 percent chance of thunderstorms, which means "probably" if the horses are out and "probably not" if the horses are in. The horses were out, so we should have reinterpreted the seemingly benign weather forecast.
There should be an algorithm or at least an aphorism for approximating the odds of any possible situation that involves horses. It might involve a little math, as when converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, and with a good helping of Murphy's Law.
I haven't figured out the mathematical component, but our "Pony's Law" might be preliminarily summed up in a few ways: Anything that can go wrong might go wrong, but not in the way you would expect. Expect the inconvenient. Anticipate the expensive.
Why do we tolerate this equine-induced anxiety? Either we're masochists, or we just love horses. Or both.
A little more than two weeks ago, Jack and Claudia helped us load Mandy and Justin for Justin's first trailer ride. We took them to Dr. Bob's farm for Mandy to be bred again.
Since Justin's birth, we had a better idea of what kind of mother she is and what kind of babies she throws. Though we would probably keep Justin, we were pondering selling the next baby after a couple of years.
We understand that our farm has the tendency to collect animals, but we figured we'd play it by ear--a large, fuzzy, pointed ear.
Today it was time for another visit with Dr. Bob to confirm Mandy's pregnancy. Justin has grown enough that no amount of human lifting can load him on the trailer. We eventually got him loaded, but not until I'd pulled every muscle in my back. When we got to the clinic, I let Justin unload himself.
"Hmmmm..." Dr. Bob said pensively as he palpated Mandy. She stood in the large, metal stocks in his clinic. Kimberly, Justin and I stood right beside her. One of Dr. Bob's specialties is equine reproduction. If anyone could help give Mandy--and us--another baby, he could.
I realize there can't be many animals that enjoy clinic visits. Even if it's not an emergency situation, the vet's is not somewhere we go for fun. Mandy and Justin just stood with their faces pressed together. Justin chewed on his lead line, and every now and then Mandy sighed heavily.
"Well, kids," Dr. Bob sighed, removing his sleeve-length glove and looking at us empathetically. "I'm not finding anything."
I suddenly felt very tired.
To keep Justin properly fed Mandy was eating the maximum amount of grain and all the hay and grass she could chew. It still wasn't enough for her to keep her weight up-weight that she would need to support another pregnancy. Mandy wasn't as skinny as she was when we got her, but she was underweight.
Except for light rain showers, the drive back from Dr. Bob's was quiet as we pondered our options.
Trying again this year didn't seem smart. We could breed Mandy next year, depending on whether her co-parents, Jack and Claudia, had plans to breed her. Or, we could breed Madison, though she'd never had a baby, and we have no idea what kind of mother she'd be.
With regard to breeding Mandy back, we had talked about possible problems with pasture space and assignments, with stall space, hay and feed, and if the horse market would improve in the next few years.
We hadn't considered the simplest and most likely of the scenarios: that a 19-year-old mare with a hungry, growing foal wouldn't be able keep weight on, much less support a fetus.
It was still raining when we unloaded Mandy and Justin and returned them to their stall. We mucked around the horses and gave them their evening buckets.
The horses are usually turned out after dinner, and though the rains had stopped the sky still looked ominous. Kimberly used her cell phone to check the weather. Naturally, there was a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms for the next few hours.
"Are you in the mood for a tornado or maybe baseball-sized hail?" Kimberly asked.
"Not really," I responded, looking at the sky.
We left the horses in and walked to the house. We would wait to turn them out until the threat of thunderstorms--and Pony's Law--decreased, at least a little.
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.