After only a few months of running our horse farm, I have come to enjoy my morning routine. I rise at six, prepare the horses' food, doublecheck water buckets, throw a couple flakes into each stall and bring the beasts in. I then remove their turnout sheets while they eat breakfast.
Not everybody here gets undressed in the mornings. I, for one, keep my clothes on. Yes, you're right, I ran outside in my underwear once. But I had reason to fear for my wife's safety, and heroism doesn't always wear pants.
I'm actually referring to Mike and Delores' Quarter Horse, Cracky, who is always dressed. It's spring here, but he is constantly clad in a myriad of clashing patterns and colors of blankets, sheets, slinkies and hoods. In fact, in three and a half months I haven't actually seen the horse. Well, not until this morning.
He has been on stall rest the entire time he's been with us. Delores and Mike say Cracky is still recovering from an injury he sustained last year. I think their story involves ninjas, an international terrorist conspiracy and ring-tailed lemurs. (OK, so I'm not sure about the story including lemurs.) Anyway, the vet told me "the injury" was merely an insect bite, which got infected. Though medication has long since eliminated any complications, Mike and Delores are--as they put it--playing it safe.
Though he isn't showing Western pleasure this season, Cracky is still kept blanketed to keep his coat slick and smooth. Mike and Delores frequently call to make sure his stall lights are on and to doublecheck the day's temperature fluctuations, lest we miss an opportunity to add another layer to Cracky's unfashionable ensemble.
This morning, just after I finished mucking his stall, I noticed Cracky wasn't eating his breakfast. If I share nothing else with horses, I do share their appreciation of food. I was personalizing Cracky's lack of appetite and got a little scared.
I thought one of his layers might be twisted or folded and was pinching or choking him when he leaned forward to eat. I ran my hands under his sheet, feeling for a twist or fold in his full-body slinky. Nothing. Just smooth, damp spandex. I ran my hand across the neck of his slinky. It was also damp. He was sweating profusely, and I figured it was either the cause of the problem or another of its symptoms. Either way, the slinky and sheet weren't helping; they had to go.
I could only imagine how Delores and Mike would react to what I was about to do. I removed Cracky's nylon sheet. He's usually anxious and edgy, and I expected a crazed reaction but Cracky stood perfectly still for me. I unsnapped the slinky, pulled it off over his head and threw his halter on.
I led him down the aisle to the wash stall and placed him in the cross ties. His coat was soaked with sweat, and I wondered how many times he had roughed it through a meal despite being utterly overheated and miserable. I adjusted the water so it was cool, and I started hosing his legs off like I'd seen Kimberly do with other sweaty horses. I worked my way up and around his entire body until he had gotten a thorough, cooling shower. I squegeed him off and returned him to his stall. To my relief, he rolled in the clean shavings and went right for his bucket.
I looked at my watch. It was barely seven. I realize that a sweaty horse does not a crisis make, but it never ceases to amaze me what emotional roller coasters we horse owners can ride before most people have even gotten out of bed. I headed back to the house. I still had plenty of time to make Kimberly's breakfast before she left for work.
Apropos appetites: I can almost always get Kimberly to eat breakfast, but I'm still working on the vitamin thing. She can swallow coated multi-vitamin tablets, handle most chewable vitamin C and calcium chews, and even take the fish oil gel-tabs and wheatgrass pills. However, ability and willingness are two different things. So, I'm learning how to nag.
I had just pulled the eggs from the fridge when I heard a commotion on the front porch. What I heard was definitely a commotion. Usually, a commotion requires several--sometimes 10 or 20--people. Our landlady, however, was a one-woman commotion.
My timing was impeccable. I opened the front door just as our landlady, Rachael, swung a broom and hit me in the neck.
"NO! NO! NO!" she shrieked, still swinging the broom wildly in the air. "MY GOD! SO MANY SPIDERS! CLOSE THE DOOR--THEY'LL GET IN THE HOUSE! THEY'LL GET IN THE HOUSE!"
I ducked, avoiding another swipe of her broom and slammed the door. I could hear her shrieking above the sound of terracotta flowerpots falling and breaking. This was typical of my interactions with Rachael. She seemed normal the first few times we met to tour the property and then again to fill out the paperwork. It was probably just an act so we'd be comfortable renting from her. I'll admit it though: Kimberly and I wanted to live out the horse farm dream so badly we probably would have signed the papers even if we'd known then how crazy she is.
Rachael had spent years breeding Arabians. I theorize that the horses' hot behavior rubbed off on her. Who knows? Maybe Rachael just needed more turnout time and less protein.
Back in the kitchen, I drizzled some olive oil into a preheated pan and dropped in an egg. I could hear Kimberly getting into the shower upstairs as I pushed a bagel down into the toaster. The coffeemaker gurgled as my cell phone rang. Despite my better judgment, I answered.
"Jeremy, this is Delores. I'm in the barn and wondering why Cracky is naked and covered in shavings. If he catches cold I'm holding this barn directly responsible!"
"I'll be right out," I said and hung up. I assembled Kimberly's bagel sandwich and filled her insulated coffee mug before returning to the barn.
Now forget what I told you before about other people's "children." I decided that as long as I was caring for Cracky, to a certain extent it actually was my place to tell Delores how to raise her child. If she wasn't open to discussing the blanketing issue, she was welcome to find another barn.
Fortunately, the discussion went well. Delores and I worked out another plan for blanketing Cracky. It was a plan less likely to induce profuse sweating or colic, but would still keep him slick and smooth. Delores even used the barn office computer to create a color-coded spreadsheet listing different temperature and humidity levels paired with various combinations of slinkies, sheets, blankets and hoods. Delores added that, of course, I could still override the spreadsheet if I saw fit. She didn't want to be difficult, she said.
As Delores drove away from the barn, shrieking could still be heard from somewhere near the house. Looking down at my new spreadsheet, I could only hope that talking to Rachael about spiders would be as easy.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
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