Lost In Winter by Bob Goddard




Up here in the north, horsepeople take pride in their ability to withstand the rigors of winter. It takes toughness and dedication to maintain horses in an environment which features six foot snowdrifts. Overcoming the elements gives northern horsepeople a sense of Nordic invincibility and self-satisfaction. Horsepeople in the south find satisfaction in the fact that they have the brains not to live in the north.

Of course it takes more than physical toughness to survive a northern winter. Horsepeople also need practical know-how. They need to be aware of how extreme conditions affect the horses and what measures need to be taken Toughness is great, but it's no substitute for knowing what the hell you're doing.

As a father of a horse crazy, adolescent female, I looked at our first winter as a kind of a test. If Jamie - and her horse - could survive the winter and retain her enthusiasm, why then, I'd have to consider her a genuine horseperson.

My biggest concern was how much work this would mean for me. I didn't want to be the one who had to get up for the 6 a.m. feeding in the dead of winter. I made sure Jamie understood it was her responsibility to know what the horses needed and to make sure they got it. As a responsible and involved parent, I would monitor her, but it was up to her to become a dedicated and knowledgeable horseperson.

From the outset, it was clear that Jamie was not about to get up at 6 a.m. It was more like 4:30 a.m. And she made sure I was up at 4:30 a.m. You know, to monitor her. She also wanted me to monitor her at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., and maybe - this hadn't been decided yet - 9 at night.

It occurred to me that too much Nordic invincibility can kill a parent. But according to Jamie, these trips to the barn were necessary in order to make sure the horses were drinking enough. If we didn't do this, ice would form over their water.

This routine went on for about a week. Then, Jamie's alarm clock came up missing. Inexplicably! We looked everywhere for it. Where could it have gone?

Winter presents special problems. Real horsepeople are up to the task. When the barn water faucet froze up, Jamie went on-line to an equine website for ideas. One oh-so-helpful horseperson suggested we build a small but well insulated structure around the water faucet. This individual recommended dimensions of two feet wide by seven feet tall. About the dimensions of a casket, I thought. That could be convenient, I also thought. By adding a light fixture to the inside of this box there would be enough heat to keep the faucet from freezing solid. I spent the next several, very cold evenings putting the faucet house together.

The casket/faucet house worked. Jamie wanted to find more ideas on-line, but an important computer cable was missing and she was unable to log on. Where could the cable have gone? This sure was strange! I told her I would look into this.

From a horse's point of view, the worst thing about winter is the wind. A strong gust of wind can ruffle his winter coat and rob his heat reserves. In a pathetic attempt to cope with this situation, the horse will stand with his rear to the wind, using his tail to break up the gusts. Seeing this almost makes you want to invite the poor guy into the house to warm up.

After studying several of her horse magazines, Jamie found an article on how to defeat the wind. Apparently, horses in the wild position themselves along tree lines as a means of reducing the wind's effect. The article detailed how to build a quick and easy lean-to as a substitute for trees. The problem with this - as is the problem with all how-to articles - is that the article was not accompanied by a person who actually does the work. This was left up to me, mainly because I was the only one in the family who knew where all the tools were. For the next month, I had my butt out in the wind.

Not long after I began work on the lean-to, Jamie couldn't find her horse magazines. How odd! What could have happened to all of her magazines? And what about her alarm clock? And her internet cable? What was going on here?

If Jamie ever looked in my sock draw, I would have two reasons to move south.