Friday, January 4, 2008

Baby in the Rain

Northern California and Nevada got walloped with rain, sleet, and snow all day today, and as I write, the sky is sewing a border on an extra-loft quilt of snow, blanketing everything for as far as the eye can see here in the eastern foothills of the Sierra. Earlier, the rain was coming down fast, heavy and hard, clamoring against the aluminum roof of my shedrow barn as if a dump truck were releasing an endless pile of gravel onto it. Ten-year-old Bombay did his usual head-bobbing out of both boredom and nervousness. He can't stand being cooped up in a stall all day. Twenty-year-old Lostine took it all in stride, enjoying the warmth of her stall, wise to the fact that it is better to be inside than out under such circumstances. Three-year-old Gabbrielle seemed nervous, but brave, always checking the expressions of the other horses when the noise level intensified.

The round pen looked more like a swimming pool, and the high winds managed to unlatch the gate and swing it inward when it was meant to swing out. I pushed the wheelbarrow through puddles as deep as four inches to reach the barn. My fourteen-year-old son and I released one horse at a time while we mucked out the stalls. Bombay calmly hung out under the awning eating the dregs of hay that fell from his mouth out the window earlier in the day. When we were done cleaning his stall, we pointed and clucked our tongues to get him back in, but he protested and fled out into the rain. It didn't take long of being pelted with pebbles of water before he surrendered and entered his stall. Lostine was easy out, and easy in, not bothering to venture into the rain at all.

Upon approaching Gabbrielle's stall, I was disappointed to see that a quarter of it had been flooded. Bombay and Lostine stay in a Castlebrook Barn, which has a cement foundation and tongue-in-groove wood planks. It's like a fortress, and a very high quality structure for horses. Gabbrielle has dust allergies that sometimes turn into respiratory infections. She needs more ventilation than the Castlebrook Barn provides, so we erected a portable stall with lots of space between the wood panels and more space between the top of the wall and the roof for her. It works great in the summer months when the ground is dry and a lot of dust gets kicked up, but without a foundation, water can easily flood underneath the steel frame.

We let her out and she looked around nervously, unsure where to go and what to do. Occasionally a large blast of wind came up, and she jumped or spun circles. We mucked out the mud and laid down fresh wood shavings, hoping that would keep her dry enough through the night. She saw the empty shavings bag whipping in the wind and bolted out into the rain. Once there, she couldn't figure out how to get away from all those pebbles of water attacking her from every direction. Hanging her head low, she'd take two steps forward and three steps back until she finally decided to brave the presence of the empty shavings bag in order to get dry under the awning.

When it was time for her to go back in her stall my son stood beside the opening and pointed while I stood behind and to the side of Gabbrielle. She turned her head to look at me for direction, so I raised my finger, pointed at her stall and clucked my tongue. I expected a chase to ensue, but happily she went right in. I'm not claiming victory yet when it comes to hands-free leading, but the results I've had these past few days have certainly been encouraging. Come morning, I hope to find the horses dry and relaxed now that the rain has clamored its way to somewhere else and the snow has quietly floated in.

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