September’s started with a definite flourish after a disastrous August. By four o’clock after giving a long lining demonstration August 1st exactly, there was a hint of a scratchy throat, an hour later a raging temperature and one very nasty bout of summer flu. Feeling better five days later, one sort of OK day, then into a second bout of flu, then a third, by the fourth – eeargh – now bronchitis and into a suggestion of pneumonia. This with one week of 30 degree temperatures with rampant humidity, and then another of wildfire smoke filled valleys. Yes, the lungs failed to come up for that challenge, and the doctors are still fiddling around with drugs, which normally isn’t very much my thing.
So, talk about seriously behind on chores, sanding down elderly window frames for repainting, the barn needing ouch-expensive TLC, the corral weeding around the corners, horses worked – man alive, did I mind fry at nights coughing well and circling like a maddened hamster on a well-oiled wheel with all-the-things-to-be-done.
And then, onto the spluttering stage and helping a girlfriend out on her glorious log home retreat and native grass pastures beyond compare, covering for when she was away hiking mountains – and her horses now seriously elder – she turned around and spontaneously said, ‘Would you like the cart then? And the harness?’ Well, I just about dropped with sheer ‘what?!’ surprise on that kind of truly wonderful generosity.
With Sarah away, I wandered a few days later, still unbelieving, and closed in on the little two-wheeler. My knowledge still of driving vehicles is pathetic, but running my hand through the dust layers, where it’s carefully stored in the dry-tight quonset, just everything was sound. I moved around, hefted up the shafts, well, what a surprise. Perfect balance, light too. Oh, I breathed to myself, as two magpies eyed me suspiciously through the barn’s open door, how lovely, lovely, lovely… I stood, looking at this totally unexpected largesse, after a month of no income, and sniffed just a little.
Sinus, of course…
Also nestling nearby outside was a hefty pile of green barked poplar branches and stems from a recent storm, and again with Sarah’s blessing, I heaved a few of these into the back of the truck.
What for? Well, this year’s Alberta weather patterns meant drought unusually heralded a slow spring grass growth (most hay fields are on 30-50% their normal yield, with eastern Alberta bone dry completely and no crops at all in many places – interesting hay prices allied with oilfield economics are making equestrian owners unsettled in some barns I hear) followed by a brief spurt meant the sugar and carbohydrate levels in existing pastures are sky high.
Never have I had to ration fresh grass grazing so hard, and the home herd have not appreciated extended stays in the combo ‘starvation’ paddock and back ‘sacrifice’ field.’ The bay colt now finally coming into serious work had me convinced his stable name of Badger would be far better as ‘Beaver’, and a marvellously industrious one at that, at the rate he was munching through lovely corners of the woodchipped shelter coverings. Talk about open-plan architecture! They have mineral licks, balanced feed, this was boredom plus annoyance, pure and simple.
Asking around on the equine network – and not keen on applying some horrendously toxic (and expensive) substance, the answers were, well, surprising. Very effective too! Moisten Dove soap and rub along the edges, that’s it, although you’ll need to re-apply after rain, sleet or snow,’ was one.
Two days later, from the cream of thoroughbred Blue Grass country, this answer floated into the mailbox: “Irish spring bar soap! Nothing better to stop a chewer, this is the go to for the barns in Kentucky. :)”
And then, finally, a local very successful dressage barn owner with ranching roots somewhere in her background advocated green poplar logs as THE ultimate mind diversion and why I am heaving them from truck bed over the old wooden plank fencing into the corral. All three horses, including the shelter-destroying menace are immediately onto the bark, eyes half closed in equine ecstasy. What’s in green poplar, I wonder, knowing that also being an eco-newspaper columnist verging on obsessive compulsive on my why, how, when research, I’ll have to go and find a whiz-kid tree biologist.
I suspect that poplar, though, which has that silky smooth powdery finish (and actually a UV sunscreen for the tree’s living bark, the only tree in the world thus composed) is part of the attraction for some reason.
This Saturday’s a gathering and barbecue at the Polo Grounds of the High Country Driving Association – with a long weekend will the weather be kind this time, I wonder, and hope for a marvelous opportunity for listening to the seriously experienced, get to understand who prefers what gear – and why. And, photographing, documenting, tying in with my notes, in the late hazed summer sunshine.