Every morning at 7:00 am, I go to the barn to feed the horses, and I go back around 6 pm to feed them dinner. To some people that might seem like a real drag, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the day, especially the mornings.
Taking care of livestock is more rewarding than you might think, even more rewarding when the weather is bad. It seems counterintuitive that when it’s hovering just above freezing, sleeting and blowing a gale, it’s the most satisfying, but I’ve found it to be true. There is something that warms you to the core about taking care of animals, and it isn’t just the physical exercise. (Or maybe I only say that because I live in North Carolina, not the subarctic!)
In the morning, I roll out of bed, make a pot of coffee, put it in the thermos and head out. In the winter I wear flannel pajama pants tucked into fishing boots with three layers on top- a fleece shirt, a vest and a hot pink puffy jacket. I’m not sure why Vogue hasn’t called.
Once the horses are in their stalls and happily munching their breakfast, I do my first and oddly favorite chore- poop scooping. We have a smallish area for the horses, and I don’t like them walking in poop because it promotes thrush (a nasty bacterial hoof infection), so I go around and pick up all the poop and move it to a few centrally located compost piles. I also throw weeds and sometimes wood shavings on there, and the whole mound sits and composts for months. Eventually I’ll transfer some of it to my garden, once I get my garden going at my new house. Scooping poop is like vacuuming; you get the instant gratification of a clean pasture.
Then I go to the round bale and rearrange the hay to prevent waste. If it’s hanging out, I put it back into the bin. Once they pull it out and walk on it, they won’t eat it (because they are spoiled rotten and they know that I will always provide fresh, new hay). Hay is basically money lying all over the ground, and I try my hardest to prevent wasting it.
When I get to the barn in the winter, I’m cold, even with my layers. By the time I’ve walked the pasture and pitched the poop, I’m comfortable. Sometimes I can even shed a layer.
If the horses are still eating at this point, I grab my coffee and sit in a chair in the barn aisle and listen to them chew. I try not to look at my phone during this time. It’s a time to be still and not have any input other than what’s right in front of me. It’s a routine I’ve come to enjoy and look forward to. The way we live nowadays doesn’t provide us with many of these restorative routines. A lot of us have to sit in traffic or rush to get everyone out of the house to school or work. A lot of people spend their lives rushing around, and their routines are draining rather than life giving. Sitting for just a few minutes with the horses settles me down and lets me pause for a moment before I go home to kids and work.
I say this over and over, but we as a culture were much better off when most of us lived on family farms or in small towns instead of packed like sardines into suburbs. When my parents were kids, in the 50’s and early 60’s, the great migration to the suburbs was beginning. When my parents were little, it was still normal for people to have a flock of chickens and a kitchen garden. My parents witnessed the onslaught of “convenience culture,” when our country became convinced that it was classier to buy a dozen eggs at the shiny new grocery store down the street than to walk out to the henhouse and collect them. We didn’t realize what we were giving up when we moved agriculture from small family farms to giant corporate operations. We didn’t know that losing our connection to the land would leave so many of us feeling empty and rootless.
The horses don’t lay eggs (or really do anything useful; they are giant pets), but they do get me outside day and night. I see sunrise and sunset, feel the cold and the heat and the mosquitos. I am connected to the seasons through the horses. They’re getting fuzzier for winter or they’re shedding their coats for spring. They’re shiny and dappled in the summer or frisky on the first cold, brisk day of fall. The horses remind me that outside of my climate controlled home and my screens and my distractions, Nature is out there offering me a chance to do something real, to live my life instead of watching other people live theirs.
I’m so thankful that I have a barn and a beach to go to.