Summer did not leave without a fight. At first, when the day began to shorten so that I would open my curtains to the single bright eye of the morning star instead of the fanfare of colour that brought the sunrise, I thought summer would age and fade graciously. But instead, it returned with one last flourish; a final string of those amazing sunny days when the sky was an absolutely unbelievable blue and the breeze smelt of pollen and laughter. It lasted only a few weeks, long enough for the cosmos to bloom, and then summer died in a blaze of white and purple.
Now winter steals across the hills like a stalking wolf in grey and brown. Instead of finishing my evening work before the deep purple twilight, I find myself still working after the moon has begun to smile in the sky. Also, more prosaically, my horses are all as hairy as wild bush brumbies and Magic now has to be followed everywhere by a dutiful human being changing his blankies in case the poor creature catches a chill.
If I’m going to be totally honest, summertime is my favourite. The horses are shiny, the grazing is good, everything is either green or flowering or wet and you can swim in the dam. Also, grooming is a pleasure instead of a dusty chore, your hands don’t get chapped and you don’t have to ride in the semi-dark. Haynets can be thrown back into the foul and demonic lair whence they come and Skye replaces her worrying dust allergies with the merely annoying bug allergies. Oh yes, and no breaking ice on water troughs in the morning with bare, blue fingers. That’s always nice.
I’m ready for the winter to come, though. The recent outbreaks of African horse sickness throughout the country has made me nervous, and the first frost will kill the midges and signal the end to the horse sickness season. With the midges will die the ticks, the flies, the horseflies, the bot flies (hate those things) and all the other horrible buzzing and crawling things bent on eating my horses alive. I’ll be able to take a break from my ongoing war on parasites.
The parasites will take a lot of the horse illnesses with them as well as horse sickness; biliary and West Nile among them. I’ll also be able to ride in the middle of the day without frying my face and killing my horse. Long, hot, sweaty summer days are the bane of people with epic manes like mine; in winter I don’t have to try and wring out my hair after every ride, or squish the corkscrew curls that appear every time it rains. The horses’ feet, if oiled occasionally, will be healthier because of the drier ground and lack of mud; no more mud fever and thrush to worry about. Oh, and thunderstorms will be gone for the next while, so the risk of lightning strikes will be significantly reduced. Magic’s face won’t get rain scald, either, and hopefully Thunder’s mane will grow back if he quits rubbing it.
For now, my biggest problem is winter coats. I know why winter coats are around and I’m jolly glad they are, or horses would be permanently catching colds. For that reason, I mostly put up with them; Thunder and Skye can be as woolly as they like, no matter how much I hate the dull fuzz and the dust it collects. God made horses fluffy for a reason.
Arwen and Magic, however, for their sake of their health as well as my sanity, have to have something done about the hairiness. They work harder than the other horses in short, intense spurts, and they both sweat like pigs. In summer, you just hose them off and forget about it. In winter, however, it’s a long maskerade of walking them until they’re dry, choosing riding times carefully and perpetually changing blankets to prevent them from catching cold. Plus, showing a horse in a full winter coat is highly unappealing.
For Arwen, the solution is pretty simple: a body clip and a New Zealand rug. She’s tolerable to clip (although the legs and face sometimes have to be left long, depending on her mood and the behaviour of the clippers) and she always looks nice clipped, being grey. Her sweating virtually disappears, too.
Magic, however, is so ticklish that grooming can be a mission, let alone clipping. Right now, I’m not even prepared to go there. So for him, we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned (and arguably much better) way: grooming. It is possible to groom out a winter coat, with a lot of elbow grease and a sharp shedding comb; the results look far better since the coat is clean and its natural colour, and you don’t have to spend three hours dodging hooves and teeth whilst holding a very sharp, noisy piece of machinery near a very large, nervous animal. It’s a lot more work, but I’m up for the challenge.
The breeze has teeth today. Goodbye, summertime.