Does this round bale make me look fat…and really dirty?

When non-horse (aka normal) people think about horses, they picture fox hunters in top hats and scarlet coats (no, they’re not red), paired with impeccably turned-out horses, galloping across the rolling countryside in pursuit of their quarry. Tally ho!

Or else, they imagine a show horse, dappled and groomed to a glistening shine, braided up, hooves polished, and a rider — of course, thin, blonde and beautiful — clearing a brightly-colored, flower drenched jump. The spectators in the VIP tent offers a smattering of applause before returning to their cucumber sandwiches and champagne flutes.

Wake up!

THIS is what horses look like most of the time.

Especially in winter. A thick wooley coat, smattered with mud and muck, and topped with a blanket that’s been worn day-in and day-out for 3 months. Let me tell you, it smells divine.

But this post isn’t about dirt. It’s about fat. My fat horses.

It’s winter, the time of leanness, when most animal species become scrawny and thin. Except of course humans, who combat winter’s grasp by fortifying themselves mounds of mac ‘n cheese. Unlike us — and the marshmallows in my pasture — most wild species are burning any caloric resources they can muster in the hopes that they hang in there til the first glint of spring.

If the horses are so plump, you might ask, why plunk down the giant bale of hay?

Here’s the rub. Horses are grazers and it’s in their best interest, for various health reasons, to nibble all day long. It just seems that some of them a missing that, “whoa, slow down, pace yourself” gene.

Also, you gotta give them some forage or they’ll get bored and seek ways to fill their idle time. Like devouring every tree within their reach or gnawing through the fence like mutant rodents.

And, not all of the horses are fat. Two of my herd actually could stand to pack on a few more pounds. Unfortunately, it’s the fatties who don’t know when to say when. Like Huck, above, who looks like a bloated guinea pig.

One solution is a muzzle. It’s this apparatus that surrounds the horse’s nose and mouth, and only allows him to eat through a hole the size of a quarter. Sort of the equine version of the liquid diet, where a person can eat anything they want through a straw. Now imagine if that straw were duct-taped to your face. Oh, the anger, the humiliation, the chafing… that’s why most muzzled horses quickly find a way to pull, push or rub that thing off. You get home, your horses are happily chowing down, and somewhere in your field is $48 of mangled nylon and rubber.

Guaranteed, my field is muzzle graveyard, scattered with remnants and bits of twine, duct tape and other crap I’ve use to trouble shoot the problem.

You can’t blame the horse entirely for his weight problem. We’ve done a pretty good job setting the stage, improving forage with more bang per bite. Ditto with grain and concentrated feeds. And then in the meantime, we don’t exercise horses as much as we used to.

Hmm… too much rich food and a sedentary lifestyle. Funny, I feel like I’ve heard that before.

Here’s what bugs me: there are these supermodels who become vegetarians or only eat raw food and suddenly drop weight equivalent to a 6-yr-old child. Why the hell doesn’t this work for Huck? He’s a vegan. He eats raw food.

Don’t be a moron, my husband says. That has nothing do with it. Look at hippos. They’re vegans. And how many skinny hippos do you see roaming the earth?

Poor Huck, he used to like this

Now he looks like this

Literary interlude: 4 AM and the weather’s knocking

I can’t believe that everyone else is sleeping through this – the kids and husband, that is. Though the dog is at the foot of the bed, exchanging concerned looks with me.

Wind is battering the house and I wonder if this’ll be the time that it’s ripped from its moorings. The gusts sound like waves breaking on the beach and rolling up on the sand, before the ocean sucks the kelp and deadwood back into its grasp. Sometimes I imagine that our house is ship at sea and we’re in our bunks, waiting for a storm to pass.

It’s not hard to picture because the house moves in high winds. Really, it physically moves — it sways with big gusts. I like to think that it was designed that way, like skyscrapers that shift several feet to resist wind force, without damaging structural integrity. Our house was built 100 years ago and it must be the same, right? It’s withstood worse than this. The alternative is too depressing: that the house perches on the foundation like a loose tooth.

For years I was unaware of weather. I lived in a suburban house buffered by a cocoon of homes, planted on 1/4-acre lots, and spared weather extremes. Aside from thunder storms and rare blizzards.

Now, we sit exposed in a flat little valley, with a handful of other properties that, much like “The 3 Little Pigs,” challenge the wolf to huff and puff. Go ahead, we dare you.

The wind sweeps down from the north-west (except the rare tropical storm that rolls up from the south and turns the sky green). Over time the northern wind peels paint and clapboard off the side of the barn. It rattles the doors so hard, the wood weakens against the hinges and runners. We’ve been here 8 years and we’re on our third set of barn doors.

I used to think that we were the only wind-swept ones but last week, I happily noticed an article that mentioned “Frederick County’s notorious winds.”

The house sways again and there’s rushing in my ears. Maisie hears it too, her eyes get big and her ears droop. I’m propped up in bed, on an elbow, and we stare at one another. What is that? It sounds solid and powerful, like a train rushing by. Finally it stops and we both relax. It’s just the wind exhaling in one long, deep breath.

And about the time that Maisie retreated to the downstairs bathroom for shelter (wimp), the weather service issued this:

Utterly vile

Most parents fret that their toddlers will choke on something like a grape or a chunk of hotdog. Or they’ll swallow something inedible like a penny or a magnet or the top to a magic marker. Something normal.

My kid, on the other hand, went fishing tonight in the litter box and found something that caught her eye. While no one was looking, she taste-tested cat pee generously breaded in litter. I’m still revolved by the incident. But what can you do? Swab her mouth out with a paper towel and move on.

But give me a break already. Can’t I have a normal kid who eats dog food or lint balls?

Damn you Drippy, and your semi-used litter box! Your timing is impeccable.

Shortly after the incident, Hadley chases down her cat snack with Doritos. Bon appetit!

Other kid (the normal one), consuming food typically eaten by humans living in the US
“yea, this burger’s not bad…but i know what would make it taste better….”

And now that everyone’s thoroughly grossed-out, here’s a bonus photo. Think of it as a palate cleanser.

It was a tough night and the high chair was a mess. But with a little quick thinking, problem solved.