The sound of autumn


Circa, 2014

Last week, I heard the distinctive sound of fall.

No, not rustling leaves, but the steady, whirling brrrrrrrrrrr and the rattling clickety-clack from neighboring properties.

The sound of clippers, mowing through miles of horse hair.

Last week, spurred by warm weather, horse owners everywhere uncoiled their clipper cords, sized up their blades, and cleared store shelves of blade wash and coolant spray.

Most horses who work hard in cold months need a haircut; otherwise, cooling down takes hours. (Blankets make up for what’s been removed.)

In the best of circumstances, body clipping is a loathsome chore. A royal pain in the butt.

Why? It’s time consuming. The clippers easily clog and the motor can overheat; the blades dull with use. And if you don’t cut with meticulous care, your horse will look mouse-chewed and shabby.

For the human, it’s an itchy task; a raincoat and slick pants will help repel hair, but bits always find their way into underclothes.

Last week I heeded the sunny, warm days and contributed to autumn’s song.

But clipping Jazz wasn’t just onerous, it was perilous.

He’s a thin-skinned, squeamish Thoroughbred, so I sedated him last year. And planned to do so again. Unfortunately, Jazz currently has a skin infection (“rain rot”) which leaves tiny scabs. Removing them is uncomfortable — I tried in advance, but Jazz was intolerant. So I planned to clip them off, assuming sedation would override his discomfort.

I was wrong.

When I steered the blades into his scabby patches, dozing Jazz tried to kick my lights out.


Sedated looks are deceiving…

But once you start clipping a horse — especially one freshly-bathed and temporarily tranquilized — you gotta finish. I spoke soothingly to Jazz, growled, hollered and tried cutting as gingerly as possible. Sometimes he’d issue a tail-swish warning, other times he’d just let hind foot fly.

Eventually, Martin restrained my horse while I plowed on, cursing a lot and dodging sporadic kicks. When done, I felt like a boxer who’d lost a match.

Jazz was quasi-clipped. The barn looked like a crime scene.


Two days later I attached fresh blades and hacked off Rocky’s wooly coat. A veteran show pony, he was far more compliant.

When done, I stood back and admired my work.

Rocky looked much better than Jazz.

As though the rodents had spared him.


Photo Op: Props to Martin

Each year, we stock up on 150-200 bales of grass hay, to see our herd through the winter. Typically, a bale weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 lbs.

Recently, however, we bought a truckload of alfalfa and the bales were large and densely packed. We estimate that those whoppers weighed 50-55 pounds each. A couple of rogue bales might’ve been pushing 60.


I groaned and winced as I toted/dragged each bale by its twine strands and built a stack near the drop slot.

But Martin had the unenviable task of heaving those monsters up into the hayloft from the lower truck bed. And as the load in the truck diminished layer by layer, the distance to deliver them grew greater. No longer could Martin hoist them; he had to throw each one upwards through the loft opening.


My hat’s off to you, Martin. That was a beastly chore. I couldn’t have it.

You tossed approximately one ton’s worth of alfalfa up into the loft!

And great news: There’s more on the way.


Ditching the Itch


Poison ivy is a bit like having kids with head lice: it’s impossible to grasp the misery without firsthand experience.

I always nodded sympathetically when parents shared lice-laden anecdotes, but I didn’t comprehend the gravity until our kids got it.

Poison ivy is a similar beast.

For decades I basked in the fact that I didn’t “get” poison ivy. And I never bothered to distinguish it from other greenery. (Though Martin made it his personal mission to educate me. I was a lousy student, but learned to respond correctly when he gestured at shiny leaves and said, “Okay, now what’s that?”)

I’d seen poison ivy welts and heard itchy tales of woe. But to me, the rash looked like a nuisance, not a serious affliction.

All that changed when I abruptly received notice: My immunity to Toxicodendron radicans had expired.

A few weeks ago — while riding — I was lashed by poison ivy dangling among tree branches. Welts slowly surfaced on my arm and neck.

It was still in the nuisance phase when we arrived at Snowshoe for Xtreme Hike.

“Take a bath in bleach,” one hiker advised after checking my arm. “That’ll stop it.”

Bathe in bleach? How much bleach do you use?”

The guy shrugged. “A cup, maybe two. As much as you can stand.”

At the time, scorching myself with bleach sounded asinine.

But seven days later, I was ready to drink battery acid if it would help.

Weepy welts spread like lava, creeping north and south, shoulder to wrist, and up toward my chin. Blisters also migrated to my other arm. If I sat still, I could feel them emerge. (Writing proved a challenge because my oozing arms adhered to my laptop.)

Ultimately, steroids saved me. But during those days of itchy insanity, I visited websites devoted to poison ivy — and noticed a dearth of medically-sound answers to my questions. Every source trumpeted the obvious: “If you think you have been exposed, wash areas thoroughly within 10 minutes…”

But few sites offered much on managing welts once the damage was done.

I never discovered why scalding water on poison ivy welts evokes an intense feeling of euphoria. (Every medical site condemned hot water for a slew of reasons.)

And I couldn’t confirm whether or not little kids are immune. (As a toddler, Hadley ate poison ivy leaves, and the pediatrician told us that children aren’t allergic to the plant until age 6.) I searched for supporting science, but only found that pediatricians rarely see it in young children.

I did stumble on a poison ivy primer with some neat facts here. And there’s valid info and horrifying stories at

My welts are now faded shadows of themselves. But suffice to say, I feel your poison ivy pain. I get it.

Yet on the misery scale, I’m not sure which is worse: a case of poison ivy, or a houseful of licey kids.

Tough call.