January in Michigan is supposed to be cold, but it’s nice to have a couple of feet of snow to act as insulation. We had some, but it’s gone now, following about a week of shirt sleeve weather.
Then today, the wind came, knifing down from Manitoba like a Nordic god, howling over the shingles and creeping in through the walls, the floors, everywhere.
Clifford’s blanket has been in stored all year, now washed and today I sprayed it with a good dose of waterproofing Scotch Guard. Once it was dry, I lugged it back out to the barn to find him standing inside, and he was all to glad to see me with it.
There were no games today, no practical jokes, no dodging away. I held out his halter and he shoved his head into it immediately. When I led him out into the aisle, he stood like a perfect gentleman as I slung that blanket over his back, first backward, then straightened it, then he craned his neck so he could watch while I fastened the hooks with icy fingers.
Junior was angry, squealing, running in and out of the barn; I don’t know if he was mad because Clifford was getting all the attention, or because he wanted his own blankie.
I have read a lot about blanketing horses, always preferring au naturale over artificial methods. My horses don’t live inside. They have free access to all the hay they can eat. They go barefoot all year. But I do give in to blanketing Clifford each winter. His coat is flat, not thick and wooly like the others. He doesn’t carry a lot of extra body fat, either.
Finally in September I read this article about horses communicating their blanketing preferences, through a study conducted by the Norwegian Veterinary Institute. It turned out that my instincts were probably right, which will come as no surprise to any devoted horse owner.
The thing that did surprise me today was Clifford’s uncharacteristic cooperation — even enthusiasm — about that blanket. It’s not that he minds wearing it, but he’s always goosey about putting it on because he is obsessively worried about static. Today, he must have really been cold.
I mixed up a batch of hot mash for the trio: Beet pulp, sunflower seeds, and for Jr and Clifford, a little sweet feed. I have rubber buckets tied to the fence posts with baling twine. The horses followed irritably as I executed my normal, far-too-slow routine, walking along the fence line and pulling the buckets out to me so I could fill them.
The second bucket was tipped over on its side, and when I reached for the string and gave it a yank, it didn’t move.
“Ugh. Frozen to the ground. I’ll have to go in and get it.”
I meandered along to the third and final bucket. Jr stood by the second one and lifted one front hoof. He knocked the rubber pail hard, pawing at it one, two, three times, before finally he tugged it loose and rolled it under the fence straight at me. He stood there looking at me expectantly.
“Wow! Well, thank you very much!”
New studies are giving us revelations about the mind of the horse; how smart they are, how they understand way more than we thought, how they can solve problems. Some scientists would say we anthropomorphize. But today, there was no mistaking the message, on both counts: “Damn, it’s cold out here! Will you hurry up?”