Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas and barn adventures

It was a nice Christmas out in our rural suburbs. It rained and the weather forecast calls for rain for the next ten days straight which is disappointing, but other than that things are going well.  I'm just bummed it hasn't snowed at all this winter and doesn't look like it's going to.

Christmas Eve my folks came over for dinner and we had a feast of traditional food: sweet potato pie, turkey, stuffing, beans in mushroom cream sauce, cranberry chutney.  Tonight we had dinner at my brother's house with a very good roast marinated in Tom Douglas rub.  I love those.  My daughter made the whole day festive and fun and loved all her presents.  Even the pitbull and cats loved their presents.  When I came downstairs in the morning my dad and my daughter were reading the paper at the dining room table and the pitbull was standing in the living room staring at her stocking intently.  She was very happy when I finally gave her her presents.

In between Christmas morning and going to my brother's house I went out to the barn to work Toadie a little bit.  T. and her new horse Temple were doing the same thing.  Zeke-the-giant's owner was out there walking Zeke around and changing the bandage on his foot wound and Trainer J. was out taking care of her horses before heading home to celebrate Christmas with her son.  We were all in good spirits and the mood around the barn was festive and light.  T.  made a comment about the wind picking up a little outside so when we went in the arena to lunge our horses I asked if I could take the side whose door opened into the inside of the barn and the other stalls and if she wouldn't mind taking the side where the arena door opened up to the outside (which is a little scarier when it's windy or raining).  I felt like giving Toad as mellow of a work-out as possible.  And Temple is so calm we figure it would be no big deal.

The wind had picked up enough that you could hear it rattling some boards outside and that made Toad a little nervous, but she calmed down quickly and started walking in her circle on the lunge line.  Then some huge gusts blew by that rattled the corrogated plastic on the roof of the arena and Toadie spooked and started to run in circles.  I stayed calm and said firmly "Trot," and began to pull her in on the lunge line.  Then another few huge gusts blew a bunch of tree branches across the roof and Toad bucked and started running again.  I let her out on the lunge line a little because she was getting too close to me and was in a full-blown panic.  But I kept talking to her and telling her "Easy.  Trot.  Nothing's wrong.  Trot.  Pay attention to me.  Trot."  Then as though things weren't bad enough while everything is shaking and rattling and banging from these enormous gusts of wind and rain, some branches got blown into the side of the barn with this huge SLAM! and honestly, it sounded to me like we were in the middle of World War III by then.  By then most of the horses in the barn were screaming their heads off and rearing and turning in their stalls and kicking the walls to try and escape their stalls.  Toad was just a goner by then and was just running all over the place in circles around me while T. yelled, "Oh my god! What was that? What is happening?"

My only thought was to calm Toadie enough to get her out of the arena and either into her stall or preferably the grooming area so I could get her bridle off and put her blankets back on.  But she was tearing around me in circles, bucking and screaming herself, and she wasn't staying in a consistent circle width away from me. I put the whip under my arm (just in case I needed it to chase her from running me over, but so that my accidentally lifting it wouldn't encourage her to run more).  I braced my feet and held on tight to the lunge line and started pulling her in saying in a firm, commanding voice, "Whoa Toad. You're fine. Knock it off and listen to me. Whoa. Easy. Whoa."  Finally she stopped running and kind of bounced toward me and stood straight in front of me a few feet, kind of dancing with her ears straight back and a crazed look in her eyes.  I thought she was going to suddenly charge and barrel right over me and was about to pull my whip forward to be ready to fend her off, when I realized that she was staring at me begging me to come over to her side and lead her out of the arena and save her.

At that moment there was a brief lull in all the thundering, banging sounds and all we could hear were the sounds of the wind gusting and horses screaming and kicking, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get out before Toad lost her mind again.  T. said she was going to try for a few more minutes to lunge because it sounded like it was calming down, but the minute we walked out of the arena the wind picked up and something started banging on the roof again.  I got Toad into the grooming area and she calmed down enough for me to get the bridle off and her halter back on.  It wasn't as loud in the grooming area by far.  Before I'd even picked up her fleece liner to put on the power went off.  Then T. walked out with Temple and said, "I've got to get her put away.  She's freaking out too much."  I reminded her about Temple's blanket and she said, "I won't be able to get it on her safely because she's freaking out too much.  I'll come back later for it.  I just need to get her in her stall."  I considered not putting Toad's blankets on until things were calmer but even though she was on high alert she was calmer and standing still (although with her ears back and ready to jump at a moment's notice) and I knew I wouldn't have time to come back to put them on later in the day.

I started chatting away to her, "Hey, not bad not having to work and now getting to have lunch. Hey, that's what Christmas is for. Aren't you looking forward to having your fleece blanket on again?" and that seemed to be calming her down.  But I couldn't think of things to ramble on to her about in an upbeat tone so I sang "Joy to the World, it's windy as hell and it's scaring the shit outta you!  But it will pass by soon enough, but it will all be over soon, and it's just no big deal, and it's just no big deal, and it's, it's just no big deal." And that seemed to keep her calm too.  And before you knew it I had both her liner on and her over blanket and everything was all hooked up and she was ready to go back to her stall.  She was very happy about that.

As I was putting my stuff away Zeke's owner came back to our side and said, "How'd that lunging go?" and I said, "You're kidding, right?" and he said, "Well, you're both still in one piece - that's good!" He told us how he had been wrapping Zeke's foot and had been about to put on a couple paddock boots and then the wind starting blowing things into the barn and he thought, "Oh, Zeke can live without his boots.  Not sure I can live trying to get them on right now ..."

So, I will try again tomorrow to do some work with her.  It was so bad that I don't think I could've even ridden Girlfriend.  She's pretty calm about weather conditions but that was much more over the top than just some rain or wind.  It rivaled the booming, crashing sound that did actually make Girlfriend spook really bad a couple years ago when melting ice and snow caused the whole west side gutter to fall off our old barn.  On the drive home I had to dodge some really large tree branches that had fallen in the roads.  There were smaller branches covering the road, but the occasional branch that was so big I couldn't drive over it.

Here is a happy pitbull with one of her presents:

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