Yesterday, I finally rallied my kids together to help me with a project I’ve wanted to accomplish for some time now.
We washed the horses!
This is actually a mundane, normal thing to do when you own horses. Like dogs, they get muddy or stinky on occasion, so you need to give them a bath. However, we’ve avoided it – not because of a lack of interest or horse rearing knowledge. It was a lack of water.
We still don’t have a well drilled on our land, pumps rigged to the creek, or what have you, to make it feasible to hook up a hose. Normally, people with horses (plural) set up a “wash station” – a concrete area with a hose nearby that you use to wash the livestock. With this, you simply tie the animal up and go at them with horse shampoo, a big sponge and a touch of muscle. It’s like washing a car, only the car can step on you if you don’t watch what you are doing.
Not having a place to wash the horses has created a dilemma, especially because of Peppy, a white horse that loves to roll in the reddest mud he can find. He is actually a sort of pink color now, thanks to his pigpen habits. He is so stained I’m thinking he needs Horse Clorox rather than “Main and Tale” shampoo. His love for mud, combined with sweat stains and dust, has left us looking like livestock slackers – it’s made me increasingly uncomfortable. We do groom the horses, of course, and that removes a great deal of the grime, but still, they are overdue for a good washing. I don’t want people thinking I ignore the needs of my pets, nor do I want my pets feeling itchy or gross.
In the winter, I didn’t mind their being dirty. They grew thick outdoor coats and it was too cold to wash them anyway. However, every since the weather turned warm, I’ve been trying to convince someone to help me tackle their dusty hides. Can’t do it alone because of the mechanics of the chore. Can’t be down in the creek and up on the dock washing the horses at the same time when you are alone, no mater how committed you are to the task.
Therefore, catching the kids in a good mood, I convinced them to help me. We dressed in grubby clothes and headed for the land. We decided to wash the animals on the wooden bridge that covers the creek. Kent and Neva stood in the creek filling buckets. Denver and I washed the horses, the runoff water (and non-toxic soap) spilling through the slats and being carried away with the creek tide. Kent and Neva ended up soaked, playing in the water with more energy than they used filling buckets. Denver and I were slapping soap everywhere, squealing when the horses shook and soapsuds when flying. We dumped bucket after bucket of fresh creek water over them to wet them down and later, to rinse them. Washing them this way was harder than using a hose, or course, but still effective. In fact, I was somewhat sorry we waited so long to do this once we got involved, because even though lifting those buckets was a pain, the project was also fun.
Since this was our first horse bath experience, we didn’t know what to expect. We assumed Mark’s horse, Goliath, would be the most difficult, because he’s a big, bossy lug. But in reality, it was Dixie, our mare, which acted most distressed. I suspect, knowing the down home, practical working farm where we bought her for what it is, this horse has never had a bath before. She was gentle, as always, but stomped a bit and whinnied when we dumped water over her neck, proving she was nervous. April stood nearby, as if watching her mother go through this process was both fascinating and confusing. I turned to her and said, “When you’re older, you’ll be doing this too, so pay attention.”
Dahlia Llama lay in the grass, his head as erect as a king, watching from about 20 feet away. I suspect he enjoyed the entertainment, though he was acting sort of snotty and arrogant as if he was above it all – (you see, llamas don’t need baths). But he’ll be taken down a peg when we sheer him later this month! No messy animals will bare the Hendry name no mater what breed!
Goliath was not trouble as we guessed. In fact, he seemed to love being washed. He kept trying to drink the buckets of water when we held them up to dunk him. He is such a hog – wanting to consume anything and everything. He shook lots and his sheer size and strength make it feel like we were working in a thunderstorm (with suds.) The only problem was pigpen Peppy. We marveled as he turned from dirt pink to white again, and all his light grey freckles reappeared. He is the most personal of our horses, (and the smartest). He can open gates with his mouth, and will push you with his nose for attention. I adore this horse. He has a devilish personality. But despite a good effort, we didn’t get all the stain out of his mane or tail. I will have to buy a stain-remover for him, I guess. Not like he isn’t going to roll an hour after we are gone anyway. That mischievous gelding won’t stay clean for any length of time and to hope for anything different would be madness.
As we were finishing washing the last horse, Mark drove up with a truckload of fresh hay and said, “So, are you going to wash the donkey too?”
Our donkey is like a rug that hasn’t been vacuumed in 40 years. When you pat him, puffs of dust rise into the air. His hair is thick and course (he hasn’t shed his winter coat yet like the others). I was concerned that he would act up – kick or something – because he hasn’t ever had a bath. In fact, I don’t think people around here bother to wash their donkeys. They’re not sleek livestock that get that kind of attention. Blackjack is a gentle and adorable donkey, but he is a donkey after all, and he can be stubborn and willful. The kids seemed to think washing him was a good idea him, so I went along with the plan, although with no small reservations. The last thing I wanted was to ruin our nice day with a problem that would make the concept of washing the horses something to distain in the future.
We tied the donkey to the post and wet him down. He looked like a drowned rat, all pitiful, but he didn’t shake or pull away or do anything but act sad. Then, we went at him with a curry comb and gallons of soap, brushing handfuls of winter fur off him and removing what must be pounds of dirt. Mark took over my role vigorously, as if his making the donkey clean would prove his worth as a country man of talent. Blackjack was so cute, allowing us to work over him as long as we did. Took a half hour to rinse him – but in the end we had one fine looking, soaked ass to show for our efforts. (And five other, exhausted, soaked asses – all who felt, if nothing else, a sense of accomplishment.)
Since the animals were clean, I could spray them down good with fly repellent, something that had to feel good for them, for they’ve been tormented with flies this last two weeks now that summer is here despite our fly control efforts.
Finally, released from our enthusiastic scrubbing, the horses and donkey went to the fresh mound of hay and ate leisurely. You could tell they were feeling great. They were smiling (or so it seemed to me) and they didn’t fight over the freshly cut grass or nudge each other for the best standing room positions.
All felt right with the Hendry animal world – at least for that moment. I’m sure, today, when we go to feed them, I’ll encounter dusty, dingy horses that rolled in manure and dirt because they were feeling so good. (It’s how they celebrate joy, apparently.)
Owning horses is work. But somehow, it never feels like work to me. I like being outside, and being physical. I like the way they look in my eyes with trust (and anticipation for a snack) when I approach. I love their size and power, especially considering they still behaving with respect for their owners. I love it all – the feeding, washing, even shoveling shit…. all of it.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve been shoveling shit all my life, doing this dance to please others. But when I am out there with the horses, the only person I’m working to please is me. I don’t mind hard work when the results are something pure and earnest. These horses seem to acknowledge my efforts as an act of caring, and comforted by this understanding, we’ve built a bond of friendship and trust as result. (Would that it was only so easy with people) The horses listen to my secrets, whispered inner quiet thoughts I don’t usually share aloud but somehow feel compelled to discuss on a quiet ride or sunset feeding. They blink lazily and nod, never passing judgment or disapproving. Why would they? They are my comrades in nature’s arms and they understand me – accept me – for what and who I am.
We all need (and deserve) friends like that.
Find them where you will.