farming

What a Drag

When I was a teenager, my two older sisters kept their horses at a barn about an hour from our home. It was outside the ‘bustling metropolis’ of Palatka Florida, and sat on almost 400 acres of beautifully tended fields, clean fence rows, and wooden trails you could get lost in. In exchange for board, we would help with chores around the barn – cleaning stalls, exercising horses, and dragging the pasture.

Dragging the pasture was just a fancy way for the owner to say “go knock down every pile of horse poop in that field so the grass grows even.” We would hook a metal livestock gate to the back of the Gator and make laps around the endless fields. My sisters, being fair dictators, set up a schedule so we were able to take turns. Becca would even let me borrow her iPod (which was a big incentive) on my round.

The shift would start with getting a full tank of gas from the gallon jugs in the shop,  a charged iPod (when it was available) and some kind of protective wear like a hat or sunglasses. If you were smart, you would start with an empty bladder. When it was my shift, Amber would open the gate wide and wave me in, making sure no horses got out, and taking care that it was latched before walking back to the barn. I usually did a perimeter lap, then started and one end and worked my way to the gate and civilization.

There was some kind of meditative element to all that driving. I would let my mind wander, turning at each end of the fence, humming along to whatever song was playing. Some small part of me found satisfaction in turning that pasture back into a smooth, green field. It got lonesome, but there was peacefulness there too.

We’d usually break at lunch and head down the road. The shell gas station had amazing, seasoned potato wedges and chicken fingers. Something about all that driving really worked up an appetite. Then it was back to the barn, back to the pasture, and making the final turns to finish the field.

Time went by, as it does so well. When my sister’s prepared to go to college, the horses were re-homed. I volunteered at the Jacksonville Zoo during high school, then got into surfing, then went to college myself. Looking back, it’s funny to see how things get shelved just before college. I was another wide-eyed freshman then, if you has asked me then where I would be in 5 years, I would not have said living on a farm. I had no idea that it would come back full circle.

But here we are! And I wouldn’t trade it, as Sadie says, “for all the tea in China.” Last week I found myself rooting around in the barn for the perfect gate to drag the pasture with. I finally decided on a chain-link fence panel that we had discarded, mainly because at some point, someone had cut a large round hole in the middle. It wasn’t much good after that. I found a sturdy rope, hooked up to the back of our four wheeler, and off I went.

I couldn’t help but think of how, about 10 years ago, chances were I was doing the exact same thing on another farm, pulling another gate. Without overstating my point, it was surreal. We haven’t had rain in months, so following my bouncing, chain-link panel was a great big cloud of dust. The horses didn’t care for my idea on bit. I circled the field around the barn, where they spend the hottest part of the day, until Sadie got home. She laughed, and I kept right on.

Fortunately, the 4-wheeler has headlights, so I worked a little past dark. At least until I was satisfied I had made some kind of effect on the appearance of the pasture. I put the rope away and leaned the panel against the barn. It had found another use and would stay, for now. It was full of dried grass and pieces of pulled weed. Then I made my way up the hill back to the house, dusty and smiling, to whatever delicious meal Sadie had on the stove. Maybe one day I will ask her to make some potato wedges.

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farming, Uncategorized

Horse Talk

We had the vet come out a few days ago, he reminds me of my Uncle James and I think that’s why I like him so much. There are lots of different kinds of vets, of course. And there are lots of different kinds of horse people. James was the kind with a calm voice and quiet hands – he had a steadiness about him that put jumpy or nervous horses at ease.

James was always more comfortable in an old barn than anywhere else. He was the kind of cowboy that knew it didn’t matter what kind of saddle you had, or how old your boots and spurs might be. Good horsemanship comes with experience, with worn leather and faded jeans. He would rather have a familiar horse and dog for company out on the trail, honest and reliable, than a high dollar show pony.

The vet, John, knew James fairly well. He has made several farm calls for us since I moved here. He came out in the spring to float a few teeth and castrate our 2-year old colt. John is also the one who made an emergency call for a mare we used to own, Miss Smokin’ Kaylee, who decided to spoil a nice, quiet Sunday morning by running through a fence. He and his wife left church early that Sunday to help, and I’m not sure what we would have done without them. After just a few minutes with her, I could tell he had been around horses for years. He was calm, gentle, spoke in a low voice and ran his hand down her neck in long, smooth strokes. Not only did it calm her down, but it helped me calm down too.

Some horse people like to be the boss. They have heavy hands and jerk with their legs and arms, demanding instead of asking. This makes for a jumpy and a flighty horse. Other people, usually on the more green side, are scared something bad might happen, and remain tense the entire ride. Getting hurt is a bit of a given. You can be kicked, bitten, thrown, run over or run under trees, just to name a few.  Horses are herd animals – everything they do is to ensure their survival. And you just have to know how to read those signs and communicate in a way they understand.

The thing I appreciate the most about John is he talks through everything with you. He doesn’t talk at you, or to you, but with you. When he came out to castrate the colt in the Spring, he explained the reason for the dosage to put him under. He showed me how he rubbed the vein with his thumb to desensitize it, before smoothly putting the needle in to inject the anesthetic. About 45 seconds later, the colt’s eyes glazed over. He widened his stance, trying to brace himself, and his head lowered until his nose almost touched the ground.

John eased him over, and the colt laid down with a sigh. He then looped the lead-rope around his back leg and tied it around his chest. After putting on a pair of gloves and washing the area thoroughly, he talked me through exactly what he was doing. I won’t go into detail, but I learned quite a lot that day. And after a few minutes, the colt stood, head still drooping, and we turned him back out in the pasture for the day.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory that to perfect something, you need to practice for 10,000 hours. Think of musicians, athletes, reporters, what have you. For you to truly master an art or a task, you have to have so many hours, days, years, of repetition for it to really sink in. James had that. Our vet has it, thankfully, and is willing to teach me some too. Sadie definitely has it, and it’s something I hope to learn too. It helps when the thing you are practicing is also a life passion of yours, one that keeps you up at night dreaming, and gets you out of bed every morning!

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