YOUR HORSES ARE ON FIRE
© Baron Tayler
Published in ANVIL Magazine, August 1993
Much as I love shoeing horses, my business interests have led me to design, patent, and manufacture machinery for farmers who work with draft animals.
Since the farmers and teamsters who use my machine work with draft animals almost exclusively, I acquired a few Percherons. They're the kindest, gentlest, most easygoing creatures on earth, but owning them created a problem for me. I had only ten acres of pasture; that's a little more than three acres a horse - hardly enough to feed three 1800-pound horses year 'round without haying.
Luckily, a nearby farmer has a large pasture that he hasn't used since he retired. I moseyed over and asked if I could use the pasture for the Percherons during the winter when I'd run out of grass. You should have seen his cataract-clouded eyes light up! He told me he'd just turned 91 years old and had mourned the day he had sold his last team and converted to tractors. Yes, he said, he'd love to have the horses in his pasture.
October rolled around, and the horses finally ate the last stalk of grass in their field. I walked them down the road and let them into the large pasture which was knee deep in lush forage. They were in horsey heaven.
January arrived, and the horses had grown long, thick winter coats. The weather had been cold, but little in the way of snow. The field had a clump of trees in the middle and when it snowed, the horses snuggled up under a huge pine and slept.
With the first big snow came trouble. I was sitting at the breakfast table when the phone rang. It was a lady who lived in a house next to the pasture. She wanted to know if I owned the big horses. I told her that I did and asked her if there was something wrong. "The horses have no building to go into to get out of the snow," she said. I explained that they had the big trees to stand under, and that their dense coat was an excellent insulator. I assured her that the horses were quite comfortable. Semi-satisfied, she let me return to breakfast.
The following day the woman called back, and in a firm voice told me she was sure the horses were cold. I asked her how she knew this. "Because they look cold," she replied. "And, in what way do they look cold?" I countered. Silence. Not a word for 30 seconds. Finally, she said, "I just know they're cold!" "Okay, okay," I replied, "Why don't you meet me in the pasture in five minutes and, if the horses are cold, I'll take them into a barn." She agreed.
We met five minutes later. "Will they hurt me?" she asked. "Do they kick or bite?" It started to dawn on me that this woman was a busybody do-gooder who knew absolutely nothing about horses. With time on her hands, she probably decided that my horses needed rescuing and appointed herself their savior.
As soon as we entered the pasture, the horses trotted over looking for attention ? three 1800-pound "puppy dogs." After she watched me pet them for a few minutes, I asked her if they looked cold. "Well, no," she replied, "But it's hard to tell with all the hair." "Why don't you put your hand on one and see if it feels cold to the touch?" I asked. It was obvious she had never touched a horse before. Hesitantly, she reached out and touched one. "Well," she said, "I have to admit that they do feel warm, but I still wish they had a barn to go into."
Just then one of the horses dropped a big, steaming pile of manure on the snow. She stood looking at it, quite puzzled. "What's wrong?" I asked. No reply at first. Then she said, "Why isn't the horse standing in the pile?" "Why would he do that?" I asked. "Because it would keep his feet warm," she replied. That snapped it! I was trying to talk logically with a certified nut case! I left her standing in the field.
The snow melted a few days later, and I heard nothing more. Then another storm hit that promised to be a keeper. With the temperature staying well below freezing, I knew the snow wouldn't melt for a while, which meant I had to start feeding bales of hay until the snow was gone. Since my daytime schedule was hectic, I found it easier to feed at night, usually around midnight. Two days after the snow had stopped falling, the old farmer called me. He said the woman was bothering him again, claiming the horses were not being fed. I assured him they were and told him of my nightly ritual.
The local animal protection society called the next day, explaining they received a report that I was starving my horses. I invited one of their inspectors to come out and see for himself. When the inspector arrived, I showed him the hay scattered over the field and explained my feeding schedule. I told him about the woman who believed horses should stand in their manure. I asked him to confirm my nightly feedings with a neighbor who had seen me feeding the horses. He did and was satisfied that the woman was, in his own words, a "Looney Tune."
A few weeks went by and along came another dusting of snow. The temperature hovered just around freezing, the snow melting as it hit the ground. The local animal control officer called. He was laughing so hard it was difficult to understand him. "Could I come over?" he asked.
Fifteen minutes later he arrived, still laughing. His face was as red as a beet! I thought he was going to have a coronary on the spot. Finally, calmed down to a mild chuckle, he told me that a woman had reported my horses were on fire!
The officer apologized for the inconvenience of his visit, but it was office policy to investigate each complaint. I was too busy laughing to even notice. Regaining control of myself, I climbed into the officer's truck, and off we went to check on my "roasting" horses. When we arrived at the field, the sun was just starting to break through the clouds. Three gorgeous Percherons were standing there, contentedly munching on grass. Thick columns of steam rose off them as evaporated moisture in their coats condensed in the cold air. The officer and I were awed by the beauty of it, but soon the spell was broken. We both started chuckling again, almost rolling on the ground. "Your horses are on fire!" the officer roared.
I never heard from the animal control people again. However, the woman continued pestering the old farmer with a myriad of oddball complaints. I felt so sorry for him that I took the horses back to my place a month before I'd planned to. The farmer was sad to see them go. He still enjoys telling the story about those horses that were on fire.
Author's comment: This story is humorous, but it also portrays a serious and growing problem.
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