Married with Horses: Hello, Mr. Chips

A horsewoman and her husband start a feeding frenzy when they repurpose corn chips as horse treats.

There can be something peaceful about early morning snowfall. This snow began well before daybreak. (We know because we were up several times to let out Kit, our 16-year-old dog.) The flakes fell all morning, though the temperature remained just above freezing. Subsequently, it was quiet and romantic with none of the liability of snow-packed hooves.

| © Andy Myer

I sat in my office and watched the snow fall on our pastures and outbuildings. I thought about how life on the farm is often about resourcefulness and repurposing. Unused paddocks become well-fertilized gardens, old tobacco barns become shavings and wood sheds, and old pine planks are sanded down and used to finish the walls of a tack room. Even Kimberly and my work, marketing products for the equestrian industry, is a repurposing in many ways. We took our horsey lifestyle and turned it into a profession. Because our office is at home and because our horses can model many of the products we help market, there’s much more time we get to spend near and with our “children.”

Granted, this works out better for us than for them. We love spending time with the horses. They, however, would rather stand around eating, taking naps or simply staring at one another. Their first choice isn’t playing dress up for the camera. But despite all the whinnying and temper tantrums, they do know they’ll get treats during the photo shoot. Every time we successfully photograph them running or standing in a halter, blanket or sheet, they get a treat.

Just after lunch, the snow stopped and the sun came out. Kimberly and I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph some new blankets. There was no shortage of office work, but we decided to repurpose our day.

We always seem to have more blankets to shoot than the horses have patience, so we take pictures until our models let us know they’re done. They usually do this by bucking and running to the far end of the pasture and ignoring us and our treats. After a certain point, even treats aren’t worth another round of dress-up-and-run.

Today was different. Vander and Madison only seemed upset when the shoot was over. It might have had to do with the repurposed treats we were feeding them. We ran out of the apple and oat treats they usually get. Frankly, I thought we’d never finish those things. They totally dry out my mouth.

The only vegetarian item that was handy was a bag of nacho cheese corn chips. I was just being funny when I brought out the bag, but Vander loved them. And he’s never been so well behaved for a shoot. Each time, he ran beautifully down the fence line as I snapped my shots. Then Vander calmly circled around to Kimberly for a chip and a new blanket. We didn’t even need the halter and lead while Kimberly dressed him and led him back to his starting point. He did stop a few times to drink at the trough, but those chips make me thirsty, too.

Horses eating chips is almost as funny as a dog eating chips. There’s something completely unnatural–and comical–about that obnoxious crunching sound coming from these animals’ mouths. I laugh every time.

And I continued laughing with every nacho cheese corn chip we fed to Madison. She, too, was unusually well behaved for her photos. With every turnout and cooler, she was calm, collected and seemingly determined not to put her nacho chips in jeopardy.

Back in the barn, Vander and Madison were acting like drug addicts looking to score another cheesy hit. Every crinkle of the chip bag sent them into a whinnying frenzy. Mandy and Ellie didn’t know what all the commotion was about, but they joined in anyway. I figured we’d ruined Vander and Madison, so giving Mandy and Ellie some chips wouldn’t matter. I was wrong. After they got a taste, the four of them were so loud that Kimberly and I had to run from the barn with our cheese-coated fingers in our ears.

The horses had nearly emptied the bag. Hazel and Kit gladly finished off the remaining chips as Kimberly and I laughed at their crunching.

We figured the horses could run off the residual “nacho-rush” by being turned out. It was going to be a cold night, but their regular blankets were in the wash. We pulled out their old blankets and dressed them all up. These old blankets are another testament to successful repurposing. In fact, they’re so old that we’d already repurposed most of the leg straps to replace the missing and broken tail straps. Those straps, too, had passed on. Now three of the four blankets had their back ends secured with the favorite tool of every barn: baling twine.

Is there anything baling twine can’t fix? You can use it to hang buckets, secure pasture gates, hang crossties, fix bridles and halters, make a lead line, replace a shoelace, make a hay net, reinforce rickety barn stairs (don’t tell Kimberly), fix wooden fencing, tie down tarps, hang stall fans, and my favorite: hold up sagging work pants. I hate sagging work pants.

I think baling twine is more useful than duct tape. Though, we did use some of that tape to fix/cover up a few tears in those old blankets. After all, these are not the economic times to be throwing out perfectly usable blankets, right?

It was with some of that baling twine that I secured a repurposed (i.e. worn out) dressage whip to my bicycle. I had just enough time before sunset for a quick bike ride. My bike rides had grown from three miles to about nine. With each mile I “discovered” more free-roaming country dogs. I don’t mind locally wandering canines, assuming they’ve been fixed and assuming they don’t bite.

The latter assumption nearly sent me into the ditch a few times on my last ride, so I was bringing along my dressage whip. With a flick of the wrist I could untie the twine and be ready for battle. Then, victorious and a few hundred yards down the road, I could retie the whip and continue on my way. It’s possible that nacho cheese corn chips would have worked, too, but feeding angry dogs just seemed risky.

My repurposed whip and twine worked like a charm. With an aggressive dog every mile, my arms got as good a work out as my legs. It was sort of like Tae Bo.

I felt a little bad when they yelped, but I would feel worse if the crazed canines eventually got themselves–or me–seriously injured or run over. To test out my success with the first few dogs, I doubled back at the halfway point. Each of them saw me coming and retreated, barking at me from the safety of their front porches. I wonder what Cesar Millan would say about my technique.

I made it home just before dark, in time to chop some wood for the evening fire. The snow had begun falling again as the dogs and cats gathered with us in the living room in front of the fire.

Kimberly and I enjoyed a dinner of homemade chili with some corn chips. Soon our bowls were empty and our stomachs full, but we had some chips left.

As stated, effective repurposing is the hallmark of any successful farm. And we could almost hear the crackling of the fire over our laughter and the dogs’ obnoxious crunching.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.

Read Jeremy’s other columns in’s Humor section, and share your comments in the forum.

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