Kimberly and I have been on a juice fast. We’ve been starting our days with generous glasses of fresh vegetable juice. Mmm… celery, beets and kale with just a hint of lemon. If you think it sounds crazy, you’re right. Why endure hunger pangs and day-long headaches? Don’t worry, it’s all in the name of “good health.”
For almost two days we’ve been juicing our own vegetables–as much as we want–but eating nothing else. We barely made it through the first day. It could have been a bad dream, but I distinctly remember being awakened in the middle of the night by Kimberly chewing on my arm.
On any horse farm, having a veggie hangover doesn’t help deal with the goofy boarders, eccentric barn help, ornery horses, uncomfortable work boots, wind, breeze, sunlight or even singing birds. I really had no business getting out of bed. Nonetheless, there’s always barn work to do. So I entered the barn wearing sunglasses thinking they might help hide the aggravated and pained expression on my face.
“What’s up, little rock star?” asked Delores. “Too bright in the barn for ya?”
“You’re not helping,” I blurted out.
“What?” Delores looked puzzled.
“I said ‘I’m sure feeling healthy!'” I managed with a grimace.
“Oh, good… I guess.”
“Yep, gotta get the grain going!” I exclaimed as I escaped to the feed room. Oh, the feed room. Holy cow! I was starving. Everything looked good, even the salt licks. I ignored my growling stomach and filled all the horses’ buckets with the necessary beet pulp or grain. Unfortunately, every time I leaned over with the scoop, my head felt like it would pop. (Surely doughnuts and grape soda wouldn’t make me feel this bad.) I was lost in my thoughts of food. Before I realized what I was doing, I had eaten a handful of pellets. I figured before I came to my senses I should eat another handful. I had just begun chewing the second handful when I saw Delores standing in the feed room doorway, looking puzzled… again.
I took a decidedly questionable course of action and simply continued chewing. I occasionally raised an eyebrow with a “hmmmm” or closed my eyes, puckered my lips and slowly inhaled, as if I were tasting fine wine. It took me a bit to finish chewing–it was a big mouthful.
“AH HA!” I shouted, pointing into the air. “I knew it!”
“What? What is it?” she asked.
“Who poured this feed in here?” I demanded, staring Delores straight in the eyes.
“I-I don’t know,” she stammered. “What’s wrong with it?”
“We feed only 10 percent pellets out of this bin! These pellets here are 10.5 percent! Here! Taste for yourself.” I grabbed another handful and held it out to Delores.
“No-I’m fine, thanks-I believe you-I forgot something in my truck,” she said before fleeing the feed room.
Whew! Say what you will, but my headache was beginning to fade. I wondered if anybody had studied the benefits of an “all horse feed” diet for humans. After all, beet pulp and alfalfa hay sure look healthy. Whatever the case, I figured I should get as much barn work done as possible before my headache returned.
The horses were enjoying bucket breakfasts in their pastures this morning, and our Quarter Horse, Skip, was the last to be led out. Let me just add that Skip is a strange horse–strange, because he exists only physically. By that I mean that Skip has no personality. Nothing seems to affect him. The only defining characteristics he has are a beautiful, grulla coat and a penchant for destroying his stall.
He has always been the worst to clean up after. I never caught him with a blender, but I’m positive that’s what he used to frappé his shavings and poop into a fine-grained mess. I’m talking about a stall even worse than that of the moodiest mare. There was no “picking out” Skip’s stall, ever. It needed to be stripped everyday. We bought him because he was a fancy jumper, but developing his jumping was slow going because he always seemed to be slightly off, like this morning.
“Is there something wrong with that horse?” asked our boarder Candy as I walked past with Skip.
“Yeah,” chimed Delores, “he looks a little off.”
“He’s always a little off,” I responded.
“I think it’s his rear, left leg,” said Candy.
“No, it’s definitely his front, right leg,” protested Delores.
“Nah, it’s his hip–he needs a chiropractor,” added Delores’ husband, Mike.
“We tried that,” I said. “She couldn’t find anything.”
“What’s wrong with that horse?” asked Cowboy Jack, who had just arrived at the barn. “It looks like he needs new shoes.”
Pretty soon, all our boarders and a few trainers were gathered around Skip’s pasture, asking me to walk him this way or that, back him up and make a few circles so they could diagnose the cause of Skip’s “slight off-ness.” If Skip had any personality he would have probably expressed dismay at his grossly delayed breakfast. Everybody watching Skip move had a complex theory about his nearly undetectable lameness as well as a sure-fire cure. I figured it was time to put away the bute and liniments and go get some tests done at the vet clinic.
When Kimberly came home we discussed Skip’s situation. It’s a sure sign of insanity to do the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Nonetheless, there we stood again with Skip in the round pen, making him walk, trot and canter. We stared at his feet, legs and hips until we went dizzy. Then we did it all over again in the other direction. After about 20 minutes, we were wondering if we weren’t simply imagining Skip’s lameness. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone else also noticed something wrong with Skip, too, we would have let it all go.
Skip’s name was actually “Skimp” before we bought him. We certainly didn’t “skimp” when we spent $8,500–not including the vet exams–to buy him. Kimberly and I appreciate irony as much as anyone, but we changed his name anyway. Skip had never been a cheap horse to keep, and I had a sinking feeling he was going to get even less cheap.
Kimberly and I led Skip to his stall and headed inside. It was time for another batch of fresh juice. Yum. We both had pounding headaches, though I wasn’t sure we could blame the vegetables this time.
It’s difficult when you’ve spent good money on a horse who passed every pre-purchase exam, but still doesn’t seem right. It’s easy, however, to add up the cost of the horse, the vet visits, the feed, blankets, shavings and lost sleep. Beneath all the deliberation and second guessing, we all know that we buy horses because we love being around them, despite the fact they’re not usually the easiest animals to care for.
Whether we would find a simple fix for Skip’s condition, or that it was due to some rare, elusive and untreatable disease, I didn’t know. I did know that the next time the lottery came around, however, we probably needed to win more than $40.
Continued in Married with Horses: Paging Dr. Sherlock Holmes
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
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