Married with Horses: Hats Off to Old Dogs

A horsewoman's husband and his horses face more excitement than they bargained for when his old dog visits the barn.

It can get pretty windy in eastern North Carolina, and it did exactly that last week. The weather had warmed up into the 60s, but for two days the gusts were approaching 35 mph. Naturally, it was during the windiest of the those days when we had to get pictures of horse blankets on Vander and Madison. We had been waiting for sunny weather to do a photo shoot for a client who needed more product pictures on a website.

| © Andy Myer

“Well,” I said to Kimberly, “at least we’ve got sun.” My comment was drowned out by the wind and punctuated by my knit cap blowing off my head and disappearing underneath our back deck.

“WHAT?” Kimberly shouted. Then pointing to the back deck she hollered “HEY! YOUR HAT!” I caught a glimpse of the hat as it blew out from underneath the deck and got stuck several feet deep in a patch of brambles. I really should have bought a heavier–or tighter–knit cap.

Kimberly and I retreated to the garage to discuss our plan. She would figure out which of the sample blankets we needed to shoot and get them to the barn if I could get Madison and Vander cleaned up. It had been warm enough that week to turn them out naked during the day. Of course, they found the dustiest patches in their pastures and rolled around in them.

I groomed Vander in his stall. He looked pretty good after a once-over with a curry and a good brushing. I used a wet hand towel to clean his face and nose and took the small clippers to the errant whiskers around his mouth and chin. Vander cleaned up pretty easily. Madison was another story.

She’s a beautiful, black American Warmblood with a bright, white blaze and every speck of dirt shows up on her coat. Brushing wouldn’t be enough–she needed a bath. Kimberly was caught in a phone call and hadn’t started collecting the blankets yet, so I had time to bathe Madison.

Bath time is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your horse. I suspect Madison knows I’m in love with her, so I didn’t expect any mistrustful jitters or skittishness from her. I feel rather silly to have a crush on a horse, but Kimberly thinks it’s cute. I figure most married men would get in big trouble for being infatuated with another human female, so I’m just going with it.

Despite the gale-force winds blasting through the barn aisle, I easily walked Madison into the wash stall and secured the crossties to her halter. I adjusted the temperature of the water until is was warm and began spraying her down. Once she was rinsed, I grabbed the shampoo and lathered her up with a large bathing mitt. Madison seemed to be enjoying the pampering of a soapy, full-body massage.

Kimberly must have let Kit out, because the 16-year-old, salt-and-pepper Afghan and Border Collie mix appeared in the barn aisle. Kit needs constant supervision in her old age. With her wonky rear legs, blind left eye, cataract-ridden right eye and intermittent canine dementia, she is truly a force to be reckoned with.

In fact, one could say Kit had become a one-dog conspiracy to eliminate sleep and sanity from our household. Yes, yes, I know. She’s been a great companion for years and years, and now in her time of need is when we parents need to step things up and care lovingly for her as she sinks into dilapidated oldness. If you’ve been there, you know it can be easier said than done.

Though she won’t admit it, I suspect Kit has been reading Dylan Thomas. For months, we haven’t had a single dark night into which she went quietly. Kit spends those nights pacing the wood floor in the kitchen and living room and running wind sprints just outside our bedroom door. Kimberly and I stuff our ears with toilet paper and sleep with our pillows on our heads, but she still wakes us up. This is probably fine, because she can’t go more than two or three hours without going to the bathroom.

Even with the regular, nocturnal bathroom breaks there are still accidents, and we no longer leave the bedroom without wearing shoes. Kit wears diapers at night, but she has a softball-sized fatty tumor on her belly that keeps us from pulling her diapers all the way on. Sometimes they just come off. And it only takes one time of stepping barefooted on one of Kit’s little “land mines” in a pitch-black living room to learn your lesson.

I honestly can’t remember the last time Kimberly and I slept through the night. If the pacing and sprinting doesn’t awaken us, then we’re roused from our slumber by Kit’s feet thumping the floor as she licks and chews on her itchy spots. Soothing oatmeal baths, medicated lotions and cortisone shots have ceased to be fully effective. We feel like first-time parents to a smelly, fur-covered newborn baby.

Do we love her? Yes. But it’s a love that leaves us slightly delirious.

So, when Kit appeared in the barn, I wasn’t sure that I shouldn’t immediately march her back to the house. But she seemed quiet enough, so I decided to give her the time to enjoy the really fast, fresh air.

And it was that very wind that kept me from hearing Kit as she sauntered past me in the wash stall. I only saw her as she began nosing around at the base of a mountain of discarded beet pulp and grain bags. There must have been six weeks’ worth of bags rolled and stuffed into each other, and then piled almost to the ceiling in what I realized only then was an extremely precarious arrangement.

Yelling at Kit would have been pointless: She’s totally deaf. And poor Madison was oblivious to the one-dog conspiracy at the base of Bag Mountain. Madison was blissfully lathered up, just enjoying her morning at the spa.

Naturally, it was a total shock to her when the mountain of bags toppled over onto her. Madison’s eyes nearly popped out of her head and all four legs left the ground. She tore both crossties loose and swung around into the barn aisle, snorting and trembling.

She hadn’t gotten far before I grabbed one of the crossties and began speaking to her in a low and calm voice. Madison seemed to be buying it. In the commotion, I had dropped the spray nozzle, and it landed on its handle. A steady shower of water drenched me as I stood staring into Madison’s eyes while repeating, “Easy, Madison. Easy, girl. That’s a good girl. There you go–“

When Kit–standing behind me–barked, it seriously startled both Madison and me. Maybe Kit’s bark scared Madison. Perhaps (and more likely) it was my high-pitched shriek that scared her. Madison bolted, yanking the crosstie from my wet hand.

Fortunately, she ran into an open pasture. I jogged the 30 feet and closed the gate behind her, then walked back to the barn and shut off the water. A small lake had formed in the barn aisle, and Kit ran back and forth through it, barking at me as I moved a wheelbarrow full of shavings. Vander, Ellie and Mandy paced in their stalls. The barn had clearly hosted too much excitement for a Tuesday.

Just then, an aggressive gust of wind emptied the wheelbarrow of pine shavings, nearly all of which instantly formed a thick cake on my face, head and soaked clothing. I was wiping bits of wood from my eyes when Kimberly walked up.

“I’m going to bring Kit back to the house,” I said loudly as I fastened a lead line around Kit’s neck. “Then I’ll change clothes and come back here with the camera. Can you finish rinsing Madison off?” Kimberly just silently stared at me for a moment, apparently deciding not to ask me why I was caked in shavings.

“Um… sure. Where is Madison?” Kimberly asked, looking around.

“She’s still in the crossties–I’ll be right back.” I started moving toward the house before Kimberly could ask any more silly questions.

I got Kit inside and undressed in the garage before going inside to put on some dry clothing. Kimberly had no trouble getting Madison rinsed and dried off. And, despite the wind, Madison was a perfect girl for all the pictures. Vander must have been severely disturbed by the chaos in the barn, because he was well-behaved, too.

I was still picking shavings out of my ears as Kimberly and I sat in the office, looking over the pictures we’d selected from the morning’s shoot. I glanced at my watch.

“You ready for lunch? I need to let Kit out anyway.”

“Sure,” Kimberly answered. “I’ll finish cropping these pictures and send them off.”

As I entered the house, I could hear Kit’s leg thumping on the wooden floor. When she saw me, she hopped up and came running. She was still wagging her tail as she stepped outside.

I finished throwing together a couple of sandwiches and let Kit back in. I was about to head back to the office with the food when I realized Kit had been rather quiet, which was unusual. But there she was just standing in the kitchen at the end of the island, with my knit cap in her mouth and her tail wagging.

I accepted the hat from her mouth. It was covered with slobber, dirt and leaves, but I put it on anyway.

“Thanks girl,” I said, patting her head. Kit looked like she was smiling as she turned and proudly headed back to her bed in the living room. I smiled, too.

Okay. She may not be a one-dog conspiracy. But I’m still keeping my shoes on at night.

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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