Married with Horses: The Hungry Squire

Finding solitude at a busy, people-filled barn is hard, but when a barn manager finds himself alone with the horses, there is no shortage of TLC.

| © Andy Myer

Unfortunately, I carry a cell phone.

Congratulations to you if you never have, or if you quit cold turkey or if you actually know how to turn the thing off some way other than burying it in a bucket of well-soaked beet pulp.

I suppose I justify being technologically tethered because it’s the easiest way to stop missing calls from the farrier, the vet, the hay girl, the shavings guy or any workman who says he’ll be at your farm promptly between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

It’s crazy, because many of us were drawn to horses, barns and farms for the romance of escaping “the grind.” We imagined we’d leave that for the suckers in the city. Not so. Thanks to advances in technology–laptops, cordless phones, cell phones, walkie talkies or pagers–a horse barn can be every bit as hectic and exhausting as a morning commute or a day spent navigating office politics in a sea of cubicles.

So, when I find the rare bit of calm in the barn, I savor it. It’s usually at 5 a.m. or 9 p.m. and the hay and the shavings and the horses have an invigorating, rewarding, earthy smell. I find myself thinking, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” Also, really early or late in the day, the dust in the barn aisle doesn’t show as much.

Late this afternoon, a darkening sky moved in over our North Carolina farm. I brought the last horses in just as the clouds cracked with lighting and hit the barn with a downpour. Cracky, the heavily-blanketed Western pleasure horse, whinnied with Western pleasure. He welcomed the company forced in by the weather.

His owners fear what would happen if they ever let him go out, so he remains confined to his stall, except for training and shows. They complain that the shows never go well because Cracky acts crazy. They blame his agitation on me, saying I’m probably slipping him too many sugary treats. I have my opinions, but I’m not going to tell them how to raise their child.

If I could whinny with pleasure, I would have, too. The downpour meant no trainers and no boarders and that I would have the barn and the horses all to myself. Yeah, that’s why I’m here. I grabbed each horse’s curry comb and brush and cleaned them up while they munched on hay. That’s one thing I do to savor barn solitude.

It reminds me that there are a few other things, too, but I’m not sure I should tell you what they are. Though, I suppose you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t a little like me. Don’t worry–I don’t run around the barn naked or anything like that. I mean, you can if you want to. I won’t tell anyone.

Okay, so, when no one else is around, I sometimes kiss the horses. It doesn’t feel wrong, but now it sounds ridiculous and a little maladjusted writing it down. Is it wrong? Hmm, I can see it all now as I address a circle of people seated in metal folding chairs. “Hi, I’m Jeremy, and I have a problem: I kiss horses.” But, come on, the skin around the horses’ muzzles is so delicate and soft. It can’t be helped. I just hope horse smooching isn’t legal grounds for divorce.

Other times when I’m in the barn alone, I get a little hungry. I must say that I can see why horses like sweet feed so much. It’s, well, sweet and crunchy and grainy and–boy, I bet I’m getting some fiber here! Fiber’s good for you, right? Speaking of fiber, soaked beet pulp isn’t bad either. The best is if you mix the pulp with the sweet feed. That way it doesn’t feel so decadent or indulgent.

I also give high marks to freshly cut orchard grass. Man–you can chew that stuff for hours! A couple mouthfuls of that and you could probably skip your veggies with dinner. Just make sure you chew it really, really well.

Apropos eating horse food (and since we’re sort of bonding here) I should simply admit that Cracky’s owner’s theory that I feed him too many treats isn’t entirely unfounded.

One night I had a few beers with dinner and went out before bed to check on the horses and turn out the barn lights. Someone had left a container of cookies on the small refrigerator in the tack room. I tried one, then another and another. They were so small you kind of had to cram three or four in your mouth to really get the full flavor. They had apple-y undertones with a hint of peppermint and a truly satisfying crunch. Man! Those were great cookies. Too bad for the dummy that left behind his container of sweet confections! Finders keepers, I figure! I ate nearly the entire pound bag before I realized they were horse treats.

What cruel character leaves horse treats out for some inebriated and peckish rube to stumble across? Heavens, what could I do? It was 11 at night, and I had no idea where to buy or how to bake a new batch of Granny Annie’s Gourmet All-Natural Applemint Horse Biscuits.

Needless to say, it was awkward when Cracky’s owners, Delores and Mike, arrived early the next morning. I was in the tack room when they found Granny Annie’s plastic tub, containing the last remaining, sad, gourmet, all-natural, applemint horse biscuit. “Man, were those tasty!” I exclaimed, as Delores looked confusedly at the nearly empty biscuit tub. She looked at me, not saying anything. “Just kidding!” I managed. “I knocked them over–yep, spilled the whole dang thing.”

Delores wasn’t buying it. I should have shut up, but I didn’t. “I was going to just pick them up and–you know–put them back in the tub, but, um, the dog licked ’em first. She almost licked every last one. Boy, she’s quick! I did get that one, though,” I said, pointing to the lone biscuit.

“If the dog just licked them, that’s fine. That won’t hurt Cracky. Where are they, in the trash can here?” Mike asked, lifting the lid. “Er, no,” I said. “The trash was full so I took them in the house and threw them away there.” We all looked at the half-full trash can.

“Could you grab them for me?” Delores asked, squinting accusingly.

“Well, see,” I said, “right after the whole biscuit thing, I tossed out a batch of really spicy salsa. So the biscuits are probably wet and, um, really spicy. I’ll just pay you for them.”

Delores sighed as she set the plastic tub back on the refrigerator. I felt guilty, but I wasn’t sure Delores and Mike were ready for the truth. I figured I was protecting them from the sordid, dark details of running a horse farm.

The incident was mildly traumatic, but hasn’t hindered my relationship with Delores, Mike or Cracky. It also hasn’t kept me from enjoying my time alone in the barn. Granted, I haven’t enjoyed any applemint biscuits recently. Delores and Mike started hiding their treats. Also, I make sure I carefully read labels before I eat anything.

I guess it’s time to stop reminiscing and get the horses back outside. The thunderstorms have moved on. The last few drops are falling from the barn gutters, and the sky is clearing to a beautiful blue.

The horses are acting excited as I lead them to the pastures. They’re hungry, and they know it’s almost feeding time. Actually, all this talk of eating has made me a little hungry, too. Don’t worry, I promised myself no more “horse food fiascos” involving biscuits or anything else.

I also promise I won’t keep you any longer. Besides, I really need to find the bucket with my cell phone in it.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.

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

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