We knew it would come. It always does. Winter weather of the prairie variety. Technically, it’s been winter since November in our part of the world, we even had some wintry weather in early October, but we didn’t have any serious winter conditions until a week ago. Last Friday it blew in and hasn’t left us.
We horses are generally very good at adapting to changing conditions and weathering cold temperatures, but this year I think we got a bit complacent, maybe even forgot just what Old Man Winter can be like when he turns on us. We went from weeks of mostly above freezing daytime temperatures and reasonable overnights to the minus 20s, 30s, and even into the 40s with the wind chill. The wind has come from a variety of directions but all of them nasty COLD.
The biggest concern around here when we get a big weather change is Nevada. He’s just not as tough as he used to be. Years ago, he was the guy who’d head out to graze in the worst of conditions. We’d watch him walk out into the storm, thinking he was crazy or incredibly brave, or both, and we’d inevitably feel compelled to leave our cozy shelter and follow our fearless leader.
At 28, Nevada’s much more sensitive to changes in weather and feed. T was three days into adding something new to his diet when the weather turned cold and snowy. She and Nollind had fed him and headed out for a dog walk when I started to see the signs of a bellyache—stretching out like he needed to pee, pawing at the ground, restlessness, and no interest in his hay cubes.
I watched to the south where I’d seen the peeps and Chico disappear over the hill. “Come back! We need you!” Thirty minutes later, they reappeared half a mile from home, making their way at that excruciatingly slow pace that humans travel. “Hurry!” I wanted to shout.
T noticed the symptoms right away and they came to the old guy’s aid. Light walking, TTouch belly lifts, resting him out of the north wind that was now blowing with bitterness. Nothing was working. After an hour and a half, the symptoms were getting worse. Time to call the vet.
I’ve never been treated for colic and had the “up your nose with a rubber hose” experience, but from what I’ve been told, it is not at all pleasant. As soon as the vet rolled in Nevada attempted to perk up, trying to convince everyone he was just fine. He even passed some manure. But, based on his heart rate and some dehydration, he got the hose treatment anyway, for fluids and electrolytes, along with a shot of painkiller.
When the sedative wore off, he was right as rain, but grumpy about being cooped up in the barn. I was in there too, to keep him company, but I had hay and he had none. As the herd boss, he’s not accustomed to watching another horse eat.
Nevada’s not a big fan of staying indoors, and moving around is good for digestion so, with his heavy winter blanket strapped in place, we were turned out into the weather. Hay nets hanging in the shelter, fresh straw, some loose hay in the big brown feeder and we were set for the night. I think T would spoil us anyway but, when Nevada is under the weather, we all benefit. She and Nollind were back to check on him twice that night, bringing treats for all and a top-up on the hay. When the weather gets mean, it’s a bit like having room service.
By Saturday morning we were down into the -20C range (-4F), the wind had increased and it was feeling very cold. I probably didn’t need one, and she knows it, but T put a blanket on me anyway. I got a new one this year and, I admit, it does feel better than the old hand-me-down that never quite fit me right.
A blanket always feels great at first, cuts right down on the wind-chill factor, but then the itch sets in, especially up around the neck and shoulders. Drives me mad! So, I roll, I rub on things, and I mooch scratches from the humans when they’re out each day. It’ll be off as soon as it warms up some and, now that we’ve had our first blast of real winter, I’m optimistic they’ll let me run clothing-free for the next cold snap. Until then, I’ll just accept the blanket for what it is … a gesture of love and caring from T.