Roan is a horse coat pattern that has a mix of coloured and white hairs on the body, with the head and “points”—lower legs, mane and tail—mostly solid-coloured. Roans come in three main varieties: blue, bay and red. I’m of the bay variety. For those who aren’t familiar with horse colours, a bay is a brown horse with black points.
The interesting thing about roans is that we tend to change colour with the seasons. In my case, I look almost like any other bay in the winter…until you get close. If you come right up and part the long winter hairs, you’ll see the grey hair hiding underneath, waiting for spring.
When my winter coat starts to shed out, I’m a mottled mix of grey, black, and brown with a brown head and black legs.
As spring progresses, I become a rather striking, if I do say so myself, grey with a dark head and black points. Lucky for me, this was my appearance the April I ended up at auction as a two-year-old, and what caught the eye of the people who became my new family (T and N). Even though I was a little small for my age and kind of scruffy, my colour made me stand out from the herd.
When spring turns to summer and I’ve shed out all of those long, brown, winter hairs, and the shorter grey spring hairs, my coat very much fits the roan definition—a mix of coloured and white hairs.
As summer winds to a close, the white hairs start to disappear in a crowd of dark brown, almost black, hair, and I go through the darkest phase of my seasonal changes.
And then, like magic, with the cold weather come the shaggy, red-brown hairs that hide everything else and, from a distance, have the humans mixing me up with Rosa, who is a true bay.
At two, I was small for my age and I didn’t grow much bigger, just 14.1 hands high, which is technically pony-sized. And, I don’t have the kind of conformation that would win ribbons, my neck is about two-thirds the length it should be and I’m a bit pigeon-toed. But, I’ve got colour nailed. Nevada is pretty splashy in his red and white, but he looks much the same year round. I have the element of surprise on my side. Just when you think I’m a very average-looking, somewhat-overweight, kinda-small, bay horse … voila! I’m a grey!
I’m in my mottled stage at the moment (see photo #3 taken yesterday afternoon). It’s not the best of my looks, but leads to the most dramatic phase of my roan-ness. I’ll check back in a month or so to give you this year’s spring look.
We have groundhogs in Alberta and in many other parts of Canada, but I’ve never seen one out here on the farm. We do, however, have a lot of other little critters that live in the ground, small cousins of the groundhog, and none ventured out of their holes on Tuesday to see their shadows. An early spring, perhaps?
The groundhogs rely on seeing their shadow, or not, to predict the timing of spring which has always struck me as rather circumstantial. Doesn’t it just depend on whether or not the sun is shining on February 2, and what does this have to do with the weather to come? Just saying.
Unlike the groundhog, I don’t have a warm burrow to hide in until spring (although our shelter is a pretty close second) so what’s coming in the next six weeks has a lot more impact on my life than his. Why they’ve been the go-to animal for weather prediction for nearly two hundred years despite the complete lack of science behind their approach is a mystery.
Even Wikipedia says, “While the tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather.” No shit!
I, on the other hand, a horse, consider a number of factors when making my prediction— El Niño/ La Niña patterns, climate change, and the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation)—science-y stuff. If I wasn’t an accountant, I think I’d have been a scientist. I also consider the behaviour of local birds and animals and, most of all, my hair coat.
As you probably know, horses shed their coats in spring, and most do it quite reliably at the same time every year. The growth and shedding of our coats is driven by the amount of decreasing or increasing daylight. More science-y stuff. But I’ve noticed in recent years, as I’ve grown older, that my shedding varies from year to year, sometimes starting as early as February, which it has this year.
You might be thinking that my body was tricked by our mild January, and there is that possibility, but I believe that nineteen years of living in Alberta, combined with my very sensitive nature, has turned me into an equine weather forecaster, a ground-horse if you will.
So, the 2021 spring prediction from Storm the hypothesizing horse … drum roll please …
We horses are generally longer lived than our four-legged, human-companion counterparts, the dog and the cat. Dogs get the short end of the stick (pun completely intended) with a life expectancy of just seven to fourteen years, depending on breed and size. Although, there was one little Cattle Dog (good news, Chico) who lived to twenty-nine and a half. Cats live longer, in the fifteen to twenty range, with one outlier named Creme Puff living to thirty-eight years old.
Horses, on average, live to be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but many live into their thirties and a handful have lived decades beyond the average age. Three reached fifty-one, a pony named Sugar Puff lived to fifty-six, and a guy named Old Billy made it into the record books when he lived to sixty-two. Wow, right? Based on Creme Puff and Sugar Puff both living well beyond the majority of their species, I just might change my name to Storm Puff. What do you think?
Nevada isn’t registered and there’s no record of the month and day of his birth, but, as a horse born in 1991, he officially turned thirty on the first of January. It’s likely he was born between April and July like the majority of Alberta-bred horses.
He was added to T and Nollind’s then collection of one horse and three cats in 2002. As T tells the story, Nollind started taking riding lessons that year and in the fall started shopping for a horse. Nevada was advertised as a well-trained, eleven-year-old, Appaloosa gelding. Another horse named Jack, advertised at the same time, was in his teens and reported to be a very experienced trail horse. Since the two horses lived in the same area, a day was set aside to go and see both of them.
They saw Jack first. T loved him, thought he was perfect. Great temperament, good age, lots of trail experience. Nollind thought he was okay until they drove up the driveway of Nevada’s home and the big guy came loping along the fenceline through the deep snow, looking majestic and impressive, as he does. Nollind’s eyes lit up, and the two rides that followed, one outdoors, one in, were really just for T’s satisfaction. Fortunately for Nollind, Nevada passed her scrutiny and has been part of the clan ever since, moving here to the farm with Alta, T’s mare, in the spring of 2003.
In case you’re wondering what happened with Jack, T liked him enough that she sent a student down to see him and then buy him, and years later, when that person was ready to sell him, recommended him to a friend who was shopping for a husband horse. In 2010, T, Nollind, Nevada and I went trail riding with Jack in the Smithers area of BC where his new people had moved. By then he was in his mid-twenties but still rocking it on the trail.
Nevada’s name was Snowflake when they bought him, usually just called “Flake” for short. I won’t comment on whether or not Flake suits him, but Nollind didn’t think so. Since we horses are more inclined to come for the sound of oats in a bucket or maybe a whistle with a bucket of oats to follow, name changes aren’t really a big deal.
T and Nollind had learned some Spanish while travelling in Central America so started searching for a good Spanish name that was a translation of something snowy, to keep the spirit of his existing name. When they landed on Nevada, Spanish for snowfall, they’d found it. Little did they know they’d be spending quite a lot of time in Nevada a decade down the road.
Somewhere along the way, he earned the nickname Spot, sometimes Big Spot, which is how I tend to think of him. He’s the biggest horse in the herd and has spots. I like things that make sense.
Spot was Nollind’s mountain horse for about ten years, until he was in his early twenties, and he really excelled in his trail boss role. Strong, brave, and setting a good pace, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader when I started out on the trails as a youngster.
When he began to show signs of hind end challenges on steep hills, Nollind retired him and started riding Rosa. On Spot’s last trip to the Rockies, he was ponied behind me without a rider and that didn’t sit with him too well. On one narrow, downhill trail where the hill rose and dropped steeply on each side, he climbed the bank and went around me, accustomed to his front-of-the-ride position.
So, the big guy is thirty this year, which puts him on the back edge of the life expectancy range, but other than some of his incisors being worn down to nearly the gums, and a bit of a hitch in his backend, he’s in great shape. He needs a little extra feed to keep him in good condition through the winter months, but he keeps up with the rest of us just fine. Maybe he’ll find himself in the record books with the horses mentioned earlier. Nevada, you up for another twenty or thirty years?