My Coat of Many Colours

In the world of horse colours, I am a roan.

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.

My late-summer look.

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.

December.

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.

Mottled March.

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.

This is in May, so I’m already losing my grey around the shoulders, chest and flank.

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.

Middle of summer (Sigh…doesn’t that grass look delicious?)

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.

My autumn trail-riding outfit.

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 my full “bay-ness” in January. That’s my doppelganger in the background.

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!

An average-looking, somewhat-overweight, kinda-small, bay horse in February but, you can see the grey lurking underneath.

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.

Ground-Horse Day

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?

When Canada’s most famous ground-dwelling weather forecasters, Wiarton Willie, Shubenacadie Sam, and Fred La Marmotte, all called for an early spring, horses across the province were celebrating. But then word came in from Balzac Billy, Alberta’s “Prairie Prognosticator” calling for six more weeks of winter.

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.

The closest thing we have to a “burrow” in the background.

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.

Checking the wind for signs of spring. Nope, not yet.

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.

I’m shedding!

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 …

The crowd waiting in anticipation of the announcement.

🌼 AN EARLY SPRING! 🌻

Seven Secret Herbs and Spices

It’s been a very long haul for Rosa since July with recurring and persistent bouts of laminitis. For those who aren’t familiar with the disease, laminitis (also called founder) is inflammation of the laminae of the foot – the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall. This inflammation can be caused by a number of things but, in Rosa’s case, it’s all about the sugars in her feed. And she does love her some sugar … aka green grass.

In this case, the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

T’s known about her metabolic issues for years, and the amount of grass Rosa gets is managed as a result and she’s kept on a supplement that helps her process carbohydrates. But, this year, the usual methods just didn’t work, and Rosa had to be pulled from the pasture and dry-penned in July. It’s a sad thing for all of us when one of the herd is separated. Luckily, she’s an easygoing gal, and didn’t raise much of a fuss after the first day or so. She had hay and soft bedding and very sore feet so I think she saw the benefit of her confined situation.

Rosa’s summer dry pen.

Normally, a week in a dry pen would have her sorted out, but that just didn’t happen this year. She stayed in her pen, getting out only for walking on a lead all through August and into September. By late September, after some frost and the assistance of the rest of us in clearing out anything edible, they expanded Rosa’s world to a larger paddock to get her moving around more. There was just the smallest amount of barely-green grass in her new space but even that had her tender-footed again.

First day in the big pen. Feeling good.

By mid-October she was looking much better, and then her condition deteriorated suddenly. She became reluctant to put weight on her front feet and developed some heat in even her hind feet. The only culprit T could come up with was the hay being fed in small piles around her pen to encourage her to move. So, that was it, everything stripped away but hay fed in slow feeder nets with 1” holes, minerals, salt, and water. No loose hay, no supplements (because they need to be fed in some kind of grain), and the time out with the herd we were hoping for by mid-October, cancelled.

Rosa’s new “buffet”.

In early November, things had improved from the very lame horse she’d been a few weeks earlier, but still there was heat in her hooves. Horse hooves are generally quite cool to the touch, almost like they’re not attached to something living, but Rosa’s were melting snow. That was when T decided it was time to do some more research, find out what might accomplish more than the herbal blends she’d tried that were supposed to assist with her metabolism and inflammation.

Regular trimming is part of her rehabilitation program.

Thanks to a few knowledgeable vets and practitioners on the internet, a program was put together. I call it Rosa’s “seven secret herbs and spices”, the SSHS program. Other than the apple cider vinegar, everything came from T’s favourite source for all things equine healing, Herbs for Horses. I won’t bore you with the list of vitamins and minerals, but I will tell you that Rosa didn’t like it much at first. She’s had to acquire a taste, helped along by the apple cider vinegar and flax oil which taste pretty good and mask a lot of the other things.

One of the earlier herbal concoctions in her ultra-low-sugar feed from Hoffmans.

After three weeks on her SSHS program, Rosa was turned out with us for a morning. Although most of it is dead and brown, we still have a lot of grass out in the pasture, and T wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Two days later Rosa was turned out again for the morning, and again the two days following. On Monday, December 7, she was turned out in the morning and this time she stayed out. She’d officially rejoined the herd. It was a joyous day!

First morning of turnout.

She’s still not completely out of the woods. The inflammation has caused some physical changes in her feet that have left her unsound, at least for the time being. If she stands too long, she gets sore. If she walks on hard ground, she’s sore. But Nollind trims her feet every few weeks, according to what’s recommended for a horse in her condition, and T keeps up the SSHS program. I do my part by chasing her away from food that I want… or, that she probably shouldn’t have was what I meant to say. The hope is that she’ll be back to her old self by spring, with a little help from all of us.

Good to have our girl back.

So, as we wrap up this year of more injuries and illness than we’ve ever dealt with before, all is well in the herd. Even the weather has been outdoor horse friendly.

Out where she belongs.

Until the new year, this is Storm, Fur-iday Files correspondent, signing off, from the field.