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.


Advice from a Horse

Two weeks ago, Chico shared some advice from a dog in these trying times. Being older and infinitely wiser than most any dog, I thought I’d share some advice from this side of the fence.

Stay home. Stay safe.
So simple, and yet so difficult for humans to do. We domestic horses learned generations ago that being contained by humans might have some limitations, but it’s safe. If the four of us—Nevada, Rosa, Gidget and I—were to break out of our pasture, we’d probably go for a good run in the fields and then turn around and wander back (or run back if we spotted anything dangerous). Here at home, we don’t face dangers like predators and highway traffic and extreme weather without shelter. We’re safe.

Captivity? Or safety? I’m going to go with safety.

Enjoy the small, everyday stuff.
Like a sunny afternoon following a long winter, or a walk in the fields with a family member, a good meal, or a nice roll in the mud (okay, maybe not that last one for you).

Field walk with the “family”.

Eat well.
A healthy diet makes for a strong immune system and a sunnier disposition. But don’t be afraid to treat yourself now and then, even when your waistline suggests you shouldn’t. I’m in this category and frequently disregard what I should and shouldn’t eat. Have that one more carrot!

Oh how I’m looking forward to this stuff.

Reach out to those you love.
You don’t need to be physically close to people to show them you care. Without hands and arms and often on the other side of a fence, horses have to express our affection in other ways, like a nicker, from a distance, when we see a friend.

Just stopping in to say howdy.

This too shall pass.
Having hunkered down through many a blizzard, thunderstorm, frigid wind, ice-covered pasture, driving rain, hailstorm, heat wave, mosquito horde, and fly season, I am well qualified to tell you that this shall pass.

Calypso (Alta’s daughter) weathering a storm in November of 2013.

The strength is in the herd.
If we stay united, we’ll persevere. In all of the situations I listed above, we horses stick together, staying warm, swishing flies off one another, running around and playing to stay warm. When I first came to the ranch as a youngster, my fellow auction purchase, Dorado, was not even a year old. It was April and we got one of those typical spring-in-the-Rockies blasts of wet snow. Poor little dude was soaked and shivering so Nevada and Alta sandwiched him between them to block out the swirling snow and wind as best they could. Look out for one another, help one another, protect the vulnerable, stick together. There truly is strength in numbers.

Dorado, Alta, Nevada, and Me in the spring of 2004.

Be aware but not fearful.
Horses are prey animals and therefore always more fearful and vigilant than you humans. You’re accustomed to being in control, hanging out at the top of the food chain, having a cure for everything that ails. I’m a very cautious equine with a well-developed sense of self-preservation so I totally understand that you might be feeling afraid right now, for yourself, your family, your friends, especially when the enemy is sneaky and too small to see. And fear isn’t entirely a bad thing. For us prey animals, it helps to keep us safe.

That said, as a horse who has more than once been made a fool by overreacting to something completely innocuous, don’t let plastic bags turn into horse-eating monsters in your mind, and don’t focus so much on the scary rock that you miss the view from the trail.

Enjoy the view.

Until next time, stay well, stay home, hang in there, and don’t panic … Storm out.

The Accountant

T and I have been partners since I was just a youngster. She didn’t want to be the first to climb aboard, following a green-horse-equals-broken-back experience but, other than those first couple of weeks at the trainer’s, she’s been my main burden. (Burden. Funny, right? I do pack her around.)

Me and my favourite burden.

And we’ve gotten along famously … most of the time. The trick is, we horses do our best to communicate who we are and what we need but humans don’t always pick up what we’re laying down, if you know what I mean. You’re lovely beings but, sometimes, a little … well … lacking in sensitivity. But I say that with the utmost affection for the bipeds that feed me through the cold months of Canadian winter.

Ever so grateful.

Truthfully, I’ve been lucky. From the beginning, T made every effort to understand me and keep me happy in our work together. I’m not the bravest horse in the barn (although I prefer to think of it as possessing a highly-evolved sense of self-preservation) so sometimes T has had to be understanding and patient with what turns out to be my misinterpretation of a situation. Like the time two guys passed us on the trail on bikes. I’d seen many cyclists, but never with long, skinny appendages sticking out of their backs! OMG! Terrifying beyond belief! Oh … fishing poles you say? Well, shall we continue then?

A guy walking through the pasture with a tripod over his shoulder also looks pretty weird.

I’m just not big on surprises, or change, or new things. I like stuff to stay the same. I like routine, which I expressed to T many times during our rides when I would attempt to move onto the next exercise before she asked for it. She thought I needed more variety, to have things mixed up a little more, but it only frustrated me and had me offering five different moves at once.

Showing off one of my best moves … gate opening/closing.

And then she read a book (thanks, Michelle!) called “Is Your Horse a Rock Star?” It’s written in a humorous  fashion but has some great stuff about horse personalities in it, a bit like a Myers-Briggs for horses. T was pretty surprised to find out I was The Accountant, maybe because of my flair for drama, but an accountant is what I am.

A couple of key points: “Accountants like predictability. They want you to have a plan and stick to it.” I know, right? And, these two items from the list of don’ts really hit home: Don’t … “1) Change routine or 2) Surprise them”. I do not like a surprise, unless it looks like a carrot. But I guess that wouldn’t really be a surprise, unless it tastes like an apple, which would be okay too, but what if it tasted like chicken. Yuck. Anyway… I digress.

Looks like grass, tastes like grass. All good.

Where was I? Right. The Accountant. So, once T realized that she wasn’t ruining me by keeping too much routine in our training sessions, I was a happy lad, eager to do my job well and on schedule.

Like the Myers-Briggs, my personality type is defined by four letters, DLAF. The D is for dominant versus submissive. I’m number two in the herd and don’t let anybody forget it.

I even challenge the boss once in awhile.

The L is for lazy versus energetic. I take a bit of exception to this one but, it’s true, I don’t expend a lot of extra energy unless we’re dealing with the third letter in my code…

But I do have my energetic moments.

A is for afraid versus curious. I am quite curious also, often the first to notice and approach anything new in our environment, but I’m happy to let one of my herd mates do the get-close part. That’s just smart, right? If they don’t get eaten, I move in for a closer look.

Every now and then I let curiosity override fear.

The final letter is F for friendly versus aloof. I am most definitely heavy on the F side of that scale. What would be the point of aloofness?

Giving my girl a little nuzzle.

So, that’s me, the bean counter, the number cruncher, the pencil pusher, the Accountant. Just between you and me, I think T is the same, which is maybe why we get along so well.