Mucking on Winter Solstice

From Australian kangaroos sleeping in the dressage arena to Scottish castle ruins by the side of the road to the infinite shades of green in New Zealand, to the wild of extremes of the U.S., Alaska to Arizona. Then there were Andalusians, Kaimanawas, Standardbreds, Warmbloods, Brumbies, Scottish ponies, track horses, rescue horses, purpose-bred horses, old horses who carried wild little girls, and I even spent a day with a herd of Przewalski horses. Some clinic groups were small and intimate, and some were large like the crowds at Equidays in New Zealand, but I experienced kindness from everyone I met and I made friends I will keep with me forever. I simply had the most incredible year.

Finally, 64,000 miles later, I’m home mucking. My little farm is on the high prairie of Colorado, in the distant shadow of Pikes Peak. In the winter the land is monochromatic, mixed shades of tan and beige spotted with a few evergreens. The pond is frozen-quiet with no birds migrating through. The nights are long and deep, and during the day, the sun stays low in the sky, throwing more shadow and glare than heat. There are some tourist-beautiful places in Colorado, but I don’t live there. Like all things we love, they become dear to us seen through the rosy lens of our hearts.

We have some beautiful and dynamic horses here at Infinity Farm, but I’m in the Deplorables pen. I snort with wicked glee when I say the name, this is the pen of cantankerous misfits and I feel right at home. This little herd is lead (as if that was possible) by Bhim, a believer in domination training and showing me who’s boss every day. It’s him, thirty-six inches of I-will-not-pander-to-you willful autonomy. His winter coat is unflattering, and he can pop a hoof out without breaking stride, should he need to make a point.

Edgar Rice Burro is here, our longstanding moral compass. He is kind and patient and shares with everyone. He’s twenty years old now and a bit worse for wear. We have that in common, but Edgar is unfailingly kind and the rest of us routinely flunk that test. Not too old to play, he has a moth-eaten coat with patches of bare skin showing. Most recently, it’s Pearl, teeth clamped on his neck or rump.

Pearl came in the early fall, too frail to stand for long. She was failing in the special-needs pen at the rescue, and coming here is one step down from that. She stumbled out of the trailer into a small run and hit the ground. It was hard to tell what all was wrong because she was so malnourished. She’d lay down much too often and couldn’t walk straight. Her spine curved and her hind end was so frail that she couldn’t balance. But she did nibble some hay and a bit of miracle mush. Her eyes came back to life.

Pearl’s neurologic, her prognosis is horrible. She runs now, and either misses her target by ten feet or crashes into it. She grabs on to Edgar and gets towed around the pen, tufting out those pink bald patches. Pearl pulls Bhims tail relentlessly. When she sees someone with fingers, she slams into them and flops her ears flat for a rub. Her ground manners are so bad now that if she wasn’t terminal, she’d be unadoptable. We’re happy to take the blame for that, me and my barn manager, who she recently chased around a tree. Pearl’s bray might be the best I’ve heard. It’s foghorn loud with whole gasping yodels of such lyrical quality that the prairie wind falls still, and then at the very end, wait for it, she adds on two or three chewy little moans.

Pearl had a bad incident while I was in New Zealand, frantic messages back and forth, she couldn’t stand, and we thought we were losing her. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate my barn manager? We held our breath and hoped.

On my way home, during a layover in the bar at LAX, I read that the rescue was over-full and hay prices were jumping, I knew we’d have room for another foster soon. I’m pragmatic that way. That’s how Cupid came, from the special-needs pen to my Deplorables pen. He’s old and swaybacked, both front knees are trashed, and he has little pig eyes, one clouded over. Not all that friendly but he’s got a good appetite. Being a good eater should always be put on the plus side of a resume, regardless of cost, and it isn’t a crime to survive this long. Besides, it’s like old times to have a lame half-blind geriatric Appaloosa in the pen.

Meanwhile, Pearl didn’t die. But don’t go all weepy on me. It just wasn’t her time, but all our stories will eventually end the same way. Dying is ordinary. Living our best life is compelling drama and adventure!

The barn is full to the brim of brilliant athletic horses and this equine pickle-platter of shamans and misanthropes with a scandalous lack of decorum. And so, I muck, the best job I ever have, wandering here and there, chipping frozen manure with the heel of my boot, breathing in air so thin and cold that it cuts my lungs. It’s especially slow business in the Deplorables pen, getting every forkful to the cart is like running an obstacle course.

All this outlandish abundance and it’s winter solstice. Anyone with any sense knows it’s really the first day of spring. Is there a luckier gray mare than me?

European countries have traditional stories about animals magically talking at midnight on the solstice. It’s oxen and donkeys mainly, and in the least romantic versions, animals take revenge on their owners for poor care or over-work.

No worries, I’m safe. The only one over-working is me and I get special dispensation because I’m the one who buys the hay. I’d never presume to think I was a member of this elite group, I’m just a bi-ped with a muck fork, celebrating the past tense of all the blessings of the year. Manure is the smell of a happy barn.

My advice for the new year is to get out there, we’re not dead yet. Plan an adventure and depend on the kindness of strangers. People are so very much better than they are portrayed in news reports.

With gratitude to all who read along on Relaxed & Forward, I hope we get to meet in the new year and come together for our horses and each other.

And from our herd to yours, wishes for a barn family less dysfunctional than most, a durable sense of humor, and the seasonal bliss of new socks.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Clinician, Equine ProBlog/FB/Email/Author/FB/Tweet/Amazon

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Anna Blake

71 thoughts on “Mucking on Winter Solstice”

  1. Ah… Nothing like it – keeping the place cleaned up keeps us grounded and sometimes there’s some bits of interaction with the residents involved.

  2. Thank you for this extremely wonderful post, Anna. I am horseless at this stage in my journey, so I shall live vicariously through all your sights, sounds, smells, feels, and yes I can even taste that crackling cold air. Through your pen I am there and all is right with the world.

  3. Anna, you are my Hero ! My favorite pleasure in life is taking care of my horses …especially the ones that someone else has “ thrown away “…
    Thank you for your wonderful words and endless encouragement. I always tell my husband that I love my wrinkles, they are my battle scars . I wear them with pride . I send love to you and your herd … Nina

  4. A big holiday Thank You! For this post. For all your posts. For making sense of things I’ve thought and felt all my horse life. For truly changing my way of relating, loving and supporting the horses in my life. It’s been the best gift ever. Patty

  5. Happy Solstice, Anna! First day of spring is how I always think of it too. I love your recap of travels this year, ph my yes, what an adventure. Mucking does give me that time we often need to clear out the morning cobwebs . Thank you again for a wonderful blog!

  6. Love this! Deplorables… that’s the best. You are indeed a lucky gray mare (from one to the other). Blessings on this solstice (my favorite day of the year).

  7. Merry Christmas Anna to you and yours. Loved this post. A great read. Wonderful sense of humor. Love the use of language and words. With love from Pandora and me. Hoping 2019 sees you back in San Luis Obispo county and I’ll be there!!

  8. Happy Solstice Anna and family! What a treat you are for the horse world! The sense of humor is ever present and wonderful ♥️
    Joy! Joy! Joy!

  9. the winter solstice is my favorite day of the year !!!!!!! Hope for warmth and sun. New York can be so dreary ( although we are in the 60’s today ) Amazing how the solstice perks us up – my girls will start laying again – 3 horses lathered in mud – muddy dog prints all through the house – All is suddenly right in the world
    Enjoy the holiday season keep on blogging you provide me with many observations to encourage me to be a better horse owner ( Yes I did stop trying to kiss Barney – and now he snuggles me with a wrinkle free muzzle 🙂 )

  10. We wish you every happiness. You always make me smile and think. If you ever come to France I would love to put you up.

  11. You give me hope that I can have horses AND get out more. Workin’ on it. I don’t need 64,000 miles of out more, but wouldn’t mind 10k. When people—even horse people—ask me, “Why don’t you just find homes for them?” I will send them to this post of descriptive perfection; you somehow described the indescribable. Bless you, Anna, through and through, on this transition to Spring!

    • Thanks, Michelle. I suppose to their eyes we look as improbable as they do to us. Bless those who live in impractical footware and bless you and your herd, blissfully practical.

  12. It was an honor to get to attend a clinic of yours this year, after meeting you at the World Cup last year and following your blog for several years. Lance says thank-you that dressage is more like massage now. Carry on; we’re all blessed by your thoughts!

  13. Anna, I’m guessing that many of us have hooligans in our herds. Thankfully, I consider paddock cleanup as Zen Manure Management, giving me plenty of contemplation time to appreciate the shenanigans of my recalcitrant residents. Wishing you a glorious winter to follow the solstice!

  14. How I love your blogs! I always laugh and cry a bit too.
    I too am a gray mare. A bit older than you I think, but here and thankful and living life. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  15. Happy Solstice!!! Happy Holidays and a glorious New Year!!!
    The Deplorables sound like a very interesting bunch. Each life is precious. The lessons sometimes profound sometimes downright sliiy. Rudd had a few horses that would fit right in with your Deplorables, a white (I know, really a gray), green-eyed little mare with each leg a different length and a mean streak she flaunted to all, an elderly swayback gelding who suffered the green-eyed mare’s bad temper, a bay mare who just wanted to play in the water and a couple others. He wouldn’t let us do mucking out with them, that one mare was too unpredictable, but we did the others, it is meditative.
    Thanks for your blog.

  16. Simply can’t imagine my days not book-ended by mucking, breaking up bales, tipping crunchies into bowls, scattering scratch surrounded by insistent chickensians…

    “Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
    It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.”

  17. Your winter solstice is our summer solstice. Mucking is eternal, So wordy Anna, I can feel your feelings about it. Socks! To comment on socks touches me, I have a sock thing. Right now its heat and this morning a snake, the first I’ve seen this season. I let them go, we have an agreement, all I need is to see them first. I love your writings, all the best for the season and the New Year.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Louise. NO SNAKES! I love having friends in NZ and AU where we are at opposite seasons. No snakes, though.

  18. Such pictures you paint with your words: your wards, your barn, your place. We’re there with you, in the cold (of course living in MN it’s easy to imagine), feeling the affection and appreciation you have for your deplorables, for the strength of their character to still be here, living. Living on this shortest day of light, waiting for that bright moon to shine. Who needs the sun?
    Saying thank you again for the gift of your voice seems redundant, but Thank You! And our very best wishes for a wonderful Christmas, with lots of hay in your stockings and a New Year filled with love and laughter.

    • I was in MN until I was 10, I know those winters! Thanks, Jane, for your very kind compliments, and every kind wish back to you there in the great north and real winter. 🙂

  19. May your year ahead be filled with much mucking, joy, and good health, and meeting wonderful new equines and humans. Thank you for your inspiration and thoughtful words!

  20. Thank you so much Anna for your humbling words this year that resonate so strongly with me that tears form. Looking forward to reading more this year. From my aussie stable to yours. Blessings. ?

  21. reading about this motley group makes me so happy to know them through your writing. Happy Spring! That is how I look at it too.

  22. You do have the perfect job and a most wonderful critter family. Love your deplorable pen. Love you Edgar Rice Burrow. And dear old Pearl.
    Have a very Merry Christmas Anna..and another amazing New Year! =-)

  23. “Like all things we love, they become dear to us seen through the rosy lens of our hearts.” So true. Bless you for what you do for the creatures. I love reading your posts and books and hope some day to get to meet you and come to one of your events. Faces to the sun as we all head into another year with new opportunities and adventures!


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