We're a ragtag bunch on the farm this time of year. In the winter the farm horses (and the farmers!) are fuzzy and round, and by the summer we''re all sleek and trim. But in March?
In March our horses are patchy and scratchy, shedding clumps of hair, rolling in the muddy-slushy barnyard, itching on the stalls and the posts in the barn, and itching on the farmers too, if the farmers are handy.
We are often handy, in March, since there's not much more satisfying than helping an itchy horse shed. The horses swoon with pleasure when we start brushing; in fact, Molly, our lovey-dovey Belgian mare, follows us around the barnyard, nudging us with her nose. Brush me! Brush me! she says, even if we're merely passing though on another errand, and have no brush available.
But Molly doesn't need a brush for happiness. Itch me, itch me instead! she says. We scratch her chin; we scratch her neck. Nudge, nudge, she pushes with her nose, You've got two hands, why aren't you using both of them?
“Molly's so funny,” I say to my fellow farmer. “she's just like you. So friendly and enthusiastic.”
“And such a hard worker, too,” my fellow adds, brushing Molly's back.
“Oh, indeed.” I scratch Molly under her mane, and she arches her neck, entirely pleased with this double attention.
Moon, Molly's Belgian brother, is standing nearby, and he is another critter entirely. He's a fine horse, too, if not exactly eager for work, and rather reserved. Even in the itchy days of March, Moon is not generally receptive to a free-standing grooming session, though once he's haltered and tied, he relaxes a bit, even allowing that a brushing on a certain spot near his front leg might feel kind of good. Even so, it takes a little while in the spring to get Moon used to the whole idea of being groomed regularly again, as a prelude to working regularly again. Luckily, it is only March, and we have time to take it slowly with him.
“Moon's so funny,” my fellow says, ”isn't he? Kind of reserved, kind of easily offended, kind of hangs back with the work, you know, kind of like . . . ahem . . . kind of like . . .”
“Now listen, my friend,” I look askance at my fellow. “Is that a sustainable, productive way to address one's beloved partner in life and in work?”
“Hee hee hee,” answers my fellow devilishly, and heads toward another itchy horse with the currycomb.
Ben, our black Percheron gelding, is our biggest, goofiest, itchy horse, and he has a funny backward flop to his ears on occasion. Sometimes I am not so sure of big ol' Benny: Is he unhappy? Is he pinning his ears back? Does he like this? Does he not want anything to do with it?
“Let me watch you groom him,” I say to my fellow, “I want to see what he does. I don't know how to read him, exactly.”
My fellow starts a vigorous brushing. Benny stands stock still, with the backward flop with his ears.
“You know, he's so big and goofy, I try not to read him too much,” my fellow remarks, which makes me laugh. And look at that, Benny has his eyes closed, and his back leg flopped out, in the bliss of having his inner leg brushed. His funny black flop ear is perfectly matched by his funny back flop leg.
“Well, he does seem pretty happy about that,” I say, going to Betsy, our black Percheron mare, sway-backed and retired, who is waiting sleepily in the sun for me. Along with the wisdom and calming presence that Betsey has acquired in her old age, she's also developed the incredibly thick and long coat of an older horse.
Betsey is our March poster horse, our most stunning equine example of ragtag March (and April, and even May and June, as she takes ages now to shed out). She has gobs of loose hair hanging all over her body. When she walks, a shower of hair attends her. She itches herself fiercely on manger and post, leaving clumps and mats and entire carpets of hair behind. This is all despite our grooming, which we soon finish for the day with a hairy flourish.
Pleased, we look around at our slightly tidier, for a few minutes at least, herd of four fine work horses. As soon as we leave the barnyard, of course, they will start rolling and itching again. But for now they look lovely, and we farmers?
We farmers are ragtag March all over: muddy and slushy, friendly and reserved, patchy and scratchy, hardworking and sleepy, and, oh yes, covered head to toe with horse hair. My fellow looks me over, and takes a currycomb to my coat, brushing gently in circles.
“There now,” he says, “Isn't this a nice, sustainable, productive way to treat one's beloved partner in life and work?”
“Hee hee hee,” I say. It tickles.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, March 18- 24, 2015