Cold Snap and a Sick Horse
In the still-dark morning air, I forced open the barn door and flipped on the lights. The pony jutted his black nostrils out between the bars of his stall and murmured a low, warm welcome. Jane rustled her bedding as she turned to face the aisle. She blinked in the sudden brightness. Shavings clung to her flank and tail, betraying which side she’d slept on.
Jazz leaned his head and heavy chestnut neck over the top of his stall. He stamped impatiently on his rubber mat, banging his door. As I pushed past him with his bucket of grain, he blew sweet hay breath on me and nudged me — horse language for “It’s breakfast time, damn it. Where have you been?”
After feeding and watering, I sat for a while on a hay bale, trying not to think about Nibbs’s empty stall. The windowpanes were frosted in crazy patterns. I closed my eyes and focused instead on the warmth emanating from the horses’ bulk. They munched quietly and shifted their weight, bumping their grain buckets rhythmically. Those small, normal sounds served as reassuring reminders of their unaltered need to adhere to routine. Gradually my thoughts shifted from yesterday’s tragedy to the bittersweet blend of joy and pain that comes with loving animals.
A last I stood and brushed the chaff from my backside. I spent a few minutes stroking each horse and whispering thanks for this consolation. Finally I turned to the wheelbarrow to resume my chores.
In the harshness of a Vermont winter, it’s so easy to turn inward, to close ourselves down a bit, and yet the gentle, comforting presence of animals helps us resist. In winter, I am grateful for small things.