I sat on the patio near my horses this morning, as it was quite balmy out there (for late autumn, anyway) and watched their antics as they vied for the best place nearest me (just in case, I guess, I produced a tasty something).
They look quite feral at the moment – all windswept and muddy and fluffy. Grey Corbello looks like he’s had an eyebrow transplant from Karl Marx and Esteban who is also a grey, has artistic chunks of mud scattered over his whole body along with a particularly artful dab on the top of his generous rump.
The brumby looks like happy and tough and protected from the cold and wind, accessorised with his mud locks, the arabs are dancing about with dreadlocks and twigs in their manes, and the rescue standard bred, Bonanza, has leaves and hay growing out of his tail!
Poncho’s cute face has all but disappeared under his generous forelock, and his chunky little body is as a shetland’s should be: covered with a thick coat of insulating hair, protecting him from cold, wind and rain (like on the Shetland islands, from where the pony breed originated). Being on the hill as exposed to the elements as we are, I’ve worried about the horses coping with the rain, wind and cold, as the stable hasn’t been ready for them to shelter in. (I know, risk of anthropomorphising here!) There were a few pretty miserable nights where I rugged nearly the whole herd, aided by loyal friend and student, Vicki, who is a bit of an expert when it comes to rug fashions!
I still feel that a run-in shelter still is the best solution for me, as this rugging business is a full-time job! – not to mention the storage space needed, the drying space required and the cleaning time!
There are some issues with the whole group sharing the shelter. Having a dominant stallion in the herd, he tends to take over the stable with the greys, as their own private palace and everyone else has to stand out in the rain! So my solution is to split the herd up when the weather is very rainy and windy. The first group is The Dominant Ones, and the second group are The Easygoing Ones. They’ll take turns being in the paddock with the stable. The ones that don’t have access to the stable will use the trees and I will rug them, while the ones that have access to the stable won’t be rugged. They can all easily see each other from their respective paddocks, and everyone gets a turn to be inside if they want to. Little Poncho is welcomed wherever, so he gets the best of both worlds, if he chooses!
Which brought me to do a little research about the Shetland Islands where Poncho came from originally: it rains there more than 250 days a year, the temperature ranges from 5-14 celsius (over 21 is rare), it’s windy and rugged and the flora is dominated by Arctic-alpine plants, wild flowers, moss and lichen. The harsh climate and scarce food developed the ponies into extremely hardy animals. Shetlands have long thick manes and tails and a dense double winter coat to withstand harsh weather. When I read all this on Wikipedia, I felt comfortable leaving Poncho naked (though would definitely help him out if he was ill or cold).
The tourist information says, “The Shetland Isles, a unique place of peace, pure air and wide open spaces”. Sounds good!
There’s something about the image of a horse on an open range hill, the wind in his mane and tail, that seems somehow natural, wild and worthy of a picture!