As I pull into the driveway at my lesson barn, I have an uneasy moment. Something is different. Something is wrong. There is something about the pasture…
It's one vast sea of mud.
And the horses are gone.
I don't trust that field. It took one of my tennis shoes last week. My left foot sank in - well, about a foot - and when I plucked it out, it was shoeless. The hole closed quickly and my left shoe was gone forever. It's hard not to take something like that personally.
With the mugging still fresh in my memory, the less disciplined part of my mind goes straight into overdrive. "What," it asks, "has happened to the horses? If it took a shoe last week, could it have…"
No. The rational portion of my brain rallies and with a quick shake of my head, I dismiss the nightmarish fantasy. The mud is bad, but it couldn't have swallowed 14 horses whole. This is a muddy field in Michigan, not the Bermuda Triangle.
The Time of Mud, what the Russians call Rasputitsa or "the season of bad roads," is a product of that awkward in-between season that takes place every year as Winter recedes, but before Spring starts to look like Vivaldi sounds. We spend all winter wishing Winter would go away and when it does, this is what we get. The heavy mud is Demon Winter's last act of defiance, a raised middle finger to humanity.
The reason for all the mud is actually pretty simple. The ground thaws at the surface first. This leaves a frozen barrier underneath that keeps the water from soaking into the earth. The water stays trapped on top, socializing with dirt to pass the time. In the pastures, the horses help out by churning the mixture for us. Add a steady torrent of cold rain and you have the formula for a Sea of Mud.
Last year it didn't get this bad. That's because of a drought that lasted well into summer. It was very dry. And very pleasant. And everyone loved it. And the price of hay tripled.
Sometimes, I wonder why we still live here.
Prison Yard Workout
Cold, wind and rain is a bad recipe for equine comfort and well being. So Karin put all the horses in the barn for the day. This made them safe and dry, but not happy. Karin's barn is still not quite complete and it was crowded in there. Like little kids who get bored and restless when they're cooped up in the house for too long, the horses began picking on each other across the makeshift stalls. One of them nipped at me as I tried to squeeze by.
I felt bad for them, but what could we do? How could we explain to them why they were being incarcerated like this? Sure, the horse I rode for my lesson would get some exercise, but what about the others?
Then Karin had an idea. Instead of riding, we could take the prisoner horses in small groups into the arena and let them romp around a bit and burn off some their excess energy. And perhaps they would be a tad less resentful toward us.
I thought this sounded like big fun. I wasn't in the mood to concentrate for my lesson anyway. It took a couple of hours to give everyone a turn, but it was entertaining to watch them roll and kick and run around have a little fun on what was an otherwise dismal day.
Soon the rains will stop and the horses will be able to go out again. As the temperature rises, the Sea of Mud will be reduced to a harmless puddle. The foliage will come out and a vibrant green color theme will push the dismal gray into its corner. And I'll be reminded of why we live here.
Meanwhile, I need to shop for some tennis shoes.