For the most part, our little herd is content to pass their time with their heads buried in their feed bunker. To the casual observer, it probably looks like we are raising a rare breed of headless horse.
I rarely feel the urge to bathe the horses, considering they reward my efforts by making sure to roll in the freshest pile of manure they can find as soon as I release them back to the herd. The more indignant will even make sure to fart a few times while rolling.
Some horses enjoy getting wet. Some will follow the sprinkler’s pivot pattern around as it runs, making sure to graze while never stepping out of the path of falling water. One horse even figured out how to turn on the inline valves in order to refresh herself.
JoJo was a free horse — a “great trail horse”, retired from a brief and unsuccessful career as a race horse. Given his quirks, I could easily see where racing conflicted with his other interests: snoring very loudly while sleeping, braying like a mule while rolling in the dirt, eating, and swimming. JoJo spent far too much time partaking of life’s many indulgences to have any kind of time for racing. And if there was a puddle on the racetrack? Literally, all bets were off.
JoJo came to us early in the summer when trails were bone dry. Every step of the horses’s hooves on the dirt trail puffed a cloud of dust into the air like a smoke signal. He plodded quietly and serenely, especially for a former race horse.
We worked him into our trail string, where due to his popularity with kids, his trail-ride earnings quickly eclipsed his racetrack earnings of roughly $150.00. JoJo was so fully relaxed at any given time that his bottom lip flapped when he walked, such that you could hear him coming — feet shuffling and lips flapping — long before you saw him.
Grape harvest starts in the late summer out here, and it’s common for vineyards to start running sprinklers at that time. Our trail rides follow the ‘sprinkler trail’ — navigating from one dust-free, damp trail to the next.
JoJo was the type of horse who loved sprinklers. Some days I’d stand at the fence with the spray nozzle of the hose pointed into the field, JoJo and USA would come to the fence, jockeying for the cold spray on their chests and backs.
JoJo was a pretty mellow, compliant horse on the trail rides. That is, unless there was a puddle. The average horse will give a few warning signs before rolling — they lower their noses to the ground, slow down, maybe paw a little. I suspect JoJo learned that those tell-tale signs warned his riders to spur him on, so he developed a stealthier approach. He’d barely so much as flick an ear at a puddle before collapsing his front end, groaning, and flopping himself into it like a homesick mudpuppy.
His owner warned me of his water-loving ways, so the first time we got near a puddle, I egged him on before we ever reached it. He complained but complied. Still, I could feel him under me, resisting my urging and truly weighing his options between assuming the mud-angle pose, or continuing on the trail.
We have a pair of matched black and white draft horse mares. They are 3/4 sisters (dams are sisters, sire is the same) and they fall at opposite ends of the water-loving spectrum. Caitie, very much a diva, surprised me during her first bath, curling her upper lip and bobbing her head under the hose. Her laid-back sister, Siobhan – so tolerant that you can crawl under her belly in the field and she’d never think twice about it – pitched her first ever fit the first time I bathed her. Strange, their personalities.
That’s what makes ’em so fun, though.