Friday, February 16, 2007
Don't Throw Out That Sock!
Last week’s horse trials were sunny and beautiful. A soft fall day, with sparkling water reflecting fluffy white clouds in a dazzlingly azure sky. Only one layer of polar fleece outer ware was necessary, unzipped of course. What joy - sitting in a chair, chatting with friends as they passed while walking the course - shooting away while gleaming horses swept by for hours? It was the kind of weekend that reminds you just why you started loving this sport.
This weekend, however, I attended the last horse trials of the year. To be clear, it wasn’t the last horse trials of the year, just my year. The sky was grey, the sleet was flying, the horses’ coats were either dull from winter wool, or clipped. No shiny, glossy bodies flying around this day. I understand, but do not always embrace, the conventional wisdom that we event types are expected to brave the elements, no matter what. Yesterday proved to be the last hurrah for me. I kept jogging back to the car for yet another layer of some type of clothing to help to cut the relentless winter wind that seemed to pick up as the cloud cover thickened. Not exactly Reykjavik in the January (yes, I have been to Reykjavik in January and it is mind-numbingly cold unless you can soak yourself in one of those lovely natural steam bubbling thermal baths) but pretty miserable just the same. There’s nothing like sitting in a spitting freezing rain accompanied by a 30-degree wind chill stiff breeze to prompt you to end the season.
As the days get shorter, I curtail my eventing activities for several other reasons. For one, the horse trials in my area (Area 8) are pretty much finished by winter, except for the occasional combined test or fun show. The second reason is much more basic, more primal in it’s essence – I really hate mud – especially the thick, cold, viscous winter variety. Fall and winter horse trials here in the Midwest are always drowning in mud!
Granted, there is plenty of mud in the spring, but the spring variety is of a much more, to quote a former president, kinder, gentler variety. You have months of shining sun and gentle breezes looming on the horizon - Cadbury® Eggs, and fresh asparagus appear. The suddenly blooming apple trees permeate the air with their wonderful heady scent. Spring mud brings the promise of the flowers of May and sipping spring break Pina Coladas while lying on soft white sand somewhere down south. You can trail ride again without 5 layers of polar fleece and an Ian Flemings’ bad guy balaclava over your head.
Late Autumn mud, on the other hand, is simply the precursor of much worse things to come – bitter winds, knee-deep snow, horses slipping around on snowballed feet.
For the next two seasons, your horse (like George Schulz’s Pigpen character in Peanuts®) floats through a cloud of dust. If you don’t blanket your horse you have to scrape the mud out of his or her coat every day. No more figurative daily knock off, now it’s the real thing. If you blanket your horse you have to knock the mud off the sheet every day. Either way, you lose.
Ping is a mud dog – loves the stuff. After all, there is but the difference of one letter between Ping and Pig. If there’s a mud hole, he’ll find it, wallow in it, embrace it repeatedly to his heart’s content. As a result of this favorite of daily equine recreational activities, I have learned to keep him sheeted with something year round, except during the hottest dry months of the summer when he’s on evening turnout and all his favorite wallowing holes are long dried up. I keep him sheeted to save my arm and his coat.
There are those who do not wish to bother with the sheeting merry-go-round. Too many decisions to be made the night before – too many calls to the weather line to ascertain tomorrows forecast. Got to make sure you pick the correct sheet for the corresponding weather. However, it has been my experience that the same naysayer that will not bother with the sheet is always the first to comment about how good Ping looks (at least from the neck down) year round.
Turnout sheets do have one tiny drawback, they leave Ping’s legs exposed, and he is prone to mud fever. Therefore every afternoon I, killjoy that I am, hose off his legs up to the shoulder and hock, removing any traces of his good time lolling around with the boys. In the cold winter air, Old Ping really appreciates this procedure – lifting each leg as high off the ground as he can get it (Why can’t he lift his leg this high when I’m trying to pry five pounds of frozen mud sludge and rocks the size of baseballs out of his soles with a crowbar?), hiding his foot underneath his turnout, in the futile hope that I’ll give up and leave him alone.
At this seasonal juncture, one must ask some fundamental questions. Is your truck’s four-wheel drive working so you can push all the four-wheel drive-less folks up the barn driveway or tow their little cars out of snowdrifts? Have the mice in the barn managed to get into your blanket storage trunks, eating holes and making nests in all your $300 dollar winter turnouts? Do you have enough old holey tube socks in the barn because - while they are great to wipe the three-inch layer of mud off hooves, hands, and paddock boots - Stable Boy thinks no matter how bad the sock is, he can probably wear it one more time?
I have been known to (this is a great spring show tip, by the way) pull a couple of old tube socks over my boots. I keep them on until I’m through traipsing through the sludge, then pull them off, wiping off any lingering traces of mud from the boots with the clean upper portion of the sock, then toss them in the trash. I may look stupid walking around in tube socks but it keeps my boots clean and appeals to my recycler’s soul – giving me something to do with the hundreds of holey tube socks that knock around the house.
Therefore, in the spirit of my favorite horse-keeping season, I offer a few additional mud coping, sock utilizing methodologies. Just remember - don’t throw out that sock!
1. Use as a moist dressing to soften up granular tissue on chafed heels and ankles. Just cut the cuffs into tubes that fit an ankle. Slip it over the hoof after applying ointment and it will aid in the softening and removal of those stubborn cracked scabs that are a little tough to reach. This sock application is also good for mud fever treatment.
2. Use a water moistened sock to clean out your horse’s nostrils. Fits right over your fingers, and you can get up there pretty far. Just make sure there are no holes in the toe.
3. Pull over your horses foot and tape with vet wrap and tape to add extra layer of protection to hoof pack prior to duct tape. I have a fair amount of experience with this one and it really works. If I’m using the cotton batting for packing a damaged hoof, a sock slipped over and forcefully pulled up will hold that cushion material and any medication neatly in place until you manage grab the vet wrap and duct tape that rolled down the barn isle.
4. And last but not least, while not a particularly cool weather activity, my favorite sock re purposing - sheath cleaning. This is, to my way of thinking, the best use for the old worn out long tube sock. I really hate sheath cleaning and Ping tends to STRONGLY resist this procedure! My old four-footed friend must be slipped the proverbial Mickey in order to successfully accomplish this endearing horse-keeping activity. Ping also requires the services of Stable Boy to hold up his head and keep him from toppling over. A veterinary palpation glove covered with a good old long tube sock makes a great sheath washer, protecting the wearer from all manner of substances one finds in a gelding’s nether regions. This glove and sock combination really does the trick and gets all involved equine body parts squeaky clean. Then, just strip off both glove and sock in one movement and toss it away.