I was so proud of myself. I would go out several times a day and chop the edges of the pond so the horses would have no problem getting water. I would often watch them when they came to the pond and if a thin coating of ice had formed one tap with a hoof would produce water and they would drink. As the number of days below freezing began to build into the double digits I would go out even more often to be sure the edges had water, or at worst the ice was very thin, paying little attention to what was going on with the ice beyond the edges. It was getting thicker and thicker. And then one afternoon I left to run a couple of errands, returning about two hours later to see the ice on the pond completely trashed, like the photo above – except all that smooth ice in the photo was water. And the chunks were floating. This photo was taken 24 hours later.
I jumped in the Gator and raced off for the barn. Five of the six horses were standing just out front. Cash was unusually close to Mariah, sort of rubbing on her butt. Sure enough as I hit the brakes I could see a coating of ice on Mariah’s back and she was shivering uncontrollably. The temperature was in the mid 20s. And it was windy. I ran up and looked into her eyes. Not happy, but seemingly lucid. I scraped the ice off her back trying to act softly, calmly, but I was freaking out inside, and couldn’t decide what to do first. I reached for the cell phone, then remembered it wouldn’t work. The cell is good for nothing but text at the house. Too far out in the sticks and buried up in a hollow surrounded by hills. Beautiful but really inconvenient at a time like this. It seems that not a day goes by that we aren’t slapped in the face by something we’ve never dealt with before. That can be fun to figure out when life and death aren’t involved. This was not fun. Then I noticed there was blood on her back left leg around the ankle. I looked closer, and she pulled it away. It didn’t seem too serious but I wanted experienced hands on it. I blew in her nose, pushed Cash closer to her and raced back to the house as fast as the Gator would carry me to call the vet. He wasn’t in. I spoke with Casey, his vet tech. She told me to get as many blankets as I could carry, get her out of the wind and get the blankets on her. Then see if you can examine her ankle. Meanwhile she would find the doctor and text me the result of her phone conversation. She knows my cell phone’s limitations.
Kathleen and the twins are still in California until the twins graduate from high school. That’s where most of our blankets are. There’s only a limited supply in Tennessee. I found an unused furniture pad from the move. It wasn’t the old quilted kind. It was a thick composite of fibers, sort of like press board, except fabric. It turned out to be a magic. I found two smaller lap blankets and couldn’t find anything else so I snatched a comforter off of Allegra’s bed, tossed them all into the Gator and raced back to the barn. I put a halter on Mariah and led her into the shed on the side of the barn. It’s roofed and half of it is totally shielded from the wind. When I came at her with the furniture pad she wheeled and backed away. At least she’s moving well, I thought. I balled it up as small as I could make it and let her sniff it, then began rubbing her face with the ball, then her neck, her back, slowly unfolding it until she was wearing it. Next came the two lap blankets, and finally the big heavy comforter. My hands pushed and pressed and rubbed and rubbed. Hard. Trying to soak up the water. She was offered her favorite Bermuda but she wouldn’t eat. I kept thinking about the the pond. It looked like a bomb had exploded in it. I couldn’t imagine what Mariah had been through. Well… yes I could, but I kept trying to shake it off. She must have been petrified.
Casey’s text came in. Dr West wants to know if you’ve been able to examine the foot. I tried again and she pulled it away. It’s obviously sore but she’s moving on it well because she won’t let me close and I don’t want to stress her by tying her or chasing the foot around right now. Can Dr. West come out?
Yes. Tonight. But he has to finish where he is.
Any idea as to time.
I couldn’t leave because there was no way to safely secure the blankets. So I kept rubbing, and talking to her. Slowly, seemingly ever so slowly, the shivering began to ease, and had stopped entirely by the time Dr. Bobby arrived. I told him what a wreck the pond was, guessing that, for whatever reason, she had stepped out onto the thicker ice, slipped and slid toward the middle of the pond trying to keep her balance, then fell and the impact of the fall probably broke the ice. Then she flailed her way back to the edge, breaking ice as she came.
He checked her leg while I rubbed her face. It was just a superficial scrape. Nothing internal. Nothing bad. He listened to all her body parts and examined her thoroughly. She just might be the luckiest horse in Tennessee, he said. At one point he raised the blankets around her butt to show me the clouds of steam coming out. Her heating engine is working well, he smiled.
I thanked God for a strong, healthy horse.
You’ll need some real horse blankets for the night. Ones that will stay on.
I don’t have any.
He called Casey. She would lend me two. I should sandwich a couple of the ones she had on between the real ones. They shouldn’t come off until she was totally dry and the sun was out, which was, in fact, supposed to shine the next day before the snow started that night. When I re-organized the blankets I noticed that the furniture pad, which was next to her body, was very wet on the bottom, but not wet on the top, and the lap blankets above it were soaked. That’s why I called it magic. It was wicking the water away from her body and into the blankets above. After putting on the first real horse blanket, which seemed to take hours because I had never strapped one on before, I inverted the furniture pad next, dry side down, then added the second big thick horse blanket. The furniture pad is from UHaul and is very inexpensive, just in case you want to have one handy.
I thanked God for her warmth. For Dr. Bobby. For Casey, and her blankets. And for the fact that the pond was only five feet deep in the middle. I had considered digging it deeper.
Now the entire pasture with the pond is off limits. All gates closed. Their water source is a “freeze-proof” spigot in the barn into a tub with a heating element in it with the wire running through PVC because Mouse would try to eat the wire.
Mouse and the new tub. Note the snow on her back.
For someone with no contractor skills whatsoever this tiny task was like building a house :) But it all worked great until about the 14th day of below freezing temps. I think the low was 12 degrees the day the “freeze-proof” spigot froze. Since then I’ve been filling three tubs of water three to four times a day in the kitchen and hauling them down to the barn. The last one usually around 10:30 pm. It’s 17 degrees as I write this and 10:12 pm and here I go again to the barn.
But Mariah is fine. She got to be naked once again around 1 pm the next day and rejoin the herd. The photo below is the day after that. In the snow.
Now here’s the stinky part of all this. A mere hours before this all happened, Debbie Madras, a subscriber to our blog, had sent an email after seeing me with a hoe breaking up the pond edge in an earlier blog. She said: Do NOT let your horses get out on the ice and fall through. And I had politely said to myself: No. I wouldn’t. Of course. I have it all covered. We’re good.
My dad used to tell me that teaching and preaching notwithstanding, some of the best lessons in life come from the experience of being there and dealing with it. He was right of course. We certainly learned a lesson on this one. No horse of ours will ever fall through the ice on a pond again. What my dad didn’t tell me is how serious the mistake could be of not making the forced effort to think it through in the first place, and planning for the worst. And it will be a long time before I forget what might have happened if I had gone in the back door as I usually do and had not seen the pond.
The photos below have nothing to do with this story but in their own way they’re a part of it.
Josie, Benji’s Australian Shepherd sister, plays in the snow
The third day of snow. Study will reveal the herd on the hill
behind the trees. Mariah is the most recognizable.