Farm Winter Olympics: Let the Games Begin

Video: “Breaking of the Ice” or, “54 Seconds of Your Life You’ll Never Get Back.”  

Disclaimer: I did not grow up on a farm. My mother bought one after her divorce and years of boarding horses.

In my family, every winter on the farm, we have what we call the Winter Olympics. Unlike the namesake, this event occurs every year without fail. Sometimes the events change, but none are for the faint of heart or shallow in humor. In fact, horses in general are not recommend for the weak. Especially ponies … they smell weakness.

In the early days, the Hot Water Run incorporated getting warm water to the barn for the horses. Yes, it started hot and was tepid by arrival. The gold medal was always awarded to the competitor most drenched. Silver would likely have been the one who slipped in the snow or mud on the long trudge from the house to the barn. Water heaters are for quitters, coach used to say. This event was phased out when electric hot water buckets made the discipline obsolete.

Another fan favorite includes the Breaking of the Ice in the pasture troughs. Broken tools and limbs is the secret to securing the highest honor here. This phase varies year to year as the ice may be thicker than a corgi, or as thin as a last nerve. Every few years this segment of competition may be discarded due in part to mild winter conditions. But don’t worry, usually a frozen hose will keep you occupied in the meantime at some point throughout the season. Rest assured, at some point something will not work as it is designed to, whether frozen or not.

Of course summery green pastures don’t last all year round, but Haying does. Round bales are like the coffee klatch or water cooler. Sometimes the bales aren’t immediately available and flakes must be thrown. A little knowledge in Field Feng Shui will help the hay not get as wasted. Hay makes for excellent Pas de deux-doo footing. Equestrian math means four horses need at least five piles, but better make it 15 to be sure. Don’t expect “Thank You” or even acknowledgement. That nicker wasn’t for you.

For the really cold meals, a hot bran mash helps keep the pipes serviceable. Much like the ol’ Hot Water Run, you can expect to wear more than you feed. This event is for the softie—the one who likes to sneak the barn dog the dinner scraps. Happy warm munching on a cold dark night will stir the heart of even the coldest harden barnminion. In the beginning, we had the same number of horses as stalls. Gradually the number grew. On the cold, cold nights, even the aisle became one large stall. More horses=more poop. The muck bucket still needs to go out into the dark, cold, wet night for the Dumping. Headlamps are recommended.

The most grueling, riskiest venture of the season competition comes in the Rugging and Unrugging event. Blankets are what stalled horses wear. Rugs are what jousting war dragons that fly around the pasture shed, I mean, occasionally wear. Occasionally. When they deem it acceptable. But don’t worry, they are perfectly capable of removing said rugs themselves if needed desired. There are no winners in this event. Only survivors, with remaining limbs.

Of course, the Feeding of the Hounds can’t be forgotten. This isn’t an Olympic sport, merely a daily ritual, but it takes the heart of a champion day in and day out. Do you remember that scene in “A Christmas Story” wherein the Bumpus hounds run through house and storyline, demolishing all that stands in the packs way, turkey dinner included? Imagine that every day, every minute of your life and you’re a bit closer to having barn dogs.

“Oh, you have horses?” your coworkers dreamily ask. “I LOVE horses. That sounds so-o-o nice.” You smile, guessing they missed you prying the hay out of your bra 10 seconds prior, and that your dry shampoo fragrance covers the eau de farmette that’s seeped into your hair and clothes, never to be rinsed out again. You woke up hours before in the dark, feeding all the hungry mouths, ranging from cats to dogs to horses and unwittingly to the damn possum family lurking in the woods. They don’t make a coffee that comes in barn strength. There is no makeup that covers the bags under your eyes. You drive at least an extra 45 minutes more into work than every other person. But you smile-grimace and exhaustedly nod. Yup, horses are worth it.