Night Checks for Peace of Mind

Look out for those cobwebs. Photo by Holly Covey. Look out for those cobwebs. Photo by Holly Covey.

You. There on the couch watching Madam Secretary. In your sweatpants, pajamas, shorts, t-shirt, or expensive Christmas sweater. Yes, you. Time to get up and do Night Check.

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of the lounging rider more than this daily chore after dark. Why do we do this? Because we know there is something Out There in the barn or the field that needs our attention. Most of the time, things are quiet and there’s just an errant mouse who slips past the napping barn cat to scare the crap out of you, but there’s that one time when you find … so you get off the couch, pull on a jacket and get out there.

The cold smacks you upside the head, and you trudge to your barn on the well-worn path or across the yard by memory. The barn is quiet, the horses are good. Great. Back to bed. Of course now that you are up again you stay awake for a few more hours doing something on the computer like writing a blog. Or reading Facebook ridiculousness. There’s always something gruesome or cute to keep you awake for hours.

But there’s always the chance you did not chain the gate like you thought you did. And then in the dark your heart sinks when you see the open gate and there are no bright little eyes out in the paddock. Or you step off your porch and run smack into a possum, a deer, the neighbor’s dog, a congress of crows stealing food from the bird feeder (yes, that’s the plural for a bunch of crows, how appropriate, eh?) and the worst, a large wet spider web.

Or you find a horse in trouble, which is the real reason for night check. A groaner, covered with shavings, rolling in his stall — colic. A cast horse, too quiet, all sticking heads out but him. A horse with a fever, standing head low, in pain or sick, a horse with no food touched, not eating. A loose horse, snacking on hay in the aisle belonging to someone else and terrorizing other horses.

Sometimes, to your relief, it’s just as simple as a light left on or a door not quite latched. There are any number of crazy things that can happen and just because you got up and went out, you found them. The worst? The smell of burning wire and black smoke — that’s the worst night check ever — and the sight of sparks in the tack room from an electrical appliance shorting out, just about to cause a fire. Wow. You want to camp out in the barn that night, the heck with the couch!

I have nightlights in my barn and a motion detector light that is a bit brighter: If I see that light on from the house I know something TALL triggered it and out the door I go (it’s set so a cat or errant fox or neighbor’s dog won’t trigger it, gotta be human or horse height).

I have a flashlight by the back door always charged or batteried. If you have horses out in paddocks you want to see those eyes. Counting eyes and dividing by two gives you the proper number out in each particular pen. More eyes than the daylight math and you have a problem, like a fence down or something. Sometimes it’s just the deer coming through on the nightly wander, but everybody gets counted.

Night check takes only moments. I usually give more hay to those who are out of it, check water quickly and run my eyes from long practice over legs, head, eyes, ears, and make sure I see poop in the stall in the usual place. In summer we usually pick up the stalls to keep them as clean as we can in hot weather; in winter we may not but I still always check the poop is normal to ward off early signs of colic. I also quickly check feed tubs to make sure all cleaned up dinner, too. The kitty gets a snack and the lights are off, and back to the house I go.

It’s more than just being safe. It’s quiet and the world belongs to the animals in the dark — you’re just wandering through. It gives you a few moments of clear peace, when nothing really matters that invades your mind during the day. Just you and your horses and the sounds of munching hay. That is all you need.

Of course they can get into trouble in the next five or six hours until someone gets in the barn to feed, but I can sleep without worrying I’ve left the gate unlatched or the water to the field tub turned on all night. Which I have done. That’s my night check. Just another way to try and stop the Worry Machine from taking over.