Until a few weeks ago I could confidently tell a horse from a cow, but that was it. Now I’m baking horse treats, shovelling dung and listening to the Black Beauty theme on Youtube. Father Ted’s My Lovely Horse isn’t a comedy song anymore, it’s a manifesto for life. WTF?
I blame my wife.
After 15 horseless years she finally cracked. An old friend runs a stable and there was this lovely mare for sale, a bit creaky but still lively and active. Just like Mrs MASB in fact. Perfect for someone who fancies getting back into horses but without the urge to leap over every fence and gate. That’s her in the photo. The horse, not Mrs MASB. She’s a pretty girl who loves her food. The horse, n…oh, actually that’s both of them. Hey ho.
Mrs MASB and I like doing things together, so I’ve embraced life as a middle-aged stable boy. This blog will chronicle my progress as I stumble from hay barn to dung heap.
This is my Top 5 list of the best horse parts. Whole horses are great, but there are certain bits of them which are particularly appealing.
No 1: The Nose
If you don’t love a horse nose you must be a terrible person. Get away from my blog. Go on, shoo and leave the rest of us to fondle these velvety nuggets of angelic goodness. Not all horses like having their noseys stroked, but those that do are sharing one of nature’s greatest experiences. They’re soft, they make wuffly noises, they nudge you for treats and they’re soooooo silky. Occasionally they blow revolting snot which looks like custard but we’ll forgive them for the sublime moments when you stroke a soft nosey and the horse just looks at you like ‘yeah, consider this a reward for all the hay and carrots’. Tweet with #horsenose and you’ll get a guaranteed RT. That’s how much I love horse noses.
No 2: The Ears
Hahahahaha! Your horse is a sleek, expensive show pony but it still has hairy ears like an old man. Except that old men don’t have such expressive ears, even the ones with giant lobes. Lobes, what a great word. But I digress. Horse ears are all soft and fluffy and you can usually tell what she’s thinking. Ears up and forward – ooooh, an interesting noise/person/dinner. Ears back – what are you doing round there? Ears flat – I might actually kill you. Tally likes being scritched inside her ears, which is a terrible hardship. Mr Sausage has the best ears though, they’re all pointy and elvish, which quite suits an off-duty unicorn like Mr S.
No 3: The Lips
This is really two for the price of one. Firstly there’s the awesome saggy lip dangle when your horse is really relaxed. Mr Sausage does the best dangle. You could probably pour half a pint of tea in there without him noticing.
Secondly there’s their amazing almost-prehensile upper lip. It’s like two tiny little fingers in a velvet glove. I love the way they use it to pick up grass and nudge your hand for treats.
Of course the very best prehensile upper lip belongs to the moose and if you want to know what one tastes like here is an article on preparing one for dinner: www.fourpoundsflour.com/the-history-dish-moose-face/. I have no idea what horse lip tastes like but if you ever visit Mongolia, where it’s probably a delicacy, feel free to report back.
No 3: The Arse
So much roundness. Ploughing must have been great, because you got to stare, in a completely non freakish way, at a huge round arse for the whole day. Horses are totally comfortable in their huge arsed roundness which is surely a lesson for all of us. Plumptious. There’s another great word. Horse baby got back, oh yeah.
No 4: The Moustache
None of the horses on our yard have a moustache. Not a single one. I am sad about this because horse moustaches are just awesome. If your horse can grow one you should take pictures and the world will embrace you for bringing joy to our troubled times.
There are horse bits I’m less fond of…
Teeth: They’re ugly and brown. They hurt when they bite you on the tit. For some reason I have lots of American followers and readers. You guys take shiny white teeth seriously, right? How can you look your horse in the mouth with those revolting tombstones staring back at you?
The rude bits: Horse butt is fine. It’s pleasingly round and I like that in nature (see also: manatees, woodlice, sleeping dormice). Horse bits on the other hand are stinky and nasty. Mrs MASB has told me stories of having to clean under the foreskin of gentleman horses, using a sponge on a stick and rubber glove. Our sweet mare has a special sponge which you don’t ever want to use on your tea mug. My horse care skills may be forever incomplete but not even horse Yoda is going to persuade me to fondle one of those huge dangly OH MY GOD HE’S GOT IT OUT AGAIN, IT’S DOWN TO HIS KNEES lengths of nasty sausage.
When we first heard about Miss Tally Mebanana she had a metaphorical label hanging round her neck saying “I AM A BORING BROWN HORSE”. She had no vices, was docile,
did what she was told on rides and was no bother to look after. In short she was an ideal horse but rather dull. The horsey equivalent of porridge with no sugar.
Miss Tally definitely has character. For a start she tried to bite off my left tit. A friend said it was actually an act of kindness, she was just giving me something dramatic to blog about. I’d like to think a horse might be that considerate, but in the Real World it was probably more likely she was protesting against my rough handling of her fleecy rug, the one that catches and pulls on her coat. You can usually tell if Tally is grumping, or ‘doing a moo’ as we call it. Her ears go back, she shakes her head and starts chewing her teeth.
Since The Incident she’s learned that humans are not for biting (my book, ‘Training Horses By Shouting “OH FUCK” Really Loudly’ will be coming out soon) and we’ve learned to be a bit more understanding of the things that annoy her. To be fair there aren’t many of those: not having her dinner ready on time, fiddling about with the clasps at the front of her rug and brushing her neck are about as far as it goes.
Pasture time is another occasion for Tally to show her colours. She’s usually pretty good, but if there’s fresh grass on offer then she’ll scamper off in pursuit, *just* fast enough that I can’t catch her without running. The other day I took her out as usual, removed her collar and she promptly headed straight back into the walk-way, because the grass was better there than in her field, and we played the ‘can’t catch me’ game again.
According to Mrs MASB she’s mostly bombproof on rides, but likes to inspect things that would spook another horse. Ferns, large mushrooms and unexpected joggers in bright
orange hi-viz have all been throughly checked out before being dismissed as of no interest.
Another of her sneaky tricks is cocking her tail and farting while you’re behind her. Although she guffs all the time so that might just be coincidence. She also knows her Green Cross Code and looks left, then right and left again before starting off down the track. My favourite thing is when she finishs her dinner, picks up her bowl and tosses it aside. Oh and her special treat-seeking snaky horse nose, which always amuses me.
Ok, so she’s not exactly cracking rude jokes, wearing a fez in bed or getting pissed on Baileys and doing impressions of the Queen, but our horse is definitely not the bland bowl of porridge we expected. Miss Tally has a flavour all of her own.
Well, not quite. But she does have sparkly new shoes.
Mebanana has only been in Devon for a couple of months so this was her first time with a new farrier. Being a senior lady she needs special shoes to give her a bit more support. Her front shoes have things called heart bars, which basically means they go all the way round, rather than the traditional open ended shoe. It’s not *quite* the horsey equivalent of fleece lined granny boots, but we’re heading that way.
BTW, stop me if this is old news to you serious horsey types. I’m new here, so it’s still fresh and exciting. 🙂
I’d never seen a farrier in action before and it was absolutely fascinating. Watching a master craftsman at work is always a pleasure, especially when they have loads of cool kit and tools. This chap has been dealing with horse hooves for thirty years and it showed in the way he handled her feet. Every flick of the knife and smack of the hammer was precise. You or I would be hacking away like a nervous child carving stale bread. Stale bread that could kick your face clean off.
First the old shoes had to come off. They were very worn down and her front hooves had grown quite long, which was affecting her gait
With the old shoes off he and Mrs MASB discussed replacements. I was curious about the choice of material for shoes. I’m a cyclist, so I’ve seen a change from steel frames, to aluminium and now carbon, the new wonder material. I wondered if horse shoes had ever changed. Apparently you can get plastic shoes, which glue on, but nothing is as versatile as a bit of steel. The biggest innovation is plastic boots, which literally fit over the hoof and do up with Velcro. These really are granny shoes and they’re ideal for horses that don’t go out much but still need some protection. Big hairy pets basically, like Tally will be when she’s too creaky to be ridden.
One thing you don’t appreciate when you watch shoeing on tv is the smell. Oh, the smell! It’s amazing that the horse is willing to stand there, oblivious. Would you stay put if some bloke in leather chaps set fire to your toenails? Well, some of you might. It’s a crazy mixed up world and what a boring place it would be if we were all the same eh? But I’d be off like a scalded cat, not standing still and plucking hay from my net while plumes of cheesy smoke curled around my arse.
While the farrier nailed the shoes on I had a chance to admire his magnetic nail keeper. At first I thought it was a fancy watch or bracelet. Set on a chunky leather strap it looked like a watch face without hands. There were symbols at the cardinal points but I couldn’t make them out, possibly runes of some kind.
Either way, it looked like a prop from a fantasy film. It looked especially cool when he loaded it up with shiny copper coated nails. I want one. I also want a portable shoe furnace so I can keep my tea hot and offer sacrificial burnt pasties to Wayland.
The final touch was a good splash of nail polish hoof paint. Sadly he didn’t have any in sparkly purple or unicorn pink, but Mrs MASB is an ex Goth so black is probably as good a colour as any.
Tally was a very good girl while all this was going on. She knows how to pick her feet up for cleaning so a chap with a hammer and nail file didn’t bother her at all. She did spook at a passing van though and snapped the clip on her lead rope like it was made of biscuit, a handy reminder of how powerful horses are when they want to be.
Blacksmiths have been revered through history (yes, I know a farrier isn’t quite the same) from Vulcan to Wayland. It might be gas fired and you’ll have to leave him more than a silver coin these days but there’s still something ancient and magical about a chap nailing hot iron to a horse’s foot.
Have you ever had to bite your tongue while someone on the yard does something you don’t agree with?
I’m new to this looking after horses thing and everything I know has come from Mrs MASB (who is wise and all knowing). Even so, there have been a few occasions when I’ve thought ‘that ain’t right’. As a mere stable boy I’ve kept my mouth firmly shut, because this is a small yard and we don’t want trouble.
One particular example springs to mind.
There is a horse in the yard who we will call Mr Spoons. Mr Spoons is always the last horse to be turned out, sometimes as late as 2pm and occasionally not at all. I’m often around for the whole morning, mucking out, drinking coffee and whoring the stable cats on Instagram, so I get to see quite a lot of Mr Spoons. He obviously doesn’t like being left behind when the other horses are out eating grass. He looks bored, miserable and
weaves all the time. He also coughs quite a lot, producing revolting gobs of nose custard. I sneak him the occasional carrot and some of Madam Banana’s leftover hay, which he practically inhales, because he’s rarely got any of his own. His owner must have a bob or two, going by the expensive clothes & flash motor, but his rugs are old and they never seem to spend any time with him, beyond the absolute bare minimum. He’s not exactly neglected but he’s hardly loved either. That seems grossly unfair. Surely the joy of having a horse is spending time with him? I found out recently that he has suffered quite badly from laminitis (think of it as gout for horses, very painful) which might explain his confinement, but still doesn’t excuse the lack of affection. Not to me anyway.
Being judgy isn’t appealing. He’s not my horse, I don’t know the full story and I’ve already noticed that just about every owner has distinct views about how their special darling unicorn should be cared for. I could be totally wrong about him.
I’ve offered to turn him out if I’m there earlier than his owner, but that fell on deaf ears and saying more would probably cause unrest. So, I’ll carry on sneaking him treats and giving him a fuss. If nothing else it’ll make me feel a bit better about the situation.
It’s been six days since Tally attempted an impromptu mastectomy on me. Since then I’ve been showing my increasingly impressive boob bruise to anyone who can’t escape fast enough. I’m like the Ancient Mariner only with tit pics rather than a tale of seafaring woe. Since The Incident me, Miss Banana and Mrs MASB have been reevaluating our relationship with a view to making sure it never happens again.
We’re pretty sure this was an aberration rather than evidence of a nasty streak. Tally has been known to bite other horses if they annoy her (one poor chap got it on the nose) but it’s not a habit, she’s just telling them to fark orf (she’s a posh girl, so Princess Anne swearing seems appropriate). Basically we think she was reacting as if I was another horse, an annoying one.
Presumably I’d been winding her up (not deliberately) and had missed some cues to back off. Anyway, we’re working on the assumption that having moved to a new stable with new owners Miss Tally is trying it on. Mrs MASB is clearly in charge but I’m fair game in the horsey pecking order.
There is a whole world of horse behaviour stuff out there in internet land. I’m steering clear because my head would probably explode if I tried to make sense of it all. Mrs MASB has been reading up though and we’re going to teach Miss Tally that she is *not* in charge. Stripped of the semi-mystical woo that seems to be part of the whole horse-whispering package it boils down to kicking her hoof when she starts to pull faces (distraction) and making her walk behind on the way to and from the field (domination). The aim is to show that she is Number Three in our little herd. Horses like to know who is in charge and a well established pecking order is a recipe for harmony and order.
We’re also being more cautious, using the head collar for rugging & hoof picking etc and being extra careful when working around her chest area. She does have a very big dent in her chest which might be an old injury and could explain why she’s a bit twitchy. We should probably have been doing all of this anyway, but her reputation as a Mk 1 Boring Brown Horse preceded her and we’ve been a bit more indulgent than was sensible.
So far it’s been working really well. Tally seems to have realised that biting the tit* hand that feeds her is a Bad Thing and she’s been positively meek and mild. She’s also started doing things like coming over to say hello when I go down to the field and following me around, which is definitely progress.
I still love my big smelly girl. 🙂
– you know what I mean. Breastfeeding horses is way too weird for this blog and is probably not a thing, although Rule 34 applies, as always.
After three lovely weeks, my relationship with Miss Tally hit a serious bump in the road on Sunday. I was rugging her up for the night when she struck out like a cobra and bit me on the chest. The bruising is still coming out but this is how it looks right now. Apologies for sharing an unsolicited tit-pic, just focus on the pretty colours and ignore the hunk of manly goodness they’re decorating.
The last three weeks have been utterly lovely and I’ve been skipping about the stables like a 9 year old girl in a unicorn sanctuary. Not a velvety nose has been unpatted, no mane left unstroked and no horse denied treats. I knew, in a somewhat abstract way, that they can be aggressive and unpredictable but I’d filed that knowledge away at the back of my mind to gather dust. A couple of them have nipped while being scritched and Madam has trodden on my toe, but neither was deliberate or malicious. I’d been tripping around in a bit of a fantasy, but Sunday evening brought me down to earth with a bump.
Ms ‘nana has a lovely temperament, something that everyone who meets her comments on. She’s docile, sensible and forgiving with no obvious vices. Myself and Mrs MASB had noticed that she can be a little tetchy when the front of her rug is being done, but only to the extent of pulling the odd face. I wasn’t doing anything unusual or different but for some reason she lost her manners and attacked me.
In my whole life I’ve never experienced anything quite so unpleasant. I’ve come off my bike a few times, which hurts, but I’ve never been struck and hurt like that out of the blue. Staggering to the shed, wondering if anything was detached and feeling nauseous, it definitely felt like something seriously bad had happened. Things had changed. Mrs MASB drove us home while I bawled my eyes out. I don’t cry much as a rule but the shock was too much.
During a lengthy post-mortem we discussed why it might have happened. I was worried that I’d done something wrong, or missed a cue to step away. Mrs MASB, who is the absolute oracle so far as I’m concerned, couldn’t see anything amiss, especially as I’d been a few paces away when Tally attacked. In the absence of an obvious motive we’re just going to be extra careful around her front end and when rugging her. Simple things like rugging her in stages with regular reassuring strokes in between. Using her head collar & rope while working on her. That kind of thing.
The worst thing would be if I was too scared to carry on. Bringing Tally into our lives has been a big deal, especially for Mrs MASB, so it would be awful if I backed out now. Yesterday Mrs MASB clipped her while I stayed at home licking my wounds (not literally, I’m not that flexible). In the evening I went over to see how she was doing (good as gold and a very tidy clip). I don’t hold grudges against animals, but I was more nervous going back in the stable than I’d hoped. Every twitch of the ears had me on edge, just in case it was the precursor to a bite. All was well though and this morning I turned her out while Mrs MASB went to work. In fact I went back down to the paddock to adjust her rug and not only did Tally behave impeccable, she actually came over to let me catch her. I don’t know if horses can feel remorse but it seemed as if she wanted to make up for Sunday. It’s probably just my imagination, but anyway, we’re friends again and that’s all that matters.
Working with horses is a surefire way to acquire injuries and Mrs MASB has plenty of war stories to tell, so I guess this incident is just part of the learning curve. I’ve also realised that horses can’t be taken for granted, even the nice ones, and three weeks experience is *nothing*. I’m also deeply grateful that our naughty ‘nana isn’t several hands shorter…
As a total horse novice, the last few weeks have been jolly interesting and I’ve learned a lot. I’m usually a rubbish student which is why I have crap A levels and no degree. Well, that and a fondness for snakebite & black. Pound a pint at the SU back in the early 90s. Bargain. Who needs a BEd? Ahem… Anyway, on the occasions when I’m genuinely interested in a thing and there is someone to explain stuff and answer my questions I absorb information like a sponge. Luckily Mrs MASB knows what she’s doing and is willing to indulge me. Not least because having a properly trained stable boy means she doesn’t have to get up an hour early on work days. Since I embraced my destiny as a middle-aged stable boy I’ve learned how to do the following:
Mucking out. Cats are easier, just sieve out the poo and shovel out the fishcakes of clumped wee. Horses are more fiddly, not least because of the sheer volume of shit and piss they produce. Oh my god, they crap *so* much! Mebanana is on shavings, which don’t clump , so you have to sort of brush away the clean stuff to reveal the filthy mulch underneath. Then you have to use your favourite dung fork (yes, I do have one) to shuffle the crap from the shavings before depositing it in the barrow. Every day madam produces a good barrow load of brown gold, which gets deposited in a steaming trailer.
Walkies! I *love* walking Tally to and from her field. She’s all ‘pom pom pom, soon is grass, yay dinner’ but I’m just chatting away to my big smelly girl and enjoying being outside. Sometimes she doesn’t want to come in, because it’s waaaaaay too early and there’s still grass to eat, but mostly she’s a good girl. She’s lovely and docile (Mk1 Boring Brown Horse) which means that this huge beast, which could probably rip my arm out of its socket and bite my nose clean off, is willing to be controlled by tiny me. It’s a nice feeling.
Picking hooves. Not my favourite job, on account of the smell of stinky feet, but Tally knows the routine and picks her feet up in the right order ready for cleaning. Again, it’s a moment where fragile human and big strong animal come together.Very pleasing.
Dinner time. Tally is a senior girl, so she gets a good dinner after a long day eating grass. Speedybeet, chaff and senior horse dinner mix, all mixed up into a sloppy soup so she doesn’t choke. She does love her food, so if dinner isn’t ready when she gets back to the stable there are sulky faces and disgruntled noises.
Rugs. OMG, rugs. Sooo many different weights, colours and favours. Mrs MASB is working on assembling every rug in the world a layering system which will keep madam warm all winter. I’m a t-shirt -> light fleece -> heavy jumper type of chap, so it’s getting dangerously complicated, especially when I’m asked to express an opinion. That said, I have managed to make an executive decision not to rug her up on the last few (warm) days, which was apparently the right choice and earned me a stable boy point.
Everything I’ve learned so far is pretty basic, but I’m starting to pick up on the more subtle stuff, like the kind of mood a horse is in. Madam is quite placid, but occasionally (late dinner, fiddling about on her chest) she gets a bit tetchy. The other horses on the yard have very different characters, some are very relaxed, others are desperate for attention but don’t know how to behave and will butt you pretty hard. I’m no horse whisperer but hopefully I’ll learn how to deal with pretty much anything that comes my way.