Winter Pasture

There’s a distinct pleasure in being able to make someone else happy. Sometimes their pleasure persists even as your own memories of the effort involved in said happy-making fade, tipping the scales of your satisfaction even further toward the positive.

In the spring of 2018, almost a year ago now, I was getting started on a project that’s still making the horses happy: stringing fence around some acreage we had long planned to use as a winter pasture.

As with most improvement projects hereabouts, this was a slow process, starting with hiring a fencing crew. The new pasture occupies part of a flat plateau west of our house, and I suppose it’s a general rule of geography that high ground tends to be high because it’s hard: rocky or otherwise resistant to the patient forces of weathering and erosion that help render low ground low. The fencing guys cheerfully assured us they’d have no problem with the rocky ground, but when they left there were about two dozen T-posts strung out along the “fence” line, evidence that their jackhammering wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The next summer, we hired our problem-solving fellow, the guy who’s always willing to help us come up with solutions to unusual problems. He spent a couple of days forming up and pouring square concrete bases for the prone posts, getting them upright where they belonged.

It was another eight or ten months before I got going on my part, which was stringing the lines to complete the fence.

One of the things I like about the Electrobraid fence material we’ve been using for fifteen years now is that all the tools I need to string and maintain the fence fit in a two-gallon bucket. The spools of cable are light enough for me to carry by myself, too, so I can work on the fence independently…which, let’s face it, can be translated as “when I get around to it.”

Spring was already arriving by the time I got around the winter pasture, but oh well. I would go out for an hour or two on nice afternoons when the March wind wasn’t howling. By the time I was done I had walked that fence line dozens of times: placing insulators, unspooling cable for each of the three strands, splicing and terminating, connecting and grounding and tensioning.

When I let the horses out into their new pasture, it was pretty obvious they were happy, although theirs was a gustatory sort of joy, not high-heeled bucking and running and kicking. I led them up to the now-open gate, stepped through, and invited them to follow. They both threw me an incredulous look—“Really? Out there??”—and dropped their heads. Their butts weren’t even beyond the gate opening before they started eating.

For the rest of the spring and early summer, they spent most of their days—pretty much any time the wind wasn’t ripping, actually—out there on top of the ridge, noshing on cured bunchgrass that hadn’t been grazed by livestock in a couple of decades. Rather than getting fat, though, the horses got fit. The new pasture is a good half-mile walk from the waterer here near the house. The horses would march purposefully down for a drink five or six times a day, and then head just as decisively back out. When the vet came to administer spring vaccines in April, she had nice things to say about muscle tone, especially with Moondo, who is an older fellow for whom the extra movement is a great benefit.

I was a little worried when we closed the gate come summer, afraid the horses would resent being denied their new favorite hangout, but by then the grass had rebounded in their regular pasture, and they seemed content to focus their attentions there.

None of which is to say they weren’t conspicuously happy when I re-opened the gate in November.

I can’t see in to the new pasture from the house, so when the horses are up there I can’t look at them through binoculars, spying on them from my office as they nap or graze or play together. If I walk out to visit, though, or stop on the road as I’m coming in or going out, it’s hard not to think how content they look.

Sometimes I feel dumb about how happy making these two horses happy makes me. Particularly on days when I’ve been sunk in a fog of gloomy news or am pinching my nose hard against the miasma of human pissiness, I know life, and the world, is vastly more complicated. I know there’s at least one angle from which all this looks like avoidance or denial. I could—and feel like I should—try to account for some of the realities of privilege and lifestyle, for the effects of fences and domestic equines on wildlife and native grasslands.

But when I see—or even just think about—the horses hanging out, enjoying being in their place, I think, well: maybe it really is that simple. At least once in a while.

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6 Responses to Winter Pasture

  1. You are, of course, right to point out that humans have redeeming characteristics, Andrea, but I get overwhelmed by all the negative consequences of our behaviors past and present, and not many examples that illustrate that we have learned from previous mistakes. The more I study history, the more certain that sad realization. 😪

  2. We have to give ourselves permission to enjoy the simple, straightforward facts of life, to compensate for all the gut-wrenching, stomach-turning, nauseating realities usually created by humans. Enjoy the horses enjoying themselves in this beautiful pasture. It is good to see that it has some snow cover.
    I hope you are well, Andrea, and have been enjoying your hibernation.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Thanks, Tanja. Remembering to pay attention to the simple things outside my head is always harder than it should be. And to be fair, people do some cool and notice-worthy stuff, too–although maybe I have to look a little harder for those moments these days.

      I’m glad of the snow, although I’m gleeful in noticing signs that its time is running out for this season.

      Sending best wishes back your way.

  3. Pat Dubrava says:

    Having been a lover of horses in my childhood, I retain a pillowy soft spot for them now, and a story like this one warms me. The details of stringing fence are fascinating to a city habitué like me, and the idea that the horses prefer that high ground, no matter how far it is to water.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Pat, maybe I’m easily amused, but the horses are a considerable source of fascination, even after all these years and even when they’re doing nothing. They do like a long sightline; when they’re in the pasture with less of a vista they like hanging out in the center where they can see things coming from any direction. As for fencing, the mechanical aspects are a nice change from office work, although when I think about it, it’s a bit like writing: get the elements laid out where they serve a purpose, get it put together, tighten things up, test the connections.

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