The Ranch During a Winter Storm

by Katie Clapp

You might be wondering how the horses did through that storm yesterday and last night. They are fine. We are exhausted!

Friday night after classes Mark and Brendan prepared. Mark put out extra hay and rearranged some fence panels and Brendan hooked up the snowblower. When Mark was half way home, Brendan called to say the Caterpillar's hydraulics weren't working. That wasn't good news, considering the Cat and its snowblower attachment would be needed the next day. So back to the ranch Mark went, to arrange a temporary fix that would get him through the next day.

Saturday morning Jenny & Nils, who usually have Saturday off, grained the herd and fed the stall horses and oldsters, with some help from a few brave soles who ventured out and up the unplowed driveway. After Mark plowed twice at home, and I shoveled the porches, walks and some paths to allow for our temporary 6 lb. puppy-in-training to be able to relieve himself, we set off for the ranch.

We each had had a bowl of cereal and thought maybe we'd stop for a sandwich. Ha.

Once we hit the road, there was no stopping. By 12:30pm the winds were so strong that visibility was down to about 15 feet at times. Our car plowed a path as we went. The windshield wiper kept filling with ice so we had to keep stopping to clean the wipers. Between white outs from blowing snow and a blurred windshield, it's a wonder we stayed on the road. We saw about 6 cars off the road on our way. That's the worst winter driving I have ever experienced.

Since the ranch driveway wasn't plowed I had to stop in the middle of Manning, with cars coming up behind us, for Mark to jump out and walk up to the tractor. No choice but to drive on, west on Bailey to some street, to Lake. I stopped on Lake, which was pretty well plowed, to wait for Mark's call that the driveway was passable.

The two of us plowed the driveway, parking lot and around the barn until about 3:45pm. The snowblower worked in only one direction, so Mark had to switch to a bucket. I was in the tractor with a bucket. The tractor windshield wiper kept stopping so I'd have to get out, wipe the window, say a magic word, and the wiper would start working again. Plowing is not easy when you don't do it very often. I scraped as carefully as I could, but we have a little less grass now.

Then it was time for horse care. I cleaned stalls and fed and watered horses and emptied 5 manure carts while Mark waded through the paddock to check on horses. He returned quite a while later to report that the main water cup was frozen. The ground fault interrupter had tripped on the outlet. Sigh. So he reset the outlet and chipped off all the ice on the outside and inside of the water cup. Water started flowing again. His gloves were sodden. The snow was still coming down and the winds had picked up to 25-30mph.

Turning our attention to the horses, many of them crowded in the lean-to, but some still out by the feeders, we realized they all were completely covered with snow chunks and ice. Eyes were iced over, icicles hung from their faces, bodies were absolutely plastered thick. And many were shivering pretty hard. It was getting dark and colder and windier. We had ourselves a situation.

Horses are fine in a snowstorm if they can stay out of the wind. However, the main big lean-to, the B&B, is still full of hay. Good weather this summer meant there were three hay cuttings, and we accepted the surplus. At that moment, I especially regretted the fact that 47 horses only had the Horsey Hotel lean-to and the north side of the B&B for shelter. Mark and I discussed what we could do to better protect them from dropping temps and increasing winds expected during the night. We decided he could move some feeders out of the wind and fill feeders with more hay.

There was no doubt we had to grain the herd to get them inside and relieve them from the snow and wind. Mark plowed giant drifts along the big doors so we could get the doors open. I poured out two big buckets of grain. My muscles started to complain.

At 5pm a white mass of horses quietly and quickly poured into the barn. For the next four hours Mark plowed the paddock and moved hay and feeders and then re-plowed the driveway and areas that had drifted over. At one point, he realized the Cat had snagged and dragged the tarp off the pearock pile. The tarp was covered with snow and too heavy to lift back onto the pile, so Mark had to get down on his knees and scoop 8 inches of snow off the tarp with his hands and arms.

Meanwhile, I grabbed two wire curry combs and went from horse to snowy horse. Each of the 47 horses got snow combed off their bodies and dangling icicles, as big as baby carrots, removed from hairy chins. I dug out horse blankets from the small barn to help melt and warm the worst ones.

Kestrel was the first one I groomed. When others saw what I was doing, they literally lined up for their turn. If horses can feel grateful, they were. Steam rose off their bodies, so the ice started melting pretty quickly. The herd stayed in until about 10pm. The whole time I continued to brush, put on blankets, pick up manure. It turns out forty seven horses make a significant amount of manure in 5 hours. I also filled numerous water buckets and brought them to the trough for the thirsty.

During their time inside, some of the horses just rested. Jiffy and Penny stayed absolutely glued to one another the whole time. Bingo and Juniper followed me no matter what I did. Cody and buddies twice dumped over full manure carts. Bingo and pals pulled blankets off the trough edge, and picked all the crops out of the crop holders. Others pulled flowers out of the flower jump. Photon and Bob and Remy and Midnight and others reared and lept and bucked and played. Wonder Girl was the first one to have a blanket put on. All the horses decided to chase her until the blanket came off. They didn't pick on Photon when he had a big blue blanket hanging from him.

By 10pm they were dry and restless to go out. They had hay feeders set up out of the wind and plowed paths to get to food and water and around the paddock. We finished cleaning up the manure, dumped the carts again, re-watered and fed stall horses, folded and put away blankets and left. By then most of the roads were plowed, impeded only by blowing snow and abandoned cars.

A mile from home we got stuck on the street in 12 inches of snow. But by backing up and blasting forward about 10 times, we finally made it through -- and then down our driveway, a veritable snowscape from drifting. Snow burst up onto the windshield as I accelerated through drifts. Like a car commercial! Such a good feeling to pull into the garage. Now 11:10pm and the puppy, in his crate since noon, had not exploded. Good puppy. And we were just a little hungry, having gone all day on a bowl of cereal.

This morning Nils plowed drifts off the driveway and parking lot. Jenny brought the herd in for graining. She reports they were just fine and they let themselves out after a while -- they preferred to be out! It's a sunny, beautiful, mighty cold day! Mark is plowing our driveway again. I'm going out to re-shovel. And then take some Ibuprofen.