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The Back Porch: Mud Season

By Susan Whistler

Those of us, who are fortunate enough to call the hills of the Southern Tier home, know that we live in one of the most beautiful settings in the country. There are thousands of acres of state parks and forests that encircle our little village like an exquisite emerald necklace, making Ellicottville a favorite destination for sportsmen from all over the Northeast.

If you love to hike, fish, ride a mountain bike or a horse, “there’s gold in them thar hills.” For horsemen, this area boasts some of the best trail riding this side of the Mississippi. We believe that almost everything looks better when viewed from between a horse’s ears. That’s a very tall order considering the natural beauty that surrounds us here year round. Now that ski season is over, it’s time for us to dust off our saddles, mount up and hit those trails. If only it was that simple ….

Its spring, aka “mud season.” The season that every horse owner dreads. The season when our equine partners shed their heavy winter coats and greet us at the pasture gate looking like creatures resembling something between a water buffalo and a yak. They mock us as they shamelessly flaunt their glorious grime. Every inch of their bodies is caked in muck with clumps of hair and rotting hay clinging to the slime. Even to the trained eye, they are almost unrecognizable as horses … and they are joyful. I swear they are actually smiling.

We, the longsuffering owners, are faced with a decision. We can ignore the slime and leave them in the pasture or, we can saddle them and ride. The latter choice requires a grooming process that is almost unspeakable to those not inclined to equestrian pursuits. It usually involves a particle mask, safety goggles and a hazmat suit. Respirators are optional. If you’re in a hurry you can cheat and only clean the saddle area, but you risk being struck in the face by flying debris if you try to ride any faster than a slow walk. Understand that horse owners are generally a hardy lot. We usually decide to ride.

Last week, the vet came to give my horse Kris his annual physical and spring vaccinations. In addition to the shots, this entailed the examination and cleaning of various parts of his anatomy, some of them quite personal. Most horses hate this process and many require a mild sedative to ensure the safety of all involved. The sedative is relatively short acting, lasting only about 45 minutes to an hour. All went quite smoothly and the vet declared my horse healthy as … well, a horse. Unlike humans, horses do not lie down when sedated. They stand, with all four legs splayed as they sway gently back and forth, their lower lips drooping and their ears lying perfectly horizontal to the sides of their head like the wings of a plane. They remind me of many of the revelers who visit Ellicottville during Fall Fest as they stagger in and out of our many fine “establishments.”

Once the vet retreated, I was left alone with Kris resting peacefully in his stall still under the influence of the sedative. Time was running out, so I had to work quickly. It was payback time … With a smile too broad and eyes too bright, I grabbed my grooming tools and had my way with him. Without his usual fidgeting or head tossing to deter me, I went about my business like a ballerina in a finely choreographed dance. In just under 15 minutes, I managed to free my beast from months of accumulated filth. I did all this with the full knowledge that within about five seconds of being released back into his pasture, he would drop down on the muddiest patch of ground and do the unthinkable. As they say, payback’s a … well, you know.

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