Thirteen Years: Remembering My Big Red Heart Horse

Every year, about this time, life seems to get just a little bit harder.  I start to feel just that little bit more emotional, and just the mention of my big red heart horse’s name can make my heart clench, my throat get tight and eyes start to brim with tears.

I often don’t post about this time, although I’ve been diligent to mention it annually on FaceBook.  But I’m posting this year because it’s been 13 years since that day that i said goodbye to Flair.  He has now been ‘gone’ from me longer than the 12 years that he had a physical presence in my life, and from this point on, that span of time will keep growing.  I’ll never forget him, of course, and I know he still comes to visit me in my dreams, and has on occasion visited spiritually, but I no longer have his neck to throw my arms about, or the curve of his shoulder to rest my face against.

He lives on, in my memory, and in what he taught me as a rider.  He lives on in the care that I learned to lavish upon him in his waning years, that I now bestow upon Jet so that she has benefited from what I learned then.  He was my heart horse, my friend and the steadiest constant I ever knew for many years.  Now, the torch will pass to Mitch, who next February takes up the mantle of being the horse I have owned the longest.

I was hoping to have ridden Mitch today, but it was so hot while I was mucking that I just decided that I wasn’t going to torment myself (or him) with the idea of a ‘memorial ride’.  So Mitch got to spend his time munching on hay, and I sweltered and grumbled through shoveling poo.  Then I scrubbed and refilled water tubs, which was nice because the water was nice and cool.  And then Mitch wandered over and started dunking his face in the two hanging buckets.  I guess he needed to cool off too.

He has now had the hay pillow for just over 3 weeks now, and I’m at the point where I am often only filling it about once a day.  The 1″ mesh netting seems to have been exactly what we needed to slow him down to the point that he’s still nibbling on quite a bit of hay when I arrive—not only in the afternoon, but also at night.  I decided to replace his red small hole haynet with one that looked similar to a Freedom Feeder (but was much much cheaper on Amazon).  I’ve got that in a tub (I have clips inside the tub which anchor the bottom of the net so he can’t flip it out of the tub, but it’s still moveable and everything so he can’t pin it in place and try to tear it) and close it up with the ties and little tiny carabiners.  Given his track record with Freedom Feeder destruction, I wasn’t sure how it would hold up with Mitch, but since it’s not his only haynet, he seems less apt to beat the crap out of it, and I think I’ve got it hung so that he can’t really do much damage.  It’s been about 2 weeks now, and it’s still looking pretty good.

I was filling his hay pillow with the max amount of hay each feeding for the first two weeks or so that I’ve had it, but Mitch seems to have (shockingly! 🤯) figured out what ‘self-regulation’ means these days.  I figured the hay net would slow him down, but I’ve gotten out there a few times to find him totally chillaxing under the shelter without the hay pillow.  And then he’d wander over, nibble on it for a bit, and roam around before going back and standing around hip-shot.  And it’s not because he doesn’t know how to eat from it, because he’ll totally go check it out if I pick up the hay pillow and move it elsewhere, and then seems to think ‘Huh, oh yeah, I was already eating from this thing.’ and off he goes to check out his white haynet or the porta-grazer.  And sometimes in the morning, he’s not even nibbling on it,  but I’ll put hay in the white net and he doesn’t immediately charge for that one either.   It’s like he’s in a food coma or something, and just relaxing.

It honestly feels like I’ve managed to finally achieve the goal I’ve been trying for for years.  Of allowing the pony to get to eat what he wants, when he wants, within the reason of the amount of hay that I measure out for him.  This morning, I didn’t even need to fill the hay pillow because there was already a pretty decent amount in there (about half the bag) so I left that for him to work on while i tossed breakfast into the white net which amazingly had a few whisps of hay left in it (did the aliens abduct my pony or something and leave a less-ravenous clone in his place?).  When I got there this afternoon, he had been nibbling on the hay pillow, but came over to see me, and by the time i got my mucking tools together, he was back to snacking at the hay pillow. If I had actually bought that thing instead of winning it in that giveaway contest, I would say it was worth every penny I spent on it.  And in fact, even though I won it, it IS worth every penny. That’s not to say he wouldn’t master it the way he did the porta-grazer (but to be fair, those are big holes in the pan) but so far, so good.  It’s working towards the goal I set out for, and I’m happy.

He even shares it with Jet sometimes.  He eats by the fence, and she manages to tug it over and spends a while nibbling at it.  But I wouldn’t get her one, since she’s on soaked feed.

I’ve changed my feeding tactics a little.  Since Mitch has majorly slowed on on eating out of the hay pillow (hey, he’s ‘grazing’) I usually empty it once a day and just dump whatever was in the hay pillow into the porta-grazer for him to eat out of.  That gives me the chance to replenish the hay in the hay pillow and he still eats the rest of the his meal that way.  It seems to really have helped out at night, since that was the longer portion of time between feedings.  I feel much better about going out in the morning to find that he hasn’t caused any crazy shenanigans like trying to rearrange corral panels or anything of that sort these days.

He’s looking absolutely amazing! He’s got good weight, but isn’t too heavy.  He’s starting to dapple up, and I really think that a lot of that has been because I’ve really buckled down this last 6 months and figured out how to make his hay last as long as I can possibly make it last (we’re looking at 24/7 these days, which is pretty good if I say so myself).  I am really very happy with how both Jet and Mitch are looking these days.  It makes my heart happy to see my senior horses (haha, but don’t call Mitch a ‘senior’) looking so well.  In these crazy times of pandemics and everything else going on in the world, knowing I can make that one small miracle of good-looking horses happen is an achievement for the year in my book.