How long can I keep my horses confined and their movement relatively restricted? Not very long, as it turns out. Since the start of the frost, Minnie and Cassie have lived in the yard and the gravel track that leads to the back fields. They have access to those fields, but because the mud at the entrance has frozen in rock hard ridges that are very difficult to walk on, they don’t go in. Minnie and Cassie are used to roaming around more or less as they please and they didn’t take well to having to stay in the yard. They got bored. They tried to find alternative entertainment for themselves and demolished the hedgerow. I don’t mean that they were nibbling at the shrubs and trees. They were tearing chunks out until the track was strewn with broken branches, stones they had pulled out of the bank, and wads of moss. They began to annoy each other. Cassie started to chase Minnie off the hay and Minnie reciprocated that by standing in Cassie’s space while Cassie was eating.
I knew that being confined was hard on them and I can sympathise. Last year, we were snowed in for more than a week around Christmas. At the time we were renting a small house at the bottom of a long track and we couldn’t get out. In no time we were all suffering from cabin fever. Boredom set in. Tempers began to fray. No matter how nice, comfortable and warm your house is, if you can’t get out, then all you want to do is leave.
Yesterday Minnie and Cassie decided that they’d had enough. When I came home after work, they were walking around in front of the house, picking at the half frozen grass. When I walked up to them they ignored me, they were too busy trying to find palatable bits to graze, although Cassie glanced at me from the corner of her eye. I wondered how they had managed to escape and went down to the yard to find out.
I close the entrance to the yard and track with a heavy cable. One end is attached to a tree, and I tie the other end to the trunk of a gorse bush. Minnie and Cassie had somehow managed to pull this gorse bush out of the hedgerow and then stepped over the cable, now only about a foot high. To get to the fields, they had to negotiate a sheet of ice, which they obviously managed successfully. That is another benefit of barefoot horses, they have far better grip and are less likely to slip.
Here is Cassie, trying to find the best way to come up to the yard, where the evening feeds are waiting.
When I walked up to the yard this morning, I met Cassie half way. The cable was still firmly attached (to a new tree), and Minnie was standing anxiously behind it. I have no idea how Cassie got out. She must have either jumped (nearly 3 feet high, landing on ice) or crawled underneath. The message was clear. After their breakfast, I put hay out for them, and then removed the barrier before I left. I felt I just had to trust their instinct and they were fine. They picked their way cautiously, aware of the dangers of the frozen ground, but clearly happy to be able to move at liberty again.