Hay burners lack practicality but add character

Hay burners lack practicality but add character By Bob Karolevitz Most of you know who's the horse-lover in our family � and it's not me.

It's one of those things a husband condones, like toothpaste tubes squeezed in the middle.

We've got four equine types here on the farm: Buff, the Shetland, Mollie, the Burro; and, of course, the two miniature steeds, Foxy and Matty.

None of them has a practical purpose except to add a little livestock flavor to our place. Oh, I've got to admit that the burro once had a job to do which she performed quite well. She was a "watch dog" for Phyllis's sheep, and she kept coyotes and stray hounds out of the pasture.

There was no trespassing as long as she was on duty. The canines skedaddled when she headed their way. I don't think she ever had to use her hooves, but I'm sure she would have if it were necessary to protect her flock.

But now the sheep are gone, so she's in useless retirement. All we have to do is feed her now and then. She's especially partial to windfall apples in season.

On the other hand, Buff, the Shetland, has never had a reason to be around. He's irascible � as most Shetlands are � and he'd probably eat little children if they got too close. He doesn't pull a cart, and he's too small to ride.

The miniature horses have no redeeming value either, except as conversation pieces. We let them out on our dandelion-infested lawn in the evenings to cut down on the feed bill. Just tabletop tall, they follow me around like puppy dogs, nipping at my sitting part and generally getting in the way when I try to get a little yard work done.

Phyllis thinks all four of them are cute. My word for them is worthless � but I try not to let her hear me say that.

Obviously I didn't participate when Phyllis and daughter Jill curry-combed Foxy and Matty to get rid of their winter coats. I also wasn't around purposely when Gene Perk, the farrier, came to trim the hooves of Buff and the burro.

I don't know if you understand what foundering is, but each spring the Shetland grows hooves like skis which have to be cut back. I'm always amazed how docile the horse-types are when they get their toenails trimmed. They're like once frisky sheep that sit quietly on their haunches while they're being shorn. It's as if they know somebody is doing something nice for them.

But getting Buff and Mollie ready for the easy part is something else again. First they've got to be caught, and Phyllis entices them into reach with a couple ears of corn. Then they can be roped, haltered and cinched to a sturdy post.

To do that, the farrier has to be like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's village smithy. Remember him? He's the fellow who stood "under the spreading chestnut tree with large and sinewy hands, the muscles of his brawny arms were strong as iron bands."

Needless to say, I don't qualify for that strenuous stuff, so I've always managed to make myself scarce. I'd just spook the animals anyway, and that's the kind of help the farrier doesn't need.

Sometimes I think that Phyllis just keeps me around to pay for the hoof-trimming and the oats and alfalfa for those voracious little miniatures. I suppose if we had Black Beauty, a Pimlico champion, Dan Patch or even the old Strawberry Roan frolicking in our pasture, I'd be more of a horse connoisseur. As it is, I just face reality and fake it.

After all, Phyllis puts up with my clarinet.

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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