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Rural Roots - Rural Roots is a column by Fred Jones
2013-01-18 at NOON

Ice is farm's worst nightmare

So what gives? Here we are in January, traditionally the coldest month in the winter with temperatures getting down to -30 or -35 for a two week period wherein vehicle tires are square and seats are concrete. 

What have we had? Plus five and freezing rain, lots of freezing rain, and that means ice.

Ice at our farm is the worst thing to have. Even mud is preferable since the horses, let alone humans, aren’t likely to break a leg.  When a human breaks a leg, it can be mended although the whole process is massively inconvenient if one is in charge of livestock. 

If a horse breaks a leg, well, the vet cost is astronomical and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the horse will have to be put down.  Luckily, none of the above has taken place.

But what a scary time trying to get ourselves across the yard to the barn to feed and water and expel the equines into their daytime paddocks so that we can muck out the stalls.  For someone as young as son Doug, 13, the slip-slidy part is a hoot; ‘tis fun. 

For proto-geezers like me, it is definitely not.

As one ages, one’s experience and imagination can play havoc with one’s confidence, especially when one recently took a spill and landed on one’s back – ouch.  Then one gets smart (hah!) and figures alternative routes that do not directly traverse the skating-rink yard.  The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but is not the way to go. 

What then? Discern where there is still untrodden snow and deftly negotiate one’s way.  It worked. We made it, limbs intact.

Not so easy for the equines. Their hooves aren’t equipped with gripping things. Now one must apply the same skills to locating pathways on which horse and human can walk without mishap to either being.  These are large, strong creatures and if they slip, then both beings can get seriously hurt.  

Friday, or was it Thursday, I can’t remember, it rained.  We were promised snow, lots of snow. Surprise! It all swept to the north of us. Again! The temperature dropped and voila! Ice! Boo, hiss. 

The roads were too slippery for any barn help to arrive. Now one has to keep careful tabs on what is happening with temperature at this time of year if it rains. 

In spring and summer, not a problem – horses stay out. But with the thermometer edging only slightly above freezing, and if any wind arises, then in they come. We tossed some horses just so that we could muck their stalls, re-charge their water buckets and refill their mangers with hay. Then back in they came. 

Saturday, no rain but cold wind so the routine once more with feeling, as they say. Sunday was sunny but I got Big Red, my diesel tractor, fired up early so as to try scraping horse paddocks of mounded droppings that had turned into concrete obstacles sure to injure horsey hooves. 

The levelling also provided the horses with some kind of non-slip footing.

Then it snowed – sort of.  About an inch of the white stuff covered the ground, including the icy surfaces that allowed humans to walk with more confidence. There was grip on the ground but we elected to keep some horses in and let them loose in our indoor riding arena for exercise while their stalls were being mucked. No sense risking broken limbs. 

Monday: Pam, our barn help, spread the manure on the icy parts leading to the paddock gates so that horses would have grip when being led in or out of the barn. I wondered why I didn’t hear the quad travelling back and forth from barn to Mt. Crumpet where we dump the stuff. Better to walk on sure footing than leave the equines out especially when the weather office is calling for very stiff winds. But what we need is snow, lots and lots of snow.

While in the barn mucking on Sunday, we were listening to the radio. The announcer told us all about the topsy-turvy weather, of how southern Ontario was experiencing an unprecedented heat wave while Newfoundland had received about four feet of snow. Nancy, one of our boarding clients, echoed my thoughts when she said that it would be nice if we could have at least two feet of that snow.  Yes please, please, o’ please!

You can contact Rural Roots by e-mail: or write to Rural Roots, P. O. Box 402, South Gillies, Ont. P0T 2V0.


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