The Horse in the Plaid Pajamas

pookasrsly0209_bvcWell, not plaid in the picture, but I confess I’ve left this post till the absolute last minute, and it’s too dark for the camera. (Also, it being night, dark, and by his lights cold, he’s actually wearing the outfit in the photo. The plaid is his daytime wear in chilly weather.) Imagine him in Hollyberry Plaid, then, but wearing much the same expression.

Horses have their own, naturally installed winter gear: thick, woolly coats that start growing in in mid to late summer and are fully installed by midwinter. This happens in warm climates as well as cold ones; it’s triggered by changes in light and, to a somewhat lesser degree, temperature. The process reverses come spring, and the horse sheds in clumps and sheets, until by summer the coat is short, close, and as well adapted to shedding heat as, in winter, it is to retaining the same.

Individuals vary, of course. Some grow relatively little coat. Others become, effectively, yaks. And stallions especially can grow dense but flat winter coats that lack the loft and the fluff that trap and hold warmth even under a layer of ice or snow (but hard rain kills the loft and flattens the coat and chills the horse).

Then there’s this guy. Stallion coat, check. Looks like a porcelain pony year-round. Generates plenty of heat just being his lively and hormonal self. And is completely and vehemently opposed to any temperature under 60F/15.5C.

It’s not at all that he’s weak or sickly. He’s generally robust, and comes from a long-lived and sturdy breed. What he is is “marked,” as my mother puts it. Scarred from birth. Traumatized by having been born in a winter storm, and nearly not making it.

He spent his first two days dressed in one of my sweatshirts (pulled up over his front legs so he had long blue leggings) and a heavy foal blanket. When we took all of this off on the first warm day, he twisted around to stare at himself, as if to say, “HEY! What’s this back here?”

He had a nice thick coat at that point, as newborn foals do. Plenty to keep him warm, one would think. And it was warm, this being the American Southwest and it being early March. But then it got cold again–and he got sick. Colicked. Had to have the vet. Was treated. Recovered. Weather warmed up…then got cold again. And he colicked again. Rise, repeat. Babies of that age who colic like that can weaken rapidly and die. Which meant that every colic was a life-or-death event.

By that point he had outgrown the newborn blanket. In desperation I pinned him into the smallest pony blanket I could find, having deduced that the cold was causing the colic. A sort of hysterical response: “It’s cold, my whole body locks up, my gut shuts down, I’m going to die.”

Once he had his blanket, the colics stopped. He grew and thrived. The weather warmed up; he was happy.

And the next winter, he didn’t colic. But he did become very very very very very Anxious and fussy and inclined to run up and down and pitch fits whenever the temperature dropped.

I gave in. I put a blanket on him whenever it was cold. And he relaxed. He still registered objections when the world’s heat got turned off–as if it were my fault, and I had better suffer for it, too.

The winter after that, same thing. When nights went reliably down below 60F, he went reliably into his cycle of pitching fits and declaring that he would die. We mocked him. We laughed. But he got his blanket–because he knew, just knew, that without it, yes, he would die.

Meanwhile horse-blanket technology evolved in ways of which he highly approved. More levels of warmth. More reliable waterproofing. Better fabrics altogether. He began to accumulate a wardrobe, in keeping with his aristocratic breeding and idiosyncratic approach to weather.

And then, not too long ago, came the Holy Grail: California weight. Just enough polyfill to add a little warmth in weather that in the Northland in January would be referred to as “balmy,” but when you live in the land of the sun, it’s just a mite bit chilly. Perfect for the horse who has the coat and the body mass to handle a fair amount of cold, but who is convinced that, if it gets even slightly brisk, he will die.

We call it his Placebo Blanket. The first one was blue, and did not fit him exceptionally well. The second, to which he is devoted, is Plaid. His Trainer-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed called it his pajamas. “Oh! You’re in your jammies today!”

If it’s really cold–and even by Northland standards, a couple of weeks back, at 15F/-9C, it was a mite bit brisk out there–we double-bag him. Two blankets. And he lets us know exactly what he thinks of the situation. Sarcasm. Bad words. Head-shaking and glaring and spinning in circles.

We laugh. He doesn’t care. He is immune to mockery.

Today when I was out of town and Emergency Backup Human was on the job, I received a text: “He won’t let me touch his blanket. He says 56 and cloudy is cold.” EBH is of that generation, and she added, “Lol.”

He was still in his pajamas when I got there. At 68F. Cultivating a bit of a bloom as they used to say–we call it sweat in less cultured contexts. And as happy as could be. He was safe. He was warm. He was not going to die.

He’s getting naked tomorrow whether he likes it or not. 70F won’t kill him. No matter what he may think. It will be summer soon enough–and then he’ll be completely, blissfully happy, while the rest of us gasp and wilt and cling to scraps of shade.




The Horse in the Plaid Pajamas — 8 Comments

  1. Dear Pooka,
    Not freezing is good. Whatever it takes.

    I love, love, love modern rugs. I tried an old-fashioned New Zealand rug on Crumble once (as backup), and he spoke in the clearest possible tone that This Thing Was Not Comfortable. I listened 😉
    He mostly wore a rain sheet – next to no padding – and was clearly more comfortable with it than unrugged in winter. We had a medium weight for those -15 nights (wet cold here, which is worse), but most of the time, that wasn’t needed. And he had no problems whatsoever putting on a thick coat underneath the rug.

  2. Mocha has a lot in common with Pooka. Even though she’s never gone through the same trauma (come on, stall-raised foal in the Pacific Northwet? Nah), she loveslovesloves her blankie…and got highly annoyed by getting shaved this winter (I did not love hours of cooling out wet horse on work nights). So we had to resort to fleece cooler under heavy blankie until it grew out.

    But she is happiest under a blanket or sheet year-round. I didn’t put a fly sheet on her last summer, and she was grumpy about it. Even though she shreds the darn thing, it was clear that she wants it.

  3. I swear that the more I read about Pooka, the more I see Pooka behavior in Fionna. She has definitely gotten to the blankie point of her life. Any time I remove it, I get the Glare of Death. Unless it’s above 60*F, then it’s okay.

    This is amusing stuff coming from a mountain-bred breed of horse 🙂

  4. This story does help highlight and focus on the idea that horses DO have personalities, and are characters, to me.

    (Yes, I know this sounds obvious, but the amount of exposure this city boy has had to horses is miniscule)

  5. His daughter Twix has worn a blanket twice. Happily, she is as hardy as it gets. Her Arab mom has an occasional need during the first cold rain of the year, happily this year that didn’t happen. I am pathetically grateful not to have to wrassle horse clothing (except at endurance rides, where when confined, after an event they have no choice since they can’t move about to stay warm).

    I’m glad you have da Pook figured out so well, and yay materials science!

  6. Sympathies from our prolonged below freezing phase — I too will not shed my blankie-jammies layers of sweaters, leg warmers and merino sox until the temp climbs back to at least 50!

    Love, C.