Rain in the desert I live in is a rare thing–and increasingly so in the new millennium. Winter after winter has been either cold and dry or, more commonly, warm and dry. The winter rains have been insignificant, if they’ve happened at all.
This year is a return to the old-fashioned Arizona winter, with waves of storms alternating with waves of warm and dry. This past weekend went out of its way to feed our drought-depleted water table, with a rare, multi-day, remarkably wet storm.
Horses being steppe and tundra animals handle cold and snow well. Warm rain, likewise. It’s the rain in the middle that challenges them.
Their winter coats especially are adapted to fluff out and trap heat while repelling snow and light rain. Heavy rain with wind, however…
Enter the horse blanket. The old style was wool or some form of water-repellent canvas. It was heavy, stiff, and didn’t keep the worst of the rain out. Eventually it soaked through. Meanwhile the horse would sweat under it if the temperature was warm, and it would flatten his coat, removing any benefit he might get from his natural protection against cold and wet.
Modern horse-blanket technology is a wonder of engineering, both for design (a blanket that fits and doesn’t slip or roll regardless of what the horse does) and its ability to be both waterproof and breathable. Blankets come in weights according to warmth–i.e, how much fiberfill the blanket has. They also come without fill, as sheets or raincoats, which keep the horse dry while allowing his coat to do its job.
This past weekend’s storm was a raincoat storm. Cold enough (nights around 50F) that with wind and heavy rain, a horse would struggle to stay warm, but not so cold that the horses needed extra help as long as their coats stayed dry. With extra hay to add warmth internally (calories = warmth, after all), they were fairly content, all things considered.
Then the storm moved out and we had another rare event for our part of the world: an honest-to-London, near-zero-visibility fog. I had to drive in it, making an airport run at oh god o’clock in the morning. Coming home, I could just see the lane striping alongside the truck.
The horses in their raincoats were still dry, if somewhat bemused.
Now the storm has moved on and the fog has burned off and we’re in another dry-and-warm spell, but I expect we’ll have more rain. And that means something we haven’t had in a few years: spring flowers. Which, in our desert, are glorious.
Though to a horse, of course, the question is, Edible? Nonedible?
Meanwhile, the mud is deep amd luscious, and now they’ve shed their raincoats, they can fully enjoy the experience.