Real life

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

6 August 2022

9:00 AM

6 August 2022

9:00 AM

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive.

The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd spot of rain, the ground became quite bleached.

The builder boyfriend’s cobs loaf about or snooze under trees. They like being lazy. It’s very much their thing, standing about doing nothing. But my thoroughbred Darcy is apt to get bad tempered when it’s so hot she’s forced to stand still. She bites the pony’s bum for entertainment. The pony runs away for a second then comes back. She doesn’t seem to mind. The heat hangs heavy over the farm. The stillness is oppressive.

Sometimes all four horses stand by their water and doze as if they know there’s no point wandering far from the tanks. We pile the hay in twice a day next to the water, and beneath the trees. The horses munch languidly.

In the first few hot months nearly £500 worth of hay disappeared. ‘One thing I do notice,’ said the builder boyfriend one evening as we were topping them up. ‘They’re all hugely fat.’ I looked at his cobs, Jim and Duey, and had to agree. Jim’s stomach looked to be in danger of touching the ground if it got any bigger.

We’ve never had completely bald fields before so I’m struggling with the portion control. It’s hard to know how to mimic what they would be getting from the grass by giving them the same calories in hay. Also, because I feel they’re bored, I give them all a bowl of hard feed morning and night, as a cheer-up. But they’re none of them doing any work. It’s too hot to ride them so the bowls of pony nuts and alfalfa are just going on their waistlines. I reduced the portions but it didn’t seem to make any difference. ‘We’re basically feeding money into a massive digestive machine which is pooing it out as manure,’ I admitted to the builder b. I do the horses each morning so I’m mostly to blame for the morale-boosting treats and their ever-expanding waistlines.

‘But what can I do?’ I ask him. ‘They’re all so bored.’ There’s precious little else a horse is interested in apart from foraging so when the grass disappears it’s not as if you can put a Scrabble board in the field, or a set of boules, or a tennis swing-set, or a paddling pool, although my pony Goldie does play in the water tank. She all but climbed into it the other day when the sun was beating down on them. She put one hoof in and swished it around, then backed up to it with bent legs as if trying to work out whether it was possible to sit in it.

Back home, walking the dogs on the village green, I heard a woman moaning about global warming. You see, this show’s what’s happening,’ she said, in an imperious tone, as her cockapoo played with another belonging to the man with whom she was conversing. ‘I mean, these people who say climate change doesn’t exist…’

I don’t think anyone is suggesting it’s not getting warmer; what we’re arguing about is why, and whether humans really caused it. I found her so irritating that as I passed her I mumbled: ‘These people eh!’ But I didn’t stop to argue because it’s none of my business if people want to bang on about saving themselves – I mean the planet.

I’m too tired and too busy piling hay into fields for bored horses. One thing I do know: the same Surrey householders who whinge about the environment show not an ounce of understanding or compassion for those on the front line.

Later, I pulled in to the gateway to the farm awaiting yet another hay delivery and as the farmer slowed to turn his tractor attached to a massive articulated trailer bearing six enormous round bales, the car behind him pipped its horn angrily and the puce-faced middle manager in the driver’s seat shouted some expletive or other because the delivery of my horses’ food had made his urgent journey a few seconds longer.

No doubt he was on his way to walk his cockapoo and exchange wise words with other suburbanites about climate change.

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