Autumn on Orkney is an understated affair. There are very few trees, so there’s no fiery foliage for us. Instead, it is a season marked by sideways rain, sodden fields and cancelled ferries. The mud starts now, and only deepens as the months go on.
At the stables, there is a flurry of activity as we rush to get the heavyweight rugs ready for use: fishing them out of musty lockers and shaking off the worst of last year’s mud, hosing them down, reapplying waterproof sprays. This week is clipping week, an annual affair when the yard is abuzz with electric shears and wind-blown clumps of hair in brown, grey, black and dun tumble down the aisle and gather like leaves in damp corners.
The horses’ winter coats came in almost overnight. One moment they were as sleek and shining as conkers, the next they were fluffy hill ponies lathering with sweat every time they broke into a trot. All this extra hair is excellent all‑weather insulation, but it causes problems for horses in regular exercise.
Those in light work can be relieved with a neat little “bib” clip, wherein the hair is cut away in a band from throat to breast. Busier horses will need something more businesslike, a “trace” clip, for example, where the neck and belly are trimmed away, leaving backs and loins hairy. Robbie, my Connemara, has a full clip, but we leave the hair on his legs as protection from the elements and rub oil into his hair at intervals to stop mud from irritating the skin. (“Mud fever”, an uncomfortable form of dermatitis, can arise in prologued wet conditions.)
But clipped horses need to be rugged, especially when they’re out in wild island gales. So here we are: spraying, mending, patching, getting things in order. I have mixed feelings. Autumn meets a return to cold feet, wet leather, riding in the dark. But it also means haynets, straw beds, warming hands under rugs. When I turn Robbie out, I find his field mates huddled in the shelter, tightly packed and unusually cordial disputes settled until spring, or until the sun comes out at least. Time to hunker down.
Source : The Guardian