Rural Exposures

(“How many sparkles shall I give each of them?”)  

We Southerners (Does being born in southeastern Pennsylvania count?) are used to out-of-town visitors descending on us for the holidays. Unless you’re wearing skis or skates, down here is the place to be. It’s all fun, but it would be less strenuous if we weren’t responsible for shepherding our urban/suburban non-horse guests through a crash course in farm life.

A few quick ground rules: Yes, the dogs are supposed to be on the furniture. No, we don’t haul out the vacuum for every footprint that appears on the mud room floor. And around the horses guests have to absolutely do as we say. Here we are the experts. This is no Green Acres rerun.

The greatest challenge is to amuse them but keep them intact till they head home. That starts with “Keep your shoes on and your fingers out of the horses’ mouths.” Carrots are only fed under supervision and only from flat palms. Don’t stand too close in front of, behind, or under the horses. Don’t put your two year old toddler up on my 17 hand, 5 year old warm blood even if someone is going to lead him around.

Be prepared for endless questions whether your charges are seven or seventy. “Does it hurt when the shoes get nailed on?” No. “Is your horse blind?” No, that’s a fly mask. “They eat seeds?” Well, kind of. This much I can handle. I haven’t quite gotten over one adult guest helpfully asking at feeding time, “How many sparkles should I give each of them?” Ever since at our barn no one is allowed to distribute hay by the “flake.”

At visit’s end hopefully your city friends have gained some insight into what it means to live among your animals, or perhaps they’ve resolved never to acquire a living creature larger than a parakeet. At worst they’ve learned the horses always eat before we serve cocktails.