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Horses do have purpose, even in winter

Every year, about January or February, during a long cold spell while walking into a north wind, I ask myself why I have horses.

I have always had horses. Even when I was a little kid, I had a horse or two that needed to be fed and watered, even on the coldest days. Now that I am older, I seem to be no wiser as I still find myself going out early in the morning, wading through the snow to make sure the water is not frozen and they have food as well as a warm place to get out of the weather. At this time of year, they do nothing more than make horse manure and more work.

When I get really tired of the routine, I remember the real reason we keep horses around. They provide hours of entertainment and can be downright useful when the weather improves just a bit. They are also remarkable fertilizer factories which makes my wife and her flowers happy.

If a person has rough ground with trees and ditches, a horse can not be beat when it comes to checking fences. When the boys were little, a fun Sunday afternoon outing was to take four horses to the farm and go for a ride. My wife and the boys were just going for a trail ride, but I could check most of the fence on the farm while we all were having a good time communing with nature.

It was during these trail rides I learned why we are not allowed to hunt deer on horseback. If the deer are accustomed to having horses in their pasture, they do not notice a rider. Many times we rode within a few yards of deer as they watched us, totally disinterested. Even if deer hunting from horseback was legal, it would not be a good idea unless a person's horse was extremely well trained. I tried shooting at a target one time from my trusty buckskin horse, Banana Slug, only to find, the first shot is easy; reloading is really difficult and proved to be rather painful.

In times of danger or panic, good old Slug had a tendency to lighten the load (me) and save himself. Slug did not panic at everything, but it was not good when he did. Gunshots and turkeys were about the only thing that would cause him to come completely unglued. He only had to deal with the gunshot thing once. I am a fast learner. We dealt with the terror of seeing a turkey almost every time we went for a ride. He was not a fast learner. 

When a person has a deer down at the far end of the farm and it is too muddy or the snow is too deep to get a truck in to pick up the bounty, it is great to have a horse. I am not saying it is impossible to get a horse stuck at the far end of the farm, but it is much more unlikely. The old saying goes that a four-wheel drive vehicle allows a person to get stuck much farther from the road.

The same applies even more so about a horse. I got Diamond stuck astride a downed tree in the bottom of a creek as far away from the truck or any other form of civilization as is possible on my place. Poor Diamond looked at me with a sense of apprehension when I climbed out of the ditch leaving him high-centered on the log. He looked downright terrified when I finally returned a couple hours later after a long walk and a longer drive to go home and to get the chain saw. Being trapped at the bottom of the ditch was not great, but he would rather have stayed there than find out what I was going to do when I started the saw. He relaxed some when I started sawing on the tree, but was not totally relieved until I finished and led him out of the ditch. 

Cold winter days will eventually turn into warm spring days. We will then again use the horses to enjoy the outdoors rather than taking care of them being the only reason we have to venture outside on miserable cold days.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.