Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The Flap About Tarps
Last week, I wrote a post about how we draped a big black plastic tarp next to Silk’s stall to keep it from flooding. While both horses tolerated the loud rustling noises and the “scary black monster” without spooking or freaking out, it obviously caused stress for them. I was especially concerned about Silk, who was locked up at night right next to it. When the rain stopped, I made my husband help me remove the tarp.
I’ve had some interesting reactions from horsepeople about the episode. Some people whom I respect felt that I should have left the plastic tarp to condition the horses to get used to having it rattling next to the corral and the barn. They thought I had “given in” to my horses by removing it. I admit that I did, and I don’t regret it.
I understand that my horses need to become comfortable with the noisy, flapping tarp. I also know that at this point in the winter, Silk’s health and well-being are more important than anything. If she is distressed, she’ll stop drinking water and eating. At exactly this time of year, for the past two years, Silk has had really serious life-threatening emergencies. There’s something about these last gasps of East Coast winter that really affect my twenty-year old horse, who spent most of her life in balmy Southern California. Right now, we’re having crazy shifts in temperature. One day, it’s 60F degrees and almost overnight, it drops to below 20F degrees. Then, it rockets back up again. My vet tells me that she is treating so many horses for colic these days.
After more than ten years, Silk trusts me to take care of her. I had to ask myself what I would really gain by forcing her to live with the tarp, feeling stressed out for several days until she became immune to its presence. I actually agreed with the horses that the never-ending rattling noise caused by even small gusts of wind was very irritating. There’s no deadline by which my horses have to learn to ignore noisy tarps. They’re generally willing to do what I ask them without fussing or spooking. If we wait a few months until some nice sunny day to do the exercises with them walking on plastic and having it flap in their faces, the world won’t end. More important is whether Silk is able to really feel safe at night in her stall. I'd really like to get through the transition of seasons this year without another gigantic vet bill.
There are still going to be people who disagree with me. At this point, I feel it’s a real milestone for me to be rock-solid confident that I did what was best for Silk. I trusted my gut reaction, weighed the advice of others and in the end, stuck to my guns. Perhaps, that’s why Silk trusts me.