It was yet another day of temperatures near zero and we were returning from being gone most of the day. And once again no one – meaning the ponies- yelled at me for being gone for so long when I appeared outside to feed. I really don’t mind them yelling at me – freedom of speech is valued here (she says with a smile on her face) – but I was surprised that once again no one voiced an opinion of frustration about the weather or the feed schedule.
We had a really long, nice fall with warmer-than-usual temperatures and less precipitation than usual, including of the crystalline variety. When winter arrived, though, it did so with authority. Nearly every day we’ve either had falling snow, requiring haystacks to be shoveled, or extreme cold, requiring an extra feeding for the ponies.
A year ago, I began a modified track system for feeding the ponies. (Click here to read about it.) Feeding them ‘on track’ requires them to move more, as we spread hay along the edges of their paddocks instead of just dumping it in a few spots in the middle. Deep snow this time of year encourages them to walk the perimeter of the paddock which gets tramped down where we feed to get from place to place rather than crossing the middle of the paddock through deep snow. The photos here show the track through the snow in one paddock.
It is not uncommon when we’re walking with the tub of hay for one pony or more to follow us as much as a half way around the track before they stop to eat. My husband pointed out that the hay fines at the bottom are often of interest, which end up in the last pile to be spread, and the ponies know this and when they’re not as hungry, they’re willing to be patient and walk to where the hay fines will end up.
It is natural for equines to spend sixteen hours a day grazing which means moving from place to place for a good part of each day. The track system attempts to mimic this natural pattern of movement in a domestic setting. Others have found that their equines are healthier and happier when on-track. Even with our more intense winter this year, the ponies do seem happier than they have in past years, including not yelling at me when I return after a long day. My alpine pony track system seems here to stay!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016
More stories like this one can be found in The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here.