The Barley Equation
This December my farrier Pat St.Jean came to trim my boys feet. Rolo first, all went well the grumpy old man even was willing to lift his hind legs Floyd of course was charming as always and Pat, who's sweet on Floyd, threatened again to steal him away and make him into an endurance horse. Then we brought out Derby. Pat looked at him gave him a pat on his sides and said, "he looks like he's dropped weight". Pat finished the task at hand and we both got on with the day.
Derby hasn't been in work for 10 months and he's not the kind of horse that does well without regular work. He worries when he has too much time to think. I'd also cut back on the amount of grain I've been feeding all three horses because they weren't in work. Rolo and Floyd were doing just fine but Derby obviously needed a bit more.
I feed my horses beet pulp all year round, morning and night along with sweet feed. In the winter I bring the beet pulp up to the house to soak as the barn is too cold. While filling the beet pulp one morning thinking empty thoughts as you do while waiting for the bucket to fill...a thought popped into my head. 40 years ago when I was a teenager working at Tic Toc Stables in Alymer Quebec. The barn manager, Lynda Holt used to feed her show jumper Sun Poppy cooked Barley at night during the winter. Poppy or Poops always looked top form. As it was also a bloody cold morning, I liked the idea of giving he horses a warm feed at night.
So I hit the books as well as the internet and looked into the benefits of cooked Barley and horses. After much reading I decided to dig out an big old stock pot in the basement and start cooking some barley for the boys. The grain has to be cooked because of it's hard outside shell. Once cooked it's very digestible. I put at least 3 times the water to grain. It boils on the stove for about 40 minutes then turned off and the grain continues to soak up the rest of the water. I do this first thing in the morning. The house smells wonderful. I'd forgotten how sweet and welcoming a boiling pot of barley smells when sitting on the stove. I started with a small batch dividing it before the three boys at about 9pm when I top up their water and hay nets.
Needless to say all three boys love it. Derby has rounded out nicely in the last month. Rolo is a better weight than I've ever seen him in winter. And Floyd who only gets a handful because I can't see him go without licks his bowl clean making sure every last morsel is slurped up.
It does take an extra effort, I won't say it doesn't, but the activity of cooking the barley I think has been just as good for me as it has been for Derby. There is something wonderfully comforting about the whole experience. I can't decide if it's the sweet aroma of the barley pot on the stove or watching the boys gobble up the warm mash at the end of the day. It's just another one of those equine daily rituals that gives me peace.
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I've been a journalist and producer with CBC Radio for over 27 years. I now focus my time on my horses, my art, my fitness and my garden.