American Humor: What Grandpa Learned From Horse Behavior

The Last Laugh column shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor. This issue Joe Novara shares stories of his grandpa comparing everything in life to what he learned from horse behavior when raising horses.
By Joe Novara
December 1999/January 2000
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"You might be in veterinary school, honey, but you can still learn more from watching horses than reading books about them."
ILLUSTRATION: DAVID BRION


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Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers. Joe Novara shares his grandpa's stories of what he learned from horse behavior when raising horses. 

Grandpa, why do you need a 100-channel satellite dish if you only keep it tuned to the weather? I asked, staring at the TV perched on his refrigerator.

"Are you kidding? That's how I know how much to eat."

My grandfather's answer had something to do with horses and horse behavior. I knew it did. It always did. He has bred and raised horses all his life and somehow he thinks they hold the secret to healthy living.

"You might be in veterinary school, honey, but you can still learn more from watching horses than reading books about them."

"I'm sure you know more about horses than I ever will. Grandad. But I still don't see the correlation between the Weather Channel and your eating habits ."

"Why, when it gets colder a horse will naturally eat more to keep its body heat up."

"That's true. The other day in class we learned that for every degree drop in temperature below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, a horse needs 0.7% more feed, and that's not counting windchill factor and wetness."

"Well, see now, I guess they're teaching you something up there in school."

"But they recommend roughage for the fermentation heat it generates in the gut. And I don't see any hay bales around here," I sarcastically remarked as I picked a Ding-Dong wrapper off the floor.

"Now don't get saucy with me, sweetie," Grandpa warned. "That's why I need the Weather Channel. So I can plan my shopping. Don't like to get caught short, like a couple of weeks ago when that arctic jet stream blew in and I ate everything in the house in one day. I like to stock up on rolled oats and molasses and All-Bran."

"All-Bran?" I asked.

"A person needs some forage, too, you know. Nothing like a warm bran mash to heat up your innards."

"But that ain't hay."

"Well, you're right," Grandpa conceded. "I still can't find any way to eat hay. Although I did spend some time studying on shredded wheat. They look kinda like tiny bales of hay . . . "

"Gramps, there are other ways to keep warm — like using your potbelly stove."

"What? And fill the house with dry, stuffy air? Make a man sick, it would."

"So that's why you have the windows open when it's 20 degrees Fahrenheit out?"

"A man needs clean air moving through — just like a horse. Alls you need do is add another coat as it gets colder and shed it when it gets warmer."

"Talk about shedding layers, Mom wanted me to invite you to join us in Florida for a couple of weeks."

"I been to the beach once. Took your mother and her brother. Don't need to go again."

"Mom predicted you would say that. She says you're like a furry, old winter horse fighting to stay in the barn but happy to be outside once you get warmed up."

"It ain't that. It's just not natural-stripping to your skin in winter. It's as dangerous as false spring, getting a man to take off his long johns too soon. A person could catch his death of cold getting his seasons all mixed up."

"Oh. Grandpa, don't make such a fuss. You'll love the sun and beach." "Ha!" the old man barked. "I told you. I've been to the beach. If I missed it that much, I could throw a couple buckets of sand on the kitchen floor, fire up the stove till it was steamy in here, turn on all the lights, every so often let a wet dog run by and shake water all over me and generally sit around in damp drawers all day. No sir. Like I said, I ain't interested in getting naked and wet in the winter."

I was about to say, "So I noticed," before moving on to the social consequences of his equine hygiene habits, when a frosty gust from the kitchen window tussled his dirty white mane and dissipated the outbuilding aroma that had been building up around him.

"Let's check the water out in the barn." Grandpa suggested as he headed for the door. "No sir," he shouted over his shoulder, snowflakes swirling around him, "you can't take a chance washing down a horse in winter. A bad chill can cause a lot more harm than a little dust and dirt."

Inside the barn, I pleaded, "C'mon, Gramps. I love horses, too. But if God had meant for us to live like animals he would have given us a winter coat every fall."

Grandpa, stooping to pick up a bale of hay, stopped and squinted his eyes at me. A sure sign of annoyance.

"And if God had meant for us to fly to Florida every winter he would have given us wings like the snowbirds."

"Okay, you win," I relented. "I'll play your game." Cracking the thin layer of ice forming in a bucket, I asked, "How' s your fluid intake?"

He looked at me, puzzled.

"Are you drinking a lot of water? You know the average horse needs five gallons of water a day in the winter. Prevents impaction colic."

"Water?"

"Yeah, water. If you're going to pattern your diet on livestock, you have to down a whole bunch of fluids."

'Water would freeze around here."

"So what do you drink?"

"Beer. After all, you gotta draw the line somewhere."


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