Jan 122011


By Judith Costello

Winter had been hanging in the air, and I felt a sense of dread.

It came over me as the thermometer held at 5 degrees and the wind chill sent temperatures far below that. Growing up in Iowa, I’m used to running through the cold from the house to the car. But I’m still not accustomed to doing daily barnyard chores in this kind of weather. Nor have I accepted the fact that animals in our care could die as a result of such extreme cold.

Here in New Mexico, our horses, goats, chickens and barnyard cats aren’t accustomed to long periods of below-freezing weather. But it had been frigid for five days.

I went outside, hoping to do a quick job of feeding. But the two old horses and the donkey seemed to be moving more gingerly than normal. I studied their legs only to discover they were walking on stilts made of ice. And they did not look surefooted.

The oldest horse is 32 and she was clearly uncomfortable. As I reached a brush up under the blanket across her back, she flattened her ears and sent a hoof jabbing in my direction. I dodged to escape being hit. The old girl has never done such a thing before. Clearly, she needed help to cope with the cold.

The sun was coming up over the horizon and I thought about God’s light, which is both guidance and loving warmth. At this moment, the sun’s light was not generating any heat. But it still seemed to be reassuring.

 I ran inside for help. Although the children sometimes avoid doing animal chores in bad weather, if they think I’ll do it for them, this time they sprang into action. My husband, Jurgen, who can’t go outside to help anymore because of health issues, started to search the Internet for ideas on how to unthaw the horses’ feet.

Peter, age 15, went from the house to the barnyard carrying 30 gallons of hot water to thaw the water troughs and pour on the ground beneath the animals’ feet. Brigit held out the hoof scraper and told the horses and the donkey, “I win arguments with equines, so don’t even try giving me trouble when I pick up your feet!”

In the frigid weather, with our hands turning numb, we chopped away at ice. The wind was biting. Brigit’s hat fell off as she worked. I scooped out hoof lotion with bare fingers since it had turned to thick sludge.

Our equines don’t like the smell of the lotion and they don’t like water around their feet. Anxiety rose in my throat as I remembered occasions when the horses have overreacted. One time a horse pulled against the rope tied from her halter to the fence. As the rope came loose she fell backwards. That’s over 1,000 pounds of falling terror.

As if she read my mind, Brigit said, “Sing Mom, while I work. That will make us all calm down.” And so it did. I sang “Amazing Grace” because God’s grace is amazing. It was truly an experience of grace to feel our family working as a team on behalf of our animals. 

I could feel the light now. Although the sunlight wasn’t dispersing the cold, there was a glow of love and unity warming the barnyard. And I remembered that other barnyard, where a family in desperate need of warmth, glowed with God’s light, warming the animals around them and sending love into the world.

(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her Web site is

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