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Mountain Home Magazine

Winter Coats

by Gayle Morrow

I noticed about the end of August that one of my horses was starting to put on a little hair. His sleek summer ’do was getting fuzzy. WTF (that’s “what the fur”—what were you thinking it was?), I wondered. Seems a bit early to me. Does that mean we’re in for a bad winter?

Could be. Not necessarily. Ask me in April.

Horses, dogs, cats, deer, all kinds of mammals (except for us, and the reasons for that are a mystery) shed hair in the spring and grow hair in the fall. Sometimes they simultaneously shed and grow—the shedding is the lighter, softer, summer undercoat and it’s being eliminated to make way for the thicker, stiffer winter undercoat. Anyway, while it’s all mostly due to hormonal changes in response to the light/dark cycle, you can’t help but wonder if a seemingly early and extra-heavy accumulation of hair is not indicative of something dire in the weather department.

For horses and other mammals, the skin is the primary barrier between the innards and the outards (OK, outard may not be a word). The hair serves as insulation; when it’s especially cold, a small muscle in each hair follicle gives the hair the ability to puff up—it’s called piloerection and it cleverly increases the hairs’ ability to insulate.

We, however, are not by nature quite as furry, so even if you notice the hair on your arms or legs bristling a little more in the cold, it’s really not enough to get us through a sub-zero spell sans outerwear.

We need coats.

I don’t know about your mom, but my mom was a firm believer in mothballs, as in “clothes belonging to the season you’re not in belong in mothballs.” Mom did not necessarily make what my sisters and I now fondly recall as “the great clothing switch” according to the calendar. It was more of a weather and a when-is-a-good-time-to-ask thing. We’d start our serious pre-winter shivering usually around mid-October. By November we’d be begging, “Please, Mom, can you get our winter coats out, and, oh yeah, our quilts, while you’re at it?” She’d sigh and resign herself to the task.

Not that she wanted us to be cold.

You’d have to have known my mother. It was not, for her, as simple as going to the closet or the trunk or whatever space she had designated for storing the out-of-season stuff and getting that stuff out. No. Because when you got things out, you then had to put things away. That meant everything had to be clean, so that meant washer/dryer or dry cleaner time. And then there was the problem of the stinky clothes that had been residing in mothballs. It’s no fun going to school in sweaters newly emerged from naphthalene. They need a chance to air out.

But—Mom worked. Dad worked. Sometimes they worked Saturdays. Mom would not do laundry on Sundays, at least I don’t remember that she did. So a mid-week request for that extra blanket or your favorite wool skirt was kind of a big deal. (And don’t think for a second that, over the years, we didn’t tease her mercilessly about it.)

Anyway, Mom might have appreciated it if we’d been able to grow our own coats, but then there would have been that shedding problem in the spring.

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