Call them cockleburs, stick buttons, beggar's buttons, or just plain nuisances, they are rife this time of year, clinging to anything and anyone that moves about in the countryside. It's not too difficult to pick them off a pair of blue jeans, but they're mean on sweaters with their tenacious little hooks. They are the leading cause of "bad hair days" among farm animals.
Today when I checked on our draft horses, pastured out with the cows, I noticed that both of their manes and forelocks were matted with burdocks (another common name for the bristle-blossomed weeds).
I started to pull them out one at a time, but several multiburr knots deeply embedded in Jim's mane suggested the need for scissors. I found a pair in the nearby log cabin, and went back to work on our Belgian - a placid and wholly cooperative animal, who more than earned his retirement during his years in harness. I am only too happy to cater to his simple needs.
After a few minutes of clipping, he wandered off, shaking a honey-colored mane restored to its blowing beauty.
Then I eyed Ben. The jet-black percheron is a gorgeous animal, too, but a volatile spirit, unpredictable in his reactions. I recalled other trimming sessions that he'd quickly called a halt to, jerking his massive head up and down, and back and forth as if shaking off a fly.
Today, though, that attitude seemed well in check. He stopped grazing, looked me right in the eye, and held stock still. "Just do it," he seemed to say. Five or 10 minutes later his coarse black tresses swung free again, and his forelock - unevenly lopped a good three inches shorter - hung burr-free.
"Good boy, good Ben," I crooned, truly impressed. The horse still did not move, still locked eyes with me.
I stroked his nose, telling him I was all finished, he could get back to that good fall grass. Nothing doing.
I reached under his chin for a friendly scratch and encountered a matted knot of burdocks as large as a potato, so entangled in the fine hairs below his sensitive lower lip I shuddered at taking the scissors to it.
But I did, ever so carefully, as Ben stood in stoic resignation (or relief?), breath bated. Once the last of the snipped-away irritant lay at his feet, the big horse uttered a great shuddering sigh. And went back to his grass.
I walked back across the valley to the farmhouse wondering if the next time I came to give the horse a trim he'd remember two things: what a deft barber I'd been, and how much he'd appreciated his first shave.