Showing posts with label horse management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horse management. Show all posts

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trying to Out-Smart my own Lousy Memory

If someone told me that more than one year after moving I would still be trying to work out a barn management routine that is efficient, I wouldn't have believed them.  I think most people who keep horses on their own land, unless they recently moved, are already set in their routines and don't face many issues on a day-to-day basis.  They probably don't remember all the problems that popped up that they had to resolve in the very beginning when they moved their horses and themselves to a new property.

There's nothing like extreme heat and humidity that makes you sweat from head to toe, and makes your heart beat hard like it is trying to push sludge through your arteries, to put pressure on a person to work out a fast and pain-free barn management routine.

After making the same old mistakes for the hundredth time this morning, I sat down to make myself a list of what to do and in what order each time I walk out the door to do anything with the horses.  It is yet another effort to save my sanity and keep from getting heat stroke.  The barn is only maybe 25 yards from the back door, but each trip out there and back is really strenuous on an old fart like me in the extreme heat.  I was thinking that I was just being irritable about everything because of hormones and having a lack of time to address the sheer number of hassles that have been coming my way, but when my husband goes out to do barn chores, he runs into many of the same problems I do.  Lo and behold, they irritate him too.  So, it's not necessarily a hormonal issue.  We definitely have more patience when it's not hot.

So, my list of reminders includes simple things that my brain keeps forgetting, such as remembering to take the dogs out to do their business BEFORE going to the barn.  Otherwise, they sit at the back door and bark frantically, threatening to lose their bladder and bowels on the carpet if I don't run back to the house immediately, put on their leashes and take them outside.  I really miss the good old days of being able to just open up the back door when the dogs needed to relieve themselves.  I wish I had dogs that would just hang close to me off leash, but this morning Midge tried to run out into the desert when she smelled something that interested her.  I had to run after her and step on her leash.  In the meantime, I had dropped Scrappy's leash to free myself up to chase after Midge, and Scrappy took a dump on it.  Awesome.

I also have a reminder to check the time, and decide if I should feed the dogs before the horses.  Many times I get outside to feed the horses and run into some snags, and next thing I know my mobile phone alarm is going off to remind me that it's time to give Midge her insulin, and I haven't even fed her yet.  It's important that she eat on time with her diabetes, so I have to drop everything at the barn and run back in the house to deal with the dogs.  The less trips between house and barn, the better.

The other thing I constantly forget is to grab the ointments that I now have to store in the air conditioned house because they melt in the horse trailer.  If I remember to take them outside with me, it is almost a guarantee that no horses will be injured and I won't have to use them.  If I forget, I always find some scab falling off or some new cut or abrasion on a horse, and I have to make the trek back into the house to get the ointments.

Equally aggravating as the trips between house and barn are the trips between barn and tack room, so I have gathered all the basic wound care supplies that can be left in the heat, and I put them in the storage shed next to the stalls.  It's only a few yards difference between the shed and the tack room, but it saves a tremendous amount of energy in the heat.  I previously tried keeping a lot of stuff just outside the barn gate, but when it rains or the wind blows really hard, I find myself having to expend more energy cleaning up the mess done by the weather to my supplies.

The list saves me from having to spin my wheels and go nowhere.  It's not fair to the horses if I run out of gas before they get all of their needs met.  I feel guilty every time I go back to the house to rest or drink ice water to cool my organs before I've give the horses both their grass and alfalfa, or before I've refilled their water troughs or before I've applied fly spray.

I had the foresight to print out the list in big enough lettering that I can read it without having to search for a pair of glasses.  That's a big thing with me.  If I have to search for glasses to read something, I won't read it, and then I get to suffer the consequences of not reading it later on.  That's very painful when what I refused to read was a recipe, and we get stuck having to eat whatever crap comes out of the oven that I threw together from memory.

The list should help me get everything done in the fewest number of steps, and then when I'm back in the air conditioned house I can hopefully exercise to improve my stamina.  Of course, exercising depends upon not having illnesses, injuries, and pain.  I don't know what is up with my body, but I'm starting to coin a new-to-me term:  "Sleep injury."  It's when you go to bed feeling fine and wake up with an injury.  You can either blame it on sleepwalking or being abducted by aliens.

Actually, I just looked up the term and most people associate it with scratching yourself in your sleep.  In my case, I think I lay on my fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, and legs in such a way that I put stress injuries on the tendons, joints and bones.  I probably don't feel the pain when it is happening because my blood pressure medication knocks me out so thoroughly.

The geldings have started this new behavior that is rather fascinating to watch.  I'll try to get a picture or film it someday, but I'll have to be in the right place at the right time to catch it.  Until then, I'll just describe it.  Bombay picks up the flattened, torn up Jolly Ball in his mouth and backs up so that he is alongside Rock.  Rock bites into the other half of the Jolly Ball, and the two of them take off walking around the arena side-by-side with the Jolly Ball in their mouths, kind of like a team of horses pulling a carriage.  Then they take off trotting or cantering together, trying to keep in rhythm so that the ball stays in both their mouths.

It's really beautiful to watch until Rock gets silly, rips the ball out of Bombay's mouth and takes off galloping and bucking with it.  When that happens, the mares get irritable and Lostine tries running away from Rock.  He interprets that as her inviting him to play, so he chases her.  Then Lostine runs to Gabbrielle and bites her to tell her to get Rock in line.  Then Gabbrielle chases Rock around, biting him while Lostine lays her head across Bombay's back for protection.

Rock just runs around like a galloping fool laughing and bucking.  Despite having Gabbrielle chasing him with her ears pinned back, he still manages to squeeze around Bombay to get to Lostine, who in turn runs for her life.  Then the three of them are chasing each other while Bombay is standing there with the Jolly Ball in his mouth waiting for a partner to join him in carrying it around the arena.  It's no wonder these horses keep getting hurt with all the silly games they play.  I think I truly understand how the term "horseplay" evolved.

Look at this gem I found while searching images of "horseplay":

Hopefully, my new reminder list will guide me to do less work in less time and allow me more time to do more of this.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Different Kind of Progress

My horse trainer has been (ahem) encouraging me to flatten out the mounds of sand in the riding arena.  She doesn't like walking around in sand dunes while giving lessons.  I don't blame her.  It's impossible for me to haul the wagon through the thicker spots to pick up manure.  I occasionally go out there with a shovel, wheelbarrow and rake to spread the sand around, but that method has obviously been taking months of work without a whole lot of progress.

I looked into renting a tractor or Bobcat, but can't find anything local.  I suspect I just don't know where to look.  So, I bought a drag harrow and my husband fixed it up to move sand around.  I got out there in my pickup truck and dragged it this way and that until it was better than before.  The mounds aren't as obvious, but I still need to do the finishing touches with a shovel and rake.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We Survived

I was worried how just my one neighbor and I were going to organize getting all three horses over to his place before sunrise.  If we left any horse behind for a second trip, there would be a lot of whinnying and calling out, which would wake the neighborhood.  I think most people are already out the door to work by 6:00 AM, but I didn't want to take any chances making a racket if just one neighbor was at home sick or trying to get some rest on a vacation day.  So, I had decided that I would lead two horses at the same time and pray that they didn't spook or jump on top of me or start kicking each other.

Fortunately, my husband solved that one by telling his boss he'd be in late, so we had three people to lead three horses, and with the exception of Gabbrielle pulling repeatedly on my arm and Bombay pooping on the neighbor's driveway, all went well.  Gabbrielle is a handful, because she's like a toddler, full of energy and an excitement for life.  If you take her somewhere new, she wants to run all over the place and investigate everything, completely forgetting that she's on the end of a lead rope.  So, she needs more halter training in new spaces.  She's fine on line as long as she's bored with her surroundings.

Here are some pictures from the day:

The horses in my neighbors' paddock going on alert as the first couple of dump trucks arrive.

Lostine was the brave one who approached the fence to get a closer look.  After all, they might be dumping food.

The drivers' chained the back flap so that they only released a little sand at a time and then drove forward to help spread it.  That cut back on a lot of the loud banging noises.

It was funny how the horses raised their necks and heads higher each time a dump truck lifted its bed.

I was trying to get a shot with all three horses having their ears pinned forward, but Lostine kept cocking one ear back.  I think she was keeping an ear turned toward the dog kennel.

The drivers were unable to spread at the front of the paddock by the barn, so they dumped piles...

...which I will have to spread myself.  I'm sure the horses will help.

Follow the sandy soft road...

My neighbor helped me bring the horses back home mid-day.  I figured they'd be better behaved since they knew the route now, so I decided to lead two horses.  I noticed that both Lostine and Bombay were chasing Gabbrielle around and kicking her yesterday, so I thought it would be best for my neighbor to lead Gabbrielle since Lostine and Bombay can handle having each other in their personal space, but can't deal with Gabbrielle crowding them.

My biggest challenge was just steering both horses around cacti.  Sometimes they'd look the other way and start walking into one.  Gabbrielle froze up a couple of times when she didn't want to proceed past something unfamiliar to her, but my neighbor just talked to her in a soothing tone and assured her that she was safe.  We got her into the barn and she spotted the big mounds of dirt, jumped straight up into the air and came down with all four legs splayed.  She wouldn't budge from that position until she saw the other two horses go to feed troughs and start eating hay.

I can't wait to watch them when they finish eating and realize how soft the sand is.  They're usually like kids in a candy store whenever I bring them a mountain of dirt.  They play King or Queen of the Hill, paw at it, make sandcastles, and roll in it.  Ahhhhh, I feel so complete now that the hard part of this project is done.  It won't be long before I'm back in the saddle retraining the horses to prepare them for the trails.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloween

I found this interesting spider in my garden.  It looks more like a tic, but gross enough for Halloween.  I know it will be a while before a lot of readers have the electricity to visit the blogosphere again.  I hope everyone survived Superstorm Sandy without too much damage.

I finally had that elective surgery I've been in need of for a few years now.  My old doctor and I were making plans for me to go through with it, and then I lost my job and my awesome health insurance.  The symptoms of this health problem were getting worse and worse, so I found a new doctor after my move out of state to perform the procedure.  So far the results have been nothing short of miraculous.  I didn't realize how much discomfort and pain I had until now that I don't have to experience it anymore.  In fact, I took less pain killers after the surgery than I did on a day-to-day basis before the surgery.  This change should allow me to live a freer lifestyle.  I'm still somewhat tied to the house and a strict schedule because of Midge's diabetes, but at least I have one less health obstacle myself to deal with.

In other news, I got the surface of my riding arena as rock-free as possible by hand, and have scheduled to have 175 tons of sand to be delivered.  I debated between sand and the slightly heavier crushed rock that I used in the barn.  Sand blows away but doesn't pack down as much while the heavier material packs down into the ground and has to be replenished every few years.  It was six to one and half a dozen to the other.  My neighbors have a horse facility, so if the sand blows into their riding pens, it will help them out.  Losing the heavier material to the earth won't help anyone.

The process we worked on all summer and fall regarding the removal of rocks began with us just picking up the biggest rocks and chucking them over the fence.  I then raked up the medium sized and smaller rocks into the hay sling and dumped them into a wheelbarrow, hauling the stuff out every evening.  Then I used a really long metal rod and speared the ground to loosen the dirt and pry up large boulders that were buried. Some of these were bigger than my Corgi (but not as soft) and when a hoof hits them, there is the potential for serious injury to the horse. It would be like cantering unshod horses on concrete, only worse because the rocks had sharp points.

I'm wary of these types of rocks, because in my riding area in Nevada I had removed all the rocks except for one that refused to come up, and wouldn't you know it -- the one time I fell off a horse I landed right on that rock and ended up with two plates and twelve pins in my arm -- an injury that probably would not have happened had that rock not been there.

This was the last large rock that was giving me fits.  I ended up having to dig out all the dirt around it with a shovel, and it turned out that it was standing on end, much bigger than just the part that's sticking up out of the ground in this picture.  Once I could get the bar underneath it and pry it up, I found that it was too heavy for me to lift, so I rolled it one rotation at a time all the way across the paddock into a corner.  I got a good workout dealing with these rocks and am ten times stronger than I was earlier this year.  I'm kind of glad that the rock clearing service blew me off, since I benefited from doing most of the work myself.  My husband and kids did come out and do a lot of rocking lifting as well when they were available on the weekends.

My wagon half full.  Most evenings I would dig until it was full and the sides were bursting from the weight.

This is a rock my son dug up that I decided to use as a mounting block.  Those are tree trunks and limbs on the other side of the fence, which gives you an idea of its size.

A small section of rocks we dug out all summer on the other side of the fence.  This side of the fence gives you an idea of how smooth the ground is now.

The riding arena looks 100% better and safer.

I've arranged with my neighbors to house the horses over at their place while the trucks come and go all day from my horse paddock.  (Yes, I am friends with my neighbors.  Just a note for those of you who think I hate and avoid all neighbors.)  We are going to lead my horses through an obstacle course over to their place under the full moon before sunrise.  Why that early?  Well, the rock and sand company wouldn't honor my request to hold off on sending the first truck until after 9:00 AM.  They said that since this is an all day job, they have to begin at 7:00 AM.  The sun doesn't even rise until 6:45!  Oh well.  You do what you have to do... especially when it comes to the safety and welfare of your horses and your ability to ride them.  Fortunately, my neighbors are usually up at 4:30 AM, so this is a normal schedule for them.

We previously bought them dinner, and I'm planning on helping them use some of the larger rocks I dug up to landscape a section of their property.  I'm also going to photograph each of their dogs (and they have a lot because they used to run a dog rescue) and provide them with the images for free.  So, this isn't all about me mooching off them, like some of my neighbors did to me at my last home.  One good favor deserves another in turn.

I'm going to be heads down during the month of November for NaNoWriMo.  This online writing event that challenges writers to put 50,000 words on disk or paper by the end of the month helped me to complete the first half of my second novel last year.  My life has been too crazy since then for me to finish the novel.  I'm counting on NaNoWriMo to help me finish the book, so that I can finally publish it.

My first novel, THE NEXT DOOR, is still doing well bringing in royalties.  (See book on side bar of blog.)  Everything flowed so smoothly with writing and publishing it, but with this second novel the flow has been broken up so many times by circumstances and by my attention being needed elsewhere.  I really need everything to settle down just for a few weeks so that I can push through it.  So, if you are wondering why my blog posts are few and far between over the next month, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why I Admire Horse Groomers and Other Digressions

Lostine was looking a bit ragged and the two grays had brown manes and yellow tails, so I promised all the horses that I would clean them up soon.  I went out to the barn at 9:30 AM to start the process of trimming, bathing and grooming three horses and didn't get back into the house until 2:00 PM.  Fortunately, the dogs didn't pee on the carpet, but they were squealing to go outside as soon as I walked in the back door.  Next time that I think I'm going to spend an hour tops out at the barn, I'm taking a water bottle with me because everything takes a lot longer than I expect, and if I spend too much time outdoors I start feeling the effects of dehydration.

I think I spent the first hour just trying to get all my supplies together and reflecting on how easy it used to be to do such tasks as my old house.  First off, my horse space was contained in a very small portion of property that was a little less than a third of an acre, so everything I needed was within reach.  With our new house, the electrical outlets, the hose, the tack room, and the gates are all spread out, so I spent a lot of time hiking back and forth, plugging in electrical cords, turning on water, retrieving supplies I forgot, but needed once a problem cropped up.

At my old house I had several fenced off pens.  Everything was double-fenced, so the horses could break out through one gate and still be contained.  That was especially helpful in the end there when my annoying neighbors' son kept climbing the fence and opening the gate to cut my horses loose just to get a rise out of me.

However, at our new house we only have one large fenced in space.  It's difficult to separate the horses unless I lock them up in their stalls or bring one horse outside the fence and risk having it break free.  The horse trailer was within a fenced area at our old house, so I often tied the horses to the side of the trailer, but at the new house the horse trailer is out in the open.  I don't feel comfortable tying a horse to the side of the trailer here, because they get so worked up when I separate them, and we've got so many unexpected challenges like dust devils, horseback riders and packs of coyotes coming through our property.  I don't want a horse to pull back on the lead rope, break free, and take off with no fence to contain it.

So, the first challenge was finding a place to tie the horses while I bathed and groomed them.  I don't think the metal fence posts are strong enough, so my only option was to tie them to a railing of the barn.  Of course, the other two horses kept crowding me so that I couldn't work.  I tried spraying them with water to chase them off, but they liked it.  So, I had to hike back to the tack room of the trailer to get the long whip.

One thing that does impress me about my horses is that they know who I'm directing my commands to, even when they are bunched up together.  That means I can crack the whip and the two horses who are not being groomed know that I want them to move out and stop pestering me and the horse I'm working with.  I can use this technique while free lunging -- just point at a horse in the crowd, crack my whip, and that horse begins exercising in a circle around me while the others watch.  I can quickly switch one horse out with another or lunge two or three at the same time.  It's a beautiful thing.

Anyway, once I finished washing up the first horse I found myself in another quandary.  At the old house I kept a freshly bathed horse from rolling in dirt by cutting him loose to graze on grass.  I had grass on my RV lane, which was also covered in pebbles, and the horses didn't want to lay down and roll on that, so they'd just graze until their fur dried.  However, here, at my new place, there is no grass -- only dirt for as far as the eye can see.  If I locked the horse in a stall, it could still roll in the sand because they are 16x16' box stalls.  I ended up putting each one in a stall to dry with a slice of hay, making sure that I spread the hay all around to discourage the horse from rolling in it.  That tactic worked for every horse except Gabbrielle, who ate a little, took a dump, and then rolled in both the hay and the poo.

I was a bit baffled because I ran out of shampoo, and when I left Nevada I know I had four different brands of horse shampoo.  I dug all through the horse trailer and couldn't find anything beyond that one bottle that was now empty.  With strangers using our property like it is public land, I worry about someone breaking into my tack room and stealing stuff.  The lock has been fussy so I can't always lock it, but it doesn't make sense that someone would help himself to shampoo and ignore all the other expensive items in there.  At the same time, I had multiple items hanging on every hook in that tack room and noticed a few weeks ago that the hooks were starting to look naked.  I wracked my brain to figure out what was missing, but can't remember.  I have a lot of old tack I used for training that doesn't get used anymore.  I guess I'll have to just take pictures and keep inventory like I did back when my hay farmer suspected that someone was stealing my hay.  Turned out he was right.

With the temperatures cooling down, we are getting more horseback riders coming through, which poses a problem with our dogs.  We have to take our dogs outside to do their business, and they do bark at strangers on our property.  They don't bark at my horses, because they understand that they belong here, but they will charge a strange horse and rider.  So, we have to keep them on leashes on our property.  We had to put an extra magnet on our screen door, because the dogs could run into it and the screen door would fly open.  If horseback riders ride too close to our house while we have the doors open, we have to scramble to jump up and shut the doors before the dogs get out.  It's a pain.

I was stunned to find hoof prints right outside our front door on our landscaped driveway.  Either a rider lost control of her horse in my front yard or was just rude by messing up my gravel when she could have easily rode down the street like everyone else.  I think I know which rider did it.  I've seen her cut through my alley to the north before, so I set up NO TRESPASSING signs at the points where she enters and leaves our property.  There's another sign that clearly instructs riders to go south, which she repeatedly ignores.

Also, I've noticed that the horseback riders follow hoof prints of other horses, thinking they are following a trail.  However, I walk my horses on parts of my property where I do not want strangers to be for a variety of reasons.  Unfortunately, they see my horses' hoof prints and go where I led my own horses instead of using their common sense and thinking, "Gee, this path cuts a little too close to this house and disturbs the landscaping.  Perhaps I should walk along the property line and give the homeowners their space."

Anyway, while I was bathing the horses I heard voices and turned around to find a vehicle stopped at the dead end on the bluff while the occupants watched me washing the horse.  There's this road that would go straight to town if the arroyo, my property and the Trust land weren't in the way.  Maps show the street going straight through, but that is a mistake.  I think that so many drivers end up on that bluff above my back yard because their GPS tells them to go that way.  They get to the dead end, see my horses, and always stop to watch them.

One day my husband and I drove down that street just to see the view of our back yard, and I have to admit that my heart skipped a beat because my horses looked so gorgeous down there.  There's something about seeing a herd of horses from up above that offers a unique, awe-inspiring perspective.  I'll hike up there and take a picture looking down at the horses one day when it is cooler and they come out of the shade of the barn.  But my lack of privacy does get annoying after a while, especially when it's 6:00 AM and I'm out there in my pajamas throwing hay to the horses with yet another audience in a vehicle on the bluff.  Still, having different strangers who just happen to be passing through spying me in my backyard is a lot better than having the same people watching me under the eye of microscope day in and day out, like my nosy neighbors at the old house.

The other night I was walking around the house in my pajamas.  The front door was open with the screen closed, and I got lit up like an actress on stage when someone pulled into my driveway and shined his headlights right in through the door at me.  I expected the driver to either keep on driving all the way around and leave, or back out and leave, but when he saw me in the house, he stopped and just sat there idling and shining his lights on me.  I shut the solid door, and then he backed up and drove off.  It's amazing how many people have the voyeurism gene in them.  They may be decent people, but if they get a chance to spy someone in a private moment through a window or door, they'll take it.

But I digress.  Back to the horse grooming.  I probably spent the last half hour cleaning up all the supplies, coiling extension cords and hoses.  Bombay has been rubbing the crest of his neck on the barn railing to itch his mosquito bites, and about half his mane hair came out when I brushed it.  I had balls of mane hair from each horse that needed to be thrown in a trash can so that it wouldn't blow into their hay and get ingested.

I really don't do all that much work when I groom the horses.  For instance, I don't trim their faces anymore since I don't show them.  So, I think about all the work that is involved in getting 10 or 20 horses ready for a show at these training barns, and I have a lot of respect for the grooms.  Not an easy job at all.  I was sore just after grooming three horses.  Normally, I would just groom one horse a day, but it took so long for me to get all the supplies together and the electric and water setup that I knew I had to get all three done right then.  But they are happier horses for it.  Lostine feels like a queen again.

What do you think?  Could she use a little mascara and eye shadow?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Butterflies and The Jackalope

The previous owners of our new home planted a row of flowers before they left, and the flowers have grown so much that they appear to be one long bush cascading down our retaining wall.  For several weeks now the flowers have been attracting butterflies of all sizes and colors.

When I walk outside, I walk through a cloud of butterflies.  Today I noticed that there seemed to be less of them, so I hurried outside with my point-and-shoot camera to get a few shots before they disappear.  Every deluge of species seems to only hang around for a very short window of time, usually three weeks.  

I'll have to make an effort to find the right lens to my professional camera and take some serious pictures.  I tend to take pictures of things that disappear fast, like animals and sunsets, so if I don't have the right lens on my good camera, I just grab the point-and-shoot.

My husband keeps seeing a "jackalope" or an almost impossibly large rabbit hopping around the untouched portion of our property, and I got a fleeting glimpse of it just before it disappeared into a bush.  I didn't see it come out, so I looked under the bush and found a bunch of rabbit holes.  Now I have the challenge of trying to get a photo of the elusive, mythological jackalope.  It's "supposed to" cool down next week, so we may get to start sitting on the patio in the evening, which will allow me to keep a look out.

I love the bees around here.  They are very mellow, unlike the flies.

Lostine has been getting a bit rotund, and I'm sure all that extra weight isn't helping her arthritis pain, so I've been locking her in a stall at meal times in order to prevent her from wolfing down her own food and racing over to eat Bombay and Gabbrielle's hay too.  Gabbrielle could use a few extra pounds.  She eats a lot, but has a fast metabolism.

I've removed the rocks from about 1/6th of the paddock after raking and prying them up every evening for over a month now.  Once it cools down, I can get out there during the day and make faster progress.  At least I know that the sand delivery company I use can get what I order out to me on the same day as long as I call in the morning.  So, right now I'm the only one holding up getting these horses a riding arena.  Oh, and we have a floodlight for the barn now.

I think it was pointing down at the ground in this picture, but it now points into the barn, so I can go out after dark to let Lostine out of her stall once everyone is done eating.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Special Delivery

Lostine has been digging a hole to China in her stall, while Bombay has walked a mote around the edges of his stall along the walls. My daughter and I were just out hiking on Tuesday and I drove past the house of the lady who runs our stall shavings co-op. I said, "I haven't heard from her all year. How much do you want to bet that she'll email me today and tell me that a shipment of shavings is coming in this week?"

I got home and sure enough, there was an email from her. Based on the time of the email, she was composing it right when we drove past her house. I must have picked up on her thoughts due to my proximity to her. Anyway, they raised the price of the bags of wood shavings to $7.25 per bag. That's not any less than what they sell in the local feed stores, so I opted out of the co-op. I decided to just order a truck load of D.G. (decomposed granite).

I called a different company than I usually use, and told them I would probably need two truck loads. The guy on the phone was very intelligent and professional, and he wanted to actually do that math to figure out exactly how much D.G. I would need. I wanted enough to fill three 12x12 stalls and have enough left over to spread in the round pen and the back pen. He asked how deep I wanted it, so I exaggerated and said 2-feet deep, figuring the first layer will get compacted and I'll have to add some more. He did some calculations and said I would need just one truck load. I asked how much it would be, and nearly flipped when he quoted me for $482! I used to get six truck loads for around $750 when I wanted to cover the entire paddock. Oh well. You gotta pay what you gotta pay.

Then the guy said he'd send someone by within the next hour! Wow! I'm used to having to wait weeks for these kind of deliveries. I guess that says something about how depressed the construction business is at the moment. I raced outside to move the horse trailer, and was in such a hurry that I crashed my truck into it. Duh!

I was watching to make sure I cleared the electrical outlet in my side view mirror, but forgot to watch how close I was to the trailer in the rear view mirror. I put a dent in the bumper, but it's no big deal because my truck is nearly ten years old.

Anyway, the D.G. delivery arrived an hour later and the driver saved me from more property damage by pointing out that he can't drive his truck over my septic tank or he'll crush it. I totally forgot about that. So, he wasn't able to dump the D.G. out of the way in the back pen where I originally wanted it. He dumped it on the R.V. lane on top of all the fox-tails next to the haystack instead -- basically, where I normally park my horse trailer.

He dumped the load, I thanked him, and then he said he'd be right back. I didn't know why he'd be right back, but I waited for him while he drove off. A few minutes later, he was backing his truck down my RV lane with a second load. Hmmmmmm. I guess the guy on the phone decided I needed two loads after all? He dumped the second load and drove off. I went in the house, looked out the window and saw that he had brought three trailers filled with D.G. and he was hooking up the last one to deliver.

I realized that this company considers three trailers to be one truck load, while the old company I used just delivered in one dump truck. So, the price wasn't too bad considering how much D.G. I got. It's actually way too much. It'll take me months to shovel all of it into the wheelbarrow and wagon and spread it where I need it.

My motive to hurry up is so that I can park my horse trailer back in its old spot and so that I can make room for the next hay delivery. The timing of the delivery was good in that my daughter is home from college for a couple of weeks before she leaves for an internship in Beijing, so she can help spread it. I'm paying both kids an hourly wage for their efforts.

The horses got so excited when the truck arrived. Lostine hid behind the barn, Bombay quivered in the corner, and Gabbrielle kept running up to the fence with her hackles raised, and then running away each time the truck let off its air brakes. Eventually, I let them out to play on the mountain range. Lostine mainly just grazed around it, but Bombay and Gabbrielle had a good time playing king/queen of the mountain and pushing the D.G. around with their muzzles.

With the help of my son and daughter, we were able to fill one and a half stalls with D.G. in a little over an hour. We'll just have to do a little bit each day until the job is done. Who needs the treadmill and elliptical machine when we can shovel, lift the weight of a wheelbarrow filled with granite, and run back and forth? If I'm not in great physical shape after this project, I'll eat my hat. The trick is going to be to not overdo it and get so sore or injure myself, so that I can't finish the job.

I think it's time these horses learn how to pull a wagon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Managing the Herd

We had another cold, windy day, but no snow, so I took Lostine for a spin. She was all revved up in the beginning of our ride. I must have said "EASY!" 50 times. The ground is still too slippery for galloping. She firmly told me she was sick of the round pen by planting her feet at the gate and side-passing into it.

Alrighty. Whatever you say, Lostine. You're the boss.

No, wait, I'm supposed to be the boss.

However, I did think going for a ride around the paddock was in order, so I leaned over and opened the gate for us to pass through. Gabbrielle got a little too excited and galloped up from behind us, so I kicked her butt into the round pen since she was trying to start a stampede. Bombay followed and I shut the gate behind them from Lostine's back.

However, before we could go for our ride, Bombay grabbed my really nice lead rope in his mouth and taunted me with it. I hollered at him to drop it, and he took off with it. I waved my riding crop in the air at him and used my angry voice, and he dropped the rope.

Then Bombay started getting ready to roll too close to the railings. Gabbrielle once got her legs stuck when she rolled into the railing, so I hollered at him to get up. He stopped and looked at me, and then just went back to spinning around and making false starts at kneeling. I hollered again, but it was clear he was going to ignore me this time, so I leaped off Lostine's back and ran full sprint at Bombay as he was kneeling. He jumped up and scurried off.

Gabbrielle was standing at attention as if waiting for her round pen lesson. I knew as soon as I mounted Lostine, Bombay would just go back to the same spot to roll. So, I herded him to the center of the round pen and encouraged him to roll there, but no, he had to have the spot up against the railing.

I looked over at Lostine and she was still standing in the spot where I left her. "Hmmmmm, one of her previous owners must have taught her to ground tie," I thought. I went back to herding Bombay to the center of the round pen for his roll while Gabbrielle looked on. I saw Lostine start to move, so I yelled, "Lostine! Stay!"

Despite "stay" being a new command for her, she knew what I meant and returned to the spot where I left her. I continued in my power struggle with Bombay over the location where I wanted him to take his dirt bath. Lostine then started heading off again and I yelled, "Stay!"

This time she was looking at me as if saying, "I know what you are asking, Mom, but I've got something really important to do."

I took her word for it and watched her as she walked over to the ladies room, did her business, and then walked back to the spot where I left her. Wow! That horse is smart.

I gave up on getting Bombay to roll in the center of the round pen and kicked both him and Gabbrielle out, so that I wouldn't have to worry about their legs getting stuck in railing. For some reason, they never roll near the outside of the round pen railings -- just the inside.

I mounted Lostine again and rode her around the paddock in the wind. Gabbrielle started playing with the folding metal step stool while Bombay drew in the sand with a stick. I rode Lostine over to him to see what he was drawing. Perhaps my boy has learned to write his own name. Who knows? These horses are pretty smart.

However, when we approached him, he dropped the stick and walked off. Oh well. We returned to our ride. When I looked back, Bombay had picked up the stick and was drawing in the same spot again. We walked up to him, and again he dropped the stick and walked away.

Then I realized that I was riding the alpha mare, and she has trained Bombay to move away from her. At that point, I decided to try my hand at herding a horse from another horse's back. Lostine and I pushed him here and pushed him there. He kept looking at us as if saying, "What? Where do you want me to go? I'm moving away and you just keep pushing me away further."

It was rather fun, and I think Lostine found it humorous too, but then Gabbrielle thought the name of the game was to pick on Bombay, so she galloped up to him and bit him. I scolded her, and then Lostine and I started pushing her around until she was humbled. Then I put them all to work weeding the RV lane.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gate Crashing

Hmmmmm. I'm bored. I just rolled in the mud and ruined my pretty purple blanket. Now I think I'll try to bust out so that I can help myself to the haystack.

That didn't do it. I'll just wiggle the gate a little lower.

Nope. Lower now. Ahhhh, I found the chain. I'll tug on that with my teeth and push on the gate with my muzzle, and I should be home free to chow down on as much yummies as I wish.

Sorry, Lostine. You're not getting past that double lock.

But seriously, folks. For those of you new to horse ownership, do whatever it takes to keep your horses locked up. Get creative with your locking system on your gates. If your horse breaks out and gets into the hay or grain, your horse can founder and you'll end up caring for a lame horse that you can no longer ride, or worse yet, your horse can colic and die. It can also wander out into traffic causing an accident, and then you'll find yourself with a lawsuit on your hands, and possibly an injured horse. So many things can go wrong.

Over the years I've become a pro at catching other people's loose horses. I'm thinking maybe I should go into business: Put an ad in the local paper that says something like, "LOOSE HORSE? CALL..." Not only will I catch and lead or herd the horse right back home, but I will charge a consulting fee on how to prevent escapes from happening in the future. Actually, the number one reason for horses getting loose is forgetfulness. Someone simply forgets to lock the gate.

My personal worst disaster happened when I was at work and my husband forgot to lock the gate. Lostine got into the haystack, and I had these tarp ties holding down the tarp over the top of the haystack. Lostine took a big bite out of the bottom of the stack, breaking some twine that the tarp tie was attached to, and the S-shaped hook skewered her right through her nostril. My husband came outside and found her with this rubber tarp tie hanging from her nose. He said it was really hard to remove, because Lostine wouldn't hold her head still and he had to gently thread the curve through without tearing anymore skin. Amazingly, by the time I got home, I could only barely see the nose piercing. I cleaned it out and a few days later it completely healed. Fortunately, my husband found her before she consumed too much hay.

For more information on how I lock my gates and stalls, see Escape Artists.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking the Ice (or Not)

It's official. This is the worst winter I've experienced in my entire life.

I have three water troughs in my three stalls and three water troughs outdoors, but only two of the outdoor water troughs have de-icers installed. I have a flaky double-outlet electrical system attached to a stump on our RV lane and no electricity in my stalls. That's why I only have two de-icers plugged in. However, after this morning I'm going to have to change things around.

This is the first time in the history that I've owned horses where I simply could not break the ice. I pounded away at it for 15 minutes with a hammer and a post-hole digger, one of those long, heavy metal spears that help you break through rock.

So, I gave up and brought out a bucket of hot water from the house, which instantly turned cold once I brought it outside. I'm moving the horses around to different pens during the day so that they all get a chance to drink from the de-iced troughs.

I'm thinking that today I will go to the hardware store and look for an adaptor that will allow me to plug into three sockets. My biggest challenge will be finding a third de-icer. If I'm having these problems, so is everyone else, so I'm sure every feed store will be sold out of water heaters and water trough de-icers. I've never worried about it, because we rarely have winters that get down to single-digits, and I've always been able to break the ice.

Monday, November 3, 2008

To Blanket or Not to Blanket - That is the Question

Horses naturally grow more fur in colder temperatures that acts as insulation -- nature's jacket so-to-speak. However, some people choose to cover their horse's body with a blanket for insulation, protection, and cleanliness. In making a decision on whether or not to blanket your horse, consider the following:

1. The climate where your horse is boarded. Is there wind? Rain? Snow? What is the temperature range in the winter months? One rule of thumb is that if it is cold enough that you need to wear a jacket, then you need to make sure your horse is wearing a jacket, whether it be extra fur or a man-made blanket.

2. Whether or not your horse has a shelter. Blankets are especially helpful in protecting your horse from high winds. Waterproof turnouts will keep your horse's body dry in rain and snow.

3. Whether or not you show your horse. People who show their horses often clip the hair to keep the horse clean and with a show quality appearance. In this case, they are removing the natural hair growth that the horse's body has decided it needs, and a blanket is necessary to make up for the lost hair.

4. Whether or not you ride your horse in the winter. If you ride your horse to a point where it sweats, all the extra fur it grows in the winter months may cause it to overheat during excessive exercise. A blanket can help prevent so much fur from growing so that the horse can exercise without overheating once the blanket is removed.

5. Whether or not you have the time to keep up the routine of putting on the blanket at night and removing it on warmer mornings. Once you start blanketing a horse during the winter, you need to continue to do it until temperatures rise in the spring. The reason for this is because the blanket will prevent the natural fur growth, and taking the blanket away suddenly would be like throwing a naked person into a freezer. There might be periods when it remains below freezing during the day also, and you can leave the blanket on for days or weeks at a time. You do have to monitor the weather forecasts and make sure that you remove the blanket in the morning on warm days. Too many horse owners leave for work when it is cold outside, and they leave the blanket on the horse, only to return at the end of the day to an overheated horse that has been suffering in the sun all day while buried under a blanket.

If you decide that you do want to start blanketing your horse, you need to consider the type of blanket that is most appropriate for you and your horse.
  • Indoor blanket vs. outdoor blanket: Stable blankets are usually lightweight and specifically for horses who are only blanketed inside a stall or perhaps outside, but only on dry days. Turnouts usually have waterproofing or weatherproofing materials applied to them, and can be worn in any weather condition.

  • Blanket weight: Most blankets come with a recommended range of temperatures. Sheets are the lightest weight, but can also be worn over heavier blankets. Mid-weight blankets are my favorite, because they keep my horses warm in the snow, but are not so heavy that I struggle to lift them. Heavyweight blankets can be difficult to lift and store due to their bulk, and should only be used in the most extreme freezing temperatures. Some websites, such as Schneider Saddlery, include charts to help you choose the correct blanket weight depending on whether you want to maintain or improve on your horse's current coat condition, and what the temperature range would be.

  • Open or closed front: Closed front blankets have to be lifted over the horse's head and threaded down its neck. It requires a little more training to get a horse to accept a giant mass of material around its face. Open front blankets usually have Velcro and/or buckles on the front, so you can train the horse to accept the blanket from the side, like a saddle, and then close up the front by hand. If you choose an open front, always make sure that you attach the front first before the belly and leg straps for safety reasons. If your horse bolts, you don't want the blanket to slide off and be dragged behind him by the leg straps. When you remove the blanket, always unbuckle the front last for the same reason.

  • Belly band or belly straps: A belly band is an extra wide band of material that covers the horse's belly to keep it warm. Belly bands are more often found on stable blankets. Belly straps or surcingles help keep the blanket in place, but not necessarily warm. The lengths of the band or straps should be adjusted so that they aren't so short that they dig into the horse's belly, and aren't so long that the horse could get a hoof stuck in them.

  • Leg straps: Most leg straps are optional to use. They can be attached like an X or around the inside of each hing leg like this:
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    Leg straps are usually the first thing to need to be replaced on a blanket. They often lose their elasticity, and the clips rust shut. I usually have to spray mine with WD-40 and pry them open and shut with needle-nose pliers after a few winters.

  • Rip-stop nylon lining: Horses are always getting themselves into trouble, and anything that you put on their backs is fair game when it comes to their destructive tendencies. You may as well look for a blanket with at least 1200D polyester or rip-stop nylon to save yourself a lot of sewing. If you expect the worst, invest in 1680D ballistic nylon or 1800D polyester.

  • Gussets: Gussets are like pleats that allow for more freedom of movement. Blankets are notorious for rubbing the fur right off a horse's withers. Consider your horse's conformation and the design of the blanket.

  • Length of drop: Some blankets only come down as far as the belly while others have a longer drop to keep the top of the legs warm and allow a little wrap under the belly when you attach the belly straps.

  • Neckline: Some blankets ride up a ways on the neck, some have V-necklines, some have round necklines. Consider your horse's conformation when choosing a neckline.

  • Tail Cover: Some blankets come with tail covers, and some tail covers are permanently attached while others are detachable, usually by Velcro. This is just for a little more warmth around the rear.

  • Neck Cover: Some blankets come with matching neck covers, and some neck covers only cover the neck while others also cover the head. Show horses that receive full body clippings often wear neck covers. If you do not use a neck cover, you will find that your horse's fur will grow out thick on the neck and stay thinner and shorter on the body when blanketed.
To measure for the proper blanket size, stand the horse square on flat ground. Using a cloth measuring tape, measure from the center of the chest along the horse's side to the edge of the tail. Position the tape so that it is at the widest part of the shoulder and hindquarters. The number of inches will equal the size of the blanket. If you do not have a cloth measuring tape, use string and then measure the string against a yardstick or metal measuring tape.

When introducing a blanket to a horse for the first time, you will probably have to run through some desensitization exercises. You can hang the blanket on a fence and give the horse time to approach and sniff it. Just make sure you supervise, so that the horse doesn't go nuts on the blanket and shred it before you even get to use it. Once the horse shows an interest, roll the blanket up into a ball in your arms and approach the horse while it is tied with a halter and lead rope. If the horse shies away, stay with it. When it relaxes, you can step back.

Once the horse is comfortable with that, touch the rolled up blanket to the horse's chest and sides. You can then shake out the blanket near the horse, so that it can get used to the sound and movement of the blanket. Once the horse accepts that, throw the blanket over its back. If the horse panics, try to keep that blanket on. Only remove it when the horse relaxes. You don't want to train your horse that it can find relief from its fear by dumping the blanket.

Always be aware of the location of your fingers and toes when helping your horse accept a blanket. I once was blanketing my young filly for the third or fourth time in her life, and she was still quite tense about it. I had just placed the blanket on her back and reached out to adjust it when my neighbor came out of his house and slammed his door. My filly jumped into me and broke my ring finger. I had to go to the doctor to have my ring cut off.

You can attach clips, like what mountain climbers use, to your stall wall and hang the blanket there so that you don't have to carry it all the way back to the tack room. I have also seen some stables drape blankets over a bar that is attached to the outside of the stall door. It is always safest to attach and remove blankets when the horse is haltered. Take the time to bend down and look underneath the horse to make sure that you have attached or detached all of the straps. When putting a blanket on, a dangling strap could startle a young or inexperienced horse and cause it to buck or bolt. When removing a blanket, if a strap is still attached, you could startle the horse by yanking the strap up into its belly or crotch.

When shopping for a blanket, don't confuse blankets with liners, fly sheets, slickers and coolers. Each of these items serves a different purpose. Blankets are specifically to keep your horse warm during the winter months and control the amount of hair growth. When you do remove the blanket, don't be surprised if your horse shakes and then hits the ground rolling. If your horse does spend a lot of time rolling in the sand (or mud), take the time to brush him before putting the blanket back on. That will keep the inside of the blanket cleaner and avoid discomfort for the horse.

Laundering should be done at least once between seasons. You don't want to let bacteria build up and make itself at home in or on the blanket. You can remove the detachable straps, attach the Velcro, and launder the blanket in your washing machine with a mild detergent and dry it on low, then hang it out to dry the rest of the way, or you can hose it down and hang it to dry on a fence in the sun, or you can hire someone to clean the blanket for you. Be aware that if you wash it too much, the stuffing may shift unevenly and result in the blanket pulling to one side when the horse wears it.

If you find that the blankets keep getting ripped, chances are that it is another horse that is ripping the blanket with its teeth or there is something with sharp points such as a fence that the horse is rubbing up against. Protect your investment in the blanket by separating horses from each other and removing sharp points in the horse's immediate environment. Horse blankets should last for several years if you take these precautions. Happy blanketing!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Listening To Your Horse

I have noticed that my horses seem to truly appreciate it when I take action after one of their complaints. For instance, I noticed Lostine scratching her splint boots with her nose and teeth after I lunged her. Though I was ready to hop into the saddle and ride, I took the time to investigate the problem she was pointing out with her splint boots. Upon removing them, lots of dirt fell out. I shook out the boots, brushed down her legs, and reattached the boots before riding. Now we have this wonderful method of communication and a basic trust between us. She knows that if something is scratching her legs, she can tell me and I will fix it.

Another common complaint from horses is head shaking after a bridle has been put on. My horses know that I will always adjust their forelocks so that the hair isn't caught on anything, I will adjust the browband so that it isn't pulling the side straps into their eyes, and I will adjust the bit so that it isn't pinching on either side of their mouths.

Does anyone have other examples of horse complaints, how they are communicated to you, and how you fix them?

Does anyone have a great caption for this hysterical picture of Gabbrielle?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gate Crashers

I have to be careful to lock the gate to the round pen, because these little stinkers like to jiggle the handle with their lips, push the gate open with their noses, and swing it back and forth until it breaks. My husband has had to go out and buy a welding machine to repair it in the past.

Who me? I didn't do anything.

In other news, this big stinker wouldn't cooperate in coming out of his stall this morning. Each time I tried to put the halter on him, he raised his head where I couldn't reach it, or he stuck his head out the window. I was late for work, so I said, "FINE! You can stay in your stall then!"

I proceeded to lead the girls out to their feed troughs, and Bombay threw a fit whinnying, snorting, bobbing his head up and down, and kicking his stall wall. I gave him one more chance to let me get the halter on him, and he refused. So, I took my sweet time delivering his hay to his stall. Once he was done eating two hours later, he had no problem lowering his head into that halter. What a jerk.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Scrubbing Bubbles

While petting Gabbrielle last night, I discovered caked-in gunk on her fur and decided it was time for a bath. I don't own stocks or a wash rack, so I just tie the horses loosely to a post. They do swing from side to side, and I just move with them so that they learn that they can't escape the water and may as well hold still. I sponge down their faces and spray everywhere else with the hose.

Gabbrielle would not allow me to wet her forelock from the front, so I had to reach up from behind her ears and squeeze the sponge from that angle in order to rinse it.

"I'm ready for my glamor photo now."

My son swears that the picture above was an accident. He didn't even notice Bombay peeing in the background while I was spraying Gabbrielle's tail. I think the framing of this is a little suspicious.

NOTE: I always leave my horses out to pick weeds in the rocks on the RV lane while drying out after a bath, because I don't want them to roll in the dirt in the paddock. We don't have an RV, but use the lane to store hay, shavings, and manure while it composts. I've trained the horses to stay off the haystack while weeding. After this bath I heard an odd noise and looked up to see Gabbrielle standing hock-deep in the manure pile! She actually climbed in there, even though she sunk down deep with each step. First, she peed in there, and then she repositioned herself and pooped, and then she started eating clump grass that was growing through the fence from the other side of the manure pile. I had to herd her out of there when she started spinning in circles like she was contemplating rolling in it! Silly horse.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lessons Learned in Horse Management

Don't order too many bags of shavings unless you've got a good place to store them, otherwise the elements and termites will break the plastic open...

If you live in an area with a lot of goat-heads, stickers, and jagged rocks, tires with inner tubes don't last a day. Buy wheelbarrows that either have solid rubber or plastic tires. Oh, and if a wheelbarrow can crack and break, it will, so keep two or three on hand...

Horses can dismantle just about anything, including their own barn, and if it's made of wood, they'll eat it too...

If you have heaters in your water troughs, arrange the troughs in such a way that horses cannot reach the electrical cords. Make sure you stay on top of filling the troughs with water, so that the horses can't tip them over to get to the cords...

It is best not to set up water troughs within or near a riding arena. All the dust, dirt and rocks end up in the water and you have to change it more often...

Don't leave the scrub brush you use to clean water troughs out. The horses will stomp on it, bite it, swing it around, and bend it every which way until not even duct tape can put it back together...

When choosing a barn or portable stall, select one that is set up for horizontal panels. If you attempt to attach a nameplate to vertical wood panels, this is what happens...

Horizontal wood panels are much more cooperative...