New Digs

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Bully & Rascal (Click on photo for full size & best resolution)

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We moved the three horses into our “new” barn over the holiday weekend. Needless to say, it was a momentous event! We built the barn because we desperately needed a bigger place to store hay, but we didn’t expect to have our horses live out of it. The plan was to have the structure built by a builder and gradually do most of the finish work ourselves. (I’ve seriously questioned that wisdom about a million times since) We finally got things to a point where we could use the barn for more than just a hay mow if we wanted, and after spending so much money and time on the new barn, we did! There’s still lots to do to get everything 100% up to snuff, but it’s nice to have horses and hay in the same location. It beats having to load the truck up with a week’s worth of hay every Sunday and haul it over to the other barn. I’m all for anything that (eventually) makes life easier!

Double or Nothing

IMG_0812(Early spring pasture)

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Weather permitting, I’m trying to ride one, or sometimes both horses daily. I know it’s unrealistic to think I’ll be able to ride two horses a day once the heat and humidity arrive, but until then I’m going to do my best to try. The way I’ve been doing this is to school one horse in the arena, then ride the other horse out on the trail. Then I reverse the routine the next time I ride. That way nobody gets trail-slighted or ring-sour. Unfortunately, the gnats have been HORRIBLE, but yesterday the temperature suddenly shot up and they didn’t seem quite as bad. It was predicted to be unseasonably hot again today, which meant I’d only get to ride one horse, provided I rode early in the morning.

It was Rascal’s turn in the queue, but he still has a fair amount of winter coat that’s trying to shed out. So I made sure we got out on the trail early and we didn’t do anything too strenuous. Rascal is doing quite well with our trail riding. He readily accepts stream crossings now and he picks his way through even the most the rocky spots fairly well. He’s beginning to really “tune in” to me and vice verse. Overall, I think Rascal’s an uncomplicated horse who wants to please, but who also likes to think a little bit for himself. He’s also grown more interested in having some casual interaction with me in the paddock, as opposed to just wanting to be left alone. I’m finding that he’ll soak up any personal attention like a sponge. I usually spend some time brushing and grooming all the horses every day and Rascal is finally starting to respond to being pampered. At some point I’d really like to give him a bath because he’s pretty crusty, but I’m going to wait until we have a string of nice weather in the forecast. No point in bathing him just to have him go and lay in the mud!

Spring Fling

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It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted. yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been riding. But it was a long, cold winter with lots of snow and bitter temperatures. Heck, it’s the second week of April and it’s STILL cold. And very windy. But at least the snow has melted, or pretty much so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last few months just letting Rascal settle in. It took about two months before I started to see his true personality, and I’m still making new discoveries every week. He was pretty shut down for awhile. That’s totally normal, I think. After all, Rascal had to endure some pretty major changes in his daily life. Mostly, I think he missed his owner. Given she had been the main presence in his life since he was two, they had a very special bond. I didn’t try to replace her, but simply gave Rascal time to process his loss and get acquainted with me. He’s a bit of a wary boy. Shy, and not overtly affectionate with strangers. But as the weeks wore on Rascal started to come out of his shell. I got fewer sidelong glances and the distance between us began to close. At some point he actually started to show a real interest in me and then I knew he’d turned the corner. He was settling in.

Inclement weather and/or lousy footing kept the opportunity to ride just out of my grasp. All told, I managed to sneak in three rides on Rascal before giving up and deciding to wait for the conditions to improve. What I observed on those few rides was a little horse with a lot of try and a few subtle quirks under the hood. Nothing I didn’t expect! I figured it would take some time for us to learn how to read each other and know what was expected. Rascal seemed a little wary about the trail and his surroundings, but with steady support he was willing to trust my judgement.

I’m not exactly sure how much trail experience Rascal has, so I plan to treat him as though he has none. That means giving him lots of time to get accustomed to and process the variety of things we’ll be seeing regularly out on our rides. Water, huge boulders and rocks, joggers running toward (and up behind) us, bicycles (most which will approach and pass us at high speeds), dogs, both loose (illegal, but a frequent occurrence) and leashed, and eventually cars, when we do a little dirt road riding. That’s a lot of things to condition a new horse to. And not knowing how Rascal will react to each new thing and in different settings, it’s a bit stressful for me. But so far Rascal has been taking most things in stride. He’s got Tia and Dharla’s distrust of large rocks and he’s not quite sure he likes crossing small streams. (Shallow puddles are fine.) We have yet to have a bicycle come up behind us, but when passed head-on he seems to handle it pretty well as long as we can move well off the side of the trail. (Not always feasible) It would appear he’s not thrilled about dogs. Even leashed dogs give him a bit of trepidation, but he doesn’t lose his marbles. He just kind of skitters sideways.

Rascal’s whoa needs a little refresher, and once stopped he doesn’t like to stand still. I’ll find lots of ways to work that practice into our rides. He has a wonderful little western jog, but his lope is a bit choppy and tentative. I think he has a nice comfortable lope in him, but he’s rusty, out of condition and a tad anxious. My plan is to do LOTS of walking, jogging and some hill work to get him back into shape before worrying about his lope. I can find plenty of things to work on while we wait for the arena dry up enough to use. Every now and then Rascal gets the idea in his head that he ought to turn around and go back the way we came. When that happens he does a bit of backing and scooting sideways. I’m not exactly sure what that’s all about, but we’ll work it out. I’m pretty sure I’m (inadvertently) miscuing him for something that I’ve yet to figure out. He’s sensitive and sometimes a tad willful, but not in a bad way. I have to chuckle at how quickly he’s learned his way around here. I’ve already noticed that his “going out” walk is half the speed of his “coming home” pace! He’s a smart boy!

I’ve been riding Dharla over at the “big barn” as often as possible, which translates into about 4-5 rides a week. She’s transitioned from full to partial training, which also has her getting ridden by the trainer three times a week. My progress with her (and consequently, my emotions) have been all over the map. But more about Dharla another time.

Wet Horses

 

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While other parts of the northeast got hammered with a late spring snowstorm, we finally got sweet, blessed rain. We’ve been dry for so long that anything more than a little spit looks good to us. I was starting to get kind of worried about hay season, which is right around the corner. April is traditionally the month that awakens the green grass and hay lots. But this year our pasture is bone dry and dusty and I have to imagine the local hay fields aren’t faring much better. That means high prices when the hay finally comes in. So rain is a good thing for now. And besides, the cooler temperatures keep the no-see-ums down to a dull roar.

Spring is Sprung

Gardening? I can do that!

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Well, I can’t put it off any longer; spring is officially here. I must admit, it feels a little weird having my windows open in March and walking around with a rake in hand. For two weeks already no less. On one hand, while it’s nice spring has arrived, on the other hand it’s a bit chaotic. As soon as things start popping through the soil it becomes a mad race to uncover and nurture the things I want to have grow, and go after the things I don’t. The last couple of years it seems like the weeds and invasive species have been winning. From rampant chipmunk over-population to spreading mustard garlic (and other invasives), I’m putting out fires everywhere I turn.

Initially, I eschewed pesticides. I tried “spot treating” problems when they cropped up, but I really try to keep my yard, flower and veggie gardens as organic and chemical-free as possible. Lets face it though, that plan isn’t cutting the (garlic) mustard anymore. So last year I decided to take this battle to the Dark Side and started using a few carefully selected chemicals. (If the engineer had his way I’d be spraying everything in sight with chlordane.) I put my magic potions in plastic spritzer bottles so I could hang them on my garden cart and zap the nasty interlopers on the spot. In years previous I did dumb things like “mark” the offending weed with a stick so I could come back and spray it later. With two stick-loving dogs? What WAS I thinking? No, this was serious business and I fully intended to nip things in the bud (so to speak) by hitting the pests with a vengeance.

Problem is, I failed to mark the bottles with what’s inside them. If you’re anything like me you constantly do things half-assed. You tell yourself you’ll get a marking pen and write the name of the potion on the spray bottle later, but you never actually get around to doing it. Instead, you put the chemicals in slightly different looking (read as: recycled) bottles and tell yourself you’ll remember which chemical is which by it’s container. For awhile you keep things straight and know which bottle contains what, but as the summer drags on it becomes a bit of a guessing game. In a pinch, I’ll resort to sniffing a bottle to identity the contents in question, but I never do get that marking pen and mark the bottles. Ever. So chances are when that new patch of Poison Ivy didn’t die off after being sprayed it was probably because I hit it with insecticide, not weed killer. *Sigh*

Eventually, like all good things, gardening season comes to an end. I diligently store the four or five different containers of nasty juice on a shelf; nice and orderly, but still not marked. As I stand and gaze at my handiwork (all proud because for once I actually put my gardens “to bed” and picked up my gardening tools) I tell myself I really ought to figure out which bottle contains what and jot it down, but …. well, I don’t.

Now I’m right back where I started, with weeds and vines springing to life as I try to figure out which bottle contains the concoction I need. Meanwhile, the Poison Ivy, mustard garlic, Virgina Creeper, Wild Strawberry and God knows whatever else has decided to invade my property this year plots their revenge. Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air and say forget it. The bugs, the weeds, the heat and humidity …. is it worth it?

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Hell, yeah!

To Board or Not?

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I’ve seen this debate on a few other equine blogs and thought I’d post my own views here so I wouldn’t tread on any toes. I can think of several reasons why someone might opt to board instead of keeping their horse at home … even if they have the space and ability to do so.

  1. If you can only afford to have one horse then that horse is going to have to live alone. Horses are herd animals and usually do better when they can be around a few of their own kind. Yes, some people substitute a goat, but that doesn’t always pan out as planned. Add another horse to your homestead and you double the cost and responsibility. And sometimes when you go off property with one horse, the other has a fit. Then what? Where does it end? It’s a common conundrum.
  2. People with young children may struggle to keep the kind of riding, feeding and grooming routine that a horse requires and when they do, it’s usually the riding and grooming (one-on-one time) that falls to the wayside, often for years. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the empty-nesters. After years of being tied down they often want to do a bit of traveling, but find it anywhere from hard to downright impossible to locate competent and reliable horse & barn sitters … not to mention VERY expensive!
  3. Try getting a vet, farrier or equine dentist to come to a single horse or small backyard barn. Sorry, but small hobby farms generally rank way down on their clientele list. Most professionals will waive their farm call fee if they’re servicing several horses at one stop, but this rarely happens with a small backyard enterprise. We get to pay full travel costs 100% of the time.
  4. Unless challenged, people tend to ride at their own level of comfort  … so if you’re not riding regularly with someone who knows more or rides better than you, you’ll probably not advance or improve much beyond your current level of expertise. And yes, most people have no idea how little they know until they ride with someone who knows a whole lot more. (Guilty!)
  5. Your riding is limited to the conditions nature provides. Unless of course you have your own indoor arena. Like,  when riding in full sun gets to too hot and there’s no shade, or when the bugs in the woods become a constant issue, or when its raining or snowing or any other time the weather or footing is iffy. Then you can’t ride. Period. I can’t tell you how much saddle time I lost last year because of one or more of these issues.
  6.  If you want to show, trail ride somewhere off your property or take lessons on your own horse you’ll have to have a truck and trailer … even if it means they’ll sit there rusting 3/4 of the year or more. If you board, chances are pretty good you’ll have access to a trainer and can hitch a ride to shows or trail rides on the barn trailer or with a friend. Probably for a fee of course, but it beats having to pay year-round expenses on a truck and trailer that you may seldom use. (Been there, done that, finally sold it!)
  7. You can almost always find someone to ride with. This really helps during those times when you lack a little motivation, confidence or if you’re having a specific issue with something and want a second opinion. For trail riders, there’s also safety in numbers. Many who keep their horse at home are forced to ride alone, which younger riders on seasoned horses might not consider a problem, but that could change with time. I know plenty of back yard pasture potatoes who fell into early retirement because their owners got tired of riding alone, or lost their confidence and/or motivation. It happens far too often.
  8. If you get seriously sick, injured or (God forbid) have a major emergency, your horse will still need to be cared for until the crisis passes.  I went through three major spinal operations in a row and caring for my large animals was a constant worry, both during the surgery and lengthy hospital stays, as well as the 6-12 months of recovery that followed. I also lost both parents in quick succession and suddenly had to travel home for an extended period of time. Again, it was a scramble to cover my bases at home and I really didn’t need that extra stress then. If you have livestock at home and you don’t have tons of pasture then you HAVE to be home a minimum of twice a day, 365 days a year. (I feed hay four times a day, so I’m on an even tighter schedule) Sometimes that’s a great excuse to leave an event early, but more often than not there will be times when this will seriously cramp your style or create a lot of stress.
  9. If your horse develops a sudden health problem you’ll have the support and help of other knowledgeable people. The first time one of my horses got baldy injured it was a major wake-up call, and I soon realized how complicated things can get in the blink of an eye. I was working full time and not having any backup help at home was a huge juggling act with a horse that needed hands-on care and meds three times a day for several weeks on end.
  10. All the leg work has to be done by you. Getting hay, loading and unloading grain, spreading the manure pile, cleaning and filling water tanks, barn repairs, etc. If you only have so much time to ride, those chores will take a big bite out of your saddle time. And the older you get the heavier those bales feel! And speaking of bales, hay brokers here would rather sell hay to big barns in larger quantities than deal with the smaller lots that backyard folks require. We have a small barn that can’t store lots of hay so we never get any price breaks. Hay goes for $6-$9 a bale here unless you can buy and store large quantities. For this reason alone we’re now looking to build a second building just to house hay. (Cha-ching!) Hay is too costly to buy in smaller quantities and it’s becoming more and more difficult to find at certain times of the year. Getting and storing good quality hay is a constant worry for backyard folks.

I know there are advantages to having your horse at home because I’ve lived that way all my life. But I have friends who must board and truth be told, sometimes we envy each other for very different reasons. I think people who board like to fantasize about the improved relationship they’d have with their horse if it lived at home with them. Frankly, I think that’s a bunch of bunk. My horses don’t like me more because I’m the one who feeds them. And when one of my friends hops a plane to head out for a vacation I like to remind them I’ve flown someplace for fun only four times in the last 25 years.

Opinions?