Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New, Old Tool

When I did a brief stint as a dog groomer, many moons ago, I often turned to the soft slicker brush for finishing touches on the pooches on my table.

About a month ago, I found the same old slicker brush in the barn and began applying it to the shedding horses.  Although intended to be a dog coat tool, this soft, bent-wire brush has risen to number one on my top-ten list for horse shedding implements.

Its wires have enough give so as to not scrape the horses uncomfortably, it collects hair like nobody’s business and it’s easy to yank or comb the hair out of it for swift grooming.  And the horses love it!  Tonight in the pasture, they were standing in line for their turn to be brushed.

Here’s the result of a few swipes on Dee’s furry back.  

This picture opportunity gave me a chance to show you Dee’s best spot, that round one in the middle of her back.   I love it, but no one will ever see it when I ride her, since it will be covered by the saddle and pad.

Here’s what the brush looks like, sans hair (well, most of the hair, anyway).

You can see that it’s soft, giving to my finger pressure.   

If you want to use one, they are available at most pet stores and grooming supply companies.  I would avoid the softest, which won’t pull as much hair, and the hardest, which might hurt the horses’ skin.   Give it a shot, and if you’re like me, you’ll soon end up removing lots of hair from the horse, only to cover yourself with it from head to foot.

Ah, Spring!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Mare has a Moustache!

Now, I know this is not a moustache like SOME horses have, but don't you think my mare is growing a moustache?  How adorable!

This is Starlight, registered with the APHA as Cowboy Billy's Badge.  She's around 14 hands with the beefy build and keen brains of a quarter horse (which is basically what she is, with spots).  She is one of those mares that is cooperative, never forgets a lesson and wants to show you how well she can do what you ask, but is also clever and curious with just a little attitude.

I started her under saddle last year, and this is her on the day we cantered for the first time:
She came to me with the registered name of King Arthur's Brandy, which I thought sounded way too Renaissance Fair, plus I object to animals being named after booze.  So I renamed her in honor of her bloodlines, and also in homage to my hubby.  As Cowboy Billy's Badge, she went by "Badger" in the barn.

Now I'll tell you a weird story about this pony and me and her name.  One night, when I was bringing the mares in from the pasture, I called her over by her nickname, Badger.  She came over and I had the distinct feeling that she did not like her name and she wanted me to know it.  So, I asked her, silently, what she wanted to be called, and I clearly heard, as though she put the word in my head, "Starlight."

Starlight it is.  Call me weird.  I don't normally have this type of conversation with my horses, and I also would not normally name a pony "Starlight," but SOMEBODY chose that name!

But back to the moustache.  It's not very long.  She's coming five, so maybe it's just starting to come in?  If you want to see an amazing horse moustache, go to this link.
Now, that guy has heck of an impressive horse moustache!

Rethinking Horse Housing

My hubby has already started looking at barn builders’ web sites, but I’m not so sure I even want a barn to house our herd.  I want a place to hold hay, a place for our tractor, but a barn with stalls for the horses?  Maybe not.

When we started in Bentley Creek, there were no pastures, and the back of the barn that would be transformed into our modest stable was just an empty space.  Well, it wasn’t exactly empty, since it was filled with lots of junk related to a previous owner’s car body shop business.  Over the years, we built two run-ins at either end and three lovely stalls with window bars and sliding doors.  The horses each had her own small paddock, and they could go in and out as they pleased. Mostly, they chose “out.”

Having a space where the horses can go in or out as they please is a priority.  I don’t believe that confining horses to small, indoor spaces (i.e., stalls) for long periods is healthy for them, physically or mentally. 

However, this horse-housing arrangement carries a heavy work load.  Admittedly, it’s nothing that most horse owners don’t experience.  Each horse has her own water bucket, and this requires a lot of water carrying (not to mention the hours I spent installing all the individual, ground-fault protected receptacle outlets, so those buckets could be heated).  Each day, we shove the wheelbarrow in and out of the stalls, cleaning manure, then roll it laboriously to the manure pile (which, fortunately, gets removed gradually by gardeners over the summer).  When the ground is soft or snowy, this is very rough on the back.

The biggest benefit to the current arrangement is that each horse gets her own food, unmolested by the others, and they can’t hurt each other.   These are significant advantages.

However, at the other side is the labor.  I’m starting to rethink horse keeping in this manner.  I would rather have chores be as easy and fast as possible, so the time I spend with the horses is quality grooming, riding and training time, not wheelbarrow time.   In addition, I want to spare my and my husband’s  bodies from the constant, heavy work so we last longer.  Plus, I would like to know they have food and water, even if my husband and I are delayed at work.  I’m often haunted by the image of them standing there, waiting for their food, their stomachs rumbling, if I can’t get out of work at the usual time and it’s too late to call the horse sitter.

Our new home does not have a barn.  It has a one-sided, roofed structure, large enough to protect our equipment and also provide shelter to the horses.  It is large enough to drive the tractor and manure spreader through.  It has plenty of outlets for heating large water troughs.

I don’t like the fact that it is not closed enough to keep snow out, so the ground in the shelter gets muddy, and I’m going to work on improving that.  However, I do like the fact that we can clean manure without a wheelbarrow, but shoveling it directly into the manure spreader, or by using the front loader or some other tractor implement to collect it and move it (we are still learning about tractor implements).

I love the fact that there are frost-free spigots all over the place, from which I can easily fill a big, communal trough.

So, I’m going to try it this way: The horses will be housed together.  They will have free access to the shelter and to the pasture.   This weekend, I’m going to close off a sacrifice area in the pasture, so they don’t trash all ten acres during this mucky time of year.  It will be a large area though, larger than they currently have in their individual paddocks.  Free choice round bales will feed them until the grass comes in, plus they’ll get the supplements I feed to balance the hay.

My concerns: Hudson the Queen will bully the others, preventing them from getting their share of hay and shelter.  Hudson is a 15-hand, half-draft, half-paint who goes about 1300 pounds and rules the herd.  She is a mare that might be best housed alone.  We’ll see.  She’s not dangerous in her leadership, but she is an absolute dictator.  If necessary, I’ll pull Hudson out from the others and make an alternative for her.

Here's Hudson, scattering Starlight and Dee like bowling pins.

My other concern is the reappearance of all the little dings and scrapes that the horses inevitably get when they are housed together.   These usually occur when they are all bunched up in a shelter and one of them says, “Run!” and they all try to escape at the same time.  Someone always ends up with a scrape on her hip or leg that requires a little cleaning and medicating, and it takes forever for the hair to grow back.  It’s not serious, but it’s a wound, plus, it’s ugly and I would rather they not get banged up frequently.

But I think the benefits of this arrangement will outweigh these concerns.  I’m going to start this way, at any rate, and we’ll see how it goes.

Oh, and those barns my hubby keeps perusing on line?  I’m going to gently try to redirect his attention to arena contractors.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moving the Farm

A few weeks ago, I was contemplating how to move a farm.  Today, it’s half-done, but it won't really be home until the horses are there.

A glance out my living room window will tell you we weren’t planning to move.  Just 30 yards from my house sits a beautiful 140 X 70 arena, fenced with wooden rails and a straight, red gate, filled with 450 tons of  sand, perfect for training youngsters.   Just a year ago, I gave the contractor the “go ahead” to construct it.   Not the action of someone planning a big move. 

Likewise, if you consider the three acres above our house that we just finished fencing last fall, you wouldn’t expect that we would be moving this spring. 

But we are.   Things change, sometimes quickly!

We always considered this 11-acre farm to be an intermediate step, when we moved in, nearly 8 years ago.  We knew we wanted more land, away from the busy road.   But we literally put blood, sweat and tears into this little place, making it as perfect as it could be for a small horse farm (never did beat the mud).  

But the road just keeps getting busier, and with each passing truck, I considered it more of a threat to the safety of our horses.

Sure, they are secure behind good quality, Horseguard electric fence, but there is always the possibility of an escape.  In fact, it happened not too long ago.  An unusual set of circumstances allowed a cheeky mare (that would be Biltrite Smokin Dee, a well-constructed and athletic, bay tobiano paint with the temperment of a Roman candle) to come in early and unexpectedly from the pasture, find an open door into the barn, then another to the road.   Of course, I was hot on her heels, trying both not to pressure her to run in the wrong direction, and to herd her back to safety. 

She crossed the road twice before I caught her, and my stomach still knots up when I think of the beautiful little mare with her white tail flagged up in her innocent excitement as the cars slowed down to let her pass in front of them.  It could have ended so differently.

It was my fault that the doors were open, so no excuses, but if I'm going to make a mistake, I would rather there not be a busy road in the mix. 
My fear of the road was the prime mover, but the other pieces had to be in place as well.  Sometimes, when you know the time is right, the right door opens.  At about this same time, my husband, who has sought and called my attention to potential horse farms on-line ever since we moved here, mentioned a 109-acre farm he noticed on Craigslist.  Craigslist!  Can you believe it?  

Well, it had plenty of land, 30 acres of it in crops (mostly hay), was on a quiet road and the house was set back for privacy.   The pastures are already fenced.  The house is small (which suits us now) and built recently with a dry basement.  There are at least 4 water spigot near the pasture.  WOW.  (Sometime I'll write about our tribulations with getting water to the horses at our old farm, and you'll understand my excitement).

Fast-forward 5 months, and it’s ours.   We’re moving.  The tractor and brush hog are already moved, thanks to movers who really do know how to move everything (they probably would have shoved the horses up there in the van with the legless kitchen table and the tan couch, had I asked).   I’m orchestrating the installation of cable, satellite internet (it’s that remote) and of course, the four mares and one gelding who will soon be living in horsie heaven in 10 acres of pasture, with hay fields just over the fence, ensuring them good eats all winter.   And it’s on a road so quiet that you can hear the occasional car coming from miles away.

It’s not perfect, but it will get there.  We still have lots more blood and sweat – and I’m sure a few tears – to give to our new home. 

Off we go!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stormkite, A Year Later

If you read through the post below, "An Obsessive Acquisition," you might be wondering how Stormkite is now, a full year from when I found him, skinny, scruffy, suspicious and lousy -- literally, as in covered with lice -- at the auction.

It's safe to say that the most interesting thing to happen to Stormkite this past year was his castration.  And even this was uneventful.  Even though he only had one descended testicle, once he was down, the vet was able to locate the other and tease it along, inside the skin of his hind leg, to its proper position in his scrotum, and then snip it out.  Once they were removed, I counted them myself:  One, two.  Right (gag).

Since then, he has pretty much just eaten and hung out, putting on weight, growing a few inches, enjoying some grooming, hoof care and ground work.  He's coming three now, so I'll start him under saddle later this year.

He likes people, though remains a little suspicious of new things.  He follows me everywhere when he can, and is an eager learner.  Once he is sure of what I'm asking, he does it with relish.   I think he's going to be a lot of fun under saddle. 

Oh, and in some strange boy-girl stereotype, this lone gelding among mares has proven to be the most skilled at handling a ball.  I give them all hay cubes in Nose-It balls (, and he is the only one who has occupied that particular paddock who is successful in keeping the ball from rolling under the fence, where his neighbor, Starlight is waiting for it.  Maybe I should have nicknamed him Pele.

He has what I'm afraid might be a permanently gawky look, not quite as neatly pulled together as his big sister.  I'll post a new picture of his whole body once he sheds his yak coat.  In the meantime, here we are:


An Obsessive Acquisition

Written March 28, 2010
As I sat, scraping manure from my husband’s work boot soles with a steak knife, I wondered why I had been so obsessed with buying the scrawny black and white paint colt from the auction.
It was as though I knew that particular horse was going to be there, and I went to get him.
Let me step back.  This isn’t exactly a strange horse.  I already knew him, kind of.  He is the full brother to one of my own mares, my most difficult one.  I went to see him last year when he was a year old, noted that he had the same conformational faults as his sister, but more exaggerated, and that he had the added disadvantage of having testes, or, testicle, since the other hadn’t dropped at the time.  Also consider the facts that the owner/breeder wanted an unrealistic $800 for the creature and that, at that time, my barn was full.  So he couldn’t come home with me, even though his sister was turning into a beautiful mare, after suffering a rather yak-like youth.
A few months later, I advertised his sister for sale.  I was injured and couldn’t work with her or the other horses, and I knew I needed to cut back.  Since she had dumped me in the spring (before the injury, but not causing it), and was generally a handful, I decided I could part with her.  She looked good in the ad, I thought, but there was no interest at all in the market in an unbroke, 14-hand paint.  Big surprise.
One day I got a note from her breeder, who had seen the ad.  He asked again if I wanted “her brother,” or to trade for training.  I told him I was injured, so I couldn’t train, and that I still had a full barn, so couldn’t take any more in.
Not long after that, my husband noticed a skinny, paint colt for sale on Craigslist for the same $800.  It was the same colt.  A little on-line spy work showed me that the breeder had unloaded him, and now someone else was trying to sell him for that magical number.  I was dismayed at his condition, and also at the fact that it looked as though the local livestock auction yards were in the background of the photo.    I saved the ad, with some mad idea that in the future, I would contact the owner and offer a low price to take it off his hands.
But recently things change.  A different mare I had tried to sell all last year, and that I had pretty much taken off the market, suddenly sold through word-of-mouth to a great home.   
I was enjoying having just four horses.  It made a surprising difference in the chores.
Then I noticed that the stockyard was holding its semi-irregular horse auction.  I decided to go, to see what was selling with the intention of writing a sad blog post about the state of horse auctions.  At least, that is what I said to myself and my husband.  Really, I was looking for that colt.  
When we arrived, we went down into the stalls, looking over the mixed group of horses and ponies, and one mule coughing in a corner and one cute, fuzzy donkey.  I went like a laser to the little black and white colt and recognized him immediately.  There he was, with a bunch of other underweight, unimpressive, back-yard bred horses.  He was friendly and calm, skinny and undersized.  Registered name: Poco Smokin Stormkite (I'm going with Stormkite).
The person in charge of this group of horses was telling someone else, “If they don’t go for $50, I’ll get them.  I’ll probably have too many horses.”
I didn’t quite figure out his relationship to these horses, but it sounded like he was handling them for someone else, and had agreed that he would buy whatever was leftover for $50. 
I couldn’t stand it.  I warned my husband, who was opposed to the idea, and when the colt came in, I started the bidding at $50.   I ended it at $170.
What followed was a flurry of activity.  Drive home, pick up the truck at the repair shop, attach it to the trailer, shovel the dying opossum out of one of the run-ins (what the heck?) and go pick up the colt.  When we got back to the auction yard, it was a different place.  The cars, trailers, people and most of the horses were gone.   I had a momentary panic that someone could have easily walked out with my colt, but there he was, standing in the same stall where I had first spotted him. 
Another woman, who was waiting for her trailer so she could take her horse home, told me that the lady behind me at the auction started crying when I bought the colt, so she was certain I got a good one that was somebody’s baby.  I already knew more about the horse’s history than she could have guessed, and was pretty sure that, no, this was nobody’s baby.  But I just smiled and said, “I hope so.”
I do wonder about that crying lady though.  What was that about?  Someone had tried to sell the colt in January, on Craigslist, after buying it in October from the breeder.   Was anyone actually devoted to this poor, and I do mean poor, colt?
I led him away and he came quietly.
“It’s like he is just thinking, ‘What is going to happen to me next in this life?’” I said to my annoyed husband.  “Please let him load.  I don’t want to be loading him here until midnight.”
My gut told me he would calmly get on the trailer, just as his sister had the first time, and I was correct.  He stepped right up into the dark stock trailer as if it wasn’t there, and went straight to the hay bag.  Food was his priority, and that was understandable.  He had nothing to eat at the auction, so any horse would be hungry, and was seriously underweight to boot.
Twenty minutes later, my husband was relocating our mares in the stable to make an appropriate spot for the new addition.   We settled everyone in for the night.
I didn’t sleep well, wondering what I had done.  I went out this morning and he was still there, nickering for food.  I rearranged all the horses again, because two of them weren’t playing nice in their new places.
I’m pleased with this little guy’s personality.  He is not in-your-pocket, but he is calm and friendly.  My first call on Monday will be to the vet to remove the gonads before he and my mares figure out what he’s got down there.  He is young and immature, so showing no interest, and has already received a good fence zap to know to keep his distance.
I really don’t need this little guy.  I have three projects to get under saddle and a green riding horse already.   I know I am crazy, but here he is, for now.  My plan is to give him some decent training and start looking for a good home for him.   And for now, anyway, he has food and water and company, so life is probably as good for him now as it has been since he was weaned.
Oh, and the part about scraping manure from my husband’s boots?  Let’s just call it self-prescribed penance.  He was wearing his work boots, as in day-job boots, when he trudged through the manure last night.  So as an apology for what I put him through, not just today, but all the time, I scraped the manure out with a steak knife and scrubbed the soles with soapy water, hoping that, by Monday, they won’t stink of manure.
There is no morale here. Just a thought:  I really wish people would not bring horses into the world for which there is no market.   There just aren’t enough suckers like me out there who are willing and able to clean up the mess.