Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Taming of the Shrew(s)

Who knew retired horses could be so entertaining!? This is the tale of two shrews, I mean mares, named Buffy and Harmony. (DISCLAIMER: I love mares, and am simply using the term shrew in a humorous tone!) You might notice they have a lot in common in the looks department given that they are both gray, thoroughbred mares. Buffy joined us from Los Angeles, and is retired from the hunter ring. Harmony joined us from Ontario, Canada and is a retired polo mare. I happen to think they are both really attractive mares. Harmony is showing her age a bit with her back, but they are both pretty girls.

Buffy pictured above

Harmony pictured above

When I feed everyone we follow a routine, and I feed each horse in the same order every single time. Mostly this follows their established "pecking order," but sometimes it just depends on who is more excited about being fed. In the group that Harmony and Buffy live in, I always fed Buffy second and Harmony third in the order. Feeding time is really a non-event around here. I use feedbags, which I think are the greatest invention since sliced bread, so the horses learn quickly that they can't steal and no one can steal from them. It works perfectly as everyone is quiet and orderly, everyone gets all of their food and ONLY their food, you know they got their supplements, you can feed soaked feed in the bags and life is good.

A few days ago I was feeding the horses in the pasture where these two girls live. Harmony does this thing where she very quietly and slowly walks around while waiting for her feedbag. She had always done this and the others don't pay any attention to it. I don't know if she walked closer to Buffy than normal or what, but one day Buffy flattened her ears back and got the whole "snake" move going with her head and neck. Well, this really rubbed Harmony the wrong way as she spun around and stood with her butt to Buffy with her ears flattened on her head.

No one budged, they were about 10 feet away from each other doing their best attempts at posturing. To my surprise Buffy backed down first. The ears came up and she was a happy mare again. So Harmony swung around and she was a happy mare again, too. And she was closer to me than Buffy at this point so she was fed before Buffy. And has been ever since! They both now pin their ears at each other at feeding time, but that is as fussy as they get. Then they proceed to eat almost nose to nose with each other, and then wander off to graze together.

Harmony being a shrew in the top photo and Buffy showing her inner shrew on the bottom.

Happily eating right next to each other on the top, and friendly grazing on the bottom

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Today I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I decided to use some of the compost out in the gate area in one of the pastures. My reasoning was two-fold: it would make the horses stop constantly over-grazing the area by the gate and water trough and keep them from turning it into dust and mud; at the same time it would provide some fertility and enable the grass to grow back more quickly.

With the help of our incredibly useful Kubota utility vehicle (complete with dump bed, towing hitch, and hyraulic cylinder) I loaded up several loads of compost and dumped them out by the gate, and then spread everything around. It was hard work!

I had gotten about three loads spread around when the horses in that pasture came wandering up. I stood there and gloated as they went over to the water trough and drank, and then wandered back out to the tall grass instead of standing right there and attempting to graze the very short grass by the trough. Don't you just love the deep satisfaction of a well-executed plan with perfect results?

I turned to leave and decided I had done enough work with the compost for the day. I drove the Kubota through the gate, and as I went to close the gate I saw Ivan wandering around in the middle of my newly spread compost. He had "the look" of a horse on a mission, nose down, sniffing, circling, pawing . . .

Going . . .

Going . . .


The final results

A compost-covered horse was not the end result I was aiming for - especially on a gray horse!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Weaning Day on a Breeding Farm

About 10 days ago I decided to do a pasture rotation. All of the horses stayed in the same groups, I just changed which pastures they were in. Horses are very, very hard on the land and tend to go back and regraze the same spots repeatedly. Since they graze by tearing the grass off with their front teeth they can graze the grass down to the dirt in their favorite spots. It drives me crazy to see them wrecking one spot in the pasture while there are acres and acres of beautiful grass just begging to be eaten all around them, literally just a few feet away!

By switching around their pastures I hoped to encourage them to change up the grazing patterns in the various fields. I was certainly expecting to have some excitement from the horses since they would be in different locations. I wasn't expecting much though. After all, they were still with the exact same horses, looking across the fence lines at the same horses, and for that matter looking across the fence lines at the same pasture they had just come from. So everybody had some fun running around exploring their new location. I could almost hear them saying to each other "look over here, I found the run-in shed." Or "hey guys, look at this awesome wooded area!" There were lots of flagged tails and many excited "horse snorts" and whinnies could be heard.

I was pretty surprised when I was still seeing the occasional gallops around the pastures, along with lots of flagged tails, whinnies and snorting a couple of hours later. The next day my farrier was here and as we listened to the symphony of snorting and horses calling to each other she asked what was going on. I told her about the pasture rotation. She summed up the situation perfectly when she said "I feel like I'm on a breeding farm and it is weaning day."

Well, it continued to feel like weaning day for a few more days. My mother called to let me know that the horses were worked up and that I should go investigate and see what was wrong. I explained the "big switch" to her and mentioned that I could hear the ruckus as well as she could. (but thank you very much for caring!) The symphony would die down for awhile and Jason and I would look at each other and think "finally, their brains have returned." But it was short lived, as someone would call out, and the chorus would start back up. The culprits were always the same as far as getting things started again. I know the horses and can tell who is talking, and Harmony, Elfin, Leo and Faune loved to get everyone started again. Over the next few days the calling became more and more sporadic until they finally just stopped.

We were all overjoyed, as peace had returned!

Happily grazing horses

Monday, July 28, 2008

It Takes a Village

We've all used the saying "it is really hard to get good help" at least once. The day to day things on the farm really aren't as time consuming as most people expect them to be. Everyone always wants to know how many people we have helping on a daily basis. It isn't feeding the horses, scrubbing and filling troughs, putting on blankets, grooming, stall cleaning, or any of the day to day things that are particularly hard or time consuming. We have the daily routine down and get these things done thoroughly and efficiently. It is all of the non-routine things that are the killers. Like maintaining pastures, repairing fence boards, cutting and baling hay, servicing equipment, chain-sawing fallen trees . . . the list could go on. Really, the hands-on daily care of the horses is the easy part! I am really lucky that in addition to having help from my farmer extraordinaire husband Jason, my dad also helps us out a lot. He also happens to have some really nice equipment as well!

It is always a struggle to maintain the pastures as far as having the grass where you want it. It always seems there is either too much grass or not enough. I wish the horses were smart enough just to teach themselves to rotationally graze their pastures! My dad has been extremely helpful the last couple of weeks by bush hogging the pastures. It doesn't seem like it would be such a hard thing, just sitting on the tractor, but really it is harder than you think. First of all the crick you get in your neck from constantly looking behind you to make sure all is well with the bush hog is no fun. Plus it is hot, you have an amazing amount of pollen and other allergens blowing around you, and the seat of a tractor isn't exactly engineered for a smooth ride, so you get jarred around as you are driving along.

Dad pictured above returning from bush hogging one of the fields

Of course Jason does his share of work on the tractor. Our schipperke Bear also likes to assist with anything involving heavy equipment:

They both look quite serious in that last picture, don't they?

If anyone ever has some extra time and wants to stop by with their chain saw, we will be happy to put you to work for a day cutting up some old trees. Really, it is quite fun to cut away at a huge tree, pile it all up, and have a big bonfire - especially when it is hot and humid!

Jason really wanted this to drive around on the farm

Jason and I visited the Space Center in Huntsville for a weekend trip a few months ago. He really wanted to turn the above-pictured moon buggy into a piece of farm equipment. He thought it would be really neat to zip around in the farm in it! I must say that I agree with him. Plus, we would be the only people on our block that had one! Oh well, I guess we are stuck with our tractors and chain saws.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frenemies or BFF?

No, I'm not talking about Paris and Nicole! For that matter I'm not even talking about two mares. I am referring to the relationship between two geldings, Trillion and Faune. Trillion and Faune are both very accomplished horses with impressive show careers. They were both champions at places like the Winter Equestrial Festival in Florida and were top horses in the country in their divisions. In fact, after talking with Faune's mom one time, we are pretty sure that they may have competed against each other in the Regular Working Hunters at one point.

Trillion pictured above

Trillion is a Dutch Warmblood and he came to us from Florida. Faune is a Selle Francais and he made the journey from Boston to enjoy a first class retirement with us. Both of these horses are full of personality. They are also "roommates" here as they go out in the same pasture together. Prior to Trillion's introduction to the group Faune was the boss horse of the field. Trillion had other ideas about that, at least at feeding time, and decided that he was going to be the boss. Faune was fine with this as Trillion really only cared about being "number one" at meal times. He wanted to have his feedbag put on FIRST. The rest of the time if Faune wanted to be bossy he would just go with the flow.

Faune pictured above

All was wonderful in their worlds until Trillion decided that it was time to get to know Sebastian better. Sebastian is an adorable Connemara/Irish Draught cross that joined us from Long Island. Faune had a problem with Trillion's desire to become better friends with Sebastian. Sebastian was HIS friend and he wanted Sebastian to graze with him ALL the time. So I started seeing a lot of "ring around the rosey" as Sebastian was shuffled around while Faune and Trillion jockeyed for position with Sebastian. It appeared that the relationship between Faune and Trillion was becoming strained, as their delicate balance of sharing the number one spot was being upset.

Sebastian pictured above

It was entertaining watching the dynamics play out. I would see Trillion and Sebastian grazing together. Or I would see Faune and Ogie (the fourth member of their group) grazing together, or Trillion and Ogie. What I did not ever see was Trillion and Faune paired off together. Sure, they would be near each other if the four of them were grazing in a group, but they were never "special friends."

L-R: Sebastian, Trillion, Faune, Ogie
As fate would have it Trillion and Faune started spending a lot of time in the barn together, with their stalls right next to each other. I kept waiting to see if their relationship would change. But no, they would go out in the evenings and rejoin Sebastian and Ogie, and go back to ignoring each other. Then one day I turned them out, went back to the barn for a few minutes, and when I walked back out to their pasture I saw this

I was quite surprised! What is even more interesting is I now see them grooming each other all the time. Which leads me to the question: Are Faune and Trillion frenemies or BFF? I guess only time will tell!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The hard part of boarding retired horses

When I talk to people about what I do for a living, they often have a very romanticized idea about everything. They have these visions that you spend your days looking at the pretty horses out in the pasture. And I do spend a lot of time doing just that! And I also enjoy getting to know the residents, grooming them, feeding them, and just generally interacting with them. Of course their is also stall cleaning, pasture maintenance, fence repair, messing around with blankets, but that is all another post for another day! All in all it is a very satisfying feeling to look around and see a farm full of happy horses, grazing on gorgeous pasture, very content with their life.

Their is one major downside to all of that perfection though. Eventually, they cross the rainbow bridge and are no longer with us. Since I am the primary caretaker of these horses I view each and every one of them as my horse. I become as attached to them as if they were my horse. So every time one passes away it is like losing your horse. It isn't like this happens every day obviously, but it does happen.

Just last week, on Wednesday 7/23, we lost a wonderful mare named Mable. Mable was one of the sweetest horses with an adorable personality. Most of Mable's life was sub-par, to put it lightly. Mable was a Quarter Horse/Saddlebred cross, and I imagine very little, if any, thought was put into her breeding. Probably about as much as thought and effort as was put into her care for a long time. If you want to read about the many reasons why backyard, indiscriminate breeding of horses is a bad idea, you should visit the fugly horse blog. Now, don't get me wrong, I am NOT saying Mable was a worthless horse or a mistake, but I am saying her life was pretty rotten for a really long time, and she is very lucky that she didn't wind up on a slaughter truck.

Mable in spring 2007 (photo above)

The best thing that ever happened to Mable was when a very loving person named Miranda rescued her. Mable was 18 years old when that happened, and I might be off by a year or two as my memory is a bit fuzzy. For 18 years Mable was half starved (sometimes more than half) and physically abused. She had her teeth floated for the first time in her life at 18 years old after Miranda rescued her from her breeders/owners. Miranda told me stories about just sitting in her stall with her for hours, hoping for the chance to simply touch Mable.

Mable and Harmony grazing

Miranda's patience, kindness and love paid off as Mable transformed into a happy, healthy, and mostly trusting horse. I say mostly simply as she would definitely keep an eye on you at first, especially strange men, but would quickly let her guard down. One of the things I miss the most about Mable are her big, soft eyes. Her eyes said so much, especially when you met her the first time. They said they desperately wanted to trust you and for you to show her kindness, but history had taught her this did not always happen. She truly loved her life on our retirement farm and was a joy to be around every day. She was such a gentle, reassuring presence, and always so appreciative of anything you did for her.

I am very appreciative and thankful to Miranda that we were able to be a part of Mable's life for almost two years. I am glad that we were part of her special group of people that Mable allowed into her inner circle. My only regret is that she had to live such a rotten life for almost 20 years. Rest in peace Mable, you are greatly missed by all of us here at Paradigm Farms.

Mable in October 2007

One of my favorite Mable expressions: the pointed nose while
receiving a vigorous wither scratching.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Welcome to the horse retirement farm!

People often don't know how to react when they ask what I do for a living. I tell them proudly "I board retired horses." The responses vary from "oh, that's nice" along with a confused look to "what are they retired from?" and many odd questions in between. The other assumption that people make when they hear the words retired and horse is they automatically leap to the conclusion that I run a horse rescue. We are a horse boarding facility just like any other, except we board ONLY retired horses.

In my "first life" I owned and ran a successful recruiting company for ten years. If anyone cares I'll happily cite some accolades from my resume. My company won the Nashville Chamber of Commerce Music City Future 50 award which is given to the top 50 fastest growing, privately held companies in the Nashville area. I was also named to the Top 30 under 30 by Business Nashville magazine. I was also quite miserable and dreamed of doing something else on a regular basis, and now I do!

This is a 7 day per week job, 365 days per year, in the rain, the snow (thankfully we don't see much of that), and of course beautiful weather as well. I am blessed to live down the hill from my amazing parents and to share my life journey with my wonderful husband, Jason. Jason is a huge part of the equation that allowed me to go from my miserable corporate life to my wonderful farm life. He inspires me every day to live my life to the fullest and appreciate each and every day. He is often better at that than I am, but I try to follow his example. My parents are the best set of parents anybody could ever hope to have. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you always have such amazing people as them in your corner, rooting for you.

Learn more about my horse retirement farm by visiting