Sunday, July 31, 2011

Long Walk

There are days when all of the work on the farm goes so easily, and other days when it seems like everything is ten times harder to accomplish than it should be. A few days ago I was feeding dinner to the horses and it seemed like I was going to be at it until midnight. It seemed there was a horse in every group that just ignored me and kept on grazing, despite me standing there screaming their names repeatedly. What really drives me crazy is when they put their head up to look at me, watch me screaming their name and flailing my arms around to try and get their attention, and then go right back to grazing.

I was finally feeding the last group of horses. True to form some of them would not come, despite picking their heads up from the grass and looking right at me. I set out to chase down the offenders, Alex, B-Rad and Darby. I had Darby's feedbag with me so I could put it on his head and use it to lead him across the (very large) pasture to the gate. This worked for a minute until Darby realized that Alex and B-Rad were not following us. He freaked out at the possibility of being farther than 30 feet away from them in the same pasture. I tried to hang on to the feedbag but with nothing to really grab he got away and went back to his friends.

I trekked back to where they all were and got behind them and started clapping my hands and clucking at them. Finally they start heading towards the gate. If I stopped waving my hands and clucking at them for even a minute they stopped, so I worked twice as hard as they did as I attempted to keep them moving through the pasture.

We finally made it to the gate and I get everyone fed. Alex was done quickly and I took off his feedbag. Instead of hanging around by the gate he decides to wander back out to the pasture to go graze. This is a pretty typical occurrence. For some reason Darby decided to take exception to Alex leaving while he was still eating (and all of the other horses were still eating) and he goes trotting off after Alex, with his feedbag still on. I let out an exasperated sigh as I looked forward to yet another trek across the (large) pasture.

Conveniently (note this is said with heavy sarcasm) it starts to rain just as the other horses finish eating. I remove their feedbags and head back out in the pasture to track down Darby and Alex so I can remove Darby's feedbag. Of course they were already as far away from the gate as they could possibly be. My shoes and pants are soaked before I am even halfway to them thanks to the rain and the wet grass. I finally reach Alex and Darby, and walk up to Darby to remove his feedbag. Darby decides that I must be trying to catch him (I should mention that Darby has major separation anxiety at the mere thought of being taken away from the others) and trots away. To say I am not happy at this point would be an understatement. I'm wet, I'm tired and I just want to take the stupid feedbag off so I can be done for the day.

Darby must have realized just how hard he was pushing his luck at this point as he only made me chase him around for a minute before allowing me to walk up and remove his feedbag. With his feedbag in hand I started my long, wet walk back through the pasture to the gate. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom since he had made chase him around the pasture twice at this point, Darby follows me. I had to chase him to be allowed to feed him, then chase him in the rain to be allowed to remove his feedbag, and now he is following me. My clothes are soaked and feel like they weigh 100 pounds at this point, and I slog my way through the pasture with Darby following along behind me. He follows me all the way to the gate, voluntarily separating himself from the other horses. As I gathered up the empty feedbags to put them away Darby went to the water trough for a drink.

I briefly thought about explaining to him that if he had just stood there and finished eating by the gate like everyone else did (and as he normally does) he could have saved himself a lot of running around and I wouldn't be soaking wet. I decided to skip the lecture since it would sound something like "blah blah blah blah blah" to Darby. He finished his drink and went galloping and screaming back through the pasture to rejoin his friends. I put away the feedbags and went searching for some dry clothes.

Renny and Sam exploring their new digs

O'Reilly, Lucky and Snappy




Hemi and Thomas

Levendi and Ivan

Leo and Chance

Tony, Elfin and Hoffy

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Screaming Like a Girl

Today I finally made myself tackle one of my least favorite jobs; collecting all of the dirty horse blankets and getting them ready to be sent out for cleaning and repairs. I would rather clean the cow trough than deal with these gross blankets. I accumulated so much dirt throughout the day I actually changed my clothes twice. Given that I am used to being dirty that is really saying something!

As part of this task I re-label all of the blankets with the appropriate names. I was pulling piles of blankets out of the back of the truck, using my black and silver sharpies to write names on all of them, then folding and bundling the blankets into piles. Mina and Jo, World's Cutest Fainting Goats, were interested in what I was doing and were hanging around watching me.

I had pulled another pile of blankets off the truck and had my arms full as I was walking into the barn. All of a sudden I realized there was an extra pair of eyes on me. A salamander/lizard/gecko looking thing was on top of the blanket pile I had in my arms and we found ourselves literally eye to eye with each other.

I froze.

He blinked.

I dropped my pile of blankets and screamed at the top of my lungs. In response to my out of the blue screaming Jo fainted and Mina went stiff. I started running in circles (still screaming like the girl I am) brushing myself all over, convinced I was covered in creepy crawly lizard like things. When I was finally satisfied that there was nothing on me I began kicking the pile of blankets, and then progressed on to using a broom to fling them around. I never saw my little helper again, probably because he had the good sense to cut and run as soon as I dropped the blankets.

As I sit here at my computer several hours later I am still constantly brushing myself off. Every time my hair brushes against my neck or I feel my clothes move or anything else I start freaking out and brushing myself off. It is going to be days before I am able to get fully past this incident.

Gus and Romeo

another run-in shed under construction

George and Asterik

Silver, Fonzi, Winston and Faune


Thomas and Hoffy

Chance and Elfin

Apollo and Levendi

Thomas and Ivan

Slinky, Thor, Lightening, Noble and Spike

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Videos and Pictures

In addition to some pictures I also remembered to take several videos recently. Enjoy the sights and scenes from the last few days. I love being able to watch the horses play, groom and explore as a part of my job every day!

Lately I see Clayton and Toledo "horsing around" almost every day

Johnny and Rampal had a long grooming session

Faune and Winston exploring in the woods - a favorite activity in the afternoons

This is a typical morning scene with Chimano and Silver, they like to play while they wait for breakfast to be served.

This picture made me think of the Sir-Mix-A-Lot song "Baby Got Back (I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie). Maisie, MyLight, Missy, Cuffie and Lily were all showing me their big butts. Silky was just out of the frame to the left but I couldn't fit them all in the picture.

Lightening, Spike and Noble
Sebastian, Dutch, B-Rad and Wiz

Alex and Darby emerging from the woods


Spike, Thor and Lucky


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

This blog post was inspired by a recent post by Kate at A Year With Horses. Kate has a wonderful blog and is always very eloquent in describing her work with her horses and her observations of them.

I don't think anyone who sends a horse here to retire with us has any but the best of intentions for their equine partners. Within reason, we try our best to ensure that the transition from their former facility to ours is as seamless as possible for both the owners and their horses. That said, I don't think it'll come as a surprise to learn that dealing with both age and circumstantial changes is often easier for the horses than for the people who send them to us.

I think we do what we do exceptionally well; the horses here get good, consistent, basic horse care including fresh feed and clean water, close attention every day, plus blanketing, some grooming, and wound/disease treatment as needed. The horses are happy with this; almost without exception they thrive on it. In fact I've yet to meet a horse that couldn't transition to our way of life and be very content about doing so. I think living in a group with other horses effectively addresses their mental health as well as ministering to their physical needs. But we don't bubblewrap the horses, they live in groups on big pastures outside, and that comes with some stuff that owners of stall boarded horses aren't used to seeing. Seeing "reality" can make the transition needlessly dramatic and worrisome for the owner, especially if he or she is being encouraged to reconsider such an "extreme" decision by their trainer or other people with no real understanding of what is normal and expected when a horse transitions from living in a stall to living outside.

Horses that live outside are going to have to deal with weather changes, and I've yet to see a horse react to anything our climate can throw at them with anything other than benign indifference. If it is hot enough they sweat. When it is cold, they eat more hay, stand in their shelters and, as the situation warrants, they wear blankets.

Minor cuts, scratches, ticks and bug bites are de rigeur when your horse lives out of doors. We have bug bites, cuts and scratches ourselves and I promise if we have them, your horse is going to have them too. We check ourselves for ticks (and often find some) every day. If your horse chooses to scratch himself on a low hanging limb, or have a play fest with his best buddy while they are under a tree, he's going to look like he's been shredded for a little while and there isn't very much I can do about that, except to treat the (many) minor cuts he is going to have. Horses in groups are going to kick and bite at one another in their play and when they do they often manage to leave nicks or cuts or bite marks. Sometimes horses snark at each other, even horses that are best buddies ("Move over, I want that patch of grass!" or "I drink from the water trough first and you have to wait!"). When people are here visiting their horse if they happen to see a snarky moment between two horses they always comment on it. On the other hand we would not even think it notable, to us they are just being horses. Don't sweat the small stuff.

We spend a lot of time watching horses and observing their behavior and group dynamics. As such we are fully aware of the fact that horses are not concerned with world peace, solving world hunger (heck they're not even concerned with solving their neighbor's hunger), won't be forming the horsey version of the United Nations, and generally are concerned with themselves and meeting their own needs. If a horse in the wild can no longer keep up with their herd they are left behind by the group. There will be no rushing into the line of fire to save their wounded friend, it simply is not how horse society works. Obviously the horses here are not wild but their behavior is still very similar. I will say that in a small group of 2 two 4 horses the dynamics will be different as there are not enough group members to have a true herd mentality.

Unshod horses often walk around, especially in the summer, with small chips or small cracks in their hoof walls, often because of daily exposure to the morning dew and the resulting wet/dry cycle. Most of these are completely superficial; they don't bother the horses and it doesn't bother us to watch the horses. Some horses always look like they have been freshly trimmed. Others don't. As much as some owners don't wish to hear it, some horses just flat out have bad feet and nothing we can do will improve upon a horse's genetics. We work with some good farriers and we try to help horses with bad feet get to a better place, but frankly as long as they are comfortably keeping up with their friends we fail to see a crisis in the making even if their hooves are not visually perfect.

The horses here came to us to be retired for a reason, and most of the time these reasons encompass some degree of lameness or declining health. We've said many times this is not the place to visit if you want to see what a sound horse looks like trotting around in the pasture. But sometimes they are here not necessarily due to lameness but due to permanent and/or progressive effects from illness, progressive diseases, and other health issues. For example a horse with DSLD is going to have obvious, physical signs of this progressive disease (with drooping of the hind fetlocks typically being the first sign that leads to diagnosis) and there is nothing that can be done about it. This goes back to not sweating the small stuff - worrying over something we cannot change is a senseless use of our time and mental energy.

The other issue that evolves over time is that a horse's appearance isn't static; it changes as they age, and this is an ongoing source of worry for the people that send them here. A horse not in work loses it's topline and musculature. Body condition scores change as horses age. Easy keepers sometimes become harder keepers. Issues that a horse may have lived and coped with all of its life often can become much more difficult to manage and take a greater toll on the horses as they age.

Just like people, some horses age gracefully and look basically the same several years later as they did when they arrived. Like people some horses simply do not age gracefully despite the best feed, the best veterinary care available and the best farrier care available. After years of living with many aging horses, working with some wonderful owners who were willing to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary diagnostics and still coming up empty handed, we've learned that sometimes you just need to love your horse and accept him for what he is today, even if he isn't the "perfect" horse he used to be. If they are eating, drinking and maintaining a healthy and reasonable body condition - and this acceptable score will vary greatly depending on what a horse's issues might be - you learn that you cannot make them all look perfect. As long as they are happy and have a nice quality of life at some point you have to accept that all of the money in the world is not going to reverse the aging clock. Of course some people are lucky and their horses age beautifully and look like they are 10 even when they are in their 30's.

For the number of horses that we have around here, real problems, the kind that require prompt action on our part and that justifiably create real worry for us and the owners, are rare. When they happen, we notice and we do something about it promptly (we're great friends with our vets from years of working together). As for the rest? We've learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to sweat the small stuff.



Lightening and Lucky having a grooming session
Dutch, Murphy, Chili and Fuzzy
New faces: Rennaisance (aka Renny) . . .
. . . and Sam

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Spiderman Pillow and More Hay

Jason has put in more than his fair share of hours on the tractor the last few days. He was complaining about the uncomfortable seat on the tractor (I will admit it does need to be replaced) and that he was tired of bouncing around on it through the fields. We had to make a run to the co-op for a few supplies so we went into the nearest store to see if they might have any seat cushions. The nearest store happened to be a Dollar General. I have to admit I've never been in a Dollar General before. If you ever need cartoon themed paper plates and cups for a birthday party my gosh they have a very wide selection.

While they had a plethora of party favors and such Dollar General did not have any seat cushions so we went to the pillow section to to find Jason a temporary substitute. We selected a Spiderman pillow. Jason really wanted a Spongebob Squarepants pillow as we are both Spongebob fans, but alas there were no Spongebob Squarepants pillows to be had. He passed on Cinderella (really Jason, you don't want to sit on a Cinderella pillow while on the tractor??) and Shrek and a few others.

We exited Dollar General with Jason clutching his Spiderman pillow and looking as happy as a five year old boy. It was a good thing he was smiling since he had to wrestle with the hay tarps again later in the day. Wrestling with the tarps definitely wiped the smile off his face. As I mentioned in our last post the hay barn is already full from the first cutting of hay, we also have hay in someone else's hay barn, and now we're down to tarps on a gravel pad.

As for me I'm happy to be done driving the hay wagon for awhile. Although my backing skills were satisfactory Jason did have a brief chat with me about riding the clutch. I will admit I took offense to this as I am perfectly capable of driving a manual shift and I know not to ride the clutch. He also likes to lecture me on engine braking. Fine. Some of the hay is from our neighbor's property and as you drive from their fields onto our farm it gets steep. The fully loaded hay wagon really pushes the truck along down the steep slopes. But I kept my foot off the clutch AND off the brakes and just let-er-rip. I thought Jason's eyes were going to bug out of his head as he watched me take his advice the first time. For myself I was just praying that the the thousand pound hay rolls on the top didn't come crashing forward onto the cab of the truck and crush me.

I am happy to report that I survived, the hay survived and stayed put and all was well. So I kept up the no clutch/no brakes approach with every load. By the last load I was so zen about the whole experience I only had one hand on the steering wheel and just zoomed along until the - ahem - engine braking finally kicked in and slowed me down.

Jason and his Spiderman pillow

The little white speck at the top of the hay is Jason dragging the 125 pound tarp; definitely not his favorite job. I'm sure Jason was thinking something along the lines of "Oh 2nd hay barn, wherefore art though??"

My view through the windshield the last couple of days

Fuzzy Punch

Wiz and Clay

Darby, B-Rad, Sebastian and Alex

Dutch and Murphy

George looking most displeased at having a bath

Missy, MyLight and Cuff Links

Tiny; that is Rocky hiding behind him

Romeo and Gus

Clayton and Toledo were having a great time