Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Worst Job Ever Revisited

Jason and I have been busy worker bees the lately. The weather has been so nice it has certainly made for pleasant working conditions, even if the work itself hasn't always been pleasant. You may recall me complaining writing about the worst job ever a few months ago. We've had the pleasure of revisiting that job in the last few days.

As my original post on the Worst Job Ever describes, Jason and I spent several days ripping out old barb wire fencing. The worst part was that it wasn't just one row of old wire fencing. Thanks to the wisdom of the dumbasses previous stewards of our land instead of replacing old wire fencing, they would just put up another row of it right next to the old one. So we actually ripped out two rows of field fencing and a third row of fencing that was triple strand barb wire. As detailed in the previous post I had a pretty spectacular meltdown during the days of misery as we tackled that job. I spouted off a classic "this is why I went to college" speech as I had a meltdown/I can't do this anymore moment. Jason pretty much ignored me, I got over it, and went back to shredding myself to bits while traipsing through the woods pulling out old, rusted, tangled wire fence.

A few days of that did us in so badly that we have not been able to muster up the gumption to finish the job. In an effort to spruce up the place and win over our neighbors, all of that wire that we pulled out has been sitting in piles along the driveway. In fact, one commenter on my original blog on this topic, Funder, even pointed out that not only did we have to rip out the wire, but then we had to dispose of it. Well Funder, we've chosen to simply ignore that part of the job for awhile. Maybe if you had come to help us we would have gotten this done sooner! :)

Alas, it is going to be time to start mowing the grass soon, and the last thing we wanted was to have to pull these nasty, large piles of old wire out of the weeds that were surely going to grow up around it. We also need to harrow in some grass seed along this section of our driveway so it will grow grass instead of weeds (to build this section of fence we had to bulldozed a path so the ground has been mostly bare). It is hard to harrow in grass seed when the path is covered in piles of wire. We could ignore this no longer.

Our original plan was to wrangle all of this wire into our stock trailer and then haul it to the dump. Jason, being the genius he is, pointed out the major flaw in this plan. We would have to wrestle with this old, rusted barbed wire TWO more times. Once to get it in the trailer, and another time to unload it at the dump. We quickly rethought this plan and had a very lovely dumpster delivered to the farm so we could fill it with wire. Now we would only have to have the pleasure of dealing with this mess one more time.

I think the dumpster adds almost as much charm to the place as the piles of wire. Don't you think it looks nice?

Our routine has been to wrestle large piles of rusted, uncooperative, tangled wire into the bucket of the tractor. Then carefully drive the tractor to the dumpster and dump the wire. Then Jason gets to have a bit of fun while using the bucket of the tractor to smush the wire down in the dumpster. Yes, I do realize this sounds easy enough. However if anyone would like to come and wrestle a few loads of wire into the bucket of the tractor we would welcome your visit. We'll even video you in action so we can all see how easy this is to accomplish.

the piles of wire felt endless; given that there was 3,000 feet of wire fence the piles were pretty endless

See, the wire really doesn't want to be crammed into the bucket. Nor does it want to stay there once it is in.

But we were determined, and now our dumpster is full of wire

We also cleared logs and sticks while we were at it to get ready to harrow grass seed

Occasionally some of the horses wondered what on earth we were doing (Fuzzy and Renny are the ones watching us)

Jason giving me two thumbs up because the Worst Job Ever is finally done, the last load of wire is in the bucket.

My back and shoulders killing me after the constant bending, pulling and lifting. However as of this evening the last of the wire was wrestled into the dumpster. I will admit that I almost gave another version of my "this is why I went to college speech" during round two of the Worst Job Ever. But then I really thought about things, and what life was like during my corporate days with my recruiting company. Rush hour traffic, office politics, corporate politics, boring meetings, wearing suits every day (I will confess that I do miss a few of my power suits, but not many of them), being trapped inside most of the time, did I mention rush hour traffic . . . ? After I took a few minutes to reflect upon things, I went back to wrestling the wire with a little more enthusiasm. After all it was 75 sunny degrees, I had on a comfortable pair of jeans and I wasn't sitting in a boring meeting trying to pretend I wasn't glancing at my watch every 4 second. It makes a bunch of barb wire cuts seem a lot more bearable. I'll even take all of the rain I will be working in off and on the next few days.



Norman and Cinnamon

Lightening shaking and showing off his new pinto markings after a good roll

Wiz and Dutch

Faune, Winston and Chimano

The big boys walking in two polite, single file rows. Not their usual style! Thomas, Hemi and Moe on the left. Levendi, Homer, Apollo and Baby on the right.

Maisie was giving Lily a really good grooming. She was pulling off chunks of Lily hair with her teeth.

Sebastian, Fuzzy, Wiz, Dutch and Renny

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bedtime Reading

I get so many horse catalogs and mailers it is hard to keep up with them. We order a lot of supplies for the farm so it is no wonder that we seem to be on just about every horse related mailing list. We order so much stuff that we even get a Christmas present from Valley Vet every year.

Most of them I don't even look at, they just go straight in the recycle bin. However I always keep a current copy of the Dover catalog, the Bit of Britain catalog and the SmartPak catalog on my bedside table. Dover and Bit of Britain have such great collections of tack and and horse stuff I can happily flip through them for hours. They will sit on my bedside table completely untouched for weeks at a time. Then I feel the need to reacquaint myself with everything in their covers and they become my bedtime reading for awhile. Happiness is falling asleep with the Bit of Britain catalog on your face. I can spend hours looking at page after page of bits, girths, breeches, polo wraps, supplements, bridles and of course my all time favorite, blankets. Jason cringes when I go through periods where my bedtime reading is a tack catalog since it is inevitable that I will find *something* that I need. He often tries to make helpful suggestions of books he is reading and all but shoves my Nook in my face and begs me to download some new books.

I've collected more (far more) than my share of tack over the years. I've been riding and showing for a long time and I've had a lot of horses of various sizes. I've also kept my horses at home for years which makes it quite inconvenient to borrow things if you want to try them. Hence my obscene bit collection. Every time I needed (wanted??) to try a bit I bought it. Most of them wind up hanging on the harness hooks in my tack room to live out their days in each other's company, collecting layer upon layer of dust after being used a couple of times. The less fortunate bits find themselves buried deep in the recesses of a tack trunk that I haven't even opened in a few years.

My latest fascination is saddle pads. There are so many types of saddle pads and when I look through my catalogs I find myself feeling the need to try them all. Who doesn't need a Back on Track pad, a Thinline pad, an Ecogold pad and a Mattese pad (I will confess to owning more than one pad in that short list . . . )?

The one thing Jason should be eternally grateful for is that I really hate saddle shopping. I find saddle shopping to be more painful than swimsuit shopping - no joke! Trying to find a saddle that fits both rider and horse usually feels like an exercise in torture to me. Even having a huge budget and trying to go the custom route doesn't always make saddle shopping easy if your horse has a hard to fit back. Of course I don't like horse shopping either (I love buying horses, just not shopping for them). Really Jason, now that I put all of this down in writing it could be worse, I don't like shopping for saddles OR horses.

So tell me your favorite horse catalogs. Maybe I can find some new catalogs to add to my bedtime reading collection.


Fabrizzio, Noble and Walden on the run

Calimba and Cinnamon

Darby and B-Rad

Faune, George, Winston, Fonzi, Silver, Chimano

Baby, Homer, Thomas, Tony

Ivan, Trigger and Grand

Moe and Apollo

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I'm not exactly sure why but it seems to surprise most people to learn that we don't buy as much commercial fertilizer for our horse pastures as some seem to think we should. Horses are prodigious fertilizer producers. My job as a good farmer is to figure out how to make effective use of all they produce. An average sized horse eating an average diet produces roughly 50 pounds of manure per day. Horse manure is roughly 80 % water and in addition to water it also contains 0.3 pounds of nitrogen, 0.15 pounds of phosphorus and 0.3 pounds of potassium as well as a myriad of biologically available trace minerals and a bunch of organic matter.

This may not sound like much but over the course of a year it adds up to 18,250 lb of manure per horse. In aggregate this manure contains 110 pounds of nitrogen, 55 pounds of phosphorus and 110 pounds of potassium. We stock at roughly one horse per two acres of pasture. Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly this is about how much NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) our soil test suggests we add to every two acres of pasture in this part of the world. And we haven't even touched on the nutrients that are present in horse urine yet !

There are lots of folks in the commercial fertilizer business who will wince when they hear this but in my opinion there is no real way to sustainably build soil without the aid of copious quantities of manure. When it's used effectively it adds organic matter in addition to nutrients, and the list of benefits that organic matter brings to the table is far too long to list here. For a quick visual, imagine the difficulty of trying to grow plants in the type of sand you'd find at your nearest ocean beach. Then imagine trying to grow those same plants in a bag of potting soil from your local nursery. That's the difference organic matter makes.

There are two keys to effectively using manure as a fertilizer and soil builder. The first one is storing it in such a way that most of the nutrients it contains are captured, rather than leached out into the environment. The key here is adding lots and lots of carbon in the form of sawdust, shavings, hay and straw because carbon binds nutrients, particularly N,P and K. The second key is applying the surplus at a time when plants can actively use the nutrients it provides. In most of the temperate world the best time to spread manure is early to mid spring when pasture grasses are just about to hit peak growth and their demand for nutrients is similarly high.

Our cool season grasses are beginning to really come on right now. In another six weeks, our warm season grasses will begin to grow. Between now and then I'll be scraping all the excess manure and hay up from around the hay feeders, run in sheds and loafing areas. Once it's piled, I will be applying it to the pastures and then incorporating it with a chain harrow. And on that note, I hope everyone has a great weekend !


Fuzzy Punch looking very perky trotting through the field

Silky, Maisie and MyLight were having a very peaceful morning

Grand and Leo playing

Kennedy, Toledo and Rocky


B-Rad and Murphy

Fonzi and Chimano

Lighty, Alex and Darby

Tony, Homer, Apollo and Moe

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shedding Has Begun

(post by Jason) I have mentioned in previous posts that I am something of an amateur phenologist but there are other ways that we know warm weather is coming and chief among these is the onset of shedding season. Some of the horses in our care never really do develop full winter coats while others who will remain unnamed look like woolly mammoths. When I reach up to put a feed bag on and come away not being able to tell what colour my jacket is because it's so covered in horse hair it is a real good bet that shedding season has begun.

In February we use a brush but we mostly don't use shedding blades to overtly encourage shedding since we can still get some scattered days of cold weather. As this Canadian can attest even an old winter coat is better than no winter coat. As soon as March rolls around we won't go anywhere on the farm without a shedding blade in our hands or at the very least in our pockets.

For those of us that are allergic to horse dander (me) the use of shedding blades is accompanied by the use of industrial strength N95 particulate and dust masks, and at it's worst by the use of a respirator. This is good because I like to hone my Darth Vader look and breathing sounds on the off chance that George Lucas will decide to cast me in the next Star Wars movie. In case any of the Star Wars cast is reading this blog, I highly encourage you to come visit in the spring and please bring a contract with you.


Grand enjoying a nice roll



Norman and Cuffie




Sunday, February 19, 2012

Being Present at the End

A common topic for discussion that often comes up with our clients is about being with the horses at their last moments when they are euthanized. Since many of our clients live either hundreds or thousands of miles away, some even live on another continent entirely, it has never worked out for the owner to actually be present when we have had to euthanize a resident.

We hear a lot of guilt expressed about this. "I owe it to my animals to be there for them at the end." I'm going to have to disagree with this for many reasons. I'm going to start with the most logical reason. The horse has no idea that he/she is going to be euthanized, and therefore what is NOT going through their minds in their last few minutes is "why isn't my owner who professed to love me so much holding my leadrope right now in my final moments?" In fact depending on the circumstances the horse is either seriously ill and could care less, and sometimes is not even aware, who is or isn't around. In those circumstances all involved, the vet, us and the horse, are just hoping for a quick and easy passing, period. Or it is a planned euthanasia and the horse is happily being fed a few treats while the sedation and euthanasia are administered, typically either in the field with their friends or just outside the field with their friends nearby. In that scenario it feels like any other day to the horse.

In the daily life of the horses on this farm all of their needs and wants are met. They have ample food, good shelter and compatible company. Their owners have delivered the trifecta of the top three needs and wants to their horses. It has been proven over and over again that the number one thing that is most important to a horse is food, followed closely by companionship and feeling safe. This is why the horses will follow strangers around in the pastures when they are here visiting. The horses learn very quickly that stranger in the pasture = very high chance of treats.

I always feel the worst for the owners whose horses are not even swayed to be polite and act interested in their presence even when being offered treats. Instead all they do is walk away, or scream for their friends. To add insult to injury other horses, just not theirs, may be gathering around with eager expressions on their faces saying "forget your horse, we'll happily take the treats!"

What goes through my mind is "can't you at least pretend to be grateful for to your owner for providing you with this wonderful life for five minutes?" Unfortunately for some of the horses here the answer to that question is no. Thankfully for most of the horses here the answer is yes, although with a few of the horses five minutes really is when their timer goes off, and all pretenses of a happy reunion are dropped at that point. My point being is the horse has already been given everything they deserve and more. Again what isn't on their list of important things is their owner, or honestly any person, being with them at the end.

I've even had this conversation with a few people who ask about what we do. They are always very fascinated by the idea of a retirement farm. They ask all about the horses and their backgrounds and what they used to do. They are often surprised when they learn that we have horses retired with us from 15 states and two countries. Given that we do run a retirement farm the questions inevitably lead to how the end is handled. A couple of times I've had to listen to people act horrified that someone would send their horse away. They usually announce with an air of smugness "I would never do that with one of my animals, I love them too much."

Usually that statement makes me want to slap the person (I'm just being totally honest here). I typically subscribe to the mantra that the less said the better when it comes to talking with people who have totally different views from me, be it about horses, politics, religion, etc. One time I just couldn't stop myself and I launched into a lecture with this stupid woman (again I know that sounds harsh but I'm being very honest about my thoughts here). "People send their horses to us because they love them THAT MUCH. Instead of being selfish and keeping them close to them, they chose to send them farther away to a situation that was better for the horse. Some people are too busy being martyrs and telling themselves how great they are to realize that their horse might be happier somewhere else. Our clients are also savvy enough as horse people to realize that the companionship that counts most to a horse is that of other horses. Even though we all want to think that we have a special bond and relationship with our horses, and most of do have that with our horses, in the end the most meaningful bonds our horses are going to have are with other horses. Period. The end."

I have no doubt that that most of my commentary sailed right over her head. I also have no doubt that she thinks I'm a witch and I'm fine with that. My point in this rambling post is that being a great horse owner has nothing to do with being present when your horse passes. Being a great horse owner has everything to do with what happens before that day comes. Anyone who has a horse with us has earned the distinction of outstanding horse owner and deserves to be applauded. They've had every reason under the sun to abandon their horse. The mares could have been given away as broodmares. The geldings could be given away as "companion" horses.

Many of them have gone through the emotional and financial nightmare of trying to diagnose and rehab their horse, only to have a retired horse to show for all of their efforts. Often they have people telling them to give the horse to a rescue. Didn't you know there are all these rescues out there with too much money and not enough horses to care for? Or they are told to give the horse away as a companion, because again, didn't you know there are people just lining up to support your no longer rideable horse so you don't have too? Instead they chose to keep the responsibility, and with that responsibility comes the bills, money being spent on a horse that isn't "useful" anymore.

For anyone who has ever beat themselves up over not being there at the end, or who worries about that possibility, this should be the last thing on your mind. The horse could care less if you are there or not, but they do care a whole lot about all of the decisions you will make in their lives prior to that day. So judge yourself by those decisions because they're the ones that count.

**Melissa now steps down off her soap box.**

I hope everyone had a nice weekend!




Moe and Leo

Elfin and Homer

Thor, Walden, O'Reilly and Lucky


Murphy, Sebastian, Dutch, Wiz and Sam



Traveller and Cuffie


MyLight and Maisie