Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Tectonic Shift

A truly major shift has occurred on my farm, one that I never envisioned.  If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is to never say never.

Riding Buddy and I have been talking about this shift for well over a year.  With Izzy's passing last week, Hawkey was left with no herd at all and, somewhat to my own surprise, I have decided to let Tessa go down to Riding Buddy's place to keep him company.  RB needs another horse to work with and keep Hawkeye company.  She also needs it to be a good, sound, young horse, who will be both fun and safe, which is a very rare combination.  Tessa fits that bill.

I have not been able to do much riding this summer for a variety of reasons and Tessa needs more exercise.  She also enjoys getting out and doing things.  RB's place is only a mile away and we should be able to ride out together from her farm easier than the two of us riding out alone to meet in the middle.  We hope that we will actually be able to ride more this way.  I will have one less critter to care for over the winter, the donkeys will have more room in the barn, Hawkeye will have a friend, Tessa will get to hang out with her boyfriend and (hopefully) get more exercise and RB will have another good horse to work with.

It should be a win-win for all of us.

It is a good plan and I think it will work out well, but it is a monumental shift in my world.  Horses have been central to my life for as long as I can remember.  If you had said to me 10 years ago that I would look out to my barn and find three donkeys and no horses, I'd have suggested heavy medication and therapy.  It is a jolt to walk into my tack room and not see a saddle.  It is even more of a jolt to walk to the barn and not hear Tessa's unique and distinctive wuffling, warbling nicker or look out my window and not see a horse. 

The donkeys are doing their best to convince me that no horses are needed.  They miss Tessa a bit, but Ben and Ramsey have been vying for her favorite corner in the barn all day.  Without her wading through their ranks, they feel even freer to crowd around me, demanding attention, affection and entertainment.

Tessa will be sporting a grazing muzzle just like Hawkeye's, maybe she will even lose a bit of weight.  One can always hope.

Last night, I spent a couple of hours repairing my manure spreader and all three donkeys were there for every scintillating moment.  Tessa would have eventually gotten bored and wandered off.  The donkeys didn't want to miss a single swear word, not even the ones directed at them when I tripped over one of them. 

I would never let Tessa stay with just anybody and I wouldn't put her with any other horses.  She is not happy being out with most horses and does not feel safe with them, but she has known Hawkeye for a long time and has always been very enamored with him.  While she will miss her donkeys, I believe she will enjoy staying with him and it is good for her to be around other horses.

All-in-all, I think this will be good for everyone.  It will just take me a while to adjust to this massive change in the world's geography. 

A Long, Quiet, Sweet Goodbye

My friend Riding Buddy said goodbye to an old friend, Izolde, on Thursday.  I have not written much about this mare as she has been retired for many years now.  Her only job has been to keep Hawkeye and the rest of the family company. 

Izolde (or Izzy), came to Riding Buddy 26 years ago from an Arabian breeding farm that became defunct and abandoned all the horses.  Long-time horse people will remember a crazy "bubble" of Arabian breeding during the eighties with Arab horses selling for tens of thousands, even millions of dollars and all the craziness that accompanies such things.  When the bubble inevitably burst, those same horses could barely be given away.  Riding Buddy and several of her friends all adopted some of these horses, saving them from starvation.  Izzy was one of the last of the group to still be alive. 

She was also one of the luckiest ones.  Izzy has lived her whole life since that day on the same farm.  She has been a beloved, pampered Princess her whole life.  Few horses are ever so fortunate.

However, in the past few years, age has been taking its toll.  Izzy lost most of her teeth and has been living on soaked hay cubes and senior feed.  Most of all though, it was her joints that failed her, especially her left knee.  What was once straight and strong had become bent and broken.

We've known for quite a while that this would be Izzy's last summer.  Her joints had failed to the point that no amount of pampering, medication or therapy could make up for the pain they were causing.  While the weather remained good, she was still able to get around and enjoy ruling her kingdom.  There is no way though that she would be able to manage even a small amount of snow. 

As all of us animal lovers must do at some point, we agonized over this decision.  Weighing the good against the bad, measuring quality versus quantity, trying to reconcile our own wishes with the needs of a friend in pain.  Finally, it was time and you could see it.

So, on a lovely Fall day, with all her friends and family around her, we said goodbye to Izolde.  Quietly, sweetly, with thanks and love we gave Izzy the last, kindest gift we have to offer. 

Goodbye Izzy-belle.  Thanks for deigning to share yourself with us lesser beings for so many good years.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

And Done

This whole gravel/rubber mat project has morphed into a far bigger job than I initially intended.  I have never been good at half-measures though.  Since I had a bit more gravel than I had landscape fabric for, I had the rest put near the barn so I could extend the very first project a bit further.  This included pulling all the mats out of the storage shed and adding a couple inches of gravel in here because water tends to puddle in here and cause problems.

I seriously thought about making Ben help me to move the mats, but I couldn't think of a good way to attach him (or the ATV) to the mats.  With heavy rain on the horizon, I couldn't take the time anyway so it was just Me, Myself and I with a bit of moral support from the herd.  They volunteered to keep the mats from moving on their own and escaping.

There was also one really big, brown rock that I just could not manage to rake smooth no matter how hard I tried.  The more I raked this rock, the more raking it needed.

It doesn't really look much different, but there is another 3-4 inches of gravel in the shed.

Which meant it was time to put the mats back and add a couple new ones.

Rubber mats and gravel really are great things, but I don't want to have to move either for a very, VERY long time.

Special thanks to Marco and Mina for the mats and Dave for the back-blade.  Now all I need is some Aleve, a hot tub and a really good chiropractor.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Project Runway

Seeing as how the weather stayed dry and I had a way to move gravel, I went all out and ordered not one, but TWO more loads of gravel. 

One truck load was more of the crusher-run gravel that I put around the barn.  This is a mix of crushed stone, stone dust and sand.  It is what most of the gravel roads and driveways in the area are made of.  It will pack down tight and become a fairly solid surface. 

I've had several people ask me about what kind of gravel to use.  This varies so much depending on your region that telling you that I used crusher-run may be of no use to you.  However, if you are battling mud, you will need some kind of crushed stone mix that will pack down.  If you want your gravel to pack in hard, then you need finely crushed stone or stone dust.  If you want it to remain loose, you do not want it crushed.  Unless you are trying to fill deep ditches, you want small stone, not a bunch of baseball sized rocks rolling around under your feet and hooves.  Generally, look for #1 or, at most, #2 stone, no larger. 

The very best thing for hoof health is a 3-4" layer of pure pea stone, which is nothing but very small, pea-sized stones:

Pea stone has a polishing effect on hooves that helps keep the walls short while the depth of the stone layer encourages sole growth. 

If you are looking to install some gravel, call around to the different gravel pits in your area and find out what is available at each.  They will vary a lot in price and product even in a fairly small area.  The loads I brought in cost about $240 each, but I had one place quote me a price of $850 for the same thing.  I told those folks to have a nice day and got off the phone real quick.

I put down a layer of crusher-run to combat mud and a layer of pea stone to the drier area to help with hoof health.  The two loads have made a sort of runway that is about 250 feet long.  I will narrow the fence along the runway so that the herd will have to use it to reach the rest of the pasture. 

More important than the kind of gravel you use is what you put underneath it.  If you put the gravel over bare dirt it will mix with that dirt and simply disappear into the mud within a year or two.  If you happen to have a bulldozer lying around and can afford to truck in lots of gravel, then you can peel the topsoil off with the dozer and replace it with gravel as long as there is solid hardpan under the topsoil. This is a big endeavor beyond many of us and isn't necessarily what you want in a pasture.

A better option for most equine owners is to put down a layer of heavy landscape fabric and put the gravel over that. The fabric prevents the gravel from mixing with the soil so that the gravel stays in place instead of getting sucked into the void.  They say that a layer of fabric is worth 20 inches of gravel.  I'm not sure about that, but if you want your gravel to last, this is a must in wet areas.

Pea gravel that I will spread out into 3-4" Layer to form a hoof-i-ciser:

The models scoping out the runway...

Ready for takeoff...

We're expecting heavy rain tomorrow so I guess we will get to see how it all works fairly quickly. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Why Chromosome

Part B of the gravel project was to level out the floor in the tack/feed room so that I can put down some rubber mats that another friend gave me when they sold their farm recently.  This is a big, messy job that I have been putting off for some time.  Having the mats and being able to bring in gravel finally pushed me into action.

It's a big job because I first have to take everything out of the tack room before I can even start on the hard work.  Of course, I did have help for this endeavor, lots of help....

Oddly enough, Ben was the first inspector to show up.  I don't know how he did it, but he managed to sneak right by Ramsey and then tip-toe past my shoulder when my back was turned for a second.  I turned around and there he was. 

Don't let those innocent looks deceive you, Ben can be a very sly, sneaky devil when the mood, and the opportunity, strikes.

Of course, Ramsey was not far behind.  I think he was a bit embarrassed that Ben had beat him inside.  I generally have to take elaborate measures to keep the Little Brown Brat out of here and to have been caught napping when the Gates of Heaven suddenly opened all by utterly mortifying. 

Ramsey knows where every particle of food is kept in here and he knows how to open the door and all the containers.  If I leave the door open even a quarter of an inch, he'll have his nose deep in the feed and I have to pry him out - literally - pry his nose out of the bucket.

Since all the goodies had been removed, I let them in to explore all they wanted.  Ramsey was further disappointed and disgusted to find no gold inside Fort Knox.  Imagine all the hours he has spent scheming and dreaming of ways to break in only to find nothing but dust and cobwebs once his greatest goal had been reached.

Poor little Ramsey, he has been sulking just a bit.

Apparently, breaking into Fort Knox is something only the boys have been dreaming of.  Neither Emma or Tessa were much interested in this project.  They both came by, peeked in and left with a disinterested shrug.  I guess this is a job that only appeals to the Why Chromosome. 

Now that the new floor is in, it's time to bring all the goodies back and always remember to double check that the door is locked.  You really have to keep a careful watch on those Why Chromosomes. 

Friday, October 6, 2017


It can be easy to get lost in the woods.  To lose sight of reason and order. 

Then you stop and take a step back, look around, move just a few paces in any direction and the perspective changes.

We could use a pause, a deep breath, some clear sight and, above all, a change in perspective. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Moving Mountains

I've had to put the building project on hold in favor of the gravel project as that has to get done before the weather changes for the worse.  The new shed is at a point where I can leave it for a while, but the gravel will set into immovable heaps if I let it sit too long. 

Lucky for me, Dave (Ben's former person) took pity on me and loaned me the use of a back-blade for my tractor.  We have kept in touch and I have become good friends with him and his wife.  Dave is an expert tractor mechanic and we have worked out a deal:  he helps me with my mechanical woes and I take care of the farrier work for his herd.  They are two very different, but valuable skills and it has worked out well for both of us so far. 

Dave has helped me find several new-to-me pieces of equipment including my spiffy blue tractor and the little manure spreader.  The best part is that they actually work.  This deal worked out especially well for me this week as, otherwise, I would have been moving that mountain with these:

instead of this:

We all know Connor would rather climb mountains rather than move them. 

The tractor and the back-blade made short work of that load of gravel, (the massive mess behind the gravel is part B of this project.  It takes a mess to fix a mess right?)

If the weather holds, I may even spring for another load.  In the short time the herd has been climbing over the gravel every time they enter/exit the barn, I have noticed improvement in their feet.  If I had buckets of money, I'd put a layer of gravel all the way around their track and their feet would probably maintain themselves. 

I was doing well, working hard on part B, when everyone came in from an exhausting day of eating to take a nap. 

They somehow managed to suck all the ambition right out of me.