Priorities.

When I was young (and even not-so-young), showing was everything to me. I didn’t understand why anyone would put in all the hard work we do with our horses, all the blood, sweat and tears, as they say, not to show it all off in front of a judge. How would you know how you were doing if you didn’t get a score? How would you know where you stood?

So when Stella came along, getting her ready to show became my top priority. She was green broke and very lightly started at that point, and I needed to get her going. I needed to get her to my coach’s barn and get training, I needed to get her ready to show. I was driven. I was motivated. I was also setting my sweet new pony up to fail, because it was about that time when her first bout of gastric ulcers reared its ugly head (in fact, you can read all about that here).

Fast forward three years. Stella lives in my back yard with her “sister”, Sunny. Their life is idyllic. They spend their days lounging about in their little shedrow stable, choosing whether to be indoors or out, grazing in their perfectly-managed and meticulously cared-for paddocks, or filling their bellies with the best quality free-choice hay around. They’re fussed over. They’re coddled. Their life is everything I’ve ever hoped it would be. They’re happy.

evening paddocks july 2017

It’s summer, so all of my horsey friends are out at the shows, getting lovely scores and even lovelier ribbons, telling stories of challenges accepted, goals reached, and horse-show friendships forged. I love reading their updates and seeing their pictures and I applaud them for getting out there and doing it.

For me? I’m just not that into you anymore, horse shows. Little by little, day by day, my priorities seem to have changed. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still very excited to see how far my sweet little Stella can go in her training. I just seem to be happier to explore that in my own back yard. How she performs in front of a judge seems to have taken a back seat to other things. Things like, “how does her mind feel today? Is she settled and happy and ready to work?”, or “how brave am I this ride? Brave enough to go out into the back field all by ourselves?”, or “how are Stella’s manners this week? Should I do a little ground work?”. Some days I don’t even end up riding at all. Some days we work on things like self-parking at the mounting block, or turn on the haunches in hand. Some days I brush out her tail, or pull her mane. Some days I sit on an upturned bucket in the middle of the paddock and watch them graze.

stella trot

I think that riders need to do what makes them happy. I think they need to do what makes their horses happy. For some people, that’s showing. For some people, that’s clinics. For some people, like me, right now, that’s working quietly away at your goals, challenging yourself every ride, and looking around every day at the beautiful little life you’ve made for your horses. And that’s okay.

Green as grass.

From the moment we bought our little farm, we’ve been puzzling over one of the toughest challenges horsekeepers face – how to ensure that our charges would have delicious, nutritious grass to eat all throughout the summer and fall. There are a few reasons, of course, for working so hard to make this happen. One is Sunny’s weight (or lack thereof). Since I’ve owned her, she’s tended toward the skinnie-minnie side, and I knew that the longer she could have good grass, the better chance we’d have of starting off next winter with her in good condition. The other driving force behind our ambitious pasture-management plan was that we did not want to feed (and therefore pay for) hay all summer if we didn’t have to.

We started out with about six acres of hay fields on the property, pre-barn-building. We wanted to try to get some of our own hay off the fields this year, so we’ve left the three-acre back field and the one-acre side field alone. Our next door neighbour/farmer-extraordinaire fertilized those fields for us in the spring, and he’ll hay them this month.

The two and a half acre front field has become a little horsey haven for Sunny and Stella. It houses their shedrow barn with in/out stalls, the winter (sacrifice) paddock with mud-proof pad, the riding ring, and the septic field. The rest of it we divided into five grass paddocks, with permanent fencing all around the outside, a corridor down the middle, and step-in temporary fencing for divisions. In the fall, once the grass has stopped growing, we’ll take out the step-ins to make one large pasture for them to play in until the snow flies. Thanks to the corridor, and strategically placed gates, the horses can get from any paddock back to their shelter whenever they like.

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We started turning Sunny and Stella out on grass mid-May. We began with just fifteen minutes, and added an additional fifteen minutes a day to ensure we gave their digestive systems plenty of time to accustom themselves to their new food source. Then, at the end of May, the big day arrived. The horses began full time turnout on grass.

Since then, they’ve been spending anywhere from four to ten days on each paddock (depending on the size of the paddock as well as their grazing habits and how much rain we’re having). As soon as we notice that they’re eating the grass down below three inches, or when the paddock starts to look “weedy”, we close it off and move them to the next. Then we mow the recently-vacated paddock down to an even level. This keeps the weeds under control and allows the grass to grow in a little thicker and more lush for next time. Each paddock ends up getting about 4 weeks of growing time between uses, so unless we have an unusually dry summer, we should have lovely grass right through to the fall.

What surprised us the most was how the horses (under) utilized the paddocks. They are very fussy about what they’ll eat and what they won’t, which is why allowing them to graze on the whole field at once wouldn’t have worked for us. Left to their own devices, they will eat the good grass right down to the roots, and studiously avoid the grass they don’t like. Our entire field would have ended up an ugly mix of overgrazed wasteland and patches of tall weeds. Containing them in smaller areas, and moving them frequently, is what allows the grass time to grow back up, since once it’s grazed down to the ground, it won’t grow again this season.

We have just completed our first full rotation of all paddocks. Yesterday, the horses went back into Paddock 1, which has grown right back up to where it was their first time out on it. Paddock 2 looks even better (we actually didn’t mow paddock 1 after its first round, and the difference between it and paddock 2, which did get mown after use, is quite remarkable). Paddock 3 is growing up nice and lush, with very few weeds, and paddock 4 is coming along nicely as well. And the added bonus? We haven’t had to feed a stitch of hay since the end of May, and skinnie-minnie-Sunny has been gaining weight, to the point that we’ve been able to eliminate almost all of her grain. Looks like our plan is working!

best-friends

 

This one’s mine.

This is my arena. No, it’s not a big fancy sand ring. And yes, it’s a smidge short of 40 meters long (but a perfect 20 meters wide). It doesn’t have a fence (yet), and it’s not exactly perfectly flat (but it’s really, really close).


It reminds me a lot of the riding ring I had when I was growing up. It was about the same size, a rectangle of grass in the middle of a field, and every week, my dad would haul the lawn mower up there and mow it for me. It wasn’t a big, fancy ring either, but it saw more than its fair share of clinics and pony club weekends and jump schools and dressage lessons. And if memory serves me correctly, I had an awful lot of ribbons hanging in my tack room that were a direct result of training that happened in that less-than-perfect ring.


I love my little grass ring. My husband helped me mow it today, and the whole time we were mowing and raking (and waving at the local farmers driving by scratching their heads good-naturedly at the crazy city kids out mowing a rectangle in the middle of a hay field), all I could think about was how I just can’t wait for my first ride in this ring.

I’ve ridden in a lot of nice arenas in my time. Arenas with amazing footing or gleaming white fences or lights so you can ride at night. But there’s one thing about this one that none of those arenas had. This one’s mine.

How To Customize a Rambo Fly Mask Plus

I really should have called this post “How the non-crafty girl on a budget customizes a perfectly good fly mask to fit the oddest shaped horse head in the world” but they don’t give you that much room.

So, a little background. For those of you who don’t know Sunny, she is a 22 year old Paint mare with a head that is almost as wide as it is long. Seriously.

In the summertime Sunny and her stablemate, Filou, have their stall doors open to the pasture so they can go in and out as they please. Inside is the coolness, the fly-free zone, and the ability to share a stall if they like (they’re very good friends).

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Outside is the grass, the fresh air, the sunshine and, unfortunately, horse flies the size of small birds. So, a fly mask is imperative. And of course Sunny, being a paint, has this nice white face with a lovely pink muzzle which burns, peels and blisters the moment she steps out into the sun.

Enter the Rambo Fly Mask Plus, with covered ears, and a lovely little flap coming down over the face & muzzle to protect delicate pink noses from the damaging rays of the sun. Perfect, right? Well, almost.

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Sunny’s head is short, but very wide. Her jaw is massive. So, length-wise, she’s a cob. Width-wise, she’s a horse. Meaning, fly mask-wise, nothing fits her. Hence the need for some… modifications. Now, I’m not overly crafty, but I have learned in life that necessity is the mother of invention, so I set to work trying to figure out how to make this fly mask fit.

Here’s what I used:

Plain old heavy thread, and this weird curved needle… I’m sure anyone who sews would know what it’s really for, but I found it great for being able to push through the heavy fabric on the fly mask.

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Here’s what I did:

On the mask, there’s a solid, rigid ridge that runs across the whole width of the mask. This is what keeps the mask out away from the horse’s eyes. Because the mask is too long for Sunny, this ridge was sitting almost in her line of vision. By pressing the mesh above the ridge down along the ridge itself and stitching it there to secure it, this brought the ridge up above Sunny’s eyes so the mask didn’t interfere with her sight.

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Then, by doing the same with the mesh below the ridge, I was able to shorten the lower part of the mask so that the muzzle flap didn’t drag on the ground while she was grazing.

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The whole job took me about forty-five minutes. For anyone who knew what they were doing, I’d say this is probably a ten minute job. Nonetheless, Sunny now has a lovely Rambo fly mask that fits, and I have an oddly curved needle looking for its next job.

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Happy Summer!

Building my Perfect Barn – Part 5: Exterior Drainage and Mud Management

Hi again! Back to the BMPB (Building my Perfect Barn) series with the fifth installment – outdoor drainage and mud-management. This topic came up while I was having lunch with a group of horsey friends last weekend, and it got me thinking… how am I going to keep my precious wards from standing knee-deep in mud during our (ridiculously long) mud season(s)?

Obviously the first consideration is building the barn & paddocks in the right place; using the natural lay of the land to help facilitate proper water run-off. In a perfect world the barn will be built on high ground, surrounded by a about a 2% grade (ground falling 2 feet every 100 feet). Having said that, and knowing that the “perfect world” scenario might be hard to find, here are a few ideas I have for keeping the barn from flooding, and keeping the paddocks as mud-free as possible.

Image found at http://www.ecoterr.com

Rain Gutters & Downspouts: It always surprises me when I see barns without rain gutters. My plan is to direct the water from the roof off to a lower-lying area away from the paddocks…

Image found at http://www.thehorse.com

…or, better yet, collect it in barrels to use on gardens and lawns, to conserve water.

Image found at http://www.nestegg.typepad.com

Sacrifice Paddocks & Footing: As you know, each of my stalls will open into a separate paddock, so that horses have access to shelter/water while I’m at work all day. These will be “sacrifice” paddocks (meaning a non-grassy area which is ‘sacrificed’ to allow the grass pastures to rest and grow, and to keep them from being destroyed by hooves in muddy/freezing times).

In order to keep the paddocks from becoming mud holes, I need to create a base/footing that is conducive to dryness. Currently the plan is as follows:

1. Excavate down about 6 inches to remove the organic material that will become muck if left to its own devices;

2. Install geotextile fabric (landscaping fabric) to create a layer between the soil and the gravel, to keep them from mixing. From what I hear/see/read, this is the absolute best way to eliminate (or at least diminish) muddy paddocks;

Image found at http://www.craigmarloch.co.uk

3. Cover the geotextile fabric with one to two inches of large gravel (1 1/4″);

4. Finish with a four to five inch layer of pea gravel (3/8″ round stone).

Image found at sweethorsesbreath.blogspot.ca

French Drains: All of this should keep the paddocks and the area surrounding the barn relatively un-soup-like, but just to be sure, we will also be making use of French drains as necessary. The traditional French drain is just a trench, filled with gravel or rock, which provides easier access for water, allowing it to be redirected away from, say, your barn or paddocks. Most French drains also have a perforated pipe installed, to help keep the water flowing, and to stop it from backing up and creating a pool.

Image found at http://www.mosbybuildingarts.com

Hopefully all of this will work! At the end of the day, I’m hoping for a nice, dry barn & stable yard, and I’ve learned that it’s easier to invest the time and money at the beginning of a project rather than after you’ve discovered that what you have isn’t working. How do you keep your barn & paddocks dry?

Building my Perfect Barn – Part 1: Solving Paddock Problems

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Photo credit: Pam Levy. Image found at http://www.pamlevy.com

Yes, I know. My very last post was about Sunny’s move to the perfect retirement home. But anyone who knows me knows that the next part of the plan for Sunny is to move her “home”. To my home. To our little farm in the country. The little farm that we don’t actually have yet. But we will have it, someday. And it’s never too early to start planning, don’t you think?

I’ve worked in (and boarded at) a lot of barns, including having my ponies and horses at our own farms growing up. I know a thing or two about what I like and don’t like in a barn. I also know that, being neither a stay-at-home wife nor independently wealthy, I will have to make the barn fit into my 9 hour work-day. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make sure that the horses are safe, healthy and happy while I’m away from them for 9 to 10 hours a day. I’ve done so much research into what will work for me and what won’t that I could practically write a six-part blog series about it. Ahem.

Challenge # 1: Turnout

I believe horses need exercise and fresh air. As much of it as possible. But I also know that living where I do (the east coast of Canada, where the average winter day can go from 2 degrees and rainy to minus 10 with a cold north wind, in less than 2 hours flat), 24-7 turnout is not an option for little miss Texas-born hothouse flower, Sunny. So how do I ensure that she and her stable-mates will be able to spend a much time as they like outside, while still having access to shelter, and not running up and down the fence line if I happen to be half an hour late getting home from work? Well the answer is as plain as the nose on your face. Proper paddocks, safe fencing, and a system of gates that always lead horses back to the safety and shelter of their stalls.

Photo by Barbara Livingston, image found at http://www.drf.com

So here’s my plan. Dutch doors leading directly from each stall into a dry (“sacrifice”) paddock about 20′ x 100′, which is plenty of room for a little frolic & play time for any horse. The sacrifice paddocks will have crusher dust for footing to combat the mud (for anyone not intimately acquainted with Nova Scotia, mud season last from about November first through mid-June).

From the dry paddock, two gates lead to two different grass paddocks (each about 1/4 t0 1/2 acre). While one is being grazed on, the other can be resting/re-growing, so that during the “grazing” season (mid-spring to early winter here), the horses always have something to nibble on. Again, if the weather turns inclement, or if the horses need to escape the flies or the heat of the day, all they need to do is return to their stalls.

As for fencing, my ideal would be post and rail with a strand of electric wire set in from the top rail to keep horses from leaning on it.

Post and rail with a strand of electric. Image found at http://www.kiwifencing.com

While I know that horses are herd animals, and there is nothing so satisfying as watching horses play together or groom one another, because I will be at work for 8 t 10 hours a day, I cannot risk anyone getting into trouble during the day. Individual turnout will therefore be a must. I can’t risk two horses getting into one stall with a kicking match ensuing, can I? I think they’ll still be happy to be near each other, and separate paddocks means you can catch one horse easily without fear of the usual stampede to the gate.

Horses playing happily in safe separate paddocks. Image found at http://www.holidayswithyourhorse.co.uk

Tune in next time, I’ll be talking about the interior stuff (stall doors, walls & floors).