This is the first in a series of Day In The Life posts. I love reading these from other people and have always been a fan of journals and diaries. It’s about as close as you can get to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I don’t view myself as an average horse person but if you’re wondering what a day might be like when you have horses and a little land, you might find this interesting. This is a pretty long post so if you’re reading it on the front page of our site, make sure you click the link at the bottom of the post to see the rest.
It was a weekday and as much as I romanticize what life would be like if I earned my living in a horse business, the truth is it’s just a hobby for me. Like many and perhaps most horse people, I have day job that doesn’t involve my hobby. So for the first part of my day I sat at a computer. Sometimes I wear a cowboy hat but my Skype headset doesn’t fit over it so on that day I was hat-less.
At quitting time, I was waiting for my computer to do something and grabbed the book I’ve been reading and read a few more pages. I wasn’t going to mention the name of the book because I don’t want you to get the impression I like girl books but I’ll tell you anyway. Mikki recommended a book called These Is My Words (Nancy Turner, author), an historical fiction and the first in a series of three about a frontier woman in late 19th-century Arizona. Being practically from Arizona and a lover of the history of this era, I picked the book up one day and haven’t yet put the series down. The story is very close to a western and is especially remarkable because it’s based on the real life recollections of the author’s great-grandmother. She fought warring Indians, bandits and the elements while building a cattle ranch and a life in the desert. The stories are written in the form of journal entries. I mention it here because on this day I read a passage where the woman (Sarah Prine) talks about how there is never a lack of work to be done on a ranch, from fences to feeding to repairs and hauling water. Thankfully I didn’t have to haul water by bucket but I was reminded that even on this small property of less than 10 acres, there is a seemingly endless list of things to do and I should get to them.
Before heading outside I decided to change into work clothes. Over the years I’ve skipped this step a few times and that laziness has cost me many pairs of jeans and shoes and a few shirts as well. I have a whole collection of clothes that I try not to wear off the farm, even though the smell of horse manure isn’t uncommon in these parts. I talked about how the barn claims our clothes way back in 2006 and I guess I’ve actually learned something since then.
One part of my outfit I almost never forget anymore: my boots. I’ve worn this pair of Justin boots for years now and they fit me perfectly. I feel safe knowing that my feet and legs are somewhat protected from being stepped on by a horse, stepping on thorns or nails and getting caught by things that can reach out and grab you when traipsing through the woods. I wince every time I see someone working in flip flops.
First up was to turn on the water to fill the horse water trough. I could tell it was getting low because most of our horses were standing around it looking at me, as if to say “hey, are you going to fill this thing?” even though it wasn’t entirely empty. In the warmer months we leave the water on since the trough has a float valve the allows it to maintain a full level of water, but I can’t leave it on in colder weather for fear of the hose freezing, and recently we had a few nights well below 32 degrees. At this time of year it takes three horses and a donkey about two and a half days to empty 100 gallons of water.
Next I headed to a burn barrel, a 55-gallon steel drum that’s missing a top and a bottom. I use this to burn off excess wood from downed trees. This property is about 50 percent wooded so there is a lot of wood to dispose of. Trees fall on fences all the time and sometimes just fall in a place where curious horses could get hurt. I could drag all of this wood to one spot and build a huge bonfire, but living in Arizona has made me fear big fires so I resort to a slower method of using burn barrels to contain smaller fires. I kind of find it enjoyable, not too far from having a campfire. Sometimes I rent a wood chipper but the nearest is over an hour away, costing too much money and time.
I have varying tastes in music but regular readers will recall that I enjoy cowboy and western music, especially when I’m outside. So when I traipse around the pasture for a while, I usually carry an older iPod and an inexpensive, battery-powered speaker blasting Gene Autry and Pioneer Pepper and the Sunset Pioneers. I know that any minute one or more horses will be by to visit and inspect things and they all seem to love to chew on my speaker when I’m not looking, which is why I emphasize inexpensive.
My wood-burning project isn’t just about looks and horses tripping over trees. Our pasture has too much of the worst kind of trees I’ve ever seen: the honey locust. If you were to tell me that name without showing me the tree, I would have guessed it was some kind of sweet-smelling, flowery tree people would pay good money to plant in front of their houses. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The honey locust is what I imagine Satan has planted in his front yard. Thorns, many of which are as long as my hand is wide and as thick as a pencil, cover the bark of the tree, the limbs and branches and even grow out of its roots. The thorns are hard and thick enough to puncture a tractor tire. I don’t want my horses near these things but I’m faced with a dilemma about how to remove them without impaling myself. I wasn’t up for anything crazy on this particular day, so I just snipped the young buds from the roots and very carefully walked them over to the burn barrel. I admit I took some pleasure in hearing them crackle as they burned. Good riddance.
Some of the wood takes a while to burn and the barrel fills up quickly so I used this down time as an opportunity to check on the hay level in a feeder across the pasture. I can usually guess about when the horses will need hay but it varies based on what grass is available and temperature. The time to know when to put out a new round bale isn’t the day they run out but a day or so before so you can plan for it, hopefully when it isn’t raining and cold.
The horses had known for a while that I was in their pasture but walking close enough to check the feeder sparked their curiosity, and one by one they came to visit me. I’d like to think it’s because of the strong human-horse bond we’ve developed but the truth is more likely that they were checking to see if I brought them treats. We used to do this frequently but stopped when we realized it was putting all human visitors in danger, as our small herd clamored to be first in line for treats, running around each other and sometimes kicking. You don’t want to be around horses when they’re doing that. There was no fighting to see me first this time as they probably suspected I didn’t bring them treats. But horses are at least as curious as cats so they had to check. On the way back I grabbed some dead tree branches to burn and Jazzy the mule followed me to the burn barrel. She has a bad habit of following too closely and needs reminding of that periodically but is otherwise friendly. She seems to prefer hanging out with the humans if given a choice. She taste-tested the branches was dragging, which didn’t help.
Next up was to attend to another pasture danger. At one point in the recent past, Pops had a great idea about how we could deal with some of the particularly weedy parts of the pasture. He bought a small chain link corral for the goats we had at the time, figuring we could move them around the pasture a little at a time and they could fatten up on unwanted weeds. It didn’t work out (hauling water often and far wasn’t manageable). For some reason we never got around to removing the goat corral and it ended up being pushed around by horses looking for that one delicious blade of grass just beyond their reach. Chain link is no match for horse power and the corral ended up looking a little pretzel-like. I spent some time this day removing it from the pasture.
Between rolled-up newspaper for lighting the fire, a long lighter, a multi-wrench and hand clippers, my pockets were full of tools and I wondered how these things were done in the old days. Were pockets full of tools common, or were saddlebags used as we do modern toolboxes in a truck or Gator? Either way, I find myself making sure I have a good belt on to keep my overburdened pants from falling down from the weight of tools.
Time flies and it wasn’t long before I heard the call for supper. I wouldn’t have heard or felt my cell phone and thankfully I was close enough by to hear the shout. I think it might be time for a dinner triangle. No mistaking that sound. Along with picking up my tools and throwing a few more branches on the fire, I headed up to the barn to feed our barn kitty. Night is the best time to do this or else the chickens will chase the kitty away and eat her food.
After dinner, a shower was in order because I smelled like a campfire and there is no brushing that out of your hair. Funny thing was, after I was done I still smelled smoke. I sniffed my arm and discovered I must have gotten my hand a little too close to the fire and singed some hairs. It smelled awful and even soap wasn’t working. Ultimately I ended up shaving the back of my hand, which worked.
The last stop for me on this day was reading time. I try to take some time every night to read, even though somebody said you shouldn’t do that because it keeps your brain awake. My brain doesn’t seem to have trouble falling asleep. I can usually get seven whole pages in before my iPad mini starts falling from my hands, regardless of how interesting the book is. I headed to the book that inspired me to back away from the computer and head outside to do chores that afternoon. As I rest comfortably in my modern bed, I read and fall asleep thinking about how much harder farm/ranch work was in 19th-century Arizona.