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That time we swam with our horses

That time we swam with our horses

SEA HORSE
Last year we discovered a way to survive the summer heat – we installed a pool. It works! Sometimes while we’re swimming we look over to see our horses playing in the 110 gallon water trough. They splash in it and Valentine gets a big mouthful of water to drench whoever is nearby and isn’t already onto his intentions. He also enjoys it when we spray him down with water from the hose (after draining the sun-heated water already in the hose – too hot!), probably because he was once a fancy show horse and got regular baths. The other horses aren’t so thrilled with the gentle spray from the hose.

All of this reminds me of a trail ride we had with Romeo and Valentine a few years ago. It was a hot day and the trail paralleled a large lake for a long ways. All of us started wishing we had brought our swimsuits so we could cool off in the lake. Then one of our friends had an idea. She remembered a section of trail that led to the lake, a short way (about 600 feet) from a small flat island. Why don’t we ride the horses through the water to the island so they can cool off? It rains in Tennessee a lot so we already brought Ziploc bags with us to protect our phones. We bagged them and our wallets and then pointed our horses towards the small island. It was shallow and the horses clearly enjoyed it, splashing around with their hooves. We all got a little wet, which was great because of the heat. When we almost made it to the island, the lake was a little deeper than expected. This was no problem for 16.2 hand Valentine but poor 14.2 hand Romeo had water past his belly and heading towards his neck. Horses are pretty good swimmers but his rider got a little more wet than expected. Riding boots hold a lot of water!

We made it to the island and back just fine and were all a little cooler because of it. That was a great way to cool off during a warm trail ride and I would do it again but maybe next time I’ll bring a bathing suit.

3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

Horse pasture winter snowI know, after the winter most of us have been having this year, it’s tough to use the words “love” and “winter” in the same sentence. But in an effort to be positive, I thought it helpful to count our blessings and try to enjoy the good…any good…during what I’d guess most people feel is their least favorite season. You’ll note this isn’t a top ten list.

  1. No bugs! Once the temps go below comfortable, bugs die or move south leaving us with no swarms of no-see-ems to accidentally breath in, no itchy mosquito bumps and no surprise knife stabs from wasps (or “waspers” as they say around here). Oh, and no barn destroying carpenter bees and leg attacking fire ants. See, that’s a positive.
  2. Poopscicles. We’ve been below freezing for a ridiculously long time and all moisturize filled equine manure has turned to hockey pucks. This is a positive because they don’t smell as much and are easy to rake, as long as they aren’t frozen to the ground. And they make a satisfying clunk when they hit the wheel barrow.
  3. Tree maintenance. Since most of our trees and their life sucking vines are void of leaves this time of year, it’s easier to see the fence line and do some preventative trimming. Plus we don’t have to worry about snakes in the trees or on the ground while we’re doing this, which I suppose could technically be a fourth thing we love but I’m not willing to concede more to winter.

Having said that, I’m ready for bugs, smelly horse manure and overgrown trees again! But not snakes…never snakes.

Ice Storm and water management

Ice Storm and water management

We knew to be suspicious of the forecast of up to 12 inches of snow that was expected to fall this week. The weather in east Tennessee is apparently extremely difficult to predict. The forecast changed yesterday from snow to only rain and then hours before it hit, the forecast changed again – this time to ice. That’s the one we want the least, because it creates insane road conditions and threatens our electric service. Our horses are of course dry in the barn, munching on yummy square bales of hay. It’s tricky keeping their buckets full and unfrozen; we hope to be able to have heated buckets in the stalls in the coming weeks.

Ice buildup on trailer

We have a supposedly freeze-free faucet now and although it helps, it’s hasn’t been fool-proof. There have been several times where we haven’t been able to get it to work at 5 degrees below freezing. I eventually figure out it worked best when you close the faucet value but open the hose shut-off valves. This allows the water to drain inside the pipe so it doesn’t freeze. Still, I plan filling the trough carefully. Four equines can go through 100 gallons of water, the capacity of our trough, in about 4 days in the winter. On long cold stretches, like we’re accustomed to seeing in east Tennessee, we are in danger of running out of flowing water and having to carry buckets from our house. So in the AM when I let the horses out (if it isn’t precipitating), I take the ice from the buckets (if clean) and dump it back into the heated trough.

First, I put the buckets into the trough. I dip them below the water line and then slosh the buckets back and forth and side to side.

Iced bucket in heated trough

After a couple of minutes, I turn the buckets upside down and usually the solid chunk of ice slides out into the water.

Bucket ice in heated trough

Bucket-shaped ice

Part of our routine in the winter. Can’t wait until spring!

Horses don’t respect a day of rest

Horses don’t respect a day of rest

One of the things you learn as a horse owner is to expect that work related to your horse habit will not be confined to a schedule. It would be great if everything in barn and pasture ran smoothly while you’re at work, on vacation or it’s cold/rainy/yucky outside. I would prefer that to-do items conveniently appear on my list around, oh, 11 AM on a Saturday, provided it’s sunny, not too windy, and warm (but not too warm) and I’m not sick. But that’s not how life works. Case in point is this little incident that happened Sunday. It was cold, I had just completed a few necessary outside tasks (watering horses, putting out hay) and was looking forward to kicking off my boots and enjoying the remainder of my afternoon on a day that is supposed to be a day of rest. As I leaned down to lock a gate I heard what sounded like a car crash. I spun around to look down the road at a stop sign where no one actually stops but didn’t see any cars there. My next instinct was to see what Cash was doing. He tends to be the instigator of trouble and this time my instinct was right. Cash was facing away from the fence, rearing up at one of our other equines. Behind him was a cracked fence board. The sound I heard was the snapping of wood and screws tearing out of a fence post. I watched him examine his handiwork and I would bet an apple he was thinking of how he might use this broken fence to some advantage. I’m sure it was an accident – he was kicking at someone or thrashing around, posturing in response to the fresh new hay roll. Just as I thought I was done for the day, I had to repair a fence.

broken fence
Cash breaks another fence board

As I examined the fence post (right in the photo) and discovered it was missing a large piece of wood that came off as the screws ripped through, I had a few angry words for Cash, which he completely ignored. After calming down a little, it occurred to me that this was a demonstration of the amazing power of a horse. When I relayed the story to Mikki, she reminded me that that’s probably what would happen to our bones if we were to be kicked like that. Food for thought.

As I was adding the above photo, the folder that I use to store such photos had others over the years showing Cash standing next to broken fences. I haven’t searched lately but I suspect I’ve written other posts about this very subject. Troublemaker! Don’t get me wrong, though, he’s a nice horse but he is alpha in his herd and isn’t afraid to demonstrate it.

So if you’re thinking about having horses, mentally prepare yourself for the eventuality of having to do unplanned barn, pasture, fence and sometimes horse repairs at inconvenient times. And always keep spare fence boards around.

16.2 Hands Closer to God

16.2 Hands Closer to God

I was listening to the song “16 Hands” on the CD On Horses’ Wings (also available on Bucking Horse Moon – Amazon link) and loved a phrase the artist (Wylie & The Wild West) used. He said that riding his horse puts him 16 hands closer to God. What a lovely thought. Sometimes riding is such a pleasant experience that it can make me feel a little closer to God. Anywhere from 14.3 to 16.2 hands closer in our herd.

“The Devil’s on my trail but he can’t catch me me…I ride the roan, she’s built for speed. I’m 16 hands closer to God.”

Arizona’s Singing Cowboy and his horse

Arizona’s Singing Cowboy and his horse

Gary Sprague and DustyOn a trip back to our former home state of Arizona, we spent a little time being tourists, including a walk around Old Town Scottsdale. Scottsdale promises a place Where the Old West Meets the New West, and by golly that’s what you get, in addition to a lot of jewelry and art stores. I found some neat southwest souvenirs at Mexican Imports on Brown Avenue but my favorite find was a singing cowboy on a beautiful horse named Dusty. Or maybe I should say a beautiful horse named Dusty with some guy on his back because Dusty is apparently more popular. More on that later. Gary has resurrected the once popular character of the singing cowboy in the style of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and others, performing the not-so-easy task of balancing guitar strumming, singing with a smile and maintaining control of his well-behaved horse, while keeping an eye on fans who don’t always think before running towards Dusty and don’t always ask permission before reaching up to poke his nose. And sometimes Gary does this all while Dusty is walking down the sidewalk or through a bar. Yes, literally through the doors of a bar. If you think riding a horse can be tricky sometimes, think how hard it must be to do it under those conditions. The key is having a well-trained horse with a good disposition and tolerance for people and their unpredictable behavior, and having a strong and trusting relationship between horse and rider. And the fans are amazed. This kind of attraction seems totally appropriate for a town trying to stay in touch with its Old West roots. Judging by all the people who took pictures with Gary and Dusty while I was there, chances are good you’ll find a picture like that in many a slideshow of friends or family returning from an Arizona vacation.

As I listened to Gary play his guitar and sing, someone driving down Scottsdale Road slowed, rolled down their window and yelled “Hi Dusty!” and drove off. Gary tells me that happens all the time and in fact, most people don’t seem to remember his name, just the name of his horse. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Gary seems to be the kind of guy who isn’t looking to get rich doing this,  instead enjoying the chance to bring a smile to people in this modern world who would otherwise never experience an avatar of the fantasized Old West cowboy good guy.

Gary singing “Give Me My Boots and Saddle” from Dusty’s back

Gary Sprague has had this gig during the cooler months in Scottsdale (November through April, Saturdays 1-4 PM) for a number of years  but also mounts up for appearances at schools, events and even parties. Gary sings, tells stories, recites cowboy poetry and does educational speaking about the real cowboy way of life. His trusty horse Dusty does more than just patiently stand there, too. Gary has taught him a variety of crowd-pleasing tricks like crossing his legs, bowing and giving high-fives. Okay maybe not high-fives but after seeing this duo, that wouldn’t surprise me.

I love that there are cowboy entertainers out there still. For many people, this is the only exposure they’ll have to horses and I think it’s a good one. For horses to continue to be admired and respected, kids and adults need to be able to see them, touch them, learn about them and appreciate what they are. It’s too easy for people to ignore equine issues if they’ve never met a real horse.

For more information about Dusty and his trusty cowboy, Gary Sprague, visit their website – http://thesingingcowboy.com/ (heads-up – music auto-plays when the site loads).

Have you seen Gary and Dusty in person or a duo like them?

Day In The Life – Early Spring

Day In The Life – Early Spring

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.

Work TimeIt 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.

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6 Horse Myths Westerns Teach Us

6 Horse Myths Westerns Teach Us

I’m a big fan of westerns. My favorites are the old black and white western movies and tv shows from the 40s and 50s. Sometimes it’s hard to find space on our DVR for modern shows because I fill it up with John Wayne, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott and The Virginian westerns. Since we acquired horses, my interest in westerns has increased but I find myself paying more attention to the horsemanship shown. If you have any experience with horses, it’s not difficult to point out the problems often seen in these movies and TV shows. I love them just the same but I couldn’t help but make a list of some of the top horse myths these old westerns (and new westerns, too) teach us.

Rider on galloping horse
Speed by Niko Dimitrov – ecobo, on Flickr

Myth: Horses can gallop nonstop for a long time

Reality: I have no doubt that the bad guys in these scenarios don’t care much for the horses they were riding but if you know much about horses you’ll realize that riding a horse hard for long periods of time will quickly wear it out; most are designed more for sprinting than endurance.  But in the movies, the bad guys run out of the bank they’ve just robbed, quickly hop onto their horses and race out of town at full speed. They are soon followed by the good guys and sometimes a posse that seems to chase them for hours at full speed as they head towards Mexico.

Myth: Horses are either always saddled or can be saddled on a moment’s notice

This makes sense in movies because watching someone saddle a horse wouldn’t be very interesting and would take up valuable story time. but it always seems whenever someone needs to ride a horse, that horse is always pre-saddled.

Reality: In the days before cars, horses wore saddles more often than pleasure horses today, it’s true. But today’s riders unsaddle their horses when they aren’t riding them for a while and preparation needs to be done before putting a saddle on. Its back needs to be brushed and the saddle pad and saddle need to be checked for debris, thorns and spurs that could irritate the horse. The cinch needs to be tightened. These things aren’t done in seconds but minutes.

Cowboy Mounted Shooting
Cowboy Mounted Shooting – note the balloon distance and the powder spray.

Myth: It’s easy to shoot guns while riding a horse. Accurately, too. And your horse doesn’t mind at all.

Every single western shows this. The bad guys usually aren’t good shots but the good guys sure are.

Reality: Moving targets are difficult to hit with a stationary gun. Sitting on a horse bouncing up and down, trying to shoot a tiny bullet into a relatively small moving target far away from you is considerably harder. Cowboy Mounted Shooting has gained in popularity recently but the riders are shooting un-burned black powder at balloons roughly twenty feet away (see photo). I’m sure there was plenty of shooting from the backs of horses in the old west but not nearly as much hitting. Shooting in general also wasn’t as common as westerns would have us believe, so it’s likely there were some startled horses when it actually did happen. Today’s Cowboy Mounted Shooters train their horses to be desensitized to the sound of shooting.

Side-note: Cowboy Mounted Shooting looks like a lot of fun and I would totally love to give it a try!

Myth: It’s easy to play a guitar and sing while riding a horse. And your horse doesn’t mind at all.

Silly as they may seem to some, I’m a big fan of the Gene Autry westerns. I’d like to believe there were good guys who sang a happy tune, always did what was right and protected people from the bad guys. Gene’s westerns usually began and/or ended with him riding down the trail strumming a guitar, singing a cowboy song with a smile.

Reality: Champion was one well-trained horse but most horses shouldn’t be ridden without a reins in hand and you can’t hold reins and strum a guitar at the same time. It would be difficult to carry the guitar when you weren’t strumming it and I think many a horse would rather dump a cowboy crooner who couldn’t carry a tune. Gene could sing but I bet most cowboys who try, can’t (me included).

Myth: Riding horses is easy.

Everyone in westerns seems to ride well and it’s probably true that back in the frontier days, most people knew how to ride. It was a necessity. But not now.

Reality: Those who can ride well now either grew up around horses and have been riding all of their lives or took lessons. Many (probably most) of those amazing horse scenes in the movies or on television were done by stunt riders who are expert trick riders, not the actors themselves. Even if you’re new to horses, it’s pretty easy to spot someone who is faking. James Drury, most famous for his role as The Virginian on the television western series by the same name, clearly knew how to ride a horse. In contrast, some actors appearing in westerns just seem to have a rough ride. They don’t look comfortable in the saddle. Anyone can learn to ride a horse well but it takes practice and it’s easy to pick up bad habits if you’re not careful. You don’t just jump on a horse and ride.

Randolph Scott
Randolph Scott and Maureen O’Sullivan in The Tall T

Myth: The hero is always tall, dark and handsome and usually gets the girl in the end.

Hollywood westerns almost always have a famous and attractive protagonist who saves the beautiful maiden and marries her, followed by happily ever after.

Reality: In real life the good guys come in all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. Sometimes the hero is a young girl who has no plans for marriage anytime soon. Mikki is reading an historical fiction book by Nancy Turner called “These Is My Words” that’s based on the very real life of her frontier great-grandmother, Sarah Prine. She was feminine but tough as nails and occasionally had to be the hero herself. Sometimes the hero is old, overweight, a little person or just plain normal, whatever that is.

I’m still adding westerns to my DVR, even though they’re full of myths, but I’m careful to remember that real life requires more patience, preparation and realistic expectations.

Please comment and let me know if you’ve noticed other prominent Hollywood western myths that relate to horses.

 

Horses and Tornadoes

Horses and Tornadoes

Tornado
Tornado by airwaves1

In the last two years we’ve experienced several violent spring storms come through east Tennessee and are starting to refer to spring as “tornado season.” We’re looking forward to the end of winter but not to the scary part of spring. It’s bad enough to not know when and if a tornado is coming but having horses makes it worse because they could be far out in pasture, they aren’t easy to move quickly and they don’t fit in the basement or the bathtub.

There were 936 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, according to NOAA/National Weather Service. And while some areas are at much higher average risk, all states are at risk. This map is a little old (1950-2005) but gives a quick visual idea of where tornadoes can occur.

US Tornadoes 1950-2005 map

So what should we do with our horses during a tornado threat?

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