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Posts about the pasture, including fencing, seeding, grasses, mowing/bush-hoggin, etc.

Homemade Horse Escape Detection System

Homemade Horse Escape Detection System

Horse jumping the sun
Image based on a photo by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay

It’s no secret that we had some trouble with horse escapes early on in our horse ownership experience. Horses see green grass on the other side of the fence and want it and their muscular 1,000-pound bodies have no trouble breaking wood fence boards. And sometimes they come to the realization that some fences can be jumped.

That’s where we are today. We think. Romeo, our 900-pound Appaloosa, the kind of horse not normally associated with anything but beauty and laziness, has found a way out of our pasture almost every single day. So every single day Mikki and I spend about two hours walking the fence line and looking for weaknesses. It’s not that the fence couldn’t use some work. We fixed several sections where trees had fallen nearby or the fence posts had been bent by a horse leaning into it too much. In one area soil had built up next to the fence, making it lower than before, the result of erosion that needs to be dealt with (our property is hilly). All of these have been fixed. We’ve replaced some old fence posts with new ones, added additional fence posts in weak areas, installed an additional row of wire in some places, and more. Yet sometimes we’ll look out and find Romeo in our back yard. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to have wandered further. But he could so we’re working hard to prevent him from escaping. But we’re just about out of ideas.

Our current routine is to bring him into the barn each night. At least we know he won’t get out while it’s dark. But we need to do more than that.

How we discovered Romeo is a jumper

After one of these escapes, we walked the fence line and found two hoof prints on the outside of the fence, pretty far from the fence itself and next to each other, the deepest indention being in the front of the hoof. This was a grassy area and the ground was not moist. This is likely the result of him landing after jumping the fence, something we’ve never seen him do.

Options we’re considering

Beyond the repairs we’ve already done, we’re going to have to dip deeper into the ideas list. Such as:

  • Electric fence. I know we’ve mentioned it many times here but we’ve gone through a lot of years not needing it so it was deprioritized. Plus it’s complicated. We have a fairly large property and most of it isn’t near electricity. Much of it has trees but solar is an option. Or we could install it on the section of fence near the barn and hope they learn.
  • Emergency paddock. One of my biggest regrets with this property is that we didn’t immediately add some paddocks. There are more than a few times when it would have been helpful and now we’re considering making one near the house for Romeo, if we can’t find where he is getting out.
  • Selling Romeo. I try to be absolutely honest with this blog and if I’m honest I have to admit I’ve considered removing the problem horse. He’s a great horse and I know this probably isn’t the right idea but it has crossed my mind.

But above all, we’re frustrated to not be able to figure out how he’s getting out of the pasture.

Homemade horse escape detection system idea

And finally, we get to what the title refers to. Options:

  • Mikki could sit in a lawn chair with a book, surveilling a part of the property. We decided this wouldn’t work because even though I say he gets out every day (and sometimes he has), a few times he’s stayed in a few days before getting out. And the property is too large for her to see all of it from one place.
  • Use a GPS tracker. This was my first thought. I Googled “horse gps” and found a few but eventually realized that a pet GPS tracker should work. There are far more options for dog and cat owners and I’m sure we could rig something to fit a horse. There are many options. Some require no monthly fees (Findster, $150), but most use a cellular phone network, requiring monthly fees of around $10 a month with an annual contract requirement. Most have a battery life of 1-4 days, though there are a few that purportedly last a month or longer.
  • Camera system. It would need a good power source, be heat and water-resistant, and be able to transmit or store a lot of photos or video.

Then it occurred to me that I have an old GoPro Hero 3+ camera that does timelapse recording. I decided to set it up on a tripod, slightly outside of the pasture, with a wide field of view. I set it up to take a photo every 30 seconds and I reasoned that if Romeo got out we would either see it or if we didn’t we’d know it wasn’t that particular area and we could move the camera the next day. For power, I connected the GoPro to an external battery nearby. Ziploc was my low-cost friend on potentially wet days.

Results so far

Wouldn’t you know the rascal stopped escaping after we started this? But I have lots of sunset photos! The location seems to be a good one, though on one attempt I came back to find the camera was off even though the battery still had lots of power. It was an especially hot day so I’m thinking it may have shut itself down due to heat.

Then it happened. I heard our dogs barking and looked out the front to find Romeo walking up the street. Ugg. Did our the system work? Sadly, no. I hadn’t emptied the micro SD card in a few days and it ran out of storage space. Sigh. We spent hours updating the fence, something we’ve done repeatedly this summer and are growing tired of. We let Romeo out of the barn again today and set up the camera again, with a fresh extended battery and an empty memory card.

Overall I think it’s a decent plan, using the timelapse feature on the GoPro so we’ll keep trying. But I’m seriously leaning towards a GPS option. More research is needed! We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

September 2019 edit: It worked! We used the camera system to catch Romeo sneaking out. More soon…

Fence Repair Blues

Fence Repair Blues

While checking the water trough levels and doing a quick walk by near our barn I noticed several broken fence boards. Our fence is a combination of three board wooden fence and legacy barbed wire we plan to replace with something horse-friendly. The wooden fence looks nice but is brutalized by the sun and is a pain to repair. It’s mostly horse-strong but these beautiful beasts can’t resist the potentially greener grass on the other side. The worst offender is probably Valentine, who I loving call our giraffe because he’s so tall.

Three times so far this summer the wooden fence has been broken and each time we put up new wood and recommit to keeping the grass “on the other side” short to reduce temptation. We’re pretty sure Valentine reaches over the top and just pushes through. Fortunately, he doesn’t step over and escape.

This week was the latest break, two sections, top boards. We ran out of fence railings and had to borrow some from a section outside the horse area. This time we affixed a 2×4 for extra support but this isn’t a long term solution.

2x4 fence board support
Fence rail with temporary 2×4 support.

Speaking of long term solutions, if you’ve read through our blog before you’ll see this is a frequent problem and the long term solution is to replace the entire fence with something more durable and horse friendly. But for a property this size, it’s expensive and time-consuming. My recommendation to anyone looking at horse property or creating a horse enclosure for the first time is to install good horse fencing from the start. Barbed wire can cause terrible injury and wood isn’t strong enough and requires maintenance, especially after the sun bakes it for a few years. If wood is already installed, like in our case, consider electrifying the top rail, which is an option we’re considering.

In addition to the wood fence repairs, we also found a few areas where the barbed wire became loose enough for a horse to step over. We discovered this after finding Romeo in our front yard one day. We replaced part of that section with barbless wire and additional steel posts. It’s a reminder that steel fencing, although more durable, also needs periodic maintenance.

Overall, whatever fence you choose for your horse enclosures, it should be periodically checked, especially after storms if trees are nearby. If you take a break and your horses become pasture ornaments, it’s easy to miss seeing things that need repair since you may not be around your horse area as often.

Lots of snakes this year

Lots of snakes this year

So far this year we’ve seen three snakes, which is more than we’ve seen in 10 years of living in east Tennessee. One I noticed in the grass near the barn. After that I resolved to cut the grass weekly to make it easier to see what’s in the grass. That was nothing compared with the next sighting. One night while preparing to get in bed, I found a large (4-5 foot) rat snake trying to also get into our bed. We removed it and did an intense search for access points, sealing a few small but plausible entry points. Then this past weekend we noticed a copperhead in the road in front of the barn. This one we killed, which was especially good because she was carrying future copperheads. In speaking with friends and neighbors, it seems this is a big year for snakes in our area, not just around our place. Have you seen more snakes this year?

No picture, mostly because I don’t want to see a snake every time I come here and I figured that was true for you also.

3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

Snowy horse pasture

I 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 wheelbarrow.
  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.

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.

Our favorite gate latch

Our favorite gate latch

After years of quickly kicking gates closed while our hands were full, only to have them swing open again, we finally installed a good solution. I’ve seen these for sale at the local co-op and Tractor Supply and the idea has always made a lot of sense to me. As you can see in the picture below, when installed properly, the latch is designed to catch your gate and hold it securely. What you can’t see in the picture is that you lift the gold part on the top to release the latch and the latch works on both sides. That was important because sometimes we need to open/close it from the inside and sometimes we need to swing it out. At the very bottom of the latch on the barn side and the gate side there are slotted openings through which to insert a padlock, though we found that some padlocks are too short or too thick. It took a little experimentation to find the right size.

How does it work? Very well! We always try to do barn chores together but there are times when we have to do chores alone and it really helps to be able to quickly swing the gate shut. For example, I needed to drive the tractor through the barn the other day and no one else was around to help. When the horses see the tractor headed for the barn, sometimes they follow and I’ve had them run in real fast, probably thinking they’ll be fed. That’s why we have a double gate system. They can technically run into the barn but can’t escape because of another gate. One of the gates is always closed to prevent escapes. Still, I prefer that none of them get into the barn like this. It’s not safe. With this gate latch, when alone I can hop off of the tractor, throw open the gate, drive in and, if I time it right and I’m a little lucky, I can jump off swing the gate shut before any of the herd gets too close. Having the gate automatically latch has helped tremendously.

On the barn, we had to add a spacer board to get the latch to match up to the gate side (as seen below). There is a little flexibility so you don’t have to line it up perfectly but it has to be pretty close.

Gate Latch

We liked this product so much we installed one on the upper gate and on one of our walk-through gates. I suppose you could even angle your gate hinges downhill a little and have a semi self-closing gate. Overall, well worth the money, in our opinion!

The one we bought is apparently from SpeeCo (via Tractor Supply), called a Two-Way Lockable Gate Latch, $25. We’re not affiliated with Tractor Supply and make no money recommending this product, btw.

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Rusty horse welcome signOkay, I admit it. We are fair-weather horse people. When the temperature gets below seventy or so, we have no interest in riding.

There. Now you know the truth.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in east Tennessee, winter is just plain ugly. It doesn’t snow much, so you don’t have the icy but beautiful snow-covered landscape. It’s not warm like Arizona or Florida, so you don’t feel the urge to saddle up a horse and ride across the sand with the sun on your back. Tennessee winter can be summed up in one word: “muddy.”

Although it really doesn’t get very cold (although Bill would disagree with that assessment),  and in fact there are occasional warm days (in the 60’s), riding in winter here is just too much of hassle unless you’re really serious. Or if your horses, unlike ours, stay clean all winter. Because here is the number one reason why we don’t ride in the winter: two of our three horses (and the mule) stay covered in mud all winter long. To ride, you would first have to clean a horse. That is enough of a chore if the mud is dry – you could spend a good half-hour or more just brushing off the dirt where the saddle and cinch would go. But more often than not, the mud is still wet, because apparently Romeo and Cash think they are elephants. Or hippos. Or maybe just plain pigs. After a night in the barn, drying off (and flaking off), the first thing those two do when they hit the pasture is find a mud hole to roll in. (And, by the way, it’s not just mud.) Warmer than Minnesota it may be, but it’s still not warm enough to bathe a muddy horse. So, no riding.

Nothing else having to do with horses is much fun in the winter, either. To tell you the truth, we kind of just want to hibernate until spring, so going outside to do anything is really unappealing. Like I told Bill the other day, there is no joy in horse ownership in the winter. So our poor horses are given the most basic care we can get away with all winter long.

Here’s the thing though: we will pay the price come spring. When it finally does warm up and green up and dry out, we will want to brush off all that winter mud and slap our saddles on those now-gorgeous horses and head down a trail. But after spending all winter eating hay, rolling in the mud, and generally acting like a wild herd with no interference from the humans, our horses will be far from ride-worthy. So instead of spending those first glorious days of spring on the trail, we will be riding in circles in the round pen.

That is, after we put the round pen back up, that is. Because the other thing we don’t like to do in the winter is fence building. So when it first warms up, we will be finishing the fence where the round pen panels have been serving as “temporary” fence (long story), so we can reassemble our round pen.

So right now, we’re warm and toasty in the house and only feeling only slightly guilty for neglecting our poor horses in favor of staying as warm as possible, but I know we’re in for many weekends where we stare wistfully at trucks pulling horse trailers, heading off for adventure while we are spending all our time just catching up.

I sure hope we can catch up in time to have a few weeks of good riding before it gets cold and muddy again. Sigh…I hate winter.

Square Bale Hay Harvest Video

Square Bale Hay Harvest Video

Hay wagonI think I’ve finally recovered from last weekend. As predicted, they were the hottest days of the year so far, with humidity that felt too much like monsoon season in the desert southwest. For two days (Saturday and Monday) we sweated in a field, dodged barn swallows and wasps and worked on our tans and our muscles as we harvested the first cutting of hay this summer. We know it will all be worth it come winter. Heck, when we’re using this hay in the middle of a frigid cold night we’ll be thinking pleasantly back to the heat of these days. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Although we often speak of dreading the hay harvest, the truth is we have many good memories we wouldn’t trade. It’s a time when a group of people who like each other works together and accomplishes a goal. At the end, we cool off in air conditioning, cook some burgers and tell tall tales about harvest days of years past. We drive home in the cool of the evening with the windows down. We experience the pleasure of washing off all that dirt in a refreshing shower back at the house and slipping into a clean bed under cool sheets to ease our aching muscles when we finally go horizontal for the night. In the end, it’s all good.

Here’s a brand new short video of how we use machines to harvest these square hay bales. It’s about 2 minutes long, with text narration. This will either bring back memories or show you something maybe you’ve never seen before.

Oh and this year we found a live snake in a bale! I was about to grab a bale to send up the hay elevator in the barn when I noticed something wiggling. It was a small snake but the incident reminded me to always wear gloves.

Do you harvest hay this way, too?

Favorite Nap Spot

Favorite Nap Spot

Our horses don’t lay down very often but when they do it’s usually right where you see Moonshine in this picture. It’s a spot on top of the biggest hill, on the side of the hill that dries the quickest. It’s a little hard to see from this picture but she’s on the edge of the hill. I’ve seen her and our other horses get up from this spot. What makes it unique is that they can roll to one side and then roll hard back toward the downslope and get up easily, thanks to gravity. This is a favorite rolling spot for Romeo, presumably for the same reason. Horses are pretty smart.

Moonshine laying down
Moonshine resting on a hill. Isn’t she beautiful?

Do you see your horse(s) rolling or napping on a hilly spot that makes it easier to get up?

The case of the missing horse hide

The case of the missing horse hide

Romeo's forehead injury
It looks worse here than it does in person. It’s not a deep wound.

When you become a horse owner, you quickly learn that one of the hats you’ll be wearing is that of a detective. How did my horse get out of his stall? Where is my horse’s fly mask? How did my horse end up in the next stall over with another horse? And sometimes, where did that gash come from? All of our horses at one point or another came back to the barn with some kind of wound that left us wondering how it happened. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see them at least once a day, at feeding time or bringing them into the barn for the night. Even so, this morning while heading to Romeo’s stall to let him out of the barn for the day, I gasped enough to make him jump. The poor thing is missing a pretty big piece of skin on his forehead and also under his chin. First thing is first – treating the wound. It wasn’t bleeding much but it was dirty, probably from rolling or maybe just from dust. So we gently placed a halter on him and brought him out to the center aisle of the barn where we have cross ties. If you don’t have these in your barn, I strongly suggest adding them. Crossties are simple two long ties (straps or rope) with quick-release latches that meet the horse in the middle in a way that keeps the horse from being able to move from side to side or even back to front very much. More about that in another post. So we cross-tied Romeo and Mikki cleaned the wound with some antibacterial scrub. Romeo was a trooper, though he clearly didn’t care for it much. It probably stung. Then she dressed it with ichthammol, a thick antiseptic salve that does a good job of treating and protecting light wounds from getting dirty and infected. You really need to have a small tub of it around at all times. A few “good boy” treats and off he went to find new trouble.

So next up comes the detective work. As responsible horse owners, we must try to figure out what caused this problem. I realize horses seem to spend their lives trying to find new ways to kill themselves; they’re mischievous, it’s true. But we have to keep trying to avert disasters of all sizes. So we run down a list of suspects:

  • Something in his stall. Nails, gate bungs, etc.
  • Barbed wire fence. We still have some that needs replacing.
  • Pine trees. A large one has fallen in the pasture and needs removing.
  • Horse fight. Not likely, given the length and shape.
  • Old barn or fence. Sometimes used as a scratching post.

So we start in the barn. Romeo’s stall has a large gate so we checked for sharp bungs or edges and found none. I remembered taking photos of Romeo the day before and discovered this very same wound on him then, though for some reason it didn’t stand out then. So it may not have happened in his stall which leaves 7 acres or so of partially wooded property to review.

I’ll make a long story short by saying that we haven’t yet found out what caused the wound but some quick checking didn’t reveal any standouts. My guess is that he really wanted a piece of grass that was hard to get to and scraped his head on some old barbed wire (which we really have to replace with something more horse-friendly) or around a fallen pine tree that came down in a recent storm. But the fact remains that the case is still open and our detective skills, better with time and experience, are called upon often to solve horse mysteries like this.

What kind of mysteries do you have to solve that require your horse detective hat?