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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Okay, 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.
I 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.
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.
Do you see your horse(s) rolling or napping on a hilly spot that makes it easier to get up?
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. Cross ties 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, an 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 stand outs. 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?
Regular pasture mowing/bush hogging keeps weeds down and helps make a healthier pasture. Weeds grow faster than most grasses and if left to grow will choke out the grass. If uncut, weeds will also go to seed and spread. In this picture you can see how high the weeds were on the left. Grass can’t compete with that. On the right you can make out actual grass that’s easier for horses to find.
Some interesting facts:
Bush Hog is an actual company. “Bush hogging” has become a common term for cutting with a tractor-drive rotary mower. Kind of like calling a tissue a kleenex, which is also a brand name.
Rotary mower blades are similar to lawn mower blades but since the cutting path is so much wider, an end of each blade is connected to a large disc instead. A lawn mower typically uses one or two large blades that attach in the middle.
Rotary mower blades are thick and tough. It’s common to accidentally run over rocks, chunks of wood, stumps, etc. Most of the time this doesn’t seriously damage the blades or the mower (though it’s best to not run over those things). Rotary mowers often use shear pins that are designed to break before serious damage happens. Shear pins are cheaper and easier to replace than entire gear boxes. Some mowers use a slip clutch that reduces the chance a sudden blade stop will damage the tractor.
Although it’s most common to see one behind a tractor, you can purchase versions with an engine that work behind ATVs or UTVs or even self-contained gas powered units.
We use a six foot wide Woods 720 that came with our tractor that does a great job of keeping the weeds down in our pasture. It is a pain to put on but we usually leave it on all summer anyway. Since we’ve been mowing our pasture regularly (once a month or so), our horses have spent more time eating fresh grass in the warm months.
By now you’ve heard about or experienced first hand the large and unusual storm system that raked through the south last Wednesday (4/27/11). A week ago today, we strolled outside to discover the damage caused by severe thunderstorms that went on and on from around 4 PM through midnight. Yesterday we learned that nine tornadoes were officially recorded in our small east Tennessee county alone, knocking down trees and power lines, destroying homes and barns and in some cases killing people and livestock. I’ve never seen a storm like that. It was one serious thunderstorm after another for almost eight hours straight. At one point the wind blew so ferociously my family and I grabbed blankets and pillows and took cover in the center of our house, away from windows. We’d return to that spot a few times that night, as the wind howled and local radio stations and Twitter updates warned that strong cells were approaching, hail was on the way or apparent tornadoes were on the ground and moving fast. It was scary and exhausting.
It took days for us to assess the full impact of the storm. News reports showed the terrible destruction in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where we camped two weeks prior and in Ringgold, Georgia, not far from where we live and a town we frequent on trips to Atlanta. There was a lot of damage locally, too. In fact in our own back yard we lost our workshop (pictured above) when a large hickory tree succumbed to the wind and saturated ground. 45 degrees to the right of where that tree fell was the room we were in at the time. It most certainly would have crushed us. It may seem dramatic to say it but we feel lucky to be alive today.
I haven’t mentioned our horses yet because they were fine in the barn. Well, fine is a relative term. Our horses don’t seem to mind storms much except for Moonshine. I periodically peeked out the back door and saw her nervously watching and pacing in her stall. We worried about the barn but it’s the age old question in storms: Are horses safer in the barn or on their own, where maybe they could run away, if needed? We prefer them in the barn. Besides avoiding them being pelted with the over five inches of rain that fell that night, they were relatively safe from tree debris and we didn’t have to worry about them escaping through a downed fence due to fallen trees. Four of our neighbors trees fell over our fence and we lost about 20 other trees in other parts of the pasture. But the horses were safe in the barn…this time. In storms like this, horse owners have a lot to worry about.
If you have any trees on your property and don’t already have one, trust me on this – you need a chainsaw. Maybe two. For the next several days, we spent many hours clearing fallen trees with chainsaws. Sometimes one got stuck in a pinched tree, requiring the use of a second chainsaw to free it. It’s not just major storms. Trees die and fall. We may not use it often but a chainsaw is an invaluable tool at our place. You don’t want to be trying to buy one when they’re in demand, such as after a storm like this (none were to be found).
We feel for those who have lost lives, family, animals or property in the storm last week. Did this storm touch you or your family? Have you heard about any horse rescues?