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Category: Product Reviews

Reviews of horse, barn and pasture products, accessories and tack

Neat Horse Stall Signs

Neat Horse Stall Signs

Sure, our horses know which stall to go in at feeding time but we’ve always wanted nice horse stall signs. We’ve thought about having someone make some carved ones but thought it might look too big. Most of the horse accessory catalogs sell engraved ones and those were okay but they always reminded me of baseball trophy engraving and the labels just seemed too small. I wanted something bold and good looking, with impact. Mikki surprised me one day by ordering stall signs from Metal Image Creations (http://www.metalimagecreations.com), a family small business that specializes in custom stall signs and custom display signs (warning signs, company signs and even trophies). The signs she ordered show our horse’s barn names in bold, along with their fancy pedigree names underneath (I keep forgetting the fancy names so this comes in handy). The text appears to be lasered onto aluminum, the edges are rounded and there are two small holes on the top for mounting. I love these stall signs! I put them up about three months ago and they look as good today as they did when I first unwrapped them. The price was right, too. Only $19 each. I’m amazed at the high quality lettering and the info sheet that came with the stall signs indicates the lettering “is so tough that an image cannot be removed by erasure, and even resists abrasives such as steel wool, extreme temperatures, fungus, and most corrosive atmospheres.” I hope out stall signs aren’t exposed to most of those things but I did try to scratch the lettering with my fingernail with no luck.

I meant to write about these months ago and even took some nice pictures but I can’t find them at the moment. Below is a photo I took of Moonshine a few weeks back with some reindeer antlers we bought for future Christmas pictures. Yeah, she’s REALLY dirty in this picture but at least you can see the cool sign. We have one for each horse and no doubt you’ll see them in upcoming photos.

Metal Image Creations didn’t pay us anything for this review. We just like this product so much, we wanted to pass on the info:

Mark and Lisa Peters
Metal Image Creations
http://www.metalimagecreations.com/
Phone: 660-890-4820

Book Review: “Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel” by Jeannette Walls

Book Review: “Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel” by Jeannette Walls

First of all – I am SO sorry to have neglected this blog for as long as we have. It’s inexcusable, really, but we have been very, very busy. My father retired at the end of September and I spent weeks getting ready to go out to California to help them move, then the actual time there getting them packed (about 2 weeks), then the week driving back, and since then we’ve been getting them settled (driver’s licenses, new doctors, new banks, etc.)…so I’ve let a lot of things slide. Y’all aren’t the only ones I’ve neglected, believe me!

But I DID find time to read this great book, and I highly recommend you do too. Although it’s not technically about horses, horses do figure prominently in the story. It’s the story of the author’s grandmother’s life, told in the first-person. Her name is Lily Casey Smith. She had quite a life, and she thankfully shared stories about it with her family. Ms. Walls and her mother, Lily’s daughter, remembered a lot about Lily’s life, and Ms. Walls created this wonderful book from those stories. She calls it a true-life novel because she couldn’t know everything about her grandmother – e.g., conversations she had with others, her thoughts about events that took place, other little details. But Ms. Walls fills in the gaps beautifully, and wove together a riveting, moving, even inspiring life story that I think her grandmother would be proud of.

What a life Lily lived – she was born in a dirt dugout in West Texas, became an itinerant teacher in Arizona at the age of 15 (riding her horse alone from her home to Arizona), ran a cattle ranch with her husband, survived the Great Depression, raised two children while earning her college degree, learned to fly…and those are just a few of the highlights. Ms. Walls’ writing style really connects the reader with Lily – you feel like you are really hearing Lily’s voice. She was a spunky, no-nonsense character, and I wish I had known her in life – but I’m glad I could meet her in this book.

I Hate Scrubbing Buckets

I Hate Scrubbing Buckets

Don’t you? That’s why when we went to Tractor Supply last year and saw a product called Stock Tank Secret, we thought it was worth a try. It’s a little bag full of barley straw that you just drop in your water tank, trough or whatever. The company claims that barley straw has been used in the UK for hundreds of years to help keep livestock water clear. So the day after we got it, I scrubbed the bucket clean (Stock Tank Secret says you don’t need to clean it first, but ours was pretty gross) and dropped it in. Then our most important product reviewers ambled over for a drink.

First, they looked at us like we might have dropped poison in their water. Then they nudged the sack, then nudged each other as if to say, “No, you try it!” and looked at us again, this time as if perhaps we’d dropped a small animal carcass in their water. After several minutes of nudging, sipping and head-shaking, Valentine finally decided he was thirsty enough he’d have to just go for it. They both got a drink, albeit still suspiciously, and hung around the water cooler for quite a while.  Unsurprisingly, when we came out about an hour later to check the tank, the suspicious item was on the ground a few feet away.

They finally got used to it and left it alone, but did it work? Not really. I emailed the makers of the product to ask for further instructions, and the actual owner emailed back with his phone number. I called him and had a very nice conversation with him, in which he gave me one of my favorite quotes to this day: “A horse is just an animal spending its day trying to kill itself.” Unrelated to the stock tank, but true nonetheless. Anyway, he diagnosed the problem, which was that I had put the water tank in the shade. It needs sun to work. So we moved it to a nice sunny spot, where we also did not get good results. But we were using an itty bitty (about 20 gal) tub, off-white in color. We upgraded to a 100-gallon stock tank but by then it was winter and we kind of forgot about the Stock Tank Secret.

Fast forward to this year. We’re on our second 100-gallon water tank – the first one cracked and therefore leaked like a sieve. It also turned green within days of cleaning, and wasn’t much fun to clean – big, deep, with a ridge about halfway up because the bottom half isn’t as wide as the top. Why are they made that way? I’m sure there’s a good reason – other than making it harder to clean – but I don’t know what it is. (Perhaps to keep the horses from kicking it – well, they still do.) Anyway, when we got the new tank, we decided to try the Stock Tank Secret again. We’ve been using it for about a month now.

So, does it work? Kind of. It stays pretty clear of algae, which is what you have to scrub off. The water still gets nasty pretty quickly, because horses are very messy drinkers. They dunk their dirty muzzles all the way in, and backwash like crazy. We still have to empty that big old thing at least once a week and put clean water in, but we don’t really have to scrub it, which is nice. All in all, it is worth the small investment.

The small stall buckets and the goat buckets, unfortunately, are too small to pop one of these in, though, and still require scrubbing. Pretty sure the horses would eat it out of there, anyway, the goats definitely would. When someone invents an anti-scrub product for those, I’m in.

CD Review: On Horses’ Wings…And You Can Win It!

CD Review: On Horses’ Wings…And You Can Win It!

Horse Music - On Horses' WingsThat’s right…just in time for Christmas, we’re going to have another first here at Our First Horse – a giveaway!

We have found another great CD for your listening pleasure. It is a compilation CD called “On Horses’ Wings” and features seven great artists on 19 vocal and musical tracks. Everything on the CD is horse-related, of course, but it’s one of the best CDs on any subject or in any genre we’ve heard in a while.

It is beautifully done. The tracks alternate from a spoken piece (think poem, or short story) to a song. There is a lot of thought put into the arrangement; each song fits the piece before it, and they all flow from beginning to end. Some of the pieces will make you laugh (“The County Fair is Over” followed by “Falling in Love in America,” both by Antsy McClain), and some will bring a tear to your eye (“He’s Gonna Run” by James Cain). All will inspire you, and remind you of how very powerful a horse is, in every way. I love the whole CD. My current favorite is “Hands” by Wylie and the Wild West (I think of it by the more complete refrain, “16 Hands Closer to God”), but I’ve only heard it a handful of times.

Oh, and one of the best things about the CD is that all proceeds will benefit Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, an equine-assisted therapy center supporting children and adults with disabilities. Read about Little Bit here.

Check it out and listen to tracks here: On Horses’ Wings
Read about it and buy it here: On Horses’ Wings CD

Surely by now, the end of this post, you’ve clicked on the links, listened to all the tracks and know all about the artists and Little Bit. Maybe you’ve even bought a copy or two – we surely hope so! But maybe you’re still remembering the beginning of the post where I said you could win a copy. Never fear, I haven’t forgotten that either. Here’s how: Simply post a comment here, right here on this post. Not just any comment though – we don’t want a whole line of “I want it,” “Me too,” “Count me in,” etc. But we won’t make you write an essay or anything either…it is the holidays, after all, and we’re all busy people! Just please leave a little note telling us something dear to your heart that is horse-related. You could tell us your favorite horse activity, or how many horses you have, or your favorite song on “On Horses’ Wings,” or why you love Our First Horse! 🙂 Make it as short or as long as you like. Post it by midnight EDT on December 15, 2008, and we’ll randomly pick a poster to win a copy!

Good luck to you all, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Update: Even though the contest is now over, the CD is available still at Ecletic Horseman Communications (no affiliation).

Something For Horse Lovers of All Ages

Something For Horse Lovers of All Ages

I’ve been meaning to write about something for weeks now and just haven’t found the time, or the words. We came across something that is just so cool, but to write about it we’d have to admit that…well…we still like to play with toys. There. I said it. So if you’re only partly grown up yourself, or if you know a horse-crazy little girl, or just someone who loves horses and maybe can’t have a real one – we have found the coolest thing: Paradise Horses.

A disclaimer here: we were given a selection of products to review. I tell you honestly, though, I would buy these myself, if only I had someone in my house (other than me) who would be interested in them. Alas, I only have a boy, and as our loyal readers know, the Kid is not that fond of horses, real or otherwise. Sigh. So, in the interests of our readers, I had to review them myself. The sacrifices I make for you all!

Such a sacrifice, too. I was so excited to get these toys. They are a line of horses (duh!) with all the accoutrements a horse would need. But these are not your usual cheap toys. In fact, they could more accurately be called models, though they are most definitely meant to be played with. The horses are heavy and solid, and horses and riders are fully posable. You can even open the horses’ mouths to put in a bit or a carrot. The accessories are just as detailed, too – the curry comb looks and feels exactly like my real one, and the dandy brush is a perfect replica of the full-sized one too. We just couldn’t get over how realistic all the little pieces are.

And all the things you can get to go with them! Barn, tack, feed sets, jumps – there are hours of horseplay possible with these sets. We got “Rhythmical,” a bay horse, complete with halter, lead rope, comb and carrot; “Grace,” a red-haired little girl dressed for English riding with jodhpurs, boots, jacket, helmet and crop; the grooming set (tote, curry comb, dandy brush, comb, towel, spray bottle, hoof pick, hoof oil can and sweat scraper); and the show set (blue “wool” blanket and “leather” boots). I had so much fun with these (as you can see by the photos)! It made me want to get a set of tack (Grace can stay on her horse bareback, but it would be so much better with a saddle), a barn (Rhythmical needs a place to sleep, after all!) and a set of jumps (we’re not into the English riding, but the horse needs something to do, right?). Maybe even a tack trunk, to put all the cool tack in. Oh, and a feed set – the carrot won’t hold him over for long. . .maybe it’s a good thing we don’t have a horse-crazy little girl in our house!

Oh, and I almost forgot – you can “register” your horse on their website, and print out a certificate of authenticity with your name and your horse’s name. That’s a nice little touch that kids are sure to love.

I highly recommend these toys. They are well made and oodles of fun. I had a great time with them, and can’t wait for my grandson to come visit so I’ll have an excuse to play with them some more!

For more information: www.paradise-horses.com

My New KEEPER Saddle!

My New KEEPER Saddle!

eli-miller-saddle.jpgI forgot to tell you all – I got something really cool a few weeks ago. I think I mentioned that I had been using my friend Shari’s saddle for trail riding. It is just the nicest, most comfortable saddle you could ask for, but I couldn’t keep using hers because she kind of wanted to use it too. So I thought I’d check on eBay for Eli Miller saddles, and I found a few. One of them just happened to be near where we live, so that’s the one I went for, and I got it!

If you’ve never heard of Eli Miller saddles, you are missing out. Eli Miller is an Amish leather crafter who made saddles and other tack until he retired and his nephew Henry took over the business, using the same techniques and quality craftsmanship and materials as Eli – they’re now sold under the Henry Miller name. These saddles are made on a solid wood tree with a coating of fiberglass and a material called “Rhino” that helps make the tree more durable. They are covered in buttery soft leather and the seat is a “suspended” seat (it doesn’t rest directly on the tree) with a gel cushion. Mine is just heavenly to ride – I have ridden for hours with no pain or discomfort caused by the saddle. It is also really beautiful – rich chestnut leather with a darker seat, and simple, elegant tooling along the edges. There are also other matching tack pieces – bridles, breast collars, etc. (Gee, I sure hope I get something like that for Christmas. ;))

After doing some internet research, I believe my saddle is a “Buena Vista” (model #104). While it wasn’t as inexpensive as my World’s Longest Yard Sale saddle at $60, I still got a really good deal. The saddle retails for about $800 and I got it for $400, and the seller delivered it to me. (She was very, very nice, and we may go trail riding together sometime. She also knows my friend Shari – small world!)

So if you’re in the market for a really good saddle you intend to keep for a while, I highly recommend an Eli Miller/Henry Miller. I’ve seen them in our local tack shops and several online stores. And don’t forget eBay!

Book Review: Chosen by a Horse

Book Review: Chosen by a Horse

Yes, I know I’m supposed to be writing my own novel, but I started this book a while back and wanted to finish it. It was really, really good, but have the tissues handy if you read it!

Chosen by a Horse is a memoir by Susan Richards. She agreed to foster a Standardbred mare and her foal when they and nearly 40 other mares and foals were confiscated by the SPCA from a farm where they were abused and neglected. She brought this mare, Lay Me Down, back to her own farm even though she lived alone, already owned three horses and Lay Me Down was so sick she had no guarantee of survival. The foal was inexplicably returned to the abusive owner (apparently to be surrendered to a vet to whom the owner owed money), but Lay Me Down eventually recovered from the malnutrition and lung infection she was suffering from when Ms. Richards brought her home.

You would think that a horse who had been abused, nearly starved, and denied medical care would be the either the meanest or most skittish horse on earth, but Lay Me Down had a big, loving heart and over the following months, she helped Ms. Richards – who had a past just as horrific as Lay Me Down’s – open up her own heart through caring for this wonderful horse.

I won’t give away any more of the story, because you really should read it for yourself. It’s a really good book; very well-written and touching. I will tell you that when I got to the end, I was reading it in bed next to Bill, who was already asleep, and I was sobbing so hard I was afraid I would wake him. So you’ve been warned – grab a hankie with this book.

My one and only complaint is that there was only one photograph, on the title page. I sure would have loved to see some pictures of Lay Me Down and the other horses (Hotshot, Tempo and especially the lovely Georgia). But I guess Ms. Richards is more like me than Bill – at our house, Bill pretty much takes all the pictures, and I prefer to live the moment rather than photograph it.  Apparently Ms. Richards feels the same way, and only takes pictures when the moment demands it, such as the one on the title page (in the book, she talks very specifically about taking that one photo, and why).  But she paints such a vivid picture with words that you can imagine everything in your head almost as well as if you did have a photograph to see.

All in all, Chosen by a Horse is one of the best books I’ve read, fiction or non-fiction. Definitely a must-read.

Who Was That (Fly) Masked Horse?

Who Was That (Fly) Masked Horse?

Fly maskWe are battling the flies again. In some ways, I don’t think they’re as bad as they were last year – probably because of a late frost that killed off a bunch of our normal pests – but the ones that are deviling our horses are really bad. Last year, we had a three-pronged approach to fly control: Equispot on the horses, feed-through fly control in the horses, and fly parasites in the horses’ environment. This year, we just weren’t prepared. Between the weird weather (One day, “It’s spring!” Then, “Wait, it’s winter again.” A week later, “I think it’s summer already!” The next day, “Nope, winter again…”) and our traveling, the flies kind of got the jump on us. Our poor horses are really suffering.

We are in fact using the fly parasites again this year, and I think they work really well. Unfortunately, without investing in a really big supply of them, we can only effectively treat the barn area. So the barn is virtually fly-free, but the pasture, where the horses spend most of their time, is still pretty fly-infested. That’s where the feed-through fly control would work. (Both the fly parasites and the feed-through fly control work by stopping fly larvae where they are laid – in the manure.) We like to get ours from a local feed store because it’s very economical, but haven’t had a chance to get over there (“local” for us means within 75 miles; this place is about 50 miles away). In the meantime, we’ve been using fly spray, which our horses hate and which doesn’t seem to work all that well anyway. We’ve also applied SWAT to their bellies again, which is very nasty and messy but does seem to help.

Since the flies seem to bother their faces the most, we decided we’d give fly masks a try. We got just one yesterday to see if they would even consent to wear it. We bought a SuperMask II without ears. Since my horse is was a fancy show horse and therefore seems to be more open to weird things being done to him, we thought we’d try him first. We put him in the stall, got out the mask and brought it over to show him. He backed away like I was holding a snake! Not a good start. But after letting him sniff it all over and giving him lots of reassurance, he did actually let me put it on with no trouble. He wore it for a couple of hours out in the pasture and didn’t seem to care at all.

One reason we didn’t try the mask last year is that we were concerned that it would affect their vision. All the fly mask companies claim that their masks don’t obstruct vision, but since “keeping an eye on things” is so important to a horse, we didn’t want to impede their sight in any way. So we tested it on the way home to make sure you really can see through – Bill wore it while driving. 🙂 He says he could see just fine. So I don’t think there’s anything to worry about there. Isn’t he a devoted horse owner?

On the down side…it sure looks goofy. On the horse, not Bill. Well, okay, on Bill too. It’s a hard look to pull off.

Book Review: Beautiful Jim Key

Book Review: Beautiful Jim Key

While I was visiting the kids/grandkids in Arizona last month, I read 5 books. I love to read! One of the books I read, which I highly recommend, is Beautiful Jim Key by Mim Eichler Rivas. I had never heard of this horse, and apparently not many people these days have, but after reading this book, I can’t believe he’s being forgotten.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, in case you want to read the book yourself, but here’s a synopsis: Jim Key was a Arabian-Hambletonian colt bred by a former slave, Dr. William Key, in 1889. His dam was “Lauretta, Queen of Horses,” a purebred Arabian said to have been owned by (and stolen from) an Arab sheik. His sire, the Hambletonian, was a very successful pacer, and that’s what Jim was bred to be as well. Pacing (a form of racing where the horse pulls a small cart) was very big at the time. Jim was very sickly when he was born, and not expected to live. With tender loving care by Dr. Key, who was a self-taught veterinarian, he not only lived but turned out to be a very special horse. He showed an unusual aptitude for learning, and Dr. Key ended up teaching him to read, spell, do arithmetic, file letters in a filing cabinet, memorize Bible verses, and give political opinions, among other amazing feats. He ended up on tour, showing millions of Americans his amazing talents at fairs and expositions around the country.

The biggest contribution Jim Key made, though, was to the animal rights cause. Animal abuse was rampant and accepted at the time, and by showing people how intelligent animals can be, he raised awareness in people and became a kind of ambassador for organizations that were the forerunners of today’s ASPCA and Humane Society.

Beautiful Jim Key retired in 1906 and lived a peaceful retirement until he died of natural causes in 1912. He’s buried in Shelbyville, Tennessee. We’re going to visit the memorial someday, when we go to that mecca of Tennessee Walking Horses.

The book was well-written, though in my opinion a tad on the political side, and it dwelt far too much on the relationship between their promoter, A.R. Rogers, and the humane societies. I also wish that there were more pictures, but of course it was just at the turn of the 20th century, so photography wasn’t nearly as common then. But on the whole, it was a very interesting, moving book and definitely worth reading.

My trusty barn gloves

My trusty barn gloves

My barn glovesI’m about to retire the best light-work gloves I have ever owned. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty but last year I bought a pair of Justin light leather gloves from Tractor Supply. I’ve used these gloves nearly every day for a year and the only reason I’m retiring them is due to some holes they’ve developed. It’s time. I used these gloves exclusively for barn work and riding, etc. No working on cars, no gardening. I like them so much because of the way they feel, tight enough for me to easily grip whatever I’m grabbing but not too tight to be comfortable. I think I paid $20 for them and they’ve been worth every penny. They will be replaced with the same exact Justin glove model, if I can find them. Definitely a “buy” recommendation from me.

Neither Justin nor Tractor Supply paid me anything to say nice things about these gloves. 🙂