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.
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.
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.
After a couple of minutes, I turn the buckets upside down and usually the solid chunk of ice slides out into the water.
Part of our routine in the winter. Can’t wait until spring!
Sometimes your best source of information is your horse friends. One of ours found a new local supplier and passed on the lead to us. I went over, bought a few bales and the horses loved it. His prices are fixed, even when supply is low and demand is high. The man who runs the farm said he’s concentrating on developing long term business, not trying to make a quick buck. He is also willing to hold onto hay for us if we pre-buy. He had a couple hundred bales a few weeks ago and thought it would last months but I called him this week and discovered that his regular customers got spooked by the low supplies elsewhere and have been buying up all of his remaining hay. He had about 20 small round bales available and didn’t expect to sell hay much longer this season. That’s when I realized that even though I didn’t really want to spend $500 from this paycheck on hay, this may be our only choice. And that’s what owning horses is like! I have a tip on someone else who may have some but we’re running out of time. Thankfully we have almost all we need to last until the first cutting. I think we can get by with 15 more round bales. Now I just need to find them.
I have made a classic horse owner mistake and it’s probably going to cost us money. You’d think after 8 years I would have learned but apparently I have some learning to do still. I want to blame the system but the truth is I knew it was this way and should have adapted. Allow me to explain.
We write a lot about hay. Sometimes I hesitate, wondering if anyone is interested but buying and feeding hay is such a huge part of horse ownership and the risks and challenges shouldn’t be overlooked. Our mission is to not only document our experience for ourselves but to also hopefully save some of you from the hassles we’ve experienced.
As much as possible, we’ve always tried to purchase hay in bulk. It’s sometimes less expensive that way and having lots of bales around saves us from frequently traveling back and forth to a supplier. As winter approaches, we load up as much as we can but can generally only store about fifteen 4×5 round bales, and even then we end up covering them with tarps, which the least effective protection from the weather that we’ve tried (tarps rot easily, act like parachutes in the wind and don’t protect the bottom). We feed about one of these round bales every 4 days in the winter, or about 7 bales a month depending on the quality. And hay quality can vary greatly. For example, this past year we found a great deal on year old hay towards the end of summer. Although it was horse hay, we knew it wasn’t top notch but thought it would supplement the end of year forage. Our horses ended up eating half of each bale, going through it twice as fast as we expected. Bale density varies, too. Bales from some suppliers aren’t wound as tightly so they look the same size but contain less hay. In my experience, the variance can be 20-30%.
For the last month, I’ve counted on a local supplier who has consistently provided high quality, tightly wound hay. The price went up a little this year but the hay density also seemed to go up so it seemed like a wash. He has lots of hay storage, including some in other counties so sometimes it required that we wait a few days while he moved around stock. But every time I called it seemed like he was doing me a favor by selling me some of his hay, despite the fact that he assured me earlier in the year that he’s in the business of selling hay. He has cows, though, and they are understandably his highest priority. And then I heard from a horse friend who is also his customer that this supplier is no longer selling hay this season, that he feels he is probably going to need all of his remaining supply for his cows. I can’t help but be a little nervous, with almost five months left until the first harvest of the hay season (typically towards the end of May).
And so, with two round bales in our barn, I set off to find a new supplier. My first stop was a good bet but I knew they’d be expensive: my local feed store. I understand how their model works. They purchase a set amount from a supplier for a wholesale rate and then mark it up to make a profit. Their hay is stored indoors and covered space costs money. That plus demand is pretty high at the feed store, arguably the most organized of the feed suppliers in the region. The feed store is like a grocery store for animal feed, where you show up, browse the aisles, make a selection and go home with it. Most other suppliers work out of their farms and while usually less expensive, have unpredictable supplies, don’t always answer their phones and require appointments for pickup. As I pulled into the driveway of our local feed store, they just happened to be receiving a delivery of round bales. The price was reasonable – $35 for a 4×4 round bale. I quickly bought two and 30 square bales for $5 each. That covered me for another week or so plus days when snow, ice or cold rain will require our herd to take shelter in the barn.
So now I’m on the hunt for 5 months worth of hay – about 38 round bales. I can’t count on the feed store, or probably anyone else, to have hay ready for pickup at any time for the next 5 months and the price will most certainly go up. One year towards the end of winter I inquired about the price of round bales while picking up some oats and was quoted a price of $50. Other times they’ve been completed sold out for months. My lack of planning and storage might prove costly this year. I wish I could enter a contract with a supplier for a guaranteed amount of hay. I know how many bales I need a year and could even pay some up front. But that’s not how the hay business works around here.
So if you’re thinking of having a horse or horses, strongly consider a hay strategy well before winter.
Our plan for this year is to find a way to build some hay storage. Maybe recycled telephone poles, steel roof trusses and a metal roof. Something inexpensive, yet spacious and durable. We’ll see how things go.
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.
Thursday was horse shoeing time. Our horses are familiar with this routine and mostly stand patiently while our farrier trims their hooves and fits them with shiny new shoes. When you have a good farrier, the horses don’t seem to mind much.
We jokingly suggested that Jazzy the mule should have hers trimmed, too, and laughed it off because as sweet as she is, she’s not one for being manhandled. Surprisingly, our farrier agreed to do it, predicting she wouldn’t be much trouble. Turns out he was right. He established leadership and haltered her and proceeded to trim her little hooves without her offering much objection at all. It’s probably a good thing I’m not a betting man, because I would have lost money on that one. Her feet look great!
You may have noticed that our site was down for a few days. Servers need to be updated just like other computers. However, what was supposed to be a routine server update, turned into a full rebuild and restore. It’s not something we had time to do but that’s life. So we took the opportunity to upgrade and update other features to improve speed and security and I think we’re almost entirely back to normal. You may see something funky here and there but for the most part, everything should be here (thank goodness for backups!).
During this process, I came to realize that it’s been a few years since we updated the design, so Mikki and I will be working on a refresh soon.
Subscribers – we switched to a new subscription system so you’ll need to re-subscribe. We thought of moving everyone but many subscribers were just spammers so we felt it was best to start from scratch. Those who subscribe will receive an email when we post something, which is a great way to keep in touch since we haven’t been posting new entries very often.
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.”
On 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?