Fat horses have motivated us to shift our summertime horse routine. Since Cash foundered last month, we noticed all of our horses were on the heavy side. It’s been very hot and humid so they’re not getting much exercise. We didn’t want to put grazing muzzles on all of them. Our solution has been to put them into the barn at night to reduce access to hay and grass. A nice side benefit is that we’re sure to see them twice a day to check for irregularities.
That would be a good book name, huh? Last January, Mikki wrote about Valentine’s escape from his stall, which fortunately was an escape to the center aisle of our barn and not to the outside world. We have another Houdini and I bet you can guess which horse it is. You’ve probably read about Cash’s karate demonstration back in September, where he literally kicked a stall door from its hinges as we watched. Now he did this accidentally while rolling but he’s the one horse standing at gates and fences with a look on his face that says “I sure would rather be over there”. I went up to the barn to let the horses out one morning and found Cash rubbing his face on one of the stall gates. It’s shedding season so everyone is itchy. Well he continued to rub his face on the latch and while I was standing there, it flipped up. Another couple of rubs and I could see how it would unlock and open the gate. Fortunately (again) I was standing right there to see this or he might have had another run of the neighborhood.
When we moved here, the outside doors of the stalls were all nailed shut and I think I can see why now. Still, in an emergency, I want to be able to free the horses in a hurry without trying to find a hammer, which is why we loosened those nails. But it is clear I need to secure the latch on Cash’s stall door better. Poking around my workshop, I found a spring-loaded keeper I must have bought at the local horse tack auction last year. At the time I didn’t know how I’d use it but now I’m glad I bought it anyway. Ladies, this is a guy thing and although I probably collect a lot of junk, too, this time it worked out. You can see from the picture how we have it attached. The spring is pretty strong but not so strong I can’t open the door latch with a strong pull. It did, however, add a lot of resistance to the latch where Cash like to rub his face. You can see two holes to the left of the horseshoe part. That turned out to be a bad spot, as there wasn’t enough leverage for the spring-loaded keeper to hold the handle down.
A couple of days ago, we came up to the barn in the morning to find Valentine in the aisle, happily munching hay from the three bales he’d pulled off of the stack. Bill immediately took the blame for forgetting to latch Valentine’s stall door, since he was the one who had put him in there and closed the door behind him the night before. This would be the third time one of us has forgotten to latch a stall door – once before for Valentine, and once for Moonshine. Heck, those things happen, though you try very hard to be conscientious about it.
Well, this morning I was letting Valentine out when I noticed that the rope I had tied to his stall latch to tie it open (it doesn’t have a chain affixed to the door for that yet – we just started using that stall) was all matted and nasty. I thought, “what the heck has been jumping up here to chew on this thing?” Then I realized that most likely nothing was jumping up, but rather something was leaning down: Valentine. I showed Bill, who agreed, and further theorized that since the rope was tied to the latch…and a horse was pulling on it…that if he pulled it the right way, he would slide that latch right out. Suddenly the earlier escape didn’t seem to be so easily pinned on Bill.
We haven’t had any incidents recently (knock on wood), but one of our biggest fears with the horses is that they will get out of their stalls at night. This has actually happened three times – twice with Valentine, and once with Moonshine. (Not counting the time Valentine got into Moonshine’s stall.)
The first time was pretty funny. Our barn is situated so the horses’ stalls are on the side closest to the house, with their windows facing the house. When we walk up to the barn, we walk to the south side where the big door is, open the gate and go in (there is a gate at each end of the barn, one to the driveway and one to the pasture). Usually, when we round that corner the horses’ heads are poking out of the stalls into the barn “aisle” to greet us. On this particular morning, there was an entire horse in the barn aisle, munching on hay. Apparently, we (read “I”) had not latched Valentine’s stall door all the way. He didn’t seem to mind.
Just a couple of weeks later, Bill came to me one morning with our digital camera and showed me a picture on the screen. “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked. I studied the photo of a horse grazing and suddenly realized that the pasture fence was behind the horse. “He’s on the wrong side of the fence!” I said. “She, actually,” he replied. Again, we had forgotten to check the stall door latches, this time on the outside door, and Moonshine had been wandering for who knows how long. Long enough to eat our budding corn stalks, anyway.
The last time was a fluke; Valentine actually broke his stall door open one night. But these experiences remind us: always check all your stall doors, and gates, then check them again. Better safe than sorry!
But don’t be surprised to find your horse on the wrong side of a door anyway. Some horses actually learn to open latches on their own. Ours have been nosing around the doors, and I just know we’re going to find them outside one day when we’re sure we checked those doors.