I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked up the hill to our barn only realizing we forgot the key when we reached the tack room door. Sometimes one of us would have the key but was on another part of the property and had to be tracked down before the tack room could be accessed. We also needed a way to provide guest access when we travel. The solution for us was a keypad deadbolt. We purchased this Kwikset version for around $60, about the price a similar one goes for today (like this one at Amazon). The deadbolt is water-resistant and the batteries last a long time – almost two years when you use lithium AA batteries. If the batteries die, you can simply use the key. Each of us has our own code and we have guest codes for those to whom we want to provide temporary access. We’ve been using this system for about 5 years now without issues.
There are, of course, all kinds of fancy new ones with Bluetooth or wifi connectivity that let you lock/unlock your door from a distance but be prepared to spend two or three times more on those. If the one we have stops working, I intend to purchase another one like it. It’s inexpensive, simple, and so-far durable.
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 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!
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.
We 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.
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.
I’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. 🙂