Horse Keeping

manure-forks-photo-d-stewartFor Christmas, I got a manure fork. Yippee! It’s a good one for winter barnyard cleanup. Such a necessary tool is way too hard to find. This one came from Princess Auto. Its metal tines are close enough together to pick up what it’s supposed to pick up. And, unlike plastic, they won’t snap off in uneven frozen ground. The wooden handle is heavy, but tines that don’t break or bend is most important.

Just one of the bits of knowledge we’ve acquired in two years of horse keeping. From experience, the horses themselves, stables, friends, our farrier and feed and tack stores. And the internet and social media.

jerry-and-d-2021-photo-j-stewartMaybe the most useful advice about horse keeping I read a year or so before we got ours. I loved spending time at Butternut Stables, and I learned by watching the daily routine. I could see how much work there was just in maintenance of the horses, barn and paddocks. Plus what I didn’t see – horse emergencies, storms and equipment breakdowns. Could we handle all that?

A 2016 post by L. C. Street is what I kept thinking about while we finished the barn and fencing. It still often comes to mind.

What they don’t tell you about bringing your horses home

1. Your horse is an asshole.

Oh sure, he loves you when you come visit him at the barn right now. You bring him cookies and give him a good grooming session… When you leave, he whickers and you kiss his muzzle and think: “If only this could be every moment of every day!”

Now, flash forward to having your horses at home. Your horse doesn’t give a shit about you unless you’re bringing the feed buckets out. He sees you every single moment of the day and you don’t have cookies 99% of the time, which means he doesn’t care. About the only time he does care is when you are about 5 minutes late feeding.

2. Your horse is an asshole.

That’s not a typo. I’m talking about more assholery here… Your horse breaks shit constantly. Those reasonably priced $10 feed pans? Gone within weeks. That beautiful fence you spent three weeks building? Gone in a day.

horses-at-fence-2019-photo-d-stewartThe other most valuable thing I read is by Jane Smiley. It gives context to the assholery.

from A Year at the Track

A horse’s life is rather like twenty years in foster care, or in and out of prison, while at the same time changing schools over and over and discovering that not only do the other students already have their own social groups, but that what you learned at the old school hasn’t much application at the new one.

We do not require as much of any other species, including humans. That horses frequently excel, that they exceed the expectations of their owners and trainers in such circumstances, is as much a testament to their intelligence and adaptability as to their relationship skills or their natural generosity or their inborn nature. That they sometimes manifest the same symptoms as abandoned orphans – distress, strange behaviors, anger, fear – is less surprising than that they usually don’t.

Oscar-and-Jerry-photo-j-stewartOur horses are low on the assholery scale, and high on the adaptability scale. They don’t break fences. They sorted out their relationship with each other, and us, quickly.

Jerry’s low rumbling whinny chastises you if you’re not there at feeding time on the dot. Oscar’s high-pitched whinnies echo off the hills if Jerry is not within his sight. Anything in the yard that they can mess with or hurt themselves on, they’ll find. That’s why baking pans are screwed over the outside tap and the water trough electrical plug. Jerry can turn on taps. We took the handle off, then he gashed his head on the stem. They hadn’t pulled out any plugs, but why give them the chance.loaf-pan-over-outlet-photo-d-stewart

Horse ends and middle

Other bits of advice? Watch the weather. In winter, don’t over blanket or don’t let them get too cold either. A woman at Green Hawk told me the hairs of a horse’s winter coat stand upright in the cold. That keeps the snow from reaching their skin. A blanket keeps the hair from doing that, but, depending on weather and the horse’s condition, a blanket may protect better than their own coat alone. (Keystone Equine has a great Facebook post and comments on blanketing.)

Their winter coat gives some protection against rain too. But a heavy rain does go through to their skin, so rain sheets are good. But don’t leave one on too long, especially if it’s not cold out. The warmth trapped under the sheet is a breeding ground for rain rot to develop. If your horse gets it, Shapley’s M-T-G is what we found works best.

keeping horses and hay photo d stewartHaving your horses at home really lets you know just how much work your boarding stable people do. Cleaning stalls and yards is hard work, and it never stops. Getting hay in is a major summer project if you make your own. Buying it costs a lot of money. Horses eat a lot of hay. So you watch it go in one end and come out the other. Both ends make a lot of work for you. On average, a horse poops 12½ times a day. We counted.

Ride forever – or not

field-riding-2020-photo-d-stewartSomehow, you want to find time to ride and just hang out with your horses. I ride much less now than I did when I took lessons. That’s been something that I had to think about a lot, to try to reconcile for myself. I felt guilty, not riding. A lot of time, work and expense to keep two animals standing around in a field. Still, just looking at them and fooling around with them while cleaning up or feeding or fixing things – it felt worth it even if it didn’t make any sense. Then I saw this on Facebook. It made me feel much better.

You don’t have to ride your horse

It’s ok if you don’t ride your horse. It is not a requirement of horse ownership that you RIDE your horse. I often hear people talk –

“(name) NEVER rides his/her horse! I don’t know why (name) bothers having a horse, why does (name) spend all that money on board, and farrier, and veterinarian, and vaccinations and NEVER ride their horse? What a waste of money!”

First of all, it’s none of their business what (name) does with his/her horse and his/her money. None.

Secondly, so what? Who cares? If the horse is happy and well taken care of, then it’s all good. I promise you that the horse is not standing in its pen/pasture/stall saying to itself “Oh I wish (name) would come ride me!” or “Oh goody, here comes (name) to take me for a gallop around the barrels”. Horses don’t function like that. Horses look for and require food, water, shelter and companionship. Being ridden is not on their list of daily requirements for survival.

To be honest, I have a lot of respect for people who don’t ride their horses, but are still willing to spend the necessary money, time and effort it takes to be a conscientious horse owner.

Maybe (name) has good reason not to ride, perhaps they have physical limitations, or too many demands on their time, or perhaps they just don’t want to ride. Perhaps they struggle with their confidence and prefer groundwork, perhaps they don’t like to ride or work with their horse when no one else is around. Perhaps they really just like to own a horse and derive as much enjoyment just being a horse owner, providing a good life for a horse they love and want to support, for as long as they can… Horses need good people, not all good horse people ride.

Running in circles

We lunge Oscar before riding so he’ll be settled down for a nice ride. Other times we lunge him because he’s bugging poor old Jerry to play and Jerry doesn’t want to. Free lunging or on a line lets him burn off that energy.

Lunging-horse-photo-d-stewartIn a discussion forum, a rancher said if his horses have energy to burn, they can do that with each other in the field. He has more to do than stand around watching his horse run in circles. I always think of that when I watch Oscar snort, buck, fart and jump as he runs in circles.

Jerry and Oscar tells more about our boys and, for more on the horses of Butternut Stables, see my School Horses.

Happy birthday to Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses and all those in the Northern Hemisphere who officially turn a year older today.