Saturday, October 17, 2009

In which the rain comes a-tumblin' down...for a while, anyhow

The horses were SO WET this morning that I couldn't stand it: I put their blankets on them.

Normally I don't blanket these two, especially when temps are in the high 40's. However, the rain was just so heavy, there was no way that they would dry out without some help. They certainly had no intention of standing under the trees and out of the rain. Sigh.

This is how much water fell from the sky this morning:

I emptied the water from Hana's feed pan when I fed her, around 8:30. I put in her pelleted feed, which she vacuumed up in about 3 minutes (she doesn't get very much, she's already plush enough!). Two hours later, I took the photo below:

That is a LOT of water, even by Swampland standards!
Fortunately, we have lots of horsey-raingear, especially for days like this. I put a polarfleece cooler on under the waterproof/breathable turnout blanket.

A few hours later, I swapped the wet cooler and blanket for a dry set. As soon as I put the dry gear on her, Fiddle threw herself to the ground for a good roll. What is it about horses that they seem to be allergic to clean blankets? Argh.

Around noon, there was a 3-minute break in the rain and it was almost 50 degrees (!), so I ran down to the pasture to take off the fleece coolers, and gave each horse a dry turnout blanket.

Despite the rain pouring down all morning (and their steadfast refusal to use the sheltering trees), they were dry.
Story's old green blanket is not quite big enough for Fiddle, but it was the only big dry blanket I had left.
I have finally found an excellent use for the greenhouse:
all those shelves are perfect for drying out horse blankets!

Around 4 o'clock, the sun came out and dried up all the rain!

Around here, we say that if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes!

Friday, October 16, 2009

In which the rain begins for real but I have a bunch of coping skills

A blogfriend who lives in California recently had a close encounter with a Swamplands-style rainstorm.

BootsandSaddles4Mel was hoping to hunker down in a warm, dry, and comfortable spot to wait out the rain, but she was concerned (rightly) about her California-girl horse, who was running around in the rain and mud, making herself (and Mel) wet, dirty, and cranky. Mel managed to get her horse warm and dry and comfortable, but commented that she lacked the proper raingear for her horse and herself.

Here in the Swamp, we are experts at rain. So, for those of you in Dry Places, I'd like to offer a
Brief Tutorial In Wet Weather Coping Skills. Part One :
Keeping the Rider Dry

I want to note here that the stuff I've specified below are choices for a wet and rainy day, when the air is 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Gear for colder temperatures is similar, but includes extra stuff that I will write about in a later post. Still, it is important to know that even when the temps are above freezing, it is possible to chill the body the point of danger. And that, my friends, is no fun.

Most important : Cotton Kills
It's a common saying in the backcountry hiking community that "cotton kills." Cotton fabric does not wick moisture away from the body. Instead, cotton fabrics retain moisture--and in a damp and windy environment, wet equals cold.

In a cold, wet environment like the Swampland, clothing made from cotton should be avoided at all costs except at the height of summer. If you get wet while wearing cotton, you will get cold and stay cold. Stay cold long enough around here, even at sea level, and you risk hypothermia--which can, in extreme circumstances, be deadly.

Cotton fabric also chafes like crazy. I can't imagine anything more painful than legs being rubbed raw by wet bluejeans. Leave the cotton at home unless you're going to the beach on a hot sunny day!

Here are my choices for a wet day of trail riding:
Synthetic tights and shirt and sport bra. If you routinely wear knickers under your tights, make sure they are synthetic as well!

Wool or synthetic socks, waterproof and insulated boots, waterproof/breathable jacket with a hood.
Synthetic helmet-liner and gloves. There's a "beak" attached to my helmet by velcro, and the beak keeps cold rain off my face.

Synthetic half-chaps keep the rain off and also repel blackberry thorns!

For really cold wet days: neoprene gloves from a kayaker supply shop. Neoprene doesn't keep hands dry, but it does insulate body warmth and so even wet hands will stay warm.
If the water is falling from the sky, the Goretex jacket will suffice.

However, if you intend to ride through very wet foliage, you might as well wade through shoulder-high water!

Cold, wet branches brushing your legs will get them wet and cold, too.

Therefore, if it's been raining for several days (or, as happens in the Swamplands, several weeks or months) you will want something to keep the rain off them:

Yup, it's the Marlborough Man jacket, a.k.a. an oilskin duster.

While these coats are not usually insulated, they will keep the body DRY. They even keep the saddle dry and allow some of the horse's body heat to warm the rider. A duster is an outstanding choice for a long, slow ride in very wet conditions, (or any conditions where you will be asked to sell cigarettes).

A duster is, however, very stiff and unwieldy--not my first choice for a ride where I'll need to mount/dismount frequently, run alongside the horse, or do anything else that requires a lot of flexibility.

Once you've geared up with synthetics, go out and ride the trails on horseback.
The world is a beautiful and peaceful place in the rain.
Life is good!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In which I look into the tack room, and marvel at the stuff in there

Nuzzling Muzzles recently posted about the contents of her tack "bench", and then Lytha wrote a post about her tack room/stall. I don't have a bench, and I don't have a tack room. I have a....

(insert sound effect: drumroll and trumpet fanfare)

horse trailer.

It's parked next to the horses' paddocks (where we will build a being an issue...) and it is conveniently stocked with all kinds of useful stuff.

Trailer door, top section
pirate stuff: magnets, signs, piratical duct tape, skull beads and feathers
red notebook: emergency information, contact info for doctors, vets, parents, etc. If we are ever likely to need information in a hurry, it's in the red notebook.
green notebook (not visible, it's tucked behind the red notebook) : photocopies of horse registrations, truck registration and trailer registration. current vet records for any horses I haul, including health certificates and coggins. lifetime brand inspection cards for Hana and Fiddle. directions to places I visit sometimes but not often enough to remember the way.

Middle section
trail stuff: folding trail saw(s), hand clippers, bottle of aloe vera, bug spray (for humans), sunscreen, benedryl cream, desitin, vet wrap

Bottom section
generally-useful stuff: scissors, screwdrivers, duct tape, sharpie, marks-alot, zip ties, and (for some reason) another tube of sunscreen.

mostly tools: bug spray (for horses), show sheen, WD-40, more duct tape, green duct tape, a rubber mallet, the pipe to raise and lower the weight-distributing bars on the hitch, a small hammer, shoe pulling tool, and a set of compression straps. Hmm. I don't think I've ever used those straps, might want to eliminate them....nahhhh.

Inside the door
the hitch (because if I leave it outside on the tongue of the trailer, it will rust!)
and a wash bucket with soap, sponges, and a little squeegee.
The plastic thing has horse cookies in it, and there are some packets of nuts and some granola bars stashed behind the plastic thing.
There's a tack box full of horse brushes, and two rubbermaid boxes with spare gloves, glowsticks, dry socks, and extra hats.

Front wall - tackbiothane bridles, bits, and reins, sponges-on-strings for attaching to the saddle during hot weather, and the crop I use on the trail.

the blue bag contains a purple fleece cooler for Fee and a green cooler for Hana

the blanket bar has an extra saddle pad on it (I think I can move that out, we never use it!) and the girths, plus a trash bag hanging on a carabiner.

Back Wall - saddle stuff

top shelf: Jim's saddle, pad, and trail packs

lower shelf: my saddle, pad, and packs

hanging behind the saddle rack: a mesh bag full of easyboots, various sizes and types.

also in this photo: back wall, lower has hooks for helmets, half-chaps & fanny packs.

Back Wall - human stuff

front-to-back: first aid kit (for humans), first aid kit (for horses), pink stethoscope (they didn't have purple), blue stethoscope (they didn't have green), and a red lei (must be Madeline's?)

extra leadropes, extra halters, a water scoop made from a Minute Maid orange juice container that Jim found on the trail at an endurance ride in 2004 and has carried ever since

spare helmet, jingle bells (to wear during hunting season or in the backcountry) and long rain coats.

Little Corner Wall

the 25-gallon water tank,

jiffy jack (the metal kind, because the plastic kind breaks if you use it on muddy ground!)

an x-wrench (not visible) a roll of heavy-duty paper towels, a purple lei, my dressage whip,

and some magnetic poetry.

Clearly, we can live out of the trailer for quite a while...

I haven't had a proper "tack room" for years--and I'm not sure Jim has ever had a proper tack room. Since we spend so much time on the trails and in camp, it just makes more sense to keep all this stuff in the trailer.

We also (clearly) spend time with our horses in bad weather, or in weather conditions that might change without notice, hence the spare layers for rain and warmth, and the extensive first-aid and repair stuff.

I'm curious to see other people posting their tack rooms and work benches.

How different we all are! What a delight!

Life is good, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In which the strawberry plants behave in an unusual manner

I wasn't late for work, but I was definitely heading out of the house on time when I heard the strawberry bushes clucking.


On Haiku Farm, the wind whistles, the trees whisper, and my heart sings. However, the strawberry bushes have always been pretty quiet.


I remembered a story that I like to tell, about the African trickster-hero Anansi the spider.

One day, Anansi carves a little hole in a melon and climbs inside to eat the sweet, juicy melon. He eats and eats and eats, and when he is finally done eating, he has gotten too fat to fit through the hole. He is stuck inside the melon! So, he sits down to wait to get skinny again.

Before Anansi can get skinny, he hears the gardener outside the melon, working in the garden. Anansi decides to play a trick on the gardener, and so he starts talking. The gardener hears the voice, and thinks that the melon is talking--how extraordinary! Surely a talking melon must be shown to the king!

On the road to show the king, the gardener meets up with all kinds of other folks, and they all hear the "talking melon" and want to go along to show the king this amazing thing. It is a great huge group that finally arrives, bearing the melon with Anansi inside.

They bow down low, and present the melon to the king, who invites the melon to say something. Anansi, inside the melon, doesn't say a word. The king speaks to the melon again, asking it to talk, but Anansi stays quiet. Finally the king, feeling foolish for talking to a melon, picks up the fruit and flings it--miles and miles the melon flies through the air until it bumps and rolls and ends up in the very same garden where it started.

The gardener is humiliated, and swears never to listen to melons again, but Anansi, who has finally gotten skinny enough to get out of the melon, crawls away, ready to play more tricks.

I examine the foliage carefully, thinking that I might find a tricky spider but that I was more likely to find:

Minerva Louise XII!

She seemed pretty happy to see me. I reached down and picked her up, and carried her back down to St Hens. Eleven was VERY happy to see her!

I reunited the naughty hen with the nice one, and headed back to my truck...still not running late, but needing to get on the road, when I had a thought and checked the strawberry beds one more time.

Sure enough.

The strawberry plants produced fabulous strawberries last spring but this was the very first time I have ever seen them produce an egg.

How extraordinary....perhaps I should go and tell the king!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In which I ask the question, "How do you know for sure that THAT'S your horse?"

Some Canadian friends like to tell the story about the time they were stopped at the Can/Am border on the way to an endurance ride in the States. The American border guard carefully examined their passport and the horses' paperwork. Then he took the papers back to the horse trailer and looked inside the trailer at the two geldings standing quietly inside.

After a minute, the guard returned to the cab with papers in hand. "Are you sure," asked the guy in one of those pompous-uniform voices, "that the horses you've represented on these documents are the same horses you have in the trailer?"

My friends were sure, having just loaded those horses in broad daylight a few hours earlier.

"...because," continued the border guard, "neither one answers to his name!"

While the horsaii readers finish laughing and mopping tears of mirth from their eyes, I will explain to the non-horsey-readers that horses are almost never called by their "real" i.e. registered names. Most registered names are long, outlandish, and often insanely dumb.

For example, Fiddle is registered with the United States Trotting Association as Naked Willow. Yeah, I definitely wanna holler all that at the top of my lungs, come feeding time. Uh, NOT.

When there's money involved--in breeding or racing registries, for example, the registries require positive ID, such as a tattoo or DNA taken from a hair sample). However, in competitive organizations like the American Endurance Ride Conference, you can call your horse whatever you want on the paperwork. Since there are no money prizes in AERC-sanctioned events, there's no incentive to bring "ringers" to a ride, and besides, endurance is a small community and it's likely that somebody in camp will recognize a horse if s/he has ever competed before! I, personally, am terrible at telling grey horses apart, but I can (and have) spotted Lytha's Baasha in a crowd of grey geldings.

I had a nightmare once that Story--a plain dark bay mare with no discernible markings--was stolen, and I couldn't explain to anybody how I would recognize her.
Then one day I loaned Story to a friend for a limited-distance ride, and the friend told me that several people had stopped her on the trail to quiz her and find out who she was and why she was riding my horse!

So, how do you know that the horse you've got is the same horse you bought? I could spot Fiddle from a mile away, just watching her move, but you can't prove that in court. Fortunately for me, the USTA has taken care of that for me:
The freezebrand isn't infallible. It's completely illegible in the winter, unless I clip the hairs short (her winter coat is growing in now, and I see in the photo that the 8 looks more like a 3). But at least it's something BIG and PERMANENT, and written on her brand inspection paperwork!

In fact, her brand inspection was the fastest I've ever witnessed. She hopped off the trailer at the vet's office, and the vet rolled her eyes at me. "Another of your plain-brown-wrapper horses?" she asked me with a grimace.
Then I turned the horse around, the vet smiled, wrote ZT128 on the paperwork, tore off my copy of the sheet, and I loaded my horse back in the trailer with about 60 seconds of total exam time!

Fee has a few other strange marks, neither of which are on her paperwork:

I don't know what the significance of the dark square on her butt is, but it's always there, winter or summer.
She also has a few white hairs at the top of the whorl on her forehead. Can't see those under her forelock usually, but they are always there!

Hana's paperwork documents ALL of her chrome.
She is a very flashy horse, with lots of distinctive marks, including a beautiful blaze
but my favorite mark is the little smudge of brown on her nose. We call it her "cookie mark", because it looks like she's got cookie crumbs on her nose.
Cute, huh?

When I was taking ID pictures of the horses, Lupin didn't want to be left out.
"Take MY picture, too!"


Life is good.