Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fitness Training

No, Not the Horses

Too darn cold for my old bones to try riding right now.  I used to be out in the saddle in all kinds of weather and actually relished the days when the frozen ground was covered in a nice layer of snow.

Snow is great to ride in provided you know the basic lie of the ground you're riding on. It's not too great on woodland trails where the odd fallen tree branch might be covered and lying just where your horse will trip over it. But fields and riding arenas covered in snow are great.  In the old days I even used to practice my jumping skills in the snow. Shoe you horse with proper snowshoes or have him go barefoot, and you're set to go.

Well, that's the old days. Now with my hip still not fully stretched for the saddle and a body not at all fit, I'm just hanging out inside, waiting for Spring thaw.

Except when it comes to the barn chores. Unlike a motorcycle that can spend the icy season content and ignored in the garage, a horse needs care.  And winter care can often be even more important that warm weather care.

Horses need plenty of water even in the winter. Hoses freeze, so aside from lugging out my coil hose, I often find it easier to simply lug buckets of water to the trough.  5 gallons at a time?  About 35-40 pounds, depending on how full I make the bucket. Weightlifting. Good exercise.

And then The Boys need a lot of hay to keep their digestion going and their bodies warm.  Carting the bale from the shed to the barn across the lawn either by sled if there's hefty snow cover, or cart if the path is clear?  Works the arms, back, and legs.  Hay bale weight?  Probably 30- 40 pounds depending on the bale's size.

Of course, when I do go buy a load of hay and drive it home in my SUV, I'm the one who has to unload and stack it.  Today? twenty-two bales.  Repetitive weight training.

Then there's the feed. Once again, eleven bags of feed at 50 pounds apiece, unloaded from the truck into the storage cans inside the barn. There's a step up into the feed room and a step back down. Step up with the 50 pound burden, step down without. Stair step training and more weight work.

Add to that 6 bales of shavings into the barn aisle through the feed room. Not so heavy, maybe 25-30 pounds?  Step up into the feed room, down into the barn. Stair training both ways.

One more task to be done aside from the minimal effort the actual feeding takes, and that's cleaning stalls. Swinging the forkfuls of manure is akin to a lightweight kettleball session and some torso flexing exercises.

Pushing the filled wheelbarrow to the manure pile works the legs, arms and back.  Effort and energy output increases with the amount in the barrow and the depth of the snow traversed. I did shovel a path to the pile, so that added to the flexing exercises, but any path through the snowpack has its flaws, enough to add to the wheel resistance and increase the calorie burn of the work.

Time spent in my workout?  Who pays attention to the clock when there's work to be done?  Well, at least when there's horse work to be done.  Time stands still in the barn and its environs. Most of us work until the job is done.

Let's just say I had a fair amount of exercise today and all of it actually accomplished something.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Be Not Deceived

There Was Still Snow

OK, so we were spared the horrible blizzard predicted. The storm tracked some fifty miles east of the projected track and saved us from many feet of snow.

But do not be deceived. 8 inches or so is plenty for me. And it was more than enough to plow.

I was out early, around 8:30 or so, and plowed the driveway. Since then another inch or so has fallen, but if the sun comes out as predicted, some of that will melt. At least the driveway is navigable.

Some people are being super critical of the weather forecasters' failure to call this storm correctly. It is a blizzard hitting New England now even as I write, but it never did develop into the monster that was supposed to hit Central New Jersey. Fine by me. I'd much rather be overly prepared for a storm than never happens than not prepared for one that does.

We need to be mindful of the lessons of hurricanes Irene and Sandy, both of which were underestimated by forecasters and residents alike. The damages and power outages were devastating. I, at least, was prepared for Sandy--so I thought--until the brand new generator I bought failed to work.  I did have water stocked up for both the horses and me, and plenty of batteries.

My cousins, who live at the Jersey shore were all ready to ride the storm out until mandatory evacuations forced them inland. Good thing as their house was seriously damaged from ocean flooding. Many people ignored the storm warnings and suffered the consequences.

When it comes to nature's caprices, no matter how many computer models and forecasting tools we have, there is always the chance we'll be wrong. I'm grateful this time the forecasts were wrong.

Meantime, a few pictures to prove the storm really did drop by.

Not sure where the horses were when I took the camera outside. They may have been in the barn eating their hay. If I see them out later I will snap a few pics of them in the snow to share.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Awaiting the Blizzard


I am as prepared as I can be for the predicted blizzard.

In case you haven't heard, the middle portion of the East Coast is under a blizzard watch with the possibility of 1-2 feet of snow or more. It's never a certainty, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

I filled up two gas cans with gasoline for my generator.
I filled up another five gallon can of diesel for the tractor.
The tractor has been repaired and should be in top running order. (Just like last January...(*sigh* huge repair bill two years running)
I have hay for the Boys.
I have grain for the Boys.
I have plenty of cat food.
I have milk, bread, eggs, cold cuts and plenty of food on hand.
The generator can be hooked up to run the whole house. It too underwent a repair over the summer, and I've run it several times since.
The snow blower may be ready to go, but if the snow is too deep, that's a lost cause.
I have heating oil.
I have propane for the gas fireplace.
I have plenty of indoor work to do.
The Boys are dressed in waterproof winter turnouts.
I will put some hay inside the barn tomorrow before things get too bad in the afternoon.
My warm, waterproof snowplowing clothes are at hand.
Oh yes...the ultimate snow insurance: Tucker and Chance both have studded snowshoes and pads. Toby's barefoot, so he's a given.

Does that last item on the list mean the storm will take a sudden turn out to sea?

Meanwhile I had a practice snowplowing run yesterday when I cleaned up the driveway after the 6 or so inches of very wet and heavy snow we had Friday night. The only disadvantage of that is that now there are snow piles in some of the places I will need to pile the snow if this storm is as big as predicted.

On the possible plus side, if it is as predicted, the snow will probably be dry and fluffy which does make it much easier to move out of the way. The last storm the darn stuff was really heavy and hard to shovel. Bless the tractor as it made it so much easier to clear a path from the barn to the house so I didn't have to shovel.

So now we wait.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More Magic

Visit the Way of Mirrors

As we await the first real snow of the season--an inch or so tonight and who knows what on Saturday, I've been working on my books.

Well, I did get grain and hay today and I had the tractor repaired for a small fortune. But I will be able to dig out of a snowstorm if we get one.

Meantime, my wonderful friend, David Melanson, has created a new Magiskeep picture. This one is of the Way of Mirrors. You can read all about it at my Magikseep blog--click on the book to the right to get there.

I love the way Dave managed to capture so many personalities of my hero, Jamus, as he faces his various reflections in the mirrors of the Way.

Dave is amazing, almost magical.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Goodbye, Christmas

It's Official

Finally I had a day warm enough to take down my outdoor Christmas decorations. It's always a little sad saying goodbye to the holiday season and I must admit the fences and front of the house look a little drab and empty now, but it was more than time.

Fortunately even the ground had thawed enough that I was able to pull up the stakes on my Pegasus.  Now, of course, I just remembered I never took a picture of the new addition to my decor.  I did find his picture on the Internet:
He really is quite pretty lit up at night.  I am trying to find a companion to put on the other side of the porch, but so far no luck.

I got him at a great price from.....Walmart.  He may have been the last one in stock. He was selling on eBay for over twice the price I paid, so I didn't buy a buddy there.

Trying to find outdoor Christmas horses is not easy. There are some really cute horse and carriage combos, but they too are quite expensive, comparatively speaking.  I am currently toying with the idea of somehow making a horse sculpture of my own, but that may be beyond my skill level. At least I have a year to think about it.

Meantime, I just keep searching the Internet for a good deal.

Now the decorations are packed away and stashed back down in the basement. Not the neatest pile at this point but like a lot of things, someday I'll get around to organizing it.

So, another Christmas passes and with it a new year begins. The decoration take down was the final moment for me.  Now all that's left is looking forward to Spring.

I need to stretch those riding muscles, that's for sure. Chance and I have some trails to ride, and Tucker and I need to find some way to have fun in the arena. I honestly don't think I'm going to risk him back out on the trails. I hate to be a quitter, but wisdom prevails. I will take him out for handwalks, though, just to let him see the sights.

And then, of course, there is Toby. If he keeps up the enthusiasm for little short trail rides he showed last Spring, then he's on the list to go out too. Christina wants me to ride her Arabian, JJ again as well, so I do need to get myself fit.

It guess just like Christimas, the time will come. I just need to work a little harder getting ready.

Friday, January 16, 2015


The Nerve of Some People's Horses

Actually it's my own horse, Tucker.  A hulking 17 hand hulk of a Thoroughbred, Tucker has always had a high opinion of himself.  He's been a trial to train and yes, he's the one responsible for the whatever he did when the tree knocked me off his back and I broke my hip.

Toby and Tucker on a summer day.

He's been to "boot camp" with Kenny Harlow and definitely learned respect there, but even when he first came home, he would test his boundaries. He's perpetually the challenging teenager checking to see just how far he can go and how much he can get away with.

Correct him Monday through Saturday for his behavior and turn your back on Sunday, and he's up to his old tricks.

Being such a big boy, he likes to use his size to intimidate. Fortunately, he's not the herd boss. Toby is, so that's good. But as the "middle child" he does pick on Chance, especially at feeding time. When I call the Boys in to their stalls, Tucker will herd Chance away from the barn and into the riding arena before he comes in for his feed.

Toby's and Tucker's stalls are side by side on the east side of the barn and Chance's stall is alone on the west side. All the stalls have outside doors that lead to the paddock and I keep them open all the time so the horses have free access to their stalls 24/7.

When I feed, I put the grain in their stalls and generally leave them to eat while I do other chores.

Despite his size, Tucker gets less food than Toby who is older and needs more to keep up his weight.

With Toby as the alpha horse this should be just fine because he certainly can protect his feed should a certain big bay decide to enter his stall to steal a few bites. But Toby cribs and when he eats he often stops to suck on the edges of his stall....metal protected.

Cue the greedy neighbor.

When he sees Toby leave his feed tub, Tucker charges into Toby's stall and goes for the feed. Lost in the haze of endorphins, Toby doesn't always send him packing until Tucker's managed to get is some pretty greedy bites.

Time for an intervention? Yes.

This morning I was right there standing in Toby's outside door when Tucker tried to make on of his raids.

Now, he does respect me and my space enough not to charge right over me, so he stopped. Then he laid his ears back flat and made threatening faces at me. I stood my ground and said, "Don't even think it."

He took a step to the side actually, it seemed, thinking he might be able to get around me all the while snaking his head with those flat ears trying to intimidate me. I stared him down and ordered him back to his own stall where he still had nearly all his alfalfa cubes to eat.  He made one more half-hearted feint for Toby's door and then marched back to his own feed in a pout.

I swear, we could do this dance a hundred times and if we reached one hundred one and I happened to turn my back, he'd be right in Toby's stall guzzling that food.

It's not that he can't be disciplined, nor controlled, he just looks for any opportunity to get away with things.

Too many brains in that head of his.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Good News Bad News Again

Vet Visit

Dr. Klayman came back out today to evaluate Chance after his Osphos injection.  As you may recall, Chance was heel sore and limping. X-rays showed possible navicular changes. Osphos is a newly released drug in the US and Chance was the first horse my vet injected with his sample dose.

Well, as I noted a week or so ago when Chance was sound despite missing one front shoe, lo and behold, on the hard ground--freezing temps again--he looked really good on both front feet. It's the best I've seen him going since his Lyme disease treatments.

So much for the good. I was wondering why Dr.Klayman keep us lunging once it was clear there was no limp in front. The reason? A slight lameness in the right hind.

OK, Ever since I first adopted Chance, that right hind has been a bit problematic. Despite several soundness exams, we've never quite found anything, although at one point I did have his hock injected.

Well, today, there was some fluid in his stifle joint. Mind you, all along, Scott, my farrier has been convinced there was something wrong in that leg "higher up," and he suggested stifle. But up until today there were no specific symptoms.

This time we X-rayed Chance's stifle and sure enough, he has OCD.  Part of his tibia never fully developed leaving a gap in the bone/joint area.  Where the bone is supposed to be rounded, it's flat.

So? He will probably never be quite sound there without radical treatment--surgery. We so suspect it's essentially inherited rather than due to an injury and he's been living with it all his life.

For now, we elected to do nothing. Until we see how the front end maintains soundness, there's no reason to take dramatic efforts to do much with the hind end. Since he's actually quite happy as he is when the weather gets better, I can trail ride him and see how things progress.

All I really want to do is trail ride anyhow. I seem to have lost the competitive gene, so just doing a big of schooling now and then and meandering around on the trails is just fine. For serious arena work, I do have Tucker when the training mood strikes,  of course. And I can still ride Toby as well, so I'm certainly not lacking horsepower.

It just means that any plans to really do serious training with Chance are kind of on hold.  There are injections that can help, as well as  painkillers rather than resorting to surgery. My research on such surgeries suggests mixed results anyhow, so we might want to just wait and see rather than doing too much all at once.

So, not entirely a good result. The sad part is that Chance is really the sweetest, most level headed, well behaved horse I've ever had. He is truly a joy to ride.  I just want him to be happy when he's under saddle.  I think if we stick to the trails, he will be.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Water, Water

Everywhere, Especially in the Barn

Got the water working. As I suspected the valve/pipe was frozen in the well pit.

I put the electric heater in there for about an hour and a half, and sure enough, the water was working again in the barn.  I put a styrofoam cooler over the valve with a plastic bag inside full of hay. Then I put another bag with hay on top and a winter horse blanket. For now, I'll leave the blanket, but I want to have it in the barn for the horses. I'll find something insulating in the house to replace it tomorrow and put in some more insulating hay.

I waited until it had warmed up a bit in the afternoon to tackle the job. I had to cart a step ladder out there so I could climb in and out of the pit, and it took two extension cords to make it all the way. With my knees, it was a pretty tiring job. But I managed just fine.

And I had some more exercise carting buckets of water from the house again in the meantime to fill the water trough.  Glad I don't have to do that again...well, unless the insulation doesn't work and the valve freezes again. Left all the gear in the barn so if I do need to do the job again the stuff is handy.

Missed "kodak moment"
I meant to tell you all about this yesterday and forgot with the water crisis. I missed a wonderful funny photo opportunity by not stopping on the way to and from the hay place to take a picture. I only had my flip camera, but I think it does have a camera. When I finally realized I had that option, the picture was gone.

So, let words do.

There, by the side of the road was a garbage can with a deer draped over it. Antlers sagging, head drooping, a sad picture for sure.

The punch line? It was one of those nylon Christmas inflatables that apparently had outlived its inflatable life.

Dead draped deer on a garbage can
Memory of time gone by
Flanked by puddled snowman
Despite the freezing temps.
Red suited Santa dieted from
Fat to flat 
Heaped forgotten on the lawn.
Let the air out of Christmas.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Oh Well

Hope It's Just the Deep Freeze

Some of you may recall I had issues with my barn pump/well over the summer. All was repaired and everything's been working properly until....


The system is a gravity drain so as long as the hose in the barn is disconnected, the water runs back down the line to the well, draining the spigot in the barn. So that's not a problem. And the spigot itself worked just fine. No water came out.

I am guessing the valve and pipes in the well pit itself froze up. They had been buried under a foot or so of dirt last year, much to my surprise. I thought they were just insulated with bags of straw and leaves, but apparently a groundhog had excavated and buried everything in sand. My plumber dug it all up, then reburied all but the top pipe and a valve...I think. If so, that's probably frozen.  I should have investigated when it was warmer and put some insulation in there, but, of course, I didn't. Chalk another failure up to recovering from a broken hip.

If I'm right and that's all that's wrong, I can remedy it. Tomorrow, in the daylight, I will put an electric heater in the well pit to thaw things out. Then, I'll put the insulation in.  I have to run and extension cord to the well from the barn across the paddock, so that's just a little worry with the Boys out there but I may have some PVC pipes I can run the cord through.

Meanwhile, I had to lug water buckets from the kitchen sink out to the barn. I used the 5 gallon buckets so they were pretty heavy. It's maybe 100 ft from house to barn, and it wore me out. The fact that I had also made three trips to my hay farmer to get 30 bales of hay--10 at a time in the Durango--unloaded and stacked that didn't help.  I should be in better shape, but I'm not, so it was a lot of work.
If the well doesn't work, I guess my exercise level will be elevated pretty quickly.

I'm apparently on a forced fitness program whether I want to be or not.  *S*

There's plenty of water in the lake across the road. Frozen too. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Break Out the Buckets

The Hose is "Froze"

So, the Polar Vortex finally struck. Or at least a devastating cold front hit New Jersey. We had a dusting of snow yesterday and now it's well below freezing outdoors.

The Boys are sporting brand new winter blankets, and they have plenty of shelter if they need to get out of the wind. The sun is out too, and that does warm things up a little.

The ground is like a rock and, of course the hose from the barn spigot to the water trough is frozen. I have two options. One is a coil hose I keep on the porch and bring inside to lie in the bathtub in really freezing weather. (My back porch, though enclosed, is not heated.)  If I think it's just a short cold snap, I will usually fill the water trough carrying buckets of water.

It took twelve trips with the 2.5 gallon buckets last night to fill the trough. I have bigger buckets, but they can get a bit heavy for me at times when I have to lug them through Toby's stall and out to the trough. Besides, it's good exercise, considering that I do need to do some walking to lose the weight I gained during the holidays. I figured out is was about 435 steps making the twelve trips back and forth, and that's carrying a bit over 16 pounds in one direction. Not exactly a top level workout, but a good start considering I'm not in shape right now.

It has taken "forever" to get over my broken hip and it's still sore sometimes. My knees, despite the replacements aren't that great comfort-wise either, but I won't complain. Not only is there no point, but complaining only makes is worse. Better to ignore things and just go on carrying those buckets.

Don't know if I mentioned it, but I will be getting allergy tested to see if I am allergic to the metals in my replacements. But that's another day and will leave plenty of questions to be answered. Meantime I go merrily on my way.

Which brings me right back to that "froze hose."  Somewhere on the rather messy porch is the coil hose, If I want to dig it out, I need to some major porch cleaning. Subzero temperatures do not make that a happy prospect either.

Reorganizing the porch was something I should have done in better weather. Then again, the porch was relatively reorganized before I broke my hip and suffered a lot of disorganizing when my friends dropped in to do the house cleaning intervention. It didn't help that I wasn't exactly in shape to do a lot of re-reorganizing while I was recovering.

But, as with all housecleaning, I really have no excuses in the end. I need some motivation to get going when it comes to it.

Maybe the "froze hose" will do the trick.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Hay Piles and Horse Psychology

Three for Three??

When the weather's decent, I put the hay out in the paddock on the ground for the Boys. Feeding them outside keeps the stalls cleaner and is essentially more natural.

But it's an interesting set of herd dynamics that emerge when I do.  "The grass is always greener, and I want what you have," seems to be the dominating principle.

Three horses, three piles of hay. Makes sense, yes?

To humans, maybe, but not to horses.  It always seems to turn into "hay carousel."

Chance is usually low man in the herd. The hay is nearest his stall so he's usually first to it.  Then along comes Tucker and herd boss, Toby.  No matter whether Chance is at the farthest pile or the nearest, Tucker will usually chase him away and start to eat from that pile. Invariably, the little gang plays musical hay pile for a while until they finally settle into some serious eating.

Today, Toby and Tucker ended up together at one pile, with Chance alone at a second pile, and the third pile completely abandoned by horse.

Now, it just so happened that the third pile was from a different bale and, even though all the hay is from the same load, it does vary in texture and make up. I think the third pile is a little softer blades so it's quite possible it is tastier, especially to 25 year old Toby.

However, I'm sure that even if I had put out four piles all from the same bale, or five piles from the same bale the hay carousel would still spin on.

I suspect it had something to do with herd hierarchy and horse dominance.  The herd boss would, of course, want the best food available.  So it's up to him to pick and choose. The "wannabe" boss would demand the best of the rest by chasing off the lower ranking horses.

What's kind of interesting out there now is that the Alpha and Beta horses are eating together. I'm not sure if they are bonded in some kind of alliance or whether Toby is just sick and tired of always having to put pushy Tucker back in his place.  (Oh, by the way, that's Toby cribbing between hay bites.)

The other day, however, Chance and Toby were hanging out together head to head while Tucker was off on the other side of the barn in his own little world. That went on for a couple days before the situation readjusted.

I have also seen Chance and Tucker together with Toby off my himself, though not as often.

Apparently, it's "pick and choose your buddy of the day" around here.

Just like it's "pick and choose your hay pile of the day."

Article in the local paper about me and my novels: