Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blanket #3.5

Jaws and Houdini

So, as regular readers may know, Tucker has had his winter blankets ripped to near shreds twice already this winter.

Suspicion falls on Chance who has been know to rip up two of my jackets in the past and he is Tucker's most frequent play partner.

After two new waterproof blankets died a shredded death, I decided to dress Tucker in another option. I had a relatively new blanket I'd bought only to find out after dressing him in it last year, that it was not waterproof.

No problem. I have waterproof sheets. One of them is a lightweight Rambo--a brand noted for its durability. Solution, then?  Put the blanket on first and then the Rambo. Result? Dry, warm horse.

The only drawback was that the Rambo was missing one surcingle. Since wet weather was in the immediate forecast, I didn't take the time to replace the surcingle, but opted to ring up a cord fastening the Rambo to the blanket beneath.

It worked a treat, so I thought.

Then the mystery began. For some reason, Tucker's blankets always seem to slip off to the right. I have no idea why. Morning after morning, I have to shift his blankets/sheets back to the left to get them straight. Either he and Chance play blanket tag only on one side or there is something about his body/way of going that leads to right blanket shift.

The new rig was no exception, but, I must admit, it was a little less likely to slip. The Rambo tended to stay in place even while the blanket beneath slid. So far, so good.

Until yesterday. When I went out to feed at late night, There stood Tucker, Ramboless. Pitch dark outside, so I decided not to seek out the missing sheet. I slid the blanket into place again, noticing both part of the Rambo's surcingle still attached, and a broken chest buckle on the blanket's front strap.

So, now Tucker was dressed in a non-waterproof blanket with only one strap holding it in place in the front.

When I found the Rambo lying in the snow, it was not totally trashed. But now both surcingles need work.  I still can't quite figure out how Tucker slithered out of it, but I've seen escapes from totally intact blankets before, so extricating himself from a partially buckled Rambo should not have surprised me too much. Still.....

OK, so we've lost two full blankets so far, and now, one sheet which was half of a blanket combination, to that makes 3 1/2 for the season so far.

Plan C:  I put another brandy new blanket on Tucker for now. I'm not sure it's durable enough to withstand "Jaws," but we'll see. In the meantime, I've ordered another new blanket in a high denier--1220D--which may be able to withstand a tooth assault.

Darn. At this rate I should have spent hundreds of dollars on something truly indestructible instead of trying to save money on lesser brand blanket.

Live and learn. I'll save my pennies and invest for next time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Cold Hard Secrets of Horse Care

In The Cold, Hard Winter

The world will little know the secrets those of us who care for horses are aware of in the cold of winter. Proper horsehusbandry has its own special challenges when things freeze up.

First, of course, is water. I'm lucky enough to have set up my barn so there are electrical outlets conveniently located so I can keep a plug in water heater in my outdoor horse trough. I have a submersible one, not a floater. Sitting at the bottom of the tank, it's not quite as enticing a toy for my more mischievous Boy to play with. The cord is outside the fence and as long as I keep water in the trough, it does a darn good job of keeping it thawed and liquid, even in this bitter cold weather.
Power outages aside, the Boys have water available all the time.

But, they are, thank goodness, drinking a lot. So my three feeding trips out to the barn require me to refill the trough nearly every time. I have a hose that goes from the spigot inside the barn to the trough, but, of course, this time of year, it's frozen. That leaves two options. The first is a plastic coil hose I keep in the bathtub inside my house, ever ready, thawed and supple for use if I need to put a lot of water in the trough. Otherwise, it's the bucket brigade. I fill a bucket in the barn, and while the second bucket is filling up, I dump the first one in the trough, and so on, over and over.

Getting bales of hay from the carport hay storage area can be tricky when there's snow and ice. For that, I have a sled. It's one of those plastic toboggans and carries one bale of hay quite nicely as it slides over the snow. Problem solved.

But, the biggest secret of all, is the curious challenge of frozen horse manure. In the stalls, the horse manure does one of two things. It either solidifies into a poo pile like a boulder, or it breaks apart into dozens of little round hard balls that mix with the bedding and hide beneath the surface to trip unwary owners as they cross the stalls to feed or water.

Stall mucking is kind of like mining for ore. Sometimes, with the big poo piles you strike a forkful of treasure. But the little round balls? Get out the sieve and start sifting. Trying to do a thorough stall cleaning is  prospecting for nuggets. Even after I think I'm done, my foot will inevitably step on one or two hard lumps I've missed.

And then, if like I do, you use a wheelbarrow for every day cleaning, it's always interesting crossing the frozen wastes to get to the manure pile. Since I don't dump the barrow every time I pick out the stalls, the final insult is when the manure and damp bedding I've loaded earlier in the day is frozen to the wheelbarrow itself. Dump it? More like find a good strong stick and beat it into submission until it surrenders and falls out.

Suffice it to say, spring thaw will bring new challenges since there's frozen solid manure collected under the run-in roofs as well. No way to clean it out now--it's like set cement.

Fortunately, the Boys seem to be tolerating the cold quite well. Aside from the torn to near shreds of Tucker's second new blanket--he's dressed in an older one with a sturdier rainsheet over it now--the snow, sleet, rain, and low temperatures don't seem to bother them too much. I've been feeding lots of hay and they have shelter.

Meantime, each trip out to the barn brings a new adventure for me in just plain coping.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Slip, Slog, Slide

Enough Already

OK, Winter, I've had enough of you this year. You certainly have a right to visit and, frankly, I do enjoy the changes of season New Jersey offers. But, to be frank, you are overstaying your welcome.

Bad enough you keep dropping snow on us. Not as much as New England, mind you, so I can't really complain too much, but enough to be annoying, especially since it seems to be every week. 4. 5. 6 inches at a time, now sitting in layers with ice down underneath somewhere.

Here's the deal. Usually you give us a respite. Days and nights of moderating temperatures break up the monotony of frozen tundra. The sun's nice this time of year when it's cold out. There's enough solar energy there to melt the more annoying snow and ice, leaving bare surfaces to ease the eyes.

But you don't think that's fair, apparently. Everytime the bare earth shows its face, you cover it back up. And speaking of cold? Don't you think you're overdoing it this year? Huh?

Do I need to be reminded every day by the weather people to bundle up for fear of frostbite. Do I need to be warned over and over that the cold can be deadly? Do I need to keep holding my breath because the next round of frigid air will be coating the roads and walkways again with snow? Does every Arctic low have to visit?

Well, at least it's New Jersey. We are, at least, fairly well prepared to deal with your tantrums. The snow plow guys are pretty efficient. Our houses are insulated and most of us have warm winter coats to wear. I mean, we do expect winter to show up eventually.

This year, once again, you decided on some vacation time down further south where people just aren't ready for your visit. And, on the way, you keep dropping off snow squalls and below zero digits here.

I'm going to be honest, here. I'm not going to miss you when you're gone. I know the groundhogs seemed to agree you had six weeks left on your lease, but if there's any way you can move along a lot sooner, I'd really appreciate it.

Go home. Your friends in the Arctic miss you.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Trouble With Tucker

Lessons to Learn

I need to be always on guard with Tucker. Not that he intends to hurt me, but he has several issues I need to always deal with.

First, he's big. Sometimes, he doesn't realize just how big he is. Typical is his belief that he can actually fit comfortably in the feed room. I've blogged about this before. But it's a narrow place with no room to move and if I forget to put up the guard and he gets loose in the aisle, it's a disaster. He can squeeze in and then just can't get back out. There's a step up into the room and he's afraid to step back down and out so he has to turn around. There's no room unless I take everything out of the room to give him space.

Big also makes him occasionally forget how much room he needs to maneuver his body even in his stall. Sometimes, unless I am really quick to correct him, his body gets into my space when he tries to turn around. With another horse, I'd consider it crowding, but with him, it's more, "Gee, I forgot my buns were that far behind my head," kind of thing.

But there is also his attitude which is, "I'll see what I can get away with today." I was watching a training video today about teaching a horse to respect you. The exercises were great, demanding that the horse step back when you turned to face him. Just "move his feet," and you have control. Tucker's been there, done that. In fact I can almost guarantee if I or the clinician took him into a training session, he'd be a star pupil.

He's smart. Too smart for his own good. He'd pick up the point of the back up exercise after two goes. In fact, on the lead line, when I do work him---not in this sub frigid, icepack weather we're having now--he's a master of obedience.

I do intend to do some trick training with him when the weather improves and, like the obedience exercises, I'm sure he'll learn really fast.

The problem is, the lessons don't stick. Most horses I've had learn a good behavior and stick to it, with minimal need for correction as time goes on. Not Tucker. And it's not that he doesn't understand the lesson or know what he's "supposed" to do. He just decides to test the limit to see if he "has" to do it.

I mentioned his challenging me at Toby's door. We have reached the point where if I am in the barn, or at least within "shoutshot" of the barn, I can usually stop him from barging in to steal Toby's food. I've made that point often enough that he gets it.

But if I turn my back or go around the corner out of sight?  He's up to his old tricks.

Practically every bit of training I've don with him demands the same kind of vigilance and absolute consistency
on my part. Walk/trot transitions? Well, if he feels like it just perfect from the get go. But there's always the day I'll get a snarl instead. Leg yields, half passes, canter departs, reinbacks? You name it. No guarantee.
Some days, he just "has to think about it first."  Oh, yes, and I have to ask politely. Otherwise, I'm being "rude." (So he said to the animal communicator.)
Tucker eating from the bird feeder. Hey, it's food!
On the other hand, he was quite delighted to learn how to roll the big soccer ball around by pushing it with his nose. He'd to that 100% of the time. Why? He got a treat. There was something in it for him. 

So, that's the key. I need to find the "something in it for Tucker" for each good behavior I demand.

A pocket full of carrots ought to do the trick.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Awaiting the Arctic Clipper

Or Whatever It Is

Not much to do for the Boys as the frigid air comes in. They have shelter and they have blankets. They have hay and water as long as the power stays on. If the power goes out due to the high winds, I have the generator, which I hope will work this time to run everything.

I did a bit of research online and found that horses are generally fine even in sub zero temperatures as long as they have shelter and can stay dry.  All bases covered here.

I do remember well over twenty years ago that we had a dreadful cold snap. It was so bad I tried to wash something off the barn wall with warm water and the water froze to ice instantly. That was in February too, as I recall.

The problem with this cold front is the predicted wind. The huge nasty storm will pass east of here so we won't be getting the snow--sorry New England--but the wind gusts are supposed to be very powerful. All I can do is hope no trees fall on the power lines.

Which brings me to more news. I have a new neighbor. A very nice young man is moving into my Aunt's house next door. I walked over to introduce myself today. I only mention him because of the power worries. Apparently the electric company is having trouble figuring out where his house is located so he can switch the billing over.


Here's the problem. Our mailing address is Jamesburg. Our zip code is shared by Jamesburg and Monroe Township. Confusing enough. But, we don't live in Monroe Township. We live in South Brunswick Township. Jamesburg is in Monroe Township, however. I could add more confusion about how our road's name is similar to another road which is in Monroe Township, but I won't even bother. Suffice it to say that addresses have caused confusion in the past. "Back in the day" when telephone exchanges actually meant something, our exchange began with a prefix that was listed as Monmouth Junction, a town in South Brunswick about 5-7 miles from here. The telephone company listed our mailing address as Monmouth Junction--which had its own separate post office--instead of Jamesburg--the post office that delivers our mail.  Needless to say, things often went astray.

So, my new neighbor is struggling with the electric company so they don't turn off service to the house now that he owns it instead of my cousin.

I think a power outage would be the last straw at this point.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hay Update

Well, Hunger Works

I did as I'd planned and skimped on the other "style" of hay when the Boys decided to leave piles of good hay uneaten.

Apparently, I forced them to finally clean their plates....well mostly. There was still some hay dragged about the stalls, but it really wasn't much. As I said, I know it was perfectly good hay, just not, apparently to their liking at the moment.

As we all know, when it's cold out, hay is a really important part of the horse's diet. That and a good supply of fresh water are all a horse really needs to stay warm and fed.

My Boys do get both hay and grain three times a day, however. Toby, being older, does need that extra supplementation of some denser nutrition. He gets Purina Healthy Edge which has Amplify in it.  Tucker and Chance get a smaller portion of Healthy Edge and a scoop of Hay Stretcher pellets. Everyone gets a serving of alfalfa cubes in the morning as well.

The water trough has an electric heater and I also regularly soak the grain with hot water during the colder weather. This way, I know each horse is getting at least some water. In general, all three Boys are good drinkers, though, so I don't have to worry about that too much.

They also have plenty of shelter options. There is a run in roof on each side of the barn and the stall doors to the outside are always open so they can get inside for more protection. The is also a run in shed in the riding arena available all the time, and my property has lines of trees along the pasture and the other end of the riding arena.

Still, the Boys often hang out outside, unsheltered when the weather is bad. I'm not sure why that is, but one of my riding instructors suggested that horses prefer to be out in the open when the weather is bad so they can keep on the lookout for predators and be free of the noise of wind/rain etc. on the barn roofs and walls.

Personally, I think they like to stand outside, heads lowered, looking miserable so passing motorists will see them and feel sorry for them.

I keep expecting a call from animal control about how I'm neglecting them.

Yeah, fed three times a day.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Picky, Picky

Horse Tastes

I gave each one of the Boys a nice healthy serving of hay last night from a new bale. The hay was from the same supplier and load where I buy it, so there was no change.

Except that this hay had a slightly different texture. It was less coarse, softer, and "grassier."  Well, apparently, the sophisticated palates of my little herd were offended. They each left a good healthy pile of good, uneaten hay in their stalls for me to find this morning.

Well, now. They certainly can't be very hungry if they leave good hay like that. It was fresh, well cured and just fine quality. Of all the hay I have, I thought it had the nicest texture.

Proves what I know about hay. I scooped it all back into nice piles in their stalls and gave them each a much lighter feed of the second bale--coarser stuff--I'd carted across the ice to the barn.

If they still have piles of uneaten hay in their stalls when I go back out for dinner feed, I am not going to give them any more. They'll have to wait until late night feed for new stuff. I'm hoping the "sit at the table until you finish your dinner" approach will encourage better eating habits.

I can't see a thing wrong with the first hay. I guess it's just not the right flavor of the month?

Monday, February 02, 2015

Voting at BookBzz for my Novel!!

Kingdom Beyond the Rim  PrizeWriter Finalist

As I've told you, my fantasy novel, Kingdom Beyond the Rim was selected as a finalist in the BookBzz 2015 Prizewriter competition.

Now it's time for the public to vote for the winner.

I'd really appreciate your support. Voting is easy. There are other books to vote for as well in other categories, so you might want to explore the site a little.

Please vote here for Kingdom Beyond the Rim:

2015 Prizewriter Voting: Fantasy