Friday, February 29, 2008

Mean as a Junkyard Dog

And I like her. This blogger lives somewhere in Washington, and she has a lot of nasty and accurate things to say about the horse industry in North America. I consider this a must-read for anyone interested in practicing horse care and horsemanship with integrity.

No news on Tonka from me over the next little while, as I am spending some time in Toronto with my family. David says the big lug is still eating, drinking, pooping and peeing so we can assume that all is well. Neighbor Tom came back up to the house yesterday to further discuss our crusher dust paddock, and it looks like the work will start late next week. More on that when the big machines move in.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

1200lbs of Chicken

At about 11 last night David and I heard a weird sound coming from outside. It took a few minutes for us to realize that it was Tonka trumpeting alarm at some perceived threat. Our dogs were silent, but the pack down the street was kicking up a fuss. Chances are that the neighborhood bobcat or one the bears had passed by and that Tonka had every right to be making his fearsome presence known. But this morning, in broad daylight, he was still huddled into one corner of his paddock looking at the back pasture with trepidation. I coaxed him out there with a little alfalfa, thinking fondly of April 1st when Raven is tentatively scheduled to arrive. She will be good, brave company for the poor fellow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You

This book caught my eye a few years ago in a Powell River store. Things like this usually repulse me, but I found the title so sweet and honest that I was compelled to look inside. The contents were so endearing that I was further compelled to buy the book. I later donated it to a raffle for someone else to enjoy, but I remembered the title yesterday. You see, Tonka is a great Sniffer of Things and Tilley almost bit off a nostril when he practically inhaled one of her ears (it was cute, except for the growling). She was even less pleased when he took olfactory interest in her beloved tennis ball. He was also pretty curious about my new (to me, for $100) little camera when I was getting pictures of Feeder 2.0.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Feeder 2.0

Although the prototype did work, I wasn't convinced that Tonka could get his big lips into those little holes as easily as necessary. Fortunately the latticework was built as an insert, so it was easy to remove and replace with something new. This time I used 24" sections of rebar sheathed in cheap garden hose and secured to the top and bottom of the frame at 4" intervals with steel strapping. Tonka uses it with no problem, and our hay wastage is minimal. I can also pour some oats of sunflower seeds in with the hay so that he gets them slowly over the course of a few hours, not all at once. I'm quite pleased with my invention, and looking forward to making version 3.0 when Raven arrives.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

We Interrupt this Horse Blog

I did nothing beyond feeding and watering Tonka today because I was at a flyball tournament with Willow. Our team Cry Havoc (within the Toonies club) handily won first place in the third division. This is noteworthy only because it's so far from the norm for us. Below are (L-R) Willow, Tempus, Ruger, Ricochet and Murphy. If you replace Ruger with a sweet and petite black lab named Aisa you have today's team. Go us!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shelter 2.0

It turns out that I was misquoted by $500 on the shipping costs for the run-in shelter by Noble Panels. Given that we have yet to finalize our paddock plans, it seemed insane to spend $700 on shipping a $1500 product that we might not use in the long-run. Especially when I could purchase and ship this nifty little solution for $600:

It should arrive next week. It is big enough to protect both Tonka and Ebony (who is likely to be renamed Raven), and we should be able to resell it once we implement a more permanent solution. And if we're really happy with the temporary setup we might hold off on its more expensive alternative for another year. Everyone wins!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Baby Steps

I couldn't resist this morning's sun, so I saddled Tonka for a ride up and down the street. He's not a brave horse, and it was slow going down the road. I let him stop to look at things that frightened him, but managed to keep the forward momentum until we reached the bottom of the hill where he planted himself and puffed hard -- the sheep, other horses and a big truck were all too much for him. I hopped off to walk him by hand (I'm not proud) and we hung out with the sheep until he had settled enough for me to remount. He willingly went further down the road, and didn't pull for home when we turned around. We rode past our house without trouble, and bravely encountered three "for sale" signs in the other direction. He was definitely relaxed by the end of it, and we managed to have a nice trot and to establish that he can neck rein (I can't) and back up very nicely. Here's photographic evidence (see mom, I'm wearing my helmet) shot by David before I had the chance to even up my left stirrup.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And Then There Were Two

Yesterday I took a float plane over to Saltspring Island to meet a thoroughbred (never raced) mare registered as "Shut the Trap" but called Ebony. Her current owner rescued her from a pretty horrendous situation 18 months ago. She was pregnant and locked into a 8X10 stall because she was "unmanageable". Out of stall confinement and in the hands of a confident horsewoman she quickly turned around, and Jenn was riding her out daily within a month. Ebony proved herself to be a confident and willing trail horse as well as an excellent mom. Now that her foal is sold Jenn is looking to rehome Ebony somewhere that she will continue to thrive.

When she picked me up from the dock Jenn immediately warned me that Ebony had come into heat the day before and that I was going to see the worst of her. She did not put her best foot foward, to be sure. Unlike Tonka she was pushy on the ground, trying to run us over to get back to her baby (who was recently weened and is headed to his new home today). However, when Jenn put her to work on the lunge line she settled right in and got down to business. Being responsible and conscious of my own safety I asked Jenn to ride her before I got on. Ebony was obviously hot and bothered, but still manageable. When she tried to careen out of control and back to her baby Jenn was able to get her attention back without too much trouble. I asked for a loaner helmet and hopped on (in a western saddle, which is mostly foreign to me). My initial application of too much leg had us off like a shot across the yard, but I relaxed and she relaxed and we headed out. In the first few minutes she halfheartedly tried to buck me off a few times, but she settled right down when she realized that I am both sticky and persistent.

Out on the road she was unflappable, and completely willing to go on without Whisper (Jenn's mount) when asked. This is exactly what I'm looking for in our second horse and I was quickly smitten with her attitude. Jenn and I were able to spend an hour chatting, and it became clear that she's the kind seller I really like too -- she prefers right of first refusal in the event of a sale, and she would like to be able to visit Ebony now and then. So I'm going to buy her. Jenn will hold her for the next several weeks so that David won't have two horses on his hands while I'm back in Toronto for family health reasons. Then she will be moving to Deroche to join our little herd. Last night I had very pleasant dreams about riding her out along the river with David behind us on Tonka, so I think we're off to a good start.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The People on our NEIGHborhood

There's quite a few people with horses around here. Tom and Wendy have lived in the area for years and have built themselves a beautiful little barn, paddocks, pasture and covered ring. I drool every time I go over there. Tom is an excavator (amongst his many other talents, I'm guessing) and had promised to quote us on creating a crusher dust dry lot a few weeks ago. After moving house and catching the flu he was able to make some time for us this afternoon, and I promised to be home after 3:30. At 4:00 Georgia (another neighbor) swung by on her gelding Pepper to see if she could coax Tonka and I out for a bareback jaunt down the street in the sun. Twist my rubber arm! The mounting process was deeply inelegant (involving the bumper of the Tacoma, a dog crate and one big, slightly-stressed horse), but the little ride went well. I managed to stay on through two goofy spooks (yes mom, I was wearing my helmet), and Tonka was looking quite relaxed and happy by the end of it all. Exactly halfway through the ride my cell rang and it was Tom, wondering about that promise I had made. He was kind enough to hang around until we got back, and kind enough to not to laugh when I explained what we wanted for the paddock. I love feeling like I am part of a community.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Working Girl

Sometimes on Sunday mornings I get paid $10/hour to shovel horse shit. This is substantially less than I get paid to shovel academic shit, but I enjoy it more. There's something I find uniquely pleasant about being up early and working so hard that I'm ravenous and stinking of horse by lunch time. The only drawback is that Sunday afternoon flyball practice keeps me away from Deroche until 4:30, at which point the February daylight is rapidly fading. Regardless, I still had an hour this lovely evening to begin detangling Tonka's tail. For the past six weeks I have left it as a few dreadlocks of hair dangling around a mass the size of a dead rat because I've never had a block of time to dedicate to its cause. I got it about 90% finished today before he got too fidgety (he stood so patiently while I hauled on him), and he swished it around appreciatively when I finally lay down my comb. The fullish moon was on its way up as he was on his way back out to the pasture.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

These Boots are Made for Everything

Hoof boots allow a barefooted horse to ride out like a shod horse, with the sensitive frog of the hoof protected from uneven ground. After conditioning on hard and rocky surfaces many barefoot horses can ride out without any protection, but the soles of Tonka's front feet have been compromised by the founder and everyone agrees they should be booted for the time being. There are MANY options available. The most popular seems to be the EasyBoot in one of its multiple forms, but several reports suggest that "easy" is a misnomer. Furthermore, they are molded for horses with a correct heel, and the back strap is known to chafe on those that are under run (like Tonka's). Another option is the Cavallo Simple Boot, also purportedly not so "simple" and I'm leery of velcro being used for this particular application. Christina recommended Old Macs G2 as durable and easy-to-fit, but Tonka measures a size 9 for the right hoof and a size 7 for the left, meaning that I would need to buy two pairs (at $150 + shipping). In my online searching I came across the Marquis Supergrip. These boots are sized on width alone, and they use an air bladder to ensure a good fit through the length, which I think is ideal for Tonka's wide and short hoofs. A single pair of Marquis(es?) will cost the same as two pairs of the Old Macs, but I can order them in mismatched sizes. Unlike other boots on the market all parts can be replaced as they break/wear out so there is no need to buy a whole new boot at regular intervals. What really intrigues me is that Marquis provides rentals. For $75 I can try a pair for two weeks, and the cost will be credited towards my purchase if I decide to buy. That kind of design, forethought and customer service has me pretty excited to order a rental pair tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Big Day

Christina Cline came out for her first visit this morning, and Tonka's hooves were trimmed for the second time in three weeks. Christina described him as "very cooperative" despite his desire to sniff her, her apron, her boots, her stand, her tools and her pen. Overall she seemed positive about his prognosis, but found him guarded around his hind end -- possibly due to pain from keeping his weight rocked backwards during laminitic episodes. We'll see if she senses any difference in another four weeks. My sense is that I can learn an awful lot from this talented and experienced lady.

The sun came out later this morning, so I walked Tonka down to the tracks to test his reaction to the sight and the noise of a train blowing through Deroche. He took it fairly well, dancing around a bit, but maintaining most self control. I plan to do this every few days, and to edge him closer as he gets more comfortable. Given that trains run near to many of the places I would like to ride it only seems prudent and fair to sensitize him as thoroughly as possible.

After that I zipped out to Agassiz to help three burly men load 150 bales of low NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) hay onto a flatbed trailer. Tonka was very excited by the hay truck, and serenaded his new food with genuine enthusiasm. We unloaded it into the garage with the help of Russell, who's headed back to his more urban life in sunny California tomorrow. I ended the frenzy with a cracking headache and put myself to bed for three hours, leaving the hay cleanup for the morning. Let's hope it's sunny again!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Any Port in a Storm

I felt guilty lying in our warm bed last night while the rain and wind pelted around outside. The thought of Tonka huddled lonely and miserable under the pine trees rendered me sleepless for almost an hour. We have ordered a run-in shelter from Noble Panels, but it won't arrive for another week or so. In the meantime I was hoping that the trees would provide enough shelter, but we weren't expecting the torrential conditions they are calling for over the next few days. This afternoon the men of the house (one permanent, one temporary) helped me to jerry-rig some plywood and a tarp around the trees to reduce the wind and the rain a little. It ain't pretty, but it's effective. For all my belief that horses can survive just fine without the warmths and comforts we humans crave, I will certainly sleep better tonight. And even better when this arrives, no doubt:

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Tonka came home today. I met Jen from HorseHop at the barn at 10 anticipating a struggle to get him loaded up. Tonka surprised us both by hopping into the trailer without second thought -- perhaps this was part of his former life. After we got underway he REALLY surprised us both by knocking his grated window open on the freeway and hanging his head and neck out like a dog enjoying the breeze, but we arrived in Deroche an hour after departure with a sweaty and stressed horse still safely in tow. So far he has been a trooper, calling occasionally to the other horses in the neighborhood but eating, drinking and excreting -- all important processes for a large vegetarian. The day was awfully wet, but he seems comfortable hanging out in his blanket under the cedars. Tomorrow I will take him out and about, but today we just let him get used to the new place, the new people, and the dogs. Watson in particular, who feels the best defense is a noisy offense. Here's the view out our bedroom window this afternoon:

Friday, February 8, 2008


I use "proto" because it will set the standard for any/all hay feeder designs to come and "typical" because it might be over-engineered, which is a habit of mine. It measures 24" X 24" X 48" and the material that contains the hay is vinyl lattice with a 3" square pattern, which should slow the rate of consumption and force Tonka to put a little effort into getting his food. Wild horses don't stumble across 5lb piles of food three times daily -- they are constantly on the move, nibbling as they go. We don't have room for Tonka to be on the move 18+ hours per day, but I'm hoping this feeder (which will always be full) will help to provide him with a more natural way of eating while reducing the amount of hay we waste. Total cost came to $137, but only because I bought pre-cut plywood so I didn't have to clear off the completely chaotic work bench in our shop. Total time commitment (shopping included) came to 6 hours.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

That Little Red Thing

A few years ago we traded our 1990 Honda Civic hatchback for the most fuel-efficient pickup truck we could find: a 2WD 2001 Toyota Tacoma with a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine. The periwinkle Civic had been known as the "Blue Meanie" because it obviously wasn't, and the Tacoma is known as the "Red Menace" because it obviously isn't. So far it has been the perfect vehicle for us, seating 4 up front when necessary and confining multiple dogs (often wet) in the back. It's also handy for dump runs, trips to Ikea, and moving mountain bikes around.

Given that our second car is 1990 Mazda Miata (thanks mom!) we feel completely justified in referring to the Red Menace as "the truck" around here. Given that we live in Fraser Valley, this designation seems laughable in context of most other vehicles on the road. A few months ago we treated the Red Menace to some new tires. I approached the fellow at the KalTire reception desk and said "I'm here to get new tires on my truck." He peered over my shoulder, pointed out the window and said "that little red thing?"

Today the guy I had contracted to move 150 bales of hay from Agassiz to Deroche crapped out on me. Tonka is scheduled to arrive the day after tomorrow, and it would seem hospitable to feed the poor fellow so I took the Red Menace to pick up a load. The very kind dairy farmer from whom I'm buying this hay eyed me skeptically as I slip-slided over his narrow bridge and into his very slushy courtyard. His comment when I came to a halt? "At least you've got good tires." I'm happy to report that the Red Menace holds exactly six bales -- just 24 more trips to go!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Let it Rain, Let it Rain, Let it Rain

I share Jaime Jackson's opinion that unclipped, well-fed horses are quite capable of regulating their own body temperature without the aid man-made clothing. They cannot, however, keep themselves dry under conditions of heavy rain. Did I mention that we live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia? It's pretty much a rain forest. So I did a little research to find the best combination of quality/price for a breathable rain sheet, size 82. Several folks suggested that Shedrow blankets made by Canada's own Greenhawk Equestrian Supplies are great, and I ordered one last Thursday. It showed up today, and I went straight to the barn to test it out. When I arrived Tonka, Jack and Star were whoopin' it up in the sand ring, and I soon learned that they have been stall-bound for the past two days because of a downed and dangerous fence. I've been up at UBC for the past two days, and this was the first I'd heard of it -- one more reason to get him home ASAP. We went for a quick walk before the sun set, but I left the blanket for another time. So you'll have to imagine a big gray horse here, instead of a plastic chestnut one.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Slow Down, You Eat Too Fast

Not much say today, except that I am pondering ways to emulate this idea for less than $400 (which seems like a lot to pay for a bucket with a hole-punched lid). I see several design options, with the best combination of cheap/durable coming in at $100 or so. Unfortunately I have to go to work for the next couple of days, so prototypes will be stuck in my brain for another 48 hours.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Living, Learning and Laughing at Myself

Yesterday I went out to spend a couple of hours with Tonka after two days of being snowed in at home. In the tradition of two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back he started out quite wary of some things that were becoming less scary, but patience and persistence paid off and we had a good walk. We were not attacked by the llamas, the barking dog or the mailboxes. After our safe arrival at the barn I groomed him a little and checked on his feet.

I've spent a lot of time around horses in my life, but not as an engaged and critically-thinking adult. Lots of what I know was spoon-fed to me by people I looked up to as a teenager by virtue of their adulthood. Now I'm finding huge and important gaps in my knowledge, and some serious philosophical disagreement with things I was taught back then. At 32 I have every confidence in my ability to educate myself and find my own path, but there may be bumps along the way. I found some on Tonka's feet last night.

There is a ring between horse flesh and horse hoof called the coronet band, which is analogous to the bed of a fingernail. New hoof is made here, and new growth is protected by the periople ring, which is analogous to the cuticle. I knew that, but I didn't know that the periople can range from dry and flaky to soft and rubbery according to external conditions.

When I checked Tonka's coronets yesterday it was like someone had taken a bead of fresh silicone and smeared it around all four hooves. I panicked. Possibly because I had been reading horror stories of hoof slough the night before. This can occur when the laminar connection better the coffin bone and hoof fails completely, and the horn falls off. I'll spare you from the pictures and we'll get back to the panic. Tonka was walking fine and seemed happy to see me, so my rational side told me nothing was amiss. My crazy obsessive side kept flashing those hoof slough pictures at me, and finally convinced me to call Christina who very helpfully put my mind to rest. One of the reasons I'm doing this is to LEARN, so all I can do is laugh at myself and call it a day.