Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bears Bewares

Titan went into a fit of frenzy at 6:30 this morning, and I wondered aloud (though David claims not to remember this) whether he was barking at a bear. Sure enough our neighbors report that one of the local ursine population had been grazing in their garden and that Titan was responsible for saving their carrots.

Around 10:00 this evening he went off again, and David headed out to investigate after five minutes of uninterrupted ruckus. No bear in sight, but Titan was staring and barking intently down our other neighbor's driveway while the goats hid in the VW. When Morsel heard David at the gate he jumped out of the van to say hello which agitated Titan so much that he tried to push his little buddy back to safety. This dog continues to amuse and amaze us with his sweet personality and his strong instincts.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bucking Broncette

Raven is a typical hypersensitive thoroughbred, both physically and emotionally. The feeling of bugs against her thin skin drives her crazy whereas Tonka barely makes the effort to flinch them off. The memory of something scary in one corner of the pasture will keep her away for weeks whereas Tonka will go anywhere that the grass looks tasty. One nice thing about owning such a drama queen is that I never have to make assumptions about where her head is at -- she communicates her feelings loud and clear.

This morning it was wet and buggy in the pasture and Raven desperately wanted back into the paddock because she is a spoiled princess. When I made it clear that I was leaving alone via the human gate (yielding to her royal whims is not my style) she tried to run right over me. I was taken off guard because she hasn't pulled a stunt like that in months, but I managed to defend myself by digging the four fingers of my right hand into the groove of her throat just above the chest. Hard. With a mighty squeal she went broncing off across the pasture (without kicking out at me -- that lesson has been learned) with Tonka in tow. They were still rodeoing around by the time I got into the house, though poor Tonka was beginning to look sore and worn out from all the unnecessary effort. In all they provided five solid minutes of entertainment for us and our house guests, including the two-year-old Martina who kept repeating "poor Raven" to anyone who would listen. No wonder the Black Wench of the West likes that kid.

Mostly I think that Raven was blowing off steam. I haven't been on her since we've been home because the weather has been so foul, and she has been spending a lot of time huddled miserably under a tree in the paddock. Let's all hope for a little sun this weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Relentless Rain

Climate change is something I think about a lot. As an environmental engineer turned environmental epidemiologist the problem has been on my professional radar for nearly fifteen years, and now it seems to be on my front door as well. All scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict that the west coast of British Columbia will get wetter and wetter over the coming decades, and I fear this year has been a harbinger of what we should expect. Some of you might recall me harping on about our rainy June (and I'd be willing to send you an award for sticking around so long), and now I'm going to harp on about our rainy August. Deroche has had nearly 200 mm of rain this month, which is unseasonal at best and downright alarming at worst. Everything is usually dried out by the time September rolls around so that UBC students can impress each other by laying on the scratchy grass in skimpy clothing. Not this year! Maybe not next year! I should mention that the shelter fiasco is ongoing, but it is going to ship tomorrow (boldface text always comes true, doesn't it?). The horses just flicked water off their ears at me when I tried to explain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hayburning Habits

We keep our two feeders constantly stocked with low-carbohydrate hay so that Tonka and Raven can choose how much they want to eat. I believe this is the healthiest way to maintain domesticated horses, but it's also scientifically interesting. On average they consume one 60 pound bale daily with about 5% waste. Over the past three days they have munched through five bales and it seems like the feeders are empty every time I look. My mostly-uneducated guess is that they are preparing to grow their winter coats. The daylight hours are shortening rapidly now and the nights are getting cold. I expect to see some fuzzies soon!

Monday, August 25, 2008

It Could Be Worse

A recent post at FHOTD prompted me to explore the Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue website this afternoon. Over the past two years this impressive organization has been forced to euthanize two horses suffering from canker. I'd never heard of the condition before today, but it makes founder rehab look like a walk in the park.

The veterinary community is somewhat flummoxed by canker. Everyone agrees that it's caused by a bacterial infection that initiates abnormal keratin production, but no one can predict which horses might be affected. The draft breeds are definitely more susceptible, possibly due to concussive weakening of the hoof structure and its immune function. Factors like age, working history, stable management and metabolic condition seem unrelated to canker risk, and veterinarians have never been able to recreate the disease under controlled conditions.

Keratins are the structural proteins that make up human fingernails and horse hooves. Once a cankerous infection is established excess horny material begins to push up through the frog. If the condition goes untreated it will move on to the soles, bars and heel bulbs. There is no sure-fire cure for canker, but surgeries that excise all of the infected tissue seem the most effective (in combination with months of diligent care, of course). Most sources make it sound like a death sentence, and my hat goes off to those rescuers at Gentle Giants for their dual heartbreak.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Winter Wondering

The weather in Deroche was so foul today that I was forced to contemplate the logistics of keeping livestock lively through the winter months. The Fraser Valley rarely sees temperatures lower than -5 degrees C, but some of the cold snaps persisted for several days last year. The outdoor piping at Farcical Farm does not lend itself to the installation of frost-free hydrants, so I need to devise some other means to keep the water flowing. Simple insulation? Heating tape? Collect rain water in large emergency reservoir? Run a very long hose to the paddock from the house? Hauling water for the goats will be easy if it becomes necessary, but I'd prefer a more practical second line of defense for the horses. Ideas anyone?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Home on the Range

Raven has ripped her fly sheet. Tonka still has some weird sores on his belly. The gate to Raven's feeding enclosure has been mightily chewed by Raven or Tonka or both. Titan has gained at least 10 pounds and the goats are starting to grow their winter coats. Spike and Hazel both look too round for my liking, as if Melissa has taken pity on them. Willow and Watson have been taking advantage of Melissa by sneaking into the garage to eat horse feed, much of which Watson vomited up again (Willow has been with us for five years now and has never once puked). Tilley leapt all over me in the first ten minutes and now she will sulk for at least three days. The basement renos are 80% finished and everything is covered in drywall dust. Our wireless router has developed some type of multiple personality disorder, possibly because it was lonely in our absence. Melissa left clean sheets on the bed and it's good to be home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Canadian National Embarassment

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) started as an agricultural fair in the late 1800s. Rides and games were introduced in 1937, but the agricultural shows and competitions remained a major attraction when I last attended in 2000. On Wednesday I was surprised and disappointed to find that agricultural showcasing has been practically eliminated from the CNE. A small fraction of the hundreds of stalls in the horse pavilion were filled, and the larger farm area had been usurped by merchants who were selling cheap stuff at warehouse prices.

Across the grounds a much smaller building has been dedicated to farm-related displays for children. The sorry creature shown above was, apparently, the best horse specimen they could find. I can only hope that the general public doesn't leave the CNE thinking that horses should look this way -- that fatty crest suggests she could founder at any moment. Please tell me that the Royal Winter Fair has stayed true to its roots?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


David and I were en route from Toronto to Ottawa this morning when Eric Lamaze and Hickstead made Canadian history. Anyone who has followed the ups and downs of Lamaze's career should be thrilled for him and for Canada today. Watching him (in replay, upon arrival in Ottawa) canter around the ring while pointing down at Hickstead was the highlight of my Olympics-viewing career.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let's Go to the Ex

David and I are in Toronto for a couple of days and we're headed out to the Canadian National Exhibition this afternoon. Most people go for the rides and the candy floss, but my favourite attraction is the farm animals. Nothing new at Farcical Farm, but they are expecting more than 30 mm of rain today. Hope that shelter shows up soon!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Go for Gold

Yesterday we held the Thomson Family Olympics at the farm. Two teams of seven participated in badminton, soccer, swimming relays, frisbee, capture the flag, and a scavenger hunt. My team (dubbed Feel Good Inc. as a shout out to the Gorillaz) kicked ass in the soccer game and lost almost everything else quite cheerfully. During our much-needed siesta I caught a few snippets of Ian Millar's spectacular ride in the first round of the team show jumping, and I just read that the Canadians won the silver today -- Millar's first medal in nine olympic appearances. Televised coverage of the equestrian events has been dismal in Canada, so thank goodness (yet again) for the Internet.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On the Rocks

Yesterday the whole family (9 of the 10 adults and 7 of the 8 kids) trekked out to the Lac Philippe and the Lusk Caves at Gatineau Park. David's sister Eira had told me about bringing a bunch of kids there for a birthday party and letting them run wild, so I had envisioned big, airy caves with nice, smooth surfaces. I was surprised to find a wet, narrow and jagged route carved through the rocks by Lusk Creek -- it was just as fun for the adults as for the children. My only complaint is that I forgot to bring my camera, so I can't provide photo/video evidence of our wild time.

Back at Farcical Farm Melissa tells me that "it's going great" and the Weather Network tells me that it's very hot. We'll be headed home in a week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Greetings from Onterrible

I grew up on the north side of Toronto, not far from where a propane facility exploded earlier this week. David grew up between his family's home in Ottawa and their 120-acre hobby farm on the Quebec side of the Gatineau Valley. Both of us fell in love with the people, politics and natural splendor of British Columbia while attending UBC and we secretly hope that our families will migrate west someday. Until then we will visit them in Ontario (which I have lovingly referred to as "Onterrible" since my Ontario-born friend Anne introduced me to the word) as often as possible. In ten minutes we'll pick up our rental car and head out to the aforementioned farm for David's family reunion (Catherine and Amadeau who live in Barcelona are picture below) where we'll have to get our critter-fix from his parents' geriatric dog Gwynfy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Squeaky Wheel Wins Again

Just a quick post to let everyone (all ten of you) know that our Twister shelter will be ready to ship tomorrow afternoon. Of course David and I are leaving town tomorrow morning for another stint in Ontario, but it should be in place before the September rains start. Who wants to bet $20 that the horses won't use it?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Down and Out

Most foundered horses spend a lot of time off of their feet, but I have only caught Tonka lying down twice. In both cases he and Raven were resting in the horse paddock late at night, wide awake due to the commotion of dogs out for their bedtime walk. This morning I was surprised to see both horses lying down in the pasture -- Raven loves to sunbathe in the grass, but Tonka has always preferred to eat while the eating is good. Several neighbors tell slightly different stories about a horse breaking its leg in our pasture, so I was feeling panicky on my way to investigate. Raven watched me walk towards them, but Tonka had his back to both of us and I was about 10 feet away before I heard the snoring. With muzzle-clad nose planted firmly in the grass he was sleeping so soundly that he didn't notice me until I started rubbing his neck (which scared a mighty snort out of him). It was stormy here last night and I assume that he was on high alert through the wind and the rain. It's nice to know that he was feeling comfortable enough this morning to let his guard down.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Twist and Shout

In late May we ordered a 24 X 10 horse shelter from the Twister pipe company through Barns2Go. We were told that it would delivered within the month, but we are still waiting. The people at Barns2Go have stopped answering my emails and phone calls and the people at Twister seem entirely unconcerned by our predicament. It takes a lot to piss me off, and this transaction has left a sour taste in my mouth -- no one has apologized to us for the delay. Under normal circumstances I would demand my money back, but I really want the shelter because it's perfect for us in terms of size, construction, portability and price. Am I crazy for being so tolerant of this nonsense?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brain Gain

Most of my good friends are, like me, academically-inclined. Over the past several years many of these talented young Canadians have sought bigger and better opportunities at American schools, which often leads to interesting, prestigious and well-paid American jobs. I find this so-called brain drain very troubling for personal and patriotic reasons, so I am thrilled to report that the past month has been good for me and for Canada.

Roger (second-from-left) turned down a fascinating job with Google to live in his father's basement while he searchers for a condo and a niche for mathematical consulting in Vancouver. Cydney (second-from-right) extricated herself from the cutthroat world of genomics at MIT to pursue her interest in data visualization at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Center. Peter (far left) has switched from being the artificial intelligence lead at Rockstar Games in New England to an as-yet-undefined position at Rockstar in Vancouver. Russell will probably never come home, but three out of four ain't bad.

In celebration of this happy repatriation Cydney's mother Bev invited the gang to her lovely new home in Sechelt for a few days this week. David and I left Farcical Farm in the capable hands of Melissa while we spent some time in the lap of luxury. When luxury woke up it was dismayed to find rabble like us aboard, so we headed back to the old routine comfortable in the knowledge that some close friends are now close at hand.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ring Around the Raven

It feels like Christina Cline should have her own unit of time measurement. She has been coming to Farcical Farm every 4-5 weeks since Tonka arrived, and her visits always provide good insight into the progress of both horses. Today she pointed out the rings in Raven's hooves that mark her transition to barefootedness four months ago. They are already about 2/3 grown out, and you can see how much faster the hooves are growing now by comparing the texture of the horn above the rings to that below the rings. Unfortunately I have not been documenting Raven's improvement, but click on the following sequence (between shoes first pulled and four months) from this blog to see a reasonable facsimile.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It Takes Two to Tonka

When I ride Raven out alone she hardly notices the antics of the inconsolable Tonka. She might call to him once or twice on our way down the road, but she moves forward without a fuss. Horses that are severely barn/buddy sour scare the bejeezus out of me because they do crazy things without consideration for themselves or their riders. I bought Raven (whose now-ample rump is featured below) specifically because she is so relaxed and confident riding out alone, and I was prepared to manage her in trade for this important personality trait.

Raven, however, does not want to get left behind. She has us all convinced that taking Tonka out alone is good cause for histrionic suicide. The moment he leaves her 100ft comfort zone she becomes a screaming drama banshee (i.e. a typical thoroughbred), which makes it challenging for me to do anything with Tonka unless she's nearby.

Today we saddled both horses and David had a little lesson on Tonka while I kept Raven from being a total pest (and forgot to take pictures). Tonka was always intended to be David's horse, and I hope that I can teach David the basics of horsemanship without ruining him, Tonka or our relationship. Man and beast did well this afternoon, but I can see that David needs some lunging lessons to focus on his seat while ignoring his hands. These will have to happen on Raven because Tonka is still too sore to be moving in tight circles. Keep your fingers crossed for all of us!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tiny Vampires

Vampire folklore recommends using garlic to ward off the blood-sucking undead. This handy advice was likely derived from the fact that mosquitoes are repelled by the pungent herb. Several companies market a variety of garlic-based products for horses under the hypothesis that altering their body odor will reduce their appeal to biting insects. As with all such supplements, some horse-owners report near-miraculous results while others report nothing more than money wasted (and horses that smell like pizzerias).

Feeding garlic to horses is not risk-free. As a member of the allium genus (onion-type bulbs that produce those tasty sulfurous compounds) garlic has the potential to produce a low-level anemic response that can affect energy, stamina and immune function. With this in mind I have started giving Tonka and Raven a tablespoon of air-dried garlic flakes with their breakfast and dinner. Mosquitoes, gnats and flies are a fact of summer life in Deroche and the horses are likely to be stuck here with us for years to come. My plan is to re-evaluate the decision at the end of a one-month trial. Any real epidemiologist (what I claim to be at all the conferences) would have implemented a randomized controlled trial (by supplementing only one horse), but I deemed that option unethical in light of the potential benefits of treatment.