Friday, November 13, 2015

A Horse is a Horse--of Course!

"Horses are born. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to find new and interesting ways in which to commit suicide."  --Professor of Veterinary Medicine

As any horse owner will tell you, horses have an uncanny ability to injure themselves.  You can take every single precaution and a horse will come in from the pasture with a gash on a leg or a swollen eye.

And so it was that I opened the barn door on a Saturday morning expecting to see the usual empty barn aisle.  Instead I was staring directly at Queenie’s big behind. 

She had managed to get out of her stall and wreak havoc in the barn in her search for all things edible.

Okay, the feed area didn’t look quite this bad but Queenie had managed to knock everything off the shelves, took the lids off all of the feed cans, threw two bales of hay around (they were still tied or I’m sure she would have eaten both) and uncovered a bowl of soaking beet pulp (she ate part of it). 

Given how food-focused Queenie is, she must have felt like she was in heaven. But I knew that the consequences of her gluttonous behavior could be hellish.  Depending on how much she ate, she was at high risk for founder and colic.

So there I was at 8:00 on a Saturday morning calling the vet.  I was terrified for my horse but I could also see $$$$$$!  A weekend emergency barn call, treatment, medication—yep, it was going to be a big bill.

Dr. H (I’m so lucky to have such an amazing vet) arrived within 30 minutes.  While I was waiting for her, I was trying to assess the damage—how much feed did Queenie actually eat?  It was clear that she wasn’t interested in the dry beet pulp.  And she passed on her ration balancer feed (BORING!!).

Ace and Newton get the “good stuff.”  Their senior feed is higher fat and formulated for “increased palitability.  Well, Queenie certainly agrees that it’s tasty.  I store the feed in a large Rubbermaid trash can with locking handles.  Sure enough, she got the lid off and delved into the feed. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember when I had last filled it.  I knew I had put in 100 pounds but was it two weeks before?  In that case, she likely would only have eaten 10 pounds or so.  But if I had filled it only the week before, Queenie might have eaten 20 pounds or more.

There was simply no choice.  Dr. H was going to have to tube Queenie with a large dose of mineral oil to encourage rapid departure of the offending feed. 

This isn’t Queenie in the photo because frankly, I was too upset and busy to take photos.  But the tubing process is the same. 

The first step was to get Queenie to relax.  Dr. H tried twitching Queenie like the horse in this photo.  For the non-horsey folk, a twitch is a simple device used to relax a horse (though it really looks like a medieval torture device).  The twitch is a soft piece of cord attached to a handle or two metal tubes that squeeze together.  The rope or metal tubes are placed on the horse’s nose and twisted.  

Believe it or not, twitching calms the horse by releasing endorphins as pressure is applied on the twitch. 

Except Queenie.

She apparently is among the 10% of horses that don’t respond to twitching.  So Dr. H sedated Queenie and placed the tube down her throat and into her stomach.  Horses can’t vomit so we needed to get the feed to exit the other end as quickly as possible. 

Dr. H. added a liter of mineral oil to a bucket of water and used the nasogastric tube to send the contents of the bucket into Queenie’s stomach.  The mineral oil isn’t digested but travels through the stomach and intestines and eventually finds its way out the rear, along with all that high fat, high sugar feed. 

The biggest risk from Queenie’s dining adventure was laminitis.  Again for those readers who don’t know much about horses, laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues (laminae) that bond the hoof wall to the coffin bone in the horse’s hoof.  There’s a lot of science as to why grain overload can cause laminitis—too much to go into here.  (Which is another way of saying that science was never my strong suit and I don’t really understand all that biological stuff).

Dr. H said that icing Queenie’s feet for three days after her culinary escapade was the best way to prevent laminitis.  So I got out the two soaking boots and put them on her front hooves.  I kept Queenie in her stall for three days and ran back and forth from the house to the barn often bringing ice to make sure her feet stayed as cold as possible.  

And don’t worry.  Horses can’t get frostbite in their feet.  The hard hoof capsule has insulating properties.

It worked.  Queenie came through the whole (expensive) episode with no ill effects.  Whew!
Lesson learned.  I now check that all of the can lids after every feeding to make sure they are on securely so the horses can’t get into the feed.  I double and triple check the stall guards to make sure that I latched them.  As extra insurance against Queenie’s obsession with food, I hook the stall guard AND close her stall door.  

 Okay, all is right in the barn.  Or so I thought. 

A week after her eating binge, I was tacking Queenie up in the barn aisle.  While I went to get her saddle, she reached over and grabbed the handle of the large Rubbermaid feed can and pulled down on it.  Left on her own, I have no doubt that she would have had the lid off and her face in the can in less than a minute.

And that’s another thing about horses.  They will figure out anything that benefits them in no time.  But try to teach a horse what you want them to learn and they seem to say, “What was that?  I don't get it.  I don’t understand what you want.” 

Queenie figured out how to get into the feed can after one try.  But it took me weeks to teach her to stand at the mounting block (or at least it took that long for Queenie to finally give in and start doing what I was asking). 

And that reminds me of another story about Queenie.  The command for Queenie to stand next to the mounting block so I can get on is, "line up."  She does it correctly on the first try about 8 out of 10 times.  

Because I have a bad back, I also dismount on the mounting block.  It's also easier on the horses back.  I use the same command, "line up."  Queenie ALWAYS walks up and stands perfectly still next to the mounting block so I can get out of the saddle.   In other words, she never misses the opportunity to get me off her back!!

Yes, a horse is a horse--of course.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bees! Run!

It had already been an interesting ride before I heard those fateful words.

I joined seven people from the Central Maryland Saddle Club for a ride at Morgan Run Park in Carroll County.   It was hot (90+ degrees) but it felt at least 10 degrees cooler in the heavily forested parts of the trail.  I was looking forward to a quiet ride and the chance to meet new people.
The park has 5.7 miles of trails--about a two-hour ride. 

For the first half of the ride, Queenie was ahead of her "boyfriend" Ace.  He is boarded on my farm and Laury, his owner and I ride together quite often in the park behind my farm.  Ace and Queenie are very attached to each other.  

So attached apparently that when another horse got behind Queenie and separated her from Ace, she started to buck.  I was not prepared because I hadn't realized that Blondie (an appropriately named Palomino) had moved in behind Queenie.  She did two pretty good bucks but I managed to stay in the saddle. 

I doubt Queenie bucked this high but it sure felt like it and I definitely did not have this rider's excellent form.

The first buck pitched me forward and I felt the saddle horn hit my stomach.  Once again, I was thankful that I was wearing my riding vest. 

a "crash vest" protects your internal organs, ribs and spine, prevents
or lessens injuries from the impact of a fall.

One of Queenie's greatest qualities is that she can get very upset and then calm down as if nothing happened. After my heart stopped feeling like it was going to pound right out of my chest, Queenie resumed her slow and steady walk (with Ace behind her) and I enjoyed the beautiful woods and interesting sights along the trails.  

There are a few structures remaining from a farm that was on the property before it became a park.

Abandoned farm buildings along the trail
An old corn crib (though it reminds me of a giant bird cage)
A block outhouse (supposedly)

Now to the more (most) exciting part of the ride.  

We reached a lovely stream and the horses splashed through, enjoying the cool water.  Queenie and I didn't linger in the water since she surprised me once by lying down in a creek (check out the story here).  

After the stream crossing, the trail narrowed to single file.  Once again, Ace fell in behind Queenie and there were two horses ahead of her.  We were in the woods and passed some logs.  The horse ahead of me stopped and put her head down to scratch her front leg.  I heard her rider wonder aloud what was bothering her.  At that same moment, Queenie began shaking, jigging and biting herself.  

Suddenly Laury yelled, "Bees!  Run!"  Luckily, I have heard enough stories about bee attacks that I knew the best response to a swarm of ground bees is to get the hell out of Dodge!  Ground bees apparently do not travel far from their nests so you can outrun them.    

I didn't need to hear Laury's warning more than once.  The horses ahead of me moved out quickly and Queenie and I didn't waste a second!  My old girl can really move when ground bees are repeatedly stinging her.  

And what a ride!!!  Queenie was shaking her head while she was racing along the trail and she would periodically do what we refer to as the "wet dog shake."  It's hard to stay on when a horse is standing still and does that shake.  At Queenie's rapid pace, it made me feel like I was going through the spin cycle!

I am quite certain that in the one minute (seemed like ten) hellish ride, I forgot every single thing that my trainer ever taught me (sorry, Bob).  My arms and legs were undoubtedly going in any and all directions as we followed the winding trail.  

Maybe I could just say that I was practicing my trick riding

Oh well, our escape didn't have to be pretty; we just had to get away from those really mad bees.

The good news is that I again managed to stay in the saddle.  

Before the next ride though, I'm buying an industrial-sized bottle of Gorilla Glue and applying it liberally to my saddle.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Days of Their Lives: A Case of Unrequited Love

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Their Lives........**

He saw her across the large expanse of grass and his old heart skipped a beat.  At his age, he had long abandoned thoughts of love.  For more than a decade, he had spent his time with his best friend.  They had been through everything together and his buddy had been his constant support during his recent surgery and treatment for cancer in a most uncomfortable area.

Moving to a new abode meant a much smaller place with fewer residents.  As they were settling in, he got close to her for the first time. The sun was shining on her copper hair and he couldn't help but notice her large brown eyes with long golden lashes.  He watched her walk away with her friend.  He tried to catch her eye again but she was busy eating.

He turned to his buddy and said, "Oh, I am in love.  It's been a long time but I'm pretty sure I remember what loves feels like." 

"Let's go meet them," he said.  

It wasn't the warm greeting he had hoped for.  Instead she glared at him and made it VERY clear that she wanted NOTHING to do with him.   She clearly preferred to spend her time with her friend and was not in the mood for the affections of a senior citizen. (Truth be told, she's only five years younger).

In the days that followed, when he had a chance to be near her, he would tell her (loudly) that he
found her enchanting.  She would listen for a minute and then give him the big brush off.  "Leave me alone old man," she stated in no uncertain terms, often following her feelings with a teeth-baring sneer.  Her friend echoed the sentiment, "Buzz off, you old geezer."

Every morning when the four met for breakfast, he would speak to her.  "You're beautiful.  I want to see you and be near you."  She would glare at him or do the teeth thing. Sometimes she would even turn around and say, "The only thing you'll be seeing is my backside as my friend and I walk away."   

So many times a day he made sure to position himself so he could spot her at a distance and call, "Yoohoo.  I'm here and I love you.  Won't you come closer so we can get to know one another better?" If she did come near, he would scream in delight.  The result was often a very short meeting as she gave him a disgusted look and forced her friend to move quickly away from the overzealous suitor. 

One day she and her friend went out for a walk in the woods.  He screamed and screamed and screamed, "NO, DON'T LEAVE ME."  His buddy calmly stated, "Get a grip, man.  You know when they go out dressed up that they always come back."  Completely love stricken, when he saw her returning less than an hour later, he let the world know (or at least the next farm) how excited and happy he was.

"See," his friend said.  "I did learn a few things in 29 years on this earth. And you're 25 years old.  Stop acting like you're young again."  

As the days went by, the girls' anger at the new residents began to subside. The ladies and gentlemen now peacefully share the food and drink.  But it's still no love fest.

So join us again tomorrow for another episode of "Days of Their Lives" when Ace finally stops making stallion sounds at Queenie and she quits turning and backing up to give him a good swift kick.  And we'll see Queenie continue to relish her new-found role in the herd--Protectress of Deja. That's in sharp contrast to her previous status as the lowest member of the herd. The boys will continue to stick their heads in Deja's stall so they can see what's going on. 

And Newton will continue to stay out of the fracas by putting his head down and gobbling up the nice sweet grass. 


 Newton, 29-year old Quarter horse

 Queenie, 20-year Tennessee Walker

 Ace, 25-year old Quarter horse

Deja, 13-year old Arabian

**If you're not a soap opera fan, you may not be familiar with Days of Our Lives.  The show began in 1965 and is one of the few soap operas still on the air.  Almost unmodified since the show's debut in 1965, the title sequence of Days of Our Lives features  sand falling in an hourglass as well as the trademark voiceover, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives."


Friday, April 10, 2015

"The Farm Keeps Coughing Things Up"

The title is a quote from Saiph who made that brilliant observation after we uncovered yet another "treasure" while working on the farm.  It often feels I'm embarking on an archeological dig when I  clean out garden beds, muck fields, or clear areas with the tractor.  Some of the found items are useful while others are down right strange.  Here's what I have discovered since October:

Saiph and I stumbled upon this in the back pasture after the snow had melted.  At first it looked like the toe of a sock sticking up out of the ground.  I turned to Saiph and said, "I hope there is not a body attached to that."  It's really a faded, incredibly dirty knit headband.  File this item in the "useless" category.

After the winter's freezing and thawing, these two tennis balls came peaking up out of the ground in the backyard.  They undoubtedly hold the memories of hours of fun with the previous owner's Golden Retriever. Kayla (at 5 pounds) and Penny (13 years old) are really not interested in playing so I'll call these "useless." 

This dog toy turned up when I was cleaning out the garden area around the wellhead.  Obviously, the  Golden Retriever loved a good game of fetch.  Finding all the toys made me think of my late Golden Retriever, Chessie.  She was so obsessed with catching tennis balls that she would pull green tomatoes off the plants.  We didn't get to eat many vine-ripened tomatoes but we knew that Chessie  thought we were great dog parents since we grew tennis ball bushes for her!  

This cross says "Miss Giget  July 9, 1979- March 8, 1993."  I assume "Miss Giget" was a dog buried by the previous owner in the wooded area on the edge of the back pasture.  I found the rather hefty grave marker under a pile of leaves while I was cleaning out that area.  Now you would think this remembrance of Miss Giget would be useless but I found it helpful in weighting down the tarps that covered the round bale over the winter.  I  hope that isn't being too disrespectful of the late Miss Giget.

I asked the neighbor if she knew anything about Miss Giget and she looked puzzled and said she had no idea if, in fact, Giget was even a dog (maybe a cat, horse?) .  She did mention that another former owner of my farm raised Great Pyrenees.   

When I uncovered this bone under the raspberry bushes, I was certain that I had stumbled on a undiscovered dinosaur--equinefarmasaurus--that would make me rich and famous.  No such luck.  We thought at first it was from a cow but now I'm thinking of poor Miss Gigit.  I imagine the previous owner's Golden Retriever happily discovering this Great Pyrenees bone when digging near the grave marker!  Cow or dog, I filed this one under "strange and useless."

At last!  An item with a definite purpose.  We uncovered these scissors while we were digging to create an area to bathe the horses outside the barn (no room for a wash stall in the barn).  We use them now to cut open feed and sawdust bags.  

Weeding around the side of the barn yielded this riding crop.  I don't use a crop when I ride but we put it in the barn anyway.  At least it isn't something that ended up in the trash.

I was clearing the lawn around the barn with the tractor to create a sitting area for the boarders when I uncovered these reading glasses. I suppose they would be useful if I had only one eye and one ear. 

This pad emerged from one of the (messy) garden areas in the backyard.  I'm assuming it was used to make kneeling while planting or weeding more comfortable.  I'll probably try to see if it helps on those days when the garden is really muddy. 

Since I've been a farmer for just over six months, I confess that I didn't know the purpose of this particular item so I consulted a friend with a lifetime of farm experience.  It's a drawbar and is used to attach various implements to a tractor, such as a drag harrow.  

Here's what one (newer and cleaner) looks like when attached to a tractor. 

I attach my drag at a single point on my tractor so it hooks up something like this but there may come a day when the drawbar will be useful! 

I am excited to keep digging around the farm in the hopes that one day I will come across one of these:

 But I'm enough of a realist to accept that I'll probably only find more of Miss Gigit. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Memo from the Weather Gods

To:  Kathy Lipton, Copper Penny Farm

From:  The Weather Gods

Re:  So You Dreamed of Owning a Farm

Congratulations!  You have been selected to participate in our "Test Your Mettle Challenge."  As you have already discovered, this challenge is not for the faint of heart.  Since you purchased your farm in September, we've sent our best (worst for you) weather to test if, in fact, you can withstand the more difficult parts of operating a farm.

We gave you perfect weather for your first weeks of farm ownership--the sunny days and warm temperatures that are characteristic of late September and early October in Maryland.  Wasn't it great to be able to clean out the barn and do other chores without having to worry about adverse weather conditions?  

Dry fields meant you could drag full muck buckets across the back pasture to the compost area, ride the horses in the pastures and enjoy watching the horses as they settled in.

So in October, we decided to increase the challenge a bit by dumping 3.5 inches of rain on your farm, including 1.5 inches in a two-day period.  Those beautiful pastures that you thought were so ideal suddenly had muddy areas at the gates to each pasture. We cranked up the wind machine too.  There were 17 days with winds exceeding 20 miles per hour.  Six of those days had winds in excess of 30 miles per hour.

The rain gods sent forth nine days of rain in November, totaling another 3.5 inches of rain.  You started studying the lay of the land to see how and where the pastures sloped so that you could address the mud problems.  You ordered a ton of gravel and a ton of sand to help fill in and drain areas.  You wanted to also get fill dirt but--ha ha--it was too wet to be delivered.  The new Deere tractor got a work out on the few sunny, dry days while you and Zoe spread the sand and gravel in the worst areas.

We couldn't resist sending a little preview of the winter to come--on November 26th about two  inches of snow fell.

Temperatures in December were above average but the month was another rainy one.  There were 13 days of rain totaling 3.6 inches.  By late December, there were areas of deep mud in some of the pastures. Many days were too wet and muddy to use the tractor to haul manure to the compost pile.  So you started an alternate poop pile (APP) near the barn so you didn't have to struggle with the muck buckets in the muddy back pasture.  The plan is to move the APP to the compost area when you finally get dry weather and fields--maybe sometime in June? 

Over and over again, the weather gods heard you say, "I love my farm" so we knew that we had to ratchet up the challenge.  We put our heads together and began planning a record-breaking winter.  Rain and/or snow fell 16 days in January and temperatures were below average for most of the month.  The cold often seemed far worse with so many windy days.  You learned that the actual temperature was often meaningless.  It's more important to focus on the "feels like" temperature so you know when and how to blanket the horses.

You grumbled (okay, bitched) about the weather and pasture conditions but we never once heard you say that you regretted purchasing your farm.  You guessed it, we cranked up the terrible weather even more in January.  Temperatures were below average and there were 16 days of precipitation totaling four inches for the month.

We pulled out all the stops in February with terms like "Polar Plunge,""Arctic Blast" and "Polar Vortex" often included in the weather forecasts.  As if the mud wasn't bad enough, in February you had to contend with days so cold that the mud froze solid with the depressions from the horses hooves looking like craters on the moon.  At times there were wind gusts in excess of 55 miles an hour.  Once again, it was nearly impossible to take the manure to the original compost pile so the APP began to grow and a second APP (APP2) was started closer to the barn when snow and ice made it impossible to get to the APP.

In late February, the snow gods sent the heaviest storm of the season--leaving a foot of snow on the farm.  Slight warming in the days that followed and frigid temperatures at night created conditions akin to a skating rink.  February 20th temperatures broke a 120-year old record of 5 degrees in Washington DC and you suffered below zero temperatures in your area.  Wind chills dipped temperatures below zero on a number of nights.  

Snowfall Totals December 1, 2014 through February 22, 2015

As February drew to a close, the weather gods heard you say, "well, the worst of winter is over now."  That statement made us laugh and challenged us to continue to torture---er, challenge you.  So March roared in with a day of snow, sleet and freezing rain that left a glistening coat of ice behind.  The only way to safely walk to the barn was to avoid the icy paths already cut through the snow.  Walking in the crunchy snow was the best way to stay upright.  


And we just couldn't stop there so on March 4, we threw in a combo--rain, sleet and snow.  Tee hee-- you are going to get up to 10 inches of snow on March 5.

Spring is just three weeks away.  Just wait until you see what we have planned for you.