Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Lessons Begin!

Our spring lesson schedule began this past weekend (thus the rush to get the trenching filled, tack room organized, etc). We are listed in the Loveland Rec Center class guide, and had hoped that we'd fill several classes through them. Instead we ended up with a total of 2 from the rec center, 1 from fliers we distributed at christmas, 2 from personal reference from Ginger's daughter, and 3 returning students - over 2 kids classes and 1 adult class.

Saturday we finished putting the tack room together - nothing like being just in time, after all - and went out to bring all the horses into the barn. We haven't had all the horse in the barn a whole lot, so this always causes excitement. At least we had designated stalls for each horse and labeled them - so we can stop just throwing them anywhere. The consistency helps a lot with making them more comfortable. Anyways, our first 3 students arrived. They were kids between 8 and 12. And very excited to be starting riding lessons, looking at all the horses, and the horses were excited to be locked in their stalls... So - it felt pretty chaotic for awhile.

This was Chaco's first time in an indoor only stall, so he probably had the most reason to be nervous. He did fine - until Rio started kicking the heck out of his stall door. BAM BAM BAM! So then Chaco decided to give it a try. All while Ginger was trying to teach her kids how to groom and pay attention to their horses - we had these two makeing a heck of a racket in the barn. Dave and I had to stand guard with dressage whips to poke them when they kept kicking.
Finally we got the three of them tacked up and mounted. Jessica, Ginger's daughter, and I were walkers to stick with the horses just because these were beginner beginners. And, our horses haven't been doing the lesson thing much, so they were interested in moving out! But the lesson went great - the kids were absolutely thrilled. And the terrible twosome in the barn quieted down as well. As soon as the students were all gone we put the horses back out in pasture - a welcome relief.

Sunday we were set for an adult beginner class, and then a kids advanced beginner class immediately after. Since we only had 2 adult students, I invited a couple of my friends out to fill out the class so we had 5 riders. The plan was much like Saturday in that we'd bring the horses in 30 minutes before class and feed, then go from there. Well, trying to catch the horses at noon is nothing like catching them in the morning. We hadn't fed grain in the morning, but that didn't really mean they were all that convinved that grain at noon was the thing to do. We actually got them all in except for Shoshoni. While Ginger was getting things organized with her 5 riders Dave managed to trick Shoni into the welcome pen and then catch her.

We still need to put up more hitching posts, so trying to groom and tack up 5 horses at once was entertaining. And with beginners too - it still amuses me how much trouble I have in remembering what things about working with horses aren't just second nature. Most of it, actually. So we all end up chuckling alot as I assume people know what they are doing and they assume I'm trying to instruct them when I'm not. Ginger is the instructor, but Dave and I hang out to lend a hand.

The weather was threatening rain all day on Sunday, but fortunately held off until after our lessons. Never the less, chilly weather also tends to pep up the horses, so once again we were in the ring to help make sure all horses behaved themselves. They did fine. Not spectacularly, but fine. The students did great.

And the horses left in the barn were much quieter than the day before!

The next class are two kids who took lessons last fall, so they've graduated to Advanced Beginning. Ginger had things well under control so Dave and I took some time to hang with Brian, Andra and Lindy - a welcome change of pace.

The pic to the right was a different day -but Shadow is the ultimate Hanging Out type of horse!

Monday morning the farrier was coming out, so for breakfast Ginger and I brought them all in for a third day in a row - Shoni still needed extra encouragement, but the process was way improved from the other two times. We may get them all trained yet!

We didn't use Shadow in any of the lessons becuase his feet have been quite tender - even just walking around in pasture. It was good timing for the farrier to be out and she put shoes on him. Dave said the transformation was immediate! Even while getting one front shoe on he was squirming around on the other foot - but once his shoes were on he suddenly could just stand there with his weight evenly distributed. This was very welcome news. That night when we were feeding they were all down by the pond when we started calling them in. Shadow has always been more interested in feed than the others - course he has quite a bit a weight to put on. So he picked up and did a very active trot all the way across the pasture! we've never seen him move out like that before - he has a beautiful trot, and nary a tender step the whole way. He's turning out to be a real diamond in the rough.

I alluded in the previous entry that Rio hasn't quite been the star we'd expected him to be. He is pretty excitable - compared to how he acted at the sellers place. We first thought it was being moved to a new place, so gave him a week grace period. Then we rode him and he really wanted to run. So we removed him from all of his grain - he'd been getting just a token amount but we decided to stop it all together and gave him another week. Lindy did a great job riding him this weekend (see pic below), but she's a good rider and we gave her plenty of coaching to keep him calm. We're going to have to work a lot more with him before we can throw a beginner on him.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Birthday Tales Continued

Meanwhile, time is flying by! I guess I'll have to settle for the quicky versions, to catch up.
First, my birthday weekend was continued on Friday by getting our pasture shelters delivered and installed. This was quite the production! It was all made that much more exciting by the fact that our widest gate is about 12 ft - 1/2 inch wide. The shelters are 12 x 25 feet - we were rubbing on both sides at points. Second was the fact that the wind picked up fairly strongly after they arrived - and wouldn't you know it but it was blowing out of the South - just the right direction to grab the shelter's opening and push them around while the guys were attempting to unload them. We finally decided to anchor them with the trucks - until we could get them bolted to concrete footings.

Saturday we were trenching for the electric - still. We'd actually started this the prior weekend, by renting a walk behind trencher. We figured that this trench, being only 2 feet deep, ought to have been a cinch. No way - we are just cursed when it comes to trenching, and we ended up going back to our neighbor to borrow the bob cat again. So anyways, trenching continued but it was time to return the bob cat so we were all trying to get it done with any moments available (because we were also putting in concrete footings for the shelters). This trench had the added bonus of needing two sections of tunneling done - one under the concrete irrigation ditch to get to the telephone pole, and the other under the sidewalk to get into the small barn. New experiences. Dave was digging the tunnel into the barn and managed to have a salamander drop out of the hole - thank fully NOT onto his head!

The forecast was for snow that night, so we decided to move the three new horses into the barn. With the shelter in place we figured our four horses would be fine. Then came the blizzard of 2005. They actually were calling it that on the news - though that was a bit exagerated. Never the less, the wind was fierce and dropped probably 8 inches of snow though we only had 2 wind swept inches or 2 foot deep drifts. First thing Ginger went down to check on the pasture horses - and found that Jordan would condesend for only one other horse to share the shelter with at a time. So two were left huddled outside, but still within the wind break. She grabbed two of them and brought them in, and then she and I proceeded to try and catch Jordan and Shoni - without any luck. The shelter was so comfortable, however, we decided they'd be fine. I threw hay anyways, and everytime the wind died down a little bit we could see their heads sticking out around the wall. About mid day the wind died and they came out to eat.

Meanwhile, unfortunately the horses in the barn didn't fare too much better than those outside. We'd left the external doors open for their stalls, and all three of them had 3 inches of snow all the way across their stall. Poor Shadow was soaking wet and shivering like mad, so we move him and the sorrel to indoor stalls on the other end of the barn. The Mustang - recently named Chaco - still didn't like being in a stall much at all, so we moved him to an in/out stall on the other side. Then tackled clearing out those three stalls with snow shovels. At this point Dave showed up because we were having troubles with some of the auto-waterers. They are finicky things, and adjusting them was no picnic. But, they are now all working as well. We didn't get to go back to the house until about 11:00. We'd planned on organizing the tack room that day, but we were already over exposed with the cold and wet, so decided to delay that as well.

Just as I came home last Wednesday, Dave told me he'd made reservations at our local spa for me - on Friday afternoon. While that was incredibly thoughtful of him, Friday wasn't very good timing as we had the shelters being delivered. I ended up rescheduling for Tuesday afternoon, meaning I worked half day both Monday and Tuesday instead of taking Monday off. Monday afternoon we continued trenching, and then had our farrier out to see to the Gray, whose feet were in terrible condition.

Tuesday we built a bunch more saddle racks for the tack room - so that we now at least have a space for each of our own saddles (it was a bit surprising to pull them all out and count them - we have 8 western saddles and 6 english!). We'll have to build more for boarders, but for now we are so pleased just to not have to be stacking any saddles on top of each other! I should have a picture here... but don't. Check back and I'll update soon.

And THEN... finally I went to the spa - got a massage, manicure and facial! It was fantastic! It was spectacular! It was wonderful after many back breaking hours (weeks / months) at the ranch. (Thanks Honey!!)


Last week we got the underground inspection done on the electric lines - so we are about 75% done re-burying that trench! Ginger said it best - "Ooops, I just walked by the trench and accidentally kicked some dirt down into it,... AND I DON'T CARE!" We've had far too many weeks of trying to keep these darn things open and deep enough (the blizzard was absolutely no help in that). It was very therapeutic to be able to finally throw dirt back in. Well - for the first several hours at least.


Monday, April 25, 2005

The Tale of My Birthday

Since we got the ranch, I've known that I'm not really going to be using my vacation time as true vacations as much, so some time ago I resolved to take vacations to work at the ranch. Last week was my birthday, and also the near wrap up of my project, so I scheduled three days off. And how did I spend my 5 day Birthday vacation? Read on.

Oh - first thanks for all the birthday wishes you sent last week (ok, several weeks ago by now..). Many people mentioned they enjoyed reading the diary - it's great to get this feedback! A friend is helping me investigate a true blogging service - so maybe someday soon you'll be able to leave comments in response to entries... stay tuned.

We started off Thursday by driving down to Watkins to pick up the two new horses - the gray and the sorrel. Yeah - we were really inventive on the temporary names. The trip went very well, and other than getting used to (Dave) driving a trailer that is about 12 inches narrower than the lane, it posed no difficulties. The ponies loaded nicely, and unloaded even better. We walked them around a bit to have a look-see, and it wasn't too long before the three stooges came galloping up from the far end of the pasture. Ohh Boy! New friends / enemies! Even little mustang got into the welcoming act by running around the round pen. The pair were thrown into the welcome pen, and Jordan spent a good part of the rest of the day hanging his head over, squeeling, and generally keeping a close eye on the new comers. It was interesting to see that the sorrel - who is a good foot shorter if not more than Jordan - was right up there nose to nose. Gray, however, wasn't all that interested in conversing.

Both of these horses came off of 'slaughter lots'. While there are no equine slaughter houses in Colorado, there are lots that collect horses that are then shipped to Texas where the closest one is. In fact, I think there are only 2 left in the US. Canada has more. As they were gotten from a lot, very little is known about either them or their histories.

It is a tragic fact that lots of perfectly healthy and sound horses go to slaughter just because someone doesn't want to put the time and effort into finding a new owner. Story is that the sorrel's owner died and the family didn't know what else to do with him.
Squick alert - here's where I delve, albeit briefly, into the topic of equine slaughter. Skip the next paragraph if this bothers you.


Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to equine slaughter. There are horses who have lived up to their true usefulness, and for them I say it's kinder to end their life than let them degenerate out in pasture with little or no companionship. Why don't you just put them down then? Speaking as one who attended the carcass disposal seminar last summer - it isn't easy to deal with the remains of a horse. Most places you cannot bury it, cremation sometimes is an option - though often costing $1/pound (our horses range from 950 to 1350 pounds) and then you get to dispose of the 50 or so pounds of ashes. Because of mad cow disease and the resulting regulations that prohibit including animal protein in livestock feed - even the rendering plants are unable to make use of carcases like they once could. CSU's Veterinary Hospital has an interesting device called a digester... I'll just leave it at that. Slaughtering, whether for human consumption or pet food is a valuable outlet. The human consumption part actually does give me the willies, however probably not for the reason you think - horses are subjected to a lot of medications that are labeled "not for use in food animals", and I don't think we have enough (i.e. any) controls to track this. **


So anyways, there are quite a few rescues around that try and divert some of the healthy sound animals out of this path. Turns out that there are also a lot of individuals who rescue horses. Whether you call it rescuing or horse trading may be a matter of perspective, but it does keep some horses out of the killer's hands. Our two new horses are perfect examples of horses that have very long useful lives ahead of them.

We were initially sold on the sorrel - whom we've since named Rio. He's cute as a button - very typical arab build and physically in excellent shape with a beautiful auburn coat. Since he is smallish he'll be good for smaller students, and is very gentle on the ground. He rides very nicely too. He was pretty much a slam dunk for our program. (4/26: huum, not thinking so much any more... but more on that later)

Shadow is bigger, and better trained such that a true beginner may easily give him cues that they don't intend. But he is totaly a lap dog if you've ever seen one. Loves pats and people, and is as sweet as any horse we've met. We're banking on him adapting to being a lesson horse just fine, and if he has to be used only by our more experienced riders, then so be it.

Unfortunately, Shadow has had a worse time of it. The vet says he's probably only 12 years old, but he easily looks 25. He's underweight and many of the black markings on him are scars - not spots. I'm afraid he's had a hard short life. His feet were in particularly horrible shape - having had shoes left on him 6 months or more. Horses hooves, of course, continue to grow while steel shoes do not - making for a bad combination after even just a few months.

We had our farrier out on Monday. She said his soles are collapsed and may need shoes, but otherwise he looks and moves much better now. We're going to give him a few weeks barefoot before reevaluating. The vet was out Tuesday, and gave all three of the newbys a once over. He said he didn't see anything obviously concerning.

The pair stayed in the welcome pen until Tuesday, when they got turned out to the north pasture, while mustang, recently named Chaco (I'm-not so secretly-calling him Chakotay) was moved into the welcome pen. This weekend we'll experiment mixing herd groups. Slowly. Because, like the other day when I turned them out with our herd it wasn't so successful. Fortunately after about 10 minutes of chasing and terrorizing gray and sorrel, our herd retreated to the pond AND the new guys stuck around us so we could easily remove them again. So tomorrow we'll take it a little slower.


** It very much saddens us to report that our neighbor's horse had an accident late last week and didn't survive. It was so surreal, after having written this entry to suddenly be faced with having to vicariously actually make this decision. Booger had been the family's only horse for many years, and they burried him in the corner of the pasture where he spent most of his time. Dave helped. I called the county and got the low down on burial restrictions - turns out there are very few in Weld County, but this has certainly spurred some discussion amongst the three of us as we don't want to be caught evaluating options should the same happen to us.


I met Tyler Hamilton!

So, not sure why it's so exciting to be able to say that, but I figure you gotta get excited about life every once in a while.

This weekend was the annual fundraiser for the Boulder Valley Humane Society - it is a huge silent auction and live auction that seriously puts every other event we've been to to shame. I know they raised over $80K just in the asking for cash donations part at the end of the live auction - all told they must bring in a few hundred K. In anycase Tyler Hamilton donated a training ride and breakfast with him, so he was in attendance.

Tyler is, if you don't know, a world class cyclist - ridden in the Tour de France 8(??) times and won a gold medal at Athens last year. Two years ago he fell and broke his collar bone on one of the first days of the Tour - and not only completed the 21 day race but actually placed very high (top 10 individuals I think?) It was that performance that caused me to first pay attention to who he was.

In any case he is a Boulderite and lives and trains here much of the year, but we've never run across him before. FINALLY a moment came when he didn't have anyone else fawning over him - so I stepped up to fill in the lull. We met his wife and found them both charming (not to mention gracious enought to spend time talking to all the strangers who approached out of nowhere). He has been active supporting the National MS Society the past few years, so I thanked him for his support, telling him that we'll be riding the MS150 for the 10th time this year. Turned out to be a handy conversation topic, because really, what else could I say but 'I've seen you ride your bike on TV!'


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

He's Home!

And WAY too cute!


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Herd Grows

Did we get a new horse over the weekend? No... we got three. First, Ginger agreed to write an entry describing her and David's trip down to see the mustang:

It turns out, we wouldn't need to haul the trailer all the way down to Cañon City, after all. We called and they said they could do the free delivery of the horse the following Tuesday. So, Friday morning bright (NOT!) and early Dave & I left at 5:30AM to go check out "BamBam" to see if, indeed, he would be a fit for our program. I had spoken to the 3 people at the Wild Horse Inmate Program who knew the horse best: Guy, the Rider/Trainer who supervises the Inmate Rider/Trainers (that's him riding BamBam in the photos); Fran, the guy who oversees the entire training program; and Lona, the administrator who keeps tabs on all. They were all very high on him and his ability and personality/temperament to be suitable for kids and other beginners, as well as more advanced riders. In fact, Lona told me that BamBam already had a list of 5 people (in less than a day after I'd the hold put on him) on a "waiting list." Every one of them were hoping we would "pass" on this horse and not adopt him. They were asking Lona if she thought we would adopt him, and she said she told them, "I think so; he is just what they are looking for." So, we made the trip with cautious optimism.

Upon arriving in Cañon City, we were checked in several times and warned about not bringing anything in with us (except ID and Credit Card, of course) including cameras, so sorry, no pictures. We then got on a van that took us into the prison and the Wild Horse Training Facility there. BamBam (yes, he will have a new name soon) was already out and watching all the proceedings with calm curiosity. We were able to go talk to him and he was extremely friendly, with BIG brown eyes looking so sweet. He was the first Mustang shown and Guy rode him around on the course they have there. He did very well, without a sign of any fear or concern with all the new people around. Then, we left that area so they could show the other horses. We were taken to a small round pen where Guy showed us how BamBam did so well on his round pen ground work. Then, we were given the opportunity to ride. I got up first and "our" little Mustang was very willing and responsive. He stood calmly for mounting. His trot was smooth and easily rated. I asked Guy if it was really OK to lope him in such a small enclosed space. He said sure, he could do it. So, I loped him around the little round pen and he did great. He backed smoothly and easily. He did everything asked with willingness and good attitude. Then Dave got up and had the same experience (except Dave didn't want to lope in such a small space).

It was a "done deal" by that point. Dave & I both loved him. Now it was just the paperwork, delivery scheduling, and payment process. During this procedure we were asked if we had any questions. Dave just commented on how calm the horse was and how he hadn't even paid any attention to the Bobcat that was in the area while he was being shown. Brian, the paperwork guy, said, "Really? A bobcat??!! We've had bears around, but I haven't seen a bobcat!" Dave explained he meant the mechanical kind of Bobcat that does grounds work. Oh.

When our Mustang arrives at our place, we plan to ease him in gently to his new living conditions, because we don't want him frightened by a new situation that is quite different from the only place he probably has memory of. He was rounded up as a youngster and has been the property of the BLM at Cañon City since August of 2003. We so look forward to giving this cute little dun Mustang a good home where he will be loved on, big time, by children and adults alike!


Meanwhile it's now Wednesday, but he wasn't delivered yesterday because something delayed that. I didn't get a chance to talk to David last night (we had our first good day in Albuquerque in over a week yesterday!) but he expected him to arrive today or tomorrow!

The other two horses we called on out of the paper. The woman does her own rescue by touring slaughter lots and bringing home horses she believes still have viable lives left in them. Wow - do they ever. In the next entry I'll introduce this pair.