Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Just like old times!

Anyone hear of the hurricane force winds we had last night? OMG, we heard them, alright. ALL NIGHT LONG. Shaking the house, and when my radio alarm went off this morning I couldn't really hear it over the racket the wind was making. I've seen reports of gusts recorded at 98 mph - within 10 miles of here.

I was so concerned all night about the horses who are currently shut up in their pen and without access to their shelter, that I forgot totally about my normal wind paranoia. (The horses were fine, by the way.)

Ah, but that came rushing back when the girls came running back into the kennel this morning after taking the dogs out. They seemed a bit flustered. "The fence is gone!" Whoops! Guess we shoulda looked over the dog fence before heading out. Fortunately they acted quickly enough to get all the dogs back into the un-compromised yards, and just like that all of our morning plans vanished in an instant. Dave and Ginger had the shift / day off respectively -- so I got out to survey the damage first.

One post was sheered off at the ground and the two sections on either side had gone flying. The other spot at the end was a severe post failure as well.

The errant fence sections -- after I'd dragged them back to the fence, mind you.

And, once again we were back to the good old days of fence building! Boy, we haven't done any of this for a very long time.

Snickers was our official hole-seeker.

Four hours, many braces and reinforcements later, it was looking darn good, I must say.

We're sad to say, however, that we clearly can no longer ignore the condition of that fence. Guess we have a new summer project on the books now.

But the really annoying and ironic part about the impropmtu dog-fence-repair job that we had to do, is that it pre-empted the horse-fence-repair job we had planned that morning! Grrrr. Yes, the north pasture horses have been in their pen for the last three nights because the perimeter fence was, well, dismantled. By our neighbor.

Backing up, Saturday Dave and I took off to see a movie. On the way out the door, we were stopping by the neighbors' to drop off our Xmas Cards. Dave told me that Tom had come by to get the scraper blade, as he was going to scrape the ice on the pond so that they could ice skate on it. I was astonished -- "he's going to drive the tractor on the ice?" Well they weren't home but later we got a call from Tom. Dave chortled. Seems Tom's tractor broke through the ice, and Tom was calling to let us know he had to go into our pasture to get it out. It was after the movie that we got the message that he'd not only been unsuccessful in getting the tractor out, but as he'd had to take the fence down, he corralled our horses up in their pen.

Okaaay, we said. We promptly donned our outter gear and flashlights when we got home to survey just how he could take our electric fence down without cutting it. Amazingly enough, he'd broken through the ice right near a 20 foot section of the fence that is really just a patch between two major sections. So actually he COULD dismantle the fence without really doing anything to the fence. Yet that was still a 20 foot section that was open air, adjacent to the pond that we didn't want the horses any where near.

We were looking forward to getting down there with a camera to watch his efforts to get his tractor out -- which by the time we saw it was an exaust pipe, half a steering wheel and the top of the drivers seat above icy water. Alas, we didn't get any documentation. But we did witness from afar the tractor being loaded onto a trailer and taken away to be drained and dried out.

Our neighbor. :-D He reminds us that blown over fences maybe aren't really that big of a deal.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dirty Dogs, Done Dirt Cheap

Just a personal joke there. I've always thought a dog wash should name itself this. (Little homage to AC-DC) Anyways, I guess here's my chance - for as of yesterday, technically, we can offer dog washes in the kennel!

Let me back up -- Dave, Ginger and I attended a seminar a couple of weeks ago about how to increase your kennel revenue, without expanding your capacity. They were all about selling the extra services; catering to the "Nothing is too good for my baby" clientel. OK, sounds good, but the challenge is that for the most part kennels in this region don't do the a-la carte menu but rather offer everything included. That's us all the way - nice and simple. Bring your dog for boarding, they get what all dogs get and there is one price to worry about.

The problem with this business model are several. Primarily the only way to get more revenue is to get more dogs. Well, undoubtedly that is a task we have to focus on anyways - year round we could take more dogs and thereby be able to provide more staff, more flexibility with drop off times, etc. But also we notice a number of folks calling around for prices during the holidays, and basically walk away as soon as they hear our rates. So, if we could hook some new customers with a lower base rate, and then talk them up into add on services which we thing are really basic, then aparently the industry research says this is a win-win: The kennel gets the revenue and the customer feels they've gone the extra mile to provide a good stay for their pet.

*pause to roll eyes*

We just aren't into these marketing tricks. We want to offer a great service and find the customers that value it just as much as we do. Not play all these psychological games. However - we aren't really in a position at the moment to not do everything we can to bring in that extra dollar. So it's high time we start thinking abot doing something different.

We've always planned to have grooming services eventually. See, on occasion our dogs are in need of a cleanup.

Especially when they do this:

And then this:

Sometimes they end up looking like this:

Now isn't that just the dog you want to put in your car to take home? No? What's wrong with you?

We just needed the impetetus to do something about the grooming situation. Well, we're MOTIVATED. And we figured this was some of the easiest services to add on to what we currently offer. We thought we'd have to buy some pretty hefty equipment (wash tub, dryer, grooming table) and then also find a groomer to subcontract to. I'm not sure now what the arguments were for subcontracting with a groomer was... but we decided that since we're going to start with just the bare bones dog washes (no hair trimming or nail painting at this ranch, thank you very much) that we could do it with our existing staff. Then Dave reminded us that he'd saved the bathtub when we replaced the tub at the condo. So.... few hours emptying out the Storage/Groom room, another few hours to hook up the tub drain, set up the grooming table a friend left us when they moved away, and and voila, we have a bare bones groom room! *not kicking ourselves for not having done this a year ago!*

To be fair, I better wait to see how things go with our first bathing customers before proclaiming it a huge success. I can just imagine the Golden Retriever that takes an hour to wash, the customer arriving to pick him up while he's still sudsy... OK, I gotta stop this line of thinking. I'm pretty sure the disasters-that-make-good-stories that do occur won't be anything we'd anticipated!

(Coming home last night I heard the first 5 customers we told about the dog washes signed up for them!)

So the million dollar question is: Have I made up 'Done Dirt Cheap' signs and plastered them all over the kennel office? Um - no.

HA, maybe it sounds more clever than it really is. ;-D


Thursday, December 18, 2008

So that's FOB

Just about a year ago we joined up with our neices, Kelsey and Sara, to see Fall Out Boy in concert. See them we did. Hear them -- not so much. (grrr) The acoustics in the venue were so poor we will never see another concert in a stadium that holds thousands of people.

So when we heard FOB was coming to town again our ears were cautiously pricked. When we heard they were coming to play in a 1400 person theater? OMG we jumped on those tickets.

And then we heard one of the warm up bands was Meese - a local Denver band that we're fans of and we got more excited for the show. It took several weeks before they lined up / announced the second band on the ticket... and when that turned out to be The Academy Is... we just couldn't have been more excited. Three bands we totally wanted to see!

And then we heard the parade of lights was the same night... things nearly came crashing down. But then we figured that we typically make it to concerts too early and end up getting borred waiting around anyways - so we'd go down after the parade. In the end it worked really well, we still got to see the 2 most popular songs from Meese, and then all of TAI and FOB.

FOB just blew us away. Such a completely different show than the first time. We had a fantastic time.

The guys have choreographed light-up guitars they use for "I Don't Care". Was way cooler than the picture suggests, tho. ;-D


Monday, December 15, 2008

Lite em up!

It's time for those night-time Parade of Lights again, and after taking a few year hiatus from them we decided to join in the fray again this year. Fortunately it wasn't horribly cold, but as is typical the day Dave was set to build the framework for the float was notably cold and snowy. Ah well. He and Parker put together the frame inside the horse barn so it wasn't terribly uncomfortable.

That is, until Saturday when we went to decorate it, and found out that the nifty plan to lower the frame in order to get it out of the barn... somehow wasn't going to quite work. Boo. So that took us a lot of wrestling, just in time modifications, and no little bit of swearing to get it outside. But once done, with the help of some of our parents we put together a pretty nice float in very little time. (The key I have to remind myself is that for a night-time parade, how the float looks in the daylight matters relatively little. Whew!)

The second key I have to remember for next year is that delicate things like crate paper can't survive even the 4 mile drive to the parade. LOL. Next time we'll do more decorating down at the starting line!

Meanwhile Ginger and some of her riders were getting Romeo and Shadow ready to go downtown to do pony rides before the parade. They aparently were very popular! The float wasn't ready yet so they went and we followed later.

Thankfully, like I said, it wasn't horribly cold and in the end we didn't have much time to sit and wait for the parade to start. Never the less, it's good that this parade is only about 5 blocks long (as opposed to the summer parade which went on for miles it seemed!!). There are restrictions on being able to throw candy from a float anymore -- anything you distribute you have to hand to people. So we decided to hand out gift certificates to everyone who said they had dogs. Seems like we talked to dozens of folks -- so hopefully this made for a good marketing opportunity.

The horses were following the float, and decided that taking bites out of the hay bales ringing the trailer was a fun and entertaining thing to do. It made the crowd laugh too - so we let them keep doing that. But when one of them pulled the hay bale clear off the trailer that really wasn't nearly so amusing. To us. Both Ginger and I had things in our hands. I can lift a bale one handed -- but I certainly can't chase down a moving trailer with it! So Ginger had to come take a hand and we finally manged to catch up to throw it back on. *headsmack*

Unfortunately we had a schedule crunch getting out of there because Dave and I had previously bought concert tickets down in Denver that evening. So we quick loaded up the horses and drove both truck/trailer sets home. We were pushing it, but in the end we got everyone home in a timely manner and we made the concert in good time (more on the show in the next post.)


Friday, December 05, 2008

Three strikes... And it's a SCORE!

Deotrich, our barrony's resident armoring guy, happens to be a metal worker and has a fully equipped metal working shop at home. So he regularly hosts armoring sessions, for folks to get together and work on their armor.

For the past few months, they've shifted focus a bit in that the group decided to fabricate some kits, from which introductory armor could be fashioned for purchase by people wanting to try out armored fighting. So they have been inviting people to come and work on the kits rather than their own armor. Sounded to me like a great way to get into the process, get hands on some armor, meet people, etc. So I've been keen to help out.

Unfortunately, the fates haven't really allowed that to happen. Early in November was the first time we'd signed up to go - but I came down with something and did not feel fit to leave the bed, much less be sociable. Dave actually attended without me, but by the time he got there they were pretty much under way. The second time we were going up was an evening after work. What with me getting home from Boulder, and Dave finishing up in the kennel - we called them to see if it would be fruitful for us to come, and they decided by the time we could get there they would be ready to shut down. So last night I was determined to go!

We had our first real snow storm of the year roll in Wednesday night. (Yes -- December is INCREDIBLY late for us to be getting our first measurable snow.) We only got a few inches, but we had heard a lot about the roads being really bad all day. But we drive a Subaru. 'Nuf said.

Except, we forgot that not everyone is so equipped nor so experienced with Colorado winter driving. So we arrived... to find out the session had been cancelled! LOL! I'm doomed, I tell you. Someone really doesn't want me working on armor kits.

But -- turns out that was ideal. Because of course I'd taken my helm and instead of slogging through stuff to go into someone else's armor -- I got Deotrich's full attention as we set about customizing my own. Woot!

First off we discussed how I'd shoved that riding helmet up into the helm. He looked up the requirements for equestrian armor, and determined that using the straps on the riding helmet wouldn't suffice -- because they aren't physically attached to the helm. But the way it conforms the helm to my head really did work very well to prevent either the helm from shifting to hit my face, or twisting to the side blinding me. In fact, he thinks it works well enough that no additional padding is necessary (around the back of the skull) -- which is nice so that I can keep as much air circulation in there as possible. One possible draw back to the riding helmet foam is that of course it is very rigid. Meaning that it won't offer compressible type protection against repeated blows to the head -- as one might be subjected to in sword fighting. Well -- time will tell just how aggressive the others in my group get and whether that's an issue or not. Not to mention whether I'll keep competing if that becomes an issue.

Deotrich did suggest that we could flare out the bottom rim of the back of the helm. I had already noticed that in looking up it tended to dig into my neck. Now, first off he thought we'd probably wear a gorget - a neck piece of armor, so that the helm couldn't bottom out on your body, but by flaring out what was a blunt edge seemed like a good idea. So, set up on one of his anvils Dave and I banged out the bottom rim. Totally -- I didn't expect to be able to do it in a million years, but it really wasn't that hard.

The next step was to add a chin strap. We discussed riveting a strap into the helm, but that really makes the helm custom for one person only. So we opted for cutting slots in the side of the helm to run a buckle-able chin strap through it. This way it will be possible for Dave to get his own padding set up and we can just swap that out to share the helm.

Cutting the slots, now, was an adventure. The slots are to be positioned where your jaw hinges, and that spot happens to be a double layer of steel in this helm. Though we have some metal cutting bits and blades, I was very glad we opted to do these cuts in his shop. It was quite a struggle. I pretty quickly turned over Holding-The-Helm duties to Dave because it was just hard.

We cut leather straps, and fashioned a chin bracket... for lack of me knowing the correct term. And -- we headed home with quite the list of steps yet to take. Many of the factory cuts were pretty rough, and slots we put in are still very rough, so we need to do some de-burring. Then spray the inside with a steel primer, to prevent rust. Sew the buckle on and finish the chin strap.

And then... decide what to do with the outside! Decorate it? Paint it? Painting, he said, typically requires a lot of upkeep as it gets scuffed and dinged. Yet protects against rust. Huum. Not sure yet.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Helm is HERE!

The folks from whom I ordered my jousting helm said that it would ship in 4-5 weeks... 10 weeks to the day, I received it. Huurm. The good news is that that day was Monday of this week, Dec 1. Woot!

My first reaction was -- holy heck, this thing is HEAVY. They are listed at 8 pounds. And that is with 16 gauge steel. In fact, the equestrians are only required to have helmets of 18 gauge -- however this particular manufacturer doesn't deal in 18 gauge at all, 16 gauge being the standard for heavy (sword) fighters. A number of folks warned me that the extra, unnecessary weight would be a burden. But in fact, searching for a helm I saw very few who did offer an 18 gauge option, and the guy I went with said the difference would only be about 8 oz. AND, those with more flexibility were all MUCH more expensive.

I chose mine as it was really affordable -- less than $100 total. I saw helms all the way up to $750 - so I figured this was a steal. And I think it's pretty attractive, actually.

The helms come bare bones - no padding or straps. Just a metal shell, literally. While I was shopping around, I noticed a riding helmet Ginger had brought up to the house that needed repair - the decorative plastic shell had come off. What a perfect insert into a helm, I thought! So I sent the dimentions to the manufacuterer and he said it ought to fit.

Of course it needed some shaping to fit well - so out came the dremel tool. We shaved away 2 sections of the plastic sheeting, and a little bit of the foam to alieviate areas where it rubbed. Really - very little modification was needed. 4 or 5 iterations of this and it was slipping, with pressure, all the way to the top of the helm!

I love the slip-fit nature of this arrangement... Theoretically we could possibly swap out different riding helmets to fit different riders... Would have to try that in practice to see if that is actually true. Also I suspect we still need to do some additional padding - particularly at the back of the neck as when you look up the back of the helm hits the top of your back/spine. I plan on taking it to one of our armour experts in the barrony to get his suggestions.

And, it turns out that once you have the thing actually strapped to your head, as opposed to just wobbling there, the weight is much more manageable. Never the less, wearing 8# of steel on my head is... something I'm going to have to get used to. Wonder if my personal trainer has any neck strengthing exercises. LMAO!


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ain't they cuties?!

Quickie post with some memorable pics from last week. Alas, these all seem to be from the same group of dogs - aparently I only had the camera out (and the sun was out at the same time) when I was with them. Oh well.

I personally prefer what we call the 'Slow' playing group - those of the small dogs and / or slow moving dogs that don't play aggressively. The faster groups just take a lot more effort to manage, IMO! Anyways, this was one spectacularly sunny morning.

Buster's an adorable tiny Boston Terrier - much smaller than is typical for the breed. But he did have a rather annoying squeal / screech that he would go on and on with... T-Bone, behind him, is just an incredibly patient, pleasant dog. Never far away, he'd just watch you constantly for the ever potential pat that might come his way.

Buster also has the heart of a much larger dog -- especially when it came to games of tug! Willie here certainly out weighs him 5 or 6 times, but that doesn't slow Buster down for a second. Even though he was getting dragged around everywhere.

Sadie - a cutie pie with very expressive ears, and a surprisingly loud bark. Particularly when you were standing NEAR the ball - not THROWING it.

Sophie learned to get up in the playset -- and OMG that was the GREATEST thing to do the rest of her stay. She loved wrestling with others, frequently Jewel, from up there.

Maddie, now, is something else altogether. She also is small for her breed - she's a black pug. With personality enough for several dogs!

Here's Maddie and Piper -- miss thimble bladder herself -- in my lap.

Queen of the table

Maddie, Piper and Jewel

One night Dave and I were doing last turnout, and I ended up taking 4 of the really small dogs into a timeout pen to play out of reach of some of the more annoying bigger dogs. OMG, they had so much fun! I kneeled down, and they were all trying to climb into my lap. Holding Maddie, she actually managed to climb all the way to my shoulders! Fearful she'd fall, I squatted down thinking she'd jump off. No -- she loved nothing more than to be above all the other dogs (Note the 'in the chair' and 'on the table' pictures above). So I started leaning over, encouraging her to jump off. She was having nothing of that. I finally got down on all fours and put my shoulders to the ground -- and she propmptly scrambled up to my butt to perch there! Dave was laughing his head off. I finally had to just stand up to evict her.

BenBen, now, is probably one of the most unusual dogs we've ever had. Called an Ori-Pei, she is a Shar Pei / Pug mix. About the size of a pug, but she has this Shar Pei head that was totally too big for her body! Very funny looking, but she was such a sweet dog.

Now, doesn't Daisy look like the real-life caracature of some old cartoon dog-sidekick? We both thought so, but couldn't name the cartoon for the life of us. So who knows, maybe we're just making it up. But she had just such a funny face you couldn't help but smile at her.

Reuben, or Rubee as we often call him, is a frequent guest of ours. He and his brother T-Bone (first picture above) stay with us every few months. Both are aged, and slow moving, but cute as the day is long.

Ozzy is a silly young Weaton Terrier whose also been with us semi-frequently.

Tobi and Kona are 'brothers'. Not your typical border collies - in that we felt suitable placing them in the 'slow' play group! But one thing was always for sure - you could get Kona's undivided attention anytime you called his name!


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


It astonished us that we never filled to capacity over the holiday last week. We've filled up for every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday since we opened -- even our very first holiday season. This year - not to be apparently. We eventually got to 70% full.

Ginger's family had planned a reunion at her mom's place for Thanksgiving, so of course we'd told her she should absolutely go and we would handle the kennel. Well -- that was hardly a stretch on out part! We'd previously decided to scale back our staffing to only 4 people, instead of the 6 we've traditionally done for our full periods. Given that we never filled up, but still had 4 people working, it ended up being quite the easy week.

We thought alot about why it was so easy. One thing is that we had a good group of dogs and generally had very few messy kennels to clean up. That really throws a wrench into any plans we ever have. Especially if we ARE full -- then there are just no extra kennels to move a dog to temporarily. We did have one dog, whom we absolutely love -- when we aren't trying to kill her, that is. She's an adorable little terrier mix. Tiny little thing - she can't be but 5 pounds. But she is feisty, and scampers around so that you can hardly track her, much less keep up with her. Anyways, being so tiny, she also has a tiny bladder -- and thus pees about every 30 minutes. Dave referred to her once as Miss Thimble Bladder. LOL. There was just nothing we could do to keep up with her schedule, so the mop bucket just stayed close to her kennel.

The second factor that I'm convinced has a lot to do with the ease we had this week WAS the extra empty kennels we have. When we are feeding, or cleaning, or doing whatever it's always conveinent to have a place to stick a dog temporarily. When we're full we don't even have 1 kennel per dog. We have 52 kennels, but can accept up to 60 dogs -- knowing that we'll have a number of family dogs who prefer to room together. But, just because they are rooming together doesn't mean they can dine together, so we're forever trying to figure out ways to split all the dogs at feeding time. That's just not an issue when we had 1-2 kennels every aisle without an occupant.

Finally, we think a factor is just the dog play group sizes. There can be a huge difference in group of 12 and a group of 15 dogs, sometimes. We have 3 play yards, so generally split 60 dogs into groups of 24 / 18 / 18 -- or something of the like. The "Slow" group consisting of small dogs and elderly / laid back dogs typically can be larger without consequence. It is specifically the faster playing dogs that need to be in smaller and smaller groups to manage. So, with only 42 dogs, it was easy to keep the faster groups at 12 or fewer dogs.

In the end the week went extremely smoothly. Pleasant, you could even say!

We just kinda were counting on some of that extra revenue from dogs who didn't come to stay with us... :-/

We have ramped up our marketing efforts -- having quite a limited budget we don't have a lot of options, but we have finally made a concerted effort to get our brochures out to the local vet and pet supply stores. That was probably done too late to make a difference in our Thanksgiving, but we're hopeful to get a few extra Christmas reservations because of that. We've also place a few newspaper ads. But regardless, it seems we've come to a point where we might have to start working harder to attract customers -- when until this point they typically have just found us...