Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crossroads 2009

This past weekend we attended another camping event - and took Jordan with us. This was the first time we'd taken a horse away overnight, and it was also a fair haul at 1.5 hours away to Byers, CO. So I had a number of things on my mind just for that aspect.

Well, I have to say Jordan was a perfect gentleman the entire trip. Loaded and hauled perfectly. Got out of the trailer, took a look around and said -- "Huh. Got any hay?" Cecelia, it turns out, brought some very nice hay, so I ended up not even breaking into the bale we'd brought. Next Trip, we said, remember to coordinate on bringing hay, because for 2 days no way did each of us need to bring a whole bale! Turns out the same thing applies to sandwich condiments...

Anyways, we didn't push ourselves terribly hard and arrived shortly after 11. It's a beautiful site! For being a fairgrounds it was considerably more inviting than the dry dust bowl I'd envisioned. A real advantage is that it has permanent horse facilities, so bringing the horses is much nicer here than other events. This is the main reason our guild wanted to target this event as one to attend this year.

Jordan, and further back, Kid, in their accommodations

Wagner and "Tiny"

Our campsite

What would have been a great portrait of Sir Kevin, Mistress Rossilin and little Teagan -- except for the elusive strawberry which saw it's chance to make it's escape just at the critical moment!

Saturday was a low key day - we did get the horses out for a little practice ride: got them accustomed to the arena and such.

After which Trakker and Meadhbh were to put on a Mounted Archery demonstration. However, a really nasty, black-sky thunderstorm blew by and made things pretty uncomfortable with wind and thankfully just a little rain. So the demo was put off until Sunday morning.

Trakker's persona is a Hun, and you can see he's done a lot of development for his persona, including recently acquiring horses in order to pick up mounted archery.

The demo began with some of the exercises used to train the archer to shoot while moving -- walking towards the target, and then away from it as well.

He then mounted up and did several passes along his set of 5 targets - demonstrating firing in front, to the side and to the rear of the motion of the horse.

Then he did some other weapons exercises -- Spearing a thrown metal ring

Shooting an arrow at a thrown target. Unfortunately the wind was blowing too hard to make the cardboard targets manageable, so they tried shooting arrows at the metal rings for the first time.

In the end it was a very impressive display of mounted combat, in the style of the tribes from the steppes. Below is a closeup of his equipment.

Beyond the equestrian attractions, there were also archery, heavy and light fighting going on. Somehow we just never manage to make time to go watch those things! But we did manage to hit Merchant's Alley. :-) We didn't purchase this helm - we were just picking it up for Mistress Rossilin who did buy it... but Dave (Faolan) was so kind as to model it.

Later on Sunday afternoon we held an equestrian tournament, preceeded by a parade through the campsite. But I don't have those pictures -- so I'll make that another post, coming soon.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Farewell, Baby Girl

Ten years ago David was volunteering at the Longmont Humane Society, and we had just moved into our first home with a yard. He came home one day telling me about a nice dog he'd met. I asked him yesterday what attracted him to her? He couldn't say exactly - "she was just so darn cute". Apparently we have the same taste in dogs. I remember going to visit her after work the next day. I got there before Dave, so I went back into the kennels to take a look. First thing I noticed was this friendly young dog who immediately rolled to her back asking for a belly rub -- even though there was no way I could reach through the gate to do that. I looked at her kennel tag, and it said Autumn. I asked to take her out on leash, and by the time Dave got there it was a done deal as far as I was concerned.

It was a little bit of a rocky start, bringing her home. She had been a stray, and so had several neuroses we had to figure out. The fear of loud noises and vehicles were obvious - as she would trip you up on a walk scrambling to get as far away from passing vehicles as possible. The fear of feet was a little more vague, until we realized it was feet with shoes on them that really scared her. She was so timid it was several days before we saw her break into anything faster than a walk -- but then it was a frenzy of energy, tail tucked under as she zoomed around our parking area.

A sweeter, gentler dog we have never met. She loved people and attention - from where ever she could get them. Her standard greeting was the roll-over-and-rub-my-belly request. We called her a belly rub lush. A favored move was me on my knees and her sitting up with her paws on my shoulders. Forehead to forehead I could then rub the belly. *bliss*

She was quite the cuddler too. I remember watching entire TV shows and movies sitting on the floor with her lying between my legs or even leaning up against my chest. Saturday mornings it was typical for her to come over and sit by my side of the bed and stare at me... until I raised the covers. She'd jump up, but I swear her feet hardly hit the bed before her legs were folding underneath her and she'd be perfectly curled up in the crook of my arm. And then snoring soundly within just minutes.

Since we were both working we knew we wanted a companion for her. 6 months after bringing her home we met another dog at the Humane Society. Knowing she was shy with other dogs, we paid three separate visits to the new dog before Cisco joined our family. Even after three visits she hadn't paid much attention to Cisco in the introduction yard, until finally we were all standing around and she just swatted him a good one on the head with her paw. Ok, he's a keeper! We still kept them in separate yards while we away at work -- until the day Dave returned to find Cisco had jumped the fence into Autumn's yard. So much for that, we decided.

Cisco has ever been the clown. "Wild Man" is one of his many nicknames. Just his crooked ears makes people laugh. Autumn, though, always brings out the 'awwws' in people. Her soulful eyes have this tractor beam like pull... 'You want to pet me, I know you do.'

While they both like to sleep in sunny spots, it was Autumn who I saw snoozing in our bedroom up at Deer Trail one day. We were already working on the plan to start up the ranch, and we were looking for a name. Something that conveyed fun, had a western type theme, attractive to kids... I walked by and asked how my sun puppy was doing. Wow - great name, I thought, if only it could be adapted to horses. Thus Sun Pony was born.


Both Cisco and Autumn are approaching 12 years old - such is our best estimates. While it seems clear Cisco is going to charge right on through to the end of his life, Autumn has been slowing down. Her hearing and sight were fading. We knew when she could no longer hear the dinner bowls being filled that her inattention was not just selective hearing. Last year our vet removed a number of tumors, at least one of which was malignant. A few months ago she started really favoring her left hind leg. Our vet suspected bone cancer, and referred us up to the Animal Cancer Clinic at the CSU Vet Hospital. They took more images and agreed. But also found that it had spread to her lungs. They offered to let us enroll her in a clinical trial for a new chemo / pain management therapy for the bone cancer. Which, of course, could do nothing but attempt to slow the progress of the cancer, but also try and relieve her pain. In doing so we had to take her off of one of the pain meds she had been on. This seems to have been quite a blow. Despite tripling the other medication she had, she was back to not sleeping at night. We were now taking turns sleeping on the couch since carrying her up and down stairs didn't seem viable anymore - even without regard to Dave's back troubles.

But we persevered, hoping that their reports that this new therapy would be helpful would pan out. The study was to run a 2 month course, with Autumn receiving an IV treatment for 5 days on week 0, 4 and 8. Monday was to be her first treatment. Dave took her up there, met with the doctors, and decided to pick her up later since they needed to observe her for several hours. He called me just after lunch to report that they had x-rayed her leg again, and had found a fracture. We don't know when it happened, it could have been during the car ride up that morning, or it could have been just her trying to get around this past weekend. They said the bone had gotten so brittle that there was no hope that it would heal. Amputation just didn't seem logical to us, since we knew the cancer had already spread to her chest. And so we made the excruciating decision to drive up there and say good bye.

There is just no way to prepare for this. Even given the months of warning that we knew it was coming - we certainly didn't know it was coming yesterday. We took Cisco up with us, but there was no obvious sign he understood. He greeted her, and then wandered the room and whined as he always does when short on patience. I'm still trying to see if he's acting normal or not, but since I know we certainly aren't acting normal it's probably ridiculous to even wonder.

We've spent a lot of time today reviewing old pictures. Since half of her life was during film-camera days, it's been quite the trip down memory lane as we haven't pulled out the photo boxes for years. Pretty therapeutic, actually. We've found so many pictures that there were far too many for the blog. So we put up a separate slide show page for those of you interested in looking through them.

We'll leave you with these two photos. Close to being the first picture of Autumn we ever took, and the last. The first, along with those above, were taken on a hike with Dave's parents, while they were visiting. The second was taken last month while she was out in the kennel yards.

Brainard Lake, September 1998

At Happy Tails, April 2009

And so concludes her tale. Autumn who was dubbed our Baby Girl the day we learned that we could pick her up from the Humane Society. We got her Labor Day weekend, which is our wedding anniversary. The first time we had to leave her alone in the house was to go out for our anniversary dinner. I'm certain all future anniversaries will include a toast to the pup who brought so much to our lives. We will always love and miss you, Autumn Gold.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009


This weekend I hosted the first of what I hope to be a semi-regular occurrence - a workday for the Equestrian Guild to build equipment and tools that we need/want to play medieval games.

Cecelia came out and she and I had a great time - messing around with power tools. Yeah.

I've been thinking a lot about how to built a Tilt -- the fence that separates jousters from each other. There are a number of designs out on the web and I noodled around with it some. Since we have a huge pile of fence pickets still hanging around, I was looking for a way to use that material.

An important feature of a tilt, as far as I'm concerned, is that it should self-disassemble should a horse run into it, because the last thing you want is a frightened horse dragging part of the tilt around with him. Unfortunately, that kinda means that it can't be rock-solid, but you don't want it blowing over in the wind either. Balancing those two concerns has been tricky.

I'd seen several designs on the internet. Basically most use a design of stands that are wide at the base to hold up rails sideways, but along the length of the tilt it relies upon the rest of the tilt to keep it steady. So the principle question is how to butt the horizontal rails together at the uprights so that they disassemble if bumped, but stand solid otherwise.

This guy posted really detailed pictures. This is an interesting design - but gosh that looks like heavy timber and a lot of work.

This one looks really elegant, so I thought I'd go off of it.

A month or so ago I prototyped 3 stands and 2 rails. Eh, with moderate success. I love the stands, but it turns out the sloping cuts in the ends of the rails were a total bust for me because they were way too slick and the sections just fell apart every time I let go.

So this weekend, our first task was to cut out the slots of the stands wider, so that the rails could sit in them side by side. This worked better, but still had very little length-wise stability. So we pulled one stand off and were going to put some length-wise feet on it to see if that helped. In pulling that stand away we just let the rail drop to the ground. And oh my goodness - if that didn't just take ALL the wobbles out of the tilt!

We watched that configuration for awhile and decided to heck with modifying the stands, anchoring each end on the ground seems to be the way to go! We did watch and observe it being rocked side by side, so we decided to widen the feet of the stands to 3 feet, instead of my original 2.

Getting down to business we pretty quickly had assembly under way.

And Voila! In just over an hour, we had 7 more stands built, and 3 more sections of rails. We tested it out:

It worked great. There was a moderate breeze, and it was standing solid.

Dave was off getting us more screws, so I enlisted Cecelia to help me finish up my jousting lance handles. Again going off published directions, a couple months ago I'd made two lance handles out of pre-turned table legs. We just needed to round off the end of them, so as to be able to slip them into cardboard tubes. A friend in the SCA has a lathe and Dave and I went over to do our modifications. The left most end of this leg had been square all the way to the end. In the middle we also narrowed down the area for a hand-hold.

However, I stupidly didn't have the requisite cardboard tubes with me, so our lathing job left the handles just a hair too large. I needed to whittle them down a bit. This ingenious suggestion from Dave, to wedge the belt sander in the workshop table upside down, worked like a charm!

Finished with that, Cecelia and I went in and fired up the grill to do some hot dogs for lunch which Dave got home just in time to share with us. It was nice to sit on the deck - first time this year we've pulled the chairs and grill out. AND - the tilt stood all the way through lunch!

Before Cecelia had to leave, we just had to try it out...

Alas, the wind did kick up harder after lunch and eventually blew the tilt over, splitting one of the stands. Being fence pickets, these aren't the most durable of material. We have some ideas to reinforce the weak point of the stands - just underneath the slot in the top of them, by winding rope around them. And we need to paint the rail white.

But in all it was a good day's work and we have the makings to put up a tilt 100 feet long.

ADDED: Construction detail photos. Duh - forgot to get these initially.

Having gone back out to take these detail photos, I think I see some improvements yet to be made... ;-)


Monday, May 04, 2009

Shelter from the Rain

I've often said that owning the ranch has opened up many opportunities to do things that we never would have had otherwise. Yesterday is a shining example.

One of the first improvements we made on the property, 4 years ago, was to install pasture shelters for the horses.

Over the years we've put quite a bit of energy into promoting better grass growth in the pastures. We've come a long way - we have much more grass than weeds now, and when we can get water, they look really good. One key change we've made is follow the advice of all pasture experts, which is - keep your horses off the grass when it is new growth and / or vulnerable. One of the times it is vulnerable is when the ground is wet and muddy. The horses are likely to slip and slide then, which not only can cause muscle strain, but also rip up whole sections of grass.

Well, when it is wet and muddy? When it rains. When do the horses want the shelters? When it rains. The shelters are in the pasture... You probably are getting the picture.

So we resolved to move the shelters up into the pens. Yesterday. Well, we resolved to do this some weeks ago - we picked yesterday to do it. Only, we didn't have access to those nifty flatbed trailers with the winches on them on which they were delivered. Oh no, we had to devise our own solution. Some might say cobble. Hey, give me a break, it worked!

Dave was dead set against just dragging them on the ground. Which, in hindsight, I have to agree would have been hard on them the 200 yards we had to move them. So we had to lift them. We theorized we could lift one end with the tractor, back the flatbed trailer underneath that edge, then lift the other end and drive both ends together. Yeah, that sounds like such a doable plan.

The first task was to free it from it's restraints. It's bolted to two concrete footings - simple enough. It also has 4 5-foot spikes that hold down each corner. Pulling those out wasn't too bad - especially once we employed the tractor to do most of the pulling.

Then we wondered, how can we lift one end and not have the tractor in the way of the trailer? Well, lift from the inside was our solution. We just had to dig underneath the shelter to run chains under the back corner around the frame and back, in order to lift. The front loader sticks plenty far out from the front of the tractor to allow the trailer to back far underneath the shelter edge.

Dave is way better at backing the trailer than I, so he was designated Truck driver, and I on the tractor.

OK, but once one end was lifted, the tractor would be stuck inside. Turn around and lift the back end and back all the way across the pasture? That sure didn't sound like fun. Not only that, but I really don't think the tractor would be able to turn around inside.

The tractor does have a 3-point hitch on the back, which has lifting capabilities. But not a lot of range of motion. Would we be able to wrap the chains with little enough slack to allow it to lift it clear of the ground? Yes, it turns out.

So. There we had it, suspended between the trailer and the tractor. How the heck would we move it? Parker, one of our employees, stood to the side directing. Starting and stopping were understandably the hardest parts. Lots of banging around as the building swung backwards and forwards, smacking into the back of the tractor. It was able to float around on the trailer quite a bit, which is probably a good thing. I could judge my speed by whether it slid forward or back. Dave said it felt like I was actually pushing him up the hill most of the way, as the shelter slid forward to hit the wheel wells of the trailer. The part that worried me was when it would bounce, the open side would bounce up a few inches, making it look like it wanted to flip over sideways. (it didn't)

I hope you understand, but there are no pictures of the move as we were all engaged! We got it close to where it should be, dropped it, and dragged it into position.

We put the stakes back in each corner and called lunch. You still call it lunch even if it is 2:00 in the afternoon, right?

We had great hopes that one down, the second would be much easier, right? *groan* We even recruited a fourth helper - Wayne's daughter and wife have taken riding lessons with us for a long time, and they've been great help with parade floats and such in the past. Wayne even came out to help us put in the new horse fence a few months ago. Since Parker is leaving us for a cushy-sounding job of wrangler on a dude ranch in Wyoming, Wayne is going to take over his duties. So, no time like the present to start, huh?

We had a lot more site-prep to do for the second shelter. The pens really needed the manure scraped out of them, and we decided we needed to just remove a bunch of the panels both for the scraping but also to provide access for the truck and trailer when we moved the shelter. But soon enough Wayne and I went down to start disconnecting the shelter from its anchors. We could not budge - not BUDGE - any of the stakes. Parker joined us. He had no luck. Dave joined us. He had no luck. We finally resorted to just lifting a corner of the building at a time. Which did demonstrate the stake would come out of the ground. It turns out they all were rusted solid to the frame of the building. Not being able to get much purchase on the stake underneath the frame, we pretty much resorted to smacking every surface available with the sledge until something moved enough to finally get a chain under the head of the stake. It took us over an hour of maddening frustration to get those 4 stakes out.

Lifting and moving it - even though we were worried about the fact this shelter had to move along a curved path - turned out to be a breeze. We dropped that one short of it's destination so that Dave could finish scraping the area while the three of us went and set the footings for the first shelter. Horses were back in that pen by now, so that means digging holes, mixing concrete and setting forms all under the scrutiny of 6 curious onlookers.

By now, though, the weather was moving in.

We'd been really concerned that it would be too wet to do any of this anyways, but true to form we didn't get much actual precipitation in Friday and Saturday's storms. It started sprinkling, which which we ignored for a long time. Finally a concentrated burst came through. We all headed for the shelters.. including the horses - LOL. No worries here that they don't know what the shelters are for. I looked up just in time to see Rio and Bambi both run for the shelter. They jump inside, and THEN see that Parker was already there, trying to get out of their way. They also then noticed the shovels and tools all stacked up inside. Bambi was so funny -- OMG! A PERSON! And scary looking TOOLS! I've got to get out of here. Oh NO - Its RAINING outside!

She ended up deciding to brave the rain. Rio, however, decided it wasn't worth it.

It didn't rain hard but for a few minutes. But that was enough to make the site for the second shelter a total ice rink. Newly scraped ground, with a clay type soil. Oh yeah - we were all seriously challenged to say on our feet. No one went down, though. It took us until after 9 pm, but we got all the footings in place, the panels hooked together, and all the horses where they belonged. We only got 7.5 of the 8 stakes back in - but that's because we were forced to quit when the handle of the sledge hammer cried mercy.

I went down this morning to survey the job done (and make sure we didn't leave a stray shovel around)

Looking good, and given the evidence left inside, it's clear the ponies appreciated our efforts. Knowing that all was well I promptly went back into bed for another hour because every muscle in my body demanded I do so!