Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

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!



Blogger Birdie said...

This is amazing. Thank you for the pictures with the narrative. It is incredibly hard work, so it must be really satisfying to see the successful result. I love to see how you run your ranch!

5/4/09, 6:57 PM  
Blogger Monica said...

Hi Birdie,

Yes, this job I have to say definitely has the satisfaction factor. The pastures look so empty now! But it is load off our minds that they now have protection while closed in the pens.

5/5/09, 9:10 AM  

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