blog hop · chores

SFTS Blog Hop: Happy Place

What barn and/or horse chores put you in your happy place?

For some of us, it’s the feeling of methodically and meticulously cleaning tack. For others, it’s the repetition of braiding a mane. For others, it’s the quiet moments of filling the water buckets or sweeping the barn aisle after everyone has left for the night.
I love this particular topic, and actually I was thinking about posting about it this week anyway!

For me, it has to be sweeping the barn aisle. The first barn I ever worked at was ob.sess.ive. in its attention to detail in that way, and I would sweep 3-4 times while doing chores to make sure I cleaned as I went. I found a rhythm and a happiness in the way I worked. There was a particularly awesome Lab mix dog at that barn, too, who would chase the little bits of hay if I swept particularly vigorously. We made it our little game.

Even now, there is something absolutely hypnotic about a good broom and a long barn aisle. Getting the turn just right, getting the finish flick just right, overlapping your strokes in just the right way. I love it.

chores · winter

Night Check

Does your barn do a night check? What does it consist of?

I’ve always felt most comfortable keeping Tristan at a boarding barn that does night check. I think it’s a good double-check, and a good way to help keep barn management flowing smoothly. It makes me feel more comfortable, as a nervous horse owner.

Last Friday night, I did night check, since one of the regular barn workers was visiting with the trainer in Florida. (And posting photos of kayaking in t-shirts on Facebook, sob.) I hadn’t done it in nearly a year, so the barn manager left me a list of what the current night check routine is.

Holy mackerel, guys. Here was my night check.

sigh. summer.

9:00 pm – Arrive, turn on lights, walk up and down the aisle to make sure everyone is bright and alert

9:05 pm – Duck into tack room, let cat out, check the list.

9:06 pm – Put on lined rubber gloves and start soaking hay for the two recent colic cases. Tear the hay up into tiny shreds, flip over and over and over again to make sure water penetrates every possible nook and cranny.

9:15 pm – Start haying remaining horses in the barn. Everyone gets two flakes, except for a few who get three, and the yearling, who gets one. 2/3 of the horses in the barn have Nibble Nets right now. All of the Nibble Nets are double-clasped and those clasps are tied together with baling twine. The first stall takes me a solid 7 minutes and I swear, out loud, repeatedly. You haven’t known frustration until you’ve tried to stuff two flakes of hay into a Nibble Net hung at head-height, while undoing the tiny clasps with thick winter chore gloves, while a deeply impatient horse is dancing back and forth, snatching pieces of hay that are escaping your arms.

10:07 pm – Finish haying (YES, REALLY), and do blankets. Every horse that had a neck cover got that neck cover that cover pulled up and buckled down. One horse was wearing a cooler from being worked earlier in the evening; I pulled that and put on the two blankets in the aisle. Probably about 1/3 of the horses had some layer that needed to be added. I also took that time to look hard at all the other blanketed horses, and fixed two leg straps that had come undone. Fortunately, I was warmed up enough from haying that I could take my gloves off to do the straps.

daytime, not last night, but Tristan’s blanket waiting for night check

10:23 pm – Toss grain to the horses who either got a snack at night check, or whose evening grain had waited until night check because they had been worked right around dinner time. Add water to all the grain.

10:30 pm – Start water. Oh, winter water. My nemesis. I had two options: hose or buckets. Using the buckets would take longer, be harder work, and involve more walking back and forth. Using the hose would guarantee that I would screw up the draining, hanging, and putting away, especially with the barn manager’s warning that the hose would freeze very, very quickly once I stopped using it. Buckets, then!

11:07 pm – Water done. On the one hand: I am now twice as cold, have ice rimmed all over my jacket, and pulled something in my elbow hauling water to 25 horses. On the other hand: is there anything quite as satisfying as using a sledgehammer to smash out ice from buckets?

11:08 pm – Quick double-check of the list the barn manager left for me. Check everything off. Do one last walk up and down the aisles, checking doors, latches, and lights. Everyone looks happy, and the mare who earlier was a bit unexcited about her hay is going at it with gusto now. Good. Tristan, who got extra hay scrids and a sip from every water bucket as I went by, doesn’t really want to see me go, and shoves me all over the place with his nose while I close up his stall door, which I had left open with a stall guard up.

“But having my stall door closed is booooooooring!”

11:15 pm – Put the cat back in the tack room, over his loud protests. It’s 14 degrees and predicted to hit 1 degree by about 3 am, so I don’t feel right leaving him out. Make sure the space heater is on and near the water line and not touching anything. Make sure the frost-free hydrant outside is not dripping, or the dripping water will freeze right back up into the water line, no matter how well-insulated.

11:16 pm – Get into my car, blast the heat, and sit for a moment checking off the list in my head. Decide I’m done, drive away.

11:17 pm – Turn around because I have no specific memory of tucking the draft blockers underneath the front door. I hadn’t really disturbed them when I entered, but the barn gets unbelievable wind coming up the valley and hitting the hill, so this is actually an important piece. I double-check: yup, they’re in place.

Barn in winter, earlier this season. We have way more snow now.

11:18 pm – Back on the road again.

11:43 pm – Home. Bed. I’m too keyed up from what amounted to two hours of constant physical labor to sleep, so I read for about 15 minutes until the adrenaline passes and then I am out.cold.

Whew.

So yeah. Our night check routine is pretty intense right now. In the summer it’s just to put eyes on everyone, toss grain and sometimes a little hay, and make sure all the lights are turned off.

chores

How Many Stalls Have You Cleaned?

While I did chores on Monday, I let my mind start to wander. I thought of all the times I’ve done chores over the years: all the horses I’ve lead in and out, all the water buckets I’ve dumped and filled, all the sweeping I’ve done.

I started to do the math: how many stalls have I mucked over the years?

The first time I had a regular shift of chores was January 2006 – August 2007. Let’s say that before that time, I had done ~25 stalls at summer camp and at miscellaneous riding barns before I owned Tristan.

That regular shift did not include mucking out, but it did include picking stalls. Let’s say that 3 stalls picked = 1 stall mucked. Let’s say that I did 100 days of work during that time; it was a 30 stall barn. So that’s 1000 stalls during that time. I also did ~30 days of actual stall mucking, averaging 8 stalls per shift, so there’s another 240.

From August 2007 – May 2013, believe it or not, I did not do a regular chore shift. I mucked stalls occasionally: when I wanted to pitch in by doing Tristan’s, when I took him off property, or when I was helping a friend. More often I picked out Tristan’s stall. Let’s say during those 6 years I mucked ~50 stalls.

Since May 2013, I have done probably 40 or so days of work, averaging 8 stalls each time. So there’s 320 more stalls.

All told, that adds up to 1,635 stalls mucked in my lifetime. That seems really, really low, actually!

What about you? How many stalls do you think you’ve mucked out in your lifetime?

chores · winter

As Vermont Turns

Good news! It’s back in the double digits and I have packed barn clothes and I miiiiiight be able to sit on my horse tonight.

Bad news! It’s snowing and the wind chill is way low…and I am coming down with a nasty cold.

Please oh please, weather and/or bacteria, I just want to ride my horse, even if it’s bareback around the ring for 30 minutes.

I did stop by the barn last night to kiss Tristan on the nose and commiserate with the barn manager. She’s had a very long week and I reminded myself to be grateful. Cold and cranky as I was, I have an indoor job and a warm apartment and was not mucking stalls all week.

She mentioned that they will be looking for people to fill in more frequently on shifts – particularly Sundays. My regular work schedule is Tuesday – Saturday, and to be honest, I frequently am at work on Mondays as well. I’ve worked the last three Mondays. So committing to a regular Sunday shift at the barn would mean giving up my only reliably free day, and my only length of time with the boyfriend. It would also mean no church, and while I am not a really religious person by any stretch of the imagination, I like the people and the atmosphere.

On the other hand, regular shifts would mean regular lessons, which would make a huge difference in my work with Tristan. It would add extra exercise in to my week, which I am sorely in need of. It would mean spending time with terrific people and with my horse. I’ve certainly done it before, even many days a week, but I didn’t love it.

I’m very torn. My first instinct with everything is to go-go-go, push harder, work harder, and go bigger. But I’m pursuing so many things right now that the smart choice might be to know when to back off – pick a few dates each month and not commit to a weekly shift.

Have you traded barn work for lessons? How do you keep your barn-life-work balance?

chores · longeing · winter

Winter Mocks Plans

First – Hannah put up some terrific photos & video of the GMHA sleigh rally – go and check them out!

After a gorgeous day on Sunday, I arrived at the barn to do chores on Monday morning to find the vilest weather possible: mid-30s and raining. All the snow and slush had frozen solid overnight, and the water was pooling on top of the ice. It was impossible to walk with any speed. The assistant barn manager and I spent nearly an hour chipping gravel from the frozen pile at the back of the barn, shoveling it into a wheelbarrow, and then scattering it in front of the barn to try and create a path with some traction to get to the paddocks. About three quarters of the way through, the rain picked up and started blowing sideways and we reached the joint decision not to turn them out anyway.

But it was a damn fine path nonetheless.

I put Tristan’s waterproof sheet on him, grabbed some hay, and put him out in the shed paddock you can see in that picture anyway. He hung out in the shed, and I checked on him every 20 minutes or so to make sure he wasn’t too cold or wet or generally disgruntled. All the other horses got a turnout rotation in the indoor to stretch their legs while we did their stalls. Tris managed about 2 hours outside before he asked to come in, and he got cozied up with a cooler in his stall with some hay for a little while – and then he got his turn in the indoor to keep the baby company.

SO FLIPPING CUTE.

Baby Greta was so happy to be out of her stall she bucked and farted her way around the indoor, and Tristan even put up some antics, cantering around and following her and making some leaps through the air. I wish I’d thought to get a video of it!

When stalls were done, I settled in with a snack to watch a jumping lesson. Prince heard the crinkle of my cheese & crackers wrapper and opted out of focusing on the job at hand.

Whoops.
Then Tris got longed with his chambon and his rubber butt-thingy. I tightened up the chambon so that it would actually kick in if he flung his head into the air and after some cranky flailing, he settled in to some beautiful stretchy work. I really do like the chambon: it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t trap him into a particular way of going, but reminds him without harshness when he’s dramatically bracing. He was even starting to soften in the canter!
Tonight, the plan was to ride and incorporate poles at walk and trot, but when I checked the weather forecast this morning I discovered that we’re not predicted to get into double digits, and the wind chill is far, far below that. I’m still a bit torn but it looks like the smart thing to do will be to stay home, since it’ll be too dark to hack (my preferred too-cold activity) and we won’t get any productive work done in single digit temperatures. Booo.

chores · turnout

Post-Thanksgiving Chores

When my alarm went off this morning, I regretted signing up for chores the day after Thanksgiving, especially with the temperatures in the low single digits to start the day. Within an hour or two of work I was glad I had, though – my body warmed up with exercise, and it was a good excuse to burn turkey calories.

By the time we finished chores, I felt warmed through and was pleasantly surprised to see that even though I felt like the day was turning nice, it was only 16! I saddled Tristan and worked him for about 25 minutes, not hard, keeping the focus on forward and stretching and bending, and the last 10 minutes or so put on his new resistance band to rev up the work (about which more later; an idea I borrowed from the COTH forums that I think I like quite a lot).

The best part of today, though, hands down? I have to back up a little bit and first apologize for being a shoddy excuse for a blogger: we’ve had a foal in the barn since June and I haven’t once mentioned her.

Her name is Greta, and she was born in early June. Mom is a Hungarian Warmblood, and dad is Gaucho III, an Andalusian. I got to meet her for the first time when she was about ten hours old and I’ve seen her nearly every day since then. She’s beautifully put together, inquisitive, smart, spunky, and fun to have around.

She’s being weaned right now and has been having trouble with turnout buddies, so today they asked if it would be ok for her to to out with Tristan. Tris’s usual response to turnout buddies is to completely ignore them, and he had after all been in a mixed herd when he was wild, so I felt pretty good about his potential behavior.

When we introduced them Greta made baby faces at him – flapping her lips and stretching out her neck – and half-nibbled at his face a bit. He just sighed and stared her down, and only flattened his ears and flipped his head when she actually connected with her teeth. When we let them loose together, he totally ignored her and wandered about his new big field, eating the loose hay on the ground and digging through the snow to get at the withered grass underneath. When she bucked and ran around after her mother was brought in, he picked his head up, sighed, and went back to eating grass.

He’ll be babysitting for the foreseeable future. I’m pretty proud of him. 🙂

chores · gear · winter

Winter Gear: Barn Chores

In Part 1, I covered a few items that have worked well for me while actually riding my horse. Today, I’ve got a few tips for the rest of the time, ie barn chores and before getting on.

My biggest tip here is that in chore clothes and gear you can be much bulkier and hence much warmer than when riding. I therefore wait until the last possible minute to transition from barn clothes to riding clothes, and I do it in a warm space. Often, I bring down my helmet, riding gloves, and riding boots to the heated part of the tack room and leave them there, then leave him in the crossties to go change into my riding stuff, then get right on.
Part 2: Barn Chores

Women’s Wildcat Boots from L.L. Bean: The first thing you should know about my love affair with L. L. Bean is that half my family is from Maine, and L. L. Bean has played a major part in every family Christmas as long as I can remember, even if it’s just re-wrapping an old box and thus getting everyone all out of proportion excited before they actually open the box. I love, love, love L. L. Bean.
Ahem. Anyway. These boots, you guys. They are the very, very best. In fact, these are not actually my barn boots; I wear a lesser knock off of these boots every day. These are my shoveling the driveway, walking to work boots. These boots kept my feet warm in -18 on my walk to work. True story. As soon as they are no longer publicly acceptable they will be my new barn boots. They are warm, comfortable, sturdy, and they are backed up by that glorious L. L. Bean guarantee. Lose one in the mud? Pop off a rivet? Gash it open on a stall door? No worries. Send ’em back and they’ll replace them with brand new ones.
Smartwool: Yep, here too. Usually wear regular socks, then Smartwool ski socks over them, and wear them for both barn chores and riding. The key for barn chores even more than riding is to have the long, knee-high, extra padded ski socks, because if there’s a sensation worse than cold snow down inside your boot and against your bare leg, then I can’t think of it right now.
Flannel and Fleece Lined Jeans from L. L. Bean: See above re L. L. Bean. Then go buy these jeans. I will warn you: they fit like your grandmother’s jeans. They don’t have a ton of give and they are not fashionable. But those factors are far, far outweighed by the fact that these are the warmest and most durable jeans you will ever own. I promise. I usually start off the season in the flannel lined and in the depths of January transition to the fleece lined. Sizing tip: they run small, and if you have any height to you at all I’d recommend getting the Medium Tall or Tall. (I’m 5’9″ and not especially leggy for my height, and I need the Medium Tall.)
Gloves: again, this is a hole in my gear. I usually wear mittens over gloves if I’m actually doing chores, not tacking up, but I have no special brand, just some leftovers from skiing days.
Neck Warmer: Same as riding.
Hat: No special recommendation here. I usually wear one I like, which means I’m alternating between my Middlebury ski hat and my Old Sturbridge Village wool hat. The key here is to wear one, because a significant percentage of the body’s heat escapes through the head, and to make sure it goes down over your ears. (Also, to remember to remove it and put your helmet on. Don’t be like me and get halfway down the aisle every time before realizing that thing on your head is too warm to be a helmet.)
Part 3 next: Experimentation, with a few things I’m adding in to the mix this year but am not yet sold on.