Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fun With Buckets

One of my sheep, a young black ewe named Simone, had some health problems in the Fall that left her very thin. She has been gradually climbing back to health, but it's taking her a long time to regain all the weight she lost, so I have taken to sneaking her extra food when the other sheep aren't looking.

As a consequence, Simone has become fixated on me, and convinced that I serve no other purpose than to be her feed dispenser. When I'm in the yard, she follows me everywhere, so close on my heels that she often steps on the back of my shoes. When I'm inside the house, she wanders around mournfully outside, searching all the nooks and corners of the yard, hoping to find some hidden stash of food I may have left for her. Sometimes she comes up onto the back porch, stares into the kitchen through the glass door, and bleats for me to come out.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of the wind roaring across our hill. I also heard the distinctive, hollow, bump-bump-bump sound of one of our plastic buckets being blown across the back yard.

Raising myself up from my bed, I looked out the window in time to see the bright yellow bucket go tumbling at high speed down the driveway. Startled by this unexpected apparition, several of the other sheep scattered in panic.

Then I had to laugh because, running along behind the flying bucket as fast as she could go, was Simone---completely convinced that the bucket must be full of food for her!

This afternoon, the sheep had another bucket adventure.

A few days ago, when my filly Libby got sick with colic, I made up a bucket of warm molasses water to try to encourage her to drink. She didn't want it at the time, and eventually recovered without drinking any of it.

Rather than dumping it out, I left it in the back yard for the sheep to find. For a few days, the water remained frozen but lately, with milder temperatures, I've noticed the level of the molasses water dropping each day as more and more of the sheep discovered the tasty treat.

Today, the bucket was empty except for a sweet film of molasses in the bottom. I looked out the back door to see a mob of sheep descend upon the bucket, fighting to see who would be the lucky one who would get to lick up the last of the "candy."

Through size and sheer determination, after a lot of scuffling, that honor fell to my senior ewe, Moriah (who, coincidentally, happens to be Simone's mother). Victorious, she shoved her face into the bucket, forcing her nose to the sweet stuff at the bottom, even though her wide horns would barely wedge into the bucket.

Unfortunately for her, they wedged a little too well! Suddenly, she lifted her head up, with the heavy-duty 5-gallon bucket still attached to her face. Blinded, she started careening around the yard, crashing into all the other sheep that were crowded around. Finally the bucket shifted so that it was dangling from one of her horns by the handle. A moment later, she managed to flip it off onto the ground.

So much for the dignity of the flock's matriarch!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Windy Morning, Fillies at Play

It rained all night, and now this morning the wind is roaring across our hill: a perfect recipe for feisty horses.

When I got up, I decided to let all the horses, both mares and fillies, out into the big pasture to play while I tried to capture some pretty photos in the morning light.

Here are a few:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Safe and Sound

We got home after midnight last night, so I was too tired to post a blog entry before collapsing into bed. But we have good news all around on the horse front:

1. Boo and Shane arrived safe and sound at their new home in Florida.

2. Libby seems to be mostly recovered from her bout of colic.

3. Senter made his trip to the trainers just fine, and is now starting his educational career.

I wanted to spend some time with Senter yesterday to put him in a happy, interactive frame of mind before we suddenly put him on a trailer and hauled him away. So yesterday afternoon I groomed him for a while (That gray stone dust footing in his paddock really puts a fine gray powder into his coat and makes his white patches look very dingy).

Then I took him out to the round pen and let him romp for a few minutes. I didn't really ask anything hard from him---mostly just let him play and stretch his legs and get out any excess friskiness. Then I took him out on the grass and let him graze for a while, which is his method of favorite relaxation.

It was nice to have a fun, relaxing afternoon with him before sending him away. I'll miss him, but I'm so pleased that he has this opportunity.

When it came time to load him up in the trailer, he was really good. Even though he's only ever been on a trailer once before in his whole life, when I led him up to the entrance, he stepped his two front feet right up in, stood their looking and sniffing for a couple of minutes, and then hopped right in. (Maybe it helped that I told him that there would be mares waiting for him at the other end of the trip!)

Ken and I followed the trailer in our own car, because we wanted to be there to see him settled in to his new place, to give him a little continuity. We heard him whinny in the trailer a couple of times, but other than that it was a pretty peaceful ride.

When he stepped off the trailer at the trainer's farm, there were hordes of mares all standing by the fence watching, so he really wanted to prance around and show off. He especially had eyes for one Art Deco mare named Alura, who he will probably be breeding later.

The trainer handled him for a few minutes in the stable yard, letting him know that he had to pay attention to his handler, and not just go flirting with the girls. He responded well to her, and soon was settled down enough to go into his new stall.

They'd given him a stall where he could sniff noses with his neighbor gelding through the bars, so of course Senter had to show off and snort and prance around the stall for a few minutes, just in case the gelding turned out to be a mare. But before long he settled down and started eating hay.

He's going to have so much fun there, with so much to see and do, so many things to learn and keep his mind busy. He's just such a basically happy horse, pleased to have attention, eager for praise, I think he's going to do great.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Down, One to Go

Boo and Shane finally left today. They were supposed to leave a few days ago, but the shipper got delayed, so today was the big day. Boo did not want to load up into that trailer at all, and when a horse weighs 1,600 lbs. and doesn't want to go somewhere, it can be a trick to make her do it.

Given the choice, I would have given her more time. I would have sat on the end of the trailer and let her relax about it, but the shipper took charge of her and tried to load her himself without even giving me the chance to ask her.

He was okay with her---not mean or abusive or anything at all like that---but he had more of the "traditional" handling methods rather than the natural horsemanship ones. He tried to rush her a little, and she got flustered and anxious, which led to her getting resistive and defiant.

We had such a hard time loading her that we finally tried loading Shane instead. He'd never been on a trailer before, so we had no idea how that would go. He didn't really want to go on, but with enough encouragement he finally did.

By that time, Boo had had a chance to calm down a bit, and with her buddy Shane already on the trailer, she was a little more willing to consider getting in herself. It took a bit more effort, but finally she loaded up.

So now they're gone on their way to their new home in Florida, where they will be loved and spoiled by their new family. I think they will love the attention!

Senter is leaving tomorrow to go to the trainer's. I'm pretty excited about this opportunity for him. He's going to learn so much! He's been really bored here and not being used to his full potential at all, so he's going to really thrive in a more active environment.

When the shipper saw Senter trotting around in his paddock, he was completely wowed. He kept commenting on what an impressive animal he was, and asking questions about him. That's pretty much everyone's first reaction to seeing Senter. Now, with the chance to get a better education, he's going to be even more stunning. I'm so happy for him!

Libby is still not feeling completely well today, but she didn't have a fever and she ran around some playing with the other fillies, so I think she's on the mend.

We had just gotten a large shipment of the alfalfa hay in yesterday, but we had to call our hay supplier and get another shipment of the grass hay too, so that we could take all the babies completely off the alfalfa for now, until Libby is feeling better. Eventually, we'll introduce a little alfalfa back into their mix, but probably will try to keep feeding some grass hay too, to prevent this from happening again.

We thought we were getting a good deal with the alfalfa hay. All of the hay is $7.00 or more per bale now, and prices are still going up, up, up! When our hay guy said the alfalfa, which is richer and more nutritious, was the same price as the grass hay, we thought we were lucky to get it. We thought if we introduced it gradually enough, the horses would be able to make the switch with no problem. But according to our vet, it may just plain be too rich for the baby horses, regardless of how slowly we introduce it.

So, after yesterday's $400 vet bill, it doesn't look like much of a bargain after all.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sick Day

I woke up today with a splitting headache. All morning, it didn't go away. I was feeling kind of stuffy, so I thought it might be a sinus headache, which is something I almost never get. Hoping to clear it up, I took one of my husband's decongestants.

All midday, the headache didn't go away. I took ibuprofen, without any noticeable effect. Finally, even though I had a lot of things I really should have been doing, I went to lie down for a while, hoping a little nap would help.

I dozed for about an hour, and felt somewhat better when I got up. For some reason, I decided to cook dinner early, so Ken and I could eat before we did evening chores. It's a good thing I did, because it turned out I didn't get back in the house for the evening until almost 9:00 o'clock.

When we went out to do chores, we noticed one of the fillies, Libby, was lying down and was extremely filthy. It was a little unusual, but didn't strike me as extremely odd, since the baby horses lie down all over the field to nap all day, every day.

But after we'd finished chores, I was walking back through the paddock and saw that Libby was collapsed on the ground beside the hay feeder.

A chill went through me. Colic!

Colic in horses is a very serious and sometimes life-threatening thing. Because horses can't burp or vomit, any digestive disturbance has to make it all the way through the horse. Anything that causes a lot of gas or anything that causes any kind of blockage, causes a lot of pain. A horse that is in a lot of pain will sometime roll on the ground, which can sometimes cause its intestines to twist, which leads to more problems and pain and sometimes death.

So any horse person who sees one of her horses with any symptoms of colic knows that fast treatment is imperative.

I went and forced Libby to her feet, and though she was reluctant to even move, I dragged her out into the yard so I could walk her and prevent her from rolling. She had laid down in a puddle, so she was wet, chilled, and shivering, so I got a blanket and draped it over her.

I took her temperature, which was normal, and listened to her belly for gut sounds. There were almost none. Not a good sign. Horses' guts should always be gurgling, an indication that things are moving along inside as they should be.

I got some warm molasses water and tried to get her to drink, but she refused. I gave her a dose of Banamine to ease the pain, and had Ken call the vet.

We walked her around the back yard for over an hour, waiting for the vet to arrive. Eventually, the Banamine kicked in, and she started feeling a little better. Shortly after that, her belly started gurgling a lot. A little later: a giant, liquid burst of diarrhea!

Okay. Well, at least that meant she wasn't impacted. After dealing with Scylla's impaction colic two years ago, which led to a trip to the horse hospital and several thousand dollars worth of vet bills, I had been fearing the worst again.

But by the time the vet arrived, there wasn't a lot left for him to do. He took blood samples to test that it wasn't some kind of infection, but we agreed that it seemed more like Libby was simply having a hard time adjusting to our new hay, which was supposed to be a grass/alfalfa blend, but turned out to be almost entirely alfalfa.

We transitioned the horses over to the new stuff over the course of a week, and we thought they'd all adjusted just fine. But apparently Libby had a bit harder time with the change.

She's resting now in the run-in bay, with clean dry bedding on the floor for her to sleep on, and a hay bag full of grass hay to sooth her upset tummy. With any luck, she'll be on the mend and feeling better by tomorrow.

But me... after a day like today, what I need is a drink!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Heating Vents Are For

In case you were wondering, heating vents are not for heating your house.

This is what they're really for:

All of our heating vents in the downstairs of our house are at floor level.

We have eight cats with very warm bellies. :-)

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

Whatever you do, don't play this game:

The Impossible Quiz

It will have you laughing, groaning, and tearing out your hair in frustration. You will waste hours (days!) of your life trying to get to the next answer, and the next, and the next. Inane jokes will start to make sense. You'll develop a fondness for dancing elephants and a fear of ticking time bombs!

You will become addicted and your life will not feel complete until you finally manage to complete the last question. (I haven't gotten that far yet, by the way!)

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Big Horse, Little Tiny Stall!

In honor of the fact that Boo and Shane are leaving tomorrow for their new home in Florida, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share a photo of Boo that was taken almost exactly a year ago.

I woke up that morning to the sound of a horse pawing on a wooden stall floor. Which would be less weird if all my horses were not 100% pasture kept.

When I went outside to investigate, this is what I saw:

Boo had pulled the door off our hay feeder and was settling in to have a nice comfy day of it. All the other horses were sulking because there was a HORSE in their breakfast!

Silly me, in my plans for my future someday-barn, I was imagining that with the size of my horses, I'd need 14 x 14 stalls, or 12 x 16 stalls.

Imagine my relief to learn that 6 x 10 will be plenty big enough!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just Say No

The past two days have been so hectic. Lots of inquiries from sheep and horse shoppers, lots of email to answer, lots of paperwork to do.

And a couple of big decisions to make:

After several days of discussing, pondering, weighing the pros and cons, deciding, re-deciding, and changing our minds, Ken and I have finally decided not to sell either Torchsong or Callisto right now.

I feel bad about disappointing the two buyers who were interested in them, but I just feel like both of those fillies are too good to let slip away. Maybe in the future, we'll reevaluate our situation, but by then we'll have more specific information to base our decisions on, because Callisto will be started under saddle and bred to Senter this year, and Torchsong will probably follow in her footsteps the following year.

Once we see what kind of foals each filly produces with Senter, that will tell us a lot more about how valuable she will be to the farm as a broodmare.

Anyway, I'm just happy that I'll get to keep Callisto long enough to see what she's really like to ride!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Callisto Under Saddle

Even though I'm not advertising either Callisto or Torchsong for sale, I now have prospective buyers interested in each of them. I'm having a really hard time trying to decide which one to sell.

First I'll decide I definitely want to keep one, then I'll decide that it would be stupid to part with the other. Then I start wondering why I don't just keep them both!

Yesterday, the person interested in Callisto asked me to take some pictures so she could see what she looked like wearing a saddle. Callisto has never worn a saddle before, but today I showed her the saddle, she sniffed it, and I put it on. No fuss at all---what a great girl!

In the middle of this, the vet arrived to do Coggins tests and health certificates for some of the sales horses, so we left Callisto tied to a post while we dealt with the vet. She waited patiently until I came back, and then I decided to try sitting on her.

I sat on her only one time before, bareback in the pasture, but this was the first time with a saddle on. She didn't care at all.

The Cross-Dressing Farmer

It all started a few years ago when I stopped into Walmart in search of some cheap workout clothes. Simple sweatpants and sweat jacket, that's all I wanted. I searched the women's clothing section, but there was not a single simple pair of sweat pants anywhere.

I had thought that if any store was going to have plain, cheap clothes, it would be Walmart, but instead there were all these shiny lycra spandex yoga-pants and things with huge stripes and logos.

My husband had just bought himself some simple sweat pants that were as plain and cheap as they could be. Why did they have nothing similar for women? Frustrated, I went and looked at the men's clothing area.

Not only did they have lots and lots of plain, comfy workout sweats with NO ugly stripes or logos, they were all about a third the price of the womens! My solution was obvious---I bought my workout clothes from the men's section.

After we bought this farm and started raising animals, my lifestyle was such that I pretty much wore t-shirts or tank tops every day. And because my work is usually pretty dirty, soon all of my shirts were stained and worn.

When I went to the store to replace them, I learned from my sweat pant discovery, and compared prices of men's and women's basic t-shirts. Once again, the men's shirts were cheaper and sturdier, so I bought those. I see no reason to pay twice as much for shirts that are going to be smeared with dirt, manure, birthing fluid, or whatever, the first time I wear them!

Next came my search for the perfect shorts to wear during our long, hot summers on the farm. I needed them to be loose, sturdy, and come down to my knees so that I could still comfortably carry bales of hay without getting my legs all scratched up. I needed them to have big pockets for those times when I needed to carry half a dozen tubes of horse wormer and still have my hands free for opening gates.

Once more, I searched the women's clothing section with absolutely no luck. Women's shorts were tight, form-fitting, made from flimsy material, and had undersized pockets you could barely put your hand in, much less anything else. These clothes were made for people who wanted to stroll down sidewalks showing off their tans, not for people who actually needed to do physical labor for a living!

So, once again, I looked at the kind of long, loose, sturdy carpenter shorts my husband wears on the farm, and bought myself several similar pairs. They're not exactly shaped for feminine hips, but they're baggy enough that it doesn't matter. They're not particularly attractive, but they're comfortable and stand up to the rigors of doing chores, which is the most important thing.

Last week, frustrated with all of my women's sweaters and long-sleeved t-shirts that are cut to "fashionably" come down only to my waist---paired with the annoying women's jeans that now are all cut to come BELOW the waist, thus leaving a breezy gap that lets in the wintry wind and handfuls of hay chaff every time I do chores---I took one of my husband's long, fleecy shirts and started wearing it around the farm.

It was so cozy and comfortable, I told my husband if he ever wanted to get his favorite shirt back, he'd better take me clothes shopping in the men's section of whatever store he'd bought it in.

So, yesterday I went clothes shopping, and I didn't even bother to look in the women's section. There were sturdy, loose, warm, comfortable men's sweaters and shirts on sale for $4, $5, and $7 each, so I stocked up with enough to keep me warm and comfortable all winter.

It seems a little ridiculous that all the women's clothing I find in the stores nowadays is so inappropriate for my lifestyle. But I guess the truth of the matter is, I have what is often considered a fairly masculine job. My clothes need to be comfortable, sturdy, and able to withstand constant farm dirt. Fashion and beauty really don't enter into it.

I did make one concession to my gender and bought myself a pair of comfy, FEMININE pajamas: a pretty pale green jersey material with lettuce-ruffled edges and soft blue and white stripes.

So, I may dress like a man all day, but at least I can still look like a woman when I sleep.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Everybody's Shopping

Our snow is now almost completely gone, except for a few thin patches in spots that get all-day shade. That's what this native Yankee loves about living in the south: the wintry stuff never lasts very long!

Apparently, now is the season for livestock shopping. I have been getting lots of phone calls and emails from people shopping, both for horses and for sheep. I had Bonnie on the market for a good 6 months, but now that she's sold and gone to her new home, I've had so many inquiries about her, I could probably have sold her three more times!

In addition to all the horses I currently have listed for sale, I'm thinking about POSSIBLY selling Torchsong. I'm not sure whether it would be a good business decision to part with her, because I think she will make fantastic foals with Senter in another year or two.

My current thought is that I will be open to offers on her, but I won't let her go for a "bargain" price. I have had several inquiries about her, even though I'm not advertising her for sale. So today I took her out to the round pen and did a quick video clip of her movement.

With all the melting snow, our pastures are really muddy, so Torchsong is filthy in the photos. But she sure is pretty, just the same.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snow Mares

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing. Snow had already covered the ground, and it was still coming down. What better time for...

A photo shoot!

Usually when I open the pasture gate and whistle to the mares, they all come galloping. But today, they were suspicious of who that mysterious person was, appearing out of the snowstorm and calling to them. So I had to coax them for a couple of minutes to convince them that it was really just me.

But once Char decides something is okay, it's okay. Everybody follows the lead mare!

You've heard of "raining cats and dogs"? Well, apparently this morning it was "snowing horses." No wonder it's so hard for me to get my herd numbers down, when horses keep falling out of the sky into my pasture like this! :-)

I call this one, "What's that over there?"

And this one, "Ken With the Umbrella." :-)

Everybody got in on the fun.





The babies:

And, of course, Callisto put on a whole show of her own:

What a scenic way to start my morning, taking pictures of beautiful horses. I would have stayed out longer and taken more, but by the time I came in, my camera was wet and my fingers were so numb I couldn't even feel them to push the camera button!

I felt better quickly, though, because when I got inside, Ken had a cup of hot tea and some fresh-from-the-oven honey-bran muffins waiting for me.

You know, I think I just may keep that man! :-)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Penny in the Round Pen

A potential buyer asked for more photos of Penny yesterday, so today I took her out to the round pen for a photo shoot. As you can see, I interrupted her afternoon nap to do so!

Because she had just gotten up from her nap, she was not feeling feisty enough to show off her best extended trot, which is very big and floaty. Even so, I got a few nice photos of her trotting and cantering---so long as you don't mind the dirt from napping in the mud!

Partway through the session, our cat Madrigal decided she wanted to join in the fun. She ran almost half way around the round pen in front of Penny before deciding it would be safer to scoot out under the fence.

I also took some video of the session, but YouTube's upload feature doesn't seem to be working right now, so I can't share the video yet. I'll put a link here once I get the file uploaded.

Edited to add: Okay, the video is uploaded now. Here it is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Counting Sheep

I've been counting sheep today.

My current flock consists of 25 sheep, 21 ewes and 4 rams.

When the trading-horses-for-sheep deal goes through, I will be getting 10 more sheep (8 bred ewes and 2 rams) from David Grote at Whippoorwill Hollow Farm in northern Wisconsin. (Check out his website: he's an artist who does beautiful paintings of the animals on his farm.)

I'm also getting 6 ewes and a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog from my friend Monica of Small Meadow Farm later in the summer.

There's also a particular ram I've had my eye on that I'd like to buy if he's available for sale in the summer.

But wait, there's more!

Based on my rough estimate of each ewe's expected number of lambs, my current ewes should produce about 30 lambs in the spring.

The ewes I get from David will probably produce about 13 or so lambs.

Add that all up, and you get---GULP!---85 sheep!

I may have 85 sheep here by summer's end!?! Yikes! Time to start building some more efficient feeders and a decent system of handling chutes! Time to stock up on wormers and supplements and ear tags. Time to fence that last field and save up to fertilize and reseed the pastures. Time to get the phone number of that professional shearer those people recommended to me. Time to start planning my marketing campaign!

About half of those sheep will be for sale. At my average prices for breeding stock (usually somewhere in the $500-$700 range), that's a decent chunk of income, and any that don't go for breeding stock can sell as locker lambs. That's when a customer buys a lamb to go straight to the butcher for meat.

As far as hay consumption, I estimate that 8 sheep eat about the same as 1 horse. So, once we sell all the horses I'm trying to sell, we'll still be saving money even with that many sheep. Once half the sheep sell too, our hay costs will be way down, compared to now.

Still, 85 is a big number, even if half of it is all cute little lambs who will be sold by the time they're a few months old.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wheelin' and Dealin'

I have been answering emails and phone calls all day long. Just when I'd finish answering one, another one would come in.

I don't mind, though, because I'm making progress toward my very important goal of reducing my horse herd.

The trainer and I started discussing some of the details of our arrangement about Senter, so Senter will be leaving here very soon.

The trading-horses-for-sheep deal looks like it is going to go through, so Char and Scylla will be leaving here in about another month.

Shane and Boo will be leaving in a couple of weeks.

And I'm in the process of negotiating price with the young rider who is interested in Selebrity, so if we work something out that we both can live with, Selebrity may also be sold soon.

Plus I contacted a few people who had expressed interest in my horses before, to let them know the news about Senter. One person I know may be interested in breeding her mare to Senter, and the trainer already knows of two possibilities for him as well, in addition to her own mares that she gets to breed to him in exchange for her work training and promoting him.

After a long, full day of nonstop negotiating, now my brain is empty of any coherent thought and I need to go to bed!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good News

It's been a long day, and I'm heading to bed now, so I'm not going to write much tonight. But I just wanted to say two pieces of good news:

Bonnie arrived safely at her new home.

And the meeting with the trainer went very well. We still have a lot of details to work out, but I think that Senter is going to go away for training and to be promoted as a stud.

I'll talk more about it later, but I'm tired and it's my bedtime.

Goodnight everyone!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And She's Gone

Bonnie's gone.

The shipper came, I led her down to the trailer. She paused at the doorway and looked inside. I showed her the bucket of grain I was holding and let her think about it for a minute. And then she loaded right up.

A little bit of paperwork to sign, and then the trailer pulled away. As it disappeared out of sight down the road, Bonnie whinnied goodbye to our farm. From the stallion paddock, Senter answered.

And then she was gone.

Bye Bye Bonnie

The shipper was supposed to come pick up Bonnie today, but he was delayed, so now he's scheduled to come pick her up at midnight, and haul her to her new home in Massachusetts by sometime tomorrow night.

It will be interesting to see how she loads on the trailer. She's pretty calm, so if they were arriving in the daylight, I wouldn't think that she'd cause any problems loading.

But for her to be out there dozing in the pasture in the middle of the night, and then have some strangers pull up in a truck and trailer with all the lights blazing, and expect her to just walk into a strange trailer, is expecting a lot. For her, it would most likely seem like being abducted by aliens!

So, I'll have my trusty horse-attitude-adjuster with me: a yummy bucket of grain. And hopefully, her greed will overcome her suspicion. Or else she'll just think, "Hey, if the aliens are going to feed me, fine, they can abduct me any time."

She's the first one of the horses I've sold this year that is actually leaving. Boo and Shane sold before her, but they won't be leaving until later this month. Even though I love them all, I'm actually at the point where I'm looking forward to most of them being gone, because that will ease our financial burden, reduce the amount of chores we have to do, and reduce the stress on the land as well.

Horses are very destructive to the ground, and if I didn't already know that we want to plow up and reseed all our pastures anyway (when we can afford it), I'd be distressed about the amount of damage they've done to the pasture land here. But since I know the pastures need revamping no matter what, I don't worry about it much until then.

I cleaned up Bonnie the best I could tonight, because she was filthy from the muddy pasture. But I couldn't get her really clean. I wish that it was warm enough to give her a bath, so she could arrive all clean and sparkling to her new home. But, better that she arrive a bit dirty than she catch a cold from being damp and chilled.

Tomorrow we go meet the trainer who might work with Senter for us. I'm pretty excited about that possibility. I hope it goes well!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Callisto Jumps Again!

This morning, Callisto and a few of the other horses in the mare pasture were visiting over the fence with the baby horses in the back pasture. The babies were feeling frisky and running all around.

A few minutes later, I looked out the window and saw that Callisto was now in the back pasture, happily playing with the babies!

I put on my coat and went out, thinking that maybe somehow the gate between the two pastures had come open. But no, the gate was fine. Other than the fact that Callisto jumped it!

I could tell by the hoofprints in the mud exactly where she went over. No problem! The 4 1/2 foot tall gate is not bent or damaged, Callisto's legs aren't scraped anywhere. She went over it clean, just for the fun of it.

I think I have a jumping prospect on my hands!

She's so cute about it, too. I went out there and said, "Callisto! What did you do?"

And she just looked at me like, "This is OK, isn't it mom?"

So, what the heck, she's not doing any harm, and the babies all love her, so I'll let her stay there at least until evening feeding time.

There's a new development in the trading-horses-for-sheep deal too. The other sheep breeder has tentatively offered to trade me 8 of his bred ewes plus two rams, one of which is a champion, for...

Char and Scylla!

It's a fair offer, value wise, especially since he would also give me $1,500 per foal when their foals sell (or else I could take the foals back for free). But, oh, what a hard decision, to have to give up Char, even to a nice home like this one would be.

The sheep he offered are worth a total of about $6,000. Plus each of the bred ewes should have lambs (probably 2 each) in the spring. If they all lived and I sold them all at an average price ($500 a piece), the whole sheep deal would be worth in the vicinity of $13,000, plus the $3,000 for the foals. $16,000 just for trading my two bred mares is VERY fair indeed!

Of course the reality won't be quite that perfect. Usually a few lambs die, or a few ewes might have singles instead of twins. And not every lamb grows up to sell for high breeding-stock prices.

Still, Icelandic sheep are far easier to sell than horses, plus they don't eat as much expensive hay in the meantime. And, if for some reason one doesn't sell and you don't want to keep it anymore, you can always eat it! So it's a much lower risk investment, too.

But I LOVE my Char-char, and would be so sad to see her go!

On the other hand, if I'm being realistic, my goal has always been to gradually thin my horse herd down to 4-6 of my best mares, plus Senter. I'm definitely keeping my two Art Deco fillies, Grace and Glory. It makes sense to keep Callisto, Callista, and Torchsong, for their builds, height, and color.

So if I look at it rationally, I know that I'll have to part with Char and Scylla eventually, so my main choice should be how to get the most value out of them for my farm while still finding them a home where they can be happy and loved.


Farming is a hard career, physically. But emotionally, it is tougher still.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Opportunity Knocks?

As some of you may already know, my pinto Oldenburg stallion Senter Stage is our farm's pride and joy. We invested a lot of money to buy him. He's an amazing animal with a world-class pedigree and a ton of potential.

But because of circumstances (financial setbacks, poor facilities, and too many other projects) I have not even managed to finish training him under saddle, much less promote him, or even get get my farm set up with the proper facilities so that I could start offering him at stud to outside mares (and thus let him start earning a little income for the farm).

Recently, a woman contacted me about the possibility of breeding one of her mares to Senter. She owns a breeding/training/boarding/lesson barn about 2 1/4 hours from me. She has a nice selection of Warmblood and Thoroughbred mares and stands a couple of Thoroughbred stallions at stud, but she now wants to get started breeding Warmbloods.

Because I really don't have the facilities to house outside mares here---and I already have too many other horses that I need to put training on this year---I asked her if she'd be open to the possibility of putting some training on Senter for me at her facility, in exchange for breeding to him.

Well, we've been exchanging lots of long emails since then and to make a long story short, in exchange for a certain number of breedings, she is willing to temporarily take over and "manage" Senter's career for me.

Meaning, she will train him, show him, advertise him, take him to Stallion Expos, take him to the registry inspections to get him "approved for breeding" so he can start doing full-Warmblood breedings, teach him to have semen collected so he can start doing shipped semen, allow him to stand at stud at her facility (I get the stud fees, she gets the mare care fees), and even transport him back here to my farm so he can be here for my breeding season in May.

Considering all I've managed to do with him in the two years he's been with me is get him under saddle a few times and breed him to a handful of mares, this seems like an amazing opportunity for him---especially since I'm past the stage in my life where I even WANT to be dragging horses around to shows and inspections.

In exchange, she gets breedings to Senter---which means that the better she does at promoting him and getting him known, the more her foals will be worth, so there's good motivation there. Plus the fact of having a stallion of Senter's caliber at her farm (without having to pay the big bucks to buy one) will help draw people to her program.

Of course this all depends on me visiting her facility, meeting her in person, and making sure we "click" in our ideas about how horses should be handled, but if it works out, it could be a HUGE win-win situation for both of us. The work she puts in could easily double Senter's value, as well as increasing the value of his foals.

So anyway, I'm going to her farm on Sunday to meet her and hopefully watch her do a training session so I can get an idea of her methods.

If all goes well, and it seems like the two of us will be able to work together in this partnership, then we'll start negotiating the details and sign a formal contract.

So, with luck, Senter might be going off to "school" very soon. My boy will be all grown up!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My Secret Obsession

I do it when I'm stressed. I do it when I'm working and need to take a break to clear my mind. Sometimes I do it before I go to bed at night. Sometimes I do it several times in a row.

It sooths me. I helps me put my tangled thoughts in order.

I'm talking, of course, about that simple yet insidious game that steals large chunks of my life in tiny, 5-minute increments:

Spider Solitaire.

When I first found it pre-installed on my computer, I tried it because I was bored with regular solitaire. I didn't know the rules, and I found it really frustrating. But for some reason, I kept trying until I figured out the rules. Then I kept trying until I figured out the strategies to help you win. Then I got pretty good at it.

Why, oh why, when I have such a busy life right now, do I waste my precious minutes on a silly computer solitaire game?

I think it's because the skills required to be good at Spider Solitaire are a simpler, purer form of the very same skills required to succeed at my task of trying to keep this farm afloat.

You start out with a random selection of opportunities, which you must combine and recombine to make the most orderly and successful arrangement possible. You are arbitrarily limited in what moves you can make, even when you can see other opportunities that are just out of reach. And you have to make some of your decisions based on incomplete data, because you can't see all the cards that are hidden and you don't know what new cards you'll be dealt.

And, as in life, sometimes things just don't work out so that you can win the game, and other times everything just falls into place.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thinking Sideways

When---as is often the case---the path to our goals is obstructed by some delay or complication, Donna and I encourage each other to find ways to "think sideways" around the obstruction.

I spent today "thinking sideways."

I was writing emails all day long. Mostly, it was answering people who were inquiring about horses. For example:

One person decided against a horse she had been interested in, so I suggested another that she liked even better.

A fellow Icelandic sheep breeder wanted to decrease his sheep flock and get a couple of horses. I want to reduce my horse herd and add to my sheep flock. We exchanged emails discussing the possibility of a trade.

A horse trainer/breeder wrote to ask about breeding her mare to Senter, but our facilities are not really ready to host outside mares yet. So I suggested the idea of trading breedings for training at her facility.

A young rider was interested in one of my horses as a show prospect, but her favorite was out of her price range. We discussed payment options to help her afford the one she wanted.

I feel like I accomplished a lot today, even though I barely had time to get out of my chair. I think the most fun I had was discussing trading a horse to the sheep breeder. It was really entertaining to make out a whole list of possible options, using "sheep" as my base form of currency.

"It would be this many sheep to buy the horse. Add 1/2 sheep per month for board, or 1 sheep per month for board plus training. If you want her bred to my stallion, that'll cost you another sheep."

I don't know why, but I just had a lot of fun making out a price list in sheep.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Donald Trump and the Mechanical Lamb

Once upon a time, back in the summer of 2004, Ken and I bought Ingleside Farm. It was a beautiful old pre-Civil War house, but it was very run down.

Even though the inside of the house was filthy and in poor repair, we had big hopes of fixing it up and decorating it in the grand manner that it deserved. Both of us being avid readers, we were excited to see that just off the living room was a large, spacious room that could serve as our library. We imagined fixing it up in the classic Masterpiece Theater style of decorating, with floor to ceiling bookcases and a big fireplace at one end.

Once day, while browsing in a used-furniture shop in Charlottesville, I fell in love with a dark red leather couch that I knew would be just perfect for our future library. It was exactly the right size, exactly the right style, and even exactly the right color to go with the thick oriental rug we already had.

Even though the library wasn't fixed up yet---at the time, we hadn't even moved into the house yet---we splurged and bought the couch. When the shopkeeper saw what piece of furniture we had selected, she said, "Oh, if you're buying that one, I have to tell you where it came from."

"Really? Where?"

She smiled. "That couch used to be in the penthouse of Trump Towers in New York!"

I would have loved this couch no matter where it was from, but we thought it was hilarious that we were getting a famous person's couch.

I'm sure the couch thought it had gone to some kind of Furniture Hell, being demoted from its former palatial home to our bare, empty not-yet-a-library in our run-down, dilapidated house. There is a tiny smear of white paint on the leather of the couch back, which I'm guessing is the reason for the poor couch's dismissal.

We had a great time telling our friends and family that we had Donald Trump's couch in our library. They thought it was funny too.

My sister Donna sometimes sends me funny presents, little things to make me laugh. One Christmas, she sent me a fully jointed, talking Donald Trump doll to sit on my Trump couch. Perhaps the couch would feel more at home then!

He says things like:

"I have no choice but to tell you, you're fired!"

"Stay focused!"

"Remember, the buck starts here!"

Today, several years later, Donna just sent me another bunch of presents. Among them---because we are shepherds, and we are waiting for spring lambing time---was a mechanical toy lamb. When you pet its back, it wags its tail, bobs its head, wiggles up and down and bleats.

Clearly, this lamb needed to be put under the supervision of our talking Trump doll. What luck! The doll is fully jointed and the lamb is just the right size that The Donald can ride it!

So now they can sit on the Trump couch and carry on conversations with each other:

"Think big and live large."


"Do you really think you're a good leader? I don't."

"Maaaah, maaah, maaah!"

"Never give up under any circumstances. Never give up."


"Always enjoy what you're doing."


"Go with your gut instinct."

"Baaa, baaa!"

"Always maintain your momentum."


Clearly, it really doesn't take a lot to keep me entertained! :-)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

On the Fence

I've been having a really hard time deciding whether or not to sell Callisto. Out of all my horses, she's probably my second favorite (after Char), and I've watched her grow up from a weanling, so I'm really attached to her.

Plus, she's grown up into a magnificent horse in the past couple of years, and I think she's going to be really high quality. Her movement is beautiful, her temperament mild, and she's already 15.3 hands at 2 1/2 years old, so she's going to have plenty of height.

The only drawback to keeping her as a broodmare is that she's gray, and some people don't like gray pintos. Considering the rest of her good qualities, that's a pretty minor drawback.

But if I keep Callisto, someone else has to go on the sales list. I'm thinking of maybe selling Scylla instead. Scylla is also a gorgeous horse with beautiful movement, I just haven't quite bonded with her as much as I have with Callisto. Scylla has the advantage that she's already pregnant, and she's already trained to ride and drive. Of course those things make her more salable as well.

The disadvantage of selling Scylla is that she's a matched team with Char, so if I sell her, I'm breaking up the team. Not that I'm ever likely to drive them as a team, but it's nice to know I could.

I'm really "on the fence" about this decision. I have several people inquiring about Callisto, and I'm not sure what to tell them. I went out today to take some video of Maggie for a prospective buyer, and decided to take some video of Callisto as well so that I could study her movement more closely, thinking maybe that would help me decide.

While I was filming, Callisto decided to give a demonstration of what "on the fence" really meant: She tried to jump out of our 5.5' tall round pen---and only made it halfway over. Amazingly, I caught it on video!

Despite what you might think, watching that video, she was not jumping out because she was scared or upset. She was just being willful and trying to avoid working.

You see, when she was a baby, she successfully jumped out of a couple of fences, so now she thinks she can jump anything---and she tries it whenever she thinks it will get her out of having to do something she doesn't want to do.

Obviously I need to do a bunch more training with her to break her of this naughty habit, but we were just trying to do a quick video of her moving in the round pen today---we didn't think it was going to end up being a rodeo!

In the video, you can see poor Ken, bravely waving the baggie whip in Callisto's face to try to head her off and turn her back from jumping. But she's not in the least scared of the baggie whip, so she ignores it and keeps going.

Notice that when she slides back down off the gate, she manages to unlatch it with her leg, and it starts to swing open. If Ken hadn't been there to close it, she would have gotten out and her plan to escape from doing work would have worked, at least temporarily.

I love our Priefert brand round pen. It's very high quality. But their "horse proof" latch is not at all horse proof. I've had at least half a dozen horses unlatch it and escape. Now if I'm leaving a horse in there for any length of time, I chain it shut, because I don't trust the latch.