Monday, October 22, 2012

Horse Puckey!!

This doesn't have a lot to do with horses, except in a roundabout sort of way.  Last week, I gathered several buckets of fresh horse manure.  The manure is for the compost.  The compost is for the garden.  I am not a gardener.  My wife, Marlyn is a gardener.  Seems I can't turn around in the garden without getting fussed at for stepping on some valuable plant or another.  I have the job of  PILOT.  The job of PILOT is just as important as it sounds.  It goes something like this;
"Where do you want this, Honey?"
"PILOT over here."
"Where do you want that, Darling?"
"PILOT over there."

Fetching and Carrying

Sometimes I pile stones.  Other times I pile landscaping timbers.  Mostly I pile the compost I've made.  We have about half a dozen mature oak trees in our yard.  Each winter, they drop a mountain of leaves onto the ground.  We used to simply push them over the hill to the edge of the street.  Eventually the County would send a vacuum truck around to suck them up.  Then they figured out that running a vacuum truck all over the county for free was costing them a lot of money, so they stopped it.  Some private companies picked up the slack, they wanted about $100 for the job.  Imagine that, a business wanting to get paid for providing a service.  Our neighbors started hauling their leaves away themselves.  We plunked down a couple hundred on one of those compost tumblers.  Then we bought a second, used one for a lot less. 

Maybe you've seen them.  Big, round cylinders with a crank handle on the end.  The advertisements claimed you could make perfect compost in about a week.  Sounds wonderful, compared to the seasons long collecting, piling, turning, and rotating needed to make compost the old fashioned way.  The trick is, it actually works. 

Our compost factory
It works, as long as you follow a strict recipe.  You use a specific ratio of green vegetation to dry vegetation to animal manure.  combine this with daily tumbling, and strict monitoring of the internal temperature of the mix, and you will cook up a batch of rich compost in a week or so.  My objective isn't to make the perfect batch of compost.  My objective is to make last years crop of dead leaves disappear before this years crop starts to fall.  I always have much more dry brown stuff than fresh green stuff.  This also works, but it's a bit slower.  You also need much more fresh manure.  The manure is the secret ingredient that provides the bacteria needed to speed up the decomposition process.   

When it comes to yard work, I like to work with nature, rather than fight against it.  Or, if you prefer Marlyns' explanation, I'm lazy.  But, I do have a method.  With my mix of leaves, grass, and manure, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to make a batch of compost.  That's still much faster than the old way.  In the Summer, I try to coordinate cutting the grass with the times one of the tumblers will be empty.  That way, I have green vegetation for the mix.  In the Fall, I wait until the yard is well carpeted with fallen leaves.  Then mulch them up and bag them by running over them with the lawn mower.  The shredded leaves decompose faster, with or without the tumbler.  When the weather is cold, the bacteria are inactive, and the compost won't cook.  I store the mulched leaves in wire bins until Spring.  Soft vegetation that hasn't been mulched goes into a pile beside the bins.  We have another pile for sticks and hard stems.  When the wire bins are empty, I'll start using the unmulched leaves.  Occasionally, I'll take a fork and turn the unmulched leaves.  Other than that, the other two piles are simply left to nature.

While I'm trying to speed things along with the tumblers, nature is still working away at her own pace in the storage piles.  Every year or so, there's good rich soil at the bottom of one or another of the piles.  This year, the bins yielded a wheelbarrow load of good potting soil.  Mostly though, I get compost.

Rich potting soil at the bottom of one of the bins.
The largest part of Marlyn's garden is on a slope behind our house.  Over the years, she has terraced it and made it usable.  The previous owners of the house, filled a hole on the very back corner with old wood, pipes, and other metal stuff.  Marlyn filled that in with the compost.  It is now one of the most productive areas of the garden.  With the steady supply of available compost, she has enriched most areas of the garden. 

Within 3 years after we bought them, the tumblers paid for themselves in savings.  At least, we didn't pay someone else $100 to pick up the leaves and carry them away.  We've also saved from not buying mulch or compost to beef up our garden soil.  So, if you're wondering what to do with your fallen leaves this Autumn, Just add horse puckey!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sometimes It Just Clicks

I've been on the road for a while, so I haven't posted much lately.  I haven't been doing much horse work either, or so I thought.  I'm constantly amazed at how intelligent horses actually are.  Sometimes it takes months of repetition in session after session to learn something.  Not so with the last horse I worked with.  Baby is a 3 year old walking horse gelding.  He earned his name by virtue of being the youngest horse at the stable.  He is gentle, and a pleasure to ride.  But folks were having problems getting him to stand still for mounting.  He isn't actively trying to bully the rider like Hawk, in my earlier posts.!/2012/07/continuing-education-of-hawk.html
Baby is just young, and doesn't know any better. 

A week or so ago, I had a bit of time after work to spend with Baby.  We didn't go anywhere.  We just spent a little less than an hour mounting and dismounting in the arena.  His performance wasn't bad, but nothing to brag about either.  I thought I'd have to work with him a few more times.  Then, I was gone for over a week. 

Today, I went to the barn to get a few buckets of fresh horse manure.  (That's another story in itself.)  Several folks had just returned from a good trail ride through the local woods.  I stopped and chatted with them for a while.  Everyone took a turn bragging about how their horse had behaved.  Baby's rider chimed in with the rest.  Then the boss turned to me and said "I don't know what you did with that horse, but when you get on him now, he doesn't move a muscle."

Like the title says.  Sometimes, it just clicks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ginger Hits the Trail (pt 5)

I took Ginger on the Amelia Springs Trail Ride.  We had a good long ride, and I was very pleased with her performance.  Before this, I had worked her at the farm one more time.  She did well, never tried to duck down the driveway at all.  The following weekend, we trailered Ginger and about a half dozen other horses to the far side of the state park.  She was understandably nervous around new horses and a strange place.  However, she settled in nicely after we got moving.  She did shy once at some unseen bogeyman in the woods.  I think it was legit, because the other, more trail wise horses also seemed to have seen something, though none of them shied from it.  She shied a second time later on.  This time the other horses just trooped on past.  I thought I heard one of them whisper "Rookie" as he passed by.  She is a bit soft from languishing in the pasture for so long.  We rode for a little over 2 hours, and near the end, Ginger ran out of steam.  From there, we simply went back to the trail head at a leisurely walk.

                                            No Rest For the Weary

I gave Ginger a good rubdown with absorbine when we got back.  But, the very next weekend she was working hard again.  This time, another rider took her on a long, fast trail ride in North Carolina.  He reported that early on, she attempted to back up with him.  He simply turned her around and backed her about one hundred feet past the point she initially balked.  No more shenanigans after that.  They also encountered some vehicle traffic with absolutely no problems. 

The Amelia Springs Trail Ride was next on Gingers' plate.  We set off on Friday afternoon, and trailered the hour or so to the farm that hosted the event.  We had eleven horses in tow.  All were pre-registered, so check in went smoothly.

Checking in at Amelia Springs
 One of our number had already parked his big gooseneck trailer at our chosen campsite.  It was loaded with buckets, feed, hay, and other horse supplies.  We parked our other two goosenecks at either end of the first one.  This formed a small quadrangle that functioned as our camp for the weekend.

Our camp.  I'm always something of an odd duck, the tipi style tent is mine.

Other groups set up tents and trailers along with a patchwork of portable electric fences for their horses.  All of this quickly grew up around pre-established travel lanes.  In all, about 250 riders came out.

The ride is set up on farmland that is also used as a hunt club.  Our hosts provided meals on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  These were served up by an enthusiastic troop of Boy Scouts.  The farm is crisscrossed with a system of well marked trails.  There is a short ride of 14 miles, and a long one of 21 miles, all marked out with directional signs.  The two trails converge at a clearing at the nine mile point.  There, the Boy Scouts had set up several barbecue grills.  I let Ginger graze a bit, then tied her to a tree.  We relaxed and enjoyed burgers, hot dogs, beans, and potato salad. 

Most of our group elected to take the long trail.  Our walking horses are well conditioned, with Ginger being the rookie.  All of them easily covered the ground.  We rode for about six hours with a break for lunch.  On a big hill about an hour or 45 minutes from the end, our horses showed some fatigue.  We dismounted at the top and let them rest for 15 or 20 minutes.  I was pleased that Ginger held up as well as the other, more experienced horses.  She finished out the ride at her smooth, ground eating amble.  I let her pick her own pace going up the last few hills, and she took them eagerly. 

She was obviously tired when we got back to camp.  I unsaddled her and let her have a bucket of water.  Then, I led her around the camps for several laps, until her breathing returned to normal.  Once she was cool, I led her down to the wash rack and sprayed her off with water.  She finished off her day with a big bag of hay and plenty of water. 

Ginger has performed so well, that she has spent the past week with a prospective buyer.  Not bad for a horse that didn't want to do anything a couple months ago. 

Crossing the creek.  From front to rear are; Ginger, Cherokee, and Shadow.
photo by
 The little horse behind me in this photo is Cherokee.  Four months ago this horse was terrified of running water.  I lost count of how many creeks we crossed during this ride.  Cherokee even took at least one good long drink while we were out.  You can read about some of Cherokees' adventures here;!/2012/04/taming-water-monsters.html