Thursday, May 7, 2015

End of Summer Plans

I can't help but be a planner, and I'm always prepping for the future.

One big thing on my list, on my list since I was 5 years old and in love with horses, is to have my horse at home.

I got older and wiser, and while I no longer want to board Moon 24-7-365 at home, I really would love to have him at home for the summers, to enjoy our sunny pasture where he's a 5 minute walk after work and reach that huge dream for me. And then share the work of the summer with my girlfriends and enjoy the good life of trail riding away the winter blues.

My life until this point, has been 100% house. Get the house built. The house is now built, and pretty much finished.

Our backyard...just need to put some parging on the bottom of the house...
...and wait for spring to finish green-ing everything up!

The next goal is wedding. 100% get married. Fix up the yard for our wedding. Fair enough. From now until September, that's like 90% of where all of my energy goes.

But what about September 6th, when that wedding is all over, our yard is pretty well fabulous, our house is 90% finished and ???

And what??

I've got a couple months before winter hits, and I need a project. A big project.

We won't be ready to build a garage for at least a couple years. 2017 maybe?? I need a small scale project that can eat up my time, that matters, but doesn't cost a lot of money (because getting married is expensive).

What does that mean to me?? It means I want to build my pasture and paddocks :)

The start of our "road" to the back field, as we add fill and gravel to transition it from a bumpy dirt path to a nice drive in my car :)

I know that we have about 3-4 acres of pasture space, and I know for sure that I want to rotationally graze it. I spent 4 years in university and countless dollars wasted on a degree in Agriculture. That's right. I have a bachelor's degree in agriculture and I don't do any farming. I don't even work with animals anymore. Some people would shrug, "Meh, you never work in your chosen field." and point out that I have a good job that I love and pays the bills.

But the thing is...

...I REALLY love farming. I love it. I'm passionate about it. Agriculture isn't just some missed career path. It's me missing out on something that I LOVE. Feed formulations, plant density calculations, rotational grazing, stocking rates....these are things I truly love doing, and I don't get to. And as a career, probably never will.

For that reason, more than just being 5 at heart and really wanting my pony in my backyard, I want to have a farm. I really, really, really want to have a farm. It doesn't need to be a commercial farm or even a hobby farm that sells some odds and ends to the public. I just want...

I just want a little self-sufficiency like my parents had when I was a kid. I want enough space to have a garden that feeds our family over the winter, space to hunt a few prairie chickens, eventually raise some poultry for meat and maybe eggs, keep my horse, and at some point, I really, really, want a few goats. I don't care if we kill them all every fall so we don't have to over-winter them, I just know that I really, really want to raise livestock for meat production. I want to trim hooves again, and assess my stocking rates, and fix fences, and walk them checking for gaps. I love raising livestock.

That's what I want. I want a miniature, self-sustaining little homestead. Just enough to keep me occupied.

Our pasture in the late fall; just trees and grass. 

I love the idea of no overwintering because it means if we want a family vacation, we can take one in the winter. And go somewhere warm.

Okay, so here I am, and I know a few things for sure about our farm:

1) I want to keep my horse on pasture
2) I want to eventually be set up for a small herd of goats (we're talking 3 maybe 4 max)

I know that goats are great for our place because they love brush. Contrary to what a lot of people think, goats are not grazers. They don't love a big grassy pasture (okay, the new well-bred high producing goats do, but I'm talking your homesteading goat). They love brush. They love poison ivy and sticks and all the debris that grows under the trees.

We have a LOT of that. And we spend A LOT of time clearing it by hand, which sucks.

On the other end of it, we have 5 acres of grassy pasture.

My dream, is to build a small horse shelter, that would fit 2 horses, and have it tucked right at the edge of the wood and the pasture. Fence in the pasture area, so that we have 1 sacrifice pasture for when it's rainy, 3 pastures for grazing rotationally, and then a space that's open for our garden (which I'd like to slowly enlarge over time as our family grows).

I'd like the run-in shelter to be split in half, so that half of it is on the wooded side, and can used for our goats. And then I'd like to fence in 3-5 acres of woods for our goats, into two paddocks. Just let them go to town. With a small herd of goats and those smaller sized plots, we could easily see a nice reduction in our underbrush, without (if my research is correct) loosing so much that it's not regrowing. And that means we get a good number of these buggers in our freezer for the winter too. Most sheep raised for eating will dress at about 50% of their live weight, and say slaughtered somewhere at the 100 lb mark (based on how long we're able to raise them). A healthy market goat could get to 80 lbs in 3 months, and we'd probably have a few more months then that with them, though our forage quality is less than a hay and grain diet of a feeder operation.

Pasture early this spring...after the road was improved enough to drive my (dirty) car down it!

So even with a small herd of just 2 goats to start, raised to about 80 lbs, That's 80 lbs of meat at the end of the summer. Considering the cost of buying a whether (castrated male) is about $100 at birth and we're not paying much to feed them (add in some dewormers and such), that's about $3 a pound for the meat. That's awesome.

It of course didn't take much convincing to get my G on board with this goat plan. I think he knows how much I love farming, and since it also benefits our family, he's fully behind it.

At the moment, that's our plans. If we can start getting some fencing up this fall after our wedding, in the spring we should have a month or two to finish up and build a run-in. I'm waiting to hear back from our local lumber yard on my "dream" run-in shelter:

Enough space if we divide the run-in in half, to have goats on one side, and horses on the other. Horse. Horse. G reminds me that I've only got Moon ;) I'm okay with that. Until he's ready for retirement lol.

And that's our farm plan :) I wouldn't mind adding the chicken tractor to the goat pasture as well as the horse pasture depending on the season. Again, I don't want to really be housing chickens over the winter, but I'd like to have some to add to our freezer every fall.

So for us, something like 3 chickens, 2 goats and a horse. That's a fine little farm to me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The later years.

Sometimes it's weird thinking about Moon getting older. He turns 16 this week. SIXTEEN! That's incredible. It's like the years are flying by, and I can't help but wonder where we're headed and how many more he has in him.

He's by no means an old horse. At 16, he's finally at a good solid age where he's dependable and predictable. He still has energy and spunk, but he's also happy and relaxed and pretty damn easy to ride. He hasn't lost his fitness or stamina, but he's headed towards old age.

I think a lot lately about his future. I love my Moon and he is my heart horse. I will have him forever and a day. This is not a horse that will ever be sold, that I can promise you.

My life is ever changing though. I watch so many bloggers here get married and move forward on all of those "married life" things, and I know that they are putting their horses to pasture for a few years, or selling them to homes that can keep working them, or they've part-leased them out knowing that they just don't have the time to dedicate anymore.

It makes me unbelievably conscious of Moon's future, and makes me take time to think about what I want for him.

I know that there may be a stint where I'm not able to ride him nearly as much as I can now, and I don't want him forgotten. For me, that's where teaching the kids to ride comes in. I love doing it and I love that it means I still get to work with Moon and teach him something. If in two years all we're doing is teaching kid's lessons, I'm happy with that. The kids will be 8 and 7 by then, and that's a good age to start being more independent in your riding. If this stage lasts 4 years, that's okay. Moon will be 22, and he will have a few kids who adore him and are probably (hopefully?) riding him a fair bit. Which means that Moon can retire into the service of these young charges. He can happily be a little pony club mount, he can teach my own children to ride, and he can just enjoy his old age as a little school pack pony. That makes me so happy to think about. I don't think he would be happy being ignored, and I want his retirement to be easy on him. This seems like a wonderful choice.

And by those years, I will be ready to perhaps start my next horse. Something that Moon can pony out and teach to behave. And then I can slowly transition to the next mount (which won't come close to being my Moonpie), and ease the transition for all of us.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Munchkins and Mayhem.

Talk about a busy couple of days!

Let's start out with Friday. The great jumping lesson!

I started out the morning over the moon, and by the end of the working day, was a crabby irritable mess. I just was in a funk, and there was no getting out of it. To make it better, it appears no one actually reads my messages and our lesson was pushed back an hour (not the coach's fault).

Made it to the barn, got Moon-pie ready. No biggie. Met Coach mm as we'll call her and started working with Mr. Moon.

For first lessons, you never really expect anything spectacular. The coach is just meeting the horse and rider combination for the first time, and getting a feel for what they know and how they work together.

We did some warming up, and worked on getting Moon to loosen and bend. Then we did some canter circles, which was the FIRST real time we did serious canter work together. After almost a year with coach W, we had just started on canter, and it was no more than a couple of transitions and that was it.

I was nervous, but to the left, for his left lead, he was on the money. Beautiful circle and I think we rode it well enough.

To the right? Counter canter the WHOLE FRICKEN TIME. We tried a dozen or so way to no avail. He ALWAYS picked up the wrong lead, no matter what we did.

So Coach mm asked if Moon knew flying lead changes. " Not that I know of anyway". I sure as hell didn't train them, and I know the owner before me sure didn't.

"Try giving him a little kick with your outside leg," she says.

I was almost rolling my eyes in my head. Come on. This is Moon. The horse came with next to no knowledge, and I've not ridden a ton of horses that do flying lead changes on command.

But I kicked anyway. Nothing.




"Once more."

<eye roll> whatever. <kick>


Yes folks. It happened.


Isn't this something a horse needs to be trained to do?? Cause he did it. He literally did it, and almost like he *knew* what was being asked but was a little rusty at it.

Moon knows flying lead changes?!


That just blew my mind. If that was all we got out of the lesson, I would be over the moon. My horse can do flying lead changes. Okay, so he doesn't pick up the right lead. Let's ignore that. He can change on the fly!!!

We moved on after that, learning rhythm in our riding. Coach mm put out ground poles, and we trotted over them trying to keep the same pace as we went along. It went great :)

Then she gave us a little x-rail and we popped over it. Moon was a touch rushy at times, or trying to sneak around the rails, but he finished up nice and solid and happy. His pacing became consistent and I learned to keep a nice solid leg on him without asking for anything.

We finished with the x-rail a few more times, and she assured me that my top fear of smashing him in the mouth was not happening. :) That made me happy :)

We didn't do a ton of jumping, but for a first lesson I was thrilled that we got to pop over even a cross-rail. And the fact that Moon, despite having a new horse in his herd, was well behaved and just listening to me so well. I love that.

Little x-rail to get us going!

I'm super excited for the next time we get to ride and do more jumping. He's a solid little pony and I love that about him.

We also did the whole lesson with an audience of strangers, plus S2. I sometimes forget it's now an extroverted barn and some days there will be 3 or 4 people I don't know hanging out. In the very least, I'm quite happy to know that I really don't even notice people once I start riding. The whole world drops away, and the only people I can think about is the coach and my horse. The end. Afterwards, sure, I'm wondering and thinking about what they all thought, but during my lesson, I'm in the zone. It's pretty useful.

Post lesson we watched H go around with Tiny Tim, and then it was an evening. Man was I hot and sore and ready for a rest!

On a positive, the coach was quite surprised that Mr. Moon wasn't huffing after all of our work. The reality is that while he doesn't have a ton of arena time lately and maybe I don't ride a whole ton, we've worked pretty hard to stay reasonably fit, and I'd almost say he's close to his fitness level from our showing year. And that's awesome to me.

Trademark evil rabbit face...


Saturday the farrier came by for a trim, and I praised her on the fact that Moon can gallop a gravel road and still be sound the next day. Jumping no issues, and even on Sunday after his trim he was still nice and sound for me. I'm thrilled.

Saturday afternoon was BUSY, but it's kind of horse related. With our wedding coming in September, we want to finish our "path" to our back field, so that it's actually a rode. The length is almost 1/3rd of a mile, so we can't afford to haul gravel. Instead, we've been using the silt and small rocks from the build to fill in the low spots and smooth the path out. After 8 hours of work on Saturday, while not "perfect", the "path" was now smooth enough that I could drive my car slowly down it!!! :D

What does this have to do with horses??

The long term plan.

See, if I can drive my car out back, I can certainly get a horse trailer out back. I can get fencing for Mr. Moon and be able to drive to the paddocks. I can haul hay. I can get back there when it's been raining without getting stuck!! It's the start of making our farm!! :D

I'm not sure where I drum the energy up from, but Sunday morning after breakfast I took my almost 6-year old niece out to the barn with me to meet Mr. Moon. She was excited to meet a horse and I thought it would be wonderful for us to have something to share. As I've said before, I wish I had an aunt who loved horses as a kid, so I want to be that aunt to my kidlings too.

I also had another lesson with little C later that afternoon, and it was neat to...observe, different children.

So my niece D, she's a talker and told me all about everything on the drive. Horses and cows and bunny rabbits. When we got to the barn I gave her some directions and rules and we went into the garage where we store all of our horse stuff.

"Ewww. It stinks in here," she informed me.


"Doesn't it smell like horses?? This is all our tack. It smells like horses and horse food and leather!"

She gave me "the look" and walked back out the door. Okay, okay. So not everyone falls in love with the smell of poo.

We brought Moon back to the front and she eagerly helped groom him and get him ready. Unlike C she wasn't as focused on learning all the specifics of horses and horse ownership and care. She is one of those kids that is trying to engage in everything around her all at once. A butterfly over there, why does it smell like that (that's horse paddocks after a long winter), is that fence electric, how long would it shock me for, why is that horse laying down, can we groom him, where's my helmet, can we got to mcdonalds for lunch, where is the city from here, are there cows, how far are we from home, how old will you be in ten years, wow you are old, do you work here, how come that woman is over there, do you have a quad, can I come to your house, does the horse live there, can we call him draculara, what if he was pink, can we paint him pink, is that a big truck, does he eat marshmellows...

Seriously. I put him on her and she was ready to brush him. She brushed him and she was ready to feed him. We fed him and she wanted to walk him. We walked him and she wanted to ride him again. And then groom him. And then paint him pink.

Thankfully, I am a creature of obsessive structure, and so while I will entertain and answer a few thousand questions, the horse is still only brought up once, he gets a grooming before and after his ride, and once we're off, we're off. Perhaps one of the awesome things horses teach us, is the benefit of routine. Just settle and perform the activities one at a time. In order.

It's probably totally not appropriate of me, but I'm curious to see how "the disease" affects each of these girls (D and C). They are only about 14 months apart in age which makes it really neat because they would have been exposed to horses at about the same time. Neither child really has done much more than sit on the odd pony for pony rides. Neither of them were raised in the country, though both have spent time outside the city. Neither has horsey parents either, though I think both their moms would have ridden horses if given the opportunity. :)

After D had done a bunch of work steering and such, I hopped on behind her and we did some trotting. I really wanted to give the girls a chance to trot, but I was worried about starting it on the lead rope BECAUSE I know it's incredibly bouncy. It doesn't take much to bounce right out of the saddle, which I don't want these kids doing! They don't even have stirrups!

On a whim, I decided that I would simply ride double with them. I know H and I had swapped horses on horseback before and Moon didn't care at all. I also knew that with the reins in my hand I was confident I could control Moon, and I know that I can ride bareback and won't fall off myself.

Of course, Moon did not care *at all*. We trotted around, and D was bouncing along, but with my arms on either side of her, I was able to make sure she stayed on the saddle. It worked great and I think she really enjoyed it. I think I also really enjoyed it, because it was a great way to experience riding with a little kid :) It allows me to maintain a ton of control but still bring on those fast speeds :)

And holy, do kids like faster speeds once they get a taste for them lol.

After our ride, I put Moon away and we cleaned up. I took D home to her parents, and she told me all about the pony she wants, who would be white and named Angel and she would paint her pink too. And she would be sized for D, not so big as Moon, and a girl of course.

Because a female small pony is *not* going to be a total cow kiddo ;) Now to watch her start hounding her parents about getting a pony lol.


I managed a quick 15 minute break at home before going back to the barn for C's lesson. I set up a cute little obstacle course for her, and since they were running late, I even managed to go for a ride on Moon myself. Surprise, one more horse had been added to the paddock, but they were all behaving and Moon was a good boy going up the road. Heck, he was so good I didn't even realize that another horse had been added to his herd until later that afternoon! Plus, the winds were pretty strong and still he was super well behaved. I am just so thrilled with him lately.

We worked on some more trot poles until C arrived, and then she worked hard brushing him and making him super shiny. That kid could spend an hour just running a brush over him <3 I asked her if she thought he smelled and she leaned up against him inhaling deeply, "Mmmmmm....he smells good and warm." ;)

When he was shiny, we picked out his hooves and we tacked him up. She did the obstacle course and REALLY is starting to rock steering. I mean, I was impressed. I put less and less effort into leading him, and told her to spend more and more effort telling him to go where she wanted. It was super interesting to see Moon like "Okay...I want to follow S...but...I'm definitely being told to go the other way. I'm gonna listen...unless she asks kinda weakly, and then I'll just stop confused."

And he did. She did weave pylons and I showed her turn on the forehand, and we even did walk poles without any problem. I was so proud of her. She was super contentious about not crashing into anything and already asking me about when she gets to start jumping ;)

The *only* thing I had to make sure we were careful about was going fast. I taught her to bump him with her legs and....she fell in love with the fact that he would go faster when she did. I don't think she fully appreciated what I meant by the fact he'd keep going faster and faster and that she could fall off :P

I know eventually both kids will hit pay dirt, and I just hope that I'm convincing enough to get them back on :P

She also did some egg-and-spoon work, which was a valiant effort. Plus she was now able to stick both of her arms out like an airplane and like a helicopter, she reached up his mane with either hand and also back behind her. One big thing I kept having to remind her of, was to stretch her legs nice and long and loose, because I don't want her learning a bad position. Or gripping. Which I found both kids were kinda prone to doing.

I think I might do the dollar bill game next time ;)

We also finished with doubling-up for some trotting. She giggled whenever we did, and it was a lot of fun.

After we finished, she brushed him *like crazy* until he shone. She was so happy :) We fed him some food, and she made sure he was okay. She even asked if he was hurt from stepping on one of the ground poles earlier ;)

Then her and H's daughter M met again, and the two kids helped me walk Moon back to the pasture. That was like one of those moments that made my heart explode with pure happiness. Like pure happiness.

And then the two of them ran off playing together, and did so for another half hour. :) These are my two little flower girls, so it's special to me that they get along so well <3

H and C's parents had cleaned up the arena obstacles, so we were all done. I was super thrilled with the ride, and super thrilled with C's progress. Best was when she found a poop scoop that was small enough for her and started cleaning every piece of mud or poop off the driveway lol. THAT is a kid I want on my grooming team!! :D

I got home and fell fast asleep. Seriously. I LOVE these kids and I LOVE teaching them and it is the highlight of my day. I'm thrilled with how happy Moon seems to be doing it, and I love that I've seen him every day since last Wednesday. That's awesome to me :) But man oh man, is it ever exhausting!!!

We'll see how this summer will go! I know that I want a jump lesson every other Friday, and I hope to teach the kids most Sundays :) I don't mind that it means a little less weekend and little less work done for the wedding; I'm coming to see that these are the moments and relationships that will last far longer than one day.
My niece with Moon...I think they've both fallen asleep...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Christmas in May

Today is like Christmas in May.

Because I have a lesson. On a horse. My own horse. And it's jumping.

Mr. Moon, looking fabulous in the spring <3

Okay, let's be realistic. My jumping lesson today is likely to just be me going around the ring in a crappy version of 2-point, pretending to do long releases over poles on the ground. For an hour.

There likely will not be any actual jumps to speak of. I'll probably have a horrible cramp in my side from trying to pretend that I have core strength still. Moon will run about with his evil rabbit face the whole time and the coach will say "You're too hard with your hands" or something.

But that's okay. It's still like Christmas to me, even if there's no pony under the tree like I'd been begging Santa for year after year.

Life, to me anyway, is about big goals and the slow movement towards them.

I have been watching show jumping on CBC since I was a little girl. Even before we got the TV guide and I had to watch the end of the show jumping just to catch when the next one would be on. Placing my video tape in the VCR to record the jumping on a Saturday afternoon, and pretending in the yard that I was a pony jumping too.

I always thought "Someday, I'll jump a horse".

When I finally got riding lessons, I was so excited. "I'll jump soon!" I thought. I remember sitting in the viewing area because my dad was always late (probably because he knew how much I loved watching the other lessons), and asking mom's when their daughters started jumping.

That's how I learned NEVER ask a mother when her daughter started doing something. Apparently this question is rude, and will be answered with a rude snarl and "My daughter had an injury that set her back", or "We really didn't have the time to dedicate" or "The instructor really doesn't like her or she'd be further along". Something indicating her daughter would be at the Olympics by now if only given a chance.

From those rides, I eventually made it far enough to start doing little x-rails. And then on to a different barn that started me jumping actual jumps, in something that resembled a course. That was awesome. I can still remember the Arab Twi that I rode. I remember that it was spring when we started jumping, and the instructor told us that once the outdoor dried up, we'd get to spend the summer jumping outside. I was over the moon...

Until I realized that I wouldn't be there in the summer. I never got to ride in the summer, because I had a summer job, or vacation or my parents didn't want to drive me. We had other things to do.

I didn't jump again for a long time, until I started with Betty-Ann. She actually taught me to jump a horse, and we trained up one of her guys. That was awesome, but again, never really course work.

I did some solo jumping at H's when we moved there, and two shows. We did awful at both of them.

And that was the end of that.

I still to this day dream of riding a real course and pushing ourselves through it. I wonder how high Moon could jump, and if he actually loves it? Is it possible with help I could be a decent little jumper too? It's always felt like something I shouldn't be doing, and I was doing it anyway. "Jumping isn't something you do alone," my instructors have told me for years. "You need perfect flatwork before you can jump," I was told countless times. Every forum chastises you if you haven't had 15 years of solid flat work before you take your horse over a fence, and you better be able to survive George Morris' critique if you hope to have any acceptance in the jumping world.

So to this day, I'm still a very...self-defeating jumper. I just don't have much belief in us, despite the fact that I really enjoy it, I've done a 3' course and Moon has done at least 2'6"without either of us dying. We've even jumped bareback multiple times without me coming unglued.

But somehow, I still have a lack of faith.

And that's okay. Tonight we will start working towards being confident jumpers. My ultimate goal, would be to do a cross-country course by the time I'm 50 or so. And that seems pretty obtainable to me :)


In other news, the new horse Tiny Tim was moved into the paddock with Moon and Company, and they have all gotten along really well. Moon and Tim had a few discussions over who gets to keep the chick, but it was all pomp and circumstance.

I think they will wind up being good friends. Tim is the most laid back 6-year old horse I've ever met, and Moon seems to like that just fine. 

Moon is still looking pretty fit despite the easy winter he had. I seriously feel like he's learning to use the big ol'neck of his better. I was over the moon when we were able to ride around the arena beautifully despite the new mixing of horses, and even went on a lovely gallop down the side of the road.

Yes, we galloped down the side of the road.

Well, the first time more like the grassy ditch until he almost fell in a big hole. Nice Moon.

But we galloped down gravel. I REALLY think the farrier we've been using for the last 3 years has done wonderful things for him, and I believe he has harder, tougher feet than ever before. We'll know today how he's doing...

Other than that, our rides have been great. We got another ring ride in yesterday that was awesome, just really working on getting him to use his back and bend. I'm proud of him. I feel like he doesn't go around with his head in the sky anymore, and even though he'll probably always evil rabbit face, he isn't twisting his neck and head all funny on me anymore. Just a nice solid ride, and his trot as a result is totally sit-able. I mean, I can sit the whole way around the ring without any issue, which I love. I suck at posting.

So here's my boy post-ride yesterday. I love him. He does everything from pack 4-year olds around to gallop to hopefully jump. That's what I love in a good horse.

Moon, April 30th, 2015

What I love more is comparing him to the Moon I got, when he was a tubby little thing...

Moon, March 22, 2012
Moon, May 2012

Gotta love this face! April 2015
Color change since May 2012...