Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Self-Boarder Chronicles: How to Survive Winter

While your winters may (and probably do) differ from the absolute chaos that is our little corner of the globe, I have a multitude of tips and tricks to help you survive the cold, wet, and (sometimes) downright miserable season!

These are just a few of the many Winter tips and tricks - it all is dependent on your living situation and what kind of barn set up you have, but I hope you enjoy regardless!

Because sooner or later, this stuff comes!

1. Begin Your Preparations in the Fall!

In late Autumn (end of October/ early November) I start getting things organized and putting away items I won't need for the incoming Hell Season. Things like saddle pads and leather goods get cleaned and put away in the comfort of our cramped spare room until Spring blossoms again (if I do ride during the winter, I simply bring these items from home).

I also take the time to re-organize the tack room - refolding sheets and blankets, sweeping under the grain bins, etc.

During this time I'll bring out things like the horses's winter blankets, water trough deicer, extension cords, and pack the barn aisleway with roundbales that I dole out as needed. It's much nicer having a few rounds available right then and there versus driving out to where we have them stored, especially if the roads are bad or it is snowing/raining. It also works out well to feed rounds during the Winter, as in the instance of winter storms and inaccessible roads I never have to worry about the horses not having hay. And if it's cold? No worries, the horses have hay. However, it's important you prevent hay wastage, because its a bitch to clean up in the mud and snow (see point 5).

Circa 2015 - a headlamp has been in the
rotation for a while now.

2. Invest in Useful Gear

Aside from the obvious (like a tank deicer), I have found it increasingly helpful to have separate Barn Only clothing (especially footwear). There is nothing quite like showing up at a friends house smelling like horse pee. For this reason, I alternate boots and usually keep a pair in my truck during the Winter months. I still run them under water to get the bulk of the yuckiness off, as they still reside in my truck. If you have a closed off tack room, you could easily leave a coat and boots there, but mine is open to invasive species and the barn cat enjoys spreading his scent on things that he shouldn't...

In addition to wearing a warm toque and gloves, one of the best items I have ever been gifted was a head-lamp. Trudging through the snow to the barn in the evenings has become a less precarious task with a light on my head, and it works well for doing tasks around the barn where the regular lights don't illuminate. As an added bonus, I like using it for precarious tasks like packing hooves (like abscess holes...) during the evening light where I need something that doesn't play off the shadowy light so I can see what I'm doing.

Extension cords are also severely underrated - I often move the horse's water trough around during the winter, as it is typically stationed on the west side of the barn and during the winter, the horses often only break trail to the east (where the sun shines). It's important to have cords that are long enough so I can plug in the deicer.

A snow-covered Annie, ft a Spud butt.

3. Maximize Pasture/Paddock Space 

Once it starts to snow, the horses use less and less of their paddock area. This means that they'll be stuck to the same old 14x14 area all Winter long unless your horses are good at breaking trail and exploring around once the snow has fallen.

Once the snow starts to fall and accumulate to the point where the horses don't venture around too much I take a few flakes of hay and toss them out onto the snow to encourage the horses to break trail and pack down the snow. It works quite well, especially if you save the fancy alfalfa hay for this occasion. Its important to note that my horses won't venture out for hay if it's too far off the initial path - I only toss hay a little bit off the trail and each time progress it a bit further as we go. They do have access to 24/7 hay in their lean-to shelter, which is perfect for days when it rains or snows, as they do not have to stand in the elements to get their food.

I've also found that horses are much hardier than people think - yes they may require extra maintenance during the cold spells (depending on their age, body type, etc) and they may need additional feeds/forage, but for the most part, they don't need to be babied when it starts to snow and they often won't stand in their lean-to where it's warm and dry (because, horses).

This is the reality of winter.
Filthy horses, frozen poop, and a hideous manure pile
in the background. It might not be the prettiest picture, but
this is reality. And it really, really sucks until Spring comes and I can clean
everything up perfectly again!

4. Designate a Waste Space/ Manure Pile

When the snow comes, my usual manure pile (into the back gully) is inaccessible and pushing a full wheelbarrow in snow is impossible. I struggle a lot with accepting this aspect of the Winter, as I cannot stand a pasture that is overrun with manure. Unfortunately, with the snow and freezing conditions, poo-picking is a bit difficult and as such, we do the best we can until Spring comes!

This being said, every Winter I poo-pick every single day and continuously clean (especially removing waste hay) to the manure pile in the back for as long as I possibly can. Once the snow hits and hauling heavy snow-laiden manure is too tough, I start to make a manure pile that is on the opposite side of the horse's shelter. I move as much manure as I can and toss it into a big pile. Come Spring, I have a large pile that I get removed and dumped by a tractor and it works well to prevent too much manure build up.

However, with all of our ice, I do tend to leave manure on the well-trodden pathways for the horses, as I've found that by removing this manure layer, the horses slip quite a bit. So, I begrudgingly leave it and remove it closer to Spring, tossing it into the Poo Mountain for it to be removed via tractor.

(Seriously, having a neighbor with a tractor is SO useful. I used to have to do big Spring clean-ups with a wheelbarrow and it was a week long extravaganza. With the tractor, I make a few piles in the paddocks when cleaning up all the Winter manure and the tractor comes and removes it.)

Shoveling this roof was hard, but necessary.
You can't even see my manure pile anymore.

5. Work Smarter, Not Harder 

A saying my Dad often says, I find myself trying to maximize my effectiveness at the barn. Because of this, I religiously check the weather forecast - if sub-zero temperatures are incoming, I know that my hoses and the well are going to have a tough time pumping water (I do drain excess water out from the hoses, but they still freeze a bit and sometimes the well is frozen with how cold it can get) due to freezing, so I make sure the water trough is topped up before the cold weather hits. The same goes for hay - if I notice the horses are running low on hay, I make sure to refill their net to the brim BEFORE the cold weather hits so I don't have to spend time mucking with hay and string and twine and freeze my butt off.

This also goes for blanketing - I didn't blanket the horses much this year aside from a cold snap, but I pulled everything I needed out two days in advance and had them ready to go when the cold weather hit.

Again, the same goes for incoming snow. If I see it's snowing and it isn't supposed to stop, I don't go out and toss hay for them to break trail (the hay will get buried and get left untouched). Or if we are supposed to get a large dump of snow, I'll head out to check the horses earlier than usual, ensure everything is topped up and then avoid the highways when the bad weather hits.

I'll pull extra bales down from the hay loft during weekends, when I have more time, or on evenings after work if I know I'm running low and have time to do so.

I also clean as I go - the barn doesn't get neglected because it's winter. Hay bits in the hay stall are still swept into a pile and baling twine is placed in the trash. It's easier to clean up as you go instead of trying to clean up a big mess come Spring.

The black hole.
Just kidding. This is where the water trough was before
I moved it under the lean-to.

This all being said, Winter is a very trying time. Things get frozen, covered in snow, and horses go a little feral. But with a bit of preparation and time management planning, barn time can be less frustrating and chores can be made easier (especially if the remainder of your clean up rolls over into Spring like mine does).

What is your best winter survival type where you live? What gear can you not live without?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

After The Storm: Return of Snowmageddon

Visions of Snowmageddon 2015 have been playing in my mind for the last 48 hours, and I am happy to say that we seem to be on the other side of the worst of it. I am trying to remain positive, although I frantically am checking the weather network at a religious pace (and it is snowing yet again...). The storm I had briefly mentioned in my last post came to fruition and ended up causing a bit of pandemonium in our little town - so much so that schools, businesses, and non-essential services were closed, shut down and told to stay home.

I can't even calculate how much snow we got, but I'll say that I waded through waist-deep snow to get to the horses (the BO didn't have her driveway cleared for 48 hours, which was FUN).

Since we had a "snow day" yesterday (I actually cannot remember the last time we had a snow day, wherein schools and businesses were closed) the SO and I got to it and tried to cross as many chores off our list as we could.

Over the weekend I smartly moved the horses's water trough under cover, as the threat of even more snow made me nervous. It was a daunting task, excavating a trough from packed down snow, but I got it done and managed to get everything set up just in time for the storm to roll through.

Yesterday was a busy day - snowblowing driveways, shoveling, clearing vehicles, and clearing the horse's lean to roof (as the pitch of the roof is not as steep as the rest of the barn roofs, so it needed a bit of help, as the threat of rain is coming later this week).

Since every bone in my body hurts, I'll leave you with photos of the chaos and once again, will announce that Spud would like to move to California please and thank you (I also would like to go with him).

The lean to roof doesn't have the highest pitch, which makes snow accumulate at a higher
rate than the other roofs on the barn.

It took me 2 hours to get the bulk of the snow off. The remainder is laden with
ice, so too difficult to scrape off.
The snow was easily 4ft high, not including
the ice layer I couldn't get to budge.

They don't know how lucky they are.
You can see Annie's trail to the left, but you can no longer see
my back pasture fences.

I took the dogs for a walk around town lastnight, and it was
Some of the sidewalks had not been plowed yet.

There is a house back there somewhere.
My horse trailer is back there... somewhere.
Ghost vehicles who did not get cleared during the dump of snow.
At this rate, it will take until June for the snow to melt. I might get to ride my horse at some point in 2020... maybe.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

People of the Snow

The snowfall from the 1970s.
The name of our town, which is an Indigenous word, loosely translates to "people of the snow". As someone who was born and raised in the beauty and wonder of our small, industrious town, I am all too familiar with Old Man Winter and what it means for life in the North.

In fact, memories of Snowmageddon are still fresh in my mind. The epic snow blizzard we had in 2015 was pure chaos and despite the fact this amount of snow is not necessarily "new" to us, the fast accumulation was certainly a shock. 

I have several memories from my childhood of buried 6ft fences, and mountains of snow piled high in front of houses, just begging to be made into igloos and forts. Time spent cross country skiing with Ty, bouncing through windrows of snow with ease. In fact, I used to have an absolute blast in the snow - before I had horses. Before I had to fight with frozen hoses, numb finger tips from changing blanket clips, and shoveling out snowed in beasts who refuse to break trail.

Or that time a construction company made a giant
snowman in our mall parking lot.
Despite the fact we've had a few years of milder winters, we always seem to get hit by a colossal storm every couple of years to remind us that we do in fact live in the North and Welcome to the Sixth Circle of Hell.

In fact, a few weeks ago we were hit with what most are referring to as "Snowmaggedon 2.0". However, the amount of snow that fell did not have the same ferocity and we ended up with just over 3' in one day. Which, is still a lot, but is a far cry from the 5.5' we received during Snowmageddon in 2015.

Still though, any large amount of snow like that completely and utterly sucks. It certainly made chores difficult at the horses, and it took many flakes of alfalfa to coax the horses from their shelter to break trail around the property. Thankfully, Annie cannot stand not knowing what is going on in her neighborhood and promptly marched along the pasture checking her usual street-viewing spots with a begrudging Maizey behind her. 

Without further ado, I present to you, "Mini Snowmageddon 2.0":

Jamie's truck is somewhere under that mess.

Snow-blowing at Jamie's moms house on her front stoop.

Breaking trail to our front door.

The street had a ton of snow on it, as did our driveway. You can see where my
truck had been parked earlier that day. Thank goodness for 4WD.

After snowblowing and shoveling. What a long evening this was.

Looking out towards the driveway from the barn. The snow here slid
from the roof, so is quite compact.

Opposite side of the barn. Coaxing the horses to make more trails with alfalfa!

Poor Spud, lol.

Looking towards the back field.

If you look to the left, you can see a bit of the top of the fence line. Annie is
quite a bit above that which is just insane!

Walking up to the barn I had to wear snow shoes - you can see my tracks
from the previous night wherein I wore them to get in and break trail for the horses.

 We had a bit more snow after the initial storm, but it has compacted down somewhat and things are somewhat "normal" again. The initial panic during a snowstorm is just the worst feeling, especially dealing with horses. Is the snow going to get so high that the horses will walk over the fences??? (You would think you wouldn't have to worry, but this literally happened to a friend of mine, wherein her 900lb Rocky Mountain gelding literally stepped over their gate and took a gander through the subdivision). Will the horses drink enough? What if the roof collapses? What I can't dig out their water trough? Which fences are going to break under the weight?

It's a reality we face, and we do our best to prepare every single Winter, because we know things like this can happen very suddenly. I know in the Spring, I will be busy fixing busted insulators, perhaps a broken fence board or two, and restringing the electric braid. I had to actually undo the electric braided wire from the energizer, as it was extremely taut and I was worried about it ripping the energizer off the wall.

Fun times.

That being said, this dude and I have been snow-shoeing a lot this year.

For now, the horses are bored to tears and as we are amidst an Arctic Freeze wherein temperatures of -25C to -30C are a reality, we are all doing our best to just stay warm and wait until the cold snap breaks. I have gotten great use out of the snowshoes I bought this year and am eagerly awaiting when I can explore a bit more of the back country without the temperature being so dire. Unfortunately, the horses will remain a bit more land-locked until the roadways in the subdivision are no longer a literal sheet of ice and I can actually get them down the driveway without slipping and falling.

I can only hope the weekend forecast is a lie, because if it isn't, we will be in for yet another dump of snow (calling for 2+ feet) and I'm not so sure I can take anymore than we already have.

So if you believe in weather gods, please pray to them and/or do your best "no more snow" dance! We have enough of it already, we don't need any more!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Three Years of Annie

Two days late, but better late than never!

January 11th marked three years of ownership, and most importantly, partnership with Annie!

As my very first green horse, I didn't really understand what I was getting into at the time, and while I may have made some glaring mistakes and poor choices, I've learned so much about bringing up a young horse and the expectations we put on ourselves and our horses.

First ride together, January 11th 2017.
I learned how to become more "zen" and focus on our own journey, rather than the stigma of time and training. Realizing that each horse is an individual, and each rider has their own inner demons to face - something that is lacking in the equestrian world by far.

I was humbled many times over and persevered through disappointment and frustration - crying many tears in the process! Acknowledgement of my weak points mentally as a rider had me realizing that perhaps my expectations were not aligned with Annie's capabilities. I grew as a rider, not in physical skills, but psychologically and spiritually in ways I didn't quite understand as it happened.

Annie: stressed
Me: humbled
Annie is an interesting mare by far - one side is very calm, collected and docile... while the other side oozes anxiety, misinterpretation, and frustration. She can be her own worst enemy at the best of times, especially in show settings. It has taken me many times over to learn that "fighting" back or getting involved is the wrong answer, and this simply heightens her frustration and anxiety.

It has taken a long time to not only recognize "going Zen" is the only way to ride this mare when she is upset, but to embody that mantra wholly and unapologetically. I think the first time I actually felt this in real life practice under pressure of my own was during our freestyle at the BVX. It was such a freeing feeling (despite the fact I had a lead changing maniac beneath me, aha) and I held fast to that feeling for the remainder of the weekend. When I dismounted, sure, I was disappointed, but I never let that feeling anchor itself in the saddle with me as we went around.

Summer of 2019
The last three years have been all about growth, and I can't imagine having any other horse to have had taught me that. The process of working with a young, underexposed horse showed me just how important a functional relationship is, and reminded me that professional help and guidance is never a bad thing. It threw me back, full force, into lesson strings and clinics and shows... I rejoined several friends ring-side and the memories made wandering the Northern forest, or travelling to clinics with a truck full of horsey girls are times that will be etched forever in my memory as some of the best times aboard this mare.

There is a strong allure to the quiet times too, though, and I have appreciated the down-time that Annie and I have shared. The times we wander quietly through brush and forest cover on our own, never speaking a word aloud, but drinking in the stillness of the world and allowing the rhythmic sounds of footfalls on the dirt-ridden Earth to lull our minds and bodies in sync like the effortless movement of a metronome.

The best ears to be behind.
As we begin yet another year, I am looking forward to what is yet to come - the continuation of a partnership, the further embodiment of the Zen Ninja lifestyle, the laughs ringside with friends, and of course, the quiet moments on our own.

Happy Three Year Annie-versary.

Friday, January 10, 2020

2019 Goal Review

2019 Goal Review

The end of a decade. Wow. 

2019 just flew by and it was a crazy busy, and fun year! 

A lot of my goals reflected my "Zen Ninja" mantra, focusing less on competitive goals and more on solidifying the basics and promoting our partnership. We worked hard this year, taking part in a variety of lessons and even trailering away from home to attend a Ladies Camp. We competed a few times, and spent a lot of time trail riding. All in all, it was a fun, progressive, and wonderful year!

  • Above all - keep the horse happy and healthy. Work towards bettering a partnership with her and understanding each-other even more. A lot of the points below (such as lessons) will effectively help me succeed in maintaining an understanding relationship with her while still being a fair but firm leader. While this is something that is continuous, I am proud of myself for taking a step back and reassessing my long-term and short-term goals and refocusing myself on the horse and our relationship. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the things we haven't yet achieved, but the journey along the way is something we need to appreciate. I will say that I did a lot this year to push Annie, mostly mentally, and despite some short-comings, we ended the year on a high note.
  • Keeping with the tradition of year's passed, I would like to enter as many clinics/lessons as I can. I managed 15 lessons last year, and I'd love to stick around the same amount this year. There are quite a few different clinics coming to the area (horsemanship, cavaletti clinic, etc) and I'd love to garner information from each of them. As they say - knowledge is power! We managed to get 13 lessons this year - 4 with Derek (Dressage), 4 with Karen (Ladies Camp at Trainer K's), 3 with Anthony Lothian (Jumping; Annie also had 1 pro ride), and 2 with Lynda Ramsay (Dressage). While we didn't get many lessons from Anthony this year, I am beyond proud of the fact we went travelled far and wide (roughly 5hrs) to Trainer K's place and had a blast. Unfortunately, a few clinics we had our eyes on (cavaletti clinic) were cancelled due to lack of entrants, but we plugged along and did what we could! 
  • Attend the Fun Days! I didn't get to any of them last year, although that was mostly due to scheduling conflicts with all of the clinics I was in. This year, I'd like to get out to a few of them. Clear Rounds, Percentage Days, Gymkhanas, etc. Just for fun and exposure. We didn't attend a ton, but Annie and I did 2 Percentage Days and 1 Clear Rounds Day. Quite a few were cancelled last minute during the Summer, and some of them we were away for so it was hit or miss.
  • Keep on keepin' on with the basics - walk, trot, canter (leads), rein back, TOH, TOF. Also make moves to start getting those walk-canter-walks, counter canter, shoulder in, haunches in, and leg yielding. I'd like to play more with adjustability within the gaits - this is something we did a lot of in our Anthony clinics and when schooling on my own I kinda "forget" to play within the gaits sometimes. We worked a lot on the basics and started to branch out to the walk-canter, although we didn't play with canter-walk at all. The counter canter was played with quite a bit, as was shoulder in and leg yielding. I wouldn't say we are "confirmed" in any of the upper movements, but we're chipping away at it and I think things like lengthenings will take time for Annie.
  • Take part in the shows I can. I don't want to put a number on it, but I'd like to get out there as much as possible, of course. Ideally, I'd like to start the year off doing Training Level and then move onto First, but we'll see what happens. I had intended to do First last year, but our lack of forward issue kinda made it an unwise decision. I'd like to get her jumping more too, and instead of writing down a height, I wanna just do more Hunter courses and have fun - regardless of the heights.  The show scene was pretty sparse this year, but Annie and I attended 2 shows - one being local (Dressage), and the other being away from home (BVX). We actually only did one TL test and the rest was all FL! That was pretty exciting. And we cruised around some baby Hunter courses at 18" and 2'. 
  • Keep up with the trail riding! We did quite a bit of it last year, and I'd like to continue and expose Annie to bigger groups.  I'm actually super happy to report we did quite a bit of trail riding and even did a few "away from home" adventures. Annie also did her very first solo trail ride (she hacks out and travels well known back roads and ATV trails no problem, but if she doesn't know the trail well she tends to get pretty anxious and balled up) and did really well!

  • Scope out the CDE's that are happening closest to me. Figure out a game plan on attending, budgeting, and then get the ball rolling. If this summer plays out like last year, forest fires will put a damper on most of the driving season after June, so I need to plan ahead. Nope! And I'm OK with that. Maybe next year :o) 
  • Scope out any clinics that are close to the area and figure out a game plan on attending. A lot of the driving stuff happens a bit of a ways away from home, so it requires quite a bit of planning. No clinics happened in our area this year. The one that was tentatively planned I could not attend, and it was cancelled anyways due to lack of participants.
  • Keep him in decent shape and legged up. For real, I knocked this one out of the park. Spud looked GREAT all year and I got him out quite a bit.
  • If possible to get him out there doing some gymkhanas, I'd like to take that opportunity ;) We didn't! And unfortunately, his new cart won't do as well in the sandy rings, so this may be a lost opportunity.

  • Become healthier and stronger - I'd like to run a 5K with my Dad this year, and I certainly believe that is an attainable goal! This is a half yes - I became healthier and stronger near the beginning of the year (I lost 20lbs!), but I also gained a bit of it back after a gluttonous Summer. The running came along well and I'm close to 5K, but I also did not run with my Dad since the marathon was in April and I was nowhere near ready in April! It's on our schedule for next year tho ;) 
  • Eradicate CC debt. This is rolled over from last year. I have some plans on how to make this happen, I just need to stick to it. Half no. Being an adult sucks sometimes. Still plugging away at it tho!
  • Continue to plug away at property - a barn may be going up this year pending some bylaw amendments through the city. We shall see - I am hopeful tho! We finally got our approvals in September 2019, which didn't leave much time to pitch a barn up before the snow flew. Regardless, I'm pleased the bylaw went through as it was a tough fight to get the city to amend it. 
  • Pay attention to needless horsey spending. I did pretty good last year, despite buying my new dressage saddle (which was needed), so I'd like to keep myself honest to that :)  I want to say I did really good this year. I bought a few things earlier in the year, but otherwise have stuck to the necessities! 
  • Keep up with my studies and work hard to achieve my diploma - yes, I signed myself up for mooooore school work, aha. YES!

Now... hurry up and be over Winter!