Best Laid Plans

View of the Fort Worth Water Gardens before and during the eclipse!

Over the weekend, Johnny and I traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to visit his parents and enjoy the eclipse from the path of totality. Normally, when we leave home, my neighbor feeds the horses and keeps an eye on them. She and I generally try to coordinate so we’re not gone at the same time, so there’s always an experienced horse person available to handle anything that comes up. But she and her family traveled to southeastern Oklahoma to view the eclipse, which meant the horses were being cared for by two teenage barn rats (who are pretty experienced for their age).

Any time I leave town, I try to make chores as easy as possible for whoever’s looking after the horses. And my horses are generally pretty easy to manage because I am lazy and set my barn up in a way that facilitates my laziness. All three horses are turned out 24/7 together and coexist peacefully. They have access to large square bales in feeders. They eat grain once a day. None of them have special needs or routines. Madigan and Story receive their medications in their feed, which they eat without issue. The most difficult part of caring for my horses is finding something to occupy the fifteen minutes it takes Moe to eat.

Despite my best efforts, the horses found new and exciting ways to make life difficult while I was out of town!

Just be normal, you little idiots!

On Sunday morning, the barn rats found Story tangled in the paddock fence. They cut the fence to free her and sent me pictures of her wounds. Thankfully, the wounds looked superficial, so I guided them through cleaning and dressing them and told the girls to turn the horses out the front pasture. This wasn’t ideal. While I’ve been introducing the horses to the front pasture over the last couple of weeks, the longest they’ve been out on it is about two hours. Now they’d be out 24/7 until I got home on Tuesday. I worried they’d colic or founder or otherwise become ill.

Around noon on Monday, one of the barn rats called me to tell me Moe was choking on some combination of grass and feed. I advised her to call the vet out if he didn’t clear it on his own after about twenty minutes. At 2 PM, the vet called me to ask if I could haul him in because they weren’t sure when someone could be out. (The barn rat had been waiting with him since she called them around 12:30 PM.) I called the barn rat (who thankfully has her own truck and trailer) and told her to haul him in only if she felt comfortable doing so. She did, and the vet called me back later to tell me the choke was easily resolved via nasogastric tube. However, the vet didn’t want Moe to choke again, so she requested he be stabled for the next 72 hours and gradually reintroduced to both feed and grass. This meant the barn rat had to set up two stalls and bring Madigan in to keep Moe company.

When I finally got home yesterday afternoon, both geldings were thoroughly sick of being in the barn. Moe seemed especially bored and unhappy because he’d had nothing to eat except a very small mash in the morning (because the vet advised keeping him off hay for a week and reintroducing grass gradually). I cleaned their stalls and let Moe graze for five minutes before I fed him another small mash. I turned Madigan out and brought Story in to keep Moe company. Madigan did not handle this well- he galloped around the pasture and worked himself into a lather, screaming his head off any time any other horse in the vicinity moved. (I swear he has some deep-seated trauma from his dam’s death when he was a foal because I have never met a horse who hates to be alone more.) I eventually brought him in and stuck him in a third stall so he wouldn’t slide into the fence if it began raining overnight.

Enjoying his 10 minutes of freedom

So now Moe and Madigan are in jail for another full day, while Story (who doesn’t give a fig about being alone) is living in the front pasture. I’ve been hand-grazing Moe for ten minutes at a time throughout the day, and he seems fine, so hopefully he will be able to go out full time in a couple more days. I think we’ll all be happier then!

Was it the eclipse that caused them to lose their minds? Mercury retrograde? Sheer bad luck? I can’t even begin to guess. I’m incredibly grateful to the barn rats who handled such stressful situations with calm professionalism. And I am never going out of town again.

Crookedness, Tightness, and What To Do About It

Over the last couple of months, Madigan has been crooked- like, really crooked. His haunches would be on an entirely different track than his shoulders, especially at the canter. It was difficult to straighten him out at the canter, too. If I tried to move his shoulders, he would attempt a flying change. Whether or not he got the change, he would canter smaller and more crookedly until it felt like he was cantering in place halfway through a pirouette.

My trainer had fewer issues with him than I did, so I contacted my favorite human bodyworker and asked her to help me. She’s a certified athletic trainer I’ve known for years- she taught yoga and Essentrics at a studio Johnny and I attended before the pandemic. While she isn’t a horse person, she has an excellent understanding of biomechanics and human anatomy, and has made it a point to educate herself about equestrian sport because she treats a handful of riders.

She immediately pointed out my problems: my knees, pelvis, and shoulders all point in different directions. Some of it is due to natural asymmetry everyone has. Some of it is due to plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I left her office an hour later with an improved range of motion in my now-seriously sore left shoulder, a list of exercises, and a follow up appointment four weeks later.

Addressing my own problems definitely improved my riding, but it didn’t fully solve Madigan’s issues. He was straighter and less weird at the canter, but he still struggled to push through and out. Without impulsion and thrust, his gaits are pretty lackluster, which is a big problem in the young horse tests and a slightly less big problem in regular tests. I attributed this to a couple of things: he’s naturally sort of lazy and he seemed to have gone through another little growth spurt recently (out instead of up, thankfully). My trainer and I kept encouraging him to move forward and out, long and low.

Yesterday, he saw the chiropractor. She saw him several months ago and found no real issues. I expected the same at this visit, so I was surprised when she told me his hip flexors were very tight.

“Does he have trouble pushing from behind?” Why yes, yes he does!

When she explained where the horse’s hip flexors are and what role they serve in providing power and collection, Madigan’s penchant for on-the-spot canter and struggles with medium gaits made sense. Because his hip flexors are tight, it’s easier and more comfortable for him to tuck his hindquarters and sit down a little. It’s harder and less comfortable to extend the tight muscle to really push forward and through.

The chiropractor prescribed some pre- and post-ride stretches for him and thought it would be beneficial for him to spend some time standing on the pedestal to stretch before riding. She recommended we continue our long-and-low work under saddle, too. In addition to the stretches and the stretchy work, I’d like to get him on our trainer’s Theraplate once a week and over cavalletti regularly. He’s scared of the Theraplate and clunks through cavalletti, so those may not be as helpful as I hope they will be.

I’m eager to see if he improves over the next few weeks. Madigan will be six this year, and he finally feels and looks like an adult rather than a gangly baby. He’s laid-back, charming, and makes dressage feel easy and fun. I want him to feel his best so we can continue to learn and grow together. And, you know, go to some horse shows!

Kimberly K (March 16, 1997-January 9, 2024)

Kimberly K, known around the barn as Gina, died peacefully at home in Oklahoma on January 9, 2024 at the official age of 27.

Attending my wedding in 2015

Gina, a registered Thoroughbred, was born March 16, 1997 in Cimarron, New Mexico. Her sire, Look See, was a stakes winner and a leading sire in New Mexico in 1999 and 2000. Her dam, True Brilliance, produced several stakes winners during her lengthy breeding career. Gina was sold to a sporthorse breeder in Oklahoma as a 2 year old, where she was added to the Main Mare Book of ISR/Oldenburg NA and produced two premium Oldenburg fillies. She also produced an Appendix Quarter Horse colt.

When Gina’s breeding career came to a close, she was sold to a hunter/jumper trainer in Tulsa, Okla. She spent the next few years competing in both the hunters and the jumpers and moved to other Tulsa-based barns several times as she was sold to various professionals. Eventually, she was purchased for a junior rider, who competed with Gina until she started college. Gina was then donated to a therapeutic riding center as a potential vaulting horse.

I met Gina in 2011 when I was hired as the equine manager of the therapeutic riding center to which she had been donated. My first task at that center was to prep Gina for sale, as her size and temperament made her unsuitable as a therapy horse. I liked Gina immediately: she was well-built, well-mannered, and had the most beautiful, floaty gaits I’d ever ridden. When she was put up for sale at a public sealed-bid auction, I submitted a bid and anxiously waited to find out if I had won her. I did, and so began our long and happy partnership.

Combined training, 2014

Originally, I purchased Gina with the idea of eventing her. She was good at dressage and seemed unfazed by the terrain and obstacles on the center’s outdoor sensory trail. When I moved her away from the center to a farm with jumps, I quickly discovered Gina did not enjoy show jumping. She frequently stopped or ducked out when asked to jump anything in an arena. However, she enthusiastically approached and jumped cross-country jumps. For several years, we competed at dressage shows or combined tests consisting of dressage and cross-country. Gina also did a stint as a dressage lesson horse at my neighbor’s barn, where she was somewhat unpopular due to her brisk pace and bouncy trot.

Hunter pace, 2014

After taking Gina to several hunter paces, I joined Harvard Fox Hounds in 2015 and began foxhunting. Gina found her true calling in the hunt field. She was tireless, sure-footed, and brave. She jumped any obstacle, slid down any steep hill, climbed every narrow and winding trail, crossed deep and swift-running creeks, tolerated horses jostling and bumping her, listened for the hounds, and galloped across every kind of terrain with a sure and even stride. In the off-season, Gina and I logged many hours on the trails in northeastern Oklahoma. In 2017, I bred Gina. In 2018, she foaled a little chestnut colt, Marrakesh. Unfortunately, he and Gina were hospitalized for most of his short life and he was euthanized as a result of a joint infection when he was only a month old. Gina recovered quickly, and we were back in the hunt field that fall.

Swedish oxer at home, 2015

Gina was semi-retired by 2020, when my work and school schedule made it difficult to keep her fit enough to hunt. She remained healthy and generally fit until late 2023, when she was diagnosed with EPM.

While Gina was never an affectionate or particularly personable horse, she was polite and hardworking. She was impeccably behaved for the vet and farrier, never put a foot wrong under saddle (show jumping excepted), and could generally be relied upon to conduct herself with dignity and grace.

When I think of Gina, I think of many adventures we went on, of course – the time we finished the hunter pace in just over an hour when the optimum time was about two hours; the time we got lost riding at Heyburn Lake and spent an extra two hours riding back to the trailer on the road; the time an official at a schooling show tried to disqualify us for going too fast because we cantered the entire Starter level cross country course; the time she got loose at my wedding and evaded capture for something like an hour. But mostly, I think of the little things that made Gina, Gina: her awful whinny that sounded like she’d smoked a pack of cigarettes every day of her life; how she could never roll over and always had to roll on one side, get up, then roll on the other side; how she stood at the very furthest edge of the paddock when she heard me hooking up the horse trailer; how the little asymmetries in her gait made every blanket she wore crooked except for an ancient Weatherbeeta I’d spent more money repairing over the years than it was worth; how she hated being closed in a stall while she ate.

from left to right: Moe, Gina, Madigan, 2023

I miss Gina. She’s buried in the paddock next to her friend Candy. It’s both sad and comforting to know my longtime companion is under that mound of earth. Sad, because Gina’s no longer here to stare at me suspiciously as I walk toward to barn or pin her ears at the geldings while she waits for dinner. But a little comforting, too – I know I gave her the best life I could, right up until the very last second. She didn’t meet her end in a terrible place, alone and anxious and in pain. She’s right here, where she was laid to rest with the same dignity and grace she had in life.

Go On As You Began

Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began.

In 2023, I used the first half of this quote as a mantra for things both large and small. For example, I tried to begin each riding lesson as I wanted it to go on: forward, with a positive attitude and an open mind. I also began new habits I wanted to establish long-term, like half an hour of intentional exercise and applying sunscreen every day. I was pretty successful, at least by my own measure. Madigan and I understand each other better and solidify our partnership every ride. Story and I are learning to speak the same language – my hunter is rusty and her dressage is very basic, but we both know trail riding and foxhunting. I managed to get a workout in on 345 of 365 days. (I was less successful with remembering to apply sunscreen.)

Ringing in the New Year on Large Baby yesterday.

This year, I want to go on as I began. I want to carry the momentum I established last year forward. I am notoriously bad at setting goals, much to my trainer’s bemusement. (“But Stephanie,” she’ll say, “don’t you want to get your bronze medal?”) My goals are as basic and unexciting as ever this year: ride more frequently, row more than I did last year, remember to apply sunscreen, work on one home improvement project every month, mail birthday cards to friends. What can I say – I like goals that are low stress and achievable!

I’m looking forward to 2024, and I hope you are too. Happy New Year from Hand Gallop!

HFH’s 9th Annual Ride for the Cure

Last Saturday, I hauled Story out to the hunt club’s annual Ride for the Cure fundraiser ride. This was the club’s ninth year hosting this event, which is held in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer research. HFH is consistently one of the top fundraising teams in the region, and this year was no different- we raised about $2,000!

Most of our group

The ride drew about 25 people, and we rode as one big group. I was excited to see how Story did with a group that size, as we were part of a much smaller group at our last HFH outing. She was an absolute star! We stuck to the middle of the group for most of the ride and edged up to the front for the last third or so. The pace was brisk- lots of trotting and a little cantering- but Story never got overexcited or anxious. She prefers to do whatever the group is doing- so if most horses are trotting, she wants to trot- but she isn’t rude or nervous about it. She just jogs along until you give her some rein, at which point she picks up a real trot.

Riding under the bluff is absolutely the coolest.

The only thing she really needs to improve is slowing down and stopping. She’s not terrible about it, but I really have to nag her to get her to stop. There’s no head-throwing or rooting or pulling; she just kind of ignores my half-halts until they become very strong. (This is the opposite of how she is in the arena, where if I think about stopping, she slams on the brakes.) Once she’s stopped, she stands very quietly. She’s currently in a D-ring snaffle, so I may try her in a kimberwicke next time we go out. (Also open to suggestions here- let me know if there’s a bit you like that’s a little stronger than a snaffle!)

We rode for about two and a half hours, and Story felt great for all of it. When I bought her, I was a little concerned about how well she’d hold up for long, fast rides. I’m used to riding Thoroughbreds who can gallop all day. But Story was fine! She was just as fresh and full of go at the end of our ride as she was at the beginning. Her legs were cold and tight the next day and she greeted me at the gate with her usual bright-eyed vigor.

she’s so cute I can’t even stand it! look at that snoot!

Story is still pretty bad about trailering. She is loathe to get in alone, but seems okay if another horse is loaded before her and stays in the trailer while she gets on. While this doesn’t address the root of the problem, it’s a useful piece of information! I can always load Moe with her at home and someone at the hunt is usually happy to volunteer their horse for loading help. My trainer and I continue to work on trailering, and hopefully Story will come around sooner rather than later.

Opening Hunt is in two weeks, and I have my fingers crossed I’ll make it! I had a tympanomastoidectomy last week to remove a cholesteatoma (which is basically a non-cancerous cyst) from my right ear. The procedure involved drilling a hole in my head directly behind my ear. I feel pretty good, but my ear is very sore and the incision site is exactly where my helmet harness lays. I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next week, so hopefully he’ll clear me to ride (and hopefully I’ll feel well enough to wear a helmet for 2+ hours). I’ve missed hunting and I’m really excited to rejoin the field!

Overcoming Ring Sourness

I am cautiously optimistic that Story’s ring sour behavior may be resolved. We’ve had several consecutive rides where she was generally happy to go forward without a fuss. I appreciate the suggestions on my previous post on the topic! Here’s what my trainer and I tried, and what I think got her to turn the corner.

First, I began riding her during my weekly lesson. More time off won’t hurt Madigan, and Story needs to increase her fitness level for the upcoming hunt season. I also thought it would be helpful to have my trainer available to help me. My trainer suggested we try to make the arena a pleasant place to be, so my first few lessons consisted of walking around the large outdoor arena searching for piles of sweet feed placed strategically throughout the ring. There were piles on jumps, on a bucket on the ground, on working equitation obstacles, on a chair. Story’s pretty food motivated, so she liked this game and happily walked from food station to food station. When rainy weather kept us confined to the indoor arena, my trainer periodically fed Story a peppermint or alfalfa nugget during our lesson.

she’s so cute I can’t even stand it!

When I rode without my trainer, I focused on keeping our rides very easy and relatively short. I asked Story to walk and halt, to back up, and to do a little leg yield toward the rail. Most of the time, I rode for around 25 minutes. I think this was beneficial for helping Story understand that the ring isn’t always a place of difficult and endless work.

However, I think the biggest piece of resolving her behavior is simple persistence. I carry my dressage whip every ride, and I use it. Story’s go-to move is slamming on the brakes when I apply my leg to ask her to go forward. When she does that, I cluck at her and squeeze with my leg. If she responds, I stop. If she doesn’t respond, I kick her. If she responds, I stop. If she doesn’t respond, I tap her with the dressage whip behind my leg.

Story frequently escalated when I used the dressage whip by kicking out with her hind leg on the side with the whip. She’ll swivel around sometimes, and has also tried small bucks. She once attempted to remove her front feet from the ground. (It was a pretty halfhearted try.) I just keep tapping until she moves forward. When she does, I stop tapping and rub her neck and praise her.

“how could you ask me, an extremely cute horse, to trot?”

When I first got her, it took me about 10 minutes to get her moving forward again after she stopped. Both the number of stopping incidents and the time needed to get her moving again have gradually decreased. Over the last week, she hasn’t stopped more than once and it hasn’t required more than one tap with the dressage whip to get her going. During this week’s lesson, she happily trotted and cantered when I asked and even went over a small crossrail.

My hunch is that for a long time Story was successful in evading work with this behavior. I can see how it might be a little scary to have to ride out the kicks and bucks and hops, and I can definitely see how easy it is to be frustrated by it! Fortunately (unfortunately?), I’ve ridden so many weird and nappy horses that Story doesn’t even make the top 10. (I tell her this every time she tries something.) She doesn’t feel dangerous. She never panics. She just waits for you to give up.

Hopefully this behavior is behind us! We’re continuing to work on loading in order to have a full, fun hunt season this winter. We’re off cubbing next weekend, so fingers crossed Story gets in the trailer (and doesn’t mind foxhounds).

EPM Strikes Again

Several years ago, Moe was diagnosed with and treated for EPM. I was surprised- he presented few symptoms and I assumed they were signs of age-related maladies. When he began stopping at jumps, I knew something was wrong. This was extremely unusual (I think I can count on one hand the number of times he’s stopped at a jump), but I assumed he had a touch of arthritis bothering him, as he was in his early twenties. I scheduled a lameness exam with our regular vet, who picked up on subtle signs of neurological disease. She ordered a blood test for EPM, which was positive, and Moe was treated with ReBalance (sulfadiazine + pyrimethamine). He recovered well and went on to continue jumping and doing dressage until I fully retired him a couple of years ago.

a queen

Gina was diagnosed with EPM last week and her presentation could not have been more different. She and Moe were turned out with Madigan and Story for several days, as their usual paddock didn’t have water due to plumbing work at the barn. In the evening, I brought Moe and Gina in the barn to eat (and to treat Gina for a small ulcer on her eye) before turning them back out. Last Tuesday, Gina didn’t come to the gate at dinner time. I thought that was unusual, but not extraordinary. Gina is a deeply suspicious horse and will often try to avoid being caught if something sets off her internal alarms. (This can be something as benign as a person opening and closing the horse trailer tack room door.) She let me catch her and lead her in. I noticed she was moving slowly and thought perhaps she’d overdone it running around or had kicked too vigorously at Madigan. She let me treat her eye and ate dinner without a problem.

she was never really much for jumping in an arena but she was good at it

I called the vet Wednesday morning to see when someone could come out to check her over. No one would be in my area until the following Tuesday, so I offered to haul Gina in if it meant she could be seen quicker. An appointment was available Thursday morning, which was fine with me. But by Wednesday evening, Gina was significantly worse. She didn’t come to the gate and struggled with balance and coordination during her walk to the barn. She staggered as though she had no control of her hind legs. My immediate thought was that it would be a terrible idea to haul her to the vet in the morning- I was afraid she would fall in the trailer or fall trying to back out of the trailer. Since water was restored to the barn, I left her and Moe in their usual paddock overnight and resolved to call the vet clinic first thing in the morning. At this point, I suspected Gina might have EPM- it’s common in our area and her symptoms (ataxia in rear limbs, muscle atrophy that I’d chalked up to old age and lack of work) matched those of the disease.

always at her best on the trails!

On Thursday morning, I called the clinic to let them know I wouldn’t be in because I had concerns about safely trailering my horse. They were understanding and made room in their schedule to send a vet out Friday afternoon. I was relieved. I was also worried and upset that Friday might be Gina’s last day on earth. She is 26. Her symptoms seemed severe. Did she have a chance for recovery? Would the vet recommend putting her down? I wanted to do what was best and kindest for her, but that doesn’t mean I was less sad or distressed about what that might mean.

Fortunately, the vet didn’t suggest that at all. She agreed Gina had EPM and recommended beginning a course of diclazuril + levamisole immediately. She also gave Gina a steroid injection and advised me to give her Banamine for a few days. I was so relieved I nearly cried.

Gina has improved a little over the last few days. She walks more confidently and staggers less. Her appetite remains good, and she is very good about taking her daily medication. She is not back to normal, but she’s making progress. The vet is optimistic Gina will improve enough to get back to her favorite retirement activity: chasing Moe around and threatening to bite him on the butt. I sure hope so! Gina deserves to enjoy a long and luxurious retirement (well, as luxurious as we get around here).

Reactivating FeedXL

Several years ago, I subscribed to an equine nutrition service called FeedXL. While I found it useful and liked it a lot, I eventually let my subscription lapse. Once I settled on a diet that worked for my horses, I didn’t need it any more.

Many things have changed in the years since I last used it: Madigan is an adult, Story joined the herd, and I feed hay free-choice. It seemed like a good time to reactivate my account.

Entering Madigan’s details

FeedXL is easy to use. After creating an account and selecting a plan, you enter information about your horse and what your horse eats. The most difficult part of this process is estimating your pasture or hay quality; if you’re like me and haven’t had either tested, it’s a bit of a guess. For example, my horses eat bermuda hay. It’s good quality in that it’s soft, green, smells good, and is free from weeds, pests, and mold. But I don’t know how much selenium it has or if should be rated as “good” or “best”. Entering feed is much more straightforward, as FeedXL has a database of over 40,000 feeds and supplements. If the product you feed isn’t in the database, you can add it yourself. Once everything your horse eats is added to their diet, FeedXL provides an analysis. If your horse’s diet is lacking, you can use FeedXL’s Feed Finder or Supplement Finder tools to find a feed or supplement to fill in the gaps.

I was primarily interested in finding out how balanced Story and Madigan’s diets are. Both are easy keepers. Story is straight-up fat and Madigan is chubby. They eat a small amount of grain every day because it’s the easiest way to feed them medication. (Story is on Equioxx and Madigan is on Platinum Skin & Allergy.) I suspected their diets were lacking, but wanted to see what was missing before searching northeastern Oklahoma feed stores for a ration balancer or ordering my favorite equine multivitamin online.

Diet analysis

As you can see, Madigan is deficient in a few areas. Luckily, these deficiencies can be corrected by increasing the amount of salt in his diet and adding a multivitamin. (I don’t do free choice salt any more after Madigan gnawed down a 50 lb block in two days a couple of years ago. Truly a special creature.)

Since the horses’ diets and workloads won’t change much over the winter, I plan to cancel FeedXL after this month and re-subscribe in the spring when the pasture comes in. A standard plan subscription for four horses ran me $33/month, which I think is a reasonable rate.

Have you used FeedXL? Do you enjoy tinkering with your horses’ diets? I prefer to keep it simple and keep costs down as much as possible, and FeedXL is a pretty useful tool for that!

Barn Improvement

Early one July evening, Johnny and I were out feeding the horses and the barn cat when the sky grew dark and the wind picked up. Heavy rain began, so I shut the barn’s north doors and stood in the aisleway waiting for the horses to finish eating. Johnny started walking back to the house. Suddenly, I heard a very loud cracking noise followed by a tremendous boom. I ran out the south doors to see what happened and saw Johnny standing about halfway to the house, gesticulating wildly at something behind me. I turned around and discovered the trailer shed next to the barn had been blown over by a gust of wind. The support posts snapped, collapsing the west wall onto the trailer and flinging the shed’s roof on top of the barn.

well that’s not good

I wasn’t terribly surprised. The previous owners built the shed to house their enormous Class A RV, which meant the shed was very tall. It often swayed and creaked in the wind. It was built right next to the barn, so it rubbed on the barn roof in high winds. I’m impressed the shed lasted as long as it did.

While the old shed wasn’t perfect, it was nice to have somewhere relatively out of the elements to house my trailer. I called my hay supplier, who lives across the street from me. He had a new storage barn built last year, and I wanted to know who built it. He’s very particular and very straightforward, so I knew I could trust his opinion of his builder. I received a glowing recommendation for a local metal building specialist, who stopped by the next day to figure out how to remove the collapsed shed without damaging the trailer or the barn.

I’m still not sure how he managed it, but both the barn roof and the trailer came away unscathed other than some damage to one of the barn’s gutters. The builder drew up plans for a new trailer shed and suggested some improvements like moving it a few feet away from the barn and pouring concrete to form a drainage channel between the barn and the new shed. I figured now was a good time to make more improvements, so I also asked him to add an outdoor wash rack on the northeast corner of the barn, level the dirt-floored stalls with screenings, and install mats in all four stalls.

Construction on the new shed began this week, and it already looks sturdier than the old building! That’s the good news. The bad news is the crew hit a water line in two different place while digging. The water lines near the barn are a nonsensical mess of dead lines, weird junctions, and inexplicable layouts.

my builder insists this will be the nicest building on my place when it’s finished

This has turned into a wholesale plumbing overhaul, as Johnny and I figured it’s probably more economical to have plumbing repairs done while the plumber and equipment are here (not to mention it will be nice to know where the water lines are)! Several plumbing repairs are needed inside the barn: the toilet supply line broke last winter when the space heater shut off after a power outage, the bathroom sink doesn’t work despite our best efforts to figure out what’s wrong with it, the hot water heater has been disconnected since a pipe burst the year we moved in, and the spigots in the indoor wash rack leak. So in addition to installing new lines, moving hydrants, and installing a shutoff for the barn, the plumber is fixing the interior plumbing problems and replacing the hot water heater with an electric tankless heater. We’re also going to replace the tack room’s window unit AC with a unit that provides heat and air so we won’t have to run a space heater in it (which we do to keep the pipes from freezing in the winter).

new, (hopefully) non-scary wash going in!

I’m really excited for these improvements and repairs! I’m looking forward to having a functional bathroom in the barn again as well as having hot water to soak feed in the winter. The outdoor wash rack will be a nice improvement, too. I’ve never used the indoor one since my barn’s concrete is very slippery and the horses are all deeply suspicious of the stocks in the rack. (It is very convenient for hanging wet, muddy blankets, though.) I’m also looking forward to leveling the stalls and putting mats in. My horses are rarely stalled, but they do spend part of the day hanging out in them (as the back of the stalls open into the paddock). Mats will certainly make the minimal amount of cleaning required easier.

After this is wrapped up, I think the only thing left on my barn improvement list will be swapping the fluorescent lights in the aisle for LEDs and reorganizing the tack and feed rooms!

Story Goes Trail Riding

I’ve had Story for about a month, and the closest I’ve come to a trail ride on her is hacking around the hay meadow with one of our friends. She was very good, which I thought was a promising sign. But there’s no better way to see how a horse will be on trails than to, you know, actually take them somewhere and see how it goes.

Story and I headed out to Flint Creek to ride with Harvard Fox Hounds on a lowkey trail ride on Saturday. Harvard hunts hundreds of acres in the area, which is the one of the most beautiful places in the state. It’s close to the Arkansas border; the terrain is very hilly and densely forested. It reminds of the area of Tennessee where I grew up, which is probably why I like it so much! The terrain can be tough since many trails are steep and the soil is loose and rocky in some areas.

Headed to climb those hills in the distance.

Story was an absolute hag about loading. I’m not sure if it’s the ramp or trailering in general that she doesn’t like, but we have to address it either way! That, combined with unexpected road construction, meant I pulled in exactly at 10 AM- when the ride was supposed to start. Luckily, a few friends didn’t mind waiting for me to throw tack and hoof boots on Story, and by 10:20 AM I climbed aboard and we set out.

Our leader chose to go east, which meant the very first thing we did was cross Flint Creek. The crossing is very wide and relatively shallow, and the water is crystal clear all the way to the creek’s rocky bottom. I’m not sure Story realized the water was there until her hooves were in it! She seemed surprised and stepped sideways a few times, then followed our friends across. On the other side, she was a little wide-eyed but generally calm, curious, and obedient.

Leading the group down the trail.

We rode for about an hour and half and Story was absolutely perfect! She was happy to be anywhere in the group – front, back, or middle. She didn’t mind horses close to her. She trotted and cantered quietly with the group and was easily rated in the D-ring snaffle she usually goes in. Nothing spooked her. For most of the ride I let her hack on the buckle, and she was relaxed and happy. You’d think this horse had been on a hundred trail rides, not that she’d spent her life competing as a fancy show hunter.

Hanging out in the middle of the group

I couldn’t be happier with how Story’s first trail ride went! While trail riding isn’t a perfect analogue to foxhunting, I do think Story will make a terrific hunt horse. She’s enrolled in baby school with my trainer to work on loading and standing quietly at the mounting block, but those things are fairly minor and fixable issues. We continue to work on her ring sour behavior- it’s too early to say if that will improve or resolve. Now that hay season is over, I can take her for conditioning work in the hay meadow. The goal is to have her ready for Opening Hunt in November!