Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pea Gravel!

If you are a long time reader of this blog you know the difficulties I've had over the years with our water stations. We have a "mudder" at our farm.

"Ummm, I am the Sovey-boy, and I sure do like the mud."

In horse racing, when a horse does well in rainy, mucky, mud races, they're called "mudders". Not all horses like to run in mud. Some horses, like our Foggy, are positively dainty and do not like stepping in mud ever. 

But, full brother Sovereign LOVES the mud. Click the photo below to see a video of Sovereign (racing name Suave Lord) winning a race in the mud at Philadelphia Park. This race was run on November 20, 2007 and at the beginning of the video you can see me pan to the track conditions in the top right corner. Conditions are listed as "muddy"!!! The whole video is grey in color because it was pouring rain. Naturally.

Since his arrival in February of 2009 Sovereign has continually dumped our pasture water buckets. He loves to swim and puts his foot in the bucket and splashes his belly. Then, seeing that the water is muddy from his foot, he finishes off the bucket by completely dumping it. We have a swim tub for him which keeps him happy, but if that is empty at any time during the day because of previous swimming, he resorts to swimming in the watering troughs. Looking back over my blog I see many entries when I devise a new "perfect" system to keep him out of the water. None ever worked. We moved the buckets around and even raised them up high into hideous blue barrels like the one below. Ugh.

There are horses who drink neatly out of pasture buckets and leave their water station tidy. Then there is Sovey. At least he is adorable!

It doesn't help that I am obsessed with clean water and clean buckets. I empty and scrub all buckets daily which adds to the problem because of frequent dumping. Obviously, I pull the buckets out and away from the pastures, but ultimately the water runs back toward the lowest, muddiest point. We have permanent water pumps and electric for winter's heated buckets at each station so moving the troughs too far away was not an option.

Before the pea gravel, our water stations looked like this - a typical day in October. Summer looked much worse because hot temperatures encourage many swims by our little swimmer boy. Needless to say, this situation was not healthy for hooves or dispositions. Foggy positively hated getting a drink. Poor honey.

I knew I wanted pea gravel but I couldn't just have a truckload dumped at our water holes because mud and high traffic would suck it all down and away within a few weeks. Brian told me that I needed to prepare a base just like you do if you are making a driveway. So I found an excellent paving company, Locust Point, and told them about my problem. We came up with a plan!

First they dug out a huge rectangular area and hauled away the dirt. You can see some of the exposed dirt in the corner of the rectangle above to get a sense of the depth. Next, they filled the hole with ballast for good drainage.

Then a layer of modified was rolled. I don't have a photo of that layer because I headed out on Foggy for a ride. (And - fun side note - Foggy was amazing even with all the commotion. At one point we were right beside the pasture and a dump truck was unloading the ballast. These stones are huge and rumble and shake the ground when they are dropped. Foggy never flinched! My mom was with me and we just stood there in awe of his composure. I was able to take photos and fiddle around with zero reins. What a horse!)

Anyway, no photo but the middle layer is modified stone which was rolled to keep it compact. The top layer is four inches of pea gravel. The term "pea gravel" refers to the size of the rock rather than the type of rock. Pea gravel is pea sized and allows for good drainage while being comfortable on horse hooves. In addition, frequent trips to the water station should provide some natural wear on the hooves. I am interested to hear what our farrier notices in the coming months.

I am thrilled with the results! Sovey has dumped the buckets many times already and the water just disappears. I, too, have scrubbed and emptied all the buckets easily with no residual water. Pie and Sovey paw and play like crazy in the stone. I hope the novelty wears off soon because they make a total mess of the area. Sweet, reserved, mannerly Foggy required a two day training session to make sure he was actually walking on the surface and could use the water buckets. Now, all is well and everyone is drinking.

The paving contractors were there to witness our clown Pie's first dive into the pea gravel. They said to me that day "His feet were straight up in the air!" as they described his antics. And just now I got a text from them:

"We are still laughing about how that horse was rolling around in the stone. I have never seen anything like that. We told my mom and she was laughing so hard. He looked exactly like how our dogs roll around in the yard and the other two were staring at him like what are you doing?!"

To see these three characters in action click the photo above. No rolling in this video, but you can see Sovey and Foggy racing around the pea gravel with their initial suspicion. Not Pie - he dives right in typical, uninhibited fashion!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Magical, lovely October. It is sad to see it come to an end. We've had cool mornings and warm, sunny day rides. There is a sweet October morning hay nibbling video if you click photo below.

Temperatures turned colder today and Pie took me on a good ride in blustery, scary conditions. He is so adorable and funny as he tries his very best to be brave. Wound as tight as a top, he wants desperately to be a big, good boy, but every so often the loud wind and pelting leaves get the best of him and he has to jump this way and that. His body language is all goodness and loving, though, so I laugh and he relaxes with a rolling, snorting sigh. What are you going to do? Wind and winter is coming and there are many rides to be had.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

it was electric, so frantically hectic, and the band started leaving, 'cause they all stopped breathing

Yesterday morning I got to the barn early to ride. The light was perfect and the temperatures were hovering around 47 degrees - much colder than it's been. Everyone was covered in mud from our previous day's rain. In the neighborhood beside our farm a man was using a jack hammer on the concrete of a front porch. The boys were all snorty and spooky on their way into the barn. 

Pie was making himself extra tall and snorted through our entire grooming session so I decided to use the saddle. As soon as I mounted, he calmed down which I thought was exceptionally kind of him. I didn't expect that. In fact, we rode for an hour in the woods and over to the mechanic's apple tree and back around our perimeter trail and I don't think he shied once. In the last bit we had to pass fairly close to the jack hammering. I could feel the reverberations through the ground and up through Pie, but he stayed calm.

As we were finishing the loop back through the field the morning sun was lovely and a neighborhood friend waved at me from a long way off. It was a perfect single instance to take stock of how lucky I am. I sure felt blessed at that moment.

I groomed and grazed the other two boys then stuck all three back outside quickly so I could hurry over to Maizie's tennis tournament. She finished her regular season undefeated (16-0) and was playing in the finals of the singles #3 for the conference title. She was the top seed and had won her quarterfinals and semis easily.

But sweet Maizie lost in the finals 7-5, 6-0 to a girl she beat during the regular season. This was Maizie's first loss as a high school player so there were a few tears in our house last night. Poor honey, these life lessons are hard but so necessary.

The upside is that already it seems more real, more relaxed around here. Since August 12th we've been tight and strained, precariously balancing on a bubble of perfection. Every win just made that bubble more taut. At the barn with the horses, and on the running trail, I've been able to exhale, but at home and at matches I think we've all been holding our collective breath for eight weeks. Yesterday evening I was able to breathe and I slept very good last night. 

Maizie was more at ease as we walked to the school bus this morning. She has to play the very same girl in Districts on Thursday. It is just dumb luck that it worked out that way and I don't think Maizie is looking forward to it at all. My goal is to keep smiles and laughter flowing the next few days. Happy is the safest emotion I know to bring when I climb back on a scary horse.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

(All my friends are brown and red)

Sweet Foggy and Sovey in the pasture yesterday afternoon.

Here is a closeup of the burrs I found in Foggy's foretop on Wednesday.

Poor little honey. 

He stood perfectly still and allowed me to remove every single sticky barb. It took a very long time. Foggy is easily my most patient horse. Then we had a great ride all over the farm and many apples for his troubles.

My three black beauties are stunning this time of year. Their coats are unbelievably lovely - brown and red and black and thick now - they look blue. Nature is getting them ready for winter even though the thermometer says 85 degrees. Yesterday Pie and I had a sweaty bareback ride on our land and on a neighbor's farm. He was sleepy and slow like he is in July. If you click the photo above you can see a short video of the horses strutting through their pasture.