Thursday, March 14, 2019

An Annual Ski Haiku Story

Heading out alone
Without plans or direction
I climbed the mountain

Left, right, left, right, left
Gliding with steady rhythm
I traveled along

My thoughts were my own
I found calm in the forest
Observing the trees

Eventually,
I reached the first ski shelter
And enjoyed "mountain water"

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I sat for a time
Sipping, thinking, enjoying
Appreciating

I put my skis on
And began climbing again
Still without a plan

When I reached Roundtop
Snow began falling anew
I smiled as I watched

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I snapped some photos
Observing distant figures
Emerging from snow

Adam and Paul, friends
Descending from the mountain
I called a greeting

As I had no plan
I opted to follow them
Back down the mountain

We zipped down the trail
Whooping and hollering joy
As we made our turns

Back at the shelter
We greeted many more friends!
A pleasant surprise

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Chatting and smiling,
We discussed where to ski next.
Off to the orchard!

Across the mountain,
Over a creek, through the woods
We emerged up high

Powder everywhere
It was completely untouched
Gleeful, we climbed on

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Upward and upward
To the top of the drift line
Smiling skiers climbed

Then, one at a time
They each enjoyed powder turns
Smiling all the while

I captured their joy
Moments of raw happiness
Preserved in photos

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The sun descended
And the skiers followed suit
Smiles on every face

Drinks and snacks were shared
As we reflected fondly 
On each perfect turn

While some continued
Back up the mountain for more
I bid them adieu

Left, right, left, right, left
Gliding with steady rhythm
I traveled back home

A night without plans
Became just what I needed
Funny how that works

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part III - Design Modifications

Because what's a plan without changes?! I fully expected there to be changes throughout this process and I'm sure there will be more. I'm having a blast with the entire process though, so working through these things has been been enjoyable for me.

Roof Modification

A big thank you to everyone who commented on the last post! I enjoyed the conversation generated from it all.

Coincidentally, one of the design points that was commented on the most - roof runoff to the trough & potential toxicity of the roof runoff - changed within a few days of publishing the post.

Dave has been crunching numbers and sketching different design options all this time and asked me one morning, "Are you set on having a roof to match the house?"

Without hesitation, I replied, "Absolutely not! Why? What are you thinking?"

"Well, would metal be okay?"

"Hell yes. You'd originally noted that it would be a lot more expensive. That's the only reason I gave up on it."

"Well, when you look at the number of trusses necessary for shingles vs. metal and you think about the ease of installing the metal panels vs. the shingles and then consider the life of the metal over the shingles, I think metal is going to be the way to go. I've still got to look at a couple things, but I'm pretty sure it won't alter your budget more than $1k."

"Sweet! Metal it is. Pick whatever color you think will look best."

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Looking toward the house from the far corner of the property. Can't wait to repeat this shot next year once the barn is in.

Ah, the joys of having a contractor for a husband! And the fortune of knowing his opinions about colors for this barn (and most structures) are very in-line with my own likes/preferences. In fact, other than requesting that the trim be a contrasting color to the rest of the structure, I've given him full control of selecting the colors for the whole thing. I'm kind of excited about the surprise of it all.

Fence Modification

The second change that has come up is for the fencing. Originally, I'd planned for hi-tensile electric to be installed by a professional crew. They prefer to install uncoated wire and the cost of having them install coated wire was exorbitant, which was why I left it out of the plan. I recognize the pros and cons of coated vs. uncoated, but was comfortable with my decision to go with the uncoated because my horses have lived issue-free in fields with uncoated wire for their whole lives. It's just what is common around here. With limited options to board a horse, you take what you can get. 🤷

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The barn will be where the center of the photo is in a few months!

While there is still a possibility for more changes so far as who will be doing the installation, the new and current plan allows me to upgrade to coated wire with some pretty intense cost-savings! I'm very excited about this development. As long as my HOA doesn't nix it, things should be good and I'll have an electric fence with brown coated wire.

Location of the Barn and Dry Lot

A few nights ago, the excavator was able to come out for an updated site visit with Dave and I ...yet another snow-covered site visit. D'oh! But he has so much expertise that I wasn't very concerned about the snowfall causing difficulties.

We marched down to where I foresee building the barn being, which involves most of the earth work. I told him that I was willing to part with my big beautiful beech tree to make site prep easier, something he'd asked about during our first meeting. It's a beautiful tree, but it has some early signs of beech bark disease and will die one day because of it. He nodded along and said he was surprised it didn't look worse, as most trees in the area that size have succumbed to the disease in more dramatic ways already.

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My pretty beech tree

I also noted that I had changed the layout of the barn by 90° since his last visit in the fall. The center aisle would now be perpendicular to the road bench instead of parallel. This would mean more difficulty sloping the land to allow access to the big double doors which caused the excavator to groan a little.

He asked if there was any way to turn it back. I noted that I really preferred to keep it as it was to help protect the horses/stall openings from the weather. I was aware it wouldn't be ideal to have to do the earth moving to make it this way, but it benefits the horses so much more.

The excavator calmly pointed out how much more earthwork would be involved and the whys and hows that made it trickier, more expensive, and less ideal to achieve my vision. Dave and I nodded along, grateful for his guidance and expertise.

"That makes sense," I agreed, "So, without totally blowing my budget out of this realm, do you have any recommendations for how we can do it and keep the aisle and overhang in such a way to protect from weather?"

He stepped back, thought a moment, and replied, "Well, how do you feel about moving the structure up the slope into the field a little bit? You'll lose a little pasture by doing this, but it will be a lot easier to do. You'll probably even save some money by doing it this way and will be able to leave that beech you like so much."

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On the opposite side of the property - what will be a natural XC jump!
The tree survived a past trauma and now grows horizontal before shooting back upward.
It's larger than it appears here and I can't wait to clear out the landing and approach.

I thought about this for a few moments. I was hesitant because I really wanted to preserve as much pasture as possible!

Observing my wheels turning, the excavator proceeded to explain where the downslope side of the building would be in relation to the current surroundings.

I listened, still thinking, and walked to the point he indicated for where the downslope edge of the building would sit. "Okay, I'm going to walk into the field. Tell me to stop when I reach what you envision the upslope edge of the building to be." I knew the dimensions of my building, as did he, but estimating how far to walk in relation to the current slope of the land while trying to also visualize it becoming a flat slope (Pythagorean theorem & trigonometry, anyone?) wasn't as obvious to me as I knew it would be to him because he does it for a living.

I walked uphill until he told me to stop, and then turned around where I was, trying to get a feel for how the building would look on the landscape and how much pasture I'd be giving up.

The excavator noted how the dry lot would line up in relation to the barn and pointed out how the earth removed for the barn could be used to level out the dry lot area. I nodded along, noting to myself how the change wasn't that significant and that it wouldn't result in too much pasture being given up in the grand scheme of things.

"Okay," I finally agreed, "This change works for me." He smiled.

We continued to discuss construction of the French drain and the dry lot and what I should put in my submissions to the HOA's architectural committee. Overall, it sounds like the slight change in the layout will only make things easier and possibly cheaper. Definite wins.

20190310 Starlight Lane Farm layout
Keep in mind the trees "in the field" are actually just shadows. And the French drain will pipe the water further away, but the
majority of the excavation will be as above. The pipes won't require as much impact past that point.

Oh, and uh, I guess I have a farm name? It helps that the road the farm is on has such a pretty name. I'd wanted to make the
name something with "starlight" because our views up here on a clear night are absolutely unrivaled. I keep referring to it as
Starlight Lane Farm though, and it's sticking.

Dave asked for the excavator's opinion on things to do with the trees that would still need to be cut, sharing that he'd been having trouble finding boards of the correct thickness to line the stalls with. The excavator grinned and said he had a portable mill and would be happy to mill them on site for us for $0.55/board foot.

Dave looked at me, I looked at him, and we grinned. The boards won't be completely cured as is the preference, but for lining the interior of the stalls and the hay storage area that little bit of shrinking  won't make a big difference.

It thrills me to no end to be able to use some of the trees we cut within the structure itself! Cherry and maple-lined stalls? Don't mind if I do! (Worry not, I already talked to my vet to guarantee that cherry heartwood isn't toxic to horses like the leaves/fruits/stems/pits. The maple is all Acer saccharum (sugar), which doesn't have the toxic properties of it's cousin A. rubrum (red) it seems.)

I doubt the uncured wood will work well in the tack room to save some dollars there, but either way, Dave plans to finish it with lovely wood floors and walls thanks to some leftover material he has from building the house 10 years ago! I can't wait to add splashes of color to that space with all of my tack and horse-related art. Eee!

If the schedule holds, we'll break ground on everything at the end of May. So stay tuned for future updates!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Winter Riding Compendium

Winter is such a hard time to keep the blog updated with our riding goings-on. It is such a hit-or-miss time that is complicated by 6-day work weeks (ski patrol + normal job), turbulent weather, sickness, short daylight hours, and - new this year! - abscesses.

I love to include photos when blog, but sadly this time of year is generally not very photographic as far as riding goes due to: the drudgery of most of the workouts (very basic exercises), the darkness that consumes those workouts due to complete lack of an indoor, and very dirty horses that live outside 24/7 with zero access to a warm-water washrack.

Nonetheless, we HAVE been riding. I've documented those rides in writing in my day-planner, noting time, mileage, and anything else memorable. In a perfect world, I'd like to have Q legged up for a 50 in the middle of April. But considering the complications listed above, it isn't easy!  However, with longer days firmly in the present and DST coming up on March 10 (huzzah!), the future is bright (literally and figuratively) for more riding.

So, to sum up what's been happening in the world of my horses and riding the past three months, I give you my training notes and monthly summaries.

December (12 rides; 4 hours, 47 minutes)

Dec 2018 rides

Q - Following the lesson with Griffin on the 5th, much of the month was spent practicing homework. We successfully learned turns on the haunches, and Q excelled at them! She learned them more quickly than Griffin by a long shot. Additionally, we put in a lot of long, slow hours in the back field climbing the hill again, and again, and again. The ground was wet throughout the month (not a surprise) so marching up and down that hill was a great way to pass the time in a way that benefited her body without worrying about bad footing.

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Riding off into the light

Despite the footing and the meager amount of riding, I am still so pleased with the progress Q made this month. All of these small rides are really adding up to build her confidence and trust which makes a world of difference in our relationship. She nickers upon seeing me and meets me before Griffin does at least half the time - something I never would have imagined happening! It's such a good feeling to have this improved relationship with her.

Grif - The lesson was such a great start to the month. We worked on lesson homework all month with the addition of lots of hill climbing. It was very basic work, but it really helped him to begin re-establishing the topline he lost during the late summer/autumn months. His TOH improved greatly, but still lacks the ease that Q can execute it. Regardless, I am grateful to finally HAVE a semblance of TOH on this horse as it was the most basic of things we struggled with for so long. The curse of not having an instructor and eyes on the ground to help me work through things!

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A new-to-us teal pad, thanks to Austen!

Stan - Living the cushy semi-retirement life through the winter, this guy only had to suffer two rides in December. He helped me exercise the dogs and generally just enjoy life.

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It's a hard life being a pasture puff, just ask Stan.

His weight was okay, though not as plump as I'd like to see him this early in winter considering how much hay he usually eats. Unfortunately, returning after a summer away did not guarantee he kept his higher status in the herd. In December, especially, he was chased off the hay more than I'd like. Fortunately though, things have seemed to balance out as the season has gone on and he's looking lots better.

January (20 rides; 13 hours, 47 minutes)

Jan 2019 rides

Q - Lots of ponying happened this month as a way to get work in while making the most of the short daylight I have after work. Something is far better than nothing so far as workouts go during the winter! Bonus, we fit in one 12-mile rail trail ride where she led for more than half of the ride.

She was very impatient once we turned for home and became very rushy and then spooky over nothing because I wouldn't acquiesce to her requests to race home. We definitely need some solo miles to work through this.

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Proof that my horses have been clean some this winter.

Overall, I was really pleased with this little horse this month. The ride on the 28th, following several rides that we practiced homework from the January was pivotal. Q was super fussy and anxious the whole time, but she still tried her heart out to listen to what I wanted. There was a lot of bit clanking as she thought about what I was asking. We had some good lateral work at the walk, which worked just as I always dreamed it would by keeping her fussy mind busy focusing on me. This prevented her from spooking or doing other stupid evasion tactics that are not enjoyable to ride through. I'm very hopeful that as we continue to practice and hone her responsiveness to my seat and leg, and her strength and coordination with lateral work improve, I will be able to prevent huge blow ups on trail when she becomes nervous by keeping her mind focused on me/the work.

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Celebrated his "gotcha" day at the end of January! He's been in my life since 2012.

Grif - So many hills, and so much homework practice! His topline and overall body condition continued to improve.

At our lesson, I ended up only riding for the first little bit before handing over the reins to LC. It was wonderful to see her work him. I learned so much by watching her, listening to her explanations, and asking clarifying questions of my own. He was a little bit confused at first, but quickly caught on to what she was asking, further proving to me that I am the weak link - which I very strongly suspected and was not the least bit surprised by! In fact, it was really exciting to see him move so well for her because it means if I can fix myself (so much easier without the whole spoken language barrier bit lol), then he will improve.

Since that lesson, I have modified the position of my lower leg a little bit and practiced all of the other homework LC gave me. Griffin and I both are doing so much better.

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Those ribs are officially out of sight now. 

Stan - Just one ride this month to get the dogs out and about for a good evening of exercise. He was very amenable to everything, though very pokey and lazy unless I prodded him forward with lots of enthusiasm. I can't be too upset about this though as it's what makes him such a perfect horse for friends to enjoy.

February (8 rides, 6 hours, 40 minutes)

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Q - This was definitely the hardest month so far for riding of any kind. I feel like a lot of the progress I made with Q (and Grif) was setback. I was sick on and off from the end of January through the middle of February three separate times. Couple that with wet weather that prevents crossing the stream to the high pasture to fetch the horses unless you're in hip waders, and it was really a bum month for riding.

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Free lunging because it was windy AF

Fortunately though, the final week of February granted us lots of sunshine and NO precipitation. Praise be. I forgot what any semblance of dry ground was like. I'm made up for lost time by getting out more frequently in the longer evening hours.

The biggest wins to date have been our two most recent rides incorporating the cavaletti. She has a tendency to be so very worried they might grab her legs that she always rushes and flings herself over/across them. On the first day, I talked to her and reassured her and praised her endlessly as we walked back and forth over one set to a ground pole. Within a shorter time than I imagined, she sighed and released all of the tension from her body. She was still a bit looky-loo about the surrounding environment but without the tension. She walked over the pole like it wasn't even there and then tackled the 18" high setting with just as much relaxation. The next ride, she wasn't concerned at all. Huge win!

AdobeLightroom
Werkin' it.

Grif - The end of January and the first week+ of February were a down period for Griffin due to an abscess. Ironically, a barnmate's horse had an abscess that lasted about the same amount of time in the same hoof, immediately preceding Griffin's. I monitored the hoof and just waited it out, & by the second week we were back in business.

In general, Grif has been a lazy ass this month. I think it is a combination of warm weather days with his winter coat and being bored with the work we are doing. In years leading up to this, we had a lot more variety in our lives with access to lots of trails and jumps. Until we return to Canaan, we don't really have trails and I only brought my cavaletti and some ground poles down to Elkins because it is such a chore to transport all the jump standards and the XC ramps.

All the same, his strength is building and his body is showing that off little by little. I feel really good about the progress we have made, even if I have had to carry a whip on more rides to encourage his sluggish butt along.

AdobeLightroom
View from the top of the hill I've climbed so many times this winter.

Stan - Just one ride again this month. He was eager at first to have my full attentions - until I started tacking him up! Then his body language was quite indignant toward my ministrations. How dare I deign to do anything more than give him his daily grain ration and release him back to the field?! Tough titty, Stan.

We did a few circuits of the very small trail loop on the property and even did some work over my 18" cavaletti. In true Stanley fashion, he balked at each cavaletti the first time I asked - something he's done since he was 5 years old whenever I want to jump him. Once he gets it out of his system, he's much more willing though, and we proceeded to trot and canter over the cavaletti several times. I had a huge smile plastered across my face as always from riding him.

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Mugging me for treats last Wednesday night. 

The only other Staniel-happening of note this month was his first choke. It did resolve on its own after 20-25 minutes but, ugh. It was stressful. I was grateful to have my vet to text with throughout because it was so different from what I'm used to. Q and Grif have had mild chokes many times. They always resolve on their own after a few short minutes, and I feed the sloppiest fucking mashes ever to help prevent it. Stan, in a hold-my-beer fit of glory, managed to choke on a super sloppy mash because he attempted to bolt it down. He developed this bolting habit with his food last fall when he was in with a herd of 20 horses for a month (ugh) and had to compete a little bit for food (double ugh).

It sucked to watch him struggle through it because he was so uncomfortable and not stoic about it. He paced and paced and fussed and fussed, and every minute or so his neck would spasm and contract in the worst way. His eyes screamed pain and fear with each spasm. Finally though, right as I was about to have the vet out instead of on stand-by, it passed. He gave me a cold shoulder as if I had caused this horrible thing, then promptly cocked a hind leg and took a nap. Fortunately, he seems to have 'made himself a memory' from it as he hasn't bolted his food since.

: : : : :

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My 5 day spring weather preview began with this surprise rainbow in the morning. I very rarely get to enjoy rainbows from the front of my house!

After having a solid taste of spring last week, I felt renewed and ready for the predicted 5 to 10 inches of snow followed by single digit temps forecasted for the weekend and into this week. It's early March, after all, and this weather is fully expected and normal. And honestly, considering the craptastic winter we've had from a snow perspective, I'll gladly welcome the opportunity to ski something more than loose granular and ice for a few days!

The weather will break soon enough and riding will be easier. Still, considering my schedule and all of the things that make this time of year so much more difficult for riding, I'm pleased with my 40 rides and 25+ hours in the saddle! I was feeling pretty down on myself about not riding at all until I looked back at the overview of each month. It's not as bleak as my mind wanted me to believe.

I keep reminding myself that in a few short months my ponies will be in my backyard and I'll see them every single day. It'll be so much easier to fit in rides once my commute drops from 50 minutes to a 200-foot meander! Until then, I'll be making the best of what's around and riding as often as I'm able. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part II - Designing My Dream

I'll be honest, a small-acreage farm was never my dream. My horses and horse farms I grew up around in this area have expansive 20+ acre fields with ample grass. A farm like this is what always dreamed of having for myself.

However, when I moved to Canaan, I knew my options for fulfilling my dream would be more limited. Land of any amount in Canaan comes at a premium price, unfortunately, because it is a vacation destination for so many. Additionally, very few real estate offerings were suitable for horses, within my budget, and/or had the kind of acreage I'd dreamed of. Even adjusting my original dream of 10-15 acres of pasture to 5-10 acres of pasture proved to be a big ask in this mountainous vacation destination ripe with more wetlands than firm ground.

Over time, I surrendered to the reality that no matter what I found in Canaan, it was going to have to be a small acreage farm in order to be affordable. This came with the acceptance that I'd have to feed hay year-round, designate and construct a durable sacrifice area, implement pasture rotation, and devise a manure management plan.

A small a commute would be critical to successfully implement this plan, which made real estate shopping all the trickier! Gaining permission from my HOA to bring the horses home to the lots next door was the best possible scenario. I was so very relieved when it became an option!

Making the Best Use of the Land

Once I received the go-ahead from the HOA in October, my mind began whirring anew with farm design options. Of course, I'd looked out on that land for years in advance dreaming about how I would design the fencing, fields, and barn, but those dreams were just that - dreams. Now, knowing that they would become a real, tangible thing, my planning took on a new fervor. I plotted and schemed how to design a farm in the best way possible on what would soon become my land.

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Draft Plan demonstrating how topography and prevailing winds play into the placement of the barn, dry lot, and pastures.

The topography of the land is the biggest factor that contributed toward my options for farm layout. The pasture is gently sloping from the gravel road down toward the treeline (light yellow lines above roughly demonstrate the slope). Obviously, I want to make the most of this available pasture!

But I also want to do my best to provide adequate shelter from the elements for the horses because environment is much less forgiving up here on this ridge than where they currently live! Case in point: our old, heavy, vapor-soaked hot tub lid coupled with a very hefty chunk of wood was blown off the tub and off our porch last night. Anything I can do to get the horses out of the wicked winds that prevail from the west and northwest (and increasingly from the south as I'm noticing lately...thanks, climate change!) is preferred.

As luck would have it, achieving the goals of maximizing the available pasture & providing the horses with the best shelter is simply met by situating the barn and dry lot within the treeline. This allows the pasture area to remain open for rotational grazing while utilizing the forested area as a windbreak from the worst of the winds.

20181206 XC Skiing
For scale, Dave skiing on the old road bench just below the treeline. The pasture is above. This is just beyond the limits of
the future dry lot. Fortunately, the area in front of Dave where the dry lot and barn will be has a much milder slope that will
be more easily manipulated to level ground for the dry lot and barn.

Oddly enough, this option didn't seem as obvious to me at first because the hillside that begins just beyond the treeline boasts a very steep slope (red lines in the image above). Fortunately, there is an old logging road bench at the start of the treeline that provides level ground before the steepest drop off (as Dave demonstrates, above)! What's more fortunate is that the area surrounding that road bench closest to my house is very mildly sloped in comparison to the surrounding land, making it an absolute perfect place for the barn!

Designing the Barn

I have dreamed of designing my own barn for literal decades. Strangely, once I knew my dream stood a chance at becoming reality my mind went totally blank for a few days. The options! I just... How could I possibly choose?!

Well, for one, finances helped determine what was possible. As much as I may wish and long for a barn with a covered arena, that simply is not within the realms of my financial abilities. Second to that, the land was going to limit anything too crazy (see: above). And third, I had to think about it from a pragmatic standpoint (not hard for me!): how could I provide shelter, hay/feed storage, and tack storage within one structure utilizing the available space in the best way possible?

After a lot of internet browsing, day dreaming, and endless sketches and doodles on any piece of paper that ended up in front of me no matter where I was, I settled on a rough-idea: A three stall, center aisle barn with a closed tack/feed room, a sizable area for ground-level hay storage, and an overhang where the stalls open up into the dry lot. The barn will have a roof with architectural shingles to match our house and the siding will be wood to meet the HOA guidelines - color TBD.

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The current state of the Sketch Up design Dave is working on. I love having a contractor for a husband!
Tiny human (red shirt) in near corner for scale.
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The sliding doors won't actually have windows in them, but Google Sketch Up thinks they should. The back wall of my
tack/feed room WILL have a sizable window though. And the outside stalls will have small 
windows. I may also put one
at the end of the aisle where we omitted the second sliding door because it will open to a steep hillside. 

Reasons I selected this design
- The center aisle was just plain functional. It gives me room to groom, room for farrier work, room for vet work, room to unload hay and feed, room to generally maneuver and do horse and barn related everythings.
- I've grown up around a lot of barns with ground-level hay storage and they're a lot simpler and allow me to not purchase a hay elevator to store my hay. I will simply line that area with pallets to stack the hay. This achieves a long-time goal of not having to leave the barn to feed in the winter & will help encourage the horses to get out of the elements.
- I don't have, nor do I need, a ton of tack. A 10' x 12' combined feed and tack room will be more than sufficient for my needs. It will be closed off from the rest of the barn to protect from dust and will have a wooden floor that will be easy to sweep.
- The stalls opening to an overhang in the dry lot will provide the horses with a sheltered loafing area within the dry lot and will help minimize any precipitation blowing into the stall doors if I choose to leave them open. Additionally, it will prevent the need for me to fetch the horses for feeding as I'll be able to simply open the stalls for them to come eat.

Mud Management

A HUGE component of my farm plan is preventing mud. See, I hate mud. I hate mud so fucking much. Unfortunately, mud is commonplace around these parts for much of the year. Such is life when you live in a temperate rainforest with the affectionate nickname of Can-Rain Valley (instead of Canaan Valley, which is pronounced ke-nayne as opposed to the Bibical kay-nen)! But still. I've thought long and hard for many years about how to avoid mud as much as possible if/when I designed my own property.

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Current state of the high-traffic areas where I board the horses. YUCK.

So, how am I planning to achieve this? Well, for starters, the stalls opening into the dry lot is huge. The horses won't have to stand in mud or track it into the barn, and I won't have to walk through mud to feed or fetch them. I cannot tell you how freaking thrilled I am that this winter is my last fucking winter dealing with high-traffic barn areas that resemble the above. I am over mud caking to my boots and coating my horses legs!

The dry lot construction has a lot to do with how mud-free it remains (a post for the future as plans move forward). Beyond proper dry lot construction though, I've got to minimize the amount of sheet flow from the slightly uphill pasture into the dry lot. This will be accomplished with one hell of a French drain. I'm really grateful that the contractor doing my earth work is not only freaking amazing at his job but also has a lot of livestock and understands what I'm looking to achieve. It's a lot of money, but it's something that I'm happy to fork over in favor of mud-free feet!

Unattractive Mud collage
The current state of my horses on blanket-free days. FML.
Also, the worst photo of Q ever because I couldn't back up
any more to take the photo & her front end is in a low spot.
Sorry, mare.

Beyond the dry lot and barn being one contiguous area with a solid uphill French drain, a manure management plan and pasture rotation will be paramount to minimizing the amount of mud. For manure management, I will be mucking the dry lot often and mucking and/or dragging the pastures as often as necessary.

My pasture rotation will be contingent not only on the health of the grass within them but also the weather. If the weather has been exceptionally wet, I won't turn the horses out. I know how quickly horse hooves can destroy a wet pasture around here and would much rather preserve the pasture quality for years to come. I'll exercise the beasties enough by riding that it shouldn't be too big of a deal. Regardless, this will be a big change for us all. But I think it will ultimately benefit all parties while also keeping my land as healthy as possible! Which pleases my little conservation biologist soul to no end, and meets my other goal of doing this whole horse farm thing in a way that is best for the health of the land.

Fences & Water

The two remaining major aspects to complete the farm layout are fencing and water.

Fencing
My horses are pretty smart about fencing and have a lot of respect for every fence I've put them in, something for which I am very grateful! It means the world is my oyster so far as fencing options go. Though I do have to abide by my HOA, which requires building materials to be "natural", thus limiting the options to wood and metal.

As beautiful as a post and board or split rail fence can be, my feelings toward those aren't very warm and fuzzy. A large chunk of my husband's business in the summer revolves around re-staining/painting houses and decks to protect them from the weather. In the 4 years we've been together, he's re-stained several of the same places twice! Our weather in "Can-Rain" Valley is not kind to wooden exteriors. Having a wooden fence in this clime is basically a money pit. I would spend more time than I care to replacing and/or re-staining the damn thing. Just, no.

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My friend's beautiful fence and even more beautiful pasture.

So, that leaves high tensile electric - a very popular option around here. And fortunately, I've got more than a few options for help to build the damn thing in short order at a good price. Winning! Two other bonuses to this type of fencing for my HOA are: (1) it will keep the viewshed open - a bargaining point of mine during my presentation, and (2) it will not change the way the snow drifts at all on the road along the top of the pastures - something my neighbor will appreciate in the winter.

Water
All of the farms I've grown up around, including the one where my horses currently reside, have perennial streams on the property. The pastures are designed so that the horses always have access to them. It's easy and stress-free.

But my farm is on a ridge top. There are multiple springs on this mountain of ours (our water system is connected to one of the bigger ones), but no springs exist on my property for the horses, which means I have to have a trough. No big deal. That's easy enough to fill and clean - especially with a couple goldfish residents! Add a de-icer in the winter and it's good to go year-round.

However, when the horses spent time at my friend's place for 2 months this past summer, I got to experience the sheer brilliance of their water system for the horses. It was such a simple improvement for a trough scenario.

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Rain-fed trough with overflow being piped away from the field.

They designed the gutter on their barn at a very slight angle so that the water would feed into their trough. They also added a small hole for overflow that allowed for a pipe connection to funnel the water away from the horse area. Absolutely brilliant when you consider how much rain we get! It basically guarantees that the only time necessary to fill the trough is when we have a drought period. (Drought? What is this foreign concept you speak of?). It is my plan to have Dave construct a similar gutter situation so I can have a nearly-identical setup. Not as simple as a stream, but pretty damn close!

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So, there you have it! A rough plan of how the farm layout will be constructed on the landscape in the coming months. I'm still the very embodiment of excited and am creating lists upon lists of things to do to prep in the mean time. I'll keep the updates coming as things progress and continue to share more details on each step of the process as it unfolds.

I'd also like to extend a big thank you to everyone for your well-wishes on the first post of this series endeavor. It's fun to celebrate with the greater horse community and I'm looking forward to sharing more!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part I - Convincing My HOA

I have alluded in previous posts about big changes afoot. Huge, life-changing, dream-attaining changes.

Drum roll please....

By next winter, my horses will be home with me for good. My barn commute will be zero. My life-long dreams of having my horses outside my window and 100% in my care will be achieved. 

I am the very embodiment of the word "excited".

But let's rewind. Because this whole thing didn't happen quickly or easily, and I want nothing more than to document the story for myself to have in years to come. Over the next month or two, I'll publish a series of posts that include everything that went into the planning and preparation phase for this dream to become reality. Then, once we roll into the warmer months and I begin implementing this dream, I'll document all of the pieces involved in the land prep and construction.

A Seemingly Far-Fetched Idea

I live in a homeowner's association (HOA) in an area that serves as a vacation destination and second-home to many folks from the DC area and beyond. My HOA is comprised of 14 residences and, of those, we are the only 100% full-time residents. One other gentleman is here 80-90% of the time. All others are only here for multiple long weekends and/or extended summer stays. 

We're situated on top of a big flat ridge that was formerly a farm. I can run a 1.1 mile loop from my house and only gain something like 75 feet in elevation. It's pleasant to have both remarkable mountain views from a high vantage point and also have flat land. As such, the very large majority of the homes in the HOA are positioned so that they can enjoy 180-270° views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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With a view like this (and this is only one third of the view!), it's understandable why people want to have homes up there!

The lots are large, folks tend to own several, and the homes are really spaced out. There are limitations on buliding size,  what materials you can build and side your home with, and other limitations on how the appearance of your yard etc. must be kept. Most folks mow their lots immediately around their homes and a local fellow comes up to hay the unmowed areas for his cattle. In the grand scheme of HOAs, it's pretty nice and relatively relaxed. 

Since moving up here full time in 2017, I've dreamed of bringing the horses home to one of the vacant lots. But the cost of land in this area coupled with the HOA rules forbidding horses (and cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. - it's quite a long and inclusive list!) kept my dreaming at bay. Even if the HOA adjusted the rules, I couldn't imagine dropping that kind of money on such a small parcel of land.

After Dave and I married and I began exploring boarding options in earnest, I realized that every option in our local area was going to be expensive because it's a vacation destination. And so I decided that before I pursued other options for land in the surrounding area, I would at least ask a friend (a past HOA president) if the option for horses in the development even seemed feasible. I knew it would very, very likely be a quick "no", but I also knew if I didn't at least ask I would always wonder "what could have been".

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Standing at the far edge of the lots looking toward the house. Gonna have my work cut out for me getting rid of golden rod!

And so when I saw my friend out and about one day this past summer while Dave and I were walking, I popped the question.

"Hey. I've got a kind of crazy question for you. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be, but I've got to ask or I'll always wonder. Do you think the HOA would ever make an exception to allow horses?"

He pondered it for a second before replying, "Well, I love horses. I think having horses up here would be wonderful. I'd be your biggest supporter - my grandkids would love it! I think others would probably be up for it, too. But we'll have to be strategic about how you approach it and ask..."

Cue: a shocked expression on my part!

After I recovered from my initial shock at not receiving what I was certain would be a "no", a smile slowly spread across my face and my mind began whirring with possibilities.

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Standing below our house looking toward the end of the lots. Barn will be just left of center nestled in the trees. 

Following that initial conversation, I put pen to paper and drew out the first draft of my plans to share with my friend. I met with him and we discussed my idea and how best to move forward. With his expert guidance and understanding of the HOA, its residents, and history, I put together a proposal for the executive committee to review and consider.

In a shorter time than I imagined, I received a reply from the executive committee. They were in favor of my proposal. The next step I needed to take was to prepare a presentation for the annual HOA meeting on October 28.

I had a solid 2-2½ months to prepare my presentation. It was both a gift and a curse to have that much time! I had plenty of time to prepare, certainly, but I also had ample time for my mind to run amok wondering will they/won't they be in favor and will this/won't this dream actually happen?

The Presentation AKA The Day of Reckoning

Finally, the day of my presentation arrived. An agenda had been set out prior to all HOA members, and item 6a read, "Permission to allow horses on 2 or more lots as requested by Liz Stout..."

All through the start of the meeting, I was nervous. I knew the executive committee was in favor and the path forward sounded straight forward enough, but if anyone had a strong objection to my plan, the whole thing could come crashing down.

Finally, it was my turn to present.

Ever-prepared, I had brought a laptop, projector, and had prepared a well-practiced presentation. I don't think any of them expected this! I laughed and made a joke about my nature to be well-prepared and overly-organized, and then went right into my presentation.

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I set the stage by sharing my background as an equestrian, a biologist, and a West Virginia native. I briefly shared the type of riding I do and noted my years of experience working at other barns and my copious visits and observations of other barns local and abroad. From there, I noted that my ideas of a good horse farm revolved around not only providing safe fencing, adequate food, water, shelter, and care for the horses, but to do this in a manner that conserved the resource (land), was aesthetically pleasing, and mindful of the viewshed.

To support these claims, I then proceeded through slides that:
  • provided a first-draft of ideas for fencing and barn placement/design and noted that any barn design would, of course, be subject to review by the architectural committee
  • shared that fencing options would be visually appealing and that the barn would be situated on the landscape in such a way that other residents wouldn't see it unless they were on the edge of our property
  • shared my plans for pasture rotation and a dry lot in order to preserve and promote healthy pastures 
  • noted that I would have a manure management plan and would position the composting bins in such a way that prevailing winds would push any smell away from the other homes
Farm Draft
A rough sketch of my current plan. I drew the barn per measurements in Google Earth and it looks mighty small if that's
 supposed to be accurate! In reality, the roof will probably be similar in dimensions to the garage (left of the house).
  • included a simple viewshed analysis with photos of my hopeful property from various vantage points to prove my claim that the change wouldn't have a large visual impact to the HOA
  • included a short list of benefits that would result from my proposal, keyly keeping spaces open so houses wouldn't be on top of one another and lessening the burden on our spring-fed water system by preventing future home development (oh, and horses use infinitely less water than a human would - especially with my plans to have a rain-fed trough for the rainy parts of the year)
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly because it was a damn well thought out presentation, the few questions I received were clarifying questions that I more than had the ability to answer. Largely, I received a wealth of compliments - from nearly every single person in the room! - for my well thought out presentation, attention to detail, and conscientious consideration of my plans and land management.

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Running through future pasture 1 on Griffin in 2017.

A few other small matters were addressed on the agenda following my presentation before the vote was put forward. While these other items were discussed, a sense of calm settled over me. I'd done all I possibly could. The praise was nice to receive. I was even more cautiously optimistic than I'd been, but my mind still halted any sense of jubilation or excitement. It just seemed crazy to think that this whole thing could actually happen. 

Ten to fifteen minutes later, it was time for everyone to vote. I locked eyes with my friend who had helped so much to this point. Ever the master of the pokerface, he cracked the tiniest of smiles at me, a twinkle in his eyes. 

The HOA president announced my request to the room for a vote. Every single person raised their hand in the affirmative to accept the exception and allow horses. It was official.

I smiled, shyly, still in disbelief that this thing was going to really happen. My friend caught my eyes again, grinning in earnest now. I returned the smile and then glanced back down at my notes simply shocked at the reality of everything. 

The meeting adjourned shortly after the vote. I thanked my friend copiously, answered a few general horse questions for others, and told the lady who currently owns the lots I would be purchasing that I would reach out after the HOA paperwork for the exception was finalized. 

Once in my car and back in range of cell service, I stopped and sent out a couple texts to those closest to me, whom I knew were waiting to hear how it went. "UNANIMOUS YES!" I declared. Victorious excitement filled me after that. I turned up the music in my car and grinned all the way home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Progress in the New Year

So far, so good in this new year. In fact, everything is pretty par for the course for January. Well, minus the whole shutdown debacle. I am fortunately one of the lucky exempt employees who is still working and bringing home a paycheck. Working without colleagues and without a lot of resources I need to do my job severely limits my abilities. I very much miss my coworkers, and I know they miss their jobs. It's interesting to say the least, but it is giving me time to catch up on things I never seem to have time to do in the usual hustle and bustle.  Hopefully things will be resolved soon, though I'm not holding my breath.

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Reasons I don't take many photos - they'd all look horribly like this because it's dark!
However, I took this photo on this night because it followed an amazing ride on this little mare that I wanted to remember.

On a lighter note, the horses are doing well and winter is here in full force! I know many hate winter, but I'm not one of those people. Snow makes me happy. Skiing makes me happy. And what makes me happier yet is when the mud is frozen and the ground is blanketed in pretty white. I hate mud and mud season with every fiber of my being.

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I thought I was retired. What is this riding nonsense you're suggesting? - Stan, probably

I've been keeping a decent schedule for riding so far in January. I've logged over 8 hours in the saddle and have ridden at least 3x per week. All three horses have been out multiple times. I'm focusing on Griffin and Q, with whom I have competition hopes for this year, but I am making a concerted effort to try to ride Stan at least once a week to keep him moving. And to enjoy grinning like a fiend because he is such a pleasure to ride.

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Snowing sideways in 21°F weather. Lovely!

I've been working on very similar things with Grif and Q: legging them back up, redeveloping their toplines, and focusing on the pieces of homework LC gave me back in December. And I'm seeing marked success in each of these categories! Both horses look better week to week. I squeal almost daily over small successes each one is making. They seem relatively happy in the work, too, both meeting me in the field almost daily, which is wonderful.

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I'll admit, my toes were cold. And my riding skirt blew up around my waist twice from the gusts.

Success in itself is exciting. But more than that, I'm truly enjoying each step of the process. Maybe it's all the talk of process goals in bloglandia of late. Regardless, it's been awhile since I've found so much enjoyment from every piece of the journey. I find myself humming, singing, talking to the horses, laughing at the horses, and smiling constantly on every ride. 

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On the rail trail.

Almost every ride so far has involved a lot of hill work at a marching walk. I march each horse up the big hill in riding field a minimum of 3x per ride, if not more. This week I have marched Griffin and Q up it 18x each, ponying one while riding another. I'm beginning to throw in a random trot or canter climb into the mix, but by and large I've been focusing on and honing each horse's marching walk. 

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Hi Grif!

All of the hill work is doing wonders for their fitness in a way that prevents them from becoming too sweaty in the cold weather - perfect for my typical evening rides post-work. I love it. Even more, I love seeing the change in their appearance and abilities with each passing day. Both are really getting the hang of the faster marching walk and pushing through their hind end with a lot more power. The change is especially evident in Griffin whose fitness had been at an all-time low for the first time in years these past few months.

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He's a happy little chunk. Lauren rode him beautifully on this day!

Last weekend, we were able to get out on a 12-mile conditioning ride on the rail trail. Lauren rode Grif, I rode Q, and Chelsey joined us on JL. The pace was a very moderate 5 mph average, but it was still a good ride. Q even led for the first half and was really wonderful, choosing a forward 7-8mph trot! I was going to continue letting Q lead for the return, but after a half-dozen "spooks" within the first mile of the return I resolved the situation and had Lauren put Griffin in front. 

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I just missed capturing us all cantering in a single file line.
Too slow getting the phone out with my gloved hands.

I know my horses (and most horses) will strike out for home with more gusto than they traveled away from home. And Q definitely powered in the homeward direction with a lot more power than she did for the first half of the ride. But the problem arose when I began to rein her trot back to the more reasonable pace we'd kept for the first half instead of the 10-12mph trot she was offering.

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Two-by with the mare behind. 

See, when Q has a difference of opinion from me about work - especially if my request makes the work "harder" - her MO is to first, rush and bull her way forward, and if she is unsuccessful with this she will then "spook". I've countered this behavior by simply slowing her down and/or ignoring her "spook" and continuing whatever we were doing as if it never happened.

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WHOA, Q. CALM DOWN.

Fortunately, her spooks are infinitely easier to ride than they once were because she's making some effort to pick me up and take me with her when she does it. Unfortunately, on the day of our conditioning ride she wound herself so tight in the process of spooking and evading the work that I knew I needed to change the situation before things became worse.

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Good drinking horses following our 12 mile ride.
PC: Chelsey

It was nice to have other people/horses along so I could simply give Q a break from leading to resolve the situation. But I definitely recognize that the problem isn't "fixed" by doing this. I will absolutely be heading back out solo with Q in the future to work through the issue slowly and systematically. Well, as systematic as one can be with a horses/an opinionated mare. It will inevitably involve a lot of walking every time she becomes rushy and rewarding her when she's relaxed and forward.

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Ponying Q from Grif two nights ago.

Now that her confidence is up, it's a lot easier to work through these types of issues. I have a much better read on her and can tell when she's being contrary because she wants to be lazy and when she's genuinely scared. And, I can confidently say she's being contrary 95% of the time! Mares...

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Happy relaxed expression!

All in all, I'm super pleased with how things are progressing for January. I've got another lesson scheduled for next week, and am excited to have new homework to fuel me forward for another 6ish weeks. This will get me through the brunt of the winter weather and firmly into longer daylight hours!