Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Dry Lot Dynamics

Ah, my ever-changing dry lot. The horses all get along just fine in the field, but within the 40' x 60' dry lot, the dynamics are quite different! Problem-solving ways to improve the dynamics within this limited space has been a fun mental pastime for me since bringing the horses home.

Round One

When things began, all 3 horses were in the dry lot together without a divider.

I had to carefully sneak up on them to get this shot without them all walking away! At the time, I was so pleased they were all sharing.

This worked okay until I got my hay feeder. When it arrived, I learned that Stan was [still] a holy dick about discrete food resources and wouldn't let Grif - and sometimes Q - eat. This wasn't a total surprise as this horse has been like this his whole life. He's not aggressive toward people about food, but when it comes to horse v. horse and discrete food sources (i.e., anything except pasture), he's a complete and total asshole.

I put out an extra hay bag (not a slow feeder) for awhile, but that only served as a bandaid to the dynamics within the closed space. Finally, after Griffin came in for his dinner one evening with a 8" gash (not serious or too deep at all) on his rump, I decided enough was enough.

Round Two

And so I split the dry lot into two sections and segregated the old man.

This was prior to having multiple slow feeders

The difference in everyone's behavior once I did this was amazing. Stan was chill as could be, content with life because he had his own food that no one else had to share, and Grif and Q shared well. Everyone could eat and be happy!

Except, with time, this arrangement fizzled.

Q has really come out of her shell in her time at home under my sole care with only two herd members. As a result, her confidence has bloomed 10-fold. This has resulted in her bullying poor Grif so much more than ever before!

Round Three

After watching her back up for 2/3s of the dry lot throwing kicks the whole way to keep Griffin in the far back corner, I threw my hands in the air and swapped Grif and Stan.

A great shot of the dry lot with its dividing hot tape + the multiple slow feeders

If I thought the different in behavior after the first switch was extreme, this was off the charts. Suddenly everyone could eat without issue and was so happy. Q had her favorite boyfriend and Stan had his girl. Grif was a little bit sulky at first, but adjusted quickly within 24 hours. He quickly became more in-my-pocket (totally normal for him) and decided to seek me out a bit more than he had prior. I think it helped that he wasn't having to watch over his shoulder for someone to come bully him!

The biggest indicator of this setup being better was the manure piles. When Q and Grif were together, it looked like a bunch of monkeys took over their section and threw poop around for awhile. Everything was so churned up and disgusting! It always took longer to muck as a result. UGH!

Once Grif was settled and could no longer be chased, neat piles of manure reigned throughout the dry lot. Mucking was So Much Easier. Clearly, everyone was more settled and happy in their environment.

First dusting of snow in mid-late October. Grif on "his" side and Q and Stan on "their" side, each with a slow feeder

And thus, this arrangement held through the rest of fall and into winter.

But then the weather turned.

Round Four

I'd been dreading it purely because I wasn't sure what I would do about the water situation. I love my rain-fed trough system + trough heater, but it's only on one side of the dry lot and positioned such that Grif had no access. The entire time I'd had the dry lot segregated, I had a separate tub of water on Stan, then Grif's, side. Not wanting to invest more in a trough/heater when it wasn't really necessary, nor wanting to get a separate heated bucket (Griffin is too mouthy for that shit and would start a fire), I didn't know what I'd do once things started freezing over.

The need to provide Grif with un-frozen water necessitated a change, however. And so I crossed my fingers and re-arranged the hot tape in the dry lot to allow access to the water. By opening both ends of the now-not-hot tape, I hoped I could provide Grif with an easy exit if Stan decided to meander over. In a sense, I've turned the dry lot into a circle; the tape serves as a bit of a baffle down the middle so they must travel around the long way. This allows ample time for Grif to get out of Stan's way before he is bitten or kicked and also provides him with room to make his exit.

Newer setup with three slow feeders and a baffle down the middle, open on each end

Q will push Grif around, too, but she's all bark and no bite the very large majority of the time. My main issue with her and Grif was mainly that she'd spend too much time backing him into a corner and not letting him eat. It's kind of amusing for me to watch, honestly. She's decided she has a very large bubble of space that Grif is not allowed to be in. If he enters it, she uses strong body language to tell him to back off, which usually results to him sulking in a corner. When she's sated on hay, she'll move herself to the corner to gaze off into the distance and then Grif can eat.

Fortunately, I had three feeding systems by the point I opened things up: the hay basket + net and both halves of the IBC tote in place, each with their own netted hay on one side while the hay basket + net is on the other side. Everyone has a place to stand and eat now!

The triple feeding system has greatly minimized the need for Q to push Griffin around. She's a smart mare and simply doesn't see the point to move from her original feeder to another one if she can help it! And fortunately, she's happy to share with Grif for limited periods, allowing the Stanimal to lose interest in the hay feeder he chased Grif or Q away from and travel to another.

Until Next Time...

All in all, things with the dry lot are a perpetual work-in-progress. While I certainly wish I had all the time/money/resources to get things perfect right off the bat, I'm honestly having fun problem-solving approaches to improve dry lot dynamics.

With an increasing frequency of winter weather moving through, I'm already pondering and experimenting with yet another modification to help mitigate for the issues snow and ice create. I'm working through several thought exercises to figure out the best way to increase efficiency and streamline my barn chores through the winter months. Coming up with new horse-care hacks is quickly becoming a new favorite pastime! (As if horses didn't already consume enough of my life, HA!)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Annual Raptor Post

Long-time readers will recall that I volunteer with the Cape May Raptor Banding Project in Cape May, NJ most autumns. This was my 8th year and, while slower than past years, it was still a blast.

Enjoy some raptor spam!

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By-catch brown thrasher (a passerine, not a raptor)
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Derpy thrasher. Also observe the bite marks on Mandy's finger from merlins lol
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Hatch-year male cooper's hawk
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HY male coop take off
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HY male coop looking appalled as Mandy changes her grip to release him
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The infamous hawk-looks-shocked during release photo
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Busy background, but still a neat release shot. I love his little feet
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A round of applause for this gent!
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Hatch year female merlin (small falcon)
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HY sharp shinned hawk
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HY sharpie
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Noble HY sharpie
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Beautiful rufous tipped feathers; they become grey once adults
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The infamous sharpie release "trick". A bird has never been on its back, so they simply lie there like this without moving.
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Then you just turn your hand and they take off. I love when I can capture a shot in the milliseconds before they spread their wings!
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Checking for a crop on a HY sharpie
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Derp sharpie
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Sharpie trying to be fierce like their big cousins, the northern goshawk
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Rumpled sharpie
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Angry derp sharpie
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Adult male coopers hawk. Note the gorgeous grey plumage on his back and the darker red chest feathers. The redness of the eyes (red-black vs. red-orange like this one) varies based on their diet.
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HY coop on our shirts, adult coop in hand
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The tundrius sub species of the peregrine falcon; note the blonde head
HY female
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The anatum subspecies of the peregrine; note the black head
HY female
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Anatum. Note the bar in the nostril. This helps peregrines to breath when they're at a full speed dive (240 mph)
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Anatum. So this little girl came into the station in a full stoop (240 mph). I heard her before I saw her!
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Anatum. Her primary flight feathers are stiff almost like plastic which help her reach such high speeds and stay stable
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Anatum. She was such a calm peregrine! It is always a treat to have the fastest animal in the world in-hand!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Of Hoofcare & Winter Riding

Despite my every intention to write more this month, I, uh, haven't. But I have been riding a fair bit and generally tackling all sorts of horsey to-dos. I finally feel like I'm getting back into the swing of things with the horses for the first time in awhile.


I'm keeping up with the horses' feet regularly for the first time in a Very Long Time. I am SO PLEASED with them all. Each is a work in progress, but I'm really happy with where we are at this point. Every horse is happy and free in their movement and relatively comfortable on gravel, which is always a true test of how well they're doing.

Griffin side views
Q; from this photo on, all hooves are in their representative blocks per the labeling on the sole photo of Griffin's
Stan. They're weird AF, but he is moving SO HAPPILY with them so I'm just letting it be
Stan. So much development to come for the caudal hoof on his fronts. The backs are pretty happy!

Q has always had amazing hooves. She's the one who is the most reliably comfortable on rough terrain barefoot and is generally an easy-keeper so far as her feet go. Grif falls in the middle of my three; he tends to have tougher feet than Stan, but not as bomber as Q. He's best when we ride more often and tends to be more tender if his movement is less. (Which makes complete sense.) Stan though? Stan has always been the difficult one.

Gah, he has the most narrow chest
He's also a touch pigeon toed. 

Stan lived in front shoes pretty exclusively through much of his life before me. Even with me, he's often been shod. He's just more comfortable that way. But since bringing him home, I've been more determined to get him comfortable barefoot and develop his caudal hoof. While he's still got a ways to go, he is the most comfortable that he has ever been barefoot. I'm completely amazed at how comfortable he is on gravel!

With time, his feet will continue to improve. I'm so happy to see him happy and am looking forward to working with him through this process. I cannot wait to see where his feet will be by this time next year.

Winter Riding

Aside from general horse care and barn chores, I have enjoyed several rides on each horse so far this month. Since DST hit on the 3rd, many of those rides have been in the dark. But I have fit a few in during the daylight hours, too.

Climbing up our mountain on Miss Thing
Sunset rays on Staniel
Winter woods color palette 
Uh, yeah. This was interesting. Could not see a gattdam thing. I DID use a headlamp because I wanted to have SOME semblance of where I was. Didn't help much beyond keeping me un-dizzy by helping me see Grif. The red dot is one of the dogs' LED collars. 

The arctic blast that swept across the country last week left Canaan Valley with 5" of fluffy snow and single digit temperatures. After a long, hot summer complete with a lengthy drought, I was pretty psyched about the weather. In fact, I've decided I'm jumping full-bore into winter riding this year. Finding ways to be excited about the cold makes it so much easier to deal with!

On Wednesday of last week, I rode not once, but TWICE. Both times in the dark. The first ride was a 4 AM full moon meander in the snow on Stanley before work. The second was a 6-something PM ride on Griffin, once again in the snow beneath the full moon. Both rides involved a taste of w/t/c with a short gallop near the end. Both were a total blast!

A 4am Staniel. Note the 5" of snow against the back door
What a moonlit snow ride looks like per my cell phone
Stan was so happy
The full moon as viewed from the back of a moving horse lol
The sunset that preceded my evening ride on Grif. You can see my Stan tracks from the morning just right of center.
Sweet boy post-ride.

I settle more into life with the horses at home with every passing day. It is a total and complete dream come true. I have already exceeded my annual riding mileage from 2017 and 2018 and am looking forward to finding more and more time to ride in the future.