Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Key To Better Hooves

Years ago I spent a lot of time rubbing various treatments along the top of the hoof line of many of our horses. Sometimes the hooves seemed to improve. Usually they did not. I tried adding some supplements that were supposed to improve hoof quality. The only thing that I found that made an appreciable difference was black oil sunflower seeds.

Minerals matter and some horses do not get enough of certain minerals in their hay. Free choice, loose mineral in a Ca:P 2-1 ratio will take care of a horse's basic mineral needs.

Heredity matters. That is why various strains of horses that are only a few generations from the wild tend to have so much healthier hooves than modern breeds.

Footing matters. Horses whose feet never dry out for months at a time have difficulty maintaining enough moisture to remain supple. Ironic, but hoof dryness is more often caused by living in a wet environment than living in a dry environment. I am already seeing improvements in hoof health by simply rolling hay out in the pastures instead of having them standing in the same place eating stationary round bales. I know of nothing better for building thick soles than movement on round gravel.

Movement matters. The hoof is living and it depends on circulation of blood to remain so. Movement is necessary to get maximum blood flow through the hooves and lower legs.

The trim matters. As is true in most things, the simplest version of the wild horse type trim is the best to follow. Others have developed complex techniques rooted in natural hoof care, but for nearly all horses the simple model that allows maximum frog development, wide heels, and most importantly a "mustang roll" is sufficient. This keeps the weight of the horse on the portions of the hoof that are designed to be weight bearing instead of forcing the thin outer wall to take up that function.

Do a bit of research. Understand the simplicity of the mustang roll. If you still have questions send me a note. It has been years since I have applied anything to the coronet band of a hoof. In fact, I stopped having any need to do so within a year of using natural hoof care trims on our horses.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Will You Please Just Take it Easy? Learning Horses and Horsemanship

With Christmas approaching now is the time for families to come together and in the warmth of the holiday spirit many of you will have the opportunity to say something to your parents that should have been said years ago. Yes, now is the time to have a nice meal, sit around a fireplace and find out exactly why they decided to raise you to be a neurotic perfectionist.

The internet exposes us to more knowledge than I ever imagined possible. It also exposes us to more ignorance than I ever knew existed. For reasons that I will never understand, those with the most deeply ingrained ignorance feel the strongest need to establish rules and standards for others to live by.

Here is a simple test to see if your psychological makeup is getting in the way of you having a healthy relationship with your horse (and with everyone else around you). Close your eyes. Get ready to be honest with yourself (for some of you I know that this will take you into uncharted territory).

Now repeat to yourself the simple two word phrase "Good enough."

Now ask yourself what that phrase means to you. For way too many chronically unhappy people that phrase is translated, "Not good enough." When the phrase is used by such people it is generally uttered with a disapproving sigh, e.g "Well, I guess that is 'good enough'... for now"

A few of us who were lucky enough to be raised by parents who sought to produce confident, happy adults instead of another generation of hand wringing self-loathers understand that the term means that something is "good" and it is "enough". If a thing is "good" and "enough" then I am free to leave it alone and move on to another task.

Do you try to create an environment for your horse that is perfectly safe making any injury or mishap impossible? If you do you are doomed to failure. There are no such environments. Do you load your horse up with whatever supplements everyone else at your barn swears by? Horses need forage, water, air, exercise, and the ability to live in small bands.

When you provide them with those things you have done a good enough job of caring for the horse. If you do not provide them with those things no amount of money flushed away chasing the approval of the established horse world will be enough to make up for denying your horse what it actually needs.

If your relationship with your horse is not satisfactory don't waste time calling the vet out to examine the horse until you give yourself a simple examination. Ask yourself (and honestly answer yourself) was I raised by constantly disapproving parents? Was I raised by neurotic, hand wringing parents who showed how much they loved me by showing how much they constantly "worried" about me? Am I raising my children in either of these ways?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, and if you are not willing to work hard to change yourself, your relationship with a horse will be a source of constant disappointment. The good news is that it is never to late to make things better. You can change and your horse can help you change.

The first step is to recognize that perfectionism is not a virtue that produces solid results. It is simply an impediment to happiness and creativity and if you suffer from this horrible condition you cannot get better without working as hard to get well as others worked all of your life to make you this sick.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Soil Building:Biodiversity for Better Pastures

Spring butter cups are not forage that I want to produce. We use no herbicides or commercial fertilizer. Our management is through mowing and goat grazing. It is of limited utility. So far I have found only one thing that consistently erases the buttercups from the pastures---June. The plant has a short life span and as the weather warms up it dies out.

This year we will be experimenting with biological farming technique to keep the butter cups at bay. The idea is simple--heavy grass trumps most weeds so in order to have fewer weeds I want to produce more grass. We will over seed cool season grasses in this pasture in late February. Seed is only part of the equation. We will work hard to give those seeds a chance to flourish by experimenting with natural microbes to strengthen the soil.

About a year and a half ago we buried a 450 gallon hot tub tank to be flush with the ground. By doing so we insulated the tank well below the freeze line in even our coldest of nights. The tank was filled with horse manure that had been sitting in our pastures for various periods of time. Only a minimal amount of the manure was fresh. Very small amounts of rotten wood and old hay was added over time. After several months I added a few thousand Red Wiggler worms. Occasional coffee grounds were added to the mix.

I turned the composting mass religiously with a pitch fork for months. The worms flourished and the manure completely broke down into soil, showing none of its former physical characteristics. It just looked like potting soil.

As the mound decreased into a flat layer we added more manure--likely over a ton, a few hundred pounds at a time. I put in more straw and old hay.

The worms went forth and multiplied.

A week ago today we put perhaps 750 pounds of very dry manure from the pastures on top of the completely broken down vermicompost. I covered that with the contents of a molded small square bale of hay. The weather has been warm over the past week. After four days I found no worm activity in the new manure that we had placed on top of the hot tub tank.

After six days the worms had permeated the top three inches of the manure, just under the molded hay layer. Without a doubt we have a tremendous renewable source of microbes brewing constantly in this mixture.

I suspect that bringing in additional forms of microbia will only enhance the mixture's soil building capacity. Chickens roam freely at the Little House. Rabbits are also raised there. The girls maintain a conventional compost pile outside and the chickens have access to it. They scratch though it and then go over to sections of the yard where they scratch and forage, carrying microbes on their beaks and feet.

The result amazes me. The soil where they scratch has become light and fluffy. Soil compaction is eliminated in those areas. Microbial action below the surface has worked wonders for that soil.

I will take five gallons of that soil and add it to the vermicompost. A year ago I began cutting down trees on the New Land. Many saplings and branches have been laying there since that time. I recently began chipping and shredding those trees. I will bring over a few buckets of ash and gum shredding and add those to the mix.

As the winter comes to an end I will experiment using both surface spreading of this mixture in some pastures and a tea mix spraying in others in order to see how to get our best advantage from all of this free fertilizer.

And at this moment, all across suburbia, people are having leaves removed from their yards, their lawns "winterized" in preparation for the spring's application of poison and fertilizer. One can drive out from suburbia into the country side to watch farmers mowing the remainder of their crop wastes and tilling them into the ground, leaving bare soil exposed all winter, also in preparation for the spring's application of poison and fertilizer.

And at this moment, all across America, people who spend their life worrying about being around "germs" are dying from cancer.

A lot of people make a lot of money from the production and sale of those poisons. A lot of people make a lot of money from the production and sale of those fertilizers.

And a few people make a lot of money from the production and sale of coffins and caskets.

And nobody makes a lot of money from growing good microbes.

Producing life is not as good for the economy as destroying it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Use of a Rope Halter

When I was a kid everyone knew what to do with a horse that was difficult to control. You simply got a more severe bit. As the horse aged the matter even got worse. The next step was to never "give a horse his head." Eventually you had a horse with such a "hard mouth" that it could only be ridden by someone strong enough to inflict real pain on the horse to make it stop.

That really is how people thought a horse needed to be handled. That is how little horses were understood in the era prior to natural horsemanship being more widely understood.

Unfortunately, too many people still ride that way. A horse that is difficult to control is a horse that has not been taught pressure and release with absolute perfect consistency.

The horse that can't be controlled needs to start over with a weaker restraint--a rope halter with the trainer on the ground, not in the saddle. The rope halter allows the horse to feel the slightest pressure, but more importantly, allows the horse to feel the slightest release of pressure.

Key point--as soon as the horse begins to consider the possibility of perhaps yielding to the pressure the pressure must be instantly released every single time-every single time-every single time-100% of the time--instantly.

If the horse fails to follow through on yielding the trainer must instantly renew the pressure every single time--every single time--every single time--100% of the time--instantly.

Consistently-every single time--that is how a horse learns best and the horse has a right to expect perfect consistency out of you even if you have had a bad day.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Microbes and Red Wigglers--Some of Our Most Important Livestock

Our horses have a forage based diet. We do not put down any poisons or modern fertilizers. My excursions into permaculture, biological farming, soil creation, water conservation, and pasture enhancement are the most exciting intellectual exercise that I have been involved in in years.

With the number of horses that we have we have an inexhaustible supply of horse manure. Like most horse owners my only thoughts about manure was to work for manure removal. We have grown way past the baby steps of removal and are moving more and more into viewing the problem of removal as an opportunity for enhancement.

Our pastures used to produce two primary crops--mud and dust. The soil in the sacrifice pens contained a great amount of wet manure that was, on occasion, used for wind row composting. The resulting compost was better than nothing for soil enhancement, but it did not radically change the soil structure.

The vermicompost does make such changes. The microbes in the compost attract earth worms and better root development. These changes reduce soil compaction allowing rain water to go into the soil instead of running off or creating deep mud surface layers. Our irrigation system allows us to grow grass regardless of the weather.

Our deep vermicompost pit has been working for over a year. I have only used small amounts of it in direct application to the soil. Friday we added nearly 1000 pounds of manure that had been sitting out in the paddocks in stud piles. I will simply leave it alone for several months.

We have the capacity to produce vermicompost on a small scale commercial level. We might begin doing that. We might find that the best financial benefit from the vermicompost is to continue to apply it directly and in teas spread over the pastures to increase forage production and decrease our hay costs.

Such questions create great opportunities for learning--both for the kid in the program and me.