Summer Barn Room Makeover

Horseshoe on BarnSummertime is an excellent time to give the inside of your barn a fresher, more organized look. If you’re short on space or your barn interior is looking old and tired, these ideas can help you revamp your barn room for summer. To get started and make the most of your efforts, determine the needs and wishes that are most important to fulfill. Ask yourself questions such as: Does my barn need to be organized? Does it need a functional makeover or an eye-appealing makeover? Once you’ve decided the driving force behind your barn revamp, you’ll be able to easily guide yourself through the renovation or redecoration process.

Ideas to Organize and Rearrange Your Barn Room

  • Make the Most of Wall Space. Use mounted shelves, hooks and other creative fixtures to store your horse tack and other items in a tidy manner. Add to the aesthetic appeal by thinking outside the box and using alternative items, such as bent horseshoes for wall hooks.
  • Floor-Based Organization. Not everything can be hung up. Floor bins and lockers are ideal for blankets and items that you use seasonally. Label each bin with the season so you can tuck away the items you won’t need for a while and position the current season’s bin in an easy-to-access location.
  • Saddles and Their Accessories. Saddles and saddle pads must be carefully stored to prevent damage to the leather or fiber. Prolong the life of these investments in your riding experience by using a saddle form and a storage rack. Your horse saddle will be easier to access and will add a beauty of its own to your barn.
  • Don’t Overlook Health and Safety in the Process. As you clean, organize and repurpose barn space, do so with health and safety in mind. One of the most important components of a high-functioning barn environment is proper air ventilation and circulation. Ensure that open windows, during nice weather, allow fresh air to enter the barn. Circulate it with fans, and get rid of stale air with an exhaust system. In addition to keeping the air inside fresh, proper ventilation helps get rid of warm air and moisture, while keeping the barn cool and dry.

Barn Repurposing Ideas

  • Create a Go-To Space for Relaxation. Who says you can’t have a comfortable sofa or armchair in the barn? Turn unused space into a haven for relaxation. A nice place to sit, some natural light and a few other provisions that mean “comfort” to you will provide you with a place near your horses where you can rest and relax after a ride or any other time.
  • A Place for Productivity. Office space in your barn will allow you to be productive while remaining close to your horses. Use this space for horse-related work or your telecommuting career. If you need quiet while you work, choose a space farther away from the location where people and animals will be coming and going throughout your workday.

Give Your Barn a Fresh New Look

Use these ideas to get more out of your barn and put unused and inefficient space to work for you. Start out with organization so you have a clearer picture of the space you have available to work with. Once the mess and clutter has been taken care of, you’ll be free to make changes to the appearance of your barn or revamp unused space.

Give the interior or exterior a fresh coat of paint, and don’t be afraid to use colors that aren’t traditional. Colors that appeal to you are going to make the barn feel more inviting to you. This is especially important if your barn is serving multiple purposes. Use vibrant colors to create a fun atmosphere or subdued and neutral colors for a location where you’ll come to relax.

The changes you make to organize, revamp and refresh your barn this summer can carry over to other seasons, increasing the function and enjoyment of your barn. As a horse-lover who spends a great deal of time there, it’s vital to have a space you look forward to coming to. These ideas can help you get started on the barn space you’ve been dreaming of.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Composting Horse Manure

Compost PileHorses give their owners a lot of joy – and a lot of waste. One horse can create more than 8 ton of manure per year – and that doesn’t include the soiled bedding or uneaten feed! So what do you do with all that waste? If your horse is stalled or in a small paddock, chances are you have, somewhere on your property, a large pile of what your horse has left behind. But is that pile working for you? Is it heating, decomposing and turning into rich organic matter that you can add to your yard or garden, or sell to your neighbors? Composting can help turn that pile of waste into a manageable cache of valuable nutrient matter.

Why Compost? 
Compost has numerous benefits, including:

  1. Fly control
  2. Odor control
  3. Reduced runoff
  4. Less chance of worm re-infestation
  5. Improved relationships with your neighbors (refer #1 and #2!)

How to Compost

  • To get started composting, you want to pick your site. An ideal site is one that is dry and relatively close to your stall or paddock (to make your work easier).
  • Once you’ve selected your site, you can start adding your material. Straw, shavings, manure, left over hay can all go into the compost pile.
  • For the pile to heat appropriately, it needs to be at least 3 ft. square.
  • Keep your pile about as damp as a wet sponge on a continuous basis. You can water the whole pile with a garden hose periodically or water each wheelbarrow load that you add.
  • Ventilation is important. You can turn your pile by hand, but this becomes a real chore as your pile grows each day. Consider placing PVC “chimneys” in the middle of the pile instead. These are lengths of PVC pipe placed vertically with small holes drilled along the length. This will encourage air flow through the pile.

You may want to have more than one compost pile going at a time. One pile could be the one you add to daily, while the second is a completed pile that is resting and decomposing.

How do you know it’s done?

Once your pile reaches the desired size, you want to rest it for a time so that it can completely breakdown. Exactly how long to let it rest will depend on the size of your pile, as well as the season and climate. An average size pile in the warm summer weather may take 2 – 3 months to decompose completely, while the same pile may take up to 5 months in the winter when temperatures are colder and decomposition is slowed. Your composting is complete when, after the allotted amount of time, the material in the pile is crumbly in texture, has an “earthy” scent, and no longer resembles the original material in any way. This rich organic matter is a great soil amendment; you can apply it to your garden or yard, or sell it to help fund your horse habit!

There are lots of great resources for composting. If you’d like more information, you can contact your local extension office or conservation district.

Flash Fred – Our Inherited Horse

We inherited Flash Fred (my daughter has a creative naming process) from a friend of ours. This horse was slowing down in his old age and could no longer keep up with the rigorous lifestyle required on a full scale cattle ranch. In return for a good place to live out his last years we obtained this 20 year old (give or take a few years) sweet and gentle gelding for our girls. For us it was the perfect arrangement.

The horses that help our kids love horses are truly priceless.

Fred arrived in the middle of July and he was in surprisingly good body condition; I rated him about a 4.75. The problem was, we didn’t know anything about what he had been eating or what his previous history was, other than when we picked him up he was in a partial drylot but had just come in off of dryland pasture.

We decided to start Fred off slow. We had some irrigated grass pasture that we wanted to utilize but we didn’t want to turn him loose on it until we saw how he handled feed. For the first week he stayed in a drylot pen at our barn – he had plenty of room to wander around and get used to his new surroundings. We also gave him free choice plain white salt and plenty of clean, fresh water. For feed he got 2% of his bodyweight in medium quality grass hay and a ration balancer with a full vitamin and mineral package. He tolerated all this well (he also tolerated our 2 and 4 year old pretty well, which was great news!), so after the first week we worked on turning him out to pasture.

This was a slow process – many times new horses have a long history that new owners know nothing about: a tendency to colic, a predisposition to laminitis, allergies to certain leaves or weeds,  and the list goes on and on.

We didn’t want to take any chances with Fred, so his first taste of freedom in the irrigated green grass was a measly 20 minutes. He looked at me like I was crazy when I caught him right back up and put him in his pen! The next day he was out for a little bit longer, and gradually as the days went by we increased his time on grass by 20 minute increments until we had a good idea that he was doing well and not having any digestive upsets. To get him on a full day’s turn out took over two weeks – but keeping him healthy was definitely worth it. We continue to make sure that he always has access to clean, fresh water, plain salt and we give him a small flake (about 5 lbs.) of hay when we bring him in at night along with the maintenance ration of balancer. We score his body condition once a month, and so far the grass is agreeing with him! 

Today Fred is thriving – he is enjoying his relaxing grass pasture and our little girls are enjoying him! As the weather turns cold and the grass goes away, we will get him going on a senior type feed – so stayed tuned for that journey!

Keeping Hens and Horses

So you’re in your favorite feed store, buying your horse a few bags of feed, some treats, a bale of…. What is that you hear? The peeping of little chicks?!?!? You follow your ears to the tanks full of fluffy balls of cuteness, all the while listing to yourself the reasons why you can’t have chickens – where would they stay, what would they eat, they couldn’t possibly be good to have around horses…could they?

Chickens enjoy pecking at stray bits of feed

Actually, keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial for you (and your horse)!

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
    One of the best things about raising chickens!
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens are pets with benefits.Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

Transition to Spring Pasture

It is no wonder these guys are asking to be let out onto the lush spring grass after such a long and trying winter.  What horse owner could resist those molten brown eyes and soft whisper-nickers, as if saying ‘Let me out, I’ll be good…I promise!’   

We work hard and do our best to provide our horses what they need; pasture seems all too natural to resist. It’s only when you understand the unique nutritional properties of early spring forage, that you can feel better about saying ‘not yet’!

If your horse survived the winter on hay, a hasty  introduction to ‘rich’ spring grass can cause a shock to his digestive system.  If at all possible, keep your horse off grass during the initial growth period by designating a ‘sacrifice’ area or dry lot.  The size of the dry lot will depend on your available land, but generally should be large enough to allow your horse to move about freely and stretch his legs. The sacrifice area serves to protect your emerging pasture as well as allowing you an opportunity to ease your horse’s digestive tract onto new-growth grass. If he is kept in a dry lot during this time, you may consider hand walking, lunging or additional work sessions to keep him from becoming too fresh. 

So what is different about spring grass that we should heed warning? As the strong spring sun warms the earth, the grass in your pasture emerges from its winter dormant state. The first few blades have a critical job of transforming sunlight into food, a process called photosynthesis, that starts the growth of the plant for the rest of the season.  This food is in the form of plant sugar (fructans) and is essential for the plant to grow into a productive pasture contributor for the remainder of the season. 

When overnight temperatures are cool (generally 40 degrees F) the stored energy created during the day is used to grow additional leaves and roots. Extra food not utilized overnight is stored in the plant tissues.  If overnight temperatures drop below 40 degrees F, the plant will not invest in growth and the sugars will remain in the leaves. This is when the new grass is of concern for horses.

Therefore, it stands to reason that when overnight temperatures remain above 40 degrees F, it is the ideal time to start acclimating your horse to the fresh spring grass, because the level of fructans in the grass are likely to be the lowest.

The transition to pasture should be slow and gradual, starting with a period of 15-20 minutes of grazing.  Gradually increase until you have reached your ideal turnout length of time; this may take the better part of a month.  During this time, it is important to monitor the output of your horse; loose, unformed stools indicate digestive upset likely correlated to the increased fructans. For horses with metabolic issues prone to digestive upsets, transitions should made later in the growing cycle onto mature grasses.  In addition to restricting time on pasture, a grazing muzzle can be used to further control intake.

I probably don’t need to tell you that a pasture full of healthy, green growing grass not only looks wonderful, it is  an investment in your horse’s nutrition. Allowing the early grass to grow and flourish, then gradually transitioning to grazing is an investment in your overall nutrition program. Armed with this information, don’t you feel better telling him to wait?

Poisonous to Horses: Plants

As a horse owner, I have come to realize that horses have an uncanny ability to get themselves into trouble.  Whether it be messing with the fence, making play-things of their stall or breaking into the feed room to grab an extra snack, if we don’t want them to get into it, horses seem to find a way to get into it!  If lucky, the vet doesn’t need to be called, but there is usually some upgrading of hardware, the perpetual fixing of the fence or continuously beefing up security around the feed room.  But what about the things that we as humans haven’t built?  What naturally occurring perils of danger will my horse find and get himself in to? 

Pasture grazing is ideal for horses
Cooper as a yearling, grazes in the pasture

As Winter fades and Spring makes a welcome entrance, thoughts turn from feeding hay to blissfully sunny pasture turnout.  Now is a great time to educate yourself about plants that can harm your horse.

March is poison prevention month and as horse owners, knowing what plants are poisonous to your horse can go a long way in preventing trouble.  To help get you started, here is a good resource of information about poisonous plants that grow in the Midwest, from the University of Minnesota Equine Extension Office.

http://www1.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/pasture/poisonous-plants/

If you find plants of poisonous varieties where your horse can access them, please work with your local extension office on methods of controlling exposure.  Also remember to check your garden and landscaping as many plants listed are popular decorations.

It is also important to note that plant variety growth varies by geographic region so be sure to check with your local extension office for information specific to the area in which you live.

So while you may not be able to keep them from breaking the fence, breaking into the feed room (despite the keypad lock on the door) or dismantling the components of their stall, you can be aware of and have a plan to manage the poisonous plants that dare grow near your horse.

How to Weigh Your Feed

Feed your horse by weight, not by volume.

This is a common sentence uttered by many-a-feed professional and the more I talk with horse owners, the more I find myself saying it.   If someone is having an issue with their horse’s weight, whether over or under, I will first ask what kind and how much hay they are feeding.  My next question is what kind and how much feed does your horse get?

Responses to the hay questions are varied as are the kind of feed, but more often than not, I hear ‘a scoop’ or ‘a coffee can’ when describing how much feed the horse in question is receiving.  One customer even mentioned using a Bob the Builder Helmet as her scoop….now that is creative!

How much does your scoop or coffee can of feed weigh? is my next question.   Hmm…Good question is the response all too often. 

A hanging scale, such as this (dirty) one is helpful to hang a bucket from and weigh feed. Note that the scale has been tared for a bucket.

There is a simple, inexpensive way to find out: most mass retailers or farm/feed supply stores sell scales, such as a fish scale, a kitchen scale, or hanging scale that range from $10-20.  When you put your feed bucket on the scale, make sure to ‘tare’ the scale, or zero out the weight of the bucket so you get the true weight of the feed itself.  Then, fill your scoop, coffee can, or Bob the Builder helmet, and see what weight one regular serving is. 

Next step is, check the feeding directions for the feed you use and calculate how much your horse should be fed based on his body weight.  Does your scoop or coffee can serving fall within the appropriate feeding range?  If not, make sure to adjust the fill level of your dispensing item to fall within the recommended quantity for your horse.

It is unlikely that you will need to re-weigh the same feed for each meal, as the density of the feed will likely not vary much.  Most commercial feed companies formulate their feed to meet a specific energy density from which the feeding directions are based .  All other nutrients are balanced based on the energy value, which is why it is so important to select the right feed for your horse and feed the proper amounts.

Feeding your horse the appropriate amount, by weight, will ensure she is getting the balanced, necessary nutrients she needs for everyday activity and development.  Once you have found the feed to match her needs, its only a matter of feeding the right amount and enjoying the end result.

Hoof Health and Your Farrier

If your horse has ever had issues with his or her feet, the old adage, ‘no hoof, no horse’ could not ring truer.  When considering hoof health, multiple factors influence the state of your horse’s feet including nutrition, conformation, environment, use and overall management and care.

One of the keys to success of healthy feet is your farrier.  He or she plays a critical role in the maintenance and ongoing assessment, treatment and wellness of your horse.  When selecting a farrier to work with you and your horse, there is more than just price to consider.  Here are some questions to ask to learn more:

  1. What schooling or certification have they received?
  2. If new to the industry, have they completed an apprenticeship?  Is the Master known for doing good work?  Ask around your barn, veterinarian, tack or feed store to learn more.
  3. Have they worked with a veterinarian?  Are they willing to work with a veterinarian?
  4. Are they a member of a professional organization such as the American Farrier’s Association or the American Association of Professional Farriers?
  5. What do their current or former clients have to say about them?  Check references.
Rasping hind foot
Deb, my farrier, rasps Ferris’s left hind foot after a trim.

Consult with your farrier on the appropriate frequency for trimming.  For example, I live in a Northern climate, where hoof growth is slower in winter months and faster in summer months.  My farrier trims my horses every 4-5 weeks in the summer and 6-8 weeks in the winter.

The genetics of your horse have a significant impact on the management program.   Some horses are blessed with good heels, strong walls and naturally cupping soles.  Others may have issues with low slung heels, flares or misshapen soles.  Such feet may require more frequent or special trimming methods and in some cases, shoes may be required to maintain soundess.  Refer to your farrier and vetrinarian to determine if this solution is best for your horse.

Be sure you are regularly picking out your horse’s feet with a hoof pick between farrier visits.  One of the best times to do this is grooming before and after work.  Check for rocks, bruises and signs of concern, such as white line disease or thrush.  The frequent time spent observing  can help you understand the overall health of his feet.   In partnership with your farrier, your efforts toward regular care of his feet will go a long way toward soundess for years to come.

What about WEG?

If you subscribe to e-newsletters from any equestrian breed or discipline organizations, or you read any horse publications, chances are that you have seen some talk of the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG) coming to Lexington, KY this fall.

So, what the heck is the big deal?  I mean, people compete in Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) disciplines internationally all the time, right?  Well, yes, but it isn’t very often that the United States hosts this kind of event. 

In fact, for the first time in the history of the WEG, this year’s games are hosted by a country outside of Europe….in our very own horsey hotspot of Lexington, KY.  Here is some info about WEG at a glance:

  1. The Games are held every 4 years,  2 years before the Olympics
  2. The games are administered by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) which has affiliations with over 130 national organizations
  3. The disciplines represented consist of eight (8) FEI internationally governed events over 16 days: Dressage, Jumping, Eventing, Vaulting, Combined Driving, Endurance, Reining, and for the first time in 2010, Para-Dressage
  4. This year’s games have attracted entries from 60 countries
  5. Organizers are expecting 600,000 people will flock to Lexington during the 16 day event

Is this a big deal?  As a rider and fan of one of the disciplines represented, I happen to think so.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll have another opportunity to see the caliber of horses and athletes with my own eyes, this close to home (that is to say, NOT after a 12+ hour flight). 

Will it be expensive to attend?  Well, compared to heading to my regional championships, you bet it will be expensive.  But will the experience become more fuel for reaching my dreams?  I have no doubt I’ll be saddling up the day I land back home…..well, maybe the day after.

If you are heading to Lexington, KY during the games, be sure to stop by and say ‘hi’ at the Nutrena booth inside the International Equestrian Festival.

An Ode to Our Equine Trainers

Do you remember the  horse that taught you so much?  Maybe he belonged to a friend or neighbor, maybe he was a lesson horse at a barn you went to, or perhaps he was the first horse you ever owned.  These horses, our equine trainers, played a unique role; they set the foundation for who we have become as horse-people. 

They taught us the meaning of respect.  They gently made us responsible for our actions.  They even improved how we communicate.  Through their generosity, these horses endured our clumsy pursuit of balance in the saddle, our requests of them that weren’t clear even to us and countless experiences that are on our ‘first’ list (my first canter, my first jump, my first show).

 They showed us the joy of accomplishment and humbled us just when we needed it.  They started us on a path to learning and our lives wouldn’t be the same without them.

Perhaps you are still enjoying your equine trainer, or maybe your education has surpassed their abilities.   Maybe they have passed onto greener pastures, but you will always remember them for what they brought to your life and how they shaped who you are today.  So this is an ode to those horses who have given us so much and asked for so little in return.  Thank you for all you have done for us.  We are forever in your debt. 

Farewell to Widgy, my equine trainer: May 1982 – June 2010