Monday, May 21, 2012

A Somewhat Casual Competition!

After spending two weeks recuperating from her hives episode, I had plans to work Kate regularly over the last week, to have her ready for the spring Trail Challenge at the Appleatchee Riders facility in Wenatchee.  But the best laid plans...
Wind, rain, and other pressing projects (farm related, that need to get done at the right time) all conspired to keep me off her back.  I know Kate was disappointed.  By the time I finished the new brace posts and rehanging the main arena-to-barn gate, there was barely enough time to give her a bath.  And once I had her in the wash area, I realized her feet were in dire need of a trim before we went anywhere!  So, following these two tasks, as the darkness gathered (mind you, this is nearing 9:00 PM), I put her up for the night and loaded the trailer.
Next morning, we met friend Debby and her little mustang mare, Wendy, and headed out.  Arrived right at 9:00, when the office opened, and got the girls settled in, signed up, and started getting ready.  Deb hollered that they were doing the beginners' course walk, and though I was pretty sure I had the route down, I walked along to hear any questions.  Then went back and was putting my boots on when I realized they had started the class!  Then Deb let me know that I was "in the hole"!!  Quick put Kate's bridle on, and started a very cursory warm-up, especially considering I hadn't been on her in two weeks.  Then it was our turn.

We're off!
The maze:  3 (out of possible score of 5). 
There was a little bit of rubber-necking, but she got through without touching a single pole.
I think the judge deducted points here for not trotting to the next obstacle (though that was listed as part of the following effort).  There was only about 50 feet to generate a trot, and I DID get about a step and a half right before slowing down to walk the logs...
The walk logs: 4.   We then trotted fairly briskly (for Kate, mind you) to the next effort.
The bridge: 4 .  Kate walked right over, so I'm not sure what the judge counted her down for.
The turn-around box: 3.  These three photos make it look better than it actually was.
Kate had trouble with this one last year too, and actually started off pretty well this time, then got a little flustered, bumped the log, but then finished okay.
Maybe if we actually practice...
The blow-down: 5.
I picked the toughest route through I could find, for extra points...
...and Kate never took a misstep.
The car wash: 5,  Like it wasn't even there.
The mailbox: 5.  Kate actually got me too close, with barely enough room to open the door.  But the judge couldn't see it from the angle she was observing.  Otherwise, Kate stood like a rock.
The gate: 4.
The only reason I can figure we were marked down was that everyone else pushed the gate away from themselves, so maybe we did it backwards.
Kate did it very nicely, however, sidepassing over to the gate both for opening and closing.
The "trail ride": 3.  I'm not sure if Kate was confused by a bunch of cross-country jumps that were nearby, or reluctant to leave the rest of the horses, but she wandered a bit, heading up the hill.
Once she had these trot-overs to focus on, she straightened out...
...and trotted the rest of the way up the hill.
Then she had a little fuss about getting me up close enough to the vertical pole to ring the bell that was there.
Then back down the hill...
...with a quick snack on the way.  Poor starved darling!
Around the tires at a trot (not an obstacle, but we later went and clambered over them a time or two).
Final obstacle, ground tie and pick up feet: 5.  I've never really ground tied her, but I knew I wasn't going anywhere, so I took a chance. 
Being Kate, and obviously neglected and withering away from lack of proper nutrition, she dropped her head to eat, and puddled the reins in front of her--When I dropped her foot, it landed smack dab on the reins, but she was busy feeding her face, and didn't even notice before I quickly snatched her foot back and picked up the reins.

One thing new that she wasn't scored on, but I was very pleased with--It was spitting rain and I took out the yellow nylon poncho Pat had given me over a year ago (for slicker training that has never been done--no time like the present, right?).  I let Kate watch me unfold it, shook it at her once, and then draped it across my saddle.  NO biggy!  After all, there was food to be focused on!

Judging left a little to be desired--the judge (there was supposed to be two, like last year, but something came up), was on horseback, and was often visiting with spectators during competitors' runs.  After the first few go's, she didn't even bother riding over to the obstacles to observe--she just watched from 100-200 yards away (further for the "trial ride").  The most outstanding ride of the day was a flawless performance in the advanced class by a young gal whose horse was perfect on the obstacles, relaxed and steady, and happy...but she lost to another rider with the same score whose performance was rushed and whose horse appeared aggravated the whole time.  But the tie was broken on total time.  I thought that was too bad.  The better horsemanship certainly should have been rewarded.

All in all, I was very pleased with Kate's performance!  She placed 5th, but with so little work this spring I considered the trip to be primarily for schooling anyway. Now to get some actual practice sessions in, before we go to Walla Walla on June 10th for the "Cowboy Mountain Trail Challenge"!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A New Venture: Guests!

 Big news at the farm this weekend:
All three sprinklers going...STILL!
Everybody's going out together for about five hours a day at this point.  (RT gets to mow the house lawn the other 19 hours.
Life's pretty boring at our place, until....
Who's here?!?
Meet Teddy [Bear] and Cheyanna.

Teddy is a 24-year-old Thoroughbred-Dutch Warmblood cross, retired jumper, and he looks it.  After two days, I finally got curious enough to put a stick on him:  16.3!  His owner did some eventing on him, after he finished a successful career as a Grand Prix jumper.  His legs, unfortunately, show some of the wear and tear of that profession.
 Cheyanna is a bit younger, but had a shoulder injury a couple of years ago.  She was moving pretty good out in the pasture, and her owner thought maybe she might return to light duty next year...or not.  I think mostly she's here to keep Teddy company.

With the lousy market, and the ethical question of bringing new babies into the world, I have pretty much given up on the idea of breeding any more equines here (though someone suggested I have the perfect set-up for, thanks...).  Little RT has done so well in his retirement with us (he's still going strong at 32), and Mama Misty is looking good at 25.  Even good ol' Corky did well, in spite of his seizure disorder, until we lost him at 29.  I've long admired Melissa and Jason of Paradigm Farms, so I have decided to venture into the realm of boarding.  But for a specialized market: retirees (or possibly rehab).
Neither Al nor I really want a bunch of silly teenagers in and out at all hours, we're 20 miles from town, and we really don't have access to any trails in the immediate neighborhood.  Plus the insurance for your typical boarding stable is outrageous.  By sticking to retirees, I don't need to worry about people riding on the property, nor corralling other peoples kids (been there, done that)--keeping track of other people's horses, on the other hand, seems like a great way to utilize our place.
Pretty well settled in after all of ten minutes.
I also have another gal that may want to bring out an older gent that has seen some rough times, along with her pregnant mare.  That'll make the rotation a bit trickier, as I don't like to put horses directly across a fence line from each other--I always keep an empty pasture in between.  I'll have to watch the grass really closely, as well, to make sure they're not stressing it too much. We don't have the room to put everybody in one big herd, like they do at Paradigm (they have seven separate "herds" on very large pastures), so I will probably just keep each owner's boarders together and as a by-product, avoid the brief, but real risk of introductions.
For right now we're only looking at pasture board for the summer.  If I could get the last wing on the barn, I'd look for longer term horses. But this gives us a chance to try out the proposition for awhile, with minimal extra labor.

On the work front, I'm just about done replacing another run of the blasted high-tensile field fence.  This is on the north side of the barn, parallel to the driveway.  It means I have three 1.5-2 acre pastures that I consider to be totally "horse safe."  That's where Teddy and Cheyanna will be rotated through.  If the other two horses come, I'll have to judge which two are most respectful of the fence, and use one of my south pastures.
The roll by the tractor is ready to splice into the stuff that's already leaning against the posts; then I'll stretch that first 250 foot section.  The two rolls in front are for the 200 foot remainder.
Finishing touches: staples on the wood posts, and "twisties" on the T-posts.
These two guys came by to check out my work.
First section, all done.
Last big news:
Only 27 more "git-ups" until summer vacation!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


It's spring.
The trees are budding, the birds are chirping, and a farmer's heart turns to...


I switched from gated pipe (above) to sprinklers six years ago now, as it was a little more efficient and a little less labor intensive.  But it's been a steep learning curve, and every year I've had one or another major issue with busted pipes or my recalcitrant pump.
So every year I dread the first start up.
I tell folks that I'm just letting the farmers , who make a living off of their hay crop, have first dibs on the water when it starts up, but I'm just stalling.  I don't want to know what problem will reveal itself at the first pressurization of the system.
The KRD [Kittitas Reclamation District] has had water in the main ditch for two weeks now.  I've been working on replacing some smaller, part-circle sprinklers that I had originally installed at the ends of my main lines with cam-locks for my bigger, sturdier Nelson sprinklers--more radius and more dependable (the return mechanism on the smaller ones had started to hang-up and get stuck in one spot). 
That done, and the onset of another major development (to be blogged after it happens tomorrow, I hope), I could no longer put off starting the pump--itself always a major PITA.
First try:  primer pump is sucking air--no prime.  Usually, I end up taking the little hand pump apart two or three times before I manage to get it working right.  But just for jollies, I decided to just try tightening down the bolts that hold the leaky gasket in place.
Second try--we got prime!  Start up the pump.  This usually takes a couple or ten tries before we get sufficient flow in the main pipe to sustain the prime.
First try and the system is filling!
Just as a trickle of water starts to appear at the sprinkler heads, I hear an odd sound, over-laying the whirr of the pump.  Hmm.  I've heard that before...
YIKES!  The flow of water from the weir into the sump that my intake is in is too slow to keep the pump supplied!  It's been sucked down to almost nothing!
I quickly run to the gate on the main ditch and open it wide.  Hank is drawing water for his pasture from this same weir, and balancing the two out-flows is tricky.  But I get water flowing both directions again, and restart my pump--primed, first try; output steady as the system again fills itself.
Total elapsed time: half an hour!  A record!  And really, no major glitches.  I had left the ball valves on two sprinkler-less risers open, which was stealing water pressure, but once they were closed, the system was up and running!
And still running two hours later when we hit the sack.
And STILL running this morning when first we opened our eyes!
 On school mornings I usually change sprinklers at 6 AM (with chores) and 6 PM (before dinner).  That's another rationalization for not starting things up 'til a little later--I'll probably only have to do one cycle of irrigating before school's out.  In summer and on weekends I can switch sprinklers at 5-6 AM, 2 PM and 9-10 PM, and move through the cycle a little faster.  So I headed out to move the sprinkler heads to the next station.  Al commented on my way out that it looked like frost on the fence....

Think:  mini-ice storm.
Thermometer read about 33*F.  The moving water kept the system from freezing up, but, along with the fence, the sprinkler heads were coated in ice.  Also the grass, which made walking crunchy and a little precarious.

Wow.  It's May 5th!  (Happy Cinco de Mayo!)  What's with this?!?
Oh well, just move the sprinklers and get back in for breakfast, and a hot cuppa tea.
Installed sprinkler on the next riser and opened a slightly stiff valve.
Nothing.  No wa-wa.  DANG!  Pipe is froze!
Tried a couple of other risers:  same thing.
Oh well.  Nothing to do until the sun, which had just topped the eastern horizon, warmed things up.  Hopefully a soft enough freeze than none of my pipes are busted, though I can think of a couple of places from last fall that might be slightly susceptible (threaded plastic fittings that were starting to split from the constant thump, thump, thump of the impact sprinklers).  Can't move the other sprinkler heads, because the pump needs at least one running at all times, to relieve pressure, so leave them going, and leave the new position's valve open.  I thinking that once the air warms up, the pipe will thaw, and I'll have visual confirmation that I can go ahead and move the other two sprinklers.
By the time I finished my bowl of cereal and started another cuppa tea, the sprinkler sputtered to life.  Walked out and moved the other heads, opening slightly reluctant valves to the open position--10-20 seconds later both risers flushed themselves out and we were good.
I don't see any leaks, but the fact is that there is still ice everywhere there is not moving water--it'll take a bit for everything to thaw out completely.  Then we'll see if we dodged a bullet.
One other possible casualty:  One of the overnight sprinkler positions was up by the road, and a dozen or so of my baby poplars are weighed over with ice.  I gingerly started to shake one free...and immediately broke a branch, so I stopped right there.  Hopefully, as they slowly thaw out in the morning sun, they'll straighten back up and be none the worse for wear (except for one human-induced fracture).  It's supposed to be down right at 32* again tonight, so I'll be sure to set the overnight sprinklers out of my usual sequence, to avoid stressing any other trees.
Barring any need to shut down, I'll have the whole cycle complete by next weekend, in time for a two-day trip to Seattle for a Children's Justice conference (I don't like to ask Al to figure out my system--it's enough that he'll feed the herd for me for two days).
On another note:  Kate is doing much better.  Swellings on her tummy almost all gone--the original one is down to palm-size, with some scabbing over, presumably where the original bites were.  Thought I'd ride her, either bareback or without the back cinch, today or tomorrow, but the E-burg wind is already howling this morning.