Farmtastic Tips

A Spoonful of Sugar

Farmgirl life is relatively new for me, which means I have lots to learn and that the learning is often amusing, at least after you’ve cleaned off the horse snot, the dirt, and the sweat. For other new farmgirls (and guys), I thought I’d share some tips that are working around Wild Horse Valley.

When it comes to getting medicine in a horse, a girl needs an ace in her pocket. Let me tell you that there is no amount of reasoning, cajoling, coaxing, or sweet talking that will convince a thousand-pound horse to take his meds.  And while some folks may like to cowboy it, horses are large animals with strong powerful heads and necks, so that is just not an option for this farmgirl. Not to mention, it’s just not my style.

Like medicine for children, horse meds come flavored, with the most popular being apple.  Also like medicine for children, the flavor does not help the medicine go down. (Mommy friends, you know what I mean – cherry does not equal ice cream.) Trust me, no one wants to be covered in horse meds sneezed and snorted all over your favorite barn t-shirt.

But as I recall from one of my childhood favorites, a spoonful of sugar does indeed make the medicine go down. Enter molasses!  I keep a a stash of molasses on hand in the barn for those times when it does a horse good. Also on hand in the barn is a jar of bute powder, think Children’s Tylenol for horses.

Photo - Jar of Grandma's Molasses
Molasses – a farmgirl’s best friend when you need to get meds into your horse!

We’ve got an older mare, Sweet Suzy Q, who occasionally needs some bute for an aching joint or minor inflamation. And although it is apple flavored like all good horse meds, there is no convincing her to take it, that is until you mix it with a spoonful of molasses and a serving of her feed.  All of sudden the dreaded medicine becomes the best treat ever.

Learning how to work with my horses for their good, my safety, and our combined happiness is how I get that cowgirl up feeling.  For my next farmtastic tip … it is absolutely critical to label the horse thermometer.  Enough said!

Critter Stories · Farmtastic Stories

Are You New Here?

Horse chore time around the farm is a daily event,  and most of the time it is an uneventful routine, as it should be.  However, like kiddos are often known to do, critters just want to test you.  It reminds me of just one more drink or one more story before bedtime. But with the four-legged variety, there is snorting, blowing, refusal to go into stalls, and running around like crazies.  (For all my friends with little ones, this may not be so different at all.)

Tonight was one of those times.  Our horses know the routine.  We head out to the barn.  Everyone goes in their stalls.  Food is distributed.  Love and neck rubs are given.  Stalls are scooped.  This is not a new event, but tonight you would have thought I was asking them to barrel race at the rodeo.

For starters, Sweet Suzy Q took off running, which only caused everyone to take off into the pasture as well.  Again like the kids, one can sure wind up the bunch.  Once we settled and determined that a lion wasn’t chasing anyone, we slowly worked our way back to stalls.  But still no luck.  Tactic number two – a bribe.  Off to grab the food and see if I could coax them into place.  The thing with a thousand-pound animal is that you just can’t drag them by the arm and stuff them back under the covers.

Success!  Food worked and Suzy and Ranger were tucked neatly in their stalls munching away.  Now for Smokey, my resident jumpy pants.  The little jaunt into the pasture (thank you Suzy) had him on edge.  Snorting and blowing he followed me into his stall. Ears perked at every noise.  Gates swinging, doors opening.  It was like he was new here.  He settled into the goofy pace of eating and going to the end of his stall to check on things and then back to the food.  Whatever works for the big fellow, the bottom line was that he was in.

And finally there is River.  You would think the horse had never seen a stall in his life.  And to make matters more amusing, the donkeys kept right on my tail as I tried to talk and coax River into his stall.  You see the donkeys are last to eat, and they know it.  So the longer River fiddled around the longer they had to wait.  Patience is not something donkeys are experts at (please hold your shock).

Here I am in the pasture, talking to a thousand-pound horse, coaxing him with food all while Sweetie Pie is glued to my backside.  If you were there, you would have heard me yell at the donkeys, “Listen Thing 1 and Thing 2, back off for a minute.  Will ya?”  Yes, you have to talk to the animals to make it through these obstacles.  Finally after sniffing, timid steps, and great leaps of courage, River made it into his stall.  A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout the farm.  Funny how the sound of horses chomping hay can be music to your ears.

Farm chores are routine and often sort of relaxing as it’s a time to just unplug.  But on those crazy nights when it seems they’ve all lost their collective minds, I find myself looking horses straight in the eyes and asking, “Are you new here?”

River happily munching his dinner in his stall - but not after acting like a crazy beforehand.
River happily munching his dinner in his stall – but not after acting like a crazy beforehand.
Critter Stories · Farmtastic Stories

“Meow,” said the dog

Around here, we’ve got horses who think they are donkeys, donkeys who act like dogs, dogs who love cat toys, and cats that chase dogs.  It’s a regular madhouse, but it definitely keeps us amused.  We like to say that if you need some good Friday night entertainment, pull up a lawn chair and watch the critters around here, because sometimes they are just plain C-R-A-Z-Y.

For instance, let’s take a look at our dog, Dixie Doodlebug.  She is nuts, I mean obsessed-kind-of-crazy, for cat toys.  If it squeaks, is on a string, or heaven forbid has catnip, she is all over it.  When the cats try to play with the toys, she watches intently as if to say, “Whoa, what’s up?  Those are mine.” She can destroy a cat toy in two seconds flat, and searches closet nooks and crannies for a stowed away gem.  You can often catch Cowboy saying, “Doodlebug, you are not a cat!”

Which leads me to the cats.  Grizzly thinks there is simply no better dog to torment than the gentle and slightly neurotic Goober.  While dogs may chase cats in childhood storybooks, that’s not always the case around the farm.  Occasionally, Goober will find is inner dog and believe he is big and bad enough to chase a cat, and goodness knows he should as he is 70 pounds and counting.  Enter Grizzly.  Grizzly loves nothing more than to pop over the top of the sofa and grace Goober with a few swift smacks on the head, reducing Goober to a shaking pile of wimpy dog.  Which is hilarious, because when it comes to strangers, large animals, or anything he thinks may be a threat, he is all over it.  As long as it’s not a cat that is up close and personal.

Now for the equines on the farm, both horses and donkeys.  Let’s just say they are all kinds of entertaining.  You can often find our horse, River, forsaking his horse buddies for some gal pal time with his two favorite donkeys,  Mama Rose and Sweetie Pie.  He’s twice their size and five times as fast, but he loves nothing more than grazing and kicking up his hooves with the donks.

And everybody’s favorite donkey, Sweetie Pie, is probably just as guilty of not knowing her true identity as any of the other farm critters.  Sweetie Pie follows you around the farm like a dog, and best of all has been known to chase a car or two down the driveway.  There is nothing funnier than driving down the road with a rear-view window full of donkey nose and ears.  But be careful, don’t step on the brakes or you’ll have a Sweetie Pie in the back seat, not that she’ll mind.  When folks come over and are getting things in and out of their cars, we often have to shoo Sweetie Pie away as she is primed to take a seat.

It’s never a dull moment around here, filled with phrases like “Sweetie Pie, you are not a dog,” and “River is running with the donkeys again,” and the ever popular, “Grizzly stop tormenting Goober!”  But  whether they know if they are dogs, cats, donkeys, or horses, I can guarantee that they all know that they are loved and that they rule roost.  It’s good to be a critter at the farm!

Miss Willie Kitty gives Dixie Doodlebug a bath - at the farm anything goes with the roles the critters play
Miss Willie Kitty gives Dixie Doodlebug a bath – at the farm anything goes with the roles the critters play
Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

Baby It’s Cold Outside

I’ve always preferred the heat to the cold.  Now that I have large animals, I can say with absolute certainty that I prefer the heat.  All for one simple reason – cold equals frozen water troughs and buckets.

Luckily in the Texas hill country we don’t deal with long winters or even winter temperatures that last for weeks on end.  And maybe in some ways that makes it worse, as we simply never get used to it.  Now for my northern friends, you are probably laughing your heads off, and rightly so, at my cold weather wimpiness.  All I have to say is let’s talk the next time you have to deal with 100 degrees.  But I digress …

My biggest farmgirl challenge yet came when we had a winter spell the kept us below freezing for three days straight and included snow and ice.  Luckily I am far enough past this incident now that I can actually chuckle about it, but holy moly it tested my farmgirl fortitude.

During this spell I would bundle up like the Michelin man for each trip outdoors. I’m talking layers of shirts, sweatshirts, long johns, gloves, hats, and scarves.  If I could manage to use it for warmth, I piled it on.  Oh and of course I was donning my pink rubber boots.  One other thing you should know about me, grace is not my middle name.  So if there is a way to trip or find a clumsy moment, I will find it.  So outside I go, to do my chores.

Let’s just say when the horses and donkeys see you coming, they come running.  They think it’s feed time, treat time, or just pet me time.  And as any farmgirl does, I absolutely love doting on my babies.  But when I’m freezing and sliding around, big animals with even the best intentions can be a tricky situation.  But, I did my best to give them some loving.  (I also didn’t help my cause by sliding around with a camera trying to capture these snowy moments in hopes of getting that perfect Christmas card shot.)

To top chore time off, during this time, our outside water faucets had frozen.  So no big deal, you say?  Wrong.  While I’d added heaters to my horse water troughs I had no way to keep refilling them.  Okay scratch that, I had no easy way to refill them.

If you can,  picture a clumsy, bundled up farmgirl carrying buckets of water from inside to outside and dumping them into horse buckets.  Over and over and over again.  And in case you’ve never carried a bucket of water while skating across the ice, it’s a messy proposition and not all of it makes it to the bucket.  Horses sure can suck down some water.

Oh, and scooping in the ice and snow?  Equally not as fun.  I did not become an ice skater for a reason.

But the good news is that I made it.  And boy did I feel like I had a cowgirl up kind of moment. I was so proud that I could take care of my critters and find a way to keep them full and hydrated.  But I’ll be honest, I was none to sad when the ice and snow melted, and most of all when the faucets thawed.  I’ll take Texas summers anytime.  (I’ll re-read this post in August to remind myself when it’s 106 degrees in the shade.)

Smokey, Cowboy's mustang, wandering through the cold and posing for the perfect picture!
Smokey, Cowboy’s mustang, wandering through the cold and posing for the perfect picture!
Critter Stories · Farmtastic Stories

I Should Have Named Him Fabio

Ranger grazing - hair and all.  Special thanks to Kelly Hoodenpyle for the amazing picture.
Ranger grazing – hair and all.
Special thanks to Kelly Hoodenpyle for the amazing picture.

Ranger is our six-year old American mustang horse.  And while Ranger is a perfectly good horse name (his official name is Lone Star Ranger), I really should have named him Fabio.

Let’s start with the obvious, the horse has an amazing mane.  It’s full and long, with his forelock covering his eyes.  It blows in the wind, is fun to brush, and looks gorgeous when he runs through the pasture.  His tail is equally as impressive.  Practically touching the ground, and double bonus, it’s oodles of fun to braid.  While I’m definitely a proud mama, the little guy is a looker.

His second fabio-esque trait is the fact that the horse just likes to pose.  Cowboy will often look out into the pasture and say, “Your horse is posing again.”  While the farm is relatively flat, there is some slight variation, and we have small berms throughout.  Ranger tends to find a berm, wind a blowing, and just stand there, as if to say, “Aren’t I just the most handsome horse you’ve ever seen?”  It simply makes me smile every time.

His third fabio-esque trait is that he likes the ladies.  He’s a gelding (and for my city friends that means he shouldn’t care about the girls, think Bob Barker spay and neuter your pets), but he is IN LOVE with our mare, Sweet Suzy Q.  What’s even funnier is that she’s 22 years old.  But to be fair, she’s equally sweet on him. Does that make my horse a cougar?  I digress.  The point is that Ranger spends an inordinate amount of time following her around and placing himself between her and the other geldings.  And like good geldings, they don’t care about Suzy or that Ranger is trying to be a bossy pants about who Suzy stands next to.

So there you have it, Ranger should have been named Fabio. But to me, the part that is most interesting is his personality.  You see, before I had horses, which was not that long ago, I really never thought of them as having personalities.  I thought of dogs and cats with personalities, but it just never occurred to me that large animals are just as funny, amazing, and often times neurotic.  The truth is that they have personalities in spades.  Some love attention, some are playful, some are curious and get into all sorts of things.  Ranger happens to fall into the latter category, prompting our trainer to say he should have been named Dennis the Menace, since he doesn’t mean to get into trouble he just can’t help himself.  But that’s another story for another day.

Ranger is my first horse.  He’s taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  Cowboy likes to say that our biggest challenge with Ranger is that he’s smarter than we are.  So whatever you call him, my horse by any other name is still Ranger.  Mustang, magnificent, and all mine.

A small plug, if you have never experienced the beauty or the story of our amazing American mustangs, wild horses who live on government lands, check out the MustangHeritageFoundation.org or ExtremeMustangMakover.comRanger is a makeover horse who competed as a yearling.  We were blessed to adopt him into our family.