Posts Tagged ‘horse’

Adventures in Long Distance Horse Trailering, Part 1


In the last post on trailering, I explained that though our Quarterhorse (Zip) was very compliant with getting into the trailer, we had some… ahem… “challenges” loading and trailering our Haflinger cross (Jasper).  Under the tutelage of our faithful trainer, Rachel, we put together a plan to teach him to load well.

Rachel (our trainer and mentor) working Jasper on the longe line

It was a very good plan, in part because the schedule included a two-month stint where I would leave Texas for New Hampshire, get set up in the new job, do some work on the new property, and then fly back to Texas to find the family and horses ready to start the cross-country trailering adventure.  In other words, my wonderful bride got to be in charge of all the hard work:  Teaching Jasper to load, taking care of the household back home, schooling the kids, packing up our stuff, and attending a couple births, all the while keeping the house in show-ready condition so that we could sell it.  In case you didn’t know it, I’m married to Wonderwoman.

Wonderwoman went right to work on Rachel’s training plan.  The basic idea, she said, was to work the dickens out of Jasper outside the trailer and to give him a rest any time he made a move to load.  Since Jasper his happier at rest than at work, we would make him understand that the trailer was a happy place instead of a metal trap that made lots of noise while moving unpredictably.  It was a simple concept that actually worked quite well.  Through daily sessions, Martha worked Jasper on the Longe Line, moving him around in tight circles, changing directions all the time, and gradually working him towards the open trailer.  BTW, if you’ve never worked a Longe Line you don’t realize how much effort it is to do it well and to keep the horse moving, but Wonderwoman kept at it.

Notice the two expressions: apprehension on the left, determination on the right

I kept tabs on the progress from NH, hearing the little victories.  Over the course of two months, the reports moved from “He put two hooves in the trailer without any prodding today!” to “I had him loaded in less than 10 minutes!”  It took longer than Rachel thought it might, but what Wonderwoman managed to accomplish was pretty amazing.

By the time I returned, Jasper was loading up pretty easily.  It still wasn’t his favorite place, but he’d get in with just a little work, and then calmly stand in the closed trailer.  When we took the horses on the short drive to the vet for their pre-travel health certificates, we had no problems.  This cross-country horse trailering adventure was getting less and less daunting in my mind’s eye.

Have I mentioned that my mind’s eye wears a rose-colored contact lens?

The morning of the big move arrived, and we finished packing, drove to the barn, hooked up the trailer, filled up the water tank, did one last check of the tires and connections, and loaded the horses in record time.  No problems.  Soon we were driving northeast on the Interstate, Wonderwoman following in our packed-out minivan.  All was well.  Our little convoy was chugging along smoothly as we crossed the border into Oklahoma.

And then Jasper came to the realization that this trip was taking a bit longer than the last one.

The “rig” we were in was pretty stout.  We’re weren’t in a little pickup truck pulling a light aluminum straight-load trailer.  No, we were driving full-size F-250 crew cab diesel pulling a heavy-duty steel two-horse slant.  The truck is a bit over 7,000 lbs empty, and the trailer weighs in at 3,200.  With the horses, hay, water, luggage, and tack, we were traveling down the highway at about 6.5 tons gross.  I tell you this to give you an appreciation of how strong a horse is, especially a horse in a place he has decided definitely isn’t his happy place.

Where's the Fuel Station?

When Jasper started rocking back in forth in the trailer, we started swerving as if we’d been hit by a sudden crosswind… a crosswind similar to what a driver might feel if a tractor trailer drove past his VW bug at somewhere double normal highway speeds…

…on the Autobahn.

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit.  But just a bit.  The bottom line is that a 1,100 lb horse can cause some consternation, even when enclosed as part of a 13,000 lb package.  Imagine a 220 lb high school football player bouncing off the walls of a 2,600 lb compact car and you’ve got a similar effect.

We slowed down and pulled over at the next rest area to check on the horses.  I was half expecting to see Jasper turned around in his stall, and dents in the steel walls.  Fortunately that was not the case, but when we opened his window to offer some water he nearly came through the porthole.  We were able to calm him down, but he made it obvious that this was very far from his happy place.  Very.

Not a Happy Camper

The rest of the day went smoother.  Jasper resigned himself to the trailer, but was unhappy.  We could tell he was unhappy because he wasn’t eating except at rest stops, and there are very few things that distract Jasper from food.  More worrying, he wouldn’t drink at all.  The only way we could get water into him was by soaking hay in a bucket and then feeding him that at the rest stops.  Zip, on the other hand, was going through hay at an impressive rate and filled up with water pretty well at every stop.

By the time we rolled into the first “horse hotel” in Missouri we were a bit worried about what was going to happen when we opened the door.  Everyone took their places – one of the girls at the window and tie-in, another at the door and butt bar, Wonderwoman ready to lead him out, my son safely ensconced in the truck, and me holding the Handy Stick and the mobile phone, ready to call 9-1-1.  However, loading was somewhat uneventful, though Jasper definitely was ready to get out.  The horses both were very happy to walk around the pasture with the girls while we cleaned out the trailer and set up their stalls for the night.  By the time we finished that, Zip and Jasper seemed to be very much themselves again, especially after a good brushing.  Their ears were perked and when we walked them into their adjacent stalls, Jasper even took a little food and water.  Zip plowed through his hay, happy to be out of the trailer, but none the worse for wear.

We loaded up the kids and drove the 1/4 mile down to the “people hotel” for the night to get settled.  We all fell asleep pretty quick, as we were exhausted.

For some reason, I woke up at about 2am with a feeling something wasn’t quite right.  I was correct.

Click Here to Read Part 2.

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Forages: Timothy Grass


This is the first installment in the Forage Managment section of our blog.  For more information on why I’m doing this, click here.

Timothy grass (Phleum pratense, or Herd’s Grass) is most likely the base of hay you buy in New England – it’s the predominant species for most well-cared-for and cultivated hayfields around here.  This is precisely why there isn’t much of it here at the Flying T, though since I have found a few specimens here and there around the property, I suspect that at one time, there was a hayfield.  Since it is such a quality forage, before I started the Forage course at UNH, my plan had been to try to get Timothy back in play in our pastures.  That’s no longer our plan.

Timothy - Photo by Immunetech, Inc

Timothy is indeed an awesome forage – highly palatable, yielding relatively high yields of quality digestible dry matter (DDM), and with a solid mix of nutrients and fiber (running around 10% protein, depending on quality and handling).  However, it’s a bit more finicky than other forages and needs careful soil management to maintain a strong stand.  In addition, frequent cutting or grazing can kill it, which makes it less than optimum as a pasture crop.  As I lamented in this post, I’m in the process of bringing our soil pH and nutrition upwards, and that combined with the heavy grazing pressure in our primary pasture means we need to target a different species.

However, there is one place on the Flying T where we have no shortage of Timothy – our hayloft.  It’s easy to identify by the compact inflorescence (flower/seedhead) that looks an awful lot like a Labrador Retriever’s tail.  Most Timothy hay sold up here is actually Timothy mixed with other common grasses like Orchardgrass and Smooth Bromegrass, and legumes like Red Clover, Vetch and Birdsfoot Trefoil, which bring the protein levels up a bit.   The thin leaves and stems of Timothy, as well as its tendency not to be too dusty, are what make it so tasty to horses, and it doesn’t get bitter (or even toxic) when it matures, like some Fescues.  Like most other grasses, Timothy can get into the 20% range for protein content in the early vegetative state, which is more useful to grazing than hay (and remember, close grazing will kill it).  By the time it’s ready for haying, Timothy’s protein content usually is closer to 10%.

Timothy grows in small bunches and spreads only through seeds, not stolons or rhizomes, and has somewhat shallow roots when compared to Orchardgrass or Fescue.  It does best in cool, moist environments, but isn’t tolerant to flooding (or extreme heat or draught, for that matter).  It can take slightly acidic soil, doing best in pHs around 5.5-6.5.

Timothy is relatively easy to establish, is best planted late summer or early spring, and isn’t too competitive with other species, making it ideal as a companion crop (as long as its companion isn’t too aggressive).  As I wrote above, it does better for hay or silage than pasture, unless the grazing is well-rotated to keep it from being grazed too short and to allow it to recover.  It produces well, but not as much as the big boys like Reed Canarygrass and Orchardgrass.

Foxtail inflorescence. Photo by Missouri Extension

Because of its low dust, high-quality nutrition, and palatable form, Timothy is also commonly sold at pet stores for feeding small rodents like Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas, as well as rabbits and more exotic herbivores.  The prices, though, are pretty steep!  I paid $5 per 40 to 45-lb square bale (delivered, with help stacking) a few months ago.  I just looked up on Petco.com and found a 6lb bag of Timothy on “sale” for $15.99.  That’s $100 – $120 a bale!  If I could manage 3 tons an acre, that’s $18K per cutting per acre.  Hey, maybe I should start growing Timothy…  or maybe I’ll just sell an Internet pamphlet on how to get rich quick growing grass (the legal kind)!

Our website is live…


… not finished, but live!  Check it out at http://www.flyingtnh.com (or click on the link to the right).

The Simplicity of Horse Trailering


When you start thinking of horses and horse ownership, lots of images start playing in your mind’s eye.  At first, most of them probably are the romantic cuts, drawn mainly from watching The Man from Snowy River and Open Range too many times.

As you get closer to making that decision to actually buy a horse, those images might start to include scenes of the more practical sort like feeding and training (and if you’re the Dad, you have visions of your wallet being wrung like an old dishrag).  But still your mind’s eye is adulterated by the filmmaking industry, which even when they do cover “difficult” or “headstrong” horses, the problems are overcome easily in the course of a two hour feature film.  I apologize if I am the first to break this news, but Secretariat, Black Beauty and National Velvet are works of fiction.

Trailering is simple. So is astrophysics.

There’s a reason that even those movies that touch on horse training never show real people getting real horses into a trailer.  That reason is that every actor has a clause in his or her contract with injunctions against the actor being made to look like an incompetent fool and against smaller injustices, such as being kicked to death or squashed between a steel wall and one thousand pounds of horse.

On the outset, it really doesn’t seem to be too complicated.  The horse seems to trust you.  You feed, water, groom him, and clean up his poop.  In return, he lets you ride him and seems to follow your commands reasonably well.  When you walk him around the arena or lunge him in the round pen, he follows your leads just fine.  Surely he’ll follow you out of the pasture and into a trailer.  This is simple, right?

This leads me to one of my cardinal rules of horses, one that I’ve adapted from two decades of military service.  If anyone says “this is simple,” it’s time to take cover.

Let’s look at this from the horse’s perspective.  You are a herd animal.  You like to be with other animals, particularly with other horses.  You crave stability, firm ground, and readily available forage, and new things tend to make you nervous.  You are created to live and thrive in open country where you can detect predators at a distance and use your speed to elude them.  And now this human, obviously off his rocker (he collects poop for heaven’s sake!), wants to lead you alone into a dark metal box that moves when you step in it.  You outweigh him by half a ton.

Trailering, it turns out, is one of the most difficult things with some horses.  Like so many things with horses, we find out we are hoodwinked on this fact.  After signing the contracts on our two horses, Jasper balks a bit at getting into the trailer, but his previous owner gets him in with a bit of urging.  “He’s a bit trailer shy,” she says.  Zip, on the other hand, walks in with no questions, just a point of the finger.  We have no idea that: 1) Zip is the product of years of training combined with his overly-compliant personality and 2) One should view the words “a bit..” attached to any possible vice by a person trying to sell a horse as a bright red warning flag.

After a short trip to the vet for a health check and tests, Rachel our horse trainer gets Zip and Jasper back into the trailer with “a bit” of effort, and we make the two hour drive back to the barn near our house where we will board them for the next few months.  After unloading them into a paddock and feeding and watering them, we head home.

The next morning, we arrive to work with the horses, and Rachel suggests we start with a trailering lesson for Jasper.  We’re excited, because Rachel is the type of horse trainer who can get horses to do just about anything.  In fact, when we were looking at horses to buy, one of the owners took his horse off the market after seeing Rachel work with him, and in one session getting the mare to do several things he had told us she flat out was incapable of.

Rachel demonstrates, lunging him around and back and forth in front of the trailer for quite a while, working him into a sweat before walking him towards the trailer.  He wants nothing of it, so she brings him out and works him some more… and some more… and some more.  After about an hour, he walks in tentatively, then comes right out.  Rachel declares victory and tells us that we need to do this every day until he gets right in.  “It might take a week or so before that happens,” she says.

This is simple, right?

(Read more in my post, “Adventures in Long-Distance Horse Trailering, Part 1“)