Friday, March 28, 2014

still lingering between winter and spring

Today we're going into the 60s but yesterday morning troughs had a thin layer of ice on them from the low 20s the night before. 

I saw the first carpenter bee last week and then the day following saw a number of dead carpenter bee corpses because they had frozen that night. 

It's a crazy back and forth transistion this year, but yesterday after riding Keil Bay I was literally covered in horse hair, so that's another sign weighing in that spring surely has to be nearing!

We'd had a week and a half off since our last ride until yesterday. The arena was freshly harrowed, it was sunny with a stiff wind, and it was time to get back into the groove. I have been experimenting the past few rides with different hand positions. I had gotten in the habit of holding my hands about 8 inches apart and I decided to close them to about 2 inches and see what happened. Well, the difference was startling. There was no change in contact - simply bringing my hands back toward the wither and keeping them there. All need for steering seemed to disappear. 

We had a nice long walking warm-up, then notched it up to Keil Bay's power walk. We did crisp, perfect turns on the haunches and the forehand in the deepest part of the arena corners. We did serpentines. And then we did just a little trotting, and it was very very nice. 

It was a fun ride - Keil Bay was alert but not spooky, even though the hay tent was filling with air and swelling like a living breathing creature, and the neighbor was driving loads of fallen branches into the woods and dumping them, making huge, invisible, crashing sounds. Keil kept his eye on the woods for me but even when I dismounted onto the hiked-up block and he had to turn his rear to the woods while crashing brush happened, he stood as still as a soldier on duty. It's good having such a terrific partner to work with.

On the neighbor and dog front, we had a scary incident last weekend when neighbor's adult daughter took dog on leash along the fence line, allowing it to dart under the fence so she could correct it. Okay, I would prefer she train the dog not to come within a few feet of the fence personally, but at least she is trying.

But she waited to do it until the horses and donkeys were right there, and the entire herd moved to the fence to protect their territory. The pony and Cody went right up to the dog and she continued to let the dog go underneath - and the two horses turned their rears to the dog (and to her). I was scared they were going to kick at the dog and hit her. I don't know what the thought process is over there but after seeing that I got a copy of our neighborhood covenants and thankfully, mercifully, there are absolutely no restrictions on fencing except that barbed wire is prohibited.

We will be installing no-climb wire around the entire perimeter, starting with that side, which will keep the dog out. The Horseguard tape will keep the horses off the woven wire. Then we are installing a 10-foot privacy section with a lattice inset along the top foot and an arbor on top so I can plant grape vines or something nontoxic and flowering to add even more height. This will put the dog, the neighbors, most of their house, their cars, their parking area, and their junky sheds out of our sight forever. 

Interesting to read the covenants and learn that of everyone on our lane, we are the only ones totally compliant with all the rules! 

I also discovered that the house across the lane that is for sale had in its real estate listing the phrase: Perfect For ATVs!  I emailed the realtor and told her no one here wants ATVs driving up and down the road, that it is not okay, that I have had numerous occasions to call the sheriff when the old ATV neighbors lived here, and that I hoped she would change the listing to accurately reflect that this neighborhood values peace and quiet. She emailed me back saying she had removed the phrase! What a relief!

We have rain rolling in today and thunderstorms tomorrow and then sunshine returns on Sunday. Just in time for me to start what will be 6-8 or so weeks of riding lessons here on Keil Bay. An opportunity arose and I seized it - really excited to see how it goes and do some learning and tweaking and improving. 

It feels like we're all hanging on, waiting for spring to come and stay. Maybe April is the key to that this year!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

closing in on spring? really?

We have had several stretches of gorgeous spring-like weather, but yesterday and today we're back to cold and ice. It looks like tomorrow we will start the shift back to warmer temps.

The horses and donkeys are alternately grumpy and playful. Keil Bay is looking especially floaty the past two weeks so I'm eager to get some ride time in when the weather warms up.

I have daffodils in full glorious bloom, and the crocuses are done. The tulips are up and but not quite ready to bloom. 

The vegetable beds are clear and I put in some seedlings that looked sort of pitiful initially but are holding their own out there. I need to start some seeds inside but it's hard to get motivated when it keeps getting this cold outside!

I'm hoping this winter is knocking out all the pesky biting insects.

Writing-wise, I am at the end of the first draft of claire-voyant and nearing the end of my second editing pass on Never Not Broken. I'll be starting claire-de-lune, the fourth novel in the Claire Quartet, at the beginning of April and getting these two editing and ready to roll. 

And I think - thought not quite 100% sure - that gluten-free eating is at least partly responsible for my productivity. For more information on this, I highly recommend the book Grain Brain. It's fascinating.

Hope all are well and that we all get some springtime weather very soon. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Mid-West Agri plain beet pulp shreds - update!

I started using Blue Seal beet pulp pellets until the Mid-West Agri stone situation is sorted out - and am so disappointed in the pellets I am not sure I can actually feed them.

Aside from taking forever to break down from pellet form, they are slimy/sticky, do not smell like beet pulp, are orangish-colored and mushy, and I cannot get the water to rinse clean. I'm not going to be able to feed this to my horses except for a brief interim period, that's for sure.

If I recall correctly, Standlee beet pulp shreds have molasses in them. But I also just looked at the ingredient list online for their shreds and it says "concentrated separator by-product" - what the heck is THAT? 

But, on a hopeful note...

I just heard from the Quality Control manager at MidWest Agri. They have isolated the issue to one factory out of three that process the shreds.

He is traveling there on Friday to show them the stones I sent him and they will try to figure out what's going on.

Meanwhile, he had already sent me a free bag of shreds from a different factory and if I'm lucky they will arrive today so I can ditch the Blue Seal pellets.

If you feed MidWest Agri plain shreds, use a metal colander and see if you find anything. You can hear the stones clinking if you rinse in small batches - once the water runs through, slide the shreds around with your fingers. You'll hear the stones if they are in there. 

If you don't find anything hopefully it means you have a bag from a different factory and can continue to enjoy the cleanest shreds I've ever seen. (which I'm reminding myself of as I try other brands and forms).

Actually, you might want to use the metal colander no matter WHAT you're feeding - just to check the quality and keep a close eye on what is going into your horse. As I have said before, I've found foreign objects of one kind or another in every feed I've ever bought - and I have only ever bought high end feeds. (the only exception is Hansen Mueller oats)

Again, I am impressed with the response from the Mid-West AGri. My local feed store told me Saturday that the manager called last week and got all the information from them (bag numbers, lot numbers) so he could proceed with sorting this out. 

It's nice to deal with a responsive company and I'm looking forward to being able to go back to their product.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

warming up, cooling back down

Our wacky winter is continuing - we've had a few days of nice warm sunshine, 70 today, and tomorrow we're looking at ice pellets and low of 18 degrees.

Keil Bay and I had the first ride in over a week yesterday - he had chiro this past week and with the weather weirdness we had not gotten in riding time. He seemed a bit stiff and I fretted some - thinking that maybe I'm asking too much of him. But I decided that even if we poke along it's probably better to keep riding than to stop. Today was totally different - very nice ride and lovely forward trot work. 

In hindsight I think his front frogs are shedding (and there's a longer story involving hoof trims which I don't really want to go into - suffice it to say I am seeing the value of allowing some self-trimming to go on and let the riding do the work instead of the rasp) and that he was just tender yesterday.

We had a bluebird flying around the arena as we rode and that was nice. I think spring is coming but it's clearly not here yet!

In other news, if anyone is using MidWest Agri plain beet pulp shreds, PLEASE make sure you rinse and soak and rinse and check for STONES.

I had been finding stones in the shreds for several months now - not daily, but off and on. Since I rinse the shreds in a metal colander, I realized I could easily hear them when rinsing - and I also have hands in the beet pulp as I rinse and inspect it carefully.

I decided that I needed to check more rigorously and when I opened the last bag, I started collecting what I found in individual ziplock bags each batch. What I found is rather stunning. After the second day I contacted the company to let them know that I was quite concerned. The quality control director emailed me within an hour and asked for photos, which I was more than happy to send. I also sent two days worth of stones at their request. They are supposedly checking into this and seemed to take it very seriously - I have continued to collect what I find, as I wanted to finish out this bag and have the entire "collection" of what was in it. 

I'll post some photos here later this week - but there are stones bigger than chickpeas as well as many tiny stones. 

While I'm happy that the company responded so quickly, I have switched to Blue Seal beet pulp pellets until further notice. 

The only way I reliably find these is by listening and sliding the wet shreds across the metal colander - they are not visible just by looking, and I can't feel the tiny stones just by running my hands through. 

I know I'll be complaining about ticks and fire ants and fleas and flies but I have to say it - I am ready for spring!!