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Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

The Way We Were

Can you imagine what hoof prints will do here

The geldings’ winter break is over and now I have to fight the wet ground conditions. Don’t have an indoor and the boys hate the small outdoor ring so if the trails are too wet to ride upon well, it’ll be a long spring.

I can not help but wonder about riding in times when that was the main form of transportation. Horses were generally shorter and stockier back when our country was forming and even on through the early decades of the 20th century. Were their feet, in general, wider? A wider foot doesn’t sink as far into the ground. How did people deal with well used paths and erosion?

The differences go further. Since the Garden State has become so urbanized I see a lot of changes occurring in the reaction of our horses. With 3 major airports within an hour’s drive and numerous small airports in the vicinity there is always the sound of a motor in the air. The dirt road the barn lives on has become much busier and noisier in the past 15 years. UPS, FedEX, and USPS trucks all have outrageously noisy engines. The grain man bought a new huge, noisy truck, more kids up the road-equal more school busses. New hay tractor with a Harley Davidson rumble. And all these vehicles are large boxes: walls that move past the horses and box them in.

Put a loud engine on this- how would you feel when it passed

Oh, let’s not forget the landscapers, I am the only one I know of that still cuts her own grass. Everyone else has a lawn service with a tanker truck for spraying, a tag-a-long for mowers and blowers and often another truck for crew. And the audio pollution from those mowers even hurts MY deaf ears.

The guys have become increasingly uncomfortable on their home road with all these new, noisy boxes. I am a lot more uncomfortable in bi-ped mode myself on these roads. It is more than just the amount of traffic, it is the size and sound of the vehicles as well.

I am finding more friends my age turning to hacking. Economics and age make us turn to the cheaper sport of trail riding. It should be a bit safer too, but all to often we are using the competition horse as the trail horse. It is what we have in the barn and we have a love and rapport for the animal. It might not be the best animal for negotiating the sights and sounds on today’s trails.

Again I think back to the style of horses used in our country when hauling, hoeing or hunting were the main uses of these animals. Slow and steady surely would have been valuable characteristics. Can you imagine posting 5 miles to town on the movement of an FEI horse? Suspension has its place, but it isn’t on a ride to school everyday.

How about John Adams riding all the way to Philadelphia through the winter snows on a reining champion? I don’t think he wanted any short stops and starts.

Today’s “grade” horse that most people walk past may have been the more valuable horse back in the day, and that day may dawn again. But there are limits to what any animal can comfortably cope with in its environment. This spring if your horse seems a bit more “up” then normal, take a look at the changes in the sights sounds and smells in the surrounding area over the past year or two. The poor beast may have hit his set-point. If we are to be good stewards for all our animals we need to be thinking about the total changes in everything in their environments not just the feed and hay.

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Horse Park of NJ

It’s pretty cold outside, here in the Garden State, and I am inclined to “let my fingers do the walking” for anything I need. Rather than using the telephone, which birthed that phrase, my fingers walk over my computer keys. I started looking at trails to ride when my tech-savvy son introduced me to Google Earth. Wow, pretty nifty, I can get the lay out of a show grounds before I arrive as well as learn the best route to take, whether there are hills, lakes, and shade in the area. Check out the Horse Park of New Jersey. I’m guessing those back fields are where cross-country fences go.

Hmm, do I want to board here

Oh, I like this. I then wandered to some advertised barns, hmm, that one doesn’t really have much pasture space, this one looks like a dry lot, Nice ring, hey, trailer parking! But do I really want my horse living here?

All of this information is gleaned from a bird’s eye view from the Satellites above Google Earth (e-gads, I’m assigning ownership to the earth, what’s wrong with me!)

Check it out while you are planning your riding adventures, be they trails or shows.

I get excited about the picture value of things like this. I’m an information junkie. But after the first hour of “ah-ha” moments, another side of my brain starts knocking on the door. That little suspicious grey matter always arrives in my room when I am at the height of gaiety.

It’s a privacy issue. Short of the military or government, we can’t tell the satellite it isn’t allowed to look down on us or take a picture of us. That big house behind the gate, just get an address close by and you can look in.  Who said it was okay in the first place? It’s a moot point; it isn’t going to change.

Enter the world of algorithms. I neither know, understand or like numbers, but I admit that just about all of life can be described, analyzed and saved as a set of numbers. I know that computer programs exist with facial recognition and it is an algorithm that works these wonders. How long do you think it will be before the Department of Environmental Protection has a computer program developed to look at satellite photos of farms and analyze where are the manure piles, what’s the animal count, is the water fenced off, where is the erosion control, do the permits match up with what has been done.

I don’t think this will happen in the next 10 years. But year 11? You know it’s going to happen. Perhaps it is happening now and we don’t even know about it.

Now, aside from the privacy issue, we shouldn’t get too concerned if we have been good stewards of our land and animals and are following the rules applicable to us. (Another plug to work to make sure we get rules we can actually follow.) But I’ve worked on horse questionnaires. There is a large percentage of owners who never answer these questionnaires because they are afraid of the government coming  on to their land and snooping. Turns out you can snoop from the skies

So in the end, will Google Earth lead to more people answering questionnaires. After all, if I can’t hide anything anymore, might as well stand up and be counted.

Down by the shore

Hey, hey, hey,  what’s behind the fence of the house I wondered about last year. WOW!

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thumbnail.aspxWe have a lot of deer in New Jersey. Odd to hear, I know. Most people think we just raise asphalt, oil refineries and corrupt politicians. But New Jersey actually has more deer now than it did in colonial times and our property has more than its fair share of the white tails. Although in an old neighborhood near town, we have a bachelor herd of 12 (their antlers are getting REALLY big), and a harem of about 15, that trade tracks throughout the day and night. So I’m pretty comfortable with the creatures. I almost have to push them out of the way to get to my door.

But I wasn’t comfortable today, when T-man stopped dead and slid sideways on the trail. Mokes came up short behind. I looked up and saw a buck with a “Hartford Insurance” size rack on him. In fact I’m quite sure the rack was glistening white from being sharpened and all the tips were pointing at me.

Sometimes animals are subtle with their body language, but that wasn’t the case today. The buck was out for bear. He eyed us and advanced. Oh, yeah, it’s rutting season in New Jersey. (here’s a link describing  seasonal deer behavior )

While I was thinking, “uh-oh, we have trouble,” T-man and Mokes had taken matters into their own hands and had us already headed back the way we came. I turned to witness the buck continue to stalk us. I was not in a good situation, everyone who knows me can attest that I should never be depended on in an emergency. I tend to freeze and just focus on how bad it’s going to hurt or how dead I’m going to be. In this case I was attempting to rouse myself to thought, as I was responsible for another human being who was severely limited in sight. Thinking the only thing I had to use was my flimsy dressage whip, we turned a corner and the buck let us be.

After the adrenalin relented I started to consider the boys’ reactions. They stopped and turned around, but there was no fear or panic in their bodies. Their pace only quickened slightly, which it always does on the way home. I had a lot of fear going and they could clearly smell that and feel my tension. But it seemed not to upset them very much.

thumbnail-1.aspxThe same is not true for the time we came into bear territory. At that time I had no fear because I didn’t know anything was afoot. But T-man stopped dead, tensed every part of his body and started darting everywhere. Mokes, the cement in every relationship, was just as unhappy. We dismounted and went another way and never saw the bear in person, but saw evidence of it.

So what sets a horse off about other animals? I can understand the bird and the squirrel’s quick movements distract an eye design to pick up predators prowling. But they aren’t fearful of the foxes and coyotes that pass through the pasture, or the deer jumping in and out. Bears set them off no matter what and it would appear that a buck in rut is nothing to get excited about. Are there certain animal smells that warn of danger to them. If so, why not the buck? Clearly, during rutting season bucks are laying down scents full of testosterone.

There is photographed documentary that animals of prey and predator can gather at a water hole in sight of each other. Does location make a difference? In the animal world is there “neutral” territory, and if so how is it learned or designated? Do my horses not worry about animals in their pasture because they figure the animal knows it’s their territory? Or do the boys not care because they know they are free to run? Is it the other animal’s reactions? If so why didn’t my guys panic, because clearly the buck was following us. Or are they just used to deer, bears have just re-entered the territory in the past two years.

Perhaps they knew better than me. Perhaps they knew the buck did not have the intent to kill, just to confirm we really were leaving. The bear episode was in the spring, did they smell the alertness of a mom for her cubs?

How much of an animal’s reaction is due to territory, smell, sight, and/or interpretation.

The latter gives great pause for thought. To make a distinction due to place or body posturing indicates a higher level of thought than most of us would assign to our beasts of burden.

When you start looking at cognitive function, making distinction according to time or place is a different brain function than just instinct.

deerWell, the boys and I are deciding to ride only in mid-day when most of the deer are scarce, (yesterday was late in the day.) And I must admit I will travel with a new level of awareness and a new interpretation for the phrase, “The buck stops here.”

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sitting on artillery in Iraq

hot and tired in Iraq

On warm days a good nose can tell which stall the smell of ammonia is coming from. Today it’s in T-man’s and Moke’s. We’ve had spring-like pasture all summer and I just got a load of new hay. The combination tipped the scale on protein. For once my mind didn’t hang around grazing with the horses, instead it shot to the container of protein supplement I just sent my soldier son in Iraq. His unit is always working out and trying to build muscle so he bought out the store when he came home for his two weeks R & R.

His unit is stationed in the south of Iraq and has lived the summer in 120-130 degree heat. Add in 50 pounds of full battle-rattle and their socks are soaked with sweat running down their body before they walk out the door. Dehydration is a serious enemy where they are.

maxing out the thermometer

maxing out the thermometer

And do you know what your body does with most of the excess protein you eat? It gets rid of it, washes it right down the toilet.  So I’m concerned about my son taking a protein supplement in the heat and becoming dehydrated. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to educate him about protein and heat and that brought me back to the horses.

Because they handle protein a lot like we do.

Some excess protein goes into fat, but most excess protein is broken down in the kidneys and excreted in the urine. One of the elements protein breaks into is ammonia. Anytime you get a strong ammonia smell in the barn, someone is most likely gobbling more protein than they need. It’s a pretty effective indicator.

Normally I don’t obsess about that. But thinking of my son made me realize I need to do a better job of regulating my horses’ protein through the hot summer months. The Army can and does mandate how much water my son needs to drink each day in the field. But I can’t do that with my horses. Unless I syringe the water into them, I am at the mercy of their thirst indicator and urinating doesn’t always trigger the idea to drink more water.

My guys lose buckets of water in sweat during the summer. Being Icelandics with thick skin and deeply embedded veins, there are weeks when they are drenched in sweat just standing still in the shade. I rinse them off, put them under fans, elect not to work them on “Bermuda High” days, ride in the cool of the day, ride in shady routes, and ride in the river. I do everything I can to cool their body–– yet I never think about the excess protein they are eating and how much liquid they are urinating because of it.

I’ll keep it simple. Just imagine their body as a big bag of water. If water is oozing out through microscopic pores AND through a small hole in the bag, the end result is less water in the bag at a faster rate. Now the bag needs a certain volume of water in it to make it function at its maximum. All that water loss compromises the bag’s function. Not even going to think about the way that changes the concentration of electrolytes and blood ph.

I don’t know of too many riders, aside from the endurance folk, who even think about dehydration as a contributing factor to a poor performance in the ring or on the trail. A number of riders add electrolytes when their horses are sweating. I sure do, and do you know how I add those electrolytes? I add them with a cup of high protein grain so the boys will eat it. I feel my head molding to the shape of Homer Simpson’s –– DOLT. I just gave them a supplement to help them keep and retain water in a supplement that will make them eliminate water.  ( for the science bent- I am well aware of the other functions of electrolytes- I’m just dealing with hydration at the moment.)

We are heading into our cold months here in Jersey. Indian Summer will keep the grass strong and growing for another 2-3 weeks and then the rich green will die off and the smell of ammonia will dissipate. I’ll have the whole winter to ponder the problem. A lot will depend on the climate. Another great growing season means I really have to do something. If the rains stop early and the sun dries up the grasses, I’ll be able to skate by. Whatever the outcome, I am putting “Hydration” on my list of suspects next time my guys just aren’t “right.” I hope my son does too.

Feeling worn out in Iraq

Feeling worn out in Iraq

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Dare I say it, we are having an election this year and it is making me fearful for my horse. But my horse, who is not registered with any political party, is taking me to task about securing his future. Specifically he would like something in his water bucket when he needs to cleanse his pallet.

Water glistens from every corner of New Jersey in an aerial view; yet, we are running out of water. You see, all that glistening water is running off to sea and is not available for my horse to drink. Or for me to drink for that matter.

Granted we are johnny-come-latelys to the water issue because we have been blessed with an abundant supply. New Jersey is  the most densely populated state in the nation and all those houses, roads, offices, and swimming pools are impenetrable to rain drops seeking a way into the ground and back into the water supply. Instead those little drops of life roll down the impervious cover right into a drainage system that floats it off to a river and out to the Atlantic. Forever out of the reach of Moke’s water bucket.

This year we have a ballot question. Will the residents allow our heavily indebted state to take on a new $400 million debt to purchase open space. I suspect a few other states may be asking a similar question. It’s a tough call during these hard economic times. And sad to say, most residents are thinking, ball fields, soccer fields, parks. Instead they should be thinking food supply and water. The open space issue in New Jersey designates that 40% of the money go into farmland preservation, but all of the open space (sans parking lots) will allow the rain drops to go back into the water supply.

New Jersey hasn’t hit the critical point that so many of our Western states have hit. But it’s coming, it’s coming to all the states. We would probably do ourselves a service to include in the ballot description, “and to provide a rechargeable source of water for the state residents and animals.DSC02388

So Mokes has pushed me out the barn door and stamped that I need to use my squeaky voice and ask people if they have thought about open space and water. He has a whole list of other things he wants me to find out about and ask people about too. ‘Cause he is scared about his future and horses have a way of making you move if they’re scared.

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