Reluctant Cowgirl

April Showers

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We’ve had a week of weather here in the inland Northwest. It hasn’t gotten out of the 40s and most days included quiet bouts of sunshine interrupted by random bursts of wind, rain, snow, hail, and graupel. Today has been a constant steady drizzle. I’m off for a few days of camping and hiking in Arizona tomorrow, and I couldn’t be happier about it unless I was taking the mustang with me.

I did ride a couple times during breaks in the weather and followed through on my promise to do stirrupless and bareback work. I have the sore muscles to prove it. I’ve also been focusing on hip opening yoga moves at night in front of the TV. When I did ride in the saddle I lengthened my stirrups and while it didn’t quite feel natural it wasn’t full-blown OHMYGOD IMMAFALLOFF either. Progress.

I got the fancy camera out for a bit during the ugliest weather day and caught Sam and Henry in full-blown stir-crazy mode. They have been taking their frustrations with the weather out on each other and both (mostly Sam) are covered in cuts and dings.

(Please note the final frame of old man Rube, thankful that he is no longer Henry’s whipping boy.)

I’ve been trying like hell to not turn these animals out on grass this spring. It’s hard when I know how much they enjoy big acreage and the variety and movement that comes with it, but Henry’s weight has been out of control for a long time and I’m finally making headway. Rube does get let out by himself because he’s thirty-something years old and allowed to eat as much as he wants, and Henry gets snacks after working, but Sam is just SOL and tells us how he feels about it regularly.

Hopefully the weather will start taking a turn for the better after I return. We are currently one month out from the endurance ride weekend I plan to attend and trail ride/volunteer at, and I still have no idea how I will contain my animal there. It has been a long and frustrating search for panels that don’t weigh a hundred pounds or cost a thousand dollars, and at this point I’m considering throwing my hands in the air and using the battery-powered electric set-up I bought last year.

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Winter Water Woes No More

The winter of 2016-2017 was brutal here in northeast Oregon. From late November to early March the temperature got above 32 degrees F maybe as many times as I can count on one hand. Probably fewer. I did not keep accurate records. But it was cold. The average temperature for December and January was probably about 10 F. I could be exaggerating but probably not. I take being cold very seriously.

We had just moved to the little off-grid ranch we now own, and at the time had no idea what we were in for. The only frost-free hydrant near the barn was busted from cows itching themselves on it for the few years that this place sat unoccupied by humans. The other frost-free was far enough away that if you walked a 5 gallon bucket from there to the barn the water might freeze in the time it took you. We wound up hoisting buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’ve complained about this before, probably on this blog, so I apologize if it’s getting repetitive but believe me it was terrible and I can’t forget about it.

Enter winter 2017-2018. “Winter” here is a thing that starts in November definitely, maybe sometimes as early as September so it’s best to be ready by August. We didn’t close on the place until mid-September, and then because we had shoveled so much money into the actual home-buying process it took me a month or two to dig deep and buy the non-electric horse waterer of my off-grid dreams. Then it took a few more weeks to find the free time (and more money) to rent a little mini excavator and buy the other supplies needed to install said dream waterer. We were cutting it close, folks.

BUT! I am happy to report that on the second weekend of November we still had cooperative weather and capable human hands and enough money in the bank to rent that digging machine and make dreams a reality.

This is how we did it.
Step 1. Get to know your excavator.

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Step 2. Employ a very serious supervisor (or two).

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Supervisor No. 1

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Supervisor No. 2

Step 3. A bunch of technical stuff that I didn’t pay much attention to because plumbing is scary and I am not qualified.

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Toward the end of the technical stuff

Step 4. Demonstrate and hope your animals are smart/thirsty enough to figure it out.

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Ta da! (Please also note all the chew marks on his face from play fighting with his brother)

The old horse is persistent/belligerent and has very little fear of anything and therefore was the first to learn. The mustang is probably the most intelligent, but a little more wary, so he was next. The mule, who is supposed to be very smart, was also very nervous about the New Thing in his paddock and therefore waited a couple weeks to catch on completely. I saw him drinking from puddles and generally acting very put-out until he finally decided that since the others were doing it the thing must be safe enough to approach. We don’t have the greatest water pressure so if it’s not filling fast enough he tries to put his hoof in there to show us all how frustrated he is. The waterer was available with an optional chew-guard which we did not elect to purchase. I may suggest they also offer a hoof-guard.

We’ve had some wicked cold nights already, and the waterer is reliably providing above-freezing (taking the temperature of the water coming up is on my to-do list) water on demand to our three equines. When the snow really flies we’ll have to make sure it stays cleared, but otherwise it’s pretty low-maintenance. I was a little worried about the cold metal paddle being brutal to touch with a muzzle in frigid temperatures, but so far no one seems to care. I only have to water the chickens and ducks each day now, and I could not be happier about that. Bring it on, winter.


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We Bought a Ranch

This sounds like a big deal, but we’ve already lived in the place for almost a year, so it’s less of a big deal than you would imagine. All the really physically hard stuff (the moving, the driving around trying to figure out where you might want to live) has been done a long time. The mentally and financially hard stuff (I would not suggest buying a 156-acre off-grid property from an overseas buyer as a first real estate transaction) is just barely in the rear-view mirror. Okay, yes, you’re right, the financially hard stuff doesn’t really stop when you’re a homeowner, especially one with equines.

The as-yet-unnamed ranch is 156 acres and not on the modern electric grid. We use solar power generated from panels that are almost as old as I am. There’s a back-up generator that we must run on what I consider too regular a basis; roughly every other day when the sun does not shine 100%. But the solar upgrade is not a first year priority because I already lived through one winter with outdoor animals and no ability to keep water from freezing – the system was not made to heat water buckets. So our first big project as ranch owners is buying and installing a Bar-Bar-A waterer. Is this overkill? You might think so. The things are not cheap, and the installation is a bear. But let me tell you about last winter. Sometime around Thanksgiving the temperatures dipped below freezing and they did not get above freezing again until February. Also around Thanksgiving the first snow fell, which was followed by the second, third, fourth…I lost track somewhere around tenth snow. We had a lot of snow. We had brutally cold temperatures. (The lowest I saw was -26 F, and the average for December through January was probably around 10F.) It was freeze-your-water-trough-through-and-through-then-cover-it-in-two-feet-of-snow cold. I carried 5-gallon buckets (3/4 full let’s be honest) from the kitchen sink out to the (then two) equines multiple times daily. We now have twice as many equines. It is something I do not wish to re-live.

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This much ice was in the water trough on September 16th. 😦

The other big pre-winter chore is buying hay, which we find challenging owning only a pickup and stock trailer (i.e. no flat bed, no tractor, so large/round bales are out of the question at this point). Last week we got 2.72 tons of grass hay (22 bales in the pick-up bed and 38 in the trailer) and need to make a second trip to get at least that much again.

There are other chores/projects that would make winter easier on us and the equines, including

  • improving the flooring in the run-in portion of the barn and adding bedding,
  • creating a doorway from the run-in into the barn,
  • building/installing a covered hay feeder,
  • enlarging the windows from the run-in into the barn, and
  • putting up temporary walls on the run-in to keep the snow from piling up inside and creating a frozen/muddy mess.
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Yes, mustang, I too feel like the windows are small and useless.

However the structure of the run-in is warped from several years of cattle poo piling up inside and other abuse/neglect, so it’s a larger project than just the . If we rent an excavator for the waterer installation we may make some headway there.

We’re off to a clinic with the mustang’s OG trainer this weekend, and hoo boy, before you know it it will be Thanksgiving again and I sure hope some of these items are checked off the list before the snow flies.