Sunday, November 30, 2008

Winter Blues

Okay, so it's not really winter yet. We've got a good 21 days until the formal arrival of the coldest, least riding-friendly season, and we should be making good use of the time. I, for one, am not.

Oh, I know all the stats about global warming and climate change, and I've (nearly) resigned myself to the idea that future autumns, like the current version, will probably be rife with chill winds, rain and early ice. Cognizance does not make the heart grow fonder. While I'm doing my best to grab the rare half-hour ride when the footing and my mental state are both appropriate to the occasion, the gloomy skies and endlessly down-shifting temperatures are making me feel more like a hot toddy than a cold saddle.

Still, there are horse things to be done, and there's at least a modicum of pleasure in seeing each project completed. For instance, the stock tank de-icers have already been merrily de-icing the stock tanks for over a week now. The heated buckets have replaced the regular flat-backs in the barn, though it hasn't been cold enough to actually plug them in. I've got the York rake on the tractor, and I've begun the ritual manure removal from the area in the pasture around the bale feeder. A quick swipe daily until the temps drop to poop-freeze-minus-ten keeps the ground tidy and the horses free of frozen lumps under their feet. For now.

Perhaps the most depressing moment was the Laying On of the Blankets. I'm used to having to apply waterproof sheets in the fall to keep cold rain from soaking those nice, fluffy coats. I'm not at all used to having to put mid-weight blankets on until some time in late December or early January--Ice Storm Season here in the wilds of Jersey--so the annual dust festival that comes with unearthing all the winter finery I so carefully washed and packed in plastic in the spring brought an unusual number of four-letter-word moments this year. Leo was already shivering by the time I broke down and covered them up. That's just not right.

Now comes the true test of horsemanship: The working up to working out. My guys are used to having time off during the winter, but five months isn't reasonable. That means someday soon I'm going to have to figure out how to keep them in shape without any of us winding up frostbitten and disgusted. Zip, for one, is bored and beginning to look daggers at me when I wander out to check the troughs. He's not doing much reading, so the planetary climate issues are not pressing on his mind. What he's more concerned about is the dearth of cookies. Cookies come with work. No work; no cookies.

Yesterday I grabbed a brief sunny moment and a handful of cookies and went out to the pasture to discuss the problem with my Advisory Committee. For once, there was perfect attendance. I was surrounded instantly by big, buggy eyes. I said the magic word--COOKIE--and they couldn't move fast enough. The smilers were grinning, blinding me with the glare off their teeth; the ones who know how to bow looked like a chorus line, and Zip was line-dancing, throwing all his tricks into an extravaganza that would put the Rockettes to shame. Can we say bored horses?

At least that few minutes reminded me of why I do this. Whenever I come to the "I could be doing so many things if I didn't have the horses and the farm to worry about" point, they do something that just tickles the heck out of me. Then I remember.

And I go back to waiting for spring.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Financing Your Horse Life

Look at that face!
Who could say no to those ears?

It's not news that finances figure heavily into horse ownership. It's no surprise that the current economic situation is weighing on horse people more than most. Horses are not cheap. They're often free, but we in the horse world laugh at "free". Even free horses are expensive to keep. Riding is an expensive sport, period. What has been unusual has been the incredible growth spurt in the industry in the past fifteen or so years.

When the economy is good, people spend more on hobbies and activities. Horses can soak up money like bedding soaks up the stuff the horses leave behind. I don't know whether there has been research to define it, but I'm going to guess that the health of the economy can be measured by the horse world. From owning horses to betting on them, and from taking lessons to showing, disposable income aimed at the business end of horses causes that end to flourish and more and more people to join in the rush for our cash.

This may be a great time to buy a horse if you have lots of cash, a solid job that isn't in danger of dematerializing, and a death wish. There are literally tons of horses on the market for a fraction of their former prices. If you have the wherewithal to help out a desperate owner by giving his equine buddy a good home, jump on in with both boots and feel good about yourself while you play.

If, however, you own a horse and are struggling to make ends meet, don't bet the farm that someone will offer you top dollar for your pal, and don't take food out of the mouths of your babes to keep that horse life of yours afloat. Be resourceful! It's what horse people do best.

  • Get another job. That's an obvious first step. There aren't many great jobs available, but barn help is almost always a necessity. Post signs at the supermarket and tack and feed stores and take on barn-sitting jobs on the weekends. Work off lessons if you can. Work off some or all of your board. Work at a commercial farm for hay to feed your animals. Offer a feed pick-up-and-delivery service for a modest price that will cover gas and maybe earn you feed from the store.
  • Barn-sit for folks who actually have the money to own horses and still go on vacation or indulge in serious illnesses.
  • Half-lease your horse to another rider.
  • Buy more horses and offer them as leases for enough to cover your expenses and theirs (be sure to check your farm insurance before you try this).
  • Fire your barn help and look for someone who will work in exchange for riding time or board for their horse.
  • Learn to braid, groom, or hand-walk horses and post a sign for those services. Even in this economy, there are still show barns where you might come in handy.
  • Offer your horse to a lesson barn in exchange for his board and some riding time for you, just be aware that you will lose some control over his use.

Think! If you're smart enough to outsmart an animal that could kill you in a swipe, you can come up with creative ways to earn the right to keep him around and give him another shot at you.