Pony Litter

At the end of the summer, the Sister and Brother-in-law had the drainage in the paddock area re-done. We get so much rain that all the land ends up with standing water, including both the paddock and the pastures. If it’s not properly sloped, graveled, and channeled, the horses, with their big hooves, can turn any ground into the biggest mud bath. It’s not good for the land and not good for the horses.

There are now french drains all the way around the sacrifice area and across the paddock, carried through one of the pastures to a sump area which then drains into a lovely ditch that continues into the county’s system. Additionally, the surface of the paddock is covered in fabric and then sand gravel. In this soft, yet bone dry area, the horses can walk, sleep, chase each other, and roll around. It’s just great.

I can now easily clean up after the horses. The paddock area is firm and dry. Using a hay fork, I can sift through the gravel and pick everything out that needs to go to the compost. It’s very much like cleaning the cat box, only on a monumental scale. (One bale in equals one bale out.) We’ve started calling it “pony litter”.

Broadband, at Last!

As of noon today, all three houses on the farm were hooked up to high-speed DSL. We’ve been waiting for a decade for this and today it finally happened. It’s almost unbelievable.

Frontier, a smaller telco company, recently bought all the rural telephone lines across the nation from Verizon, with the ideal of providing fiber broadband to every one of their customers. Then they started rewiring every area that was still without a connection. They installed new equipment, hired new, locally-based customer service representatives, and started contacting customers, letting them know that broadband was coming.

Frontier has discovered that rural broadband can be profitable. Once the capital cost of the initial equipment and wiring is covered, the return on investment can be quite good, providing management maintains a handle on costs. Distance will diminish profits somewhat but does not eliminate them. In a down market, Frontier is growing and hiring, simply by providing services to rural areas.

The adoption rate around here, I’m sure, is going to be high. A number of neighbors called me, asking if it was really true that we were going to get a high-speed connection. They wanted to sign up right away. Then, the techs who came to install my system said they already had 200 requests for new connections that weekend.

Today, I dropped some of the last squash to be harvested at The Neighbor’s house. She, in the few days she’s had broadband, has discovered online gaming. She took the pumpkin and carnival squash from my hands and, without even setting them down, went back to slaying the enemy’s cavalry before they overran her castle. Apparently, she said, there is no pause. I have an indelible image in my mind of her hacking at the enemy troops while cradling squash in her left arm. Truly, she’s a bonafide rural geek.

Doc Hammill’s Draft Horse Workshop…

…or how to drastically challenge the limits of my comfort zone.

Cathy Greatorex and Dr. Doug Hammill drive a Forecart with a Cultivator

Two weeks ago, I attended Doc’s workshop to learn more about driving and working with my horses at home. It was an eye-opening experience and, after so much time spent in the technical world, a great way to reconnect with a more natural system of thinking. In so many ways, I had to rearrange my methods for solving a problem. I had to think much more like a horse.

Horses predominently think about two things: protecting themselves and getting along with their group (that is, when they aren’t thinking about food). By keying into that mindset, we can start to eliminate the confusion of communicating with another species. (At least, that’s how the theory works in my head.) Theory and practice are, in the real world, quite different. Doc’s workshop takes you from theory to practice, in a very safe learning environment. (I didn’t get a single bruise or scrape the whole time I was there, unlike working here on the farm.)

Three Fjords!

After adequate preparation, I was handed the reins on the very first day. I drove Ann, the Suffolk Punch, down the road, up the hill, and back. Then I remembered to breathe. (I should do that once in awhile…) As I got used to handling the reins over the next week, the actual breathing part got easier.

Doc and Cathy teach four workshops a year at their ranch in Eureka, Montana. Each workshop has no more than five students. This means that we had a big enough group to learn from each other, yet each of our personal questions were addressed. In the six days I spent there, we learned how to:

  • Following the side rake.
    Side Rake in the hay field.

    bring the horses in from the pasture,

  • groom the horses and care for hooves,
  • put on the harness, including fitting and adjusting it
  • hitch to carts and wagons
  • ground drive
  • skid logs (little ones, mind you)
  • rake hay
  • use a walking plow with a single horse
  • cultivate with a team

That’s a great deal of information for one week. My head is still swimming, I tell you.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve been able to change a few things to make working with the horses a bit easier. They are now coming in from the fields a bit more readily and I’m understanding their actions and motivations better. My blind quarter horse will take more work, but I now have, I believe, better ways to deal with his confusion. Because he can’t see, he’s very sensitive to both sound and touch which makes training him a delicate operation. I’m working on having him stand quietly and we’re very slowly making some progress.

Doc and Ann

I’ve gained new confidence to work with my horses (and not screw them up). I can drive a team now. (I know! It’s shocking!) I just need to learn to breathe while doing so.

Other students from Doc’s workshops have gone onto full-time farming with horses and even driving competitions. If you’ve ever considered animal-powered work, this is definitely a great way to start learning. You can find out more information at his site, http://www.dochammil.com/. Many times, during the winter, he will travel throughout the West teaching classes. Catch one near you!