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January 3, 2014: The Year of the Horse

A neighbor, Alice Ciostek, just sent me a photo, a headshot of a white horse. It read “Year of the Horse.” Of course, I, a horse owner, found this to be quite significant. The year of the horse rolls around every twelve years. The last time was in 2002. That was the year we moved to Alaska from Montana. It was also the year that I took Katie Long’s Horsemanship course and became a pen cleaner.

This year – what’s in store for me and my horses? Probably more days like today. I went for two trail rides. I rode Tinni on the first and the three dogs tagged along. I rode Raudi on the second and Pete rode Signy, and Hrimmi

Raudi and Hrimmi

tagged along. A good time (I think) was had by all.

It was snowing – it was a wet, heavy snow. It was the sort that quickly soaks through gloves and mittens. I’d put two sodden pairs of gloves on the enamel horse water pot lids by noon. (The pots are kept on top of the woodstove, which in the winter is nearly always in use.)

I was smart and wore a windbreaker and rain pants over my inner layers. It was 28° F, so my feet did not get overly cold. I refrained from wearing my Steger Mukluks because they tend to get wet in wetter weather.

I cleaned the horse pen a few times. I hoped to stay ahead of the snowfall, which in short order covers the manure. I felt as good about doing this as I did about exercising the horses.

Yesterday, Pete remarked to Terri (jokingly) that she could, in the spring get a Bobcat into her two horse pens and scrape them down.(Jokingly because Terri’s pens are as clean as mine). Terri’s response to Pete was “If that,” meaning that many horse owners don’t even bother to clean their pens at all.

“If that. . .” I like it. This was a clever way of acknowledging that some do less than minimum when it comes to dealing with livestock manure.

So now, here I go – I am hopping right onto my soapbox. And this time I’m not denying the fact that I’m doing this. In fact, I’m doing this knowing that I’m not going to change any one horse person’s practices. As one of my former teachers, that is an individual who taught a wide range of horse courses, once said to me, “horse people are set in their ways.” He then added “and even more so than any other type of livestock owner.” And my own experiences with horse people have led me to believe what he said is absolutely true.

But I’m going on a tear because heck, it is the year of the horse. And so I’ll be doing good if I can get just one person to put a manure management plan into place.

Admittedly, Pete and I didn’t have any sort of plan in mind when we brought Siggi and Raudi home. Rather, we figured out things as we went along. I would of course have preferred that we did have a plan, for this would have saved me a great deal of time. This was not the case. We started out with just a few compost stations, which I hand turned. And as our horse numbers grew, so did the amount of compost that I had to deal with. Fortunately, local gardeners stepped up to the plate and took a lot of our manure. It was happenstance that we made it easy for them by putting the poop in five-gallon buckets.

We eventually built a shed, which I began calling the “compost facility.” This then, is where we’re currently putting the horse waste. Admittedly, we still (in this respect) are functioning by the seat of our pants. It’s January and our two large manure stalls are filling quickly. I suspect that in the next few weeks we’ll resume hauling the excess up to the sunken in area up behind the garden. Come spring, I’m not sure what we are going to do with it all. We will turn the compost facility waste with our tractor. I plan on selling it when the decomposition process is complete. I am also hoping that gardeners will (as they usually do) appear in the spring and haul off what we don’t compost.

So we are, when it comes to manure management, still flying by the seat of our pants. But at least we have a plan in place. Plain and simple, most Alaskan horse people don’t have a clue as what to do with the stuff once they bring their horses home. It is an afterthought. Some (like us), out of necessity, soon figure out that they need to figure out something – and fast. Here in Alaska, most horses are kept in stalls or pens because pasturage is in short supply. Even so, pastures, like smaller enclosures, need tending to.

People who board horses often presume that the stable owner will clean the stalls or pens themselves, or find someone else to do this. This is a wrong-headed presumption. The smaller, backyard boarding stables seem to be the worst. The owners of such places often have a lot going on, and therefore they fall behind on cleanup. The best horse owners then step in and do the cleanup. Either that or they move the horses elsewhere.

Now we come to it, the most important part of this dispatch. Having a manure management plan in place is important. If you don’t, then your horse or horses will suffer the consequences. For instance, your horse may come down with thrush. This is nasty, foul smelling fungal infection that affects the frog and sole of horses’ hooves. Plain and simple, it’s hoof rot. Many will treat this ailment using Thrushbuster or White Lightening. However, the root cause, a mucky pen often caused by excess manure and urine, is still there.

Horses that continually stand in their own shit also acquire an increased parasite load. Plain and simple, parasites kill. Even a minimal amount of manure can contribute to this problem. So no matter what, horse owners should regularly deworm their horses.

There is also another, related problem, and this is that the dust from the manure and ammonia from the urine can cause respiratory problems.

Lastly, manure, decomposed, is a soil amendment. So to leave it sitting someplace is a wasteful practice.

There, I have said what needs to be said. I am glad that I spoke up for my equine friends; after all, this is the year of the horse.

Next: 4. 1/4/14: Double-dipping, Search and Rescue and Herding