A horseless winter
I knew the property had a “drainage issue” when I bought it. The sellers told me, and my neighbor told me. The day my offer was accepted, in December of 2011, I went out to celebrate finally buying my own small piece of rural property by standing in the ankle-deep mud of my new pasture. Yeah, it was bad, but … well, Mud Season is one of the two known to all horse-owners, Fly Season being the other. The pasture was still ankle-deep in mud when I closed in February of 2012, but again, if you have horses, you’ll have mud. I bought a pair of Muck Boots in preparation for last winter, but thought everything would be fine otherwise.
In December of 2012, it rained for five days straight, and the pasture was under water — it was, in effect, a lake — for the better part of two months. Even then, it could have been worse: Had it rained a little harder for a little longer, my barn would have flooded. But the rain stopped just in time, so I had two dry stalls for the horses and the $3,000 worth of hay stayed dry so I could feed them. But I knew I had been lucky, and couldn’t rely on luck again. For this year, I needed a short-term solution. A longer-term solution — fixing the drainage issue — would have to wait until I have money to afford it.
The first step was getting down to two horses, because the barn has only two stalls, and the third “stall” is a makeshift affair that doesn’t shelter much — it faces into the wind — and floods with the pasture. On short notice last December, reducing the “herd” meant giving up my very best (in terms of training, conformation, markings and temperament) horse, Patrick. I was lucky to be able to donate him to the Sacramento Police Department, where Officer Patrick now has several arrests under his cinch and a fan club.
That left River, my Kentucky Mountain Horse, and Haggin, my off-track Thoroughbred. At the beginning of summer, I started thinking about how to prepare for another wet winter with the two of them. In late summer, I had my hay shipment stacked on double pallets, so even if water got into the barn there might be a chance to save my hay. I had a “curtain” made from a tarp added to the front of the barn (the original barn doors disappeared heaven-knows-when) to protect the hay from wind-blown rain. I started getting load after load of wood chips dumped in the stalls, on the pasture’s lowest spots and on a “road” from the house to barn. Fortunately, one of my neighbors owns a tree company, and he and his crew are happy to empty their trucks at the end of a day of trimming and chipping — for free. I’ve been taking all they’ll give me, and as long as the pasture is dry enough for them to drive onto I’ll take more.
I had done all I could do: I was prepared for rain and mud, and praying for a winter without a concentrated series of water-heavy storms that would flood the pasture.
But then one of those things you never plan for happened. In my case, I ended up with a roommate who is an accomplished horse-trainer, and she decided to work on the horses while she was living here for a couple months. Since the rainy season was still months away, I brought over another friend’s horse who needed to have some refresher training before sale, the third kinda-stall being just fine in dry weather. As all three horses started shaping up beautifully under the daily training, I started looking to sell not only my friend’s horse (Casper) but also my Kentucky Mountain Horse (River). With those two gone, I could afford to board Haggin somewhere dryer for the winter, leaving nothing to chance.
River and Casper went out on trials last week. River now appears to be sold, and I hope Casper will soon pass muster for a final sale as well. As for Haggin, he’s not for sale, but the wonderful training my friend put on him while she was living here means his possibilities have become much broader as well. He has come a long way from his status as a broken “pasture pet” of an ex-racehorse. Although he’s still too tall and too fast for me to ride, he has become sound enough that he’ll be going out on a trial as as a low-level show and lesson horse.
In one of those “you can’t make up stuff like this” the barn where he’ll be going — Gold Country Equestrian Center — is the one where I learned to ride, some 30 years ago. Still owned by the same family, in fact.
Haggin is not for sale — I love that horse. But I think he’ll be happier being ridden regularly, and I know he’ll be happy and healthier not standing in water. He leaves for the new barn on Wednesday, and I will be horse-free here for the time being. I may offer my two stalls to a neighbor who’s willing to chance that this winter will not be as bad as the last one, but if I do, she’ll be caring for her own horses. I’ll be at the gate with carrots and apples, and feeding/mucking in a pinch. But this winter? I’m taking it off from horse care, thank you very much. Horse-riding? We’ll see. I’m much braver a rider on Haggin in an arena than on the trails around here, and I may be taking lessons again where he’s being boarded.
The hay, by the way, is for sale.
Image: Haggin, top, and Haggin in training.