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Favorite Barn Tools

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, September 05, 2013

Every barn has some standard stall cleaning equipment. There will be a broom or rake for the aisle floor, wheelbarrow or small dump wagon to lug manure in and of course, a manure fork.

Manure forks come in many versions. They can be all plastic or they can be a combo of metal and wood. The tines may be closely set or they may be farther apart. That setting may vary with whether you are cleaning up after draft horses or miniature horses.

The reality is that you will spend some time virtually every day with your pitchfork. You may barely get to say hi to your horse after you feed and water him and turn him out but you have a steady date with that fork. Every day without fail you will be hoisting manure out of the stall.

We have two manure forks. One was a Christmas present to me that has bright red metal tines. The point was that we would then have two manure forks so both my husband and I or the kids could do stalls at the same time. I like that fork ? I truly do. And I thought it was a clever gift idea.

But my heart belongs to the other manure fork. The metal tines have long lost any glossy paint. It is not rusted ? simply the patina of many, many years of wear and work. The wood is smooth under my hands and just ?feels right.? The other fork has lighter colored wood and feels nice too, but it is just not the same.

?My? manure fork and I have spent many hours together. We have cleaned up after horses at my parents? house in Massachusetts and now my small farm in upstate New York. I have scooped up manure from my first horse - a wonderful part Arabian - to a top event horse I was loaned and many others in between. The fork didn't discriminate between my crazy but talented Thoroughbred mare and my beautifully trained Morgan/Appaloosa cross.

Currently the fork helps me with an Arabian, an Appaloosa, a Quarter Horse, a donkey and a miniature horse. I even use it to strip the sheep and duck stalls. It is balanced perfectly for me despite some aging (mostly on my part). I have never gotten a blister form my fork or at least not that I remember.

Together we have spent hours doing what often serves as a stress reliever for horse lovers ? simply working in the barn. At times messy stalls may seem overwhelming; especially in the dead of winter. Still, the feeling of satisfaction when you bring a horse into a freshly cleaned stall with clean bedding is immense.

Funny, I have never gotten attached to my vacuum cleaner and a clean house just doesn't do the same things for my soul that a clean barn does!

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Most Horses Enjoy Work

August 28, 2013

It's not unusual to hear cries of "foul" from people in and out of the horse world, claiming that top equine athletes are abused, forced to work against their will, and are often abandoned if injured.

Not so, I say, as someone whose Bucket List used to include competing at Ledyard in three-day eventing and finishing the Tevis Cup. Yes, there are a few people who don't behave with compassion or in an ethical way, looking upon each horse as a piece of equipment. But few horsemen and horsewomen "at the top" act that way. After all, when horses are involved, we trust them with our lives in a very real way. If you're galloping toward a sturdy cross-country fence at a three-day event, you're literally trusting that horse with your life.

Horses who are competing and being worked regularly tend to get the best feed and veterinary care. Our Olympic horses were screened before each event. Some horses were pulled, usually by their riders, sometimes by veterinarians. Their riders "sucked it up" as they watched years of dreams and hopes, along with plenty of money, go down the drain.

I've always found my horses wanting to be worked. After all, they have a choice when they're out in a large pasture. When I call, they could decide not to come. The odds of me catching them in even a five-acre pasture aren't good. But my horses come. They enjoy being groomed and clearly even enjoy being ridden on most occasions.

There are certainly things horses prefer not to do. An individual horse may not like to jump. A horse learning collection may have sore muscles at first. I've heard a lot of flak about "abused" dressage horses. But, I've seen horses who have done musical freestyle rides perk up and start a routine on their own in a field when "their" music is played.

As a young horse-crazy girl, I read every horse book I could find. I remember one about a palomino polo pony. The book stressed how abused polo ponies were. When I was a freshman at Cornell I saw a notice for polo tryouts.

You didn't need to know how to play but hopefully you knew how to ride. (As an aside, all the women who tried out were good riders, while a few of the guys had literally never gotten on a horse!) I was torn. I was missing my horse and loved the idea of more riding. But what if the horses were abused?

I went to tryouts to find horses that were fit and well-cared for. I quickly came to see how wrong that author was. One "tough guy" coach took a retired polo pony home to live out his days at his home.

One amazing polo pony was "Dilla," a Standardbred named after the sale barn she was picked up from in Unadilla, N.Y., an auction site that is often a horse's "last chance." Dilla was clearly not your average choice for a polo pony, but old Doc Roberts saw something in her. (Stephen "Doc" Roberts, VMD, is a Cornell legacy, having ridden Cornell?s first championship polo team as an undergrad and later coaching the team for 25 years, winning eight more polo championships.)

Dilla was sore at the end of one week, so she was pulled from the string of horses playing in the game that weekend. Partway through the first period (periods in indoor polo, chukkers outdoors), there was an awful racket coming from the barn. Dilla had broken out of her stall and was at the gate to the arena, trying to break in! She had plenty of feed in front of her, could have left and headed for the hay at the end of the aisle, but she chose to try and get into the game she loved.

There are horses who enjoy retirement. Given a pasture with plenty of green grass, shade and fresh water, many older horses are happy just to lounge about with a buddy or two. But even those horses tend to gravitate over when a person appears, especially if it is a person they worked with, so it isn't just curiosity.

I'm sure there are horses who revel in total freedom, such as the mustangs out West, but most of our "companion horses" seem to enjoy working with their human partners in whatever sport fits them both the best - from top-level dressage to quiet trail rides.

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What's Playing On Your Barn Radio'

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, July 23, 2013

An almost universal thing in barns around the world is a radio playing. Both for the humans and the horses, the background music seems to be a big plus. What music or program and how loud can vary dramatically of course.

Horses do seem to enjoy music and respond to it. Watch a video of a musical Kur (freestyle) ride and you can tell when a horse really ?clicks? with his songs. A slight brightening of his eye, an extra zip to his gait and you know that the horse loves this music. It could be that he simply enjoys the movements that accompany the music in that section but I think it is more than that.

Play music with a strong rhythm and beat while riding and you will feel your horse adjust to the music. Even a horse free in a paddock will often match the music. So music is a universal language for people and equines.

Years ago our family boarded a friend?s Morgan at our house to help cover the costs for my horse. Don was officially Lippitt Glen Don ? a top Morgan show horse. Shown mostly in saddleseat he was known for his powerful trot. My friend was sort of a retirement home for him ? mostly trail riding. Now, what music would you think Don would like' Classical' Maybe jazz' Nope, his favorite song in the world was ?Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog." When that song came on the barn radio, Don would dance and jive with his head bebopping in his stall. No other song got that reaction from this proper New England Morgan.

We do have stereotypical ideas about what music should be playing in what barn. Clearly dressage horses should be listening to classical music. Perhaps some jazz and some guitar or other instrumentals. A reining barn or western pleasure Quarter Horses or Paints'? Why country western of course! English pleasure' Maybe soft rock' Or ?elevator music?' Jumpers would get heavy metal of course or hard rock. Do Arabians prefer Oriental music and Middle Eastern sounds'

Soft rock or easy listening would be appropriate for a barn full of broodmares. Perhaps they could tune in to ?Delilah? in the evenings. Or you could play a tape of Brahms? lullabies. I am not sure any horses would enjoy hard core talk shows, especially in an election year.

You may want to experiment with different radio stations and different types of music for your equines. See what stations seem to settle the horses down. Some types of music may jazz the horses up (pun intended) and that may not be the best idea for quiet stall time.

What music plays in your barn'
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Sightseeing and Seeing Horses

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, June 12, 2013

My daughter and I just returned from a whirlwind trip from upstate New York to Portland, Oregon and back. We were taking dogs to a national competition and didn't have much time for sightseeing, but we did watch for horses along our route. Main highways don't always give you the best options for horse watching but we still found some nice ones.

What struck us first was how few horses we saw going through much of the Western states. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of cattle over rolling hills and flat prairie land but not many horses.

Of course, then we realized why. Here in the East, a 20 or 40-acre pasture is considered a big area. Our horses come at a whistle or are fairly easily tracked down. Out West where a grazing area could be hundreds or thousands of acres, horses need to be kept a touch closer to home. Most ranch buildings were not visible from the highways but I expect there were horses near the homes. The most horses we saw were on the Crow Reservation in Montana.

Our next observation was on horse colors. Paints and pintos truly rule the West. We also saw more roans than we usually notice out East. Plenty of buckskins with a number of Palominos scattered in. In fact, the signature horse of South Dakota seemed to be the ?lone Palomino? standing majestically on an outlook. Colored horses, including Appaloosas who were noted as well, are traditional Western riding horses so I guess that fits.

I was surprised to see many grays as well. I think of gray horses with melanomas (must be my veterinary training!) and wondered about grays out in the bright sun all day.

A fun experience was watching horses take advantage of the giant sprinkler setups in many of the fields. I am sure the sprinklers help to keep bugs off. A few of the horses were clearly playing in the spray too.

Our photos did not come out the best ? quite frankly I am amazed Kate got anything to come out as we whizzed by at 75 miles per hour and she shot through the car window. I wish we had not had time pressures and could have enjoyed the magnificent country we live in more.

I would love to hear what you feel is the predominant color or color pattern in your area. Here in Upstate N.Y., near a Standardbred track and with active hunter/jumper stables nearby I would have to say bays rule (even though my own field holds a roan Appaloosa, a gray/white Arab, a bay pinto miniature horse and a red dun Quarter Horse).
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Birds In the Barn, Too

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, May 08, 2013

One of Dr. Eldredge's Belgian Tervuren dogs works on herding ducks.Not only are cats common barn inhabitants, so are birds. Most birds are helpful and positive additions to the barn environment. Barn owls come by their name honestly and thrive as rodent control in many barn lofts. Judging by my barn cat, Fire, they are undoubtedly more effective than many cats.

More birds serve as bug control than as rodent control however. Domestic chickens and guinea fowl are notorious for eating bugs, including ticks. In fact, many of my friends swear by these birds for almost total tick control on their property. That does mean your dogs (if you have any) must be trustworthy around fowl if the birds are to free range. A side benefit is fresh eggs daily too!

Unfortunately there are horses who have allergies to bird dander and feathers. For those horses, a fowl free barn is really a necessity. You could keep chickens in a separate area and keep them out of the barn. Allergic horses who encounter birds outside don't seem to be bothered.

Some horses who react to chickens and chicken dander are fine with ducks. We have ducks to work my dogs who compete in herding trials. And yes, herding trials may use sheep of course, but ducks, geese and even turkeys are popular as well. Ducks aren?t as great about tick eating but they do consume many bugs and provide great eggs for eating and baking. Spice the young donkey and Frodo the mini horse seem to enjoy watching the ducks ? and occasionally chasing them a bit.

The real ?work horses? of the bird world when it comes to bugs around the barn are the barn swallows. Barn swallows can be messy when their babies hatch and drop prodigious amounts of poop beneath the nest but overall these birds are minimal hassle. They arrive in upstate NY about mid April and immediately set to work on mosquitoes, flies and other insects. I love to watch them swooping over a freshly cut hayfield. They are truly poetry in motion.

The barn swallows never seem to hassle the horses or the humans (and have never pooped on any of us luckily) but they do harass the barn cat a bit. You also need to leave an opening for the parent birds to fly in and out all day delivering bugs to the nestlings. Our barn doors stay open most of the time in decent weather so it is no problem for us. I like the ventilation, especially as our barn is built into a hillside so the breeze and fresh air keeps mold down too.

Do you have birds helping out around your farm and barn' I'd love to hear about it.
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