"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farm Sitting

This past weekend both Kathy and Zoe were going down to Virginia for a wedding and I was asked to stay over at the farm to take care of the horses. Of course I said yes!

The view from Kathy's sun room
My original plan was to wake up on Saturday, pack up stuff for an overnight stay, and be at the barn by 10:00 am so I could overlap with Kathy before she left. However, when I woke up, I was greeted by this:

One very squinty eye that was sensitive to light; she also had some thick green discharge that I had cleaned prior to taking this photo.
Eyeball issues are always an emergency. They can take a turn for the worst within hours. Astarte doesn't have a history of eye problems. I couldn't see anything on the surface of the eye but she had some conjunctival swelling. I figured she either had some sort of very tiny corneal scratch/irritation or she was having a mild herpes flare-up. I gave her lysine treats, called work to make sure they weren't slammed with critical emergencies (they weren't) and to let them know I was coming, took all of her vitals so I wouldn't be doing it with her already stressed at the hospital, put her in her carrier (amid protests from her) and off we went to my ER to have her eye checked.

15 minutes later, I walked in the back door at the same time as a hemoabdomen walked in through the front door, because that's how it always is when an employee brings their own pet to be seen. They had plenty of hands to work on the dog and it was a fairly stable hemoabdomen (as in the dog literally walked in; he wasn't crashing at that moment), so I filled out my own paperwork and got everything set up for an eye exam (fluorescein stain, saline flush, procainamide numbing drops, ophthalmoscope) just as Dr. B, one of my favorite ECC residents (I have many favorite residents; they all rock) who was working on Inpatient that day (not ER) noticed me in street clothes. She asked what was up and I explained. She offered to look at Astarte, doing a quick but thorough physical exam and listening attentively to her heart. Astarte has a very mild grade I/VI heart murmur and she has the peculiarity that her heart rhythm converts to a gallop when she gets upset. A gallop heart rhythm is a big deal, but I have had her evaluated by one of our cardiologists with an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and they couldn't find anything wrong. Since the gallop only occurs when the little girl is worked up, she is not considered to officially have a heart issue. She'll convert back to a regular rhythm if the doctor ausculting her listens long enough for her to see that she's not going to poked and prodded with needles. But it's one of the reasons why I bring her in to work for an exam and complete bloodwork every 6 months: she's almost 15, and the doctors are able to see and hear much more than I can at home.

Astarte's beautifully normal chest x-rays, taken this past September.
Astarte was a stellar patient as she always is. Dr. B couldn't find anything wrong with her eye (no scratches, abrasions, nothing wrong with the inner chambers of her eye either), so I was sent home with a triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment with a steroid: the steroid would help with the conjunctival inflammation.

Back home we went, where I applied the first dose of medication to Astarte's eye (she was NOT happy about that) and then immediately gave her breakfast to appease her (I was forgiven).

Zombie kittehs can make packing more complicated...:)
And yes, he is as squishy and huggable and kissable as he looks! He loves to be loved.

See? Most adorable Zombie kitteh
I packed up my stuff and headed out to the barn. Charles had worked Friday night and was sleeping; he'd join me at the barn in the early afternoon to help out with chores.

I made it to the barn at 11:00 am, shortly after Kathy and Zoe had already left for VA. Kathy had left a note on the kitchen counter with details on the care of Queenie and Deja, and basically telling us to enjoy the farm. She's the best.

The day was cloudy, humid and chilly. The humidity made the cold seep into your bones. Earlier in the week, Deja had managed to give herself a huge scrape on her rump, right above her tail, that had initially been oozy, hot to the touch and painful, and it is finally healing. Zoe has been leaving Deja in the stall when it's raining just to keep the wound clean, so Queenie has stayed in with her too to keep her company. Since it had been drizzling all morning, both horses were in the stalls when I arrived. Kathy had given the ok to turn Queenie out if the rain stopped, and Deja could go out with her sheet to protect the wound from the mud.

The rain had indeed stopped and the sky just had that flat gray look: no brewing storm clouds. I walked into Deja's stall to put her sheet on. That little mare is a character. Seven years ago, she was rescued by Day's End Horse Farm from a hoarder situation. Deja is a purebred Crabbett Arabian; she was a wild, untamed 4 years old at the time she was rescued and already with a filly by her side. She was so wild that the rescue came close to putting her down; no one could even so much as touch her. Except for Zoe. Zoe volunteered at the rescue at the time, and Deja basically chose Zoe. Zoe ended up adopting her to save her. She never expected to be able to ride her, but with help from Bob the trainer and an endless amount of patience and persistence from Zoe, Deja ended up being not only rideable, but a solid little trail horse.

She is very much a mare and very much an Arabian: she has Opinions on things and people, and interacting with her is a constant conversation.

Deja in all her glory.
Photo by Kathy
Deja has always been curious about me and will let me touch her if I ask for permission (it is a Big Deal if Deja lets you touch her! She is most certainly not a wild creature anymore, but she doesn't like strangers touching her and will pin her ears at you if she hasn't given you permission). I approached her quietly, talking to her in a low tone of voice and she let me put the sheet on her. I scratched her withers and she deigned to stretch her neck out and almost wiggle her lip. I stopped. She looked at me with pricked ears, then tossed her head at me, "Hurry up and turn me out already!" she said. I laughed. But first: her grazing muzzle. She hates her grazing muzzle: she'll tense up like she's ready to take flight and lift her head, rolling her eyes at you to let you know that this is a HORRIBLE thing you are doing to her, but if you go slowly she will let you put it on.

I opened the back door of her stall, which leads out into the run-in paddock. Deja strolled out like a queen. I then put Queenie's grazing muzzle on and also set her free. Lily, Gracie, Queenie and Deja all trotted down to one of the lower paddocks, where they cantered around in circles in single file, Gracie leading and Deja herding from behind. Deja might be the smallest of the four, but she is the herd leader. Gracie is a happy second in command, with Lily being third and Queenie at the bottom of the totem pole. The pecking order is subtle: they are all sweet, well socialized mares and they do get along. It's been fun watching them become their own little herd: they all knew one another from going places together under saddle and in trailers, especially Queenie and my two, but hadn't really been turned out together like this prior to the move.

I got to work picking the stalls, leaving the damp spots exposed so they could dry out and filling water buckets, then moved outside to work on the stone dust. Kathy had ordered 3 tons of stone dust for the run-in shed floor and to spread around the areas of the paddock that could potentially be muddy. While I was working, the girls would periodically come up to the paddock and trot around the run-in in single file once before turning back down towards the pastures. I grinned each time: it was like they were playing ring around the run-in. Eventually they settled down to graze and I continued working. Queenie wandered over by herself as I was finishing. Part of the mound of stone dust was covered with a blue tarp to protect it from the rain, and Queenie went right up to it, sniffed at it, then started pawing at it to re-arrange the tarp. I laughed at her then gently shooed her away. I was able to get half the run-in floor covered with stone dust before my shoulders started burning, at which point I stopped to take a break.

Supposedly it was going to clear up at some point during this day but it certainly didn't look like it. I didn't want to ride with no one around so I fetched Lily from the pasture and lunged her in the back field by the park. 5 minutes in one direction and 5 minutes in the other and I was bored to tears. I took her into the paddock behind the barn and worked her at liberty w/t/c for another 5 minutes, then just called her to me, groomed her and turned her back out. I retired to the house to eat the lunch I'd packed while waiting for Charles to arrive so we could get more stuff done...and in the meantime called him like 10 million times with stuff I'd forgotten (like deodorant and socks...doh! That's what happens when a Zombie kitteh distracts you...) and to debate whether he should bring Astarte with him. We finally decided we'd just swing by the apartment later in the evening to apply her eye medication, since she isn't happy about traveling in the carrier and tends to get car sick.

Charles arrived around 1:30 pm. We spent the next couple of hours doing poop patrol in the pastures which is a never-ending chore until Kathy's tractor arrives (I'm hoping she writes a post about it once it's here; her search for The Perfect Tractor is quite the story. As are her adventures with the Bad Boy, which you should go read here!)

I wanted Gracie to be exercised so initially I asked Charles if he wouldn't mind riding her while I supervised. By that point I honestly didn't feel like riding at all, between the gray, the cold and the damp. He said it was no problem at all. He fetched Gracie from the pasture and started tacking up...and I decided to go ahead and tack up Lily anyway.

I longed Gracie for 10 minutes prior to Charles getting on just to see where her brain and energy levels were at. She seemed fine, but once Charles was on board, she was quite the spitfire. I instructed him to keep her moving and to do small circles with her while I finished getting Lily ready.

Ok, I'm sorry guys but I have to brag. He's ridden this mare maybe 10 times total so far, and he already looks like he was born to sit on the back of a horse. I had to stop what I was doing to stare. I actually studied him, looking for something to correct if I had wanted to, and could find nothing.

I mean, LOOK!
This one is my favorite.
And I told him, "God you look good on that horse."
He laughed and said, "Well you know what I say about dancing. I'm just doing the same thing."
"You mean making a face like you know what you're doing?"
"Well, you may be making a face, but you actually are riding like you know what you're doing."
"I honestly have no idea."
I laughed, "Well, you have a great instinct for it. You are doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing!"

I rode Lily around and worked on transitions. She was doing so well that I asked Charles if he could get pics. When I have him come out with the camera we never seem to ride as well as we do when no one is watching (what is up with that?) So here is evidence that my horse really can look like a dressage horse, and that I can look like a halfway decent rider. :) (I apologize in advance for the dorky outfit: the grass was so wet I chose to simply wear my snow boots because they are waterproof, but that means that my half chaps don't fit over them):

Really working from behind. She got pissy when I told her she couldn't canter yet.

Look! Heels down, back straight, and NOT looking down at her neck!
Charles and Gracie were zooming around the paddock so I asked him to work with her on gait-halt-gait transitions with NO walking steps at all, and demonstrated a trot-halt-trot transition on Lily. It was something for him to do and I wanted to see if he could figure it out. That really got him thinking. He had a hard time with the halt-gait transition. Gracie will stop on a dime and she can gait off from a standstill, but you have to have the right energy going for it. You have to want the horse to gait off; it's more than just driving with your seat or squeezing with your legs. Gaited horses are really cool like that. It's not New-Agey stuff; it's the same kind of energy that you use when longing a sensitive horse to keep them moving without the help of a whip.

He was finally able to get her to gait from a standstill with only two walk steps in-between.

He had me laughing because he'd be gaiting around on the other side of the paddock and every time he'd look at me, Gracie would make a beeline for us. "Stop looking at me!" I told him, "Just look where you're going!" So he'd look at me, and just as Gracie was getting within 3' of us, he'd look in the other direction and zoom past us at a safe distance with a big mischievous grin on his face.

It's the best thing ever to see him having so much fun.

We rode for about 45 minutes. By the time we had finished untacking and grooming, it was almost dinner time for the horses so we set about getting them ready. Deja and Queenie went into their stalls for dinner, Gracie gets tied in the run-in, and Lily eats on the other side of the paddock gate. The mares know the drill and assumed their positions uneventfully. We did one more round of poop patrol while they ate. Lily and Gracie were released after dinner. Zoe had asked Deja to be left in, so her and Queenie stayed in their stalls for the night. They would get a late night hay snack around 11:00 pm, so I set up some beet pulp and grain in Lily's and Gracie's feeders so we could bring them mashes later in the evening. It was supposed to drop to 41 degrees and judging by the consistency of some of the poop we had scooped, they haven't been as diligent about drinking water as they should be. I figured it was a good way to get extra water in them.

Charles and I drove back home to feed the kitties and give Astarte her medication, and then we went to the Greene Turtle in Olney, the neighboring town closest to the barn, for dinner. The restaurant is located in a small strip mall so we went window shopping to kill time.

Back at the house, we hung out reading in Kathy's sunroom. It was dark out, but it is everyone's favorite room in the house, as you have full view of the back paddocks and barn. At night there is a tiny solar light at one end of the back paddock that looks like a little star on earth, though it doesn't really create much visibility. Kathy has a bunch of old Equus magazines that I was able to catch up on while Charles read on the iPad. We're both bibliophiles: you'd be astounded at the number of books we have between the two of us. He's the only guy I've met who enjoys reading as much as I do.

At close to 11:00 pm, I added hot water to Lily's and Gracie's beet pulp mashes. We let them sit for 5 minutes, then walked them out to the barn. Lily and Gracie must have smelled the mashes because the followed us eagerly on their side of the fence. We fed Lily and Gracie separately and then Queenie and Deja had their haynets. We checked water buckets and picked their stalls while they ate, then retired for the evening once Lily and Gracie were finished with their mashes.

Both Charles and I were out like a light the second we hit the bed. We didn't wake up until the alarm went off the next morning.

I bundled up to go out to feed the mares their breakfasts; it really was pretty chilly out. Charles and I ate breakfast in the house while the girls finished their food. Deja and Queenie got turned out with grazing muzzles and Charles helped me pick their stalls.

Happy mares grazing in the early morning light.
We filled water buckets and troughs, then got Gracie and Lily tacked up for a trail ride.

Charles asked as he was brushing Gracie's mane, "Why is it that we brush their manes?"
Me, "So they don't get so tangled up they turn into dreadlocks. When that happens they're more likely to rip pieces of mane out when it gets caught on things."
He thought about that for a second. "I think I'd rather her mane be in dreads. Then we could call her Nappy Roots!"
I burst out laughing. Nappy Roots is the name of this hip-hop group, and if you would like to hear one of their songs, you can go here. Charles and I continue to agree that we don't really like the name "Gracie." In fact, I don't think I'll ever feel like she's really ours until I change her barn name. Charles is always saying he'd like her to have a surfing-type name because she looks like a surfer chick with her bleached hair. He'd love for her to be named "Roxy" in honor of the surf clothing brand, but I know too many mares named Roxy. To me it's as ordinary as Gracie. "Nappy Roots", if you think about it, is an allusion to dreads, to reggae, and thus to beaches, which is the way Charles meant this. (No racial negative anything intended whatsoever! We're Caribbean, remember.) I still wouldn't name her Nappy or Roots though.
Karen suggested "Racey"...I kind of like it. Hahaha...
Lily groomed...but you can see the evidence of her winter coat coming in: the dirt wouldn't completely come out. *Sigh* Time for clipping!!
We tacked up and headed out into the park. My goal for the day was to repeat hill sets with Lily, so we took the more direct route at a walk initially to warm up, and later picking up a trot/gait.

Gracie wanted to lead initially.

Interestingly, with the sun out it was harder to see the fall colors in the trees.

Here you can see them a little better. But still more green than yellow & orange.
We made it to the hill behind the lake without coming across any other people in the park. I told Charles he could follow on Gracie but I was not expecting her to be able to do as many reps as us; he was to just hang out with her when she got tired.

Lily and I did 9 gallop sets up the hill; Gracie and Charles followed us for the first 4 reps, then waited for us at the bottom of the hill while we finished. Lily recovered easily after each run and never lost her enthusiasm as she attacked the hill each time. We had a ton of fun.

We then walked most of the way back to the barn for Gracie's benefit more than Lily's.

It was a really fun, easygoing ride.

Once at the barn, we untacked and hosed off the mares. They both had beet pulp mashes, then got turned out once more.

Charles and I worked on finishing spreading the stone dust in the paddock and run-in shed.

Lily approves of the finished run-in footing. There is still plenty of stone dust left over for other areas.
Stone dust around trough and front of paddock.
Gracie says, "Hi! Can I eat your phone?"

By then Zoe had arrived, so Charles and I took off for Southern States to get grain and Omega Max. Of course, a stop by Southern States also means a stop by Jimmie Cone. We made it just in time, because they close for the season in 2 weeks.

Why is this photo significant? Because we were eating ice cream in 62 degree weather. We used to be the kind that would start drinking hot chocolate anytime the temps dropped below 70. Not only that, I was wearing short sleeves and comfortable. Yay for acclimating!
We returned to the barn to unload the grain bags and set up feed for the two girls for the week. By then Kathy had returned from the trip too (she had a great time at the wedding!) so we headed home.

It was a great laid-back weekend on the farm! There's always something special about being able to look out the window and see your own horses in the fields. :)

P.S. After 5 days of treatment, Astarte's eye is back to normal! Yessss...

"Your food smells better than mine! Can I have some pleeeeease?"


  1. She's the most beautiful of kitties.

    And I always love farm sitting. It is the BEST to be able to walk to the horses and visit whenever. =)

    1. She stops people in their tracks when I bring her to work. Literally. She really is one of the prettiest calicos I've ever seen.

      It really, really is the best!!

  2. There is so much here . . .

    I absolutely LOVE your cats. Astarte looks amazing for her age and obviously adores you. However, I am completely smitten with your little Zombie. He shreds my heart with that look. I just melted at him and C in the chair.

    The girls look awesome. Personally, I don't think I could call a mare Nappy or Roots. Racey, though . . . .

    Is stone dust like pea gravel?

    1. The three kitties are out of this world. I need to write more about them. I adore Zombie and Astarte, but, while they love me, they are nuts about Charles. Zombie is always happy to be loved and is the first to come running to greet me when I get home, but he is more into snuggling with Charles than with me. Lol I really don't mind though. Astarte has always preferred guys: she chose my brother, and when my brother had to leave her behind in PR when he moved to OH, I had her brought to me in FL. Of the original trio of kitties that we adopted on the island, she was my favorite. I love her to pieces, but she loooooves Charles. Aengus however decided long ago that I belong to him. He'll follow me all over the house, chirping, and will do all sorts of stuff to get my attention that are more like a dog than a cat. He basically kisses the ground that I walk on. I have loved many cats but I've never been loved by a cat the way he loves me.

      Yeah, I agree: I couldn't call *anything* Nappy or Roots! Hahaha...

      Stone dust is literally stone dust: it's gravel that has been grounded(sp?) into a very fine gravel that's more dust-like. It's very heavy and is great for absorbing moisture in high-traffic areas. I personally prefer pea gravel and have used it with much better success. Some of the areas where we laid down stone dust basically turned into blue clay. Pea gravel is excellent for bare feet and is fantastic for controlling mud if used in large enough quantities. I hope Kathy eventually goes the pea gravel route for some parts of that paddock; I don't think the stone dust is going to be enough.

  3. Farm sitting is the best!
    Glad your cat is feeling better. Cooper, one of our dogs gets ulcers in his eyes, has ever since we got him. The first time he got one, we didn't know what was going on and ushered him right to the emergency vet (because of course it was on a Sunday). Now, we handle it with meds we keep stocked up on.

    1. Yup, some individuals can be very prone to ulcers! It's great that you have meds stocked up at home for Cooper. It makes it so much easier!

  4. Glad your kitty's eye seems to be ok. Eye injuries and puncture wounds are always an emergency around here.

    Your BO is lucky to have such a patient and understanding barn sitter ;) I love the way you describe working with Deja.

    And Charles looks good up there. Great instincts for sure!

  5. Aww! Love the happy, healthy Astarte pic!

  6. It must be so wonderful to be able to keep your horses at a friend's place and be able to barn sit sometimes. It looks like all the horses are settling in really well:)

    1. It is! The barn sitting part is my favoritest thing of all. Kathy knows that there is a learning curve to all of this and is open to input from both Zoe and me, which is really fantastic. At the same time, she is going to seminars, lectures, and reading as much as she can about all of the aspects of having your own farm. It's really cool to see her learning and growing, and getting to be part of the journey with her. The horses are doing great!

  7. That last picture is so cute!!!! I'm glad she's all better. It sounds like you had a great weekend. Also you both look great on your horses. :D