Osteen, Florida - The Farm - 06/13-06/27/2004
|Ok. Technically, this should be called my Spring/Summer trip because it really started in the middle of June. But my Sister's farm in Florida is my part-time home so I don't consider this saga started until I left Florida.
So what do I do while I'm down here at the farm? Well, this time I was here specifically for some riding lessons at the stable next door. I had eight one-hour lessons in the two weeks I was here. Why? Well, Jan, my sister, conned me into buying one of her horses last year. My horse is a gelded yearling so he won't be ready to ride for another couple years. If I'm going to have a horse, I'll certainly learn how to ride him. Additionally, I'll learn how to train him too. If you'll remember, last year I took a trail ride in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona where I was on horseback for some four hours. I wasn't happy with that four hours because I knew I didn't have control and had some problems with the horse. This year, I may be doing a trail ride or two in Wyoming. So, considering all that - I feel I have to learn the right way.
I started on a training horse called Snickers. Snickers is a training horse because once you get on her, she has a feeling for your experience level and won't let you get in over your head. For instance, if you key her to trot and you're not balanced right or don't move right for a trot, she won't do it. I rode her for the first two lessons and had some problems making her do what I wanted. I was switched to another horse, Jackie, who is a little less critical of her rider's ability, and got a bit of seat time for the next few lessons. I had my "final" on the last Friday before I left. The Final was on the original horse, Snickers. If I'd improved, she'd respond to my commands. If not, then she wouldn't. Apparently I learned something! I could get Snickers to walk, jog, trot and canter (lope). So now I'm an advanced Novice rider. I'm much more comfortable getting on a horse and have at least some expectation I can control it - as long as it's a horse for beginners!
Jan's place is a ranch. She breeds and boards horses. At any time, there may be some 20 horses on the place. At this time, there are 17 of 'em on the ranch. There's a mix of animals - a couple foals, several full-size brood mares, a full-size stallion, a pair of miniatures (a mare and a stallion) and a number of geldings. Most of the horses are Paints.
Although I don't participate in all the activities on the farm, especially the horse feedings that start at 5:30 in the morning, I comfortably adjust to the daily rhythm of the work that needs to be done.
At about 9:00 in the morning, most of the horses get put out in the fields. I help with that most days. Horses are herd animals (their psychology is NOT like that of dogs, which are PACK animals, but that's another whole shelf of books) with a definite pecking order and individual personalities so you have to be careful about who goes out with who. If you put two dominate horses in the same pasture, you're going to have a problem. If you put them in adjacent pastures, you have a potential problem and maybe some broken fences to repair. All of the pastures have to have the water buckets or barrels checked, cleaned and filled. Some of the horses go out with fly masks, some with strap halters and some with rope halters. Some have the halter left on in the field and most have it taken off. If you don't want to get hurt (this is a 1200# dumb animal that can step on you accidentally and put you in a wheelchair permanently), you have to know how to halter, how to lead, how to put a horse in a pasture and how to take off a halter. You have to recognize when a horse is disrespectful and either know how to correct the problem yourself or find someone with the necessary experience to work with the horse.
After the horses are out, the stalls are cleaned - I don't participate in that except to maybe shuttle the wheelbarrows of waste between the stalls and the spreader. I'll occasionally run the spreader too. Water buckets are all cleaned and filled - I may do that. There are other chores too. I may repair fences and gates, repair stalls, repair pastures (fill low spots, level, seed and rake), mow the pastures and the lawn, fix and maintain the equipment (ever been under a manure spreader with a full load?), and whatever else may come up.
Recently, because of the high heat and humidity, many of the horses are kept out for only half a day. At noon or so, some of the horses are brought in and some that may have been kept in for the morning are put out for the afternoon.
Everyone is normally brought in by 5:00 pm or so. Before that the stalls that may have had horses in them during the day are cleaned again and all the water buckets are checked and filled again. Then feeding starts. First is hay for all the animals and then the feed. There are different feeding requirements for each horse depending on age and any development issues so we may have a dozen different formulas to put out. The evening feedings, horses, wild things, goats, sheep and cats, are usually done by 6:00 pm.
A couple years ago, we had a pair of wild Sand Hill Cranes feeding in the evenings right behind the barn. My sister started throwing out a little corn for them and ended up attracting other wildlife as well. Now we have wild turkeys, Florida deer in addition to the Sandhill Cranes!
This year, the Sand Hill Cranes had two chicks that they brought to the nightly feeding. One chick was lost to a fox, an owl or a hawk, so now there's only one. The cycle of life goes on.
Although not apparent, in this pic there are the three of 'em. The chick is nearly the same size as the adults and right behind them. The chick does not have the red blaze on it's head.
The deer are bringing their fawns (three of 'em) and the turkeys have several chicks they bring around too.
Here's a group picture. There is one fawn behind the Crane on the right - you can see the spots on it's body. The juvenile Crane is out of the picture to the right.
There is a definite "pecking order" here too. The turkeys will never feed with the deer or the Cranes.
The Cranes seem to be in charge as I've seen them peck at the deer if they seem to be in the way - the deer move quickly.
The 5:00 feeding is not the end of work on the farm though. After dinner for us and a little relaxation, it's back to the barn by 9:00 pm for a final feeding and watering for the day. Everyone gets a snack of hay and the broodmares, their colts and the yearlings are given a little feed. The broodmares are still making milk and the colts and yearlings are actively growing and need the extra supplement. Water is checked and filled again and now, in the summer, the fans on the stalls are adjusted. In the winter, fans are not required but we may have to sheet or blanket all the horses for the night.
My niece, Jan's daughter Miranda, is 15 years old and in addition to 4H and FFA, belongs to a local equestrian club, Silver Sands. The club is a non-profit funded by the members with the purpose of providing a venue for equestrian related activities for the members (sorta like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts). Silver Sands has facilities about 10 miles north of Jan's farm and includes a large covered arena, about 100 covered stalls, a couple outside riding rings and the equipment to maintain all this stuff.
|Miranda is an accomplished equestrian and successfully competes in local and state competitions. Perhaps once a month, she competes in a local show put on by Silver Sands. Recently she competed in an Open Western Horse Show at Silver Sands. In this show there were some 47 different competitions or classes. Miranda competed in about 12 of them with Lily, a five year old mare.
Left is a picture of Lily and Miranda during one of the Halter Class competitions.
|One of Miranda's friends, Anna, with her horse during the same competition.|
|Another horse in the same class.|