Thursday, July 24, 2014

Trail Riding and Lightning Storms

With summer upon us and the possibility of thunder storms a sure thing, we should all take pause and review all of the precautions necessary for our safety as well as our horse.  If you trail ride, you have most likely checked the weather forecast before you head out for the day or planned a camping trip. 

Many times summer storms are no more than a nuisance, but when severe weather and thunder storms are predicted it is time to take heed and make the decision on whether to ride or stand down.  As we all know, being horseback is one of the most dangerous positions to be in when a storm blows in. 

However, we all know that we can’t always predict the weather and will at some point in time get caught out and about with our horse.  When that happens, the weather forecasters and experts recommend the following:

·         Dismount from your horse immediately.
·         If you need to tie up your horse, tie the horse to a bush, never a tree.
·         Avoid at all costs open fields, the top of a hill or ridge.
·         Stay clear of tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. 
·         If you happen to be camping with your horse, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area.  Your tent will provide no protection from lighting.
·         Stay away from water, river beds or wet ropes or metal objects such as fences or poles.  Water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity and the current from a strike will easily travel long distances.
·         If you are trailing your horse, pull over and make sure that the ramp is up and nothing is touching the ground. 

In closing, the following are a few facts about thunder and lightning storms.  Hopefully, we have given you enough information and piqued your interest so that you will put a plan in place as you trail ride this summer.  Bring the topic up to your riding club and appoint a storm leader so that when the unforeseeable happens, you have a plan in place and can act.  By the way, I ALWAYS brought my horse to the barn if a storm was in the forecast.  A pastured horse is in grave danger during a lightning storm. 

Facts from NOAA:

·         When lightning passes through air it can heat the air to 50,000 degrees F (about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun!
·         There are approximately 25 million lightning flashes every year.
·         The sound of thunder travels about a mile every 5 seconds.
·         If you count the seconds between flashes of lightning and the crack of thunder and divide by 5, you get the number of miles away the lightning has struck (10 seconds is 2 miles). 

Ride Safe and Happy Trails!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trucks,Trailers, and Campers

By the time Goldie, my Appaloosa mare, was settled into her new quarters on our property she was close to 12 years old and a really settled bomb proof horse. In a nutshell a delight to ride. Our property is 3.5 acres and between the house, barn and 2 acres of turn-out area not much land was left for riding. We’ve got great neighbors so I was able to expand my riding area around our property to now give me about 20 acres to ride with their permission. I’m sure the unlimited free, bagged manure helped with the deal!

As is the case, as you begin your horseback riding activity, you want to explore more areas to ride. We live about 60 miles north of Atlanta in a semi-rural area so I had some options with a farm owner friend with a few hundred acres of land as well as quite a few Georgia State Parks which offered riding trails.

As all horse owners know, the least expensive part of owning and riding a horse is the horse. We owned a ½ ton pick-up which had a low ratio rear axle so I had to limit my trailer to something lighter. Cindy, a close friend of mine, suggested a two stall Sundowner with a storage area under the manger. The trailer weight was not within my truck pulling power range so we purchased a trailer that allowed me to expand my riding options. Over the next year we explored a lot of new riding areas and I began filling my “bucket list” with many new trails to explore that were a farther distance, but new and exciting. 

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is about a three hour drive from our home and has about a 1200 plus acre property with wonderful trails and just a superb set-up for riding. They also have an area for primitive camping, a 4 stall barn to stall your horse and a barn assistant to feed and muck the stalls.   Cindy suggested we plan a trip in mid-May while the weather was still cool in the mountains. Cindy had a four horse trailer with living quarters so she was all set to embark upon a weekend of camping, riding and eating!

My husband suggested we tent camp which sounded like a great idea but remember he was more city than country.  So we went to a very reputable outdoor camping store and bought a ton of gear including a first class tent, stove, lamps, and lots of other must have stuff. We even did a practice run in our living room pitching the tent so we were ready too. Since we had invested in all of this great camping gear, why not plan to stay two nights!

We drove up with Cindy and her husband and arrived at the camping area with now cloudy skies.  While Tim, Cindy’s husband, and Cindy set up their living quarters trailer, we scrambled to set up our tent which came advertised as rain proof due to the rain sheet draped over the top. Now the clouds are turning to a light drizzle.  My husband was actually excited to test this great tent we bought so while I took shelter he sat in the tent to check it out. Within 5 minutes or so the rain increased to a good steady down pour. As he sat in the tent a first drop of water penetrated the rain sheet and then the tent roof. As he quickly learned, if you have one drop, many more are sure to follow so within about 10 minutes the tent became an unplanned indoor pool-unheated.

We learned the weather was going to remain marginal for both days so we had no other option but to take our air mattresses and gear and sleep in our new 2 stall Sundowner trailer. So we hooked the trailer back up, pulled up to the barn and hosed down the stall of the trailer to accommodate our air mattress.  Any late night relief runs required using the escape doors and easing off the fenders. As if a rain and a leaking tent wasn’t enough, we had high winds which also blew down the tent where we had stored some of our supplies. Note to self- “always get a reliable weather check before horse camping.”  We also learned that our ½ ton pick-up was not suited for pulling a trailer in the mountains so Cindy suggested an equalizing hitch-more stuff to buy.

On the way back home I asked my husband how he enjoyed the trip. He responded, “Biltmore was wonderful, the food great but if we are planning to do more horse camping he had two simple requests-a toilet and a bed (real one). Oh AC, heat and a place to cook would be a real bonus.”

So our next move was to look at living quarter trailers which were well beyond our budget so a bumper pull trailer sure made sense. At that time, my husband drove a ½ ton Chevrolet Suburban so all worked out well. Add in a 19’ trailer, equalizing hitches, and a 2800 watt generator and now we were really set to horse camp. Over the next span of years, we made many trips with our two trucks, 2 stall Sundowner horse trailer and travel trailer. We traveled convoy style with some walkie talkies to stay in touch.

Of course, we out grew the 2 stall Sundowner and went to a 2 stall trailer with a tack room horse trailer which the Suburban could pull. We soon found a 19 foot travel trailer to be a bit close quartered as they say so we moved up to a 26 foot trailer which then required we go to a 1 ton pick-up truck. I think we once figured between equipment and fuel costs we could have stayed at a lot of Five Star hotels. Of course, Five Star hotels do not take horses so instead we made lots of memories which we will cherish for a lifetime.

Horse camping is some of the most fun you will ever have with your horse, just plan carefully and include all the proper equipment.  Equipping your trailer with all of those must have accessories will make your stay a lot more enjoyable.   If you need assistance in equipping your horse trailer with all of those essentials, go to our “Trailer Accessories” Category where you will find tire ramps, bumper pull and gooseneck hitch locks, water caddies and tack organizers.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Misadventure in the Great Smoky Mountains: Lessons for Trail Riders

The story that is about to unfold is one I find at times difficult to think about and when I recall the details, a bit frightening.  However, my adventure, or misadventure as it may be, perhaps can save all you trail riders from dangerous situations.  I will point out my mistakes as we move along in this story.  I am sure you all have had ventures or milestones you wanted to accomplish with your horse.  Well, after trail riding, camping and participating in the Appaloosa Distance Riding program and accomplishing a 100 and 200 hour patch, there was just one challenge left and that was to ride the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains in Bryson City, North Carolina. 

My husband, being the sport that he is, tried riding with me but found it just wasn’t for him, but accompanied me on many weekend outings to set up camp for Goldie, my Appaloosa mare, and me.  Now that’s what I call devotion! 

Our next planned trip out in the summer of 2005 was a trail and camping ride in the Deep Creek trail system in Bryson City, North Carolina.  We camped and put Goldie up in a boarding barn in Bryson City and I had made plans to ride out with what were advertised as two knowledgeable riders that had rode the trails and were on a State Equine Search and Rescue team.  My confidence was high since they were experienced riders and had knowledge of topography maps and the trail system.

We were going out for just a short morning ride with a lengthy day ride planned for the next day.  Since it was just a short 4 hour ride, I took along a bottle of water and snacks for Goldie and me.  At 9:00 a.m. we met at the trail staging area, paid our admission into the park, gathered our topography maps and saddled up ready to ride.  At 9:30 we rode off bidding my husband good-bye and be back for lunch.  What I knew about the trails was what I had read in the Park Service Brochures and assorted promotional pieces.  That was my first error.    

The first hour into the ride went well.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous with all the mountain laurel and wild flowers in bloom.  We spotted an old home stead chimney and the outline of an old cabin approximately two miles in that was so beautiful we all commented we wish the stones in that chimney could talk!  There was a narrow creek that resulted from an unground spring so we assumed that was this families’ water source. 

As we traveled up and down the next two hours, we saw the trails were no longer marked.  Prior to this time, we had navigated with trail markers, but suddenly there were none.  It seemed as though the Park Service had been in clearing the trails, cutting brush and kudzu and must have either covered the markers and trail or tore them down for repair.  All we could do at this point was follow the topo map and hope that we were making the proper turn when the trail came to a bend.  

The trails were getting narrower and narrower and we were riding on the edge of the mountain roughly at an altitude of 3000 feet.   The two riders, which were on gated horses and me on my Appaloosa, disappeared around the bend.  When I came to the bend, Goldie and I suddenly fell off the ledge and dropped approximately 3-5 feet onto a ledge below.  A horrifying moment I will never forget.   Goldie turned her head to look at me as if to say, “what’s next”?  My first thought was to unsnap the reins from the bridle and give her her head in hopes that we could climb up the ledge.  Goldie was able to gain her footing and we literally crawled up the ledge.  When we reached the trail again, I found she had a large scrape on her inside flank and she was severely trembling.  Thankfully, there was a stream at the top of the trail and I led her to the stream and began to put cold compresses on the injury, fed her apples and let her drink.  My only thought is that she was going into shock and then what to do.  That was my second error. 

Thankfully, Goldie did not go into shock and I was able to mount up and ride on.  As I mentioned, my trail mates were riding gated horses of which was a challenge for us to keep up with in order to keep the two riders in sight.  That was my third error.

As you can now imagine, the people, namely my husband, that were expecting us back by noon were beginning to become concerned about our return.  The Park Rangers told those waiting that if we were lost and had to spend the night in the mountains, it was going to get cold and a storm was moving in.  If we weren’t prepared, it would be a dangerous night.  It was approaching the deadline for the Park Service to send in a search and rescue team. 

As we rode on, we had come upon a group of trout fishermen that gave us directions to get back down the mountain, but it was going to be another two hours at least before we reached the trail head.  Our only means of contact was a cell phone of which had no service and was useless.  That was my fourth error.

By 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon we were getting closer to our starting point and cell service became available.  The connection was poor, but my husband could understand that we were close and would soon be back at the trail head.  As we got closer to the horse trailers, the horses were tired and one of the gated horses turned lame.  So we ended up dismounting and walking the last hour out of the mountains.  Error number five.

To bring this horrifying story to a happy ending, I would like to summarize by pointing out the errors we made in hopes that you might make notes so that it never happens to you. 

Error #1:  Do your due diligence on the trails you wish to ride.  Talk to other trail riders that may have rode the same trails, search the web for information, study topography maps thoroughly and in fact pretend you get lost and can find your way out if necessary.  Also, vet the guides you are going to ride with.  Make absolutely certain they come with strong references. 

Error #2:  Make certain you know first aid for equine care.  Know your own horses’ vitals so that you know when their behavior and vitals are not normal.  Carry all of the necessary first aid equipment for you and your horse.  Leave nothing to chance.  After this experience, I carried a large saddle bag with ample first aid.   Also make sure you take along enough provisions for you and your horse in the event you get caught.  For example, a space age blanket, dried meals, water, etc. 

Error #3:  Know the horses you are going to ride with.  In my case, my stock type horse was not able to keep up with gated horses.   Ask if you have “kickers” in the group and if so that they are riding with identification ideally with a ribbon in their tail.

Error #4:  Communication is vital.  After this adventure, I studied for a Ham Radio license so that I could carry a Ham Radio on every trail ride thereafter.  My husband was a Ham Operator so it made communication possible.  If you ride with a Ham Radio, research the area to be sure there is a Repeater in the vicinity.  If not, a Ham Radio will more than likely not have range.  I never rode again without my radio and the ability to communicate. 

Error #5:  If you are going to ride the mountains or any territory, make absolutely sure you have taken into account your horses feet.  Thankfully, my horse was shod and had protective boots.  I also carried a spare Easy Boot just in case it was needed.  Obviously, my fellow rider did not take the same precautions which became a risk for all of us. 

In conclusion, do your homework when you anticipate a ride of a life time!!!  We all have those dreams and should fulfill them so do your due diligence for the safety of you and your horse and go conquer those dreams.  If you have learning experiences you wish to share, we look forward to hearing about your adventures!  Happy Trails.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Rodeo: American as Apple Pie

If you share my passion for horses, anything horses normally peaks my interest.  With spring and summer comes trail riding, horse shows, and competitive events like RODEO!!!!  That prompted me to do a bit of research to learn more about the history of rodeo and bring you just a few facts.  Rodeo began back as early as the 1820s and 30s where cowboys and vaqueros would burn some of that extra energy during their down time testing each other’s skills.  After the Civil War this country sparked a competitive spirit and in 1872 the first actual competitive rodeo was held in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  As time went on, somewhere around 1910, rodeos became public entertainment.  Out of that era came Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley and many others.

As interest began to grow somewhere around the 1930s, rodeos went to the big cities all around the U.S. and formal organizations with standardizations were created such as the Calgary Stampede, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Pendleton Round-Up.

Women began to get involved very early on, somewhere around the turn of the century.  Women brought “trick riding” to the event and it has blossomed since then to barrel racing, pole bending, and team roping.

By the 1970s, rodeo saw tremendous growth which brought media attention which brought big name sponsors thus big “purses”.  It gathered the attention of folks that had no connection to ranching or the cowboy way of life but saw rodeo as an athletic event with big pay-offs.

In my view, rodeo is as much of our heritage as Mom, hot dogs and Apple pie.  Rodeo contestants are a special breed.  To me they seem fearless when that bull rider climbs aboard that 2000 pound steer to see how long he can stay aboard until he is thrown off or that pick-up rider comes to his rescue.  Or that barrel racer that speeds around those barrels leaning over until their boots nearly drag on the ground.  Now that’s fearless!!!!

As summer rodeo season approaches, lets keep our fellow cowboys and cowgirls at the forefront, support their activities and wish for their well-being.   With the technology boom and the fast passed life we all live, we need to keep alive the spirit of generations past that have made us what we are today.  So take time to attend a rodeo, a roping or cutting, or barrel racing event.

We would love to hear about your “fearless” cowboy or cowgirl.  Give us an idea of their challenges, rewards and don’t forget their horses!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Butterfly Dreams Farm: Committed to Improving the Lives of Autistic Children through Horses

My husband and I were recently reminded that miracles really do happen! We drove to Watkinsville,

Georgia, a small town near our home town, and paid a visit to Butterfly Dreams Farm a facility that

conducts Therapeutic and Hippotherapy Riding Programs. A nine acre facility where individuals and

professionals volunteer their time to assist children with special needs. Not knowing exactly what

to expect, we were greeted by a peacock, a flock of chickens, two baby goats and a stable of seven

beautiful horses. When we arrived there was a lesson in progress on Merlin, one of the retired high

level dressage horses. It was explained to us that this big fellow was enjoying his retirement, but his

long stride provides a rhythmic motion that allowed the autistic child to relax and fall right into his

long graceful gate. It was heartwarming to see this child conclude his lesson much more relaxed and

physically coordinated.

Butterfly Dreams Farm is a non-profit organization with a staff that includes a speech pathologist, a

physical therapist, four therapeutic riding instructors, a barn manager and seven gentle, patient and

loving horses. Volunteers are relied upon to help with all lessons and horse care. E-Tackroom and I

personally are proud to be able to say we are a part of Butterfly Dreams Farm with a mission to assist

this amazing group to raise money for their outstanding accomplishments. You will be hearing more

from us in the coming months as we become more involved.

With cold weather and blanketing our horses finally coming to a close and fly and nylon sheets the next

item on our list of essentials for our horses, E-Tackroom is proud to donate 10% of the sale on every

nylon and fly sheet to Butterfly Dreams Farm to assist with the children’s scholorships.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mold and Mildew – A Saddle’s Worst Enemy

That same mold and mildew that plagues us in our showers and basements are the same organisms that can easily infect your tack and completely ruin it or cause a tremendous amount of work to eliminate if you don’t take immediate preventative measures.

Mold is one of your leather saddles worst enemies.  Did you know that mold spawns thousands of tiny offspring that can be carried from small spots on your saddle to your bridle and boots via a cleaning rag or a puff of wind?

Mold and mildew come from the same family, but are slightly different in their organic make-up.  Both, however, are a fungus that I am sure many of us have found in damp manure piles.  They are their own sub-category of a living organism.  The difference between them is that mold tends to be green while mildew is whitish gray.  Whatever the differences, you MUST attack both to prevent them from spreading.

For those of us living in the South, we may see this mold appear overnight.  Mold grows best in 65% humidity and above.  Mold only needs a single spore, needs no sunlight and spreads rapidly.  However, don’t think high humidity is the only cause, mold can also grow in cold and damp environments such as basements.  If you spot mildew, you can almost be certain that the environment is ripe for mildew’s bad cousin – MOLD! 

You ask yourself, “Why is leather so susceptible to mold damage?”  Before it was made into saddles or other leather goods, it was the skin of an animal and has three layers.

The smooth side or top layer is called the grain of the leather.  Compared to human skin, the top layer has pores, tiny holes in which dirt and mold spores can penetrate.  The second layer is the core or the protein fiber that forms leather’s strength.  Most reputable saddle makers use a vegetable tanning process to retain the organic structure of the leather.  Finally, the third layer is called the rough and the side closest to the horse.

Just one tiny spot of mold produces thousands of microscopic spores.  If the mold begins to grow on a piece of leather, it penetrates the pores in the grain and begins to eat away at the structural fibers causing stains and weakening.

Therefore, mold living in an enclosed tack room will spread wildly because the recirculating air carries it to other leather items.  Once mold is present in a tack room, it is very difficult to get rid of.  As you know, it can cause irreparable damage to your tack and even allergies in humans.

With the riding season upon us and as you begin to inventory your trailer and tack, take time to closely inspect your tack for mold.  Your first clue that you may have a mold problem will be the presence of a musty odor.  There are many procedures and products on the market so seek advice from your saddle maker or someone that is expert in leather care to attack “your saddle’s worst enemy” mold!  I personally store all of my leather gear when not in use in an environment free of humidity until the riding season begins.  When I am gearing up for the trail riding season, I inspect, clean and protect my equipment from the elements with the proper cleaning tools and products. 

So as the riding season gets closer, inventory, inspect, clean and make all those equipment repairs necessary to experience a safe and fun trail riding season!  Happy Trails. 


Sunday, February 9, 2014

West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis

As the seasons change, we should be thinking about keeping our equine friends healthy and ready for the upcoming activities we ask them to perform rather it be trail riding, showing or performance events.  According to the “American Mosquito Control Association” we have roughly 150 species of mosquitos that live in the United States.  One of the most common diseases spread by mosquitos is West Nile Virus and EEE.  These two diseases are most active in late spring through early fall with West Nile and EEE being contagious to both people and animals.

Statistics tell us that 40% of horses that contract West Nile die from it.  The virus multiplies in the horse’s blood system and crosses into the brain causing inflammation and interferes with the central nervous system.  Signs of the disease include fever, stumbling, muscle weakness, partial paralysis, convulsions and eventually coma.

Much like West Nile, EEE is a mosquito-borne illness as well as affecting the brain and central nervous system as well as causing blindness, staggering and seizures.  Most infected horses die within several days and horses ages 6 months to 2 years old are the most vulnerable.

There are several things we can do to prevent the spread of these mosquito-borne viruses.  Equine vaccines exist for West Nile and horses should be vaccinated for EEE at least twice a year and according to the veterinary community a vaccination program should start at ages 6 months if the dam was vaccinated and 3 months old if she was not.  Contact your veterinarian to put in place a vaccination schedule.

We can also take additional precautionary measures by applying fly masks, fly sheets and fly leggings to horses when they are at pasture.  Of course, an oil based fly spray and fly spray system for your barn is of great benefit.  Many horse owners keep their horses inside at dawn and dusk which is prime mosquito feeding time.  Turning on fans inside the barn to create a breeze can also be helpful.  Keeping weeds down near and around your barn, replacing outdoor lights with yellow bug lights, and removing any sources of standing water on your property are a few simple precautionary measures to assist in keeping your equine friend healthy and happy.

Happy Trails and let E-Tackroom be your single source for all of your equine fly prevention products.