Sunday, May 30, 2010

Effective Pasture Management for Small Acreage Farms

By Darlene M. Cox

Living close to and working in the Horse Capital of the World (Lexington, Kentucky) provides me many opportunities to drive through 'horse country' and enjoy the beautiful picturesque views of horses grazing on rolling carpets of thick, lush, green grass from virtually weed-free pastures. These beautifully maintained pastures are in stark contrast to the ones that may be found on farms of smaller acreage that many recreational horse owners have. It is possible, however, for your small, family-owned farm to mirror, on a smaller scale, those Kodak-moment inspired pastures of Kentucky 's Thoroughbred industry.

I recently had an opportunity to converse with a senior grounds keeper of one of the more prestigious and renowned horse farms in Kentucky about pasture management and how effective pasture maintenance plans could be utilized for smaller farms. Regardless of the number of acres to be managed, it all boils down to the same fundamental practices:

§ Soil samples should be taken to determine fertilizer requirements. Based upon the testing results, a lime-potassium- phosphorous fertilizer should be applied. This application can be done at any time during the year; however, it is important to have the soil sample results prior to fertilizing, because applying too much fertilizer cause harm to soil. Nitrogen should be applied to pastures late in the fall to set up the pastures for a healthy growth of spring time grass.

§ Fecal egg counts should be done on your horses to determine the number of parasites that may infest pastures. Along with adherence to a timely and effective de-worming schedule for your horses, you should also 'drag' pastures to break up manure piles and expose any parasitic eggs to the sun, which will effectively kill off the parasite.

§ Begin preparation and planning of your spring pastures in the fall. If you seed your own pastures with your own implements, make sure the equipment is in good repair and ready to go. If you hire it out to someone, schedule a firm date with no more than a week's window time to ensure the pasture prep work is done timely. Fall is best for seeding cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass) and late winter or really early spring is best for seeding clover.

§ Managing damage control to pastures on small acreage farms is tantamount to growing season productivity. During winter and the early spring wet season, horses should not be turned out, as to stave off the mud and muck build-up and destruction of grass root systems. One viable alternative is to partition off part of the pasture for use during inclimate seasons. The reasoning behind this is it's best to lose part of your pasture than all of it. If this is not a feasible solution, you can also minimize damage by rotating hay feeding locations. It is also a good idea to limit any vehicle traffic (i.e., farm truck, tractor, manure spreader, etc.) during this time period.

§ The acreage size and the number of horses on your pastures will affect the amount of usage you get from your pastures. It is important to maintain an appropriate horse-to-acreage ratio. Farms with smaller acreage need to be more closely managed related to the amount of grazing time permitted. Horses are the ultimate grazing machines, as they were created with that specific purpose in mind. Horses are continuous grazers; simply put, if grass is in front of theme, they are going to eat it. A horse will consume as much as 2% to 2.4% of their body weight, per day, in grass, (i.e., a 1200-lb horse will eat between 24 - 28 pounds of grass per day). Effective rotation and/or dry-lotting your horses to allow your pastures time to rebound and will help keep them established. Pasture rebound time can vary between location and time of year. Generally, 20 days minimum should be allowed for pastures to 'rest' before horses are placed back on them.

§ The grazing season in Kentucky can run from March (when the cool-season grasses really start coming on) through November (when the first killing frosts of winter arrive). This is nine months of grazing time that requires proper management to keep the grass yield and health of your pastures at an optimal level to best benefit your horses. An effective pasture rotation system can be undertaken with the implementation of segmented pasturing, which breaks up the whole pasture into multiple segments from which the horses will be rotated from one to the next, allowing previously grazed segments to recover and gain new grass growth, while out competing the growth of new broadleaf weeds. Effective rotation cycles will also disrupt parasite cycles.

§ An effective broadleaf weed herbicide should be applied in early spring, while the weeds are still small. A high emphasis is placed on properly using the herbicide and applying the recommended amount. As with any chemical, read and follow all labeling instructions prior to use. I realize that many owners of small farms may be hesitant to implement an herbicide program on their pastures for fear of harm that may befall their horses; however, the efficacy of herbicide programs is quite evident when looking at Kentucky 's horse farms, which house the world's most expensive Thoroughbred horses. It is evident and apparent that an accurate and efficient herbicide application program can be successfully implemented whereas not to adversely affect the lives and well-being of horses housed on these farms.

Utilization of the above pasture- management principals will aide in keeping your pastures healthy and established throughout the year. You may even have the perfect green back-fall for your own Kodak moment.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Overflowing Clearance

We spent hours dumping Circle Y, High Horse, and Tucker saddles into our clearance section. We've got all the bases covered: barrel, trail, reining, ranch, show. From ostrich seats to lime green suede, it's in there. Mosey on over and check them out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Every Time, Every Ride, Helmets Save Lives

By: Darlene M. Cox

Whenever we saddle up and head out on the trails for a nice relaxing ride, the furthest thing from our mind is that we may end up having to spend time in a hospital emergency room due to a fall from our horse; however, those of us who are seasoned riders know that it is not a matter of "if" I fall from the saddle, but "when". We are subject to possible ejection each and every time we sit in the saddle. There are so many factors that can play into any unexpected dismount: rider error, terrain inconsistencies, unexpected stimuli causing a horse to react; tacking issues/problems, etc. The list could go on and on.

Traumatic brain injury is the most highly attributable cause of horse-related injuries and mortality events. Horseback riders sustain more head injuries than participants in other sporting and recreational events such as football, hockey, and bicycling. Yet, those who participate in the sport of leisure trail riding are less likely to protect themselves when enjoying the avocation of horseback riding.

Throughout the many years that I have actively campaigned for rider safety, I have heard many excuses from riders not wanting to wear helmets. Some of those excuses are: "I trust/know my horse", "My horse is well trained", "My horse is bomb-proof", "I'm a skilled rider", "Cowboys don't wear helmets", "You've got to go sometime", "I don't like helmet hair", "Helmets are too hot/heavy/cumbersome". It is evident that sometimes vanity, machismo, and pride prevent some from providing themselves with the life saving protection from riding accidents that helmets afford.

I was once one of those people who felt that helmet wearing was a sign of weakness; either in my own riding ability or in trust of my horse's training. That was until I personally witnessed someone who sustained and irreparable traumatic brain injury. My friend's accident occurred 20 years ago, and she remains wheelchair bound and cognitively challenged as a result of her brain injury. Her wearing a helmet on that fateful day those many years ago would have prevented such serious injury. It was a sobering moment for me, and from that point forward I have worn a helmet each and every time I have mounted a horse.

Many states within the United States, as well as other countries have laws and/or governing regulations that require children wear helmets when riding. Mandates within many public and private riding entities require helmets be worn by riders. While I would not be an opponent of a government implied law requiring all equestrians to wear a helmet, I would first like to see an increase in the number of riders who personally want to provide protection from head injuries for themselves.

Today's helmets are light weight and comfortable. There are several styles and types from which to choose, not to mention a myriad of colors. Riding helmets should bear the "ASTM" or "SEI" seal, which indicates they have been tested for protection and durability. Finding a helmet that you can comfortably ride in is quite possible if not ascertained.

I have read somewhere that it only takes 21 days of repetitious action to transform an action into habit. I would challenge each of you who currently do not wear a helmet when riding to begin developing this habit. Every time, every ride; the life you save will be your own.

Happy trails!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Manners on the Trail: Trail Riding Etiquette

By: Darlene M. Cox,

There are myriad ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Along with horse trail riders, hikers, bikers, joggers, 4-wheeler enthusiasts, packers (mules/llama), etc. can all be encountered along the vast trail systems that we frequent. Unlike driving a car, there are no official rules or laws in place for traversing our trails; however, we do have an “etiquette” system that should be employed and communicated to others if they may be unaware that such exists. Adherence to our etiquette system will ensure our enjoyment of the trail riding experience and our safety, as well.

Following are the rules for good trail riding etiquette:

1. All trail users yield to the horse. Horse riders are given the right of way among all other trail users. The reasoning for this is that horses can present a danger to everyone in certain circumstances and are therefore given the leeway to continue their forward movement. Bike riders should move to the side, dismount from their bikes and lay them on the ground. Hikers should move to the side. When approaching hikers or bikers, talk to them to get them to respond to you. This will show your horse that these are humans and not horse-eating monsters. Ask the hikers/bikers to stand on the downhill side of the horses to allow their safe passage. Ask them not to reach out to touch your horse, as this may invoke a spook. Thank them for moving off the trail allowing you to pass. 4-wheeler drivers should pull off of the trail and turn their engines off.

2. Single riders, or the smaller group, should yield to the larger group of riders. Also, if an oncoming group has young children within it, regardless of the size, let their group pass first. Move safely off of the trail, turning your horse’s hind end away from the trail. Make sure there is plenty of room to pass. Don’t try to pass in a small area. You are just asking for trouble. Don’t let your horse “visit” with other horses.

3. Downhill riders should yield to uphill riders. It is difficult for a horse to resume its climb uphill once it has lost momentum. Again, move your horse off of the trail with its hindquarters pointed away from the trail.

4. Always be prepared for the unexpected when passing other horses. Stay on guard and ready to act if something occurs.

5. When riding with a group, always keep at least one or two horse lengths between you and the horse you are following. Incorporating this distance will allow you to see the trail and any hazards that may lie upon it. You will also have time and room to react if something blows up.

6. If your horse is a known kicker, tie a red ribbon in its tail to alert other riders of his propensity to kick. Horses that are kick or are otherwise unruly should be kept at the back of the group. Make sure anyone who may ride upon you from an approaching group knows that your horse is a kicker. Announce it, even though the ribbon is in place. Make sure they keep their distance.

7. If you are riding a stallion, tie a yellow ribbon in his tail and keep him away from any mare that may be in season. If you are riding a mare in season, keep her away from the stallion.

8. Always ride to the ability of the least experienced horse or rider in your group. Do not move at a faster gait than what that person or horse can handle. Do not take any trails that the least experienced horse or rider may be able to traverse safely.

9. Always be vigilant of trail hazards (holes, roots, rocks, etc.) and warn other riders who are coming along behind you.

10. When you reach a watering area, take turns watering your horses. Don’t crowd into the watering source. Also, do not leave the area until every horse has had an opportunity to drink its fill. No horse will stay behind when all of the others have left.

11. When preparing to mount and begin riding, do not walk off until every person is safely in the saddle and ready to start.

12. If someone has to dismount in route, everyone should stop until that person can remount and prepare to get on the way again.

13. If you have a dog that you like to take on the trail with you, get the general consensus of all those with whom you are riding. If one single person is not comfortable with your dog coming along, then Fido needs to stay behind in camp.

14. Remember to keep our trails clean. If you pack it in, pack it out.

15. When coming to a hill, whether going up or down, allow the rider ahead of you to clear enough distance to allow your horse to begin its climb or descent without crowding the horse in front.

16. Be prepared to encounter folks on the trail who do not know or understand trail etiquette. Weigh the measure of discussing it with them, or simply just let it go.

17. Stay safe. No ride is a good ride if every rider does not come back safely.

Happy trails!