Moose River Farm Blog

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Horses and the Civil War

      Good Morning,
      The first official summer holiday weekend is upon us.  It's time to pause and remember those who died while defending our freedoms.  Memorial Day was commemorated after the American Civil War in honor of all who gave their lives in what, many still believe, was the bloodiest war of our past.  Since American history encompasses the fifth grade social studies curriculum, my class and I spend a lot of time reviewing the events of the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  The facts are difficult to sort through with so many venues and names to remember.  Therefore, I try to integrate nonfiction literature and documentation from real events recorded by individuals who lived through those tumultuous times.  With any luck, my students are able to catch an empathetic glimpse of the fear and anxiety that fought those devastating wars. 
     While in the company of my own equids, I often contemplate reality for war horses.  Like my own eclectic assortment there must have been a variety of different personalities that charged onto the battlefield with ground troops in tow.  Clearly, some of these horses were braver than others.  But there must have been many who, along with their riders, possessed tremendous fear when the call to charge was issued.  I can only imagine the intensity of this fear when they saw, smelled and prepared for the death that surrounded them. 
      Last week, Civil War Day was celebrated at the Town of Webb School.  Groups of students visited a number of stations where they learned about the various aspects that characterized this war.  I brought my Friesian mare, Lowtchee to represent a war horse.  High school senior, Lauren Holt, (one of my riding students), spoke about the role of horses during the Civil War.  She was quick to point out that although Lowtchee's breed did not resemble those enlisted at the time, her training did.  Obedience was an essential ingredient that increased a rider's chances of survival during a bloody attack.

Photos by Michele deCamp

Lowtchee greeted my 5th grade class upon her arrival.
This seventh grade student set the mood on the battlefield.
The students dined on hard tack, a tasteless, mixture of flour and water that kept the soldiers barely alive when supplies were low or non-existent.
No luxury in these tents.
Our school nurse transformed into Clara Barton.
On the battlefield there was no pain management, no antiseptic care and no consideration for personal hygiene. 
There were however, crude methods of  amputation and an accumulation of severed limbs.

 My riding student, Lauren Holt spoke about the relationship between officers and their horses.
Obedience training was essential; translating into life or death during battle.
Lauren and I wonder if the mounted soldiers took comfort in the company of their horses during such misery.
Lauren and Lowtchee
Students and presenters posed together at the end of the event.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cavalia's Odysseo; Spectacular

     Good Morning, 
    Yesterday I spent a long and busy day with three close friends. Within the confines of a Subaru Outback we spent five hours engaged in loose conversation interrupted from time to time by crescendos of laughter. Our destination? Laval, Quebec where Cavalia's production of Odysseo took to the stage under the great white tent.  This is a "must see" for all horse enthusiasts!  


 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Looking Up from the Base of Mt. Man-yur

       Good Morning,
     “How do you do all this?” many of my visitors ask.  Although their arms swing in a gesture meant to reference the whole farm, there is only one chore that they are really referring to; shoveling poop.  Poop or manure management is the most important consideration when caring for horses.  Every new horse's arrival means an uptick in chore time.  I believe the amount of time I spend shoveling manure is third to sleeping and teaching school.  
      Here are some other staggering statistics; a horse produces 50 pounds of manure every 24 hours.  ¾ of that is deposited in the stalls that I clean three times a day.  Therefore, with the help of my special ergonomic pitch fork, I handle approximately 413 pounds of manure a day thanks to eleven horses.  Yup, that is an astonishing 150,562.5 lbs or 75 tons per year since horses produce manure every day!  Wow, even I am shocked by that quantity.   
     And that is not all.  My goats are good for an additional few tons of waste.  The manure in their stall mixes with the leftover hay.  Over the winter months this 'mattress' is permitted to build up while layers of uneaten hay provide dry bedding on top.  In the spring and several more times during the summer, the stall is stripped, refreshed with new bedding and allowed to build up again.  That task is huge; requiring an hour or so of strenuous physical labor.  As many as 15 wheelbarrows of manure are removed each time.  My sore back complains for a day or two leaving me to wonder why I wait so long to muck out the goat stall.
      With the exception of riding, much of what I do with horses is related to manure.  At any given time I am either shoveling it, examining it, waiting for it, discussing it, or counting piles of it.  The sight of a horse's tail hoisted up like a flag activates a conditioned response in me that manure maintenance is required.  Reflexively, I rush with my wheelbarrow toward the fouled stall, removing the offensive pile before a careless hoof scatters it about in the clean bedding.  Not to boast, but occasionally my swift action is able to position the wheelbarrow directly under the horse's tail so that it can catch the poop before plopping on the ground! 
       In the 'horse culture' that I share with many others, manure provides exercise, meditation and an unfavorable chore all at the same time.  We roll our eyes in annoyance when a horse lifts his tail to evacuate within seconds after cleaning his stall.  We also wonder why he poops the minute he returns to his stall after a long day spent outdoors.  We celebrate when a horse defecates out on the trail; one less pile to manage!  We are obsessed with manure it appears, doesn't it?  But I know horse people reading this post are not offended by the topic.  In fact they are nodding in agreement that manure is a focal point of our horses' health.  Many of us have spent an anxious evening waiting for a horse to poop after it appears that his digestive tract has stalled.  
     The first question that the vet asks when we call about a horse who is not 'acting right' pertains to bowel function.
     “Is there manure in his stall?” she asks because the answer to this question determines the direction of the phone call.
“Yes, three piles in the last four hours,” I report with certainty.
Or; “No, he hasn’t pooped since I noticed him kicking at his belly an hour ago,” I reply with a tone of worry in my voice.
     What happens to all that manure that passes uninterrupted through the digestive tract of eleven horses?  Well, presently it is composting in huge mounds at various locations around our property.  Mt. Man-ure, (pronounced Man-yur for more sophistication), encompasses a whole range of mountains yet to be leveled and spread out after the long winter.  The uncured nutrients will break down to nourish and enrich the topsoil.  Other beneficial properties of manure include the use of it as fuel.  Someday, perhaps I will be able to shovel it directly from the stall into the gas tank of my car!  Hopefully, somebody, somewhere is considering the technology that will make this a reality.  Until that time I will continue to meditate, contemplate, and ruminate, while gazing upward from the base of Mt. Man-ure.
          
          
      A final word about horse manure; In the sad days that followed the untimely death of our horse, Murray, (Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows), my friend, Michele presented me with a bag of 50 daffodil bulbs.  Her wish was to have them planted in a special place on the farm as a memorial for the handsome bay gelding whom she cared for so much.  In October the bulbs were buried in a mixture of compost and Murray's manure that had been reserved in a bucket.  Come the following spring we gleaned great comfort from the yellow flowers that bloomed in his loving memory.
Alex always has a smile on her face whether she is riding a horse or mucking out a stall!


11 horses are a lot to clean up after... 

...but worth every shovel full! (RIP Murray, third from the right)


Daffodils were planted in Murray's memory, (and manure)...The concrete pig is another story.