Tough Nuts to Crack

My wife and I live on horse property here in Colorado: flat, open acreage with high-desert grass in all directions. When you’re out in the pastures it can feel like you’re alone on top of God’s green earth. But make no mistake; there’s a bustling world just below the surface. Every day it seems, one or more of our eight billion ground squirrels darts out of a hole, stands at attention, and gives me the cold-eyed stare down, as if to say, “you think this is your property, huh?”

Okay, so eight billion ground squirrels is a bit of an exaggeration (let’s go with seven billion).  And they’re not really our ground squirrels (although some definitions of real estate would disagree).  The fact of the matter is, we’re cohabitating with tons of rodents, and I often wonder which of us is in charge.

“Admit it – you think I’m cute.”

To be clear, we’re not talking about prairie dogs (the larger members of the squirrel family) nor chipmunks (the smaller), but rather those gregarious in-between’ers with the bold racing stripes down the back.  Ground squirrels have short tails, beady eyes, and perky little ears on top of smallish heads.  They forage for nuts and seeds (of which we have precious few) or insects in a pinch, and they can dig holes like champs.  Ground squirrels rise up on their hind legs in an instant when they sense danger, standing straight as a board and totally aware (an annoyingly cute habit).  They vanish into the earth with an alarming screech when they sense the slightest movement.

“Ah-ten…TION!”

But I digress.  I’ve seen enough of these little furballs to know who’s responsible for the Swiss cheese look of our land.  I saw one of them disappear down a hole once, then pop up fifty yards away mere seconds later.  And damn these little critters are bold.  One time I was looping the lawn on my John Deere ride-on mower when a squirrel stared me down from right there amongst the blades until I practically ran him over.  Picture that famous photo of the Tiananmen Square protestor in China; the one who refused to back down from the approaching tank.  That was me and the squirrel.

Bring it…

We have an understanding, the groundies and I (or so I thought).  I willingly cede them the pastures while they keep a distance from the lawn and patio.  Their holes are too small to cripple the horses, and it’s not like we have a grove of walnut trees just beckoning them to the buffet.  But the lawn?  Now that’s sacred territory, friends.  I used to think my lawn had a force field around the perimeter, keeping the ground squirrels at bay.  No longer.  I recently discovered two of their holes smack dab in the middle of the green.  In an instant I was thinking, “payback time, you, you rodents, you”.  I grabbed a big coil of garden hose, thrust the nozzle down one of the holes like a big ol’ snake, and turned on the water full-blast.  Then I watched the other hole with a smirk, waiting for my little traitor to come flying out atop a geyser of water.

Alas, Old Faithful never happened, not even like you see in cartoons.  Thirty minutes of fill-‘er-up and then I gave up and turned off the water.  Not only did I not flush out a ground squirrel, I didn’t even fully flood wherever those holes led to.  Which got me to wondering, just how big is this underground Habitrail?  Can you picture one of those sand-filled ant farms you used to get as a kid?  Is the foundation of our house resting precipitously on a network of squirrel tunnels and my water-dousing only accelerating its collapse?  Let’s hope I don’t tumble out of bed one night and wonder what just happened.  I will admit to this: a little while after me and the garden hose, I was at the kitchen sink when a groundie popped right up from one of those holes in the lawn.  He didn’t even look wet, but boy did he look pissed.  He stared right at me through the window with his beady little eyes, as if to say, “YOU. You killed my family”.  Nah.  More likely he was saying, “nyah, nyah, nyah – you didn’t get me”.  Probably stuck out his teeny-tiny tongue while he was at it.

I’m not one to take up arms, but ground squirrels have me thinking about a BB gun.  I’m just an average shot but the little critters make easy targets with their stand-and-freeze habits.  Maybe I could fashion a coat out of several dozen squirrel pelts and parade around the(ir) pastures.  But seriously now, how many BB’s would it take to make a dent in our Chip ‘n Dale population?  Ten thousand?  Twenty?  For crying out loud, that’s less than one-quarter of one percent (of seven billion).  The squirrels seem to be winning.

I’m going about this all wrong.  I need something stronger.  Do they sell nuclear bombs at Wal*Mart?

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Horsing Around

My wife runs an equestrian facility on our property – boarding, training, therapy and recreational riding for those who enjoy horses.  It’s a lot of activity and it’s a whole lot of work to maintain.  When our barn help doesn’t show up, that’s where I come in.  I don’t ride but I can do the work.  I suppose you could say I’m a horse of a different color.  My wife and I knock out the myriad chores in about four hours (morning and evening combined), and I get a kick (hoof?) out of all of the terms and phrases that are uniquely “equine”.  Consider the five essential aspects of daily horse care:

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Grain – Are you “feeling your oats” today?  That’s a reference to horses (of course!) and the boost of energy derived from their daily dose of grain.  “Grain” means a lot more than “oats” these days.  Grain is a general barn term to include the endless supplements for the specific needs of a horse (i.e. fiber boost, joint care, digest assist, immune system boost, metabolic stimulation).  Solid, liquid or “mash” (something in between the first two), grain is measured in bins, sacks, and baggies; scoops, cans, and cups, and even tiny bits like pinches, eye-droppers, and capfuls.  When all is measured and done – voila! – your horse has a complete pan to feast on.  So remember – grain is not just grain.  That’s putting the cart before the horse.

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Grass – Have you ever been the recipient of a “haymaker”?  That’s a powerful, forceful punch (which means someone must’ve been really mad at you).  But a haymaker is also a machine that dries grass, thus creating “hay”.  And horses need a lot of hay.  You could start with a handful but your horse will probably demand a flake or a cube, and if he’s really hungry he will devour an entire bale.  But I’m talking the 50 lb. bale you see stacked in the fields.  If you want to seriously hay your horses (and take a two-week vacation), opt for large bales – round or square – which can weigh up to a ton.  Your horse will think he’s found an all-you-can-eat-buffet.

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Water – You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  When a horse does drink however, he’ll take in a gallon or more at a time; a glassful simply won’t do.  Watering horses requires everything from a hose to a pan to a pail to a bucket to a tank to a trough.  If you want to get really crazy you can even install a cistern (or a water tower) and then you never have to worry where your water’s coming from (even if your well dries up).  Finally, don’t forget the fishnet to keep the water clean.  Horses muck it up while they’re munching on hay.

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Cleaning – Speaking of mucking it up, are you a “muckety-muck”?  I hope not because that means you’re an arrogant, self-important person.  But come join me in barn chores and I’ll show you all the “muck” you could ever want.  A horse processes grain, hay, and water into a mountain of manure, and unfortunately for me a horse does his business wherever he pleases.  That means a lot of cleaning.  You’re going to need a muck rake for starters (and a hoe if it’s cold enough outside because then manure sticks to the ground).  You’re also going to need a muck cart – the wheels underneath the muck tub where you’ll deposit all of that manure.  Lastly your manure needs a final destination.  That would either be a manure pile (which is eventually removed by a manure hauler), or your pastures themselves, by means of a manure spreader.  Not to beat a dead horse, but your goal is to get all those “apples” as far away from the barn as possible.

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Enclosures – If it came straight from the horse’s mouth, y0ur equine would demand to be put out on pasture and never ever brought in.  That’s because he wants to graze all day and night, which is almost never a good idea.  So a horse “comes in”, which means he retires to a pen or a stall.  If he’s really lucky, his stall has a run, and sometimes he can hang with other horses in a paddock before he’s moved back to pasture.  If he wants a place to go when he needs some alone time or gets tired of the rain he goes into a loafing shed.  And when he’s actually ridden he goes to an indoor or outdoor arena, or perhaps for a trail ride (which is sometimes just called “down the road”).

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There’s a lot more equine-speak where that came from but it’s time I got off my high horse.  If you’re in the market for a horse I hope everything I’ve talked about here is enlightening.  To me it’s just horse sense.