Thursday, April 16, 2009

On Track

Finally! As of today, Bruce and Iona are a little freer to wander (and graze). The track now goes up one side of the drive, cuts over to the loafing shed, around the farm yard and buildings, down the other side of the drive, along the road at the front, around the corner and starts up the west side. Whew! It's not a circle yet, and it won't be for a few weeks, but at least they've got a mile or so to cover. I'll try to keep it interesting, by moving the food around, although there is grass here and there on the track, and it's scattered enough that seeking it out should keep them moving a bit anyway.

Actually, I thought they looked a little bewildered today. "What? You mean we have to go all the way around here to get over there? Why can't we cut across anymore?" However, it'll make them think. Especially Bruce, who I notice is not the best at solving fencing maze puzzles. I could see Iona already getting impatient with him today. "Look, we just have to go this way, hurry up!"

It was certainly great to see them moving a lot more. That's really what it's all about for me. And they're closer to the house, too, a lot of the time, which is fun.

But wait...

Some of you are probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about, so let's back up for a minute. Awhile back a guy called Jaime Jackson came up with a brilliant idea for keeping horses, called a track system. He wrote all about it in a book called Paddock Paradise .

The basic idea is that rather than giving your horses the run of your property, or at least their pasture, you build a track around the perimeter, and give them the run of that. Jackson is a barefoot trimming guru, so he's big on this because it will make the horses' feet healthier. My horses are barefoot, so I'm all for that. However, I also believe that it'll make their minds a lot healthier, which is very important to me. I believe they deserve as stimulating an environment as possible. And since horses travel something like 20 miles a day in the wild, I believe that exercise is very very important to the mental, emotional and physical health.

This isn't our first track. I've been using the idea as much as possible the past few years. When I kept them in pastures I rented from a farmer back in Scotland, I used a track in the summer. The pastures were small, and I was afraid I would tear them up too much doing this during the muddy Scottish winters. Of course for most of the year in Scotland the grass was so lush that grazing was all about limiting their grass intake to prevent laminitis. Strip grazing alone, or shutting them in somewhere for part of the day just doesn't fit with my philosophy of natural. Yes, it might prevent laminitis, but at what cost to the horse in lack of exercise and other stimulation? So I managed to devise a method of combining the track with strip grazing. It was a little labor intensive for me, but worth it to see them fit and happy and slim.

During the times I can't have a track, I still try to "think track". What I mean is that I would never just put all their food in one place. I scatter it around the entire perimeter of their paddock or run. Anything to keep them stimulated and moving. It's not as effective as a track, but better than nothing.

Soooo - today was the big day. Track phase one! However, the fencing materials are getting a real test as the wind is incredibly strong tonight. I don't really like to think about what's happening out there in the dark. Some of the fencing materials I bought were unfamiliar and seem a bit flimsy to me. The wire is good and hot, and Bruce and Iona are ridiculously easy to keep in with electric fencing - even if it's only cool to lukewarm!! However, I hope they are coping out there in the dark and the wind, and that everything is staying put! I would feel awful if they came to any harm! They are pretty sensible, though, and would probably just go eat some nice grass if they somehow get off track. Tommorow's another day.

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