Sept. 2004 -- Building the horses a home

My husband and I moved from the suburbs south of Seattle to farm country north east of Seattle in mid-July. The property is exactly what I wanted... part woods, part pasture, nice house, and a barn, all located in the middle of nowhere. It will be a LONG time before the city catches up to us!

There were horses on the property before we moved in, but I wasn't thrilled with how the pastures were laid out. There was a huge, muddy sacrifice lot, partially-fenced pastures in odd areas, and no well-placed paths from getting from one place to another. (I don't think the path that was trod through the center of the lawn was particularly well-placed, though it was certainly efficient for their layout!) There were also several dilapidated outbuildings, tons of blackberries and brush, and random junk lying around. So we had a lot of work to do before we could bring horses home.

Dismantling the old lot

The first thing I wanted to do was dismantle the old "sacrifice lot." In western Washington, it's unusual for horses to graze all the time. The grass is too rich -- risk of founder -- and it's really hard on pasture for horses to graze it when it's wet. So horse owners usually create a grass-less area called a sacrifice lot. It's also called a dry lot, though if nothing is done about the mud, it may not be very dry!

The old lot is located right behind our house. It's much bigger than I wanted (though it had posts sunk for cross-fencing in two places, so it could be made smaller), it was very muddy, and it didn't connect to the barn. Here's how it looked just before we moved in...

We took down the gates, old wire, and T-posts. Here's how it looks now. Okay, yes, I know the lawn is way shaggy. Get over it. We're in the process of buying a lawn tractor to deal with it. In the meantime, our lawn is indistinguishable from the field!

Look at the junk we pulled out of the old lot! Not only was there a ton of old, orange, electric fence, but there was junk like a car battery and a bucket of hydraulic fluid. And all those dog toys next to the table? I pulled those out of there too. Pax and Rain have been spreading their toys around EVERYWHERE.

Building the new lot

The next task was to create a new sacrifice area for the horses. My plan was to make a mudless area from a partially-fenced pasture behind the barn. That pasture had some really lovely grass in it, and it seemed a waste to just cover it up with hog fuel (ground wood, commonly used for arena and paddock footing here). Since I wanted the new dry lot to have two separate areas, I decided we should fence the whole area, cross-fence a smaller area near the barn, and make only the smaller area "dry" right now. Then I could let the new horses graze the remaining part to the ground over the next month or two before making it mudless.

Here's how the pasture looked just before we moved in. Nice grass, but there are stumps (more than you can see here), and the fencelines on both the north and south sides are mired in brush and brambles.

The first thing I did was take down the old fence.

Then we set all the T-posts for the new fence. Because we're not supposed to keep horses within 100 feet of our well, we relocated part of the north fenceline. (The tape on the ground in this picture shows where the fenceline used to be.) And we added posts for the cross-fence and filled in places where the old pasture fence wasn't complete.

Next we tackled the brush. We mowed a path through the weeds and trimmed away the blackberries. Look at all the brush we pulled out of this small area! We also used a weed wacker and a lawnmower on its lowest setting to knock down the grass in the area we planned to make mudless.

Look at my dog dig! Just kidding. We had a man come in and grind up a handful of the stumps in the small lot. There's still one huge stump left, and there are stumps left in the still-grass portion of the paddock. We'll take care of those when we have the money to do so -- probably when we make the rest of the paddock mudless.

The hog fuel was delivered Saturday morning -- nearly 100 cubic yards of it. That's two full semi loads!

We rented a tractor to help spread it. It was a full day's work anyway though. Jay and I were exhausted.

We were really proud of how it looked when we were done though! Didn't Jay do a good job?

Next came fencing. I was really frustrated with the fencing. I wanted the tape to be held taut and snug by the clips on the fences. Nope. It can slide through, which means it's just next to impossible to get a really tight line. That IRRITATES me, because saggy fence -- which is what will happen within a short period of time -- looks like crap. It looks nice now though.

Here are the views from the house...

Here's a closer view of the mudless pasture. (Didn't Jay do a great job hanging the gate?)

Here's the revised north fenceline.

Here's a view from the barn looking out at the mudless lot and the still-grass portion behind it. Sorry about the fog -- out of my control.

Getting the barn ready

Of course, the dry lot isn't all it takes to have a horse. I had to get a ton of hay... er, make that two and a half tons. I know this pictures looks like there's only about 20 bales there, but there's actually 50!

We don't have a garage or shed, so the barn had become our storage room. And while doing all this work, we bought a TON of supplies and tools. I don't have a picture of the stuff that had been stuck in the stalls, but here's a shot of the overflow into the aisle.

Having a place to store tools and such isn't optional, so until we can build a shed and tack room, we've designated one stall to do the job. Here it is, all organized.

The other stalls are horse-ready. I tried two kinds of bedding -- "Comfort Bedding," which is wood pellets, and cedar shavings. I'm going to compare the experience of cleaning them out, and see which I decide to stick with over the long haul.

During this big cleanup, we accumulated a ton of junk. Some was generated by us (packaging for the bedding, for example), some was left by the old owners (old fence, random trash and junk in the pasture and barn), and some was created as we cleaned out brush. I'm going to go through this and make three piles -- regular trash, haul away, and burn.

We've barely made a dent on the property as a whole, of course, but I think we're ready for horses!


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