Fire In The Field, Fire In The Barn, Fire at The Neighbors, Fire on The Farm.

If you didn’t sing that title in your head with a country music twang, I might not be able to be your friend.  All over the news this week is the California wild fire.  “OMG, that race track video of those horses running around, so tragic.”  Agreed.  Unfortunately, no one is immune to wild fires, you may live in the highest spot in the world so you don’t have to worry about flooding but wild fires can get to just about everyone.  Here in the Houston Area, we had a wild fire break out on the NW side of town in the summer of 2011.  A few of my friends had to evacuate for weeks, it was terrible, they were lucky though, the fire did not come to them.

So wild fires are one thing, but then there are also barn fires.  These are devastating, and at least once a year I hear about one at some major farm.  I’m sure it happens at smaller barns all the time and they don’t make any news.

“That’s it, I am selling the farm and moving to a concrete apartment in the city, Fluffy Pony can go too and live in my living room, on the 3rd floor in case it floods too.”  Well, that’s one way of doing it, or you can prepare, plan, and prevent.  In the case of wild fires, there are many things you can do to make evacuation as smooth as possible, and you may not have a lot of time.

  • Work with your horses to ensure they can easily be haltered and loaded, do this now, don’t leave it until it is too late.
  • Keep a few essentials in your trailer, like buckets, hay nets with hay, a first aid kit.
  • Know all escape routes, fires in the area will close roads, make sure you know of alternate routes to get out.
  • Put dog tags with phone numbers and names on halters, preferably leather as they don’t melt like nylon, in case you have to throw your horse on any available trailer or turn them loose.
  • If you have to turn your horses loose, close stall and barn doors to keep them from getting trapped and open every gate possible including the one that lets them off your property, they have a better chance if they can run away from the fire.
  • Get your horse microchipped, a lot of show horses have to have these but it’s another way to help identify your horse if you get separated in the melee.
  • Set up a “call tree” that allows you to call 2 people, who then call 2 people who then call 2 more people, and so on.  This will allow you to get trucks and trailers lined up quickly without you spending hours on the phone.
  • Have “safe locations” set up.  Have names and numbers of safe places that you may be able to take the horses in the event of an emergency.  These can be large horse facilities, like show grounds or fair grounds, or maybe a friend in another town.  You can even delegate that task to someone on the call tree.

For barn fires, fast response is key.  We don’t have too many down here in Texas because our barns are metal so there is less to burn but here are a few ways to prevent fires

  • Make sure all water heaters bucket/trough etc. are in the correct receptacle and have cages as necessary.  If you have plastic troughs/buckets the heating element can melt the plastic and start a fire, so they must have cages and be properly installed
  • Don’t use indoor rated heaters, they are not wired for outdoors and the electrical components themselves can start a fire.
  • Set you barn electrical on GFCI outlets like in your house so they will trip, this can help prevent an electrical fire.  They must be properly installed and grounded to work, you can’t just replace the outlet itself.
  • Ensure you use outside rated extension cords.  Tie/zip tie/tape electrical cords up away from pony teeth.  Check them regularly for damage.
  • Tie extension cord plugs together, this keeps them from coming apart.
  • Be careful with dust, dust collecting on heaters and heat lamps themselves can catch fire so at least once a year(once a month during use is best but lets be real), clean off your heaters, preferably before you turn them on for the first time that year.
  • Store hay and shavings in a separate barn, these create dust that can start fires and they are flammable.  Under the very right conditions, or maybe they are the wrong conditions, these can combust on their own so storing them away from the barn is a good idea.
  • Don’t store paint, gasoline, or other fuels in the barn as these are flammable too.
  • Do not start bonfires or trash fires near the barn, the embers can be blown onto the barn, or they can travel through dry grass and catch the barn on fire.  Always babysit fires and keep a hose on and handy to help control the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the barn, if the fire is small enough you may be able to put it out yourself.
  • And there is always the obvious, no smoking in the barn.

If your barn does catch fire:

  • CALL 911 FIRST!!!!!
  • You will want to run into the barn and start pulling horses but first of all you need to call 911 or have someone do it.  If for whatever reason you get stuck inside trying to pull horses out, you might have a chance of surviving.
  • Keep Emergency halters near the door that you can easily grab to catch and move horses.  You can make a bunch of these from old halters and short ropes.
  • Also keep long sleeved t-shirts near the door to use as a blind fold for upset/frightened horses, drape the body part of the shirt over their face and tie the arms under their cheeks to hold it in place.
  • When you pull a horse out of his stall, close the stall door behind you to keep him from running back in.
  • If you can get the horse out to a safe paddock close the horses in there, the tendency is for them to run back into the stall where they think it is “safe” so do anything you can do to keep them from going back.

DIY Emergency halter

  1. Get old nylon or leather halters, larger is better so that it will fit a variety of horses.  Have at least one per horse, so that you can pull the horse out and leave the halter and rope on them when you throw them out in the pasture or paddock.
  2. Cut the chin part out and the throat out, then either tie a rope through it so it looks like the halter pictured here or get those cheap cotton lead ropes that are really thin and string them through the one side and clip on the other.
  3. You can also use a grooming halter and just cut the chin out.
  4. Make sure the rope you use will move through the holes, if it’s a little tight it will help hold the nose area open while you try to put it on.
  5. If you keep the lead rope short, like 4′ then they are less likely to get tangled in them when they are walking around with a halter on, unsupervised.
  6. These are not the safest halters in the world but a few stitches to the face are better than the alternative.

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Drama Llama Has Struck Again. What Eventers Can and Should Learn From Hunter/Jumpers

Whelp, I had planned on posting this last week but mini EE got sick and when she is sick she becomes a stage 4 Clinger!  So here it is early in the week.

Sometimes I know exactly what I am going to write about for the week, other times I am grappling with trying to come up with an unlame idea. Sometimes I have a great idea and then something comes up that needs to be or should be written about. Well this week, I had no idea what I was going to write about, and then it hit me at the horse show yesterday.  “You got hit at a horse show?”  Well no but the Drama Llama snuck in and spit on few people.  “Eww, llama spit.”

It was quiet in the “show jumping” warm up area, there were 3 or 4 Training level riders in the ring hacking.  Then trainers showed up and the yelling began.  “Oooo drama!!  Was there a fist fight?  Who was it?  Do I know them?  Gimme the Deets!”  There was no fist fight, I will not use names so we will refer them to Trainer 1, Trainer 2, and Trainer 3.  For the non-eventers here, normally in the jumping phases they set up 3 fences in the arena a cross rail (12″-18″), a vertical (at competition height), and an oxer (at competition height).  The jumps are “flagged” so all 3 jumps must be jumped going one direction.  For training level the competition height is 3’3″.  Trainer 1 and 2 head into the ring to lower the vertical and oxer to allow their students to warm up.  Trainer 3 begins yelling about how they are not supposed to mess with the height of the jumps.  Trainer 1 starts yelling back about how it’s completely allowed.  Trainer 2 is attempting to compromise and leave one of the fences at height.  There are a lot of ugly things said including comments about “If your kid can’t jump training level, then you shouldn’t be riding at that level” and “Apparently you don’t go to a lot of shows but this is legal.”  In the end, the Technical Delegate (Head honcho at events) was called down to settle the situation.  In all of this, 2 horses run into each other with one falling to the ground and the rider getting thrown.  I didn’t see the actual collision but heard it and turned my head the second the horse stood back up, he was limping.  He did walk out of the arena but had to be retired from the competition.

So who was correct?  Trainer 1 and 2 were as long as they left the jump at the height they had found it, which they said they would.  This was a schooling show and the first for the year so lots of people are moving up.  If someone wants to set jumps lower for student to warm up over, I feel like this is the place to do it if there ever was one.

Allow me to set a different scene for you.  Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, 2000 horses on the grounds showing for 2 weeks, warm up arenas the same size or smaller with 10-15 horses in it trying to warm up.  There are 3 jumps in the center of the ring, similar to events, but they can be jumped any direction.  Trainers go and stand by a jump and adjust it up and down for whatever height their student needs.  If your student goes first you have priority.  I have only maybe seen one collision in these situations, which I have been to many more of than events.  I have seen a number of almost collisions but not actual collisions.  Another thing you won’t hear a lot of is “chatter”.  “That’s a lie, people talk all the time, people even park their horse in the warm up ring and chat with friends regularly.”  This is true, but you don’t hear a lot of “on your outside”, “Inside!”, “Heads Up!”, or even calling fences.  So how do people not incessantly kill each other?

As the fences get bigger, the people tend understand some ring basics.  First of all, they watch out for each other, my head is on a swivel when I warm up at HJ(Hunter Jumper) shows.  Since my trainer has reserved a jump for just her students, I know who to watch out for, and who else will be coming to the jump.  If I am her only student, then I know that no one else will be jumping that fence except me.  Does that mean that Susie whose trainer couldn’t make it can’t jump “my jump”?  No, but she will ask, and so I know to watch out for her and my trainer helps maintain traffic to the fence.   “You can bet your sweet buns, I am getting my chair and my beach umbrella and camping out in front of that jump for hours.  That is MY jump.”  A “reserved jump” is only reserved for the time you are jumping which for one person is usually 5-7 minutes, 10 minutes if if you are having trouble. People also know that if you circle near the fences, it’s at your own risk and there is a chance you will get yelled at to move, so most people won’t turn in front of or behind the fences and leave plenty of room for take off and landing so as not to cause a collision.

Another thing, when I am at HJ shows, well really riding in general, I don’t usually start over an X, then head to a 3’9″ oxer (Preliminary level).  I usually trot a few fences maybe an X and a 2′ vertical, then we raise the fence in 6″ish increments until we get to the competition height, depending on the horse, we will sometimes go 3″-6″ higher so that when the go in the ring, the fences look small.  So in theory, if I were to compete at prelim level, the fence height would be adjusted 5-6 times prior to going into the ring.  Also in the HJ world, all 3 warm up fences have 2 pairs of standards and 4 poles to allow for any of them to be made into an oxer.  So I would maybe finish my warm up over a 4′ oxer prior to entering into the ring.  I have done jumpers up to the 3’9″ height and this was standard warm up for my mare.

Currently, I am competing at novice (2’9″) with my event horse, the fences are small enough that the standard X, vertical, and oxer that are standard at events is a decent warm up.  When we move up to training, I will not want to do an X then send my mare to a 3’3″ vertical, it’s not fair to her.  We don’t school like that at home, why would we do that at a show?  Don’t have anyone to set fences for you?  Time to make friends at the shows, trade your time for theirs.  Eventers don’t always have trainers around to help them at shows, I have been there too, and if I move up the levels, I will ask for help or con one of my friends into going for a free dinner or glass of wine.  I am naturally a very friendly person so I almost always make friends at horse shows.  “Friendly?  Hah, like how alligators are friendly?”  Ok I am sarcastic, agressive, and a bit bitter but under that scaly exterior I’m generally a fun kinda person.  A great way to meet people is to volunteer at shows.  This fall I was able to fit a few hours in between dressage and stadium and an hour or so after cross country.  People were so appreciative, I was able to get to know some people I hadn’t met before, and spend some time giving back to the eventing community.

The drama mentioned above is not exclusive to eventing, things happen at every show, some behind the scenes, some right in front of everyone.  Talk will travel through the entire show, and if you aren’t careful, it will travel through the entire industry.  I like to remind people, the horse world is very small, very very small, be careful how you treat others, word gets around.  “Like wild fire.”  That’s no joke.  Offshore on a boat of 50 dudes, one thing happens, and the whole boat knows about it in 20 mins or less, and that is a bunch of guys who communicate in grunts and snorts.  The nice thing about the horse world is that you don’t have to sit and eat dinner with the other horse show people every night for the next 3 weeks.  “Eventually you get off the boat though and you never have to see that person again.”  WRONG, I see people I know all over the place, you will cross paths with people eventually, oil field is just not that big.  Being a girl, everyone remembers me, I would rather they remember me as a pleasant person that is easy to work with, especially since they may be high up in a company I may want to work with in the future.  People come and go from the horse world but sometimes they pop up in a different discipline, or area, that you may be trying to get into so be careful how you treat others and how you behave.

A few general rules in a busy warm up area.

  • Pass left shoulder to left shoulder, like driving a car.  This should just be the standard, if there is an issue, you can “call it” but generally you should always attempt to pass left to left.  Put a bracelet on your left wrist if you have trouble with right and left.
  • If you need to circle, come inside the rail so that traffic can still pass you on the rail.
  • Faster riders go to the inside.  So say you are walking and I am cantering, you should walk on the rail and I should go toward the inside of the ring to pass you.
  • Avoid turning in front of or behind jumps.
  • If you see a horse having trouble or acting up, give them room, do not get close, you may make things worse.
  • If you have a horse that is causing problems, do not put yourself in tight spots that can cause problems.
  • If you know you have a problem horse, try and go in the warm up ring when it is quiet, there are natural lulls, warm up then if you can.
  • Call “Heads Up…” when someone is in the way or not paying attention, if you are coming to the jump, let them know which one.
  • If you hear “Heads Up”, look up to make sure it’s not you in the way.
  • Above all, BE POLITE!  Say, excuse me, Sorry, Please, and Thank you.

Disclaimer: As always, I am an engineer and not a conflict referee or a psychologist.  Merely an observer.

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