Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wrapping Up As A Working Student

I finished my month as a 'working student' and it was one of the hardest, but also most productive, months of my life. I've been putting off posting because there's just so much I want to write about that I couldn't find time and energy to start. I decided to break it into two posts, one about working at the barn and one about Rogo. Also, I'm going to try to keep it short and snappy, or I'll write a book :)
First - dressing for winter as a barn worker. You may remember this was a question / concern of mine going in (who wants to be cold for hours?) and I'm happy to report that with the advice you gave me, I was literally never cold the whole time, even though there were days it didn't get above -10 and I was out there for hours. Here's what I wore on the coldest days:


It was taken with a phone and is kind of dark, so I'll describe it: hat is rolled up - it can be pulled down over your face if you're going to be out for a long time, turning out, etc. A down filled jacket (it's a nice Eddie Bower jacket that I got for $5.00 at Frenchies, a locally famous line of used clothing outlets - I could write pages about my Frenchies finds) over a fleece top, insulated riding pants (in this case Elation, they were just what I had), breeches underneath for riding later. Light socks with wool socks over, inside Bogs. I have to give Bogs credit where credit is due. This is my first pair and I'll never be without them again. I ALWAYS get cold feet, and my feet weren't cold once, which seems like a miracle to me. They are light weight, water proof and warm. One of the other barn workers had Mud Ruckers, which seem to be of equal function. I think the key is that they are made of neoprene, so look for a pair of boots with that in mind if you have cold feet. The models to go for have 7 mm neo-tech insulation. Several people suggested options that might be cheaper and are comparable to Bogs in comments to an earlier post if you're interested. I got mine 20% off just before starting the month and I couldn't be happier with them. For gloves I wore insulated deer skin such as you can find at feed and tack stores and they worked well.
I'd say 95% of the time the down jacket would be over-kill. Most days I wore the jacket(s) that went with the insulated pants - two layers. An inside insulated layer and outside wind and water resistant layer. I'd start off with both layers, quickly take off the top layer as I worked up a sweat, and then take both off and ride in the fleece top I had on as a first layer. Also, I only needed the insulated pants two or three times. This insulated riding suit was bought half price in the spring about six years ago and I've worn it to death and it still looks fine. If you go to my pictures page you'll see me wearing the jacket when I found Rogo in Alberta as a two year old.
What I learned worked best for me most days is breeches as a first layer (the inside seam on long johns chafed my legs really badly when I walked in them all day), then I'd put something called power skins over the breeches. They are a Stanfields Underwear product. Stanfields is a Nova Scotia underwear producer and there is a factory outlet about 40 minutes from home, in Truro. It's one of my favourite stores! The deals are unbelievable. Anyway, the power skins are great - they are light weight with a really thin fleece lining and the outside of them repels things sticking to them unbelievably well. Hay and straw literally fall off of them. I discovered this by accident when I started wearing them on the outside instead of the inside of my breeches to avoid the inner seam on my leg. If anyone thought I was weird they were too polite to say :) It isn't too obvious - they just look like leggings and if you don't look closely they probably look like breeches. The other bonus of this arrangement is that you can just peel them off to ride and don't have extra layers inside your riding boots (I don't like winter riding boots - too bulky). Experienced barn workers often wear over-all or cover-alls. I'm not sure I'd find this a better option.
I also learned that as much as I love stalls deeply bedded in straw, they are just too much work for me. Although straw is cheaper, I would end up spending more on labour because they take a lot longer to clean. At home we have stall mattresses and use shavings and I can do both stalls in about 15 minutes. It takes me a least half an hour to do a good job on one stall bedded with straw, and although I've heard it makes great compost, the manure pile builds up very fast.
Turn out takes longer and is harder work than I realized. Our horses can go in and out on their own, so I haven't had to contend with turning horses in and out. The most I do is open or close a door. Turns out it's a pain :) Speaking of turn out, I'd read that you don't need alleys between the paddocks to separate the horses if you are using electric fence. At Frasers I was told you do need it. Any experience with this? Maybe it depends on how many and how frequently horses are coming and going.
I also got a reminder that I'll push myself too hard and it isn't a good thing. I was trying to meet all kinds if end of Feb. deadlines for tax issues and agriculture grants, and get ready for our dressage club annual general meeting, as well do management consulting at the other end of the Province, while doing hard physical work in the barn. Needless to say it didn't work and I backed off a bit on a few fronts.
I learned about the human side of things too - the importance of creating and maintaining a positive atmosphere, the key role good barn workers play, etc. Another bonus - Sue is a great cook and  after working in the cold all day she can put a delicous meal on the table for her crew in minutes. I've added several recipes to my repertoire! And speaking of food, for the first timer in my life I 'got' eating a good breakfast. It made a huge difference in my energy level. I met some great people, both other barn workers who I got to know better, and clients.  In the interests of honesty I have to say I missed several days due to business obligations, and I didn't do as much as the permanent barn workers. All in all though, it was one of the hardest, but best months I can imagine. The people there, Sue and the other workers were amazing to share this opportunity with me.
I got in some great riding for the month. I have a riding lesson tomorrow and I'll update and get back to my dressage training journal theme.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Week One As A 'Working Student'

With A Sub-theme of Rogo getting back to work...
Thanks for all of the great comments on my last post. I'm going to cut and paste them into my design file. The advice is great! I have many good ideas and leads to make our facility functional and safe. Now, to focus on my preparatory education :)
Last week went by in a blur. The degree of tiredness I felt Mon., Tues. and Wed. was something I can't describe and don't remember ever experiencing before, and they were being easy on me! Tues. was probably the worst - I was exhausted from Mon. and had to do it all again. I was literally holding onto the wall in a stall at one point and trying not to throw up. How tired was I? I remember trying to say something to one of the other women working in the barn and the effort it took to make my lips move took all my concentration. And I slurred! Who knew tiredness could affect speaking?
I don't want to make it sound like they were working me hard. I didn't have to do it, and I only did about half of what the regulars did. I wanted to experience and do as much as I could though. I have a much better idea about reasonable expectations for future employees and a HUGE respect and appreciation for barn workers. In my defense I'm mid fifties and have been working at a desk for decades. They're early twenties and in amazing shape.
Miraculously by Thur. I found my stride. Early afternoon it dawned on me that I wasn't going to hit the wall that day and I was actually enjoying myself.
I learned about feeding:
  • individually prepared for all 27 horses in labelled containers 
  • organized into the order of the stalls for ease of feeding
  • mix bran and alfalfa cubes with water in wheelbarrows; feed one morning, one night
  • soak and add barley to the bran
  • all horses get one scoop of the above plus a cup of green tea 
  • other feed(s) and supplements as required
  • rinse and dump wheelbarrows outside
  • feed first thing in the morning and again when horses come in
I learned about turn out:
  • the order of turning out matters. Some horses don't like to be out first or left last, while others don't care
  • Figure out which horses might get along together, or turn out individually
  • take two flakes of hay for each horse s you lead them out, for eating throughout the day
Cleaning stalls and daily managing the manure pile:
  • the stalls are bedded with straw. Remove all soiled straw, and pile what's left in a row in the middle of the stall
  • at the manure pile, dump off the end of the board which directs where to dump. Spread out  what you dumped. This helps keep adding in layers.
  • sweep the edges of the stall; scrape the floor if it is getting built up with residue of hay seed, etc. Sprinkle lime if needed
  • clean the water buckets and feed tubs; fill water buckets
  • add lots of new straw and hay
The other workers also groom and prep training horses for Sue to ride and sometimes warm them up for her. I did a little grooming.
Now, for Rogo...
Mon. was his first time under saddle since his surgery over a month previous. He was a good boy and did some good work. He got better every day, and by Thur. we had one of our best rides ever. Sue says we'll hit first level this year. I hope so. I know we're late, but we were without lessons for a long time and good basics are soooo important. We've made good progress since being here, even with all the time we've missed. I'll try to get some pictures or video soon.
Here's a picture of one of my fellow barn workers, Bianca, sharing kisses with Rogo (he loves it!).

It was around -20 this morning and didn't get above -10 today (if that) . I was in the barn all day except for a short lunch break and I stayed warm. I'll write what I've learned about dressing in a future post.
I'm behind in my blog reading and commenting. I'm too tired at night! :) I'll look forward to catching up with coffee when my working student gig is over.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I Have Some Big News

But before I tell you, I want to thank everyone for the great response to my last post. I got some truly fabulous advice on dressing for long hours of working outside and in a barn. I went back and labelled the post so others and I can find it. The comments are a wealth of information from some very experienced people. As a matter of fact I think there's a good magazine article there!
Okay, back to my news - remember when I wrote a wish list for 2011 ( I was helped by a glass of red :)? Hmm, written one year and one day ago - am I oddly energized by February? Check off #3 on this list: Develop a business plan that would give me financially sustainable access to an indoor full size dressage arena for winter 2012/13 (remember, it's a wish list). Find close to it for 2011/12.
Well, we won't really know if it's financially sustainable until it's up and running (although we've crunched lots of numbers), but all of the pieces are coming together for a winter / early spring 2013 opening. This list was the first time it made it to the surface of my consciousness and Doug (my husband) and I have been slowly but surely moving ahead with it ever since. Kind of weird eh? This past week we reached a milestone, but before I get to that here's a short chronology with pictures:
  • we bought 135 acres of land in April 2011 very close to the Halifax / Truro corridor. It is the central place to be in Nova Scotia, with easy access from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island too.

Doug got his life time dream (besides his Harley lol) - a John Deere tractor
 Here he is driving it across our front lawn just after it came off of the delivery truck. While we're on this picture, check out the cute little horse silhouette on the corner of the trim over the door. Doug made them for several spots on the house.
  • I did surveys, newsletters and business planning to figure out user needs, market, costs, budget

 You can't make it out, but I think it's interesting. It's some of the results of the on-line survey I did re user and event planner preferences for a competition and clinic facility. If you would like the information just let me know and I'll email it to you.
We settled on a phase one program of: (1) a rental venue for competitions and clinics, (2) a small amount of boarding, particularly in the winter months when there aren't competitions and people need an indoor to train, and (3) a small amount of warmblood breeding (starting next year with one). We'll cater to all disciplines who want to use our facility.
  • Doug started clearing land and is making good progress.
 This is kind of dark (my phone at dusk), but it's the future location of the arena. Everything else will be designed around that.
  • And then everything fell into place this week - Rogo's looking good, we got the financing terms we wanted, the arena supplier gave us a competitive quote, and, ta da - the big news part - we ordered a gorgeous We Cover arena!!! It will be 80 feet wide and 216 feet long, with the riding surface being about 205 feet long (some space at one end will be for offices, feed, etc.). The supplier sent me these pictures of one they just put up.
 Ours will have windows in the ends and stabling on the sides. The buildings can have metal or wood siding. We'll probably do wood ends and let them weather grey, and we'll see about the stable siding - grey metal or wood.
This of course led to great excitement on our part and bubbly was in order.

It was fun to sit and talk about the coming year. We have great plans but it will be very hard work.
Now I'm working on a site plan. I was an environmental / park planner for many years and have a design degree in environmental planning, so I can actually do this. Of course an agricultural engineer is doing all of the structural plans. Here is a very rough design program. Keep in mind the plan is to develop the site over a period of years, so I want to include everything in the design so we don't realize down the road that the perfect spot for visitor camping for example has been used for an equipment shed.

Can you make this out? Did I miss anything? Feedback is more than welcome.
So that's the big news. I hope you don't mind me writing about business on my training blog. This blog is definitely staying a personal dressage training journal, but I can't help throwing other stuff in at times, especially when it's life changing. If you are interested in following our facility development progress I have a facebook page for it and a website coming soon. With your indulgence I'll be picking your brains for design ideas and have already gotten some from generous readers.