What Do You Mean, Float a Horse?

Dr. Kang checking Buck for trigger points along his spine.
Dr. Kang assesses Buck for a chiropractic adjustment. My friend, Shella, and his assistant, Georgie are helping.

Most people assume I have horses so I can ride them.  And I do. But the truth is, as much as I love riding, I love taking care of horses even more. And so, I thought it would be fun to share a little of what happens when our vet pays a ranch call to the farm. Dr. Gene Koo Kang came by over the weekend to “adjust” and “float” our retired race horse, Buck, and he was kind enough to let me snap a few pictures while he worked. If you haven’t been around horses much, some of what you are about to see might shock you.  All of this was news to me when I first got Dart and Joey over ten years ago.

Dr. Kang locates a trigger point.
Dr. Kang locates a trigger point along Buck’s spine.

Yes, it is possible to “float” an 11-hundred pound horse. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the adjustment, which had nothing to do with Buck’s attitude. Buck has a bad stifle or knee joint in his left hind leg from his days on the track.  We don’t know much about it because he wasn’t our horse when he got hurt.  But we do know that sometimes when Buck steps backwards, his bad knee locks up, leaving his leg stuck in the air. We also believe the injured knee causes him some pain, especially when it rains.

Equine Chiropractic Technique
Healing hands, equine chiropractic technique

Fortunately for Buck, Dr. Kang is an equine (and canine) chiropractor. We started having him do adjustments on Buck right after we moved here three years ago and we’ve seen Buck’s pain lessen and the atrophied muscles in the hip over his injured knee regenerate themselves.   At first Buck was nervous about being adjusted.  But now, he seems to understand it helps him feel better and I think he actually enjoys it.

Moving on to dental work.
Moving on to dental work.

Less fun for Buck, and all concerned, is the dental work. Unlike human teeth which stop growing, a horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life.  That’s why old horses (and old people) are sometimes referred to as “long in the tooth.”  A horse with overgrown teeth can’t chew its food properly and that interferes with digestion.  Over time, you end up with a skinny, malnourished horse even if he is “eating like a horse.”

Floating Buck's Teeth
Floating Buck’s Teeth

That’s where the “floating” comes in.  “Floating a horse” simply means using a heavy metal file or rasp to grind down its overgrown teeth. And here’s the shocker. Many vets do this with power tools! Dr. Kang’s tool of choice is a reciprocating saw, a tool usually used in demolition.  You might know it by its common (brand) name, a Sawzall.  This type of saw moves a jagged saw blade back-and-forth with enough force to cut holes through floors and walls.

This is the "float" that "floats a horse".
This is the “float” that “floats a horse.”

Relax, there’s not a saw blade gyrating in Buck’s mouth. Instead, Dr. Kang fits the tool with a metal rasp known as a “float.”  The name comes from the motion of the rasp moving or “floating” back-and-forth over the surface of the horse’s teeth. Thus the confusing phrase “floating a horse.” (And now you know).

The tool doesn't hurt Buck.  But it makes a lot of noise.
This won’t hurt a bit.

Horses don’t have nerves in their teeth like people do so filing them, even with a power tool, doesn’t hurt. But grinding teeth with a metal rasp makes a heck of a noise! So Buck was given a mild sedative to keep him calm. The metal frame around his gums is there to hold open his mouth so Dr. Kang can see inside and work.

Dr. Kang says when the sedative wears off, Buck won't remember what happened.
Look Mom, no cavities!

It sounds miserable.  But Dr. Kang assures me that when the sedative wears off, the horses have no memory of what happened. And sure enough, Buck returned to the pasture after his float and happily munched grass for the rest of the day, seemingly unconcerned about having just had a power tool reciprocating in his mouth.

Dr. Kang assessing Leah's knees.
Dr. Kang assessing Leah’s knees.

After he finished with Buck, Dr. Kang did a wellness exam on Leah, the newest horse in our barn.  Leah is a beautiful 29-year old Arabian mare named for Princess Leia in Star Wars.  She had been my friend, Shella’s, horse for most of her life and after they parted ways, she always remained in Shella’s heart.  When Shella discovered recently that Leah was stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, she worked it out to regain custody of Leah and bring her home!

Leah's knees show signs of advanced arthritis.
The thickness in Leah’s knees and the bowing of her legs is caused by osteoarthritis.

The years have not been kind of Leah and she now has severe osteoarthritis in both of her front legs.  Nothing can be done to reverse the arthritis but Dr. Kang recommends nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and fish oil to slow the progression.  And now that Leah is back in Shella’s care, she will get regular hoof trimming from our farrier. The farrier can adjust the angle of her hooves to put Leah into better balance and alleviate some of the pressure on her joints.

Despite her arthritis, Leah can still trot and prance.
Despite her arthritis, Leah is a happy and active horse.

We don’t know what caused Leah’s arthritis.  But it serves as a good reminder of why regular hoof care is so important to the health of a horse. Dr. Kang says Leah also needs to have her teeth floated, but that’s a project for another day. We have to come up with a way to help her stand while she’s sedated.  Her front legs are too weak to do it on their own.  Bob is engineering a system involving some straps and a sling.  When it’s ready Dr. Kang will come back to float Leah. We’ll show you how it goes here in the blog.

Springing Forward!

Nick digging deep to uproot a vine.
Nick digging deep to uproot a vine.

Four days ago, I was complaining about winter.  And now, we’re less that four weeks away from the first day of Spring!  The Spring Equinox arrives at 12:57 EDT on March 20th.   And Daylight Saving Time begins on March 9th.  Ah, I can feel the sun and the dry ground already!

Tylor gives the thumbs up to a healthy root ball.
Tylor gives the thumbs up to a healthy root ball. You can see the tight squeeze between the trellis posts and the deer fence behind him.

And that makes it crunch time in the vineyard.  The crew is taking advantage of breaks in the rain to shorten ten rows in one of our blocks by uprooting and  transplanting 40 vines.  We’ve discovered the rows are too long in that spot to turn around the tractor between the trellis posts at the end of the rows and the deer fencing.

A closer look at the roots.  The vines show nice growth over two growing seasons!
A closer look at the roots. They show nice growth over two growing seasons!

The vines we are moving are from our second planting in 2012.  Digging them up is giving us a good look at their root systems.  One of our primary goals for the vines during their first two years in the ground has been for them to establish deep, strong roots.  So far, the roots look great.

Tylor prepares the roots to be transplanted.
Tylor prepares the roots to be transplanted.

Now the challenge is getting all those roots back into the ground pointed downward.  If the roots get twisted during transplanting, they could grow upward and girdle or strangle the vine!  This was also a concern during initial planting, but the roots were much smaller and easier to manage.

A vine finds its new home,
A vine finds its new home,

We are using the transplants to fill in around the vineyard where a vine has died.  Having vines to move is a lucky break for us, because the transplanted vines are the same age and size as the rest of the vines in the vineyard.  That means less work because we won’t have to manage babies mixed in with our mature vines.

Vines laid out for our 2012 planting.  Look how small they were!
Baby vines ready for planting in 2012. Look how small they were!

But I miss the babies!   And all of this transplanting is making me wish we had some young vines waiting to go into the ground.  Spring planting is such fun.  Sunny days (usually), fresh air, great company, music playing, and every vine a new possibility.  Crawling around in the dirt all day and looking back over your shoulder at your work, you start to think that maybe this is the way life is supposed to be.

Nathan during the 2012 planting.  The metal pipes with the marks painted on them were used to measure the space between vines.
Nathan during the 2012 planting. The metal pipes with the marks painted on them were used to measure the space between vines.

There is a way in which planting is the best part of having or managing a vineyard.  And they grow up so fast!  I may have to talk to the horses about giving up a few acres of pasture for some Chardonnay.  If we start planning now and get the ground tilled up this fall, we could be ready for planting by this time next year!

Rocking the Vineyard!  A boom box on a ladder and a very long extension cord.
Rocking the Vineyard! A boom box on a ladder and a very long extension cord.

The Incredible Slog Through An Oregon Winter-Part One

Ever wonder why they’re called “Muck Boots?”  Just look at the above picture and I think you’ll see why.  There’s more than mud swirling around in that horse pasture soup!

Up until about ten days ago, things had been unusually dry on the farm for an Oregon winter.   But now our winter rains have arrived!  Check out this video Bob captured with his cell phone.  The ground is so saturated that whenever it rains hard, the water gushes up out of the gopher holes in our pastures and vineyard.  We’ve named these little gushers “Gopher Geysers.”


The Incredible Slog Through an Oregon Winter-Part Two

The white streak on the hillside across the pasture is our own, private waterfall.
The view from the gazebo looking out over the cow pasture. The tiny white streak in the middle of the hillside is a seasonal waterfall.

As you can see from the Gopher Geyser video (Part One of this post), it’s been raining hard for about a week-and-a-half straight.   And the extended forecast calls for, you guessed it, more rain.  Rather than complain about it, or post more disgusting pictures of pasture soup, I thought I’d share some of the amazing seasonal water features that appear on the farm with all that rain.

Can you see it yet?
Can you see it yet?

My favorite is the seasonal waterfall that flows out of the hillside just beyond the cow pasture.  It’s the tiny, white streak in the middle of the hill in the first photo.  The second picture gives you a closer look.  This little waterfall only flows for a few weeks each year during the heaviest winter rains.

The waterfall.  Beautiful, but fleeting.
Beautiful while it lasts. The waterfall only appears during the wettest weeks of winter.

We never knew much about the land above the waterfall until Nathan’s family bought the hilltop this past summer.  In the coming years they plan to put in a vineyard and an apple orchard.  Bob wants to build a zipline between the top of the hill and our pasture so we can easily “commute” between the two vineyards.

A seasonal stream flows through the cow pasture
A seasonal stream flows through the cow pasture.

We also have a temporary stream flowing through the low end of the cow pasture.  The cows don’t mind and the Canada Geese love it!  We usually get two pair that nest here each winter.  The first pair has just arrived! They’ll get first dibs on the “grassy knoll” that forms in the exact same spot in the stream each year.

One of two pair of Canada Geese that nest on "Goose Island" in our temporary stream.
One of two pair of Canada Geese that nest around our temporary stream.

We’ve named the knoll “Goose Island,” and it is the choice nesting spot for our winter visitors.  We’ll be watching is closely for goslings and I’ll try my best to get some pictures to post.

Every once in a while we get what’s known as a “sun break.”  And they often come with rainbows!

A Rainbow touches down, as they always do,  just beyond the vineyard.....
A Rainbow touches down, as they always do, just beyond the vineyard…..

I’ve run outside more than a few times thinking I could just walk up to the end of the rainbow, somewhere around Row 425 in the vineyard, and finally see what’s there.  But the rainbows always seem to touch down just beyond the vines.  From my pictures I can tell you it appears there is a pine tree, and not the fabled pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow.  (Ah, but what’s under the pine tree?) 🙂

More Mud
Yuck! Muck!!

OK, one more picture of the muck and mud, just for fun.  We get to slog through this every morning when we turn out the horses, and again each evening when we bring them in.  Sometimes the horses stomp or prance and splatter the muck all over us.  And if we don’t pay close attention to what we’re doing, the end of a lead rope might drag through the muck and then slap against us all the way to the barn.

Rain, rain go away!  Little Emma wants to play!!
Rain, rain go away! Little Emma wants to play!!

Like Emma, we’re anxious for the rain to end.  But we’re doing our best to appreciate all it brings to the farm while it lasts.

Be My Valentine

Will You Be My Valentine?
Sweethearts Emma and Luigi.

Some of you may have seen this photo before but I can’t think of a better image to post for Valentine’s Day.  It’s  Emma and Luigi touching noses.  This is how they greet each other anytime they have been apart.

Three’s A Crowd.

What you  haven’t seen yet is the next shot in the sequence, taken just as Emma notices there is a camera intruding on their intimate moment.  Check out the look in her eye!

And people say they don’t know what horses are thinking.

May His Spirit Forever Soar

A Raptor Takes Flight Over the Vineyard.
A Raptor Takes Flight Over the Vineyard.

It is a very sad day on the farm.   We got the news that Hawkey Puck, the injured hawk Bob pulled out of the highway on Tuesday, did not make it.  He passed away late last night at Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene, a refuge for injured raptors.

I went up to the barn after hearing the news and sat for a long while with Orange Kitty in my lap.  He is a sensitive cat and always seems to know when I need a hug.  One thing you can never escape on a farm is the frailty of life.  Be it barn cats, or injured hawks, it hurts to lose a soul you’ve come to see as part of your family.

We are grateful to Cascade Raptor Center for giving him his best chance for survival and failing that, a peaceful death.  Animals seem to know when humans are trying to help them.  I believe Hawkey Puck knew those around him were on his side.  I am glad he didn’t die alone.

All we can do is our best to make each day a good one and to appreciate those who are here while we’re all together.

Towards that end, Murphy and the rest of the dogs want a run in the vineyard.  And so, we are off.  God Speed Hawkey Puck.


Flight for Life

While on his way to physical therapy yesterday, Bob noticed a motionless hawk in the middle of the road.  It was just this side of the tunnel on Highway 38 as you head out of Elkton.   Bob assumed the hawk was dead and pulled over to move it out of traffic.

But when Bob approached the hawk, it’s right eye popped open!  The hawk was still alive.  Badly hurt, but alive.

Bob gathered up the hawk and made a nest for it in a pile of clothes in his car that he’s supposed to drop off at Good Will.  Bob didn’t think the hawk was going to last much longer.  But he figured it would be more comfortable dying in the warm car than in the highway in the rain.  He continued on to Eugene, parked in the health club parking garage, and went in for his therapy.

When he came out, he was stunned to see the hawk was still alive!  It even kicked at him a little bit!!  So he looked up the closest raptor rescue on his cell phone and rushed over.

When he arrived, the volunteers sprang into action.  They put the hawk on an IV, checked his vitals, treated him for possible poisons, and dusted him for mites.  They identified him as a juvenile male Red Tail Hawk.  They speculated the quiet time in the car might have helped revive him a bit.  But they weren’t sure he would survive the night.

Hawky Puck, down but not out.
Hawkey Puck, down but not out.

I didn’t want to post about the hawk if he didn’t make it.   But I  checked with the rescue today and he’s hanging in there!  He can move his wings and legs, but remains very still and withdrawn.  His vet thinks he has a severe head injury, but whatever internal bleeding there may have been appears to have stopped.  It’s too soon to be optimistic.  But there is reason to hope.

We’ve named him Hawkey Puck (as in hockey puck).  Everyone on the farm has their paws, hooves and fingers crossed.  Our hope is he will recover enough to be released back into the wild.  But if not, the rescue will become his permanent home.

The Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene Oregon is caring for him and dozens of other raptors they’ve saved that cannot be released.  Donations are always welcome.

We consider Hawkey Puck a member of our farm family now and we’ll keep everyone posted on his progress here on the blog.   Go Hawkey Puck!

Rearview Mirror; A Look Back After Three Years On The Farm

Bob on Feb. 11th, 2011. standing in front of the semi truck loaded with his heave equipment.
Bob on Feb. 11th, 2011. standing in front of a semi truck loaded with his man toys for the big move.

Three years ago, right now, I was spending my last day living in Colorado.  It was time to move to the farm.  We would leave before dawn the next morning, Bob and I each driving our own car and the dogs split between us.  We were embarking on a grand adventure, heading west to start a new vineyard and a new life in Oregon.  The photo at the top of this post is from the drive out.  That’s our dog, Dodger, reflected in my rearview mirror.

That's me with the backpack, doing my Producer thing.
That’s me with the backpack, on a beach in Japan, doing my Producer thing.

As we loaded up, I was incredibly focused on what I was leaving behind.  Top of the list was my career of 25 years and my paycheck.  It was my identity, my security and my independence.  Along with that there were my co-workers, the people I had become accustomed to seeing everyday.  I was close with some, others not, but all were part of my landscape.

Our house in Evergreen Colorado
Our house in Evergreen Colorado

There was my home of seventeen years in Evergreen, a place I loved and still love deep in my bones.  I think of Colorado the way some people think of their “homeland.”  I feel comfortable there.  Indigenous.  I have no right to feel that way.  I was born in DeKalb, Illinois.  But Colorado feels hometown to me.  I love the cool, crisp, dry air, the smell of pine, the exhilaration of open space and vast horizons, the sense of economic vitality, and the feeling of solid ground under my feet.  I hate squishy ground.

Bob with our critters at the time.  Dogs Henry, Woody and Jenny Lou have since passed on.
Bob with our critters in 2006.   Dogs Henry (yawning), Woody (black-masked setter) and Jenny Lou (white one in back) passed on before the move.  The horses, Dart and Joey, and dogs Brutus, Uma and Jenny made the move with us.

There was my hillside, some might say my mountainside, where I hiked my dogs when I got home from work.  Over the years, we had scattered the ashes of eight of our dearly departed dogs up there.  I felt like I was abandoning them.

There was my hockey team, The Colorado Avalanche.  Concerts at Red Rocks.  My Pilates studio.  My favorite rollerblading path.  The steakhouse up the street.  My dentist.  The girl who did my hair.

Me with a couple of my best college friends, Chris and Ben.
Me and Bob with one of my best college friends, Ben.

And of course, all of my family.  We are a complicated bunch but also incredibly close.  Especially me and my sisters.  And,  my friends.  People I have known since college.  We didn’t see each other often, but I liked knowing we could.

Everyone I knew was excited for me.  Who doesn’t dream of quitting their job, moving away, and starting a vineyard?  Except I didn’t want to go.  I was already “living the dream.”  I was happy where I was.

Ahhhh, I'll always miss that crisp mountain air.
Ahhhh, but I will always miss that crisp mountain air.

I won’t lie.  This has not been an easy transition for me.  But three years later, I can honestly say that this is home.  The farm.  The vineyard.  The little town of Elkton.  Soggy, grey, wet Oregon and all its squishy ground.  This is where I belong.

A lot of my comfort comes from knowing that the important things I feared I was leaving behind are still with me.  I have spent more meaningful time with my family here on the farm than when we all lived close in Colorado.  This is especially true of my nephews.  All kids should get to grow up visiting a farm.  I wouldn’t trade their experiences here for anything.

Boating with the nephews on The Umpqua River.
Boating with the nephews on The Umpqua River.

My friends are still my friends.  Always have been.  Always will be.  (Thanks guys).  I’m keeping up with my Pilates.  I can watch my hockey games on Center Ice.  Some TV work still comes my way (Thanks guys).  I  go back to Colorado to see my dentist.

But the thing that won me over more than anything was a conversation I had with a horse.  Yes, a horse.  They do talk if you listen.  The horse that set me straight is Buck, the retired race horse that “came with the farm.”  Both he and Luigi had been on their own for over a year by the time we showed up.  They were being fed.  But they craved human attention.

Buck and Luigi on the farm in 2010, before we came to live here, running to the fence to say hi.
Buck and Luigi on the farm in 2010, when Bob was looking at the property.

I spent my first year living here running back and forth between my old life in Colorado and the farm, trying to be both places at once. One day towards the end of 2011, when I went to the barn to say goodbye to Buck, he gave me a little snort of disgust and said “You know a horse is a relationship and if you keep leaving we’re not going to have one.”

That thought shot through me like a lightning bolt.  He was right.  By trying to be everywhere, I was no where, and worse, I was nobody to him.  And what is true for Buck is also true for all horses.  And dogs and cats and ducks and vines and donkeys and husbands, too.  Having it all was risking it all.

The farm has been home ever since that conversation with Buck.

A good omen: A rainbow spans our tilled soil on the first day of spring.
A good omen: A rainbow spans our tilled vineyard site on the first day of spring, 2011.

A lot happens in three years.  It was my intention to start this blog right after we moved here to document and share our story as we lived the dream and started the vineyard.  Funny thing though, it’s hard to document when you are learning and doing all at the same time.  I feel as though both the vineyard and I are finally in a place where I can observe what is happening and share it in a meaningful way.  I know who, what, and where I am now in a way that I didn’t when we arrived.

I hope with this post, and the posts at the top of the blog (Hooves, Paws, Peeps, Vines and Wines) I’ve laid out the back story up to this point so anyone interested can come along from here without feeling as though they’ve missed too much.  I promise, there is plenty to come!  There’s always something happening on a farm.  All of my posts won’t be this long.  And no, this won’t be one of those blogs where I go on about my inner struggles.  This blog is about horses and dogs and grapes and wine and tractors and rain and mud and rainbows.  But in the interest of honesty, I think I had to sort this out to get started.

Welcome to the farm.  You’re gonna love it here.

Dispatches From Our Farm and Vineyard in Southern Oregon