Riley the happiest dog on the planet


Riley is the official ‘welcome wagging’ of the farm.  He greets everyone with the same enthusiasm and love.  He runs up to them, starts the happy whining, flops on his back and doesn’t want the attention to stop.

Usually he stays at the farm during my trail rides.  Last week I brought him along.  He loved it!  Now I have to admit he wasn’t the best trail dog.  He wandered off too far into the woods, then when he went to find and catch up with us he took a wrong turn.  I told him to use your nose buddy.  Shadow my previous trial dog would always find me.  But I digress…  all was well with Riley we saw him running the wrong way and he came right back to us when we shouted to him.  “Wrong way Riley we are over here!”

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The next trial ride he didn’t want to go through the gate right away but I could hear him barking as we were leaving “what about mee?”.  So we went on the trial ride. About 3/4 of the way through he come bound up behind us.  I guess his nose worked this time.  He was so overheated from this run around the field that he jumped into the horses water trough when we got back.

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I entered one of these photos into the dirty dog contest.  If you get a chance click on this link and like his photo so he can win.  Click here to like Riley’s photo! It should open with this picture in a pop up window and all you have to do is click like and share if you are so inclined.


Just Cutting Grass

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Earlier this week I cut the back pastures.  Really it is so boring going up and down.  Keeping the wheel in the track of the last run. Piper came out to join me for a bit.  Which was surprising as she hasn’t done that in as while.  It is like she is taking over some of Shadow’s jobs.  The sun-setting was beautiful and the finished product is even nicer.  I guess it is an okay way to spend your evening.

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Okay… so the grass did grow

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I haven’t updated you in a while on the grass growing, probably because it is not very exciting.  The small square pasture that we built back in April – May is growing very nicely.  The horses acclimated to the track system very quickly.  They enjoy running around it and sometimes we spread their hay out in it.  The horses at the lower end of the pecking order of the herd sometimes get stuck between two “bosses” but they work it out.  Yesterday I went out to get Casey unstuck and ending up having Apple, Cuervo and Izzy follow us around.

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Check out this video showing horses in confinement vs. horses living together – primarily on track. Horses in the AANHCP Paddock Paradise show up at 2.00 into the video.

I am looking forward to Phase 2 of our pasture paradise but there are a few projects ahead of it.

Mad Dash

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While slowly getting acclimated to eating lush grass the horses in the beginning are only allowed out on the pastures for a few hours per day.  This prevents them from getting laminitis and foundering.  So as you can imagine they are very excited to get out to the grass.

First they line up and patiently wait for the gate to be opened.


Sunbun line leader

Then the mad dash to the back pasture


One at a time no pushing


Run like the wind Chex


Come on Nash and Casey.

Then after a little bit of running around and tearing up the pasture…


… they calm down and start grazing





Changing thousands of years of thinking

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I have spent much of the morning reading about the natural horsemanship and paddock paradise.  There are many interesting articles out there trying to change the thinking on the way horses have been domestically kept for over a thousand years.


“But sometime around 700 A.D., with the rapid development of kingdoms and castles– complete with cavalries and armies to secure or defend various geographic areas, horses had increasingly been removed from their free-roaming lifestyle and were moved into small spaces for reasons such as an easier prevention of theft and keep the horses close by in a location convenient to the desire to be able to tack them up at a moment’s notice. Of course,what was happening was the creation of the notion that it was acceptable to keep these 1,000 pound animals warehoused or ‘in storage’ so that they were easily accessible.” ~Jill Willis

So I grew up thinking grass is good for horses.  In South Florida the grass that grows does not provide enough nutrients to sustain a horse so hay is fed all year round.  In Pennsylvania the grass is lush enough to provide the sustenance they need and hay is not necessary during the summer.  I have take equine management courses where they are telling me to grow my lush green pastures and let the horses out on them.  One thing to note is a good reason for pasture management is to ensure the land is absorbing the rain water and not causing erosion on the areas where the horses have destroyed the grass by over grazing and treading on the land.

Now I am learning that too much lush green grass is bad.


“These rich grasses are not safe because they are too high in sugars/ carbohydrates.  There is a delicate balance of microbial life in a horse’s gut, and these innate, good bacteria have their own biological requirements. If not fed properly, through a reasonably natural diet, then they are subject to being dominated by harmful bacteria that do not live in symbiosis with the equine.  

The rich sugars feed these detrimental bacteria and facilitate their dominion.  Through a complex series of metabolic events, these bad bacteria release waste by-products also known as endotoxins.  These poisons travel the equine cardiovascular system, and once meeting the hoof, they initiate an enzymatic reaction that deteriorates the attachment mechanism that holds the hoof to the horse. This is commonly known as laminitis, and is the second most prolific killer of domestic horses today. ” ~Narayan Khalsa

I still have more processing to do and am not ready for full transformation to the Paddock Paradise system as it does leave me some questions.

  • How do I ensure all the horses have coverage and protection from the weather?  In the farm’s current set up only the heard leaders are allowed under the shed roof during the rain.  While the others get wet.  I know that the water will not kill them but I have seen them shivering coming in from the wet and cold.  I have also had a horse get constantly rained on in Miami that he got rain rot.  If I build shelters in various areas of the track system will the herd separate to go shelters down the track if the herd bosses have the closest one?
  • Will this concept be accepted by my boarders?  I don’t just have to decide in my mind but also see if the boarder are interested.  I guess that we can still move ahead with the concept but keep the boarders in the traditional system if they want.
  • My older horses are on pellet grains.  Will they get the nutrients they need on hay, oats and minerals?  I thought this was interesting since 3 horses on the farm are on beet pulp and the senior feed has beet pulp in it: “Throw any and all beet pulp or feed with beet pulp in the top 15 ingredients into the garbage or compost heap. Whether organic or GMO, many unshod horses are ‘foot sore’ or ‘sensitive’ on hard ground or gravel until the beet pulp is removed from the diet. This is one of the biggest waste products that you can put into a horse (with rice bran, soy, corn and various grain by-products running closely behind. They serve no healthy purpose for the horse.” ~Jill Willis

There is no way to know who is right but for now I can say that the horses at GSF are healthy, happy and sound.  So we must be doing something right.

Pasture perfect


At long last the conditions are right for their first evening out in the pasture. They are loving every minute of that fresh grass.

New Pasture: Part 2

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For some, horses are a phase but for others, horses are their life.

We are equestrians and pasture grass farmers.

Have I mentioned to you I have a black thumb?  Some people have green thumbs and are excellent at gardening and growing things.  I am convinced I have a black thumb that kills everything. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I would rather nurture a horse than a plant. Needless to say here I am trying to get grass to grow in the new pasture.  This is the before picture.  This is how the ground looked when we started.  The fence is up as noted in the previous post so the horses can’t trample and eat the grass before it has a chance to grow.


The next step was to scrape the field level by back dragging the tractor over all of to get the field level and fill in the hoof prints ruts.  Then we dragged the field using a pull behind rake.  It wasn’t heavy enough at first so we attached a cement block to it.

Next we seeded the pastured.  We just used the walking broad cast seeder since the areas are not that big.

Lastly we covered the field with compost/manure.  I figure this would fertilize and driving over the seed would push them into the ground a bit.

Ok we are done for the day and can let the horse back in to the ACA.  The area around the new pasture.  OH wait we forgot to close the gate!  What are you guys doing in here?  Oh rolling around will help with the seed penetration.  Now get out you lot! You are not supposed to be in here!

Now we hope for rain to start the germination process.  NO NO not 24 hours of straight rain.  Did it wash the seeds away?  Only time will tell.  I am not liking those low laying areas where rain water is still standing.

9 days after seeding let’s see what we have.  Well the weeds are growing but  I do see some blades of  grass.

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Fingers crossed the green grass grows.

Pasture renovation and Paddock Paradise in one foul swoop


We just completed the Equine Environmental Stewardship program with Penn State Extension’s  Equine Program.  In this course we learned about best management practices of pasture management.

Right now the horse are being kept in an Animal Concentration Area (ACA ). This area is also known as a sacrifice lot or a dry lot.  This is the area right behind the barn that the horses are out in when I am trying to preserve the pastures form over use, over eating and hoof damage. Now, after the winter snows and spring rains it has no grass and is all dirt and mud. See before pictures below.WP_20140420_11_06_02_Pro WP_20140420_11_09_19_Pro WP_20140420_11_11_03_Pro

As shown in the picture below the ACA consisted of the whole area within the blue lines.  This was a large area for the horses and donkeys and would never grow any decent grass due to over grazing. ACA

Last year we had members of the Equine Program (Donna and Sarah) out to evaluate our pastures and determine if the farm could be part of their pasture rejuvenation project.  See the post from August 2013.  We were invited to participate but it fell through due to the fact that we didn’t have the right kind of tractor.  Their recommendation was to fence off part of the ACA and plant grass seeds so that it may grow to a lush pasture by next year. Their only requirement was that we had to keep the horses off of it an only allow them limited access to prevent over grazing.

The good news is that Donna and Sarah were running the course we just took.  Donna told us we are still considered to be part of the pasture rejuvenation program and we are eligible for a  bag of grass seed.  We could use our on methods to seed the pasture and did not have to use their no till drill.  We received the grass seed mix on the last day of class.

Originally we were going to just fence off part of the pasture (like cut it in half) then I came across the paddock paradise concept.

“Paddock Paradise is an exciting new natural boarding concept based on Jaime Jackson’s research into how horses live in the wild. It is a ground-breaking idea which has many benefits including:

  • provides a more stimulating environment for the horse which discourages vices
  • encourages more movement which benefits overall health of the horse
  • enables easier grazing management”

So I decided to start my paddock paradise in the ACA area and create the pasture in the middle.  See yellow box in the above picture.

This weekend we completed phase I putting up the fence.  See below the pictures of the work in progress.

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After it was completed the horse got to try it out.  They actually enjoyed running around the parameter.

The next day we leveled out the field.  Now all we have to do is drag it to loosen up the dirt and plant the seeds.  Then hope our timing is right for rain and sun.  Be on the look out for more posts as we continue our progress.

Feeding treats


Feeding treats

GSF visitors and  lessons love giving treats.  Mostly carrots which is good, but they might find it hard to abide by the 2 carrots per horse rule.  Above is a link to an article about what types of treats to give the horses.

On-farm pasture renovation and equipment evaluation project


I have been given the opportunity to participate in grant provided by the Penn State Extension.  They are going to help me improve the quality of my pastures.


A Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) is currently funding on–farm pasture improvement projects for equine and livestock operations.   A variety of reseeding methods and pasture mixes will be utilized and evaluated. All recommendations will be based on horse and livestock nutritional needs, current pasture conditions, animal density and management, and environmental concerns.   Selected farms will receive assistance in selecting and implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) that will ensure sustainable and productive pastures.  Penn State team members will work closely with participating farmers to collect soil samples, interpret soil test results and address any nutrient needs. Pastures will be evaluated to determine the total percent of canopy cover (vegetation) and the per cent of the canopy that is desirable for horses.  Final comprehensive plans will be developed to improve pasture quality. Plans may include: weed control recommendations, developing a rotational grazing system and adding heavy use areas that can be used during periods of poor pasture growth.  Participants will receive assistance in renovating and reseeding pastures that do not have sufficient vegetation.


Email after the evaluation

Good afternoon Jennifer,

 Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to come visit Golden Spike Farm and to evaluate your pastures.  It was a pleasure being able to discuss your goals for your pastures and how those preferences can be easily attained with our Pasture Renovation program.  I just wanted to follow up with you what we discussed during our visit. 

The four pastures we walked through were different each in their own way.  The first pasture we evaluated (the pasture farthest to the right when facing away from the barn that contained two horses) was mostly crabgrass with variations of white clover, some tall fescue, and a heavy population of alsike clover.  Two disease syndromes in horses have been associated with grazing alsike clover: photo-sensitization, and liver disease, which is less common.

 Symptoms – Liver disease is rare and may occur if the horses are feeding on large amounts of alsike clover. Symptoms include weight loss, jaundice, depression, and neurological abnormalities. Symptoms of photosensitization include destruction of skin cells in non-pigmented parts of the horse’s body when the skin is exposed to light. Affected skin will blister and eventually slough off.

A good way to eliminate alsike clover is to apply nitrogen fertilizer to pastures to enhance grass forage production. Broad-leaf herbicides can also be used to reduce clover concentrations in pastures.

 he second pasture evaluated was the pasture directly adjacent to the first pasture, which contained most of the horses and had a connecting pathway to the front pasture next to the barn.  This pasture had great canopy cover of mostly clover variations and weeds such as curly dock and crabgrass.  It also had a fenced off “ACA” and run-in shed (containing two boarding horses), which you expressed that you would like to have rejoin the rest of the pasture eventually.

 The front and final pasture evaluated was in most need of help.  This pasture had very little canopy cover (calculations only showed about 16%) and consisted mostly of crabgrass and other undesirable vegetation. This pasture would probably be the best candidate for our re-seeding renovations.

We are aware that your tractor does not have rear hydraulics, which are required to run the no-till drill.  However, if you are able to borrow or rent a tractor that has both the required horsepower and hydraulic features needed for the drill, we could move forward with the re-seeding renovations.   Additionally, we could also come up with other re-seeding methods using the equipment you already own, considering the size of the pasture to renovate isn’t very big.  Even so, we could always divide the pasture in half and renovate one side at a time. 

 It is important to realize that if we do conduct the pasture renovation that the horses will need to be kept off the recovering pasture and in an Animal Concentration Area (ACA) which you seemed to already have designated outside the barn.  This withdrawal period from the pasture will allow optimum regrowth and establishment so that you will have a thick stand of desirable pasture vegetation for your horses come next year. 

The no-till drill is scheduled to come in the last week of August.  If the weather permits, we should be able to re-seed well into September, especially your pastures due to your southeastern location.  We will keep in contact with you about scheduling again should you choose to renovate.

 Thank you so much again for your time.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Donna or me.


Equine Program Associate

Penn State Extension

Northampton/Bucks County Office

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