Becoming an better horseman in this day and age has become a very expensive proposition. Gone are the days, it seems, of apprenticeship and hardy endeavor, of sleeping in the hay loft and learning from ancient horsemen in the school of hard knocks. We've entered the era of the home-study DVD set, the custom-fitted saddle, the month-long workshop and the pre-fab barn. These things aren't bad, but they aren't exactly cheap either.
But you're a different sort of horseman. Sure, you enjoy a good DVD as much as the next person, and certainly you'd love to drop it all and run off for some six-month colt-starting workshop three states away, but you've got bills to pay and horses to feed at home. Your idea of an obstacle clinic is building a PVC maze in your pasture, and when your training stick gets a little dented you'll be wrapping it with duct tape, not running out to buy a new one. You're creative. You're natural, but you're resourceful. And above all, you're practical. Your skills are legendary and MacGyver-like... and if they're not, they will be. Just like our role models, these cleverly-disguised buffalo hunters in cleverly-disguising buffalo-suits, you like to do a job well -- and do it cheaply.
You are my kind of horseman. These horse.hacks are for you. Every now and again I'll be offering little tips on using everyday objects in pursuit of better horsekeeping. Elsewhere on the site I'll be offering information on pasture and facilities management, feed, exercise, training, horse psychology, and just about everything else I can think of, but this particular section is all about what you can do and make for yourself, the budget-conscious horseman's solution to the deluge of over-priced doohickeys that can be found at every horse expo in the nation. So dust off your toolbox, break out that duct tape, watch some MacGyver reruns and get ready for some DIY. First up:Saddle Pad Storage
(also good for wraps, boots, and other cloth items you'd like to keep dust-free, insect-free and dry)
As a boarder, tack storage has always been a bit of an issue for me; the only storage space that accompanies my horse's paddock is the little plastic shed where I store my hay, and there's no room left in there for saddles, grooming kits or anything else. I use my horse trailer's tack room instead, but even that's a dodgy proposition: the always-wet weather here in Humboldt has finally triumphed over the trailer roof and rusted the seams: somewhere in the back of my tack room, there's a leak. Since I know my tack room can't be trusted to be weatherproof, and since in our local rainforest climate a little bit of moisture on cloth turns into runaway mold within five minutes*, I like to keep as much of my equipment as possible inside some sort of protective covering.
Enter the reuseable bedding packaging. When you buy sheets, comforters, drapes, and any number of other cloth housewares in many stores, it comes in a clear plastic zippered case, like the one you see above. Many of us hang onto these and cram them into a closet somewhere because they seem like something that could be useful someday: we found a good dozen of them in my roommate's collection of random stuff while cleaning out a room in our house. This one, which started its life as packaging for a twin-sized something or other, is doing excellent service as saddle pad storage; I've got a single shaped English pad in it now, but there's room enough to fit several more in, and there's even a convenient carrying handle on top. The smaller and more square-shaped packages that often come with sheets are excellent for storing polo wraps, bandages, boots or whatever else you can come up with. (In fact, they're basically the same packaging that many polo wraps are sold in, just a different shape.) Generally these packages are not
watertight, so don't expect them to protect your belongings in a flood, but for everyday inside storage to keep moisture, dust, and insects out of your stuff, they're a great solution.* This is hyperbole. Things do mold incredibly quickly here, though.Halter Turned Harness
Life with horses never seems to turn out to be life with just horses. Our equine friends tend to bring with them into the relationship a host of associates: dogs, goats, children, that sort of thing. And sometimes these associates get a little unruly. Maybe the neighbor's dog is chasing your horses or your goats (goats being, of course, notorious troublemakers, especially the ones that are members of motorcycle gangs) got out of their pen and are eating all your nice summer squash.
And if you're anything like me, you will of course be completely unprepared for these critter-related emergencies. Sure, you've got supplies in your nearby tack room: neatsfoot oil, a few buckets, a knotted collection of baling twine, but nothing particularly useful. Nothing labeled "in case of goats." (Few things in this life are labeled "in case of goats," unfortunately.) Nothing useful, except maybe that halter and lead rope.
Halters are, as you may know, quite useful for purposes other than putting them on horses' heads. For smaller animals, like dogs, goats, and newborn foals, you can turn them upside down and slip them over the critter's body as a harness, in the fashion modeled in the photo at right by my friend Deefy's very patient dog, Sai. These halter-harnesses make for excellent temporary restraints when you need to get an animal under control, and they also make terrific handles to help you support a young foal that needs help standing and finding mother's milk.
Just turn the halter upside-down, slip the nosepiece around the animal's neck, and buckle the crownpiece beneath the animal's belly. Do note, of course, that halters aren't really designed for this use and it isn't appropriate to, say, use this contraption to walk your dog. But for rounding up a scared stray, restraining a sheep-worrier, getting that foal on its feet or tethering the neighbor kids to the porch (just kidding, but really), a halter's handy in a pinch.