Grit Blogs >

Back to the Farm

Should You Teach Your Horse How to Drive?

Michele CookDriving horses is often associated with something from another era. After the advent of cars, there was no need for us to ride in horse-drawn carriages anymore.

We could hop in our cars and get there much faster than in a pony-powered wagon. While driving your horse to the grocery store or work might not be practical, teaching your horse to drive has some amazing benefits for you and your horse.

bay pony
Photo by Michele Cook.

Spook Proof Your Horse

Last week I had the pleasure of going out driving with a friend of mine. He hooked his favorite welsh pony to a four-wheel cart and we set out to view the countryside. My friend teaches all of his horses to drive, he considers it part of their basic training, and after just a few miles, I understood why.

The rigging jingled and the cart rocked as we headed down the driveway onto the road. The pony kept going. A large feed truck zoomed by without a tap of the brake. The pony kept going. Four dogs jumped a fence and ran up to the pony barking and carrying on (and scared the bejesus out of me). The pony kept going. I think you get the idea. This pony was pulled from a field as a stud, gelded and trained just three months before we took our little drive.

Driving your horse gives you the opportunity to expose your horse to many different things that they wouldn't see in the ring or on the trail. That exposure will help your horse trust you and teach him that not everything is a horse eating monster.

Steering and Voice Commands

When you ride a horse, you can use your hands, legs, seat, and weight to control your horse. When you are driving, you have only your hand and voice to control your horse. Teaching your horse to drive will greatly improve these two aids.

Many trainers use ground driving to improve these commands before getting on a horse for the first time. I can tell you from experience, steering is a nice thing to have on a young horse who isn't quite sure what you are doing up there on top of him.

bay pony
Photo by Michele Cook.

Getting Started Driving Your Horse

Ground driving is always a good place to start. You can use a plain bridle with the reins removed. For safety, use a surcingle and run your lines through the side loops to keep them from dragging on the ground (you can use two lunge lines if you don't have a harness yet).

Start in a round pen or small paddock and position yourself behind and slightly to the inside of your horse. Ask him to walk forward with the command of your choice. You can use a cluck or a shake of the lines to encourage him. If he is sluggish, you can hold a carriage whip and give him a light pop on the butt to get him moving forward.

Once your horse is willing to walk and trot from the ground you can begin putting him in full harness and asking him to pull the shafts of a cart. If you have zero experience with driving a cart, this may be the point you will need a little help from someone more experienced. While driving isn't as popular today as it was 100 years ago, there are still plenty of driving enthusiasts out there willing to help you out.

Driving Safety

Before you start driving your horse there are a few precautions you need to take:

  • Make sure your cart or carriage is in good working order. The brakes should hold their pressure and the wheels should turn freely.
  • Have you farrier put on borium shoes if you plan on riding on the road. This will help keep your horse from slipping on the pavement.
  • Check all harness parts for wear. It's no fun to have a harness break while you are going down the road.
  • Attach an orange triangle to the back of your cart to help people see you better. If you can find one that lights up, even better.
  • Do not drive at night if your cart is not equipped with proper lighting.

bay pony
Photo by Michele Cook.

Driving your horse is a great way to have some fun, train your horse up and meet your neighbors. Trust me, they will all come out to chat you up. There is just something about seeing a horse and cart go by that makes everyone want to talk to you. You also get the bonus of seeing the world in a brand new light, and of course, if the world as we know it comes to an end, you will have transportation and a way to plow up your land.

Getting Started with Goats

Michele CookWhen I dove head first into my hippie plan, I knew I wanted milk goats. I make cold-processed soap and one of my favorite ingredients is goat milk. There was just one little problem…I had never owned a goat. Horses, cows, a pig, and chickens yes, but I was brand new to the small ruminant world. All I knew was I didn’t know a whole lot about goats.

Deciding on a Breed

All goats are not built the same. I had seen the cute fainting goats, big Boer goats, and some that people told me were "just goats." I knew I was looking for dairy goats, so I began my breed research there. I asked around, watched way too many adorable baby goat videos, and in the end, I decided I was going with Alpine goats.

These goats were big and sturdy — a plus for a newbie like me. They also had a long history of good breeding and were a top producer of milk.

Two alpine does

Getting the Property Ready

“If it won’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat” was the saying a kept hearing when I asked around about goat fencing. Turns out, there is some truth to that old adage. Of course, I can’t learn things the easy way. After one goat decided to hop the fence and eat my lilies down to little nubs, I decided it was time to beef up the fencing.

Off to the Tractor Supply we went to replace our sagging, four-foot cattle fencing with five-foot woven wire goat fencing. Ha! That should keep you in, I thought as I locked the gate in front of my little escape artist. Except, it didn’t. Not ten minutes later, I was washing dishes, and out the window I watched the little devil wander through the yard looking for more foliage to destroy.

Another (rather expensive) trip to town, and we had added a top hot wire to the fence. So far, it has kept her contained.

Alpine goat doe

Finding Some Goat People

While internet research is great, I wanted to find some local people I could connect with to talk about all things goats. I had one friend who was invaluable in dispensing goat advice about feeding, breeding, hoof trimming, and everything else I needed to know about goats, but he no longer had goats, and I felt a little bad relying solely on him for information.

When a Facebook post came across my feed about the New River Sheep and Goat Club, I was excited but hesitant. The club was local, but only by rural redneck standards. It was a two-hour drive to the next meeting, and I had to be a member before I could attend. No try it before you buy it.

For $30 bucks I decided to give it a try, and I am so glad I did. I met great people, and they had the Veterinarian from Virginia Tech as the speaker. I was in goat heaven. I learned more in that meeting than I could have ever learned surfing the internet.

Today my goats have gone on a date, and I should have my first kidding experience in mid-May. Between my own research, my friend’s advice, and the goat club meeting, I am feeling mostly prepared. One thing I can say with certainty: I am a goat owner for life.

Photos by Michele Cook.

Sunny Solar Power Weekend Project to Electrify Your Outbuildings

Michele CookSheds and outbuildings are essential equipment on farms and homesteads throughout the country. They are great for storing equipment, keeping materials dry, and creating a dry comfortable workspace.

Add electricity, and you can run your power tools and find everything in the dark. If you want electric in your shed or outbuilding you can run conventional electricity or you can make your own.

Solar power is the perfect choice for your shed or outbuilding. Small solar setups are cost efficient to install, and of course you won't see a bump in your power bill when you leave the light on in the shed all night (*raises hand* so guilty).

Photo by Flikr/Andrew Magill.

Comparing Costs: Solar Power vs Conventional Electricity

One of the biggest reasons to choose solar over conventional electric is the cost. In most cases, you can create a small solar set up to power your small shed or outbuilding much cheaper than running conventional electric. To know if this is true at your house, you are going to have to compare the installation cost of solar vs conventional electricity.

Things to consider:

  • Distance from the current power source to your outbuilding
  • Amount of electricity required to power your outbuilding
  • Permitting required by your local government body
  • Cost of a professional electrician (if required)

The farther from your current power source your shed is, the more expensive it will be to run electric. Everything from the amount of cable you need to the size of cable will be determined by the distance.

The amount of electricity you will need will effect how big your solar setup will be. If you need a few lights to see by in the evening, a small solar system will do, if you are running an auto shop, your setup will need to be much larger.

In some locations, you can run solar or conventional power to your outbuilding without worrying about permits or regulations, but in other locations, you will need to get permits to run your electric. I have never met a permit that didn't cost money, figure this into your cost as well.

The last thing to consider will be very particular to your knowledge and location. If you are comfortable working with electricity and your local government allows it, you may not need to budget for a pro. On the other hand, if you aren't comfortable handling electricity or your local ordinances require a certified electrician, make sure you figure this into the cost.

If you figured up the cost and solar is cheaper, read on to find out what kind of equipment you need and how to install it.

How Much Power Will You Need to Run Your Outbuilding?

Figuring out how much power you will need is the number one thing you will need to do before you purchase any piece of equipment. To figure out how much power you will need, you are going to need to ask yourself "what do I want to run in this building?" Think about lights, power equipment, and appliances you plan on using in your shed or outbuilding.

Once you know what you are going to run, you need to add up how many watts all of this equipment uses. Things like light bulbs are pretty simple — a 40 watt light bulb uses 40 watts — other equipment might only give a power rating in volts or amps. If the power information isn't in watts you will have to use the Ohm's law formula to do the conversion.

If you aren't a math wiz, there are sites to help you.

Once you know how many watts each piece of equipment uses, add it all up. This will be the minimum watt rating your solar equipment will need.

Tip: Use LED lights! They use about one-tenth the power of standard light bulbs.

Solar Power Equipment for Powering Your Outbuilding

Now that you know your watt rating, it's time to talk about the equipment you need to create solar power for your shed or outbuilding.

For running AC power you will need the following equipment:

  • Solar panels equal to or exceeding the watt rating you need.
  • A charge controller so you don't overcharge the batteries.
  • At least one deep cycle battery (more if you want to run your equipment for a longer period of time)
  • A power inverter to convert DC (Direct Current) power to AC (Alternating Current)

Most large hardware stores or tool outlet stores sell everything you need (with the exception the batteries) in one complete kit, this makes it pretty easy to get everything you need in one trip to the store.

solar panel
Photo by Pixabay/Julian Affeldt.

Setting Up Your Solar Equipment

The basic setup for a powering your shed with solar power is pretty simple. Your kit will come with instructions. Follow them.

Set your solar panel in the sunniest area close to your building. You can put it on the roof or mount the panels on the ground using a pole or anything else you can mock up. Just make sure the panel is in a sunny place.

Next comes the charge controller.

In most cases, there are two wires coming from the solar panel that will attach to the charge controller, again follow the instructions your controller comes with. Your charge controller controls the amount of power going into your batteries to keep them charged. Too much power going into your batteries and you will destroy your batteries.

From the charge controller, you will hook up your deep cycle batteries. The batteries should be hooked up in parallel if you have more than one (24 or 36 volt systems will vary). Now you have plenty of DC power, but unless the equipment is specially made for DC power, you are going to need one last piece to keep the lights on in your shed.

A power inverter is the final piece of your set up. The power inverter will convert the DC power from your batteries to AC power you can run your lights and equipment from. If you are buying the pieces separately, make sure the wattage rating of your inverter is similar to the wattage rating of your set up.

Plug It In!

And you're done. This is a simple weekend project that will keep the lights on in your shed or outbuilding without breaking the bank. Calculate your wattage, get your kit, find some sun, and hook it up.

Tips for Weeding Your Vegetable Garden

Michele CookWeeding is probably the least fun part of gardening. Aching backs and tired muscles are just part of the gardening process right? It doesn't really have to be that way, you can work smarter instead of harder and keep your vegetable garden weed free.

Start Early

This year I tilled a new garden. I knew going in that new gardens tend to have the most weeds because they haven't been prepared year over year, so I started early. In March I tilled the garden up and waited.

Sure enough, weeds of every variety started growing in my unplanted garden. This gave me the opportunity to go in and get a lot of the weeds up by the roots before I ever put a seed in the ground.

I did this one more time before I started planting in May to reduce the number of weeds I would spend all summer pulling.

weeds with roots

Get to the Root of the Problem

When pulling weeds you need to make sure you get the entire root out of the ground. It seems God has a sense of humor when it comes to gardening. I can see him up there slapping a knee and laughing as he tells his friends, "And then I made the weeds grow better than the vegetables."

Leave a tiny piece of the root of a perennial weed and like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, it will be back.

Add Mulch

Once your veggies are established, you can spread a good layer of dark mulch around the base of the plants to discourage weeds from growing. If you are using raised beds or containers, you can cover the whole area relatively inexpensively.

A dark-colored mulch will keep sunlight from getting to weeds and add nutrients to your soil.

long handled tools

The Right Tool for the Job

Even with the right preparation, chances are you will have a few weeds invade your vegetable garden. Birds and the wind will spread the seeds right into the nutrient-rich soil you have created for your veggies. When the inevitable happens, use a long-handled hoe or garden fork to pull the weeds up by their roots.

The long handle will keep you from bending over too much and hurting your back and it makes getting the weeds out of the ground easy. Once you have hoed up the weeds, remove the weeds so they aren't tempted to reroot.

Hire it Out

As much as we might pick on the younger generation, there are still kids out there willing to do some hard work for a little extra cash. Ask around to see if there are any enterprising young people in your area looking to make a little money.

This is by far the easiest way to weed your garden. Sit on the porch with a glass of sweet tea while you supervise your young worker. Do consider offering them a glass as well, it is pretty hard work after all.

Weeding is a part of keeping your vegetable garden producing to its fullest, but it doesn't have to be back-breaking labor. Start early and get the weeds up by the roots, use long-handled tools to minimize bending over, and if all else fails, find a good kid to help you out.

Photos property of Michele Cook.

Snakes, Frogs, and Dogs

Michele CookIf you are squeamish about snakes, frogs or vomit, you should stop reading now.

This story involves all three.

The Dogs

It was a warm September evening. My husband and I did something we rarely do — we dressed up to go to dinner.

Him in slacks and a light blue button up shirt, me in my favorite pink dress. I had even curled my hair and made a respectable attempt at putting on makeup.

We were just finishing up a few things when there came an ungodly racket from the porch. The dogs were going bananas barking up storm.

This wasn't the "Someone's here" bark, nor the "Hey there are squirrels out here" bark, this was "Intruder, intruder, sound the alarm!" My husband raced out the door to see what was going on, a few seconds later I heard him holler "SNAKE!"

The Three Amigos
The three amigos. Photo by Michele Cook.

The Snake

In our house we have a rule. I take care of snakes, he takes care of spiders.

This is mostly because he doesn't like snakes and spiders send me screaming into the next county. So, when I heard the call, I slipped off my heels and headed out to handle the offender.

The dogs were still barking when I came out to see what monster had dared invade our back porch. I was greeted by a black and brown snake, standing up, head spread, hissing and spitting at the dogs like a cobra.

"Ooohh it's a hognose snake!"

Hognose snakes fascinate me. They are not poisonous, but they put on a heck of a show when threatened.

They stand up, spit, hiss, and strike at the offender. If that doesn't work they roll over, play dead, and puke up their last meal.

So far the dogs were believing the threat. They barked but were scared to get too close the snake. I put my husband in charge of corralling the dogs, while I scooped up the snake to relocate him to a more remote area of the property.

hognose snake
A hognose snake. Photo by Flikr/Hunter Desportes.

The Frog

Once I had a good hold on the snake, I headed to the edge of the property where the dogs collar system doesn't reach. My husband bravely followed, leaving a good 10 feet between us.

The whole way out the snake struggled. I might be saving him, but he didn't believe it.

I set him gently down on the grass and he graced me with his final trick. He turned himself over, writhed around, and promptly chunked up his last meal. A whole frog.

By this time, my husband was peering over my shoulder and we were both shocked to see a complete frog come out the wrong end of the snake. Shock turned to awe when we noticed something interesting about the frog.

"Is that thing still breathing?" my husband asked.

I looked closer. The frog was indeed still breathing.

There we stood, me in a pink dress and bare feet, him in his dress slacks and button up, bent over a half-dead frog. The snake took our silence as a cue to exit stage left and slithered off to parts unknown. The frog too recovered from the ordeal quickly and hopped off into the grass.

As for my husband and I, we did eventually did make it to dinner, happy no frog's legs were on the menu.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters