Boots on the ground

I got out to the barn earlier today and put Boulder’s boots on before he was turned out (thanks to Frankie holding him in his stall a bit later than the others). I walked him down to the pasture where the rest of his band was happily grazing, and he actually started to tug at the lead rope as we got close. Yes, he showed a bit of spirit!

I spent the next few hours observing Boulder and his band. It was both interesting and peaceful as I just sat over at one side of the pasture and watched. Boulder consistently stayed off by himself and was indifferent if others came over to graze by him. Most importantly, though, he moved around. A lot—just like the others in the band. And that movement is very, very good, as every step promotes better blood circulation in the feet, which cannot but help with his thrush. Hopefully we are starting a positive feedback loop here.

As I was sitting there, everyone else in the band came over to check me out, which was kind of cool. A great deal of sniffing and whuffling went on, which is a bit unnerving when you are sitting on the ground and several half-ton creatures tower over you.

In addition to watching various spiders, daddy longlegs, beetles, and assorted insect life, there were the birds: some kind of red-headed woodpecker, some kind of meadow bird, and (best of all) some kind of falcon skimming along the grasstops looking for rodents. There were also occasional frog croaks and even a cricket or two, as well as junebugs. Very peaceful.

I did some work on catching Boulder without making him do any work after I caught him. The new boots make him a bit harder to catch, I think, so we have some work to do. But I did catch him after about six instances of “okay, if you walk away, you’re going to run away!” He actually walked over to me, so I think today was an overall win in that department.

And then I got off on a sidetrack and decided to go peek at the old railroad right-of-way that runs along the western edge of the farm. I was pretty close to it from chasing Boulder anyway, so a-bushwhacking I went. I found a little path through the poplars, and then there I was on the old railbed. It is well overgrown with blackberries and such and has plenty of branches and fallen trees on it, making in impassable. But it is certainly not to the point of being impossibly impassable! The old railbed has enough dirt on it that it wouldn’t take much to make it horse-friendly.

I came back out and walked along the western edge of the pasture, occasional poking my nose in to see if I could see the railbed. I discovered that the pasture has more elevation change than I thought, as the railbed is at some points in cut over six feet below the pasture. I also discovered some very fine old apple trees growing with some very tasty apples on them. (Judging by the ground, the horses are well aware of these trees, too….)

This provided me some interesting food for thought: this old railbed would make an excellent rail-to-trail conversion. It has a good start point in Independence and it has a destination five miles away at Sarah Helmick State Park. Hmm….

By then, it was time for the herd to come in, so I went and watched Boulder come in. Wow! He moved happily—trotting up the track all the way to the barn, where he proceeded to make a nuisance of himself. The boots are a definite WIN.

I took him back to his stall and took his boots off. Frankie had kindly added a bunch of extra bedding, so he had a nice cushy footing, and he liked that, too, moving almost as much while eating as he did with boots on. If we can get the process of booting him up to go more smoothly, I think we will be able to have staff boot him when he gets turned out in the morning, remove boots when he comes back in, and have him be a lot more comfortable for these next couple of months while his front hooves get into better shape. Frankie asked me to walk her through booting him tomorrow morning, so we’ll try it and see how it goes.

After I got home from the salle, I spent some time researching the old rail line. I learned that that is the old Valley & Siletz Railroad, which used to run 40 miles from Independence to Valsetz. In its heyday, there was twice-daily passenger service between the two towns. Most of the line (including the stretch in question) was abandoned circa 1979 when Boise Cascade (owner of both the railway and the town of Valsetz) began scaling back its old-growth logging operations in Valsetz.

I really don’t have the time to start a project like this, but a rail-to-trail on part of the old V & S line is certainly an interesting concept. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

About Mike

Michael Heggen is a horseman, maker, and thinker who lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Kim, and "three to eight cats". He stays quite busy riding, driving, and caring for their three horses, Boulder, Shasta, and Bob. Among other things, Mike has been a fencing coach, police chaplain, computer consultant, aspirant to the diaconate, computer salesman, box boy, carpenter, computer technician, typesetter, church youth leader, copy machine operator, and network administrator. His other interests include juggling, reading voraciously, and (pretty occasionally these days) cycling.
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