Friday, January 25, 2013


Working in the stable is not an easy task. It is very labour intensive with a strong emotional attachment that draws you to the barn and its inner sanctum of care. The well being of its inhabitants is a heavy weight to carry especially when mother nature's wrath is upon us.

With 28 horses in the stable, 3 cats, 2 dogs and one pet pigeon, it is a lighter load today than a year ago. But looking after 28 or more horses is still a lot of work for one person. I wish I could hire on more help to ease the burden, but economics do not dictate this during these times of financial strife.

My day doesn't start that early as it once did in days gone by when I worked outside the home. Since I now put in a 12 hour day at the stable, I begin at 9 am and try to leave the stable by 9 pm which doesn't often happen. When I worked outside the farm, morning feeds started a 4:30 am. But then we didn't have nearly as many horses, or ran a lesson program as well. Back then it was strictly a breeding and training barn in the evenings. I was also a lot younger with a lot less baggage on my person.The pounds just seemed to melt away.

Today one feeding takes 1.5 hours. This includes watering, giving grain rations and providing hay. Then I make up the grain rations for the evening feed. In cold weather like today, the watering takes longer since buckets need the ice removed before warm fresh water can be added. Next comes turnout of half the herd and a few others. Since I lead every horse in and out, I make 80 trips in total each day trudging back and forth between turnout and bringing horses back in. With all the extra pounds of apparel and heavy boots added to my already overload of muffin top, my tired old legs feel the strain. Ankles twist easy only adding to my misery especially when I tread on frozen poo balls. It would be easier to just open a gate and run them out from the barn, but that isn't safe nor does it promote manners. So each horse has a little dose of discipline by simply behaving on the end of a lead shank when being led out.

Stall mucking is an arduous chore for someone nearing 62. For fun today I weighed a light frame plastic tub 8 cubic foot wheelbarrow and filled it with stall waste. Each load weighed on average 100 lbs. of rolling weight. Since I muck 14-16 stalls a day that amounts to roughly 3/4 of a ton loaded and taken out.That's a lot of sh....t

Dealing with cold weather just makes the whole routine a little more miserable. It's not that it is cold, it is more that you get overheated doing the stall work. As you peel layers off you run the risk of catching a cold or flu bug. Inevitably you get a chill once in a while as your sweat soaked undergarments provide no protection against the blasting cold wind. And speaking of clothes, it is so hard to tear off clothes when the urge to hit the washroom comes fast and furious. Taking diaredics has its drawbacks!

 On really sub-zero temperature days chores are, for lack of a better term, a 'bitch' to get through. If we have a lot of snow, a path has to be cleared to Mount Trillium (manure pile.) If not, you are not only pushing 100 lbs. of crap, you are struggling to push through the snow as well. Ice grips on boots is a must if we have freezing rain with it as well. Ice and I don't mix. I've broken too many bones falling on ice over the years. I'm terrified of it knowing that if I slip and fall, I'll break something.I know I shuffle like a little old lady getting ready to throw a bowling ball, but I find the shuffle safer than skating my way around.

The other day it took me an extra hour to water. I had 30 buckets of ice to deal with. I had to smash out the ice in each pail with a hammer being careful not to crack the pails. In the end, only one bucket met its demise with my hammer. The buckets were almost completely solid with ice. Do you know how heavy a 5 gallon bucket of ice weighs? One thing is that you don't get the splash of water down your pants carrying the buckets. A small saving grace.

As most of us know, impaction colic is a high risk for horses during cold weather when water intake can be limited. So the rush to clear the buckets and have them drink as soon as possible is an urgent demand.The outside water tank does have a heater so fresh unfrozen water is available during the day for the turnout crew. Ugh...again another chore filling the 100 gallon tank. Sometimes I forget the hose as a small skating rink forms by the water trough. Now I have to add safety salt pellets to the ice.

In spring time I'm dealing with the big swamp of mud. My boots sometimes get sucked off as I work the gate to let a horse in or out. Sometimes it is so bad that you tip over into the gooey mess. And soakers are common. Sloshing around in wet boots is no picnic.

In summer your are sweltering in the heat but I rarely complain as winter is never too far off. By this time my turnouts and bring ins have doubled from 80 per day to 160 per day. Good thing about summer is the cool clothing and light footwear. What a relief from wearing all those layers. But now I have to content with headgear to protect my skin from the sun. It's not that I'm trying to keep my not so porcelain skin ageless, but to save myself from skin cancer. Funny how your face drops with the gravity of age. Wrinkles aren't too bad so that is either a good thing or a bad thing meaning you don't smile enough to create creases of humour on your face. Oh dear,,, better revisit that.

I don't know how far I walk in a day, but I know it is more than a mile. Between doing chores and turnouts, I walk each lesson at night. Someone said I should get a pedometer and really see how many miles I travel. Funny thing about all of this is that I don't seem to shed too many pounds of fat. Maybe I need the fat to keep warm, but then that doesn't explain my need for it in the summer. I know I have a lot of upper body arm strength and core. I seem to do things easier than most people, like tightening a girth or hoisting up a sack of grain. Still, I'm finding that I am less efficient as the years pass especially with my sad back and its crushed vertebrae. My hands don't open lids well anymore and sometimes the simplest of things seem impossible with my aching hands. I guess my old body is getting a little tired and parts are slowly wearing out. But I can tell you one thing, I'm probably fitter than most of today's youth who can't even mount a horse without assistance. Now that is pretty sad when you think of it. But then again, I can't work my new cell phone either. The kids are whizzes at it.

Well now you know that I've had to inspire the name Sampson by living up its reference of strength in the biblical sense. My maiden name was Hosken that motto means (Force is stronger by union.) add to Sampson's motto (Disgrace is worse than death.) I'll take Hosken over that, but at least I haven't disgraced the Sampson name.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


As the door creeks open to another day in the stable, I can't help but embrace my victory over those disgusting things that rear their heads in the barn that I once feared and disliked.

Rodents seem to thrive in a stable no matter how many cats you have on mouse patrol. They (mice) are everywhere leaving behind their telltale droppings. My nose has been acutely tuned to the smell of decomposition. After a time, the corpse dries up and you are left with mummified critters. Then there are the body parts left over from a kill by a mini tiger. Usually it's the stomach of the mouse that gets rejected from the meal. Other times you squish and slip on soft mouse parts, cursing the damn thing. One thing I still find repulsive are those mouse droppings. The tiny turds fill any open and close space. Open a drawer and you shake out tons of mouse poop. Clean off a counter one day, the next there is a shower of black droppings. Even with a cat working full time in one room, the mice are winning. Can't use traps or poison with your pets around so you are rather limited with control devices.

The worse thing is to find floaters in the horse's water bucket. Once I went to scoop out some hay that had fallen into the water pail and pulled out a bloated mouse to my utter horror. I think I washed my hands a dozen times after that. Now I use a scooper to check buckets.

Thank the Lord we rarely see rats. These mammoth size mice don't come around too often. If the mice seem scarce then you probably have rats. So for now I'll have to put up with these pests and hope the cats continue the chase keeping their numbers under control.

The spiders are huge and plentiful in the barn. I used to be so fearful of them when I was a little girl. I understand my grandfather had a phobia about them. Spiders and barns just cohabit well. The spiders are wonderful bug controllers and that is what you have to keep in mind. Still it is a little unnerving when you walk into a web. Cobwebs are numerous in a barn. You sweep them away one day and they seem to reproduce overnight. And yes, cobwebs are made by spiders so they don't just appear out of thin air. Although I'm not a fan of spiders, I have learned to live with them in the stable. If I had my druthers, I would pick spiders over mice.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


 By Catherine Sampson

Most articles on boarding focus on how to choose a stable for your horse.  Very little education of the behind-the-scenes of stable owners is brought into the public arena for scrutiny.  Stable operators are often perceived as greedy, lazy, not trustworthy and insensitive when it comes to the needs and demands of the client.  In reality, it is most often the opposite.  For the horse owner who has never kept a horse, or may have had their own little barn at one time and pampered their horse, often do not realize the immense responsibility and financial commitment that goes into running a horse establishment. 

The facts:

Every business has to at least break even and preferably make a profit and hence earn a living for their efforts.  You have rented a stall that includes feed, bedding and turnout.  Very basic requirements you would agree.  Do you know what dollars go into maintaining that stall, field, work area and general care of your horse?

In order to operate a boarding facility the stable owner requires specialized insurance for caring for livestock, especially horses.  The owner must recover a portion of their property taxes from that stall rental.  Hydro that lights the barn, runs the water pump, provides heat and other essential electrical needs comes at a higher cost for rural areas than most city dweller consumers realize.  Arena lights alone can swallow a lot of energy not to mention the wattage required for a light in each and every stall and access areas of the stable.  These are all operating expenses.

Unless the operator can grow their own hay crop for the year, they are at the mercy of what the market price is.  A bad season can substantially affected the bottom line when it comes to paying the bill.  The stable owner must calculate how much hay their barn will need to carry them through to the next season.  If a boarder leaves after hay season, then the stable owner has to try and fill that stall, or absorb the cost of that hay while the stall remains vacant. 

The same goes for grain crops.  If the farmer (and that is what a horse stable operator is or should be) can harvest his own crop, then the cost is reduced.  Still that bale of hay is expensive when you factor in the cost of cutting, baling, equipment maintenance and that all important labour fee. 

Fences are in constant need of repair or replacement and horses are notorious for damaging fences, especially those who like to lean over to get the proverbial “greener grass”.   The cost to fence one small turnout area will be in the thousand dollar range.  The life of your fence will depend on the product used, the care given to its repair and the soil conditions. 

Stall repair is another financial consideration.  Feeders, buckets, flooring, walls etc. require upgrading and repair on a yearly basis.  A horse that cribs for instance, will damage feeders and buckets at an alarming rate. 

Thinking Green – Think Land Management

Unless you can provide 1 acre of land for every horse on your property, then 24 hour turnout is not possible or responsible according to published research.  What horse owners do not understand is that farmers owe a debt of responsibility to land stewardship and that means limiting turnout and taking horses off pastures in the fall and spring transitional periods.   Beginning in September, horses should be restricted to a “sacrifice” field so that the nutrients in the soil of the pastures can return and rejuvenate the root system for next season’s onslaught of tearing hooves.  Horse hooves play havoc with the grasses and legumes ripping them from their soil beds, especially in wet weather when the soil is most fragile.    Pastures also require re-seeding as well in order to maintain optimum re-growth.    Horses seem to be particularly hard on pastures.  The extra cost in seeding adds to the overall expense.

Clipping pastures with a ‘bush hog’ also helps to stabilized and control weed populations in the pasture.  Again, this is a hidden expense from the horse boarder who only sees their horse grazing in a pasture uninhibited by weeds.

In order to provide the best footing for your horse, arenas need periodic grooming and that equipment, fuel and time, costs as well.  Well manicured arenas are a bonus.

The stable owner’s job is not limited to the barn.  Collecting and submitting GST to the government is a legal requirement that stable owners must adhere to.  It’s the law.  Keeping books up-to-date is essential.  Besides the financial requirements, health records on horses in their care should also be maintained and recorded.  Being on top of market conditions; finding good and more importantly reliable suppliers of bedding, grain and hay, combined with fair prices is always challenging.   

Arranging for veterinary and farrier services, assisting those professionals and ensuring these essential services are paid for at the time of service is essential in order to keep these key players in your horse’s well being coming back, especially in emergencies.   Tardy paying clients run the risk of being refused service. 

Let the stable owner do their job. 

Interfering with feed, bedding and turnout schedules creates discord in the flow of a daily process that horses are use to.  Most owners are guilt-driven and want and expect more for their horse.  They may steal an extra flake of hay or put in extra bedding.  Everyone must be treated equally in a stable – no ‘if’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’.  You are paying for maintenance care of your horse.  That’s all. 

Blanketing, putting on fly masks adds an extra hour per month per horse to the stable owner’s already full timetable.  If that owner has to hire a stable hand to cover that extra time, then that fee should be recoverable.

Simple turnout of your horse won’t solve the real need.  That real need is commitment from its owner

Extra turnout in a field where the horse eats continually is not exercise.  In fact, it could be adding to an obesity issue which is a growing epidemic among most modern day horses.  There is a large number of laminitis cases arising from inactivity and over-feeding today.  Simple turnout of your horse won’t solve the real need.  That real need is commitment from its owner, to groom, exercise, look after its medical and psychological needs and love its horse.   If you are a horse owner, or soon to be one, please stop and consider your role in providing for your horse.  The financial one is small compared to the emotional one.  Horses are not pets; they are nobler than that.  They are athletes and best friends and yes, are considered livestock.  Treat them with respect and give them a job to do.  Their past history is one of hard work, loyalty and devotion to their owners.  I think all owners need to return to those ideals for the health and sake of their horse.

Horses are indeed an emotional business, unlike most other professions.  Still the hard reality is that if your horse was human, which it isn’t, and you wanted its home to be as perfect in a humanistic way, you would be paying apartment rental rates.  You wouldn’t have the benefit of a knowledgeable stable owner who prepares the meals and tucks your horse in a night, arranges for a manicure or calls the doctor in the middle of the night.  In fact, most boarding facilities go above and beyond their financial commitment to the horse owner.   By any logic in the economic times today, the horse boarder is getting a real bargain with the majority of well established boarding facilities. 


By Catherine Sampson

Preparing to ride is a valuable step in getting the most out of your riding experience.  Not only does this pre-ride warm up engage the physical side of riding, but also the psychological benefits obtained in quieting the mind.  So often this area is neglected and yet it holds the key to a successful and pleasurable ride.  The following exercises will benefit all riders and sets in motion a game plan for our riding whether it is recreational or competitive riding.

In order to feel secure and confident, we can address the physical side of riding through strength and balance.  Between rides, you can maintain tone and balance by practising the following simple techniques.

Pillow Talk for Thighs

Put aside 10 minutes per day to strengthen the inner thigh muscles which tend to be the weakest link in the rider’s anatomy.   These muscles get little workout in day-to-day activities.   

  1. Lay flat on a floor bending your legs to the approximate length that your foot would fit into the stirrup for your particular style of riding. 
  2. Raise your toes as you would do in a stirrup.
  3. Fold a pillow in two and place it between your knees.
  4. With your toes still raised, point them towards each other.
  5. Aggressively squeeze the pillow between your knees and count to 10.
  6. Release the pressure and repeat this exercised 6 times.
*Note:  your back should remain relaxed and not rigid.  It is the thigh muscles that are the focus.
7.  Once you have completed 6 sequences of this exercise, place your heels together with the toes still in a raised position.
8.  Squeeze the pillow again for the count of 10 and release.
9.  Repeat this sequence 6 times.

To increase the difficulty of this exercise, you can raise your seat off the floor.

A good rider demonstrates good posture.   So often our daily work environments lend us to practice poor posture when hunched over a computer or relaxing at home.  These habits are difficult to correct and we must be conscious of poor posture. 

1.              Using a wall for support and orientation to our own skeletal features, stand erect.
2.              Rest the back of your head against the wall with eyes focused straight ahead.
3.              Touch your shoulder blades against the wall, pulling your shoulders back.
4.              Feel your buttocks against the wall
5.              Place the back of your heels against the wall. 
6.              Bend your knees and hold your hands in riding position.  Hold the position to the count of 10.
7.              Repeat this exercise 6 times.

Most riders have difficulty flexing the ankle and dropping their heels in the stirrup.  To help stretch this joint, practice the following exercise.

1.              Standing on a bottom stair, hold a railing for support, rest the ball of your foot on the edge of the stair.
2.              With your position in straight alignment, bend your knees and let gravity stretch your ankles releasing the weight from the ball of your foot out through your heels.  *Do not bounce or force this process. 
3.              Repeat this several times, stretching both the calf muscles, thighs and ankles.

Now that we have accomplished some simple physical exercises, we will now address the psychological methods.

As you turn the ignition key and fasten your seat belt for the drive to the stable, you can use this time to practice simple relaxation.  This is the time to tune-in to yourself. 

1.              With your hands on the steering wheel, stiffen your arms briefly and then totally relax your arms.  *Pay particular attention to feeling your fingers releasing their grip on the steering wheel.
2.              Tighten your buttocks and then release.
3.              Take deep breaths, expanding your stomach and then release the air quickly. 
4.              With eyes focused on the road ahead, gently rotate your head from left to right softening neck muscles.
5.              Again looking at the road ahead, raise and lower your chin.
6.              Reminiscent of the wall exercise, feel the head rest and your shoulder blades making contact with the back of your car seat. 

Continue these exercises repeating them several times.  When you arrive at the stable, you will feel refreshed and eager to ride. 


By Catherine Sampson

Checking our center line of balance:

  1. Look level and straight ahead.
  2. Line your ear up to the center of your shoulder.
  3. Follow down this imaginary line to your point of hip bone.
  4. Continue on down until you line up the back of your heel with your hip bone.
  5. Point your toes forward and raise them.


1.     Breathe in deep until your belly expands and not simply your chest.
2.     Exhale quickly and feel your shoulders lower and your muscle groups relax.
3.     Allow your arms to hang loosely from your shoulders.
4.     Bend your elbow so that your forearm is level.
5.     Round your wrists with each thumb point in the direction of the horse’s opposite ear. 
6.     Roll the knee inward to the saddle.
7.     Soften the calf muscle and draw back until feel the horse’s barrel or have attained the heel to hip relationship.
8.     Transfer the weight on the ball of your foot out through the heel and raise the toe.
9.     Feel the three crucial points of balance in your “anchor” aka your seat.  The three points of contact are your two seat bones and the pubic arch. 
10.  Take a deep breath once again and ask to the horse to walk off.


Fording the Water

Ride of a Lifetime - An African Experience
by Catherine Sampson

In spring of 2006, my ailing mother asked me if I had a place to choose to visit, where would I like to go.  Without a second thought, I hastened to answer Africa!  My mother smiled and said to me, I’ll be with you in spirit and you will go first class.  A month later she died in my arms and my journey to Africa was a promise I would keep.

On the Game Path

It was almost a year in the planning, but the day came when I would hitch a ride on a South African Airways flight to Johannesburg.  It was to be a month long adventure engaging in several safaris that would take me to four countries.  I would have close encounters with all of Africa’s Big Five and a few others.  I would be chased by an elephant, ride an elephant, be challenged by a hippo and witness a night kill on the grasslands of Kruger.  On one of these safaris I would arrive in Botswana and ride the Okavango Delta on country-bred horses, use to the wicked terrain and dangerous predators.  To put it mildly, it would be a trail ride to remember. 

At each destination I unpacked my duffle bag and tonight I placed mother’s photo by my crude nightstand.  I was now alone, half a world away sleeping in a tent with the haunting African wilds calling out in the darkness.  I know mother was watching over me, so I would have some help from a higher authority.  No need to worry, just enjoy the experience I told myself. 

Horses at Camp

The horses number 56 or so in herd size, and stayed in the open protection of the island 24/7, 365 days.  A small solar powered electric strand of wire encloses them from the outside predators.  Still, the odd crocodile will attempt to capture a horse at water’s edge and some unfortunate horses bare the scars of their near mishap.  That being said, these tough horses are very in tune with their environment and react swiftly to danger.  Only proficient riders need apply on these riding treks.

The days in saddle were long and dusty.  Being their winter season, the delta’s clay soil turns to cement dust.  The bone dry bushes’ sharp cactus like needles graze across the adequate  protection of your leather leggings, as you ride around the next bend in a never ending marauding game track.  Occasionally, we stop for lunch, tethering the horses to a low bush as we rest beneath the shade of the huge sausage tree.  After a short snack, we mount up using the nearest log or termite mound.  Then it’s off again heading home to an evening of gourmet native cooking while watching African television (the campfire).   It is always an early night as daybreak comes soon enough with the call of the “Go Away” bird as we mount up again for another day on the delta.

After six days of challenging rides, which included bareback riding as the horse swam short waterways, surviving mad gallops racing alongside the striped cousin of the horse, witnessing the bulldozers of Africa, the great elephants downing so many trees with just a push from their mighty trunks, to dead-still, non-verbal halts while the fearless buffalos pass, to a wrench back; my Waterloo awaited me.

My gray Thoroughbred named Mazoozoo, kept a steady pace with the six horses ahead of him, trotting head to tail following the lead horse.  Dodging the razor sharp bushes, as we wound our way following the elephant trail, it seemed rather repetitive if not boring.  Without warning, the Mazoozoo dropped beneath me like a stone.  His front hoof had found a burrowing hole, buckling him at the knee and tossing me forcefully to the hard clay as he stumbled and scrambled to right himself, seemingly uninjured.  I finally came to rest on my back, looking up at the clear African sky with excruciating pain emanating from the lower back.

I lay still, gingerly willing my toes to move and thankfully they responded.  Little did I know it at the time, but essentially I had broken my back, not to be detected until my arrival back in Canada.  Slowly, I made my way to my feet with a little assistance from the outriders and guide.  It was the sort of pain that can only be expressed with an outpouring of tears.  I bucked up and a short period later was eased into a military style saddle where I could brace myself against the steel frame for support while semi-standing in the stirrups.   Since I would not be able to control the horse should danger present itself, the outrider with rifle in hand, took the rein of my horse and became my body-guard for the next while. 

As we approached a small grove of trees, we momentarily startled a large herd of buffalo thrashing with panic in the thickets.  These animals are short tempered and unafraid to challenge a lion, or in this case a horse and incapacitated rider.  The outrider did his best to keep my horse calm and hold his rifle and horse.  It was at this point I felt I may never see home again.  If the buffalo charged us, I was dead.  To everyone’s relief, the herd rushed to the right of us.  They were gone in a flash.

It would be a long agonizing hour looking for a point in the watershed where a dug out canoe could make it in.  With two-way radio, help was on its way. 

I transferred to the dug out canoe.  We navigated to more open deeper water.  From there I struggled into an aluminum motor boat.  At last in open water, the driver made speed, spooking a large male hippo that took a run at us.  The hippo emerged out of the water like a huge rolling log, just about 10 feet off our wake.  Finally, a familiar sight as the boat was brought to shore and I was helped to my tent. 


They had no ice packs other than those keeping the fish cool, so that had to do.  Next I asked for some horse liniment from the stable area along with some horse bandages.  It wouldn’t be until late evening when a nurse, who was visiting the camp, would arrive.  At least I was safe for the time being.

After a short visit with an English nurse who had finally landed at the camp and taking all my insurance information and medical history, she informed me that it might be a while longer before they got back to me.  You see an elephant had wandered into the camp and as it would happen, decided he liked my tent area to poke around as he grazed his way along. 
As I held my breath with him trampling the vegetation outside, I thought I better make peace with my God.  The elephant sauntered off into the evening sunset, leaving me to my misery. 

My premium travel insurance was proving to be worthless.  A Medivac helicopter was the only way I could see, but unless I had $5,000 in US cash on me, it wasn’t going to happen.  And so, there I lay in a canvass tent, half a world away with no visible way of leaving.

Dug Out Canoe

In the morning, a plan was hatched from the only viable means of transporting me out.  For two grueling hours traveling at 10 km/hour, I lay on a mattress placed on the bed of a Land Rover truck, as it bumped its way through brush, water, heat and dust before rolling out on the grassy airstrip.  From there I was helped into the small Cessena for the flight to Maun. 

As the plane landed and rolled its way along the tarmac to the ambulance, I was quickly assessed and recommended that I fly directly back to Johannesburg. 

As I waited in the lounge of the small international airport, I reached for my purse and passport.  It had been taken from me and safely housed in the cab of the Land Rover while on route to the airstrip.  The tour agent meekly told me I would have to pay to have the plane go back and get my purse and that I might miss the only flight out of there. 

I was quickly acquiring the temper of those wild buffalo.  Shaking in pain, standing there with no passport, no credit cards, no money, no plane ticket, visas etc., I was going to be her worst nightmare since I was literally stranded.  She followed my direction; sent the plane back, retrieved my purse and asked officials to hold the plane!  The lioness had won this round.

Asked if I would ever go back to Africa, my answer is YES in a heartbeat.  For all the pain, drama and wildness, there is nothing like the draw of its call, maybe not just on a horse.

My Rescue Team