Building Our Arena

When we first leased the property for our ranch, there were no barn or arena-type structures and we needed a horse arena. Since we only lease the land, we decided to go with a structure that could be moved if we ever needed to; and we’d always loved how bright and airy the fabric structures were. We went with a company called ClearSpan and I will tell you, we love it. It’s been four years and we don’t regret getting it one bit.

We went with a 120 feet long by 65 feet wide. We think it is about 36 feet tall. Yes, we wish it was a bit longer and a bit wider, but, each foot cost money and this was what we could do. It has two openings. One on each side. We did not have money for doors that open and close, which has been a little bit of a problem for us, so if you do something like this, try to buy at least one door if possible.

Before anything started, we had to level the ground. We had planned to put the arena in an entirely different spot than where it ended up, but it was too hard for us to get the ground level in the original spot. So, we ended up being closer to the road than we had originally planned.

We also didn’t get a permit before construction started – hand slap. Zoning passed by during construction and tagged us for not having a permit, so construction had to abruptly stop in the middle. And it took weeks to get a permit. So, even if you don’t think you need a permit for something that is considered temporary – you do – at least in Illinois.

Our herd is out 24/7 with no stalls, so the riding arena is also their shelter/barn when we aren’t riding. So once the structure was up, we had to put walls on the insides so horses wouldn’t get hurt. Most riding arenas have a wall like this anyway, even if it’s never used for a shelter.

We put in posts all around the arena and screwed board into those as a wall.

Next we wanted to make a stall area and a tack area on one side of the arena. This side (below) is where we ended us having tack.

This side is a stall area for when we need it.

Next we needed sand. We got torpedo sand which is the cheapest option around here. We needed a lot of sand. About 4 truckloads or approx. 80 tons. Like I said, a lot of sand. The trucks dumped it in there and then we used our tractor and ATV to spread it around.

This was our work area before the horses arrived. That tangled mess is part of our fencing – gone wrong. Now this area is the stall area.

Next we had to add lights, which meant calling an electrician and having them come out and run electric into the arena and install lights on the ceiling.

We didn’t have money for a real garage door who we put up a door ourselves, which was no small feat. Kevin made two wooden doors for the opening and then we used the tractor as a lift to secure them on the runners they rest on.

This picture gives you an idea of the size of the whole thing, once finished.

It was a lot of work getting it all complete, but we love it and It’s definitely horse approved.

The Tale of Tails

A horse and its tail.  Especially in bug season, a horse’s tail does so much more than just look pretty.  Here is a series of videos showing just how communicative and protective a horse’s tail can be.

The tails in the video below are waging a war on bugs, and kind of hating life in general.  They are angry and the tails are screaming, “Get the H. . . away.”

The tails below are off to graze – excited at the upcoming possibilities but still doing their job.   “High ho, high ho, it’s off to work we – SWAT.”

These tails, like a Southern lady’s paper fan, gently swish on a warm summer day – “Why thank you, Beauregard, I’d love another mint julip.”

The next two videos are horses helping each other out.  The first, kind of a synchronized dance, keeping the flys off each other’s rumps.

Many times you will see horses standing with faces next to another horse’s tail. The tail is helping to keep the bugs off the other horse’s face.  “Happy to help.”

These guys are trying to catch an afternoon nap in the cover of the shelter and their tails are helping to keep things pleasant.

So, you see, a horse’s tail is very important.  It may seem innocent, but it is capable of so, so much and should never be taken for granted.


Our Pastures

We’ve got three pastures.  Eighteen horses.  Some boarded, some owned.   That last part doesn’t matter, cause they all like to eat grass. Our goal is to have healthy pastures and healthy horses, so we rotate the herd from pasture to pasture.

So, three pastures – one we call our winter pasture which doesn’t make a lot of sense because we live in Illinois and there is no real grass in winter.  But, it has cool season grasses planted in it like Orchard Grass, Timothy Grass and Kentucky Bluegrass.  Also Virginia Wild Rye and Canada Wild Rye.  It is happiest in the Spring and Fall when the temperatures in Illinois are cool or worse.


This is an arial view of our winter pasture, at a time when there isn’t too much grass growing yet.

The next pasture we call our summer pasture because it is filled with warm season/natural/native grasses.  If I could plant all our pastures with native grasses, I would.  They are prairie grasses, native to this area and they just understand Illinois and all it’s fickle weather conditions and it decides to grow anyway.  We have Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Canada Wild Rye in there.  Intermingled and sometimes taking over in areas, we planted forbs. Some would call them wild flowers, some would call them weeds.  Their more naturalistic name is forbs. Things like Black Eyed Susan, Yarrow, Culvers Root, Wild Quinine. Oh and don’t forget clover, both white and purple.  We have that in both pastures. The horses do eat all of them from time to time, depending on what they need.

The summer pasture is a true wild meadow and it’s good for the earth and good for the animals, birds and insects that frequent it.  It does best in hot/sunny weather though.  In the cool Spring months it takes longer to grow, so in order to have a longer grazing season, we have the cooler season grasses in our other pasture.

This video is Flash running out into the summer pasture.


The third area we call the Hay Field because we originally planned to use it for hay, but after the first year, we realized we needed the extra pasture for rotation.  Two wasn’t enough to give the grass enough time to recover after the herd had been eating in it.

This video below is the herd coming in from the hay field, going up to our arena where we feed grain and supplements.


So, the reason for having three pastures is that we rotate the horses on and off them.  Lately, each pasture has had the horses in it for about two weeks.  After those two weeks, we rotate the herd to another pasture.  Ideally, we like the grass to be close to shin or knee height.  That doesn’t always happen, but the longer it is, the less sugar and the better it is for horses.  Unlike pastures for cows and other livestock, we aren’t trying to fatten our horses up, so we want low energy pastures.  We want nutrition, so it can’t be too long, but if it’s too short, it contains more sugars which equals fat horses and sometimes diseases such as Insulin Resistance and Laminitis.

Horses like to graze in patches too.  They find their favorite areas and go back to those, eating it down very short and leaving other areas long.  Rotation allows those high traffic areas to rebound.  If you allow the horses on there all summer, those areas get eaten down and sometimes the grass can’t recover.

Our pastures aren’t lush.  There are bare spots and they don’t always look so pretty, but that’s okay.  Horses really shouldn’t be on lush pasture.  We want to encourage movement by walking from patch to patch and eating here and there.


It can be hard trying to maintain the pastures and hoping/praying the grass gets long enough and the horses don’t eat it all down in a day.  We are still learning, but this year the grass has come in the best it has in the three years we’ve been here and the horses seem happy.


Abscesses and Slow Feeders

First comes mud, then comes cold, hard ground, then comes abscesses.

Right now we have three horses with abscesses.  Many people soak the hoof in epson salts and then wrap.

Some people just leave them and let them work out on their own.  Both seem to work.  I believe movement is most important and, as hard as it is to see a horse limp around, the abscess bursts faster and the horse is happier than being put in a stall of some kind.  If a horse gets an abscess at our ranch, they still are out limping around.

We are all about slow feeders and hay nets this time of year – hay eating season.

This is the second year we’ve used 100 gallon water tanks fitted with frames and nets from DIY Slow Feed Hay Feeders.

We started out using the plastic frames, but the horses broke those, so when they came out with medal frames, we bought those and so far they have worked well.

We also have hay nets from Hay Chix.  I love their nets.  They are strong and last long.  And we need strong, cause horses break everything.

We have all sizes.  Small square bale size, like the photo above.  We also have two round bale sizes that we used for round bales this summer, but now we can’t find round bales that are horse quality and also priced decently, so we’ve set up goal post looking stations and hang the nets on those to keep them mostly off the ground and easy to fill with loose hay.

We put them close to the electric fence so the horses can’t get behind them as they are open in the back for easy access.

We just put medal T-posts in the ground and covered them with pvc pipe and used plumbing fixtures on the end to fasten the top piece on and then used rope to hold one side of the net on.  I can’t say they are full proof because sometimes the horses knock off the top horizontal post.  It’s an easy fix, but it always frustrates me.


The horses aren’t supposed to get behind them, but then they do. . .

We also hung one with a small hay net.  We have it kept open with a plastic frame we made with pvc pipe, for easy filling. But the horses kept breaking the plastic frame.  Should I be surprised? So we are now trying out a medal frame.

None of it looks pretty, but it gets the job done, and makes our lives a little easier.

We also continue to use hay pillows,

but we mostly just put those inside our arena/shelter as when it gets muddy they turn into a big muddy mess and are very hard to use.  The zippers get stuck and it just doesn’t work.  We used them a lot last year, but have turned to using hay nets much more this year.  The hay pillows are great when the weather is nice, but this is Illinois and this time of year, the weather is never nice.

Winter is hard.  Winter is harder when you have to be out twice a day feeding horses.  But we muddle through and we try to come up with ways to make our lives easier.  Then we wait for the horses to break them.





For the Birds

It’s Fall, and though we have birds at the ranch all the times of the year, they seem to be everywhere come Fall.  We are used to seeing birds in the sky, but these days, we see them mostly on the horse’s backs or at their feet.  Why is this?


I really don’t know?


I did Google it.  But didn’t get an exact answer.  Some say the birds are trying to keep warm.  Some say they are picking insects and food off the horses.  I wish that one were true.  I wish the birds would eat ALL the flys and ALL the mosquitoes.  But they don’t.  Maybe they eat some, but not enough to tell with the naked eye.

I personally think they are looking for dropped grain.  Either from the horse’s mouth, or from the horse’s manure.  (In the above photo, possibly they are looking at the pretty sunrise?)


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Food starts to get scarce in the Fall and the birds haven’t quite made it south yet, so they hang out with animals that are dropping grain.  Smart of them, right.


I could be wrong.  Either way, I bet both species are benefiting from the other in some way.  Most times, nature tends to work that way.




This is Ralph and Ernest hitching a ride on Liberty.  Or maybe it’s Edna and Bernice.  It’s hard to tell.  They all look alike.