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Nose to the Ground June 06 Issue
June 01, 2006

A hearty "welcome" to you new subscribers. I hope you'll find Nose to the Ground interesting, useful, and fun to read. Following this month's article you'll find links to several past articles.

May has been nice in northwest Montana with some warm dry weather for the horses. A project this month was construction of a round ring which was so much fun I used it as the basis for this month's article. We built it on a couple of the wettest days in the month but that's better than trying to accomplish something in 90 degree weather. We had some of that also, a bit early in the year I think.

"Face is Very Red" Department

In last months newsletter I alerted you to the fact that Mother's Day was on May 9th. I picked the date from an ad and naturally assumed it was correct. Of course if your mother didn't mind getting a gift 5 days early and on a Tuesday I suppose that was OK. Anyhow, my apologies. I have double-, no, triple-checked my calendar ( a very reputable one from a local Ag store) and can say with confidence that this year Father's Day falls on Sunday June 18th.

A New Look with A Bit of Horse Art

"Now take these ponies, I am cutting them loose.
They will inspire a Spirit of free will.
They will be a companion for work and play on this planet.
This is a way for you to see
how all life depends on all other life."

Take a glance at any page of Your Guide ....... and you'll note a difference at the top - wild horses running along a ridgetop. I took the picture late in April while driving on Interstate 90 through Washington state. You'll find these horses just east of where I-90 crosses the Columbia River at Vantage.

You won't miss them, they're always there - a sculpture in work, running across the ridge line rain or shine, day and night. There's a parking area nearby and you can hike up to the horses if you wish. You can view a nice little collection of photos of the sculpture at or type vantage horse sculpture in your browser to take you to several web sites describing this work of equine art.

Fathers Day

If you're in the market for a Fathers Day gift for a horse lovin' Dad, there are some items in the Gifts for Him section of our Gift Shop he might like. Looking at the ball caps and BBQ aprons I have some second thoughts. I personally like to pick out my own caps and already have an apron which I seldom use. My wife is very good at finding something I like in the way of caps though. I don't particularly care for caps with cute sayings or slogans. One exception - a number of years back my daughter gave me a cap that said "Great Dads Get Promoted to Grandpa". I took a liking to it, maybe because I'd recently become a grandpa and it was a favorite for years. It became my golfing hat.

My own pick for a Father's Day present would be the golf shirt with our logo. I really believe that the logo makes it a classic item for Dad's wardrobe. Give it a look and see what you think.

Second choice? The sweatshirt or sleeveless T. And remember it's June 18th, Sunday!

A Fine Horse Magazine

A few weeks back I took the truck in for service. As it was going to take awhile I checked the magazine rack for something to pass the time. I was sure I was going to end up with either an issue of People or a 6 month old issue of Time or Newsweek.

To my pleasant surprise there were 4 issues of John Lyon's PERFECT HORSE, a magazine I've heard about but has not been available in the local stores.

The 4 magazines provided a pleasant read. I found excellent, well-laid out articles (not surprising given Lyons' fine reputation) without an over-abundance of advertising.

Many of Lyons' articles focus on horse problems, not only how to deal with them but how to avoid them. In my opinion, PERFECT HORSE would be an excellent magazine for the new horse owner or anyone getting started in handling or training a horse. In short - the issues provided a nice collection of mini-tutorials.

I liked Lyons words of caution regarding use of spurs. To paraphrase - "Using spurs is like shouting at someone across the table to pass the potatoes. With that approach you just might get them on your head." Don't use spurs as a cue but rather when the horse fails to respond to a cue.

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. A week ago I spotted copies of PERFECT HORSE at the newsstand. Snatched up the latest issue. It was every it as good as the other issues. If you want to find out more just go to our page on Books on Horsmanship and you'll find the URL of the John Lyons' website.

This Months Article: - In May's Nose to the Ground I talked about my trials and tribulations with one of our horses and the new ground feeder - a bit off the horse gift theme to be sure. This month's article addresses another project around the ranch. There is a link (however tenuous) to gifts for horse lovers.

In the this case the gift, from my son, was helping me put up a round pen. He probably didn't think of his efforts as a gift for a horse lover, just something he wanted to help out with. It was a huge help and greatly appreciated. Marty had driven 500 miles for the purpose of helping with this project. Except for the concrete drying time, the project took about a days work. Had I done the job my self I'm guessing it would have taken a week.

In turn, my gift to you is this article describing one way to build a round pen at minimal expense.

Building an Inexpensive Round Pen

With the help of my son I've just completed a 40-foot round pen. This is generally considered to be about the minimum useable size but the desired location constrained me to a 40 foot diameter pen. A pen made up of steel panels is often the usual way to go but I was looking for a less expensive solution and I wanted to design and build one from scratch.

The total cost was just under $300. $56 for 7" diameter treated posts, $46 for concrete mix, $55 for a 660' spool of electric braid, $48 for rental of a "Ground Hog" to dig the post holes, and approximately $75 for lumber and hardware.

Had I chosen I could have hand-peeled my own posts from small trees on the property but decided that the expense of $56 was preferable to working several hours with the drawKnife, plus I still would have needed to purchase wood preservative.

Renting the Groundhog for $48 dollars was an easy choice, better than spending several hours with pick and shovel or a manual post hole digger in rocky soil. I could have built the pen for around $200 but at the cost of quite a bit more time and effort.

The pen is 5' high with the only lumber used (except for the gate) being a 1"x3" top rail. As our horses are not jumpers and are not likely to come into contact with the top rail I felt that 1x3 boards would serve as well as 2x4's with their purpose being to provide a visual barrier to the horse.

Under the top rail I placed 4 strands of braid at 8" intervals. I used braid similar to the electrified briad we use in the pasture. I don't have any intention of electifying the round pen but could do so if the need arises (e.g. to use it as a holding pen for some length of time). I put enough tension on the briad to eliminate sag between posts and the end result is an effective barrier with a pleasing appearance.

The posts are at 9 foot intervals. With 10' lengths of lumber I could go plus or minus 6 inches in the placement of a post if I couldn't get it in the ground at exactly 9 feet. (For 12' lengths of lumber place the posts 11' apart, for 8' lumber place them 7' apart, and so on.)

The number of posts you need for a given round pen diameter is pi (3.14) times the diameter divided by the distance you want between posts. Using 3 instead of 3.14 will give a close-enough result unless you have a very large pen. I'd just use 3 and get one extra post. For example, for my pen it was 40' x 3 or 120' (the circumference of the pen) divided by 9' (the desired distance between posts). This gives an answer of 13.3. I could get by with 13 posts but 14 was better since my gate width was going to be less than 9'.

When locating the posts it's best to start with the gate posts, placing them at whatever width you wish your gate to be. If you use a gate width that's different from the other post intervals you'll end up having to do a bit of adjusting for some post locations for a nicer visual effect but that won't usually be much of a problem.

The reason for the 9' intervals? I have fairly rocky soil and wider intervals meant fewer post holes to dig. With 10' lengths of lumber I could move a post + or - 6 inches should rocks interfere and this variation in post interval really isn't noticable. Also, a 1x3 top rail begins to get a little "bendy" at longer intervals so I didn't want to go to 11 foot intervals.

I don't claim this design to be superior to any other. It was somewhat of an experiment and if I find I have to change one feature or another I'll do so.

Rocky soil? Not ideal for a round pen location but you may have little choice. I tilled the ground to kick up and throw out any larger rocks. Talk about "tip of the iceberg". There were 4 rocks poking there noses just slightly above the surface but it took a heavy duty tow rope and truck to dislodge them and drag them out of the pen area. You don't want the horses stepping on solid rock in the midst of a work session. So when you're selecting a location for a pen, before putting in the posts it's not a bad idea to till the area to see what might be lurking just an inch or two under the surface.

Gift idea for a horse lover? Design and purchase the materials for a much needed round pen (and maybe help with construction).

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Links to Past Articles

See you in July.

Bill Savage

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