Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Joy of Mucking

I confess that I enjoy mucking. I couldn’t say that until I had my horses at home. Until then, it was mostly annoying to come to the stable and discover that no one there had mucked yet. I would do it grudgingly. Here in my own barn, it’s a different story.

I have some of my most inspiring thoughts while I muck. I experience break-throughs in my writing and my relationships with my 93 year old mother and my 12 year old daughter. I come to deeper understandings of my horses and how to communicate with them. It’s sort of a sacred time of day for me. No one else wants to do it, so they all leave me alone.

I’ve noticed that anyone who mucks on a regular basis is convinced that they know how to do it best. My husband and I totally disagree about how it should be done. He is the King of Compost, so his concern is to leave as much shavings in the stall as possible. He hates having shavings and hay delay the breaking down of the material in the pile. I am more interested in the health and comfort of the horses. So, I tend to dig the stall up more to clear out the stinky, wet stuff that gets stomped down under the shavings.

And while I’m on the subject of shavings, that’s another greatly debated area of personal preference. I go out of my way at the Agway to insist on a brand called Hancock. The boys who load the bags for me think I’m a bit crazy. I try to explain to them. It doesn’t disappear in the stall as quickly, and it is softer and fluffier. My horses lie down every night. Silk even takes a siesta at mid-day. So, I want the shavings to be banked high on the sides of the stall to discourage anyone from getting cast, and I try to give the horses a comfy surface on which to stretch out.

When it comes to equipment, I highly recommend the Wonder Fork. It is a mucking tool that I can’t live without. The basket is deeper, and it’s ergonomically correct. Before we bought our house in Connecticut, we were living in Virginia. The first thing I did after we signed the closing papers was run to the local tack and feed to buy myself a Wonder Fork. It was my gift for finally having a place where I could keep my horses in the backyard. Not many stores carry this brilliant invention. You can order them from Valley Vet Supply. They cost more than the average fork, but they are well worth it.

We’ve built compost bins out of shipping palettes that I pick up for free at my local nursery. Each horse poops about forty pounds a day. My husband aerates the compost religiously, and it looks like the finest black dirt in the world by the time he’s done. The piles don’t smell bad, and we use Spalding Lab’s fly predators, so there are not many insects. It is heaven for red earthworms, which I mix into the garden beds with the compost. We have so much more compost than we can use, so we give it to our neighbors. They show their appreciation by dropping off vegetables and bottles of wine on our doorstep.

The biggest benefit of all this mucking for me is that I don’t need to go to the gym. Heaving eighty pounds a day keeps my upper body in good shape. Dragging manure back to the compost bins is great exercise. I take breaks to hang out with my horses. They stand at the pasture gate watching me as if they want to help. Maybe I can train them to carry the buckets.

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