Tribute for a Friend – and a True Horseman

So what could a cowboy from Texas and a farm boy from Iowa find in common after meeting in Snohomish County?

A love of horses and the best management practices for caring for them.

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I first met Alan Shank on a soggy morning on April 5, 2017. I had been with the Snohomish Conservation District for just a few weeks. He was my predecessor with the Sound Horsekeeping Program and so meeting him became my first priority. Still fresh from my move from Texas, my speech and dress sometimes, as they still do, get me odd looks, and I’m sure when I walked into Alan’s kitchen that day he wondered what in the world had come through his door. As we sat down and he gave me a cup of coffee I remember him saying “When I retired I told the District that when they hired for my position to be sure to get someone who really knows about horses…but a Texas cowboy? That’s taking what I said to an extreme!” Then he laughed, and I laughed, and we laughed.

It’s his infectious laugh that I sometimes still hear in my head, one that if you ever heard it once you’ll never forget it. I know I never will.

That first meeting lasted for about two hours and we talked about everything horse related. It didn’t take long for us to form a relationship that, for me, became one of the greatest blessings of my life. Getting to know Alan over the last few years not only gave me joy for having a good friend, but our conversations about horsemanship and how to manage a farm helped me to grow in my personal understanding of those things, sometimes challenging some of my long-held beliefs, but always giving me something to improve my methods and perspective.

Yes, our methods were sometimes different on how we approached horsemanship, and I will confess to scratching my head more than once at some of his ways. I grew up in ranch country and my methods are rather old-school while Alan was always trying something new, something on the edge, to me, of the frontiers of horsemanship. Though our methods were different, our focus was always the same – the horse before all else. Whether it was riding, training or keeping them, the horse’s needs and perspective always came first. In that we learned to appreciate each other.

Alan was a master of the best management practices for horse keeping. The methods have been around for generations, and I practiced them myself for many years in Texas before coming here, but Alan turned them into a science. His small farm in Snohomish is the best example I know of about how to do it perfectly. Only a master could take a 3.5 acre parcel with a home, a full size covered arena, two outdoor sand arenas, a round pen, a six stall barn, multiple paddocks with Nobel shelters, and keep 10 horses with grass turnouts that always have enough grass for every horse. If there were ever a picture of an efficient small horse farm it would be Alan’s.

Just a few weeks before he passed I remember sitting with him watching the horses grazing on the fresh grass. “It is so satisfying to watch a horse graze on good grass.” he told me then, smiling.

Alan was not only a master of managing a small farm, but he was also a horseman to emulate. An example of how good a horseman Alan was is in his relationship with the horse he had when he passed - Rusty. Rusty is a muscled up, ranch bred Quarter Horse that he purchased from a dusty old spread in eastern Oregon. When Alan got him home Rusty looked like a formidable ranch horse, even for this old cowboy. Rusty had been used and abused down in Oregon. He was obviously rode hard and fast and knew how to work. Despite his amazing physical features, though, he was very careful and lacked trust in a lot of things, having been driven so hard most of his life. I commented to a mutual friend of ours that I was worried because I felt Rusty was more horse than Alan could handle. Heck, I was even wondering how long I would last on him if given the chance! I said I wanted to be around when he first mounted him because it was for sure going to be a rodeo.

Was I ever wrong.

Through his patience and dedication Alan slowly broke down those distrustful and fear-based barriers in Rusty. I went with Alan when he took Rusty to a saddle shop in Spanaway to help him pick out a good fitting saddle for them both. Alan never spared any expense to make sure Rusty had what he needed. In the end Rusty came to him like a dog and would follow him around like one, too. And when Alan finally mounted him there was no rodeo. Far from it. What there was was a union of man and horse like every horseman dreams of.

One of the last memories I have of Alan is of him sitting outside Rusty’s stall in a chair, quietly talking with him and letting Rusty touch his hand now and then as they both just sat in each other’s company, enjoying the time for just what it was. I had come out to see how he was doing and afterwards, as I went to leave, he just looked at Rusty and smiled and continued to sit there enjoying the moment.

A true horseman enjoys his horse for what it is, in the moment that the horse is in, with grace and humility, and a focus always on the relationship over any goals one may have.

And that is how I hope we all remember Alan Shank. Not just a master of the best ways to keep a horse, but as something much more – a true horseman. 

See you down the trail, my friend.

- By Michael Hipp

A Pasture Quiz Show, a Farm Tour, and Horse Therapy

A Pasture Quiz Show, a Farm Tour, and Horse Therapy

Warm Beach Camp and Stables hosted our Spring Nutrition and Pastures workshop last Saturday March 23. We brought together a veterinarian, a farm planner, and the leaders of Warm Beach Camp's Horsemanship Program discuss pastures, equine nutrition, and manure and mud management. 

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Three Things Before First Turnout

Three Things Before First Turnout

Ah, spring….the snow is gone, the sun is shining, the grass is growing, the horses are licking their lips and pacing their paddocks waiting for you to open the gate and let them out on that beautiful, lush pasture you have limed and fertilized and protected all winter. Before you open that gate and let them run free, however, there are three things you must make sure are ready – the soil, the grass, and your horse.

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Talking Mud on a Sunny Day

Talking Mud on a Sunny Day

We are so thankful to the 20 horse folks that came to our Horsekeeping in the Winter Wet farm tour.

Funding is currently available for certain projects in the Lower Stillaguamish PIC Project area. Even if you don't live in this area, please contact Michael Hipp at 425-377-7019 for advice and/or a free site visit to help you manage mud and manure for your sanity, your horses' health, and the health of the environment around you.

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Chemical Free Fly Control for Horse Properties

If there is one pest that could be crowned “Kings of Irritation” to our equine friends it would be those ever-present menaces – flies.

Every year millions of dollars are spent by horse owners all over the world on chemical sprays of every kind, both organic and inorganic, to keep those pesky pests off their horses, along with the many hours spent applying said sprays. Even then, not every chemical seems to work on every horse, so the industry has created multiple chemical options to address the issue.

I can always tell a horse owner in a feed store by the smell of fly spray on their clothes. It never really goes away no matter how much you wash your hands. The lingering spray in the air always falls on your clothes or boots so that when you stand next to me in the cash register line at the Co-op I will always be able to smell that sweet smell of fly spray on you. Sorry, but it’s true. So if you want to avoid the cost and hassle of chemical fly controls – as well as detection by discerning fellow horse owners in the check-out line – there are some things you can do to manage flies biologically.

Turn Flies into Prey

Flies, like most other things on this planet, have natural predators. In the world of mammals humans have natural predators in bears (more on that in a future article) and in the insect world flies have natural predators in tiny, biteless, and completely stingless parasitic wasps commonly referred to in the horse world as “fly predators”.

Fly predators kill their prey while the flies are in the developing stages on the ground. The female fly lays her eggs on decomposing organic material, and very soon after the microscopic fly maggot burrows its way into the material and forms a cocoon. The fly predator seeks out her prey and when she sees these cocoons she deposits her eggs inside the cocoon, preventing the adult fly from hatching.

The only drawback to using fly predators is that they have a very short life span and the adult fly lays eggs at a faster rate than the fly predator. This all means you must continually replenish your supply of fly predators as the season progresses.

Violet-green Swallow

Attract Birds and Bats

Another inexpensive method for controlling flies is to attract other natural predators such as birds and bats. This can be done by providing the targeted predators – specifically the Violet-Green Swallow, the Barn Swallow, and bats – with houses situated in favorable spots around your property.

Violet-Green Swallows need a house because they will not build nests in barn structures like their cousin Barn Swallows. Also unlike their cousin, they do not generally poop below their house, keeping their surroundings cleaner. Violet-Green Swallow houses must have an oval shaped opening rather than round, and should not have a perch in order to prevent predators from attacking their nests. Violet-Green Swallows first appear in early May, lay a brood, then move on by mid-July. However, while the Violet-green Swallow will leave by mid-July, the Barn Swallow may lay a second brood and will hang around until mid-September.

The nice thing about both birds is that they will eat their entire body weight in flies every day. On average, these fellows weigh in around 0.63 ounces while a typical fly weighs 0.0004 ounces – that’s a daily diet for the swallow of 1,575 flies! So, the more swallows you attract, the more flies they can consume.

However, if you want to pull out the big flying guns in this battle, attract bats. They consume 500 to 1,000 flies, mosquitoes and other flying insects…an hour! Since bats typically feed 8 hours a night, that means the average bat will consume from 4,000 to 8,000 flying insects a night. Bat houses can be bought commercially or easily constructed using commercial plans, and should be located also on the south or west side of your structures. They also need a reliable water source nearby…no doubt to wash down all those flies!

Manage Manure

At the same time you can attack flies directly using their natural predators, you can also control fly propagation by controlling the host for all their egg laying – your horse’s manure.

Building and using a compost bin is an essential weapon against parasites and pests on any horse property. It can be as simple as creating a pile and making sure it is covered to building an elaborate, forced air system with a roof and removable cover.

The key to making good compost comes down to three basics – moisture, air and temperature. The manure must always be the moisture of a damp sponge (not wet, but damp) and enough air, either from turning the pile at intervals or using a forced air system, to allow the microbes to do their job at breaking down the organic material in the manure. And the most important factor of the three is temperature. It is important that the internal temperature of the manure pile reach at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for at least 3 to 15 days depending on how your pile is constructed to kill off all the fly eggs present.  

By using these good, chemical free fly controls you will not only go a long way in reducing exposure to chemicals to yourself and your horse and save time and money in the barn from applying horse spray, but you will also smell a whole lot better in the check-out line.

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