Fence – Part 2 of ??

There is a general outline that appears to be true about installing any type of tension-based fence.

  1. Decide where the fence is going to go, in particular the location of all the corner, end-posts, and gates.
  2. Install the corners, end-posts, and gate posts.
  3. Put up a line or two of your fencing material and put a minimum amount of tension in it.
  4. Use your line of fencing material to determine where the in-line posts need to go and put them in.
  5. Put up the rest of the fencing material and tension it.
  6. Electrify it.

We finished step one and now need to do step two – install the corners, end-posts, and gate posts.

The directions that came with the fence system remind me of the directions that are in some of the not-so-great textbooks I’ve had to teach out of. They are written by people who know exactly what they are doing to other people who already know exactly what they are doing. They leave the details out, use technical vocabulary that is not defined, have limited visuals, and are super dense. I read and reread and reread the directions referencing and re-referencing the two diagrams they had and still felt like I had no clue how to do this, so I went searching for a video online. There has to be a video online somewhere– right?!  Apparently the answer is: sort-of.

There are a few other companies around the country that sell the Geotek Common Sense Fence and Mule System and one of them is Cashmans in Ohio. Before we purchased the fence I did search around to see if I could get a better price and though some of these places were cheaper, they were all farther away and because these components require freight shipping the additional shipping costs always offset any potential savings. If you are near Ohio Cashmans may be a good choice for you, but they were not for us. I say this because the ONLY video I could find about installing our fence system was part of a longer YouTube video Cashmans’s put out that contains what appears to be various parts of some 1990’s era, VHS quality, video.

I watched the whole video (which was over an hour) and then made Nate re-watch the pertinent parts with me before we went out to install our first corner. The video makes it appear VERY easy.


LIES! Or perhaps more accurately these are condition dependent truths and we do not have the required conditions and they skip over ALL the details.

Places where the video did not match our reality or left out some major details:

  • The four-handled hand-tool they use to install the augers that we received was not welded correctly so we could not get the fourth handle in it and were working with a three-handled hand-tool which meant instead of handing it off to each other we each had to take a side and spin around in a circle. If you are picturing something like the dizzy bat game you are not far off. We were a bit more graceful, but not by much.
  • They were clearly working in loamy soil and not the heavy clay we’re dealing with. Getting each of those augers in took forever and we often had to make use of the tip from the shelter anchors and water the hole, which of course meant delays as we let the water soak in.
  • If you want your post to be straight then the anchor needs to go in straight which is easier said than done when two people with different strength stats are trying to screw it in.
  • The diagonal brace needs to line up in just the right spot on the vertical post, which they don’t mention at all. That turned out to be one of our biggest challenges and led to one of our bigger arguments throughout this process. We were trying to get the angle right and we would get it in, put the diagonal brace on, and be way too high or way too low. Then we’d take it off, unscrew the auger, re-screw the auger and invariably over-correct. After what felt like the five millionth time of overcorrecting Nate was getting pretty frustrated and angry and in an effort to help I said “because the brace is so long a small change in angle at this end results in a large change at the other end” in what I felt was a calm and reasonable tone of voice – though apparently calm came off as condescending and Nate thought I was calling him an idiot. We got over that eventually and now “a small change on this end will result in a large change on the other end” is a recurring joke whenever the process gets frustrating and one of us is getting mad.
  • Securing the diagonal brace to the vertical brace is MUCH harder than they show. Even once you have the diagonal brace in the right spot the company either changed the brace clamps or switched to shorter bolts because we could not get the bolt through the brace clamp enough to fit the washer and the nut on without having to clamp the brace itself. Of course our vice grip was too wide and trying to fit it on the brace and leave room for the washer and space to turn the nut was an extreme challenge. There was a LOT of swearing for that very first corner and then another trip to LeVahn Brothers hardware (I truly love them!) to get a needle nose vice grip which worked much better.
  • Needing to have the vertical post level-ish, at the right height, and with the pre-drilled holes aimed the correct direction was also not mentioned at all and was also a challenge. Particularly because for almost every corner post the holes were not drilled in straight through the post but slightly off to one side or in some cases not straight down the length of the post. It wasn’t till an argument at the second corner that we realized this. Nate was on one side insisting it was aimed correctly and I was on the other side insisting he had lost his mind because they were not even remotely aimed correctly only to realize we were both correct because the holes don’t go through straight.
  • The video shows them doing the four-foot corners which don’t require a horizontal brace but the five-foot corners we have require a horizontal brace. Getting that to line up correctly with everything is also a challenge.
  • The insulators do not go in that easy! It probably has to do with the holes not being drilled straight through the posts so the angles are off just enough to make the bolts catch. In one case it took me over 45 minutes to put in a single insulator! 

But other than that – simple and easy. And they really aren’t going anywhere. It took us an entire day just to get that first corner in, after which Nate declared we’re just buying new fence once we get the barn built and we’re never moving this one.


Now we just need to do 18 more!

Third Interlude

I don’t need to explain my art to you.

There is much more to the fence story, however the next part will ideally have a multimedia component that is currently causing me difficulties, so we’ll take a brief break to discuss bugs and my hatred of them.  Also, a quick update on this post – according to a neighbor the rodents in question are most likely thirteen-lined ground squirrels and not chipmunks, though the chipmunk trap worked just as well on them, but also the larger holes I’m seeing are most likely not made by the ground squirrels but by the snakes that like to hunt them. Fun times! They (or maybe chipmunks for real this time?) are back and so we’ll need to do another round of white bucket traps. Now on to the bugs.

I hate bugs. Not all bugs; bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies, maybe someday honeybees? (that is a very long term goal) are cool and are welcome to stay. Spiders, wasps, flies of all varieties, and ticks *shudder* are not welcome guests. I’m doing much better about spiders than I used to, provided they stay outside or out of sight. If they come in my house and make themselves visible they need to die. I have managed to live and let live with all of the spiders I encounter outside – including the super creepy black with white spots spider that startled a ridiculous shriek out of me when it came around the corner of the fencepost right into my face. Wasps are trickier, I know they are necessary pollinators and helpful in hunting other insects but I would like to be able to turn the hose on without fear of being attacked so any nests by the house have got to go. Flies and ticks are another story. They are not welcome anywhere for any reason and knowing that horses and possibly other animals will soon be coming home means the flies and ticks are going to get worse and I wanted to take some preemptive measures.

A friend of mine in WI who also has horses has long used fly predators and has had many a good thing to say about them, so this spring when I got a catalog from Spalding Laboratories with their various fly control options I decided to order their fly predators to help control the “filth” flies or “pest” flies which include house, biting stable, and horn flies. We’ve been getting the fly predators every few weeks since this spring and they seem to be working. I can’t say with too much certainty since we don’t actually have any animals on the property yet (when this whole thing first started I thought I’d have Leeloo home by June 15 but probably July 1 -HA!), but there seem to be less around and Nate and I are pretty in tune to flies in and around the house because of a minor fly infestation at our previous house. If either of us sees a fly in the house all other activities stop until we kill it! So overall I think they are working. Unfortunately those predators only work on flies that lay their eggs in manure or other organic matter and it turns out that horse flies and deer flies lay their eggs in water and the fly predators don’t do anything to them. The same company does make an “H-trap” that is supposed to trap and kill deer and horse flies and it had some pretty good reviews online so despite the hefty price tag we decided to get it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, there is a picture online (here) but there is no sense of size or scale. This thing is large! Which explains the price tag. It also has to be placed very intentionally. Namely in a spot that is sunny all day and is in the direct path from wherever the flies are coming from. The flies are not going to pass up an existing meal to get to the trap, but if the trap is between them and other options they’ll go to the trap first. The horse and deer flies are unquestionably worse at the top of the driveway near our mailbox (we are forever getting dive bombed when we get the mail or are watering the trees/plants or mowing up there). My best guess is they are either coming from standing water somewhere in the park across the street from us or from the tiny pond of sorts a few houses down from us. So that means this very large and very unattractive object needs to go right at the top of our driveway for all to see. It got delivered pretty early in the season so it didn’t do much at first (too cold, too windy, and not many bugs out yet) so anytime we would drive in or out of our yard I would look at this expensive giant eyesore that didn’t seem to be doing anything but being “decorative” and declare “I don’t have to explain my art to you!”

gallon container for scale

It turns out it does work! We haven’t caught as many flies as some of the reviews online claim, but it has also been an insanely dry summer so the overall numbers are down. I can say that we are not only catching flies but some mosquitos and gnats too and we are not being dive bombed nearly as much when getting the mail, watering, or mowing and that is what matters. It also turns out to be a great conversation starter with neighbors. I have had several iterations of the following conversation:

Neighbor: So what exactly is that thing at the top of your driveway?

Me: You mean my art piece?

Neighbor: (awkward pause while they contemplate what they may have just gotten in to)

Me: It’s a fly trap, it’s much larger and much uglier than I expected.

Neighbor: (clearly relieved) – does it work?! If so, I may have to get one.

The flies are (hopefully) mostly dealt with. We’ll see what happens once the animals are actually home. I may need to get some additional traps but I’m hoping these preemptive measures make a difference.

That leaves the ticks. F*ing ticks. I have a genuine phobia when it comes to ticks of all kinds. I know it is irrational, but ticks are the worst! They don’t just seek you out (unlike other spiders that don’t want anything to do with you), they don’t just bite you and leave (like mosquitos which also suck), but they burrow their heads into your body and then stay with you for days. NO THANK YOU! Between the traumatic experience I had with ticks as a kid and dealing with Leeloo’s Lyme’s disease and their just general disgustingness you can see why I do not like ticks. Unfortunately, I have not found any solution for dealing with them. They may be the thing that pushes me over the edge into some sort of scorched earth scenario that involves poison or perhaps literally scorching the earth, but I’m hoping not.

Anyone have any suggestions for how to get rid of ticks without resorting to poison that will wipe out all the beneficial insects too? I really do love our bumblebees and butterflies and don’t want to harm them.  

The Fence – Part 1 of ???

Now we move on to what has become the bane of my existence. The fence. As mentioned in this post, we decided to go with Electrobraid as our fencing material and the Common Sense Fence system with their Mule Corners and fiberglass in-line posts. Before we could install anything it had to get delivered and it was being delivered via freight (i.e. semi-truck). Our experiences with things delivered via semi have been a mixed bag thus far so I was a little nervous. Our driveway is not currently conducive to large vehicles. Long term the plan is to install a smaller circle driveway in the front of the house and a larger one behind the house between it and the future barn, but for now we just have a long somewhat twisty driveway that ends at our garage with only a small turn-around for normal sized vehicles. Hence my concerns.

The first issue was a confusion on contact info, the delivery company called Bluebird Fencing to arrange a delivery day and not me. We got that sorted and luckily I asked about equipment to unload it, namely that we don’t have any, which had apparently not been in their notes, so we got switched to a truck with a lift gate. Then of course they gave me a delivery window of “Monday.” Thanks for that. Not having gotten anything more definitive than Monday I spent the day working from home and watching out my window. The day goes by and no truck. As 4:30 PM comes and then goes I call Bluebird Fencing to make sure there hadn’t been another mess up in contact info but she hadn’t heard anything either. She did have tips for next time: always insist on a shorter window and if they won’t give one ask that they contact you the morning of delivery with a smaller window and get the drivers name and direct phone number. Not sure it would have worked, but we’ll definitely try that the next time something large is delivered via freight. About two minutes after I get off the phone with her she calls back because they had messed up our numbers again and had just called her – since she knew we were home and waiting she told them yes, we were home and waiting. Driver finally shows up around 5:30 PM while we were in the middle of making dinner. We stop everything and run outside hoping to catch him before he got too far down our driveway to discuss where exactly to unload this stuff and where he could drive his truck safely. We were not fast enough.

He gets out and starts the unloading process by opening the door and getting the pallet on the pallet jack and then we talk options. One of the other complicating factors is that our driveway is still gravel, we’ll be paving it after the barn is built (the barn will get built!), but things like pallet jacks don’t operate on our gravel driveway. We tell him where we’d like it dropped off – right behind the house and that he doesn’t have to get it that far off the gravel, literally on the grass next to the driveway will work for us. But he thinks he can do some back and forths and get the truck in a slightly better spot. I don’t know what he was trying to do, but what he did do is get back in the truck, back it up, and then pull forward. Meanwhile the still engaged pallet jack is continuing in the direction it started going – right out the back of the truck and crashing onto our driveway as Nate and I watch it all in fascinated dismay. He gets out, looks at it, and says “guess we’re hand unloading after all” and just starts unloading it onto our grass. Really wish we would have had our phones to film it. In retrospect I should have insisted he wait until I could take pictures in case anything was damaged in the fall – well other than the pallet jack which was toast, but that was his problem and not mine. We chip in and help unload which is when I first discovered that if you handle fiberglass stuff you need to wear gloves! Nate didn’t have issues, but I got several fiberglass slivers and they were not fun. We get it all unloaded and then he insisted that I needed to check if anything was broken right then and there because if I didn’t file a claim then I could never file a claim ever. I’m not sure he was correct, but I did a quick glance at everything and it all seemed fine. It was mostly steel augers and fiberglass fence posts so not exactly breakable. We signed the paperwork that said it was delivered and go back into the house to finish dinner and to not watch as he gets his semi back out of our driveway and on his way.

Once he was gone and dinner was done I went back out to make sure everything was in fact fine and that it was all there. That was a little easier said than done (doesn’t that sound familiar). Very few things were actually labeled and having never worked with any fence system of any kind it was hard to know what I was looking at. I wound up going out with the picklist, the emailed invoice, and a tape measure and checking and rechecking everything that we had. That is when I discovered that it wasn’t all there – we were missing the three anchor braces for the three planned gates. It appears that the picklist, which was two pages, didn’t print quite right and cut off that item. I contacted Bluebird Fencing who contacted Geotek (the makers of the fence system) and they were both super great and overnighted us the missing three pieces. All was well – or so we thought.

Now we just had to turn this:

Into this:


How hard could this be?

Second Interlude

Now for a brief interlude whereupon I learn more about earth anchors than I ever wanted to and hurt myself the second time.

Upon ordering the shelters I asked about anchoring them since the other company mentioned it and I was sent the following image, and that was it.

I started searching for earth anchors or earth augers as they are also called and discovered an overwhelming amount of options. Luckily I found a very helpful company, Milspec Anchors, with several very helpful employees. I described the application – anchoring large 3-sided shelters; the environmental conditions – heavy clay soil and very windy; and our available equipment – none. It turns out the round helix at the end of an earth anchor isn’t just to hold them in place once they are in the ground, they also help actively pull the anchor into the ground once you get that part below the surface. They make some anchors with a double helix so the smaller one can help pull the larger one into the ground. Considering our heavy clay soil and no machinery to help us they recommended a double helix anchor and we went with this one. They also had a super helpful tip to dig out a hole about a foot deep first and water the hole before we tried to get the anchors into the ground. Moist clay is much easier to work with than dry clay (think of the soft clay you worked with in art class versus a brick). Getting the hole in the right place and the right amount of water took some fine tuning – but overall a VERY helpful tip!

Now we had to install the anchors, which was easier said than done. We quickly realized that we had no actual tool for turning the anchors and our own strength wasn’t sufficient once we got past that very top layer of wet clay. After messing around a bit with whatever I could find in the garage (not much) I went to my new favorite hardware store on the planet LeVahn Brothers. I cannot overstate how amazingly helpful they have been, not just with this project but several others. You walk in and are immediately greeted by someone who is genuinely knowledgeable and helpful and if there happens to be something they don’t know they find the person who does know to help you. I explained what we were trying to do – getting giant augers buried three feet in the ground with no machinery, oh and there is a structure right up next to where we are working – and we decided our best option was a crowbar. The crowbar helped, but being right next to the shelter made it so much harder because we couldn’t make a full circle, at best we could get a half-turn before we’d have to shift the crowbar and do another half turn. It was a maddeningly slow process, though we did improve on our methods a bit; at first we were completely pulling the crowbar out and repositioning it but we figured out a method for just sliding the crowbar back and forth. Still painfully slow and sometimes the ground just got too hard and we had to stop and water it a bit or have the other person come and push down on the anchor using a block of wood while the other one turned it because the helix just wasn’t up to the task of pulling itself down through our ridiculous soil. If you have ideas for how to do this better we’d love to hear them because at some point we’re going to have to un-anchor the shelters, move them, and re-anchor them and I would really like to have a better process for doing this. Though we do have one helpful tip of our own – put something, in our case we used cardboard, between your shelter and your crowbar so you don’t scratch it all up. You can see how beat up the cardboard got, it was also nice to mark the cardboard to see progress because there were many times when it felt like we were just spinning our wheels, or in this case anchors, and nothing was happening.

There are six anchor points for each shelter so we had twelve anchors to hand screwed into the ground, a process that involved repetitive combinations of twisting while pushing or pulling with my dominant wrist. The wrist that was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel back in 2019. Let me tell you it doesn’t feel mild anymore. Despite night braces and exercises my wrist was pretty useless after the first two or three anchors so Nate had to do much of the work of actually screwing the anchors into the ground and I was relegated to digging and watering the holes and pushing down on the wood block when they just wouldn’t go farther. Unfortunately, my wrist still hasn’t recovered. It doesn’t help that everything I have to do – typing, writing, cooking, cleaning (something had to go) aggravates that wrist and anchoring the shelters coincided with me prepping for both of my summer classes so there was a lot of typing and writing happening at the same time. I’m still doing my hand and wrist exercises and wearing a brace at night and now also during the day but my wrist still isn’t over its proverbial meltdown which has complicated many aspects of my normal day job of teaching plus all the work we’ve been doing to get Leeloo home.

One other thing that is still complicating the anchoring of the shelters are the giant pieces of wood bracing along the bottom front of the second shelter – we still haven’t been able to get them all off. They used these huge screws and a star shaped bit that we didn’t have. Back to LeVahn Brothers! We took pictures of what we were dealing with and they got us the proper bit but our very old hand-me-down drill from my father was just not up to the task. We wound up getting a new drill and an impact driver. Which worked – for most of them. We got one of the boards off completely and were able to put in the second to last anchor, but there are still three bolts that are stripped and the bit just spins in them. Another trip to LeVahn brothers got us a long metal blade for our reciprocating saw, but unfortunately we still haven’t been able to get through that last bolt. And of course the blade is designed for metal so it didn’t work great on the wood itself when in a fit of frustration we decided to just cut the wood off – we had to abort that effort midway because we had to meet someone to go get some hay. So technically there is still one more anchor that needs to get screwed in, but eleven are in and need to get attached to the shelters themselves. Back to LeVahn Brothers (we should consider buying stock at this point). After contemplating a lot of options, we decided to go with chain links that loop through both the anchor and the bolt in the shelter and then are bolted together with a bolt, washer, and nut. This would allow us to adjust for the different distances (getting the anchors to line up just right with the bolts in the shelter was tricky), remove them, and then reuse them once the shelters get moved.

The anchoring itself wound up being a much bigger expense than I ever expected and took far more time and energy than I had expected. Now that I know the anchoring costs and can factor them in it turns out that the West Wind shelters per square foot prices were comprable to the RFC Portable prices. Add in the time involved, and had we not needed to maximize square footage the West Wind Shelters may have been the better choice.  

There is one anchor issue though yet to be resolved – how do I keep my accident prone horse from injuring herself on these:

I have not been able to think of an idea that won’t in and of itself be an accident waiting to happen or be too easy for the horses to remove. Suggestions?

Give me Shelter – Part 2

As alluded to in Part 1 we did wind up purchasing fully assembled and delivered shelters from a company. The starting of this crazy plan coincided with the Minnesota Horse Expo and there were three shelter companies that were there: West Wind Shelters, Buildings by Alpha, and RFC Portables. All three companies make what appear to be great products. Buildings by Alpha is the farthest away and their delivery cost was significantly higher (understandably) so I didn’t pursue them. That left West Wind Shelters and RFC Portables. The overall cost was on the surface cheaper for a West Wind shelter, but their largest shelter is 10 feet by 30 feet whereas RFC Portables largest shelter is 12 feet by 36 feet and when I calculated out the per-square-foot cost the RFC Portables shelter was cheaper per square foot. There are some other differences to consider, however. West Wind shelters are made on a steel frame that goes all around every edge of the cubes that are the basis of the shelter itself. Versus a timber frame for RFC – RFC also has two versions, one they call the “EZ Move” that has a timber frame all around every edge but it’s a pretty chunky frame and adds to the cost, and the standard one that is truly open front and has nothing running along the bottom edge of the open side of the shelter. Other differences include an all metal outside sheeting for RFC and half-metal half-wood for West Wind Shelters, and lastly the other big difference between the two is that West Wind Shelters anchors their shelters for you when they deliver them and RFC does not provide anchors or anchor them for you. At the time I felt that maximizing square footage and minimizing my cost per square foot were the two most important things – also if my friend and I are going to build one of these shelters on our own, then a timber framed shelter would offer a template for us to work from. With those things in mind we went with RFC Portables and ordered two 12 foot by 36 foot shelters, light gray with white trim and roof.

Quick tip for anyone purchasing a premade structure. See your color options in real life, not just a computer screen! The little chip from the photo said “light gray” and on my computer it looked like “light gray.” But once they were here and in the same visual field as my light gray house, those shelters are taupe! Nate insists no one else will notice or care, but I have to regularly talk myself out of going to the store to buy paint and am successful only because there are so many other things we still need to do!

Because of the maximized length they couldn’t actually span that whole distance with an open space so these shelters are really more like three 12’ x 12’ bays connected together with dividing walls between them. In the shelter that will be a shelter the dividing walls go most of the way up, but in the shelter that will be my make-shift temporary barn I asked to make the dividing walls only half walls and to put a gate in the middle of the wall so I can get in and out of the side bays from the middle bay. This way in winter I can block off the two ends from the worst of the weather and have a somewhat protected space – that is the hope at least.

It took RFC about five weeks to build them and then they were delivered. I should have filmed the process because it is a little mind blowing. They come fully assembled on these flatbed trucks and then they tip the bed of the truck up and let gravity just slide them off. Though they did send me these reference photos as we were figuring out the logistics of whether the open side should be facing the driver side or passenger side for the purpose of unloading them.

To help stabilize them during transport and unloading they have a variety of braces including a very long piece of lumber across the bottom of the open side (where the West Wind Shelters have a steel frame and where the EZ Move shelters have a permanent skid). The first shelter slides off the truck and mostly where we wanted it, it was off by about foot on one end, but considering gravity just slid a 36’ x 12’ three-sided shelter off a flatbed truck, being off by only a foot on one end seemed pretty impressive. The second shelter did not slide off as cleanly, it started sliding off the back of the truck as well as the end of the truck so by the time it was on the ground it was about three feet off from where we wanted it. They looked at it and declared that we could just move it with a skid steer  You know – that skid steer we do not have. If you are not familiar a skid steer is the generic name for the machine, though you may have heard of them as a Bobcat, that is a specific company that happens to make skid steers (kind of like facial tissue and Kleenex). Or we could move it with a truck and chains – you know – that truck we also don’t have. They did leave us with the giant pieces of bracing lumber that ran along the bottom edge of the open side since we would have to move it so much. Then they left and we had to figure out how we were going to shift this giant thing.

We did look into renting a skid steer but the rental starts at $150 and goes up from there once you add delivery, time, etc. There is also the tiny issue that neither of us has a clue how to operate one. We asked around a few places and were in the midst of arguing over the merits of trying to do this with a truck and if so do we rent a truck or see if we could borrow someone’s when I decided on a whim to call the neighbors and see if they by chance had a skid steer and could they possibly help us out and they did! But they were unavailable for a few days, but the neighbor another two houses down also had one and she was sure he would be happy to help. She kindly gave me their name and number and having never met this person in my life I called to see if they could do me a favor – I felt very awkward – “Hello stranger I have literally never met, can you help me?” Asking for help is weirdly hard for me. But he was super nice and came over the next day to help us out. The shelter that was off by about three feet, but still had the braces on, shifted pretty easily once we got everything positioned correctly so I thought – hey, that went so well, lets shift that other shelter, the one that no longer has a brace, over just that one tiny foot. We positioned everything and started moving it when I noticed that the dividing walls between the bays were NOT moving with the far wall. I said “good enough” lets stop there, thanked him for his time and willingness to help out a total stranger, and we both went about our days. Later that day I was laying out where the fence needed to go and happened to look at that second shelter from a different angle and saw that one of the dividing wall between the bays was no longer square – it was pretty seriously bent out of true – crap! It took almost an entire day for me to work up the courage to text him and ask if he could come back out to help fix it – why is asking for help so hard? I finally managed it because I mentally reversed our situations, and I would in a heartbeat help a neighbor if I had the equipment and would have no issue coming back out if it didn’t go exactly right the first time. Seriously – need to work on the asking for help thing. He came over the next day and all we had to do was lift that wall up a few inches and the act of sliding the skids back out shifted it back into place (mostly) its not 100% square, but like 98% square – which is still a high A.

Now we just needed to anchor them. How hard could that be?

Give me Shelter – Part 1

Waiting for the fence materials to arrive we turned our attention to shelters, plural. My long-term plan is to have three shelters. It is very windy where we live and we don’t have just one prevailing direction. Winter tends to be more west, north-west and summer south, south-east – but some of the worst storms in both seasons switch – it is very annoying and makes it hard to place one shelter that would be able to safely harbor my horses all year round. Leeloo also hates bugs almost as much as I do but will not keep fly related “clothing” on. Flymasks are rubbed off within hours. Fly boots are actively ripped off with her teeth the moment I take her halter off. I have this long-term idea of creating a summer “bug” shelter that would have solar powered fans running and shade – it’s not a fully formed idea yet – but what this means is ultimately I want three shelters. I also want to plan for some additional animals as this hobby farm grows so I wanted the biggest shelters I could get so they can handle additional animals when they come – no reason to buy something twice!

Bringing Leeloo home before a barn is built also leads to some other major logistical issues that need to be addressed. Where are we storing hay for the winter? Where are we going to have vet appointments and farrier appointments in the winter? Where am I going to actually be able to bring my horse in to work with? One of the paddock paradise principals is that the paddock is the horse’s home and personal space so you shouldn’t do stuff with them in it. Also, I hate weather of all kinds and want a place to get out of it to do stuff with my horse whenever possible. I put all of this together with my long-term goal of having three shelters to come up with the following plan. One shelter would be used as its name implies and would be the shelter for the animals. We’d place it in consideration of the strongest winter winds since those are the biggest deal. The other two shelters would be outside of the paddock and would face each other with a space in-between. One of them would be used to store hay – because hay cannot sit outside in the elements – and the other would be my makeshift “barn” with a stall of sorts on either side where I could bring a horse in to feed or doctor or trim or groom and the middle would be an “aisle-way” of sorts and storage. This meant I was looking at getting the three largest shelters I could. BUT – because this is all temporary until we get an actual barn built and a permanent paddock track created and because I didn’t want to deal with the city and building permits – these shelters need to be temporary and moveable, no permanent structures allowed.

Some credit for all this craziness of getting Leeloo home before there is a barn belongs to a non-horse-having friend who asked me last summer why I didn’t just bring Leeloo home. I listed the many barriers to that happening – fence, shelter, water, hay storage, poop management, place to do stuff with her in winter, etc. Having a horse at home is far more work and far more complicated than having a cat or a dog. But that conversation planted a seed that unbeknownst to me was germinating all that time so when my farrier said this spring “She’s never going to be sound in this environment.” that seed sprouted into this current madness. That same friend is also one of the most confident, go-for it, we-can-do-it, optimistic people I know. Which is good for me because I am only confident with things I have a lot of experience with and I tend to view the world from a pessimistic (realistic?) lens. When I told this friend that her crazy and totally impractical suggestion from last summer apparently germinated into this thing actually happening, but that I was still concerned about the cost of everything including how expensive a three-sided shelter was, she very confidently declared that together she and I could build the shelters I needed by ourselves for less money and in a reasonable time frame.

Some key background information: Neither of us are accomplished woodworkers, we are novices at best. Nate and I did take a community woodworking class several years ago and built two Adirondack chairs and a bench. The bench has a persistent wobble that we haven’t been able to fix and one of the Adirondack chairs had a loose seat slat issue from the very beginning, but we didn’t realize it until we were moving it out of the classroom to get it home and at that point were both too embarrassed to bring it back inside to fix it (this is why it’s good for me to have a confident friend). My friend has slightly more experience than that, but still definitely in novice territory. We also both have full time jobs and she has kids – and she tried really hard to talk me into building these shelters ourselves and was confident we could get them done in the same time-frame the professional companies I was looking at could get them done. She almost managed to convince me. Almost.

I talked her down to building one shelter, the one that would be used for hay for now and would long term be my crazy “summer bug” shelter, since potentially wrecking a perfectly fine and expensive shelter on a half-baked idea doesn’t make much sense, but wrecking a shelter made by two novices that probably isn’t going to be so great to begin with seems far more reasonable. I also have several other building projects in mind including hay boxes and some compost bays and said I would love her help with those projects. These conversations happened in April. In this case pessimistic caution turned out to be the right call because the shelters ordered from the company arrived weeks ago and to-date my friend and I have managed to build one, singular, hay box.


That still needs a lid.

Minor Delay

Today is one of our last nice weather days for a while – we’re going in to a string of 90’s with high humidity – no thank you – which meant I was outside working on fence all day but that also means the next blog post won’t get up until late Thursday or early Friday. In the meantime – internet – what is this plant? 

The flowers are purple and bell shaped and living amongst my hostas but the leaves are a different shape than the hostas, much smaller and jagged edged. They are pretty so I don’t mind them provided they are not toxic to horses, but without knowing what they are I can’t look them up to see if they are toxic. So what are they? 

Best Laid Plans

It should surprise no one that my original paddock track system layout has been modified significantly from its first iteration however, before I go into more details a brief public service announcement.

There is a saying in the horse world, “two horse people, three opinions.” It is not unusual for people who are passionate about something to also have strong opinions about that thing, but for horse people, particularly those living near a metropolitan area it sometimes seems more pronounced. I think it has to do with the increasing cost of having a horse close to an urban area. Anyone willing to put so many other wants, and occasionally needs aside – I still have one pair of pants I can wear to work, that’s enough, right? – to afford a horse and/or has that much money to begin with comes with a certain amount of crazy passion. 


Please note the complete and utter lack of sources or any information about my data collection methods – that’s how you can tell this graph is legit.

I mention this because if you, person reading this, have horses yourself you might have some opinions on some of things I’m going to talk about in this, and future, posts; and they might be different from the opinions I have and the decisions I made. I am happy to have a conversation about our differences in opinion, either in the comments here or on Facebook, I ask only that they not be in the form of “What you are doing is stupid and wrong. Let me tell you why…” 

On to the original plans. As I mentioned in a previous post, the layout of Leeloo’s new home is based on the work by Jaime Jackson and his Paddock Paradise book/website/Facebook group. The ultimate goal is to get my horses moving as much as possible and living in a way that more closely resembles the way their wild/feral relatives live so they can be healthier happier horses. There obviously have to be some concessions, but I am trying hard to keep that primary goal in mind.  Below are the first few drafts I had put together.

I spread out the big three needs (water, hay, shelter), so that the horses have to travel to get from one to the other. Ideally the paddock track makes one big continuous loop so that no horse can ever get trapped in a dead-end by another horse being a jerk; however it is not unreasonable to have offshoots as long as the end of an offshoot allows a horse to get away from said jerk. Leeloo has been described by the barn manager of our current barn as being the most dominant horse on the property who is tough, but fair, “Leeloo will only kick someone’s ass if they deserve it.” That being said, minimizing any damage a tough but fair Leeloo can do is still a goal. One of the constant tensions anyone with horses has to deal with is the desire to keep our animals safe with the need to allow them to be horses, and horses have hierarchies that are determined through physical means, some which can cause injury – which sucks.

You can also see there was a question about water. Because this is all temporary until we can get the actual barn built, we aren’t doing things like digging new water lines so the water for the horses needs to come from the spigots by the house. And because we live in Minnesota the water also has to be close enough to an electrical outlet that we can get a tank water heater in it. We have two spigots and exterior outlets on our house, a set in front and another in back. Originally, I had a convoluted plan to run the hose and the extension cord up and around our garage door, but then remembered that we have that other set on the front of the house – so the water moved there.

There is only one large flat area that isn’t too close to the septic system and isn’t currently corn field so that is where the shelters landed. From there it was a matter of going around some trees, the septic system, and the house.

Obviously I can’t just show Leeloo the drawing and ask her to please keep to the designated areas, so we need some fence. Several years ago I had reached out to some of the people I know who have their own barns or horses at home and asked for one thing they would absolutely do again, one thing they would absolutely change if they were starting from scratch, and any recommendations for various horse related products, companies, etc. One of those recommendations was for Monica and Bluebird Fencing. Monica is amazing and has been super helpful through this whole process. We talked on the phone for a solid hour that first time while I explained what we wanted to do (track system); what my priorities were (1st – safety, 2nd – cost, 3rd – ability to move the whole thing in the future); what animals we were hoping to have (full sized horses, donkey? pony? goats?) and landed on Electrobraid as our fencing material and the Common Sense Fence system by Geotek as the corner and in-line post system (more on how that has been going soon). She then asked me to send her my plans so she could price it out and give me a quote. I sent her the plans above and she got back very quickly to say I may want to rethink them. As originally drawn I was looking at a VERY expensive plan because every change of direction was about 20 times more expensive than a straight in-line post, and every corner was 30 times more expensive than a straight in-line post and there were a LOT of corners and direction changes in those early plans. With that in mind I sat back down with the goal of minimizing corners but still getting Leeloo to all the places I wanted and keeping her off all the places she couldn’t be on. And here was the new plan that we are in the process of putting up:


We got it down to thirteen corners and three gates, which at the time seemed very reasonable. Ignorance, what bliss.

First Interlude

Now for a brief interlude whereupon I hurt myself (the first time) and contemplate murder (of rodent kind)

Looking at overhead shots of land is all well and good, but I needed to actually get out and walk the yard to visualize the swirling thoughts in my head and decide if this was really possible. I walked and stood around a lot by myself thinking – which from the outside looks like you’re just staring off into space for long periods of time – I’m sure the neighbors thought I had lost my mind. Then I took Nate out and walked him around while I explained what I was thinking.

During said walks the ridiculous bumpy, lumpy, holey nature of our “yard” fully came into focus for me. A little side note about our so-called yard. The house was built in the middle of a corn field. At the time the farmer hadn’t left quite as much bare space as we had asked for so before we could build we had to physically knock down quite a few almost mature corn stalks so the surveyors could properly site the house. However, our contract only stipulated grading directly around the house and septic system, not the rest of the giant front yard, and we didn’t have any provisions for grass or sod. That meant when we moved in April 2019 we had a giant front space full of rutted up dirt and last year’s corn stalks and nothing else. We frantically planted grass but had to leave much of it because the septic system hadn’t been put in yet and we didn’t know exactly where it was going to go which meant the weeds took over VERY quickly. That lead to goats and all sorts of fun (see the Facebook Group LanternFarm page to learn more about the goats), but we did eventually get a “yard” of sorts that is green and mowable. Is it grass? No. Can the people driving by at 60 mph tell that? Also no. The following summer all those mostly mature corn cobs that got buried just under the surface of the yard suddenly become the most enticing thing in the world to the racoons who live in the area and they proceed to dig them up leaving giant holes scattered everywhere to go with the tractor tire ruts. Then the following summer a family of chipmunks UPDATE – turns out they are thirteen-lined ground squirrels decided the loosely packed dirt along the buried powerline is super easy to dig out and so they have a turnkey home just waiting for them to move into. Now we have ground squirrel holes to go with the racoon made holes to go with the tractor tire ruts – PGA quality it is not. Nate and I don’t do anything outside other than yardwork so we haven’t cared and haven’t dealt with it. But now I’m bringing my accident-prone horse home and am about to let her loose in my pot-hole filled yard. This is a vet bill waiting to happen.  How do I flatten my terrible yard and get the ground squirrels to leave?

The internet has many suggestions, most of them impractical (we will not be digging up the entire yard, regrading it, and replanting all the grass – we have neither the time nor the money for such an endeavor). One suggestion did seem doable even if I wasn’t confident it would work. A lawn roller.  The internet has mixed reviews of this option, and my overall sense was that it depended on the type of soil you have and when you try to roll it. If the ground isn’t soft enough, it won’t do anything at all; if it is too soft, you’re just going to get stuck – and some people insist it won’t ever work no matter what. Not wanting to invest money into something that might not work I decided to rent one from Menards first and test it out. This was a great idea in theory, but the timing was tricky. I needed to find a window of time when the ground was soft, but not too soft, and I had time to go to Menards, pick this thing up, drive it around my yard, clean it off, and then return it. Finding such a perfect convergence took longer than I wanted and even then the day I did it wasn’t ideal because Nate had a thing scheduled so I absolutely had to be done by a certain time so he could help me get it back in the car.

Let’s talk a little more about what a lawn roller is for those of you not familiar. It is a large steel cylinder that you fill with water to make super heavy and then drag it around your yard like a giant rolling pin. I had finished up as much as I was going to be able to do and needed to drain the water, clean it off, so we could load it into my car and the clock was ticking. I park the lawnmower and see that the drain plug is too low to get out. I go back and move the lawnmower up a bit only to overcorrect and now its hiding behind the frame; but it’s only off by a few inches and I don’t want to unhook it because I’ll need the lawnmower to roll it back to the bottom. I decided I can just move this myself. This giant, water-filled, steel lawn roller that is attached to my lawnmower. I got this! I did not, in fact, have it. I did manage to move it the few inches I needed, but at the expense of my back. It did not help that I proceeded to do a bunch of other physical things including wrestling the roller back into my car and then back out of my car. This led to two weeks of being laid up in the house in constant pain while the weather outside was gloriously perfect. I was not happy. I’ll post more about my ongoing back issues and how they have mostly (except in the case of my own sheer stupidity) gotten better.

During my time of enforced inaction, I spent a lot of time staring out the window being annoyed and saw that f***ing ground squirrels and his family digging horse killing holes all over the yard (second update, also turns out that the really big holes aren’t the ground squirrels but the snakes that hunt them – super fun!). *Shakes fist angrily* Get off my lawn! I started researching how to get rid of chipmunks. The internet was again full of lots of ideas, most of which seemed like crap. I tried a variety of non-lethal options first, including scents to scare them away like used kitty litter. I didn’t however wind up purchasing any commercial products. They either listed only a few active ingredients (2%) and everything else was just “other” (98%) and now that all our water is well water I am waaaaaay more cautious about what I put on the lawn (what goes on the lawn winds up in my water and I’m not drinking a bunch of unknown ingredients); or they were things that would be bad for Leeloo too. Unfortunately the used kitty litter and the like did not work. This meant we had to go into lethal options. I considered live-trapping, but where exactly was I going to take these critters and in what vehicle? By this time I was pretty frustrated so rodent murder it was. One of the options I had found online seemed kind of ridiculous but had the benefit of being cheap and best of all involved no poison of any kind (see previous statement about well water, putting poison all over the yard seems like a bad time). The plan – get a large bucket, fill it half-full with water, sprinkle sunflower seeds on top, and create a ramp up to it; the chipmunks see the sunflower seeds, think they found some sort of jackpot, jump in, and drown. Yes, I felt really, really, bad about this and it took me several days before I actually tried it. But every time I looked at those holes I thought, if my horse steps in one and breaks her leg she’s dead. Either my horse dies, or the chipmunks (ground squirrels) die, one of them has got to go. So, I put out my bucket and waited. It took a few days, but all total I managed to take out three ground squirrels! Which by the way are much bigger than you’d think (because they weren’t chipmunks they were ground squirrels!). I did feel bad, but Leeloo is more important and there are ground squirrels everywhere. Including possibly back in our yard because something has just started re-digging out some of the holes!

Where Will She Go?

Coming home from that uplifting appointment I tell Nate that I want to try to bring Leeloo home this summer and though supportive, he was understandably skeptical. We had already agreed to, and taken payment from, a local farmer to farm most of our land for this year, so where exactly was I going to put Leeloo? Also the whole point of bringing Leeloo home was to get her to move more – how exactly was I going to do that?



In the course of our lameness issues, we have worked with at least six different vets, six different farriers, four different chiropractors, a massage therapist, acupuncturist, and osteopath. The one thing they all agreed on was that Leeloo needs to move more, and move in terms of low intensity activity, i.e. walking. So how do you get a couch potato of a horse to move more? I’ve been pondering this for years now, and a while back when discussing this issue with a friend I shared my ingenious (laughable) idea for a hay feeder that would force my horse to move. The general outline was creating a long rectangular box which you would put a perforated barrel, filled with hay, into and Leeloo would have to roll the barrel up and down the track to get the hay out. There are obviously lots of flaws to that idea, but my friend was very kind and just listened and when I was done, asked if I had heard about paddock track systems. I had not.

The basic idea is that you spread out the horse necessities (food, water, shelter) in different locations that require the horse to walk between them. Intrigued I searched the internet when I got home and discovered Jaime Jackson and Paddock Paradise. I acquired his book of the same name, devoured it, and knew that this was my answer. This was how I was going to get my horse to move! One of the many beauties of the Paddock Paradise system is that you don’t need a lot of land to make it work. So, I pulled up an overhead view of our land (thanks ever present observation satellites, your existence isn’t creepy at all) and thought yes – I can get a paddock paradise track set up around our existing yard and house.

We can do this!