When I wrote that header, I thought that there are all types of owner guilt.  In fact, probably too many to list:  I don’t ride them enough, they need a bath, they don’t have enough friends, I need to buy better feed, am I feeding the right feed?, I should have noticed earlier, are they warm/cold?, I need to pay more attention, I need to bond more… the list could go on forever.  I’m sure you are adding a few in there as you read this.

Now, I’m not saying that we are all bad owners because we have concerns – no, just the opposite.  I’m saying that as good owners, we care.

We care so we sometimes feel guilty.

Well, I’ve been feeling guilty for about 6 months now.  It is all based around my finances.  Basically, I ran out of money before I thought I would run out of money at the new house.  So, I wasn’t able to create the number of paddocks needed or the proper number of shelters and trees.

Consequently, when it was sunny (lack of shelters/trees), I worried.  When it was raining (and as you have probably heard, it is raining  A LOT here in California…), I worried.

I worry all the time.

Mo, Missy Miss Eden and Gwen in the back. They won’t even come back into their upper paddocks… but I cannot leave them on the Grass. It is a daily fight to get them to come in for the night. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to come up into yukky paddocks either. Once I have more fencing, I can divvy this up and make the upper paddocks more livable.


I have shamefully noted that this guilt makes me spend less time with them.  I know this is counter productive … I’m not sure the psychology of it except that when I look at them, I feel guilty.   Therefore, I want to run back inside.

The double edged sword here is that the horses really need my help now.  They need to feel that I’m still here, protecting them.  They need to feel that I am still Herd Leader.

Of course, It is tough to be herd leader when you can’t even walk inside the paddocks without sinking, getting stuck and being completely off balance while the excited herd is whirling around.  Dangerous.


Wrigley giving me a sad face… He is standing in an upper paddock. See the mud?…


The good news is that I have a commercial starting in a few weeks.  So, soon I will have the money to create a few more paddocks and another shelter.  This will ease my stress at least by half!

Also, I didn’t really think about this while living through it… but now that I have witnessed a summer and winter here, I know more.  I’ve learned so much about the soil and the wind/rain patterns that I can make better decisions with regard to the fencing, tree planting and shelter directions.


First I created a path so I wouldn’t slip on the wet clay dirt. I’ve almost taken headers more than I can count.

Here is my work next to the feeders.

This is the side I didn’t do… you can see how gross it is here. Too much water on sandy/clay soil. It is like quicksand.

Here is the mark my boot made before it came off. Not very deep, right?… Exactly my point. This clay is like quicksand. It must be painful for the horses when they go in deep.


But today, my life was about doing whatever I could to make their lives more tolerable out in the paddockswamps of Paso Robles, CA.

I had a pile of wood shavings delivered.  (I know, wood shavings can have sharp bits…but this is what most people do around here with success so I thought I’d try.)

I made a little path so I could walk safely… and then I put wheelbarrows full of shavings around several feeders.

What I learned is that I’m not in shape.

What else I learned is that as soon as the horses started walking on the shavings, they just pushed them into the mud.


The guilt continues.

My donkey, Norma Jean. She watched me while I was working. She probably knew the shavings wouldn’t work before I did.



HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

10 comments have been posted...

  1. dawndi Post author

    Wow! So much good information here. I just heard about road fabric recently. I sounds like a great solution.
    Yes, the plant is to plant trees in fenced corridors along the paddocks. The corridors will be wide enough so I can
    tend to the trees and feed. I will lay down what I need there, for sure. Hopefully, with more paddocks, I will have
    less horse weight in these areas and less mud next year.
    –Thank you for sharing your story. Yup. I made a lot of money for many years… a new and different reality now.
    –As far as the Willamette Loam, what I have here is very different. At least where I lived in Wilsonville, the dirt
    was very rich in nutrients, everything would grow. It was easy and never like this. Ever.
    Thank you for being kind. I greatly appreciate it. Helps my heart.
    –I think I would have been more hurt by the Debbie Troll if she had given her true identity. But throwing spears
    and hiding is not honorable.

  2. Rox

    Dawn, I am surprised that you didn’t call upon your former Oregon experience for mud control strategies! Paso Robles dirt is about the same as Willamette Valley dirt. What you are slipping and sliding in is so much worse than “regular” clay in the soil – it is in fact a type of fine almost greasy silt called loess, which was left over from millenia ago glaciation. So here’s the solution when your finances recover and when the area has dried out: in the paths that you lay out – and those paths should be wide enough to drive at least a Gator on if not a pickup truck – lay down geotextile cloth which you can get at just about any big garden supply store, this will allow water to go through but keep the larger dirt/clay/loess particles from coming up through. On top of that don’t use shavings use “play chips.” Some wood products providers call those “playground chips” because you have no doubt seen those in park or recreation areas around slides or swings. I don’t recommend bark-o-mulch because wood products companies treat that stuff with harsh chemicals which can be toxic to horses and especially to dogs and cats when walking on that crap. But playground chips are far more substantial than sawdust or shavings but much safer to walk on than the huge chunks of wood and bark that some mills call “hog fuel” and sell for mud control – might work on a construction site but not for hooves or booted human feet!

    I know first hand the cruelty that judgmental others try to add to your self-imposed guilt feelings. I lost my great job in 2008 when the owner of the medium sized company decided to retire and close that company rather than what he rightfully foresaw as the Second Great Depression looming. I had EIGHT YEARS of struggling with temp jobs and slim to pathetic unemployment benefits to survive before once again becoming well and fully employed — and I am still catching up. You would not believe (or maybe now you would, given some of the posting here!) the judgmental and completely asinine comments of trolling humans who have absolutely nothing better to do with their OWN self loathing than to try to unload it on others. I did what I had to do to save my animals including getting a succession of roommates (disastrous to my emotional health!) for the sake of being able to cover the grocery bills and vet bills. One does what one has to. I wasn’t exactly like Scarlet O’Hara facing a sunset with a filthy tiny carrot in one upraised fist vowing to never be hungry again because I was willing to go hungry myself before my horses and two dogs missed even half of a meal or didn’t have a warm clean bed to sleep in.

    The best thing you can do with trolls who unfairly judge you is to IGNORE them. I would say even delete their comments. If in-your-face in-person criticism is delivered then just in return deliver a cold stare and WALK AWAY.

    One more comment and I will go away. Some people make choices to put people before animals. Some of us put our animals first which is why I am no longer married to a high-earning spouse – and I am FAR happier for it. Not everyone feels the same way. You gave up a completely gorgeous and perfectly suitable ranch to move to a more convenient location that helps your marital relationship. I would not ever have done so but that does not mean I judge you negatively for that.

    The new world order is a Culture of Anger. Strive to avoid the angry persons who unfairly judge you and continue making the very best of your situation. Just remember: LOVE WINS eventually.

  3. dawndi Post author

    Debbie: Your comment hurt me beyond what is fair. All I can say is that everyone comes upon hard times. Why do you negate the 7 years
    of (free) blogging where I tried, every day, to bring information, levity and education to readers… or the thousands of dollars raised for horses
    in need. I just don’t understand people who kick others when they are down.

    Here is Hubby’s response:
    Hello, I am Dawn’s husband.

    It’s very easy to look at Dawn’s blog and create a version of reality based on the public persona that she reveals. Since you have chosen to criticize Dawn for what she posted on her public blog, I thought you might benefit from some of the backstory.

    I’m active-duty military. I don’t get to choose where I am going to be stationed, I get orders. I was thrilled to get an assignment on California’s Central Coast – it is a great place to live, but also very expensive. We looked for almost two years to try to find a rental property that would accommodate all of our animals (while I did a five-hour weekly commute) but in the end realized we would have to buy a place. It ended up being quite a stretch for us, having to build new fences as well. Yes, I know the rails are on the wrong sides of the posts. A result of trying to get things done cheaply, and hiring inexperienced labor.

    This place, while great in many regards, is not great for the horses. The rain continues to be a real challenge. The ground is soft and slippery and the horses do not have good footing, and there is little flat ground. I would have loved to have bought a place that would be better for all of us, but I can only do so much. Like I said, things are really expensive here. If there is anyone to blame for that, blame me — I don’t make enough money to provide a proper place for Dawn and her horses.

    Dawn has been knocking herself out, trying to keep it all together. She has a chronic illness that keeps her from being able to work very much and she does not want to be a burden on the household. It broke her heart to give up those mustangs — this was not a case of her simply sending her horses away to avoid responsibility. She agonized over it and made the decision based on what she felt was best for the horses. She has the horses’ welfare at the center of every decision she makes.

    And, do not ignore the unbelievable work she has done for horses everywhere. It saddens me to see such vitriol come from readers who seize on something they perceive as wrong and have to strike at her, especially when they don’t know the whole story. She takes every comment very personally.

    I hope that this gives you some insight into what has really been going on. Please remember that there is a real person on the other end of the email you send, someone with real feelings that I care about very much. Even better, maybe just keep that criticism to yourself.

  4. Debbie

    Your horses are neglected and are not being taken care of any better than the ones you post about. It is so sad you did not do your research before buying a steep hill of mud and dust. There is no place for them out of the wind or rain. The Shelter you put up does not do a thing for their comfort. Guilty???? Maybe you should give them all away for a better home. Last summer you posted about the poor horse with a burr in his eye and begged for money. Your own horses manes were full of burrs in the pictures you took and posted. You have your horses break out of the fencing, because of boards on the outside/wrong sides of the posts. Your property is not safe for horses in this mud and manure . I feel your horses were much happier in Grass Valley. They had a barn, Trees and places to walk around where it was dry. Their diet right now is a field of volunteer FOXTAILS, I really feel people should clean up their own backyard,, before exploiting the abuse of other horses and their owners. A neighbor told you about the mud shortly after you moved in over a year ago and suggested you get some sand.. Yes the mustangs are much happier in the Big Sky Ranch. Poor Dodger had pneumonia a few months back and still he does not have a warm place to go.

  5. Lee

    You’re doing the very best you can. Hang in there. They look healthy and you will solve this problem soon. Xoxo

  6. dawndi Post author

    Oh Laurie, it will get better. Thank you for being so kind. I remember being so tired of the intense sun this summer…

  7. Mary Lu Kennedy

    Dawn, If you are going to use wood chips you need to have a solid start of just packed cliché hard soil.
    Wood chips are wonderful and they do solve the mud problem but you need to start from a very solid base. I used them for years until my supplier raised the price to make them completely out of reach. Sorry if you
    wasted the wood chips but some might be saved. Good luck and it will soon dry out and then you can plan your attack when things are dry.

  8. Rhonda H.

    I sooooo feel your pain (guilt). I too have to deal with boot-sucking mud. In my case, I bought a poorly drained piece of property which is swampy 4-6 months of the year. And I have lost my balance in the mud couple of times. I relate to everything you write about. I feel guilty every time I go out to feed my horse and watch her slogging through the mud. ? I too feel guilty for not brushing my horse enough and worry about what the mud is doing to her feet.

    Looking at your pictures, though, your horses seem to be surviving pretty well. Thanks for writing the article, and hang in there. Things will improve eventually.

  9. Laurie

    Oh Dawn,
    You have filled my eyes with waters of sadness.
    I can sure feel the guilt in your words and despair for your beloved herd.
    Dawn your honesty, transparency and genuine blog touches me so.
    Your persistence in making a way for your horses to be comfortable is so honoring to me.
    You always step up to the plate for the neediest horses.

    Is there anyone out there that could be the push and goodwill help to her pride and joy horses?

    Praying for you

Post a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *