The first official day of the huge machines beginning work on the Free Dirt Project was Tuesday September 12th. Disassembling the front gate to allow the big trucks and equipment to enter, started on Sunday, August 27th. It took about a week with several different people working on it to get it all taken down, from shutting off the electricity, to placing the drainage pipe to double the width of the driveway, brining in the first load of dirt to widen the driveway (sacrificing some of the pavement) to allow the big machines to gain access, trimming the trees all along the path the semi’s will be taking for ease of getting in, removing the iron gate, to cutting down the huge entrance sign, and finally removing all the fence posts and taking the fencing down. The horses have been confined out of their barn since then. Also happening at the same time has been the removal of about an acre of dense forest. The issue with that has not been so much getting the trees down, but dealing with their limbs, since they did not have time to dry out, but need to be dealt with immediately so as not to be in the way of the Free Dirt Project.

On September 14th, the guys rented a wood chipper, and the crew spent all day dangerously working (limb pieces catapulting everywhere) to feed the huge pile of green limbs into the chipper. The pile was about the size of 2 of the largest dumpsters you can imagine, taller than me, enough limbs to fill a small house. After hours of dangerous work, the team decided to return the chipper and try a new tactic for dealing with all the limbs: burial. This decision saved us a huge amount of money in disposal costs. The excavator just dug a large hole and all the remaining limbs and debris will go in there. The tree trunks themselves were all picked up by the excavator and moved to the neighbor's house who will use them to plane lumber for building projects.

The actual level of the building site for the new indoor arena, or big barn, changed several times during the process as the excavator dug into the side of the hill and spread out the dirt, expanding the building site. The biggest concern was that the property would be adequately stepped down so that the Indoor Arena would not end up sitting 15 feet above the adjacent outdoor arena being built on the land just below. Luckily for us the team is extremely experienced not only with building horse arenas (but actually huge public irrigation projects as well), but understanding how to sculpt the land so we have gentle slopes connecting all the horse areas for ease of walking in any kind of weather, taking into account snow and ice. This is a huge safety issue, especially for having volunteers of all ages and abilities coming to work with and around the horses no matter the time of year.

In the meantime, we have had to get creative with how to keep the animals stimulated and happy, while in a smaller pen and surrounded by huge, noisy, dirt moving machines and semi trucks coming and going all around them. Overall, they are mostly just curious and on the few occasions that we let them wander about, they always like to wander through the construction site and especially roll in the fresh, soft dirt!

For the most part, if we place alfalfa hay out where they can get to it, they will leave the pen, run a few laps, and then stop to eat the alfalfa hay. They are getting the hang of running around, but then following the hay cart and grain bucket back into the pen. We did have a little episode last Thursday, where, they didn’t happen to notice the alfalfa hay, and when we let them out, they beelined right across the road and onto the neighbors property! Luckily no one got hurt, and we got them all back quickly enough. We were all laughing about our little adventure with wayward horses! Although now we know how to avoid having that little faux paus happen again!

Simultaneously happening this past week, has been insulting the horse area of the barn. As you may recall, the barn was once a big illegal plant growing facility, so most of the building has excellent insulation. That is, except for the third building that has a dirt floor and is the only area really suitable for the animals. Last winter it was brutally cold in that part, even with all of the animals' heat inside and all the doors shut. In fact, it might have been colder some nights there than outside! So we made the executive decision to insulate at least some of it, including the walls, doors, and to have thresholds installed under the doors to further help keep the temperature inside stable, and the flies down inside next summer. We also had the gaps under the barn walls sealed to help with the overall effect. Additionally, we have decided to house the animals together this upcoming winter, and not place them into individual stalls at night like we did last year. After spending the summer standing nose to tail, they all are much more comfortable in tight quarters with each other, so we think it will simplify their keeping over the winter and be safe to keep them together.. We have made one large stall, which we can use to separate out a horse like Sugar for feeding extra, and then the rest is simply a large pen they can share. We will see how that goes.

The Free Dirt Project should resume this week (the crew had to take a break to finish up a big subdivision job out of town), with the flat space for the indoor arena being finished soon, and then the only thing left is to have the loads of Free Dirt coming in that will be then spread to make the outdoor arena. This week final decisions need to be made about where water lines will go in, and to lay piping for electrical for outdoor arena lighting. Those were things I had no idea were going to need to be addressed so soon, yet it does make sense to go ahead and assume that expense at this time, while the machines are here to make easy work of it.

There is a saying I kept once from a fortune cookie, it said “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win, that matters the most”. There is no saying more true, than that one, right now. My eyes get big and it’s still hard for me to take in the scope of this Free Dirt Project. What went from a casual “sure I would love a little free dirt!”, to have a football field sized area all prepped and ready for our Dream Barn, it feels a little like winning the lottery, but it’s terrifying at the same time. I have to continually remind myself there is no way I could have said no to this, and that it is all going to turn out ok, no matter what. It’s really forcing me to live in the moment, and trust in the process, like never before. And just as important, in the end, with the help of people like you, it really will be the Free Dirt Project. Thanks in advance for your generous financial support, and for reading. God Bless!