I (Kassie) have horses. Four of them. They are my goofy, expensive, accident-prone children, and I love each and every one of their weird asses.

Horses take a lot of time and effort to keep. I am fortunate enough to have enough land to provide sufficient pasture for them year-round, but that’s also a problem… Billy (the fatass in the above photo) will overeat and stuff himself to the point of obesity if I let him. If there’s food, he will eat it (we’re similar in that way), so I need to restrict his access to the lush pasture. In the summer, that means bringing them into a smaller area without grass during the day (where there is shade and fans) and letting them out on the pasture at night when it’s cool. The others benefit from this, too, as they all keep weight on well, and one mare in particular doesn’t do well in the hot sun. However, that means going to the barn (which is not on my property) every morning before work (around 6am) and chasing all four horses into the paddock. Not my idea of a good time, if we’re being honest.

They usually get into a routine and get to the point that they’re waiting for me in the paddocks in the morning when I arrive. In that case, all I have to do is close the gate. Which begs the question… Is there a way to avoid having to make the crack-of-dawn trip to the barn if all I have to do is close a gate??

Yes. Yes, there is. Because I am an engineer, I have been taught a beautiful and infuriating thing: programming.

I thought I would put an auto-closing mechanism on the gates and put that mechanism on a sort of timer so they would close at a certain time every day. But I immediately saw issues with that:

  • What if they choose not to come in one morning and I lock them out?
  • If they know they’re going to be penned up all day, how long will it take Billy the Genius to figure out that he gets to stay out if he’s in the pasture when the gates close? (Answer: no more than 2 days. He’s a brat.)
  • When I go down in the morning, they have motivation to come in… Scratches from me and the threat of getting an ass-whoopin’ if they don’t come. What would their motivation to come in be if I didn’t go down there?

Change of plan. The idea snowballed over the next few days until I landed on this: I will program a microcontroller (this one, if you’re curious) to do the following:

  • 6am: Sound a buzzer for a few seconds (to get them trained to come in on command)
  • 6:01am: Energize a solenoid to pull a pin on a pre-loaded bin to slowly (and loudly) drop alfalfa pellets into each horse’s individual bucket (motivation to come in)
  • After grain is dropped, energize two motion sensors in the barn – one on the boys’ side, and one on the girls’
  • When the motion sensors detect movement over a certain threshold (indicating both horses on that side are in the barn), a solenoid on each pasture gate will be energized, closing the gate

I’m in the process of programming it now, and I have all components on order. I’m sure there will be loads of de-bugging time and installation issues, but it should be fun! For the first few weeks, I will let the program run and check the horses after the gates have time to close just to make sure they’re in the paddock. After they get into a routine, I probably won’t have to make the trip to check them.

Just in case they don’t come in, I’m making the gates open to the inside. That way they can push the gate open from the pasture if they get locked out, but they can’t push it open from the paddock to get out onto the pasture (a magnet on Billy’s side will make sure of that).

That’s all for now! Updates to come… And I promise Jordan will be posting on here too; I just have a little more free time than he does!

Questions? Let me know!