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"Horse Girl" Archive 2008

DISCLAIMER: (There had to be one: Kathleen IS a lawyer after all!) Information provided via the "Ask the Horse Girl" column is for entertainment purposes only and represents an opinion. It is not intended nor can it be relied upon for medical, nutritional, legal, or expert advice of any kind. Readers are warned they bear the burden of seeking out expert advice (i.e. not QueryHorse) for their specific questions, and by accessing the "Ask the Horse Girl" column, they hereby affirm their understanding of these conditions.

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December 31, 2008 – Why does my horse paw with his front leg?

It's his way of releasing nervous energy — he wants to get going. He's saying very loudly, "Let's get this show on the road!!!"

December 30, 2008 – At what age will a horse stop growing in height?

Horses grow quickly in the first few years, but the rate of growth continues to slow down. They will usually top out at around five years old.

December 29, 2008 – Does a young horse lack muscle tone in the chest and hindquarters?

Yes, usually. He hasn't had the time to develop big muscles, and typically has not worked or carried weight, which, as with people, can lead to a more defined musculature.

December 26, 2008 – What is bad about high-port bits?

A high port presses the tongue of the horse down with more strength and pressure than a straight bit. If overused or improperly used, it can cause severe pain and can lead to frenzied resistance on the part of your horse, or worse, it can even damage your horse's tongue or roof of his mouth — these are all bad things.

December 24, 2008 – What does it mean when one foot on a horse is larger than the other?

That one foot is larger than the other. Horses sometimes emerge from the factory with asymmetrical parts.

December 23, 2008 – How do I stop my horse from stopping and backing up while riding?

When the horse stops, try to circle rather than go forward. As soon as you meet resistance to going forward, circle in tighter and tighter circles. After a while, he will figure out that resisting takes work, and going along is much easier.

December 22, 2008 – What can I do if my horse can't get a left lead?

Horses will avoid a particular lead due to a number of causes, some of which are fixable and some of which aren't. If the horse avoids the lead due to inadequate muscling and weakness, then that can be built up with a steadily improving circling at a trot to the left. Building over time, this will help his flexibility and strength to the point that he'll be able to take the left lead, if weakness is the problem.

Sometimes, horses get an injury that prevents them from taking a particular lead. A good trainer can observe the shortening of the stride and subtle clues to this problem, although there is no guarantee the injury can be cured.

At other times, a horse will just have a bad habit that will lead to weakness on one side. For example, American racehorses that are accustomed to circling one way only on the track, sometimes develop a fixed lead.

I, myself, had a horse growing up that would do only the right lead while riding, never the left, no matter what I did. I did see him use the left lead in the pasture sometimes, so I knew he was capable of it. It made no difference to me at the time because I didn't show that horse.

A good trainer will know how to tackle this issue, so I would consult one to try to correct the problem.

December 19, 2008 – Can a cut on a horse become infected in one day?

I'm not a veterinarian, so if you suspect infection, you need to call one. That being said, any wound needs to be immediately treated and infection prevented on a horse much as you would do for yourself. Wash the cut well, put antibiotic ointment on it, and then cover with a bandage as needed. It is for certain that the conditions which lead to an infection start with a day's inattention, so it's best to act when the cut is fresh.

December 18, 2008 – I have a nice little Arabian mare that I bought from a horse rescue. She's a nice little horse except that she's so very worried about her food that she totally comes unglued when my gelding gets ANYWHERE near her while she is getting her first mouthfuls of hay. This lasts for the first one or two minutes after I have placed the hay in their feeder. I always give them their grain in their stalls, so that is not a problem. But I have a common feeder for their hay, so each time I go out to put more hay in the feeder, she comes flying at my gelding with ears pinned and squaring off to kick him. I am not sure if this is "lead mare" behavior or if it stems from her being nearly starved (according to the vet's report, she was about 350 pounds underweight at the time of her rescue).

I can put my hand in her bowl while she feeds or pull hay around right under her nose and she is not at all aggressive with me. She is very sweet with me and I feel absolutely no attitude from her at all. My big Quarter Horse gelding is not hurting in any way and she has never actually connected with him. He will bring his butt around at her if she gets too carried away.

I am worried though that while she is squaring off at my gelding, she may end up getting me or someone else may unknowingly get in the middle of one of her tantrums and get hurt! I know this isn't safe behavior and I thought that it would pass, but it hasn't. I have had her since April. Lately, I have been bringing my lunge whip out with me while I spread the hay in their feeder and she will pace around at a distance until I'm done. Then, as soon as I clear out, she is in there squeaking, grumbling, and kicking at my gelding. I can fill the hay feeder while they are eating their grain, and that way, I'm not involved with their argument when they get outside, but that doesn't clear up the root of the trouble.

Any ideas?

This is one problem that you'll likely not be able to fix, because your mare's behavior is not directed at you. You're in the same position as a mom watching the fighting and squabbling between two siblings. That is, you can legislate from on high that one sibling may not pound the other sibling while you're watching, but as soon as your back is turned, of course, you know what's going to happen: one is going to kick the "you know what" out of the other.

Your best recourse here is to separate them, and keep them in adjoining stalls or turnout. They can be together when not feeding, but other than that, they need their own corner to retreat to.

December 17, 2008 – How do I help my horse heal his laminitis?

This is a question that has bedeviled horse owners for ages. There are medicines and therapies for which you need to consult your veterinarian, but the most hopeful treatment that I've seen recently involves the use of the ENDURO Nest. The Nest allows the horse's weight to be lifted and adjusted independently from each of his hooves to allow the healing of the laminae to occur without deformation of new tissue due to weight pressure.

I posted an article on this site recently involving my horse Bandito that provides more information and photos entitled: A Way to Treat Laminitis? For additional background, you may also want to read the article: How Hooves Work.

December 16, 2008 – Is it cruel to muzzle your horse to stop him from cribbing?

It would be cruel to put a muzzle on him that interferes with his eating or drinking. Some muzzles allow horses to still drink, if you can train the horse to try it — eating is more difficult. The problem is that the holes in the front of the muzzle must be small enough to limit or prevent cribbing and the result is that when they are, they tend to be too small to allow decent eating. And while a feedbag usually works ok for grain, it doesn't work for hay.

All in all, I prefer a properly adjusted cribbing collar to a muzzle.

December 15, 2008 – What do I do when my horse puts his butt to me or another person when in his stall?

He is clearly signaling his lack of desire to interact with you. If there is any danger that he's going to kick you as you enter the stall, then don't enter the stall without a lunge whip in hand. When you do enter, move his rear end away from you before entering the stall completely. That is, gently tap his rear end from a place of safety until he moves his hind end away from pointing directly at you. Keep up the pressure until he turns around and faces you.

You may have to do this for a while until he learns that when you come into his stall, you want him to face you. You can also reward good behavior or tempt him to turn around with a bit of hay as you go in. Try the hay first, and if he still ignores you, move into a more proactive training mode.

December 12, 2008 – How do I stop my horse from bolting?

If your horse has a habit of doing this, you might consider that this horse is too dangerous for you to ride safely. Especially if it is a fear response, there is not much you can do to prevent your horse from bolting. Once he's in motion, all you can do is put him in a tight circle and let him run until he gets tired. If you're in the woods, this is obviously not going to work well.

Also, some horses learn the dastardly trick of allowing you to pull their heads all the way to the side while running full speed ahead. Essentially, they realize that they can see well enough with one eye to keep running. Once a horse learns that, you're toast; and so is any subsequent rider. So if you try to sell the horse, you MUST give full disclosure of this tendency to any prospective buyer or face legal liability.

You should consider hiring a qualified trainer to work with you and your horse to build trust and reduce his fear. Not all horse bolting problems can be fixed, but many can.

This is an issue that needs to be dealt with because a bolting horse is no joke.

December 11, 2008 – How do I stop my horse from playing with his bit?

Why do you want to stop him from doing this? Unless he's using it as an evasion to the bit's action, it can be a sign that he's listening to your commands with the bit. If he is using his playing as an evasion, however, there are a number of techniques you can try.

First, change bits. Go with one that has fewer bells and whistles, so to speak. A smooth bit, snaffle or shorter pelham, would work well.

Second, get his teeth floated and check him out, dentally speaking, so as to make sure that he's not telling you of a toothache or other oral problem with his mouth action.

Third, get a drop-noseband that keeps his mouth from opening wide.

There are additional techniques, but they require an experienced trainer to work with your horse, and that being the case, would be beyond the scope of these suggestions.

December 10, 2008 – What causes a horse to be frightened or anxious?

He's a prey animal, and evolution demands that he get frightened right away so as to save his life. The faster he reacts to something unusual, the more likely he'll survive to have little horses of his own.

The best way to keep your horse from driving you crazy with this fear response is to show him that you're the herd boss and you're the one that will keep the predators at bay with your awesome powers of protection. Once he's convinced of that, he'll stand by your side even in the face of quite frightening spectacles. Otherwise, horses would never have been able to be the great war machines that they've been over the centuries.

December 9, 2008 – What can I put on my horse to keep him warm during this winter?

It depends on how much turn-out your horse is living with, and what kind of horse he is. If he spends a lot of time outdoors and he's the thin-skinned Thoroughbred type, there are excellent, heavy all-weather rugs or horse blankets that you can buy in which your horse can virtually live in during the cold weather. If he's a shaggy pony or quarter horse, the easy keeper type, and spends more time indoors, you don't have to worry so much about blanketing your horse.

Something not to forget to keeping your horse warm in both circumstances is the importance of providing free choice hay. Hay in the gut is like a heater for horses, so don't skimp on it. But equally important is to provide adequate water. Metabolizing hay requires lots of water, add in the moisture lost to breathing dry winter air all day and the importance of providing sufficient water is critical to keeping your horse from dehydrating.

Keep them munching and drinking and they'll be warmer!

December 8, 2008 – What should I feed my barrel racing horse, she's getting really skinny. Should I be giving her supplements and some other foods? Right now, I'm not feeding her anything but hay.

Horses in competition need grain to keep weight on, as you've discovered. I would use a good quality pellet with no less than 12% protein.

Here's a site I've suggested in the past that provides some good information about equine feeding and digestion:


And here is a pertinent quote from the site regarding overall feed management:

"The basic feed requirements of the horse are relatively simple. As a general rule of thumb, a horse will typically consume 10 to 12 gallons of water, greater than or equal to 1.0 percent of body weight in forage, and less than or equal to 1.0 percent of body weight in concentrate per day. Horses should also be given free choice salt."

So as I posted before, feed the grain (900 pound horse is 9 pounds of grain or roughly two big scoops per day total) in no less than two portions or more per day. If your horse gets too fat, cut back. If he's too skinny, add on. Make changes incrementally until you are satisfied with his weight. The amounts will change over time depending on how much work your horse is doing, and how much growing he is doing.

December 5, 2008 – Do you have any horses? If you do, how many?

I have more than one horse, but less than ten horses. I can safely say that at any given moment.

b>December 4, 2008 – Does it hurt a horse to have his hooves trimmed?

No more than it hurts you to trim a finger nail. If the trim gets too close to the quick, it could hurt, but usually not at all.

December 3, 2008 – I'm split-leasing a horse, but now I've just learned that the owner is expecting me to also pay for half the vet, farrier, and any other related bills for her care. Is this normal with a half-lease?

It can be — it all depends on your deal. If this wasn't agreed on in the beginning though, you have the right to stop the lease right now or to renegotiate. Of course, if you can't agree, neither of you have a deal. So, consider what is critical and what you can accept, and the lessor should do the same.

Once you both figure out what you both want and can agree, WRITE IT ALL DOWN, PUT AN END DATE ON THE LEASE, MAKE TWO COPIES, AND BOTH SIGN BOTH COPIES! Then, each take a copy for your records. Better yet, contact an equine attorney. I'm not saying this to get more work for all attorneys, rather, if you have any doubts about any aspect, make sure your needs and liability exposure is covered properly — you'll need some help if this gets sticky.

December 2, 2008 – My horse's hooves are slitting and cracking? What do I do to stop this and let them heal?

A horse's feet will split and crack due to a number of factors, including footing, nutrition, work, and shoeing habits. Also, due to the fact that some owners feel they must keep a horse shod all the time, the shoes will leave nail holes in the hoof and contribute to the problem. The fix takes time and patience.

First, pull off the shoes and let your horse go barefoot for six months or so. And now that it's almost winter, this is a good time to do that because you'll also avoid snow bunching problems caused by snow freezing to the shoes, and therefore, won't need to use winter shoes. If your horse has been in shoes for a while, he'll be tender at the beginning; but carry on and just don't run him over rocks or pavement, or work him hard over hard ground.

Second, trim the hooves at the normal schedule. And while doing that, review your feeding regimen. Is he getting good quality hay and grain, and the occasional grass turn out, with a mineral block at choice? Good food cures most ills.

In terms of supplements, I know there are many. My view on them is that if used carefully, they won't hurt the horse. On the other hand, I don't know that they help all that much over the foundations of good hay, grain, grass, and free choice mineral block. So consider that thought as you make a decision regarding what supplements really make a difference and are worth the cost, if any.

You should see an improvement in six months or so.

December 1, 2008 – How do I train my "hot" horse to slow down?

Lunge him first until his "ya yas" are out. Follow that with at least a half hour to forty five minutes at walk, trot and canter, varying speeds, and insisting on obedience. You should also occasionally work him at walk, trot and canter on the trails for an hour or so. If he jigs at the walk, circle him or make him do a side pass, that is, bend his neck to one side or the other, and then use your opposite leg to make him go sideways while he's going forward also. Do the side pass or circle and then ask for the walk again.

This is all a lot of work for your horse and he'll soon figure out that if he obeys you, it will go easier on him.

November 28, 2008 – How heavy a rider can a pony carry?

It really depends on the musculature, size, and frame of the pony. Some ponies, such as Icelandics, Fjords, or Highlands are really small draft horses and are wide, broad, strong, and easily capable of carrying most adults, topping out at around 250 pounds. Lighter framed, smaller, and slender ponies should not carry much more than 160 pounds or so. Minis and lighter Shetlands, of course, should not carry anything but 50 or so pounds.

You really don't want to injure the pony's back, so be conservative on these estimates.

November 26, 2008 – What are the four quadrants of the equine?"

Here is how I see the 4 quadrants from a Natural Horsemanship perspective. There may be other ideas out there.

  1. Head – This is really the poll and jaw and how much they can relax, get supple, and flex.
  2. Neck – This is how much bend the neck can achieve in each direction and for strength for balance.
  3. Shoulders – You should be able to move shoulders separately from the haunches.
  4. Hindquarters – This is movement independent of shoulders and we're looking for rear-leg strength for both power and brakes.
I hope this helps.

November 25, 2008 – What happens if you sit on a horse's kidneys?

That depends on the horse. If you're very heavy or are bouncing up and down, he probably won't like it. If the horse wishes, he probably could take some retaliatory action that you won't like either. On the other hand, if he's a "good old Joe", he might just look at you patiently with a disgusted expression on his face.

It's hard to tell what might happen in your case. But don't sit on his kidneys intentionally.

November 24, 2008 – You previously answered a question regarding bitless bridles, but I am wondering if a side-pull also falls in that category? I am using one on my horse because he has some issues that a bit interferes with. It was suggested to me and since I have been using it there seems to be no problem. Would a side-pull fall under the category of hackamores?

A bitless bridle can be a number of things, starting with the classic bitless bridle and ranging from the lower jaw rope favored by the Plains Indians buffalo culture to the hackamore. The hackamore has a stiff rawhide bosal around the nose. When the rider pulls on the reins, the bosal depresses the soft tissue above the nostrils and pinches the soft tissue on the underside of their jaws — it can be very punitive in the wrong hands. A side pull bridle has less pulling power and is gentler on the horse.

I am glad you're having no problems.

November 21, 2008 – Why do some mares get angry when you tighten their girth? I am a learning rider and a couple of mares at the stables do this.

Some mares get very moody when they come into season. Some may be especially sensitive to girth tightening during this time

On the whole though, I think this is a training issue and not a horse issue. In other words, I know lots of geldings who'll do a back flip on the tightening of the girth and it has lots to do with their training and temperament and nothing to do with the gender of the horse. You should always lead the horse forward for a few strides after tightening the girth and before getting on. This will prevent inadvertent pinching of the skin behind the horse's elbow and will head off many a back flip.

November 20, 2008 – Is there an ointment that I can put on my 18 year old mare prior to excerise? Something to warm up her legs, something like deep heat?

Ventolin is a "bracer" sometimes used AFTER exercise. I don't know of any warm up liniment; usually exercise is the warm up, followed by the liniment as a muscle relaxer and bracer. That would be my prescription; we all get stiff as we get older, and moving out is the best cure.

November 19, 2008 – For my horses, I have a few bales of grass hay with a small amount of alfalfa in them, but save them for the colder winter days (I live in Michigan). My horses pick through the grass hay that I feed them and a lot of it falls out of the feeder and eventually gets trashed on the ground. I have two horses and feed them two to three flakes of grass hay at a time throughout the day when I am working at home so that less is wasted, but still have waste.

I am wondering if I could enhance the grass hay by maybe misting it with a mix of water with a little molasses in it or something like that? I find that if I first put the grass hay in the feeder and then sprinkle some of the tastier alfalfa mix flake on top they don't waste as much, but I don't have enough bales of the alfalfa mix to dress the top of the grass hay all the time. Otherwise I would just do that.

I would appreciate your input on this. The cost of hay is up as is everything and I just HATE to see that grass hay trashed out!

Waste is a huge problem with hay. Though there is no way to reduce waste entirely, there are some tricks to reducing waste.

I do know some trainers who allow hunger to deal with the wastage issue on the theory that if horses get hungry enough they'll eat it. I don't subscribe to that theory because sometimes a horse will refuse hay for other, but very good reasons.

One way to reduce waste is to feed smaller amounts more frequently. For example, feed 1.5 flakes three times a day if you can manage it. Another way to do that is to put the hay in a hay-net which makes them work harder to get the precious scraps out, thus reducing waste.

Soaking hay in water is practiced by some, though not for reasons of waste reduction, but because the practical effect of that is to soak the sugar out of the hay — high-sugar hay is tied to one of the causes of laminitis. Hay has varying quantities of fructan, the sugar part of the grass plant, and this can be removed by soaking. You can see the brown water left after soaking hay, which is the sugar content.

I haven't heard that misting hay with molasses works; it seems a colossal effort for not much effect. Besides, you'd get your horses used to eating only sweet hay, which is not quite what nature intended, as evidenced by the laminitis factor.

I would try a hay-net and making them work for their dinner. A little effort might also increase their appetite. Do make sure the hay is good hay by asking your veterinarian.

November 18, 2008 – What does it mean when a horse is "too high"?

Aside from the height thing, which I presume you do not mean since that would be a matter of opinion and depends on how tall you are, I think it means that the horse has too much spirit and fire to be a safe ride. However, that's just a guess because I've not heard it before either. I don't think it means that the horse has been smoking marijuana, in other words.

November 17, 2008 – Bandito
This is a much shorter series of posts reporting on Bandito than I had hoped for. The Horse Guy and I spent the last four days working at the Equine Affaire and the updates about Bandito have been a roller coaster, but generally positive. But this morning, things got a lot bleaker.

Essentially, we've had some major improvements, but it appears the end is not going to go our way. The worse part is that Bandito's hooves are healing well while the intestinal toxicity which started this whole problem is killing him. Let me explain.

Bandito's hooves are well on their way to a full recovery, with new frogs, new soles, and new hooves growing cleanly and without pain or malformation from compression. His coronet band on each foot has firmed up with new tissue, and the new frogs and soles peep out from the old as smooth and whole as a baby's bottom. But irrespective of this phenomenal and hitherto unseen progress, the original condition that caused the laminitis, a toxicity in Bandito's intestine, is now more obvious than ever and causing his health to swiftly deteriorate.

His condition is not responding to any treatment, is worsening, and is diminishing Bandito's musculature to the point where he cannot proceed further. The saddest pat is that he is still bright eyed, eating and drinking well, eliminating well, and not in any apparent pain, but he is just getting weaker and weaker, especially in his hind end, an effect unrelated to the laminitis which had affected his feet.

Dr. Stewart has been tirelessly consulting every expert he can contact about other approaches we can try to resolve the root, intestinal ailment, but has today informed me that we've run out of options. I've had to make the difficult decision to euthanize. The sorrow that I and everyone involved with Bandito feel is just so frustrating. The NEST has completely resolved the original reason we would have had to euthanize a week ago, but the original cause of that laminitis has evidently caused vital organ damage that we cannot resolve and his deterioration is accelerating. If the toxicity could be treated, Dr. Stewart feels Bandito could recover completely. I cannot tell you how sad and powerless I feel.

I have some solace in that the NEST saved Bandito from a form of laminitis that would have been a very painful death and that we have given his body every opportunity we know of to continue to live. And I feel that his trial will live on in the records of veterinary science and be of immense help to other laminitic horses because of the existence of the NEST.

To help others, I'm giving Dr. Stewart permission to share Bandito's medical records at River Meadow Farm, Windsor, CT, with others. My sincere thanks to Dr. Michael Stewart, DVM (which in this case stands for wonderful, tenacious, and skilled, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.) I also want to thank Ken Messier of Enduro Medical Technology so very much for giving Bandito a fighting chance.

November 12, 2008 – Due to their participation in the huge EQUINE AFFAIRE! horse show in Massachusetts from Thursday, November 13th to Sunday November 16th, there will be no further posts from the "Horse Girl" or "Horse Guy" again until Monday, November 17th — SEE YOU THERE!!!

November 11, 2008 – The Horse Girl will be posting a regular update on the progress of Bandito, her 15 year old polo thoroughbred. Three weeks ago, Bandito suffered an acute attack of laminitis in all four feet to the point where he was on the brink of having to be euthanized. Fortunately for Bandito, he was accepted to serve as the first clinical trial for the prototype of the Enduro NEST device from Enduro Medical Technology, a new equine rehabilitation device developed to rehabilitate horses over the long term who have foot and leg problems.

Read about Bandito in the article section at Bandito's Easy Chair — Laminitis: Is this the Cure?.

November 10, 2008 – My husband's horse recently was seriously lamed by a bad horseshoeing job. It cost us several hundreds of dollars and a lot of vet checks to get him on the road to recovery. We have since learned that this happened to several other people who used this same shoer. Is there a place to report this man before he hurts more horses?

Your state's Better Business Bureau will likely have a forum to complain, as will the state's Attorney General's Office. But, be careful how you word your complaint, whether to these state offices or to other people in the community, unless you have proof that the bad horseshoeing job is indeed the cause of the lameness.

It's important that you don't put anything into the complaint that is the result of you drawing conclusions. Rather, you want to be sure that what you say to people or state in the complaint is limited only to the facts that you personally know. Certainly, the horse going lame right afterwards is a sign that the shoeing job caused problems, as do the tales of the other people. But if you state that this farrier caused the lameness and he could prove otherwise, you could potentially face a libel or slander suit.

However, if you say that you were not satisfied with the job that he did, and then mention that the horse went seriously lame immediately thereafter, and also that you've since learned from others that this scenario has happened before in several other situations, then your point will be made, and more importantly, you'd be able to defend yourself by pointing out that everything you have said is the absolute truth. The distinction is that you don't know whether the shoeing actually caused the problem — what you do know is that the lameness occurred right after the shoeing job.

Keeping to the facts that you know and letting the appropriate authorities investigate and draw conclusions from what they learn protects you and still has the benefit of protecting others if they find this farrier actually is the cause.

November 06, 2008 – I have a nice, eight-year-old Quarter Horse gelding which was used as a trail horse successfully for three years or so, but the former rider lost interest in him. He has not been worked or ridden in the past three years now and I have taken over his care and would like to bring him around to being a good solid trail horse again. He has gotten lazy and has developed some bad habits in his early retirement and I have been working with him on that with groundwork and a lot of Clinton Anderson tips. He is now doing okay except that he resists being mounted. He is a big guy and I need to bring him to a mounting block in order to get on him. When I lead him to it, he just overshoots it or steps around it, and I find myself in this dizzying merry-go-round type situation trying to bring him back to the block and then having him do the same overshoots and side-steps and such. I am thinking that he is just trying to ignore my attempts to bring him to it and thus get out of being ridden.

What are your suggestions regarding this behavior? I have not let him get away with it and I always stick with it until he finally stands and I am able to get up on him. I am hoping though that eventually he will just line himself up and stand like a good boy. What would you suggest?

By the way, I appreciate your answers to past questions. You have been very helpful. Thank you!

You're welcome for the help! That's why we do this.

The trick is to let him move only when you say so. The way to get him to do that is, if does he moves on his own, then make him move in ways that make him work so when he does stop, he's grateful for it. You want him to come to understand that doing what you ask always means less work than resisting you.

So, the next time you go to mount and he steps off on his dance, insist he move in a pivot around his front feet so that only his hind end is moving around the mounting block. He won't like it and he'll eventually end up close enough to the mounting block to get on. Then, once on, don't move immediately off, stand there for a while. Then get off, then get on again. Repeat with the pivot move until he stands still. If he moves off while you're stepping up on the mounting block, step back down and move him around until he quits.

He's a smart horse and he'll figure it out more quickly than you might otherwise think.

November 05, 2008 – My horse keeps drinking bad water — how do I stop him?

It's good you're looking into this issue, because you really are responsible for your horse's health. I can't tell by your question what you're classifying as "bad water". What makes you think the water your horse is drinking is bad? Has it been tested and deemed "bad" by a professional? Is it obviously dirty? Is it something like pond water or stream water?

Keep in mind that the standards of "clean" water for humans and animals differs greatly — although you won't drink something like pond water, it's not necessarily bad for your horse to drink unless it's contaminated in some way. If you truly feel this water is bad, you need to prevent his access to it. And you do need to always make sure your horse has access to fresh, clean water at all times. You may not see him drink often, but he does and it's vital to his health and overall life.

November 04, 2008 – How do I fix a horse that pounds at the canter?

If your horse is hitting the ground hard at the canter, make sure he's properly warmed up and supple before asking for a canter. Also make sure he's collected and responding to your leg and seat.

If your horse is built downhill, that is, with a higher hip point than a shoulder point, then he'll carry more weight on his forehand. In that case, try to engage his hind end and bring it under him before asking for a canter, because a horse built that way will tend to hit the ground harder at canter, whereas most of his energy should instead be coming from his hindquarters.

Arthritis and soreness could also be a contributing factor, along with weight (an overweight horse will have a harder time carrying himself and will hit the ground much harder). In these cases, talk to your vet.

Another issue to explore is short, upright pasterns. They, too, can cause a horse to "pound" at the canter. And being on the wrong lead can also cause a "pounding" sensation.

Lastly, make sure you, yourself, are not pounding on the horses back at every stride as this will inhibit him from moving properly. If you have trouble sitting to your horse's canter, see if he has the same pounding sensation while you lunge him or ride in a two-point position. Or have a friend ride him and see if the pounding goes away. If either of these "tests" fix the problem, you may want to look into your own riding technique and see what could be improved.

If none of the foregoing helps, it's time to enlist the help of your vet or a good instructor/trainer to help you diagnose the problem. You don't want to ignore it because if there is a real problem, continuing this pounding could result in serious injury to your horse over time.

November 03, 2008 – How well do bitless bridles work?

This may drive you crazy, but the answer depends on the skill of the rider and the individual horse. A bitless bridle can offer less control over your horse, and so, it can be more dangerous in the hands of the unskilled. I distinguish hackamores from this definition, which can be quite severe due to the hard nature of the "bosal" around the horse's nose.

So, if you feel adequately skilled as a rider, try it and see how your horse reacts. BUT do not sacrifice or risk your safety under any circumstances.

October 30, 2008 – Why won't my horse wont drink water?

If you really feel that your horse isn't drinking enough, talk to your vet. If this is a recent development, it could be a sign of a number of illnesses — the first thing a horse usually does when it's not feeling well is to stop eating or drinking.

If you have an automatic waterer, try switching to a bucket with water — yes you'll have to carry and fill it all the time, but it's a good way to see exactly HOW MUCH your horse is drinking and a lot of horses don't like drinking from automatic waterers or haven't really learned what they are. Adding something flavorful to the water may also encourage drinking (such as Gatorade powder). Adding electrolytes to your horse's feed will also increase drinking, BUT BE SURE to talk to your vet before putting your horse on electrolytes — not every horse should be on them.

Sore teeth could be a problem and may keep a horse from drinking water that is too cold. Call a horse dentist if you feel that this may be the case.

High stress levels will also cause a horse to not drink — could he be stressed?

The majority of horses will drink when they're thirsty. It goes with the old saying: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". Chances are, if your horse needs water, it will drink — if it isn't thirsty, it won't. If you're concerned about your horse being dehydrated, you can do a skin-pinch test.

But I can't emphasize enough that the thing you should do first is to check with your vet — he/she is the safest way to determine the real problem.

October 29, 2008 – I have recently picked up a very sweet 15-year-old Arabian mare from a rescue agency. Of course, besides neglect, nothing is known of her past. She is a great little trail horse and just an all around joy. Recently when trail riding, we turned a rather sharp corner and quickly came across a limb in our way. Rosie kind of set back and acted like she was going to try to jump the thing, but it was setting off the ground and was too high for her at such a short distance from it to do so. She came back down in the front and walked through it.

My question is this, since I don't know what her past life has been, nor does anyone else, how can I find out if she would enjoy jumping and whether or not there has been jumping in her past life? I am in my 50's and have only been a laid-back trail rider, so jumping isn't something that I am used to, but I think I would enjoy it in moderation.

The best way to see if a horse likes to jump is to try it in small, limited, and controlled ways in a ring, first with a pole across the ground, and then moving up in tiny increments. If she seems familiar with the idea and jumps, you'll know. It's very easy to tell horses that haven't been trained because they seem confused as to what to do with themselves once the jump is raised more than a few inches off the ground. They'll walk over it, step very high, hit it with their back end, and so forth. Only horses that have been educated tend to do the nice round controlled jump.

If you have a horse that hasn't been educated and you'd like to have her trained, then seek the advice of a professional trainer. At age 15, she certainly could comfortably handle low jumps, and as long as she's sound, you should have a great time with it.

October 28, 2008 – My late-gelded, ex-racehorse still thinks he's a stud. What can I do?

You could have a vet check to test to see if he's a cryptorchid (the absence of one or both testes or their failure to descend) to rule out a medical reasons. If he is, then he's still producing testosterone and this would explain his studdish behavior.

However, there are some horses that will never get un-studdish, especially if they've been bred before or were gelded late. It could also be a learned behavior or have developed from improper socialization (which is common in ex-racehorses). Increased exercise should take the edge off and administering clear corrections when the horse exhibits unwanted behavior will be your best bet here.

October 27, 2008 – My horse kicks and paws his stall. How do I stop it?

The first thing to do is to try and figure out WHY your horse is pawing and kicking. There are several factors that can cause a horse to kick and paw a stall:

  1. Flies are a common cause of a horse kicking and pawing. If flies are a problem, try fly boots and fly spray. Also, keep fly-attracting substances, such as manure, away from the stall as much as possible. Overall, try to keep his stall clean and don't let any manure sit in a wheel barrow by the stall. And, of course, be sure muck piles are being kept away from the barn.
  2. Another huge cause of horse kicking and pawing, along with other vices such as cribbing and weaving, is boredom. If your horse is kicking and pawing on a regular basis outside of mealtime, it might do him and the other stall boarders well to increase turn-out. Increasing exercise will also help. Boredom and a lack of exercise/built up energy often go hand-in-hand.
  3. A related, but slightly other aspect is to make sure he's not being over-fed in proportion to the amount of exercise he gets. You may also want to try a stall toy to keep him from getting bored, such as a jolly ball. Some horses really love them while others will not want anything to do with them. They're inexpensive, but it still might be a good idea to borrow one first to see if your horse has any interest in playing with it.
  4. A lot of horses will kick and paw during meal time and this is generally a sign of impatience waiting for food. Unfortunately, feeding in this instance will only reward the behavior and encourage it further. Try and make sure your horse is quiet in his stall before being fed if this is the case. Riding before meal time so the horse is tired and has expelled excess energy will help here too.
  5. Lastly, be sure to check with a vet to assure the pawing isn't an indication of your horse being in pain or uncomfortable.
Kicking and pawing is annoying, can damage a stall, and can get your horse hurt. It's definitely worth looking into this activity as you're doing to find a resolution.

October 23, 2008 – Why does my horse keep moving when I'm brushing him?

You may be putting too much oomph into a stiff brush. A horse's skin is sensitive. Or, he may just be antsy — that is why God created cross ties.

October 22, 2008 – How do I correct a horse that kicks when I'm cleaning his rear feet?

Well first, you need to make sure that your horse is not in pain and kicking for that reason. There could be a problem with his feet, legs, knees, or hips. To rule that out, you at least should have a more experienced horse person check him, or maybe even your vet.

Once you've ruled out pain, it's likely an issue of fear or lack of respect. Presuming it's fear, you can get your horse more used to having his feet cleaned in steps. As with most situations, start small and progress in increments. So start with one foot, pick it up, then put it down. Move to the next foot, do the same, then move to the next, and so forth. Once your horse is used to you picking up his feet, then gradually extend the time the foot is in the air. Over time, he should learn that the procedure doesn't hurt and you're not going to give up. Once he knows that, you should be well on the way — repetition and patience will win the day. You may also want to get an experienced farrier to show you a few additional tricks on how to proceed.

As for kicking, keep in mind that a horse that has his leg up in the air can't kick with the other foot — it's supporting him; he can only kick with the foot you have in your hand. And, if the foot is curled upwards, there's an even greater limit to the degree of force he can get into the kick. As long as you're standing by his hip and you pick up the foot before he kicks, then you should be safe.

Finally, if the real reason is that your horse doesn't respect you, you'll need to work on that issue first. One of our writers, Jennifer Goddard, is in the middle of a series of training articles. Her first installment, entitled Before Training, You Need Respect, discusses that issue.

October 21, 2008 – My horse doesn't like to be touched because of a skin problem. What can I do?

This one will take some judgment on your part, and since I am not there to tell you how to judge, all I can do is describe what I would do and what I would look for. Remember, your safety is paramount.

You didn't say what kind of skin problem your horse has. Get a vet to look at it if it appears to be serious or your horse seems to be in real pain — in fact, you should probably do that anyway — I had a horse once die of skin cancer that started very small. Your vet will offer a trained eye and good advice.

If the degree of sensitivity when touched is mild, and your horse cross ties, I would cross tie him, get a friend to stand in front with some hay, and go gently while you treat the affected area. If he doesn't cross tie, then do the same thing, only in front of a wall, with the friend holding your horse on a lead line with the hay on the ground. Again, go gently and keep him occupied.

If the horse is in real pain and freaks when you get near the skin problem, and the condition simply must be treated, you definitely should have him seen by your vet. We all prefer to save money when we can, especially in these times. But a horse that truly freaks could have a serious problem and you don't want to waste time letting it worsen while you experiment.

October 20, 2008 – Why do horses raise their heads?

To see further than they can with their heads down; perhaps they heard something and need to see and hear what it is to stay safe. Or, if you're riding them, because they want to go faster and you're pulling on the reins.

October 17, 2008 – How do I deal with a horse that is easily frightened and untrusting because he used to receive harsh treatment?

You need to do so very carefully, gently, and with great patience over time, with close attention to your own safety. In my opinion, these horses really require expert care, which by your question, you may not have. I would be very cautious about taking on such a project unless you have access to expert advice — which does not mean the "Horse Girl", and you are fully paid up on all your insurance, with no dependents. Then get on.

October 16, 2008 – How important is it to lunge a horse before you get on him?

It depends on whether the horse needs the warm up, in terms of his ability to pay attention to you once you're in the saddle. If the horse is likely to try to buck or to otherwise "dump" you off first thing, because he has an excess of energy and high spirits, then lunging him with saddle on and stirrups flapping is a great way to "take the edge off" so to speak. Work until he gets down to business. Then get on.

October 15, 2008 – I notice that the quarter horses I've seen don't all look alike in conformation. Are there different "types" of quarter horse?

Oh my yes. The typical working quarter horse that you'll see on ranches has the archetypal conformation of being close-coupled, with a large and muscled hindquarter and a broad, muscled chest, to the point that the horse looks "bull dog" in form.

Other kinds of quarter horses, the running kind, look almost like a thoroughbred does with a more sloping shoulder, more slender "pins" underneath, and lighter overall. Even the show type, halter class, has changed over the years, with the current fashion having a super-muscled appearance with much smaller feet than in days gone by. I, myself, don't like the small foot look. I seem to remember a saying, no foot no horse!

They're all quarter horses though, and in my book, that means a great horse.

October 14, 2008 – My horse got a small cut on his leg. It's been a few days now and the cut hasn't healed yet, but it doesn't look infected. Is it ok to ride?

In my opinion, yes, but I'm not a vet and health questions you have should always be directed to your vet. As for your horse's cut, you said it's small, even with a minor cut, the wound may still seep with a little clear serum, but as long as the wound and the area around it doesn't get raised and puffy with pus or show other signs of infection, then that seepage is not usually harmful. If the serum continues for another few days or turns color, such as yellow, call your vet immediately. Otherwise, you may want to cover it with Corona or some other topical ointment that will help prevent infection from setting in, as well as to keep the flies off.

Generally, as long as the horse is not lame and the wound doesn't become infected, then he should be fine.

October 10, 2008 – My horse, after a bout of rain that lasted five straight days, now has these raised bumps and dandruff all over his shoulders and rump. What is that, and how do I get rid of it?

This skin disorder is affectionately known as "rain rot" and does indeed set in after damp and dark conditions let moisture stay on a horse's skin for too long. These conditions allow an organism, actinomyocetes, which is present in the horse's skin anyway, to flare up. Although you can get specific treatments for it, I've also heard that the shampoo "Selsen Blue" does a good job of getting rid of this organism. Rain rot is very common, is contagious, and can distress your horse, so persistent treatment until it's gone is recommended.

October 9, 2008 – Does cribbing cause colic?

Studies show that cribbers do have an increased incidence of colic, in this case, called "air colic" due to the ingested air that must pass through the digestive tract. Therefore, if you have a cribber, it's a very good idea to take active steps to prevent the cribbing using a cribbing collar or muzzle.

Another thing you can do is to assess your horse's environment. Often cribbing is a response to a horse being stressed. Reduce the stress and the horse will crib less. Such stress can be caused by a bullying pasture mate, harsh treatment from humans, etc.

Also, a cribbing horse will generally crib more when in his stall. Turning him out daily when weather permits significantly reduces cribbing because he's now able to socialize and graze.

Taking actions to reduce your horse's stress and giving him ample turn out will make your horse crib less and be much happier. Not only will his surroundings stay in better repair, his insides will too.

October 7, 2008 – How long does it take a horse to get used to and settle in to a new barn?

Settling into a new barn usually takes about four days, sometimes less, sometimes more. The trick is to determine whether or not the horse feels safe enough to sleep. You won't necessarily be able to see this, but you will be able to tell, because he'll get perky instead of anxious when you take him out of the stall.

October 6, 2008 – What do I do when a horse won't move forward, and rears or bucks if I insist?

Rather than move him forward, lead him via a rein to one side. That is, turn him completely around if you have to, but then continue the turn forward. If he still won't go, do it again. Eventually he'll figure out that it's easier to move when you tell him.

Don't hit him or yell at him during this process. He may be frightened, and neither of those two actions will help. In fact, it may ensure that you get dumped, which is not a lesson you want him to learn. You don't want him to think: "Hey wait: if I do THIS, then I get rid of that annoying human entirely...hmmmm..."

October 3, 2008 – I am a breeder with too many horses on my hands and facing winter. What are my reasonable options under the law? What are the dangers I face?

First, I assume you've already tried all the obvious options to sell or lease the horses to a good home? Have you tried auctions? Have you tried private sale or lease by advertising at locations likely to get the word out? Have you utilized all your contacts? If you've not done all these things, then do them. If you have and you're still stymied, then you can look at the various rescue operations in your area. Most locations across the US do have them, though they may charge you for the "donation" of each horse; still, you'll get them to a good home that usually has public oversight over how the horses are treated, if the rescue is a nonprofit corporation, at any rate. That's because nonprofits are usually regulated by the attorney general's office of the state in which you're located.

Unfortunately, from here, your options look less and less viable, not to mention morally offensive and cruel to your horses. If you can't get a non-profit to take your horses and you decide to brave the storm, so to speak, by keeping them, be careful that your lean times do not affect the health of your horses to the point that they're neglected or abused. This is a crime and the horses will not only be taken away from you, but you also could be subject to fines and criminal penalties.

If you sell a horse for slaughter in Mexico or Canada, be aware that some venues will impose penalties against you if they find out; e.g. some racetracks now have a "no slaughter rule", which if violated, will have an adverse impact on you and your business. It is not against the law to euthanize your own horse, but it's expensive, and again, the social judgment you would face could destroy your business and your standing in the community.

About the best advice I have is to do your best to sell or lease your horses and exercise caution in the breeding shed until your circumstances improve. You have a responsibility to these horses, so you have to live up to it on their behalf.

October 2, 2008 – What is a "sporthorse"?

To my understanding, a sport horse is a larger, athletically bred saddle horse aimed at the showjumping, eventing, equitation, and dressage crowd. I recently saw some pinto sport horses that were among the most beautiful that I've ever seen. YOWZAH!!! Be still my heart.

September 30, 2008 – Can stomping for flies cause a horse to go lame?

Not unless another horse stomps on him stomping for flies. More seriously, there have been reports of horses developing shin splints from too much stomping for flies, and on a very hard surface, such as concrete or tightly packed earth, but I've never seen it or heard of it locally. The bigger issue is that horses lose weight and can lose too much blood from flies, and they can hurt themselves running around in the pasture to get way from them. Therefore, good fly management practices are very important, such as keeping their stalls and grazing areas clean of horse waste products and other fly attractants, plus judicious use of fly sprays.

September 29, 2008 – I'm having trouble getting my horse to go downhill. Any suggestions as to why he's reluctant to ride downhill?

He may be sore on his front feet. Look for thrush, a stone bruise, a "hot" nail from the horse shoe stuck into a sensitive part of his foot, or founder. Get a farrier and then a vet to look at the issue. If he's not sore, then it could be a training issue.

September 26, 2008 – I am thinking of buying a jumping prospect. Besides soundness, what are some conformation characteristics that you feel are the most important?

Whenever I'm looking at a horse that'll have significant athletic performance duties, I consider a number of areas:

First, I look at the shoulders and the set of the neck, as well as the width of the chest. A horse that has a wider chest and more sloping shoulders will have a bigger lung capacity.

Next, I look at the hind end: is there sufficient power behind to get the job done? A horse that's weedy behind and large up-front may be muscled up, but if the general shape is working against you, you'll have difficulties getting sufficient power for the job.

Finally, look at the legs: is there sufficient bone and are the feet big enough and in good shape? Are the pasterns the right length and slope? One way you can tell all of this is to watch how the horse moves. A well put together horse has a spring in the trot that looks like he's floating as if a natural gait.

Overall, balance is what you're looking for, as well as legs and feet in good condition. So, don't just jump at a warmblood because it's a warmblood; make sure the horse's structure can get the job done.

September 25, 2008 – Going to look at a horse, supposed to be calm and all. But requires web shoes to be on or is tender-footed. Is this normal or should I steer away from this horse?

Though I've never heard of web shoes on a horse, I do know that some horses have shoes that cover the bottom of the foot in whole or in part, if that is what you're referring to. This shows that the horse is not sound at the moment, but is not a statement as to whether it will always be unsound.

Get a vet check before buying this or any other horse, and don't accept delivery or buy the horse until you get the results, including acceptable results from a blood test.

September 24, 2008 – Should I take the water from my horse if he looks like he's going to colic? I had heard that this was the right way to treat the problem.

Well first, if you think your horse is "going" to colic, that means that he is in fact colicking, because "colic" is a nonspecific description which is simply defined as "abdominal pain". So, if you see signs of incipient colic, that means actual colic.

As to the actual cause, that's for your vet to decide. And no, don't restrict your horse's access to water during this time unless directed to do so by your vet. If your horse dehydrates, you'd likely make a bad situation worse. You can take food away until your vet arrives, but not water.

September 23, 2008 – Will the thoroughbred industry slow down its production of foals given the economic situation in the country?

The American thoroughbred industry is not immune to the laws of supply and demand. There is some indication that the country's economic downturn has already had an effect, as seen by the fact that "buy back rates" at prominent auctions are rising. It is too soon to say if the Wall Street meltdown will result in fewer foals being bred overall, though.

Ask me again in June 2009, as many breeders plan a year in advance.

September 22, 2008 – Why do some pony riders at the race track during the races use western saddles, and some not?

Each track has their own rules on the subject. Personally if I were a pony rider, I would want a western saddle for the extra support and gripping power of all that leather. One massive animal hurtling through the air is enough.

September 19, 2008 – I recently got a new horse that is extremely fat. I'm worried about his health and have tried feeding him less and riding him more often, but nothing seems to help. How can I help keep my horse healthy and at a good weight?

One way to tell if he's healthy is to look and see if he has any muscle tone in his croup, chest and shoulders, and neck, and if he can run and gallop without getting too winded. If so, even if he has a bigger belly, then he's fine. However, if he has no muscle tone, and puffs like a steam engine after moderate exertion, then you need to stop the grain and feed hay only, plus work until he loses some of the weight.

Some horses, especially a few quarter horses I can think of, I swear, you could feed them nothing but air and they'd still be fat.

Good luck...

September 18, 2008 – What are the common indications that a horse is bored in its stall?

Symptoms of stall boredom can be indicated by listlessness, chewing, kicking, and more. And there are several different causes. The Horse Guy wrote a fairly comprehensive article about that very topic just two weeks ago entitled: Reducing Stall Boredom.

If you have any additional questions not answered by the article, please feel free to submit it here and we'll try to help you out.

September 17, 2008 – Are horses better turned out in group situations or alone?

Believe it or not, this is a flash point and dividing line in many barns. Some barn owners feel, with justification, that if you turn expensive horses out together, that they'll kick each other and cause serious bodily injury. Others feel that it's cruel to turn horses out alone, and that they should always have company. There is also support for this position as well. I myself think both positions have merit, but which you use for your horse should depend on the individual set up. That is, if a horse can see and smell companions in neighboring paddocks, he should not suffer too much from loneliness. So if you make it a practice to make sure that he always has neighbors, you can keep him alone in his paddock.

On the other hand, keeping a horse completely alone really is hard on the poor beast — they like company. For horses turned out together, you have to keep an eye on the situation and make sure there isn't a dangerously bossy individual in tight quarters with the others. As long as the others have somewhere to go in a hurry to get away from Bossy, they should be fine. But if trapped, a kicking war can ensue that is dangerous to all.

September 16, 2008 – How can I tell if my horse is being fed moldy grain? I worry that, with the economy the way it is, my barn might start cutting corners.

If the feed is being bought in bulk and deposited into a silo, it may be tough to see the mold itself. But, if the horse starts losing weight, or refusing the grain, or having constant runny bowels, or starts to get laminitis, or in other ways exhibits distress, then the first culprit to look for is the feed.

Also keep in mind that cheap grain is usually accompanied by cheap hay, and unfortunately, horses cannot constitutionally stand hay that is too poor in quality. They will colic and die before too long. So, look first at the grain; think warning bells if it is kept in a silo, and thus, difficult to inspect; then look at the hay quality and frequency. Once hay starts being limited, that is a slippery slope that leads to places you don't want your horse to go.

Start looking for alternative barns if you have any concerns. There are plenty out there!

September 15, 2008 – I need to sell my horse quickly. What is the best way to do that?

As with most things, if you insist on a fire sale, you'll get a fire sale return. Horse auctions (and not the fancy Thoroughbred ones, mind you) but the local auctions, are typically where you can let a horse go quickly, but for very little. Most auctions will allow you to put a reserve on the amount that must be bid before the horse can be sold, but be careful with that figure, because if the horse doesn't sell, you'll still have to pay the auctioneer's fee, which would defeat the purpose entirely. Sometimes certain other disciplines might have an organized auction, but in those cases, the horse had better have a recent showing or competition history in order to get any kind of decent return on the sale.

A better plan might be to figure out some way that the horse can be useful and earn his keep via a lease arrangement while you look for a buyer or use a competent agent to find you a viable buyer. Agents will typically charge a commission for their services, but you should still come out ahead. Make sure you put all deals in writing and have an "escape hatch" or agreement expiration date for the contract with the agent if the horse isn't sold within a specified period of time.

September 12, 2008 – It turns out that the horse I bought is blind in one eye. I did not know that before buying him, and I would not have bought him if I did. The seller swears she did not know either. Can I get my money back on the sale?

Did you have the horse checked by a veterinarian before the sale? What training and experience does the horse have? Does the eye prevent him from undertaking any activities? If the horse is prevented from any horsy activities, then you may have grounds to show that the seller DID know about the eye. If the seller was a dealer in horses, you may have a breach of the warranty of merchantability.

Regular readers will notice that I often end my advice with "Contact an equine attorney". That's because all legal matters must be thoroughly examined to determine whether or not they have adequate legal standing to pursue. This is another such case.

September 11, 2008 – I have a friend who bought a horse at an auction, but later found that the horse was vicious and attacked him causing serious injury. Does he have any recourse against the seller or the auction company?

Perhaps. Much will depend on the known history of the horse, the terms and conditions of the sale, and what was said at the time of the sale. Most auction companies will try to protect themselves from such suits by disclaiming all warranties, which disclaimer they usually require the buyer to sign.

However, if the auctioneer or the seller made any express statements about the horse before the sale, upon which the buyer relied, then depending on the wording of the disclaimer, these words may later serve as a basis to sue the seller or the auction company. Even if a warranty claim is no longer viable, there may be a fraud or a consumer protection claim out there. As always, you need to contact an equine attorney so he/she can review the specifics of the case to make a legal determination.

September 10, 2008 – I have a boarder that is far in arrears of board payments. Can I sell the horse to cover my expenses of feeding it over the last few months?

The short answer is yes, BUT. The long answer is, yes, but you need to follow the laws of your state in doing so, or you may be sued for horse theft. Therefore, there is no simple, standard approach. And you also need to assure you've given proper notification to the horse's owner of his overdue status and intention to recover your costs through the sale to give him the opportunity to pay up promptly. Call an equine attorney to find out how to manage the process and possible sale to recover your expenses.

September 9, 2008 – For my barn, why can't I just have riders sign a waiver that says that they assume all risk and waive all liability?

If you do that, you run the risk the court will find that the risks involved were so generally described, and that what happened to this individual was so unexpected, that this person was not put on notice of the specific harm that occurred in this particular matter. By the same token, if you exhaustively list all harms, you may miss the one thing that happened to this person, and at that point, the court may find that you intended to list all risks, and didn't list this one, so the waiver is not applicable.

The courts sure have you both ways, don't they? That is why you should in fact get an equine attorney to review your specific situation. It is both an art and a science.

September 8, 2008 – I've had my 7-year-old horse for about 8 months, and he's always been calm-natured. Recently, he's started spooking when people approach him when I'm mounted and also at the rail when someone approaches. How can I fix this?

Have you had his eyes checked? Believe it or not, if a horse has an incipient vision problem, it can manifest itself just like this. Otherwise, if his vision is fine and he's just full of beans and takes any opportunity to express his physical nature, then I would say, reduce the grain and up the work.

Good luck...

September 5, 2008 – While swimming, if water gets into the horse's ear, does it effect his balance so he doesn't know which way is up?

No, it shouldn't. But horses can panic if that happens, and if they do, that could cause them to drown. Horses have also drowned when a rider has tried to swim their horse and hasn't remembered they put a martingale on him (as unbelievable as this sounds, some riders have done this).

September 4, 2008 – I just bought a pony and his feet look like dinner plates, they are so large and untrimmed. How long will it take to get them back to normal?

Your farrier should use caution in returning the feet to a normal outline. Remember that the horse's legs get used to the stress of extra long toes, and if you hack off the excess, the horse might go lame just from his tendons stretching to the new position. Go slowly, and in six months, he should be back to normal.

September 3, 2008 – My horse is very fat. He looks very cute, but I am concerned about his weight. Should I be?

Yes. Horse obesity, which is almost unknown in the wild, can occur in domestication due to serving too much concentrated feed (grain). But obesity is not healthy for your horse and should be reduced by putting him in work and limiting his grain. Your horse will look even cuter when he's in shape.

September 2, 2008 – When should I keep shoes on my horse, and when should I let him go barefoot?

Horses need shoes if they're in competition, or in circumstances where their feet take a pounding on pavement or rocks. If your horse is out at pasture, he likely will not need shoes. If he's in light work, try the barefoot route with trimming every five to six weeks and see how it goes. Also, keep in mind that even for horses in competition and such, it's not a good idea to keep a horse in shoes year round because the hoof wall can get torn up from the pulling of nails out over time. After pulling shoes, you may notice a period where your horse is "ouchy" for a while until he gets used to the barefoot life, but he should be fine after that.

Let common sense be your guide on this one. And always remember, no hoof, no horse.

August 29, 2008 – I boarded my horse at a place that did not make me sign a board contract, but did require that I pay ahead for two months at a time. Now I want to leave. Am I owed any money back?

If you have no written contract, it appears as though your arrangement was one of fee for service. If you have not obtained the service, you should not pay the fee.

Give your notice, and let the stable owner know what you wish to be refunded any unused board. Then contact an equine lawyer if you have trouble. Good luck!!!

August 28, 2008 – Can you explain "floating teeth" to me? I don't understand why teeth should be filed. And will it hurt my horse?

Horses naturally eat grass, one of the toughest plants. To successfully do that, horse teeth grow at a quick rate over the horse's life. This growth wears away at a more or less even rate in the wild. However, in domestication, the teeth wear less evenly with a diet of grain and hay. The result is that the teeth grow points and spurs which can cause the horse to have difficulty eating, thus affecting his ability to keep on weight. It may also cause your horse to have problems carrying a bit and can, therefore, affect his performance when riding.

Old time horse dentistry involved taking a rasp to the points on the side of the horse's mouth and filing the edges down. This so called "floating" of the teeth was better than nothing. But it was sometimes incomplete because a horse has a long row of molars extending back into his head; the rearmost teeh can be very difficult to reach in full with just a rasp. As the science has progressed, modern equine dentistry now uses a high speed mechanized tool that takes off the points more quickly. Plus, there are devices that open the horse's mouth more fully so the back molars can be reached and any hooks in back also filed off.

Horses need their teeth attended to every eighteen months or so, no less than every two years, and every year if the individual circumstance warrants it. And, no, it doesn't hurt the horse. In fact, those previously mentioned spurs can be painful and after a horse has had his/her teech floated two or three times, they're very accomodating because they know they'll feel better as a result. Just like with people, tooth care pays off with a happy, healthy, and longer-lived animal.

August 27, 2008 – What is the deal with hay prices? How high can they go? Aren't farmers planting more hay given the demand?

Hay is expensive for many reasons:

  • The price of fuel is high and raises costs of producing hay and the costs of buying and shipping in needed resources, such as fertilizer. It costs farmers more to grow and gather it, and so, they have to "pass the buck", so to speak, on to you.
  • Currently, farmers can earn more by producing other crops, such as corn for ethanol as a gasoline additive. This leaves less land available to produce hay, thereby reducing the supply for the same demand.
  • Hay production requires a large investment in equipment.
  • It requires manual labor to grow and cultivate.
  • A significant portion of the hay produced is ultimately wasted. This is caused partly by poor storage methods by the farmer and us customers. And improper feeding practices by the end user wastes some more. When hay is wasted, even by you and me, we need to buy more which raises the demand. Finally, while increased use of large bales has reduced labor costs, it's harder to store inside due to its larger bulk. And when stored outside, more is lost to rot and mold.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's recent report on hay production (available on their website), the amount of hay projected, based on that gathered in 2008, is down slightly from 2007, with a total of 148 million tons of all types of hay gathered, down 2.35 million tons from last year, due to lower harvested acres. To me, that means that even with the higher prices of hay, farmers may not be able to break even given their costs to produce hay. Let's hope this trend does NOT continue.

August 26, 2008 – Why do people use anabolic steroids on horses anyway?

For the same reason that many athletes in almost all sporting events have been caught using this class of drugs: for the performance enhancing aspects of its side effects. The problem, of course, is that these drugs have many more side effects, including heart damage, liver damage, reproductive damage, and effects on temperament and disposition. It also gives an unfair advantage over those not taking drugs.

Therefore, all major sporting groups have banned their use, and the horse world is starting to follow suit, albeit slowly because there is no national governing body that covers all equine sports, including racing. Of note, Kentucky has just banned steroids in horse racing and it is expected that many more states will follow suit as time goes on.

August 21, 2008 – Some people say that horses don't know if they have won a race. I think they don't either, how could they?

All I can tell you is that horses do race against each other in the paddock when at liberty — there is a clear competitive urge among horses. Take Cigar, a famous racehorse. He rarely lost, but when he did, he would refuse to eat his favorite treat: peppermint candies. And anecdotally, War Admiral, when he lost to Seabiscuit, well, go read Lauren Hillenbrand's book "Seabiscuit" on that topic. In addition, racing photos are replete with images of horses trying to take a bite out of a competitor who is beating them as the winning horse runs on by, and with an unmistakable "sour grapes" expression.

So I would say, in fact, that horses do know when they lose, if they're invested in winning at all. Some horses don't care, I agree, and those may not know. But those horses racing for real, I'd bet that they definitely know.

August 19, 2008 – How can I get into working in the horse industry in such a way that I can actually earn a living?

This is an age old question. Most people seem to start in the industry in one of two ways: either hire on with one of the satellite businesses that service the horse industry (tack, equipment, and so forth) and pursue your horsey ventures on your own time, or acquire a horse related skill that people will pay you for. One way to acquire a marketable horse skill is to go to school and obtain an equine related degree. For example, I offer an equine law course at Concord Law School if you're motivated to be a lawyer, like myself. The bottom line seems to be that, if you invest the time and effort into your skill development, someone, somewhere, at sometime, will want to hire you. Whether you starve to death in the meantime is another issue entirely.

August 18, 2008 – I'm trying to integrate a small (mini) gelding into my group of mares and geldings (5). This little man (Addie) is 3yrs old, but was only gelded 6 mths ago. The integration part has gone well, BUT although Addie is great with the rest of the group, mares included, he insists on mounting the smallest mare; none too gently.

She does not return his adure. He simply over powers her. Addie was purchased as a companion for this mare. I have tried to let them sort it out, but she gets hurt; as yet I wont run them together. I realize that this is a learned behavior and I don't mind separating them for as long as it takes, but I need a plan besides waiting it out. Both horses are rescue/unwanted pets and will live out their days here. Any ideas? Or are they in single beds for the rest of their lives?

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about this. The mare is not sufficiently "unreceptive" to dampen Addie's ardor. The mare may, in fact, be sending signals indicating her active interest, by hormonal means.

I note that you say she doesn't return his ardor, but, she isn't shutting it down either, which she certainly has the wherewithal to do if she chose. I would keep them apart for another couple of months or so, to see if the behavior will ebb as he gets used to his new state, then reintroduce slowly.

Good luck!

August 15, 2008 – My horse doesn't listen well. He doesn't always go when I tell him to go or stop when I tell him to stop. And sometimes, he turns off the trail when I don't want him to. My friends say I need to be his alpha and not the other way around. But I love animals and don't want to be mean or to push him.

I have to say, the biggest single problem I see with horses and riders is the failure to maintain a basic command structure, which can be very dangerous to the rider. Keep in mind that in the horse's world, there are only "alphas" and "betas". The hierarchy structure is constantly maintained every single minute of the day for reasons having to do with basic survival against predators in the wild.

Horses have that command structure because it helps them to fight off wolf-packs, mountain lion attacks, and so forth. So, when a horse meets a rider that doesn't take control, the horse feels the lack of command structure and moves to fill the vacuum.

Now, a horse typically feels safest buried in the middle of the chain of command, that is, right in the middle of the herd's "pecking order". So by forcing it to be "alpha", two things happen: first, he will likely be more, rather than less anxious; and second, he might likely do things which could hurt the human. However, you can fix the situation by maintaining obedience in small, basic ways. For starters, ensure your horse moves when YOU say, stops when YOU say, picks up a foot when YOU say, and so forth. Instant obedience is safety for a horse, and he needs to believe that you'll make good decisions to keep him safe. Get a riding instructor to get you started and teach you the basics of earning and keeping your horse's respect. Be fair, but firm, earn his trust, and help your horse feel safe.

August 12, 2008 – I'm a new rider and sometimes hear others talking about "collecting their horse" or riding in a "collected canter", trot, or some such. When I ask, they tell me it means the horse "is on the bit" or that they're bending their horse "through the corners". Now, I'm even more confused. What does all this have to do with collection or something like that?

Reposted as part of a separate article. See: Collecting a Horse & Keeping Him "On the Bit".

August 11, 2008 – Stumbling Horse — I am a (nervous) novice rider (had a big fall earlier this year which required surgery) and I'm currently leasing a 9y old TB gelding. He has a beautiful personality with no vices, but has a tendency to stumble. He's been thoroughly vetted and also had no injuries on track. The problem I have is that he is only stumbling when I ride him — the moment a more experienced rider gets on he performs well. I've been told to wake him up the whole time, but even if we trot he seems to stumble every now and then. Is this a problem which could be rectified or would it be better for me to try for another horse?

Get another horse. You're dealing with enough at the moment in getting over a fall. I'm sure the thoroughbred stumbler is lovely, but you've answered your own question, because he stumbles for you. Sure, at a later point in your development, you may become sensitive to all the things that you do contributing to that issue, but now is not the time to try to figure that out.

If you just can't afford to switch, then get expert help in deciphering the code. Horses will stumble, just like people, if they aren't paying attention. Also, sometimes, gait and shoeing issues will contribute to a tendency to not pick up the feet while moving. If he CAN pick up his feet, but doesn't when you ride, it's a good bet that the things you're doing are minute and subtle, and will require help in figuring out what is going on.

You now know my vote on this, so good luck!

August 8, 2008 – How do you get a horse to drink water if you're concerned that he's dehydrated?

I learned this trick the other day. Get a small, half-teaspoon amount of salt and put it in his mouth. He should be looking for water shortly.

(Believe me, this works and is not harmful.)

August 5, 2008 – Is it considered safe for the horse's developing body for me to ride my two year old colt everyday out of the week?

It would NOT be safe for your 2 year old's developing body to embark on such an ambitious riding schedule. Your horse's developing skeleton in his back can be injured by too-early weight bearing. For more information on skeletal development, read this article to answer the question of when to "start" a colt and how. It's an impressive discussion of the rate of skeletal growth of horses,.

Timing and Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses

At this age, work more on teaching him how to tie, how to lunge, how to attend to his feet, how to accept being groomed all over, how to trailer, how to accept a girth, how to answer a rein at both directions, how to drive (long line with you on the ground) and so forth. At three, try occasional on and offs and put him in work by four.

I know this advice flies in the face of the entire American Thoroughbred industry right now, but if the question is what is best for the horse, well, this is your answer.

August 4, 2008 – How can I prepare for my first horse show?

Practice, practice, and practice whatever your type of riding or show is for. Groom your horse and yourself (I call it "spit shine") and also clean your tack and polish your boots. You may want to practice these things the week prior to your show. Have a "dress rehearsal" day. Work with your trainer/coach and ask their advice and if you're ready to go to show. Sometimes, schooling shows are a great place to practice these skills to prepare for bigger shows.

Good luck and best wishes!

July 30, 2008 – My horse throws his head up every time I pull on the reins. What's going on here?

This sounds like a dental issue to me. The state of the teeth will have an effect on how the bit acts inside the mouth, and if the bit action, say, causes the tongue or cheek to grind up against a sharp point of tooth. If so, pulling on the reins will cause such a reaction.

Have an expert check your horse's teeth. And, with regards to that, be aware that there are many different levels of expertise when it comes to "floating" teeth. Some will take a rasp and get only a few of the sharp points, whereas others will do a complete job. That means sedation of the horse and using a motorized rasp to get all of the points, including the ones way in the back that prevent the grinding molars from meeting flush and clear, as well as the "hooks" at the back of the front incisors.

You can find out a lot more about equine dentistry by checking out QueryHorse on the topic, and specifically by checking the Website of the International Association of Equine Dentistry.

July 29, 2008 – My new 10 yo QH is quite lazy and when he comes out from his walk-in stall, he tends to drag his back legs/feet behind him. Picking his feet up for cleaning is quite a fight, although he's getting better at it. His hind legs just seem to be very stiff (or lazy) when out at pasture. When we're riding he's absolutely fine. He is an ex-racehorse (got booted, he was too slow) and guided trail horse, I've been told. What do you think would help limber up his hind legs? Exercises (I ride at least 4 times a week) or supplements? He has been seen by the vet and she suggested he might have had an accident at one time. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you.

This sounds like a chiropractic issue to me. Horses have a very long spine, and guess what? We sit on it when we ride. Not surprisingly, the spine can become misaligned. And when it does, the horse will suffer, sometimes exactly how you describe with muscles that bunch up in response to the pain. This muscle spasm can be relieved by walking out, but it returns when the horse stands still for any length of time.

Get your horse evaluated by an equine chiropractor; the issue likely can be addressed. HOWEVER, don't be mad at your horse — he's not lazy — he's in pain, and pushing him into his pain may be dangerous both to him and to you.

July 28, 2008 – What are some common indications of a horse being bored in its stall?

Is your horse doing any of the following?

  • Chewing on the walls
  • Pawing
  • Stall walking
  • Charging the door when you come in
  • Tormenting passing horses with undue passion or vigor
  • Generally committing property damage or damage to others or self
If you see any of the above signs, there's a good chance that your horse's brain is being underused, his body is being under worked, his guts are spending too much time empty (hay in the rack is a great occupier of horses), and therefore, he's suffering from the captivity. This needs to be addressed, otherwise, your horse could get ulcers, could colic, or could injure someone else, or even you. He could also start cribbing, which can be quite a nuisance, cannot be cured, can damage walls and posts through chewing, and raises the risk of getting air colic.

The cure for horse boredom is easy: work him regularly, turn him out daily whenever the weather permits, and provide with enough hay when the weather is inclement. Of course, the foregoing should be the normal course of events anyway. Examine your horse care management, or that of the farm where you board, and make the appropriate changes!

July 25, 2008 – I am wanting to purchase a new horse, one that is mature enough to calm down my newly ridden two year old colt. What is a good age for my new horse? As always, thank you for your advice.

Though temperament in horses manifests early enough that you can get good solid young ones, for my book, nothing beats a gentleman gelding from age 8 or so onward. By then, the character of the horse is mostly fixed, so you should be able to rely on what you see. I have two of them myself, age 15 both, and they are bombproof and bullet proof, kid savvy and young horse educators. I bet you can find a mature "mr." yourself, if you look. Mares can also be solid, but the odds favor the guys on this one...

July 24, 2008 – On real hot days, I'll often find my horse is sweating on his neck and breast. Is he better off outside in the paddock or inside his stall where it's shady?

Horses do take cold easier than heat because they're built in a way that helps them keep the body heat they produce. But, as long as your horse is drinking enough, not dehydrated, and doesn't seem bothered by bugs, I would leave your horse outside. Horses are happier outside and being able to roam and graze keeps their digestive system working.

We seem to forget what the word "warmblood" means. Most light-breed horses came from foundation stock in the hotter climates of Africa and S. America. A draft or pony will have a harder time in summer than your average Quarter Horse.

July 23, 2008 – When on the trail with other horses, my horse just won't listen to me. If the lead horse takes off at a lope or gallop, so do all our other horses. To stop my horse or slow her down to a trot is a real battle.

You have a bigger issue here than just a problem with passing and being passed on the trail. It sounds like you have no brakes. You need to go back to basics and make sure you have brakes 100% of the time on your horse. Think about it — would you drive a car if I told you it would stop 99% of the time? Then why ride a horse with no brakes either?

Once you have brakes, you can then safely go out on a trail, or even just in a ring and work with another buddy who understands what you're dealing with. Have them do slow work where your horse is left behind a little and every time he acts up, make him work in small circles, then bring the horses together again. As your control over your horse increases and your horse's anxiety lessens, start making the separation father apart and quicker.

Keep in mind that if you can't control your horse in EVERY situation, you're just waiting for a trip to the hospital.

July 22, 2008 – How does a double bridle work?

Double bridles should be used only on highly trained horses and by trained riders. The basics are that you have both a snaffle and a leveraged bit working together off two separate sets of reins.

Fundamentally, one set of reins steers and gives cues while the other simply acts as a "brake" upon which you can set a better collection, or institute a half-halt more firmly (again, usually for a better collection). They are seen mostly in dressage and some demanding sports, like polo.

Only work with these if you know how to use them or you can hurt the horse's mouth.

July 21, 2008 – When getting on my horse, she starts walking every time before I'm finished mounting her. How do I stop this?

You have to realize that you caused this problem to begin with, and you're certainly not the only one who's made this mistake. Most people get on their horse and immediately walk off, so the horse begins to presume he should do that because he thinks he's doing what you want. You need to train yourself to get out of this habit after you retrain your horse to stand still.

First, teach him to move his hips over from the ground so he disengages his hip and swings his inside hind underneath his belly as he steps away from you. Do this until he chooses to stand still. If you go to mount and he starts to move, try to leave your foot in the stirrup as you move his hip over and over again until he stops. If you're not good at hopping on one foot, just get off and repeat it again. You want to make the things he is doing difficult, and the thing you want, easy. If he just stands still, you won't turn him and make him work. You may have to do this several times, and if at any point he walks off before you tell him to do so, get off right away and start again.

Now for yourself, when you get on a horse that is standing still, work on bending and flexing his neck first or backing up before just walking off. Some people offer their horse a treat from the saddle, so he waits to expect it. I don't condone "treat giving" as reward, but if you find it works for you, it is one approach.

July 17, 2008 – I'm thinking of letting my sister use my horse in return for paying board. Are there any potential problems with this idea?

The biggest problem that I see is that this informal arrangement, so common among family members, will not prevent the host of problems that occur when the two parties have not discussed all of the ramifications of a deal.

For example, how long will this "arrangement" go on? Spelling out the end of the deal is an absolute necessity. Also, who is going to pay the insurance for the horse? Does your sister have liability insurance? Who is going to pay extraordinary veterinary bills? If the horse is insured for mortality and/or health, will your sister make the appropriate calls to the insurance company before acting? If she doesn't, your coverage could be defeated. If you don't like how the horse is being cared for, do you get to change anything? If you change something, does that make you responsible for the cost of the change? What if your sister does something negligent and injures someone? Do you want to be responsible for that?

Though it sounds like a pain to do, taking a little time and working out the details will save you big money and big time in the future. The foregoing are just a sample of the problems you could have — consult an equine attorney for more thoughts on the topic.

July 14, 2008 – What is a currycomb?

A currycomb is a round or oval shaped rubber "brush", often with corrugated oval "teeth" that is used in a circular motion on the horse's body to loosen hardened mud and loose hair. It helps you to be particularly efficient because the mud and hair will not usually stick to the comb, but instead, fall out, allowing you to continue grooming, instead of stopping, picking the detritus out, and cleaning the brush, etc.

Currycombs are especially useful in the springtime, for reasons of both mud and hair.

July 10, 2008 – How important is it to go to a trainer?

A good rule of thumb is: if you're stumped, you've tried everything you can think of, and you're still making no progress, then it's time to go to a horse trainer. Horse girl's practical suggestions may take you further down the road, but the same rule applies: if you're stumped, then get real time, in person, expert advice.

July 7, 2008 – Recently I moved my two-year old horse from a cramped stall situation to a bigger stall surrounded by pasture. When I let him out of his stall, I sometimes tie him up to a tree with a long lead rope so that he can graze (the pasture fence is in the process of being built). Then when I untie him and pick up his lead rope to put him back in his stall, he balks and pretty much tells me that he doesn't want to go, but wants to stay and eat grass. How do I deal with this issue? Is he not respecting me? Please help. Thank you so very much for devoting your time to stuck people like me.

My horse does this too. It can't be helped, especially right now in the pit of summer when grass is at a premium. Essentially, you've got a hungry horse on your hands. But you're still the alpha and as long as your horse has proper weight and is in good physical condition, he still needs to do what you want. Left to their own devices, horse's will almost always prefer food to work.

Serious "get moving" issues can be dealt with using external aids: a crop or a lead rope with metal links wound around through the halter either over or under his nose. Be firm enough so that the first time you ask he moves.

July 2, 2008 – What do you think about having your horse worked on by an equine chiropractor? Is this a real thing?

Equine chiropractors do in fact adjust horses, and from what I can tell, horses do seem not only to enjoy the process, but can also obtain benefit from it. You should contact a trained equine chiropractor in your area to get more information, and to schedule an appointment. They can be particularly helpful if your horse seems "off" without stronger signs of why he is "off. " Try it and see.

July 1, 2008 – Is keeping the shavings banked during the day when my horse is out on turnout the right thing to do? I have heard people say that it is so as to allow the rubber mat in the middle to dry out.

I'm not so sure that is the right thing to do. The banked shavings, through the extra weight, will accumulate more decomposition of the left-over used shavings that inevitably mix in with the clean. Overall, I think you'll end up with a dirtier stall than if you'd spread it all out evenly after cleaning. Also, the area that needs drying out is underneath the mat — not on top of the mat, and the banked shaving plan doesn't affect that at all. Keep in mind that the area underneath the mat is not usually an issue anyway because there are shavings on top. As long as the ventilation is good and drawing the ammonia out, you should have no problems.

June 30, 2008 – When should I consider putting my aged horse down?

Very old horses go through challenges as they age which hurt their quality of life. First, their teeth lose the ability to effectively grind up their food. Next, their guts lose the ability to draw nourishment from the food they do ingest. Over time, an aged horse will start to metabolize muscle tissue and will suffer increasing joint pain and overall weakness. Eventually, they will fall down and not be able to rise again, which will cause them to die in a very painful way as their body weight suffocates their lungs and other organs.

This progress is slow, and not all that easy to see if the horse is still asking for his food and appears to be interested in life. I think the shorter answer is, if you can keep weight on your horse, then he is still in the game. If he skeletalizes in front of you despite the best of care, including food, exercise, and veterinary assistance, then it's time. These are hard decisions, but sometimes necessary.

June 27, 2008 – I have just begun to ride my two-year-old, half mustang/half Quarter Horse gelding. Before riding, I work him in the round pen, and almost every time he threatens to kick while being worked and acts unusually aggressive (but isn't normally). Could you please help me find out why? Is the round pen making him feel claustrophobic or does he just not want to be worked? I would really appreciate your expert advice.

This situation warrants caution for both you and your horse. A round pen is usually so small that if a horse feels too threatened, he may charge you, which of course would be very dangerous in such tight quarters.

What are the indicators that lead you to believe he is being aggressive rather than frightened? If aggressive, then you need to do ground work aimed at enforcing your primary status, which does not have to occur in the round pen necessarily. If frightened, then slow down and relieve the cause of his anxiety. Threatening to kick is a strong editorial opinion, and he can be convinced that such displays are a bad idea (see my previous post on this topic).

Also, try lunging for fifteen minutes or so before working him, just as a way to prevent the lesson from occurring when he is too fresh. Then, aim on small incremental progress each day, lasting no more than 10 minutes or so for the heart of the lesson. Insist on good behavior during the lesson, and mix things up: don't do the same thing time after time. Take a walk out of the round pen; investigate new things; make it fun for the horse. Reinforce what he has learned already before starting something new, and praise him when he does it right.

At any rate, if the aggression continues, get expert help. Safety is the number one concern here, so be careful!

June 26, 2008 – What do I do if my horse runs away with me?

Hope that you're not in a forest at the time. The best way to manage a bolting horse is to sit way down in the saddle, grab the reins with one in each hand, and then pull on one rein, in effect, leading the horse around in a circle. As you go, bring the horse into a tighter and tighter circle. Eventually the horse will get tired of looking at the same landscape over and over again and stop.

Very rarely, a horse will have the ability to run straight ahead with its head pulled all the way around to the side. In that case, you're doomed and I have no other suggestions except to abandon ship at the location of your choice, as it speeds by at 30 miles per hour.

Good LUCK!!!!

June 25, 2008 – I am planning a breeding program here in France, and in fact, import my first stallion from the US in July. I am also importing some fillies in February of next year. The buying contracts I receive do not offer any protection to the buyer. Can I find somewhere a standard buying agreement which would protect us better?

As much as I wish there were a standard contract for buying horses, in fact, there isn't. Even adapting someone else's contract for your own use, which many people do, lays you open to possible unforeseen and often unpleasant consequences as a result of leftover language in the contract that does not suit your particular deal or the particular law of your jurisdiction.

And in your case, because you're in France, you'd have to address the issue of whose law would be controlling in the event of a problem, which, if you did not address, would likely automatically revert to French law. If the horse involved is worth peanuts, then you might not worry about any problems just because the horse isn't worth any fight that occurs. But where the horse's value increases, this is one area where running the contract by an equine lawyer would definitely be worth the investment. Think about your concerns when buying a house or a piece of land, or any other high-value item — you would not leave it to your own draftsmanship in that case, I'm sure. At any rate, that's my two cents worth!

June 23, 2008 – What is the best way to ride a horse that is really, really fresh and wants to go go go? I think I must be doing something wrong because my mare just keeps wanting to go faster and faster.

Your riding style may, indeed, be contributing to the problem. Some riders bounce up and down on their horse's kidneys so hard that the horse perceives it as the command to run. This disorder is affectionately and colloquially known as "electric butt". Other riders, in response to the surges forward by the horse, stand in the stirrups and position their center of gravity slightly ahead of the horse. In response, the horse naturally wants to move forward to correct the imbalance, leading to a "rocket ride".

The way to fix both problems is to sit down. Make the horse carry your weight. Relax down and towards the back of the saddle and don't let your rump off of it.

After a few moments, most horses perceive the drag as the command to slow down, and do. Even if they don't do so immediately, they'll get more tired more quickly and eventually slow down, and you'll know that you're not contributing to your own "rocket ride". If you do this enough, the horse will finally figure out that the "sit down" is the command to slow down, and your problem will be magically solved.

June 21, 2008 – Does the Berry pulley bridle really work? I have read a lot of articles that claim to work wonders and I don't really have the money to spend if this doesn't work.

All pulley bridles work on the principle of increased force at various parts of the horse's mouth, and in the hands of the learned, they can indeed be a useful aid. However, if misused, the added leverage can injure the horse's mouth just as a long-shank bit can. This is a short and fancy way of saying, it might be useful in your case or it might not.

Not knowing why you're considering purchase of a pulley bridle, I have to suggest that you seek expert training advice about your particular application.

June 20, 2008 – I am a trail rider with a grade mare with a Quarter Horse build. The saddle slips forward when going down hills. I have tried tightening the cinch and have bought a nonslip saddle pad which has helped some but has not solved the problem. I am thinking of using a crupper but rarely see them used except on mules. Is there a reason they should not be used on horses? I am tired of getting off at the bottom of hills to reposition my saddle.

By all means use a crupper. Endurance riders do use cruppers fairly often just for the reason you mention: it helps keep the saddle positioned in the right spot. As you've noticed, the alternatives to cruppers don't seem to work very well.

June 19, 2008 – My 11 yr. old is learning and enjoying Barrel Racing. He is developing a crest, especially during the summer, which started in March this year. I've recently had a blood test drawn for thyroid problems. We also have a new filly on the farm which he seems to want to kill. What else can cause this cresty neck?

Though I'm not a vet, you are asking me to play one, as on TV. Well, because free opinions are worth what you pay for them, here goes.

The cresty neck issue brings a number of things to mind. First, overweight Morgans will develop a cresty neck. Though I don't assume your horse is overweight, look at that issue. Next, look at the metabolic disorder "EMS" (Equine Metabolic Syndrome). EMS horses have a characteristic "look" about them, including a cresty neck, (though they may not be overweight), puffiness about the eyes, "lumpy" fat deposits around the tail, head and behind the withers, and later, a loss of overall body condition, a sort of "sagging" look. EMS horses also have a lowered immune system. Sinus and tooth infections are fairly common. This needs real, expert, veterinary advice. I mention it in order that you consult an expert, which is not me.

Finally, a horse with a testicle remaining in the body cavity, (a cryptorchid), may retain stud-like characteristics though nominally a gelding. I would hope you would have noticed this tendency before now, so it may be less likely. Again, a vet is your best resource on this.

June 18, 2008 – I would like to establish a horse rescue and have several questions. Where would I find the most affordable land with good grass for grazing (not necessarily in CA). Since many or most horses will have had poor to abusive care, how do I educate myself so that the horses and I stay safe. Might I get a government grant to help with the purchase of the land and continuing care for the horses?

I am not sure where "the most affordable land" for grazing might be, and am not sure that that should be the highest criteria, either. I mean, you likely could find some very affordable land very far away from most folks, which would mean that all of your "rescues" would not be able to get to you at all. That and your hay, grain, etc., would all be difficult to get and expensive to move, given the high cost of diesel nowadays. Aim for the best land YOU can afford closest to YOU. Either that or just bite the bullet: move to Kentucky, where you'll find BOTH good grass AND lots of horses in the vicinity.

Location aside, you have two challenges here: getting the practical knowledge necessary to be able to take care of horses, and also, how to make the venture self supporting.

Regarding the first, you may not have the experience, but you can certainly hire or rent the necessary "know how". Get a good vet, close enough to make frequent calls, read up on horse nutrition, and hire someone who does have experience. That should be enough inventory in the knowledge department to move forward.

The second problem is a bit more difficult. Many horse rescues try to make it as "charitable organizations" as recognized under state and federal tax laws. Therefore, they spend a fair amount of time in fund raising to support their charitable purpose. As a charity, funds can come from individuals, businesses, or from grants. Getting the charitable designation, or "501 C" from the IRS is difficult and you need expert advice from an accountant and an attorney on this one.

Once you've been designated a charity, you can raise funds through solicitations and accept donations. Grants require the ability to ask for something specific ("horse rescue" is usually not specific enough) plus a proven track record to show the grant organizers that you can deliver on their money. You can start by searching the Internet on this topic. There are many out there that have done this and written about it, so a little research can be very helpful.

Good luck with the venture!

June 17, 2008 – My Quarter Horse gelding is 10 years old and I've had him for 3 years. We were told he was previously a working ranch horse, but the prior owners used him for occasional trail riding and mostly a pet. He has a sweet personality, loves attention from people, and comes willingly — no problem to catch.

He seems to have an aversion to a bit — always playing with his tongue or trying to spit it out, and doesn't like to accept it when putting on the bridle (raises his head high — it's always a fight). We're just now getting back to riding frequently since before winter. He neck reins well and will back when asked, but forward motion in the round pen has become an extreme challenge — he will lead with bit in and rider aboard, but refuses to move without the ground lead.

Is he protesting the bit? It's a soft bit "tom thumb" style. Some have told me he needs his teeth floated — but the vet said they were not bad. What do you think?

It does sound as though your horse is very clearly telling you he does not like that bit. Tom Thumbs are not all that gentle, keep in mind, as they are a combination of a snaffle (broken in the middle) with a Pelham (shank). Therefore, the Tom Thumb has a "twist" to it that some horses reject. You might consider picking either a snaffle (lighter) or a Pelham (straight across with a shank to it) which is also light if the shanks are short, but has the stop power you may need.

There is another product out there, called Lickity Bits which is sweet and gives horses something to really enjoy on the bit itself once you decide which style might work. It can be useful to initially build trust with him again.

Consider also using a drop noseband that doesn't let him open his mouth too wide. Don't cinch the noseband too tight, it should just be there to prevent his evasion from the bit action.

If that does not work, let me ask, have you ever used a hackamore? I only mention this because ranch horses are sometimes trained on hackamores and later have trouble adjusting to other bits.

These are just some suggestions. Whataver you do, though, keep in mind that the fix here may just be paying more attention. That is, a horse that "mouths" the bit is preferable to one who sets his jaw against it, and what you're trying to do is to get your horse to move out, which is a different issue than the bitting issue.

Try these ideas and see what happens.

June 16, 2008 – Hello, I have a Newfoundland Pony Mare, 14.2 hands high. A pretty blue roan. Now she is full of attitude. Even the odd bucking from time to time. She's gone to trainers 3 times for months at a time, but still she's quite the boss mare with a few tricks up her "mane". We've bonded pretty well and she trusts me. But why can't I figure her out? I want to be able to feel safe riding her, but I never know what is going to happen. She panics when I try to lunge her as well. When I try to get her to rid some hyperness. What to do?

Ponies do have their own mind, as you may have noticed. You may never figure out what she may do next. The real issue isn't what she is liable to do, which you have already noticed is unpredictable, but whether you feel confident that you can be secure no matter what that is. Your mention of the "odd" bucking from time to time leads me to believe that she is under-worked and fresh, and that in turns leads me to believe that you may not be riding her as much as you might, because of this issue. Certainly, if she starts tearing around the ring when you lunge her, that may be panic, but it also could be high spirits. In either event, more training of both her and you would be helpful.

I've written in the past about this issue of rider confidence, and given some hints on how to gain more confidence. Certainly, consistency and hard work, applied to you both from the hands of a professional, would be very helpful. Try that and see. The main ingredient here will be work! Good luck and let me know how it goes.

June 14, 2008 – I have a 2yr old colt that I have raised from day one and he likes to nip and sometimes bite at me. He is smart and likes to be handled. I ride him in the round pen and he likes that, but what can I do to get him to stop the nipping and biting?

A two year old colt is the human equivalent of a very fresh and mouthy teenage boy. Without verbal skills, the poor thing is reduced to just being mouthy. But do not fear, both mothers and drill sergeants can teach the meaning of the word respect, and I bet you can too.

Carry a crop and apply IMMEDIATE corrective action whenever he nips along with the word "NO!!!" said with TERRIBLE FORCE! I bet it will take no more than three nip occurrences, each followed by a whack for biting. This is one "cause and effect" you want him to understand right away.

With the first one he'll be stunned; with the second one, he'll understand; and the third nip and correction, if there is one, will convince him that you really mean it. You may have to reapply this corrective action from time to time as he tests to see if your resolve is still firm.

Let me know how it goes.

June 13, 2008 – I finally got my 3 year old thoroughbred in training for racing. I went two months later to watch her breeze. The Trainer said she has been working too slow and she has more in the tank. When encouraged, her tail flags up and down. I videoed the breeze, slowed it down, and found the foot fall off. The trainer is working her in a running martingale a little restricted. The front looks like she's swimming and has too much air time. She is reaching, but the second phase of the footfall (diagonal pair) is off and the hind hits down when the fore is still in the air. That should have been together. Have any ideas what is going on? Thanks

Believe it or not, horses need practice at running. It sounds as though your horse has not yet figured out the best stride for the "all out" effort and is injecting an editorial opinion as to the urging. Do not feel bad. This is not unusual. Sometime, if you feel like a giggle, go to the races and watch the races for the first time efforts. The babies spend more time going up and sideways than they do forward. It is comical to watch.

Nevertheless, with practice, they do figure it out over time. The biggest challenge is to keep them interested in the effort long enough to get them over this initial "figuring it out" stage. Like people, the beginning stages are a delicate time. I bet your trainer has views on this, and should be willing to talk about it sometime.

See what he says.

June 12, 2008 – Floating teeth: Other than seeing an obvious problem like dropping grain, how often should a teenager or older be floated? My farrier says hardly ever. I thought it should be checked every year. Different vets I have dealt with over the years handle it doing it yearly and some say not this year.

Regarding the timing of floating teeth, it really depends on the horse and what he is eating and how fast his teeth are growing. You can feel the "points" by running a finger up the side of the row of molars, and also if the horse starts dropping grain, tossing his head when you pull on the reins, and so forth.

You should examine the issue with a professional no less than every two years. Once the horse figures out that the gadget you stick into his mouth doesn't hurt, the rasp noise is kind of soothing, and it feels better when you're done, he'll stand there all day patiently for the procedure. Horses are smarter than people think.

June 11, 2008 – What are some common indications that your horse is bored when left in his stall?

Think of a two or three year old confined in a small room. What might they get into?

Stall walking, weaving, chewing on things, charging the door when you get near it, cribbing, doing unspeakably vile things with their water buckets....the list goes on and on. Don't let it come to that. Let your horse out of solitary confinement!

June 10, 2008 – Do horses get heat stroke? What are the signs?

Horses can, in fact, get overheated, moving into heat exhaustion, and followed by heat stroke. Though they have an excellent cooling mechanism in the volume of sweat they can produce, they are very large animals with a lot of muscle mass that produces a lot of heat.

Lots of muscles also need lots of water and electrolytes to balance the work load. This is because when muscles contract, potassium passes out of the cells while sodium and chloride are absorbed into the cells. The body fluid composition outside the cells need to contain adequate electrolytes for this transfer to take place or the horse will "tie up", which is a serious condition that can lead to muscle damage and even death. A horse that is dehydrated has lost body fluids and the electrolytes found in them. He will exhibit muscle fatigue, a lack of will to win, poor recovery from exercise and/or skin, which when pinched, will be slow to return to normal.

Good feeding practices of an electrolyte balanced feed and steady opportunities to water during hot weather will help prevent dehydration. If your horse does become dehydrated during work, get off, get into the shade, hose the horse off, use fans, give water, and for milder dehydration, you can administer oral electrolytes with feed, drinking water or oral paste.

For severe dehydration, do all of the above, PLUS, you need to call a vet immediately as this is a dangerous and life-threatening condition. Heat exhausted horses will show increased heart and respiratory rates, may sweat profusely, and as heat exhaustion advances, the horse may become dehydrated and his sweat mechanism may fail, further reducing his ability to remove body heat.

The horse may become dull, restless and uncoordinated. More severely affected horses may show "thumps" (spasmodic jerking of the diaphragm and/or flanks), or even collapse and go into convulsions. If the horse's body temperature stays above 107 degrees F to 109 degrees F for more than a short period of time, he will probably die.

A horse that has passed into heat stroke can no longer sweat and is at severe risk. Avoid giving your horse heat stroke by using common sense in both work and in trailering, and especially watch your horse carefully for these signs during very hot weather.

June 9, 2008 – How fast can a horse run?

The running breeds can run pretty fast (Thoroughbred - 40MPH for distance, Quarter Horse - 50MPH for short bursts). Check out these statistics from:

Horse Speed in MPH – How Fast Is Your Horse Going?
How Far, How Fast Can Horses Go?

"5/9/82, a horse named 'Petro Jay' ran 6 furlongs at Turf Paradise, AZ, and had a time of 1:07.2 and ran 40.18 mph"; and

"The Akhal-Teke, a rare breed from Turkmenistan, is known for its excellent endurance. In 1935, the historic ride that this breed is famous started. Twenty-eight riders on Akhal-tekes rode 2,600 miles from Ashkabad to Moscows, including 215 across the harsh Kara Kum desert without water (where temperatures can reach 149F). They finished in eighty-four days."

That's and average of 31 miles each day. Sure puts a two hour trail ride in perspective, doesn't it?

June 8, 2008 – Can you feed a horse right after exercise?

Typically the issue is whether the horse is still hot and sweaty from the exercise. Once he is "cooled out" you can feed, and it is always best to start with a hay appetizer before moving onto the grain.

June 7, 2008 – What does "stands and nurses" mean in a breeding contract?

It means that you typically do not owe the stud fee money until the resulting foal stands and nurses after the birth. So, in cases where the foal slips or is born dead, you do not need to pay the stud fee.

June 6, 2008 – I was wondering how I go about getting a stud for my Quarter Horse mare to breed. Magnolia, Texas.

The American Quarter Horse Association has a website that will allow you to search for Quarter Horse stallions in your area. I took a quick look and saw a number of stallions standing in Texas. You didn't say what you wanted to do with the foal, but keep in mind that Quarter Horses can vary widely depending on their intended use, whether very muscled and "bulldoggy" type, or much more Thoroughbred in appearance, which is helpful in the Quarter Horse racing circuit.

Breed for the type you want, depending on what you want to do. Also, be careful to read the fine print on the stallion contract. Good luck and have fun!

June 5, 2008 – I read this morning about Big Brown's "quarter crack." What is a quarter crack anyway?

The horse's hoof has a leading edge in front, and a heel in back; the side area of the hooves are known as the "quarters". The hoof wall there is thinner than in the front and originates cracks, which can start from the coronary band (aka the "coronet band", near the hairline at the top) or from the bottom. The crack can be superficial in depth, or can go right through to the meat, so to speak. The fix for a quarter crack is a long, slow regrowing of the hoof, with special farrier work to support the foot while that happens. A horse can work during the regrowth, and inventive use of shoes and glue can literally keep the foot together.

June 4, 2008 – My husband wondered if we can reuse the poop the horses are putting in the pasture to re-grow the grass? I said no because that's not good hygiene for the horses it would give them worms? Please help.

Regarding putting manure on grass, that's not a good idea, straight from the horse so to speak. Manure needs composting before it will not burn the grass, or spread worms.

June 3, 2008 – I'm new at this passion and trying to learn everything I can to take care of our two horses the right way. We noticed our two horses are getting bitten by some rather big horseflies. We are using a repellent, but it doesn't phase them at all. What else can we use so the two horses won't get bitten?

Growing up on a Missouri farm, I think I know the kind of horseflies you mean: large, fast, and quite capable of driving a horse mad.

In addition to fly repellent, you can get fly headgear (flymasks) and flysheets. The flysheets should be well fitted to prevent rubbing. These can really help in fly season. I performed a search (enter flymasks or flysheets as the query) on QueryHorse and found lots of information on this topic, so try that and let us know how you make out.

June 2, 2008 – What is the best way to learn how to ride? Western or English? Is one faster than another?

Riding western, with the saddle horn there to hold onto, neck reining with one hand, longer stirrups, and a bigger and more supportive saddle is certainly easier on novice riders. English riding demands more contact with both hands and legs, and so, learning how to control hands, legs, and body position while riding in an English saddle will force a new rider to work harder, and so learn faster, in my opinion. But both ways of riding can be learned quickly with just one recipe: lots of riding. Have fun!

May 31, 2008 – My horse is now two years old and weighs 900 lbs. When he was a year and a half, he started gaining a lot of weight, and everybody told me that he looked chubby. Now he is losing his weight and gaining a lot of muscle. I can feel his hip bones and all of his ribs. I wouldn't say that he is skinny, he's just not as fat as before. He is up to date on all his shots and worming. Am I feeding him enough? How much does a two year old normally eat?

I'll give general nutrition guidelines, but that in no way is meant to relieve you of the duty to go forth and learn about this yourself through research on QueryHorse or any of the other search engines. There is an old saying, "a horse grows fat under the eye of the master" which means, roughly speaking, that it is your obligation to learn as much about this large topic as possible. Keep in mind that a horse evolved to move around and eat grass all day long, and so the domestic horse's routine of standing all day with only one or two big meals is a recipe for gut disaster. Therefore, try very hard to let him eat a little, all day long, or risk your horse's health. Here are the guidelines:

  • Water: As much water as the horse will drink, freely available, as well as free choice salt.

  • Hay: 1 pound of hay per 100 pounds of body weight. So, a 1,000 pound horse would have a minimum of 10 pounds of hay. The best thing is to allow your horse to eat free-choice hay, or as much as he wants, or no less than three times a day at a minimum, to promote the health of his digestive system.

  • Grain: My suggestion is to go to this website for guidance:


    Here is a pertinent quote:

    "The basic feed requirements of the horse are relatively simple. As a general rule of thumb, a horse will typically consume 10 to 12 gallons of water, greater than or equal to 1.0 percent of body weight in forage, and less than or equal to 1.0 percent of body weight in concentrate per day. Horses should also be given free choice salt."

    So, feed the grain (900 pound horse is 9 pounds of grain or roughly two big scoops per day total) in no less than two portions or more per day. If your horse gets too fat, cut back. If he is too skinny, add on. Make changes incrementally until you are satisfied with his weight. The amounts will change over time depending on how much work your horse is doing, and how much growing he is doing.

You did not say what breed your horse is, or how much work he does, but keep in mind that some horses are easy keepers; for example, Quarter Horses and ponies, even in work, may not need much beyond hay. Let your horse's appearance be your guide on that one, but remember, an overweight horse is not a healthy horse. A shiny coat, defined muscles, padding on the croup, and an interest in life, are all good indications that you're doing the right thing with the amount of feed.

Keep in mind that the kind of feed used will also be important. New studies are showing that some horses do not handle feed well that has a high sugar content, which, for example, that beloved horse staple, sweet feed, is chock full of. Sometimes, horses also need more protein than at other times.

As I said, do some investigation. A good quality pellet is what I feed my horses, but you'll have to make up your own mind on that.

Good luck!

May 30, 2008 – Can entire breeds of horses be one color only? It seems like this could be done.

Sure does, doesn't it? And in some cases, it has been done. Colors which are expressed through dominant genes, such as black, have indeed been, in certain breeds, "fixed" to the breed type. For example, Friesian horses are black. However, this can't be done with other colors such as palomino horses; in fact, if you breed a palomino to a palomino you will get a palomino baby only half of the time. To get a palomino, it is said that if you breed a cremello horse to a chestnut horse, you'll get a palomino horse 100 per cent of the time.

In any event, I find the whole issue fascinating, because of the implication for breeding true for other traits as well. I have, for example, noticed the number of big chestnut racehorses (Eclipse, Man O War, Secretariat, and Curlin). Is this merely coincidence? I have no idea. Sure would be fun to find out.

May 29, 2008 – I own a barn and want to go away on vacation. Should I have whoever watches the barn sign anything?

I know how hard it is to get someone to take over the reins for any length of time. Ownership of a barn should not mean slavery. However, if you don't have an employee doing this for you, for whom you have presumably already indoctrinated as to the correct way to do things, and you import a friend or relative, then be aware that you'll be on the hook for whatever silly action that person may take. For example, leaving the horses to wander out on the highway, etc. (Don't laugh. It happens.)

If you're paying that person, you could likely get the person to sign a waiver of liability for that period of time that you're out of pocket. Maybe. Consult an equine attorney. And in no event should your vacation be ruined by any worries or fears in this respect. Much. (Shooting the messenger is not an appropriate response.)

May 28, 2008 – My question is what type of gear for rider and horse for endurance riding. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

There's actually a lot of gear available specifically for endurance riding. An obvious start is the endurance saddle style produced by many saddle manufacturers. You may also have heard about "biothane", a narrow coated webbing that is strong and comes in almost every color. It's popular with endurance riders because it lasts a long time through heavy use and is available in headstalls, reins, breastplates, and more.

One of the best places to learn about endurance riding gear, the riding itself, and endurance events is at the endurance Website: www.endurance.net. At the bottom of the home page, you'll find a large list of advertisers for everything endurance from training to gear and tack.

May 27, 2008 – How can a horse breathe while choking?

A human windpipe and a horse windpipe are similar in some respects, but different in others. Both windpipes and gullets go through the same general area at the back of the throat. But with the horse, the design is different and much more effective at stopping food from going down the windpipe and into the lungs.

When the horse is active, the larynx forms an almost airtight seal over the gullet. The soft palate, which extends from the roof of the mouth, brings air over it and down the windpipe. This provides a very smooth surface for air to flow without obstruction and makes the horse's breathing efficient, especially when running or working hard.

When eating, the soft palate moves to block the back of the nasal passages to stop food from going into the nostrils while the larynx closes to stop food from going into the windpipe. This results in advantages and disadvantages. A disadvantage is that horses cannot vomit and once food passes through this area, it MUST go through the digestive system. That's why colic is so dangerous — there's no other way to get a bad batch of feed out except through the horse.

Conversely, the risk of blocking the airway with food is small and most choking of a horse is an obstruction of the gullet and not the breathing passages. Of course, this doesn't mean that choking isn't dangerous — it can be very dangerous. But, it does mean the horse can usually breathe, and so, isn't limited to the four or five critical minute timeframe people have when choking.

That said, if your horse is choking, don't waste any time. Call your vet immediately and let him or her diagnose the problem and the fix — your horse's life could depend on it.

May 26, 2008 – I currently board my twenty four year old mare, and one of the other horses has attacked my horse and kicked her hard with both rear feet twice that I have witnessed. No warning that I saw. Is this an attack on me as well as my horse since the other horse attacked "my herd?" What can I do to protect my horse?

Although I don't put it past the capability of a horse to include you in a group of "the detested", what you describe sounds more like the routine humiliation and oppression of the lower orders that goes on in horse pecking order maintenance. The problem is, of course, that such routine displays can in fact seriously injure your beloved mare.

My suggestion is, don't turn those horses out together at all. Find other more friendly companions for your mare. Even if she is at the bottom of the pecking order, the one always picked on, you can still usually find turn out buddies that won't pick on her. And if not, then turn her out alone until you do find such a buddy.

Remember, Justin Morgan, the founder of the Morgan horse breed, was kicked and eventually died from, a "routine" turn out spat very similar to that occurring to your mare. This was a great tragedy, and would also be in your case, since the "fix" is so easy.

May 25, 2008 – Why does my horse get so thin in late summer? I feed just as much then.

How are the flies in your area? Believe it or not, a horse suffering from persistent fly bites can lose a LOT of weight fairly quickly. I've watched horses twitch or stomp continuously for days on end, and believe me, that kind of exertion takes its toll. Plus, too much stomping can eventually hurt their legs.

Help your horse deal with the flies during fly season, and I bet you'll find your horse in much better condition through it all.

May 24, 2008 – How old should a horse be before it starts jumping?

Jumping, as people understand the term, is a fairly stressful action for a horse's joints and bones. While a horse may jump logs in the wild occasionally, in no way do they jump objects of various heights and widths over and over in a short period of time, frequently with uneven or inconsistent footing, and while carrying weight. So, err on the side of caution on this one.

A horse CAN jump while immature, but they likely should NOT do so. Horses mature between ages five and six. If it were my horse, I would not train for jumping much before then.

May 23, 2008 – I have 2 horses that both have sores in their ears. They are getting shy about having them touched. I have tried various creams and oils, but nothing seems to be working.

This is a difficult question for me because I'm not a veterinarian and this is a question for him/her, especially if both your horses have the same problem. What does your vet say? I would definitely go with your vet on this topic, and leave the ears alone without his/her prompting and assistance. If your vet says you just must mess with the ears with ointment, enlist a "horsey" and trusted friend to do the honors so the horse doesn't associate you with "a pain in the ear".

May 22, 2008 – Do horses ever sleep lying down?

Absolutely, especially when young. They dream, too, with little whinnies and movements of their cute little legs. Makes you wonder what they dream about.

As they get older, sleeping lying down still happens, (Seabiscuit for example was famous for marathon naps), but for shorter and shorter periods. Horses still need some sleep, however, and if not comfortable in their stalls or turnout situation, can really suffer from lack of sleep. If your horse seems to be stumbling a lot or nodding off a lot, investigate his situation, as lack of sleep affects them poorly.

May 21, 2008 – How long do horses live?

Horses normally live anywhere from their mid to late twenties, with some super-horses lasting well into their thirties, for example, John Henry, who made it age 32. I have heard tell of horses and ponies lasting until forty or so too, but I have never personally seen that, and for sure, that would not be usual. The horse does lose the ability over time to gain nourishment from his food, and progressively becomes "poorer" and "poorer" until death is a kindness. Like people, exercise and good food is the key to longevity. So keeping yard art is not all that good for the horse. Even lawn ornaments need a job.

May 20, 2008 – I board my horse. It seems so expensive. Wouldn't it be cheaper to have my own place to keep my horse?

You likely aren't figuring in all the costs of keeping a horse. Not only food and shelter, but insurance, the cost of someone to feed and clean the stall, plus maintenance (horses are hard on the fencing and the structures), water, electricity, mowing, manure removal, and so forth, not to mention land costs. Most boarding places do run neck and neck with actual costs, as the law of supply and demand controls.

I would look at more intangibles, such as, do you like the kind of horse experience you're having? Is your horse being well kept? Do you like the social aspects involved at the barn you're using now? (Remember at your own barn, you have to generate all this). So, if you're enjoying the current barn, then your boarding experience could be difficult and costly to replicate at your own barn. If, on the other hand, you really want to be involved in the "nitty gritty" so to speak of the details of keeping your horse, and are good at figuring out all of the ways to improve your operation through constant effort, then having your own stable would be a good thing. Remember to think it through carefully though, because there is no free lunch.

May 19, 2008 – Can horses learn to do more than one thing, like barrel racing and jumping, at the same time?

Sure, but you risk unnecessary confusion if you attempt to train more than one discipline simultaneously. Horses learn best with incremental progress, so the best way to train is to teach them first one activity, and when they have that locked in solid, you can start the next. The horse will figure out what is needed along the way, as long as the progress is slow, and as long as enough recovery time is given after workouts.

Do keep in mind though that once the horse does learn what it is you're asking, he may decide that it's just not for him. Don't ask me how you'll know if and when that day comes — you just will.

May 18, 2008 – The best way to back up a horse is? I am new to riding and don't think elbowing the horse in the neck is in any way the right way to get the horse to back up. Neither is snapping the reins from the front. What is the proper procedure?

Speaking only for myself, mind you, this is how I teach horses to back: On the ground and with the bridle on, grasp the reins with a light firm hold while standing in front of the horse, and pull back lightly. The horse will naturally take a step or two back. Immediately let go of the reins and praise him. Practice this until he associates the light firm hold with a few steps back.

Then get on him, and do the same thing. The horse will learn to associate backing with the light firm hold, and ideally, will back up as long as you hold that slight pressure. Yanks and blows don't work well at this, I have found.

May 17, 2008 – My horse is too spooky and has too much energy when I first get on him. Is there anything I can do to calm him down?

The Horse Girl Says:
Have you tried lunging him for ten, fifteen minutes or so? With the saddle on? Stirrups flopping? At a stiff trot and canter for a good part of the lunging? If not, then try that first. He should settle down once he realizes that it's work time, and you have taken the edge off his energy. That said, if your horse is really trying to unload you, you do need to engage an expert to help figure out what to do, for safety's sake.

May 16, 2008 – My horse picks up the hind foot nearest me every time I get ready to mount. What does this mean?

The Horse Girl Says:
Your horse may be getting ready to kick, so this is something you want to nip in the bud. Get a crop and when he picks up the foot, wack him instantly on the offending part. (Here, the muscle right below the point of the hip). Not too hard, but not a tap either. You may have to repeat this a few times until he gets the idea that, yes, you mean it that you don't want him picking up that foot when you're trying to mount. Your horse will understand this non verbal communication just fine.

Then, when you get on, don't dawdle. If you can't get on with a smooth move the first time, then think about using a mounting block for help. Still nip the kick thing in the bud though. Otherwise the day will come when you'e out on the trail, you've got to get on, and there IS no mounting block available.

May 15, 2008 – When I was out on the trail with my 7 year old gelding along with three other riders, we got separated from the group by about 20 yards as we were going down and up a ravine. My horse panicked, so I started turning him in circles to try and calm him down. He got more and more agitated and started crow-hopping, so not being an expert rider, I dismounted and the minute I hit the ground, he took off in a dead run back to the barn which was 3+ miles away. Now I'm afraid he's going to think he can do that anytime he doesn't get his way. What do I do???

The Horse Girl Says:
You're right! You probably did signal to your horse that you could be "spooked" into a quick dismount. That being said, if you were feeling uneasy in the security of your seat, you probably did save yourself serious injury by getting off. So, on balance, you probably did the right thing. HOWEVER, there should not be a repeat performance of this. You were obviously out on the trail, and you're wise not to ride the trails alone.

I recommend riding in a ring with an instructor for a good chunk of time to get your confidence back up and to get a habit of obedience ingrained into your horse. Also, I don't usually recommend this, but have you considered letting your horse be used as a lesson horse for a while? Is your horse appropriate for lesson use? A good dose of ring boredom will cure the spooks. But, only do this if you trust the stable, the instructors, and the level of care provided. And MAKE SURE to get good "waivers of liability" and "assumption of risk" documents signed for your protection, as well as an agreement with the stable so they would cover the costs for any medical treatment should your horse ever get injured during the lesson period (consult an equine lawyer for all of these). Do ride in the future with a friend that has a bomb-proof horse. That will help.

May 14, 2008 – What to do with a bucking horse?

The Horse Girl Says:
You didn't say what your skill level was in terms of riding. Skill level matters here, so let me take it from the beginning, so to speak.

Horses buck for a variety of reasons, from having fun to intentionally trying to rid themselves of that large monkey on their back. A technique to stop the bucking is not hard to apply for those who have experience: No matter what, in order to buck, horses have to put their head down between their knees. Therefore, keeping the horse's head up will stop him from bucking. This technique is easier to apply for skilled riders, obviously.

A neophyte monkey really has only one option, in the situation of the horse having fun at his expense, which is to lunge the horse with the saddle on to get the horse's ya ya's out before the ride; try a good fifteen minutes worth, and then work the horse a good deal before trying to canter.

If the horse is intentionally trying to dump the monkey, then get off immediately. Horse trainers can help, but consider whether the ride is worth it. This can't be said often enough: if the horse is too much, then think seriously about trading horses. The issue is safety, which really is nonnegotiable.

A savvy and skilled monkey with a good seat probably already knows that keeping the horse's head up, moving forward, and issuing the reprimand immediately works well. But, the safety comment applies to skilled monkeys too, though, so be careful all you rodeo riders out there.

May 13, 2008 – I am working with my 2 year old mini and she has come a long way from where she was last year. She has a halter on now and we can clip on her lead line, but how do we get her to lead. She takes a couple of steps with some coaxing, but nothing to say is an accomplishment.

The Horse Girl Says:
One suggestion: Put a lead in a figure eight around her rump, through the halter, so that when you pull, she feels it on her hind end. Use sparingly, and praise her when she moves forward, so that when she moves forward, she has a loose rein. When she stops, pull on the lead. The trick is to have the correction applied when she does what you don't want, and praise and no correction when she does what you want.

Start small, that is, build each lesson off of the one before, each one ending on a high note of moving forward. You say she does a couple of steps already, so you are on the way.

May 12, 2008 – I'm about to buy a new horse. How important is conformation? I hear people talking about it and I'm worried that I don't know enough about how to see good conformation.

The Horse Girl Says:
You didn't say what you were going to do with the horse. Conformation is important for horses that are going to perform a job where their structure may affect their ability to get that job done. Winning halter show classes or running in races are two jobs that come to mind. A horse that doesn't "fit" the breed type sufficiently will not do well at halter classes, and poor conformation can affect a horse's ability to run fast.

Think about the job you want the horse to do and engage experts of different levels to help you depending on that job. So, if you're looking for a backyard horse whose only job is to provide lots of companionship and fun trail rides for your children on occasion, then I would say the horse's disposition matters far more than conformation. On the other hand, if you're looking to set the Arabian show world on fire, then detailed knowledge of the "jibbah" (slight bulge between the eyes) may be important, so you want to read up and talk to experts based on your need.

Good luck and remember to get a veterinarian to properly "vet" the horse before buying it to allay concerns about its overall health and ability to perform for your purpose.

May 10, 2008 – How important is it that a horse learn how to change leads? My horse refuses to go in his left lead.

The Horse Girl Says:
Some horses are indeed very one sided, as you have already noticed. Horses that only use one lead are not equally balanced in terms of strength, so having a horse that can use either lead at will, or on command, is better overall. Work with a horse trainer to learn how you can better balance your horse through how you ride. You can actually "exercise" your horse into better symmetry and strength, assuming that the cause of the imbalance is habit and not the result of a health issue.

May 9, 2008 – I've noticed that whenever my horse is near me, he puts his head on top of mine and pulls me into him almost like a hug. Is this an aggressive type of body language?

The Horse Girl Says:
You're right to have the notion this could be an "invasion" of space by your horse on you. The trouble is, it could also, indeed, be a sign of affection and you don't want to respond in the wrong manner.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. If it is an aggressive sign, then there will be other aggressive signs that go with it, such as disobedience of commands, shouldering you aside, etc. (horses are inventive in showing their views on status). You can receive and reciprocate on signs of affection, but you can also demand that your space needs be honored. And you SHOULD do that, because your horse can hurt you otherwise.

May 8, 2008 – What does "as is" mean when buying a horse?

The Horse Girl Says:
A seller who puts that phrase in a sale contract intends that a buyer who buys a horse "as is" takes the horse free of any of the warranties that might otherwise accompany the sale of a horse, such as the warranty of merchantability or the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. A horse is a "good" under the commercial laws of the United States, and so there are certain warranties that otherwise are included in every sale. You can imagine why a seller might want to disclaim such warranties.

For any sale of a horse, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer on the meaning of the various terms, and to have a written contract that has terms that you understand before signing. A little prevention on the front end can save you much time, effort, aggravation, and money.

May 7, 2008 – Should I get a horse that "cribs"? What is cribbing anyway?

The Horse Girl Says:
Cribbing is a learned behavior and habit that horses take up involving grabbing onto something with their front teeth and sucking in air withan audible grunt. The behavior releases endorphins, and so once a horse has learned to do this, the habit is almost impossible to eradicate. Horses can pick it up the habit from other horses and from spending lots of time being "stall-bound" (boredom being the cause), such as with show horses. The habit is particularly offensive in barns where horses are stalled because horses will, in the course of grabbing hold, splinter and eat the wood just as if giant rats where gnawing on the wood surfaces. There is also some evidence that cribbers suffer more from air colic and other digestive ailments. (No surprise there.)

Owners can get a "cribbing collar" that fits around the horse's head and neck and prevents him from setting his jaw such that he can suck in the air. These methods can stop most cribbers, but really determined cribbers require the collar to be made rather tight and you may find yourself uncomfortable adjusting it that severely.

However, cribbing itself does not affect a horse's ability to perform his horsy tasks, and so, getting a horse that cribs is a judgment call for you. Some people refuse, on principle, to get cribbers. I, myself, feel that stance is a bit too draconian, because the horse can still be useful and happy even if he does crib. It helps if the horse is often out in pasture, will not be shut up or confined for long periods of time, and has plenty of grazing grass or hay to keep him occupied.

May 6, 2008 – I want to get into thoroughbred racing. How do I do that?

The Horse Girl Says:
The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) actually has seminars devoted to bringing new owners into the fold. They will help you master the lingo and the pitfalls of thoroughbred ownership. I suggest going to the following Website to learn more about it:


Congratulations! One thing I am willing to bet on is that you will HAVE FUN!!!

May 5, 2008 – I have had two good weeks riding a new horse. I had the vet give her an injection for worms. This caused some soreness on her neck. When I rode her the following two days she was a different horse. I thought she was going to throw me. She seemed to really be angry. I was afraid. Lost my confidence. I spent some time today just being with her,rubbing her, feeding her... but still was a bit timid. I have to get back on and make her behave with me on her back. (I had two of the men at the stable ride her for exercise and so I could watch her with them. She seemed ok.) Any advice? How can I tell when she is actually a danger to me and when I just need to press on and ride? How can I safely develop confidence for both of us again?

The Horse Girl Says:
What happened to you is more common than you might think, and the answer is a bit complicated, so bear with.

First, let me try to assuage one fear. You say that your horse seemed angry or mad at you after having the shots, but unless you are telling me that, right after the shots, the horse laid her ears flat to her head and then tried take a bite out of your arm, or immediately tried to whirl around and plant two hind hooves on your backside, I doubt that she was "mad" at you. Horses tend to immediately and pointedly display feelings of anger and irritation, and such displays are hard to miss, and hard to avoid (getting bitten or kicked, that is.)

She may, however, have been sore after the shots, been unable to comply with your directions during the ride, and may have resented your efforts to push her into behavior that she was not physically up to performing. Her efforts at resistance made you fearful. And, for sure, she sensed when you were fearful right away. This can't be said often enough: Horses absolutely know immediately through their SUPER EXTRA SENSORY PERCEPTION right away when their riders are fearful. Knowing that you are fearful, says to her, that you are no longer the dominant member of the herd, and therefore, you are no longer in charge, and therefore, your directions no longer need to be followed. You are not wrong to be cautious around a horse with this attitude because this situation obviously is very dangerous. So how do you get out of this mess?

My suggestion is that you retain a horse trainer who can work with you to both build your confidence and teach you how to regain primary status, starting with ground work with your horse. There are a number of small, non punitive ways, too many to list here, that you can show your horse on the ground that you are in charge. As you gain confidence, you can start riding in controlled circumstances, such as in a round pen or small ring, under direction of the trainer. The goal will be to build your confidence and to re-train the horse so you are "back on top" so to speak. Horses are philosophical about such demotions because it happens all the time in a herd. But it won't stop her from trying again from time to time to see if you still mean what you say, and so, you do need to know what to do and when to do it.

That being said, if you are still fearful, or if the horse's resistance continues in a prolonged manner, a good rider knows when to call it quits. Some horses are not meant to be ridden by some riders, and if a horse really has your number, you need to accept that gracefully and move on to a different, better suited horse. Polo player that I am, I had to do this last summer for a horse that had a world beater trick for showing his dominance: While at a dead run, he bucked while dropping a shoulder, followed by reversal of direction (still at a dead run). Folks say I hit the ground like a pile driver (of course, not that I could recall).

For a horse trainer in your area, one site to try is:


or use QueryHorse to find more resources on this. Good luck and be safe.

May 3, 2008 – How important is it to fit my saddle to my horse? I've used the same saddle for years now and have not had any problems no matter which horse I'm riding. From, Saddle Fit.

The Horse Girl Says:
Dear Saddle Fit:

It sounds as if two things are happening: first, you're not riding hard enough or long enough to cause a problem obvious to you on the horses you regularly ride; and second, your saddle started with enough basics to squeak by.

That being said, (don't you love lawyers) appropriate saddle fitting is VERY IMPORTANT to your horse's health, and saddles do deteriorate over time, depending on how well they're made and how they're stored and maintained. DO NOT wait until your horse has sores over his withers or bruises on his back, or starts a behavioral death-spiral that could be detrimental to YOUR health to discover you have a problem — this is one area where a proactive approach is definitely worth it.

You can see if your saddle "fits" the primary horse you ride by consulting a saddle fitter, or you can take your horse's measurements and seek advice that way too. I am not advocating that you buy a new saddle, just that you reassure yourself that your saddle, indeed, fits your horse. You and your horse will sleep better at night, and ride better too.

May 2, 2008 – I'm thinking of leasing my horse to a friend of mine where they pay the board costs. I don't really need any paperwork for that, do I?

The Horse Girl Says:
Many people do this, which is the so called "free lease" situation, informally and without repercussions. However, a good percentage of these situations also end in misery, despair, hatred, horse theft, and legal intervention. Which will you be?

Well unfortunately, you can't tell that before hand, so the best thing is to have a lease drawn up that spells out the obligations of the parties. It must also fix an end-date to the lease. This is especially important if the lease goes on for a long period of time so that the person taking care of the horse doesn't get the idea that you have abandoned the horse to them.

This is an area where there is no form lease available to cover your situation and there are many issues involved that a regular lawyer will not know about. So in this case, finding an equine attorney in your area is recommended.

May 1, 2008 – I can't catch my horse in the pasture. He runs away from me, and even though people have told me that if I just keep after him he will stop sometime, he doesn't, and I go around and around until I quit. What can I do?   From, Disgusted.

The Horse Girl Says:
Dear Disgusted:

If you absolutely must catch him on any particular occasion, delay feeding and then go out there with grain in a bucket. But obviously that only works with prior planning, and you need to have the horse not run away when you approach.

There is a technique, alluded to already it sounds like, that plays upon the horse's natural instinct in herd situations, where you impose yourself as the dominant herd member (evidenced by "the chase") who is to be followed (the "join up"). This works better in a round pen situation.

It might be worth engaging a horse trainer who can show you the technique in person. The "chase" isn't so much a matter of running after the horse, as it is how you walk after him determinedly, using a particular stance and body language, and watching his reactions and eye contact. Though I am not a horse trainer, I modestly assert that I have this technique nailed and can usually catch most horses even where their owners have given up in despair — it works. Get someone to show you how.

April 30, 2008 – Surely with the price of hay being so high, there must be a way that I can economize and find a low priced hay that still works. Hay is hay, isn't it?

The Horse Girl Says:
Unfortunately not. Especially not with horses. Feeding junk hay is a fast ticket to colic, food poisoning, malnutrition, and obviously, pain followed by death for your horse. Good hay is worth every penny, even at today's prices.

April 29, 2008 – Should I turn my older horse out for the winter or is it better to keep him in work?

The Horse Girl Says:
My experience is that older horses benefit from being in work and in a stall plus turnout environment. They manage that better than being turned out for long periods.

The problem with turning a horse out for a long period is that older horses lose condition faster than younger ones (funny it works that way in people too) and it's harder to get them back into shape. A little work constantly is the best way to keep your horse young. That and great hay.

April 28, 2008 – Should I ever reprimand my horse?

The Horse Girl Says:
Absolutely, but only as needed.

Because I know this answer is guaranteed to aggravate one and all, let me expand a bit in substance, but not in content. Horses may "misbehave" from the rider's point of view at any time. Sometimes, the reason for the behavior is fear, and in that case, a reprimand is likely to cause more, rather than less, fear. Obviously, this is not the lesson you want your horse to learn.

At other times, the horse may not know what you're asking it to do; and again, a reprimand at that moment will utterly shut down the lines of communication. Of course, sometimes, the horse knows well enough what he should be doing, and is instead testing you to see what you will do if he chooses not to do it. Correction, not reprimand, is the first response for this state of affairs.

Finally, there will come a day when nothing beats a firm reprimand, which can be a strong voice as well as a whack with a crop, and which is not to be construed as a beating of a horse. Keep in mind that the correction you typically apply falls short of the draconian responses of the boss mare in the herd, and so, too light a response at this moment may not teach anything at all. As you can tell from this answer, experience, judgment, and lack of fear are needed in the application of good reprimands. All this begs the question: WHY do you need to reprimand a horse?

Keep in mind: you're dealing with an animal that is much more massive and powerful than you. He MUST behave or your safety and that of others can be in jeopardy. Horses are always testing other horses in a herd or their rider when under saddle. This means you're ALWAYS training your horse. That training can be reinforcing good behavior and dissuading bad, or can allow a lack of correction, which trains your horse that "anything goes" and he's in charge.

Or, to quote Xenophon, in "The Art of Horsemanship", ".....a disobedient horse is not only useless, but he often plays the part of a very traitor." (Xenophon was an ancient Greek general whose treatise on horsemanship, from 400 B.C., remains relevant today)

April 26, 2008 – I'm thinking of boarding my horse at a stable that wants to make me sign a form saying I will indemnify the stable for any costs or liability for any cause whatsoever. Should I sign this form?

The Horse Girl Says:
Without knowing more particulars, I'm not able to render legal advice. This is a job for your lawyer after you have shown her the form, and talked over all the details. The downside of signing such a form without such legal advice is that you may, in fact, end up responsible for all costs or liability for any cause whatsoever.

Get proper legal advice!

April 25, 2008 – Should a horse that has colic be walked?

The Horse Girl Says:
Walking definitely helps the horse's digestive system process its contents, and so, if the colic is an impending impaction in the horse's guts, then walking will certainly help. However, colic has many more causes than just an impaction. So when in doubt in such circumstances, nothing beats the veterinarian's advice, which, of course, means that you have called the vet immediately to check your horse, rather than turning to the Horse Girl for advice on such a pressing issue.

April 24, 2008 – When going up or down hills, how far forward or back should I be leaning?

The Horse Girl Says:
You shouldn't actually lean, per se. In reality, you want to stay vertical while sitting over the horse's center of gravity (know proper saddle positioning). When going uphill, you will look as if you're leaning forward compared to the horse's body and the reverse is true going downhill. Leaning much beyond the vertical will actually put additional strain on your horse.

If in doubt as to what is vertical when on a hill, look at trees that may be around you — most will generally tend to grow straight up. Those riders frequently riding on mountain sides above the tree line may want to carry a level or plumb bob (as well as oxygen, depending on the altitude.)

April 23, 2008 – How dangerous is jumping?

The Horse Girl Says:
Jumping doesn't have to be dangerous. Falling is, however. Because the likelihood of falling increases the more you jump, well, you do the math. But in and of itself, any one particular jump's index of dangerousness depends on the size of the jump, the speed approaching the jump, the training of the horse and rider, and the footing conditions fore and aft.

The thing that gives jumping a bad rap is that when you fall off, sometimes you come into contact head first with a jump. The jump tends to win those arguments.

I must warn you that my advice about danger is suspect however, because I think polo is safe.

April 22, 2008 – What is a martingale?

The Horse Girl Says:
A martingale is an article of tack the purpose of which is to prevent the horse from raising his head too far, and say, break his rider's nose while riding. It is commonly used by riders who also seek a training component to their riding. A "standing" martingale hooks onto the noseband of the bridle, whereas a "running" martingale hooks onto the reins, thus "running" up and down depending on the rider's hold on the reins. Obviously a "running" martingale needs more expertise on the part of the rider to achieve desired effects. What the desired effects are depends on the situation. And that is a question for another day.

April 21, 2008 – What, exactly, is a split lease and how does it work?

The Horse Girl Says:
A split lease is a common arrangement in the horse world where the owner of a horse decides to defray costs by allowing another person or persons to ride or use the horse in return for consideration, commonly either by splitting board payments and veterinary costs, or by providing labor, such as by cleaning stalls, and so forth. The more expensive the horse is, the more advisable it is to formalize this arrangement in writing and with legal assistance.

Common trouble spots concern issues such as: ending dates, insurance coverage, liability protection, care issues, and usage hierarchies. A horse is a "good" under the Uniform Commercial Code, and so the protections of the law concern its use. Informality is fine if you do not care what happens to your horse, but, then, that state of affairs in my experience rarely applies to horse owners!

April 19, 2008 – If I gallop my horse occasionally, will that make him want to run all the time?

The Horse Girl Says:
That depends on the horse. Horses like to run, but some are lazy. Not unlike some people I know.

April 18, 2008 – How can I tell when my horse needs new shoes?

The Horse Girl Says:
Figure every five to six weeks as a bench mark when the horse is in work. If you're tempted to save money by stretching that length more than a week or so, know that you may be endangering your horse's soundness or conditioning. Barefoot horses might be able to go a bit longer if they're working and wearing the hoof down. But if they're just in a pasture growing their feet, then to keep soundness you'll have to book regular appointments with your farrier to keep on top of the situation.

Describing the look of "too long feet" requires an opus magnus (work of great magnitude) in and of itself, and as a lawyer, I couldn't possibly write that without both expert assistance and an up-front retainer.

April 17, 2008 – When should I use a rear cinch?

The Horse Girl Says:
You should use one when roping, or going up or downhill in a western saddle. English saddles do not have a "rear" cinching capability, but as a polo player I use a safety device called an "overgirth" which fulfills much the same function, which is to say, keeping my fragile body safely atop an upright saddle that has just lost its main fastener.

April 16, 2008 – Is it easier for a horse to trot or canter uphill than walk?

The Horse Girl Says:
Yes. A horse prefers to trot or run up a hill, especially if he's hauling your carcass up the hill on his back.

April 15, 2008 – Is a flat-out gallop bad for a horse?

The Horse Girl Says:
No! — Here's the disclaimer: Flat-out gallops are ok as long as the horse is in condition (that is, he has not been stall-bound for an extended period of time), the Elysian Fields beckon (that is attorney shorthand for a nice smooth level field with no potholes or stones), and you have a well secured saddle and functioning tack. Remember, the horse's speed has kept him alive and off the lion's lunch menu for millennia.

April 14, 2008 – Are cruppers uncomfortable for the horse?

The Horse Girl Says:
That depends entirely on the attention to detail of the human being fastening the device to the horse. All I can say there is, when adjusting the crupper, put yourself in the horse's place. But remember the crupper's function is to prevent the saddle from sliding too far forward on those horses that have no withers. (All you Quarter Horse people out there know who I'm talking about...)

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