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"Horse Girl" Archive Jan - Jun 2009

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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June 30, 2009 – Why does my horse feel threatened when another horse approaches faster than a walk?

How do you know that he feels threatened? Does he lay his ears back and bare his teeth? If so, to me, that would be aggression and not fear.

I know of a horse that does the "ears back and flashing of teeth" routine no matter who or what approaches. It seems to be recreational on the horse's part. In such cases, I demand his attention (away from the ongoing horse) and reprimand him for signs of outwardly directed aggression. The thought is, he should pay attention TO ME, not another person or horse.

If the horse trembled in fear and gave signs that he was ready to run away, then that would be a reaction to a threat. If that's what you're seeing, try working to be your horse's alpha, because if you do that, your horse will know that you're there to protect him. We have an article about the importance of becoming your horse's alpha entitled: Alpha? It MUST be you! - IS IT?. We'll also be adding an article in the near future that'll give some hints and tips on how to become the leader of your own personal "herd". This is something worth doing and may stop the issue entirely.

June 29, 2009 – My horse slipped while lunging. What do I do?

You haven't made clear whether your question is asking if your horse needs medical care for this one slip, or if it has to do with an ongoing problem of slipping while lunging. If your horse was hurt while lunging, you need to get a vet to check him over. If the question is about habitual slipping while lunging, then you need to look at the footing where you're lunging him and consider changing locations. Also, if you're lunging in very small circles while requiring speed, then he could slip there, too. It all depends on what's happening with your circumstances.

June 26, 2009 – New article: a recent horse legal case.

I had an interesting case recently when a horse owner was in jeopardy of losing the ability to care for his family's horses on their own property. The case revolved around a neighbor's complaints about flies and the smell of horse manure purportedly coming from the horses being kept. This neighbor had been complaining to town officials and the officials responded by telling the horse owner that he didn't have a stable permit, but needed one to keep horses. Never mind that the town had never issued a stable permit in its history, nor did it have any application available with which to apply for one. As a result, the outcome for our fearless horse owner was looking rather bleak…until…

Read about the case and its outcome at: Never Give Up!.

June 25, 2009 – I have a 12 year old thoroughbred mare that I ride English. She keeps lowering her head while I am riding her. I use a snaffle bit on her. How can I stop her from lowering her head clear to the ground?

Your mare knows what she's doing and it's called "evading the bit". You need to determine the reason why and then you'll know what to do.

First, make sure the bit isn't hurting your horse's mouth. One major reason a horse will evade is to escape pain — you can't blame them, we do the same when we take an anti-inflammatory medication to lessen pain from an injury. Some of the reasons she could be experiencing pain are:

  1. The bit is pinching the sides of her mouth;
  2. The bit is the wrong size, too wide, too narrow, or is incorrectly attached to the bridle;
  3. The bridle may not be fitting or adjusted properly;
  4. Your horse may need dental work, such as floating or have a gum inflammation or an infected, impacted, or damaged tooth;
  5. You may ride with unsteady hands;
  6. Your horse may not want to follow your command requests.
Start with causes 1 - 4 and have your instructor or a vet investigate those reasons first. If it's reason 5 and you move your hands and pull too much, get more instruction — it's not fair to be constantly pulling on your horse's mouth.

If you have honestly investigated and can exclude these potential causes, then it's possible that your horse wants to do what she wants to do regardless of your desires. In that case, the snaffle may not be strong enough on its own to prevent this kind of behavior without some action on your part. So, you have one of two choices: you can get a stronger bit, and when she puts her head down, you'll stiffen your hand so she can't do it. Or, you can "pop" her with the snaffle when she tries it.

The second takes a bit more coordination on your part. Either way, you'll need to teach her that lowering her head is not allowed when you're riding. It's the same as teaching horses that they can't graze when you're riding them. If she's doing this in the ring, the evasion aspect of this behavior becomes a bit more clear, but either way, you have to teach her that this action is simply not allowed when the master (or mistress) is in residence up top.

But first, make sure that your horse is not suffering from pain due to a dental problems or an ill-fitting bit/bridle.

June 24, 2009 – How do you refurbish leather tack?

The short answer is that you need to do the following:

  1. Sew up broken stitches;
  2. Replace broken parts;
  3. Clean the hardware with the proper metal cleaner;
  4. Clean the leather well with a good leather cleaner; and
  5. Use leather conditioner to soften and preserve the leather.
Of course, depending upon the state of the leather, you may have to actually replace some of the leather pieces themselves if they are dry-rotted, crumbling, or otherwise damaged beyond repair. Leather normally deteriorates if moisture is allowed to be absorbed by the leather. That can happen when it gets wet from rain or some other source and you don't remove the water and re-apply a leasther conditioner. Another "leather killer" is leaving your tack in a moist basement so mold and mildew can attack it and break it down.

Well maintained leather can stay soft and last for decades. But it takes an active commitment on your part to maintain it so it will. And just for the record, it's a lot easier to maintain leather in good condition than to refurbish it later after the fact.

June 23, 2009 – Do horse grooming vacuums really work?

I've never used one. It does seem like a neat gizmo that would help make the spring shed-out easier to deal with, doesn't it. Since a rubber curry comb does the same thing without all the fuss, though, I tend to stick with that.

The Horse Guy tells me he saw his barn owner using one on one of her horses this past spring and it worked well. The horse had no problem with the noise of the motor or the air rushing into the nozzle and it did a good job of quickly cleaning loose winter hair from her horse. I think he said something about wanting to investigate them himself with a possible purchase looming at some unspecified date in the future.

June 22, 2009 – Why does my horse paw her food?

My quarter horse does this all the time. I think it's a nervous habit, which really doesn't help the horse any because the food spills all over the ground. It could be that in times past, that horses pawed to get rid of critters in the fodder, such as snakes, bugs, etc. But now I think they do it just because they can.

June 19, 2009 – Why will a horse sometimes kick another horse over food?

Because they want to establish that this food belongs to them. Horses have a definite pecking order, and it's established mainly so that this order can be maintained in the wild, which is a matter of life and death for the herd. The herd needs a strong leader in order for all to survive.

June 18, 2009 – My feet keep slipping further into my stirrup during the trot and I'm frightened I could be dragged if I fall. How do I keep my feet in their proper place in the stirrup?

Keeping your feet in the proper position is a combination of keeping your heels down far enough and wearing proper footgear. If you keep your heels down, your foot will not tend to slide forward into the stirrup. And if you have a riding boot with a slight heel, the heel will prevent further forward movement. Because this happens at the trot for you, I would tend to think that you let your toes sink and your heels come up, which will, in fact, make your foot slide deeper into the stirrup.

June 17, 2009 – What does it mean when a horse licks your hand?

It means that he likes the salty taste of your skin.

June 16, 2009 – My horse leaps in the turns. What should I do?

Does he leap even when you walk him around the turn, or is this something that starts at the trot and up?

The trick is to keep turning him. On those turns where he does NOT leap, immediately give him the reward of rest and patting. When he does leap, do as many turns as it takes until he does a leapless turn, and then give him the reward of rest and patting. The trick will be for you to be consistent and stick with this until your horse makes the connection. He'll soon get the picture that leaping turns are associated with extra work and that proper turns provide rest and rewarding pats — he'll like the latter much better!

June 15, 2009 – My mare is pregnant and getting close. How can I tell when she goes into labor?

The first sign, which usually starts a week or so before hand, is that her teats will start to show milk leaking. The actual labor will start when the abdominal contractions begin, which are accompanied by restlessness, looking at her flank, and then she'll go down on one side, typically for the end stages of labor. It all happens rather fast and without much warning, because as prey animals in the wild, this process was extremely dangerous for both mother and baby.

If you're concerned, you can actually buy a monitor that you can place just inside the mare's labia, which will alert you to the start of the birth process. Talk to your vet about this, it's commonly done at bigger breeding farms.

June 12, 2009 – A sore on my horse's fetlocks keeps opening. What should I do?

This is one where you want to call your vet. There may be an underlying infection which you're not recognizing and which could ultimately cause serious problems. Typically, any problem that I can't handle results in a call to the vet — this would be one of those.

June 11, 2009 – I am having a discussion with my wife and she claims a horse will turn a circle before lying down and I disagree. I was hoping you could clear it up for us.

I've never seen horses turn in a circle before lying down. I HAVE seen dogs to this. Horses rather inspect the ground with their noses, huff a few times, the back end goes down, then the front end, and let the rolling begin! My horses do this after a ride and a bath — they just can't wait to get dirty again!

June 10, 2009 – The herd leader has just died. What should I expect from the herd?

There will be a reshuffling of the herd as some horses vie to become the new alpha. That new alpha may not be the current beta as you might expect. For example, it could be that the last alpha kept all the horses in line and maintained the structure. But now, with him/her gone, it could result in a "free for all" over several days.

Do keep an eye on your herd and separate the most aggressive individuals to other paddocks if you see an undue amount of kicking. You can add them back slowly after things have settled down. There may be a new "testing" as each one gets added back to the herd, but it shouldn't be a free for all.

June 9, 2009 – My horse is always so calm, except when we're on a trail ride through the forest. Then, he spooks very easily. Why? What can I do to stop this behavior?

Your horse is afraid of the darker environment, probably because he's unfamiliar with it. If you took him trail riding every day through the forest, he would soon grow a bit more blasé about the whole experience.

June 8, 2009 – My horse is losing lots of weight where I board him. What should I do?

If it's not a veterinary issue (check by calling the vet), then it's a feeding issue. Question the boarding facility to determine what they're feeding him and how much he's getting each day. Many facilities try to cut corners by skimping on hay, so make sure he has enough hay. That's at least one half to three quarters of a fifty pound bale of hay per day — that's how much I feed my horses.

Also, if your horse is in work and is being underfed, he could drop weight quickly, so do jump on this issue. If all else fails, move your horse.

June 5, 2009 – Is there anything special I need to do when moving my horse to a new barn so that he adjusts ok?

Yes, there is! Try to find him a nice "buddy" for turn out, that is, a horse that isn't too dominant and bossy, and which your horse seems to like. If he finds a buddy, he'll be much more quickly adjusted and happier.

I move my horses in "buddy pair twos" just for that reason, so that when they go into a new herd in turn out, they have a buddy that gets chased right along with them. That way, the few days they spend on the outskirts of the herd are not so lonely and they get assimilated more quickly. If you can't do that, if at all possible, make sure his immediate neighbor is friendly to him.

Companionship for a horse is key!

June 4, 2009 – If I get fly spray in my horses eye, will he go blind, and what will his reaction be if I did get some in his eye, and what will happen if I try to cure it?

This is not a question that I can knowledgably answer, but my opinion is that if you get any kind of chemical in your horse's eye, you should call your vet immediately. You don't want to risk your horse going blind or having eye damage just to save a vet call.

When you're applying fly spray, you shouldn't ever spray your horse's face. Instead, you should spray a clean, soft cloth and then use it to wipe your horse's head, ears, and muzzle. Avoid his eyes, nose, and mouth altogether. That will highly reduce the chances of you getting fly spray into some tender area where it should not go.

And finally, don't forget to thoroughly wash your hands immediately after. The chemicals used in fly sprays and many other topical applicants can be harmful to humans and other animals as well. Remember, these chemicals are designed to kill insects and insects are some of the hardiest species on the planet. That means they need to be powerful and we need to therefore be very cautious with them.

June 3, 2009 – How do I stop horses in adjoining paddocks from biting?

Each other, you mean? Well, since they are in different paddocks, they actually have a corner to retreat to if they feel so inclined. If they're still biting at each other, then they may not yet have settled who is dominant, in which case, this could go on for a while until they settle that important issue. Once that is settled, the biting will recede into a threat display only. Or, they could be playing, in which case, it could go on as long as they can possibly manage. In my opinion, I don't see a good way to stop this, nor, given the situation described, do I think it worth too much energy trying to figure out a way.

June 2, 2009 – My horse is eating, but not drinking water. What's wrong?

Horses naturally drink quite a bit of water, e.g. an average horse not in work will drink about ten to twelve gallons a day. So, if your horse does not drink after a day, then call the vet. There could be something wrong.

June 1, 2009 – How can I stop my horse from over bending?

This is a good question. The best way I've found is to carefully use both legs, seat and reins to achieve pinpoint control of the horse's form around the corner. So, imagine your inside leg, placed at the girth, as being a pillar around which the horse must go in order to turn. This will allow you to control the front of the horse's body. Use the outside and inside reins to exactly place his neck. And use the outside leg, placed further back along the horse's body towards the flanks to control his back end as he goes around the turn.

This obviously takes great mindfulness during the turn, and you'll have to practice the turn many times before the horse gets the picture. If you do this enough, though, he should get the picture.

May 29, 2009 – How can I safely apply an antibiotic cream to a wound on an inexperienced horse?

Very carefully. Get someone who is experienced to help you in this — it will take more than one of you.

May 28, 2009 – Why is my horse always resting the same back leg?

It's likely because of habit. I am sure you do much the same thing in how you arrange your legs when seated.

May 27, 2009 – My 14 year old horse has started cow-kicking when I touch her hind end. Why would she do this? How do I make her stop?

This may be a pain response. Enlist a horse chiropractor or a veterinarian to help you investigate. Also, look for clues as to whether it's a pain response or just her being ornery.

There will be a flinch associated with you touching her hind end if it is a pain response, and a certain willingness to contort the physique if it is her being ornery. You should be able to tell the difference. If it is a problem with her being ornery, then enlist a trainer to help you work with her.

May 26, 2009 – Hi, I'm wondering if you subscribe to the thought that, in order to fit horses properly, you should have a saddle with a flexible tree (or any other variation of the name "flexible"). There are so many opinions out there and it seems reasonable to me that something that flexes with the horse's movement would be best for the horse. I respect your opinion so please give me your thoughts. Thanks!

I've never used a "flexible tree" saddle, so this subject really bears more investigation. However, I will tell you what my thoughts are on this topic since you asked for them.

A tree is that part of the saddle that actually fits on the horse's back — it has nothing to do with the rider or his seat. Moreover, the tree must maintain an adequate gullet to clear the withers and distribute the rider's weight over the horse's back so there are no pressure points that pinch or limit blood circulation. If the tree were completely flexible, then it would hardly be different than riding bareback or with a pad. So it seems to me that the trick for a saddle maker is to make it flexible to some degree, but not so flexible that it doesn't serve its purpose, and so that the "flexible" nature of the tree retains enough rigidity so that it doesn't fall out of shape after just month's of use and wear. From what I understand, saddle makers have succeeded at the first goal, but the jury is still out as to the second.

I do agree it's very important that a saddle doesn't hurt the horse, and that a flexible tree may aid that effort. However, I've always ridden with fixed tree saddles and not had any problems. Further, I know that the old US cavalry saddle, the one ridden by Army solders in pursuit of those incomparable horse warriors (Commanche, Sioux, Cheyenne, etc.) the Mclelland saddle, was designed as an entirely wooden tree and was said to fit nearly any horse. It was used under incredibly tough conditions without hurting the horse nor causing sores related to the unfittedness of it all. So it appears that overall saddle design matters much more than just whether the tree is flexible or not.

A good start to learn more about saddle issues would be the series written by the "Horse Guy" on his review of saddles entitled: The Saddle Search.

So, I would say, get thee to Horse Guy's articles and try it from there! You can also submit questions to directly to him in the Horse Guy column.

May 22, 2009 – I have a 10 yr old Tennessee Walking Horse that was an orphan foal with issues around the barn. He does not mess with me or my husband, but if we are working in the pasture, we do keep a stick with us to keep him away; we dont use it, we just carry it. I do not let people in my pasture because he is very pushy, however I do have a petsitter that I have explained that she needs to keep a stick with her. One time, she did not and walked behind the barn to call other horses up to eat, he came to her, she petted him, then she turned to walk to the barn and he bit her on the shoulder. She thinks I need to do Pat Parelli games with him. My thing is he knows I will not put up with it, but how do I teach my petsitter to not put up with it. I do not think that playing games with him will make him not want to bite people. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks.

You're right! Your refusal to let your horse push you around does not translate into him knowing that he can't play games with other humans.

Here's a suggestion: enlist a horse trainer; it needn't be a specific approach like a Parelli trainer or anyone else, but should be competent (get references). Get him/her to come to your place for a training session with you and the pet-sitter. Then, have the trainer show the pet-sitter what the issues are and work with the horse in front of both you and the pet-sitter. That should help a lot and give both of you a better understanding of the horse's issues and more techniques with which to work with him. Biting people is not habit you want to allow a horse to get reinforced in his mind.

May 21, 2009 – I cant get a bit into my 19 year old horse's mouth. She refuses it. Is it safe to use a hackamore bit on her? She is a very stubborn horse!

Try to use the hackamore in a small pen and see if she listens to your directions to stop and turn. The issue here is safety; if she resists the hackamore, then it's not safe to ride her with it. You mentioned she was stubborn, but, if she does indicate comprehension as to your wishes using it, and obedience to those wishes, then by all means, use the hackamore and avoid the daily battle with the bit.

May 20, 2009 – Why does my horse drag her back hooves when she walks?

It sounds to me like a medical condition. Horses won't do this on purpose. Contact your vet immediately!

May 19, 2009 – How can I get my horse to stop running away from me?

Round pen work until he acknowledges you as alpha is really the only way. Horses are smart and realize that your presence means work, and most want to avoid that. So they vote with their feet!

May 18, 2009 – How long will it take my horse's laminitis to heal?

It depends on if you've addressed the cause of the laminitis and how severe the laminitis was in the first place. Note that unless you're using something like the ENDURO NEST, which is a sling device that offloads pressure from the horse's other feet and his body, then the new hoof tissue will be malformed by pressure as it re-grows, and so, it may never become normal under those circumstances.

If you can offload the pressure, the healing will be accelerated. I know this for a fact and from personal experience and wrote an article about it entitled: A Way to Treat Laminitis?. I had a polo horse that had sinking founder, and in the NEST he re-grew new hoof tissue in eight days. That is an extraordinary result, though, being written up by the pathologist that did the post mortem on the horse, after he died of the poisoning that caused the founder in the first place. Because laminitis is such a difficult ailment to treat, you should really consult your vet on this question, as it will be specific to your own horse's situation.

May 15, 2009 – How can I get my horse to hold his head lower while running?

You can get a tie down or a martingale so that his head tosses won't break your nose. This will NOT change his way of running, however. He'll run however it feels natural to him. You can get a horse to collect himself, or work on muscling his back and loins so that keeping his head down while exercising is easier on him, but that takes a fair amount of work. I wrote an article on collecting your horse which deals with this entitled Collecting a Horse & Keeping Him "On the Bit".

May 14, 2009 – Hello. I saw a question quite similar below, but I am going to ask mine anyway. I have a new horse, a thoroughbred, off the race track. He is 8 and a great mount for the most part. I have had him for 3 weeks. He shakes his head and kicks out his rear leg in-between bites while eating. He also spooks easily. I do not believe he has been desensitized to the new surroundings as he has been stalled most of his life and in his new home, he is only stalled during very bad weather. Should this be a concern before finalizing the purchase; he is on a trial basis.

The real issue here is whether his temperament is such that you can live with it right now. Being fresh off the track, he could settle down in the future, or, maybe that is just the way that he is. There is no way to tell at this point, so make your decision based on whether you are comfortable with his current habits right now.

I must say that I think the feeding behavior you describe will not go away. That is usually an ingrained habit. Desensitizing his spook tendencies are something that you or a trainer will have to work with.

May 13, 2009 – When riding my horse, why does she turn her head round, as if a fly was bothering her, but there is no fly. She only tends to do it when asked to go into trot, not canter, and tends to go for her right side when schooling in the ring.

This is either an expression of an opinion, or a reaction to a physical sensation that crops up when you ask her to perform a particular action. I can't tell from your description which one it is. Look for more signs of either and you'll be able to place it in perspective after a while. Then, you'll be able to deal with it on that basis.

May 12, 2009 – Can I separate my horse from the others and keep her alone?

Sure, but why would you want to do that? It will make her sad. If you have to do it because she's getting too picked on to hold onto her food, well, then try to ameliorate her loneliness. Keep a friendly horse in the next paddock, for example. Or, keep her with the others until it's time to eat and separate her then so she'll be able to eat all the food you provide for her without the others taking it.

May 11, 2009 – My instructor is always yelling at my horse. He gets angry when my horse doesn't do what he wants and this makes me uncomfortable. What should I do?

If it were my horse, I would get a new instructor. Yelling and horses don't mix, and if he doesn't know that already, he's not much of an instructor.

May 8, 2009 – My horse bucks more and more as his workout continues; what should I do?

First, I would check your tack. You may have something that's uncomfortable or hurting him. If so, he could be trying to get rid of it.

However, if his tack is fine and he's just expressing his opinion regarding YOU, that is, if he's trying to get you off his back, then sell the horse. Life is too short to be constantly auditioning your horse for a rodeo bucking string.

May 7, 2009 – Why does my horse keep licking his side?

Does he have a cut or an abrasion there? If he doesn't, does he have any other persistent behavior issues, such as weaving or cribbing? If he has a cut, get him seen by a vet. If he displays persistent behavior that otherwise doesn't make sense, then that is more difficult to deal with. I have heard of dogs that get fixated on licking, and I would not be surprised if horses could get "stuck" that way too. In such cases, consult your vet AND your horse trainer.

May 6, 2009 – Is there any possibility I could hurt my horse by using a Pelham bit?

Any bit necessarily involves the application of pain to the horse's mouth. Ergo, a leveraged bit, such as a Pelham, gives you the ability to apply more pain and therefore, can definitely hurt a horse if misused. More to the point is the reason you're asking this question.

Does your horse test your limits or resist stopping so that you feel you have to use a stronger bit to ride? Or are you a "steering a car" type rider that relies on the reins more than your seat and legs for control? And do you ask a lot of the horse in terms of stopping and starting?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then it might be a concern and you should consult a horse trainer and riding instructor. Controlling a horse should not be a battle of two forces. Rather, it should be a cooperative relationship between two well-trained partners: the horse and the rider.

May 5, 2009 – Why does my horse call when I leave the barn?

You may be one of the rare humans that have formed a real attachment with a horse, that is, an attachment from the horse's point of view. He's telling you that he doesn't want you to leave and that he misses you. You are very lucky! Few people get that kind of royal treatment from their horses.

May 4, 2009 – My pony is lying down a lot and has sore legs. What should I do?

Call your veterinarian immediately. Horses are not built to lie down for any length of time. So, though the list of things that could be wrong is endless, the bottom line is that he needs diagnoses and treatment right now.

May 1, 2009 – How do I make my horse move? He won't move his feet while being led.

Is it that he doesn't want to move forward? Will he move to one side if you make him? If you're sure he's not avoiding being led for medical reasons, work on lunging him; that will help his leading capability as well. And every time he stops while you're leading him, turn him in circles a few times and try leading him again. If he stops again on his own, turn him in several more circles. Keep this process up until he moves forward when you ask and doesn't stop on his own.

April 30, 2009 – Is it ok to leave my horse outside overnight?

Sure, if you're not too far north (or south I suppose, in an Antarctic sense.) Domestic horses generally do better when shelter is available so they can go in and out at their pleasure (as in a run-in shed or a stall door that opens onto turnout), so keep that in mind.

April 29, 2009 – Why does my horse shake his head and kick his front hooves?

Most horses do that when they're impatient and disgusted with what's going on at the time. You can get a horse to stop expressing his editorial opinion, but it involves work on your part, simply make him work when he acts this way. If he has to work for the pleasure of negative self-expression, he'll quit it fairly quickly. If he's rewarded for positive self-expression, he'll naturally move in that direction.

April 28, 2009 – I have a blue-eyed, essentially bald-faced paint. His right eye is surrounded by a large patch of dark hair and the skin around the eye itself is black as if he has eyeliner on. The left side of his face is totally white and the skin around this eye is pink. His eye on that side seems to be teary throughout the summer and I have heard that blue-eyed horses tend to go blind more easily.

Could you tell me your experience with that and whether that is your understanding? I keep him masked all summer long and into the fall with a fly mask that has UV protection. I would also like to know if the UV protection is necessary or if any type of good quality fly mask will do? Should I keep him in a fly mask all year long, winter as well, when the sun is out and bright? Thank you.

UV protection is, in fact, necessary for some horses. I have heard of horses going "sunblind", and though not a vet, this seems like what you're talking about. It does sound as though your horse is telling you that the sun is too much for him. Therefore, your idea of providing some form of UV protection seems reasonable. As you've mentioned, the biggest risk is to the horse's vision and there may be other risks. BUT, most importantly, this is not my area of expertise, so I strongly encourage you to consult your veterinarian about these issues, and not too wait too long.

April 27, 2009 – Sometimes on the trail, my horse sees something that scares her and refuses to move. It can be something stupid like a handkerchief. How do I get her to go by without being scared?

Generally, one or both of two things could be at work here. Your horse may be easily spooked, and she may not trust you enough to feel safe because you're with her. You want her to trust you as the alpha of her herd.

There are a couple of articles on QueryHorse that you may want to read. One involves the importance of being viewed by your horse as her alpha, and the other discusses despooking your horse. And in the future, we'll be adding an article about techniques you can use to become your horse's alpha.

April 24, 2009 – I read a book that had me riveted to every page and was wondering if the author, Tom Crampton, is still living in your area of the country. He rode Jay Trump, a 50/1 long shot in the most prestigious steeple chase race of its time, and mayby all time, in England, called the Grand National. Its a must read for all lovers of horses.

I enjoyed your fascinating article on the center of gravity for a jockey. I remember taking a dance class in ballroom dancing and the instructor told us the importance of the head when turning. Thanks for having such a great web-site and may the horse rise to greet you as you come walking by.

P.S. Do they still give horses timothy hay and molasses as Tom Smith the trainer of Seabiscuit did.

I will have to read that book. I did just took a look at the Youtube video of the race, and it was similarly riveting. I don't know if Tom Crampton still lives in this neck of the woods.

Regarding your question about the timothy hay and molasses, I don't know the answer, but one thing that's true in racing is that, if it's been done before, it'll be done again.

Thank you for the tip about the book and I hope that you continue enjoying our site!

April 23, 2009 – A Disturbing Trend of Government Limiting Horse Operations

In the last few years, local governments have been intruding upon the rights of farm and animal owners as communities and urban areas have expanded. These intrusions and limits on rights have extended to horses and horse owners as well as horse farms. The result has been increasing prohibitions of where horses can be ridden, pastured, and boarded. And worse, these changes in laws have often happened without many farm and horse owners even knowing about such changes. And when towns do act, the window of opportunity to protest and appeal town actions is very small, difficult to use, and when attempted, it is often not done properly and frequently results in a failed appeal.

I've written an article expounding on this disturbing trend and you can read it here. It's entitled: Towns Are Limiting Horse Operations.

April 22, 2009 – Is it ok to ride a wet horse?

It depends on the situation. If he's eating while riding, well, don't let him.

Sure. Just check the girth very carefully and make sure that you're secure, because a wet horse is a slippery horse.

April 21, 2009 – How do I stop my horse from eating evergreens?

It depends on the situation. If he's eating while riding, well, don't let him.

If he's eating while turned out, you don't have much of an option other than changing his turnout to somewhere that doesn't have evergreens. I don't recommend a muzzle as a turn out device because it will interfere with eating and sometimes drinking.

April 20, 2009 – I'm having trouble keeping my horse in a canter. What do I do?

I'm assuming there is nothing physically wrong with your horse. Usually, this problem stems from not having a firm enough seat and quick enough reaction time when your horse attempts to drop into a trot. Your reaction should be to offer a firm squeeze with the legs to provide more power. Some school horses become deadened to these signals, and riders will have problems as a result, but most of the time, this problem is due to the fact that the rider does not have a strong enough seat and legs.

April 17, 2009 – How can I teach my unruly horse to lead well?

When your horse is unruly, make him pay the penalty of increased work. Don't let him stride ahead of you, don't let him yank the line, and don't let him hold you back if he doesn't want to go. Get after him and either circle him or back him up every time he does so — horses dislike being circled or backed up. If you consistently tie work with unruly behavior, he'll learn very quickly to behave like a lamb.

Model your behavior after the lead mare in the herd; have you ever actually watched a biddy in action? She's an impressive disciplinarian, worthy of a Marine drill sergeant rating. If you don't know how to maintain discipline, then enlist a trainer who can help you with timing and correction. It's a skill worth knowing for anyone handling horses!

April 16, 2009 – Greetings from the Noosa Australia! I have a mare arriving tomorrow who is very quiet and has not been ridden for a couple of years. She has one major problem: she lost a eye a year ago. Please, what is the best why to retrain her. I do understand about giving her plenty of warning when approaching her blindside. I would welcome some further input as to ground training and riding. Many thanks!

Some animals, horses included, naturally adapt to the loss of a body part or function. You first need to determine if this eye loss has changed her from typical horse behavior in any way. For example, is she spooky in general, or just on the blind side? Has she learned to give herself extra space on her blind side when passing through opeinings into a stall, paddock, and such? Your first goal is to figure out how "normal" she is about her blindness and build on that.

If she seems to act quite like a normal horse, then treat her as one. If she has come to accept her blindness, then train her as though it isn't there. A courtesy cluck of your tongue when you approach her or go to touch her on her blind side definitely can't hurt and may help build her trust.

If she has definite issues with her blind side, seems to hurt herself on that side, even in turnout, or is easily spooked by sounds or motion on that side, then I would advise you to get the help of a trainer experienced in dealing with blindness. If you try to train her without the help of an expert, you'll likely make errors that will increase her anxiety and cause her to lose her trust in you altogether.

April 15, 2009 – What do you do when your horse charges you?

I hope you're ok; and context here will determine my advice.

Is this a situation where you're trying to catch him in the pasture, and he wasn't so much charging you as trying to get away past you to enjoy a few more hours of liberty? Or, did he rush the stall door or pasture gate and deliberately knock you down?

If the first, well, round-pen work will teach him and you how to make the catch easier. If the second, sell him immediately and be sure you fully disclose this issue about the horse with the buyer. Horses can be very dangerous once they learn to intentionally use their greater size against a human, and no horse is worth endangering your safety.

April 14, 2009 – How can I stop my horse from crow-hopping?

Keep his head up and direct his attention to your commands of circling, changing gait, or whatever it is you are working on at the time. If he's busy and contained, he won't be able to crow hop!

April 13, 2009 – Why does my horse paw me with his front feet when he wants to go back to the herd?

Horses are smart enough to figure out who's responsible for keeping them from their playtime, and that would be you. He's telling you he knows this and he's expressing his displeasure that you're keeping him from his friends and grazing.

This sign of disrespect can be very dangerous, so when he does it, say, "NO!!!" in a terrible voice, and then back him up or move his hind end around in a circle. Repeat this every time he shows impatience. He'll soon learn to keep his opinions to himself and to do as his leader expects. You may also want to work with a horse trainer to learn on how to get respect in general. This is an important issue, so don't let it go.

For more information, the Horse Guy wrote an article about the importance of being the leader entitled: Alpha? It MUST be you! — IS IT?. Also, our resident trainer, Jen Goddard, wrote a related article, but pertaining to training entitled: Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect. Both offer information about the significance of being your horse's leader and how that allows you to control him and stay safer.

April 10, 2009 – My horse is always sick and I think it's the barn's fault, so I want to move him. Can I break my horse-boarding contract for this reason?

Do you know why your horse is sick or are you just guessing? If you can prove your barn is making your horse sick, then you likely have grounds for breaking the contract on the theory that their breach requires it.

I once had a case where the barn decided to feed the pony bute on a regular basis to keep it in work. Never mind that the owner had expressly forbidden this practice because the pony was allergic to bute. Unfortunately, the pony ended up having his tongue amputated, but the barn owner was on the hook for all those expenses.

If you're just guessing, though, your better bet is to give notice according to your contract and move as soon as possible. Of course, treat the illness, and try to learn from the vet if the cause can be determined. If so, you can tell the barn and go from there.

April 9, 2009 – I'd like to start a career in horse brokerage opportunities, but don't know how to start.

This is a tough market to start in, but if you're truly interested, it is possible. Some of your choices will depend specifically upon the discipline in which you're interested. For example, if you're into Thoroughbreds, then apprenticing yourself with the big auction firms, such as Fasig Tipton or Keeneland, would be a good way to start. Once you know the industry and get a reputation for having an eye for a horse, then people will start trusting your judgment on horse picking.

If you prefer hunter-jumper, then again, train your eye first by working for a well-known trainer locally, or in the industry in South Florida. As with most businesses, it's comes down to "who you know", and what your reputation is. Both are gained by hard work and building a reputation and connections in the field of the discipline in which you're interested.

Remember, a horse broker is a middleman; both buyer and seller trust the broker's judgment in finding one another. That means a sterling reputation for honesty and horsemanship. Not a bad gig, in my opinion.

April 8, 2009 – My horse eats grain slowly and doesn't even want to eat hay. What should I do?

Is the horse in good flesh? How old is he? Is his non-interest in hay a recent thing? Do be concerned if this is a change in his regular pattern. If not, and if his current pattern and weight works for him, then so be it. If he is losing weight and it's a change in behavior, then do the following: get his teeth seen to by an equine dentist. Then, get a vet to check him, do a blood test, and perform an evaluation. Horses express their care via how they appear, so be guided by that. Also, keep in mind that older horses are harder to keep in condition, and do better if in work and indoors.

April 7, 2009 – Will working a herd-bound horse alone break them of the habit?

Possibly, but it will depend on how you do this, and on your relationship with the horse. The Horse Guy wrote an excellent article on this topic, so I suggest you tune into that! The article is entitled: Dealing With the Herd-Bound Horse.

April 6, 2009 – My horse is a Quarter Horse and she is very pretty, but she pulls her neck and gives me a rein burn. What should I do?

Does she do this because you're holding onto the reins too tightly? If so, she'll have discovered a self-help method to ease the pinch on her mouth from the bit.

The fix is not hard, but it takes timing and good hands. Loosen up on the reins so you're not holding onto her mouth all the time. She'll likely still pull somewhat because you can't ride with the length of rein she'll prefer, which is, with her head down around her ankles. But, not to worry. Just make sure that the reins are loose enough so she can walk along with normal head position and a slight curve in the reins.

Then, at the exact instant she pulls the next time, yank back with a pop in the reins (one ping only, Vasili — sorry, Hunt for Red October reference here). This obviously takes great attention on your part — no wool gathering and day dreaming up there. A look of comical surprise will appear on her face, which you'll not be able to see, but which I'm telling you about now so that you can imagine it.

She'll stride along for a while (on a loose rein) thinking about this unfortunate development, then she'll be tempted to try again to see if it was a fluke. Make sure that your response is not a fluke, and that you can deliver the pop immediately upon her next pull. If you wait, the lesson won't work. She needs to believe and understand that this is the new standard to which she must adhere and that she can't pull back on the reins. BUT, you need to be consistent and not be pulling at her mouth — remember, she likely started this behavior to avoid mouth pinch from too much pull on the bit.

Horses are very smart beasts, especially quarter horses, and if you're quick and consistent, this unfortunate behavior should end. Like any horse, she'll always be tempted to start up again to see if you're paying attention (they test each other and us all the time). And if you continue to hold onto her mouth, she'll be compelled to pull on the reins so as to give herself some escape and relief from the pain — a pinched mouth is not fair to her. In that case, you'll need riding lessons to learn how not to balance yourself using the reins.

Good luck!!

April 3, 2009 – What do you do when you realize you've bought the wrong horse?

Sell it immediately. But be especially careful if the horse is dangerous, aggressive, or has any other problems of which you're aware. If you sell a horse that you know has problems to an unsuspecting buyer and don't reveal them when asked, or the horse presents danger issues, you may be found liable for damages later. It's best to consult an equine attorney if you're thinking of selling a horse, because the contract of sale is important and can be written to protect you.

April 2, 2009 – When a horse jumps, why is the rider forced forward towards the horse's head?

The horse goes up with a leap, and then it goes down. The rider is jerked up to follow the horse, and then falls back to earth pulled by gravity. There is really no way to avoid moving forward under those circumstances, and believe me, moving forward is better than being left behind.

April 1, 2009 – I'm hoping you can help me with my Arabian mare. I started her under saddle myself one year ago and we did extensive ground work. She has always been a nervous and excitable horse, though has made great strides in the past six months. My goal for her is endurance riding and I have hit the wall on training. We have a two fold problem, but I think it is the same problem, just different outcomes of the same issue.

When riding her alone on the trail, she is content at the walk, though always vigilant rather than relaxed. If I move her up to a trot or a canter, at some point she will slam on the brakes or spin back. When ridden in a group of three or more (does great with one other horse along), she is the opposite, she wants to charge ahead of the other horses and will not settle in and relax unless she is way off ahead of the pack. It is important that this 5 year old be started slow at distance and learn to be confident at the trot, and save the canter for a few years down the trail. Am I right that this is a confidence issue? If so, how do I correct it and build her confidence so she is not either balking or rushing with no middle ground? We currently have 500 logged trail miles and I thought that time would make it better for her, but so far it has not. Our first LD ride is coming up soon and I'd sure like to re-group and work out the problem and not have a sticky horse.

Thanks so much. Love your forum.

This answer will take some time. If I was there, I would be able to observe some of the clues that would shed light for me as to what was going on and respond accordingly. Not having access to that information, I have to hazard a general guess. Some preliminary thoughts that come to mind are the following:

First, your horse is still very green, in the sense that she hasn't had enough hours in the saddle yet to handle scary stuff like an old pro. Second, her whirling and stopping, besides being fright, could also be her statement that gosh darn it, she's worked enough today. Both of these issues stem from one source: you are not yet so trusted and determined a leader that she's going to do what you say, come what may. The issue is that the "lack of respect" problem is something that could be very dangerous to you, and you do NOT want to be working out who is boss on the trail. Also, the fright issue can be fatal if she bolts.

I should tell you that there are horses out there that I will not mess with. And given the prospect of a show down or a runaway, I'll just decline to engage in the fight and will get rid of the horse on to someone more knowledgeable than myself, with full disclosure of the problem that is.

One way to help short-circuit dominance issues is to engage a horse trainer and do some round pen work on the ground with your mare. Also, for now, resign yourself to riding with one or two other horses through the first few endurance contests until she "gets" the program. Arabs are WICKED smart as we say here in New England, and once she figures out that there is a program, she might be more willing. I've learned that horses like programs.

The jigging you can control with circling (horses dislike circling). Every time she jigs, make her go in a circle. Bring her to a walk, and see how many strides she'll walk before she tries to get ahead. Once she makes that first jiggy move, turn her in a circle. She'll figure out fairly quickly that the path to less work is walking. Also, it will take her mind off of the other horses and put it firmly on you, which is where you want it.

Above all, be safe.

March 31, 2009 – Hey, I really like a girl who loves horses and her birthday is coming up. Any ideas?

Horse books are always acceptable, from the expensive coffee table photo spreads and useful books written by riding experts, to how-to-books and peripheral topic books, such as about barns, saddles, bits, breeding, training, business and...well the list goes on and on. This would be for a girl that you like and would like to get to know better.

If it is a girl that you are, say, engaged or married to, well, my husband bought me tack as a wedding gift when we got married — a better spouse does not live! I don't want to set the bar too high for you though, so keep in mind some fallbacks: horse jewelry or horse themed furnishings for the home (rugs, prints, cups, plates, etc.) — these are also good. You can use QueryHorse to find online catalogues of these types of goods.

If you really want to impress her, you can also buy her clinic time with an expert in her riding discipline. She'll be overwhelmed that you even know how to do this. If you need further guidance on this topic, write back. There are lots of good clinics nationwide in every conceivable discipline.

Good luck and good hunting!!!

March 30, 2009 – Why does my horse resist my hand?

Because he has not been trained how to follow your hand as you handle the reins. Race horses, for example, actually use the bit to brace themselves for the next leap, and so take a lot of training on how to yield to the bit. Consult a horse trainer on how to soften your horse's mouth — it will be worth the effort!

March 27, 2009 – What is the current status on the horse slaughter issue in the United States?

At this time, there are no domestic slaughterhouses, the last one having been closed a few years ago in Illinois. However, the issue may come up again for legislative re-evaluation because of the recent numbers of unwanted horses caused by the economy. The argument goes that a humane, regulated slaughterhouse here is better than the unregulated Mexican or Canadian slaughterhouses to which horses have been getting hauled to over long distances. Another question being asked is what happens to a horse whose owner just can't afford to feed, euthanize or give it away, resulting in slow starvation.

You can find out more information about this issue by reading the Website of the American Horse Council.

March 26, 2009 – Do I want to keep my heels up or down when riding without stirrups?

You want to keep your heels down whether you have stirrups or not. If your heels are down, then your toes are up, and your head is back over your center of gravity. If your heels are up, then your toes are down, and your head is likely heading forward and away from your center of gravity. You'll have to fight to avoid going over head first — pulled off by the weight of your head — that's one fight you don't want to lose.

When riding, always keep your heels down.

March 25, 2009 – My horse bit another horse at the farm where I board. Why would he do that?

To express his editorial opinion to the other horse, as well as to explain in horse language who is really the boss of the situation.

March 24, 2009 – How much force is generated by a horse kick?

Hah! I know the answer to this question because I read an article on the topic. Horses can kick with the force of up to one ton, or a force of up to 10,000 Newtons (2,250 pounds) to the body. Not something you want to experience, believe me. This is more than enough force to ruin a perfectly good skull.

March 23, 2009 – How do I get my horses to stop fighting over food?

You can't. They each have to establish their place in the pecking order. So, if you feed them within range of each other, they will act according to their natures.

Now, that being said, horses that are "lovey dovey" with each other will share a bucket. That is up to the personal preferences of the horse, though, and nothing you can dictate. If you have the space, you can stop the fighting by separating horses that fight into separate paddocks. That will allow you to feed them separately to resolve the problem.

It might comfort you to know that the intransigent quality of horses has been noted from time immemorial. I had to laugh once when reading an old US cavalry manual in which the author tersely noted that, in the event of a pairing of a recruit and horse who did not reach accommodation within a few days, that the best course of action was eternal separation.

March 20, 2009 – I have a 12yr old gelding, he loads perfectly fine in any trailer, but we recently bought an older two horse straight load, and he refuses. I've tried bribing with oats, but he will step two feet in and back out fast. What can I do?

Jen Goddard, our resident horse trainer, recently wrote a good article on how to teach a horse to load and it's entitled: Trailering. Read that and then take an afternoon to train him to load. It's not hard to do, it just takes patience and the willingness to stay with it. Your horse needs to learn that he works harder if he refuses to load than if he does it willingly, especially if he already knows how to load. Currently, he's just figured out that it's more pleasant for him if he refuses — you need to convince him otherwise and it has nothing to do with being harsh.

March 19, 2009 – Why does my horse look so skinny?

Possibly because you aren't feeding him enough? Also, is your horse in work? Horses in work need more feed. If you're feeding enough hay (free choice, which means as much as he'll eat) and grain, 10% of the horse's body weight per day fed in frequent small feedings during the day is a good start. For example, a 1000 pound horse will get a total of ten pounds of grain per day broken up into two or more feedings using a good quality pellet with 10% protein.

If you're doing the foregoing already, then contact your vet and look for a medical cause.

March 18, 2009 – My horse kicked me. What do I do now?

Are you ok? Horse kicks are very dangerous.

Without knowing the circumstances, I really can't offer any universal suggestions. Horses will usually land a kick on humans in the following circumstances:

  • By accident, while aiming for another horse in the midst of a feeding melee or competing for status and/or fighting back;
  • Out of surprise after being startled; and
  • On purpose.
If for the first two reasons, well, don't get yourself into those situations again. If for the last reason, then you need to get expert advice from a horse trainer right away. Horse disrespect aimed at humans can be fatal for the human, so don't fool around with it! And don't put yourself in range of the horse until you know what you're dealing with — your safety and life are truly at risk!

March 17, 2009 – How do I prevent my young horse from bolting?

A scared horse that acts on his instincts is no joke and can be very dangerous. He could bolt causing you to fall off and potentially get hurt, or bolt while you're hanging on without control. There isn't much reasoning that you can do in that case. You need to enlist a trainer to help you work on the problem, and don't ride your horse without that expert assistance.

March 16, 2009 – My horse has lost a huge amount of weight almost overnight. What could be the problem?

I had this happen to one of my horses andt I ended up having to euthanize. Not to scare you or anything, but CALL YOUR VET RIGHT AWAY!

March 13, 2009 – Is it a good idea to put shoes on your horse if you ride in the woods?

I don't think "riding in the woods" is the determining factor, but instead, how much work the horse is doing and how his feet are standing up to that work. If he's a "one trail ride a week at a walk" type worker, then barefoot will probably work fine. Conversely, if he's going every day for five or six hours and is consistently sore and "ouchy", then by all means, put shoes on him. You also want to speak to your farrier about this issue and get his opinion.

March 12, 2009 – How do I get my horse to stop with his hind legs, therefore not putting as much pressure on his front legs?

He might be stopping primarily with his front legs because his back end and back are too weak to put much weight there. A horse stops in the manner that his frame and musculature demand. Horses have to learn how to carry themselves and how to manage with a rider on their backs. Before they are taught that, their muscles just aren't ready to work that way. Believe it or not, when I train polo ponies, about 80% of the work is just to build their muscles up so that they can physically perform the moves that are necessary in the sport. Here's how I train a horse to use his back end:

Start slowly, then stop your horse. When he stops, then give the command to back up a few steps — do this every time. After a while, your horse will anticipate the back up. As he does, he'll automatically move more and more weight onto his hind end.

For variety's sake, then employ the "roll back". That means, turn your horse after he has backed up a few steps so that his front end moves and performs the turn while his hind end stays in place. Practice this until he's handy either way.

Then, employ a lot of trotting and cantering in circles that get smaller and smaller, and which terminate in a rollback. Then break up the circles so that you start circling one way and then circle the other way in a figure eight. Start with large circles and then move to tiny circles.

Also practice walking, trotting, and cantering up steep hills. Long trail rides help too, along with regular ring work as mentioned above. Over time and with work, your horse's back end and back will become more and more developed and he'll be able to take more and more of the strain of the turn and stop onto his hind end.

You can build a horse up with regular daily work of about a half hour in ring work to three hours on a trail ride in about 4 months. This program really works. My horse Deedee, a thoroughbred off the track, was so weak in her back end when I started that if I turned her in at too sharp angle, she had great difficulty. Now she looks like a quarter horse, with muscles over her hips and angling down her croup, and she's able to turns like one too!

March 11, 2009 – What are some good ways to bond with your horse but also make him use his mind? I don't always have time to ride so need some ideas on fun exercises. I would appreciate your advice.

Ground work is always good and appreciated by the horse, by which I include, grooming, picking hooves, round pen work, lunging, driving, desensitizing the horse to scary objects or water hazards, backing up, and generally any scenario in which you tell the horse to do something and insist on his conformance. The fun for you comes in watching your horse try to figure out what you mean by the command, and observing the learning and decision making process. The fun for the horse comes when he figures the command out correctly, and complies immediately, at which point you reward him.

Believe it or not, horses get bored without people. Attention is always appreciated, even sometimes when it's negative attention! Horses that have been exposed to abusive people can learn with a patient trainer. However, in that case, I recommend you get a professional to start you off and not try this alone.

Our resident training author, Jen Goddard, wrote an excellent article on lunging a horse that articulates the specifics of that exercise with all the particulars spelled out. You can find it at: Step 5: Controlling Speed and Gaits

That's where I recommend you start.

March 10, 2009 – What are the potential hazards of buying an underweight horse?

At minimum, the horse will not be up to hard physical labor until he is more fit. Or worse, the horse might potentially carry an illness, or could be dying. Good vetting prior to purchase is a necessity.

March 9, 2009 – How do I get a rope around my unbroken horse?

Is the horse completely wild or does he have some ground manners? If your horse is used to people, then getting a rope around his neck is not hard as part of his routine care. From your question, then I take it that the horse is completely wild. In that case, extreme caution is required. Horses can learn to trust people, especially if food and consistent quiet calm interaction by the person is involved, but until then, they're a wild animal and will defend themselves to the limit of their extreme capability.

Try the following:

  • Put the horse in a paddock by himself;
  • Feed him consistently at the same times every day;
  • Each day, stay a little longer and a little closer by the feed, but don't be in his way;
  • See how he reacts;
  • While near the horse, don't do much of anything. Hum, look off into the distance. Then leave.
Eventually, your horse will tolerate your presence because he won't see you as a threat. As time goes on, he'll tolerate your presence right next to him. Once he does this, you can start petting him. When you do, move your hand slowly and start with those body areas he uses to examine new things, like his nose. Once he accepts petting, he'll accept a rope near him. Eventually he'll accept a rope around his neck.

This is not rocket science; it's just gradual desensitization requiring some time and patience on your part. But in all of this, consider safety first. Always pay attention to his body language, especially his ears and eyes so you can identify and back off if you sense he's uncomfortable about something you're doing or something else around him.

March 6, 2009 – How much grain should I feed a 900 pound horse?

The rule is about 10% of body weight, so, in this case, about 9 pounds of grain per day broken up into two or more feedings. Make sure to get a good quality pellet with about 12% protein.

March 5, 2009 – How do you cure a horse with an over-trimmed hoof?

The "cure" depends on what work the horse is doing. If the horse is in the pasture being a lawn ornament, then only time is needed for the hoof to re-grow. But if the horse is working, then a farrier can help by building up the missing parts of the hoof and gluing on a shoe. Talk to your farrier and see what he recommends. Of course, the foregoing presumes you don't want to use the same person that caused the problem in the first place unless you watch them closely.

March 4, 2009 – I have recently gotten a wood chewing horse. I mean she literally tears off hunks of wood and is eating them (which I'm afraid will make her sick-colic or something). Do you have any suggestions on why she is doing it or how to get her to stop? I put my mini in there thinking she was lonely, but it hasn't helped.

This is a very bad habit! It's also likely a habit now set in stone because of the endorphins that are released by the chewing.

I would cover all available wood surfaces with a product for this purpose, such as McNasty (made by Eqyss), and try to reduce the amount of wood that your horse can reach by using electric fencing and covering wooden surfaces with plastic or steel. Also, give her plenty of free choice hay to occupy her time until she has access to pasture grazing in the warmer seasons.

Chewing wood can be dangerous for her, so it is up to you to make sure that she can't get at it!!!

March 3, 2009 – I barrel race and I am having problems getting my horse to slowdown and set up for the turns. She has her head way up in the air. I have a tie down on her but it doesn't seem to help. Is there anything I can do? Maybe a different type bit? She doesn't have these problems at home too much only at shows on bigger patterns where she gets very excited and has more room to fully run.

You may not like this answer because it will take some time and effort — this is not a "quick fix". Essentially, you have to convince your horse that, THIS time, she may not run the pattern that she has fixed in her head, and instead, she had better listen to you for the second by second update on where you are sending her next.

In order to do that, you have to start by running half a pattern, and then break off to run circles somewhere else. Then, go back and run a bit more, then break off. Inconsistency of pattern is more what you're aiming for here. As you do this, aim for correct head posture. See my previous Horse Girl response about how to get a horse "on the bit" (Feb. 3, 2009, below).

Start this inconsistent pattern at a slow pace, such as trotting. Then, move up to a slow canter followed by faster and faster, and don't be afraid to mix it up. The point is to keep her guessing. In other words, she needs to learn how to set up for each turn as an independent matter, listening to you, and not as part of the larger "run". When she starts listening on the turn and sets up correctly, praise her and then let her rest for a few minutes. If you can manage this in a show environment, do so!

This process should take anywhere from a month to six weeks if you ride consistently five to six times per week. But it's important that you not overdo any individual training session: work no more than 20 minutes or so after the warm-up and try to end on a "good pattern" so you can immediately tell her what a good horse she is and then end the lesson for the day.

See how that works. You will be amazed at how quickly she picks it up.

March 2, 2009 – I would like to know by having a cryptorchid horse, is it uncomfortable for him when I ride? I just bought him and I noticed his condition afterwards.

Are you asking because you noticed something wrong with how he's acting? All that the cryptorchid factor means is that one or both of the horse's testicles is still up inside the body cavity — it never descended. It does not mean that he's uncomfortable. YOU might be uncomfortable with how he acts around a mare in season, though, because he'll have all of the willingness of a stallion, fueled by the offending part. Just keep an eye on how he behaves. If you have a concern, you should call your veterinarian!

February 27, 2009 – How do I stop my horse from kicking me?

This is serious and you need to get a trainer to help deal with the problem. From the point of how to stay safe around any horse because some do kick, don't get in range of his hind end. And some horses can cow kick, which is to say, they can kick forward. I once had a horse that could kick a fly off of his ear. However, most horses aren't that athletic, so if you stay near their shoulders, you should be safe. Also, if you stand just to the side of the point of their hips, they'll also be unable to reach you. Of course, another way to reduce the risk is just to never walk directly behind your horse, especially if his head is unsecured.

February 26, 2009 – I'm a barn owner with boarders, but have no boarding contract. What are my rights?

Your rights depend on the laws of your state, so you should consult an equine attorney in your state on this one for specifics. However, generally, states allow "stableman's liens", which means that you're due repayment for monies spent caring for the horse, which lien is secured by the body of the horse itself. So typically, letting a horse go off the property before the owner has paid for its food would defeat your right to use the horse for collateral on that obligation. In other words, don't let a horse leave if his boarding is not paid up because, once the barn door closes, it'll be too late for you to recover unpaid costs.

And if a boarder involves the police department to try to recover their horse that you're holding for nonpayment of boarding fees under the mistaken impression that the owner can get the horse back BEFORE payment, contact an equine attorney faster than the speed of light. You'll need legal assistance to educate the "boys in blue" as to the state laws surrounding stable liens. Sadly, I spend a fair amount of time in this endeavor.

You can better protect yourself and have many more rights by using a boarding contract, such as the right to sell the delinquent owner's horse to repay the debt. There are many more that spring to mind that I share with my clients. I'm very serious about it being a good idea to invest in hiring an equine attorney to help you draw up a good boarding contract. He/she will not only know conventional law, they'll also know the vagaries of horse law and how they work with the laws specific to your own state and/or municipality.

One very important caution, do avoid the online, generic versions of contracts because they'll likely not be designed for your state and will not be keyed to your operation. As a result, using them could end up being worse than having no contract at all. You may think I'm kidding about this last point, but I assure you that I'm not.

February 25, 2009 – What can I feed my horse to help him put on weight?

Free choice, good quality hay and frequent small feedings of grain during the day in the amount of about 10% of the horse's body weight per day is a good start. For example, a 1000 pound horse will get a total of ten pounds of grain per day broken up into three or more feedings. For grain, get a good quality pellet with 12% protein.

Then, exercise daily, walk-trot-canter. The combination of food and muscle work builds them up pretty quickly. So, for example, this worked for me to put a skinny thoroughbred filly up about 200 pounds in about 12 weeks on this regimen. In fact, I had to knock off the grain to keep her from getting too fat.

This is the Horse Girl "bulk up" method. I'm sure others out there have other recommendations.

February 24, 2009 – How do I start an unbroke horse?

Wow! That's an article, not a Horse Girl question. Stay tuned and I'll write about how the Horse Girl has started unbroken horses, just to allow reader feedback, as I'm sure this will provoke a lot of comment.

February 23, 2009 – At what age does a horse's feet stop growing?

A horse's hoof never stops growing while they're alive; it's sort of like our fingernails. If you're referring to the size of the hoof itself, well, they get to be close to adult size at a little over a year old.

February 20, 2009 – While walking the horse I lease, she slipped, fell, and hurt herself. Do I have any liability?

Perhaps (isn't that a good lawyer answer?)

Here's how it works: If you were negligent, and that negligence caused the injury to the owner's property (the horse), then you may be held accountable. It also depends on what your lease contract or agreement stipulates — that's why I often advise readers to contact an equine attorney BEFORE making any agreements, written or verbal.

Please contact an equine attorney as soon as possible to protect yourself.

February 19, 2009 – Will it hurt my horse to work him in freezing weather?

Working a horse in moderate below freezing (>10 °F) winter temperatures will not usually hurt a healthy horse. Of course, Arctic Circle type cold or severe windchill factors are another story. But if your horse gets sweaty and then cools off too fast, he could get hypothermic. Just use caution and coolers that allow your horse to dry off while not losing too much body heat all at once.

February 18, 2009 – What does it mean when a horse licks your hand? I have been told it is a sign of affection and also told it is a sign of disrespect.

I think it is neither. They just like the salty taste of your perspiration. Or possibly, they can taste other food items you may have touched, such as a fruit or vegetable.

February 17, 2009 – Under what conditions should I bring my horses into the barn?

Driving cold rain, sleet, or snow would do it for me. Also, extreme cold under 20 degrees or so, especially with wind.

Finally, you want to pay attention to how your horse seems to be doing at all times of the year. If he's ok, he'll usually look ok. If he looks miserable, bring him in. It might not even seem that cold outside, but your horse could be fighting a cold or have some other problem. When in doubt as to what to do when things don't look right, you want to investigate. If you don't feel competent doing so, ask a more experienced horse person for help or call your vet. You'd feel terrible if you ignored signs of trouble and your horse developed a serious problem that could have been avoided.

February 16, 2009 – How do I stay warm riding in the late autumn and winter?

Dress appropriately. The Horse Guy recently wrote an article on this very topic entitled: Winter Riding & Staying Warm. You should read it.

February 13, 2009 – How do horses stay warm in the winter?

Horses survive in cold weather with long winter coats and by creating adequate heat. They do that by eating hay and processing it in their guts with lots of water. Obviously, this means they need adequate hay and water everyday to survive the winter.

February 12, 2009 – Can a horse get frightened when being away from his herd?

Yes. A lone horse is a dead horse in the wild, and they instinctively know that. So, when a horse is alone, he is always afraid.

February 11, 2009 – Why does my horse only lunge on one side?

As in with a lunge line? Are you also trying to circle your horse the other way or are you letting him decide which way to go. If the latter, you need to set the direction. And if you still can't get him to go that way, you need to consider other possible causes.

Have you investigated a medical cause? If there is one, that may make it difficult for your horse to turn. You should get a trainer to evaluate the problem. If a medical cause is to blame, you next step would be to have your vet assess the problem and its resolution.

February 10, 2009 – Many books and videos have been made regarding how to "bombproof" your horse. The word "bombproof" is a relative term I guess, but are there any books, videos or clinics that you recommend for helping a horse to overcome his/her spook?

All that the concept of "bombproofing" means is getting your horse to quietly accept scary and or loud stuff without protest. The way to do that is to get him used to strange and scary items slowly over time, introducing each new object slowly until he no longer reacts.

After a while, if you consistently work on the task of bombproofing as an end unto itself, your horse will come to recognize that lesson time means "oh yeah, time to meet another monster", and get more and more blasé about the strange and silly things he's likely to meet.

I don't know of any particular video or clinic, so I entered the following phrase into QueryHorse and clicked the Ride! button:

"bombproof your horse"

I got back 495 documents and looked at the first page of results — they discussed the subject itself or books and clinics on the subject — that should give you a good start.

February 9, 2009 – I have just bought a new horse and his hind leg seems to be very stiff and it takes him a while to put it down... also he is always resting it? What could it mean?

There are a number of possibilities. Stringhalt is an equine malady that has the effect you describe. There are also a number of other candidate causes and they all require veterinary diagnosis.

Did you have the horse vetted before you bought it? That's always a good idea and is money well spent; otherwise, you really don't know what you're buying.

Get a vet to look at your horse to determine whether you've got a real problem or not. Then if necessary, contact an equine attorney if you feel that you were misled during the sale.

Good luck!

February 6, 2009 – I want to be an equine vet once I'm done high school. What kind of courses should I take to be accepted into an equine vet school?

Good question! The main thing to keep in mind is that veterinary school is medical school for animals, which is to say that, in the US, that means graduate school. Since you're still in high school, your main concern will be getting good grades. So, work hard to achieve and maintain the very best grades possible — go for straight As, if you can. Then in college, you can start to think about pre-med course work, which shall include, naturally, biology and chemistry — but it will all be worth it.

Good luck!

February 5, 2009 – My horse cut his hoof. What should I do?

Yikes! Call a vet if there is bleeding, and a farrier if there is not. Both, if it's really bad.

February 4, 2009 – Is it ok to make a horse work for food?

As a species, isn't that what the domestication angle is all about? Oh, you mean treats as a reward?

I myself do not like using food treats as a reward. Unlike dogs, when working with a horse, physically getting a carrot to the right place quickly enough is almost impossible, in the sense that the horse will fail to make the food connection to his action by the time you find the carrot and give it to him. Also, in horse language, the horse that takes the food is the dominant animal, and that is not a lesson you want to be teaching him.

Instead, use horse language to give a reward. Horses understand pats, caresses, soft language, and cessation of work, including letting down a girth or setting them at liberty, as rewards. The cessation of work thing is the best way, because that really does mimic the boss mare or stallion in the herd, who finally lets his poor underling alone once the underling has displayed sufficient submissiveness to the boss's program.

February 3, 2009 – How do I keep my horse soft and collected while riding?

Develop what they call a "listening hand". That is, you want to provide enough forward motion or impulsion through your legs, such that the horse's head naturally extends forward into your waiting hand on the reins. At first, he will pull on the reins. Then it becomes a conversation between his mouth pulling, and your hand lightly resisting. As your hands resist, you don't want to let the horse "set" his jaw nor over-bend at the poll so that he falls entirely away from the bit.

The first time he meets your light pull, he may "give" slightly with his mouth, and will move his nose closer to his chest. When he does this, you want to immediately relax the pull as a reward. Then move him forward again into the bit. He will then meet the bit more eagerly, trusting that you won't hurt him. This time provide a little more resistance, asking him to bend his neck and drop his nose down towards his chest. If you do this lightly enough, and he trusts your hands, what will eventually happen is that your horse will move forward into the bit, and then feel your intention that he contain his energy by arching his neck and bending lightly at the poll so his mouth "rests in your hands" while you trot, canter, walk, or whatever. It does not much matter which gait you use, the process is the same. But for what it's worth, when I'm teaching a horse, I like to use a trot.

This is all a process and may take a little time, or even some expert instruction. However, the rewards are worth it!

February 2, 2009 – How can I tell a girl horse from a boy horse?

Boy and girl horse anatomy roughly corresponds to people anatomy. I won't say more.

January 30, 2009 – What does it mean when your horse walks around you in a circle?

It depends. If you're lunging him, that is what you want him to do. If you're trying to lead him in a straight line, then he needs to learn some manners.

Circle him every time he deviates from what you want him to do. Horses are lazy and don't like to do extra work. He will figure out soon enough that you're the boss and he works less when he does what you want.

January 29, 2009 – How can I stop my horse's rope halter from rubbing and bruising his face?

Don't leave it on him all the time. Just put the halter on him when you need to lead him places and not in the paddock or in the stall on liberty.

January 28, 2009 – I have an outside pen with no shelter and the rain is making it really messy. What can I use as ground cover?

Footing is very important to a horse, and deep mud will make his life miserable. If the mud gets too deep, your horse can develop foot problems or foot rot from standing around in it all the time, so this is an important factor to watch for. What you need to do is give the water someplace to go so the surface doesn't get muddy in the first place. Try sand or gravel with small stones — nothing large or with sharp edges. You won't have to treat the whole paddock in this way, but at least one area needs to be dry enough for your horse to stand upon and be out of the mud.

I had a horse at one time that had just gotten back from being away for awhile. Upon her return, she was temporarily turned out into a very muddy paddock. She (a young filly) stood in the middle of the paddock picking up one foot, holding it there like a stork, and then putting it down. Then she'd pick up the other foot, and so forth, all with a disgusted look on her face. You could just see the thought balloon over her head: "This STINKS!!!". She was a princess it's true, but I think she just expressed a little more overtly what all horses feel about fetlock-deep mud!

January 27, 2009 – When riding my horse, she plants her feet and refuses to move and sometimes bucks when you ask. How do I get her to stop this misbehavior?

As you have correctly identified, your horse does not feel that she should obey you. Now, as long as the reason is not medical, that is, you're not asking her to do something that hurts her due to some unidentified back, leg, or foot problem, then you need to regain her respect. This is important for your safety, so waste no time in changing her attitude.

One of our contributing writers, Jennifer Goddard, is a horse trainer and wrote an article on this very topic as part of her ongoing training series. It's entitled: Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect. Also, our own "Horse Guy" wrote a related must-read article just last week about the need for you to be your horse's alpha. It's entitled: Alpha? It MUST, be you! — IS IT?.

January 26, 2009 – What percentage should I pay my hunter/jumper trainer?

Percentage of what? Upon sale of the horse? Like all business transactions, this is a matter of negotiation between you and your trainer. The trainer will charge what she thinks you will pay. There is no standard rate and you don't have to agree to the trainer's rate; you can negotiate and attempt to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

January 23, 2009 – What kind of insurance should person get if she takes a horse on trial?

That is a matter of negotiation between you and the seller. Some sellers will insist on "mortality" insurance, but be aware that getting such insurance might delay things while the insurance company gets needed documentation. Other sellers require only "perils", which would compensate the owner in the event of poison, a trailer accident, and so on. This is cheaper insurance and does not need so much documentation to bind coverage.

If the seller doesn't insist on any insurance, just make sure that you don't owe the money for the horse until after the trial period is over, and that if the horse does unexpectedly die or become injured, that you don't owe on the contract. I always recommend using an equine attorney for transactions where there is any real money attached because you'll save yourself a lot of potential headaches in the future.

January 22, 2009 – What shouldn't I do with my horse in the winter?

The Horse Guy wrote a really good article on winter riding hazards entitled: Winter Riding Dangers & Staying Safe — check it out!

Essentially, you want to avoid ice and any slick surfaces so your horse doesn't slip and fall, avoid getting your horse wet in cold weather so he doesn't get hypothermia from the cold, and avoid running over frozen ground so he doesn't develop shin splints or trip and fall on the uneven ground. Also make sure your horse has plenty of hay and water so he stays warm digesting the hay.

Horses actually don't mind the cold as long as they have a good thick coat and available hay and water. It's just the riders that complain!

January 21, 2009 – How do you break horses of the habit of fighting over food?

You can't. All you can do is separate them when feeding. Posturing over food and the eventual assertion by the herd's leader is simply following their natural, equine instincts.

January 20, 2009 – How do you stop a horse that kicks when I fly-spray his legs?

You need to desensitize your horse of his concern about being sprayed. Get someone to hold your horse, go gently, and use a water bottle sprayer to gradually desensitize him. You want to do this until he accepts the attention without kicking.

January 19, 2009 – How can I stop my horse from running away from me when I'm leading her?

She needs to be taught to respect you. One of our contributing writers, Jennifer Goddard, is a horse trainer and has written an excellent article on this very topic as part of her ongoing training series. It's available here on QueryHorse and is entitled: Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect.

This is something that you need to work on quickly because your horse is a danger to you as it stands. And by all means, DO NOT wrap the lead rope around your hand or arm, and get assistance in leading her until you've had the training.

January 16, 2009 – What are some common indications that your horse is bored when left in his stall?

The "Horse Guy" answered this very question with a fairly comprehensive article he wrote on the subject, and you can read it. It's entitled, appropriately enough: Reducing Stall Boredom.

January 15, 2009 – Why is my horse's hind end so thin?

I'm not a veterinarian, so keep in mind that there are a number of health conditions which could cause muscle wasting and would likely show up in the hind end primarily. Assuming your horse is otherwise healthy, young horses or horses that have not had work will not have muscle tone. If you want to build that up, lots of walking uphill and trotting, plus circles at a canter in steady riding will help.

January 14, 2009 – New Article About Balance

I get a lot of questions about riding problems that are related to balance. So I've prepared an article to help riders better understand balance and how to correct out-of-balance riding issues. It's entitled, appropriately enough: Riding Balance.

January 13, 2009 – I have several unused stalls at my barn and am considering accepting a border or two. Is this a bad idea?

It is not a bad idea, but it takes preparation. You'll now have lots of issues to consider, especially liability and safety concerns. Please contact an equine attorney and a good equine insurance agent to have these concerns addressed. If you do NOT take my advice, and take in boarders anyway without this protection, THEN it IS a bad idea.

January 12, 2009 – At what temperature is it too cold to let horses outside?

Horses actually handle the cold fine if they have a winter coat and plenty of hay and water. I suppose that if I lived in the Great White North where temperatures reached below zero regularly, I would hesitate to put my horse outside on a cold day or especially overnight. But other than that, they do fine. Remember that horses live year round in Iceland and in Mongolia where the cold is certainly far beyond what most of us are used to.

If your horse has been inside and has no winter coat, then of course, blanketing and keeping him indoors on really frosty days would be a kindness and a good idea.

January 9, 2009 – How do I treat a horse with a stone bruise?

Are you sure it's a stone bruise? Sometimes abscesses masquerade as stone bruises. In any event, rest, and soaking the foot in cold water helps.

January 8, 2009 – How do I correct a horse that kicks when I'm cleaning his rear feet?

Practice foot care with him. Start with the front feet, pick up, and then put down. Move to the back feet, pick up, and put down. Practice three or four times each day.

If you make this a part of his routine, pretty soon the kicking will stop from boredom's sake. Of course, when you do this, make sure that safety is your primary concern. That is, stand at the horse's hip, because most horses find it difficult to kick sideways. And if the problem is serious enough, don't risk getting your head kicked — get a professional horse trainer to help you!

January 7, 2009 – I have just one horse. I keep him at my home, by himself, in a large pasture with 24/7 turnout. I trail ride alone often and he is wonderful. The problem is when I ride with my friend once a week he gets so excited to see the other horse he tries to bolt when we trot or canter. He also does a lot of crow hopping and chomping at his bit in irritation. When with other horses he looses all respect for me and it's getting dangerous. Please help!!! What can I do to stop this behavior?

You can stop the behavior, but it will take some work on your part. You have two issues going on here: first, the horse does not respect you sufficiently as the alpha in the relationship. His attention wanders from you and your direction while you're riding, and you just don't have sufficient "street cred" with him to drag his attention back to you. One of our contributors, Jennifer Goddard, wrote an excellent article on how to get respect from your horse — I suggest starting your reading there. It's entitled: Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect. You may also wish to enlist a trainer and a round pen to show you how to achieve this respect more quickly than on your own.

Then, once you have the horse's attention, you will also have to deal with the second issue, which is that your horse justifiably feels starved for some attention from other horses. So when he sees another horse, he naturally expresses his excitement and heartfelt desires. You're right to be concerned about your safety here, because it's clear from your description that your horse now resents your commands to "cool it" when he's acting out this natural instincts.

The "Horse Guy" just wrote an excellent article entitled: Dealing with the Herd-Bound Horse. It goes into a good method on how to cure a horse of this malady.

Also, try riding more often with other horses and change your stabling routine to allow your horse to interact with other equines on a more regular basis so that he doesn't pine quite so hard for the contact. Certainly, humans can substitute for needed "horsey" contact if they spend enough time with their horse, but few of us have so much leisure time. It's much easier to delegate companionship duties to other equines. So, more work, more equine contact, and more respect should cure the problem.

You didn't think it would be easy, did you?

January 6, 2009 – I scared my horse with a whip. Now he won't come near me. What do I do?

As you've noticed , horses have a long memory. However, they are capable of distinguishing you when carrying a whip versus you without a whip. Your job is to replace the unpleasant memories of being frightened with the more pleasant memories of following you, his trusted leader. If you have doubts about how to proceed, work with a trainer in a round pen and see if you can't convince your horse that you're really on his side.

Don't give up, you really can work out of the unfortunate whip incident.

January 5, 2009 – My horses like oranges. Is it okay to feed a half orange or so with their feed every now and then or does the citric acid cause them trouble?

The issue isn't so much the citric acid as it is the sugar, I think. I see that citric acid is the component used in many equine supplements and treatments, used as an additive and also as an activating agent. I would be careful of giving a horse excess sugar though, because it can cause laminitis and other gut ailments, mainly because some horses have an insulin response that can cause problems for them. This is the reason that some horses in the spring will founder or colic on new spring grass. So, although one orange or one orange slice may not be a problem, a diet of them might be. The same goes with any sweet feed or food item.

Just one thought on the topic...

January 2, 2009 – What to do with a horse that spins in its stall?

The "How-to" Horse Guy wrote an excellent article on stall boredom, which this is likely a sign of. It's entitled, appropriately enough: Reducing Stall Boredom.

Exercise, turn out, toys in the stall, and adequate company, along with good food, will help the horse manage his confinement better. Once this is a nervous habit, however, similar to cribbing or weaving, a horse will often pursue the action for its own sake and the endorphins it releases. If that's the case, there's usually no way to stop them completely other than tying them up or a straight stall with no room to turn around — those approaches are unfair and harsh to your horse. Let's hope that's not the case here and you should do all you can to prevent the action from becoming a destructive habit.

Try the suggestions recommended in the article above as they may resolve your problem.

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