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"Horse Girl" Archive Jul - Dec 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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December 31, 2009 – What causes a horse to constantly stumble behind?

The first thing I would do is have your farrier check your horse's feet. That is the most common cause of stumbling for a healthy horse. If his feet are fine, then you need to check out more serious causes, such as some sort of neurological defect. In that case, have your horse evaluated by a veterinarian. Also, reconsider whether you should be riding this horse until the problem is determined and resolved, as you might both be in danger of falling.

December 30, 2009 – How can I stop my horse from leaning on me while I clean his hooves?

This is just my technique, but I smack my horse on the shoulder when he leans on me. He always looks offended, but then stops it. I don't know if that trick will work for you, but you can try it. Another way to prevent this is to keep his foot off the ground, but don't accept the weight. He won't want to fall over, and so will stand up.

Good luck! You have a smart horse and he's figured out how to take a rest at your expense. Makes you want someone to design a horse couch, doesn't it?

December 29, 2009 – Is it bad that my horse paces in circles inside her stall?

It shows that the horse is psychologically suffering from the confinement. So, you need to up the turn-out, the work you give her, and think about ways to keep her occupied when she's in her stall. There are stall toys available, as well as that good standby, hay. Horses are not designed to be confined the way we often confine them, and some horses bear it less well than others.

This situation, at its worst, can become a serious vice that has no cure. Some horses will start to crib, which releases endorphins keeping him enthralled with performing the motion over and over and over again, to the point where it will wear holes in surfaces being chewed. Those that pace will wear on the flooring, as well as on the horse's hooves, and possibly even causing loss of flesh.

So, do your best to help your horse out. He'll thank you and you'll have a happier horse.

December 28, 2009 – My horse is continually being attacked by the herd leader and I'm concerned for him. What should I do (or have the barn owner do?)

Do not turn them out together. You may be risking a serious injury for your horse. Work with the barn owner to figure out another situation for your horse's turnout. It won't blow over as long as the herd is in its present configuration, so my advice is to take some action before your horse is lamed or worse.

December 24, 2009 – Is a bored horse a boring horse?

No! My Quarter Horse is quite a brat when he's bored, and that means anything but boring. You don't want to know the number of blankets he's eaten, the fences he's mangled, the pasture mates he's led astray, and the list goes on and on. Bored? Maybe. Boring? Never!

December 23, 2009 – Do you know what the annual income is for a an equine massage therapist?

It depends on the area of the country that one practices, and how successful they are. Good ones can make decent money though, over $50,000 per year, is my impression. Though, like many other vocations, it's a service industry occupation and takes time and effort to build up a good clientele.

December 22, 2009 – I'm trying to learn how to gallop a horse, but I get scared as the speed increases and I bounce around a lot. I feel like I'm going to fall off and yelling at my horse to stop doesn't do anything.

It is true that yelling at a horse while he canters won't slow him down.I In fact, it will often convey the message that he needs to go faster. Cantering is the hardest gait to learn because it is most important that you move with your horse. But it's also very exhilarating and is the motion most people think of when they imagine riding horses.

To learn, most people need a lot of practice in a ring with a smooth gaited horse, while relaxing into the motion of the canter. If you're stiff and hanging on like a spider monkey, it's not surprising that you'll bounce. You need to relax and move with the horse.

To start, ask an experienced rider or a riding instructor for help in understanding how you need to move. It might also be helpful if you can watch them canter and describe what they're doing while you watch them and ask questions. Once you get the knack of it, it will be like "flipping a switch". It may be that your body will be trying all sorts of adjustments, or you may even just accidently move the right way and notice how it all feels right for that instant. Once that happens, you'll know you've got it and all you'll have to do is refine the process, but you'll be cantering and feeling safe doing it. Then, you'll relax as you do in an easy chair and let the horse do the work — you'll love it!

December 21, 2009 – What is the best bit for a horse that wants to take off and snatches grass and leaves all the time?

This habit has nothing to do with the bit. The problem is related to the rider's reaction to the horse's taking vacation time while on duty that is important. In other words, your horse is not listening to you and you're not reacting quickly enough or not paying attention to what your horse is doing.

When a horse goes to do something he knows he shouldn't, he doesn't just do it quickly, he makes small moves to see if you're paying attention. If he wants to leave the trail and return to the barn, he'll slowly start meandering toward a turn-off that he knows goes back to the barn. Similarly, to grab a quick snack of leaves or grass, he starts going to the leaf or lowering his head moments before the snatch. If you're paying attention, you'll notice this slight deviation and give him just the slightest twitch of the opposing rein and he'll likely stop and continue on his way. That tells him you're paying attention and said "No!" — he'll obey. If he doesn't it's because you've let him get away with this many times and he feels this is no different — DON'T LET HIM! Act proactively! This bad habit has NOTHING to do with what bit you use and changing the bit will not correct it!

December 18, 2009 – Can I de-spook my horse from the saddle? I hate ground work!

While I totally support the sentiment (this fall, I actually scooped manure from the saddle, not wanting to get down....long story....) let's look at the upside and the downside of the process of "despooking" from the ground and from the saddle:

De-spooking from the ground: horse does a back flip, you look on, unimpressed and cool. Horse picks himself up and thinks, "hmm, that was a lot of work and she didn't seem all that freaked out, and it was a lot of work." Maybe I'll reconsider the next time around. Or the next time around (sometimes it takes a few flips before the essential truth sinks in...)

De-spooking from the saddle: horse does a back flip — you achieve oneness with the ground. You think to yourself, "hmm, that was a lot of work, my head and back hurt, and my horse, now that he's gotten rid of me, doesn't seem all that freaked out. In fact, he looks like he's enjoying his canter around the neighborhood without me. Gee it's a lot of work catching him. Maybe I'll reconsider the next time around." (This usually happens only once before the essential truth sinks in...)

So, work from the ground at first. Later, when the horse is not actually spooking all that much, you can try the saddle version!

December 17, 2009 – Whenever I go to get on my horse, he tries to bite or kick the other horses that are around him. Why does he do this, and how do I fix it?

I just answered a post very similar to this one, wherein an Arab mare had the same bag of tricks. The answer is essentially the same: the horse does this to enforce his territorial dominant demands, and you stop it by reminding him that when you're riding, you're the boss, not him. You do this by very attentively asking him to do something that feels a lot like work the instant his attention leaves you. So, if you're in the process of getting on your horse and he manifests the described behavior, you may have to ask him to back up, move sideways, or something else similar while you're on the ground. Essentially, the principal is, if he misbehaves, he has to work. If he behaves, he gets pats and rest.

Horses generally will figure things out rather quickly if you're consistent. After that, all he's doing when he misbehaves is testing to see if you really mean what you say. THAT testing could take a while to run its cycle, so be patient.

December 16, 2009 – Is it safe to feed my horse hay that got wet overnight in his paddock?

Sure. If it's hay from the day before that got wet overnight, it's still safe to eat. But don't leave it there too much longer or it'll start to get moldy — that's not safe for horses to eat.

December 15, 2009 – How can I tell if my horse is a real Thoroughbred? The seller told me that when I bought him, but other riders tell me I was taken and then chuckle. I want a Thoroughbred. How do I make sure I wasn't taken?

Does the horse have a tattoo on its upper lip? All racing thoroughbreds do, and they must be certified by the Jockey Club, which is another way of saying that they're a real thoroughbred. Given the flood of off track thoroughbreds out there, if you contact any racetrack for information on unwanted horses, I'm sure you'll be able to find what you're looking for fairly quickly.

As to your horse, if he doesn't have a tattoo, you may be left with conformation clues. I think I could probably tell by looking at him, but that's hardly a scientific basis. I think you're looking at this wrong. If I were you, I would instead think about whether or not he's a good horse, whether he does what you tell him to, and whether you enjoy riding him. If he is a good horse, then it doesn't matter what breed he is. He's your horse and you can laugh right back. Your hecklers will hate to think that you put one over on THEM, and so you'll have the last laugh.

I had much the same experience with a little quarter horse I got last year for not much money. He is such a good horse, I get a chuckle every time I get on him.

December 14, 2009 – I know all horses have hooves, but I've often wondered why. Wouldn't regular feet work? Why do they have hooves?

Excellent question! Horses all descend, in one of the most clearly defined Darwinian progressions ever, from a little, fox-sized, three toed creature called Eohippus that lived in North America on the plains in prehistoric times. These creatures prospered on the grass, they became larger, and their feet changed into a single toe (what was their middle toe) that ended in a hoof, for speed purposes.

So, their hooves are like your fingers, only with one long finger protruding down, covered by a fingernail — that fingernail (or toenail, if you will) is now the hoof, and made of the same material as our fingernails. The entire point of this evolution, as far as I can tell, was speed and the ability to run long distances. Horses remain one of the fastest and one of the most hardy of all the grassland creatures. And it all rests upon the hoof!

December 11, 2009 – I recently was considering purchasing a lovely quiet mare, but my friend warned me against her because she was HYPP/NH. I am wondering if you could shed some light on the problem of horses positive for HYPP/NH. Thank you.

HYPP stands for "Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis", which is genetic defect that can be inherited. It manifests itself as muscle weakness or complete paralysis of one or more muscles that can usually lasts from 10 minutes to about an hour depending on the animal and the disease. This disease not only exists in horses, a variant also exists in humans. But in horses, the disease appears to have started from one horse, a Quarter Horse stallion named "Impressive", born in the late 60s, and whose impressive musculature made him the winningest horse in halter ring competition. Because he won so many competitions (33 out of 33), there was great demand for his offspring and he fathered over 2,200 foals and now has over 50,000 descendants.

Impressive himself never exhibited the disease, but more recent investigations of HYPP in Quarter Horses have all been traced back to him. Essentially, it appears that he conveyed to many of his offspring a genetic mutation that alters the manner in which their bodies handle potassium in the blood stream causing muscles to not respond when the horse is stressed.

The disease can be genetically tested from a blood sample, or sometimes even just some hair follicles. The initials "NH" stand for heterozygous rather than homozygous, where heterozygous horses are affected to a lesser extent.

For afflicted horses, the illness can be treated with diet, lack of stress, and medication, but attacks can be very dangerous for the rider or handler, as a horse can have a seizure or fall uncontrollably. Obviously, such a seizure could be very bad for horse and rider at a gallop or while jumping. And because the trait can be passed on, the mare will be no good for breeding.

Hopefully, that will be enough to get you started. I suggest you do more research yourself, think carefully, and ask a lot of questions about the horse's history. And also ask if the horse has actually had the genetic test for HYPP — that is the only way the disease can be diagnosed other than seeing the symptoms themselves. Not all of Impressive's descendents have the genetic mutation that causes the disease — only some. So, unless the mare has been tested positive for that mutation or someone has witnessed the symptoms, it may be ok. The test is definitive, costs between $85 - $100, and it usually takes two to three weeks to receive the results.

Good luck!

December 10, 2009 – How can I collect my long-strided horse?

Let's see. This is not a question of pace, correct? A horse's stride is the horse's stride, and you may be confusing speed with stride — they're not the same. A slow pace can have a long stride if the horse is built that way.

Collecting a horse is a question of him accepting the bit, and with your hand and his mouth being in sympathetic relation to each other. This is something you'll need training in with a good riding instructor. Look in your area and I'm sure you will find one.

December 9, 2009 – My horse runs away whenever I brush her and I'm getting tired of it. How do I fix this behavior?

Does she do this when tied up? My, that sounds like a rodeo. It seems as though she doesn't enjoy your brushing. Why is that? Do you use a stiff brush that hurts her?

Most horses enjoy being groomed because it feels like a massage. Does your grooming always precede onerous work? Try just grooming with a soft brush and with no other agenda. Do this a few times until she no longer knows WHAT is going to happen, and until she enjoys the brushing. Especially in fly season, or in spring with the winter coat coming off, grooming is appreciated by most horses. Try being a psychologist and figure out a way so that she'll enjoy the brushing. Once she does, your problem will be solved.

December 8, 2009 – How do I gain the confidence of a mistreated horse?

It takes patience, time (often measured in years), and training from experts in the fine art of observing your horse's behavior. A mistreated horse CAN learn to trust you, but it takes much repetition and consistent behavior on your part. However, you may not be able to do this without specific training, so I would suggest investing in a horse training clinic before going further.

There are many good horse trainers out there — we at QueryHorse were privileged to see Mark Rashid in action this past November at the Equine Affaire in Springfield, Massachusetts, as one example. But, I'm sure you'll be able to find one in your own locale. I'm afraid I can't recommend a specific regimen, because it will depend on the horse's own personality and issues.

December 7, 2009 – Hi! I'm so glad that your back "on the air"! I wonder if you could tell me how to handle my 17-year-old arab. When I trail ride with others, I have to keep a big distance between my mare and any other horses. Whenever anyone comes close to us, she pins her ears and tries to whip her butt around to send a big kick their way. I always try to bring her back around and not get myself or anyone else in harm's way, but it is hard to prevent it and it certainly takes the fun out of the ride. If I keep her at the back of the pack, she gets all worked up about that and wants to be in the lead. She is pretty much spook-proof and can go and go, but I really like to ride with others.

Do you have any ideas of what I may be able to do besides just warning others not to innocently ride up behind us? Thank you for any input you may have in this situation.

I am glad we're back on the air too! Thank you for your question; this is something I see quite a bit on trail rides, and it always raises a safety concern.

There are things you can do to prevent your mare from exercising her territorial dominance as you ride. The idea is that you want her attention to be on you. If she's flourishing her hind legs at another horse, it means that her attention has left you and she's busy with her own agenda. You need to bring her up short when her attention leaves you. Immediately turn her, move her sideways, back her up, trot away, or otherwise engage her attention for long enough that she understands that if she does try to pursue her private agenda on your time, then she'll work more than if she just quietly suffered the proximity of the other horse.

Arabs are among the smartest of all horses, so she'll figure this out almost immediately. But because she'll understand right away doesn't mean she'll easily give in. The next hundred times she tries something, it'll be just her testing your resolve and attention on the point — she'll be testing how serious you are about making her change her ways.. Like all of us, she likes to do what she likes to do. And if you're going to change her deeply held and cherished belief that she needs to tell the other horses that she's the boss mare here, then she'll require you to work for it.

For safety's sake, you should always warn other riders of your mare's issue. In England and elsewhere, some riders will ride affix a red bow to their horse's tail as a warning they're riding a horse that sometimes kicks and therefore, not to follow too closely. That's not a bad idea for you to try, especially for now while you start training your horse to stop this practice. And during this training phase, you should enlist a friend on a horse that is unflappable. Have that friend ride up to you and away, and up to you and away, while you keep your mare's attention on you.

Eventually you'll be able to manage this, but it will take some effort as I said. Good luck! You have to really respect Arabs, they're always so busy!

December 4, 2009 – How often are contracts used in equine transactions? Most of my friends make verbal agreements with their boarding barns and among themselves when someone leases a horse to another rider.

Then your friends are no different than most. Courts tear their collective hairs out in dealing with the horse world, because verbal agreements are the rule rather than the exception. The problem lies in the fact that verbal agreements are great until they aren't, in which case, the courts are then left with swearing contests and no way to figure out what really happened.

If you're fine with being at the mercy of the person you're dealing with, that's great. But, you may not always be best served in that position. Some contracts can't even be enforced unless they're in writing, so at that point, you may be very sorry you trusted a verbal agreement, even with a friend.

So, what ends up happening, is that savvy people use the written agreements, and less energetic and na´ve persons, or persons who really know who they are dealing with, use the verbal. Either way, as an equine lawyer, I get them all when the deal breaks down.

December 3, 2009 – My horse won't canter unless we're trail riding. Why is that?

Just a wild guess, but I'd say that you don't exercise with definite enough leg aids in the ring, which is to say, under circumstances where he just doesn't feel much like moving. Outside, he's more amenable to running because it looks like fun and not work, and so is less eager to ignore your suggestions. And also don't forget that, if you're riding in a group, all the horses will run or do whatever they need to do to stay together.

Work with a trainer. I think you'll see a big difference with their help.

December 2, 2009 – I can't control my horse when on a trail ride. He's fine in the ring, and he's even fine when I ride him in the barn (it's a big barn). But on the trail, I can't control him. He ignores all the same commands he obeys when in the barn. Instead, he does whatever the other horses in our group do. If I try to break away from the herd, it's a battle and I'm the one who loses. What should I do to make him listen to my commands all the time?

First, don't trail ride him until you consistently win this battle — you're not safe when only your horse is in control. Second, understand that a horse is a herd animal and follows the herd instinctively for safety reasons. Therefore, he's only going to deviate from his instincts and do what you ask if he trusts you and sees you as his leader. If you've not yet established that relationship, you should enlist the help of an instructor/trainer for help. If you have, here are some suggestions to move to the next step.

You may have to start slowly. For example, start by riding with just one other horse and rider in the ring. If everything goes well and your horse is listening adequately and obeying your commands, leave the ring and make it so that he doesn't know whether you're really going trail riding or not. Instead, ride around the outside of the ring. At the exact moment at which your horse's attention leaves you and he stops following your commands, make that failure cost him in terms of work. Go back into the ring and work him some with circles, trotting, and other less than fun exercises. After 10 minutes or so of this stuff, if he's again listening and obeying, leave the ring and ride around it again. If he continues listening to you for ten minutes of riding, pat him on the head, then get off him and let him go back to his friends — he's done working for the day. If he doesn't listen to you, go back into the ring and make him work again for another 10 minutes before leaving the ring and going around the outside again. When he obeys, as I said, pat him, make much of him, and then give him liberty.

Build off of that foundation and try more stuff day by day as he learns and improves. If he's consistent, you can go further from the ring. When that's working well and you're actually able to go on the trail and he continues to obey, add a third rider to the mix so it forms more of a herd. By now, you should be able to see what we're doing here.

The main thing is that you want to avoid the battle. Confrontations with horses are something we'll always lose. Horses are too big and strong for us to fight them. Instead, we need to use our brain.

If you just can't do any of this, then consider selling the horse with full disclosures to the buyer. As I have had reason to say over and over again, your safety is the most important thing.

December 1, 2009 – I just got a new horse and he shakes and shows discomfort when I work him. Why?

This sounds like fear to me. Do you know the horse's history? Was he ever beaten? You can tell because they show fear just like a whipped dog.

I would be very careful and work very slowly and gently. Also, I would strongly consider selling the horse to a professional. The problem is that horses have very long memorys, and they also respond quickly and instinctively to situations. This horse could lash out to defend itself at times when you're not inviting such a response, but it's erroneously reading a threat in what you're doing because of its past experience. It wouldn't be your fault, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. Therefore, the problem is that you can never count on the horse not responding in this manner because of what it has learned in its experience. In your shoes, I would sell the horse with LOTS of warnings and disclosures.

November 24, 2009 – My horse doesn't want anybody to touch him when he's around food and eating. What do I do?

MUST you handle him when he is eating? If not, then let the poor beast eat.

If you're on the trail and need to be able to work around him whether eating or not, then hand off to a horse trainer to teach him manners. It can be done, but you shouldn't risk your health doing it nor can I instruct you how to do it in this column.

November 23, 2009 – My horse won't stand up. What's wrong?

It could be colic, laminitis, or some other life threatening conditions! CALL A VET IMMEDIATELY! Horses are not designed to stay lying down for long, so act quickly!

November 20, 2009 – How do I stop my horse from trying to kick me when I groom him?

Stand at the shoulder, or just at the point of the hip where he cannot kick sideways. If he tries to kick you, reprimand him. Also, pay attention that you're not irritating tender skin with too rough grooming, or are otherwise causing him pain while proceeding. Grooming should be a pleasure for a horse, like a massage is for you. If it's not, then you need to investigate why it's not. Of course, some horses are just irritable, and you need to be careful as to which it is. Irritable horses should be taught manners, and tender horses need to be coddled — kind of like men.

November 19, 2009 – I leased my $15,000 pony to someone. It has contracted Lyme disease and they will not treat with IV. The lease states that they have to provide prudent and necessary medical care. They will only treat by mouth. I have three vets saying IV is better. I also have an article from Cornell stating IV is the better treatment. What rights do I have?

What you're talking about are the differences between "necessary", "prudent", and "better". It may not be necessary to treat by IV, because by mouth can also treat the illness. But it may be more prudent, as it is a better remedy. However, the way you've described it in your question, your lease does not say "either necessary or prudent at the lessor's election", you've stated it merely says "prudent and necessary", meaning the treatment must be both before it's required. (Lawyers are evil, aren't they?)

Here is what I would do: find out how much the oral treatment costs and how much the cost of treatment is if performed by IV. You'll then be able to determine if you're willing to pay the difference. For example, if the cost of treatment using oral medication for the period is $200 and the cost via IV is $280, you can then require the lesser to treat by IV and you can cover the extra cost, in the case of this example, the additional $80. Make this requirement in writing. If the lesser balks, then you would have at least an argument before a small claims court for breach of contract. Also, while this doesn't get the total cost covered by the lessee as you'd likely prefer, at least it assures that your horse is getting the better treatment that you desire.

Good luck! And next time, run that lease agreement by an equine attorney!

November 18, 2009 – Why does my horse stumble?

Laziness, an injury or other medical problem, inattention, gait, and conformation are some possible causes. You should first assure you don't have a medical situation. If you suspect that could be the cause, you should get him examined by a vet.

If inattention is the problem, you, as the rider, can do something about it by bringing the horse up into the bridle and picking his head up. Gait problems will usually depend on the horse, or the breed. For example, Tennessee Walkers are designed for a smooth glide. But that can lead to stumbling on rough, broken ground and sometimes, to medical issues. If the problem is due to his conformation, then I'm afraid there's little you can do to change it.

November 17, 2009 – What does it mean when my horse stomps his hoof on the ground?

It could be flies, or it could be an editorial expression of impatience. You should be able to tell which.

November 16, 2009 – Can horses actually love a single person as dogs do?

Yes. Horses can become extremely attached to one person. They don't often do so because a horse's idea of companionship is much more all encompassing than a person's. People really can't live with a horse all day, seven days a week, be on guard twenty hours a day, completely attentive when awake, and constantly aware of all the little things that make a relationship fun for a horse. Fun for a horse can be frequent testing of rank, physical joy of movement, constant searching for food, endless investigation of physical surroundings, relentless attention to physical comfort, and so forth.

Every now and then, a human raises his level of companionship to the bare minimum needed by a horse, and then a horse can get very, very, very attached. I, myself, settle for warm feelings of affection and respect from my horses, but not serious attachment. If my horse was seriously attached, when I left him, he would pine, whinny, pace, and otherwise display his distress from being separated from his beloved. Since I can't live with my horses, that would be cruel!

November 11, 2009 – What can a buyer do is a seller sold her poor quality hay?

If the hay is bad enough, it could constitute a "breach of contract". That is, you contracted for edible hay. If it's not edible, or if it's dangerous for the stock to which it's fed, you have some recourse in the Uniform Commercial Code which is passed in most states. I'm sorry, but you likely need a lawyer for this one. Contact an equine lawyer for more details!

November 10, 2009 – My horse gets hyper every time we canter and it's driving me crazy. How do I quiet her down?

Does your horse do what you tell her with regards to direction and pace? That is, does she turn and speed up and slow down? Essentially, horses get antsy while cantering when they figure they know what's going to happen next, that is, usually a nice gallop forward. In order to squelch that, you have to work harder on schooling, say in a ring, where she doesn't know what you're going to do next. If every time you canter, you work on tiny circles and lots of pace differentials, changing leads and so forth, she'll be too busy to worry about what's happening next and will keep her mind on YOUR directions. Also, examine your stable practices: a horse stuffed with grain and kept in a stall will naturally express their joy at movement. Tone down the grain and up the hay and turn out if that is the case.

Obviously this takes time, attention, and good, responsive hands and as well as lots of will and some experience with horses, plus a venue that allows for schooling. If you don't have these things available, farm this one out to a horse trainer for a month or so. You'll still need direction from the trainer after she gets back, but the trainer will do most of the "heavy lifting". If, after thorough training, your horse still wants to run away, then consider selling the horse. Life is too short to manage with unsuitable horses!

November 9, 2009 – Every time my horse gets shoed, her feet are sore. It seems to happen when the old shoes are removed. What do I do?

Speak to your farrier about it. He'll investigate and should have some solution ideas for you. He may be trimming too far down or there may be a "hot nail" (a nail accidently driven into the more sensitive parts of the hoof and possibly requiring veterinary care). If you don't get a clear response, then consider changing farriers. This is one area that has a wide range of skill of the practitioners — not all are good and you need your horse to be happy and comfortable. If you have any doubts, then have a different farrier inspect your horse's foot. And don't wait too long to have this checked, hoof and leg problems are serious and can be very dangerous for horses.

Remember the important saying, "no hoof, no horse!"

November 6, 2009 – When I ride my horse on the trails, he's always looking behind himself for another horse? Why does he keep doing this?

If you're riding alone, it's because he's scared to be out there without company. If you're riding ahead of a pack of horses, then he's looking at his buddies — while they're there, it means he's safe and no predators are there.. If you're last in the line, then he knows there's no horse being him and he wants to assure there's also no predator there so he has to keep on checking.

This is something that horses new to the trail often do. Most horses become more comfortable as they have many trail rides and make it back safely to the barn — it just takes some time to build confidence.

November 5, 2009 – How can I keep my hunting horse warm in the winter?

There are ways that you can trim a horse's coat that are designed to address this issue. See the two links below:

Also, there is a kind of blanket called a "quarter sheet" that you can use while riding. It fits over the horse's back and rump, but leaves his chest bare,. You can see and even buy one at this link:


November 4, 2009 – How do I measure my horse for a cooling blanket?

The measure runs from the center of the horse's chest, across half of the width of the chest, along his side down to the rump, and then across the rump to the tail. Regardless of how the foregoing reads, it is a straightforward measure. If you think about it, all you're doing is going halfway around his body starting at the center of his chest, down one side, to his tail. Blankets come in two inch increments, with measurements in the 60s for a pony and 80s for a draft horse. You don't want the blanket to be too big (dangerously loose) or too small (dangerously tight.)

The best thing to do for your first blanket might be to buy it locally with an understanding that you can return it if it doesn't fit properly. This way, you can exchange it for a bigger or smaller size if necessary. Another option is to borrow one from a friend who has a horse of similar size. If it fits, you then know the size to buy. If not, you'll at least know if the size is too big or too small and which way to go for the next test-fit. Then you can try to find someone else who'll lend you their horse's blanket for a few minutes for another test-fit so you can "zero in" on the size.

November 3, 2009 – I am looking at a 5 year old mare who is from the track. She has a problem and has scars on her rear pasterns. The lady I am speaking with says she is a half-notch off. What does this mean? I want to buy this horse for my children as a pleasure horse, just for leisurely riding.

It means she's a little lame. Scars on her pasterns could mean many things, none of them good for soundness reasons. That might not be a problem for you if her disposition is otherwise good and you're looking for more of a lawn ornament than a performance horse. I take it that the seller is not asking a lot for her, given the state of the economy and the flood of off-track thoroughbreds out there, so I question whether spending money on getting her vetted for your purpose is even worth it.

Because you're only looking for a pleasure horse for your children, the mare should be able to handle that task. Presuming I was right that the asking price is low, I would proceed forward knowing that if she gets too lame and too sore, that it may not be a horse that has a long life ahead of her. Just keep your duty as a horse owner in mind: keep the horse well, but don't keep it beyond what it can comfortably live with.

November 2, 2009 – Why does my horse always turn to the right when he's running?

This sounds like it could be a physical problem with the horse. He may have a muscle or a neck issue, or a back issue that causes him distress when he turns the other way. Get him evaluated by a veterinarian and see what you can find out. It will matter whether he does this only under saddle, in the pasture, or both. Your vet should be able to help you identify the cause and the recommended treatment.

October 30, 2009 – How do I quiet down and settle a horse that hasn't been ridden in five years?

I would start by lunging him with saddle on and stirrup leathers popping for a few weeks, gradually increasing the time span each time, three to four times a week. Then, when you do get on, do so in a round pen where there isn't much room to run. Only ride for a few minutes at first and get off on a positive note. Gradually increase the time on and the directions given. And, if you have any doubts about whether or not he will buck, or if you see a pattern of refusal to obey your directions, then get a horse trainer to ride him for a few weeks first. As I have had frequent occasion to say, your safety is worth everything!

October 29, 2009 – My horse gallops up to me bucking and tossing his head when I feed him. What does that mean?

It means he's happy to be fed and is letting off a little steam. That is, as long as he's not charging at you. If he approaches you with his ears back and with evident intent to harm, then get out of there fast!

I wrote a previous post on this (see the one for October 13th). You should read it and pay attention to the subtle clues. If he looks like he's just having fun, then he probably is just having fun. If he looks mad however, then get out!

October 28, 2009 – How do I stop the alpha horse from challenging me in the pasture?

Well, I can answer both the direct question and then go into some background. A lunge whip with a plastic bag tied to the end of it will just about always make a horse "get out of Dodge" quickly, and that means, away from you.

But the larger issue is why this horse feels that he can challenge you in the pasture. Keep in mind that the above method will not stop a really determined horse, and that if a horse is minded to cause you injury, he will do so if you let him. Under no circumstances would I recommend you going into a pasture with an aggressive horse, even with the afore-mentioned doohickey, because it won't protect you. So, proceed with caution, if at all.

Remember that some horses really can't be handled, and you should not endanger yourself under any circumstances. Any horse that charges you is a horse that must not be in the same space with you under any circumstances. On the other hand, a horse that comes up to you and gently shoulders you is a horse in need of guidance via the above method.

October 27, 2009 – Editor's note: This is a follow-up to the post of October 9th.

As a follow up to this...I only graze him after our workout. We are working on ground manners and it seems to be going well. I am also worried about being to hard on his mouth when I am ridding. He fights with me when I want to go one way and he wants to go somewhere else...I have so much to learn. Thanks!

From everything you say, it appears to me that your horse is not convinced that you're the boss all the time. Also, the bit may not be a good bit for him. The behavior you describe is one of constant testing, that is, he's testing you on a number of issues. It may be that you're not consistent in your treatment of him, and that the bit may not be appropriate. Remember that racehorses learn to lean on the bit in a way that most other horses do not.

October 26, 2009 – When I go out in the field with my horse, as soon as I start petting him, he turns and looks at me. I go up to stand next to his head and he presses his chin against my chest and pins me between his head and his chest. What does this mean?

If he pins you, that is a control move on his part — you can think of it as a test — he's doing the testing. No horse invades your space idly. That is, he has an agenda and it usually means that he is, literally, controlling your location or movements. This would mean that you are subservient to him, which is a dangerous place for a human to be.

Horses test all the time. They test each other and they test us. They do so to determine whether or not we're in control, and also to determine if we're capable of protecting them and worthy to be their leader.

If I were in your shoes, I would not let him do this. I appreciate my horse's signs of affection, but if they involve pinning any part of me, essentially trying to control me, I remind him who is the alpha in this relationship by moving him right back. Doing this will make your horse respond to your commands better, and most importantly, will make you safer around him because he will respect you. Don't be abusive, but do be firm, in control, and consistent. If you do, your horse will actually feel safer, be happier, and be more responsive to you because he feels safer. For horses, as prey animals, it's all about feeling safe.

October 23, 2009 – My horse doesn't want to cross a brook or stream. I sometimes can get her across, but it's a fight and can take 20 minutes.\ Why does she fight me? And what should I do?

She's convinced that the stream has no bottom. She can't see it, so why should she believe it's there? So she's afraid.

Solving this problem will take some practice and repetition. Keep crossing streams. The best way is to go on long trail rides with lots of experienced horses under muddy conditions with lots of water and streams everywhere — let the other horses go across first.

Horses are very much "monkey see, monkey do" types, and especially if she gets left behind at each crossing, her struggles to avoid crossing will be lessened. After a while, the manifest silliness of her objections and her strong desire to remain with the herd will become clear even to her, and this will stop being an issue.

October 22, 2009 – Why does my horse pace in circles and not eat when in her stall?

Ex-racehorses do this sometimes. It's behavior usually caused by too much time indoors with too much energy on hand to stand still. If she is an ex-racehorse, she associates being in her stall with that confinement.

If she's not an ex-racehorse, then she's making her discomfort with an enclosed space obvious.

In such cases, I would suggest that you get her a larger stall, and start her slowly getting used to it, a few hours at a time. Horses need stalls only in the depth of winter in northern climates. Otherwise, I would keep her outside. Horses like it better outside, it's usually cheaper for you, and the horses are almost always healthier.

October 21, 2009 – I want to start my own horse farm, but I don't know where to start. Any suggestions?

If you already have adequate land for your new farm, then the issue is for you to determine how you can make the farm live on what you already have. If you don't have land, then you also have the need to scour the realty market, evaluate property, purchase property and protect your liability, etc., etc. Of course, then you have many more tasks to perform, such as your financial analysis.

Buying or starting a farm requires much more space and discussion than I have here. Fortunately, QueryHorse has already written articles on this topic. See the following:

Buying A Horse Farm - Part 1
Building Your Dream Barn
Hiring a Barn Building Contractor
Six Horse Business Myths.

October 20, 2009 – Is too much attention toward my horse a bad thing? I'm getting conflicting advice.

The scope of human behavior encompassed by "too much attention" is vast indeed, so let me try to read into that question a bit more, along the lines of behavior I commonly see around the stable.

Some horse owners treat their horses as if they were spoiled children. They constantly offer treats and let the horse get away with all kinds of misbehavior. They "love" their horse too much to discipline him or to otherwise control either his behavior or their own. This is certainly attention, but it is the kind of attention that trains the horse to behave badly, and with disregard for human safety. The consequences of THAT can be deadly.

On the other hand, I believe that you cannot ever pay too much attention to a horse in the sense of attention itself. That is, you must always observe, see, and have in mind what your horse is doing at that moment, as well as the situation around you and your horse. The horse is a prey animal, and he'll react to his environment. By paying close attention, you can save both him and yourself from danger. In fact, the Plains Indians, who became a horse culture in a very short time, indeed used their horses as sentinels, because of their ability to sense danger approaching.

Finally, there's certainly nothing wrong with loving your horse and giving him attention, including an occasional treat (though, don't overdo it for nutritional and colic reasons; an occasional carrot or two is fine). Horses enjoy our company, enjoy being groomed, enjoy being ridden, and enjoy learning new activities. Just be careful to keep things in perspective. Your horse will test you and try to do what he wants even if it's not what you want. When that happens, you must correct him quickly. If you do that, most corrections are nothing more than a quick snap of the reins or a sharp "NO!" There's no need to yell; don't carry on; and don't abuse your horse — they got the first message immediately.

Horses actually feel best when they're not the leader, but they truly believe that you are, because that also means that you'll take care of them and keep them safe when you're around. By being consistent, yet fair, your horse will respect you, do almost anything you want from letting you control him when riding to lifting his feet for you when you pick his hooves. You and other humans will also be much safer when around such a well mannered horse.

And yes, it's ok to give him a hug around his neck or a kiss on his head when you arrive and leave the barn.

October 19, 2009 – I moved my horse to a new stable last week and now he won't eat the grain. Is there a problem with the grain or is he in shock from the move?

He may be suffering from the move, or the grain may be different than he's used to. Give him another day or two and see if he doesn't start eating on his own. If he hasn't eaten for several days already, then change back to his old grain, and if he doesn't eat that, then immediately call a vet. It may be a health condition underlying the situation.

October 16, 2009 – How do I catch my unbroke horse? He always runs away from me as I approach his paddock.

Well, unless you know how to rope, a la cowboy style, you won't catch him by running after him. You have to convince him that he likes you and that good things happen when you're around. Fortunately, horses are very greedy, so food plus you equals love after a while and gets you started.

The trick is to have patience, and to not have an agenda most of the time. Start by putting out his feed in the morning or in the evening, and just stand near the bucket — not too close in the beginning, perhaps six feet away. Let him eat and you just stand there staring at the sky or listening to the birds or whatever. After a few days of this, move your position a foot or two closer to the bucket. Don't move a step closer while he's eating, although you can move around pacing slightly just so he knows that your moving doesn't mean that he's going to be approached.

After a while, you'll be able to stand next to him while he eats. For the next few sessions, just stand there. Eventually, bring a brush and brush his back lightly while he eats. This feels good to most horses. Increase the grooming sessions over time. Sometimes, just bring a little grain and see how much grooming he'll tolerate. If he steps away, let him. Pick up the bucket and leave the area. If he steps away before the grain is done, well, that means no more grain for that session. Don't groom every time though; keep him guessing.

Another thing to do is to deprive him of horse companionship during this time. He'll get lonely and look forward to your grooming sessions. After a while, also bring a halter and a rope. Before using it, get him used to fussing around his face and brushing his ears and neck. Especially if there are lots of flies out there, he'll appreciate the attention. After a while, you'll be able to put the halter on. Leave it on for a short while, then take it off. Eventually, you'll be able to halter him when you approach and before he eats. Voila! You've caught your horse!

The key here is patience and becoming a friendly part of your horse's life. If you only show up at the barn when you want to ride, your horse learns that you're only about work and not about his life — why should he let you approach when you don't bring anything good into his life? But if you're presence means all things, he will associate you with food, grooming, companionship, and fun, as well as work. At that point, you've become partners and friends.

October 15, 2009 – What would make an otherwise very calm horse react badly?

Pain or Fear. Check for signs of both. Horses are not computers, they're prey animals. They react to things beyond our abilities to sense and they do so very quickly. That's why you must always pay close attention to your horse at all times when you're near him — it could save your life.

If you're not able to determine what is going on by yourself, your best bet is to enlist the help of a trainer. He/she should be able to determine whether or not your horse is in pain. If it is, the next step is to call your vet to address the issue. If it's fear instead, your trainer should be able to help your horse work through the issue(s) with techniques for desensitization.

Don't ignore this. Something has changed to make your horse react badly and you owe it to yourself and him to resolve the issue so you both can get on with a happier existence together.

October 14, 2009 – Why does my horse have bald patches all over his body?

I confess that I have no idea. This is a veterinary issue. Anything health related that looks scary, I always call my vet first thing. This would be one of those times.

October 13, 2009 – What does it mean when a horse bobs his head and dances with his front hooves?

It could mean a couple of things and you need to observe all the signals: 1) If his ears are up and pointed forward, or at half mast and pointed at you on his back, then it means he's excited to get going and do whatever it is that either you or he have planned at that moment; 2) But, if they're flat to his head and you're in front of him on the ground, it means that he's about to bite you, paw you, or otherwise hurt you — you need to MOVE! If the former, you have a happy horse. If the latter, obviously, you need to think about what you're doing and why your horse is upset.

October 12, 2009 – I have a question about the hay I am feeding my horse. It is a combination of 1st and 2nd cutting. It was kept dry, is not moldy or even dusty, but has a vinegar smell to it. My husband said it's fermenting. Is that what's happening? My horse is not happy eating it. I've starting spraying it with a molasses and water mix and it seems easier on his pallet, but can it harm him in anyway? Thanks so much for your help!!

It could be fermenting. If your horse is not happy eating it, then don't force the issue. If you mask the taste with sugar, two things happen:

  1. First, he could be eating hay that will give him colic, and that could kill him; and
  2. Second, you're teaching him to only eat sugar hay.
Horses don't do well processing sugar, so that is a second health hazard. Get different hay immediately! It might cost a bit more, but keeping him alive and healthy is worth it.

October 9, 2009 – My 7 year old, off-track Thoroughbred constantly tries to eat when I tack him up. After riding I often hand-graze him a little while he rests. Could this be what's causing this behavior? He is coming back from a knee injury, so at this point, we are only walk/trot. We are in the early stages of this relationship as I've only had him for 6 months.

Hand-grazing him, per se, is not a problem. But, if you hand-graze him with a bit in, absolutely, that is the cause. Otherwise, and in addition, you're allowing him to dictate the terms of his work, and so, of course, he will. To address this situation, keep his mind on business when it is business time — work time now, snack time later.

He's a smart horse; he already knows this. He's just presuming on your good will at this point, and you're letting him do so.

October 8, 2009 – What does it mean when my horse licks my arm?

That he likes the salt taste. I'm sorry, he's not showing "true love".

October 7, 2009 – My horse gets very excited when around other horses and it scares me. What should I do?

There are two issues here: your fear, and the horse's excitement.

Your fear is the most significant part of this that you need to address. It means that you'll have a tough time becoming his boss so you can control his expressions of excitement. There are things you can do to restrain and control his actions, but absent that inner certitude on your part, I'm afraid to recommend techniques that could get you hurt.

Get a horse trainer and work with basic control techniques until you're more in control of yourself and the horse. And if you cannot master that fear, you won't like this, but you should sell the horse. Life is too short for this kind of risk and danger.

October 6, 2009 – Which kimberwick bit is more harsh, broken or straight?

I think the broken Kimberwick is more painful for the horse. It combines the torque of a Pelham onto a twisting platform.


October 5, 2009 – What is the legal definition of a "negligent lease?" I heard this recently and don't know what it means.

I am not sure either. There is negligence, and there is the process of leasing. Negligence means you owe a duty of care to someone and that you breach by reason of your lack of adequate care. A lease is where you give the use of your horse to someone else for some remuneration.

Those who take on a horse in a lease might be supposed to have a duty to look out for their own interests. I suppose it might be argued that a complete neophyte that relies on an experienced horse trainer for a recommendation for a lease, might be put in a situation where that trainer committed negligence in recommending a horse for a lease. That's about the most I can come up with.

October 2, 2009 – Why does my horse bite when I mount?

That is an editorial opinion on the process of you getting on his back — don't let him express this opinion to you. That is, stop him before he can perform the action, and enforce consequences for that attitude, such as popping the reins, making him back up, and other forms of mildly unpleasant work. The point is, YOU are the boss and he is the underling.

Then, make sure you're not overworking him or engaging in other habits that might make going out less than pleasant. If he enjoys going out, then the attitude will lessen, though he may never like the mounting process. Keep in mind that when you get on, your weight twists his spine as you get on if using the stirrup from the ground. It might be worth using a mounting block to help with that issue. To learn more about this issue, see our articles about mounting:

The Lowly Mounting Block
Mounting Pressures

If you're not hurting him as you get on, and if the ride itself is pleasant, then he has no business trying to stage a "coup d'etat", and that is what you must impart to him, enlisting a horse trainer if necessary.

October 1, 2009 – When I ride my horse and ask him to go, he turns his head around and looks at me. At first I thought his stomach hurt, but all he does is look at me, not at his stomach. I got off one time and lead him and he was fine.

He is a good horse, not lazy at all and I love him a lot, but one day I went out to ride him and he started this. I really care about him and this puzzles me. What could it be? If I really urge him to go, he goes but somewhat reluctantly.

I have had repeated occasion to say that horses are much smarter than we give them credit for. Your horse has learned that if he gives you a long, soulful look, then you'll not ask him to work. Wow! And I thought my 7 year old quarter horse gelding, left with his mommy until this year, and so entirely spoiled rotten, was the only equine that had learned this trick!

Um. Well, it is hard not to be a soft touch in this circumstance, unless you actually need to get places with him. The next time you're mounted, he does this, and once you two are done communing, then I would say to pull his nose around straight and remind him who is the actual boss in this circumstance. Then, tell him what the boss wants him to do, as in, right now. Don't be harsh or cruel, just firm in that it's time for him to start going forward.

September 30, 2009 – Why does my horse need so much attention? I just bought him to go riding, not to have another pet.

Horses need constant companionship, which is a lesson I guess you're learning the hard way. Most people delegate these duties to another horse. Examine your stable management practices and change them so that your horse can socialize with other horses all day, and so that he does not have to rely on you. A good boarding stable knows how to do this as well as address the physical needs of food, water, turnout, etc. In other words, if you're not able to manage horse care yourself, then board at a place that does.

If you cannot do either, then sell the horse. The horse deserves a life, just as you do. Then you can get an All Terrain Vehicle so that you can ride without the demands inherent in a living creature. There are others that will love to spend time with the horse and they, the horse, and you with the ATV, will all be happy.

September 29, 2009 – My horse is afraid of forest and wooded areas, so he never wants to ride there. How do I de-sensitive him?

Take lots of trail rides in company with seasoned, older horses. Their company will play to your horse's "herd instincts" and help your horse to feel comfortable while out in the forest. After enough time and miles, your horse will be trooping right along with the veterans.

September 28, 2009 – Hi, I am considering picking up a lovely 11-year-old dark bay Quarter Horse mare. She is very quiet and moves nicely but she has a crack which runs up her front hoof from the ground all the way to the coronary band. The current owner says that this is a surface crack and has shoes on her front only due to this. I have been told that this will all grow out roughly in a year or so and then she should be fine and in the meantime I just need to keep her shod for that time until the crack has grown out and is gone. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so I would very much like to hear it.

I do not shoe my horses but have always used easy boots when riding on trails or anything rough. I am not sure if the current owner is willing to subtract from the cost of the mare the added expense of shoeing for roughly a year but does that sound reasonable to you? Would you consider purchasing a horse with a split like this? I guess that I am submitting multiple questions here. Thank you in advance for your valued opinion.

If I were you, I'd hire a farrier and get him to look at the crack BEFORE buying. A horse's hoof grows from the coronet band, like a fingernail, and so the present owner is correct in that the crack will grow out in about a year. If it's not a deep crack, and the horse stays shod for the year to hold the foot together, then he's right and it's not a big deal, just something to keep an eye on. However, if it IS a deep crack, then it might not get better, and the foot might indeed split. If so, it is a big deal, and you will have no recourse against the seller who responsibly told you about and showed you the crack, and where you bought the mare knowing the risk.

So I'd hire a farrier, get fully informed, and then haggle away if you still want the mare. In your shoes, after being forewarned as to the risks, I would see what the price is and take an informed risk if the crack isn't too deep. Some of my best horses have come about through haggling of just this nature. But be prepared if the horse's foot does come apart, because at that point, you'll have no choice but to do the kind, right, and appropriate thing and put the horse down humanely. In such circumstance, just remember that the horse's life was much better with you than with anyone else, and that she had the best chance of getting over it with your care. In such cases, there is no regret or recrimination, it just is what it is.

September 25, 2009 – Hi! I was wondering if you can help me on a equine matter? A friend of mine had brought her horse to a well known horse trainer because he has a bad problem with rearing and flipping over. The trainer did not have us sign any release forms, training, nothing. Well they tied him to the barn with an over hang and know all about this horses fear. He reared, wacked his head, and flipped over. We brought him home not knowing he broke his face plate till a few months down the road, because it just wasn't healing right. Do We have any kind of case?? Thanks for your time.

It certainly sounds interesting from a legal standpoint. Whether there is a case or not depends on a whole lot of questions I cannot ask or get answered in this format. Advise your friend to contact an equine lawyer in her local area for a consultation.

The reason I generally give this advice is because legal issues are rarely simple. Plus, laws covering many issues vary from state to state. I know the laws of the state in which I practice, but I couldn't claim that about other states. To get good quality legal advice, your friend needs to consult an equine attorney who knows the laws of her state and also understands the vagaries of horse issues and legal precedents. That way, she'll get particular feedback on this very question for her particular locality.

Good luck to your friend on this matter!

September 24, 2009 – What kind of document do I need to transfer a horse as a gift?

A document resembling a bill of sale, using the words "give" rather than "sell" can work. The point is that the document transfers title of the horse to the recipient and therefore indicates that you are surrendering all rights to the horse. It also contains your signature to prove it.

BUT at this point, I must utter words of caution: You can hold your breath and put your hope in fate, but you're taking a chance. Without knowing your particular circumstances, keep in mind that this IS NOT my legal advice and you ARE NOT empowered to act on it as if it was!!!! There are many issues that surround the transfer of a horse, including representation issues, warranty issues, liability issues, board issues, etc. So, for any transfer, it's best to at least run the situation by an equine attorney — that is my advice!

September 23, 2009 – Why does my horse run away when I try to tack him up?

Because he knows he's about to work and is exhibiting his editorial opinion on that topic by voting with his feet. Make him stand and tack him up in front of a wall so that he can only move backwards or sideways. Be vigilant, and when he moves, make him move backwards, sideways, or around in a circle until you're at the same place again, and until he wants to quit moving. When he finally stands still, try it again.

Also make sure that the bridle fits him well and does not pinch; and tighten the girth slowly. In fact, when girthing, I often walk in a circle. While doing so, I'll stop every few feet, tightening a notch, go another feet feet, tighten, and so on for three or four times. If you tighten the girth all at once, it may cause the horse to flip over when you get on because of the squeeze around his middle. So, be cautious around girthing.

And don't pinch his ears when pulling the headstall over head. If he does stand, praise him extravagantly, pull the bridle off, and then let him rest for a while in reward. After a few minutes, you can put his bridle on again.

This whole process should not take too long to sort out. You just have to be consistent and attentive to the discomfort of your horse in the process — as you must with most things horse!

September 22, 2009 – Why does my horse sweat more on one side of her body than the other side?

I have no idea why your horse only sweats on one side of her body. This sounds like a medical issue to me, so I recommend calling your veterinarian. Horses can stop sweating for a variety of reasons, including heat stroke. So this is not something to leave alone — call your vet!

September 21, 2009 – My horse keeps trying to graze while I'm riding him. What do I do?

Don't let him. This takes constant attention, but if he snatches at the grass or the trees, snatch back with the bit at that exact instant with a pop of the reins, and at the same time, say in a terrible voice, STOP THAT! Horses are way smarter than many of us give them credit for, and the first time you do this, he'll understand that the behavior is forbidden. The next ten times he tries, it will only be because he wants to see if you really mean it, and he will time those attempts for the moments when he figures you're not paying attention. This is a game and the prize is the snack, so be prepared for some enthusiastic playing until he figures out that you mean business.

September 18, 2009 – My horse was kicked by another horse. How do I treat it and what do I do to stop it from happening again?

The treatment for a kick will depend on the extent of the damage. If it is just swelling, then a cold water hosing and bute helps reduce swelling and pain. If there was a cut, then some antibiotic ointment and oral antibiotics might also be necessary. Call your veterinarian for all such questions in any event.

On to your larger question: there is no way to really prevent intra-horse aggression other than keeping them separated. Some owners don't care about this, figuring that the horses need to settle it themselves. Unfortunately, Justin Morgan's owner felt this way about his little stallion Figure, resulting in the founding sire of the Morgan breed dying far earlier than he needed to.

I think you do need to keep an eye on this situation. A little threat display from the boss to the underling now and again is fine to keep order in the herd. But vicious attacks from a higher ranked horse in confined quarters means that the underdog horse is really at risk. In such case, a shuffling of the herd is in order before some really serious injury occurs.

September 17, 2009 – I live in Massachusetts. How much land do I need to keep a horse?

That depends on your local zoning rules — there is no state wide rule. Your town should have a website with all the zoning regulations printed online. Go check it out and get back to me with other questions after you've had a chance to read up.

September 16, 2009 – I have a 6 year old Arab/Paint. She's always been difficult to work with. I have done a lot of ground work which seems to be helping. However, now when I ride her, she tries to bite my leg when I ask her to move forward. Other than kick her nose, what should I do?

All horse training boils down to boss-mare principals: punish bad behavior, reward good. So, don't let her bite and impose an immediate sanction when she tries.

Ideally, you would want to employ the sanction as she's getting into motion to bite, not after the fact. This will befuddle her and convince her that you are, indeed, all powerful. After you've applied the sanction, immediately get her interested in doing something else. One thing to try is to get her to turn rather than going forward. Once she has turned, straighten her out for a few strides, then stop and reward her.

The first few times, if she does what you want, consider getting off, untacking immediately, and letting her go for the day. She'll not be slow in associating the reward with the action. Then, gradually stretch it out and increase the work ratio before letting her go, but each time praising her and letting her rest when she does what you want. She will soon become interested in the training for its own sake if you vary the commands and the actions.

Horses can also get interested in projects, so work towards a goal (whether barrel racing, trail class, polo, or what have you....) and you'll both have more fun. But, be aware of the possibility that she's too intransigent in her resistance for you to safely train. If so, unload her immediately onto a horse trainer. If that doesn't work or you're patience is running out, you might even consider selling her to a new owner who has been well warned of her nature and tendencies. Not all horses are for all riders, and there's no shame in recognizing that fact.

September 15, 2009 – I just got this new 2 year old gelding and we want him to be a good 4-h horse. The owner that sold him said their grandchildren have ridden him when they led him around. But once we lead him (after having him a month) he wouldn't go forward so we've been circling him. But we'd like to train him by September so we can enter him in 4-h. I am hoping that I will be able to ride him next year for 4-h.

My other horse is an 11 year old Thoroughbred mare and is good to lead, saddle, and bridle. She used to be ridden, but since her owner died, she hasn't been ridden for 4 years. She spooks easily and I am afraid to ride her and can't find a trainer to try to ride her either. I have a friend who has had 20 horses and bred them with her two stallions. She is willing to ride my mare, but she is too young and needs her mom's help, but her mom has been busy this summer.

Can you help me with these two horses?

Both of your horses need a good horse trainer. From your questions, I believe their issues are likely beyond the scope of what you can safely handle. It won't take long to get them into shape, just probably thirty days or so, but you need a good trainer for that period.

You said you can't find a trainer for your mare. How have you looked? There are all ranges of trainers out there, from rough stock riders and insane individuals who will take on the toughest of the tough to the trainers employed by race owners to start the young ones and method trainers who handle the backyard horses that are too much for their owners, and so on.

I would say, do a search in QueryHorse to find a trainer — use the search query below:

"horse training minnesota"

If you can't find a trainer close to where you are, contact one of the further ones you do find and ask if they know anyone in your area. This is one investment of your time that will be well worth it, especially as you say, if you intend to show by the end of September.

You're doing the right thing by circling on leading, but from there, you really need expert guidance. I won't be able to know how to advise more specifically without seeing what's going on, and that is why you need a trainer on site with you.

September 14, 2009 – I hope you can help me. I don't have a round pen so I need something else that might work. I just recently (2 wks ago) bought my first horse. He's a mini gelding 5 yrs old. I was told he was a child's horse and the woman says she bought from the original owner. The woman had him 4 months and did nothing with him but turn him out to pasture.

My problem is that he's very hard to catch and he doesn't want to be touched. If I try to touch him, he moves away. He turns his rump to me in the stall when I go in to get him to turn him out in the afternoons. He's the only horse I have, but he's right beside ducks and chickens and a dog with only fencing separating them. Once I get a lead on him, he is great. He follows well, backs well, does good for the farrier, can be groomed etc. He will come up to me in the pasture but doesn't want me or anyone else touching him. I'm trying to find the original owners, but so far had no luck. I'm getting very discouraged, can you help??

Does he move away even if you have food or grain in a bucket? Most horses are so greedy for food that it overcomes even their earnest desire not to be touched. Try going out to the field with no agenda other than feeding him. Put the bucket down and then stand back a few feet. Wait till he's done and then take the bucket away. Each time you feed him, stand a little closer. Don't do anything but stand there and commune with nature. Eventually you will be able to stand next to him.

After a while of successful standings next to him, bring a brush and just brush his back while he eats — he will enjoy this. Incrementally increase your range of activity, but don't ask him to accept anything other than to eat and be groomed. He'll soon associate you with good things and start to look forward to your visits.

This whole process will take a while, and you must be patient. His behavior is obviously a trick he's learned over time, and he won't unlearn it quickly either,. But if you persevere, you should have a friendly pony in a few months. Just be sure to look at things from his perspective: if your presence always means work and interference, well, who can blame him for sulking and wanting to get away when you show up?

September 11, 2009 – My two-year old gelding has trouble leading. When I lead him, he won't go forward, so we have to go in circles. We have an 11 year old mare that leads without a lead rope, but she doesn't let him touch the hay when we feed them, so now we feed them separately. How can you help us let them be able to feed together and have my gelding lead properly?

Unfortunately, as I've written before, you cannot dictate inter-horse manners. No matter what you do, they have an opinion on the topic, and since they're the ones that control their behavior and are much stronger and heavier than we are, another approach must be used.

Leading by circling is the right thing to do. From there, what you have to do is convince him that when he resists, that action will touch off a wave of work. Conversely, if he goes along with your desires, then he gets to rest. So, if you can get even one forward step out of him, you can use that principle — it does take patience. You may want to enlist a horse trainer if you don't have the time or the patience to work on it. That would be my suggestion in any event.

As for feeding, just either feed them separately or put the hay in two piles widely spaced so that if your mare chases him off one pile, he can retreat to the next pile.

September 10, 2009 – What are the signs that a horse is evading the bit?

There are many signs. Some of them are: they stick their tongue out; they dip their chins to their chest; they toss their heads when you pull; they bob their heads back, forth, up, and down; and they "mouth the bit" frantically. Of course, all of this also means the bit is hurting the horse — that's why he's evading it, so you'll have to examine that issue carefully.

A bit that causes the horse to exhibit undue evasion tactics is no fun to ride. And it's not fair to the horse, either. The process also teaches the horse really bad habits that can render him unsafe, so do watch this issue carefully and be ready to change bits.

The Horse Guy has tried the Myler family of bits and is quite happy with them. The premise of this bit is that it should not hurt the horse. It might be worth checking out if this is a constant issue with your horse.

September 9, 2009 – What does it mean when my horse follows me around the pasture?

It could mean several things: Your horse might think that you're carrying some food and could be going to feed him. It could also mean that he thinks you're the herd leader. He might just be curious and wants to see what you're going to do next. Or, he could just be bored — horses like it when people show up to play.

September 8, 2009 – How can I control my excitable horse?

First, you have to do an investigation to determine why the horse is excitable. Here are some possibilities to explore:

  • Are you feeding too much grain for the amount of work he's doing? Depending on the work/grain ratio, even slow pluggers can come up with a spook or two under the pressure of high test grain.
  • Have you recently changed circumstances so that your horse is dealing with new surroundings? Race horses right off the track almost always are spooky until they figure out what the next project is.
  • Is it a windy day out on the trail? The Horse Guy has written extensively on why that circumstance brings out the inner spook in most horses. Learn more by reading: Horses and Wind.

If none of those circumstances apply, then you might just be dealing with an excitable horse. In that case, enlist a trainer on settling firmly the alpha issue with the horse so that he trusts that you are his boss and will keep him safe. At the same time, do an assessment: are you sure your skills are enough to keep you safe with this horse? Don't bite off more than you can chew on this one; there are always more horses available, and because you're asking this question, be honest with yourself about whether or not this one is truly for you. Remember, safety first in all things!

September 4, 2009 – Is there any liability for spooking a horse on a public trail?

There could be. It depends on the rules of the public trail, and how likely it is to encounter horses. For example, if there is a rule that no ATV vehicles can ride on certain designated trails, and yet an ATV vehicle does so and spooks a horse which ultimately results in property damage or an injury to a person or horse, then there could indeed be negligence proven that will result in liability. So, as a proper lawyer, I will have to give you the proper lawyer answer: a definite maybe!

If this is not an idle question, call an equine lawyer, and sooner rather than later. In this kind of case particularly, you want an attorney that understands the behavior of horses.

September 3, 2009 – New Equine Legal Article
Because of the current economic climate, there have, sadly, been many more abandoned horses recently, and subsequent questions regarding that issue from a boarding farm's perspective. As a result, I've prepared an article that helps provide a legal path that farm owners can pursue should they find themselves in such a situation. It's entitled: The Abandoned Horse Problem - Solve it Quickly.

September 2, 2009 – Can a horse become alpha over a rider if pastured alone?

Of course. But it has nothing to do with being pastured alone — the two circumstances are not related. A horse has a natural urge to settle the issue of who is boss no matter who he is communicating with. It's the first order of business, because, he can't know how to respond until that point is settled. It is true that a horse pastured alone will be lonely, and will be more likely to be happy when you appear to break the monotony. But he may also relish the opportunity to be a big boss himself, if you, the rider, allow it. All horses are individuals. Funny, so are all humans. It makes for an interesting time!

September 1, 2009 – I live in Massachusetts as you do. Do you know how much land I need so as to be able to keep my horse here at home?

Actually, this is a town zoning issue rather than a state requirement. So, you'll have to check your local zoning regulations on that one. Each town defines how many acres of land they require per horse. This is not the actual amount of grass needed to feed a horse year round, but some amount of land deemed necessary by the town. You'll have to determine how much pasture you'll require to graze a horse depending on his size, how much he eats, etc. The amount of pasture needed for grazing could be significantly more than the minimum amount of land the town requires to be able to keep horses.

August 31, 2009 – Will using overreach boots stop my horse from clicking as she walks?

If the click is caused by your horse's rear hooves striking her front hooves, then it usually will stop the clicking. Otherwise, you need to explore further for the actual cause of the clicking before buying the boots to assure overreaching is the cause — it could be something else. Enlist the help of a horse trainer or your vet to observe the horse's gaits if in doubt.

August 28, 2009 – I have a horse that does not graze enough on his own. What should I do?

Are you telling me this horse does not like grass? That is, if you left him in a field with knee high grass, he would not eat? Does he have any trouble with the rest of his foods? That is, does he eat hay and grain? If it's a general malady, then you could be looking at a dental problem. If he won't eat just grass, then it may be the amount or kind of grass that you're grazing him on that he disdains. I would not second-guess your horse on this one because he knows what he can and not eat when it comes to grasses. All you can do is offer him different or better pasturage or more pasturage at more leisure. Try that and see what happens.

August 27, 2009 – My horse sometimes rears while tied. I don't know how to stop him and it scares me. Please tell me what to do.

This is tough one. I had a horse that pulled back and broke a leg doing it — he had to be put down.

I would enlist the help of a trainer that has appropriate expertise in dealing with this kind of problem. This is one vice that you really have to try to eradicate, because it's dangerous for the horse and you can't really use a horse that won't stand tied. I've heard of tools used, such as a tractor trailer tire filled with cement that's heavy enough to move, but too heavy to drag, and so forth. But I would be afraid to use such approaches for fear of hurting the horse. Again, this is really a job for an expert.

August 26, 2009 – My horse keeps passing out. What do I do?

DO NOT RIDE HIM! Call a veterinarian IMMEDIATELY! This is a veterinarian issue that should be addressed immediately for the safety of yourself and the horse.

August 25, 2009 – What is the typical fee for trailering a horse?

There is no typical fee. This is one where you have to get out there and see what the market demands. I would go to a licensed hauler though, just for safety's sake. You can get cheap deals, but you will not have confidence in the ride and safety of your horse.

August 24, 2009 – Is a full-cheek snaffle a harsh bit?

Snaffles are not the toughest bit in the arsenal, but they can be used in a way that produces a tough effect. Also, how the horse is configured may produce more of an effect with its use. You really have to watch your horse to see how that horse responds. If he displays signs of pain, evasion, or worse, has blood or sores from its use, you'll know that it's too much and that you need to check out its fit and how you're using it.

August 21, 2009 – Is it dangerous to ride without stirrups? Is it hard to do? Is there any advantage to do it?

Riding without stirrups, that is, bareback or on a pad, can be unsettling for those who don't have good balance on a horse. Stirrups can help a rider because they allow him to push and steady himself with his feet when he gets unbalanced, and to get back into a more correct position. It is a bit of a "catch-22" in that sense: poor riders like the stirrups because, by definition, they're "poor riders" and easily become unbalanced. And yet, having stirrups there all the time will prevent them from learning how to balance themselves and become better riders.

I would not go so far as to call the situation without stirrups to be "dangerous". However, beginning riders don't use stirrups correctly anyway. That is, they allow their heels to come up and their feet to slide too far into the stirrup. This prevents good body posture and can be a definite hazard if they do fall off and get their feet hung up in the stirrup (from being too far forward). That can lead to getting dragged, which all agree is a dangerous situation not to be tested at home (or anywhere else, really).

So, when I teach someone to ride, I do often have my student practice with his feet out of the stirrups. By doing so, the student learns how to keep his back straight, his heels down, and how to use his leg muscles and back muscles to keep his body in the correct position. Once the student is riding in balance NOT using stirrups, then using stirrups becomes much easier.

Then again, you also have to look at where and how the riding is taking place. A calm horse, a beginning rider, and a walking pace in a place where the horse is familiar and comfortable with other calm horses around and an instructor right there is an ideal time to try riding without stirrups. Conversely, wild terrain, spooky horses, long rides, and no one else nearby leads me to use stirrups — it's all a matter of judgment!

August 20, 2009 – I'm never sure whether or not I'm riding my horses enough, too much, or too little. Can you offer some guidance?

Sure. As a polo player, I watch this all the time. A horse that is used too much will lose flesh, will get small lameness and stiffness problems, will get saddle sores, will evade being caught with much enthusiasm (his attitude will shift from, "you can't catch me!, hee, hee" to "you will not under any circumstances catch me!"), and will in general wilt.

A horse that is not used enough will have no top line of muscles over his back and loins, will be flabby in musculature elsewhere, will be very frisky when you get on, yet will sweat up and get winded immediately, and then will resist working any more.

Does any of this sound familiar? If not, then you are probably working your horses just right!

August 19, 2009 – Will a horse leave a burning barn?

There is an old wive's tale that horses will NOT leave a burning barn. I can believe this, although I've not witnessed or heard of a specific situation proving or disproving it. It likely has to do with the fact that the horse is in fear, feels safest in its stall, and does not trust the human to lead it anywhere in the midst of the scary smoke and flame. Blindfolding the horse may work, as that will shut out the scary sights. I hope I never have to find out what the real story is on this one!

August 18, 2009 – Can horses tell if a thunderstorm is coming?

I think so. They can hear the approaching storm and smell it and feel the change in air pressure. Wait a minute, so can I!

August 17, 2009 – Every time I ask my horse to trot, she wants to turn around; why?

Turn around as in run home? Or, turn around as in run in circles? Barring some kind of injury, I really can't think of what might cause a horse to do this without more details. Send me another question with more information and I'll be happy to help.

August 14, 2009 – How can I evict a boarding tenant? We have no written agreement or lease.

If you're talking about evicting only the horse, then you as the owner of the land has the right to warn off anyone from trespassing on that land. The owner of the land could, for example, give written notice of trespass to someone he wanted removed. If your question involves a boarder of the horse who also lives on the land, then you're talking "eviction law" which is very complex and beyond the scope of this forum. Therefore, the practical details of making it happen are very messy and you really need to get proper legal advice before embarking on this course of action. Remember, what I gave you above is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and you should not do anything without contacting a lawyer.

August 13, 2009 – I have a 17 year old, pregnant, Thoroughbred mare that makes a clicking sound when she walks. But, when she trots, I can't hear it. Could you tell me why she does that?

This sounds like a joint click. I'm 48 and much the same thing happens when I walk. In other words, it doesn't sound to me like a hugely worrying thing.

August 12, 2009 – I have a 4 year old quarter horse. When we got her she wasn't broke and needed some refreshing, so we worked with her all day. She did great, but the next day I rode her and squeezed her to make her trot, she tried to bite my boyfriend and she wouldn't go. She also laid her ears back. What do I do to make her trot and run.? I am going to use her for barrel racing and my boyfriend said use spurs?

The problem with green horses (inexperienced horses) is that they're not consistent in their reactions to our suggestions. Training for a horse consists of repeating a series of cues over time followed by a desired reaction for which the horse is praised. After a while, the horse decides of his own volition that doing what you ask is a good thing and even could be a fun thing. The point is that the horse always has a choice, and so, if you introduce spurs or a whip without figuring out what is going on, you could be introducing real trouble.

It appears as though here, she did what you asked initially, and you responded by working the heck out of her by working with her all day. Overnight, she came to the independent decision that doing what you ask leads to lots of work, so she has indicated her desire to not participate in the future.

Your best bet is to enlist a horse trainer to help get her mind settled and happy to work again. If she tries to bite, reprimand the biting behavior. And when working her, start out slow, reward obedience, and then get off.

Each day, add a little more. After a while, she'll like going out of her pen for jaunts — add trotting when she appears comfortable. Again, with every positive thing that she does, reward with pats and then stop working. This takes great patience and most people don't have the time to do this, which is why I said to enlist a horse trainer. You can send her out for training for thirty days and you'll be amazed at the results.

August 11, 2009 – What is the meaning of a "free lease?"

The basic deal of a "free lease" is: you take care of the horse, and as long as you do, you can use him for free. Some people will charge a lease fee for the horse ON TOP of the horse's maintenance, which is a lease which is NOT free.

In either case, it's best to hire an equine attorney practicing in your state to review the lease's terms to avoid pitfalls. A good percentage of my cases involve lease deals that have gone wrong. The unifying theme is usually one of two causes: these individuals did not get good legal advice and/or did not write anything down first.

August 10, 2009 – Why does my thoroughbred shake and toss her head whenever she's not at the front of the pack?

She's likely saying, "look at me, "I AM THE BOSS HERE!!!" The rest of the horses may or may not agree. But I am sure it makes for an interesting equine discussion carried out in non verbal cues about which we have only a very minor possibility of interpreting.

August 7, 2009 – How do you keep a lonely pasture horse from being bored?

Well, which is it? If he's lonely, he's not bored — he's lonely! Or is he bored? It's important not to confuse the two — they're not the same.

Loneliness can only be addressed by providing companionship. Remember that horses are designed by nature to live outside in company, so if they're not in the company of others of their kind, they will be lonely, AND possibly bored — give the horse a friend!

Some horses are bored even when they have a friend. While some may play together, others do not. In that case, give the horse something to do, such as a good pasture with adequate grazing, or during the non-growth colder months, some free-choice hay.

Overall, good companionship with other horses, regular interaction with you, and good feeding practices, will help ensure a happy, healthy horse.

August 6, 2009 – What do you do when a horse charges you?

WHEW! I would say, GET HELP and don't put yourself in the same enclosure with the horse again. A horse that has ill intent resulting in an actual charge is a dangerous animal, and you should under no circumstances put yourself in a situation where it can happen to you. Some Thoroughbred stallions, the über nasty of the breed, who also have fleetness in their genetic makeup, will have trained stallion handlers who are able to actually breed the horses without being in the same enclosure with them. It just keeps the staff healthy, which is a good thing.

That being said, a horse that charges a human is a rare thing. Horses are prey creatures and do not typically charge a predator, which is what we are. They may run past you as you try to corner them, which is not quite the same thing. If it is just a brush as they skate by, well, then, the extreme warning is not required. You may still want to get experienced help, but that help will revolve around how to catch the horse, not how to keep you alive while you get in the paddock with him. The difference in intent should be clear: a horse that wants your demise will lay his ears back, glare at you, open his mouth, and will try to do the deed himself.

August 5, 2009 – Hi, I see that you have been getting some questions regarding bit problems lately and I have a question regarding bits too. My nine-year-old quarter horse gelding has always fought against having a bit placed in his mouth. I had his wolf teeth removed when he was first purchased (just before he turned 2) and my vet tells me that he sees nothing there to bother him, but he still fights against having the bit placed in his mouth. While riding, he will throw his head somewhat, though I try to be very careful to ride with a loose rein and not use any more pressure than necessary. After riding, when it is time to take his bridle off and the bit out, he throws his head very high and violently away from me and the bit. All of his actions seem to say to me that he has a problem either with the bit hitting tender areas of his mouth or with some other issues. The only bit I have ever used on him is a simple D-ring snaffle, no port or shanks have been used nor do I use a curb strap.

I decided to purchased a side-pull bridle to see if that would help and he actually accepts it willingly and rides well with it and when it comes time to take it off, he lowers his head and it is removed easily with no head throwing and no angst at all on his part. I have to say that part of me, before I purchased the side-pull, thought that he was just being lazy and didn't feel like working, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and with his reaction to the side-pull, I can come to only one conclusion, and that is that he actually must have been having at least some pain from the bit. I have decided to go with the side pull and not try anything else on him. I respect your thoughts so I would like to know what your opinions are regarding this? Thanks for your time.

All bits act in the same way: through pressure. Some bits apply more pressure than others, and each horse is different and individual in makeup. That includes how their mouth is designed and whether they feel pain in certain areas or not. So I believe that it is entirely possible that a snaffle bit, which actually puts pressure at the roof of the mouth, on the bars, and at the corners of the lips, could cause a horse distress, even if it's just a simple "D Ring" snaffle. In my experience, lazy horses act differently than horses in pain, and what you were describing sounds like a horse in pain. So, side pull away!

August 4, 2009 – Some of the horses at my barn drag their back toes. Why do they do this?

I don't know. Horses will drag behind due to neurological problems, injury, or arthritis. But, it would be very unusual to have a collection of such ailments. This is another question for your vet. He/she will likely have to see this behavior for the themselves to determine the cause.

August 3, 2009 – My horse keeps stopping when I'm leading her and I have to fight her to get her started again. Help!

This problem boils down to the fact that she does not quite trust you as alpha — many questions submitted by readers about an uncooperative horse have to do with this very problem. Work on round pen work until she obeys your ground commands unhesitatingly. If it's only occasional refusals, then lead her to one side rather than straight on. Many horses will refuse a straight pull on their halters (which puts pressure behind their ears), but will follow a side pull.

July 31, 2009 – I bought a horse recently and learned after buying him that he cribs. What recourse do I have?

As in legal recourse? Cribbing is not considered such a serious vice that it would defeat the value of the horse, as most horses continue being useful horses even if they crib. There may be an exception if the previous seller warranted that the horse did NOT crib. In any event, the full answer will depend on the circumstances of YOUR particular situation, for which you'll have to get legal advice from an equine attorney that practices in your state.

If your question regards how do you keep a horse from cribbing, there are many devices out there including collars which fit around the brow of the horse's head to his neck and prevents him from sucking air in. This is not a complete cure, however, as the horse will still try to latch on to any surface and make the crib attempt.

All research points to a genetic predisposition to cribbing Therefore, the tales of horses learning to crib by being with a cribbing horse is now thought to be unfounded. Cribbers crib more if they're stressed or bored in their stalls with little to do and eat. The cribbing process itself purports to release endorphins that make the stressed horse feel better, which is why the habit can be difficult or impossible to stop. But as mentioned before, your horse is otherwise normal and can do all that horses can do. It is worthwhile to examine your stable regimen and see if there are any improvements you can make towards keeping your horse fed with free-choice hay, busy, happy, and occupied.

July 30, 2009 – Why does my horse keep passing out?

Yikes! If your horse is a Quarter Horse, it could be HYPP, a vile genetic condition passed on by the famous stallion "Impressive". It could also be sleep deprivation as well as a host of other strange neurological conditions. You really need to call your veterinarian on this one, and don't ride your horse until the problem has been diagnosed. You are in danger if you do.

July 29, 2009 – My horse is afraid of a rider when mounted. He gets very anxious. Why does he do this and how do I fix it?

I'm not sure I fully understand your question. Are you saying that your horse, when being ridden, cannot approach other horses who are being ridden without getting anxious? This sounds as though he has insufficient respect for and attention placed upon you, his rider. If he believes that you're his alpha and trusts you, then his fear of other things, including other horses, whether mounted or not, will fade. We have a number of articles on the QueryHorse site which dealing with questions about this common topic. Start with this article, which also links to the others:

Does My Horse Respect Me

I would start with round pen work and enlist a trainer to help you. Building your horse's respect for you will make him feel safe whenever he's with you and also make him easier to control and train by you. Let's face it, horses that can't ride with other horses are a drag!

July 28, 2009 – How can I tell if my horse doesn't like the particular bit that I'm using?

There is no mistaking it. He'll let you know by mouthing, resisting, shaking his head, sticking his tongue out and otherwise showing you that this particular bit stinks as far as he is concerned. Read the June 25th, 2009 posting below describing "evading the bit" which is closely related.

July 27, 2009 – I own a Thoroughbred that I have had for about 4 months. I have noticed that when on a trail, she does not want to go down hills if she is in the lead. If it is on a flat trail, she will lead all day long. She will follow another horse down a hill. How do I get her to go down hills on her own, in the lead? Thanks.

It sounds as though she's uneasy carrying your weight downhill. Unless you tell me that she does this by herself in the pasture, I have to think this is related to her not being quite strong enough to be confident to easily carry you on her back when on a slope. Remember that for horses, the feeling of carrying a rider on a downhill causes more strain on the forehand and on the back.

I would say the thing to do here is to practice and practice some more. Trotting, particularly up hill and down, is a great way to build strength and confidence. If you go for long enough rides and enough trots, soon you'll be able to trot beside another horse and then ahead of the other horse, first on a slight slope, and then on a steeper slope. Soon, your horse won't even know the difference.

As in most things with horses, enough work will produce results.

July 21, 2009 – My horse always fights me when I'm trying to bridle her, especially when I try to put the bit in her mouth. What should I do?

Horses will fight if they think they can get away with fighting, especially when the fighting produces the desired result, such as you backing off from bridling. The trick is to move smoothly, quickly, and to reduce the amount that the horse can fight so that it ceases to be an issue. Here are some tricks that I use:

Put a lead rope high up around the horse's neck and have someone stand right behind you holding it, then pull hard on it if the horse moves his head to the side to fight you. You should stand on the left side of the horse by his neck with the bridle in your right hand and with your back to the horse's rump. Bend your right arm so that your elbow is pointed up over your head and use your left hand to cup the bit so that when your horse's head goes into the headstall, you can place the bit against his teeth and pull the headstall over his ears with your right hand in one smooth motion.

Practice this. If your horse gives in to you at all, pat him and tell him what a good boy he is and then take the bridle off and walk away. He will soon associate giving in with pleasant things and he will stop fighting so hard.

July 20, 2009 – I realized the other day that when my horse walks, his hind hooves click with the back of his front hooves. Is this fixable? Why does he do it? And does it cause him pain? I also realized that his right hind leg seems stiff and when he turns, he pivots rather then turn his entire body, but it doesn't seem to bother him while going faster than a walk.

Is it very serious? He walks like it is painful to step with it. Or are his feet just sensitive considering he didn't start doing this till after his feet were trimmed, but it is only one hoof.

Many horses will overreach in their stride. If the horse is shod and he does this, you have to protect the front shoe from being struck off by the hind foot with a bell boot fitting around the horse's pastern to protect the horse's heels. It does sound as though your horse has a foot issue going on. It could be just the result of the recent trim.

What did your farrier say about this when he did the trim? Call him and let him know of your observations and see what he says. Many farriers have a plan for each individual horse that will take several trims over a period of time to execute. These plans typically involve correcting a conformation flaw in the horse through farrier work.

For example, I have a horse that, although she looks straight, when you pick up her feet, the whole bottom of the hoof points inward towards the middle of the horse — a very strange sight. It takes constant attention to the feet to keep her on the straight and narrow, so to speak, and I would bet that something similar is going on with your horse.

Do keep an eye on the "ouchiness", and if it does not abate after a week or so, then get your farrier back out there for an inspection.

July 17, 2009 – My OTTB would previously not pick up his left lead. After trying a few new techniques my trainer and I finally found something that worked consistently. However now (about three months later), he is strongly avoiding picking up the lead while being ridden, but he picks it up while lounging and in the pasture area, so I know he's physically capable of doing it. I'm getting my saddle and his back hocks checked to ensure there is no discomfort being caused by either. Can you think of any other reasons for him not picking it up?

Ex-racehorses are no different than any other horse. And it's good that you're having your saddle and horse checked as part of your search for a solution. Too many times, horse owners think a horse is being difficult when there is actually some other problem at fault and the horse might actually be in pain.

Another possibility is that your horse might not be strong enough under saddle to manage it. Remember, your weight on his back taxes him in ways that you have no idea about, and some horses feel uncomfortable balancing that weight as they move. I, too, once had a horse with the same problem. You just have to work on it, extending the time he does it, a little more each day, until he gets strong enough. But before you do, complete your check of the saddle and hocks to assure there's no physical limitation.

July 16, 2009 – My five year old gelding nips at other horses on the trail (and recently nipped my friend's knee in the attempt). He has always been the lowest ranking horse at home, and other horses have often nipped at him; he never tries it at home. I try to catch him when he's about to bite and make him do something else, but sometimes I miss the cue. Is there anything I could fasten to the side of his bridle to make nipping sideways uncomfortable? Any other suggestions?

Rather than install a punishment on the bridle, which is not a good idea anyway because he'll grow to hate the bridle, you could put a muzzle on him when you ride. This is what I would do in your circumstance, as it's not fair to the other riders and could be dangerous if one of the other horses spooked due to the attempted biting. You may also want get a trainer involved to help assess possible root causes of the problem and try to resolve the issue for the longer term.

July 15, 2009 – When my Mom rides my 10 year old paint gelding, he is fine. But as soon as I get on everything changes. He starts out okay for the first 15 minutes and then he refuses to go forward. When I squeeze him, he rears or bucks. My mom said to tap him with the crop lightly whenever he does that. What do you think?

Your horse has zeroed in on the critical difference between you and your Mom, which is that you don't have the intestinal fortitude that your mother does and are not as much of an alpha as your Mom. When I was a kid, I had the exact same thing happen one day. My horse wouldn't leave the paddock. I remember that my mom got on and whomped my horse on the butt, and not lightly either, and sure enough, he left the paddock. I was able to ride the horse after that through acting as Mom acted.

In your case, I think that's not the best way for you to start because it sounds as if your horse is further down the road with his behavior. That is, at this point, I think I need to differ with Mom's advice. You first need to regain control of the situation using ground work or you could be in danger as your horse continues to resort to extreme resistance — rearing and bucking is dangerous.

You can start by doing some reading on how to get alpha status with your horse from the articles on this site or from other books (there are plenty on the topic) and then enlist a trainer to help you once you understand its important and how it'll affect every aspect of your relationship with your horse from safety when around him to riding and training. Once a horse displays hesitation or resistance, you only have a critical few seconds to show him that you're boss, and if you waiver, he'll rightly feel that HE's the boss and that what HE says goes. This is a pattern that you must not replicate for your own safety.

Let me know how it goes.

July 14, 2009 – How do I connect with a horse if he won't let me even get 15 feet from him? Should I isolate him from the other horses in order to form a trusting relationship?

You certainly will accelerate his friendliness if you isolate him. He'll get bored and then look to you for companionship. But don't forget about him and leave him isolated without you or any of his buddies around for too long. Horses easily get stressed and feel frightened when alone.

Food works pretty well as a connection device. That is, feed him and then stand back. Each time you feed, stand back, but a little closer. When you finally get close enough, don't do anything but talk to him nicely, then groom him briefly.

Another good way is to do round pen work with a good horse trainer establishing your alpha status. A combination of all these techniques should help win his friendliness quickly, and you won't have to coerce his closeness with any of them.

July 13, 2009 – I would like to ask you whether you are aware of any breakthroughs in the prevention of Potomac Horse Fever? I live in dread of summer because it seems that at least every other year my horses have come down with this horrible disease. My vet has explained some of the reasons that this can happen but it is just SO frustrating! It is also very frightening to see your horse go from their normal happy selves to so close to death almost overnight! The treatment seems to be effective but I am wondering if you have heard of any breakthroughs or promising studies in the prevention of it. Also, is PHF as bad in the eastern states as it is here in Michigan? It seems we have so many cases of it here. I understand that water and the bugs and snails that live around and in the fresh water are apparently responsible for much of the outbreaks in Michigan. I am hopeful that they will come up with something that will make PHF a frightful memory from the past and not a yearly dread.

I'm sorry. I have not heard of any good preventative measures or of any research to that effect either. What you write underscores the fact that, though horses as a species are tough, individually it seems, nothing is more fragile. Whenever I hear the phrase, "healthy as a horse", it makes me grit my teeth.

July 10, 2009 – Will a horse still drink water if they have colic?

They might. I've heard conflicting advice on whether to give it to them, but as some colic events are caused by impaction, I would say sips are fine and even helpful. If you can walk the horse and offer him water over time, that seems to help some kinds of colic. Of course, in any colic situation, prompt veterinary attention is absolutely necessary. Don't wait; colic kills more horses than any other ailment.

July 9, 2009 – My horse was kicked by another horse and has a cut about 7" above the tail. The cut is about a half an inch deep and I am afraid it is going to get infected. What should I put on it?

This sounds like quite a deep cut, so you'll have to wash it well with cold water and Betadine. Then, put an antibiotic cream such as Furacin; it's a bright yellow, gooey cream that tends to stick with the horse. The main thing is to keep the cut clean, keep antibiotic cream on it, and keep the flies off it. If you go to your local tack shop, you'll see many compounds that aid in these tasks, but you asked me for my suggestion and that's the one I use. If you have any doubts about the injury or notice any signs of infection, call your vet. Good luck with it!

July 8, 2009 – Should I let my laminitic horse lie down?

You may not have a choice on that. If the laminitis has progressed significantly, the pain being experienced by the horse could be horrific and he may literally be having trouble standing up. The only thing I've found to work is the Enduro NEST, which is a sling unit with a NASA patented device on it that offloads and redistributes the weight so the horse's body is not being pressed, plus the weight placed on each foot can be indivually controlled from normal weight down to none. This device is located at an equine rehabilitation hospital in Windsor, CT, at Rivermeadow Farm. Understand, the lying down will eventually hurt the horse worse than the laminitis, but if the horse cannot stand up in the first place, there is no other choice.

July 7, 2009 – My horse eats well, but looks sick. Why is this?

Call a vet. If he's an old horse, he could be losing his ability to take in nourishment from his food. If it's a disease, the sooner the problem is diagnosed, the better your odds at helping your horse recover.

Don't wait to do this, call the vet now. Your horse's health and even his life could depend on it.

July 6, 2009 – How do I deal with a horse that is bracing against the hand?

Is he bracing against your push against his shoulder or butt? Or is he bracing against your pull on the reins? I can't tell from this question.

If he braces against your pull on the reins, then you need to develop a more sensitive hand. You don't want the issue to revolve around brute force. On the other hand, you don't want him to run the show. So, you'll need a good mix of reprimand (the pull) followed by the reward (looser rein) until he does what you say with the reins.

As to bracing against your push, well, that sounds pretty normal if you push on the butt or on the shoulder. Most horses will move if you push on their flank, higher on the belly, or near the back of the ribs. You don't want to hurt them, but be firm. They need to move when you say.

July 3, 2009 – Why does my horse paw while tied to the trailer?

This is an equine statement; he's saying: "Let's get this show on the road! I'm BORED HERE, AMUSE ME!!!" You can either amuse him or ignore him. I usually ignore this statement. Of course, he should only be tied there for any length of time as you get him ready to go to work. When you mount and that work starts, he'll get the idea after a while.

July 2, 2009 – Why does my horse graze while I ride him?

Because you let him. Personally, I think this is a bad idea because he needs to keep his mind on you and his work. Don't let him graze when he has a bit in his mouth. If he lowers his head to graze, resist it, and if he pulls, "pop" the reins. Repeat this when he tries again until he gets the idea that grazing is not cool when the bridle is on. He's a smart lad and will figure it out.

July 1, 2009 – My horse is getting bald patches. How can I stop them from spreading?

You have to find out first why he's getting bald patches. It can be a fungus or a skin irritation, such as from an ill-fitting blanket or saddle pad, or from some other equine skin ailment.

Remove the ill-fitting equipment or blanket and give him a bath with a good fungicide/anti-bacterial compound, such as betadine. Then see if it spreads. If it still spreads, call your vet. A naked horse is not a beautiful sight.

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