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"Horse Girl" Archive Jan - Jun 2012

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

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June 29, 2012 – Is it ok to ride on a loose shoe? I have a planned trail ride and I just noticed it.

Sorry, the answer is no. This is especially a "No!" for a trail ride — you risk hooking the shoe and tearing it off which will take much of the hoof wall with it. That would cause serious and long lasting hoof issues and lameness. Or, a nail could bend and penetrate the meat of the hoof wall and cause your horse lots of pain and serious lameness. Unfortunately, I did this myself years ago to my long lasting regret.

So don't do it! I know you'll be tempted because you'd like to go on that planned trail ride, but DON'T DO IT! Call your farrier immediately and explain the problem. Most farriers will come right over and fix the shoe so the horse doesn't develop any problems. That may even enable you to go out on your ride as scheduled.

June 28, 2012 – I wish there was an Angie's list for commercial horse venues and trainers and instructors and so forth. I just left an establishment that I found out after the fact was legendary for its ability to clip the clients of cash.

I agree. I've found over the years that the biggest thing that allows many unscrupulous owners and trainers to continue exploiting customers is that their reputations DO NOT precede them to new clients or neophytes in the industry. And those of us that have been around for a while usually avoid such individuals and defamation lawsuits by not passing on reputation advice about them to others, though to the detriment of those others.

This is a good thing to think about — stay tuned!

June 27, 2012 – I want to sell my horse. Do you recommend using a website to do this?

Well, I've had some people tell me that they've had good luck with some websites in selling their horse. On the other hand, I've seen some real horror stories in my law practice from the use of a horse-sale website. The can be several problem with using a website to sell your horse:

  • First, the potential buyer is not required to accurately state their experience or their desires with regards to the horse, and so, without any intent on your part, you could be selling your horse into exactly the wrong situation that is guaranteed to result in a later lawsuit against you.
  • Second, you really can't describe the horse enough or given sufficient disclaimers in the ad, and that can again be used against you later that you did not fully or accurately describe the horse's problems.
  • Third, you give up the opportunity of seeing the prospective buyer and how he/she interacts with your horse and how they might treat them. More than one seller of a horse has refused to sell to a buyer of which they had concerns for the care or ultimate end of their horse.
I recently sold some horses and went through my long list of horse buddies to find a reputable dealer of that particular discipline to help find a suitable buyer. I probably didn't get as much money out of the deal as I could have, but I sleep easy now at night because I know that the buyer was well suited to assess the particular issues those horses had for the intended discipline. You can't do any of that on a website, you're just flying blind — I don't like to fly blind! That's scary for a lawyer and should be for you too!

So, ask around and see if you can find a reputable horse dealer in your discipline and in your area. If your horse is healthy and doesn't have any serious personality issues that require training, I think that's your best bet to reduce potential problems and concerns later. You might have to give a commission, but it will be well worth it.

June 26, 2012 – Should I get the hay tested at my barn? I don't think much of the quality of it. I asked where the owner got it and I got some evasive answers. I am concerned because I pay top dollar for the care and I suspect my horse is getting gypped.

You certainly can get the hay tested for its composition. Sad to say, I have heard of barns that save money at horse expense by buying lesser quality forage, up to and including hay suitable for cows. Cows can tolerate a lower quality hay because of their habit of chewing the roughage via a cud. Horses, which cannot bring food back up once it has gone down their throats, are stuck with what they eat, and so can get quite sick from eating poorer quality hay.

Some of the contents sometimes found in poor quality hay are weeds like hoary alyssum. This is a common weed that can cause laminitis in horses, but are not reckoned a poison for cows which can eat a bit more than horses. (Look it up, you'll recognize the picture.) At any rate, bring your concerns to your barn manager (after grabbing and preserving a sample of at least three flakes) and then have those flakes tested at a lab. You can find a lab by calling your state department of agriculture and asking for a recommendation.

Good luck on this! Good quality hay is more than evident when you look at it, can smell its freshness, and can see the stems and stalks of hay as opposed to weeds baled with old dead straw woody stems and the occasional grass blade. You're wise to invest in tracking this issue down because the dangers to your horse are in the life-threatening category.

June 25, 2012 – The water trough at my stable for the turn out pen is quite green. Should I be worried for my horse's health?

Well, yes of course; fresh water is always a concern. I would bring the issue up with your stable manager to ask the question: "when was the last time the tub was emptied and scrubbed out of algae?" The green stuff grows on the side of the tank and can turn water quite green over time. I don't think the issue would rise the level of "danger danger Will Robinson", (another Baby Boomer reference, riffing off of my article earlier this week) unless you mention it and the situation does not change within about a week or so. In itself, the algea is not harmful to horses. But if the water gets too stale, the horses will refuse to drink it and then stand around looking mournful at the full yet untouched tub.

I would be concerned if the water stays green over time when it's very hot and your horse seems to drink a lot of water when you offer it to him from a fresh bucket. Then it will be clear that he's NOT getting what he needs AND your manager is inattentive to his health. That would be a sign to move your horse to another barn as soon as reasonably possible.

June 22, 2012 – Horse Discipline

We get one recurring question more than most regarding safety around horses that's directly related to horse discipline. To emphasize the importance of this issue, I've prepared an article entitled: Boomers and Horse Discipline.

June 21, 2012 – Alright, so I bought this mare. She was 5 when I got her and I rode her and caught her very easily. She was barn sour but we worked through it.

Then I moved her to my house and put her in with another mare and the first couple of time she would let me catch her. After she was in the halter she did just fine. Now she won't let me catch her at all and she just runs. I was told to run her and as soon as she stops, walk slowly to her, rub her and put her halter on. Well she's done this 2 times now and she runs longer and now seems scared.

What are some things I could do besides run her because that seems to just work her up and scare her?

I'm not sure who would tell you such a procedure for catching a horse, but two things strike me as wrong. First, you shouldn't be forcing the run so as to scare her. That is, no screaming and yelling, no hitting, no big motions; just moving her on is enough. Second, when she starts telling you that she wants to stop running, and she does this by turning slightly to face you, you should back right off and stare away from her and turn your body so you're no longer pressing at her. And, most important, have the feed tub in your hands and rattle it for a while.

If she moves towards you, great, stand there, and let her come. Or, if she stands at attention, then drift slightly in her direction rattling the tub. Only if she heads off again signaling her willingness to continue the game do you push the run again.

Now, younger horses like to play the run game longer than older, more tired horses. Also, if you aren't otherwise working your horse, she may use this game to get some fun excersize in. But that will also mean that she's out of shape and so will start huffing and puffing. Eventually if you're disciplined, she'll figure out that the fun is actually involved with your working with her as opposed to the catch. She'll also eventually figure out that she gets to eat sooner if she comes to you. Once she does, then like magic, she'll run right up to you.

So hang in there. But scaring her should not be in the equation, so modify your actions on the catch phase so she's no longer frightened by your pursuing her with the halter.

June 20, 2012 – My horse usually hangs over the fence and watches what I do, however when I approach him from the opposite side if the fence, he will check if I have treats and if I don't, he walks away. He does this every time.

He also hates it when I touch the front of his face and he won't let me clean the sweat off from around his ears. Do you have any idea why he wouldn't like his face touched and what can I do ? Why does he walk away when approached at the paddock?

There is one last thing I would like to ask, my horse hates being groomed. I have swapped brushes and tried all different kinds, but he just generally hates all of them. He has only let me comb his mane once and it was a rubber tooth comb, but won't let me do it anymore. He stomps his feet and turns his head towards me as a threat. How can I make grooming more enjoyable for him and why does he hate it so much?

I commend you on being so observant about your horse. However, you may not like some of the advice I'm about to give you. Here goes:

I think you and your horse have the beginnings of a nice relationship. He definitely attends to you and your directions, but is not shy about letting you know that he prefers to hang out with his buddies or left to relax rather than sharing physical space with you, likely because he feels that you become annoyingly pressing on his physical person when he's near you.

It's likely you do that because you're on people time and not on horse time, and so, you don't have the time to waste on just "hangin' with the homies" so to speak. If you DID have such time, you could companionably stand around together and only physically touch when flies intruded or an itch ensued, in which case, you'd be able to tell each other at that time that body service was needed.

But DON'T despair! Nobody except grooms hired to attend famous racing stallions have such copious amounts of time to devote to horse society. Instead, you need to move to a more utilitarian point of view. That is, you need to groom your horse on YOUR schedule, NOT ON HIS, and with suitable attention, but not deference, to his sensibilities — YOU'RE the leader, NOT him. And you need to believe it or he won't either. If you do, you should both get along fine.

And take heart. He likes you fine. And he likes treats. He just finds the constant patting and touching to be annoying.

June 19, 2012 – How do you trail ride past another group of horses? My horse and the ones of my riding friends want to join the other group and get mad and fight us when we won't let them.

Yep, your horses figure that they get to be the boss on this one. You have to win these battles or you won't have control over your horses in these situations. That's not good because an uncontrolled horse is a dangerous horse.

So, the next time you're out on the trail and you spot another group of riders coming your way, make your horse work. This can be moving him in circles, changing the pace, or whatever you can think of to keep his attention fixed ON YOU. If he pays attention, reward him with a slightly lessened version of whatever he's being asked to do. If he fights, double the work.

Keep this work going until well after the other group has been left behind or leaves your group. Then, you can let your horse relax. Relaxation occurs ONLY when out of sight of the other group. He should get the picture if you're diligent and consistent.

Good luck!

June 18, 2012 – How do I deal with my horse when she doesn't want to do something?

Ahaa! This is an open-ended, but common question that has no definitive answer available in a posting because I or a trainer need to see the behavior. The answer will depend on why your horse doesn't want to do something.

If the problem is because she's afraid, she might have good reason and you need to determine what that reason is to address the problem. If it's because she's testing you, that's different and you need to convince her that you're a fair and competent leader. The techniques for convincing a horse depend on the circumstances and the horse.

I suggest you get a horse trainer to see the behavior and help you figure this out.

June 15, 2012 – How much money should I keep in a contingency fund for boarding my horse?

I would keep at least one month's board for my own purposes. Of course, it will depend on your cash flow situation. If you're always running tight, then you'll need a bigger fund. If you have more available funds, then you don't need to be quite so rigid.

June 14, 2012 – Why does my horse bare his teeth when I come to get him for a ride? Should I hit him for doing that?

I don't know why he is baring his teeth at you, but if you hit him on occasion, I can hazard a guess. I DO NOT EVER recommend hitting a horse. When you do, you frighten the horse and make him wary of you. A horse will not make the connection between being punished in any way and not having behaved correctly — horses don't understand punishment. More importantly, changing behavior SHOULD NEVER be about punishment if your horse doesn't do what you want.

If you should hit or kick your horse, all you'll do is make them afraid of you and make them feel threatened. Then you're setting yourself and other humans up for a possible attack the horse might make in defense for fear of being hurt. You make the horse less trainable and less trusting of humans. In other words, it has the complete opposite effect.

You should get a competent horse trainer to observe the interaction between you and your horse and to suggest ways in which you can build a better bond of trust and leadership position with him. In that way, riding and training will become much easier and more fulfilling for both of you.

June 13, 2012 – Is there anything special I need to know to ride my horse in the mountains?

I think so. For example, you'd have to make sure that your horse's shoes were in good order, and also, that your tack is in good repair. Mountain riding places strains on both horse and tack, that if unattended to, would cause problems. For example, most mountain trail outfits use Western saddles, breastplates, and sometimes use cruppers (a strap that anchors the saddle to the tail to prevent the saddle from slipping forward). Good solid girthing is also required. This is in addition to the gear you need to stay hydrated, warm, oriented, and so forth, while on the trail.

You also need to consider endurance. At higher altitudes, conditioning becomes very important. The air is thinner, altitude sickness is a risk, and general physical shape of horse and rider becomes very important. Even footing becomes more critical and a sure-footed horse is a preference to deal with potentially slippery footing and steeper inclines.

The Horse Guy is an avid trail rider and the list of things he uses to stay comfy while on long, multi-hour trail rides boggles my polo mind. So, I'm merely answering from the perspective of shorter rides and horse and rider safety.

June 12, 2012 – I had my horse shipped to Tennessee for the winter. Then I paid to have her shipped back and they delivered her to a farm in southern Vermont. I called the shipping company and they told me that Vermont is not that far away and I should borrow a trailer to get her. Can I sue the shipping company?

I can never answer the burning question, "can I sue?" in a post. I have no ability to render legal advice in the application of YOUR facts to the law in YOUR situation. First, I'm not licensed to practice law in your state and don't know the nuances of the laws of your state. Second, there will be many details that you've not shared that will influence the answer. You need a properly informed, equine attorney licensed in your state.

That being said, I might add that anyone can bring a lawsuit. The question is, do you have a chance of prevailing? Consult an equine attorney in your state and provide him/her with all the facts.

June 11, 2012 – My horse hates her trainer. When she arrives, my horse goes the other way. When the trainer tries to make her do something, she bares her teeth. She never does this to me and never did to the trainer we had before (that trainer moved when her husband got a new job.) My horse and that trainer seemed to get along so well. Do I need to find another trainer?

I would ask your trainer that question, and ask her what she thinks is going on. If you're not satisfied with the response, I would get another trainer.

It is true that some horses and some people don't get along. However, I wouldn't say that alone should be the deciding factor. Just as a person might not like a boss, but still get the job done, so too can horses can get their job done even for trainers they don't like personally. I would let behavior be the guide. If your horse gets involved with this trainer in a steadily escalating battle, you might question whether the trainer has the ability to manage this horse.

Just keep an eye on the situation, ask questions and be observant. In the end, you're responsible for your horse. If the drawbacks of having this trainer outweigh the benefits, then by all means, cease and get another trainer.

June 8, 2012 – Will my house's umbrella insurance policy cover my horses?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions that I get. The short answer is that it depends on your insurance company, the coverage they offered for your house, the use to which you put your horses, and whether you use them commercially or not. In addition, even if personal-use pets are covered by your home insurance, many policies include a livestock exclusion clause which would mean that your horse is excluded from coverage.

Truth be told, I've seen companies with policies on both sides of this matter. That said, the more normal situation is that horses are excluded as livestock from home insurance policies and horse owners usually need to purchase a separate equine liability policy. Often, this is a type of insurance not carried by home insurers. So, this is a question you really need to ask your insurance agent.

June 7, 2012 – My barn owners trying to force all of us to sign a waver. We talked and were not going to do it. Some of us might even leave. Can we sue her for changing the terms of our boarding? (Theres no contract, we agreed to our terms verbally. So she cant change our agreement. Right? Im going to show her your response.

First of all, let me point out that I cannot render legal advice in this column. So, while I appreciate the free publicity you might give me by offering this column to anyone, you are specifically FORBIDDEN to say that it pertains to YOUR situation with enough detail to rely on. Further, such a detailed response as you're calling for requires an in-depth understanding of the specifics for ANY attorney to render a legal opinion.

So, the short and long of it is, I don't know. But I can point out that, if you don't like your current situation, you always have the option to move your horse as long as you're up to date on your board payments and any other contractually agreed payments.

June 6, 2012 – Can you please tell me what the definition of the equine insurance clause "will not pay due to horse vice and/or behaviour" when euthanasia was needed due to an accident means? My horse reared and fell resulting in massive brain damage whilst refusing to go into a float — something that she had never done or looked likely to do before and had no known vices. She was being handled by experienced people and was a valuable sweet mare.

I'm sorry, but this sure sounds like this accident does fit the "horse vice and behavior" exclusion you mention. You should review your insurance agreement to make sure the exclusion is actually there, but I'm pretty sure it is or the insurance company wouldn't have highlighted this point.

When discussing insurance contract provisions, I might add the following: Unfortunately, lay people who own horses rarely bring the level of scrutiny necessary to understanding the insurance contracts they sign. In fact, this is not limited to horse owners or horse-related insurance — most ordinary people just don't adequately read and assure they understand the insurance policies that they're buying. Worse, many don't read the policies at all! That's like buying a mattress you've never tried or shoes you've never tried on to make sure they fit — why would anyone do that? Yet, THAT IS what many people do about insurance.

In the case of this contract provision, it's possible that even if you read the insurance contract before you signed it and saw this wording about behavior, you may not have tried to think through all its possible consequences. Of course, insurance lawyers know this and count on it. They delight in crafting simple exclusions, that when applied, are nearly endless in scope. This would be such a provision because I can think of few situations that a horse's behavior wouldn't affect the cause of a claim.

In your future review of any insurance contract, go over every exclusion with your agent, even with an attorney if you have follow-on questions the agent can't answer. At least that way, you'll gain an understanding of what the policy will cover and can even bargain a bit with the company. They may want to charge you more for the coverage you want, or could say no altogether. Either way, you'll be more informed about what you do sign and purchase. As you've just learned, purchasing insurance coverage that doesn't cover your actual loss is the same as having no insurance at all and throwing the policy premium(s) away.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

June 5, 2012 – My boarders won't sign my written boarding contract. Help!

Well, you have two choices:

  1. You can insist, knowing that you're the landowner and have the right to allow anyone you want onto the property, or not. Therefore, you have a handy-dandy tool to force compliance (sign the contract or you can't see the horse, followed by, you and your horse are evicted); or
  2. You can knuckle under with the knowledge that, as with horses, this will be the just the first sign of rebellion which will certainly be followed by a long string of revolts culminating in a coup d'etat.
Power struggles almost always start small, is my point.

It's not unreasonable to require a written contract. Writing down the terms protects both parties. You might ask the reluctant ones if they've read the contract and have any feedback. Asking for feedback is always helpful. And if you incorporate some of the suggestions offered, it will make the resulting contract just about bulletproof in court because it will show that both parties negotiated at arm's length and came to a mutual agreement. It's a stronger agreement than one party dictating requirements to the other.

Good luck.

June 4, 2012 – I have a new born filly. She is sorrel in color with black on her ears, a little black on the muzzle and black on the back of her legs. What color do you call that?

This sounds like a Grulla horse. Though, those tend to be more grayish in the Spanish version.

June 1, 2012 – There is a horse at my barn that always spins in circles, even if she has hay, inside or outside and even if she's out with other horses. It used to be if you gave her hay she would calm down and stop, but now she takes a bite, spins and grabs another bite. It has gotten to the point where she needs a chiropractor to fix her back, she can no longer be ridden due to her back and she can no longer seem to walk in a straight line.

What would you suggest to help her stop the spinning? Thanks

This sounds as if the horse has a mental problem — it may or may not be resolvable. Essentially, I think she has learned to perform a maneuver that produces endorphins ('feel good' chemicals in the brain) and thus is self-reinforcing. She likely started this spin to allay some anxiety. Now, she does it because it feels good.

The horse's owner should call a veterinarian on this one. The vet may have some medication to try. I would also avoid keeping this horse in a stall; turn out will give her something to do as well as free choice hay. A bossy companion could also help in that it would serve to keep the horse under strong leadership, and as a result, hopefully in a less anxiety provoking state. It may not be enough though — this is a tough one.

We wish her luck and please let us know how things turn out.

May 31, 2012 – My horse is a nineteen-year-old foundation bred Hancock Quarter Horse. I have owned him for five years. He was left a stud until he was seven. He can be good as gold or turn explosive at the drop of a hat.

Usually, these instances occur on multi-horse trail rides when he feels he is "not in control" of the herd, if I ride out with someone and try to leave the other horse and/or if he gets tired of working in the arena. His antics include, but are not limited to, bucking, spinning, snorting, lunging...you name it! Mostly, I worry about going on large, multi-day, multi-horse, trail rides (have one planned this summer). He was formerly owned by and trained by a very respected trainer in our area. He was not suitable as a lesson horse!

Thanks for any help.

Ok, well, you're probably not going to like my advice. However, I practice what I preach.

With the track record of this horse as you describe, I think you're being irresponsible and taking an extreme chance by continuing to place the explosiveness (your word) of this horse in a setting that places you and every other rider at risk. Let's face it; you know his behavior and you're going ahead and bringing him to these events anyway. Horses are herd animals, and I had a case just last week where a "good" horse briefly spooked and ran off all of the companion horses on the ride with serious results for two of the riders. Such action places not only yourself, but also every other rider at risk. And equally serious, you're incurring potential liability that you might be the cause of injuries (or worse) to some innocent third party. Therefore, I STRONGLY urge that no matter the temptation, that you not trail ride this animal in company because of the risk he presents to other riders.

Now, on to the risk for yourself. I believe that you don't know why your horse is misbehaving. I would give credit to a horse of this age knowing his own mind. If he's been through training and still manifests this behavior, then I think you're looking at a determined horse.

As I age, I tend not to want to ride horses who have decided to physically express their disapproval against their riders. (When I was younger, I was stupider and more apt to like adrenalin rushes.) In fact, I had a polo prospect this week that I am sending on to a dealer, not because the horse is not a good horse, but because this horse does not want to play polo and when pushed, does exactly what your horse does. This is not me being scared, this is just the horse telling me in no uncertain terms that she doesn't want to do what I have in mind. I just don't need this serious risk added to my life. I have no ability to change this horse's mind. She knows what the job is and doesn't like it. There may be trainers out there who can change the horse's mind, but I doubt it, just like I doubt that you can change your horse's mind.

So, in answering your desire for advice, I advise that you consider cutting your losses and sell the beast with full disclosures before you or someone else gets hurt. There are just too many available horses that will do exactly what you want without the attendant risks and liability to do otherwise.

May 30, 2012 – I have an amazing horse right now and am training him, but I feel like I want to train another horse too. I don't want to give up the guy I have, but I can't afford to pay for another stall at my barn. What should I do?

I think you need to only train those horses that you have the money to pay for while you're in the process of training. This is because untrained horses are too dangerous to lend out or lease out as a means of defraying costs. You'll also derail a young horse's mind if you lend or lease such a horse out.

Selling a green horse (green means untrained, not the color) is also problematic as you open yourself up to legal liability. The buyer will always say something like this: "I know you told me he was a green horse, but you never told me he would do THAT!" The point I'm making is that green horses will find new and surprising ways to misbehave until they're fully trained and no one can anticipate all of these tactics and the dangers they can represent.

Sorry to be the bearer of reality, but there it is.

May 29, 2012 – My horse will not stand still when I wash him. He twirls around and around. What can I do?

Not seeing your horse's behavior firsthand makes it hard to pinpoint your problem because there can be several reasons. For example, it can depend on how you're washing him. If you're running a cold hose over him while he's hot and sweaty, well, it might feel good after the first bite of cold, but no one, including your horse, can stand an onslaught of cold water on hot sweaty skin. Ergo, he'll dance even if it provides some relief. So in that case, why do you want him to stand still? Can't he dance around you while you hose? As long as he isn't trying to pull you over and just moves around you in a circle, I think that's the privilege of a horse under those circumstances.

Now, if you have a bucket and sponge and the water isn't the aforementioned shocking cold onslaught, then that's a different story. In such a case, I would make him stand. If he moves, then work his hind end in a circle around you and keep pushing him until he seems to want to stop. Then, try it again. If he move again, move him again. Eventually, he'll decide that the work is less fun than the bath.

You can also tie your horse in a wash stall. If you don't have one, but would like one, the Horse Guy wrote a good article about constructing a wash stall entitled: Build a Wash Rack. In any event, this isn't so much of a problem with bucket and sponge in a confined area.

BE CAREFUL hosing a tied horse though, because he could flip over in response to the cold water or could slip on the wet ground. You'd be in the wrong on that one, both from a safety consideration and from a human minding the horse's well being stand point.

May 25, 2012 – I had an accident at my barn and I found out that the agent did not renew my commercial insurance last year like I thought. I was paying my insurance all along and it was for horses. This is a big problem. What can I do?

Well, you may not know this, but insurance agents are bound to a standard of care with regards to the conduct of their business. This sounds like a situation that may touch upon a breach in the standard of that care. If you suffer financial damages as a result, you may have a claim against that agent.

You should immediately send a letter to your agent complaining about the fact he/she let your policy lapse without notice and then contact an attorney as soon as possible. Whether or not you're the victim of a suit due to your accident, you want to have insurance and the time to begin correcting the problem that your agent didn't renew your policy is right now.

May 24, 2012 – I had horse mortality insurance on my horse and now the company is refusing to pay after my horse died for a covered reason. In addition to grieving about my horse, I am very upset at the company. What can I do?

Essentially, a contract of insurance is a contract like any other: at the outset of the contract, the company agrees to insure against specific types of risk based upon certain conditions. In return, you agree to pay the premium and to do so on time. Now, I'm not able to speak to your specific situation, but I can tell you that most companies will base a coverage refusal on specific reasons, things such as failure to fully disclose the risk, or failure to abide by the conditions.

I'm sure that, in denying your claim, the company sent you a letter which stated the reason in the barest and most non-descriptive language that they could manage. This should give you some sort of clue from which to move forward to decide whether to contest their decision. In making that decision, you should think about the following:

  1. First, you'll need legal advice on this. I recommend an equine attorney from your area to help you decide whether to move forward based on the facts of YOUR situation; and
  2. Second, in my experience, insurance companies operate between two imperatives on the scale of behavior:

    • They have to satisfy state regulators and avoid fraudulent and deceitful behavior in which they could be caught at red handed; and
    • They must make a profit or they'll go out of business.

    You will notice that this is a broadly stated and fairly non restrictive set of guidelines, and companies will individually manage this, some better than others. The bottom line is that the insurance company's priority is out to turn a profit for its shareholders; you are secondary. That being said, if the insurance company operates too lawlessly, then they get mired in lawsuits and tend to lose their license to do business, which is a big profit disincentive as they say.

So, you need to get some proper legal advice and fill that lawyer in on ALL the pertinent facts — don't leave anything out. Finally, if your attorney feels you have a good case, don't be afraid to pursue your rights! The insurance company denying the claim DOES NOT necessarily mean you don't have a case just because they don't agree with you. That's why you need your own legal counsel.

May 23, 2012 – Do I need horse health insurance? It sure seems expensive.

It is expensive, for sure. It depends on what you need your horse to do, how invested are you in his health, and as a corollary, do you have the money to spend on this? For example, I'm sure that Zenyatta has health insurance better than most people, and also probably a big life insurance policy. That horse will be a money maker for sure. The backyard pony? Not so much.

Now, the owner of the backyard pony may may want health insurance, but from a strictly monetary/business sense, it would not be worth it because ponies are typically cheaper than any surgery. Then again, there are limited forms of health insurance that it might be worth buying that cover large scale operations or certain types of risk. You may also want to get such insurance, if you can afford it, just because of what the pony means to you. But for some, this is a business decision based on an evaluation similar to the foregoing just discussed.

It is worth contacting your equine agent to ask this question. Also keep in mind that, over a certain age (usually about 15 years old), you'll not be able to buy health insurance or mortality insurance for your horse without spending at a rapidly escalating rate each year.

May 22, 2012 – My barn's water was recently tested and the results seem to me to be a bit over the top on metals such as iron etc. Should I be worried about this?

This is such a non specific question that I'm not sure what you're expecting for an answer. What I'd do if I were in your shoes is to contact your veterinarian and run the results by him/her. That is, ask someone who has a significant base of knowledge on the topic of horse health. I suppose a horse can be poisoned just as a person can be, but I don't know what is a safe or unsafe level of iron.

You also mentioned "metals" in the plural, so I presume the test results indicated there are also other metals in concentrations that are excessive? If so, again, your vet is likely one of the best people to answer your questions about concern, and if there is some, then to offer some suggestions as to what you should do.

Essentially, you need to consult an expert in your area about this issue. If this is a problem at your barn, it may well be a problem at other barns in your area and you'd benefit from knowing how it's being addressed. Your vet is likely to be a good candidate to help you deal with this issue if it's a problem.

May 21, 2012 – How important is it to buy high end feed for my horse? The price of feed has skyrocketed and I am mostly getting the generics for my horse. Am I causing harm by doing this?

Well, this is an eternal struggle for horse owners for sure. I think I need to respond by pointing out that concentrated feed is only one part of a horse's diet, and that horses, like people, will have nutritional needs that change depending on what they're being asked to do for work. Horses that are athletes or are under hard work will obviously have greater nutritional needs. Also, a horse's access to grass will lower his need for concentrated feed and his access to high quality hay or protein rich alfalfa cubes will alter his needs as well.

So, to answer your question, I think you need to look at the entire picture of the horse's life and where he's getting his needs met. Also, you need to be very observant and look at his overall weight and coat quality. If he's in good flesh with muscle definition, has a good gloss on his coat, you keep a reasonable level of protein (12% for working horses), and you keep up good quality hay/grazing at free choice of either, then I see no reason why you can't use generic pellet feed according to the guidelines for horse weight vs: ounces of feed. Just be ready to get the good stuff if your horse starts losing flesh.

May 18, 2012 – What is hoary alyssum and should I be afraid of it in hay?

The short answer is, yes. This is a poisonous plant that seems to be more widespread in the Midwest, but which grows everywhere. Some horses can tolerate more of it than others in their diet, but at some point of saturation, it will be toxic for all horses. Though, each horse can react differently. Usually, the horse's legs will swell and then the horse develops laminitis. If the laminitis is not addressed soon, the horse will die.

The plant is light grey or green with a small white flower. Be on the lookout and do some research about it. Also, invest in good hay if you suspect contamination!

May 17, 2012 – I am boarding in an at will situation where I pay my monthly board fee. I have not signed a contract. Now, the stable asked my trainer to leave, who also boards at will. They only gave her twenty four hours notice. Do I have a right to leave with her and get my money back for the rest of the month?

Well, let me say that there are many variables in such a situation. I suspect that matters are not quite as simple as you describe — you may not be privy to all the facts. Unfortunately, I've learned to my sorrow that most of the details don't usually come out until later. So, I'll use this occasion to point out that, for all such situations, you need to consult an equine attorney about the details of YOUR specific case.

While I could speak in general terms about some related law here, it could easily be taken out of context. Therefore, I'm pointing you to an equine attorney in your state. You'll need to acquaint them with ALL the details. Then, you can get an answer that has some basis in fact and law regarding your case.

May 16, 2012 – My horse shakes his head a lot when I ride and fights the bit. I am afraid to let go of the reins because I am afraid he will run off. But, when I hang onto the reins, it makes him very angry and then I get even more afraid. HELP!

I see this a lot with insecure riders, which you've basically admitted in your question. So, here's a description of what's going on and how you can avoid this ongoing battle. Keep in mind that you, yourself, may need some help from a riding instructor to help break you of some habits that set this vicious cycle into motion in the first place.

When you're afraid, you naturally will squeeze your horse with your legs and will round your back and hang on with the reins. This sets up a situation where your legs and body are telling the horse to go faster as you squeeze his sides and lean forward. But at the same time, your hands on the bit are telling him to back up. So, you're telling your horse to do two, mutually exclusive actions at the same time. He doesn't know what to do. He wants to please you, but he can't figure out what the heck you're askng.

His head shakes are a literal translation of: "let go of my mouth so that we can think this thing through!" Remember, the bit is designed to cause an effect when you pull on the reins. In fact, you want him to NOT run away. But, by telling him with your legs and body to run away, you set up a situation where you have to pull back and you've then confused your horse. This is enough to drive any being insane.

So, the fix will and MUST be all yours — here's what to do:

  1. First, sit up, sit back in the saddle, and force yourself to look straight ahead and not down at your horse. A straight back is paramount, and keep lowered heels in the stirrups;
  2. Second, relax your hands so you don't have a pull on the bit. You don't have to throw the reins away, but relax your hands; and
  3. Third, work on just walking your horse in that position. If he wants to go faster, try sitting further back in the saddle with your heels down. Your weight will make him work harder, and he'll naturally want to ease up on the work by slowing down.
You must only use the bit to feel his mouth — you don't want to pull on it. A horse needs clear consistent signaling and we frustrate and irritate them when we send mixed signals as you've observed.

Try these suggestions and see where it gets you. Then let me know. I'll bet things are going to improve quite a bit.

May 15, 2012 – I have a horse with two white stockings on his hind legs. I use hind leg wraps and boots when I ride. Lately, I have noticed that there is this gummy black dirt that collects under the wrap or boot. What is this? Is this a problem?

Yes, this can be a problem. Horses will collect sweat, dirt from the skin, and oil from the skin in their leg hair. If any of this stuff is allowed to solidify and harden, a bacteria/fungus can grow underneath causing the horse a lot of pain and some scabbing.

You can see this sometimes with draft horses even without leg wraps; the cause is the same in both cases. This is because the hair or the wrap prevents air from getting to the skin and provide a perfect culture for the malady to grow. Once it has set in, it's very hard to get rid of. You usually will have to shave the horse's legs right down to the skin just to get started. Here are some tips to help prevent this from starting in the first place:

  1. Use only CLEAN wraps, boots, or bandages;
  2. Do not swap dirty boots or wraps between horses;
  3. Wash the legs down with a shampoo after every ride and clip the hair shorter so the area dries faster.

This is a problem that's a lot easier to keep this problem from occurring than it is to get rid of it later. So, once you're rid of it, work hard at keeping it away.

Good Luck!

May 14, 2012 – The trainer at the barn where I currently board my 4 year old gelding, has two small children ages 5 and 2. The trainer is the daughter of the barn manager. The two children are allowed to run unsupervised at the facility. For example, the children will climb through the rails of the arena or round pen while horses are working. The younger child will run up to horses while they are walking or being groomed, grab their legs or just stand under the horse.

I am worried that the children are going to be injured and have expressed my concern to both the trainer and the barn owner. I was told by both that I was overreacting, and that I have no faith in my horse. My horse is very gentle, but he is after all a horse and a young one at that. If my horse were to spook and injure one of these unsupervised children, what would be my liability?

In fact, YOU WOULD HAVE LIABILITY as the horse owner. It would be negligence on your part to allow this situation to occur. That is, even though they're not your children, it is your horse, and you have knowledge about the characteristics of your horse. Take this example: "As the (insane) parent has said, YOU don't have faith in YOUR horse. What did you know that you didn't tell that (insane) parent?"

Do you see how easily an attorney could spin that into pre-existing knowledge? So, you, yourself, need to strictly observe a no small children policy around YOUR horse. The (insane) parent will just have to live with that. If they don't observe your policy and ignore your directives to keep the children away from your horse, you may want to move to another barn before an unfortunate accident occurs that could potentially involve your horse. Life is too short to incur legal exposure because some people have too little common sense.

May 11, 2012 – Wanted to see what other barn owners are doing with regards to having trainers on site. They do have lesson horses boarded, should they pay a flat monthly fee for the arena use? Per lesson charge? Or should I be thankful they are filling 5 stalls and paying on time and let them use the arena when they choose? What is the norm? We are new to the boarding business. Thanks!

There is no "norm", per se. Instead these questions need to be answered by your accountant and your insurance agent as part of your comprehensive business plan. Every decision you make has spinoff consequences.

For example, if you pay your instructor, you're hiring an employee. If you charge a flat rate, you're a landlord. Therefore, you should get professional help now!

These are all worthy of a more in-depth post or article in and of themselves and I'll need to consider that.

May 10, 2012 – I have a hard time in the paddock trying to catch my horse. He seems to think it is a game and runs away. It takes longer and longer every time. I am worn out! HELP!

Well, I sympathize. I have a horse right now who also has accurately sussed the likelihood of work following a successful catch and who wants no part of it. This horse, unlike your horse, is well aware that it's no game and is instead hell-bent on not getting caught — this is a determined and purposeful animal. Nevertheless, I've managed to consistently cut down on the catch time using the following technique:

  1. First, I go out with a bucket of grain — always;
  2. Second, I leave a halter (close fitting, yet not tight) on the horse when in the paddock so that when the catch is close enough, I can be successful without a big move; and
  3. Finally, and this is the key: I've convinced the horse that my purpose is stronger than his.

This is how I did it: (Note: The first time I did this, it took a long time, so be prepared.) As long as the horse showed me his rear end, I pushed him along using my lead rope. I wouldn't let him rest, walk, or do anything but run away in circles. After about fifteen minutes of this, the horse signaled that he might like to quit. He did this by wheeling around and facing me. The instant he faced me, I stopped pushing him and faced sideways to him with the grain bucket on the side closest to him. Then I stood to see what he would do.

He stood there for about five minutes staring. I moved a step towards him and he took off. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over time, he finally decided that the run was too strenuous and he'd rather just stand. The catch ensued, and I let him eat his grain for a full five minutes before walking off with him. Every time I catch, I repeat these moves. He still sometimes throws a long run in there at the start just because he's frisky, but over time, he's ultimately decided that it really is less work and more fun if he stands and lets me get him.

The key point here, as it is with most horse training, is to prove to the horse that doing something your way is always less work than doing it his way. With this approach, the horse doesn't fear or hate you, he just wants to get out of the work his decision causes and that means doing it your way. And as always with training, be consistent. Don't enforce extra work randomly when your horse runs away — do it every time he does it so there's a solid connection between his action and the results of that action.

May 9, 2012 – I have heard that giving horses treats spoils them and makes them not listen to the person with the treats? Is this true? Is there any way I can give my horse treats without spoiling him?

What do you mean, spoil him? Does that mean, if he wants to do something, you let him do so and exercise no boundary control or discipline? The lack of boundaries and discipline for infractions is the path to danger for humans around horses. Horses are biologically impelled to test boundaries, but unlike teenagers, they are big, heavy, and powerful, so can seriously hurt you as a consequence of THEIR misbehavior. So, the issue of treating is actually a side distraction.

Personally, I like to treat my horses, but won't do it around any form of misbehavior. Sometimes, upon their approach, I'll give out treats. Or, if they behave and I'm feeling "treatie", it will happen. I've found that when horses are not always sure if or when they'll get a treat, they become much more invested in figuring out the "why" of it all. They'll come over to see if I have anything edible and then stick around to see if his good behavior will provoke a treat — sometimes it does.

My Quarter Horse has raised treat begging to an art form. Like a dog, he can stand motionless at the trailer for hours staring pleadingly in my direction and thereby serving as an inspiration and a model of good behavior for all the flighty "in season" mares standing around him. Did I mention he gets a lot of treats? And is NOT SPOILED!

May 8, 2012 – Hi, I bought a horse 5 weeks ago off someone who wasn't honest with me when selling me the horse. I have since found out the animal is dangerous and the last buyer knew this and kept it from me. Do I stand a chance of getting my money back?

Yes! You need to notify the seller immediately and then make the demand. If they're not cooperative, contact an equine attorney in your state immediately so that you don't waste time trying to educate a non-equine lawyer about what constitutes a breach of the various warranties involved, and what the fraudulent statement related to horse sales.

There's a lot of specialized law and horse knowledge that goes into making this a successful claim. But assuming that you have the facts on your side, this is one area that can be successfully pursued.

May 7, 2012 – Could my horse be thin because he is lacking in salt?

I don't think he would thin out for that reason. You need to assess his nutritional needs and his feed to investigate why your horse is thin. If all seems normal and appropriate, your next step is to have your vet check your horse for medical reasons that could cause him to be underweight.

As for salt, your horse could lose and need supplemental salt when it's hot and he has to sweat a lot. People perspiring heavily will need salt for the same reason. When sweating, mammals excrete salt, and if they lose enough of it, they need to replace it to maintain their health. Humans will sometimes get stomach cramps when their salt levels get too low — we can only presume that animal bodies react similarly. And all mammals will seek out salt or salty foods when their body needs more salt.

You should put a salt block or a pail of granular salt in your horse's stall so he can get salt when he needs it. You shouldn't have to worry about your horse taking in too much salt. Generally, horses only take salt in when they need it and will take only as much as they need.

May 4, 2012 – What does moving a horse's hip do? Also, what does it gain in training your horse?

The process of moving a horse's hips approximates the boss mare's directives to horses in the herd. Properly moving the hips of a horse puts you as "top horse" in the herd's pecking order. Believe it or not, horses actually prefer it when someone else is in control, because otherwise, they feel that THEY must exert such authority just to keep the herd and themselves, including you, safe. So, it's essentially a "two-fer". You'll establish trust, dominance, and you'll also ease the horse's mind. WAIT! That's a "three fer"! Oh well, you get the idea.

May 3, 2012 – What does it mean when a horses legs are trembling and he lays down on his side and his eyes are rolling? Should I call the vet?

YES!!!!!! HOW CAN THIS BE A QUESTION? Oh lord, this horse has joined the parade of worry horses that keep me awake nights. Your poor horse is probably dead by now. I can feel his worried gaze over my shoulder as I write this! Here's a hint for other readers wondering what to do: CALL YOUR VET IN SUCH SITUATIONS!

Think about this: if you came upon a person in this same condition, would you wonder whether or not you should call for an ambulance? Of course not! Therefore, when similarly serious symptoms are exhibited by your horse, call your vet immediately! This should be plain common sense.

May 2, 2012 – My 7 year old thoroughbred mare has a "toe in" step which extends almost to her fetlock tuft when she walks and trots. She is practically kicking herself her back leg extension is so long. I was wondering if getting ankle boots or any boots, would be appropriate. And if so what kind?

I look to use the coronet boots that close with Velcro. That way, they're easy to remove and can be fitted easily. Nearly all tack emporiums have something like this. I put them on the front feet so that the back of the heel is protected.

I hope this helps!

May 1, 2012 –The Re-homed horse (cont.)

This post continues that of yesterday's in which the questioner had a horse they sold to another family with a right of first refusal. The legal point to be explained here is that, once you give title of your horse to another person, your rights to control where that animal goes or how that animal is kept become quite limited.

I do see a trend occurring with so-called "horse adoptions", where the adoption agency tries to retain title to the horse and imposes many subsequent conditions regarding the horse's care and other circumstances. As well, I see race tracks attempting to impose conditions which follow the horse along its way through various owners.

To all such entities and agencies, I would say the following: at a certain point, even if you don't admit that title has passed, you can give over enough control of the animal so that, even if you do not admit it, the title has legally passed anyway. Once that has occurred, all of the after imposed conditions will fail because the subsequent purchasers will not be bound due to the fact you have given these additional purchasers no consideration for those conditions.

Now, this point gets tested very rarely because in truth, such animals are worth almost nothing or they would not typically be in this "re-homed" position. Also, few people have money enough to "litigate for fun", so the philosophical point just doesn't get tested in court.

However, this issue does happen somewhat more frequently to private individuals who try to exact post-sale conditions and then find out the sad truth. That truth is that by giving over control of the horse to another, they have, in fact, given over legal control. To a certain extent, the law requires that owners take responsibility or lose the ability to have an effect on the outcome of the circumstances of that horse.

Essentially, the law often determines that, once you have transferred responsibility for the horse to another, you can't always get the horse back. You may be able to exact some financial consideration from the person that abrogated your agreement, but you may not be able to get the horse back if they sold it.

April 30, 2012 – I re-homed my quarter horse mare with a family that I believed would be a good home for her and got a written right of first refusal from the family so that if they ever did not want her, that my mare would come back to me. Imagine my shock when I found out that the mare was put on craigslist a few days later and by the time I got to the farm she was gone.

The family won't tell me where she is. How can I get my mare back?

Well, as much as I hate say this, your recourse is only against the family who gave you a written contract for a right of first refusal, which they then breached. That is because the law favors what we call, a "bona fide purchaser for value". If the craigslist buyer had no reason to know that the mare wasn't being sold in good faith by the seller, then the law will make it difficult to undo that sale. Now, you will be able to go against the real wrongdoers here (the family to which you sold the mare and have the contract), and can recovery any damages that you've suffered, in this case, the value of the mare.

In another post, I'll speak further on the limited control of the initial seller once they have sold a horse to another party regardless of contract language.

April 27, 2012 – Is it hard to get a loan for a horse farm? (cont.)

This post continues yesterday's response with observations concerning the difficulty of getting a loan for a horse farm and some of the issues surrounding that process.

When purchasing a horse farm, or indeed any farm, you'll want to do a thorough inspection of every inch of the grounds. You should do this after having properly prepared yourself first as follows:

  • Go to the town hall and get a copy of the assessor's map; and
  • See what properties are nearby and what issues might surround this particular bit of land that will affect the appraisal which in turn could affect your loan and later resale values.

Here is a true horror story: I was out walking a property for a client one day, when suddenly, to the broker's horror, I came across an adjacent town dump beside the property that had been abandoned. There was a river nearby that, due to recent spring rains, had broken through the cap of vegetation, vines, old downed trees, and six inches of leaf clutter that otherwise masked old tires, discarded refrigerators, broken glass, paint cans and other trash at the dump.

The dump hadn't been previously disclosed in any description of the property. The adjacent river fronted kid parks and various residential neighborhoods. I backed out of there as fast as I could and later saw that the farm remained on the market for several years, finally getting bought by a commercial venture that had the financial wherewithal to clean up the dump situation.

Another farm I saw listed on the market for a while had two brand new housing developments get slapped up within a year, with backyards fronting the track and turnout. That also looked like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Unless you don't care what you're going to get (and who doesn't care about a large investment they're about to make), there is just no substitute for due diligence when buying property.

April 26, 2012 – Is it hard to get a loan for a horse farm?

Well, yes and no. It depends on many factors, not the least of which are your relative loan worthiness, the price that the real estate is being sold, and its value relative to the loan amount. This is common to all real estate loans. However, horse farms have an overlay of issues unique to the ranch, farm, and horse world.

For example, depending on the state in which you live, many jurisdictions have special rules surrounding farmland that is aimed at preserving such, which can get in the way of quick sales. Sometimes, ordinances require that towns have to be notified legally of prospective sales, and sometimes there are outright restrictions on those sales. You'll need expert assistance on this from a real estate lawyer that has farm background experience. Regular real estate lawyers may or may not be familiar with these rules and you don't want him/her to learn on your dime — that is a malpractice case waiting to happen.

Another important issue is that obtaining a good, clear title is VERY IMPORTANT. Again, tied to land use restrictions, this issue is something you'll need to explore fully with a title insurer.

So far, I've pointed out just two areas of concern — there can be many more. I'll try to discuss this further in another post.

April 25, 2012 – I would like a baby horse to raise but I don't want to get the mare itself. I just want the fun of raising the little one. What can I do?

There is such a thing as a "mare lease", where you agree to cover various expenses as well as the stud fee. This can be complicated depending upon the details of the lease and what you and the mare's owner agree upon. You DEFINITELY want to document such an agreement in a contract. You need to contact an equine lawyer in your area to go over the details.

You also need to already know how to raise a foal, the problems that can occur, how to deal with/treat them, and more. This involves much more than getting a kitten or puppy and YOU WILL BE RESPONSIBLE for the health, care, and very life of this foal.

April 24, 2012 – My horse will often groom me when I visit him. Why does he do this? Does he think I am dirty?

Besides actually cleaning themselves, horses also use grooming as a sign of love and affection amongst themselves. So it's not surprising they would think that way in dealing with other animals and with humans. I've several times seen horses groom a cooperating cat.

You should feel very honored. Your horse must really like you a lot!

April 23, 2012 – I bought a new saddle 2 months ago and I don't like it. I thought it was comfortable when I sat in it at the tack shop. It had been there for a few years and the shop owner gave me a good discount. But now that I have ridden in it on several long rides, my butt and upper legs are very sore during the ride and for a few days later. Can I force a return? The shop owner doesn't want it back. What are my rights?

Since you used it on several long rides, I think you'll have a tough time getting the store to accept it back because they now cannot market it as new. Have you investigated consignment options? You should be able to recoup much of your original investment since it is nearly new. Also, a dealer moving a saddle that's been around for a while will be more inclined to offer a larger than normal discount, but will almost always not want to take it back.

For future saddle purchases, consider trying to negotiate a deal that lets you try a saddle for a week or two before committing to buying it. Many saddle companies and dealers allow this because they know it takes some time riding in a saddle to know how well it will or won't work. Some actually keep a few that they allow prospective buyers to try. If you like it, you can then commit to purchase a new one.

Finally, don't try to judge a saddle's comfort by sitting on it for a short time in a store — most will always feel comfortable for a while. But you need to be in a saddle for your normal riding time (usually hours) and with the movement of a horse beneath to truly get a feeling for weather or not a saddle will be good for those long rides. This is especially true for those who go on long rides, such as trail and endurance riders.

So, make sure you can actually try a saddle or at least an identical one before laying down your hard-earned cash.

April 20, 2012 – My horse HATES to be groomed. I don't know what to do about it. He rolls in the mud and in his soiled bedding at night. When I brush him, he keeps turning in circles about the tie point as he tries to evade my brush. He hates currying even more. What do I do? How do I remove loose winter hair when he sheds? How do I clean him? HELP!!

Are you using a stiff brush? Most horses enjoy grooming if you respect their skin's sensitivity to pain. I would first try to get him to stand with just a swipe using a cloth. Since horses hate to move around, if he moves, then continue to move him around in a circle using his hindquarters while keeping his front feet more or less stationary.

Move him for at least a few minutes. Then tell him to stand. If he moves again, move him onward longer than he likes in that circle. Eventually he'll begin to realize that if you tell him to stand, he will stand, because otherwise, he'll have to move much more than he'd prefer.

Now, continue the brushing a few more swipes at a time. Groom for a few minutes and then do something else with him. Return to the grooming thing a few more times in the session, and then give over for the day.

Each day you do this, extend the grooming time and exchange the cloth for a soft brush. After a while, he'll stand for grooming. Make this a real interactive experience (e.g. find and scratch his itchy points and make sure to observe his reactions to what you're doing). Try to make him enjoy the experience, and stop doing what he seems not to like. Then, just make sure you repeat the process if he goes back to his old ways.

HE WILL TEST YOU to see if you really mean it, again and again, so be ready. Of course, all of this takes time, but eventually, you'll change his mind about grooming and its pleasures. Anything less is just you forcing your attentions on an unwilling partner. That's quite a dangerous thing to do when the partner is a 1,000 pounds of animal armed with teeth and man-killing feet. (Person-killing? We strive to be politically correct.)

April 19, 2012 – I have been boarding horses for over 10 years. Lately, I have been trying to introduce a boarding contract. I want at least a month's notice when a boarder is leaving so I can line up another boarder. I like my current boarders, but they have been talking among themselves and are all refusing to sign the boarding contract I have given them. Can I refuse to let them ride at my barn if they won't sign it? What can I do?

Sure! After all, YOU ARE the owner of the property. You can let anyone you want onto the land, or not. If not, you tell them to get off your land (in writing; most police stations have a no trespass order on file) or you will initiate a trespass action.

Of course, it may be better to be somewhat less heavy-handed. See if you can reason with them first and explain that you have to protect your business. Asking for a reasonable notice period is very reasonable and is done in most other such situations, such as renting an apartment. Ultimately, if they won't sign the agreement, you have the legal right to make them leave.

Good luck!

April 18, 2012 – I normally ride in the arena and prefer it. But a few of my friends like to go on trail rides a few times a year and always want me to come along. Every time I do, I get really nervous a few days before and worse the day of the ride. My horse wants to stay with the pack and I get emotionally exhausted after about 30 minutes knowing what is going to happen and want to go back to the barn. Plus, that is about the time we get to the big field and my friends want to gallop. I DON"T WANT TO GALLOP! I never want to gallop. I think it is very dangerous. Worse, my horse wants to run when with my friends when they take off. I have tried turning back to the barn sooner, but my horse fights me and doesn't want to leave the others. It is as if he knows they are going to gallop and wants to go with them. This whole thing ruins my love of horses. What can I do?

The obvious answer would be, say no to your friends when they ask you to go on a trail ride. Failing that, you'll have to say no to your horse on the "staying with the herd" thing. This is actually sort of ironic if you think about it: You find it hard to say no to your friends when they ask you to trail ride and your horse finds it hard to say no to his friends on the trail when they invite him to stay with them on the move.

I think that, until you develop some backbone on this, you'll continue to suffer. Or, which is a third course of action that you could look into: learn how to ride at a canter and how to modulate canter to gallop and back again so that you can enjoy the experience and the trail ride itself. Many people do enjoy trail riding for exactly the feeling of freedom that your horse enjoys and that you fear. You've got to keep in mind that you've chosen a sport riding an animal that has developed by nature to run — he's a "running machine!"

Now, that recommendation comes with some caveats. If you're truly fearful, have physical limitations, or if you're an older rider with less bounce in your system, you may be better off staying in the ring with a suitable horse companion who also has as little interest as you do in exploring trails and running. I can't tell if your horse is resigned to ring life or not based on your description. I would aim at resolving the issue one way or another though: either decide that trails are a goal and work towards that, or decide that only ring life is for you and make sure that your horse is of a like mind. If not, then invest in an older schoolmaster horse who enjoys light workouts occasionally in the ring and no other duties. With either approach, you'll both likely be happier than you are now.

April 17, 2012 – I've been working with my horse who has developed a hard mouth over the years. He is doing well but do you have any tips on how to get him as soft and responsive as I can? He is especially hard-mouthed when we gallop and he gets excited. Thanks!

I feel your pain. This is an ongoing problem on the polo field as well. Horses get very excited charging off with their buddies in a pack and tend to lose their minds quickly in that circumstance.

So, this is what I do to combat that behavior:

  1. I tend to ride more with my weight and use circles and changes of direction to control speed;
  2. I use soft, larger circles at slower speeds as a reward, and tighter, faster circles when the horse seems to be on the verge of falling into an adrenaline push and running through the bridle; and
  3. I stay off of his mouth entirely when doing this, except as a guide on the direction to go.

Tight turns at speed are hard on a horse — he'll hate it. He will much more appreciate the softer, slower turns and the atta-boys you give him when he listens.

A side note: You'll have to be careful as to how hard you make a turn, because if you feel his back end slipping, you'll have to back off the turn and let him sort his feet out. This takes judgment and sensitivity. Nevertheless, if you're consistent in working circles, straights, and turns when he gets excited and starts jetting, he'll become more responsive and will stop lugging on the bit.

Now, a horse playing polo achieves a break through when he finally figures out that speed isn't so much the point of the game itself. (Yes! They figure out how to play the game). Once the horse figures that out, he becomes MUCH more interested in playing the game and less interested in the outcome of any particular horse race. You can see the high goal pony and their ears flicking back and forth for the inevitable turn as they race down the stretch. They're real athletes and it's very exciting to watch!

April 16, 2012 – I have recently sold a pony and they have asked to return it because it is being naughty which I have to say it didn't do when we had it! Am I legally obliged to do this and give them a full refund?

Unfortunately, the answer to your question is not a simple "yes" or "no". It depends on so many variations of fact that I simply cannot answer it in a post. There are determining laws in your state and lots of information needed about the dialog and selling transaction that transpired between you and the buyers. Therefore, I'm afraid you need to contact an equine attorney in your area and fill him/her in on ALL of the surrounding facts and communications you had with the buyers. You should do this sooner rather than later to protect your rights.

April 13, 2012 – My horse doesn't seem to like me except when I have treats. And, he certainly doesn't respect me. What can I do?

This issue of horse respect for humans is the biggest question that we get asked about here at QueryHorse. There is a thread on the QueryHorse Forum that goes on about it from readers who have their own varied experiences. If interested, it's in the Training & Horse Behavior section and is entitled: I don't think my horse respects me .

Without knowing more about your particular issue, I can say that giving treats indiscriminately will certainly give your horse cause to like having you around WHEN YOU DO have those treats. But, you need to remember that he can smell and sense the presence of treats, so his attitude when you DO NOT have them is what you need to think about.

Horses can be rewarded in a number of ways for good behavior that don't involve treats. Conversely, you can discourage disrespect in a number of ways that will cut down on the manifestation of such an attitude, and I strongly urge that you do so immediately. You should have a zero tolerance policy for all signs of disrespect and an arsenal of ways to discourage it depending the individual circumstances.

Over time, you need to be consistently and firmly friendly with your horse. You also need to reward good interactions while discouraging disrespect and bad behavior. If you do this CONSISTENTLY, he will look forward to seeing you because you'll represent a consistent change of scene that will offer something to think about during those long hours when he has to keep himself amused.

If you don't know how to reward your horse without using treats, and also how to discourage bad behavior in a safe and effective way, you need to talk with a horse trainer. He/she will be able to see your horse, how he reacts to you, and to make suggestions as to how to begin and train your horse to respect you.

What will he think about? He'll think about what it is you could possibly want from him, that is, do you have a larger plan? If so, then his willingness to engage with you will depend on his view of your larger plan. If he likes it, he'll be happy. If he doesn't like your plan, seeing you will trigger the urge to run in the opposite direction.

Now, keep in mind, he could like your plan, but on any given day, may still decide that he'd rather graze with his friends — it just depends on that day's mood. But at least the signs of disrespect will disappear and he'll do his job like a good boy. And that is about the most you can ask from him, or anyone else, for that matter.

April 12, 2012 – I have a young horse that my trainer tells me I should keep on the skinny side while working him, to start out. I am unsure about this. What do you think?

I, too, have heard this from a few trainers. The notion is that if you don't stuff a horse full of oats, he'll be less inclined to misbehave when asked to work. So while I understand the principle at work here, I personally would exercise extreme caution before deliberately underfeeding a horse. There is a fine line between thin and too thin, and undernourished horses can lose condition very quickly while under work.

I do suggest that you use lots of free-choice hay, or as much good quality hay as the horse will eat, and then, and only then, start monkeying around with varying his grain portions. If he's having his basic needs met with hay, then cutting back on grain is more understandable. But you need to let the horse's coat and body weight be your guide: his spine and ribs should not be visible at all, and he should be in good flesh with good coat.

If you can see ribs, then DO NOT cut back on anything. Instead, follow recommended feeding portions of grain until he gets condition back. Grain is concentrated feed, so he will gain weight quickly on that plus hay.

You should also consult your veterinarian. He/she will be able to examine your specific horse, his metabolism, temperament, and his nutritional needs. And the vet will also better understand these nutritional issues than your trainer or us non-vets.

April 11, 2012 – I was sold a horse on the promise that it was a beginner horse. My trainer says no way is this horse for a beginner. I am inclined to agree since he dumped me off first thing. What should I do?

First of all, please notify the seller IMMEDIATELY of your belief that you were sold a horse on the basis of an assertion of fact that is not correct, and that you want to explore all options including rescinding the sale. Then, notify an equine attorney and get legal advice. More than this I'm hesitant to discuss in a post.

The rule on rescinding sales of goods is that notice of this has to be done quickly or as soon as the buyer has notice of a problem. If you cover yourself on this issue, then you'll have time to explore all the options with your attorney. There are many factual variables here, and the intent of this post is to let you know of the one rock solid imperative: notifying to the other party of the problem immediately.

In the meantime, stay off the horse. You need to be healthy and safe to do anything else.

April 10, 2012 – How often should I be washing my horse?

Wash him as often as he needs it. Horses in work need it whenever they sweat because the salt will cause the hair to ball up and cause sores. Also, a very muddy horse will appreciate the help in keeping his skin clean after he has a good itch and scratch with the roll he just undertook in the sand (or worse).

Horses, like teenagers, are big into consequence-free actions. (It does sound like the "good life", doesn't it?)

April 9, 2012 – My horse is suffering from ticks. Is this a problem? What can I do?

You do need to take action quickly on this. With this warm winter, ticks are a real problem for horses. Ticks can carry illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease which can debilitate a horse's immune system and weaken the horse. They also can get welts that become infected.

There are pesticide products that you can put on your horse's legs, mane and tail. Also, you have to visually inspect your horse's tail, head, under his jowls and in his mane on the skin, which is where ticks especially like to hang out and latch on. And don't forget yourself.

Work hard on this to keep your horse and you safe. A submitter to the Horse Guy also asked this question, so you should also see his response.

April 6, 2012 – I have a soon-to-be 4-year-old Perch/Arab mare that has been sweet, quiet, gentle and happy to just hang out with people. She came to me a year ago last November and was underweight and completely unworked and just a pasture ornament never having had anything asked of her. I have worked with her and have successfully taught her to lead and back up and step over when I enter her stall and to respect my space and have done some other basic things with her but I'm no trainer. I wanted to take her to a trainer/friend of mine to make her into a nice quiet trail horse, which I thought would come very easily for her, considering her temperament and her past actions.

Her training began Monday and I was shocked when I received a call on Tuesday evening from the trainer. She told me that after about 20 minutes of round penning my mare, she flat out refused to work anymore, so the trainer encouraged her to continue by clucking and tapping her rump with the lung whip at which point my mare apparently turned to the trainer, reared up on her hind legs and began heading toward her, front legs pawing the air with obvious intent. The trainer quickly moved to the side and drew her back down on all four and then encouraged the mare to move forward again. Apparently at that my mare turned and lowered her head and charged directly at the trainer. That time the trainer quickly and firmly tapped the horse between the eyes to get her attention and to get her to stop which my mare did.

After that the trainer did some simple leading and a little backing with the horse so the mare wouldn't feel that she had won entirely. Then the horse was put back in her stall. I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to come and pick up my mare and that I should sell her because she is not to be trusted. I am first of all very relieved that my friend did not receive any injuries in this situation, but I am utterly crushed and find it so hard to understand that my mare would ever act in such a way.

There were 30-mph wind gusts the day of the incident and she had just newly arrived at the farm and was nervous and unsure of her surroundings. I am not justifying my mare's behavior by any means, but I have worked her myself and have come up against some stubbornness in my mare, but I've always worked her through it and she eventually does as asked and has never given me any inkling of such aggressive behavior. I am confused at how she could turn like this and become such an aggressive animal determined to cause great harm to a person.

Have you some words of wisdom to share with me? I am contemplating what the wisest next step should be. I await your opinion and thoughts on this situation with interest. Thank you.

As a first step, I would send her to a different trainer for that other trainer's opinion. And for this second round, I would do some investigation and spend some money on someone with at least a regional, if not national reputation. I would do this BEFORE you work with her again. The reason is, that you now have an indication that your mare, when pushed beyond what SHE deems is reasonable, has a response that would be dangerous to you.

Now, we weren't with the trainer when she decided to do whatever she did. I can read in your note a lot of second guessing about her actions which may or may not be warranted. It is worth observing here that not every trainer gets along with every horse, and that could be the situation here. However, the issue for you to think about is: what did your horse do when she was pushed?

You trainer reported that the horse's reaction was aggressive, that is, she chose a fight reaction rather than a flight reaction. Usually, most horses choose the flight rather than fight. So, the fact your horse instead chose to fight is significant. You need to get a second opinion here and it's worth it to make that second opinion a definitive, expert one given how much you have invested in her already. If you decide NOT to do this, please be warned: at some point you too will meet the fight reaction, and you may not come off so well as your friend.

Also, when you send your horse out, make sure the new trainer is fully informed (in writing) of what happened to the first trainer. Otherwise, you could face litigation regarding injuries to that trainer for consequences related to an unwarned habit of your horse. It would be a long shot, horse trainers are usually deemed to have accepted most risks related to horses, but in this land of lawyers, it's better to be safe than sorry.

April 5, 2012 – How can you keep riding as you get older?

By getting a very gentle horse, keeping him/her in shape and in work, by exercising regularly and staying in shape yourself, and by regular riding together. It's important for both of you to keep up muscle tone and riding ability. Horses generally live longer and healthier lives when kept in work. Recent reports of medical studies in this area regarding humans seems to imply the same — healthy eating and regular exercise also extends our lives and the quality of them.

I do know of polo players riding well into their seventies and I even know a few eighty year olds in Florida that are keeping it going.

April 4, 2012 – My cat loves my horse. He sleeps in the stall with him and hangs out all the time. Should I be worried about any health concerns?

Not that I'm aware of. There is a long and storied history of cats and horses becoming friendly, including the Godolphin Arabian and his pet cat. Cats are natural predators for mice, and horses and grain mean that plenty of mice are there for the cat. Obviously, a cat likes hanging out in this environment.

For concerns, I can only think of two:

  1. If your cat for some reason decided to use the horse's stall in one location alone as a litter box, that would not be good. Though, I think that this is unlikely and have never seen it.
  2. Cats in barns must keep aware of horse movements and avoid being underfoot. Most cats frequenting horse barns learn this quickly, so it's likely that your cat has.

Horses are naturally friendly and so are cats, therefore, a beautiful friendship is born. Don't be surprised if you find your cat sleeping on top of your horse's back occasionally during the coldest months. They generally both like the shared warmth.

April 3, 2012 – The other day my horse Pepper was in his stall eating. When I went out to put his blanket on he was standing in another one of our horses pins and he would'nt move. His legs were trembling and his eyes were starting to roll. Ten minuites later I finally got him to walk and he went in the corner of the arena and layed down. His eyes were starting to get worse and his gums turned a weird white color and he couldnt keep his tongue in his mouth. About twenty minuites after he layed down we got him up and kept a close eye on him the rest of the night.

The next morning when I went to feed he was talking to me like normal and ate a whole flake of alfalfa. What do you think this was? Can horses have a stroke? Will he be the same or remember the things he has learned?

Horses can have strokes. But that being said, this is the extent of my veterinary knowledge. A question about such a critical question and unnatural behavior should motivate you to IMMEDIATELY CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN!!!!

Click here to see the short article we posted on March 19th on this subject regarding these kinds of questions. This horse will now join the nightly parade of worry horses that the Horse Girl worries about as a result of this column.

April 2, 2012 – Can yelling at your horse affect her in a bad way?

Absolutely, it can. Horses are more than smart enough to feel the underlying emotions that cause someone to yell. Anger, fear, uneasiness, pique, annoyance, distractedness — horses read these emotions like a book. But more important, the issue is, WHY are you or someone else yelling at her.

A short snap is sometimes merited. For example, if your horse steps purposely on your foot, she deserves a loud "HEY!" or some such and a quick smack on her shoulder as quickly as you can deliver it. In such a case, she'll rightly understand that her invasion of your space prompted instant and unpleasant feedback, which she'll quickly digest and likely remember.

If your horse is afraid and you yell at her, it will make her more fearful because she'll see that you're not smart enough to figure out why she's afraid, and that will make her more afraid. A "boss horse" in that situation would recognize fear and act quickly to convey to her that her fears are nonsense or would move her expeditiously away from the fear causing threat, neither of which a yell in anger is. The worst situation is the person that launches into a yelling tirade or yells frequently. The horse doesn't understand the meaning, nor the reason, and becomes more unnerved and afraid. It can cause a bad relationship between the person and the horse — yelling at horses is an ineffective and destructive relationship approach.

So, whether this is something you're doing or something you've observed, it's a bad approach and shows a lack of understanding of horse communication and extremely poor horse training skills. Obviously, if you have an horse trainer doing this, find another trainer right away.

March 30, 2012 – Why does my horse keep running me into a fence? He's never done that before.

What did you do the first time he ran you into a fence? Did you provide positive reinforcement of that behavior (such as falling off)? Or did you provide some negative consequences for his behavior? (I'm guessing not.)

Well, there you go. While I don't know the reason your horse ran you into a fence the FIRST TIME, I'm betting that all the later times occurred because of your reaction that first time. In other words, he not only achieved his initial goal (not wanting to work or wanting you off his back), the latter times, he achieved the goal again and again and was likely somewhat entertained from his point of view. The lack of any corrective action from you means to him that his behavior is ok and that he is dominant and making the decisions.

If I were you, I'd change his mind about the acceptability of this behavior rather quickly while you still have kneecaps.

March 23, 2012 – Another Case; Part 3

Here's another case on the employee/independent contractor issue:

Hotwalkers and exercise riders were found to be employees AND NOT independent contractors under the common law control test in one case because these workers performed their work according to the schedule of the trainer. See McCormick v. The US, 531 F. 2d 554 (Ct. Cl. 1976). This is a pretty good case to read, where the court discusses the kinds of issues that frequently arise in the areas of horses and equestrian workers.

In this case (no pun intended), the court went into a description of exercise riders, who may be freelancers, regular riders, or hotwalkers. The taxpayer in this situation argued that the riders were independent contractors because they had total control over the horse and used independent judgment and skill when they were riding. Also asserted was that the riders supplied their own equipment, (e.g. helmets and boots) and if freelancing, would have no regular gig with any one trainer.

The court however, noted that the riders were under the ultimate dictation of the trainer for the "way" in which the work was performed. That is, the employee is subject to the will and control of the employer, not only as to what should be done, but also HOW it shall be done. The court additionally noted that the broader view must necessarily be applied in this case, and the court further noted that the risks involved in the investment of the horse itself necessarily belonged to the trainer and not the rider. The court also found that, although the equipment issue was certainly a factor, that the boots and saddles themselves were a negligible item compared to the saddles, bridles, etc., which were furnished by the trainer.

As you can see, the stakes and implications are high for both employer and worker, and the court's decision can ride on small factors that can surprise you. So, it should start to be clearer why individual circumstances require competent legal advice from an attorney knowledgeable in the ways of horses and horse-related law.

In my next post, I'll resume answering questions. But I will provide updates and examples from time to time in the future on frequently submitted questions in the hopes of helping those involved with similar equine legal issues.

March 22, 2012 – More About Equine Occupational Law; Part 2

Yesterday's question represents many that we receive about employment law issues regarding horse occupations. It's one of the most burning and pressing of questions and comes in various flavors, but generally revolves around whether the worker is truly an independent contractor or actually an employee. The answer has real consequences legally and financially, and unfortunately, the courts in various states don't always agree.

Therefore, the short answer is that no posting I make can possibly address every situation in which an individual might find themselves, so readers of the Horse Girl column with such questions NEED TO GET competent legal advice for THEIR OWN situation. Furthermore, because the horse industry has so many variations and differs in some respects from more typical employment situations, that lawyer really should be an equine attorney that is very familiar with the horse laws of YOUR state.

The history of horses in society has created a body of law related to horse commerce of which the non-equine attorney usually does not have a complete understanding. This is why I almost always advise the question submitter to secure an "equine attorney". Unfortunately, I have more than once seen clients with horse issues lose a case they should have won because their attorney was not sufficiently aware of the horse world and how it works.

In the future, I'll continue to describe some common horse situations and how courts in some states have handled the issues involved.


March 21, 2012 – I am an instructor/trainer that works at a barn. I have two horses at the barn and pay reduced board in return for a share of lesson fees. The barn owner just told me that I have to pay my own insurance. I can't afford that as a trainer. What are my options?

Well, it may very well grieve your barn owner to learn this, but depending on the arrangement you have with him or her, you might actually be an employee based upon how the government views your status. In that case, although you may indeed be subject to a lawsuit personally if there is an accident, your employer certainly will be on the hook also as the "deeper pocket".

I suggest that you sit down with an equine attorney and review your working arrangement with the attorney to see if, in fact, you do qualify as an independent contractor. It's very possible that you don't and that you're actually an employee, but that's for the attorney to advise.

Note: These kinds of situations are very common and we often get questions from readers along these lines, though the specifics vary. Therefore, in the next few daily postings, I'm going to discuss some previous cases where this issue has been decided by a court of law so interested readers can see how the courts have looked at this issue in these past cases.

March 20, 2012 – I am getting my horse ready for the spring. Do I really need all those shots? Money is tight.

Contact your vet and see if the two of you can arrive at an understanding on this issue. Some vaccinations are critical because of the risk of carryover to humans, such as by mosquitoes. Such diseases are West Nile Virus and other encephalitis type virus protections including Eastern and Western which are very dangerous to people. In addition, tetanus is a core vaccination needed by horses, also very dangerous to people. There are a number of other illnesses, such as strangles, that are passed primarily between horses and that you should also confer with your vet about.

You may think you're saving money by taking a pass on vaccinations, but these diseases are so dangerous that I feel it is worth the cost to save your horse and to reduce the chances of transmissibility to other horses, other animals, and especially to humans.

March 19, 2012 – IMPORTANT TOPIC

Today, we're directing your attention to a short article. The topic is very important and relates to some of the questions submitted to the Horse Girl and Horse Guy over the last few years. Click here to read the article.

March 16, 2012 – Can I claim my horse farm as a business?

That depends on many factors, such as whether you're running a business for a profit or not. If it's a real business and generating a profit, or you're newly in business, growing it, and working towards being profitable in a year or two, you can normally deduct legitimate expenses. But if you have one or more horses "just for fun" and are looking for a way to deduct your costs, that's not a business.

You need to consult an equine attorney on this; the IRS often targets horse people for "hobby loss" audits. Therefore, you should get expert advice on this BEFORE you go into business. The stakes are quite high, so don't embark on all this without good advice.

March 15, 2012 – My filly walks up and rests her chin on my shoulder and nuzzles my hair whenever I go near her. Why?

Because your filly appears to truly adore you. Really! Horses are very demonstrative in their affections, and lacking opposable thumbs, this is the best they can come up with to show they enjoy being with you.

Similarly, we've written often on this site advising readers to watch their horse's body language, such as pinning their ears back, raising their tail or raising their heads high with their eyes wide open, etc. Horses are actually quite good at telling us how they're feeling. We just need to pay attention and learn a little so we can "read" them.

March 14, 2012 – When I scratch my filly's neck, she snorts and licks my hand. I thought it was kinda weird; why does she do that?

I think she's reciprocating your love and attention.

Horses are very lovey-dovey if they're so minded. I read a fascinating article one time about how certain scientists were trying to prove the existence of real friendship and attachment in certain animals. The animals they picked to study were: dogs, horses, monkeys, and elephants.

Not surprising to anyone with eyes, dogs, horses and elephants apparently form long lasting attachments unrelated to the obvious reason (mating) and grieve when their friends are taken from them. Someone once told me that sociology was a science that offered a vague understanding of the obvious. How true!

As for the monkeys, some species do form friendships. Others don't seem to. It's hard to tell the dividing line. Of course, I've seen that in people as well.

March 13, 2012 – Our horse fell down on Wednesday! She stayed down till Thursday morning when she got up and moved around for a bit! She was up for about 5 hours and then laid back down and hasn't gotten up again! She is eating and drinking fine! The vet gave us an anti inflammatory shot to give her for four days! She tries to get up but seems she's too weak? Any advice! Thanks so much!

Well, I am glad you called the vet! I can't add much to his/her suggestions except to point out that your horse can't lie down for long. For that reason, I think you need to inform your vet right away about how much time your horse has been down and how little time she's been up.

If you're in the New England or Kentucky area, you can call EnduroMedical Corporation (google them) and discuss renting the NEST for your horse to recover in. This is a sling that allows for long term recovery for a horse in a supported yet recumbent position, just like a horse couch or recliner. The horses love it. It keeps them alive until the vet figures out what's wrong. I have seen several horses that were helped by its use.

Good luck and God bless!

March 12, 2012 – How do I judge when my horse has cooled down after a ride in the winter?

He will be cool and dry. You should be able to tell fairly quickly just by feeling on his breast under his neck and under where the saddle was. Cooling out may take some time and you may have to have a cool out rug (a fleece cooler) that breathes in the meantime.

If you turn out a horse out that has not sufficiently cooled and dried off into cold weather, the horse runs the risk of quickly becoming hypothermic. Moisture helps move heat away from the body quickly — that's why we sweat when we get too hot — to get rid of excess heat. But it's a life-threatening problem when this happens to a person or animal in colder weather. People have become hypothermic at 70 degrees when they have been wet and at that temperature for too long, yet they'd be fine at that temperature all day if dry.

If you've ever seen a shivering horse, it's not a good thing. They can be harmed by this just as people can. So be a pal to your horse: make sure he's cooled and dry before turnout. And use a cooler to let that happen slowly and safely when the weather is below 60 degrees.

March 9, 2012 – I'm getting my first horse soon. I've been riding for a year and I was wondering if its alright to get an unbroken horse then get it broken in, or am I better off getting one that is already broken in and knows what he is doing? Thanks!

Under no circumstances should you get an untrained horse. You won't know what to do and neither will he. The combination will be lethal, for you, that is.

Get a golden oldie, a school master, a warhorse. Go to any lesson barn and cozy up to the owners. These folks usually have several that are about to be pensioned off at a reasonable price. Spend the horse's last few years getting to know him and aim to take very good care of him, because he will appreciate it and will spend that time taking very good care of you as you learn horse language and the ways of horses.

As you get more experience over the next few years, you'll come to a time where your horse will be too old to ride. Then use the knowledge you've learned (and that the older horse has taught you) to get a somewhat younger horse that has more time to spend with you.

I have worked with horses my whole life, and even I don't get unbroken horses without getting a trainer for the bulk of it. Starting with an unbroken horse is the way to ruin your horse and get killed. Instead, do as I do.

March 8, 2012 – I have a 5 y/o quarter horse mare. She had 2 years cutting training and has then been loose on a ranch for the past year. We have her in a pen and periodically she will whip her head from side to side quite quickly. Wondering if this may be a neurological disorder, or just a behavior problem. Any and all help is appreciated. Thanks!

Well, this is a long distance diagnosis for sure. If your horse does this behavior with an evil look in her eye, it means she's bored stiff at being in a pen and is letting you know about it. But this is just a guess because I'm not there to see this behavior for myself. The issue could be as simple as a biting insect problem or something more complicated and requiring the help of a veterinarian like you ask about — it's hard to tell from this side of the computer.

Observe your horse over time and be careful to notice the surrounding circumstances. Address a boredom issue with a companion, longer turn-out, and work. All three of these together works nicely.

Also, observe the insect issue. If the problem doesn't appear to be caused by bugs, and if the problem doesn't abate with addressing boredom concerns, then I think it's then time to enlist more expert help from your vet and possibly a trainer, depending on the problem.

March 7, 2012 – Hi! My horse has a lump on his side by his flank. He doesn't like me touching it at all. He moves away from me. When he has had cuts in the past, he has not been a problem to get near. Now there aren't any flies to bite him and he doesn't get kicked in the field because he is the top dog in the field. I don't know what to do to help.

This sounds as if it could be either an abscess or a tumor. It could also be a bug bite, even though it's a bit early for that. I'm not a vet, but it sounds as though this lump hurts him. I think you should get a vet to look at it. Your horse's health is worth a doctor visit and there's just no way to even try to figure this out remotely without seeing the bump and the way your horse is reacting. Your vet will be able to do that and even to take a sample of the bump tissue if necessary.

March 6, 2012 – When boarding a horse at a barn with no contract, how many days do you have when you're evicted?

Without a contract, you are a "tenant at will". This means you have to leave when they say you do. Now, this practically means, as soon as you're able to do so.

Because many stables are wanting new customers, you should be able to find a new spot quickly. A written board contract on a month by month basis offers some protection for the boarder and a limit on the barn owner against the ejector button of an "at will" situation. Conversely, the contract also provides protection for the barn owner in that it will likely stipulate a minimum amount of notice you must give when moving to another barn — that's a limit on your freedom. The effect of a contract is that it protects both parties by setting reasonable limits on them both.

I recommend you look around for a set up like that in your new barn. It's good for both parties to have some protection.

March 5, 2012 – What does it mean when a horse stands in the same spot all day?

That he has sore feet. You should call your farrier and get your horse's feet looked at. Horses want to move unless there's something stopping them or causing discomfort (e.g. founder).

Don't wait too long to have this investigated. The hoof is one of the most important parts of a horse and one that greatly affects his/her health.

March 2, 2012 – My horse keeps charging at me when I set him loose in the arena. This scares me? What is he doing?

I think you know what he's doing — HE IS trying to scare you. And it's working. Your horse is being aggressive when he charges you and he feels he is in control.

You need to get a horse trainer immediately involved and don't go out into the arena with your horse loose. He could seriously injure you because he isn't afraid of you and doesn't respect you at this time. But you are wise to be concerned and what you learn from the horse trainer should make this situation safer.

March 1, 2012 – How can I learn to ride a horse well?

Ah, this takes me back to numerous students who all asked the same thing. And I sayeth unto you, the same thing I said to each of them: it all depends on your experience and many variables. If you want to learn to ride really well, do the following:

  1. Get lots of riding time in the saddle;
  2. Ride lots of different horses;
  3. Take lessons with different instructors; and
  4. Learn several or many different disciplines.

Over time you'll build up talent in each that crosses over to the general discipline of horse riding. You may notice that the Horse Guy and I will often make note of how all the disciplines offer something to any rider and that all saddle time is good time. No discipline is better than another — they all offer something valuable for learning to ride better. The more you do and the more different lessons you take and horses you ride, the better a rider you'll become.

February 29, 2012 – Can leaving a horse blanket on cause weight loss?

Yes, in the sense that it can cause a horse to fret, which can cause him to pace, or rub, or sweat, which can cause him to be less interested in feed, which can cause him to lose weight.

If your horse is happy to have the blanket on, your examinations of him should find no rub marks or sweat marks. Even then, you shouldn't leave a horse blanket on for weeks on end with no inspection of the horse's body. Blanket rubs can appear quickly, and if untreated, can cause a real problem for the horse that affects his health and soundness. I WOULD NOT leave any blanket on for more than a day or two at the most without removing it for a grooming and an inspection.

Keep an eye on the weather too. If it gets too hot under the blanket, then take it off. "Too hot" depends on the blanket weight and the ambient temperature. But remember that horses have superior heating abilities and will not feel the cold the same way as people do.

I take off winter blankets when the weather gets into the high fifties and low sixties, even if the horse is clipped.

February 28, 2012 – Why does my horse keep going into a trot from a walk when I am not asking her to?

She has a lot of excess energy. This "jigging" is fairly common with some horses. If she otherwise behaves, it's not anything to worry about, just slow her back down to a walk.

If she starts expressing an editorial opinion on your management, well, then that's a different story. For example, if she lays back her ears, swishes her tail, pulls at the bit, goes sideways, anything like that, then get a horse trainer involved for a re-education camp. You can't allow her to send you such signals because they're generally a precursor to worse problems and behavior.

February 27, 2012 – What would cause my pony to fall over and not be able to get up?

Serious injury or illness — CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY!

Horses are built to stand, not to lie down. Therefore, if they do lie down so for any extended period of time, they can be in serious trouble. The range of things that could be wrong is so great that I cannot possibly opine a cause here. But suffice it to say that your pony needs medical attention pronto!

February 24, 2012 – I have a 20 year old Quarter horse gelding. He has been sore in his hips and back in the past two years, but over this past year, he has become fine again. He canters, gallops, and bucks in the pasture and isn't sore after getting his hooves trimmed. He has been fine and the vet and farrier have found no issues what-so-ever.

I was just wondering if it would be an appropriate time to start working him lightly again? I don't plan to continue showing him anymore, but would like to get him into light western pleasure riding.

I think that sounds like a great idea! Just take it slow to start and then let his reactions be your guide. He will appreciate the work and sounds like an active sort, as most quarter horses are.

Good luck!

February 23, 2012 – My horse used to be lazy, so I had him in speed for three years and now he's so wound up I cant get him to calm down. What do I do?

Reverse the process — make him work with changes of gait and direction whenever he tries to speed off. Only when he eases up off the gas do you reward him with a loose rein and easy forward motion. He'll get the picture if you are consistent. But that's the key: you MUST BE CONSISTENT.

Good luck!

February 22, 2012 – My mare sometimes nuzzles me very affectionately and then makes strange noises that remind me of how a a stallion may behave towards a mare. She can get quite animated. Should I worry?

Well, mares will bite a stallion. But, they also know the difference between you and a male horse of an uncastrated gender. So, I don't think you have anything to worry about but bad manners.

Keep an eye on her ears. If your mare is interested in being bad, you should be able to tell fairly quickly as she lays them back and goes for the munch. Of course, if that happens, reprimand her immediately. She'll get the picture very quickly and also respect you for it. We never want to be mean or harsh with our horsaes, but we also can't let them be that way toward us — our lives can be at risk if we do allow it.

February 21, 2012 – How often do horses drink water?

They drink as often as they need to do so to maintain adequate hydration. In heat and dry weather, and also when working heavily, that can be very often. You need to give a horse free access to water at all times in their stalls and paddocks, and fairly frequently during work.

Horses drink and need a lot of water to stay healthy. Make sure they get as much as they want. There's no such thing as a horse that drinks too much.

February 20, 2012 – My horse's eyes keep turning yellow. One week it's one eye and the other week it's the other eye. What's causing them to do that?

I have no idea. I've never heard of this before. CALL YOUR VET! Anything to do with the eyes is scary. You don't want your horse to go blind because you didn't act quickly enough and this definitely sounds unusual.

February 17, 2012 – My pony has started to kick whenever I tack her up? Why is she doing this?

There could be several reasons. For example, she might be in pain and trying to get your attention. Or, she could just be fed up with your routine. You will have to do a little detective work to figure out which it is.

If she's otherwise not showing signs of rebellion, and the girthing is done loosely and with consideration, you'll see the pain signs diminish on girthing, but flaring up again when you get on her. This would indicate that she's experiencing pain and you need to investigate. If you don't find anything, a call for examination by your vet is a good idea.

If your mare has a bad attitude altogether, that will become apparent fairly fast. No matter what you do, she'll resist the work and will make sure you know about it. Thrashing her tail, biting, ears back — all of the above are sure signs of a bad attitude of which kicking is only a part of the repertoire. You should be able to figure out which of these two are the problem fairly quickly with observation.

If this is pain related, call your vet as mentioned above. If your pony is just being bad, get a horse trainer involved. Also, understand that in the spring, mares get bitchy when in season.

February 16, 2012 – My horse shakes his body in an irritated way as well as colicking on a weekly basis. What's wrong?

CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY! This IS NOT an issue that you want to fool around with because constant colicking could lead to a twisted bowel which can cause death.

It sounds as if your horse could be having difficulty with whatever you're feeding him. But, don't try to resolve this by changing feed and losing more time — CALL YOUR VET IN NOW!

February 15, 2012 – What does "lead off" mean when referring to horses?

I don't know. It could mean a variety of things. If the horse is on the wrong lead, while he canters, it could mean that. As in, his leads are off. Or it could refer to the first horse in line leading off.

The foregoing are just guesses though because there's insufficient context with which to derive some meaning. Why don't you write me back and provide the whole sentence that you heard it in?

February 14, 2012 – Can you tow a vehicle and horses in the same trailer?

Some stock trailers have a divider that allows the trucker to put horses up front and a vehicle behind. So, the answer is yes. I've seen this myself in the polo world; I know one enterprising player that goes from field to field in a gigantic stock trailer with his polo string and his jeep all being hauled together. It makes quite the stir on the sidelines, I must say.

However, absent a good divider to keep the one separate from the other, I wouldn't try putting a vehicle and horses together. It's too scary to contemplate what could happen with a loose horse with a vehicle inside another moving vehicle.

February 13, 2012 – My horse has difficulty getting up after he has been laying down. What does this mean?

You don't say how old your horse is. If he's like me, he and I both have the same difficulty at times.

If your horse is on the older side, it means he's feeling the effects and limits that come with aging. Give him time and keep him in shape with exercise appropriate to his age. That means to walk him and keep him in work that he's able to do without overdoing it. The fact is, the end of life comes for all of us and for our horses. BUT, we generally last longer and stay in better shape if we keep busy — the same is true for horses.

February 10, 2012 – What should I do when my horse trots without permission?

Is he trotting normally, sideways, or in place? What do you do when he moves forward faster than you'd like? As long as he's essentially obedient, the jigging is hard to stop. Some horses just have more energy than their riders can manage. So, if your horse is basically obedient, but just full of beans, then you need to work the horse more.

If instead your horse is affirmatively bad, then you need to get a horse trainer to help you figure out what is going on. This could be part of the incipient signs of rebellion and revolt, and I can't diagnose the issue from where I sit typing this response. I do think the fact you're asking this question means that you could use a little help.

Don't be afraid of getting help or additional training when you need it. It'll be a lot easier to try something new or resolve an existing problem, and even more important, it'll be safer.

February 9, 2012 – Why does my horse always rub his head on me after I yell at him?

Scratching an itch? If his action is tied to your yelling, which I have my doubts about, then he's invading your space and pushing you around. But most of the time, a yell by a person is followed up by eyes wide, ears up, and a backing away by the horse.

Anything else means he's doubtful of your ability to follow through with the discipline implied by the yell.

February 8, 2012 – Should you grip your horse with your legs to get his attention when he starts acting up during a ride? That's what a friend of mine says.

It depends. Gripping a horse can be misunderstood by the horse to mean, "go faster". Or, it can be understood as a calmer and a bracer meaning "let's stop now", depending on how your horse has been trained. If you use it as your friend suggests, it might work, or it might not.

Also, the horse's response can depend on the sensitivity with which you ride and the ongoing stream of communication that you have (or not) with the horse. Every time you're with a horse or riding one, you're training him. And if this is a new move for him that you're doing, he won't know what it means.

If you use it in enough similar kinds of situations, your horse will figure out what you mean. Separately, there will be a decision point when he decides whether or not to go along with what you're asking of him. This will be determined partly by his personality and also by whether or not he respects you as his leader.

I don't know where you are on the experience spectrum with all this, but I can say that, if you naturally reward good behavior and punish bad, he'll want to do as you ask once he figures out what your new command means. But also remember that many horses take a leg squeeze to mean to speed up. So test this in a safe place for the first time, such as in an enclosed arena.

February 7, 2012 – I'm 14 and have been working on training my horse for the past year and a half. I thought we got over the testing stage in the first couple of months, but he has started acting up again. My main concern is when I take him into the back pasture, all he does is buck. Violently. Any tips on how to get a handle on this before we get hurt? Also, after I scold him for that, he will rest his head on my belly. Why?

This horse is ignoring your commands and flourishing. You can really get hurt with this attitude of his. You need to send this horse to a trainer as soon as possible, and then you and the trainer need to work together so you and the trainer can figure out how to manage disrespect before it gets to the violent bucking stage. Unfortunately, now that you have reached that stage, it will be difficult, though not impossible, to back him back down. You do NOT have the expertise for this on your own, so GET HELP!

If you can't get the help you need, then sell him with full disclosures to an experienced rider. Life is too short for disrespectful horses to pose a threat to your safety, and even to your life.

February 6, 2012 – Hello! Yesterday I was riding my horse out in the wash. I have been working with him to go out by himself and we were having a great day with no trouble riding out. There is a lot of soft sand in the wash and that is usually where I will run him, but yesterday (since he was doing so good) I went the opposite way that I have been going (the way I would go with my friend when we rode together so it was not a new place).

When I got to a spot that I thought was good to run in, I got him into a lope and after about a minute he fell/tripped forward and went to the ground. I got off fine and rolled away from him without injury. When I hit the ground, my first reaction was to make sure he was okay. I looked over and he was on his side, but immediately got to his feet. I looked him over and he only had a small cut on his foot. I walked him for awhile and then got back on him and rode home.

He wanted to run more after, so I trotted him a little and then loped him just to make sure he was okay and then made him walk the rest of the way home. He seemed fine and was not limping.

Do you think he is okay and just tripped? Should I be concerned? He usually gets very excited when I let him run in the wash, so could he have just been over excited and got ahead of himself?

He is a quarter horse, about 15-15.1 hh, 11-12yrs old, usually very sure footed in the wash, and if he does trip, he has never went all the way down, and this was my first time falling off. Thank you for taking the time to help me!

I think he just tripped — horses do that. It's not fun, as you noticed. They don't do it willingly for sure, so you should just understand that unstable footing conditions can cause a horse to trip and fall.

You see race horses trip not infrequently, and it's much more calamitous when they do. You and your horse were lucky. Caution is always indicated on soft going or sand.

February 3, 2012 – Why does my horse drop down on his back end when I mount him?

He's doing this because he has a sore back. You're hurting him when you get on. You need to investigate this so that you don't permanently injure him.

First, check his back to see if he has any evidence of injuries, such as cuts, bites, or infections. If not, press lightly there and see if he responds as if it's tender. Then, check the underside of your saddle and both sides of the saddle pad to see if there's anything sharp, any blood on the pad, or anything obvious that could hurt or irritate your horse's back.

If you still haven't found anything, or you found that your horse already has one or more cuts, bites, or soreness, you need to have your veterinarian check your horse. DON'T RIDE HIM until you get this resolved or you could cause permanent damage as well as further hurt your horse and cause him severe pain. For him to drop down like that, this has to be hurting quite a bit.

February 2, 2012 – I had a gelding quarter horse and rode western, trail-riding, in my late teens and 20s. Since I sold my horse in my late 20's, I've had little contact with horses and riding. I am 56 yrs young now and for several years have wanted to get back into riding. A part of me keeps telling me I'm too old for this, yet the wonderful memories of my horse and the great times we had together keep me thinking I should get back into riding.

I consider myself an "experienced, but much out-of practice rider" and I currently do not own a horse. There are numerous training stables in my area as well as a non-profit horse rescue organization nearby. I would like to know your thoughts on how to safely get back into enjoying horses, owning a horse, and trail-riding. Any guidance and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Well, I certainly know what you mean by having hesitation. The older we get, the harder we fall. However, if you have the right horse and ride safely, horseback riding will help keep you in good shape and happy. That is worth it no matter what age you are. And people regularly ride into their 80s if they're in shape; so you're far from being too old.

But you will have to work up to it, and with a safe horse. I would go and interview lesson barns in your area, and use all your common sense in checking out the instructors and the horses. Make your wishes definitely known: you want to start with a bombproof, safe horse with no issues at all, for a beginner rider. Then, start slowly. As you gain confidence, then branch out. You'll be able to manage better as time goes on, and you'll have more strength and endurance.

Don't be afraid to bail on the horse or the instructor if you feel uncomfortable with anything. Somewhere, there is a horse and a trainer for you and your past experience should help you to know if something feels right or not. Good luck!

February 1, 2012 – Hello, I have a 13 yr old gelding that I got 3 years ago. At first, in the sand school going from trot to canter, he would buck and turn sharply and just stand there if I fell off, although we overcame that (only does it to test me at the start of the session now). Recently however, he has started doing this on the road!! Any ideas how to stop this? Thank you!

This is part of the overall testing process. Your horse is continuing to foist these tests onto you for reasons that most likely have to do with you being hesitant to act and failing to convince him that YOU are in charge. I suggest that you pay more attention to the incipient stages of his rebellion. Next time he bucks, make him work when he expresses this editorial opinion. He'll soon associate the work with his buck. He won't like the work, so will stop bucking.

And you need to remember that YOU are the boss, not him. You need to believe it yourself before you'll be able to make him believe it.

January 31, 2012 – I sold my horse for a lot of money. Do I have to report it to the IRS?

Generally, if you sell a horse (or anything else, for that matter) for what you paid for it, you broke even and owe no tax. If you sell him for less money, then you lost money and still owe no tax. But if you sell your horse for more than you paid, then that is usually seen as a profit and the amount more than what you paid is typically deemed taxable.

However, there are some exceptions and exemptions that may come into play and states can also have their own exemptions for livestock that vary by state. Therefore, you need to contact an accountant for this one. It's the only way to confirm you're in conformance with federal tax law and those of your state.

January 30, 2012 – Why is my mare scared when passing a stallion?

It's likely that she had a bad experience sometime in the past with stud behavior. Horses have long memories and certainly remember when something has frightened them. Generally, you should be able to keep a reasonable distance from a horse that makes your horse uncomfortable.

Fortunately, there are not many stallions around because there's no need to deal with their unpredictability unless the owner is using him as a stud. Otherwise, they're better off having him gelded.

January 27, 2012 – My horse runs us into trees and anything trying to get back to the barn? Why does she do this? How can I stop her? I've got scratches all over my face and am afraid to go out riding again. Is it dangerous?

Your horse is barn sour. You don't have the ability to stop her from doing what she's doing or you would have already done it. The problem is, since she's confirmed in her mind that she's in charge, and has taken steps to prove it to you that include you getting injured, I don't see any easy way out. You definitely need to get a horse trainer involved. You also need to not ride your horse again until you've sorted out the dominance issues with the expert help.

The process will start with ground training and continue to where you get help dealing with the small signs of resistance that preceded this large rebellion. In any event, this horse is not safe for you until you get that help. And even then, it may not be safe. Your horse will always remember that she had you on the run at one point, and is therefore liable to try again. If she does, you'll have to be ready, knowledgeable about what to do, and committed to doing it immediately and convinced you will prevail. Anything less and she'll sense it and won't give up until she prevails.

January 26, 2012 – How much risk is involved in being a horse trainer? Is it dangerous?

It can be very dangerous. It's not a question of whether or not you'll get hurt, but when. Sooner or later YOU WILL get hurt. The beast is just too big, powerful, and unpredictable. Even with the best of precautions, accidents will happen.

Now that being said, the actual incidence of death is low, but the incidence of injury is quite high. It's all relative, I guess. Horse trainers love what they do, so the risk is reckoned to be worth it.

January 25, 2012 – Can my horse be seized if the barn owner is being sued for breaking her contract with her partner?

No. If this happens, one or more will be liable for trespass to chattel. Only if you don't pay your board fees, can your horse be seized. I assume from this question that neither party has any ownership interest in your horse? If either or both partners have an ownership interest in your horse, then the sueing party may have some claim on the animal. Otherwise, their legal battle does not involve you and your horse.

January 24, 2012 – I got yelled at by my barn owner for walking into the herd in the paddock to see my horse. The other horses just ignored me, so I don't understand the problem. They don't seem to care unless I give my horse a treat, so I've been giving it to her quickly and then stopping as the other horses come around. They usually get the picture that they're not going to get anything pretty quickly and go back to their grass eating.

The barn owner is concerned that you'll get unexpectedly kicked in the head or badly bitten. This is a valid fear! You likely WILL NOT see it coming until it is too late — it can happen that quickly!

Here's what's happening. Essentially, you're setting up dominance battles by bringing treats into a herd situation. Even if you do it quickly, the other horses certainly do notice, and after a while, they may try to act preemptively to get that expected treat. This means drilling your horse in advance with teeth or hooves, and if you're in the way, you too — too bad, so sad.

I'm afraid that I'm with your barn owner on this one. Don't bring treats into a herd situation. You're taking serious risks that could get you and your horse hurt, and maybe even you killed.

January 23, 2012 – What kinds of equipment do I need if I buy a horse farm?

A tractor with a loader, a manure spreader or arrangements with a service to pick up the muck pile weekly, a trailer, and a mower are things that initially come to mind. But those are just the big ticket items. If I were you, I'd call a horse farm in your area to see if you can get a basic "must have" list. You'll be able to expand from that according to your own needs once you get there.

Also, make good friends of your local farm supply shop. You'll need their good will and credit for feed, hay, bedding, and more.

January 20, 2012 – How can I train my horse to do an extended trot on the lunge line?

Push him faster as he trots by standing just behind his shoulder (while you keep turning to face him as he goes around), staring hard at him and moving slightly at him with shoulders square. He'll respond by moving faster. If he goes too fast, back off on the stare, pull his nose in a little, calmly tell him "whoa", and make him go in a somewhat smaller small circle until he slows down. Then, try it again. He'll figure it out fairly fast.

January 19, 2012 – My horse hasn't a bad bone in his body. However he tends to be a little pushy. I've recently gotten back into riding. We moved him and I was letting him settle in (I also fell off not long before and was recovering, physically and mentally.)

I love him to bits and I think that's part of the problem. I'm really into "natural horsemanship". I still use a bridle and a bit, but I try to use talking instead of kicking to ask him to move (he was trained like this). I had a lesson where he kept mucking up and trying to get to the gate, I persisted and eventually he understood what I was asking of him.

I did kick him quite a bit. Not hard mind you, but just firmly. Afterwards I felt a little bad seeing as it's not what I'm used to. But on the other hand, it seemed to me that after the lesson he respected me more. I think it may have something to do with leadership. I've been firmer with him and maybe he accepts me as his leader now? (I was probably too soft before and let him get it over me a little.) Not looking for an answer as it's not really a question, more just input and your opinion.

This is hard for many (usually women) to believe, but horses actually feel safer if their owners take charge of the situation. And that means the situation involving the horse and the horse's wishes. Horses don't test you because they don't like you. Instead, they're biologically impelled to test because only a committed leader can keep the herd safe. A herd member that isn't committed can't be trusted with overall leadership. And to your horse, you're a member of his herd.

Now, understand that there are just as many horse wimps as there are people wimps. Horse wimps are horses that are wimps and avoid the leadership role at all costs,. The difference is that if there are two horse wimps that meet and greet, one will take charge. Each horse does understand the stakes, that is, someone has to be the boss or they will both be dinner.

People don't have the same instinctive understanding of the issues. When a person wimp and a horse wimp meet, they will often have a battle for the low spot. This just confuses the horse and makes him mad. So, I guess I'm not surprised your horse felt relieved that you took charge — SOME ONE HAS TO!!!!!

Keep up the good work and remain the alpha, for BOTH your sakes!

January 18, 2012 – Hello, I'm 13 and I have a horse. When I try to lead her, she will take two steps and stand there and look at me like I'm dumb. She used to follow me in the summer when I did it, but now she doesn't. Then she will corner me and try to bite me. I'm confused, help me please.

As a young person, your horse has likely figured out that she's the boss of you. She likely believes that she is much more mature, wiser, and much more responsible in terms of her well being than you are. This happened because you missed seeing the early stages of her rebellion and are now stuck with the later stages, which are quite unpleasant and dangerous for you.

You can fix this, but it will take some training of both you and your horse to change her mind. I would look into reading on the issue of horse training and also seek out some horse training videos, such as from Clinton Anderson or a similar clinician. I also STRONGLY RECOMMEND engaging a local horse trainer who can teach, guide, and monitor how you're doing.

Because horses react instinctively to, say, a lunge whip with plastic tied to its end, you'll be able to change your horse's mind about moving forward at any specific moment. Under the supervision of a more experienced horse person, lunge your horse and use the lunge whip to move her slowly forward in one direction or another. If she balks, use the lunge whip to move her forward. You use the whip as a motivator — never hit her with the whip.

The foregoing is a quick fix to get things started. The bigger issue is changing her mind about who's the boss. Don't delay this; get expert help right away. Your physical safety depends on it. A horse that thinks she's the boss is a danger for the human.

January 17, 2012 – When I go out to the pasture, my horse pushes her head under my arm and then lowers her head and will stand there resting her nose on my boot. It's kinda weird, why does she do that?

Because she luffs you and luffs being near you and figures you'll save her from the local wolves, lions, tigers and bears, and perhaps, other large enemies of her kind. And while you're protecting her, she can relax and catch a few zzz's while you're on guard.

Don't let her down, boss.

January 16, 2012 – I just bought a horse 2 weeks ago and recently he has been going from side to side on his hind legs. What could be wrong?

This sounds like either a neurological condition or a lameness issue. Did you vet the horse with a pre-purchase examination when you bought him? I always recommend doing this when purchasing a horse because you can identify and avoid a lot of problems with this examination process.

Depending on how valuable the horse is, you can ask for differing levels of examination, including x-Rays, and even MRI scans, as well as blood work. Since some unscrupulous sellers are not above drugging horses so that lameness issues are masked. I would be very concerned that the horse has a longstanding problem that you're now the owner of. I would get your veterinarian there immediately and document all issues found. Then, send a letter notifying the seller of your intent to rescind the sale depending on the outcome of the exam.

I would also contact an equine attorney in your state fairly quickly, as there are certain time requirements when you contest sales that you'll need to comply with if you want eventual success on the merits of say, a breach of warranty claim.

All of this will also depend on the wording of your contract for the sale of the horse. Some sellers try to disclaim the general warranties of sale that accompany horse sales with disclaimer language in the selling agreement, such as "sold as is" and so forth. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into all of the legal background involved with contesting a sale, but suffice it to say that you need professional legal help quickly if the horse is seriously lame right after the sale.

Good luck!

January 13, 2012 – I just purchased a 4 year old gelding and he is fantastic! He learns so quickly and is doing very well, but I'm having problems with blanketing him! He's terrified of it! It seems like I've tried everything; any suggestions?

Clinton Anderson, a clinician and trainer, does a great job of showing how to de-sensitize a horse (even young ones) of their fears from many sources, including blankets. When you say you've tried everything, I doubt you've tried the de-sensitization process for long enough to make a difference. It does take persistence from the trainer, and if you're not up for it, then delegate it out. A horse can and will learn that a blanket is not a problem, but the human is the one who's got to show him that.

To get started, get a copy of Clinton's tape or DVD on this topic. You'll see it just involves showing the horse the blanket again and again and again and again and closer and closer and wider and taller and waving it higher and harder and closer and, well, you get the picture.

Good luck!

January 12, 2012 – I have a older gelding that is in his late 20's early 30's. He seems to be laying around more and doesn't want to get up to eat or drink. He may have symptoms of a cold. Any suggestions?

You don't say what his weight is. If he's having problems keeping on weight, then there may be a wasting condition that leads to weakness that leads to the condition you describe. If he's in good weight, then he has something going on with his feet, possibly laminitis, that's causing him pain when he stands.

Contact your vet immediately! A chap this old is frail and deserves medical attention, or you may by default be pulling the trigger for him.

January 11, 2012 – Hello, I have a 13 year old Thoroughbred mare and she has a lump in her girth area. She hasn't been ridden in a few weeks and it's winter time, so I don't think it would be a bug bite. Should I be concerned? She did have a turnout blanket on for about 5 days due to cold weather but she has been in her stall.

This sounds like an abscess. Is it tender to the touch? You should contact your vet on this because she may need to receive antibiotics to deal with this problem if an infection is the cause.

Also, sometimes horses don't adjust well to the constant contact of blanketing. Or the blanket straps may be too tight. Take a look at how the blanket fits and make sure it fits well, not too loose and flapping, but not too tight and rubbing either.

January 10, 2012 – My horse sometimes stands up on his hind legs. Why?

Well, you may have noticed that when he does this, he's much bigger and more intimidating than when he's standing on all fours — he knows this. So, out of an excess of energy and feeling like he's the boss of the world, and certainly of you, sometimes it just feels better to him that way. It obviously makes the point more emphatically as he tries to dominate other horses (and people).

Frankly, I wouldn't stand for this (pardon the pun) if I were you. When he does it again, get him working at an extended trot with frequent changes of direction until he stands still when you let him. He'll quickly learn that showing his dominance results in extra work. Horses don't like extra work and learn quickly how to avoid it. Be consistent so you don't frustrate your horse and it will also help him make the connection and learn the lesson quite fast.

January 9, 2012 – Why does my horse drop when I clean feet?

As in falling down, or as in resting his weight on you? If the former, you should have him checked by your vet or farrier for a foot or leg problem. If the latter, that's not much of a surprise because most horses will gladly let you be the couch if you would only stand still for it. Everyone likes to take a load off and horses are no exception. Them dogs be barking, and if you, the kindly human, will willingly serve as his mattress, he's all for it. Stick an elbow in him and get him off of you!

January 6, 2012 – Why does my horse put his head barely above the ground when I'm trail riding him?

Smelling the trail of those that have passed before you guys? Looking for grass? Evading the bit? Seeing what you'll do if he does that? Horses are well able to self-amuse themselves at your expense, and if he does it at no other time, I would bet that is what he's doing. If the trail is highly traveled, he could be trying to get a handle through his sense of smell on who's in the area and whether or not they present a threat.

If he does this all the time, then it's probable it could be a health-related concern, such as from a sore back. So, call your vet if he's doing it regularly and have him examined. He could have a back problem, a mis-fitting saddle, etc.

January 5, 2012 – Whenever I take off my horse's halter to put on the bridle, she runs off. What should I do to stop this from happening?

Dealing with this moment takes dexterity and a leadrope. Put the leadrope around your horse's neck and loop it high so you can hold onto it and the bridle at the same time. When she first shifts her feet getting ready to head off as your hand approaches the halter buckle, YOU NEED TO BE READY to say, "STAND!" in a loud and terrible voice, and smack her on the shoulder with the flat of your hand right after you stop her with the looped lead rope. Depending on how lax you've been on this essential ground manners moment in the past, you'll have to manage this maneuver fairly quickly and immediately upon any activity from your horse. If you time it right, she will absolutely know what you're referring to and that you're asserting leadership status.

You may have to do this another time or two. After a little of this, she'll start sulking because she can't have her way and will then stand quietly while keeping an eye firmly fixed on you to assess how determined you are to enforce her good behavior. Then, it's just a matter of following up consistently every time she moves when you're changing from halter to bridle or back.

Of course, if you woolgather, chat with someone, or otherwise demonstrate lack of attention, she'll notice it immediately and be right back at the "let's beat feet" moment. Unlike us humans, horses are ALWAYS ready to exploit a weak moment — don't show it to her!

January 4, 2012 – What are the reasons that my horse's hoofs might be warm or cold?

Founder and hoof abscesses will often be related to a warmer hoof as the blood vessels swell inside to deal with a disease or injury. This is very painful for the horse, sort of like what happens when you get a nail bruise and the swelling has nowhere to go. Cold is really not the issue; horses evolved to have their hooves withstand extremely cold temperatures. So, heat in a hoof is a danger sign. Call your vet immediately if you determine one or more hooves are warm.

January 3, 2012 – My pony has his tongue sewn up due to an injury. Will he ever be able to wear a bit again?

Probably. But it won't hurt to let get him used to a hackamore or some alternative bitting regimen while he heals. Let his behavior be your guide. If it hurts him, he'll definitely let you know by waving his head and mouthing. Don't push it while he recovers, otherwise you'll set up some bad habits for the future.

Also, you need to ask your vet these questions. He/she likely did the suturing or is at least aware of why it was done and how and when you can start bitting your horse again.

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