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"Horse Guy"

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IMPORTANT NOTE:
The Horse Girl and Horse Guy have been answering reader submitted questions Monday through Friday since 2008. In the last couple of years, more and more of the questions we receive have been answered multiple times and we find ourselves re-plowing old ground over and over again while almost the same responses exist in the Horse Guy and Horse Girl archives available to all. Starting this new year of 2014, we will post responses only to new questions.

Of course, we plan to continue to post occasional articles driven either by reader's questions requiring a more comprehensive response or to inform our readers of changes or new trends in some aspect of the equine world.


July 12, 2015 – TRAIL RIDING WITH A gps

Hi I am so happy I stumbled onto your web site and found a fellow trail rider in RI! I have recently moved from Douglas State Forest in Ma to Pascoag RI. My new barn is next to miles of trails but I am unfamiliar with them. I have followed some trails used by dirt bikes but I was wondering if I could learn to use a GPS and feel safer exploring. Unfortunately I ride alone and I am not a techie person at all. So at the moment when I start a new trail I use clothes pins with ribbons on them. This is good when I get turned around I just follow the pins back and tack them out of the trees where I placed them... it is very cumbersome to carry all these pins and I find that when I go off the main trail I get turned around easily.

My question to you is do you think a GPS can work for me? Also I would like to know where you ride. Any information or suggestions you could give me would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Today's GPS units are easy to use. As a non-techie, you'll likely need to read the user guide to get started, and it's a good idea, but lots of non-techies successfully use GPS units in their vehicles and for hiking. I presume you found it, but if not, we have an article that discusses using a GPS for trail rides entitled (appropriately enough): A GPS for Trail Riding.

As for my favorite places to ride, I like the Arcadia State forest in RI and the Pachaug State forest in CT. Arcadia is a little over 14,000 aces and you'll generally find lots of other riders there on weekends, especially in the northern half (it's separated by route 165). Pachaug is even bigger at 24,000 or so acres and abuts Arcadia — they're essentially one big forest with the state line cutting through. Many more people ride in Arcadia and there's a campground at which riders can camp with their horses a mile up from Rt. 165 on Escoheag Hill road.

There are other beautiful state forests in both states that allow riding, but none are as large. Of course, the world has other beautiful riding venues. Last Autumn, I rode in the mountain forests of Costa RIca — it truly was beautiful!

I hope this all helps!


June 3, 2014 – GIRTH TIGHTENING PROBLEMS

My horse is always difficult when I try to tighten her girth. She dances around and won't let me get it tight enough so that my saddle will not slide around. I had my vet check her and he says her stomach is ok. I do not want to fall off my horse because of a loose saddle. What should I do?

Many horses can be sensitive around their stomachs when tightening a girth or cinch. If your veterinarian has ruled out any stomach problem and your horse doesn't seem to just be sensitive in general, try tightening the girth in stages. Horses that dislike having the girth tightened all at once are fine when it's performed gradually.

We have an article that explains this somewhat more comprehensively and also helps you explore other possible causes. It's entitled, The "Cinchy" Horse.


February 21, 2014 – RIDING HILLS IN WINTER

Is it dangerous for a horse to be climbing and going down hills in winter if I ride her? We're going on a ride up north in a few weeks and I thought I'd check. There might also be winds up to 20 or 30 MPH.

As with most things horses, it depends. I presume your horse has no physical problems, especially with her legs or hooves? If your horse is healthy and in good condition because she has been in work up to now, the hill climbing should be ok.

As for the fact that it's winter and there may be winds, that depends on your horse's coat. You didn't mention where you're going to ride or the expected temperatures there. Does she have her winter coat or have you been clipping her. Even if clipped, she should be fine while she's working, but don't dally outside in that wind too long with her when she's not working. If she has her winter coat, then the temperature shouldn't be a problem, though you may want to keep your speeds down for several reasons:

  1. The ground will be hard if the temperatures are below freezing — that can be hard on the legs and hooves;
  2. Any snow or ice on the ground will make the footing unsafe and slippery; and
  3. With that winter coat, you don't want to overheat your horse;

I would also be very careful even at the walk when going up or down a hill in case you encounter snow or ice. Good footing is harder to find in winter. Even hard, frozen ground with no snow or ice can be a little slick, especially on an incline.

So, your horse's conditioning is extremely important as well as solid, safe footing. If everything seems in order, I would still take it easier than in warmer weather for all of the reasons that I mentioned above.

Good luck and have fun!


February 3, 2013 – TOW VEHICLE QUESTION

I saw your article with regards to hauling horse trailers and I was wondering if you could help me. I have just purchased a Sundowner Charter SE 2 horse bumper pull trailer and it weighs 3000 lbs. I am hoping to buy a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee which seems like it will pull it but would love your professional opinion.

Here are the specs:

  • Trailer Weight: 3000 lbs
  • Potential additional load (horse,tack, hay etc): 3000-3500 lbs

  • Cherokee ( Either 5.7L VVT V8 / 3.0L Ecodiesel V6 Engine):
  • Towing capacity: 7200 lbs

Your help would be greatly appreciated and if you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

We try to avoid endorsing any specific product. Because you've explicitly asked, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee should have no trouble towing your trailer with a 6,000 - 6,500 total load of trailer, horses, and cargo. The vehicle's towing capacity exceeds the load you've identified. You should also seek out professional reviews of this vehicle to see what the reviewers have learned and their opinion.

As for the tow vehicle engine, I want to make the point that you should get the V8 because towing makes good use of the extra torque you'll get from the bigger engine — that's important for whatever tow vehicle you buy (Ford, Chevy, Dodge, GMC, Toyota, etc.) That extra torque is especially appreciated when climbing steep grades with a full load and also results in a longer life for the engine. While a smaller engine (such as a V6) may often be able to tow the same trailer, it usually strains much more and can fail sooner. Conversely, the larger engine is made for such loads and will usually have a higher maximum towing capacity than the smaller engine. In addition, a diesel engine will provide still more torque and better milage than a gas version.

Finally, have the dealership fully explain all the aspects of hookup and towing with the Jeep when you purchase it. Remember to stay at or under the 7,200 limit for the total weight of the trailer and all of its cargo (horses, hay, tack, etc.) And of course, HAVE FUN!


January 13, 2013 – WINTER NIGHT RIDING?

Is it dangerous to ride at night during the winter?

It depends on the conditions and whether you're talking about riding near your barn or out on a trail. Riding at night on a trail in a moderate climate isn't too bad. But riding a trail at night in sub-freezing temperatures provides increased risk in multiple ways, from hyperthermia to slick ground, snow, or ice falling risks. Add to that the much lower visibility due to darkness and you definitely need to be careful if you're going trail riding because you may not be able to see a hazeard such as ice or other slippery ground in the dark.

If most of your night-winter riding will be done in an outdoor arena or area next to your barn, that's a much lower risk.


December 31, 2013 – INSULATING YOUR OWN WATER BUCKETS?

Can you insulate your water pails so they don't freeze on really cold nights?

What were you considering doing? Wrapping fiberglass insulation around the pails? I doubt that would work well — there's likely not much you can do to an existing pail to reduce the chances of the water inside freezing. However, you can buy insulated pails that are made specifically for this purpose. That means they work well and should last a long time. If you enter the phrase "insulated horse bucket" in your favorite search engine, you'll get lots of results for this product.

You may want to first read one of our articles on this subject. It discusses insulated buckets and electrically heated buckets as solutions to the frozen water problem and is entitled: Water Buckets for Cold Weather.


December 30, 2013 – HOOF ICE

Is there any kind of coating that I can put on my horses hoofs so no ice will freeze on them?

Ice doesn't freeze onto your horse's hooves. Rather, it can freeze to metal shoes if your horse wears them. If your horse is barefoot, no ice should be able to accumulate there. You may find some packed snow there, but not ice. If you find such a thing appears to be happening (though I've never heard of such a thing), consult your farrier.

If you do need to keep your horse shoed through the winter, have your farrier include pads with shoes. In fact, if you live in area that receives snow, has freezing temperatures, and you have your horse shoed, your farrier should have already discussed these issues with you and suggested pads. If he/she didn't, you should ask about them, and even consider getting a better farrier.


December 23, 2013 – DO HORSES HATE A COLD BITS?

I hate putting a cold bit in my horse's mouth in winter. Do horses mind a cold bit? Is there any way to warm it up?

I suspect that horses DO MIND getting an ice-cold bit put into their mouth. When riding on really cold days, I generally warm the bit by running it under very warm water for about 10 seconds. We have hot and cold water in our barn and it's a fast and easy way to warm the bit.

At a prior barn, we didn't have running hot water, so we used an old hair dryer kept in the tack room. It took about a minute or so to warm the bit, but it worked. You could also keep the bridle and bit in a warm room in your home and bring it with you to the barn when you ride. It's a lot easier to carry with you than a saddle.

If you're concerned about forgetting the bridle at home and prefer to have all your tack at the barn, there's another easy solution if you use a halter-bridle. Such headstalls allow you to quickly remove and re-attach the bit, so you could remove the bit and place it into a warm pocket when you arrive at the barn and keep it there while you groom your horse. That should at least take the chill off the bit by the time you've saddled up and are ready to put the bit into your horse's mount.

If you use a regular bridle and the bit is always connected, you'll either need a big pocket or you're back to the hair dryer or taking the bridle home. While not as easy, as you can see, there are several simple solutions to this problem. I;m sure there are others if you think about it for a moment.


December 20, 2013 – VERY COLD WEATHER HORSES

There seems to be a breed for almost every discipline, like Clysdales for pulling wagons and Arabians for endurance races but are there any breeds that do well for really cold weather? I live in Alaska and would like to get a horse form my daughter that could even be ridden in the winters, at least one warmer days, like around 0 degrees F.

Yes, there are breeds that can even take harsh, cold weather. Most horses will do fine being ridden in very cold weather if they're in condition, kept active, and allowed to grow their winter coats. In fact, most horses can live outside even in blizzard conditions if they have a shelter they can use to protect from that wind, such as a run-in. But there are breeds that come from cold climates that can handle much of the harshest weather. The Icelandics and Fjords come to mind. Summers in Iceland often top out at 50 - 60°F and the winters are very cold, so these horses coming from northern climates should do well in Alaska.

However, not having any experience with horses in Alaska, I suggest that you go to a horse farm or two in your area and speak with the barn owners. I suspect they'll know lots about the most appropriate horses for your local and can also give you lots of related advice.


December 19, 2013 – HOW MUCH FEED IN THE WINTER?

Should I feed my horse more or less in the winter?

Don't gauge feed amount by season. Rather, routinely observe your horse's condition (size, muscle, fat, etc.) and take note of his activity. A horse that's active in the summer, but off work in the winter will generally need less feed in the winter as you might expect. HOWEVER, if the horse has ample pasture available, he may also need no additional feed in the summer because he eats grass all day.

The amount a horse needs, the amount he eats in the pasture, the level of his activity, his metabolism, and other things all affect the amount of feed that he needs. Therefore, there are no set rules. Rather, each horse and his lifestyle must be assessed individually. There's no substitute for regularly assessing your horse, determining his condition, and adjusting his food and activities as needed to keep him in a healthy state.


December 18, 2013 – EXERCISING A STALLED HORSE

We have a lot of ice on the ground here the last few days and my barn owner has kept our horses inside. A few fellow boarders and me are wondering what we can do so our horses don't get bored.

I presume that you don't have an indoor arena or you would be using that. So in this case, I recommend that you walk your horses inside the barn, if possible. Except for the smallest barns, most have at least one aisle you can walk your horse down and back as many times as you'd like so as to give your horse some exercise. Doing that for 20 or 30 minutes each day your horse is stuck inside will help your horse stay in better shape as well as get the "'woolies" out of his system.

Longer barns or those that go around a center core are even good for trotting your horse. In such situations, I've sometimes saddled mine up and ridden back and forth up and down the aisle or around the core in walk and trot. If enough room, I've even gotten a few canter hops in on the way. If you can't ride because of low ceilings or the barn is just too small, you still may have the option of running beside your horse while he trots — I do that a lot, too.

There is one thing you might need to be careful about: some horses are so territorial when in their stalls that they'll try to nip any horse walking by the stall door. For those horses, close their stall doors until you're done exercising your horse and have put him back into his stall. If the aisle is wide enough, you may be able to leave the stall doors of such horses open and just keep your horse in the center of the aisle when passing by.

The main goal here is just to do the best you can in a bad situation by exercising your horse inside when it's too slippery for him to be outside. He'll definitely be calmer, happier, and feeling better if he can get some walking and trotting in each day.


December 17, 2013 – DEALING WITH TRAILER RUST

I have some rust on my horse trailer and don't want it to spread, but don't know what to do. What should I do?

Dealing with rust on a horse trailer is no different than on a car or truck. If you don't know what to do, take the trailer to a body shop and let them repair it. If you don't know what to do but want to learn, then the gist of it is that you'll need to remove ALL the existing rust completely and then seal it. You MUST get all the rust off and that, at minimum, will require using a metal brush. If the brush can't remove it all, you'll need to grind the rust off. If you do that, go lightly so you take all the metal off that you must, but no more. If the remaining metal is too thin, you'll need to build it up again. At this point, you either know what to do or you don't. If not, you need a pro for this. Once all rust has been removed, seal all exposed metal with a good body primer. Once that's dry, apply one or two coats of paint (specifically designed for metal) to match the surrounding surface.

Because we're coming into winter, the priming and painting will require that you perform those tasks in a heated space if you live in a cold climate. Obviously, keep the primer and paint away from any heat sources as these products are usually oil-based and therefore, very flammable. Again, if unsure about this work, have it performed by a competent body shop.


December 16, 2013 – HOOVES NOT ABLE TO BREATHER USING PADS?

Are there any bad things that can happen to my horse's feet by putting pads on him in the winter? I mean, can the pads stop her feet from breathing?

Breathing? Do you mean some anaerobic infection because the frog is enclosed by the pad? I've never heard of any such problems from the use of pads in the winter. And while I usually keep my horse barefoot most winters, I have had pads and shoes with borium nails put on him when I expected to do a lot of winter riding. During those times, his feet never had any problems.

I don't think you're getting any kind of airtight seal through the use of pads. Their main function is just to keep snow out of a horse's hooves so the snow doesn't melt from the horse's body heat and then refreeze into an ice ball upon which the horse might strain his leg through rocking on that ice ball. The ball might also cause discomfort through concentrating his weight onto the frog continuously.

All that said, your question would be best answered by your veterinarian. He/she could best tell you whether your particular horse is at risk of any problems with the use of pads. But again, I've not heard of anyone having that kind of problem. Another good source for information on this topic should be your farrier.


December 13, 2013 – MOVING TO TRAIL RIDING

I want to take my horse out on the trail for the first time. I do a lot of riding in the indoor but never rode on a trail. I know I waited too long and now it is cold out, but I just need to do this and my sister offered to ride my friends horse and come with me. She used to ride trails all the time. My horse used to be a trail horse before I bought him. How should I start?

First of all, the colder weather won't matter to your horse. I would keep the ride down to a shorter ride this first time, perhaps 30 - 60 minutes. And you're smart to go with your sister because you and your horse will be more comfortable riding with another person who has ridden trails before. I'm glad that this is not your horse's first time out on the trail — that's more important than that this is your first time.

You can extend the length of your rides as you get more comfortable riding outside. Just be sure to dress warmly enough that you don't get cold. You can get a helmet cover that will keep your head and ears warm.

There are some differences on the trail compared to riding in an arena and we have an article that'll help you make the transition. That article also has some links to related articles. To start, you should read Moving From Arena/Ring to Trail.

Have fun!


December 12, 2013 – HORSES OUT AFTER DARK IN WINTER

I sometimes get home late in winter and don't get to bring my three horses in until after dark. Is this bad for the horses? Should they be brought in before it gets dark?

This is no problem at all. Some horse owners leave their horses outside all the time, day and night, in fair weather and in blowing snow storms. If your horse is healthy, grows a healthy winter coat, and has a shelter, such as a "run in" or some other place to stay protected from bitter cold winds and rain, most horses actually stay healthy living outside all the time. Remember that wild horses live on the cold plains with lots of wind and don't have barns to sleep in.

So, getting back to your particular situation, you need not feel guilty if you can't bring your horses into the barn until later in the evening. The most dangerous thing for horses is having no shelter in bitter cold wind when they're wet. In that case, they can lose heat much faster than they can generate it and hypothermia becomes a risk. That's why a shelter they can move to on their own is so important. In the wild, horses find and winter near natural shelters.


December 11, 2013 – REMOVING SHOES FOR WINTER

I am thinking about having my horses shoes removed for the winter. Will her feet hurt if I do?

I don't know about your specific horse, but generally, a horse's feet might be a little tender only for a few days to a week or so. That's because the frog has been lifted approximately 1/4 - 3/8 inches above the ground by the shoes and will now be touching the ground and having to toughen up again. That's actually a good thing because when the frog compresses with each step, it helps to pump blood up the horse's leg and better nourishes the hoof and leg.


December 10, 2013 – HORSES HOLLOWING OUT GROUND AT DOORWAY AND DRAGGING DIRT INTO BARN

I have a walk-in 2 stall barn for my two horses. It does not have an overhang. They consistently drag sand into the barn therefore leaving a shallow area directly in front of their doors (that are kept open all the time). When it rains, the water pools up in these areas and if we have a lot of rain can then drain into the stalls. I decided to put rubber stall mats right in front of the stall to stop this, but now I'm wondering if I did the right thing. The mats get somewhat covered with dirt, but will they get slippery when covered with snow or ice? Would it be any more slippery then if the snow or ice was on the ground? Thanks for your help!

You've got two separate things going on here. Let's discuss them individually:

  1. The horse's are dragging sand into the barn – There's not much you can do about this. Sand, topsoil, clay, or anything else that gets caught in shoes and around the frogs of the hooves will get dragged in. The mats can help reduce this, but like you, I don't know how well they'll perform outside with rain and snow falling on them and the opportunity for rain or standing water to freeze on top of the mats — I've never before seen mats used outside.
  2. The removed sand is leaving a shallow area in front of the barn doors that is pooling when it rains – This is definitely a problem and the only fix is to refill the shallow areas and make sure they're higher than the surrounding areas so that water runs off rather than pooling. Even if level, rain could accumulate and freeze in front of the doors. Why not build up the area and slope it a little so that water runs off, then overlay that with a few inches of concrete or asphalt. With this approach, you'll have a solid surface that won't be worn down, won't allow water to pool (it'll run off instead), and there won't be much liquid there to freeze as temps go down. The only thing it won't fix is freezing rain, but at least it'll reduce even that problem.

Addressing the ground outside the stall doors by making it higher, slightly sloped, and covering it with a solid surface will eliminate the majority of your problem. And freezing rain dropping onto the surface will at least be a thinner layer of ice that will melt sooner. Your horses won't pick up any soil on the hard surface and will likely actually drop soil from their hooves onto that surface. You'll be able to brush the surface off with a broom and even rain will wash the surface.

You don't mention whether the stalls have solid or dirt floors. Whichever they have, I like to see the mats used there because of the soft surface they provide for the horses to stand upon and the fact they'll make stall cleaning easier. Even the aisles of a barn will benefit from installing mats.

I hope this helps!


December 9, 2013 – CLEANING NYLON ROPE REINS

I have got these nylon rope reins I like to use and don't know how to clean them. Do I just wash them in hot soap and water? Or should I use a leather cleaner?

Don't use a leather cleaner because you already stated that your reins are nylon and not leather. As for a soap, what you use to wash your reins is less of an issue than something like a saddle pad that stays in contact with your horse's skin for several hours and can cause itching or irritation, so things aren't as critical. Still, I also use rope reins and like to err on the side of caution. Therefore, I wash mine in the same cleanser that I use for washing my horse's coat. Such cleansers made to wash the coats of dogs and horses are designed to reduce the chances of itching your horse's (or dog's) skin if you don't get all the soap out. Here's what I do:

  1. Remove any metal hardware and leather straps from the nylon rope.
  2. I fill a 3 gallon pail about halfway with hot water and then add the shampoo as the bucket fills for another inch or so. That better mixes the shampoo with the water and putting the cleanser in when there's only an inch or so more water to add limits the suds.
  3. Place the reins into the pail to soak. Make sure that the reins are completely submerged and let them sit there for 10 - 20 minutes.
  4. After soaking, use a brush to gently scrub the full surface of the reins. This will help remove any solidified grime and dried oils on the reins. By this time, the water is likely to be quite dirty.
  5. Remove the reins from the soapy water and rinse under a running stream of warm water. Refill the pail with clean hot water and place the reins in it submerged for at least 10 minutes to rinse out remaining soap.
  6. Remove the reins, let them drip into the pail or sink, and when the majority of the dripping stops, hang them up to finish dripping and dry overnight.
  7. The next morning, your reins should be clean and dry. You can reattach any hardware and leather, and make sure that everything is structurally strong and in good shape. If not, replace anything that is required. The reins should now be ready to use.

The main purpose of the preceding process is to remove all of the dirt, grime, sweat, and fleshy oils picked up by the reins from your horse, your hands, and the ground and dust you ride through. You then want to rinse out the cleansing agent and assure that all the hardware, leather, and the rope itself is in good shape before putting the reins back into service.


December 6, 2013 – ADDING A BARN HOT WATER HEATER

Is it hard to install a hot water heater in a barn? I'd like to be able to wash horse blankets and wrappings in the barn and NOT in my home washing machine.

It's the same as installing one in your house. And if you're not comfortable with the installation, it'd be best to have a plumber do the job. As for the hot water heater itself, the type of heater that has no tank and heats on-demand will likely save you the most in electric bills. That's because the heater won't have to keep a large tank of many gallons of water hot all the time even when you're not using water. The on-demand system will heat just the water you're about to use and will generally turn itself off the rest of the time.

One more thing: if you're planning on installing a hot water heater that heats using electricity (as opposed to a gas-fired heater), you should make sure that your barn has sufficient electric service installed. Otherwise, you'll also need an electrician to upgrade your service. In fact, if going with an electric system, you may actually want to call an electrician first to evaluate your service before you buy the water heater and schedule the installation. Obviously, if you're instead planning to go with a gas-fired water heater, gas has to already be run out to the barn, or you need to plan to have it run.

For this application, I think an electric system will be the most cost-effective unless you've already got gas out at the barn.


December 5, 2013 – EQUINE CHRISTMAS TREATS?

Are there any Christmas treats that are safe to give my horse?

Any treat that's healthy for your horse at any other time is also fine for the holidays. I don't like giving sugar-based treats to a horse because too much sugar can make them founder. Therefore, I prefer to give a more natural kind of treat. My favorite to give is carrots. Apples are also ok if you don't give your horse too much — some horses will get indigestion from apple, and you know how much trouble digestion problems can be for horses, one of the worse being colic. If apples are your treat of choice, cut the apple into quarters and consider feeding a piece or two now and the other piece or two later.

You can always cut an apple or carrot into smaller pieces. I like to cut carrots into pieces about an inch or two long — that makes them bite-size for the horse. You also get more mileage that way because each piece seems like a separate and additional treat whereas a whole carrot is, well, just one treat.


December 4, 2013 – BREAKAWAY HALTERS

Does it really matter if I use a breakaway halter or a regular one? I have used regular halters for years with no problems.

I like breakaway halters! The fact that you've had great luck with conventional halters is good, but any horse can panic. A breakaway design significantly reduces the chances that a horse will hurt himself (or demolish whatever it is you've attached him to).

Personally, I'd just rather have my horse break free when spooked than to panic and potentially wreak havoc. Breakaway halters are not prohibitively expensive. I've seen them for the same price as conventional halters or for just a few dollars more. So when I ask myself: "What's a few dollars over the life of a halter?", I keep coming up with the answer that it isn't much and that I like the additional piece of mind.

Just my 2¢ because you asked.


December 3, 2013 – HOT OR COLD?

Do horses prefer hotter or colder weather?

No horse has ever told me their preference on this issue. However, most horses seem to be happiest when the weather is in the high 50s to low 70s (in degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, I believe that those temperatures are likely to be the most comfortable for them. Some horses with much thicker coats, such as Norwegian Fjords and Icelandics, seem to prefer somewhat colder temps in the mid 40s to low 60s. That certainly seems to make sense to me because of those horse's thicker coats and their countries of origin having colder temperatures because of their more northern latitudes.


December 2, 2013 – OK TO TOW IN THE WINTER?

Is it ok to trailer a horse in the winter?

Yes, as long as you address several commonsensical concerns. Consider the following:

  1. Use an enclosed trailer so that your horse doesn't freeze. Remember, if your trailer is open (e.g. a stock trailer) and you're traveling at 50 MPH, that is the same as your horse standing in a 50 MPH wind. Worse, your horse can't move to some better shelter because his position is fixed in the trailer. That's why the trailer should be enclosed for winter trailering.
  2. Pay even more attention to road conditions and slow down accordingly. In the winter, you not only need to look for wet roads, debris, or potholes, you also have to be on the lookout for snow, ice, and black ice. In addition, the chances of potholes is actually greater in winter as frost heaves push the road surface up, more running water from snowmelt in addition to rain can undermine the road, and the action of plow trucks to remove snow does its own damage to the road.
  3. Pay even more attention to the weather forecast so you don't find yourself in blizzard or whiteout conditions. Similarly, the chance of slippery roads and poor traction is greater if a storm is coming. By being aware of oncoming weather, you can make a decision to sit it out or even to cancel your trip n the interest of safety.
  4. Consider snow tires for your trailer if you'll be towing on snowy roads. True, you're not using your trailer for propulsion, but you also want it to retain good traction so that it doesn't jackknife at a stop or swing around on a turn.

Towing in the winter can definitely be more dangerous than in fair weather. If you're going to do it, make sure your trailer and tow vehicle are in proper condition for the job, pay attention and avoid poor weather, and drive slower and more carefully.


November 27, 2013 – REMOVING BLANKET STRAPS — WHICH ONES FIRST?

Is there any special order to remove blanket straps? At my previous barn I was taught to take off straps from front to back. This barn owner tells me to unhook the back straps first and move forward. A friend says it doesn't matter and I can use any method I like. Does it really not matter?

I've heard different opinions also, but the way I do it is to start by unhooking the rear straps as your current barn owner advises. Then remove the ones under the horse's belly followed by the front straps and then lifting the blanket or sheet off the horse. I use this approach because, if you work from front to back, forget the back straps, and accidentally pull on the horse's legs as you try to walk away with the blanket or sheet, the horse could feel trapped and either panic or kick out. That's a bad situation even out in an open paddock — it'd be far worse in the confining space of a stall with a panicky horse.

If you remove the rear straps first, I doubt you're not going to forget the straps under the belly. Even if you did, you can't lift the blanket off; plus, any horse used to a girth or cinch won't usually panic if you pulled up and had to stop because the belly straps were still connected. Similarly, you'd likely not panic a horse trying to remove a blanket with the front straps still connected. And as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, it's unlikely you'd miss the belly or front straps, but many people have removed them first and forgot the rear straps until they realized they can't fully pull the blanket off the horse. I did that once and consider myself lucky the horse was calm.

As far as I'm concerned, anything you can do to improve safety when in close contact with a very powerful, thousand or more pound, unpredictable animal, is a great idea!


November 26, 2013 – TAPE ACCURACY FOR MEASURING A HORSE'S WEIGHT

How good are those tapes that you put around your horses stomach to measure his weight? Do they work?

They work well enough to get an estimate of a horse's weight, but that's about all. They can be quite a bit off, more than 15%, perhaps even 20%. This is because there is no standard horse shape or conformation. Horses come in many shapes from slender Thoroughbreds to very round Quarter Horses. The tapes also can't compensate for long or fat necks, thin or stocky legs, etc., etc., etc. So, the result is that tapes can provide an estimate of a horse's weight, but not much more.

The only method to truly get an accurate measurement of a horse's weight is to put him on a scale. The difficulty with that is we don't see many scales around homes or barns capable of handling 600 - 2,500 pounds — that's a typical range for the weight of horses from ponies to large Belgian drafts. However, some vets have such scales because they'll use them to monitor a horse's change in condition over time.


November 25, 2013 – HEATED WATER BUCKETS

As the weather gets colder I am frustrated that I will need to break ice on water pails in a few weeks. We have been thinking about heated water buckets. Do they really work? Are they expensive to operate?

Yes, they do work! But you can also use insulated buckets if your weather gets cold, but not too cold. Insulated buckets slow down the freezing process by not letting the heat from the water escape so quickly to the cold air. If the water can stay liquid until the next water change, that may be all you need. But if it's really cold where you are, there may be no substitute for heated buckets. In this case, electricity is used to keep the water liquid by heating it enough so that it doesn't freeze. The electricity used is not large, but it will add up across all the buckets you need to heat.

We have two related articles that will provide you with more comprehensive information on this topic. The first one is entitled Water Buckets for Cold Weather and includes a link to the second which will help you to assess the electricity costs.


November 22, 2013 – BRING HORSE TRAILER BATTERY INSIDE DURING WINTER?

Can I leave my horse trailer's brake battery in the trailer through the winter or should I take it out and bring it inside?

Take it inside during the winter. While batteries last longer when kept cold and you'll often read advice about keeping flashlight batteries in the fridge to extend their shelf-life, if your brake battery is dead or loses its charge during the winter, it can freeze — that will destroy the battery. While the battery is inside for the winter, be sure to keep it charged. You can keep it on a trickle charge is the charger is of the "smart" type and has a circuit which monitors the battery's voltage level and adjusts the charge accordingly. Otherwise, charge it once a month and remove it from the charger. Keeping it on a non-sensing charger can severely shorten a battery's life because it will over-charge.


November 21, 2013 – DOES KICKING A HORSE'S SIDE HURT HIM?

If I kick my horse to make him move, will that hurt him?

Generally, most riders can't kick a horse hard enough to really hurt the horse. BUT, that doesn't mean that the horse doesn't feel the kick, nor does it mean that it's not uncomfortable for the horse — it likely isn't pleasant! In years past, a more forceful attitude to control a reluctant horse has been the norm. But these days, there is realization that there are less confrontational approaches to get a horse to perform as you'd like.

This process usually starts with the human taking the leadership position in the relationship with the horse. Once established, the horse is far more inclined to accept commands from the human. But even the concept of "commands" has been rethought and has started to change. Now, a preferred approach is to "invite the horse" to perform a maneuver. Interestingly, the horse will usually oblige.

I'm reminded of an experience I had when I was first learning to groom and ride horses. It seemed that all horses would initially fight me when I wanted to pick their hooves. I'd run my hand along the back of the horse's lower leg (cannon or metatarsis bones) and expect the horse to immediately offer its hoof for cleaning. When it didn't happen after a second or two, I'd bump the horse, utter a "HEY!", and do it again. Eventually, the horse raised the hoof and I'd clean it.

One day, I was working more slowly and ran my hand on the back of the leg, waited a moment, and noticed that the horse shifted its weight to the other legs and then raised its hoof for me. I did that on each leg and the horse raised its hoof after a few seconds of repositioning. I felt pretty dumb in the fact I hadn't considered that repositioning might be needed by the horse before lifting his hoof so that he doesn't fall over (worse, onto me). Of course, all horses have to do this depending onto which legs they've placed their weight. The reason I mention this experience is because, over the years, I've found most horses to be willing to follow signals, I just have to give them some time, usually, just an extra couple of seconds. I learned that an invitation is all that is often required to get the horse to respond and that a more forceful approach is not typically needed.

Are there horses that don't want to accept an invitation and perform your requested action? Of course that are. But because most are accommodating, I prefer to first invite the horse, and then take a more forceful approach only when necessary. Even if the action is not performed after a short wait, I like to investigate and make sure there's not some medical or physical reason why the horse doesn't respond as expected before I push a little harder. I do this because, most of the time, I'm finding horses to be very willing partners.

Perhaps you should consider that approach before kicking your horse to get him started or to get him to go in your intended direction. After all, you can always be more forceful if he refuses. But why start that way? Give him some time and the benefit of the doubt. It won't mean that you're any kind of sissy or a milquetoast, just a reasonable human.


November 20, 2013 – HEATING AN ENTIRE BARN?

Is there any cheap way I can heat my whole barn? It is so cold here in the winter.

If you put horses in your barn, there's no need to heat it. In fact, they'll generally do better in an unheated barn. Don't forget, horses grow a winter coat that's evolved over time to keep them warm when outside exposed to all the elements. Usually, a closed barn full of horses will be warmer by morning than the outside air just by the accumulation of heat from those horses. That said, the horses usually remain healthier if outside air can circulate through the barn so disease pathogens are swept out of the barn rather than being shared by all the horses.

If you want to heat the barn for your own comfort, why not cut your costs and heat only the areas that you want warmer, such as the tack room, or an office and bathroom if you have them. Those are spaces where you can be comfortable, it won't jeopardize the health of your horses, and you won't be paying to heat the whole space. Heating the whole barn would definitely not be cheap.

As for low-cost heating options, it's hard to heat cheaply and safely, which is why I'm, recommending that heat only as much space as you truly need warmed. Whether you have some form of oil, gas, or electric heat, the less space you heat, the cheaper it'll be. I don't like the idea of any kind of open-flame heating, such as a wood, pellet, or coal stove. The wood in barns usually becomes very dry, and coupled with the fact that there are lots of other flammable materials, such as hay and bedding, an open flame (even within a stove) is definitely not your best friend. At least with a boiler or furnace, no one is opening and closing a door to the flame every few hours to feed in more fuel.


November 19, 2013 – WHEN TO BLANKET FOR COLD

When should I start blanketing my horse? I do not clip his hair.

You don't mention your horse's breed or where you live, but generally, unclipped horses don't require blanketing except when there are hypothermia risks. I like to blanket mine when there's heavy rain below 50°F and when it's dry, cold, and windy below 20°F or so. Wind and rain are the two fastest ways of making a horse's core temperature drop. Otherwise, a horse should be able to spend lots of time in 20°F and higher temperatures for much of the day without a problem.

When I do cover my horse, I actually just use a waterproof sheet — there's no insulation, so it's not technically a blanket. His winter coat provides that insulation; I'm just trying to keep him dry and provide a barrier from wind-chill effects. If you were clipping your horse's hair, then you might want to start blanketing him when temps drop below 55°F or so even in dry air.

Remember that wild horses in the west generally tolerate very cold temperatures with no problem. Of course, they're not clipped. But usually, they're able to find some form of shelter, such as tree cover, a protective hill, valley, or some other sort of natural wind and/or rain block.


November 15, 2013 – PART OWNER WANTS FULL CUSTODY FROM DESERTED PARTNER

I have a Gypsy Stallion in my possession that is registered in my name and another person's name. The other person has not participated nor been heard from in over 20 months. A private investigator has been hired to attempt to locate the other person with no successful results. I want this horse's transfer of registration papers to be transferred to me so that I may have sole custody of him. Your advice would be appreciated.

Because this is a legal issue, I've asked the HorseGirl (who is an equine attorney) to discuss this area of the law in general terms. For advice on your specific case, you must consult an equine attorney in your state. Here is her response:

This is a complicated issue because it isn't a typical abandonment case. Instead, the horse is more of a joint-venture asset wherein one partner is not living up to his end of the bargain. Therefore, the only legal way to dissolve such a partnership is to go to court to request a dissolution of the joint venture. (You definitely want to get the assistance of a lawyer in this matter.) This approach should work even if the other partner is nowhere to be found. Your attorney can use a procedure known as "service by publication" to "give notice" to missing partners, even if he/she is intentionally absent. This procedure is often used to clear a title to some form of property.

Just so you understand, the registration issue you mentioned is a red herring because just changing it will not alone give you legal sole custody. You must first settle the partnership issue through legal procedure as described above before you can legally change the registration.


November 14, 2013 – HEAVY SNOW ON A HORSE TRAILER'S ROOF

With winter coming and the Farmer's Almanac saying we're going to get lots of snow, does that mean I have to shovel my trailer's roof?

That's an excellent question and the first time anyone has asked it! You don't mention your location or its typical winter climate and I can't comment on the accuracy of the Almanac. However, the flat roof of a horse trailer does strike me as a possible vulnerability if too much heavy snow was to accumulate on it. Also, some roofs are aluminum while others are fiberglass, and even the difference widths of some trailers (standard vs: wide) can make a difference in accumulated snow weight.

Obviously, the determining factors are:

  1. The size of your trailer's roof;
  2. Your location and the amount of snow you receive;
  3. The quality of your trailer, its design, and its components; and
  4. The condition of your trailer, especially of the roof and its related supports.

A better quality trailer with stronger components and maintained in better condition is less at risk from a high snow load than a cheaper-quality, deteriorating trailer. Another factor is its location. For example, I move my trailer into the back yard each winter so that I can easily plow my driveway of snow. I place the trailer close to my rear deck and can easily see and reach the roof.

A few years ago, the Northeast received much snow in quick succession with storms every few days delivering 6 - 10 inches each time. The snow accumulated quickly and I used a push broom to keep the trailer's roof clear throughout the winter. I found snow removal easier when I kept up with it and more difficult if I let the snow accumulate and compact.

I don't know whether or not the accumulated snow load would have collapsed the roof had I done nothing. But I certainly slept better at night knowing I was keeping the weight on the roof down to reasonable levels throughout that period of frequent storms. Therefore, if you're in such a location where winter storms can bring large and frequent droppings of snow, placing your trailer in a location where you can reach its roof will allow you to keep the weight on the roof to manageable levels.

One more thing: don't place your trailer under a tree or too close to a building where heaps of snow can fall off or come sliding down onto your trailer — that's likely a sure recipe for a collapsed roof. And branches breaking off of a tree from the weight of heavy snow or ice is another risk. The best location for a trailer is probably inside a strong barn or other building, but in the absence of that option, a wide open space with access to the roof is likely the next best choice.


November 4, 2013 – HEALTHY BARNS BY DESIGN — BOOK REVIEW

I've recently read a book that impressed me as having good information about barn design as well as enjoying the read. While horse barns are obviously built to stable horses, few incorporate current learning and clever design to promote the horse's actual health. This architect does incorporate such tenets and describes some of his designs in his book. I've prepared a review of the book for your elucidation and enjoyment. The book is entitled, Healthy Barns by Design and clicking on its title will take you to the review.

One more thing: if you're designing your own barn, I again want to advocate the benefits of larger stalls. I discuss in this forum frequently and coincidentally wrote about it two days ago in the prior post as I responded to a reader's question. I've paraphrased the salient portion below:

There's significant benefit in making the stalls larger than the standard 10' x 10' sizes we see so often. Stalls at least 12 x 12, 10 x 14, or even a little larger provide work-saving and cost-saving advantages. Horses in larger stalls are better able to move around and will also more intentionally use one corner as their bathroom away from their feeding area. That means less work for you because waste products are not strewn around the stall as it is when the stall is small. It also means that you'll use less bedding because you'll only have to remove and replace that which is soiled in the corner the horse chose to use as his or her bathroom.


November 1, 2013 – STALL WALL HEIGHT IN NEW BARN

My sister and I are planning a new barn we will have built in the spring between our houses. It will have 6 stalls. How high do the walls need to be between the stalls? Our horses are turned out together and all get along and we want them to be able to interact across the walls in the barn.

I suggest that you make the stall walls at least seven feet high. While your horses all get along fine in their paddock or field, many horses are very territorial when in a barn stall, even reaching out over their gate to nip a horse going by with which they usually get along. You certainly don't ever want a couple of stalled horses to start fighting at night or whenever you're away from the barn and unaware of the problem. Tall walls will assure that stalled horses can't hurt each other.

As for socialization, use low gates or the popular French doors on each stall. There's normally a sliding door when using the low metal swinging gate or an upper door when using French doors. That lets you completely close off the stall from the aisle as you pass by with other horses and will stop those horses that try to nip every horse that goes by. When just the low gate or lower door is closed, each horse will be able to stick their head out to see each other and whatever else is going on, but they won't be able to nip each other. Your horses can physically socialize in the field where a losing horse has the ability to run away before being seriously hurt.

Another point, regardless of how well your current horses get along and the concerns I raised above pertaining to territoriality, it's almost assured that you and your sister or some future barn user will be stalling other horses in your barn at some time. There's no way to guarantee that those horses will get along as well as yours do today. So that's another reason why you should design and build this barn to accommodate whatever horses will be kept there over the years.

Finally, I hope you're planning on making the stalls larger than historical barns used to be, such as at least 12 x 12 or 10 x 14 — a little larger would be even better. Horses in larger stalls are better able to move around and will also more intentionally use one corner as their bathroom away from their feeding area. That means less work for you because waste products are not strewn around the stall as it is when the stall is small. It also means that you'll use less bedding because you'll only have to remove and replace that which is soiled in the corner the horse chose to use as his or her bathroom.


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