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"Horse Guy" Archive Jan - Jun 2009

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I'm building a barn and planning to run a water line to each stall to make filling pails a lot easier. Any suggestions?

Sure! Make a point to have a main shutoff valve installed, and in an easily accessible location. First, you'll want to leave that valve turned off most of the time. When you want to fill your pails, turn the valve on, refill, then turn it off before leaving. This is important because horses will often "fiddle" with the valve and accidentally (or purposely) turn the water on. If the main valve is left on when you're not there, you could arrive to find quite a mess with various horse wastes floating about.

Second, if you live in a cold climate, you'll again want the water left off when you're not using it so it won't freeze and rupture the lines. In fact, you'll want to turn it off after filling the pails and then return to each valve, open it to allow the water to drain, then reclose it. Do this to each valve in turn until the lines coming down to each is empty and can't freeze, especially overnight. While this is extra work during the cold weather, it's still much less work than carrying each pail to a barn hydrant or dragging a hose throughout the barn to fill each pail in its stall. And needless to say, during spring through autumn, you won't have to drain the system at all and the work is even less yet. I recommend you speak with the plumber who'll do the job when you're ready to have the fill lines installed so he/she can design a system that will drain easily and completely. The plumber may even know of new fixtures that won't freeze nor require individual draining — that would be great!

My barn has a fill line in each stall and it really makes filling pails a much easier task than at other barns I've used. And we have had horses turn those valves, so the main valve has saved the day...at least as long as no one forgot to turn it off...


Is it ok to wash or rinse a horse after a ride?

If the weather is warm, there's no problem in washing or rinsing your horse immediately upon return from a ride. In fact, on a hot day, your horse would likely welcome the cool down. BUT, in cooler weather, you need to be careful. When wet, all animals (and humans) lose heat faster through evaporation. In cold weather, the heat loss through evaporation AND the colder air can put your horse at risk of hypothermia. I would only rinse your horse after a ride if the temperature is in the 60s or higher.

So, if you live in a northern climate, use a wash or rinse after a ride only on the warm days of summer. In the colder winter months, you may have to do the opposite and use a cooler to keep your horse warm after a ride until his perspiration has evaporated.


Do horses attract lightening?

This is the second time I get asked this question. The first time, I thought it was a joke, but perhaps we should address the issue directly.

No! Horses DO NOT attract lightening any more than you or I do. Lightening is just electricity and behaves as all electricity does. Actually, it's static electricity, but it's an awful lot of static electricity.

The reason we have lightening is because, like a battery, there is a voltage difference between the Earth and the clouds. That means there's an excess of electrons at one or the other. Therefore, electrons want to go from the clouds to the Earth, or if the polarity is reversed, want to go from the Earth from to the clouds. The dangerous part is when we get in between them.

Electricity ALWAYS takes the path of least resistance. If there is a conductor that will take those electrons part of the way, the electrons will go that way. That conductor can be a metal building, a flying plane, the mineralized water flowing in a tree, or an animal, such as a horse or us. The minerals in our body, such as iron, zinc, and copper, allow electric flow with less resistance. To make matters worse, we become a LONGER conductor when sitting atop a horse — this is bad for both us AND the horse.

So, in a thunderstorm, the best advice is to get both ourselves and our horses out of the weather. Lightening strikes on people and animals are actually quite rare because, except in an open field, on top of a hill, or on a body of water, we and the horses are usually much lower than the trees, hills, and buildings around us. But because our lives are at stake and safety is just a matter of going inside, it's just not worth the risk.

Thunderstorms also cause other risks for us and our horses and a more comprehensive discussion is available in a our article: Horses & Thunderstorms.


I'm new at this and have been taking lessons and riding for a few months and do ok in the ring, but when I go out onto a trail, especially when going up or down a steep hill, I need to hold onto a strap my instructor connected across the pommel of my English saddle. Is there any easier way to stay in the saddle?

You don't mention the steepness of the hills you're riding, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, as a new rider, you're still learning to balance yourself on the horse — you'll get better the more you ride. As the Horse Girl often says, "all saddle time is good time". By that, she means that all time in the saddle helps your body to better learn to balance itself — no one can learn to ride a horse by watching others or by reading about the technique — the rider's brain and muscles must develop and learn to respond to the movement of the horse. In time, you'll do it without thinking about it, without worrying about falling off, and will likely also be effortlessly talking to other riders just as you're able to chat with a passenger while driving your car.

Second, an English saddle is almost like a sliver of leather on the horse's back upon which you sit and balance. It works well in the ring and on slight grades, but was never designed to negotiate steep inclines and the threats of the trail. A Western, Australian, or endurance saddle is better designed for that activity because the deeper cantle and higher pommel they provide will offer much better support to help keep you atop. They're also better in keeping you there when your horse is startled and makes an abrupt movement, such as a quick stop, bolt, or a shy. You only need to experience one of those once to fully appreciate the strength of a horse and how quickly he/she can use that strength to accelerate, stop, or change direction — it'll blow a sports car away.

To be clear, the foregoing is not an indictment of English saddles; I first learned to ride and jump in one, and truth be told, I'm glad it forced me to develop a better sense of balance. I also still occasionally take a riding lesson in one so an instructor can criticize the recent bad habits I've developed and put me back on "the straight and narrow". But when riding in the countryside, especially in the forest and on hills, you want a saddle designed for that style of riding because of the additional safety it'll provide.

So give yourself a break and don't beat yourself up about wanting to hold onto that strap for safety — you're a new rider and your body is still learning to balance itself while sitting on the moving beast we all love. BUT, do keep taking those lessons, keep riding on various terrain, and do it on a saddle designed to keep you safer while out there. And also keep using the English saddle in the ring so your body best learns to truly ride a balanced seat without other support.


My truck bumper has a towing capacity of 10,000 lbs. Is that a class two hitch?

No, it's a class IV hitch. Here are the ratings by class:

  1. Class I: up to 2000 pounds;
  2. Class II: 2001 to 3500 pounds;
  3. Class III: 3501 to 5000 pounds; and
  4. Class IV: 5001 to 12,000 pounds.
Generally, unless you've got a very big truck, it's unlikely that the bumper alone is rated for 10,000 pounds. Therefore, you're more likely to need a receiver into which you'll insert a drawbar onto which the hitch ball mounts.

To learn more about hitches, see our article entitled: Getting Properly Hitched.

June 23, 2009 – RIDING IN HIGH WINDS?

Can I ride my horse in high winds?

It depend what you mean by high winds. A very calm horse with a quiescent temperament may do fine. But, wind moves things around and things moving around can spook most horses. Plus, wind can knock down branches on top of you and your horse if it's powerful enough. So this is a matter of judging the degree of wind to assess safety.

As for me, I do ride my horse on windy days, especially in autumn when many of those days occur. But high winds to me means strong, blustery winds in the range of 40MPH and up. That's also the wind speed designating the beginning of cyclonic storms in the tropical storm range. Unless such winds come up while I'm out on the trail, I won't intentionally take my horse out into such weather because of the chance of wind-driven objects hitting us with significant force. Conversely, you don't want to avoid riding on less windy days if you'll be safe. Essentially, you don't want to let mild wind and gusts scare you inside, but also don't want to take unnecessary chances in dangerous weather.

If you want to learn more about dealing with the wind while riding, see our article entitled: Horses and Wind.

June 22, 2009 – WHY FLOAT TEETH?

Why do my horse's teeth have to be floated every now and then?

The reason is that, while human teeth stop growing as we reach adulthood, horse's teeth grow continually over their whole lives. Consider that they graze most of the time they're pastured and that they grind what they eat. As a result, their teeth wear down, so continued growth is necessary so they can eat and grow old.

As for the need for floating, think about how this works. Like humans, the upper teeth form an arc wider than the lower teeth. That larger radius causes the upper teeth to overhang the lower teeth. Because of that, the outside of the upper teeth don't grind against the lower teeth, and therefore, DON'T wear down. Instead, they get longer and form sharp edges. These edges can cut into and injure the horse's cheeks.

Similarly, the inside of the lower teeth, having a smaller radius, don't touch against the inside of the upper teeth and also don't wear down, so they, too, develop sharp edges that can cut and injure the horse's tongue. If the pain is bad enough, the horse will not eat enough and can lose weight. The edges can also interfere with a bit and make the horse difficult to control because of the pain they can cause. Floating files these edges down. The result is actually a happier horse.

In the wild, horses eat a larger variety of foods than those in domestic life. Some of those foods are higher in abrasive minerals (usually silicates) that tend to wear the entire teeth more evenly. Floating is usually required about once each year for most horses. Of course, depending on a horse's metabolism, some may require more frequent floating while others can get by with longer periods between.


A few of my riding friends never wear a riding helmet. I worry they could get hurt if their horse spooks and they fall. Any idea how I can convince them to change this bad habit?

I'm afraid I'm out of ideas on this one. While I often see riders of both genders in state forests riding without helmets, I'm even more concerned about several friends that refuse to wear a helmet when riding. Like you, I really like them and care about their safety. But they are adults and in control of their own destiny. I've talked about the subject (while riding) and hinted about the benefits of wearing a helmet. Heck! I've even come right out and asked them why they don't wear one and have mentioned how mine has protected me from branches hit while riding and hitting my head on the ground from a fall. They agree with the logic, admit they should do so, but don't change their behavior. Think about it: many states have enacted and enforce laws mandating seatbelt usage, yet some people still drive intentionally without " buckling up". Needless to say, it's going to be the same about riding helmets for some people and all we can do is occasionally prod them gently and hope for the best.

June 18, 2009 – BRAKE CONTROLLER

I just bought a horse trailer and the salesman looked inside my truck and said that I also need a brake controller. Is this true or is he just looking to sell me another "thing?" If so, where does the brake controller for a trailer attach?

You definitely DO NEED a brake controller to safely stop a horse trailer. It controls the trailer's electric brakes. Without such a controller, your trailer has NO BRAKES and is dependent on those of your truck to stop it. The weight of your trailer plus that of the horses and tack within is far too much weight for your truck to stop including its own weight.

So the question really is whether or not you already have a brake controller installed in your truck. To identify it, look for a small box about four or five inches wide by six inches long mounted to the bottom of the dash on either side of the steering post. It'll be about an inch thick with five or six wires running under the dash. If you don't see anything like that, then you'll need to buy one. They generally run about $70 - $200 in price and cost $35- $50 to have installed. I recently wrote an article about the two different kinds entitled: Trailer Brake Controllers.

June 17, 2009 – BLUE-EYED HORSES

Are blue eyed horses blind?

No, not at all. Blue-eyed horses are actually somewhat common. Their light pigmentation may make them susceptable to problems that horses with darker eyes do not experience, such uveitis (inflamation of the uvea) caused by too much exposure to bright sunlight. But they're definitely not blind by virtue of the fact that their eye color is blue.

June 16, 2009 – WEB-STRUNG SADDLES

What is a web strung saddle?

A web-strung saddle means the saddle seat is suspended above the horse like a hammock. Its purpose is to separate the rider's butt from the horse's back so the two don't pound against each other while riding. And it's healthier for the rider's and the horse's spine and provides a more comfortable ride for both.

This tends to be a feature available on the better saddles costing more. I have it in my saddle and love it. Mine is an Australian saddle and is the most comfortable saddle in which I've ever ridden, and I've ridden in many. I talk a little bit more about it in the fourth paragraph of Part 8 of my saddle search series of articles.

June 15, 2009 – DON'T WEAR A BACKPACK

Is it OK to wear a backpack while riding? I don't have any saddlebags and need someplace to pack a lunch and water bottle.

I WOULD NOT wear a backpack while riding. If you should ever fall off and land on your back, any hard object within that pack, such as a water bottle, could cause injury to your spine depending on how you hit. Plus, if it should move around inside as you shift your weight at speed, it could upset your balance or that of your horse.

Why not just buy an inexpensive pommel or cantle bag? There are various designs made for English and Western saddles. This way, you'll not only protect your back, it'll be a lot more comfortable and you'll be carrying that load lower, thereby reducing any effects of a moving load on the balance of you and your horse.


I just recently was trotting quickly through the woods on my horse and came too close to a tree and rapped my kneecap into it as we passed. It hurt greatly! What's the best way to avoid that injury in the future?

Below are several of your options:

  1. Slow down
  2. Steer away from approaching trees
  3. Wear protective knee pads
  4. Ride only on open, treeless plains
  5. Assure your horse respects you and isn't trying to "scrape you off".

I think that about covers it.

June 11, 2009 – GETTING A GRIP

Where can I buy an Aussie Monkey Grip?

I got mine for $25 when I bought my saddle from the Australian Stock Saddle Company. You can see a partial photo of it here in this archive when I answered a similar question on March 31st, 2009 in this column.


Is there a way to toughen unshod hooves?

The fact your horse is barefoot makes the actual hoof stronger because it's getting better circulation and, therefore, more nutrients. It's likely the frog of your horse that is making him tender-footed. About the only thing you can do to toughen that is to keep your horses on harder and rocky ground. It's that adaptation of living in such an environment that toughens the hooves of roaming horses out west.

Where I live here in New England, we get enough rain that the paddocks are rich with green grass and good grazing. That grassy ground is soft and my barefoot horse is tender-footed when walking on rocky ground. So, when I ride, I put boots on his front feet and he does fine. Because his hooves are so healthy since I've pulled his shoes, I will not go back to shoeing him or any other horse I own now that I've seen the difference in hoof health between a shod and unshod horse.

June 9, 2009 – THRUSH

Why would my horse's hooves always stink?

If they're stinky, the most common problem causing that is a bacterium called "thrush". It grows in the grooves and cleft of the frog. This bacterium is anaerobic, so that means it can only survive in packed-in material that keeps the oxygen out. If it is thrush, you'll see a black, puss-like material when you clean your horse's hooves.

The most common cause of thrush is poor hygiene of the hoof and of the horse's stall. Hooves should be picked clean each day. It is packed-in mud, horse waste, or wet shavings that allow the bacterium to get a foothold and thrive. A filthy stall will also increase the likelihood of thrush because it provides horse droppings and urine for moisture. And for those horses using full pads on their feet to protect them from soreness, such as caused by stepping on rocks, the pads also allow thrush to develop and grow between shoeings. If thrush is not addressed and advances over time, it can cause lameness problems or even the need to put the horse down.

So, clean your horse's hooves daily; clean his stall and replace his bedding daily; and have his feet checked every 6 - 8 weeks by a good farrier whether he's shoed or barefoot. You may want to have your vet check your horse this first time to determine whether this is thrush or some other disease. And if it is thrush, your vet can also determine its severity.

Your question mentioned that your horse's hooves "always" stink. That implies to me this problem has been going on for a while and may be somewhat advanced. Don't wait long to call your vet — your horse's soundness, maybe even his life, is potentially at stake.

June 8, 2009 – A SLIDING SADDLE

A few days ago you addressed a question regarding tightness of the girth strap and you recommended not tightening too much. I agree with you, but I have a horse that is shaped like a perfect barrel. He is not terribly overweight, the vet says he is a good weight, but he is just very rounded and my saddle keeps slipping.

I have purchased a sticky pad which has not done the trick. I also have made it a point to get a saddle with full quarter horse bars (he is a BIG Quarter Horse) so that this fits him well. I always tighten his girth, walk him around a bit then tighten it again and walk around some more and tighten it yet again. I have in the past only tightened it twice and when I went to get on, the saddle simply rolls down under his belly.

I use a mounting block and am not sure what else to do. I don't want to over tighten, but I don't want to always have to yank the saddle back into center position while riding. I'm sure that can't be comfortable for him! Any suggestions?

I started answering this question and realized it was getting too long for this column. So, I converted it to an article and you can read it at: Dealing with Sliding Saddle Problems.


I want to go on some long trail rides and plan on buying some saddlebags. How much weight can I put in them?

When it comes to payload, where you place the weight is every bit as important as how much you're carrying. I would limit the weight in saddlebags to about 20 - 30 pounds because of their location so far aft.

A better place to carry more weight is over the horse's center of gravity near where you ride. That's usually over the withers. Therefore, you should consider getting some wither bags and put your heaviest items there. However, even with them, be careful you don't overload your horse.

You don't mention for how long you intend to go and how much you intend to carry. If you're traveling light with no more than a bedroll and minimal cooking gear, you can usually do that on the same horse you ride. If you're taking a tent and other overnight gear rather than traveling light, you need to consider bringing a packhorse.

If you overload your car or truck and something breaks, you just get it fixed. But if you overload an animal, you could seriously harm or kill it — be careful and thoughtful and don't over load your horse. And depending how far into remote areas you plan to go, your own life may also depend upon it.

June 4, 2009 – GOING BAREFOOT

What is your opinion about converting a horse to going barefoot?

This is a timely question because I converted my horse to barefoot last December (2008) and am still evaluating the change. My horse has always been barefoot in back and has had shoes just in front. But I've disliked the chipping and sometimes crumbling of his hooves that kept occurring. I have found that the quality of the feed can affect hoof integrity — don't buy cheap feed, it may be increasing the risk of your horse having problems with his legs and feet.

Since converting my horse to barefoot, the most remarkable thing I've noticed is how healthy his front hooves are — they're much harder and they have a healthy, rose color rather than being a drab, dull gray. In speaking with veterinarians and farriers, they've explained that a horse's frogs are supposed to compress when they take each step and that this compression helps pump blood back up the horse's leg, increases leg/foot blood circulation, and that helps to better nourish the horse's hooves and leg bones. When a horse wears shoes, the frog is elevated and doesn't touch the ground, so that pumping action is either lessened or doesn't occur at all. All I know is that my horse's hooves look better and are definitely harder and more solid than they ever were before when he was wearing shoes.

The only downside I've had is that his feet can be tender when I ride him on a rocky road or gravelly ground. His farrier says that occurs because he lives in grassy paddocks and his frogs won't toughen up enough as long as he spends so much time on soft ground. I don't want to relegate him to a barren and rocky paddock just to toughen his feet so I can ride anywhere, so I've been using boots on his front feet when riding and that is helping a lot. And there are no snow/ice freezing issues in the winter when there are no metal shoes on your horse.

In summary, my experience with my horse indicates to me that it's much better for his hooves to not wear shoes; I believe it's also better for his legs. I can't otherwise explain why his front feet now look so good.


My barn owner never cleans her horse's hoofs. I asked her why and she said that horses turned out clean their hoofs by walking and running. Am I wasting my horses and my time when I pick her hoofs?

I disagree with your barn owner. My horse will get mud, horse waste, and other stuff (that I sometimes can't identify) stuck in the grooves beside the frogs of his hooves. I pick his hooves clean everyday when I visit.

When I first bought him, I learned that the barn where he stayed and his owner never cleaned his hooves and the vet performing the pre-purchase exam found that he had thrush on both rear feet. I had the thrush treated and have cleaned his hooves ever since and he's never again had the problem.

I believe in checking our horses over every time we visit and also cleaning their hooves and giving them a brushing. This process has helped me avoid problems and find early the few that have occurred. Therefore, I'm big on checking and grooming frequently for the benefit of my horse.

June 2, 2009 – USING CLIPS ON REINS?

I want to use some clips on the end of my reins so I can easily connect and disconnect them from my horse's bit. But another rider at my barn have told me that it's not a good idea because horses hate the clicking sound the clips make. Is that true?

It might be with some horses, but I do exactly what you described and it has worked out great fro my horse and me. In fact, as many readers have heard me say before, I use a halter/bridle and this arrangement allows me to pull my horse's bit when stopping on the trail for lunch. I disconnect the reins from his bit, clip one end on the halter ring, and Voila! I now have a halter and lead line to let him graze while I eat lunch. Reversing the process changes him back to a bridle, bit, and reins and he's ready to ride again.


We get a lot of inquiries about trailers, how to assess them, and buying questions. This month, Perfect Horse magazine has published an extract of an article I've written about evaluating used trailers to help buyers make good decisions. It also includes a checklist you can print out in multiple copies to take with you so you can later compare various trailers and pick the one that best meets your needs. The complete and comprehensive article is entitled: Buying a Good Used Trailer.


I've just had my horse's shoes removed a few months ago so he can go barefoot. He seems ok in his paddock, but he sometimes gets tender-footed when I ride him. Should I have him shoed again?

Not necessarily. First, the most important thing to do is to get your farrier to examine your horse's feet and give you his opinion. If he feels the feet look good, you need to give your horse some more time to adapt. Going barefoot allows the frog of his feet to compress with each step and that helps pumps blood back up his legs — it's a healthier way for him to live.

Most of the tender-footed experiences I've seen and had with my own horse (he's also barefoot) are because horses often live on grassy field when turned out, but we take them on gravel roads and harder ground when riding. If they lived on those gravel roads and hard ground all the time, their feet would toughen up and the tender-footedness would go away. But because they don't, they may always experience some soreness when ridden in the rougher areas. If you can normally ride mostly on grass, he likely will not even get sore.

Another option is to buy your horse some good quality boots for riding. They can provide cushioning and protection from the hard ground, but allow you to keep him barefoot and enjoy the healthier benefits of being so. For most horses, a set of boots for the front feet is enough.

Your farrier and vet are your best information source for questions about your horse's foot health.


How much should I tighten a girth or cinch?

It should be snug, but not overly tight. The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to slip a couple of fingers under the buckle. Your girth or cinch must not be so tight as to pinch or pull the horse's skin. Remember this: you should not be attempting to "affix" a saddle to your horse as a rock-solid foundation upon which to sit and stand — riding is about balance. Your saddle should be tight enough so it doesn't slip down either side of your horse, but not so tight that it compresses his chest, limits his breathing, or hurts him.


My barn uses electrified ribbon fencing for their horse paddocks. A friend mentioned being worried my horse could suffer neurological damage if she gets shocked too much. Can that really happen?

In truth, I don't know the answer to your question. BUT, I find it hard to believe that such fencing could be used as widely as it is for horses and cattle if it were truly a risk to their nervous systems. There may be a risk to the rare horse with a weak heart, but how could such a horse work or run and how long could he live that way? One other risk hazard could be an entrapment situation where an animal couldn't escape getting shocked repeatedly, but that's an installation issue. All fencing puts animals at some risk and horses have been known to sustain injury when getting hung up on any form of non-electric fencing also. Good installation safety practices for humans and animals should always be practiced.

The shock is not continuous, it's pulsed every second or two and usually lasts only about 100 - 200 microseconds. Each pulse is generally about 5,000 - 7,000 volts with very little current. You may be surprised to learn that the static electricity shocks we all receive during the drier months are in the 10,000 - 30,0000 volt range. For what it's worth, all electrical products must meet Underwriters Laboratories (U.L.) approval and safety guidelines for safety to humans. Horses are even bigger and likely better able to dissipate the energy from a shock.

Finally, horses seem to learn pretty quickly to stay away from an electric fence after one or two shocks. Incredibly, they also seem to somehow be aware of when it's turned on and when it's not. Whether they feel an electrostatic effect on the hair of their bodies, smell ozone, or some other manifestation, they seem to know when it's on and adjust their behavior accordingly. So, between the fact these fences are used extensively and we don't see lots of reports in the news about problems, and the fact that horses learn quickly and therefore usually avoid further shocks, I think the risk to them is very small.


I went riding with several friends yesterday and was again reminded of why I wear a helmet. We were at the walk on a narrow trail going between lots of trees. A small, 3 inch tree with no top was in the middle of the trail. As my horse and I went along the right side at a slight grade, my horse slipped a few inches toward the tree, I pushed against the tree with my left hand to keep us away and learned why the tree had no top: it was rotted. A four foot section above me broke and fell on my head. My head also deflected it from hitting my horse and it fell to the ground (I didn't realize that protecting my horse meant taking the hit for him…SHEESH!) While I was surprised by the clunk, there was no damage or injury done to my head, and I know that the helmet made the difference.

There have been other such incidents in my riding experience and more than once I've had branches hit my head. I'm sure there will be more such episodes in the future. My helmet has protected me from scrapes and bruises, and possibly from mild concussions. And in the event of a fall from a horse, it can be even more important. It's cheap insurance to protect the body's most important organ.


I wish my horse would enjoy seeing me arrive. Instead, she runs from the gate when I approach it with her halter. How can I change HER behavior?

The Horse Girl answered a similar question earlier this week. Essentially, there are two aspects to this issue. First, your horse must see you as her leader. If she does, she'll see you as her protector and will more appreciate seeing you arrive.

Second, don't let her associate you only with work. If the only time you ever visit always means you're going to drill her in the ring again or practice jumps, she's going to associate you with more work every time she sees you — I'd also run away from you in that case. To change her view of you, visit her in between for other reasons. For example, visit her just for the purpose of grooming, and then release her again to her friends in the paddock. Or halter her, bring her outside the paddock, and let her graze while you stand nearby.

I often do a mix of the two on many days of the week. I'll bring my horse outside his paddock and let him graze while I brush him and pick his hooves. Then, I'll stand beside him, often with a hand lightly on his neck, withers, or on his back. He'll graze and I can tell by his demeanor and soft eyes that he's very relaxed.

Another thing I've done was to hire a horse masseuse several times and learn a few basic equine massage techniques; you should try it. Then, you'll be able to use them when you visit your horse. You don't have to spend 30 minutes massaging her, even just a few minutes doing so will likely be appreciated.

These days, when I arrive at my horse's paddock, he'll start walking or even trotting over to the gate to meet me. Sometimes, he'll whiney and run to the gate when he sees me approaching. That's because he doesn't know what we're going to do, and while I'm sure he'd rather not work, at least he doesn't associate me only with work. Some of those times, he knows he's just going to get pampered.


My horse is a cribber and chewing up our fences; any suggestions?

Cribbing really can take a toll on fencing. In warmer weather, horses kept outside generally crib less if there is ample grass for them to graze upon. Paddock mates also help, not only with making them feel safer, but also as a playmate to keep them busy and somewhat exercised.

Generally, cribbing is worse in the winter when horses have less to eat, are often stuck inside, and become board. For those times where your horse does have to be in his stall, a cribbing collar and some horse toys can help. When using a cribbing collar, remember that it is the brow band strap that is tightened and stops the cribbing — NOT the neck strap. The neck strap should be loose and its only purpose is to help keep the collar on the horse. If you tighten that one, you'll be choking your horse. When placing a cribbing collar on your horse for the first time, stay around and observe him for the first 30 minutes or so. Most horses adapt to the collar quite well, but a few can panic and a collar may not be the right solution for them.

During icy, winter days and times when a horse must be confined to his stall, lots of free-choice hay will give your horse something to do and reduce cribbing. As you likely have observed, a horse's life is somewhat focused around food and eating, therefore, assuring they have a constant supply of grazing sustenance goes a long way to keeping them both busy and happy.

See the article on Reducing Stall Boredom for additional suggestions about how to keep your horse busy and happier when stuck inside.

May 20, 2009 – EIA and the Coggins Test

How often should I have my horse tested for EIA?

EIA (Equine Infectious Anemia) is an analog to human HIV. But fortunately, horses cannot acquire HIV and humans cannot contract EIA. The most common test administered is the Coggins test which tests for EIA antibodies. Every horse should receive a Coggins test annually. Horses that are transported frequently, such as to shows, trails, hunter paces, etc., should be tested more frequently.

Not surprisingly, each state has different requirements. The University of Vermont has a Website you can visit that provides information about the laws in each state. It is:


Unfortunately, the Website was last updated in 2001. But you can get current information from the United States Department of Agriculture by calling: (800) 545-8732.

May 19, 2009 – SALT BLOCKS

I've noticed that some boarders install salt blocks in their horse's stall; should I do the same?

Many horse feeds are low in sodium and chlorine. And in hotter weather, horses, like humans and other animals, may perspire a lot and lose both sodium and chlorine through perspiration. Therefore, providing free-choice salt to your horse is a good idea.

When you purchase your salt blocks, make sure you buy those specifically designed for horses to assure they also contain proper amounts of trace minerals for the equine metabolism. Salt blocks are also made for cattle and deer and each block type has trace minerals needed for its specific target animal.


Are tapaderos are good thing? There seem to be conflicting opinions around my barn.

Reposted as separate article. See: Tapaderos: Good or Bad? article.


The owner of my barn is always putting our horses out with halters on. I've told her I'm afraid a horse could get hurt if he got his halter caught on something and panicked, but she says she's never seen that happen and it's more work to have to halter each horse at the end of the day when she brings them all in. What should I do?

Buy your horse a break-away halter. While the halter is nylon, the crownpiece strap on such a halter is made of leather. That leather strap is easier for a horse to break if he panics and tries to get free than is nylon. You may want to apprise the other boarders so they, too, can consider getting similar halters. Your tack shop will also likely carry replacement straps for the halters. At my tack shop, the straps run about $5.00 each.


Do I need a break-away break on a single-horse trailer?

Yes! In fact, the reason we see so few single-horse trailers is that, because the requirements are the same, it just doesn't cost much more for a manufacturer to build a two-horse trailer than a single-horse trailer. They both require all the same safety features; the same height, almost the same width to be stable; double-axels; a break-away break and battery; etc., etc. Therefore, the price and weight difference isn't very much. As a result, a single-horse trailer isn't much cheaper. Also, such a trailer isn't that much lighter than a two-horse trailer carrying only one horse, yet you don't ever have the option of carrying a second horse. So, single-horse versions are often not felt to be worth the investment for a manufacturer or us buyers. And yes, single-horse trailers do require a break-away brake and most every other safety feature required on two or larger horse trailers.


My horse has some scarring on the roof of his mouth. I only use a mild snaffle bit. Could that cause the scarring?

Yes, it can! Bits and bridles can be designed to work on different parts of the mouth from the bars and tongue to the nose and lower jaw. A snaffle has no curb chain, so it doesn't work on the lower jaw. When you pull on a snaffle or ported bit, they press down on the tongue. But if you lead your horse with a snaffle or ported bit and pull, the port rises instead and presses against the roof of the horse's mouth. If you lead them roughly or your horse is fighting you and you jerk the reins while leading, the bit will ram against the roof and possibly the sides of the mouth.

Even though it's been done for centuries, horses really shouldn't be lead by the reins. I use a halter bridle with clips on the reins. When I lead before mounting, one end of my reins is connected to the chin-ring on the halter and I hold the other. When I'm ready to mount, I remove the end connected to the halter ring and clip the reins onto the bit. When I dismount, I move the reins back to the halter ring and my hand.

If my horse should spook while I'm leading him and I restrain him with the reins used as a lead line, it just pulls on the halter and doesn't ram the bit center into any parts of his mouth. He's never told me, but I'm sure he appreciates that!


Can you tell me the difference between time-delay and proportional trailer brakes?

Reposted as separate article. See: Trailer Brake Controllers article.


Is the saying true that the deeper a horse dips his nostrils while drinking, the better sire he will be?

That's an old wive's tale, and there are many that include horses. The horse may or may not be a good sire regardless of how deep he dips his nostrils while drinking. But I will tell you this: what he's really doing is risking getting a slug of water up his nose when he inhales — and if he does, it's not going to feel very good and he'll likely do that only once.


Can using a curb bit break a horse's jaw? I've heard this several times.

In truth, I don't know the answer. But I have never heard of it happening. However, using a curb bit incorrectly can really cause the horse to experience severe pain — that I know.

There are many horse veterinarians that are also horse owners and riders, and they would be the source I would ask for a good answer to this question. In fact, we're looking for such a vet to write for QueryHorse and I'm making a note that this should be one of their first questions.


How do I prevent condensation in my horse trailer?

You can always tell when spring has arrived because we start getting lots of questions related to trailers.

See article entitled: Reducing Condensation in Your Horse Trailer.

May 6, 2009 – TIRE DRY ROT — WHY?

The tires on my horse trailer are dry rotting. The trailer is not even used much. It just sits near the barn. Why does dry rot occur?

Just because your trailer is not often in use doesn't mean that its tires are not susceptible to dry rot. Dry rot in tires is caused by several factors:

  • Exposure to Chemicals – Tires on vehicles exposed to more chemicals degrade faster because they combine with the rubber and change its characteristics. Tires can be exposed to chemicals by accident, such as driving through a spill of some product (paint, oil, gasoline, etc.) or because it is applied, such as products to make the tire look blacker or overspray from bug remover or some other car-maintenance product.
  • Time – Rubber degrades over time just as plastics and most other materials do. It combines with oxygen and other materials in the air in which it comes into contact and that combining with other materials over time changes its characteristics and chemical composition. While direct exposure to chemicals as mentioned above degrades rubber more quickly, older tires are affected by smaller chemical amounts just because they have been exposed for a longer period of time.
  • Heat – As in many chemical reactions, heat acts as a catalyst contributing to accelerated tire degradation. Heat comes from several sources and tires degrade faster in warmer climates, with hard driving, and in under-inflated tires.
  • Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) – Tires on cars outside degrade faster because the Sun is able to shine on them during the day. Cars kept in garages or in shaded areas during the day degrade to a lesser degree.
Rubber is a very complex compound. While tire manufacturers attempt to make rubber as inert as possible, it is not completely inert and dry rot is the culmination of slow deterioration. To learn more, see our article on Tire Safety When Towing Horses.


A branch fell off a tree and landed about 20 feet from my horse and me while riding last weekend on a windy day. She spooked and it took me a little while to calm her down. How frequently do branches break and fall like that?

Actually, branches do not break and fall very often. I don't know how windy it was near you while you were riding, but most of the time, branches primarily break during the higher winds of winter, during thunderstorms, and because of of the weight of snow and ice (in colder climates). But all those branches don't immediately fall to the ground. Instead, some fall and get lodged on a lower branch. Then a small breeze on an otherwise calm day comes along and is the trigger that actually causes the branch to fall to the ground.

One of the habits I've started to form is to look up across the trail frequently while I ride. That way, I have a better idea of what my horse and I will be going under and the risk involved. You can't see everything up there once the trees fill with leaves, but I have been surprised at what I'm seeing that I never used to be aware of in the past. Sometimes, I'll go off the trail and around some trees just to avoid what looks like some precariously perched "junk" sitting on a branch or in a clump of leaves just waiting to fall. There's no way to guarantee we won't get surprised or even hit, but at least we can reduce our chances and maybe avoid the biggest stuff.


The back of my western saddle will often bounce up off my horse when I'm riding. It's especially bad when going down a steep incline and gives me the "willies" because I feel like I'm going to go over the top of my horse. Is there any way to fix this?

The likely reason this is happening is because your saddle is affixed to your horse with a cinch that is too near the front of the saddle. This leaves the back of the saddle unsecured. Resist the temptation to use a bucking strap to hold the back of the saddle down. Such a strap should be loose, is not for this purpose, and is therefore not likely to make you feel secure. It also could upset your horse if it should press in on his stomach.

A better idea is to investigate "center fire rigging". This will move your cinch back some so it is under the center of your saddle. BUT, don't just do this on your own because it may put your cinch too far back, or conversely, move your saddle too far forward and over his withers. You need to do this while working closely with a saddle expert.

You can learn more by searching on QueryHorse using the phrase "center fire rigging". Once you understand the concept, go to a tack store that has someone who truly understands saddles and discuss your options. Be sure to bring your own saddle along so he/she can examine it, assure it's in good shape and properly rigged, and can offer some suggestions for moving ahead to solve your problem.

Good luck!


We're often looking to make our care of horses easier. This month, Perfect Horse magazine has published an article I wrote for them describing a horse wash rack or wash area that makes rinsing and washing your horse much easier. It's a permanent installation you can inexpensively build that won't make a mess of your yard. It's entitled: Build a Wash Rack.


Is there any easy way to let my horse graze when I'm out on the trail? I always hate to let her eat when she's wearing her bridle.

I share your feelings about not letting our horses graze when wearing a bridle. For me, I want to make a clear distinction that he's supposed to be working when he has a bit in his mouth. Therefore, I try to be consistent about not letting him graze at those times. Conversely, when I remove the bit and he's on a lead line, grazing is ok if we're not in training and I'm not leading him somewhere.

I also spend time with him on a lead line grazing outside his paddock when I visit him most days. That way, he looks forward to seeing me. Unfortunately, many riders show up at the barn only when they're going to ride and their horses quickly learn that their owner's presence always means work. My horse never runs away from me when he sees me with halter in hand, rather, he comes over happy to see me and knowing we're going to do something fun outside his paddock. So, he's also ok with leaving his paddock mate (though his mate is not so happy about him leaving for a few hours).

As to your question, I ride with a halter bridle. When we ride to some destination, I'll pull my horse's bit when we arrive. I have clips on both ends of the reins, so I'll unhook them from the bit and hook one end to the ring on his halter and VOILA! I now have him on a lead line so he can graze while I eat a sandwich.

This has worked out really well! I doubt I'll ever go back to a bridle.

April 29, 2009 – IS GPS SCREEN TOO SMALL?

I've started using a GPS while riding and love it! But I sometimes have a problem reading the screen while riding. Now I'm in a quandary; should I try to return it for a unit with a bigger screen?

Possibly, but let's explore this a little first. You didn't mention anything about your visual acuity or as to whether or not you have any vision problems, but if the unit is hard to read when you're sitting still, then the screen could be too small. In that case, getting a unit with a bigger unit would likely help. BUT, if the unit is easy to read when still, but difficult when riding, then we should discuss a behavioral issue. You shouldn't be looking at your GPS while riding unless stopped, or at worse, at a slow, steady walk. Let me tell you a little story of me doing something similar a few years ago and learning a "very" painful lesson.

I was riding behind a friend on the trail one day at the walk. I had gotten my new GPS a week before and was still excited to occasionally check it to see how far we'd ridden, for how long, and our top speed to this point. At that same time, my friend thought it would be good place to canter and neglected to tell me. Of course, when she signaled her horse to canter and the horse responded, my horse waited about 10 milliseconds and then jumped into a canter himself. You can imagine where that left me. I was holding my new GPS in my right hand and the reins in my left. I was looking down at the unit and when my horse jumped forward, I found myself in the air looking at my horse and friend cantering away. I landed on the ground on my buttocks and damaged my brand spanking new GPS — I don't know what hurt more! But I assure you that they both hurt a lot.

My friend should have told me she was about to initiate a canter before doing so and I should have been paying attention to my riding. I also should have told her that I was going to look at my GPS and not to move quickly. So, my point in all this is that your GPS could be difficult to see if you're trying to use it while riding. And from a safety standpoint, that's just not a good idea and I once had the scrapes and a big 6 inch round black and blue contusion in an embarrassing place to prove it.

It's best to stop riding when viewing your GPS and you'll also notice that it's a lot easier to read.

April 28, 2009 – HOW LONG SHOULD REINS BE?

I'm sometimes told that my reins are too long. How long should they be?

That can depend on several factors. For ring work, general practice, or any kind of trail riding, it's really a matter of personal choice. As I've mentioned in prior responses, the length of a single piece leather rein is limited by the length of an adult cow (about seven feet). To get longer than that, you need to use two or more pieces of leather, or use some manufactured material, such as cotton or nylon. If you're showing, the rules of your discipline will likely specify certain tack, so something like a rope rein may not be allowed.

Personally, I don't like short reins that make me bend over a horse's head. That will upset my balance, and consequently, also the horses. Conversely, I don't like so much rein that it hangs at my side and risks getting caught on me or the saddle. That could pose a risk of injury to me and/or the horse.


I got caught in a light rain last weekend. A fellow rider tells me that I now need to oil my saddle. Is that true?

My feeling is, "if in doubt, oil!" Let's face it, other than our horse, our saddle is usually our most expensive related purchase. Why not maintain the value, comfort, and long life of that purchase with proper maintenance?

Personally, I oil my saddle lightly, but frequently. It doesn't take long when a saddle is in good condition and the leather isn't thirsty. And there are leather wipes that allow you to grab one from the container and give your tack a quick "once over" — it literally takes no more than one or two minutes.

One other option to consider: if you hate tack maintenance, consider buying synthetic tack. It never needs oiling and you can even hose it down when it needs cleaning.


I've been using a GPS for riding and love it. But recently, I bought a watch that includes an altimeter and the elevation indicated by the watch doesn't agree with my GPS altimeter at all. Sometimes, they've been as much as 500 feet different. Which one can I trust to be accurate?

Let me guess, you're an engineer or a programmer, right? Well, you're not going to like this response, but the real answer is: neither one.

First, you need to consider what you mean by the word "accurate". Do you mean within some acceptable error tolerance? Or do you mean which one is right? If the latter, you're going to be disappointed to learn that it will be rare for either device to indicate your exact altitude because they both have limitations in the way they measure. If you're expecting an acceptable error, that's reasonable; the next question should be: "what is an acceptable error?"

A GPS unit has a typical horizontal distance error within about 50 feet. It takes four satellites to get an accurate location and if your latitude places some of those satellites too high in the sky or to close to the horizon the accuracy of your location will be still less. The altitude error is generally specified to be 150% of the horizontal error, so that means you could be at least 75 feet higher or lower than the GPS altitude reading.

Now lets consider your altitude watch. It uses barometric pressure to measure altitude. But barometric pressure is always changing as weather fronts move in and out. So its most accurate reading will be immediately after you set the atmospheric pressure setting of the watch, or you set its altitude at a known location, such as at sea level or at a mountain top where the altitude is known. But as the minutes go by, the atmospheric pressure is likely changing as the local weather front moves, and as you move horizontally as well as climbing and descending hills.

By way of illustration, consider that this is an extremely important issue for pilots. When flying, pilots will regularly reset the plane's altimeter based upon radio reports from airport towers in the area they're flying through. As the plane approaches the destination airport, its tower will report to the pilot the current barometric pressure at the airport so the pilot can make a final adjustment prior to landing. That will give him/her a somewhat accurate idea as to how high they are above the ground — needless to say, this is important information when contemplating a landing, especially in lower visibility conditions.

Now consider those errors previously explained about GPS technology and add in whether or not you're resetting your watch altimeter to the current barometric pressure of your local area while riding. Do you even know what the barometric pressure is at any particular location while you ride? I don't even know how you could determine it.

When someone buys a barometer for use in a home or office, it must initially be adjusted to compensate for the current pressure at the altitude of where it's used — it must not be moved after that. And here you are riding around on horse covering miles and going up and down hills while the weather is in constant motion. It's no wonder your GPS and altimeter don't agree — I'm surprised the biggest altitude difference you've seen between these two devices is only 500 feet — that's not much compared to what it could be, such as many thousands of feet different.

Your GPS is likely to be the most accurate altimeter available to you during your rides. A much more accurate way to know your altitude is to carry a topographical map of the area with you. Then, you can find your location and read your altitude directly off the map. It will usually be accurate to within ten vertical feet.


Is it alright to let your horse stay out in the rain during the summer months?

Yes. The only time to be concerned is when the weather is somewhat colder, such as in the low 50s and below. The amount of risk for hypothermia is determined by the actual air temperature of the air, how long the horses will be in the rain, how heavy the rain is, the temperature of the rain itself, etc. Rain can be warmer or colder than the ambient temperature because it falls from higher altitudes. And a light rain doesn't take the horse's heat away as quickly as a heavy rain. Finally, if your horse will be in the rain all day, that will remove more of his heat than if the rain only lasts for an hour.

Of course, horses should be protected or be able to seek protection (such as an available barn or run-in), during high winds and storms, especially thunderstorms. In these cases, the high winds can accelerate the loss of heat, and storms bring additional risks, such as flying debris and lightening. And if your horse has an illness or is recovering from a wound or injury, it's always a good idea to check with your veterinarian before leaving him out during inclement weather. But otherwise, horses don't even seem to mind the rain in the warm, summer months.


I'm a new rider and my balance isn't very good. I really want to try trail riding, but I'm afraid the horse might move quickly and I'd end up on the ground. How can I go trail riding safely?

Reposted and expanded as separate article. See: Getting into Trail Riding article.


Last week, I went trail riding with the Horse Girl. As you might suspect, it was a fun and exhausting time. The Horse Girl is an excellent rider and takes on formidable challenges, like her current project of training several young, green, Thoroughbreds straight off the racetrack. So as you can imagine, riding with this women is not exactly for the faint of heart. Reading her responses to questions in her column, she often comes across as "plucky" — let me tell ya, plucky only gives you a hint — she's tough!

That said, so are green horses, and giving them some freedom to run while also asserting control takes energy and stamina. Of course, truth be told, I was merely needed to set the pace and be along as a "safety rider". So, why was it that I also was sore and tired at the end our ride??? It's likely because the Horse Girl doesn't do anything half way. If we're training, we're Training. If we're riding, then darn it, we're RIDING. And if we're galloping…shudders…we're GALLOPING!

So, if you should ever come across the Horse Girl out on the trail and decide to just "tag along", you might want to first assess what the heck you think you're doing. And if she offers to race and you're considering it, I'd start asking yourself questions about your state of health, do you have enough life insurance, and such. Because I'll say it again, riding with this woman is not exactly for the faint of heart. But it is a blast!


I've had a lot of questions about wind spooking horses lately. This is common in the spring and autumn where the changing seasons cause more windy days than usual. Rather than answer each question individually, I've prepared a more comprehensive article about the subject of wind and why it makes many horses uncomfortable. It's called, appropriately enough, Horses and Wind.


Can you wear sunglasses while riding a horse?

Sure! As long as it's not at night.

While a mild case could be made that it's safer to not be wearing glasses in the event that we could end up on the ground, many riders must wear eyeglasses to see — sunglasses are no more dangerous.

I wear sunglasses every time I ride on sunny days; and my favorite days to ride are those sunny days. When entering a thickly wooded area of the trail, that area is usually much darker and it's nice to be able to remove my sunglasses and see well without waiting several minutes for my eyes to adjust. Similarly, when exiting such an area, it's nice to be able to don sunglasses and not be blinded by the much brighter light. And when riding in an outdoor paddock for training, I again prefer to wear shades if in bright sun.

Essentially, sunglasses give you more options and also provide the side benefit of reducing the chance of eye damage due to ultraviolet rays. Therefore, ALWAYS make sure to wear only those sunglasses rated to block UV radiation.


Is there any way I can measure how fast my horse and I go at a gallop?

There sure is and I use it all the time on long trail rides! It's called a GPS.

Most GPS units I've seen have a feature called a "Trip Computer". It measures many parameters, such as your maximum speed for the trip (which is what you're asking about), your average speed, the distance traveled, how long you've been on your trip, and even more information.

At the beginning of your trip, trail ride, or whatever it is you want to measure, select the "Trip Computer" feature and reset it. That will "zero" its timers and sensors, and start them going from that point on. When you're finished your ride, look at the Trip Computer screen and it will give you the information I listed above.

Most GPS units also have a tracking feature. This feature allows you to upload your trip to a computer and overlay it on a topographical map to see where you went on your ride. It won't only show you you're path; for any point shown, you'll also be able to see your speed and elevation above sea level. It can be a lot of fun to truly see the miles you covered and the speeds you went — even if you don't have a little geekiness in you as I do.

Have fun!


I need a high-capacity tow hitch; what are my options?

I've answered similar questions on March 13th, 2009 and February 18th, 2009 (see below). A more comprehensive discussion is available in the article Getting Properly Hitched.

Good luck!

April 14, 2009 – "CAR GPS FOR TRAIL RIDING?

I'm thinking of using my car GPS for trail riding. Will it work ok?

Sure! Any battery operated GPS will work to help you navigate by road or "as the crow flies". However, most car GPS units come only with a map of local, state, and national highways. Using your car GPS with only a highway map will leave you with large blank areas when you're on the trail.

A topographical (topo) map would be more useful to you for this application. Most manufacturers offer a suite of maps from which you can choose from topos and highways to state or national forests and waterways. Get one of the topos, or one of the forest maps if you ride in the state or national forests — they will make your car GPS a lot more useful to you when on the trails.


How do I keep my horse dry from a heavy rain while on a trail ride?

Other than not riding that day, I don't have any other solutions for you. If the weather is above 50 °F, it's usually not much of a problem for a healthy horse if he gets wet while out on the trail. As big animals, horses have a large heat reserve. A bigger concern would be your own safety.

You can get hypothermia when in the rain for a prolonged period at normally comfortable temperatures in the 70s — it's even riskier and takes less time when temperatures are colder in the 50s a or 60s. For that reason, it's a good idea to wear or carry rain gear that provides enough freedom of movement when riding on those days when rain is expected and you're going far from the barn.

If you're talking about colder weather, I keep my horse and myself inside on those days when it's raining outside — it's just not worth the risk. I was an EMT years ago and was surprised to learn how easily people can get into trouble in normally moderate temperatures when they get wet and can't get into a warm space and dry clothes for a while.

One other thing to be watchful for is water on the ground. When it rains, puddles will form that can be slippery once mixed with soil. Also, slow moving rivers and brooks can quickly get deeper and run faster.

It's generally ok to ride in warm, light rain during the warmer months; think about the foregoing and just be careful.

April 10, 2009 – HARSH BITS

My horse doesn't listen to me and the barn owner has suggested I use a double-twisted wire bit. Do you agree?

As with the topic of slaughter, the area of bits is often hotly debated. Though, I've never been afraid of a debate.

From my postings, readers will likely have noticed that I have an aversion to harsh bits. At the same time, they'll also notice that I have complete respect for the power of horses and the recognition that we humans must be the "boss" when interacting with them for safety reasons. So, I understand why people start considering stronger bits when they don't feel in control of their horse. Horses are so very powerful and being near or on one that has a mind of his own is a scary and dangerous situation. That said, I think there are much better ways to deal with the problem other than hurting the horse's mouth to establish control.

A double twisted wire bit can be an extreme bit — very severe, and able to cause a lot of pain. Because the thinness of the twisted wire concentrates rein forces on a small area, this bits whole purpose is to tenderize the horse's bars just by being there and then to cause serious pain to his mouth when the rider pulls on the reins.

In the area of bits, there are two schools of thought: 1) that a harsh bit can be used to control an unruly horse; 2) that there are better ways to control horses than harsh bits and brute force.

The problem with the first approach is that it seems to appeal to riders disinclined to invest the time to develop a good relationship with the horse. If that's the case, my feeling (which is unpopular with subscribers to this approach) is that they should just go drive cars, motorcycles, or some other inanimate vehicle rather than try to control an animal as if it was a machine.

The second approach, and the one to which I personally subscribe, is that the safest way to be around horses, to ride them, and to control them, is to take the time to learn about them, how they interact, and work to earn their respect. The result is a very amenable horse that actually enjoys his interaction with his leader: you.

All of this should not infer that there is no place for some of the stronger bits. Employed properly by an experienced horseperson using soft hands, there is a place for them when used for training and competing. Qualified and experienced riders may use such a bit to signal the horse with the very slightest of pressure so the horse seems to automatically know what to do next, especially in fine competition.

But for the rest of us, I prefer milder bits and riders that are willing to learn how to safely enjoy and control horses without a "brute force" approach.

April 9, 2009 – RIDING IN SNEAKERS

I like to ride in sneakers, but the barn owner keeps telling me I need a shoe or boot with a heel so it won't slip through. Is it really that much of a risk?

YES! IT IS! Unless you think you'd enjoy the fun of being dragged over rocks, trees, and stumps at high speed by a familiar and very powerful four-legged animal in a panicked state.

And it's not only about the need for a shoe with a heel. Sneakers generally have fairly deep treads so they'll "grip" the ground and keep you from slipping. But "gripping the stirrup" is the exact opposite of what you want when riding a horse.

Look at the sole of a paddock boot and you'll notice that it's somewhat different than traditional shoe treads and quite smooth. This is because riding footwear is also made to grip the ground, yet NOT GRIP the stirrup. That's so it will slip out of the stirrup if you slip out of the saddle — a very desirable thing!

Finally, many forms of riding footwear are also waterproof. If you think that getting water seeping into a shoe when you accidentally step in a puddle is bad, consider the feeling when you step into an equine waste product — then, you may as well throw the shoe away.

My advice: lose the sneakers when around the barn and invest in a good quality paddock or riding boot for your discipline.


I'm having trouble trailering my horse on very windy days. What do I do?

Wind can make trailering more troublesome on several levels. A normally easy-to-load horse could give you some trouble when the wind is up. This is because the wind alone can make horses uneasy — trailering will do the same to some — mix them together and you've got twice as many reasons that a horse may feel anxious. And if the wind blows things around on the ground, your horse can spook. Even more important, assure the wind can't blow the trailer doors into you or your horse while loading or unloading. Such an incident could injure either or both of you as well as cause your horse to panic. That would be bad if your horse spooked and ran outside, even worse if it happened when he was in the trailer and you're nearby or in there with him.

Once underway on the road, the safest way to tow a trailer when it's windy is to drive more slowly. If the wind is strong enough move your trailer and tow vehicle, you'll have more time to assess the situation and correct it at slower speeds. At higher speeds, especially when the wind is gusty, things can happen too quickly and get completely out of hand before you can regain control.

April 7, 2009 – LOOK AHEAD — NOT DOWN

What happens when you look down while riding a horse?

Reposted as separate article. See: Upsetting Balance by Looking Down article.


Which is worse, being kicked with a horse that's barefoot or with shoes on?

In truth, I don't know — I've never measured it or heard of anyone else measuring it. Nor have I ever seen an article about this topic or heard it discussed. But from the standpoint of basic physics, the kick should be slightly harder when the horse is wearing shoes. This is because he'll have lifted his feet with the slightly increased weight of the shoes and accelerated that extra mass along with his feet and delivering it all to the target being kicked (hopefully, not a person). Force equals mass times acceleration, so the more mass or the more acceleration, the greater the force.

April 3, 2009 – JOCKEY BALANCE

How do jockeys stay balanced?

The same way you and I do. Of course, their level of skill at remaining balanced is generally far better than most of us because it has to be. Consider their racing position: they're above their saddle in "two point " throughout the race, and at high speed.

But saying that we need to be "balanced" in any particular position doesn't help one understand how balance is achieved or maintained. So, I want to point you to an informative article written by the Horse Girl explaining the importance of being in balance while riding, and even more important, how to achieve it. Balance is important in all riding positions whether at the walk, trot, canter, gallop, and more (racing, jumping, cutting, tölt, largo, etc.) The better balanced we are as riders, the less work our horse has to do, the better able he/she will be to make a jump, a turn, or other maneuver, and the safer we and our horse will be while riding. If not properly balanced, the rider can upset the horse's gait or jump, and this will risk our safety as well as that of our horse. In a poorly balanced position, we riders could actually pull our horse over at speed or flub a jump, either of which could cause a situation where the horse, we, or both could be hurt or killed.

The article is entitled appropriately enough, as: Riding Balance.


Isn't light from fluorescent bulbs dangerous to horses?

This question has come up several times and has surprised me. We've lived with fluorescent lighting in homes and offices for years without problems. Perhaps the question is a concern because of the recent and quick adoption of compact fluorescent bulbs. The primary risk is that of broken glass, and that's an issue with any bulb except LEDs, but LED bulbs are not yet cost effective or bright enough, though they will be in a few years.

I decided to write a more in-depth response in the form of an article. I hope it helps dispel concerns for us and our friendly, furry beasts. It's entitled: Fluorescent Bulbs in the Barn.


I love to ride, but my horse has a problem spooking to everything which makes him buck me off. Is there something I can attach to my western saddle to keep me from flying off?

This may not simply be a spooking issue, but I'll answer your question first and then move on to other possibilities.

There's no one item that'll guarantee you won't get bucked off. But you can reduce your chances by grabbing something solidly affixed to your saddle. On a Western saddle, that's usually the horn. But if you have no horn on it, a monkey grip is usually the fallback device. In fact, I answered a related question yesterday (see below) about affixing one to a saddle.

But a more important issue is not how to hold on, rather, it's that you shouldn't have to do that with such frequency. If this is truly a spook situation, for your own safety, you need to desensitize your horse to the more common things that are spooking him so he remains calm when he sees something new and unfamiliar. If you don't know how to do that, you should work with a trainer to solve the problem now, to learn the techniques yourself for other spook sources your horse will experience, and for repeating the process with other horses you'll ride/own in the future. If you do a search for desensitizing techniques, then you should also know that it's sometimes called "sacking out a horse", and so, you should also do some searching with that phrase.

Now, back to the first question that popped into my mind when I read about your problem: are you sure this is really spooking? Most spooked horses want to bolt to safety, not buck off the rider. So this could actually be a control and respect issue. If your horse is bucking, that's usually one of two things: 1) he's frisky and excited, whether to get outside and run or because the weather changed — horses often get excited at the end of summer when the first cool, dry air moves in; or 2) he's annoyed at you and is either telling you to stop, or is actually trying to get you off. If the reason for his bucking is because of the weather, you may want to longe him before riding to let him get some of that excess energy out. You may also want to look into whether or not he's getting enough turnout — horses were never meant to spend all or most of the day in a stall.

HOWEVER, if your horse is trying to get you off his back, you've got a more serious problem that will require the help of a good trainer, both to teach him that his behavior is unacceptable and for you to learn how to be his leader. You can't ignore this issue — it's too dangerous.

March 31, 2009 – A MONKEY GRIP

Can I make a monkey grip for my Aussie saddle?

Sure! Such a grip is nothing more than a strap of rope or leather that connects across the front of the pommel. In fact, you could make one for a Western, English, or any other kind of saddle also. Of course, if you have a Western or Aussie saddle with a horn, you really don't need a grip because you can just grab the horn. The purpose of a monkey grip is just to give you something to hold on to if your horse suddenly jigs and you lose your balance — it's not for anything stronger, like towing a car.

The first thing you need to do is find a way of securing the ends. Below is a photo of my saddle with a braided monkey grip.

Monkey Grip

Such a grip cost me $25 when I ordered the saddle from the Australian Stock Saddle Company. It's connected at both ends with footmans loop, but any other kind of secure fastener would also work. And a grip could be a simpler piece of leather or even just a rope. Just assure that the grip is strong enough for its purpose, is wide enough so it doesn't cut into your hand, and that it's secured well enough to support your weight or that of any other rider that might quickly need to reach for it during a quick, off-balance moment.


I just went down to my basement to get my tack, and my saddle and bridles look disastrous! This seems to happen over every winter and it's such a pain to clean the mold, dirt, and grime off each spring. Is there no easier way?

In fact, there is an easier way; it's called: synthetic tack. This tack uses man-made materials, such as nylon and other plastics that are impervious to water, bacteria, and fungi. If they get dirty, all you need do is hose them off and let them air-dry — you never need to wipe them dry or re-oil them. Some manufacturers that make such tack are Wintec, Fabtron, Abetta, some Weaver products, and many others.

For what it's worth, I have both a synthetic and a leather saddle. I'll use the synthetic saddle when the forecast is "iffy" and I'm afraid I may get caught in the rain before I get back to the barn. But interestingly, while the synthetic requires far less maintenance, I still love the feeling and look of real leather, even though it means more work to maintain. As the Horse Girl has said to me many times, "there's just something about fine, Corinthian leather". (Of course, she always says this in a luscious, silky voice, so I presume she also secretly does voice-overs for television ads, though I have no such proof).


Is it ok to use a vacuum on your horse when he's shedding?

That depends on the horse. First, there are products made specifically for this purpose and I recommend getting one of them rather than using your home or shop vac. These devices are designed to be quieter and have attachments made to safely groom a horse. In fact, enter "horse vacuum" into QueryHorse's search box, click Ride!, and you'll get hundreds of listings. BUT, using it is where you need to be careful.

You may need to desensitize your horse to the vacuum's sound slowly before putting it into use. And also consider that it may take some time, because, separate from the whine of the motor running, the sound of rushing air is a lot like the sound of a snake hissing, which most animals from cats and dogs to horses all instinctively know and fear.

Go slow, and if you have problems, consult the help of a trainer. Once your horse comfortably accepts its use, you may want to make use of it regularly so that it remains a familiar and trusted item with which you groom him.


  1. NEVER use a vacuum on a wet horse — you'll risk electric shock or electrocution to both you and the horse.
  2. Be careful about the cord. It can be a tripping hazard for both of you and you definitely don't want your horse to ever chew it.
  3. Keep away from your horse's eyes and ears with the vacuum hose and attachments. You don't want any kind of injury occurring and also don't want to be near a frightened horse, even worse when tied or in an enclosed space.

March 26, 2009 – EQUINE JOBS/CAREERS

We often get questions asking about job/career opportunities related to horses. Therefore, instead of answering each one independently, we decided to actually write a series over the next few months offering information about some of those careers.

The first begins today with some insight into the size of the horse market and a small, sample list of the vast equine career possibilities. It's entitled: Equine Occupations — A Starting Point.


Is it possible to post in a western saddle?

Yes, though the post is usually a little smaller. Regardless, it still allows you to synchronize with your horse and avoid an otherwise bumpy ride. It's also possible to post in an Australian saddle with knee poleys. The poleys do limit your range of movement, so the post is smaller still, but you're able to synchronize with the horse's trot. The timing of the post and coordinating it with your horse's trotting speed is more important than the range of movement.


How can I tell the guy I'm starting to date that he better like my horse, too?

Ahhhh! I'm not sure I even should venture out into giving equine dating advice, but here goes. While most horse lovers in the USA are female, the fact is, I, too, have been unable to entice men, or even women, to like horses if they don't already feel that way. Therefore, the most you can do is find a man that already likes horses or one that is at least open to the prospect. It seems that love of animals, and especially horses, is in our blood or it isn't. For some of us, it's a real addiction from which we don't want to be rescued.

March 23, 2009 – SHOULD I CALL THE VET?

My horse got kicked in the nose by another horse and it's bleeding. Should I call a vet?

Yes, call your vet. Whenever you feel an injury is significant enough to wonder about calling a vet, you really should make the call. If it was just a scrape or a bite, you'd know that a vet is not needed. The fact that you're unsure means it's more serious, but not obvious, and only an examination by a vet will determine the severity for sure.

This means you may occasionally call a vet unnecessarily, but that's a better thing to do than not call when you should have done so, and letting your horse suffer for several days, or worse, begin down a path to a condition that may cost him his life. That can happen due to infection, organ damage, internal bleeding, puncture wounds, digestive tract impactions, and much more.

Certainly, the fact your horse got kicked in the head means it could be very serious.


My horse is starting to shed. How much winter hair should I try to remove at each brushing?

You need to keep in mind that horse grooming is not rocket science. There's no need to remove all of your horse's winter hair in one grooming session. In fact, you can't, because the hair is not shed all at one time and your horse is likely to get sensitive and quite annoyed at you if you keep brushing too long and make his skin sensitive.

So, let yourself and your horse "off the hook". When you groom him, do what you normally do and you'll notice when the amount of winter hair coming off begins to slow down. When that happens, you've done enough in that area for this day — move on to another. Your grooming session may take a little longer when your horse is shedding, but shouldn't take much longer.

Remember, it's not your goal to remove all winter hair at one time. It's all going to come out over a few weeks whether you groom your horse or not. Your work is ONLY to remove the loose hair that's already been released by the follicles.


The reverse lights on my horse trailer don't come on. How do I fix them?

I'm afraid that step-by-step instructions about how to troubleshoot and repair such a problem is beyond the scope of this column, but I'll give you some suggestions on the easiest stuff to get you started.

Fixing any problem begins with a methodical approach to a diagnoses. First, check the bulbs in the backup lights on the trailer — are both bulbs good and not burnt out? If good, look at the connector pins on the trailer and tow vehicle connection plugs — do they all look ok? Is there any sign of burning or corrosion? If all looks good, you now need to apply both a ground and 12 volt DC power to the correct pins in the connector to the trailer to see if the lights come on.

The correct pins will depend on which connector your setup uses. If you know the right pins, apply ground and power and walk around back to see if the lights come on. If they do, the problem is in the tow vehicle wiring from the trailer plug forward. If they don't, the problem is between the connector and the backup lights. In either case, it will help to have both an electrical tester and a basic knowledge of electricity to go further.

If you don't know the correct pins to perform the above test, don't have a tester, or don't have basic electrical knowledge, it's time to get a professional involved to determine whether the problem is in the tow vehicle or the trailer, and then to trace out where it specifically is.

March 18, 2009 – UNCURLING LEATHER

How can I flatten leather that has curled on my saddle?

Reposted as separate article. See: Flattening Curled Leather article.

March 17, 2009 – EQUINE "FORWARDNESS"

What does "forward" mean when referring to a horse?

I've heard the word used in several different ways. Some have used the word "forward" similarly to the way it's used with a person, that is, a bold horse that feels it can do what it wants and push through you — that's a disrespectful horse. I've also heard it used to mean a spirited horse as opposed to one that is "laid back" and quieter.

In some disciplines, it's used when referring to the degree of motion that is moving forward. The speaker may mention the horse needs to move "more forward". We've all seen or ridden a horse that seems to move at an angle, so essentially, he's not forward enough and needs to move more forward without the sideways component.

There may also be other meanings of the word related to horses; I certainly don't pretend to know them all.


Can you exceed the gross trailer weighting on a hitch, at least for a short time?

Repeat after me: NEVER EXCEED THE GROSS WEIGHT RATING ON ANYTHING — EVER!!! These weight limits are provided for a purpose — the safety of you, your passengers, your horses, and any other nearby people with which we share the road. Exceeding a rating is not just a matter of potentially breaking the hitch or the coupler, the bigger issue is losing control while driving. If that should ever happen, you'll have a multi-thousand (or multi-ten thousand) pound weapon careening down the road at speed with no control. You will be responsible and could take many lives as well as your own — DON'T DO IT!!!


Is it better to get a gooseneck trailer than a bumper pull one?

The reason for the different types of hitches is not because one is better than another, it's because they're designed for different weight loads. A bumper-pull hitch is actually mounted to the frame of your tow vehicle and can generally be used for two and three horse trailers. Once you go to four or more horses or get a two or three horse trailer that has more room, whether for sleeping or living quarters or just for more cargo area, you need a hitch rated for higher pulling and tongue loads than can be handled with a bumper-pull hitch. That can take the form of gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitches. Because they can handle a bigger tow load, they're more expensive and require a larger tow vehicle and hitch mounted in the truck's bed — it's a bigger financial commitment all the way around and worth it if you need it, but likely not worth it if you don't.

For more information, you may want to read an article I wrote explaining the different hitches in September 2008 entitled: Getting Properly Hitched.


My husband and I are considering visiting a dude ranch this summer and don't know where to go. Any suggestions?

Rather than me offering only the limited suggestions that I know about, the best way for you to explore such vacations is to use QueryHorse directly — just a few clicks will get you started. First, look over to QueryHorse's left column in the lower area entitled: Browse The Horse Web — this lists the top level of horse topic areas. Click on the one labeled Vacations. Then, click on the sub-topic labeled: Dude Ranches and VOILA!!! You've got hundreds and hundreds of links to dude ranches.

If you know part of the name or want to search for dude ranches in a particular state, at the top of the page right under the search box, click the button that's labeled: Search Only Documents Within the Dude Ranches Topic. Then, enter the name of the state, such as montana and click the Ride button. QueryHorse will list ONLY the dude ranch documents that mention "Montana" on them and you'll find lots of Montana dude ranches.

Have fun!

March 11, 2009 – RIDING IN THE RAIN

Is it ok to ride my horse when it's raining?

Sure! Horses were used for transportation through all kinds of weather prior to the advent of the automobile. But there are some precautions you need to consider.

If it's cold, you need to assure that both you and your horse can keep fairly dry or you both risk hypothermia. Your horse will do better than you because of his much greater heat stores in that bigger body, but even he will lose too much heat over time if the temperature is low enough (in the 50s °F or lower) or he's not in good health.

Also consider that leather tack will require a thorough drying and re-oiling after the ride. If you don't, it will become dry and brittle, and cracking is not far behind. However, synthetic tack can just dry and will be ok.

But if you've ever been riding in the rain, even very warm rain, you may find it less romantic than expected. The rain can sting as it hits you; you can't see well; the ground becomes muddy and slippery, so you have to travel more slowly; your soaked clothes get quite heavy; your belt, wallet, and any other leather items must be dried and possibly oiled — you get the idea.

Frankly, the only time I've ever ridden in the rain is when I've gotten caught in an unexpected downpour while out on the trail. If I know it's going to be raining, I'll reschedule the ride, ride early enough to avoid the rain, or ride inside. Riding in the rain is not the most comfortable experience for us humans. Though, horses don't seem to mind the rain in warm weather, especially if they can keep grazing.

If you're going to turn your horse out on a rainy day, consider a waterproof blanket on those colder days so he/she won't lose too much heat while out there. The blanket will keep most of him dry except for his head, neck, and legs.


Is it mean to keep a horse in his stall when it's icy outside?

I think you should always do what's in the best interest of your horse. If it's so icy that I'm concerned my horse could fall and hurt himself, I keep my horse inside. If this goes on for a few days, I'll run him back and forth inside the barn at the trot while running beside him — he seems to really enjoy this. I'm sure it feels good to be moving after being "stall bound" for a few days, and maybe he just likes running with his "herd of two".

If you have an indoor arena or a barn big enough to ride in, your options increase in that you can tack up and actually ride instead of just running beside your horse. This will let you get some riding in, maybe even some cantering, and it'll help your horse stay in better shape.

Regardless, it's not mean, but rather smart, to keep your horse inside when you're concerned about his health and safety.


Is it ok to hold onto the horn of my saddle when my horse spooks?

Yes — in fact, it's ok to hold onto almost anything that safely keeps you on your horse. Besides the horn, grabbing a handful of your horse's mane is also a viable approach. Some saddle manufacturers offer what they call a "monkey strap" that runs across the front of the pommel. If you have an English, Western, or Australian saddle without a horn, you can often add a strap to the pommel's front that you can quickly grab when needed.

Also, keep in mind that when your horse makes a quick movement, it's only natural to quickly grip him you're your legs. In that situation, don't forget to grip ONLY with your thighs, and not to grip with your calves. That latter action will cause many horses to run, especially if already spooked. That might cause the initial spook excitement to turn into a real adventure you'd rather not experience.

March 6, 2009 – DIRT FLOORS IN BARNS

Is a dirt-floor barn ok for colder climates?

Dirt floors are found in barns of all climates. But by itself, it's not an ideal floor for any of them. The dirt will get tracked around and worn down in places of high traffic. In the winter, the dirt can lose much of its moisture due to the very dry air. Then, just walking through by people or horses will stir up dust that can settle on stored hay and will also be breathed in by us and the horses.

A better solution is to put down an improved surface in the stalls, such as compacted rock dust covered with mats or a level dirt floor covered with mats. Without a mat, compacted rock dust is too hard a surface, will become unlevel through normal wear, and will make your horse's legs sore by the concussive shock from just walking. A concrete floor is also easy to keep clean, but it doesn't drain as well as the compacted rock dust or a dirt floor and is even harder on your horses and our own legs causing soreness. Mats on a level dirt floor or a compacted rock dust floor provide good drainage and ease of cleaning..

If you have a barn big enough to trot or canter within (something you'd likely want to do in inclement weather and the winter), that SHOULD NOT be done on any hard floor, such as concrete or compacted rock dust because it will cause horses to develop shin splints. A dirt floor or dirt covered with mats is much safer for your horse's legs when any gaits faster than a walk will be used.

March 5, 2009 – BATHING YOUR HORSE

How do you train your horse to be comfortable getting a bath?

Like most fears that some horses can have, you need to take your time and work on desensitizing them. Our resident horse trainer, Jen Goddard did a fine article on this subject in January. It's entitled: Step 6: Water & Bathing.


Can a snaffle bit hurt my horse?

It can if improperly used or the wrong one is selected. In fact, any bit can hurt a horse. A bit that provides leverage with long shanks and a curb chain, such as a pelham, can significantly multiply the force pulled on the reins by the rider. Some will multiply the applied force seven or eight times. So if you have a snaffle that multiplies your force by six times and you pull with 40 pounds of force when surprised, you'll be applying 240 pounds on your horse's mouth. Therefore, it's easy to apply too much force and such bits should only be used by riders trained to use them properly.

But back to snaffle bits, if the mouthpiece is thin, uses single or double-twisted wire, incorporates a slow twist, etc., such a bit can apply its force on a small surface resulting is severe pain or injury to the horse's mouth. A snaffle with a wider and smoother mouthpiece is less painful and less likely to hurt a horse.

The real key to easy control is not a harsh bit, but rather a well-trained horse and properly trained rider that has the respect of the horse. In reality, the more severe bits, if used at all, should only be used by the most experienced riders because they are most aware of proper usage and the risk of injury to the horse.

For a more comprehensive treatment about bits, see our Understanding Bits article.

March 3, 2009 – ROLLING IN THE MUD

Will mud hurt a horse?

Horses regularly roll in mud to help keep flies away in warmer weather. Many horses also roll in mud in colder weather. For all that rolling, I've not seen a horse get hurt unless some mud gets into their eyes or they roll over something sharp.

So, keep your fields free of sharp objects for this and many other reasons. If your horse ever does get mud in one of his eyes, you'll likely see it swollen and possibly weeping — it needs to be irrigated with clean water. Normal saline would be better and less uncomfortable, but the key is to wash out the irritant. If in doubt as to whether there is a more serious problem, have your vet look at him.


I just bought a new horse and brought him to my barn. Should I ride my new horse alone or with company?

It depends on the horse's temperament, you, what you're doing, and where you're riding. If you're riding in a ring and are confident about your riding skills, your horse will sense that and be more comfortable. If you're not so confident, he'll also sense that and likely be less comfortable — most horses are going to take their lead from you. A very skittish horse might be uncomfortable regardless of your confidence, and in this case, you may want to work with a trainer initially.

Now, if you're a trail rider, you may want to have at least one other rider go with you out onto the trail regardless of your competence, confidence, and your horse's temperament. This is because your new horse hasn't yet gotten to know you, trust you, and feel comfortable with you. Add the newness of a strange trail on top of all that and you've got a combination of unknowns that can frighten many horses. After you've ridden him with others at least several times and he's come to know the area and what to expect, he'll feel better being with you than he will at first.

Of course, he may never truly like being out on a trail alone with you just because horses feel safest in numbers. However, working with him to establish that you're the alpha and that you're competent and confident without being unfair or harsh will all help him to feel that being alone with you is the next best thing to being in a herd of horses.


I took some heat from one of the trainers at the barn last weekend when mounting my horse. She moved as I was lifting myself up into the saddle. I know she does this, so I just mount quickly once my foot is in the stirrup. This is not really a big deal, is it?

Yes, I'm afraid it is. Whether your horse moving while you're mounting is the result of not respecting you, her knowing that you always ask her to move off after you mount, or just being anxious to get going, this behavior could result in you falling to the ground and possibly even being stepped upon. Another thing to consider is what could happen if you mounted one day without anticipating her moving off because you were preoccupied with something else on your mind. Or your horse could move too close to a tree or building and scrape you off before you're mounted and in full control. Or what if you let someone else ride your horse?

You MUST teach your horse to remain still while you mount and not move until you actually ask her to do so. After all, unless she does that, you're not actually in control of this thousand plus pound muscular beast.

February 26, 2009 – BASHKIR CURLYS

Can you tell me anything about the personality of the Bashkir Curly breed?

I'm afraid my knowledge of this breed is limited. I have a friend who has a hybrid that's 75% Bashkir Curly and 25% Belgian Draft. I've been around him often, ridden with my friend and him for hundreds of trail hours and ridden him myself several times, but that is my only experience with this breed. I can tell you a little about him specifically.

He tends to be sensitive and very forgiving. He tries hard to please and generally does best with a gentle hand. I've heard these characteristics are typical of the breed and that they are, therefore, good horses for new riders. That said, they're still horses and this one is occasionally strong-willed, but in a gentle sort of way.

Finally, Bashkir Curlys (and their hybrids) are the only breed said to be hypoallergenic, which makes them great candidates for those people having allergies. I did a photo article about this very horse last year entitled (appropriately enough) Bashkir Curly and described an occasion where a women with many allergies had no sensitivity reaction while near this horse.

You can learn still more by clicking on the Breeds topic in the Browse the Horse Web section at the left. Then click on the Bashkir Curly breed.

February 25, 2009 – REMOVABLE REINS

I'd like to be able to unclip my reins from my horse's bit. What kind of clips should I use?

There are several varieties, but most people use a scissors clip (see below). When you connect the reins, make sure the thumb lever is on the outside — not the side facing your horse's cheeks. If it does, it can chafe him.

One more thing, some horses are startled by the sound of the clip moving on the bit. If that happens, your horse may need to get used to that sound, and some horses may never be comfortable with it. If so, you may have to remove them. But give it a try and see how it works. Most horses are ok with it.

Scissors Clip

Scissors Clip

February 24, 2009 – WESTERN REIN OPTIONS

I ride western and hate split reins. What other options are there?

Not all western reins are split. You can get leather reins that are made of one piece of leather, but they may be too short for you: 7 - 8 feet or so. That's because you can't get a single piece of leather longer than the side of a cow. You can get much longer leather reins that incorporate a buckle in the middle. But personally, I'm not comfortable with them because a quick move by my horse could quickly slide that buckle through my fingers with the risk of slicing them.

You can also get non-leather reins of almost any length. That's because they're not made of leather, and therefore, not limited by the size of a cow. In this category, you'll find rope reins and flat cotton reins, I use 5/8" nylon rope reins and really like them. I have big hands and they provide something more substantial to grasp and hold.

February 23, 2009 – BREAKAWAY HALTERS

I've heard the term "breakaway halter" from others at the barn, but don't know what it is. Can you help?

A breakaway halter is a nylon halter with the head strap made of leather. So it has the purported "breakaway" ability of a leather halter, but without the higher price of a full-leather halter.

There is general feeling among many horse people that a leather halter is safer for a horse than one made of nylon. The fear is that a horse that panics wearing a nylon halter that is tied might thrash and hurt himself trying to get free; so the belief is that the nylon halter is not only stronger, but too strong for a horse to break. A leather halter will supposedly break if a horse pulls hard enough and that will allow him to run away and calm down.

Quite honestly, I don't know how a nylon halter truly compares with one made of leather, because I don't know anyone that's tested them nor of any reports of testing by any company or laboratory. Unfortunately, like many aspects of the horse world, wives tales, rumors, and "legends" seem to be passed along for generations with few questioning them, and disdain by the "true believers" is meted out upon the sorry few that have the unmitigated audacity to raise those questions. I will say that I've seen some pretty thick, meaty leather halters, especially in the Thoroughbred racing industry, and I'm quite sure they're much stronger than the typical nylon halter.

February 20, 2009 – DOES YOUR HORSE RESPECT YOU?

How do I know if my horse no longer respects me?

Reposted as separate article. See: Does My Horse Respect Me? article.

February 19, 2009 – MOUNTING A TALL HORSE

How do I mount a horse that's taller than I am?

One of the cruel ironies of mounting horses is that shorter people are at a severe disadvantage compared to taller ones. A tall person has longer legs, and so, the stirrups end up lower and closer to the ground. Conversely, a shorter person has short legs meaning that the strirrups are shorter, and thusly, higher above the ground for the very person that can least afford the difference. Fortunately, someone invented the mounting block.

Mounting blocks come in all sizes from one step to at least a four-step block (see photo below). I found these two suppliers while answering a similar question last year: Horseman's Depot in the USA and JSW Coachbuilders in the UK.

4-Step Mounting Block

4-Step Mounting Block

Of course, if you're out on the trail, you need to be more creative (as of this writing, I haven't yet seen any collapsible, portable mounting blocks you can stash in your cantle bag :-) So, if you must dismount, look first before doing so to determine if there might be a natural object with which you can easily remount. Such objects might be a large rock, a stump or fallen tree high enough above the ground, a small hill beside which you can bring your horse, etc.

Another alternative is the extendable stirrup. This is a device on one stirrup that can be extended down for mounting, and then slides back up for riding. I've never seen one except in a catalog, so I don't know specifically how they work. But a quick browse through a tack catalog or an inquiry at your local tack shop should set you up.

Finally, a riding buddy can help you mount in a pinch by boosting you up. Of course, they then need to be able to mount without an assist. I think this makes an excellent case for mandating that you only ride with tall riding buddies. Or at minimum, assure that at least one tall riding buddy always accompanies your group when going out on the trail.


Is there any way to turn a bumper hitch into a gooseneck?

No, the different variety of hitches exist to handle different tow loads. A bumper hitch describes hitches on or near a bumper. A true bumper hitch is nothing more than a hitch ball mounted through the bumper and can only tow up to 2,000 pounds on most smaller pickup trucks — too small for any horse trailer. Weight carrying hitches and weight distribution hitches can tow a much larger load because they're actually mounted to the tow vehicle's frame rather than the bumper, and can be used to tow two and three horse trailers. Unfortunately, they too, are sometimes referred to as bumper hitches — this can be a source of confusion.

Goosenecks and fifth wheel hitches are the most heavy-duty of all and some can handle tow loads up to 30,000 pounds. This allows them to haul up to ten-horse trailers or horse trailer/camper combinations. There is no way to convert any form of bumper hitch to haul such large loads. To have that ability, both goosenecks and fifth wheel hitches must be mounted through the center of the bed of large pickup trucks. Hopefully, the foregoing helps explain why such a conversion is not possible, and why you wouldn't want to do it even if it was.

For more information, you may want to read an article I wrote explaining the different hitches in September 2008 entitled: Getting Properly Hitched.


Do you have any suggestions to keep my horse's water buckets from freezing in the colder weather?

I've seen three things that work. One was a an insulated bucket holder that mounted on the stall wall. The bucket comes with it and slides perfectly into the holder. It's supposed to keep the water from freezing throughout the day. Of course, that will be determined by both the temperature in the stall and the temperature of the water you place into the bucket.

The other two solutions are similar: one is a heated bucket holder and the other is a heater that you place into the horse's water bucket. Both must be plugged into a power receptacle and work well — BUT, you must pay attention and regularly examine the heater, bucket, and power cord to assure that they remain in good condition and do not become a shock or electrocution hazard for your horses or you. I don't have links available for any of these products, but your favorite tack catalog and tack shop should be able to help.

February 16, 2009 – GROWTH STOP

At what age does a horse stop growing?

The answer depends on the breed, the horse's feed and nutrition, and your specific horse. Many horses stop growing somewhere between the ages of 4 - 6, though some have been known to grow until age 8. But toward the latter part of the growth cycle, the rate of growth is usually much slower.

February 13, 2009 – WEAVING

Why does my horse weave so much?

Weaving (moving the head back and forth and swaying the body left and right) is usually associated with stall boredom. The boredom is typically caused by being stall-bound, prolonged separation from other horses, too little exercise, too little grazing time, and generally being unhappy. Many equine experts ascribe the unhappiness to the stress of isolation and too little activity, and some are now also suspecting a possible genetic link, just as they are with cribbing.

As for your horse, try to assure he's getting adequate turnout each day and the companionship of at least one other horse in a paddock with adequate grazing in the summer and hay in the winter. And, if he must remain in his stall due to weather conditions, such as icy ground or extreme cold outside, at least give him plenty of free-choice hay and lots of water to process it. The addition of a stall toy or hanging grain ball may also help, but don't shortchange him the hay and water — he needs it.

February 12, 2009 – EQUINE EATING HABITS

Sometimes I bring a handful of grass or hay to my horse and with each mouthful, he jerks it away. Why?

He does that because he's used to grabbing grass and tearing it away from the ground when he grazes. Horses don't realize that hay or grass you hand them isn't connected at the base. If you continue to do this, make sure your horse doesn't also accidentally grab your fingertips when he grabs a mouthful — that would hurt.

February 11, 2009 – THE LEAST HARSH BIT?

What is the least harsh bit to use?

The least harsh conventional bits are the thicker snaffles (a thin snaffle concentrates the pulling forces on a smaller area, and is therefore, more severe). Snaffles are unleveraged bits with no port or curb chain.

There are also several "bitless" bridles. BUT, "bitless" DOES NOT necessarilly mean less harsh. For example, a hackamore is bitless and yet can be quite harsh, even dangerous if misused because it squeezes down on the cartiladge and nostrils of the horse. There are other bridles that operate differently and are far less severe. So, if you go this way, be sure to thoroughly investigate the type and method of operation of the bridle you're considering.

If in doubt, stick with a thicker snaffle. But don't forget that, regardless of the bit or bridle you use, the actual harshness is dependant not only on the severity of the bit, but also on how the rider uses his/her reins. Even a thick snaffle can be used harshly and a curb bit can be used gently. All these factors combine at the horse's mouth to guide or hurt him.


Will a horse die if it has no water?

Of course it will! Like humans, all animals need water; in fact, we all need it more than food. The average human can only go about three days without water, but a week without food if water is available. Of course, heat, exertion, and other aspects come into the equation, but you understand the idea.

Horses may be able to go longer without water than humans can, but they still need it and the amount of time between drinking spells is determined by the aforementioned variables of heat and exertion. Also, because horses drink a lot of water at a time, many owners rarely see their horses drink, but rest assured that they do and that they need to do so. The average horse drinks from 10 - 30 gallons of water each day depending upon activity and the season. They usually drink more water in summer and winter. Surprised about winter drinking? It's especially important to be sure their water isn't frozen and that surface ice gets removed regulalrly throughout the day.

So, make sure your horse always has clean, fresh water available when you leave him out in his paddock in the morning and in his stall at night. And call the vet if you ever leave water and notice that your horse isn't drinking it — that may mean something is wrong and should be immediately investigated.


As regular readers may have noticed, I get a lot of questions about barn lighting and related costs. While my responses are focused on each submitter's question, there's always more I'd like to say that I feel would be helpful. So I've written a more comprehensive treatment of the subject that is published in this month's February issue of Practical Horseman magazine and is also posted her for your convenience at Better Barn Lighting.


How long can my horse's shoes stay on in the winter? Can I leave them on longer than in the summer?

This varies for each horse. A horse's hooves, and even their coats, grow fastest in the spring and fall (though they're growing summer coats in the spring and winter coats in the fall). In general, it seems most horses can go about six weeks between farrier visits. That can mean shorter periods between visits in spring and fall and longer periods in summer and winter — you and your farrier need to regularly monitor your horse's feet.

Some horses need more frequent farrier visits because their hooves grow faster than the average horse while other horses need them less frequently than average. Also, the competency of the farrier can make a difference with a shorter time between visits being necessary with poorer foot care.

The Horse Girl has mentioned in several of her responses about the value of a good farrier in maintaining optimal foot care because good foot/hoof health in all horses is so important, and she's right. This means that compromising on your horse's foot care is not a good place to try to save money — don't do it — save on the cost of treats, toys, or showing instead.


Should I cross the chains when connecting my horse trailer? I'm getting conflicting advice.

Yes, cross the chains. The reason is that if your coupler were ever to come up off the hitch ball, the chains can catch the hitch and support it above the ground while you stop. Otherwise, the hitch could drop to the ground and possibly cause you to lose control.

I also received and answered this question last summer and started a list of recurring trailer/towing questions. You can see them at: Common Trailering Questions article.

February 4, 2009 – CFL BULBS TO LIGHT A STALL?

Is it ok to use the new CFL bulbs in a horse stall?

Yes! In fact, it's smarter than using conventional bulbs because CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) use much less electricity and last ten times longer. That means you won't have to replace them as often, which saves you still more money as well as the hassle of changing them.

One word of warning, regardless of the bulbs you use, make sure that all light fixtures in your barn are high enough that your horses can't accidentally bang against them if they rear up for any reason. And if there's any chance a fixture could get sprayed or dripped upon, be sure to use a fully enclosed fixture in that location, such as a vapor-proof fixture.


What is the name of the new, thin clothing material that keeps one warm?

There are several synthetic clothing materials that are light, thin, and warm. As to which are new, that depends on what you mean by "new". Do you truly mean a new product of the last few years? What about in the last 20 or 30 years? Regardless, I'll list some very effective clothing insulators and you can take your choice.

From my reading and my own experience, Thinsulate is one of the very best of these materials, even though it's been around for the last 30 years. It's one of the lightest insulation materials for clothing on the market, is very durable, and even crushproof. In addition, unlike most materials, it's like wool in that it retains warmth even when wet.

Another very good material is polar fleece (one famous brand of which is called Polartec). This material is also about 30 years old and similar in characteristics; it even lets water vapor pass through so you stay dryer, and for that reason, is used in many horse coolers for keeping them warm while they dry and cool down. One thing to be careful about is that it can be damaged by washing in very hot water and not quite as hardy.

One of the above two materials is probably the product you're looking for and I have garments made of both that I use for winter riding — I'm very happy with them! There are other thin, insulation materials, but they're less common.

I presume you asked this question related to keeping warm while riding? If so, another product I like is Primaloft. This is a synthetic down-like material that is not thin, but it is one of the very warmest for its weight and retains warmth when wet. And don't forget actual goose-down which is more expensive. That's because it's still the warmest material available and the one in my winter riding coat. It's not as effective when wet, but my coat's liner is made of Goretex™ so that the down remains dry, even in a driving rain.

The foregoing illustrates that there is no perfect product, but lots of very good ones that get even better when combined.

February 2, 2009 – SORE FEET

My horse doesn't like walking on hard ground when I ride him. What should I do?

Reposted as separate article. See: Sore Feet & Hard Ground article.

January 30, 2009 – LEANING ON HILLS

I was criticized recently on a trail ride because another rider said I wasn't leaning enough on hills. How far is enough?

This question crops up again and again in different forms. It seems there is lots of confusion on why to lean, when to lean, and how far. This issue is more a question of physics and balance than anything else and the goal is to stay over the horse's center of gravity so as to not make the up or downhill stretch any harder for the horse than it needs to be.

Because this question shows up recurringly, I wrote an article on the topic last year entitled: Leaning When on Hills — Check it out.

January 29, 2009 – BREAKAWAY HALTER

What is a breakaway halter?

This is a halter, usually made of nylon webbing or some other plastic material that has a leather strap portion which will break if your horse panics and pulls hard. A halter without the leather strap takes more force to break — maybe more than a horse can generate. If he can't get free, he may panic. If he panics, he may hurt himself, destroy the facility around him, or both. It's better if the strap breaks so he can get free and doesn't panic and get hurt.

January 28, 2009 – SINGLE POINT OR CROSS-TIES?

Is it better to cross-tie a horse than single tie him?

Like most aspects of the horse world, it depends. Some horses panic when cross-tied, but do fine on a single-point tie. And sometimes it's beneficial to use cross-ties for performing certain horse grooming chores because it better limits their head movement.

That said, I prefer to put more emphasis on earning my horse's trust and training him to respect me. By doing that, it matters less what tie method I use because he'll trust me regardless of what I need to do and he respects me enough to stand still while I do it. Clearly, I definitely don't like heavy-handed approaches to dealing with horses — I feel they're usually unnecessary with a properly trained horse. I also feel such a horse is safer and more fun to be around and that they better enjoy their time with us.


I've noticed that some people tie their cinch latigo using a knot similar to that used by a man tying a dress tie rather than using the buckle on the cinch itself. Is that a better way to secure a cinch?

No, but it's not necessarily less effective either. The key is to assure that your cinch (or grith depending on saddle type) is properly tightened and secure. If it isn't, you could pay an unexpected visit to the ground that could be merely embarrassing and bruising or very dangerous.

Besides these two saddle securing methods, there are many other ways that can include tackaberries, surcingles, girth adapters, and more. Just assure your chinch or girth is properly tightened and secure, but not too tight, and you and your horse will be fine. If in doubt, ask an experienced rider or a riding instructor.


When taking a break from riding after reaching my destination, is it ok to tie my horse up by his bridle?

NO!!! Never tie your horse by his bridle. If he were to spook or panic, he could injure his mouth severely. Instead, carry a halter and lead line when riding so you can replace his bridle with it and tie him.

Another way is to use a halter bridle. That way, you just remove the bit and reins, and then secure the halter normally with a lead line that you carry along. When you're ready to return to the barn, remove the lead line, re-attach the bit and reins, mount, and you're off again on your ride!

January 23, 2009 – HITCH SIZE AND RATING

I just bought a used two-horse trailer and it has a 2 5/16 hitch coupler attached. I need to buy a matching ball for the trailer receiver on my truck. As long as I'm doing so, is there any advantage in me buying a 3" trailer ball and hitch instead to make sure I stay safe and never overload the hitch?

No, there's no need to increase the hitch component sizes. The coupler you have likely came with the trailer from the manufacturer and there's no doubt that a 2 5/16 hitch is more than enough to handle two horses up to the gross weight rating of the trailer. Instead, just make sure you don't exceed that gross rating.

For example, in 2007, I saw two huge Belgien brabant drafts; one weighed 2,250 pounds (18-1hh) and the other weighed over 2,600 pounds (18-3hh) — these are the biggest horses I've ever seen. That's 4,450 pounds of horses alone. Presuming they would fit into the trailer you bought (you didn't specify width or size), the weight of the horses, the trailer itself, plus hay, water, tack, dressing room, etc., could put you over the manufacturers gross weight rating — DON'T GO OVER THAT RATING! Changing the hitch to one rated for heavier duty WOULD NOT increase the carrying capacity of the trailer because there are other components involved that were designed only for the gross weighting specified, such as the axels, the floor, etc.

So stay within the trailer's ratings, use the hitch that came with the trailer, match the hitch ball, and you'll be fine.

January 22, 2009 – WINTER GALLOPING

Because the trails can be treacherous in the winter, I like to gallop my horse around an outdoor dirt track in the winter to keep him in shape. But the barn owner thinks the ground is too hard for me to push my horse that hard. Is she right?

Without seeing the ground where you ride, I really have no idea. If the dirt track is truly loose dirt without frozen earth beneath, you might be ok. But if the ground underneath is hard or there's ice on the surface, you're taking unnecessary chances. You don't mention where you're located, but if you're in a northern climate with sub-freezing temperatures, it's very possible that the ground is frozen hard with loose dirt on top. Unless that loose dirt is very deep, your horse's hoof falls may not be properly cushioned. If so, he could develop shin splints. Plus, too much loose dirt can itself be the cause of slips and falls. Winter galloping in cold climates can be iffy and I prefer to avoid it during the colder months for my horse's and my safety.

Why don't you have a chat with your barn owner and ask her about her concerns? It's highly likely she's really just concerned about the safety of you and your horse (quite possibly so you'll continue to be healthy and available to board there into the future).


Many questions submitted to the "Horse Girl" and to me have to do with the horse not obeying a command or other forms of showing disrespect. For safe, controlled, and fun riding, it is imperative that our horses respect us. Jennifer Goddard, a professional horse trainer and one of our contributing writers wrote an article on this topic in August 2008 entitled: Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect.

Now, I'm adding a related article about the importance of your horse seeing you as the leader of his herd entitled: Alpha? It MUST, be you! — IS IT?


Will cold weather hurt a high-pressure sodium bulb?

I doubt it; high-pressure sodium fixtures are often used for parking lots and inside parking garages exposed to the elements here in New England and they operate throughout the winter with no problems. So if you're thinking of using these fixtures in your arena or over outdoor paddocks, they should continue to work well year round.

January 19, 2009 – SADDLE STORAGE

Is there any specific way to store a saddle when I'm not using it?

YES! A saddle is designed to sit so the saddle tree rests on its underlying surfaces. The key here, is that you don't want to leave your saddle on its edges or upside down. That will flatten and wear away the leather in those areas and your saddle will look old and worn long before its time. It may also allow the flaps and fenders to curl and crack. The worse thing you can do is to just leave it lying on the floor or ground.

The best way to store a saddle is on a saddle stand or on a saddle support that mounts to a wall. Both will let the saddle sit on its tree and also keep it up off the floor where it can get dirty, wet, and kicked. Also make sure the location you select will not allow it to be eaten by rodents or chewed upon by pets or wild animals.

And when you have proper support, make sure that support isn't located in a very humid, wet, or dry location. This means that unheated garages and basements are not good tack storage choices. If damp or wet, mold will grow on and destroy the leather. If cold and dry, the oils will evaporate out and the leather will crack and fail. Leather does best in the same environment we all prefer: comfortably warm, with moderate humidity between 40 - 60%.

January 16, 2009 – WINTER RIDING AT NIGHT?

Is it safe to ride after dark in the cold weather?

Well, every time we ride, we take on some risk. The degree of risk depends on the conditions and you can get a feeling for the degree of that risk by asking yourself some questions:

  1. How good and safe a rider are you?
  2. How trained is your horse and does he listen to your commands?
  3. How cold is your winter?
  4. If riding after dark, how cold will it get?
  5. How long are you expecting to be out and do you have proper cold-weather clothing for the worse expected temperatures from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head?
  6. Will the air be still or windy? If windy, how much does it affect wind-chill?
  7. Are ground conditions favorable (bare ground) or treacherous (with snow, ice, slush, etc.)?
  8. Will you carry emergency gear on your ride in case you get thrown, fall off, or get injured?
  9. Does that gear include reliable communications (e.g. cell phone, walkie-talkie), hand and feet warmers, first aid kit, and emergency signaling devices?
  10. Are you riding with others or alone?
The above list is nowhere near comprehensive enough for every possible eventuality. If it's cold, your risk goes up; if you will return after dark or your whole ride is at night, your risk goes up more; if you ride alone, your risk goes up more still; and so it goes — you get the idea.

As for me, I won't ride at night alone even in summer, except close to home. But I will ride alone during the day and will travel many miles. In the winter, I feel it's too much of a risk to ride far alone or to ride at night alone, even close by. If I was thrown and unconscious, I might not be found until morning and likely wouldn't have made it through the night in the cold.

Conversely, many riders don't ride in the winter at all and I feel that's unfortunate because they and their horses get out of shape and miss some beautiful riding opportunities and winter vistas. So, the answer to your question is one of risk assessment and mitigating those risks through proper decision-making and preparation to deal with expected and unexpected hazards.


Do I have to wear an orange vest throughout the winter when I ride?

This could be a jurisdictional question, so I don't know if your own state or municipality might have certain requirements. Here in Connecticut and in neighboring Rhode Island, state law doesn't address the winter season. But it does require or recommend riders to wear bright, fluorescent orange clothes or vests when riding in state parks and forests during hunting season, which begins in autumn.

Requiements vary from state to state. For example, during hunting season, Rhode Island requires at least 200 square inches of fluorescent orange be worn by all non-hunting users (horseback riders, hikers, bicyclists, etc.) of state forests and parks — hunters must wear at least 500 square inches of orange. In Connecticut, I found that hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of orange and that riders, hikers, and other state property users should wear orange, but did not see a minimum requirement. Even when wearing orange, I will avoid riding opening day and maybe a day or two later, in case some hunters are "trigger happy".

These are the only orange wearing requirements of which I'm aware. As you can see, it varies from state to state. So your state has it's own requirements and you need to know what they are. Check with your town hall or your state's Website for the current laws in your area.


My horses have spent a lot of days inside lately because of ice on the ground and are getting frisky. I want to take them over to a field nearby, but we're going to have to cross some icy ground going over and back. Is this too dangerous?

Well, without being there and seeing the ground, this is tough, if not impossible, to answer. Only you can decide what is safe enough to walk on and what isn't. Try this, walk alone carefully over the surface that concerns you. If you find it slick, so will your horses and I don't think the risk is worth it. On the other hand, ground with patches of ice, ice that's irregular, or ice with dirt or air will have a roughened surface that will allow some traction. If it feels safe enough after your walk, you can walk slowly and carefully across it with your horses. However, I would avoid taking them on any suspicious ground that is not level or nearly level.

Wild horses have lived successfully in cold, snowy, and icy climates for eons, so it's not as if they can't judge the safety of crossing a surface. Conversely, they might follow you where they wouldn't go themselves, so you're taking responsibility for their safety. Just as when you determine whether a day is too cold, too hot and humid, too windy, or have to make some other judgment, it really comes down to your own assessment in trying to protect your horses.


Should I leave the lights on in my barn at night to keep my horses warmer during the winter? I live in Ohio.

I wouldn't do that. I presume your horse grows his winter coat, or if you clip him because you show throughout the year, you blanket him during the coldest months. You're also keeping him in a barn at night which will stop the wind. These actions are usually enough for most healthy horses.

As for the lights, the bulbs are likely mounted on the ceiling and the heat they generate will rise, not drop. If you're using incandescent bulbs, you'll be wasting a lot of electricity for little heat that rises away from your horses. And if you're using fluorescent bulbs, there's far less heat generated, which still rises away from your horses. Finally, they'll rest better if the lights are out at night.


Why doesn't my horse seem to like hard ground?

It could be because it hurts his feet and/or his legs. Are you riding your horse on such ground or is this the case at all times? In the winter in northern states, the ground freezes and riding your horse into a canter or gallop can cause pain, and even give him shin splints. That's because the ground has no give as he lands from these more extreme gaits. It's best to go easy when riding your horse over frozen ground, or any other hard surface, such as asphalt or concrete areas and roads during any season.

If your horse has trouble with hard surfaces even at the walk, then there could be a physiological cause and you should have him checked by a vet.


How much weight can a pony carry?

This is one of those questions that has no absolute answer. Yet, I know that you don't want to hear some response that begins with: "it depends". So let me give you a little background and then a "rule of thumb" so you at least have something to go on.

The actual weight a horse or pony can carry is dependant on several characteristics of that very animal. The horse's general health, strength, bone structure, sturdiness, and conditioning all figure into the mix. But as a starting point, for an average horse or pony in good health and shape, you can figure that he/she can carry about 25% of the animals weight. So, a 1,000 pound horse can usually carry about 250 pounds of rider, tack, and any other baggage TOTAL!


If the animal has lower bone density, is an older horse, has not been kept in work and is out of condition, etc., you must reduce that percentage to something more like 15 - 20% of the horse's weight. If the horse is in lousy shape, he probably shouldn't even be ridden. When in doubt, check with your vet.

Some horses and ponies are exceptionally sturdy and can carry more. For example, the typical Icelandic pony in good health and conditioning, and weighing 800 pounds, is usually able to carry the same 250 pounds of rider, tack, and payload as the 1,000 pound horse. The key is to consider all the aforementioned factors — your vet can help by assessing your very horse for your intended load.

One more thing, IT'S NOT ok to put on a heavier rider for a short amount of time. Therefore, a 300 pound man could seriously injure a standard 1,000 pound horse and might damage the spine of a pony if on either for even just 10 seconds.

So, if there's any doubt, DO NOT take a chance of overloading your horse or pony. They're dependant on us for their care and health and it's unconscionable for us to betray that trust.


What does it mean when a horse is built downhill?

This question relates to conformation, is often asked and often confused, and is a point of disagreement, even among experts. And not being an expert by a long shot, all I can do is to tell you the traditional interpretation and some that are more recent. Regardless, this response WILL NOT be definitive in any way because I've not been able to find any general agreement throughout the horse world.

Traditionally, the two points are viewed on the horse go from the croup to the front. The highest point on the horse's hip is compared to the top of his withers. So, looking forward from a perspective of the horse, if the withers are higher than the croup, the horse is said to be an "uphill horse". Conversely, if the croup is higher and it looks as if you're going downhill toward the withers, you've got a "downhill horse".

More recently, some experts have cried "nay!" oh, sorry: "neigh!" and asserted we should instead be comparing the height of the stifle against the elbow. And "The Horse Conformation Handbook" by Heather Smith Thomas advocates comparing the lumbosacral joint (a point at the spine just before the croup) to the joint of the 5th and 6th neck vertebrae.

Clear as mud?

For what it's worth, outside of professional show circles, it's very probable that when most people mention an uphill or downhill horse, they're likely referring to the traditional interpretation comparing the withers and croup described above.


Why does my horse keep moving when I'm brushing him?

He keeps moving because he doesn't respect you. Horses that move when you brush them, pick their hooves, or do anything else when they should be paying attention to you are saying that they don't consider your activity to be important. When with our horses, their attention should be focused on us while we're interacting with them. That means when we're grooming them, training them, and riding them. If we're just standing beside them and letting them graze, that's different, and they ARE ABLE to tell the difference!

I suggest you read "Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect" written by Jennifer Goddard. She's a regular contributor of a training series to QueryHorse and this particular installment describes one way of earning respect from your horse.


What causes fluorescent lights to not light in cold weather and to burn out in wet weather?

I've answered both of these questions before. The response to getting fluorescent lamps to light in cold weather was posted on December 12th, 2008 and dealing with wet locations was posted on November 5th, 2008.

January 5, 2009 – SADDLE HORN INJURIES?

Do any people actually hurt themselves on the horn of a western saddle?

Yes, they do. Fortunately, it's not that common, but it does happen. Perhaps the biggest risk is if a rider is still in the saddle when the horse rolls. The weight of a horse on top of a rider is bad enough, but the addition of the horn can cause additional internal injuries and organ punctures.

Another risk is jumping in a western saddle. While it can be done, it requires great skill and experience and is still taking a significant risk. Even a highly skilled jumper is at much more risk if anything goes wrong and the best advice is not to jump in any saddle that has a horn. Further, saddles not designed for jumping bring other risks, such as placing the rider in a position that may put the horse off balance.

None of the foregoing should imply that western saddles are more dangerous than another saddle design — they're not. Each saddle is designed for a particular task and using them appropriately greatly reduces the chance of injury.

January 2, 2009 – HERD-BOUND HORSES

Is it ok to separate a herd-bound horse?

Of course it is. But to keep the horse's stress level down, you do it in stages. Because of your question, I decided to write an article about it because this is a common issue expressed by many people with whom I've ridden. You didn't mention the particular activity in which you normally deal with this problem, so I discussed it from my most common experience with it: trail riding. The article is entitled: Dealing With the Herd-Bound Horse.

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