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"Horse Guy" Archive Jul - Dec 2009

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December 31, 2009 – TOWING ON SLIPPERY ROADS

With roads sometimes slippery in the winter, do I need stronger brakes when towing my horses at this time of year?

No. In fact, you want to apply LESS brake on slippery roads or you'll go into a skid. On dry roads, you can drive at the same speeds during any season, and that should still mean being cautious and driving more slowly than when you aren't towing a trailer. If the roads are slippery, it's even more important to reduce your speed significantly more. Regardless of the season or road conditions, you NEVER want to lose control of your vehicle and trailer. And the most effective way to keep control is by slowing down and paying attention to road conditions and the vehicles around you.

If the roads are too slippery for even slow driving, then you should reschedule your trip for another day when conditions are better. Frankly, unless I found myself unexpectedly stranded with my horse away from his barn with no place to wait out the weather, I wouldn't put us into any situation that required me to tow a trailer. It's never worth risking the lives of any humans or your horses — stay home if it's not safe to drive.


Is it ok to ride your horse when it's freezing outside?

Yes, it is. But, you do want to take some precautions. First, because it's colder, you want to properly assess the ground conditions. When the temperatures are near or below freezing, you don't want to canter or gallop on frozen ground — that will be hard on your horse's feet and legs just as human runners often develop shin splints running on concrete surfaces. Also, snow and ice are slippery and present another danger to horse and rider that are moving too fast. You not only could have trouble turning and stopping, you both could fall and break a bone or three.

Second, the air is much colder — you need to dress warmly to avoid hypothermia. And you don't want to overwork your horse so that he sweats or has trouble breathing cold air (remember the chest pains you experienced when running in the winter as a child?) Walking and trotting are better gaits, won't overdo it for the two of you, and will help reduce the aforementioned slippery footing issues. Also, don't ride your horse with a sheet or blanket because it will be much easier to get him sweaty, and then chilled when you remove it — tack up normally and without any warm covering on your horse. He generates a lot of heat when working and should be fine during your ride if he's in good health. However, when you both return to the barn at the end of your ride and remove his tack, putting a cooler on him for an hour or so to keep him warm while he dries off is a good idea. Just remember to remove the cooler when he's dry and you're leaving the barn.

Third, don't ride alone unless you're staying near your barn. An accident out on the trail or out of site of others in cold weather could develop into a serious or fatal situation quickly when the temperatures are low and there's no one to get help.

Finally, you'll normally experience more wind during the colder weather. Some of that is a function of winter weather patterns, but normal blocking of wind by trees is much less when those trees are denuded and without leaves again until spring arrives. Don't underestimate the additional cooling that wind will cause and the associated wind chill factor (this goes back to dressing properly). Also remember that some horses are more easily spooked when you have such wind.

If you're careful, take reasonable precautions, and use reasonable judgment, winter riding can be lots of fun as well as a way for both you and your horse to stay in better shape and closer to good riding condition when the warmer weather returns.

I ride throughout the year and love it — you can, too. Have fun!

December 29, 2009 – BARN & STALL FLOORING

What do you put on the floor of a horse barn?

Barn floors come in different forms from dirt or concrete to wood or some manufactured pad/mat. Here are some observations: Wood looks really good, but it takes a beating and is expensive. Concrete lasts, but it's hard on the legs of the horses and on us. Dirt floors are the most common and the ones I've seen the most, but they're difficult to clean in the stalls and always leave urine behind to attract flies and waft into your horse's respiratory system -- not healthy.

I like the mats the best. They provide cushioning for the horse's legs (and ours, when we're in there) and are much easier to clean when mucking the stall. Generally, they also keep the horse's urine and feces out of the dirt making for a better smelling stall that's much less prone to attract flies and cause hoof problems. Hoof problems, such as Thrush and White-Line Disease, are generally caused by a horse standing in waste products (especially urine-wet dirt), and that's another good reason to avoid dirt stalls. White-Line Disease can ultimately cause detachment between the laminae and the inside of the hoof wall — you could lose your horse.

As for the aisles of the barn, dirt is not so much a problem there and makes a softer surface than concrete, especially if you need to be able to trot your horse inside the barn for exercise when winter icing and deep snow occasionally keep your horses inside for a few days.


How can I canter safely on the trail?

I'm not sure that I understand your question; cantering, in and of itself, is not a dangerous activity for a a competent rider. If you canter at a reasonable speed for the width and surface of the trail on a horse that responds to your commands, it should be rather safe. Conversely, if you canter too fast for conditions or ride a horse that does his own thing and you're not able to adequately control his direction and speed, then that can be quite dangerous in any situation — it's not limited to the trails or to cantering.

December 24, 2009 – CONVERTING A SADDLE?

Can an Australian saddle be converted to English?

This is an unusual question; no one has ever asked about converting one saddle type to another. The first feeling I have is to ask why would you want to convert any kind of saddle. To respond more specifically to your question, an Australian saddle is most like a large dressage saddle with the addition of the knee poleys and a deeper cantle; some have a horn while others do not. If you removed the poleys, the saddle would still have a deep cantle and still be larger than a dressage saddle.

My advice is to get yourself a real English saddle of the style you actually want (dressage, jumping, etc.) You should be able to find a good quality, used English saddle of the type you desire fairly inexpensively. And if you can't afford to keep the Australian saddle or just have no use for it, consider selling it to pay for the English saddle. I think that trying to convert any saddle will just ruin it and leave it with little or no value.

December 23, 2009 – DO HORSES MISS US?

Does my horse miss me when I'm away?

That's a tricky question and I'm not sure how much we humans really understand the feelings of animals. I'm certainly no expert in this area, so all I can tell you is what I've seen over a lifetime with animals.

Animals do seem to get accustomed to the people and other animals in their lives and will often go looking for them. One of my cats will sometimes go through the house meowing until she finds me or the other cat — the fact the cat stops meowing at that time implies (though, does not guarantee) that looking for another life-form is what she was pursuing. Similarly, a horse alone in a barn or paddock will often whinny uncomfortably until another horse or a familiar person comes along to keep it company. That doesn't mean it missed that horse or person, but we do know that horses do not feel as safe when alone.

My horse will often whinny and dance around when I arrive at the barn (or grazing field) and he sees me. I think I can confidently say he's happy to see me coming his way. Whether that's because he actually misses me or expects food or doing something more exciting, such as going out on the trail or the prospect of running with other horses we might ride and gallop with, I just don't know.

I do believe that we humans tend to look at animal feelings anthropomorphically, that is, we imbue our interpretations of love and feelings of friendship onto animals because that is how we understand them. But, I'm far less comfortable believing that animals see and understand relationships in the same way as we do.


Why does my horse get scared over new things and act crazy?

You need to remember that horses are prey animals. And as such, they're CONSTANTLY on guard and on the lookout for predators. ANYTHING that looks unusual is a matter for caution and investigation. Their instinct is to run away first and then explore from the safety of a distance.

Their instinct is why a horse will go down the same trail with no problem for months or years, and then stop 100 feet away the first time he sees some new object, let's say, an empty pail, on the side of the trail. He'll approach slowly while watching the pail's every move (which, I think you'll agree, will not be very much). After a slow approach and adequate listening and sniffing as he moves in close, he'll finally realize the pail offers no threat and continue on. He may be suspicious again on the return trip because he's now viewing the pail from the other direction, but will then approach and pass the pail on subsequent trips without needing to slow down...until...someone moves the pail to the other side of the trail 10 feet away. Then, the whole process will start over again because the potential predator has moved.

This is how horses act — it's in their nature. And while it can be frustrating to some (I find it entertaining), it has kept them alive through the millennia..at least those that have been adequately cautious.

December 21, 2009 – RIDING IN THE SNOW

Is it safe to ride a horse in the snow?

Yes, it is, as long as you take reasonable precautions. For example, consider the conditions.

  • Don't gallop or in any way go too fast at any gait on slippery ground no matter what makes it slippery, whether snow, ice, mud, or anything else — a fall could hurt you both.
  • Don't go up or down steep hills that your horse could slip upon.
  • If it's snowing while you ride, go especially slow if visibility is low.
If you watch horses that have just been released into the snow, they'll often get excited and scamper about, especially if the snow is light and fluffy and there are only a few inches of it. They do that because they have fun playing in the snow. You'll often see dogs, sometimes even cats, play in the snow. Enjoy winter riding!

December 18, 2009 – BARN CEILING HEIGHT

I'm talking to my husband about possibly building our own barn when the weather gets warmer next spring. A question that came up is, how high does the ceiling of a barn have to be?

Ceilings in houses are generally around 8 feet because of the height of humans. But the average horse is taller. And if a horse rears, he can temporarily be much taller yet.

Most barns I've been in have ceilings that go from around 12 - 16 feet or more. I wouldn't want a barn with a ceiling lower than ten feet to assure that a rearing horse wouldn't hit his head and risk a concussion. Of course, if you were only keeping ponies, the height could be less, and miniatures would require even less headroom. But in such a case, your resale value would also be limited. Conversely, if you build a full-size barn, you can accommodate any size horse and so could future buyers of your property. That significantly increases the chances that you'll receive good value at the time of sale.


How much orange do I have to wear when riding in the winter?

Wearing orange IS NOT a requirement for winter riding — it is a requirement for riding trails on public land (particularly in state and national forests) during hunting season. By wearing orange and being more easily seen by hunters, the intention is that you won't have to take an accidental bullet. How much orange you need to wear depends on the laws of your state. For example, in some states, you must wear a minimum of 200 square inches of brightly colored orange garb. In other states, the requirement can be less, or more — you need to check the requirements for your state.

The best way to fulfill this requirement is to wear a fluorescent orange vest. It's very bright and noticeable. Other options are bright orange sweatshirts or coats. Several of my fellow riders increase their chances of being seen still further by adding additional orange to their riding accessories, such an orange saddle pad, a fluorescent orange piece of felt about three feet long tied to their horse's mane or tail, etc. One rider also wears an orange scarf — your options are limited only by your imagination.

Two of my friends sometimes also put a strap of bells on their horse's necks. One of them uses many small bells and the sound is somewhat subtle; the other uses large loud bells. With the latter, it's hard to believe we could surprise any person or animal and we likely can be heard for miles.

Finally, you'll likely find that hunting season starts and stops throughout the colder months as the animals that can be hunted change. For example, there may be several weeks of small game hunting, then a few of deer hunting with a bow, etc. It may be possible to hunt the same game several times during the year. Because of these vagaries, you either need to know when hunting is allowed or just do as many of us do and wear orange from October to May, or whatever the requirements dictate for your area.

December 16, 2009 – HOW LATE CAN HORSES STAY UP?

How late in the day can I work with my horse?

Like humans and all other animals, horses need some time to rest. And while you might think they're resting in their grazing field, they still should be left alone overnight to be by themselves.

At several barns I've used, the generally agreed upon time is that no one is allowed in the grazing field or barn after 9:00 pm in order to let the horses rest. Of course, during the warmer months, we've occasionally bent the rules when there's been a group night ride. But that only happens two or three times during the year. Other than that, we adhere to that limit and feel that is fair to both horse and rider.

December 15, 2009 – FLAKES IN A BALE?

How many flakes in a bale?

We've had this question before or something close to it. Unfortunately, there's no standard when it comes to the sizes of hay bales. They usually vary between 62 - 80 pounds or so. A 62 pound bale will have about 10 flakes and an 80 pound bale will have about 14.


Why are my horse's feet always sore each year when I have his shoes taken off for the winter?

Well, think about it. When shod, your horse's frog is elevated above the ground. But when those shoes are removed, his frog touches the ground, and rocks and gravel are now touching and pushing against this soft, tender tissue. Hence the term: "tender footed".

In the wild, the frogs of the horse's feet get tough, like our hands get callused from hard work. With tough frogs, walking over rocks and gravel is no big deal. But when you have your horse shod again in the spring for warm weather riding until autumn, your horse's frogs will be elevated, won't get much wear, and will get tender again. Plus, at least here in the east, most horse's are kept on nice, soft, grassy pastures, so their frogs don't need to be tough unless they're regularly taken on rocky terrain.

From a health standpoint, lots of evidence in recent years indicates that a barefoot horse has healthier feet and legs because walking on the ground with no shoes compresses the frog and pumps nourishing blood back up the legs of the horse. That's why many of us are going barefoot year-round with our horses and using boots for rocky terrain. The hoof becomes a healthy looking rosy-tan and is much harder and stronger than they were when shod.

You can learn more about this topic by reading: Sore Feet & Hard Ground.


When I ride my horse out on the trail, she's like molasses on the way out and I have to cajole, kick, and generally keep pushing her. But on the way back, it's the opposite. She wants to canter back and I work hard trying to hold her back. It scares me. I love my horse and I love trail riding, but this is no fun and I keep wondering if I should sell her and get out of riding, but I really don't want to do that.

You need to understand that many horses exhibit this behavior. The reason is that going on the trail means doing work and leaving the sense of security of the barn and grazing fields and other "horse friends" with which your horse normally spends the day. Coming back means returning to friends, food, and an easier life. If most of the horses at your barn were to go on the trail ride, you'd likely find that they would all be happier because they'd all be together. They're happier together because they feel safer when together. A term often ascribed to this behavior of slow to leave the barn and fast to return is "barn sour".

You'll need to get a trainer involved in training you how to be your horse's leader. Once that has happened, your horse will feel safe whenever you're around and will go more willingly on trail rides, even if it's just the two of you alone. Of course, she'll always prefer to have other horses on the ride with you both.

If you're horse and you are normally the leader in a multi-horse ride, try riding in the middle or in the back and I'll bet your horse will stay right up with the herd instead of moving like molasses. That's because she'll want to stay with the herd and not be left behind. But do understand that riding somewhere other than in front is not a substitute for learning how to become your horse's leader. Being the leader will not only make your rides more pleasurable, it will also make grooming and training easier as well as safer.

December 10, 2009 – WARM WINTER RIDING

Winter riding has always been hard for me because of not having warm enough winter riding gear. It seems that no matter what gloves or boots I try I still get so cold that I don't make it very far before I turn back. What gloves and boots do you suggest for keeping oneself warm and comfortable for really cold (30 degrees or less) winter riding? Thank you for your time.

Riding or doing anything else at any time of the year is no fun if you're cold. Your asking about warmer gloves and boots because your hands and feet are getting cold — gloves and boots are part of the solution, but are only a part of it. When your hands and feet get cold and you're already wearing gloves and shoes/boots, that usually means that your core body doesn't have lots of heat to spare. Here's how your body works:

As your body gets colder, it starts reducing the blood flow to those vessels near the surface feeding your skin. It does this to conserve heat where it's always needed for survivability: your head, trunk, and the muscles of your arms and legs. But if you have lots of heat for your head and core, those surface blood vessels will not constrict as much, or at all, and your hands and feet will be much warmer. This is what happens when you're outside working on a really cold day, such as shoveling or stacking wood, and you find you have to remove your gloves to let your hands cool off.

Now, picture yourself riding a horse. As winter weather comes on and temperatures drop below freezing, the ground gets hard and may even be icy. At those times, the only riding you can do that's safe for your horse and you is the walk. Well, you're not going to burn many calories at the walk. The trot and canter will require shifting weight and using your legs like springs as a cushion and that's a lot of work — not so much when just sitting the walk. So you're not generating much heat and have little to spare to keep hands and feet warm.

BUT, if you have a good quality coat designed for the weather, your trunk will be much warmer. And YOU NEED to wear a hat. If you wear a riding helmet as I do in all weather, you need a balaclava to cover that helmet and keep your head and ears warm. And if you do that with that great coat, you'll have lots more heat to send to your hands and legs. You'll still need gloves, but they won't have to be as thick. This is all a long way of saying that keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs warm is a whole body solution, not just thicker gloves and boots. I carry two pairs of gloves, a thin pair, and a think pair. Both are riding gloves specifically designed for riding. I bought them because some gloves and cannot adequately grip the reins or are baggy and could get caught in the reins — not safe.

I wrote an article that gives more comprehensive information about garb for winter riding and covers your whole body. You can read Winter Riding & Staying Warm right here.

Get proper clothing and you'll enjoy winter riding much more, plus, it'll be much safer. In addition, you'll likely find that you start enjoying other outside activities in the winter also and you'll be doing those activities while wearing your winter riding clothes. And don't forget about making sure that your horse is also healthy and in decent shape when you go out riding. Winter is a strain on his biological system, too, so you want him in good physical condition. If you're both in shape, the exercise will be healthy for both of you as well as enjoyable.

Have fun!


I've decided to convert my barn over to fluorescent lighting from incandescent to save money. Is it better to install 4 foot long fluorescent tubes or CFLs?

Better is a relative term and depends on the installation. There are currently three kinds of the long fluorescent tube bulbs: T5, T8, and T12. T12 is what we've had for decades. T8 designs are recent (15 years) and more efficient. T5 is slightly more efficient than T8, but still more expensive. T12 is being phased out, so it makes no sense to buy and install that fluorescent type, if you can even find it — if you decide to go with tubes, use T8 instead.

Comparing fluorescent tubes against CFLs (compact fluorescent lighting) is harder in that one may fit a particular installation better. For example, when lighting a fish tank, using grow lights for rows of plants, or looking for an even light spread across a large area, the tubes distribute light more evenly. That said, in your case, I'd just replace the incandescent bulbs with CFLs. You'll find your barn will be brighter, use less electricity, and won't require you to hire an electrician to replace the existing sockets with tube fixtures. Your investment will be minimal, you'll save significantly on your monthly electricity costs, and I don't think you'll have any problems with uneven lighting.

If you want to estimate your savings, see an article I wrote for Practical Horseman magazine in February of 2009 entitled: Better Barn Lighting. It will also give you some ideas on how to use natural light and to get better results with any form of lighting you use.


Can a horse kick through an inch thick wooden wall?

I like questions such as this that are different and unexpected. The answer is that it would likely depend on several factors:

  1. The type of wood (e.g. oak is much stronger than cedar);
  2. Whether the wall is made of plywood or individual boards of solid wood;
  3. The moisture content of the wood (dry wood is stronger, but more brittle while wet wood is softer, but tougher;
  4. The degree of support behind the wall and the amount of space between the studs (closer together makes a stronger wall);
  5. The size of the horse doing the kicking;
  6. The condition of the horse doing the kicking;
  7. The angle of the kick, whether straight on or at a glancing angle.
The foregoing gives you an idea of at least some of the variables that would come into play and would be determining factors. What I would find more interesting is the reason you asked this question? Has your horse done this? Or are you concerned that he/she might be able to do so and break free into some space you don't want them to go?

December 7, 2009 – THRUSH

How should I treat my horses thrush?

Thrush is a rather "stinky" problem, as you've no doubt already smelled. That black stuff you've removed is the result of an anaerobic bacteria — that means it can only live in a place that has no oxygen. The most common cause of thrush is from stalls that are not kept clean. Urine soaked bedding gets packed into the hoof on the sides of the frog and the absence of oxygen allows the bacteria to grow and multiply. But these same dirty stall conditions can cause more serious problems. More dangerous is another ailment called "white line disease". Left untreated, it can ultimately cause detachment between the laminae and the inside of the hoof wall.

You can treat thrush with over-the-counter medicines you buy at your tack store or from your veterinarian. You should start by having your farrier (or your veterinarian) look at your horse's infected hoof. Your farrier may have to trim and clean the hoof, and especially the area around the frog. This is because, if the infection is advanced, you can't leave an infected area behind that still has no exposure to the air and can continue to fester.

To avoid thrush in the future, you only need to do two things: 1) clean your horse's stall thoroughly each day; and 2) also pick his hooves clean each day. If you do both, you'll likely never see (nor smell) this problem again.

December 4, 2009 – GIRTH TIGHTENING

I'm just recently getting back into riding...but I seem to have a problem tightening my english saddle. Once it's done up the saddle itself doesn't seem to move, but I get a little worried because once I mount, if I lean down to check the tightness, it feels loose. I don't seem to have any luck at adjusting it when I'm mounted either. I've tried tightening, then letting my horse relax for a few minutes and then trying to tighten again...but I usually can't make it up to the next hole, although it gets close. Should I consider punching in another hole?

You say that "Once it's done up the saddle itself doesn't seem to move, but I get a little worried because once I mount." If that's true, maybe things are ok. Try this: next time, have someone check the girth right after you mount. They should be able to tell you whether or not the girth is loose. If it's not, then you're fine and that feeling you're getting could be just a manifestation of movement while being on the horse. If it is loose, then let's address that.

Regardless of the saddle type, an English style or otherwise, it sometimes seems that they can be difficult to properly tighten. But the reason often has more to do with the horse than the saddle. You're on the right track by tightening your girth (or cinch, if applicable) in stages. Many horses have learned to inflate their lungs when you tighten, and then exhale and relax, which has the effect of a too loose girth. I tighten mine in three, and sometimes, even four sessions.

The first tightening is when I connect the girth or cinch (depending on my saddle type for the ride). I then move on to another part of the tack-up process, such as placing the bridle on. Then I return and tighten the girth some more. I'll walk my horse out of the barn and check the girth/tighten again. By this time, it should be adequately tight, or very close, and I'll often check it one more time when I'm just about to mount.

Tightening while mounted is something you can do with an English saddle girth, but it does take some practice. It also takes some strength and smaller riders often complain they can't tighten from the saddle. So, if you are a small rider, this may not be an option, but you still can dismount, tighten from the ground, and remount again.

And yes, if you need to tighten the girth further and run out of holes, you can punch another hole or two further up if there's room.


One of my fellow riders is using a wire through his hitch coupler pin hole instead of a pin. When I asked about it, he said he had two pins stolen, so now he uses the wire and no one wants to steal that. Is the wire enough to do the job?

NO! It's not. On bumper-pull hitches, the pin is there to stop the coupler from accidentally opening and releasing from the hitch ball. Wire is usually made of copper, which is soft. You also didn't mention the wire gauge, but I doubt it was the diameter of a hitch pin (1/4 inch).

Tell your riding buddy he needs a real pin. Depending on the state, he may be able to use a 1/4" bolt. I use a locking security pin. Not only do I not have to worry about someone taking it, it is a hardened security appliance designed to stop a thief from disconnecting the trailer from my tow vehicle and stealing it. The price is only about $20 - $25. One good source is TRIMAX locks. You should also consider a receiver locking pin to assure a thief can't disconnect the drawbar from the receiver. TRIMAX even sells kits of both coupler and receiver locking pins keyed the same so they can use the same key.

December 2, 2009 – DANGEROUS SADDLE TYPES?

Is a western saddle dangerous, and can it injure a horse?

I must admit that I don't really understand this question. A particular saddle type is not safer or more dangerous for a horse or rider. English, Western, and many other saddle designs have been around for at least a century, some have been around for several centuries. In all that time, I've not heard about or read about a particular design that still exists today that injures a horse. Obviously, riding and using a saddle that doesn't fit the horse could cause injury, but that's because it doesn't fit, not because of its design. And poor riding technique could cause dangerous stresses on the horse's skeletal system depending on what you're doing, such as jumping wrong, especially if the rider is heavy. But a competent rider using any saddle, whether Western, English, Australian, dressage, jumping, endurance, or whatever else that is properly designed and properly fitted to the horse will not, in and of itself, injure a horse.

One more thing, if jumping is what you're refering to, a Western saddle should not be used for anything other than a few very small jumps. To learn why, see out article entitled: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?.


Is it safe to pull my trailer with its tires having cracked sidewalls? My friends says that it' oks and just dry rot. I'm not so sure and don't want to risk my horse's lives if it isn't safe.

You're taking a chance with safety when a vehicle or trailer has cracked tire walls. Check out our article about trailer tire safety to learn more about this issue. It's entitled: Tire Safety When Towing Horses.


I'm building a new barn. How large an electrical service should I have installed.

Reposted as separate article. See: Barn Electric Power.


How many times does a horse stall need to be cleaned?

Generally, once a day. If the stall is too small for the horse (10' x 10' or less for a standard horse), which is actually fairly common, it might need more frequent cleaning. A bigger stall (e.g. 10 x 14 or larger), actually lets the horse use the end opposite his food for a bathroom, which makes it easier for us to clean because the horse waste is concentrated in a small area rather than spread about. Of course, if the horse is stalled for more than overnight, such as all day when there's lots of ice on the ground, the stall will need to be cleaned at least twice for those days, maybe more.


Can galloping hurt my horse's injured back?

That depends on the injury. Unfortunately, your question tells us so little about the injury that we don't even know what's wrong with your horse's back. If it's a skeletal problem, you need to be very careful what you let and make your horse do and galloping is more than likely not recommended.. Conversely, if it's a minor wound to tissue, such as a bite from another horse, you can probably still ride as long as the wound is not deep and it's not under the saddle area. Yet, a deeper wound could be a problem and likely should get professional medical attention.

In all health issues, your best bet is to always check with your vet first. While barn owners, trainers, other riders, friends, the Horse Girl, and I, can all offer opinions, we're not health experts and you should never depend on non-qualified counsel for any serious injury. Now, for things like fly bites, we might be able to help and the risk of poor advice is not so high.

November 19, 2009 – HOOF GROWTH

How fast do horse's hooves grow between shoeings?

As in most things, it depends. In this case, it depends on the horse and the environment. Hoof growth rate will vary by the horse's individual metabolism. And for almost all horses, hooves grow faster in climates with lots of rainfall and moisture than in drier areas like the American southwest.

But, on average, hooves grow between 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch per month. If the average shoeing is every six weeks, that'll be between 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch between shoeings. Coincidentally, this is the same average rate as the growth of hair in humans.

November 18, 2009 – STARTING A BOARDING BARN

How much money could I expect to make if I start a boarding barn?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are many variables to consider. For example, the area you live in will have a big effect. If you live in an affluent area with well-funded patrons, you can charge more than if you live in a more modest area. Of course, those patrons will expect more for their money in terms of accommodations and services, such as a really clean barn, perhaps a bathroom with hot and cold running water, ample space for tack in a heated room, large stalls, etc.

Also, think of ways you can keep costs low while simultaneously keeping quality high. Consider hay, for example. If you can grow and harvest your own hay, the cost will be lower and the quality could be much higher than what you can buy. Another factor is the number of stalls. If it's a large number, such as 40, 50, or more, you have economies of scale not available to the more common barns having only 10 or 20 stalls. But, it takes a lot more money to start a larger barn and you need to first assure you'll have enough customers to fill those stalls, and the availability of cost-effective help.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider to be able to come up with a "ball park" estimate of what you could make. One of our contributing editors, Jen Goddard, who also is a barn owner and horse trainer as well as an equine business consultant, wrote several of excellent articles you should read as you consider getting into the boarding and training business. They are:

Buying A Horse Farm - Part 1
Buying A Horse Farm - Part 2
Building Your Dream Barn

And if you should decide to go forward and to build, the Horse Girl wrote this helpful article:

Hiring a Barn Building Contractor

Best of luck!


I was told I can't back my trailer with the sway bar attached. Is this true?

It may depend on the sway bar.. The instructions for the Draw-Tite Sway Control state that you can back slowly with the bar in place. The first time you do it, they recommend having someone watch you backing while you approach a jackknife position (don't actually jackknife your trailer — you'll cause damage). You're ok as long as the slider in the bar doesn't "bottom out". Take note of how sharp a turn you can make without "bottoming" the slide so that you get an idea of your minimum safe turn radius — you never want to turn it any sharper going backwards or forwards. If you do, you'll bend and damage the sway bar. Otherwise, it is ok to back slowly with a sway bar attached.

If you use a weight distribution system, you may not even need to use your sway bar. But also remember that weight distribution systems also have turn limits and it doesn't matter whether you're going forward or backwards — stay within these limits and don't turn too sharply.

November 16, 2009 – EQUINE AFFAIR & MARK RASHID

The Horse Girl and I spent the last four days at the Equine Affaire trade show interacting with many of you and immersing ourselves in the world of horses. Needless to say, this is one of the most fun parts of our work. Talking with people who share our love of horses and riding for four straight days is great fun! It's also a wonderful opportunity to learn, both from fellow horse enthusiasts and from internationally respected clinicians. While we've been doing this show for several years, we moved our booth this year into the middle of the trade show "remuda". Coincidentally, one of these well-known clinicians decided to try a booth at the show for the first time and it happened to be beside ours. His name is Mark Rashid.

I had seen ads for Mark's books and DVDs and had read glowing reviews, but I knew little about the man himself and his approach. The last four days provided an opportunity to see one of Mark's clinics and to chat with him many times over the days of the show. I've come away having great respect for the man and his message.

Mark advocates horse interaction, training, and riding with a very open, non-forceful approach focused on understanding the horse, communicating with him, and building trust. He doesn't believe that a horse ever tries to outwit us or has any ulterior motive. There are other clinicians who advocate similar tenets and have their own variations, but I cannot currently make comparisons because I haven't had an opportunity to chat with them nor see them in action. Regardless, my only point here is that I was able to explore more of that with Mark because of our chat opportunities and seeing a clinic — I was quite impressed.

One of the problems we all face when learning about horses, is who to believe. We receive advice from every trainer, every instructor, every barn owner, heck, even almost every horse owner and rider. Many people just parrot what they were taught or heard, even if it's wrong. They don't keep up with new learning that has come to light. Others follow the "fad du jour" and espouse that until some new approach comes along. This leaves those of us truly wanting to do right by our horses in a quandary about what to believe and how to proceed with all of this conflicting information — its particularly hard for the new rider and owner.

I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can. That means from others, through reading, from our own interaction with horses in general, and influenced by the personality of our particular horse(s). Then, we have to do the hardest part: THINK. That means we evaluate what we've read, heard, seen, and learned. Does it make sense? Is it fair to the horse? Have we explored all possible causes for whatever behavior we're seeing or pursuing? If looking for a solution to a problem, have we investigated thoroughly? Could the problem be non-behavioral? In other words, could it be due to the horse having an injury, an illness, a parasite, ill-fitting tack, bad rider technique, too heavy a rider, etc., etc. Or could it be due to a fear the horse has to which we're not aware?

Over the months and years, our continuing evaluation of the horse, ourselves, and the advice we're considering allows us to put together our own approach to horse care, training, and riding. And don't forget, we're always training the horse we're with whether explicitly teaching them, riding them, or letting them do something they shouldn't. To fulfill our responsibility, we need to keep learning from all these sources and we need to commit the time to do the hardest part of all: the thinking.

My time with Mark impressed me and comported well with my sensibilities. As a result, I'm going to be pursuing and learning a lot more about his approaches and philosophies. That doesn't mean I will agree with everything he says, and I would never advocate that any of us should follow any one person's approach. But I will say this horseman's approach resonates with me — it feels right in my gut.

If you're frustrated with all the conflicting advice you're getting, I suggest you consider looking into Mark Rashid's philosophies about horses and our interaction with them. And if you're already happy with your approach to horses, look anyway. Mark has a wonderfully soft, understanding, and effective way with horses from which we can learn much. I think you'll be glad you did!


Why does my horse run away from me when I go down to the paddock to get her? I go each day after work to train her so we can show and she always runs away. Sometimes, I can't even catch her and I need the barn owner's help. She doesn't run from the barn owner.

Posted as separate article. See: Horse Runs From Owner article.

November 10, 2009 – BLAZING TRAILS

Can you ride a horse through the forest with no trail?

Are you asking whether it's possible to blaze a trail with a horse or if it's permitted? It's certainly possible; a horse can step or jump over fallen brush or trees easily enough.

As to whether or not you're breaking some rules, that depends on where you're riding. Many state forests prohibit trail blazing so that there remains unspoiled areas for wildlife. Hikers, horses, and any kinds of wheeled vehicles (bicycles, dirt bikes, etc.) will destroy any growing vegetation from the constant travel over the same area. By prohibiting such travel off the trails, many park services help to maintain vegetation normally eaten by the fauna indigenous to the area (deer, rabbits, etc.)

On private property, you can do whatever the owner allows. So, large farms or ranches allowing riding on their property may allow you to blaze trails — you need to ask whether or not it's permitted. Personally, I prefer to stay on established trails. I like the idea of maintaining some unspoiled areas and there's also something appealing about following a trail hither and fro to explore where it goes and what you'll see.


I'm in the process of buying my first horse. I don't yet have a saddle or bridle, but want to take my time shopping so I get the right one's for my horse and me. However, I have nothing, what kinds of items do I need to get started immediately?

Well, right from the beginning, you need a good halter. I like break-away halters so your horse should be able to get free without getting hurt if he panics. Also, get a 6 - 8 foot lead line. Next, you need grooming tools. You'll likely be able to borrow some for a few days or weeks, but you really want to have your own.

Start with a regular brush and add a soft brush for his face. Get a hoof pick (or two), a curry comb, and a regular, inexpensive, women's hair brush works fine for mane and tail care. Get any 2 - 3 gallon pail and a sponge for summer cooling and washing.

This is really all you need for a start. As seasons change, you'll get other accessories, such as a fly mask, fly spray, coolers, blankets, etc. You'll also get a lunge whip and other ground work and training aids. Then, there'll be care products, like wound ointment, insecticides, mane/tail detangler, and such. But initially, the halter, lead line, and basic grooming tools will get you started with the day-to-day needs, keep your costs down, and let you get familiar with your horse. Other riders and barn friends will make suggestions, lend you some of their stuff, and you'll begin to form your own opinions about which other products you want to get.

As for tack, that takes more consideration because of the costs involved and the importance of choosing wisely for the skeletal health of both your horse and you. When I bought my current horse, I knew I wanted to get a nice saddle and wanted to learn a lot more about saddle trees before committing. So, I purchased an inexpensive synthetic saddle so I could ride now while taking my time learning. It took me a year to investigate and try many saddles to my own satisfaction and to decide on what I really wanted. I'm delighted with my ultimate selection and could never have gone through the process without having a temporary saddle in which to ride. Another option is if a friend has a saddle that properly fits your horse that they could lend you for the time you explore your own saddle needs and desires. If you want to read about my saddle search experiences, see the series beginning with Saddle Search – Part 1: A Secure Saddle, Fit, & Comfort.

Good luck and enjoy your new horse!

November 6, 2009 – LONG LEAD LINES

Is it better to use a long lead line when leading a horse?

I don't think it matters. As for me, if leading with the horse beside me (more of an English approach), I like to have my right hand (the closer hand to the horse) about a foot from where the lead line attaches to the halter. If the horse moves quickly for any reason, I'm immediately aware and can respond. I keep the rest of the line in my left hand (the further hand) in a coil which I squeeze — you don't want any of the lead line wrapped around your hand.

If you like to lead in front of your horse (more of a Western approach), you still don't need a long lead line. Most lead lines are at least five feet long with the longest ones being around ten feet long. Whichever approach you take, a five or six foot line will be more than long enough. If you have a longer line, you'll have more line that you need to keep in the further hand.

I tend to grasp for a longer lead line for training purposes rather than for just leading the horse from one place to another.

November 5, 2009 – RIDING ALONE ON THE TRAIL

I'm taking some heat from fellow riders who think we should never ride the trails alone. I like an occasional solo ride and always carry a cell phone with me. Any thoughts?

There's absolutely no doubt that riding alone brings some additional risk. If you were to become injured, or even if you just fell off your horse without injury, but far from the barn and he ran off, it could be risky for you if the weather was very cold, rainy, or after dark. That said, I like to occasionally ride alone and know of many others that also do. Let's face it, we're also taking a chance every time we get into a car or truck to travel someplace, regardless of whether we're driving or just a passenger — many activities have some inherent risk.

There is something special about it being just our horse and us sometimes. And I also like the fact that I can let my horse stop and listen when he wants to investigate a sound or some movement; it's harder to let him do that when riding with others in a group. So when riding alone, I try to increase my ability to cope with a potential problem by carrying some extra safety equipment in addition to my cell phone. Besides a first aid kit and various tools and spare parts, I carry a two-way radio, a police whistle, a mirror, and a flashlight and strobe signaling device (useful at night). The foregoing equipment still provides no guarantees, but it does significantly increase the chances that I could get help if I ever needed it and my cell phone didn't work. Of course, make sure that you carry some of this stuff on your person in case your horse does run off with the rest of your safety equipment — he won't be using it.


Is it expensive to fix the floor on a horse trailer? The floor is shot and I'm just looking for a ballpark price so I have an idea of what to expect.

Well, like so many things in life, it depends. There's no standard and the kind of floor you have in your trailer will determine the cost.

  • The easiest and cheapest to replace will be pressure-treated lumber. This is because the planks are easily removed and replaced and you can get them at any home store or lumber yard. You'll also find pressure-treated plywood flooring which is a little harder to replace, but not much more so, and it, too, is reasonably priced. Avoid using any non-pressure-treated wood for replacement flooring; it will tend to rot fairly quickly.
  • An aluminum or galvanized steel (rare) floor are the hardest to replace, if in fact you can even do the job yourself and can get the replacement flooring.
  • Rumbar floors are very popular, but they hardly ever need to be replaced, so I presume you don't have this kind of floor.
I don't have actual prices because I don't know if you intend to just buy the replacement flooring and do the job yourself or have someone else do it. I also don't know where you are in the country and location affects the price of both materials and labor. But you should be able to get pricing for the lumber or plywood floors relatively easily. The rest will likely require that you take it to trailer dealers and get quotations.

November 3, 2009 – A STANDARD DRAWBAR "DROP"?

What is the most common trailer hitch "drop?" I need to get a bar to fit into my trucks receiver, but I don't know which one to buy because there are all these different "drops". Why isn't there a standard?

I understand your frustration, but if you think about this for a moment, the answer becomes obvious. There is no "most common" or "standard" drop because there are no standard heights for tow vehicles or for trailers. Bigger vehicles are generally higher off the ground because everything is, well, bigger, including the wheels and tires. This places the axles and the vehicle higher above the ground. And this is good because many of these trucks are used at construction sites and for other off-road applications that require higher ground clearance to avoid getting hung up on rocks or stumps.

Conversely, trailers tend to be lower to keep their center of gravity low so they won't flip when we drive around a turn on the road — it gives them better stability. A trailer manufacturer doesn't know if you're going to pull a 2 horse trailer with an SUV, pickup truck, big dually, or anything else. At the same time, the truck manufacturer doesn't know if you're going to pull a horse trailer, utility trailer, a boat trailer, log splitter, or something else. Many truck owners pull several or all of these with the same vehicle and they vary in height.

So, with all these different potential "tow packages" and many different trucks, some with 4-wheel drive (which makes them ride higher still), it's impossible to manufacture all these vehicles and trailers so their hitches and couplers will match in height (or even by coupler). The most often used hitch for the intermediate load is the receiver, and by providing drawbars of different heights, we have an easy way of making them all work together.

November 2, 2009 – EASILY STARTLED HORSES?

Why do horses get startled when you move quickly around their head?

You don't say whether the horses in question generally have their heads up or down while you're experiencing this behavior. If their heads are down grazing and you're moving quickly and too close to their heads, they're likely concerned about getting their heads kicked and don't know what all your movement around them means. If their heads are up, I don't know the answer to your question. When I'm working with my own horse or that of a friend or at some other barn, my movement around a horse doesn't usually startle them. I do talk soothingly to them while I work and drag my hand on their backs when I go around them so they always know where I am. But they're not startled or acting alarmed.

If the horses with which you have experience tend to be easily spooked, that could be the reason for what you're experiencing. But, most horses should not act that way. Most horses have usually been around humans their entire lives and are used to us milling around them as we check them over, groom them, clean their mains and forelocks, pick their hooves, cut a bridle path, remove ticks, etc., etc. If you're finding that the horses you interact with are all easily startled, you may want to check into how they're being managed at their barn — that's not normal behavior and they might be highly stressed — and that's not healthy for them nor a happy existence..


What type of horse breed do you need for simple trail riding?

First, it's hard to know what you mean by "simple" trail riding. And second, while some breed types are preferred for certain riding disciplines, trail riding is one that is available to almost all breeds. More important are characteristics that are pertinent to the rider. For example, a large rider should use a horse capable of carrying heavier riders. That may be a larger horse or a stocky small horse. New riders will want a horse that is very calm and experienced so they don't find themselves fighting their horse to cross a brook or even frightened by them if the horse is more aggressive. Conversely, a more experienced rider may prefer more spirited horses.

Please consider submitting a little more information as to what you'd like to do on the trail, plus your riding experience, and we're happy to offer suggestions.

October 29, 2009 – SADDLE SEATBELTS???

Why doesn't someone put a seat belt for a horse saddle so I don't bounce around so much and worry about falling off?

You're kidding, right? One of the best reasons for NOT putting a seat belt on a saddle is so you can get off the horse if he rolls, messes a jump, or spooks and you have no control. A rider in such a situation would not have the time, let alone the presence of mind, to unbuckle a belt so he could jump. If you were ever under a horse when he fell or rolled, you would get injured at best, most likely, much worse.

If you're bouncing in the saddle or can't stay on, it sounds like some lessons would help. Many people trot, canter, gallop, and jump horses without falling off — it's about balance and moving with the horse. This all comes with instruction and practice — there's no shortcut.

And if it's steep downhill travel or the unexpected quick turn, shy, or stop you're worried about, you can get an Australian saddle. They have "knee poleys" that help keep the rider in the saddle, but still allow him to escape if ever necessary.

October 28, 2009 – WE MUST BE IN CONTROL

When out on the trail, why does my horse always want to canter home? I'm afraid when he does that.

Canter? Most horses would want to gallop back! It's not uncommon for horses to want to quickly return to their barn or paddock. And why not? It's a place they've generally come to feel is safe, their friends are there, they get to graze, and they don't have to work. Heck! I know many humans who want to always stay home, live to eat, be with their friends, and avoid all work — why should horses be different?

That said, horses having fun out on the trail will be somewhat more content. If you normally ride alone, try riding with others, especially four or more. At that point, you start to form a small herd and the horses feel safer together. And if one runs, they'll all want to run and are more inclined to enjoy it.

There are those that advise to never run your horses back to the barn because it reinforces their natural desire to do so and because you might not be able to stop your horse. I don't agree with that and sometimes return at a run and at other times it's at the walk or a mixture of gaits. In fact, I try to mix up the gaits during all my rides regardless of where we are and where we're going. That way, my horse doesn't relate a particular gait with any particular location or direction — he just follows my commands. Of course, when we ride as a group, his preference will be to do whatever the group does. But it's up to me to allow or disallow that, and I mix that up also.

The one concern I have about many riders is their fear of a horse cantering or galloping. If you can't control your horse, which means stopping, turning, and accelerating at all gaits, you're taking a risk by going out on the trail. Competent riding means being in control and not being afraid. You might go out on the trail alone or with a few friends with the intention of it being just a walking or a walk/trot ride, but things can happen. Your horse could spook, be afraid of loose dogs or bicyclists, or another group of horses with inconsiderate riders could gallop past you. In these situations, you can't just pray that all will turn out well, you need to be able to control your horse, including being able to canter, gallop, turn, and stop him. Otherwise, it's like driving a car and hoping it doesn't rain until you've gotten back home because you're afraid to drive on wet roads. What happens when you do get caught in the rain? Will you panic? That's not acceptable! Similarly, for your safety, the safety of other riders, and that of hikers, bicyclists and everyone else with which we share the trail, we need to be able to control our horses in all situations. If that's an issue, it means we need more riding instruction, and maybe our horses could also use some additional training. It's never worth risking lives. If we won't do it for our own safety, we are still responsible to not endanger others.


Can horses catch cold while being trailered in cold weather?

I don't know about the risk of catching cold by exposure to cold air — you need to check with your vet on that one. But I do know that there is a risk of hypothermia for a horse when trailering in cold weather. If you have a fully enclosed trailer, that won't be as bad. If you have a stock trailer, the degree of risk will be determined by the temperature of the air, the speed at which you're driving, and whether or not there's a wind to add to the driving speed.

Personally, I'd avoid trailering a horse in cold weather with a stock trailer except for short trips. On longer trips, I'd use a fully enclosed trailer. Even then, your horse cannot be very active in the trailer, so he can't generate much heat through higher levels of activity. Therefore, you still want to limit the trips in the coldest weather, especially the further north you are.

October 26, 2009 – BE ON HORSE TIME?

Because of our harried schedules these days, it's easy for horses to become an obligation rather than a passion. I've come to realize the mistake in letting that happen in my own life. That doesn't mean seeing my horse less, it actually means seeing him more.

Horses require us to allocate some of our precious time to their care, even when we board them. That's because some of that care should be just some quality time with us. Such time can include riding, but shouldn't be all work for our horses. It should be fun and relaxing for both.

If the foregoing resonates with you and you'd like to give this a little thought of your own, read the article entitled, appropriately enough: Be on "Horse Time".

October 23, 2009 – LEANING HORSE TRAILER

My horse trailer is leaning to one side. What's wrong?

The first thing I would do is to place your trailer on a level, flat surface. Then, check the tire inflation on the low side. It could be as simple as underinflated tires on that side. If that's not the problem, you'll need to get under the trailer to look at the suspension system to see if something has broken.

There isn't much more to check, unless the frame has bent or broken and the trailer shell itself is leaning, but I presume you'd be able to see that by just looking at the trailer. Placing the trailer first on level ground will give you a more accurate reference as you investigate the problem.

If you find the source of the problem and it's not any of my suggestions, please write back and let us know what you find. I'm very interested to know the problem if it's anything else because I can't imagine any other casues.

Good luck!

October 22, 2009 – BAD SADDLE TYPES?

Does an English saddle hurt a horse's back? Should I ride Western instead?

I've heard these kinds of questions asked before in various incarnations. Sometimes it's about an English saddle, at other times it can be about a Western saddle, a dressage saddle, or some other type. The answer is: No saddle will hurt the horse if it's properly sized for the horse and is in good condition — it doesn't matter the type. You have to understand that, while there are different kinds of saddles, all saddle designers and manufacturers are creating products designed to distribute the rider's weight over the horse's back with minimal discomfort. And there are different ways to do it.

All disciplines are appropriate and the one you choose is usually the result of the kind of riding you want to do. Many riders have several different saddles because they ride several different disciplines. You wouldn't want to pursue jumping in a Western saddle. The horn would present a danger to you and the saddle is not designed to continually take the shock of jumping; plus, it's a heavier saddle that would make the horse work harder at each jump.

Similarly, taking long trail rides in that jumping saddle would prove uncomfortable over the hours because it's a forward saddle; plus, it doesn't have the deeper cantle and pommel that provide more safety support in the event of a spook. The arena doesn't usually harbor the denizens of the field and forest that cause spooks commonly found on the trail. Essentially, each saddle is designed for its purpose and while you can use other tack, it generally doesn't work as well and usually suffices only for shorter rides.

Also understand there is no right or wrong discipline and each requires a combination of basic skills common to all riding, plus some specialty skills determined by that particular discipline. If you want to become a really good rider, explore more than one discipline by taking lessons from an instructor qualified to teach that discipline. You'll find that those skills will usually translate well and help you to be a better rider in your favorite discipline. As the Horse Girl has often told me: "All saddle time is good time!"


Why would someone use a breast plate with a western saddle?

There can be several reasons:

  • The usual reason is because the saddle slips backwards when going uphill, especially steep hills. The breastplate limits how far the saddle can slide backward to a half inch or an inch or so.
  • It can be used to help keep the horses head down.
  • Some people do it just because they like the look of a breastplate on a horse and consider it part of their normal tack.
  • If you use wither bags, they usually connect to the center of the girth strap and to a breastplate, so you need it as a way to secure the wither bags.


Does the towing capacity of a truck include the truck operator and passengers?

No. The towing capacity describes the maximum amount of weight your truck can tow. It does include the weight of the trailer and the weight of everything in the trailer. This means the horses, hay, tack, any fluids — EVERYTHING!

What you're asking about is the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). The GVW of your truck includes the weight of the truck with everything in it from fluids (oil, gasoline, etc.) to all occupants and all cargo in the cab and in the bed.

Finally, we have the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). This is the maximum weight the engine of your truck can move and includes the tow vehicle, trailer, and everything in both. BUT, it DOES NOT mean the combined gross weight ratings of both truck and trailer — it's usually less than that total. That's because if you're not towing a trailer, you can put more into your truck up to its GVW. Conversely, as you load up a trailer, you cannot include as much weight in your truck. So, when towing a trailer, you need to make sure that you stay under the GVW of the truck, under the GTW of the trailer, and under the GCWR for both.


Is it safe for a horse to ride in the wind?

I've gotten lots of inquiries about this question in various permutations this autumn. And I addressed autumn riding specifically in a response on September 28, 2009. The short answer is: YES!!! The horse can ride in reasonable wind and so can you. Horses and you are not in any danger from the wind itself unless it is extreme, such as in tornadoes or hurricanes. Of course, consider also where you'll ride. If it's in a forest, be aware of the possibility of falling branches or dead trees that can be blown over by the wind.

In normal autumn winds that are not unreasonable, the bigger question is how your horse feels and acts on windy days. Is he calm or do the wind and its affects spook him. Many horses become more alert and a little anxious on the first windy day or two, but usually calm down after that as they again get used to it.

We have an article that explores this topic more deeply entitled: Horses and Wind.


Should I keep my saddle inside this winter?

It's interesting that this is the first time someone has asked this question. I keep my main saddle in my home year round. I do that because it's all leather and the environment at home is both stable and "friendly" to leather — both the temperature and the humidity stay within a narrow range.

Conversely, tack rooms at barns, are generally not so good for leather. Those that are heated in the winter and cooled or dehumidified in the summer are far better, but they're rare. Most tack rooms are just an adjacent room or space in the barn that follows the weather outdoors. So they get very hot in warmer weather, damp and promote mold and mildew in wet weather, and can be somewhat dry in the winter. If you have a synthetic saddle, it should do find in all weather at your barn. BUT, do consider the theft issue. Most barns are vacant at night and it'd be an easy matter for a thief to enter and steal tack from most barns.

If you do keep your saddle at home, do consider that homes can get very dry in the winter because already dry, outside air gets even dryer as it warms up inside. That means continuing to occasionally oil your saddle lightly to keep the leather supple through the cold months. And don't just drop your saddle on the floor, get or build a saddle stand so the saddle's tree sits properly and doesn't get out of shape or damaged. Three very bad places for saddles at home are unfinished basements, attics, and unheated garages. The best place is on a stand in the corner of a room that is used by your family. Leather does best in the same environment that most of us find comfortable.

Finally, don't forget about your other leather that requires the same care and environment. So, the foregoing also applies to any leather bridles, reins, halters, martingales, tapaderos, saddle bags, etc., etc.

October 15, 2009 – GLUING SHOES

Does using glue to affix a horse shoe allow the hoof to expand?

No. The manner of affixing the shoe, whether with glue or nails, has no effect on the hoofs ability to move. The hoof doesn't expand or contract so much as it grows between shoeings. It's the shoe itself that limits the hoof's ability to move as it grows.

Think about it. The shoe is either steel or aluminum — both are metals and quite rigid. If they're securely affixed to your horse's hoof (with glue or nails), the hoof won't be able to grow and change much until the nails loosen from the hoof crumbling. It crumbles because it must grow and the shoe and nails are rigid. The hoof is softer, so as the growth stresses increase, the hood starts to crumble. Plus, the average horse is carrying about 300 - 400 pounds on each hoof and shoe. He runs, jumps, and stops with his weight on the shoes, so that also has a loosening effect.

If you want to learn more about hooves, see our article entitled: How Hooves Work.


Can mounting your horse hurt his back?

Actually, it can if you're too harsh and jerky, your horse is too small for you, or you're too heavy. Of late, many veterinarians are suggesting that we should always use mounting blocks when getting on a horse to protect their backs. When stepping in a stirrup and mounting from the ground, we place a twisting force on their spines. And because many riders jerk to get a leg up, it's a more severe twisting force.

We have two related articles that will provide you with more in-depth information about this topic:

The Lowly Mounting Block
Mounting Pressures

October 13, 2009 – SHORT SHANK BITS

Are short shank bits harsh?

All bits have the potential for being harsh. And shank bits provide the rider with additional leverage to hurt the horse's mouth even more. Shank bits should not be used by new riders; the potential to cause the horse pain by an accidental rider panic is just too great. Experienced riders with a very light touch can use a shank bit more effectively without causing said pain.

But you need to remember that the whole premise of using a bit in the first place is not only to signal the horse, but to do so in a way that can cause pain if he doesn't listen. Fortunately, the harsh, "break their spirit" methods of the past are giving way to the more enlightened ways of training horses that we're seeing more of today. In fact, I know several people that ride their horses with the reins connected to the sides of a halter — there is no bit, no hackamore, and the horses listen very well. Of course, using that approach will not work without patience and time training a horse and earning its trust to be able to ride with nothing more than just a halter.


I'm having a problem with my saddle pad sliding out the back of my saddle while riding. What should I do?

I've experienced this problem myself, but not on all horses and not with all saddles. It generally occurs with English or Australian saddles more than with western saddles. And that's not really a surprise when you realize that they're very similar in shape in that an Australian saddle is very much like a large dressage saddle. The first thing to check is whether or not your girth/cinch is tight enough. You don't want it to be highly compressing your horse's chest, but you also don't want it loose.

The pad doesn't just slide by itself. Rather, it's the result of a combination of motions, usually while cantering or galloping (but especially cantering). Essentially, when you rise during the up motion of cantering, if the saddle is too loose, it will also rise. There is also a forward component to cantering and when you and the saddle come back down, you're both now at a slightly more forward position on the saddle pad. Then you, the saddle, and the pad, all slide back a small amount and the process continues with the rise again. As this process repeats itself during your ride, you find that your pad has been incrementally ratcheted backward between horse and saddle until quite a bit of the pad is hanging out the back and the front part of the saddle is now sitting directly on your horse's back. This is not a good situation — you don't want to ride with part of your saddle directly on the horse or without a saddle pad altogether. The pad helps cushion the downward forces and also fills any gaps between the saddle tree and the changes of the horse's back that occur as he gains and loses weight throughout the year. And without a pad, tightening the cinch/girth would force hard parts of the saddle tree directly against the horse's back making that area tender and chaffing it through movement — bad stuff.

If tightening the girth/cinch doesn't solve your problem, then look for a pad that has retaining straps that go around the flap — that will help keep the saddle and pad moving together. You'll find such pads at many tack shops and at most online, tack dealers. Even then, make sure the girth/cinch is not too loose and that you ride with a balanced seat.


What is a typical trailer ball height above the ground so I can buy a trailer with a coupler at the right height?

There really isn't any "typical ball height" — it depends on the trailer. Many people think it depends on the tow vehicle, but it doesn't. Instead, the receiver on the tow vehicle accepts a drawbar that is either level or has a "rise" or a "drop" to accommodate the coupler height connected to the trailer. You want to select the amount of rise or drop to make the trailer's tongue level when connected to your tow vehicle.

I've seen trailer tongue heights vary from a low of 10 inches to over 22 inches — I'm sure there are some trailer tongues that are even lower and higher. So, if your trailer tongue is at 12 inches above the ground and your tow vehicle is at 18 inches, that means you need a drawbar with a drop of 5 inches to make the trailer run level.

Drawbar with drop Drawbars with various drops

The photo above left shows such a drop to level the trailer's tongue. The other photo shows several drawbars offering different drops. Such drawbars can be reversed to provide a "rise" instead, if needed.

October 8, 2009 – SMALL TOW VEHICLES

What small vehicles can tow a horse trailer?

We get this question a lot in various flavors, so I assume many people want to trailer their horse, but don't have a truck and don't want to get one if they can avoid it. The problem you have with using small vehicles for towing is that you don't ever, ever want the tow vehicle to be towed by the trailer. If the tow vehicle is too light compared to the trailer, that is what you risk. You can image what that might feel like as you follow the trailer, with no control over your own vehicle, over some embankment and into the trees, or worse, the water.

Essentially, a small, light vehicle can only pull a small, light trailer. Once you're talking horses, by law, the trailer must have two axles and be able to carry the weight of the horse. Even for a one-horse trailer, you're looking at 800 - 900 pounds minimum plus the weight of the trailer that will be at least 1,300 pounds for the lightest trailer — and it's all uphill from there.

So, you're over 2,000 pounds with the lightest, and likely flimsiest of trailers. A more substantial trailer will weigh more with good-quality 2-horse trailers weighing around 2,400 pounds empty, with no dressing room, and before tack, hay, horse, and anything else you may throw in there. So, your tow vehicle needs to be rated to be able to tow at least 3,500 pound, more to have a cushion.

When you actually get to hauling a couple of horses, you need to have a vehicle that's rated to tow at least 5,000 pounds. And even then, you don't want to use a vehicle with too short a wheelbase, such as some SUVs. You can learn more with these articles on QueryHorse:

Tow Vehicles
Common Trailering Questions

And you can see more trailering information at: Trucks & Trailering

October 7, 2009 – RIDE IN HORSE TRAILER?

Can I travel in the horse trailer with my horse when it's windy to keep him calm? He's afraid when the wind blows.

In most states, it's illegal to ride in a moving trailer of any kind, whether a horse trailer, camper, or anything else. In your case, being in an enclosed space with a spooked horse is a bad idea even if it isn't in motion — worse if in a moving vehicle. Besides intentional movement by your horse, a sharp turn, an abrupt stop, or an accident could cause you to be accidently crushed by your horse.

You need to travel up front in the tow vehicle. Only another horse, donkey, mule, or similarly sized animal, properly secured, should ride with your horse to keep him company.


I need to dig some post holes to install a new paddock. Is there any easier way than using a posthole digger by hand?

Well, the next step up is to use a gasoline powered augur. This is usually a two-man device enclosing a small engine with handles on the side. From underneath, the augur is driven to spin and dig a hole. It's easier and faster to use than digging by hand, but in rocky soil, it can jerk the two of you around quite a bit. Such a unit doesn't need to be purchased; many rental equipment shops have them.

The best and easiest way to dig postholes is to use a tractor that has an augur on the back driven by the tractor's PTO (power take-off). The weight of the tractor provides great stability and hitting rocks is much less of a problem because the tractor can deal with large rocks than the handheld augur. Also, the tractor has much more power and can drive a deeper and larger diameter augur if necessary. If you have a large enough tractor already with a Category 1 3-point hitch, you can buy and augur, or rent one just to do your current job. If you have no tractor or the one you have is too small, many rental shops do rent tractors with augurs on them. Good luck!


I presume that the battery for the break away brake on my trailer only gets charged when I tow it?

Possibly, unless you also have a solar cell panel on the trailer roof that charges it, but I haven't yet seen a trailer advertised with that accessory. Very possibly, your break-away brake battery is not getting charged at all. While some trailers do have a charging circuit that charges that battery when the trailer is connected to the tow vehicle, most do not. Instead, they depend upon the trailer owner to occasionally place the battery on a trickle charger every few months. And if you've ever tested or had to use the break-away brake, chances are good that your battery is either mostly discharged or completely dead.

You should refer to your trailer owner's manual or contact the trailer manufacturer to determine whether or not your trailer has a charger and what to do. Even those trailers with a charger only charge the battery when it's connected to the tow vehicle as you have surmised. Therefore, the rarely used trailer is likely to have a low or no charge in the battery. And after about five years, the battery should definitely be tested to determine whether or not it can even hold a charge — it may need to be replaced with a new battery.

Oh! And never purchase a "reconditioned" battery — ALWAYS buy new. You and your horses cannot afford to not have this battery working if ever needed.


My horse doesn't listen to me when on a group ride. Why does she always want to do what the group does?

This issue manifests itself much more for trail riders than for those disciplines that work mainly in rings and arenas where everyone essentially stays together in a relatively small space on the farm. It's been a common thread through many of the questions submitted to the "Horse Girl" and to this column. Of course, the reason horses are herd animals is because they're prey animals, and hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have shown them instinctually that traveling in a herd offers "group protection" and results in a longer lifespan. So, if that's true, what can we do about it regarding the control of our own horse when riding with a group?

For starters, we need to regularly show and continue to show our horses that we are their leader, the boss, that we'll guide them, will keep them safe, and will get them back home every time we take them out. Over time, they really do learn that they can safely listen to us and trust us to keep them safe and alive. Yes, they'll test us frequently and we must be ready to respond consistently to prove that we're paying attention and are on top of the situation. This is normal horse behavior and horses do that amongst themselves in testing the herd alpha regularly — they're not going to treat us any differently.

While I advocate the foregoing and live by this credo, my own horse still tests me all the time and sometimes gets away with something he knows he's not supposed to do, such as snatching some leaves or grass while we're riding. He's always paying attention and if I'm talking with fellow riders, he knows there's a better chance he'll get that quick bite.

Some trainers have done so well with their horse that the group can take off at a canter or gallop and their horse won't even budge an inch without their rider's permission. They may squirm and make pleading noises, but they won't take off with the herd. My own horse will definitely want to stay with the group and will do so unless I explicitly stop him — he won't like it, but he'll listen. The fact he doesn't like it doesn't surprise me, after all, he thinks he'll be safer if they all stay together. But if I disagree, he'll yield to my decision (though he'll initially squirm and make the aforementioned noises).

In your case, you've already stated that your horse won't listen to you, therefore, I think you should enlist the help of a trainer to help you gain control and assure that you can always control your horse, especially in group situations. I've ridden with too many riders that don't want the group to exceed a trot because they're afraid they won't be able to stop their horse in a canter or gallop — that's not only a scary feeling for any rider to have, it's not safe if the horse is making the decisions while you're on top. It's completely ok if your horse prefers to stay with the group as long as he still listens to your commands — it's not ok and is dangerous if he doesn't listen to you and you're not in full control (you're also missing out on the great fun of cantering and galloping that your horse will also enjoy).

If you'd like to start on your own in making your horse less herd bound so you can separate him from a group out on the trail, see our article entitled: Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse. But don't "blow off" getting a trainer involved. You need to be able to control your horse or you could get hurt — a lot of that training is going to be for you and building your own confidence. Once you can control your horse and you know it, you'll enjoy riding much, much more than you do now.


How can I lower my horse's center of gravity when I ride?

I'd love to know what would precipitate such a question. There is nothing you can do to lower your horse's center of gravity, nor should you concern yourself with this. If you have a healthy horse, he is more than capable of moving himself quickly and adroitly in whatever way needed. More important is to understand the joint center of gravity when you're mounted on your horse.

You want to place your saddle properly so that your center of gravity is over his. You also want to sit balanced, straight up in the center of the saddle with your heals down and your hands properly placed low in front of you holding the reins. In this way, your horse should be able to move quickly and easily without you feeling like a "dead weight" or a "squirmy worm" on his back. The latter is particularly hard for a horse because he wants to stay under you so that you don't fall, yet, he also doesn't want to fall himself because you keep moving around and upsetting his balance. This is hard enough at the walk — it's especially critical when at speed and when jumping.

One more thing, don't just try to affix your saddle over what you think is your horse's center of gravity. Check with an experienced rider, your trainer, or a saddle expert. You need to assure that the saddle is the proper one for your horse and then follow that with putting it in the proper place on his back. Too many people use a borrowed saddle, a saddle from another horse, or some such without any idea of whether it properly fits the horse or not. Such use is not only dangerous when riding, it can also permanently harm your horse's back.

If you meant something else from your question that I didn't address, please submit again and I'll be happy to respond.

September 30, 2009 – SAFE TRAIL SADDLE

My friend says that aussie saddles are the safest for the trails, is that really true?

I feel that every saddle has its purpose and use the best one I can find designed for whatever task I'm doing. As for trail riding, I do feel that an Australian saddle is the best for that application. In fact, I believe that so much that I bought my own Aussie saddle last year and it's my primary trail saddle.

I started as an English rider and still use an English saddle when taking jumping lessons during the winters. For the trails, I used to use a western saddle because it provided more support with a higher cantle and higher pommel than afforded by an English design. A western saddle is also more comfortable for the long hours you expect to spend in one out on the range or the trail. You sit back a little more and your legs are less bent than when riding English tack.

A couple of years ago, I started a somewhat involved saddle search and investigation. I wanted to sit in many different saddles, wanted to try those I'd never used before, such as Aussie and dressage saddles. I also wanted to learn much more about their construction, their trees, about treeless saddles, etc., etc. What I learned is that saddle comfort varies across many manufacturers lines. Generally, their more expensive saddles are more comfortable than their cheaper versions. But what drove me most toward an Australian saddle was safety. Horses are more likely to spook out on the trail than in any other scenario because that's where the unpredictable is most likely to occur. That can be a dog jumping out of the bushes, bikes, motorcycles, ATVs, groups of dogs barking, surprised deer, and almost anything else that rarely torment horses in the arena.

Those knee poleys are designed to keep the rider in the saddle whether going down steep hills or if the horse abruptly stops, shies, spins, bucks, almost anything. And I've experienced all of those scenarios, some occurring many times since purchasing my Aussie saddle and have never left that saddle once. Even some violent bucking on a friend's horse using my saddle didn't drop my keester to the ground — that was compelling! And experience shows that you generally don't get hurt until you hit the ground — avoid hitting the ground and you get hurt and bruised much less. My Australian saddle also has a deeper cantle and higher pommel than any western saddle I've used or seen. That means still more support and increased safety. And, however the manufacturer did it, it's even the most comfortable saddle I've ever ridden in. That's particularly important to me because my friends and I tend to take long rides, such as the 3-4 hour rides we had the last two weekends (gorgeous weather here in autumn).

If you'd like to read about my own saddle investigation experiences, see the multi-part series on this Website entitled: The Saddle Search – Part 1.

September 29, 2009 – GPS WITH BAROMETER

I'm looking at different GPS units for trail riding. One of the features I'm considering is the ability to monitor barometric pressure so I can tell if bad weather is coming while I'm out on the trail. Do you know if this feature works well enough to see oncoming storms?

Quite frankly, I think you're fooling yourself to trust your weather safety on reading barometric pressure out in the field. The barometric pressure is going to go up or down significantly just because of the change in altitude you might experience when riding up or down hills. Yet, those changes due to altitude changes you're making will be unrelated to weather phenomenon.

Also, changes in pressure as a result of a low-pressure storm front moving in are usually slow and gradual (except in the mountains — see below). Therefore, it's not likely you'll see much happening if you're just out riding for a few hours.

A much better idea is to get a GPS that includes a weather radio feature, or you can just buy a small, portable weather radio to carry on your rides. That way, you'll be able to get weather forecasts and weather alerts in real time from those actually tracking and forecasting the weather. And you also want to watch the weather forecasts on the days prior to your rides so you know what's coming your way.

Mountain Weather
If you're riding in the mountains, you need to always be prepared by carrying clothing and maybe even camping supplies that will allow you to quickly build a shelter at a moment's notice. Mountain weather can change very quickly on a small, local level that often eludes the wider-scale forecasting normally provided by traditional weather services. Yet, the weather variations occurring on a small scale, such as those typical in the mountains can cause large temperature swings that will come on in just 20 minutes or so and last for several hours, such as a 40 or 50°F temperature drop. Such rapid, extreme changes are dangerous and more than one hiker has been found dead on a mountainside during a warm summer day due to a freak storm that came upon him in mere minutes when he was unprepared. It then warmed up again several hours later just as quickly.

Technology is very impressive and keeps getting better. But unfortunately, it's not yet at a point that will save us from such extremes. Avoiding bad weather altogether or being prepared for it when it occurs is the only realistically safe option available to us at this time.

We have a GPS-related article you may be interested in reading entitled: A GPS for Trail Riding.

September 28, 2009 – AUTUMN RIDING

Is it more dangerous to ride in the fall than the summer?

Each season has some risk associated with it. For example, in the summer, dehydration and heat prostration are some of the risks as well as toxic bites from certain insects. In autumn, those risks fade as others take their place. Consider the following regarding riding in fall:

  • Increased spookiness of the horses due to wind noise and the movement of leaves, branches, and debris that wind causes. See our article entitled: Horses and Wind;
  • Slippery conditions caused by wet leaves. The tops of the exposed leaves may be dry, but moisture will remain between leaves and they can be very slick causing you and your horse to fall;
  • Chance of unexpected hypothermia if you get wet. Many riders feel that hypothermia isn't a risk in the 50-70 degree range often seen in temperate climates during the autumn months, but if you get wet and stay that way far from the barn, even if just for 30 minutes, your body temperature can quickly drop dangerously low — windy conditions will accelerate the cooling and the risk;
  • In many states, hunters are out in force during the autumn months and riders need to wear orange and be aware that they're now sharing the forest and fields with people carrying and firing live ammo — be vigilant and make yourself obvious!
  • With dryer and windy conditions, fire is more of a risk. You could be the cause if you camp without due safety, or you might be running from someone else's mistake — be alert!
There are other risks, but you get the idea. You don't want to avoid riding and enjoying this beautiful planet in any season, but you do want to use common sense and be careful so you'll return safely and be able to go out riding again another day.

September 25, 2009 – HAY QUALITY

How can I tell if the hay I'm buying is of good quality?

Hay is actually a somewhat complex product in its variations, where it's grown, when it's harvested, how it's stored, etc. The response to your question is therefore more than a simple answer can provide. Fortunately, there are many articles on the net delving into this topic. One of them that I particularly like is on the University of Maryland Website entitled: Evaluating Hay Quality.

September 24, 2009 – PAINTING A STOCK TRAILER

How much does it cost to paint a stock trailer?

In all honesty, I don't know the answer to your question. If you were asking about an enclosed trailer, it's probably around the price to paint a car plus a little extra for the additional paint needed to cover a larger surface. But a stock trailer is more labor intensive even though it will require less paint. The only advice I can give is to take the trailer to a local paint shop for an estimate.

If you decide to do the job yourself, it should be relatively cheap and cost no more than a couple hundred dollars for the paint, brushes, etc. Of course, it will be time consuming. If you have a compressor and spray gun, the work will go faster, easier, and provide a better finish, but it will use more paint because lots of it will blow by the structural members.

Good luck!


The marker lights on my horse trailer are always failing. I try changing the bulb and it still doesn't work. Sometimes, a good wack will fix it temporarily, but then it that light will fail again. Any idea of the problem?

Actually, I do. The tipoff is when you mentioned that a bulb change often doesn't work while giving the fixture a wack does, but just for a short time.

The likely problem is that the ground wire for the light is connected to a screw that screws into the trailer's body. That screw or the body it screws into has likely corroded. When you hit it, it makes contact for a short time and then corrodes again.

Probably the best thing to do is to open the fixture, identify the screw being used to ground that light, remove it, and go to your local hardware store. Get replacement screws made of stainless steel and make sure you get enough to replace all the ground screws in all the marker lights. If the fixture allows, you may want to get one screw size larger. If you do, driving the new screws could be somewhat harder or you may even have to pre-drill with the right-sized bit for the new screw. That will assure you have a clean, non-corroded edge on the screw hole to contact the new screws.

Note that this fix may not be permanent even though the new screws are stainless steel. That will depend on the material of the trailer body. If it's steel, the edge will likely corrode again over time. However, it should work for a longer period of time with the stainless steel screws.

If the body is aluminum, that should work great for a very long time.


My horses seem to waste some of their grazing by not eating the grass in those areas. Why won't they eat it? How can I make them eat it all?

There may be several reasons:

  • They may be using that area as their bathroom and don't want to mix that with their food supply. If they did, they could get very sick and/or get parasites from one another;
  • They may not like the taste of the grass/plants in that particular area;
  • The grass/plants in that area may be toxic to them and they knowingly avoid it;
  • There may have been something toxic or distasteful dumped there at some prior time (oil, chemicals, etc.);
  • There may be other life forms in the area with which they don't want to interact (bees/wasps, snakes, etc.).
Generally, horses will avoid an area or the eating of its plants for a good reason. Don't try to make them graze in that area by limiting their grazing elsewhere just so you can feel your entire pasture is being used. You could be making your horses eat something to survive that they know they should otherwise avoid. Doing so could make them very sick or even kill them.

September 21, 2009 – SADDLE PLACED TOO FAR BACK

What kind of problems are caused by a saddle placed too far back?

A too far back placement can cause many minor and major problems:

  • It will make it harder for your horse to carry you because you won't be over his center of balance;
  • At minimum, it will require more of his energy and he'll be more tired than if you were properly riding him;
  • He may carry himself improperly causing foot and leg pain or even permanent damage;
  • It can result in your horse getting a sore back or could cause a severe back injury;
  • Such saddle placement will make it harder for him to stay balanced through his gaits and is even more dangerous for both of you if you should jump him.
From the foregoing, you can see that proper saddle placement is a critical aspect of safe and healthy riding for both your horse and for you. And the heavier you are, the worse all of the problems above will be for your horse.


Will it harm a horse to canter on concrete or asphalt?

Yes, it can. Just as runners purchase running shoes to provide cushioning to run on harder surfaces, you need to run only on surfaces that provide the same kind of cushioning for your horse. That can be a grass or sand surface, or something like pine needles or snow. But it definitely isn't concrete or asphalt, and running your horse on such surfaces risks giving them shin splints or worse — don't do it.

September 17, 2009 – WIND AND TRAILERING

Is it dangerous to pull a horse trailer on a windy day?

It can be; it depends upon the conditions, your driving speed, and other factors. Because this topic is somehwat involved, I decided to write a more comprehensive response in the form of an article. It's entitled: Wind and Trailering.

September 16, 2009 – GALLOPING IN THE WINTER

Can you gallop a horse in the winter?

We're not into cold weather yet and are actually just starting to enter autumn, but here's the scoop on cold weather riding.

Yes, horses can gallop in cold weather. BUT, you want to be cautious about certain aspects. First, make sure the condition of the ground is appropriate and safe. That means that you're not going to be running on ice or directly on frozen ground. Any slippery surface is a potential danger to both you and your horse if a slip and fall were to occur or if you both slid into a rock, wall, tree, or some other object because of insufficient traction. As for hard ground, running on it could give your horse shin splints.

Second, a horse that isn't in shape should not be overly exerted in cold weather. Out of shape humans and mammals face increased chances of heart attacks, and also to strokes due to high blood pressure when they over-exert in the cold weather. Therefore, if your horse is not in good physical condition with frequent exercise and work, running him in cold weather is definitely not good for him and could result in serious injury or death.

Third, even if he is in shape, give your horse time to warm up before you speed up. And then, speed up slowly so that muscles can gradually warm before you make them work harder. If you work him too hard, too fast, you can cause muscle damage.

Finally, remember that working hard burns more calories and causes more heat -- don't push for too long and make your horse sweat. When he stops, that moisture is going to cause rapid cooling in cold, dry air potentially leading to hypothermia.

Generally, it's better to be active in the cold months, but not at the same hard pace as during the warmer months. Enjoy the cold weather with our four-legged friends, but protect them from injury and the elements in the same way you should be protecting yourself.


Do horse trailers really need their own breaks?

YES!!! They definitely do. Any substantial trailer with its payload requires its own brakes. Without them, you'll put too much force on the brakes of the tow vehicle. Not only will they wear out quickly, more dangerously, they could overheat, fade, and completely fail under a hard stop. Then, you'd have no brakes at all on the tow vehicle and the trailer — not exactly the kind of situation in which I'd like to find myself, especially with my horse, friends, or other loved ones aboard.

September 14, 2009 – HORSE HIT BY CAR

How do I stop some small amount of bleeding after my horse was lightly hit by a car?

CALL THE VET IMMEDIATELY! There's no such thing as being hit lightly when there's bleeding. This is not something that you should handle by yourself — horse's life depends on it. Besides the bleeding, your horse could have internal injuries or cracked or broken bones. He needs x-rays and a professional to examine him. CALL THE VET NOW!


How do you trail ride a horse with tender feet?

You really have only three options:

  1. Ride your horse only on soft ground;
  2. Shoe the horse; or
  3. Use hoof boots.
Because my horse now lives barefoot all the time, I use hoof boots. They have worked out very well for us and allow us to ride any trails as well as dirt, gravely, or rocky roads and terrain without his feet getting sore — highly recommended!

I spoke a little about how well such boots work in a response posted on July 20, 2009. You'll find that post in the "Horse Guy" Archive.

September 10, 2009 – SLIPPING SADDLE PAD

I ride English and my saddle pad keeps slipping out from under the saddle; any suggestions?

I've had this problem myself. Make sure your girth is tight enough. A loose girth can be dangerous as well as causing the problem you're describing.

You also can look for a saddle pad (a numnah when riding with an English saddle) that has girth straps that go around the girth. Or you slip the girth through them.

Some numnahs have straps that go around the lower portion of the saddle flap instead. Generally, these straps use velco to tie to each other over the flap. Make sure the straps are tight and they should cause the saddle and pad to stay together.

With either method, the straps will further help to keep the saddle and pad together.

September 9, 2009 – AVOIDING A HORSE KICK

How far behind can a horse kick? And how safe is it to walk behind my own horse?

Most horses can kick at least three feet behind themselves, some can even reach four feet. So, every person should always take precautions when walking behind any horse, even our own horse that may completely trust us. The reason is that, even if he/she does really trust us and would never kick us on purpose, if startled, normal horse instinct is to kick first and investigate after.

To be cautious means to stay out of kicking range. That means we should stay at least five feet or more away from the back end of a horse. If we need to be near the horse, such as when grooming, drag your hand along his back as you walk around his back-end so that he knows where you are at all times. It might also help to talk as you do, so he'll feel AND HEAR your location as you come around. Finally, when passing behind, walk very closely so that in the unlikely event that the horse does kick, his legs will not have developed full power yet and the injury will be much less than it could have been.

September 8, 2009 – HITCH BALL RATINGS

Is a 2-inch hitch ball enough for a horse trailer?

That depends on several factors. The ball, whatever size it is, needs to be rated to handle the complete weight of the trailer and its entire payload. So, if a small two horse trailer weighs 2,800 pounds and it can accept a maximum payload of 3,000 pounds including the horses and all tack and other items you'll carry, that totals 4,800 pounds and a 2-inch ball rated at 5,000 or 6,000 pounds will work.

But many two horse trailers can carry up to 7,000 pounds of horse and supporting materials, plus their own weight of something more like 3,000 pounds means you'll have at least 10,000 pounds being pulled by that hitch ball. You can find 2-inch hitch balls with up to an 8,000 or even a 10,000 pound capacity, but they're not very common and most 2-inch balls stop at 6,000 pounds. The larger 2 5/16 -inch balls are usually rated at 10,000 or 12,000 pounds.

However, it's the trailer manufacturer that will determine the hitch ball size because they select and mount the hitch coupler to the trailers they manufacture and the coupler will mate with only the one size hitch ball for which it is designed. At this time, most of the 2-horse bumper-pull horse trailers I've seen employ 2 5/16 hitch balls except on one-horse trailers and the smaller two-horse trailers.

For more information, see our comprehensive hitch article entitled: Getting Properly Hitched.

September 4, 2009 – LEARNING TO TRAIL RIDE

How many lessons do I have to take until I can trail ride?

Well, it's not so much the number of lessons, it's more a matter of when you can properly and safely control a horse on the trail. First, there's the aspect of actually learning to ride and control a horse. That means you ride in a balanced manner, can motivate, slow, turn, and stop a horse, can ride the gaits of trot, canter, and gallop as well as calm the horse if something spooks him, etc.

Second, unlike in an enclosed space, such as a ring or arena, the trail is pretty much unpredictable and you'll often get surprises from dogs, cyclists, cars, motorcycles, wild animals (deer, foxes, birds, etc.), hunters firing guns, insects (bees and wasps), park workers (mowers, chainsaws, etc.), and much, much more. Riding on the trail involves even more control and trust from your horse. That means it's generally desirable for a horse to know his rider somewhat so he trusts you. And if a horse ever spooked enough to jump into a gallop, you now understand why you'd need to be able to initially ride the gallop, then use your ability to control him to slow him down.

Finally, you don't say whether you're planning on riding with others or alone. The safest way to ride the trails is with other riders. That way, if you or your horse ever got hurt, there are others around to help out and stay with you as well as to go get professional help if it's needed. That doesn't mean you can never ride alone — many people do, including me. But I don't go as far away as I might when riding with a group of friends.

Why not find a barn that specializes in trail riding instruction. You'll end up going trail riding quite soon on a walking trail ride and those rides will get faster and more exciting as your riding and horse-controlling skills improve. And even more importantly, it'll be safer as well as lots of fun! You'll also meet other riders interested in the same riding discipline as you are.


Will alcohol wipes make a wound sting?

Possibly a little, but it shouldn't be much. If you have doubts, try one on yourself the next time you get scraped or get a wound. Regardless, the most important thing to do is to kill infection at the wound when an injury occurs, even if it stings a little. If you find your horse does react badly to an alcohol wipe, you can keep some fresh hydrogen peroxide at the barn. When you open a bottle and apply it to a wound, it must foam. If it doesn't, the extra oxygen that performs the germ killing function has off-gassed into the atmosphere and you're left with water in that bottle. In that case, you'll need to use a different antiseptic. Hydrogen peroxide has to be fresh to work and kill germs — it does not sting at all when it works.

Finally, if you're a trail rider, carrying a tube of an antiseptic ointment (e.g. Neosporin®) is a good idea and doesn't sting, so it, too, will be fine to use on a sensitive horse as well as yourself. Other than that, there's probably nothing else that will be as easy to carry for this purpose as several packets of alcohol wipes. They have a long shelf-life and will likely be effective after several years as long as they remain sealed and moist inside. If you feel you can't use them on your horse, they'll still be available in case you or your riding friends get scraped while out on the trail, so they're good to have along.


I just bought my first trailer and heard horror stories of people coming out of a show or back to a trail head and finding their trailer was stolen right off their truck. How can I protect against such a loss?

Well, insurance helps. But there are also locking products you can buy that will secure the hitch coupler to the ball and the drawbar to the receiver. There are also locking pins for goosenecks and fifth wheels. The best source of these products I've found to date is TRIMAX. You can buy directly from them or from many retailers carrying their products.


What can I use to clean urine out of a horse trailer?

There are two products that come to mind for this application. Both break down urine components of horse urine and that of other animals, such as cats and dogs. They are ANTI ICKY POO and a search on the net will yield many sources. The other is Nok-out. Both claim to be completely safe for humans and animals.

August 31, 2009 – HORSE STUMBLING

Why does my horse frequently stumble during a riding lesson?

Your horse could be stumbling for several reasons. Below are some of them:

  • There could be a problem with his feet or legs affecting his gait or causing lameness — have your vet look at his feet, legs, and the way he moves;
  • There could be a problem with the upper skeletal structure of the back, hips, spine, or shoulders — have your vet check them for problems;
  • The saddle could be fitting improperly causing your horse pain, and again, to walk in an improper fashion — have a vet check your horse's gaits and/or a saddle expert checkout the fit of the saddle;
  • The horse's equilibrium could be affected by something — have your vet check the horse's sense of balance, whether the horse has had a concussion, whether he has plugged tear ducts, etc.;
  • There is a problem with a hoof, its trim, or a shoe — have your farrier check these areas and the shoe fit if your horse is shoed;
  • The rider is out of balance forcing your horse to assume an unnatural position to keep from falling — have a riding instructor review the rider's technique in the saddle at all gaits and offer corrections to riding style;
  • Your horse is not paying attention because he is bored with his training regimen — breakup the training to give it more variety, or better yet, take your horse out on a trail ride occasionally so he can have some fun and freedom. This approach helps most any horse have a better outlook on life and generally improves his normal work and training routine.
As you can see from the foregoing, many of the causes require a veterinarian examination. This is likely the best place to start because you want to rule out medical causes BEFORE you explore other areas so you don't a ignore a medical problem that could further or permanently harm your horse.


What size engine is needed to haul horses?

There is no simple answer for such a broad question. A general answer would be, "the bigger, the better". More practically, the tow vehicle needs to be sized for the trailer you're going to tow. Obviously, a truck hauling an 8-horse trailer needs a bigger engine than one hauling a 2-horse model. Plus, whether the trailer is a stock, fully enclosed, or a combination living quarters/horse trailer type will also significantly affect the weight being pulled. And it's not just a matter of engine size, the weight of the tow vehicle and the size and strength of its frame are also important. In fact, the tow vehicle must get heavier as the trailer gets heavier or the roles could get reversed when something gets unstable — the trailer will then tow the truck — definitely NO JOY!

If you can provide more information, such as the size of the horse trailer you want to pull, its style, and whether it's for standard or draft horses, I can offer more specific recommendations.

August 27, 2009 – A CRIBBING TEACHER?

Can a horse learn to crib from another horse?

This has been passed along as a truth for a long time. Current research is indicating that cribbers have a genetic predisposition to the habit. That means they will begin cribbing at some time in their lives, usually at some point where they are highly stressed, such as being separated from another horse with which they've bonded.

One other outcome of recent research is that horses that do have the predisposition might start to crib earlier than they would have if they're with a horse that already cribs. It's also important to remember that they would become cribbers at some point anyway.

The research also indicates that horses without the genetic predisposition will never crib, even if surrounded by a barn or paddock full of cribbers. Therefore, there is no reason to fear having a cribber in your barn or mixing him/her with other horses.

Also, cribbing occurs in only about 1% of all horses and is not observed in the wild. That implies that cribbing is caused to some extent by the conditions we provide for our horses and that being outside with ample pasture will minimize the habit. Keeping horses stalled will increase their stress and boredom levels and contribute to activating that genetic predisposition sooner, and possibly more intensively than might have otherwise occurred.


How can I carry a halter on a trail ride?

The way I do it is by using a halter/bridle combination. When I pull the bit, my horse is now wearing a halter and it has the standard ring underneath and one on each side.

If you prefer to continue using a regular bridle for riding, you can carry a separate halter in a cantle or saddlebag. I've also carried one by strapping it to a spare D-ring on my saddle. A halter can even be placed in a big pocket of a coat you're wearing during the ride — they bunch up pretty well.

August 25, 2009 – TOWING LIMITS

Am I ok going just a little over the gross weight of my trailer, like just 4 or 5%?

I'm sorry, I can't condone going over any safety limits. The manufacturers of the tow vehicle and the trailer go to a lot of effort to design and engineer each to a set of specifications. Do they include some safety factor? Of course they do. But I don't know what that is. In addition, it is against the law to exceed these limits.

Another thing to consider is that parts wear and corrode over time. Obviously, they will give out with a heavier load sooner than with a lighter load. So, if you can actually operate somewhat below the ratings, you have an extra measure of insurance. When I consider that my life, the life of my passengers, the life of my horse and another horse I might be towing, and then the lives of others with which I share the highways are all in the balance, I feel I have just too much riding on my decisions to start cutting corners that might jeopardize some or all of those lives.

August 24, 2009 – HOW DO YOU CARRY A MAP OR GPS?

I'm trying to find some way to carry a map and compass or a GPS when on the trail. I want it to be conveniently accessible so I don't have to keep it in my hand while riding. Any suggestions?

I carry both on my trail rides. The map and compass are carried in my cantle bag, and they form a backup in case my GPS should stop working for any reason. I keep the GPS in a pouch on my belt, just as I do my cell phone. I keep both on my person so that if I ever became separated from my horse, I would still have both with me (I doubt he'll use them).

For convenience, a pommel bag works well. It's not as big as a cantle bag, but more than big enough for map, GPS, plus a snack, and it'll mount to the pommel right in front of you where it will be very easy to access. Plus, a pommel bag will mount on almost all saddle types from English and Western to Australian and endurance saddles.

August 21, 2009 – JUMPING STRESSES

Does jumping put stresses on a horse's legs? If so, how much stress?

This is difficult for me to answer, because this is not my area of expertise: I'm not a veterinarian nor any kind of expert in equine anatomy. But I can provide some general information for you to think about.

Obviously, horses can jump and do naturally use their ability on occasion both at play and to run and jump from a source of perceived danger. The fact that we humans love to jump while riding our horses complicates the matter for the following reasons:

  • Horses need to use extra strength and energy to jump with the added weight of a rider and tack on their backs;
  • More importantly, horses are landing and absorbing greater associated forces in their muscles and limbs because of that extra weight;
  • Horses would definitely not jump as frequently on their own as we ask them to do;
  • Horses would not generally jump much higher than 24 or 30 inches in the normal course of their activities, so we ask them to jump higher as well as more often, especially if participating in show jumping and its associated practice between shows.
The foregoing doesn't mean that a horse is injured or somehow diminished by jumping. Rather, we need to keep in mind that we're increasing the chances of injury or permanent damage by indulging in jumping and we should be careful about what and how often we do it.

Many horses used in jumping enjoy doing so with their riders. The important thing is to learn to ride, jump, and land properly, to be observant and aware of our horse's condition at all times, to not push whenever there is a problem, and to have the vet review our horse's condition regularly and especially when an injury is suspected. Don't push a horse to jump higher than he/she is able and don't overdue it.

August 20, 2009 – SURVEYING YOUR HORSE

I'm a fairly new rider (2 years) and just bought my first horse. I kind of feel I should check her over from time to time to make sure she's ok, but I'm not sure how to go about it. So far, I walk around her in her stall and try to look at every part of her body before grooming her. Am I doing ok? Is there any better way?

Yes, there is! And I want to commend you for being concerned and wanting to check your horse. But rather than just doing it "from time to time" as you said, I recommend you do it every time you visit her. Horses can be injured and will often act normally if the pain is not too bad. But we don't want to just let them suffer, or worse, get infected and threaten their life. By thoroughly checking them over every time we visit, we can detect problems early and right after they've happened.

So, if you visit every day, then check her every day. And don't do it in her stall, take her out into a more open and better lit area so you can see better — stalls are almost always constrained, as well as poorly lit.

Second, you can conduct what a I call a "whole body survey" much faster by "feel" rather than just by looking. By using your hands, you'll be more sensitive to swelling and you'll also feel the heat that occurs from an injury being healed. I wrote an article about doing this entitled: Conduct a Daily Horse Whole Body Survey. If you find something, then you'll visually inspect in a better lit area to ascertain the problem so you can address it.

August 19, 2009 – SPEED OF A HORSE

How fast can a horse run?

This depends on the horse and his condition (and to some degree, the courage, or foolishness, of the rider). The average horse can usually gallop at least 25 MPH. I've clocked my own horse (an Appendix Quarter Horse) with my GPS unit at a gallop at 31 MPH and we were not flat out, though it did seem awfully fast. I should try him flat-out to see what he can do.

Thoroughbreds have been clocked at slightly over 40 MPH and the fastest horse speed measured was of a Quarter Horse and it was at an astounding 55MPH. They can't maintain that speed for very long, but at that speed, you don't have to run very long to travel far.


I ride western and always have trouble tightening the cinch. I'm a woman and must pull with all my might and it still seems I get it tight enough only half the time. Is there any easier solution or am I doomed to fight my horse's cinch forever?

You're not the first person to make this complaint and there are two options that I know about. The first is the tackaberry. A tachaberry makes the whole cinching problem a lot easier. The following sources offer tackaberies and one even offers a tackaberry system:

Aussie Saddle
Mikmar Bit Company
American Tack Supply

The other option is called the Cinch Hook. I believe this system is derived from the tackaberry, but improves upon it. A tackaberry requires that you use a cinch with the center belt-like pin removed. The Cinch Hook lets you use a typical cinch with the pin. In fact, it requires the pin to work. But because most cinches have pins at both ends, this is an easy installation.

August 17, 2009 – WHAT'S A NUMNAH?

Can you tell me what a numnah is? I occasionally see that word in the forums, but nobody ever explains what it is. I know it has something to do with a saddle. Is it a blanket?

You're very close. A "numnah" is nothing more than the word for an English saddle pad. It is different from a western pad in that, instead of being a rectangular pad, it is thinner and follows the shape of the more common saddle most often used for equitation, jumping, etc. It also usually has a loop sown on each side within which you pass the saddles girth. And "girth" is another name unique to English tack; on a western saddle, it's called a "cinch" and has a different design to afix to the saddle, though it is also used to keep the saddle on the horse.

August 14, 2009 – WHAT CAN'T I FLY SPRAY?

I know I should apply fly spray to a cloth and use that to wipe it on my horse's face and never spray his head. Can I spray everywhere else?

You shouldn't spray his private areas. And you also shouldn't spray the part of his back and sides that will be under his saddle pad or numnah if about to ride — it's ok to spray there if you're not going to ride for a few hours. Instead, tack him/her up first, then apply fly spray to the remaining exposed areas.

August 13, 2009 – TACKING UP IN A STALL

Is it safe to tack my horse up in her stall?

That depends on the horse. Most horses with which I have experience have no problem being tacked up in their stalls. I like my own horse to be out as much as possible, so he really doesn't spend much time in his stall. He will let me tack him up, brush him, pick his hooves, check inside his ears, or do whatever else is needed while he's in his stall or anywhere else. I can use a lead line and tie him at one end of the stall, but he'll also let me do whatever needs to be done while he stands freely. But, I have heard of some horses being nervous when a person is in their stall with them.

So, this is really an assessment you need to make of your own horse and her emotional disposition. Is she ok with a person in her stall with her? Some horses are territorial. If you've never interacted with her in there, take it a step at a time. Try brushing her there, pick her hooves, etc. Part of this is your horse trusting you and feeling comfortable with you. The other part is your confidence and trust of her. The more confident you are and the more you earn her trust, the more flexibility you'll have to address any issue with your horse's cooperation and comfort.

August 12, 2009 – WEIGHT OF A 2-HORSE TRAILER

How much does a 2-horse bumper pull weigh?

The weight will vary by the design of the trailer. Some trailers are all steel, others are aluminum on a steel frame. The floor can be aluminum, steel, wood, or rumber (see the July 31st post to learn more about trailer flooring and rumber.). As you can see, all these differences affect the weight. Then, does the trailer have a dressing/tack room? If so, that will add about 400 - 500 extra pounds.

The lightest two-horse bumper pull trailers I've seen weigh about 2,400 pounds while the heaviest with a dressing/tack room weigh about 3,200 pounds. The weight in between is determined by the variations mentioned above plus whether or not the trailer has a spare tire, tack box, etc.

I hope this helps!


My horse has cuts inside her mouth that only seem to occur while I'm riding her. What could cause that?

This problem could be the result of several possible causes. First, you should first examine the bit you use on your horse to assure it doesn't have any sharp edges. If you find some, they need to be removed and smoothed.

Second, have your vet take a look at your horse's mouth. He/she should be able to determine whether the cuts are inflicted by something external, such as your bit, or whether there is some other cause, such as sharp tooth edges and the need to have her teeth floated. Your horse could be trying to evade the bit and that action is causing her to rub the sharp teeth edges against the flesh of her mouth making it seem like this is only a problem when riding, while it's really her teeth. Your vet will also be able to determine if the problem is something unrelated, such as some disease that's causing sores that look like cuts.

If your vet finds no problems, find someone who understands bits. That could be your trainer, your tack shop owner, or some very experienced barn owner you respect. You don't want to use a bit any harsher than needed to control your horse. And often, riders have more trouble controlling a horse when using a harsh bit because of the pain it inflicts. Changing to a milder bit removes that pain and allows the horse to also enjoy the ride. Either way, someone with more experieince in this matter should be able to investigate further if the initial suggestions don't find the cause of the problem.


Can you own horses on residential land?

Of course you can. In fact, most horse farms are on residentially land. Let's face it, how many horse farms have you seen in the middle of a city? Precious few, I'll wager. But there are more important questions you need to answer.

To legally keep horses anywhere, you need to first check with your town or city hall about their ordinances affecting the keeping of horses. They will be able to tell you whether or not you are properly zoned to keep horses on your property. Also, in most towns, this is also determined by the amount of land you own. There will usually be some minimal amount of land, such as two, three, or five acres before horses will be permitted. Of course, this makes perfect sense because you'll need space for a barn, space for a muck pile, pasture land for grazing your horses, possibly a round pen and/or a practice ring, etc., etc.


What would be an average size horse for a girl?

That would depend on the girl. If she weighs up to 200 pounds, that's one thing. If she weighs up to 300 pounds, that's another. And this doesn't matter if the rider is a girl or a guy; it has to do with the rider's weight.

An average size horse is about 15 - 15-2 hands and probably about 900 pounds depending on the horse's breed and build. Such a horse can usually carry a rider up to about 200 - 220 pounds or so. For a bigger rider, use a bigger horse. If you overload your horse, you can permanently damage the horse's spine and/or legs — don't do it — that's unfair to the horse. Of course, all horses appreciate a lighter load and can run longer and farther in that case.


I'd like to take a point and shoot camera with me on my trail rides. Would it damage a camera with the jostling from trotting and cantering if I carried one?

I don't think that jostling, in and of itself, would be an issue, even at the faster gaits, as long as the camera was secure and in a padded case or pcoket. Most riders carry electronic devices on their person on trail rides. I carry both a cell phone and GPS, both in pouches on my belt. And the people I ride with like to trot, canter, gallop, and sometimes jump at auspicious locations on the trail — I've never had a problem with these devices. Most "point & shoot" cameras will be small and light enough to carry in a zippered pocket — I would not chance carrying one in an open pocket that cannot be zippered or snapped closed.

If you were to consider a larger, heavier camera, such as an SLR, that would be a harder problem to solve. As a photographer, I've been trying to find a way to safely carry one my SLRs on some rides, but have not yet found an adequate solution. I need to be able to carry not only the camera, but also several lenses and filters. I would even like to be able to carry a tripod so I could use horseback riding as the vehicle to visit deep recesses of many state and federal forests and parks. If I find such a solution, I'll be happy to post it here to help any interested readers. But you should be ok with a "point & shoot" camera in a secure, sealable pocket.


I was recently told that it's bad to tow a trailer using a vehicle with a gas engine. Does this mean I should trade in my truck for one with a diesel engine?

The consideration is not about whether or not your vehicle has a gas or diesel engine. Rather, it's about torque. Most diesel engines operate at a lower RPM and develop more torque than a similar horsepower gas engine. And because torque is what you need when towing a load, this is the reason that many people make the association of towing with diesel-powered tow vehicles.

However, if your current gas-powered truck has sufficient torque, it'll pull your trailer without a problem. Generally, the larger the engine, the more torque it will develop. That means a tow vehicle with a V8 engine will more easily tow a trailer than one with a V6.

Presuming that your truck is rated by its manufacturer to tow the same size weight or a larger trailer than you have, it should work fine. Of course, an even larger tow vehicle, whether powered by a gas or a diesel engine, will have an easier time of it. You can learn more about towing from this article entitled: Tow Vehicles.


Is there such a thing as too much free-choice hay?

Yes, but only from the sense that you don't want to waste good hay. Like most things in life, you want to strive for a balance. If you put too much hay in your horse's stall, some will get trampled upon and get mixed with waste products — that hay is now useless and wasted.

The best environment for a horse is outside. But, when weather doesn't permit, such as during severe storms or when the ground is icy and dangerous and your horse is stuck inside, provide a couple of flakes for him to munch on. Check on him later in the day and if he's finished those flakes, give him another flake or two. This way, he'll actually keep grazing and consume the hay rather than having it wasted.

One other important thing to remember is to always assure you give your horse plenty of water, especially when he's eating hay. He needs the water to stay hydrated and for digestion, especially with hay, which unlike grass, is quite dry.


How often should I clean my horse's sheath?

The substance that you need to clean off is a secretion called "smegma". In fact, you might be interested to know that this substance is secreted by all mammals, males and females, including humans. It acts as a lubricant and is viscous and sticky. With horses, the stickiness attracts dirt, dust, and builds up a waxy like substance that must periodically be removed to avoid making pockets for infections.

For most horses, once or twice a year is enough. But because horses, like people, have different metabolisms that can vary by individual, you should ask for your veterinarian's advice as to the cleaning frequency for your particular horse.


You answered a question a few weeks ago (7/13/09) about the fact that even aluminum will corrode, especially when used as the floor of a horse trailer where it will get exposed to the acid in urine. Because steel is obviously not a good floor material and even aluminum corrodes, what better options are there, if any?

Actually, there are better options. A rather inexpensive one is to buy a trailer with a pressure-treated wood floor. Because it's pressure treated, you won't have to worry about deterioration due to insects. And when it does require replacement, it's something you can do yourself and is not very expensive for the replacement boards.

My favorite and what I think is the best floor material is called Rumber™. It's a recycled material made of 65% rubber (from old tires) and 35% plastic. The material comes in boards and in sheets. You can buy some of the better grade horse trailers with a 1.5 inch thick Rumber floor right from the manufacturer as an option and it normally includes a 20 year warranty — that says something about the longevity of this material. It is virtually impervious to water, urine and other horse waste, and most other liquids that are likely to come in contact with it. Rumber is also crush-proof and can withstand temperature extremes, so it won't soften in the hot summer months nor crack in the winter. It has a rough surface that provides good traction for your horses, yet is resilient and provides cushioning for their joints without the need for mats — I think it's the ideal trailer floor material.

If interested, you can learn more at: Rumber.com. It is quite possible that you could replace a wood floor with Rumber boards when the time comes and it will likely be the last floor you need to buy.


I've been riding English most of my life and have switched to trail riding. For safety reasons, I've switched to a western saddle, but it doesn't seem to fit my horse right unless I put it farther back on his spine. Where should a western saddle go on a horse?

You're correct in recognizing that your Western saddle needs to be further back on your horse. The most forward saddles tend to be those of English design with Western saddles being the furthest back — Australian saddles fall in between.

If you have any doubt as to whether or not you're correctly positioning your saddle, or even if the saddle is properly fitting your horse, you really should have the fit looked at by a saddle expert, or at least someone more familiar with the use of Western saddles. It could be that the only problem is that you're used to placing your English saddle more forward and this just feels wrong to you even though it's in the right place. If that is the cause of your concern, you will get used to proper placement fairly quickly the more you ride. And hopefully, you'll also enjoy the greater comfort that is necessary for long rides.


Should a horse have feed in his stall at all times?

"Feed" refers to anything you generally feed a horse. Therefore, specificity here is VERY important.

Horses SHOULD NOT have grain available at all times — that is very dangerous and could cause them to get fat at best and to colic and die at worse. But, it is a good idea to have good quality hay available to them at all times when they are in their stalls. That approach is known as "free choice hay". Of course, you also need to assure they have ample water available because the digestion of hay requires adequate water.

July 28, 2009 – YELLING AT YOUR HORSE???

When I tell my horse off and yell at her, she lies down. Why does she do that?

A much better question is: Why on Earth are you yelling at and telling off your horse? She's a horse — she doesn't speak English. As humans, we're supposed to be a higher-thinking species.

As much as we like to think are horses are smart, that's compared to other horses, not compared to humans. Your horse may be lying down because she knows you're angry, but doesn't know why, especially with your carrying on with the verbal abuse by telling her off. She certainly understands your angry emotions and they are not helpful; they're counter productive. She's confused and frightened and your yelling isn't helping one bit. Horses don't premeditate some action against you, they just follow their instincts. So, it's unfair of you to be yelling at her.

Take some time to watch horses in a paddock or pasture. They do test each other, but the correction is generally very quick and ends just as quickly. The offending horse gets the message and then it's over and forgotten until the next time — neither horse holds a grudge — that's a human weakness.

If your horse does something she's not supposed to do, she might be testing you. A quick turn toward her with an accompanying "Hey!" by you is usually all it takes. There's nothing to be gained and much to be loss by yelling. And if she does something correct immediately after, you should calmly praise her. Whenever my horse does something right, even if it is immediately after he tried testing me, I take the opportunity to praise him. I don't ever want him to fear me, I want him to respect and trust me — that's a lot different and makes for a happier horse and one much more willing to please his/her leader.

July 27, 2009 – HAS MY HORSE RACED?

I just bought an ex-race horse. How can I tell if my horse has really raced?

Horses that have raced have a registration number tattooed to the inside of their upper lip — this is a requirement of law in most states that allow horse racing of any breed. You don't mention your horse's breed. I can help you with a few of them; see below:

If you horse is some other breed, you'll have to do some research on the net to find the organization that administers racing for your breed.

July 21, 2009 – KICKING ON THE TRAIL

How do you keep horses from kicking each other on trail rides?

That's easy: keep them apart. Unfortunately, as you likely know, when surprised, horses kick first and then investigate later, sometimes from a safer location further away. But at that point, the kick has already occurred. Therefore, there is only one real option: keep the horses apart. Even though you can train a horse not to kick generally, there's no guarantee he/she will never kick, especially with a spooky horse.

Keeping them apart is not difficult as long as the riders can control their horses. If they can't, that generally means the riders need more instruction, the horses need proper groundwork and training, or both. Generally, a horse-length or more is considered a sufficient distance between the horses while on the trail ride. Probably harder is for the riders to pay attention to maintaining that distance while they're looking around at nature and socializing with the other riders.


I'd like to make my horse go barefoot, but in a prior attempt, he got very tender-footed, so I went back to metal shoes. I'm thinking about trying hoof boots. Do they really work?

Yes! They really work. My horse has had the same problem as yours — that of becoming tender-footed when ridden without shoes. The problem is that he and his paddock mates live on soft grassy pastures here in Connecticut, so the frogs of his feet don't toughen up enough. Then, when I ride him, we'll usually ride in state forests and some of that includes gravel roads, rocky New England trails, and such, and his front feet will get sore. His rear feet have always been barefoot and fine, but his front feet, which take more of his and my weight, can get tender.

I purchased some hoof boots and he's been fine on the trail every since. I only put his boots on when we go out for a ride; he's barefoot otherwise. I ride him through all the gaits with the boots and have even jumped him and have had no problems (the manufacturer rates the boots for jumping).

Since going barefoot, my horse's hooves have become tougher and healthier. Adding the boots lets him ride without tenderness.


Can I leave the upper doors at the back of my horse trailer open while hauling my horse? I'm getting conflicting answers when I asked this question at my barn.

Yes, you can leave them open if they're designed to be left open while moving down the road. For those trailers designed that way, the doors latch open to the trailer's side so they won't swing. That position is also determined by the trailer's designer so the open doors will provide minimal drag due to air friction. If in doubt as to whether you can do this with your trailer, contact the trailer's manufacturer.

Fortunately, most trailers are designed to do this, so just make sure your trailer is one of them and use this feature to keep your horse cool when trailering during the hot months of the year. The rest of the time, keep them closed to avoid hypothermia risks. It's surprising how much faster a body can be cooled when blown on by cold air.


My horse always hangs her tongue out when she wears her bridle. Are there any bits that will make her keep her tongue in?

You've got the process backwards. Your mare has her tongue out because the bit you're using is hurting her. She's putting her tongue out to escape the pain; in fact, it's called " escaping the bit". Some horses will alternatively lower their head to get behind the bit. So, you don't need a bit that "makes her keep her tongue in", all you need is a bit that doesn't hurt her.

A company named Myler Bits USA designs bits with this in mind. There's a lot of information on this site and you may want to read some of it and contact them before ordering the first bit that appears to solve your problem.


I'm planning my own barn and trying to determine feeding costs. How many flakes in a bale and how many bales of hay will a horse eat in a year?

Feeding is definitely not an exact science. The size of the horse and his diet will be different for each horse and that diet will change from season to season. For example, in the summer, grazing will supplement his feed and you'll likely need less hay. Yet, when in work, the amount he eats will be a little greater. In the winter in northern latitudes, the snow and ice usually conspire to make work less possible, but there is limited or no grazing. You'll have to judge what happens to your horses in your area of the world.

As for bales eaten per year, we can do some simple approximations. There is no standard size bale, they usually vary between 62 - 80 pounds. The smaller bales will have about 10 flakes while the larger will have 14 or so. The average horse will eat about 3 flakes in the morning and three flakes in the evening. That's 2,190 flakes per year. At that amount, that's 219 small bales or 156 large bales of hay per year per average horse.

Of course, a smaller horse will eat less while larger horses will eat more — your mileage will definitely vary. But this should give you enough information to make some cost approximations for planning purposes and get you "into the ballpark". Good luck!


My horse is afraid of riding out alone and it's driving me crazy. What can I do?

What you describe is known as "herd bound". This characteristic is not only common, it's part of any horse's normal view of the world. Horses are prey animals and they instinctively know that they're not as safe when alone.

We have an article on this topic that should be helpful in better understanding why your horse would rather not leave his buddies and what you can do about it. It's entitled: Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse.


The floor on my all aluminum trailer is corroding. I bought all aluminum so I would never have to worry about rusting and corrosion. How is this possible? Is this the result of low-grade aluminum?

I seriously doubt there is anything wrong with the quality of the aluminum in your trailer. Most people don't realize that aluminum is not a corrosion-free material. In fact, no metal is impervious to corrosion; rather, those that appear to be so just corrode at a very slow pace.

Aluminum is definitely less corrosive than iron alloys, such as steel, to general corrosion. But it is susceptible to other forms, such crevice corrosion, pitting corrosion, and galvanic corrosion. Aluminum does create its own protective oxide quickly, which is why its surface is a dull shine (such as on a soda can). To bring aluminum to a high gloss polish, it must be accomplished in a vacuum or inert gas atmosphere and then sealed, as with aluminum wheels.

In the case of your trailer's floor, it is exposed to strong electrolytes, namely, acids in horse urine. The most you can do to reduce the rate of corrosion on your trailer floor is to keep the floor clean. Remove horse wastes and soiled bedding each time you return to the barn after hauling your horses and rinse the floor thoroughly with clean water from a hose. That will remove the strong electrolytes in the urine and let the floor dry. It will still corrode, but much more slowly. And an occasional spray cleaning of the floor's underside, especially during the winter months if you use it then, will go far to remove road salts and slow down the corrosion there.

The corrosion of the walls of your trailer will be much slower and will likely still be in good shape in 20 years as you might expect.


My horse will sometimes cross one hind leg behind the other while standing when tied. Does that signify that there is anything wrong with a leg or foot?

My horse does the same thing and others around a former barn also wondered if something was wrong. I'm not sure why they suspected anything because I've seen quite a few horses do the same. When my vet was next at the barn to perform my horse's annual checkup, I mentioned it and he laughed and said my horse was in great shape and that many people seem to think this behavior is odd. But he also said he's seen it many times and the horses were all fine and performed in their particular disciplines quite well.

So, check with your own vet if you continue to have concerns, but my horse is fine and this seems to be a common trait in some horses.


Can I use the breakaway brake on my trailer as a parking brake when it's not being used? All I'd have to do is pull the clip.

DEFINITELY NOT! The reason is because the battery on your trailer that powers the breakaway brake doesn't last very long. In fact, it's designed just to last a minute or two to get you to a safe stop. Therefore, attempting to use it as a parking brake would just drain it quickly and then your brakes would release anyway. In addition, your battery would be dead the next time you'd go to use your trailer. And batteries don't usually last very long in a discharged condition and typically need to be replaced.

Even if you had enough power available, your brakes are electric and designed only for intermittent use to stop your trailer. Left on for days, weeks, or longer, they would almost certainly burn out. Instead, use a good wheel chock on the downhill side of one of your trailer tires and carry it within your trailer when underway — you may find it handy at the trail head if you can't park on a completely level surface.

July 8, 2009 – SMELLING NOSES

My horse sometimes tries to smell my breath. Is this normal or is she just crazy?

This is normal. My horse does the same thing to me. And if you watch two horses when they meet, they usually put their muzzles together for 10 - 20 seconds or so. What they're doing is smelling each other. Because almost all animals have such great senses of smell compared to humans, they depend on that sense as a primary form of recognizing each other. They may also want to learn what the other guy has been eating.

July 7, 2009 – HOOF PICKS

Can you recommend a good hoof pick? Mine is a folding pick that fits in my pocket, but it's short and sharp and I find it hard to hold on to while using it.

I like the ones with a 5/8 or 3/4 inch diameter, six inch long plastic handle, a dull triangular blade at one end of the head and a brush on the other side of the head. They're cheap (90¢ - $2.50), easy to hold, and work well.

I don't like a sharp blade because we sometimes slip and can hit ourselves or the horse's other leg. Plus, we don't need something sharp, just sturdy enough to scrape dirt, waste material, and bedding out of the hoof. The brush makes cleanup easy and fast. With one of these, I can generally do a thorough cleaning of a hoof in 10 - 15 seconds each.


Can you suggest some solution for the terrible problem I'm having with flies in my barn?

First, your stalls have to be clean. Horse waste products attract flies and some, such as Stable Flies, actually breed and leave their larvae in the manure or manure/bedding mix. So, the first thing to do in getting the fly count down is to assure that you're keeping clean stalls. If you don't do this part, all the other solutions won't help much.

Second, consider the stall's floor material. The worst substrate in a stall is earth itself. Urine soaks in, but doesn't really drain. Instead, it forms a paste and while it's breaking down, the byproduct is ammonia and a sleeping horse has his head down in that ammonia fog all night — that isn't healthy for your horses. Plus, you're constantly digging further and further down to get the urine soaked earth out of there and have to refill the stalls at least once each year.

A much better approach is a more solid floor, such as compacted stone dust or concrete with stall mats on top and a layer of bedding on the mats. These approaches are easier to clean, and the urine is more likely to evaporate and get soaked into the bedding which is more easily removed than earth.

Third, make sure you maintain a well-ventilated barn. If you do, you'll usually attract barn swallows. These birds generally live in man-made structures, and barns have the additional advantage of providing their favorite diet: large flies. Flies generally make up 70% of a Barn Swallows' daily intake, so these birds further help control the fly population. Their maneuverability is excellent for avoiding barn structural members and catching flies "on the wing".

Finally, if you perform all the foregoing and still have a problem with flies, there are fly larvae parasites you can purchase for your barn or spray systems you can install. Both will further drop the number of flies, but I recommend you begin first with cleaner stalls and attracting barn swallows. Then you can augment that with additional systems if necessary. Remember, it's all for nothing if you don't adequately clean your stalls because dirty stalls provide a great breeding ground for the flies.


Do horses see in the dark any better than we do?

Yes! Horses see in the dark much better than we. By way of example, several years ago, I returned late from a trail ride after dusk. The last part of the trip required us to walk through about a quarter mile of dense forest covered by a thick canopy. While inside, it was so dark that I couldn't see my horses neck or mane while riding him. In addition, I was worried because the trail had some trees across it that had recently fallen from a violent storm. During the day, our horses could easily see and step over the tree trunks, but now it was night and I worried he could trip. I was considering getting off so I could lead him, but without the ability to see myself and having no flashlight, I didn't know what was worse.

Well, my horse negotiated the trail through the dark woods with no problem and no tripping. To my additional astonishment once back in the light at the barn, I had also forgotten that he was still wearing a black fly mask. Obviously, he was able to see on a dark night with a black fly mask to stay on the trail and step over the fallen trees. If I had gotten off and attempted to lead, I would have likely tripped over the fallen trees myself and perhaps spooked my horse — it would not have been good.


Is it humane to keep a horse primarily in its stall?

Definitely not! You have to remember that horses typically move constantly during their waking hours as they graze. So grazing and moving is what they've evolved to do all day. If they can't move, their muscles atrophy and lose tone. Psychologically, they become bored and often can be fidgety and difficult to control because they don't get enough exercise and can't burn off excess energy. Or conversely, some become lethargic due to the lack of exercise — neither development is healthy. Plus, depending on the cleanliness or dirtiness of their stall, they could be breathing in ammonia gases all day from their waste products decomposing. Finally, they're such social beings that they've developed into herd animals. They're deprived of all this by making them live in stalls all the time.

Regular turnout for much of the day is very healthy for horses — a few hours is not enough. And horses living much of their lives outside are rarely sick.


I bought a new truck last year and am not happy about something. With my previous truck, I could turn the light in my trailer on whenever the truck was connected to it. But with this new truck, the light only works when the truck is running. What's up with that? Is this truck not fully compatible with my trailer?

There is nothing wrong with your new truck or the trailer. This is totally a matter of how the hitch wiring on your new truck differs from that of the old.

On the old truck, the battery supply wire ran directly to the battery circuit. But that same wire on your new truck is instead connected to the ignition circuit which requires the ignition switch to be on for electricity to feed the trailer lights. The thinking there is likely that you don't have to worry about a trailer light being accidentally left on and draining your tow vehicle battery.

BUT, if you prefer the prior behavior, any mechanic could likely rewire the hitch battery supply wire to the battery circuit so you can have lights inside your trailer whether your truck ignition is turned on or not.

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