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"Horse Guy" Archive Jan - Jun 2010

DISCLAIMER: Any information provided via the "QueryHorse" Website is for entertainment purposes only and represents an opinion. It is not intended for nor can it be relied upon for product review, training, endorsements, or expert advice of any kind. All readers are warned they bear the burden of seeking out expert advice (i.e. not QueryHorse) for their specific situations, and by accessing the "QueryHorse" Website, they hereby affirm their understanding of these conditions.

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June 30, 2010 – MOLD GROWING ON TACK

I'm having trouble fighting mold on my tack, especially my saddle. I keep it in the tack room of my barn and clean and oil it often, but the mold starts growing again in just a few days. What can I do?

Unfortunately, your problem is not uncommon — many riders have your problem. Worse, the best way to ruin tack is to let mold grow on it because it breaks down the leather. The actual cause of mold on leather is the high humidity it requires to grow. I'm sure you can feel the humidity when you enter the tack room on summer days.

The only way to stop mold is to get that humidity down. You should speak to your barn owner about adding a dehumidifier to the room. If he/she refuses, your only other option is to keep your tack at home and keep it in a dry place there. One other advantage to keeping it at home is that your tack should also stay much cleaner. Barns are usually dusty — those with dirt floors are the worst. Some of that dust invariably finds its way into the barn's tack room and forms a pasty grime with the humid air that can impregnate and really sully your tack.


June 29, 2010 – INCREASING SAFETY ON REMOTE RIDES

You recommend taking a cell phone and walkie-talkie on trail rides in case you need to call for help, but that still doesn't guarantee you'll be able to communicate with somebody if you really need help. What if you got hurt in a really remote area or in a deep canyon?

Of course, you're right — there are no guarantees that help will be forthcoming when we need it. But we can raise the odds in our favor. Besides the two recommendations you quoted, we can also do the following:

  • Ride responsibly;
  • Only venture into remote areas if we ride in larger groups so there will be others to help and to go get professional help if needed;
  • Take along first aid kits and survival gear;
  • Assure we plan our route carefully;
  • Share that route with others at the barn and let them know our expected time of return; and
  • Stick to the plan while we're out on the trail. That makes it much more likely a search party could find us if we have some kind of problem and don't return on time.

So, the foregoing is just incorporating responsible, inexpensive, common sense measures that further significantly raise the chances that we'll be ok and get help if we need it. As previously mentioned, it's not a guarantee; but how many true guarantees have you actually found in life? People who successfully take reasonable risks do so by using common sense, planning, and taking appropriate measures. This is no different than taking reasonable precautions when camping in bear country or wearing life preservers and using appropriate speeds when boating.


June 28, 2010 – INTENTIONALLY RIDING IN THUNDERSTORMS?

Everyone around here seems to be afraid of trail riding in a thunderstorm. I've done it before and I never even saw any lightning. I know of people that have gotten into car accidents, but none that have gotten hit by lightning. Is it really that dangerous?

You're correct that people getting struck by lightning is rare. That's because it's avoidable and most people actively avoid being out in a thunderstorm. From a commonsensical standpoint, why risk your life when it's so easy to avoid by going inside during thunderstorms? Also, we have no right to risk our horse's life just because we may not have enough common sense to come in out of the rain. And make no mistake, if you hear thunder, there is lightning. The sound of thunder is created by the flash of lightning itself. The bolt superheats the air to around 50,000°F causing the air to expand so rapidly it explodes — that sound is the thunderclap. So if you hear thunder, you know there's lightning because it caused the thunder.

But there are also other important reasons to avoid being out in thunderstorms:

  • They can cause tornadoes;
  • They can cause large, crushing hail;
  • They can cause very strong winds capable of breaking tree branches that can fall upon you and your horse;
  • If near a road, they can down high voltage (14,000 volts) electrical wires onto you and your horse;
  • They can cause heavy rain that can itself cause flash flooding; and
  • The wind gusts, the thunder, the falling branches, and everything else moving can cause your horse to spook and panic.
I don't want to be out in such weather and risk injury. We have an article entitled Horses & Thunderstorms that you may want to read.


June 25, 2010 – CAUGHT IN THE RAIN

My riding friends and I were talking about what to do if we should get caught in the rain when riding. Mostly, we all felt we should gallop back? Is galloping back ok?

We get this question fairly often. So we 've prepared a more comprehensive response in the form of an article. Learn more at: Getting Caught in the Rain.


June 24, 2010 – HORSE TRAILER TOWING CAPACITY

What does the capacity of a tow vehicle need to be for towing a horse trailer?

That depends on the weight of the trailer, the weight of your horses, and how many of them you want to trailer at a time. A 2-horse trailer generally weighs between 2,400 - 3,200 pounds depending upon how it's built, what its built of, and whether or not it has a tack/dressing room. The average horse weighs between 900 - 1,000 pounds. So, at the very minimum, you'll need to be able to tow at least 5,000 pounds if you'll ever take two horses at a time.

Because you also need to add the weight of your tack, some hay for your horses to munch en route, and other incidentals (broom, pitchfork, grooming tools, first aid kit, possibly water, etc.), a much better towing capacity is 5,500 - 6,000 pounds. Of course, if you have bigger horses or want to tow more than two at a time, or both, you'll need a bigger trailer yet and more capacity to safely and ably tow it. Your trailer dealer is usually your best source of information to make sure you do all this correctly and safely.


June 23, 2010 – RIDING UP/DOWN HILLS

I'm a new rider and unsure how to ride a horse up steeper hills.

Horses can easily and quickly scramble up hills that prove difficult for humans to do the same. But when riding them, you want to do it properly. Similarly, there are right and wrong ways to go down hills. We have an article about this that you should read. It explains what to do and should also prove helpful in better understanding why. It's entitled: Leaning When on Hills.


June 22, 2010 – A MOOSE-NOSE HORSE?

What is a moose nose when referring to a horse?

I've heard the phrase "moose nose" used before, but I don't think it's a bona fide horse term. Generally, I've heard it used when referring to a horse who's nose is rounded down at the muzzle. Essentially, the nose has a "moose" look to it.

Purportedly, horses with this characteristic are somewhat bold and not afraid to try new things and explore new curiosities. Whether or not that's true, I think you can safely assume that you'll generally hear this phrase for horses that have a very willing personality and are far less skittish than most, especially when out on the trail.

If you should also notice the horse's nose truly looks "moose-like", please let us know. We certainly don't know everything there is to know about about horses and we'll share this with our readers.


June 21, 2010 – USING YOUR FIRST HORSE TRAILER

I just bought my first trailer, but am somewhat apprehensive about getting started. What will it feel like to tow a trailer?

Reposted as part of a separate article. See: Starting With Your First Horse Trailer article.


June 18, 2010 – SADDLE WON'T SIT FLAT

My western synthetic saddle won't sit flat on my horse's back. Will it straighten out?

This likely has nothing to do with your saddle being a synthetic. Rather, it might be because the saddle has a problem, such as the tree being warped, misadjusted, or it just doesn't properly fit your horse at all. You need to solicit the help of an experienced saddle fitter. If you don't know one, ask the barn owner and other experienced riders that are happy with their saddles. Ask where they got them and who determined the size and fit for them. Then, go there and ask that person to take a look at your saddle and horse. The owner or some of those riders may have enough experience to provide an initial check of your saddle and its fit to your horse.

If you do need to use the services of an experienced saddle fitter, some tack shops have one. They must be able to check the saddle and how it fits your horse, so there may be a fee if they have to come to your barn, but it will be well worth it. Alternatively, you can trailer your horse and saddle to the fitter. The salient point is that this person must be able to checkout your saddle and how it actually fits on your horse to evaluate where the problem lies.

Good luck!


June 17, 2010 – NIGHT RIDING

Some friends want to take some rides at night. Is it safe to ride our horses in the dark?

Sure it is; horses still function after sunset. But as with driving at night, you want to take reasonable precautions. If you're riding on the barn's property in a ring or outdoor arena, there should be no problem. Of course, you need to assure you have adequate lighting so both you and your horse can see well enough — you don't want him to trip in the dark. And proper lighting is even more important if you're going to practice jumping. You don't want you or your horse to misjudge a jump because of shadows causing a miscue.

A barn where I used to board had occasional moonlight trail rides through a large state forest. We'd go a few miles out and then return. The group was usually around ten or fifteen riders, so if a problem occurred, there was lots of help around (no problems ever occurred on our rides, but you want to be prepared).

If you're not riding by moonlight, you may want to purchase some of the new LED lights mounted on an elastic headband. In fact, it's a good idea to bring some of your own light along even on moonlight rides as we did. I, and several of the other riders, brought LED lights along on the moonlight rides and placed the band on our riding helmets. The LEDs are bright, but they're also very efficient, so we weren't worried about running low on the batteries if we were out for a while. The lights also have a red LED that provided sufficient light to see the trail, but didn't ruin our night vision.

For additional safety, we kept to the wider trails that we knew well and the dirt roads to further reduce the chances of surprises. Plus, with all of us talking, it's doubtful we'd inadvertently be able to sneak up on any animals.

Personally, I only walk and trot at night if out on a trail. Faster gaits require better seeing — why take any chances with safety? Also, don't ride too late and upset your horse's sleep schedule. But, if you're going to be back by 10:00 or 11:00 pm or so, that should be fine to do once in a while.

Whatever you do, enjoy your night rides! If you go with friends and take your time, night riding brings a fun and different experience to horseback riding.


June 16, 2010 – INDIVIDUAL STALL LIGHT SWITCHES

Presently, all the lights in my barn are on the same switch. When I turn it on all the lights in the stalls and the aisles come on together. With electricity getting pricier, I'm going to be putting a separate switch in each stall so I only need to turn one on at a time and can save some money on electricity. Is this ok to do?

I think it's a great idea! BUT, I would put the switch for each stall on the outside of the stall and not inside where your horse could play with it, break it, or get hurt by it. Even with sliding stall doors, the post the door latches to remains exposed and that it likely the best place to mount your switches. The switch you're currently using can still be used to control just the aisle lights.

Finally, be sure to replace incandescent bulbs you may have with CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps). They only use a quarter of the electric power and will provide real savings even if that's all you do.


June 15, 2010 – FIRST HORSE CARE ITEMS TO GET

I'm buying my first horse and will be boarding her. I know I should be getting some things of my own, but don't know where to start. Can you help?

Reposted as part of a separate article. See: Items to Buy With Your First Horse article.


June 14, 2010 – HORSE FIGHTS GOING OUT ON TRAIL ALONE

I'm having a hard time getting my horse to go out onto the trail. He's always fighting me. But he's great in the ring. Would it be better if I rode with another person?

I presume you normally ride in the ring rather than the trail? And now you're trying to ride out on the trail alone? If so, the problem is that your horse is less comfortable on the trail because it's new to him, and it's likely even scarier for him because it's just the two of you without other horses. Remember, horses are herd animals and instinctively know they're safer when with others. Therefore, the goal is to teach him that he's also safe when in a herd of two when you're the other herd member.

Please realize that some horses will never be as comfortable as you'd like when riding alone while other horses will be fine — they're all individuals and each have their own quirks, fears, and other characteristics to their personalities. But even those that prefer the company of other horses can build enough confidence in their rider to go alone, though they may still initially protest somewhat. The trick is to proceed gradually and to go frequently.

Start by going with another rider and make a short loop back to the barn, such as a quarter mile. After doing this a few times, split up mid-way and return by yourself, but do so at the walk — don't let your horse run back. The key is for him to learn that he can trust you and that nothing bad will happen when the two of you are out alone. As your horse gets used to the sounds of the trail, and the same quarter mile path, he'll become more comfortable. As he does, lengthen the ride a little, but not so much that he gets frightened. By gradually increasing the distance, your horse is learning that it's ok to be out there alone.

In time, you should be able to go out on the original quarter mile trail completely by yourselves and increase the distance. But an important part of this is doing it frequently. You should also mix it up with trail rides with other riders and their horses.

Another good thing to do is to let a friend go out midway and you leave 10 minutes later and meet them in the middle and come back together. This way, your horse may have a little concern going out, but will start to realize you'll sometimes meet other horses out there and return together. By mixing it up, he won't know what will happen, but he will learn that it's ok. In time, you should be able to go out alone for as far and as long as you'd like. At that point, you horse will have learned that he's safe whenever he's with you regardless of whether or not you're with other horses.


June 11, 2010 – IS IT DANGEROUS TO RIDE TRAILS?

I'm an English rider thinking of trying a ride on the trail, but some of my fellow riders tell me it's much more dangerous than riding in the ring and that I don't need to ever go there. Do you agree?

I need to start my response by revealing that I am a trail rider and LOVE it! Therefore, I'm likely biased and want you to know that as you read my response.

I started as an English rider and never really enjoyed the ring, but I do feel there's lots to be learned in the ring. It's a safe venue to try new things, to train your horse with fewer distractions in a place he'll feel safe, and if it's an indoor ring, it can be a refuge to allow riding in inclement weather.

On the other hand, trail riding also has value and can provide true adventures. It's a break from the monotony of riding the rail, riding in serpentines, etc., etc. I feel they both have value to all riders regardless of discipline.

For your first trail rides, you should go with one or more other riders that are experienced in trail riding and are riding experienced trail riding horses. This will make both you and your horse feel safer. For example, many horses are squeamish about crossing a wooden bridge for the first time. But after your horse sees other horses in the group crossing, he'll feel safer doing so himself. The same will be true of crossing a brook, and also listening to all the sounds of the forest and its animals that don't generally exist in the ring.

Plus, where else can you actually gallop from time to time if not the trails and open fields? Horses are natural runners and love to gallop in a herd for fun, not just to elude a dangerous pursuer. If you occasionally do ride the trails, you'll find it gives your horse a needed break and he/she will have better spirits in the ring. Who knows, your friends may see the difference in you and your horse, hear you're excitement from your occasional trail rides, and may even want to join you to see what they're missing.


June 10, 2010 – GETTING A LOAN TO START A HORSE BUSINESS

Can you tell me how I might get the money to start a horse farm business? Don't other businesses get loans to start?

Yes, they do. The way it's done is to give the lender, usually a bank, good reasons why they should give you money for your intended business. You need to remember that banks WANT to lend money — that's one of their biggest ways of making a profit. But there is risk associated with the lending of money and you need to persuade them that the risk of lending to you is manageable and that you're likely to succeed. The way you do that is as follows:

  1. Business Plan – You need to create a business plan. While this is something so many potential business owners never want to hear, that means they don't understand what it really is. A business plan is a plan of what you want to do. It includes the prices you intend to charge, the costs you expect to pay for all supplies and services, and what you've done that should convince YOU that you'll be a success. I would never start a business without a business plan, and I have three businesses.

    The most important part is a comprehensive spreadsheet where I estimate EVERY possible cost I can imagine and the income I expect to earn for the first three to five years. If it doesn't make sense or the analysis shows me I'm not likely to be able to meet my cost obligations, grow and finally make a profit, I shouldn't ever start the business or go to the bank looking for money.

  2. Lined-Up Customers – Next, you need to show you've got some willing patrons that will buy your products or services. If you're going to offer boarding, provide a list of people the bank can call that will confirm they would like to board with you for the price you list in your business plan. If you're going to train horses and/or riders, provide a list so the bank can call those people that have committed to purchasing your training services for confirmation. It's always best to line up your customers BEFORE you start your business. If you can't get customers now, you'll likely not be able to get them later either.
  3. Supplier List and Quoted Prices – Provide a list of your major one-time and recurring expenses and the names and contact information of the suppliers with the prices they gave you for these products and services so the bank can contact them and confirm the prices.
If you do the foregoing and the bank can confirm you'll have customers, the prices and income you claim, and a plan that proves you'll be in the black and not the red, your bank WILL WANT to give you a loan to start your business. Don't be afraid to share this information with your bank — they DON'T want to steal it and go into your business. Rather, they want to lend you money with some comfort you'll succeed and be able to repay the loan and interest so THEY'LL earn money in the business they've chosen, namely, lending money to make a profit.

It all starts with your business plan to make sure you've thought it all through and can show yourself and the bank that it makes financial sense to take the risk and invest money in you and your plan. Several of our authors are successful horse-business owners and have written some great articles on this topic with more details — you should read them. They are:

  1. Six Horse Business Myths
  2. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 1
  3. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 2
  4. Building Your Dream Barn
  5. Hiring a Barn Building Contractor
Good Luck!


June 9, 2010 – LOW-DOOR STALLS

Are horses happier in stalls that have low doors so they can stick their heads out?

I think they are. At my barn, there are gates that come up to about 42 inches or so. Any horse or pony can put its head out over the gate. There are also full doors that go from floor to ceiling that can be closed, but the barn owner leaves them open unless there's a need to close it due to a particular problem. When someone enters the barn, many of the horses will often stick their head out and look to see who it is — the fact they do that indicates to me that they like the ability to do so.

Horses are social animals and the ability to see as well as hear each other makes them feel safer and calmer.


June 8, 2010 – WHY DO HORSES DROP & ROLL?

I know that most horses will drop and roll when being released into their pasture, but why do they do it?

Some of it is habit, but in the warmer weather, they roll to get sand in their hair to help keep the flies and mosquitoes away. The rolling also helps them to scratch itches they otherwise would not be able to get. The biting by insects causes most of that itching. In drier climates, the dry air itself can cause some cracking of the skin and itchiness.


June 7, 2010 – TRAILER TIRE PRESSURE

How much should I inflate the tires on my horse trailer?

Just as with your tow vehicle and your car, there is no "standard" pressure for tire inflation. The manufacturer of your trailer and the vehicle you drive place the recommended tire pressure for each on a placard. On a trailer, that placard will often be on the side of the tongue coming from the front of the trailer to which the hitch coupler is attached.

On a car, truck, or any other vehicle, the placard will usually be on the door or door jamb of the driver's door. The pressure listed on the side of each tire is the maximum pressure the tire can take. But you want to inflate to the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure for your respective vehicle. And that value will be on the aforementioned placard. You will also often find it in the vehicle owner's manual.


June 4, 2010 – RIDING EVERYDAY?

Is it ok to ride your horse every day?

Of course it is. But, you need to work your horse up to longer rides and more exertion. Take a simple example, such as public trail rides. These horses work every day and are athletes. But, they first get gradually conditioned at the beginning of each season before taking on their fulltime work.

If you normally take a one-hour walking/trotting ride each day, it won't take long to get your horse into shape. If your rides are several hours each and include some cantering and galloping, that's still ok, but make sure you take the time to condition your horse and gradually get him up to that level of activity by consistent work building up to it. What you don't want to do is too much, too soon. A gradual build-up will be good for both your horse and you, and maintaining that level of work will help keep you both in good physical condition.


June 3, 2010 – FLY SPRAY ON A HORSE'S FACE

My horse won't let me spray his face with flyspray. How am I supposed to protect his face? Flies go all over it.

STOP! DON'T SPRAY your horse's face with anything!!! Depending on the agent you're using, you could damage his eyes or make him sick if he inhales or ingests some of the chemical sprays out there.

Instead, spray a folded paper towel or a clean cloth and gently wipe the fly spray substance on his face. BUT, don't wipe it too close to his eyes or to his nose and mouth. Better to let him get some fly bites there than take a chance with his vision or risk poisoning him.


June 2, 2010 – HORSE SNAKEBITES

What do I do if my horse is bitten by a snake?

We've gotten several questions like this and felt there was enough to say that it warranted an article. Therefore, please check out: Horse Snakebites.


June 1, 2010 – HYPED UP HORSE AND LUNGING

Will lunging your horse calm him down or hype him up?

It will ultimately help him to calm down because he'll use up some of his excess energy. That said, if he's just dying to run, he may initially get excited when you start him off and you don't want to let him go too fast until he's warmed up a little. But lunging is a time-tested way to "burn off" excess energy before you mount up for a more leisurely ride.

Some of us prefer to ride that excess energy. If your horse is in good riding condition and you've got the space to run, mount up and work up to a gallop in stages. If you just burst into a gallop, your horse could strain something and hurt himself. Take him into a walk and then trot for a few minutes to warm up his muscles, get his heart gradually to a higher rate, and get his breathing up. As he warms up, allow him to quicken the pace. When he's fully warmed up, you can then let him go and enjoy the ride.


May 28, 2010 – HORSE PROPERTY AS A BUSINESS EXPENSE

Can I buy horse property as a business expense?

Sure! But it needs to be a real business. In other words, the IRS allows us to deduct any legitimate business expense as a cost of doing business. For example, if you're buying property to use for the boarding of horses, treatment of horses, training of horses, training of riders, or any other related business for which you're going to be charging money and developing an income stream, then you'll have to pay taxes on your profits and all of your business-related capital outlays and expenses will be legitimate tax deductions against your profits.

What the IRS does not allow is the deduction of purchases that are for private use. So, you can't buy property on which to keep horses if they're for your own use and not to generate taxable income. Check with your accountant or tax attorney for more specifics related to your actual circumstances.


May 27, 2010 – RIDING OPTIONS

I want to buy a horse but don't have property to keep him on.

I presume you're asking for other options? The most obvious is that you can always board your horse. You may also have a friend or relative that has a horse farm and could keep one more. Of course, you'll still have to pay for feed, but you may get low or free board if you're willing to provide something in return, such as mucking of stalls.

There are ways to keep a horse "on the cheap" if you're creative in finding it a home and are willing to make some other kind of payment, such as your services. And if you can afford to pay board, that leaves the day-to-day work to someone else, which does make taking a vacation or a business trip much easier to do without having to find someone to care for your horse while you're away.


May 26, 2010 – GPS DOESN"T WORK IN THE WOODS

I recently bought a GPS for trail riding, but it doesn't seem to work when I'm in the woods. What can I do?

What you've discovered is that your GPS unit is not sensitive enough to receive enough satellite signals when under a tree canopy — many GPS units have this problem. When used on the open road or in a field, they get enough signal, but not when under thick foliage, in a deep valley or canyon, or in the shade of a mountain. Generally, a GPS unit needs to receive a decent signal from at least three different satellites to determine your location. If it can also provide altitude information, it will need good signals from at least four satellites.

You essentially have two options:

  1. You can try to return your GPS unit and purchase one that has higher sensitivity — there are some higher sensitivity models made specifically to work in thick vegetation and deep valleys; or
  2. You may be able to purchase an external antenna for the GPS you have. Check with the manufacturer to determine your options.

If you do decide to try to return your current unit and get another, you may want to first read our article on the subject entitled: A GPS for Trail Riding.


May 25, 2010 – RIDING WHEN SCARED

Is it ok to ride a horse if I'm scared?

Unless you're riding quickly away from a threatening bear, bison, moose, or some other danger, riding when scared is a bad idea. The reason is that the horse will sense your fear and will become frightened himself. At that point, he will be very skittish, could act unpredictably, and one or both of you could get hurt.

The question for you to ask yourself, is: why are you scared? Is this because you're afraid of horses in general? Do you feel you can't control your horse? Or are you afraid you'll get hurt while riding? If it's any of the foregoing, you should find a riding instructor that can help you to overcome your fear. Proper instruction in a safe setting will help you learn how to be safe around horses and how to control them, as well as how to ride safely. Once you feel confident in those areas, you'll no longer have fear and will enjoy riding much more. Your horse will enjoy it also.

Of course, if the source of your fear is one of the first sources mentioned, namely, that of escaping an angry bear, bison, or moose, then you're completely normal and should be scared. In that case, RIDE LIKE THE WIND!


May 24, 2010 – CAN AN ADULT RIDE A PONY?

Can an adult ride a pony?

That depends on the pony and the weight of the adult. Some ponies, such as Fjords and Icelandics, are actually considered more as horses, even though they're often under the usual minimum horse height of 14-2 hands. They can carry up to the same general weight as a horse, which is normally considered to be around 230 pounds or so. People weighing more than that should be looking at drafts or cross draft breeds that can take the extra weight without injury. These ponies also can run as fast as any horse and are very sturdy.

As for other ponies, that's going to be determined by the specific breed. The best thing you can do is to determine which breed you're interested in riding and then consult someone familiar with the breed to find out if it is one you can ride at your own weight.


May 21, 2010 – MAXIMUM TOW RATINGS

What is the max gross trailer weight vs: the max tongue weight?

What you're referring to is the Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) and is the total weight of the trailer loaded to its maximum capacity. It includes the full weight of the trailer and its entire payload. Exceeding this rating is both illegal and dangerous because it exceeds the design limits determined by the trailer manufacturer.

The tongue weight is the weight placed on the tow vehicle by the hitch coupler when the trailer is attached. Essentially, it is the weight placed on the hitch ball by the coupler. In general, the tongue weight usually averages about 10% of the weight of the trailer. The GTWR described above is a maximum weight rating of a trailer. The maximum tongue weight is the maximum weight that can be placed on the hitch of the tow vehicle. There is also a rating called the maximum towing capacity; this is the maximum weight that the tow vehicle can tow.

When towing a trailer, you must be under all three of these ratings to be bothlegal and safe. Exceeding any one of them can result in loss of control.


May 20, 2010 – WITHER BAGS

Why is a wither bag good for a horse?

It's not that wither bags are good for a horse — there won't be any resulting health benefits. But, compared with other methods of carrying items on a horse, wither bags are one of the better ways. They're better because they place the load over the horse's center of gravity. Therefore, they don't upset his balance. In addition, more weight can be carried over the withers for the same reason.


May 19, 2010 – APPROACHING SPOOKY HORSES

My horse is somewhat spooky and I seem to always be startling her. How can I avoid that?

First, you have to remember that horses are prey animals, therefore, there is a component of their personality that will always be on the lookout for predators or anything else that appears strange or that wasn't there a moment ago. Second, the degree of "spookiness" varies with the horse. Each horse has its own personality and these traits are as individual as the animal itself. Some horses are easily spooked while others might not respond with a vehicle blowing its horn nearby — most are somewhere in between. Third, there are ways to make your horse less spooky. The process usually focuses on desensitizing her to one scary source at a time and is called "sacking out". You can get help with this process from a good horse trainer.

In general, you'll spook any horse unless if you let them know you're coming from far away — don't sneak up on a horse or act in any way that might appear that way to them. A good way to start is by humming/whistling a song or by talking from the time you get out of your car at the barn. Your horse and every other one around will here you coming, will look, listen, and smell in your direction, and will not be surprised as you come closer. Keep talking to your horse as you approach and it's highly likely that she'll be fine.

One more thing, if you have a generally spooky horse, you must realize that you're not the only source of surprises. Therefore, try to be very alert when near your horse, such as when you're grooming her, because another person, animal, or some other noise could spook her. In those cases, you don't want to be within her movement range, especially in a stall or other small space, because of her skittishness. You'll actually likely be safer when mounted because if she does quickly shy, you'll just go with her.

Being very alert when near horses is always good advice, but it takes on special importance when with an easily spooked horse.


May 18, 2010 – HOW LONG A LIFE FOR A BREAKAWAY BRAKE BATTERY?

How long does a breakaway battery last?

Are you asking how long it can hold a charge or how long before you need to buy a new battery?

A breakaway brake battery should be charged at the beginning of each season. If it ever gets used, it needs to be charged immediately after use. There are two reasons for this:

  1. One use will usually completely deplete the battery — it only can power the trailer brakes for about 30 - 60 seconds — these are not big batteries and braking uses lots of power.
  2. These are typically lead-acid batteries and this kind of battery will not last long if it is not kept charged because of sulphation.

As for the normal lifetime of a breakaway brake battery, they generally last between 5 - 8 years if kept properly charged, much shorter if they're left partially, or worse, fully discharged.


May 17, 2010 – ACREAGE FOR KEEPING HORSES

How many acres does a horse farm need?

That depends on how many horses you intend to keep and how much of their feed is going to come from local grazing. Generally, if grazing will make up all of the horse's food intake during the summer growing season, you need about 1.25 acres per average horse. If you're going to supplement grazing with hay and commercial feed, then you need less land per horse. That said, the horses still need enough land to run and play.

To give you an example, the farm where I board my horse here in Connecticut provides about an acre or so per horse. They also get supplemental feed, so the paddocks need to be occasionally mowed. The horses get some hay, but it's only for stall grazing at night because they're out all day and will graze on grass. In the winter, nothing grows, so their entire feed must be provided.

Generally, even if you intend to provide all feed, a half acre per horse is a good minimum so there's adequate room to exercise. Certainly, some horses are kept on less land, but I always feel badly for those horses if they have little room to run and their paddocks become so overly grazed that nothing is left. At that point, the ground generally becomes muddy and top soil erodes. When that happens, you'll likely never get very good grass growth after that and standing in mud much of the time raises the chances of other problems, such as soft soles, excessive sloughing of the frog, etc. Even thrush and white-line disease is worse when manure and urine products are kept in the hooves by packed mud.

So, we need to not fall prey to the temptation of providing too little land for our horses — there's often a price to pay. It can be something from unhappy horses with too little room to get adequate exercise to more serious problems affecting their feet — and you likely know how dangerous that can be for a horse.


May 14, 2010 – FLY ATTACKS

My horse will sometimes go crazy when the flies come around. What can I do?

Flies can be quite a problem for many horses. They're relentless and keep flying around, landing, and biting the horse to get their blood. And they seem to be at their worst on the really hot, humid days. We don't have many options. In those worst cases, we have to use some of the more powerful fly sprays. At those times, I find that pyretherin-based sprays seem to work the best. When the flies aren't as bad, I prefer to use a spray based on a more natural ingredient, such as marigold.

Don't spray your horse's face. If you want to apply some there, spray a clean rag first and carefully wipe his face, but don't go too close to his eyes, nose, or mouth. Do spray his neck, chest, rump, and legs. And don't forget to spray his tail. It will make his tail swishing more effective.

Around your horse's face, a fly mask can also help. But make sure the mask has no rips and forms a good seal so that flies can't get in. Worse than having flies around a horse's face with no mask is one or more flies stuck inside the mask and driving the horse mad.


May 13, 2010 – TRAILERING DURING A LIGHTNING STORM

Is a horse safe while being trailered in a lightning storm?

Lightning is a concern for most people because the way electricity works and travels is mysterious to most. In fact, the inside of a vehicle is generally one of the safest places for a person or animal to be during a lightning storm because the tires insulate the metal of the vehicle from the ground and reduce the attraction of an electrical charge from completing a circuit. That said, there can be exceptions.

For example, it assumes that no conductors, such as the safety chains, are touching the ground or hanging so low that they are close to the ground. Similarly, it also assumes that no ramp door (especially a metal one) is in the down position touching the ground and making a path up to the trailer. And it assumes that all people and animals are completely inside the vehicle and not outside it in any way. Therefore, from an electrical perspective, your horse should be safe from lightening while riding in a horse trailer.

However, there are other aspects of a lightning storm that bring their own risks separate from electricity, such as winds, heavy rain, and possible hail. In that vein, we may be better off referring to these weather phenomenon as thunderstorms rather than lightening storms. And the sound of the thunder itself could panic a horse already uncomfortable for being in a trailer. We have a related article you may want to read entitled: Wind and Trailering.

To get back to your initial question, a direct strike by lightning itself is likely of lower risk than the wind, hail, and other aspects of the storm. Of course, lightning could hit a tree which could then fall into your path across the road, but that would be an indirect effect of the lightning. The most important action you can take if you find yourself trailering in a thunderstorm is to slow down and proceed cautiously. If you can avoid trailering during the storm, that is safer yet.


May 12, 2010 – HITCHIN UP WITHOUT DENTING YOUR VEHICLES

I just scratched and put a small dent in my bumper trying to backup up and align my hitch ball under the coupler. Needless to say, I'm frustrated and am tired of getting in and out of my truck six times every time I want to hitch up. Do you know of any better ways to hitch up a trailer?

Yes, I know of several, and there are likely many others. One of the most inexpensive, but effective products that work are called Hitching Rods. These are two, bright, lime-yellow, fiberglass rods with powerful magnets at their bases. You place one directly atop your hitch ball and the other one on your coupler directly over where the ball will be captured. Align the two rods in your rear view mirror and backup slowly. When the ball goes under the coupler, the rod atop it will bend over. STOP at that time, get out, and you'll be delighted to see the ball is under the coupler and ready to connect. I've used these and they work well.

Another product is a rear view camera so you can actually see the ball and coupler as you back up. Some vehicles come with this built in as part of their GPS navigation system. There are also after-market products available starting from about $90 and up which include the monitor, camera, and necessary wiring and installation instructions. Here are a few:

Visor View offers several products, such as their single and dual camera systems.

WinPlus offers their Behind Sight product sold here at Amazon.

Rear View Safety, Inc. offers many such products; several have an infrared camera with built-in microphone and infrared lighting. You can find their products sold here at Amazon.

A third product is the Dura-Safe Couple-Mate. It is a wedge-shaped metal plate assembly that mounts under the hitch ball. As you back up, the coupler hits the plate and is guided over the ball. It's available from the link I've provided above and also from other hitch suppliers and horse supply catalogs for about $40 - $60.

I'm sure there are other products to solve this problem. I hope these suggestion help.

Good luck!


May 11, 2010 – WHERE TO CARRY A GPS?

I just got a GPS for my trail riding and am really enjoying using on our rides. Another rider and I got into a discussion about whether I should carry it on my body or on my horse. He said I could break it if I carry it and fall off my horse onto it. He feels it would be safer kept in a bag on my horse.

Personally, I think your friend is looking at this all wrong. Instead, I'd look at two other issues. If your GPS is connected to your belt and you fall off your horse onto it, there is some risk that you might get hurt falling on it just as if you fell onto a small rock the same size. That said, I think the risk of being hurt by landing on your GPS is much lower than landing on a rock, stump, or other sharp hard objects you usually find on the ground — your GPS likely isn't very big and less likely to hurt you than the dozens of other items you might hit.

Another issue is, if you did fall off and your horse takes off, to whom would the GPS be more valuable? Frankly, I don't think your horse is very inclined to use it. For one thing, because of his excellent memory and senses, he likely already knows how to get back. And second, I'm not that aware of very many horses that are enamored of electronic devices — that's more of a male human compulsion. Therefore, I feel it's a better idea to carry the unit on your person than in a saddle or cantle bag — ditto for your cell phone and any walkie-talkie you might use on your rides.


May 10, 2010 – WOOD OR STEEL SADDLE TREES?

I want to buy a saddle which has a metal tree. I don't know whether I should or not because most saddles I've used supposedly have wooden trees. Is a steel saddle tree better than a wood tree or is it the other way around?

Because so many saddles are built of not only both of these materials, but also in a combination of the two, as well as with other metals (e.g. aluminum), I'm not sure that any traditionally used metal or wood is any better than another. A completely metal tree is likely the strongest form, but it's also the hardest to modify if you change horses and need the saddle modified to fit the new horse. A wood/metal tree is easier to modify, but that alone doesn't make it better. And while you didn't ask, fiberglass trees are also very strong.

I wouldn't purchase a saddle with the primary focus on the tree. While that is one of the most important components of a saddle and its primary purpose is to fit the saddle to the horse's back, there are other equally important aspects, such as how the saddle fits you, how comfortable it is, how it fits the kind of riding you do, how safe it is for your riding discipline, etc. Therefore, I recommend you take a more holistic view of making sure that all the major parts and functions of the saddle meet the needs and fit of both you and your horse rather than focusing primarily on the tree.


May 7, 2010 – FEAR OF RUNNING WATER

My horse is afraid of running water. She's really scared when I try to rinse her off and I don't know how to break of her of this habit.

You need to keep in mind that this issue has nothing to do with habit. More likely, your horse is truly afraid of the water and reacting accordingly. Therefore, the way to resolve this is to work through it with her.

One of our contributing authors, Jen Goddard, is a horse trainer and wrote an article about this very topic last year. It's entitled: Step 6: "It's Bath Time!".


May 6, 2010 – PUTTING HORSES AWAY DURING THUNDERSTORM?

Should you put horses away during a thunderstorm?

Are you asking whether or not you should risk your life to try to save that of your horses or horses for which you're responsible because they're boarded at your barn? If so, my answer is "no". As much as we have a responsibility to take care of those animals we adopt, we should never risk a human life to save an animal. And I say this as a person that has had, still has, and has loved animals his whole life.

That said, there are ways to save both. To do that, keep aware of weather conditions. If the weather is forecasted for thunderstorms later in the day, stay apprised about the weather and bring your horses in early BEFORE the storm hits your area. That way, you're not jeopardizing their lives or your own.

And if that occasional surprise storm comes through and you're just not able to get your horses inside, take some comfort in that lightening strikes on people and horses, are fortunately, not that common.


May 5, 2010 – USING A CLASS II HITCH?

I have a class II hitch on my SUV and want to pull a small horse trailer. What kind of horse trailer should I get?

A Class II hitch is limited to 3,500 pounds. You need to be able to tow the weight of the trailer, the horse(s) you put into it, the tack, hay, and anything else on board. I've not seen a horse trailer with payload that will stay under that weight. Perhaps there's a single horse trailer that is light enough, but I don't know what it is — single horse trailers are rare.

The reason is that they must meet the same requirements as a 2-horse trailer. That means they MUST have two axles, MUST have a breakaway brake, etc. Therefore, trailer manufacturers need to include all the same components as for a two horse trailer. The result is a 1-horse trailer that weighs almost as much and costs almost as much as a two horse trailer, but can only carry one horse — that's not a very appealing savings to most people and they realize they should just purchase a two horse trailer and additionally have the ability to bring along another horse when necessary.

If your tow vehicle has sufficient capacity to tow a two horse trailer (at least 5,000 pounds), you should have your hitch replaced with a good-quality Class III hitch properly rated for such a trailer. If your vehicle is not rated high enough to do that, you should consider getting a tow vehicle with adequate tow capacity and a hitch to match. You don't want to tow your horse with a setup that is illegal and risks the life of your horse, you, your passengers, and others with which you're sharing the road.


May 4, 2010 – IS BRUSHING NECESSARY?

Do I really need to brush my horse? He just rolls in the dirt after I do.

Yes, you do need to brush him! You're right that horses often roll right after you clean them, especially after rinsing them off or giving them a bath. And yes, that can be very frustrating. But please realize that horses do that to keep insects away as well as for other reasons. They've instinctively learned its benefits over the ages.

When you brush your horse, you remove loose hair, insect eggs, and other debris. You're also a lot more likely to find more tenaciously attached insects that require your attention, such as ticks. Or you might find other problems, such as an injury (gash, cut, etc.) or a swollen joint needing attention.

Finally, grooming is a bonding opportunity for you and your horse. If you show up at the barn just to ride, your horse will associate you only with work and will likely go in the other direction when you approach. After all, you wouldn't be making any investment in his happiness and you'd both know it. But if you show up and your horse knows you might ride, you might groom, you might take him out grazing, you might play fun games, etc., he'll be much more interested and even excited to see you.

Isn't that why most of us got into horses and riding in the first place?


May 3, 2010 – TOO HEAVY A RIDER

Can an overweight rider harm a horse?

Yes, they can. The general rule of thumb is for a maximum rider weight of about 230 pounds for a normal size horse. When you add the weight of the tack, you're around 245- 250 pounds of cargo on that horse — that's usually about or over 25% of the horse's weight — quite a payload to carry around. And because our weight is usually measured when in our underclothes, the additional weight of our clothes and shoes, possibly even a coat, brings rider weight up another 10 -12 pounds higher than the 230 pounds mentioned above. For a person heavier than that, you need a bigger horse — a draft is good.

If you allow too heavy a person to ride a horse, you can damage your horse's back, his legs, or his feet. Don't take a chance and let too heavy a person ride your horse. Just one time could harm your horse and is too big a risk.


April 30, 2010 – MOVING BEHIND A HORSE

What is the safest way for me to move behind and go around the back of my horse?

The first thing to keep in mind when around any horse, including your own, is to let him know you're there. That means to make noise as you approach if he doesn't see you coming toward him. When I approach horses, I begin talking to them from 20 or more feet away. If they don't turn and face me, look up from the ground, or move their eyes and ears in ways that convey to me that they see me, I approach very carefully because I don't know if the horse could be blind or deaf. I DO NOT want to surprise him. A surprised horse could shy quickly, kick out, rear up, bite, or do something else that could hurt me or others.

When beside my own horse, or one I know well that does not kick and about which I intend to walk around behind, I drag my hand down their back and around their rump as I come around. This lets them know where I am at all times so they need not be surprised. I also stay very close — within a foot or so. If for some unknown reason the horse did kick, there would be less force developed than at three feet away where it would be much more powerful.

If I don't know the horse, I will instead stay six or more feet away because I don't know if it tends to kick and I won't take any chances. At that distance, he will not be able to reach me if something goes wrong and he spooks.

Another thing to consider is when you're down low near a horse, such as when cleaning hooves or examining some lower portion of the horse, such as his pasterns or lower legs, do not stoop. Rather, bend over and stay standing so you can move away quickly if necessary. When surprised, my own horse has moved quickly while I was cleaning hooves or some such because of someone else approaching. While I do believe that my horse would not intentionally hurt me, it could happen by accident if he was surprised. I want to do everything I can to avoid such risk.

Some people feel safer on the ground near horses than on their backs — I feel the opposite. I have had other horses bang against my leg and horse while in my saddle because of control issues another rider was having, and my leg being squeezed was much better than having my body between those horses. To learn more, read: What's Safer? On Foot or Mounted?


April 29, 2010 – RIDING IN THE RAIN

How do I stay warm riding in wet rain?

Wet rain? All rain is wet!

The best way to stay warm is not to get wet in the first place. When you get wet, evaporation will make you cold and the moisture also wicks heat away from your body faster. This can be especially dangerous on colder days. And while it's comfortable and safe to be riding in the 70s or 80s without a coat when dry, you risk hypothermia at those same temperatures when wet — even higher risk if it's colder.

So, either don't ride in the rain, or wear proper rain gear that keeps your body dry while riding. We have a related article entitled: Staying Dry. It focuses more on cold weather riding because of its greater dangers, but the clothing discussed is pertinent to riding in any weather. Such clothing uses special micro-perforated polymers that keep water out, yet allow your perspiration to be vented out away from your body. That helps keep you warm and dry.

One important note, if you do ride in colder, wet weather with the proper clothing, stay aware of the temperature and how wet your horse is. While he will maintain his body heat longer because of his much greater mass, even he loses heat faster when wet and will eventually risk hypothermia the longer he remains wet and as the weather gets cooler.


April 28, 2010 – GALLOPING DOWNHILL

How should I gallop my horse downhill as a training aid?

I've never before heard of training a horse this way and don't even like the thought of it. I've written about this before, and to my way of thinking, galloping downhill is generally a bad idea unless you're being chased by a bear or mountain lion (fortunately, this is not a common situation for us riders). If your horse should trip and fall, the chance of him breaking a leg and both of you getting hurt is higher than at slower speeds. Even the chance of a trip happening in the first place is higher going downhill because of gravity working to accelerate you both down the slope. Finally, if you're riding in a group and are riding upfront, going down in front of your friends and their horses is likely to be painful and injurious in still additional ways as they ride over you and your horse. Galloping has some risk to it intrinsically; galloping downhill with the added effect of gravity on a person and a 1,000 pound animal raises that risk significantly.


April 27, 2010 – DO WE PASS TESTING BY OUR HORSES?

How do horses test their rider?

Let me count the ways....

Horses test us in many, many ways and I'll provide just a few examples. Keep in mind that horses test everyone with which they come into contact. That means other horses as well as any person that will try to control them from riding to even just walking them to another location.

On a ride, they will test you by trying to snatch some grass or a birch leaf. If you don't stop them, they'll go for more the next time, and with more force. But initially, if you're paying attention, you'll notice them looking at that leaf and starting to turn their head toward it as you approach. If you twitch the opposite finger on the reins ever so slightly, they'll get the message that you said "no", and will continue ahead without going for the leaf.

Similarly, they may want to take an alternate path and return to the barn, if you don't pay attention and signal that "no" signal at the proper time, they'll go toward that path and will become more forceful about it as they get closer. While grooming, they may refuse to lift their foot so you can clean their hoof. If you let them get away with that, they may refuse to move or do anything else you ask of them. As they refuse to do more and more and you let them, they lose respect for you and believe they're in control — this can become dangerous for the human. Conversely, if you assert control and the horse must do as you ask, he will actually respect you more.

To a horse's way of thinking, the stronger entity is the one more likely to safely lead them and they defer to that individual's commands. This does not imply being mean to a horse or that they can never do anything fun, it just means that the leader does the asking and the rest of the herd follows.

The Horse Girl and I have often written about making the time with our horses fun for them as well as for ourselves. That means spending some time grooming them, being with them while they graze, playing games with them, occasionally taking them out on the trail with other riders for some change of pace and exploration, etc. Your horse will be happier, more responsive, and safer if you assert control, but also use that control to occasionally lead him to activities he, too, will enjoy.


April 26, 2010 – SAFE GROOMING

Will a horse hurt you when being groomed?

Not usually. Most horses enjoy being groomed. They like the attention, and unless you're rough or keep brushing or combing the same spot, grooming usually feels good to them because it removes loose hair and reduces the itching that hair and insects can cause. You're also likely to notice injuries, insect bites, ticks, swelling, and other maladies as you pay better attention to different parts of your horse's body.

If you're trying to groom a horse that isn't properly trained to interact with people, has psychological problems, or doesn't respect you, then you first need to deal with those issues, or you should stay away from the horse altogether.


April 23, 2010 – RIDING WITH WET TACK?

Should you ride a horse with wet tack?

I wouldn't intentionally tack up and ride a horse with wet tack. My concern is that the wet tack could irritate and chafe the horse's skin where it comes in contact — that would be especially bad with a wet saddle pad. Even a wet bridle could chafe against the head more than when dry. The longer the ride, the worse the chafing.

If you're asking what to do if you get caught in a rainstorm, you don't really have much of a choice because you likely want to get your horse, tack, and yourself back to the barn. Chances are that the area under the saddle will remain somewhat drier because the saddle would deflect much of the rain to the sides. Of course, if you and your horse went too deep into a river or pond with tack, everything could get thoroughly wet and you're forced into dealing with the problems of chafing and irritation again.


April 22, 2010 – DO HORSES MISS PEOPLE?

Does my horse miss me?

I don't know whether or not your specific horse misses you, but horses can get attached to people as well as to other horses. But usually, a horse only misses a person if that person spends lots and lots of time with the horse. That sometimes happens with equine professional athletes that compete and spend most of their time with their horses training and practicing as well as when performing.

However, that can be a problem when a person is involved because we cannot usually spend the great amount of time with our horse necessary for that kind of bond. We have other aspects to our lives that don't involve our horses, such as time with family, work, entertainment, vacations, etc. Horses don't understand these concepts and expect that we're always with them or we're not.

So, unless you actually want and can have a life that means being with your horse most of the day every day, it might be better if another horse fills that role rather than you. That doesn't mean your horse won't enjoy your company, just that he/she doesn't have to depend on you for most of his/her companionship.


April 21, 2010 – HOMEOWNER INSURANCE AND A BUSINESS

Will my homeowner's insurance protect me if I run my horse business on my personal property?

Not usually! Every home-owner's policy I've ever seen specifically excludes business liability, and most also explicitly exclude liability incurred from owning horses and the damage and injuries they might cause. I do have my own business and my home owner's policy does not cover my business equipment at home nor my liability when at a client's premises or when a client comes to my home related to business.

You need to purchase insurance specifically for your horse business. The Horse Girl has written several articles about various forms of liability, the different kinds of equine-related insurance available, what they're called, and what they generally cover. Here are several links:

Liability Traps for Stable Owners & Lessors

Gaps in Liability Protection for Equine Professionals

Buying Horse Insurance

Equine Insurance and Why it Matters


April 20, 2010 – HORSES RUNNING

Will a horse that was run slow down?

Usually. Like humans, horses get tired when they work. But you have to be careful because you can force a horse to run longer or harder than he should. And if he's frightened, he can overdue it on his own.

If you've been riding for a while, it's likely that you have some feeling for how far and fast a horse should go and when it's too much. Stay under that "too much" amount. Horses that have run too hard for too long can develop strains or even die — keep it reasonable for your horse's sake.


April 19, 2010 – CANTERING ON TRAIL RIDES?

Should you canter on trail rides?

I certainly hope so! My friends and I ride all the gaits when on the trails unless a horse's condition or the condition of the trails prohibit it. For example, at the beginning of the season when we're still conditioning our horses, we'll initially only walk while at later rides, we'll add trotting. As the horses get into better and better shape, we'll add cantering, and finally, some galloping and even low-level jumping. The key is to get your horse and yourself into shape gradually. Pushing for too much, too fast could injure, even kill your horse.

Similarly, in cold-weather riding with frozen or slippery ground, our rides are limited to the walk. It helps to keep our horses and ourselves in some decent shape, but we don't want to risk strains and injury to our horses by pounding hard ground or risking a slip and fall on icy footing. Once into the summer riding season with everyone in shape, we'll canter several times on each of our rides. To many of us, cantering is the gait we all imagined experiencing when we first dreamt of learning to ride horses. To this day, it doesn't disappoint and provides a wonderful feeling of freedom. Better yet, it's obvious that horses enjoy it also.


April 16, 2010 – BEDTIME HOURS FOR HORSES

What's the latest I should go into my barn at night?

Most barns with which I've interacted generally ask all boarders to stay away from the barn between 9:00 pm to 6:00 am, or something near that time span. This gives the horses some quiet time alone. Most mammals have a fairly good sense of time. I suspect you've noticed that horses, as well as cats and dogs, seem to know when it's dinner time. And you've likely been awakened by a cat or dog jumping on your bed when you've overslept because they want breakfast. Similarly, horses know when the barn is usually empty, and therefore, when they can relax, perhaps even lie down without concern for people milling around the barn. You should establish such a rest time and then consistently honor it — it will be better for the overall health of your horses.

Of course, there are reasons when it's appropriate to break this rule, such as when a horse is foaling, has colicked, or has some other illness, injury, or important reason requiring human attention. But for the remainder of the time, let your horses rest in peace.


April 15, 2010 – CURRY COMBING

My horse doesn't seem to like it when I curry comb him. How should I remove loose hair? He's got a lot of it.

It could be that you're combing him too hard, or too long in the same place. You need to understand that there's no way to get all the hair that's loose at any particular moment. Just comb lightly and don't do too much in the same place. The majority of the loose hair with still get caught in the comb. Follow that with a light brushing. Do this each time you're at the barn. Believe it or not, you'll still have all his winter hair removed around the same time (about three or four weeks). But your combing and brushing will remove much of what is itching your horse and leave him more comfortable than if you did nothing and he'll also look better during the shedding period.


April 14, 2010 – RIDING A PONY?

Can an adult ride a pony?

It depends on the pony. A pony is usually defined as a small horse under 14-2 hands, but it's not that simple. Some horses that small or smaller are actually considered actual "horses", such as Fjords and Icelandics. These horses are very sturdy and can carry the same weight and run just as fast as a full-size horse. Conversely, a young horse that will, in time, grow to become a full size horse should not carry a person at all because his skeleton is not yet fully formed.

As you can see, it's important to discuss this topic with more specificity to really answer your question. Therefore, please feel free to re-submit your question with more information, especially regarding the breed and age of the animal you're asking about and the weight of the intended rider.


April 13, 2010 – TO TAPADERO OR NOT TO TAPADERO...

I'm frustrated about getting my feet caught on bushes and getting wet when I ride through a stream. A friend is recommending tapaderos, but another hates them, though she's never used them; this makes no sense. Can you tell me a little about them?

For some reason, tapaderos do seem to instill a love or hate response from many riders that have never used them — I don't know why. I wrote an article about them a while back to answer common questions. You can read it: Tapaderos: Good or Bad?.

If you do get a set, please let us know what you think. And most of all, whether you like them or not, PLEASE, PLEASE tell us WHY you feel that way.


April 12, 2010 – ELECTRICITY COSTS AND HORSE BUSINESS TAXES

How do I figure out the business use of electricity on my horse farm for tax purposes?

There are two questions here; one is technical and one is business. The technical question is how to figure out how much electricity your farm uses. To do this, you need to know how much electrical power is used each month. If your barn has its own electrical meter, then you get a separate bill for your barn telling you the power usage and how much it costs each month. If it's combined with your house, then you need to calculate the power usage of the barn itself. Fortunately, this is quite easy.

To do so, take the wattage of each bulb in the barn and determine how long it's on per day. You don't need an exact number, an estimate is ok, such as, each light is on for 2.5 hours each day for feeding and mucking in the mornings and for feedings and horse checkout each evening. If you have ten CFL bulbs using 27 watts each for 2.5 hours each day, multiply that out (10 X 27 X 2.5) and you get 675 watt/hours. For a 30 day month, that's (675 X 30) = 20, 250 watt/hours. Dividing that by 1,000 to get kilowatt hours gives you 20.25kWh. Finally, look at your electric bill and it will say how much you pay per kilowatt hour. If it's 18¢, multiply that times the 20.25 and you know it's costing you about $3.64 per month -- not much. But if you're using incandescent bulbs that draw four times the same amount of electricity and your lights stay on for ten hours each day (not uncommon during the winter months for a working barn giving lessons), the actual cost would be $72.90 each month -- more significant. You can learn more about calculating electrical power costs by reading our article on Better Barn Lighting.

The business question can be more complex because you can only deduct costs based on its percentage of usage. For example, if your whole barn is used for your horse business only, then all costs associated with your barn and business are tax deductable. If a room in your home is additionally used for your horse business, and only your horse business and not at all for personal reasons, that room and all its associated costs (electricity, heating, cooling, insurance, etc.) are also deductible. But if that same room is also used half time for personal use by family members, then only half those costs are deductable. If you have any doubts, you need to check with an accountant to assure the room is used solely for your business, and also for how to calculate its costs.


April 9, 2010 – HORSE LICKING LIPS

What does it mean when a horse licks their lips?

If a horse licks his lips when he's alone, it can mean anything from dry lips to catching a vestige of whatever he last ate. But if he lick his lips while you or another horse is approaching, he's indicating that he recognizes the approaching person or horse as his leader.


April 8, 2010 – DESENSITIZING A HORSE TO COAT REMOVAL

My friend told me I should never take my coat off or put it on while mounted on my horse because she'll go crazy. Is this true? She said it happened to her on her horse once.

Well, I don't know anything about your particular horse, but some horses have been spooked by the site of a flapping coat being put on or removed as well as other similar rider actions, such as pulling out and unfolding a handkerchief. It's a good idea to desensitize your horse to such actions. Seek out a horse trainer for help on this — the process shouldn't take very long and is sometimes called "sacking out".

The principal is merely one of calmly introducing your horse to various actions (e.g. coat removal) or to objects that some find frightening. The horse learns that the action or object is harmless and is no longer afraid when they see them again. Objects that can scare a horse can be almost anything, but are often "flappable" items, such as ropes, blankets, coats, etc.


April 7, 2010 – USING A SMALL JEEP TO TOW A HORSE TRAILER?

I'd like to get a horse trailer. My CJ5 jeep already has a hitch and 4-wire electrical connector. Will that work ok with the lights on a horse trailer?

I think you should rethink using your jeep for pulling a horse trailer. That vehicle only has a tow capacity of 3,500 pounds. That's not much more than the weight of an empty 2-horse bumper pull trailer. In addition, the CJ5 has a short wheelbase. Short-wheelbase vehicles can be more easily twisted by a trailer and wind than a long-wheelbase vehicle. If you'd like to stay with Jeeps for this purpose, consider getting a larger vehicle, such as a Grand Cherokee that has a towing capacity of 7,000 pounds.

To answer your original question about the connector, all horse trailers will require at least a 5-pin electrical hookup; many will use a 7-pin system. That's because, in addition to the pins for stopping, left/right signaling and stoplights, marker lights, and ground, which is all your 4-wire system can provide, a horse trailer also requires an electric brake signal. It may also have backup lights (another wire) and perhaps a constant 12volt supply (a 7th wire for internal lights and possibly to charge the breakaway brake battery). So this is another reason to get a vehicle more capable of hauling a heavy-duty trailer, such as a horse trailer.


April 6, 2010 – TRAIL RIDING WITH ENGLISH TACK

I normally ride in the ring, but am going to try trail riding for the first time. I'm excited, but also a little scared. Can I trail ride using my English tack?

Yes. I prefer a Western, Australian, or endurance saddle for trial riding because they provide more support due to deeper cantles and pommels. But there's no sense in buying another saddle if most of your riding is and will continue to be in the ring. However, if you normally use any kind of martingale to limit the height of your horse's head, leave that at the barn. A horse needs to raise its head when going downhill. And in deep water, such Martingales have caused horses to drown because they couldn't keep their head high enough.

You should also go with at least one other rider on your ride, two is even better. If you and your horse have never ridden the trails before, having another horse or two along will make him/her feel safer and more comfortable, as well as yourself. Most of all, have fun!


April 5, 2010 – HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN/OIL TACK?

I went downstairs to get my saddle and bridle in my basement and it's filthy and covered with some gray growing mold or something. I must have spent four hours getting that stuff off. How often should I clean and oil my tack?

You're not alone, we get a lot of these questions submitted each spring when riders go down to their basements or into their garages or tack rooms and are aghast to see what their tack looks like after the winter? First, if you don't ride during the winter, you should store tack in a heated and dry space, like the corner of a room in your house. The same climate we find comfortable is best for keeping your tack in good shape for the long run.

Second, clean your tack regularly, such as after each ride. This won't take long and isn't a major cleaning. Just wipe your saddle and bridle with a commercially sold, tack-cleaning wipe. If you don't want to buy the wipes, just use a slightly damp cloth to remove dust and dirt. Then, every four or five rides, apply a very light coat of saddle oil with a clean cloth.

It's much better to keep tack clean and oiled regularly than to let if starve, dry out, get filthy, and then try to save it once a year with a major cleaning and oiling effort that you'd rather not undertake anyway. Mold growing on your tack is particularly bad because the mold's/mildew's root system break down the leather's fibers and weaken it. Avoid mold/mildew by keeping your tack away from humid spaces. And don't forget to care for any other leather you regularly or occasionally use with your horse, such as breast plates, cruppers, martingales, etc.

Maintaining your tack regularly will provide the best protection and make it last the longest. In fact, well-maintained tack will last many decades and give you plenty of use. Saddles, especially, are usually discarded, not because they're worn out, but because they've deteriorated through lack of adequate care.


April 2, 2010 – SPRING TRAILER PREPARATION

We get lots of questions about how to prepare a horse trailer for the warmer weather. So, this year, we decided to provide a more comprehensive aid to our readers by preparing a full article. It's called: Spring Trailer Inspection & Preparation.


April 1, 2010 – USING A CELL PHONE WHILE RIDING?

Is it ok to use a cell phone while riding?

Well, it's better not to do so. And if you do, keep it to a minimum. I do take calls when on a ride when at the walk, though I try to keep them short. I once got a call and 10 seconds later the leader of our riding group went into a canter and then a gallop without letting us know and without realizing I had taken a call. She shouldn't have done that, but I also should have been focused on the ride rather than the call. The result was that I just gripped the phone and rode without finishing my conversation. I couldn't keep the phone to my ear while dodging branches and shifting my weight as we rounded turns on the trail at a fairly good clip.

Interestingly, the caller stayed on line and listened to hooves pounding the ground quickly while hearing laughing riders breeze through the forest. When we slowed down again, the caller was still there and we all laughed. I had almost dropped my phone while holding the reins at speed and would have done so willingly rather than take a chance of getting hurt. However, since then, I've further minimized my calls and keep the few I do answer to as short as possible.

We riders should be focused on the riding. After all, isn't getting away from the fast pace of life and technology one of the most appealing reasons that we ride and spend time with horses?


March 31, 2010 – A COMFORTABLE CUSHION FOR AN ENGLISH SADDLE?

I started trail riding to give my horse a break from ring work and she loves it. In fact, I'm loving it too, except that I get sore riding for more than an hour or so on my jumping saddle. Is there a cushion or something I can buy to make it more comfortable for long rides? And what about more comfortable half-chaps?

The problem you're experiencing is not the fault of the saddle. It's just not designed for extended rides going into many hours. In addition, it's definitely not the safest saddle for trail riding. Lot's of things can spook a horse on the trail from people and dogs to wild animals (deer, fox, etc.) and bees, plus lots more. You should investigate purchasing a saddle designed for trail riding.

Take a look at western, Australian, and endurance saddles. All are made for comfortable, long rides and their more generous flaps will negate the need for you to wear your half chaps. Each of these saddles also has a deeper cantle and higher pommel to help keep you in the saddle for those quick moves a horse can make when surprised.

You can find new, inexpensive, quality, synthetic saddles for just a few hundred dollars. If you buy used, you'll have even more options that are affordable whether synthetic or real leather. Whichever route you go, don't just buy sight unseen, try it out and assure you get a saddle that properly fits your horse as well as you.


March 30, 2010 – COST OF OWNING A HORSE

What is the monthly cost of owning a horse?

Because there are no set rates and horse ownership costs depend on many things, I'm just going to speak generally and give you "ballpark" estimates. You'll need to assess various boarding and other fees in your area for a more accurate idea of potential costs to you.

The first cost to consider will be the monthly boarding fee. That usually depends on the area in which you live and the services you have at the farm where you board. If it's partial board, it'll depend on what is included. If it's full board that includes shelter, feeding, mucking, and possibly more, the cost will be higher.

Then, you get into veterinary costs which definitely includes annual shots, possibly a yearly checkup, and any special needs. Farrier costs are usually every five to seven weeks depending on the horse. You'll also need an annual teeth floating.

Now, consider insurance. Some people have liability, mortality, and major medical while other owners carry less insurance. And after age 15, it's usually too expensive to keep mortality and major medical insurance. But whatever you do, you definitely should have liability insurance to protect yourself in case your horse ever damages property or injures someone. It's not that expensive ($250 - $400 per year average) and will protect you if you're ever sued for something your horse does.

When you add it all up, you can probably expect to spend about $4,000 - $8,000 per year (about $350 - $650 per month). In expensive areas, it can be much more and even approach $1,500 per month.

Of course, there are also optional costs, such as horse training or rider instruction. If you show, there will be show fees, costs for more advanced horse grooming products, costs for rider apparel, costs for trailering your horse to the shows and back, etc. But, there are also ways to "ride on the cheap". You could split-lease a horse with one or more other people. That could bring your costs down to as low as $150 per month, maybe less. And if you don't ride frequently or consistently with occasional long gaps between riding sessions, such as over winter, it might just be cheaper to rent.

I hope this helps. Good luck!


March 29, 2010 – RIDE A HORSE WITH SORE FEET?

Can you ride a horse with sore feet?

You can, but you definitely should not do it if it will cause him more pain or worse. First, you need to know why his feet are sore. If it's because he had his feet trimmed in the last few days and he's sore only on rough and stony ground because his frog is more exposed, you should not ride him on such ground. But, if you're going to ride him only on grass where his feet won't hurt, that's usually ok. But if his feet are sore for a more serious reason, such as an injury or infection, then you're taking a chance on doing permanent damage — that would be unfair to your horse.

You need to speak to your veterinarian or farrier to determine the cause of your horse's sore feet. You should not ride him unless the reason is something unlikely to cause problems and pain, such as the recently trimmed hooves example described above. Anything else is unfair to your horse and risks his health, and potentially his life, if he should go lame as a result of your decision.

Check with your vet or farrier first.


March 26, 2010 – PAINTING A HORSE TRAILER

My horse trailer has gotten rusty and I need to paint it again. What kind of paint should I use?

Use paint made for cars and trucks. Your trailer is likely steel or aluminum. You should try to determine what it is. Then, go to an automotive paint store and tell them what you're going to paint (e.g. a steel horse trailer). Ask them how best to remove the rust and have them recommend a primer. DO NOT attempt to paint your trailer without using a primer unless the store tells you explicitly that the paint you're buying doesn't need to go atop a primer. Most paints will require a primer and if you don't use one, the paint will not adhere adequately and it'll be chipping, followed by rusting, not long after you paint it.

As for applying, a spray gun (either standard or HVLP) will provide the most seamless and professional looking finish. If you don't care, you can use a brush, it just won't look as smooth. If you go for using a brush, ask the person selling the paint what kind of bristles they recommend for the paint you buy.

One more thing. Most trailers are white or some other nondescript color. If you're adventurous enough to use some brighter and more colorful shades, the chances of your trailer ever being stolen, such as at a trailhead while you're off riding, will be much less. That's because thieves know it will be much easier for the police to find and identify such a trailer compared to one that looks like all the rest. It'll also be much harder for the thief to "fence" the trailer (find a buyer) because its color makes it "stick out" and be noticed.


March 25, 2010 – SPRING WINDS SPOOKING YOUR HORSE

I just rode my horse this past weekend and it was very windy. My horse seemed spooky the whole time and it made me very nervous he was going to break into a gallop and go wild. What should I do at such times?

Wind affects many horses in similar fashion. It's a standard phenomenon at this time of year (spring) and also in autumn. The reason is that wind causes not just one, but many sensations that make a horse nervous, such as the noise of wind making it harder for horses to hear sounds of predators, and the fact that wind moves many things from trees and bushes to debris being blown along the ground — that can look like predators moving around them.

We have an article you may want to read that gives this topic a fairly comprehensive treatment. It is entitled, Horses and Wind.


March 24, 2010 – TYING VIA REINS?

I'm finally learning to ride a horse and just started taking riding lessons. This is a dream come true! Last week, I tacked the horse and brought her to the arena while my instructor finished a conversation in the barn with another student. Then, I realized that I had forgotten to ask her if it was ok to mount and start walking around while waiting for her to arrive. Rather than bring the horse all the way back with me, I wrapped the reins around a fence on one side of the arena. When I went to my instructor to ask her the question, she asked me where the horse was and I proudly told her how I thoughtfully secured her to the fence in the arena so she couldn't leave the area. It didn't go over well and she got annoyed and told me the horse could have hurt herself. Why was this so bad? I remember seeing cowboys wrap the reins around a hitching post on TV outside the saloon and the horses were fine.

I don't know if cowboys really did secure their horses by the reins as depicted or whether that was just Hollywood's idea. Regardless, I do know that your horse could have hurt her mouth if she spooked and tried to get away from the fence. The reason is that she can apply a lot of force and that force would have been on the gums of her mouth. If she pulled hard enough, she could have broken her bridle and slammed the bit into and damaged some teeth as it exited her mouth.

In the future, use a halter instead to secure a horse. Even then, use a breakaway halter, a fuse, or one of the devices that allow a leadline to slip slowly when forced. These are much better ways to secure a horse while leaving room for movement and reducing the chances that the horse might feel constrained. Talk to your instructor about this and ask her to show you a breakaway halter and a fuse.

One more thing, it's not even a good idea to leave a horse alone when secured. If something did spook her, even if properly tied, some horses can really panic and do damage and injure themselves when alone. Ask someone who's around to keep an eye on your horse for the short time you'll be away. If no one's around, you're better off bringing the horse back with you. Horses depend upon us to keep them safe and feeling secure. They're herd animals and don't like being alone, especially when tied — it makes them feel trapped.


March 23, 2010 – STALL LIGHT FIXTURE HEIGHT

We're putting lights in our stalls so we can see better when mucking. How high up should they be mounted?

The maximum height at which you can place the light fixtures will depend on the height of the ceiling in your barn. But when possible, I prefer to see fixtures placed higher rather than lower so that your horses can't accidently hit and break them. The broken glass that falls and rests on the stall floor and the exposed electrical conductors of a broken bulb up at the socket are very real dangers to a horse. Therefore, the light fixtures should be placed at least nine or ten feet up, even a little higher if you've got large drafts.

It's also a good idea to consider fully enclosed fixtures that will protect the bulb.


March 22, 2010 – GETTING READY FOR SUMMER RIDING

How much can I work my horse as we start to get into the warmer weather?

That has a lot to do with how hard your horse has been working over the winter. If you've been riding him regularly, he's in better shape than if you both took the winter off. However, even if you did ride regularly, if you live in a northern climate that gets ice and snow, you likely limited your riding to a walk because of slippery and hard frozen ground. Therefore, neither you nor your horse are in full condition, and you both need to gradually increase the pace until you reach your normal warm weather level of activity.

If you haven't ridden at all, it's even more important to embark on a gradual start up. Just like humans, horses fall out of condition when they've been less active for a while. The biggest danger is that you overwork your horse and strain something. There's far less chance that you'll do that to yourself because you can feel when you've had enough. But our horses will often follow our commands even if they shouldn't — they're trusting us to make good decisions for them — don't undermine that trust your horse has placed in you.

Start by riding him for a 30 minute walk. You can do add some low-speed trotting, but don't overdue it. After a few days of this, increase the time to 45 minutes or an hour and increase the speed of the trot. After a few days of this, you can add a little cantering. If you can ride three or four times a week for these short times, your horse will be in good condition in just a few weeks. By the third or fourth ride, you can push a little more until he breaks a light sweat, but that's enough. If you only ride once a week, it'll take longer.

That said, all horses are individuals, so if you notice your horse is laboring or gives any indication that he's tired or something isn't right, immediately stop and investigate. If everything looks ok, just quit for a day or two to let your horse rest. It may mean you need to work more gradually with your horse. If you have any doubts about what's wrong or about his health in general, call your vet.

Another consideration is that your horse is likely still wearing his winter coat, so you also need to be careful you don't overheat your horse. Horses are amazing in how fast they can get into condition — it usually will take us longer. The key is to take it gradually so your horse doesn't strain a muscle or tendon. They can't talk to let us know if we push too hard, so we need to take it slowly and watch out for them.


March 19, 2010 – RISKS OF EATING MOLD/MILDEW?

I went to my storage unit to get my saddles out so I could take pictures of them for my sale ad. There was a white powdery substance on both of my saddles and thought it may be dust. When the white stuff didn't come off with dusting, I licked my finger and started wiping. I wasn't thinking about it at the time and didn't think about it until afterwards. What if the stuff I was wiping off with my finger was mold/mildew, and I just put it in my mouth? What are my risks? What is the name of the particular mold or mildew that grows on saddles? I think some of it might have even had a little color to it and a sand grain type texture. Should I be worried for my health?

The white powder sounds like mildew. Mildew is a fungus that grows on leather and many natural fabrics when they're left in a humid environment. Unfortunately, storage units, like basements and garages, are usually not very well ventilated and humidity will rise due to condensation from the air over many warming/cooling cycles. The white powder could also be a bacterium — neither are good for leather. Now that you want to sell your saddles, you'll need to get them thoroughly cleaned because mildew can also stain and you've already mentioned that there was some color to some of the spots.

As for your health, I'm not a doctor, so I can't assess any risk to licking whatever the white stuff was that you found on your saddles. You need to ask your doctor these questions and it may be helpful to bring some of the "white stuff" along with you to his/her office.

To avoid mildew and bacteria problems in the future, you need to properly store your tack. The best place to store any kind of leather product is in the same kind of environment in which humans like to live. That means keeping your saddles in a room of your house that you keep at normal living temperatures and humidity throughout the year. It also helps a lot to keep saddles on a saddle stand so the leather hangs naturally and won't curl by bunching up on the floor.


March 18, 2010 – BUMPER PULL HITCH BALLS

What size hitch ball do I need for a horse trailer?

Bumper Pull Hitch Parts
Bumper Pull Hitch Parts
The ball size will be determined by the hitch on the trailer you plan to pull. Most 2-horse bumper-pull trailers use a 2 5/16 inch diameter ball. Some use a 2 inch ball. Whichever you need, make sure to buy one that has the same weight rating or higher as the hitch itself.

Similarly, the receiver mounted on your tow vehicle and the tow vehicle itself need to be rated the same or higher than the gross weight rating of your trailer and hitch. And don't forget to assure the same is true about the weight rating of the drawbar to which the ball attaches and then slides into the receiver.


March 17, 2010 – HOW LONG TO KEEP A HORSE?

How long should a person keep a horse?

This has been expanded and turned into a more comprehensive article. See How Long to Keep a Horse.


March 16, 2010 – LOOKING FOR SMALL TOWING VEHICLES

What is the smallest vehicle I can get that will tow a 3,000 pound trailer?

This is one of the most frequent questions we get, especially as spring rolls around each year. I can't recommend actual makes and models of vehicles, but I can give you some information with which to find such vehicles yourself. The fact is, most 2-horse trailers weigh around 2,300 - 2,600 pounds and will weigh about 4,000 pounds with tack, hay, and one horse. You're around 5,000 pounds if you add a second horse. So, you really need a tow vehicle that can pull at least 5,000 pounds realistically.

There are some 1-horse trailers out there, but they're rare and some are so flimsy I wouldn't ever put my horse in one. Hawk used to make a good-quality 1-horse trailer, but I don't know if they still do. Even then, it was not that much lighter than a 2-horse trailer. That's because you still need all the same features, such as a solid chassis, double axels, breakaway brake, etc. The result is a trailer that's not much lighter than a 2-horse trailer, and it therefore is also not much cheaper. When you get down to it, you may as well just spend a little more on trailer and tow vehicle and you'll also have the option of pulling two horses when you want to do so.


March 15, 2010 – RIDING WITHOUT A BIT

Can you ride a horse without a bit?

Yes, you can. In fact, you've likely heard of Stacy Westfall exhibitions where she rides without any tack at all. There are several ways to do this: First, you can use a hackamore. Second, you can use a bit-less bridle. Or third, you can use a halter.

I've not tried any of the above, but there was a woman using one of those approaches that went on several of the dinner rides at a barn where I used to board my horse. She connected her reins to the two sides of her horse's halter — no bridle or bit. I would definitely not do this with just any horse, but it is something I'm thinking about trying with my own horse. Like the aforementioned woman, my horse and I have established a good relationship and he follows my commands.

I'm going to try it this year and here's how I'm going to do it, and a method that I think you should consider if you want to try it: use double reins. In other words, bit and bridle your horse normally with a set of reins. Then, also use a halter and attach another set of reins to it. In my case, I'll use my halter/bridle and just connect a second set of reins to the side halter rings.

With this setup, you can try riding your horse using the halter, but still have the bit on the other set of reins if you need it. If it works well on several rides and your horse always follows your commands, you can then eliminate the bit and bridle and ride with just the halter. The key is to try this in steps so you don't give up the control of the bit until you've got confidence that your horse will still follow your commands.

Truth be told, a horse can ignore any of our commands if they really want to do so. A bit and bridle doesn't guarantee control as many riders on an uncontrolled horse galloping away can attest. They are much stronger than we are and we definitely cannot out-pull them. We can control a horse only because they willingly let us do so, and that is based on training and trust.

The real point here is to build a trusting relationship with your horse so that he wants to do as you ask because he trusts you and sees you as the leader of his herd. This is just one more step along that path. YOU MUST be in control to ride safely, with or without a bit.


March 12, 2010 – AIR FRICTION FROM WIND?

How much does wind slow a horse down when galloping into the wind?

Like most things with horses, it depends. Generally, at least at the wind speeds in which most of us would ride, I'd say that the effect will be minimal. If you're going to gallop into the higher winds, such as those existing in a tropical depression (> 20 MPH) or greater, there are safety issues to consider. At lower speeds, there will be an effect, but it won't likely slow your horse down by much.

Basicly, as a horse runs into stronger headwinds, the drag on him will be greater. And to maintain the same speed, he'll have to work harder. If we were discussion a car or truck, you'd have to similarly give the engine more gas to maintain the same speed into higher winds. The same is true for a horse and he'll get more fatigued more quickly the harder he has to work.

For most of us, the issues of riding in windy conditions have more to do with the horse getting spooked. You can learn more by reading one of our articles entitled: Horses and Wind. You may also want to read a related article entitled: Wind and Trailering.


March 11, 2010 – TROTTING BESIDE YOUR HORSE

Can a person run beside a trotting horse.

Sure! I do it all the time and my horse seems to really like it. If I feel particularly energetic, I've even run beside him while he canters. (NO! I can't run beside a galloping horse...at least not for long.) When we do this, I have his lead line in my hands. I'm holding the lead line looped in my left hand and it DOES NOT wrap around my hand. My right hand holds the line about 16-20 inches from his head.

Generally, when you run beside a horse, he'll adjust his speed to run beside you. If I speed up or slow down, my horse adjusts instantly as if we're part of a school of fish — it's quite an impressive degree of observation and control that horses have in staying with a herd. I've also run with other horses and most have behaved exactly the same way. A few were just not ready for this and I will not trot with them. Let's discuss that for a moment.

If the horse is frightened, doesn't respect you, is easily excitable, or has some other issues, he may attempt to run faster than you. If this happens, slow down to a walk. Because the line is attached to his head, he'll have to slow down also and the result may cause him to go into a circle around you while he decelerates. During this time, you should "pay out" the line so there is a little more distance between the two of you while he slows down.

Unless you know the cause of him running past you and can address it, you should walk him the rest of the way to your destination. If you can't resolve it yourself, seek out a trainer. There's just no good reason to take a chance running beside a horse that is misbehaving for any reason.


March 10, 2010 – CARRYING MORE BAGGAGE ON RIDES

I'm trying to find a way to carry some camping equipment with me when I ride. But here's the problem, I want to be able to ride all the gaits with this equipment attached. Any ideas?

This is a problem for which I've been working to find a solution for several years. In my case, it's not camping equipment. I carry some survival and backup equipment for long rides, but want to carry more water, more food, and such. The problem is the same as you describe, namely, how to attach it so that cantering and galloping don't cause anything to bounce against the horse or us while we ride.

Recently, I've started working with a set of wither bags. These are bags that attach to the front of the saddle and ride over the withers. The advantage of them is that by placing the load over the withers, we can carry more weight. By comparison, we really shouldn't carry more than about 20 pounds total in our saddle bags because it shifts the weight too far aft.

At the moment, I haven't yet gotten the wither bags where I feel they won't chafe my horse or bounce, so all the votes aren't yet in. But I'll report back here and include some photos when I've worked it all out. Until then, all I can suggest for your application is saddle bags, a cantle bag, and a pommel bag, each without too much weight. You can also carry a bedroll secured with tie-downs as they did a century and more ago. All of these must be relatively light, and adding a change of clothes likely limits you to only one or two nights out.

For what it's worth, most people that go out into the wilderness with a horse for a more extended stay usually include a packhorse or two and operate at slower gaits.


March 9, 2010 – STALL WALL HEIGHT

My boyfriend and I are thinking about building a new barn. How high should the walls be between the stalls?

You probably want them to be at least seven feet high. That's a height that will stop most horses from reaching over and biting or harassing their stall neighbor. While posturing and daily testing and sometimes reestablishing the pecking order is part and parcel of being horses, having a safe place to rest part of the day is important for any animal.

The height of the gate into the stall can be lower to allow the horses to stick their heads out and see each other as well as to see who's coming down the aisle. Though, you may still want something higher you can also close if you should have a horse that needs a little more isolation because he tries to bite everything that goes by. If you don't want to do that to every stall, have at least one be that way in case you own such a horse or board or overnight one from time to time.


March 8, 2010 – TRAILERING DRAFT HORSES

I've towed standard-sized horses before, but now I need to tow some drafts. What extra things do I need to do?

Reposted as separate article. See: Trailering Draft Horses article.


March 5, 2010 – HORSE TRAILER WEIGHT

What does the average horse trailer weigh?

Are you asking about a stock trailer or an enclosed design? Do you need a 2-horse trailer, 4-horse, 10-horse, or something else? Do you need a tack/dressing room? As you can see, all these factors will affect the weight of the trailer. And if you add living quarters, weight can really go up. But, believe it or not, whether the trailer is steel or aluminum will not make as big a difference as you might think. It's more an issue with a larger trailer than with the smaller two and three horse designs.

Let's get you started with some "ballpark" numbers, which is likely why you're asking this question. The lightest trailers are stock trailers because they're a very open, no-frills design. A 2-horse stock trailer will weigh about 2,300 pounds while an enclosed 2-horse trailer will be more around 2,600 pounds. Still, as you can see, the difference in weight is only about 12%. If the trailer has a tack/dressing room, add another 300 - 400 pounds for a total of about 3,000 pounds for the empty trailer.

Many manufacturers of enclosed trailers without a tack/dressing room will tell you to estimate about 1,300 pounds of trailer weight per horse. Then, add the actual weight of the horses you'll carry. For a 2-horse trailer with two 1,000 pound horses, you'll be towing about 4,600 pounds. And don't forget to include all the items you'll need to include, such as hay, tack, and water (if you carry it).

I recommend estimating on the higher end to assure you've got a tow vehicle and hitch that can properly pull all the weight you'll carry.


March 4, 2010 – WARM & SAFE WINTER RIDING

I've been freezing this winter whenever I go riding. Do I need special clothes?

You may. You don't mention what you do wear when riding, where you're located, and in what temperatures you ride. Obviously, the colder the temperatures, the warmer the clothes you need. But it's not as simple as just wearing a heavier jacket because other aspects of riding also affect your comfort.

For example, because riding can be hard work for the rider as well as the horse, the rider is expending various amounts of calories depending on the gait of the horse. If you're able to trot and canter, you're burning considerably more calories posting at the trot and moving with the horse at the canter — at the walk, you'd burn much less. During a higher burn rate, you may also be perspiring, so you need clothes that will let your body breathe, but will also protect it from the elements, such as rain and wet snow if you get caught in that.

We have an article on QueryHorse that goes into considerable detail about what to wear when riding in the winter. It's entitled: Winter Riding & Staying Warm.

You may also want to read: Winter Riding Dangers & Staying Safe.


March 3, 2010 – LEG SQUEEZING WHILE RIDING

When I ride, should I be squeezing my horse with my legs?

No — definitely not! First, let's take this in pieces so we reduce the chance of confusion. To a horse, what you do with your upper legs is different than what you do with your lower legs. They feel everything, but lower leg movement is more clearly felt as a signal.

Part of riding well is sitting properly — you need to sit up straight. Sitting up straight takes you off of your butt and puts some of your weight on your inside thighs — this is a good thing from several perspectives. One effect is an improvement in your posture, but from a riding perspective, it also tones your thighs and places you in a position to be ready for the unexpected.

For example, if our horse makes a quick movement, such as a shy or a lunge forward, we'll temporarily squeeze harder with our thighs for stability. Being in tone, already properly placed, and sitting up straight better keeps us with our horse as he almost instantly moves several feet sideways with the shy.

When you want to start moving or quicken the pace when already underway, a slight, quick squeeze with the lower legs signals your horse to speed up. Even then, we need to release that squeeze instantly. This logically moves us into discussion of being relaxed and not squeezing during most of our ride.

When riding, we say that we should be "quiet" with our legs. By that we mean that our lower legs should hang at the sides without squeezing, flailing, kicking, or anything else. This way, when we do perform a squeeze, the horse notices the change.

Actually, I dislike using the word "squeeze" because it sounds as if we might maintain a death-grip around the horse's sides — nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, we give a quick, light squeeze and immediately release so it's a signal or impulse to the horse requesting that he start moving. If already moving, it requests an acceleration or even a change of gaits to a faster one. The important thing to remember is that we squeeze lightly for a half second and release. The horse will feel it and understand we want to go faster.

Some horses may not change speeds. But that usually implies they need some work. Perhaps they do understand, but don't want to go faster. That means they don't respect the rider and that issue needs to be dealt with first — it's an issue where the rider needs training separate from the horse. At other times, if the rider or other riders usually ride with a leg grip on the horse, the horse is accustomed to the constant squeeze and no longer interprets the quick squeeze as an impulse to accelerate, so that requires some training for the horse to get back to basics as well as the offending riders learning not to constantly squeeze.

I hope the foregoing helps you to better understand some uses of your legs as a riding aid and what not to do. Because of your question, the best approach for you is probably to take a few lessons on this very topic. Speak with your favorite instructor about the issue and I suspect that this can be cleared up rather easily and quickly for you with only a lesson or two.

Good luck!


March 2, 2010 – BARN CURFEW

How late can I stay in the barn with my horse?

Most barns have some rules regarding this sort of thing. The barns where I've boarded usually like to see everyone leave and lights out by 9:00 pm or so to let the horses have some down time and the ability to rest and sleep without being bothered. Of course, a late return from a ride or the need to be in the barn for medical reasons, such as attending to a colicking horse are exceptions. But a 9:00 pm rule is a good idea for long-term horse health.


March 1, 2010 – USING A STOCK TRAILER IN WINTER...

Can I trailer my horses in a stock trailer during the cold weather?

You can, but you should take some precautions. As the weather gets colder, the windows, vents, and other openings in an enclosed trailer get closed to avoid hypothermia risks to the horses. With an open stock trailer, the risk is much higher, and it increases still further the faster you drive.

The best thing you can do when towing in cold weather is to enclose your stock trailer so it's no longer open. Most have panels you can purchase to enclose them. Some people make their own panels from plexiglass that can slide into the panel slots that exist for this purpose on most stock trailers. There will still be more than enough leakage for an adequate exchange of air while trailering.

If you can't enclose your stock trailer and you're going to tow in 40°F and below temperatures, you should rent or borrow an enclosed trailer. Otherwise, you're taking a risk with your horses unless you're just going for a short distance. Even at those temperatures, you need to not drive too fast nor for too long a period or your horses could be at risk. The chilling effect of driving in cold air is not to be underestimated because of the wind chill factor.

While many horses are often healthily outside in colder temperatures with wind, they usually can find refuge in a "run-in" or some natural shelter when they start getting too cold. They don't have that option when in a confined and moving trailer.


February 26, 2010 – GOING BAREFOOT...

If I have my horse go barefoot from now on, how long should I have to wait before riding?

It depends on what surface you're going to ride on and whether or not you'll be using hoof boots on him, especially for his front feet. If you're riding on soft ground, such as grass or sand, you likely can ride him barefoot immediately. If you're going to ride on rough ground, a gravel surface with rocks, or frozen ground, you should give your horse three to four weeks for his frogs to toughen up. If you're going to put hoof boots on him, other than getting him used to the boots and adjusting them correctly, you can usually go out riding on any surface without waiting.

One more thing: if you do go with hoof boots, don't overdo your first few rides. The manufacturer's instructions about how to put the boot on and adjust fit are very important. Limit those first rides to about 30 minutes and check to assure you've got the boots put on and adjusted properly, and are not seeing any tenderness, rubbing, or irritation. If you are, determine and fix the cause. If everything looks good, you're good to go.


February 25, 2010 – BLAZING NEW TRAILS

Can I blaze a trail with a GPS?

Sure! Of course, you'll have to learn to properly use your GPS first. You can also blaze a trail with a map and compass.

Also important, make sure you have the owner's permission if creating a new trail on private property. And make sure you know the rules if in a state or national forest — many prohibit the blazing of new trails to protect the forest and wildlife. Think about it, if every visitor was blazing new trails, in time, we'd have no forests, just a bunch of trees with criss-cross paths throughout and little protection and habitats for wildlife.


February 24, 2010 – LONG HOT RIDING DAYS

Is it safe to take a horse out all day in August?

Hmmmm...asking this question in February? Are you planning some nice summer vacation because you're sick of this winter? You don't mention where you live or why you're specifically concerned about the month of August, so I'm left speculating that you're concerned about having your horse out all day in the heat of late summer — am I right? Presuming the foregoing, the answer is: it depends. The following are the kinds of issues that could be a concern:

  • The temperature;
  • The humidity;
  • The availability of drinkable water;
  • The availability of some shade for an occasional cool-down and rest enroute to your destination and back;
  • The intended level of work you're putting your horse through while you have him out; and
  • The condition of your horse.

If your horse is in good condition and you won't be working him too hard on a course he usually can do, that's a good first step. Of course, you'll need to take it slower if the day is hot, even more so if it's humid, because both of these environmental factors determine how quickly your horse and you will be able to get rid of excess heat. You also need to have drinkable water available for your horse at various points along your route, and you need to have water along for yourself — if the heat is a concern for your horse on an all-day ride, it's also a concern for you.

Providing the foregoing conditions are met, you should be ok. After all, your horse is likely going to be out in the heat whether you're riding him or not, and he's going to need access to water and some shade. If you take it easy and take a ride within the limits of his conditioning with ample water, rest, and shade, there shouldn't be a problem.


February 23, 2010 – CAN'T CALM BORROWED HORSE

I'm a new rider and borrowing a horse from a friend to take lessons, but he's very excitable and scares me. I don't know how to calm him down.

I can understand the appeal of using a friend's horse to keep costs down as you get started and are evaluating how much you're going to enjoy horseback riding. BUT, as a new rider, this is likely not a good horse for you to learn to ride. You're going to have enough to learn with everything being new. Trying to control a spirited and unpredictable horse is a challenge for an experienced rider and a large potential for disaster for a new rider.

You need to either borrow a more appropriate horse for your current skill level or rent one from the barn or riding instructor. Otherwise, you're gambling with your safety and possibly even your life — don't do it! Riding should be safe and fun — your current situation is likely to be neither. Saving money should never trump your safety — get a calm, gentle horse to learn riding technique.

And good luck with learning to ride! For those of us for whom this is a passion, there's just nothing like the exhilaration of riding and the bond that grows between horse and rider. If you find this is the avocation for you, you're going to love it.

Be safe!


February 22, 2010 – THUNDERSTORMS — SAFER FOR HORSES INSIDE?

Are horses safer inside a barn or outside during a thunderstorm?

Well, I'm not sure I can give you an absolute answer — I've not read of any studies investigating horse deaths caused by lightening strikes. But I can give you some pertinent facts and my opinion.

First, let's understand that lightening strikes of people and domesticated animals occurs very rarely. In the U.S., the average is about 58 human deaths per year due to lightening. While horses and other animals are also occasionally killed this way, it's rare that we hear of lightening killing horses.

That said, let's answer your question. I feel horses are safer inside. That's because they're less likely to be the highest point on the ground as they might be in an open field. The highest point is likely to be struck by lightening because it's the shortest path between the clouds and the ground for a cloud/ground strike. Therefore, unless your particular barn attracts lightening strikes more than other buildings for some unusual reason, your horses should be safer there.

Also important is the "spook factor". Thunderclaps are loud and loud noises often spook horses. Fortunately, horses usually feel quite safe in their stalls. That's where they often sleep and receive their daily feed, so it usually feels like a safe haven to them. As a result, thunder and lightening are less likely to spook horses when they're in their stalls.

Source: The National Weather Service, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


February 19, 2010 – COST OF HITCH COUPLE REPLACEMENT

How much does it cost to replace a bumper pull hitch on a horse trailer?

If the part you want to replace truly is on the bumper-pull trailer as you describe, and not on the tow vehicle, then that part is called the coupler and it usually costs from about $40 or so up to $150 depending on its weight rating. In the range of sizes that are used on horse trailers, you can expect to pay around $90 or $100 for a decent coupler, perhaps a little more. Plus, most of these couplers are welded to the trailer frame and you'll need to have that done after you've had the old coupler removed — that could be quite involved if it's welded in place.

Replacing a coupler is not something that just anyone can do. The old coupler must be removed without damaging the trailer frame to which it's attached. Then, the new coupler must be mounted, correctly positioned, and securely welded. Every aspect of this must be done properly to assure the safety of you and your passengers, your horses, and the other drivers on the road. You're likely looking at around $300 - $500 for the entire list of parts and labor to do this job right.


February 18, 2010 – FASTER GALLOPS BEFORE VIOLENT STORMS?

Is it true that horses run faster before a violent storm or before highly windy conditions?

I don't know and have never heard or seen this behavior before. I will say that they can definitely run quite fast during a violent storm or when spooked by blown objects during windy conditions. For those reasons, I like to have my horse inside when the weather gets violent. Lightening and blown objects can be a danger to humans and any animals. Both can break large branches off trees or down the trees themselves with catastrophic effects. It's best if we, our horses, and our smaller pets are not outside at those times. And trust me, it's not fun being on a galloping horse when he's terrified, and I really like to gallop.


February 17, 2010 – TACK ROOM FIXTURES

What do I need for tack room fixtures in my new barn?

There's likely no limit to what you can add, but at minimal, you'll likely want the following:

  • A place to hang at least as many saddles as you have stalls; adding a few extra is a good idea. Often, each saddle rack will include a place to store the pad or numnah.
  • A place to hang a bridle for each stall.
  • A place to store whips (crops, dressage, longe, etc.)
  • A place for boarders to store their grooming tools, or better yet, their tack trunks. Some barns have lockable cabinets for each boarder to use for such storage.
  • A place to store horse medications, bandages, wraps, etc.

In addition, boarders always appreciate a few niceties if possible, such as a small fridge, running water, a microwave oven, etc. Of course, even if this is a private barn, these little niceties would be great for you, too. My barn has cold and hot running water in the tack room — that's really nice for washing hands after grooming and/or riding, plus to prepare medications. There's also a bathroom, and it includes a washing machine and dryer for keeping horse blankets and such clean.

As you can see, you're only limited by your imagination and how much you have to spend. The more you can add, the easier it is to maintain your horse, tack, and grooming equipment, as well as attend to injuries and administer minor treatments.


February 16, 2010 – HORSE CENTER OF GRAVITY

Where is the center of gravity on a horse?

The actual center of gravity depends on the build of the horse. On the average horse, it's usually somewhere over the horse's front legs — give or take a little. The actual point is dependent upon many factors, such as the horses build and conformation, the length and weight of his neck, the size and weight of his head, etc. But there's even more to consider.

A horse regularly manipulates his center of gravity while moving and jumping. As he goes from the walk to the trot, it moves a little forward, the canter and gallop move it further forward. When a horse jumps, he raises his center of gravity to place it more over his haunches so he can use his rear legs to propel him up and over the jump.

As you can see from the foregoing explanation, it's not as simple as just picking a place on the body and thinking of the center of gravity as always being there.


February 15, 2010 – CUT THE POLEYS OFF?

If I buy an aussie saddle, can I have the poleys removed?

You probably could, buy why would you want to do so? Why not just buy a saddle without the poleys. Probably the closest to an Australian saddle without poleys is an endurance saddle.

We've gotten several questions in the last few months about riders wanting to modify their existing saddle or one they're considering buying. Saddle building and modification requires knowledge and experience in that specialty. It's not just a simple matter to make changes, such as punching extra holes in a halter or girth strap.

A saddle needs to provide support for its rider, and to properly distribute the rider's and saddle's weight over the horse's back. If either are done improperly, you can cause injury to the horse's back and skeletal system as well as risk injury or death for the rider — this is not something that should be attempted by anyone other than an experienced saddle builder. Also, it makes little sense to modify and likely damage an existing saddle. It's a much better idea to sell or trade the existing saddle for the kind of saddle you'd rather have.


February 12, 2010 – WILL TACK FREEZE?

Will tack freeze if it gets too cold?

I'm sure it will, but I don't know at what temperature this will become a problem. Obviously, we know that leather shoe bottoms don't freeze at 32°F because all of us in northern latitudes have worn shoes with leather bottoms in temperatures at least down to 0°F. And the outsides of leather coats and gloves obviously don't freeze. Neither do the outside hides of polar bears and other very cold-weather animals. Therefore, it's probably a sure bet that saddles and bridles will be ok at the temperatures in which most of us are willing to ride.

I've ridden to as low as the teens (Fahrenheit) for several hours and my tack remained soft and supple. So, unless you live in an extremely cold climate or leave your tack out overnight or longer in freezing temperatures, you shouldn't have a problem.

The foregoing addresses using leather tack during cold weather riding. If you asked this question because you're storing or thinking of storing leather tack in a location that reaches below freezing temperatures, I don't think that's a good idea. The air will be very dry and the oils in the leather will evaporate over time causing the leather to crack and disintegrate. My comments were only meant to address that you shouldn't have a problem riding with leather tack in almost any weather you can tolerate.


February 11, 2010 – NOT FALLING OFF A HORSE?

Does riding with stirrups mean you won't fall off?

No! Nothing can guarantee you won't fall off a horse. The best insurance is to become a great rider. It'll probably also help if you keep your riding to a walk. HOWEVER, I can't imagine having as much fun at the walk, so most of us decide that it's worth some risk to really enjoy what horses are good at and love to do, namely: to run.

Anyone who rides for a while will take at least a few tumbles. As we get older, the thought of taking additional tumbles is not all that appealing. But, it's generally so much fun to occasionally ride the faster gaits that most of us decide it's worth the risk of some scrapes and bruises. Truth be told, most riders rarely fall from a horse at any gait if they're appropriately careful, ride regularly, and stay in decent physical shape.

You may find it interesting to learn that occasionally riding without stirrups is a very good way to improve your balance and reaction time. It's even better to do that riding bareback, because if you're not in balance, you're no longer on the horse. It takes only a second or two of the horse moving for your body to immediately realize you need to sit up straight and be balanced — those are generally exciting moments. Riding bareback occasionally will do wonders for your balance and to correct posture. Do this where it's safer, such as in a ring or an arena. Your riding will greatly improve instantly and carry over to your riding using full tack.

The winter is a great time to practice riding bareback because riding in an indoor arena is very appealing due to the colder weather outside. And you'll also find that your horse throws a lot of heat that'll keep you warmer when you're in direct contact with his body because there's no saddle or pad between you. That extra heat is less pleasant during the warmer months.


February 10, 2010 – HOW OFTEN TO BRUSH

How often should I brush my horse?

Well, I do it every time I visit my horse and I try to visit him every day, but sometimes can't due to vocational or other responsibilities. But you should brush him at least two or three times across the week. It's especially important to do so when he's rolled in horse waste. That stuff can irritate his skin and make it tender.

Grooming also has other benefits. It allows you to examine every part of your horse's body and to find problems, such as injuries, bites, ticks, and other things. It also allows your horse to form a bond of trust with you, and I think that's something most horse owners actually want. Spending time with our horses is how they become accustomed to us being in their space and interacting with us. It's completely apparent to me how my horse relaxes when we're together. And the process also works in reverse and helps me to relax.


February 9, 2010 – BRAKE CONTROLLER STAYING ON

My trailer brake controller doesn't have an on/off switch, so it stays on whenever my truck is running, even without a trailer connected. It also stays on after I shut my truck off. Is this good?

Today's controllers don't have an On/Off switch intentionally. That's because the manufacturer doesn't want you to be able to accidently turn it off when towing and losing trailer braking ability. However, many of the controllers have a connector on the back that you can remove when you're not towing a trailer.

That said, most controllers also have a timed power save feature that shuts the controller down about 10 or 15 minutes after you've turned your tow vehicle off. And while it's on for those 10 or 15 minutes, plus when your truck is running, it's drawing very little power. The only time it draws any appreciable power is when you're applying the brakes with a trailer connected.

So, while you can pull the connector, there's no need to do so and most of the manufacturers recommend to just let the controller stay on.


February 8, 2010 – PROBLEMS WITH REINS

I'm having trouble with my reins. I ride English and the thin reins dig into my hands.

The first thing I would do is look at your riding technique. If your reins are digging into your hands, it sounds as if you could be fighting your horse. If that's the case, a little training for both of you could help a lot. Find a good riding instructor who's also a decent horse trainer — for this issue, it will help if this can be the same person.

Riding your horse should not be a battle for either of you. In fact, it should be fun for both your horse and you regardless of your riding discipline. Because keeping your horse soft, supple, and responsive requires consistency for him/her to remain that way, you need to learn how to be consistent and how to correct problems while they're minor. As for the reins themselves, that is somewhat of a personal preference. Of course, if you're showing, regulations will dictate your tack. But if you're not, or for practice when you're not showing, you can use whatever you like.

I use rope reins. I have big hands and like the added diameter of the reins so that they feel substantial in my hands, yet they're soft and light. In fact, as a trail rider, I select each piece of tack so that it meets my needs and preferences irrespective of any discipline. I initially started out riding English and appreciate the techniques that I learned, but I was never comfortable in that tiny saddle, especially with the 3 - 6 hour trail rides that I like best.

But, also keep in mind that there is no right or wrong and that each piece and style of tack has a purpose. You need to select each for the type and discipline of riding you do, and then add the component of preference where you can to make your rides as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Good luck!


February 5, 2010 – PREVENTING WATER PAIL FREEZING IN THE BARN

The water in pails of the stalls in my barn are freezing in some of this cold weather. Breaking the ice isn't easy or fun. What better options do I have?

There are two options you have:

  1. You can use insulated pail holders. Some advertise that they can keep the water from freezing for up to 24 hours. Of course, that will depend on the temperature of the water that you initially place into the pails.
  2. If you're in a very cold area and need more, you can use electric pail holders. These holders actually plug into a receptacle and have a heater. Of course, that means it will increase your electric bill some, but if their ads can be believed, it's not that much money to use these appliances.

For suppliers, I did a search in QueryHorse for "heated buckets" and got hundreds of links to both articles about this issue and dealers selling such products.


February 4, 2010 – COLD BARNS

How cold should I let my barn get?

Well, unless you have heat in your barn, you really don't have an option. But don't worry, horses would be living outside all the time if we humans didn't adopt and care for them. And surprisingly, those that live outdoors full time seem to be the healthiest. That means that we should strive to keep them outside as much as possible.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I do prefer to bring my horse into the barn when we're getting heavy rain and the weather is near freezing. At those times, it's just too easy for a horse to suffer hypothermia once he gets really wet and losing heat quickly. I feel similarly when we get windy days in very low, near or below zero temperatures.


February 3, 2010 – HOW LONG CAN HE WEAR HIS BOOTS?

How long can I leave hoof boots on my horse?

Generally, the manufacturers recommend that you not leave hoof boots on for more than 24 hours. This is will avoid problems from bacteria introduced by horse perspiration. Removing them allows the boots to dry out and the bacteria will die.

As a user of hoof boots myself, I also recommend that you rinse them after each use to remove dirt, mud, and any debris that got lodged inside and could upset your horse's footing. You don't want your horse to walk unnaturally due to foreign matter inside one or more boots. Just rinse the boots clean and let them dry overnight. That will also reduce smells from whatever organic matter the boot picked up crossing streams or going through mud.


February 2, 2010 – HORSE CRAZINESS FROM SNOW?

Can snow make a horse act crazy?

I doubt it. I presume you're seeing your horse get excited by snow and frolicking around in it; dogs do the same thing and so do kids. The reason animals (and kids) often do this is because snow is not a constant except way up north — it's a novelty. So, when we get some snow on the ground, many animals love to run in it and kick it up. This is one way you see horses playing. The excitement usually diminishes after they've played around for a while.


February 1, 2010 – LEATHER CARE

What part of my saddle do I need to oil before riding?

You should oil all the leather parts. If you also polish the hardware, I like to do that before the oiling. Then, I like to do a light oil wipe on my saddle every week or so unless I'm not able to ride. Tack needs little maintenance when it's not used as long as it's stored in a cool, dry room and not in direct sunlight or near some form of heat, such as a radiator. If I ever get caught in the rain or mud on a ride, or my saddle gets wet for any other reason, I want to immediately clean (in the case of mud), dry, and and oil my saddle.

Water left in is not good for cured leather and promotes the growth of mold. Once mold has started, it's almost impossible to get it all out and will usually become a problem and continue growing again when the weather gets humid. The best way to deal with mold is to avoid letting it start growing in your leather in the first place. That means you need to act fast when your tack gets wet. The water bonds with the oil in the leather and essentially washes the oil away. The water then provides a growth medium for the mold spores to actually grow in the leather and break it down thereby weakening it.

When your tack gets wet, upon returning to the barn at the end of your ride, clean the leather of any mud or other grime. Then, let your saddle air-dry naturally, don't use any heat source nor place your saddle near one. When your tack is almost dry, but not completely, apply a leather cleaner. It will bond with the remaining water molecules and remove them as well as adding some oil to the leather to replace the water. Finally, re-apply whatever conditioner or saddle oil you use to keep the leather supple. You don't want to apply leather cleaner or oil when the leather is wet and trap water in the leather. And you also don't want the leather to dry completely because it will get very stiff and using too much force can actually crack and break the leather because it has little flexibility when completely dry with no oils.

The best way to preserve any leather goods for many years is to properly store them, avoid water and rain when possible, and immediately tend to tack if you should get caught in the rain, or worse, you take your horse into a stream or pond to drink during a ride and he/she snookers you by rolling in the water with tack on. This can happen quickly and will catch a rider unaware until it's too late. It's not yet happened to me, but I had a close call when my horse started pawing at the water with one of his front legs. I knew what was coming next (because it happened to a riding friend while I watched in horror), so I stopped talking to my riding buddies and high-tailed it out of the water fairly quickly.


January 29, 2010 – THINGS THAT SPOOK A HORSE

What kinds of things will spook a horse?

Wow! That's quite a question! Where do I begin?

Horses can be spooked by almost anything. But a lot has to do with the general personality of the horse, and also his experience. A high-strung horse could spook with the littlest noise because he's always "near the edge". And a young horse will often be skittish just because he's not seen much and everything new can initially look dangerous. As he gets exposed to more situations and realizes they don't pose a threat, he becomes more secure, self-confident, and less skittish.

Consider a small, two-foot wide brook that's just three inches deep. Most older horses will cross this without a problem. But, many a new trail horse is initially terrified by such a brook because it's moving. Once they've learned it won't attack, they can still be afraid and attempt to jump it because they can't see the bottom due to reflections and are afraid to "fall in". That may seem silly to us, but it can be terrifying to an inexperienced horse.

As for other possible spook sources, you've got: other animals (deer, dogs, birds, etc.), bees, moving leaves and trees, flapping cloth (coats, flags, sheets on a clothes line, etc.), a swinging or banging door, crossing a wooden bridge, a piece of paper being blown across the gorund, almost anything — the list goes on and on.


January 28, 2010 – BARN ELECTRICITY COSTS

How many kilowatt hours a month for a horse barn?

That's a good question! I actually "kind of" answered it in an article I wrote for Practical Horseman in 2009. That article recommended the use of CFL lighting for the barn to reduce electricity costs. It also included a table for the electrical usage of typical incandescent bulbs and their CFL counterpart so the reader could calculate current power costs and savings by switching to CFLs. The article will answer your question and you can read it right here on QueryHorse. It's entitled: Better Barn Lighting.


January 27, 2010 – BAD USE FOR HORSE MANURE

Is it ok to use horse manure or a manure/dirt mix for footing in a riding ring?

Definitely not! While all horses will occasionally walk through droppings in their stall or paddock, those droppings harbor bacteria. That's one reason why it's important to pick your horse's hooves daily if you want to avoid potential hoof problems. Veterinarians and farriers will tell you that Thrush and White-Line Disease are generally caused by waste products in a horse's hooves. The longer it's there without being removed, the greater the chances of developing these diseases.

If you want to use horse manure for something constructive, consider composting. There are many articles available on this topic.


January 26, 2010 – GALLOPING DOWNHILL

What is the best saddle to use when galloping downhill?

It seems we have a preponderance of saddle questions lately. I must admit to feeling strongly that it's not a good idea to canter or gallop downhill. If your horse should ever trip and fall, the chance of him breaking a front leg is higher than at slower speeds, and the chance of a trip happening is higher when going downhill because of the force of gravity working to accelerate you down the slope.

However, if you're insistent about speeding down slopes on a horse, the knee poleys on Australian saddles are specifically designed to keep the rider in the saddle while going downhill and not let him go over the horse's neck while the horse tries to limit its speed or tries to stop. Therefore, at any speed from the walk to something faster, an Australian saddle is more likely to keep you in the seat than any other design.


January 25, 2010 – JUMPING IN A WESTERN SADDLE WITHOUT HORN?

Is it ok to jump in a western saddle if it doesn't have a horn?

I've never seen a Western saddle without a horn. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't exist. Many endurance saddles look like a Western saddle without a horn; perhaps that's what you're describing. Regardless, a saddle without a horn doesn't necessarily mean you can jump in it.

Saddles must be designed for jumping, and that means more than just having no horn. There are forces occurring with each jump that the saddle must be able to properly distribute over the horse's back. We have an article that gives a more comprehensive treatment to this subject entitled: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?


January 22, 2010 – TRAILERING IN THE RAIN

Is it safe to trailer horses when it's raining?

Yes it is. The precautions you need to take to minimize the additional risks of wet roads are the same as when you drive without a trailer. Those risks are:

  • Less traction for steering;
  • Less traction for stopping;
  • Less visibility due to falling rain;
  • Compromised visibility from reflections due to wet roads when driving at night;
  • And if there's wind, the lower traction means a greater chance of being blown off the road or into another lane.

The resolution to all of the foregoing is the same: slow down and drive more cautiously. Also, be more alert for other drivers that should have slowed down, but are driving too fast and thereby raising the possibility they may lose control and come into your lane. If you do these things, you significantly reduce the chances of an accident and increase the chances of getting you, your passengers, and your horses home safely.


January 21, 2010 – RIDING AFTER REMOVING SHOES

How long should I have to wait to ride my horse after having his shoes removed?

Unless your farrier tells you otherwise for some foot related ailment or damage that needs to heal, you should be able to ride him right away. You may want to limit your initial riding to soft surfaces, such as grass and sand. That's because your horse may initially be a little tender-footed if you ride him on rocky surfaces. If that's the case, give your horse a week or two to toughen up the bottoms of his feet; though, you can still ride him on those softer surfaces during this period.

For horses that generally live on soft surfaces most of their turnout time, such as grassy paddocks, they can always be tender-footed when riding on rocky ground because their feet never have to toughen up. In those cases, some boots might be necessary — that's what I've had to do for my horse because all the paddocks are grassy and don't have any rocky or hard surfaces. Therefore, he only experiences hard ground on the trail when we ride in rocky or hard areas. Boots on his front feet have made all the difference and has allowed us to ride anywhere — he remains barefoot in back all the time.


January 20, 2010 – WINTER RIDING GLOVES

Should I wear thin gloves while riding?

You should wear whatever thickness gloves keep your fingers and hands adequately warm. What you should not do, is wrap the reins around your hands — that could be very dangerous! If you were to fall, the tension on a rein wrapped around your hand(s) could tighten and drag you along. Instead, hold one reins in your hands in whatever way you were taught when first learning to ride. If you never took formal riding lessons, you may want to ask a riding instructor or a rider who has taken lessons in your discipline.

As for the gloves themselves, I prefer gloves made specifically for riding. They come in different thicknesses to address different degrees of cold. I carry a thick pair and a thinner pair in my winter riding coat. The two pairs allow me to switch from the thicker pair to the thinner as I warm up. And if it gets warmer than expected, I have a third option of riding without gloves until it gets colder or I cool down.


January 19, 2010 – GALLOPING REALLY FAST

My friends I ride with say we go fast enough, but I want to gallop my horse faster. Is there anything wrong with that?

Not at all. But make sure you know what you're doing. It reminds me of the Chinese Curse, which paraphrased is: be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. I occasionally hear riders wanting to go much faster (usually from men; maybe it's one of our insecurity things...) Here's a little to think about.

Real Gallop
A Real Gallop!

When most riders gallop, their horses are not running flat out. Almost any horse can go a lot faster than what we riders do at our typical gallops. I learned this one time when I was riding my horse alone and we were getting close to a pond that always seems to spook him. Every time we go into that area, he becomes afraid. I wanted him to trust in me and pushed him to go closer. We got to within a couple hundred feet of the pond and its assorted noises, and I felt we had gone far enough — he had done everything I had asked, even though I know he didn't want to. So, I turned him around and we started walking away from the area. He was doing fine, but his ears were aimed to the rear and I could tell we weren't leaving the area fast enough for him, so I put him into a trot — he went very, very willingly. I increased to a canter, and when we went to the gallop, I decided to let him determine the speed. He accelerated into a fast gallop, then a faster gallop, and then went even faster than I thought he could go and was still accelerating when I decided that we were going more than fast enough for me. I had no idea my horse could run that fast and he was still accelerating.

Similarly, a couple of years ago, I galloped the horse of a friend that I've ridden many times and always enjoy. He's a 17-2 hh ex-race Thoroughbred that won some serious money in his racing days. I really wanted to get him to a fast gallop so I could see what a jockey experiences in a race — it was fast — really fast! His owner told me she doubted he was running full-tilt. After my experience with my own horse (only about 16 hh) that I limited while he was still accelerating, I feel my friend is right that I haven't yet experienced what her horse is fully capable of.

The foregoing is just a way to get you thinking about just how fast you'd like to go that is within your comfort and skill range. Accelerate slowly, do it in stages, and do in a safe location with good footing, minimal chances of spook sources (dogs, wild animals, hunters, bicyclists, etc.), and with other humans around in case something happens.

Riding fast on horses is a rush and most horses enjoy it as much as their riders. But make sure you're ready for what you're going to experience and do it in the safest way possible. Other than that, have fun!


January 15, 2010 – WINTER TROTTING

Is it ok to trot my horse in the winter time?

I presume you mean when you're riding him? Yes, it's ok, as long as you consider several things:

  • Let him warm up first for ten minutes or so at the walk to get his joints and muscles warmed and moving;
  • Select a location where there is no packed snow, ice, or other slippery surface;
  • Try also to use a surface that's not frozen hard;
  • When you begin trotting, start slowly to give your horse more time to warm up as you escalate his work and heart rate;
  • Don't work him so hard that he develops a sweat; and
  • Provide an adequately long and gradual cool down period so he doesn't get a chill, cools down slowly, and whatever perspiration he might have has time to evaporate while his body is still quite warm from working.
Winter is not a time that you and your horse have to give up working. Rather, it's a time when you must both take additional cautions to avoid injury and stresses not of a concern during the warmer months.


January 14, 2010 – SHOULD MY HORSE BE RIDDEN WITH A BLANKET?

Is it a good idea to keep a blanket on my horse while riding in cold weather? My riding friends say no, but after all, I where a coat.

Definitely not. You need to keep in mind that wild horses were not born with blankets. And they don't live with blankets, yet, they run and survive cold, windy, winter nights out in the weather. To do so, they've developed winter hair and a metabolism that can tolerate the cold. Remember also that their larger mass concentrates a lot of heat in their body. It may seem counter intuitive, but wild horses are found generally healthier than domesticated horses and catch cold very rarely.

So, keeping a blanket on your horse while riding her is very likely to make her perspire and overheat. Then, removing it will expose her now wet body to very cold air which will cause her to lose heat very quickly, maybe much too quickly and setting her up for potential life-threatening hypothermia.

If you clip your horse, and therefore, keep her blanketed when in the barn, you still should remove her blanket when you tack her up and ride her. When you're done, remove her tack and it may be a good idea to place a cooler on her for an hour or so to keep her warm and absorb any perspiration. After that hour, remove the cooler, replace with a dry blanket, and she should be fine until your next lesson/ride.


January 13, 2010 – MULTI-USE EQUINE APPAREL

Can I wear riding clothes skiing?

Sure! Why not? I purchased a super, multi-layer, rip-stop, heavy-duty nylon jacket from L.L.Bean® that I wear for riding. And I often wear my riding gloves for certain cold-weather outdoor work that requires dexterity, so you can certainly wear your riding clothes for skiing. That is, as long as you don't mind whatever looks you might get.


January 12, 2010 – ADDING PAIL REFILL PLUMBING TO BARN STALLS

I'm thinking about installing water lines to each stall in the barn to reduce the work of filling drinking pails, but I don't know what to do about the water lines during the winter. Any ideas?

At minimum, you'll need to have a main shut-off valve that you can turn off when the temperature inside the barn drops below freezing. When you want to fill the pails, you can turn the main valve on, fill each pail with the valve located in each stall in turn, and finally turn the main valve off when you're done. Then, you must go to each stall valve and open it until the water is drained out, turn it off, and then move to the next stall until all lines have been drained. This will prevent line freezing.

Another option is to put heat tape around all of the water pipe. But if you do this, you also need to put pipe insulation over the heat tape. If you don't, most of the heat will be lost to the air, the tape will stay turned on, and you'll pay a hefty electric bill. If you installed plastic pipe, MAKE SURE you use heat tape designed for plastic pipe.

One more thing: make sure your main shut-off valve is located in a heated space or it, too, will freeze. If that should happen, you'll have no running water even if you can turn it on and you'll possibly have a leak once the pipes thaw due to damage from freeze expansion. Locating the shut-off valve in a heated space avoids this risk.


January 11, 2010 – PASTURE ACRES PER HORSE

How many acres of pasture are needed to support a horse?

Generally, the rule of thumb is 1.5 acres per horse. But this is if the pasture grass is all that the horse eats. If you supplement with hay, you can get down to an acre per horse.

Obviously, many people keep horses in less space, but the pasture usually deteriorates because the horses will prefer the grass to the hay until there's no grass left. For best pasturing, it's better to have ample pasture and to also rotate the pastures — that is, they should occasionally have the horses removed and be left alone for a month or two. They should also be fertilized with an equine-safe fertilizer in the spring of each year, and they should be regularly cleaned when occupied by horses. Horse manure is a fertilizer itself, but to use it as one, manure piles must be regularly broken up and spread around. Otherwise, you'll get crop burning and too high a nitrogen concentration where the manure is located and too little where it isn't.

Pasture management is a science unto itself and there are lots of great books on this topic as well as documents you can find by searching on the Web.


January 8, 2010 – TIME FOR A BARN CHANGE?

I'm not that happy with my barn, but not sure whether or not I should leave.

I feel the two most important questions you should ask yourself are whether or not you feel your horse is well-cared for, and whether or not you still look forward to going to your barn. If you think back across the years of your riding experience, whether two years or twenty, I think you'll agree that you've usually looked forward to going to the barn and likely got excited as you were getting ready to go. If you're not feeling that way anymore, it's clear that something has changed, either in you or at the barn, and it's time to make some changes so that your needs are met and you also get excited again. But before you do that, it'll be very helpful if you can think hard and determine what it is you want that you're not getting.

For example:

  • Are you unhappy with your horse's care?
  • Do you sense your horse is unhappy, uncomfortable, or being intimidated by other horses or the barn help?
  • Are you unhappy because you feel the barn is deteriorating and you worry about your horse's safety, or him getting free and hurt because fences or some such are not being adequately maintained?
  • Are you unhappy or uncomfortable with the barn owner or his/her workers?
  • Are you unhappy or uncomfortable with other boarders?
  • Has the focus of the barn's disciplines changed or have yours? For example, I'm a trail rider, so all I care about regarding a barn is the care of my horse and the ability to ride with other, likable boarders. But if your passion is a ring-based discipline, such as dressage, then you care about there being an arena and how it's maintained, as well as instructional services. If the barn changes its focus or you change disciplines, your current barn may not "fit" as well as it once did.
  • Is the distance between your home and the barn greater than you'd like? Or are you short on time and you can't afford to spend as long driving to and from the barn?
  • Has the barn raised its rates higher than you feel you can afford or that you feel it's worth?

With any of the above items, it's showing that you're not happy with your current barn or that it no longer is meeting your needs. In either case, I'd start by having a chat with the barn owner. It's possible that you can both work things out so you're again happy to go there. But if that's not possible, the barn owner makes it uncomfortable for boarders to have any input, or the problem is related to the barn's distance or other boarders, it's time to find another barn that does meet the needs of you and your horse.

Having your own horse and spending time where he lives needs to be fun for both of you. When it's not, then it's time for a change of venue for both of you. We have an article you may want to read entitled: Finding the "RIGHT" Barn For You.


January 7, 2010 – WINTER TACK CARE?

I care for my saddle by keeping it oiled in warmer months because of it sometimes getting wet from rain and puddle splashes. That means I don't have to worry about it in the winter months, right?

Not quite. You are correct that removing and keeping moisture out of your leather tack will keep it in better shape and make it last much longer. But it's important to continue leather care in the winter for a different reason: dryness.

In areas of cold winters, the air can hold much less moisture as the air gets colder. While you might think that's good, remember that leather was once living tissue on a cattle herd member. Therefore, it cannot be too wet nor too dry. When leather gets too wet with moisture, it rots and mold can grow on it. When it gets too dry, the oil itself will evaporate leaving the leather stiff and cracking. Of course, you'd rather keep the leather supple with a leather conditioner than moisture from water. Giving your saddle regular care and an occasional light wiping with a good saddle conditioner will help keep your leather in good condition.

If you consider this all a pain, consider getting a synthetic saddle. These saddles can get thoroughly wet from a dunking or go through the entire winter without service — they require very little care other than occasional cleaning.


January 6, 2010 – KEEPING YOUR FACE WARM

I'm finding winter riding difficult with cold air and wind. I've read your winter riding article and it was very helpful, but my eyes are watering from the wind and my cheeks and nose get cold, What can I do?

We're glad you've found our winter riding article helpful (see Winter Riding & Staying Warm). Keeping one's face warm is possible and requires a little more work. But before we go there, it's important to assure you're keeping your head warm. If it's exposed and gets cold, there's much less heat left for other parts of your body because it will steal whatever heat it needs to warm your brain — you'd otherwise die.

There are ski-masks you can wear that have an open area for your eyes, nose, and mouth while covering your forehead, cheeks and neck. You can then use a ski goggles to cover your eyes. The goggles will keep cold air, snow, and rain out of your eyes. There's not much more you can do to protect your face. You must leave a hole for your nose and mouth, because otherwise, your mask will get wet from your exhalation. That's not only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous in freezing weather in that it could freeze along with the skin beneath it causing damage to your face from frostbite.


January 5, 2010 – JUMPING IN THE SNOW

Is it safe to jump a horse in the snow?

I wouldn't do it. I fear the horse could slip upon landing and either strain itself or actually fall and get hurt. There is obviously risk for the rider also.

And it's not just about the landing. Think what would happen is the horse were to slip on the approach to the jump just as he was about to launch. Horse and rider would end up crashing into the jump itself. Jumping should only be attempted when the footing is safe — snow can be very slippery and undermines safety in jumping.


January 4, 2010 – CALORIES BURNED MUCKING

Reposted as separate article. See: Calories Burned Mucking Stalls article.


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