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"Horse Guy" Archive Jul - Dec 2010

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December 31, 2010 – WINTER TRAILERING?

We've had a lot of snow here lately and I'm wondering if it's ok to haul my horse to a show in a couple of weeks.

Whether you should trailer or not depends on the same considerations you use to determine whether or not the roads/weather is safe to drive, with some additional conservatism thrown in for the trailer and wind. For example, the roads should not be icy. If they're slippery from snow or slush, that increases the risk — I'd rather not chance it in that case. And then there's the usually higher winds of winter.

If you have a stock trailer, you shouldn't use it for anything but the shortest of trips when the temperature is in the 40s or below unless you've added acrylic panels to enclose it. Otherwise, the risk of hypothermia can be very high. While horses can sustain windy weather outside in colder temperatures, they at least usually have a "run-in" or the ability to get behind a wall, building, or some other shelter. In an open trailer, all they can do is freeze. And moving at 40 MPH means a constant, cold, 40 MPH wind they can't escape. Also, the addition of wind makes the trailer less stable and harder to control. The colder winds of winter are comprised of denser air that has more effect on your trailer.

Essentially, if the weather and roads are good, there are no appreciable winds, and you have an enclosed trailer, the lower temperatures can be acceptable for trailering your horse(s). BUT, bad weather is dangerous and should be avoided. Also, borderline weather acceptable for driving without a trailer can be too dangerous for trailering. You need to be honest with yourself when assessing the safety or lack thereof.

We have a related article that you may want to read entitled: Wind and Trailering.


December 30, 2010 – FEEDING TIMES

Is there a particular time of day when it's best to feed my horse?

Generally, horses are fed once in the morning and once in the evening. There's no set time that's best. However, horses are hungry after they awaken and should be fed before being turned out. Dinner is usually in the 4:00 - 6:00 pm timeframe. The horses are generally quite hungry by then.

In summers, I prefer a slightly earlier feeding time in the 4:00 pm range because it allows me to ride in the evenings without interfering with my horse's feeding schedule. He doesn't like to go out riding when he's hungry. And though I feel that horses should follow us as their leader, I, too, don't like working on an empty stomach and try to treat him similarly. He's kept on the same schedule during colder weather just because the bodies of mammals, (humans included) like routine and perform best that way.


December 29, 2010 – STALLED HORSES SNAP AT PASSING HORSES

In cold weather my friends and I ride in our barn. But many of the horses in their stalls will snap out at the passing rider's horse as they go by. Even my horse sometimes does this or the lowest horse on the totem pole. Why?

What you're witnessing is simple territoriality. For the horses in your barn to be able to reach out with their heads, your barn must have semi-open stalls with half doors. Most barns with these doors or gates also have full-length doors. You have several options to deal with this situation:

  1. Ride in your barn only when the other horses are outside;
  2. Close the full doors of the occupied stalls while riding; or
  3. If the aisle is wide enough, ride in the center so that a stalled horse cannot reach your horse as you ride by.

You need to understand that protecting his/her stall is normal equine behavior. Even the lowest horse on the pecking order will protect its own turf (in this case, its stall) as you've witnessed for yourself. And this can happen while riding by or just walking horses by as you return them from daily turnout.


December 28, 2010 – SLIPPERY FOR HORSES?

How slippery is it for horses in wintery weather?

It can be quite slippery and depends on the air and ground conditions. It's really no different for any animal than it is for us humans. Snow and ice reduce the friction between our shoe bottoms and the bottoms of hooves and paws in precisely the same way.

Generally, animals have a pretty good sense of their traction, balance, and the general slipperiness of the surface they're walking upon. That is, they'll slow down as the going gets more treacherous and pick their footing more carefully. The bigger problem is us.

In those situations, we need to let our horses pick their own footing and avoid anything beyond a mild incline or hill on slippery surfaces. Otherwise, our horse may go where we direct them even though they wouldn't normally choose to do so themselves. That means we may override their more cautious nature and put them and us as risk of slipping and falling.

I generally prefer to let my horse determine the path and speed unless I'm sure he's making a mistake, though, I don't think I've ever seen that happen. Therefore, he has lots of leeway because I know he doesn't want us to fall, and I want the same thing as he.


December 27, 2010 – HORSE ATE BROKEN GLASS

My horse ate some broken glass. What should I do?

CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY! If a child ingested broken glass, wouldn't you feel it was an emergency and contact a physician or immediately take it to the emergency room? Why would it be any different for an animal? Really; this is a "no-brainer" and you're risking your horse's health and possibly his life. When such incidents occur, do not write us and then wait for a response — emergencies are emergencies — contact your veterinarian whenever a similar accident occurs with your horse. This IS NOT a place to try to save money.


December 24, 2010 – KEEPING YOUR HEAD WARM

My head gets cold during winter trail rides. I've tried putting a wool cap underneath, but it makes my helmet tight and gives me a headache (I also look silly.) I've tried a scarf around my neck, but my head still gets cold because my helmet is ventilated. Any ideas?

Sure! Get yourself a balaclava from your tack shop; it's also sometimes called a fleece helmet cover. It will fit over the top of your helmet and wrap around your ears and neck like a scarf. It usually has a Velcro® catch in the front. I have one and it keeps my head comfortably, toasty warm on long cold-weather rides.


December 23, 2010 – COLD WEATHER CANTERING

Is it ok to canter my horse when riding in the winter?

Yes it is, as long as you take proper precautions. Here are several things to consider:

  • Warm up your horse first. You want your horse's muscles to be warmed up and ready for the additional exertion before cantering. Start at the walk for the first few minutes or so. Then, move to a trot and get him used to that before stepping up to a canter.
  • Assure you're on a soft surface, such as unfrozen sand. This may be at an indoor arena. Or maybe you can ride on a bed of soft pine needles in a pine grove. If you do this, it should be in an area you know is free of the above-ground roots sometimes found under pine trees.
  • Don't push your horse further than he's conditioned to go. Most horses in colder climates don't get as much exercise on their own and are not ridden as much by their riders. So, don't canter as far as you would when riding much more during the warmer months.

Using the faster gaits during the colder months is fine as long as your horse is properly conditioned, the area has soft footing so you don't cause your horse shin splints, you assure his muscles are warmed up adequately before moving to the more exertive gaits, and you don't overdue it.


December 22, 2010 – TACK ROOMS AND WINTERS

The tack room where I board my horse is not heated. Is my saddle and other tack at risk of damage if we have a cold winter?

Generally, tack goes through seasonal temperature changes without many problems. Cured leather has little remaining water moisture if it's properly maintained and periodically oiled. You can also ask other boarders how their tack has fared through prior winters to learn how your barn affects leather.

However, there are two other aspects of the typical barn tack room about which you should be aware. First, if the tack room is heated, your tack will stay much dryer. BUT, it may be so dry that leather will desiccate and crack. So, make sure you keep an eye on it and keep it adequately oiled.

Second, many barns have dirt floors. That means that walking by people and horses stirs some of that up as dust in the air. It's even worse when there's riding in the barn. That airborne dust will settle on your tack, combine with higher levels of humidity on rainy days, and make your tack dirty and gritty over time. Covering your tack or placing it in a storage chest to keep the dust off can help.

The best place to store tack or any other kind of leather product is in a heated room of your home. That's because leather does best in the same kind of environment in which we feel comfortable.


December 21, 2010 – AFRAID OF HORSES

I am a little afraid of my horse, and also of strange horses. A riding friend says that it isn't good to be afraid. What should I do?

Well, if you're afraid of your own horse, and also of strange horses, doesn't that mean you're essentially afraid of all horses? Regardless, your friend is correct. Horses can sense if you're afraid of them and will take advantage of your fear. This is not only frustrating for you, it can also be dangerous because horses may push you around and try to intimidate you, which likely will work.

Unfortunately, you can't make yourself not afraid or convince yourself not to be so. Rather, you need to build confidence that you're in control when around horses. To accomplish that, you need to seek out an instructor to help you build your skills.

Confidence does not derive solely from riding lessons; it also comes from your interaction with horses. A good instructor will school you on how to behave around horses as well as how to groom them, control them, and finally ride them. As you receive more training about how to handle different situations and problem horses, your confidence will come by itself. That's because you'll know that you know what to do in almost any circumstance that may confront you. Sometimes, what you'll know is just to move away from a nasty horse and let someone else deal with him.

Don't wait. Ask around if in doubt for an instructor that has the respect of your fellow riders and explain your concerns to that instructor when you meet them. He/she will understand and will go about training you and building your confidence. Once accomplished, you will more greatly enjoy being around horses and riding them. You'll also find that, because you're not afraid, horses that previously gave you problems will now better respect you and follow your commands.

We have an article that may help start you off entitled: Safety Around Horses. It's about avoiding putting yourself or allowing yourself to be in a compromising situation around horses. It IS NOT a substitute for learning from a good instructor, but it will give you some basics to think about and get you started.


December 20, 2010 – TENDERFOOTED IN WINTER

Why does my barefoot horse get tenderfooted in the winter? Is it because the ground is frozen?

Yes, partly. But it's not only because it's hard, it's also because it's uneven. Stepping on frozen chunks of mud, frozen sod clumps, etc., is no different to your horse than stepping on rocks on pavement. The frozen clump or mud sticks up against the frog and the hard ground doesn't give way, so your horse's weight is on the frog's softer tissue of the hoof and that hurts. It's likely easier for him to step on a rock on a gravel road because the smaller stones and sand allow the rock to be pushed down as it's stepped upon. But that doesn't happen on hard, frozen ground.


December 17, 2010 – WINTER ACTIVITY REDUCTION

Is it ok to take a break from riding in the winter?

Yes it is. In fact, many of us don't have much of a choice but to cut back on our riding due to the much colder temperatures and occasional icy ground. Even the shorter days conspire to severely cut back on riding time. While it's fun to go riding after dinner during the long days of summer, it's far colder and less safe in the darkness that begins before most of us get out of work in the much shorter days of winter.

However, if you're a horse owner, you should still try to visit and interact your horse as much as possible. While you have lots of new things to do over the colder months, our horse's lives don't change very much and if you bond with your horse in the summer and abandon him in the winter, he can miss you.

Also, because of the limits on riding, it's easy for both us and our horses to get out of condition over the colder months. I still exercise my horse by shorter rides, walks with him, and even trotting beside him so we both don't lose all of our conditioning. I appreciate being somewhat in condition as spring comes around. Quite frankly, it feels good to feel good and I feel best when in good physical condition. I believe it's the same for our horses.


December 16, 2010 – SADDLE NOT FITTING PROPERLY

I have a very beefy QH with wide shoulders. I picked up a full QH saddle a while back which I have used on him and also my other two horses. My problem is that since I've had it I find that he has dry spots under the saddle pad where it rests on his shoulders. I was told that means the saddle doesn't fit him properly. My husband has picked up a saddle for use on my super-sized QH which happens to be a draft size. This works well with him and he moves well with it and it causes no dry spots at his shoulders. My question is this; my husband's saddle seat is a size 17.5 and my saddle is size 16. I literally slide all over in the larger saddle. Have you heard about how well the saddle "shrinker pads" work in making a saddle a couple inches smaller? I just can't justify picking up another draft-sized saddle. Thanks for your input!

First, understand that you're talking about two different aspects of saddle size in your question. One aspect is the size of the saddle's tree — that MUST properly fit the horse's back. The other aspect is the size of the saddle's seat — that needs to fit the rider: you.

If you're seeing dry spots caused by the saddle you just picked up, that's telling you that it doesn't fit the horse right and is concentrating the rider's weight on those spots that are becoming dry. After too many rides with that saddle, or with fewer or even just one ride with too heavy a rider, the hair on those spots will turn gray. That means the saddle is hurting the horse's back by concentrating the rider's weight on just those spots instead of distributing it over more of the horse's back as it should — you SHOULD NOT use this saddle on that horse as you are doing.

Second, I'm not so sure that the saddle is too big for your horse; it could actually be too small. You should have the fit checked by a saddle expert. The one thing you can explore is to try a thicker saddle pad between your horse and the saddle. I don't generally like that approach because it attempts to adapt an ill-fitting saddle to a horse rather than getting a properly sized saddle. But your claim of not being able to justify getting another saddle has me concerned you might use it anyway.

I've never heard of a saddle "shrinker pad". If you're actually referring to a saddle "seat shrinker?", I have no experience with them. The only place I've ever seen them used is for children who ride so you don't have to keep buying saddles as they grow. BUT, because they apply to the saddle's seat and affect only the rider and not the horse, I don't see any problem with them if they work for the rider. Of course, "working for the rider" means more than just the rider not sliding all around the seat. It also means the rider is sitting properly and not unbalancing the horse. And it means that the rider is able to sit up straight and not hurting or straining his own back either. Finally, it must attach securely to the saddle so that the rider is in no danger of getting injured from the "seat shrinker" coming off the saddle at the faster gaits or while jumping. If you can find a "seat shrinker" that does these things on the saddle that properly fits your big Quarter Horse, then I see no problem with using it on him.

Please understand, the most important requirement of a saddle is that it properly fit the horse's back — that is much more important than that the saddle fit the rider. The reason is because the rider can always decide not to use that saddle if it doesn't fit him/her properly and is uncomfortable or hurts. But if the saddle doesn't fit the horse, the rider may not know it and the horse can be injured, or also bad, the horse could buck or dump and injure the rider if he can't stand the pain of the ill-fitting saddle any longer.


December 15, 2010 – TO BLANKET, OR NOT

Can I leave my horse's blanket on when he's in his stall during the winter on cold nights?

You don't say how cold it gets where you live, the health of your horse, or anything about his usual activities. But generally, horses do best when they're exposed to the normal temperatures of the area where they live (if not too extreme) and are able to grow a winter coat. It's also good if your barn has good air flow from outside or if your horse lives outside and has access to a "run in" at cold and windy times.

However, if you continue to clip your horse because you show year round, that's a different story and you may need to blanket your horse whenever he's not in work generating heat. If so, this is a question that's worth asking your vet. He/she will consider your horse's health, the winter temperatures in your area, and other pertinent facts to best advise you.


December 14, 2010 – JUST BUY IT!

I've got a light aluminum horse trailer and a drawbar rated for 5,000 lbs. My question is about the drawbar because it's hollow and not solid. I'm pretty sure the weight of the trailer and horses is below that limit, but another guy at the barn is telling me not to use the hollow drawbar and to get a solid one instead. I'd rather not spend the money, but would like your opinion.

While the critical thing is the weight rating, I completely agree with the guy at your barn. Buying a solid drawbar is a one-time cost and not a very expensive one ($50 - $80). Think of how small that is compared to what you've already invested in a horse and trailer not to mention the monthly costs of owning a horse — why compromise with such an important safety issue?

There's no way I'd risk my horse and the safety of others on the road to save any amount of money, let alone such a small amount. Get a solid drawbar and then forget about the money. You'll all be safer and you'll never miss the cost of that bar after the purchase.

If you still have doubts, try thinking how you'd feel if some unexpected twisting forces broke your hollow bar while underway and a very bad accident occurred. Buy the solid drawbar.


December 13, 2010 – GIVING TREATS IS OK

My barn owner thinks it's a bad idea to ever give treats to horses. I like giving my horse treats and she likes getting them. Is there really anything wrong with treats?

No, there isn't. But there are wrong ways to treat. For example, I think it's a bad idea to bring a treat every time you visit your horse. For one thing, you horse will quickly learn to associate you with a treat and will start sniffing your hands and pockets upon your arrival. This is an annoyance for us and also has the horse focused on food instead of whatever you're intending to do with her.

Instead, give your horse the treat after your ride or grooming/visiting session. That way, when you arrive, you horse will be more focused on you rather than a treat and less likely to be smelling your hands and body for food.


December 10, 2010 – HORSES AND MUSIC

Do horses like or hate music to be played in the barn?

Many barns I've been in play music during feeding time. I've not noticed that the horses even notice it. There have been studies over the last few decades indicating that soft, gentle music appears to calm most animals.

The two things I'd be careful about are:

  1. Don't play the music too loud. Horses have sensitive hearing and loud music will be both annoying and will, in time, damage their hearing and they'll lose sensitivity, which is the beginning of going deaf.
  2. Keep to soothing music, not hard rock, punk, or other styles that can cause agitation.

Other than that, enjoy your music as you work.


December 9, 2010 – DO WE ALL RIDE FOR THE SAME REASONS?

I trail ride with my friends every Saturday. One of the riders irritates me at times. Sometimes, our horses stop because they hear or see something and their ears go up. I like to let my horse take her time and figure out what it is. But this rider always says, "come on; let's get going!" She's always trying to squeeze rides in while riding is supposed to be my escape from the stress of everyday life. Any ideas how I should handle this?

This is more of a sociological question than one about horses or riding. Be that as it may, I'll respond because I've been in your situation and also find it irritating for the same reasons, namely,"Whats; the hurry? Isn't taking our time and enjoying the moment why we're out here and with our horses?". Clearly, the "right" answer depends on us individually and a realization that we didn't all get into horses for the same reason.

As I see it, you've got several options:

  1. Say nothing for the sake of your friendship;
  2. Explain to your riding friend that you enjoy letting your horse take her time to figure out what's happening around you both and don't mind taking that extra minute at a stop; and
  3. Blast your riding buddy back that she could learn something if she'd just keep quiet and be patient for a change.

Personally, I think option two makes the most sense. If that doesn't work, you can try it once more, but likely should fall back to option one if there's a friendship you care about. Of course, if you don't like this riding buddy in the first place, option three may be the opportunity you've been looking for to resolve the incessant problem of this annoying person who keeps coming on and ruining your rides.


December 8, 2010 – WINTER TRAILER STORAGE

We only have one man at our barn and often go to him with our questions about mechanical things. Recently, he told me that I have to put my two horse trailer up on blocks in the winter and remove its wheels and store them in my garage or basement. Is this truly necessary?

No, it's not. The fact you have only a 2-horse trailer makes winterizing an easy chore. While I suspect his intentions are good and his advice is what you should do when you're putting a trailer into storage for several years, it's not necessary to do that just for a few months to get through the winter period. If you had a living quarters trailer, there's a lot you have to do to prepare it's potable water and waste systems, faucets and plumbing, refridgerator, and other systems for exposure to the cold. Here's what you do for your trailer:

You should park your trailer on a level surface out of the way, especially if you're in an area that gets snow which must be removed after each storm. If you have water in your trailer for the horse's to drink, drain the tank so it doesn't freeze, expand, and possibly rupture. I also like to use the opportunity to sweep out the trailer, get rid of old bedding, dropped hay, and missed droppings. You can also hose down the floor and let it dry thoroughly with the doors open before closing it up for the winter. Several times during the winter, it's a good idea to go inside to make sure that no leaks have developed. Other than that, close it up and it should be fine when spring arrives.


December 7, 2010 – CARRYING WATER ON WINTER RIDES

Last winter, drinking water I brought along on the ride would freeze (its cold here in northern Minnesota.) Should I leave the water home on winter rides?

I think you're smart to carry water on any long ride regardless of the season — I do also. But you can deal with the problem of freezing in several ways. First, you can fill your water bottle or canteen with somewhat warmer water so it will take longer to freeze. You can also buy yourself an insulated bottle or canteen. The insulation will keep the heat in during winter rides just as it keeps the heat out during summer rides.

While many of us think about the need for water when we're perspiring through hot summer days, we forget that we're breathing very dry air on cold winter days — we need ample water in the winter also. You've got a great habit in bringing drinking water along on your rides. I think you should keep doing so.


December 6, 2010 – GLOVES FOR WINTER RIDING

How heavy a pair of gloves should I get for winter riding?

I carry two pairs. One is light while the other is heavy. This way, I get three combinations when you include riding with no gloves if it's warm at midday.

Last winter, I sometimes found that my heavy pair was not quite heavy enough when it was really cold, so I'm going to get a heavier pair. If it gets really cold in your area, you may want to do the same and get a very heavy pair. We can always switch to the lighter pair if they're too warm. You can find some very warm gloves at L.L.Bean® and at Cabela's®. I recommend you get a pair with a water and wind proof membrane inside (e.g. GoreTex®).


December 3, 2010 – TAPADEROS FOR COLD FEET

My feet always get cold when riding in the winter. A friend says her tapaderos help keep her feet warm. Is this true? Do they really help?

Yes! They do. When riding at speed, that air is like a cold wind as you pass through it. It's even worse when riding into a wind. Tapaderos help keep the cold air off your feet.

Of course, they only protect your feet, not the upper parts of your legs and body. But most of us winter riders have coats and pants that keep wind out. Tapaderos also have other benefits on the trail. You can learn more by reading one of our articles entitled Tapaderos: Good or Bad?.


December 2, 2010 – RIDING IN THE SNOW

Can I ride my horse in the snow?

Sure! In fact, if it's the light, powdery snow, many horses start to frolic and kick it up as they get excited. This usually occurs when the first snow or two comes along. You'll see the same kind of excitement from dogs playing in the snow. What you want to be on the lookout for are safety issues. Things like:

  • Is there ice under the snow?
  • Am I traveling too fast for the amount of traction I have on this kind of snow?
  • Is this incline too steep for the amount of traction I have?
  • Am I in a place on the road that a vehicle could slide into me and my horse?

There are more of these types of questions you need to ask yourself when riding on snow, but you get the idea. The key point is primarily that of accurately assessing the limited traction you have on somewhat slippery ground against the chances of losing control and sliding into something, having something slide into you, or the chance of your horse slipping and falling. You need to make decisions based upon good judgment so that neither you nor your horse get hurt. Other than that, snowy winter days can be great fun for both of you as well as a way to stay in somewhat decent physical condition throughout the winter.


December 1, 2010 – GOOSENECK HITCH BALLS

What are the different diameters of gooseneck balls? I'm trying to decide if I should buy a gooseneck trailer and it seems like the balls come in different sizes.

They do, but I've only seen two different sizes for gooseneck hitches: 2 5/16" and 3" hitch balls. BUT, don't confuse the 2 5/16" hitch balls used for a gooseneck hitch with the same diameter bumper hitch balls. Those for bumper hitch trailers usually have a weight rating of 10,000 or 12,000 pounds while those for a gooseneck trailer are usually rated for 30,000 pounds.

The size of the hitch ball is usually determined by the gooseneck hitch itself. If you have a choice, I'd go with the 3" size rated for 30,000 pounds. That way, you'll not have to be concerned about you or anyone else forgetting and replacing a damaged or rusted hitch ball at some time in the future with one having an insufficient weight rating. All the 3" balls I've seen have pretty high weight ratings.


November 30, 2010 – MORE WIND AND HORSES

Do horses ride worse in the wind?

I don't really know what you mean by "riding worse". But if you're referring to them being harder to control, the answer would be "sometimes"; it really depends on the horse and the season.

Wind in the summer or winter doesn't seem to bother horses very much. But in spring, and especially in autumn, horses seem more easily spooked by the wind. I suspect it has to do with the change of seasons and that it's related to the hunting/eating schedules of predators, which change somewhat with the seasons and a need to build bulk and fat to get through the winter. Horses appear to know this instinctively and are even more on guard than usual. Couple that with the fact that the noise made by wind will often mask the sounds of an approaching predator and the fact that the wind blows objects around and you've got multiple reasons why horses are more easily spooked at these times.

We've got more information on this topic in an article entitled: Horses and Wind. If you meant something else by your question, please resubmit it with more information.


November 29, 2010 – ICY GROUND

Is it safe to ride horses when it's icy on the ground?

Ice is tough and I personally don't think we should ride horses when the ground is icy. In fact, my barn and others I've used won't even turn the horses out when lots of ice is on the ground. The reason is that a horse can slip and break its leg. Then you might have to put the horse down. Of course, horses get a little crazy when they're stuck inside for too long — they're a lot like people in this situation and may feel like "climbing the walls" after too many days in their stall.

When we have a few days or a week of non-stop icy ground here, we try to find ways to give the horses exercise indoors. If your barn has an indoor arena, that makes it easy. If not, you need to be a little more creative.

Most barns have at least a small area where a horse can trot, even just up and down the aisle for 50 or more feet. In those cases, I run beside my horse while he trots and we go back and forth a number of times. That can be a dozen passes in a larger barn and even more passes in a small barn. After this little workout, most horses feel quite a bit better for having gotten the "ya-yas" out (and it additionally seems to help me sleep better at night). It's not as good as being outside, but it's better than risking a fall resulting in a broken leg, or just standing around in a stall doing nothing for a week.


November 24, 2010 – INTERRUPTING A HORSE WHEN EATING

Is it unhealthy for the woman to grab, hug, and otherwise touch the horse while he's eating in his stall?

"The Woman?" This sounds like a follow-on to some prior discussion at your barn.

Are you asking if it's healthy for the woman, or healthy or the horse? I don't think it's unhealthy for either, unless the horse dislikes it and gets angry at the woman. Personally, I think we should generally give our horses some private time to eat their meals if it's feeding time. Of course, if it's just eating hay in the stall, that's something a horse will do much of the time if free-choice hay is available. Therefore, if we can't interrupt that, it likely means we can't interact with our horse at all because you know they'll usually keep eating when left alone because they're grazers by nature.

Let's look at this from another viewpoint. If a person walks into the stall of a properly trained horse that's eating in his stall (hay, grain, or anything else), the horse MUST NEVER get angry at the person — we're the leader. That also means the focus should be on us when we're interacting with the horse and not on the food. I can walk into my horse's stall at anytime and interrupt his eating without him getting mad or annoyed — this is as it should be; in fact, it's how IT MUST be for me to be safe. That said, there's no reason for us to constantly interrupt our horse's feeding time unnecessarily just because we can do so.


November 23, 2010 – ACRES OF GRAZING FOR A HORSE

How many acres are needed to support a horse?

If you're expecting your horse to get all of his nutritional needs met from grazing and are not augmenting those needs with grain and/or hay, the general rule-of-thumb is a minimum of 1.25 acres of edible grass per average size horse (900 - 1,000 pounds). Even then, you'll have to occasionally rotate paddocks to give the acreage "a rest" and let it recover so it doesn't get overgrazed. Of course, bigger horses may need more grazing land depending upon their metabolism and level of physical activity.

Similarly, a horse can get by with somewhat less if you do augment his diet. Whatever you do, you need to monitor both your horse's weight and health as you should always be doing as well as the condition of his grazing area and make adjustments as needed.


November 22, 2010 – POSSIBLE ELECTRICUTION RISK FROM WATERER

How can I tell if livestock waterers are electrically shocking my horses? I am suspecting that they are based upon their behavior and newly found fear of drinking from the waterers.

This is a serious problem and one for an electrician to investigate rather than you or a friend. Electricity can be both wonderful and very dangerous. The person investigating this problem needs to have the proper knowledge as well as the right test equipment. He/she will also know how to fix the problem or identify a faulty product needing replacement.

The tendency of many in cases such as these is an aversion to paying for an electrician unless they KNOW there is a problem. You've already espoused your concern and a behavioral change focused on an aversion to drinking that's affecting more than one horse is too much of a coincidence.

There is one thing you can check yourself, and that is to assure that the quality of the water itself is good and not the reason for your horses fear of drinking. But if you determine the water is fine, get an electrician to your barn ASAP. You can't risk letting your horses get dehydrated by their fear of drinking or you could have other problems, even the risk of losing a horse. That could come from either extensive dehydration or from a severe electric shock if your suspicions are correct — DON'T WAIT!


November 19, 2010 – PREMADE BARNS

I'm considering buying a small premade barn for $17,000. It has 4 stalls and they deliver it with a truck and just put it on the ground in your yard and it's ready to use. Do you know anything about this kind of product?

I've seen such products at horse shows, most recently last week at the Equine Affaire. I don't have any personal experience with them and don't know anyone that owns one, but those that I've seen do appear to be a viable alternative to having someone stick-build a barn for you, or you having to build it for yourself. The only complaint I've had with some I've seen is that I've sometimes found the stalls too small. I like a stall size of about 140 square feet or larger (10' x 14', 12' x 12', etc.) The premade barns I've seen are 10' x 10' or 9' x 9'.

If you do decide to buy one, I wouldn't just have them place it on the grass or dirt somewhere on your property, rather, I would pour a concrete pad upon which to place it and elevate the pad a few inches above the surrounding ground. That will help keep ground water out from heavy rains and also stop termites from infesting the barn's structure if it's not made of pressure treated or insect repellent wood. Other than that, and if the stall sizes you're able to find meet your needs, I think it's a great idea.

Good luck! And let us know how it works out if you do buy one.


November 18, 2010 – WINTER TRAILER STORAGE

I bought a horse trailer this summer and have been leaving it on my driveway, but it's going to be in the way when we have it plowed after snowstorms this winter. Is it ok to leave it on the grass in the back yard?

Sure it is, as long as the place you put it is somewhat level and won't get excessively muddy during the spring thaw. If it will, your trailer could get stuck or even start to tip if more mud forms on the downhill side. In that case, if you don't have another available location, you could put a piece of plywood (e.g. 2' x 4') under each wheel to distribute the weight better and your trailer will be less likely to sink in if mud forms.

Another option for many boarders is to leave their trailer at the barn — most barns allow that from boarders. However, some may want to assess you a space rental charge for leaving your trailer there. Check with your barn owner first to assure that your barn doesn't do that.


November 17, 2010 – RUBBER BAR BIT?

What is a rubber bar bit?

Rubber bar bits are just that: the bar of the bit, that's the part that rests on the bars of the horse's mouth, are made of rubber. Because they're rubber, they need to be somewhat thicker than their steel counterparts to hold up. Even then, many horses chew them to shreds after a while. These are amongst the gentlest of bits.


November 16, 2010 – SHOULD MY SADDLE HAVE A HORN?

Is there an advantage to riding a saddle without a horn?

Probably the most common reason for people buying a hornless saddle is that they want to be able to make the occasional jump while out on the trail. Jumping anything greater than a small jump with a horn can be dangerous. Even without a horn, you need to assure the saddle is designed for jumping before doing any serious jumping.

Unless you're working cattle or need a strong tie point on your horse, most people never need a horn. Some use it as a safety grip when their horse shies or as a place to hang some accessory, such as a water bottle. But both can also be accomplished in different ways. For example, you can add a monkey strap to grab in an emergency and a water bottle can be attached in many different places or placed into a saddle bag, a pommel bag, a cantle bag, etc.)

Fortunately, most of the saddle makers produce saddles both with and without horns. That means you can still get a saddle from your favorite manufacturer whichever way you like.


November 15, 2010 – TRAIL RIDING WITHOUT A BIT?

Can I trail ride without a bit?

Sure! But your horse must respect you and listen to your commands, especially regarding stopping. If he/she doesn't, you won't have any real control over your horse.

I have met people on the trails that ride without any bit or special bridle, they just use a halter with the reins connected to the sides. In each situation, they were on well trained horses that responded to all their commands.

If you intend to pursue this goal, you need to find a good horse trainer well-versed in natural horsemanship techniques. There'll be some training of your horse and lots of training of you so you understand how to gain and keep your horse's respect — the horse's respect is crucial!


November 10, 2010 – SHOULD HORSE BE OUTSIDE DURING HUNTING SEASON?

Should I keep my horse in the barn during hunting season?

I don't know your particular situation, but unless that situation is highly unusual and truly exposes your horse to imminent risk of being accidently shot, I don't feel that keeping him inside for many months is a good idea. One of the state forests in which my friends and I ride allows various forms of small and large game hunting from October through March or so. For safety's sake, we're required by law to we're at least 200 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing. We generally wear more than that starting with fluorescent vests or bright orange coats or sweatshirts, orange saddle pads, and perhaps the addition of some other bright orange accessory or two. We've never had any close calls and usually talk during much of our rides unless at the gallop. The talking helps alert hunters that humans are nearby.

The forest is also frequented by many hikers and mountain bikers year-round. Most of us are using the forest on the weekends. As a result, most of the hunters try to hunt during the weekdays to reduce the chances of accidents.

The other aspect to consider is that keeping a horse in his stall all day for many months is not really fair to the horse, nor healthy for him. Horses are better off when they can graze in the fresh air with other horses and occasionally play and run together. If your horse is truly at risk of being shot, then you might want to consider another barn. Keeping your horse in his stall for months on end is not a good way to keep a horse.

If I were you, I'd try to learn more about whether or not your horse truly is at serious risk by being outside the barn during hunting season. I suspect the risk is much lower than you think. While accidents can always happen if there's any risk at all, part of life is evaluating and dealing with some degree of reasonable and manageable risk. If that wasn't true, we'd never drive or ride in a vehicle on the roads because vehicle accidents happen a lot all over the country.


November 9, 2010 – HORSE PANTING

Why does my horse pant like a dog while riding? He's never done this before.

There could be several reasons, all suggest the need for a physical or other veterinarian review. Here they are:

  1. You could be riding your horse too hard or too long;
  2. Your horse could be out of condition for the distance, degree of hill inclination or hill length, speed, or duration you're pushing him; or
  3. Your horse could have a medical condition requiring immediate veterinarian examination and diagnosis. A horse normally in condition, but panting could be having serious respiratory or cardiac difficulties.

The foregoing obviously means you need to look into your horse's panting as soon as possible. You could either be working your horse too hard or a medical problem is threatening his health, perhaps even his life.

You and I are not veterinarians, so don't mess with this and risk your horse's health. Have your vet check your horse as soon as possible.


November 8, 2010 – STILL NEED SAFETY EQUIPMENT FOR THE RING

Some of your postings make it sound like we should all carry ways to contact help if needed when riding. But I don't ride on trails, EVER. So I don't need any safety equipment with me, do I? It's all at my barn.

Actually, you do. You need to wear a riding helmet and riding boots. While you're correct in that you don't have to worry about carrying equipment with you to safely get back to the barn (e.g. map and compass, cell phone, first aid kit, etc.), you still need to wear protective safety equipment to avoid hazards related to horseback riding. You could still take a spill and need to protect your head or could get dragged around the ring by getting footwear caught in a stirrup after falling off or being thrown by your horse. Your helmet will help protect your head and riding boots are designed to slip out of stirrups after a fall.


November 5, 2010 – KEEP SHOCKING MY HORSE IN WINTER – NOW HE'S AFRAID

As we get into colder weather again, I get worried my horse will hate me because I keep giving him electric shocks when I brush him. What should I do?

The shocks you describe are small discharges of static electricity. They can come from you as you charge up shuffling your feet or from your horse's own movements before you touch him. When you do touch him, the electrons may go either way, but you both experience it as a small shock. And brushing some horses can cause you to keep charging up and discharging through him. As you likely know, this occurs because the lower humidity of winter allows the charge to build to higher levels than it can in summer. But the "fix" is not difficult.

When you approach your horse during the drier seasons, touch him quickly and you'll both feel just a little or no shock at all. And pet or scratch the area you touch immediately so that any shock sensation will be masked by the petting or scratching. Then, as you brush him, just keep your other hand in contact with your horse and there won't be any opportunity for a charge to build up between you (what we call in engineering as a potential difference). I like to keep my other hand on his withers or spine. If you need to switch hands, do so while leaning on your horse. As long as one part of you and your horse is in contact, you both should stay at the same potential and not shock each other.


November 4, 2010 – BARN LIGHTING

How bright should the lights be in my barn? I've been thinking about making it brighter so I can see, but hate to incur the cost of burning more watts at today's high electricity rates.

You need to make the lighting bright enough so you can see. Don't worry about the amount of lighting there is for the horses; they can see as well as cats do in darker environments. But the humans at the barn need to see to care for the horses. That means regular daily tasks, such as hoof picking (a task difficult to do with inadequate light), and more critical observation, such as examining and treating wounds or bites.

There are many ways to save money on electricity and still improve the lighting so you can adequately see. We have an article mentioning quite a few of them. It's entitled: Better Barn Lighting.


November 3, 2010 – WET LEAVES

Can horses slip on wet leaves like cars can?

Definitely! We need to be very careful when riding quickly that we slow down when going over even dry leaves. Similarly, going up or down a steep hill on leaves requires equal care or we could find ourselves and our horse sliding precariously downhill. No foot preparation, whether riding barefoot, regularly shoed, or with winter shoes will protect our horses and us from the dangers of such a slippery surface.


November 2, 2010 – COBWEBS REVISITED

On August 27th you said that cob webs in barns are made by spiders and not by dust. Do you have any proof?

I'm surprised this is in question as much as it is; you're not the first to ask. I guess it does show how pervasive and stubborn myths can be.

For the record, ALL COBWEBS, not just in barns, are made by spiders. In fact, ALL WEBS are made by spiders — no web of any kind spontaneously forms from excessive dust accumulation. Only thicker dust layers form from excessive dust accumulation.

For proof, just do a simple search on the word "cobwebs" on the search engine of your choice. I just did that and found lots of articles about it ranging from Wikipedia to several dictionaries and they're all consistent in explaining that spiders make those webs. If you don't believe these sources, ask an entomologist at a college or university near you. Really, cobwebs are made by spiders.


November 1, 2010 – LOOKING DOWN WHILE RIDING

Why can't you look down on a horse while you're riding?

The reason you're told not to do so is because you change your balance on the horse. Think about it: your head weighs about 40 pounds. When you're looking ahead, it's balanced over your torso. But when you look down in front or on either side, you're essentially hanging it out and putting a load there that your horse can feel and must compensate for. He's also aware of where you're looking between what he can sense from your weight and balance and what he can see with those fantastic, hemispherical eyes of his. Most of us go where we're looking — horses are no different, and going where we're looking is what horses tend to do. You send confusing messages to him when you're looking down.

The worst time to look down is when you're jumping. That not only makes little sense to your horse (he wants to safely go up and over, NOT DOWN), your moving your head out of balance can also upset his mental calculations and adjustments to get you both safely over the jump. It's all a matter of physics, even though neither you nor your horse think about it that way...well, maybe your horse does... :-)


October 29, 2010 – HIGH WINDS AND HORSES

Should I bring my horse inside when it's high winds outside?

It depends on what you mean by high winds. Most horse people know through experience that horses often get frisky when the winds come up, especially in autumn. But that has more to do with the change of the seasons and the fact the wind is blowing leaves and debris around, which usually looks like something very suspicious to a horse.

If the wind is under 30 MPH, you're probably fine leaving your horse outside, unless you've got him in an area under some dead trees that could present a falling branch or falling tree hazard. As the wind blows harder above that, the chance of something breaking and falling or of being hit with a blown object increases and it's then not a bad idea to bring horses inside to the safety of the barn.


October 28, 2010 – WHAT IS HORSE RESPECT ANYWAY?

My riding friends are always telling me my horse doesn't respect me. As long as he takes me where I want to go, that's all I care about. They also tell me that it's dangerous if a horse doesn't respect his rider or other humans. Why?

Your friends are correct. The problem is that horses have a fairly consistent behavior pattern across almost all breeds and individuals and it's different from that of other animals we generally have more experience with, such as dogs. Because horses are so big and powerful, we can't ignore this behavior and MUST understand it for our own safety. As much as we always talk about the fact that the lives of horses focus on food, and it does, it focuses on one other aspect even more: safety.

As prey animals, nothing concerns a horse more than feeling safe. So, they prefer to be in herds and understand that there's safety in numbers. They also like to follow a horse they feel will keep them safe. But, they determine who that horse will be by testing it every time they're put with him and periodically while they're together.

This started thousands of years ago and not all horses initially performed the testing. As today's horses do, those that did test would change leaders once the current leader failed to act in the manner they deemed a leader should. Those horses that just kept following the same horse likely died when the leader either led them into danger or failed to lead them out. After those horses died, all that was left are the horses that periodically test the leader's worthiness and that change leaders when the current one is no longer worthy.

Now, enter humans. To horses, a human is just another animal that's trying to lead them and get them to do as he wishes. So, each horse tests that individual for worthiness of leadership, even if it is human. When you allow your horse, or any other, to take advantage of you, or allow them to not obey your command, your horse interprets that to mean you're not worthy — but it doesn't stop there.

Horses don't recognize equals — it's a pecking order and every other horse, human, and other being with which they interact is either higher than they in the order or lower — there's nothing in between. If your horse tests you and you fail, he/she will not only do what they want, they'll come into your space. They may also push you around and try to act as your leader. At an average of 1,000 pounds per horse, you can't ignore such behavior without getting hurt or worse. And once the behavior begins, it becomes more dangerous for you — horses that don't respect you are a threat to you. You can regain the leader position, but it's harder than just maintaining it. But let me be very clear, if you're not your horse's leader, YOU MUST put in the time and effort necessary to regain that position and become the leader for your personal safety and the ability to control your horse. Once you do and you have your horses respect, he'll obey your commands and actually be a happier horse. That's because he'll feel safe when he's with you because he'll know you'll keep him safe.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion of this often misunderstood aspect of horse behavior.


October 27, 2010 – DUST-FREE LIGHT FIXTURES?

I've heard that we should install dust-free lights in a barn. Where can we buy them?

"Dust free" lights? I've never heard of such a product. And some extensive searching on the net failed to find anything by that description. Because no kind of lights that I've ever seen produce dust, I have to assume you mean dust-proof lights. I've not heard of those, either, but there are corollaries, such as water-proof and vapor-proof fixtures.

Water-proof fixtures keep water away from a hot bulb, because the cool water on the hot glass of the bulb would cause it to shatter and rain down glass on people and horses — BAD! Vapor-proof fixtures are typically used in flammable atmospheres to stop flammable and explosive vapors from contacting a hot bulb as an ignition source and eliminating your existence — VERY BAD! Both fixtures enclose the bulb in a gasketed glass dome to stop the vapors from contacting the hot bulb and any electrical arching (see photo).

Vapor Proof Fixture Vapor-proof Fixture

Vapor-proof fixtures are a good idea in a barn, but they're absolutely critical for use in your wash stall where a fixture might accidently get sprayed. You should also make sure your light fixtures are high enough that your horses can't rear and hit the fixtures and so you can't accidently hit them with a shovel or broom handle.


October 26, 2010 – TO HORN IT OR NOT...

I'm looking for a new western saddle, but am not sure whether I should get it with or without a horn (endurance model). Is there any advantage to the horn?

Yes, there is. There are also disadvantages and it really comes down to you determining what's right for your particular riding needs.

An advantage of a horn is the obvious, that is, you can use it to secure one end of a rope for many pulling purposes, such as for roping cattle, pulling a load, etc. In addition, the horn is often used as a safety grip when the horse makes an unexpected movement that could dislodge you from the saddle. There are also many accessory pommel bags that hang on the horn. These pommel bags are made to carry items that you want to easily reach from the saddle, such as a water bottle, your cell phone, a camera, binoculars, a GPS, a chart or map, etc.

The main disadvantage of a horn is that you don't want to take any large jumps with such a saddle. Most Western saddle trees are not made for any significant jumping anyway, but that horn certainly makes any jump somewhat more dangerous. Most people don't use the horn for anything other than the aforementioned "safety grip". But if that's your only use of it, a monkey strap provides the same security grip without the injury risk of jumping with a horn. And I personally feel that we shouldn't secure anything critical to our horse (on the horn or anywhere else) that we might need if we somehow got separated from out horse, such as our cell phone, GPS, map, etc.


October 25, 2010 – SADDLE TURNING PROBLEM

Why does my saddle keep turning when mounting?

Is it truly turning or is it sliding down onto the side from which you're mounting? If the latter, it's because your girth/cinch is too loose and needs to be tightened more before mounting. If your saddle is actually turning, it would mean there's a problem with the saddle's tree — it could be broken. In that case, you need to bring it to a saddle maker/repair shop or replace the saddle.


October 22, 2010 – DON'T BLANKET ON RIDES

I plan on riding my horse all winter. Should I blanket him during our rides to keep him warm?

DEFINITELY NOT! You're thinking about this in the wrong way. That is, you're thinking about this from a human perspective rather than from a horse perspective.

In winter at the middle latitudes, the temperature goes down and humans get cold, so they generally live a larger part of their lives inside than they do in summer. When humans go out in this weather, they put on more clothes to stay warm — horses are different.

Horses generally live outside, and that's good for them because that's how they live in the wild. Most domestic horses are brought inside for the evening during the winter, but in this case, "inside" means an unheated barn. We want it to be unheated and open to the outside for fresh air and keeping concentrations of waste breakdown products low. In cold weather, horses grow winter hair which is longer and heavier in order to keep them warm. They can't remove it when entering a heated space the way we humans remove a coat.

If you put a blanket on your horse when you ride him, that'll be at the same time that you're going to make him work. He won't be comfortable and you risk overheating him while being ridden and then exposing him to the cold air while wet when you remove the blanket — that's not healthy for him.

If you allow your horse to grow and keep his winter coat, then a blanket on top of that coat will likely overheat him. Conversely, if you clip him for showing during the winter months, then a blanket will be necessary because your clipping removes his coat — BUT REMOVE THE BLANKET WHILE YOU RIDE HIM. My horse grows and keeps his coat in the winter months and I do make one exception. Once the temperature drops into and below the 40s during heavy rains, I put a waterproof and uninsulated sheet on him. The sheet stops him from getting wet underneath and allows his coat and body heat to keep him warm. Without the blanket, his wet coat at those and lower temperatures begin to expose him to the risks of hypothermia.


October 21, 2010 – CLIPS FOR DETACHABLE REINS

I want to make a removable set of reins and I need to select the kind of clips that will attach to both sides of the bit. Is one kind better than another?

Not knowing what types of clips you're considering, I'm unable to help you select one. However, I employ the same approach you're asking about and use scissor clips at the ends of my rope reins. There are also different kinds of snap clips you can find, but I prefer the scissor clips. As for your selection, pick one you can easily open by squeezing and that won't get caught and hung-up on your horse or other tack.


October 20, 2010 – GETTING YOUR FIRST HORSE

I'm going to buy my first horse. What do I need to have?

Because this is your first horse, I'd like to make the following recommendations:

  • You should bring an experienced horse person with you to evaluate the horse. The worst thing you can do is buy a horse based solely on his looks. He could be untrained, unable to perform your intended riding, or otherwise be unsuitable for your needs and a first horse buyer is usually not capable of performing such an evaluation properly. And don't buy your first horse at an auction! For your first horse, an older, proven, reliable horse is what you need.
  • You should have the horse closely and thoroughly checked by your veterinarian for his health and ability to do the kind of riding you intend to do with the horse.
  • Once you've selected the horse, bring your checkbook and a blank Bill of Sale that describes the horse, any agreement you have with the seller, and space for both your and their signatures. This will be useful if you ever have to prove at some time in the future that you paid for and legally own the horse.

Evaluating and buying your first horse should be a fun affaire. But you'll only be happy after the sale if you're thorough in your evaluation and you get expert help in those areas that are new to you.

Good luck!


October 19, 2010 – SALT IN COOLER WEATHER

Now that the weather is getting cooler, do I still need to supply my horse with salt in her stall?

Well, it certainly is true that the greatest need to augment your horse's sodium level is in the summer when she can be perspiring a lot in the heat of day. But, why not just leave a supply of salt in her stall? Whether a salt block or a pail of loose salt, your horse is only going to ingest what she needs. I provide the salt year-round. There is a little extra work to occasionally clean the pail and refresh it with new salt, but it's a small inconvenience.


October 18, 2010 – MAINTAINING DAILY AWARENESS OF YOUR HORSE'S HEALTH

I've found lots of ticks on my horse this year and some were quite big. Is there any way of discovering ticks before they get big?

Well, as you know, horses don't talk a lot. So, unless you see a change in behavior or the favoring of a leg, horses tend to suffer quietly with their injuries. That means it's up to us to devise methods to discover problems. Here are several things I do that work well for my horse and me.

For starters, if you can do so, visit your horse frequently. I board my horse at a local barn and usually visit him at least once each day. As you arrive and approach him, notice your horse's demeanor. Is he standing ok? Is he involved in his normal behavior, whether that be grazing, taunting another horse, yes, even cribbing, if he usually spends time doing that? While you'd prefer your horse not do something negative, such as crib or harass other horses, not exhibiting his normal behavior is a clue that something is different, and not necessarily in a good way. So, look closely at it and ask yourself questions. If walking, is it his normal gait or is he favoring a leg? When you walk up to his face, are his eyes clear? Is there any effluent dripping from his nose or mouth (other than ever present extraneous straw or grass sticking out in the process of being chewed)?

One thing that works very well for me and directly addresses your question is a habit I've formed. At each visit, I perform a survey of my horse's whole body. It takes less than a minute and I wrote an article about how to do it a while back entitled: Conduct a Daily Horse Whole Body Survey.

If you do the foregoing, you're much more likely to find problems while they're minor and have just begun. You're also more likely to keep your horse from serious pain and discomfort.


October 15, 2010 – CAMPING WITH YOUR HORSE

I am very excited to be planning my first camping trip with my horse. The campground we will be staying at has pens for the horses as well as running water and electricity. I'm wondering if you could tell me what would be good to remember besides the obvious things like saddle, blankets, halters, sleeping bag, extra feed for my horse and rain gear and extra blankets and camera and such. Do you bring an extra saddle when you go camping or perhaps an extra girth? I don't want to overload myself down with non-essentials but I don't want to forget something that could make the trip more safe or more pleasant. Thanks for your time.

A camping trip with your horse can be a pretty involved undertaking depending on how long you're planning to be camping away from normal living accommodations. But in your case, you've got all the facilities of a campground, so if you forget something critical, it's not as if you're 50 miles inside a national forest away from civilization. I think the campground is a good and reasonable way for your first equine camping experience.

As a result of the foregoing, I presume you'll be at the campground each evening and away on your horse only for the duration of the day. Therefore, you don't need to bring every living necessity with you on your rides which would normally require a packhorse is you were. This means you can look at much of your riding trips as day rides, with the exception that you still need to bring along whatever you can't get in the vicinity of the campground. So, if there's a tack shop within a reasonable distance from the campground, you can travel lighter than you can if you're not near such a shop. But, for the purpose of this response, let's assume there's no easily available tack shop. I also presume you'll be riding with others on this trip and not alone.

I don't think you need an extra saddle — they rarely break, get misplaced, or lost. But, I would bring an extra halter, cinch and latigo (in case it breaks), lead line, bit, reins, hoof pick, and other small items you need to have while away from a supply source. You definitely should bring a first aid kit for both your horse and you, a compass and maps of the area (even if you bring a GPS), at least one quart canteen (two would be better), signaling items (police whistle, mirror, flashlight, etc.) and basic essentials that you can use to fabricate replacements for a broken item (e.g. rope or parachute cord to make temporary reins). Cell phones may not work, so bring some form of transceiver (walkie-talkie) that's capable of communicating on frequencies that are regularly monitored by rangers, police, fire officials, or the general public in the area where you're riding. Call ahead to see what they monitor if you don't know.

You should read an article I wrote for Perfect Horse magazine a few years ago identifying things you should carry whenever you go far from civilization on a horse. The article is entitled: Trail Riding Take-Alongs. It's not necessary for everyone on your trip to carry every item — you can share some of them (hoof pick, first aid kit, signaling gear, etc.) But you all need your own canteens, for example. Most of the foregoing will fit in a small package and will be under five pounds total (not including the canteen(s) and their water).

If your horse is shoed, you should carry a hoof boot that fits any foot. Your goal is to assure your horse can negotiate whatever terrain he must to return to camp safely. A tender foot on hard, rocky ground is not pleasant for you or the horse.

I don't have room to define an entire trip's preparation, but I hope this is a good enough start to get you going and feeling comfortable. Write to tell us about your trip when you return. Good luck and have fun!


October 14, 2010 – WESTERN SADDLES AND HORNS

Most people I see on trails ride western, but none of us are using our saddle horns for anything. Should we be riding English?

We've gotten a few questions along this line over the years, and it implies that people ride Western solely because that saddle has a horn. But the use of a Western saddle actually has more to do with riding safety and comfort than whether or not we press the horn into any form of service.

Endurance saddles are essentially Western saddles without a horn and endurance riding is probably the longest duration riding of all. Similarly, Australian saddles are frequently seen on the trail and many of them, too, often have no horn. Common characteristics endearing these three saddle types to trail riders are increased comfort for long rides, deep cantles and pommels which provide more saddle security, more tie points allowing riders to carry items needed for longer rides, such as canteens, safety gear, rain gear, etc. That is why these saddle types are the choice of most trail riders.

All the foregoing notwithstanding, you can get quite a few variations of carry bags that hook onto the saddle horn to carry water, phones, GPS units, cameras, and more. The horn provides an "easy on", "easy off" way to carry items not otherwise easily secured.


October 13, 2010 – HORSE BREAKS LIGHT BULB

One of our horses somehow broke the light bulb over his stall. He has a small cut on his nose, but otherwise seems ok. He also walked all over the broken glass on the ground and broke it into tiny pieces. I'm just happy none of that cut his frog.

How did he get up high enough to break the bulb? I can move the bulb holder higher. Or should I buy a cage to put around the bulb?

As the HorseGirl mentioned in one of her posts last week: "I continue to be amazed at the various ways horses can hurt themselves." If you own multiple horses as you state above, you likely can easily agree with her. Your horse may have reared and stood on his hind legs to reach the bulb, or he may even have jumped, for reasons I can't even begin to guess.

As for a solution, I'd go for the simpler, easier, and cheaper approach in this case: just move the light fixture higher and out of reach. If you purchase a vapor-proof fixture so as to enclose the light bulb, your horse will still be able to reach it and probably bruise himself if he again does whatever he did this time. If the fixture is higher, you've solved the problem and don't even need to buy anything.


October 12, 2010 – WHY DO HORSES STOMP?

What does it mean when a horse stomps his leg?

Most of the time when a horse stomps, it's summer and the horse is trying to get one or more flies to stop biting and leave his leg. You'll see this a lot with hot, humid summers and a large fly population. I've also seen a few horses that stomp while in their stalls as a way to say "feed me". This is a bad habit, but it obviously means that it produced results at a prior barn or with a prior owner and the horse thinks it'll still work.


October 8, 2010 – A RAMP OR STEP-UP TRAILER?

What's better, a step up trailer or one with a ramp? I'm looking to buy a trailer and asking this question of other owners and I'm getting as many opinions as the number of owners I ask.

Yes, it does seem that trying to get advice in the horse world comes with many conflicting opinions. And now, you're asking for mine, and like your friends, I'm happy to provide it — I hope it helps!

Truth be told, both styles work. And for whatever reason, both horses and owners have their own preferences. Though, I'll bet most owners can be happy with whatever style works for their horse(s).

Some horses seem to have more trouble than others in adjusting to a step-up trailer. It's not so much going in, it's more when they back out and have to search for the end of the floor. I must admit, if I try walking backwards in such a trailer, I try to move cautiously so I don't step off when I'm not expecting it and suffer a fall — horses have the same concern. Therefore, I prefer a ramp trailer because the horse (or I) can feel the incline, but we never have a big step or tripping out to worry about.

That said, some horses just don't like ramps. In fact, they'll leap over them rather than walk in or out across the ramp — the leaping brings its own risks. It could be because ramps on cheaper trailers will sometimes flex or "ring" if they're hollow. A good quality ramp doesn't flex or ring, but it definitely costs more money.

It's good that your friends each have their own preference because it means you can use their trailers to test and see which style your own horse(s) prefer. As far as I'm concerned, the best style is the one that best works for your horse(s).


October 7, 2010 – AIR COLIC?

I've got a cribber and friends are saying that I should get a cribbing collar or she could die of air colic. What is air colic?

Because cribbers swallow air as they crib, the air must pass through the digestive tract. Therefore, heavy cribbers actually pass more gas than non-cribbing horses. The premise of air colic is that an air bubble could stop digestion and act as an impaction. Like you, I heard that someplace myself, but I find it very hard to believe.

I asked a veterinarian this very question who is also an equine dentist, and therefore, sees lots of cribbing horses to check their teeth because of the cribbing. He, too, admitted to having heard of air colic, but said he's never heard of a real case of air colic in his entire career and doesn't believe the air from colicking presents any true risk of colic in a cribbing horse. I also asked him about cribbing collars and he said you can use them if you wish, but the lack of a collar won't harm your horse, and also noted that many horses crib less without the collar than with one.

You should ask your own veterinarian that's familiar with your horse, but my guess is that you have nothing to worry about from air colic.


October 6, 2010 – WINTERIZING SMALL TRAILERS

I just bought my first trailer this past summer and one of my barn friends told me I need to "winterize" my 2-horse bumper-pull or I might find it damaged in the spring. What do I need to do?

If all you have is a 2-horse bumper-pull trailer, you don't have to do much.

  1. If you have a water tank or keep any water jugs or containers in the trailer, be sure to drain them before the first freeze and leave them empty over the winter.
  2. If you have severely cold winters, it might also be a good idea to disconnect and bring the break-away brake battery indoors until spring returns.
  3. Secure your trailer and make sure it can safely take the winds and blizzards of winter where you intend to leave it.
  4. Don't keep your trailer under any trees where big globs of wet snow or broken branches can fall atop it. Likewise, don't place it near your house, a barn, or any building where snow and ice sliding off the roof will fall on top of the trailer and possibly rupture its roof or damage other parts of the trailer.

If you had a living quarters trailer, you'd have a lot more work to do in assuring liquids are properly drained from potable, gray-water, and black-water tanks as well as draining all lines carrying these fluids. Such a trailer may also have generators and radiators that also require winterizing to remove or put antifreeze in remaining liquids and stabilizer in fuel tanks and lines. But a 2-horse bumper-pull should be pretty simple if you follow the foregoing tips.


October 5, 2010 – HOLDING THE REINS — DOES IT MATTER?

Do I have to hold the reins in any special way or can I do it the way I want?

You can hold the reins any way you want. BUT, there are some ways of doing so that you surely want to avoid. For example, NEVER wrap the reins around your hands. You may also want to consider several things:

  • People have been riding horses for several millennia;
  • During that time, many different ways of holding reins have most assuredly been tried;
  • Some of those methods didn't work very well and likely culminated in the rider falling off the horse, getting caught in the reins resulting in a crushed hand, losing one or more digits, falling and being dragged under and trampled by the horse, and many other terrible things based upon the way the reins were held; and
  • That the few methods of holding the reins that we use today round the world are likely some of the few methods that have passed the test of time, which is why we still use and teach them.

Therefore, you should think about the way you want to hold the reins and its possible repercussions. Obviously, the methods that are taught avoid many problems. They also keep your hands in the proper placement to effect good control and keep them where you don't get out of balance or unbalance the horse.


October 4, 2010 – HOW HIGH A FENCE FOR HORSES?

One of our horses has been an escape artist and we couldn't figure out how she keeps getting free. But last week, my husband saw her jump right over the fence. It came as a surprise to both of us. Our fence is currently about four feet high. Is that not enough?

Obviously, it's not. In reality, the necessary height to stop a horse from escaping depends on the horse. Horses come in different sizes, and some can, or are willing, to jump higher than others. In general, a 54" (4' 6") fence is typical to keep horses. But for those able and willing to jump higher, you need higher fences.

In your case, I'd go to at least 60" for the fence keeping your personal Houdini. She's already proven several times that the current fence is inadequate and a six inch increase is not likely to dissuade her. Adding an extra foot or more should be enough to get her attention and make her reconsider a jump. Of course, you need to increase the height of the entire fence. If it's a really big paddock and that sounds too expensive, consider putting her in a smaller paddock nearby. After all, she doesn't seem concerned about staying near her paddock mates as most horses do, so it's unlikely she'll have a problem being nearby, but not directly with them.


October 1, 2010 – TRANSITIONING TO TRAIL RIDING

Can you tell me the dangers of trail riding? I want to venture out onto some trails now that I'm older and am getting tired of the ring. I mean, lots of people ride trails, but I've always ridden in the ring and my fellow riders are telling me scary things, like it's unpredictable, it's very dangerous and that I may not be able to stop my horse from running away with me. Not having ever been out there, and knowing some risks are everywhere, I'd like to be prepared.

Well, I commend you on pursuing information for a new adventure BEFORE you go. I started to answer your question and realized I'd written much of an article, so I completed and posted it. You can see it at: Moving From Arena/Ring to Trail.


September 30, 2010 – CONSIDERATIONS WHEN BUILDING STALLS

We're building a small barn on our property and I'm excited to get my horses home. Anything special I should know about building the stalls BEFORE we build them?

Good question! Many put too little thought into a project and then regret it for a long time. In this case, your first consideration is what to make the size of the stalls. I recommend bigger, rather than smaller stalls. More room will let your horses designate one end or corner to do their business and keep it away from the feed area. And if they concentrate their waste in one area, that also makes it easier and faster for you to muck the stall each day.

At minimum, make your stall dimensions 12' x 12' or 10' x 14'. Stalls that are 10' x 10', or even worse, 9' x 9', are just too small for the average size horse of 15 hands or more. If I were doing it, I'd make the stalls 12' x 16' or 12' x 18'. Once they're built, the only difference will be the room your horses have and the work you do every day to keep them clean. You'll never regret making bigger stalls, but you most certainly will regret stalls that are too small. Whatever you think, smaller stalls are generally harder to keep clean than larger stalls.

One more thing, think seriously about using good quality mats rather than dirt floors. Dirt floors hold puddles of urine, you can rarely get all the waste off, it keeps the bedding damp and contaminated, it makes the bedding dusty if it does dry. And because there's always some urine left behind, the fly problem and the risk of your horses getting thrush and white-line disease is higher. Horses also will often paw and dig ruts into dirt floors.

Matted floors prevent holes in the floor, are easier to clean and keep clean , keep your horses cleaner, keep the flies down, provide cushioning for your horse's feet, and reduce your bedding costs because it, too, stays cleaner with mats. You'll also need less bedding (more cost savings) because you won't lose some getting pressed down into the dirt as you do with dirt floors.


September 29, 2010 – ENGLISH OR WESTERN?

I've been helping out at a local barn and have finally gotten my courage up about taking riding lessons. The barn teaches both English and Western styles. Which should I learn? I'm getting conflicting advice depending on who I talk to.

Ahhh yes! Everyone is totally objective about their discipline, as long as it's theirs.

You should start with the discipline that most appeals to you. And you can later learn additional disciplines — you're not in any way limited to one discipline or style of riding. All offer techniques and skills that will make you a better rider overall. In fact, regardless of your final goal, taking lessons in two or more disciplines over time is a great idea and will greatly improve your riding skills significantly. I think it's great to learn an English and a Western discipline. The horse doesn't know nor care what we call it — it's all riding to them and they only care that you know how keep balanced, how to signal them of your intentions, and know how to read their signals.

The first thing you need to do is to select a discipline and learn how to ride, how to sit, and how to move with the horse at the various gaits. You'll have lots of fun and learn basic skills important to all disciplines. Along the way, you'll also discover whether your passion is competing and showing, riding trails, training horses, etc., or some combination. It's all good and you'll also develop a bond with your horse that you'll cherish for a lifetime.

I wish you good luck and to remember to have fun. While you'll obviously be learning and there is work to do, you also should enjoy it.


September 28, 2010 – HALTERS ON DURING TURNOUT?

Can I leave the halter on my horses when they're in their paddock during the day?

You can, but you are taking some risk in that a horse with a halter on can get hooked onto something. As a horse owner, you likely know how horses can get themselves into trouble. A halter is just one more thing that can get caught; and then it can cause the horse to panic and try to get away. In that panic, the horse can hurt himself or break a lot of things, maybe even tear something down or apart.

It really comes down to two things: first, your horse's personality, such as whether he typically gets into trouble, whether or not he's easily panicked, etc. Second, what are your paddocks like? Are they clean and with smooth edges with little to accidently get caught upon? Or do they have junk, bungie-corded fencing, and other places upon which to hook a halter and then get hurt in a panic? If the former, your chances of having problems are reduced. If the latter, you could be looking for trouble by adding another thing to go wrong.

I once was at a barn that had a junk car, an old refrigerator, even an old electrical panel mounted on a wooden frame in various paddocks while much of the fencing was bungie-corded, baling twine tied, and in other ways patched together — I frequently worried my horse would get hurt and eventually moved him to another barn. Though, I will admit that they always kept the horses without halters on to reduce the chance of problems.

If your own paddock space doesn't have these risks, your horses are obviously somewhat safer and leaving their halters on is less of a risk. Of course, you must consider whether two horse's halters could somehow get connected together, such as if one rubs his head against the other.

If you do decide to leave your horses haltered during turnout, at least consider using only break-away halters. This way, the poll strap, which is made of leather, will break if a horse gets into trouble and panics.


September 27, 2010 – PRECAUTIONS FOR AUTUMN

Are there any precautions I should take riding now that it's autumn?

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year to ride. In fact, it's my favorite season.

If you're a trail rider, the main change is that horses tend to be initially on alert as the air gets cooler, drier, and the wind blows and moves branches and rustles leaves. The wind can also affect those disciplines normally performed in the ring. For example, an outdoor ring is, well, outdoors. And even indoor rings are rarely heated, so the change in air temperature and humidity affect horses the same way they do on the trail. As for the wind, it's obviously heard by horses when outside, and can cause other noises, such as banging doors for inside rings. Therefore, while the effects may be slightly different, horses tend to respond similarly.

As for what you can do, just be more aware that your horse could be anxious or may spook as the seasonal changes occur. Within a few weeks, the horses have become accustomed to the changes and are usually back to their somewhat calmer personalities.


September 24, 2010 – HORSE HAS SORE FEET

My horse just had his shoes removed and his feet are sore. What do I do?

You don't have to do anything at the moment. It's normal for a horse to have sore feet after his shoes are removed. Think about it; the frogs of his feet were elevated above the ground by the horseshoes and rarely touched the ground. With them now removed, those tender frogs are striking the ground with each step and have gotten sore.

Give your horse two or three weeks for those frogs to toughen up and he should be fine. If he's not, then you should check with your farrier or vet. But I strongly suspect your horse will be doing much better in a few weeks.


September 23, 2010 – HORSE MOOD CHANGES AS WE ENTER AUTUUMN

We've started getting some windy days of autumn lately and my horse is easily spooked whenever she's outside. I normally ride only in our outside ring. This is the same place where we ALWAYS ride, yet my mare is still spooked. Why is she doing this? Would a gelding be better?

This behavior has nothing to do with your horse's gender and everything to do with the change of seasons. Almost all horses react like you describe around this time of year in areas where the air gets cooler, dryer, and windier. It happens to my horse (a gelding) and those of my riding companions, and we see even more of these manifestations when we're out on the trails, which is mostly where we ride.

Consider the reasons for this horse behavior. First, it's less hot, less humid, and therefore more comfortable, so your horse is likely feeling more alert. Second, the wind makes noise that covers other noises; in other words, your horse is anxious because she's having trouble hearing for potential predators. Third, the wind is also causing all kinds of things to move from leaves in the trees to leaves, paper, and debris being blown across the ground. And she likely sees the many small mammals that are scurrying about so as to collect and store food and prepare for winter (squirrels, chipmunks, mice, etc.) We have an article that goes into more depth that you may want to read entitled: Horses and Wind.

Give your horse a week or two to get used to the seasonal change and she'll be fine. But expect it to happen all over again the same time next and every year when the air becomes suddenly cooler, dryer, and windier.


September 22, 2010 – HORSE OUTSMARTING RIDER

My horse inflates his chest when saddling. Then when I ride, my cinch is too loose. I tried to tighten it more when he was inflating his chest but I'm not strong enough. Is there a cure for this?

Yes, there is. And this is the same whether pertaining to a cinch or a girth. Essentially, your horse is smart and figured out that he could outwit you by making his chest bigger while you cinch him up. Then, he deflates his chest and has a comfortable, loose cinch while being ridden. The problem is that a loose cinch presents a dangerous situation where you and the saddle can slide down one side of your horse and you end up on the ground. If that happens at speed, you can get seriously hurt and even be stepped on by your own horse and those behind you if riding in a group.

Instead of tightening the cinch all at once, spread it out over three or four tightening steps. When you first tighten the cinch, your horse may inflate his lungs — that's ok, just tighten his cinch normally and then do something else, such as put his bridle on. When finished, tighten his cinch again — he has likely exhaled somewhat at this point and breathing normally. Now, walk him outside, to the mounting block, or wherever you usually go to mount your horse. Before you mount, tighten the cinch one last time to your desired tightness, then mount.

This technique also works well for the horse that is "cinch-tender", that is, he gets upset and his head goes up when you first tighten the cinch. The space of a few minutes between the first tightening and the second will usually let the horse get used to the feeling of the cinch again and he'll be much better and less troubled about the second and third tightenings.


September 21, 2010 – THE COMMITTED GRAZER

Rather than answer a question today, I thought I'd relate some funny experiences two of my friends and I had while riding this past weekend on a three hour trail ride.

One of my friends rides a horse that's an incorrigible grazer on the trail. Her horse will often try to grab a snatch of grass or leaves while riding. Now, almost all horses do this on the trail when they think they can, but for this horse, it's a serious art form.

The other friend on this ride has a fast-walking mare that loves, no, insists on being in the lead, which is where they were at this time. I was second and my friend and her grazer were taking up the rear. We were at the walk and chatting when all of a sudden, my friend in the rear yelled out her horse's name and we turned to see her horse with a death-grip bite on a small sapling and the entire sapling coming down on our friend and the horse — we just couldn't get out a camera or our cell phones fast enough to capture the moment — it was precious! We all laughed pretty hard at that one, and the tree won, though it was somewhat worse for wear and had that "roughed up" look.

On the return trip, it happened again, but this time when our friend yelled out her horse's name, the horse had attacked a sapling and was standing on top of it trying to pull off some leaves. At one point during our ride, he even tried to grab some birch leaves at a fast canter — now that's a serious snacker! And let me assure you, this horse is not being starved at his barn.

We did talk about what my friend should do to stop her horse from his incessant grazing, and I teased her about revealing her name on this site. I finally promised her I wouldn't do so, but insisted that I had to at least tell this story for other trail riders to enjoy, and possibly to commiserate with.

Horses can be wonderful entertainers, even when they're not minding like they should.


September 20, 2010 – WHAT TO CARRY WHEN RIDING

What should I carry with me when I ride?

If you're riding in a ring or paddock, you don't need to carry anything with you as everything you need is likely at the barn. But if you're a trail rider or like to participate in hunter pacers, poker runs, etc., then you should at least have some of the basics, such as a way to call for help, a hoof pick to remove lodged stones if your horse is shoed, drinkable water if taking a long ride on a hot day, some first aid supplies for your horse and you, etc.

I wrote an article for a magazine about this topic that is fairly comprehensive. It's entitled: Trail Riding Take-Alongs. You may not want to carry as much as I do, but it'll give you some good ideas. For what it's worth, what I do carry only weighs four pounds and fits in a small cantle bag. So, if you decide to prepare as much as I, it doesn't really affect or load down your horse.


September 17, 2010 – INSUFFICIENT LIGHT IN BARN

I've got high ceilings in my barn and the lights are so high that it's still quite dark on the ground where I need the light. Is there a way to make it brighter where I need to see?

Regardless of the reason, you need more light near the ground. You can get that in several ways:

  • By installing lights closer to the ground;
  • By using reflectors on your existing lights to direct more of the available light to the ground; and
  • By installing brighter lights near the ceiling.

I'd go for brighter lights near the ceiling. You can get high-intensity fluorescent fixtures at most home stores that will provide plenty of light everywhere, are still energy efficient to power, and they stay high away from a rearing horse and the handles of implements, such as manure forks, brooms, etc.


September 16, 2010 – HORSES ATTRACTING LIGHTENING?

Why do horses attract lightening?

I'd really love to know why you think that they do. HORSES DO NOT ATTRACT LIGHTENING any more than you and I do. All other things being equal, a person sitting on a horse is at a slightly higher risk of being hit by lightening in that the top of that person is somewhat closer to the clouds than when standing on the ground (2 - 3 feet closer, depending on the person's height). That said, that's not much of a difference and the risk of being hit increases much more just by walking over a small hill.

When considering just the horse, it's body minerals and chemicals in its system are very close in chemistry to a humans — we're both mammals. Other than a horse's head being a few feet higher above the ground than us humans, and therefore slightly closer to the clouds, there is no other risk increase factor for horse susceptibility to lightening, and the head height difference is a very, very small increase at that.


September 15, 2010 – WHAT KIND OF CAMERA FOR RIDING PHOTOS

I'd like to take photos of my friends and the places where we ride. What's the best camera for trail riding?

There is no "best", except that which works best for you. For most people, a small, digital camera will work best because it's light and easy to carry. Today's small cameras are inexpensive, yet fully automatic and take some really nice images, much better than even the best cell-phone images.

A more capable camera, such as a semi-professional DSLR, will take yet higher resolution images and afford more control. But, unless you're planning to make really large prints (24" x 36"), need the control provided by a more advanced camera, and are also both able to safely carry such a device via horseback as well as be willing to risk the chance of damage to it, I think you're better off with something small, light, and inexpensive.

As a professional photographer myself, I've never taken an expensive camera on a ride. I don't want to take a chance of dropping such a camera and the chances would go up substantially if I carried it while riding. While on horseback, I do sometimes notice an area where I'd like to shoot great images, but deal with it by returning later on foot or in a vehicle (if the area is accessible to my vehicle) with a good camera to shoot. That does mean I may miss a great shot, and that's a good reason to carry a good, but inexpensive camera.


September 14, 2010 – DISMOUNT TO CROSS A BROOK?

My horse gets antsy when crossing a brook. Is it better to dismount when crossing with a horse rather than stay on horseback? This is the advice I'm getting from some riding friends.

I don't know anyone that dismounts to cross a stream or brook. For one thing, most of us would rather not soak our riding boots. For another, this is unacceptable behavior from a horse and you need to change it — YOU command, HE obeys. Any other arrangement is dangerous for us humans because horses are large and powerful, we are not.

There do seem to be many people that dismount whenever their horse becomes uncomfortable with a maneuver, such as crossing a wooden bridge, passing by some barking dogs, stepping over a fallen tree or branch, etc. It's ok to do that when your horse confronts a new and uncomfortable experience for the first time. But once you know there's such an issue, the thing to do is to work with your horse and desensitize him to that problem so you can stay mounted the next time you again confront the obstacle.

For example, if your horse is uncomfortable loading into a trailer, work the problem out and get your horse comfortable with loading and trailering. Otherwise, you'll be reluctant to ever trailer your horse because you know it'll be an emotional battle for both of you. More importantly, what will you do if your horse gets a serious injury or illness necessitating an emergency trailer ride to a vet or equine hospital? Loading problems and delays at that time could jeopardize his very life. Even if not life threatening, are you going to add loading stress onto you and your horse while he's injured or ill?

The time to deal with horse-fear issues is when you have sufficient time to work it out and don't have other demands or stressors involved. Otherwise, your horse will sense your anxiety and it'll be worse for both of you. Work with a trainer to get your horse comfortable crossing streams — you'll be glad you did.


September 13, 2010 – WALK BESIDE OR IN FRONT OF MY HORSE?

When I lead my horse, should she be beside me or behind me? I'm getting conflicting advice depending on who I speak with.

Ahhhh! Isn't horse advice great? If you don't like what you hear, you can always ask another person for an alternate opinion until you like what you do hear — and there WILL ALWAYS be another opinion. Of course, which one is correct, better, or safer, can sometimes be much harder to determine. Well, because you asked, here's still another opinion for you to consider and add to your list of options. HOWEVER, I will tell you why I feel the way I do so you have more information with which to decide for yourself.

I once boarded at a barn at which the owner was insistent that the ONLY WAY to lead a horse was with you in front and the horse behind you. She felt strongly that walking your horse from the side allowed the horse to think you're both "equals" and compromised you being the leader — that's NOT been my experience! If your horse knows you're his leader and you periodically reinforce that when needed, your horse could walk in front and will still recognize you as his leader and follow your commands.

One contributing factor to making your decision must be how well you know the horse you're leading. If you're asking about how to lead YOUR OWN horse and you know his personality well, he/she should be wherever you're most comfortable. If you can trust your horse behind you, it's ok to have him there while you lead.

As for me, I'm much more comfortable walking with the horse's head beside me. I want to be able to see his expressions, whether he's calm or excited, whether he's happy or whether his ears are back. I want to know whether he's content or bearing his teeth — I can't see any of that if he's behind me. I often help the barn owner where I board to bring in many other horses — I don't truly know the emotional states of all these horses and I don't want a panicked, 1,000 pound plus animal running me down. I feel a lot better with them beside me where I can see them, read them, and get the heck out of the way if necessary. Two of the horses are colts, one of which is a stallion. Younger horses are less predictable than older horses; stallions less predictable than that, especially young stallions.

While I do trust my own horse behind me and sometimes need to have him there when going through a gate or narrow passage, it still feels safer to me when he's by my side and I can see his head and expressions. It also just seems like common sense to do whatever is always most safe.


September 10, 2010 – SADDLE STORAGE TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY

What temperature should I store my saddle?

Leather does best when stored at normal room temperatures (60 - 80°F) and what we consider comfortable humidity levels (40 - 60%). Of course, that doesn't mean that it will fall apart outside those ranges, just that it won't last as long.

Colder and hotter temperatures are not as bad as the humidity changes that often come with them. Very dry air is ok if you keep your saddle well oiled. If you don't, the leather dries and cracks. Very humid air is probably the worst thing you can do to a saddle because it promotes mold and mildew which will grow roots into the leather and break it down. For that reason, a basement is often the death knell for leather.


September 9, 2010 – RIDING VACATIONS?

I've heard there's such a thing as a "riding vacation". Can you point me to some sources?

Sure! If you're just now discovering riding vacations and it's something you'd like to do, you're in for a treat. Such vacations include dude ranches and horse trekking. Dude ranches themselves are varied and can be the freedom of exploring the plains and national forests of the American West, or can be participation on a working ranch. That can include "cowboying" (or cowgirling) on a cattle drive or being part of the "workings" of the ranch, such as fencing, branding, etc.

Horse trekking is a term used more in other countries and is really a way of seeing a country on horseback. You'll find it in most countries. So, imagine visiting Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, or New Zealand from the back of a horse and meeting the residents and other riders.. You can do your own research on QueryHorse by clicking the Vacations link at the bottom of the left-column, or you can contact a travel agency that specializes in these vacations.

We have an excellent article with lots of helpful information written by the president of such an agency entitled: How to Choose the Right Riding Vacation. One of the really nice things about this is that there's a great place to visit regardless of the time of year where you are. It's just a matter of the latitude of the location you choose (further north in the summers and south in the winters).

Have fun!


September 8, 2010 – A REINING PROBLEM

I'm a guy learning to ride for the first time. I'm hating split reins because I keep dropping one of them. My instructor tied them together and now I feel like I'm beating the horse with the knot unless I keep it in my hand. She tried using an English bridle and I really liked the reins being one piece and not split, but I have big hands and the reins don't feel very substantial in them. Any ideas?

Yes! I, too, experienced the feelings you've espoused in your question when learning to ride and disliked each type of reins for similar reasons. I finally discovered large-diameter rope reins and love them — they fit my hands comfortably, are substantial, don't feel as if they'd break like English reins, and don't have that large knot you described with tied split reins.

For some people, they can be happy with whatever they learn. Others want to follow tradition. And then some are just looking for comfort and that "right" feeling. I think you'll like rope reins based on the information you included in your question — there's no right or wrong.

Please let us know how you make out after trying them or if you find something you like even better. Good luck!


September 7, 2010 – BEST TRAILER LIGHTS

I'm looking to buy another horse trailer and prices seem to be quite low in this non-economy. Some of the newer trailers I'm finding have LED running and stop lights. Are these any good or just another fad?

No — they're not a fad. They're the best lights you can buy. In fact, bigger trucks have been coming with them as standard equipment for the last ten years or so, and now, most new cars are coming with them. We're also seeing flashlights with them and they're mounted on many tools, such as cordless drills and screwdrivers. In fact, look for them to totally replace both incandescent and CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) in homes and offices over the next 5 - 10 years.

LED lighting uses much less electricity than any other form of bulb (about 10% of that used for the fluorescent and less than half that of a same brightness CFL). They also last a very long time, over eleven years when left on continually, and are getting cheaper and cheaper to manufacture. They are the future and you should actually prefer trailers that have them instead of incandescent bulbs.


September 3, 2010 – HOW STRONG IS A HORSE?

How many pounds of force will a horse exert when pulling back hard at a tied halter?

I've seen a few horses do this very thing and they exert tremendous force. One of them was pulling backward so hard she was leaning way back with her butt hanging out over the ground and her hooves were sliding against the ground with all the force she was applying. She weighed about a 1,000 pounds or so, and thinking about it from a physics perspective with her butt out there and the slipping feet, I'd estimate she was therefore applying at least a thousand pounds of force. She had broken two halters before, and unfortunately, she therefore knew it was possible and was trying to do it again so she could be free.


September 2, 2010 – HORSE BRUSHING FREQUENCY

How frequently should I brush my horse?

If you visit your horse frequently, once a day is enough. If you don't even visit daily, you should brush him every time you visit. Hopefully, that's not less than once per week — more is better.

The reason is because horses roll in dirt, and sometimes horse waste. Even when dry, there are acids that get activated by perspiration and humidity that can irritate the skin. And some insects lay eggs under the hair on the skin. Ticks attach themselves — you get the idea. Regular grooming removes these pests and irritants and makes for a healthier and happier horse.


September 1, 2010 – HOW OFTEN TO STOP WHEN TRAILERING

How often should I stop and check my horses when towing?

Reposted as separate article. See: How Often Should I Stop When Trailering? article.


August 31, 2010 – HALTER: ON OR OFF WHILE GRAZING?

Should I leave my horse's halter on or off when in his paddock?

While many people leave the halter on and never have a problem, you're safer to leave it off your horse when he's in his paddock. That's because horses will often rub their heads — and by extension, also their halters — against something and it can occasionally get caught. If that happens, the horse will generally panic. When a horse panics, it usually means he's going to break something, or if the object he's connected to is strong, he can seriously hurt himself.

If you're inclined to keep your horse's halter on while you're away, at least use a breakaway halter. On such halters, the crown strap that goes across the horse's poll is made of leather rather than nylon. A horse is strong enough to break that strap in a panic situation. Yet, the strap is strong enough for normal haltering operations, such as leading, controlling, and tying a horse. Of course, if something should ever spook a horse while tied with a breakaway halter, he can again break away safely rather than damage the tie point or injure himself.


August 30, 2010 – HOW HEAVY A RIDER?

How heavy a rider can a horse tolerate before affecting his back?

There's no easy answer and many things come into this equation. For example, the horse's size, his breed, conformation, and conditioning all come into play. Some breeds are just sturdier than others and a horse in good shape and condition can carry more than a horse not in that shape. Plus, some saddles weigh 50 or 60 pounds while others weigh 9 pounds — everything must be considered.

But, you asked this question for a easy estimate and I'll try to give you one that's conservative enough to protect your horse. Generally, a healthy, in condition, regular-sized (~900-1,000 pounds) horse shouldn't be asked to carry a person more than about 225 pounds. The weight of the tack will generally add another 20 or 25 pounds and that's getting pretty heavy for a normal size horse.

If you're going on a longer ride (2-4 hours), drop the weight of the rider to 200 pounds. A draft horse can carry more depending on their size and conditioning. But no person weighing over 300 pounds should ever get on even a draft. That's a lot of weight and it doesn't include the tack. Obviously, even the tack will be heavier because it will need to be much larger and heavier to support a person of that size.


August 27, 2010 – COBWEBS IN THE BARN

Is there any way to stop cobwebs from forming in my barn? I try to keep it clean, but dust is hard to keep down with a dirt floor and the horses stirring things up, so the webs keep forming. Is there something sticky I could spray to keep the dust down?

Stop cobwebs from forming? Are you under the impression that cobwebs are formed from free-floating dust? Many people think that's how cobwebs form in their homes — nothing could be further from the truth. The cause is more obvious, even though many people don't recognize it.

Cobwebs are actually made by spiders, just as all webs are made — there are no exceptions — webs = spiders! In this case, they're made by the family of cobweb spiders, also known as the tangle-web spiders (family: Theridiidae).

Unlike most of the webs we see that are somewhat uniform and elaborate, cobweb spiders make more irregular webs. As with all webs, they're also sticky to catch prey. Unfortunately, they also catch DUST which gives them more of the wispy appearance we associate with cobwebs.

Now, to your actual question. Unfortunately, while I know enough to share with you how cobwebs come into being, I know almost nothing about how to avoid them — I'm sorry. Some barn owners I know will take a broom to all the webs in their barn every year or so, usually in the colder months when they won't also be fighting resident spiders. Other owners vacuum the webs, again, in the colder months to avoid infecting their vacuums with live spiders. A few squirt the heck out of the barn with a water hose, though I worry that all that water can help promote rot, mildew and mold, corrosion, and even attract insects if it's in warmer weather. The majority of owners just seem to ignore the webs and hope they stay up in the high portions of the barn.

If it was my barn, I'd likely use the broom or vacuum in the colder months. Being somewhat compulsive, it would bother me to leave the webs growing and getting bigger year after year as time goes on. But if you do decide to ignore them, I'm not aware of any problems or dangers associated with that more passive approach. After all, these spiders are already everywhere and you're not alone in initially thinking that dust is their genesis.


August 26, 2010 – ATTACHING WATER BOTTLE TO MANE?

Does it hurt a horse to tie a water bottle to their mane?

Considering that we can grab a horse's mane to mount or to hold on at a gallop, I don't think it hurts, at least not for the short term. BUT, it's one thing to grab their mane for a short time for safety's sake, another thing to secure something there.

A water bottle, or anything else for that matter, is going to flop around at a canter or gallop — personally, I don't think that's fair to the horse. Plus, it's going to be there for the entire ride. So, instead of grabbing mane for 5 - 10 seconds to mount, or 60 seconds to survive a gallop, you're now talking about leaving something attached for an hour or several hours, depending on the length of the ride. If I was a horse, I wouldn't like that. And the heavier the object, the more annoying it's going to be.

Finally, hair follicles are not mean to secure objects, so they're going to pull out over a short time. In short order, you're likely to have no mane where you tie something. Would you like the way that looked?

If you want to have something secured to that area, get a set of wither bags and you'll have a secure storage area within easy reach that can carry quite a bit of weight. I WOULD NOT use the mane for securing anything other than a ribbon.


August 25, 2010 – HOOF CRACK GETTING WORSE

I keep my horse barefoot and love how healthy and hard his hooves stay. But recently, she started having a crack that's slowly moving up toward the coronet band. What should I do?

I just had a similar problem. Like you, I prefer the healthier hooves my horse has had since being barefoot. But alas, that alone doesn't guarantee that a hoof won't crack. The flies have been so bad this year that all the horses in my area are frequently stomping the ground to make the little buggers fly off their legs. That constant pounding can cause cracks and can make them move up the hoof.

What I decided to do was to have my farrier shoe my horse for the short term. While I don't like horseshoes, they will keep the hoof together so the crack stays stable and doesn't keep traveling up the hoof. If the crack on your horse was moving quickly, I'd suggest you call your farrier and have him come soon to shoe your horse. But because it's moving slowly, you should be able to wait till the next scheduled hoof trimming and have him shoe your horse at that time.

My horse's crack is on a front hoof, so I had the farrier shoe only the front two feet and left the rear feet barefoot. Even when he used to be shoed, it was only the front feet. At the next hoof trimming, we'll evaluate the crack and see if he still needs the shoes.

Practically speaking, I suspect that he will need them. I can already see that the top of the crack appears to be moving down as the hoof grows. But it'll still be there at the next shoeing, so I plan on having my horse re-shoed at least once. I'm afraid that if I have my horse go barefoot before the crack is completely gone, that it will again begin moving up the hoof and we'll have lost what we're currently gaining. Once the crack has grown out completely, my plan is to again let my horse go barefoot full time.


August 24, 2010 – TRANSPORTING A SADDLE

What's a good way to carry my saddle when in my car?

The worst thing you can do with a saddle is to just place it on a table, the ground, a car seat, or the floor of your car. It's even worse if it just sites there for many days through the different heat and humidity changes. What you should do is put it over a rounded surface that approximates the size of a horse's back. I store my saddles on wooden saddle stands made for saddles. When transporting a saddle in my vehicle, I place it over a shorter stand that I built for the purpose. It's much shorter than the normal saddle stands and only about 12 inches high, but that height still keeps the tree off the floor and also keeps the fenders from curling. You don't need anything fancy, just something that lets the saddle sit as it was designed.

One more thing, don't just place your saddle over the back of the front or rear seat in your car. While a seatback will fit the saddle tree adequately, just one abrupt stop to avoid a child or animal could send that saddle flying into the back of your head, someone else's, or into the windshield. It's safer to keep the saddle much lower in your car.


August 23, 2010 – BEES IN THE HORSE TRAILER

I've got bees in my horse trailer again. Is there any way to stop them from building nests in there?

I suggest two things:

  1. Seal any holes in the roof, sides, or flooring that might allow bees to enter and exit your trailer; and
  2. Keep your trailer closed up when not in use. That will not only keep the bees out, but also birds and other "varmints" that might otherwise think it's a great place to hide from predators and the elements. Also, the heat buildup during the summer months will make it stifling hot in there and that also should dissuade pests from making a home in your trailer.

One more thing: I hope you're not using insecticides to remove the bee's nest. Almost all commercial insecticides available these days are basically neurotoxins and it'd be best if we keep them away from our horses. A safe way to remove that nest is to open your trailer and wait until the coolness of dusk or early morning. At that time, approach the open trailer with your water hose sporting a good nozzle and saturate that nest. The bees should be dazed, cold, and moving slowly, so they shouldn't present much of a hazard to you. If they seem more energetic than you expected or that you're comfortable with, just back away and return an hour later to see the resulting effect, or to resoak if necessary.

Bees can't live in a water-soaked nest; that's why they build them under eaves and in horse trailers. Water is harmless to horses you'll carry and safely gets the job done.

Good luck!


August 20, 2010 – TENDER FEET

What gives a horse tender feet?

A horse's feet could be tender for various reasons, such as primarily living on grassy paddocks. Or, it can be something much more serious. Regardless, considering how critical healthy feet are to horses, you never want to ignore leg and hoof problems.

Consider the horse primarily living on grassy paddocks. When you then ride your horse on a hard or rocky surface, such as a gravel road, his feet are unaccustomed and tender, so the feet hurt when walking on that surface. There could also be a problem with the hoof, such as an injury, a stuck rock, a nail or other piercing object, a disease such as white line, or an inflammation such as laminitis.

If your horse is experiencing tenderfoot, first examine the problem hoof and assure there is nothing obviously wrong there, such as the aforementioned nail, rock, or injury. Also, think about your horse's frog and where he spends his time. If he's barefoot and normally lives on soft grass, consider shoeing him, or my preference, using hoof boots when you ride on harder surfaces. Finally, if everything else appears fine, call your vet for a medical examination to determine whether there could be a hidden injury or an inflammation due to disease or other cause.

We have an article you may want to read that explores sore, but healthy, feet and potential solutions entitled: Sore Feet & Hard Ground.


August 19, 2010 – WHEN DOES A HORSE STOP GROWING?

At what age does a horse stop growing?

The actual age varies by breed and each particular horse's genetics, metabolism, and nutrient intake. Plus, different parts of the horse's body stop at different times. For example, the cannon bone is one of the first bones to stop growing. It will normally stop when a horse is between 6 months to 18 months old (that's still quite a range). That's partly because the cannon is already 85% - 90% of its final size at birth and doesn't have a lot more to go. Other parts of the skeletal system will finish growing at a later time.

I've asked your very same question of several vets over the years and there is no exact age. For example, most breeds have reached 95-98% of their full size between 2 and 3 years old. Growth continues after that, but at a greatly reduced pace. Therefore, if you're wanting to know when a horse will actually be done growing, you should figure that will happen by age four or five.

Believe it or not, most humans continue growing until they're 21 or 22 years old. But in those last few years, growth is very slow and fading off. That fading off of growth is the same for other mammals.


August 18, 2010 – WHAT IS "PUSH FROM THE SEAT?"

My riding instructor keeps telling me to "push from my seat". When I ask her what she means, she says it's obvious and just repeats the phrase. When I ask her to show me, I can't see that she's doing anything different while in the saddle, though I will admit that the horse responds. What does this mean?

Well, you certainly have my sympathy! The very phrase of "pushing from the seat" was also told to me by my instructor when I was learning to ride and it took me a while to figure it out.

Another thing I was taught was to give my body from my waist on down to the horse and from my waist on up was mine. This means that, when we ride properly, our lower body moves with the horse and we can control the upper portion. Interestingly, while horses move similarly, they're also individuals with somewhat different movements and we need to adjust to each one in order to move with him.

As we move with the horse, we have three options.

  1. We can move exactly with the horse;
  2. We can exaggerate the motion; or
  3. We can move against the motion.
If we move with the horse, everything continues and we're in concert with the horse's movements. If we exaggerate the motion, we are "pushing from the seat". The horse will feel our exaggeration and try to move with us, so he'll accelerate — that's the result you see when your instructor rides, even though you're not able to notice her actual movements. If you move against your horse's motion, your horse will feel it and again try to move with you, but the result will be to slow down. Think of it similarly to holding hands with another person and walking faster or slower than the other person. He/she also feels the difference and attempts to compensate to stay with us.

Horses are very sensitive and as we become better riders, we, too, become more sensitive and attuned to the joint movement of ourselves and our horse. The result is that we effect more and better control without having to explicitly kick the horse to accelerate or pull back on the reins to slow. We just go with the horse, work in the same direction to accelerate it, or work against it to slow it down.


August 17, 2010 – TACK ROOM HUMIDITY

What should the humidity in my tack room be?

You're better off being on the drier side as long as it's not too dry. That means a good range is 25% - 50% humidity. If you go much more humid during warm weather, you'll start getting mold and mildew. If you go much dryer during the winter months, you'll start to get cracking in the leather tack. Normally, your problem will be during the more humid days of summer.

To limit humidity in the summer, you'll need a dehumidifier in the tack room and you'll need to empty the water container daily. As the air gets dryer in the winter months, use the opportunity to keep your tack oiled. It will seep deep into the thirsty leather and keep it soft and supple as well as protecting it against absorbing moisture when the more humid weather rolls around again.


August 16, 2010 – ARE ELECTRIC FENCES DANGEROUS?

We need to set up a temporary paddock for some friends and their horses that will be visiting with us for several weeks. My husband wants to use an electric fence to make this paddock in a clearing by our barn, but I've always been afraid that such fences could give a horse a heart attack if he had a weak heart. Am I being silly as my husband suggests?

I think your concern for the horses is admirable. Not having seen any studies on this subject, I must admit that I don't truly know the answer to your question. HOWEVER, the circumstantial evidence implies that you need not be concerned, if only because I know of many farmers tending horses and cattle using electric fences for decades and none have reported problems with animals dying of heart problems. Neither have I seen stories in the news about this or learned of a disproportionate number of animal carcasses being found near an electric fence. I've certainly gotten "rapped" a number of times from electric fences myself when being inadequately cautious. And though it results in me moving my butt quickly away, no other untoward symptoms or problems have resulted.

From a technical standpoint, the systems are designed to supply enough voltage to exceed the skin resistance of horses and cattle so that they'll feel the shock. But the available current is exceedingly small. There may be the very rare event where an animal with a very fragile heart does die as the result of a shock from an electric fence, but one must also suspect the animal would have otherwise died soon from some other similar slight stress. Even a territorial skirmish would likely have taxed its heart enough to stop if it were fragile. If there were animals dying with more frequency where electric fences are employed, there'd be an uproar from concerned owners.

Finally, if you watch any animal newly exposed to such technology, they get one or two shocks and then immediately stay away from the fence from then on. It's especially interesting to watch horses (which I feel are much smarter than cattle) graze around and under the fence ribbons without ever touching them — they've been shocked before and know what they're doing, don't want another shock, yet, are not afraid and want that grass.


August 13, 2010 – STALL SIZE

If I build myself a barn, how big should each stall be?

Historically, a 10' x 10' stall was considered large enough, but these days, the general feeling is that it's too small. Horses seem to prefer to leave their waste products at the end opposite their feeding location. In 10' x 10' stalls, they seem to go anywhere and then step in it and track it around. If you don't keep their hooves picked, they risk developing thrush or white-line disease.

These days, a 12' x 12' or 10' x 14' stall is generally considered the minimum space needed for a typical horse. Drafts and large horses need more.


August 12, 2010 – RUNNING AT NIGHT

Is it safe to run my horse at night?

Only if you have adequate light. There's no biological reason why a person, horse, or any other animal can't run after dark. HOWEVER, it's not too smart for a person to run in the dark and take a chance of tripping or running into something hard, like a tree. It's even worse to do so at speeds faster than a person can run, such as when riding a horse.

If you're riding with adequate light, such as on a well lit bridle path or in the very long days of the far northern or far southern latitudes by the midnight Sun, you should be ok if you can see everything in front of your horse. As in the day, it basically comes down to the need to see obstacles, hazards, and where you're going — it's not rocket science.


August 11, 2010 – TRAIL RIDING ETIQUETTE

I'm new to trail riding and one of the mags I read mentioned following "good trail riding etiquette". The problem is that it didn't say what that etiquette is all about. Can you explain?

Sure! I started to do so when I realized my response was getting longer and longer as I tried to be complete. As a result, I converted it to an article entitled: Trail Riding Etiquette.


August 10, 2010 – HORSE DOESN'T LIKE MEN AND BITES

We have a Quarter Horse that is 8 years old and he has been mistreated all his life to the point that a lot think he doesn't like men. His dislike came from men forcing him into a trailer and also he was beat. Now the question is that he has bitten me twice now. I will walk by him a few times a day and give him an alfalfa cube and walk away. He comes to me on command and tonight I was petting him and he bit my stomach. It made me buckle as I didn't react towards him. I stayed there and didnt pay him any attention. I love this horse and I want him to see that I am a good MAN unlike the others in his past. What do I do?

First, you need to understand that this is a problem that you may not be able to fix in this horse. This has nothing to do with you. But, since you now have the horse, you're in a place where you're the one that the horse's fears have focused upon.

That being said, the first thing that jumped out at me is your reaction to being bitten. If your horse bit you because he was playing, then your reaction of doing nothing will encourage more biting in the future, and you're thus in danger. If you're correct that he bit you out of fear, you still need to utter a quick, firm, "NO!" Either way, your horse must learn that he should NEVER bite you.

Horses signal their feelings and their intentions with their eyes, ears, neck height, tail, and posture. Actually, the word "signal" is not strong enough — horses BROADCAST their feelings, especially the strongest ones involving fear and attacking. You need to learn to read the horse instantly and take appropriate action, and from your description, I'm not confident you can do this. Therefore, you need to get expert help immediately.

Regarding your follow up question as to whether your horse can be reformed and trust you in the future, a lot will depend on whether or not he's ever been able to trust any person, especially a man, and his basic personality. The problem is that mistreatment sets up an environment of fear and that is one emotion that all mammals seem to burn into their memory forever. Think about some time in your past, perhaps as a child, where you felt real fear, whether from a bully's taunts, some accident, or a close-call situation. You likely still remember it as if it was yesterday and it may also elicit feelings of anxiety just thinking about it — it's no different for your horse.

If you're able to build his trust, it will likely take quite a while. So, you'll need patience and will have to be cautious with him at all times in case you inadvertently do something that awakens that fear. You also need to be able to recognize when he needs to be firmly corrected, not in an abusive way, but in a manner that HE recognizes as correction and not abuse. Horses do not belabor communications — they signal their feelings to each other (e.g. ears back, a nip, turn and kick, etc.) very quickly, and then it's over. They don't do the equivalent of yelling and cursing at a person as people sometimes do in frustration. That will just frighten a horse, and they don't understand it — it's actually destructive to a relationship with them — we want to be constructive.

The best way to approach this is with a trainer that embraces a natural horsemanship technique that focuses on working with a horse rather than attempting to break his spirit. HOWEVER, this is not just something for your horse and trainer, you need to be part of it to participate in this training. Doing so will yield two primary benefits:

  1. Your horse will be building trust in you and not just in your trainer — remember, he/she won't be around once the training is finished.
  2. You'll be learning important techniques that you need to remember for day-to-day interaction with your horse.

If you're not up to doing all this, sell the horse with appropriate disclosures of his nipping and biting tendencies for prospective buyers. Regardless of the personality of our horses, all horse people need to be constantly aware when around them. Horses are big and they're powerful. The most loving, gentle horse can still easily be spooked and inadvertently crush a person against a wall in their fear to get away from the source of the spook, such as a stinging bee. They may not intentionally hurt us, but it can still happen unintentionally in these situations. A horse that doesn't trust humans is even more of a danger.

There's a very good reason why all barns in all fifty states require a placard that can be easily read by visitors as they come into a barn indicating that horses are inherently dangerous. As much as we love our horses, we MUST always keep this in mind.


August 9, 2010 – HORSE EATING WHILE BEING GROOMED?

Can horses eat while you groom them?

I see no problem with grooming your horse while he/she eats. Some purists may express that they want their horse's attention fully on them while grooming, but I think that's unnecessary. I sometimes groom my horse while he eats, and at other times, he stands quietly while I groom him — the two are not mutually exclusive and he enjoys the grooming either way.

In all cases, my horse feels comfortable with me around him regardless of what he's doing. In fact,I feel that grooming while your horse does other activities helps to establish that kind of comfort with you around.


August 6, 2010 – A GPS FOR ALL SEASONS

I want to get a GPS for trail riding. Does a GPS work in all seasons and temperatures?

Generally, a GPS unit will work in all seasons. As for temperature, in very cold weather, battery output is reduced. That means a GPS unit that gets eight hours of use between chargings in warmer weather might only get four or six when the temperature is 10 or 20°F. On the other hand, you're not likely to be doing much of the longer distance riding that benefits from a GPS in such weather. So overall, I would say that the season and outside temperature will not materially affect your use of any GPS.

However, one thing that will make a difference is tree cover. The canopy of trees will reduce the level of signal received by a GPS. So, a GPS that works fine in the colder months when the trees are bare may not work so well when the trees have lush foliage. And because most of us do most of our riding in the warmer months when the trees have leaves, our GPS unit may not work well when riding in forests.

The best way to deal with this is to purchase a GPS that is rated "high sensitivity". The higher sensitivity of their receivers enables them to receive signals reduced in level by the foliage and still provide accurate navigation information. And their high sensitivity is also helpful in valleys and canyons as well as in any other low-level signal area.

We have an article that goes further into depth about GPS units entitled: A GPS for Trail Riding.


August 5, 2010 – CLEANING NYLON REINS

I've got nylon reins. Do they need any special care?

They certainly should have some care, but it's not difficult or complicated. Nylon is probably the easiest material to care for because it essentially doesn't require any care at all. The only thing you may want to do is occasionally is clean them — they will pick up dust and grime due to moisture from rain and humidity and the oils from your hands. That combination forms sticky paste on the surface and moves into the strands. It will even start to smell...badly. That means that your hands will smell like those dirty reins after every ride.

To clean, use the same shampoo that you use to give your horse a bath. You want a surfactant that dissolves fleshy oils, sweat, and grime, but doesn't irritate the skin of an animal, in this case, your horse. Most pet stores have such shampoos that are usually good for cats and dogs as well as horses.

Another thing: check your reins occasionally for stretching. This is usually evident on the ends. You'll also often find leather strips used to connect the reins to whatever clips you have connecting your reins to the bit. That leather will also stretch and it can deteriorate due to drying or exposure to rain. If you do notice such deterioration, replace them — there's no good way to recondition cracked, stretched, or otherwise deteriorated leather.

Finally, for other tack you may have and other readers of this column, leather reins also require care. Leather can get sticky when dirty and can also stretch, dry out, and otherwise deteriorate from getting wet just as described above for the leather ends of nylon reins. Make sure you keep them adequately clean and in good shape.

We depend on our reins for varying aspects of horse control, such as steering and stopping. It is NOT an overstatement to say that it's extremely important to assure our reins are in good shape. Imagine your horror to have your horse spook into a gallop and then have one end of your reins break free as you start to pull back.


August 4, 2010 – NOT A GOOD RIDER?

When do you know that you're not good at riding a horse?

There is a lot involved in your question. For example, what do you mean by "good riding"? Do you mean able to control your horse? Or do you mean being able to ride like Stacy Westfall when she performs bareback with no bridle or any tack at all gaits and includes jumping? These are not the same levels of riding, but both can be fun and safe.

At all levels, and right from the beginning, what I believe we should all strive for is "safe riding". Safe riding can occur at all the gaits right up to a flat-out gallop and can include jumping. Unsafe riding can occur at the walk if your horse doesn't listen to your commands. Except for the psychotic horse (very, very rare), much has to do with the confidence (or lack there-of) of the rider. A confident rider will do well with a skittish horse while an anxious rider can alarm an ostensibly "bomb-proof" horse. That's because horses are extremely good at sensing our emotions and then assimilating them into their own feelings of the moment. So, if you're frightened, your horse will sense it and feel there's something wrong and he/she will be frightened also — such is the temperament of a prey animal.

If you're feeling you don't ride well, but would like to ride more comfortably, please don't give up. My personal feeling is that almost anyone of average ability or better can learn to properly and safely ride a horse. If you want to go further and involve yourself in more refinement, such as with dressage, jumping, some form of racing, etc., then you can do so. But that can only happen when you're confident in your skills and already riding safely.

The best way for you to overcome anxiety around and on horses is the same solution you should pursue if you feel that your riding skills are inadequate — take lessons from a qualified instructor. The more you learn, the more comfortable and confident you'll get. Your lessons should also teach you how to be consistent with your horse so the horse knows what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. Your horse or any other horse you ride MUST respect you. They "suss this out" very quickly and will give trouble to a rider they don't respect, yet will be perfectly behaved 5 minutes later for a rider they do respect.

As I stated earlier, much of this has to do with your confidence. Why not improve it so you ride more safely and better enjoy those rides. Proper riding instruction is the key.


August 3, 2010 – A PROFITABLE HORSE FARM?

Is there any real way to make money on a farm boarding horses?

We get this question in various forms many times each week. I'm not sure if that's because of the current economy or just because many farms have never been adequately profitable. The problem has much to do with the fact that most people owning horses are not wealthy or affluent, and so, have only so much they can afford to pay. Yet, owning horses is not cheap because, unlike cats and dogs which can easily be trained to use a litter box or the outside, horses must be fed and cleaned up after on a larger scale, especially as regards their stalls. This conspires to require regularly required manual labor for tasks such as stall mucking, water pail cleaning, feeding, watering, turnout and returning to the barn, etc. And as big animals, feed and hay contribute significantly to monthly cost in greater degrees than required for smaller animals.

One of our contributors, Jen Goddard, has written several articles from a business perspective on buying and running a farm and its general side businesses (riding instruction, horse training, etc.) One of the things she explicitly identifies is that not all areas will support a profitable business. Also, most farm owners don't take the time to actually assess their true costs so they can set a price for each service that covers those costs and includes a margin to make a profit. Without doing that, a farm business is destined to lose money at best and go out of business at worst.

Therefore, you first need to identify and realistically price out all of your costs. Then, you need to identify the profit margin you need to succeed. When you add those two together, you've got the price you need to charge customers to both cover costs and make that profit. If you can't charge that price because boarders in your area won't pay that price, you can't run a viable business in that area — you need to move your business to an area where the customers can afford to pay your price.

If you don't want to move, you'll need to do more. One option is to find effective ways to cut your costs so you can drop your price and still be profitable — those ways to cut costs may or may not exist. Another option is to accept that you're going to lose money on boarding costs, but recover it from your customers by offering other services to augment boarding fees, such as the aforementioned riding instruction and horse training. This presupposes your customers can afford to pay more, but won't do so just for boarding services. You may also be able to attrack people learning to ride that are willing to pay for lessons using horses you already own or can work out a deal with existing boarders to use their horses.

To read Jen's more detailed treatises on this subject, see these QueryHorse articles:

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

Another contributor, Lisa Derby Oden, wrote an informative article aimed at keeping would be and existing farm owners from making common mistakes based on pervasive farm business myths:

Six Horse Business Myths

Other related articles you may find helpful are:

Hiring a Barn Building Contractor
Vetting and Working with Boarders
Equine Occupations — A Starting Point


August 2, 2010 – BEARS ON THE TRAIL

My friends and I ride the trails in Arcadia and love it! Recently, we heard a report of a bear sighting in the area and wondered what to do if we happened upon him — stop and wait for him to leave? Walk slowly as we pass by him then pick up a trot? Or canter away as quickly as we can?

We've recently had a string of questions come through about this topic. As I started to respond, I realized there is so much to think about that it'd be better as an article. So, you can learn more by reading Bears on the Trail.

P.S. Because I also often ride in Arcadia, we may have crossed trails. If so, please say hello if that should ever happen.


July 30, 2010 – SADDLE WEIGHT

How heavy can a saddle be before its too heavy for the horse?

That depends on several factors:

  • The size and strength of the horse;
  • The weight of the rider; and
  • The weight of other cargo the horse will be asked to carry.

Essentially, any particular horse can only carry so much weight. If near that limit, we have to make tradeoffs as to what is more important. Bigger riders use up more of the maximum weight capability of the horse meaning the saddle and/or cargo must weigh less while a lighter rider has more options.

Older Western saddles sometimes weighed as much as 50 or 60 pounds — that's a lot! These days, there's no need to use such heavy saddles and most Western saddles weigh less than 30 pounds. My Aussie saddle weighs just 20 pounds and my synthetic Western saddle weighs about 17 pounds. Many English saddles weigh only eight or nine pounds.

But consider this: even if you're a small and light rider, why use a heavy saddle if you don't need to do so? Use a modern, lighter saddle and give your horse a break so he/she doesn't have to carry any more weight than is truly necessary. Your horse will secretly thank you for it.


July 29, 2010 – INCLUDE DOORS ON A NEW BARN?

My husband and I are designing a new barn and we're unsure whether or not it should have doors. Any comments?

Yes! Install doors. You've likely read many articles about how important it is that barns have good ventilation and that horses can tolerate the cold — this is all true. BUT, there are times, such as high winds in the coldest of the winter on an icy night that you may want to keep that wind out. Similarly, you may also want to keep the snow out from a very windy blizzard and you can't do that with no doors. Doors will let you do this, and you can leave them completely open the entire rest of the year.

I generally think options are very good!


July 28, 2010 – SLANT OR STRAIGHT TRAILER?

What's better for your horse, a slant or a straight trailer?

There are certainly many opinions for one or the other. I've heard many claims made based about studies exalting one design over the other, and about just as many counter-studies promoting the other design. Unfortunately, for all these claims, I've never been able to find the purported studies. I do know that most people prefer one design over another, as do I. But the fact is, you see lots of both designs, as well other designs, such as stock trailers and box trailers. All these designs appear to satisfactorily bring an owner's horses to the desired location.

Generally, a slant horse trailer will allow you to haul three average-size horses in just a little larger trailer and weight than a straight 2-horse trailer, though the horse will have less room. Conversely, a straight 2-horse trailer provides more space for two larger horses than they'd get in a slant trailer. When you think about what the two foregoing sentences really mean, you realize that this is exactly what you'd expect from each design and that you're making a trade-off one way or the other.

Therefore, I suggest you learn as much as you can about both designs you asked about, think about the size of your horses and how many you expect to haul at a time, and select a trailer based upon the design that is most appealing and best meets your needs. Regardless of the claims and stories you may hear, I've found absolutely no true studies showing one design to be superior to another. In addition, in discussions with manufacturers that make both designs, they explicitly stated that they found neither design to be superior to the other for a horse's safety or health.


July 27, 2010 – MONEY'S TIGHT; WHAT INSURANCE SHOULD I DROP?

I'm out of work and can't afford to keep all the insurances I have on my horse, so I'm going have to cut some of them out for now. Is mortality insurance the best one to keep?

You don't say whether or not you're an equine professional or just a horse owner, nor which insurances you already have that you're considering dropping, so it's harder to advise you. For the purposes of answering your question, I'm going to assume you're just a horse owner. However, I'm including some links at the end of this response that will be of help to owners and professionals with equine businesses.

If I could only afford one insurance, it'd be liability insurance. That's the insurance that pays if you get sued for damage or injury caused by your horse. In fact, I would never even own a horse without having a good equine liability insurance policy. Such a policy is not very expensive, but not having it if you need it definitely will be. Compare the following ramifications of not having each of these basic kinds of insurance:

Equine Mortality Insurance
If you don't have mortality insurance and your horse dies, you won't collect anything, and maybe you won't be able to buy another horse for a while.

Equine Major Medical Insurance
If you don't have major medical insurance, you'll have to pay for medical care and procedures out of pocket. While you may feel that could be hard to afford, let's be honest and recognize that most people only have a few thousand dollars of medical insurance on their horses in the first place. Plus, when you renew each year, you have to identify which maladies your horse had during the year and the insurance company usually excludes those problems from being insured from there-on out, so coverage is eliminated when you need it except in the year of the first occurrence.

Equine Liability Insurance
But if you don't have liability insurance and your horse injures or kills someone, they could sue you for lots of money and you could lose your home and investments. As painful as it is to lose a horse, it'd be much worse to lose our homes and become penniless. No one should own a horse without having liability insurance. It's the first insurance we should buy and it should never be allowed to lapse while we own one or more horses — EVER!

There are other policies to consider if you're in some kind of equine business. Even then, the most important policies to assure you purchase are those related to liability, such as General Farm Liability, Workmans' Compensation Insurance, Care, Custody, and Control Insurance, Equine Shipping Insurance, etc. While these don't all include the word "liability" in their names, they represent the kinds of risks that could cost you many thousands of dollars if you would be sued in court for injuries to a person or a very expensive animal (think expensive racehorse, some rare breed, or a horse with very expensive training).

If you have any questions about what kind of insurance you should purchase, do a little research and speak with an equine attorney . You can also speak with an equine insurance agent, but because they stand to gain from the advice they give you, you'll probably feel better to first get advice from a professional unrelated to the insurance industry. Once you've built a relationship of trust with an insurance agent over time, you'll feel better trusting their advice.

You can learn more by reading these articles written by the Horse Girl. As an equine attorney, she's seen lots of ugly legal suits related to insurance issues — you don't want to be one of them.

Equine Insurance and Why it Matters
Buying Horse Insurance
Agent Madness – Are you liable?
Gaps in Liability Protection for Equine Professionals
Liability Traps for Stable Owners & Lessors


July 26, 2010 – MORE ABOUT HOT WEATHER RIDING

Hi! I would like you to address the question of riding on high heat/high humidity days. I've been told to add the outside temperature to the humidity index and if the total is 160 or above don't ride. Is that the rule of thumb you go by? It would seem that if it were that but you are taking a slow ride in the forest or if there is a good breeze that you could still ride. What is your opinion?

I just responded to a similar question last week (7/19/10). I've never heard or read about any "rule of thumb" regarding combining the temperature and humidity index to determine whether or not it exceeds some safety threshold. And I dislike that approach because it doesn't consider other important factors, such as the condition of your horse and you.

I prefer a more common sense approach similar to that which you espoused in your question, namely: it depends. As you note, taking it easy at a slow gait and walking in the shade of the forest might let you ride on days that would otherwise be unsafe if you were doing it in the direct Sun.

But I want to again make clear that the physical condition of both you and your horse come into play quite a bit and are a very important consideration. Let's look at it another way that may be easier to see. In the winter, people out of shape are at significant risk of a heart attack when shoveling heavy snow. But if you're in good condition, the risk is much less because the body is less stressed due to being in shape — it's the same when being active on hot, humid days. So, let's list the factors you need to consider:

  1. The temperature;
  2. The humidity;
  3. Whether or not you're in the Sun or under a tree canopy;
  4. Whether or not there's a breeze;
  5. The altitude at which you're riding (riding at higher altitudes is more dangerous);
  6. The physical conditioning of your horse;
  7. Your physical condition;
  8. Your travel gait, flat or hilly, rough or smooth terrain, essentially, how hard you're both working and the load being carried (your weight, that of carried supplies, etc.);
  9. How long you're both out riding;
  10. How hydrated you both are while riding;
  11. Whether you can take one or more breaks and rest during the ride; and
  12. Whether you both can cool off, perhaps in a brook or pond during the ride.

I can't claim the foregoing considers every important factor, but I do believe it at least lists most of them. Certainly, we could expand on some of them, such as the conditioning of you and your horse by considering salt levels, how rested, fed, and hydrated you both were when you left on your ride, etc.

Essentially, I'm saying we're much better assessing all the factors and making a decision than following any arbitrary rule that attempts to be all things to all people. If you're really uncomfortable outside on a hot day, so is your horse and you should consider postponing a ride for another day with better weather. Another option is riding at dawn or dusk when it's cooler rather than in the middle of the day. It may be even more humid at dawn or dusk, but it's generally significantly cooler and safer than with the hot Sun overhead.


July 23, 2010 – BULB SIZE FOR BARN LIGHTING

How should I determine the wattage of each bulb to use in my barn?

Well, this is not exactly rocket science. If you try a bulb and you don't have enough light, you need a bigger bulb — it's that simple.

From a cost standpoint, you should use some form of fluorescent lighting, whether four foot tubes or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). If you stick to standard wattages (equivalent to 60W, 75W, 100W, etc.), you'll also find those to be among the cheapest bulbs because they're the ones most often bought and therefore benefit from huge productions of scale.

Generally, using 27W CFLs equates to about 100W incandescent and will likely provide the most light for the least electricity and cost of purchase and ownership. It's just a matter of installing enough fixtures to assure you have enough light and are not working in too dark conditions, especially when working closer to the ground, such as when picking hooves.


July 22, 2010 – WEARING A HALTER & BRIDLE SIMULTANEOUSLY?

Is it ok to use a bridle and halter together?

What, you mean one on top of the other? I've seen it done, but it often seems to present problems that irritate the horse. That's likely because the tack item on the outside (usually the bridle) is pressing down on the item beneath. That can put pressure at certain points on the horse's head and cause skin irritation, which quickly leads to horse irritation. A friend of mine once tried it on a ride and while the horse seemed fine with it initially, she was going crazy 20 minutes later. We removed the halter and everything was fine again — it clearly was uncomfortable for the horse.

If you want the convenience of both, just buy a halter/bridle. That way, you can pull the bit from the bridle, and "voila!" — you now have a halter. Reattach the bit to make it a bridle. This works really well for letting your horse graze while you eat lunch out on the trail.


July 21, 2010 – HORSES AND RAIN

Do horses mind being out in the rain? Should I bring mine inside when it does?

Actually, horses don't seem to generally notice rain unless it's very heavy. Mostly, they just keep on grazing.

Obviously, when the temperature drops below 40 - 50°F, getting a thorough soaking can expose the horse to possible hypothermia and you're better off bringing them in. If they're already wet, bringing them in gives them an opportunity to dry off and rebuild their body heat. If you don't have a barn, give them a space, such as a "run-in", where they can go to avoid the rain and stay dry. Above 50°F or so, most horses seem to be able to maintain their body temperature even when wet due to their large mass. Conversely, if it's really hot, the rain can be soothing and helps to cool a horse down.


July 20, 2010 – LIGHTS OUT IN THE BARN AT NIGHT

Should I leave some lights on in my barn during the night so my horses can see?

No. They can see just fine in the dark. Even if they couldn't see, where would they need to go? Even a bathroom stop for them is in their stall.

Generally, you should do "lights out" around 9:00 pm or so and leave your horses alone so they will get their needed rest.


July 19, 2010 – HOT WEATHER RIDING DANGERS

This is a very hot summer here this year. Is it ok to ride in this weather?

Hot weather riding can be safe, or dangerous — a lot depends on the conditioning of your horse and the shape you're in. A horse and rider out of shape are a disaster waiting to happen and both could get seriously ill or die by excessive exposure to this heat.

Even if you and your horse are both in great shape, you still need to avoid too much exposure to the heat, have access to adequate water, and not push too much physically. And high humidity just makes the whole situation worse because even your perspiration and that of your horse will not evaporate enough to keep you both cool.

Generally, you're better off if you can ride in the cooler air of a forest out of the direct Sun. Also, don't be cantering or galloping much, if at all. Limit your riding to walking and some trotting. For a horse, trotting is his most efficient, faster gait. If your horse gets tired, dismount to reduce his workload and walk beside him. A brook, stream, or pond with clean water is a good place to let him drink and cool off some. For yourself, make sure you're carrying ample water along on your ride; a quart canteen or more is a very good idea.

When not being ridden, if your horse spends much of his day in a paddock, there is hopefully some shade for him. If not, you should consider bringing him in for a part of the day to cool down. And whatever you do, make sure your horse(s) have plenty of fresh water to rehydrate themselves. You should also have loose salt or salt blocks available in your horse stalls so they can replenish sodium lost through perspiration. If your horse acts lethargic and is not hungry and thirsty, get him out of the Sun and call your vet. If he is developing heat stroke, it can be fatal — don't wait.


July 16, 2010 – GROOMING IN A STALL

Is it ok to groom my horse in her stall? Or is that dangerous?

I groom my horse in his stall all the time. I also sometimes groom him out in his paddock, or in cross ties, or at a tie ring near the tack room, or when tied to the horse trailer. Fact is, I groom him wherever I like, and he generally likes it.

Horses usually like to be groomed. And why not? It's attention from their leader; it's a massage that feels good. It removes clumps of stuff stuck on their hooves that may be affecting their step. It's generally a safe procedure.

But there are some things you should look out for. A horse that doesn't respect the groom could be a problem. That usually means that groom needs to earn the horse's respect and assert control — that means being in control, not being mean to the horse. Also, I won't groom a horse while standing between him and anything else, like a wall. Instead, when I need to groom the other side and the horse is near a wall or some item, I move the horse so there's lots of space beside him. I don't want to find myself in a "squeeze play" should the horse spook and come toward me. It would be bad enough to be hit and pushed by a scared horse — worse to be crushed by one up against a wall.

Finally, don't stoop down low or sit on the ground when brushing the lower legs or picking hooves. Instead, stand and bend over, but keep your legs straight so you can always quickly step away if something happens. You don't want to be accidently walked or jumped upon.


July 15, 2010 – SAFETY STRAPS JUST FOR WIMPS?

I'm ordering a new saddle and am unsure about something. It's going to be an endurance saddle and I have the option of having a horn, a strap, or nothing. I already have a western saddle and want to be able to occasionally jump a log or other obstacle but feel unsafe with the horn. But the strap looks somewhat wimpish and I'd hate to get laughed at for having that on my saddle.

Go with the strap. I have one on my Australian saddle, and I gotta tell ya, I have no concern for whether other riders or observers think I'm a wimp for having it or not. I'm a lot more concerned with doing everything I can to avoid hitting the ground and getting injured.

Consider these points:

  • Because some jumping is in your plans, make sure the tree and saddle design are made for jumping — not all saddle trees are designed to take the landing forces and to properly distribute them safely on your horse's back. Read our article on Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle? to learn more.
  • Also because your jumping, you're wise to exclude a horn — it introduces you to a potential abdominal injury source — think no more about considering it.
  • Finally, horses are powerful, fast, and can be unpredictable, especially when frightened. That means they can quickly shy five feet or more to the side, spin right around in a half second, rear, or perform some other very fast and unexpected maneuver that could leave you in the air just before you hit the ground hard, get bruised and scraped, or worse. Having something solid to grab and keep you in the saddle in those situations goes far to protecting you from harm.

Many English riders add a strap, western riders grab the horn, and having an available solid grip when you need it is a wonderful idea to enhance your safety. Forget about anyone who may laugh at you — the joke's on them — be safe — safe is REALLY, REALLY COOL!


July 14, 2010 – FLY MASKS

There are so many flies around this year and every fly spray I try doesn't seem to work good. Should I switch to a fly mask?

Unfortunately, I feel there isn't any one cure for flies bugging horses, or even bugging us, for that matter. A fly mask does provide some protection, but you should still use a good fly spray because flies also attack a horse's legs, back, and stomach. If you use a fly mask, be sure to check several things:

  • Make sure the mask doesn't touch your horse's eyeballs or rub against them.
  • Make sure the mask is put on properly and sealed all the way around.
  • Make sure there are no holes in the mask. If it's not properly put on, sealed, or has holes, flies can get in and drive your horse mad inside the mask. It's worse to have one or more flies inside a mask than for a horse to have no mask at all.
  • Make sure to check the mask regularly. Horses often rub the mask against their legs, a fence, tree trunks, and other objects, so it's important to check it regularly so it's still on properly, doesn't have any bugs inside, and doesn't have any holes created by the constant rubbing.

I've found that I prefer to put my horse's mask on only when I'm riding him or staying with him while he's grazing. That way, I can immediately intervene if something goes wrong or a bug gets inside. The rest of the time, I'd rather he have no mask at all and can deal with flies in whatever way he feels appropriate. You'll also find the mask will last a lot longer this way than if you turn your horse out with a mask and he destroys it with all his rubbing while you're not around to resolve problems.


July 13, 2010 – WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM

I just started towing a two horse trailer with my SUV. The owner's manual says I can tow 6,000 lbs. directly and up to 8,000 lbs. with a weight distribution system. What is that system and should I get one?

You likely don't need the weight distribution system (WDS), but may want to use one anyway. Most 2-horse trailers weigh between 2,400 - 3,200 pounds or so depending on whether or not you've got a tack room. Add 1,000 pounds or so per horse and you're up to about 4,400 - 5,200 pounds — still under your maximum weight rating without a WDS. If you have large horses or draft horses, you need to know what they weigh plus the additional weight of your trailer if it's for larger horses or drafts. The weight of your trailer will be on its nameplate. That plate is usually mounted on the left-side of the tongue frame. The combined weight of large horses and a large trailer may exceed the 6,000 pound limit and mandate a WDS.

Weight Distribution System

Weight Distribution System

Even if you're under 6,000 pounds and don't need a WDS, using one will not only give you a buffer in case you carry additional weight, such as water or extra tack, it will also make your tow vehicle and trailer ride more level, respond better and provide better driving control, and it will be more stable overall as well as handle better in the wind. That's because a WDS helps to distribute the trailer's weight evenly on its own wheels as well as on all four wheels of the tow vehicle. If you don't use one, you may notice that the front of the trailer leans down and makes the rear of your tow vehicle sag while lifting its front end. That means it won't steer or brake as well because more of the weight is on the rear wheels of your tow vehicle and on the front wheels of the trailer. A WDS will resolve all these problems.

See your trailer dealer for a closer look at a WDS and for prices.


July 12, 2010 – TRAIL RIDING WITH MUSIC?

I've been riding on our trails while listening to my ipod for the last couple of weeks and my barn owner made some disapproving comments about it today. I'm not doing anything wrong!

No, you're not. However, I suspect your barn owner feels you're missing the point of being with your horse and riding. Certainly, with radios in every kind of vehicle from cars and trucks to motorcycles and tractors, we humans enjoy music while we're moving. And portable players from the original Walkman to today's iPods and similar devices allow us to walk, hike, do housework, cut the grass, and much more with music. Being not only a music lover, but also a musician, I definitely understand music's appeal. But, I also understand your barn owner's perspective.

Riding horses is different than driving. Unlike driving a vehicle, a horse has a brain and that brings with it some unpredictability. In addition, at least for us trail riders, there's something magical about partnering with our horses while exploring nature. Horses see and hear much more than we do, but with their help, we can join in when they stop, raise their head, point their ears, and look in a direction to determine what something is or what is happening. With the help of my horse, I've seen foxes, owls, hawks, many deer, and lots of other critters and such that I would never have otherwise noticed and enjoyed seeing. There's also something wonderful about being "in the moment" and aware of everything going on around us. We just don't usually have the time to enjoy that when we're working and focused on responsibilities. But many of us find it very satisfying when riding, even the clip clops of our horse's footfalls.

So, between the added safety of being aware of what's around us and what our horses are doing at each moment, there's also the sense of partnering that gets lost when we're focused on something else, such as bopping to a song. Of course, it's your choice, but when we have music with us and around us so much in the rest of our lives, isn't it nice to leave it at home or in the car when we're with our four-legged friends?

One other thing, there are many disciplines incorporating riding to music in the ring — that's a much safer way to enjoy riding and music together. You may want to try it. When on the trail, you really should be focused on your horse and what's happening around you for safety's sake.


July 9, 2010 – BUMPER HITCH TO TOW GOOSENECK TRAILER?

How can I use my bumper hitch to tow a small gooseneck trailer?

You can't. Bumper and gooseneck hitches have different design considerations that go beyond just the hitches themselves. For example, gooseneck hitches are much higher above the ground and are designed to place the trailer's weight IN FRONT of the rear axle — NOT BEHIND IT as bumper hitches are designed. This makes the trailer more maneuverable and lessens its effects on the tow vehicle — this is especially important because gooseneck trailers are generally used for towing heavier loads. Therefore, you wouldn't want to connect a gooseneck trailer to a bumper hitch even if you could manufacture your own adapter to allow them to connect together.


July 8, 2010 – USING A CAR GPS ON THE TRAIL?

Can I use a car GPS for trail rides?

Yes, you can if the GPS is removable from the vehicle and has its own battery. Many after-market units designed for dash or windshield mounting have self-contained batteries that allow them to be used anywhere. Even some of the units "built-in" to vehicles are removable and have this ability, meaning they just "snap out".

Whichever unit you use, there is one more ability they should have to truly be helpful out on the trail: you need to be able to load it with topographical (topo) maps for the area in which you intend to ride. Without topos, you'll see your movement on large blank areas between roads and highways — it won't be very helpful other than getting to those roads and highways. With the topo maps, you'll also see land elevations and contours and may even see some established trails as well as unpaved park roads. In fact, for some units, you can even buy maps specifically of state parks and national forests. That makes the maps much more useful and you'll easily be able to tell where you are and how to navigate to your chosen destination.


July 7, 2010 – EASY PADDOCK MUCKING?

If I have a big enough paddock, can I just leave horse piles there to break down on their own?

You can, but you'll usually have burning of the grass under the pile. It'd be much better if you at least break up the pile and spread it around a little. That will have it disappear in several days to a week rather than the multiple weeks or months it'll require if you leave it "as it fell", so to speak. Generally, the bigger the pile, the longer it'll hang around.


July 6, 2010 – TURNING TOO TIGHTLY?

Can a horse fall over if turned too tight?

I'm presuming you mean while riding? If so, it depends on the speed. At the walk, a horse can turn in a tight circle — they don't like tight circles, but they can do it. At a trot, you've got to allow for a larger turning radius. As speed increases to a canter or gallop, the turning radius needs to be greater still.

Are you asking this question to better understand the one-rein emergency stop? If so, it's important to understand that you can't yank one rein hard all of a sudden on a runaway horse. If you do, your horse will likely fall over and get hurt, and so will you. In such an incident, either of you or both could also break bones — you need to perform the technique properly.

Even at slower speeds, doing this technique incorrectly can cause a more spooked horse, rearing, losing balance by you and/or the horse and still both falling. That's because there's much you need to know, such as, you can't do it on a hill; you can't do it on uneven ground; you can't do it on slippery ground; you can't do it if the horse is rearing, you don't want to stop completely, you MUST remain balanced in the saddle, you can't lean forward, etc., etc.

Therefore, to learn the emergency stop properly, you should enlist the help of a riding instructor. He/she will be able to teach you the technique and you'll be able to practice it at slow speeds in just one 30 - 60 minute lesson. It's well worth the small cost of one lesson.

If you were asking about something else, please resubmit your question with more information.


July 2, 2010 – BRUSHING YOUR HORSE'S FACE

Is it ok to brush my horses face when grooming her?

Yes, it is. But use a soft brush instead of the stiffer bristled brush you use on her body — it will be gentler on her face and ears. Be careful as you brush her face that you don't accidently brush her eye. It's a sensitive area and can be easily bruised.

You should also use the soft brush on her fetlocks and pasterns rather than the stiffer brush.


July 1, 2010 – LONG LIFE BULBS

Is there really such a things as long-life bulbs for horse trailers?

Yes, there are. These bulbs use thicker than average filaments and cost a little more, but they hardly ever burn out. So, you save on the recurring costs of regular bulbs as well as the hassle of having to replace them, and the avoidance of even being pulled over by a policeman to notify you of a failed tail or stop lamp.

However, there are even better lighting options these days. LED lighting is already replacing most of the lights on newer horse trailers, as well as on cars and trucks. This lighting form has the same advantage of long life. In fact, they almost never fail, no matter how old the vehicle and bulbs. Plus, they use far less power, about 1/8 that of incandescent bulbs.


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