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"Horse Guy" Archive Jan - Jun 2011

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June 30, 2011 – COGGIN'S TEST

Because of the recent news about equine herpes infections out west, I'm finding arenas and barn owner's demanding proof of shots and a negative Coggins before they'll allow us to unload. How long is a Coggins test good for?

The general consensus has been that we should all get a Coggin's test for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) in the Spring of each year when many of us start trailering our horses to equine events. Unfortunately, all that a Coggin's test truly does is determine whether your horse has EIA at the time the blood was drawn. If he was infected a week later, you wouldn't catch it until the next test. Still, annual testing is much better than no testing. Due to it, EIA has been held at bay and is relatively rare.

If you want to learn more, you can visit the University of Vermont Website. They have a section that provides information about the laws in each state regarding EIA. To see it, click UVM Equine Law EIA.

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


Can I tow a horse trailer without connecting to the brakes? We're only going 300 miles for a horseback riding vacation and I have the opportunity to borrow a friends trailer to bring our horses. I don't have a brake controller and would rather not buy one for this onetime haul.

DEFINITELY NOT! Think about what you just said. "We're only going 300 miles..." — that's not a small distance, especially with a trailer. Also, check your owner's manual for towing. Most say something to the effect of not towing anything more than 1,000 pounds or so without brakes. You would be way over that limit with a trailer and two or more horses. In fact, each horse alone would be at or over that limit not even including the weight of the trailer (~2,400 - 3,000 additional pounds).

Finally, I tend to feel that any trailer that comes with brakes means the manufacturer added them because they're needed on that trailer. An inexpensive brake controller is only about $50 and a really good one about a $100 — why risk your lives on any amount of money, but especially such a small amount? Think of your fear and anxiety coming down a hill, you're braking hard, and you keep accelerating with your tow vehicle, trailer, family members, and horses all together. Or not being able to stop as you approach a busy intersection or are gaining on a slow-moving vehicle. Those are just a few of the possible nightmares that none of us needs to experience, let alone follow to their natural conclusion.

We have an article about brake controllers that can take some of the mystery and confusion away entitled: Trailer Brake Controllers.

June 28, 2011 – CINCHY HORSE

Why does my horse rear when I tighten his girth? I'm riding him in a western saddle. Could it be too heavy for him?

It certainly sounds as if your horse is experiencing some form of discomfort. Though, I doubt it's from the saddle's weight unless you've got an unusual saddle. Responding to your question was somewhat involved, so we've prepared an article to answer your question. It's entitled, The "Cinchy" Horse.

June 27, 2011 – FOOT AND HOOF GROWTH

At what age does a horse's feet stop growing?

Are you truly asking about his feet? Or are you asking about his hooves? A horse's feet grow until age four or five, depending on when the horse reaches maturity. But, his hooves will continue to grow throughout his entire life. Think of the hoof as similar to a human finger nail (mainly, because it's made of the same material: keraton, except that horses walk around on them). Our nails grow throughout our lives.

If a horse is shoed, the growing of the hooves is what primarily loosens the shoes and requires periodic farrier service. If the horse is barefoot, the hooves still grow, but as the horse walks about, the hooves wear away. However, the hooves grow faster than they wear away; and that's good! (It would be very bad for the horse if his hooves couldn't keep up with his activities.) Because they do grow faster, the barefoot horse still needs a periodic trim, but less so than a shod horse.


What's the story about LED lighting for home and barn? In a post a while ago you mentioned that CFLs will be replaced by LEDs in the near future. Is that anytime soon?

Well, you're not the first to ask and to hold me to my future prognostication; I think it was actually stated in our Better Barn Lighting article rather than a post. At this time, we're starting to see more and more LED bulbs showing up at the big department and home stores. But they're very expensive and are not yet putting out as much light as incandescent bulbs and CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps).

All of the bulbs I've seen have multiple LEDS in them. Such a typical lamp will have 30 or so LEDs and put out about 250 lumens. Unfortunately, that's equivalent to only a 15watt incandescent bulb, so it's not very bright. Worse, such a bulb sells for $30 - $40 depending on where you go.

So, the good news is that LED lighting for standard 120volt sockets are already here. However, the bad news is that they currently put out too little light for typical home, office, and barn lighting and cost far too much for that little amount of light. While the manufactures (and their packaging) brag that such lamps will last 15,000, 20,000, and even 30,000 hours, what good is that if the bulb puts out too little light for your application?

There are brighter LEDs available (with commensurately higher prices) that can be used in such bulbs, but I haven't seen them employed in home/barn ambient lighting bulbs yet. At this time, I'd have to say that LED lighting for home and barn is not yet quite ready for primetime. I think we're still several years away from cost-effective and adequately bright LED bulbs to replace today's CFLs.

June 23, 2011 – IS THE GIRTH TOO TIGHT?

My saddle is kinda loose on my horse, so I tighten the girth really tight. Otherwise it slides all around. Will a tight saddle hurt a horse?

Yes, it is possible to over tighten a girth or cinch. But generally, a loose fitting saddle is a poor fitting saddle. Whether a small English saddle or a large Western or Aussie saddle with a tree (or any size in between), it should set on the horse's back and feel like it "fits". That means it feels right when placed in its proper location on the horse's back and follows the contour of that back.

When a saddle doesn't fit, there are high spots on which the saddle may rock and low spots that form hollows under the saddle. In these cases, the saddle will not distribute the rider's weight properly. The high spots will take all of the weight and will likely become tender and sore as well as damaging the hair follicles on those spots. And the fact your saddle is loose also means it's not providing a stable seat for you — that's unsafe!

While a girth or cinch must be secure, one that's too-tight will cause sores on your horse as it really squeezes his skin between the girth/cinch and his rib cage. Taken to the extreme, a rib would break if tightened too far. But even in the absence of such an injury, having to tighten as much as you describe to avoid saddle looseness sounds very much like an ill-fitting saddle and a suffering horse.

You really should have a saddle fitter check your saddle as placed on your horse. That means he/she needs to come to your barn or you have to trailer your horse to them. They need to see the actual fit (or lack thereof) with your horse.

If you don't do anything and continue with what seems like a very bad fit, you risk damaging your horse's back permanently — don't do that. Your horse will very much appreciate you getting this properly resolved before his next ride.


How much water should I give my horse? Is there a chance I could give her too much and she might get sick?

Generally, you want to provide your horse with as much water as she's willing to drink — let her decide how much she needs. Horses live quite successfully in the wild and they determine when they'll drink and how much. That's also true for all other animals, even domestics such as cats and dogs.

Even if you wanted to control your horse's water intake, how would you know when she's had the right amount? It's going to vary with her activity and the heat and cold. If you give her too much, she'll just drink what she needs — that's ok. But if you provide too little, she'll get dehydrated and it can negatively affect her health.

Instead, just make sure to provide more than your horse needs and let her decide how much she'll drink each day. If you ever find her water pail empty when you've already filled it, fill it again because she obviously needs more.


  1. One exception is for those times when you need to limit your horse's water intake for health reasons. For example, if she's hot from a ride or other activity, offer her small amounts of water every few minutes and let her have more and more at a time as she cools down.
  2. If your horse starts to drink much larger amounts of water every day regardless of temperature and activity, she may have some health issue brewing that requires an examination by a veterinarian. Even here, you SHOULD NOT limit her water intake — that could be very bad for your horse. It could be that your horse's body is trying to rid itself of an excess of some substance and you need a vet to determine why that substance is excessively high. Call your vet immediately.

June 21, 2011 – NEED TO BUY A TRACTOR

I just bought a small horse farm and now need a tractor. How big a tractor should I buy? Any suggestions on make and model?

This is a more complicated question than I think you realize. The answer is not as easy as just providing you with a make and model or a horsepower rating. Rather, the answer has everything to do with what you need/want to do on your new farm. Contributing factors will also be the amount of land you have, your future plans, what you can afford to pay, whether you're willing to consider used equipment, etc. A better approach for you is to visit the dealers of the major tractor manufacturers in your area. Talk with them about your plans, needs, and budget and they'll be able to discuss tractor size, implements, and payment schedule.

When you do this, make a list of what you feel you absolutely need to be able to do to run your farm and what extras you'd like to get if you can afford it. Also share this with the dealers. It's their job to help you match your needs and budget to their offerings.

One more thing, if possible, buy a little more tractor than you currently need. It's so very common to get a tractor, learn how very useful and valuable it is to managing your land, and then wish you had bought a little more power and capability so you could expand your plans. It's generally cheaper to buy a little more now than to trade in and upgrade later.

Good luck!


We went out riding yesterday and the horses were spooky. I was having trouble controlling my horse. He wanted to run at each noise and I was scared he would gallop. Finally, I got off and walked him for about three miles until we got back to the barn. Even then, he kept wanting to run and I was afraid he was going to pull the reins out of my hands and run away. My friends kept telling me to get back on and ride back. At least I would be with him if he ran. But I was afraid, and now I'm afraid to go back out riding in case it happens again. What should I do? And what should I have done yesterday about walking or remounting?

I agree with your friends. If you feel your horse won't listen to you, you're better off returning to the barn, but staying in the saddle unless you're really close already, such as a quarter mile away. If your horse should run or bump into another horse, you're much safer mounted than being between them on foot. We have an article you should read entitled: What's Safer? On Foot or Mounted?

Now, let's move on to the real root of your problem. I just wrote about this last week (June 14, 2011). The gist of that response is that you're not truly in control of your horse. In addition, you're afraid of him galloping — it is dangerous to be on a horse outside of a controlled space (e.g. an arena) if you can't ride all the gaits. Everyone riding on trails and in fields needs to be competent enough to gallop and confident enough to be in control. As I said in that prior response: your horse will always know if you're scared and whether or not YOU feel you're in control. If he/she senses you're not in control, the horse will take control so as to protect himself.

Horses depend on us to protect them. As prey animals, they would never otherwise give up control to us without trusting us to keep them safe — you don't even trust your own riding skills or you never would have dismounted and walked three miles back to the barn. Your horse knows this. You should take some riding instruction to get over your fears and to learn whatever it is you need in order to be both competent and confident. If you don't, you'll not only miss the joy of riding, you're also putting your safety at risk. You're certainly not the only rider to be afraid — this is a recurring theme the Horse Girl and I hear about every week. But you should insist on getting over this for your own safety and enjoyment of riding horses.


Can I jump in a western saddle with a horn? I want to jump some logs on our trails and I ride in a western saddle.

You can, but you shouldn't. First, that horn is a threat to your safety. It'll also cause you to select a position other than an optimal jumping position to avoid it — that will compromise and even possibly upset the balance of your horse.

Second, most Western saddles are not made for jumping. Not only are you not in the right place for it, the tree is not made to absorb the shock of landing from jumping. Therefore, using it to jump will cause premature saddle tree failure.

We have an article that explains more about this topic entitled, appropriately enough: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?.

One final note: there are many endurance and Australian saddles that are built to allow at least some jumping. You may want to look into them.


Is it safer to ride a small horse or a big horse? I'm searching for a horse and would like to buy the safest one I can.

Interesting question! Generally, horse riding safety focuses on several primary areas:

  1. The temperament of the horse;
  2. The confidence of the rider and his/her ability to be the horse's leader;
  3. The skill and seat of the rider;
  4. The actual riding activity (walking, jumping, racing, etc.);
  5. The judgment of the rider and whether he/she would allow the development of a dangerous situation; and
  6. The dynamics of a group of riders and horses if not riding alone.

There are other contributors, such as the area in which the horse is being ridden (e.g. compare risk in an inside arena to that of a snake-infested area or a narrow, cliff-side ledge). But overall, the list accommodates the safeness or danger of where the ride takes place in the item of the rider's judgment. And the temperament item encompasses breed and cold/hot bloodedness of the horse. One could make a case that there's a smaller distance from saddle to ground on a small horse should a fall take place, but that might be the only real difference based solely on horse size.

As regards your basic question, speak with your riding instructor, or if there isn't any, contact one. Getting the "right" horse for you has much more to do with the horses temperament, suitability for your riding intentions, compatibility between your personality and that of the horse, and your confidence and skill level than it does the basic size of your horse. A good riding instructor should be able to assess your skills and make some helpful recommendations as well as help you find and select a good horse for you.


How much notice do I have to give the barn owner before I move my horse to a better barn?

The definitive determinant is: whatever it says in your boarding agreement. However, if there is no written boarding agreement, then it's whatever the barn owner mentioned he/she required when you brought your horse to the barn. (Your commencement of receiving and paying for boarding services is at least a tacit agreement to the barn owner's requirements.) If the two of you never discussed this before, then you may not have any requirement and you've been boarding "at will", so to speak.

BUT, unless you're concerned for your horse's safety or health, providing some basic consideration would be to give a months notice so the barn owner has time to accept another boarder to fill the stall. I can't tell you how many people I know that have left a barn saying they're glad to go and will never return, who do, in fact, return some time later. Having left on good terms not only makes that possible, it also makes it that much easier, as well as requiring you to eat much less crow.


Are horses less likely to spook on the trail when out in the company of other horses, such as a when you ride with a group?

It depends. The first thing to always remember is that horses ARE GOING TO SPOOK occasionally — it's their basic nature. So, if you're going to ride horses at all, even in an arena, but especially out on the trail, you just have to accept there will be that occasional spook. Don't be afraid of it, but know it will happen. Also know you can manage it.

Spooks vary from the simple 6-inch drop and splaying of legs in the "spook in place" to the five foot shy to the side or the classic "turn and book for all you're worth " gallop (this latter one is actually very rare). The main thing to keep in mind about any spook is that the horse you're on is going to take his lead from YOU as well as from the other horses around him. If you're scared, you horse will sense it and be frightened also. If you're calm and speak calmly and softly consoling your horse, he'll definitely be calmer.

Similarly, if the other horses stay calm, your horse will be less spooked himself. If they panic and run, your horse will likely want to do the same. Even then, you can usually calm him, slow things down, and eventually stop him. If it's actually your own horse that you're on and he trusts you, you'll even be more able to slow him down and stop him while the others run away. He may not like it, but he'll listen — it has much to do with your own confidence and the trust you've engendered in your horse by being his leader and by being trustworthy to him.

Horses are big, they're powerful, and we need to respect their power and the danger they can present when out of control. BUT, and it's a very big BUT, we have got to have confidence in ourselves for our horses to have confidence in us — they're just too perceptive for us to fool them. If you're scared, your horse will ALWAYS know it — if you're calm when he's scared, he'll know that also and will take his lead from you.

Finally, if you ride the trails, you need to both know how to gallop and be comfortable with it. You should also intentionally gallop from time to time. That way, you won't fear your horse galloping away with you, and slowing him down will be something familiar and comfortable to both of you rather than feeling like a "panic fleeing". For many of us, we truly enjoy a good gallop from time to time.


Is it possible to convert a Western or Australian saddle to English girthing?

Well, for starters, Western and Australian rigging can be different from each other as well as being different from English girthing. But, you're in luck! There are adapters to go from any one of the three to any other.

There are many sources, but I'll provide one such source here (Chick Saddlery) to get you started. Here's the adapter you asked about that goes from Western to English girthing. Also, here are some other configurations: This one goes from a 2-billet girth strap rigging on an Australian saddle to Western Big-D rigging using a cinch. And here's one that goes from a 3-billet strap English girthing to Western, again using a cinch.

I hope this helps.

June 10, 2011 – ARENA TO TRAIL

How can I turn my arena horse into a trail horse?

It's not hard, but if you've only ridden in arenas and enclosed areas yourself, it would help a lot if you and your horse take a few "trail riding" lessons. These are lessons with an instructor who'll ride with you several times out on the trails. If you should get into a problem that you and your horse don't know how to deal with, it'll be nice to have the experienced help with you. Even more important, your instructor will spend some time discussing differences and hazards you might experience on the trail that don't generally happen in the arena (dealing with brook and wooden bridge crossings, barking dogs, deer, bees, bears, inconsiderate and dangerous riders, etc.)

We also have an article for people new to riding that want to ride trails entitled: Getting into Trail Riding. While you already ride and will start ahead of those people, there are still some important points you'll learn about that will be helpful.


I'm quite short (4' 11") and have a lot of trouble mounting any horse. Even worse, my horse is 16-2 hands. It seems that mounting blocks are also too short for me and I need to get someone to give me a "lift" with their hands. If I go to the barn and no one is there, I can't mount and ride by myself. Are there any taller mounting blocks made that you could recommend for this purpose?

Like any very short person, you have a triple whammie working against you:

  1. Your smaller stature means you don't stand tall enough to reach the stirrups of any full-size horse;
  2. Worse, your horse is taller than average; and
  3. Still worse, with stirrups adjusted for your specific height (such as with your tack), they're higher off the ground than if they were adjusted for a longer set of legs.

Therefore, it's no surprise you have this added challenge to mounting. Regardless, I'm glad it hasn't made you give up riding.

4-Step Mounting Block
4-Step Mounting Block
Yes, there are taller mounting blocks. Although while we usually see 2-step blocks, they're also made in 3 and 4-step sizes (see photo at left). I know of at least two suppliers selling such blocks There's Horseman's Depot in the U.S. And there's JSW Coachbuilders in the UK. However, they're not cheap and run about $200.00 US as of the date of this posting.

A more economical solution would be a small step stool or step ladder. You should be able to find one or both at a hardware store, a department store, or one of the large home stores. I suspect the price will be in the $25 - $60 range. In addition, I also believe they would be lighter and easier for you to carry, especially the step stool.

ONE MORE THING: when you're out on the trail (presuming you're a trail rider), you need to be on the lookout for alternate mounting accessories. So, if you need to dismount for some reason, (tighten a girth/cinch, walk around a bit, etc.), you'll need to select a location that offers some mounting assistance, such as large rocks, stumps, or some such of adequate height, strength, and stability so you can remount to continue your ride. Do this BEFORE dismounting or you may need to walk some distance before being able to get on again.


I saw some salt blocks at my tack shop. Some were white and some were pink. Which one is best for my horse?

Believe it or not, this is a more complicated topic than you might think. Your best information resource is going to be your veterinarian and/or an equine nutritionist. Here's a very basic answer.

The white blocks are usually bleached and many feel it's not as good for your horse. The better way is to offer your horse loose salt — DON'T MIX IT WITH HIS FEED. If you do, your horse will likely consume too much salt as he eats all his feed. Let your horse determine how much salt he needs by keeping feed and salt in separate pails.

Salt blocks are actually made for cattle. Cattle have rougher tongues, more like a cat. Because the tongues of horses are smoother, they have to work harder to get the salt they need. They'll often get frustrated and simply take a bite of the block to break it up. In those cases, you'll sometimes find some pieces on the floor. Using loose salt avoids that problem and makes it easier for your horse to get the salt he needs without the frustration.

Place a small pail of loose salt in your horse's stall beside his feed pail. That way, he can eat just what he needs, when he needs it, and no more. Ask for loose salt for your horse at your local Feed & Grain distributor. They'll sell it to you by the bag.

You'll find that your horse will consume a little bit of salt year round, but significantly more during the hotter months, especially when he's working during those months and losing salt through perspiration.

June 7, 2011 – AN OPEN OR CLOSED BARN?

Is it ok to close the doors of our barn when the horses are in for the night? It not only makes us feel safer because we know they can't accidently get out and hit by a car, it also keeps thieves out of our barn.

There are many variables here that include how clean you keep your barn to how many horses you have in there and how "tight" it is determining how frequently the air gets exchanged. However, except for the coldest days in a northern climate when the winds are extreme, you're better off keeping the doors open. In fact, many horse owners feel their horses are best kept outside regardless of the conditions.

There have been numerous studies showing that horses do better and get sick less when living outside, even in winter. I'm ok with that, though even I feel better when I know they're inside on those cold winter nights with strong winds and temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit or lower. Conversely, horse waste products off-gas as they degrade and an open barn provides fresh air for your horses to breathe rather than breathing high ammonia concentrations — that's not good for any animal (or human).

As for security, you're likely better to use other methods, such as being able to monitor and watch your barn from your home and not having it too remote on your property. You can also put a security system in the barn with sensors or cameras that will alert you and the police should someone enter your barn after hours. Even with an open barn, it's best for your horses if they can live the majority of time outside in ample-sized paddocks during the day. Turnout of just an hour or two per day is not enough time. Horses have evolved to graze, to be constantly on the move, and generally live better and longer that way. Being confined to a stall tends to shorten a horse's life. And let's face it, it's not much of a life living in a stall all the time, not even for an animal.

Regarding your concern about one or more horses getting loose from an open barn, consider adding a fence around the barn so that even an escapee from a stall can't leave the premises.

June 6, 2011 – MANE AND TAIL CARE

My horse's mane and tail used to be so beautiful. It was regal on her. But now they're tangled and I can't get them untied and straight. I can't even get them to shine again no matter how many times I wash them. Please help.

Mane and tail care is remarkably similar to human hair care. Your description strongly implies that your horse's mane and tail are "SCREAMING" for some lubrication from a detangler and/or conditioner. There are many such products on the market.

Go to your favorite tack shop and ask the staff to show and explain products for mane and tail care. You'll also need to brush or comb. You don't need to buy a special brush from a tack shop for this. Get a hair brush or large comb at your local department store to save money — they're the same thing as you'd use on yourself.

To apply, pour a small amount into your palm; rub your hands together, and then rub it into the mane or tail. Do this for the full length applying more to your palm as needed. Be careful not to use too much or you'll make them sticky and they'll pick up dust and dirt and get grimy.

You'll notice a big improvement the first time you groom your horse. Then, just do it once every week or two to maintain. At that time, you'll notice you can use less because they won't be as dry as they are now, just like when you're oiling leather tack.


Is it bad to leave tractors where horses can get to them?

Horses are not interested in the tractor, per se. So, you don't have to worry about them playing on or with the machine, or starting and driving it. HOWEVER, horses do like to scratch and rub against all sorts of things, such as people, other horses, fences, poles, etc. As a result, a horse would think nothing of rubbing up against a tractor or other piece of equipment to satisfy an itch.

Unfortunately, such metal machines can have sharp edges that can cut, scrape, or otherwise bruise your horses. Therefore, I would not leave a tractor or implement in paddocks, grazing areas, or any other place where horses are kept.


My feet keep getting wet when I ride. How do I keep my feet dry while riding in the forest?

???? I've known people with chronically cold feet, but not wet feet. What exactly are you doing while in the forest? Are you crossing brooks? Are you brushing against wet foliage on early morning rides or one right after a rain? Are you anxiety stricken causing your feet to sweat profusely? A little more information would've been very helpful.

If you're making water crossings, your feet are going to get wet unless the water is shallow or you've got long waterproof boots and the water level stays below the tops of those boots. These boots are lined with Gore-Tex® and can breath, but won't let water through. Even then, you'll still get some splashing from your horse's steps through the water.

If you're riding through wet foliage, you can still use waterproof boots, or conventional boots with tapadero stirrups. The tapaderos will keep the front of your boots from touching wet leaves and tall grass.

If this is an anxiety problem, I'm not qualified to help you, EXCEPT for recommending that you either get riding instruction so as to reduce your anxiety, or possibly consider professional help or some other avocation.

If we've misinterpretted your question, please provide more information and we'll be happy to help.


I'm new to trailering and want to prep my truck with the intention of buying a horse trailer in the next few weeks. There's already a hitch on the truck, but no electrical connections. How many pins should be on the connector I buy?

Most of the horse trailers I've seen come with the round, seven pin connector. BUT, I think you should go to your trailer dealer first and find the trailer you want to buy. Then, speak to him/her about your truck hitch and let them evaluate your situation and add the connector — there are several reasons I'm recommending this approach:

  1. You're new to trailering, so there's likely much you don't yet know;
  2. What is your truck? Full size? Down sized? Can it pull the weight of a horse trailer with horses? Your dealer can assess this for you.
  3. Is your hitch a bumper hitch? If so, it may not be rated for more than 2,000 pounds — that's less than the weight of most empty 2-horse trailers. If it's a receiver hitch, is its weight capacity rating high enough for trailering the weight of one or two horses?
  4. Will the trailer you buy have a 5 or 6-pin connector instead? Though rare, they do exist.
  5. Does your truck already have a brake controller? Do you know what that is? You'll definitely need one for a horse trailer.

The foregoing is by no means a complete list of questions to which you need to know the answers to tow a trailer — there are many more. Yet, you need to address all these issues to trailer horses. Don't feel badly, no one knows all this stuff when they first decide to trailer, and your dealer can help you get started so you don't jeopardize the lives of your horses, passengers, and yourself, not to mention the occupants of other vehicles on the road.

Therefore, see your dealer first so you get what you need and start this new experience properly and safely.


How can I determine whether or not my saddle fits my horse right? I have some doubt about that.

You don't say anything about your saddle type, whether or not it has a tree, etc. Because you're unsure of how to do this, the best thing would be to consult a saddle fitting expert from one of your local tack shops. He/she could come out to your barn and check your specific saddle fit on your horse and also teach you how to evaluate the fit for yourself. If that's not possible, we can proceed, but you're not getting the benefit of an evaluator/ instructor working with you — that would be the best.

The first thing you may notice is your horse not wanting to be ridden and giving you signs of a sore back after a ride. Look at your horse's back with nothing on it where the saddle normally goes. Presuming he's not a white or light-gray horse, are there any spots there of white or gray hair on an otherwise dark-colored horse? If there are such spots, those are high spots and it means the saddle doesn't fit properly and is concentrating too much weight on just those small places. That weight concentration is causing the loss of color in your horse's hair at those spots — they are pressure points and this is not good.

Another sign may be evident when you remove the saddle and pad after a ride. At that time, look again at your horse's back. Is the whole area where the saddle was on each side of his spine uniformly wet from sweat? Or are there some dry spots within a sweaty area? Uniform wetness is desired because dry spots would indicate a low spot not contacting the pad and saddle, which again would mean it isn't fitting properly.

Finally, place your saddle in the proper position on your horse without a pad or blanket — just your saddle alone on his back. Now look and feel to see whether or not the bottom of the saddle is evenly touching your horse's back from front to rear — even run your hand under there. You're trying to determine if there are "hollows" (gaps) between your horse's back and the bottom of the saddle. You also need to determine if there are any "peaks" (high spots) which are lifting your saddle.

Essentially, what you should find if your saddle is fitting properly is no gaps or high spots between your horse's back and the underside of the saddle from front to rear. If there are none, the saddle is distributing its and the rider's weight across this whole area. If there are low and/or high spots, it's placing some of the weight on a smaller surface area. That will cause your horse's back to get sore and possibly compromise his gait and other health/skeletal problems. It will also mean saddle fit is poor and must be immediately addressed.


My horse has a split in his hoof that won't go away. I keep him barefoot. Could that be the reason he has the split? He's had it since last summer.

It's unlikely that keeping your horse barefoot caused the problem because it's one of the best ways to maintain horses, when possible. There are times when it's not possible. For example, some horses can't be left barefoot, either because they need special hoof support that only a shoe can provide or because they're in work on surfaces that require the support of shoes. In your case, I suspect I know what happened because your horse is not the only one suffering from one or more hoof cracks that began last summer.

In many locations in the U.S., the fly population was worse last year than ever before. As a result, afflicted horses were stomping their hooves on the ground constantly to shake the flies off in an effort to reduce the biting. The constant pounding caused the hoof cracking and made it travel up the hoof. Though the colder weather eliminated the flies over winter, not all hooves have grown out as they should — your horse is not alone.

You should talk to your farrier about this. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't already recommended shoeing your horse for several months to close the crack and let it grow out — that's what you'll likely need to do. Hopefully, the crack has not traveled all the way up the hoof — that would complicate matters.


I want to start my own horse farm business. I don't know how to get started with all this. I especially need to know how to get the money to finance my dream. Please help by pointing me in the right direction. Thanks so much!

Buying or starting a horse farm business has to be treated as a true business. And as you mention, you're going to need financing, so you'll be going to your bank. To give you money, the bank will require a business plan. For some reason, it seems many people getting into any kind of business cringe when they hear that word: "business plan".

There is no doubt that it takes some time thinking, researching, and planning to put such a plan together. But no bank will give you money to start a business without one. That's because the plan shows that you've thought through the process and proven to yourself that there's a reasonably good chance you can make money at your business and that this is not some hair-brain, impulsive idea. If you can't put together a reasonable plan that you'll make money at this, you won't be able to convince the bank either. And they won't want to give you money unless they believe you'll be able to pay it back plus the interest they'll charge. So, the first thing you have to do is accept that you need to prepare a plan. The plan is really about putting your ideas, expected costs, and expected revenues on paper, or these days, on a somewhat comprehensive spreadsheet.

We've answered questions like this before and have articles about how to do this, so I'm not going to go into it again in this response, but I will point you to them. You should read the June 10, 2010 - Getting a Loan to Start a Horse Business posting. It lists appropriate articles that will provide lots of useful information you'll need.


Some people arrived at our trailhead for a large group ride and follow-on dinner this past weekend with their horses already tacked up. It seems like a good idea because they unloaded and were ready to go in just a few minutes after checking their tack. The rest of us wasted a lot of time grooming, tacking up and getting in each other's way at the trailhead.

After the dinner, one of my riding friends mentioned that she thought it was terrible what those people had done trailering tacked horses and that the horses must have been awfully uncomfortable during their 40 minute ride from their barn. Do you think the horses were uncomfortable? They came in a stock trailer, so they should have had plenty of room. I mean, we go on multihour rides and they have all their tack on without a problem and cowboys ride horses all day with tack. Is there any reason horses shouldn't be trailered with their tack or can I do this ok?

DON'T DO IT! Your friend is correct that it's uncomfortable for the horses to ride with their tack on because of the trailer's bouncing and movements. But there are also far more important reasons not to do it, such as your horse's and your safety in the entire trailering process.

First, the horses can get hurt in lots of additional ways, such as getting their saddle or other tack caught on some part of the trailer. A horse's foot could get caught in another horse's stirrups or in the latigo. Any such "getting caught" by a horse could easily lead to panic.

Second, even loading and unloading has many more risks of getting tack caught on something. Many horses are nervous enough getting loaded on, you don't need these other risks added to the list.

Third, this would be bad enough in a divided trailer where the space could be too tight for the horses and their saddle making it very uncomfortable and causing the saddle and pad to chafe their bodies while underway. Worse, the horse's girth is made larger by the saddle and he may get stuck between the wall and divider — getting caught in any of these ways could cause panic.

Fourth, you mentioned it was a stock trailer — that's even worse! In a stock trailer with multiple horses, the chance of a problem is much higher yet because there are no dividers and any horse can get stuck in any other horse's tack as well as with a part of the trailer. Plus, there's more room for horses to fall in that kind of trailer and trip over each other or get their feet caught in the fallen horse's tack.

Imagine the fear and panic in such a situation as a stuck and frightened horse panics and stomps a fallen horse over and over again while also slamming into the trailer and into other standing horses in a trailer traveling down the highway. Not only could the fallen horse be stomped to death, but the panicked horse(s) could hurt themselves and each other trying to get free. Even the safety of you, your occupants, and those in other vehicles on the highway could be jeopardized as all this horse flesh jumps around inside the trailer causing it to sway and possibly wander on the hitch while traveling down the highway.

There are ways for very experienced riders to trailer already tacked horses safely for short distances. But it requires knowledge and experience beyond that of most horse owners. For most of us, I think trailering already tacked horses is a terrible idea. And for those that have done it many times with no problems, they're taking a significant risk. No problems yet from doing this doesn't mean it won't happen later.

May 24, 2011 – BRIAR PROBLEMS

How can I protect my horse from getting briars in her mane? They're just so difficult to get out.

Briars can be a pain and are especially bad in autumn as the plant produces briars to spread its seeds. The fact you're reporting it now likely means these briars are holdovers from last autumn. Also, you only mention her picking up those briars in her mane. That implies she gets them while grazing under the briar plant. If she turns around and brushes against them with her tail, you'll find them stuck there also. As for dealing with the problem, you really have only a few of options here.

  1. You can try to find the source of the briars in your horse's paddock and pull them out;
  2. You can use rope, fence, or some other method to keep your horse away from where the briar plants grow; or
  3. You can move your horse to another paddock;

If you can't do any of the foregoing, you'll likely find that the briars are easier to remove if you keep your horse's mane and tail in good shape with a mane and tail conditioner. Such conditioners make it much easier to brush or comb the briars out.


What should you do when you're riding and your horse steps on a bees nest?

Do the same thing you'd do if you were walking and stepped on a bees nest yourself. The first thing you'd do is to recognize that you had stepped on a nest. The next thing is to notice whether or not there are any bees around you that may be a threat. If so, you'd likely run 50 feet or more to get away from the swarm. Do the same thing when mounted on your horse to get the two of you away. Of course, you don't need to gallop away, a quick trot or a few hops at the canter should do the trick.


How long do riding helmets last? Thanks!

We should replace our helmets every few years, sooner if we take a fall. A fall in which we hit our head will compress the shock absorbing material (usually styrofoam) and may break other supporting parts. That means the helmet is then compromised in protecting you the next time it hits something.

I took a fall last year and was sure I didn't hit my head on the ground, but in looking at my helmet, I found it had several cracks and two broken parts. Obviously, my head did hit the ground pretty hard, even though I was sure it hadn't. That means I would have been at least somewhat hurt if I hadn't been wearing my helmet. So, I replaced it with a new one.

Another reason to replace it is because new and constantly evolving technology makes helmets safer as well as more comfortable and lighter. Therefore, even if we have no falls, we should replace our helmet every few years. In discussions about this topic with fellow riders and friends occasionally, I'm astounded at how many say they couldn't afford to replace their helmet every few years unless it had been damaged. Yet, they can afford to buy new cars and trucks, add another horse, get a boat, and buy many other items. Is their head safety that low a priority???

For those of us riding in forests, we often get a few hits on our helmets dodging twigs and small branches (sometimes, not that small). This is another good reason to wear a helmet and to replace it every few years. And you don't have to ride in a the forest more than once to notice all the trees, stumps, and rocks littering the trail that present a risk should we unexpectedly leave the saddle. In fact, I took a spill in an indoor arena once and the landing on the soft sand cracked the side of my helmet — hard ground is even worse.

Finally, never buy a used helmet, even if it appears new. You don't know what it's been through and many helmets today are designed to conform to the initial owner's head. That means a used helmet's cushioning material is already somewhat compressed, and to a head shape that's different than yours. You also don't know if it's been through one or more falls — a lack of broken parts doesn't mean the helmet hasn't been compromised.

I'd be the first to agree that I don't like how I look in any kind of helmet. But my head is too important to my life and everything I do to take further risk by not wearing one, so I wear a helmet — we all should.


I've been taking lessons for about two years and am now starting the process of buying my first horse. I started out ok asking friends and looking online, but as I started going to farms and viewing real horses, I realized that I really don't know where to start. Riding friends are telling me all sorts of things to look for. I asked my barn owner she had lots of her own advice. My instructor had lots more advice and some disagreed with my barn owner and friends. In fact, lots of all of this advice disagreed with other advice. I'm feeling overwhelmed. Can you help?

This question comes up a lot, and for good reason: there's much one must know to make a good buying decision. In fact, there's so much that it would be impossible to answer here in a response post. Plus, as you've noticed, there are lots of opinions and they don't all agree. So now, you're wondering: What's right? What's wrong?

This does point out the need for a comprehensive article on the topic and one will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. Until then, let me suggest that you ask a very experienced horse friend or riding instructor. There's just no way you're going to be able to adequately judge a horse's condition and suitability to your riding desires and needs. In addition, this is difficult and complex even if this wasn't your first horse purchase. No matter who you select as your "expert" for advice, you will receive contrary opinions to those offered by your expert. Therefore, it's very important to pick someone who's advice you feel you can truly trust and respect.

One thing I can do here is to get you thinking about the major areas that should be evaluated:

  1. Determine what your horse needs to be able to do (e.g. basic or all gaits, jumping, barrel racing, endurance, trail riding, showing and competing in a discipline, etc.) Few horses can do it all, and of those that can, they're not cheap.
  2. Determine what you want and am comfortable with regarding the horse's personality and disposition; what do you desire and what can you handle. For example, it's unlikely you can currently handle and train a Thoroughbred off the track, so don't waste your time and that of your expert and potential sellers by going to look at such horses regardless of their low cost, even if they're free for the taking. They're not a good starter horse for you.
  3. How will you search for a horse? Where will you look? Besides your expert, who else can you contact?
  4. How will you screen and evaluate the contenders and what should you avoid?
  5. You'll need to get a veterinarian you trust to evaluate the horse you want to buy if he/she passes your other qualifications. Whoever you use, you don't want him or her to be the vet currently caring for whatever horse you're considering.
  6. How much can you afford to spend?

The foregoing is a very simple list and is by no means comprehensive. But it should get your thinking about the complexities of finding the "right" horse for you. While you should like the way your horse looks, don't let minor desires, such as if he's tall enough or you want a blood-bay, or such drive your decision. Much more important is the horse's personality, temperament, and how it will comport with yours. Will you feel comfortable on this horse? Could you trust him? Equally important is his health and suitability to your riding desires.

Good luck and look for one or more articles on this topic in the coming weeks.


We're getting a lot of rain around here this spring and it's cutting into our riding time. Can we ride our horses in the rain?

You don't mention where you are or what the current temperatures are at this time of year. Rain itself is usually no issue for horses; they stand and graze in the rain throughout the warm months in most parts of the world. The only issue is for them being outside and wet in cold weather.

If the temperatures are above 50 degrees or so, it's likely ok to ride in the rain, but I would check with your veterinarian about this regarding your particular horse. Of course, I presume you'll be wearing appropriate rain gear. That's much more important for us humans because we have a much smaller heat reservoir and hypothermia is a risk even at 70 degrees when we're wet and outdoors for an extended period of time. Most of us humans ride in the rain only when it's very light or because we got caught in it away from the barn.

Another consideration is that of traction. Wet grass is slippery and so is mud. You need to stay at the walk and not exceed a slow trot in most locations when the ground is wet. You also need to avoid the steeper inclines. If your horse should slip and fall on wet ground, he could break a leg, and you know how that can end a horse. Even more important, you don't want to be on a horse that slips, falls, and then either slides or rolls. He could roll over you or push you in a slide until you hit an object and his weight crushes you against it.

Prior to automobiles, humans were forced to ride in inclement weather when they wanted to travel further or faster than they could on foot, so riding in the rain is nothing new. But because we don't have to do this anymore, most people ride in an enclosed arena or barn during bad weather or put off their ride until the weather improves. If you want to ride out in that weather, but please keep in mind the safety considerations mentioned above. And you may want to also consider the other issues of being out in bad weather, such as lower visibility, risks of vehicles sliding into you if on a road, etc.


I'm looking at horse trailers and getting conflicting advice about the kind of floor I should get. I'm advised by one person that aluminum is nice and light and will save me fuel, but others tell me it's noisy, expensive and hard to replace. Someone else tells me steel is cheaper and stronger, then another person tells me to stay away from steel because it rusts out easily. Then I hear that wood is easy to replace, but then someone tells me it rots easily and replacement is frequent. What should I do?

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, long-lasting, and cheap all in one package. There are trade-offs you need to consider to make the best decision for you. It is true that any metal flooring can be noisy and they're not all that easy to replace. Wood is less expensive, easier, and faster to replace; it's also less noisy. In addition, you can get pressure-treated wood and that should last a fairly long time.

My favorite flooring is a product called RUMBER® and it's made from recycled plastics and tires. It provides a horse with great traction and a resilient (not hard) surface that's kind to hooves and legs. It's also impervious to water, oils, gasoline, urine, and pretty much anything you'll find in horse trailers or splashed up from a road surface. So, it won't rust, corrode, or in any way rot, split, or crack.

You can get it in many horse trailers as an option when you buy new. If you're buying used, look for a trailer that has a Rumber floor. You may be able to swap out an existing floor if you get a trailer cheap in need of a new floor. If you go this route, for sources, I'd start with the manufacturer of the trailer. You can also get it from Rumber directly.


My husband and I want to build a horse barn on our property. But the only good location that's flat enough won't be near to the house. It would be about 400 feet away and there's no electric power there. Do we have to have electricity in the barn?

There's no legal requirement that I've ever heard of mandating electricity in any outbuilding, though I would still double-check with your municipality about this. And the horses won't notice the difference. But it would be a serious limiter for you and anyone else caring for your horses.

It could be difficult to clean stalls even in the daylight if your barn is dark. Also, grooming and picking hooves inside would be more difficult. If you ever had to care for a sick, colicking, or foaling horse, you likely already know these things often happen during the night hours.

Without electricity in your barn, you're going to make heavy use of flashlights. And you definitely don't want to bring a lantern that uses a flame into a barn with all the hay there. There would be no use of electric clippers. Tasks there without electric power would be difficult.

You could install a photoelectric system on the roof for lighting, but it may not be cheap. One of the most difficult aspects could be running water. If you feel it's too far to excavate electric wiring to your barn, how are you going to get running water there to fill water pails in the stalls? Are you going to water your horses at a far end of the paddock closer to your home? Will a winter day freeze that water — it'll be even colder at night? And if you get icy days when it's dangerous for your horses to go outside, how will you get water to the barn where they might have to stay inside for a few days or a week?

Frankly, I wouldn't build a barn without both electricity and running water. There are just too many reasons both are needed for normal day-to-day activities and which could be critical in an emergency. You'll need to hire a backhoe or excavator to dig the foundation and footings. I'd also find out how much it would cost to dig a trench for the water and power. Once the machine is there, I'd get one price to do all the excavation work that must be done, consider it the price of building the barn, and budget accordingly.


My horse likes to buck and kick out toward me too close when cantering in the round pen. What should I do?

You're in control (or should be) when in the round pen. If you're not, you could definitely be in danger. The round pen is a confined space and the heavy and powerful beast is trapped in there with you.

As for being close enough to be kicked, it either means you're too far away from the pen's center or your horse is cutting the circle short and not staying close enough to the fence. You must stay near the center and make him canter out by the fence. Keep in mind, you're supposed to be making his feet move — not the other way around.

Obviously, staying in the center is completely under your control. To make your horse stay closer to the fence, keep a lunge whip in one of your hands, and should your horse come in closer to you, just hold it so it points out towards him. When he sees it, he'll move away and that will put him into a larger circle and closer to the fence.

The foregoing presumes you're the one actually in control in the round pen — you definitely should be. If you have any doubt about that whatsoever, get a horse trainer you respect in there with you and have him/her advise you on being in charge and properly commanding, training, and exercising your horse there.


I'm thinking of buying a horse, but I am not sure about how to find out all the costs. Can you help me get started?

This is no different than determining monthly or annual costs for anything else whether car payments, running a household, or determining cash flow requirements for a business. You start by identifying all of the goods and services you'll need each year, and then determining what they'll cost you in your location and riding discipline. I mention your location because many of these costs are affected by it. Some people are able to get full board for $200 per month while more exclusive areas may charge over $1,000 per month. On average, you can probably expect to between $300 - $700 per month for board, then, add in the other recurring items.

Here's a start of the costs you need to determine:

  • Full Monthly boarding costs – Needs to include board, stall cleaning, hay, grain, and any other needed supplements. If you need special; services, such as walking, blanketing, etc., that are not included with the board, you need to account for them.
  • Worming – Every two months.
  • Farrier (every 6 - 8 weeks) – Even if your horse is barefoot, he needs regular hoof inspection and trimming.
  • Veterinarian examination – Depends on the horse's age, his condition, and physical health.
  • Immunization shots – Twice each year.

If your horse has special dietary needs or requires recurring treatment for a problem, you need to budget for that also. You should also add line items for fees and activities you intend to pursue with your horse, such as: horse training, riding instruction, registration and show fees, etc. Finally, if you'll be trailering regularly, there will be the cost of a trailer and tow vehicle plus the insurance and registration for them both and monies for fuel and maintenance.

Horse ownership can be as minimal as the costs for board, worming, shots, farrier, and vet for trail riders and those who want nothing more than to ride in the arena to lots more money needed to train, transport, and show. And showing will also require show tack and apparel. How far you take this passion is completely up to you and what your pocketbook will allow.


I'm looking for a new pickup truck. I also plan on using it to tow my horse trailer. The truck salesman said the trucks wheel base affects the towing of a trailer and that I should get a truck with a long wheel base. Is this true?

Yes, it is. The length of the wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) affects the stability of the truck. The longer it is, the less easily the wind or a heavy trailer can upset it or turn it around. A short wheelbase, such as on a small pickup or that of many of the smaller sport utility vehicles is why those pickups and SUVs are not good choices as tow vehicles for heavier loads, such as horse trailers. Larger pickups and SUVs are heavier, and that helps a lot. But it helps even more if they have longer wheelbases. In the case of a pickup, that will usually mean is has a longer bed, an extended cab, or both.

The size of the trailer you're expecting to tow and the number and size of the horses you'll put in there will determine how much "truck" you should buy. You should discuss this with your truck salesman. He'll want to know about your trailer and the weight of your horses to make the best recommendation. If you'd feel better getting advice from an objective third party rather than the truck salesman, contact your trailer manufacturer and ask what they recommend be used to tow your model trailer.

Good luck and have fun with your new truck!


I was watching my horse's farrier trim her hooves and was really surprised at how much hoof came off so quickly. It really seemed to be quite soft. What is a horse's hoof made of?

The entire structure that makes up the hoof is actually somewhat complex and includes several bones, some cartilage, the laminae tissue, and the outside material that you can see and are asking about. That part is made up of keratin — that's the same material of which our fingernails are made. The hoof is somewhat stronger because the keratin layer is much thicker and denser than our fingernails, but it's the same stuff.


How can you get your horse to trust you when he wasn't yours to start with?

The fact that your horse wasn't yours to start with is irrelevant. It might affect the amount of time it takes to build trust and assert that you're the leader, but there's no good way to interact with a horse unless he trusts you and acknowledges that you're the boss.

I decided to write an article on this subject due to your question entitled: Horses and Trust.


How far back can a saddle be placed on a horse?

A horse best carries its passenger when the rider is over the horse's center of gravity. That location is usually in the front portion of the horse's back just behind his withers. Sitting further back will make it harder and more exhausting for your horse to carry you. It will be especially harder for him to run, jump, climb hills, make quick turns, and perform other such maneuvers.

There also is the issue of the saddle tree and the fact it should have been selected (or custom sized and shaped) for the proper location on your horse's back. Placing the saddle in any other location is very likely to cause pressure points that will hurt your horse's back. That's because it won't fit properly to distribute your weight when placed in the wrong location.

Finally, you definitely don't want the girth or cinch to go under your horse's stomach or his lower ribs — you want if across his upper ribcage. Across his stomach there are no ribs and you'll be compressing soft tissue. On his lower ribcage you could break some of those ribs when you tighten his girth/cinch.

If you're just asking if you can place your saddle further back, I think I've given enough reasons why you shouldn't do that. If you actually don't know where your saddle should be placed and are asking for help, you should ask someone at a local tack shop experienced with saddle fitting. He/she should be able to answer all your questions and help you properly place and secure the saddle on your horse.


Can I legally pull my horse trailer with people in it?

"Rules of the road" are generally jurisdictional issues and can vary by state law. HOWEVER, I believe that most, if not all, states prohibit the towing of any kind of trailer with human passengers aboard. Even if your state did allow it, I would never do it. One reason is that trailers do not have seat belts, air bags, or any other kind of passenger securing and protection devices. Also, can you imagine the injuries to any people who end up under a horse or between a horse and a hard wall in a panic stop or accident? They would be crushed! And if the trailer was ever to flip and roll, the passengers would likely fair quite poorly.

Keep your passengers in your tow vehicle with you and put only your horses in the trailer. It's designed to secure and protect horses, but it's not a place for people when it's moving.


I've got a stock trailer that I'd like to close up a little. It's ok for the summer, but too cold for the winter. It's also bad when it rains. Is there any way to close it up?

Many stock trailers will take clear acrylic panels over their openings. A lot of them will have metal lips or some such expressly added to the trailer to support the panels. If your trailer doesn't have anything like that, contact the trailer manufacturer and ask if there is any way to add such panels. If nothing along these lines is part of your trailer, the only real remaining option with what you have is to devise something yourself.

However, you do have another option other than modifying your trailer: trade it in for the kind of trailer you want. Often, designing and manufacturing your own pieces can be a pain and take a lot of time if you don't have the necessary experience tools you need — "trading in" solves that problem. Finally, "trading" in doesn't mean you have to buy a new trailer. You can buy a used trailer in good condition at much lower prices. We have an article on this subject that provides background for a comprehensive evaluation of used trailers so you know what you're getting. It's entitled: Buying a Good Used Trailer.

Good luck!


I only ride my horse in the dirt, so how often do I need to have his shoes changed?

Periodic farrier care has little to do with your horses shoes wearing down — almost all horseshoes are removed and discarded with little wear. Instead, frequency of farrier attention is determined by how fast your horse's hooves grow and whether or not the horse needs special care due to some foot condition. If the hooves grow quickly, your horse needs more frequent farrier attention than if they grow slowly. Fast growth rates mean the shoes will loosen faster, plus the hoof needs trimming sooner.

So, let your farrier tell you how often your horse needs attention. Also, be aware that hooves generally grow faster in the Spring and Autumn months requiring a little more frequent shoeings and/or trimmings.


Sometimes my horse starts smelling the ground while I'm riding and will drop and roll. I have to jump away. Why does she do this?

It could be that she smells something appealing and her instinct tells her to roll and it'll keep biting insects away or some such. Some horses will also paw at the water when ridden into a brook or lake and then drop and roll to cool off, take a bath, who knows? Regardless, your horse is not listening to you when she does this. Therefore, the result could be you getting hurt just as if she did something else without you commanding her (e.g. take off at a gallop, refuse to stop, jump an obstacle without your command, etc.)

You should seek out an instructor and learn how to be your horse's leader. You need to be the one in control, even if this is just your horse being curious about something in the ground or feeling itchy and wanting to roll. Whenever we're close to our horses or riding them, they MUST respect our space and follow our commands or we can get hurt. Don't wait long to learn this training and implement it — your horse must only do what you tell her when you're nearby or on her.

April 29, 2011 – HATING TAPADEROS?

What can you tell me about tapaderos? I was thinking of buying a set and started asking other riders but got all kinds of comments from some that were also interested to others that hate them. The weirdest thing is that the haters have not even tried them, though they made it clear they never ever will. What gives?

I, too, have had almost the same experience. There appears to be something about tapaderos that some people hate for some unmentioned reason. As you address, if a person tried them and they presented a risk of danger, were very uncomfortable, or some such, you could understand better. But these people seem to just hate them for no apparent reason. And my inquiries when I pressed to find out why they hated them just made them madder — very weird, indeed! I have a set and like them. With all of the snow and ice we had, I didn't do a lot of riding this past winter, but when I did, my feet were warmer on those cold, windy days.

My advice is to make your own decision and try out a pair. If you don't like them, you don't have to use them. But if you do, you'll be happy you did. I don't think other riders will drop you as a friend and riding partner just for using them. And if they do, what does that say about their view of your friendship?

You can learn more about tapaderos at: Tapaderos: Good or Bad?.


How much risk am I taking if I tow over my vehicle's weight limit? Sometimes, I just need to carry some extra stuff.

It depends on how much you're over the limit. I don't suspect that ten or twenty extra pounds would matter, but if you keep adding ten or twenty extra pounds, you soon get to be hundreds of pounds (or more) over the manufacturer's limit.

The problem is that the vehicle manufacturer has designed multiple vehicle parts for a specific towing limit from the body chassis and hitch receiver to the suspension and braking. The manufacturer has also considered many other parameters, such as wind load, the vehicle's weight, steering under load, and a maximum gross trailer weight. When you go over the towing limit, you risk breaking a critical vehicle part or getting substandard braking and steering that can cause an accident. Worst of all, you risk having the trailer become the tow vehicle and your vehicle becoming the trailer — in other words, your trailer can whip your vehicle (with you and your passengers) around the highway and off of it into the trees, down an embankment, into a building, a wall, or into a river — you get the idea. I don't know about you, but my trailer doesn't have any driving controls and my horse has had absolutely no driving classes or training.

Personally, I prefer to be somewhat under the limit to assure the foregoing is a minimal risk to my life and that of my horse and loved ones. I believe that so strongly that I NEVER go over any towing limits.


On some of the rides with my friends, we have to ride on paved roads. How bad is that for our horses?

Crossing a paved road or having to walk a short stretch is not much of a problem. However, prolonged riding on pavement is not a good thing — cantering is definitely bad. The reason is because a horse's legs are subjected to concussions as he bangs against the ground with each hoof. The harder the ground and the harder the pounding of the step, the greater the concussive force transmitted through the hooves and into the legs. And believe it or not, highly compacted ground or compacted stone dust can be as bad as pavement or even worse depending on the degree the ground is compacted. Concrete is the worst of all because it's significantly harder than pavement.

When you must ride on any of these surfaces, stay at the walk — the deleterious effects of leg concussions is cumulative and will start with stress cracks. Some believe that being shoed reduces the effects of the concussions, but the steel or aluminum of the shoes will transmit the shocks of each step quite efficiently into the hooves. Riding on softer ground is far less stressful to your horse's hooves and legs.

We also have a related article you may want to check out entitled: Sore Feet & Hard Ground.


Is nylon tack better than leather tack? Several fellow riders prefer it to leather, but others have told me that leather is better, so I don't know what to believe.

Yes, it does seem there are as many different opinions about all things horses as there are people who ride. I remember wondering about all kinds of things when I was learning to ride and advice came from all corners of the horse world. That would be ok if it was consistent, but it wasn't and much of it conflicted with other advice. I finally decided that I had no choice but to investigate every important area myself so I wasn't just carrying on old traditions for their own sake and either hurting my horse or doing dumb things. I did find many things that made sense decades ago, but that don't today and that there are many better products and approaches these days. Conversely, I didn't want to follow the "advice de jour" just because it was a new approach if it was just another dumb idea.

In the case of tack, whether leather or some plastic (synthetic) product, each can have its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, nylon or other plastic tack materials do have the advantage of never rotting and needing far less maintenance. If it gets wet, you can ignore it. You can even intentionally wash down synthetic tack without fear of it deteriorating. That said, some people completely ignore it and never clean it — I don't like the way that looks and feel it should occasionally be cleaned.

Some people, myself included, prefer the look and feel of leather. And I definitely like the fact that leather will usually break when a horse panics and lets him go free and calm down. Synthetic halters, for example, tend to be almost unbreakable and can cause a horse to hurt himself in a panic. So, I believe we should either use a leather halter or a nylon "breakaway" halter which has a replaceable leather head band. My horse has broken his twice, and each time, I was glad he did so he could free himself and calm down. As soon as he was free, he moved away and started grazing peacefully. I keep a spare or two leather brow bands for his halter with me. When one has broken, I use a new brow band and halter him again when ready.

If you're going to be riding cross country through streams, bodies of water, mud, or may find yourself in the rain, a synthetic headstall and saddle is immune to those things and can just be rinsed off with a hose and allowed to dry when your ride is over. I do have a synthetic saddle and use it at these times. But when I go trail riding on nice days, I prefer to use my leather tack. I like the look of it better and also its feel. But if I should get caught in the rain, I need to thoroughly dry and re-oil that tack when I return from my ride so the leather doesn't rot and get moldy.

So it's really up to you. Both have their place and you should get tack that makes you happy. It's just important to know the advantages and disadvantages of each and how to care for whatever you get.


If I put solar cells on the roof of my barn, would they generate enough electricity to light my barn? I lost my job over a year ago and am trying to cut costs as much as possible, especially on utilities like electricity. Thanks for your help!

Unfortunately, solar cells are still too expensive to compete with grid power. And not only do you need the cells, you need to spend additional money on batteries and a charge controller for the solar cells to properly charge the batteries. That's because the cells produce electricity when you don't need the light: the daytime. And they don't produce electricity when you want to light your barn: at night. Therefore, we need to store the electricity produced during the day in batteries so we can use it at night when we need light.

A better solution for you is to keep using grid power, but reduce the amount of electricity you need to light the barn. Here are suggestions that will do exactly that:

  • Swap out any incandescent bulbs for fluorescent or Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs);
  • Lower very high-mounted lights to get them closer to where you need the light. BUT, keep any lights inside each stall high enough that a rearing horse won't be able to reach and break the bulb;
  • Install (or have installed) a separate switch for each stall light outside its stall. This way, you'll only turn on the lights you need for what you're doing at the moment. So, if you're mucking the first stall or picking your horse's hooves, you only need to turn on the light for that stall; and
  • Paint the inside of your barn a light color so it will reflect much more light. That means the walls and ceilings of each stall.
Generally, lighting is not that big a power user in a small barn. It's even smaller with fluorescent bulbs. The foregoing suggestions are all fairly cheap investments that will cut your electricity cost still lower.

We have more information in an article entitled: Better Barn Lighting. It will even help you to estimate your savings in the conversion to fluoresacent if you haven't already made the change.


Can jumping hurt my horse?

We get this question in various forms every now and then. I started composing a response and realized it's really more of an article. So, I "bit the bullet" and actually wrote one. You can see it at: Horse Jumping Safety.


Does an equine photographer need insurance?

An equine photographer, and actually every equine professional "for hire" definitely should have business liability insurance. Such insurance will protect the photographer in the event he/she is sued for damages of some form. "Damages" covers a lot of ground and would include accidently bumping and knocking over some expensive item of the barn or horse owner during a shoot. Or the accidental spook of a horse which then causes damage to property or injury to others as a result. While a photographer will often be required to sign a liability waiver to conduct the shoot on the property of a barn or horse owner, that waiver protects the barn or horse owner — not the photographer.

In addition, an equine photographer should have significant experience being around horses and interacting with them. He/she should know how to approach a horse, how to read the horse's body language, and how to safely calm a horse. While an individual wanting to photograph horses for hire likely already appreciates the beauty of horses, that doesn't mean such an individual knows how to safely interact with new and strange horses in different locations and situations. Such abilities are key to both getting great photos and in doing so without putting the photographer, other people, and animals at risk of injury.

Professional horse photography is about much more than just aiming, focusing, and pressing the shutter button.


I'm looking to buy a horse farm. There are several of them I'm thinking about but don't know what any of them are truly worth. I don't want to pay any more than I have to, but want the most for my money. How do I value a horse farm?

You do it the same way a real estate agent does, namely, with comps. A "comp" is shorthand for "comparables". In this case, you want to find recently sold horse farms in the area that are comparable to each of the farms you're considering. You'll need to do this on an individual basis for each farm.

People often think that the size and condition of a property is all that determines its value. But in reality, it's more than that. The biggest factor will often be its location. And there are other important contributing factors. Here's a short list:

  • The size of the property (in acres);
  • The size of and number of barns on the property;
  • The size of and number of houses on the property (some have more than one);
  • The number, size, and quality of the paddocks;
  • The size of number of arenas, plus, whether they have night lighting or are indoor arenas.
Other factors are less important, but can make running the farm easier on a day-to-day basis, such as whether or not there is running water in the barn, or a hydrant at each paddock, etc. As you can see, there's lots to consider.

Here's a site that provides comps for real estate in general:

Find homes Value

And here's one for farms:

LoopNet Sales Comps

It's not specifically for horse farms, but you can check a box for agricultural properties. You may also want to read this article on how to appraise horse properties:

Appraising Horse Properties


My new saddle is sliding around on my horse. Can a slippery saddle cause a bad jumping position?

Definitely! You don't even want to ride, let alone jump, with an improperly fitting or loose saddle. To do so is to risk upsetting the balance of yourself and your horse. That can lead to an accident that could get either or both of you seriously hurt.

Before you use that saddle any more, get a saddle fitter to look at your horse with the saddle on him and determine the cause of the problem. If you can't find a saddle fitter, at least check with a very experienced horse person or ask a trainer or your barn owner. A shifting saddle is a dangerous saddle!


My riding instructor ignores me, but I like her. What should I do.

Well, you can speak with your instructor to attempt to determine what the problem is, but my feeling is that you should get a new instructor. Even if there is a personality problem between you, your instructor is a paid professional and either should broach the subject with you to resolve the problem or should end the relationship. If she can't even do that, she's not acting as a professional. You should find a new instructor in your discipline who does act professionally.

Ask around of other horse friends and local barns. I'll bet there are other good instructors around that would not ignore you, and that will be far more satisfying and educational to move your riding skills forward.


What should I have to prove I own a horse trailer?

It's not clear from your question if you're just trying to prove trailer ownership to a policeman or to get a trailer registered in your state that you purchased from a private party. This may vary from state to state, but here's what you need in my state (Connecticut) — I have to believe this is pretty standard for all states.

If you get pulled over and need to prove ownership to the policeman, your trailer registration will do that, especially because it will match your tow vehicle registration and your driver's license for name and address. If you bought a used trailer from another person and want to get it registered in your name, then you need a bill of sale and the title of the trailer signed over to you by the previous owner.

If the title has been lost, you'll need to use that bill of sale and a signed affidavit certifying to the lost title from the previous owner, presuming the trailer was registered in that person's name. If it wasn't, you'll need to check with your local motor vehicle office as to how to proceed because they're going to want to assure that you're not trying to register and get title to a stolen trailer. Either way, even if you do have the title or the affidavit of lost title from that past registrant, you'll need to take these legal papers down to your motor vehicle office to start the registration process.


Is it safe to walk two horses past each other?

This is actually a topic that should be discussed with people new to horses, but rarely is. The opportunity for this to happen is frequent. People walk horses past each other at the horse farm, past occupied stalls in the barn, past other riders and horses in the arena, on the trail, and most everywhere else. The new rider may think nothing of it, but caution is advised.

Most horses are fine walking past another walking or standing horse, but some are not. For some, it's a race, even at the walk. For others, they protect their stall territorially and viciously as if it was the crown jewels, even if they're normally low on the herd pecking order — they turn into fierce defenders when it's their stall or paddock.

So, to answer your question: it depends. We should always be alert when bringing a horse near other horses because we don't know what any of them might do, including our own horse in certain situations. Even herd mates occasionally test each other and that's dangerous for us when we're on the ground near them. If mounted, they still may pull something, but we're safer and the primary risk there is being surprised and falling off. On the ground, we can get thrown hard or crushed between or under a horse, so vigilance and paying close attention to our horse and the others around is very important. Even when mounted , we should be alert when horses get near one another, or better yet,we should not let them get too close.


Hi, my husband and I go trail riding frequently. We recently bought a 20 ft. gooseneck trailer and plan on hauling 4 regular sized horses on our next trip. I was also wanting to bring along our daughter's miniature pony (I am 5' tall, the pony's head comes just below my shoulders), my question is, is it safe to haul a pony with regularly sized horses? (Btw, all our horses generally get along well with each other).

It's good that all your horses and the pony get along well together, but that's not the only consideration. If this is a trailer containing rigid, divided stalls, then you're ok bringing your miniature pony with your full-size horses. But if this is a stock trailer or any kind of trailer where the horses are together in the same space, your pony will likely get hurt or killed. Smaller animals (or humans) cannot be in close proximity to large animals in a moving, non-divided trailer because they'll bump up against each other during starting, stopping, and turning maneuvers. Such bumping will crush the human or smaller animal.

In a divided trailer, each horse stands within his/her own space between rigid dividers that keep all the animals separated. When you apply the brakes or take a turn, the horses bump up against the rigidly mounted divider or an outside wall rather than against each other. Even in this case, you still want to drive carefully so your horses won't bump hard against a wall or divider and get bruised. But at least you don't have the weight of one or more larger animals crushing the smaller one.

You don't even want to put full size ponies with full size horses, or full size horses with draft horses in an open trailer. You want to keep only similar size horses together in a trailer that doesn't have strong, rigid dividers securely mounted to the floors, ceiling, and walls.


How safe is a horse in a trailer in a thunderstorm?

Like a car or other vehicle, it's usually safer than most buildings because it's elevated above the ground and insulated by virtue of its rubber tires. But, this is based on the following assumptions:

  1. That the trailer is connected to a tow vehicle and not grounded via its hitch jack;
  2. That the hitch chains are also significantly elevated and not lying on or near the ground;
  3. That no other metal objects are grounding the trailer or tow vehicle; and
  4. That the horse(s) are completely inside the trailer with the ramp up.

Because no one can anticipate all conditions and it's not possible to see your specific vehicle/trailer combination, where you store it, how you use it, etc., this foregoing list is provided only as a common sense guide: If these conditions are met, then your horse is likely safer in the trailer while an electrical storm persists than he would be in a barn or out in the weather.

April 11, 2011 – LEARNING TO CANTER

I'm a new rider and having trouble cantering. I just can't seem to get it and bounce all around the saddle. I'm frustrated and the bouncing makes me feel I'm going to fall off and get hurt. Please help.

Have your instructor use a lunge line on your horse while you canter. Your instructor will be able to control the horse's speed and observe your technique. What you really need when learning to canter is to learn how to move with the horse. Cantering is the hardest gait to learn, and while suggestions from your instructor will help, it really comes down to your mind and body "feeling it" and figuring out how to move. Once you've got it, you won't lose it and you'll be able to canter from that point on.

I congratulate you! If you're up to the point of cantering, you're about to experience what many of us feel is the quintessential feeling of riding a horse.


When I go out riding with my horse and we pass a paddock of horses grazing, he always gets excited and wants to go over to them. Why???

You have to remember that horses are herd animals — that means they're among the most social of animals. While almost every horse person knows that horses feel safer in a herd, many don't stop to think that horses actually like being with other living things. They enjoy the company of goats, llamas, cows, and as you know, even people. Therefore, they'll obviously want to spend time with their own kind.

Horses in a herd groom one another, mate, play, and bond. So, on a ride, your horse sees these other horses as potential friends, protectors, and playmates. Taken that way, it's really no surprise that your horse wants to go over to meet new prospective friends. (He may also want to join in on that grazing, which likely is more appealing than working with a person on his back.)


How can I toughen my horse's feet after having his shoes removed?

The only thing you can do is pasture him on more rugged ground. A horse's feet will never toughen up if he primarily lives on a soft, grass surface. It's no different for a person. If we walk only on carpeted surfaces, our foot bottoms stay soft. If we spend considerable time on harder ground outside, our feet toughen up.

Unfortunately, it's not comfortable for us or our horses to go through the "toughening up" phase because the soles and heels of our feet get initially sore, but there's no other way to do it. A good way to start this process is to remove his shoes for the winter and let him get used to harder ground as the snow melts and the earth gets compacted in Spring.

Alternatively, you can leave your horse shoed so the frogs of his feet stay above much of the ground when he's on a rough surface, or you can use hoof boots when you ride him. Neither will toughen his feet, but he won't walk around tender-footed.

April 6, 2011 – BACKING UP IS HARD TO DO?

Why do I have to be able to back up my horse? Can't I just get off and turn him around?

Sure! You can do so lots of times, but not all. At least in trail riding, you'll sometimes find that you're going down a narrow trail and want to turn around, but don't have the room. Or you may have attempted to blaze through some brush or undergrowth and realize you can no longer go forward and will have to back out. Or you may meet one or more riders coming the other way and need to back into a narrow space to allow them to pass. Even if you have the room to dismount and turn your horse around, why do that if you can more easily back your horse up from the saddle. And even more important, it's safer to be mounted than to be on the ground when lots of horses are in close quarters, such as when one riding group meets another going the other way on a narrow trail.

Finally, teaching a horse and his rider how to back up is no big deal. If this is a technique with which you're having trouble, ask a fellow rider or your barn owner for help. Learning to do this should only take a few minutes. It's usually not even necessary to enlist the help of a trainer — backing up truly is that easy.


Can I run alongside my horse?

Sure! I do it all the time. But you want to be as safe as possible, so you need to be aware of what's going on around you just as your horse is. You have to keep in the front of your mind that, unlike with a dog, you're running beside a 1,000 pound animal. In addition, it's important that your horse respect you. If he doesn't, or you're not sure, you need to deal with that issue first.

Taking still more reasonable precautions is very important. For example, I don't want my horse running behind me for fear he could accidentally step on me if I tripped and fell. Therefore, I have him run beside me only. I also won't use a short lead line; I want it at least six feet long, preferably eight or ten feet so I can stay several feet away from my horse while we're running. Again, if he falls, in this case to the side towards me, I don't want him falling onto me. Similarly, if I fall, I don't want to fall into and under him (UGHH!!!)

Finally, I don't run with my horse out on the trail. I do so in a large field or someplace where we've got lots of room. I also make sure it's a place where I know the footing is good and with no holes. Of course, a hole can appear due to a heavy rain or made recently by an animal, so there are no guarantees. Even so, we want to do everything reasonable to assure that we keep ourselves as safe as possible.


Now that Spring is here, do I still need to wear my orange safety vest riding in my state's forests?

That depends on your particular state's statutes and its hunting schedule. If your state law requires forest visitors to wear vests during certain periods of the year, you need to follow those laws. Even if not required, if there is still hunting going on, I would wear a vest to reduce the chances of my horse and me getting shot. You can find these regulations online at your state's Web site.


Should I carry any documents on rides proving that I own my horse?

I'm not sure why you'd ask this question. Have you been approached by the police while in an arena or out on the trail challenging you to prove you own the horse you're on? What if you're riding a friend's horse? Would you have to carry a written and signed permission slip to that effect? I must say, I've never had any experience that would cause me to feel I need "proof of ownership" while riding.

The foregoing notwithstanding, there is some information that I carry with me when riding. I keep an entry in my cell phone entitled "ICE" which includes an emergency contact number. ICE stands for "In Case of Emergency". I also have an entry entitled "ICE HORSE" which goes to my horse's veterinarian in case we're both injured and unconscious. (Actually, it would be valuable even if my horse was conscious — other than whinneying and neighing, he just doesn't talk much.)

Another document I keep in my tow vehicle are the results of a recent Coggins' test. At least it will prove my horse has been negative for EIA up until the time of the test, and I have him tested each spring. For anyone that leaves the barn with their horse, especially if trailering to other barns or trails, a recent Coggin's is a good idea.


Is it dangerous to be inside a stall with your horse?

Well, it does get a little more dangerous to be with any horse in any form of confined space; and a stall is somewhat confined. Your own horse is likely to be a little safer because he knows you and is less apt to be concerned about what you're doing. But even then, don't put yourself or allow yourself to be between your horse and a wall with only a foot or three of space between the horse and wall. And be very alert and pay attention to everything else happening in the barn. A sudden, loud noise or a bite from an insect could cause a spook. When a horse spooks, it all happens at lightening speed and we don't want to be between that 1,000 pounds and a solid object.

Several weeks ago, I was grooming my horse in an aisle of our barn while a very close friend was brushing his tail. A stranger came in and started talking to us and something happened that spooked my horse. In the process, my horse's butt hit my friend and sent her flying about seven feet or so before she dropped to the ground — I was able to see the whole thing happen in front of me. I was amazed at how easily she became airborne. It was as if my horse had lightly tapped a ping pong ball and sent it flying quite a distance. Her mass seemed to have no effect, likely because it was insignificant compared to that of my horse. Fortunately, other than a slight bruise, my friend was fine and she rode my horse just 15 minutes later.

You may want to read one of our articles on a related subject entitled: Safety Around Horses.


I just bought a small horse trailer and want to use it, but the seller told me I need to add a brake controller to my truck. Can't I just connect the electric brake wire of the trailer to my stoplight circuit? After all, I'm only going to step on the brakes when I want to stop and this will apply the trailer brakes at the same time.

Do you slam on and lock up the brakes with every stop you make? Because that's what's going to happen if you connect the trailer brakes as you describe. In addition, it may result in you losing control of your vehicle and trailer by applying the brakes that hard.

As for the rest of us, we generally apply our brakes somewhat gradually and use panic stops only when absolutely necessary. A brake controller, depending on the kind you install, will allow you to either set the amount of braking power and the time it takes effect, or will proportionally activate the trailer brakes in an amount similar to what you're applying on the tow vehicle. Either will provide lots more control when stopping your trailer in many different situations. You can learn more about both these kinds of controllers by reading our article:Trailer Brake Controllers.

With brake controllers being very affordable, there's no reason to try to bypass them.

March 29, 2011 – SPRING SHEDDING

The weather recently got warmer several weeks ago and now has gotten colder again. My horse started shedding, but now I'm afraid I should not brush her so she keeps her winter hair. Is this the best thing to do?

Whether you brush or not isn't really going to matter much. For one thing, wild horses don't have humans to groom them, yet they, too, change coats with the seasons. So, shedding is more of a natural process. Strong winds, rolling on the ground, and running through brush tend to accelerate the shedding some.

If you do brush, the hair that'll come out is hair that would have come out within a week or less via the aforementioned methods anyway. Therefore, accelerating that by a few days or a week really isn't going to matter much. Horses don't lose all their winter hair at one time, it comes out over several weeks. The process may slow due to the recent re-cooling we've experienced, but it won't stop.

Also, consider that body changes, such as shedding and hoof growth acceleration, are not triggered solely by the return of warmer temperatures. The fact the days are getting longer also participates in triggering the changes.

March 28, 2011 – A TOO SIMPLE BRIDLE?

I just got my first horse and have been riding for a couple of years. I don't have any tack and have been shopping for a saddle and bridle. My husband surprised me with a new bridle last week, but it's different from any bridle I've seen before. It doesn't have any nose band, no brow band, not even a throat latch. I've never seen such a simple bridle. Is it safe to use?

Bridles come in many variations and levels of complexity. What you describe is a very simple bridle indeed, though I have seen them myself. Most bridles usually have a brow band or one or two ear loops — it's rare not to see at least one loop if there's no brow band. The purpose of these constructs is to stop the head band from being pulled down the horse's neck.

I wouldn't like using a bridle with neither a brow band nor ear loops. BUT, there is an easy solution: you can inexpensively buy a separate brow band or one or two ear loops that match the leather of your bridle and add them yourself. I prefer the greater security of a brow band; I also like the way it looks better than ear loops; but it's really your choice.

Similarly, throat latches and nose bands help keep the bridle on your horse's head. Some try to rub their bridles off against a nearby object, such as a tree or fence. I won't use a bridle without both of these features, though some riders do.

As a fairly new rider, and now with your first horse, I recommend that you use a bridle that incorporates the features you've identified missing from the gift bridle you recently received. As with the brow band, you can buy a separate nose band for a bridle. I've not seen separate throat latches that can be added later, though as previously mentioned, I want one on a bridle that I'm using.

In your position, my inclination would be to thank my spouse gratefully, explain why these missing pieces would make for safer riding, and then return the bridle and buy the one that I feel would be safest. Who knows, he may even want to come along just to make sure you're very happy and safe with the bridle you choose.


The Garmin Rino 530 HCx that you wrote about. I need something that is very easy to use and easy to understand. I have tried a couple of different ones and forget it. I am not a computer whiz, just a trail rider that could get turned around in a paper bag. Will this work for someone with limited computer ability?

This is a tough one to answer because it's not about a specific technical problem, but rather about a particular peson's facility or lack thereof with technology. The Garmin Rino 530 HCx is very capable — one of Garmin's best hiking GPS units and it's not exactly inexpensive. I would not say that this unit would be easy to use for someone who doesn't naturally take to technology — I think you'd find yourself frustrated because of all the options, technical jargon, and esoteric features.

A better match for you might be one of the car units that's also portable. Garmin has their Nüvi series that are very capable and many of them cost less than half the price of the Rino 530 HCx. Most unsnap from their base and will work on their internal batteries which you can recharge at the end of your ride. Other manufacturers (Magellan, TomTom, etc.) also have similar products you can investigate.

Whichever units you seriously consider, make sure you can load topographical (topo) maps into them. These vehicle units come pre-loaded with road maps for vehicle navigation, but loading them with topo maps makes them also ideal for hiking and trail riding. You need the information on the topo for them to have any true value out on the trail and away from roads. The elevation contours alone are very useful in determining where you are when not sure. That's really important because there are not many navigational signs in the bush.

The other thing you need to check is the rated time a unit you're considering can be powered by their internal batteries before needing a recharge. I like to go on 3 – 6 hour trail rides, so my GPS needs to be able to work for at least that much time. If you usually go on shorter rides, your demands of the product will be less. Conversely, someone that camps out on multi-day rides will not only need longer lasting batteries, they'll also need one or more extra sets of batteries carried along with them.

Of course, don't depend solely on a GPS if you venture into unknown territory far from home. I additionally carry a compass and several topo maps for the forests in which I ride. Here in Connecticut, the forest I usually ride in is about 35,000 acres — that's about 55 square miles and more than big enough to get into trouble if one got lost or hurt, especially in bad weather and with insufficient food, water, and shelter. Finally, also make sure you know how to read your topo maps and use that compass.


Now that spring has arrived, I need to get my tack in order. What should I do?

Well, for me, this is a two-goal process. I want my tack to be in good condition, but I also want it to look good as well. So, I want the leather clean, rich, and with good color; and I want the metal parts to be shiny. But whether the looks of your tack are important to you or not, everyone needs to assure their tack is in good operating condition. So an inspection is the first step.

Bring your tack together and give it all a good looking over. Is any of the leather dry? If so, oil it. If it's cracked, that portion will have little strength and needs to be replaced.

Look at the metal parts, the buckles, rings, snaps, etc. Are they solid or broken? Are they pitted or corroded? Clean them up so you can inspect them to make sure they're solid and will hold when you need them most. While pulling back on your reins at a gallop to stop your horse, you definitely don't want anything to break. Riding without reins would likely be far more exciting than most of us could appreciate.

Look at the moving parts and fasteners. Are snaps and scissor clips opening and closing smoothly? If not, clean them up and lubricate them. If some of your tack uses Chicago screws, are they tight? If not, you'll likely lose the screw or holder at the worst possible time.

What shape is the bit in? Would you want to put that thing in your own mouth? If not, clean it up or replace it.

Check your saddle thoroughly and fully inspect critical parts, such as the girth/cinch, the stirrups, their fasteners, etc. Clean dirty leather and lubricate it, especially if dry. Well maintained leather will be able to take an unplanned downpour or drenching if it's in good shape and you follow up with drying and re-oiling it right after it gets wet.

Finally, if you also care about how your tack looks as I mentioned at the beginning of this response, you should also polish the metal pieces of your tack. The nickel or brass will shine and bring a professional look, not only to your tack, but also to your riding. It won't actually make you ride any better, but it'll likely make you feel better while riding.

Good quality, well maintained tack will last a long time, often over 30 years. Such tack is generally quite hardy and stays that way when properly maintained. The worst thing you can do to tack is to ignore it and leave it in a clump in some humid or wet location.

March 23, 2011 – LIGHTING AN ARENA

My husband and I are going to build an outdoor arena and we want to light it for night use. How many lumens of lighting do we need?

While considering lumens of light is important, there's more to lighting an arena (or any area) than just the lumen level. I'll try to keep the physics of this discussion to a minimum, but I need to explain a few things. A lumen is a quantity of light emitted from a light source — think of it as a "chunck of light" coming from the lamp every second. The brighter the light, the bigger the chunk. But that's not all there is to lighting an area. The closer the lamp is to the area to be lit, in this case, the ground, the brighter the light near the lamp. However, the light doesn't go very far beyond its source because it's close to the ground. Raise that light higher and it illuminates a larger area, but not as brightly. Therefore, the equation for solving this lighting problem is a blend of compromises based on what you want and need in light level and what you're willing to purchase and install. For example, you need more light for jumping (for you and your horse to judge height and distances accurately) than you need just for riding.

To determine how much light we need for your arena, we would need to determine several parameters: the size of your arena, the shape of your arena, the amount of light you want illuminating each square foot of that arena, the brightness of the lights (lumens) you'll use, the number of lamps you'll need to install (for lamps of that brightness), and their height above the ground. Of course, if you use brighter lamps, you'll need fewer of them. But that can sometimes cause uneven lighting and glare problems. Smaller lamps, but more of them, evens out the lighting, but is somewhat more involved.

Once you've determined the size and number of fixtures, there are electrical considerations to make sure you have adequate power available to light your arena. Lighting large area like this takes lots of power and it definitely needs to be determined whether or not your electrical feed is adequate to handle the load. And depending on those considerations and today's electrical rates, the electricity costs can run as low as an extra $25/month to well over an additional $100/month.

This is a complicated enough topic that I should probably prepare an article for QueryHorse readers. Such an article could guide the reader through selecting the lights, determining their installation location, their height above the ground, etc. If this really is a topic of general interest and readers want to provide feedback indicating this would have value to them, I'm happy to do the article.


I'm looking for some cheap trailer protection. If I pull the pin out of the break away, will that lock the wheels and prevent theft of my trailer? I can lock the pin away until I'm ready to use my trailer.

Your approach will lock the wheels, but only for about 60 seconds. At that point, the battery that powers your break-away brake system will be depleted and the wheels will unlock. The break-away brake system was never designed and is not intended for trailer theft prevention. It's purpose is to apply the brakes on a run-away trailer until it comes to a complete stop. This is how it works:

There's a cord connected to the breakaway brake pin on the trailer and the other end of the cord connects to the tow vehicle. If the vehicle and trailer become separated because the hitch fails and so do the safety chains (or they weren't properly connected), the trailer brakes are applied when the pin is pulled by the trailer separating from the tow vehicle. After a minute or so, the trailer has likely stopped (one way or the other). The battery only has to last this long, so it's not very big nor expensive.

Practically speaking, you also wouldn't want your trailer protection to be dependent on a battery — there's too much that could go wrong. A crook could just cut the wires to the brakes or the battery could discharge and leave your trailer for the taking. There are more robust products that are designed specifically for protecting your trailer and I use several of them myself.

Here are some companies offering trailer theft prevention products you can consider:

Trailer Dog
Trailer Alarms


Can you recommend a riding helmet? Are some better than others?

Not know anything about your riding type and goals, I'll answer this in a somewhat general way so you can take what is pertinent to your specific riding. First, let me commend you on your desire to use a helmet while riding — it's one of the best safety measures you can take to protect yourself.

Second, your discipline may require or suggest that you wear a certain style of helmet. For example, it may require it to be felted and of a certain shape in honor of tradition, such as in many English disciplines. Or you may want certain parts not on most other helmets, such as a face guard for a polo helmet.

Third, make sure the helmet meets certification from at least one major recognized safety organization, such as from the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and the SEI (Safety Equipment Institute). You may also see the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) certification for polo helmets. Many helmets will meet the certifications of more than one of these organizations.

Finally, there are certain characteristics that you may want to consider as you look for that riding helmet. For example, there are some helmets that extend further down in the back to more completely protect the back of the head and upper neck. These are particularly important for cross-country, endurance, and other forms of trail riding because these riders spend their time riding outside the protection of controlled areas, such as arenas. The extended portion will better protect against protrusion hazards from rocks, stumps, sticks and such.

You may also want to pay attention to venting so your head won't overheat during the warmer months. And you can get a fleece cover to place over your helmet to keep your head warm while riding in the colder months.

March 18, 2011 – WHY DO HORSES STOMP?

My horse hits her back foot on the ground. Is this dominance or some other issue?

It may not be an issue at all. Horses stomp their feet for many reasons. Here are some possible reasons for her behavior:

  • To shake biting flies loose from her legs;
  • Your horse can see you getting ready for something she recognizes (riding, some form of work, etc.), but that she doesn't feel like doing and is letting you know;
  • She's trying get your attention to do something (take me out of my stall, get me my food, let's go play, etc.)
  • Because she's excited about something that is about to happen (food is coming, you're coming, she believes she is about to be turned out, taken for a ride, or some other interesting activity).

As you can see, stomping can mean many things. To a horse, it's a way to signal a human. They can't speak our language and theirs is pretty simplistic by comparison. But, you should be able to discern some meaning from your horse when she does this by observing other signals she's giving at the same time.

As the Horse Girl frequently mentions, horses are pretty obvious about their feelings and give us plenty of signals. So, look at her and pay attention to her face, her ears, and other body movements. The better we learn to "read" our horse's body language, the less frustrating it is for both them and us because they're able to communicate with us. The best thing we can learn to do is to pay attention. Do so and you'll notice that her subject of focus is usually rather obvious.


What qualifications make it legal to keep horses on your property in town?

Whether or not you can keep horses on your property is a local issue usually addressed by your local zoning board. The requirements typically mandate that you not be within any city limits and that you have some minimal amount of land (3 acres, 5 acres, etc.) Your particular town may also require that your land fall into an area zoned for agricultural (as opposed to residential). If you're not in an acceptable area, but it is somewhat rural, you always have the option of requesting a zoning waiver from your town's zoning board.

Good luck!


How often should my horse drink water on a trail ride?

There is no rule, rather, this falls into the "common sense" category. Your horse will need more hydration the more exertive the ride, the longer the ride, the more your horse perspires during the ride (determined by his metabolism and the heat and humidity during the ride), etc. Even in cold weather, a lot of moisture is lost through breathing because the air is usually very dry. So, make sure your horse still has the opportunity to drink on long rides in weather of all temperatures.

You don't typically need to bring horse drinking water along on your ride. Generally, you can periodically offer your horse the opportunity to drink as you pass clean, running streams and brooks. If your horse is thirsty, he'll drink.

In larger riding groups, it's often the case that there's only enough room by the brook for one or a few horses to drink at a time. In those cases, you need to sequence through all of the horses in the group so everyone gets a turn. Be aware that some horses won't drink if they're afraid they'll be left behind. So, make sure that those riders who's horses have already drunk stay nearby and don't leave. Otherwise, the last drinking horses will decline drinking to stay with the herd, even if they're thirsty.

Finally, don't forget to keep yourself adequately hydrated also. In fact, it's even more important for you to do so than for your horse because you're the one making decisions that needs to keep thinking. I carry a quart canteen on all of my rides whether they're just 90 minutes long or three hours. If longer, I'll carry two canteens.


How many leaders are there in a horse herd?

This is a good question I've heard many times before in various incarnations. I started responding and realized it was becoming an article. You can see it at: How Many Leaders in a Herd of Horses?

March 14, 2011 – NEW TO TRAILERING

I just bought a nice used truck because I want to buy a horse trailer. The previous owner told me the truck was fully equipped to tow. But a friend says I also need to get a brake switch. What is that? Do I need anything else?

A brake switch? I think you're referring to a brake controller. Let's start at the beginning.

Many tow vehicles today are advertised as "fully equipped" to pull a trailer. That typically means the vehicle has a chassis-mounted receiver and electrical wiring to connect to the trailer. There is also typically a connectorized pigtail in the glove compartment for the brake controller, but not the controller itself.

The vehicle owner needs to purchase the hitch ball and the drawbar upon which it mounts. That drawbar will slide into the receiver on the tow vehicle and the coupler on the trailer will slide down onto the hitch ball. The vehicle owner also needs to purchase a brake controller. Vehicle manufacturers do not include this equipment because they don't know what the owner will be towing.

For example, small loads, such as log splitters will usually require a 1 7/8 inch hitch ball while a heavier load, such as a horse or boat trailer will require a 2 inch or 2 5/6 inch ball. In addition, the needed drawbar will be determined by the height of the hitch coupler on the trailer compared to the receiver height on the tow vehicle. The drawbar required to match the height of the trailer coupler and tow vehicle receiver may be straight or might need a certain amount of "drop". Because this all depends on what you're towing, there's no way the tow vehicle manufacturer can know what will be required for your application..

On the brake controller side of things, the vehicle manufacturer won't know whether or not you already own a brake controller. And if you don't, you'll need to buy one. When you do, there are different kinds and the manufacturer won't know what you prefer and are prepared to spend. There are time-delayed controllers and proportional controllers. Therefore, they supply the aforementioned connectorized pigtail. You wire one end to whatever brake controller you've purchased and the connector on the other end of the pigtail couples with a connector under the dash — this connects the brake controller to the vehicle's brake pedal and trailer wiring.

I hope you don't find this detailed explanation to be too long. I wanted to provide enough information so you could better understand what is needed when you purchase a trailer to hook to your tow vehicle. We have some related articles you may find helpful:

Getting Properly Hitched
Tow Vehicles
Trailer Brake Controllers
Buying a Good Used Trailer
Starting With Your First Horse Trailer
Common Trailering Questions


What are your feelings on turning horses out in the same paddock with hind shoes?

The Horse Girl answered a very similar question today and you should read it also.

Horses with shoes together in the same paddock are ok as long as none of them are kicking each other. Even with horses not shoed in the same paddock, you really shouldn't let the horses kick each other. While an initial sorting out of the pecking order is inevitable, constant fighting can risk serious injuries due to biting and kicking. And as the Horse Girl stated in her post, the combatants should be separated and some work performed by the farm or horse owner(s) to create more harmonious groups.

The Horse Girl mentioned being concerned if a horse is shoed in front and barefoot in back — let's talk about that a little. There are times when shoes are required even on normally barefoot horses. For example, I try to keep my horse barefoot all the time. I like to ride extensively in the warmer weather and use hoof boots on his front feet and they allow us to go anywhere, to gallop, and even to jump with no problems. But occasionally, such as later summer last year, the flies were so bad (worse than I've ever seen in this area) that many of the horses had cracks in their front hooves from repeatedly striking the ground to remove the flies. My farrier tried various techniques to let the cracks grow out, but the constant pounding seemed to prevail. Eventually, I had my own horse shoed on the front hooves only. The shoe stabilizes the hoof and won't let it separate when my horse pounds the ground to shake off the flies. That keeps the crack from traveling further and lets it grow out.

When I first bought my horse, he was shoed in front and I kept him that way for several years except for the winters. The front hooves did need more trimming than the rear hooves at each farrier visit. This was due to the shoes protecting the front feet from wear while the barefoot rear hooves wore normally. But it didn't cause any problems other than the need for an extra 15 seconds or so of rasp trimming the front hooves.

I asked the Horse Girl about her concerns and she mentioned seeing problems in some, but not all horses when shoed only in front. For example, she had seen a problem with a horse that was naturally heavy on the forehand, and it was exacerbated when shoed only in front. Another horse had a traction problem and was ok when completely shoed or unshoed, but exhibited problems and was less stable when shoed only in front. Shoes can also affect a horse's gait and stride and that means some partially shoed horses could have problems. This means that horse owners need to evaluate their particular horse — some work fine shoed only in front while others do not.

March 10, 2011 – A WOOD OR METAL BARN?

I'd like to build a new barn, but am going back and forth trying to decide if it should be made of wood or metal. I'd appreciate any suggestions you might have.

The answer to your question really has more to do with personal preference than one approach being better than another — it's essentially based on how you define "better". For example, a metal structure can cost a little less than wood, but that will have more to do with the prevailing price of steel. A wooden structure is generally expected to last longer than a metal one, but good quality metal buildings are fairly recent and today's structures have coatings that very effectively resist corrosion. In addition, wood can rot while metal won't. I think we won't know what the true life of a metal structure is using today's materials till many years down the road.

In addition, many people prefer the look of a wooden barn, but like the fact that it's generally much faster to erect a metal structure. You could also build a hybrid with wooden sides and a metal roof. A metal roof generally costs less and goes on much faster. But many people hate the sound made when rain is pounding a metal roof and causes it to "ring". Conversely, metal requires virtually no maintenance while a wooden structure will need periodic painting unless you spend additional monies to put on vinyl or similar maintenance-free siding.

As you can see from the foregoing, there are advantages and disadvantages to both and selecting one over the other is something that needs to please you more than anything else. I hope this helps.


With all this mud from spring thaw, my horse keeps rolling in it and is a mess. When I wash my horse, he keeps moving around his tie ring. How can I hold him steady to immobilize him?

You can't truly immobilize a 1,000 pound animal —your horse will likely panic if held too tightly. But you can limit his movements a little better by using cross-ties instead of just securing him to a single point tie-ring. We have an article about building your own wash rack and it also speaks to adding cross-ties. It's entitled: Build a Wash Rack.

You might also want to try using a watering wand for plants and a low setting on your faucet. That should provide a gentle stream that will both be less scary and less uncomfortable. Hopefully, that also means he'll move around less.


How expensive is horse insurance?

You didn't say what kind of insurance you're interested in getting. For whatever you're inquiriung about, the actual cost will vary with the insurance company you choose, the condition of your horse, the types of insurance you purchase, and the limits of the insurance (per occurrence, in aggregate, etc.) For example, it costs less to purchase a liability policy with a limit of $300,000 than one with a $1,000,000 limit. But the latter policy provides more coverage against a larger legal judgment.

You've likely asked your question to get a "ballpark number" so you have some idea of what you can expect to pay. Yet, if you do any research on the net or speak with an insurance agent, you'll likely be told they need to evaluate your specific situation and needs. While that is true, it doesn't help you to get any idea of the cost of equine insurance.

Based on what I've seen, at the present time, typical costs for a healthy horse and an uncomplicated policy is approximately $200 - $400 per year for equine liability insurance with a an occurrence limit around $500,000 and aggregate limit around $1,000,000. Adding other coverage, such as medical insurance will increase the cost. The cost for your specific needs will be determined by an evaluation. Your agent may give you a discount if you insure more than one horse, add other forms of policies (mortality insurance, medical insurance, etc.)

We've been speaking to the owner of an equine insurance company and he will be writing some articles for QueryHorse to provide readers with more detailed information.


Is it ok to ride a horse on the trail that you don't know?

Like many things in life, it depends. If you go to a farm offering public trail rides, by definition, you'll be riding a horse you don't know out on the trail. The same will be true if you go to a dude ranch or equitrekking across another nation's countryside. And if you've read other responses that the Horse Girl and I have answered, you know we feel that riding different horses is a great way to become a better rider. But of course, things aren't as simple as just doing so.

Everyone with horse experience knows there are some dangers being around and riding horses — they're big, powerful, skittish animals. Yet, we have to accept that risk to be around and even to learn to ride. Riding a horse that we know well, especially our own, does reduce the chance of injury, but it doesn't eliminate it. Therefore, the response to your question is not a simple yes/no about whether or not there's any risk in riding a strange horse — there is always some risk in riding ANY horse. Rather, this is more a question of gauging whether or not we have an acceptable degree of risk.

If you're going to ride a horse with which you have no prior experience, make some common sense preparations. Consider the following:

  1. Learn about the horse you'll ride:

    • Is this a skittish horse?
    • Is it highly spirited?
    • Does your skill level match or exceed that required to safely ride the horse?
    • Do you have sufficient confidence in your ability to control an unfamiliar horse?
    • Can you spend some time with the horse prior to the ride, both to get used to it and for it to get to know you? It's great if you can groom and tack up the horse as well as perform some ground work.
  2. Have at least some experience trail riding.
  3. Know a little about the area where you'll ride and assure you're comfortable with the requirements:

    • Are you comfortable in a forest, on wide open fields, or wherever you'll be riding?
    • Will you have to go through water?
    • Will you have to climb/descend steep inclines?
    • Will cantering and galloping be required and are you comfortable at those gaits?
    • Will jumping be required and do you know how to jump (safely, of course)?
  4. Ride with others on the first few rides so your horse will be more comfortable and you'll have assistance if it should be needed to control your horse.

Riding new horses can be great fun. And as previously mentioned, your riding skills are likely to benefit from the experience. But you also want to be safe and the best way to do that is to stay within your skill levels, get familiar with the horse (if possible), and already have some experience on the trails.


I clip my horse for showing throughout the winter. How long into the spring should I be blanketing her?

This is more of a temperature question than one of the date or amount we are into the spring season. Because clipped horses are deprived of their own coats, you really do need to augment what little hair they have left with a blanket until the temperatures get into the 50s or so. If the temperatures drop back into the 40s or lower, your horse will benefit from a blanket.

HOWEVER, if the daytime temps get into the 60s or warmer, you need to remove the blanket until the temps drop back again. If you don't, your horse can overheat while minimally active, such as when grazing. If your horse is being ridden, she should never have her blanket on in any temperature — even if below freezing. Re-blanket her once she's dry from any sweat occurring from the work of riding. And you should use a cooler on her while she's drying. Once the temps stay in the 50s or warmer, your horse should be left with her own coat and no blanket.

By removing a horse's cold weather coat, we take on the responsibility of providing that warmth through blanketing. And we must be aware enough to remove it during activity and warm days to avoid dangerous overheating.


I HATE my barn! The monthly fees are high, the owner thinks she's doing us all such a favor, some of the other boarders think their discipline is the only one that "serious riders" pursue and I'm sick of it all. My New Years' resolution is to find a barn I'm happier with, maybe with an indoor arena. What kinds of things should I look for in selecting a better barn? My husband is tired of hearing me complain.

Well, you've already listed several of your "pet peeves" — those are issues that are already very important to you. There are other considerations, such as adequate tack space, perhaps "cleaner" tack space (I hear that desire a lot), some want a wash stall or a round pen, etc. There are also other important considerations, such as how far away is the barn? Is riding instruction available, and more.

We have an article you should read entitled: Finding the "RIGHT" Barn For You. It will get you thinking about all sorts of things you may want to consider as you search for that "perfect" barn.

March 2, 2011 – FEEDING A HORSE

What kind of grain and how much should I feed my horse?

Unfortunately, determining what and how much to feed a horse is not nearly that simple. There are many different formulations that vary the protein, fat, fiber, mineral, and vitamin content. You need to select the grain by the needs of your horse. Those needs will vary with age, activity, and his specific metabolism — one formulation DOES NOT fit all horses.

You should ask your vet whether or not your horse has any special needs in his feed and then ask an experienced barn owner for some help in getting you started. You'll have to regulate the feed to your horse's needs. You also need to supplement the feed with ample hay and water. There's also the aspect of being able to recognize problems that can develop in horses. You may want to read an article entitled: Can You Care For Your Own Horse?. Don't be intimidated by the article, but truly think about the points it raises.

Caring for horses is not difficult, but it does take some specific knowledge, judgment, and experience. The insights of your vet and a little guidance from a person already experienced with horse care will get you off to a good start.

For your horse's sake, please don't try to do this all by yourself as you start out.


My friend told me I shouldn't be riding horses in my rubber boots and that I should wear riding boots instead. I admit that these boots don't go into or out of my stirrups easily and that I'm always fighting to do one or the other. But, it's very muddy around here this year and I hate the idea of ruining my good riding boots in the mud. What do you think?

Well, your friend is correct. Every rider should only wear footwear explicitly designed for riding horses when mounted. That's because riding boots and shoes are made to slip out of the stirrup if the rider falls off the horse, yet provide good traction when on foot. Of course, we all know people who ride with other kinds of shoes, sneakers, sandals, and other inappropriate footwear. But all of them are taking a chance with their safety.

You should also take a better look at the riding boots/shoes you already own because you may find they're made for riding even in lousy weather. Many are water resistant or even waterproof and designed to deal with water, snow, and mud. Let's face it, I've never been to a barn that didn't have water and mud around at least part of the year, usually more frequently than anyone wants. Therefore, many riding boots/shoes are designed with this in mind.

Think about it: even if your riding boots were to wear out prematurely because you ran them through mud and water when riding, wouldn't that be better than being dragged to your death because you fell off wearing your rubber boots and one of them stayed stuck in a stirrup?


How do I determine the value of my horse boarding business?

There are many ways to value a business, such as income capitalization, income multiple, liquidation value, asset value, and others. But for a small service business, such as a boarding barn, the "income multiple" approach makes the most sense. This approach requires you to apply a formula to your business that assigns values to different aspects of it, such as your salary, pre-tax profit, interest, depreciation and expenses, and other advantages you receive from owning the business. Each of these aspects requires some discussion and thought that go beyond the scope of what we can provide in this column. However, if you enter the following search query in your favorite search engine, you should find lots of useful information to help you value your business using this approach:

"income multiple" "business value"

I conducted the search myself with these query terms exactly as provided above and got lots of pertinent and useful documents to help you through this process and how to understand it.

Good luck!

February 25, 2011 – ARE LED BARN LIGHTS HERE YET

In your "Better Barn Lighting" article you mentioned that LED lights will replace CFLs. Is that happening yet?

Well, it has started to happen and we're seeing more and more flashlights using LEDs rather than incandescent bulbs. We're also seeing LED tail and brake lights on cars and trucks, LED traffic lights, LED warning lights on police and fire vehicles, etc. But conventional room lighting is lagging some.

There are some LED lamps for room lighting, but they're quite expensive ($30 - $50), the light is very cold and white, and the light's intensity is not yet quite bright enough. However, I think we're very close and we should start seeing decent LED room lighting options this year. That will leave the price as the primary obstacle that must come down significantly before the public will embrace it. Once that happens, the price should drop quickly and steeply as economies of scale kick in. Then, they'll be the prefered lamp for home and barn, even more so than CFLs because they'll use half the power CFLs consume.

February 24, 2011 – MUDDY PADDOCK PROBLEM

It's starting to get muddy here as the warmer weather melts snow and it rains on top. Is it ok for my horse to stand in this mud in his paddock?

The mud will likely last until the ground thaws and with melting snow and occasional rain, we're probably in for a growing mud problem until that thaw is completed. Overall, a horse doesn't usually have much of a problem walking through water or mud while on a ride. But standing in mud for longer periods of time can cause some problems.

First, there is the problem of being submerged in these cold temperatures. Second, hooves that stay submerged are susceptible to various maladies, such as hoof rot. You need to provide some dry places in the paddock for your horse to stand. And it can't be just one little dry patch, there needs to be enough for your horse to walk around. Horses are grazing animals and meant to keep moving. You risk your horse's health and it would be downright cruel to not provide some meaningful dry land upon which your horse can move about. If there's not enough dry land in your horse's paddock, you could bring in some earth to fill in some of the lower, flooding areas to bring them up, or you could set up a temporary paddock in a dry location — either would improve your horse's hoof health and his disposition.

February 23, 2011 – RIDING IN THE BARN

Is it safe to ride inside a barn? Won't a horse panic in a small space?

Riding inside barns is very common, especially during the winter in colder climates. I ride my horse in the barn every winter and have done the same in the other barns in which I've boarded. We don't have an indoor arena, so I'm happy that the barn provides some protection from the elements and safe, dry footing when the ground outside is icy.

As for panic in small spaces, horses that have stalls in a barn spend at least the night in a relatively small amount of space. My horse has a 10' x 14' stall and that's bigger than those found in many barns. The barn also has the advantage of being familiar, including familiar smells and sounds. We ride down the 10 foot wide barn aisles and he's just fine. We have enough room to trot, and if we canter, he can only get about five hops in before we reach the other end (it's a small 24 stall barn).

So, if you're going to ride in the same barn your horse stays in, he should be fine unless he has a generally spooky disposition. If so, I suspect riding anywhere has problems because a generally spooky horse tends to be that way almost everywhere. In that case, work with a trainer to desensitize your horse to most common sights and sounds you expect to encounter. You'll both feel more at ease and better enjoy all your time and riding together.

One more thing: if you ride in a barn when there are horses in the stalls, pay particular attention to riding down the center of the aisles. Most horses are territorial about their stalls and will reach out and snap at passing horses regardless of their ranking and that of the passing horse — the horse lowest in the pecking order will still defend his/her stall against the largest, most powerful alpha of the herd. Staying in the aisle's center gives you both the most distance from the stall's occupants.


If I put smaller wheels on my pickup, will that give me more towing power because I've geared down my truck?

Unless you're an engineer or have lots of experience with vehicle drivetrain modifications, messing with your truck is more likely to cause you problems you didn't previously have than it is to help you. For example, let's consider your question. Smaller wheels WILL HAVE the effect you desire as far as gearing down your truck. But it will also have much more significant negative effects you almost certainly don't want, such as:

  • Much less traction — what good is more power if all you can do with it is spin your wheels?
  • Less ground clearance — what good is more power is you spend more time "high centering" that is, getting hung up on high spots or getting stuck in mud and loose dirt?
  • Worse gas milage — what good is more power if it significantly raises your running costs as you travel down the highway?
  • More strain on your vehicle — what good is more power if you're actually able to use it and doing so results in a warped frame or broken drivetrain?

As you can see from the foregoing, your approach is not likely to gain you any real benefits and does risk lots of unexpected problems.

If you're really in need of more power to tow your horse trailer or are looking to get a larger trailer, the smart way is to trade in your pickup for a a more capable tow vehicle. That's especially true if you're moving from a bumper-pull trailer to a gooseneck or fifth wheel type. The only way you should "gear down" your current vehicle is to shift to a lower gear.

If you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can use the low-range when off the pavement on dirt, gravel, or grassy roads. If you have an all-wheel drive vehicle, you can also use low-range when on the pavement. BUT, keep in mind that you won't be able to reach normal highway speeds and that might mean you could become a traffic hazard. Except for off-road travel, you're best by staying in high-range and just using lower gears when you need more power to climb with a load. If you have an automatic transmission, you may just want to drop from overdrive into direct drive and let your transmission do the rest regarding selecting the proper gear. For anything more, consider a more capable tow vehicle.

February 21, 2011 – WORMING HORSES

How often should I worm my horses?

Most vets recommend worming every two months and that's what we do at my barn. When you do worm, you need to worm all the horses at the barn. If you worm just your own horse and other horses there do have worms, your horse can pick them up soon after the wormer has been voided from his system. Worming all horses at the same time is the only way to "clean up the barn", so to speak.

One more thing; the current thinking is to rotate through different worming type products (Strongid one time, then Ivermectin two months later, Panacure two months after that, etc.) to reduce the chance of resistance and to insure removal of the different parasites — some wormers work better on certain types of worms than others. Your best bet is to ask your veterinarian as to the wormers and the cycle they recommend for your particular horse. Worming is something you can administer to your horse yourself, but your vet's insight and their knowledge of your particular horse is always best to follow.


Snow has started to melt and I went for a ride with two friends but my horse didn't want to leave the barn and then didn't want to leave the other horses when they kept riding out and we needed to return home. She always does this and it's even worse when we start riding again after a long break like this winter when we haven't been together much and riding. What should I do?

What you're describing in your horse's behavior is partly what we call being "herd bound". That means your horse doesn't want to leave the herd. This is normal for horses. Remember that they're herd animals and that they feel safest in the company of other horses. When alone, they feel more exposed to predators. After all, if a lion is stalking and you and your horse are out alone, there's only one target — your horse — she knows this! She'd feel better where there are more horses to stand together to fight, or in the event the lion does get one, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be your mare, but she knows what it means if she's the only horse. We have a related article you may want to read entitled Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse.

But based on your question, there are also two other things going on. One is the fact that she hasn't been in work lately due to the limitations of winter. The other is that you haven't been around, and while she knows you, she's not had to work and resents you expecting that she give up her vacation grazing around with her pals.

To convert her back to a more cooperative horse, you're just going to have to get busy with spring training again. That means ground and ring work as well as riding. As your horse gets used to you being around frequently again and gets back into condition, she'll become more amenable to work and that again will become her routine. Horses in work are usually much more cooperative.


If I need to walk my horse on ice to get us both home, is it ok?

Well, if you need to do it as you ask, then you need to. If there's another way to go that avoids the ice, it's better to keep you both on solid footing.

However, there definitely will be times when you'll have little choice but to cross some ice if you live in a colder area. When that time comes, consider these factors:

  1. Dismount and walk with your horse over the ice — don't ride him over it. It'll be hard enough for him to carefully step to avoid falling by himself, and harder yet to do it with you on his back;
  2. If you cannot avoid walking over the ice, move slowly and give yourself some distance from your horse (e.g. use a long enough lead line to stay at least 5 or 6 feet away) in case one of you falls;
  3. If there's snow beside the ice, walk on it and lead your horse on it; the footing will usually be much safer for both of you. It's better for you both to work harder trudging through the deep snow than chance a fall on the slippery ice.
  4. Be observant and avoid walking on thin ice. That's ice either of you could fall through and cut your ankles upon as well as get wet and chance frostbite.
  5. Keep in mind that ice thick enough to support your weight may not be strong enough to support your thousand pound or heavier horse — examine your planned footing closely; and
  6. NEVER walk with your horse over ice that's on a hill. If you slip, you could go under your horse and be stepped upon as well as tripping him down onto you. If he slips, he could fall upon you or drag you down. Once you're both down and sliding, you'll both keep going until you hit the bottom or some object. I assure you, it'll likely be much worse for you if you're between the object and your horse — don't place yourself or allow circumstances to place you in such a position.

No matter what, you're taking a chance when walking on ice. Yet, you may have little choice. If you do, try to avoid getting yourself into such a predicament. When you can't do so, be very, very careful. Our horses are much heavier and more powerful. If they contact us with force, accidentally or otherwise, we humans always lose.

February 16, 2011 – TRYING EACH OTHER'S HORSES

Sometimes when I ride with friends, one of them will ask if I'd like to try their horse for a while. Is this ok to do or do horses get used to the same rider and get confused when you switch?

Confused horses? I wouldn't worry too much about that. Any horse that has learned to accept a rider has likely had at least a few — most horses have had many riders. Lesson horses, public trail riding horses, many show horses, etc., have usually had many, many riders, and none of them are confused. Remember this:

There are many confused riders and very few, if any, confused horses — you can take this to the bank!

The Horse Girl often says that the best riders are usually jockeys and trainers because they ride lots of different horses, and she's right. If you want to be a really good rider, ride as many different horses as you can. You'll find they all move differently and you'll have to adapt. It'll feel a little weird at first, but as you get more experience under your belt, they'll all feel comfortable enough and you'll be able to handle almost any horse.

It's a lot like learning to drive. When you try that second vehicle after you've only driven one, it can feel completely different, especially if it's bigger, smaller, or of a different type, such as a pickup truck. But once you've driven enough vehicles, there all somewhat comfortable. It's the same with horses.

NOTE: Especially important in your early riding experience is to avoid horses too far beyond your experience level. Don't get on a horse that's really spirited if you've only been on "bomb-proof" horses — work up to it over time as your experience and confidence grows.

Other than that, have fun riding different horses. You and your friends will enjoy the experience and it'll also make your own horse feel so much more special when you switch back because you know each other so well.


Do you have to put vapor-proof lights in a horse barn?

No, you don't. However, there are situations where you should definitely consider some form of bulb protection. Vapor-proof enclosures were originally created for explosive atmospheres. So, if you are a business and use flammable solvents, such as toluene, naphtha, acetone, etc., you really don't want a spark or hot bulb to cause a fire or explosion. There are also drip-proof fixtures. This type doesn't have the gaskets to keep explosive gaskets away from the bulb, but rather keeps the bulb and wiring dry even if it's dripped upon or splashed with water or some other fluid.

One good place to put a drip-proof or vapor-proof fixture is a wash stall. You really don't want to accidently spray a light while washing or rinsing your horse. The cold water on a hot bulb will often cause it to burst and rain glass down upon you and your horse. Another place these fixtures help is if your barn has low stall lights that a horse might hit while rearing. The fixture is more durable than just a bulb and will help protect it.

If your barn lights are too high to be hit by your horses and are not in a vicinity that risks being sprayed or dripped upon, you don't need to use these protective fixtures. We have an article that discusses these fixtures (including a photo of one) and other kinds of barn lighting, and ways to keep your barn bright while cutting electricity costs. It's entitled: Better Barn Lighting.

February 14, 2011 – RIDING ON SNOW

What's the most snow I should ride in?

Well, there shouldn't be so much snow that your horse can't easily walk. But, it's not just about the snow depth, the kind of snow also matters. For example, six inches of snow with a hard, two inch crust on top can be much harder for a horse to walk over than ten or fifteen inches of powdery snow. The horse is going to break through the crust on every step and then could scrape its lower leg or trip on the crust. Conversely, a foot or more of powder might provide just a small amount of resistance for your horse, and he may also find it to be fun to kick up some of that powder in a canter.

Generally, you should be looking for safe riding conditions. If your horse can trip on the aforementioned crust, might slip on ice or slush, etc., you want to avoid riding. But if the snow doesn't present a safety hazard, you can ride.

Also, try to think about conditions beyond the obvious, such as the fact that even powder can be slippery on steep hills, or that neither you nor your horse can see roots, holes, forgotten tools, fallen branches, trash, and other trip hazards under the snow. Therefore, stay at slower gaits like the walk and slow trot and only go where you know the terrain and it's generally safe, such as well-used trails and park roads.

February 11, 2011 – DRIVING WITH YOUR HORSE

Can I use my horse to pull a sleigh or wagon? He's a Quarter Horse.

You can, but you can't just jump into cart-pulling with a horse that's not yet trained to do so. He needs to become comfortable with a yoke, with the drag of a load, etc. Using an untrained horse is inviting disaster for you and your horse.

The best way to start is by contacting an instructor or farm that specializes in driving and training horses to drive. They'll not only have necessary expertise, they'll also have the necessary tack. You, too, have much to learn both about driving and the gear that goes with it. And just so you know, there's more than one kind of driving just as there is more than one kind of riding discipline.

So, I do encourage you to pursue this interest you've mentioned and to learn much more about driving and getting proper instruction for you and training for your horse — it's the right way to start. It's another way for you and your horse to enjoy interacting.

February 10, 2011 – ACRES NEEDED FOR A HORSE FARM?

How many acres do I need for a horse farm?

There is no pat answer for your question — much more information is needed. It will all depend on what you intend to do. Therefore, you need to ask yourself and answer some questions. Here are five pertinent and easy ones:

  1. The minimal acreage required to keep horses is a local determination and varies by town and county. You'll need to check with your local municipality to determine the minimal acreage allowing horses in your area.
  2. You don't say anything about how many horses you have. That number will determine the minimal space you'll need for a barn and for paddocks. And if you intend to have sufficient grazing land for those horses instead of providing hay and oats for all of their feed, that, too, will increase the amount of land you need.
  3. Do you intend to buy your hay, or to grow your own? If the latter, you'll need more land to do so, and that, too, will be determined to some extent by how many horses you intend to accommodate.
  4. Do you intend to accept boarders? If so, how many? Now, we've increased the amount of required land still more.
  5. Will you need an arena? Outdoor or indoor? Both? Do you need a track?
I think you can get the idea from these questions. These are all issues you need to consider and answer before you can determine the minimal amount of land you'll need for your particular horse farm.


I put some CFL bulbs in my barn, but some take a long time to get bright and the others just flicker forever without lighting on cold days? What can I do to make them work right?

There's no way to stop the flickering or speed up the brightness increase on any particular bulb. But you can replace those dysfunctional bulbs with others. First, you should buy only CFL bulbs for your barn that are made for cold temperatures. It's likely that the one's you find flickering are a cheaper variety that are not meant to be used in cold temperatures. You'll find the operational temperature range of new CFL bulbs on the side of their packaging.

Second, the newest CFLs are coming up to full brightness much faster than bulbs available just a few years ago. Therefore, it might make sense to replace poorly performing bulbs in critical locations now and use those lesser bulbs in other, less critical locations, or those that are warmer, such as basements or garages.

Finally, you can still use incandescent bulbs for those areas that are on for only short periods of time, but that must be at full brightness right away for safety reasons, such as for fixtures lighting stairways. And they also make sense for areas where you need instant light, but only for 20 seconds or so, such as in closets.

All forms of fluorescent lighting take a little extra time to reach full brightness in colder temperatures, but today's fluorescent lamps do it much faster than before. Even those that take a little time to warm up are still worth using in less critical locations, such as kitchens or family rooms, because those lights are on for long periods of time and you'll therefore save a significant amount of money in electricity there.


How often should I replace my horse trailer tires?

When to replace horse trailer tires is no different than replacing tow vehicle or car tires. Replace tires in the following cases:

  • When you see any evidence of damage to the tire;
  • If you see flat spots on the tire;
  • If you see bumps on the tire;
  • If you see any evidence of dry-rot on the tire; and
  • When the tread depth is less than 1/8 inch in most of the treads across the tire;

To ignore the foregoing is to invite trouble on any vehicle or trailer, but it's compounded on a horse trailer. That's because you're carrying live cargo and you can't just lock it up, leave, and call a wrecker to pick up your trailer when convenient and bring it to a garage. It's much better to be proactive and replace major parts, such as tires, when they begin to show signs that their useful life is just about over.

Also, there are additional risks. If you wait until a tire actually fails, you risk an accident that could harm your horse(s), you and your passengers, and occupants of other vehicles on the road if the blowout causes loss of control and an accident. Inspect your tires regularly and replace them before they fail.


Is it not wise to let someone else use your horse for lessons?

It depends. This can be ok to do, or a bad thing to do, based on several aspects that you must think about. Consider the following:

  1. Is my horse in adequate physical shape and condition for the tasks that will be asked of him/her? (e.g. jumping, trail riding, etc.)
  2. Do I trust this person who will ride my horse to treat my horse as I want him/her treated?
  3. Can I trust the instructor to command the rider to perform with my horse only in ways I would approve?
  4. Will both assure that my horse is never placed in danger of injury, risk of being overworked, and never treated harshly?
  5. Will there be a conflict by use of my horse by others with my own riding schedule and desires?
  6. If an active rider, am I sure that my regular riding plus that of the lessons won't overwork my horse?
If you can feel secure with the foregoing, then there are advantages of allowing your horse to be used for lessons if you're not a regular rider. For example:
  • You can make some money with your horse when you're not riding him/her or his use can defray boarding costs if being used by your barn owner;
  • Your horse will be more active and kept in work and more consistent riding condition; and
  • When horses are kept in work, they're usually more willing to be ridden and otherwise worked, and they're usually more cooperative.

If you have any concerns about how your horse will be used, don't allow anyone to use him for any riding or work — you need to feel comfortable with the rider and instructor that will be using your horse. If not comfortable, you're better off not allowing your horse to be ridden or used by anyone unless you're present.


I need a light by my horse stall, but there is no electricity in our barn. What can I do?

Without electricity, you're limited to some form of battery powered light. Whatever you do, don't use any kind of fire, such as candles or lanterns. Barns are full of fuel for fires from hay to old, dry wooden planks.

As for battery powered lights, the one new product that may possibly work for your application is the recent release of LED-based products. There are many portable LED work lights that can be mounted or hung wherever you need light. And fortunately, the batteries last quite long in this type of lighting due to its great efficiency. It's best if you find some that use standard, easily available, inexpensive, long-lasting batteries, such as alkalines in the AAA, AA, C, and D sizes.

Checkout your local hardware stores, the big home stores, and the big department stores. I'll bet you'll find several variations, some of which may fit your needs. Of course, if you can get power into your barn at some point in the future, that will still be the best and most economical permanent option. But the new crop of LED lights may get you through until that happens.


How long can I go between winter shoes? I find them very expensive.

You're correct about winter shoes being expensive. Remember that they have borium added plus there's the addition of the pads.

As for the time between shoeings, that varies with several things. First, each horse is different and has a different metabolism, so different horses are often on different schedules because some need more frequent foot care than others.

Second, hooves and coats grow fastest in spring and autumn. During those times, your horse will likely need more frequent foot care than in winter or summer when hoof growth is slower.

Third, the quality of the work performed by your farrier can make a big difference. My horse's hooves look better with my current farrier than they ever did with one I had years ago. And we now go an extra week (seven weeks between visits) with no problems where as my horse was losing shoes in five weeks with that other farrier.

Finally, another option is to have your horse go barefoot for the winter. He'll still need a trimming, but that's usually half the price of summer shoes and an even bigger savings on winter shoes. Your farrier is going to be your best resource for determining the best of these options and possibly others I've not mentioned — and make sure you've got a good one. A good farrier makes all the difference.


I'd like to buy a trailer this spring and am doing my shopping and learning now. It seems that I'm going to need to buy a brake controller for my truck. I've never heard of this before. Plus, as I've started looking at controllers, I'm finding there are two types: time delay and proportional. Can you explain the difference?

This has come up before and we have an article explaining the differences and advantages/disadvantages between them. You can read it at: Trailer Brake Controllers.


Do horses need as much water during the colder weather of the winter when they're not sweating?

Yes! They may sometimes even need more. For one thing, the air is much dryer in winter at many locales. Also, eating hay produces heat in horses and the more hay they eat, the more water they need to swallow and process it. Ample water should always be available to all animals in all seasons — horses are no different.

And don't forget to monitor all the water pails for your horses. The water freezes when the temperature drops in the coldest months, and if it does, your horses won't be able to get the water their bodies need. That means you'll have to break the ice that forms on top and replenish water as much as necessary. You may even find that insulated pails or electric pail heaters are needed.

Don't let your horses get stranded with insufficient water — it can affect their health as well as their longevity.


My horse is a cribber and we're always having to replace a particular board she loves to chew in her stall above her feed bucket. Is there any way to make a chew-proof replacement?

Cribbers can be frustrating, though I'm surprised you're having to replace that board at what sounds like a high frequency. While cribbers do chew certain favorite boards in their stalls and paddocks, those boards don't usually require replacement more than once every few years or so. Regardless, there are some things you can try.

First, there are products carried by most tack shops that you apply to the chewed board. The substance is harmless to horses, but has a bad taste to dissuade them from chewing there. Of course, that may just make her chew somewhere else.

Second, horses mostly don't chew metal surfaces, so replacing that board with a metal fence pipe would likely stop her from chewing there. But if you do this and have the one horse that will also chew metal, then I wouldn't use that approach because it would be hard on her teeth.

Third, you could replace that board with a non-toxic hardwood board, such oak or white maple (don't use walnut). That would be easier on the teeth, but would last longer than most softer woods.

There are also cribbing collars you can try, but I've not really seen one yet that really works. And a committed chewer, which is what it sounds as if your horse is, will likely keep cribbing and the collar will wear away her hair where it passes over bone, such as her brow. I spoke recently with an equine dental surgeon that was also a veterinarian about this topic and he said that he preferred not using cribbing collars. The main fear most owner's of cribbers have is that of air colic and this vet said that he has yet to see or even hear of such a case and felt there was no such risk.

I hope this helps — good luck!

January 28, 2011 – KEEPING HORSES ACTIVE

My two horses are never as active in their paddock during the winter. I know the cold and snow is a limiting factor, but is there anything I should do, such as ride them at the walk around the yard?

Keeping our horses, as well as ourselves active is certainly more of a challenge during the colder months. Riding, but at slower paces and being cautious about ice and snowy surfaces is a great idea, as long as we actually do it. Even the shorter days make it harder to ride during the workweek because it's generally dark when most of us working during the day return home.

Another thing you can do is to provide a toy or two that may get your horses playing together, or even alone. Click here for a video of a horse playing alone with a large ball in his paddock. He certainly does seem to be enjoying it.

January 27, 2011 – HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN STALLS

How often should I clean my stalls? Some people tell me every couple of days is enough while others say whenever it's dirty.

Most barn owners muck stalls once each day, usually in the mornings after the horses have been turned out. On those days when we're forced to keep our horses stalled all day long, such as when the ground is too icy, and with a decent sized stall (12x12 or 10x14 or more) I'll often do my horse's stall an extra time so he's not spending most of the day walking through his own muck. With a smaller stall (10x10, or horrors, 9x9), you may need to do it a third time or more. Small stalls don't give a horse much room to move and get spoiled quickly. Larger stalls allow a horse more freedom and many will select a corner and concentrate their waste there to keep the rest of the stall cleaner — that's harder for them to do with the smaller stalls.


Are cross-ties better than tying at one point only?

This depends more on the horse than anything else. Cross-ties let a horse move his head less, and that gives us a better feeling that a horse is secured and staying put. But, that very reason makes some horses panic and they do better when single-point tied.

There's no right or wrong here, however, I tend to view this issue a little differently. The main issue here is both trust and a horse that follows the commands of his leader — that's you and me. If we say "Stand!", our horse should stand. If not, he's not properly and adequately trained.

Horses that respect their riders and respond to their commands are not only safer to be around, they're actually happier horses.


I'd like to know how to run a profitable horse boarding business. I've looked for the answer to this question everywhere and I just can't seem to find anything to work with that's actually helpful. Is it even possible to have such a business? If so, how do I do it?

This is a frequent question. For some people, it's the work they would rather do and want to quit their current day jobs. For others, they're already in the business, but they're losing money, or just barely making ends meet and scraping by. The answer is: "Yes! You can run a profitable boarding business. BUT, there are stipulations."

First, you can't run a profitable business in all locations. The cliental need to be able to afford the rates that you need to be able to charge in order to make a profit. If the horse owners needing to board their horses in your area can't afford what you need to charge, you won't have sufficient business to make money — there's just no way around that.

Boarding horses is not very profitable in most locations. The affluent and wealthy may be willing to pay for higher-priced services in the right areas of the country, but most people cannot or will not do so in most other areas. That's why most boarding barns supplement their income with other services, such as riding instruction and horse training. You could also offer less common services, such as clipping services, horse massage, etc.

The first place to start is to reduce your expenses as much as possible. Check around extensively to get the lowest prices for the supplies you need (e.g. hay, grain, bedding, etc.)

Another approach is that you can trade off some expenses for more labor from you. For example, you can decide NOT to hire those two high-school girls and instead muck all the stalls yourself. And if you have enough land and a tractor, you can grow your own hay and not need to buy it. But as you can see, this all means more work for you.

Boarding alone, is a very difficult business in which to survive. We have had several articles written about this topic by contributing authors. Here they are:

  1. Six Horse Business Myths
  2. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 1
  3. Buying A Horse Farm – Part 2
  4. Avoiding Typical Horse Business Pitfalls in a Recession

Remember, you can only make a profit if the following are true:

  1. Your income is more than your expenses;
  2. Your expenses include a fair and adequate wage for your services;
  3. Your cliental is able and willing to afford your rates.

You can play with the above as mentioned earlier, by offering other related services to bring in more income. Or you can even sell products to get additional income, such as tack, feed, fly spray, grooming tools, apparel, etc. But no matter what you do, you need a willing customer base and a positive cash flow. Not all localities can support a profitable horse business. If yours cannot, you need to put your business in a locale that can, or you cannot run that business profitably.

As much as most new business owners don't want to hear it, creating a comprehensive and honest business plan is the only way to truly assess your ability to be profitable...or not profitable. Better to find out you can't be profitable before going into business than to lose lots of time and money, not to mention lots of your labor to learn the same lesson. Conversely, a good business plan will also show you where you need to cut costs and what you need to charge to be profitable. Either way, you need the discipline and insight a good plan will provide. Otherwise, you're just throwing the dice and gambling — that's not something that smart and successful business people do — that's what business losers do.

January 24, 2011 – WINTER SHOES

What do you need to do to stop a horse from slipping on a winter trail?

Winter shoes are probably the best thing to do if you're expecting to have to walk across icy ground. Horseshoes provide better traction in snow than just the horse's hoof (make sure to include pads). Borium shoes (again, include pads) provide some traction even on ice, though you still should move slowly at the walk and be very careful. At no time should you be trotting or running a horse across an icy surface. Besides the obvious risk of slipping and falling, the shock of each foot coming down onto the hard, ice surface significantly increases the chances of micro-fractures and shin splints.

January 21, 2011 – STILL MORE ABOUT WIND...

Is it a bad idea to ride my horse in the wind?

We've gotten lots of questions this year on several reoccurring topics. One of those topics has been about riding on windy days, and your question is one of several more we've gotten about the topic this week. You can read my other responses in our HorseGuy Jul-Dec 2010 Archive). See the posts for Sep 23rd and Nov 30, 2010. Both also point to a related article.

To answer your question, essentially, it's going to depend on your horse. If he/she is easily spooked by the wind and there's more than a little of it on the day(s) you want to ride, it could prove to be a frustrating and maybe even scary ride. Conversely, if your horse is calm and somewhat bomb-proof, or the wind is on the calmer side, it may not affect your horse's demeanor — it really depends on the horse.

The aforementioned posts and article will go further to explain why horses can be so spooked by wind.


How can I make my barn brighter on these dark winter days?

Well, you have several options:

  1. Replace your current light bulbs with higher wattage bulbs. And whatever you do, you should be using Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs which will save you 70% or so on the costs of electricity over incandescent bulbs;
  2. You can also add more bulb fixtures, that is, add more lights to your barn. Of course, populate them ONLY with CFLs;
  3. When the weather starts to get warmer, you can paint the ceilings and walls of your barn a light color — it's astounding how much brighter your barn will be just by lightening the wall color;
  4. Also in the warmer weather, you can consider installing some skylights in the barn's ceiling. This really brings in the natural light during the day and makes the barn even more inviting.
I especially like that the last two suggestions provide a more brightly lit environment for no extra electricity costs; and, they work very well together. Actually, the lighter walls will help with all forms of lighting whether electrically created or natural.

If you want to learn more, we have an article entitled Better Barn Lighting that you may also want to read. The article includes a photo of a large barn with natural light from skylights. But these techniques will work for all barns of all sizes.


We've got a lot of ice around and our horses have been kept inside for the last few days so they don't slip and fall on the icy ground. We don't have an indoor arena and there's really no safe place for them to walk around outside. How long can they stay inside?

There's no danger in the horses being kept inside for a while, but they may be a little crazy with so little activity. Why not help them by asking each owner to take their horses out and walk them around inside the barn for at least 15 or 20 minutes each day. It'll not only break the monotony of being stall bound, but will also let them get a little exercise and burn some "pent-up" energy from being stuck inside.

Living in a northern state and usually having the same problem at least once or twice each winter, I also trot my horse around the barn. Our barn has stalls in the center as well as on the sides, so I trot him around those center stalls. Sometimes, I tack him up, mount, and walk and trot him; at other times, I trot beside him on foot. He seems to enjoy the exercise and acts more comfortable and typical after it's over. In other barns in which I've boarded, we at least always had an aisle in which we could walk or even trot for a short distance going each way.

While these suggestions are not as good as being able to turn out the horses each day, it at least provides some exercise while also affording them some safety from falling until that ice either melts or is covered with snow so it presents less of a slipping hazard. If you're inclined to exercise your horse(s) even longer each time or for several times each day, that's even better and I'm sure your horse will appreciate it and feel better as a result.

January 18, 2011 – LUNGING ON WET GRASS?

Can I lunge my young horse on grass that's wet and slippery?

You definitely SHOULD NOT lunge any horse on slippery footing! If you do so, you're taking a huge risk that your horse could fall and get seriously hurt. With horses, slippery ground should be avoided or crossed ONLY AT SLOW speeds. The careful walk is the best speed to go when on slippery footing, and even then, only on level ground while still attempting to avoid especially slippery surfaces, such as ice or a thin layer of mud on hard or frozen ground.


My horse seems to spook at almost anything. How do I walk him past a scary object?

This has been asked quite a few times before, so we've prepared an article to address it. It's entitled, appropriately enough: Walking Past a Scary Object.

January 14, 2011 – CATS IN THE BARN

My cat always wants to go into my barn and sometimes sneaks in, but I throw him out because I'm afraid he'll get stepped on. Do horses get along with cats?

Generally they do. There may be a little curiosity the first time a cat and horse meet, but the ones I've seen at barns get along rather well. I've even seen cats sleeping on the back of standing horses. Both likely enjoy the mutual heat during the colder months. And while one is a prey animal while the other is a predator, we're fortunate in that the predator is much smaller and not a threat to the horse, and the horse knows it.

Another aspect you might like is that cats will usually keep the mouse and rat population down in a barn. Horses obviously can't chase and catch mice, but the cats certainly can.

The only thing that has given me pause is the occasional time wherein a cat, for some inexplicable reason, thinks it's a good idea to run between the legs of a walking horse. They usually make it through ok, but more than once I've seen the cat get accidently lifted and propelled through the air by the horse's walking motion when the cat misjudged things. The cats have always been unhurt, though both were surprised, especially the cat as it finds itself flying several feet above the ground when it was running by just moments earlier. Even more surprisingly, that experience doesn't seem to make the cat any more cautious in the future and their occasional "leg running" continues.

January 13, 2011 – PICKING HOOVES

How often should I pick my horse's hooves?

I clean my horse's hooves every time that I visit him, which is usually every day. Hooves that are not kept clean can result in foot problems, such as thrush and white-line disease. Both are thought to be problems brought on by urine soaked bedding left packed around the frog for an extended period of time. Cleaning your horse's hooves regularly reduces the chances of developing such ailments.


Can horses endure cold weather outside if they are domesticated?

Of course they can! Becoming domesticated doesn't mean that horses give up any of their abilities to handle inclement weather, it just means that they've learned to live with and interact with humans.

More important to the horse's survival are things, such as, is their winter coat healthy and adequate; can they escape the coldest weather and winds in a barn, or by access to a run-in or wind barrier; are they getting adequate food and water, etc. In fact, horses that have these things and live outside most of the year tend to be among the healthiest. Horses that spend too little time outside, including during the winter, tend to be the least healthy.

January 11, 2011 – CAN HORSES SEE WIND?

I've heard horses can see the wind. Is this true?

No. Horses can no more see it than you and I can. Someone else asked this question and we're wondering where this was heard or printed.

As prey animals, they're much more aware and observant of their surroundings, and as a result, will usually see the effects of wind before we do, such as moving leaves and branches, debris being blown across the ground, etc. And like us, they can also hear the wind blowing. But their hearing is more sensitive than ours, so they can hear weaker winds than we might. Taken together, I can see where it might seem they can actually hear it.

January 10, 2011 – HORSESHOES AND SNOW

My horse keeps getting balls of ice under his hooves. My barn owner tells me that's because he still is shoed and that he should have winter shoes and pads put on. He seems to be doing ok even with the balls of ice. Do I really have to change to the more expensive winter shoes?

YES! Either go with the winter shoes or have him go barefoot until your snow season is over. The current problem is caused by your horse walking through snow with regular shoes. The body heat in his hooves is melting some of the snow that refreezes into ice when it touches the cold steel (or aluminum) of the horseshoe. As it builds up during the day, a ball of ice like you've already seen forms on the bottom of the hooves. Each ball of ice is putting stress on your horse's foot, legs, and joints. It could temporarily or permanently affect his gait and skeletal system.

Take your barn owner's advice and switch to winter shoes, or just let him go barefoot for the winter if you won't be riding him. If you go with winter shoes, make sure your farrier includes pads so snow won't be able to touch your horse's hooves to melt and refreeze. As you've likely heard before, for a horse, their legs and feet are critical and messing with their health is a recipe for trouble or disaster.


My horse is clipped and therefore blanketed normally in the cold weather. Should I keep his blanket on when I ride him so he doesn't get cold?

No, you should not, even though you have him clipped. Horses generate a lot of heat when they work and you don't want your horse to overheat — he should be fine during the ride. If you clip him as you say, I presume you keep him blanketed when he's not working? This is typical for clipped horses because they would lose too much heat without their normal coats in cold weather.

But when riding, take his blanket off and use a good quality saddle blanket or pad under your saddle. When you're ride is over, take his tack off and place a "cooler" on him. A cooler is a special blanket designed to absorb his perspiration and keep him warm until he's dry. When he is dry, remove his cooler and put his usual blanket on and you can return him to his paddock.


I got into a discussion with one of my boarders who was unhappy and saying to me that I didn't groom my indoor arena often enough. I told her there were no set times or rules about doing it and she didn't agree. How often should I groom my arena?

You're correct that there are no rules; in fact, I suspect there isn't much discussion about the frequency of grooming and a few quick searches confirmed that. However, it's fair to say that it should be done periodically and I would base it on the condition of the arena.

For example, if you groom it Monday morning and there's a rut around the rail by Wednesday, or in front of jumps or Cavaletti, I'd say it needs to be done again. It's not so much a frequency thing as it is the need to level off the arena after enough use causes ruts and other uneven footing. Horses are less likely to trip or stumble when the footing is even. Therefore, I'd let the condition of the arena's surface be your guide whether it's an indoor or outdoor arena.


Can I wear non-riding gloves for riding in winter?

Sure! BUT, I've found that cloth gloves don't provide much of a grip on the reins. Some cloth gloves made for riding include leather palms, strips across the palms, or dots on the palms so as to provide a better grip. But plain cloth gloves don't grip well. Leather gloves work quite well.

For what it's worth, I tried mittens once, and while they keep hands warmer than gloves, I didn't really feel as if I had enough control and definitely prefer gloves. The individual fingers make a big difference.

January 4, 2011 – BARN LIGHTING

How many lumens do I need to light a large barn?

We seem to get questions about barn lighting around this time each year, no doubt because of the shorter, darker days of winter. Well, you're asking one of the "right" questions, but it's only part of the entire equation. First, you didn't specify the square footage of the barn — describing your barn as "large" covers a lot of ground. Obviously, the larger the barn, the more area you'll have to light.

Second, are the walls finished? This is very important for several reasons. Finished walls reflect more light than unfinished walls of the same color. If they are finished, are they painted? And if they are painted, is it a light color or a darker one — this makes a huge difference. Light-colored walls reflect much more light than darker ones. Is the paint flat or does it have some gloss? Glossy walls reflect more light and are easier to clean.

Finally, how much light do you want in your barn? If you were sewing or making watches in there, you'd need a lot more light than you need to muck stalls and feed horses. Still, many barns have too little light and even picking hooves in those barns can feel more like a groping exercise in the dark than an intentional, deliberate cleaning of the horse's feet.

We have an article that will give you various lighting ideas and help you get this together entitled: Better Barn Lighting.


When riding outside in colder months, I'm always worried when my horse steps into cold water or mud. She doesn't seem to have a problem with it, but I'm always concerned she'll get stuck or get a cold. Am I being silly?

I understand your concern and don't think you're being silly, though I think you don't have to worry about this so much. I, too, have disliked taking my horse through places that require him to step into cold mud or water. Truth be told, he doesn't seem to mind and neither do the horses of my fellow riders. Of course, I try to avoid making him step anywhere that would submerge more than his fetlock joint. I might be overly cautious, but at least I think I've got a good margin of safety.

Overall, I work to avoid having him step in those areas when possible, but don't worry about it when we have little choice and no easy way to go around the mud or water. This is a good question to ask your vet — I intend to do the same. It's better we get some accurate medical advice than depending on our suspicions or on repeated "wive's tales" or non-medical professional advice (like mine).

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