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"Horse Guy" Archive Jul - Dec 2011

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December 30, 2011 – SLIPPERY SLOPES

Is it dangerous to ride on hills in the winter? Should we just stay off them?

Well, it's not dangerous just because it's winter, but it is dangerous if the hill is slippery for any reason regardless of the season. Obviously, snow and ice will generally occur only in cold weather. A freak summer storm could bring snow, but it won't last. Conversely, a muddy slope because of heavy rains could be extremely slippery and dangerous to ride upon in any season.

The danger of slipping and falling has nothing to do with the season and everything to do with the ground conditions of the hill you['re considering climbing, descending, or going across laterally. Be very careful whenever the footing is in question. A horse with a broken leg is a very bad thing; and that says nothing of the risk to the rider who could get crushed by a sliding horse or by one rolling over him (or her). Caution and safety should be an all year, all weather consideration.

December 29, 2011 – PUTTING A HALTER/BRIDLE ON

I got a halter-bridle I've been wanting as a present. Do I put it on the horse and then clip on the bit or do I clip the bit on first and put it on like a normal bridle?

You can do either — it doesn't matter. I've done both, but I find that it's easier to put the halter on first and then add the bit when I'm ready to ride. This approach also allows me to be consistent with one of the tenets I maintain for my horse, namely, that he can graze anytime he doesn't have a bit in his mouth (presuming I'm not demanding his attention, such as when grooming or checking him), but never when he has a bit in his mouth. That way, when I put the bit in, it's time to work and I don't let him graze. When we're done riding or have stopped for a picnic lunch, I pull the bit and let him graze until we ride again.

Of course, he's mostly Thoroughbred and strong willed, so this approach has never completely stopped him from trying to graze when he really wants to do so. But by me being consistent, he certainly tries less frequently when he's bitted.

As for you, try both ways, but I think you'll find that haltering your horse first and then bitting when ready to ride is not only the easiest approach, but much easier than trying to putting any kind of bridle on a horse. Separating the bitting from getting the leather over the horse's head is just easier.


If I buy horse property, is it considered to be commercial?

Whether property is considered "commercial" or not is determined by its zoning. The zoning board for the town in which the property resides determines what is zoned residential, commercial, or industrial.

If you buy horse property to conduct some kind of equine business, you're using the property commercially and most towns will require that it be in a commercial zone. If it isn't, you can petition the town to re-zone the property and its local area. Some towns may allow certain kinds of horse businesses to be conducted on agricultural property. For example, if you own very rural property, train only one horse at a time on your property and it resides there for the duration of the training, your services may be considered inconsequential and have minimum impact on surrounding neighbors, if any. Other towns may strictly enforce all zoning rules, especially if in a somewhat populated area. It really is determined by how much traffic your particular services will generate, how populated your area is, how much land you own, and how closely or not your town enforces traditional zoning rules, as well as how it specifically interprets them.

Therefore, you should investigate all of these things BEFORE you buy horse property so that you're sure you can conduct the kinds of business and provision of services on the property that you intend.

December 27, 2011 – HORSE HASN'T BEEN TURNED OUT

What should I do if my horse hasn't been turned out all day?

Your question is not clear? Are you asking whether or not you can ride your horse? If so, you can still ride if your horse hasn't been turned out. The bigger questions is why your barn isn't turning your horse out so he can graze, socialize, and get exercise. To address that issue, you neet to have a talk with the barn owner to see why your horse was kept in. I'd also make it very clear that I want my horse turned out each day for his own health.

On the flip side, your barn owner may have had a good reason for keeping your horse in this day. You need to check with him/her to find out why your horse was kept in. The best situation is when you and the barn owner work together for the benefit of your horse's health. If your barn doesn't work with you and gives you trouble about this, then I'd find another barn that will work with you and generally honor your wishes. But first, inquire to learn why your horse wasn't turned out this day — there may have been a very good reason.

December 23, 2011 – CLICKING CLIPS?

I have a set of reins that have metal clips on the ends for connecting to the bit. A woman at my barn told me that the clips are bad for the horse and that I should remove the clips and tie the reins directly to the bit. Is she right?

I have scissor clips on the end on my reins and have used them to ride on many different horses over the years with many different bits. There's nothing "bad for the horse" about the clips being on the reins. I have heard that some horses dislike the clicking sound that evidently some clips make on their bits, but have never experienced any such reaction from the horses I've ridden. In fact, I don't hear any clicking myself while riding, but it's certainly possible. If they do click, my horse and the others I ride don't seem to notice. Similarly, lots of saddles I've ridden in squeak, but the horses didn't seem to notice or care about that, either.

I suggest you proceed this way: if you should ever notice that your horse is bothered by a sound the clips make on the bit, you can remove the clips and see if that makes any noticeable difference to your horse. If it does, I'd leave them off. Otherwise, I wouldn't throw away the convenience of the clips because of someone else's idea of what is right and wrong when your horse obviously seems to be fine with them.

December 22, 2011 – A HAPPY HORSE

When I go into my horses paddock and sit on the ground, she runs in circles and kicks in the air with her tail out. Why does she do that?

You should feel honored. Your horse is acting that way because she's excited that you're there with her in the paddock. She's also hoping that you've got some fun planned for your horse and you. That's probably likely because she would only act that way if she has associated you with having fun from previous experiences.

You may want to also read today's post by the Horse Girl. Another submitter also appears to have earned a similar bond with their horse. This is quite rare.

Keep up the good work!


I recently started running a small boarding barn. A friend of my husband told him we should make my business a LLC. Is he right? How does that help me? Is this going to cost me money?

Yes, your husband's friend is right and he makes an EXCELLENT suggestion. Also, yes, it will cost some money, but not an unreasonable amount, and it is worth EVERY PENNY. Stay with me here as I explain why this is so important for almost any business. It 's important to understand why smart businesses take this approach.

The term "LLC" stands for Limited Liability Company. If you convert your boarding business to an LLC, it means that your business will be a legal and tax entity unto itself as far as the law is concerned. That means that, if your boarding business was ever sued for any reason, your personal assets will be better protected. Let's take an example.

Let's assume that one of your horses accidently hurts a boarder, a rider, or even a visitor to your barn. You are liable for two reasons; one is that it was your horse that caused the injury. The second reason is that this happened on your property. Either reason means that there's a good chance that your business will be sued.

Your business definitely should have liability insurance. But a lawsuit could still award damages to the injured party that exceeds the insurance amount. At that point, the assets of your business could be taken. BUT, your personal assets, such as your house, cars, investments, savings, and such, are not part of your business, so they are protected and cannot be seized.

There are times when even personal assets can be exposed, such as if your actions and decisions could be found to have been severely negligent. But otherwise, you're generally much safer. The thing you should do is to enlist the help of an equine attorney. He/she can help you convert your business to an LLC and to guide you in other ways in which that you can limit your legal exposure to injuries and other forms of damage that you, your horses, your boarders, and their horses could inflict. I mention the boarders also because any injury or property damage that occurs will likely expose you to some degree because it happened on your property. Proper legal guidance will help you to reduce your legal exposure in many ways, from establishing and LLC and getting the proper insurance to using properly protective agreements and liability waivers — you need this legal help when starting a business.

Unfortunately, this does cost some money, but you can't afford to lose everything you've worked for in your life just because an unfortunate accident occurred. That's why most businesses protect themselves in multiple ways, and you should, too.


How do I stop my horse from laying his ears back?

You need to provide more information in your question. The problem is not that your horse is laying his ears back; rather, you need to focus on the reason for his doing it. For example, if he's laying his ears back because another horse is getting into his space or trying to take his food, you should leave your horse alone and let him sort out the issue with the other horse. You don't want your horse to bully other horses, but you also don't want him to allow others to bully him.

If your horse is laying his ears back when you approach, then you need to determine why he's doing this. Is he somehow frightened by your approach in ways that threaten him? For example, is he afraid he will be struck by you or some other aggressive behavior by you based upon past experience? Or is he instead afraid you'll take his food away while he's eating? In these cases, you need to earn his trust and also be his leader.

My horse doesn't lay his ears back when I approach no matter what he's doing. I can even take his food away and he will only back away. He's not afraid of me, but he does respect me. He also knows that I will give him his food back, or if there's something wrong with it, I'll give him replacement food. And if not, it's still ok because I'm the leader. If this was your question, then you need to work with a trainer to earn your horse's trust and respect.

If your question relates to something not discussed above, please resubmit your question with more information so we can respond to your particular issue. The laying of ears back indicates an attempt by a horse to stop a threatening behavior and warn a horse, other animal, or a person that something is upsetting him. You need to know what that is before you can deal with the problem. Just stopping him from putting his ears back IS NOT the right approach for you to take.

December 19, 2011 – TRAILER TIRE PRESSURE

What psi do I put into the tires of my horse trailer?

Reposted in our article: Common Trailering Questions.


Just how dangerous is it to ride a horse? I used to ride when a child, but was always afraid when I was in the saddle. Now, my daughter has learned I used to ride and wants to learn to ride herself. She even thinks it would be great fun to get two horses and ride with her mom. I'm flattered that she wants to do this with me, but I don't want either of us to get hurt. I also don't want to just say no to her without a good reason. So what are the odds of getting killed riding a horse?

I don't know what you'd prefer to do, but the odds of getting killed riding a horse are exceedingly low, much lower than riding in a car. The much slower speeds of horseback riding definitely drop the injury rate. The odds of getting bruised or scraped riding a horse are higher, but you're only risking occasional scrapes and bruises.

I think it'd be sad for you to decline this wonderful opportunity to share a love of hroses and riding with your daughter. Those happy memories could be with you both for the rest of your lives. And your daughter could both pass them on to her own children and perhaps initiate a similar sharing with them. If you're young enough and in good physical health, you may even be able to ride in the future with your daughter and potential grandchildren — wouldn't that be wonderful?

We have an article about riding risks that you should read. It's entitled: The Risk of Riding Horses.

December 15, 2011 – HORSE WASTE BREAKDOWN

How long does it take for horse muck to degrade?

There are several variables involved, such as what the horse is fed, the ambient temperature, etc. But generally, a pile will be gone in several weeks. If you break a pile up and spread it around after it dries, such as an hour later, it'll be mostly gone in a week, two weeks max. Around here in the Northeast where I live, the stuff is typically made up of partially digested grass and hay, and waste products from processing grain through the horse. That's all naturally biodegradable, so it doesn't stay around for long unless it's concentrated in a pile.


I want to ride more this year than I have in the past. Can I safely ride on ice if I get winter shoes with borium nails?

You need to be reasonable about your winter riding expectations. Winter shoes means that there will be pads under the shoes and over your horse's frogs. The pads keep snow from accumulating as frozen chunks in the center of your horse's shoes. The chunks can put large stresses on your horse's legs and also cause him to slip and fall. The pads reduce the chances of that frozen snow and ice build-up.

Borium is nothing more than tungsten carbide impregnated in a softer, holding metal. Tungsten carbide is very hard and used in certain drill bits and saw blades to cut hard materials, even some ferrous metals. It holds up well against frozen ground and ice and the impregnated particles have sharp edges to grip the ice.

All that said, hard ground or ice is still not a good surface to travel fast upon. Traction with these shoes and nails is better than without, but it's by no means as good as traction on dry ground in warmer weather. And cantering or running on hard ground risks shin splints in your horse's legs. So, even with these shoes, you should still limit most of your winter riding to walking when on ice and frozen ground.

In areas where the ground is soft, such as on well drained sand on a dirt road or in an arena, you may still trot and canter. Just assure that the footing under such sand is stable. But on any other surfaces in the winter, it's prudent to limit most of your outdoor riding to the walk because of the harder ground.

And personally, I just avoid riding completely when there's lots of frozen snow or ice around. Consider that your horse could step on a piece of ice or frozen snow that then slides along the ground and causes you both to fall — it's just not worth the risk! I would feel horrible if my horse slipped, fell, and was injured because I took him out riding on slippery ground. And if I had to put him down as a result of that injury because of my decision to ride, I'd have difficulty forgiving myself. So, I limit my winter riding to having sufficient places to ride that are not covered with frozen snow and ice.

We have an article you may want to read entitled: Winter Riding Dangers & Staying Safe.

December 13, 2011 – HORSE WANTS TO RUN WITH A GROUP — OH MY!

How can I stop my horse from getting excited when other horses ride by? This happens a lot when I go trail riding with a friend and we meet up with another group of riders. The bigger the group, the more my horse wants to go with them. I normally ride in the arena and there is no problem. But this happens every time we go on a trail ride once or twice a year.

The fact you only ride outside the arena once or twice yearly compounds the problem because your horse feels safer in the arena setting, but "he knows" there are predators out on the trails. People who only ride in the arena and other enclosed spaces generally don't have to build the trust bond with their horse to the same degree as those that ride away from the barn on trails, in fields, and in other outdoor spaces. But when out there, that bond of trust is even more important for your horse to feel safe. If he believes that you'll make good decisions and keep him safe, he's much more likely to go wherever you want him to go, even away from a herd of horses. But without that bond and trust, he'll push to join a herd every single time.

In a herd, horses can fight off a predator more successfully when together. Even when they're running away, the main exposed horse when a herd is being chased is only the last in the group. All the horses know this and they try to be up front or in the middle of the herd.

There's also another factor: it's just plain fun for horses to run with other horses. These animals are running machines and love to run in a group. If you're mainly an arena rider, a slow canter is the likely top speed your horse will ever achieve. But out on the trail, he canter swiftly or better yet, gallop — GREAT FUN! — I see this every time my friends and I gallop our horses — the horses love it!

So essentially, you're fighting your horse's natural instincts when you try to stay separate from a large group of horses outside, especially if he's not comfortable enough that you'll protect him. The best thing you can do to make your horse more comfortable is to learn how to be his leader and also to ride the trails more frequently. Riding there more frequently will let him get used to it and remove much of the mystery.

One more thing, don't be afraid to gallop your horse once in a while. If you're not comfortable with it, discuss it with your riding instructor to make sure your riding properly. Galloping is one of the most exhilarating feelings you can experience with your horse and you don't need to ever do a flat-out gallop — just clean the cobwebs out occasionally when your horse is in condition.

December 12, 2011 – MOUNTING FROM WRONG SIDE?

How dangerous is it to mount a horse from the wrong side?

Wrong side??? There is no "wrong side". You can teach a horse to allow you to mount from either side. In fact, while my horse, like most horses, is most accustomed to being mounted from the left side, I occasionally mount him from the right side. The ability to do so can be very important in certain situations.

For example, if I was on a narrow trail on the side of a steep hill rising on my right and had to dismount for some reason, such as to remove a stone stuck in his shoe, I would want to remount on the rising hill side. I would not want to risk pulling him and me off the narrow trail and down the steep embankment. Mounting from the side closest to the hill significantly reduces that risk. Therefore, I advocate teaching horses to accept mounting from either side.

Important Note: In light of recent studies showing how much twisting stress is placed on a horse's spine when mounting using the stirrup, I usually use a mounting block or some other elevated assistance (a stump, log, large stone, etc.) to reduce the chances of same. However, there are times I must dismount out on the trail and cannot then find something to use as a mounting block to remount. In those cases, I must and do mount using the stirrup. It's a nice safety factor being able to do that from either side of the horse.


What sort of behavior from a horse makes it dangerous to muck a stall?

I presume you're asking about behavior while the horse is still in the stall while the person is mucking it? It could be any kind of behavior where the horse is spooked, panicky, or just unhappy about the person being in there.

If a horse is spooked or overly excited, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that it may be better to let the horse calm down before starting to muck in there with the horse. Otherwise, most horses are fine with a person mucking while they're still in the stall.

However, it's important to keep in mind that almost all horses tend to be territorial about their stalls against other horses coming in or even getting too close while walking by. But a few horses are so territorial they don't even like people being in a stall with them. In those cases, it never makes sense to risk injury to yourself. Instead, remove the horse from the stall and turn him out, tie him elsewhere, or put him into another empty stall. That will let you safely clean the horse's stall.

One more point: it's been my experience that such horses are usually calm when eating even when a persaon is in the stall with them (though it would be a bad idea for the person to get too close to the feed bucket at that time). In such a case, you might be able to work while the horse eats. But my own advice would be to avoid that situation regardless. First, such a situation seems rather tenuous and risky and I can't think of why someone would take the risk just to avoid removing the horse from the stall. And second, the horse may finish eating while you're still in there and become upset with your presence now that he's not distracted by the food. Or maybe something else we can't anticipate gets him riled. Whatever it is, it's just not worth the risk and I would instead remove him from the stall while I work in there.


Is it ok for a horse to stand in a cold barn at night?

Unless you're talking about extreme weather, such as the north or south pole, or in Siberia or some such, horses usually do quite well even being outside throughout the winter. So, a barn will definitely be warmer because it will stop the wind. Also, this presumes that you don't clip your horse and that he's able of growing an adequate winter coat.

Some barns are closed up at night which allows the heat of the horses to warm the air. It's ok to close up the barn if there is some air exchange and it's not sealed up tight. But if in doubt, the horses will usually do better with open doors and an exchange of air. You don't want a tight barn because the ammonia from their urine and gases from other waste products can accumulate and are not good for the horse's sinuses and lungs.


Can I haul just one horse in a two horse trailer?

Of course you can. Wouldn't it be lousy if you had 3 horses, and therefore had to have multiple trailers: a 1-horse, a 2-horse, and a 3-horse trailer depending on how many you needed to move at any particular time?

If you have a 2-horse straight trailer and want to haul only one horse, make sure to put the horse on the left side to compensate for the crown of the road. If you're moving two horses at a time, put the heavier horse on the left side. If you have a slant-load trailer, put the one horse in the forward-most slot. You want that weight over the axles or in front of them, not behind them where the weight could cause fishtailing and possibly also pop the hitch off the ball. Similarly with a slant-load and hauling two horses, put your heavier horse up front for the same reason.


My horse charges me when I enter the pasture. What should I do?

First, don't go into that pasture yourself. You're in real danger if you do because your horse's charging is telling you that he doesn't respect you and is attempting to chase you out or even injure you. This is a battle you cannot win by confronting this horse with what you know now.

Second, it may be possible for an experienced trainer to take this horse, work with him, and then work with you to teach how you should deal with this horse. BUT, there is still no guarantee that you will handle this properly, or that this horse may explicitly have it in for you. So we move to the next point.

Third, perhaps the best thing you can do under these circumstances is to sell the horse with full disclosures to the buyer and use the proceeds to purchase another, but far more accommodating and safer horse for you. There is just no sense in risking your safety and life with a horse determined to cause you injury. A more docile horse with which you can build a good and respectful relationship is safer, faster, and ultimately easier and more economical.


Can a too tight girth damage the lungs of a horse?

I doubt it. The lungs are protected by the horse's rib cage. But too tight a girth/cinch may make it difficult for the horse to inflate his lungs and get a breath of air. It may also squeeze too tight causing bruising and damage to the skin tissue under the girth. Neither of these would make for a happy horse wanting to be ridden and the horse may even balk, or worse, start bucking.

You definitely want a girth/cinch to be tight enough that it stops the saddle from sliding backward or sliding down one side. But you don't want it so tight that the horse is uncomfortable and has difficulty breathing. Generally, a low-withered horse requires a tighter cinch than a high withered horse. The high withers provide a place for the gullet of the saddle to "lock in" as you mount and dismount. A low withered horse doesn't have the benefit of the withers locking in to the gullet.

That foregoing said, don't infer from this that it's ok for the gullet to rest on the withers — that would be very bad. Rather, the gullet must stay above and clear the withers. But while mounting or dismounting, the weight of the rider in one stirrup will cause the saddle to move slightly to that side and be held by the rising withers to limit sidewards saddle slip during the mount or dismount.

December 2, 2011 – MAKING A PROFIT

How do horse boarding farms make a profit?

Many usually don't unless they're able to charge a high boarding fee. The reason is because the cost of keeping a horse is high (see previous post below). As a result, most boarding farms include other services so that they can pay their costs and make a little money also.

The kinds of services offered can vary widely, but most often include riding instruction and horse training in several disciplines familiar to the barn owner. Some barn owners will also hire other trainers and instructors to teach in additional disciplines. Other services sometimes offered are horse cleaning and grooming, horse massage, sales of tack, breeding, trailering services, on-site showing and judging, etc.

If you're in the boarding business and wondering how to make money or considering getting into it, you may want to read some articles we have on the topic. The article entitled Starting Your Own Boarding Barn gets you started and links to other excellent articles.

Good luck!

December 1, 2011 – ABANDONED HORSES

Why do do some people abandon horses?

There can be any number of reasons, but the most common is the horse owner's inability to continue paying for feed and board. This often happens when the owner loses his or her job and their income is reduced or completely eliminated through a layoff, firing, business closure, etc.

It's expensive to keep a horse. If you keep one on your own property, you can save on the boarding costs, but still have to buy hay, feed, and bedding. That usually results in a cost of about $150 per month per horse, plus you do all the mucking, turn-out, and bringing them back in. If you grow your own hay, you save on the purchase price, but have to cut, ted, bale, pick up, transport and store the hay. You also have to fertilize the fields occasionally, so that's extra work plus the cost of the fertilizer.

In the example above, the costs are approximately $1,800 per year. Full board can be anything from $300/mth to $1,300/mth depending on the location and barn. That makes the annual costs approximately $3,600 - $15,000 per year. And it's during an economic downturn when jobs are lost and there are correspondingly fewer buyers to purchase horses from those that can no longer afford them.

So, when times get rough, some people feel they have no choice but to walk away from horse ownership. To learn more, see this article on our site: The Abandoned Horse Problem — Solve it Quickly.

November 30, 2011 – HORSE TURNED OUT WITH COWS

The barn owner has turned out my horse and some of the others with cows. Isn't this dangerous for the horses?

Not usually. Horses are often turned out to graze with cows and there is rarely a problem. In fact, I think this is a good thing for horses to experience.

If you're a trail rider and your horse is not familiar with cows, he'll likely panic when he sees one up close. But now that your horse is grazing with cattle, he'll quickly get used to them. And if you ever come across any cows while riding, your horse will likely be ok because he won't feel threatened by them.


What expenses can I take for running my horse farm?

That depends. Is your horse farm a business? In other words, do take in boarders and/or provide any other services for a fee? If you do, you're a business and can take deductions for all legitimate business expenses.

If you keep only your own horses on your farm your personal use (for riding, as a pet, etc.), then you're not a business, your horses and your farm are a hobby, and you cannot deduct any horse-related expenses.


Is it bad to put a horse blanket on in a horse trailer?

Your question is not clear. Are you asking if it's bad for a horse to wear a blanket while in a trailer or to actually put the blanket on the horse while in the trailer? Let's take each one:

  1. If it's winter and your horse is clipped, such as for showing, he'll likely be too cold if transported in a trailer without a blanket. So, if you clip your horse's hair, you're responsible for replacing the insulation function of that hair with a blanket, either until warm weather returns or until you let your horse grow his winter coat.
  2. If you already have your horse in a trailer for transport and realize you need to blanket him, it'll be easier and safer to pull him out of the trailer, put the blanket on, and then re-load him. It's possible to blanket a horse while he's in a trailer if he's a calm horse. But even then, there's not much room to work in there unless it's an empty stock trailer. And if it is a stock trailer that you're using in cold weather, hopefully you've installed the acrylic panes to enclose the trailer for cold weather transport. Moving at 50 MPH in 20°F air is the same as a constant 50 MPH wind in that temperature. Horses generally go for a wind break, run-in, or some other shelter in those conditions so they don't suffer hypothermia.

Important Note: I WOULD NOT blanket a horse in a stock trailer with other horses in there. In fact, when loading or unloading a stock trailer with other horses inside, it's best to minimize your time in there in general in case a horse spooks. That's because a group of panicked horses in an enclosed space can be a very dangerous situation for us fragile humans.


I have synthetic tack and know that it is impervious to water. But is it ok to leave in a barn over the winter? Don't synthetics mean it is made of different plastics? And don't they get hard in cold weather?

"Synthetic" actually means "man-made" as opposed to made by nature. But in the case of your question regarding synthetic saddles, I'd say you're generally safe in considering synthetic fabrics and saddle parts as plastics because they're generally man-made polymers, such as nylon, rayon, polyethylene, etc.

You don't mention whether or not your barn tack room is heated, but it shouldn't matter for your synthetic tack. The tack should be fine being stored regardless of the temperature in that room. While some plastics will get hard and brittle in really cold weather, synthetic saddle manufacturers know that and select appropriate materials that can withstand nature's seasonal changes. And you also don't have to worry about synthetic tack drying out as you would with leather tack.

One reason you may want to question the wisdom of storing your tack at a particular barn is the tack room's cleanliness or lack thereof. In dirt-floor barns, those tack rooms often get very dusty and dirty, and therefore, so does your tack. At least you can just hose off synthetic tack, but it still may get grimy and soil your pant's bottom when riding in between washings. If that's the case, it may still be better to store your tack elsewhere. If the tack room remains relatively clean, I think you're fine leaving your tack there.

November 23, 2011 – RIDING ON FROZEN GROUND

Is it ok to ride on frozen ground?

Yes it is. BUT, you need to do so responsibly. The fact the ground is frozen also means that it's hard. So you need to take the same precautions you should take when riding a horse on asphalt or concrete. Such a precaution is to stay at the walk to avoid causing your horse's hooves to pound against the ground. Such pounding can cause shin splints. Plus, harder ground tends to be somewhat slipperier than soft ground — another reason to take it easy.

Finally, don't ride too far or too long. While there's less pounding at the walk, there's still some and why pound your horse's skeletal system more than necessary. While it's good for both you and your horse to get out through the colder months, you still don't want to overdue it.

November 22, 2011 – GETTING MONEY TO BUY A HORSE?

How does one get money to buy a horse?

Well, the usual ways: 1) save it, 2) borrow it from a friend, family or bank, 3) sell something for the cash (extra car?), etc. There may also be grants you can apply for if you're going to perform a community service, such as start a non-profit therapeutic riding facility. You may even be able to solicit investors if you'll be starting a "for-profit" business entity and don't mind some financial partners. BUT, truly making any serious money on equine services is not easy. Therefore, unless you're getting into something with big payoffs, such as racing which may also involve stud fees and such from a winning horse, you'll likely need to save or borrow money to get a horse.


We built our barn this summer and ran water to fill each stall bucket. But with winter approaching, I'm wondering if that was such a good idea and am worried about the lines freezing when it gets cold. Am I worried for nothing?

No, you're worried for the right reasons. In the barn where I board my horse, they, too, have lines with running water to each stall for bucket filling. They still fill the buckets that way in the cold months, but turn off the main valve and drain the lines when they're done. The draining is done by opening each stall valve (after turning off the main valve) until the water finishes draining from each. They then close all the valves before leaving the barn for the night.

This does leave some small amount of water in the lines that freezes, but it's not enough to rupture any of the lines nor to cause an obstruction when the water is turned back on the next day. Also, they used plastic pipe rather than copper tubing for the lines, so there is some resilience that makes the lines even less susceptible to rupture from freezing. But, even if you used copper lines, draining after each fill should protect you from freeze damage.

November 18, 2011 – IS IT OK TO RIDE ON SNOWY GROUND?

With winter coming I am getting depressed thinking that I won't be able to ride. Just how unsafe is it to ride a horse on snowy ground?

If you think about it, wild horses don't go into hibernation when cold weather and snow arrive. So, of course you can ride your horse on snowy ground. But as with driving a car, you need to think ahead and also use common sense. Slick ground and limited traction affect hooves and shoes just as it does tires. So you need to avoid those situations where you and your horse can slip, fall, and get hurt.

When there's snow on the ground, avoid going up or down anything but the mildest of hills. If the hills are bare due to wind blowing the snow away or through melting, you can handle a steeper hill. But also remember that frozen ground is both hard and sometimes slippery with ice, so you still don't want to attack the steeper hills during cold weather. If your horse slips and falls, he can break bones and so could you. You also don't want to be under your horse when he falls.

As for speed, hard ground is hard on a horse when trotting or using the faster gaits. And taking a fall at speed is much more dangerous for both of you also. Therefore, winter outdoor riding is usually spent mostly at the walk. You may find some places where you've got a stretch of dry, loose earth or sand where you can trot or even get a few canter hops in. But otherwise, you'll mostly be walking. And that's ok because riding your horse over distance and up and down mild hills is still good exercise for him and will help keep him in some decent physical shape till warmer weather returns.

I mentioned limited traction being an issue for shoes above, as well as for hooves. That's because there are times when you'll be walking beside your horse in cold weather. Or you may be mounting or dismounting. At those times, you need to be aware of ground conditions so you don't slip, fall, and harm yourself just as when you're not around horses. But you also don't want to slip under your horse or fall too close to him. If he should panic and step on you while you're down, the results wouldn't be pretty. We have a more comprehensive treatment of winter riding dangers and how to avoid them in an article entitled: Winter Riding Dangers & Staying Safe.

So, spend time riding your horse in colder weather and enjoy the crisp, clean, dry air of the colder months. You'll both feel better and be in better shape when spring arrives.


Will a horse be happy if turned out but not ridden?

Definitely! In fact, many horses want to do nothing more than to graze with their buddies and avoid work (meaning riding) altogether. There are some horses that seem to prefer human companionship, but most enjoy that of other horses — they are herd animals, after all. Of course, horses that are regularly ridden have better muscle and endurance because of that work. And statistics indicate that a horse kept in work throughout its lifetime generally lives healthiest and longest.

So, as long as you don't overwork horses, the exercise is good for them. But they will also be happy with lots of turnout and socializing with other horses.


Is there anyplace special I should park my trailer for the winter? If not, does that mean I can leave it parked where it is?

I don't know where you leave your trailer parked, but it should at least be on level, stable ground. Obviously, a concrete or asphalt slab or on a driveway is a good surface. But you only want to park your trailer on it as long as you don't get torrents of water flowing over that surface and it doesn't reside under a tree or other object that can fall or dump snow and ice onto it. You also don't want to be near a building from which sliding snow and ice off its roof can fall onto the top of your trailer. If near a building, be sure to notice the roof angles — you're generally better off near the gable side.

If you park your trailer on bare earth or grass, assure that the surface is level and sound so your trailer doesn't lean and risk falling over on soggy ground. You also don't want to be in a spot where it could get washed away and slide down an embankment. Of course, remember that ground solid at this time of year could be soft and soggy in Spring from snow melt, Spring rains, and thawing.


I hate my barn chores as we get into winter. I especially hate breaking the ice in the water buckets. I know about heated buckets, but don't have electric power in the barn. Are there any other products that will work?

No one likes breaking that ice. But I've not heard of an unpowered barn before. It makes me wonder what you do for lighting at night any time and with shorter winter days?

As to your direct question: there are also insulated buckets that claim to be able to keep ice from forming for one whole day and across very cold nights. Some claim to work down to 15°F.

Regardless of what insulated bucket you buy, you'll likely get even more assurance by filling the bucket with warmer water than usual, such as 60 - 70°F or so.


Is it better to clip a horse and blanket him or to let him keep his winter hair? I am getting conflicting advice from my friends

This topic is not as complex as it appears you may feel it is. A horse, like any other mammal (including humans) needs a way to keep warm in cold weather. Whether he keeps the coat that nature provides him or we clip it off and substitue a blanket doesn't make much difference.

HOWEVER, if you do clip his coat, it becomes YOUR responsibility to make sure he's covered when he's not being ridden. If you don't do so, you could be risking him to hypothermia. Also, you don't want to ride him with a blanket on even though he's clipped. Horses generate a lot of heat when active and it's important that they be able to rid their bodies of the excess heat even in the winter.

So, if you decide to clip, here's what you do:

  1. Make sure your horses is blanketed when when the weather is cold (< 45°F);
  2. Make sure you remove that blanket when you tack him up and ride;
  3. Make sure to place a cooler on him immediately after riding and removing his tack so he'll cool and dry off properly; and
  4. And, make sure to remove his cooler and re-blanket him once he is dry.

ONE MORE THING: if you don't clip his hair, you still need to be careful that you not overwork your horse in the cold weather. That hair is like a blanket, so make sure you don't get your horse too hot when working him.

November 10 - 13, 2011 – EQUINE AFFAIRE

The Horse Girl and Horse Guy are at the Equine Affaire.

November 9, 2011 – REALLY NASTY BOARDERS

I have two mean women boarding their horses at my barn. They are mean to me as well as to my other boarders. These two are offensive, have no consideration for others, and often end up in arguments with the other boarders and also with me. They are really nasty! How should I handle them?

This is more of a sociological question than a horse question. Regardless, to address this problem, you need to make some determinations. First, you need to determine if there is a conversation you can have with these women individually or collectively that would motivate them to be more civil with you and the other boarders. Therefore, your first goal should be to identify a way to resolve the situation with the existing boarders, if possible.

If you don't feel it's possible to "fix" the existing situation, you then need to determine how important it is to you that the stalls rented by these women each month be filled. If it's not important, then you can speak with them and lay down the rules. If they don't follow them, you can evict them. But if you financially need to have the stalls rented, then you move to the next step.

This step is that you need to determine how easy or difficult it would be for you to replace these boarders if they should be angry and leave or if you should ask them to leave. If other boarders are waiting or easily solicited, your decision is easy. But this economy is not the best and many barns are hurting. If this is also true of your barn, then your decision is harder because evicting these boarders may mean these stalls will remain empty for some time until you find new boarders or they find you.

BUT, there is also another issue to consider about this, namely, what are the chances that one or more of the other boarders will leave if these two women stay and continue to aggravate everyone? Add to that your own frustration and the peace of mind you may have just by getting these two people out of your barn and your life.

You'll notice that I didn't tell you what you should do. That's because I don't know your financial situation, how bad things are in your area of the country, and what your tolerance is for these two turkeys. Only you can evaluate your situation and determine the decision that works best for you. But based on the fact you're obviously frustrated and are asking for help, and the fact that you mention other boarders are also irritated, I would suggest that the absolute wrong approach is to do nothing at all. You certainly don't want some of the other boarders, that I presume are harmonious with you and their fellow boarders, to move on and leave you still with the two causing you the most irritation.

Good luck!

November 8, 2011 – WINTER RIDING RISKS

As the weather gets colder I keep feeling that I should ride all winter. Some of my friends say that its too dangerous to ride in winter here in the northern U.S. Is this true?

You don't say whether most of your riding is in the arena or on the trail. If in the arena, the risk of problems due to cold weather are usually not very significant. If you or your horse get cold, you just stop riding and bring your horse back to his paddock or stall.

If you're a trail rider, then you'll be going significant distances away from the barn and there are some risks with which you may have to deal. We have an article that covers the topic entitled: Winter Riding Dangers & Staying Safe. After reading the article, you should be able to plan and avoid most of these risks. With adequate planning and good judgment, winter riding can be quite safe and is still good exercise for both you and your horse.

November 7, 2011 – HEATING THE BARN???

I just built a new barn this summer and finally brought my horses home. This is a dream come true! As the weather gets colder, should I put a heater in my barn to keep them warm? If not, can I leave my lights on for their heat? Can the horses sleep with the lights on all night?

Congratulations of having your horses at home! That's a dream many horse owners have, but never realize.

However, I WOULD NOT put a heater in your barn. With hay and bedding in the barn, you've already got a fire risk and you don't want to put an ignition risk like a heater in there. Also, don't leave the barn lights on all night. They throw little heat and the horses will sleep better with them off.

As for the horses, they should do just fine. If you check out other barns in your area, it's doubtful that they have heaters in them. Your horses should grow winter hair to keep warm. Remember that wild horses in the U.S. winter outside just fine in places as far north as Minnesota and Montana.

If you clip your horses for showing, keep a horse blanket on them to take the place of the winter hair that you're cutting off.


Should you keep your horse moving when you see deer?

I don't think it matters. We see deer all the time and while our horses like to stop and look, that only lasts for 10 - 20 seconds and we're moving again as soon as the horses realize the deer are no threat to them. If riding alone, I'll let my horse have a good long look at any of the animals we see, such as deer, foxes, a coyote, dogs, owls or hawks on a branch immediately overhead, etc. The horses are incredibly curious and I don't have to worry about other riders getting bored or wanting to move on when I'm riding alone.

The key is to remain calm. You and I know that deer, a coyote or a fox are no threat, so we shouldn't be anxious. And if we're not concerned, our horses won't be either — they take many of their cues from us.

November 3, 2011 – SAFETY AROUND HORSES

I just started learning to ride and am scared I could get hurt. Horses are so easily spooked that I am afraid they will step on me or squeeze me against a wall. Is it best if I just ride and then stay away from them?

You're smart to be thinking about the potential risk. While that risk is not high (few people are seriously injured or killed by horses compared to motor vehicles), the risk is real and we can take actions to reduce it. But you'll miss much of the satisfaction that comes from spending time with horses if you're not involved in grooming them, tacking them up and down, and generally just spending quiet time with them.

The solution becomes one of recognizing potentially dangerous situations beforehand and avoiding them. A lot of this has to do with anticipating how horses may act and placing ourselves so we're not in a compromised position (such as your example of being between a horse and a wall). To that end, we have an article you may want to read entitled: Safety Around Horses.


Will flies and ticks finally go away once the temperature drops below freezing as my friends are telling me? I have had it with my horse getting all these bites this year.

Man, it has been a bad year for bites on our horses, hasn't it? In fact, last year was the worst I had ever seen, until this year. As to your question, it is true that a good frost will end the biting season for some insects. Those insects tend to be species of flies and mosquitoes. But, it needs to be quite cold to kill them because those insects living in the ground or in some heated space effectively escape the killing cold. The colder it is and the longer it lasts, the greater the chances that most of this year's flying insects are gone for the season.

Unfortunately, most ticks live through the winter. They live in trees, tall grass, shrubs, piles of leaves and sometimes on a host. This keeps them somewhat warmer than the ambient air temperature. The reason ticks are less of a problem in the winter is not because they die off — they're very hardy. They're less of a pest in winter because the cold slows their metabolism and causes them to become less active.

November 1, 2011 – FROM ARENA TO TRAIL

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

Any horse can learn to trail ride. Remember, horses didn't originally come from an arena, they came from the wild. And horses that ride only in the arena are usually bored. Trail riding will generally be fun for them.

If you horse has never been out on a trail ride, he may initially be spooked from new sites, such as dogs running, squirrels, foxes, deer, and other denizens of the trail. We have an article you should read that specifically addresses your question. It's entitled: Moving From Arena/Ring to Trail.

One more thing: turning your arena horse into a trail horse doesn't mean he can't be used in an arena in the future. Like humans, horses can and do enjoy both.


Should I start reducing the turn out time I'm giving my horses now that the days are getting colder and shorter. I'm giving them about fours now.

No! Turn out time for horses is a good thing and four hours is not a very long time as it is. The horses at most of the barns around here leave their horses outside from daybreak until at least 4 or 5 pm. It's great for the horses, they stay in better health, and they get more exercise.

"Stall time" is a human invention and doesn't really do horses any real good except to get them out of the weather in the most severe conditions. Spending most of the day outside is good for horses. Give them a "run-in," a way to get into the barn, or bring them in when winds are severe with low temperatures (45°F and lower) or there is rain at those low temperatures. Those conditions raise the danger of hypothermia.


How much torque is needed to pull a horse trailer?

I presume you're asking this because you're trying to determine what you need in terms of a tow vehicle? You need quite a bit of torque from an engine to pull a horse trailer. You don't need all that torque when cruising down the highway on level ground and slight inclines. But, you really need it when climbing a steep hill with a full load and when attempting to accelerate quickly with that load when entering moving traffic.

Generally, I recommend to anyone that's going to tow that they need a V8 engine in their tow vehicle, even if it's just for a 2-horse bumper pull trailer. That empty trailer alone will weigh close to 3,000 pounds empty. And then you're adding about 2,000 pounds or more of horses plus bedding, hay, tack, and whatever else you're going to carry in the trailer, plus the people and whatever else you're going to put in the tow vehicle itself. The same engine needs to pull it all at the same time.


I recently got a flat tire on my horse trailer from a nail puncture. It was a brand new tire with less than 100 miles on it. Is it safe to repair the tire and continue to use it? I am just getting into trailering and want to make sure it is safe for my horses. THANKS!!

Congratulations of getting into horse trailering! It's really nice to be able bring our horses to ride in other locations. You may especially like the flexibility to show at other locales or participate in hunter paces and poker runs, depending on the kind of riding you like to do.

As for your question, yes, if the tire's puncture is properly repaired, it'll be safe to put it back on your trailer and use it to move your horses. You have to remember that repaired tires are safe enough for us to place back on our cars used to carry us and our families. That would never be allowed if it was unsafe. So, if it's safe for us, it's also safe for our horses. The key is to have a qualified repair facility perform the repair so it's done properly.

October 26, 2011 – WET BALED HAY

My horses hay was baled wet. Is it safe to feed?

More than likely, this hay IS NOT SAFE to use as horse feed. Baling wet hay typically has at least three problems:

  1. The nutritional value will be much less;
  2. The chance of the hay becoming moldy and therefore dangerous for horses to eat is higher; and worst of all
  3. It may ignite through spontaneous combustion and burn your barn down.

You want to avoid getting involved with hay that was baled wet. Obviously, degree of "wetness" is a continuum from completely dry (no wetness) at one end of the spectrum to wet hay. But your question specifically asked about hay baled wet, not slightly damp, but "wet". Therefore, I would not use that hay for horses and I certainly wouldn't store it in or near any barn or other building.


I'm curious, how does a hydrant for filling horse troughs and pails avoid freezing in the winter. I know there's water there because I get some whenever I open the valve, but it never freezes up no matter how cold it is.

The design of the hydrant is clever because it is simple as well as able to avoid freezing. This is the way it works:

You've likely noticed that there's a few second delay when you open a hydrant, unlike opening a typical faucet. That's because the actual valve is several feet below the ground so as to be below the frost line. So, the vertical pipe above the valve is empty until you lift the hydrant lever which opens the valve and fills the pipe. The time needed to fill that pipe causes the delay you experience before getting water.

As soon as you turn the valve off by lowering the lever, the water stops and that same lever now opens another even lower valve. This valve controls a drain and lets the water drain out of the hydrant's vertical pipe and into the ground. The installation of the hydrant includes creating a small sump of crushed stone that has more capacity than the vertical pipe itself. The water released into the crushed stone usually drains into the ground below within a very short time depending on the spoils perking ability.

Therefore, the hydrant doesn't freeze in the winter because there is no water in the vertical pipe except for the time you're drawing water from it — it is empty the rest of the time.


My horse got a puncture wound from what I think was a nail somewhere in his paddock. I cleaned it and put some antiseptic on it, but it is not healing and is redder and smells badly. What does it mean when a horse wound smells?

I'm not a veterinarian, so you need to ask him/her. But almost always, a reddening and smelly wound is an indication of a brewing infection. Therefore, you really do need to call your vet on this issue. And don't wait to make this call — infections can move from redness to life threatening quite quickly. Call your vet about this IMMEDIATELY!


How often should I replace my riding helmet? Some don't even wear helmets when they ride, so I don't trust their advice. But I'm getting conflicting advice even from those who do wear a helmet.

There's no need to replace your helmet for no reason, but there are several good reasons to replace a helmet and they should determine when you do so. Here they are:

  • If you've ever taken a fall with your current helmet, hit a tree branch with it while riding, or taken a hit on it for any other reason, you should replace it.
  • If the helmet doesn't fit properly, either because the inside has worn or because it never fit well, you should replace it.
  • If you have an older helmet (more than 5 years old), you should replace it with one of today's safer helmets. The safety standards change from time-to-time, but the manufacturers actually make improvements almost every year. The latest standards were the 2004 ASTM - F1163-04a standards). But they have now been updated for 2011.

While the very safest approach might be to replace your helmet every year, that's hard to justify from a cost perspective if your helmet meets recent safety standards, hasn't been hit, fits properly, and is in good shape. But don't ride with a helmet that doesn't meet all of the abovementioned requirements. The price of a helmet is very small compared to the cost of head and brain surgery from an unprotected accident. And there's also no guarantee such surgery could completely fix an injury that might occur. In the worse-case scenario, the rider dies at the scene from a head injury that was avoidable by wearing a proper helmet.


I want to take riding lessons, but there are so many ways to go. What discipline should I take?

You're the first to ask us this question, and it's a really good one! The fact is, every discipline has something offer. And you'll be a better rider if you try several over your riding career.

For starters, ask yourself where you want to go. For example, are your dreams to someday show and compete? Or are you just interested in riding trails through fields and the forest? Or perhaps you'd like to compete in a different way, such as playing Polo or barrel racing. Each of these areas will require instruction in the appropriate discipline. But you're just starting out, and while it might seem a little radical, why not take instruction in an area unrelated to your ultimate goals?

Along this line of thought, if you want to ultimately be a jumper, why not start with dressage? If you want to trail ride, why not start with an English discipline? In all forms of riding, you need to learn how to balance yourself on the horse, how horses think and communicate, how to send them the proper cues and listen to them for their messages, how to groom and tack up a horse, etc. While the disciplines, breeds, and tack may vary, the techniques are basically the same. And as the Horse Girl says: all training and saddle time is good time. And it's true!

By initially starting in a discipline that is not your focus, you'll still have fun because you'll be with horses and learning to ride. You'll also learn techniques from other disciplines that have value in almost every discipline. When you're riding, you may learn that this discipline is now more interesting than you thought it would be — that opens you to new possibilities. If you don't feel that way, you can still switch disciplines and carry with you the skills you learned and will become a better rider as a result. Every discipline has value and deserves our respect for the riders in that discipline. The more techniques you learn and the more horses you ride, the better you'll be overall.

So, don't worry where you start, pick something close enough to your home for easy access and affordability for you so you can stick with it over time and build your skill and experience level.

October 19, 2011 – SPECIAL TIRES FOR TOWING?

What kind of tires do I need to put on my truck to pull a horse trailer?

Generally, you don't need to change tires to pull a horse trailer. If your truck is able to pull a trailer of any kind, it'll have a tow rating. As long as the weight of the trailer, the horses you load in, and anything else you put in the trailer altogether does not exceed the trailer's Gross Trailer Weight and the truck's maximum tow rating, you should be ok. Of course, the tires on your truck should be of the proper rating designated by the vehicle's manufacturer. But you don't need special tires for the towing operation itself.

One note: if you tow in wintery conditions on snow, you may want to consider snow tires on your truck as well as on the trailer. And you'll definitely want to tow at much slower speeds and avoid steep inclines altogether when on snow.


As I walk my horse past other horses in their stalls, they pin their ears back and sometimes even try to bite my horse. Why do they do that?

They do it because most horses are territorial and view their stalls as their territory. They're telling your horse as he passes by to stay away from their space. This happens at my current barn and at every barn where I've been or visited — it's typical horse behavior. Even horses that have bonded and stay together all day grazing will sometimes do this to their buddy (evidently bonding only goes so far).

One thing you should do is to walk your horse down the center of the barn aisle so he's safer from horses on either side. That'll make it harder for them to reach out and bite, and it should also make your horse feel to them as less of a threat because he'll be further away from their stalls.

October 17, 2011 – BRIDLE VARIATIONS

I am a fairly new rider and noticed that bridles come in many shapes. Some have lots of horizontal straps while others are just one big loop with a bit and a little loop at the top. Why all the differences? What should I use?

The big loop you mention is the basic bridle which holds the bit in the horse's mouth and goes up and around the horse's head. The little loop is for one of the ears to keep the top of the bridle on the horse's head. The more complex variations can optionally include a second ear loop, a brow band, a nose band, a throat latch (another band under the chin), etc.

The more complex bridles are harder for the horse to shake loose or rub off. You'll notice that all variations have their supporters. I prefer those with more straps to reduce the chance of the bridle coming off or being removed by the horse's rubbing. In fact, I use a halter/bridle. That is a combination of the two and allows you to remove the bit and connect a lead line underneath. It's proven valuable on my trail ventures when I want to dismount, eat lunch, pull my horse's bit, and let him graze while being tethered to me via a lead line. You can choose whichever most appeals to you regarding both function and looks.

However, because you are a new rider, why not ask your riding instructor and other more experienced riders you respect for their opinion, especially as it regards the horse(s) you ride.


How do I stop my horse from leaning on me when I clean her hooves?

All you need do is to move away from your horse. She's leaning on you because you allow it. If you move away the next time she begins to lean on you, I assure you that she'll straighten up and stop leaning. She has absolutely no desire to fall over. She leans on you because, as with most horses, she's lazy.

My own horse tries to do this and stops leaning as soon as I remove his leaning post (me), away from a convenient location nearby. Horses will get away with whatever you allow them. They may be many things, but they're not dumb.

There is one other thing to consider if you have doubts about rectifying this problem. Think about what would happen if your horse keeps leaning on you more each time and finally exceeds what you can hold and falls on top of you — you'd be a goner! This is too dangerous to continue to allow.


Can you pull a horse trailer up a steep hill?

You should be able to do so. If you can't, it means that your tow vehicle is either too light, too underpowered, or both. Town and state roads usually limit the steepness of a hill to about a 12% - 15% grade. International Fire Codes recommend a maximum of 10% grade (5.7 degrees). (This is so that long vehicles, such as firetrucks, will be able to make it to the property in case of fire.) Private property can be anything and I've actually seen hills greater than a 20% grade; that's an angle more than 11 degrees.

The most dangerous situation here is using too light a tow vehicle. Such a situation means that the trailer is heavier and could actually pull the tow vehicle back on a steep incline — very scary and very dangerous. Generally, an underpowered vehicle will downshift to a lower gear and can still climb the hill. The problem on a highway is that such a vehicle will hold up all the traffic behind it.

So, the answer to your question is, yes, you can pull a horse trailer loaded with horses up a steep hill if your tow vehicle is up to the job. But whatever you do, never pull a trailer too heavy for the tow vehicle. It may work adequately on level ground but will be very dangerous on hills. Always stay within the towing limits specified by the tow vehicle's manufacturer.


Do I need to pick my horses hooves everyday?

You should do so. The reason is that horses walk through everything and that includes their waste products. Urine-soaked bedding in the hooves promotes the development of thrush and white line disease. By cleaning your horse's hooves every day, you significantly reduce the chances that your horse will develop these diseases. As a side benefit, you also are far more likely to catch any problems with the hoof itself or the frog, such as a puncture or other problem as well as loose or missing shoes.


Is there anything I should do to get my horse trailer ready for the winter?

Most of the regular maintenance you want to do to the trailer itself (repack the wheel bearings, inspect the chassis, etc.) occurs in the Spring. However, there are some tasks I do every Autumn when I know I won't be using my trailer anymore for the season to raise the chances it'll get through the winter ok. Here they are:

  1. Remove all bedding anmd hay, and then thoroughly sweep out the trailer. Then, rinse it thoroughly with the pressure of a hose. This helps reduce the chance of mold and smells in the trailer.
  2. Clean the inside walls with a household cleaner (Fantastic, 409, etc.), especially near where the hay bags are because the horses splash saliva and hay particles on the walls as they tear off hay (they're not the cleanest eaters I've ever seen, but you likely know that already).
  3. Close all windows and vents to keep out additional moisture over the winter.
  4. Move the trailer to some location where you're not concerned about falling ice, branches, hunks of snow sliding off a roof, etc. over the winter. Make sure that location also won't become muddy in the Spring, that it's not on the side of a hill where it might tip, and that it can safely take high winds and blizzards.
  5. Remove any containers of water or jugs, or at least make sure they're empty before the first freeze.
  6. In very cold locations, it's a good idea to bring the break-away brake battery indoors for the winter.
  7. If you have a living quarters trailer, you need to assure any liquids are properly drained from potable, gray-water, and black-water tanks as well as drain all lines carrying these fluids.

I hope the foregoing helps. You're correct to be concerned about making sure your trailer can get through the freezing cold of winter as well as avoid having anything heavy fall on it.


Is it ok to let my horse graze while I get him ready to ride?

Sure, why not. Of course, your horse needs to stand still and not be moving along with you following him. In other words, if he stands still and moving only in small amounts while you brush and otherwise groom, that's ok. If he's walking along with eating as his first priority, then you're not his first priority and that's not ok.

When you establish some rules for your horse, then you need to be consistent about enforcing them. For example, I let my horse graze whenever he doesn't have a bit in his mouth. But, when I add the bit to his halter bridle, the rule is no grasping for snacks and I enforce that whether mounted or beside him. That doesn't mean he doesn't sneak a bite in that I miss or catch too late, but I try hard to anticipate such attempts and be ready when he tries it.

Horses are always testing the limits and they actually mind us better when we consistently enforce them.


I know that a D-ring snaffle is the mildest bit. But what bit is slightly more harsh than a D-ring snaffle?

Well, for starters, a D-ring snaffle is not the mildest bit and is therefore likely not as mild as you might think. There are some bits from some manufacturers, such as Myers, that are far more gentle than a D-ring (they also have some more agressive bits in their line). There are also bitless bridle type approaches that are reputed to be milder, primarily because there is no bit. Of course, they may be harsh in other ways, such as a hackamore squeezing down on the horse's nose. About the only truly mild approach I've seen is for those that ride with reins connected to a halter, which has no bit. But that cannot be done with just any horse and requires its own training.

The only requirement of a snaffle is that it must not have a curb chain and any kind of leverage. In other words, to be a snaffle, if you pull on the reins with five pounds of force, then only five pounds of force can be applied by the bit. That said, there are multiple designs of snaffles and they vary with their harshness based on whether or not they're jointed; whether they are thick or thin; whether they are smooth, twisted, or a French link, etc., etc.

Finally, the next level of harshness up from a direct-pressure bit is to go into the leveraged bits. One of the mildest of those would be the Kimberwick. It will have some leverage, but the shortest of the shanks.

If you'd like to learn more about bits, we have an article entitled: Understanding Bits.


If you get on your horse without a mounting block, will you twist your horse's spine? One of my fellow riders told me this and I find it hard to believe since people have been getting on horses using the stirrups for hundreds of years.

I see your point, but that doesn't mean that past practice didn't cause back problems for horses. Similarly, smoking has gone on for centuries before we learned how dangerous it is to our health and most anyone today with any common sense will not start smoking. As for your question, we do know that there is a twisting force applied to the horse's spine when we mount using the stirrup. And if you think about it, it makes complete sense that the horse's back will twist as we apply our weight to the stirrup. The bigger question is, how high is the risk?

Well, according to recent studies, the risk is significant and we're taking chances mounting this way. The degree of risk has to do with the individual horse and his breed, size, conditioning, how often one mounts that way, etc. Fortunately, there is usually at least one mounting block available at almost every barn, often two or more depending on the size of the barn.

Of course, for trail riders who dismount when out on the trail, the stirrup may be the only mounting method available. But even then, a small hill or bump, a large rock, stump, fallen tree, or some other object is available for our use. If the only time we used a stirrup was when nothing else is available, the likely bad effect on our horse's spine should be minimal.

With more and more veterinarians and horse specialists recommending that we avoid stirrup mounting whenever possible, I think it's a good idea to mount using a stirrup only when it's the only option. And I've changed my own behavior so that I only mount that way when I have no other choice.


I've been riding for about a year. I want to compete in horse jumping and a friend lent me a horse and brought it to a barn closer to me (she asked me to pay the board and feed at this barn). The first time I tried to get him from his paddock by myself, he kind of charged me and knocked me down. This scared me and I left quickly. Now he does it even faster any time I get near his paddock and I'm afraid to go in. He stares at me with his big eyes and raises his head high.

The Horse Girl gets similar questions all the time. Unfortunately, this horse is rather aggressive and knows that you're not that confident in who's the boss. After that first test, he now knows you're afraid and he's exploiting it to keep you away.

This may just be an issue of you asserting your alpha status, but it's also a very dangerous situation in which you could get hurt or killed as the horse continues to assert himself. While the lending of the horse from your friend was a benefit to you, it's time for you to tell her to retrieve the horse. As a new rider, you don't need to and shouldn't add the task of dealing with a strong-willed, resistant horse. There are definitely more accommodating horses available that won't risk your safety to this degree.

As you likely know, being around and riding horses has some inherent risk. And moving on to jumping raises that risk higher. But that's nothing compared to a powerful, thousand pound animal actually targeting you. Move on to another horse and don't take chances with this one.


I almost jackknifed my horse trailer this past weekend. If I had, would I have broken something?

That depends on how badly you jackknifed and how hard you hit the hitch assembly with your tow vehicle and where. But generally, a jackknife does cause damage, often, expensively so. Therefore, you want to go to great pains to avoid an unplanned jackknife altogether. You may now ask, "an unplanned jackknife?" "Is there any time I might want to plan one?" The answer may be: yes.

You might want to approach a jackknife situation intentionally to test if the trailer is going to hit part of your tow vehicle. You would do this to get familiar with how much leeway you have (or don't have) with your particular configuration of tow vehicle and trailer before you accidently find yourself in such a position. This is a good test to do, but you need to do it very slowly and with an observer watching your trailer and vehicle from the side. You also need to roll your windows down so you can hear them and have your foot ready to immediately stop if they command you to do so.. This will give you an idea of how sharp you can turn, especially when backing up, so you can avoid a true, damaging jackknife.


Isn't trailering a horse that's never been in a trailer before cruelty to animals?

Of course not! If that were true, how does a horse that's never been trailered ever start being trailered? Clearly, a horse being introduced to trailering should be introduced to the experience fairly and with sensitivity. The best way is to take your time and not rush your horse.

Schedule the introduction to trailering on a day when you're not going to go anywhere with your horse, but have several hours available. When you start, open all the doors so the horse can see through the trailer. This way, the trailer won't look like a trap. Get a friend with a horse that loads easily and load that horse first so the new horse can see that it's safe. Then, load the new horse — you'll likely have to make multiple attempts and the best way is to NOT FORCE the horse. Rather, let him get used to the trailer and take the time to look around, smell, and determine for himself that it's safe. In time, he'll load. Go for a short trip of less than ten minutes, return to the barn, and unload. Then, let your horse graze nearby for 5 - 10 minutes and repeat the process. When you've done this three or four times, your horse will be much more comfortable with trailering and loading in the future will likely go much easier.

The key in all this is to get the new horse used to trailering when you have the time to wait and let him get used to things, not when you need to go on a trip. And even once the horse has gotten used to trailering, if a period of several months or more go by without the horse being trailered, such as over the winter, expect for him to require some extra time the first time you go to trailer him again. But, this next time should go much easier and quicker than the first time.

The worst thing we can do is to try to force a horse into a position where he feels unsafe. Even if we can pull it off, it'll likely be even worse the next time and a frightened horse can hurt himself or hurt or kill people when he's terrified and being forced into such a situation — DON'T DO IT!

Conversely, to get back to your original question, you need to trailer a horse the first time to get him used to trailering in the first place. How you do that can make all the difference between a confident horse that subsequently trailers easily, or a panic-stricken horse that's willing hurt or kill through fear.


What can I give my horse when he is winded when I'm working him?

You can give him a break and consistent work — DON'T give him any drugs! If your horse is easily winded, he's either tired, out of condition, or both. Don't over-work your horse — you could injure him or even kill him if you go too far.

When your horse is out of shape, mount up and start him in work slowly and don't overdue it. That may mean nothing more than 30 minutes at the walk. The next day do it again for 30 minutes. The third day, do 45 minutes and a little trotting. The fourth day, do the same as the third day. The fifth day, walk and trot him for about 60 minutes. The sixth day, give him a break. Continue this way over several weeks, each time increasing the work some. Within a couple of weeks, you horse will be ready for a decent ride that includes cantering and perhaps a 2-hour outing of mixed gates with most of it at the walk. If your horse is still easily winded and you don't even get this far along, you need to have your vet examine him for a physiological cause.

Even for us trail riders who love to gallop, we don't start right off that way and the majority of every ride once in shape, even a 3 - 6 hour ride, is still primarily walking. And you don't gallop a horse for miles, rather, you run for quarter or half mile, and that's once your horse is in shape. Endurance riders do more, but they, too, slowly condition their horses to safely build them into shape, as well as themselves. Like a horse, an out-of-shape rider cannot ride well for a long period of time.

September 29, 2011 – CAN A PERSON GET RUN OVER BY A HORSE?

Is it truly possible to get run over by a horse? I just bought my first horse and she's so gentle. I can't believe she'd ever run me over, but my friends say that it is possible. Is this true?

Unfortunately, the answer is: yes; your friends are correct. Now, your gentle horse likely would not run you over on purpose. Rather, we ALWAYS need to keep in mind that our horses are prey animals, and as such, they panic and run first and then think about the situation later when they're further away. If their panic causes them to accidently knock us down and run over us to get away, it could all happen before we or our horse really know what happened.

There are many true stories of horses seriously or fatally hurting themselves in a panic. Obviously, if they accidently harm themselves that way, they can just as well accidently harm us or any other living thing in their way.

This means we always have to be mindful of our situation and position relative to them and other horses around us. For example, don't put yourself or allow yourself to be between your horse and a solid object, such as a fence or wall. This often happens gradually, such as when a grazing horse we're near is slowly moving and we suddenly realize we're between the horse and that fence or wall.

Similarly, spend as little time as possible bending over picking hooves, grooming your horse's underside, or treating an injury there. And don't ever stoop down to do those things — it's much better to stay standing and bend over, because in that position, your horse is more likely to bump you away and not trample over you than if your had stooped.

We're the humans, and therefore, have more intelligence than our horses (or we should have). So, it's incumbent upon us to use that intelligence to keep ourselves safe and avoid situations that compromise our safety and risk us getting run over or crushed between our horse and another surface or other horses.

We have an article you may want to read entitled: Safety Around Horses.

September 28, 2011 – THIN BITS

Is a thin bit hard on a horse's mouth?

Yes, it is. The thinner the bit, the more it can cut into the horse's bars and cause pain. That's because it's concentrating the same amount of force on a smaller area.

Personally, I don't like this method of controlling a horse. I prefer to stick with the gentler bits and earn the horse's respect and trust. If you want to learn more about this approach, find a riding instructor who prefers to teach horseback riding through earning the horse's respect and becoming his leader. Almost all horses truly don't want to be leader, rather, they want to follow a leader that will keep them safe. The biggest motivator for a horse and any other prey animal is not food, it's the pursuit of safety.

If you can make a horse feel safe when he's with you and following your commands, he'll do anything you want.

September 27, 2011 – INVADING YOUR SPACE

What does it mean when a horse invades your space?

As you know, horses are big and strong while also being easily spooked because they're prey animals. So for the safety of humans, they should be taught to never get closer to a human than two feet or so — it's ok for the human to move closer to the horse, but the horse is not allowed to move closer than that to the human. That two feet "bubble" around you is considered "your space". The intent is for the horse to be trained to stay that far away for your safety You can move closer to groom, mount, examine a wound or injury, or for any other reason. But the horse is not allowed to do the same.

This is a natural understanding for horses. The herd leader may not allow other horses to approach beyond a certain distance, so our implementation of this characteristic is understood easily by horses. But for this to work, each horse needs to be trained to respect our space and it only continues to work if each human is consistent in enforcing the space boundaries. Horses are always testing rules to see if they're still enforced.

September 26, 2011 – 230 POUND UNBALANCED RIDER ON A HORSE?

Is it ethical for an older therapy horse to carry a 230 pound adult with poor balance?

The fact you're asking this question implies you've been present when such a situation is occurring. Generally, the rule is that we limit the rider to 230 pounds for a standard sized horse. With tack, that'll bring the weight the horse is carrying to about 250 pounds.

Many factors come into play. If this is just therapy riding, it'll often take place on level ground in an arena or paddock and will only last 30 - 60 minutes. It would be much harder on the horse if he was carrying this rider up and down hills on a trail and for many miles. The poor rider balance does make it harder for the horse, but again, in an arena on level ground, there is less strain on the horse's back.

As for the horse being older, you don't state the horse's age, but a good horse kept in work will live a longer, productive, active life than one allowed to do little work. Of course, the best thing to do with heavier riders is to use bigger horses. That can be a naturally large breed, such as Thoroughbreds, Hanovarians, etc., or a draft. Another factor is fitness — is the horse fit and in shape?

You should speak to the owner of the horses. It's unlikely that he/she would want to endanger the health of the horse. The owner may be aware and may also be able to explain why the horse is ok and that this is not a concern — it'll depend on the circumstances. Conversely, the owner may not be aware of this situation and may put a stop to it.

If the rider were in the higher twos (280 or 290 pounds or larger), then we would definitely be in a horse strain situation unless the horse were bigger. Also, if this riding in your area is for longer periods and does involve hills and other greater strains on the horse, then you may want to report this situation to the ASPCA if the owner's response was unsatisfactory. But, you want to know more before taking such an action because the age and fitness of the horse and unbalanced rider are bigger concerns than just the riders weight, so the terrain and duration are considerable factors to be considered.


I got a 20 year old mare from a woman for free. She is supposed to be an old camp horse, and she is a really good horse. My question is, when I ride her, it seems she doesn't want to go where I want her to go. She will ride around in circles in the yard, but does not want to go anywhere else. Also, after I ride her, she will stomp her back feet into the ground. She is not shoed, as I only ride her around in my yard and in field next door. Thank you for any info you can give me.

If your horse doesn't want to leave your yard, but otherwise goes wherever you want her to within your yard, it's usually because she's not comfortable going too far from her known space. Part of it is that she doesn't fully trust that you'll be able to protect her; the other part is that it's just the two of you.

You have two options and can select either or both:

  1. Invite one or more horse friends over with their horses and go together for a ride from your property. With the accompaniment of the other horses, I'm sure your horse will feel more comfortable and will go along.
  2. Enlist the help of a good horse trainer and learn how to become your horse's leader. Once you horse accepts you as her leader, she'll be a lot more comfortable going wherever you ask. To become her leader, you'll have to earn it by showing her that you're in charge, fair, and very consistent. These attributes will convey to her that you will make good decisions for safety on her behalf. However, please realize that she will periodically test that you're still competent to be that leader. That's why you need to learn how to truly be so.

I would start with the first one. Your horse will be comfortable riding with the other horses and will have time to become familiar with the areas away from your property. Once she is, she'll also be more likely to trust going with you there alone. The second suggestion will help you in many ways from building her trust to keeping you safer when with her and also making any training of her easier for you to do.

The stomping could be to shake flies off her leg, or it could be an editorial opinion she wants to share with you. Without seeing her do this in context, it's hard to tell which it is.


I know we're supposed to cross the safety chains when we connect our trailer, but I don't understand why. I'm afraid the longer distance to go under the hitch will go taut when I make a turn and cause an accident.

I do understand your concern — it's a very reasonable concern. The thinking for crossing the safety chains or safety cables under the hitch is that, if the hitch were ever to pop off the hitch ball, or even if the hitch, ball, or drawbar somehow broke from fatigue, that the cables would catch and keep the hitch from dragging on the ground as you came to a stop. If it were to drag and fell into a pot hole, the abrupt catch could yank a tow vehicle or trailer and seriously injure the tow vehicle occupants or horses. That's why you'd want to have the hitch caught and not hit the ground.

As for your concern about the chains or cables being long enough, if they came with your trailer and it's not some "home built" hitch or trailer, they should be long enough (but not too long) for the sharpest turn you'd ever make. You can test it for yourself. Have a friend watch your hitch and the chains or cables as you very slowly tow your trailer into the sharpest turn you can make. If they're too short, your friend can yell for you to stop.

You could even back up extremely slowly into an intentional jackknife and have your friend watch the chains or cables and stop you before they become taught and before you jackknife. I'll bet they will never go taut in either the turn or the approached jackknife.


How much money should I keep in a contingency fund for boarding my horse?

Keeping a horse contingency fund is a great idea for all horse owners. But, you don't need to keep one for boarding, per se. Rather, it's a good idea to keep one for unexpected costs associated with owning a horse.

Your boarding costs may incrementally go up, but those will be small increases. If a boarding fee increase was ever greater than you're comfortable with, you'd likely start looking around for a more cost-effective barn. So, you wouldn't need a contingency fund for that.

However, your horse could suffer an illness or injury requiring expensive vet care, treatment, or hospitalization — those are times when you'd be happy to have several thousand dollars in a contingency fund to pay for care so you don't have to start considering much harder decisions (e.g. selling your horse or putting him down). You could also have an expensive trailer repair (e.g. replace a rotting or corroding floor) that would benefit from having some money available and the fund would again prove valuable.

As for how much to put aside, any available money is always nice, but $2,000 - $5,000 is probably a more realistic amount to have available in case of an equine emergency. And don't just put this money in an envelope to store in a drawer. Instead, purchase a short-term Certificate of Deposit or place it in a separate savings account so it can at least earn some money for you as well as be an emergency fund.

You're smart to think of keeping a contingency fund. Few of us would want to be forced to consider difficult decisions about our horses due to financial concerns. This is one way to provide ourselves with some degree of protection.


I need to haul bigger horses than usual and it's going to exceed my trailer rating. Can I take my tack from the trailer's tack room and put it in the back of my pickup instead? That will make the trailer weigh less and I can stay under my trailer's gross weight while still getting my tack to the show, right?

Maybe; maybe not. There are three maximum eights you need to consider. I'm taking their definitions as explained in our article entitled Getting Properly Hitched. Here they are:

Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): This term represents a rating assigned by the manufacturer to a trailer. It tells you the maximum amount that the trailer plus its complete load can weigh. It includes the full weight of the trailer, the horses, and everything else on it — from tack and mats to water, hay, and feed. If the loading of your trailer causes its complete weight to exceed this number, it is both unsafe and illegal for you to haul it.

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): This term represents a rating assigned by the manufacturer to a tow vehicle (truck). This rating tells you the maximum amount the truck and its complete load can weigh and includes all fluids — such as gasoline, oil, and coolant — as well as all passengers and all other payload on the truck itself.

Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGVW): This is the total gross weight of tow vehicle and trailer, combined.

You CANNOT EXCEED ANY of these weights! So, if putting bigger horses in your trailer and leaving the tack in its tack room doesn't put you over the Gross Trailer Weight, there's no reason to move it to the bed of your tow vehicle. Similarly, if putting bigger horses in your trailer causes you to exceed the Combined Gross Vehicle Weight rating of your trailer and tow vehicle, you can't place that tack in your truck bed — it's got to be hauled by some other vehicle.

Everyone needs to live within these limits. They're not manufacturer recommendations, they are truly design and safety limits and exceeding them is both illegal and dangerous. If moving your tack to the truck's bed keeps you under the GTW and you're also under your truck's GVW and the combination is under the CGVW, then your plan will work. But you cannot exceed any of these ratings, not alone or in any combination.

September 19, 2011 – HORSE KICKED AND BIT A PERSON

My horse kicked and bit another person. Should I get horse insurance?

Yes, you should. But, you can't buy it for protection after your horse has injured someone, you need to already have it in force. However, buying it now will protect you if future incidents occur. There are many forms of insurance related to horses, but equine liability insurance is the form EVERY horse owner should have. It protects the owner from financial damages for injuries and property damage caused by his/her horse.

At this point, you'll need to hire an equine attorney if the injured person sues. If the court awards damages, you'll have to pay those damages from your own funds. Insurance you buy now will protect you for future incicents. You should contact an equine insurance agent now and discuss your incident and insurance for future protection.


I snuck into the barn where I board my horse late last night and found my horse and some of the others laying down. My barn owner doesn't want us in the barn after 9:00 pm so the horses can sleep she says. Is she hiding something? Are the horses ok? What's wrong with them? Don't horses sleep standing up?

Relax! Now take a deep breath. Your horse and the others are fine. While horses do spend lots of their sleep time standing up, they need to get at least a few hours of REM sleep every two or three days. Horses must lie down to enter REM sleep. And if they don't, they'll enter REM sleep when they can't take it anymore and will fall over or collapse. No horse lives his/her entire life sleeping only while standing.

As for your barn owner, she's right to restrict access to the horses after a set time, such as 9:00 pm at your barn. This allows the horses some quiet and safe time to get that REM sleep because they generally feel safe in their stalls (so safe in fact, that some horses will stay in their stall and die during a barn fire). The rest of a horse's sleep time will be spent standing up. They have developed this way of resting so they can, as prey animals, burst into a gallop if a predator approaches.

Also, don't be surprised to catch your horse sleeping while standing during the day. Most horses catch several short naps a day as part of their normal rest cycle.


Is it advisable to buy a trailer if you own a horse?

Why are you asking? Did someone suggest that you should?

The answer to this question is the same as any other common sense response: if you need or want to take your horse to other barns, to shows, or to trails, you'll need a way to get him there. If your horse can ride in someone else's trailer, then you don't need one of your own. If he can't, then you need a trailer. If you only ride your horse at your barn, then you again don't need a trailer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is a good idea to confirm that your barn has a trailer available or that you can call on another horse person to move your horse in the event he ever has an injury or illness requiring his transport to an equine hospital. Otherwise, you don't need a trailer if you'll only be riding at your barn.


When you get caught riding in the rain, what should you do when you get back inside the barn?

Obviously, it's far less work to not get rained upon than to have to recover from it afterward. But when that's not possible, you should dry yourself, your horse, and your leather tack.

If the weather is cold, do the following:

  1. Get yourself dry FIRST. DO NOT risk hypothermia for any reason;
  2. Once dry and in dry clothing, get your horse dry. That may require toweling and you may even use a hair dryer as long as your horse is not afraid of it. Be sure to not place the dryer too close or for too long in one spot or you risk burning your horse; and
  3. When you and your horse are dry, you can attend to your tack as described below.

If the weather is warm, do the following:

  1. Get the water off your leather tack first (synthetic tack needs no special care). Water in leather promotes mold which will break down the leather and destroy it. Wipe it thoroughly to get the water out of it;
  2. When the leather is merely damp, start rubbing leather oil into the leather. Do that until no more water is released by the leather; and
  3. You'll likely now have to absorb the excess oil by wiping with a clean, dry cloth or paper towels and let the tack dry when done.

By this time, you and your horse should be somewhat dry.


Should you dismount and release your horse when he gets spooky on a cool and windy fall day?

What? Are you asking if you should let your horse go uncontrolled because he's spooked in high winds? Well, I wouldn't do that. He could be in a near panic and run into traffic or some other kind of trouble. I'd stay mounted and get him back to familiar surroundings at his paddock and barn.

If you plan to go riding one day and the cooler weather and winds make your horse spooky, you have two options: 1) You can postpone your ride until another day; or 2) you can ride anyway. As for me, I make the decision based upon my horse's mood. Most times, if he's a little spooky, I'll go on our ride anyway. If he and the other horses in our group don't calm down, we'll give them what they want and gallop some of that anxiety out of them. They're usually much more calm after running.

If the horses are highly anxious and spooky, we just won't ride that day. It's one thing if they're a little spooky, but quite another if they're "bouncing off the walls". When they're that anxious, it's just not worth the risk of you or them getting hurt. Let them get used to the cooler and breezy air for a couple of days in their familiar surroundings and they'll be again ready for a ride in the Autumn season soon enough.

September 12, 2011 – MOVING A FRIEND'S HORSE

Is it legal to move a friend's horse?

Well, it depends upon the circumstances. If your friend gave you permission to move the horse, or asked you to take care of it, then it's legal as long as your movement of the horse is related to the permission given or your responsibilities in caring for it. If not, it can still be legal if you have a good reason for doing so that is of great benefit to the horse, such as moving it so it won't get hurt in a storm or in a fire. Moving your friend's horse for any other reason is not clear or could even be illegal depending upon the circumstances.

If you want to provide more information about those circumstances, we can provide a more definitive response. And because this is a legal question, you should probably address it to the Horse Girl, because she's an attorney and therefore knows the nuances of the law better than I.


I'm having some problem with my two horses fighting. Is it ok to keep them in separate paddocks?

Sure! I'm surprised this is a question. Horses together will always need to sort out their pecking order. When two or more horses have dominant personalities, chaos can break out as they fight to achieve the top position. Sometimes, this means one or both of the horses will get kicked and bitten. At other times, one or both horses can even get killed by the other if they're both determined to become the herd leader and are willing to fight until the other quits. So, if neither is willing to quit, you can deduce the outcome. When a barn owner sees such potential brewing, he/she will usually separate those horses into separate paddocks.

If you have an adequate number of paddocks, all the horses on your property can be placed in an individual one. The horses will like it better if they can see one another, perhaps even meet at the fence line. They're far less inclined to fight with a fence between them. And even if one tries to do so, the other can move away from the fence. It's rare that two horses will maintain a protracted fight across a fence, though it could happen and that would mean putting them in paddocks with no adjoining fence.

Generally, horses are put together because there are more horses than paddocks, and also because horses really are social animals. But there's no problem keeping them all separate if you have an adequate number of paddocks and those paddocks are close enough for the horses to see each other and feel safe.

September 8, 2011 – CAN WIND FLIP A TRAILER?

With all the hurricanes I'm seeing this year and the damage seen last week here on the east coast by a weak hurricane, I'm concerned about my horse trailer. Can strong winds blow my 2-horse trailer over?

It'll depend on the strength of the wind. Certainly, there's some wind speed that will exert enough pressure on your trailer to flip it, or to push it into something else or off a ledge or wall. But at the wind speeds necessary to do that, you'll likely have more grave concerns, such as for your house and the safety of yourself and loved ones.

About the most you can do is to place your trailer in a location where falling trees are not likely to reach it and it's not near a ledge or pond, have the trailer insured and confirm with your insurance company that storms and hurricane coverage is included, and then focus on your family's safety and your home. Fortunately, a trailer is one of the smaller items we own, and insurance for a 2-horse trailer is usually around $50 - $150 per year.


My horse is eating bailing twine. Is that dangerous?

Yes, it is! Bailing twine is not readily digestible and can cause colic as well as be a choking hazard to your horse. Anything he eats will have to pass through his entire digestive tract. If it can't, it will have to be surgically removed — this obviously puts your horse into dangerous territory. And if the twine is plastic, it can also release some dangerous compounds to be absorbed by his system as it passes through his intestines.

The fact is, your barn is not performing what we call good horse management. That means that anything that can pose a danger to horses should be kept away from them. In addition to bailing twine, this includes making sure there's no machinery in their paddocks and pastures; no sharp or pointed objects, metal, glass, or ceramics; no wire, rope, bailing twine, tape, or any other fastening material on the ground — anything that can be a cutting, piercing, bruising, scraping, ingestion, or tripping hazard. And if a horse gets one or more legs or his body cut, stabbed, or wrapped up in such things, he can panic and seriously hurt himself and also damage the facilities.

Good horse management means keeping all this stuff away from places where horses exist and travel through. Any barn with loose bailing twine on the floor, near or with the hay, etc., is not being managed properly. Baling twine and any other hazards to horses should be immediately picked up and properly discarded so horses never have access to it.

September 6, 2011 – TOWING WITH AN SUV

What makes a horse trailer able to be towed by an SUV?

You're not looking at this correctly. There's nothing special about any horse trailer being towed by an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle). Rather, not all SUVs can tow horse trailers. There are several reasons for this:

  • A particular SUV may not be able to tow a large enough payload. Some SUVs, just like some small pickup trucks, just can't handle the typical weight of a 2-horse or larger trailer; or
  • A particular SUV's wheelbase could be too short for towing a horse trailer. A short wheelbase tow vehicle of any kind is much more susceptible to being jerked around by a trailer or blown around by the wind. A longer wheelbase vehicle is more stable for towing any kind of trailer.

The larger SUVs are capable of towing 2-horse trailers. Any horse trailer tow vehicle needs to be able to tow at least 5,000 pounds or more. Those that can will also usually have a long enough wheelbase or the vehicle's manufacturer would not be able to rate it for towing a significant trailer.

August 26, 2011 – POSSESSIVE HORSES

Why does my horse push other horses away from me? Sometimes, he even attacks them or gets between them or other people and me. He's always doing this.

Your horse wants to keep you for himself. That can be for several reasons. He could be very possessive of you directly, like a jealous husband or boyfriend. Or he may associate you as the provider of food, or with something else he wants, and he doesn't want any other horses to get access to it. In any event, whether it's you or something you have or provide, he doesn't want other horses around and may attack.

Such horses can appear to be unpredictable. In reality, they're quite predictable about whatever it is they want to keep from others. You need to be vigilant so no one gets hurt should he take actions you and other people around him aren't expecting. To do that, you need to be very aware of your horse and what he's focusing upon.

If you see him looking at another horse or person and his ears go back, get ready for him to charge at, kick at, or try to bite that target. If mounted, you'll have some control over him. If on the ground, you'll hopefully have his lead line and time to act — YOU WON'T have time to warn other people — this all happens too fast. Don't worry about the other horses, they should be able be able to take care of themselves. A bigger concern is that they're quick response movement could accidently bump and therefore cause other people near them to get injured.

You may also see this tendency manifested in other ways. One I've seen is the territorial horse. The horse will otherwise appear quiet and gentle, such as when led or in his paddack, but he may be territorial about his stall, for example. If a horse or a person gets too close to his stall, even just walking by, he may quickly dart out with his head, ears back, and teeth bared. Be too close and you or a passing horse may be bitten.

Any horse can exhibit this behavior from time to time, that's one reason we ALWAYS need to be on guard around horses. But the horse for which this behavior is common is a dangerous horse and cannot be ignored. Such horses require one of two actions be taken by the owner. Either you'll need to get expert help in the form of a horse trainer to attempt to change this behavior, or you'll have to sell this horse with appropriately full disclosure about these tendencies and get another horse. Unfortunately, horses that act out against people or other horses when people are around are just too dangerous. Such a horse, if possessive enough, could even be a threat to other horses and could injure or kill them. But generally, the other horses are big enough, strong enough, and fast enough to take care of themselves, unlike us puny humans.

Keep an eye on this behavior and address it with training help or getting a different horse if you and other people are at risk.

Good luck!


I have cement floors in my barn and they are so slippery that my horses keep falling. Is there a way to make them not so slippery?

Wow! This does seem like a major accident waiting to happen. And it's no doubt much worse when wet. A horse falling on such a hard surface could easily break a leg or some other major part necessitating a put down.

For this application, the finisher of the concrete should have used a rough, wooden trowel to finish the surface instead of a smooth metal one. The result would have been a rough surface with great traction. Regardless, you've got what you've got and need to deal with this problem.

Your only real and cost-effective option is to put something down over the concrete. I'd would vote for stall mats. While concrete is durable and lasts for a long time, it's also hard for your horses and each footfall experiences a shock to the skeletal system. Using mats will dampen that a lot. With mats, you'll have a good flooring systems for a barn:

  1. The surface will still be durable and clean (unlike dirt floors);
  2. The matting will provide cushioning to the horses as they walk across the floor and stand;
  3. The matting will have good traction and not be slippery;
  4. Unlike some coverings you could try, the mats shouldn't slip on the concrete;
  5. If a horse should fall for some reason, the padding of the mat will provide a much softer and less dangerous surface on which to land; and
  6. The floor will last a long time and still be virtually maintenance free (compared to dirt floors which must be occasionally leveled and more dirt brought in periodically to replace that removed when mucking the stalls).

Obviously, there will be the up-front cost of the mats, but they'll last a long time and you'll still really have the lower maintenance demands as you do with the concrete, but unlike with dirt floors.


My husband and I are fencing off an area where we can keep horses. I want to bring my horse home and we're thinking about getting her a companion (maybe my husband will actually start riding.) We've never done this before and need to know how high the fence should be.

Generally, a 48 - 54" fence is enough for most horses. Though, it's not that horses can't jump that high, they can. It's more that they don't see a need to jump such fences if they've got available grazing and companionship.

However, if you've got a Houdini that easily jumps fences and gets out of paddocks, you should make the fence at least 60". Even that's not enough for some horses and 72" high is even better. Few horses will/can jump that high, but still make sure the fence is solid and can't be easily pushed over by a horse leaning against it.


Does a horse lose respect for you over time?

Well, he's going to always test you regularly over time. Whether or not he loses respect for you will depend on whether you pass or fail each test. The Horse Girl and I have written about this before, and so have many authors in many publications.

Horses are always testing the herd members to determine the pecking order, and also to determine whether or not higher members in that order deserve to remain there. In case it hasn't occurred to you, to a horse, everyone he interacts with is a herd member -- that includes you! If you assert your leadership position when tested, your horse will respect it and follow you until the next test. Here's the way evolutionists believe it all started:

Through the ages, some horses started testing their leaders while others did not. Of those that tested, when the leader ceased being strong enough to be the herd's leader, a new leader arose from the herd and the past leader was forced to take some lower position. This approach kept the herd safer and surviving because only competent leaders were allowed the lead position (to eat first, to mate with the mares, to direct where to go, where to graze, where to drink and rest safely, etc.). And the herd followed.

As for those herds that did not regularly test their leaders, it is suspected that they followed those no longer competent leaders to their deaths. This is presumed because today, all horses test their herd leaders and it has to mean that this is the result of natural selection and the strongest approach surviving, and the weaker approach dying out.


Why do I feel like I'm going to fall off when my horse trots?

That's because you're not balanced and not moving with your horse. Riding IS ALL ABOUT BALANCE and MOVING WITH THE HORSE. You need to learn both.

If you're at this stage, I presume you're taking lessons? If so, check with your instructor. If not, you should consider taking lessons. While some people learn to ride all by themselves and that is historically how all people learned, you can shorten the learning curve significantly by getting training from a good instructor and avoid having to unlearn bad habits later. You'll also get the benefit of their observations and the ability to ask questions of someone experienced training others.

The problem for us to give you advice from here is that we can't see you riding a horse, whether or not you're sitting in the right spot, sitting properly, moving with the horse, or not, etc. You need to get your trotting down correctly now, because the most challenging gait is actually the canter, and it requires you to move with the horse to a far greater degree; you'll also be at faster speeds. While riding, whether in the ring or on the trail, you'll often be transitioning between the trot and the canter and you've got to be extremely comfortable and master both of these gaits so that they're second nature to you.

Finally, almost everyone that rides has taken some tumbles from a horse — it's always a risk. You're high off the ground and horses are so powerful that they can almost instantly change direction under you, leaving you where you were while the horse moves away, or stops quick and you don't — you get the idea.

So, expert instruction and observation helps a lot! Developing a a "good seat" is paramount for controlled and safe riding. And even though it's not a guarantee that you'll never come off a moving horse, it'll go far to reducing the chances that you will, and reducing the chances you'll get hurt if you do.

Good luck!


I just bought my first horse two weeks ago and she is always stomping the ground. Now two hooves have cracks. Is this from the stomping? How do I stop her? How do I fix the cracks?

Almost certainly your horse is stomping the ground to shake biting flies off her legs. The only way to reduce the amount of stomping is with good fly management everywhere you place her. That means:

  1. Well-mucked stalls — horse waste products attract flies within which the flies also lay the eggs of their larva;
  2. Well kept paddocks — don't let horse waste accumulate there, either; and
  3. Appropriate and frequent use of effective fly sprays — fly repellents, sheets, or some such protection needs to be used when your horse is outside in her paddock or pasture. Of course, if using fly repellents, always follow the manufacturer's directions on the bottle.

Good cleanliness in your barn and in paddock areas will seriously reduce the fly population. Fly spray or sheets will reduce the biting of flies still left in the area that attack your horse.

Your farrier will have some methods of dealing with the cracks. If your horse is normally barefoot like mine is, you may have to keep your horse shoed until the cracks grow out. The shoes will keep the hoof halves together better so future stomps are less likely to allow the shock of the ground strike from splitting the hoof further. If your horse is already shoed, talk to your farrier about using shoes with clips and any other ways he has of better keeping the hoof halves toagether while your horse stomps.

We're past mid August now, so the fly season is coming to an end in the not too far distant future. Hang in there!


If my horse is thirsty while on a trail ride, should I let him drink? My riding friends say I should make him wait so he'll be disciplined and do what I say when I say.

Yes, definitely let him drink! Remember, our horses are doing much more work carrying themselves and us up and down the trail than we are sitting up top. Horses can go quite a while without water, usually much longer than we can. So, if your horse wants to drink, he likely definitely needs it. Unless there's a critical reason to not let him drink (contaminated water, a bear chasing you, or some such, you should let your horse drink when he gives you signals that he's thirsty.

One more thing, if you should notice that your horse is ALWAYS drinking water, even when not expending energy or on hot days, it's possible he might have a medical condition that should be examined by your vet. But, drinking when it's hot or when working is both normal and important.

August 17, 2011 – RIDING IN THE FOREST? OH MY!!!

I normally ride in an indoor, but would like to try riding my horse outside. Is it safe to ride your horse in the forest? I've always wanted to try that, but have not felt comfortable about it.

YES! It's called: TRAIL RIDING. You're not alone in having some trepidation about moving from riding indoors to doing so outdoors. But consider that horses are actually outdoor animals, and even if your horse has never before ridden outside, there are ways to make it safer and more comfortable for both of you.

Instead of going out into the forest alone, ride with at least one other person. It'd be even better if you could go with three, four, or five other riders. Your horse will definitely feel more comfortable in a herd environment and will be able to watch other horses safely perform in ways he may not have done yet, such as crossing over wooden bridges and wading through streams and brooks. Once he sees other horses do it safely, he'll be more comfortable doing it himself. Plus, he'll be motivated to do so by the fact that he doesn't want to be left behind.

And there's no need to run on the first few outings. You can limit your rides to all walking, or just walking and trotting until you're both more comfortable. It won't take long before both you and your horse long to ride in the forest and will do so feeling quite safe.

I've never seen a rider that disliked riding outside, only riders that are afraid and never got over that fear if they did try it once or twice. Riding with an experienced group will do much to allay concerns of safety and control for both you and your horse.


What do you need to know to board horses? There's a horse farm for sale and my husband and I are thinking about buying it. I've never run a horse farm before, but I've been riding for ten years. Is it hard to know what to do to board horses?

Reposted as separate article. See: Starting Your Own Boarding Barn article.


Why does my horse stop while I'm leading her?

There could be many reasons. Here are some of them:

  1. Your horse may not want to leave her friends and her grazing.
  2. Your horse may be afraid of what could be in the direction that you're leading her. Is there another horse there, a dog, or some other animal? If you're leading her into a building, such as a barn or other structure, are there sounds or smells emanating from that direction that might upset her?
  3. You horse may have just heard something and has stopped to investigate. Look at her eyes, and ears. She'll look and focus her ears in the direction she's curious about. Look in that direction as well and you may see her reason for stopping.
  4. Your horse may not want to go or do what you have in mind. Horses are smart and recognize patterns very quickly. So, they easily make a connection with being moved to a tie-up near the tack room or the wash stall, if they don't like that activity. Could your horse see your horse trailer indicating that you're leading her to it so as to load and transport her somewhere?

The foregoing are just some of the reasons your horse may not want to continue following your lead — there are definitely more of them. To be able to continue, your horse needs to know that you're her leader. Of course, it also helps if she associates you with having fun. While we do want our horses to do as we ask whether they enjoy it or not, I prefer that my horse enjoy his activities with me, so I try to make them fun for him. You may want to ask yourself whether or not you try to do the same thing for your own horse, at least some of the time.


One of the other boarders at my barn gives my horse feed without asking. I don't want her to do this. What can I do?

This woman is taking a huge risk and doesn't appear to see it. First, no one should give any kind of food or treat to another horse without asking the horse's owner first. That's because they don't know whether or not the horse has special dietary needs, allergies, or other problems that such food or treat could make the horse sick or even kill it. When we move our horses to another barn, we should always have a discussion with the barn owner about those dietary needs and restrictions when talking about what we expect and need for our horses there.

Second, this is YOUR horse — it's not that of this other boarder! Therefore, YOU are the one who should be in control about what he's fed and when in collaboration with your barn owner. You need to talk with both this woman and your barn owner and stipulate that NO ONE is to give any kind or food or treat to your horse without YOUR permission. This is a rule of each horse owner that must be obeyed.

Most barn owners are going to completely agree with you — they understand that different horses have different needs, and sometimes, health risks. If your particular barn owner doesn't agree or understand, then you need to move to another barn. But, I would have a talk with her/him; I'll bet you that they'll completely agree with your concerns and will speak with the other boarder about her unauthorized feeding problem.


My horse leans on me when I'm checking or cleaning his feet. Why does he do this? Should I stop him?

Lots of horses will do this if you let them. They're always testing us. And let's face it, it's easier for them to lean on us because we're doing some of the work of holding them up. But it's a dangerously bad habit for you to allow. A horse is REALLY heavy, and while it may only be 50 pounds on you when a thousand pound horse is leaning on you at a 3 degree angle, that'll be 260 pounds if he slips and leans to about 15 degrees — can you support that much weight? And you know what happens if you collapse under him or slip and he slips onto you and you get his full weight — you'd be a goner!

So, next time this happens, move away so your horse can't lean on you. If he moves closer to do so, stop him with a sharp "NO!", and perhaps even a light swat to his side — don't hit him hard, just a quick and light rebuke so he knows he did something of which you disapprove. Once or twice like this and he should get the message that you're not his personal leaning post.


A lot a times, I tack my horse up to practice pole work or jumping and he acts like he doesn't want to be ridden. How can I tell if this is true?

Well, a lot of times, horses really don't want to be ridden. But that's because many horses would always rather spend time not working and just grazing with their friends. But you can change your horse's attitude to some extent.

The Horse Girl has often written about how excited her horses get when she loads them to go play polo. And my horse enjoys riding most when I ride with others and we go explore the forest and ride all the gaits. Let's face it, horses are running machines and they're very social animals — HERD animals to be precise! They love to be with other horses and to spend some of that time breezing down a trail or across a field. They're bored if all they get to do is ride in circles, figure eights, serpentines, and in a frame. So, if you typically limit your riding to the arena, take your horse out trail riding occasionally. Bring some friends and at least do some fast cantering. Also, bring a large ball with you when you have the arena to yourself and let your horse get used to it. Once he's comfortable, start teaching him how to hit it back to you . Once he figures that out, he'll enjoy this "new game".

If you mix it up with arena work, occasional trail rides, and a game or two, your horse will start associating you with fun rather than just with boring work.

August 9, 2011 – A WESTERN HORSE???

Can western horses jump? I want to buy a horse for jumping, but he only rides western.

This is a fairly frequent question, but I'm not sure why. Some people seem to think that horses have skills for only one discipline or can only be trained in certain ways. For the record, unless a horse has an injury or birth defect that limits certain movements, all horses can walk, trot, canter, gallop, and jump. As with humans, these are intrinsic skills to most mammals and they can all do them unless there's a limiting problem. The maximum height and/or distance they can jump will be a function of their physique, size, and conditioning, but they should otherwise be able to perform all these activities. There is no such thing as a Western or English horse, only horses that have been trained in one or more disciplines.

As for horses jumping specifically, the saddle usually has more to do with limiting a horse's movements or the rider's ability to stay balanced than anything else. Horse jumping can be more refined by training so a horse learns to follow rider cues as to when to leave the ground. That said, more riders mess up a horse's jumping ability by interfering than help improve it. Most of the time, we're better just letting our horse do what he already knows how to do and than when trying to time it better than he can.

As to your question, if you want to buy this horse, have your veterinarian examine him for your intended use (jumping, 3-day eventing, etc.) to determine whether or not the horse has any physical limitations. If he doesn't and is in good condition, get a properly fitting jumping saddle for him and start taking lessons in your desired discipline. In fact, have your instructor help you choose the right saddle for your discipline.

It's also a good idea to take an experienced horse person/jumper along before buying so they can observe and try the horse by riding him to evaluate him based on their own experience.


How do I stop people from stealing my horse trailer?

Obviously, there's no way to guarantee your trailer won't get stolen. But there are products to help make it harder. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Lock the hitch lever so a thief cannot separate the hitch from the hitch ball when your trailer is connected to your tow vehicle at the trail head while you're out riding.
  2. Lock the drawbar pin so a thief cannot pull the drawbar out of your tow vehicles receiver and connect it to the receiver of his truck and drive your trailer away.
  3. Use a lockable wheel chock to immobilize your trailer right where you parked it. Also use this chock on your trailer where you store it, whether it's at your home or at the barn.
  4. Lock your tow vehicle and take the keys of when it and your trailer are parked anywhere together, such as at the trailhead.

The following companies make the kinds of products you need to lock your trailer as described in the list above:

Trailer Dog
Trailer Alarms

Some people will go one step further and paint their horse trailer a more noticeable color, such a bright red or hot pink, rather than leaving it white or some other neutral, non-attention getting color. Most thieves won't attempt to steal such an attention getter as hot pink trailer. The problem is that most of us don't want to be seen driving such a rig, especially if we're male.


My horse seems bored with walking and trotting. Is she normal? Do other horses also feel this way? What should I do?

Horses, like people, are individuals. So, the particular likes and dislikes pertain individually to each horse. Your horse could be bored with walking and trotting while your friend's horse may be ok with it.

My own horse does get bored with only the slow gaits, and so do I. As a result, we like to mix it up. Most of the time, we ride with others, but sometimes we ride alone. We do all the gaits: walk, trot, canter, and occasionally gallop. We'll also occasionally jump some hay bales or a fallen tree.

It definitely does seem that most horses enjoy the variety. The worse thing is to do nothing more than walk/trot or stay in an arena for all your riding. If you break it up and vary your horse's routine, she'll likely enjoy everything better, even when all you're doing is walking and trotting in the arena.

And when you do ride trails, don't always ride the same trails. Try a new location occasionally. And you'll likely find that your horse will enjoy the experience the most when with other riders. I occasionally like to go riding with a large group — a real herd, and my horse loves it!


How much space is required for horse cross-ties? Are they difficult to install?

We get a lot of these kinds of questions about cross-ties. Many imply that they're something special or difficult to understand. Nothing could be further from the truth. A cross-tie is nothing more than two tie rings typically spaced from approximately 8 - 12 feet apart. You connect one to each side of your horse's halter and proceed to groom.

Generally, cross-ties are installed in the typical 10 or 12 foot wide barn aisle. In fact, two, three, or four sets are often installed in a longer barn. They're usually spaced so that there's about six or more feet between each horse tied end-to-end.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some horses are uncomfortable in cross-ties because they feel constricted and may panic and break loose, potentially hurting someone or damaging the barn in the process. For those horses, you're better off just using a single tie ring with some slack in the tie line so the horse doesn't feel overly restrained.


How should my vehicle feel when towing a horse trailer?

How should it "feel?" Well, that depends on at least the following variables:

  • The weight of your trailer – the larger and heavier it is, the more it'll affect your tow vehicle;
  • The weight of your tow vehicle – the larger and heavier it is, the less a trailer will affect it;
  • The size of your tow vehicle engine – the bigger the engine, the less a trailer will affect acceleration and the climbing of steep hills;
  • The type of hitch you're using – a gooseneck or fifth wheel hitch usually handles better than a bumper-pull because the trailer load is more toward the center of the tow vehicle and affects handling less; and
  • The number of and weight of your horses and other trailer contents – obviously, the more and bigger horses you're carrying, the more load you're having to accelerate and stop.

There are also other contributors, such as the suspension of your tow vehicle and its condition, and even the amount of air in all of the tires. Generally, placing a trailer on any vehicle makes it feel as if it has additional drag on it (because it does). Acceleration and hill climbing is slower, and so is stopping as well because it requires more distance in which to slow down. Even steering is affected and you must now take wider turns or your trailer will ride up on the right-side curb or even hit objects near the edge of the road, such as fences or parked cars.

If you can, try to find a large, vacant, parking lot to try driving around and maneuvering with a trailer the first time you tow your trailer. It will help you safely make mistakes and learn from them before you do any serious driving on the road and with your horses on board.


Is a kimberwick less harsh than a shanked bit?

Let's be clear here: a Kimberwick and a shanked bit are both leveraged bits. They both have curb chains and they both multiply the force being applied by the rider. The Kimberwick is considered an English bit and is the shortest or least leveraged of that variety of bits in the English disciplines.

Shanked bits are generally considered to be Western bits. The length of the shank determines the amount of leverage the rider has compared to a non-leveraged bit, such as a snaffle.

So, to answer your question, the Kimberwick is about the same amount of "harshness" as a short shanked bit of around the same length. A longer shanked bit would be an even harsher bit.


How can you tell when your horse is starting to show submission when you're training him with a lunge line or in a round pen?

There are several ways you can tell:

  • When your horse has lowered his head and is following your commands;
  • When your horse is licking his lips;
  • When your horse is keeping his ears facing you for most of the time; and
  • When your horse wants to come in toward you and stop circling around the pen or on the line.

There are also other signs, but these are pretty universal with most horses. Essentially, you'll notice your horse going from resisting your commands and raising his head with big eyes to a more calm and cooperative demeanor. At that point, you've earned some of his respect and he has acknowledged that you can lead him...for now...

Do expect that he'll continue to test you and that you must be both fair with him and consistent. Horses learn quickly and have long memories. They're happiest and most comfortable when they understand what you want from them, it's achievable, and that you reward them both with praise and leaving them alone afterwward when they give it to you.

And don't fall into the habit of rewarding too much with treats. While they can have their place, they are definitely not the best motivator of respect and cooperation and should not be used constantly.

July 29, 2011 – OK TO RIDE IN THE RAIN?

Is it bad to go for a ride if I'm risking getting caught in the rain?

Any turned-out horses get rained on frequently and it's generally only a problem for them if the weather is too cold and they have no place to get out of the rain; otherwise, they don't even seem to notice it. Now, on a ride, you have to consider some additional issues related to safety and health for both you and your horse. For example,

  • Is the footing where you'll travel stable enough that rain won't be an issue and make it dangerously slippery?
  • Will you be riding in an area prone to flooding (especially flash flooding) that can cause a risk of danger to you and your horse?
  • Getting struck by lightening is bad for all horses and humans in any location — is there a risk of a thunderstorm occurring?
  • Is there a chance of you and your horse being exposed to severe wind, or worse, a tornado or some such during the ride? The risk is not just from strong wind itself, the wind can blow debris and knock down branches and other items that could fall on you or your horse as well as spook your horse.
  • Will the visibility where you're going still be adequate to return if the rain was very heavy? Or is there a risk of fog forming that could hamper your visibility and ability to come back to the barn safely?
  • Is the weather warm enough that you don't have to worry about hypothermia if you get soaked, or will you carry appropriate raingear?
  • Is it ok for your tack to get drenched?

If none of the foregoing is a risk, then you can go for a ride with a chance of rain. I probably wouldn't ride as far in such weather as I would on a good weather day, but there's no danger to you or your horse just from getting wet. You want to avoid riding at those times when there will be a risk to you or your horse's safety or health.


How do I know what tow package to get before I buy my horse trailer?

If you already have a tow vehicle or have selected the one you want to buy, then I would do this the other way around. If you have your eye on a certain horse trailer, ask your truck dealer whether there's a tow package for it, what it is, and whether or not it comes with the truck automatically. In reality, this is not usually as complicated as it sounds because you're likely to find that your vehicle only has one tow package system available for it. In other words, there is not usually more than one tow package from which to choose.

Typically, the vehicle's manufacturer tow package is for a bumper-pull hitch. As with any hitch, the truck will have a maximum tow capacity. You may be able to increase that capacity by several thousand pounds by adding a weight distribution system. That will be indicated by two tow capacities listed in your tow vehicle's operating manual. For example, it'll state something along the lines that you can tow a 7,000 pound trailer and payload without the weight distribution system and 10,000 pounds with it.

If you want to go to one of the biggest tow capacities, you're tow vehicle will need to be a pickup truck and you'll have the option of adding either a gooseneck hitch or a fifth wheel hitch to the bed of the truck. Even then, your payload will be limited by the size of your truck. A bigger truck, such as a 1-ton will be able to tow more than a 3/4 ton pickup. You also have the option of buying a dedicated "tractor" that has a gooseneck or fifth wheel built in just like the bigger semis used for tractor-trailers. Once you know what you're going to use as the tow vehicle, you can speak to your horse trailer dealer, tell him/her what you own or are buying, and ask them about your options and they'll show you from which trailers you can select limited mostly by your budget.

If you don't already have nor have you selected a tow vehicle, then you can reverse this process and first select your trailer and then buy a tow vehicle big enough and with the proper hitch to pull it. This latter approach is the most fun, but it presumes and requires that you've got lots of money and can pick whatever you want. Not many people have this option, so they normally take the first approach described above.

July 27, 2011 – DESPOOK TO SNAKES?

How can I despook my horse from snakes on the trail?

Why would you want to do this? Horses are afraid of snakes for good reason. In fact, horses that aren't afraid of snakes often get bitten in the head, especially in the mouth and nose area when they bend down to smell a snake. And if it's a poison snake, many horses die.

Personally, I'd rather my horse stay afraid of snakes and avoid them altogether. Being spooked by a snake on the trail is no different than being spooked by any other surprise, be it a dog coming out of the brush, a bee sting, a hunter's gunshot, or anything else. If we're going to ride horses, we need to know how to react when our horse spooks and how to calm them down. And we also have to realize that a horse's normal tendency to spook at something that truly does present a real danger may very well keep them (and us) alive.


I'm ordering a new saddle and not sure what I should do about the fittings. Should I get brass or stainless steel fittings?

I presume that by "fittings" you're referring to rings for attaching things, footman loops, and other hardware on your saddle? Presuming it is, I would select it based on aesthetics and consistency. For example, some people like the silver look of nickel or stainless steel hardware. Of the two, I think stainless is better because it'll never corrode. But for color, I personally like the gold color of brass better than silver — others feel the opposite. You should pick what you like best.

For what it's worth, nickel or stainless is stronger than brass. That's because brass is somewhat softer and is therefore sometimes made thicker so as to be strong enough for the application. You'll also sometimes see bronze or brass-plated steel used for their increased strength, but it'll still be gold hardware.

Regardless of what you choose for your saddle, your entire ensemble will look better if you're consistent about it. In other words, if you pick stainless steel, make sure that the hardware is also stainless (or other silver metal, such as nickel or nickel-plated steel) on your bridle and any other tack you might use (martingale, saddle bags, cantle bag, rein hardware, etc.)

Enjoy your new saddle!


Can a horse break your foot by standing on it?

Yes, it can. And we hear about it happening from time to time. I have had my own foot stepped on several times by different horses and I can attest that it can really hurt and cause a serious bruise. The amount of pain or damage depends on several factors. Here's a short list to get you thinking about them:

  1. The weight of the horse is going to be a big factor. A pony or miniature will weigh less than a full-size horse; a draft can weigh much more.
  2. A horse has about 40% of their weight on their rear feet and the other 60% is on their front feet. So, a 1,000 pound horse will have 200 pounds on each rear foot and 300 pounds on each front foot. How do you feel about placing 300 pounds on your toes?
  3. If the horse steps on all of your toes, there's less of a chance of breaking one of them than if he puts all that weight on just one, such as on your big or little toe which are on the ends of your feet (at least on most of us).
  4. If you're standing on concrete when the horse steps on you, it will hurt and can cause more damage than if you're standing on grass or some other soft footing where your foot can sink in.
  5. If you're wearing stout leather shoes, your foot will be better protected than if your wearing sneakers, or worse, flip flops.

There may be other factors involved, but we've covered enough to get you thinking about those that can make a difference. It certainly makes a good case to pay attention to our horse's foot placement when near them and to always wear proper footwear when at the barn.


What size ball do I need to buy for a 5th wheel horse trailer?

Fifth wheel hitches don't use hitch balls. Instead, they use plates that slide on each other and a king pin to hold the trailer in place, yet let it turn on the hitch plates. This is the same kind of hitch used on tractor trailers.

A fifth wheel hitch is connected via rails to the frame of your truck. You can't install this kind of hitch on an SUV. The hitch needs to be installed in the bed of a pickup truck between the rear axle and the cab itself and the truck must be capable of hauling the weight of your trailer and contents. Usually, these hitches are used only for large trailers, and therefore, require big pickup trucks as the tow vehicle. There are even some tow vehicles that look like small semis made specifically for these smaller (than a tractor trailer) fifth wheel hitches. Many fifth wheel hitches for horse trailers can handle up to 30,000 pounds or so in trailer and payload weight.

If you already have or are getting a trailer that has a fifth wheel coupler, then this is the kind of hitch you'll need to get. But if you haven't bought yet and are looking around for a large horse trailer to buy new or used, you may also want to consider those with gooseneck hitches. They, too, can tow up to about a 30,000 pound trailer and payload.

Gooseneck hitches do use a hitch ball, a big 3 inch one which is mounted in the bed of the truck. Some can be folded down into the bed when not towing a trailer. This is great for using your truck's bed for carrying things with no obstructions. Conversely, fifth wheel hitches must be uninstalled to get back full use of the truck bed. This can take a lot of time and physical effort while folding the gooseneck ball up or down only takes seconds.

I hope this helps clarify things.


How can I get my horse to drink water on a trail ride? She never wants to drink and instead wants to keep riding with the others.

There's an old saying I'm sure you've heard before: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". While it's a metaphor for our inability to convince another human to do something that makes good sense, it's also completely true for horses as a literal interpretation. If your horse isn't thirsty, or something else is higher on her priority list, she's not going to drink.

Fortunately, horses usually do drink when they need water. But, many horses will avoid drinking if they're worried that other horses will leave without them. So, if riding with a group, ask another group member to accompany you and your horse to the drinking location (e.g. the side of the stream or brook) and have their horse drink also, or at least stay with you and your horse. This way, your horse will usually drink if thirsty and won't be worried about being left behind.

If riding alone, your horse may be afraid to drink because she feels exposed with her head down focusing on drinking. You can usually make her feel more comfortable by dismounting and standing beside her where she'll see your legs and assume you're looking out for predators (which, not to let her down, you really should look out for them). Just make sure there's a handy rock or stump nearby before dismounting if you're going to need one to remount.

Finally, if your horse truly isn't thirsty, then move on and give her another chance to drink at the next opportunity you find when being near another clean water supply.


Why do some people use jumping vests when jumping a horse?

They do so because it reduces the chances they'll get seriously hurt or break some bones if they take a tumble. Jumping vests are light weight and use closed-cell foam to provide padding to reduce the shock where you hit the ground. The result is fewer spine and internal organ injuries.

The vests aren't cheap at this time. I've seen different variations cost from $150 to almost $700. Still, while I don't do a lot of jumping as a trail rider, and haven't yet ever taken a tumble while jumping, I have taken my own tumbles while riding and jumping is the biggest cause of serious riding injuries. Therefore, I do feel it's a worthwhile investment and have been considering one myself (at least for use once the weather gets a little cooler).

If you're a frequent jumper, especially a competitive one, I would definitely buy a safety vest now.


Why does my horse get so jiggy, bounce around and be hard to control when riding with a big group?

There are several factors at work here. Whether some or all of them are affecting your particular horse depends on his own issues. But all of the factors share some things in common.

  • They all have to do with the horse's herd mentality; and
  • They all cause adrenalin to be released in your horse.

Here are the factors:

  1. Your horse is a herd animal and he's now with a herd. If this is not a herd he usually spends time with, he doesn't know his place in this herd and may be somewhat anxious about that;
  2. Most horses like to "pair bond", that is, bond with another horse as a "buddy" and then stay together for their mutual safety while out on the trail. Whether he has a buddy in the group is something only you and he know. If not, he may be uncomfortable and feel alone and exposed to dangers with no buddy to protect him; and
  3. Your horse may be excited more than anxious at being with the herd and may want to run with them.

There may also be other factors involved. The key is that your horse is not feeling calm and is secreting adrenalin. That's why he's "bouncing around" as you call it. And if he's scared, you've not yet developed in him sufficient trust so that he feels he can depend on you to make decisions that will protect him. He may settle down as he uses up some energy and gets used to being with the herd after a little while, or he may "bounce around" for much of the ride.

The best thing you can do for future rides is to enlist the help of a trainer to work with you and your horse to make you his leader. You'll also need that knowledge to recurrently train and remind him in the future that you're still worthy of being his leader and protector.


Will a horse trailer pay for itself? I want to get one and I need to know if it's worth it.

You can't ask that question by itself. The fact that you did implies the answer in your case is likely going to be "No!" Here's why: the only way a product pays for itself is if you're in a business and buying that product brings in more income. You also may buy a trailer to reduce future costs you're already paying. An example would be if you're already paying someone else to trailer your horse to the trails or to show competitions. If you do this often, then buying your own trailer can reduce your recurring costs (but not pay for itself). Once you've saved what you paid for the trailer plus the gas it used on those trips, then subsequent trips will only cost you for future gas and maintenance. But if you think about that, it's going to take time.

Let's use our example from above. Let's assume you and your horse attend a show every Saturday of the year and that you currently pay a friend $100 each week to bring you and your horse to the weekly show and back. You're spending $5,200 a year for this service. If you buy a used trailer for, say, $8,000, you'll have paid for that trailer in about one and a half years. However, don't forget that you also have to add in the cost of the gas each week. And if you can't tow a trailer with your current vehicle, now you also need to consider the additional cost of a tow vehicle. As you can see, buying a trailer is not going to save you money very quickly — it'll take some years to reach "break even". Even then, there will always be the cost of the gas and trailer/tow vehicle maintenance, so the trailer really can't pay for itself unless you're earning a fee by using it.

For people not in business, I tend to feel that trailers don't pay for themselves very well. Rather, they provide convenience. I have a horse trailer and what I like best about it is that I can use it to take my horse and me anywhere I want to go when I want to go there. I'm a trail rider and often join riding friends on weekends to ride in local state forests. We either all trailer to the same spot, or will sometimes visit non-trailer-owning friends at their barn and ride with them there if trails are available. Or each of us carrying only one horse can pick up a friend and their horse to ride elsewhere.

So, for most of us, trailering provides flexibility — that's what we've essentially bought for our money.


I have a western saddle and want to jump with it occasionally. Is that ok? Other riding friends say I shouldn't do it. But I can't afford to buy another saddle right now just for jumping.

Well, you can, but you really shouldn't. Your saddle's likely not made for jumping and you're taking some risk of injury. First, there's that horn in front that could do some real damage if you don't land properly. I wouldn't want to jump with that there. Second, the tree of Western saddles are usually not built for the riggers of jumping. That means it's not going to hold up and will fail.

Instead, Western saddles are generally designed for a long day of work. That means they need to hold up well and be comfortable with no pressure points. They also have fenders to keep the horse's movement from chafing your legs without you having to wear chaps (that wouldn't be fun to wear on hot days). They're hardy, but the tree generally won't take many landings common to jumping.

If you're not into English jumping saddles, or you want more comfort and support plus the ability to jump while out on the trails, look into endurance and Australian saddles that are designed to permit jumping. They won't have horns and will have trees designed to take the stresses of the landings particularly.

We have a related article with more information entitled: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?.

July 14, 2011 – A BALANCED TRAILER

How do I properly distribute weight in my horse trailer? I have a two horse bumper pull.

You start by putting your heavier horse on the left side. Most roads have a crown that tilts toward the right side of the road, so putting the heavier horse on the opposite side tends to better balance the weight of the trailer on the road. As for anything else, you don't have many options. For example, if the only other place you have to store water or bales of hay are at the front of the trailer or in its tack room, that's where they need to go.

Some people put hay on the top of the trailer. If there's a place for it up there and the trailer manual indicates it's ok to do so, then you can. Otherwise, you're going to make a trailer top-heavy that isn't designed to carry hay up there, so don't do it.

In larger trailers, there are more options. But you still need to read the trailer manual so that you place things as the designers intended or you could be risking a rollover. The manual is your friend and it's important to follow the manufacturer's advice.


We have lots of snakes around here and I'm afraid my horse could get bitten. If she does, what are the symptoms?

Snake bites are a scary thing for us and our animals. Prompt action is needed to save their lives when the bite is toxic. Whatever you do, DON'T wait to call your vet! In fact, if you live in an area with a large snake population of the poisonous variety, it makes a lot of sense to have a discussion with your vet about those snakes and what else you can look for and do to keep your horses safe.

We have an article entitled: Horse Snakebites that discusses this topic, identifies common symptoms, and provides information about what you can do while you await your vet.


How many lights do you need in a barn? I'm trying to plan the electrical service for a barn I'm building.

You need to stop and think about this for a minute. There is no set number of lights appropriate for every barn. It'll depend on the size of the barn, the number of stalls, the length of the aisles, etc. Generally, you want a light fixture in every stall. It can be awfully hard to groom, pick hooves, examine wounds and insect bites, etc., with insufficient light in the stalls.

Then you need to light your aisles. You usually see one light fixture every ten feet or so going down the aisle. A better method is to use fluorescent tubes going down the aisles. Installed end-to-end, they provide an abundant, none-glare light.

Finally, other spaces also require light fixtures, such as your washroom, tack room, bedding and grains storage spaces, bathroom if you have one, etc., etc. Looked at this way, you can identify everything you need for the space you'll want to light. Don't try to save money by using too few fixtures. Light fixtures are cheap and you can put each stall and other room on its own switch so you only need light the space in which you're working to keep electricity costs down.

If you want to calculate a "ballpark" cost of electricity that you can expect to pay, see our related article entitled Better Barn Lighting. It provides lighting levels and a cost analysis to help you project your costs. It also discusses additional ways to provide lots of light cheaply or for free.


Why shouldn't you brush a horse while he's eating? My horse is easier to brush at that time.

I've never heard or read that we shouldn't brush a horse while he's eating. In fact, as you mention, I often do so while a horse is eating. I also brush them while they're grazing and I sometimes tie them to a tie ring or to crossties. Essentially, I brush and groom horses whenever I want to do so and they'd better be fine about it.

If you can only brush your horse while he's eating, that IS a problem and it means you need to train him, or if not sure how, then both of you need to get some training to get over this issue. The fact is, you need to be the boss — ALWAYS! That means you can brush and groom him at anytime and he'd better let you. If not, you're not in control and you need to learn how to become his leader so that you are in control and safe when around him. He cannot be allowed to make such decisions for you.


Does my horse appreciate that I'm his owner and that I pay for his food and board?

No, horses don't understand such concepts as ownership and financial benefactor — those are human concepts. They do understand the concept of leader. Your horse may view you as his leader, or not. If you board, he may view the barn owner or whomever puts him out, brings him in, and feeds him each day as his leader. He may view another horse in his herd as his leader. In fact, he may view you, the barn owner, and several horses in his herd all as leaders.

Horses understand pecking orders and that they fit into one. Pretty much every other horse and person with which he interacts falls into one of two categories:

  • A leader who is higher on the pecking order than he; or
  • A lesser individual lower on the order and with whom he can push around or take their food.

It's a somewhat simplistic system. That said, your horse can be afraid of another horse or person and yet not consider them a leader. To a horse, a leader is someone (or a horse) that your horse feels will protect him from predators by leading his herd away for safety.

I think a big mistake made by many horse people is to confuse human constructs, such as owner or caretaker, as something recognized by horses — they don't see things that way. Instead, they have their own interaction and view of the world born out of experience and instinct through the ages. However, it is very helpful for us humans to learn how horses see the world. In that way, we can better understand how they think and why they do the things they do. That helps us to anticipate problems, to train them, to trust them, and to lead them safely. Riding a horse and giving them commands to walk, trot, turn, stop, etc., is one way you "lead" your horse. But there are also many other ways and it works best when a horse learns the human is in charge, consistent, and can be trusted.

July 7, 2011 – SMALL TOW VEHICLES?

What's the smallest vehicle capable of towing a horse trailer?

We get many readers asking this question in various permutations. We usually respond to the direct question, but have come to realize that people need a better understanding of the issues. To provide more information, we created an article as a more thorough treatment discussing the limitations of small tow vehicles. It's entitled: Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles


I want to build a barn on our property and wondering how high the gates should be on the stalls. Do they need to go all the way up to stop my horse from jumping out?

No, most horses actually feel quite safe in their stall and won't jump out unless there's a fire or other major threat. Horses usually LOVE gates! They allow the horses to stick their heads out into the aisle to see each other and to see what's going on. They're incredibly curious naturally, and their status of prey makes the feeling of wanting (needing?) to know what's going on around them even stronger.

The top of most gates are about 42 to 48 inches high and extend down to about 24 inches above the floor. It's a good idea to also include sliding, full-length doors. There will be times when you'll want to close the door on a stall, such as to stop the most territorial horses from biting other horses passing by down the aisle as mentioned in yesterday's post. You may also want to use an unoccupied stall for some other purpose occasionally, such as to store some excess feed. A closed door will stop a loose horse from eating too much and getting into danger.

If you prefer, you can use a split door instead of a gate and full-length door. With that approach, you can keep the top half open most of the time and close it only when you need a full-length door. With either method, you can see how such combinations make for happier, more comfortable horses without you having to give up flexibility.


My horse tries to bite other horses as they pass her stall. Is this normal? How can I stop her from doing this?

Yes, I'm afraid that this behavior is normal. Not all horses do this, but many do. The reason for it is that horses, like many animals, are territorial. Your horse is letting other horses know that her stall is her property and she will defend it. You'll often see even horses at the bottom of the pecking order do this — it's instinctual.

I doubt there's anything you can do to stop your horse from behaving this way. But, you should keep other horses away from the door/gate to your horse's stall as you pass with other horses. I try to lead horses directly down the middle of the barn aisle when stalls are occupied to avoid problems. Another option is to close a full door (if so provided) on at least the stalls of horses prone to this behavior while you're moving horses past them. You can then re-open those door(s) once you're movement of horses is complete.

July 1, 2011 – IS IT SAFE IN A STALL?

Is it ok to be in a stall with your horse?

You don't provide much information about your concerns, so this will necessarily be a general response. Most of us horse owners spend quite a bit of time with our horses in their stalls, especially during the shorter and colder weather of winter. We check them over, groom them, treat some malady, and sometimes just spend some time with them there. However, there are a few horses that may present a risk in an enclosed space. BUT, such dangerous horses are best left to highly experienced trainers.

If you have a reasonably calm and trained horse, you should be able to trust and be safe while you're in the stall with him. If not, it should raise lots of questions in your mind about whether you have the right horse for you. The horse species is not especially dangerous to humans — they're not predators and usually enjoy our company. The primary risk for most of us is that of our horses spooking and accidentally hurting us. That should be a relatively rare event in their stall — they usually feel quite safe there..

If you ever have concerns about your horse attacking you, that's a much more serious problem and you need to engage a trainer or sell the horse.

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