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"Horse Guy" Archive Jan - Jun 2012

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June 29, 2012 – WOUNDS ON HORSES — WHAT DO WE DO?

Hi! I am new to horse ownership. Though I am not an old woman (in my late 30s,) I am troubled by the fact that I do not know what to do when my horse has a wound. Do I call the vet or do I just put a bandage on and let my horse go out and play? How do I know if it is serious enough to call the vet or not? I do not want to take unnecessary chances with his health.

This will not be a comprehensive answer because one would require a veterinarian, which I am not, and a lot more space. That said, you should use the same criteria you would use as a parent (presuming you are one).

First, examine the wound. Is it shallow or deep? Is it a small wound or does it cover a large area? Is there any sign of infection (swollen, exuding puss, or warm to the touch?)

If the wound is small, shallow, and/or superficial, meaning that it's a shallow cut, scrape, or bruise, just wash it with warm water and soap. Then, rinse it thoroughly and apply one of the creams sold at tack shops that reduce itching and is designed to keep biting insects away from wounds. If the wound is deep or infected, then it's better to get a professional opinion and possible treatment. If you can't tell and you have any doubts, call your vet.

With all the costs associated with owning a horse, we generally don't want to spend any additional money if we can avoid it. Yet, when in doubt, I strongly feel it's best to make sure our horses are not at risk. So, it's a good idea to take the time to try to determine whether the wound is serious or not. If in doubt, ask someone you feel has some expertise, such as a nurse or EMT — I've met nurses at many barns I've visited and at which I've boarded. If there's still doubt and you have no access to any local expertise, I'd call the vet rather than risk your horse.


June 28, 2012 – AREN'T KEEPING HORSES AND BOARDING THE SAME?

What does it mean when certain land is zoned for horses but not boarding? Isnt that the same?

No, it doesn't mean the same thing. Land zoned as you describe in your question means that horse owners can keep their own horses on their property, but cannot keep the horses of other people that are paying a fee to board. Businesses are allowed in commercial zones, but not in residential zones. So, areas zoned as you describe are zoned as residential, allow the property owners to keep horses, but do not allow businesses and the increased traffic they typically bring. A boarding business will also often bring regular horse trailer traffic as well as boarder, trainer, vet, and farrier traffic.


June 27, 2012 – FOR HOW LONG DO HORSES GROW?

I just got a 3 y/o horse and am wondering when she'll stop growing. She is already pretty tall.

The general "rule of thumb" is that horses typically grow until they're about four years old. But it's good to remember that this is, after all, is just typical. Some horses stop a little younger and others continue to grow, usually at a slower pace, until they're somewhat older.

There's a saying about horses that they "grow into their legs". This means that their legs are close to their full length when a horse is born and that the rest of the body fills out around it as they grow. In reality, a horse's legs do grow a little longer over their growing years. That said, it's not that much and a horse with long spindly legs usually has quite a bit more to growth yet.

So, look at your horse's legs and determine whether or not she looks as if she's got a somewhat typical look. If so, she's probably almost there. Conversely, if her legs look too long for her body, she likely still has quite a bit of growing to do. That may mean she'll grow for a longer than typical period of time, or that she'll take around the same four years, but do it a little faster than usual.

Congratulations with your new horse!


June 26, 2012 – TRAPPED IN THE RAIN ON A LONG RIDE

My sister and I got caught in a hard rain while on a long trail ride. It wasn't much fun and we got soaked. I wanted to gallop back quickly and she wouldn't do it. She said we could get hurt because we couldn't see as good in the rain. Who's right?

Well, the answer actually depends on more than just one or two factors. But I will say that galloping back is only a good idea in a few rare circumstances. Otherwise, I have to agree with your sister. There's a lot that can go wrong galloping at speed in heavy rain over wet and slippery surfaces.

This topic is given a more thorough treatment in article we have entitled: Getting Caught in the Rain.


June 25, 2012 – CAN I HOLD THE MANE?

Is it ok to hold on to the horse's mane when riding bareback? I don't know what else to grab.

Sure you can! As you mentioned, what else is there for you to grab? But when you do grab some mane, grab a lot of it. This is beneficial from at least two standpoints:

  1. Too little mane could pull out and leave you tumbling off your horse; and
  2. Grabbing too little mane can also put all the force on too small an area and cause your horse some pain. Grabbing a handful will distribute your pulling force and place smaller forces on each individual hair follicle.
Horses generally don't have a problem with the rider holding onto their manes. Of course, holding the mane is not a substitute for good balance. But it's unlikely you'll stay on the horse with bad balance just by holding the mane — you'll need both.

One Last Note:
You don't have to ride bridleless to ride bareback. You can still use your bridle on the horse. I'm not sure why you're riding bridleless, but I just wanted to mention that most of us always use a bridle, even when we ride bareback.

Have fun!


June 22, 2012 – THE RISK OF FALLING FROM A HORSE

I have wanted to ride horses my entire life but am afraid I could fall off and get hurt. I think of Christopher Reeves injuries and it frightens me. How dangerous is falling from a horse?

I responded to this question just nine days ago, so perhaps it demands a more comprehensive treatment.

Most people who ride have taken at least several tumbles from a horse and most of the precious few that have never fallen are probably likely to do so yet. The fact is, we're mounted on an animal that has its own mind, can be spooked, and can move very quickly. So, there is always the chance that we'll find ourselves on the ground. That said, serious and life-threatening injuries from falling off a horse are remarkably rare.

While there are over nine million horses in the U.S. alone and two million horse owners*, it's pretty rare that we hear about someone dying from their interaction with horses. In fact, we've often quoted the fact that the chance of dying by riding an animal is 30,476 to 1 whereas the chance of dying driving or riding in a car is 272:1. Clearly, animals are much safer to ride. Much of that is due to the slower speeds involved.

Moving to your direct concern, you will likely fall off a horse at least once if you take up riding. However, the great majority of the times, the result is scratches and/or bruising. And you can reduce the chances of falling by taking riding lessons, selecting calm horses to ride/buy, avoiding jumping, and using a Western or even better, an Australian saddle. These saddles don't guarantee you'll never fall, but they do provide more support with a higher pommel and cantle that tends to keep you in the saddle should the horse make a quick move. But that doesn't replace good training, staying in shape, and paying attention to the horse and what's happening around you.

You also want to always wear basic safety equipment, such as an approved riding helmet and proper footwear. You can even purchase a jumping vest. These are lightweight vests that use dense close-cell foam padding to absorb the shock from any fall that might occur. You don't need to jump horses to use it, but it may make you feel safer in the event that you do ever fall.

There are some real risks when riding horses, and there are actions you can take to reduce those risks. The Horse Girl is a very experienced rider as well as an equine attorney. She has written an article you may want to read entitled: The Risk of Riding Horses. The article doesn't pull punches, but it does help put the risk into an accurate perspective and compares its risks to other activities that most of us undertake.

I hope the foregoing allays some of your concerns. Riding horses is great fun and very fulfilling. It would be a shame for you to never experience your dream of riding when the statistical risks are really not very high when compared to many other activities that most people accept without question, such as riding in a car or skiing.

*The Equestrian Channel; Horse Industry Statistics


June 21, 2012 – FEAR OF USING A WESTERN SADDLE

How dangerous is it to ride using a saddle with a horn. My discipline is dressage and I am going to a dude ranch this summer with a friend. I am excited to go, but have been informed that the ranch only uses western tack and have some concerns. Thanks for your help and advice!

Put your mind at ease. Saddles came into being over 2,500 years ago and the horn was added centuries ago. People have been riding on saddles with horns ever since, and while injuries due to the horn have occurred, it's not very common. The English saddle is a fairly recent design from the 1700s when fox hunting became popular and many riders of the sport felt the high cantle and pommel were getting in their way.

The risk of injury from the horn goes up significantly when you start jumping in such a saddle. Small jumps are ok, but the technique becomes less forgiving and the required skill and experience needed increases as the height increases. Also, the tree of horned saddles are generally not designed for the forces of jumping, especially the landing, and often fail prematurely if used for lots of jumping. Conversely, that high cantle and pommel are a great safety feature and tend to keep the rider in the saddle out on the trail when other wildlife, such as deer, foxes, mice, bees, and other critters can surprise and spook a horse. If you expect to do lots of jumping out on the trail, an endurance or Australian saddle is usually a good way to handle both.

Most ranches will also let you bring your own saddle as long as it fits the horse you select. So, that's another option you have if you're still uncomfortable with the idea of riding Western. In my opinion, your concerns would be put to rest if you use Western tack on this vacation and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think we all should try different forms of tack for the fun and experience gained.

From a horse's perspective, riding is truly all about balance and clearly signaling and reading the horse regardless of the tack you use. Your dressage riding skills will be as valuable on the trail just as they are in the arena. As the multi-disciplined Horse Girl is fond of saying, all riding is good riding, and each discipline learned helps one to be a better rider in all disciplines.

So, go out on your riding vacation with excitement and have a great time! We'll envy you from here.


June 20, 2012 – THE HORSE THAT ALWAYS WANTS TO LEAD

My horse listens well to me on the trail as long as we are either alone or leading a string of other horses. But when we ride in the second position or farther back in a string, he is fixated on running with the herd and no longer listens to me. He tosses his head at my smallest rein check if I want him to go slower than the group or to allow more space between him and the horse in front. He is confident when alone or in front, but becomes strictly a herd member if he's not in the lead. What can I do about this? I can't always be in the lead. Thank you.

This is a combination of two issues:

  1. Your horse has "herd-bound" tendencies; and
  2. Your horse wants (or feels the need) to be the herd's alpha.

The first is very common amongst most horses (they ARE herd animals, after all), and the second seems to happen more with mares. There are many theories as to what any particular horse feels in such circumstances. Which are right and which your horse feels is not that easy to determine, if it's even possible, regardless of what many people may think. So, let's talk about what we do know from your horse's behavior:

  • Your horse doesn't like to follow. He does what you ask when he's leading (he's not following). He likely knows the herd will follow. When you're alone, he's still not following.
  • Being in a herd means safety to a horse. The herd is more formidable to a predator and your horse knows this — there's safety in numbers. (Predators likely also know this.)
That's all we really can conclude based on your description.

The only way your horse will accept riding in any other position is if he views you as his leader — and you'll likely need to be a strong one. If he sees you as the leader, he's going to do as you ask even if he doesn't like it. And part of accepting something other than the lead position for him will be to follow a stronger leader so he still feels safe.

Here are some things you can try. When riding with others, you should spend time in the various positions of the string from first to last and all the positions in the middle. Your horse is going to balk at first — he's going to try to convince you that he should be up front. When he does, you need to keep him in whatever position you've selected. DO EXPECT that he'll fold his ears back at the horse and rider taking over the lead position and make sure they pass you far enough away that your horse can't easily turn and kick out at them. When YOU'RE ready, move to another position forward or backward. In time, he's going to accept that YOU control the position and NOT him.

To start off, you want to first work on moving him away from the herd when riding with others. This is different than riding alone because he'll already be in "herd mode" and you're going to gradually take over as the leader. (Check out our article Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse.) As he gets more comfortable leaving a herd and trusting you more, it should be easier to change positions in the herd away from the front. However, because leading appears to be such a strong tendency in your horse, this likely will be something to which you'll always have to be attuned so he doesn't return to his natural tendency.

Good luck!


June 19, 2012 – TRAILER BRAKE CONTROLLERS

What is the best brake controller for towing a horse trailer?

Proportional brake controllers are the best for controlling the stopping of almost any kind of trailer most of us will haul. With that type of controller, brake application is more gradual and proportional to the force necessary to bring a trailer to a safe and coordinated stop. In addition, their use reduces tire wear as compared to time-delay controllers.

To learn more, you should read our article focusing on this topic entitled: Trailer Brake Controllers. If you still have additional questions, please feel free to write back with your specific questions.


June 18, 2012 – RIDING A FORMERLY MALNOURISHED HORSE

Is a formerly malnourished horse safe to ride?

That's a question for the veterinarian. But, if he/she says that the horse is capable of being ridden, then you should be ok. The fact the horse was previously malnourished doesn't mean he can't put on weight and get back into condition again. It just takes some care, feeding, vet guidance, and adequate time.

Let your vet be the guide on this. He/she will be able to help advise you on what to do and when your horse is ready. You definitely don't want to begin until your vet indicates it's ok to do so.

One More Thing:
Please realize that getting your horse's weight back up and healthy is not the whole picture. You also need to get him GRADUALLY into condition once your vet says it's ok to begin. Take your time here and give your horse the training and time he needs to get back into shape.

As you begin, you're generally better off working your horse lightly and frequently as you start him off. For example, start him off with 15 minutes of light work twice a day, such as walking him with you in the saddle on level ground. Do this for 15 minutes in the morning, and then for another 15 minutes later in the afternoon. After a few days of this, move to a 30 minute exercise period once a day and add some gentle hills. After a few days of this, move to a slow trot.

The key to all this is to build muscle and condition your horse gradually, especially for a formerly malnourished horse that likely will have little initial muscle mass. Going too fast could truly hurt him. If in doubt, ask your vet and enlist the help of a horse trainer familiar with getting out-of-shape horses back into condition.


June 15, 2012 – WHAT DOES RIDING HORSES DO TO PEOPLE?

What does riding horses do to girls?

Do to girls? It teaches them responsibility; bonding with a powerful, beautiful, and sensitive animal; it teaches confidence; and it is a most gratifying and enriching experience. In addition, interacting with and riding horses is great fun and improves one's natural balance and coordination.

Finally, these benefits are not limited to girls. They're also great for boys, men, and women. It's never too late to learn to ride and enjoy the magic that comes with horses. In my opinion, horses are a wonderful addition to the world and to the happiness of many human beings.


June 14, 2012 – DEALING WITH HERD BOUND HORSES

My horse won't listen to me when he's in a herd. This happens every time I ride with my friends. If they ride faster than I want to go and I try to slow my horse down or they go one way and I want to go another, he has a fit. What should I do?

This is a common problem because your horse wants to stay with the herd. He does that because he instinctually knows that he's safer with the herd than when alone. For one thing, there are other horses to stay alert and warn the herd of predators. And if a predator were to be successful in getting one of the horses, the chances it would be your horse goes down as the number of horses goes up. Also, a herd of horses would likely be more successful at frightening a predator away than just one horse would be. Your horse knows all this instinctually.

For your horse to follow you more readily away from the herd, you will have to earn his respect. If he was to view you as his herd leader, he would follow you willingly. To get to that point takes an understanding of what it is that makes one a herd leader. Your fastest path to accomplish that goal is to take lessons from an instructor on building your confidence and becoming the leader. That will help you with all interaction with your horse from riding to training.

But to address your immediate problem, we have an article that addresses your specific question about going away from the herd entitled: Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse.


June 13, 2012 – CHANCES OF INJURY FALLING FROM A HORSE

What are the chances you will get hurt if you fall off a horse?

It depends on the circumstances of your fall. For example, from how high did you fall? Did you land on soft grass, hard pavement or concrete, onto a sharp rock, or onto the end of an impaling stick or stump? Was the horse at a gallop or going at speed over a jump?

As you can see, there are many different ways you can fall and hurt yourself, or walk away with nothing more than grass stains. The best way to minimize your risk is to learn proper riding technique, wear appropriate riding gear (helmet, boots, etc.), and use common sense. Even then, as with skiing, high-school football, or bike riding, there are no guarantees. That said, riding is relatively safe with most falls resulting in nothing more than scratches and bruises, if any.


June 12, 2012 – COSTS OF RUNNING A HORSE FARM

What is the average monthly cost for running a small horse farm? I want to start one but I don't know what the costs are. Thanks for your help!

There is no "average monthly cost" for all farms. The cost of running a farm of any size has to do with many variables. For example, consider these questions:

  1. Would you own the farm or lease it? If leasing, what are those monthly payments? If you own it, do you own it outright or are you paying a mortgage on the farm? If you take a loan, what are those monthly mortgage payments?
  2. What are the yearly taxes on that farm?
  3. What are the property insurances costs on the farm?
  4. Do you have employees to pay? For example, will you employ horse trainers, instructors, office personnel, one or more people to clean stalls? If so, what are the prevailing wages for these jobs in your area?
  5. What is the cost of your equine related insurances (notice that this is plural: General Farm Liability Insurance; Care Custody and Control Insurance; Loss of Use Insurance on your own horses if used for riding instruction; Workmans' Compensation Insurance if you have employees; Equine Shipping Insurance is you provide that service, etc., etc., etc.
  6. Electrical costs for lighting and anything else you run in the barn (e.g. fans, water heater, washing machine, dryer)
  7. Feed costs;
  8. Hay costs;
  9. Bedding costs;
  10. How many horses do you expect to board?
  11. What about other services you might need to pay for?
    • A bookkeeper to maintain your books
    • An accountant to handle the greater complexities of business quarterly and annual filings
    • A farrier for your own horses
    • Vet charges for your own horses
  12. What are your expected profit margins? You need to consider this because it's actually a business cost that's paid to you, the owner for your time and financial invetsments.

The foregoing lists a dozen costs that are area dependent and due to your individual circumstances; there may also be other costs. So, you should be able to see how costs will vary for many reasons. However, you can use this list as a starting point so you can price it out for your area and intended farm operations to get a "ballpark" number as a starting point to better understand your revenue requirements. Doing that is essentially creating your business plan and I feel it shows the great value of creating that plan to determine whether or not this is a good idea for you to undertake.

Good luck with assessing and potentially pursuing your dream!


June 11, 2012 – LOAD HORSES BEFORE OR AFTER HITCHING?

Does a trailer need to be hitched to a truck before you load the horses?

YES! You really should be hitched and ready to go before you load any horses. There are at least several reasons for this:

  1. On a smaller horse trailer, loading a horse, especially a larger one risks lifting the front of the trailer off the ground and causing a dangerous situation from a panicked horse to someone or a horse getting hurt. The trailer could spin on its wheels, the front could drop with a crash, etc.
  2. Any time you're hitching a trailer, your backing of the tow vehicle to connect the trailer could result in a mistake that strikes and jars the trailer. With the horses inside, that's another potential panic that could be avoided by hitching the trailer first.
  3. Many horses are uncomfortable being in a trailer in the first place. If you can load the horse and then immediately hit the road, the horses seem to handle it better as soon as you're underway. Being stuck in the trailer while you back up (perhaps multiple times to align the hitch, operate the jack, connect safety chains, connect and test the electrical, etc., serves only to aggravate their spookiness.

I hope the foregoing convinces you of the benefits of loading the horses ONLY after everything else is done and ready to go. I think you'll agree we just don't need this additional excitement and chance of injury in our lives.


June 8, 2012 – MOUNTING A TIED HORSE?

Is it ok to tie my horse every time I mount him? I'm afraid he'll move and I'll fall to the ground. A fellow rider says it is bad to do.

I agree with your friend; I think this is a very bad idea. Horses will sometimes panic when something happens and they can't move away because they're tied. That's one big reason why break-away halters were invented. I'd rather have an untied horse start walking while I try to mount him. At least that's something I prepare for and expect every time I mount. Most horses don't move, but some do. By expecting that movement, we can be better prepared to either swing our leg over or abort the mount. But I think trying to mount a tied horse is a mistake.


June 7, 2012 – FROM ARENA TO TRAIL

I have been riding English for over 30 yrs. I want to keep showing but would now also like to ride trails more. I have gone trail riding a few times in the past, but don't know how to get started. Do I need to change saddles or get any special tack or accessories? Do I need to take special lessons to be safe?

This is an interesting question to me, not so much because trail riding is radically different, but just because so many arena riders seem to think that it is. While there are some differences that I'll mention below, the fact is, you're still riding a horse. So all the knowledge and things you've learned over the years about dealing with horses, controlling them, comforting them, etc., still apply. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the riding away from the barn introduces new distractions, noises, and sights that can surprise a horse. That said, almost all horses love to ride outside and find it fascinating.

You'll want to follow all the same safety advice you learned for the ring, such as always wearing an approved riding helmet, wearing proper footwear, making sure your tack is in good condition and properly placed and secured on your horse, etc. Then, you need to start thinking about the differences and kinds of surprises you and your horse will deal with on the trail, such as dogs, bees, wild animals (deer, squirrels, mice, chipmunks etc,), vehicles, brooks and streams, wind and blowing leaves, etc. You'll need to introduce your horse to these experiences if he's not already accustomed to them.

I recommend that you start by reading several related articles we have:

Moving From Arena/Ring to Trail
I suspect this article is probably going to be tailored quite well for your transition.

Trail Riding Etiquette
This definitely contains some good facts to know regarding riding more safely for yourself and other riders.

Getting into Trail Riding
This one is more for the non-horse person interested in trail riding that is starting to ride for the first time. But it still should have some good information you'll find valuable.

A GPS for Trail Riding
For the more technical rider, a GPS can make riding even more fun. And for any kind of rider, it can be indispensible when riding deep into a large forest. We have more articles you may want to check out as you get more experience.

As for tack, your current tack will work just fine, especially for starting out. As you get a feeling for the kind of trail riding you prefer, you may want to consider some changes. For example, for long rides of several hours, I find a Western or Australian saddle more comfortable because they are actually designed for longer periods of riding. You also may want to carry some things along to make your rides more satisfying or fun (water bottle, GPS or trail maps, etc.) But let your riding guide you here. There's no need to buy anything initially.

I recommend that your first rides be accompanied by other experienced riders on seasoned horses. This will make both you and your horse more comfortable as well as more fun. One of the great activities my friends and I enjoy is trail riding picnics in which we ride several miles to a new location and picnic there.

I wish you a very happy and enjoyable summer in this great fun discipline for your horse!


June 6, 2012 – RACING DOWN TRAILS

My boyfriend and I and our riding friends (mostly teenage guys) like to run through trails and around trees at speed. My girlfriends that ride say that we're crazy and should only walk down trails. We have been doing this for years with no problems. What is your view on this?

Well, I can't advise you on whether or not you're taking unnecessary chances or whether your behavior is within reasonable bounds because I've never seen you and your friends ride and I don't know the condition of your trails. But I will share my feelings about how to be as safe as possible. For one thing, my riding friends and I do the same thing and most of them are women in their 40s - 60s. So, gender is not the issue here, and neither is age. Here are some things to consider:

  • Riding a horse does have some risk and we want to keep it to a minimum. That's best accomplished by riding a sane, trained, and even-tempered horse;
  • We need to be adequately trained and able to control our horse. That means we also need confidence and experience as well;
  • We need to know the trails we're going to ride and their recent condition. For example, there can be washed out areas after a heavy rain; branches could have dropped onto the trail or trees knocked down across a trail; or mud on a trail could make it slippery. With any of the foregoing or any other obstacle, we need to have checked out a trail and know its current condition so we know it's safe to go at speed on it, or we should not do so;
  • An animal could have burrowed a hole on the trail into which your horse could step; or
  • When coming around a corner or over a rise even on a trail we know is in current good condition, there could still be a hiker or other riders stopped or coming our way and we may not be able to see them in time to stop;

The above listed points represent just some of the hazards that can befall us when riding at speed through the forest. What I'm saying is that we need to take precautions when we're going to travel at speed on a horse. We need to take even more precautions when on an enclosed trail. And after doing all this, there will still be some risk.

I do understand the appeal of what you do. It's no different than accepting some risk when skiing, swimming, scuba diving, or many other sport activities. You can further reduce your risk by always wearing an approved helmet when riding and also wearing proper footwear. Also make sure your tack is in good condition and properly placed and secured on your horse.

So, I can't tell you that whatever it is you're doing is ok, but there are ways to reduce risk as much as possible and still participate in your activity. Be safe and have fun!


June 5, 2012 – UPGRADING BARN LIGHTING

We're changing the light fixtures in our barn because we need more light, but we don't know what to replace them with. We also don't know how much light each stall should have. What should we do?

Increasing your artificial lighting depends on more than one variable. Here are some of the most important:

  1. If the light fixture is mounted high, you need a brighter light than if it's closer. That said, you don't want the light mounted low enough for a rearing horse to hit. Ten to twelve feet about the stall and aisle floors is usually good.
  2. If the light fixture has a reflector, you'll be able to use smaller, more energy efficient bulbs. That's because light that would otherwise go up and out sideways will now be added to that going down where you need it.
  3. If you paint the walls surfaces a light color, you'll save even more because less light will be absorbed and more of it will be reflected to where you need it. That will also make the entire barn seem more open and airy.
I wouldn't suggest changing the fixture unless the new one will add a reflector where none currently exists or you're converting to vapor-proof fixtures for additional safety reasons.. Otherwise, you're buying new ones for nothing. You certainly don't want to go to larger, higher wattage fixtures when the rest of the world is becoming more efficient and saving more through conservation and better technologies (e.g. CFLs, LED lighting, etc.) You can find more information in our Better Barn Lighting article.

I hope the foregoing helps get you on your way.


June 4, 2012 – BUYING A SADDLE

I'm in the process of buying a new horse and need to get a saddle. The seller is a friend of mine and said I could borrow her extra saddle for the next few months until I find one that suits me. But I don't know where to start. Talking with other horse owners, it seems they just bought the same kind of saddle the learned in. I don't want to limit myself that way, especially if I buy a new saddle. Any suggestions?

I applaud you in looking at this topic with such an open mind. Too many of us just continue doing what we were taught without giving all of our options some fresh thought as to what may best fit our own needs. But the process need not sound like a lot of work — it can be fun. I wrote a series of articles several years ago describing a year long search that I undertook so as to best avail myself of the latest in riding technology and I am so glad that I did, because I love the saddle I ultimately purchased.

There can be some limits on what you should purchase. For example, if your interest is in competing and showing in any discipline, there will usually be specific tack requirements. That will limit you to the kind of saddle used in that discipline. Even if you're just going to ride for yourself, depending on the kind of riding you pursue, that can also set some limits on the tack you can use. For example, if you like to jump, a Western saddle is not the best saddle for that application. It could present some physical dangers to your safety, such as if it has a horn. And the tree on most Western saddles is not usually designed for repetitive jumping and could fail early. But outside of these kinds of limitations, you can probably go with the kind of tack that most appeals to you.

My own tack is a hybrid of different disciplines. For example, I started as an English rider, focus on trail riding, and use a Western halter/bridle and a custom Australian saddle. Also, I have large hands and find large diameter rope reins to be the most comfortable for me. Essentially, I've selected items that best fit my riding and preferences. If you're not showing and/or competing, you can do the same. Just remember that certain saddles have been designed for certain purposes, so you need to keep that in mind both from a utility as well as a safety perspective.

My saddle series consists of eight articles. It begins with Saddle Search – Part 1: A Secure Saddle, Fit, & Comfort. and each links to the next article. You can also select any of them from the Saddle Search Series in our Article list under the Tack & Outdoor Riding topic category.

Take advantage of the fact that your friend is generously letting you use of her extra saddle. That gives you the ability to ride now while being able to take the time you'll need for a realistic search. When possible, also take advantage of those dealers and manufacturers that will let you try one of their saddles for a week or two before buying. Almost all saddles seem comfortable when sitting in them for several minutes in the store. But what really matters is how they feel after you've been sitting in them for several hours bouncing around on a horse.

Whatever you do, enjoy the process and take the time to experience the many different designs to find the best and most comfortable saddle for you and your riding. And above all, HAVE FUN!


June 1, 2012 – HORSES OUT IN THE RAIN

Is it ok to leave my horse out in the rain?

If you're asking about doing so in warm weather, it's fine. Horses don't even seem to notice the rain and usually keep on grazing. The only time it can be an issue is in cold weather below 50° or so. The risk there is hypothermia.

Horses have warm coats, large bodies, and generate quite a bit of heat. That's why they can live through harsh winters out in the wild. But when you add heavy rain to cold temperatures, they can lose more heat than they can generate and that can be life threatening. Wind during rain removes heat even faster and can be even more dangerous in colder weather. That's why horses kept outside in colder climates MUST have a run-in or similar shelter available to them.


May 31, 2012 – RIDING BAREBACK

I'd like to try riding bareback. Is it hard? Is it dangerous? How do I start?

Riding bareback is a good way to solidify your balance on a horse. As well as not having stirrups when bareback, a horse's coat is generally slippery, so you must be balanced to stay on the horse. You should start by trying it at the walk on a calm horse in an enclosed space, such as an indoor arena or small paddock. You'll quickly get the hang of sitting straight and moving with the horse. When ready for a little more challenge, you can step it up to a trot.

At the trot, you either need to sit it or use your thighs to post. You will need strong thighs to do a post because you won't have stirrups to lift against. The canter is the next step and you want to take it slowly because sliding off is certainly possible.

Some people like to go to an interim approach first, by purchasing a bareback pad. This is a pad that has a girth/cinch-like strap to keep the pad on the horse. The pad is far less sliperry than being bareback, and some pads also have cloth stirrups. Obviously, your balance doesn't need to be as good with the stirrups, but it will let you feel the horse's body. You'll also find that leg aids are very sensitive because the horse can easily feel your whole leg. It's even more so when you're truly bareback. Your seat should improve by riding this way because, you'll also increase your chances of falling off and that requires you to ride properly and in balance.

Have fun!


May 30, 2012 – SLIDING SADDLE DANGERS

My saddle slides around when I ride. I have tried making it tight but it still slides. Any ideas I can use to stop this problem before I fall off? Should I try to make it still tighter? I don't want to hurt my horse by tightening it too much.

A sliding saddle truly does put you in danger of getting hurt, so you're wise to be concerned. And yet, it's good that you don't want to tighten it indiscriminately for fear of harming your horse. There are actually several reasons your saddle could move around on your horse and you don't want to just tighten away.

We have an article of this very topic entitled: Dealing with Sliding Saddle Problems. It identifies a number of problems that can cause saddle movement.


May 29, 2012 – DANGERS OF HORSES EATING GRASS CLIPPINGS

I am a new horse owner and everyone is telling me that horses should not eat grass clippings. I am ok with that but why is it bad?

There are actually several risks you take by letting horses eat recently mowed grass. It depends on conditions, the species of your grasses and more. Here are some of those risks:

  1. More than one horse has choked to death on grass clippings. Horses can easily grab mouthfuls too large to swallow;
  2. Freshly mowed grasses in clumps can ferment and support the growth of a bacterium (Clostridium Botulinum) which produces toxins causing botulism; and
  3. Some grasses will form cyanide compounds from prussic acid after being mowed;

Even though some cut grasses won't form toxins, who really knows what grasses exist in your pasture? You could plant a species that's not toxic, yet a more toxic grass may germinate in your paddock or yard from airborne seed. And just to make a point, cattle will also get sick from clippings for the same reasons. So, the safest thing to do is to never let your horse eat recently mowed grass. Once a horse dies doing so, it's too late.


May 25, 2012 – HORSE WON'T CROSS A STREAM

My horse is afraid to cross a small stream. I push and push her, but she doesn't budge. Any ideas?

Sure! Go riding with at least one other person — a group is even better. You want to be behind one or more horses that easily cross the stream. Your horse will see them do it and will feel that it's safe and want to stay with the herd. If your horse wants to stop and smell the stream first, let her do so. Arrange with the other riders beforehand that they're willing to wait for you while your horse checks out the stream.

Most horses who won't cross streams or brooks are afraid because the water is moving and because they can't see the bottom and are afraid to fall through. Giving them the time to look closely at and smell the running water and perhaps test the bottom with one foot first, as well as watching other, more seasoned horses cross with no problem, usually gives the concerned horse more confidence. After a few crossings, the problem is usually gone for good unless the water is moving very quickly or some other major change is apparent.


May 24, 2012 – SAFELY APPLYING FLY SPRAYS

I am not sure how to apply fly spray.. Do I spray my horse everywhere? Do I put some on his face? Do I dilute the spray first? Please help.

Do not dilute or otherwise remove the fly spray from the spray bottle it came in from the manufacturer. The fly spray is ready to use unless the instructions say otherwise. BE SURE TO READ AND UNDERSTAND the application instructions that are listed on the fly spray bottle BEFORE using the product. FOLLOW those instructions for the safety of yourself and your horse.

If you're applying fly spray prior to going out on a ride, tack up your horse first. The reason is that you don't want to apply any of the spray onto his back which will be under his saddle and pad because it could cause irritation. If you're applying spray before turnout, it's ok to spray his back where the saddle will normally go because it will have time to dry and weaken before your next ride.

As for your horse's face, NEVER spray onto his face and head. Instead, spray onto a clean cloth or paper towel and then gently rub his face and head while staying away from his eyes, mouth, and nostrils. If your horse has any reaction to the spray, stop using it immediately and notify your vet.

Avoid breathing in any of the fly spray and also avoid spraying in such a way that causes your horse to breathe the product in. These products, even the natural ones, are in strong concentrations and not good for any human or animal to inhale.


May 23, 2012 – ARE HORSES SAFE?

Hi! I have wanted to ride horses my whole life but never got up the nerve. For our anniversary, my husband gave me five lessons at a local barn. So now I'm excited and scared at the same time. Friends have told me that horses are dangerous and I worry about my two children if something happens to me. My husband says I'm being silly and should just enjoy. Am I really being silly? Your answer will help me decide if I should go forward.

Please, GO FOR IT! There truly is some danger being around and riding horses. But there is more danger every time you get into a car whether you drive or you're just a passenger. Yet, you go anyway and most of us have no choice but to take this risk every day. So, while there is some danger being around horses, very few people die because of their involvement with horses (though we do get bumped and bruised from time to time).

To put this risk into perspective compared to my example of riding in a vehicle, consider the National Safety Council's list of the odds of dying performing some typical activities. The risk of dying in your lifetime by riding in a car is about 272:1. The risk of dying riding a horse or riding in a horse drawn wagon is 30,476:1. These probabilities already account for the number of people riding and driving, and the hours spent doing each. You can see the full list at: National Safety Council(NSC): Odds of Death Due to Injury. Clearly, an activity involving horses is much safer than being on the highway. One of the primary differences making horses safer is the much slower speed involved.

So, I again encourage you to move forward and enjoy this most beautiful animal and all the joy that comes from interacting with and riding them. We have an article I suggest you read entitled: Safety Around Horses. The article does identify some real risks, but also explains how to minimize them. Your riding instructor will further educate you about how to be safe around horses and on riding safety.

Have fun!

* The numbers will vary over time as the NSC periodically updates statistics with the latest information; these are the numbers listed on their site as of May 23, 2012 using data from 2006.


May 22, 2012 – BOUNCING WATER BOTTLE

I have been wanting to bring water along on our trail rides, so I bought a water bottle that clips on my saddle. The problem is that the bottom bounces around against my horse when we canter and she doesn't like it. When I hold it with one hand, she's better but then I only have one hand for the reins. What should I do?

Well actually, you already know what to do because you're doing it — you need to find some way of securing the bottom of the bottle so it doesn't bounce. I take a quart canteen on my rides because I find most bottles don't hold enough water for me on the long rides I take with my friends. In fact, on long rides, I take two canteens along.

The canteen slips into a Cordura® pouch and has a clip at the top that I affix to a footman's loop on my saddle. I added a short length of Velcro® strap that goes around my saddle's rear cinch ring to which is attached another clip. That clip then snaps onto the bottom ring of the canteen's pouch and stops it from from bouncing — it works great!

The key is to secure a bottle or canteen well enough so that there's no bouncing (your horse will appreciate that). When my canteen (or your bottle) is half full, the liquid inside will shift with each bounce, but it still won't be a problem for your horse if it's adequately secured at both ends.


May 21, 2012 – HORSE CLEANING

How often should I brush and clean my horse?

If possible, it's good to do it daily. Horses shed hair, flake skin, roll in dirt, roll in some waste products in their stalls, stand in rain, and perspire. This can all make an oily and viscous mix that, left on your horse, can irritate his skin. A good, daily brushing will remove much of this coating and let his skin breathe.

Similarly, you should pick his hooves daily. This helps remove mud, and even more important, packed urine-soaked bedding that can cause thrush and white-line disease. Bacteria in horse urine is the problem, but the bedding worsens the situation by keeping it warmer and against the sole of the hoof.

Finally, it's good to give your horse an occasional bath. This will remove the oil and grime that the brushing doesn't get. Make sure to use a shampoo specifically made for bathing animal coats. This kind of shampoo is available for horses and dogs, and doesn't leave behind chemicals that can irritate the animal's skin.


May 18, 2012 – CALORIES MUCKING STALLS

How many calories do I burn mucking the stalls in my barn?

This question comes in to us almost daily. It certainly does imply that lots of you out there spend considerable time mucking stalls.

The answer can vary based upon the mucker's weight, the size of the stall, the number of stalls, and more. We wrote an article several years ago to answer this question. It's entitled: Calories Burned Mucking Stalls.


May 17, 2012 – HORSES AND DOGS

Do all dogs get along with horses?

They do most of the time. However, as with all things, there are exceptions. For example, at my barn, there is a horse that will tempt a dog (or cat) into her stall, and will then try to kick them. The horse gets along fine with humans, wants to be the alpha with other horses, and seems to dislike small animals. Similarly, there are dogs (and cats) that just don't seem to be "horse aware" and will sometimes run beneath a walking horse. I suspect they don't don't last very long with horses around.

So, you should watch carefully when you introduce any small animal into an environment of horses to see how they interact and whether that interaction should be allowed to continue.


May 16, 2012 – HOOF CRACKS

My horse stomps all summer and has splits in his hoofs. I have shoes on her but the cracks are still there and keep traveling up the hoof as it grows out. What can I do to get rid of those cracks? We're starting into the fly season and I just know my mare will be stomping away again as the flies come out around our barn.

Ask your farrier to use shoes with clips. Both sides of the cracked hoof have to be kept together as the hoof grows or the cracks will continue to travel up as it grows. The clips of the shoes help keep the halves together.

The other thing you should focus on is reducing the number of flies around your barn. Keep the stalls clean, remove muckings promptly from stall and barn, and even consider stall sprayers or some natural fly predators to keep the fly population down. The cracks will always be a problem if there is a large fly population in and around your barn.


May 15, 2012 – SWEET, SPRING GRASS

Could you share your thoughts on the introduction of horses to spring grass? In a boarding situation where they are turned out daily (except in severe weather) what time limits do you place on the turnout and what do you recommend when they were up to about 5 hours of grass then were not able to be out for 2 or 3 days. Do you go back to just 1/2 hr or 1 hour and build back up slowly??? Thanks!

This is really a better question answered by a veterinarian, but I'll share my experience. At my barn, the horses are out to pasture all day, every day, throughout the year. We will keep them in when there's lots of ice on the ground, when there's a major storm blowing through (e.g. a frigid blizzard, hurricane, etc.) and when it's raining very hard during a very cold day. Otherwise, they're out. As a result, the horses are eating grass from the time it begins to sprout in early Spring to the time it gets covered by snow.

As you mention, the primary concern is in the Spring when the new grass is coming back to life and has a much higher sugar content than usual. The primary concern is that a horse unaccustomed to that diet may ingest too much grass and founder due to the higher sugar level.

This risk is highest for horses that normally live more on grain and hay and are suddenly turned out to a pasture of sweet grass and allowed to eat too much before their systems have acclimated to the higher sugar levels. This implies that horses that have gradually acclimated to sweet grass are at much less risk of problems. There are horses at my barn in their 20s that are in very good shape and have been at the barn all their lives. So the implication is that acclimated horses do fine as long as their diet changes slowly.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I suggest you get an opinion from an authoritative source (veterinarian, equine nutritionist, etc.), because I'm just sharing what I've seen and heard, what we do at our barn, and the results to date. You should get professional advice. This is not an area that we know enough about the topic to properly advise you.


May 14, 2012 – HORSE VISION IN THE DARK

How well can horses see at night? I want to go on a moonlight ride at my barn, but part of our ride will be under the treetops in the forest and I am concerned that I don't want my horse accidently running us into a tree.

Well, you'll be happy to know that horses see very well in light so low that we can't see a thing. No animal, including cats and owls, can see in total darkness. Not even night-vision scopes work in total darkness. That's because, whether a cat, owl, horse, or a night scope, they all require some minimal amount of light to work.

However, in many circumstances, there is starlight, and there is light radiated biologically, such as from plants. Those low amounts of light are enough for the better night-vision scopes. I don't know whether or not such low light levels are enough for animals with sensitive vision. That's a good question for a veterinarian.

In my own experience, I have gone on several moonlight rides, and you're correct about there being precious little light for us to see when under a thick canopy in the forest. To my great surprise and delight, horses evidently can see adequately, because my own horse has walked me through those pitch dark forests without ever so much as a trip over a fallen branch on trails that have many such branches as well as rocks and logs strewn across. The only way he could do that was if my horse was able to see and avoid them. I find it hard to believe that my specific horse has any better vision than other horses, so I'm quite sure that horses in general see very well in very little light, and I have read several times that they do.

As for running into a tree, you should not be galloping your horse in the forest at night unless you can see the obstacles (personally, I wouldn't do it even then). I suspect you'll feel enough excitement and anxiety just being at the walk when you can't see a thing — you won't need to increase to a run to get a thrill.

Enjoy your moonlight rides!


May 11, 2012 – EXTRA FEE FROM BARN OWNER

My barn owner just charged me $10 to hold my horse while the farrier did his feet. I think thats outrageous! Can she do that? Can I deduck that amount from next months board?

These are contractual questions related to whatever agreement you have with the barn owner. If you have a written contract, you need to read it. If there is no contract, it comes down to what verbal agreements you and the barn owner have made. Verbal agreements can be dicey because either party can deny saying something and the interpretations can differ.

You did likely agree to pay the established board fee, so you can't just deduct the amount from your board fee. However, it's unlikely your barn owner is trying to make any serious extra money at $10 every six weeks or so. Rather, she's more likely charging you this fee because she's feeling exploited due to her being stuck holding your horse when you should have been there or made prior arrangements with her or someone else.

I suggest you have a conversation with your barn owner and try to resolve this amicably. If you don't, relations will likely get quite bad rather quickly and you may find yourself looking for a new barn. In this economic climate, most barns would rather not lose boarders. Conversely, if you're otherwise happy at this barn, you shouldn't start a war with the owner.

Regardless of how you feel, the barn owner is doing more work if she's holding your horse when the farrier is there — that's usually not part of a boarding contract. If you speak with her, you may be able to work out some other arrangement, such as helping with a chore, promising to be there when the farrier services your horse, etc.

If you have legal questions about this, you can also submit them to the Horse Girl, who is an equine attorney. Either way, I still feel the best resolution is to come to a mutually agreed understanding with the barn owner and then have both parties stick by the agreement.

Good luck!


May 10, 2012 – HORSES IN RAIN — WHAT'S TOO COLD?

I know horses can stay out in the rain in summer weather. But when does it get too cold to allow that?

Generally, because horses have big bodies and generate a lot of heat, they're normally ok at least into the 50s with heavy rain. If the rain is lighter and doesn't drench them, they may be ok in the 40s. The problem is that all animals (including humans) lose heat much faster as they get wetter. So while most horses can be very healthy living outside all day at 10 degrees with their winter coat when they're dry, they can get into life-threatening trouble at 40°F when soaked, worse if there's a strong wind.

If your horse is going to be outside for many hours in colder temperatures in heavy rain, get a water-proof sheet to put on them. It's usually ok if the head and neck get drenched as long as their body is kept dry. Also, windswept rain is worse because it brings a chilling factor and also can get rain under that water-proof sheet.

So, on those cold, windy, wet days, you're just better off bringing your horses into the barn.


May 9, 2012 – BREAK-AWAY BRAKE BATTERIES

How long will my breakaway battery last on my horse trailer?

Break-away brake batteries should be checked and fully charged each spring when you put your trailer back into service after the winter. Generally, the batteries last around 4 - 6 years. After that, they usually fail by not being able to hold a full charge — you don't want to use them at that point because they will not apply the brakes adequately, or worse, not at all.

Replacement cost is reasonable at about $20 - $35 and you can usually find them at a horse, boat, or camping trailer store as well as online.


May 8, 2012 – PRE-MADE BARNS

What's the story on these "premanufactured" barns I see in some horse farm catalogues? Are they any good?

I have seen some of them at the "Equine Affaire" in Massachusetts these last few years. They seem decently built and come in many different varieties and options from 2 stalls to many depending on the manufacturer. Some seem expensive for what you get while others seem reasonably priced.

Interestingly, as with the accessories you can get on a new car, I found that some barn builders make significant profit on the options. For example, adding a few extra light fixtures in the barn, or an external light fixture was very expensive on some of the barns, so you'd be better off buying just the basic barn and getting an electrician to add additional electrical options you'd like.

I think a pre-made barn can make sense if you shop carefully and inspect their model barns closely. Better yet, see if there is an existing owner within a reasonable driving distance that you can visit and ask pointed questions regarding what they think now that they've owned and used the barn for a while.


May 7, 2012 – TREELESS SADDLES

Is a treeless saddle better than a one with a tree? It seems whoever I ask has their opinion but there is no consensus. Though, they are all quite fervent and vocal about their opinion being the right one.

Yes, there are many opinions, indeed. But unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer for you, though I'm happy to share my opinion.

I've read lots on this topic and the idea of a treeless saddle appeals to me because it initially appears it would be easier on the horse's back. And by extension, it implies that the saddle would still fit properly after the horse gains or loses weight. Some treeless saddle manufacturers claim it's as healthy for the horse as riding bareback. Unfortunately, it's just not as simple as that.

Riding Bareback
Without a saddle, the human pelvis places pressure points on the horse's back and spine. This is hard on the horse. How hard depends not only on the horse, but also on the weight of the rider and on the pelvic shape and position of the rider (we're all slightly different). It also depends on the size and shape of the horse's skeleton (they, too, are all slightly different).

Treeless Saddle
Moving to treeless saddles, just the fact they're essentially a leather pad means the rider's weight will be distributed over at least a slightly larger area, but it's not clear whether that weight distribution will be adequate. However, I've read more than one article or rider posting of treeless saddles working for only a few years, or of the horse's back being irritated or abraded, so these new designs are definitely not foolproof, nor yet completely worked out.

Treed Saddle
We do know that the tree of a well-designed saddle distributes the weight of the saddle itself and more importantly, of the rider and any additional load attached to the saddle onto the horse's back. With many hundreds of years of experience with various forms of treed saddles, we also know that they treat the horse well when properly sized, fitted, and attached to the horse. HOWEVER, not all treed saddles are created equally. And whatever treed saddle is employed, it MUST properly fit the horse. If the horse has lost or gained weight since the saddle was fitted to him, it may not properly fit after that weight change.

So, the salient point here is that, whichever design you select, it really needs to properly fit the horse and be placed and secured properly to that horse every time you tack him/her up. As for me, I'm going to continue to watch developments on these saddle types, but am also going to stick with the tried and proven technology until the new designs seem to work as well as existing approaches.


May 4, 2012 – TRAILER BACKING TRAVAILS?

I bought a horse trailer last year and do fine driving it EXCEPT for backing up. Every time I try to do it, I end up with the trailer off to one side. I keep pulling forward and trying again. I finally get my trailer where I want it, but it can take 20 minutes and I might need to pull forward 10 or 20 more times. I get embarrassed with all the people that watch me and laugh.

Also, so far, I stop in time to avoid a jackknife, but I'm afraid that I will get into trouble one of these times and damage my truck or the trailer. How can I learn to back my trailer up properly on the first try?

Well first, you should be less embarrassed about your backing attempts that require pulling forward and trying again. Everyone who can back up a trailer of any kind needed lots of practice to get better at this task, including yours truly. You're going to be no different.

Second, all of us who pull trailers, including full-time truck drivers pulling trailers for a living, do and will always have to occasionally pull forward and back up again. Sometimes, this must be done many times — it all depends on how much room they have to maneuver. If they have little room, they'll have to pull forward, back, pull forward again, and repeat this process many times until they've inched around enough to put the trailer where they need it. After that, they may have to repeat the process again to pull out of that area.

Third, once you accept that pulling forward and backing again is part of the total skill set you need to haul a trailer, you'll do better.

Fourth, you're smart to be conscious of jackknifing and wanting to avoid it. As you said, you can damage your trailer or tow vehicle if you let this happen. But it's a risk of backing a trailer and one we need to manage to avoid.

Fifth, you're new to trailering, so find a safe area with little traffic, especially if it's off the road, and practice, practice, practice. We have an article about backing trailers you may want to read. I wrote it to share some tips and to explain how I learned backing a trailer in the hopes of encouraging others to believe they, too, can learn how. It's entitled: Learning to Back a Trailer.

Good luck! And don't give up; you'll get there.


May 3, 2012 – NICKEL OR BRASS HARDWARE ON TACK?

I am having a new western saddle made and have a choice of either nickel or brass hardware. Is one better than another? Is one stronger? Or is this just a choice of silver or gold coloring? What should I do?

Nickel hardware is usually nickel-plated steel and is stronger than brass. The steel is plated with nickel because the latter is much less susceptible to corrosion and gleams more like chrome. To compensate when strength does matter, a lot of brass hardware is made somewhat thicker. Mind you, brass is not a weak metal, but it is softer and not as strong as nickel and steel.

From a corrosion perspective, the nickel plating generally stays shinier with less work while brass will darken and needs more frequent cleaning. So, you may wonder why anybody even buys brass hardware. Well, I ordered my custom saddle with brass hardware when it was made several years ago. I did so because I really prefer the color of brass and my tack is black and I like the way brass looks with it. I just make it a point to polish the brass a little more often, which still amounts to just a few times a year.

As for what you should do, you should select the one that is most appealing to you. One is not better than another. As mentioned above, when strength is important, the brass piece is made a little thicker so as to have whatever strength is needed for the purpose of the piece. So it really just comes down to personal preference.


May 2, 2012 – SMALL TOW VEHICLES

I don't want to only own and drive a big truck just to tow my horses. What's the smallest vehicle I can use to tow a horse trailer?

Your question is common. Many horse people want to be able to take their horses someplace, can't tow with their car, don't want to add a truck just for towing and have two vehicles to maintain, and don't want a truck to be their primary and only vehicle. So what can you do? Many want to find a small, more economical tow vehicle they can use as their only vehicle.

There is no simple answer. But, we've looked at the issues of towing with small vehicles and written about it. You can learn more by reading: Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles.


May 1, 2012 – THE HERD BOUND HORSE

I like to go trail riding with my friends and everything is fine until I need to leave them and come back to the barn. My horse has a fit and fights me to stay with the herd. She pulls when I try to turn her and runs right back to the group. What do I do?

Most horses are herd bound, not because there's anything wrong with them, but because they feel safest when in a group. So trying to leave the group makes no sense to your horse who likely thinks you're daft for wanting to go it alone. You need to build your horse's trust in you as leader and protector so she feels secure even away from the herd as long as you're still with her to keep her safe.

We've responded often to questions about the importance of leadership and the value of working with a good trainer that will train you as well as your horse. It's important for the rider to build proper trust and confidence in the horse, so the training is for both of you. But there is also another component, and that is reducing the fear a horse has about being away from the herd. To that end, we have written an article you should read about one way you can gradually teach your horse that she'll be safe as you slowly venture farther and farther from the herd. The article is entitled: Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse.


April 30, 2012 – A COGGIN'S TEST FOR EQUINE INFECTIOUS ANEMIA (EIA)

What are the requirements for paying to have a coggins done on my horse? I just bought a trailer this year and want to trailer her to fox hunts and some shows I am working toward. Do I need to pay for a coggins for her?

An annual Coggin's test for EIA is a good idea for any horse that occasionally comes in contact with other horses. You mention the word "pay" twice in your question — the average price for this test is only about $30.00 or so. IT IS A REQUIREMENT to have a recent Coggin's test if you want your horse to participate in most shows. But I do it every year because I ride the trails with friends and also occasionally participate in riding events.

You don't mention the state in which you live, and unfortunately, the requirements vary from state to state. The University of Vermont has a Website providing information about the laws in each state, though it's dated 2001. The Website address is:

http://asci.uvm.edu/equine/law/eia/eia.htm

You can get current information by calling the United States Department of Agriculture at: (800) 545-8732.

You should carry a copy of the test (not the original) in the vehicle you use to tow your trailer. If you and your horse are sometimes picked up by a friend and trailered somewhere, you should have a copy of the test on your person. In other words, a copy of the test results should accompany your horse wherever he/she goes away from the barn.


April 27, 2012 – ARENA LIGHTING

My husband and I are building an arena. I'd like to make it an "indoor", but we cannot afford to do that right now. Either way, we will need outdoor lighting. What kind of lighting can we buy for use outdoors that we can later use indoors when we enclose the new arena?

Congratulations on your new arena! The type of lighting you'll want is referred to as gas-discharge lighting. This form of lighting includes metal halide, high pressure sodium, low pressure sodium, mercury vapor, etc. All of these lamps are slow to come on (about 10 minutes to reach full brightness), but last a long time (25,000 hours), are very bright, and are much more efficient than incandescent lighting and still more efficient than even fluorescent lighting. Their intense light levels are needed because they're generally mounted high above the arena floor. And their high efficiency means you'll get all that light and spend much less on electricity than conventional lighting.

For arena use, you'll want to get metal halide lamps. You've likely seen this lighting before in school gyms. They produce a white, natural light and are the standard for most equine arenas. However, while the outdoor variety will also operate fine indoors when you enclose your arena, the fixture shape may not be as good for both applications.

For an indoor arena, the fixtures are typically mounted overhead and cast their light down. But outdoor arenas generally don't have a roof, so lights are usually mounted on metal or utility poles around the arena and cast their light out and slightly down like you would see in a ball stadium. They could still be used indoors, but if so, you'd probably have to keep them mounted around the arena's periphery rather than trying to re-mount them overhead.

At this point, I suggest you install the outdoor metal halide fixtures described and deal with indoor lighting if you should ever truly enclose your arena in the future. I say this because we're on the cusp of an explosion of high intensity LED lighting into the marketplace. Some new cars now have true high-intensity LED headlights and LED lighting of all types is likely to be the prominent form in just a few years from now. They use significantly less electricity then Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and even less than than all forms of gas-discharge lighting, which themselves use much less power than incandescent bulbs. Therefore, when you enclose your arena, you're much more likely to purchase new, very bright and very efficient LED fixtures at that time than trying to press your outdoor fixtures into an indoor compromised lighting source.


April 26, 2012 – HORSE TRAILER BRAKE CONTROLLER – WHY?

I just bought a horse trailer and am now told I need to buy a brake controller for my pickup truck before I can haul my trailer and horses. I wasn't going to spend that extra money ($120) but after reading some of your posts and articles on trailers, it sounds like I do need a controller. What exactly does the brake controller do on my horse trailer?

Yes, you DEFINITELY NEED a brake controller to pull your horse trailer. Also, for $140, you're likely getting a good quality proportional controller. Such a controller will perform braking more smoothly and efficiently than a time-delayed controller which is cheaper at half the price. Considering that this is a one-time purchase, that your trailer will stop more smoothly and with less tire wear, I think the difference in price is fully worth it. Now, on to your question.

A brake controller is needed for the brakes of most trailers. When you depress the brake pedal on the tow vehicle to slow or stop that vehicle and the trailer, a signal is sent from the tow vehicle's brake light circuit to the controller. The signal means that the trailer brakes must be applied. BUT, there's no information as to how softly or hard the brake application must be — it's just on or off

The controller receives the signal and can sense the inertial force of the brake application. The harder the tow vehicle is being stopped, the stronger the controller applies the trailer's brakes. In this way, the chance of the trailer pushing the tow vehicle because of too little trailer braking is greatly reduced. Similarly, the chance of locking up the trailer wheels and dragging on the tow vehicle is also tremendously reduced. In essence, the result is to have the trailer apply somewhere around the same degree of braking action as the operator's foot is applying on the tow vehicle's brakes. This all results in a more symmetric, smooth, and coordinated stop between the tow vehicle and its trailer. On slippery road surfaces that are wet or icy, this can make the difference between a safe stop and loss of control resulting in a terrible accident.


April 25, 2012 – HEAVIEST SADDLE TO USE?

What is the heaviest saddle you can put on a horse?

This is determined somewhat by the size and breed of the horse. Essentially, you need to think of the gross weight that you're asking a horse to carry. Generally, the "rule of thumb" is that the average 1,000 pound horse can carry up to a 225 pound rider. That leaves about 25 pounds for the weight of the tack. Added together, you're expecting the average horse to carry a 250 pound load.

Therefore, if you were to use a heavy western saddle of say, 40 pounds, and then add another 30 pounds of other tack, supplies, a canteen of water, etc., for a total of 70 pounds, that leaves room for no more than (250 - 70 = 180) a 180 pound rider (that includes the weight of his clothes and pocket contents). If you want to carry more, you need a bigger horse, such as a draft or a lighter rider. Personally, I prefer to keep my weight down and use a lighter saddle. Most good western and Australian saddles these days weigh only 18 - 25 pounds and English saddles weigh even less. And a physically fit rider will likely also be less weight, meaning the horse is less physically stressed during the ride.


April 24, 2012 – DANGER BEING IN A STALL WITH A HORSE?

Is it safe to tack a horse in his stall? Some of the other ladies at the barn do that but it scares me in case the horse spooks and I would be trapped in there.

There's no doubt that it could get quite scary to be in a stall or other small, enclosed space with a spooked horse. However, there's just no way around the fact that humans need to occasionally enter a stall with a horse inside to get the horse or to tend to some issue, such as a wound, grooming, to feed, etc. And fortunately, the incidence rate of people harmed or killed by a horse in a stall is an exceedingly low number. I know many people who spend lots of time in stalls with horses, and I know of many people hurt or killed in car accidents, but I don't know of even one person harmed, let alone killed in a stall by a horse. Therefore, I think it's safe to safe the risk is generally very small.

That said, it still makes perfect sense to evaluate the horse's state of mind before joining any horse in his stall. If the horse knows and trusts you, you're comfortable with the horse, and that horse has no history of dangerous behavior, I would be comfortable going into that stall. Conversely, I've met a few horses with which I will never share a small, enclosed space,

Therefore, for the most part, I think it's safe for most people to be with and to tack their horses in a stall. As to your particular situation, that's a call you need to make. You know your horse and you know whether or not you're confident in your horse management skills and ability to read their body language. If you decide you don't feel comfortable being in a stall with your horse, remove him from the stall, tie him in a place you feel is safe, and tack him up there.


April 23, 2012 – NEW HORSE WON'T TROT OR CANTER

Im having trouble getting my young new horse to trot or canter outside. Ive had him a week and sometimes he doesnt even want to go for a walk. He doesnt want to do anything. I try kicking but he still doesnt move. But he always wants to run back to the barn. Ive never taken riding lessons but had a horse for a long time and never had trouble getting him to move. What should I do? He doesnt seem to want to work.

First, if you haven't done so already, have a vet check your horse to make sure there aren't any physical reasons he may not want to move, such as an injury or soreness someplace. If he's fine, you can carry a crop or a dressage whip in one hand and use it to tap his butt when you want him to speed up. You'll quickly learn how to hold the handle of either of these in your palm while riding. You don't need to hit him hard to move him, I really mean just to tap his butt.

HOWEVER, if this is a new horse as you mention, and he's young, it's likely that his resistance to going somewhere is related to being in a new place AND with a new rider. You don't mention his age, but you do say he runs back to the barn. Many riders seem to think that a reluctant horse is just being contrary. While that can sometimes be the case, much more often, the horse is just unsure of the area and its potential dangers, as well as not knowing the rider and whether he/she will protect him. So ultimately, you need to gain his trust. He may be afraid to go somewhere because he really doesn't know you as well as not knowing the area — remember, he's a prey animal.

If in an outside arena, try riding with another horse and rider in the arena, I'll bet he loosens up a lot. Similarly, if you're trying to take him out on the trail or in an open field, include one or more other riders with you. In either situation, your young horse will feel much more comfortable with other horses around. In addition, as a young horse, he'll take his lead from the other horses. If there is some threatening looking object trailside, but the other horses go by it without concern, he will most likely follow their lead and also remember for the future that the object doesn't present a threat.

Give your new horse some "space" to learn and the benefit of the doubt. I'll bet he'll be looking forward to your rides once he's gotten more comfortable with you and his surroundings. Just a few extra weeks should make all the difference.


April 20, 2012 – FENCE POSTS — HOW DEEP SHOULD THEY BE?

I'm putting up a six foot paddock fence and want it to be solid. How deep should I plant the posts below ground?

For a solid fence, you generally want at least 33% of the length of fence post below ground. Therefore, if your fence is to be six feet high as you say, you need three additional feet of fence post in the ground. This means you need a nine foot fence post.

Another thing that helps is if your post goes below the frost line. If it doesn't, it means that frost heaves during the winter months may push the post up or cause it to lean (this makes a case for even more of the post in the ground). And don't forget that horses will often lean hard against a paddock fence when they try to eat some grass on the other side of that fence. They can place a lot of weight and force against a fence from their lean. So, the stronger your fence and the deeper it goes into the ground, the more likely it will stay up and straight.

Finally, the base into which you place the fence makes a big difference. The weakest approach is to just dig a hole, place the post, and fill it back in. If you fill the hole with concrete, that will make a firmer base. But concrete is expensive, is not easy to transport and mix at remote locations, and is a real pain if you need to remove the post for replacement or for any other reason.

A better approach is for you to fill the space around the post in the hole with gravel. Gravel will interlock and more securely hold a post than will typical surface soil. And it's certainly easier to deal with when removing a post than concrete, not to mention that you don't need to purchase the cement and transport it, sand, gravel, and water, plus mix it for every post at every location. When you consider all of the foregoing, gravel has an awful lot of advantages in its favor over using concrete.


April 19, 2012 – HORSE AFRAID OF BEING SPRAYED

It's spring and time to give my horse a bath. But I dread this chore because my horse hates to be washed or sprayed. What can I do about getting her more comfortable with water?

I can imagine your reluctance to want to engage your horse with this unwelcome grooming you're about to undertake. It's no fun to try to push a horse through anything that they fear. However, that is the operative word here: fear. It's not likely that your horse "hates" water; it's much more likely that she doesn't understand it, and is therefore, afraid of it.

The foregoing means that you need to deal with her fear rather than her attitude. So, you need to get her desensitized to her fear of water. You can go about this in one of two ways:

  1. You can enlist the help of a trainer to work with your horse; or
  2. You can learn the proper techniques to get your horse through this.

If you decide to pursue the first option, all you need do is find a trainer you like. If the second, then you've got some learning to do. To get you started, I want to direct you to an article we have on this very topic. It's written by a contributing author who is a good horse trainer: Jennifer Goddard. She has actually written a series of articles for QueryHorse to help readers resolve this and many other typical horse problems — you may also want to check some of them out. But to deal with this issue, I advise you to read. Step 6: Water & Bathing.


April 18, 2012 – A READER COMMENTS ON TAPADEROS

I am a veteran horseback riding instructor of over 20 years. I don't hate taps on stirrups! However, I think they can be unsafe. These should be adjustable to fit the person's foot or toe size. If the tapaderos are too shallow, you cannot get more than a "toe hold" on your stirrup. It is my personal opinion that you need to ride with the ball of the foot in the stirrup period! If you can't get your foot in far enough to do that, then it is also a balance issue which is a real safety concern to me!

I think they also dumb it down a bit for the rider and require less development of balancing in your stirrups. In my mind this is for inexperienced riders or special needs riders unless they can be fit for the person's particular shoe size. Make sense?

Well, I agree with some of what you say. Let's take each of your two opinions individually and I'll share my own comments:

  1. Tapaderos should be adjusted to fit the foot of the rider so he can put his weight on the ball of the foot.
    I couldn't agree more. I, too, feel the ball of the foot is the proper place upon which to put our weight and that taps that are too shallow upsets the rider's balance.

    I would add that too deep a tap can also be a risk if the rider just places his foot as far as he can and his weight ends up at mid-foot. Then, you've got the same risk of being dragged that you'd have without taps. The same foot placement that is correct without taps is the correct placement with them. This really means that taps should be adjusted for the rider of the saddle and that other riders might not use or be able to use the stirrups properly. HOWEVER, this is no different than another problem I've experienced, which is that the riding boots I normally wear will not fit in English irons. So, when I ride with English tack, I have to wear a narrower riding boot that does fit those irons or I would risk a stuck foot — VERY UNSAFE!

  2. They also dumb it down a bit for the rider and require less development of balancing in your stirrups.
    I disagree with this statement. It presumes that a rider using tapaderos will be self-taught, have bad instruction, or will ignore good riding instruction, and therefore, will ride with taps improperly. I contend that using tapaderos, in and of themselves, will no more cause a rider to ride improperly than using seat belts causes drivers to drive improperly because the belts help keep them in their seat thereby negating their need to drive slower or more responsibly.

    If we blame tapaderos for bad riding technique, does that mean that all riders should start off on small English saddles because the additional support of a Western saddle will allow them to ride without having the need to develop proper balance? If that's so, then I would go further and say that all new riders should start bareback and not be able to move to any saddle until they've developed proper riding balance. Riding bareback on a slippery horse's coat is a great way to appreciate good riding balance. The rider is either in balance on the horse or shortly leaves the horse.

So, I agree with your reasoning about the need for proper foot/stirrup placement and for adequate tap depth so the ball of the rider's foot is over the stirrup regardless of the riders boot size. But I don't feel that taps "dumb down" riding technique. Rather, poor instruction, poor understanding to good instruction, or poor adherence to good instruction does that.


April 17, 2012 – CALORIES BURNED CLEANING STALLS

Please help me settle a bet. I clean a lot of stalls every day. How many calories do I burn?

We answered this question a while ago in an article. It explains the reasoning used in the approach and how we calculated the calories burned. Several articles by others since then pretty much agree with our analysis. You learn more by reading Calories Burned Mucking Stalls.

We hope you win big with your bet!


April 16, 2012 – HORSES FOR LARGE RIDERS

I'm a tall, big woman (6' 3" and almost 260 lbs) and want to learn to ride. The local barn said I was too big. I have fought my weight my whole life and dont think I can lose much but I want to ride. Is there no horse I can ride without losing weight?

Larger riders in your weight range can usually ride drafts. Essentially, a bigger horse can carry a bigger person. Check around your area for riding instruction using drafts. These are large, gentle work horses that are great with new riders.

If you can't find anything, go to several barns and speak with the owners. They will likely know of such barns in your area, or at least within a reasonable driving distance. Also, some may even have a draft at their barn that could be available for rider training. You won't know until you ask.


April 13, 2012 – SLOWING THE EATING OF HAY

I also have a problem with a horse that eats too fast. But she eats her hay too fast. What should I do?

You can slow down a fast hay eater by using a hay net. You place several flakes of hay into the net and then hang the net in your horse's stall, or wherever it is you want her to eat that hay, but more slowly. The netting will limit how much hay she can pull for each bite. That means she'll be chewing and swallowing smaller amounts of hay at a time.

She may get frustrated sometimes about the fact she can't eat as fast as she'd like. But she will get used to it and the net will safely slow her ingestion of the hay.


April 12, 2012 – FAST EATING HORSES

My horse always eats his oats so fast. He acts like he has not eaten in weeks. One time, he ate so fast he got food caught in his throat. There was a big lump I could see stuck there. I told the barn owner and she massaged his throat and he was able to swallow it. Then he went right back to inhaling the rest of the food.

I am afraid it could happen again and be worse. What should I do?

I started responding to your question and the post got longer and longer as I tried to be complete, so I made it an article. It's entitled: Dealing With Choke in Horses.


April 11, 2012 – HOW OFTEN TO VISIT HORSE

I just got my first horse and have some questions. For starters, how often should I see my horse? I've talked to several other boarders and some visit and groom their horses every day, yet others only come once every week or two. And do horses need regular grooming or not? What should I be doing?

Well, as you can see, there are differing opinions. And obviously, wild horses don't have any human groomers or visitors and are able to care for themselves. But to my way of thinking, that's not really the issue. To me, the issue is the fact that we've bought ourselves one or more horses, and that means we've taken on the responsibility to care for them.

Personally, I like to see my horse every day. That's not always possible due to my work and some business travel, but I can do it much of the time. But there are actually many reasons I like to see him daily:

  1. First, I enjoy seeing my horse and spending time with him— that's why I bought him.
  2. I can check him to assure he hasn't gotten hurt or have an untreated injury. Of course, the barn owner would alert me to a problem if she became aware of it, but she also has a slew of other horses to care for, both of her own and of other boarders, so she can't take the time to check over each horse as thoroughly as I like to check mine.
  3. If I discover a problem, I can treat it the way I feel is best. If it's an injury, such as a bad scrape or wound, I can decide whether to treat it myself or to call the vet. If it's just a pest problem, I can I apply an analgesic cream to a bite or apply fly spray to keep the buggers away. I won't ignore these things and I want to decide what's best for him.
  4. I can perform the degree of grooming that I decide is best for my horse. That means I can brush him if dusty, or wash him if filthy. It also means I can pick his hooves to avoid infections.
  5. I can remove briars and other annoyances that can make my horse uncomfortable but that a barn owner is unlikely to do for each horse at the barn.

Obviously, there are more problems that can afflict a horse than mentioned above, but by being present often myself, I'm able to determine what I think requires attention and to address something as I see fit. This all goes to identifying problems while they're small and quickly treatable so they don't grow through neglect to become serious problems that are more difficult, costly, or impossible to treat. For the foregoing reasons and others, I feel it's important to see my horse regularly. After all, I bought him to spend time with him and to care for him. I can't do that if I "park him" him like a motor bike and ignore him when I'm not riding.


April 10, 2012 – SPRING TRAILER PREP

I am trying to get my trailer ready for the summer but do not know where to start. Can you help?

Yes, this question comes up multiple times each Spring. Therefore, we've prepared an article specifically on this topic. It's entitled: Spring Trailer Inspection & Preparation.

The article lists important items to check and service. It seems that the item most ignored is the one about wheel bearings. That's too bad because I think it's probably the most important.

With no engine, transmission, gear train, and other similar drive train equipment to worry about on a trailer, the primary mechanical parts are just the wheels and the bearings, so it's not a big deal to have the bearings inspected and re-packed periodically. If this is ignored and they've dried out, you risk having them "seize up" and doing permanent damage. This can result in you getting stuck somewhere with your horse — NO JOY!

The article advises having this work done every three years. That's because, unlike the vehicle you use everyday to go to work, many trailers usually sit over many months and the grease can slowly flow out of the bearings to the bottom. In addition, some trailers are run through water occasionally that can bring dirt and other contaminants into the bearing, none of which does the bearing any good. So, having them periodically checked and repacked is an inexpensive way to keep your trailer running smoothly and safely for many years. And that also minimizes the chances of you and your horse(s) getting stranded some place far from home.


April 9, 2012 – TICK PROBLEMS

We are having a terrible problem with ticks here. I'm pulling one or two off my horse almost every day. This is the worst spring ever! Is there anything we can do?

This question comes up quite a bit. The last two years have been the worst ever for ticks and flies. The mild winter just past doesn't help, though here in the Northeast, it's been dry with little rain causing a high fire danger. But the little rain should help to reduce the tick and mosquito population from what it could have been if we'd had a normal rain amount following that very mild winter.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a post on this topic back in November, most ticks live through the winter, even a severe one — they're quite hardy. They live in the trees, in shrubs and tall grass, and in piles of leaves. This keeps them somewhat warmer and able to survive.

Ticks sometimes crawl up a horse's leg, but more often crawl up their mouths and noses. They sense the warm breath of the horse as he breathes close to the ground while grazing. There are some topical applications you can buy that supposedly ward off ticks, but I don't have enough first-hand experience with them to recommend any.

All you can really do to minimize their impact on you and your horse is to be vigilant at finding and removing them as you appear to have been. You also want to be aware of your horse's behavior and if it changes (lethargy, stiff movements, weakness, shifting from limb to limb, some lameness, reluctance to work, irritability, etc.) Such symptoms imply Lyme disease, though not all horses show symptoms. Also check yourself for ticks each time you're in the pasture or out riding — we're at risk of catching these diseases also.

Coincidentally, the Horse Girl has answered the same question today, so you may also want to read her post.


April 6, 2012 – INSTALLING ELECTRICITY IN A BARN

I want to put electricity in my new barn. How big a service should I order? Should I get a regular residential service or something smaller? It shouldn't use as much as a house, should it?

This is a question we get from time-to-time and have answered in various ways depending upon the specifics. Your barn will likely use a lot less power than a house, but it all depends on what appliances you put out there. Also, you don't need a separate service out there unless you have a business, such as taking on borders. If so, having a separate meter makes it easier to identify and deduct your barn electrical expenses as a part of doing business. If your barn is for private use only, or you don't mind going through the math to separate your barn electricity costs from those of your house, you can just have your electrician put a sub-panel in the barn and tap off your main house electrical panel.

To help you determine the size of the panel you need, we have an article about this topic that will help. It's entitled: Barn Electric Power.


April 5, 2012 – CLIPPING HORSE HAIR TO REDUCE SHEDDING?

Every spring my horse starts shedding and I have a mess to contend with for 4 - 6 weeks. Not only does it take longer to groom my horse, I end up with his hair on all my clothes, in my car and some of it gets into my house. Can I clip my horses winter hair so that we can get past the shedding stage faster?

You can clip your horse's hair, but you'll need to watch the daytime and nighttime temperatures because he may need to be blanketed. Spring temperatures vary widely from day to day as the seasons change. Though your horse's winter hair starts falling out at this time of year, some remains and helps him through the transition to warmer temperatures — it's not instantaneous.

For example, here in New England, we're getting lots of days in the 60s and 70s, yet the nights can be in the 20s and 30s and some days don't get above 40 degrees — these are large temperature swings. If you do decide to clip, be prepared to blanket your horse on the colder days and nights because his shorter hair will make it difficult for him to stay warm. This is especially true during the nights because his metabolism will be at its daily low and generating the least amount of heat when he'll need it most.

As for the shedding, your horse will still shed, he'll just shed shorter hair. Whether that will be an improvement or worse than what you're currently going through is not clear. There's still a significant amount of hair beneath the skin coming out of the follicles and there's no way to accelerate that.


April 4, 2012 – FERTILIZING PASTURES

I have never fertilized my pasture since I got my two horses. The grass is not growing so good these days. Is it ok to fertilize or is fertilized grass not safe for horses to eat? If ok, can my horses stay in the pasture when it is fertilized?

You definitely should fertilize your pasture. Get one designed for pastures. The best time to do apply is in autumn, but spring is ok if it's been a long time since your pasture was last fertilized or it's never been done, such as in your case. The goal with fertilizing in autumn is to let it dissolve into the soil so it will promote rich grass growth in early spring and crowd out the weeds before they have time to take hold.

As for keeping your horses in the pasture, some fertilizers are dusty and can be a lung irritant when the fertilizer is first applied. In those cases, you should keep your horse in a different pasture until the first rain. Then, you can move him back into the newly fertilized pasture. Ask your supplier this question about the fertilizer you buy.


April 3, 2012 – HORSE NOT YET SHEDDING

My friends horses have both started shedding but my horse still hasn't. Is there something wrong with my horse? He always shedded in past years.

The chances are quite good that your horse is fine. Horses don't all start shedding at the same time, don't shed at the same rate, don't stop shedding at the same time, and don't shed the same amount of hair. Shedding is unique to each horse and proceeds at its own rate just as infants start to talk and walk at their own pace. The onset of shedding can also depend on his breed to some extent and on the outside temperature where he lives. You didn't mention either of those or the weather you've had recently (it's downright crazy in many parts of the world of late, don't you think?)

This is still early in the season and my own horse just started shedding last week, some started a week or two earlier and others haven't yet begun. Now, if your horse doesn't start to shed in another month or two, then you should check with your veterinarian. But at this time, your horse sounds as if he's normal and it's likely that you don't currently have a reason to worry about this.


April 2, 2012 – WOOD CHEWING OR CRIBBING?

My horse is chewing right thru his wooden paddock fence. Why is he doing this?

Well, he could be a wood chewer, or he could be a cribber.

Wood chewers are often bored horses kept in stalls too long. More turnout and free-choice hay when in the stall will often reduce or eliminate wood chewing. Some foals will chew wood when they get their first teeth. This is more of a desire to try out their new incisors and is akin to teething. Again, more turn-out and ample free-choice hay can often eliminate wood chewing. Also, be sure your horse is getting a well-balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals he needs. Check with your vet about what you're feeding and what your horse needs to determine if this could be a contributor to this problem.

Cribbing is a completely different problem and has to do with a genetic predisposition and the release of endorphins in the horse's brain. The endorphins act to stimulate the pleasure center of his brain — it's addictive to many horses and a difficult or impossible habit to break, though it can be well managed. You should again check with your vet for a diagnosis. Your vet will be able to determine in which of these behaviors your horse is indulging and your options to address them.


March 30, 2012 – MULTIPLE LIGHTS IN STALLS?

Is it ok to put more than one light in my horse stalls? I have trouble seeing, like when treating a wound or picking a hoof, especially something on a lower leg of one of my horses.

Sure, you can light your stalls with more than one light apiece. Just make sure that you put all of these light fixtures out of the reach of your horses. That usually means mounting them more than ten feet about the stall's floor.

A large, rearing horse can reach higher than you may realize and you don't want such action to break a fixture. Broken glass from any kind of bulb or toxic phosphors from fluorescent bulbs falling onto your horse or being breathed in can be very dangerous for your horse and those around it.


March 29, 2012 – ARE THE TRAILS SAFE YET?

I have been riding in the arena all winter and dying to get out onto some trails. Are they safe yet or should I wait a few more weeks?

Trails don't become unsafe for a particular season, rather, it's more related to the weather in their area. I sometimes ride trails in the winter. I avoid slippery ground and don't canter on frozen ground; otherwise, it's fine.

At this time, I would expect many trails to be fine. The ground could be soft from recent rains or even flooded, but you can avoid that. Also, look for trees and large branches that may have dropped across trails from windy days.

I don't like to canter or gallop down trails until I've taken them much more slowly and know their condition. You wouldn't want to come galloping around a turn to find a large tree across the trail or a washout and no time to stop. In fact, I won't even speed around a turn in great weather with no time to stop. I always want to be able to see in front of me and have time to stop if something should block our way.

So, if you're ready to get out there, go for it! Don't overwork your horse and do ride safely. I definitely hear the call of the trail all the time and know many arena riders who like to hit trails for a change of pace, and their horses generally love the change of venue and find it fun.


March 28, 2012 – TRAILER FOR A BIG HORSE

I have a bigger than average horse (a Belgian cross) and want to get a trailer. He's not as big as a full Belgian, but bigger than average. Will he fit in a normal trailer or do I need to get a larger one?

Without seeing your horse or knowing his size, it's hard to answer your question. It sounds as if you're describing your horse's size as in that intermediate "gray" area. Most standard trailers are designed to take average and slightly bigger than average horses (what is "average", anyway?) Some will fit the tallest horses in the standard trailer (typically about 72 inches wide), but also make a wider trailer (about 80 inches wide) for horses with bigger girths. But actual size varies by trailer manufacturer.

The best thing you can do is to at least determine your horse's size (height at the withers and weight) and speak with several dealers. They'll be able to make some trailer size recommendations and show you what they've got. Many will also let you rent/try one so you can place your actual horse inside to determine whether it'll work well or not.


March 27, 2012 – POSTING IN A WESTERN SADDLE?

Is it ok to post in a western saddle? I enjoy trail riding but do not like sitting the trot.

Sure, it's ok to post with any saddle. The post might have to be smaller because a more comprehensive saddle may limit your range of motion, but you can still do it. I ride much of the time on an Australian saddle and the knee poleys limit my motion even more than a Western saddle does, yet, I post all the time when at the trot.

Like you, I don't like having my insides jiggled around by sitting the trot. In fact, one article I read several years ago written by a physician advised against it. He stated that it isn't healthy for truck drivers to bounce around in their cabs and it isn't any better for our kidneys to bounce around than it is for theirs regardless of the cause.

But, let's think about this for a moment: posting is about coordinating your motions with the horse's trot. While we generally get this idea of having to lift ourselves above the saddle a certain amount with each post, in reality, it's actually about getting the timing right and lifting just enough to clear the horse's motions.

Most of us lift much higher than we need to. I learned that fact when I got this saddle, couldn't lift as high as I had grown accustomed to doing because of the poleys, and quickly realized I only need to lift a little. So now, even when I ride English, I lift only enough to clear the horse I'm riding. With some horses, that's not much. I feel that I'm actually more efficient than I used to be.

You can do the same! Once you know how to post properly and in sync with the horse, it's just a matter of adjusting the posting height to clear that particular horse — no more is necessary. So, post away in any saddle and enjoy the trails!


March 26, 2012 – MOUNTING HELP AWAY FROM THE BARN

I always use the big mounting block (more like a small front porch with stairs) at my barn to get on my horse, but dont know what to do when away from the barn. I'm afraid to get off cause I may not be able to get back up. What can I do?

Using a mounting block whenever you can is a good idea to prevent placing a strong twisting force on your horse's spine. But sometimes, there's just no mounting block available. In that case, you have several options:

  1. Learn how to mount from the ground using the stirrup. Ask your riding instructor, barn owner, a seasoned rider, or someone more experienced to teach you how to properly mount your horse using the stirrup. There is a certain technique to mounting and using your timing rather than just brute strength trying to physically pull yourself up to the saddle.
  2. If you have very short legs and a tall horse, mounting from the ground may not even be an option for you. It is insidious that the short stirrups you need when riding are too high when trying to mount. In this case, you have to find something to stand upon. It can be a large rock, a stump, a log, a picnic table, the bumper of your tow vehicle or trailer — whatever gets you high enough to mount your horse.
  3. There are several products that augment or replace your stirrup that act to give you an additional step below the normal height of your stirrups. The EZ Mount Stirrup usually costs between $10 - $20 depending on the dealer. Do a search on line and you'll find many suppliers. Another product, the EZ-Up Stirrup, costs more, but is more comprehensive and actually drops the stirrup down. You should check them both out. I'm sure there are also other similar products.

You definitely need a way to remount out on the trail. Sometimes it's because you want to have a picnic lunch on your ride; at other times, you've dropped something (e.g. your sunglasses) and need to fetch them. I hope these suggestions help!


March 23, 2012 – SPRING TRAILER PREP

I didn't have time to do much with my trailer last autumn. Now I want to get my trailer ready for the show season and it's a mess. Where do I start and what really does need to be done each spring?

Well, it might seem like a less formidable job if you had performed some basic cleaning before putting your trailer into its storage location last year. But be that as it may, the first thing to start with is cleaning out the inside. Get rid of all of the old bedding, droppings, dropped hay, etc. I also get rid of any old hay still in hay bags or mangers because I want to replace it with some that's fresher and more appealing to my horse.

After everything is out, use a leaf blower, shop vac, or some such to clean out the remaining small pieces and dust. Once cleaner, you can now better inspect the inside of your trailer for corrosion, holes, and anything else that looks as if it needs attention. Trailers often slowly waste away because we tend not to maintain them and then we seem surprised years later when they're quite corroded and it looks as if they're ready to fall apart.

You may want to check out an article we've prepared that treats this topic more comprehensively entitled: Spring Trailer Inspection & Preparation.


March 22, 2012 – SADDLE SLIPS AROUND WHEN MOUNTING

I am trying to pull myself up on to my horse by holding onto the saddle? But when I do it, the saddle slips towards me. I'm afraid that if I tighten it any more I'll hurt my horse or break his ribs. What should I do?

Well, if the saddle is slipping around your horse toward you, it's definitely too loose. It is good that you're concerned about not tightening the saddle's girth or cinch to tightly, but it must be tight enough that it WILL NOT slip around the horse. If it is as you describe, it is actually dangerously loose and needs to be tightened further. You certainly don't ever want your saddle to start slipping down one side with you on it while at a canter or gallop, do you?

Get your barn owner, instructor, trainer, or some such to help you learn how to properly judge when you've got your saddle appropriately tightened. And while you should be able to mount from the ground by using the stirrup, recent thinking is that mounting that way twists the horse's spine and should be used only when necessary. The rest of the time, it's better to use a mounting block or some other available "step" nearby, such as a large rock, stump, picnic table, etc.

If you want to learn more, see our Mounting Pressures article on this topic.


March 21, 2012 – WIND & HORSE HEARING

Can horses hear when it's windy?

Of course they can! But like us, they don't hear the sound of an approaching predator as well because the sound of the wind covers other lower-level sounds. That's a big reason why horses are less comfortable on windy days.

Horses like to be able to see and hear for long distances, such as on the open plains. That gives them plenty of time to hear or see a threat coming their way, and if necessary, to make their "getaway". They also like being down wind so their noses can pick up the scent of approaching animals.

Other reasons that horses are less comfortable on windy days has to do with the movement around them of trees, bushes, debris being blown across the ground, etc. We have a more in-depth article on the topic you may want to read entitled: Horses and Wind.


March 20, 2012 – HORSE SAFETY

I just started riding and am both excited and scared at the same time. This is something I have always wanted to do, but my mom wouldn't let me when I was a child and then life happened. I am now in my 40s and my husband is ok with me riding. But after 2 lessons I am still a little afraid because I am a mom myself and the horses seem so big. I have responsibilities and do not want to get hurt. Am I being silly?

I think you're being smart! Many sports have the risk of serious injury or even death (motorcycling, diving, scuba, skiing, skydiving, etc.), and horseback riding is no different. But actual deaths from horses are, fortunately, quite rare. That said, there is still some risk and almost all of us have taken some tumbles and experienced some scratches and bruising. The fact is, horses ARE BIG, ARE POWERFUL, and have their own mind. So it becomes important to learn the risks, learn how to read their body language, and recognize what to avoid.

We have several articles written to help people new to horses learn about those risks and how to stay safer. You should check them out (below):

Safety Around Horses

The Risk of Riding Horses

What's Safer? On Foot or Mounted?

Learning From Your Horse

Many of us cannot imagine horses not being part of our lives, but we also want to stay safe when around them and can come back to ride another day. So we try to practice safe behaviors and make decisions with safety in mind.


March 19, 2012 – IMPORTANT TOPIC

Today, we're directing your attention to a short article. The topic is very important and relates to some of the questions submitted to the Horse Girl and Horse Guy over the last few years. Click here to read the article.


March 16, 2012 – SHEDDING AND COMBING

My horse is starting to lose his winter coat. How long and hard should I brush or comb him? Should I brush him each day? If I don't will he keep his winter coat?

Ok, let's go through this again as we seem to do each year. Your horse is going to lose his entire Winter coat whether you brush him or not. Wild horses don't have caretakers to brush and/or comb them, yet they still rid themselves of the Winter coat and get a Summer coat each Spring.

The change (whether brushed or not) often causes horses to itch. As a result, you'll also find that horses roll more times when a new coat is coming in. Brushing or combing will reduce the itching and also satisfy the itch to some extent, but it won't make the horse shed any faster.

Some horses like to be brushed harder while others have sensitive skin and don't really enjoy it at all — most are somewhere in between. You should adjust your brushing pressure to the preference of your horse. If he likes it harder, brush harder. If he has sensitive skin, don't torture him, use a much lighter stroke so he doesn't get irritated.

There's no need to try to get every last hair at each brushing session during shedding season. Spend a few minutes curry combing followed by a light brushing. Then move on to hoof picking and other grooming or riding. Trying to be thorough will not speed the shedding process up very much. So don't expend the extra effort or annoy your horse trying to get the shedding process done very quickly — it won't work. If you do nothing, he'll still shed his hair in almost the same amount of time.

I like to brush my horse once each day whether it's coat change time or not. Even if it isn't that time, horses still roll in the mud and airborne dust sticks to the oils in their coat. In addition, if you horse rolls in some of his own bedding and waste, it's even more important to remove these irritants from his coat. On some days, a horse seems to roll multiple tiles during the day, whether due to coat change, insect bites, or some other reason. On those days, I'll brush my own horse a second time or so later in the day.


March 15, 2012 – BUILDING A WASH AREA

I want to build a wash area outside for my horses. Is it hard to do? I am handy around the house and barn. How big should it be?

A wash stall is something that anyone with some experience with tools and a desire for a little new adventure can undertake. But like most projects, the devil is in the details. If you don't think the project through first and make some minimal design notes or a plan, you're likely to not use and enjoy the facility much. Fortunately, we have an article that takes you through the major steps and considerations to design and build your own equine wash area. It's entitled: Build a Wash Rack.

Have fun and good luck!


March 14, 2012 – LEVELING THE ARENA

Is it really necessary to groom an arena? Or is that just done so it looks good for showing?

Yes, it IS GOOD TO GROOM after each day of use because the horses kick up the sand as they pass, especially when cantering, and that makes the footing uneven. When you groom the arena, it all gets leveled out. It also breaks up any clumping that can sometimes occur when there's lots of moisture.

So, between leveling the sand and reducing clumping, the footing is more consistent and reduces the chance of a horse tripping and falling. And as a bonus like you mentioned, it even looks better!


March 13, 2012 – HORSE WASHING ITEMS

What kind of tools do I need to give my horse a bath? I know I need a brush and soap, but what else?

Actually, I don't like a brush for giving a bath, I prefer a sponge. If you're trying to remove encrusted mud, it'll soften lots once wet again and the most I would use if a sponge doesn't work well enough is a very soft brush, such as a face brush.

As for other bath accessories, get a pail and soap specifically for washing horses, or even for washing dogs. You want a soap that won't irritate your horse's skin even if you leave some soapy residue behind. That said, you don't want to leave any behind, especially in places that will be covered by the saddle or its flaps for several hours. Best to get is liquid soap made for horse or dog washing that mixes with the water thoroughly and into which you dunk your sponge and then move the sponge to the horse. Oh! And use warm water for washing your horse unless it's hot outside.

For rinsing, I like to use a plant watering wand that connects to the hose. These wands release a flood of low pressure water that doesn't hurt or frighten the horse as much. Also get a scraper (it's really a horse "squeegee", but called a scraper). It'll make getting the brunt of the water off fast and easy and your horse will be dryer in much less time.


March 12, 2012 – STARTING TO WORK YOUR HORSE IN SPRING

It is getting warmer and I haven't ridden all winter. I got my first horse last summer and do not know how to start this year getting her into shape. Can you help?

Well, you're smart to think about this. Your question is one we get every Springtime, so I decided to respond in the form of an article. You can see it at Starting the Riding Season.


March 9, 2012 – TOWING A HORSE TRAILER WITHOUT THE WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM?

What happens if I don't install the weight distribution bars when I tow my horse trailer? Do I have to use them?

Many trailer hitches can be used with or without a Weight Distribution System (WDS). Without the system, the acceptable tow weight load is generally reduced by several thousand pounds. In other words, you can't tow as much if you don't use the WDS and instead use a drawbar and ball. Check your tow vehicle manual to determine if a WDS must be used, and if not, what the tow weight rating is when it is not used — it will definitely be less.

However, be advised that the drawbar used in a WDS is longer than a standard drawbar so that there is a place for the spring bars to attach. If you use that drawbar without the spring bars, you'll actually have more trouble towing your loaded horse trailer even if you're under the tow weight rating allowed without a WDS. This is because the trailer is now further away from the tow vehicle. The trailer will have more leverage to lift weight off the front wheels where you need it and the affects of sway and such will be greater — you DON'T want that!

I used to tow without a WDS, but since buying one, I'll never again tow without it. The WDS levels the load and maintains good steering and stopping power because it distributes the load to all four wheels. Without a WDS, the trailer puts more weight on the back of the vehicle which raises the front end of the tow vehicle. The now lightly loaded front wheels do not steer as well or brake as well. Because most braking on a vehicle is accomplished with the front wheels, the lack of a WDS seriously increases your stopping distance requirement.

Use the full WDS — it gives you much better control, raises your towable load weight, and significantly reduces sway and the effects on wind on you and the trailer.


March 8, 2012 – STARTING A HORSE WORKING EARLIER THIS SPRING?

Can I start working my horse even though she still has her winter coat? I want to get an early start this year because it has been a warmer winter.

It definitely has been a warmer Winter here in the U.S., and with very little snow However, they seem to have had quite a full Winter in Europe. Regardless, yes, horses can be worked while they still have their warmer coat. However, you need to be careful you don't overdue it. If it's cold out, you can work her more than when it's warm. As the weather warms, proceed carefully to avoid overheating your horse.

Within the next few weeks, you'll likely see the hair start falling out. Use a curry comb and brushing to help it along, but don't brush too hard or try to accelerate the process — your horse won't appreciate it because it will cause irritation. It'll only take a month or so for the warm coat to come out and be replaced with the Summer coat. At the same time, your horse will be in better condition and able to shed that heat more readily. The key thing is to proceed slowly with increasing work so that your horse gradually comes into better and better conditioning without overheating or straining muscles which need to build up from Winter's much lesser use.


March 7, 2012 – A NEW SADDLE FOR TRAIL RIDING?

I have been riding English for many years. Recently, I find myself more attracted to trail riding and am leaving the show world behind. Been there. Done that.

So I am looking to buy a saddle for trail riding, probably a western saddle. I have found a few different kinds of saddles. Some of them have horns and some do not. Should I get a saddle with a horn or not?

I do think you'll enjoy a new saddle for trail riding, especially if your trail rides get longer into multi-hour rides as mine do. You also won't have to wear long riding boots or half chaps because trail saddles have fenders to keep your legs away from the moving body of the horse. You'll appreciate not wearing those things on hot days. In addition, it's easier to carry items on the larger saddles — they're made for that and include multiple tie points. This also brings us to your question about the horn.

Obviously, unless you're going to be roping cattle, the horn seems superfluous. But it has another use that has proven quite popular in recent years, namely, that of being a great place to hang things. Some of the products made to hang from a horn are pommel bags, canteen bags, water bottle bags, cell phone bags, etc.

All that said, I don't like a horn in front of me when riding, especially when jumping. But many people like to be able to grab the horn when their horse spooks. If you also feel that way, you can always get a horn-less saddle with a monkey strap — you grab the strap in place of the horn. Most Western saddle makers also manufacture an endurance saddle which is quite similar, but without the horn. It still has the higher pommel and cantle as well as many tie points for gear. Still another similar option is an Australian saddle. It, too, has all the comforts, no horn, the option of a strap, lots of tie points, etc.

I hope this helps.


March 6, 2012 – BARN CURFEW?

My barn owner doesn't want anyone in the barn after 10:00 pm. But I work late and its my horse! Shouldn't I be able to see my horse whenever I want? Is she right limiting me like this?

I'm afraid that I agree with your barn owner, but not because you shouldn't be able to see the horse you own — I'm sure that's not why your barn owner is setting limits. She's concerned for the welfare of all the horses under her care. That's exactly what you should want her to do.

Horses need daily rest just as all other mammals do. By setting a time limit, she's giving the horses "quiet time" so they can rest, sleep, and interact only among themselves — horses need this. My barn wants everyone out by 9:00 pm and we're all happy with that. We can visit them again from 6:00 am on. Of course, if a horse is having a problem, such as colic or something else, the rules are bent to address the problem, and I'm sure your barn owner will do the same. But we otherwise respect the rules so our horses have time to rest.

Think about this for a moment. As you said, these rules apply to everyone and you're paying of board is for far more than just stall mucking and feeding. It's actually for the care of your horse in all its many dimensions. Don't you want her to put the care of the horses as a high priority?

Why not visit your horse earlier in the day before heading off to work if you get out too late to visit otherwise.


March 5, 2012 – HOOF CRACKS FROM STOMPING OFF FLIES

The large number of flies last year had my horses stomping all summer and getting hoof cracks on their front feet. I was hoping those cracks would grow out over winter, and they are better, but they are still there. What can I do to let those cracks grow out?

Probably the best thing you can do is to have your farrier shoe your horses using shoes with toe clips. The clips will help keep split hooves together so the cracks can grow out. But have a discussion on this topic with your farrier first and make the decision together. It's likely that no one knows your horse's feet as well as he/she.

I like to keep my horse barefoot and use hoof boots when riding him over rocky terrain. But the problem you're dealing with is the same one we have here. So, I've had to fall back to shoeing my horse during the summer months even though his hooves are healthier when barefoot. I don't want the crack problem from the stomping to undermine his hooves.

Another thing to try is using some good fly spray on your horse's legs. If the flies don't land and bite, your horse won't be stomping. But my experience and that of everyone I've ever discussed this problem with is that fly sprays just don't work long enough. In addition, too much application of such sprays risks medical problems because of their strong, chemical nature, even those made of natural plant extracts. So, it seems that a combination of approaches is necessary for most of us.


March 2, 2012 – HORSE OUTRUN A BEAR?

Can a horse outrun a bear?

There are a lot of variables to consider when evaluating your question. First, what kind of bear are we talking about? Second, is there a rider on the horse? Third, how old and in what shape is the bear? Fourth, how old and in what shape is the horse? Fifth, does the horse have a head start? Sixth, is there room to run? As you can see, lots of things come into play.

A Grizzly is supposedly the fastest running bear and has a top speed for a short burst of about 35 MPH. Almost all horses can go at least 30 - 35 MPH or more with race horses going over 40 MPH for more than just a short burst. Believe it or not, the Quarter Horse speed record is a cool 55 MPH. Obviously, a rider on a horse will slow it down a little and an out of shape bear or horse will not run as fast. But you're likely looking for some overall average in case you're on a horse some day, have room to run, and happen across a mad or very hungry bear, right?

In that case, based on the aforementioned speed records and assuming a healthy bear and horse both in good shape, the horse should outrun the bear, even with tack and a rider aboard. Bears can't maintain a top speed for as long as a horse can. And if the horse has even just a little distance ahead, there should be enough time to quickly hit full speed and stay ahead until the bear gives up. Of course, things can go wrong, such as the horse stumbling or tripping or misjudging a jump over a fallen tree, for example. The bear could trip also. I assure you that the horse (and rider, if so equipped) will have huge surges of adrenalin in their bodies and would therefore be going for all they're worth.

The best way to avoid meeting a bear is to make plenty of noise while riding. That can be a bell on your horse or chatting it up with fellow riders. Most bears will avoid humans as much as possible. Your greatest risk is if you accidently surprise a bear, especially if she has cubs with her and feels they might be threatened by you.

If interested, we also have an article about bears on the trail when riding that you may want to read. It's entitled: Bears on the Trail. If you should ever run into this situation, please let us know the specifics...if you can...


March 1, 2012 – HORSE SHEDDING HAIR LATER THAN OTHERS AT BARN

Most of the horses in my barn have started shedding early this year. But mine hasn't started shedding at all. Should I call my vet?

Not yet. You don't indicate where you're located or at what lattitude, so I don't know when horses usually start shedding in your area. But, it's really early in this season and we're still officially in Winter. Some of the horses at my barn have already started shedding also, but not all, and not mine. Shedding of Winter hair in horses is a lot like maturation in children — it happens at different ages for different children.

For example, some kids walk early or talk earlier than others. Parents often worry when their child is later, sometimes even if it's only a week or two later, but especially if it's months later. When my daughter was almost two years old, she was quieter than most other children, hardly spoke, and it seemed that she was behind. Evidently, she was just biding her time because several months later, she started speaking in full sentences and using large words that we most often only hear from adults. So, the actual time when a physiological process occurs can vary immensely from one mammal to another and it's all ok.

In the case of horse hair shedding, when it begins, how long it lasts, and when it ends, is unique to the horse and may change from year-to-year. And with the weird weather we've seen this year, expect shedding and other processes to be all over the place among completely healthy horses.


February 29, 2012 – HORSE MAKES OWNER UNCOMFORTABLE

My quarter horse gelding always "drops down" when I come to visit or ride him. This makes me nervous. Can he sense I'm a woman and does he see me as a female horse or like one? Is this dangerous?

Put your mind at ease. First, horses have no such interest in humans. Second, you said that he's gelded, so he likely has little interest in female horses either.

The reason your horse does this means that he's comfortable and feels safe when you're around. Think about it, he doesn't want to let sensitive areas of his body be exposed to danger. In fact, as a prey animal, he wants to always be ready to "high-tail it " to the nearest hill if a predator should come around. So, his more "relaxed" composure when you're around just means that he feels safe and comfortable when you're there. Coming from a prey animal, that's high praise, indeed!

It sounds as if you've got a good relationship with your horse. Keep up the good work!


February 28, 2012 – MESSY HORSE IN STALL

How can I make my horse keep his stall cleaner? He makes such a mess with his droppings and then spreads them around. It is making me crazy. HELP!

I'm sorry, there's not much you can do. We can train a horse to behave a certain way when we're around by continuingly providing enforcement. But there's little you can do about his behavior when you're not around.

Well, wait a moment, there is one thing I've seen that has made a difference. If you can provide your horse with a larger stall, many horses will select a corner and leave their waste there. It seems it's easier for them to keep a cleaner place when they have more room. And generally, it is their preference to keep their feeding area clean and away from their waste area when such sufficient space is available.

That means giving significantly more space. For example, if he's currently in a 10' x 10' or 10' x 12' stall, moving him into a significantly larger stall, such as 12' x 18' or such, can make a difference and cause a behavioral change. But just to be clear, if you move him back into a smaller stall later, he'll go back to his current habits.

Good luck! And if you try this, let us know what you learn.


February 27, 2012 – RUNNING BESIDE YOUR HORSE

Is it ok to run on the side of my horse?

I do it often, sometimes just to get somewhere quickly, (e.g. bringing him in from the paddock when it's raining heavy outside). At other times, I'll run beside him to exercise both of us, such as in the barn when it's icy outside. It's ok to do as long as certain safety criteria are met:

  1. Your horse MUST respect you and stay out of your space so as to not bump into you. If he doesn't stay out of your space, he could knock you down or accidently crush you against something. A horse should always stay out of a human's space, but it's especially important when running beside a horse.
  2. Don't do it in a herd. Horses do bump into each other when running together. They're all rugged, heavy animals, so the risk is minimal to them. But to us, it can be maiming or deadly — DON'T DO IT!
  3. Run with your horse ONLY where the footing is good for both of you. You don't want to slip and fall under him, or have him slip, fall, and take you down with him and possibly roll over you.

When running, the horse should be beside you and matching your speed. This way, you can always see him and know where he is in relation to you. When you slow down, he should slow down almost instantly to your new speed. My experience doing this with many horses is that they naturally match their speed and stay beside you — they're really good at this, almost like a flock of birds or school of fish.

So, running with your horse is fine. You'll both enjoy it and it is good exercise for you both. But your safety and that of other humans must always be your highest priority when around these large, powerful animals.


February 24, 2012 – DEALING WITH PADDOCK MUCK PILES

How often should I clean the horse poop out of my paddock?

It depends on how much space you have and your available time. If the paddock is big, you may be able to do it every week or two. If it's small, it might require pickup every day or two instead. I think it's easier to pick up a day's worth of muck every day then to let it accumulate into a monstrous job.

Also, you don't necessarily have to pick it up if you've got a larger paddock. You can instead just break up each pile and spread it around. The muck will break down much faster, not burn the grass, and will decompose into fertelizer instead.

There are also muck rakes for tractors that eliminate the manual work if you've got a tractor and a larger paddock. Alternatively, you can pull a landscape rake through your muck droppings to break them up. This is a pretty fast way to break up piles in a large paddock.


February 23, 2012 – DRAIN SIZE FOR A WASH RACK

How big a drain do I need to install for a horse wash rack?

The answer to this question is the same as it is for anyplace you're going to use water: the drain needs to be able to take away the water at the same or greater rate than you'll bring it in. In the case of a wash rack, you're likely going to use a standard hose bib to rinse your horse. So, a standard drain size should be more than adequate. Obviously, if you're washing with something larger, you'll need a bigger drain.


February 22, 2012 – HOT WATER IN THE BARN?

We're running a water line out to our barn to make filling pails easier. Is there any reason to consider hot water also? I think we should, but my husband says we don't need it.

Well, we have both at my barn and I LOVE IT! While some barns have no running water at all, it seems silly to continually do all the additional work it causes not to have hot and cold water at a barn. Here are some reasons why it's such a convenience, some of which have to do with hygeine and medical sterility when attending to wounds:

  1. You can wash your hands after all kinds of tasks that require a good cleaning afterward (e.g. cleaning a sheath; picking a hoof packed with droppings or packed, soiled bedding; after using the bathroom at the barn, etc.);
  2. You can wash your hands before performing a task requiring very clean hands (e.g. cleaning and dressing a wound on a horse or a person);
  3. You can get warm water for a sheath cleaning which helps dissolve the smegma and associated crud;
  4. You can bath your horse with warmer water on a cooler day;
  5. You can clean tack more easily and effectively right at the barn — cleaning with just cold water is less effective;
  6. Finally, we love that our barn has a washer and dryer to clean horse sheets, blankets, and other items we'd really rather not wash with the same washing machine we use at home.

I hope the foregoing gives you enough reasons for your husband to consider the advantages of having both hot and cold water at your barn. I know I'll never have a barn without both. And you don't need to run a separate water hot line to the barn (you can if your barn is near the house). Otherwise, just get an inexpensive, instant water heater for the barn. Even a used, working water heater that someone is giving away is fine for a barn. Good luck!


February 21, 2012 – BRUSHING A HORSE'S FACE

Should I be brushing my horse's face? I don't normally brush it, but she was rolling today and has mud under her chin and by her ears.

Yes, you can and should occasionally brush your horse's face. BUT, you want to use a soft brush, not the same one that you use for the rest of her. Also, you have to be very careful you don't get bristles in her eyes. If you do, you could cause an eye injury. She also will likely be very afraid to let you brush her face again. So, be very careful and gentle when brushing her face and use a very soft brush.

As for the mud, it'd be better to gently rub most of that out with your hands before using the brush. And if there's any mud above her eyes, don't let it fall into her eyes when you rub it off.


February 20, 2012 – IS A SPARE INCLUDED WITH A TRAILER?

Do spare tires come standard when buying a horse trailer?

It depends on the manufacturer. For some (usually the more upscale trailers), the spare is standard. For others (typically the ones trying to keep the price as low as possible), a spare doesn't come with the trailer automatically and you have to order it as an option when purchasing the trailer.

Whether it's standard or not, some manufacturers have several mounting options for the spare. Some options I've seen on bumper-pull trailers:

  • It can be mounted in the tack/changing room if the trailer has one;
  • It can be mounted at the front of the horse compartment; or
  • It can be mounted externally on the side of the trailer.

There are more options on other trailers (in the tack area of a slant trailer, on the outside front wall on a gooseneck, etc.)

If you buy a trailer that doesn't have a spare wheel with tire, I strongly suggest you get one. It'd be frustrating and scary to have to leave your horse and trailer on the side of the road somewhere while you try to take a tire to be fixed. A maintained spare reduces the chances you'll ever have to do that.

Finally, make sure you check your spare each month so it's inflated and in good shape should you ever need to use it.


February 17, 2012 – RIDING WITH A HALTER RATHER THAN A BRIDLE

Is it safe to ride a horse with a halter instead of a bridle? I am thinking about trying it.

That depends on the horse, you, and whether or not the horse respects you as his leader. If he does, he'll listen to your commands whether there's a bit in his mouth or not. If he doesn't respect you, even the bit won't make much of a difference.

But before you consider riding a horse only with a halter, you should take some instruction from a horse trainer about earning your horse's respect and learning more about communicating with a horse. Part of that communication is learning to read the language of horses, the other part is learning how to communicate clearly and consistently with them.

Consistency is incredibly important because horses are always testing each other and the humans with which they interact. Few behaviors undermine our communications with horses more than our inconsistency.


February 16, 2012 – KNOT FOR TYING A HORSE?

When I tie my horse (or any horse), is there any special knot I should use?

Yes, you should use a quick release knot. That means a knot that has a bow and an end you can pull to quickly release the horse. As mentioned in previous posts, horses can easily spook and will often damage lots of the surrounding area as well as hurt themselves and others if they can't get away. A quick-release knot helps you free a tied horse quickly.

Another good approach is to use a fuse as described in yesterday's post (below).


February 15, 2012 – LEATHER OR NYLON LEAD LINE?

Are leather lead lines stronger than nylon lines? Which is better to use?

Actually, the nylon lines are generally stronger. They will also stretch some when under tension and will pull back when the force is released. That same tendency is why you should select a break-away halter rather than a full nylon one. The break-away halter has a leather head band that will break if your horse pulls too hard. It's better for the band to break and the halter to release a scared horse than to keep him confined in a panic.

As for a lead line, I don't think it makes any difference which you use for leading. Both are stronger than we are, and so is the horse. However, for tying, I either want to use a leather line or a nylon line with a fuse. A "fuse" is a small piece of string or bailing twine tied to the tie ring and to which we tie the lead line. As with a break-away halter, if the tied horse panics and tries to run away, the fuse will break and release the horse so he doesn't hurt himself in the panic. The key in this discussion is to give a panicked horse a way to effect a release so the he doesn't tear himself apart in a panic.


February 14, 2012 – SEEING BETTER IN THE BARN

It is hard to see in my barn sometimes, like when I am picking a horses hoofs. I want to make it brighter. I can not find any CFL bulbs that are bright enough. I can find brighter incandescent bulbs, but they use a lot of electricity and I can not afford that. What else can I do? Are there brighter CFLs out there?

You've got several ways to go. First, there are brighter CFLs and you can visit a local electrical supply house or look online. I did a quick online search and found this supplier as an example source (Buy Lighting — there are many others.) They have from 5 up to 200 watt CFLs, which they claim are equivalent to 600 watt incandescent bulbs.

If you want a brighter barn without using bigger bulbs, you also have two other options. One is to put in some skylights. That will make your barn brighter during the daylight hours and should make the barn even more open and pleasant to be in. Another approach is to paint the inside of the barn a light color. Most wood, the insides of the stalls, the ceilings, and beams, etc. in barns are not even painted at all. Painting them a light color will make the inside of the barn much brighter whether day or night. It makes much better use of whatever form of light source you use. And best of all, IT'S FREE!

We have an article on this topic that includes how to calculate savings by converting to CFLs. It's entitled: Better Barn Lighting.


February 13, 2012 – KEEPING HORSE IN SHAPE DURING WINTER

I've been reading your posts about riding in the winter and you make sense when you warn about keeping to a walk on frozen and icy ground. But I also want to keep my horse in shape. Isn't there any place I can trot and canter her?

Sure! You can use an indoor arena if you have access to one. You can also usually use an outdoor arena if the footing is not frozen. Most outdoor arenas use some form of sand. Sand usually drains quite well and remains unfrozen unless there's snow on top. As long as it's not frozen or icy, you can trot and canter just as you do in warmer weather.

If you're more of a trail rider and don't have access to an arena, many state forest and/or state park unpaved roads have sandy areas. Again, because sand drains well, it normally isn't frozen. If it's also not icy, you can trot in those areas. If there's enough soft sand for a significant stretch, you can also canter, at least for a few hops, perhaps more.

Finally, many of the larger barns have enough room to ride inside (providing they have dirt floors — don't do it on concrete floors even if they have stall pads). Just make sure that other horses are not free or tied too close to where you'll be riding and make sure to alert other boarders to your riding intentions as well as getting the barn owner's permission (most will let you ride if it's safe).

We do have to be a little more creative to continue exercising our horses in colder weather. But also don't underestimate the value of walking rides during the winter months. Your horse will be still carrying the weight of you and your tack, and you can also add going up and down hills (not too steep). Between the hills and the distance you cover, that can be plenty of exercise as well as a safe way to ride and stay in shape during the colder parts of year.


February 10, 2012 – PULLING A SLEIGH?

If it snows, can I try hooking up my horse to pull a sleigh? It looks like a lot of fun.

Well, you can't just hook him up if he hasn't been taught to pull a sleigh or wagon before. He must first be desensitized and get used to wearing a yoke as well as learn to follow commands from driving reins. And you need to learn how to drive. This is a different area of horse control and both you and your horse need to learn it before you can indulge in the sport of driving. There are even different bits and other tack.

Driving one horse and a light wagon or sleigh is not hard and can be a lot of fun, but both you and your horse need to learn it before you can do it.


February 9, 2012 – HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN LEATHER TACK

How often should I clean my leather saddle? I'm getting suggestions all over the place from weekly to one good cleaning a year. HELP!!

There are many opinions, but I find it fastest and easiest to clean my saddle quickly each time I use it. You can buy these "cleaning wipes" from several manufacturers. After removing your saddle, bridle, and any other leather tack you used for a ride, just quickly run one of these wipes over each piece of leather. It's fast and takes only a minute or two to do. The wipe removes grime so it doesn't get impregnated into the leather as well as lubricating the leather so it doesn't dry out.

If your tack hasn't been cleaned in a while and is very dirty, use the opportunity that it's currently winter and we're usually riding less to get some of these wipes and clean your leather now. It might take two or three wipes to give it that initial cleaning, but subsequent cleanings after each ride will be very fast and easy. Non-leather tack can be cleaned with nothing more than a damp rag.


February 8, 2012 – HOW HARD TO BRUSH

How hard should I be brushing my horse?

The answer to this question varies with the horse. Some horses are sensitive and will move away from you, perhaps even try to bite or kick you if you brush them too hard. That's because their skin is sensitive and the sensation of hard brushing hurts. In those cases, use a soft bristled brush and brush them gently. In time, as they get used to it, you may be able to go to a stiffer brush.

Other horses want to be brushed harder and love it as if it massages their skin. Most horses fall somewhere in the middle. You generally can tell whether a horse hates to be brushed, loves it, or just doesn't seem to care either way. If in doubt, ask your barn owner or a more experienced horse person. Hopefully, they'll have some experience reading the horse's feelings about your brushing technique.


February 7, 2012 – PONY PERFORMANCE

How fast can my pony run? He seems real fast when he gallops, but I have no idea what speed that might be. He does keep up with the other horses though.

If he's a full-size pony (not a miniature), he likely can run as fast as a typical full-size horse. That's certainly true with Icelandics and Fjords. That means these ponies and horses will generally top out anywhere from 30 - 40 MPH at full speed depending upon age and health.

A lot of ponies can also carry almost the same payload on a ride. They're built quite sturdy and it's not unusual to find a pony as the alpha in a mixed herd. And while most of us horse owners don't like to admit it, on average, ponies seem to be smarter than the average horse. As a result, between their smarts and slightly smaller size, they can often be escape artists and we sometimes find them grazing outside their paddocks.


February 6, 2012 – SECURING A LOOSE HORSE

I drove by a farm the other day and there was a horse grazing by the road outside the fence. I stopped, got out, walked up to him and talked to him while he looked at me. He didn't have a halter and I didn't know how to hold him. Some people came running from the farm yelling to me to grab their horse, but the horse took off. I feel badly I couldn't help them. I've been around horses before, but never confronted this kind of problem. Is there anything I could have done?

Possibly. This problem is more common than you might think. I've come across quite a few horses in past years that were loose on the road with owners not far behind. To get free, horses may squeeze through a gate, jump it, or could be another Houdini. I always have a lead line in my car and a spare halter for such circumstances and have used them several times..

The first thing to do in such circumstances is to secure the horse. You can do that just by putting a lead line around his neck — you don't need a halter. Don't have a lead line, use anything you do have, such as a rope. I once took my belt off and used that. But I was surprised how big the horse's neck was. I had to place it around the thinnest part of his neck and hold it with one hand on each side. I did resolve to let go if he panicked — I wasn't going to let myself get hurt. But fortunately, he didn't panic and his owners were not far behind and appreciative that I had him.

As a horse person yourself, you may want to just keep a lead line in your car. It may be a spare for your own horse, or perhaps an emergency halter like we're discussing.


February 3, 2012 – HORSE YANKS HAY FROM HANDS

When I give my horse some loose hay, he jerks it out of my hand. Does he do this because he does not trust me? I have never hurt him or pulled food away from him.

Relax, most horses jerk hay away from a human the same way they jerk it out of the ground. And that's most likely the reason they grab it that way. Your horse doesn't differentiate the hay being loose in your hand from grass sticking up from the ground — he doesn't realize that the loose grass is not connected to your hand, so he tears it away just as he does when grazing.

One word of warning: be careful when handing grass to your horse. As you noticed, they can grab a mouthful rather quickly. You certainly don't want your fingers or hand going with that grass morsel into his mouth. I'm sure he wouldn't do that intentionally, but what difference does that make? You'd still be in real pain and possibly missing some digits.


February 2, 2012 – HALF-DOORS ON BARN STALLS

I'm considering moving to a new barn. This barn has half doors. I have concerns that the half doors will let the horses bite each other. Is this a problem with these kinds of doors?

Most half-door barns also have a top half or full doors you can close if such a problem should present itself. However, half-doors are usually loved by horses for several reasons:

  1. They're social, herd animals and like to be able to see and smell each other;
  2. They're naturally curious and this lets them see who's coming, going, and what's going around in the barn when they're stalled; and
  3. They're prey animals and want to be on the lookout for predators.

So frankly, I think half-doors are great, that your horse will love it, and that it won't present much of a problem, if any. Go for it!


February 1, 2012 – WHY COLD WEATHER ROLLING IN MUD?

My horse is rolling in mud even at this time of year, though it's not as cold as normal. Why does she do it? There aren't any flies around, are there?

I don't think she's rolling because of flies. Rather, it's more likely because of dry skin. The air is much drier in the winter (that's why a starlit sky is so clear and beautiful in Winter). Just as with us humans, a horse's skin gets dry and may flake. Rolling in the mud likely soothes her itches. If there's some other reason, I'm afraid I don't know what it is unless your horse has an injury. But you can easily check for that. More likely, she's rolling to scratch an itch (or five).


January 31, 2012 – STORING TACK

Where should I keep my tack during the winter? I was going to keep it in the barn tack room, but some of my fellow riders are afraid it might be stolen with fewer people hanging around the barn have taken theirs home.

I don't like to leave tack at the barn for several reasons:

  1. In summer, it can be quite humid and that promotes mold and mildew growth. Such growth breaks down the leather and ruins your tack;
  2. In winter, the air usually goes the other way and gets very dry. That dryness will dry out the leather causing it to crack — that's just as bad as mold and mildew and will also permanently ruin your tack;
  3. At all times of year in barns with dirt floors, your tack can get filthy as dust permeates the tack room and settles on and in the grain of the leather; and
  4. Lastly, your friends are correct that there's some risk of theft when barns are unoccupied, but there's also the risk of theft from other boarders and I know of several incidences where that has happened and none from thieves outside of the barn.

You can also keep your tack at home. If you do, avoid storing it in the attic or basement. The high heat of most attics will severely dry out the tack and the humidity of the basements will promote mold and mildew. The best place to store your tack is actually a place that is kept comfortable for humans. Those spaces are usually between 60 - 85°F and also dehumidified (or air conditioned) for human comfort. So, the temperatures and humidity levels comfortable for humans are also the best for tack.


January 30, 2012 – REMOVE BLANKET FROM HORSE WHEN HE'S BEING RIDDEN

Should I leave my horse's blanket on when riding him in very cold weather (below freezing?) I want to ride him in the winter but don't want him to freeze.

NO! DO NOT keep the blanket on your horse when you ride. Even if you clip him, ride with no blanket. He'll generate quite a bit of heat while working and you don't want him to overheat.

When you're done riding, bring him back into the barn, remove his tack, and put a cooler on him. Coolers are generally made of synthetic fleece or wool. They will keep your hrose warm while his perspiration evaporates and he cools down. Once he's dry, remove the cooler and put his blanket on.

If your horse must be kept tacked and warm between riding sessions (such as at outdoor competitions in cold weather), you can get him a quarter sheet. A quarter sheet is a thin blanket designed to keep a horse's muscles from getting stiff from the cold. But be careful. If your horse does get wet from perspiration and will be standing around for a while in the cold while wet, he'll be safer if you remove his tack and put a cooler on him until he dry. The quarter blanket is only good to use when your horse is dry, or at least no more than damp. There are some quarter sheets made of fleece or wool that can double as coolers between riding sessions.


January 27, 2012 – JUMPING IN AN AUSSIE SADDLE?

Can you jump in an Australian saddle?

It depends on the saddle's tree. Also, some Aussie saddles have a horn while others do not. Obviously, jumping with a horn in front of you raises the chances you could get hurt — better to avoid jumping with a horn there. Even without a horn, you still need to check with the saddle manufacturer because there are severe stresses put on a saddle tree during the landing. If the tree is not made for those kinds of stresses, it can fail with a hard jump. If the manufacturer reports that the saddle is made to accommodate jumping, you're free to go.


January 26, 2012 – HOW HIGH TO PLACE STALL LIGHTS?

We're putting lights into every stall in our barn finally. How high up should they go?

The safest thing is to place them high enough that a rearing horse won't be able to hit them. You definitely don't want one of your horses getting cut from broken glass, getting glass in his eyes, or getting electrocuted by a live circuit. Most barns have quite high ceilings and I don't expect that even a large draft would be able to hit a fixture that's 10 or 11 feet above the ground.

If you have really high ceilings, don't place the fixture more than 14 feet up or you may find that too little light reaches down where you need it.


January 25, 2012 – HYPP HORSE RIDING RISKS

Can you ride an hypp horse?

You can, but you're taking a chance. Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP) is an inherited, genetic muscle disease. As of this writing, it has only been found in descendents of the great Quarter Horse competitor, Impressive. He alone had over 2,200 foals and a total of over 50,000 descendents overall. Interestingly, only his descendents have been found to have HYPP, therefore, researchers suspect a mutated gene in the line caused the disease to occur.

Now, to your question: the symptoms of HYPP can be a complete paralysis of certain muscle groups. The groups vary by horse, but you need to consider what would happen if you were riding and the horse lost control of his leg muscles, or his heart muscle, or his diaphragm muscle needed for breathing. The horse would collapse and you'd drop to the ground with him. He might even roll over you — UGHHH!!! PAIN!!! If you were at a canter or gallop, the results for both of you could be even worse.

HYPP can show its first symptoms at any time. Some horses present at age one while others present at age 28 or never. The problem is that we don't know when or even if a horse with this genetic flaw will present. If you had your horse genetically tested for HYPP and the test came back as positive, that doesn't mean your horse will ever present, but it means he could. If your horse has already had an attack, then you obviously know it can happen again.

There are some drugs that have proven helpful in mitigating the effects of HYPP. It works better on some horses than on others. Whether you ride a horse that has tested positively for HYPP is a personal decision. As mentioned earlier, an attack while travelling over a jump or at speed could be disastrous for both horse and rider — there is definitely significant risk. Conversely, there is always some risk when riding horses and no guarantees. A positively testing horse may also never present.

Personally, I don't want to take on more risk if I can avoid it by not purchasing a positively tested horse. It's a harder decision if you have the horse already and then discover he has HYPP. I would probably avoid the additional risk — others don't seem to be as concerned.

You should ask this question of your vet to get a more accurate risk assessment of your particular horse.


January 24, 2012 – JUMPING PRACTICE IN THE SNOW?

Is it ok to practice jumps if there's not too much snow on the ground?

I WOULDN'T DO IT! Even a small jump with a few inches of snow presents more risk than a higher jump on dry ground. The reason is because snow presents a slipping risk. Your horse could strain a muscle or ligament; or he could break a bone and send you flying into a fence or tree. The slip could occur when he tries to make the jump, or even more so, when he lands and his inertia keeps you both sliding and his legs go out from under him.

Save your jumping for the indoor arena and safer, dry ground. There's no need to take unnecessary risks that could physically hurt you or your horse.


January 23, 2012 – HOW OFTEN TO CHARGE BREAK-AWAY BRAKE BATTERY

How often should I charge the battery for my trailer's break away brake?

You should charge it at least once a year. Don't do it now if you've put your trailer into storage for the winter. Charge it in the spring when you get your trailer ready for the summer riding season. If you trailer year-round, then pick a time that you'll remember each year so that you can charge it consistently.

Once your trailer is five years old, you should have the battery checked by a professional, or just replace it with a new one (that you've charged). The importance of the break-away brake being operational when you need it is significant. So while you may never need it, you certainly don't want it not to operate if you ever do require it.


January 20, 2012 – HOW TO GET STARTED RIDING

I've always wanted to learn to ride a horse. I'm getting older (my 50s) and recently decided that I better get to it or I'll be too old to ever begin. I told a friend that owns a horse and she told me about this Website. Since then, (about 2 months ago), I've been reading daily posts from you and the Horse Girl and getting excited about trying this new adventure. But I don't know how to get started. I know I should take lessons, but do I sign up for several months? Do I ride my friend's horse? What should I do? Can you help?

CONGRATULATIONS! I applaud you on grabbing the "bull by the horns" and starting your journey. If you've spent two months reading, and now taken the time to write, I'd say that you definitely have some passion for horses and would enjoy some level of involvement. What level you decide to pursue is a decision that only you can make.

For starters, I'd suggest that you try a low-risk, non-committal experience first. You don't say what kind of riding interests you, so I recommend you try to find a barn that, regardless of their focus, also teaches basic riding technique or go to a trail-riding barn. If the former, talk to the owner about taking one or several lessons. If the trails beckon, pay for a guided trail ride on a calm, experienced, and older horse. Whichever you try, you'll get to experience the excitement and fear that usually comes from the first time sitting on a moving horse.

The fear comes from finding that you're higher off the ground than you expected and sliding around because you don't know how to stay balanced, and also from the realization that you don't yet know how to control a horse. It's not like driving where turning the wheel guarantees a turn and applying the brake immediately begins slowing you down. The excitement comes from realizing part of your dream and being aboard this most powerful and majestic animal. If the experience leaves you wanting more as it sounds it will, then it'll be easier to commit some time and money to lessons. While some people learn without lessons, I strongly believe good training makes you a safer as well as a better rider.

Whatever discipline you ultimately decide to pursue initially, you just need to learn how to ride and control a horse right now. You even need to learn how to safely be near and interact with horses while standing on the ground and especially how to read their moods by watching their eyes, ears, head, tail, and body movements. And as you learn to ride, you'll likely fall even more in love with horses and riding, and develop confidence as you learn how to control and work with the horse. After that, you'll want to select a discipline and pursue training.

If trail riding is what interests you most, please understand that it, too, is really its own discipline, so don't think you can just go out there and ride the forests or high plains from the start. Horses react differently when out in the country and their fear and vigilance for predators brings its own challenges just as learning to jump requires its own skills. So you still should take riding lessons. Whatever discipline you initially choose, you'll learn valuable riding and safety skills and you can also add other disciplines to your skill and interest levels later as your progress.

I again congratulate you and wish you the best in safe riding and real fun in partnering with this beautiful animal! I believe you're gonna LOVE IT!


January 19, 2012 – PHOTOGRAPHING HORSES

I want to take some photographs of my horse. Is there anything special that needs to be done? Do I need any special equipment?

You don't mention what you want the photos for. If they're just snapshots, any camera will do, even a cell phone. But if you want to blow them up for framing, you'll get better results with a real camera than a cell phone. You don't need an expensive camera, just one that takes good photos.

The harder part is selecting a good background and getting your horse to stand the way you want to shoot him. Horses generally are grazing or looking around if left to their own devices. I generally start by picking an appealing background. To my sensibilities, that's one in which most evidence of humans has been excluded. Therefore, I'll look for a stand of trees, or a hill or mountain in the background without buildings, transmission lines, etc., visible in the frame.

Once I have the location and backdrop, I'll bring the horse and a helper. The helper is going to hold the lead line and control the horse (if needed). If the horse is very calm and controllable, I'll remove the halter and no one needs to have a lead on the horse (I prefer photos of horses with no tack when possible). But if there's any doubt, leave the halter and lead line intact or find a good backdrop you can use within a large paddock.

Once everything else is set, I adjust settings on the camera and finally concentrate on the horse. He's the most unpredictable part of the shoot, so I get everything else ready and then deal with him last. Positioning a horse to stand a certain way takes time, a little skill with horses, and a cooperative horse. Have too little of any one or more of those variables and it'll be difficult or impossible to get the shot you want. When the horse's position is ready, move away quickly; raise, aim, compose, and focus your camera; and then make a sharp sound to make the horse look up at you. When he does, snap several shots. You may have to do this several times, including re-positioning the horse.

We have an article you may want to read that focuses more on the technical aspects entitled: Horse Photography – How-to. Good luck!


January 18, 2012 – WINTER TRAILERING

Is it safe to trailer horses during the winter? There are some competitions I'd like to attend with my horse, but not if it is dangerous.

You should begin your assessment by using the same cautions for towing in the winter as you use for driving without a trailer. In other words, if it's too slippery to drive, it's definitely too slippery to trailer. Then, add another level of caution because trailering brings its own complications.

For example, when you start, turn, and stop with a trailer, good traction is even more important than it is for a trailerless vehicle. The effects of wind in the winter are also greater because the trees don't have leaves to block wind as in the warmer months, plus, the air is denser because it's cold and that makes its effects greater as it blows against your truck and trailer. The same windspeed actually pushes with more force because of the heavier weight of the dense air. If in doubt, don't tow.

HOWEVER, if you want to trailer someplace and return on a cold, but calm, clear day with clear roads, there's no reason you shouldn't do so. Just be careful and also make sure your horse is not in that cold trailer too long.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a stock or any other form of open trailer, you either should install plexiglass panels to enclose the trailer or not go at all. Driving at 50 MPH means your horse(s) will be exposed to a constant 50 MPH wind, even more if you're going into a headwind. In warm weather, this is fine, but in cold weather, you risk subjecting your horse(s) to hypothermia, which could kill them.


January 17, 2012 – THE STALL-BOUND HORSE

How can I make my stall bound horse more comfortable?

You can let him out of his stall. You don't say why he's stall-bound. Is it:

  1. Because he's recovering from an injury and your vet recommends he remain stalled?
  2. Because there's not enough turn-out for all the horses at the his barn?
  3. Because he's a competition horse and you're worried about him getting bitten and/or kicked by other horses, so you keep him in?
  4. Because he prefers his stall to being turned out?
  5. Or is it something else?

Unless it's because of an injury or illness and you're following your veterinarian's instructions, your horse will generally do better, be healthier, and be happier with lots of turn-out each day. Horses were never meant to live out their lives in a small stall — they're meant to be able to move around while grazing and to run with their herd. This will all help his digestion and keep him in good, physical shape.

If your horse has to be inside, some stall toys can help make it less boring. And some exercise in the barn or arena, while not as good as turn-out, is still better than just standing and turning in a stall. When you exercise your horse in the barn or arena, try to at least get him up into a trot as well as walking him — a canter is even better.

And one point about turn-out in a paddock: there are paddocks and there are paddocks. Some paddocks are multiple acres and service a small herd while others are very small, perhaps 12 x 20 feet — the latter gets a horse outside, but is a paddock in name only because the horse can't really exercise and will have over-grazed it in a day or two. After that, it'll just be a mud pen.

Try to assure your horse has room to run and graze for his health and well-being.


January 16, 2012 – CAT SLEEPING ON HORSE'S BACK

I came in to the barn early this morning to find one of our barn cats sleeping on the back of one of our horses. I've never seen this before. Is this dangerous for either the cat or the horse? Is it normal?

Actually, it is normal. I've seen this behavior at several barns. Some of the cats will befriend several horses — it all depends on the temperament of the cats and the horses involved. Generally, the behavior will begin on some very cold night and both quickly learn that the other is warm and they share the heat. For the cat, his whole underside is kept warm. For the horse, it's only a small spot on his back, but it feels better than all the other spots. If I were an enterprising horse, I'd try to get my friendly cat to bring his friends.

I'm not aware of any dangers for either animal other than the obvious, such as the cat needing to not scratch the horse and risk being bucked off and also to avoid being stepped on. Usually, they develop a level of trust and you'll also sometimes find a cat sleeping on a pile of hay in the corner of a stall sharing it with the horse. Remember, horses are social animals — even cats are to some degree with the right social friend. Size matters not to either.


January 13, 2012 – HOW TIGHT TO MAKE THE REAR CINCH

How tight do I make the back girth on a western saddle when riding a horse?

BE VERY CAREFUL! You DO NOT want to tighten the rear cinch incorrectly! (Girths are only for English saddles — Western saddle straps are called a "cinch" and are different than a girth, though they do the same thing.)

The front cinch tightens around the horse's rib cage. But the rear cinch goes around the horse's soft stomach. So, it is very uncomfortable for the horse if you make it tight. Instead, there should be just enough room for you to slide your hand in flat between the horse's belly and the cinch. If tighter, it'll hurt and chafe your horse and he may buck you off. If looser, a rear hoof could get caught in it causing him to panic wildly or fall and get seriously hurt. It's really important to get the right degree of tightness.


January 12, 2012 – WHY DO HORSES ROLL IN MUD?

Is it normal for a horse to lie down and roll in a muddy field? My horse does this at any time of the year.

Yes, this is normal horse behavior. In the warmer months, horses usually roll in the mud to get some protection from the biting flies. But they also roll around in the mud in colder weather when flies and other biting insects aren't around. From what we can observe, rolling will fluff up wet, matted hair. It also helps them to shed out loose hair. Light colored mud reflects the sun better than the dark hair on some horses, so it helps keep them cooler. Finally, it's a way to scratch an itch.


January 11, 2012 – WHY DOES HORSE MOVE AWAY WHEN BRUSHED?

My horse always turns away from me when I'm brushing her. Is she scared?

Not necessarily, she may be scared, but her skin could also be sensitive to being brushed or she could just not respect you. If scared, you'll generally notice other signs from her, such as a raised head, big eyes, a fearful expression, and an anxious demeanor as she backs away from you and the brush. If that's the case, you'll need to get someone more experienced to de-sensitize her to grooming tools and activities. Frankly, I think this is the least likely source of the problem unless you have a young horse that's never been groomed or an older horse that's been improperly and harshly groomed. Regardless of which it is, if your horse is scared, you need more experienced help to work her through this.

If the problem is overly sensitive skin, she'll bristle and move away quickly, but will not exhibit the fearful expression and anxious demeanor mentioned above. Instead, she could move away again and act annoyed as you approach again. The ultimate annoyance if she feels that the brush hurts her skin and threatens you with flattened ears or even worse, the baring of teeth.

If she doesn't respect you and just doesn't want to be brushed, she may act the same way. You then should consider getting the help of a more experienced horse person (e.g. your barn owner) or a horse trainer to help you determine which it is. If it's a lack of respect, the owner or trainer should be able to still brush her after asserting the position of herd leader. The owner likely already has this position if they're turning out and recovering the horses each day. But if the brushing actually hurts, even they will get the same response as you got because of the pain.

If you suspect overly sensitive skin, you can also try a softer brush. But before trying that, you should inspect your horse's skin. A normal horse brush should not hurt your horse's skin unless she has some skin condition or an infection. And if that's the problem, you're going to want that to be addressed immediately before concerning yourself with grooming chores.


January 10, 2012 – EXERCISING YOUR HORSE WHILE AVOIDING ICY GROUND

What should I do with my horse when it is too icy to ride? She loves to run but I don't want her to fall when it is icy.

You're smart to be concerned about your horse falling on icy ground. She could get a serious injury, the worst of which is probably a broken leg risking her life.

Obviously, if you have an indoor arena, you can use that to help keep her in shape. If not, is your barn long enough to trot within? I once boarded at a long barn (maybe 100 feet or more) with wide aisles (about 50') and we would trot or canter down the length, trot across, and then continue trotting or pick up a canter again till we got back down to the other end. My current barn has stalls on the outsides and in the center, so we're able to go around the center stalls at the trot. Cantering is limited to a few hops, but extended trotting alone still exercises the horse (and rider) quite a bit and can help build muscle.

If you have no inside space to use, you're limited to the outside. If the ground is icy, you may be limited to keeping your horse inside for some of that time. Even then, extended walking is good for your horse and will also help her from going stir crazy when the ice is so bad you're even afraid to let any horses go outside.

To increase her workload at the walk, saddle up and ride her. She'll then have your weight as additional work to help her stay in shape.


January 9, 2012 – IS IT AN ALUMINUM FLOOR?

How do I know if my trailer has an aluminum floor?

Well, you could try looking at it. If you see boards, it's not aluminum, it's wood. Or if you see the black rubber of Rumber, it's still not aluminum. If the floor is metal, it could be a steel or aluminum floor. If the floor is aluminum, it will usually be 1/8 inches or more thick. A steel floor will be thinner because steel is three times stronger than aluminum for the same thickness.


January 6, 2012 – WHAT IS ENOUGH TURN-OUT?

About how long should I be turning my horse out each day?

As much as possible. Turnout is good for your horse. It lets him move around, graze, and socialize — all good things for his physical and mental health. Being stall-bound is NOT healthy for horses. It's good to keep it to a minimum.

At the barn where I board my horse, all the horses are out for about 10 hours each day, more in the summers. If you're looking for an absolute minimum, I would never go less than four hours a day, six to eight would be much better.

One thing that will have us keep the horses inside for one or more days is very icy ground that presents a falling hazard to the horses. In that case, the ground is so slippery that we fear them falling and breaking a leg. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's pretty bad here in the North East. At those times, I walk and trot him around inside the barn for about 20 - 30 minutes each day. It's good to get his legs and body moving and also helps get the "YA YAs" out so he doesn't go crazy being cooped up inside for a few days.


January 5, 2012 – HORSES BEING TERRITORIAL ABOUT THEIR STALLS

How can I stop my horses from being territorial when in their stalls? I have got six horses and they are friendly all day when turned out together but will try to bite when any horse passes by their stall? Why do they do this?

They do this because they're horses. This is NORMAL horse behavior. They protect their stalls as their own personal space. All you need to do is accept this behavior and keep a passing horse in the center of the aisle so stalled horses can't reach the passerby with their teeth. Alternatively, if your stalls have doors, you can close them when bringing horses through so the stalled horses don't feel threatened by those passing by.

Interestingly, some stalled horses will be less concerned by a passerby when eating because eating is their first priority. Other horses will be worse while eating because they're afraid the passerby will try to steal their food — it depends on the particular horses involved.

Also, don't be surprised if the horse at the bottom of your herd's pecking order is one of the most vicious when any other horse approaches his/her stall, including the alpha; and don't worry, the alpha will usually respect it and stay away. The territorial compulsion is very strong and is likely one of the reasons that horses have survived through the ages. Just accept that this is normal for horses and keep the horse passing by away from stalled horses with open upper doors.


January 4, 2012 – WEIGHT MEASUREMENT TAPES

How accurate are the tapes that measure the weight of your horse?

Not very. They're designed to give you an approximate weight of your horse. But think about it, they estimate weight by measuring the girth of the horse. Most Quarter Horses are quite round while Thoroughbreds are much thinner. So the tapes are limited in their ability to correctly estimate weight across breed variations. Next, look at the length of the spine. A short-coupled horse will weigh less for the same girth size than a long-spine horse.

The tapes are meant to give you an estimate of your horse's weight, and they do that for horses with similar conformations. But if you want to know your horse's actual weight, there is no substitute for putting him/her on a scale. The tapes can sometimes be many hundreds of pounds off on their estimate. And if you're using weight to determine the quantity of a particular medication to give your horse, that can be taking somewhat of a risk if the dose is critical and the weight estimate is too far off.


January 3, 2012 – STARTING A HORSE FARM BUSINESS

With the economy still down, I think this is a perfect time to start my own horse farm business. My husband thinks I am crazy. Do you think my idea is silly?

Starting a business in a down economy could be a bad decision or a very good one — it depends on the business itself and the opportunities available at the time. You don't state the nature of your intended business. If it's a boarding barn, that might be a difficult approach at this time with so many people being out of work and many selling or giving their horses away because they can't afford to board them. Even in the best of times, except in high-rent areas, boarding is usually a "break-even" or loss business at best and most such farms augment it with horse training and riding instruction in order to make a profit. But, there are also many other equine related businesses you can consider depending upon your desires and education.

Here are links to two articles that I hope will be helpful in getting you started:

Starting Your Own Boarding Barn

Equine Occupations — A Starting Point

The first link explores the boarding business in more depth and also links to many other pertinent articles that will have value in considering any horse-related business. The second lists many equine vocations you can consider. Between the two, you should have lots of information to mull over and hopefully find the equine business that best suits you and the economy in your area.


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