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"Horse Guy" Archive Jul - Dec 2012

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December 31, 2012 – WINTER RIDING

It's very cold, snowy and windy outside. My horse wants to go out for a ride and I would like to go. Is it too dangerous for her at these temperatures, especially with the wind?

Generally, horses can take whatever cold we can take, and then some. You don't mention the outside temperature, whether or not your horse is clipped, and in what condition she is. If your horse is clipped, it's still ok to ride her. But when you return, be sure to put a cooler on her to absorb her perspiration and aid in keeping her warm while it evaporates. Then, put her blanket on to take the place of the hair you clipped.

If she's not clipped, use the cooler anyway. But you shouldn't need a blanket once she's cooled down. If you use one, hopefully it's a light one so she doesn't get too hot. If you're using a heavier blanket on an unclipped horse, hopefully the weather or her metabolism requires it and you're not just doing it because we need to put on a coat in colder weather. An unclipped horse has a coat of hair.

Because it's cold outside and snowy, the ground might be slippery because of that snow or any ice. It'd be best to keep your gaits to walking and trotting to avoid a potential slip and fall. Also, don't work your horse too hard in this weather. A long walking ride of several hours can be ok, but your horse will be burning calories both to work and to keep warm. And she'll be losing moisture through some perspiration and breathing the dry air. So, she'll likely be very thirsty and in need of water when you return. Try to make sure that water is not too cold and that she doesn't drink it too fast.

Other than the foregoing, winter rides are a great way for you both to enjoy the season, the different look of the landscape (especially when covered in snow), and to stay in some reasonable riding condition over the colder months. We also have an article on this topic for you to read entiled Winter Riding & Staying Warm.

December 27, 2012 – BARN PIPES FREEZE

The pipes feeding the stalls in my (unheated) barn freeze on some winter days and then I cant fill the pails. What options do I have to stop the freezing?

Here are your options in no particular order:

  1. Heat the barn — could be expensive and may not be worth it — only you can decide. If you do, don't heat it any more than about 50°F. The horses don't need or want any more than that;
  2. Insulate the pipes — not very expensive, but it will take some work to do. With an unheated barn in a really cold climate, the pipes could still freeze if left long enough without running water through them; or
  3. Drain the pipes after each filling — cheapest option — nothing needs to be changed or added. BUT, after each filling of pails, you do need to remember to close the main valve and open each stall valve to let water drain from the pipes. Also, this presumes that the pipe runs are tilted toward the faucets at the stalls. If not, you won't be able to get all of the water out. This also presumes the pipe is plastic and not copper. Plastic pipes will stretch if water in it ever freezes; copper pipes can crack and rupture creating a permanent leak once the water comes on again.

Draining every day after filling is what most barns around my area do. Most of the barns are unheated and the piping was installed so that it pitches toward the stalls with daily draining in mind.


My husband and I are talking about getting a new horse trailer right after Christmas. He says that the prices should be lower than in the spring. Will it make much difference?

Well, the price of trailers and most other products used more during the warmer months will often drop somewhat, and/or you can better negotiate a lower price because it is the slow season for selling trailers. Because of the economic downturn we've been experiencing since 2008, trailer prices have already been down some and many trailer dealers are willing to work with you to find a price you can both live with. So, he's right that this is a good time to buy a new trailer.

You can also consider used trailers. If you find a very good condition trailer that's only a few years old, you can save even more money and often get a "like new" trailer. If you decide to go that route, check out our Buying a Good Used Trailer article for a comprehensive checklist and loads of tips for evaluating a used horse trailer.


I put CFL light bulbs into my barn like you recommended in the better barn lights article. But when I first turn them on, they are dim and it takes about 5 minutes for them to get brighter. They worked better in the summer than they do now. Do they use more power to warm them up?

No. They actually use less power when they're warming up and that's indicated by the lower light output. In the cold of winter, it just takes longer to heat and ionize the mercury in the bulbs that's needed to make the phosphors fluoresce and radiate light. Once up to full brightness (a few minutes as you've seen), the bulbs put out their rated light levels and consume their nominal, rated electric power.

CFLs, like more common fluorescent tubes, use about one quarter of the electric power compared to incandescent bulbs of the same light output level. So your conversion to CFL bulbs is saving you about 75% over what you used to use for lighting, and you should see that difference in your barn's electric usage. The Better Barn Lighting article that you mentioned also discusses painting the wall and ceiling surfaces with a light-colored paint. If you should do that, you'll notice that your barn will be even much brighter yet and you'll be able to see even better. If you do paint and you find it too bright, unscrew some bulbs and save even more money on electricity — it's all good!

December 21, 2012 – REMOVING BRIARS

What is the best way to take briars out of your horses tail? He is loaded with them.

Briars can be a royal pain to remove and I know of no automated way to do it.. Horses at my barn get them in their forelocks and mane as well as in their tails. What I do is spray a mane and tail detangler first and then use a large comb with widely spaced tines to remove the briars. If you don't have such a comb, you can use a brush, but it doesn't work quite as well. If you maintain your horse's mane and tail with such products, the briars come out quite easily. If you don't, then spraying the detangler on just before you comb the briars out is the next best thing.

Removing the briars without ever using detangler on mane and tail is more difficult and also pulls a lot more on the horse.


I'm 10 years old and ride horses. I love them! I want to get a job with horses when I get out of school. My mom and dad say I have to go to college. Are there classes for horse jobs? What kind of horse jobs are there?

I agree with your mom and dad that you should go to college if you can. There are actually many jobs related to the horse world that you can consider. We have an article that will help get you started thinking about the different careers you can consider entitled: Equine Occupations — A Starting Point.

The article lists almost 60 different horse-related occupations, but there are many more. You just have to think about all the different products and services that are available and you'll think of more possibilities. So, read the article and look at the list to see if there's a job you think you'd like. And remember that the list is not complete and that there are also many other horse-related jobs you can consider. If you can find work doing something you love, you'll look forward to going to work...even on Mondays.

Good luck!

December 19, 2012 – IS IT OK TO NOT RIDE IN WINTER?

Is it ok to not ride your horse over the winter? Will she get out of shape?

Yes, and yes. There's no problem not riding a horse at any time. She'll likely just graze on hay (and any grass left from summer, if any) and socialize with the other horses in her paddock. She will lose some conditioning, and that's ok also. As the weather warms, you'll need to gradually get her back into condition as you increase her workload.

Even when you do ride through the winter, if you're in a cold climate that receives snow and ice, it's usually not easy to keep a horse in the same condition as in the warmer months. That's because we must slow down when dealing with snow and ice on the ground and that slowdown typically means that it's less work for the horse.

Don't feel guilty, with the colder weather, snow, and ice, and the shorter days, most of us are not able to ride the same as we do during the warmer months. That means that our horses (and many of us), are in at least slightly less shape when spring comes and we need to gradually build up again to our summer strength.

One more thing: horses are usually somewhat more cooperative and amiable when they're kept in work. So expect that your horse could be a little friskier and might be a little less cooperative when you start getting her back into condition. She will have had an easy life and more freedom to do as she wishes over the winter and won't necessarily want to give that up. But after a few sessions of starting to ride again, horses come back into their more cooperative moods.


With the shorter days it is dark before my friends and me get to the barn. Is it ok that we visit the horses after dark? Or do they have some natural built in system that tells them to go to sleep when it gets dark out?

No. There's no problem visiting your horse just because it has gotten dark outside. However, your barn should have some rule that boarders are to leave the barn by or before a certain time. Around where I live, most barns ask everyone to leave the barn before or by 8:00 or 9:00 pm so the horses can have quiet and be able to sleep in piece.

The only time we bend this rule is for the occasional summer night ride or if a horse is dealing with a medical emergency, such as colic. Otherwise, everyone willingly obeys the rule and gives their horses some rest after the appointed time. Personally, I think it's a great rule to have.

December 17, 2012 – HOW HIGH CAN HORSES JUMP?

What's the highest a horse can jump?

There is no set limit a horse can jump. As with humans, abilities depend on multiple factors. In Grand Prix show jumping, horses are asked to jump up to 5 feet, 3 inches. For any individual horse, how high he can jump will depend on the horse itself, his conditioning, his training, the rider, etc.

The current official high jump record was set on February 5th, 1949 and it still stands today, 63 years later. The 16 year old horse, Huaso, a Chilean Thoroughbred (16-1hh), jumped 8 feet, 1 1/4 inches on that day, and lived to be 28 years old. There are several unofficial records, but I see no value in considering them because, well, they're unofficial. There's no way to know whether or not they're real records because they're not officially confirmed.

If this was a question you're asking about the typical horse, you can reasonably expect that any normal-sized horse in good health and condition should be able to jump at least 30 -36 inches; most will be able to jump higher.


It is now cold weather, but my horse still rolls in the mud. Isn't she cold doing this? There are no flies anymore. Why does she still do it?

Why horses do some things is a mystery to all of us. But as for rolling, I may be able to offer some guesses (a more accurate report would require an interview of your particular mare).

Horses will often roll to quell an itch or a bite-like feeling — that's what they're doing when the flies or mosquitoes are biting, but it may not end just because those two insects disappear till next spring. It could be the result of a tick bite (they can be active down to freezing temperatures, but will move a little more quickly when nestled inside of horse hair near a warm body). The reason could also be caused by some other kind of prick or itch, such as brushing against a pricker on a vine or other plant.

Some horses will roll because they're annoyed at human behavior. For example, at our barn, there's one mare (the alpha) that always wants to be brought in first from her paddock. Now, all the horses come in before any are fed, so she's not going to get her dinner any sooner if she's the first one in. She'll only be waiting longer in her stall, and there's always free-choice hay available there. Regardless, she may not have rolled all day, but if we grab another horse or two first, she'll often go find the muddiest spot in the paddock, will roll in it thoroughly, and then will meet us again at the paddock gate upon our return, loaded with mud. Oh! And I should mention that she's a white horse, that is, before she goes for her roll in the mud. We can't say for sure, but with the timing and her attitude, we're positive this is how she expresses her frustration at us not bringing her in first.

So, as you can see, there are several reasons a horse may roll without flies around. As to your specific horse's reason, because we have no experience with her, we can only speculate. But if you observe her closely for a while, you may be able to deduce the reason for her behavior.

December 13, 2012 – BUILDING A HORSE WASH AREA

We are looking to have a horse wash area built. We are wondering if we can build it ourselfs or should we have it done. Do you know of any plans we could buy to keep costs down?

I don't know of any plans, per se, but we do have an article that discusses this very topic. It doesn't provide dimensions, but it does discuss the important parts you need to consider whether you build it yourself or have it built by a contractor. The article ( Build a Wash Rack) is one I prepared for a horse magazine. The editors wanted it for readers asking the very kinds of questions you're asking here.

If it doesn't answer all of your questions, please feel free to submit your additional questions — we're happy to help.

December 12, 2012 – EVICTING BOARDERS

I am having a real problem with one of my boarders. He is an out and out fool, is stirring up the other boarders and is arrogant to boot. Well, I have had enough and want to give him the boot. How do I go about it?

Actually, this is a better question for the Horse Girl considering that she is an equine attorney. But rather than delay our response by moving it over into her queue, I can point you to an article she wrote about this very issue. It's entitled: Evicting Boarders (4 or 2 Legged).

If the article doesn't answer all of your questions, submit them to the Horse Girl and she'll be happy to respond. Please be specific about your questions and provide enough detail in order get a better response. And good luck!

December 11, 2012 – WINTER SHOES WITH BORIUM?

How well do borium shoes work? Is it worth the extra money?

This is a hard question to answer because I don't know what your criteria are. If you're expecting complete traction on ice, than I'd have to say that no product I know of can provide that. Conversely, I have used winter shoes (and pads) on my horse that either have borium strips on the shoes or borium nails and they definitely do significantly increase traction on glare ice. Of course, that's not complete traction, but it does give the horse "an edge" to make it across some ice with less slippage. It will do little or nothing on snow.

As for ice, when there's lots of glare ice on the ground, we tend to keep our horses in the barn for a few days rather than risk a fall and possible broken leg on sheets of ice. Generally, that ice will melt within a few days to a week and we only usually have to deal with that kind of situation once or twice a winter. We'll have much more snow, but that doesn't present a grave slipping and falling hazard as does ice. But for smaller amounts of ice, and to be able to ride during the winter, many of us will have winter shoes with borium nails or strips put on our horses.

December 10, 2012 – WHEN TO BLANKET?

At what temperature should I be blanketing my horse? Every boarder at my barn seems to have different ideas and opinions about this. Even the barn owner has her own opinion. I asked her and she said that wild horses don't need blankets, so why should these horses? (None of these horses are clipped). I am frazzled trying to get the right answer.

Like most things in life, there really is no RIGHT answer on this issue; it depends on several factors. You don't say where you are in the world, so I don't know in what climate you live. But, I look at this from a hypothermia standpoint. Horses are big and have a pretty large and impressive heat reserve, so it can get cold or they can get wet and still maintain enough body heat to remain healthy — up to a point.

If the horse has a good winter coat, he should be ok at least down into the 20s when dry and in little or no wind. As the winds come up, horses should have access to a shelter. That can be a run-in, a barn, or some such, that they can enter at will. If they don't have that, I like to put a waterproof sheet on them. Notice that I said "sheet" — not a blanket. A waterproof sheet will stop wind and rain, but it won't trap as much heat as a blanket will. A dry horse can stay quite warm down to low temperatures. If it's really cold or the horse has trouble generating enough heat due to being clipped, old age, or a health problem, then you may need the insulating properties of a blanket. But don't just jump to a blanket for no reason because it's not healthy for horses to get overheated.

In heavy rain, I like to put a waterproof sheet on horses when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. That's because a soaked horse in the 40s or below, or in a cold wind, can have trouble staying warm enough when really wet over an extended period of time, so hypothermia can become a risk. Of course, if the horses can enter a barn, run-in, or some other shelter to stay dry and warm, they don't need the sheet, but I presume you get the idea.

December 7, 2012 – HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN HOOVES?

How often should I clean my horse's hoofs? He spends half the day inside, so shouldn't he need it less?

Actually, I'll bet his hooves require more frequent cleaning if spends half his day inside.

If your horse is stalled part of each day (e.g. at night), you should clean his hooves daily. Each day, most horses will walk through some of their droppings and some of their urine-soaked bedding. Some of each will get stuck in their hooves. The soaked bedding is worse because if left in the hooves for an extended period of time, the horse can develop Thrush, and even worse, White Line Disease.

If your horse lives primarily outside, every other day may be enough. It really depends on the ground in your area. Wet ground with detritus and such that can clump up in the hooves can carry disease and parasites that are unhealthy for your horse. Also, if the horse stands in water for extended periods of time, such as many days or weeks, their hooves can get quite soft and become more susceptible to various fungi. Standing water also helps breed mosquitoes and the many dangerous diseases they can carry (West Nile, EEE, etc.) In those cases, also clean hooves daily and try to provide your horse with some dry land — move your horse if you must. When clean and on dry land, the hooves will dry and cause bacteria and fungus on them to die.


I just bought my first horse and trying to get some basic tools. One of them is a brush but I do not know if I should get a stiff one or a soft one. Which one should I get?

I would get two brushes: a soft one for your horse's face and a medium one for grooming his body. If your horse turns out to be one of those that loves a stiff brush and leans into you when you're brushing him, you can always get a stiffer brush. But most horses don't like a really stiff one, and a medium stiff brush is usually sufficient for most grooming needs.

Besides the face, I also prefer to use a soft brush for the underside of the horse's pasterns. It can be a tender area and there is really no need to brush it hard, so a soft brush works well. You can use the face brush for this, just make sure to clean it if it gets dirty before you again use it on his face.

December 5, 2012 – TO CROSS, OR NOT TO CROSS...

Should I cross the safety chains on the trailer or keep them straight. I am getting conflicting advice.

This a common question and I'm not sure why misinformation continues to circulate. Though, as you point out, it definitely does. To answer your question, you want to cross the chains. This way, you still get the safety of the trailer not separating from the tow vehicle, and as an additional benefit, the crossed chains can catch the dropping hitch tongue if it ever pops off the ball.

Fortunately, hitches of bumper pull trailers don't separate very often. But when they do, the results can be catastrophic for the horses inside and other traffic. The chains greatly reduce the chances of a separated and uncontrolled trailer heading down the road at speed.

One other thing: you should ALWAYS use a locking pin through the hitch so it cannot open from vibration and release the ball.


I wonder if you can settle an argument between me and my friend. How much water does a horse need in the winter? She says that horses need the same amount of water in the winter as in the summer. I say they need more in the summer because its hot and they sweat. Whos right?

All animals, including horses, need as much water as they need regardless of the season. A horse has its own water needs based on its individual metabolism. In other words, some horses need more than others even though they're doing exactly the same thing. And, when any horse works, it generally needs even more water.

Never try to estimate water needs based solely on the season. Instead, make sure to offer enough water so that your horse can drink as much as he needs. That means either supplying a large water bucket or trough at the beginning of each day, or using a smaller one and checking and refilling it several times during the day as needed. DON'T limit your horse's drinking — he knows how much he needs — you don't.

Remember, while you're correct about sweating on hot days causes the need to replenish more water to an animal's metabolism, the dryer air of the colder months also cause animals to need to replace the water given up as water vapor through respiration. Water definitely needs to be given as "free choice". That means we need to provide as much as they want so as to maintain our horses in good health.


If I get a trailer hitch installed on my camry, can I use it to pull a two horse trailer?

No. A Camry is a light vehicle and not designed for towing any appreciable weight. In doing some research, I've found there are various towing capacities listed for Camrys ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. That's nowhere near enough towing capacity to pull a trailer and horses.

An empty 2-horse trailer will weigh between 2,300 - 3,200 pounds on average — THAT'S EMPTY! Most horses weigh around 1,000 - 1,400 pounds or more each; large horses (Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, etc.) and drafts will weigh even more. Even small horses (e.g. Icelandics, Fjords, etc.) will each weigh in the 700 - 900 pound range. A Camry was never designed to pull such loads. So, just the trailer and one "typical" horse is going to weigh at least 3,300 pounds, 4,300 pounds for two horses. If your horse weighs more, and you want to carry some tack, perhaps another horse, etc., you're looking at even more weight.

I'm afraid that, if you want to get into towing a horse trailer, you'll have to get a tow vehicle capable of towing the kind of weight representative of horses and a horse trailer — a Camry is not that vehicle.

November 30, 2012 – A YOUNG, SPOOKY MARE

I have a young horse 4 1/2 y/o that I bought to ride. She's my second horse and she is always spooking. I had my first horse three years and he only spooked a once. What can I do to make my new horse spook less, or even better if I can make her not spook at all. Thanks.

There is no way to guarantee a horse will never spook. After all, they're prey animals and even if they've been solid mounts that we think of as "bomb proof", that doesn't mean that some new experience or the scent of a predator won't spook them. HOWEVER, you can work to desensitize your horse to most common experiences and that will certainly make your time with your horse less eventful than it sounds like it's been so far.

We have an article written by a horse trainer entitled: Step 9: Despooking. You may notice part of the article's title states that this is "Step 9". That doesn't mean that it's step 9 of de-spooking; rather, it's the ninth in a series of training articles dealing with common horse problems. You may find some of the other articles also helpful with your young horse. Good luck!

November 29, 2012 – FROM BOARDER TO BARN OWNER?

I have been boarding my horses for over 20 years and have been wanting my own barn for almost as long. Lately, I'm very unhappy with the current barn and its owner. The truth is, she's a witch! I'd like to start my own place and provide a haven for people who want to board at a nice barn. I think I'm finally in a good enough financial place to do it, and the economy appears to have pushed prices down to where I have a chance.

My husband is supportive, but has reservations. He keeps saying this is a bigger undertaking than I realize. I think I really do understand what we'd be getting into, but I promised him I would write you guys for your opinion. Do you agree that this can be a good idea as I believe it is?

Well, what I think isn't really important. It truly is about what you and your husband think. Though you've submitted one question, there are actually two parts to it. One is your desire to bring your own horse(s) home. The second is starting your own boarding barn.

Often, and as recently as three days ago, someone new to horses expresses their desire to bring their horse home. I try to give them the facts about the huge undertaking they're contemplating as well as a feeling for the great amount of knowledge they need to truly care for a horse. In your case, you sound like an experienced horse person who could be capable of caring for one or more horses. That said, things definitely do get more complex when you add the horses of others to the mix as well as all the responsibilities of running the whole shebang as a business. In addition, no barn should just accept all interested boarders, you should also "vet" them, as you do a horse or used car you're considering buying. That's because some people fit and some don't.

So, I'm going to recommend that you read several articles we have that discuss the various parts of your intended goal. I think it'll help you a lot. Here they are:

Starting Your Own Boarding Barn

Avoiding Typical Horse Business Pitfalls in a Recession

Hiring a Barn Building Contractor

Vetting and Working with Boarders

If you want to take over an existing business, you should read Buying A Horse Farm – Part 1 and Part 2. Please do read these articles before proceeding. The more you understand just what you'd be getting into, the better you'll make the best decision for YOU.

Whatever you decide, I wish you luck and hope you have a lot of fun!

November 28, 2012 – HORSES AND SNOW

It's snowing here today for the first time this year. When I ride my horse in the snow, she gets excited and runs around and kicks up the snow, even when I'm riding her. Do horses actually like snow? Is it ok that we ride in it?

I don't know how much they like it when a winter languishes on, but horses certainly seem to enjoy it when it's the first snow of the season, is light and fluffy, and not too deep. They get excited at the fact that it feels different and new.

Dogs act the same way. They love to frolic in new snow and play with humans or other dogs as they kick it up. I've also found that both dogs and horses seem to enjoy running around in it while it's falling. For that matter, most kids (and some of us adults) also enjoy the first snow of the season.

As for riding, sure, you can ride as long as you take reasonable precautions. Obviously, there is some loss of traction, so you want to take that into consideration if you're going to go faster than the walk or climb any kind of incline. Personally, I would stay off any steep hills — they can be quite dangerous with less traction available.

Have fun!

November 27, 2012 – GPS FOR THE TRAIL

I'd like to get a GPS for my boyfriend for Christmas that we can use on the trails. He's the techie and I do not know much about this stuff. Can you tell me a good one to buy?

There are many GPS units that will work well for the trail and they come at widely different price points depending on the features you (and he) might enjoy and the amount of money you're able to spend on this gift. Therefore, I'm not comfortable recommending a specific product. However, we have an article describing the important features a GPS unit should have for this application. That article should help you have the right talking points to discuss with the sales person when you go shopping for the unit. The article is entitled: A GPS for Trail Riding.

I want to add a few more points. Today, you have more options than a GPS unit dedicated to riding and hiking. There are GPS watches you can buy and and you also can download a GPS application for your smartphone. These are two additional options you may also want to consider as you shop for your boyfriend's gift. The GPS app will likely be the cheapest approach, but I don't know whether or not it will be as sensitive a unit as a high-Sensitivity GPS unit. High-sensitivity is one of the most important features you should look for in a GPS as well as the ability to display topo maps. Like hiking, trail riding is done off the roads, so the ability to still see your location and the local topography, and the ability to receive a GPS signal in a valley and under a thick canopy are both extremely important.

Finally, you stated that your boyfriend is the "techie". Instead of trying to surprise him, this gift might work out better if you tell him your intention to buy him this gift, but you'd like to research and get it together to make sure it has the features he desires. I've used this approach many times and it has worked out very well. It also avoids returning a gift that didn't quote meet the needs and desires of the beneficiary.

Good luck!

November 26, 2012 – BRINGING YOUR HORSE HOME?

I am a new rider and horse owner and want to bring my horse home from where I board him so I can close to him. Besides a barn, what else do I need to have? I know I do not need an arena right away. Do I need a tractor?

Bringing your horse home is not just a matter of having the right facilities and equipment, it's much more about having sufficient knowledge and experience. Anybody with the money can buy a farm with all the buildings and equipment they could desire and still not be able to properly care for their horses. One needs significant knowledge of diseases, their symptoms and treatment so they can identify and treat (or call the vet) in time to save a horse, knowledge about feeds and maintaining health and weight, and much more. Therefore, if you're truly new to riding and horse ownership, you likely have enough on your hands just learning more about horse safety, refining your riding, refining your horse handling technique, etc. — there really is lots to know to do these things properly and safely.

How much have you truly thought this goal of yours through? For example, your horse will want companionship. Will that be another horse or some companion animal, such as a goat or llama? Could you identify equine health problems soon enough to save your horse if he has such a problem? For example, would you recognize signs of choke, colic, tying up? Would you know what to do if you did recognize symptoms of a problem? The foregoing issues just scratches the surface.

I think you should definitely keep boarding your horse for a while. Use the opportunity to work with your barn owner to develop some good horse handling skills to address different situations you're likely to encounter when you do bring your horse home. This experience will greatly increase the chances of caring for your own horse for the long term. "Learning by doing" at the risk of your horse's health and possible life at risk is not a smart way to begin this process.

We have some articles you may want to read:

Can You Care For Your Own Horse?

Keep Your Horses Safe Around the Farm

Feed Tags, Food Packages and Tunnel Vision

Equine Insurance and Why it Matters

We have many more articles that can help you ready yourself for successfully caring for your own horse on your property, but this is a good start. Feel free to write to us with other questions as they crop up.

November 21, 2012 – COLD-WEATHER RIDING

What's the story on riding in cold weather? Are there clothes one can get to ride in winter?

Yes, these days, there are many options to keep you warm and dry in cold weather no matter what you're doing. But in the case of horseback riding, there are some additional concerns, such as hardy outerwear that won't rip if it catches a branch as you ride by. There's also specific footwear. And you can't forget ways to keep your head warm while also wearing a protective helmet.

Because of all these differences, staying warm in cold-weather riding warranted its own article that you should read. It's entitled: Winter Riding & Staying Warm.


Hi! We are buying a horse farm and the seller is offering us his big farm tractor with bucket, bush hog, a manure spreader, a small tractor/mower, an ATV to deliver hay bales, and a big loader/backhoe for an additional $30,000. Is this a good deal?

That's hard to tell because you haven't provided enough information to make a value assessment of the subject equipment. How big is the loader/backhoe? How about the farm tractor? To make such an assessment, you need to get model numbers, year of each item, size, current condition, major features, etc., and have a local farm equipment business or professional give you an estimate of their current value.

In addition, you need to ask yourself what you're going to do with this farm? Are you intending to run the farm as it had been run? Or are you scaling down or running it as some other kind of farm, such as converting a cattle farm to a horse farm? Even the area where you live can affect current equipment value because it's also based on demand and available stock. If lots of people are trying to sell farm and construction equipment and there are few buyers, the equipment will be cheap. If there are many buyers and little available stock, prices can be much higher.

Depending on the property you're buying, its size, and its intended use, this equipment could be useful to you if it's in good operating condition and properly priced. If it isn't, you'd be better off passing on the seller's offer and buying what you need on the used market as you need it. That means you're less likely to purchase something you may never need.

$30,000 is not a lot of money for the equipment you mention if it's in good condition and properly matched and sized for the jobs you'll need to do around the farm. But you've got to make that determination of use and matching to even decide whether or not this is the right equipment for your intended job before you decide to consider this equipment for purchase, irrespective of its value. And if you're considering buying and reselling this equipment for more money and buying what you need, be very careful here because that is not a business you know nor do you likely know any of the potential buyers or agents you might need to sell and move that equipment.

I'm sorry we can't be of more help, but I hope the foregoing explains why that is and what you need to do to get a proper valuation of the equipment and its applicability to your farm and your intended uses. This should be a business decision based upon business imperatives.


Hi! I compete and keep my horse clipped for the show circuit. This year I started doing some trail riding and really like it. I'd like to trail ride occasionally throughout winter if the weather allows, but have concerns about my horse being clipped and catching a cold. I remove my horse's blanket when riding in the arena, but what do I do when riding outside in the winter, especially on really cold and windy days? Can I just put my saddle over my horse's blanket?

No! Horses have a big reserve of heat energy stored in their large bodies. If you want to ride in any weather, remove sheets and blankets, tack up your horse, and ride, whether in an indoor arena or outside on a trail. Your horse will generate heat while working and should be fine in almost any weather.

When your ride is over, bring your horse into the barn, remove his tack, and place a cooler on your horse. A cooler is a light blanket (usually made of fleece) that will absorb perspiration as well as keep your horse warm while he cools down and dries. When that has happened, remove the cooler, replace it with his blanket, and then place him in his stall or outside (if that's where he usually is).

If you left his blanket on him while riding, he could easily overheat from the work he's doing and get very wet from his perspiration. That would cause him a dangerous chilling effect when he cools down because he'll have trouble keeping adequate body heat if wet. You want him to be warm and dry before you return him to his blanket and daily routine. The cooler keeps him warm while he dries as well as absorbing that perspiration. Remove the cooler and the moisture it holds as soon as he's cool and dry and replace his normal blanket.

November 16, 2012 – WASHERS & DRYERS FOR BARNS?

I want to get a washer and dryer for our barn but do not know what to get. Any suggestions of what to look for in all the different models?

For barn use, the first characteristic any washer or dryer needs to have for me is be BIG. Horse sheets and blankets are big and bulky and you need big machines to clean and dry them. Smaller items, like wraps can go into any machine, but most things you'll wash will be large.

I prefer washing machines WITHOUT agitators for these big horse items. The agitator is just another thing that can catch and rip a blanket, so its presence is not missed on machines without one. Fortunately, many washing machines these days don't have agitators and dryers never did.

Water and electricity saving features are always nice. It's great to save money on both every time you use these machines as well as the fact they impact the environment to a lower degree. Check the Energy Star rating to find the most efficient and "green" machines. If you consider pressing older, existing machines into service for the purpose of your barn laundry, remember that the washer is likely to have an agitator and both it and the dryer will be less efficient to run than more recent products.

I hope this helps!

November 15, 2012 – CAT SLEEPING ON HORSE?

I found one of our barn cats sleeping on the back of one of the horses in our barn this morning. Is this dangerous for either the horse or the cat?

The sleeping itself should be safe, but this might present a risk to the cat if he should slide off the horse while sleeping, startle the horse, and possibly getting stepped on in the chaos. I've seen this "cat sleeping on horse" behavior at several barns and heard about it at others. It becomes more common as the weather gets colder. The cat and horse get used to each other and benefit from each other's heat.

The thing I've often wondered about, however, is how the cat orchestrates that first time of getting onto the horse's back. Does the cat climb up onto the stall wall and then step carefully onto the horse's back to see how the horse will react? Or does the cat jump up onto the horse from the ground? Either way, that first time must come as quite a surprise to the horse and it's fair to say that I suspect not all horses will allow it. After all, that's exactly what a mountain lion would do to attack a horse. Nevertheless, as you and I have seen, some horses are comfortable with it and it seems to serve the cat and the horse well on cold nights.


I want to look at horse trailers and trucks this winter so I can get them for next year's riding season. But I don't know how to start. I don't know what trailer to get because I don't have a truck yet. If I get a truck and then the trailer, what if the truck can't pull it? What should I buy first, the trailer or the truck?

Well, you actually answered your own question. But I elaborated (as always — can't help myself) and placed my (expanded) response in the form of an article entitled: Buy the Trailer or Truck First?.


How well do the insulated buckets work? I have looked at several and spoken with the dealers. They all say they work well but won't guarantee that water inside them will never freeze. If they're so good, why won't they guarantee them? Would electrically heated buckets work better?

This turned out to require a comprehensive response, so we turned it into an article. You can read it at: Water Buckets for Cold Weather.

November 12, 2012 – EQUINE AFFAIR 2012

Well, we're back from the 2012 Equine Affaire. It started slowly and didn't quite reach the number of visitors we've seen in prior years. Many of us suspect that was due to the recent storm hit by Hurricane Sandy. While almost all of us from the mid-Atlantic states through New York to New England experienced some of its furor with loss of power and broken trees, New Jersey, the New York City area, and the coastal areas from Virginia through Massachusetts were particularly hard hit. Many are still without power and some visitors to the show told us sad stories of how they're still not able to be in their homes and have been forced to find other living accommodations because they experienced high flooding at their homes, some to over 10 feet above their first floors from the storm surges. Still, they expressed how good it was to get away from it all and enjoy the company of other horse people.

The show itself introduced some new products and we got to again catch up with old friends from all over the country and some from other countries. We also made new friends, some of them experts in diverse fields of the horse world that have expressed an interest in writing for QueryHorse. We're excited that we'll be able to bring their knowledge and experience to you in the coming months!

The HorseGirl and I appreciate and thank all of you that were able to stop by and say hello, and look forward to the new year and the many new friends we met at the show! Tomorrow, we return to answering your questions about the many facets of horses and their world.

November 7, 2012 – A SERIOUS MOUND OF MUCK!

We bought a horse farm five years ago and our muck pile is getting really big. We only have four horses. How long is it going to take for this pile to break down, anyway? Isn't horse muck naturally biodegradable?

WOW!!! Considering that the average horse produces about 40 - 60 pounds of manure per day, for 365 days, that's an average of 18,000 pounds (9 tons) in just one year. With four horses over five years, that's 180 tons or 360,000 pounds, and that doesn't even include an estimate for the bedding that was shoveled out with that manure — you weren't kidding — that's a VERY LARGE pile, indeed! Did you not think of asking someone this question sooner?

Yes, horse manure is biodegradable. But it takes a lot longer when it's in a pile. In fact, even just one small pile of horse droppings in a paddock can hang around for months left as is. But it will generally be gone in two or three weeks if you break it up and spread it around. That's because the microbes effecting the breakdown of wastes have access to most of the waste particles when broken up and spread around. But in a pile, they just have access to the outside of the pile and the breakdown process takes much longer. Also, the breakdown process is a lot faster during the hot days of summer than the cold days of winter when the microbes work slowly, if at all.

As for the SUPER PILE you've already accumulated, you have several options. If you have the land, you can break it up and spread it around. If not, you can have it bucket loaded and trucked away. There are firms that provide this service for a fee. You can also use some of it in a compost pile for future use in your garden. But based on the current pile's rather generous mass, so to speak, I doubt you're going to want to create and manage a compost pile of that size. You'd also need to have a fairly large garden to make use of it all (perhaps like a square mile of corn fields, give or take).

On the other hand, if you did make a super compost pile and have lots of gardeners in your vicinity, you could likely sell the final product to many of these gardeners when the compost is ready. The compost makes a terrific additive to almost any garden. If you go this route, you should either research or get experienced help in how to best form and manage the pile.

One more thing, this is so large a pile that I strongly suspect it entails special concern, such as possibly generating a large amount of microbial heat. By that I mean you could be at risk for spontaneous combustion in that pile. This is especially a concern if you use hay or straw as bedding material and you have the pile somewhat enclosed; this would allow the heat to accumulate and could be a serious fire danger. You need to address that muck pile immediately for potential safety reasons.

Good luck!


When should I have my horses shoes taken off for the winter?

The reason we make horses barefoot in the winter is so that snow and ice don't accumulate into a frozen ball under their hooves. Such a ball is not only slippery on many surfaces, and therefore risks a fall, it also can put the horse off balance and put severe strains on his legs from unnatural standing and walking positions. So, it's good to have a horse's shoes removed in colder climates before the first snowfall. If you live in such a climate and don't have your horse's shoes removed before a snowstorm hits, you'll be forced to keep him inside, or at least in areas where there isn't any snow until his shoes can be removed. Considering that it's still significantly above freezing in much of the country, there's still time for you to enjoy some outdoors rides for the next few weeks or more.

Of course, if you'd like to ride through the winter, consider having your horse shod with pads and shoes with Borium strips at his next shoeing. Borium is made of tungsten carbide in a carrier which is affixed to the horseshoe. Tungsten carbide is very hard and used on tool bits, such as the teeth of a power saw blade. The result is a material that wears well on ice, concrete, and pavement, and also provides much better traction than shoes without Borium. The pads will keep snow from melting against the warm hooves and then forming the aforementioned ice ball when that melt and additional snow freezes against the cold metal horseshoe.

Some horses are fine being ridden barefoot throughout the winter. Whether or not your horse falls into this category depends on the quality of his hooves. The irony is that almost all horses can have hard, solid hooves capable of going anywhere without shoes winter or summer. But it requires that they spend much of their time on harder surfaces than is typical for most domestic horses. These days, many horses spend their lives on soft grass in their pastures and their hooves don't have to get hard to sustain them on such a soft surface.

November 5, 2012 – HORSES, AUTUMN, AND WIND

Why does my horse get spooked and uptight when the wind blows? This happens especially when we go from summer into colder weather. After a couple weeks of this, my horse is fine again. It makes no sense but I know the weather causes it.

You're correct in that the weather causes the behavior you describe; and I assert that it DOES MAKE SENSE. The reason this occurs is partially instinctual. In the wild, most animals, including horses, usually migrate to warmer locations or altitudes when autumn arrives to herald the approaching winter. Generally, the herd has found a relatively safe place to graze and live for the warmer months. Then, the approaching winter spawns a need to move.

The move itself means that the herd will again be exposed to more dangers as they cross into and through the territories of unknown predators, so the horses instinctually go into a higher state of alert when the colder weather arrives. Though horses have been domesticated for several thousands of years, instinctual changes generally take much longer. Even then, while horses are safer than in the wild, they're still prey animals and will likely always have an increased awareness to keep safe.

Now, let's add the wind. The wind generally picks up as cooler weather arrives and causes its own concerns for horses. For one thing, it makes things move, such as leaves, bushes, and debris being blown across the ground. Any of these things can look like a danger to a horse and they can get a little jumpy. Add the noise of the wind (which makes it harder to hear the subtle sounds of a stalking predator approaching), and you've got some skittish horses. For a more thorough treatment of how wind affects horses, see our article on Horses and Wind.

Finally, your horse calms down again as he gets used to the wind and associated movement of leaves and other things around him. Essentially, he becomes somewhat desensitized as he again gets used to what's normal for this time of year. So, as you can see, it really does make sense.

October 30 - November 2, 2012 – NO POSTINGS DUE TO HURRICANE SANDY

No postings were able to be made because we had no electric power and no Internet access due to Hurricane Sandy.


My husband installed a brake controller in my pickup truck to pull my horse trailer. The brake controller stays on all the time, even when the trailer is not connected and the truck is not running. Is that ok?

A number of brake controllers are designed this way. The manufacturers claim that they draw very little electricity, so we shouldn't worry about discovering a dead truck battery some morning. I presume they work this way so that we don't accidently turn the controller off or forget to turn it on when we attach a trailer. But like you, it bothers me.

So, I disconnect the cable connected to the controller when I'm not towing a trailer and reconnect it when I connect a trailer. This has worked fine for me thus far. HOWEVER, you must remember to connect the controller EVERY TIME you attach a trailer or the trailer will not have operational brakes.


There's a big storm coming up the coast and I am afraid we're going to lose power in our barn. We have a generator for the house. Can I also connect it to the barn for a few hours each day so I can see what I am doing when cleaning stalls?

You can connect it for your barn lighting if you do it right. Follow these precautions:

  1. There needs to be a transfer switch connected to the service panel and the large receptacle into which you tie the generator. When the switch is in one position, the barn will get power normally from the electric grid. When it's in the other position, the switch will disconnect the barn from the grid and connect it to the generator. The switch prevents electricity going out onto the power lines and electrocuting linemen working on the line. It also protects the generator.

    If the generator were connected directly to the power line and the power came on from your utility, your generator could essentially explode and break apart because it would likely not be in phase with the power coming from the utility. We don't have the space here to talk about phasing generators, but suffice it to say you need to assure there is a transfer switch installed before you can use your generator to power the barn. If there isn't one, you need an electrician.

    You also want the barn to have its own transfer switch because many small barns are connected to same circuits as the house. It's unlikely your generator could power the barn and house simultaneously unless it was sized for the larger load. In that case, you'd already be connected and wouldn't have needed to ask your question here. If the barn is already connected with its own transfer switch, but you've just never connected a generator to it, read on.

  2. You need to make sure the generator load capacity is greater than the electrical load you expect from the barn. If all you need is power for lighting, most but the smallest generators should work fine. But if you intend to additionally power pumps, water heaters, washing machines, dryers, and such, it almost assuredly won't have sufficient capacity. Ask your electrician to determine whether your generator is large enough to use for your intended load.
  3. You need to keep the generator outside while it runs and you also need to make sure that its engine exhaust doesn't get drawn into the barn. If it does, your life and that of anyone else and any animal in the barn would be at risk of asphyxiation. Generally, you want the generator to be placed at least 15 - 20 feet away from any building, especially away from the buildings doors, windows, vents, etc.

    Also, given a mixed atmosphere of oxygen and carbon monoxide (CO), the hemoglobin in our blood actually PREFERS AND BINDS MORE EASILY with carbon monoxide than with oxygen. That makes the presence of CO even more dangerous and a very good reason to MAKE SURE you don't have generator exhaust going into your barn. Therefore, keep the generator away from the barn.

  4. DO NOT run the generator outside if it's raining or there's water on the ground. You risk electrocuting yourself, other people, and animals.
  5. DO NOT refuel the generator while it's hot. The vapors could ignite from the engine's heat and explode in your face, especially because the flame will follow the vapors into the gasoline can.
I hope the foregoing helps. The best way to install a generator is to actually have it done by a qualified electrician. There's just too much that can go wrong when homeowners try to do the job itself without the knowledge and experience necessary.

October 25, 2012 – WALKING ON ICE WITH A HORSE?

Is it possible to walk my horse on an icy surface?

Yes, but you've got to be VERY, VERY CAREFUL. Whether mounted or leading, you MUST BE SURE the icy is thick enough to support the weight of both you and the horse if the ice is over water. If the ice is on sturdy ground, you still want to be sure that it's level and that you both will have adequate traction to finish crossing the stretch of ice without falling, whether it's just a couple of feet or much longer.

Personally, I stay off any kind of ice with my horse. I won't ride nor lead him across it. In fact, in some winters with lots of slick ice on the ground, my barn and many around will keep the horses inside for several days until some melting makes it safer for them. That's because a horse could fall and injure or break his leg or injure his hoof. Unfortunately, a broken leg or serious injury there or to a hoof can be a life-ending injury for a horse. So why take such a chance?

Another risk is that you could fall and slide under your horse and cause him to fall onto you. If that were to happen, your chances of survival would be bleak. From a 600 pound pony to a 2,500 draft and anything in between, our bodies are not designed to take such an impact onto us.

So, why not do what I do and just stay off the ice with your horse. You'll likely both be healthier and live longer by doing so.


I bought a new saddle this summer and have concerns about leaving it in the tack room in our barn. There is no heat there. Will that make my saddle crack?

Saddles usually survive the colder weather ok. The fact that many saddles are stored in unheated barns is a testament to that fact. The leather has a harder time with the low humidity and the dust and dirt stirred up at many barns.

Low humidity dries out the leather and it can become stiff and somewhat fragile. The dirt floors of many barns get stirred up by people and horses moving by and settles on everything, including what's in the tack room. My recommendation is to keep saddles in the same spaces that we like, namely, in clean, heated spaces with fairly constant humidity in the 40 - 60% range.

If that's not possible and you need to keep your saddle in the unheated tack room at your barn, at least clean it with a good leather cleaner whenever necessary. Also, nourish it with a good leather preservative. Doing both will keep the dirt and dust from getting ground into the leather every time you handle and ride on it and will also keep it soft and supple so it won't crack. Of course, you should also do this during the heat and humidity of summer. There's still dust and dirt to remove in the warm weather and the preservative will help keep mold growing moisture out of your saddle.

And don't forget to do the same during all seasons with your bridle, reins, and any other leather tack you use (martingales, saddle bags, leather surcingles, wither bags, pommel bags, double-off billets, etc.)

October 23, 2012 – WINTER RIDING WEAR

What kinds of things should I wear for cold weather riding?

Wow! Is it already that cold outside? It's only October? Well, I will admit that it's a good idea to get what you need early and be ready for the colder weather when it arrives.

I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on this topic a while ago that should answer your questions. If it leaves some of your questions unanswered, please write back with your specific question(s) and I'm happy to respond. The article is entitled: Winter Riding & Staying Warm.

October 22, 2012 – BUYING A FIRST HORSE

I am a new rider and want to buy my first horse. Can you provide me with a list of things to check or direct me to that kind of list? I don't want to miss something or buy a bad horse.

I'm sorry, but buying a horse is a much more complicated purchase than just using a checklist. You don't mention anything about your riding experience or even about experience caring for a horse. You do mention this would be your first horse and that you're new to riding and horses, so this is not a pursuit you should undertake alone.

You should get a friend very experienced with horses to go with you to evaluate horses you think you might want to purchase. When you find that horse and your friend approves that it should work well for your needs, you then need to have a veterinarian check out the horse before you actually buy it. No reputable seller will have a problem with that. The vet will evaluate the horse and will check the horses health and soundness for your intended purposes. You definitely DO NOT want to skip this check and only a vet can do it right.

Buying a horse requires both knowledge and experience separate from the additional need for a vet — you need both. Do this process correctly and the likelihood of avoiding a lame horse and getting the one of your dreams goes up significantly.


Do they canter on public trail rides? I want to try riding horses but don't know how to canter and don't want to fall off and get hurt.

This is a good question and you're a wise person to ask it.

Public trail rides come in various colors and sizes. The barn where you'll ride will have its own policies. Some limit rides to the walk, others might add trotting, and still others will ride all the gates with sufficiently experienced riders.

Generally, those barns offering all the riding gates will group the riders based upon their riding experience. Riders generally have to select their riding level from a list, e.g. Basic (walking), Intermediate (Walk, Trot), and Advanced (Walk, Trot, Canter, and maybe Gallop) on the liability waiver they must sign before mounting. This way, if a rider exaggerates his skill level, falls off and gets hurt, the barn is protected legally. Of course, for those of us that really do ride, we don't want to be limited to walking and trotting and are usually riding outdoors specifically so we can canter and gallop some of the ride.

So, inquire at the public riding venues that you're considering trying and see what they offer. You DON'T WANT to exaggerate your skill level. Rather, select your actual level and ride safely. You can always select higher levels as you actually learn to ride those gates.

Oh! And NEVER decline a riding helmet on the waiver! ALWAYS wear a helmet when riding horses.

Have Fun!

October 18, 2012 – "A NORMAL SIZE" TRAILER?

Can I move a couple large horses in a normal size 2 horse trailer?

It depends. You don't mention what size horses you have and you also don't mention what you mean by a "normal-size 2-horse trailer". Many of today's standard 2-horse, 6 foot wide trailers have enough height for almost any horse, including drafts. However, they're usually not wide enough for draft-size horses unless you get the wider version which is usually seven or more feet wide.

As for the trailer itself, there's no substitute for measuring the actual trailer you intend to use and also measuring the horse itself. If you actually have a wide, 7 foot trailer made for drafts, it should work with almost any horse. In fact, it may be too wide for the average horse who might bounce around between wall and separator.

If you have a smaller trailer, then you definitely need to take measurements because I wouldn't consider any trailer "normal-size" — trailer sizes can vary too much. And with older trailers, many I've seen vary in width and height even more than modern trailers — you need to measure or actually try fitting the horses into the trailer and determine whether they fit properly or not.


I've been wanting to buy another horse for a long time. The college I'm attending is selling some of its Polo horses and there's one that I've ridden and like a lot. I mentioned getting her to my parents but they don't think that now is a good time to buy because I can't take care of it while I'm on campus and it's another animal for them to handle daily. But I really like the horse and don't want to lose her to someone else. What would you recommend? Any ideas?

Well, you're really putting me in a spot between you and your parents. I certainly understand their point of view. You buy the horse (maybe with your own money/maybe with theirs), and then they have to feed, care, and clean up after it while you're away. In addition, the horse isn't really being ridden or trained because, well, you're away. I also see your position, namely, that you feel this horse is somewhat special and hate to lose the opportunity to get her.

If the horse is already on campus, is there facility for you to board her there? You didn't mention your major, but there are many colleges that allow students to bring and keep horses on campus. These institutions often teach equine science programs, have Polo and other equine sports, etc. Does your college offer these kinds of services and opportunities?

If you were seeing, riding, and providing some or most of the care for this horse daily, you might be able to make a better case to your parents for buying this horse. At least you could justify it more by virtue of the fact that you're with and training/riding the horse and they're not burdened with its care. In the absence of the ability to keep the horse on campus, do you have a friend or relative that could take the horse for now, use it to keep the horse in work and get some benefit from it, and perhaps defray the costs of feed and care while you're at school?

That's about all I can think of at this time that might make this opportunity somewhat viable. Good luck!

October 16, 2012 – HOW MUCH TURNOUT PER DAY?

How much turnout should our horses get? Some barns around here brag about having 4 hours of turnout while others claim 6 or more. Is there any standard?

No, there are no standards, though I wish there were. When you think about it, horses in the wild get 24 hours of turnout per day. Barns are our idea.

At the barn where my horse is kept, they get turned out by 6:30 am and brought in between 4 -5:00 PM. That averages about 10 hours per day. We have barns around here that also brag about 4 hours of turnout — I laugh when I hear that because I don't think that's nearly enough time. But I've heard worse.

A friend living in Boston told me that many barns around major cities are crowded with small paddock space, so their horses only get one or two hours out each day. This is because the horses get rotated through the paddocks with such limited space available. And a barn in my area is so fearful of a horse getting hurt or somehow damaging their coats that they're kept in their stalls unless in training or showing — I consider that almost criminal.

So, to answer your question, I suggest that you get your horses as much turnout as possible. I do prefer to have my horse inside on the coldest days of winter with severe wind, in heavy rain on days of 50°F and lower, and during severe storms and hurricanes. Otherwise, I like him to be outside with his friends.

October 15, 2012 – HORSE BONDING WITH HUMAN?

I love horses but can't seem to get close to my mare and bond with her so she gets excited to see me when I arrive. My dog loves me but it seems my horse couldn't care less. Do horses ever bond with their owner?

Yes, they can. But you need to seriously consider whether you really want what you think you do.

Many horse lovers long for the same kind of relationship with a horse as they have with dogs. However, such a relationship, while possible, is not truly desirable for most of us. That's because we can't take our horses into our homes with us, in our cars for a trip, etc. Horses, because of their size, waste habits, food requirements, etc., can't live with us the way dogs and cats can.

When horses bond, they want to spend ALL of their time together. That's not usually a problem for two horses when they can share a barn and a paddock — they don't have to go to work, school, or have family responsibilities. Even though they can be together most of the time, if you separate them to take one of them riding, they will both whinny and cry out to each other as you lead one away, load it onto a trailer, and drive off for a ride.

Do you really want a horse to do that and feel longing every time you leave the barn or go out of site? What about vacations? Are you willing to forego them while your horse is alive? Horses don't understand such things, or not being with them at the barn or paddock on Thanksgiving or on Christmas — you get the idea?

Perhaps you can learn how to be your horse's leader so she comes when you arrive and listens to your commands. But bonding is a much tighter relationship than most people truly want and can fulfill with a horse.


How long should I cut up my horse's carrots?

That can depend on the horse. Horses that are calm, chew their food well, and then swallow before taking another bite are generally safe to receive a whole carrot. Conversely, horses that "inhale" their food and don't finish chewing before grabbing another bite should receive carrots in smaller pieces, such as about 1.5 - 2 inch long. Even then, with a fast eating horse, it's not a bad idea to give him a piece, let him eat it, and then give him the next.

With the most avaricious horses, it's a good idea to offer a carrot piece and walk away for 30 seconds or so to let him eat that piece. Then, return and give him the next. If you don't do that with the greedy eaters, they'll chew a few times and then try to get another piece while there are still mashed carrot pieces in their mouth. The concern with them is that they'll swallow too much or too large a piece and will choke.


I need to buy a big horse trailer to regularly move 8 - 10 horses from our barn to weekly shows. What's better, a 5th wheel hitch or a gooseneck?

They're both solid hitches and you can find each capable of towing over a 30,000 pound load. That said, I would op for a gooseneck trailer. I say that because all of the large horse trailers I've ever seen use gooseneck hitches. I'm sure that some people have purchased trailers with fifth wheel hitches. But because they appear to be so rare and gooseneck-hitch trailers seem to be so prevalent, I'd go with the majority.

Here's why: if you were towing a load of horses and your tow vehicle broke down, it'd be a lot easier for you to find someone who can tow a gooseneck trailer and rescue your horses because of their widespread use. Conversely, you'd likely have a lot of trouble finding someone capable of towing a fifth wheel trailer because most people use goosenecks instead. I've seen some fifth wheel camping trailers, but on horse trailers, they seem to be very uncommon.


I am about to buy my first horse and will need to buy a saddle. I could just get recommendations from my riding instructor or riding friends, but I would really like to learn more about saddles and make my own decision. Can you help me?

You don't state your riding discipline, what you're looking for in a saddle, and anything else, so we're severely limited on information. Though, even if you did provide more, we'd still only be able to offer suggestions of what you should investigate because a saddle is a pretty personal piece of tack and one that is best decided by the rider. However, I wanted to do the same several years ago and wanted to know much more about what was the current state of saddle development and what was currently available. So, I went on a year-long saddle evaluation process examining, sitting in, and trying various saddles. I eventually felt comfortable enough that I was adequately aware of the current offerings and ordered a custom saddle. I've been delightfully happy with it and feel my yearlong evaluation was time well spent.

I documented my experiences in a series of eight articles entitled Saddle Search. If interested, you can start reading Saddle Search – Part 1: A Secure Saddle, Fit, & Comfort here. If I was going to buy another saddle, I would undertake the process again. Technology keeps advancing and without becoming abreast of recent learning, we make our decisions based on past knowledge, or worse, manufacturer's hype. Like you, I prefer to make knowledgeable decisions about purchases.

I hope this helps!

October 9, 2012 – HORSES AND MUSIC

Will playing music in my barn keep my horses calm? I mean, is it ok to play the radio in the barn? Is it good for the horses?

I must admit, this is the first time someone has ever asked me this question. Well, there is the saying that "music calms the savage beast". So, it is reasonable to assume that it can also calm the rest of us, including prey animals. But more important, there are also studies analyzing the effects of music on humans, different types of animals, and plants (yes, even plants) showing that both the kind of music and its volume can calm or upset these different life forms.

Generally, the kind of music that calms humans or animals is slower, restful music at lower volumes. Loud, hard rock, metal, etc., and the less melodic and more freeform styles of jazz or classical music, especially at high volumes, tend to upset animals and raise their adrenalin levels. So, if you want a calming influence, pick softer, slower music and play it at lower volumes that let everyone rest.

Of course, it's ok to play more upbeat music that gets you going and makes it easier to get work done in and around the barn. But try to keep the volume down and stay away from the harder forms of music. Loud music of any kind upsets animals because it can sound like loud, dangerous noises (falling objects, explosions, thunder, fire, etc.) and it also covers the sound of approaching predators. Being able to hear the birds, breezes, and yes, even the flies buzzing around, will tend to let the horses feel that all is normal and ok.

October 8, 2012 – EQUINE CAREERS

I love horses and have been riding all my life and am a junior in high school. I want to pick a college that teaches horse related careers. I know about being a trainer and a horse vet. What other careers are there?

You might be surprised to find that there are quite a few careers in the horse world. When most of us think about equine careers, the ones you mentioned usually come to mind as well as riding instructors, horse boarding barns, farriers, and such. But there are many, many more.

We have an article that speaks to this topic, quantifies the market, and lists almost 60 careers. Of course, there are still many more than that and the article will attempt to get you thinking about all the possibilities. The article is entitled: Equine Occupations - A Starting Point.

Good luck with your future career plans!

October 5, 2012 – TOXIC RED MAPLE LEAVES

I just learned that red maple leaves are poisonous to horses. I keep my 2 horse at home and have some trees with red maple leaves. How poisonous are these leaves? Should I cut the trees down? What if my horse has eaten some of the leaves during the summer?

I think you can relax a little. Not all types of maple trees are poisonous. In addition, not all trees bearing red maple leaves are themselves Red Maple trees. Finally, the leaves are not toxic when they're green, so if your horses did eat some during the summer, they shouldn't cause a problem. The leaves become toxic when they wilt and can still be toxic when they've dried.

Normally, a horse that has eaten toxic leaves will show symptoms within a couple of days. Symptoms include weakness and a lack of energy, an increased heart rate, and an increased breathing rate. An additional symptom that often catches the attention of the owner is a reddish-brown urine.

If you see any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately. If you don't know whether or not your trees are truly Red Maple, many vets can tell by examining the leaves and the bark of the tree. You can also get identification help by checking with your local Cooperative Extension Service. These are services offered all over the U.S. by the USDA through local universities, most often the state university. If you do have some of these trees in or near your pasture, you should consider having them removed.

One more thing: horses generally prefer to eat grass or hay rather than red maple leaves. Therefore, just assuring that your horse has adequate grazing will significantly reduce the chances of his eating these leaves.

October 4, 2012 – HERD MENTALITY

Do all horses have a "herd mentality?" If so, can it be changed?

I can't say for sure that all horses do, but all of them with which I've interacted did, and I suspect that all horses do feel similarly. The reasons that horses are herd-focused are:

  1. They are very social animals and enjoy being with other horses; and
  2. Their first priority is staying safe, and there is safety in numbers. That's because having many alert horses together makes it more likely that a predator will be discovered early and the horses can defend themselves from predators more successfully as a herd than alone.
As to your second question, yes, you can usually make a horse less concerned about being with a herd of other horses. You do that by gaining his trust and having him view you as his leader instead of another horse. If your horse believes that you can protect him best, he will always want to be with you and follow you.


Is there anything special I should do to put my horse trailer away for winter?

I do several things. First, I like to throw out any hay remaining in the hay bags, sweep the floor clean, and hose down the interior to remove any remaining horse waste products. This goes far to removing lingering odors and makes the trailer feel cleaner when you put it into service again in the spring.

For storage, I look to put my trailer on high, stable ground for the winter. That means that water won't pool around it and cause the trailer to sink in mud during heavy rains or the spring thaw. When you select your storage location, also make sure the trailer won't be under any trees that can drop snow, pieces of ice, or branches and limbs that can break under any snow load we may receive during the winter. It's also good to keep it away from your house or barn so snow and ice sliding off the roof won't pound onto your trailer and perhaps damage its roof or sides.

Finally, make sure you chock the wheels so the trailer won't roll and add a lock so someone can't drive in, attach your trailer, and drive away with it while you and you're family are away, such as for a weekend or the holidays. The foregoing should cover most situations. There will be more to do when you put the trailer back into service after the winter.

October 2, 2012 – HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN A SHEATH?

I just got my first horse last year. He is a gelding. My riding friends tell me I need to clean his "sheath" frequently. How often do I have to do it?

The veterinarians I've spoken with have advised that sheaths should be cleaned at least once each year, though twice a year is preferable. The procedure usually takes about 10 - 20 minutes depending on the horse. You'll need some gloves, warm water, and some mild soap. Best is soap available at most tack shops made just for this procedure.

If this is going to be your first time (which it sounds as if it will be), you'd be better off having the help of someone with experience to at least guide you. That could be an experienced horse friend, the barn owner, or probably best of all, your veterinarian. The nice thing about having your vet teach you the process is that he/she can also answer all your questions, separate fact from myth, and give you lots of extra tips you likely wouldn't otherwise receive. While none of us likes to spend any more money than we need to, it is nice to learn the process correctly the first time. Also, some horses don't like this process, so it's good to have an expert handy who can best advise on how to deal with such a situation and how to stay safe. In extreme situations, a vet can even anesthetize the horse if necessary.

October 1, 2012 – BARN FLOORING

What's the best surface for the bottom of my stalls? Right now I have a dirt floor in the aisles and stalls and I am just sick of the dust everywhere. Is there anything better?

Some barns have concrete floors. That's an awfully hard surface for horses to walk upon and worse for them to stand on for long hours. It's also not good for humans working in and going through the barn. But if you add stall mats, they'll provide needed cushioning to horses and people walking upon them.

Even with your dirt floor, you can make your life easier by leveling the floor in each stall and installing stall mats. Removing soiled bedding will be easier and you won't have to dig out and remove urine saturated dirt once or twice each year. The mats keep the bedding from mixing with the dirt and making a disgusting and stinky mud.

There are also some synthetic tiles that interlock designed specifically for horse barn flooring. I don't know the price of these products per square foot or yard, but the ones I've walked upon were both aesthetically appealing and provided ample cushioning to the legs of people and horses. If building a new barn, my personal preference would be to pour a concrete floor for the aisles and stalls and then put matting or the synthetic tiles over the concrete.

I hope this helps.

September 28, 2012 – EAR MITES

My horse keeps having mites in his ears and they are all scabbed up. What can I do to stop the mites and their constant biting?

There are products you can buy at your tack shop to deal with ear mites. In addition, there are a number of fly ointments on the market that are designed for application on wound areas that flies keep biting. The constant biting stops the wound from healing. Many of these ointments can also be applied an inch or so into a horse's ear. HOWEVER, BE SURE TO READ the product label to assure that application in the ear is ok. We add this because we're not aware of all products and you always want to assure that a product you're going to use is safe for the intended application BEFORE applying. Follow the application instructions and generally keep it to a thin film and the ear should heal within several days.

September 27, 2012 – ROLLER BITS

What's the story about roller bits? I see some with copper or rusted iron and some with just chrome. Do they make any difference?

The copper and iron rollers mixed with whatever metal the rest of the bit is made from (usually, stainless steel) are dissimilar metals and make up a battery. The saliva is slightly acidic and acts as an electrolyte causing the horse to feel a very weak voltage on his tongue. The effect is similar with an iron roller and many people refer to the taste as "sweet iron". In both cases, what the horse is sensing or tasting is a very weak electrical charge. You may have experienced this sensation as well if you have any amalgam fillings and have accidently touched one of them with the metal of a fork or spoon. This is also similar to placing the terminals of a 9V battery against your own tongue, though the effect and sensation with a bit is much gentler and milder than the stronger charge from a battery.

If the roller is made of the same metal as the rest of the bit, there should be very little or no current generated and therefore, no taste sensation. Some people say that the horse is calmer because his tongue can play with the roller and he'll be less excited — I have my doubts that this little action will calm any horse. Others say that a copper or iron roller promotes salivation and keeping the horse's mouth moist. Frankly, I've never known a horse with dry mouth or the need for more salivation, so I have no idea why this would be important. My asking this question of several vets brought chuckles and one made comments relating to many people having lots of silly ideas.

I use a roller bit (from Myler) that is all stainless steel and the main attraction to me is that I can lift one rein and the roller allows just that side of the bit to move up. Of course, the horse can sense the lifted rein and I can use it as a signal, such as to turn to that side, or it can even be used just to lightly get the horse's attention or to provide a slight acknowledgement.


My horse ate her hay so fast today that she choked on it and gave me a scare. This is not the first time she does this. Is there any way you can suggest for me to slow her eating down?

Yes! Get a hay bag, stuff it with hay, and hang it in her stall, her paddock, and any other place that you feed her hay. The bag will slow her eating so she can't grab big clusters of hay and swallow it with insufficient chewing. She'll be relegated to smaller mouthfuls.

If she's also piggish about eating her grain, you may want to put one or two softball size, rounded stones in her feed pail. The stones will slow her eating of the grain, and hopefully, minimize the chances of similar or worse problems. Horses that gobble one type of food often gobble everything they eat in similar fashion.

You may also want to read our article on chkoe entitled: Dealing With Choke in Horses.

September 25, 2012 – CURLED LEATHER ON SADDLE

My aunt gave me a saddle that used to be my moms when she was young my age. I would love to ride in my moms saddle. Its western and has some curled leather that I cant straighten out. Is there a way to straighten it?

Straightening and flattening leather can be done, but it takes some work and you have to be careful not to use too much force or heat. Also, you don't state your age, but if this was your mom's saddle when she was young, I'm presuming the saddle is at least 20, 30, or more years old. So, I'm hoping that it was stored in a safe place that hasn't been too humid nor too dry. Humidity promotes mold and mildew which will break down the leather and leather that has not been kept properly oiled and has dried out will have lost much of its strength.

So for starters, inspect the saddle closely to determine what shape it's in. If it's in bad shape, you'd be wasting your time trying to straighten the pieces that are curled. If the saddle has been well maintained, then you should read our article entitled: Flattening Curled Leather.

If the saddle is salvable, also make sure to clean it up and oil it. In fact, I would perform the cleaning (at least somewhat) prior to giving it a good inspection. It's hard to inspect a dirty saddle to determine its condition.

Good Luck with the saddle! It really would be great if you could ride in the same saddle that your mom did at your age.


My horse gets excited when around other horses. How can I stop her from doing this?

There's likely no way you can stop your horse from getting excited any more than you can stop her from spooking when something new surprises her — these behaviors are all part of being a horse. BUT, you can reduce the impact of her excitement. You reduce a horse's chance of spooking by getting the horse accustomed to the items that currently spook her. Similarly, the way to reduce the problems of her excitement around other horses is to become a strong leader for your horse. In that way, she'll take her primary lead from you rather than them. She'll also be more comfortable walking away from them we you command because, again, you're her leader.

Becoming a horse's leader is best attained by enlisting the help of a good trainer. In this kind of training, the trainer will be training your horse AND YOU. That's because you need to learn how horses think and interact with other horses. They don't see other life forms as animal or human. Rather, they see them as leaders and subordinates in their pecking order or not part of their herd at all (such as an errant cat or deer you might meet on a ride). You're definitely part of your horse's herd because you impose your will on her (command her to walk, stop, trot, etc.)

So, get some expert help on being the leader and you'll soon learn to better control your horse and better train her regarding almost anything.


How can I find out how much weight I can put in my horse trailer? Are there weight labels somewhere I can search for?

There should be a metal placard on your trailer that gives you the information you're seeking as well as other important information, such as empty trailer weight, gross trailer weight, tire inflation pressures, etc. Usually, this placard is on the left or right side of the tongue of the trailer. The tongue is the part of the trailer that sticks out forward to which the hitch is attached. This information should also be in your trailer manual and you can also likely get it by contacting the trailer manufacturer and telling them which trailer you have. Subtract the empty trailer weight from the gross trailer weight and you'll have the amount of payload you can put into your trailer.

Some Important Notes:
The next thing you should do is to look up the gross towing capacity of your tow vehicle. You'll usually find this info on a placard on the edge of the driver's or front passenger door. This is the greatest amount of weight you can tow. If this number is less than the gross trailer weight, it means that you CANNOT tow your horse trailer with a full load. In this case, to determine what you can legally and safely tow, subtract the empty trailer weight from your maximum towing capacity and you'll have the maximum payload you can tow in your trailer.

Unfortunately, things can be more complicated still. Many tow vehicles can only pull their maximum towing capacity if they reduce the payload in their tow vehicle. This means that you CANNOT fill your trailer to capacity and also fill your tow vehicle to its capacity, even if the vehicle can tow the gross trailer weight. You're forced to trade off internal capacity of the tow vehicle for the ability to tow a larger load. Sometimes, this even means you're forced to carry fewer people than you can carry normally when not towing or when towing a lighter load in your trailer.

Finally, don't forget that horses are only part of the load of your trailer. All the tack you bring with you, the hay bales, water, etc., are part of your payload and need to be added in to stay below your various maximum capacities.

September 20, 2012 – A DULL OR SHARP HOOF PICK?

Can you help me? I am wanting to buy a new hoof pick and I am finding a lot of different designs. Some are dull like the kind I had and some are sharp? Which one should I get?

This is just my opinion, but here goes. You have to remember that all we're doing with a hoof pick is scraping mud, horse waste, and soiled bedding, out of hooves. I personally don't like using a sharp hoof pick. Sometimes, we can slip trying to get some hardened mud or such out of a hoof and I don't want that slip to prick the horse's frog or hit my other hand or arm with a sharp pick. While we should always pull away from ourselves, some cleaning may require pulling in the other direction.

Hooves are made of the same soft material (keratin) as are our finger and toe nails. So I also wouldn't want a sharp one to gouge the hoof and give bacteria a still better foothold. Therefore, I feel there's really no need for a sharp pick and the duller picks have worked just fine for me.

September 19, 2012 – TRAIL RIDING GPS QUESTION

I read your article, "A GPS for Trail Riding". Excellent! I would like some specific names of models that have the features you recommend. I am not high tech at all and the simpler the better.

I'm glad you enjoyed the GPS article! Unfortunately, I too, find there are just too many GPS models out there and the year-to-year model changes and annual feature enhancements make it even harder to stay on top of these things, so I sympathize with your dilemma. That said, the key to a good GPS for riding or hiking trails are the Important Features identified in the article. If I had just listed three or four good GPS model suggestions, the article would be useless in a few years as the models come and go. So, I specifically took the approach of identifying the important features so the article would remain timely and still be valuable to readers looking for a GPS years later.

Therefore, if you go to a GPS store and purchase a unit with those features, it should work great on the trails. And the "Nice to Have" Features will make the unit's use more fun. I'm trying to keep abreast of new features as they come out that may enhance traversing the trails and will update the article with additional important features when I see them. If you need to see the article again to get the aforementioned list of important features, you can see it here.

I hope this helps.

September 18, 2012 – HORSE INOCULATIONS

How often should my horse get shots?

That depends on which shots your horse receives, so it's not a simple answer. The vaccines and inoculations your horse should get depend on several factors, such as where you live and the diseases prevalent in that area. The time of when those inoculations are given and their frequency per year can also vary. Even the age of the horse can make a difference.

For example, diseases such as rabies and tetanous are usually given once each year anywhere in the country at almost any time of the year. Other diseases, such as Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE), and West Nile Virus are given annually each Spring as the mosquito season begins. Some diseases (e.g. Strangles) are not common everywhere and are only given in those areas where there is significant risk. Also, some inoculations are given primarily to foals, weanlings, and/or broodmares, such as for Botulism.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I AM NOT a veterinarian and also not aware of the equine disease risks in your area. Therefore, you need to check with your own vet and follow his/her recommendations. Your vet is your best resource for helping your horse avoid and deal with equine diseases.


I read your posts and those of the horse girl everyday and love it that you both are never afraid of riding difficult horses. But I am afraid and want to get over it. How do I do that?

I'm delighted that you're enjoying our postings, but let me be clear about the fear factor. It's not at all true that the Horse Girl and I are never afraid to ride a difficult horse. If we are afraid, we just won't ride a particular horse. In fact, there are horses that neither of us will ever ride. Let's be accurate here: there ARE some dangerous horses. And there are horses that would be dangerous for us and not for more experienced riders. And finally, there are horses that are fine to ride most of the time, but may get spooky or ornery in ways that could make them dangerous every now and then. The Horse Girl and I NEVER EVER want to ride a horse that we fear could hurt us somehow. Why should you or anyone else feel differently?

Now, let's talk a little bit about the frequently recurring topic to which you've alluded that we get in many varying submittals and often respond. It seems that many riders, both through question submittals and that we've met over the years, have fears that don't seem warranted. By that I mean their horses are generally quiet, reliable mounts, but the riders are afraid of not being able to deal with certain circumstances. Often, that fear is of a runaway horse that won't stop.

Let me tell you, the Horse Girl and I WOULD NOT EVER want to be in such a position ourselves. And anyone familiar with horses knows that a horse can easily overpower the pulling force or control of any human rider. HOWEVER, the fearful riders are usually afraid because they don't know what to do if a horse ever got spooked and took off. And THAT is the problem — they don't know what to do. But that's an easy thing to fix: you take lessons from a good riding instructor and learn how to handle such a situation, and you avoid riding nasty, unpredictable horses.

It's not that the Horse Girl and I are never afraid — far from it! Rather, we're going to keep learning and try to be prepared for every eventuality that we can and we're going to avoid getting on any horse that seems dangerous to us. Therefore, we're not trying to be brave; we're trying to be smart.

So, face the fear you have and learn how to deal with it. Most of the questions we get along this topic have to do with arena riders that are afraid to ride outside without the limits of an enclosure to contain them and their horse. Learning how to desensitize an easily spooked horse to the typical surprises of riding outdoors and learning how to deal with those that may arise when mounted will go far to reducing your fear and helping you enjoy outside riding whether trail riding, fox hunts, hunter pacers, or anything else.

Get the training you need to feel more confident. After all, you wouldn't want to find yourself at the controls of an airplane having to make an emergency landing if you didn't have any flight instruction in how to pilot the thing, would you? Therefore, why would you allow yourself to be in a similar situation on a horse and not know how to deal with a scary event that might occur? Take the training to make your riding both safer and much more enjoyable. You'll not regret it.

Good luck!


My mare is around 20 and she is getting bad about walking away when i try to mount. What can I do about this?

I doubt it's your mare's age that has her walking away when you mount. Rather, it's the fact that she doesn't know better, or does and has gotten away with this behavior in the past. You have to remember that horses are always testing each other and us. Therefore, we need to be prepared for their tests before we even approach them. In that way, we can respond correctly and immediately. And if she doesn't understand what is expected of her, this same lesson with teach her.

In the case you describe, finish your mount and then immediately stop your horse from walking, remain in the saddle, and make her go in about three tight circles (she won't like going in those circles — this is a quick lesson for your horse in standing still while someone mounts). Then dismount, wait about 10 seconds and remount. If she starts to walk before you've mounted and given her the signal to walk, give her another lesson with the same three circles, dismount again, and wait another ten seconds. Continue to administer a lesson until your horse stands still when you mount. When she stands still, immediately go on your ride — DO NOT administer another lesson or you'll confuse her — this is a lesson and horses don't actually understand punishment, so don't think that way. You want this to be very clear so she understands there's work for misbehaving and reward for obeying. Usually, a horse gets the message in three to five of these "lessons".

She should then be fine for anywhere from a few days to a month before she again tries to walk away with you while mounting. When that happens, give her the lesson again. I'll be she learns the concept this time in only one or two lessons. That's because she really knows what she's supposed to do and is only checking to see whether or not you're still insistent about her standing still while you mount.

It is normal for horses to test other horses and us from time to time. In fact, that's what keeps them alive. They test to determine whether a leading horse or human is still competent to be the leader. The only way we can prove that we are is to be consistent. Don't let your horse get away with walking while mounting sometimes and not others. Always make her circle a few times when she walks while you mount and NEVER do it when she stands still. She WILL appreciate your clear signals and consistent behavior and will behave better herself.

September 13, 2012 – CUSTOM REINS — HOW LONG?

It seems the reins I use are always too short so I want to make my own set of reins. Is there any standard sizes for reins? How long should they be?

Length of reins is a personal choice — up to a point. You don't want reins so long that they hang down and can get caught up in your legs, the stirrups, or the horse's legs. Some western split reins do seem too long to me. I would never want to drop one, have the horse step on it at the run, and tear the bit from his mouth. And tying those reins into a knot leaves a heavy ball to slam against the horse. Conversely, you don't want reins so short that you're forced to lean forward and are not up straight and in balance with your horse.

Besides personal preference, your height and the size of your horse will also make a difference. If you have a large horse, his neck will usually be longer and the bit will be somewhat farther away from you. Similarly, if you're tall, your arms are longer and can reach farther forward. However, you still want to ride with your hands comfortable and in front of you just over the pommel of your saddle, so your arm length will have a smaller influence on the reins than the length of the horse's neck.

One way to get an idea for what you may want is to mount your horse with a rope tied to each side of the bit. This way, you can have a friend shorten and lengthen the rope in your hands until you find the length that feels most comfortable to you. Then, mark the rope where it meets the bit on each side, remove it and lay it out on the ground and measure it to get the length.

Be suspicious about the length if it's less than eight feet or more then eleven feet. It could still be correct, but the length with most horses will be within this range. For reference, my horse is almost 16hh, and when on him, I find a 10 - 10.5 foot rein to be most comfortable.


I just opened my new barn and am trying to set prices for boarders. What is a fair price to ask for board?

Unfortunately, we're not able to answer your question. That's because boarding covers a lot of ground and prices also vary by area. For example, in my area of Connecticut, boarding fees vary from $300 for outdoor board with no more than a run-in shed to over a $1,000 for a full service facility that includes grooms that retrieve your horse, clean and groom it, tack them up before your rides, and remove tack, cool the horse, and clean them before turning them out again. In between, you have variations from partial board in a barn where the boarders clean the stalls and provide their own feed to facilities providing full board which includes feed, hay, turnout, and stall mucking, but without groom services.

In addition, prices vary depending on the local market. More affluent towns charge more than middle income towns. And the example prices represent my local area. Yours could be completely different based upon average income, tradition, and other factors there.

To set reasonable rates, you need to visit other commercial boarding barns in your area and ascertain the "going rate". On top of that, you need to then assess whether your barn will provide more or fewer services and amenities than the barns you visit. You'll then adjust your price accordingly. If you don't do the foregoing tasks, you could be charging too little and leaving money on the table or charge too much and get few or no boarders — believe me, the boarders WILL KNOW going rates in your area and will avoid those barns they feel are too pricy. So, you need to know your local market to be competitive, yet not be underpriced.

To be honest, you really should have performed this assessment BEFORE building your new barn so that you could determine whether or not it would be a good investment and business opportunity. At this point, you're committed because you likely have the debt of your barn loan to service and will have to work within the confines of what you learn about your local market. You cannot just set a price and expect customers to come — they're going to compare your facility, services, and price to your competitors.

Good luck!


I want to carry a water bottle on my saddle when I ride. The one I bought has a scissor clip on the pouch that holds the bottle. Is there a "best place" to clip it?

A water bottle is pretty light, so you can attach it anywhere you can find on the saddle. The best place to put the bottle is where it won't flop against your horse when you trot or canter. That means you need to find a place to attach it at the top AND at the bottom.

The scissor clip you mention is likely on the end of a short strap a few inches long. Usually, there is also a clip or at least a D-ring sewn into the bottom of the bottle pouch. I have a similar arrangement in that I carry a quart canteen in a pouch with a clip. I attach the clip to one of the footman loops on my saddle and attach the bottom D-ring of the pouch to the large cinch ring. The cinch ring is held tightly down against the saddle by the force of the cinch holding the saddle to my horse, so it doesn't let the pouch bounce at all and the arrangement has worked well for me at all gaits, including while galloping and even jumping.

Whatever you do, just don't attach it in some way that lets the pouch and bottle bounce against your horse as you ride, especially at the faster gaits and while jumping.


We are trying to find ways to cut the electricity costs for our barn. I have lost a few borders because they have lost their jobs, my husband is looking for work, and we have been cutting costs everywhere we can. But we pay about $140 every month for electricity and that seems high to us for a 12 stall barn. Any suggestions?

That does seem high for barn electricity, even for much larger barns. Your question seemed important and common enough to warrant a more comprehensive response in the form of an article. You can see it at: Reducing Electricity Costs in Your Barn.

September 7, 2012 – TO USE OR NOT USE FLY SPRAYS

There has been so many flys this year that I dont know what to do. I'm afraid of using fly sprays because they are chemicals but my horse is getting eaten alive. How safe are sprays?

I have no definitive answer because I don't know enough about the risks. But I will share with you my own view.

I, too, have concerns about using chemicals on our horses to ward off the flies. But with the huge fly populations recently, the only alternative is to let our four-legged friends get eaten alive and possibly also get some fly or mosquito-borne disease(s). Those I've spoken to that use fly sheets on their horses haven't felt they do a good enough job and are also concerned about their horses getting too hot due to the sheet. And several have admitted that they use fly sprays in addition to the fly sheets. That concerns me because I worry that the spray under the sheet could irritate the horse's skin. For that reason, I've elected to use fly sprays and no sheets. I may be trading one problem for another, but there are few alternatives and watching my horse suffer with continuing bites and being at increased risk of an insect-borne disease is not something I can allow.

When I purchase fly sprays, I try to find one that uses extracts from flowers and other plants rather than petroleum-based products. Be that as it may, let's not forget that many of the most powerful drugs we know of come from plant extracts. So, the plant extracts could potentially be just as toxic in the concentrations needed to keep the flies away as the petroleum and synthetic chemicals made for the purpose — it's definitely a crap shoot and I don't know the best answer.

I've asked several vets over the years and they've recommended using commercial fly sprays. They have also indicated a preference for plant extract products and advise following the manufacturer's application instructions. The only aspect they've indicated may have to be modified is that the sprays never last as long as the manufacturers recommend and have said we likely have to use the products more frequently to be effective fly deterrents. So, I've decided that using the sprays is the lesser of two evils.

You should ask your own vet and make the decision with which you're most comfortable.


There have been several news reports of poisonous snakes in the forest where I ride and sometimes on the trail. I am now somewhat afraid to ride because of this but my friends still want me to go along. We discussed this yesterday and realized that none of us would know what to do if our horses or us did get bitten. What should we do?

Snake bites are actually a rare occurrence. But because they really do happen, even if rarely, it does pay to have an idea of the right and wrong actions to take in that eventuality. To that extent, we've prepared an article to give our readers some basic information entitled: Horse Snakebites.

Remember, real snakes bites are rare and bites by poisonous snakes are rarer still. So, learn what to do if the rare occurrence should happen, but continue to ride and enjoy your forest and its trails.

September 5, 2012 – TRAILERING IN THE FALL?

This is my first year trailing my horse and live in the northern midwest and was wondering if I need to do anything different to continue trailing in the fall.

I do like to have my trailer wheel bearings repacked every few years. I also inspect my trailer wheels, tires (including the spare), the axles and undercarriage, the floor, lights and electrical system, etc., each spring when I put my trailer into service. If you did the same this past spring when you first started using your trailer, and the trailer is in good shape and is properly maintained, there isn't much to do with the trailer itself. Though, make sure you go through that procedure each spring.

However, there are a few things that I'm on the lookout for as we leave the summer season. For example, I drive significantly slower in general when the leaves start falling off the trees. I do that because the leaves are naturally slippery and downright slick like ice when wet. More than one driver has slipped right off the road with a trailer (even without one) because they entered a turn too fast and drove over leaves in the turn. Stopping on leaves is equally low on friction and you can easily slide through an intersection if going too fast or waiting too long to brake.

In addition, I slow down as the weather changes and the winds pick up as we get into mid and late autumn. A trailer is usually much taller than the tow vehicle and presents a long vertical surface which is easily caught and pushed by a wind more effectively than is a car or a truck. I also have no desire to have my trailer pushed off the road by the wind and drag my vehicle along with it.


I want to ride in a hunter pace next month and have not ridden much this summer. Will I get sore?

If you're out of shape and then ride for a long period of time, you may be sore after the ride and for the next day or two. The bigger and more important question is: what shape is your horse in? If you've not been riding, has your horse been in work with someone else or has he been idle also? If he's out of shape, it's both unfair to him and you're risking his health if you all of a sudden ride him in this event. Instead, you need to work with him gradually over this next month to get him into shape for the hunter pace next month. If you don't do so and ride him anyway, you could seriously hurt him.

Conversely, if he's been in work regularly and is in shape, then the only problem is you. While I would work to get myself into shape to prepare for the event, even if you don't, you can always decide to discontinue the ride if you get too sore. It's ok to take chances with yourself because it's your decision — it's not ok to do the same with your horse.

Autumn is a great time to ride! Why not get both of you into shape for the best weather of the season. You'll both be in better health and will have a great time. Who knows? You might even enjoy some winter riding and that will keep you both in better shape over winter than you might otherwise remain. As global warming causes each year to break warmer temperature records, the winters are warmer and the riding seasons get longer and longer.


Is it ok to give my horse a whole carrot or should I cut it up into pieces? I am worried about him choking.

Because of the tendency of many horses to almost inhale their food (similar to many dogs), I do cut up a carrot and give the pieces to a horse one at a time. The number of pieces I cut the carrot into is typically 3 - 6 pieces depending on the size of the carrot. Also, move away in between giving your horse a carrot piece so he chews and swallows each piece before giving him another. Otherwise, you'll quickly find your horse stop chewing a piece and wanting the next while the first is still not fully swallowed. I do the same with an apple. In fact, because apples sometimes cause indigestion to some horses, I tend to give a horse only a quarter or third of an apple and give the other quarters or thirds to other horses (unless I keep a piece or two for myself).

I have seen choke in horses eating grain and even hay when they eat it too quickly. So, I feel your question is appropriate and you're smart to consider cutting or breaking a carrot into several pieces so they can be fed individually.


I keep a salt block in my horses stall and he always breaks it up with his teeth. My sister says you wrote something about using loose salt instead. Where do I get it and how much do I give him?

Horses break up salt blocks because of frustration. The blocks are meant for cattle which have rough tongues to abrade the block. Horses don't have rough tongues, so they can't get enough salt fast enough, get frustrated, and finally bite the block. Loose salt is easier for them to ingest at a rate they prefer.

Many tack shops and most feed stores sell bags of loose salt. Also, buy a small and inexpensive feed pail, just pour some salt into it, and place it in your horse's stall. There's no need to get overly concerned with dosage because your horse will only eat the amount of salt that he needs.


Is there any reason to shy away from electric fences to contain horses? I mean, is it better to use a traditional wood fence?

While an electric fence will give a horse a shock if they make contact, horses usually learn to avoid touching the fence after the first or second shock. Electric fences are designed to give a high-voltage shock at very little current and are often used to keep cattle and various other animals (e.g. horses, goats, etc.) within an enclosed area.. Therefore, they're not typically a danger to the animal, but rather are designed to cause temporary discomfort while in contact with the fence.

I've not heard of any horse getting somehow damaged by an electric fence. Though, I can't guarantee something bad can't happen any more than I could give that guarantee with a wooden fence. And I have heard of a few horses hurting themselves on a wooden fence, but it's rare.

If you've been around horses a while, you know that almost anything can be a risk to a horse if something freaky occurs. Fortunately, most horses get through life ok and many are contained with electric fences. So, I think you can use whatever kind of fence best meets your needs.


My horse has been laid up due a strained tendon. My friend says that the only good way to get her back into condition is to work her in the arena. She says the sand is the best way to work a horse. Is she right?

Probably the best one to answer that question is the vet caring for your horse. As with most things in life, and especially with horses, there are usually several approaches from which you can choose that will help you get your horse back into shape. In this case, working a horse can include the arena, but you can also likely use hills of varying steepness to increase the load on your horse as she improves.

But, before you get started, talk to your vet to get an idea of what he/she advises both as a starting exercise and as to the proper pace to increase the load. Whatever you do, you don't want to overdo it and cause your horse to regress, or worse, to incur another and possibly worse injury. Pushing ahead too fast can be VERY bad. You want to do this gradually for your horse's sake and no one is likely going to understand the injury and advise you better than the vet that made the diagnosis, is caring for the horse, and is evaluating her health and performance.


I just got my 1st horse and buying grooming tools. How stiff a brush do I get for him?

Horses vary in their preference for brush stiffness. Some have sensitive skin and will move away or even push back and become dangerous if you insist on using too stiff a brush that hurts their skin. Others will ignore a soft brush and lean into a stiffer one giving clear indication that it feels good. So, your job is to determine what it is your horse prefers.

Fortunately, brushes are cheap, so you can purchase several of varying stiffness and see what your horse prefers. You should ALWAYS use a soft face brush for a horse's face and his fetlocks. For the rest of him, you need to find what he likes best. Also, you'll find that some horses have very coarse hair (e.g. many Icelandics and Fjords) and a stiffer brush will be needed to even grab the hair.

Finally, CONGRATULATIONS on your new horse!


How many horses do I need to board to break even?

There's no set amount as if a magic number. In fact, if you're charging less than your costs, you'll never break even no matter if you had a hundred horses boarding at your barn. To answer your question, you need to determine ALL your costs per horse. That's not just the horse's feed, hay, and bedding, it must also include all your other costs allocated on a "per horse" basis.

For example, if you board eight horses, you need to include the cost of your barn's property taxes, General Farm Liability insurance, Care, Custody, and Control insurance, annual costs of barn and paddock upkeep, costs of mowing and fertilizing the paddocks (if you do that), the costs of your time and the wages of anyone else working for you, water costs if your barn has water, barn electricity costs, the costs of replacement supplies for anything you use at the barn or for your boarder's horses (fly spray, ointments. etc.) and anything else you provide for those horses. Once you have those costs, calculate each on an annual basis and add them up and— that's how much you need to earn each year to break-even. REMEMBER that this doesn't include any profit, just a break-even amount.

Most of us actually want to make a profit at our business endeavors. If you agree, add your expected annual profit to your total annual costs. Divide that by twelve and you know how much you need to make each month. Divide the monthly amount by the number of horses you're boarding and you know how much you should be charging per horse. If you feel the charge is too much per horse for your area, then you can charge less and operate at a loss, but you'd better add some services, such as horse training, riding instruction, horse massage, or something to augment your earnings.

Some barn owners discover that they cannot charge enough to remain in the boarding business in their area. The only option then is to move the business to an area that can pay more or get out of the business altogether. We have quite a few related articles on this topic in our Farms and Business section that will provide more information. You may want to begin with the article entitled: Starting Your Own Boarding Barn. The article contains many additional links of importance to barn owners.

August 23, 2012 – D-RING OR LOOSE RING?

I am looking to buy a snaffle bit and I don't know what to do about the ring. Snaffles at my tack shop come in both a round loose ring and a d ring. Is one better than the other?

Both have their advocates, though I prefer the D-ring. I've heard that the loose, round ring can sometimes pinch the lips of the horse, but I've never seen that happen myself. However, what I have seen happen more than once is a horse whisker getting caught in the loose ring and the horse gets a quick pinch as the whisker gets pulled out. Most horses just flinch, but a sensitive horse might get more upset. I prefer not to put my horse through any unnecessary discomfort (other than a little extra work he occasionally requires when he misbehaves, such as moving when I'm mounting).

August 22, 2012 – ETIQUETTE ON THE TRAIL

One of my friends got yelled at last weekend when he passed a group we came on. A woman in the group said he endangered the group by coming past them too fast and without telling them we were behind them. They were riding pretty slow and nobody spooked. Anyways, she said he should get trail etiquette so he doesnt hurt somebody. He said he was sorry but the woman was still mad. We looked online and found stories about hiking etiquette but nothing for riding horses. My friend thinks its silly for me to look for this stuff but I think it could help.

While the woman you mention may have overreacted, she is correct about using proper etiquette toward riders of other groups. In fact, there is also appropriate etiquette for riding within your own group. These are not a bunch of rules someone made up to police horseback riding. Rather, it's a list of points we should consider for our own safety and that of others in our group and in other groups. The purpose is to reduce the chances of surprising other horses and their riders — all us horse people know how fast things can unravel when horses get spooked. Such a list of guiding principles aims to make riding safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

On top of that, you're in luck! We have written an article about this topic and you can find it here: Trail Riding Etiquette.


I am a new rider and am a little afraid of what to do if a horse panics. If I am riding or just leading a horse, as soon as he gets excited or starts to jump up, my heart starts pounding and I become very afraid. I want to let go of the lead line or jump off and I have done both a few times. I just do not know what they are going to do. How do I overcome this fear? What should I do?

Well, first of all, give yourself a break; horses are big, are powerful, and there is some risk when they panic and move into our space quickly. Therefore, having concern and wanting to know what to do is smart, not silly or dumb. HOWEVER, as you probably have been told by now, horses take a lot of their lead from us. So, if you really are afraid, any horse near you, and especially if in control by you, will likely sense your fear and that will elevate his. As a result, your being able to deal with this kind of situation MUST BEGIN with you controlling your own emotions.

The first thing to do is to determine exactly what it is you're afraid of. I strongly suspect that the real problem here is that you don't really believe that you're in control of any horse. And in that situation, you cannot get a horses respect and confidence. The place to start is to enlist the help of a horse trainer or a very savvy horseman or woman that has such confidence and can easily earn a horse's respect and lead them almost anywhere.

Part of what you need to learn is more about horse behavior itself. You said it yourself in your question: you DON'T KNOW what a horse is going to do. You need to learn how a typical horse reacts to most situations. If you understand horse behavior, much of the mystery evaporates and you'll have confidence in how you should react and what you need to do to restore control.

Many of the times, your calm voice speaking to your horse will both stem his rising panic and comfort him. That may not eliminate his fear, but it will usually knock it down a few levels. Your subsequent actions is to give him something to do by putting him to work. That will usually take his mind off of whatever spooked him in the first place.

If that spook was because of the surprise presence of another critter, such as a dog, mouse, cat, deer, or fox, for example, just changing direction and riding away at a walk or trot will usually reduce the horse's anxiety. These animals usually don't present any real danger unless rabid, which is actually quite rare. For all the years I've spent hiking, photographing, and riding in the wilderness, I have yet to come across a rabid animal. I know it happens, and that we need to be prepared for that eventuality, but fortunately, it really is not very common in most areas.

If the cause of the spook is something that can truly be dangerous, such as the presence of a mountain lion or a bear, then it's even more important that you respond properly and move your horse away from the danger without making matters worse. Turning and galloping away is usually not the best way to deal with such a situation because it can elicit the chase response in the animal. For more information on this situation, we have an article about coming across a bear entitled: Bears on the Trail. If most or all of your riding is in the arena, then most spook sources will generally be non-dangerous to you (e.g. unexpected barn door movement) and you need to focus on calming the horse and staying calm yourself.

The foregoing notwithstanding, there are times when the RIGHT action to take is to jump off your horse, such as if it rears and is going to fall backward on top of you or if it is running toward the edge of a cliff and you can't stop him. Similarly, you could be leading him and something happens to cause him to lose control, such as being stung multiple times after walking over a bees nest. However, baling from the saddle or letting your horse go when you're frightened cannot be a common event or someone is going to get hurt anyway. And you could have serious liability if the horse ran into traffic and others were hurt or worse because you couldn't control the horse when near these areas.

Therefore, you need to resolve this issue if you're going to remain a rider, especially if you'll be taking horses off of farm property or they could get loose when in your care. There are laws that give us some protection because of the unpredictability of horses, but the rest of society also needs protection by horse people being competent in the control of horses in all but the most extreme situations.

So, you need to learn much more about how horses perceive the world, what can surprise and spook them, and what you should do in those situations. Until you have that knowledge, it will be difficult for you to feel confident and in control of a horse because currently, you really don't know what to do. As in most things horses and in life in general, knowledge is our best weapon. Get more training NOW!

August 20, 2012 – SHAMPOO FOR HORSES

Can I use my own shampoo to wash my horse? It's very gentle?

You SHOULD NOT use your shampoo on your horse. Instead, buy a shampoo at a tack shop or pet store made specifically for washing an animal's coat. These shampoos are formulated to reduce itching in animal coats, even if you don't rinse thoroughly enough. Of course, you should always try to assure that you've thoroughly rinsed away all pet shampoo from your horse's coat. But if some somehow evades your hose, it shouldn't cause a problem. That's especially important on horse's backs because they sweat under the saddle and remaining soap can cause a lot of irritation there as well as itching.


I am looking for a new bit for my horse. She is such a great horse who always does as I ask. I have been using a snaffle but I have never liked its nutcracker joint in the middle. I let my nephew ride her last week and he kept pulling on the reins. When he pulled on the reins while leading her, she got really mad and reared and I took over and she stopped. I have never seen her mad before. I told my barn owner and she said the nutcracker joint of the bit could have hit the roof of her mouth if he pulled down. I would like to get a gentler bit because she's so good but everyone at the barn says the snaffle is the gentlest bit. Can you help me?

Well, for starters, the snaffle is definitely NOT the gentlest bit. Yes, I know that rumor has persisted for years. But that's because most people don't know much about bits and how they work. There are harsher bits and gentler bits than snaffles. We have an article you may find helpful entitled: Understanding Bits.

As for your barn owner's speculation of your nephew's possible pulling down on the reins and hurting the roof of your horse's mouth, that is a possibility. You may want to take a look with a flashlight inside your horse's mouth or have your vet do so. Regardless, changing bits is ok, but it's not as simple as picking a new color for a room in your house. You don't just grab one and see if it works, you need to select the bit with some understanding of what you're doing. Also with bits, you need to try the one you've selected and see how your horse responds — she may disagree with it. Many tack shops will let you try a bit for a week or so and return it for another as you figure out what works best — that's a great approach!

There's a company that makes a wide range of bits that has impressed me. Their name is Myler's Inc. They have a lot of information on their Website about their bits and how to select the right one for your horse. That Web page is Myler Bits: Selecting the Right Bit.

I have two of their bits, they're all that I use on my horse, and we're both quite happy with them. The one's I have provide lots of tongue relief, are not leveraged, are not a nutcracker design, and have independent lifting ends. The Myler Website provides a lot of information about understanding and selecting a good bit for your horse. You should be sure to read and understand it before selecting one, and it wouldn't hurt to get the help of an experienced horse person you trust if you're not comfortable selecting a bit on your own.

Good luck!


We are going to have an electrician rewire our barn before the winter gets here. We already have lights in the aisles and want to put a light above each stall and add a hot water heater and a plug for a washing machine that my parents gave us. We have cold water there already. The washing machine would mean we would not have to throw horse blankets into our home machine (it really makes a mess because the blankets get so dirty and I do not like them being carried into the house.) But we are not sure what to do. All we need are the stall lights and more plugs to be installed for a couple fans and the washing machine and water heater

The barn is over 40 years old and the electrician wants to totally rip out the old wiring because he says it is too small and cracking and unsafe and could cause a fire. He also wants to put a panel in the barn instead of just using the circuit breaker in the panel in the house that we have now. We do not have lots of money to spend and the electrician says we are going to have to spend around $2000.

Do we really need to do all this? Is there any cheaper way?

I'm not there to look at your barn's existing wiring, so I can't say whether or not the old wiring needs to be ripped out. HOWEVER, if the barn is currently being fed by one breaker in your house panel, you definitely don't have a large enough supply to your barn for the washing machine and especially the water heater. If the existing wiring is cracked and feeds just the aisle lights, there's not much wiring to rip out, so you're not paying much for that part.

Your description sounds as if there is a 15 or 20 amp 120 Volt circuit currently feeding your barn and its aisle lights. I don't know what size water heater you're adding, but that alone for a typical heater will likely require a 30 amp, 240 volt circuit which far exceeds the capacity and wiring of the circuit presently feeding your entire barn. And the water heater will likely be hard wired, not plugged in. Then, add the washing machine, lights for the stalls, the current aisle lights, the fans you want to run for the summer, and you've got a much higher load to feed.

You've got a 40 year old barn with old wiring that is definitely inadequate for your current plans. Your electrician is right to put a panel in your barn and power it with a larger feeder. He'll then run appropriately sized circuits from that panel to each receptacle/load. If a break should trip, you'll be able to fix the problem and then reset the breaker right there in the barn.

I'll be honest with you, your electrician's recommendation sounds like very good advice to me. And the price estimate he's given you actually seems rather cheap to me if that really does include the new panel, the new circuit breakers, and wiring supplies, electrical boxes, receptacles, and light fixtures, complete with labor costs for installation. I would expect the new materials and labor to install to be in the $3,000 - $5,000 range.

Look, it sounds as if you have a real barn, not just a couple of stalls in a converted shed. I mean, you've got some lighting there as well as running water already and are dealing with cleaning blankets (which I agree are not fun to bring into the house or place into the same machine you use for your clothes). If the foregoing is true, why not have this job done properly, legally, and safely. In my opinion, based on the details you've provided, I think the price quote from your electrician is a real bargain based on what you've described you'll be getting for that price. I can't even imagine how the electrician is making any money.

GRAB that bargain RIGHT NOW and do the job right for a song!

August 15, 2012 – GALLOPING ON THE GRASS?

Is it safe to run a horse on grass or is it too slippery?

This depends on the conditions. Obviously, grass with snow, ice, sleet, or hail on it is slippery. But so is it when the grass is wet, whether from rain or mist. Sometimes, moisture comes from the grass itself. Stepping on the blades of grass squeeze out its moisture and your can easily slip on it. I've fallen many times when running (on foot) on grass as a child and also as an adult. The fall usually occurs when I try to stop too quickly or make a sharp turn. There's no reason that a horse, whether shoed or not, won't fall just as easily.

Therefore, be careful when deciding where to gallop a horse. Gravel roads tend to have decent traction, but even that surface can slide and so can sand. As a result, even trails have some risk and it's up to us to assess the surface before running our horses. Be especially careful any time you're going to need to make a sharp turn or a fast stop at speed.

Of course, you likely know that it isn't good to canter or gallop a horse on asphalt or concrete. Besides it being slippery to a hoof or shoed horse, it also pounds their hooves and legs and can cause shin splints. And you both would suffer some "road rage" if your horse slipped and fell. Besides the risk of being cryshed by your own horse, you'd almost certainly end up in a slide and doing so against such surfaces will result in shaved, raw skin impregnated with small stones and debris. Their removal hurts as much or more than the slide — OUCH!


I have been trying to get some good pics of my boyfriend riding my horse (he just started, so cute!) We ride at an indoor and I have permission to turn all the lights on to get some good pics but they all come out to dark. When I try to increase the exposure the pics are blury. I just got a new digital camera for my birthday a few months ago. What should I do?

This is a common challenge when shooting a moving subject in doors. The arena lights are typically nowhere near bright enough for good photos. You should find an outdoor location for your photo shoot. Does your barn have an outdoor arena? If so, that will likely be a much better place to shoot. If no outdoor arena, how about an enclosed paddock?

Here's the issue: Stopping action means using a faster shutter speed. A faster shutter speed means the shutter will be open for a shorter period of time. That helps freeze the action, but it also means that less light gets to the sensor. Being outdoors on a bright day will provide much more light than indoor arena lights can supply. And no, flash won't provide enough light for this appliucation unless you were to have MULTIPLE HIGH-POWERED flahes used by professional photographers, and you don't have that.

If the indoor arena is all you have available, try increasing the camera's ISO speed, perhaps up to somewhere between 500 and 800. You can also play around with the f-stop, but because you're asking this question, I'm reluctant to get into that kind of discussion because I suspect you'll have better luck on automatic. The higher ISO setting will provide a better exposure, but also can cause more digital noise — you'll have to experiment. Also, see our article on this topic: Horse Photography – How To .

Using any type of camera, digital or film, is a balance and the main thing you need with both is sufficient light. I've said it several times already, but the cure to this problem is to supply a lot more light. Shooting outside will give you the best chance of success in getting some good exposures with minimal blur.


My girlfriend and I are having this running debate about grooming our horses. She says we should groom our horses every time we see them. I don't think we need to brush as much in the summer because our horses aren't shedding much. What do you say?

I agree with your girlfriend. Grooming is not just about brushing our horse. It's an opportunity to check our horse over thoroughly each day or time we visit.

It's astounding how easily horses can get into trouble. They get cuts, scrapes, and wounds from brushing against fences, trees, and objects some people leave in pastures (old cars, tractors, or other machinery), they sometimes bite and kick each other, get fly bites, ticks, mites, bee stings, and myriad other things. Your grooming is an opportunity to check your horse's ears for mites, his body for bites, kicks, scrapes, wounds, and ticks as well as swollen tissue, heat in a joint, etc. Problems found early raise the chances of resolving them before they get out-of-hand and also reduce the time our horses suffer with a problem. In extreme cases, it can make the difference between saving his life or not.

Finally, let's talk about just plain grooming. Brushing removes old skin, mud, and other skin irritants, such as horse wastes he might have rolled in. Hoof picking removes mud and stones that can affect the way your horse walks or runs before he sprains himself. It also removes urine soaked bedding that can cause Thrush or White-Line disease as well as other potential problems. Considering how poorly horses fair with leg and foot injuries, we should always pay special and frequent attention to those limbs. We have an article that describes a fast, easy way to check your horse each time you visit him entitled Conduct a Daily Horse Whole Body Survey.

Use each visit as an opportunity to make sure your horse is in good shape, to remove little annoyances (ticks), treat bites with salves that repel biting insects, apply fly spray, etc. It's no different than painting your house periodically or applying a coat of wax to your car — you're helping to maintain your investment. BUT, this investment is both alive and likely goes beyond the financial to also an emotional investment because horses are additional family members for many of us. Your horse is alive and dependent upon you for his wellbeing as well as for food and board.

Take time to visit him frequently, care for him, and make his life more pleasant. I suspect it'll make your own life happier and more pleasant.


I am trying to find a reasonably priced tack box to keep at the barn where I board. Most of the ones I have seen at tack shops and online are wood and are heavy and are expensive and cost $250 - $500. Are there any other alternatives you could suggest?

Yes, there are. I recommend a large, plastic, rolling, jobsite toolbox. These tool boxes are the same size as most tack boxes (30-36" long x 18- 24" wide x 18 - 24" high) and are lockable. They also have one or more trays inside, large wheels on the back for rolling, and a pull-out handle like today's travel luggage. They can be purchased online and from the large home improvement stores for $70 - $120 or so. I have one and love it! In it, I keep my grooming tools (brushes, combs, hoof picks, etc.) and expendable supplies (mane and tail finishing mists, fly spray, antiseptic ointments, and first aid supplies).


I use fly spray on my horse, but not on her face. But every time I visit her this summer, she has lots of flies on her face and near her eyes and it makes me sick. Is there any product to keep flies off her face?

I'm sure you're aware of fly masks. If not, ask at your tack shop and they'll likely be able to show you at least one type. But if you don't want to use a fly mask, you can use fly spray, but you need to FIRST READ the spray manufacturer's warnings and instructions on the bottle. DO NOT apply any spray to your horse's face or head if the manufacturer warns against it. If there are no such prohibitions, spray the product onto a paper towel and gently and carefully wipe that towel on your horse's face — NEVER spray it directly on your horse's face.

When wiping the spray on, be VERY careful to avoid her eyes, mouth and nose. There's no need to put any of the chemical on her nose itself, so just apply where there is horse hair. Also, you don't have to wipe her whole face, just enough so the flies get the scent and avoid her head.

The face and head is the trickiest part of a horse for this kind of application because of the sensitivity of the eyes, mouth, and nose. Yet, as you mentioned, doing nothing let's your horse get eaten alive.

If your horse has any known allergies or sensitivities, ask your vet before applying anything.


I am working to improve our barn and we are discussing adding running water in each stall to make filling the buckets easier. Is there anything we need to consider to do this project correctly?

Yes, I think there are several things to think about.

  1. For one, use plastic pipe to each stall. It is cheaper, easier and faster to install, and is less prone to rupture by freezing.
  2. Second, I would install valves in each stall that are "horse resistant". That means that they are designed so that horses cannot turn them on should they play with the faucet handle (which some horses definitely will do). Typically, I've seen a metal ring about two inches more in diameter than the faucet handle that is placed around the faucet handle. A human can easily place fingers within the ring to operate the faucet while the horse has great difficulty turning the handle;
  3. Third, you should install a drain with a faucet at each low point on the run to the stalls. This usually results in several drains, but it reduces the chances of pipe failure in freezing weather.
  4. Fourth, be sure to include a main stall valve, and turn it on ONLY when filling buckets and then turned off again. Leaving the main valve off further reduces the chance of a horse opening a valve and also reduces the chance of flooding due to frozen pipes. The fact is, you will sometimes forget to turn off the main valve, forget to drain the system one or more nights during winter that will severely drop below freezing, and at least one horse will still figure out how to open its stall valve.
By taking several simultaneous precautions as described, the chance of a horse-opened valve or frozen/ruptured pipe flooding your barn will be much less.

Good luck on your project! We LOVE having running water at every stall in our barn and have incorporated all of the above-mentioned suggestions.

August 7, 2012 – LEANING ON HILLS

Hi! I occasionally like to take my horse out on trails a few times every summer. We rode this past weekend and were going up a steep hill so I was leaning forward. My riding friend said I was leaning too far over. I don't know if shes right or not, but I really am not sure how far I should be leaning on any hill. Can you help me?

Sure we can. This is a confusing area for many riders. Many of us all learn to ride indoors or at least on level ground and later find our way to the trails on our own. So, we have to learn and figure this stuff out without help lots of times. Experienced riding friends can help, but I've certainly found lots of "experienced riding friends" that do lots of things incorrectly.

Essentially, you don't want to lean at all. You want to always sit vertically upright. If you're riding up hill, sitting upright will look to others that you're leaning forward because your horse's head will be closer to you because he really is at an angle going up the hill. Conversely, you'll look as if you're leaning somewhat backwards for the same reason when your horse is going downhill. If you were to truly lean, you can upset your horse's balance as you place your weight in difficult positions for him to handle.

For a more detailed treatment of this topic, see this related QueryHorse article entitled: Leaning When on Hills.


I want to mount some clip and dees on my saddle, but I can't find a way to make a clean hole. Where I want to put the clip strips is too far away from an edge to use a punch. I tried using an electric drill to make some holes in a scrap piece of leather, but it tore some leather fibers and made a hole with a very rough edge. Any ideas?

Sure! There are two methods that I have used to make clean holes in leather. One, requires the use of a leather hole punch. With the punch, you place the leather on a thick (at least 1/4" or more), hard-rubber pad, place the punch at the location of the new hole, and hit it with a mallet. The punch will make a clean hole through even somewhat thick (3/16 ") leather.

Clip-Dee A Clip-Dee The second approach doesn't require the punch, but you need to first prepare the leather. Do that by removing the pieces of leather in which you want to make holes from your saddle. Then, mark the locations of the holes with a pencil or pen, and place them in your freezer overnight. The next morning, drill the holes with your electric drill. The frozen leather will drill much more cleanly than room-temperature leather. After drilling, let the leather pieces warn to room temperature before you mount the clip strips and then attach the leather pieces back onto your saddle.


Is it ok to let my horse nudge me? He likes to push me with his head. But sometimes he pushes me so hard I go flying or fall down. I don't think he means to hurt me.

The fact you asked this question means that you have some misgivings about this behavior, right? And you're quite correct to have those misgivings. Your horse coming over and touching you very lightly with his head or nose to get your attention or let you know he's there is ok, but using his head to push you is not. The fact he "pushes you so hard you go flying or fall down" is completely unacceptable.

Your horse could just be nudging you, or he could be doing something else that horses do, namely, pushing you around like a subordinate. Regardless of which it is, horses are too big and powerful to let them do that and you can get really hurt. In that situation, the best case is that he accidently hurts you because he doesn't understand how frail humans are. The worse case is that your life and limb are at risk because he sees you as lower on the pecking order and is pushing you around like he does all the lower-level horses in a herd.

Either way, you need to stop allowing this behavior now. Doing so can be as simple as a stern "NO!" when he pushes you. Several times of this may resolve the problem. But if things have progressed further and/or this is a determined dominant horse, it may require much more.

If you don't know how to stop this, you need to get the help of a horse trainer. What you definitely SHOULD NOT do is allow this to continue at all. DON'T WAIT to resolve this problem.


We want to trailer our horses in August to ride in a beautiful part of Colorado. The trip is going to take around 2 days to get to our riding venue. How often should we stop en route to check our horses in the trailer?

You pose an important question that all people trailering horses on longer trips should consider. But the answer is not as simple as just telling you how often to stop. That's because many questions about the trip, the time of year, the weather, etc., affect the answer. We prepared an article on this topic a while ago that you should read entitled: How Often Should I Stop When Trailering?.

Enjoy your trip!


How long should I let my horse's tail get before I cut it. The barn owner says it is already too long (about 1 foot above the ground), but other riding friends say its my decision and not hers. What should I do?

I agree with your friends. If it's your horse, it's YOUR call when and if your horse's tail gets trimmed. Of course, barn owners usually offer lots of valuable advice to new and less-experienced horse owners. But this is really more your business than hers.

Personally, I like the way a long, flowing tail looks on a horse. Also, a horse depends on his/her tail to swat flies and other annoying and nasty insects. Those owners that cut their horse's tails short deprive their horses of control over those insects.

Around my area (Connecticut), we've been inundated these last few years with huge 1.5 inch flies that look like they insert a straw into the horses. The long tailed horses can hit those (and other flies) pretty far forward on their sides, bottom, and backs. When the tail hits the fly, the fly typically gets caught in the tail hair and thrown quite a distance. In fact, they sometimes get injured or killed by the swat (it's quite effective at removing the threat).

So, there you have it! I let my horse's tail get to between 2-4 inches above the ground before I trim it back. And when I do, I won't cut it shorter than about 6 inches above the ground. Between the tail's utilitarian responsibilities defending my horse from flies and how beautiful a long, flowing tail and mane look on a horse, I'll never cut it any shorter than necessary to keep it off the ground.


I was a show competitor for many years and have recently started trail riding and am enjoying it. I have now started riding alone when my friends can't make it to the barn and my horse will often stop while we are riding and lift her head up high to smell. Should I be stopping her and forcing her to go forward because she stopped without me commanding it?

I have no doubt that many will tell you to do exactly that. However, I feel differently. When I'm riding with friends, I do tend to keep going because I know that some of them have little interest in waiting for their or someone else's horse when they want to keep riding. But when alone, I like to let my horse "call more of the shots" if you will. I've been doing that for years and it hasn't changed his willingness to follow my commands at any time. But I like the idea of letting him take the lead from time to time. By doing so, I've been able to see more wildlife than I ever would have noticed on my own.

When a horse stops, raises its head, and stares into the distance while smelling the air, it generally means he heard something, smelled something, or saw something. He makes that his entire focus. Of course, horses do that mostly because they're prey animals and want to assure they're not in a dangerous situation at risk from some predator. But to a lesser extent, it is sometimes just curiosity. I like letting him have it his own way occasionally, and by remaining quiet and looking in the direction of his focus, I've seen red and brown foxes, many deer, owls, hawks, and vultures sitting in trees above us or close by, badgers, beavers, and many other animals. A horse's senses are quite sensitive and I think of them as having a set of "long range sensors" along on my ride.

So, if you want my advice, let your horse look around, explore the environment, and enjoy the scenery she discovers while you're along for the ride. She should be fine and will most likely follow your commands later as well as she always has. But these solo outings will be great fun for both of you. In fact, a few of my friends like to do the same thing and we'll let our horses have more freedom when we ride together.

July 30, 2012 – STALL BITERS

I was at the barn with my horse this weekend and was shocked to see him reach out over his stall gate and try to bite another horse as it was led by my horse's stall. My horse is gentle and never attacks other horses out in the paddock they share. Why would he do it in the barn? Thanks in advance.

Many, many horses will try to bite passing horses when in their stalls. They do this because they are territorial and trying to protect the space where they eat and sleep, so your horse's behavior is normal. About the only thing anyone can do in such circumstances is to walk other horses down the center of the barn aisle so none of the horses can reach out and bite a passing horse. In fact, that's good advice at any barn since you can't always anticipate which stalled horse will try to protect its stall.

One other option is to close the upper doors on those stalls that have known biters when other horses will be walked by. My own experience is that leading other horses down the center of the aisle is usually adequate as long as the barn aisles are wide enough beyond the reach of the biters.


My girlfriends and I would like to try riding on a dude ranch out west someplace. We've tentatively found some that we think we would like, but we're English riders and prefer English saddles to Western. Do you know of any riding establishment that offers English tack?

I do not know of a riding establishement that specifically offers English tack. BUT, have you considered calling up those entities that appeal to you and asking them if you can bring and use your own tack? I've spoken to quite a few dude ranches and equi-trekking business owners and they all are willing to let customers bring their own saddles as long as they can match you up with a horse that matches you and your saddle size. The larger establishments have large remudas of a hundred or more horses from which to choose, so it's unlikely that they couldn't find a horse that both fit your saddle and your temperament. But even the smaller ranches are likely to have enough horses that at least a few of those horses should fit you and your saddle quite well; and the same goes for your friends. So, call your favorite ranches and ask; I'll bet most of these sites will be more than happy to work with you.

One more thing, some of these sites might also offer English tack even though their Websites or brochures don't state it, so that could make it easier yet, though I do understand wanting to ride in your own saddle if you can. But have you also considered riding Western? For long rides, Western saddles do tend to be more comfortable, and you don't have to wear half chaps or such to protect your legs (which can make them quite hot on warm days).

I've ridden on many saddle types from eventing, polo, jumping (hunt-seat) and dressage to Western, endurance, and Australian saddles and they each have their appeal. As with riding different horses, there is good experience and fun in riding different tack. So, if you can't bring your own saddle, why not try something new. After all, riding is all about enjoying new and different experiences — the horses definitely see to that!


Is there any advantage of wearing an actual riding boot over a dress boot that also has a good heel?

There are two I can think of: first, that a boot actually designed for riding usually will have a specially designed sole. This sole has two simultaneous purposes:

  1. It's supposed to let your foot slip out of the stirrup in the event of a fall so you don't get dragged to your death; and
  2. It's supposed to still give you proper traction of slippery ground.
Now, you have to admit, designing the sole of a boot to have what appears to be contrary goals can't be easy. But that's what the prominent riding boot manufacturers seem to have accomplished.

The other aspect of a boot designed for riding is that manufacturers will make some of their boots completely waterproof. That's handy when accidentally stepping in the puddles, mud, and horse waste products we usually find around a barn, in stalls, and in pastures at horse farms.

A regular, but sturdy dress boot with a good heel should be adequate for riding. But if you're going to go out looking for some new footwear specifically for riding purposes, I would look at also getting these additional features, even if I had to pay a little more money for them. You'll easily forget the extra money you paid just a week after getting the boots, but you'll love their additional safety and waterproof features for many years after.


How can I test my trailer's breakaway brake. My horse trailer is 8 years old and I've never used the brake and I thought maybe I should charge its battery. How often should I charge it?

At eight years old, your trailer's breakaway brake is almost assuredly NOT WORKING at this point. First, the breakaway brake circuit is powered by a small rechargable battery. That battery needs to be charged at least each year at the beginning of the trailering season.

Second, those batteries usually only have a lifetime of between 3 - 6 years even if they are being properly charged. They need to be replaced with a new battery every few years. If you're just considering charging your battery now after eight years, it's likely been dead and not available in case of an emergency since at least the second or third year.

For your own safety and that of your passengers and horses, this system should be tested and the battery fully charged (after testing) at least once each year as mentioned above. At this point, buy a new battery first and charge it before installing it. It's also not a bad idea to test it after installation.

To test the battery, pull the little breakaway brake switch out on your hitch and try to move the trailer with your tow vehicle — the trailer brakes should be locked. As soon as you've tested the brakes, immediately replace the switch and again charge the battery. Its charge will only operate the brakes for about a minute or so before it's totally depleted. You want to take your next trailering trip with a fully tested and charged battery.


I just bought a trailer and I am enjoying trailering my horse to shows each weekend. My riding instructor says I should occasionally take my horse out for a ride in the open so he is not limited to just arena riding. I have a friend that says she would love to to try riding outside with me. But I am a little worried about somebody stealing my trailer while my friend and I are away on our ride. What is the best way to avoid that?

I've answered this question in the past for trail riders, but will republish pertinent points again here to save you time. Also, if you're not as interested in going out away from it all like many trail riders, you could try riding in semi-populated locations, such as busy state parks with lots of people around. That will reduce the chances of someone taking the time to steal your trailer. In addition, here some mechanical ways to further make theft difficult:

  1. Use a lock on the hitch lever so a thief cannot separate the hitch from the hitch ball when your trailer is connected to your tow vehicle at the trail head while you're out riding;
  2. Use a locking drawbar pin so a thief cannot pull the drawbar out of your tow vehicles receiver and connect it to the receiver of his truck and drive your trailer away;
  3. Use a lockable wheel chock to immobilize your trailer right where you parked it. Also use this chock on your trailer where you store it, whether it's at your home or at the barn; and
  4. Lock your tow vehicle and take the keys of it and of your trailer with you on your ride. Some people try to hide their keys somewhere on the tow vehicle or trailer to avoid losing them on the ride. While that may sound smart, it's not smart if theives find your keys and then drive your whole tow package away.

Check out these companies that make the products to lock your trailer that I've described above:

Trailer Dog
Trailer Alarms

Obviously, there are no guarantees that we can prevent trailer theft. But fortunately, they're not that common, and the suggestions and products above make it that much harder for would-be thieves to take yours.


Will a horse test you when you are riding?

A horse can test you at any time. In fact, if you're a trail rider, you'll often see someone's horse grab some grass from the ground or leaves from a tree — they should be allowed to do that while riding. In fact, I've seen (and been on) horses that will grab a bunch of birch leaves at the canter or gallop as we go by. True, they want a bite to eat, but they're also testing you and will normally get bolder about their munching when we continually allow them to do so.

As we've written about many times, this has to do with respect and whether or not the horse has such for the human he's with. If, like many riders, you're not sure whether your horse respects you, you may want to read our article entitled: Does My Horse Respect Me?. It gives many examples for you to assess your horse and interaction with you.

If you determine that your horse doesn't respect you, you should enlist the help of a horse trainer so you can learn how to better interact with your horse. A horse that respects you is a safer horse to ride and an easier horse to train.


What happens if two or more horses want to be leader of the herd, will they fight? Can there be more than one leader?

Actually, when a herd forms, there definitely will be posturing and SOME MINOR injuries (biting, kick bruises, etc.) In less common cases, there can be actual, serious fighting with one or both horses getting large open wounds, broken bones, or even killed. But most of the time, the issue is resolved with the application of less dangerous injuries (bites, scrapes, and bruises).

Horses will set up a pecking order that starts with the leader at position number one and ends with the lowest ranking member of the herd. All the intermediate herd members have their own "rank" if you will. And a higher ranking member will sometimes push around and take food away from lower ranking members. If a high-ranking and low-ranking member should bond, the high-ranking member may protect the lower one from intermediate level bullies — it's interesting how horses interact.

We have a little more information on this subject in an article you may want to read entitled: How Many Leaders in a Herd of Horses?.


I just got my first draft (a sweet Percheron). She's supposed to be a great trail horse and I want to try her out this weekend. Are there any special considerations for trailering a draft?

From a horse perspective, most of the things you need to consider are the same typical issues you deal with regarding any horse: temperament, willingness to do as asked, comfort or lack thereof about being in a trailer, past trailering experience, etc. etc. About the only obvious additional thing to consider is whether or not your trailer and tow vehicle are large enough for the horse.

From a trailering perspective, Percherons can reach 18hh, so make sure your trailer is high enough — fortunately, most recent trailers seem to be high enough. Because you didn't state what trailer you have, you need to check its height in case you have a smaller trailer. As for her weight, Percherons can get up into the 2,400 or even the 2,600 pound range — that's a lot more than most regular horses and you didn't mention her size. If she's a big horse, but the only horse in the trailer, that's just a little more weight than hauling two regular size horses and you should be ok. However, if you're also taking another horse in the trailer, and especially a draft, you'll likely need a wider trailer because, while many current trailers are high enough, most manufacturers still have both normal and wide sizes, the latter being needed for drafts.

Even if your trailer is adequate, make sure that your tow vehicle is up to the task. Adding an extra 600 - 3,000 pounds beyond what you normally haul is not a minor increase. And finally, even if both trailer and tow vehicle are up to the task, your acceleration rate, stopping time, and stopping distances will all be greater with this added weight. Take the time to get the feeling of hauling a larger load, be sure to place the largest horse on the left side if you're using a 2-horse straight load, and keep your speed down. You definitely don't want to learn it's going to take more time or distance to stop than you have available once you're in the maneuver.

The Percherons I've met have had great dispositions, so this should be a very enjoyable experience. Have fun!


Is it possible to air condition an enclosed arena? This summer is really bad here in Alabama and my boarders and I have had discussions and reached an agreement. They're willing to pay if I commit to adding the A/C. Can it be done?

Well, it can definitely be done, but this is not going to be a cheap installation, nor will it be cheap to run each summer. Is your indoor arena insulated — usually, they're not. And how large is the air space in this enclosure? In other words, what is its capacity in cubic feet? Finally, of what material is the enclosure made? Metal will conduct heat back in easier than wood, which is a better insulator.

You need to get a representative from a commercial HVAC firm to visit your farm, inspect the enclosure for air tightness and insulation, take measurements, and give you an estimate. In fact, if I were in your place, I would get three or more estimates. Make sure the estimates include the expected monthly electricity costs for running the A/C because I expect it to be quite expensive.

I certainly can relate to the discomfort of riding in a hot arena with the weather this country has been seeing during summers over the last few years. But I'm concerned about pricing because you're discussing cooling a very large space that is generally poorly or not at all insulated. That translates into a very large system that is both expensive to purchase and to run. I'm afraid you're going to find that this project is not financially feasible unless you and your borders are very well off financially — I hope I'm otherwise wrong, but I don't think so.

Good luck!

July 17, 2012 – STALL SIZE

I'm building my own barn. What is the minimum size that a horse stall should be?

I like to see at least a 140 sq. ft. stall (e.g. 12' x 12' or 10' x 14'). But that's a minimum. Something more like 14' x 16' or larger allows a horse to use one end for bathroom purposes and not drag the stuff around. It seems that horses just naturally keep the bigger stalls cleaner. I presume that's so because they have more room and therefore can more easily avoid their own waste area except when using it.

Obviously, even bigger is ok, but there's probably no need to get much bigger than 20' x 20' for one horse or you're just wasting space.


My leather saddle and I got drenched on a ride. I left it down in my basement drying for the last two days and it is still very wet. The barn owner says it is ruined. Is that true? I am now thinking of putting it out in the sun or in a warm oven to dry. Is there any better way to dry the saddle or is it ruined and ready for the dumpster?

NO! You can usually save a soaked saddle. But you need to act quickly and properly. Don't use any form of heat to dry your saddle and don't let it dry completely. Read this article now: Saving a Wet Saddle.


I'm having trouble with my new horse trailer. A few times now I have brushed against or side-swiped tree branches and a stop sign as well as run over the curbing when taking a right turn. I have not hit anything on left turns. I am not doing anything different and never hit anything without the trailer. What's happening?

You might feel better to learn that this is a common problem for someone when they first start pulling a trailer. Fortunately, it's not hard to fix. The problem is that you're driving the same way when pulling your trailer as you do when you're not towing — you can't do that. Here's why.

The trailer's wheels don't track your tow vehicle wheels as you might expect when you turn a corner. Instead, those wheels cut the corner short. That doesn't normally cause a problem when taking a left-hand turn because we drive on the right side of the road here in the U.S. and that leaves more room on the left side. Though, there is one danger in that you might side-swipe a car on your left side at an intersection if you don't compensate.

The way to compensate for a right turn is to pull toward the center of the road as you approach your turn (presuming it's safe to do so, of course) and also pull a little further into the intersection before you start turning to the right. Moving to the center will give your trailer more room to stay on the road even when its wheels cut closer to the curb and roadside. This will also provide more clearance from signs and trees on the right.

Similarly, when turning left, make sure you pull forward enough that you don't clip a car on your left side that's waiting at the intersection to proceed. Pulling forward further before you turn left will bring the trailer further into the intersection so it doesn't cut across the lane of the cars on your left and reduce the chance of it clipping the front end of the first car.


In a discussion with other riders at my barn yesterday, some said that jumping was bad for a horse and some said it wasn't. There was a debate and the two sides couldn't agree (some even got nasty). I asked my jumping instructor and she said jumping was fine and that horses jump naturally, but when I told one of the riders against jumping, she asked "what did you expect her to say?" What is the truth on this? Is jumping ok or not?

Like most things in the world, the correct answer is not black and white; instead, it depends on several factors. No matter how you look at it, it's better for the horse if he never has to jump. However, that doesn't mean that some jumping will cause a problem; it may or may not depending on those aforementioned factors. Here are the major ones:

  1. Condition of the Horse – A horse in good condition and physical shape is less likely to get hurt or sprained than jumping a horse out of condition;
  2. Build of the Horse – A stockier and more solid build means a more rugged horse than one with thin legs and bones;
  3. Jumping Height – The higher you jump a horse, the harder the landing and the greater the risk of strain and injury to the horse;
  4. Jumping Frequency – The more frequently you jump your horse, the greater the stress on the horse's feet and bones as well as the greater the chance of strain and injury;
  5. Weight of the Rider – The heavier the rider, the greater the stress on the horse's feet and bones as well as the greater the chance of strain and injury;
  6. Condition of the Landing Area – A softer landing area is better for the horse's feet and skeleton than a hard landing area. Similarly, a slippery landing area increases the risk of fall and injury to both you and the horse;
As you can see, the more and higher the jumping, the more you weigh, etc., the greater the strains jumping will put on the horse's feet and frame. The fact is, nature designed horses to be able to jump. But in the wild, that might only be three or four times a year while people jumping horses for fun or competition do so much more frequently than nature intended. As a result, all of the listed factors (and some others) come into play and must be considered.

So, as for your own jumping plans, you know your own horse, his build and condition, the type and height of the jumps you do as well as the frequency of jumping, and these all need to be weighed to assess strain and injury risk.


Last week I went riding with my friend and we started out separately about 15 minutes apart. I saw her at the top of the hill about a 1/4 mile away and tried to call her with my cell phone, but it did not work. She tried calling me and it still did not work. I looked at my phone and there was no signal. We were so close it should of worked. Why didn't it? Our phones worked fine when we got back to the barn.

Cell phones don't work like typical 2-way radios (e.g. walkie talkies). 2-way radios transmit radio waves between each other. If you're close enough and there are few or no obstructions between the radios, they work well. Conversely, cell phones don't communicate between each other directly, they communicate with one or more cell towers.

When you couldn't call your friend, it was because you had no signal because your phone couldn't communicate with a cell tower. If there was a tower nearby, that tower would have relayed the call to your friend's phone. Or, there could have been a tower nearby, but you'd still have no signal if you were in a valley, canyon, behind a hill, or any similar obstruction blocking the signal between you and the tower.

On future rides, you may want to bring along a small pair of walkie talkies for such situations. They're inexpensive ($30 - $50 for a set of two), small, and portable. They can also act as a backup in an emergency if your phone is too far from a cell tower or stops functioning for some reason.


Can a horse trailer connected to the ball on a bumper of my pickup carry more weight than a hitch?

NO! Quite the opposite is true. Most bumper hitches are limited to a total of 2,000 pounds — that's less than the empty weight of almost any horse trailer. Put even one horse in such a trailer and you're way over the rating of the bumper hitch.

Your hitch MUST BE FRAME MOUNTED and also be a Class III or higher class hitch; or it must be a gooseneck or fifth wheel hitch. Only these aforementioned hitches are capable of pulling the weight of a horse trailer and its cargo of horses. (There are other types of hitches (e.g. pintle) used on large trucks with ample towing ability, but I know of no horse trailers using those types of hitches.)

NEVER use a bumper hitch to pull a horse trailer. Its towing capacity is MUCH TOO LOW.


I show and ride mostly in the arena. We sometimes have to deal with flies in outside arenas, but there's no problem inside. My friends and I like to occasionally take our horses trail riding a few times each summer. Lots of those times, we have problems with flies and this year more than most. Besides using fly spray, what else can we do?

It's a great idea to ride your horses out in the open from time to time. They generally come back to their arena work with great attitudes. And you're right about flies being even worse this year. We've had lots of rain and humid weather in my part of the country as well as lots of heat. In fact, heat seems to be blanketing the entire country every few weeks.

You're already using a fly spray, though you don't mention what kind. Here are some suggestions:

  • Different Fly Sprays – Try other kinds of fly sprays. Some work better with a particular horse's chemistry than others and it may take some experimenting to determine what works best for your horse;
  • Knitted Ear Nets/Guards – Have you tried any of the knitted ear nets/guards? They will at least keep flies off your horse's ears;
  • Fly Mask – For more coverage, a fly mask will protect your horse's ears, eyes, and much of his nose and upper chin;
  • Fly Swisher – You can buy fly swishers that you carry with you on your rides. These swishers have a handle connected to a long length of horse hair that looks like a tail. When a fly lands on your horse, you swish at it and make it leave; and
  • Fly Switch – Essentially, this is the original and natural fly switch and consists of a small branch with leaves (about 18 - 24 inches long) that you carry on your rides and do the same as you do with a Fly Swisher. I've used these many times and the great thing about it is that you can grab a small branch off of a tree while during the ride as the need occurs and Voilà! A Fly Switch;
Don't be afraid to use some of these products in combination, such as fly spray, a fly mask or ear net, and a swisher. I'm sure there are additional products to help you keep flies away from your horse when riding, but this at least gives you some additional options to start.


My horse hates having her ears touched and that makes it hard for me to check them for mites or other problems. When I touch them, she pulls her head away. I do I get her to let me touch them?

This is a common problem, so we've prepared an article on the topic. It's entitled (appropriately enough): Getting a Horse Used to Having Ears Touched.


My horse and I love to ride the trails with our friends. But she seems to have tender feet. I have her shoed in front (barefoot in back) and her back feet do fine. But even with shoes. her front feet are tender and she steps gingerly when we have to go over rocks on the trail.

What can I do? I go around rocky areas whenever I can. I feel terrible that she has sore feet from me walking her over the rocky areas we can't avoid.

This is a common problem for trail riders. Most horse's feet will adapt over time to whatever ground they live upon — and there's the key. If your horse lives on hard and rocky ground, her feet will adapt. But most of us graze our horses on grassy areas and their feet are cushioned by that soft grass. Take them into a rocky area and those soft feet are tender.

Many times, the use of horseshoes elevates the horse's frog high enough above the rocks to make the issue a non-problem, but not always. And areas with many larger rocks will still hurt the tender foot even when shoed because the shoe doesn't elevate the hoof enough. A good option for any horse, shoed or not, is the use of hoof boots. There are several suppliers and you usually buy hoof boots sized for the hoof without shoes. However, I believe that some can be purchased sized for hooves with shoes.

Check with your farrier and local tack shops for options. I've used such boots on my horse with great success. In fact, the boots have allowed us to traverse rocky terrain that horses without problems could not comfortably cross — the hoof boots work that well!


Can I ride my horse on very hot days when it is over 90 degrees?

Sure you can. But it's good to limit the stress that a ride on a hot day puts on your horse. I rode with a friend several days ago when it was in the mid 90s with high humidity (yeah, please don't question my judgment, I'm already doing that). We kept to a walk and an hour ride. When finished, we and the horses had all worked up a sweat (yeah again, we were just sitting there — makes one wonder what the heck we were thinking).

While it did take a little out of us and our horses, we still got to enjoy the ride and the horses got some exercise. Just be careful and match the work load to the weather and you should be ok. Also, make sure to offer your horse ample drinking water and salt to replenish his hydration and that particular electrolyte.

July 2, 2012 – SALT FOR HORSES

How much salt should I give my horse on hot days?

You're thinking about this in the wrong way. You don't give or administer salt to your horse on each hot day as they come along. Rather, you make salt available to your horse and he'll take it as he needs it. In other words, you don't need to worry about your horse eating too much salt — he'll only eat what he needs because his body only craves it when he needs it.

One way to do this is to install a salt block holder on the wall of his stall. However, most of the blocks available are made for cattle. Cattle have very rough tongues and can abrade and remove salt from the block more easily than the smooth tongue of horses. For that reason, you'll often see a broken salt block where the horse got frustrated and finally bit the block to get the salt he needed more quickly.

These days, the current thinking is that we should provide loose salt in a pail for our horses. Just place the pail in your horse's stall. He'll take some if he needs it, and because it's loose, he won't get frustrated as he might with a salt block.

To make sure you get the right kind of salt, ask for a bag of loose salt for horses at your tack shop. They should know what you mean and carry it. If not, try another tack shop or you can order it from an equine supply retailer on line.

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