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"Horse Guy" Archive Jan - Jun 2013

DISCLAIMER: Any information provided via the "QueryHorse" Website is for entertainment purposes only and represents an opinion. It is not intended for nor can it be relied upon for product review, training, endorsements, or expert advice of any kind. All readers are warned they bear the burden of seeking out expert advice (i.e. not QueryHorse) for their specific situations, and by accessing the "QueryHorse" Website, they hereby affirm their understanding of these conditions.

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Is it ok to use a cell phone when riding? My friend doesn't think so, but I think it is fine cause we go slow.

I agree with your friend that there is some danger to using a cell phone when riding. It's not so much that a cell phone is in and of itself dangerous, it's because horse's easily spook and you want to be paying attention and ready to react when it happens. If you're focusing on your call, you could easily end up on the ground if your horse swiftly stops, starts, or turns because he gets surprised (e.g. from one or more bee stings after you walk over a next or when some dogs just jump out from the brush unexpectedly, etc.)

Just as with driving a vehicle, we need to be "in the moment" when around horses or we can get seriously hurt. I would suggest keeping phone calls short and infrequent when riding. Do it for your own safety.


I normally practice and show in the arena. But once in a while (once or twice a year?) I ride my horse on a trail with my riding friends. Every time I do and I want to go back to the barn early, my horse has a fit! She is normally very accommodating, but not on the trail when it is time to leave. What should I do?

You horse is just acting like a normal horse. If most of your riding is inside as you mention, then your horse is likely not very comfortable on the trail when not in the company of other horses. When you decide that the two of you will break off and return to the barn alone, your horse sees it as exposing the two of you to all the predators that she knows exist, but without the protection of the herd. To her, that's just plain crazy, and she balks because she doesn't want to leave the safety of the herd.

If you're going to go trail riding only once or twice a year, this is going to be a very hard behavior to break. That's because your horse is just not going to get enough frequent alone riding time with you to feel comfortable. Conversely, if you're going to start riding outside quite a bit more, you can break her away from the herd in little and increasing bits until she feels comfortable and safe with just you. But I don't think you'll have much luck achieving your goal if almost all her riding will be indoors with other horses.

If you should decide to ride the trails more frequently, you can try some things. Here's a QueryHorse article that addresses the herd-bound behavior entitled Fixing the Herd-Bound Horse. If you're only going to ride trails once or twice each year, try to arrange both going out and returning with your riding friends. That will make things a lot easier for both of you because you won't be trying to leave the herd when out on the trail.


What do you do if your horse absolutely refuses to do something?

The first thing you should do is to investigate as to whether there is some medical reason why your horse is refusing to follow your command. For example, if you want him to trot, canter, jump, or some such, does he have sore legs or feet? A horse in pain or in need of some form of medical attention will often refuse to do something, and that's good, because doing so would likely injure the horse further. So, if there's a problem, have a vet or farrier (depending on the problem) resolve it and then try your command again.

If you've confirmed that your horse is medically ok, could it be that he's afraid of doing what you ask. For example, he could be afraid to load into a trailer. Or he could be afraid to cross a stream because he can't see the bottom and is afraid he'll fall in. Or perhaps he's afraid to cross a wooden bridge because of the ringing sound (and sometimes movement) it makes when he walks across.

In all of the foregoing examples, being afraid is an issue to which you want to carefully and slowly desensitize your horse. Being afraid is a good thing that helps save the lives of all animals (including humans) when we know that something feels dangerous, or at least doesn't feel right. I've NEVER seen the forcing a of horse to do something come out well — it almost always backfires either immediately or comes back to haunt us at some later time when a similar circumstance causes the horse to act wild and unpredictably. So, I advise you to work with the horse to show him that the activity he fears is actually ok. Enlist the help of a trainer if you need the assistance and make sure to learn from the trainer how to deal with these incidences yourself so you'll be able to handle the next fearful thing.

Finally, if all else is fine, but the horse doesn't see you as his leader, he may not follow your command on that basis alone. In that case, you need to learn how to be his leader. The help of a horse trainer will again be of assistance in this kind of situation. But as mentioned above, you don't want to just get help for this issue and move on, you want to learn the general techniques so that you can safely and effectively apply them in the future as necessary. A horse that doesn't recognize you as his leader is more problematic than the fact that he just won't do as you ask — it can actually be dangerous for you as he may just push through you. Obviously, that's very bad because we're just not as large, powerful, and as hardy as another horse.

June 25, 2013 – WHICH HOOF PICK?

Is it better to use a dull or sharp hoof pick on your horse's hoofs? I am finding many kinds and not sure what to get.

You're right about there being many different kinds of this basic tool — more variations than one would think are warranted for such a simple application. Well, I've tried lots of different hoof picks and they all work. Some are better than others and I prefer those with a one inch or so flat blade and a rounded end at the point so it's not too sharp. I've found this design to be the easiest for me to remove almost anything from a horse's hooves without scoring or injuring them.

More to the point (no pun intended), I don't like the very sharp picks. For one thing, those sharp points don't have much strength, yet a stuck rock or hardened mud requires us to apply considerable force at times. Also, a sharp point could injure your horse's frog. I've slipped more than once when using a lot of force on the aforementioned stuck stone or stubborn, hardened mud and I wouldn't want such a slip to allow me to graze or cut a horse's frog or his leg with a sharp pointed pick. At least a dull, rounded tip is much less likely to cut or injure the horse and I've never found a need for that sharp point in any hoof I've ever cleaned (and there have been many).


I am looking for a western saddle for trail riding. I learned in a western but never liked the horn. Do I need the horn for anything? Is there a reason western saddles still have horns when there are not many cowboys anymore? Or is it just tradition?

There are many reasons that Western saddles still have horns. Here are some of them:

  1. First, yes, it IS tradition, Western saddles have horns, and many riders want such a saddle exactly as it is;
  2. Second, there are still some cowboys out there and they use the horns for cattle work and for moving other heavy items (e.g. pile of brush, a log or small tree, etc.);
  3. Some competitive traditional riding (e.g. cattle roping) requires a horn to afix the rope for the event; and
  4. Many tack accessories are available that hang on the horn of a Western saddle (e.g. water bottle holder, horn bag, horn wither bags, etc.)

I'm sure there are additional reasons, but at least this gives you at least some idea why a Western saddle with a horn is still popular with many riders today. However, if you don't want a horn, but still want a saddle you can use to ride for many hours of the day, you have other options. Endurance saddles are essentially Western saddles without a horn, but with most or all of the characteristics that make Western saddles safer for the trail and more comfortable for multi-hour rides.

Another option (my favorite) is the Australian saddle. This saddle is very much like a Western saddle, but with a deeper cantle and higher pommel than even a Western saddle. In addition, it has knee poleys that make the saddle even safer, can usually be used for some low jumping, and is every bit as comfortable for long riding days. Many Aussie saddles are available with OR without a horn — it's YOUR choice.

So, the foregoing should hopefully give you some better insight into Western saddles and other effective alternatives you may prefer. Any of these options should make for a safe ride on the trails. You should try to find a dealer that will let you try whichever saddle you're considering for a week or two of riding. It's the only way to see if the saddle you like and that feels comfortable in the store will be as liked and comfortable after several hours of riding in it.

June 21, 2013 – JUMPING DANGERS?

I want to learn to jump my horse. Is it dangerous?

Well, it's more dangerous than not jumping your horse. Let's face it, if the horse balks just before the jump and you go flying over its head, or you're not in the proper position when your horse lands and you fall off, the chance of getting hurt is there. It may be just scrapes and bruises or it can be something more serious. You can also fall at a gallop, but jumping accidents are more common.

That said, many people, including many youngsters, jump horses everyday with no or minimal injuries. But I just wanted to be clear that there is some increased risk when you jump a horse. The fact is, most sporting activities have some risk of injury associated with them, from horseback riding and jumping to skiing and swimming. Only you can determine whether or not a risk is acceptable or not. But as an active individual involved in many sports (riding horses, skiing, inline skating, flying planes, etc.), I feel that taking some reasonable chances and actually living life is much better than playing it safe and watching life go by. Still, everyone needs to make their own decisions about what degree of risk they're willing to take.

We have an article on this topic entitled Horse Jumping Safety that you may also want to read. The article quantifies the risk to some degree and provides lots of recommendations on how to reduce and better manage those risks through proper behavior and wearing proper safety gear.


I want to get my barn wired and talked to an electrician. He wants to wire it for 110/220. But when I talked to my neighbor, he said I didn't need 220 volts in the barn and could save money by just wiring it for 110 volts. I'm always for saving money, but I don't want to go with just 110 if I should have 220. What are your thoughts?

First, just so you know, most places in the U.S. today are actually 120/240 volts and that's for what today's appliances are rated. Second, you're not going to save much money by running only 120 volts out to your barn. But you might truly regret being limited if you later want to power an appliance out there that needs 240 volts. That's what you'll likely need if you ever decide to put a hot water heater out there or a washer and dryer to clean horse blankets and other such items you don't want or can't fit into your regular washer and dryer. You might even want to power an air compressor or a welder out there to do some work or some repairs on a stall, tractor, or some such.

So, I would run 120/240 volts out to the barn. And I wouldn't do a small circuit, such as 15 or 20 amps; I would make the circuit at least 40 amps. even 50 or 60. That way, you'll have ample power for almost whatever you'd put into a small barn. And if you later ever converted the barn to something like a workshop, you would again be happy to have adequate power for your intended needs.

The one-time cost for going to 240 volts and a larger service is just that — a one-time cost — and it's not a lot more. The price of electricity is the same whatever kind of service you put out there, so having a larger service doesn't cost you any more in your monthly bill. But you'd hate to install a small service now, such as just for lighting, and then either have to do without any larger appliances you may want in the future or have to pay still more to replace the feed cable and electrical panel with a larger and higher voltage circuit later on. Also, check out some articles we have on this and related topics:

Barn Electric Power

Reducing Electricity Costs in Your Barn

Better Barn Lighting

Install an ample sized (40 - 60 amp) 120/240 volt service now and forget about it — I'm positive that you'll be glad you did.


How many calories are burned riding a horse?

Well, it's not quite that simple. The answer is going to be determined by these three major variables:

  1. What you're doing on the horse (e.g. walking, trotting, cantering, galloping, etc.);
  2. How long you do it (e.g. 30 minutes, an hour, 3 hours, etc.); and
  3. How much you weigh. The more one weighs, the more one works to move that weight through the same motions.

There's an interesting Website that has a calculator for determining calories burned for riding at the walk, trot, and gallop. It also allows you to calculate calories burned for over 160 other activities. All you need do is enter your weight, select the activity for which you want to determine calories burned, and then enter the number of minutes you're performing that activity. Then click the calculate button or hit the "Enter" key and the Website will display your answer.

The site is the Calories Burned Calculator at Health Status.

June 18, 2013 – FIRST HORSE ITEMS

I just bought a horse and she is going to be delivered this weekend. I do not have any grooming stuff yet, so I need to get some. What else should I get for my new horse?

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! It's exciting to get any horse, but I think that our first horse is the most exciting of all.

As for what you need, it's a lot more than just grooming tools. For example, do you have a halter for her? Perhaps she'll come with one, but you'll definitely need a spare halter — they sometimes break or get lost. Also, I definitely prefer and recommend a break-away halter to protect your horse. Then, there are insect repellents, such as fly spray.

We have an article you may want to read that identifies some gear you need to care for your horse. Some will depend on your riding preferences. The article is Items to Buy With Your First Horse. It also discusses items you need, but should wait to get until you better understand the needs of your horse and your own needs and preferences.

June 17, 2013 – COOLING A HOT BARN

What's the best way to keep a barn cool on really hot days? Some of our horses have to stay inside and I don't want them to get too hot.

Generally, you have two options that can be used individually or in combination:

  1. Passive cooling – you open all the doors and windows to allow as much air flow as possible; and
  2. Active cooling – you use large fans to exchange air in the barn.

The passive option is the least expensive, but it's also the most limited because it depends on natural air movement. On some days, there's no wind and that means minimum air exchange cooling — so things can get rather hot on such days.

Active cooling comes in two forms, air conditioning and use of fans. It's highly doubtful that anyone will spend lots of money putting air conditioning into a barn, perhaps with the exception of the office and tack room. But few will spend the considerable money needed to purchase, install, and run A/C for the comfort of horses. That leaves fans as the most viable and economically acceptable active cooling option.

Fans replace natural wind and make their own air movement. Fans used in barns are usually quite large with a 24" diameter fan likely being the smallest. Larger fans in the 30", 36", 42", and 48" are other highly used options. While these are big fans, they are very effective and rather inexpensive to purchase and run. For example, even a large 36" fan can be purchased new for $200 - 250.00. Such a fan will move almost 13,000 cubic feet of air per minute — that's a lot of air flow! It will draw about 440 watts and cost about $2.10 to run continually all day. A smaller 24" fan will cost only $160 new and still move over 7,000 cubic feet of air each minute using about 150 watts costing around 72¢s per day if left on continually.

As you can see, these are low-cost investments and have low operating costs to move lots of air. In many locations, you'd only need to run these fans for about 6 - 8 hours during the hotter parts of the day. Barn owners in the deep south would require longer run times, but the costs are still low as proven by the continuous, 24-hour costs mentioned about.

I hope this helps!

June 14, 2013 – RIDING ON WET GRASS?

Is it dangerous to ride on wet grass? One of the woman in my barn says you can get hurt and that she will never do that.

She'll never get hurt? Or she'll never ride on wet grass? I wouldn't bet that either won't happen.

Wet grass is more slippery than dry grass. But avoiding wet grass means that you'll hardly ever ride in the early morning when dew often forms on the cooler ground. Personally, I like to avoid what I consider dangerous conditions, but I don't think that wet grass is such a condition as long as common sense is applied.

For example, I'd rather not gallop or jump on wet grass, but in my opinion, this is just common sense. Slippery footing is not a good place to do those things anymore than it makes sense to drive fast on a slippery surface. But I wouldn't avoid a ride that left in early morning just because the grass was wet. I can control the speed at which I ride and I'll keep it to the walk until the surface is safer. There's no reason that you, the woman giving you advice, or anyone else can't do the same thing.

Do be careful on and around horses, but use common sense and be careful about the advice you take to heart. At minimum, make sure it passes the "reasonable person" test.

June 13, 2013 – TRAILER FOR DRAFTS

How much bigger is a trailer for draft horses?

Believe it or not, many trailers these days seem to be high enough for most horses or drafts and range from 7' 6" to 8' 0". Straight-load horse trailers for standard size horses (e.g. up to 16-2 hands) are generally around 72" wide. Draft trailers are usually around the same height, but are somewhat wider in the 78 - 80 range. You also need to assure that the trailer can carry the weight of two large drafts plus whatever else you need to take along (tack, hay bales, water, etc.)

There are many trailers out there and it makes sense to educate yourself first and then spend time looking around. I've seen some old (e.g. 15 - 20 years) used trailers with rust and deteriorated interiors that the owners want almost as much as a new trailer. So, don't presume that all used trailers represent a good bargain, because some definitely do not. Even if you know you need to buy used for financial reasons, make sure you know the new price of the kind of trailer you want BEFORE looking at used trailers. This way, you'll have some idea whether that used trailer makes any financial sense at all, or whether it's a very poor investment.

If buying used, check out our article (with checklist) entitled: Buying a Good Used Trailer.

June 12, 2013 – HORSES IN HEAVY RAIN

You have written in the past that it is ok for horses to be out in the rain. Does that mean my horses are ok in heavy rain too?

Well, wild horses are out in all kinds of weather. Domesticated horses seem fine with any rain in which I've seen them. In fact, I've never heard a report, either in the news or through "word of mouth" that a horse was inured from being out in rain that was too heavy. So, I'd say that even heavy rain is ok for horses.

That said, if you still have some concerns, why not provide a run-in for your horses. It doesn't need to be very big, just large enough for your horses to stand in. That way, they can decide if they want to get out of the rain.

Separately, very bad weather, such as large hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc., are VERY dangerous for horses. Also, rain on cold days less than 50°F risks hypothermia for the horse, so bringing them inside or giving them some shelter is a good idea.


My horse is a kicker and I normally ride alone. But I want to take some lessons in the arena and occasionally do some trail riding with others, but I am afraid he'll kick another horse. What can I do?

No matter what, it all comes down to keeping a safe distance between your horse and every other. Generally, that's at least one horse-length away when following another horse — a little more is even better. In the arena, we normally are not following one another and movement tends to be somewhat random or the arena is split so each rider has his own area to ride and practice uninterrupted. But even then, someone may sometimes encroach on another's space when focused on their riding or training their horse, so you need to be alert to what's happening around you — for sure, your horse will be completely aware of ALL OTHER ACTIVITY AT ALL TIMES.

One other thing you can do is to tie a red ribbon onto your horse's tail. That's a somewhat universal indicator to stay away from a horse that sometimes kicks.

June 10, 2013 – RIDING BAREFOOT?

Is it ok to ride barefoot as it gets warmer?

Well, if you're going riding into the water, you're wearing a bathing suit, and your horse is swimming, that makes some sense. Though, if it were me, I'd wear some of the waterproof footwear available to athletes in case you need to dismount in some rocky area. Conversely, if you're asking about riding barefoot in general because the weather is warmer, I think that's a crazy idea.

Proper riding footwear is recommended for several reasons:

  1. The heel helps stop your foot from going too far into the stirrup;
  2. The sole of a riding boot is actually designed to let your foot slip out of the stirrup should you fall off so you don't get dragged to your death;
  3. The soles of a pair of bare feet are likely to quickly get tired and sore resting on just the bar of a stirrup as you trot or canter; and
  4. If you have to leave the saddle for any unexpected reason, such as a flying dismount or a balked jump, it's nice to have the cushioning of proper footwear if you come down on hard, rocky, or otherwise unforgiving terrain — think how landing on sharp stones would feel on bare feet. And we're likely talking a "hard" landing here because you're coming down 4 - 6 feet from atop a horse.

So, you can do as you please, but I wouldn't ride barefoot, and I also recommend that others not do so either.


I want to take pictures of horses and sell them. Is there a book about how to do that?

No one book will do this for you. But, photography is photography, and you want to begin by learning about how to properly use cameras, lenses, and lighting. There is some amount of theory to learn if you're going to want to be a good photographer. Even though today's cameras are more automated than ever, getting unusual and unique photos often requires you to "bend the rules" and view the process differently. You can only do that if your actually understand the rules and technical aspects of photography.

In addition, photography is all about light; the color, the angle, the intensity of the light falling on the scene, and whether that light is specular or diffuse. Even the scene changes the light that finally arrives at your eye and camera. As a result, artists have an advantage when they take up photography because they already understand light, color, shadows, etc. That said, anyone can learn enough to be a good photographer, but they have to put in the time to learn the concepts espoused above. And you want to be able to do more than capture a great shot; you want to be able to CREATE great shots. Good photographers don't have just one or a few great shots — they have many! That's because they don't have to wait to find those shots, they know how to create them. So, there's one more thing you need to learn that's more artistic than technical, and that's "how to see" and compose good photos. Taking a good photography course would help you with this as well as many of the technical topics.

Separately, if you're going to shoot horse photos, you also need to understand horse behavior and how to safely interact with them. Horses can be unpredictable to even the most seasoned horse person, and much more so the uninitiated. But it's definitely easier to get the shot you want when you have some understanding of how they think and what motivates them. The library and the Internet are loaded with information for you to find on this topic. In addition, we have an article that can get you started entitled Horse Photography – How-to.


How often should I clean my horse's sheath? It isn't a job I enjoy, so I don't want to do it anymore than I have to.

Yeah, you're not alone in not liking this particular horse-care chore. But the vets I've asked over the years have generally said that once or twice a year is usually enough. That said, horses are individuals and have their own metabolism unique to them. So, while this frequency of cleaning might be good for most horses, you may want to ask your own vet whether or not it's the right number of times to clean your specific horse's sheath. Some will exude more smegma than others, and coupled with a dirtier/dustier environment, might need an extra cleaning or two a year. Your vet will be your best information source on this topic.


I want to go on some night rides with my friends. How well do horses see at night? Will we have to guide them so they stay on the trail and won't stumble off?

Actually, horses reportedly see as well in the dark as cats do, and we all know that cats see much better than we do when there's little light. My own experiences riding my horse at night confirm this assertion. He's been able to take me down trails in what appeared to be total darkness to me where I couldn't even see his mane, yet, we never bumped into anything or left the trail (as far as I could tell). For what it's worth, we've always come back out into the light where we were supposed to, so I strongly suspect we never left the trail.

One other thing I like to do is to carry a flashlight with me. I especially like the small LED lights with a head band that I can place on my riding helmet. That way, if I feel I need to see where we're or are going, I can turn it on and ride without having to hold a light in my hands.

So, go with your friends and have fun! Of course, don't ride too fast and take proper safety precautions as we always should when with horses. Also realize that you can't easily look down to check out the footing, so stay on trails you've recently ridden and know are safe to be upon.


How can I clean my horse's face when I groom her? I was using my grooming brush but the barn owner said it is too hard for a horse's face. What do I do?

Your barn owner is correct! Get a soft brush designed for use on a horse's face. Most tack shops have brushes of varying hardness and you really do want a soft one for use on your horse's face. However, even with the soft brush, you still need to be very careful to NOT brush too near your horse's eyes, nose, or ears. Do that accidentally a couple of times and your horse will panic whenever you come close to her face with a brush. For her to trust you, you need to make sure you don't brush those areas — not even by accident.

I also advocate using a soft brush on your horse's pasterns and fetlocks. It's another area that can be sensitive on many horses and a stiff brush can irritate those areas.

June 3, 2013 – SUV TOW VEHICLES

What SUVs can pull a horse trailer?

I think this or some variation is the most frequent question we get every Spring. It appears that many would like to pull a horse trailer with something other than a pickup truck, such as an SUV, or often, even their car. I hate to keep answering the same questions in this column, but clearly it is a topic of major interest to our readers, so here goes.

We've responded many times as to why cars usually make very poor tow vehicles, even for 1-horse trailers, a product that we feel is a poor investment because they cost almost as much as a 2-horse trailer. However, some SUVs are excellent tow vehicles, but not all of them. It all depends on the size, weight, and tow capacity of the SUV.

We don't have a list of SUVs with ratings of whether or not they make for good tow vehicles or not. This is because it would prove onerous to maintain that list as SUV models come and go, and even because model capabilities change (e.g. some models that could tow 7,000 pounds a year ago can only tow 5,000 pounds in this year's model). So instead, we recommend that you need to do some basic research, either online or by visiting the SUV dealers of your choice.

The larger SUVs from Toyota, Jeep, Cadillac, etc., will easily be able to tow a 2-horse trailer. But smaller SUVs will not have that capability. Here's a list of some articles that can help provide some better understanding of small tow vehicles:

Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles

Buy the Trailer or Truck First?

Tow Vehicles

Getting Properly Hitched

Common Trailering Questions

No matter what, you need to do some research of the actual make and models of vehicles that you'd like to consider for this purpose. The above list of articles will help you learn what ratings and specifications you need to consider.


What's the story about the breakaway battery on my horse trailer? Does it stay charged by itself or do I have to put it on a charger every now and then?

Unfortunately, there are no standards here. On many trailers, the battery must be removed, placed on a charger for a few hours until fully charged, and then put back into and connected in the trailer. On some trailers, the manufacturer uses the constant tow vehicle voltage supplied for inside trailer lighting to keep the battery charged. There's a little circuit between the battery and the tow vehicle to stop the battery from discharging into the vehicle's load.

But, even if your trailer has this arrangement to keep the breakaway battery charged, remember that charging only occurs when your trailer is connected to your tow vehicle and you're driving down the highway. It doesn't charge when the tow vehicle is turned off and parked even if the trailer is still electrically connected. And for those that only trailer a few times each season, or trailer often, but for only short distances, your battery is not getting much charging time. So for those reasons, I always recommend that horse trailer owners check and charge their breakaway batteries at the beginning of the towing season and then every three or four months after that until the towing season is over.

You're breakaway battery will not stop a runaway trailer with your horses inside if its charge is low or depleted should a trailer separation occur while underway.


How should I place my stirrups when riding? Can I put them out front which is more comfortable, or do I put them underneath as my instructor says?

To some degree, proper placement of stirrups depends on several factors, such as type of saddle and the gait at which you're riding. The kind of saddle you're riding in will affect how you sit. For example, a Western or Endurance saddle will put your stirrups somewhat out front more as you sit back into the saddle. This has the advantage of providing a somewhat more comfortable ride for those long hours in the saddle. In comparison, an English saddle will have your feet and stirrups more beneath you.

However, even in a Western or Endurance saddle, your feet and stirrups will come back under you as your speed increases. In general, we like to think of our ears being over our shoulders being over our hips being over our ankles as a balanced position when riding. This is especially true at the faster gaits where proper position and balance is even more important.


My horse bucks when I tighten his cinch. Why does he do that? What can I do to stop it?

Is this something new or has your horse always done this? Usually, the bucking is a response to discomfort from the tightened cinch. Check under your horse's belly to see if there could be a bruise or injury there. If you see nothing, press lightly where the cinch will go across the stomach. While doing this, make sure you're in an open area (not in a stall) and that you're being very careful in case you touch a tender spot and your horse reacts quickly — you need space to immediately back away so you don't get hurt. If there is a reaction, you need to have your vet check to determine why the area is so tender. There could be some kind of growth there or some horse could have kicked your horse there and bruised him while they were out in the field recently, or some such.

If there doesn't appear to be an obvious problem, it's possible that you're tightening the cinch too tightly or that your horse just doesn't like the feeling of the cinch. If the former, don't tighten the cinch as much as you have been. Better yet, have another rider, trainer, instructor, or the barn owner check how hard you're tightening your cinch so that it's not too tight or too loose.

Finally, take the advice of many by tightening the cinch in stages. When you first place the saddle on your horse and secure the cinch, just tighten it a little and then go back to other tasks for a minute or two, such as grooming. Then tighten the cinch a little more and do something else, such as applying fly spray. When ready to ride, tighten the cinch the final needed amount and mount your horse. By tightening in stages, your horse will have time to get used to slightly increased cinch pressure and won't feel as if you went from nothing to an intense girdle clamp all at once.


Hi! I've got an aluminum horse trailer with a white finish and I'm wondering how to get it cleaned up well. I've read about taking aluminum trailers to the big truck washes and giving them an acid-wash but that sounds corrosive to me. Do you know of other options? I appreciate your opinion on this. Thanks in advance!

This is not my area of expertise, but I'll certainly share my opinion and what I do with my trailer.

First, I agree entirely with you that I'm uncomfortable with the "acid wash" idea. That's partly because I have no experience with acid washes, but also because I don't know what acid they're using and how that will interact with an aluminum skin. Even if it works ok, you'd really want to assure that the acid is neutralized and thoroughly rinsed off the skin of your trailer. The "unknowns" of this cleaning method trouble me also.

Second, my horse trailer is also aluminum and has a fiberglass top. I've had great luck every season using nothing more than a standard car wash detergent in warm water on the trailer. It's gentle on my hands and yet removes dirt, grime, mold, mildew, and tree and bird droppings that occur in spring when the trees are budding and the birds are targeting our vehicles and trailers. And I'm comfortable that the car detergent is nowhere near as chemically active as an acid wash could be.

Finally, I hate to do the extra work, but I apply a good car polish to the outside of the trailer once it's cleaned. It helps protect the finish from other active compounds (acid rain, tree sap, bug residue, etc.), provides some UV protection from the Sun to resist the fading of colors, makes subsequent cleanings easier so the dirt will slide off during the next wash, and even makes the trailer look newer.

I hope this helps!

May 24, 2013 – EQUINE CAREERS

I am 16 and love horses. I have been riding most of my life and want to go into some horse business after I go to college. Are there any professional horse jobs I can consider besides being a vet?

Some horse business, ehh? Is that at all like some monkey business?

All kidding aside, there are many different equine vocations for you to consider. And thinking about them now so you can be better informed to select your major for college is a great idea. See our article entitled Equine Occupations — A Starting Point for some ideas. In it, we list almost 60 different horse-related careers, many of them professional. And there are even more such vocations than we list, but it should at least give you a good start and get you thinking about all the possibilities.

Good Luck to you!


How do I put fly spray on my horse's face? I know I should not spray straight at her face but don't know how else to do it.

You're right! DON'T SPRAY directly at your horse's face. Instead, spray onto a clean paper towel. Then, carefully wipe the wet area of that paper towel on your horse's face BEING VERY CAREFUL to not get too close to her eyes, nose, or mouth.

To be honest, I don't like using fly sprays whether some synthetic or petroleum chemical or an extract from some plant — they're all concentrated and have to be to ward off the flies and mosquitoes. I always wonder just how safe that really is for my horse. However, if we don't use anything, our horses seem to get eaten alive and I feel that could be even worse than using fly sprays. So, use sparingly and always follow the manufacturer's directions as well as being especially cautious around your horse's face as we've just discussed.


I am looking for a 2 horse trailer that I can pull with my car. I might even be willing to change to a bigger car if needed. What are my options?

You can't believe how many times we get this question or a variation of it. I'd say we get several of these every single day. I presume it means that many readers have only cars and would like to use them to get and pull a trailer to go places with their horse. But truth be told, I don't believe there is a car that's really adequate for pulling a 2-horse trailer. A pickup truck or an SUV are the closest you can get.

Here's why: most 2-horse trailers will weigh between 2,200 - 3,000 pounds empty. Two regular size horses will add another 1,000 pounds each. Bigger horses will weigh more and then there's still more stuff you'll need to bring with you (saddles and other tack, hay for the horses, grooming tools, first aid kits, fly sprays, manure fork, broom, spare trailer tire, etc.) — all this stuff just keeps piling on the weight. Few, if any, cars are rated to pull that much weight. And don't think you can get around tow limits by moving some of that stuff to the car so it's not in the trailer. Tow vehicles (including trucks of all sizes) have limits that include both the weight of cargo in the tow vehicle added to the weight of the trailer. So, moving cargo weight back or forth between tow vehicle and trailer doesn't change things when it exceeds the Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGVW) of the tow vehicle. The CGVW is almost certainly going to be too low for a car with what you need to tow/carry.

There are also other issues that come into play, such as wheelbase, tow vehicle weight, etc., that also affect your ability to tow horses. We have numerous articles on the different aspects of towing horses and you should at least read the following:

Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles

Tow Vehicles

Common Trailering Questions

Starting With Your First Horse Trailer

If you still don't want a truck and prefer a car-like ride from your tow vehicle, get a comfortable SUV that can haul at least 5,000 pounds — more would be better.


How safe is it to ride alone outside? Is it too dangerous in case something happens away from the barn?

Well, you have to remember that, through the centuries before automobiles, horses were the only form of transportation other than walking. So, people definitely rode alone when going somewhere. I occasionally ride alone and many of my friends do also. The majority of the time, we prefer to ride together and see horseback riding as a very social sport. But there are those times when I just feel like being alone with my horse out on the trail or in the forest. At those times, we ride out alone.

We may go out five miles and return, or we may go out ten or more. It all depends on my mood that day, the fitness of my horse and me, the weather (is rain coming?), and any other aspect that may affect the ride. So, from my perspective and that of many of my fellow riders, riding alone is just another option and way of riding in which we occasionally like to indulge. I'm not saying there are no risks, just that many of us find them to be minimal and acceptable — it really has a lot to do with your own riding confidence and the relationship you have with your horse.

If you're afraid to be out alone, perhaps you should speak with a riding instructor about your concerns and what additional training you might want to consider. Of course, you may just decide to ride only when one or more other riders are available to join you. But I wouldn't want to let that limit my riding, and as mentioned above, sometimes, I just want the ride to be about my horse and me. After all, I took a long time evaluating horses and finding him, and I truly enjoy spending time with him. And I believe he feels similarly. At least he'll often trot or gallop over to see me when I arrive and I don't think he'd do that if he didn't like spending time with me. Riding alone occasionally allows us to indulge in our very special relationship.


I am a short woman 5' 1" tall. But I have a 17 hand horse and love him to death. I have a hard time getting on him because I need to put a box on the top of the mounting block. The box and block can wiggle and I am afraid I might fall and get hurt. Are there any tall and stable mounting blocks?

That does sound dangerous! I would not put anything on top of a mounting block. And yes, there are taller mounting blocks. The tallest I've seen have four steps. I've answered this question before, found and confirmed the suggested links, and include them here for you. The Horseman's Depot is a US source and JSW Coachbuilders is in the UK.

Both of these sources have 4-step blocks and I hope that at least one of them meets your needs and keeps you safer getting on. When you contact them, you might even want to ask if they have a 5-step block or other solutions that might work for you.

Good luck!


I am learning to jump horses and they are telling me to sit over the horse's center of gravity. Where do I find my horse's center of gravity?

Well, your jumping instructor is correct about wanting to be over your horse's center of gravity. Our response was somewhat involved, so we've prepared an article to answer your question in the belief that it'll be useful to many other readers as well. You can see it at: Your Horse's Center of Gravity.


I'm looking for "horse safe" lights we can install in a new barn we're building. Can you make some suggestions?

This is a good question! The first thing to discuss is what "horse-safe" really means when it comes to lighting fixtures. To my knowledge, there is no such fixture actually designed and specified as "horse safe". However, I have often recommended the use of vapor-proof lighting fixtures for stall lighting, especially in wash stalls. Vapor-proof fixtures contain the bulb inside a sealed, thick glass housing. This is not only much tougher than an exposed light bulb, it also provides protection against a spray of water onto a hot bulb, such as might happen accidently in a wash stall.

As tough as these fixtures are, they're still made of glass and we don't want our horses to hurt themselves by rearing and striking their head against one. So, I also recommend placing the fixture at a greater height than your horse can reach when rearing. That's usually means something around 10 - 12 feet about the ground depending on the size (and length) of the horse.

We have an article that includes a photo of a vapor-proof fixture and much more thoroughly discusses various forms of barn lighting that you should read entitled: Better Barn Lighting. I suggest that you use CFLs or LED bulbs in the vapor-proof fixtures rather than incandescent bulbs because incandescents use much more electricity to generate the same amount of light. If you decide to instead go with 4 or 8-foot fluorescent bulbs, make sure they're high enough that your horse can't reach them and also place each bulb inside the inexpensive clear plastic sleeves that you can get at most hardware and home stores. The sleeves will contain the broken glass and toxic phosphors if a tube should burst or be broken by an accidental impact.

Good luck with your new barn! It sounds like a lot of fun.

May 15, 2013 – RIDING DANGERS

I want to learn to ride horses but I am afraid I could get hurt. My children are now older (teenagers) and less dependent on me, but I still need to be careful. I have always wanted to ride but am wondering if maybe I should forget it. Any ideas?

Obviously, this needs to be your call. And you're right to have some concerns because there is some inherent danger when around a horse. They're big, powerful, fast moving, and can be spooked by little things. That said, humans have been successfully keeping the company of horses for many thousands of years. In addition, while those of us that do ride and own horses can occasionally get bruised from a fall or some such, most horse-related injuries are those minor bruises and scrapes. Very serious horse injuries or death are very rare, much more so than injuries and deaths from driving or being a passenger in a motor vehicle. And yes, the pertinent statistics do account for the fact that fewer people ride than use motor vehicles. But riding occurs at much slower speeds and is actually much safer than riding in a car or truck.

So, I suggest you read an article we have entitled The Risk of Riding Horses. The article will also provide some statistical comparisons of risk compiled by the National Safety Council that you can use the weigh the risk against other activities that you and the rest of us deal with regularly in our lives.

May 14, 2013 – A DRY, WARPED SADDLE

How can I fix my dry and warped saddle?

Well, it may be fixable, and it may not be. It'll all depend on the current state of the leather. If the leather is in good shape but is just warped, you have some options and may want to read our article on Flattening Curled Leather. HOWEVER, if the leather is too dry or has significant mold or mildew on it, the leather has likely been somewhat destroyed and is not worth saving. Worse, it can be a safety risk because a dry or broken down piece of leather can easily tear or rip leaving you on the ground at the worse possible time, in the worse possible place, and at the worse possible speed, or in any combination of these.

So, don't try to save a saddle unless it's still truly in good enough condition and strength.


I read a posting you made last month that said something about repacking wheel bearings on my trailer. I do not know what that means but my husband said it was silly because I only use my trailer 3 or 4 times a year. Do I still need to have the bearings checked or repacked?

DEFINITELY! The reason I suggest the checking and repacking of the bearings every few years is because most trailers get little use. As a result, the grease slowly flows to the bottom of the bearing chamber and leaves the top of the bearings dry and unlubricated. Conversely, your car or truck is likely to run every or almost every day, so the bearings are constantly rotated and covered with grease. Even then, every time you bring your car in for service or maintenance, most mechanics will check the bearings to make sure they're not running dry, because if they do, it'll kill the bearings.

Another reason to pay explicit periodic attention to the bearings is that many farms and trails are at the end of dirt roads/drives with ruts and such that fill with water. Driving through those flooded ruts and puddles with your trailer can wash fine dirt into the bearings as well as start corrosion on those parts that are no longer covered with grease that has run off through little trailer use. — sand and corrosion are another two bearing killers. So, this is a check I recommend every three or four years and which I have performed on my own trailer.


My horse has some clear liquid coming from a hole in his leg. Do you know what it is? It is not blood and he seems ok otherwise.

HE'S NOT OK — CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY! It sounds as if it's serous fluid — this is a liquid that is under the skin. If it really is serous fluid, it means that your horse has a deep puncture wound penetrating all the layers of the skin. The longer it's open, the greater the chances of a major and very dangerous infection.

Call your vet NOW!


Is it dangerous to go into a stall when a horse is there? I just got told that and groom my horse in her stall all the time. I have been doing this for years. Is this nonsense?

No! It's NOT nonsense! There is absolutely no doubt there is increased danger to any human within an enclosed space with a horse. In fact, this question is particularly timely because I recently broke my hip and WILL NOT go into my horse's stall for the next few months when he's in there. We have a great relationship and he has never hurt me. But if he were to spook and accidently bump into me, that could send me bouncing around the stall and I won't chance that with my leg's current fragile condition.

Now, I didn't say you should never go into your horse's stall while she's there, just that you need to be aware that there's an elevated danger and chance of injury. Be healthy, be alert, and watch your horse's attitude and behavior — do this when near any horse inside or near one in an open field. Horses can move so fast and have so much weight and strength that we're just too puny and fragile not to be properly concerned.


Just got my first horse trailer. Got some questions. Do I cross or not cross the safety chains? Getting advice to go both ways depending on who I listen to. Where do I get a brake controller? What is it? Where does it connect? TIA!

CONGRATULATIONS on your first trailer! DO CROSS the chains. The purpose is to catch the ball coupler if it ever came off the ball and dropped. A coupler coming down onto the ground and grinding on the asphalt while moving is not a fun experience for you or your horses. Crossing IS THE CORRECT way to connect the chains.

The brake controller ties your tow vehicle's braking system to the electric brakes of your trailer so that applying pressure to the brake pedal stops both. Vehicles are different and you don't say whether or not your tow vehicle came "tow ready". So, go to a trailer dealer and they'll look at your vehicle and trailer and fill in the gaps. They'll also make sure you've got the right size ball and a solid drawbar needed to tow the trailer and your horses.

We've got a number of articles on towing and trailers you should read. Begin with Starting With Your First Horse Trailer and it has useful links to other articles that should help you a lot.

Have fun and Good luck!


I am an older rider used to the arena and new to trail riding. My horse will sometimes startle and my English saddle does not seem as secure as I once felt it did. Is it hard to learn to ride in a western saddle?

While riding is all about balance no matter what kind of saddle you use, sometimes we just feel better when the saddle wraps around us a little more. That's what western, endurance, Australian, some dressage, and other saddles do compared to the kind of saddle you mention using. The extra support actually makes it easier to ride in these saddles because that support will compensate some for lesser balance.

Also, there definitely are more things to spook a horse on the trail. So the added safety margins (e.g. higher pommels and cantles) designed into these saddles for trail riding is something to appreciate. They're also made for longer, multi-hour riding, so you'll find them more comfortable.

As with every saddle, try to find a dealer that will let you "demo" the saddle for a week or two. You can use that time to take several rides of varying lengths and see how it feels before you commit your money.

May 6, 2013 – HOOF CRACKS

I am getting anxious that my horse is going to have hoof crack problems again this year. His hoofs still have cracks from last year. How can I get him to stop stomping every summer?

This is a common problem and IS NOT your horse's fault. Your horse is stomping because he's getting fly bites on his legs. These bites hurt each time a fly takes another. The only way to get less stomping is to reduce the fly concentration around your horse.

If your horse is on your property, then you need to reduce the fly count. You do that by keeping your stalls clean and removing all muckings promptly from the stalls, your barn, and the paddocks. You might even consider installing stall sprayers to keep the fly population down.

If your horse is boarded, start by speaking to your barn owner about the problem. You obviously know whether they're keeping the barn and paddocks sufficiently clean of droppings. And you can always move him to another barn that has fewer flies.

Finally, you can use fly spray on your horse each day. Be careful you don't overdue it. And don't for a minute believe that the spray will fix your problem if there are lots of droppings around — adequate mucking MUST BE performed regularly. The cracks will always be a problem if there is a large fly population in and around your barn.

To better deal with the existing cracks left over from last year, have your farrier put shoes with clips on your horse. That should help keep the cracks better closed so they can grow out.

April 26, 2013 – WHAT IS A FOOTMAN LOOP?

What are footman loops on a saddle for. I didn't even know what to call them till I saw them in a saddle ad.

Footman loops are for attaching other accessories, just as D-rings are and any other rings on a saddle. They come in various sizes depending upon the amount of weight that is to be supported. On saddles, they're also often placed there for adornment as well.

On my own saddle, there are several footman loops and I use two on them on the cantle for holding my cantle bag. That bag carries my horse's and my first aid kit as well as some basic survival gear (whistle, mirror, compass, charts, etc.) You can add footman loops to your own saddle if you want more of them or want some that are larger and stronger. They're available in nickel-plated steel and in brass depending on your existing saddle hardware. Don't be afraid to use them. While adornment to dress up a saddle is one of their purposes as mentioned above, they're also for actual use unless the saddle manufacturer says otherwise.

As for the source of this word, I really don't know. I had always assumed that it was a large bar mounted on a horse-drawn wagon in pre-automobile times on which a footman stood instead of running beside the wagon as described in historical records, but I've never been able to corroborate that suspicion. So at this point, I only know for sure that it applies to the bars we've been discussing here, though you'll find much larger versions installed on some trucks and SUVs.

April 25, 2013 – RIDE MY HORSE EVERY DAY?

How much riding is too much? I mean, can I ride my horse every day when I am home in the summer?

Riding every day is fine as long as two conditions are met:

  • Your horse is in condition for the terrain and length of the ride you have in mind; and
  • He also has no medical problems that would prohibit it or cause him pain or injury.

Your vet can tell you whether or not your horse is up for a ride every day. If he is, the only remaining question is one of his condition.

Horses need to be in shape for a task just as humans do. So, you need to get your horse into condition by slowly building his muscles and stamina. As his conditioning improves, he'll be able to take you on longer and more challenging rides.

Don't forget about your own conditioning. Most people are less active during the winter, and like their horse, they need to get themselves trim and build up their own muscles and stamina. However, that's less critical because you'll just end the ride when you've had enough — your horse doesn't have that option. So it's up to you to properly evaluate his health and wellbeing at all points before, during, and after a ride. Don't overwork your horse.


What pressure should I set the tires to if I haul my horse trailer when it is empty?

Don't change your tire pressure at all. Inflate your tires to the pressure indicated by the trailer manufacturer. You'll usually find that information on a metal placard on the left or right side of the trailer's tongue. Then, just check the pressure in each tire occasionally and maintain that pressure.

Years ago, trailer manufacturers had us adjusting pressure for the amount of the load in the trailer. But these days, they generally provide the optimal pressure to which we should fill the tires and leave it at that. A trailer might run a little harder inside when it's lighter because of no horses inside, but who cares if there are no horses inside? As we start to add the weight of horses, the ride will soften. This is much better than being under-inflated and towing a trailer with a heavy load and soft, squishy tires. Doing that will also wear the tires sooner and wreck the sidewall, not to mention raising the chances of rolling a tire off the rim. Keeping the tire inflated as the trailer manufacturer recommends greatly reduces the chances of such problems.

A Few More Things:

  1. Remember that you want to fill tires on your trailer or any other vehicle to the recommended pressure when they're cold, not after you've been driving it for some miles.
  2. If you can't find a placard on your trailer, check the trailer manual for the correct inflation pressure. If you can't find the manual, check online or contact the manufacturer directly. If all else fails, inflate to the maximum pressure listed on the trailer's tires.
  3. And NEVER, EVER inflate to a pressure higher than the maximum stated on the tire's sidewall.


Grain falls out of my horse's mouth when he eats. What is the problem?

Some horses are just sloppy eaters, but the more common problem is a horse in need of dental service. In that case, the problem could be as simple as the need for teeth floating if he's overdue, and you should know whether or not you've had his teeth be attended to. If he has had that service within the last year or so, the problem could be a more serious dental problem, such as an abscess. For that, your horse needs to be examined by a vet or an equine dentist.

Don't wait on this, your horse could be in pain, and you also risk him receiving inadequate nutrition and losing weight with other complications as the condition worsens.

April 22, 2013 – SPRING SPOOKING?

Do horses spook in the spring when the weather gets warmer like when it gets colder?

I've not seen that behavior when the weather gets warmer. They do get itchy as their summer coat pushes out their winter coat, so they shed and roll a lot. But I haven't seen the spookiness that we see in autumn caused by the change itself to warmer weather.

However, there are some additional summertime risks that can cause spooking that you don't generally see in colder weather. For example, small animals that come out in warmer weather can sometimes spook a horse, such as mice. Also, a bee sting can certainly surprise and spook a horse at a most unexpected moment for horse and rider. I was once stung several times as was my horse when one of his steps broke through an underground Yellow Jacket nest — we both had been stung before we learned about the nest. Fortunately, my horse doesn't spook a lot and I don't tend to panic, but it could have been a recipe for a disaster for some.

In my mind, the watchword around horses is always BE AWARE. Things happen fast with these powerful beasts and it's important for us to pay attention to their body language and what's going on around us.


When can I start giving my horse a batch in the spring?

The general rule is to not bath a horse in temperatures or weather in which you'd be uncomfortable being in a bathing suit and getting wet yourself. That's because, unlike when your horse gets rained on in colder weather, this time, you're going to use a shampoo and that will remove your horse's protective oils (and the dirt they hold). A horse is more exposed in that situation, so you usually want the temperature to be at least 75°F — warmer is even better. I also like to make sure it's not windy before I soak down my horse and want the day to be sunny out so he'll dry more quickly. Therefore, I'll generally consider giving a horse a bath when the temperatures go above 75 - 80°F on a calm, sunny day.

Make sure to use a shampoo made for animal baths, preferably for horses, though many dog shampoos will also work fine. These products are designed to rinse off more thoroughly and not to cause itching — that could be a particularly bad problem for a horse under saddle. Then, rinse well and use a scraper to remove excess water followed by releasing your horse into a sunny paddock. DO EXPECT that the first thing he'll do is look for a sandy spot to roll. If it's warm out and in the buggy season, wait for his coat to dry before applying fly spray.

We have a training article you may want to read advising how to desensitize a horse to water so as to give a bath to a reluctant horse. It's entitled: Water & Bathing.

April 18, 2013 – ONE HORSE TRAILER?

What would you recommend for a one horse trailer?

I'm sorry, but we don't generally recommend any specific products to our readers at this time. And in this case, I would not recommend a 1-horse trailer at all. Believe it or not, such trailers are not much lighter and only slightly less expensive than a 2-horse trailer. This is because they must meet the same requirements (two axles, be stable and of the same height, etc.) Therefore, they're not a good investment.

Generally, a person looking for such a trailer is attempting to use a small, light vehicle as the tow vehicle. A much better idea is to get a tow vehicle that has at least a 5,000 pound tow capacity and a light 2-horse trailer. We have a related article that can provide more information entitled (appropriately enough): Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles.


My horse always gets excited when we meet another group when riding. Sometimes we ride with them a little while but I am afraid he'll want to gallop if the group does so I try to leave before that happens if one or more riders start talking about going for a run. Why does he do that? He doesn't get excited when we go out riding alone.

I'm surprised that you're surprised by your horse's behavior. To me, it's completely natural. Doesn't a dog get excited to meet another dog or pack of dogs? Don't you get excited if you run into a group of your friends? And doesn't it also happen if you meet someone new at a ride, business meeting, or any other place when you both find that you like the same things? Well, it's the same for your horse.

Horses generally love to be with other horses. They especially like to run with other horses (after all, who else can keep up?) My horse loves to gallop when we're with other riders, and those riders and I love it, too! The question is, how come you don't?

I strongly suspect the problem is that you're afraid of riding a galloping horse because you're afraid you can't stop him or you're afraid you could get hurt, or both. Of course, that risk certainly does exist, though I bet it's a far smaller risk than you perceive it as. After all, how many news events do you hear about riders getting a hurt while galloping? Not many, if any. Now, how many times do we hear about car accidents, including those in which someone got maimed or killed? Many, many more, almost daily.

So what does all this mean? It means that you're likely a lot safer galloping a horse than riding in or driving a car. What's more, the statistics support that conclusion. We have an article that assesses those risks. It also links to the National Safety Council website that lists the risks in your lifetime of dying riding a horse (1 in 30,476) against that of being a car occupant (1 in 272) or even just walking on the side of the road (1 in 623). The article is The Risk of Riding Horses.

But to address your concerns, I suggest you find a riding instructor to help you learn to be comfortable with horses and galloping. Once you are, you'll no longer fear your horse getting excited. Instead, you'll both get excited at the prospect and have some fun.

To be clear, being around and on horses really does present some risks, but so does engaging in most other activities (skiing, swimming, bicycling, etc.) Getting beyond this fear will really help you enjoy horses to a much fuller degree and will also reduce anxieties that it sounds like you have almost every time you ride. You'll be very happy to get beyond this.

Good luck and have fun!

April 16, 2013 – SNAKE BITE CONCERNS

We live in the southwest and want to ride outside but we have lots of snakes around. What do I do if a snake attacks our horses?

If your horse gets bitten and you know it, at least you know the cause and you should CALL A VET IMMEDIATELY! A bigger problem for many horse owners is to find their horse acting in an unusual manner from a snake bite, but not to have seen the snake nor to realize that the horse has been bitten. This can lose you precious time while the toxin is moving in the the horse from the location of the bite to vital organs. Therefore, knowing the symptoms of snake bite is as important as knowing what to do.

We have an article dealing with both issues that you should read entitled: Horse Snakebites. It describes bite symptoms and the actions you need to take. The most important is the call to get a vet on site ASAP! There's not much you'll actually be able to do other than to keep your horse calm while you wait for the vet to arrive. Fortunately, snake bites are quite rare in most locales, and even an actual bite is more likely from a non-venomous snake than a venomous one. That said, you don't know for sure, so don't wait — call the vet right away.


I bought my first horse trailer last year and want to start using it again after the long winter. What needs to be done to put it back in service? Do I need to do anything mechanical? It does not have any oil or grease to change so I think there is not much to do. Right?

This is a great question! But I disagree in that I think there are a number of maintenance tasks that we trailer owners should all DEFINITELY do BEFORE placing our trailer into service for this new trailering season:

  1. First, I'd have your mechanic check the wheel bearings, and if necessary, have him repack them with new grease. You should have the bearings inspected every two or three years and have this addressed as necessary. This is even more important if you occasionally trailer down wet, muddy roads or through standing water;
  2. Make sure that the entire hitch is operational and in good shape. This means that the ball coupler or gooseneck coupler are not corroded or damaged and are working and properly lubricated;
  3. Make sure that all the ancillary hitch equipment is present and in good working order (safety chains, weight distribution bars, chains, locks, etc.)
  4. Check that all the wheel lugs are properly tightened so you don't get stranded with your horse away from home;
  5. Check the inflation pressure of each tire and adjust it to that recommended by the trailer manufacturer;
  6. Check the condition and the inflation pressure of the spare tire. It'll be of no help if it's damaged, dry-rotted, or flat should you ever need it out on the road. Many spare tires are covered and their condition or problems are not obvious until opened and physically checked;
  7. Remove all the old hay from the hay bags/mangers and at least rinse the bags or the mangers till clean. Old hay can get dusty, sometimes also moldy, and both are bad for the sensitive digestion system of horses;
  8. Remove old bedding and any horse wastes from last year, rinse out the trailer, let it dry thoroughly. Then, and replace with fresh bedding before using your trailer for the first time;
  9. Connect your tow vehicle, plug in the electrical cable to the trailer, and test all lights to make sure they're working. Replace burnt bulbs and/or fix any electrical problems you find; and
  10. VERY IMPORTANT — recharge, or if necessary, replace the break-away battery to assure it will work during this towing year. You would not like to find out that it doesn't work if you ever had a runaway trailer. Plus, if you did, the police would hold you responsible for any damages, injuries, and for not maintaining your trailer just as they would your vehicle if you got into an accident and it was determined that you had neglected to maintain it in a safe and roadworthy condition. Checking and resolving all this stuff now helps avoid lots of small and potentially serious problems.

We have an article on this topic that is somehwat more comprehensive entitled: Spring Trailer Inspection & Preparation. Maintenance is very important and even something as small as driving with a burnt out stop light or burnt out marker lamps at night could get you pulled-over by a policeman. We are responsible for maintaining our vehicles and trailers in the safest possible manner as designed by the manufacturer.

April 12, 2013 – HOW DO BITS WORK?

How does a bit work on a horse? Does a bit hurt them?

A proper bit properly used should not hurt a horse, but some definitely do. And unfortunately, some are actually designed to hurt (don't get me started!)

The bit sits on the gums of the upper and lower jaws of a horse's mouth. While humans have teeth almost all around the tops of their gums (unless lost through poor dental care and many extractions, an errant bat hit while playing catcher, etc.), horses have a gap of no teeth on their upper and lower jaws. These gaps are bare gum and are called the "bars". The bit sits on the bars which are quite sensitive. Slight motions of the rider's hands as small as a twitch in the pinky will be felt by the horse and can be used as a signal to slow, turn, etc.

Unfortunately, some riders lacking in finesse tend to take a "brute-force" approach and use this sensitivity more as a punishment to try to control a horse when the real problem is the rider's lack of horse knowledge. Regardless, the result is many, many bits, some so harsh they a use a part of a chain-saw blade as the bit (no kidding – search for "horse chain-saw bit" and I suspect you won't like what you see). Needless to say, many of us don't approve of such bits.

If you'd like to learn more about the different kinds of bits and how to more easily understand their function, check out our Understanding Bits article.


I just bought my first horse trailer and I am very excited to use it. We might go riding this weekend. What do I need to carry in it?

This is probably the core of an entire article, but we'll start here with answering your question. Here are some of the most important items:

  1. Registration and insurance certificate for the trailer;
  2. A copy of a recent Coggin's test results;
  3. First aid kit for horses and riders;
  4. Bedding on the trailer floor;
  5. Hay in the hay bags or mangers;
  6. An extra halter or two;
  7. An extra lead line or two;
  8. Fly spray;
  9. Extra brush and hoof pick;
  10. The tack you'll use on your horses;
  11. A manure fork;
  12. A broom;
  13. Some carrots or treats you might need to use to get one or more horses back into your trailer at the trailhead. Your horse should be "trailer trained" and you shouldn't have to resort to this, BUT, strange things happen, horses get upset, and you want to have some "ready miracles" in your back pocket as the day ends, night is falling, and you still need to load reluctant horses and get them and you home; and
  14. Anything else you like to bring along with you on rides (GPS, lunch, lots of bottled water or same in canteens, etc.)
The foregoing list is anything but exhaustive; there's always more you can bring that can make your trailering and rides safer and more fun. So, feel free to add to this list. Of course, always make sure that you're not over the trailer's maximum load capacity nor the maximum towing capacity of your tow vehicle.

IMPORTANT CAUTION: One more thing: if you're not experienced in towing trailers, PLEASE don't make this first horse trailering episode your very first trailering trip. Attach the trailer and go for a ride with no horses. This way, if you have a problem, you don't risk their safety and add still more pressure onto yourself.

You're going to feel the drag on your tow vehicle when towing and you'll also see that it takes longer to stop. In addition, your turns will be wider and you must make sure not to cut the corner and either scrape the right-side of your trailer or take out a stop sign, damage a wheel by going up and over a high curb, etc. You'll need to learn to go out further and somewhat into the oncoming lane when into turning to the right — you must not do this into oncoming traffic! Similarly, you need to pull further across a road before turning left or you'll take off the front of a vehicle waiting at a stop sign or stopped at a light as you pull through the intersection.

Practice all this stuff when you have the time, are not pressured to ride, and don't have horses in the trailer. If you can, take along a friend who has significant experience towing trailers that can advise and guide you on this "dry run" and the first time or two you actually tow your horse(s).

Enjoy your new trailer and the freedom it provides you and your horse!


I love spring because I can start riding my horse again but hate having to clean my tack from last year's dirt. Is there any easy way to keep tack clean with less work? I hate spending hours scrubbing it every spring!

You only clean your tack once each season??? Leather tack is actually easier to clean after every or at least several rides. It needn't take scrubbing and lots of time. I find it's easy to use one of the available brands of leather cleaning wipes.

After every two or three rides, I take a wipe in hand and wipe down my saddle and bridle. It takes about 60 - 90 seconds for the whole job. Any dirt, dust, or grime comes off easily. I especially do this after a ride on a hot, dusty day. Sweat from my horse and me mixes with the dust and makes a grime that's easy to take off before it hardens. It's also initially on top of the tack and cleaning it right then and there doesn't let it get ground into the leather. If you wait too long, it does get ground in and can get hard requiring lots more "elbow grease" to remove.

Another option if you don't care about tack being made of leather is to get a synthetic saddle and bridle. This stuff can be hosed off after a ride and left to dry outside. And a rain storm doesn't require you to dry and re-lubricate your tack as is required with real leather.

Whichever way you go, cleaning your leather tack or rinsing synthetic tack promptly will make the need for your currently painful, annual cleaning sessions a thing of the past.


Do you need electric brakes to pull just a 2 horse trailer? And do you need a brake controller for all electric brakes?

Yes! In most states, you need trailer brakes to pull any trailer with a gross weight over 3,000 pounds. Most 2-horse trailers weigh from 2,400 - 3,000 pounds when empty, so putting a regular sized horse (usually about 1,000 - 1,400 pounds) definitely puts you over that limit. And bigger horses, such as Hanovarians and many Thoroughbreds, not to mention drafts, can easily put the weight of just one horse from 1,400 to 2,500 pounds. A second horse adds still more. Then, you've got the weight of the bedding, hay, your tack, water if carried, etc. So, as you can see, a horse trailer will require its own braking.

Smaller trailers will almost always use electric brakes. But larger trailers will sometimes use hydraulic or some hybrid system (e.g. electric over hydraulic). Regardless, you'll need a controller for any kind of brakes that will come on a horse trailer. Therefore, plan on a brake controller (and the necessary wiring if your tow vehicle does not come prepared with a towing package that includes the electricals).


When should I start using fly sprays? Is it true that starting early makes your horse more resistant to fly bites during summer? Should I start spraying now and continue into the fall?

I've never heard or read anything about early fly spray application providing better protection later. In fact, the bigger concern often mentioned is usually discussion of the trade-offs between biting irritation plus the risk of infections from insect-borne diseases against the risk of applying lots of questionable chemicals to our horses. Therefore, I, personally avoid applying insecticides except when necessary to provide relief to my horse.

There are definitely bad days during the summer when fly bites cause our horses to stomp incessantly and almost go crazy running from and swatting flies when they're biting like crazy. But there are also days when drier and cooler weather provide our horses with comfortable conditions and little insect biting risks — why apply fly sprays on those days? Similarly, why apply sprays now if there are few or no flies yet biting them?

This is probably a good question for your veterinarian. But my vote is to use fly sprays and other insect deterrents ONLY AS MUCH AS TRULY NECESSARY to protect our horses. You'll even save money in the process.


It was interesting to read your article on how to determine the calories burned mucking stalls. Can you tell me how many I burn working horses every month?

I'm afraid you've got me on this one. I don't know what you might do to work a horse, whether you're on foot or mounted, how long your work session is, how many horses you work each day, how many days you do that (2 days, every day of the week, including or not including weekends, etc.) As you may have noticed in the article about mucking stalls, I used established calorie burn rates for snow shoveling as a proxy for shoveling soiled stall bedding. You'll need to do something similar to get an idea of what you're burning when working your horse(s) by first identifying the major tasks you do and then determining calories burned for each task.

Most people are always disappointed when they learn how few calories are burned performing a specific task, especially when they also learn that a pound of your weight represents 3,600 calories. But that's the wrong way to look at the issue. We can't possibly exercise enough to burn off any serious amount of weight calorie for calorie. Instead, we need to follow current medical advice to perform at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercises at least four days a week. This steps up our metabolism so that we're burning more calories constantly; even when sleeping we burn more than we would have if not as active.

Athletes burn lots of calories because their more frequent and more intense activities keep their metabolisms running at a higher rate than sedentary people. They also choose their diet carefully. That's the formula to burning many calories every day and stayiong in shape.

April 4, 2013 – FROM ARENA TO TRAIL

I am getting older and want to convert from the ring to trail riding in the woods this year. What do I need to know? Like what is the risk of bear attacks and snake bites?

Riding outdoors has differences, but if you've been riding in the arena for a while, you already know how to ride a horse and that won't change. What will change is that horses can be more easily spooked on the trail because there's lots more wildlife out there. No, I don't really mean snakes and bears. While they do exist, most trail riders never even see them when riding, let alone encounter these animals up close. If you're concerned about that, you can check out these two related articles:

Horse Snakebites

Bears on the Trail

Let's get back to moving to the trail from the ring. Here are several more articles that will better address the main differences that you'll experience by starting to more actively ride outdoors:

Moving From Arena/Ring to Trail

Getting into Trail Riding

Getting Caught in the Rain

Horses and Wind

Horses & Thunderstorms

Trail Riding Etiquette

While the first two titles may appear to be the same, the first article focuses on the details of what you'll learn to deal with on the trail (barking dogs, passing cars, crossing streams, etc). The second focuses more on the fun and exhilaration of trail riding. We also have additional articles addressing everything from trailering and tack to cold-weather riding and items to take on long rides (GPS, first aid kit, etc.)

I'll bet you're going to love riding in the great outdoors. Good luck and HAVE FUN!


My horse is a slob about his stall. He poops everywhere, even near his feeding spot. It's a pain to clean every day. Can horses be taught go in one place?

I don't know whether or not horses can be taught to use a specific location for their bathroom duties. It's possible, but I've never heard or read of someone successfully teaching a horse such behavior. However, I have found a way in which many otherwise messy horses will become neater with no teaching necessary: put them into a larger stall.

It might surprise you, but horses seem to keep a stall cleaner when it's larger. I've known of several horses that were slobs in a 10' x 10' stall, but were much neater in a 14' x 16' or larger stall. I believe it has to do with the ease or difficulty of keeping the stall clean. It's easier for a horse to use one corner for a bathroom and then stay out of that area (except for bathroom duties), In smaller stalls, it appears that there's just too little room for them to move around without tracking through their own waste products.

I do know that there is a corollary with humans in that I have personally found it easier to keep a large room clean and less messy compared to a smaller room with the same stuff. There's just too little space in a smaller room to put everything.


My horse can't stand getting curried. She hates it and moves away from me or turns around so I can't comb her. What can I do?

This question comes up every spring, so you're not alone. There's no mystery here — your horse is being very clear — SHE DOESN'T LIKE being curried. That disdain for it is likely the result of your or previous groomers manner of doing it. You have several options:

  • You can let the hair fall out on its own – This route is not as irresponsible as many think (and will tell you). After all, the winter hair is going to fall out whether you comb your horse or not. Remember, no one combs wild horses and their coats adjust to the seasons just fine. One option that all horses use whether combed or not is to roll on the ground. This not only helps to remove hair, it also satisfies the itching that loose hair causes;
  • You can brush or use a regular tined comb on her to remove winter hair – This is another option and many horses that don't like a curry comb are fine with a tined comb or a brush. Both remove hair quite well and there's really nothing gained by using a curry comb other than that it removes more hair at a time and is less work for us to remove the loose hair from the comb; or
  • You can slowly get her used to being curried so she doesn't work against you – This is easier than you might think. First, use the curry very, very lightly; second, keep it moving so that you're not combing in the same spot; and third, make the whole combing process a short one, such as just two or three minutes. Then, stop and don't comb any further until the next day.

For some reason, many people feel this compulsion to remove every last loose hair in a curry session and then catch all the newly loosened hair at the next, and the next, and the next... This is the reason that horses get both sore from the combing and come to hate it — we overdue it.

Winter hair removal should not be the human obsession it appears to be with many of us. We don't worry about summer hair removal in autumn with the same fervor, nor do we worry about frog shedding that way. So, why all the emotional turmoil about winter hair shedding? It's going to come out whether we comb or not. So, let's just remove some of the loose hair quickly, give our horse a break, and give ourselves a break. This is not a big deal unless we make it one.


When lunging my two year old colt, he acts like he wants to kick at me. How do I fix this problem?

Well, there's a good chance that your colt is trying to do exactly that. Or at least he's sending you a strong signal that he doesn't want to run just because you say so. As a 2-year old, you're essentially dealing with the equivalent of a 12-16 year old teenager whom you just told to do something that the teen doesn't want to do (think "clean your room", or "take out the garbage", or "do your homework" — you understand). The colt's response is akin to slamming the door or stomping his foot in protest. This is the beginning of the horse being annoyed that you have the sheer audacity to command him to do something. That said, it's still your call — not his.

We've responded in our columns many times about how the human MUST BE in charge of the horse — this is just another of those cases. A horse is just too big and powerful for us to ever get involved in a physical fight — we'd always lose! So, you need to make your horse learn that protesting doesn't matter, kicking out doesn't matter, being annoyed doesn't matter — YOU command; HE obeys.

First, you MUST MAKE SURE to avoid being kicked by this horse while you train him. He may very well actually try to kick you because he's testing you and pushing back is how horses do that, especially a young horse. You enforce your leadership position by making him work every time he pushes back and doesn't follow your commands. He'll eventually learn that obeying is much easier than pushing back. This lesson is also needed for everything else you'll teach him from accepting a saddle when he's ready to also accepting and following the commands of a rider.

There are techniques in lunging from focusing your gaze and position just behind the centerline of the horse to your body language to holding the lunge whip for the horse to notice as an additional motivator as you start a horse lunging. If you're unsure about your ability to teach these lessons, then you need to get a competent horse trainer to assist you. The trainer will not only train your horse, he/she will also train you in methods of how to train your horse the basics and how to stay safe doing so. This is likely to be extremely valuable to you, because all of our interactions with horses are essentially training the horse. They will always test us and our reinforcement of our commands trains them that we truly are their leader.

One more thing, you should have noticed from this response that nothing is mentioned about punishing the horse — we DON'T do that; and we NEVER get mad, yell, hit the horse, or take any such action. Horses would not understand that behavior and would instead feel threatened and may fight back — viciously. Proper training is never abusive or scary to the horse. Instead, we work them when they push back and we reward by giving them a short rest break, a release, etc., when they follow our commands. They must learn that to follow the command is always easy while pushing back means extra work. Causing them fear of you, while sometimes effective, is now realized to cause many more problems.

And don't refrain from getting a trainer involved if you need it. This is especially important if you're somewhat afraid — you can't be afraid because the horse will sense it and push back harder. You'll definitely feel less fear learning and working under the watchful eye and skills of a good trainer. It's certainly worth the money from the sake of your safety alone. But the rewards of you learning proper training techniques will pay many dividends to you with all of your future interactions with this horse and all others.

Good luck!


What size engine do you need to tow a small horse trailer?

I think you should look at this different way. Determine what trailer you want to get and its gross trailer weight. That will tell you the largest amount of weight you'll need to tow. Then, you can consider tow vehicles that have a towing capacity of that amount or more.

You see, you need to consider the entire towing weight that a tow vehicle needs to be able to safely tow and that's a combination of the weight of the trailer itself, a full load of horses, and then any additional weight you intend to pile on, such as tack, hay bales, water, etc. Also, vehicle towing capacity is more than just about engine size; it also includes tongue weight capacity, wheelbase length, tow vehicle weight, and a power train strong enough to handle it and its full towing load. Truck manufacturers then install an engine that can handle all this.

Now, if the tow vehicle comes in more than one engine size, it's sometimes because they're trying to hit a certain price point with the vehicle incorporating the smaller engine. In that case, I like to get the bigger engine because the added torque makes it easier to tow uphill and also reduces the strain on the engine so that it lasts a lot longer. The additional fuel that will be used is usually inconsequential — you won't use much more with the bigger engine, but the engine sure will not strain as much and will last longer.

March 28, 2013 – HORSE FARM TRAINING?

What training should I get to own a horse farm?

You don't say what level of experience you currently have with horse care, if any. You also didn't mention whether you want to own a private farm for your own horses or some kind of horse business (boarding, training, breeding, etc.) Regardless, presuming you know nothing about this, you obviously need to learn about the care, feeding, and observation of horse behavior. The latter is particularly important because it's how you identify when a horse has a physical problem or illness. Knowledge and experience is also needed to determine whether or not treatments are working.

There are equine courses of various nature given at many universities. However, even then, extensive experience actually dealing with horses having problems in the context of a horse farm is very valuable for your goal. To that end, I suggest that you work or volunteer at a horse farm. You'll be exposed to the very kinds of problems that you'll likely encounter when you own your own farm. Trying to run a farm without this knowledge and experience will be almost impossible once the first problem occurs. You may even cause a problem, for example, by over feeding a horse or three, or feeding them something wrong.

So, if you're new to all this, you need training. It would also be great if you had help or hired someone with this experience when you start running your own farm. Without proper training and experience, it's going to be quite scary when you realize one evening that there's something wrong with a horse, things are deteriorating fast, and you don't know what to do while you wait for the vet to arrive. So again, get some real-world experience by working at an active farm and then supplement that knowledge by more formal training, such as by taking equine university classes or some such.

Good luck!


Do you need to balance the tires on your horse trailer?

DEFINITELY! You should balance the tires on all vehicles that will travel on highways. At slow speeds, unbalanced tires/wheels don't cause much of a problem. But as travelling speed increases, the ensuing vibration is both an annoyance and can compromise safety because the vibration distracts you from focusing on driving. In addition, the vibration can loosen bolts as well as fatigue critical vehicle parts over the long term.


Can horses really get moody as they age?

I suppose that any particular horse can get moody. I've met several mares that became somewhat uncooperative and moody as they turned five years old or so. But most older horses I've known seem to stay the same or even mellow as they get older (like people). Add to that the fact that they also spook less because they've seen it all and I find older horses to be easier to get along with; they don't get as easily frazzled as when young.

Truth be told, animals, like people, are individuals, so I'm not comfortable generalizing much more than this about moodiness in older horses. Therefore, if your specific horse is getting moody as he/she is getting older, it's likely just about your horse and not something we can say about horses in general.

March 25, 2013 – RIDE A ZEDONK?

Can you ride a zedonk? I would like to try one.

Zedonks, a hybrid of a donkey and Zebra, can be ridden, but their temperaments are reportedly less predictable than horses. Some seem to have become at least somewhat domesticated and behave more like donkeys with an aggressive edge. While Zebras look much like horses with stripes, they're a very wild herd animal and are much more aggressive. And unlike horses, the prey instinct in Zebras is still very strong because any domestication is very recent. That's because, quite often, they or their direct ancestors (parents or grandparents) came from the plains of Africa and had to fight or flee to survive. As a result, much of that aggressiveness often finds its way into Zedonks.

Like Mules, Zedonks are a hybrid and cannot reproduce among themselves. Therefore, they're quite rare and that, too, limits their exposure to humans. Those that have begun to trust humans reportedly require frequent interaction with those humans to continue to trust them.

I'm not sure why you're so interested in riding a Zedonk, but I don't think it's that good an idea. I've seen them live and photographed them, but they tend to stay much farther away than does a horse. That in itself tells you something about how uncomfortable they currently seem to be around humans.


What's the best way to get good footing if I build a wash stall? I also need to know what's the best way to tie a horse in a wash stall? Thanks.

Good footing encompasses several variables, such as a solid, stable footing, it must drain well, and it must not be slippery. Tying in a wash stall must be relatively secure while not tight or making the horse feel trapped. We have an article that addresses these kinds of issues and more entitled: Build a Wash Rack. It focuses on how to build an outdoor wash rack, but the same concerns and solutions apply.


I think I have finally convinced my husband that we should buy a horse farm. We might even take boarders. This has been a dream of mine for a long time. Shouldn't it be cheaper than normal housing?

This is a pretty open-ended question you're asking, and there's no way for us to know prices where you live, so this allows only a general response (not that this is our area of expertise, either). Generally, farm land and buildings cost less than suburban or urban housing because it's less desirable to most people. Conversely, farms almost always encompass more land than suburban or urban living. Also, farms generally require equipment from tractors and mowers to loaders and farm equipment if it's being worked, so there are many variables to consider.

Finally, there's the issue of whether or not you're going to have a farm only for your own horses or instead run a business of some form (boarding as you mentioned, horse training, riding instruction, etc.) We have many articles that may better help you assess costs against how you're living now depending on what you intend to do with the horse farm you'd like to buy/build. This article below will link to others that will help you as you consider what you want to do:

Starting Your Own Boarding Barn

If you have more questions, feel free to submit them and we're happy to help to the extent that we can. Whatever you decide, we wish you luck in pursuing your dream!

March 20, 2013 – HOW LONG TO KEEP A HORSE

Should a person get rid of a horse after a certain amount of time? Do they get too attached? They are expensive.

This is a personal decision, and yes, there are circumstances that should promote the parting of a horse from its owner. But because horses have feelings of their own, it shouldn't be done with abandon either. We have an article just completed that started with answering such questions entitled: How Long to Keep a Horse. It will at least give you several perspectives to consider if you're dealing with this dilemma in your own life.


I bought my first horse trailer in fall of last year at a good price and the prior owner delivered it to my barn where it has been all winter. Now I want to use it and need to get a brake controller for my pickup. I looked on line and saw different kinds of controllers that I know nothing about. How do I select the right controller from my truck and my trailer?

You don't need a specific brake controller for your truck and trailer. The two primary types out there (Time-Delayed and Proportional) will both work for your truck and trailer. However, this is a one-time purchase and the costs are low, so I think it's prudent to get the better controller (Proportional). We have a Trailer Brake Controllers article on this topic from which you can learn more — it's worth the read so that you know what you're buying and why.


If I bring my horse pieces of apple or grains of feed, he eats it gently. But when I bring it to him a handful of hay he yanks it out of my hand. Why is he so mean with hay?

He's not being mean — he's being a horse. When horses eat grass, they grab it with their teeth and yank it away from the ground. So, your horse doesn't realize that the hay (or grass) that you hand him isn't attached. As a result, he yanks at it as you've mentioned. However, as you can see, HE DOES realize the difference when eating pieces of apple or feed because that is not attached when he normally eats it.

So, don't be mad at your horse or offended when he tears away hay or grass you've given him — he's not doing it to be mean — he's following learned behavior.


My horse is very uncomfortable when I want to wash her. But she is rolling in the mud a lot lately and I need to get her clean. What should I do?

She's likely rolling because she's very itchy due to spring coming and her summer hair is starting to force her winter coat out. Brushing and curry-combing her might help reduce the itching. As for the dislike for water, some horses like getting a bath, but many don't. The fact is, lots of them are actually afraid of the water. They're fine when rained upon, but they can be very uncomfortable when water comes out the end of a hose.

Some people aggravate the problem further by using a nozzle on the hose and directing too strong a stream at the horse as if rinsing a car. If a nozzle must be used, a very good one is a plant watering wand. This kind of nozzle is more like a shower head and forms a very light spray similar to a watering can. Held above the horse, it does a great job of rinsing without any strong stream. Still, you may also need to de-sensitize your horse to being rinsed, in general.

We have an article on that topic entitled: Step 6: Water & Bathing. One more thing, don't wash or rinse your horse outside on cold days. Either leave her muddy or rinse her only in a heated space, such as a wash stall in a heated barn. Otherwise, you could risk hypothermia as well as making her even more frightened with water.


My husband's truck hitch has a 1 7/8 ball and I want to tow a horse trailer. Can I put a larger ball on it to tow a trailer?

It's possible, but there are many more variables to consider than just the ball size. We have some Common Trailering Questions we've answered in the past that will help you better understand these variables. One of the questions addressed is very similar to yours. Please take the time to understand your truck's towing capacity, wheelbase, and other contributing factors. One of the responses also refers to a more comprehensive article about trailer hitches which will also help. And we have several other trailering articles to help "fill-out" your understanding.


Is there any need to clean my horse's hoofs if theres only mud in them? I mean, isn't it only urine soaked bedding that causes problems with bacteria, right?

Well, that's the most common cause of problems. But why take chances? How will you know that your horse's hooves have only mud in them unless you actually clean them? Even if you take your horse out of his stall and clean his hooves before releasing him into a muddy paddock. Do you KNOW that there's no horse waste out there mixed in with that mud? Or that he won't step in some waste and then into some mud that will seal it all in? Do you know that there's not some other kind of bacteria or fungus in that mud that could cause problems?

All you can see when you bring your horse into the barn is that he has mud filling the gaps around the frogs of his hooves. You don't know what's in and under that mud that he might have stepped in before the current mud sealed things in. Cleaning four hooves takes only a minute or two at worse. Why not just make it part of your visiting/grooming regimen for the sake of his health? It's really not a big deal to clean hooves.


I am a somewhat new (3 years) trail rider and am looking for a horse and about to buy my own first saddle. I want to get a western saddle for comfort but with no horn because I jump a little and want to do some more of it. I looked around for a western saddle without a horn but can't find one. Do they exist?

Generally, a horn is to be expected on a classic Western saddle. However, more and more people want the comfort and support provided by a Western saddle, but without the horn. And as you mention, jumping is another good reason to go "hornless" on a saddle. Many of the Western saddle makers have come out with "endurance saddles", which are what you're describing, a Western saddle without the horn. Like trail riders, endurance riders spend many hours on a ride and want the additional support and comfort, but no horn.

Another option is the Australian saddle. It's very similar to a Western saddle, but with even more support (higher still pommel and cantle) as well as including the knee poleys to keep the rider in the saddle even with a sudden stop or going down a steep hill. I went this route and am very happy with mine. If you want to learn more, you may want to read the story of my Saddle Search.

Whichever way you go, make sure you're able to try the saddle BEFORE BUYING. Or, alternatively, get a written guarantee that you can return the saddle for a full refund if you're unhappy with it for any reason. Any saddle maker or vendor worth your business should give you those options so you end up with a saddle you're happy to live with. Long hours in the saddle on trail rides are only great fun if you're comfortable and not in pain from your saddle — DON'T SETTLE! The company from which I pruchased my "Aussie" saddle (mentioned in Part 6 of the article) gave me a month to use my new custom saddle (YUP! Custom made for my horse and me and they still guaranteed it or my money back). The owner said he's had only a few returns in over 20 years of business, so he was sure I'd like it. Well, I figured that I'd be the judge of that, but sure enough, I LOVE my saddle!

One more thing, I'd get the horse BEFORE the saddle. Horses come in significantly varying sizes and you really want to get a saddle that will properly fit the horse — it's hard to do the other way around. Using thicker and thicker pads IS NOT the best way to adapt the two. Also, thick pads are unfairly hot for the horse in the summer months as well as less stable on the horse.

Good luck and Happy Trails!


I am worried my horse could get fall and get hurt when I hit a bump trailering her. Is there a microphone or intercom I could add to my trailer so I can hear that she is ok after I go over a bump? I do not know where to look for one.

I would take a different approach: why not add a camera to your trailer so you can actually see the state of any and all horses you're carrying? Many camera systems for horse trailers include a monitor for your trucks' cab and are very reasonabley priced these days. In addition, many of these cameras include infrared LED lighting and infrared sensitivity of the camera so you can also see back there when trailering at night with no lights on.

So now, you're probably wondering how much money and hassle it costs to do all this. Well, you can't believe how inexpensive these systems are. You can buy a wireless system so all you need do is mount the camera in the trailer and connect 12VDC to power it and do the same with the monitor in your truck. Wireless means you don't need to run video and audio cables from tow vehicle to trailer and deal with the hassles of some connectors to use every time you trailer up and disconnect after your ride.

And then, you'll likely be surprised that such systems start as low as $140 for a complete, wireless camera and monitor system. You may want some of the better systems that cost several hundred dollars, but even that is affordable when compared to the costs of horse ownership and everything involved in trailering. To find some systems online, just conduct a search with your favorite search engine using this query:

horse trailer cameras

The response will list a number of systems for you to investigate, and many will include cameras with built-in microphones so that you'll be able to hear what's going on in your trailer as well as see.

March 8, 2013 – HORSE FENCE — HOW HIGH?

We are putting up fences this summer to keep two horses for my daughter. How high do the fences need to be? I want it to be 4 ft. but my husband thinks 3 1/2 is enough.

Believe it or not, the most often recommended height is 5 feet for average height horses and six feet for tall horses or for those average horses prone to escaping. You will see lots of lower fences, such as 4 feet high, but that is definitely lower than the recommended amount. Clearly, 3 1/2 feet will never do. Unlike cattle, horses can jump quite high, and once they're into traffic, it's too late. Not only can they get hurt or killed, but you and your husband would likely be somewhat liable if a person were to get hurt or killed as a result, such as a horse-caused vehicle accident.


Hi! I am ordering a new saddle and would like to get brass hardware instead of chrome. A rider friend said that brass is too weak and that chromed steel is stronger. Is this true? If so, is there some other hardware that is yellow or gold instead of chrome?

Your usual choices for tack hardware are: nickel-coated steel, stainless steel, or brass. Brass is the usual metal with the gold look you've mentioned, though I have occasionally seen some that are bronze or bronze-plated steel, but that is less common. Your friend is correct in that brass is softer than steel, and it's also softer than bronze. However, brass hardware for tack has been around for a long time and is still strong enough. Often, brass pieces are made a little thicker or heavier to compensate for its softer characteristics (the weight difference is tiny and inconsequential). I have brass hardware on my saddle, halter/bridle, rein clips, etc., and I've never had any piece bend or break — it works perfectly.

So, order whatever hardware you'd like and don't worry about brass being too weak for this application. As I mentioned, the manufacturer will make the piece a little thicker if necessary, but that is not always required. As an additional benefit, while brass will tarnish, it will never rust and flake off. And there are several brass polishes that work well to remove that tarnish if you prefer a shinier look, as do I.


When should I start curry combing my horse? Is it too early to start?

Generally, you want to wait until the weather has warmed to begin combing, but that's going to vary based on where you are in the world. Because you're asking this now and we're in March, I presume you're somewhere in the northern hemisphere. If your horse seems itchy and is rolling a lot, then he may have already started to shed.

You can try a light currying on your horse to see if any significant amount of hair comes off. If so, you can curry as normally. If you don't get any hair or get only a very small amount, wait a few weeks for the weather to warm further and try it again. Just remember that some horses like the feeling while others do not. For those that don't, use a lighter hand, move around and don't curry long in the same spot, and definitely DON'T curry for a long period of time — this is the best approach to take for horses not liking this grooming. Doing more than that will make your horse more resistant to letting you comb him and that would not be good.


Can I jump my horse in a western saddle?

Yes you can, but there are limits. Your own movement will be restricted by the higher cantle, pommel, and the horn. They can cause you to not be in a balanced and proper position for jumping, and that fact can cause you to unbalance your horse making it more difficult or sometimes even impossible for him to successfully make a challenging jump. Also, Western saddles aren't usually made for jumping, so lots of jumping can cause the saddle's tree to fail prematurely. If you're a good, competent rider, limit this to low jumps (e.g. under 24 inches), and you jump rarely and on a healthy horse in good conditioning, you may not have a problem, but it's not the best approach.

Because of the frequency this question is asked of us, we have an article on this very topic entitled: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?.


How hard is it to learn to ride? This is a dream for me and has been for over 30 years.

Riding horses is all about balance and learning how to read and signal the horse. For many of us, it's a very rewarding experience. That said, it was also work to learn. But the best part is that it doesn't seem like work if you're enjoying the process.

If you have any doubts, ask around from people you know who do ride — most of us know at least a few people who ride horses. If you don't, start mentioning that you're interested in riding when with your family and friends. Many horse people don't speak about horses when with non-horse people, but they'll certainly speak up if you express some interest. When one does, ask them for some suggestions about a riding venue and instructor that they could recommend.

The alternative is to just start by calling around to horse farms, but I've found that an actual endorsement from someone you already know and trust will usually get someone off to a better and more comfortable start.

March 1, 2013 – LOSE WEIGHT MUCKING?

Is mucking stalls enough work to lose weight? It seems like a lot of work to me.

Yeah, it seems like a lot to me, too. In all seriousness, it depends on how much your horses leave behind in the sense of horse waste and soiled bedding, how many stalls you have, and how clean you work to make them. The more left behind, the more stalls you have, and the cleaner you want them, the more work you'll have to do each day. And while this is good exercise, losing weight is also a function of the kind of foods we eat and how much we eat.

Doing 30 minutes or more of aggressive physical labor each day coupled with good eating habits is reportedly good for all of us, especially if our regular work doesn't adequately task us physically. So, we should REJOICE in the mucking we need to do. Of course, at least on some days, it's harder than on others.

For what it's worth, we have a related article you may want to read entitled: Calories Burned Mucking Stalls.

February 28, 2013 – MY HORSE IS DIFFERENT?

My horse does not like to go outside when it is cold. All the other horses run to go out in the morning but not my horse. He wants to stay in unless it is warm out. Whats up?

Presuming your horse is otherwise healthy, there's nothing wrong. Your horse just prefers warmer weather. For some reason, many of us seem to stereotype animal behavior more than human behavior. With humans, we've learned over the years that different people like different things, different sports, different games, different forms of entertainment, etc., etc. Well, animals are the same.

Within their more limited options and ways of looking at things, they too, have preferences. Therefore, some horses dread being taken out for a ride while others jump around excited to go. Some horses don't want to work or run while others can't wait to gallop and sometimes terrorize their owners (who themselves may prefer not to or are afraid to gallop — same preference for different things, just different species).

So, expect that YOUR particular horse is himself an individual. He has his own preferences, and while being a horse, knows what he likes and what he doesn't. He's still normal, just different. That's why it's so important to not buy just any horse when you go looking — you want a horse that's a good match FOR YOU.

February 27, 2013 – AGAINST CROSSBREEDING?

Do you find anything wrong with crossbred horses? I ask because some people do.

No, I don't have a problem with crossbreeding in and of itself. In fact, except for the foundation stocks, all the other breeds are crossbreeds, which means that most breeds are actually the result of crossbreeding through the ages. The country of Iceland does not allow the importation of any horses, not even Icelandics, primarily to keep the breed pure. The importation ban was established about a thousand years ago, so the breed has reputedly not been mixed with any other since. Even a horse that originated in Iceland, once it has left, can never return, supposedly for disease control.

But back to your question, crossbreeding is the way that many popular breeds initially came into being, and also how they were later "tweaked" to what we have today. For example, the Spanish Norman, one of my favorite breeds, is a cross between an Andalusian and a Percheron. It was bred so as to create a powerful horse that could carry knights and their heavy armor into war, but still be fast and agile. The Thoroughbred came from breeding Arabians and a Turkoman horse. The Mustang breed came from various Spanish breeds that free-bred in the wild. It is a very sturdy and solid horse breed, which may go to show that nature does a better job breeding than we do.

So clearly, crossbreeding is how most of today's "pure" breeds came about. What I definitely would never want to see is the loss of any existing breed. The creation of new breeds is fine with me and likely will create some superior horse breeds over time, just as it has in the past.


Every time I see a Friesian he is black. Do they come in any other color?

Of course they do. I've seen Friesians that look like paints with lareg swatches of black and white, and sometimes other nuetral shades. I've also seen grayish flea-bitten Friesians and once saw a photo of a reddish-black bay Friesian, somewhat like a dark blood-bay. So, I'm sure there are other possible colors. HOWEVER, only a black Friesian can be registered. That's because of a rule requiring all registered Friesians to be black in color.

The breed originally descended from the Forest horse of Holland and has been cross-bred over the centuries with Arabians and Andalusians. It was first brought to the U.S. in the 17th century and was reportedly over-bred with other breeds and lost its individuality. The breed was introduced again about 40 years ago and the current rules enforced so as to not allow the breed to be diluted and lost again. That's the primary reason why you only see black Friesians. If they're of any other color, you can't get them registered as a Friesian, so there's definitely no finalcial incentive to breed for, or even to allow other colors.


Can I use my cell phone to find where I am on a trail ride if it has GPS maps in it? We want to ride in some large national forests and I do not want to carry lots of paper maps.

It depends on your cell phone, the features it has, and which apps it came with or that you've installed. Cell phones are not all the same. All can be located using cell tower triangulation, but the accuracy is not as good as GPS technology. Some cell phones have a GPS receiver built in and can actually show your location in the very same way that a GPS does. If your phone is one of these, you essentially have a GPS and can do as you ask.

Conversely, if your phone only has maps within that it came with or that it has downloaded from some site, such as Google® Maps, then you may have nothing more than an electronic map in your hands akin to carrying a paper map. If you're instead accessing live a Website containing maps using a 3G or 4G network, then you're limited by the reception you're getting from the cell towers providing the 3G or 4G service. If you should go out of cell tower range, you'll not be able to use those maps. Cell phones for calls or data usually work poorly or not at all in deep valleys or rural locations far from cell towers, whereas GPS satellites will usually be above your location no matter where you are. However, even then, GPS satellite reception can be very poor under a thick tree-top canopy unless you have a high-sensitivity GPS receiver. You can learn more about this from one of our articles entitled: A GPS for Trail Riding.

So, you need to first determine what features your cell phone offers, what apps you have installed, what cell phone plan you subscribe to and the features it provides, etc. And in large national parks and forests far from cell towers, GPS may be all that you can use and your cell may be inoperative in case of an emergency. In that case, you may want to consider carrying a walkie-talkie transceiver to at least increase the chances you could successfully get help in case of an emergency. Such transceivers are built into some GPS receivers and are discussed in the article mentioned above.

Even if you have all this, I would still carry paper topo-maps as well as a working compass in case all else fails. If you follow my advice about this, you also need to know how to use that compass with the map to determine your location and to plot your escape route, if needed. And if you're truly going to ride that far out away from civilization, I also highly recommend that you read our article on Trail Riding Take-Alongs and put together and carry such a kit. It'll be too late if something bad happens and you're not prepared to deal with that situation far away out in the wilderness.


I bought my first horse trailer last summer and I am worried with all this snow and cold weather about condensation in my trailer. What can I do?

Condensation in a trailer is common and you're right to want to deal with it. In answering your question, the response started to get long, so I decided to make it an article. You can see it at: Reducing Condensation in Your Horse Trailer.

February 21, 2013 – THE DANGERS OF MUD?

How dangerous is mud to a horse?

There's nothing about mud itself that should be a problem. Most horses will roll in from time to time with no ill effects. And I presume you don't mean for a horse to eat mud.

However, mud can sometimes be dangerous to travel upon, especially at the faster gaits. While walking through some mud in warmer weather doesn't usually present a problem, it can be particularly slippery during the colder months when liquid mud is on top of a frozen ground or frozen ice surface. This can occur frequently during spring thaws. The mud will slide on the hard or icy surface almost as easily as a horse can slide on glare ice itself. So, you'd be well advised to walk your horse over such areas, even to walk him around them when possible.

February 20, 2013 – AN UNEXPECTED FEE

I have a friend who is buying a horse. She found it on line, called on it, went and picked it up and brought it to a barn with a trainer whos opinion that she trusted. The trainer told her that it was a nice horse, but they were asking too much for it, so my friend called up and haggled with the owner and trainer till she got a price she liked. Now the trainer wants 15% commission. Is this right? I have always paid my trainer a commission, but I also tell her to "find me a horse." Should the commission still apply if all the trainer really did was give her opinion?

Well first, this is a legal question and I'm not a lawyer. And even if I was, I don't know the laws in your state.

Second, there is insufficient information to answer your question directly. For example, did the trainer mention she wanted a commission up-front? Or did she assert this after your friend bought the horse? Typically, your friend should only have to pay the commission if she actually hired the trainer in some manner, either requesting a service or with the trainer willing to help, but mentioning there would be a fee.

As to the legal issue, I asked the Horse Girl, who is not only an attorney, but one that also specifically specializes in equine law. She mentioned that this can be a tricky issue because it's the trainer's word against your friend's. And if the trainer were to file against your friend to collect the fee, your friend would likely have to hire an attorney to defend. It's also likely that the commission is significantly less money than the cost to defend and may not be worth taking to court.

Ultimately, your friend will need to make a decision as to whether or not to pay the commission. She may want to contact an attorney to get legal advice. Some attorneys offer a free consultation in that there is no charge for the first meeting. They do this in order to attract clients and to assess and decide whether or not to take a case. In the process, they also advise the potential defendant on whether or not the case has merit and whether or not they should just pay the fee.

That is the route I would take if I were your friend and unsure about what to do in this matter.


We keep having really cold or slippery weather here and the owner of my barn is keeping the horses in for a day or two almost every week. What should I do? Should I tell the other boarders?

Well, I strongly suspect your barn owner is keeping the horses in for their own safety. He/she is likely worried about a horse falling and injuring itself or getting hypothermia. Therefore, it sounds as if the owner truly is looking out for the benefit of your horse. As for the other boarders, I bet they know; and I don't think anything will be gained by telling them if they don't. Your barn owner might take offense when all he/she is trying to do is what's best for the horses.

As for what you can do, your horse doesn't need to stand around in his stall with no exercise all day. You can visit the barn, halter your horse, and either walk him around for 20 or 30 minutes or tack him up and ride him around the barn at the walk or trot. Either method will work his muscles and get him moving. Personally, I like the idea of tacking him up and riding him so he works a little harder and better maintains some conditioning.

Whichever method you use, take caution if you'll be trotting him or cantering him past stalls that have horses inside. The other horses will quite likely get excited, whether because it looks like fun that they'd like to join or because they think your horse is running to get away from some danger. Either way, they could get somewhat worked up. One option is to close the doors on the occupied stalls so they don't see you guys running by. Of course, if your barn has an indoor arena, use that instead. But you don't have to let your horse stand around all day even if you have no arena. Just walking him for a period of time each day will do wonders for his physical condition as well as for his state of mind.

February 18, 2013 – INSTALLING CROSS-TIES

Can you tell me how to install cross ties?

There's nothing special about cross-ties. They are just two tie rings, one installed on each side of a space for a horse in the middle. Generally, you like to have about a ten foot spread between them. That's about the width of a barn aisle or the width of a wash or grooming stall — those are the two places I've most often seen cross-ties installed. A wider space is fine, but you shouldn't put your cross-ties in a narrower one because you need enough space to get out if a horse panics while tied.

If in a barn aisle, many barns will install 3 - 5 sets of cross-ties down the aisle so multiple horses can be tied and groomed at the same time. However, the more sets of cross-ties you have in the same aisle, the more it can be inconvenient when one of the horses is ready to move and others in front or back need to be untied so the ready horse can move by and leave the aisle. Two sets per aisle is an ideal situation because either horse can move out when ready. And in many barns, it's not that often that more than two people are grooming or tacking up a horse at the same time.

For those barns actually having many horses being readied simultaneously, such as for a show or for a large trail riding group readying horses and departing together, a little creativity can help. As an example of that, you could install two sets of cross-ties in each aisle and a set in each wash stall and grooming stall. That kind of arrangement can service many horses with the fewest number of horses being blocked from leaving when ready.

Finally, make sure that the lead lines tied to each set of cross-ties have enough slack in them. This is so the horse has room to move a few feet left or right, but not so much slack that they could step over and either trip or get a foot caught in the lines.

February 15, 2013 – TOUCHING YOUR HORSE'S EARS

I just bought a horse to learn dressage and she will not let me touch her ears. I want to check them for mites. How can I make her let me?

Well, you don't want to try to "make her" do it — that's not a good start in developing your relationship together. What you really want to do is to get her desensitized to the touching of her ears so it doesn't bother her. Because you're certainly not the first to ask this question, we have a short article on that very thing. It's entitled: Getting a Horse Used to Having Ears Touched.


I know it is still winter, but when should I start getting my horse into condition for riding in warm weather?

Well, there's no reason to let your horse get completely out of condition if you have the time to spend with him. Working him in an indoor arena if you have access to one, or in an outdoor arena if you have one of those, or even going on walking rides on a trail or around the barn property will help keep your horse (and you) in better shape than if he does nothing. If you do ride in an outdoor arena, around the barn, or on a trail, just be aware of icy conditions, slippery snow, and such that could present a slip and fall risk to you and him.

And when you ride, limit the gaits to a slow trot if on hard ground. A slow cantor might be ok in snow that provides safe footing, but I definitely wouldn't go any faster than that on any footing at all during those months where there's snow on the ground or the ground is frozen. As the weather warms and the ground thaws, watch out for muddy conditions because they also can prove very slippery. Once past all that, you can start working him up into faster cantors and then into gallops. Just be careful you don't overdo it and keep aware of his conditioning. If he sweats or breathes hard from little work, slow down because that indicates that he's not in condition and that you must increase his exertion slowly over several weeks.


My husband and I want to get a horse trailer this spring and we are trying to learn more about trailering. So we have some questions. What is a breakway brake? We were told that we should not try to tow the trailer with a short wheelbase. What does that mean? How big a truck do we need for a two horse trailer? And how much do such trailers cost? TIA!

You're smart to learn as much as you can about trailering before getting into it. Like most things in life, pulling a trailer is different than just driving any kind of vehicle down the road. That's because you need to make wider turns, especially when turning to the right; you need to leave more room for stopping; and you need to drive a little slower than without a trailer.

As to your questions, you actually are asking about a "breakaway" brake (not breakway). That's a switch and battery on the trailer that automatically activates the trailer's electric brakes if it should ever separate from the tow vehicle. This is so the trailer comes to a quick stop and doesn't just free-wheel away at its current speed until it hits something, such as another vehicle. We discuss that and the answers to your other questions in some depth in several article that I can point you to. They are:

  1. Tow Vehicles
    This article will discuss trailer weight and give you a better idea of what you need to understand about tow vehicles.
  2. Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles
    Here, you'll get some ideas of the limits of using small tow vehicles and what you might be able to tow with one, as well as why you may not want to use such a vehicle to tow.
  3. Common Trailering Questions
    This responds to several frequently asked questions about trailering.
  4. Getting Properly Hitched
    This article explains the different hitches, hitch weight classes, and their weight limits. It also explains trailering terms you need to understand and provides photos of different hitch types.
  5. Buying a Good Used Trailer
    This is a comprehensive article explaining what to inspect on a used trailer to get good value and not buy a lemon. It even provides a complete checklist you can copy and use to compare different trailers you're considering buying.
  6. Starting With Your First Horse Trailer
    Ok, you've bought a trailer and already have or also bought a tow vehicle. Now, what do you need to know and how do you start safely confidently pulling that trailer?
  7. Wind and Trailering
    This article discusses why wind cannot be ignored when trailering and how you can reduce its effects.

As for the price of a trailer, that depends on how basic or luxurious you want it. The same level of trailer can vary from one manufacturer to the next depending on each trailer's "build" quality and what you're willing to pay for (e.g. steel vs: aluminum, non-rotting composite floors, etc.) So, learn about trailering first, then visit some of the trailer dealers to actually see what is offered and what it'll cost. That way, you'll start to get an idea of precisely what you'd like (and can afford) in a horse trailer to meet your needs.

These articles will give you a wealth of starting knowledge to get into the world of trailering. You'll also find photos that will help you understand the differences in hitch types. And you'll learn a little about towing in windy weather. In addition, many of these articles will link to others about various topics related to the one focused upon in the article you're reading. Overall, I think you'll find these articles very helpful to give you and your husband a good start understanding the trailering world.

Feel free to write back with questions you have that were not answered by these articles and we'll be happy to help.


The lights in my barn are so dim when we first turn them on. Lately they are even dimmer and take longer to get brighter. Is this because they are getting old and should be replaced soon? Can I do anything else to fix this problem?

Let me guess, your barn is unheated and you're using CFLs or some other form of fluorescent bulbs? Most barns do use these kinds of bulbs, so this is a common complaint. It's likely that the age of the bulbs in your barn have little to do with their initial dimness. Rather, it's been colder lately and all forms of fluorescent bulbs take longer to reach full brightness when they're cold. And the colder it gets, the dimmer they'll start and the longer they'll take to reach full brightness. As the weather gets warmer, they'll get brighter faster again.

Your only real option is to replace your current bulbs with the kinds that come up to their full brightness right away: incandescent bulbs and LED bulbs. Incandescent bulbs use four times the amount of electricity for the same amount of light as fluorescent bulbs, so I'll bet you changed to fluorescent or CFLs for that very reason.

LED bulbs are still very expensive to buy (~ $12 - $18 per bulb), though they use even less power than fluorescents for the same amount of light. If I were you, I'd continue to use the same bulbs you have in your light fixtures now, just turn them on ten minutes before you're about to work in the barn. In 3 - 5 years or so, LED bulbs are expected to be so inexpensive that many of us will be replacing almost all our bulbs with them. That'll be your best and most cost-effective solution.

February 11, 2013 – HORSES AND SNOW

I am new to horses and just got my first one. We had a big storm this weekend in the northeast and my horse is jumping all around in the snow. I am afraid he'll get hurt.

This is normal behavior for your horse. You'll often see dogs run all around when let outside during or after a snow storm. They kick up the snow and get all excited — your horse is no different. Snow is a change of pace and an interesting curiosity. Wait a day or two and he'll return to normal as he gets used to the snow being around.

But, snow that melts and refreezes into ice does present some risk. So, watch the state of the snow on the ground. I, too, live in the northeastern part of the U.S. and we're about to get rain tomorrow as well as warmer weather. If that snowmelt from all this does refreeze into ice overnight or on very cold days, it'll be a slip and fall risk for your horse. Then, you should consider keeping him in another paddock that isn't icy or even in the barn if he has no solid ground on which to stand.


Will leather tack freeze in the winter? What if it gets wet first?

Humans have been using leather tack for centuries, and that includes during the winters — we haven't had any problems. If tack does get wet, you need to dry it off and replace the oils in the leather. If you don't, you risk leather breakdown from mold and mildew, primarily during warmer months. In the winter, it is possible that the freezing of wet leather would break down that leather.

No matter how you look at it, it's not good to let leather get really wet at any time. If it does, you need to dry it out soon and replace those oils with a good quality leather conditioner. If you do that immediately, leather tack should provide long service even if it does get completely soaked. In any season, keep your tack dry, and address it immediately if a mistake happens.


Is it ok to leave horses outside in their paddocks when it is snowing?

Snow, in and of itself, is usually not a problem for horses. In fact, they generally enjoy playing in it when it's falling or in light fluffy snow on the ground. Often, they'll prance around and enjoy kicking it up. It's the other factors that accompany snow that can sometimes be a problem. Here are some examples:

  1. Very Cold Weather – Very low temperatures and high winds can make it dangerous for horses due to risk of hypothermia. When the temperature goes very low or the winds come up and bring a severe wind chill factor at otherwise acceptable winter temperatures, it's best to bring the horses in. A sheet or blanket can allow some time outdoors, but if it's brutally cold, I like to see them come in. There are advocates of keeping horses outside year round regardless of temperature, but I dislike the risk when weather becomes the aforementioned "brutally cold".
  2. Icy or Slippery Footing – Slippery ground is dangerous for horses at any temperature, so it's best to have them inside if you can't find an area to keep them on more solid footing.
  3. Deep Snow – At some point, even if temperatures are not too low and the footing is not slippery, the level of snow can be so high that horses struggle to move in it. This is another situation in which it's best to make some accommodations. That may mean keeping them in for a few days, but a better solution is to remove the snow from at least a small area of their paddock so they can spend some time outside and move around more easily. Usually, the horses will trample an area and that will tamp down the snow there and give them more ease of movement. But if they can't do that due to the type of snow or just because there's so much of it, they sometimes need a little help from us to make a moving area for them.
As mentioned initially, don't fear leaving horses outside just because it's snowing. It's the attendant factors, such as those mentioned above that you need to assess and be careful about during the snow season.

February 6, 2013 – APPLES OR CARROTS?

What is better to give my horse, apples or carrots.

Well, people have been feeding both to their horses for centuries. But I prefer to give my horse carrots. Many horses seem more prone to indigestion from apples. With their already problematic digestive system, I just want to err on the side of caution and hope to keep my horse alive and in good shape as long as possible.

If you do give your horse an apple, consider cutting it up into quarters or smaller pieces. Then, feed them individually and make sure one piece is chewed and swallowed before giving the next. And whatever you do, limit it to one or so apples. Lots of apples can definitely cause problems for horses, such as colic and founder. The highest risk is if a horse finds a basket (or barrel) of apples or finds an apple tree, especially when many have fallen on the ground.

Me, I'm going to stick primarily with carrots.


Is it true that horses never forget anything? That they remember everything?

I don't know who would truly know this, other than a horse. Perhaps a veterinarian could tell you what has become accepted fact about horse memory in the equine medical world. However, I can tell you a little about what I've read and experienced myself when around horses.

Horses are reputed to have excellent memories — much has been written about that. But what we call memory, whether horse or human, has many different aspects. For example, short-term memory is stored differently than long-term memory. And horses seem particularly good at pattern memories.

I've ridden down some trails numerous times over the years with my horse. After the first time, he seems to be quite comfortable going down those trails most days. But if some small thing has changed, he'll notice it right away. So, if a tree has fallen over, or something, such as an old tire on the left side of the trail has been moved to the right side, he'll stop and approach it as if it's possibly dangerous. He'll want to approach slowly while studying it, smell it as we move closer, and then will move on once convinced it poses no danger. On the return trip, he'll do the same because it looks different coming from the other direction. After that, he'll happily go by in either direction on subsequent trips with no concerns...UNLESS, it is moved again.

To remember the placement of such a minor item so well is something almost all horses do. And I suspect it's quite a memory feat to do that for miles and miles of multiple trails. But that's just one of the ways I've noticed of horses having outstanding memories. I know there are other examples also, and collectively, you can see why horses have their reputation for having excellent memories. Yet, as good as that is, I'd hesitate to say that they never forget anything and truly remember everything.


I have been riding horses for 2 years and want to take jumping lessons. A woman at the barn says that it hurts horses and that they dont jump in the wild. Is this true?

It IS NOT true that horses don't jump in the wild — they do. However, they only jump when they need to do so, such as to clear a brook, fence, or other obstruction when running with a herd or to get away from a predator. We jump horses for fun and/or competition. But horses jump only when they actually have a reason to do so, essentially, to get to the other side of something.

As for horses getting hurt jumping, that can happen, but it's not usually from just the jumping itself. Rather, it typically occurs while they're being jumped by a human when they shouldn't be jumping at all. We humans can make a horse jump when they're sore, on surfaces on which they shouldn't be jumped (very hard ground, wet or slippery ground, etc.), higher than they are built for or in condition to jump, or more frequently than they should be jumped. We may also jump a horse improperly or ride improperly (e.g. out of balance with the horse) while the horse is jumping.

So, when jumping horses, you need to be really attuned to your horse's condition and never overdo it or jump him when the launch or landing surfaces or weather conditions indicate otherwise. You also shouldn't jump a horse when they're out of condition nor over-work the horse by jumping too high or too often. Start by having your horse checked by your veterinarian for the express purpose of jumping. Follow whatever recommendations and limits that he/she advises. Then, get proper jumping instruction from a qualified instructor.

If you avoid making the aforementioned mistakes, follow the advice given to you by the vet about jumping your horse, and get proper jumping training from a good instructor, you should be able to jump without problems. There are also preparations and precautions you should take to make jumping safer for you. Learn more by reading one of our articles: Horse Jumping Safety.


I am so frustrated because my horse will not ride alone with me. If another rider comes along, she is fine and we can go out on the trail. But alone, she will not go. Is it because she wont have fun alone? Is she just being stubborn? How do I force her to go?

I think that some variation of this is the most common question we get. First of all, it's doubtful that your horse is just being stubborn, and I'm positive that she's not refusing to go because she's afraid she won't have fun — that's not how horses think. Rather, I strongly suspect she's reluctant to go alone with you, but willing to go with one or more other horses because she's a prey animal and instinctually understands there's safety in numbers. So, the real reason is that you don't yet have the respect of your horse. To acquire that, you'll need some help from a trainer.

This topic is mentioned often in this and the Horse Girl columns — you're not alone with this issue. But resolving it requires that you learn how to act as the leader of your herd of two (you and your horse). Once you've established this relationship, she'll not only be comfortable going out alone with you, she'll also respond better to your commands, learn better from you with whatever you're training her, etc.

Ask around and find a good trainer that can help you understand how to be the leader of any horse. This is not about forcing; it's about proper behavior, technique, and consistency on your part in gaining and keeping your horse's respect.

Good luck!

January 31, 2013 – WHAT'S A CHEYENNE ROLL?

I am trying to find out what a cheyenne roll is. It is mentioned in lots of saddle ads and descriptions I am looking at. Can you help?

Sure! A "cheyenne roll" is a curl toward the rear of the upper part of the cantle. Some cantles are straight while others have a cheyenne roll. The top of the saddle rolls back and forms a lip on the back end of the cantle. It's also a good place to grab when you're turning around to see what's behind you. I've included two images below so that you can see the difference.

Straight Cantle Cheyenne Roll
Straight Cantle Cheyenne Roll

January 30, 2013 – RIDING RISKS

I always wanted to ride horses but am afraid. I was talking about it with a friend and she says its safe. Is she right? How dangerous is horseback riding.

Well, there definitely is some risk in that you're near or on a very powerful animal that sometimes spooks. That said, we really don't hear very often about serious injuries from horses, at least, it's far less frequent than vehicle accidents. Still, it's not risk free any more than is riding a motorcycle or skiing. So, you need to learn how to ride properly and also learn to pay attention to the signals that horses give. But, we also want to keep this in perspective because many young children (especially girls) care for and ride horses everyday with few problems. They've been doing that for many centuries all over the world.

You should read an article we have prepared on this topic. It's entitled: The Risk of Riding Horses. It will give you more to consider as you weigh the risks as you see them.


I have a 11 year old mare who is usually happy go lucky. In the past few days she has stopped eating grain and hay when normally she ate 2 scoops a day plus two flakes of hay. She has recently started laying down more than she stands (but is not rolling)and also has really started grinding her teeth bad. I have neglected floating her teeth due to financial reasons but she is up to date on all vacs and is well taken care of and ridden regularly. She still runs well with the other horses but just lays down when not playing and we cant get her to eat at all.\ What do you think?

I think you need to CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY! She certainly is not going to be able to continue to run with the other horses for very long if she doesn't get any norishment. I think this is something significantly more serious than a tooth problem if she's not eating at all. Neglected teeth usually cause an abscess of a horse's teeth, tongue, or cheeks, but it's unlikely your horse would stop eating altogether. Instead, I'd expect her to still eat, though slowly and with some pain. Not eating at all sounds much more serious. And if this is all caused by her neglected teeth, then she must be experiencing unbelievable pain to stop eating completely. So, CALL YOUR VET NOW!

Alright, now let's discuss the next important issue: annual care of your horse's teeth. Regardless of whether or not this non-eating issue is related to neglected teeth, you can't neglect your horse's teeth like this — it's not fair to her to be in growing pain because you say you can't afford her proper care. You state "she still runs well with the other horses"; well, that means you're likely either paying board or own additional horses. Floating teeth is only an annual care responsibility, not like daily feeding. It's cost is only $50 - $100 per year — that's $1 - $2 per week. It's hard to believe that anyone can afford to feed a horse, board her or own additional horses and be able to pay their daily feed and bedding costs, and yet not be able to afford an additional $1 - $2 per week for floating her teeth.

I don't know your financial circumstances in any way, but you still need to be able to afford the proper minimal care of any animal you own or you should not own that animal. We take on the responsibility for their care when we take possession of them and we need to make that a priority. For your horse's sake, please make it a priority and get her teeth done ASAP, and then assure she gets that treatment annually.

January 28, 2013 – COLD HANDS WHILE RIDING

I am having a problem with cold hands when riding this winter. My hands seem to get cold and numb on almost every ride. I wear the same dress gloves that I use to drive to the barn but they don't keep my hands warm enough riding. What can I do?

Well, it has been a very cold winter this year in some parts of the country, so I'm sure your hands are not as warn as usual on a ride. However, you can't expect gloves that work fine in a heated car to work adequately out in the open air, perhaps even in a wind with the wind-chill included. You've got several options, but whatever you do, one of them should be to get a better pair of gloves. Dress gloves just won't cut it.

I suggest that you look into gloves used for skiing, ice fishing, mountain climbing, or some such. Gloves for these activities must be hardy and must keep hands warm in harsh conditions for the wearer to survive. Good gloves will contain a membrane liner that will make them water and windproof, yet still allow your perspiration to evaporate out. They will also have extra insulation in their fingertips and the warmest ones will actually come with an additional set of liners. The liners are like an internal pair of thin gloves that you put on first and act as a glove within a glove. And if you have to remove your gloves because need more dexterity, such as to grasp a zipper on a pocket of your coat, you can remove an outer glove temporarily to open the zipper, yet keep the liner on so as not to expose your hand directly to the biting cold. On warmer days, you can wear the gloves without the liners.

If you want the absolute warmest hands, get the same product, but in mitten form. Because mittens keep your fingers together, they will be even warmer than gloves. They should also include liners, many times, a glove liner rather than a mitten liner. This is so you'll still have that same dexterity when you pull your mitten off for a moment to open a zipper or perform some other more delicate task. You should be able to pick up a very good pair of gloves or mittens for under $100 — you don't need to spend more than that.

If you get good gloves as recommended and your hands still get a little cold after being out on a ride for a while, you can also get hand warmers. These are simple, safe to use, nontoxic chemical packs that actually generate heat of their own for about five hours. You can slide a hand warmer into your glove and it will keep your hands very warm. Some really good gloves, such as ski gloves, will even have a zipper on their top allowing you to insert a hand warmer into each glove.


We switched to CFL bulbs a couple years ago but they're not bright enough and they flicker are dim for the first few minutes after turned on. A friend recommended switching to metal halide (sp?) and says they will give more light and are the ones used in indoor arenas. Are these the lights used in arenas? And what voltage do I need for these kinds of lights?

Metal halide bulbs are brighter than CFLs and in a lighting classification called high-intensity discharge lighting. They require the same voltage (120VAC) as you currently have in your home and barn, so you don't need any other voltage service to be installed. They are an industrial light source and should be installed by a qualified electrician.

BUT, they do take about five minutes or so to get up to full brightness. So if the initial dimness of the CFLs was an issue, you may not be happy with metal halide. They, too, may flicker while dim. All discharge lighting (metal halide, CFLs and other fluorescents, high pressure sodium, quartz iodine, etc.) do this until they warm up.

If you're going to use metal halide fixtures in your barn, you need to know that these are bright lights, so they should be placed as high as possible because of their intensity, and also so that they cannot be hit by a rearing horse. Because they are very bright, you should use the lower wattage sizes so they're not too bright. That will also save you in electricity costs. They do have a higher initial cost, but they last a long time and are very efficient, which will drop your costs even lower. You can discuss them with your electrician and he/she should be able to help you select the proper type and wattage size.


Will cold water or hot water freeze faster in a horse bucket?

I would think this is obvious, but to answer your question, the cold water will freeze first. Basic physics dictates that a substance must give up its heat to change phase from a liquid to a solid. Therefore, the more heat a substance has to start with, the more it must give up of that heat before it will freeze.

You might think from the foregoing that it would be a good idea to put hot water in your horse's bucket because it would take longer to freeze — that's a very bad idea for two reasons:

  1. Your horse could burn his mouth if he tried to drink before the water had cooled enough, and;
  2. Lead from copper plumbing leaches into water faster as the temperature rises. So, people and animals should not drink water from the hot tap line (even after it has cooled down) because it will contain higher levels of lead (from the solder) than water from the cold line. Similarly, if you have plastic plumbing, there's a higher risk of monomers from the plastic leaching into the water from the hot line than the cold line because the heat acts as a catalyst.
Therefore, no matter how you look at it, you should only drink and provide drinking water to horses or other animals from the cold water line. To stop bucket freezing, you can get heated buckets. They provide just enough heat to stop freezing, but don't generate enough heat to cause significant leaching of the materials from which the pipes are made or the materials used to join the pipes (such as the glues for plastic piping).


When I pulled my saddle out of the basement last spring after storing it there all winter, some of the leather was turned up into a curl. I tried to straighten it out but finally gave up. Now that it is winter again and I will not ride until warm weather comes back I want to fix the curled leather. Any idea how I can do that?

Yes. In fact, we have an article that discusses that very topic called Flattening Curled Leather. However, this is just one method that we and others have successfully used — there are others. So, I recommend you also do some searches on the net about straightening or uncurling leather. Though I don't remember them well enough to explain, I do remember reading of some other approaches, though I've not personally tried them myself.


Every time I see my horse I come away with my hands feeling scummy. There is something on horses that coats my hands and I always have it when leaving the barn. We have no water at the barn so I always carry some paper towels in my car to wipe them, but it doesn't work good enough. I am trying some anti-bacterial soap now, but I read that there is something in it that is bad to breath. What should I do?

The substance that's in most bacterial soaps to sterilize your hands is called Triclosan. Rather, there have been recent studies indicating that this antibacterial soap additive can cause weakened muscle function by itself. The FDA has an article about their ongoing investigation about this issue entitled Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know.

Other studies are linking the compound to the release of free chlorine gas or chlorophorm (a known carcinogen) when used with chlorinated water. Chlorinated water is what you get from most municipal water systems. The National Institute of health has a very technical abstract of an article on this issue entitled PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS: Triclosan Comes under Scrutiny. You may prefer to read the less technical WikiPedia entry for Triclosan.

Regardless of the foregoing, there's a much easier solution if you don't have soap and running water handy to wash your hands: buy some hand wipes or diaper wipes to keep in your car and use them when you leave the barn before putting your hands on your steering wheel. It's also a good idea to keep some individually packaged wipes in a saddle bag or cantle bag on your horse if you ever like to eat lunch out on the trail. This is a safe way to clean your hands when leaving the barn or when riding horses away from the barn when you want your hands clean for any reason, such as to have a snack or to treat a wound. We have a short and far less scientific article on this topic entitled: Hygiene Around Horses.


Will my new leather saddle freeze if I ride on really cold days? I want to ride in winter if I can but it's a new saddle and I don't want to ruin it.

As long as you keep your saddle dry and you occasionally clean and replenish the oils in it, your saddle should be fine. You need to replace the oils because winter air is dry and even those oils evaporate over time into the very dry air. The wipes that both clean and oil your saddle are probably the best product to use, though it's not the only product for saddle preservation.

I like to clean my saddle in a normal temperature room and let it dry before I leave it into a cold car or unheated barn. But the tanning process was designed to preserve saddles and other leather products, in all forms of weather (though avoid letting your saddle get truly wet). Remember that insulated leather coats are popular and actually made for the cold winter weather and they hold up for decades. Also remember that saddles have been used year round for many hundreds of years. Obviously, they've stood up well to the cold or we wouldn't continue to use that material for saddles today.

January 18, 2013 – TRACTION ON ICE

How can I keep my horse from sliding on ice?

The only thing that might help is winter shoes. As we've discussed here before, winter shoes have either borium strips or use borium nails to affix the shoes to the hooves. Borium is a very hard alloy and the strips or the heads of the nails made from it are rough so as to grip the ice.

Personally, while winter shoes help, the best advice we can give is to avoid riding or taking your horse over an icy surface as much as possible. A fall on the ice has the potential of injuring a horse, such as breaking a bone — that's never a good thing for a horse. Worse, if circumstances were such that the horse somehow fell on top of you, the risk to your health and life is quite serious. So, avoiding ice with a horse whenever possible is a great idea.

January 17, 2013 – RIDING BAREBACK

I have been riding 5 months and I want to try riding bareback. Is it dangerous? Should I wait until summer?

Actually, I think the winter is the very best time to ride bareback. In the summer, horses can get quite warm and usually sweat a lot. It's not fun being directly on a hot, wet horse. But in winter, it's nice to sit on a warm horse. Also, much winter riding is done in an arena or a barn and it's safer to ride bareback in such an enclosed space, especially initially.

Bareback riding is rather slippery if you're sitting directly on the horse's back and that's another reason to try it close to home. Conversely, that slipperiness will require you to truly be in balance with your horse or you won't be on him for very long. So, this is a good way to find out if you've been out of balance and depending on your stirrups too much. You'll also notice that applying a little leg is more effective than it is when riding in a saddle. That's because the horse can feel your entire leg from pelvis to foot. Similarly, you'll better feel your horse's movement.

Some people will use a bareback pad. This is a cloth pad that has a girth strap around the horse, and sometimes, even cloth stirrups. That can provide some much desired stability for the new bareback rider because it won't be as slippery and you also have the added security of the stirrups.. However, it's also a crutch because you don't have to be as balanced. Starting with the pad to use it as a transition device until you're comfortable sitting directly on a horse is another approach.

I do encourage you to work toward riding direct bareback at some point. As mentioned above, it will truly improve your balance and help you to better learn the feel of a horse's movements.


The water pails in our barn keep freezing in winter (we're in northern Minnesota). My husband and I are now thinking about buying a heated bucket for each stall. How much does it cost to run heated buckets?

We started answering your question and realised we needed an entire article to provide enough information. You can read Electricity Costs for Heated Water Pails.

January 15, 2013 – HORSESHOES TOO THIN?

I think the fariar is putting thin shoes on my horse to cut his cost. He is still charging me the same amount though. How thick should a horseshoe be?

The thinner the shoe, the better it is for the horse. When a horse steps onto the ground with a bare hoof, the frog in his foot will get compressed causing the blood to be pumped back up into the hoof and leg — it's supposed to work this way. When a horse is shoed, the shoes lift the hoof (and frog) up off the ground and the aforementioned blood pumping action doesn't occur like it should. So in reality, whatever your farrier is doing, thinner shoes are better for your horse.

If you feel you're not getting good horse shoes or proper farrier service for some reason, you should have another farrier check your horse, or even ask a veterinarian. Don't leave this issue unresolved. Your horse's hooves and shoeing are critical aspects of horse care and your horse can become lame if there really is a problem. Have his hooves checked ASAP!


My horse gets crazy when it gets windy and I usually stop riding until the next summer. I wish I could ride more. Do horses hate wind?

NO! Horses do not hate wind. But it temporarily changes the dynamic of their lives. They're always on the alert for predators and the noise of wind makes it harder for horses to hear a potential predator approaching. The blowing wind also moves papers, leaves, and other items and that can cause a horse to spook. Generally, you see this behavior at the beginning of autumn as the weather gets colder and we start getting windy weather that was rare during the summer. Usually, after a week or two, the horses have gotten use to the wind again and their spookiness subsides.

We've answered this question many times and pointed readers to a related article (Horses and Wind), but the topic keeps coming up. DON'T be afraid to ride on windy days. Perhaps you're not comfortable doing so when those winds first start up in autumn, but don't write off the entire autumn and winter riding seasons for concern about this issue. Once your horse has gotten used to the wind again, take him out for rides.


I heard tapaderos keep your feet warm in winter. Is it true?

Well, they're not feet warmers, so I can't say they keep your feet warm. However, your feet will usually be warmer than they would be in open stirrups. Tapaderos are stirrups with a piece of leather in front that shields your toes from wind, cold air, snow, etc. As a result, your feet usually stay somewhat warmer compared to open stirrups. We have an article on the subject entitled Tapaderos: Good or Bad?. It also identifies other advantages that these stirrups provide to the rider.


How many layers of clothing do you need to wear if working in a horse barn in the winter? I start helping out in a barn next week and don't know what to expect.

Well, you're definitely right to think in "layers". Even unheated and uninsulated barns can be very warm in the morning after a whole night with horses inside. They throw a lot of heat and a barn will often come up to comfortable temperatures requiring only a sweater. Conversely, barns can be very cold at the end of the day when you bring the horses back in and the morning heat has leaked to the outside. If your barn has skylights that collect heat, that kind of barn will be warmer than outside at the end of a bright sunny day.

Obviously, how much you need to wear will also depend on your latitude and how cold it gets in the winters where you are. But, wherever you are, dress so that you're warm, but wear layers just as you're thinking about so that you can take some off if you get too warm while working. You're going to get warm mucking stalls, emptying the wheelbarrow, and carrying hay and water to stalls. Being able to remove a layer and yet keep other layers on will allow you to adjust your garb to your level of exertion and heat generation.

Wearing insulated boots will also help — frozen toes are not comfortable. And carry both a light and a heavy pair of gloves. As with riding, there are often times where the air is too warm to wear heavy gloves, but too cold to wear no gloves at all. The light pair will come in handy at those times.

We have an article entitled Winter Riding & Staying Warm that we've been recommending about winter riding to readers lately. While you're asking about keeping warm while working, the concepts are the same, so we believe it'll help.


My head gets very cold when riding in winter. I could wear a wool cap, but my helmet will not fit over it. Any ideas?

Yes — wear a ski mask (also called a balaclava) under your riding helmet or get a helmet cover to go over the helmet itself. Personally, I prefer the helmet cover because it doesn't use up space on your head and make the helmet fit tighter. If you want the mask, then you'll have to loosen your helmet to fit over it and then tighten it again when you ride without the mask. If you wear the helmet cover when it's cold out and remove it when you ride in warmer weather, you'll never have to change your helmet setting.

Both ski masks and helmet covers come in many different colors, so you should be able to match your tack if you're so inclined. You can even get them in bright orange for better visibility to hunters during hunting season.

January 8, 2013 – TAKE OUT A LOAN TO BUY A HORSE?

I want to buy a horse but do not have enough money. Can I get a bank loan?

I seriously doubt it. Banks loan out money only when they can safely expect to be repaid. And they usually raise their chances of that by putting a lien against the purchased product. So, if you buy a house, car, boat, or some such, a lien gives them the right to repossess the purchased item and sell it to recover the balance of the unpaid loan if you default. But with an animal, if it dies or gets stolen, there's not much to sell.

It might be remotely possible to get a loan if you put mortality and medical insurance on the horse with the bank as beneficiary, but I suspect no bank wants to be in the business of lending for animal purchases. You can speak to your local banker about it to see what they say, but I personally doubt they'll be interested.

January 7, 2013 – NEW AT WINTER RIDING

I'm a new rider (about 1 1/2 years) and this is the first winter that I have my own horse. I usually ride inside but we got snow last week and I have been riding my horse Gracie in it. We're having so much fun! I want to ride outside more this winter and take some longer trips, but don't know what I don't know. What is the best way to get started?

You're already doing it — riding outside in the cold, fresh air and snow. But we do understand your concerns about wanting to know more before taking longer cold-weather trips. We have two articles I recommend that you read. They should answer at least some of your concerns, and perhaps also bring up a few things you didn't think about. Here they are:

If you have remaining questions after reading these, feel free to contact us again with those questions. We'll try to fill in gaps when we can and help make your riding safer and more fun.


I invited a fellow rider to come with me and my horse to a show I was in. While unloading my horse, she noticed that I didn't have a lock on the hitch lever that goes over the towing ball and must of told me five times how I need to add one. I never had my trailer stolen and I only go from our barn to a show and then back on the same day so I dont think I need a lock. But shes being a pain and I stopped her from harassing me further by saying I would ask you guys. Is she right? Do I need a lock?

You DEFINITELY NEED SOMETHING in that ball hitch lever! You can buy a securing pin made for this application (about $8.00 at any trailer store) or even just use a 1/4 inch diameter bolt with a tightened lock nut on the end. But the primary purpose of that lock, pin, or bolt is to stop the hitch lever from bouncing open and releasing the hitch from the ball when going over a bump or on a rough road. Using a lock gives the additional benefit of deterring thieves from unhitching and stealing your trailer.

BUT do at least put a pin or bolt through the hitch lever whenever you tow to prevent a bounce from releasing your trailer. While the safety chains are a second line of safety, you really don't want your trailer to unhitch and be secured only by the chains if you can avoid it. When that happens, the chains usually keep the trailer with the tow vehicle, but there can be lots of banging and denting damage as the hitch bounces up against your tow vehicle's bumper and rear panels while you slow to a stop. You'd not be happy with hundreds or thousands of dollars in vehicle damage when realizing you could have avoided it for less than one ten dollar pin purchase or two bucks for a 1/4" nut and bolt.


I love horses and have always wanted to learn to ride. I have finally decided to move ahead before I get too old. How should I start?

CONGRATULATIONS! It's always great when I hear someone is finally pursuing a life-long passion.

The key to enjoying being around and riding horses is understanding their behavior. While riding horses is safer than many sports, as with skiing, swimming, or bicycling, there is some risk, so safety must be a priority. The way to be safest is to learn about horse behavior and the basic ways horse people minimize risk. Similarly, when learning to ride, proper instruction from a qualified instructor will go far to making you a competent and safe rider — both of these areas are addressed with knowledge.

So, to get started, check your area for barns that offer riding instruction. Better yet, if you know anyone that rides, especially friends or relatives you trust, ask their advice as to who from and where you can get good riding instruction. When available, good recommendation from someone that cares about you is always the best approach.

Finally, taking proper safety precautions, even as regards riding apparel, is good common sense. For example, you should buy an approved riding helmet and riding footwear BEFORE you ever get on a horse. And you should always wear both of these items when riding. A good instructor or knowledgeable horse friend will be able to help you make some informed buying decisions.

If you don't know anyone already involved with horses, at least read some of the articles we have here on QueryHorse regarding riding safety. Here's a start:

The foregoing list covers many of the basics, but they are just that: BASICs. There are many other articles on QueryHorse that will offer more information on the many different aspects of horses and riding. That said, even this list is not complete, nor can it be because there are so many different disciplines and ways to go with horses. So, start with this reading list, get a good riding instructor, learn as much as you can, and have fun. Horses truly are amazing creatures and fantastic partners in this fun sport!


We recently bought a horse farm and are about to start bringing in horses. I am trying to figure out how many bails of hay I need per horse every month. So my real question is, how many flakes are there in a bail?

Well, you're not going to like this answer: there is no standard bale size. A hay baler allows the operator to set the size of the bale, the number of flakes, the thickness of those flakes, etc. Around my area of Connecticut, bales vary between 60 and 90 pounds or so and flakes are usually about 3 inches thick. A 60 pound bale has about 10 flakes while a 90 pound bale will generally have about 15. That said, a farmer could adjust the bale width to another setting and the number of flakes in a particular bale could be more or less.

You can use what I said above as a "typical" flake size, but you can't assume it won't change or that you won't get something else when buying bales. You need to either ask the seller what he/she provides, or if you're going to buy a lot of bales, you may be able to specify the bale and flake sizes you'll purchase.

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