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"Horse Guy" Archive Jul - Oct 2013

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I want to start a horse massage business at my private farm. Can I do that?

This is more a local zoning question than anything else. Some of it also depends on the nature of the business you have in mind and is even independent of whether or not it's equine related. For example, if you're selling any kind of goods requiring customers to come to your farm, such as for antiques, fruits, tack or feed, that will almost certainly require a commercial zoning. That's because you could have many customers at your farm at the same time, such as on weekends or during some tent sales you may have. There will be more traffic on the road to your farm at these times and it will affect your neighbors — this is not usually appreciated in a residential area having mostly homes and a few small farms.

Conversely, if you build Websites for people from your home, except for an occasional customer visit to discuss the Website or business terms, you'll hardly impact road traffic at all. Similarly, if you have one horse at your farm at a time that you massage and you handle two or three massages a day, your neighbors and the town zoning commission may not care, or even notice. But if you hire ten other massage therapists and do a booming business, trust me, it'll matter to everyone.

So, you first need to determine what kind of business you're going to have. Then, speak with your zoning commission to see if they feel it'll require a zoning change or will be so small as to not be an issue. Zoning boards vary from town to town, and some of the most liberal seem to be in small rural, agricultural towns whereas dense or upscale residential neighborhoods tend to enforce zoning issues more strictly because more people can be affected and inconvenienced. It's really going to depend on what you intend to do and your specific town and zoning commission.


I like to brush my horse whenever I see him or am going to ride him whether at my barn or at some other place. Should I take the halter off my horse every time when brushing him so I can get at his face?

No, I wouldn't do that as a matter of course. There's no need to remove his halter if you're brushing him in his paddock or in some open space. Because you mention brushing a horse's face, let's discuss brushing a little.

First, you should use a soft brush meant for a horse's face when you brush it, not the same brush you use for the rest of his body — that should be somewhat stiffer. However, horses vary as to the stiffness of the brush they prefer when having their bodies brushed, so choose one that's comfortable for your horse. For some, that can be a very stiff brush, but others have sensitive skin and will balk if the brush is too stiff or you're brushing too hard.

Second, another reason for using a separate brush for your horse's face is to keep his face clean. As you likely know, you're sometimes removing mud, dander, bugs, and other stuff from your horse's coat. Using a separate brush for his face helps to not subject his eyes and sensitive nostrils to any of that coming off his normal body brush.

Third, you can brush most of your horse's face with his halter on. But when you feel you need to get at his whole face occasionally, just place him in his stall, remove his halter and brush his face there. Or if you've trailered to another location, remove the halter while your horse is still in the trailer, brush it there, and replace the halter before unloading the horse. This way, your horse is not going anywhere if he doesn't listen well and is so inclined to move without permission.


The tack room at the barn where I board my horse is not heated. That leaves my tack very cold, especially on days when it is below freezing. Does a cold saddle or cold pad trouble the horse?

Not generally. Unless clipped, a horse should have his winter hair. And even a clipped horse still has a coat of hair. A saddle pad draws heat away from a horse slowly, and even then, just until it warms up. After that, well, it's generally a pad or blanket and either will actually keep the horse warmer than he would be without it as well as providing cushioning.

There is one thing that I do differently in cold weather, that is, I'll warm the bit before placing it into my horse's mouth. Cold metal is VERY uncomfortable in the mouth and metal at a temperature below freezing will actually cause freezing of water (or saliva) that is between the bit and the tongue until it warms. That can injure the skin of the tongue.

As a result, I'll warm the bit before placing it into the mouth of my horse. My favorite way is to run it under very warm water in the tack room sink because it warms very quickly (just 10 - 15 seconds). At a prior barn, we used a hair dryer to warm the bit. That took a little longer, perhaps a minute or two. Without warm water or other heat source, I'll place the bit in my warm hands for a few minutes. Is that cold on my hands? You betcha! But that also means it would be even more painful to the mouth of my horse and doing that would be plain cruel — I won't do that.

So, I do hope that you'll consider warming your horse's bit before putting it in his mouth on very cold days.


How late into the season can I haul my horses? We have a stock trailer.

You don't say where you live or what kind of climate you have, so it's hard to offer much help. If you're in the northern latitudes of the U.S., then autumn is bringing colder and colder air as we approach winter. As such, hauling your horses in an open stock trailer could put them at risk of hypothermia. The faster you go, the greater will be the wind-chill effect.

If you're going to do any trailering of your horses as the weather gets colder, either borrow or get an enclosed trailer, or close in the stock trailer. Most stock trailers are designed to accept plywood sides, front, and back and can accept acrylic glass window panes (familiar brand names of this kind of transparent product include Plexiglass® and Lucite®). By enclosing your trailer with such materials, your horses will not get chilled by the cold air rushing by as you drive them down the road.

October 25, 2013 – CRIBBING?

Why do horses crib?

We've had this question several times over the last few weeks. It makes me wonder if that's because some horses crib more as the weather gets cooler.

As to your question, we don't completely know why some horses crib, though we do know that some of it is related to living in a domestic setting. I say this because cribbing seems to be an absent behavior among wild horses — none crib! Yet in domestic horses, about 5% are cribbers.

The current thinking is that there is a genetic predisposition to cribbing in those 5% of the horse population. Cribbing can start at any time from a very young horse in some, and yet has not started in others until their late 20s. On average, cribbing seems to begin in horses sometime in the 3 - 10 year age group, but as mentioned, it can begin before or after that time.

There's an old wives' tale that a cribber can teach other horses to crib, but numerous studies have not found this to be true. Rather, the latest feeling is that a horse with the genetic predisposition might start cribbing earlier if around a cribbing horse, but those without the predisposition will never crib even if placed within a herd of cribbers. Similarly, a predisposed cribber may begin the habit when stalled a lot while non-predisposed horses won't crib even if stalled all day.

The foregoing implies that you can hold-off the onset of cribbing in a predisposed horse by giving horses lots of turnout and keeping them away from known cribbers. Lots of turnout is good advice for all horses, but because we don't know which horses have the aforementioned genetic predisposition, it's currently impossible to know which horses should not be kept with a cribber. Perhaps in the future we'll identify the genes involved and develop a test that can identify a cribber before the habit begins. Of course, if we understand the genetic mechanism, we may also be able to eliminate the problem with medication or a food supplement.

October 24, 2013 – TIRED OF FLIES AND TICKS

The flies and ticks are still biting here even though the temperature at night is in the low 50s. Will it stop when we have our first freeze?

That's going to depend on several factors, such as how much the temperature goes below freezing and how long it stays there. The lower it goes below freezing and the longer it stays there, the greater the chances that you won't be seeing many more flies for the rest of this year. Unfortunately, the ticks are another matter.

While ticks definitely slow down as the colder weather approaches, they continue to live by seeking shelter in clumps of leaves and below ground. As soon as the temperature gets warmer again, they come out and look for a blood meal. Here in the northeast, we've sometimes seen ticks in January when the temperatures got into the 50s and some ticks actually came out looking for a host — we didn't see lots of them and they moved slowly, but we did see some. Once Spring came and we got regular weather in the 50s and 60s, they were a major pest on our horses and dogs.

So, expect to be rid of flies with the first good frost, but the ticks will just be hibernating and waiting for warmer weather to return. They could come out on any day with sustained temperatures above freezing.


We are going to trailer our horses and do some riding a few states south and a friend mentioned that they may require us to wear colored vests. Can they do this? Is this true?

By colored vests, I presume that you mean orange hunting vests? If so, yes, it's true that many states have such requirements when riding on public lands, such as in parks or state and national forests. You didn't mention in which state(s) you're going to be riding, and even if you did, I don't know the laws outside of the states in which I've ridden. Here in the northeast, riders are required to wear orange vests when riding during hunting season so that hunters can easily see us. Further, in Rhode Island, the signs specifically state not only that riders, hikers, and others using the state forests need to wear orange between October and May, they also state that it must be at least 200 square inches of orange. Each state has its own requirements, so you need to check with park authorities in the states in which you intend to ride.

Also, please don't look at this requirement as a pain, it's for our own good. I know that my riding friends and I definitely DO NOT want ourselves or our horses to "take a bullet" because we were mistaken for a deer. In fact, we'll add some extra orange, such as bright orange felt strips on our horse's tail, some of my friends use an orange saddle pad and others wear an orange helmet cover over their riding helmet, all just to raise the chances that we'll be seen and recognized as a NON-TARGET. In addition, we talk a lot while riding. I guess you could say that my friends and I are BULLET ADVERSE.


Can a horse get emotionally attached to a person? My horse seems to get depressed and mopes around her paddock every time I go on vacation or don't show up at the barn for a few days.

Yes, a horse can seriously miss a person. It's actually ironic, isn't it? So many of us horse people get attached to our horses, and hope that our horses also build a bond with us. The situation is that, when two horses bond, it usually works out ok because they're together all day long in their paddock. When we take one out for a ride, they'll usually whiney back and forth to each other because they're upset about being separated. But it's all resolved several hours later when we return the horse to its companion.

Well, when the bonding instead occurs between a person and a horse, the horse is not able to understand higher level concepts, such as vacations, holidays, and responsibilities required of people. A horse just keeps wanting the entity with which they've bonded to stay with them and cannot understand the companion's absence. This is why the Horse Girl and I have been trying to advise readers writing in about wanting their horses to bond with them that they likely don't really want that to occur.

If it has happened in your horse's case, you can break the bond by staying away for a few days to a week and substituting a horse as a companion to your horse so that they will bond. Your horse will miss you over the first few days, but will then bond with the other horse. If you want to continue your bond with your horse, it may require that you spend most of your days at the barn. Some horses take absences better than others, so the actual degree to which your horse will miss her companion varies with the horse.

October 21, 2013 – HOW OFTEN TO PICK HOOVES

How often should I pick my horses hoofs?

I pick my horse's hooves daily. If he walks through some horse waste and I see it, I'll pick them again at that time. But generally, once every day or two is enough.

The big problem isn't mud, though a stone stuck in a shoe can be painful and needs to be removed as soon as possible. The more common problem is soiled bedding stuck in the hoof, more common on feet that are shoed. Bedding soaked with urine can cause Thrush or White line disease (also known as Hollow Hoof syndrome). White line disease is a separation of the hoof wall and caused by a fungus that is believed to exist in horse urine.

Without getting into the specifics of these two equine hoof maladies, suffice it to say that keeping your horse's hooves free of contaminating matter helps to keep your horse's feet healthy and reduce the chance of lameness. There's no need to clean his hooves every few hours, but once every day or two is a good idea.

October 18, 2013 – A BOARDING BARN BUSINESS?

I want to start a small boarding barn business next spring. My husband and I have finished our new barn and brought our two horses home last week. I have 4 extra stalls. I am not sure how start the business. Any ideas?

You don't give any indication about the amount of experience you have caring for horses, so I don't really know where to start. Therefore, I'm going to direct you to one of our articles that's entitled: Starting Your Own Boarding Barn. If you have significant horse-care experience, some of the article may be too simplistic. But it also lists many other articles at the end that may be of help to you. If you have little experience with horse care, the article will definitely be more appropriate, but part of it is to help you assess whether or not you're actually ready to run this kind of business. Regardless of your experience level, I hope it helps. If the article doesn't answer all your questions, write back and we'll be happy to help.

Good luck!


Is it safer to wear breeches than jeans or some other pants while riding?

I'm not aware of any safety advantages to wearing breeches while riding horses compared to any other type of pants (unlike the safety advantages you gain by wearing riding boots rather than shoes). However, there are some comfort and communications advantages in wearing breeches if you ride English. For one thing, there are no seams on the inner legs to chafe your legs. Also, breeches are tight enough and thin enough to provide close contact with the horse allowing the horse to more easily feel your leg and receive your signals. Finally, breeches often have leather pads that protect the highest wear areas providing longer life for the breeches and some additional protection for you from the aforementioned chafing.

Breeches are far less valuable with Western, Australian, or endurance saddles because they all generally have a piece on each side called a "fender". The fender is a piece of leather that covers the stirrup strap and separates your leg from the horse in order to prevent chafing. Therefore, wearing jeans or any other pants usually causes you no discomfort from your leg rubbing against the horse or stirrup strap while riding. However, the fender also reduces the close contact between your leg and the horse. So, the horse requires stronger signals from your leg to feel them and you feel less of the horse's movement.

October 16, 2013 – ATTACK LLAMAS???

My neighbor just bought some llamas in a field next to my horse paddock. The llamas come over to the fence at times to look at my horses and the horses look back from a distance. But the horses seem to get closer every day. Is there going to be any problem if my horses finally get close to the fence and within striking distance of the llamas?

Within striking distance of the llamas? Llamas are not naturally mean nor an attack animal. As with all animals (and people), they all have their own personalities, so I can't tell you that there will be no problems. But generally, llamas and horses get along fine. In fact, llamas get along well with most animals and are often used to protect some of those animals, such as sheep and goats, from foxes, coyotes, and wolves. They can be truly formidable as a protector against predators. Horses are not predators and llamas seem to instinctively know that and get along with most horses.

So, I can't give you any guarantees, but generally, I've not heard of problems when mixing these two animals and have seen several instances of the two in the same paddock grazing together.

October 15, 2013 – ADDING A WASH STALL

I want to put a wash stall into my barn. Is there someplace where I can find some plans or ideas?

I don't know of any such plans, but a search using your favorite search engine should be able to find some options from which you can select the one most appealing to you. Also, we do have an article about building your own wash rack. It has a number of ideas that are also extendable to a wash stall seeing as they're both for the same purpose. The article is entitled: Build a Wash Rack.


I wear a helmet when I ride but my sister and her girlfriend (she is my friend too) refuse to wear one. I would like to convince them that it is a very good idea but have not been successful. Can you help me by giving me some convincing reasons I can tell them?

It's difficult to convince someone of something when they really don't want to do it. I mean, almost any adult these days actually knows that we should wear a helmet for a host of different activities, from riding motorcycles or bicycles to inline skating or skiing. Each of these sports has helmets designed for the activity, just as with horseback riding. In all of the sport activities mentioned above, some of the participants refuse to wear helmets because they never did in the past, because they think they'd look like a sissy, because they say it feels confining, because they don't like the way they'd look wearing the helmet, or for some other reason — the list goes on and on.

We have an article discussing the topic that might help. I wrote it after I took a blow to the head from a branch. Please feel free to point it out to your sister and friend, and let's hope that it helps you convince them that wearing a helmet is a good idea. The article is entitled: Why I Wear a Riding Helmet.

Good luck!


I am having a big problem with one of my boarders and want to get rid of him. He's a dumb fool who thinks he knows how to ride and is one of the worse riders I ever saw. The worst part of it is that he pays late and I have to keep reminding him and he complains about everything and he causes problems stirring up the other boarders. It is classic case of a bad apple making others go bad and I am sick of his antics! How do I get rid of him without getting sued?

Well, this is actually a question better put to the Horse Girl considering that she's actually an equine attorney. But for starters, why don't read an article she authored about the very topic you're asking about, namely Evicting Boarders (4 or 2 Legged). If you don't get enough information from it related to your specific situation, direct your question right to her using the Horse Girl question submittal page using: Submit a Question to the Horse Girl.

October 10, 2013 – THE SPOOKING HORSE

My horse is always spooking. I expect that on the trail because you do not know what could be behind the next tree, but she even spooks in the arena where we ride the most. It can be the wind blowing at the door or somebody else walking their horse into the arena. Any little noise or unexpected movement can set her off. She is driving me crazy and ruining riding for me. What should I do?

You obviously know that horses are prey animals and always on the alert. But consider also that all horses are not created equal — some horses hardly spook at anything while others spook at almost everything; the majority lie somewhere in between. In your case, it sounds as if your horse lies closer to the "spook at many things" side of the equation. Be that as it may, there's lots you can do to desensitize your horse to the most common spookers.

Generally, we recommend that you enlist the help of a good horse trainer to de-spook your horse, and that's always a good option. But you can also do some of this yourself. In fact, this is actually an area that all riders need to understand because, regardless of how desensitized your horse may be, there will always be a new spook source with which to deal. Therefore, we all need to know enough to get our horses past the next scary item, noise, or what have you. To help guide you, we have an article written by a good horse trainer of our acquaintance entitled Step 9: Despooking. Incorporating these techniques will take a little bit of time and patience on your part, but it's well worth it. If, after all this, you still feel that your horse is too spooky for you to be comfortable, your only options are to actually hire a good trainer to take this further, or you may need to consider getting a different horse.

Good luck!


It is starting to get colder here and I need to prepare my new trailer for winter. Can you tell me what I need to do?

Well, it's still quite warm these days, so you don't have to put your trailer away just because we're in October. You can trailer your horse and ride as long as the temperatures are comfortable and the roads aren't slippery.

When the time does come to park the trailer for winter, here are some things that you should do:

  1. Empty and clean the trailer of all hay, bedding, etc.;
  2. Remove any perishables that you carry in the trailer which can be ruined by freezing, such as fly sprays, ointments, hoof sealers, etc.;
  3. Close all windows and vents that might allow snow or rain into the trailer. You may want to leave a little opening so you can have a drying air flow, but you need to make sure that no liquid water or snow can get in;
  4. Remove rust and seal the cleaned metal. If you don't, corrosion will continue at an accelerated pace;
  5. If it's a living-quarters trailer, drain all freezable liquids from the tanks in the trailer and put the appropriate anti-freeze into any systems that will have water in them over the winter. Similarly, treat the living quarters like an uninsulated vacation home that that will be vacated for the winter. That means to remove perishable foods from cabinets, remove all foods from and clean the refrigerator, shut off pilot lights and propane, etc.;
  6. If you have tire covers, put them on your tires. The covers protect the rubber of the tires from the damaging effects of the UV coming from the Sun;
  7. Park the trailer in a safe location — NOT under trees or places where chucks of ice, snow, or broken branches can fall onto and damage the trailer.

There is other work to be performed before you next use your trailer, but that should be done in the Spring when you're putting the trailer back into service. And as I mentioned above, don't be too quick to put your trailer into storage while there are still so many gorgeous riding days ahead.

October 8, 2013 – SHOULD I BLANKET MY HORSE?

Should I blanket my 9yr old TB? Its been cold at night were we live and his coat is still thin.

If you're considering blanketing your horse and it's not because you're clipping his coat, try to do so sparingly. This is because the days getting colder is part of what triggers an animal to grow its winter coat. In this case, why not try a waterproof sheet rather than a blanket. The sheet will still stop the wind and contain some of your horse's warmth. Generally, an unclipped, healthy horse should grow a thick winter coat and not need blanketing except on the very cold, windy days and in a cold rain if no shelter is available for him to stay dry. At those times, the waterproof sheet is great!

However, if your horse doesn't start growing his thicker winter coat in the next month or so, you should have your vet check him to assure there's nothing wrong medically.


My riding instructor tells me to sit over my horse's center of gravity and says that it is just behind her shoulders. Is this true? How far back behind his shoulders do I sit? Is it the same place on every horse?

No. It varies with each horse based on their shape and weight. Different breeds are different shapes and sizes as you know. Consider the roundness of a Quarter Horse compared to the thinness of a Thoroughbred. That said, your instructor is correct that the Center of Gravity (COG) if somewhat behind the shoulder of most horses. The question is, how far behind the shoulder and how high up the chest?

Fortunately, we have an article that discusses COG of a horse AND tells you how to determine the COG of any particular horse. It's entitled: Your Horse's Center of Gravity.


My friends and me got soaked on a trail ride last week before we could get back to the barn. The sky changed really fast and we were just too far away. I want to carry a raincoat, but I always sweat in them and it is even worse than getting caught in the rain. Is there anything better for riding?

Yes, there are truly waterproof coats, gloves, and more that both breathe and are waterproof — a necessary combination for riding comfort in inclement weather. Check out this article for more information: Staying Dry.

HOWEVER, there are also dangers of riding in some rain storms. This article addresses some of those risks: Getting Caught in the Rain.

October 3, 2013 – RIDING BALANCE

I just started riding english and having problems with staying balanced. Would it be easier for me to switch to a western saddle so I will not fall off?

Riding is ALL about balance and moving with the horse. A Western saddle with its higher cantle and pommel may better keep you in the saddle, but it won't keep you on the horse if your balance is lousy or you're not moving with the horse properly. If you just started taking riding lessons, don't give up yet and change saddles. After all, if you're interested in an English discipline, especially to show, you're going to need to use English tack.. Instead, give yourself some time to learn those lessons and to become more comfortable on a horse and moving with it.

Riding is not a natural motion for us and it does take some getting use to. You also need to "become one with the horse". That means that you sense its cues and adjust accordingly just as the horse senses similar cues from you. As your experience grows, so will your riding skills.

We also have some related articles that may be of help in better understanding what you're learning.

Riding Balance
This article addresses the concerns that you have.

Upsetting Balance by Looking Down
This article discusses a common problem of new riders.


I was in a trail ride with about 10 other riders last weekend and one of the other riders wasn't very good and couldn't control her horse. It was an on again off again windy day and one big gust caused her horse to panic and bump into a few other riders and their horses. 2 people dismounted and tried to pull their horses away. The rest of us stayed on and separated from the pack. Should we have dismounted instead?

You did well to stay mounted and move your horses away while remaining in the saddle. Many riders always seem to feel that the best way to deal with a spook situation is to dismount. But in a group situation, things can turn from calm to panic in seconds with 1,000 pound horses hitting up against one another trying to get away. I've had a spooked horse with rider bounce against my leg and horse and we were fine. But it's certainly not fun to be a human on the ground with his/her chest squeezed between two or more horses and is a good way to leave this world.

In most situations, my preference is to stay mounted and control your own horse. Most times, you can get your horse calmed down. If not, you gallop him for a short time to let him burn up his adrenalin and then he'll slow down. We have a related article that might be of interest to you entitled What's Safer? On Foot or Mounted?.

October 1, 2013 – IS A FREE HORSE A GOOD DEAL?

I started riding 2 yrs ago and another boarding friend is offering me one of her horses (19 yrs old) for free. I have not seen the horse yet. She just offered it to me this morning but I am excited. I know a new buyer should always vet a horse before buying, but is there any reason to do that in this case?

DEFINITELY! Your friend could be doing you a great favor. Or, she could be dropping a problem into your lap. You don't say how good a friend she is, but no matter. Even if she doesn't know of any problems with the horse she's offering you, you should still have a vet check out the horse for health problems, and also determine whether or not the horse will work out ok for the kind of riding you intend to do.

Horses are live beings, and as such, they can get hurt or sick occasionally. Or problems can be more permanent. A nineteen year old horse could be a very good steed for a new rider because it has likely "seen it all" and is therefore less likely to spook. But unless you know much about the horse, you don't really know its physical health, temperament, etc.

At minimum, you should take a highly trusted friend that really knows horses with you to go see the horse. Your friend should examine, ride, and be able to give you some feedback on what he/she thinks about the horse. If that feedback is positive, you should interact with and ride the horse yourself to see what you think. If that's positive, have a veterinarian (not the owner's vet) check the horse over for you and definitely explain to the vet the kinds of riding for which you want to use the horse. And if everything still checks out fine after that, then make sure to get a bill of sale at time of purchase that describes the condition of the horse and all representations of the buyer. This could be important if you were to later find out that the horse has some problem and was misrepresented by the seller. However, if everything checks out and the horse works well for you, it'll have been a great deal.

Just remember that good horses aren't given away very often, but rather, horses that have problems, are expensive to keep, and don't work out for an owner are often given away. You don't want to take possession of a horse with problems and large expenses unless you're acting in a rescue capacity and have the money to provide for it.

September 30, 2013 – BEARS

We heard that a bear was seen in our forest a week ago. Now we are all afraid to ride out there. How dangerous is it to ride if we see a bear?

Well, you would obviously prefer not to see any bears. But bears have been around most places in the U.S. throughout our lives with minimal interaction. Generally, they prefer to avoid interaction with us just as much as we want to avoid them.

One of the best ways to do that is to ride with others and keep talking and making noise as you ride. That way, bears and most other animals will hear you and avoid you long before you see them. Also, don't have any exposed food for animals to smell. If you are carrying food, make sure it's double-sealed in plastic bags. If the animals can't smell it, they won't be attracted to it.

There's more to say about avoiding bears and we have an article entitled Bears on the Trail that can provide you with more information.

September 27, 2013 – EQUINE CAREERS

I am in high school and would like to work with horses as a career. I don't need to make a fortune, but I want to do something professional. I don't want to be a vet. Can you give me some suggestions about what I might explore?

Sure! Most people usually think of equine careers as being limited to running a boarding barn, giving riding instruction, performing horse training, being a farrier, or being a vet, but there are many more options. Some work directly with horses while others work in professions related to horses, such as the racing industry. We have an article that discusses this topic and lists almost 60 equine occupations. You can read it: Equine Occupations — A Starting Point.

September 26, 2013 – HITCH BALL RATINGS

I can get a 2-horse trailer cheap. It has a 2 in. hitch on it but my Jeep has a 1 7/8 in. ball. Can a 2 in. horse trailer hitch be used on a 1 7/8 ball? Thats pretty close dimensions. What can I do?

NO! Not only could the 2 inch coupler possibly come off, the 1 7/8 inch ball is only rated for towing 2,000 pounds. That's less than the empty weight of any 2-horse or larger horse trailer, let alone the total weight when horses, tack, and anything else is added. Replacing the 1 7/8 inch ball with a 2 inch ball is both easy and inexpensive.

HOWEVER, there is one other thing you need to consider. You don't mention what kind of Jeep you have. A larger Jeep, such as a Grand Cherokee can tow from about 5,000 to 7,400 pounds depending on which Grand Cherokee it is (Larado, Limited, etc.). But, a Wrangler is limited to 2,000 pounds or less. Therefore, make sure that whatever Jeep you have is capable and rated to safely tow the horse trailer you want to buy.

And also make sure that the 2 inch hitch ball you buy is rated for the maximum load or greater than what your vehicle can tow. Hitch balls of the same size can be of different tow-capacity ratings. Yes, this is confusing, but unfortunately, that situation exists. You can't presume the rating of a hitch ball by its size, you need to know what it's rated. That tow capacity rating will usually be embossed into the top of the ball itself.

September 25, 2013 – FINDING A HAPPY BARN

I need to move to another barn. I am really really not happy there. The owner is a witch and a pain to deal with. She has no arena and no real turnout with just 5 little paddocks with no grass inside. The horses get rotated with only about a couple hours outside every day. Except for one of the boarders that sucks up to her, the rest of us are unhappy and want to leave. This is my 4th barn in 2 yrs and I am tired of moving. How do I find a good barn? I HATE MY BARN!!!!!!

Wow! There's definitely some passion in your lament. Well, as you've learned moving from barn to barn, it's not just a matter of boarding your horse. In reality, we spend quite a bit of time at our barns between visiting, grooming, and riding our horses. In fact, we often become friends with at least some of the other boarders. And at trail barns, many boarders usually find like-minded boarders with which they enjoy riding the trails. So, there's much more to choosing a satisfying long-term barn than just its location and the monthly cost, such as:

  • What shape is the barn in?
  • Do I like the owner and can I work with him/her?
  • Is there enough turn-out?
  • Is this good quality turn-out?
  • Does this barn focus on one or more disciplines in which I'm interested?
  • Is this an elitist barn and will I "fit in?"

Obviously, there's lots to consider. But fortunately, we have an article that comprehensively addresses this topic that you should find helpful entitled: Finding the "RIGHT" Barn For You. If the article doesn't answer all your questions, please feel free to write back and we're happy to help.

September 24, 2013 – STALL BOREDOM PROBLEMS

My horse is usually outside but the barn brings in all the horses at night when the weather gets colder and it can get really cold here in the winter (north Minnesota). I always worry as summer ends and the air gets colder because she gets bored in her stall and starts kicking everything like the walls and the food pail and more. What can I do?

You're not alone in having to deal with stall boredom issues. Many factors contribute to this problem from too much time spent in the stall to stalls that are just too small for the horse. You're right to give your horse as much outside time as possible. But as you mention, there are just some times when it's safer to bring your horse indoors from extremely cold weather to dangerous weather, such as during hurricanes, tornados, or hail storms. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to try to keep your horse occupied. We discuss this topic and some possible solutions in an article entitled: Reducing Stall Boredom.

September 23, 2013 – WHEN TO BLANKET

It is getting cooler here and we have already had a few nights in the 30s. The horses overnight in the barn and the days are warmer but they are getting cooler. When should I start putting my blanket on my horse when he is outside?

Unless your horse is clipped throughout the colder season, there's no need to rush to put a blanket on your horse. In fact, doing so too soon may undermine growth of his winter hair. Horses adapt to the changing season by growing a winter coat — let that happen as the weather gets colder.

If your horse has a run in to avoid winter's winds and a roof to stay dry during raw weather rains when he's outside, there's no need to blanket him at all unless your vet recommends blanketing for some medical reason. Otherwise, the general evidence is that horses are healthiest living outdoors with their natural coat and some way to shelter from winds and rain when the air gets very cold. I do put a waterproof, but uninsulated sheet on my horse when he's out in the rain and the temperature is in the 40s or lower, or when it's very windy and the air temp is below 20°F. Otherwise, it's his winter coat that keeps him warm and he's never gotten sick.

If your horse is clipped throughout the winter, ask your vet for his/her recommendations for the blanket weight and when to use it for your particular climate and your specific horse.


Is there any cheap way you know of to muck stalls using automation? I mean, I am so sick of doing this job, but love having horses in my barn and taking boarders. I know I could hire help, but a horse business is different and there is just not much extra in the board fees to pay for help and leave any money left for me.

This is a classic problem in business and has NOTHING to do with you being in a horse business. In other words, almost all businesses face these issues at some point or even continually. The fact of the matter is, you're not charging enough money to pay all the business expenses and to make a profit. What you're doing right now is taking the profit as a salary for a job you hate, so in reality, there is no profit — that's not why anyone should go into business! You still have all the headaches of a business owner with no recompense for the hassles.

Here are some options:

  1. Purchase a small tractor with a bucket that is small enough to at least drive down your barn aisles so you can shovel soiled stall bedding and horse wastes into the bucket and then you can drive it out and dump it onto the muck pile. If your stall doors are large enough (or the tractor and bucket are small enough), you may be able to actually scoop up much of the bedding/waste from each stall and you'll then be doing very little hand work with a manure fork. Because you said you're looking for a "cheap" solution, that means you're definitely looking for a used tractor;
  2. I saw a vacuum system at a horse trade show a while ago that is used to vacuum horse droppings out of stalls and paddocks. The vacuum is pulled behind a tractor and gets emptied onto the muck pile when full. Do a search on the net for "horse manure vacuum" and you'll find several; or
  3. Hire some help to clean the stalls. You should be able to find some high school age boys or girls that would work for minimum wage or might want to trade stall cleanings and feedings for riding time or lessons. NOTE: if you're able to barter work for riding or some such, remember that this is still a hiring contract and that you'll likely have some tax reporting that you must fulfill. Speak to an equine attorney for the details of your specific situation.

Now, back to the crux of your problem. No matter what you do, you still need to increase your boarding fees. If you can't because the market won't pay anything higher, it means you're in a location that doesn't truly have a market for your boarding services. In that case, you'll never really make any money in that location and your business prospects are poor for a boarding business there.

Of course, it could also be that you don't truly know your local market and are unrealistic about what you can charge in your area. More than once, I've heard the same thing you're saying about no one wanting to pay more and later learned that another barn just a mile or a few away is making a thriving business charging significantly more money. Sometimes, the lower priced barn just didn't really know their market. At other times, the higher priced barn provided other desirable facilities, such as an outdoor arena (or an indoor), easy access to local trails, barn amenities the riders appreciated, such as a nice tack room with a cabinet for each boarder, a washer and dryer for boarders to clean sheets and blankets right at the barn, a well lit and working wash stall, a trainer, riding instructor, farrier, horse masseuse, or other professional equine service right at the barn, etc. In other words, except for the indoor arena, the other amenities are not very high cost. In fact, boarders would contract personally with the other service providers — it's not a cost you'd be bearing. So, think about ways you can increase the vaule of boarding at your barn, and then set your fees accordingly. A little creativity might easily allow you to charge more and make a profit as well as pay for barn help so you spend time running your business rather than mucking stalls.

I hope these suggestions help!


I am putting up my first paddock to bring my horses home and save money. My daughter and I are trying to put up the fencing but we are having a lot of trouble making the post holes. I don't think we are strong enough to dig the holes and it is worse when we hit rocks. We are hitting lots of rocks. Can we rent a digger with a motor for making post holes? Is there such a thing?

Yes, there is, and yes, you can. These devices are essentially a motorized augur. Two people are needed with one standing on each side. They both hold the device while the augur digs. HOWEVER, this is not an easy device to use. It's best done by two, heavy, strong men. The reason is because they need to hold the entire weight of the augur, the motor that drives them, and the frame that connects all this together. It's heavy to hold out in front of you like that, perhaps 20 - 60 pounds depending on the motor horsepower and the size of the augur.

But even more demanding than holding the weight of this thing suspended out in front of you is the strength needed to hold the whole contraption when the bit hits hard ground, or worse, a big stone. I've used these devices before and they can easily spin the two men around when a big rock is hit. Even when it works well, it's exhausting to use to make multiple holes. You can learn more by searching on the net for "motorized augur".

The easiest way to make your post holes is to rent a tractor with a post hole digger mounted on the back. The augur is powered by a coupling connected to the tractor's power-take-off (PTO) and the tractor is massive enough to handle the forces sustained when hard ground or stones are hit. In addition, the tractor's hydraulic system holds, lifts, and drops the augur into the ground. If you don't want to rent such a machine, perhaps you can either hire someone to do this for you or maybe even ask a neighboring farmer to help you. Almost every livestock farmer has this equipment for installing and maintaining the fencing needed to contain the livestock.

September 18, 2013 – LEARNING TO RIDE HORSES

How should I get into horseback riding? I have wanted to do this for a long time but don't know how to begin properly.

People have been getting into riding one way or another for at least several thousand years. Of course, you're definitely right to say you'd like to get into it "properly". There are wrong ways to do it, such as getting on a horse for the first time and trying to gallop. While that may seem extreme and unbelievable, some have attempted it that way and many of them have suffered the consequences, from bruises due to falling to very severe injuries or worse. Starting slow and with proper instruction is generally the most pain-free and progressive path to being a good rider.

Knowing that I've responded to this question several times this year, I looked back and included some dates of those postings below so you can read my responses for yourself. They vary some due to "my take" on riding on any particular day and they're all a quick read, so you'll get different flavors of the response even though they're all from me. Here's the list from our Jan - Jun 2013 Archive:

March 4, 2013

January 30, 2013

January 3, 2013

The last posting includes links to several of our articles so you can start your learning immediately. That said, I strongly encourage you to ask around and find a good riding instructor. Being in the care of a good instructor who can observe your skills and faults as you progress and can provide immediate feedback will do more to make you a good and safe rider than anything you could do on your own. Also, you'll need help from them in learning how to safely interact with horses, groom them, tack them up, etc., as well as learning riding technique.

You can usually find a good instructor by speaking with any friends that ride. Most will have had more than one instructor and will also be somewhat "on the inside" of the horse world compared to you. If none of your friends ride, try visiting some of the local tack shops and ask who they'd recommend — they'll know and I like this approach best. You could also ask at several riding barns, but most of them will have their own instructor and will steer you to them whether they're any good or not. The tack shops will want you to stay healthy and also stay with the sport so you'll buy your tack and apparel there.

Good luck and have fun!

September 17, 2013 – TRAILERING WHEN IT'S WINDY

Fall is almost here and my friends and me want to ride more in cool weather. But I am afraid a little about trailering when it gets windy. Is this ok to do?

Obviously, trailer manufacturers are not designing trailers that can only be used on calm days. Therefore, it stands to reason that you can trailer when there's actually some wind. On the flip side, this is an appropriate question because only a fool would trailer in severe winds, such as in a hurricane. So, the question the begs to be asked is, when is the wind too strong to trailer safely? The key word here is the last one in the preceding sentence: "safely".

Generally, you should be definitely ok trailering in winds gusting up to 20 or 30 MPH. But when is the wind too strong? What defines high winds for this purpose? Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that. Trailers do definitely get flipped over when used in winds that are too strong. Contacting the trailer's manufacturer for more information about using their trailer in the wind and what its limits are is a good idea.

The factors affecting a trailer's tendency to flip are 1) wind speed, 2) height of the trailer, 3) and weight of the trailer and its payload. But keep in mind that when you go around a turn, that centrifugal force will lighten the side of the trailer on the inside of the turn. Therefore, that would allow a lighter wind on the inside of the turn to flip the trailer toward the outside of the turn. This means we have a fourth component under your control that's extremely important to consider when towing, namely: 4) towing speed. So, you definitely want to SLOW DOWN when trailering on windy days.

But for me, it's easier than that because I don't enjoy riding a horse in winds gusting beyond 25 - 30 MPH. Plus, horses can get pretty spooky when the winds increase in velocity and trees and debris get blown around. So, you won't find me trailer in higher winds than that. Usually, nothing is that critical that I can't postpone trailering until a calmer day. You may want to consider what your own comfort range is.

We have an article discussing this topic (because you're definitely not the first to ask about this). It's entitled: Wind and Trailering. The article also discusses trailer sway, horse spookiness, and more.

September 16, 2013 – IS IT SAFE TO BUY AN ALPHA HORSE?

How does an alpha herd horse do with people? I am thinking about buying one and I do not want to always have to fight with it.

You have to keep in mind that all horse herds have an alpha. The alpha won't only change occasionally when a new horse is added, a herd with the same members will change alphas over the years as the existing alpha gets older or a younger horse competes and takes over as the alpha. As a result, almost any horse has taken the role of the alpha at some time depending on his/her age and the other members of the herd. Now, on to your actual question.

When you're alone with any horse, as far as the horse is concerned, you make up a herd of two. If you're a competent horse person, you'll be the alpha and the horse will accept your invitations and obey your commends. If you're not competent in the role of alpha, you'd have a significant problem because it will mean that the horse does not respect you and will likely do what he wants and ignore your commands while also possibly pushing you around. In other words, this would be very dangerous for such a person and he would either need to get some training in how to deal with horses or he would need to find another interest that wouldn't endanger him and the other people around him when he's supposed to be in control of his horse.

The Horse Girl and I have often answered questions about this topic. Similarly, you'll find many articles in many publications about this topic. Any person dealing with horses MUST BE the alpha or the safety of that person and others around is in jeopardy — there is no middle ground here. If you're in control, it doesn't matter that a horse you're getting is alpha of his/her horse herd. If you're not in control, all horses are a danger to you.

One more thing, this response IS NOT addressing a related, but different topic, namely, is a horse too much for you? Separately, there are some horses that have not been properly trained, are not mentally stable, or have strong attitudinal problems. In these cases, even a person who knows how to be the alpha can be in danger and such horses are best left ONLY with the most capable trainers. Similarly, a normal and stable horse can be high-spirited and too much for a timid rider.

So, here are a few points to follow:

  1. Make sure you know your way around and can control horses or get the necessary training;
  2. Stay away from very strong-willed or high-spirited horses that are too much for you; and
  3. Stay away from crazy horses.
If you do that, you'll know when interacting with a horse whether it's a good fit for you irrespective of whether or not the horse is currently the alpha of a herd of horses.

September 13, 2013 – OUTDOOR WASH STALL

We want to build a kind of wash stall outdoors to wash our horses near the barn. Can you direct me to any plans for this?

I've not seen any actual plans, but I did write a fairly comprehensive article for Perfect Horse magazine several years ago about building a wash rack that sounds exactly like what you want to do. The article is on the QueryHorse Website and is entitled Build a Wash Rack.

If there is some aspect of your wash stall that is not covered in the article, feel free to write in with your questions and we'll be happy to help.

September 12, 2013 – FIFTH WHEEL HITCH?

What truck bed size do I need to pull a fifth wheel horse trailer?

I don't know the exact answer to your question because it somewhat depends on the specific trailer you want to haul and how it's designed. But in most cases, pulling large trailers has more to do with the tow capacity of the truck than its bed size. Therefore, if you already have the trailer, then you should visit some truck dealers with that information and get them to help you match up a truck with that trailer.

HOWEVER, if you haven't yet bought the trailer, I think you should consider looking into a gooseneck hitch rather than a fifth wheel design. You can get the same tow capacity with either hitch type with the largest tow capacities up into the 30,000 - 40,000 pound range. What I like better about a gooseneck hitch is the fact that you can easily flip down the 3" hitch ball in your truck bed when not towing and get the full capacity of that bed. When you need to tow your large trailer again, you only need flip that hitch ball over again so it's up.

With a fifth wheel hitch, it takes up almost the whole truck bed. The best case is that you buy an easily removable fifth wheel, but it's still heavy to lift and move around and you have to store it someplace when it's not being used so you can use your truck bed. The worst case is for those fifth wheel hitches that are bolted in and are considered permanent. They're much more work to remove and you still have to store it someplace so you can use your truck bed. As a result, I recommend that you consider a gooseneck hitch instead of the fifth wheel if you haven't yet bought the trailer. Large horse trailers come in both hitch types from many manufacturers.


The breakaway battery for my horse trailer has died. Do I really need to replace it? What happens if I don't and just leave it there?

Yes! You need to replace the breakaway battery with a new one. The reason that every trailer manufacturer includes the breakaway brake function on a trailer having brakes is because it's mandated by the law. Federal Regulation 393.43 states: (a) Towing vehicle protection system. Every motor vehicle, if used to tow a trailer equipped with brakes, shall be equipped with a means for providing that in the case of a breakaway of the trailer, the service brakes on the towing vehicle will be capable of stopping the towing vehicle.

Therefore, you must keep the breakaway braking system in good operating condition. Fortunately, a trailer breaking away from the tow vehicle is quite a rare occurrence. However, if it should happen to you and your system fails to operate because of a dead battery, you will be liable for the damages and could very likely be charged with not properly maintaining your tow vehicle and trailer. I also have to believe that you also wouldn't want the potential injury or death of one or more persons to be the result of your failing to maintain your vehicle and trailer.

So, don't chance it. Just replace the battery, charge it, install it, and check it each month or so to assure it's properly charged and working. Most of these batteries for horse trailers cost only about $10 - $25 if purchased on the Internet, so there should be no concern over the price of such an inexpensive item that needs replacement only every 5 years or so.


I am hardly riding anymore and my husband says we need to sell my horse because it costs us too much to board and maintain him at about $750. This is a lot of money to us. I am emotionally attached to him and the idea of letting him go is breaking my heart. I read your article on how long to keep a horse, but it does not explain how to get over the sense of loss when he is sold.

Well, you don't explicitly ask a question, but I infer that the gist of this is that you feel you're husband is right, but are having a difficult time accepting that you must part ways with your horse. Unfortunately, I don't have any easy answers. As with cats, dogs, and other animals we humans might keep as pets, horses often come to be seen as additional family members for those of us that are animal lovers. At that point, parting with them is always going to be difficult. Still, if this is a large financial draw on your family finances and no one in the family is riding nor intends to ride, there really is no good reason to keep the horse and continue the significant recurring outlay each month. The foregoing is the practical aspect, and it does little to mitigate the emotional sense of loss you're anticipating.

If you want to keep the horse, but cut his costs, you have several options:

  1. Look around for a cheaper barn;
  2. Consider a split lease so that your maintenance costs are reduced; or
  3. Consider selling part of the horse and becoming a co-owner.

If you actually decide you must sell the horse, there may still be some palatable options. For example, instead of just selling your horse outright to any willing buyer, what if you instead look around for a barn near you that could use the horse for riding instruction and let you visit him? Or, check with your other riding friends and see if they would like another horse. The two things that will likely reduce the pain of parting with your horse is if he goes to a good home and you can occasionally visit. To do this, you may need to sell your horse for less that you'd like, or, depending on the horse's age, condition, and abilities, you may even have to give him away to the friend or an instruction barn. But as long as that entity has integrity and provides a good home, you at least could make the parting experience less painful.

I hope the suggestions are of help to you.

September 9, 2013 – STALL SIZE

I want to move my horse to a new barn and all their stalls are all 10 x 10 feet. He's in a 12 x 12 now and I did not know some barns had smaller stalls. Is a horse ok in a 10 x 10 stall?

That is the most common stall size, so lots of horses do live in them ok, but it's somewhat tight. A regular-size horse (15 - 16 hands) doesn't have much room and will often spend a lot of their time backing up just to turn. Also, many horses seem to make a bigger mess of their waste in a stall of that size.

Conversely, if they have a little more space, many horses will use the corner furthest from their feed area as the bathroom, and will also step in less of their waste and not track it all around the stall. That makes it quicker and easier for someone to muck the stall because it's all in one place. And because the waste is mostly in one place and not spread around as much, you'll also need less new bedding each day. In a 10 x 10 foot stall, it's hard for a horse to do that, and that's why there's usually more of a mess. For large horses and drafts, 10 x 10 is really too small and unfair to the horse.

I like a minimum stall size of either 10 x 14 or 12 x 12 for a regular size horse and won't put my horse into a smaller stall. Both give the horse more room and they usually have an easier time moving around. Of course, if you can provide it, a still bigger stall (e.g. 12 x 16) is better yet.

You don't mention what breed or size horse you have, but for small horses, such as Fjords and Icelandics, and for ponies, a 10 x 10 stall is usually fine.


My friends and I got drenched in an unexpected rain last weekend and now one of the flaps on my saddle is curling up. I did wipe the saddle and the rest of my tack when we got back to the barn but the left flap will not stay down. The right one is curled a bit but not too bad. How can I get the flap to stay down straight?

You did the right thing by wiping all your tack once you were out of the rain in your barn. Did you also re-oil that tack? Water will displace the oils that were in the leather, so you need to re-oil your tack and displace the water the leather had absorbed from the rain. That's important to do even if you have no curling occurring. Water left in the leather will promote rot and growth of mold and mildew — all bad for the strength and the life of the leather.

As for the curling itself, we have an article that should help you, entitled (appropriately enough): Flattening Curled Leather.

September 5, 2013 – LIGHTNING AND HORSES

How dangerous is lightning to horses? I mean can't they get struck too?

Yes they can, and rarely, they actually do get struck. Lightning is as dangerous to horses and any other living thing as it is to humans. There is so much power in a lightning bolt that one strike could easily kill a large herd of horses or a large crowd of humans. Fortunately, even one human or animal being struck is quite a rare event. That's because most humans have the sense to avoid high ground and come in out of the storm, and animals themselves usually run and seek shelter once they hear a thunderclap.

Riding in a lightning storm is even more dangerous for both human and horse because the combination is slightly higher and a bolt could injure or kill both at the same time. Therefore, you never want to intentionally go out into a thunderstorm unless in a vehicle. Obviously, you can unintentionally end up in such a storm when the weather changes rapidly and you suddenly find yourself trying to find shelter while out on a ride. At such a time, you need to act quickly to maintain the safety of you and your horse.

We have an article on this topic you should read entitled: Horses & Thunderstorms.

September 4, 2013 – SIZE FOR A NEW TACK ROOM

We are building a new barn for ourselves and are thinking about having 8 stalls so we can keep our 5 horses and maybe the horses of some visiting riding friends once in a while. So how big should we make our tack room? This is our first time designing our own barn.

CONGRATULATIONS! Designing and building your own barn can be a very satisfying project, especially if you can afford to do things more the way you like.

There's no specific size for a tack room. For boarding barns, I normally advise someone to consider the number of stalls and expect to have need for at least as many saddles as they'll have boarders. Or if a barn owner allows boarder tack boxes, there should be enough space in the tack room for all those tack boxes. Some barn owners instead provide a tack cabinet for each boarder.

In your case, this is a private barn primarily for your use, so you need to think more about what tack you have now and will keep, and what you intend to add. That total "tack load" of what you'll keep and what you'll add is what you'll need to house in your tack room for it to be easily available for your rides. Because you mentioned adding a few extra stalls to accommodate horses of visiting friends, you should consider a little extra space in the room. Visiting friends and guests will likely keep their tack on the trailer in which they brought their horses. But, you might instead need that space if you decide to take in a boarder or two in the future. Of course, you may just fill your stalls with additional horses of your own (watch out for this danger), in which case, you may add an extra saddle or three. If you can afford it, a little extra space for any application never hurts and is always appreciated later; this is no different for the tack room.

Have fun!


I leave my trailer at the barn where I board so I can use it to go to shows and I always have it handy. This year it has some mold or mildew growth or something on it. It has been sitting under a tree at the barn, so I should have known better. I moved it so that it is now out in the open, but how do I get the mold off?

A good car detergent should make easy work of removing the mold, which can't get a very good root grip into the paint or metal underneath. Use a sponge and the mold should come off fairly easily, then rinse thoroughly. It was a good idea to move your trailer out from under the trees — that's not a good place for it.

Unfortunately, the more rain and humidity of this spring and summer season in addition to the pH lowering effects of acid rain have made the growth of mold and lichens on many surfaces, from trailers to roof shingles and sidewalks to driveways, a major problem. Those rougher surfaces provide a much better place for mold and lichen roots to grab hold. Using a pressure washer will remove the stuff on the surface, but not the embedded roots. Plus, the pressure washer breaks down roof shingles and also digs out small holes in those shingles, sidewalks and driveways so roots can get an even better hold next time. At least those kinds of things are not a problem on the metal of your horse trailer. But, pay special attention to your trailer roof if it's made of fiberglass. Hopefully, that surface is very smooth and sealed. A good coat of wax on your trailer and its roof will help make for easy removal of the same stuff next year.

August 30, 2013 – DANGER FROM COB WEBS?

My barn owner keeps the stalls clean but there are lots of cob webs in the rafters. Is there any bad things that can fall from the webs and make horses sick?

I've never heard of any health concerns for horses or humans (or cats or dogs) caused by having cob webs around. Of course, I don't like accidentally walking through a cob web or any other kind of spider web, but I've never heard of such an experience or of being around webs causing any health problems at all. Many barn owners try to vacuum up the webs in their barns from time to time, at least those that they can reach. The webs in the rafters are rather hard or almost impossible to get, and even hard to justify putting the effort to do so. About the only non-new barns I've ever visited that actually had no cob webs have been the elite, very expensive barns. They have the money to have the barns kept completely clean top to bottom. Boarding is generally not a big money maker, so it's rather difficult for most barn owners to justify money to clean such areas. And because most barns have their stalls cleaned by and are maintained by their owners, I also suspect they don't have much left over energy to attack the webs themselves very often, either.

I wouldn't lose any sleep over cob webs in your barn. And if you still have any doubts, just ask any vet the next time you see one. What you do want to pay lots of attention to is the cleanliness of the stalls, that there's ample water and free-choice hay, and that the owner or staff are observant and quickly notice any problems with a horse. The horses being well cared for are the really importnat considerations and what you should expect for your boarding dollars.

August 29, 2013 – NEED MORE HORSE!

I am a new rider and have been taking lessons for about 6 months. Sometimes I have some extra time and want to go ride where I take lessons but there are no horses available because others are using them. So I would like to rent or lease a horse so I have him when I want him. How do I go about that?

Generally, a rider would ask the barn owner or their riding instructor about a rental or lease opportunity. Here in the North East U.S. where I live, very few barns will rent horses. Of the few that do, they usually rent only to students taking lessons there and only for riding at the barn itself; no going out with the horse on trails and no trailering to some other location. But I am aware that there are barns and ranches that do rent in other parts of the country, so you should definitely ask around your barn and of your riding friends.

As for leasing a horse, you'll likely find that it will be other riding friends who own their own horses or other boarders at your barn or another barn that will be most likely to lease their horse. Most do so to cut their monthly horse boarding and shoeing costs. There may be other costs that you'll be asked to contribute toward (e.g. vet, worming, vaccines, etc.), so that all needs to be discussed prior to making an agreement.

Leases come in almost any flavor you can imagine, limited only to what you and the horse's owner agree. So, a lease can be 100% use, 50%, or anything else that works for both of you. Some owners spread a leased horse among several riders, such as three or four people. The challenge then is to coordinate things so you all get a chance to ride and are not all in contention for the horse at the same time, for example, on weekend mornings. Depending on the riding, the owner needs to assure that the horse is both in condition and capable of performing the various riding disciplines of the leasers (dressage, cross country, jumping, etc.)

If you go the lease route, you should insist on a written lease and review it with an equine attorney. This is the only way that you'll both know and be able to prove what you're responsible for and what your rights are. Otherwise, it'll be the typical "he said, she said" situation if a problem develops. And the more people involved, the more likely a problem is to develop.

August 28, 2013 – LEARNING TO RIDE ON ONE'S OWN?

I always wanted to learn to ride and now I finally can. Can a person learn to ride on their own if they rent or buy a horse? Didnt people learn to ride by themselfs in the old west?

Well, it's certainly true that many people taught themselves to ride throughout much of history. But that doesn't mean that they were safe or good riders because there are many stories of some being terrible riders or of hurting or accidently killing themselves in the process. Taking lessons with a good instructor helps bring safety, proper technique, and a faster learning curve to riding.

Therefore, yes, you can teach yourself how to ride, but you'll definitely be taking a much bigger risk than if you get proper instruction. That's because even being around horses has its dangers. You need to learn how to read horses and knowing what not to do can be a real life saver. Besides safety, mounting, riding, grooming, etc., as well as recognizing problems with the horse, his gaits, his health, etc., are all things you'd need to know before buying a horse anyway. So, why not learn properly.

Perhaps this is a good time to share some information about the kinds of things you need to know to be safe around horses. Check out this article: Safety Around Horses. It'll give you an idea of how much there is to learn to ride and enjoy horses more safely.


Most cell phones come with a GPS app these days, so is there really any need for me to continue to carry a separate GPS? I say no, but by girlfriend thinks it provides "redundancy" and likes that because we take lots of rides far into the national forests that we like to visit. I mean, how many cell phones fail these days? None that I know of. We're both going to read your answer and determine who's the winner of this discussion.

Well, I hate getting into the middle of a domestic discussion like this, but it may pertain to others, so here are my feelings on this topic: I agree with your girlfriend. The reason is the same as you say she mentioned: redundancy. Like you, I've not heard of many cell phone failures, but I have heard of a few. But far more common problems I've heard of are people forgetting to charge their cell phone, or worse, dropping and breaking them, or losing them on the trail ride. If that happens out on the trail, you've not only lost your GPS, you've also lost your communicator. Considering your comment of frequently enjoying riding horses deep into national forests, it's nice to be able to call for help if you need it.

I carry my cell phone AND a GPS on my rides into national and state forests. And my GPS is also a walkie-talkie, so that's a backup to my cell phone. In addition, I carry a map of whatever forest I'm visiting, a compass, and a small survival kit. I've needed a few items from the kit on several rides and have used the map more than once. The map is easier to read than any GPS or cell phone and allows me to look at the whole or a large portion of our planned ride which makes navigation and exploring new areas much easier.

My approach could be overkill, but where the health and safety of my fellow riders and I are concerned, I just will not compromise. After all, how heavy and big could a GPS unit really be to take on a ride? Plus, you already own it, so it doesn't cost you anything more. I hope this helps persuade you that being prepared and carrying a little extra insurance is a really good thing.

Happy Trails!


I want to buy a new saddle. What is the most comfortable?

A saddle is a very personal accessory. What is comfortable for me might not be as comfortable to you. Some of that has to do with our individual anatomy, but it also has to do with the kind of riding each of us does as well as our posture and what we think is comfortable. For some riders, it's all about the plushness of the seat, while for others, it has more to do with how the saddle holds them and how secure it makes them feel (or not).

I wrote a series of articles of my experiences and learning when trying many, many saddles while in the process of buying a new saddle several years ago. Why not check it out. Hopefully, my experiences will help you make better decisions for your own saddle selection. The first article begins with: Saddle Search – Part 1: A Secure Saddle, Fit, & Comfort. Of course, whatever you do, don't just go buy a saddle based on my suggestions or anyone elses. You need to try out as many saddles as possible until you find what's right for you and your horse.

Have fun and good luck!


I own a 9 yr old 15hh gelding who's sweet and mostly mellow. But he runs from me in a 20 acre field and it gets frustrating after 10-15 minutes so I was wondering if you knew any tips on catching him? He's awesome once I catch him and under saddle.

This is a very common problem, especially for those that ride primarily in the ring. Though much rarer, it can also be a problem for trail riders depending on what they do with their horses and whether or not the horses think it's fun. We answered this problem many times and most related questions have fallen into a fairly generic area. As a result, we've created an article on the topic entitled: Horse Runs From Owner.

If your situation is different and the article doesn't answer your questions, please contact us again with more information and we're happy to try to help.

August 22, 2013 – BUILDING A WASH RACK

My husband and I want to build a wash rack to wash our horses (well, I really want this.) Can you direct us to any plans online or in a periodical?

This topic has been covered by several periodicals over the years. In fact, I covered this topic for Perfect Horse magazine in 2009. Fortunately, unlike the latest electronic devices, this kind of information doesn't really change. So, take a look at this article entitled Build a Wash Rack, and you should have a pretty clear idea how to proceed.


I have been riding for 2 years now and I was taught to always mount the horse from the left side. Is there some reason that I cant mount from the right? How about from the rear like what they show in the movies when the rider runs and jumps on from the rear? Whats so special about the left side?

There's nothing special about mounting from the left side except that it's the way that mounting has traditionally been accomplished. I actually advocate occasionally mounting from the right side and do that with my own horse from time to time so it feels natural to him. I once mounted that way because we were on a trail on the side of a steep hill and I felt it was safer and easier to mount from the uphill side. So, feel free to mount from the right side when the urge hits you, but be sure that your horse is comfortable with it. If not, get him used to it gradually and you should be fine.

As for mounting from the rear, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND AGAINST DOING SO! Horses don't see well to their rear and could panic. If a horse you're trying to mount that way did panic, it might just kick out at you — VERY BAD! Such a kick could easily maim or kill you — don't take the chance. Unfortunately, there are many behaviors seen on TV and in the movies that are very bad examples of performing some activity.

One last word on mounting a horse. Recent studies have shown that a horse's spine receives a twisting shock when we lift ourselves up by the stirrup. So, it's much better for the horse if we use a mounting block as much as possible.


We seem to have more snakes around our trails this year. How do I know if I get to the barn and my horse has been bitten? If so, what do I do while we wait for the vet to arrive?

Fortunately, snake bites are quite rare, even more so around the barn. But they do sometimes happen, and you're right to want to be prepared should that ever occur. We have an article on the topic that lists the most common symptoms to help you identify if your horse has been bitten. The article also describes measures you should take while waiting for the vet. It's entitled: Horse Snakebites.

August 19, 2013 – TRAILER MANGERS – YES? NO?

We are looking to buy our first horse trailer and one of the trailers that we are considering has mangers instead of hay bags. Is one better than the other?

While some horse trailer owners might like them, I'm not a big fan of mangers. The steel wall under the manger means that the horse can't put his legs forward to keep his balance, such as during a hard stop by the driver. The manger also usually places the hay higher than a hay bag and limits the room available for the horse's head. This normally causes the horse to breathe in more dust from the hay, and also limits the ability for the horse to drop his head to cough and drain sinuses. I've heard of horses rearing and getting a leg stuck on the manger shelf — I've not seen this myself, but it does seem that it could be a risk.

The foregoing doesn't mean that you wouldn't be happy with a trailer that has a manger, but you asked for my opinion and I've now shared it with you. Good luck with your decision and new trailer!

August 16, 2013 – CAT HAIR ON SADDLES?

The barn where I board has cats that sleep in the tack room at night and my riding friends and me think it can make the tack dirty with their hair and dander. Should we be alarmed by the cats in there?

Unless those cats are ferocious, weigh in the hundreds of pounds, and are a threat to you and your friends when you enter the tack room, I think you and your tack will be ok. As for hair and dander, you're putting that saddle onto a big hairy animal that sweats fleshy oils when you ride him in hot weather. You're also keeping that tack in a room with other saddles that bring in hair from the horses they're used upon. So your saddle likely has lots of hair and dust from the barn on it already. It's HIGHLY UNLIKELY that a little additional hair and dander from a cat or three will make much of a difference.

FEAR NOT! Your tack appears to be safe.

August 15, 2013 – HORSES HATE WIND?

Why do horses hate wind?

They don't hate wind. But when the wind starts to come up, such as in autumn after a somewhat quiet summer, it's a change that a horse has to get accustomed to again. The wind can make a scary noise, can blow things around, and the noise can cover the sounds of an approaching predator — these are not things that make a horse feel comfortable. That said, most horses get used to the wind after a few days and it's normally not an issue again until there's been a long quiet period.

We have a more in-depth treatment about this topic you may want to read entitled: Horses and Wind.


We like to ride in the cool air of the morning. But sometimes, there is dew on the ground. Is it too slippery to ride a trail in the morning if there is dew on the ground?

While any moisture on grass can make it a little more slippery, it's not normally highly slippery and you'll likely also be riding on other surfaces, such as dirt trails, gravel roads, etc. Also, whatever dew is present usually evaporates as you get into mid-morning unless the humidity is high and the day is cloudy. Why not go on your ride anyway and just keep your speed and any jumping down until the ground is dry. This is not the same as riding on ice.


Why is my saddle sliding back?

There are several reasons it can slide:

  • The girth/cinch could be too loose because you didn't tighten it normally, or because you did, but your horse lost some weight;
  • The saddle may no longer fit properly because it has changed shape through a failure of the tree;
  • You may not have properly placed the saddle; or
  • The horse may have sweated a lot making his coat slippery. Or prior sweat could have saturated the saddle pad with fleshy oils that make the pad slippery.

There are more possible reasons, but it's going to take some investigation on your part to determine the actual cause. If you're not able to figure this out yourself, enlist the help of your barn owner, an experienced horse friend, or a riding instructor or horse trainer. One thing you should definitely NOT DO, is continue to ride in a sliding saddle until you've resolved the problem.


I am having an argument with my wife. She always wants to ride in the ring with her friends and their instructor. All they do is jump, make their horses dance, and go in circles. I ride with my friend outdoors on the trail and we go for miles. My wife says it takes real skill to perform all these kinds of motions in the ring. I think it takes more skill to control a horse in the wild in an open area without boundaries and walls and fences. What do you think is harder, riding in the ring or trail riding?

As politic as you may think my response is going to be, it's going to be honest, I'm not trying to avoid any argument, it's just the truth. And here goes:

Whether riding in the ring or on the trail, both have their challenges that must be overcome through learning and good sense. And both the ring and the trail actually encompass multiple disciplines. To train put a horse through complex maneuvers in the ring takes patience, practice, and learning on the rider's part as well as the horse's. There are techniques to learn, such as collecting a horse, riding him on the bit, lead changes, straightness, and much, much more.

Trail riding focuses on different learning, but it's no less important. As you likely know, you've got to learn control of a horse in an environment that offers many distractions and multiple ways to spook a horse from windblown leaves and trash to all manner of animals scampering by to insects biting and stinging, bad riders, vehicles, bicycles, and more. The rider may also be ducking branches and avoiding trees, rocks, and bad footing.

All forms of riding require good balance, awareness, and concentration to ride safely. As the Horse Girl has often said, "all riding is good riding". By that she means that all disciplines offer something to make the horse and rider better at the art and skill of riding. You obviously need to be well balanced to canter or gallop down a trail and dodge branches and other obstacles; well, you also need it to jump in the arena and to put a horse through complex maneuvers. The best riders participate in several or many disciplines and include occasional trail riding — it's all important!

I know you would have preferred a "black and white" answer to your specific question. However, I don't feel that either answer would have been correct. Riding is about much more than just learning a few techniques in one discipline. It's ok to prefer the ring or the trail, but it's not ok to think that one requires more skill than another. It all depends on how much you want to learn and work to master. Unfortunately, I've seen great and terrible riders in both.


Do you know how I can clean my rope reins? They are made of white cotton.

Well, I have nylon rope reins and have successfully cleaned them by soaking them in a solution of hot water with some horse shampoo added. I let them soak for about 20 - 30 minutes to let the horse and human flesh oils and grime disolve away. Then I pull them out and let them drain for about a minute. I then place them in clean hot water and let them soak for about 30 seconds followed by holding them under warm water until the water runs clean. Finally, I hang them up to finish draining and dry.

I have to believe that the same approach should work for cotton reins. I suspect the cotton will absorb the water and swell some, but that should reverse as it drains and dries. Good luck and please let us know how it works out.

August 8, 2013 – FLY PROBLEM IN THE BARN

We have a lot of flies in our barn and I cannot get rid of them. I try to keep a clean barn and muck every day, but they are worse this year than ever. Any suggestions?

Well, you're smart to keep the stalls clean — that's always the first task that must be accomplished. Getting rid of horse waste deprives flies of laying eggs in that waste. Hopefully, that also means that the muck pile is not close to the barn. If it is, moving it further away is the next task I'd tackle.

Once the stalls are clean and the waste is not close to the barn, the only other thing you can do is take some active approach to getting rid of the flies that remain. Here are some options:

  1. Use Fly Predators — These are insects that destroy fly eggs before they hatch. Search for "fly predators" on the Web and you'll find several of these products;
  2. Deploy Fly Traps — This product kills adult flies (fly predators only deal with fly eggs). So, you can use this kind of product to start dealing with existing flies immediately. Traps also help if part of your fly problem is flies coming from an unclean barn next door. Search for "horse fly traps" on the Web to find these products; and
  3. Install some form of fly spray system in each stall. This immediately reduces the existing fly population in the barn.

Typically, you'll employ two or all three of these techniques for a bad fly problem. Controlling a bad fly problem can be even harder if the actual attraction of the flies is not your barn, but something on the property nearby. A neighbor with a bad problem that he won't correct can be a real pain for you. Just keeping your own barn and stalls very clean and keeping the muck pile away will usually reduce the fly problem significantly. But a nearby source you can't control can still be a source of insects that require you to use an additional product, such as fly traps.

Good luck with this pesky problem!

August 7, 2013 – ARENA LED LIGHTING?

What's the story on LED lighting for riding arenas? Is it for real?

It's interesting that you should ask because I'm currently researching them for a friend who wants to install lighting for her arena. I've found one that claims 400 watt metal halide equivalency (~40,000 lumens) using 40 watts of electricity. But then it only claims an actual light output of about 1,500 lumens — that's not equivalent to the output from a 400 watt metal halide fixture. I haven't found an LED fixture that really does compare to more conventional metal halide lighting.

I'm continuing my research and will post here if I find something in LED that is affordable and truly compares with conventional arena lighting options.


I am having trouble using my horse trailer. I never pulled one before and I am going over curbs and sideswiped a stop sign last Saturday. What am I doing wrong?

Let me guess, this is only happening when you take a right turn, right? What you're doing is cutting the turn too sharp. This is how it works. When you turn any vehicle with front steering, the back wheels cut the corner tighter — they DON'T follow in the front wheel's tracks, but instead take the shorter route across turn radius. The trailer's tires take an even shorter route across that turn. The result is that you're going over the curbs, and worse, hitting things like the stop sign closer to the radius center of the turn. You need to pull out further into the intersection before starting to turn right.

The same is true for a left-hand turn, the difference is that the center of the intersection is usually empty. BUT, if you were on a small road and needed to turn left onto a crossing small road and a car was stopped at that intersection, you might clip it's front bumper — not good. So, this means that you need to make sure you've pulled far enough into the intersection to make sure the tighter turning trailer still misses that car's front bumper.

Turning while towing has a higher degree of risk of hitting something than when not towing. So you've got to think through and be sure to provide enough clearance for the trailer BEFORE you take the turn, perform the turn slowly, and keep watching in the side mirror of the inside of the turn. So, use your right mirror on a right turn and your left mirror on a left turn. Of course, you still need to do all the other things at the same time, like driving, looking ahead for people or vehicles that got into your way, look for other cars coming into the intersection, etc. If you come close to hitting something, stop, and determine what you need to do (back up, let a car go first, etc.)

Driving with a trailer requires extra skill AND extra responsibility. Good luck!


What's the best way to store a saddle? I just bought a new expensive leather one and I want to preserve it for a long time.

Regardless of the price of a leather saddle, it'll last longest if you store it in a cool, dry location, such as a room in your house. Attics are bad because of the high heat of summer which will dry the leather out and ruin it. Basements are bad because the high humidity will promote mold and mildew growth which will breakdown the leather, again ruining the saddle. (If you have a finished basement, that's usually fine.) Garages are bad because they're often dirty. And when detached from the house, they also tend to be uninsulated, unheated in winter and can get hot in summer. No matter how you look at it, nothing is usually as good for storing a saddle as a room in your home.

When you store your saddle, whether overnight between rides or over the long winter, place it on a saddle form or the top of a backrest of a thick couch or chair. The point is to set the saddle on its tree and support it from below. Just laying a saddle on the floor is a poor way to store it. I've seen saddles ruined when they've gotten stepped on or had other items piled on top of them. As you realize, when you get an expensive saddle as you mention, it really does pay to store it properly so that it really will last a long time.

Enjoy your new saddle!


I'm building a paddock so I can bring my horses home. How high does the paddock fence have to be to keep my horses from jumping them?

Well, the currently recommended fence height for horse paddocks is 5 feet for an average height horse and six feet for a tall horse. In addition, you should install a six feet fence for an average horse that's prone to escaping. Finally, you'll need to make sure there are no places where your horses could easily push through a fence — it needs to be very secure.

You're probably surprised to see these recommended fence heights because they're more than what we typically see around us. But the general thinking these days is that paddock fences have historically been too low, and that's why we occasionally see "escape artist" horses that are hard to contain. I will admit that some of the escape artists horses I've seen have found a clever way to squeeze out through a narrow space or hole rather than jump a fence, but fortunately, such clever horses are the exception rather than the rule. However, with humans further encroaching into formerly rural areas, we're finding roads and highways in more places, which provides more opportunities for escaped horses to get into trouble with passing traffic. Few horses would have any trouble jumping a 3.5 or 4 foot high fence if so inclined, hence, the current recommended heights.


I am afraid to be in the stall with my horse. I have told the barn owner and she says that my horse is calm and safe, but it still makes me anxious. My riding friends think my horse is fine and that I am being silly. But, my horse seems less calm when I am in there with him and even so when we ride. What should I do?

If your barn owner and friends feel your horse is safe and you're afraid, then this problem is likely more about you than about your horse. Remember, when you're afraid, your horse will sense your fear and react accordingly. Your fear will make him anxious because he'll feel there's a very good reason that you're afraid and believe there's something to fear himself. You need to find some way to get over your fear or you should probably look for a different interest. Dealing with fear around horses is quite different than dealing with fear in other activities.

For example, if you're afraid of some aspect of skiing, at least the mountain and snow won't contribute to the problem and become more dangerous — the risk will be the same whether you're afraid or not. But it's different with horses. Your fear will put a horse on constant alert while you're with him and can make him skittish when you're around. Some horses will even exploit that fear, ignore your commands, and take control — an out-of-control horse that doesn't listen to his handler or rider is not good for you or those around you!

You need to work with a trainer or instructor to understand and reduce your fear. If you can't do that, I suggest you consider backing away from riding and enjoy horses more as a spectator for your own safety. Horses can be unpredictable for the best trained and most fearless among us — you really don't want to significantly increase that risk through your own fear.

July 31, 2013 – CLEANING THE REINS?

Do you need to clean the reins every so often?

Well, I like clean tack, so I clean mine often. But I also know other riders and some horse farms that never clean their tack. If you do periodically clean it, it'll last longer, look better, and won't get slippery when wet. I've experienced dirty tack getting a greasy feeling as the grit and oils of previous hands and horse sweat gets soaked in a rain and give you a slippery, filthy feeling — YECH!

Therefore, I take one of the pre-moistened, quick tack cleaning cloths every few rides and wipe down my saddle, bridle, and any other leather tack I might use (e.g. breast plate, cantle bag, pommel bag, wither bags, etc.) This helps keep dirt and grime out of the leather as well as re-oiling it so that water runs off should we get caught in a rain. If that should happen, I'll immediately remove the excess water, dry it, and re-apply oil, even if I had just done so on the previous ride. Similarly, a really dusty ride requires my immediate attention to remove that dust and dirt regardless of how recently I last cleaned my tack. As for my reins, I use nylon rope reins that require a periodic soaking in warm water with a horse shampoo added, a thorough rinsing, and then air drying.

I like the way clean tack looks and feels, and I also like that it'll last longer because cleaning keeps dirt and grime from seeping in and breaking down the leather fibers.


How do I make sure a field is safe to run my horse in?

You actually have to walk the field — all of it. It also helps if the grass is cut short and not waist high. If it's high, you'll never adequately see the ground and the grass could cover one or more holes.

When walking a field, look for holes from rodents, snakes, etc. You need to walk back and forth across the whole field to assure you've inspected it adequately. Even then, there are no guarantees. For example, a wasp nest in the ground (e.g. yellow jackets) presents a potential tripping obstacle, but they're hard to find if the nest is solid and the ground hasn't caved in yet. It will cave in if your foot or a horse's hoof steps on it — this is the kind of risk you almost can't find and you must hope that your horse doesn't step upon it while riding at speed.

Another reason to keep the grass cut is that it greatly reduces places for all kinds of insects to live, including ticks.


I have been riding for 8 years and bought a horse 5 years ago. I bought a used western saddle from my riding instructor and it has worked out ok. But it has been a compromise and can get sore after 4 hours of straight riding. I want to get a new saddle for me and my horse and get something that is more comfortable as much as having more tie points for trail riding.

I started asking around and reading about saddles and their trees and it can be confusing. Everybody has their own opinion, both the authors in their articles and my friends at the barn. What is really better? Can you help?

Well, anything I tell you will be my opinion, so I don't think you'll ever get away from hearing the opinion of the person you ask. But I'd like to think that I'm somewhat objective and that my opinions are based a lot more on fact and experience and not just my parroting what other's have told me. You also need to understand that you're looking for the "right" saddle for you — it might not be the right one for me and the riding that I do, and that doesn't matter. It needs to work for YOUR riding enjoyment.

And consider that, after four hours of riding, even the most comfortable saddle will start to feel less so and you can start to get sore. In fact, I can start to feel sore in the most comfortable chairs after sitting for four hours straight. You have to get up (or dismount) and walk around some to get the blood flowing, get rid of the lactic acid build-up, and just stretch and limber up your muscles by moving around again. Now, let's discuss finding the right saddle for you.

About six years ago, I bought my current horse and decided to go on an extensive "saddle search". On this search, I was insistent that I would learn a lot more about saddles and would try out as many as I possibly could. I don't mean that I would sit in a saddle for five minutes in a tack shop, I mean that I would borrow or rent saddles I might like to buy and spend at least a few hours in them on one or more long, trail rides. If the store or tack shop wouldn't let me borrow or rent one, I left and would no longer consider the saddle, at least not from that retailer. In other words, I WAS NOT going to buy any saddle that I hadn't tried for several rides over a week or more of riding, and I didn't! To my mind, this was the only way I could determine whether or not a saddle was truly comfortable to me for the long term.

So, I bought a fairly inexpensive synthetic saddle to use for the interim while I undertook an intensive saddle search. This search lasted about a year and I finally purchased the saddle that I really wanted and am still extremely happy with today. This approach also gives you time to put money aside so you can afford a more expensive saddle if that's what you finally decide will make you happy and your rides more comfortable. During this period, I documented my experiences in a series of postings that I later converted into a fairly comprehensive series of six articles. You can read them starting with: Saddle Search – Part 1: A Secure Saddle, Fit, & Comfort.

I like to think that the entire series is a most informative and fun read. Please try it for yourself, learn what I learned, and let me know if you enjoyed the read. Finally, have fun with your search and your new horse!


Hi! I am new to riding and just heard that a bear recently attacked a horse in Canada. Does this happen often?

I'd not heard about that and conducted some searches on the net after reading your question. I was unable to find any recent reports of bears attacking horses in Canada or anywhere else in North America. However, there are several reports of such attacks occurring in the last few years in the U.S.

You might be happy to learn that bear attacks on humans and horses are quite rare. Most of the time, the bear would rather not even interact with us. And the average horse usually weighs 1,000 pounds or more and typically outweighs even Grizzly bear males, which are usually less than 800 pounds (females are usually under 500 pounds). Be that as it may, bears can be vicious, do have long formidable claws, and have killed horses. Fortunately, this also is quite rare.

Most cases of bears attacking humans or horses are due to the bear being surprised, being protective of cubs, or being rabid. You can further reduce your chances of having an encounter with a bear by making noise as you trail ride (bear encounters in the arena are much rarer still :-) Typically, you'll be chatting with your riding partner(s) while trail riding and this helps alert bears (and other wildlife) to your presence and they'll usually try to avoid contact with you. (If riding outside alone, it's ok to talk to your horse and yourself to ward bears away.)

For further reading, we have an article on this topic entitled: Bears on the Trail.


The wood floor in my trailer doesn't feel right. It seems to bend more than I remember when I walk on it. It seems to work ok, but I'm concerned because it feels kind of soft. How do I know if it needs to be replaced?

Your description tells me that you've likely found a problem with your trailer's floor. It shouldn't bend or feel soft at all. The wooden planks should be thick enough and supported well enough with underbracing to prevent any bending when a horse walks onto it — you're describing bending with just your own weight — DEFINITELY NOT GOOD!

Most wood trailer floors are easy enough to replace when they deteriorate, but I'm especially concerned about your case The wooden boards of the floor are supposed to be supported by several lateral bars running from one side of the trailer to the other. It sounds as if one or more of those bars has broken or rusted away and it, or they, are no longer able to support the floor properly. If true, the bar or bars definitely need replacing, and the wood flooring boards on top may or may not need replacing depending on their condition separate from that of the bracing.

I strongly suggest that you take your trailer to a trailer dealer for an evaluation and repair estimate. This is definitely a case where you don't want to take a chance with an incomplete or improper repair. Such a repair could allow one of your horses to step through the floor while being trailered. The results could be catastrophic — don't take that chance. Have the trailer inspected by a professional.

July 24, 2013 – BUYING FIRST HORSE

I have been riding for a year now and I am going to buy my first horse this summer and I will look at three prospects this weekend. What should I check?

Well, I recommend that you NOT try to do this yourself. Consider these points:

  1. Bring an experienced horse person with you to evaluate the horses. Any of the horses you review could be untrained or unsuitable for the kind of riding you want to do. As a first time horse buyer, you likely don't have enough knowledge or experience to evaluate these horses well enough. You also are not likely to notice problems with a horse that will be more obvious to a seasoned horse person. A seasoned horse person will also know many good questions to ask of the seller that you'd likely never think about. A trusted and knowledgeable horse friend or barn owner with sufficient experience could save you from a ton of trouble;
  2. For similar reasons, DON'T try to get a horse from an auction, no matter how cheaply you might be able to get one;
  3. At this time in your riding experience, you should be looking for an older, and more experienced horse that can help you to ride safely. Such a horse will have "seen it all" and should be comfortable with many actions you need him to take (crossing streams, crossing bridges, loading into a trailer, etc.) You could learn a lot about riding and horse care from such a horse (yes, we definitely learn from our horses);
  4. When you find a horse you definitely like and would like to buy, have the horse thoroughly checked out by a good veterinarian BEFORE you sign anything or buy the horse. Tell the vet how you intend to use the horse (trail riding, dressage, jumping, etc.) so the vet can determine whether the horse is sound for these intended activities; and
  5. If everything checks out in your favor and you're ready to buy the horse, bring two copies of a Bill of Sale with you to the purchase event. This Bill of Sale must fully describe the horse with name (include registered name is the horse is registered), height, descriptive markings (e.g. socks on rear feet, star and a snip on head, etc.), any specific assertions or agreement you made with the seller (e.g. seller states the horse has no known leg or hoof problems), the selling price, the sell date, and both your and their signature. If the seller wants a copy, you'll have a second Bill of Sale to fill out identically if there's no copy machine available. From your standpoint, the Bill of Sale will be of value in the future to prove that you legally own the horse, what you paid for him, and from whom you bought him.

Checking out and buying a horse should be fun, especially for your first horse. But you'll only be happy later if you're evaluation has been thorough enough that you actually got the horse you wanted and he's able to do the kind riding you desire. So, get some help from an experienced horse person and a vet to make sure things turn out as you'd like.

Once you've bought your horse, checkout an article of ours entitled Items to Buy With Your First Horse.

Good luck!


You answered a few posts this year and have an article that says even a 1 horse trailer needs 2 axles. Thats not true. I have seen 1 axle horse trailers. Why do you keep saying horse trailers need 2 axles?

You're correct saying that my responses and trailer articles state that horse trailers need double axles. You're also correct that some states allow single axle horse trailers. And if you look at trailer accident statistics (for both horse and other kinds of trailers), you'll learn that a tire blowout on a single-axle trailer is a leading cause of trailer accidents, but not on double-axle trailers.

Think about it, a blowout on one side lets that side of the trailer drop down onto the steel rim that then drags and pulls very hard on that side of the trailer causing it to twist. That then places a huge twisting force on the tow vehicle which often causes it to lose control and results in an accident, sometimes with fatal consequences. Then consider that you have live cargo in the trailer — your horse(s) — as well as yourself and possibly one or more people with you in the tow vehicle. Do you want to risk all that to make a one-time savings of money on a trailer axle???

There are many, many articles in horse publications from many different authors stating that single-axle horse trailers should be illegal — I strongly share that sentiment! In fact, I feel that all but the smallest trailers should have double-axles because it's not only about the safety of our horses in the trailer, it's also about our safety in the tow vehicle and everyone else with which we're sharing the highway. Double-axle trailers are much safer because anything happening to a wheel (e.g. a blowout, a locked-up brake, etc.) affects the trailer and tow vehicle much less than when there is only one axle. With double-axles, that second axle and set of tires can safely carry the trailer to a stop where the blown tire can be replaced.

So, while you're correct that some states allow single-axle horse trailers, I feel they're grossly unsafe and should be outlawed. That is why responses and articles I author will continue to push for double-axle trailers only. It's for all of our safety as well as for that of our horses and other vehicle occupants. A single-axle trailer IS NOT a smart way to try and save money.


Do they make 120 volt dryers that I could put into my barn for sheets and blankets? I have a small electric service in the barn mainly for lights so I can't use a 220 volt dryer.

There are some small dryers made that work on 120 volts, but they are really small and actually still draw quite a bit of current. If you have too small an electric service feeding your barn, a small low-voltage dryer will almost assuredly not be a workable solution. First, horse sheets and blankets are big and usually require a large washer and dryer. And second, a dryer is essentially a large heater with a fan blowing hot air through the clothes to dry it. Heaters take lots of power and large heaters take even more. Therefore, your only real solution if you want to put a useful dryer in your barn is to upgrade to a 240V service. But if you do that, make sure it's a real upgrade, such as at least a 60 amp service — a 100 amp service would be even better. Paying for the electrician and bigger electric panel is a one-time cost and you'll still only pay for the amount of power you use on a month-to-month basis. So, upgrade one time to a large enough service and it'll serve you well for decades to come.

A large service will also give you other options, such as a good-size water heater, perhaps power for arena lighting, etc. Plan now for your future dreams and size the service NOW to accommodate them. Then you can perform the smaller upgrades as you're financially able without having to upgrade the electric service each time you implement another barn or farm enhancement. Remember, regardless of the size of the service, once installed, you only pay for the amount of power you consume monthly.


My tack room is so hard to keep clean. It gets dusty from the dirt floors in the stalls and aisles of the barn and the dirt that the boarders track in. What can I do that won't be too expensive?

Well, you've identified the crux of the problem: the barn's dirt floors. Until you deal with that, there's likely precious little you can do to reduce the amount of dirt that you and your boarders are trudging into the room on the bottom of your boots and shoes. One way would be to put stall mats down in the aisles. That would at least reduce the amount of dirt that's still sticking to everyone's shoes when they enter the tack room. Of course, those mats will need to be swept clean with some regularity (weekly?)

Another idea is to place a large, rough, door mat outside the tack room door. That will scrape off of boots and shoes a lot of the dirt that would have been trudged into the tack room. BUT, you WILL HAVE TO periodically clean that mat, probably at least every few weeks. If you don't, the mat will fill with dirt and cease being effective after a month or two. It might then even contribute to bringing more dirt into the room.

I've seen gratings placed into a concrete floor for the purpose of cleaning the bottoms of footwear, but even then, eventually, the space under the gratings fills with the removed dirt and must again be periodically cleaned. Any device that removes dirt must have the dirt periodically removed from the device to remain effective.

Other than actually replacing the aisle dirt floors with another kind of flooring (e.g. wood, concrete, etc.), I don't see any other real options for you to consider. Those dirt aisles ARE the problem! And worse, the dirt and dust in your tack room not only make the room dirty, it starts to work its way into the leather of the tack in the room. That not only makes the tack dirty, it also breaks the leather down over time and results in shorter tack life. That's especially hard to take when considering expensive saddles having their lives shortened as well as often needing cleaning. The only way around that is for your boarders to clean their tack even more frequently than they otherwise would have to do.

One more thing, even if you do implement one or more of these suggestions and keep the cleaning device clean, you still should periodically clean your tack room because some small amount of dust will still seep in just as it does into our living rooms and bedrooms. But I recommend that you vacuum the tack room rather than sweep it. The main problem with sweeping is that it moves the majority of the dirt away, but puts some of it into the air to settle on higher objects, such as all the tack. Vacuuming captures almost all the dust and dirt rather than making some of it airborne as happens with a broom.


Hay is getting expensive around here because the farms are not getting enough water. I can get some hay cheaper than other hay, but how do I know if its good hay or not?

While we may think of hay as a simple product, it's actually quite complex. So, you need to know at least a little about it to select good quality hay for your horses. The growing conditions of hay make a big difference on its quality. Major contributing factors are: where it's grown, what hay species constitute its mix (Timothy, Orchardgrass, Alfalfa, Fescue, Clover, Bermudagrass, etc.), how much Sun it gets, how much water it gets, its weed content, how it's stored, etc., etc.

Purdue University has a good article on the subject entitled: Selecting Quality Hay for Horses.


When I visited my horse yesterday, he had a bad wound on his leg. He is always getting scrapes and gashes and I get frustrated that he is so clumsy. I am always afraid that I missed an injury or something. Is there any good way to check him out when I see him?

Nothing will replace a thorough examination of your horse. And while there definitely are clumsy horses out there, and yours could be one of them, everyone should thoroughly check their horse when they visit them. That's something I do every time I go to see my horse and there have been several times when I've found something serious and am glad I discovered it early before it turned into something much more serious.

We have an article about how to quickly, but thoroughly check a horse entitled Conduct a Daily Horse Whole Body Survey. You should take a look at it. It should make your efforts to check your horse more thorough, faster, and easier.

July 16, 2013 – DO FLY MASKS WORK?

We have a bad problem with flies this year and my normal fly sprays don't work well. How good are fly masks? Are they worth the money?

A fly mask will provide some protection to your horse, but you've got to use it properly. You also need to keep it in good shape — DON'T USE a fly mask with any holes in it because a fly or two can get in, get trapped in there, and drive your horse crazier than if he wasn't wearing a mask in the first place. Check these items if you do put a mask on your horse:

  1. Make sure to put the mask on properly (see the instructions) and that it seals all around to keep flies out;
  2. Make sure there are no holes in the mask (see above as to why holes can be so bad);
  3. Make sure the mask doesn't touch your horse's eyes or his eye lids;
  4. Check the mask frequently when you leave it on for hours at a time, especially if your horse is out in his paddock. Horses often rub against things (trees, fences, etc.) and can knock the mask off, knock it to the side so it doesn't work, or rip it. And when you check it, make sure that no bugs somehow have gotten inside the mask; and
  5. Replace the mask as soon as it has a hole in it or doesn't fit properly. While a mask can help a horse deal with flies, an ill fitting or damaged mask is worse than none at all.

Years ago, I used to sometimes leave a fly mask (on bad fly days) on my horse while he was in his paddock. He would usually destroy a mask every few weeks. One day, he was going crazy running around his paddock when I arrived and it took some time for me to catch him and quiet him down. The problem was a fly stuck inside the mask that had gotten in through a hole he had ripped earlier that day. Since then, I only put a mask on him when we go riding. This way, I'm with him the entire time and can both check the mask and correct any problems as soon as they occur. One other benefit is that he also hasn't ruined a mask since. But the main reason is that I don't want him suffering for hours with a fly inside when I'm not with him.

July 15, 2013 – HOT WEATHER RIDING

We're having lots of heat in this area every day. Is it safe to ride a horse in this heat?

In hot weather, horses are susceptible for the very same health risks as humans. That is: muscle cramps, dehydration, dizziness, heat stroke, and even death. Therefore, you need to take the same precautions for your horse that you should be taking for yourself. You need to assure that:

  1. Your horse is in condition for the ride;
  2. That you won't go too far or work too hard in weather that is too hot;
  3. That you either bring water for your horse or know where you can provide him with clean drinking water on the way to your destination and back; and
  4. That they'll be enough places where you'll both be out of the sun for much of the ride if it's a very hot day. Such shelter can be riding in the forest, riding in the shade of a canyon wall or shadow of a mountain or large hill, etc.

And when you get back to the barn, make sure your horse has access to ample salt to replenish that lost through perspiration. I like to offer my horse loose salt in a small pail in his stall, and always plenty of water in his stall and paddock. Don't worry about your horse eating too much salt — he'll only eat what he needs.

Also keep in mind that there are some days when it's just too hot to ride and you need to just provide a shady and cool area for your horse to chill out for the day. You should do the same on those days if you're not in an air conditioned space. Extreme heat can be extremely dangerous for both you and your horse. Don't push too much in hot weather or either of you could get very sick, or worse.


Is it dangerous to put tack on a horse while he is in his stall? My barn owner says it isn't and she doesn't want us doing it.

It really depends on the horse. Many horses are fine with being groomed and tacked up or down in their stall. Often, the rider will tie the horse via lead line to a tie ring in the stall, but it's not necessary with a calm horse that stands as he should. I have often tacked up or removed tack from my horse while he's in his stall, untied, and never had a problem.

HOWEVER, doing this with an unpredictable horse could be dangerous because you're in tight quarters. So, you need to know the normal behavior and demeanor of your horse. Even then, any horse can spook, so you also still need to be careful, alert, and in the moment (we're all always like that around horses, aren't we?) While that's also true when grooming or placing tack on a horse in a more open space, the greatest risk in that open space is being stepped on or pushed away. In a stall, the additional risk is that of being crushed between the horse and a wall.

Your barn owner is entitled to her opinion and is pushing the side of safety for you and her other boarders — I can hardly disagree with her on this. It's her barn and she's free to set the rules as she sees fit. As long as she is also able to provide adequate cross ties or tie rings so you and fellow boarders can prepare your horses for a ride within a reasonable time, I don't see any problem with her decree.

If the barn has only one or two places to tie a horse and many of you are all forced to wait in line for an inordinate amount of time, that is an issue, but likely one you can discuss with the owner and appeal to her common sense to add more tie points. A boarding barn doesn't want to have unhappy boarders looking to leave, so take the time to discuss any issue with your barn owner if one exists. As I already said, her rule is an attempt to keep you all safer and that's a good thing.


Can my Rav4 pull a 2 horse trailer?

I just looked at the towing specifications online for the 2013 RAV4 and it appears the new models come only with a 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine and a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 pounds. Back in earlier years (e.g. 2006), the 3.5 liter, V6 model had a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. But even with that, consider that the lightest 2-horse trailer is about 2,300 pounds empty, and with no dressing room. The average 2-horse trailer is more like 2,800 - 3,200 pounds (this is also empty), the addition of just one average 1,000 pound horse puts you near the maximum limit of the 2006 RAV4. And that's with no tack, no supplies, no hay, no water — nothing else!

The fact is, none of the small SUVs or Jeeps are good horse trailer towing vehicles. Even their small size and short wheelbase means that they're likely not stable enough to tow (especially if you get a mad or frightened horse moving frantically around in the trailer), or the day is windy. And their small engines have little torque and are really strained climbing a hill or even pulling on loose gravel and other rough terrain.

Any horse trailer tow vehicle should be able to tow at least 5,000 pounds to accommodate two regular size horses and some tack, at minimum. A larger towing capacity would be even better, perhaps in the 6,000 - 7,000 pound range. A longer wheelbase makes the tow vehicle more stable in wind and with any horse movement in the trailer.

You can learn more by reading our Towing Horse Trailers With Small Vehicles article. The article also links to other articles that you should find helpful all related to towing horse trailers.


Should you run more tire pressure when pulling a horse trailer on hot days?

You should not play with and change trailer tire pressure because a day is hot or cold. Instead, you should follow whatever the trailer manufacturer recommends for tire pressure inflation. That recommendation is in your trailer manual and is also often on a plaque that is usually mounted on the tongue of the trailer.

Typically, the recommendation is to run a certain pressure (often near the tire maximum) at all times regardless of temperature. You should check tire pressure and adjust it when the tire is cold. I've never heard of adjusting tire pressure with changes in air temperature for horse trailers. And when a tire gets hot, the pressure actually increases. So, if you did as asked in your question, you'd actually be risking blowing your tires.

Follow the inflation recommendation of your trailer manufacturer. The variations of weather temperature and varying load in the trailer is all accounted for by the trailer manufacturer who will work with the tire manufacturer to recommend the correct inflation pressure for towing the weight of the trailer and its contents.


What's the story with snaffles? Are they gentle or not? I'm hearing both accounts.

You identify a very frustrating issue many have with trying to understanding the many different bits. The problem is that there are many bits that are called some form of snaffle. The snaffle is generally regarded as an "unleveraged" or "direct pressure" bit. This means that the pressure of the bit on the horse's bars is exactly the pressure you're applying to the reins. However, depending on your strength and whether the snaffle mouthpiece is thick or thin can make a big difference to the horse on whether the bit hurts or not. Thin mouthpieces concentrate pressure, so they hurt more. And a rider that is strong and always pulls on the reins will also hurt the horse.

Then, consider a bit such as the Tom Thumb Snaffle; this is really not a snaffle at all, but a form of curb bit that applies leverage which multiplies the force of the rider. And the fact that snaffles are jointed bits means that the joint itself can be digging into the tongue of the horse when pulled or the roof of his mouth when led. The result is that some snaffles can be quite harsh.

We have an article that discusses how the different parts of a bit works. By understanding the parts, you can better understand how a bit works on the horse's mouth and whether it is a harsh or gentle bit, regardless of what the manufacturer calls it. It's entitled: Understanding Bits.

July 8, 2013 – LEANING ON HILLS?

Which way do I lean when going downhill on a horse?

This is actually simpler to remember than you might think: you don't actually want to lean at all. What you want to do is to sit up straight. That's the best, most balanced, and easiest way for a horse to carry you. If you're going downhill, sitting up straight will look to an observer as if you're leaning back. Conversely, if going uphill, sitting up straight will look as if you're leaning forward.

All you need do is look at the trees around you — most trees and brush grow vertically even when on a hill. You want to sit vertically at all times when riding a horse. And when you walk, you also walk vertically, because if you didn't, you'd lean over and fall.

Take a look at this article we have entitled: Leaning When on Hills. It should make this topic more clear in your mind.


You wrote a few times about LED lighting for barns and that it's coming. Is it here yet?

LED lighting for barns, homes, and most other lighting applications showed up in stores about three or four years ago. They were quite expensive initially, but have come down in price. They're still more expensive than incandescent or CFL bulbs, but they last an incredibably long time (usually more than 50,000 hours of use). They also use even less power than CFLs, and better yet, they come up to full brightness in less than a second.

So, don't be afraid to buy them, they work great! If you're still uncomfortable with their cost, even with their very low power usage and very long lifetimes, just wait another year ro so; they keep coming down in price as more and more people buy them. But remember that you have to weigh that against the amount of electric power you use each month. The more your barn lights are on each day, the more likely that replacing them with LED bulbs will actually pay for themselves sooner and then you'll reap great savings for the long remainder of the bulb's life.


I am new to riding and really like it. But I am afraid I could also get hurt, especially if I fall (my balance is not the best). What are the chances of getting hurt if I fall off a horse?

Well, I hope your balance improves as a result of your riding because riding a horse IS ALL ABOUT Balance. There is some risk of being around and riding horses. You have to remember that these are big, powerful beasts. And they can move extremely quickly, much faster than you'd think when considering they usually weigh at least a thousand pounds. But the real risk is because they're prey animals that are easily spooked. It's that unpredictable nature that is the problem because most horses would never intentionally hurt us. But when surprised, they can spin around so fast that they accidently hit us if we're on foot or can turn so fast or shy so fast that we fall off when mounted.

If you do fall off a horse, the chances of you getting hurt will depend on a number of variables:

  • How fast the horse and you were going;
  • The height from which you fall (drafts are higher than ponies, and you're higher if you're jumping when you fall off);
  • What you land on (soft ground, rocks, stumps, a picnic table, a fence post — you get the idea); and
  • How you land (feet down, butt down, or head down).

As a new rider, the best thing you can do is to get as much riding instruction as you can from a good instructor, ride in safe places that have a low probability of surprising a horse, and ride the most calm horse you can find. While none of these suggestions guarantees safety, they will lessen the chances of an injury occurring. That said, everyone that I know who rides horses has taken at least a few tumbles off a horse in their riding experience (yours truly included). Most of the time, the injuries are limited to scrapes and bruises, but landing wrong or on a sharp or hard object (a stump, stone, fence post, etc.) could become very serious or life-threatening.

I don't want to dissuade you from riding; most people ride their entire lives with minimal injuries and riding horses is much safer than riding in a car. But it's not risk free — few sports are, but most of us feel they're worth some risk for the enjoyment and physical exercise they provide.


I do a lot of trail riding with my girl friends and our feet get sore. Are there any stirrups that would be more comfortable?

There are two types I would recommend: Endurance stirrups and Tapaderos. We have an article on each stirrup and each article has a photo of the stirrup discussed. The one on endurance stirrups is entitled: A More Comfortable Stirrup. And the other is Tapaderos: Good or Bad?


I was riding trails with some friends last weekend and was at the end of the group. We were in a canter when all of a sudden I saw the first rider jump up, then the next, and then the one in front of me. As soon as I saw the first two go up one after the other, I knew I was going to have to jump too. They weren't high jumps, but I ride in a Western saddle. Was this dangerous?

Well, you didn't say how high you guys were jumping, but I suspect you and your friends were taking smaller jumps, say, under 12 - 18 inches. If this is true, you should be ok. Western saddles have two aspects that make jumping harder: the horn, and the fact that many of them are not made to take the landing stresses of jumping. You can learn more by reading our related article entitled: Is it Safe to Jump in a Western Saddle?.

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