Tuesday, December 30, 2008

4-H: Head, Heart, Hands & Health

The new year is coming up and already young friends and horseback riders have been telling me that they are looking forward to, and planning for, their 4-H projects already.

Both of my daughters grew up in the 4-H “family”and I cannot speak highly enough of the organization. There is so much to do and learn, not only in all the different project areas but also within the club structure itself. Standing up in front of a group to give a project talk or demonstration instills poise and teaches public speaking skills. Electing club officers is democracy in action and running the meetings is a lesson in Robert’s Rules of Order. Keeping records of their projects not only teaches responsibility but also writing skills and organization.

What may have started out as a rural club has for many years been expanded to include so many different areas of expertise that any youth, rural or urban, can certainly find his or her particular field of interest.

Years ago, my daughters and many of their friends, and now my friends’ children and their grandchildren are, and have been, involved in 4-H. I see some of these kids out at the barn already working with their horses towards the 4-H horse show at the County Fair next summer. It brings back many good memories!

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service
and my health to better living,
for my family, my club, my community, my country, and my world."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Horseback Riding in Tuscany, Italy

Tuscan Countryside This past September I went on a horseback riding vacation to Tuscany, Italy, with my daughter and 2 other couples who have been friends for years. It was a fantastic trip and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in viewing Toscana from the back of a horse.

Horseback Riding in TuscanyWe booked the Maremma Ride out of a small, quaint hotel in Montieri called the Hotel Rifugio Prategiano, which is in the midst of beautiful Tuscany. The Maremma Ride is a 5-day horseback trip through the Tuscan countryside which is offered in the spring and again in the fall. Our first day of riding was a 3-hour ride to get acquainted with the horses that we then rode for the rest of the trip.

Horseback Riding through Tuscan TreesThe next day we headed out from the hotel and rode all day, leaving our horses that night - and each successive night - at a different place. In the evening we were picked up by the hotel’s van and brought back for dinner and the night at the hotel, leaving again in the morning to be transported back to where the horses had spent their night.

Horseback Riding in Tuscany, ItalyWe rode through woods, fields, streams, alongside vineyards and olive trees, and through towns. Lunch was a picnic at some picturesque spot; a hot – and delicious – meal catered in by the hotel staff was enjoyed by everyone while the horses snoozed in the shade.

Maremman Horses Resting at LunchOur guides were knowledgeable about the area and fun to be around. We had quite the laughs! The owners of the hotel, Renate and Roberto, were extremely helpful, personable and always concerned about the welfare and comfort of their guests as well as their horses.

The hotel's horses were big, Horseback Riding through Tuscan Villagestrong warmblood-types called "Maremman horses." When asked what type of breeding that was, Roberto thoughtfully answered, "local!" They were quiet and steady but could definitely pick it up for a nice hand-gallop down a dirt road! We traveled over some fairly rough terrain and the horses never put a foot wrong.

Maremman Horse Overlooking Tuscan ViewTo round out our trail riding trip, we spent a couple of days before the ride in Pisa and a few days afterwards touring Rome. It truly was the trip of a lifetime!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Buckskin or Dun?

How do you tell if a horse is a buckskin or a dun? What is the difference, or is there a difference? We have a Quarter horse listed on his papers as “dun,” yet there are many horse people who have called him a buckskin.

Buckskin Running in SnowBuckskin Horses
A buckskin varies in color from a light cream, called a buttermilk buckskin - remember Dale Evan’s horse from the old Roy Rogers TV show? – through dark gold to almost a chocolate color. They also have black points: mane, tail, lower legs and tips of the ears. Also, they can have light hairs at the base of their tail and mane.

Buckskin ColoringGenetically, buckskins have a “cream” gene that acts on a bay (brown body color, black mane, tail and points), diluting the color. This is what gives them the lighter coat color with the dark points. This differs from the cream gene acting on a chestnut (reddish brown body, light mane and tail), which results in a palomino.

Dun ColoringDun Horses
A dun can have the same coat color as a buckskin but it carries an extra gene which is associated with primitive factors. The most common of these is the dorsal stripe down the back - a line from the base of the mane to the tail. Other primitive factors include zebra- or tiger-like stripes on the legs, usually on the knees and Dun Horse with Dorsal Stripe hocks; lighter hairs in the mane and top of the tail; shadowing on the neck and face and “cobwebbing” (faint lines usually found on the face and neck).

So our Quarter horse, Ole, really is a dun. He has a dorsal stripe; faint zebra stripes around his knees (usually only visible on his summer coat); and lighter hairs in his mane and the base of his tail.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dashing Through the Snow

Driving Single-Horse Sleigh Oh, what fun we’re having!

Yesterday was a super warm day, it actually got up into the low 30’s, so my husband and I loaded up the cutter into the back of the pickup and I headed out to the barn for a sleigh ride. I got a lot of second looks from folks in cars along the way with my cute “Santa’s sleigh” in the back.

When I got to the barn my friend, Max, and her daughter, Natasha, helped me unload the cutter and then we decided to turn my mare and Natasha’s horse loose in the arena for some running and romping time before harnessing Joon up. It has been since the County Fair last August that Joon has been in harness and we thought we’d let her work off some steam before driving her.

It had been misting outside all morning and Joon was a little wet – add the dust and dirt in the indoor arena and she finished up her playtime looking like a mudball! After trying to clean her up, and not succeeding, Max put the harness on Joon and then long-lined her for a little to make sure she still remembered and was listening.

Then it was time for the fun! First Max and I headed out in the sleigh and after a few circuits of the area, I got out and let Natasha have a turn. It was wonderful! It’s hard to describe the thrill of being in a cutter with the crisp air, the crunching of the horse's hooves, and the sound of the runners gliding through the snow. Next time I'll bring the bells, which I had forgotten this time, and will add the sound of them ringing.

We soon had quite an audience of the others who were at the barn that day, I think we could have gone all day giving rides.

Oh, what fun we’re having, and isn’t that the purpose of having horses in our lives?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Horse Blankets

There are so many types of horse blankets it can be confusing to figure out which kind to get and use on your horse. As a general rule I don’t blanket my horses, but there are times when I use them. I have heavy turnout rugs for horse camping in the spring and fall which gives the horses extra protection from the elements while they’re standing on a picket line - it can get quite cold at night.

I also have cotton sheets for the summer months I use after we have bathed the horses for a show and want to keep them clean while we’re hauling them in the trailer. I have an aluminum Featherlite trailer and if they lean on the stall dividers, they end up with aluminum rub spots on their hips.

One other type of blanket I have is a fleece cooler that I have used after trail riding in cool weather when the horses have to stand at the trailer afterwards. It keeps them warm while they are drying off if they’ve gotten sweaty.

But those aren’t the only types of blankets available; there are turnout rugs, stable blankets, sheets, coolers, scrim sheets, and “Sleazy” sleepwear. They come in all sorts of weights and fabrics and either closed or open fronts.

Which Horse Blanket Do I Choose?

  • Stable blankets: generally close-fitting, coming to just the depth of the barrel
  • Turnout rugs: longer drop on the sides, shoulder gussets for freedom of movement, tail flaps, generally no center seam and are wind- and water-proof
  • Sheets: lightweight blanket, usually either cotton or nylon, fitting the same as a stable blanket
  • Coolers: made of wool, fleece or acrylic that covers from behind the ears to the tail and hangs to about knee length, clipping in the front along the neck. There are also fleece coolers that fit like a sheet.
  • Scrim sheets: a very lightweight, almost see-through sheet used to protect the horse's coat from the sun and/or with a fly repellent built in
  • Sleazy sleepwear: tight-fitting, stretchy nylon blanket and/or hood to keep hair clean and polished. The hood covers the head and neck and keeps the mane tamed and also protects braids.

So, depending on the weather or your specific needs, there are many kinds of horse blankets available from which to choose. Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How to Tie a Rope Halter

Step 1: Tying a Rope Halter Out of strictly personal preference, I use nylon halters on my horses but I do have a rope halter that I keep in my saddle bags. I use that halter when I’m on the trail to tie my horse to a tree for lunchtime, or for use in case of an emergency and I need to Step 2: Tying a Rope Halterget off and lead him.

The first time I used a rope halter I had no idea how to correctly tie it; consequently at the first tug, off it came! The next attempt ended up with the tie ends poking my horse in the eye. In frustration with Step 3: Tying a Rope Haltermyself, I finally got it right.

When tying the rope halter, bring the loose end over the top of your horse’s poll and insert it from back to front through the side cheek loop. Take the tie end and wrap it behind the loop, going from Correctly Tied Rope Halterright to left, creating another loop. Bring the tie end through that loop, on top of the side cheek piece. Pull it tight and you now have a secure knot that won’t come loose.

When putting any halter on your horse, make sure that the nose piece is high enough that it cannot slip down off the nose. It also should be about an inch below the point of the cheekbone. If you will notice in the last picture, this halter could be slightly lower on the horse’s nose. While this horse is in the crossties, that clip could rub on the end of the cheekbone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Horse Barn Fire Safety

Tragedy struck early Sunday morning in Verndale, MN, a town not too far from us. Aided by strong winds, fire swept through the barn at R&J Horse Sales and 40 horses perished. Thankfully no humans were hurt, but this is still a terrible tragedy for all the horse owners who lost their animals, as well as for the Sundbys, who own R&J Horse Sales.

A barn fire is not something that I worry too much about here at home as my horses are kept outside with a run-in shed for shelter. But my mare is stabled at Benvelle Equestrian Center - brought into the barn each night - and I think how much I would miss her if she were caught up in a fire.

What can be done to prevent something like this happening to your horse? What are a few basic fire safety precautions to take at your barn?

The leading cause of barn fires is actually electrical in nature – things such as frayed wiring, shorts and overloaded circuits.

An electrical checklist for your barn:
  • Have a licensed electrician install lightening rods and perform all electrical work.
  • All electrical wiring should be enclosed ina metal conduit.
  • Electrical boxes should be weather proof; switches should be moisture and dust proof.
  • If you must use extension cords, use industrial-grade models.
  • The electrical system should be set up so that when power is turned off in the barn, the water source stays on.

Keep your barn and surrounding areas clean:

  • Remove trash and debris inside and out – besides being neater and cleaner, this removes potential fuel for a fire.
  • Cleaning rags and towels soaked with petroleum-based tack cleaning products should never be left in a pile.
  • Paint cans and flammable liquids should be kept in a building separate from the barn in safe containers.
  • Keep cobwebs under control. They are a fast conduit for flames and can drop and spread a fire.
  • Keep heater and fans dust-free - buildup of dust can combust.

Other important fire precaution suggestions:

  • Strictly enforce no smoking in the barn or use of an open flame for any reason.
  • Have a water source available outside the barn with a hose easily accessible.
  • Install multiple fire extinguishers – at each entrance, the tack room, and the feed room – and check them annually.
  • Keep your horse's halter with lead rope attached on the outside of the stall for quick access during a fire or other emergency.
  • Store hay, straw and bedding in a building away from the barn.
  • Park tractors and farm equipment away from hay, straw or shavings. A hot engine can cause these to ignite.

Of course, even when a horse barn takes all these precautions, accidents can still happen - as in the case of R&J Horse Sales - but this list of easy fire safety tips will definitely keep the risk at a much lower percentage.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Braiding a Horse's Tail

Step 1: Braiding a Horse's Tail By the end of each summer my mare’s gorgeous, long tail has broken off at the ends and is considerably shorter. It’s not through any accident or mishap; just from constantly swatting at flies, getting the hair caught in a fence as she swishes her tail, and I’ve also seen another horse grab her tail during some rough play.

During the winter months, when she Step 2: Braiding a Horse's Tail doesn’t need to get rid of bugs, I like to braid her tail and wrap it to keep it from breaking so she has a long tail by summer. Many people – especially those who are showing their horses – will continue to wrap the tails during the summer and will add long strips to the end so that the horse has something to help in the fly season.

It’s quite simple to braid and wrap a Step 3: Braiding a Horse's Tailtail – but this is not to confuse with french braiding for showing. It is important to find the end of the horse's tailbone and start braiding loosely from there so that the bone itself is not constricted. When you reach the end of the tail, turn the braid up and bring it through the start of the braid. If you have a tailbag, you would then put the braid in the bag and tie the bag onto the start of the Step 4: Braiding a Horse's Tailbraid.

I usually use vet wrap and just wrap the braid. Start winding the vetwrap at the top of the braid, going all the way down to the bottom of the braid and then back up. When you reach the top of the braid, pull the vetwrap through the top of the braid (there will be a "hole" in the hair below the tailbone) and then tear off the vet wrap and Step 5: Braiding a Horse's Tailwrap it against itself to hold.

If you are going to do this for any length of time, be sure to undo the tail weekly, comb it out and add some conditioner to the hair before re-wrapping it. I use either 5-in-1 Groomer (Miracle Groom) or Show Sheen. If the tail is tied up for too long, the hair will dry out and become brittle and then you could find that all Step 6: Braiding a Horse's Tail the hair will break off and the tail will be far shorter than you had planned!

Horse Tail, Braided and Vet Wrapped

Step 7: Braiding a Horse's Tail

Do I Need to Blanket My Horse in Winter?

Winter Horse Blanket The other day, someone asked me if her horse should be blanketed in the winter or not. My friend has her horse on "inside board" at the barn. The horse is turned out in the pasture during the day but is brought inside to a stall at night. She has a standing order to have the horse blanketed if the temperature is 10 degrees or colder (which in Pequot Lakes it frequently is!).

Is it really necessary to blanket a horse that's outside during the day? Personally, I think not. I have the same situation with my horse at the stable – in at night and out during the day – and I haven’t ever blanketed her. She does just fine, even in the coldest weather, since she has a nice, thick coat and she's definitely not thin.

Of course, if I have been riding her hard in the indoor arena and she is hot and sweaty, I won’t turn her out into the pasture like that. At that point she goes into her stall until she has a chance to dry off and cool down.

That being said, if a horse is too thin, old or ill and has trouble staying warm, then I would recommend having a blanket put on him. Another reason for blanketing would be if you are trying to keep a horse from getting a thick coat to make it easier to shed out early in the spring – mainly for showing. But once you start doing this, you have to continue to blanket all through winter, because your horse won't have had a chance to get a proper winter coat. You also need to realize that when he’s had a blanket on continuously, his coat will get a little compacted and he will lose the insulating factor of having the hair fluffed up and holding air in among the hair.

In my experience, unless you have a horse as stated above – old, thin or ill – blanketing your horse in winter is more to make you feel better than the horse!

Trail Riding in Winter

Winter Horseback RidingWinter riding in Minnesota can be a lot of fun, but there are precautions to take before heading out on the trail. First and foremost is to wear a hard hat - even at a walk slips and falls can be treacherous. Secondly, dress warmly since once you get out on your ride, it may be a while 'til you get back and frozen toes and fingers are no fun!

Do you keep your tack in an unheated shed or tack room? Before putting the cold bit into your horse’s mouth, take the time to warm it up a little in your hand. He’ll appreciate it! (And he'll also be more likely to take the bit at all...how would you like a cold bit shoved in your mouth?)

If we have gotten a layer of ice before the snow, we hesitate about riding the trails. Good footing is always a must, but even if you think the trail is safe, I would suggest keeping the horses to a walk or a slow jog trot. There may be obstacles underneath the snow that you - and your horse - wouldn’t be aware of. Also, you don’t want your horse to get hot and sweaty if he has to return to a cold outside pasture after your ride.

Once you have gotten back from your ride and have untacked your horse, brush up her hair where it's become matted from the saddle and cinch. Compacted hair from under the saddle doesn’t insulate, by brushing up the hair you add air back in among the hairs to create a layer of insulating warmth.

Most of all, enjoy your ride!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riding in a Winter Wonderland

Trail Riding the Horses in Winter It was snowing yet I still wanted to head to the barn to ride my mare. My friends and I decided to head out early so that the predicted heavy snowfall would arrive after we were done riding. It’s been so cold that we haven’t been out riding much lately so we figured we’d work the horses in the indoor arena. My friend’s daughter rides a young horse who can get quite rambunctious when not ridden often, so it's best for him to be contained in an arena.

But it was so beautiful with the snow that after just a short time in the arena we just had to head out onto the trails. What a gorgeous day to ride outside! The temperature was in the 20’s so we had to dress warmly – my new winter riding pants came in handy! – and with the snow-covered trails we needed to keep the horses at a walk, since we couldn't tell what was underneath the snow.

In some years past we had gotten ice before snow and then the trails were too dangerous to ride on, but not this year. And since only a few people had been out before us, the snow had not had a chance to get packed down and slippery. We felt confident that - at a walk - our horses would be able to find their footing.

It was a wonderful ride through the woods. I know I enjoyed it and my mare seemed to as well. As we were riding along she kept “fluttering” her nose – maybe she was just clearing the snow from her nostrils, but I like to think that she was expressing her enjoyment too!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Buckling vs. Tying a Western Cinch

Buckling a CinchWhich is easier, tying the latigo of a saddle to secure the cinch or using the buckle?

Which is better? I've had kids - and some adults! - ask me why I do it the way I do.

I have found that for myself, using the buckle on the cinch rather than tying the knot is Buckled Cinch with Extra Latigo Leathereasier, quicker and just as secure for keeping the saddle in place. It is also far easier for me to tighten the cinch my way rather than loosening up the knot, pulling the latigo and then re-tying it.

That said, there are many people who prefer using the knot method and can saddle up, tighten or loosen their cinch just as quickly as I can hook the tongue of the buckle. One reason someone might prefer the knot to the buckle is if their horse has a Step 1: Tying a Western Cinchsmaller girth. Even with a proper-fitting cinch, there can be a lot of leftover latigo when using the buckle, forcing you to keep wrapping it around which creates more bulk under your leg.

Conversely, some people think the same thing occurs when knotting their cinch!

Step 2: Tying a Western CinchIt is quite simple to fix the knot - over, around, under and through - and I have used it many times, especially when I'm using a saddle that doesn't have a latigo long enough to go around so that a buckle hole is properly placed.

Try both ways on your saddle and see which you prefer!

Step 3: Tying a Western Cinch

A Tied Western Cinch/Latigo

Fitting a Saddle to a Horse

Short-Backed Half-Arab A year ago I had a problem with using the same western saddle on 2 of my horses. My mare, Joon, has a very short back while my gelding, Will, is longer-backed with high withers. The saddle I had been using on the gelding was too long for the mare. And I found that using that same saddle on Will over a period of time caused him to be sore on the withers and across the loin area

I was trying all sorts of different saddle pads on Will and I had gotten so that whenever I’d ride Joon I’d use my dressage saddle because that one fit her so well. But when I trail ride, I prefer using a western saddle so I can tie on any equipment I might like to take with me for the day – a lunch, an extra jacket or raincoat, and saddle bags.

Arabian with Long Back & High WithersWhy worry about saddle fitting? For years I just used whichever saddle I had at the time and didn’t worry about whether or not it was properly fitted to the horse – to tell the truth, I didn’t have any idea that it was something that I should be concerned about. An ill-fitting saddle won’t necessarily cause an immediate injury or sore back, but repetition or length of time using it can eventually cause a painful problem with the back, making the horse ouchy and/or causing sores.

An analogy was given to me that brings this point home: it’s like wearing a new pair of shoes. You can wear anything for a short period of time, but wear shoes that don’t fit correctly all day and if you put them on the again the next day, you’ll quickly feel all those spots that rubbed you raw the previous day!

Western Saddle That's Too Long for a Short-Backed Arab It’s the same for a horse with a saddle that doesn’t fit correctly; ride him for an hour or so and there probably won’t be any problem. But use that same saddle for a whole day on the trail and your horse won’t be happy when saddled the next day!

A saddle representative was scheduled to be at a local tack store in Brainerd so I decided to take both Joon and Will and my saddle to see what could be done. I was afraid that he would suggest that I needed 2 new saddles – one to fit Joon’s short back, and a different one that would better fit Will.

Well-Fitted Tucker Saddle on Short-Backed Horse I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all I really needed was one new saddle and a new saddle pad. I purchased a short-bar Tucker trail saddle for Joon which solved her problem. Although I bought the Tucker saddle specifically for Joon, this saddle can also be used on any of my horses.

When I then asked about Will’s saddle, the saddle rep pointed out that it wasn’t the saddle that was the problem, but Will’s high withers and swayed back. What he needed was a saddle pad with extra padding across the back to “fill in” the space. The reason he was getting sore on the withers and loin area was that those were the only contact spots where the saddle was hitting, making all my weight concentrated on those areas.

Diamond Wool Saddle Pad on Sway-Backed Horse The pad he recommended was a Diamond Wool that has pockets to add extra padding where it is needed. Or, he said, if I didn’t want to purchase another pad I could just fold a bath towel and lay it over my current pad to create that extra padding. Another hint that he gave me was to use an inexpensive cotton blanket underneath my regular pads – the blanket is easily washed and keeps a stiff, dirty pad from causing more sores on the horse's back. Saddle Pad with Towel on Sway-Backed Arabian

Now both of my horses are happy with their new equipment – the saddles are comfortable for me and the clean blankets and correctly fitting saddles are comfortable for them.

Another option for those riders who have multiple horses - but don't want multiple saddles - is a treeless saddle.

Friesan with Treeless Saddle

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Non-Horse People in the Pasture

The doorbell rang this afternoon to reveal a utility line worker who wanted access to our horse pasture to replace the numbers on the poles that are in there. He didn't want to bother me on a cold day and said all he needed was permission to go in; he'd take care of it himself.

Gray Mare Letting Herself Out of Pasture Fence I could think of a lot of reasons why I didn't want him in there without me, with the first being that our old mare - Joy - can let herself out of the pasture if the gate isn't properly latched. Also, if the horses are gathered at the gate, they have been known to try and shove their way out.

Our horses are also very friendly and I knew they'd follow him - as long as Joy couldn't open the gate for a romp around the yards - and would try and "help" him do his job. I didn't know how this would affect the lineworker and didn't want him getting scared and maybe trying to throw things at the horses to keep them away and then have them running and milling around.

For the safety of both the workman and our horses I told him I'd be right out to take him into the pasture. As it turned out, it was a good thing I did so. As we came up to the field, the three horses saw us coming and headed for the gate at a good clip. The lineworker saw them coming and came to a halt, saying he was awfully glad I was there to let him in!

Horses Gathered at Pasture FenceAs I opened the gate it took some persuasion to get them to move out of the way - they're always on the ready for a handout! - and then they all wanted to meet the new person. Until I made them move, they had him backed up against the fence. His comment was, "wow, they're big!" Must be a city boy!

I accompanied him to each of the poles and as our big dun gelding started coming up to him he mentioned more than once that he was glad I was there. I was too as he was pulling the old numbers off the poles. I made sure that he kept track of all the nails - I've had a horse step on a nail and drive it into their foot before and it took quite a while to heal. He hadn't thought of that.

In one 20-minute segment of time I had thought of a number of safety issues in having someone go into our field:
  • keeping the gate safely latched;
  • making sure none of the horses pushed their way out;
  • keeping a non-horse person from being overwhelmed by a herd of friendly horses;
  • keeping the horses safe from a potentially aggressive situation.

Today, none of those things happened, but it's a good thing to make note of in case you have a non-horse person coming onto your property.

Watering Your Horses in Winter

Horse Drinking Out of Ritchie Fountain Waterer With the Minnesota cold weather here to stay for the next few months are your horses getting enough water to drink? Although they don’t drink quite as much in winter as they do in summer, water is still a very important part of their diet in winter. With hay as their main staple, versus summer grass, horses need plenty of water to offset their dry forage. There seems to be a strong correlation between decreased water comsumption and compactions leading to colic. This is another reason to be sure your horses have an adequate water supply, even with snow on the ground.

You cannot expect your horses to eat snow to get the moisture they need. They would have to eat 6 times as much snow to get an equal amount of water. In the meantime, they are using calories to melt that snow which pulls away from their body warmth, which is counterproductive.

Horses may not even drink as much if the water is very cold. Studies have shown that they will drink 40% more water when it is warmed to at least 45 degrees (Fahrenheit). A 1,000-lb. horse needs about 3½ gallons of water a day at a minimum, with about 5 gallons on an average. If they are on free choice hay - as ours are with the round bales - they’ll probably drink a lot more than that.

The less water your horse drinks, the less he’ll eat, resulting in an inability to keep warm and to keep his weight up. The less water intake he’s getting, the more concentrated the urine will be, getting darker in color. Instead of an almost clear stream, the urine will look very dark orange or reddish, leaving areas in the snow that almost look bloody! This is a prime indicator that you have a dehydrated horse.

We have a Ritchie Fountain - it's an automatic waterer with a heater in it to keep the water in the bowls warm - which we've had for 10-12 years. There’s only about a gallon of water in the bowls at a time, so it doesn’t take much electricity to keep it to a temperature that the horses prefer. However, this is an old model, and we've found out it's rusting. It seems they've changed the model, but regardless our next waterer (which we have yet to install because of the weather!) is a Nelson Waterer. This waterer is stainless steel, therefore won't rust.
Before installing our waterer, we had a stock tank for many years that worked well also. We had a box built around the tank with insulation stuffed down the sides where the horses couldn’t get at it. We then covered one side and hung the tank heater in that side.

It is very important to check your watering system on a daily basis, especially in winter. First, and obviously, to make sure that it's still working and the horses are getting enough. But you also need to make sure that there aren’t any shorts in the electrical system - they create an electric shock in the water.

So, to recap: especially in chilly Minnesota winters, be sure your horses are getting enough to drink; check for orangey-reddish stains in the snow as a telltale sign your horse is dehydrated; get a good insulated or heated watering system and remember to check it daily.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sore Back Muscles on a Horse

Late last Summer I went through quite a time with my mare having a sore back. When I would mount her, as soon as I would settle my weight into the saddle she would sink down for a moment, telling me “ouch!” What had she done, what had I done, to cause this? It’s times like this that I wish my horse could only verbalize what's wrong.

I gave her a few days off and tried riding her again only to come up with the same problem. That’s when I called my veterinarian and talked to him, and he recommended that he come out and go over Joon to see if he could figure out the problem. Sometimes a sore back is indicative of another problem entirely.

We set up an appointment and he came out and did a thorough exam. He flexed joints and had Joon trot out to see how she moved. If she was compensating for a sore joint that could make her ouchy in her back. He checked for a fever, thinking she could have an infection somewhere. He poked and prodded and turned her in different directions, making her flex all her muscles.

Then he had me pull out my saddles, both the English and Western, and had me saddle her up to see how they fit her. He also checked my saddle pads to see if she was getting enough cushion underneath her saddles. I didn’t think that was the problem as I’d been using those same saddles and pads on her for a few years and never had a problem before. But the vet explained to me that if a horse changes weight significantly that will cause the saddles to fit differently on the horse's back. Fitting a saddle to your horse properly is a good place to look first if your horse has a sore back.

We then discussed if there had been any changes lately in Joon’s lifestyle, had she slipped in the pasture, etc. Yes, I could remember putting Joon into the home pasture with a new horse, Bailey the pony. Joon - a dominant mare - spent a couple of days chasing Bailey, turning and twisting and kicking.

In the end, the vet figured that Joon had pulled muscles in her neck and back through her antics chasing the pony. Greg told me to put her in with the established herd so that she wouldn’t be doing any more twisting, not to work her for a week and to put her on a regime of Bute (Phenylbutazone) twice a day for that week. I was told to ride her gently for another week and see how it went, giving her more Bute if she seemed sore after being ridden.

It took a little over a month of this "therapy," but Joon was then back to normal. It was a trying time for me and not much fun for Joon, but thank goodness it was “only” a case of sore muscles. So, if your horse is displaying these symptoms, be sure to check with your vet!

Prequel to “Dashing through the Snow”

Half-Arabian Mare & Percheron Stallion Hitch We had a blizzard on Sunday and so I wasn’t able to get to Benvelle Equestrian Center to ride my mare, Joon. I was disappointed, but wasn’t about to try and brave the elements with heavy snow, high winds and very low visibility. But now there’s a great layer of snow and I’m eager to spend next weekend at the barn, hooking Joon up to the sleigh to go “dashing through the snow!”

The last couple of summers, my friend had spent some time teaching Joon to drive in the arena outside at Benvelle, but we just didn’t take the time to drive her consistently. So, although she was broke to drive, she didn’t have as much experience as I would like. I haven’t done much in the way of driving a horse hooked to a cart (as opposed to merely long-lining), therefore I need to have a horse that has spent many hours in harness.

Last winter I wanted to send Joon off to someone to finish off her driving training. I picked a man who raises and trains Percherons, Mike Schubert of Schubert Percheron Farm in Brainerd, Minnesota. He did a wonderful job and I now have a great driving horse.

Half-Arab Mare Hitched to Percheron StallionIt was fun to see pictures of Joon’s beginning lessons with Mike. Joon is mostly Arabian and stands 15 hands tall – since she was double-harnessed to an 18-hand Percheron stallion she had no choice but to go along! What a contrast in both size and color!

When I first picked Joon up, Mike said that she was hesitant about leaving the yard when hitched - he figured it was a confidence problem as the only times she had been driven were in an arena. He only hitched her to Spike, his stallion, for about a week and then she was fine with going alone. He uses Spike, even though he's a stallion, because he is Mike's "trainer" and calmly goes where he's told whether or not his teammate wants to. He stays calm and focused on his job no matter what shenanigans his teammate pulls, or whether it's a mare or gelding.

I’m gaining a whole new world of knowledge, just putting the harness on Joon – correctly! – is a challenge. I’m learning to feel her through the reins instead of through her body language while on her and learning to guide her with just small movements instead of dragging her around with strong arm movements. Driving not only broadens your experience but that of your horse, as well.

Driving is just about as much fun as riding and I’m loving it!

Mom with Her Driving Horse

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bute or Banamine?

What is Bute? What is Banamine? When do you use them, what is the difference, how much do you give, how often? These are questions that have gone through my mind and it wasn’t until I actually needed these drugs that I learned about them. When you have a horse in pain you want to be able to alleviate that pain as quickly as possible.

Phenylbutazone (Butazolodine, or “Bute”) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is used for relief of pain from infections and musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains, strains, tendinitis, arthritis and laminitis. It is most commonly administered as an oral paste and should be given under the advice of a veterinarian. It also comes in the injectible form but must be injected only in a vein, not in a muscle as it will cause the muscle to break down.

The maximum dosage is 2 to 4 grams per 1,000 lbs of body weight per day and is best given half in the morning and half at night. Overdose or prolonged use can cause ulcers or kidney damage.

NOTE: Bute does not work for colic pain.

Banamine (Flunixin Meglumine) is also an NSAID and can also be used for inflammation and pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders, but is most commonly used for pain associated with colic as it is about 4 times stronger than Bute.

Banamine needs to be administered by a veterinarian and can be injected either into a vein or in a muscle, but reaction time is far quicker by way of a vein.

None of us ever want to have to use these drugs, but it’s nice to know that there’s something out there to provide relief for our horses.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dogs on Trail Rides

Dog Silhouettes on a Hill When my friends and I go for horseback rides on the trail my dog, a Golden Retriever, loves to come along with us. She has fun running through the woods and it’s also great exercise for her. As soon as I start hooking up the horse trailer and loading up tack, she knows what’s coming and won’t leave the area of the truck door. Heaven forbid I should forget to take her along!

I started adding Tesa to our horseback rides when she was about a year old. She was mature enough to handle being on the run for a number of hours and after some obedience classes I knew she'd stay with us and come when called. I always carry water for her in case there isn't water available along the trail, and I also take along a pocketful of her favorite treats to reward her for coming to me.

Dogs Drinking Out of a Pond on the TrailTesa has learned to take advantage of every watering hole, be it a creek or a puddle, and to rest up at breaks we take with the horses - she manages to find any shade she can!

My Golden Retriever isn’t the only dog that goes along on our trail rides, there are times when we have quite a few dogs join us on our rides. One of my daughters has an Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler); my other daughter brings her European German Shepherd; my friend's Australian Shepherd often comes and another friend’s mini Aussie has started joining us too.

We don’t always have all the dogs on the rides with us at the same time but we have had up to 3 at a time. All our dogs seem to get along well together and they seem to like to take up different spots in the line of horses. My Golden loves the front, the German shepherd roves the line, the Aussies stay right with their owners, and the Blue Heeler pulls up the rear.

Blue Heeler on a Tree Stump on the TrailEvery now and again during the ride Hogan, the Blue Heeler, trots up to the front of the line, stops and seems to count all the horses as they go by and then drops contentedly in line behind the horses again. He must be making sure his “herd” is all accounted for! (Also, sometimes he does weird things, as Heelers are prone to do...it's definitely entertaining.)

As much as we enjoy having our dogs with us, we’re always cognizant of the fact that maybe not everyone would like having them along, as not all horses are used to dogs. Therefore if we have someone joining us on our rides that hasn’t gone along with us before, we always make sure to ask if they mind if we let the dogs tag along.

German Shepherd Taking Advantage of My Horse's ShadeIn addition to exercising and stimulating the dogs - as well as letting them have a lot of fun - it is wonderful training for the horses. It’s amazing how quickly they get used to having a dog brushing by them, feeling the dogs right at their heels, or suddenly popping out of the woods.

Another benefit of having dogs on the trail is they're much more likely to flush "game" - such as deer, grouse, or other woodland creatures which create noises when startled - since they're sometimes out front of the horses. This means the "scary" animal bursts out of the woods or flies away farther away from the horses, instead of next to them.

German Shepherd on a Horseback Trail RideAll in all, our horses are far less spooky at sounds and movements in the woods due to having the dogs running in and out near them. And the less spooky my horse is, the more I enjoy the ride!

PS: Please note that dogs on the trail can and WILL find any and all stickers and burs; muddy puddles, and everything else to roll in! We recommend Cowboy Magic to easily remove stickers, burs, tangles...works on dogs as well as horse manes & tails.

Also, before starting to bring your dog/s on trail rides, it's important to have some type of tick repellent in place. Whether you prefer a tick and flea collar or Frontline, there are many types of tick diseases besides Lyme's, so make sure your dog is protected!