Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Portable Mounting Blocks

After an October of cold and rain, we had a great November – after deer hunting season was over – and the horseback riding was wonderful. My friends and I managed to get out riding many times each week. Generally speaking, by the end of Minnesota's hunting season (which is 10 days covering the first 2 weekends in November), trail riding season is over since it's too cold and lots of times icy and snowy, but not this year.

I spent a lot of time riding Ole, my daughter’s 16-hand Quarter horse, and in doing so I realized how much more athletic my daughter is than I am! Admittedly she is taller, but there’s no way I can get up onto him as easily as she does...to ride him, using a mounting block is a must for me.

There are quite a few mounting aids available, one of which was given to me for Christmas last year. What I received is a portable mounting block – a small, folding stool with a cord attached. The idea is to unfold the stool, use it as a small boost to reach the stirrup, and then pull the stool up after you are in the saddle. It folds up into a nice bundle that can be either tied to the saddle or put into a saddle bag. This portable mounting stool is great for trail riding, when you might have to get down off your horse on the trail.

Two other mounting aids I’ve seen which you can bring along on the trail are drop-down mounting stirrups. One is attached to the regular stirrup and one is on a long strap attached to the saddle horn that you would then pull up after mounting so it's not hanging as you ride. I think I would be more inclined to use the EZ Up Stirrup Extender since it seems to be more stable. I could see the mounting aid swinging a little as you tried to get on, especially if your horse has trouble standing still when you are mounting.

I also had bought – actually for my granddaughter to use in the bathroom to reach the sink – a lightweight, folding stepstool that could conceivably be used for mounting a horse. If a cord were attached to it, it could be pulled up, folded and then either tied to the saddle, or if one had large pocketed saddle bags, it could be stored in there.

To tell the truth, my favorite way of getting back on my horse while on the trail is to find a large rock, log, or slope of land before getting off to use as my “mounting block.” Sometimes that isn’t always the case as I found while riding in Italy a year ago last September – then it was a good hard push on the rear from a fellow rider!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cavessons / Nosebands

I was going through my tack locker at the barn trying to find something and figured it was time to reorganize. What a mess in there! Somewhere, somehow, I have misplaced a piece to my English bridle, the cavesson. I know I should assemble my bridle so that the cavesson is always attached, but it seems like my favorite one is always getting shunted from one bridle to another. It must be time to hit up the tack catalog and see if I can find another cavesson similar to the one I like so that I can keep everything together.

I guess I had never realized how many different kinds of cavessons – or nosebands, as they are also called – there are. All I wanted was a plain one, but was surprised to see besides the plain, or French cavesson, that there are others called drop, flash, crank, figure-8, and Hanoverian cavessons, to name just a few.

Why use a cavesson?
Other than a parade bridle on a western horse, which is just for looks, cavessons are mainly used with English bridles. The primary purpose is to keep the horse’s mouth closed so that he cannot evade the bit and/or put his tongue over the bit, and the plain and flash cavessons can also be used for the attachment of a standing martingale. Fitting any type of cavesson to a horse – just like fitting a bridle – is important. One should not pull the noseband so tight the horse cannot open his mouth slightly, therefore being able to relax his jaw. When you have finished bridling up, you should be able to put a finger underneath the strap of the cavesson.

What are the different types of cavessons?

Plain Cavesson Image from: http://www.bayteam.co.uk/products.php?cat=48Plain, or French: this cavesson is the one most commonly used for most of the English divisions. It sits about halfway between the prominent cheekbone and the horse’s lips.

Drop Noseband Image from: http://www.lionhorse.com/product_info.php?info=p182_Bridle--Aktion--Drop-Noseband.html
: This one fits on the nasal bone and runs below the bit and around the chin groove. Care must be taken to be sure that the band is not below the nasal bone. If it is lower, on the soft tissue of the nose, it can restrict breathing. Besides keeping the mouth closed, this cavesson also holds the bit up in the horse’s mouth.

Flash Cavesson Image from: http://www.ridgemountsaddlery.com/Ridgemount_Bridlework.aspFlash: A flash cavesson combines the plain and the drop, being connected in the middle of the plain as it crosses over the nose. It has the flexibility of keeping the bit up in the mouth plus being able to attach the standing martingale.

Figure 8 Noseband Image from: http://www.smartpakequine.com/ProductClass.aspx?productclassid=7263Figure-8: This one is attached at the cheekpiece of the bridle, making a figure-8 from one cheekpiece, across the nose, under the chin groove, then back up across the nose to the opposite cheekpiece. This noseband is, in effect, very similar to the flash cavesson.

Crank Noseband Image from: http://www.croftequestrian.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_8_24_86&products_id=1622Crank: The crank cavesson is a plain noseband but with the ability to be pulled very tight versus just a plain buckle. It is very commonly used with a double bridle in upper levels of dressage as drop and flash cavessons cannot be used with this type of bridle.

Hanoverian Noseband Image from: http://www.okcorral.co.nz/englishbridles.htmHanoverian: This is the combination of a crank and a flash noseband and is found on a lot of dressage bridles.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Horse Eye Inflammation

Inflammation in Horse's Eye Resembles Cherry EyeHorse's Eye Inflammation Resembles Cherry Eye
In checking the horses over at the pasture I noticed that our Quarter horse mare, Lacey, had an inflamed eye with a small lump in the corner. I waited a day to see if it would clear on its own and when it didn’t I gave my veterinarian a call. Wouldn’t you know, it was Friday of Labor Day Weekend and he was already on his way out of town.

I described what I was seeing and he asked if I had any eye ointment on hand – I did, but it was old. He told me to go ahead and use it as long as it did not have any cortisone in it and to give him a call after the weekend if it hadn’t gotten any better. I told him that it looked similar to “cherry eye” in a dog, but Dr. Harms explained that horses don’t get “cherry eye," which is an inflammation of a gland in the corner of a dog’s eye and horses don’t have that gland. I then asked him why I wasn’t to use an ointment with cortisone in it. He explained that if there is a scratch, abrasion or ulcer on the cornea, corticosteroids (cortisone) can exacerbate the problem by preventing the defect from healing, but it is helpful in reducing inflammation and preventing scarring.

Pulling Back Horse's Eyelid to Administer Ointment By Tuesday after Labor Day I was still concerned and so I had the vet come out to take a look. His diagnosis was that it was most likely one of three things:
  • conjunctivitis, which is essentially inflammation of the whites of the eye;
  • a foreign body, which would most likely be a small piece of debris in the corner of the eye causing irritation; or
  • squamous cell carcinoma, which is a tumor of a cell type that is found at the margins of the eye.
I was to put a triple antibiotic ointment with hydro cortisone in the corner of Lacey’s eye 3 to 4 times daily for 7-10 days and he wanted to recheck if the eye wasn’t any better in 5 days.

Treating Inflamed Horse Eye with Ointment On the 5th day I called Dr. Harms again and told him that although it wasn’t any worse, it wasn’t any better either, so he changed to a different ointment with cyclosporine, which is to be put in the inflamed eye once every 12 hours.

I am very concerned as the lump in the corner of Lacey’s eye has grown and it is still red and sore looking. When I talked to Dr. Harms this morning he said to give the new ointment one more day and then tomorrow I am to take Lacey to his clinic. He plans to sedate her and then check the tear duct for a foreign body and will also take a sample to send to the lab to see if it is a squamous cell carcinoma. How I’m hoping it is a bug or a small seed that got in there, instead of a tumor!

* Addendum: while not an uplifting end to this story, read the follow-up here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hunt Caps

I was watching an old movie not too long ago in which a couple of actors were riding horses in traditional hunt attire. They were wearing hunt caps, which today are just items of apparel for English riding classes that are not over fences, and had the ribbons on the back of the cap down.

Have you ever noticed those ribbons on the back of the velvet hunt caps? Have you ever wondered why they are there, and the correct way to wear them? The ribbons are the tails of the bow and have a special meaning for those who “follow the hounds” in a fox hunt.

The most common color for the bow is black, used for fox hunting, but there is also a red ribbon which is used for stag hunting. In some countries, their cavalry riders have silver ribbons and their national riders have gold ribbons. It is general usage to have the ribbons sewn up – the tails pointing up – as that is the traditional usage for most riders, any rider is entitled to wearing the cap in this way. Having the ribbons down is reserved for the Hunt Master and hunt staff. Ribbons are also down for cavalry officers and riders representing their countries at the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games.

Not many general riders wear the hunt caps any longer as they are not an ASTM/SEI certified helmet for safety purposes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sulky Harness Racing

Many people wonder what harness racing is and how it differs from 'traditional' racing at tracks such as Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. At Canterbury, the horse racing consists of jockeys riding Thoroughbreds at a gallop, which is the fastest speed of horses and is a four-beat gait.

Pacing Standardbred & SulkyAt Running Aces (near Forest Lake, MN) and other harness tracks light, 2-wheeled carts called sulkies sit directly behind the horse. 'Harness racing' is the most popular term for this type of racing, but because of the unique use of the sulky, it's also known as sulky racing or sulky harness racing. Since the horse handlers sit in the sulkies instead of astride the horses, they're called drivers instead of jockeys. Another common name for them is "tail-sitters," since they used to sit on the horses' tails in order to keep from getting hit in the face with the hair.

Trotting vs. Pacing
Trotting Standardbred with Sulky at Harness TrackIn sulky racing, Standardbreds are raced at either a trot or a pace. Both trotting and pacing are two-beat gaits, but differ from each other by which legs work in unison on the horse. At a trot, a horse's diagonal legs move forward and backward together (i.e., left front and right hind/right front and left hind move in tandem). When pacing, both legs on the same side of the horse move forward and back together.

Breeds that Pace
Pacing RacePacing isn't a normal gait for most breeds of horses, and in fact only a handful have a propensity to perform the gait naturally: the Standardbred, Peruvian Paso and Icelandic horse. While the pacing gaits of the Peruvian Paso and the Icelandic horses can be quite comfortable for a rider, in order to move at racing speeds, the Standardbred's pace is much too uncomfortable and awkward for jockeys, hence the need to race them from a cart.

More Differences Between Harness Racing & Traditional Horse Racing
Pacing Standardbreds Cross the Finish LineAs opposed to using a starting gate to begin each race as in traditional horse racing, in harness racing the main form of the start is a vehicle with a folding gate attached to the rear end, called a motorized starting gate. The vehicle drives in front of the horses and upon hitting the actual starting point, speeds up while folding the gate and moving to the side of the track to allow the sulky racers room to race.

The term 'harness racing' most likely comes not from the use of the sulky but from the trappings the pacers wear. These 'hobbles' aren't harnesses to make the horses perform the pacing gait; rather they're to ensure the horses don't break into a gallop and they also maximize the effectiveness of the pacing gait during a race.

Wikipedia has more information on harness racing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Schubert Percheron Farm

Two-Horse Percheron HitchMike Schubert of Schubert Percheron Farms grew up with driving horses. His parents, Dave & Bev, raised Percherons. He was fortunate enough as a kid to have a team of ponies and a pair of mules that drove so at the age of 9 or 10 he was already experimenting with hooking multiples - the "unicorn" and four-horse hitch; he'd also borrow a couple to hook the six-horse hitch every chance he could get.

Frosty Breath from Percheron Hitch PairAs soon as he was big enough to throw the harness onto the Percherons he started driving them: hauling manure, raking hay and you would find them most weekends in the winter months at Craguns Resort giving hay rides with a team or two.

Four-Horse Percheron Show HitchAfter Mike graduated from High School he went to work for Bill Dean of Waverly Iowa, who had a hitch of Percheron geldings and owned and operated the Waverly Sales Barn, the biggest of draft horse sales! He was with them for six months until a job closer to home came up at the Ames Percheron Farm in Jordan, Minnesota. The Ames Percherons traveled many places to show, including Canada and throughout the United States. Mike was able to meet many "draft horse folks" in his three years with Ames and also learned a great deal about how a true Percheron show horse is supposed to perform.

Two-Horse Percheron Show HitchThe things he learned while out in the driving show circuit have come home with him and help him to make a living training young horses to drive and perform well. He came home to Brainerd in February 1997, and in addition to helping my father, Jerry Foust, farm he spends the rest of his time training young horses of all breeds to drive. His "training season" is from November to March and then he takes the 3- & 4-year-old Ames Percherons to train. He then takes them to 4-5 shows throughout July & August so they have some experience driving in the show ring before they head to the big shows in the Ames Percheron hitch.

Three-Horse Percheron HitchMike loves to take on the challenge of the young draft horses to see them progress almost daily in their training, and then it's a huge honor to see them do so well in the Ames Percheron hitch, a known favorite in many of the shows they attend. It is a lot of hard work and dedication that he would not trade for anything, and thank goodness the whole family

loves it as much as he does since it has become a family affair!

Ladies' Single Hitch Show ClassNow that our kids, Jeron & Brooke, are getting older and are taking a liking to the lines in their hands, they spend hours driving their pony "Little Joe" around our 200-acre farm 18 miles South of Brainerd. They've recently asked Dad to drive the Percherons while riding along on the wagon during practice time here at home. I do a small amount of driving myself also, not nearly as much as I used to since our children came along, but I still have a goal of driving the amateur four-horse hitch at the Scott County Fair one of these years!

Six-Horse Percheron Show HitchWhen Mike is not at home training horses, he has spent time in Spokane, Washington with Terry & Bev Reese who have a hitch of Belgian geldings. He has helped them in putting a six-horse hitch together with the geldings they have purchased in the past year. He would match teams that went well together and that would work well together also. They were new into the showing part of draft horses and had asked Mike to help them get started - another reward is to see success from what you've taught someone else to do! The Reese Family sent their geldings and Cosme, their hired help, to our home this past winter for 30 days of training for both the horses and for Cosme. The best part is they just sent a video showing what an AWESOME job they are doing to get ready for their show season coming up in September, which Mike will attend with them also.

Rolling Acres Spike, Breeding Stallion at Schubert FarmsBesides showing Percherons we also breed and raise them to show or to sell. Our herd sire is Rolling Acres Spike, whom we purchased as a reserve world champion at the World Percheron Congress as a 2-year-old. Besides being a sire to many nice foals he is Mike's "right hand man" when it comes to training all the young draft horses to drive. We call him the "breaking horse" because he will literally anchor any horse that would like to run off with his massive 18 hands and 1 ton of pure muscle!

Percheron FoalWe also have 5 registered Percheron mares from which we raise the babies in order to keep our tradition going.

Percheron Stallion with Little Girl

We are so thankful to all of our clients who have trusted Mike to do an exceptional job at teaching their horses to take to the lines and perform to their ability, and we hope to continue to make this a "family affair" for many, many years. We all seem to enjoy it and it is a wonderful way to travel the country and meet new friends in the horse community.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dappling Pattern on Non-Grey Horses

I might not have gotten a true dapple grey horse in our herd, but last night when I went out to feed I noticed in the light of the evening sun that my bay gelding has a dapple pattern on his coat. Since I had always thought that dapples were part of the grey gene, I was surprised to see them on Will. I started researching “dappling” this morning and all I could find was that this is most likely called a dappling “bloom” which is found on healthy, maybe slightly overweight horses and will disappear if the horse loses condition.

I guess my feeding program is working, since Will is in good coat and is in good body condition: he's obviously not underweight!

Dapple Grey Horses

Dapple Grey HorseWe have owned many grey horses – mostly Arabians and part-Arabians – over the years and although I love the look of a dark, dappled grey none of ours attained that. Our Welsh/Shetland pony cross was beautifully dappled for a couple of years, but we purchased him at the height of his dappling and he soon greyed out entirely.

Gray horses are born any number of colors – bay, black, chestnut – and 'grey out' over time. Dapples on a grey are part of the greying stage where there is a pattern of light spots surrounded by darker rings. While some horses may hold this color for years, others pass through it very quickly...like most of ours did.

A Horse at the end of Dapple Grey StageWith many greys there tends to be a period of semi-dappled, semi-grey where the horse appears dappled – mainly on the points and rump – but it's a very faint dapple pattern. The next common 'phase' of greying is the absence of the dapple pattern. The horse can either appear pure white or a cloudy grey.

Slightly Flea Bitten Grey MareThe last phase of greying out is the flea-bitten grey. These small brown spots tend to creep into the horse's coat at varying degrees. Some grey horses may only ever have a slight smattering of 'flea bites,' while with other horses they can become extremely thick, appearing over the entire body of the horse.
Flea Bitten Grey Detail

It's also not uncommon to see a non-grey horse with a dapple pattern on its coat. This is an entirely different form of dappling and is caused by feeding and the health condition of the horse; not genetics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

English Saddles

Someone new to the 4-H program once asked me about buying an English saddle for her daughter to show in, and when I asked her what kind she was thinking about, she looked at me strangely and said “how many kinds are there?” Just off-hand I could think of 3 types – hunt seat, saddle seat and dressage – but then when I really started thinking about it, there are also 2 different kinds of hunt seat saddles. It can be confusing and hard to know where to start when deciding on an English saddle purchase.

Hunt Seat Saddle Types
Close Contact Hunt Seat Saddle Hunt seat saddles are either a close contact type or an all-purpose/eventing type. The close contact saddle has a somewhat flat seat and short, forward-placed flaps with knee rolls to hold the leg in position. This saddle is mainly used for jumping.

All-Purpose Hunt Seat Saddle The all-purpose English saddle has a deeper seat with slightly longer flaps – also with knee rolls – which are not placed quite as far forward as the close contact. This saddle can be used for flat work and jumping.

Dressage Saddles

Dressage Saddle A dressage saddle has a deep seat and longer, straighter flaps as the rider rides with longer stirrups. This saddle puts the rider a little farther back than a hunt saddle, so the rider doesn't have the typical forward seat of a hunt rider. Since this discipline of riding never goes over fences, the saddle doesn't need support for the rider like a hunt saddle.

Saddle Seat Saddles

Saddle Seat Saddle The saddle seat saddle has a very flat seat, a cut-back pommel and wide, long flaps. The rider rides back on the horse to facilitate a freer movement of the shoulders and encourage a high-stepping movement. Much like the dressage discipline, saddle seat saddles don't need much support for the rider.

Before any English saddle purchase, the rider needs to know which type of riding they'd like to participate in, since that will determine (mostly) the type of saddle used. After this is determined, it's time to get the correct saddle and English bridle for that specific discipline.

My advice to the 4-H mom was to invest in an all-purpose saddle since it is better suited for hunt seat beginners due to the better security of a deeper seat. I also advised her, as I tell anyone who asks, to spend the money to buy a good saddle which will last, put the rider in the correct position and is comfortable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

I have been looking at the numbers on the stickers on various horse trailers to try and figure out how much they weigh. I know how much my truck is rated to safely pull, but how do I figure out how much the trailer weighs? There are all sorts of initials on the stickers – GVWR/PNBV and GAWR/PNBE. The first thing I had to do was to figure out what those initials mean! GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating; GAWR is the Gross Axle Weight Rating, and PNBV and PNBE are the French equivalents of those (respectively).

So what does all that mean and how do I figure out how much trailer I can pull with my Ford pickup? Does that GVWR number mean that I then add the weight of the horses, plus all the tack, hay, etc. that I'm hauling? I called a few people - dealerships of both trailers and vehicles - to try and figure this out and ended up with long discussions and learning quite a bit.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating vs. Gross Vehicle Weight
The GVWR – the rating of the trailer – is different from the GVW, Gross Vehicle Weight, which is the actual weight of the trailer. The rating will never change, but the weight can change depending on how much it is loaded. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum loaded weight – for a trailer this includes the weight of the trailer plus mats, spare tire, horses, hay, feed, supplies, etc.

I then looked at the owner’s guide for my truck, a ¾-ton heavy-duty diesel, to see what it is rated to pull. At first I thought the number I found – 23,000 lbs. – was great, until I noticed it said that was the GCWR. This means the Gross Combined Weight Rating, which is the total weight of the truck AND trailer. The GVWR for that particular truck (found inside the driver’s side door) is 10,000 lbs., which means I could safely pull a trailer rated at 13,000 lbs.

But if I’m pulling a horse trailer, I wouldn’t be loading the truck to its maximum, so I needed to figure out how much my truck actually weighs, and that isn’t to be found anywhere in the specifications! I called the dealership where I bought my truck and asked if they could get that information for me. Because I bought the truck from them brand new, they found the shipping weight of my truck from when it was delivered to them – 7,020 lbs.

From all this information, I figure that I would be able to pull a gooseneck trailer with living quarters up to 14,000 lbs. Surely I am going to be able to find that!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Horse Trailers

While sitting around the campfire recently on a week-long trip to Medora, North Dakota, there was a discussion about trailers: straight load vs. slant load, aluminum vs. steel, gooseneck vs. bumper pull; lengths, widths, heights and living quarters. The variations are endless and everyone has their favorites.

It seems that more and more horse trailers on the road these days are aluminum, since they’re lightweight and easy to pull. I remember, though, telling someone about the trailer I had just gotten and when I mentioned it was aluminum she said she would never have anything but a steel trailer. When I asked why, she said that she didn’t want to take a chance of a horse kicking the side and putting a foot through the aluminum.

Slant-Load Trailers
I think horses prefer riding at a slant, it’s easier for them to balance side-to-side as opposed to front-to-back, although I have seen horses loose in a stock trailer turning so that they are facing backwards. If you think about it, most of a horse’s weight is carried on their front end so it makes sense that it would be easier to balance while facing backwards. I like the convenience of loading horses into a slant-load versus a straight-load, it also seems safer if you’re leading a horse into the trailer as there’s more room to get out once the horse is in. My old mare seems to panic when backing out of a trailer and the further she has to back, the faster she goes until she’s running backwards, practically out of control. But in the slant-load, I can turn her around and then she’s perfectly calm walking out.

Bumper Pull vs. Gooseneck Trailers
My trailer is a bumper pull since we have a motor home we use when camping, but everyone I know who has a gooseneck trailer says that they are far easier and more stable to haul. Our decision was made because we don’t always camp with horses and we didn’t want to take the trailer along whenever we wanted to just go for a weekend without horses. I have to admit, though, that with the cost of gas, taking a truck and trailer for long distances is far more economical than the motorhome.

Trailers with Living Quarters
I have always thought that I didn’t want to give up all the comforts and space of our motor home, but gooseneck trailers with living quarters are getting more and more luxurious all the time. I was looking at new trailers at the Horse Expo in St. Paul last spring and was amazed at some of the trailers. One I looked at, admittedly on the high end of pricing, had a slide-out for a living room, 2 TV’s, complete kitchen, a huge bathroom, and even a gas fireplace!

4-Horse Trailers
Another consideration when looking at trailers is how many horses it will accommodate. I’ve always had a 4-horse trailer, but I seldom haul 4 horses any more now that both of my daughters are grown and off on their own. Even so, I still like having those 4 stalls for the extra room it gives me to haul “stuff.” The front stall has a stud gate – the partition going almost to the floor – so that I can put camping gear or firewood or hay in that spot. I had another stud gate installed for the last stall also so that if I am taking 3 horses I can fill the last spot with hay bales. It’s a little inconvenient to have to load the hay after the horses and then take it out before unloading, but I prefer doing that to attempting to make it fit into the tack compartment.

Whenever anyone asks me about trailers (when they are looking to buy one) I always advise them to buy a trailer with one more stall than they think they’ll need, just for the extra room. I have friends which only have 2 horses, but they purchased a 3-horse trailer.

Make Sure Your Vehicle is Rated to Tow the Trailer!
Whatever trailer you decide to buy, make sure that your vehicle is rated to pull it. There is nothing more frightening than driving down the road and having the trailer swing your vehicle – I know because it happened to me! I was talking to a truck dealer one time and he told me a story about someone who bought a large boat and when he came to pick it up he had only a car to pull it home.

The dealer tried to tell him it wasn’t safe, but the man insisted and so off he went. Yes, the car could pull the boat and trailer, but when he went around a curve, the boat pulled the car straight ahead into the ditch. Even if you're not going to be driving around curves, figure that your vehicle needs ample stopping time - for its weight plus the weight of your trailer - if what you're pulling weighs more than your car, the car won't be able to stop the inertia of the trailer. It’s not so much whether your vehicle can PULL the trailer, but can it CONTROL it!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hauling Hay

It’s July – sunny, hot, and breezy, a perfect day for lazing around on the lake. But it’s also perfect haying weather so that’s what I’ve done all day, back and forth to the farm where I buy my hay, pulling a triple axle trailer loaded with round hay bales.

The folks at the farm give me a call when they’ve knocked the hay down so I can plan my days to be ready when they are. By going to get the hay as it is being baled, they don’t have to double handle it and I can just drive my truck down the rows of bales as they load it right onto my trailer. Then it’s 20 miles home, trying not to hold up too much traffic on my way, unload and stack, and back to get another load.

I do have to admit that hauling and unloading round bales is a lot easier than unloading and stacking multiple loads of square bales, and it's so much easier feeding round bales to the horses in the winter! But it’s still hot work.

Oh well, at least my dog got to spend her time cooling off in the lake!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deer & Wood Ticks

Female Wood Tick (Also Known as 'Dog Tick')Nasty little buggers! Here in the “north woods” it seems like ticks are a constant irritant and worry during the summer months. They crawl on us and the dogs and infest the horses, with the deer ticks carrying a couple of diseases for all. We’ll be out camping with the horses for the weekend and all it will take is for one person to say “I found a tick on me” and the rest of us immediately start itching and having the feeling of one crawling around on us. As soon as we find one, it is studied to see if it’s a deer tick (also known as a black-legged tick) or a common wood tick (also called a dog tick). If it’s a wood tick, the comment is “it’s a good one!” As if any of them are good in my eyes! Male Wood Tick (Also 'Dog Tick')

Tick-borne Illnesses
The two diseases that concern us the most in our area are Lyme Disease (also colloquially known as Lyme’s Disease) and Ehrlichiosis, which is now called Anaplasmosis, both of which are transmitted by the deer tick. All stages of the deer tick have the ability to transmit disease, but ticks don't inherently carry the bacteria which causes Lyme's. In fact, they have to attach to and feed from infected vermin (most often mice) to themselves become infected with the bacteria.

Deer Tick It takes at least 24 hours of being attached for an infected deer tick to transmit the bacteria, but unfortunately the nymph stage of the deer tick is so tiny that many times you don’t even realize, or see, that you have a tick on you. Only the females feed – and therefore transmit diseases; male ticks may also attach, but they don’t feed. Contrary to some beliefs, ticks do not drop from trees and they cannot jump. They climb on grasses and shrubs and quickly transfer onto whatever passes by and rubs on the stalks to which the ticks are clinging.

What are Lyme Disease Symptoms?
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease with the following symptoms: rash, headaches, fever, and muscle or joint pain that seems to move from joint to joint. Many times, but not always, there is a “bull’s eye” rash that develops on the skin around where the tick was attached. A course of oral antibiotics, taken in the early stage, can take care of it. More aggressive IV antibiotics are generally used in the chronic stage of the disease. Lyme’s Disease is found on all the continents, but interestingly Montana is the only state with no federally reported cases. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t present, just that it hasn’t been reported.

Anaplasmosis, also called Ehrlichiosis, is another bacterial disease, typically developing 5-10 days after having been bitten by the deer tick. The symptoms are flu-like - fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. This disease also is treated with antibiotics.

How Do I Avoid Tick Bites?
There are precautions that we can take to keep ticks off of ourselves, such as wearing light colored clothing to easily see them. Also, tuck pants legs into boots or socks, and if you really want to get serious, tape along the entire length where the pant leg tucks into the sock or boot, to further ensure the ticks can't crawl inside. Also, apply a bug spray to deter them from climbing on you. It’s a little harder to keep them off our horses, but there are measures to be taken for that, too.

The other day I was at the pasture checking the horses and spraying them with bug spray when I noticed that one of the horses had at least 50-75 ticks on his sheath and between his back legs! There was no way I could pick off and kill all of them so I soaked him down in that area with Farnam’s Wipe which contains permethrin. Permethrin will kill ticks on contact, and that’s exactly what it did – within seconds I could see them die. They didn’t fall off immediately, but it didn’t take long for that to happen too.

We do the best we can to keep the ticks off our horses by spraying their legs with a fly spray containing permethrin or cypermethrin, and in the spring we’ll clip the horses’ legs to their knees in order to see the ticks more easily for removal. We do the best we can but every now and again we’ll still have a horse that will come down with either Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis.

Deer Tick Life Cycle
*To learn more about deer ticks, Lyme disease and other tick-related illnesses, please check out these sites where we got some of the above info:

Merck Vet Manual; MN Dept. of Health; LDF - Lyme Disease Foundation; NCID - National Center for Infectious Diseases; Horse.com and Illinois Department of Public Health.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Update on Verndale Barn Fire

Last week I drove through Verndale, Minnesota on my way out to Medora, North Dakota, for a week of horseback riding and I noticed there is a new barn and office complex almost completed on the spot where there was a tragic barn fire last December.

My neighbor is a Fire Marshall and was involved in trying to discover the cause of that fire where 40 horses ultimately lost their lives. It was a long and involved investigation, taking quite a few months, and unfortunately without a clear cut answer as to the cause. He said that the biggest concern with the Fire Marshall’s office was whether or not arson was involved; it was not.

I had heard many rumors about the cause, among which were that it was started through the careless use of heaters in the stalls or that a faulty extension cord was used. Neither of those rumors proved to be true. The source of the fire was at a heater in the well housing located outside of the barn, but near to it. With the extremely high winds that morning, it didn’t take long at all before the whole barn was engulfed in flames.

It was a tragic accident, but an accident nevertheless. It just emphasizes the importance of having a fire-proof barn and to be constantly vigilant in checking your safety precautions. Of course, no horse barn - or technically, any other structure for that matter - will ever be 100% fire-proof, but there are fire safety checklist items which can help create a safer environment for horses and people in the event there is a fire.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Horse Health Problems: Bones

In my years as a horse owner, I've come across many afflictions and problems horses can suffer from which can affect their ride-ability and ultimately their health. Here I'll discuss a few of the bone-related injuries and ailments common in horses:

Bone spavin: Bone spavin is bone enlargement (growth) in a horse's hock caused by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis occurring after cartilage wears away. Reasons for horses to suffer bone spavin could be conformation, or a lifestyle with excessive:
  • pounding or stress (such as in Standardbreds or jumpers);
  • flexion (dressage horses);
  • stops, starts, and turns (reining horses);
as well as incorrect shoeing or trimming practices.

Osselets: Often a precursor to bone spavin, osselets is defined as inflammation of the periosteum (bone lining) in the fetlock joint. Eventually osselets leads to arthritis. Much like bone spavin, horses which often suffer from this suffer from excessive concussion to the frontlegs. Short, upright pasterns may predispose a horse to this because this type of conformation promotes more pounding in the front legs. Early stages of osselets is called “green osselets” – hot, soft swelling. If inflammation damages the cartilage of the joint, it will become chronic and permanent.

Bog Spavin: Similar to bone spavin, bog spavin is a chronic, soft swelling in the hock resulting from excessive fluid in the joint capsule, but in this case the horse may not be lame. This can be caused by an injury or a strain to the tendons. Once the injury heals, a soft swelling stays which is painless. If the strain persists, usually due to poor conformation, it may develop into arthritis.

Fistulous withers: Fistulous withers is the inflammation of the supraspinous bursa, the major fluid-filled sac which protects vertebrae in the withers region of horses. Learn more about fistulous withers at The Merck Veterinarian Manual.

Splints: 'Splints' is a condition of inflammation from injury to either the periostium (lining of the bone) of the splint bone in a horse's front leg, or to the ligament binding the splint bone to the cannon bone. Often in conjunction with the inflammation will be a bone 'lump' from the calcium attempting to rebuild. Trauma, overworking or concussion can cause splints. Trauma can be a kick from another horse, or a blow of some sort to the leg; overworking a young horse puts undo strain on the ligaments, and concussion - such as jumping - can also cause this injury.

Ringbone: Ringbone is the common term for a bony growth in a horse's coffin joint or pastern. It's actually osteoarthritis, which is degenerative arthritis in the joints. Sometimes the bony growth occurs around the entire bone, which is where the term 'ringbone' comes from. Causes of ringbone can be excess tension on the ligaments, trauma, conformation or poor trimming and shoeing practices.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fungal & Hair Follicle Infections

Fungal Infection Sores on HorseOn Tuesday when I went over to check the horses at the pasture I saw that Joy, my 24-year-old National Show Horse, had a couple of spots on her head that were open and oozing, with a couple of other spots that looked a little scabby. I figured she had gotten some ticks on her and had rubbed her head on a tree because they were itchy, making it worse. So I went back home and got paper towels and ointment, cleaned her up and put Fura-Zone on the sores.

Hair Follicle Infections on a Horse Can Appear to be Ringworm But yesterday when I really looked at my Arabian gelding, Will, I noticed that he had a spot on his chest, about the size of a quarter, without any hair. It wasn't sore-looking, or red, but it looked almost like he had dandruff around it and when I checked him over I found a couple more, smaller, spots that were the same.

I immediately thought of ringworm on both horses. So first I looked it up online and I couldn't find any sites with pictures which looked like what my horses have so I called my veterinarian, Greg Harms. He had me take pictures and e-mail them to him so he could take a look. He said he highly doubted it was ringworm as our horses are healthy and it would have to have come from something else - it isn't just "in the air."

Fungal Infection
The consensus is that Joy has a fungal infection - much like rain rot - most likely caused by the fact she's continually on pasture grass which is long, and in the mornings the dew on the grass causes her face to remain damp. Also, since she's now 'retired,' she doesn't receive regular brushing anymore. That will change, as I must monitor her sores and continue treating them. Plus, having a well-groomed horse will help to release any dirt or moisture caught underneath the hair.

Hair Follicle Infection
Will's affliction looks like an infection in the hair follicles, akin to girth itch because it likely started after he continually rubbed up against his hay bag in the trailer not too long ago. Once hairless skin is exposed to the environment, it's much more susceptible to infection, especially with a rubbing situation, since even the tiniest of abrasions will let in bacteria, fungus, etc.

For this morning, treatment consisted of giving both of them a bath with an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial shampoo - Hexadene shampoo - and putting them back in the pasture. Every day, I'll have to keep monitoring them and treating the spots to ensure they don't get worse.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Braiding Horse Manes

Last weekend was horse show time for my daughter and a couple of her friends. They were entered in both English and Western classes, with the English classes first. When I arrived the girls were busily braiding their horses’ manes and tails. I have spent many hours in the past helping my daughters get ready for shows by braiding their horses' manes and tails. Braiding makes the horse look trim and sleek and also hails back to old traditions.

Running Braids
French-Braided Horse Mane (also 'Running Braid') Although there are several ways to braid a mane, we've always done a simplified braid, since both girls always showed in both English and Western classes on the same day and it was much easier to take out running braids (French-braiding down the mane) for the Western classes.

Hunter Braids Hunter Braids
Horses that are being shown on the eventing circuit, national and international hunters, and show jumpers braid their horses' manes differently, making small braids which are then tied up short along the crest of the neck, called hunter braids. Braiding a horse's mane this way takes some time and patience, as each section of mane needs to be braided, then - most often - sewn with yarn to hold the braid in place once it's looped back onto itself.

The tradition of braiding a horse's mane began with hunt horses in the field to keep the mane from getting caught in either the reins or the rider’s hands. It used to be that cold-blooded horses had their manes roached (cut completely off) while thoroughbreds had their mane braided, showing that the horse was a well-bred animal. Traditionally manes were braided on the right side for hunters and either side for dressage horses, and although many no longer adhere to this rule, it is still the standard for show jumpers and eventers. Another tradition in the hunt field regarding braiding was to have an even number of braids for mares and an odd number for stallions and geldings.

Dressage Braids
Dressage 'Button' Braids Another common braid is the dressage braid, or 'button braid' for dressage horses. Similar to hunter braids, dressage braids are fatter and are tied - again, with yarn - to appear knob-like along the crest of the horse's neck. Often times they're then covered with white (either yarn or tape) for dark horses and black for light-colored horses. This gives a nice, stark contrast.

A neat row of braids - whether hunter or dressage - accentuates the top line of a horse's neck and can help a short neck look longer by putting in many small braids. Conversely, fewer, thicker braids can help make a long neck look shorter. Braiding the horse's mane makes for a very well turned-out animal and can give that final “edge” to a horse's impression in the show ring.

Banded Mane on Quarter Horse Banded Manes
For Quarter horses - whose manes are kept short for showing - it's common to see a banded mane when showing (whether in Western or hunter classes). This gives the horses a finished look and also helps to keep a 4-inch mane lying flat along the neck while the horse is moving.

Braiding the Tail

Tightly Braided Horse TailIn regards to tails, for English classes it looks best to French-braid or plait the hair. It adds to the sleekness of the horse (especially if the horse's mane is banded or braided) and also accentuates the hindquarters. For serious competitions, a tight, neat braid is best. Here again you can braid in yarn to secure the end of the braid. Otherwise, for showing in multiple disciplines during one day, we simply weave a looser braid and secure it with a rubber band so it's easier to remove for the Western classes.

Loosely Plaited Horse Tail Be sure to practice braiding or banding on your horse before you get to the show, and even if you have enough time before your first class, realize that in a strange environment your horse will probably be more lively than he is at home! Many show riders braid or band the night before or early in the morning before reaching the show grounds, to ensure a nicer finish.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Horse Pasture Safety

Horses in Adjacent Pastures Shouldn't be able to Touch NosesOur horses are now over at the pasture for the summer after spending a couple of weeks getting used to eating spring grass. When I went over to check on them the other day I was disturbed to find that our neighbor, who has a pasture next to ours, had “fixed” his fence by attaching his double strand of electric wire to the corner post of our fence. Therefore, our horses and his could stand with their heads over the fence “talking” to each other. It also doesn’t help that his electric fence is not electrified!

This is not a good situation for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know whether his horses have been vaccinated and whether they have had a Coggins test for EIA. If they are sick, mine will end up that way too.

Second, I don’t like having the two herds able to touch noses over the fence because I have a mare who is quite the flirt and loves to have the geldings come visit her – and then she squeals and strikes out at them. I have seen her do this before and get a foot caught in the fence. We could end up with not only an injured horse, but fences torn down.

It is always a good idea to have horse fields kept separate with a corridor of about 3 feet. Even though our horses all know each other well, I still made sure I had this corridor when I had our arena put up. That way I can safely put a new horse into the arena without worrying about a fight breaking out over the fence and we can also work one horse without another horse in the field being inquisitive about what’s going on. This corridor is also wide enough to get our Gator through for maintenance.

We took advantage of the fact that our neighbor’s fence isn’t electrified and installed a new corner post for his fence and moved the line away from ours. Now I don’t have to worry about the mare getting hurt or the integrity of our fence since I know the horses can't touch noses over the fence.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chaps, Half-Chaps & Chinks

We are going to a show this coming weekend and while I was gathering up the “show clothes” I got to thinking about all the different kinds of chaps there are – shotgun, batwing, angora or “woolies”, equitation, shoeing, chinks, and half-chaps or leggings. It’s confusing!

The name chaps, which is pronounced “shaps,” is derived from the Spanish las chaparreras or chaparejas. They were developed to protect a rider’s legs while riding through rough terrain and brush. Originally they were a large piece of leather that attached onto the saddle, covering the chest of the horse as well as the legs of the rider. Eventually they became less cumbersome and were just for the rider. Chaps are made most commonly out of leather and encase the rider’s legs, attaching with a belt and leaving the seat open.

Shotgun Chaps Shotgun chaps are fastened on the rider from the hips down to the ankle and got their name because they are straight as a shotgun barrel.

Equitation Riding ChapsEquitation chaps, on the other hand, resemble shotgun chaps but have a longer drop at the ankle and are used for showing. By having the drop at the ankle it increases the perception of “heels down.” Typically "show chaps" aren't made for working; rather for looks only.

Batwing Chaps Batwing chaps encircle the leg from the hip to the knee and are then open from there, with a much fuller cut than shotgun chaps. Batwings are a functional, tough chap which are still in use today in rodeos.

Shoeing Chaps, or Farrier's Apron Shoeing chaps -also called a a farrier’s apron - are short, falling just past the knee, attach with one strap on each leg, and have wear patches and hoof knife pockets.

Angora Chaps Angora chaps, also known as “woolies,” were developed for extreme cold weather for warmth and were originally covered with long Angora goat hair.

Chinks Chinks are very similar to chaps, past the knees but above the ankles. Chinks are also commonly seen at rodeos.

Half-Chaps Half-chaps, also called leggings, cover the legs from the knees to the ankles. They're typically used by English riders who wish to protect their lower legs from the stirrup leathers. They can also be used on trail rides to protect against brush.

Fringes along the edges of the chaps and chinks, and also on jackets, had a definite use back in the days when cowboys were out on the range for days on end in all kinds of weather. The fringe was a type of “dryer” for their clothes. The moisture would gravitate downwards onto the fringe and would evaporate quickly with the fringe blowing in the breezes.

Nowadays the fringe is mainly for decoration, especially on equitation chaps. However, beware: the more bouncy the gait of your horse, the more your fringe will swing and move. Some riders instead wear chaps with scallops or other blunt edges so as to give the illusion of a smooth gait in a pleasure class.