Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Barn Cats

Barn Cat & German Shepherd BuddiesEach day when I go out to check on my horses, our barn cat, Eureka, comes to greet me. She isn’t a feral cat, my daughter brought her home as a kitten 14 years ago and since then she’s been petted and handled and loved so that she is always hanging around looking for affection.

I am not a “cat person” and have no desire to have a cat in my house – mainly because I’m allergic to them – but for those of you with a horse barn at home a cat is almost a necessity. Eureka’s job is to keep the barn and tack room free of rodents and she does an exemplary job.

Rodents are attracted to the horses' grain, which we keep on the floor. Besides eating and contaminating the feed, rodents can be very destructive in other ways: destroying insulation and chewing on electric wires, not to mention chewing on - and making nests in! - your leather tack. They also carry diseases, parasites and fleas. And without a feline to keep them away, once they're moved in, rodents are extremely hard to get rid of.

Besides rodents – which to me means mice and rats – we also have quite a healthy family of rabbits living in among the round hay bales in the shed. I can always tell when Eureka has managed to catch one of the rabbits as she won’t be interested in her dry food for a number of days.

It isn’t enough, though, to just get a cat, release it out in the barn and expect it to get all of its nutrients through mousing. They should have a source of dry food, to keep them in the area and not start roaming far from home in the beginning and also to supplement their diet if game is scarce. They also need a constant source of fresh water. Eureka has learned to jump up on the automatic waterer for the horses and each day I give her a little bit of dry food. The amount I feed her depends on the weather, with the extreme cold we’ve been having this month I have been feeding her more as small animals aren’t moving around much.

Eureka also gets annual checkups at the vet, is kept current on all her shots and is de-wormed to take care of any internal parasites and fleas. I also had her spayed as soon as she was old enough – please be responsible and spay or neuter your cats and dogs!

We have taught all our dogs – mine and both that belong to my daughters – not to go into the tack shed when the door is open. Although the cat can, and does, climb trees, fence posts and hay bales to get away from the dogs, the tack shed is her haven where she knows the dogs won’t follow her. It is funny to see her sitting just inside the open door, calmly staring out and teasing the dogs, daring them to come in.

Toddler with Barn Cat Although Eureka is a working cat, with a definite job to do, she is also an affectionate friend who is happy to sit on your lap and purr with contentment. Since she is such a friendly cat, she was always hanging around while my daughters were practicing their horses for shows when they were younger. This had a benefit: our horses grew used to seeing a small, quick animal every day in a different context than in the pasture.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Horse Lessons

I have contacted a trainer here in Brainerd, MN, to see about taking some riding lessons with her this spring. I am already thinking ahead to getting back on my horse and getting her back into shape after not having been riding her with any type of schedule for the last couple of months.

My good friend, Max, is an awesome horseperson and trainer who has taught me so much, but just because I’m thinking of taking lessons from someone else doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what she has spent years teaching me. Different people have different methods of teaching how to ride and you can learn something from everyone. Two different instructors can teach you the same technique, but each one will make you look at it in a different way. The more lessons you take from more instructors will only increase your knowledge of riding.

Max has even said that she is continually learning – each time she attends a seminar she comes away with fresh ideas, and then passes them along to those riders she is helping.

Whether you are planning on heading out on the show circuit, or just want to increase your knowledge and have fun with your horse - and even though you may have a good rapport with your instructor - don’t hesitate about taking in a lesson or two from a different trainer. Attending horse seminars is another way to learn different methods. Life is a constant learning process; take in all you can.

Using a Mounting Block

Mounting a Horse Using a Mounting Block There are many reasons why you would use a mounting block to get on your horse. Other than the fact it's easier for the rider to get on, the biggest reason to use one is that it is far easier on the horse’s back.

There is no pulling, possibly twisting the saddle and possibly pulling the horse off balance. I know there have been times when I’ve hoisted myself up in the saddle when my poor horse has had to take a sideways step to compensate for the pull I’ve exerted. Also, when you are stepping into the saddle from a mounting block it is easier to settle into the saddle without dropping down onto the horse’s back with any type of force.

The only disadvantage to using a mounting block consistently is that if you are out on the trail and have to get off for any reason, you cannot rely on having a handy “step” to get back up. There are some products available to take along with you in your saddlebag - such as a mounting stirrup from Chick Saddlery or Schneiders' Easy Mount Step Stool - but unless you are riding in a completely flat field, you can usually find a rock or a stump to help you get back on any horse.

It doesn’t take long to teach a horse to stand at a mounting block, especially if your horse has been taught good ground manners. Lead your horse to the block and have him stand alongside it while you step up onto it. Once he is standing straight and accepts your movement alongside him, then you can step into the stirrup and onto your horse.

A word of caution – it is wise to use a solid mounting block that is built specifically for that use. A plastic stool with open spaces could be a recipe for disaster if your horse takes a sideways step and plants a foot into the stool (I know this from experience!). I also know of someone who used a 5-gallon bucket which tipped while she was standing on it and she ended up with a broken leg!

There are many different models of mounting blocks, such as 2-step, 3-step or even stools. It's a matter of choosing which one is easiest for you and your horse.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Horse!

My life lately has been very hectic and busy and I haven’t had the time to head out to the barn to ride my mare. All I’ve had time for lately is to run out and check on the horses that are here in the home pasture: make sure they have plenty of hay to keep them warm in this current cold snap; be sure that the automatic waterer is still working; give them a quick rub and scratch and then feed the cat before heading back inside.

I know it’s been very cold and therefore not too conducive to outside activities – I don’t snowmobile or ski – but that shouldn’t be an excuse for "neglecting" my horses. I have the horses to enjoy them - every aspect of them - so I should make the time to spend with them. After all, isn’t that why we're horse-lovers in the first place? Whenever I do take the time for me and for them, I come away so much more relaxed and in a great peace of mind. I love the time spent with them – it is my mental health time. I really do need to sit back and make time for myself. It’s good for my soul and it’s good for my horses.

OK – here’s my resolution…..spend more time with my horses, whether it’s riding or just talking and petting. But it’ll have to wait for right now – I have so much to do before I head off on vacation!!

Treeless Saddles

Barefoot Treeless Saddle on Friesan A friend of mine who also boards her horses at Benvelle owns a small Arabian and a significantly larger Friesan. After the young Friesan was first trained to ride, Karen needed a saddle for him as he was already much bigger than her Arabian and her current saddle didn’t fit him. She was leery of buying anything at first...she knew that Vinny was still growing and would continue to grow for a few years yet. As all of us who own horses – and their accompanying tack – know, it would be very expensive to have to change saddles every couple of years, since it's important to have a saddle which correctly fits a horse.

Karen had heard of treeless saddles and decided to look into them and after a lot of research and trying different kinds, she bought one, uses it, and highly recommends it. In fact, after listening to Karen talk about her saddle, I told another friend about it – that friend took her horse to Benvelle to try Karen’s saddle and ended up buying one, too!

Sue had a different situation with her horse than Karen. Sue’s horse, Brandy, is a large, muscular Quarterhorse with very rounded withers and even an extra-wide western saddle was too tight. The treeless saddles are very light, averaging about 10 pounds, soft and flexible, adjusting to the horse’s back. They provide close contact with the horse and they minimize interference with the horse’s shoulder movement and, therefore, his gait. The saddles are designed to fit any horse’s back in comfort. As these saddles are somewhat along the line of a bareback pad (although much more substantial), it is recommended by many to use a breastplate with them to keep them from shifting to the side.

I looked online to see the different brands and styles, and there are many. They can be found in western, english and dressage styles; black or brown in color – with some being two-toned – and generally run under $1,000 in price. Karen had tried out a couple of different brands before settling on the Barefoot Saddle which she felt was superior to the others and less expensive.

There was only one brand of treeless saddle that comes with a disclaimer. The Sensation treeless saddle is not recommended for riders over 200 pounds, or those who are green riders and depend on the saddle to keep their balance and stay on the horse. It also isn’t recommended for high-withered horses or slant-backed horses.

If you are having trouble getting a saddle to fit your horse, a treeless might be the answer:

"The treeless saddle has worked great for me in that I have two horses and that each can wear it; simply, the beauty is that there is no tree! There is no pinching, restricting or irritation of a tree that does not fit the horse, whether he be large, small, wide, narrow, short backed, muscular or not. It can accomodate a growing horse or one whose body changes with the season depending on his work. My saddle is an English style, offering a good amount of security with a pommel, cantle and knee rolls. Added benefits are that it is very lightweight, less expensive than treed saddles and comfortable!" -- Karen

"The treeless design does not have a gullet, so a horse with a spine visible above the back muscles will need a pad with a gullet to prevent the rider's weight from impacting his spine. A Quarter Horse or Morgan type, with a spine below the level of the muscles--the sort of horse that collects rain down the center of his back--does not need a special pad. The muscles themselves act like a gullet, which keep the saddle (and the rider) off the spine. -- from Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit by Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Horse Vet Supplies

When I was visiting with my veterinarian the other day I questioned him about supplies to keep around the barn - and to take along on trail rides - as good items to have in case of an emergency. He gave me a list of things that he would like to see all horse owners have on hand. He also suggested a smaller kit of these basics would be good to have in the trailer, with an even smaller kit as a good idea to take on rides in saddlebags.

  • Anti-inflammatory – both Bute and Banamine
  • Oral antibiotic
  • Betadine
    - Betadine is a diluted iodine solution used to flush out wounds.
  • Bandages – gauze pads, non-stick pads, absorbent pad
    - Gauze pads, when applied to a wound, will help to create a clot to stop bleeding, which is why this is applied first. When removing the gauze, make sure to moisten it well so that the clot isn’t ripped off. The non-stick pads, which will also help to clot the wound, would be easier to remove. Absorbent pads shouldn’t be placed directly on a wound as they would not help to stop the flow of blood, because they are absorbent, they actually might keep blood flowing; gauze should be placed first, then the absorbent pad second.
  • Vet wrap, or Coflex
    - These self-adhesive bandages are used to hold the gauze pads in place. Both vet wrap and Coflex are basically the same, yet the ends on the Coflex seem to be easier to find and unwrap.
  • AluShield, a spray-on aluminum bandage
    - This is a spray-on aluminum bandage that covers a wound completely to keep out dirt and insects. It works very well on any area that is hard to keep covered with a gauze pad and vet wrap.
  • Thermometer – with string and clip attached
    - Always use a thermometer with the string attached! It would be a good idea to clip it to the horse’s tail hairs before inserting the thermometer to keep it from getting accidently “sucked” into the rectum. Normal temperature for a horse is a range from 99.5 to 101.5.
  • Nitrofurazone cream
    - A topical anti-bacterial and anti-fungal cream used as a dressing for minor cuts and burns.
  • Saline solution
  • Triple antibiotic opthalmic ointment WITHOUT cortisone
    - This would be used when the eye is partially closed or has a discharge. When using this, you would also need to talk to your veterinarian. DO NOT use an opthalmic ointment containing cortisone without your veterinarian’s advice as it could exacerbate certain conditions.

The anti-inflammatories and the oral antibiotics are items that you would have to obtain through your veterinarian as they are prescription drugs, and anytime that you feel they are called for, your veterinarian should be at least notified. By having these items on hand, most small cuts and scrapes can be handled by yourself, but cuts that go further than just the skin and puncture wounds should be seen by a veterinarian.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Safety on Ice Around Horses

After writing about making tracks on the ice for the horses to make it to their shelter and to the watering fountain, I was remembering a couple of incidents of our horses slipping and falling on the ice and how lucky I was that I wasn’t hurt.

On one occasion it happened after the first snow of the season which was a wet, slushy, slippery snow. I hadn’t had a chance to have the farrier out to pull the shoes from our horses’ feet, and with snowballs packed into the bottoms of their feet plus steel shoes, they were having trouble on the slippery ice. I was walking out to the bale feeder to check on how much hay they had and one of the horses was keeping pace with me. All of a sudden his feet slipped out from under him sideways and he landed with a thud on his side. He popped up immediately with a very startled look on his face and all I could think of was how lucky I had been not to be right beside him at the time!

The next incident happened in the spring. We’d had a couple of weeks of thaw, the sun was warm and the roads were clear and dry; I just had to get out for a ride. Although the roads were clear, our driveway was still icy in spots as it is sheltered from the sun by a row of trees. I decided to lead my Half-Arab mare, saddled and bridled, up the driveway and get on her once we were past the icy spots and it’s a good thing I had done so.

Do you recall the pond scene in the Disney movie, Bambi? Remember how Bambi scrambled around flat on his belly on the ice? That was Joy – she fell with her legs spread-eagled, lying on her belly, and finally worked her way to easier ground by flailing and pulling with her legs. Again I was lucky, I was not on her while she was struggling.

It's just one more thing to keep in the back of your mind when you're outside amongst your horses in the winter. It's a good idea to pull their shoes if they're not being used, and also remember to remove the snowballs from their hooves. These things will all help keep you - and your horses! - safe during the cold months.

Horses Shivering in Winter

It’s cold in Minnesota! The last four days - with Farenheit temperature readings of 35 below zero, 22 below, 32 below and today of 37 below zero - have been bitterly cold. I went out to check on the horses, expecting to see them miserable and shivering to try and stay warm. As I was heading out I was wondering if I should put their turnout rugs on them even though I don’t usually like to blanket my horses in winter.

I was pleasantly surprised to find all three equines standing in a sunny spot with back feet cocked, soaking up the sun, and not a shiver among them. I ran my hands along their sides - rubbing, petting, scratching and just generally giving attention - and their heavy winter coats were warm, especially on the dark bay, Will.

Horses do shiver, just like humans, to keep warm. Energy and warmth is created with all those muscles shivering, which isn’t a bad thing if it’s just for a short length of time. But if a horse is shivering to stay warm for days at a time, then all his food value will get used up. He’ll be trying to draw on reserves that he just won’t have and will quickly start to lose weight. Then it’s a downhill spiral as the horse gets thinner and colder and shivers more.

Horses generate warmth from within from the process of digesting hay so the best way to help your horse stay warm in the winter is to ensure that she has a plentiful supply of hay to eat. It is the digestion of roughage, rather than high amounts of grain, that keeps her warmest.

Our horses, with their thick coats, adequate shelter to get out of the wind, plenty of water kept warmed by the automatic waterer and most of all, free-choice hay with the round bales are staying cozy in this cold snap.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ice in the Horse Pasture

A few years ago we had an ice storm that covered everything with a thick coat of the slippery stuff. I was glad I wasn’t out trying to drive anywhere and I even had trouble getting out to feed the horses. It wasn’t long before the roads and my sidewalks were sanded, salted and more easily navigated, but that wasn’t the case with the horses’ pasture. The worst was the "catch pen," a small area that can be gated off easily (making the horses easier to catch when needed) and includes the run-in shed and also the automatic waterer, which is our horses' only drinking supply.

Since it is a high traffic area, the snow we had received before the ice storm was packed down solid, slippery enough in its own right, but now quite treacherous with the additional layer of slick ice. The horses were very hesitant about coming into the catch pen since they had no traction at all. I could see that although they were thirsty, they would rather not traverse the ice and preferred trying to make do with eating snow. Even with ample snow on the ground to "eat," however, horses will quickly become dehydrated. It's very imporant to water your horses in the winter, instead of relying on them to eat enough snow.

It took a long time that morning to make a couple of paths through the catch pen to the waterer and into the shed for them. I used a flat-bladed ice pick to try and chop a criss-cross pattern across my intended paths and then I spread a layer of a mixture of dirt pulled out of the two stalls I have on the back of the barn and some sand I perloined from a pile my neighbor has.

It was fun to watch my horses’ reaction to my labors – as each section of "track" was laid, they would venture out onto it and wait for the next section until it was done and they could drink their fill at the water fountain.

The next time that I went out to the barn at Benvelle to ride my mare, I noticed that they had done quite a similar trick – Dean had made paths to all the paddocks with the sawdust and manure mixture that he had cleaned out of the stalls so the horses could walk safely in their paddocks.

Since that winter, I have made sure that if it ever happens again, I’m ready. I make sure there’s always a nice supply of sand in the pile my neighbor keeps, helping him with the cost and making sure I have permission to take some! The ice pick is kept in a handy spot and I’ve been told since then that the ashes from our fireplace also work well on the ice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Not long ago I had put my Half-Arabian mare, Joy, in a stall to grain her. I was busy doing other stuff around the barn and when I went to let Joy back out into the field I was surprised to see that there was still half of her feed left – unusual for her. She was just standing quietly so I figured maybe she just wasn’t hungry, but when I led her out of the stall she stretched out her neck and started making a very strange grunting noise. I didn’t know what to think as nothing like this had ever happened before. But then I noticed a lump about halfway down her neck and realized that she was experiencing a case of “choke.”

Although I had heard of horses choking before, I hadn’t thought much about it and therefore was at a loss as to what to do. I gently ran my hand down her throat and was surprised to feel the lump move down a little, so I did it again and the lump seemed to disappear down at the base of her neck. Then I tied her to the hitching rail and went in to call the vet. Luckily I caught him at home – naturally it was after hours! – and he said that he’d be right out.

I went back out to Joy to find her seemingly calm at the hitching rail, but when I touched her, I could feel that she was very slightly quivering. I threw a blanket over her just in case she started sweating and then stood there with her waiting for the vet to show up.

When Dr. Harms arrived he confirmed that it was, indeed, a case of choke. He sedated Joy, ran a tube down her esophagus, pumped some water in and very carefully managed to get the lump cleared down into her stomach.

Dr. Harms is always willing to talk things over to help me to understand what is going on, so we then had a long discussion on the causes of choke, what to do during an episode and how to prevent it.

Choke, which is an obstruction of the esophagus, but not the windpipe, is generally caused by

  • Not chewing properly due to poor teeth,

  • Eating too quickly,

  • Not producing enough saliva to moisten food, or

  • Previous scarring in the esophagus or a partial blockage, such as a tumor.

During an episode of choke the horse may stretch out his neck; drink water trying to dislodge the lump, causing coughing and expelling of water, saliva and food particles out the nose; and/or exhibit excessive saliva and drooling.

Complications can include aspiration pneumonia, scarring of the esophagus, a potential rupture of the esophagus, and if not corrected, the horse could die due to not being able to eat or drink.

I was told that the first thing one needs to do is to remove all food and drink so that the horse cannot complicate things by continuing to try to eat. The second step is to call a vet and then try to keep the horse calm until he arrives.

Preventing choke can be fairly simple:

  • Make sure that your horse has regular dental checks to keep sharp points from forming on his teeth which make eating difficult,

  • Older horses may need softer feed,

  • Keep a greedy, fast eater from bolting his feed by putting some rocks in his feed pan.

Unknowingly, I had done all the right things: a gentle massage can sometimes move things along, I had taken Joy away from her food, I called my vet, and then I had stayed with her, talking, petting her and keeping her from becoming agitated.

Rocks in Horse's Grain to Prevent 'Choke' Joy has always been a fast eater so I now put 3 or 4 very large rocks in her food bucket to slow her down. She very kindly removes each of those rocks as she gets to the end of her food so that the next time I put the grain in her bucket, all I have to do is put the rocks back in on top!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nutrena XTN Horse Feed

24-Year-Old Half-Arab Mare I have been keeping an eye on our old mare, Joy. She turned 24 years old on her “birthday” of January 1, and although noticeably more swaybacked of late, so far she’s been able to hold onto her weight and looks good. But, if she starts losing weight I plan on putting her on Nutrena’s XTN feed. I fed that to our other old horse, Kamell – a black-bay gelding notorious for being a hard keeper – and it made a huge difference not only in his weight, but in his energy level.

A few years ago I was worried about Kamell, then 26 years old. He was heading into winter too thin, and no matter how much or what I fed him I couldn't get him to gain weight. My veterinarian suggested feeding him Nutrena XTN. It's easily digestible, high in fat and fiber and contains yeast and probiotics to aid the body in getting the most out of the feed. It made quite a difference! Kamell put on weight and instead of moping around like an old man, he started instigating trouble in the field!

Nutrena XTN Transforms an Old Gelding
26-Year-Old Arab GeldingI had gone out to feed one morning and inadvertently left the gate unlatched – Kamell took advantage and lead 2 of the other horses out for a romp. It was winter and we had a deep layer of snow on the ground but that didn’t stop them from taking a tour at a gallop around the yards. My neighbor, Merle, saw them dash by his window so quickly threw on coat and boots and headed out to help me round the horses up. He was just in time to turn them from heading down and out the driveway, but then they circled the barn and headed out through the woods along our riding trail – Kamell in the lead with his tail flagged!

Merle got in his truck to head down the road to where the wooded trail came out and I jumped on the Gator. Imagine my surprise when I met up with Merle and neither one of us had seen the horses! Back along the trail I went; Merle went the opposite way along the road and came upon another neighbor at the top of his drive, standing with his eyes wide and mouth open. When Merle asked him if he’d seen some horses his comment was “Did I ever! There were three of them, with a brown one out front...they were running flat out with tails in the air.”

A half mile farther up the road they had finally gotten corraled in a friend’s arena and I led them back home. Very proud of himself, 26-year-old Kamell didn't have one sweaty hair and was breathing normally, 9-year-old Ole was damp but not out of breath while 5-year-old Ben was drenched with sweat and puffing hard. Evidently our "old man" had given the younger horses - literally - a run for their money!

Obviously, the XTN had been very good for Kamell's health. Although we eventually had to put Kamell down in the fall of 2006 (at 27½ years of age), I truly believe Nutrena's XTN feed helped us get the last couple of years from him. I will not hesitate to start feeding it to Joy at the first hint that she might be having trouble keeping her weight and energy level up...I'm thankful there's a product available to help older horses.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Get Your Horse Ready for the Vet

Even though we are currently in a deep freeze and January hasn’t even reached its mid-mark, spring isn’t that far off and it will be time to have the veterinary out for the annual spring shots and coggins test. It’s not too early to start working with your horse to have him ready for the vet’s visit, making the vet’s job easier and having less stress on your horse – and you!

I visited with my vet, Greg Harms, and asked him what would be a few things that could be done to make his visit go smoothly. The very first thing he mentioned was respect and discipline. The horse must respect his handler and be disciplined in order to have him stand still while being examined. It is so dangerous to have a horse jumping around while a vet is trying to give a shot or do any kind of an exam. It’s also very hard for him to even listen to the heartbeat or respirations if the horse is constantly in motion.

Previously I had talked about training your horse to accept the Strangles vaccine and Dr. Harms said that was a good point. Along that line he also said to teach your horse to have his muzzle and mouth handled, which is handy even just for yourself while administering worming paste.

Another pertinent bit of training is handling your horse's tail, having him let you move it over and lift it up. Dr. Harms said that if you don’t have a thermometer to get your horse used to having one inserted, use your finger. A word of warning about using a thermometer – always have a piece of string tied to the end with a clip to attach it to the tail hairs before inserting it! Dr. Harms said that he has had instances where the thermometer has gotten sucked up into the rectum and then he’s been called to try and retrieve it!

Horses learn very quickly that even the sound of the cap being taken off of the needle just before a shot means something will happen that they might not like. It isn’t hard to teach your horse to accept that needle...along with everything else, it just takes some time. Pinch up a little fold of skin along the neck and hold it for a couple of seconds and then let it go; pretty soon the horse accepts this as no big deal and then shots aren’t that big of a deal anymore either.

Having a horse used to getting his feet picked up and handled not only helps out your veterinarian, it also helps your farrier and both benefit from this bit of training.

And last, but by no means least, Dr. Harms said that being able to trailer your horse easily is very important. There may be instances where your horse would have to be treated at a veterinary clinic or hospital and you must be able to get your horse into a trailer to get him there. When your horse is too sick to be treated at home, or needs surgery, is not the time to try to teach him to get in a trailer.

So, not only does a well-disciplined horse help out your vet, it also makes the experience easier on you and your horse.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lead Ropes

Cotton Lead Rope with Bull Snap Do you prefer cotton lead ropes or nylon lead ropes for your horses? I have always preferred cotton as I like the feel of them; everyone has their own preference. I had a nylon rope pull through my hands once - giving me quite a rope burn - and since then I haven’t liked using them.

Both types of ropes come with either bolt snaps or bull snaps, the rope is either clamped or braided back into itself at the snap end. And they both come in either 6-foot or 10-foot lengths. There are pros and cons with both types of rope, it just comes down to personal preference.

Cotton vs. Nylon Lead Ropes
Nylon Lead Rope with Bull Snap The cotton ropes are easy on the hands and are easily tied, but they don’t seem to last as long as the nylon ropes. When they get wet and soiled, they can rot and fray, and sometimes the braid loosens and pulls out. The nylon ropes last longer, but you can get rope burns from them easier than with cotton. I’ve also had troubles, especially with the older, stiffer ones, in getting them to tie tightly enough. I have to admit though, the newer nylon ropes have a much softer feel, are more flexible, and they don’t rot like the cotton ropes. Another advantage is that if they do start to fray, you can use a match and melt those frayed ends, tightening them back up.

Bolt vs. Bull Snaps

Cotton Lead Rope with Bolt Snap Bolt snaps – at least for me – are a little easier to hook, but I’ve had them break when a horse has lunged back against the hitching rail. I’ve never had a bull snap break, since they're thicker and heavier, but I have had the cotton rope it is attached to come apart! I also prefer the 10-foot length to give plenty of room for tying around a tree on trailriding lunch breaks.

Again, it all comes down to each rider's preference and experience. Whichever type of lead rope you use, make sure to learn how to tie them properly and check them consistently for wear and tear.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cellulitis vs. Stocking Up

In writing about Ben and his problem with the scratches, I got to wondering how one would differentiate between cellulitis and stocking up. I’ve had my horse stock up while on weekend trail rides when he stands all night on the picket line after a long day of riding. It’s a little bit of a shock to go out in the morning to feed and see him standing there with swollen back legs.

Stocking Up
Stocking up is a non-painful, cool swelling of the lower limbs which is caused by the pooling of blood and fluids due to decreased activity. The horse might move out stiffly at first, but the swelling goes away with exercise. Stocking up affects both hind legs, or sometimes all 4, but not just one leg, and older horses seem to be more easily affected.

Cellulitis, on the other hand, is an infection underneath the skin caused by bacteria, secondary to a wound or deep tissue infection. It will only be present in one leg and the swelling is hot and painful. Treatment includes cleansing and caring for the wound itself, administering Phenylbutazone (Bute) and an oral antibiotic, sweat wrapping, cold hosing, and mild exercise once the infection is healing.


What started out as a minor problem involving a common mishap developed into an ongoing medical situation for my daughter’s horse, Ben. Either while he was being ridden, or from just running and playing in the field, Ben had forged with a back foot, striking the heel of his front foot with a back hoof. He opened a sore about the size of a quarter which in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but his pasture was a field of deep mud and Ben quickly developed scratches.

My daughter is not able to go out to her boarding facility on a daily basis, was gone over the Thanksgiving holiday and therefore was not able to monitor Ben’s condition. With his fetlocks covered in a constant state of moisture from the mud, the scratches were not discovered in a timely matter. So an open sore developed into scratches, then progressed into an infection and cellulitis - needing a veterinarian’s care and weeks of recovery.

What is "Scratches"?
Scratches is an infection of the heels and pasterns characterized by scabby, cracked areas which can be swollen and hot to the touch. Horses also display tender feet, and sometimes lameness. It is most often associated with wet, muddy or marshy areas and is usually caused by bacteria but fungus is also a consideration. Photosensitivity seems to be interrelated, possibly predisposing some horses to infection, as it seems that horses with white feet are more susceptible to scratches and the same scabby, cracked areas can be seen on the white areas of some horses’ noses.

The key element in the treatment of scratches is to keep the feet clean and dry. The infected areas should be washed with an antibiotic solution and then treated with a combination of medications - each veterinarian has their own proprietary blend of these basic ingredients.
  • nitrofurazone,
  • DMSO,
  • and an antifungal ointment.
Nitrofurazone is an antibiotic; DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) is an anti-inflammatory and also helps move the treatment deeper into the tissues; and I’ve found that Desenex is a good antifungal ointment.

Because Ben had developed cellulitis, his treatment got even more involved with the administration of Bute, sweat wrapping, cold hosing, oral antibiotics and as he got better, mild exercise.

Ben is now back to his normal self and my daughter has found a different boarding facility where he won't be kept in a field of mud, but also will have better supervision for when she cannot be there to keep an eye on him.

Another remedy which can work for scratches - depending on when in the cycle you catch it - is gall salve, which is a treatment for most any minor wound, chafe or scrape on horses.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hoof Snowballs

Snowball in Horse's Hoof In the winter our horses don't get ridden often, therefore don't move around as much as they do during the rest of the year. In their pasture, they make paths through the deep snow - to the water, the lean-to, and of course the hay feeder - and don't stray far from these paths for the most part. When we go out to feed or check on them, we always look to see if they have snowballs built up in their hooves.

Horses don’t get frostbite like humans do since their bodies naturally reduce the circulation to their ears and hooves as protection in extreme cold. As a horse moves around, his hooves are made to self-clean, pushing the snow and dirt out, but a combination of lower circulation and reduced movement around the pasture creates these snowballs.

Sometimes it looks like our horses are wearing high heels, which besides being uncomfortable can cause problems such as undue pressure on the soles of their feet. If left too long, the snowballing will cause sore muscles and tendons from an unnatural hoof angle.

It isn’t always easy to remove the snowballs but I have found that a ball-peen hammer works well. One should never use anything sharp or pointed when removing the snow - you don't want to puncture the sole or hit the wall of the hoof. By using light taps all around the snowball, you will loosen the packed snow and it will come off, usually in chunks.

I have heard of people spraying the hooves with Pam cooking spray, or brushing on a light coat of oil, but that needs to be done just about as often as going out and physically removing the snowballs. For those horses who remain shod through the winter, another option I've heard of is to use anti-snowball pads. Our horses are barefoot in winter, mainly because we don't use them but also because metal shoes are much more slippery for walking than the natural hoof.

It must feel good to have the snowballs removed because our horses have learned to stand and have it done without needing to be haltered or tied.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Safety While Tacking Up Your Horse

Stall Door Latch At Benvelle Equestrian Center where I board my mare, Joon, there is only one tack stall so my friends and I usually crosstie our horses in their own stalls to saddle them up. I have learned – the hard way – to be very careful going in and out of the stall while the door is open.

Not to mention the times I have caught my shirt or coat on the stall door latch, once I unwittingly started bringing Joon, saddled and bridled, out of the stall only Stall Door Latch Catching on Saddle to have her hook the cheek strap of the caveson on the latch. Now we were in a panic situation since she felt trapped and struggled to break free. Luckily the thin caveson strap broke before her neck did!

Whether your horse is saddled or just being taken in and out of the stall, always make sure that the stall door is not only pushed all the way open, but make sure that the latch is retracted all the way first. It is so easy to snag a strap or a stirrup; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Safely Bringing a Horse out of the StallIt’s such an obvious safety issue, but one that I never even thought of until it happened to me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Horses!

Correct Way to Feed Apples to Horses It’s New Year’s Day, the start of a brand new year. Today is our horses’ birthday so out we went, braving the cold and plowing through the 8 inches of new snow (on top of the foot and a half from previous snowfalls) to give our friends their birthday apples.

Feeding Apples to Horses January 1 isn’t their actual foaling date, but this is the date that is considered the birthday for every horse – in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, August 1st is each horse's birthday. This is mainly for competition reasons such as horse racing and showing. Breeders that are showing or racing their horses try to have a foaling date as early in January as they can manage so that their horses have a competitive edge.

The exception to this rule is that the actual birth date is used for those horses entered in endurance riding. To enter in a race of 50 or more miles, the horses must be 5 years old and 4 years old for limited distance rides, which is under 50 miles. Even one day before their actual birthday will disqualify a horse from competing.

A Horse Enjoying Getting Her Ears Scratched While we do occasionally show our horses, we still give them treats and scratches on their actual birthdays, too...today is more of an excuse to go out to pet them and give them some warm attention on a winter's day.

Happy Birthday Joy, Ole and Will!

Sleigh Bells Ring

Half-Arab Pulling Sleigh Although the temperature today - our first day of 2009 - wasn’t too cold, the wind was pretty sharp but that didn’t deter us from heading out to the barn to hook my mare up to the cutter for a repeat of last Friday’s fun when we went dashing through the snow. This time I even remembered to bring the sleigh bells!

Arab Mare Pulling CutterAs much fun as we had last week, the jingle bells added just that much more to the enjoyment - even the horse seemed more perky with the lovely chiming matching her hoofsteps.

We have two sets of bells, one that my husband bought for me on a trip we had made to Missouri a number of years ago and the other is an antique set that my father-in-law,"Papa," used when he had driving horses.

Papa had told me many stories driving his team of horses "back in the day," but I think my favorite was when he told me how he would hitch the horses to a bobsled, putting an old-time pump organ on the back. While my mother-in-law played the organ, he and a sled-load of friends would go caroling before Christmas.

New Year's Day Sleigh RideRecently a friend of mine was reminiscing about spending time with her Grandmother and hearing stories of going to church on Sunday by sleigh during the winters. All of the church-goers' teams wore bells and could tell who was coming just by the various tones of the ringing bells.

Historically, medieval knights would hang bells on their warhorses as a sign of wealth and also for show. It was believed that the bells would bring good luck and stave off evil and poor health. One Horse Open Sleigh In later times
drivers used bells on their sleighs for the practical reason of warning others that they were coming, both pedestrians and other drivers. The sleigh is not as easy to stop as a wagon.

Today, the jingle bells served no purpose other than to add to the holiday spirit...and there is nothing like sleigh bells ringing on a one-horse open sleigh!