Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to Tie a Lead Rope

One of the first things taught to me after I bought my first horse, and one of the first things I teach kids, is how to safely tie a horse to the hitching rail. The man I bought my first horse from knew that I was a raw beginner, but I can still remember the look of horror on his face when he delivered my horse and saw me tie him up with a solid knot. That was my first important safety lesson. There are probably many ways to safely tie a horse with a knot that is easily undone, but this is the one I learned and has stood me in good stead over the years.

Tying a Lead Rope Slip-Knot: Step 1 Tying a Horse to the Hitching Rail

When you bring your horse to the hitching rail, place the lead rope over the top of the rail, bring it under the rail, cross it over the rope and then back under the rail.
Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 2

Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 3 Take the tail end in both hands with it underneath the part of the rope attached to the halter and hold it so that it looks like a “4.”

Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 4Twist your hand holding the section of rope coming from the hitching rail, making a "hole."

Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 5Then with the opposite hand, put the looped rope end through that hole.

Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 6Holding the rope that is attached to the halter, push the knot towards the hitching rail until it tightens.

This knot is a slip-knot; it is easily undone by pulling on the dangling end of the lead rope. The reason why I cross the rope over itself on the hitching rail is that in case the horse pulls back, that cross-over keeps the knot from pulling so tight that it can’t be undone – I found that out through experience! Tying a Lead Rope Slip Knot: Step 7I also learned through experience to place the end of the lead rope back through the loop because if the horse starts playing around and grabs the end of the lead rope in his teeth and pulls, he can untie himself.

Another thing to keep in mind is the types of lead ropes you use can affect how "slippery" the knot is. Cotton ropes tend to hold more snugly, while nylon lead ropes - naturally a more slippery material - will still remain knotted but the knot can loosen on the hitching rail, making it very easy for your horse to move away from where he was originally tied!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trimming a Horse's Bridle Path

Stock-Type Horse Bridle Path Length During the riding season we always trim the bridle paths of our horses. We do it for 2 reasons. Mainly, it makes a clear “path” for the bridle, making it easier to get the bridle on/off so the hair doesn’t get tangled in the straps. The second reason is that we think a neatly trimmed bridle path makes for a cleaner look on the horse's head. It really doesn’t matter how far back you trim, but there is a standard for certain breeds of horses for showing purposes.

The bridle path of stock-type horses, which include Quarterhorses, Paints and Appaloosas, is trimmed back just as far as the length of the ear.

Pleasure-Type Horse Bridle Path Length Saddlebreds, if their manes are not cut off completely (which is known as roaching) are also trimmed to just the length of their ear. All other pleasure-type horses, such as Arabians and Morgans, get their bridle paths trimmed back much further to show off the crest of their neck.

Measuring Stock Type Bridle Path for Clipping When clipping the bridle path I use an Oster A5 clipper with a #40 blade so as to get as close to the skin as possible, making for a very clean look. When starting out, carefully bend the ear backwards to measure your starting point.

Clipping Horse's Bridle Path Begin clipping from your farthest point backward and clip foward. We clip all the way up to between the ears but not any further so as to leave all of the forelock unclipped.

Finished Stock-Type Bridle Path You'll want a bucket or stepstool to be able to get the proper angle - be careful of trimming from one side only! Your finished product will look much cleaner and tidier.

Since Joon and Tío are ridden all winter at the barn, we trim their bridle paths year-round. It’s a little more of a challenge to make it look neat with their winter coats! If we really feel like being fancy, we'll change the clipper blades to "fade in" their fuzzy hair to blend with their newly-trimmed bridle paths.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cushing’s Disease in Horses

How Do I Know if My Horse has Cushing's Disease?
Cushing’s Disease is a slowly progressing disease that has no cure and typically appears in older horses. The most common sign of this disease is a long, wavy hair coat that doesn’t shed out in the spring. Other signs of Cushing's Disease are:

  • excessive drinking and urination,
  • loss of muscle across the top line which results in a potbellied look and swayback,
  • depression and lethargy,
  • recurring laminitis, and
  • susceptibility to infections.

In some horses there are fat deposits at the base of the tail, the crest of the neck, and behind the shoulders due to insulin resistance. At the onset of this disease these signs may be slight and hard to determine, but as the disease progresses, they become more and more obvious.

What causes Cushing’s Disease?
Usually, but not always, Cushing's Disease is caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. The pituitary and hypothalamus, which is next to the pituitary gland, work together to regulate the body’s systems and cause the adrenal gland to produce cortisol. When the tumor grows and obstructs the pituitary gland, it causes the adrenal gland to keep producing cortisol without control. Normally, cortisol maintains the immune system and heart function, regulates nerve tissue, muscle tone and the body’s metabolism, balances insulin, and helps the horse respond to stress. Because of where the pituitary gland is located – at the base of the brain – surgery to remove the tumor is not an option. There are drugs that can help control the disease, the most common being Pergolide, but as time goes on the drug needs to be increased.

Because their immune system is compromised, horses with Cushing’s Disease need to have special care taken to avoid infections and exposure to other diseases. Their diets need to be monitored and they need to be watched for signs of laminitis. One other side effect can be the inability to handle stress so this horse would need to be kept stress-free.

Although there is no cure, with drugs and care horses with Cushing’s Disease are still able to have many years of use.

***Cited Sources***

Advances Against Cushing's Disease by Janice Posnikoff, DVM @
Cushing's Disease @
and articles @

Monday, April 20, 2009

Starting Horses on Grass in the Spring

We’ve been having some wonderfully warm weather lately here in the Brainerd Lakes area, with a soft rain a few days ago. The ice is off the lake, the red-winged blackbirds and loons are back, and I heard spring peepers (small frogs) singing away yesterday. Spring is definitely here! Another wonderful sign is the new grass springing up, making things look green.

My “home field” for the horses is mainly just a feedlot – a couple of acres that is mostly wooded and without pasture. I keep them here all winter and in the summer they can go across the road to the pasture. I think the horses can smell the greening grass and are anxious to partake of it. I would love to just turn them loose on the pasture to eat the new spring grass, but I hesitate to do so and have them overeat and chance foundering. Those that are most at risk of founder are ponies, horses that are already overweight, or those that have Cushing’s syndrome.

A few years ago I had talked to my vet about the best way to work the horses into a grass diet in the spring after having had hay all winter. He recommended waiting to put them on the pasture until the grass was up and well established. Then I should turn them out for short periods at first; half an hour to an hour the first couple of days and then increase that time by an hour each day for a week to acclimate them to richer food. He also suggested feeding them their hay before turning them out so that they weren’t quite so hungry.

It’s a little inconvenient to take all the horses over to the pasture for such a short time at first, but it is well worth the inconvenience to keep them healthy and sound.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Teaching a Horse to Collect Using a Butt Rope

When we 'collect' a horse we ask them to lift their stomach muscles and that brings their rear end up further underneath their body. As a benefit, they also will drop their head in a "head set." This forms an illusion that they look round.

To just use side reins in training - and especially those with elastic side reins - the horse can learn to brace on the bit, and never arch the back (using the loin muscles) to get the hind quarters up underneath the body. The more a horse is worked correctly, the proper muscles contract and the unused muscles de-contract. In time the horse will have no problem carrying the correct carriage to collect, because his body muscles will be formed for collection.

We also want the horse to collect without us riders being on their mouths so much. This means using the reins as a fifth leg for balance (meaning the rider holds the horse with the reins) if the muscles have not been developed properly.

Balance Complete Training Systems have been sold in tack magazines for some time for ~$130.00. They are advertised to "Help develop correct head set and balance while strengthening back and neck muscles. Can be used in a variety of positions, depending on desired headset." Therefore we developed: the butt rope. The price is right on these, since we can make them for you for ~$75.00 + shipping. Email us for more details.

Lunging a Horse with Butt Rope The butt rope brings the butt under the horse while bitting the animal, without any rider placing weight on the loin (area of suspension, where the stomach muscles need to pull up to). It also teaches the horse to give in and relax while having impulsion (correct collection) at all gaits. If the rider is light weight or inexperienced, this collection is very hard for him or her to achieve using their back, butt, and leg muscles plus using the hands to restrict the gait speed. If the butt rope is used, this will help the rider get the first stages done without frustration for both horse and rider.

If and when the horse quits the impulsion and collection, the butt rope is located so that the horse is reprimanded immediately for his wrong doing. And when they are traveling correctly, they have total relief on their mouths. This will create a good, soft mouth and a happy animal.

Repetition will contract the correct muscles, and create a beautiful profile (hence: collection).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Relax, Soften, Breathe

I have to admit that I am not the most accomplished rider at all. I have owned and ridden horses for the past 25 or so years, but for most of those years I was just a passenger having fun. I was very lucky I've had some very good horses over the years and although I have taken my share of falls, I haven’t been hurt. It has really been since I’ve started keeping a horse at Benvelle and riding with my friend, Max – who has ridden and trained horses all her life – that I have become a better horseback rider and have learned so much.

The first horse I started really learning on is my Arabian gelding, Will. In some respects he is hard to work - he is basically very lazy and his conformation makes it hard for him to truly collect. But he was a great horse for me to learn on since he never gets mad or fights me and never even thinks of rearing or bucking. I had to learn to use a lot of leg and seat with him, exaggerate my cues and, yes, wear spurs. We accomplished a lot together and have had a lot of fun over the years.

But now I have primarily been riding my mare, Joon, who has a lot more ambition, movement and ability. I feel like I’m learning all over again! I remember the first time I tried to ride Joon I couldn’t even get her to trot – I was so used to Will and was using so much leg on her that she kept trying to canter, thinking that was what I was asking for. I was getting her so confused that she was getting more and more upset and the more upset she got, the more uptight I got. It seemed like it was a long time of just riding her at a walk with Max telling me “relax, soften, breathe!”

Horses are so good at reading their riders’ emotions and tensions; if a rider is tense and nervous, many times the horse will be also. Max can tell from how Joon is going that once again I have gotten tense. Not too long ago, Max was helping me with the canter as I couldn’t seem to keep Joon in a relaxed, easy canter. I was riding in a large circle with Max in the center, coaching me, when she said “tell me what you just did; did you feel her slow down?” I had to admit that I had taken a deep breath, sat back and tried to relax.

Joon and I have come a long way together but we also have a long way to go, too. I would love to take some dressage lessons with her – she has the ability and I have the desire to learn, but I must remember to “relax, soften, breathe!”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fitting a Bridle to Your Horse

We have Bailey, the pony, on a trial basis for a month; she has foundered in the past and has some arthritic changes in one knee so we’re not sure whether she’ll stay sound when being used. When I had the vet out to draw blood for a Coggins test and to get her up to date on her spring shots, he did a very abbreviated exam and had a few concerns about the knee more than the history of founder. So I am boarding Bailey at Benvelle Equestrian Center for a month to see how she goes and to get her in shape – which includes loosing quite a bit of weight. I’m thinking she must be at least an 8 on the Horse Body Condition Scale!

I went out to the barn yesterday late afternoon to work Bailey a little bit and took along with me one of our bridles to see if I could fit it to her. We have plenty of bridles for horses of all sizes, from a very large-headed Appendix Quarterhorse down to a fairly small-headed Arabian, and then also a pony bridle left from the small pony we had quite a number of years ago. I knew the pony bridle would be too small so I took the one we used to use on one of the Arabians.

Fitting a Bridle to a Horse: Caveson I want to use a snaffle bit with Bailey to start off with - not really knowing what she has been used to in the past - so the bridle includes a cavesson. Starting with that, I made sure that when it is on her it is far enough below her cheekbone so that it doesn’t rub there, but high enough away from the bit also.

Fitting a Bridle to a Horse: BrowbandWhen putting the bridle itself on, I want to make sure that the browband is down far enough from Bailey’s ears so that she can comfortably move her ears and they are not being pinched.

Fitting a Bridle to a Horse: BitThe side straps of the bridle should also be away from her eyes. The bit should fit in Bailey’s mouth high enough that there is a “wrinkle” in the corner of her mouth; if the bit sits too low it could bump her teeth or she could possibly get her tongue up and over the bit.

Fitting a Bridle to a Horse: Throat LatchThe throatstrap should be loose enough that you can get a couple of fingers between the strap and the horses’ throat.

Fitting a Bridle to a Horse: Caveson or NosebandOnce the bridle is on, buckle the caveson so that it is tight enough to restrict gaping the mouth open, but slightly loose enough so that the horse can chew and mouth the bit. This chewing of the bit creates saliva which in turn keeps the mouth soft and the horse responsive.

My final step is to tuck the caveson strap underneath the bridle as it goes over the poll to create a finished look. Many people will run the strap of the caveson through the same keepers as the browband which keeps everything together and neat, and also makes sure that the correct caveson always stays with the bridle it belongs to. Also creating that finished look is to make sure that all the straps are put through the keepers at the buckles.

When I was done, I had a bridle that fit Bailey very well and she seemed comfortable wearing it as I was lunging her in the arena – there wasn’t any headshaking or trying to rub it on a leg and she was mouthing the bit slightly as she was moving along.