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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bickmore Gall Salve

Gall Salve for HorsesA while ago, before Girls’ Ride, a small group went riding for the day and I had loaned one of our horses to a friend who no longer has a horse. She brought her own saddle and pad to use on our Quarter horse, Ole, and I should have known better than to let her do that. We always use the same 'set-up' on Ole since he has a saddle and pad fitted to his body.

We were in the saddle for about 4 hours and when we got back to the trailer I noticed that Ole had a spot along his side where the girth had rubbed him raw. I keep a tin of Bickmore Gall Salve in my trailer – and another one in my tack room at home – so I smeared some on the spot.

Bickmore Gall Salve has been in production since the 1880’s, having been developed to heal galls on working horses in harness. A “gall” in the horse world is defined as a sore on the skin due to rubbing. Gall salve is a multi-purpose topical antiseptic that won’t rub or sweat off and can be used while the horse is still being worked. It’s a combination of emollients, astringents and antiseptics and seems to work wonders on saddle sores.

I have also used it on the tender skin behind the elbow of my gelding, Will, as a preventative against getting rubbed raw, since he seems to be prone to that, especially in the spring when he hasn’t had a chance to get toughened up yet in that area. Another use to which I've put the gall salve is on horse's heels and legs when they have scratches. Of course, any time a horse gets rubbed, chafed or any other minor wound, gall salve is a great remedy.

I cannot speak highly enough of this salve. Ole was subsequently trail ridden for 4 days during Girls’ Ride, we put the salve on him every day, and not only did his gall not get any worse, it actually healed up. I also used it daily on Will and he never developed any sores in the cinch area.

Bickmore gall salve is available at most tack or harness stores, or of course you can search for it online.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Collection at the Canter

Arabian Horse Cantering without Collection I was going through some old pictures of a horse show I had competed in a few years ago and when I came to one of myself cantering on my Arabian horse, Will, I was appalled. I knew that I always had a hard time getting and keeping him collected, but I never realized how bad he really was. I’m surprised I didn’t go off over his head!

Will's hindquarters are elevated quite a bit over his withers – it should be just the opposite - and looks like he will fall on his face at any time. He is over-flexed with his head behind vertical and his poll is tipped down to compensate for his lack of balance. He has no visual of being round and in fact looks like he's cantering downhill. Can you imagine cantering this horse through a field as a hunt horse?!

National Show Horse at a Collected Canter On the other hand, Joon, my National Show Horse mare, displays correct form at the canter. Her head is vertical and her poll is close to level (what most horseback riders refer to as a proper 'headset'). She has free, elevated shoulders with her hindquarters underneath her and a general “round” look. You can tell she's using her hind end "underneath" her to drive forward.

I have started working Will this spring to “reform” his muscles by using the butt rope that I have talked about before. I'm essentially teaching him to canter all over again. It is hard work for him and he is fighting it somewhat, but he is starting to come around.

I have also been using the butt rope on Joon and after using it just once, she started giving in and it has made a huge difference in the way she is moving. Her canters, because she is using her hindquarters underneath herself and is rounding her back, have become very cadenced and she is no longer racing in order to keep her balance.

Speaking of racing, it's also important to realize - if you're showing your horse English - the judge can ask you for the hand gallop gait in a class. Even at a quicker pace, your horse must remain collected! My daughter shows here in this video the proper collection at the hand gallop:

Of course, I'm merely working on the canter gait with my horses, but the ultimate goal is to have a collected, well-rounded horse at any gait.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trail Boss

Whenever a group, either large or small, gets together to go for a trail ride, someone needs to be “trail boss.” For many years I have gone on a ride with many others that we call “Family Ride” and have ridden behind two brothers, Ray and Lester Sellnow. They have been great trail bosses and have taught me a lot on leading rides so that now it seems that I get to be “trail boss” on our annual Girls’ Ride.

It isn’t a well-defined duty to lead a trail ride, but it starts out with making a plan for the ride: where are we going, how long will we be out, and mapping out turning points where those who would like to return earlier than others can find their way back easily.

As we are riding along the trail, whoever is out front – not always the trail boss – should be constantly aware of the pace they are setting and if they are not, that’s when the boss steps in. The pace should be geared towards the ability of the least competent rider so that person doesn’t get either left behind or frightened by too quick of a pace.

There are some horses that are not happy with a space between themselves and the horse in front of them and get upset and "chargey." If this should happen then it’s up to either that person or someone behind them to call a halt to the ones in front so that the horse has a chance to catch up and calm down. The person in front of the ride should be glancing back periodically to keep an eye on those who are coming behind.

I have been on rides where a couple of people in the back of the group purposely hold back so that they can run to catch up; if there are riders in the group who want to do that then it makes sense to have the horse in front of them be a calm, steady horse who doesn’t get upset with a horse running up behind them.

There are some riders in our Girls’ Ride group who like a fast ride now and again but we ask that if they want to do that, to take a separate trail from those who want a slow, walking ride. I have been on a horse before - the mother of my current mare, Joon - who would act like an absolute idiot, jumping around and cantering in place, if a horse in front of her took off and I didn’t want her to go along.

The goal of all our rides is to be safe and for all to enjoy their time out on the trail.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lunchtime on the Horse Trail

At least once during our Girls’ Ride we plan an outing for an all-day ride, packing our lunches and bringing them with us in our saddlebags. Not every rider will go with us the whole way, some are content with a shorter ride, but there are a few of us who always want to spend a number of hours in the saddle.

Leather Ties on Western Saddle for Securing Saddlebags It’s always a good thing to have long ties attached to the saddle to take along everything you might need for a full day on the trail – saddlebags or cantle bags for food, water and a small first-aid kit, a raincoat, and enough length left over to tie on an extra layer of clothes, whether that means taking it off as the day goes on or putting it on if the weather cools off.

Arabian Horse with Halter Underneath Bridle One of the things we make sure to take along with us are halters and lead ropes so that we can tie the horses to trees wherever it is that we have decided to stop to eat. Some of us take their regular halters along, tying them to the saddle or putting their bridles on over the halter and tying the lead rope around their neck for the duration of the ride. This makes for a bulkier fit in regards to the bridle, so it might need to be adjusted. However, some people prefer not to have the extra trappings on their horse while on the trail.

Arabian Horse Tied on Trail with Rope Halter I prefer to take a rope halter and lead rope along in the saddlebag. When we get to our lunchtime stop, I put the rope halter on over the bridle, removing the reins, and then tie my horse to a tree. Be sure to learn how to tie a rope halter properly before taking it on the trail as the sole means of tying your horse.

When tying the lead rope to the tree, you want to make sure that you know your horse and how much length it is safe to give him – I usually tie my horse short enough that he cannot graze and get a foot over the rope, and tight enough that it won’t slip down the tree. I also tie the lead rope as I do onto a hitching rail, wrapping the rope around itself once so that if my horse pulls, the knot doesn’t tighten too much to get it readily untied.

Quarter Horse Tied on Trail with Rope Halter It’s also easy to take the bridle off the horse completely and just use the rope halter. If you have a horse which you trust to graze while being tied, this is the best option, rather than keeping the bridle on the horse. Also, if you're in a place where you can offer water to your horse, be sure to remove the bridle - as long as you're on lunch break - to allow him to take a nice, long drink and rehydrate.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tying a Horse to a Picket Line

Horses on a Picket Line When I was out at Pillsbury State Forest (near Pillager, MN) last weekend for our annual Girls’ Ride I was lucky enough to be able to use one of the cable picket lines that the DNR has installed there. These are heavy wood posts about 8 feet in height with a cable strung between the posts for tying up horses. In the past I have just tied the lead rope to the cable, but we’ve discovered that the horse, as he moves around, can pull the rope along the cable and either get tangled around the end post, or get into trouble with the horse tied to the next section.

Home-Made Clamps for Tying Horses to Picket Line My husband made cable clamps for me to take along in my “tool box” (along with my other camping checklist items) which can be positioned anywhere along the cable so that the horse cannot get nose-to-nose with his neighbor and yet still reach his hay bag easily. Since the horses are tied to the picket line throughout the duration of our camping stay, it's paramount the setup is safe.

Horse Tied to Picket Line with Lead Rope Over Head When we tie our horses to the picket line – whether it is one of the established ones put up by the Park, or a rope line that we have strung between the trees – the first step is to ensure you tie the lead rope properly. You want to make sure the horse can't undo the knot. After that, it’s always a concern as to how long to leave the lead rope. I tie our horses long enough so that they can lie down during the night, but not long enough to get a foot over the line. Horse Tied Long Enough to Graze on Picket Line Every horse is different in how long is “too long;” some horses are very adept at unwinding themselves if they should happen to be too close to the post and get their rope wrapped around it, and they also aren't inclined to step over the rope - thus hanging up a hoof - so they can be trusted (at least during the day) with a longer line. Other horses can panic easily and should be tied much shorter.

Horse Tied too Long on Picket Line This weekend I saw a horse with a rope so long that as he put his head down and walked forward to reach some hay that had fallen on the ground, he got the rope over his poll. When he lifted his head and felt the pull over the top of his head, he panicked. The horse pulled back, reared up, and then was jerked backwards and fell onto his back. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and hopefully the owner learned from the incident. And yet we’ve had horses that seem to be rope-wise and don’t seem to mind it if the rope gets over their heads.

We’ve had 2 horses of our own – a National Show Horse mother and son, actually – who are very adept at scratching behind their ears with a back hoof and have then gotten that foot caught in the lead rope. For these two we have to make sure that their ropes are kept short enough that they cannot do that.

Horses Tangled on Picket Line Whenever we take a horse camping that has never been tied to a picket line before, we keep a close eye on him while he’s tied there and then shorten up his lead rope before going to bed. It’s so much better to make sure he’s safe overnight than to give him enough slack to lie down flat and take a chance on him getting in trouble. It doesn’t seem to take long for them to learn how to handle themselves on a picket line, but you also don't want to create a bad experience by giving the horse too much line in the beginning.

Horse & Dog Tied Up While Camping Another thing to keep in mind when tying your horse in a camping environment is how long to tie the horse so he can't get his hind end into anything he's not supposed to. For instance, water buckets, the campfire ring, another horses' area, etc. Also, if you're camping with dogs (or even trail riding with dogs and you plan on tying them at some point), be sure the horses and dogs can't intersect - even if they're used to keeping a healthy distance, anything can happen and you don't want a dog to get trampled or a horse to get its foot caught in the dog's tie-out.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Camping with Horses: Checklist

It seems I cannot go anywhere or do anything without making lists, a legacy from my mother most likely! I especially need my lists when packing for camping trips, with or without horses, and I have gotten so that I have a standard list I use for all the gear I need. Before I start loading up the horse trailer, I print out the list and take it out to the barn with me which saves endless trips back and forth to the house.

The following is my checklist for the horses while camping, which might come in handy for others to use also:

Saddle, pad, cinch, breast collar, bridle, helmet, saddlebags, halter* and lead ropes (for tying the horses to the trailer but also an extra to take along on the trail), small first aid kit

Horse Care
Grooming tools, first aid kit, sponge, small bucket for rinsing off either horse or tack, bug spray, liniment, electrolytes, manure bucket, manure fork and shovel, blanket (preferably one that is water- and wind-proof)

Hay (take a little more than you figure you’ll need as we have found the horses eat more during a heavy work weekend!), grain, feed bag or pan, hay bag or net, water buckets**

Picket line, tree savers, step stool (also used for mounting), extra lead ropes (to leave on the picket line), tool kit

(we take along a few extras of these items in case something breaks or someone else in the group has forgotten it): Halter, lead rope, cinch, breast collar, water bucket

It always seem like so much work to get ready for a long weekend of riding, but it's essential when we're away from home we have everything we need to make the camping experience safe. Once we arrive at our camping spot and get set up, we have so much fun that it’s more than worth it!

*We've found it's easiest to bring 2 halters per horse: a 'normal' buckle halter for tying to the picket line/trailer, along with a rope halter for on the trail. The rope halter fits more easily into saddlebags and is also less bulky for the horse to wear underneath the bridle. Just be sure you're aware of how to tie a rope halter properly before using it on the trail.

**Depending on where you'll be camping, you might also want to bring along your own water for the horses. Also, some horses are very finicky with drinking water while they're away from home; we've found for those types of horses if we bring their "own" water they're more likely to keep well hydrated.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Girls’ Ride

I’m excited! This coming weekend is our Girls’ Ride which has been an annual spring event for about 30 years. A herd of us lady friends get together to camp, horseback ride and enjoy the outdoors. Different horseback riders have joined our group along the way and others have left, either temporarily or for good, but one of our members is a “founding” member and I, myself, have been going for at least 25 years.

We meet out at Pillsbury State Forest in Pillager, MN; some of us are lucky enough to be able to get a start on the weekend by arriving Thursday afternoon and the event lasts until Sunday afternoon. It’s a women-only affair and no one under 21 is allowed to join us – not because we sit around and drink until all hours, but because it is our getaway when we don’t have to think or worry about the kids.

A number of years ago my daughters both started coming and seem to enjoy the weekend as much as us “older” girls do! We spend a lot of time on horseback and eat a lot of good food. After each day's activities, the horses relax on the picket lines and munch hay while the dogs lay at our feet as we sit around the campfire laughing and talking until one by one, we sleepily drift off to our motor homes for bed. When we wake up bright and early the next morning, we're ready to start all over!

I’ll spend the next couple of days busily getting everything ready: trailer packed with all the horse gear; motor home pulled out of storage and cleaned and loaded; clothes packed and I’ve already been busy in the kitchen preparing food ahead of time so that I don’t have to spend much time cooking when I could be riding.

I’m so looking forward to the weekend and as the old beer commercial used to say “it doesn’t get any better than this!”