With all the wild fires in Oregon right now many are reaching out to me for advice on how to better care for their horse during these times. Some of the questions are “do I use a nebulizer or not?”, “how long can I work my horse in the smoke?”, “do they need to be kept in the barn or can they go outside?”. All very good questions. I’m not a vet these are just my opinions on what to do to keep your horse healthy while dense smoke is around us.
First of all avoid working your horse at all while smoke is in the air. Secondly, don’t use a nebulizer until the air is clear again. The nebulizer removes smoke from the lungs it’s not safe to use while smoke is still present. And on the topic of to stall your horse or pasture it really doesn’t matter too much unless your barn is insulated and air tight the smoke will still penetrate and come in. One thing you can do once the smoke clears is a eucalyptus paste administered orally will open the horse’s airways and they will breathe better. It will help them clear out the smoke naturally. This paste can be purchased online or at your vets office.
Recently I’ve had a change of heart in a certain discipline. I loved reining but after researching the horses body and how it is perfect for being exactly how it was intended as a grazing animal. They are meant to graze all day and constantly moving never staying in one spot. They function like a well oiled machine as a herd and a unit. Everyone has their job. It has kept them alive for thousands of years. That being said, I used to love reining I still teach my horses the basics of dressage and reining but I’ve drifted away from the sport due to the strain it puts on the horses body. Horses are not meant to spin hard consistently on their hocks, stopping hard to slide is very straining on hocks and knees. To each their own if that’s your cup of tea it’s beautiful to watch but I just don’t agree with the pressure it puts on the horse. I’ve been an avid 3 day Eventer as a teenager when I lived in AZ, I’ll forever love jumping and dressage but I didn’t prefer the people. I love English and western pleasure and that’s where my heart resides for the fact that it’s not strenuous on the horse if done correctly. Slow, natural collection and communication between horse and rider subtle and soft there’s no better picture in my opinion. I don’t agree with the mechanical lope some circuit horses do but no sport is perfect. Anymore as I get older now in my 30s I appreciate a nice, relaxing trail ride on a good horse with friends enjoying time away from our busy lives. It’s funny how we change as we get older. My horses used to constantly have their tails washed and bagged, whiskers and bridle paths shaved, socks shaved, white socks as bright as they could be but now, happy, pasture potatoes is what I prefer. My horses now have “cactus faces” sporting their long whiskers so they can use them as they were intended. They are bathed once a month (maybe) and tails most times have black berry bushes stuck in them. Natural and happy. That’s my approach to horse care anymore. What makes me happy? Riding on a horse who would go to the ends of the earth for me if I asked, soft in my hands, light to my cues and still has their personality to tell me their opinions as we ride. It’s a partnership not a dictatorship. To be better today than we were yesterday is all I ask. No more expecting perfection and hours in the arena schooling. Short schooling rides that achieve small goals are what we do anymore. Life’s too short. Enjoy the horse and think of your partnership as a relationship not an ownership. You’ll find the beauty I’ve found and love.
Yesterday I was at the feed store picking up my grain and I over heard a lady asking for advice about grain and the sales associate recommended senior. I stopped to hear her reasoning why an 8 year old should be on senior she had good points it’s a good grain I’ve fed it for many years but it can be quite sweet due to molasses so some horses might get hot on it. The lady asked if she can feed it all year the sales associate said yes and they ended up getting the bag of grain. All well and good but there’s so much more to choosing a grain and a diet for your horse all factors need to be added into it. What breed of horse? Certain breeds are hotter on sweeter feeds like Arabians, Morgan’s and thoroughbred horse’s for example. Those breeds do best on rice bran, beat pulp and low sugar grains. Age played a big role, high proteins are a must for growing horses but too much protein can hurt them. How often are they worked? If not ridden hard consistently than look for more of a low energy feed. I love high fat feeds personally, all horse’s benefit from high fat feeds in moderation. Makes their coats shine and they skin is healthy not dry just make sure you’re not feeding high fat feeds with high sugar hay… that is too much for them and can cause founder. Also take in consideration the horse’s living situation, is it a pasture? Lots of fresh spring grass? Probably not feed much of anything except a mineral block at their own discretion. Is it winter? Are they cold? Feed higher protein and fat to keep them warm. Most supplement with a flake of alfalfa in the winter to keep the horse from dropping weight. Then there’s the vitamins, how to choose the right one?! There’s the basic maintenance vitamin, the biotin and hoof growth supplement, the ulcer guard, the cough free, the fat supplement, the probiotic the joint supplement it’s no different than a human vitamin isle just very expensive. Consult your vet for their professional opinion of course but also seek out people who have horse’s similar to yours and ask their opinions and what they found works. Just know if you’re feeding a pelleted, dry grain please soak it. Horse’s get pretty excited about grain and will choke if it’s too dry. Supplements I prefer are wheat germ oil, to help promote smooth digestion and colic prevention, probiotic to utilize the maximum absorption of my supplement that I feed each horse, basic selenium and vitamin supplement along with aloe juice for moody mares or gas colic prone horse’s. I also like to feed a loose mineral salt in their grain to be sure they are getting enough water in extreme hot and cold temps. You’ll find what works for you but I suggest at every change of seasons you recalculate you’re horse’s individual needs as the weather changes.
As humans we think completely opposite of how the horse thinks. This is based on the difference between predator and prey problem solving. They are a “run now look later” mentality that’s been proven to keep them safe for thousands of years. without that “spooky” mentality their species wouldn’t exist today. As humans, we have a “I will make you do what I want”. That’s a predator mentality. That helps us to be confident, driven and superior. The fact we ride horses at all is amazing considering our differences. We can ride these animals because they allow us to. In reality they weigh as much as most cars and could kill us if they knew they could but that’s not their nature… sadly that’s ours. Before riding these beauties we harvested them for food to survive. That is something instilled in them that is hard to shake, do you blame them? Learn from them they will show you how to communicate with them. Forget everything about being a human. Start thinking like a horse. Yes this means you’ll find yourself jumpy, spooking at plastic bags and wishing you could pin your ears at people… that means you’re there!
Okay, introducing the scary object to a horse. The biggest mistake I see is people approaching training thinking like a human. If you think like a human you won’t get anywhere but backwards with a horse. Stop, think about something you’re scared of. Snakes for instance, say someone came at you with a snake. You’d run now look later right? But what if they said “it’s fine, it’s not going to hurt you”… would you believe them? Didn’t think so. That’s how the horse views every scary thing you try to touch them with right away. Then they bring the scary thing up to their nose to MAKE them smell it… notice that’s the human brain again. Horses just see you trying to attack their nose with it now. And lastly the first place people go to touch their horses with said scary object are the most vulnerable areas like the legs and belly! How much sense does that make?! Stop watching amateur “training” videos and re-wire your brain to be a horse not a human.
The best way to make the horse comfortable over a scary object is “setting them up to succeed”. When I say that, what I mean is you let the horse find its way on its own so it’s at his pace and his comfort level. You’re just there to make sure nothing can go wrong making this a bad situation as they feel their way through it. Start out hanging the scary object in the round pen so they can pass it, sniff it or avoid it if they want. Then stop them by it to show them it’s a sign of release. After a couple times of this, reverse so they can see it from their other side and repeat the steps. Next, take it down and put it on the ground, let them investigate it themselves. If it’s a grain bag I like to put their favorite treat on it to get them to engage in being close to it then they get a reward for finding their goodie. All of this without a rope on them so they don’t feel forced. After that, drag it behind you, as you’re leaving them and they will start out at the very end of the rope until they are sure it’s not a horse eating bag they will become more confident and walk closer. Stop, let them walk on it, paw at it and harass it as much as they want. Don’t ever chase them with a scary object that just solidifies the threat and good luck getting them past that again. Be patient, let them set the pace. After they are bored to death of those steps then bring it up to their shoulder then take it away then go back to having them follow it again. This is all very time consuming but the horse learns you’re not going to push it on them and your bond will be stronger because of it. Little by little is how it’s done.
Once a solid foundation is built on trust and they are correctly desensitized you’ll see a confident, happy partner. That’s the goal and it’s worth it!
Well in a perfect world we’d love all horses to be built perfectly correct and ride smooth also be top breeding quality but that’s not real life. I know you’re thinking right now “you’re so wrong my horse is perfect and does it all!”… well Karen I’m happy you’re so in love with your horse as you should be! A good horse is hard to find but most have one thing about them that makes them one career or the other. I’m going to cover those traits, the benefits of an imperfect horse and why we shouldn’t be so hard on judging them. There’s always a career that best suits every horse. It’s usually us, as riders who don’t listen to what they would be best suited for and put them in a job they can only do 80% the best of their ability because their heart just isn’t in it. Horses will tell you what they would excel in just be patient.
The flawed horse is my utmost favorite! These horses are “rejects” from big halter and show barns. They are discarded and undervalued in general because they aren’t perfect. I own two youngsters that a a result of this and they are the best youngsters I’ve ever had! They are easy to train, love to work, bred well, out of and by multiple world champion parents, pretty and the smoothest rides ever! The only thing wrong is they don’t have perfect legs. Both are cow hocked and my gelding “paddles” with one front leg. So what? Yes they won’t win anything in halter but they are pleasure show horse’s. Conformation doesn’t matter in riding careers! Moral of this story is too many people put too much weight in horse’s builds when purchasing anymore. If it’s perfectly built, that horse isn’t going to be the best athlete or the smoothest ride. Sometimes confirmation flaws make the horse smoother and much more enjoyable to ride. The correct horse’s are best suited for breeding and halter. The slightly imperfect horse’s are best suited for riding careers.
When looking at a horse don’t judge it on the stigma “if it’s not confotamionally correct it’s not a good horse”… how many of us are not perfect? Yes I went there! Look at yourself, be as critical on yourself as you are on these horses you criticize. Now after you’ve realized you’re out of shape, eat too much fast food, stressed, tired, have a pin in your ankle from an old sports injury, a ruptured disc in your back and can’t walk far due to bad knees… lets take another look at this horse that just has a slightly turned out front foot.
It’s all in perspective! The horse with a slightly turned out foot may not be great for high impact sports like jumping 5ft fences but he would rock it as a trail horse or open show horse right? Just like saying I’m not going to put you in a race and make a lot of money if I bet on you with all your issues but it doesn’t mean you’re not successful and a great mom. This horse may not be the horse you would breed because of the funky foot but he could be your best friend if you let him.
The pros of conformity faults are always a fun one for me to explain to folks. They come into this conversation thinking only horse’s with straight, correct legs are worth buying. Any horse with a fault is trash. That’s what close minded does to a person. They think that way but never realize the beauties of these faults and how they actually make the horse more enjoyable to ride!
Short backs v.s long backed horse’s- short backs are correct and strong. But nothing about that is smooth unless you like jack hammers… long backs make for a smooth ride and your horse won’t pull their shoes off by over reaching with the hind legs. It’s also easier to fit a saddle to a long backed horse in my opinion.
Straight legs v.s cow hocked horse’s- straight is visually appealing and considered correct but you go into a big reining barn you’ll see nothing but cow hocked horse’s because they absorb the shock better and stop harder than straight legged horses.
Correct hock angle v.s slightly sickle hocked- sickle hocks are more angled than usual but they are very smooth and they absorb more concussion of the gaits making for a smooth ride you can go all day!
So take in consideration your flaws and how you’ve adapted and overcame them you’re doing just fine. Stop being so critical on these slightly imperfect horse’s. They aren’t useless you just need to help them find what they are made for. I love my “rejects” I wouldn’t trade them for a correct horse ever!
When riding just focus on relaxing and the clarity of your communication with your horse. Take the time to enjoy your horse, don’t get too carried away with goals and improvements.
Have a shorter ride, scratch them more and give them cuddles after your ride and appreciate the time together.
This will help you and your training goals will come in time but your horse will try harder for you because you took the time to listen, enjoy, love and not be so bossy to them.
Greedy riders make anxious horses.
Think about it this way, if you have a friend who only wants the most from you every time you see them aren’t you going to wonder what the catch is every time you see their call? You grow to expect to be treated one way after it happens so many times and creates a pattern. Break that pattern and remember to be compassionate and slowing things down is always a good break from schooling and training.
It’s summertime, we’ve got our horses wearing their fly masks and smelling constantly of fly spray with in turn, makes us smell like “pledge” to the non-horse person lol!
You’re doing your best and that’s great but don’t forget that those masks can breed bacteria on the horses face. Wearing a fly mask everyday leads to dirty, smelly masks and sometimes har loss on the horse’s face due to lack of air and natural shedding of skin and hair. The masks are great but here’s some tips to keep your horse as healthy and happy as possible!
Wash your fly masks weekly and let dry in the sun, this helps keep the horses face free from bacteria and dirt that can irritate their eyes.
Wash your horses face once every two weeks with a medicated shampoo, sponge and warm water to free their skin from any fungus that may be breeding under the mask.
Let the horse take a couple days off from the mask a week in order to get natural airflow and sunlight that helps clear up fungus as well.
And lastly, rotate your mask with another type of fly mask so the horse doesn’t get rub spots on their face from prolonged wear. This and taking the masks off at night will help your horse stay healthy and happy this summer!
This post is about taking a step back from your daily routine and stopping to smell the roses.
We all strive for progress and success but this approach will open your eyes to a new angle of training. Being a passenger isn’t always a bad thing!
Being a passenger at the right times is actually very productive! What I mean is this, jut spending time with your horse is bonding you two stronger but sitting on your horse while they graze does more than that! While you’re just relaxing and watching them graze from their back you may braid their mane or find a good itchy spot or tell them about your day. To you it’s just you sitting on your horse enjoying the soothing sounds of them chewing. To them they are reading your body language, you’re relaxed, happy and trusting them. You’re not telling them what to do, you’re not working them hard, you’re just enjoying each other. They are bonding more because you’re not asking much of them at all and they can cruise around as they please and you’re just a passenger. This is a huge break from the normal where they are expected to obey your every whim.
This helps youngsters learn to carry a rider on uneven ground in a relaxing environment with minimal pressure. The youngster will also respect you more for being a friend and not a bossy “herd leader” per-say.
So next time it’s too hot to ride you can always do this, hop on, enjoy each other and your partnership will be healthier for it!
A common question I get is “how do you teach your horses to drop their head on their own? How do you release pressure without having control over the horse?”
The answer is simply this, I do have full control of the horse’s even though you see no ropes or contact they get their release the way I’ve taught them from the beginning. Having them move like this takes many stages not just one technique other than consistency and method change when they are ready to progress.
There are many steps the horse’s learn before being under saddle. This foundation also sets them up to move correctly under saddle. Their bodies are well conditioned and prepared before their first saddling and first ride.
The benefits of the “low and slow” at liberty like this teaches them control without restraints, respect and I use body language with them so they feel comfortable communicating in their “own language” per say. This adds comfort and understanding-which is the foundation of bonding and partnership. The low head set lifts their back and strengthens their back or “top-line” this helps them build proper muscling to carry a rider. The slow is good to teach for them to realize they have a few speeds instead of just go and stop. Controlling the horse speeds, having them transition into other speeds as you cue it. This helps when they are under saddle with a rider so there’s no confusion of what the rider is asking. Most of my youngsters jog naturally right away under saddle I rarely have to school them to have a nice slow trot just because we work on it from the ground first.
Ground work, patience and praise! A well prepared horse is a willing partner!