Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bridling: How to Achieve this Simple Task

By: Darlene M. Cox

Throughout my many years of being in and among various horsemen, I have noticed how some riders will make the simple task of bridling into a complex and, often times, aggravating experience for both horse and rider, with the end result being a hanked-off rider and a horse with banged-up teeth after having a bit forced into his mouth. Each time I've seen this happen, I've told myself it doesn't have to be this way. Teaching a horse to drop its head and willingly accept a bit and the entire bridling experience is as simple as allotting some training time prior to heading out on the trail. Bridling should be done with fluid movement and be a steady and smooth process. The mouth and head of a horse are very sensitive. Many horses will adversely react to roughness or an overly invasive and timely production of getting the bridle set. Following are some training tips that I have utilized in training my horses to be bridled:

  • The first step is to teach your horse to drop his head. I have utilized one of two methods to do this. The first is to place my hand on his poll (area just behind his ears and top of his neck) and apply gentle pressure. Applying too much pressure will be met with resistance and your horse trying to raise his head up. Gentle pressure will induce him to drop his head.
    Initially, when he drops his head release the pressure and reward him with a pat. Continue with gentle pressure at the poll until he stands with his head dropped.
    The second method I have used to affect the lowering of his head is to apply pressure to his forehead with my finger. Follow the same steps until you get the end of result of his standing with head dropped.
  • After your horse drops his head have your bridle ready, holding the poll straps with one hand and the bit with other, with the reins draped over (not wrapped) your forearm. Along with the bit have a horse treat in hand. Standing to the side of your horse's head, hold the bridle in form (poll portion up and bit approaching mouth). Do not allow your horse to have the treat unless he takes the bit. He will come to associate accepting the bit with receiving a treat.
  • Gently set the bit along the bars behind your horse's teeth before you move the poll portion of the bridle upward. Once the bit is comfortably positioned, move on to correctly place the poll straps behind the ears and buckle the chin strap loosely.
  • Adjust/check the curb strap/chain, if you ride with one. You should be able to insert two fingers between the strap/chain and chin.

The process for removing the bridle is just as important as installing it.
  • Remove the reins from around the horse's neck and drape (not wrap) them over your forearm.
  • Ask your horse to once again drop his head by implementing one of the above methods.
  • Standing by the side of your horse's head, undo the chin strap. Place one hand on the poll straps and position the other on the bit. Remove the poll straps over the ears and proceed using a downward angle that matches the pitch of your horse's face. Once your hand reaches just below the eyes, gently remove the bit, making sure you don't rattle the metal against your horse's teeth.
Perfecting the art of bridling before you ride will make the experience much more pleasant for you and your horse. Practice bridling and unbridling any time you are grooming or working with your horse. The time you take to teach your horse to drop his head and become comfortable with bridling will make the process go much smoother when you are ready to hit the trails.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Say 'Whoa' to Winter Woes: Money and Time Saving Tips

This article is taken from our February newsletter. It's chock full of horse care tips, helpful articles, and coupon codes! Click here to subscribe.

By: Darlene M. Cox,

We are definitely in the grip of winter as Mother Nature blows cold arctic air down upon us, bringing with it the beautiful, yet burdensome, snowfalls. While spring will most certainly arrive, we must persevere to get through winter. Undoubtedly, barn chores take longer to do during the winter months when you factor in the multiple layers of clothes you must dress in, snow drifts that may need to be navigated around, frozen ice buckets and troughs to be cleared, and mucky mud pits at barn entrances that are just waiting to suck the boots right from your feet.

Yes, it is definitely no picnic dealing with the daily care of our horses during this cold and blustery season, but there are things you can do to save a little money and time:

· Reduce the cost of your farrier expenses by pulling shoes from your horse during the off season. This will allow some resting time for your horse's feet and keep some money in your pocket. Also, you may not need to have your farrier come out every six weeks, as hooves grow slower during winter months. An added health/safety bonus in keeping your horse unshod during winter is that snowballs will not accumulate on his feet, which will reduce tendon injuries. If you have a horse that must remain shod, consider using Vaseline petroleum jelly or shortening on the soles to keep snowballs from accumulating. You could also have your farrier place some snow pads under the shoes.

· Prevent plumbing expenses and the hassle of having to haul water in by wrapping exposed water pipes with heat tape or a pipe sleeve. For really frigid nights, you may want to let your water nozzle drip into a bucket to keep pipes from freezing. Disconnect hoses, because water will back flush from the hose to the water pipe and freeze.

· Provide your horse with ample paddock time. Unless the weather is particularly bad, your horse will prefer to be outside and not stuck in his stall. This will save you time and expense of having to clean stalls as often.

· Prevent icy build-up in watering buckets and troughs by using heated buckets or a heating element designed for troughs. Horses do not like to drink ice cold water and will not consume as much as they should, which my increase the chance of impaction colic. Feed your horse salt to encourage water consumption during winter months. If you do not have electricity at your barn, coat the inside of water buckets and troughs with vegetable oil, which will make the ice block slide out easier when dumping.

· Carpet remnants can be used to cover snow and ice covered paths and provide better traction for moving your horse between paddock and barn. You can also cut up carpet strips to keep in your truck to use for traction if you happen to get stuck in the snow. A carpet section can also be used to bring hay to your horses. Just place the bale or flakes on the carpet and drag it across the snow.

· Limit your exposure to the elements by pre-measuring the grain for the next feeding cycle. Prepare the evening feed, right after feeding the morning regimen, and then do the same preparation for the next morning's feed the night before.

· Save time on winter grooming by focusing only on badly soiled areas, such as bellies, feet, and legs. Grooming will flatten down your horse's hair coat, which will actually make them colder. Wait for a warmer day to do entire body grooming.

Dress warm, stay safe, and keep your eyes on the calendar for spring will definitely be here before you know it.

Happy trails!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shave and A Haircut: Teaching Your Horse to Stand for Clipping

By Darlene M.

If you have been around horses for any length of time, you have probably encountered a horse that will not tolerate being clipped. Perhaps the horse believes those noisy, tingly clippers to be a horse-eating monster or perhaps the world's largest horsefly. Regardless, he's going to have none of it! Further attempts of clipping a horse that is fearful can be dangerous for you and him.

If you have a horse that is not comfortable with your hand touching his ears, face, legs, etc., you've got a horse that will not tolerate clippers. You want your horse to be comfortable and relaxed as you clip him; worry free and without a care. But how do you get there? As with many other training methods, you need to desensitize your horse to the sight, sound, and feel of the clippers.

The following steps will enable you to accomplish clipping your horse safely:

1. If your horse does not like his ears, head, muzzle, face, eyes or legs touched, you must first get him to accept your hands on him before you will ever be able to get him to accept the clippers. Once you have him accepting your touch without any resistance, you can then introduce the clippers.

2. With the clippers turned off, let your horse see, smell, and touch them. Wave them around in front of his face. Let him get used to seeing them in your hand. Rub them on his neck and then move up to his head, around the jaw and then move them up to his ears, eyes, and muzzle. Take the clippers down to his legs. Starting at the elbow, rub them down the leg to the fetlock.

Once he stands calmly as you rub the clippers over his body as they are turned off, you can then move on to the next step.

3. Stand by your horse's head and turn the clippers on. Let him get used to the sound. Turn them off and on. Wave the humming clippers around in front of his face to let him see the movement and hear the clippers as they move from one position to the next. If he reaches out to inspect them, let him; but make sure he doesn't put his nose on the blade end.

Move the clippers toward his ears, letting him hear the sound close up. He may lift his head higher to move away from the sound, but when he drops his head turn off the clippers and pat him, speak softly to him to reward him. It may take you a while to get him used to having the clippers around his ears, but continue the method of turning off the clippers and rewarding him with a pat each time he lowers his head.

4. Once he is comfortable with the turned on clippers being moved around in front of his face and the reverberating sound of them in his ears, it is time to touch him with them as they are turned on. This will be a whole new experience, because now he will be able to feel the vibration as well as hear them. Again, I start at the neck and lay the clipper body, not the blade, against his skin. You will get a reaction. Use the above reward method when your horse relaxes a little. From the neck, I move to the jaw, and down to the muzzle, up the other jaw to the ear, where you will have the biggest reaction from your horse. He will definitely raise his head high, but when he drops it even a little, turn off the clippers and pat him.

Do the same thing with his legs. Again, starting at the elbow and working your way down to the fetlock, lay the body of the clippers against his leg and work your way down. Once he stands still, reward him by turning the clippers off.

5. Now it is time to introduce the clipper blade to your horse. Always start with the muzzle, chin, underside of the jaw, poll (bridle path), and finish up with the ears. Clip a little with the blade. If your horse reacts to the feeling of the blade, revert to desensitizing him again with just the feel of the vibrating clippers.

For the legs, turn the clippers on and start from the elbow move the clipper body down to the fetlock. Once there, initiate the blade on the feathers of the fetlock. If there is any reaction from your horse, move the body of the clippers back up the leg and then return to the fetlock.

Patient consistency will allow you desensitize and train your horse to stand while being clipped. You will, most likely, need to repeat these steps several times before your horse is fully comfortable with the clipping process. However, your efforts will be worth it once you see how nice your horse looks with his new shave and a haircut.

Happy trails!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Horse Health - It's no "Choking" Matter

Choke in Horses: Emergency Handling and Prevention

By: Darlene M. Cox

Choke is, as its name implies, a condition that occurs when the esophagus of a horse becomes blocked by a substance (normally poorly-chewed and hastily swallowed grain or hay, but can also include pieces of wood/bark, or other debris the horse may get in its mouth) and renders the horse unable to swallow and breathe properly. Choke can be caused by eager eaters that eat their food quickly, with ineffective chewing. Also, poor dental health will prevent a horse from properly chewing its food. It can occur in horses of all ages. It is a serious condition that can be fatal and requires immediate veterinary assistance.

Choke can present itself either as chronic (multiple occurrences) or acute (occurring occasionally). A horse that has choked more than once is predisposed to develop an acute susceptibility, as each incidence of choke weakens a portion of the esophagus.

You can identify choke if your horse displays some or all of the following indicators:

  • Coughing
  • Appearance of foodstuffs coming from the nostrils (regurgitation)
  • Frequent attempts at swallowing
  • Excessive salivation
  • Colic-like symptoms of sweating and distress (wild-eyed appearance, slinging of head, constant working of the mouth, etc.)
  • The appearance of a palatable mass in the upper part of the neck (where the upper esophagus lies).

Anyone who has witnessed choke can tell you how unnerving it is to see your horse experience this condition. The following are steps to take when you discover your horse is choking:
  • Stay calm; don't panic.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately and definitively advise him that your horse is experiencing choke. This will light a fire under them to get them to your barn quickly.
  • Remove all food items and water from the area your horse is in (stall, paddock, etc.)
  • Keep your horse calm. If possible, move him to a quiet place.
  • Do not attempt to dislodge the mass of food from the esophagus, because you could exacerbate the problem by damaging the esophagus or by diverting the blockage into the lungs, which would cause pneumonia to develop. As hard as it is to watch your horse in distress, leave the treatment for your veterinarian to professionally undertake.

Once your veterinarian arrives he will administer a tranquilizer/sedative to calm your horse. He will then insert a tube into the horse's mouth, through which water will be flushed to dislodge the object.

Prevention is key and measures can be easily implemented into your feeding regimen for horses prone to choke or to simply prevent any of your horses from developing Choke:
  • For overzealous eaters, place a few fist-sized rocks (about 6" - 8" in diameter) in the feed trough. This will require your horse to slow down his eating as he moves the rocks around the feed pan to get to the grain.
  • Soak pelleted feed in water to expand their size and soften their consistency.
  • Break up hay cubes and/or soak them in water to make them easier to chew and swallow.
  • Cut apples, carrots, pears, etc. into small slices, not large hunks, quarters, halves, or wholes.

Staying ever vigilant to your horse's behavior and following wise husbandry guidelines will keep your horses healthy and choke free.

Happy trails!