Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Your Horse Ready for Winter?

Like it or not, winter is just around the corner. Is your horse ready? Extended cold weather takes its toll on horses given the greater amount of energy required to deal with the cold and a more difficult weather environment.

You may want to have your vet conduct a well horse visit to assess his health prior to winter’s arrival. Have a fecal egg count done on his manure to examine what kind of parasite load he may be carrying and be ready to act if the load is heavy. Parasites will negatively affect your horse’s health at a time when he needs to be in good condition. It is also important to have his teeth checked for any problems that may inhibit eating or digestion. Assess body condition to make sure your horse is carrying an adequate amount of weight. A horse that is too thin will have a difficult time generating energy to keep warm and healthy.

Have your farrier visit to trim feet and assess if anything needs to be addressed with regard to hoof health. If possible, shoes should be pulled to prevent snowball and mud build up that may stress the foot and legs.

Nutritional needs vary depending upon age, health, activity level, and weather conditions. Grazing will be limited during winter months; therefore, it is important that quality hay is provided throughout the day. Horses prefer hay that is clean, fresh, and palatable. Hay should be mold and dust free to protect your horse against illness. Grain, supplements, or ration balancers may also be required based upon the nutritional needs of your horse and his body condition going into winter. Horses drink less water in the winter months, most likely because they do not like to drink ice cold water. Placing a submerged heater in a trough or using a heated bucket will keep water at a more palatable and desirable temperature. Feeding free choice minerals or a mineral block will also encourage your horse to drink.

Covered shelter will allow your horse added comfort from winter elements such as freezing rain, but turnout time is very important to allow for exercise and fresh air. Stalls should be kept clean to prevent ammonia build-up in soiled bedding from causing breathing problems for our horses.

Exercise is required during the winter to keep your horse in a good toned body condition. While we may not like the cold much either, we need to make an effort to keep some semblance or a working routine for our horses. Even during inclimate weather, we can provide exercise even if it is as simple as walking our horse up and down the barn aisle.

A healthy horse going into winter will be a healthy horse come spring when you are ready to hit the trails again.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tip Your Hat: Trent Miles, Marketing Manager

Trent & Abby Miles
Photo by: Henry Photography
Hey everyone. It’s great to finally join the Horse Saddle Shop team! Finally? Yeah, I’ve been eyeing this place for a while now! There’s something about a family owned business, the art of handmade leather products, and a two-minute drive from home that kept drawing me to this place. I always knew Chuck and the crew were up to some great things here, but I can’t tell you how exciting it is to finally be in the saddle.

I’ve always loved a great story. I went to school for Public Relations where I learned that everyone, even companies, have a story. Horse Saddle Shop is no different. It’s easy to fall in love with a company and story that has it’s roots in God, family, and a passion for what they sell.

I can’t wait to get to know you all a little better on our Facebook page and Twitter channel! But in the meantime, here are some fun facts to help you get to know me.

Your most recent purchase?
A clothes dryer belt. Installed at lunch today. My husband duties are complete for the weekend.

What is something most people don't know about you?
I love film photography. Yeah, the old fashion stuff. I do wedding, engagement, and family photos on the side and I shoot film 90% of the time.

If you could vacation anywhere...where would you go? 
I’d spend a week in Maine where I would eat nothing but crab legs and lobster for every meal.

What inspires you? 
The creative class - leather experts, film photographers, blacksmiths, letterpress, boot makers, and the list continues. There’s something I love about the process of creating something by hand. It inspires me.

What famous person do people tell you that you look like? 
The Brawny Man or Josh Hartnett

Favorite food? 
Haluski. Yeah, you probably haven’t heard of this before, but if you have, you know what heaven will be like. It’s a family tradition and, from what I gather, a traditional Polish dish. It’s made up of cabbage, noodles, potatoes, bacon, and butter... lots and lots of butter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Day at the Spa: Do-It-Yourself Massage Therapy for Your Horse

May I have a show of hands, please, from those who have basked in the relaxing afterglow following a massage? Just as we enjoy the wonderful results of a massage, our horses can also benefit from massage therapy (also known as equine therapy).

While a certified equine massage therapist can provide the best in professional therapy, you can incorporate some basic massage methods to help soothe aching muscles and tension your horse may have. It is always important to keep safety in mind when working with your horse and to be ever vigilant of his body language.

Begin by brushing your horse, which is in itself, a form of massage that will begin to relax him. After brushing while standing to one side of your horse, use your finger tips to work along the back just off the spine, pressing deeply and moving your fingers in a circular motion. Your horse will let you know how the massage is feeling. If he has a soft, sleepy look in his eyes, he is enjoying it. If he moves away from the pressure or quivers his skin, you may be kneading a tender spot. Make a note of that area, and either lighten your pressure or move off it all together. Once you work one side of the back, move to the other side. You always want to balance your massage by working like areas in succession. This will keep your massage balanced.

After the spine area is finished, move on to the large muscle group in the rump and down the rear legs. Lighten the pressure on the legs and for the lower leg, wrap your hand around the leg and apply gentle pressure on the inside and outside of the leg. Be prepared to move out of the way if you happen to encounter a tender area that may cause your horse to kick.

Move from the rump to the neck, shoulder and chest areas. For the neck, begin by gently squeezing the crest of the neck, moving from the poll to the withers. Your horse will drop his head if the pressure feels good and will raise his head and try to step away if there is a tender spot. Using your finger tips once again just below the crest, apply deep pressure from the neck to the shoulder, and then from shoulder to chest. Repeat light pressure down the front legs, as applied to the hind legs.

Once the massage is done, your horse may well be a puddle at your feet, but I guarantee you he will look forward to his next massage session.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Walking the Line: The Importance of Fence Selection for Horse Safety

Many horse owners will agree that nothing sends one’s heart into your throat quicker than learning your horses have breeched the pasture or paddock fencing and are wandering, unprotected, along a busy road front or are running loose in the community. The safety of your horses is only as certain as the ability of your fencing to keep them safely confined within the realm of their enclosure.

Several types of fencing are available, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and dangers, along with optimum uses to meet the requirements of the area to be fenced. No fence type is 100% safe or escape resistant; however, coupling the appropriate fencing structure with the dynamics of the area to be fenced will ensure you are providing the best barrier protection for the safety of your horses.

When selecting fencing structures, keep in mind what the fence must provide: function (keeping the horses confined), safety, and eye appeal. In my home state of Kentucky, mile after rolling mile of pasture is fenced with black or white wooden, double and perimeter, 4-or-5-rail fencing. This type of fencing structure ranks foremost in meeting the three criteria defined above; however, it is also the most costly to construct and maintain; therefore, it may not be financially feasible for all. Horses recognize the strength of the wooden rails and will learn about its durability when they “test” it. Attaching the rails on the “horse side” of the fence will easily bear the weight and prevent fasteners from being loosened. The rails are highly visible to horses, and minimize run-through incidents, while well-placed boards (12” between rails and 8” from the ground) prevent hoof and leg entanglements. Perimeter fencing provides the added security that if a horse does escape from a pasture or paddock, it is still confined within the property by the perimeter fence.

Rail fences are most often made of treated 2” x 6” oak or pine planks, varied in length between 8-to-12 feet, and are constructed to a height of 5 feet (5 rail) for pasture fencing or 4 ½ feet (4 rail) for paddock fencing. Treated wood provides a longer life span for the wood and deters horses from chewing it. Painting provides an added barrier against damage and may increase the service life of the wood. Fence lines are easily accessible for clearing and cleaning. Over time, wooden rails and posts will decay and will require replacement to protect the integrity of the fencing structure.

In the event of a barrier charge, breaking and splintering of the wooden rails may occur and can cause serious injury to horses; however, most horses respect this fencing structure and breeches predominantly occur because of a flight-or-fight response or a physical altercation between two horses in adjacent pastures that choose their battleground over the fence. Double fencing will prevent such contact. These barriers should be constructed with removable rails and be wide enough to allow access for mowing and other maintenance requirements.

If a rail fence is preferred, but the combined expense of wooden rails and maintenance is too costly, you may choose to use vinyl plastic fencing or vinyl coated wood. While the purchase price of vinyl fencing may be more than wooden rails, the upkeep proves to be less costly in money and maintenance as painting is not required, although periodic pressure washing with an anti-mildew agent is necessary. Vinyl railing is not as strong as wooden rails and may be damaged when a horse leans into or rubs against it. Sustained injuries and their resultant severity may be reduced as the vinyl rails will not splinter and produce jagged ends when broken. The overall structural integrity of vinyl fencing may be compromised and weakened when adjacent railed sections are damaged; therefore, it may be prudent to closely inspect the fencing system any time such damage is sustained. Vinyl coated wood rails have the same properties of painted or treated wooden rails, yet offer the same maintenance requirements as vinyl plastic rails.

Various wire component fencing options and derivatives of wire and vinyl are available and may be more cost-conducive to farm and horse owners. Wire fencing may also better suit the terrain on some farms.

Woven wire fences are the most conventional and least expensive of wire fencing structures. Constructed of 4-to-6 inch square “woven” segments, the wire stretched between and affixed to wooden or metal posts that are separated at distances between 8-to-12 feet. As with the wooden rail fence, the wire should be affixed to the posts on the “horse side” of the fence to better withstand any “testing”. A 3” ground clearance should be afforded to prevent horses from walking the fence down. If ground clearance is too high, horses will attempt to graze under the fence and risk becoming entangled, potentially injuring themselves and damaging the fence. Further damage may occur as horses hang their heads over the top and press down, causing slack between the posts and “crumpling” the fence by bending the weaves. Mashing can be abated by running a wooden rail across the top and affixing the woven wire to the rail. The inclusion of a single electric wire inside of the wooden rail will provide added protection. Tight tensioning will prevent horses from loosening the bottom of the fence. Maintenance requires replacement of the wooden poles that may be damaged or weakened by rot and re-tightening fencing segments between poles. It is important to keep the fence line clear of vegetation, as unabated growth can weaken the structure.

Diamond patterned mesh wire fencing, a type of woven wire, is ideal for keeping out transient animals, such as dogs, skunks, opossums, ground hogs, etc. Although this fencing proves more costly than conventional woven wire, the small diamond-shaped opening prevents hoof entanglement and is safer for use with horses, which may well be worth the investment if woven wire is your best option.

The most basic of the wire fences is the electric fence that, in essence, provides a psychological barrier of a sudden high voltage, yet harmless, electrical shock to a horse when it is touched. Most horses (and humans) quickly learn to respect the fence and lose their desire to purposefully risk an encounter. Although, there are some who learn that the barrier can quickly be broken as the resultant shock is minimal in duration.

Many styles of electrical fencing are available, from its simplest form of a single smooth wire strand, to more graduated types which include vinyl coated wire, poly rope wire, and poly tape. Electric fences should consist of no fewer than two strands, with greater barrier protection being afforded to three or more strands, with five strands being optimal. Utilizing a five strand electric fence with alternating hot/cold (ground) wires will provide optimal current to the fence as the cold wires allow for circuitous flow of electricity back to the charger.

Poly rope and poly tape wire provide a visible barrier; however, vinyl coated and smooth wire may need to have cloth ribbons tied to the top strand to provide horses with visible evidence of the fenced boundaries. Electric fencing is most likely the easiest form of fencing to breech, and with the use of smooth electric wiring may cause the most serious of injuries, as wire entanglements will cut deeply into flesh. Because of the greater likelihood of injury, electric wire fencing should never be used for small enclosures.

Maintenance issues are minimal with this type of fencing, although it is recommended that daily checks be made to ensure the charger is working to power the fence. Routine mowing should be done to prevent contact and grounding out by grasses and weeds that have grown tall enough to touch the bottom line.

High tension wire is less costly than other types of fencing and could be a good option based upon the durability of galvanized wire, which resists rusting, and the fact that the fence can be run greater distances (up to 20 feet) between posts, resulting in fewer fence posts needed. As its name implies, this type of wire may prove to be high maintenance as a result of the effects of temperature variations. High temperatures cause the wire to expand, resulting in slack fencing, and cold temperatures cause the wire to contract and over-tighten, which may result in damage to fence posts.

Poly-coated high tension wiring is available to provide for visibility; however, grievous injuries have been sustained by horses that have become entangled in high tension wire. A safety feature has been built in to immediately release the tension in the event of entanglement.

High tension wire can be electrified to further prevent contact from horses, and may provide the better option for your horses’ safety should you choose to use this type of fencing. Electrifying the wire would require the use of a coated wire to better conduct the electricity.

Regardless of the type of fencing you have or may choose to secure the safety of your horses, regular inspection is required to identify problems before they become catastrophes. With each step of “walking the line” of your fencing, you can rest easily at night knowing your horses are safely enclosed behind a secure barrier, separating them from harm and protecting you from loss.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ground Tying - Teaching Your Horse to Stand Still

One of the most important commands a horse should be taught and also one of the simplest for a horse to learn is ground tying. Ground tying a horse means your horse stands still whenever a lead rope or rein is on the ground. A very effective and handy tool to use during trail riding when you may need to dismount and move away from your horse to possible assist another rider, pick something up that was dropped, or perhaps to answer the call of nature. It’s not much fun to get off your horse and have him take off running back to the trailer.

Just as with any training goal, the best way to achieve success is repetition in training. Begin your training by having your haltered horse in an enclosed area, such as a round pen. Drop the lead rope to the ground and give him a one word command, such as “stand” or “stay”. Take a step or two back from your horse. If he follows you, pick up the lead rope and back him up a few steps and then move him forward to where he was standing. Drop the lead rope again, with the use of your one word command. Move away from your horse a few steps. If he stands for a few seconds, walk back to him and praise him. It is important to quickly correct him as soon as he takes a step after receiving his command. He will associate your reaction of making him work (backing up and moving forward) and will come to understand that if he stands still when the lead rope or rein is on the ground, he won’t have to work.

The goal is to continue these lessons for longer periods of time between the command and reward. You may want to incorporate other things into your training regimen, such as moving away and turning your back to him, even moving out of sight. Again if he moves, back him up several steps and pull him forward again.

It may take a while to build up the length of time that your horse will stand still, but if you keep working at it, your horse will always stand quietly whenever he knows the lead rope or rein is on the ground.

This simple training task will assure you that you get to ride back to camp, rather than walking back without your horse.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Horse Has a Flat: What to Do if Your Horse Throws a Shoe on the Trail

The equivalent in the horse world of having to “change a flat tire in the middle of the night in the rain” is having to care for your horse that throws a shoe in the middle of a forest. Just as you would have a jack, tire iron, and spare tire available for your car emergency, you also need to have necessary tools and supplies available to you to fix your “horse flat”. These items should be carried in your saddle bags to have available on the trail. They aren’t going to do you much good if you are 10 miles deep in the forest and they are securely tucked away in your trailer at camp. Most horse folk who trail ride carry a hoof pick with them; however, it is equally important to carry a shoe puller/nipper, as well as a boot, baby diapers, and duct tape.

Many things can cause a loose or thrown shoe while riding the trails. Deep mud can be problematic as well as underbrush or simply your horse taking a miss-step. Once you hear the tell-tale sound of a loose shoe, immediately stop and assess the problem. If the shoe is merely loose, but the overall integrity of the shoe set is still good (i.e., not hanging sideways or dangling), you can continue riding but keeping a constant watch on the shoe if its integrity deteriorates.

If the shoe has been partially pulled and the shoe is dangling by what few nails remain intact, you must remove the shoe completely from the hoof. Move your horse to as level ground as possible. Ask a friend to assist by standing at your horse’s head. Use the shoe puller/nipper to nip the heads off the remaining nails and then use the puller/nipper, starting nearest the heel, to remove the shoe by pulling inward toward the sole of the foot. Never pull outward to the outside of the hoof as you risk damaging the hoof wall. Be careful and aware that your horse’s foot may be injured or sore and he may be reactive if a tender place is touched. Be sure to remove any remaining nails that may be in the hoof.

Once the shoe has been removed, you can place the foot in a pre-fitted boot (if you have one) or you can pad the hoof with baby diapers and then wrap it securely with duct tape. This will protect your horse’s foot from further injury if it was hurt when the shoe came off, as well as make walking over rocky terrain more comfortable.

At this point, your riding for the day is pretty much over and a return to camp is best. If your horse does not appear lame and you have the foot securely wrapped, you can ride your horse back to camp; however, if there is any indication of lameness and soreness, it is best that you lead him back to camp.

Once back in camp, you can contact a farrier and/or veterinarian to tend to your horse.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bidding Adieu to Poo – Composting Horse Manure

If you have horses, you most certainly have an abundance of manure. Most horse folk probably look at dealing with this odorous offal as the price one must pay when having horses. The truth is, however, horse manure can be a beneficial resource for your farm and could possibly put some greenbacks in your hand as well.

There are many benefits to composting horse manure. The health of your horses can be positively impacted because flies and parasites are killed off by the high temperatures in the compost pile. Your pasture benefits as well because weed seeds cannot survive through the high temps as well.

Removing manure from your pastures and adding to your compost will provide more grazing capacity. Horses avoid grazing near manure piles (can’t say that I blame them); however, they don’t seem to mind the presence of composted manure when lightly spread over the pasture to encourage good grass growth by supplying rich nutrients to the soil.

The easiest way to compost is to build two composting bins which can be done easily and inexpensively, to store your compost. All that is required are landscape boards and lag screws to build a three-sided bin. Once the bin is full, it takes about two months for the composting process to be completed. It may be beneficial to build two bins where you can have a fresh compost bin and a completed bin.

When establishing your compost pile, you want to select an elevated spot that is not located near a water source. A well-managed compost pile will break down the manure quickly and will reduce the bulk that you would otherwise have on hand without composting. Odors are also diminished by composting, simply due to the natural process of the manure breaking down. It is important to try to keep foreign matter out of your compost pile. Some stall bedding (straw) composts quicker than others (sawdust).

The success of your compost pile relies on two important things: Heat and air movement. Optimal heating levels are achieved by having a pile that is at least three feet high. Heat is obtained from decomposition and internal combustion as the manure breaks down. Air movement is easily achieved by using your tractor to turn the pile and moving the outside compost to the inside of the pile. Moving the pile allows air to reach all areas and provides the fuel for combustion. If you don’t have a tractor, you can insert several PVC pipes, with holes drilled through them, down through the pile to provide air flow.

The temperature of your compost pile will vary through composting cycle. The range is generally between (100 degrees to 120 degrees on the lower end and rising to around 130 – 150 degrees to effectively kill off fly and parasite eggs. The temperature of the pile will drop when composting is nearing completion.

Water is also an important component for your pile; however, you don’t want too much of it. Too much water will limit the amount of air flow and will cause odors. Covering your pile may be necessary during any wet periods. You also don’t want your pile to be too dry. Compost should have about as much moisture as you might find in peat moss; somewhat damp, but not dripping.

Composted horse manure is a marketable commodity and can easily be sold to landscapers, plant nurseries, topsoil companies, or to your neighbors who want to use it to enrich their gardens. Contact some of these businesses to see if they may be interested in buying your compost. The money you make from it can then be put back into your horse operation. You will find that the work involved in maintaining your compost pile is minimal compared to the benefits you receive from it.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (

Sunday, June 3, 2012

As the Worm Turns: Managing Parasite Burdens in Your Horse

Most who own horses are aware that horses play host to a varying degree of parasite burdens. Life for the parasite living inside your horse is pretty comfy. Its needs are being met as the horse provides the amenities of warmth and fine dining, which allow the parasite to grow and develop, while causing problems for your horse. The life of a parasite is cyclical and its existence relies on its ability to perpetuate its life cycle by living and reproducing in the horse, with eggs being expelled outside in dung, and reinfesting the horse again as the horse grazes.

While this cycle cannot be stopped, it can at least be slowed down and effectively controlled with a two-prong approach of smart farm management practices and fecal egg count monitoring, with use of deworming agents when parasite load numbers require intervention. Many horse owners maintain a regular de-worming program by administering deworming agents on a six-to-eight-week schedule or via a daily feed-through supplement; however, it has recently been suggested that parasites are becoming resistant to these medications, and it may be best to use them only when parasite numbers are high.

Fecal egg count monitoring for each horse will allow you to tailor treatment for each individual horse. Not every horse will carry the same parasite load, so it only stands to reason that treatment regimens should be administered based upon the amount of infestation maintained by each horse. You would not want to treat a horse with a low count as you would one with a high count. Treatment should not be considered a "one treatment program fits all" regimen.

Probably the most important weapon, and generally the one easily overlooked, in parasite management is using wise farm management practices. The beginning life cycle of parasites begins outside the horse, when egg infested dung lies on the ground and horses graze near the dung ingesting the parasite once again. Parasite numbers on the ground can be greatly reduced by removing dung from the pasture or by breaking the piles up and exposing the inside of the pile to sunlight. For larger pastures, mowing or dragging the will break these piles up. If you arm yourself with a wheelbarrow, utility trailer, and a stall cleaning fork, you can pick up dung piles in smaller pastures.
While it may be difficult for many seasoned horse owners to back away from using the repetitive deworming program, you may want to chat with your veterinarian about fecal egg count/parasite load based treatment, just to see if this new regimen may be best for your horse.
Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (