EquiSearch's Ask the Vet: Fear of Fireworks

Is your horse afraid of fireworks? Dr. Joyce Harman shares a few simple tactics to help him in her Ask the Vet column on EquiSearch.com.

By Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM        

Fireworks can be very frightening for many horses. Their safe home is invaded by sudden, loud noises, and they cannot get away from it. Horses have been known to run through fences or just run through the fields injuring themselves along the way. They can be in a blind panic and not be thinking about uneven ground. They can get tendon and ligament injuries, sprains or cuts.

When a horse is in panic mode, you do not want to go into the field or even the stall to try to calm them, unless you are sure they are paying attention to you, and you can control them. If a firework goes off and the horse jumps, you could be mashed into a fence or wall or be run over, and it would not be the horse's fault. They are big animals, and when they panic we are just a small object that can be run over.

There are a few simple things you can do that can help greatly. If your horse is severely affected you may want to get some tranquilizer such as acepromazine from your vet, which lasts for two or more hours from one dose.

There are two items you can get from most local health food stores. One is a homeopathic remedy called Aconite. It will come in a little container with tiny white pills. You will think there is no way these tiny things can help, but put aside your skepticism for an evening and give it a try. This remedy is for fear or terror of sudden things, especially noises. Give your horse about 6-8 of the little pellets on a handful of food or a treat. Give the first dose in the late afternoon if there are a few warm-up firecrackers, and then give another dose later in the evening just before the fireworks. You can give another dose or two through the evening if you need to--it is very safe. Once the noise has stopped there is no need to continue. Your friends may tell you that the remedies will not work if given with food, but ignore them because the remedies will work just fine.

Aconite may not stop every horse from being afraid, but it should settle most of them down at least to a manageable and safe level. Some will be very quiet and relaxed about the commotion.

The next thing to pick up is called Rescue Remedy. There are different brand names, but if you ask for Rescue Remedy, the store should know what you are talking about. This is a Bach Flower, which is a group of remedies for various emotional states. Rescue remedy is for any stressful situation. It comes in a little bottle. Put about 10 drops of the liquid into your horse's mouth or the same 10 drops into the water bucket or even the trough. Again, put your skepticism aside and give it a try. It is very safe and very diluted when you give it.

 I would put 10 drops in the water source at the beginning of the day and refresh it with another 10 drops if you fill up the bucket/trough again. Then close to the time the fireworks start, you can give a squirt (that equals about 10 drops) directly into your horse's mouth or put it on a treat such as an apple. It is preserved with brandy usually, so some horses may not like the taste. You can also dilute it in some water and squirt it into his mouth. Repeat the doses 3-4 times during the evening if you need to and can get close to the horse. Or just be sure he has access to his water.

Give these simple things a try and see if your celebration is a bit more peaceful.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia. Visit her online shop.


Highly Recommended Vaccinations for Your Horse

By the Editors of Practical Horseman magazine

This at-a-glance vaccination chart shows you the vaccinations recommended for your horse, based on his lifestyle.

For your purpose of choosing the best vaccination and deworming strategy for your horse, these are the three basic equine lifestyles:

Open herd: This is your horse's situation if he travels frequently to shows or other events where he comes in contact with unfamiliar horses whose worming and vaccination schedules you don't know. Even if he's stay-at-home, he's in an open herd if he boards in a large facility with a high turnover and even more so if manure is not removed regularly from the turnout areas.

Semi-open herd: If your horse and those around him are on regular vaccination and deworming schedules and their fecal egg counts are monitored and all newcomers to the barn are immediately vaccinated and dewormed, your horse fits here.

Closed herd: This lifestyle gives you horse the least exposure to worms and germs. He qualifies if he's in an extremely controlled environment with rare exposure to unfamiliar horses, is turned out in regularly cleaned paddocks and benefits from regular vaccination and deworming program that includes fecal egg counts.

Now that you know your horse's herd type, use the chart below to develop a custom plan that optimally immunizes your horse against disease and controls his exposure to parasites.

(Don't Leave Home Without Them)
Disease Description Protocol/Comments
TETANUS TOXOID When a wound such as a deep puncture is contaminated, toxins from the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium tetani, which thrives in the equine environment, cause lockjaw and general muscle spasms, usually resulting in death. For all herd types: Vaccinate yearly.
Give a booster vaccination at the time of penetrating injury or surgery if most recent dose was more than six months earlier. Broodmares should receive a vaccination four to six weeks before foaling.
EE/WEE Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, aka Sleeping Sickness, is a vector-borne viral disease causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. For all herd types: Vaccinate yearly, in spring (before insect season).
Where Encephalomyelitis is common and/or where there are two annual mosquito "blooms," give a booster EEE/WEE vaccination every six months about a month before the onset of the mosquito season. A vaccination for
Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis is also recommended for horses in U.S border areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
RABIES Invasion of the central nervous system by a virus that is fatal if untreated; it also transmits to other animals--including humans. For all herd types: Recommended yearly, especially in areas where rabid wildlife is reported or areas considered to be endemic.
WEST NILE VIRAL ENCEPHALMYELITIS A mosquito-born encephalitis that can be deadly to horses and has been reported in all but a few states. For all herd types: Vaccination recommended very six months.
Two West Nile Virus vaccines are now available; consult your veterinarian about the best choice for your horse. If you're vaccinating your horse against WNV for the first time, he'll require a booster after the initial injection.
INFLUENZA Acute, contagious, viral respiratory-tract inflammation; occurs in isolated cases or in epidemics. Your veterinarian can recommend which form of the vaccine is suitable for your horse. Intranasal Vaccine
Open herd: Every four months.
Semi-open herd: Every six months.
Closed herd: Every six months; add booster two to four weeks before anticipated exposure, such as a show or a long haul.
Intranasal vaccine gives a good immune response when properly applied but can be tricky to administer. If your horse is fussy about substances sprayed up his nostrils, consider using the injectable form.
Injectable Vaccine
Open herd: Every four months.
Semi-open herd: Every four months.
Closed herd: Every six months; add a booster two to four weeks before anticipated exposure.
RHINOPNEUMONITIS Caused by a herpes virus, a contagious infection of the respiratory tract; often induces abortion in pregnant mares. Open herd: Every other month.
Semi-open herd: Every four months.
Closed herd: (Optional) Every six months.
Rhinopneumonitis and Influenza vaccines are sometimes administered in a single combined dose. If your mare is bred, consult your veterinarian about a Rhino vaccination schedule to safeguard her pregnancy.

- See more at: http://www.equisearch.com/horses_care/health/vaccinations/recommended_082506/#sthash.Kjy7AXC4.dpuf


Weather Alerts Explained

By the Editors of EQUUS magazine


 Understanding the language of weather reports will help you keep your horses safe.  Here's the lingo you need to know.

Keep your eye on they sky and an ear out for weather advisories to keep your property and animals safe.

We all keep a close eye on the weather, particularly at this time of year. Blanketing, turnout times and other management choices often depend on when the next front is coming through and what it may bring with it.

So now’s a good time to brush up on the terms the National Weather Service uses to describe impending winter storms:

• An outlook is issued when there is a chance of a storm in the next two to five days. Tune in to your local TV and radio stations or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio online regularly for updates in your area. Some local or county governments send email alerts and text messages about weather conditions to cell phones. Visit your local government websites to register for such alerts.

• An advisory means weather conditions are expected to be hazardous but are not life threatening. When an advisory is issued, keep an eye on the sky and prepare to adapt your plans if necessary.

• When a watch is issued, a storm is expected within 36 to 48 hours, and it’s a good idea to begin preparations to protect your animals and property. This may include stocking up on feed, ensuring the generator is working and moving horses to a secure field with plenty of shelter. Plan ahead so you can provide water if the power goes out---water is the most important element to your horse’s health in any situation.

• A warning means that severe, hazardous conditions are currently happening or are expected in the next 24 hours. By the time a warning is issued, you’ll want to be fully prepared for the event. If not, take immediate action.

We all keep a close eye on the weather, particularly at this time of year. Blanketing, turnout times and other management choices often depend on when the next front is coming through and what it may bring with it.


Preparing Your Barn and Horses for Winter

By the Editors of EQUUS magazine


Whether the season brings cold, snow or mud, take these steps to ensure the well being of your horses and their environment.

Planning ahead for winter weather can prevent costly and difficult repairs to your property mid-season.

When October leaves start falling, you know that winter will soon be knocking on your barn door. And in many parts of the country, that means below-freezing temperatures, snow and ice, slush and mud. Sometimes the bad weather arrives surprisingly early, so to avoid having to struggle to catch up when cold winds are blowing, get started on your winter preparations now:

1. Protect medications. Check the labels of all injectable, topical and oral medications for information about proper storage. Many cannot withstand cold temperatures and will become useless, if not harmful, if they freeze. Either store cold-sensitive products in a climate-controlled tack room, or take them to your house for the winter. (While you’re at it, check the expiration dates and replace any products that have gotten too old.) If you’re unsure whether one of your drugs is still safe, ask your veterinarian. She can also advise you on how to properly dispose of old or damaged products.

2. Test water heaters. Before temperatures hit freezing, make sure any heaters you use for your buckets and troughs are working properly. Turn the heaters on and check the water temperature, then monitor the water meter to ensure your horses are drinking normally. If your horses’ water intake seems to be below normal, investigate the possibility that you have a stray voltage problem.

3. Insulate your hand tools. Slip pieces of foam pipe insulation over the handles of shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and other barn tools, especially those made of metal, to prevent frost and help protect your hands. Use duct tape to secure the insulation in place so it doesn’t slip as you work.

4. Clean out gutters and drainage ditches. Fallen leaves and other debris that accumulate in your gutters and drainage areas can cause rain and melting snow to back up onto your roofs and along your foundations. If water pools and refreezes, it can create dangerous ice dams that can cause structural damage to your buildings.

5. Mow and drag your pastures. Cutting weeds before they go to seed will help keep them under control next year, and especially if you’re taking your horses off the grass for the winter, dragging the manure will give it plenty of time to decompose. But don’t mow to less than four inches---the grass still needs reserves to help the roots survive the cold months.

6. Inspect your roofs. Stand inside your barn and all sheds on a sunny day and look for defects that are allowing light to come through. Repair any problems you find or arrange to have the work done. If you’re unsure about the integrity of any structure that houses animals, keep it empty until you can have it examined by a professional. Also look out for holes, cracks and rot in the walls, especially along the floor, which may allow rodents and other small creatures to get in.

Check to make sure all your snow guards are in place and secure. These devices are mounted on the roof to prevent large snow slides. They also keep the weight distributed evenly over the entire surface while melting, preventing large buildups along the eaves that can block or damage gutters. Snow guards are more common in northern climates where snowfalls are heavier, but it’s not unusual in these times for weather patterns to fluctuate to the extremes, and you may get more than you expect. Even if you’ve never needed snow guards in the past, you might consider installing them.

7. Walk your fence lines. Shake the posts as you go, looking for loose boards or wires, protruding nails or fasteners, leaning or other signs of developing weakness. Carry a tool belt to make minor repairs as you go, as well as brightly colored tape to mark areas that will require more attention later.

8. Make sure lights are working. In the long daylight hours of summertime, you may not notice or care that indoor or outdoor lights at the barn have burned out---until suddenly the dark comes early, and you find yourself fumbling to change a bulb one evening. Make sure all your work areas will be well lit when you need them to be.

9. Stock up on snow supplies. A number of substances---salt, sand, ash, nonclumping clay cat litter---are useful for providing traction on icy footing. Salt is better at melting ice, but it can also kill vegetation and burn unprotected paws. Sand and ash are safer but can slow the melting process once temperatures start to rise and are very messy. Whichever choice you make, stock up long before snow is in the forecast. While you’re at it, replace any older or broken snow shovels, scrapers, deicers or other winter hand tools.

10. Service powered equipment. Late fall is a good time to change engine oil, flush and replace antifreeze, lubricate and tune up snowblowers, mowers, tractors and other powered equipment, whether you’re storing it away for the winter or prepping it for a season of use. Don’t forget to check and replace any worn tires. If you use a snow blade attachment on your truck, tractor or utility vehicle, make sure it is oiled and in good condition, and place it somewhere you’ll be able to access it readily when it’s needed. Stock up on extra belts, hoses, clamps, antifreeze and similar supplies should you need to make emergency repairs.

11. Stockpile hay, feeds and necessary supplies. It’s a good idea to have extras of all necessities on hand in case winter storms make deliveries or trips to the feed store impossible. How much hay you’ll need to store depends on many factors, including how cold it’s projected to be and how long your pasture can be grazed, but a good rule of thumb is to buy about 10 percent more than you think you’ll need. Also keep about two extra weeks’ worth of feeds and supplements on hand—just be sure to check expiration dates. You don’t want to buy more of a supplement than you can use before it expires. Make sure your first aid kit has anything you might need in an emergency, and stock up on any medications or bandages you use regularly, for a horse with a chronic illness or injury, for example.

12. Inspect your blankets. Even if you cleaned and stored your blankets properly at the end of last season, it’s a good idea to take them out and have a look at them well before you’ll need them again. Mold, insects or rodents may have gotten to them while they were in storage. Check for loose straps, frayed fabric, holes or foul smells, and repair or replace any blankets that need attention.

Also make sure each garment still fits properly. Youngsters, athletes, seniors or laid-up horses may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight over the summer and may not be able to wear the same blanket again. A properly fitting blanket allows a hand to fit snugly under and slide around along the shoulder, withers and rump.

13. Prepare your horse’s feet. If you’re going to pull your horse’s shoes for the winter, it’s best to do it while the weather is still warmer, so he can acclimate before the ground is frozen hard. If you’re going to keep him shod throughout the winter, consult with your farrier about your shoeing choices. If the footing will be slick, some horses may do better with traction devices, such as studs or borium. Snowball pads may also be necessary, to prevent wet snow from getting packed in under his feet.

14. Adjust the airflow in each stall. Too little ventilation in a horse’s stall means that airborne dust can accumulate quickly to unhealthy levels; too much airflow can mean bone-chilling drafts. Check how the air is moving in each stall with one of these two methods:

• Scuff your boots in the bedding, enough to kick up dust. After five minutes use a flashlight or other light source to check the air. If you can still see floating particles, the air is too stagnant.

Hold a strip of toilet paper, about a foot or two long, at arm’s length at different places in the stall. You want to see it waving gently, to indicate a gentle breeze. If it’s either hanging motionless or flapping vigorously, the airflow is too low or too high. Open and close doors and windows until you reach the ideal amount of ventilation. Usually, a few open windows on the leeward side of the barn, sheltered from snow and rain, provide a healthy supply of fresh air.

Winter weather can sweep in unexpectedly. But if you prepare now, you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy the best the season has to offer, knowing that your property is safe and your horses are cozy.


Copyright © 2013 Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc. an Active Interest Media company

Common Equine Skin Diseases

By Dee McVicker from Equus Magazine

Here’s what you need to know about those skin lumps, bumps and bald patches on your horse that you can probably handle on your own.

Eosinophilic granuloma with collagen degeneration (nodular collagenolytic granuloma, nodular necrobiosis, or simply nodules)

  • Appearance: distinct, firm nodules about the size of a dime or smaller, found usually in the neck, back and withers. Several small nodules may cluster together to form what appears to be a larger lump. The skin above is normal, with no hair loss, and the nodules do not contain pus. The bumps can occur in horses of any age, breed or gender. They usually are not painful or itchy, unless they’ve been irritated by rubbing. Over time, they may mineralize, which makes them feel harder.
  • Causes: The nodules are caused by the breakdown of collagen, the protein that forms the structure of connective tissue, in the middle layer of the skin. Why this happens is not fully understood, but the inciting event is believed to be hypersensitivity, when the immune system overreacts to the presence of some allergen and creates a “mass” to contain it. Allergic reactions to insect bites are thought to be the most common cause of these nodules, but injections with silicone-coated needles, minor scratches from body clipping and other traumas may be responsible in some cases.
  • Do I need to treat it? No, the nodules are harmless, unless they are interfering with tack or continuing to grow in size because the horse is rubbing them.
  • Treatment: Your veterinarian can inject corticosteroids into the nodules to shrink them. If the nodules are still present after three or more injections, which are usually given at two-week intervals, she may suggest surgical removal. The nodules become more difficult to treat medically once they have calcified, so some veterinarians may recommend more aggressive treatment earlier after they appear.
  • Prevention: Take measures to protect your horse from biting flies, including the use of fly sprays and turnout sheets. If your horse has developed nodules at injection sites, ask your veterinarian to use noncoated needles for future injections.


  • Appearance: small, round bumps at first, soon followed by bald spots, with scaly, thickened skin, usually on the lower legs of draft horses with heavy feathering, although any horse can be affected. In more serious cases the skin may be rubbed raw and show signs of secondary infections. Mange causes itching, and horses will rub, stamp and bite at their legs. In rare cases, mange may appear on other parts of the body.
  • Causes: Mange is a parasitic infection caused by several species of tiny mites that can barely be seen by the naked eye. The most common form that occurs in horses in the United States is chorioptic mange, caused by the mite Chorioptes equi, which typically affects the lower legs of horses with feathering. Although rare, horses may also develop psoroptic mange (Psoroptes equi), which produces lesions under the mane and tail, under the jaw and in the groin and armpits, and demodectic mange (Demodex equi), over the face, neck and shoulders.
  • Do I need to treat it? Yes. Not only is mange uncomfortable for the horse, it can cause permanent thickening and scarring of the skin that can impede the movement of the pastern joints.
  • Treatment: A number of topical antiparasitic products can be effective against mange---look for products that contain lime-sulfur solutions, organophosphates or permethrins, which can be applied by spraying, sponging or dipping the leg. Administering oral ivermectin or moxidectin may also be helpful in some cases. Treatments may need to be repeated three or four times at 12- to 14-day intervals. Clipping the legs will help the topical treatments reach the skin but may not be necessary in all cases, especially if the infection is still mild.
    Call your veterinarian if the infection is severe or does not respond to treatment. She can examine skin scrapings under a microscope to confirm the presence of the mites, and she may suggest an alternative treatment. Oral antibiotics may be necessary to treat secondary infections.
  • Prevention: Mites usually are passed directly from horse to horse, so do not allow your horse to have contact with others at shows or events and quarantine newcomers on your farm, especially if they have visible bald areas that appear to be itchy. Some horses can carry the mites without showing signs of infection and can be a source of recurrence after other horses are treated. If you have an outbreak, it’s a good idea to treat all horses who have been in contact with the ones affected and change out all of the stall bedding used by affected horses.

Lice (pediculosis)

  • Appearance: hair loss from rubbing, usually appearing first on the shoulders and neck, as well as on the head and the base of the mane and tail. Affected areas are intensely itchy and may also have abrasions and scabs from rubbing and possibly secondary infections. Flattened insects up to two to four millimeters long may be visible if the hair is parted and the skin examined in good light. Pale, translucent eggs may be attached to nearby hairs. The horse is also likely to be generally unthrifty and in poor health. Lice infestations tend to be more severe during the winter months but can occur at any time of year.
  • Causes: Two types of these parasitic insects infect horses: Chewing lice (Damalinia equi) feed on sloughed-off dead skin cells; these are more likely to affect the neck, flanks and the base of the tail. Biting or sucking lice (Haematopinus asini) feed on blood; this species prefers longer hair and may be found under the forelock and mane, the tail and on the pasterns of long-feathered horses. Both types cause skin irritation and itching.
  • Do I need to treat it? Yes. Not only is a lice infestation extremely uncomfortable for the horse, severe cases can cause anemia.
  • Treatment: Several types of products---permethrin sprays and wipe-ons, insecticidal powders and shampoos---are effective against lice. Read and follow label instructions and precautions carefully. Many treatments need to thoroughly coat the skin to be effective, but some products may irritate small cuts and abrasions. Oral ivermectin may be effective, but only against the biting lice. Because the insecticides will not kill eggs, the treatment needs to be repeated in two weeks to eliminate newly hatched adults.
  • Prevention: Lice can be passed directly from horse to horse, as well as via shared tools and equipment. Isolate affected horses as well as those who have been exposed to them.
  • Louse eggs that detach from the horse’s coat can hatch and re-introduce the infestation, so it is important to clean and sterilize any tack and equipment that was used on the affected horse. Clean brushes and small tools with an insecticide, or boil items that will not be damaged by heat. Pads and blankets can be sterilized by machine washing and drying at a high heat setting. Also spray or scrub down stall walls or paddock fences and change the bedding.

 Your horse’s skin is his first line of defense against most of the bugs and microbes in his world, and he will most likely experience his fair share of minor ailments over the course of his lifetime. By learning what to do, what not to do, and when to call the veterinarian, you can do your part to keep his skin healthy and strong.



7 Things to Teach Your Trail Horse

By Dee McVicker from Equus Magazine

Make the most of your trail outing this season by revisiting a few basic training exercises now.

A good trail horse will go in the direction you point him, whether over bridges, through streams or down canyons.

For most of us, trail riding is all about relaxation and enjoyment. When you leave behind the rigors and repetition of arena work, you can simply savor the experience of being in the saddle and perhaps getting to know your horse a bit better.

But sometimes a trail outing becomes a test of wills--and your skills. It’s hard to relax on a ride punctuated by successive spooks or interrupted by refusals to cross water or pass “scary” objects. And it’s exhausting trying to control constant jigging or, conversely, squeeze a little momentum out of a sluggish mount. The disappointment is even greater if every other horse on the ride seems to be taking everything in stride. What is it about those horses that makes them so much more fun to ride on the trails?

Finding the answer means looking beyond specific incidents and frustrations and taking a broader view of your horse’s training. To perform well on the trail, a horse must have a good foundation, says trainer and clinician Jonathan Field from British Columbia, Canada. “People don’t equate the same level of prep for trail riding as other disciplines because it seems like such a simple endeavor,” he says. “But the people who are living the dream, they’re the ones who have put in the time to make that horse the best trail horse he can be.”

To set out on that path yourself, you may need to revisit a few basic training exercises. Many of these will involve skills your horse learned long ago but hasn’t had to use very often. Others will focus on gaps in training that can be fudged a bit in the security of the riding ring but become significant issues when you’re away from home. But, mainly, going back to the fundamentals will help you address larger issues of compliance and respect that underlie many trail behavior problems.

Here are the seven things to teach your horse to keep your trail outings as harmonious and enjoyable as possible.

1. Teach your horse to: Load willingly.
“Big red flags go up when I see someone having trouble loading because it tells me about the willingness of the horse and if he has respect for the rider,” says Gary Woods, a frequent trail rider from Gilbert, Arizona, who is also my riding instructor of many years.

Loading into a trailer is basic to trail riding; you won’t get to many far-flung trails without a willing traveler. Although horses tend to be a little claustrophobic by nature, most learn to tolerate hauling, given enough time and patience. But loading problems are usually not just about getting into a trailer. They’re almost always about you and your horse, and where you stand in his estimation of your leadership skills.

I learned this the hard way years ago, when I called Woods to ask if he could help me retrieve my horse, Louie, from a friend’s backyard after he refused to load … for two days. Woods said he could help, but that it would take patience, trust and groundwork. He was right. Today, Louie is a consistent loader. He hops into any trailer when asked, and just as important, once we arrive at the trailhead, he’s quiet, confident and a pleasure to ride.

“If the horse is stressed out the whole time he’s in the trailer, and he’s burned up every ounce of confidence he’s ever had, and he’s sweating and scared, how is he ever going to go on that great ride you want?” points out Field. If you take the time to teach your horse to haul safely and confidently, many other issues will resolve themselves in the process, he says. Along with gaining the horse’s trust, exercises such as sending him over tarps and driving him through narrow openings can help prepare him for loading and hauling, according to both Woods and Field.

2. Teach your horse to: Go where you point him.
A good trail horse will go willingly over obstacles, around rocks, down canyons and, especially, through water. “At some point you’re going to come to water that you have to cross, and if your horse refuses, you’re going to have a problem,” says Field.

Some horses are willing to cross water and go where you point them, either by training or by nature. Woods says he can tell a lot about a horse’s willingness by his response to pressure. “If I touch his rib cage, I expect the horse to move over. If he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean I can’t teach him to move off of pressure, but a good trail horse will already have that ability,”
he says.

An unwilling horse is one of the more common problems for trail riders, but it’s also one of the more fixable ones, given the right training and leadership. Both Woods and Field do leading exercises to get the horse in sync with his handler’s body language. “If I’m not able to control the path on which my horse walks from the barn to the stall, why is he going to pay attention when we get out there and things get a whole lot more interesting?” points out Field, who expects his horses to walk stride for stride with him, just as they would with the herd.

“By having that level of sensitivity to the herd and awareness to every movement, they have no time to focus on anything else. Their focus is locked in on me, the leader,” he explains.

3. Teach your horse to: Come back to neutral.
A good trail horse will keep a cool head no matter what is happening around him. A mare in season, a barking dog or a small-scale mutiny among the other horses on a ride---any of these situations can turn ugly if your horse overreacts. “I see this happen a lot. A horse in the group becomes animated and starts bossing other horses around, and someone’s horse explodes as a result,” says Field. Some horses naturally have a calm and willing disposition, yes, but training, leadership and riding with intention can help to defuse any horse and bring him back to neutral in eventful situations.

“So many recreational riders are just going along. They’re not active in their intention, and the horse feels he has to look out for himself as a result,” says Field. Keeping your horse’s mind engaged while in hand or under saddle, and generally riding with purpose can help cooler heads prevail in times of high stress and uncertainty.

4. Teach your horse to: Be careful about where he puts his feet.
He has four of them, and he should know where they are and where you want him to put them next, says Woods. This is especially important when your horse is asked to scramble down a steep canyon of loose rock or to scoot around, say, a moving bike or low-hanging branch. I had some time to think about this recently as a small group of us braved a too-narrow mountain pass with a steep drop-off on one side. I remembered my conversation with Woods years ago, at a frustrating time when just about everything needed to be trained in or out of my little brown horse. “Give me one good reason why I should keep him,” I said to Woods, who replied, “Because he is sure-footed.” He was right, of course. Over the years, I’ve spent more than a few anxious moments in the saddle thanking my lucky stars that my horse could keep all fours on the ground during incredible circumstances and on tough terrain.

But what if your otherwise trail-worthy horse trips from time to time and sometimes seems a bit unstable? Woods and Field suggest getting him to pay attention to his feet by asking him to step over cross rails, around poles and through obstacles of all kinds, and the more uneven the ground, the better. “I’m never quite comfortable with a horse who’s raised on the flat because it’s like riding two horses. He’s bound to be out of balance so that if he gets in trouble on the front end, his back end can’t help him. Horses like this get trippy,” observes Field. He likes to back his horses up hills and down hills, and to get them to lift up their feet and round their backs when possible. “I want to see them get worked up and down hills in hand to figure out how to get themselves balanced, so that by the time I get on them, they have a pretty good idea where to put their feet,” he adds.

5.Teach your horse to: Overcome his flight instinct.
One day you’ll be ambling along the trail and, in the blink of an eye, you’ll come across a bear or deer or, more likely, a bush with fangs. Your horse’s split-second reaction should be to stop, not bolt, and to wait for your cue. “If I can wriggle the rein, and his ear comes around as if to say, ‘Yes, I’m here,’ that’s good. But if I try to wriggle my rein or touch him with my leg and he doesn’t move, that’s not good,” says Field, explaining that a refusal to move is almost as bad as a bolt---and, in fact, is a precursor to a bolt. “Anybody who has started young horses knows that the longer the horse takes to take his first step, the more he is going to come apart when he does because he’s stored up energy,” he explains.

Of course you can’t expect that your trail horse will never spook, but you’ll want to teach him not to overreact when he does. “He is going to spook at some time, so the question is how big is his reaction and how long is it going to be before he’s OK with it?” says Field. Simple observation can tell you a lot about how a horse reacts to new stimuli. Is he explosive without warning? Or does he take things in stride? Does he get worked up slowly and remain in a heightened state of alert for a long period? Or does he snort, approach the object of concern and return to a more relaxed state within no time?

Easygoing horses who quickly recover from surprises make the best mounts for trail riding. But it’s wise to spend time building any horse’s confidence. Trail challenge competitions and play days are great for desensitizing the horse and exposing him to new stimuli in a controlled setting. In addition, Woods suggests establishing a relaxation cue, such as a pat on your horse’s withers or a slight lift

of one rein as a “Come back to me” or “It’s OK” cue as one more measure of control should your horse’s world turn upside down while ambling down the trail.

6.Teach your horse to: Maintain his independence from other horses.
If your horse is friendly with his herdmates, that’s fine. But if he’s glued to the tail of the horse in front of him, that’s not. Likewise, if one horse in the group trots, your horse shouldn’t have to trot, too.

Seemingly little issues like these can become dangerous quickly if you’re separated from the group for any reason or if one horse bolts or starts acting out and your horse follows suit. “So often these horses live in small spaces, and they’re not used to horses coming and going. If their riders don’t fundamentally have the leadership to keep these horses with them, they lose control,” says Field.

To find out where your horse falls on the herd-bound spectrum, both trainers suggest watching him interact with his herd or taking him out for a ride alone. Does he call out to other horses or balk when leaving the property alone? Does he feed off the energy of other horses in the pasture? Does he readily back down when challenged by the herd? Or is he overly bossy?

An insecure horse is more likely to be herd-bound than a more confident one, but aggressive horses also exhibit a related behavior---a tendency to be bossy or pushy toward other horses, according to Woods.

He suggests exercises such as gradually lengthening the distance between you and other riders and keeping the horse’s attention on you at all times, which is at the heart of all herd-bound issues. “The reason he’s looking to other horses is because he doesn’t trust you, and that’s the number-one thing you need to develop in a good trail horse,” says Woods.

7. Teach your horse to: Head out as eagerly as he heads home.
A good trail horse has to be able to go anywhere without issue. He won’t jig, grow anxious, or bolt for the barn at the first sign you’re turning for home.

Barn-sour horses typically lack confidence and have many of the same tendencies as the herd-bound horse, and they may even be attached to their herdmates as well as to familiar surroundings.

Horses who are more curious by nature or have been exposed to different environments early on are more likely to adjust to the novelty of trail riding, while habitually barn-sour horses are more predisposed to be anxious in new settings and situations, according to Field. He says that many horses fall somewhere between these two extremes and simply need more exposure to new and different surroundings before they make confident mounts.

“A lot of horses live in 10- by 10-foot pens, and suddenly they’re put out on the side of a mountain somewhere with little or no preparation whatsoever. You have to be willing to prepare them for trail riding like you would any other activity,” says Field, who advises ponying a young horse with a more experienced, confident horse when possible.

He also suggests slowly expanding the barn-sour horse’s zone of comfort around a familiar trailhead or arena to help him gain confidence and adjust to new environments.

There’s one last thing you’ll want your trail horse to have, but it’s not something you teach with lessons or exercises: It’s a good attitude. A good attitude trumps all other desirable characteristics in a trail horse simply because with the right attitude, he is more inclined to load willingly, get along with other horses, and keep his cool during times of excitement and uncertainty.

A good attitude means he’s confident in his abilities as a trail horse and he’s enjoying the ride to the extent that any horse can.

No doubt, your horse has already let you know his feelings on the matter. If he’s difficult to catch, balks or pins his ears at the merest suggestion that you’ll be saddling up for a trail ride, he could be telling you he doesn’t like his job and it might be time to reconsider his trail prospects. But if he nickers to you when you hook up the trailer, greets you at the gate, and practically puts on his halter himself when you go to catch him, you can be fairly certain he likes to trail ride.

A trail horse with this kind of attitude is worth his weight in gold.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #425.



Safety Lesson Learned at Texas Trail Challenges

Friday, May 11, 2012 by Team Easyboot

Submitted by Carol Warren, Team Easyboot 2012 Member

The wonderful judges of Texas Trail Challenges and NATRC offered a Riders Clinic April 14th at C-Bar Ranch in Valley Mills, Texas. It was one of the most practical and informative clinics I have ever attended and I have been to some clinics presented by the most famous of the clinicians. The clinic was one day. We were divided into 5 small groups. During the first morning session we rotated through various stations demonstrating how to set up a safe equine camp, suggestions for what and how to carry gear on your horse for competitive trail rides, tips on what the judges are looking for, and how to present our horse to the judge and vet at CTRs. During the second part of the morning session, we worked in hand with our horses on sending, backing, turning on the fore and hind, side passing, and stopping. After a lunch break, we saddled up and rotated through sessions dedicated to teaching us how to improve our skills on gates, hills, cavaletti, side passing, turning, stopping, and dragging objects.

I would like to share with you one of the best tips I got from the clinic. As you know, it is always best to have a knife handy when around horses to cut whatever they manage to get themselves tangled in. Their tip was for everybody to have a sharp knife visibly taped to the inside of the trailer tack room door. It should be a standard practice for everybody to do this.

The knife very visibly taped to the inside of the tack door. The red duct tape catches your eye. It would be a good idea to have another knife taped around a busy part of the barn, too.


If you are walking by an unknown trailer and the horse got tangled up, just reach in and grab the knife. Or if it is in the middle of the night and you hear that awful commotion, instead of trying to find your old jeans with the knife deep in the pocket, just open your tack door and there is the knife. They suggested a carpet knife with the serrated edge towards the handle ending with a curved, smooth, sharp tip. The curved tip on my knife was very pointed and sharp so I just had my husband grind the very tip down a small amount so I would not stab my horse in an emergency.The knife very visibly taped to the inside of the tack door. The red duct tape catches your eye. It would be a good idea to have another knife taped around a busy part of the barn, too.

To make the tape easier to pull off, just fold the tape over on itself to create the tab.

                     I hope you enjoy and will utilize this tip as I have. I think it is a great idea. Maybe we can start spreading this idea around.

Carol Warren of Goliad, Texas



Putting Weight on Your Horse for Winter  Dec/Jan/Mar 2012

By the Editors of EQUUS magazine

Flying M Dictador joyfully ridden by Sarah Oswald


A skinny horse won't do well in winter weather. Here's how to add weight to your horse before the temperatures drop.


Putting weight on your horse before the seasons change will leave him better able to cope with cold weather.

If your horse is on the skinny side, take steps now to put some pounds on him before winter arrives. A horse with a good body weight will fare better in chilly weather because a little fat provides insulation from the cold as well as a stockpile of energy to maintain his core body temperature.

But you don’t want to get him too fat, either. A good target is a body0 condition score (BCS) of 5, which means his ribs aren’t visible but can be easily felt, the fat around his tailhead is soft and “spongy,” his withers are rounded, and his shoulders and neck blend smoothly with the rest of this body. If you’re unsure of how to assess your horse’s condition, consult with your veterinarian---you’ll want to rule out any illnesses or dental troubles that might be causing your horse to be too thin.

If you do want to add pounds to your horse, you’ll need to boost his caloric intake safely. A diet too rich in sugars or carbohydrates can increase the risk of serious health issues, including colic and laminitis. Here are some tactics you can try:

• Add another meal of hay to his daily ration, or feed it free-choice. High-quality, leafy hay is less likely to be wasted than coarse, stemmy hay. A slow feeder, which allows a horse to pull out only a few stems with each bite, enables you to offer more hay at a time while also reducing waste.


• Switch to a higher calorie feed. Many slim horses are slow, picky eaters who may not finish bigger portions of their usual grain. Instead, try a feed that will provide more calories in the same-size meal. To avoid health risks, look for feeds that supply extra calories from fat rather than sugars or carbohydrates.

• Add oil to his existing ration. Corn or other vegetable oils add calories to a horse’s meal in the form of fat. And, since fat is digested differently, without the risks posed by sugars or carbohydrates, oil is one of the safest ways to put weight on a horse. Most horses will willingly eat up to a half cup of oil at each feeding.

As you implement your new feeding plan, keep track of your progress with notes and pictures of your horse’s body, then taper off the extra calories before he gains too much weight. Obesity can also cause serious health problems.