Prepare For Fireworks on the 4th

4th of july pic NETPOSSEThe 4th of July holiday is a wonderful opportunity to remember all that is great about America.  Across the country, we celebrate it with parades, speeches, picnics – and fireworks.  Some horses are literally “bombproof” around loud noises, but others can become stressed.  Here are some ideas on how to help your horse cope.


Inside or outside?  This is a decision only you can make about your horse.  Many feel that horses are safest and most comfortable in the safety of an enclosed 12 x 12 stall.  Others feel that since horses are “flight animals”, keeping them enclosed is scary and prefer to turn their horses out.  Whichever you choose, make sure that the area is safe of all hazards – loose nails, broken fences, holes, etc. 


If your horse is sensitive to noise, you may want to stable them or turn them out with a calm friend.  Finding an extra special food treat during fireworks can also help keep their mind off the noise.  If you horse usually gets local hay, try a flake or two of yummy alfalfa.  Put hay in a hay bag or slow feeder so that it takes longer for them to eat. Add an empty milk jug with a section cut out and horse cookies inside.  Your horse will soon be more interested in bumping the jug to get the cookies out than any bright flashes.


While the bright lights of fireworks are scary, it’s the loud “booms” that frighten horses most.  Many people keep a radio turned on during the explosions.  Choose a station that can help drown out the sound.  Another option is a white noise machine or even a white noise CD.  These usually consist of ocean sounds or other repetitive sounds.  It’s been found that dogs actually respond more to “pink noise” (yes there are colors of noise) so find out what works best for your horse.  Finally, there are ear plugs you can buy for your horse that dampen the noise.


There are many ways you can de-stress your horse.  You can try something holistic like aromatherapy or pheromones.  Some over-the-counter non-drug calming paste can work for those mildly stressed.  But for those truly terrified, talk to your vet about sedation.  There are different drugs for different levels of relaxation.  These may be in paste form or administered intramuscularly.  Make sure you have what you need and administer it BEFORE the excitement begin.


Most horse owners agree that horses in stalls should not have halters left on.  But leaving a breakaway halter on that has your name and emergency contact on it can help someone catch your horse and return him to you in case he escapes the stable.  Or braid your emergency information into your horse’s mane or write your phone number on his hoof.

Finally, if you can’t be at the barn during the 4th, be sure that someone you trust and who has horse experience is there until after the fireworks are over and can let you know if there’ a problem with you horse.

Photo credit: Netposse

Barn Necessities: A Wash Bay

wash bayAn indoor wash bay is a necessity for any well-planned barn.  They are typically the same size as a stall.  They can be used for many other tasks as well – grooming, tacking up, shoeing and vet visits. 

One of the main things you’ll need for your wash bay is access to water.  While cold water is often sufficient, installing a tankless water heater for instant hot water will make your barn a big favorite with anyone who boards there.  There is nothing that says that a wash bay must be inside the barn.  In fact, in places with mild winters, most bathing is done in outside wash racks.  But whether you are indoors or outdoors, there are still some things you must consider.  If you are the handy do-it-yourselfer, much of the construction and plumbing can be done by you.  But it’s best to have a building contractor look at your plans first – once you get started, it’s much more difficult to correct any mistakes.

When creating the overall design for your barn, think ahead of time where you want to put your wash bays.  Since a quick rinse is often done on hot summer days after riding, the bay might be positioned near the tack room.  Or to help it dry out more quickly, you may want to put the bay at either ends of the stable.  One place NOT to put a wash bay is somewhere that is either too high traffic or too isolated.  When bathing your horse, you are basically tying him into a 12 x 12 dark, wet area and that can be intimidating for some areas.  Good lighting, which we’ll discuss later, is very important.

Once you’ve identified the space, now it’s time to make it as water resistant as possible.  Using metal or water resistant wood or wood-like paneling will help keep the area dry between baths.  Other options are concrete blocks painted with a waterproof sealant or some sort of fiberglass panel.

A non-slip floor with a drain is an absolute necessity.  If you are making a wash rack outdoors, this can easily be done by putting several layers of crushed gravel down and allow the water to simply seep down through the layers and away.  However, for an indoor wash bay, there are more options.  While mats and concrete are the two most often used, both have their down sides.  Concrete is hard on a horse’s legs and can become slippery when wet.  Scoring the concrete with grooves will make it less slippery and direct the water more easily to the drain.  Stall mats in wash bays should be removed periodically and both the mats and the floor underneath be allowed to dry after cleaning with a disinfectant to eliminate mold or mildew and remove any mud or manure that may have collected there. Another option is to use rubber pavers in the wash bay

When putting in the flooring, make sure that the bay slopes to help keep your horse from standing in water.  A general rule of thumb is one inch of slope for every six feet of stall.  There are several places to install your drain.  One of the most common is right in the middle of the wash bay.  But some horses can be spooky and not want to step on that “thing” in the middle of the floor.  Be sure you add a removable trap for cleaning.  Another option is to put the drains near the back of the bay and use a removable grate.

Lights and radiant-heaters are great additions to your wash bay.  Infrared heaters can be added to help take the chill off a wet horse in cool conditions. While heaters work best when installed directly over where the horse will be standing, lights should be installed on either side of the stall ceiling or on the side walls to prevent shadows that could spook a horse. Add shelves or cabinets for common grooming supplies like brushes and shampoo and/or medical supplies.  Look for cabinets made of plastic or metal – wood or laminate can fall apart too easily.

Hoses are a necessary part of any bath, but are often the most aggravating part of the process.  Some people coil them up after use; others leave them strewn around so your horse has to step over them to get into the bay.  The best solution is an “over-the-top washer.”  The wash unit keeps the hose above the animal’s head and off the floor, making it easy to move quietly and quickly through the bathing process.

Check out our web site for more wash bay ideas and accessories.

Fire – Part 2: Evacuation Action Plan

Thorse evacuation voiceofthehorsehis is Part 2 of our two-part week on barn fires.  Tuesday offered suggestions on how to lower your risk for a barn fire.  But sometimes no matter how careful you are, a fire may develop in your area.  What do you do now to prepare?
Have an evacuation plan. Don’t THINK about having a plan – HAVE A PLAN! And implement it as soon as law enforcement issues a RECOMMENDED evacuation for your area.  Do NOT wait until evacuation is required – by then it can be too late and you can get caught in the fire yourself.  Leaving early can also help avoid road congestion, making it easier for emergency vehicles to get in and out.
In your emergency plan, be sure to answer all these questions. And then make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what.  This is critical.
? Who will do what, where will horses go, what about hay and feed, how will you i.d. your horses later?
? How will you monitor the situation – TV, radio, social media? Who is most likely to have the most up to date information? Social media is great, but they may not have all the information such as road closures, evacuation centers, etc.
? Who is responsible for relaying the information to horse owners or others associated with your barn? How will you communicate this?                    
? Will owners be required to come in and take care of their own horses or will the barn manager take responsibility as the lead on decisions.
? What are the options for evacuation? A barn fire may just necessitate moving horses to a faraway pasture. Larger disasters may mean moving several miles away. Is everyone going together? Who decides who goes where?
? Who has trailers, how many horses can each haul, how is most likely to be able to get to the barn quickly, can others haul someone’s trailer if the owner is not available?
? Will you take feed and supplies for all horses or are owners responsible for getting their own feed. What about medications
? Will someone be responsible for taking tack, water/feed buckets, etc?
? Do you have an emergency supply of halters and lead ropes stored somewhere for easy access. Even if you normally keep your horse’s halter close by, in all the chaos of evacuation you may find your halter/lead missing.
If your horse isn’t routinely trailered, practice, practice, and practice so that he loads easily and quickly. A fire isn’t the time to learn your horse isn’t a good loader.
Look at the tough decisions. What will you do if you can’t take your horses? It may be better to put on a break-away halter with your i.d. and turn them loose. They will do their best to survive. Don’t tie them up or leave them in a stall and hope someone will come and rescue them.
There are several ways you can keep your horse i.d. to be returned to you. I use an engraveable dog tag from the pet store – many are now engraveable on both sides. I put all my contact information and attach it to my horse’s halter. Or write your phone number in indelible ink or paint on your horse’s hooves. Or, write your contact information and seal in a waterproof bag. Braid or tie it into your horse’s mane.
Once all your horses are out, if there is still time and you can safely do so, doing these tasks can help keep the fire from spreading throughout your barn:
  • Close all windows and doors around your home to prevent sparks from blowing inside.
  • Close all doors within the house to slow fire spread inside the house.
  • Turn on the lights in all rooms of your house, on the porch, and in the yard. Your home will be more visible through the smoke or darkness.
  • Move furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors to avoid ignition from the radiant heat of the fire.

Fire – Part 1: Prevention For Your Barn

horse sacrifice area HorsesForCleanWaterA few months ago, we asked our readers what topics they’d be most interest in learning more about in our “Barn Bits” enewsletter and our blog. The overwhelming leading concern for horse owners was – fire.  Every year, thousands of acres of land are burned and hundreds of homes and buildings destroyed. However, every once in awhile a miracle happens – a lone house remains standing, untouched, while the area around it is completely destroyed. Here are some tips on how you can help better the odds that your barn becomes one of the survivors.

Look at building material options
While we all love the look of wood barns, but if you live in a high fire danger area, you may want to consider a non-wood barn. They come in the same variety of styles as traditional wood barns, but are made out of steel or out of masonry material, such as brick, concrete block, poured cement, and stone. At the very least, consider a metal roof on your barn. Many wildfires start from flying embers landing on roofs and a metal roof can help minimize this. The interior barn stalls can also be made with fire-resistant materials such as mesh or steel. Use steel, woven wire or electric fencing rather than wood for paddocks, turnout areas and arenas. A few months ago, we asked our readers what topics they’d be most interest in learning more about in our “Barn Bits” enewsletter and our blog. The overwhelming leading concern for horse owners was – fire.  Every year, thousands of acres of land are burned and hundreds of homes and buildings destroyed. However, every once in awhile a miracle happens – a lone house remains standing, untouched, while the area around it is completely destroyed. Here are some tips on how you can help better the odds that your barn becomes one of the survivors.

Create a defensible space with fire resistant landscaping.
Establish a “defensible space” of at least 50 feet around your barn. This is the area where potential fire-spreading fuel has been modified, reduced or cleared to create a barrier and slow the spread of fire. It also is a space where firefighters can battle the fire safely and efficiently.

Remove wooden picnic tables or patio  furniture, dead/dry leaves, plants, grass and weeds and any dead branches.

Replace vegetation with fire resistant plants – NOTE: FIRE RESISTANT DOES NOT MEAN FIREPROOF! Fire resistant plants do not readily ignite from a flame. While the plant can be damaged or killed by fire, they do not significantly contribute to a fire’s intensity. Some fire resistant plants, shrubs and trees include: yarrow, coreopsis, coneflower, lavender, salvia, Russian sage, dwarf burning bush, roses (rosa species), Ponderosa pine, and alder, redbud and flowering dogwood trees. Most of these are not only fire resistant, but also drought tolerant and animal safe.

If you are considering using wood mulch around your landscaping, consider using less flammable types of mulch, such as gravel or decorative rock or a combination of wood mulch and decorative rock (surround islands of bark mulch around plants by larger areas of gravel or rocks).

Remember the basics of fire prevention:
No smoking EVER on the premises.
Keep hay and shavings storage as far away from the barn as possible.
Have electrical wiring regularly checked.
Have several fire extinguishers located throughout the barn and make sure all staff and boarders know how to use them.
Have a fire evacuation plan – if there’s a wildfire, just putting the horses in a paddock away from the barn won’t work. Line up people with trailers who can move the horses to a safe area.
Have the number for the fire department (and other emergency numbers) located right next to the phone.
While most emergency departments have technology that can get them to your farm, consider writing out the address and directions from the closest fire station and tacking them next to the phone. May horse owners have forgotten their own phone numbers when calling in an emergency to their vet.



Packing For Your Child’s Riding Camp

kids riding camp Forrestel Riding CampYou’ve decided on the perfect summer riding camp for your child, and the camp has sent you a list of suggested items to pack. Great! But, before you start squeezing items into duffle bags, go over the list yourself to see what you have, need and should take.  While some camps are wonderfully thorough in the packing lists they provide, others might miss some essential supplies that your young rider will really need to have.

Riding Equipment

Regardless of what is on the camp’s list, you should send your child with a helmet, boots, riding clothes, and riding gloves. It’s generally best to send along a lightweight, well-ventilated helmet for your child to use during the hot summer months. If your child wears tall boots, be sure to send along a pair of paddock boots for use when doing barn chores.

If your child will be participating in horse shows during the camp, find out what types of outfits are required ahead of time. Some camps take a more casual approach, allowing riders to show in breeches, tall boots, and polo shirts. Other camps may participate in more competitive shows and require the traditional show outfit. Be sure that your child has the necessary helmet that he or she will need. You’ll also want to send your daughter with any hair accessories that she needs for shows.


Always send your child to camp with sunscreen. Look for a sunscreen with a high SPF rating – your child will be spending many hours in the saddle and might not have frequent chances to reapply. You might want to send your child with sunscreen in stick form – it’s easier to apply and less messy when your child is at the barn.

Rain Gear

Include a rain jacket (breathable and waterproof is best) for those inevitable rainy or windy days.

Bug Spray

Bug spray is another necessity that your camper will need. Bugs are all too common at camps and barns; your child will be grateful for the spray.

Water Bottle

Pack a good-sized water bottle for your child to bring along to the barn to have on hand during lessons. An insulated bottle is best, keeping the water cool even in the heat. Make sure that the top is designed so your child can open it with his or her teeth while wearing gloves.

The Horse

If your child will be bringing his or her own horse with them to camp, your packing list will more than double in length. When packing for the horse, you will want to send along all of the horse’s feed, supplies, and equipment.

Horse Treats

Regardless of whether your child brings their own horse to camp or not, send along a package of horse treats. Your child will appreciate being able to reward the horses at camp.


Be sure you have signed all the appropriate paperwork for insurance and medical information.  Including a riders medical armband or bracelet affords extra important information in case of an accident.

Your child will definitely need these essentials when attending a summer horse camp – be sure to add them to your packing list.

Photo credit: Forrestel Riding Camp

Inside Your Horse’s Mouth

dentistvisitWhen someone says, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” they are talking about the custom of telling a horse’s age by looking at his teeth.  It is possible to estimate the age of a young horse by observing the pattern of teeth in the mouth, based on which teeth have erupted.  A horse’s incisors, premolars, and molars, once fully developed, continue to erupt as the grinding surface is worn down through chewing. A young adult horse’s teeth are typically 4.5–5 inches long, but the majority of the crown remaining below the gum line in the dental socket. The rest of the tooth slowly emerges from the jaw, erupting about 1/8″ each year, as the horse ages. When the animal reaches old age, the crowns of the teeth are very short and the teeth are often lost altogether.  Differences between breeds and individual horses, however, can make precise dating impossible. 

Horses are both heterodontous and diphyodontous, which means that they have teeth in more than one shape (there are up to five shapes of tooth in a horse’s mouth), and have two successive sets of teeth, the deciduous (“baby teeth”) and permanent sets.  By the time a horse is fully developed, usually at around five years of age, it will have between 36 and 44 teeth – mares have 40 permanent teeth and males have 42 permanent teeth.  The difference is that males have 2 canine teeth that the female does not have.

All horses have twelve incisors at the front of the mouth, used primarily for cutting food, most often grass, while grazing. They are also used as part of a horse’s attack or defense against predators, or as part of establishing social hierarchy within the herd.  Behind the front incisors is the interdental space, where no teeth grow from the gums. This is where the bit is placed when horses are ridden.  Behind the interdental space, all horses also have twelve premolars and twelve molars, also known as cheek teeth or jaw teeth. These teeth chew food bitten off by incisors, prior to swallowing.

Equine teeth are designed to wear against the tooth above or below as the horse chews, thus preventing excess growth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower one. In some cases, sharp edges can occur on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, as they are unopposed by an opposite grinding surface. These sharp edges can reduce chewing efficiency of the teeth, interfere with jaw motion, and in extreme cases can cut the tongue or cheek, making eating and riding painful.

In the wild, a horse’s food supply allowed their teeth to wear evenly.  But with domesticated horses grazing on lush, soft forage and a large number being fed grain or other concentrated feed, natural wear may be reduced.  Equine dentistry can be undertaken by a vet or by a trained specialist such as an equine dental technician, or in some cases is performed by lay persons, including owners or trainers.  Regular checks by a professional are normally recommended every six months or at least annually. 

Many horses require floating (or rasping) of teeth once every 12 months, although this, too, is variable and dependent on the individual horse. The first four or five years of a horse’s life are when the most growth-related changes occur and hence frequent checkups may prevent problems from developing. Equine teeth get harder as the horse gets older and may not have rapid changes during the prime adult years of life, but as horses become aged, particularly from the late teens on, additional changes in incisor angle and other molar growth patterns often necessitate frequent care. Once a horse is in its late 20s or early 30s, molar loss becomes a concern. Floating involves a veterinarian wearing down the surface of the teeth, usually to remove sharp points or to balance out the mouth. 

Problems with dentition for horses in work can result in poor performance or behavioral issues.  However, good dental care can not only eliminate these problems, but can help your horse lead a longer, healthier life.


What Makes A Good Equine Vet?

dr. Johnson equine vetIt happens to all of us at least once.  Your equine vet retires or you move to an area that your current vet doesn’t serve.  Now you have to f ind a new vet for your horse.  If you’re like many horse owners, you’d rather find a new doctor for yourself than a new vet for your horse. A vet is your partner in maintaining your horse’s health, so it’s important to make sure that the vet that you use is a great one. Do you know what traits you should be looking for in a great equine vet?

Listening to the Owner

Any good vet needs to have the ability and willingness to listen to the horse owner. A good vet should listen to and acknowledge your concerns, and should also have a conversation with you about your horse’s condition, potential treatments, and overall prognosis.

When you’re talking with a vet, you shouldn’t feel like the vet is rushing to finish up the conversation (unless the vet has received an emergency call – then you need to make an exception). And while a vet may have a different approach to horse care or a different view of your horse’s health than you do, a good vet will also be willing to listen to your perspective.

Answering Owner Questions

Answering owner questions is an imperative trait of any good vet. You should feel that you are able to ask your vet about any concerns you might have about your horse’s health. In some cases, symptoms raised through questions can help your vet to pinpoint medical issues that may be plaguing your horse. Asking questions helps to better inform you about your horse’s health and any changes that you may make to keep him healthy or improve his health. And most importantly, your vet should never act like you are silly for asking questions.

Staying on Top of New Veterinary Advancements

A great equine vet will make an effort to stay on top of new medical advancements. Veterinary studies, treatments, and procedures are constantly being revised, discovered, and released. A vet who stays on top of the news and advancements in the veterinary field can better treat his or her equine patients.

Offering Emergency Coverage

Emergencies always happen at the most inopportune times. Nights, weekends, and holidays seem to be the occasions during which your horse will become seriously ill or injured. Even if a vet practices solo, it’s important that he or she offers emergency coverage. Whether it means securing another vet to stand in or making arrangements with another practice to handle client emergencies, a great vet will ensure that help will be available if and when you need it, even if it’s during the off-hours.

Great vets possess the above traits, and more. Most importantly, they all have a true commitment to keeping their equine patients healthy.

For more information and to help you find a vet in your area, check in with the American Association of Equine Practitioners.  There are some great guidelines and resources on the web site as well.

Photo Credit:  Equine Veterinary Service

Could Your Horse’s Next Career Be As Part Of A Therapeutic Program?

Therapeutic Riding Program Forward StrideWhen it comes to your plans for your horse’s retirement, is donating him to a therapeutic riding program an option? Donating your horse to a therapeutic riding program may seem like an ideal option, but therapeutic riding horses need to possess a very special set of skills. Could your horse make the cut? Consider the following must-have characteristics.

Calm Temperament

Above all else, therapeutic riding horses need to be calm and patient. They cannot be highly reactive or spooky, since this would put their riders at risk. A therapeutic riding horse should be able to take strange and new situations in stride.


It is a common misconception that therapeutic riding horses have an easy job of just walking around. That’s not true. In fact, working as a therapeutic riding horse can be physically demanding, since the horse must compensate for unbalanced riders. Some therapeutic riding horses are asked to trot or canter, and may carry riders who bounce against their backs. A therapeutic riding horse must be sound and strong enough to work in multiple lessons per week.


Tolerance is a major factor in any therapeutic riding horse’s job. A good therapeutic riding horse will be tolerant of all sorts of different situations, from a rider playing games off of his back to being in close quarters with other horses and humans.


A therapeutic riding horse will be confronted with conflicting stimuli, and he needs to be focused enough to pay attention at the task at hand. For instance, a horse may need to carry a rider who has little control of his body. The rider may sway back and forth or thump his legs against the horse inadvertently. A therapeutic riding horse needs to be stoic enough to ignore issues like rider imbalance, while still remaining sensitive and focused enough to recognize and obey the rider’s signals to move forward, stop, and turn.

If you wish to donate your horse to a therapeutic riding program, then find a particular program that you feel would be a good match. Programs are always expanding and now include riding, driving, vaulting, emotional support and more.

Give the program director a call and ask about the process of donating and evaluating a donation horse. Many riding centers have intensive evaluation and training processes for their horses.

When donating your horse, make sure to find out what your responsibilities as the former owner will be, including what will happen if he doesn’t make that initial cut. You should also ask what options will be available when your horse can no longer be of service to the program.

If you don’t have an appropriate horse to donate to a therapeutic program, remember that there many other ways to help support these programs.  Donate money or volunteer your time to work with the horses and/or the riders.  It’s a great feeling!

For more information on therapeutic programs, visit the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) website.

Photo credit:   Forward Stride