Ghosts and Ghouls and Goblins, Oh My!

halloween horse shoeIt’s Halloween and there are a lot of scary Spirits around.  So how can you protect yourself from things that go “bump in the night”?  With a magic horse shoe, of course!

Horseshoes have traditionally been made from iron which is one of the strongest metals. Iron was believed to be magical because it was taken from the earth and could withstand fire and cold and was highly prized.  Plus, horseshoes were attached to the horse using seven iron nails – seven being a lucky number.  The shod horses symbolized power and strength and when walking on cobblestones the metal of the horseshoe often threw off sparks adding to their aura of magic.  

There is a very big connection between horseshoes and evil Spirits. These Spirits were blamed for all sorts of things going wrong – from the milk spoiling to accidents. Since horseshoes were made of iron, the tale goes that evil Spirits were repelled by anything made of iron so people started hanging iron horseshoes on their front doors for protection.  It was also believed that horse shoes were shaped somewhat like the moon and extra protection was given from the moon goddess.

There has been some debate over the correct way to hang a horseshoe:  one is that the horseshoe should be hung points upwards to stop the luck or protection from falling out and the other is that the points should be downwards so that the luck or protection pours out over those people walking through the doorway. 

So the next time your horse throws a shoe, don’t despair.  Just tack if up over his stall door for luck and protection.

Photo credit:  CardCow Vintage Postcards


Get Ready For Darker Days Ahead

barn lightingNext weekend we turn the clocks back an hour.  While it’s great that we get to sleep in an extra hour, it means that days are going to start getting darker sooner.  Shadows and poorly lit areas can make stall cleaning cumbersome and inhibit observation and care of your horse.  In order to get all the riding, horse care and barn work in that you want, it’s a good idea to look at ways to add more light to your barn. 

A combination of individual stall and general aisle way lighting is preferred. Place fixtures where they won’t create shadows for the horse when he enters his stall.  For natural lighting, provide a minimum of 4 square feet of window space in each stall. Glass windows should be either out of reach (generally above 7 feet) or protected by sturdy bars or mesh. Lexan is a good option for window glazing.  Position fixtures at least 8-feet high to minimize contact with the horse.  Avoid motion sensor lights inside the barn as they are often tripped by barn cat or other animals.

Big barn exteriors require big lights – standard residential type lights are typically too small and do not provide enough light. Dusk to Dawn Halogens are often installed over entryways for general lighting purposes and for safety. Select fixtures as to where they will be used as barns are dusty and in some areas (wash bays) very moist. Vapor tight fixtures are required in wet areas for safety and durability.  When selecting lighting bulbs, there are several options.  

In addition, using lights in strategic places can also help with barn security. Install security lights at farm entrance and around barn doors. Either leave them on from dusk to dawn or install motion detection lights to alert you to intruders. Remember, however, that motion sensors can also be tripped by your barn cat or other animals.

In order for the lights (and other equipment) to work in the barn, you need electricity. All electrical wiring in the barn should be housed in metal or hard plastic conduit since rodents may chew unprotected wires, creating a fire hazard. Metal conduit can be used, but has the tendency to rust. Plan enough circuits, outlets and fixtures so switches are within easy reach.  Locate switches so lights can  be turned on and off at two convenience locations, usually at either end of the barn. Install outlets every 15 feet or so on both sides of the aisle.  Light switches should be four feet up from the floor and outlets should be 13-15 inches off the floor (or as required by code). 

Consider lighting in other areas of your barn as well. Common places are the wash/grooming areas, feed room and tack room. For wash bay lighting ideas from Classic Equine Equipment, click HERE

Classic Equine Equipment has a variety of lights for both indoor and outdoor use.  For a full listing of what is offered, check out Classic Equine Equipment’s catalog – click HERE.  

Photo credit:  Classic Equine Equipment

Protect Your Pasture This Winter – Create A Sacrifice Area

sacrifice area FairfaxCountygovKeeping horses off rain-soaked or frozen pasture is critical if you want to maintain healthy grass plants.  During the winter, plants stop growing and horses will continue to graze pastures down until little grass is left.  Soon you’ll be left with bare spots that will turn to mud as soon as it starts to rain.  Another reason to keep horses off pastures during the winter is to keep the soil from becoming compacted.  When horses step on wet or soggy pastures, the soil is pressed down, squeezing out the space between soil particles and eliminating the pockets of air that allow roots to grow and water to penetrate. Finally, horse’s hooves, with or without shoes, can trample existing plants and dig up divots of dirt.  And weeds usually are quick to move into these areas.

Instead of giving your horse access to the entire pasture during the winter and early spring, create a winter paddock or sacrifice area.  A sacrifice area is a small enclosure such as a paddock, corral or pen that gives your horse a chance to get outside during the winter without damaging your pastures.  It is called a sacrifice area because you are giving up the use of that small portion of land as a grassy area to benefit the rest of your pastures. 

Choose a site that is slightly elevated with dry, well drained soil.  Use gravel, hog fuel or stall mats to help keep the area mud free.  Keep the area close to your barn to make moving the horses in and out easier.  Sacrifice area should be at least 20 feet wide by 20 feet long.  If you want to give your horse enough room to trot, you can extend the length to about 100 feet.   Use safe fencing for your sacrifice area.  Finally, make sure they have access to fresh water.

By limiting your horse to a sacrifice area during the winter months, you’ll have plenty of lush pasture for them to enjoy in the spring and summer.

Photo credit:  Fairfax County Government


No Sport Is Safe From Harassment

horse show hunter class EquestrianSportProductionsEquestrian sports has a long and positive history of building character, responsibility, sportsmanship and teamwork in riders, both old and young.  But as more and more horrifying stories of bullying and sexual misconduct in a wide variety of sports come out, from gymnastics to female sports reporters, United States Equestrian (USEF) has recently taken steps to help prevent this from becoming a part of the equestrian world.

Called Safe Sport, the USEF has joined with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent nonprofit committed to ending all forms of abuse in sport. This includes bullying, harassment, hazing, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual misconduct and abuse.  Among its adopted policies, US Equestrian members and participants have a mandatory duty to report suspected sexual misconduct to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.  Effective January 1, 2019, all USEF adult members with a Competing Membership must complete USEF’s Safe Sport Training in order to be eligible to participate in USEF activities. Members can immediately access the free Safe Sport Training directly through your member dashboard. 

The site also includes a parent’s guide to misconduct in sport and is designed for the parents of athletes of all ages. This course explains the issues of misconduct in sport and helps parents ensure their children have a positive and safe sport experience.  The USEF has also posted a listing of members who have been sanctioned or who have sanctions pending on their website.

October is also Anti-Bullying month. And while sexual misconduct is the most serious of the offenses covered by Safe Sport, it is also looking into allegations of emotional misconduct, physical misconduct, bullying, harassment and hazing.   To check out what these terms mean as well as who may be responsible under the new rules, check out the Safe Sport Policy from the USEF.  Feel free to take it to your barn manager or trainer or Pony Club/4H leader and have an open discussion on Safe Sport.  The USEF has developed ways to report any issues as well as keep any information provided private  – and retaliation will not be tolerated.

Remember, you are NEVER wrong to report any of the incidents mentioned that are directed against you or someone you know.  

Photo credit: Equestrian Sports Productions

Buying an Off-Track Thoroughbred – A Good Bet!

win shot

If you are ready for a new horse – whether it’s your first or your 10th – you might want to consider the Off-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB).  In the recent Thoroughbred Makeover series, Thoroughbreds have proven that they are all-discipline horses, from dressage to driving to jumping to working cattle.  This article will tell you what I’ve learned from my experience buying Lotta Promise  (a/k/a Stormy), a 2007 Oregon-bred grey gelding.  If you know the horse’s racing name (or lip tattoo number), you can find out a lot of information about a potential OTTB purchase on Equibase, Thoroughbred racing’s best database.  This includes a free five-generation pedigree and their complete racing history.  The good news about Stormy was that he is a grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.  The bad news was that in 15 starts, he wasn’t very successful – one win and no place or show earnings.

Breeding and training a Thoroughbred for the race track is a huge gamble.  As Stormy’s record indicates, just because he had great breeding doesn’t mean he was a great race horse. Horse racing is very expensive and most owners/breeders/trainers are in it for the love of the sport, not the money.  Still, that means each year they have to evaluate their stock and decide who to keep and who to let go.  Your best bet to get one of these OTTB at a great price is to talk to one of the owners/breeders/trainers at the track.  They can be found on what’s called the “backside” where all the stables are. The best time is at the end of the race “meet” (the months the track offers Thoroughbred racing).

Why is an OTTB a good deal?

They are typically still young. Thoroughbreds start racing as two-year-olds and don’t race much past five unless they are super-awesome.  They are thoroughly familiar with the noise and commotion that goes on at a race stable.  Blaring announcements, people, music – all are a daily part of a race horse’s life and they soon become bored by it.  That’s not to say they can’t get spooky once they are getting ready to race.  But they are used to standing for the shoer, vet exams and baths. Because they travel a lot, as well as have a lot of experience being squeezed into those starting gates, most OTTB’s are OK with trailer loading.  And, let’s face it – these horses are typically inexpensive, even free.

What to think about before buying an OTTB

Be absolutely truthful about what your level of riding experience is.  While OTTB’s are used to being ridden, they are ridden totally different than our conventional riding aides.  First of all, OTTB’s expect to run each time they are saddled up.  And don’t even think you’ll control their speed by pulling back on the reins.  To race horses, pressure on the mouth means GO FASTER! 

Most OTTB’s don’t know about weight aides, leg pressure, being on the bit or bending.  OTTB’s will need to be taught how to jump or do lead changes or become cow savvy.  So before buying an OTTB, I would strongly suggest you partner up with a trainer who has OTTB training experience.  Retraining an OTTB is different than training a young horse – in fact, there’s probably more untraining being done than training.  So find a trainer who knows how to communicate with these horses.

Finally, no matter what the cost of the OTTB, remember there’s no such thing as a “free horse.”  Absolutely get a vet pre-purchase exam, including x-rays.  Over a Thoroughbred’s race career, he could have been on legal therapeutic drugs such as Lasix or (hopefully not) an illegal drug that could impact his future health.

OTTB’s legs are always questionable, which is why x-rays are important.  Talk to your vet about what you can live with based on the type of riding you will do.  If you’re just doing trail riding, a chipped knee may not be a problem.  If you’re hoping to go eventing, it could be.  OTTB’s feet are another issue to consider.  Thoroughbreds typically have low slung heels which can lead to navicular problems.  And because of frequent shoeing, an OTTB can have “shelly feet” and difficulty keeping shoes on.

What about Stormy?

stormy at camp june 2014 cropped

I bought Stormy from a trainer at a race track whom I knew and trusted.  He was seven at the time (11 ow). Initially, I took him to a barn with an excellent trainer who understood OTTBs and gave him high-quality feed and lots of turnout time and slow, gentle reeducation for both Stormy and me!  After I brought him home, I removed his shoes and he has been barefoot and that has really improved the shape and quality of his hooves.  We are just enjoying riding in our pasture or around our property and he’s accepted my “boss mare,” the two dogs and assorted barn cats.  For me, Stormy was the deal of a lifetime.

photo credit: Portland Meadows Racetrack, Stormy's mom

Keeping Unwanted Wildlife From Moving Into Your Barn

barn pests miceNow is the time of year when wildlife starts to find its way into your barn. And while squirrels, mice, and birds might be enjoyable while they’re outside, when they come into your barn they become nuisances and even health hazards. Need to keep wildlife out of your barn this fall and winter? These tips can help you do that!

Keep the Barn Clean

Possibly the best thing that you can do to keep wildlife out of your barn is to keep your barn clean. Strive to maintain a clean, swept barn aisle which is free of clutter, like tack boxes and equipment. Keep the doors to your tack room and feed room securely closed, limiting the hiding spaces that are available to animals.

Keep Feed Properly Stored

Wildlife will be attracted to your feed room due to the delicious smells of your horse feed. Make sure that you keep all feed properly stored in secure, rodent-proof feed bins and containers. Additionally, sweep up the feed room on a daily basis so that spilled feed is not left behind. The feed room is also a good spot to lay traps for mice.

Consider Getting a Barn Cat

A barn cat can be an excellent defense against rodents in your barn. When you get a new barn cat, you will need to keep the cat in a secure room for about a month so that he learns that the barn is his home and doesn’t immediately stray off. For extra rodent defense, consider getting a few barn cats. 

Some humane societies or cat adoption centers have pictures and histories of cats available for adoption.  Look for cats who are marked as “barn cat only.”  These cats already know the ropes of rodent housekeeping. 

Sometimes cats seem to know that your barn is one that could use a cat and will just move in on their own – these are known as feral cats.  It’s great to help these “homeless” as well as getting a free cat but take the time to get them neutered.  They can be hard to catch, but there are feral cat associations who can give you help and often provide low cost neutering.  You don’t want your barn to be free of rodents, but overflowing with kittens.

Install An Owl House

If you live in “owl country,” consider installing an owl house near your barn.  Owls like to build nests in trees with great views of open land (where mice often hand out).  If you don’t have a tree handy, install an owl house on your property.  Owls are great mouse removers and, whatever get away from the cats, will usually be scooped up by an owl.

Keep Stalls Clean

Make an effort to clean your horse’s stall first thing in the morning. Sweep up any loose shavings, and pick up any discarded hay or grain. Keeping stalls clean leaves less feed around to attract wildlife.

Use Horse Feeders

Spilled feed attracts animals, so try to minimize the amount of feed left behind in your horse’s stall. A horse feeder can reduce the amount of feed that your horse spills by providing him with a larger area to eat over. Try to avoid ever feeding your horse from the floor while in his stall.

Opt for Secure Barn End Doors

Being able to completely close up your barn can also help to keep wildlife out. Check your barn end doors to make sure that they are appropriately sized and that they close completely – this will also be important as winter sets in and you need to keep snowstorms out.

Keeping wildlife out of your barn during this time of year can take some effort, but will result in a healthier atmosphere for both humans and horses!

Photo credit: Farm-Tek

Stabling Your Horse In The Winter

horse and stalls 1Pasture board during the late spring, summer and early fall is great for both you and your horse.  Not only is pasture board usually less expensive, but it gives your horse time to be turned out with other horses, time to graze and maybe to give his hooves a rest from shoes.  Pasture board is also great if you are planning a vacation and don’t want your horse in his stall all day with no one to exercise him.

But, all too soon, winter starts showing itself and you may have to decide whether to consider with pasture board or move your horse inside the stable.  First, horses do quite well outside winter as long as they have adequate shelter and/or blankets.

But if your horse is going to be in training or you want to ride during the winter, your best option is to keep your horse inside at your stable.  Warm, indoor wash racks, cozy tack rooms, dry stalls and, of course, a covered arena are all attractive reasons to keep your horse in a boarding stable during the worst weather.

There are some things to consider for your horse before you put him in the advantageous, but more structured environment of a stable.  

Loneliness/Boredom – if your horse is used to being outside 24/7 with lots of other horses and things to look at, being kept in a stall for long hours can make him lonely and bored.  This can lead to bad habits such as cribbing or stall walking.  Coming up with distractions such as stall toys or treats like “Uncle Jimmy’s Hanging Balls” (and turnout when possible) can help keep him engaged.  If there’s room and the barn management doesn’t mind, having a “barn sitter” like a goat or chicken can also keep horses entertained.

Exercise – If your horse has been turned out for long hours, most likely he’s gotten plenty of exercise just walking around and grazing all day.  And if he has other horses for company, most likely they all get a good gallop in every once in a while.  But in a stable, it will be more important than ever to regularly exercise him.  You can lunge him or even hand walk him around the facility.  As a trainer to ride him if you aren’t able or consider a lease with another horse lover.

Feed – Horses do best on lots of forage, and when they are turned out all day it’s rarely a problem.  But inside a stall, your horse is restricted to what he can find to eat.  A good supply of quality hay given on a regular basis is a good way to satisfy his urge to graze.  There are a variety of hays available and your barn manager can help you choose the right one for your horse’s weight, age and activity level.  And, while most horses rarely need to be supplemented with grain, if your horse is now being ridden more frequently you may find that adding grain is a good idea.

Blankets/Clipping – When horses are turned out for most of the year, they develop a coat to protect them through the seasons.  If your horse usually grows a good winter coat, he may be perfectly fine in stable that protects him from the cold and wet.  You still may want to consider a lightweight waterproof sheet if he will be turned out in rainy/snowy weather.  You may also want to consider whether to clip or not.  Clipped horses can be cooled much more quickly after a hard ride, but the downside is that he will need to be blanketed.  And sometimes double blanketed depending on your winter cold. I suggest several light layers instead of one heavy blanket so you can adapt his “wardrobe” to the temperature.

Shoes – When horses are turned out in a pasture or ridden only on soft ground, it may be a good time to pull their shoes and let them go barefoot.  This can save you quite a bit of money in farrier expenses. If you plan on trail riding, you can use hoof protection like the Easyboot.  But when boarded at a stable, you may want to consider having your horse shod.  While many owners are part of the “barefoot” movement in all circumstances, some horses when ridden or in heavy training need the support of shoes to help with leg issues or to avoid stone bruises.

Finally, consider stabling your horse at a barn that has “horse friendly” stalls.  Open front stall doors, access to attached paddocks and/or see-through stall dividers.

Depending on where you live, winter weather may only be a few short months or seem to last forever.  Use your best judgment when considering what is best for your horse.

Photo credit: Classic Equine Equipment