What To Look For In A Used Horse Trailer

horse trailer EQUISPIRITWhile we all dream of a big, beautiful, brand new horse trailer, sometimes the reality of finances has us looking at used horse trailers instead.  The end of horse show season is often a great time to search out good used trailers, but you may have to look hard and long (and often near and far, too!) as well as be able to compromise on your dream list.

Slant load vs. straight load?  Bumper pull vs. gooseneck? Ramp vs. step-up? Regular vs. stock trailer? Two-horse vs. three-horse?  All have advantages and disadvantages so don’t be quick to dismiss an otherwise good trailer because one of your preferences isn’t met.

But there are certain things in a used trailer on which you absolutely cannot compromise.  Those are the things that will keep you and your horse safe on the road.

  • The horse should have enough room to move its legs forward and sideways to keep its balance while moving. The horse should also be allowed to lower its head so he may remove debris (hay dust and other contaminants in the trailer) by coughing, therefore keeping his respiratory tract clear.
  • Rubber torsion suspension is available on almost all newer trailers. This type of suspension greatly reduces the amount of shock the horse absorbs through the floor of the trailer, also reducing stress. There is also a safety advantage to this type of suspension. If you have a flat tire, the remaining three wheels will maintain the trailer until you can get to a safe place to change the tire.
  • There should be no sharp edges or protrusions anywhere on the trailer, inside or out.
  • Floor boards should run vertically (the length of the trailer), not horizontally (across the trailer) and there should be good support underneath.
  • Horse trailer mats should not be slippery.
  • Ramps should be non-slip and not steep.
  • All tie rings, center dividers, chest bars, and butt bars should be easily worked by quick release.
  • All parts should also be strong enough to hold up to the largest, strongest horse you will be hauling.
  • When considering construction material, think about how well it will hold up to a panicky horse, or a traffic accident. If you have large horses, strength, not weight should be your first priority.

Does this sound like what you’d look for in a new trailer?  It is, but now you also have to horse in trailer LSU AgCenterlook at the condition of all these areas.

  • Make sure the floor and undercarriage are in good condition. This goes for both wood and aluminum floors, and structural beams under the floor.
  • Check the suspension and tires. Uneven tire wear can signify some problem in the axle alignment or balance of the trailer. Dry rot is a common problem.
  • Sometimes the coupler can be worn inside, causing the coupler to be too large for the ball.
  • Check for rust or cracks in places where there is stress. Surface rust is typically not a problem, but anything that compromised the integrity of the trailer is. Stress fractures are a special consideration for all aluminum trailers.  Make sure the frame and welds are structurally sound.
  • Don’t forget to check the roof for stress or cracks that could let rain in.
  • Know if the brakes and lights work (and find out how much it will cost to fix them if they don’t!).
  • If repairs need to be made, ask yourself if you will be putting more money into it than the trailer is worth. Spending too much money for restoration may make the trailer suitable for your own use, but do not expect to add that much value to the trailer when you sell it.
  • Know that your tow vehicle will be able to safely haul (and stop!) the weight of this trailer.
  • Finally, be sure the trailer has a valid title and b sure the vehicle identification number matches the title.

Start your used trailer search with an open mind.  There may be features that you like or dislike, but you at least need to know which imperfections are tolerable and fixable on used horse trailers – and which ones are deadly and to be avoided at any cost.

photo credits: EquiSpirit, LSU AgCenter
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What To Know About Leasing A Horse

horses and friendsLeasing a horse is an ideal way to see if you want the responsibility of owning your own horse.  You have the responsibility of caring for the horse in addition to riding it and you can see if the time required to own your own horse fits with your lifestyle.  Too often people are quick to buy a horse and then realize it’s too much work.  Sometimes the horse suffers from neglect when stuck in his stall for days, or the owner wants to quickly sell the horse and isn’t that concerned about the buyer.

Leasing is also a great way to always have a horse that is suited to the level at which you ride or your riding interest.  For example, if you want some additional “saddle time” when you’re just learning to ride, you might want to lease one of the riding school’s lesson horses.  But as you progress or start jumping, you may want to start riding a horse that takes more skill to ride or can take you over bigger jumps.   If the horse is for a child, you may want her to start with leasing a small pony, but as she grows you can switch to leasing a larger horse.  If you bought the horse that was right for you at that point in your riding career, you’d be buying and selling horses just about every year.  But with leasing, you can just end a lease on one horse and start a lease on another.

Most often, owners lease their horse because either they don’t have enough time to exercise their horse every day or they need help with the expenses of keeping the horse at the barn or in training.  If you are considering leasing a horse, it is important to get everything in writing.  I am not an attorney so this is not legal advice – it wouldn’t hurt to run a lease agreement past an attorney.

It’s important that you are very clear on who will be responsible for what expenses for the care of the horse.  It can be anything from splitting everything in half to you having complete responsibility for expenses.  Most often, this is based on how much you are going to ride the horse.  If you have a full-lease, you typically can ride the horse any time you want and as much as you want.  With a half-lease or partial lease, you and the owner (and possibly other leasees) will each have certain days on which to ride the horse.  It is important that you put in writing which days who has the opportunity to ride the horse.  Most leases end when both people show up to ride the horse at the same time.

Another problem sometimes occurs when the horse is hurt when someone is riding them.  Will it be the owner’s responsibility to pay for the horse’s care or will it be up to whoever was riding when the horse became hurt that will pay?  How will you determine who is at fault?  Let’s say you just rode the horse yesterday and when you put him in his stall he was fine.  But sometime in the night, he might have gotten himself cast and he strained a leg muscle struggling to get up.  Is it your turn to pay for vet treatment because you rode him last or should the owner pay because she has ultimate responsibility for the horse?  These things are best put in writing as a contract that is reviewed by an attorney.

rider watching another riderOther issues such as mandating wearing a helmet when riding or not going out on trails or what bit to use when riding are all additional questions that should be discussed before the lease begins.  Only by being sure that both (or all) parties involved in the lease understand the rules can a lease be the ideal situation for all, including the horse.

photo credit: Horse Network

Things to Consider Before “Dashing Through the Snow”

riding-in-snow-katie-peeryThis year, nearly all of the country is being hit with some sort of snowfall. Riding in the snow is one of winter’s joys and is a nice change for your horse. However, there are several things to consider. First, how will your horse react to snow?  It’s a different surface for him.  It looks different, it feels different – this can be spooky to some horses. If it’s merely a dusting of snow, this might not be an issue. But once it gets up around his knees, it becomes a whole new experience. Introduce him to it the say you’d do for any new experience.

Depending on where you live – or how long the snow has been around – there are two kinds of snow: soft and fluffy or packed and icy. Just as skiers and snowboarders love the soft, fluffy snow, this “powder” is ideal for riding due to its even smoothness on trails. However, it can take more effort for your horse to push his legs through it.  It’s just as important to give your horse a thorough warmup before riding in snow. This can help prevent sore muscles later.  Know where you are riding as powdery snow can also cover hazards such as large rocks or tree stumps.  The good news? It provides for a softer landing if you and your horse “disconnect.”

Packed snow is what you get when you are following a trail made by someone else – another horse, a skier, a snowmobile.  It takes less energy for your horse to walk through it, but packed snow can also turn icy so be aware of the possibility of your horse slipping. Due to the sun and shade provided by trees or other structures, a trail can have stretches of powder AND patches of ice that can come up unexpectedly.

horse-with-ice-balls-in-hoofThis wetter, icier snow is a prime cause of “ice balls” in your horse’s hoofs.  When your horse walks on snow, the heat of his hoof can warm up the snow while it touching the metal horseshoe can make it freeze again, causing a buildup.  After a while, this turns into an uneven mass that can cause your horse discomfort when walking and even real damage to tendons and joints.  There are several ways to help prevent this problem.  They include letting your horse go barefoot, using hoof boots or adding anti-snowball pads. 

Finally, make sure both you and your horse are dressed for the weather.  If you have snow, the temperature is probably already near or below freezing. And riding outside means no blocks from the wind, making it even colder. Consider a quarter sheet for your horse’s hindquarters to keep those big muscles warm. And dress in layers yourself. 

It looks like a long winter ahead so make the most of it with a fun, safe ride in the snow.

Photo credit:  Hidden Fox Farm

Celebrating Veterans – Sgt. Reckless

american-flagWhile Veterans Day traditionally remembers the men and women who served in our Armed Forces, there are some four-legged heroes that deserve recognition as well. One of them was a horse named Reckless. 

A mare born in approximately 1948, Flame (as she was originally known) was out of a Seoul, Korea race horse dam with some Mongolian breeding. In October of 1952, during the Korean War, the United States Marine Corps were in Seoul when Lt. Eric Pederson met a Korean stable boy, Kim Huk, who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister. At the same time, the Marines were looking for a way to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle, Anti-Tank Company of the 5th Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Pederson gave the boy $250 of his own money and purchased the horse for the unit. 

She was renamed “Reckless” by the Marines as a combination short-hand name of the Recoilless rifle and the bravery of those who used them. The small chestnut with a blaze and four white socks was closest to her primary trainer Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and to Private First Class Monroe Coleman, her primary caretaker.  The horse was initially kept in a pasture near the encampment.  But Reckless had a gentle disposition and soon developed such a rapport with the troops that she was allowed to freely roam about the camp and entered tents at will, sometimes sleeping inside with the troops, and even lying down next to Latham’s warm tent stove on cold nights.sgt-reckless-live

Like most new recruits, Reckless went through a version of boot camp – or “hoof camp” as it was known for her.  Reckless quickly learned the battle survival skills and, after several trips carrying supplies and ammunition, she learned the route and was able to deliver supplies to the troops without the benefit of a handler.  She was also used to evacuate the wounded. Enemy soldiers could see her as she made her way over dangerous terrain and up the steep mountain trails to the firing sites.  “It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain, “Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt recalled. Bobbitt recalled.

Reckless served in the military for more than nine months. She was the first horse in the Marine Corps to have made an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice in combat and given the rank first of battlefield corporal in 1953, and then a battle field promotion to sergeant in 1954.  Following the war, she was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and was included in her unit’s Presidential Unit Citations.  She received other military honors as well.

Even though she was revered as a war hero, Reckless was favored by the Marines for another reason – her quirky personality. She hated to be ignored or hungry.  She ate any food she could get her lips around – cake, Hershey bars, Coca Cola – and to be sure the Marines got the point, she ate poker chips, blankets and hats as well.

sgt reckless statue camp pendleton.pngShe was retired and brought to the United States after the war.  In 1959 the Commandant of the Marine Corps officially promoted to the rank of   She gave birth to four foals in America and died in May 1968. A plaque and photo were dedicated in her honor at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton stables and a statue of her was dedicated on July 26, 2013 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. A memorial statue, recently created to honor Sergeant Reckless at Camp Pendleton, was dedicated on October 26, 2016.

What I Accidentally Learned at a Julie Goodnight Clinic

Julie goodnight horse masterEarlier this year, I attended my first Julie Goodnight clinic at the Washington State Horse Expo in Ridgefield, WA.  For those of you who don’t know her, Julie Goodnight is a multidisciplinary rider and clinician, with experience in dressage, jumping, racing, reining, colt-starting, cutting, and wilderness riding. She teaches natural horsemanship, emphasizing doing what is best for the horse, and also the rider’s safety at her clinics and on  her television show on Horse Master With Julie Goodnight.

Julie’s clinic are a combination of “show and tell.”  She was working with another rider, while riding her own horse and explaining what she was doing.  Suddenly, the participants horse started to whinny and whinny and whinny.  Julie advised not to punish the horse and went on to explain the way horses communicate “verbally.”

“Horses are limited to just a few audible expressions that they use to communicate: the whinny, nicker, snort and squeal, all of which have varying deliveries and subtle inflections. The four audible expressions each have specific meaning.

Nickers are the guttural, low-pitched pulsating expressions and occur most often just prior to being fed and announce the horse’s presence and anticipation. Stallions will also nicker at mares during reproductive behavior to draw the mare’s attention. Mares typically give a third type of nicker to their young foals when the mare is concerned about the foal. Basically all three types of nickers mean, “come closer to me.”

Whinnies or neighs are high-pitched calls that begin like a squeal and end like a nicker and it is the longest and loudest of horse sounds. The whinny is a social call and seems to be a form of individual recognition and most often occurs when a foal and mare or peer companions are separated or when a horse is inquisitive after seeing a horse in the distance. The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance.

Snorts and blows are both produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicates alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses. The snort may also be given when a horse is restless but constrained and in this case it should be taken seriously as a sign that the horse is feeling trapped and alarmed and may become reactive.

The squeal is a high-pitched outcry with meaning as a defensive warning or threat that the annoyed individual will become aggressive if further provoked. Squeals are typical during aggressive interactions between horses, during sexual encounters when the mare protests the stallion’s advances and when a pre- or early-lactating mare objects to being touched anywhere near her sore teats.

Horses also make body noises that are not communicative but may tell you more about the horse’s physical state. They may groan and snore; the groan occurs mostly when the horse is lying down on his side (lateral recumbency) and is often made by a tired horse as he lies down. The groan may also be an expression of prolonged discomfort like when a horse is colicking or a mare is in labor. The snore is usually labored breathing in a recumbent horse and sounds a lot like the human snore.” – Julie Goodnight, 2007.

Many of us have experienced working with our horse and suddenly they go off on a bout of whinnying, i.e. looking for a friend.  Horses can feel insecure, especially when working alone in a large space.  The best way to overcome this is to working with your horse to establish that YOU are the herd leader.  You are the one in charge of keeping him safe.  He doesn’t need to call for a friend because you are already there to take care of him.  Once he accepts you as the alpha, the whinnying should cease.

Next time there’s a clinician in your area, don’t miss it because they may be focusing on a discipline you don’t practice.  I ride just for pleasure, but it was great to learn something new about horse behavior.

Photo credit:  Julie Goodnight