Friday, December 6, 2013

With Love from Minnesota

Hello Bloglings,

Greetings from Minnesota! As I drove to work this morning my outside temperature indicated it was -4 degrees, and the snow squeaks under my tires - it is COLD!

This winter, with Foxie seeming like she isn't running quite as warm as she used too, and the skinny 4-year old not growing in the coat I was expecting, I have been blanketing off of the guide:

50-60 degrees - sheet
40-50 degrees - Light blanket
30-40 degrees - Light/Medium blanket
20-30 degrees - Medium/Heavy blanket
Below 20 - Heavy blanket

Bailey has a fresh modified Irish clip as of a few days ago, and Foxie is being left in her full hairy glory, as she really doesn't work hard enough to warrant a clip. I am growing quite fond of my new Schneider's blanket liners, which I loved the idea of and have found that they proved themselves thus far 110%. As I've probably said several times on this blog, I HATE fleece as a blanket liner. It gets static-y and I have found that most of the liners I've seen tend to slip, rub or stretch, making them an investment that doesn't last long. The Schneider's blanket liners are ultra light weight and offer a nice slick nylon outside that doesn't rub the coat or cause static thus far. The liners stay in place with the leg straps of the outside blanket and actually STAY in place, which is amazing. They are 150g of warmth and so far have been used under rain sheets for chilly days and Bailey is wearing one under her Medium blanket from Schneider's to push it up to a heavy for this freezing weather.

Speaking of Bailey's medium...

You can find the review below this post right here on this blog!

Right now, Bailey has the following blankets:

Weatherbeeta Genero 1200D T/O Sheet
Weatherbeeta 1200D Original Detatch-A-Neck Medium
Schneiders 1680D Attached Neck Arctic Combo (Medium)
Schneiders Blanket Liner (180 grams)

Right now she's wearing the liner and the Arctic Combo, for a total of 400 grams, the warmest option she can be wearing. So far, I'm quite pleased with the current lineup -a less heavy neck for days above 20 or so, a heavier one for the really cold days and the option of a regular, neck-less medium should I want it. I feel that the Arctic Combo, with it's lined neck, is much warmer than the standard medium and functions as a heavier-than-medium blanket that can be used before we get to the blanket + liner stage. Perhaps I'm a madwoman. Perhaps I should just buy a blanket in the proper weight. But I'm pretty darn satisfied with this selection, which is all that matters.

I also am pleased to have two "extras" for just in case type days - a rain sheet and a medium, and part time, the infamous 80 gram enigma blanket. I really like the idea of the 80 gram but haven't quite found a replacement that I'm truly happy with (it's been with Foxie almost as long as I've owned her and is really sun faded / not very waterproof, also the fate of the medium mentioned above) so it will stay around as an under blanket or no-rain blanket until I find something that works.

In an attempt to reel you readers in, how do you blanket? What weights of blanket do you keep "on tap" for your corner of the world?

Kicking On,

Ashley, Foxie and Bailey

Review: Schneiders 1680D Arctic Combo

I have been pretty invested in watching this purchase like a hawk, as my first Schneider's blanket. It was bought because I was tight for cash, needed a blanket and couldn't afford a Weatherbeeta at the time, and is turning out to be quite a good deal for my needs. If you're looking for a blanket, here are my thoughts:

Overall, I'm quite pleased. I am spoiled by the Weatherbeeta blankets, and thus find this blanket to be a bit shorter in the drop than I'd like and lacks the overly large tail flap on the freestyle blankets. The blanket does fit Bailey's deep chest well enough and the tail flap is larger than many blankets. I find the front to be a bit short in front of the chest, but the neck does extend down nicely. The neck itself seems to stay up nicely and I really like the way it overlaps substantially to really keep the neck warm.

Neck has velcro attachments that are surprisingly nicer to use than I was expecting, and are staying quite clean. The front has trigger clips with buckle adjusts, and velcro to keep it closed. The blanket seems to be quite adjustable, and the velcro comes covered with a square of jersey to keep it from harming the blanket. Leg straps and belly staps seem to have good hardware and are quite sturdy. Belly t-locks have the rubber blanket rings for a tight fit.

Materials, Waterproofing, etc:
The material is 1680D and doesn't appear to have any pulls or snags after several weeks on the horse. Everything is nicely bound and the material seems to be of good quality. The waterproofing in general seems to be quite good; I was a bit disappointed that I felt moisture inside at the shoulder gussets (there is quite a bit of stitching there, so not unexpected) and on the bottom of the neck piece after a day out in rain that was slowly becoming snow. The blanket was wet but on the whole was dry underneath and dried externally well enough that the only moisture left on day 2 (with some of the rain continuing in to the next morning) was at the bottom of the hood, where it shouldn't do much harm.

The Verdict:
8/10 - lots of nice perks with this blanket and VERY affordable at 114$ for a medium. I plan to buy another for Foxie, as I really like the fully lined, overlapping neck over the "detatch-a-neck" on her Weatherbeetas, that can get blown up and don't offer as much insulation. This blanket is one I would suggest for a generally dry climate, or as a blanket for deep winter - it is very snug, but I will be using my Weatherbeeta blankets for the wet days like we've had as of late. I am quite pleased with this purchase all in all.

April Follow Up:

I'm less than thrilled and would downgrade my review to about a 5/10. Beyond the disappointing lack of waterproofing (therefore any sight of moisture in the forecast meant changing out blankets...) the blanket developed a small hole and a number of snags a few weeks after my initial review. From there, more teeth marks appeared as abrasions on the top of the fabric, and in the past few months, areas that look snagged. The poly really didn't hold up, despite the 1680 denier. The final straw was Bailey growing over the winter - she hasn't increased in size but has bulked up and grown an inch upwards. This blanket barely covered her belly and was approaching mini skirt status on both belly and rump. Bailey's other blanket, a 75" Weatherbeeta Original, still fits like it has all year. Puzzling. But definitely something to take into consideration either way. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horse Care: Why I Care

Due to some recent personal and equine journeys I have been dwelling a lot on horse care and horse ownership. Horses are intensely gracious creatures, and I feel that I run into more ignorance than I do knowledge.

My knowledge was gained at the hands of my trainer, a woman who, in her youth, rode with Olympic hopefuls and served as a working student to top trainers. Like her, so many years before, I absorbed my knowledge by working at her elbow, asking "why" when I was asked to do something, and most of all, being surrounded by people who taught me how to care for horses. I try to share my knowledge in the same way - offering up bits and tidbits. It's hard, because I am not Mary - I don't command respect or look like I know a hoof pick from a bale of hay.

I think of my horses like children. They have their needs, just like children. These things come automatically to me, but apparently not so much to others around me.

Horses need, first and foremost, attention. If you own horses, you need to be committed to being with them and making use of them. While I get frustrated with people who come each day and beautify their horse and never ride, I still applaud them for being a good horse parent.
While ideally, boarding stables would inspect each horse for injury or anything unusual each day, many don't. Call me suspicious, but I don't count on anyone to watch over my horse. I count on my barn to provide her food, and turn her out and bring her in, keep her stall clean, fill her water buckets - basic care. I don't expect them to notice she's lame, or not feeling herself, or has lost a shoe.

I have expectations of myself - I notice these things. I worm her regularly and manage her needs for grain and hay amounts with a critical eye. She gets regular foot trims, and is checked over each time I arrive at the barn. Her blankets and fly gear are kept (relatively) clean and in rotation so she isn't standing outside wet, or unable to see from a dirty fly mask. She gets regular vet care, where they check her teeth and do a fecal count to advise me on better worming programs. She gets all the vaccinations she needs, and when I can't handle an injury or don't know what to do, I call my vet out.

I guess you could call me an empowered horse owner. I'm independent of a trainer, knowledgeable barn manager or other leading person because I have gained knowledge and, for the most part, chronicle it here to share with others. I try to keep my mouth shut around others, but sometimes I can't resist. I want to help! And I don't want you to hurt your horse.

You're saying "So, Miss-Know-It-All... What are you saying, here?!"

I'm saying you need to learn. Every day.

Owning a horse means:

-Regular vet visits, teeth floating when needed and fecal exams. My vet rates body scores at this time as well, and I am PROUD to say my mare is a perfect 5 three years running. My vet comes 2-3 times a year to do vaccinations and usually does a separate visit to sedate my horse and float her teeth.
- Regular farrier visits for barefoot trims or shoes, depending on your horse's needs. These visits generally happen every 6-8 weeks.
- Regular de-worming on a rotational plan that treats all types of parasites. See my other blog posts about worming to get a sample schedule.
- Sand clear treatments when your horse's needs or environment indicates. Sandy paddock with hay fed on the ground? Treat monthly or bi-monthly. Sand levels a low concern? Perhaps do a sand test every few months and do a yearly preventative dose.
- Understanding a horse's feed needs. Every horse needs a diet that meets his mineral and nutrient needs - and no, a cattle mineral block does not meet those needs. Consult a vet or your local feed specialist (with a grain of sand when they recommend pet products) or ask me! Fat horses have nutritional needs just like average or skinny horses do, and often obesity can indicate that your horse needs different management to improve their health.
- Caring for your horse. Boarding makes life easy- someone else cares for your horse, but you should have your hands on your horse at least once a week. Horses, like dogs, need regular exercise and stimulation. I'm guessing everyone can think of a horse they have met who is "bored" - these horses harass you as you go to get your horse, develop bad habits and tend to be the first horse on the scene should anything remotely interesting happen. They often learn to intimidate humans and can be total menaces. Working your horse's brain and body keeps them happy and healthy (and does a lot to do the same for you!).

Care also includes grooming - removing dirt and checking for injuries, picking feet and removing debris/rocks from the feet and general handling can tell you a lot about your horse. Horses also need properly fitting tack, blankets if they get cold or have trouble maintaining weight in winter (I think every horse should have at least a sheet) and have their needs met. They deserve your love and attention - if they don't you should reconsider owning horses!

This list looks pretty exhausting (and doesn't include riding...) but many of these things come hand in hand with "Care" and will eventually come naturally to all of you new horse owners. The benefits list is even longer, I promise. 

Ash & Fox

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Safety

Greetings bloglings!

As tis the season, I figured a quick post was in order on the subject of trail or road riding. I love trails and roads not only for conditioning my eventing horses but also as a fun way to relax and enjoy owning horses. Trails especially can take you far from home, so here are some tips!

1. Check your tack! Getting out on the trail with a sliding saddle pad is not only annoying and possibly dangerous or hurtful to your horse, it is also a dangerous liability for you! Make sure everything is set and ready so you don't have to test your own ability to climb back into the tack. Also be aware of things that may be fine for training but won't function well in a trail situation- bits with loose side connections can rub lips and saddles can slide too far back. Boots and especially polo wraps are not very trail friendly- if you do boot (polos just get wet, heavy, muddy and full of plant matter) make sure you apply correctly and tight enough to ensure no slipping when wet and that grit won't get in to cause sores. 

2. Take a friend! While some horses go out alone just fine, and you will often find me doing trot sets along gravel roads alone, the key is to ride smart. Going a long ways from home, alone and with no friends can leave you stranded without help or walking a long way home not knowing where your horse ended up. If you do go out alone, take a cell phone (and keep it on your person, not in a saddle bag) and try to let someone know where you are headed and how long you should be. Always wear a helmet and if you're riding roads or on risky surfaces make sure your horse is properly outfitted - and consider a body armor vest (or blaze orange in fall!) to further ensure your safety. 

3. Do good training. Grammar aside, don't let your horse get away with behaviors you don't allow in the riding ring. Foxie serves many as a mental and emotional rock in new situations, as she wades right into water and crosses obstacles with ease. When you come to water, do all you can to ensure a safe crossing and go slowly. Save the galloping for nicely footed XC water obstacles! 

4. Know your aids. On the trail you can run into about anything- from animals to people who don't like or don't understand horses. Be courteous and ride single file on roads or trails and always be aware. Serve as a gold ambassador to your sport! Always ensure you are in control and keeping the environment around you as safe as possible. Know how to one rein stop, emergency dismount and react when you  meet anything from a barking dog to a hostile ATV driver. Always stay calm- your horse can feel your nerves! 

5. Use the right trails. This last rule is all about respect: riding is a sport of generally small populations and we need to endorse, use and create positive experiences when ever we can. Don't ride on trails not allocated to horses and be respectful of those around you. 

Have a great summer on the trails!
Ashley & Foxie

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Under Pressure

As I sit here mentally preparing myself to go meet a young horse I may be bringing home soon, I started to think about what I want in a horse. With Foxie, I have a mixture of mind-boggling stubbornness and fantastic moments - when she's good, she's GOOD and when she's bad, she's unfathomable. Meeting our dressage instructor, Karen Lee, for the first time in a long time, Karen pointed out that it took, at the time, over twenty pounds of pressure to get her to yield to the bit. While she has fantastic ground manners and is a quick learner, she sometimes pushes back - and sometimes more than "sometimes". 

Pressure is a pretty important thing - on the ground, it helps you move and maneuver your horse safely, and build an understanding that helps to keep you safe when handling your horse. In the saddle, giving to pressure gives you a horse who gives to the bit, and can be soft and through with their body - moving in the way that is best for their backs and staying controllable under saddle. 

So pressure is my number one test for this new horse. Ground work, while many people find it kind of boring, is the best place in my opinion to lay the basics down in a safe and controlled environment.

Ground work:
1. Allows you to create and train reactions to pressure
2. Helps build a bond between you and your horse
3. Helps you lay down your expectations for your horse, and 
4. Gives you basics to go back to when ever a training issue arises. 

Giving to pressure means that your horse moves towards the source of the pressure to seek relief from it, not fighting that pressure - it's a pretty spectacular thing for a flight animal to even be willing to do. 

Read more under the cut to find out more about pressure and release training!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fly Season: It's Coming

I thought this winter would never end - and suddenly it did. Pretty much skipping spring, we're already battling summer bugs out at my barn. Foxie (AKA The Princess) is not a bug fan, so let's get down to the business of battling flying pests of all sorts.

Non-horse people, seriously. 

There are a lot of products out there to help you take on the pests -I'm covering fly masks, sprays, spot on's, sheets and boots. There are also products like fly predators that can really help you get ahead of the fly population. I've never used bands or anything else from above, so I will leave that for someone more knowledgeable.

Things to keep in mind: Spring and summer is mud season. Keep your fly products clean and in good condition. Check yourself and your horse often for ticks - that means ears, legs, tails bone and the base of the mane for your pony! Lyme Disease is nasty in horses and you don't want it, either! Keep an eye out for hives or other signs of buggy distress in your horse, too, and try to keep stalls and paddocks clean of manure so they attract and provide breeding grounds for fewer flies.

When riding, don't forget to wear sunscreen (my bad, this week - Ouch!) and bug spray. If it's bad, I wear old breeches and spray them with bug spray, since the mosquitoes can often bite through the fabric, and itchy  legs and knees are the worst!

Click down for the run down on products to help your horsey friend!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Case of the Funks

Yep - it's spring, which means that I've started suspiciously inspecting my horse for "funky" spots. Funks can include (with descriptions borrowed from The Horse - best site ever for reference!)

ScratchesBreaks in the skin lead to bacterial and/or fungal causing scaly patches, hair loss, and inflammation on the legs called scratches (aka grease heel or mud fever). Causes include contact allergies and irritants, infestation with Chorioptes mites (leg mange), and malformations with the lymphatic vessels, etc. Secondary infections are often worsened by exposure to moisture in mud or pastures. Draft breeds and other horses with feathered legs might be most susceptible.

Rain RotAlso known as rain scold or dermatophilosis, rain rot is skin disease caused by the opportunistic bacterium Dermatophilus congolesis, which thrives in moist conditions and enters through damaged skin (think bites or chaffing). Rain rot is usually evident over the horse’s neck, back, and croup, but can also spread to the legs. The skin crusts and raised tufts of serum-matted hair, called paintbrush lesions, form. The tufts usually shed, leaving hairless patches. Rain rot is contagious.

HivesHives are round, raised wheals over the body that cause the hair to stand up. They can range from the size of a nickel to several inches in diameter and can cover part or most of the body. A breakout of hives is usually related to air-borne allergens (e.g., tree, bush, weed, or grass pollen; mold; dust; etc.); ingested allergens (e.g., feed ingredients); or vaccination or medication reactions. A breakout usually isn’t painful but might itch.

Other ailments include warts, ringworm and sweet itch. The above three are the ones I have experience with, so I'm going to stick with what I know. As per always, please contact your vet with your concerns - I'm not one! 

Click to hop over to my (rather long, sorry for the novel) list of tips and tricks!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spring has Sprung!

Hey Bloglings - here are some tips from Foxie and I on handling exciting spring weather!

1. Keep Calm, and Keep Covered.
Especially this year, Minnesota and many areas around the horse-riding world experience wet springs. As the owners of thoroughbreds, clipped horses or generally "thin coated" horses know, our ponies get soaked to the skin pretty quickly. Especially for riders already struggling to maintain weight on their horses, having a few waterproof sheets on hand is a great way to not only keep your horse from shivering, you also help head off rain rot and keep mud at bay. That way, you aren't battling skin ailments and bald spots into the show season and you aren't spending an hour de-mudding before you ride!

Foxie likes her mud baths. 

2. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Since spring is the time of moisture, I suggest clipping down the legs (especially the feathers and fetlocks) to minimize the mud that sticks to your horse's legs. This can help head off scratches and rain rot on the legs, both of which are painful, persistent fungal infections that are very hard to totally eradicate. Also make sure to pick out feet regularly and keep an eye out for excessive softness and funny smells, which can be indicators of thrush or other problems. I also make sure to do a thorough grooming and keep an eye out for any problems in the coat (can you tell I hate rain rot?!) and, if conditions are muddy enough, mud knot the tail to cut down on grooming. To mud knot, you can either look up the fancy braided-in way traditionalists do it, or cheat, like me! 

My mud knots are inspired by my early days of riding Arabians, who have their tails tied up to help them grow and stay beautiful and long for the show ring. I start with a clean tail, and usually take this opportunity to put some conditioner in. Don't braid and put up a wet tail, as the hairs are more prone to breaking, and shrink as they dry. I braid from the base of the tail bone, not pulling the tail too tight to prevent discomfort on that bone. then, taking the braid, I fold it back on it's self and wrap with vetwrap, running a section of the wrap through the top of my braid to keep the tube of vetwrap from sliding off. You end up with something like this:

3. Tack Swap season!
At least where I come from, spring and fall are tack swap seasons. I love to go to spring ones and not only stock up on deals for the show season, but take advantage of the blankets for the next year. Some tips for tack swaps are:
1. Make a list of what you "need"
2. Do your research - how much does it cost new? How much are you willing to pay for used? How used are you willing to buy something?
3. If you're impulsive like me, bring a friend/parent to be your common sense - do you really need that pink zebra saddle pad? Common sense friend is there to remind you that you don't actually like pink. It's just the Black Friday of horse shopping rearing it's ugly head.
4. Consider volunteering. For our local swap, you can volunteer and as a result you get to shop for an hour before the swap opens and snag all the good deals. That's smart shopping!

4. Get Creative!
Is your horse as sick of the indoor as mine is? Think outside the box. We still have snow in our outdoor (well, it melted, then it snowed again...) but the gravel roads are snow and ice free, dry, and relatively non-rocky. Take advantage of nice spring days to trail ride, do some gallop sets (they aren't just for eventers!) or just go exploring. I can proudly say that Foxie has gotten over her fear of garbage cans, mail boxes and running water in ditches after our ride yesterday. If riding alone makes you nervous, please bring a friend. And if you do go alone, don't go far, wear a helmet, tell someone where you are going and when you should be back and think about carrying your cell phone. I like to use the "Track My Hack" app from WOOF and am considering the upgrade so my mom can track me from her phone. If you do carry a phone, don't put it on your saddle or in a saddle bag - put it on your body, and somewhere where it's least likely to be damaged should you fall. Also, if your horse is shod, be careful on paved roads and ALWAYS be cautious and courteous to and around traffic.

5. Spring Cleaning
Spring is a time of hair, hair and... more hair. Once the de-shedding process is beginning to wane, or any time you suspect a skin ailment (or when your brushes are so gross they make your horse dirtier...) take some time to take care of your brushes. I like the effervescent brush cleaner you can buy, or a simple mild bleach solution and warm water. Use a bucket, or a feed pan for wood backed brushes and let them have a good soak, rinse and time to dry in a well ventilated area. You'll be amazed how much cleaner you can get your horse - and it's a comfort knowing you are not spreading skin gunk or reinfecting your horse.Take some time and wash everything - saddle pads, blankets... your horse will thank you!

Have an awesome spring idea you want to share? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Small Hiatus...

Greetings bloglings!

Foxie and I are sorry we haven't been able to post in a while. Spring is well... springing, and the Diva and I have been roading and enjoying the outdoor arena in the small amount of free time I've been able to steal away from school work. I promise I'll bring you more blog posts soon - and as per always, drop us a line about what you want to read about!

Ash & Foxie

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grooming Kit 101

Everyone's grooming kit is a little different - we all customize to our horses needs as we come to understand them, but most grooming kits should have the same basic tools:
Other than being a bit heavy on the curries, this is actually a decent pic. 

Hoof Pick - 
I like the type with the brush, and tend to like the more blunted "tip" of the brushed picks in comparison to the cheapie ones with a sharper end. I have one of each now, but especially for inexperienced hands, the blunter tip is probably safer and prevents any unintentional injury from a slipping hand. The brush is nice for getting the last bits of grit out. 

Curry Comb(s)-
This photo shows several. For basics, I like a gelly-scrubber type, with the larger knobby side and a softer side. If something is uncomfortable on your skin, I would be very very careful (or not use it at all) on the face, legs and only gently on the belly. In shedding season, you tend to collect curries - have a soft one with long bristles, a gelly scrubber, a standard "classic" curry comb and a shedding blade. The shedding blade is used very gently for removing long winter hair. I like a stiffer curry for removing mud, and use a soft one (either the soft side of the gelly or the long bristle) on legs and faces, as well as "ticklish" spots.

Stiff Brush-
The stiff brush is used in a flicking motion to whisk away the dirt brought to the surface by the curry comb, which is used first. I like a plastic, medium length bristle for ease of cleaning and since my stiff brush is my favorite mud tool, it's an important consideration. Shape and size also make a difference - think about brushes you've really liked or try out several in the store to find one that is comfortable to hold and feels "right". 

Soft Brush-
Another brush you can collect several of. I have a soft version of my stiff brush and a few of the wood backed finishing brushes with the leather handle that have very soft bristles. These brushes get off  the fine dust and a great for ring side grooming and making your horse look nice and shiny. Because they are often made of finer materials, such as goat or even horse hair, make sure to use them on a clean horse to preserve them. 

Sweat Scraper-
These come in both the "stick" form and the crescent shaped "squeegies". The sweat scraper is used to scrape water trapped between the hairs out, allowing a horse to dry more quickly after a bath. Eventers and endurance riders also use them to slick away water in the cooling out process, as leaving water on the horse when they are very hot simply heats the water. By slicking away the water as it warms and applying more cool, you are able to drop a horse's body temperature quickly in the vet box. Scrapers are easy to use- just gently scrape in the direction of the hair and watch the water magically disappear! 

Mane Brushes and Combs-
A brush is a nice thing to have, for neatening up after pulling a mane or just for daily maintenance. Remember your horse does have nerves there, despite the old sayings, so brush gently. With the tail, I like to grasp the while thing below the bone to keep my de-tangling from pulling on the hairs and irritating the mare. I wouldn't suggest brushing a horse out too often or you can pull out a lot of hair and make the mane or tail thin. For a comb, I usually just use a pulling comb if I need one.

To pull a mane:
1. Look at the mane. Select a length that works well for your needs (consider if your horse has a mane that will stick up if its too short) and start by grabbing the long pieces that hang down below the mass of the mane.
2. Holding only those hairs, back comb the rest out of your way.
3. Slide the comb through the small bit of hair that remains, wrap the hair around the bridge (back) of the comb and pull straight down. 

I'm not a huge fan of pulling, and Foxie has a thin mane, so I use a Grooma "Mane Master" that follows the same steps as pulling but instead of doing the wrap-and-yank, you slice the hair rather than pulling it out. For some manes, or very uneven ones, you may have to do a combo of pulling and "Grooma-ing". 

My grooming kit occasionally contains grooming additives, as well. I like a bit of shine spray now and again, and I know a lot of people like the Cowboy Magic products for de-tangling. I also have Quick-braid in my kit, as I braid when I show. It's all a matter of opinion - find what you like, and what agrees with your horse.

Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for hopefully a few videos I've had brewing in the old noggin - a wrapping tutorial and a braiding/mane pulling one. Maybe I'll even make a saddle fitting one if that will help someone! 

Ashley & Foxie

Thursday, February 28, 2013

First Aid Kit 101

Here's what's in my med kit:

  1. Fura-zone and Corona Ointment
  2. Thrush buster and a hoof pick
  3. Cotton roll and vet wrap
  4. Standing wraps and pillows/quilts/no bows
  5. Sharp scissors and bandage scissors
  6. Duct tape, and possibly diapers for wrapping feet
  7. Linament (s) and poultice
  8. Iodine scrub
  9. Epsom salts
  10. Blu Koat / Red Koat / Spray Bandage
  11. Thermometer and Vaseline
  12. Occasionals: wonder dust, SWAT, 
  13. Medicated shampoo

Dizzying, isn't it?  Let's go down the list one by one:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Internets are your friend... kind of.

This post has been brewing in my head all day, and this may not be the place for it, but come hell or high water, I want to discuss this.

There are two things that drive me (and hopefully the rest of horse-rider-dom) CRAZY.


1) "Well this post I found on the internet said..."

New horse owners head to the internets, a lot. That's probably how you've found this blog, and I welcome you. There are several things you need to learn, and while most people figure it out, I'm trying to save you some trouble.

The internet is not always right. I'm not always right. Chronicle of the Horse is not always right, nor is Horse Grooming Supplies or Yahoo Answers or even the Smartpak blog. Your barn "BFF" isn't always right, either. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. I try to lay this out on my blog with every post, and I'll lay it out here again. You probably know more about me than you'll ever know about some stranger off the internet, because I try to give you my history and the circumstances of my experience - but how do you know that this "expert" you're listening to online is an expert, and not a snotty 14-year-old with a God complex?

Not to say the internet isn't useful - I like going in search of opinions, with the constant affirmation to myself that these are opinions and nothing else. I don't go looking for training advice (there are real life trainers for that!) but I do like to look at what people are thinking and saying and get a "feel". I also try to be a poster or reviewer who gives the circumstances of my opinions. Try to not be this person, who is, say, reviewing a blanket:

Blanket arrived 2day tried on horse too big tore over night very unhappy :(
0/5 would not buy again this product is a piece of crap

Try to be this:
Blanket arrived today, on schedule. Appeared to be very nice quality, but the 78" was too big in the shoulder for my OTTB who has narrow shoulders and is under weight. Because I needed the blanket badly, I left it on knowing it didn't fit well and it got ripped. Quality and workmanship were on par for price, but as stated, does seem to run large. I wish I would have had time to exchange for a smaller size, as I liked the blanket, but was unable.

See? Context! Blanket did not rip because it was bad, but because I made a bad judgement and left it on - now you know, as a reader, to think about sizing down for that shark fin of a TB you're buying blankets for.

2) I'm a horse person, you're a horse person, friend EVERYONE, EVER, WHO HAS BEEN A HORSE PERSON.

This is a big personal pet peeve. I don't stalk the rosters and friend people out of my divisions, or do more than "Like" local trainers' professional pages, barns and organizations I like to hear news about on Facebook. Like in any professional relationship, just because I've rubbed elbows with, or been next to someone at a show, doesn't mean that I can automatically friend you. Many of the "horsey" people on facebook I am friends with is a product of my show photography - I took pictures for my own enjoyment and posted them on a few local places (the farm's FB, a local eventing org) allowing people to tag themselves and use the photos as they wished.

I know it's easy to feel an automatic camaraderie with horse people in the area, but think about how they view you: lets say you "friend" a local, relatively big name trainer. You then do what every person does - go digging around their profile because you're interested in them. That's fine. But then you find yourself liking a photo and commenting on it... and its from 2006. Whoops. That makes you a creeper.

That is going to appear on their news feed, and they're going to be like "... huh?". That thought is going to stay with them when you contact them for a lesson, and change their view of you. Or if you bad mouth your barn, get publicly mad at your trainer and leave in a huff, all documented on facebook, what is your next barn owner or trainer going to think?


The internet is a wide, and exciting frontier, and this is not to tell you "no" - but instead "woah".

So the next time you're stalking a friend's trainer, or really ticked off that your trainer got distracted and left you doing two point for 10 minutes, take a breath and think before you post to facebook. Maybe your trainer will think it's funny that you post "Blahtrainer made me do two-point forever today! I'm going to be so sore!" and comment that it's good for you. But they may see it another way, too.

Go with caution, my friends.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Winter Considerations

In the Great North West, a lot of riders are hindered in their winter plans because of the weather - even if they have an indoor! Winter takes a lot out of us, and by this time, most of us are so ready to ride in the spring rains just to escape the indoor arena. This time of winter is one of the hardest - as horses shed out while temperatures still fluctuate, we are there trying to pick up the pieces of our training schedules.

First and foremost, remember that wet + somewhat cold is probably just as "cold" feeling as -10, so keep those waterproof, breathable blankets in use, and monitor your horse's ears for his temperature - plus feeling under his blanket gives you an excuse to warm up your cold fingers. As the snow melts, a lot of horses are happy to roll and stand in the rain and generally enjoy spring life, but keep in mind that mud can sometimes cover ice if you're riding outside, and that wet, muddy blankets don't do their job as well as you'd think.

Oh, did you want to ride during your barn time? Sorry not sorry.

Also let's take a minute and look at your horse since, like me, you've probably not looked too hard between pulling a blanket off and throwing a saddle on. Some horses turn into double-wides come winter time, while others look pretty round but under that fluffy coat you start to notice a few ribs or a general loss of body fat. If you haven't been riding much, your horse has probably lost a bit of muscle as well. Just like you, your horse is feeling the effects of winter.

If the horse is fat, consider spending a few weeks of solid, planned riding time working on fitness. 
If the horse is skinny, now is the time to start building him or her back up, combined with careful exercise to help re-build muscle. 
If the horse just hasn't been ridden consistently all winter,  join your friends with the porky ponies and start thinking fitness!

If over the winter you've become a weekend only rider, or are working for shorter periods of time, fever days a week (hey, we all do it!) it's time to asses your horse's condition.

I usually start with lunge work, as Foxie, when she comes inside after a long day outside, likes to work out her kinks and play in celebration of being able to move without slipping. Keep lunge sessions short, 15-20 minutes for the first week or two, especially if your horse is wild and galloping or bucking. After a week or two of these sessions, your horse will "tell" you that he has worked off his energy and start walking and trotting on the line without the theatrics of fresh horse. 

At this point, I would introduce your side reins, or long lining after a stretching warm up of 10-15 minutes and do short sessions that gain length as your horse begins to rebuild his topline and muscle flexibility. If the horse is pretty fit to begin with and doesn't work himself up into a steamy sweaty mess, start with gentle flat rides and then slowly increase the work until you're doing a "normal" flat ride of around 30-45 minutes tops.
I usually start and end with 10 minutes of walk, focusing on stretching and working in the contact, which is difficult for Fox at the slower pace. I try to throw some activities into my flat work to keep things from getting boring:

- Figure 8's, at the trot, or at the canter with simple changes of lead which can be done with a halt in the center, backing up and then taking the new lead, walking through the center, or just a break of a few trot steps. Don't ride too many, especially if you progress to clean flying changes, as you can easily get "into" doing it just perfect and not realize you've been riding transitions for 25 minutes.
- Shoulders in
- Haunches in
- Side pass, leg yeilds
- Turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches (done at the halt)
- Counter flexion or counter canter.
- If you aren't a dressage rider (or if you are) find some simple tests - either true dressage or eventing dressage and ride them
- Collection and lengthenings (I really like this at the canter - lengthen down the long walls and develop a nicely reactive horse by riding a square corner to collect and set the horse on his haunches before lengthening again - just want you need for that combo on XC or show jumping!) 
- Trot and canter poles - set trot poles 4-4.5 feet apart and canters 9-12 feet apart. 
- Mix up pole work by setting poles on the compass rose points of a circle (N, S, E, W) or in the center of a figure-8 to work on changes. 

See, the indoor isn't so boring, after all. I also like to work on ground manners and lunge manners because... well... practice makes perfect. And everyone loves taking my horse out because she is polite and respects your space - plus she's totally ok with gates, doors and the gator, so she's not spooking on the ice and nearly falling on you.

And we work hard to keep her the most popular horse in the barn. 

Once we do thaw out, make sure to ride outside only if the arena isn't a wet gross bog of possible tendon and ligament injuries - and watch for lingering ice on roadways and under the mud!

Have fun making your rides more interesting!
-Ashley & Foxie

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Baby Basic Saddle Fititng

**Warning: I am not a saddle fitter. Heck, I'm not even an expert, and what I know is simply from my own experience and from the saddle fitting instruction of my trainers.

With that out of the way, lets look at some photos from my last saddle purchase: I did several risky things, but it all turned out well. I was shocked.

I bought a dressage saddle off eBay. It was a Courbette, a "Baron Von Trenk" and was an 18" "medium" tree. I didn't have numbers, I had never seen or ridden in a Courbette dressage saddle and my current Courbette, the Magic, was  a flex tree.

First things first - examine the saddle out of the box: is the stitching sound? Are the billets firm and don't show cracking, other damage or unevenness? When you look at the underside, are the panels even, and the tree straight? Feel the panels - are there any spots that feel firmer or softer than others?

The panel on my Magic is foam, and thus is very firm. The panel on this saddle is wool, and thus it's softer and squishy.

This is how it arrived. Hopefully you are noticing that it's high in front, or low in back - or just looks "funny". That says that either the panel (the padding along each side of the spine) isn't shaped right, the tree is too small, or a combination of the two. In Foxie's case, the tree was a touch on the narrow side, but as the flex tree was generous and padded, I decided to keep it and work with what I had, hoping the panel wool would tramp down. 

This is a shot of the panel on Foxie's shoulder. I liked how the saddle sat without interfering with her shoulder, and all panels (the front of the saddle at the shoulder and the two on either side of the spine) were flush without pinching or gapping. When the back panels don't contact with the entirety of the back, it's called bridging - it forms a bridge over an area of the back, exposing parts of the back muscle to lots of weight while others don't get touched. Not a good thing - and I dealt with the problem for years with my wintec - and can be detected by sliding fingers up underneath the saddle flaps and feeling around.

This photo also shows off the basically non-existent knee roll - a rarity these days. I ride in different stirrup lengths based on what I have under me - a big mover caused me to hike them up several holes, while with Foxie I prefer to ride long and wrap my leg around the barrel and simply turn my spur up to accommodate the rider/horse size discrepancy. I have really, really long legs. Ok, not that long, but I have problems with big knee rolls in dressage saddles, as I generally haven't liked my position, the way I tend to grip with the knee when I have a roll there to grip, and the pain it causes me after. So this saddle is awesome for me - and luckily it was a close enough fix for the Wonderhorse to be workable

Another great shot: this is a shot down the spine. you should be able to see daylight down the spine. I like this saddle a lot because it has a cut back pommel to help accommodate big withers (not a problem with Foxie, but a nice feature!) and a very wide channel, or space between the panels, which offers a nice space for the horse to lift his back into and engage. 

Whoohoo! Good signs so far. 

So how do I fix a saddle that fits like this, Ashley?

Well here's your answer: 

This is my magical thinline pad. These photos are without the small shims I added later, but already you can see a big difference. With the shims, the saddle is in much better balance - by lifting the back of the saddle, I even out the pressure, and when I girthed the saddle up I was pleased to realize it sat down further due to the spring tree, and then further again with my weight, coming to rest as almost dead even across the seat. The top picture is closest - all saddles have a balance point where the rider's balance falls. 

I've added the line and rotated the photo slightly to show the saddle in true balance. Fitting the saddle both to you and your horse is important. Foxie is a MW tree, but as she got more and more fit the saddle actually fit better while her jumping saddle needed a little extra help. I've found ways to make do with what I have - padding up isn't the best, but many of us can't afford custom saddles for our weirdly shaped horses!

This that are not ok:
Saddle sitting on the withers
Saddle sitting on the spine
Balance problems over 1/2 inch in either direction
Saddle that "perches" on the back and is forcibly pulled down onto the back by the girth

Always, Always, ALWAYS investigate soreness. Look at your saddle pads - is the sweat on them evenly dispersed? Are there dry or especially wet spots? 

Ashley & Foxie

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dress For Success: First Shows

Now, for a new horse owner, getting to know your new partner is paramount. But that doesn't mean showing isn't on your mind!

There are two basic types of shows - schooling and "real" shows. I've competed at both. Schooling shows include thinks like local "barn shows", some county fairs and anything called a "schooling day". Schooling shows are more informal and are great practice runs for the big thing - you still get to compete for a ribbon, but the stakes are lower (as are the prices).
Rakin' in the Ribbons at the barn's schooling show. Aside from the crooked helmet and messy hair, this is a ok show type outfit for informal schooling shows (polo is under a fleece jacket, as it's October). 

Real, or, depending on your discipline, rated shows, are full dress, full on competitions. I'm an Eventer, which means I compete at Horse Trials. Horse Trials come in one, two, or three day formats, as well as 3D's which involve more events in reference to "old school" long format Eventing. There are also Combined Trials, which are more of a schooling event, but are usually full dress. Also of note is that Eventers pick COLORS, which I am a big fan of. There are many classic combinations, and some people just run in whatever they are feeling that day, but I enjoy having colors - it makes me feel part of a team, and I have a lot of pride for the Red and Green.

For schooling type shows:
I wear light colored breeches, a belt, and a polo shirt. I also wear tall boots, but half chaps and short boots that are polished up and look nice are usually acceptable as well. I also wear gloves and tie my hair back neatly. On cold days I usually layer a long sleeve shirt under a polo and try to wear a nice looking coat or sweater if it's very cold. Always wear something you can safety pin or tie a number over, or attach it to your saddle pad.

Just like before any show, you should clean your tack and generally try to match your tack and looks sharp. I usually compete in a white saddle pad, or something that works well with my polo color of choice. I also try to choose a color that looks good on my chosen horse (thus, I won't show my trainer's chestnut in a magenta saddle pad - ish!) Check with the show secretary or judge (or just err on the side of caution) as to if you are allowed leg wraps/boots or martingales in the class. And always, always, always wear a helmet.
Foxie and I at a jumper-type schooling show. I would have used a white pad for "hunters" but did both that day... and I like that pad.

For Event shows I wear three different "outfits":

Dressage: White breeches, tall boots and spurs, belt, white competition shirt (mine is a Romfh cool max show shirt) with stock tie and pin, dressage jacket (or regular coat, preferably a dark color), black gloves (until my hands are steady enough for white!) and my Charles Owen JR8 and bun cover.
For dressage, neat and tidy are the name of the game. If the arena is dusty or it's very hot, I tend to give my parents my coat and a damp rag so I can wipe down for dust and keep my coat clean right at the very end. Spurs and whips are optional, and like bits for event dressage, must be checked. This is a good thing to practice at home, and don't try something new at the show grounds.

Foxie wears her white saddle pad with black and silver accents (I'm VERY into matching), a black bridle with a snaffle bit and flash noseband (optional, but I need it for Fox) her dressage saddle and nothing else - no boots or martingales. Breast collars are allowed but only use them if you need them. While it's not written, I would braid for Eventing dressage unless your horse wears a Mohawk. Don't forget your bridle number!
Happy me, Crabby fox. 

Cross Country: XC is where you get to let loose. I wear any breeches I want (usually my loud tan one with the black seat or black) with a belt, gloves, polo shirt (shirts MUST have a collar and sleeves), my medical arm band (Don't even try to warm up without it!), Eventing vest, helmet (I have a skull cap, but any will do - maybe not your nice velvet show helmet though!) and carry a crop and spurs - because going out unprepared sucks. I also wear a pinney over my armor with my number on it.

Foxie wears her jumping or XC bridle - which is usually a LOT more brakes than her snaffle, as she is very forward on XC, breast collar, saddle, event pad (green with red trim!), galloping or xc boots taped for safety, bell boots, and usually some form of our number in case we were to be separated. Never use leg wraps on XC - as you go through water and over jumps, you need something that protects, doesn't hold water or heat, won't come loose (thus the tape!) and is snug enough not to slide down or interfere. There's no stopping, dismounting, or asking for help out there.

Show Jumping:
Show jumping is the closest I get to normal jumper attire - the only difference being that I wear a stock tie, not a show shirt with collar, but that's a personal choice. 
Me: Light colored breeches, tall boots, weapons of war as needed, belt, second show shirt (the first is still grubby and I fell asleep last night before washing it...), stock tie and pin, coat, helmet and gloves. 
Horse: White saddle pad (I like colored trim, but you can go classic), saddle, girth, bridle, breast collar or martingale as needed and boots. Some riders go bootless, as their horses are more tired, or with open fronts to keep them careful, but Foxie doesn't usually run into any problems, so I usually just used whatever I had left after XC.

I've also been to shows where coats were waived, and I know there are shows that run SJ before XC on the same day. When that happens, look at the other competitors. I ended up showing in the shirt I wear under my jacket, as it has a collar and cap sleeves, but you'll also see polo shirts or, for those going right on to XC, entire XC "outfits" with or without the body armor. 

Foxie and I on a waived coat round - 114 degree heat index!

Prepping for shows feels nit-picky  but I use it as an excuse to check all my tack as I clean it (and catch any weak spots or before un-seen rips or tears, and I feel more confident going into the ring well dressed and feeling as if I've done good preparation. 

A lot of times, your trainer will help you prep for your shows, and guide you on what to do. A lot of times, I prep the week before and do a light school the day before, either at home, or at the show grounds of an event. At events, that means I get to ride around (but not IN) the dressage rings, getting used to the scary flowers and swinging chain fences, get a feeling for the footing, and work to get my horse used to the showing grounds. We hack around, look at biffies, food vendors, roads, etc. At home, if I'm trailering in (or even better, showing at home) I prep for what I am doing - either a very light jump school or dressage type work.

More on fitness schedules later - and boy, do I have a LOT to say about them... 

New Horse Ownership: What do you need??

So sometime in my future I get to go pick up a new horse and bring her home, and it's got me thinking - what do you need?

Well, first of all, you need a boarding facility or farm. If you've got your own place, that's great. Most people bringing home a new horse will be boarding (at least where I come from) and there are a few things to consider: Is your horse used to being pasture boarded or used to a stall? Is he or she used to a dry lot or a pasture? Does where you plan to board have a trustworthy staff? Good fences and a clean facility? Healthy looking horses, and regularly scheduled farrier and vet visits? Do they feed good quality feed, or allow you to choose what you feed?  Is there a trainer there you can work with? There's a million questions to ask - and I would definitely tour several facilities when choosing a new one, even if you can't afford them, so you know what's out there and develop an eye for the good and bad.

Halter: For most horses I like a break away style halter- either with a full leather crown or a leather "fuse" under the buckle of the halter, both of which snap should the horse sit back and get caught up or trapped while wearing his halter. No matter how solid of a citizen a horse is, horses are flight animals, and when they get scared, it's better for them (and their necks!) to be able to get out of the tussle.

If you fall in love with a halter that isn't break away, get out a knife/scissors/seam ripper and tear out the piece of nylon holding the halter buckle on and replace it with a piece of leather like below, which is pretty cheap to buy. It attaches with a chicago screw, which makes it removable/replaceable. I like to use a little something to help the chicago screw stay fastened, as I had one fall out once and found my halter-less horse had "left" it, unbroken, in a mud puddle.

I also like brass fittings as they last and don't stretch, and a cheek clip, as shown, as it becomes an easy way to get a halter on and off (just be careful if your horse is ear shy - unbuckling might be easier there). I'm not as big of a fan of grommets or metal tips, but they do add to durability when they hold up. Preferably, I like heat punched holes in the nylon crowned halter, as grommets some times bend or fall out, leaving ragged holes. Full leather halters are break away in all directions - I'm just too cheap to leave them on a fence or gate in the rain/snow/sleet/heat.

For lead ropes, I like poly material for it's durability ( I make sure the end is good and sealed with a lighter, which melts the material) and rope for the feel on my hands. I like long leads (10 feet) for greener horses, as I like having a tail to use if I need it (for whacking/spinning purposes) and the length gives you some pull when you have a nervous or bolting horse who needs room - but not to escape like a dork. I like the regular trigger snaps (shown actually on the halter above.) but each to their own. I like that I can get them off quickly and don't need to struggle when I'm holding an impatient horse.

Other things you need:

Feed:  Your horse was probably fed something before you purchased him - find that out, and buy a bag or two. Even if you are planning to feed him or her another type of grain, switching a horse over from feed to feed is a slow process that requires mixing. I usually leave them on whatever it is until they've settled in, and then make up bags slowly transitioning from one feed to the next over a week or two. I start with the amount of old feed I was giving and start giving less (1/4 scoop less, then a 1/2 scoop less) while increasing the new feed in the same amount. Bagging it with labels lets me know it's done right and makes it easy for the staff. I would also purchase a container for your feed if need be - I have a metal trash can that I keep on bricks to help keep moisture from seeping in. 

A Grooming kit: curry (I have several kinds - soft and hard and a shedding blade type), hard/stiff brush, soft brush, face brush (extra soft soft brush), hoof pick (I like the one with the brush), scissors (you always need them when you can't find them) and a towel ( I use mine for everything from snotty noses to cleaning off my own hands. I also have a brush for the mane and tail, mane pulling combs and clippers for bridle paths, body type clipping and for keeping legs/muzzles neat and tidy.
Tip: If you have a grooming kit from lessons or a previous horse, use a effervescent brush cleaner or a bleach/warm water mixture to sanitize them and clean out old hair and mud. I do this regardless yearly or so to maintain my brushes - or after a bout of rain rot.

Lunge Line: Having a line is always a good thing- for training and ground work, hand grazing or for burning off extra energy, the lunge line is a wonderful investment. I like a flat like versus the big round ones, as I prefer the least weight put on the horse's head or mouth. I run the line up through the inside bit ring and over the head to clip on the other side when lunging with a bridle, or on a gentle horse not prone to leaping/playing on the line, I will run the clip through the bit and back to the girth buckle under the flap. I also use my lunge lines to long line, but please have a trainer teach you how to do that! On a halter I usually clip to the bottom/leading ring to prevent it turning on the horse's face.
Another alternative is a natural horsemanship type line, which is the middle ground between a lunge line and a lead rope - usually 15 feet long, they're made out of nice material but tend to be expensive.

Medical Kit: Consult my next post - I'll do a good one with pics for you guys!

Properly fitting tack:  This is a BIG one. I don't care if you buy cheap or expensive tack as long as it FITS and is SAFE. Horses are delicate creatures and saddles especially can really cause a lot of problems if they don't fit right. I'll post a video some time (warmer weather is coming!) but I'd consult a trainer, saddle fitter or VERY knowledgeable (and truly knowledgeable) person when making any saddle decisions. I have found that collecting tack, saddle pads and bits isn't usually a problem, as I love to shop :)

Clothes: Yep, I'm saying it. When you purchase your horse is the deciding factor here. I know a lady who found a horse in the fall, and thus she needed to find a blanket, and quick, for the upcoming winter. If you're buying in the summer, ask the owner if the horse wears a fly mask or sheet. I use fly masks, but discovered Foxie doesn't like "clothes" and thus don't make her wear a fly sheet. Measure blankets from the center of the chest around the widest part of your horse to the tip of the haunch (it sticks out the furthest) and make sure to cross the leg straps and belly straps (belly straps are usually sewn on a diagonal to show this, but some aren't meant to be crossed). Fly masks make your horse's life a little easier in fly season, as does fly spray and sheets, especially if they react to the bites and get swollen spots from them. I also recommend keeping an eye on your favorite tack shops and online stores to find good deals on blankets during the clearance season and save a few dollars in the process!

Oh, and don't forget to enjoy your new horse!!

Beyond the Grain II: Supplements

The world of supplements is a super confusing place. While many trainers tend to throw you towards the four winds (or just the opposite, tell you EXACTLY so help them god what to buy) I feel that supplements, when used with restraint can be beneficial and help you to help your horse.

Supplements come for a lot of different things;

Joint Supplements: used preventatively in young horses or hard working horses, or to make horses with stiffness or arthritic changes more comfortable

Anti-inflammatories are a sub-group of joint supplements - they work to make the horse more comfortable but don't do anything to improve the condition of the joint.

Hoof Supplements: These supplements help your horse grow better hoof, helping him be more comfortable bare foot, hold on to his shoes better or just improve his general hoof health. It's true what they say about "No hoof, no horse!"

Calming Supplements: I've never used one of these, but they contain ingredients that help your equine athlete focus, stay calm in new and scary situations and help them get over the boogie man in the corner of the indoor arena.

Digestive Supplements: Like yogurt for your pony, Digestive supplements contain pre and pro biotics to help your horse get the most out of his feed and help avoid problems like ulcers.

Coat Supplements: Coat supplements help your horse grow a beautiful, shiny, soft coat. There are also "color enhancing" supplements, like ones that can help keep your black horse black - and not that lovely brown/yellow/orange color he fades to...

Other types of supplements include supplements for moody/crabby mares, fly resistance, electrolytes, tendon and muscle supplements and vitamin supplements that can fill in the holes of a hay-fed horse's diet.

Smartpak is my supplement supplier:
They have fantastic service, a fantastic selection of supplements, a fantastic shipping deal called "Barn Buddies" and fantastic deals that go with that.

And no, I'm not getting paid to say this. I am that annoying customer who uses/abuses all of smartpak's services. So Foxie's smartpaks get shipped, along with, say, a tube of wormer and a pair of gloves for me, and they ship free, either to the barn to to my house. Plus, I get a reminder email before they ship so I can last minute throw on a saddle pad or something else - and get 10$ worth of personalization for FREE, and when I buy the smartpak brand (which I do, because they make great stuff) I get 10% off because they're awesome like that. They even personalize fly masks, which I plan to do next summer to help keep things straight.

Did I mention that your supplements come in Smart paks? That's the best part. Because I board, I have to trust others to feed my babygirl every day. And no matter how wonderful the barn staff is, no one has the same idea of a "scoop" - one girl's almost full scoop is another person's heaping. Plus, Foxie does best on a "1.25" scoop of her MSM, and that isn't something that's easy for the barn staff to do. And I hate doing "baggies" and having to spend a ton of time and money putting them together.

Smartpaks come in sealed containers or "wells" and all you do is peel off the top part and pour.

Easy as that.

No need to make annoying barn signs to tell the staff you change your supplements. Just change them in the paks, and they get delivered and there is no question as to the administration. Easy peasy.

My experience with supplements is as follows (and it is a weird one): Foxie got put on Smart Maintenance (a low level joint supp) after her DDF injury to help her heal. She was on it for a while, and then I switched her to Smart Tendon, as she kept over producing joint fluid. The smart tendon really didn't seem to do much for her... and being cheap (I was paying a LOT for board at the time) I moved her to MSM granules... and suddenly her swelling, which always looked like an old bow, was down. I kept discovering "leftovers" in the bottom of her feed pan, and so we switched to pellets. Then I bumped her up to the 1.25 dose (at the time, I didn't know she was 1200 lbs!) and magic again - the swelling went completely away. MSM seems to work really well for Foxie, and since she doesn't have any apparent arthritis issues, we're planning to keep her on it for the future.

Intermittently she also gets a coat supplement-  I use SmartShine or SmartOmega3 to give her a little boost over the winter, or to help her shed out from a clip. Now that she's no longer a show horse, I used the Omega3 supplement to not only help balance her out (omega 3's help with the inflammatory response, which in Fox tends to be reactive) but it also has pre and pro biotics, which I felt was a good choice after a summer of being on bute before we switched her to the safer pain med.

Fox is a very, very low maintenance horse - we've done Adequan IM only to help her comfort levels after the suspensory injury (and boy, did it help!) and as of now, the Previcox pill is a better choice, as it helps her with discomfort and is more affordable than the Adequan.

For most horses, I think you just need to have a careful eye - try supplements before injections, but consider that maybe, if you're feeding an very expensive supplement, that injections alone may be more effective for the horse and the use of your $$$. A lot of times, good feeding and proper nutrition can make up in the hoof and coat quality that you find lacking, but if you have checked with a feed specialist, knowledgeable trainer or friend  etc, and can't find any holes, a supplement may be what you need.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond the Grain I: Feed Additives

There's a lot of feed world out there beyond grain and hay. I'll get to supplements in another few posts ( I don't think I could cram it into one!) and spend today talking about other feed additives. Mostly the purpose of these types of feed is to supplement the hay or the grain - horses are big animals and need lots of food!

Beet Pulp Shreds: BP was my first experience with feed additives. The shreds come dried, and you MUST soak them before you feed them. They expand up and I generally add a bit of extra water to make it a nice tasty soup/slop that horses seem to either really like  or really not. Beet Pulp shreds are sweet, and offer about 1000 extra calories per lb when hydrated - plus if the horse isn't a good drinker, that extra water can really help them out, or be good at a show when the horse won't drink for love or money. Nothing is funnier than a horse slurping (loudly, I might add) his beet pulp! I would say start small and feed in a flat feed pan or bucket on the ground, rather than dumping into any type of permanent feed bin, as if it's attached, you're stuck with all this water and shreds your horse won't eat and its tough to get it out.

Hay Pellets/cubes: Another soaking-product that horses (or Fox, at least) LOVE. I bought Foxie some Alfalfa pellets to help her get used to alfalfa before a barn move and will probably feed them again this summer because she LOVES them. I found the pellets to be much harder than the extruded bits in a regular feed, and started soaking them to make sure they were safe for her to eat (she could choke or get colic-ey if they expand in her stomach). I fed about a pound of them per feeding (I have a SURE SCOOP brand scoop) with another scoop of water in with them. Cubes are often too hard for the horse to really tackle on his own, so water is helpful there, as well. Hay cubes can supplement a diet (especially where alfalfa is too expensive to buy in bales) or fill in the holes that a hay shortage leaves behind. Or they just make a good snack/treat that isn't chock full of sugar for your beloved steed. Alf Pellets hang out just under 1,000 (977) calories per lb, orchard grass somewhere in the 870's and green pasture is about 250 calories/lb.

Rice Bran: Rice bran seems to come in power/granule form or pellets, and is another source of extra calories. It's loved by show horse owners and basically anyone for it's ability to make your horse shiny and have a really lovely lush coat. Again, I have heard of some taste issues, but it has that nice ferment-able fiber (fiber is a fact of horsey life- that gut needs to keep busy!) and, like fish oil supplements for people, it's full of omega-3's and omega-6's that are good for your horse's health. Rice bran is more calorie heavy around 1500 cal/lb but don't fall for most fat supplements - I've found that they don't really offer all that many calories per lb - do your research!

Corn Oil is also popular among show riders, because judges love shiny, healthy looking horses. At ~ 4,000 calories/lb (thought who measures liquids in lbs, seriously) it gets expensive fast, but again offers many of the same benefits as rice bran, but in a form your horse can't sort out of his feed. I see a lot of people buy big things of oil from the "Industrial" section or from a big box store and prescribe the amount in a pump measurement (two pumps per meal, etc). There is some argument that oil isn't good for your horse, but I'll let you do the research.

Finally there are the fat supplements made by horse feed companies - Amplify by Purina, Envision by Progressive, etc. These are highly concentrated forms of fat that are easy to integrate into your horse's diet along with his grain. These supplements differ in calorie content by the company, but these supplements are a nice way to simplify the trips you make to get your feed bought. Amplify is also available in Ultium, letting me kill two birds with one stone.

The biggest wisdom I have on this subject, is, of course, to do your homework. Make smart decisions - don't invest until you know your horse likes what you're feeding, and even then, Foxie got sick of beet pulp and magically stopped eating it when I had 1/4 of a bag left. Mares!

Ash & Fox

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blanketing PSA - Again.

So we had some interesting weather the other week, and it got me thinking about blankets. I know I did another post about them, but really, I could talk about blankets forever, and it's my blog... so devil may care.

I like blankets.

The weather went from warm - and RAINY - to sub-zero in less than 24 hours. Weird for Minnesota  super weird for the horse owners around. The horses had a jolly day playing and rolling and napping in the sun - and then the temp dropped. This resulted in some shivering, chilly and generally unhappy ponies.

Horses generally take care of themselves, coat wise. But a matted, wet, or dirty coat can't fluff up to keep them warm - and Minnesota often offers horse owners extenuating circumstances. Wind, driving snow, rain, random temperature changes... our horses need some help, no matter how nice of a coat they grow. My Foxie doesn't grow much of anything, and thus she owns a wardrobe that puts most horse owners to shame.

I think even the most sturdy of horses should own at least a rain sheet - something to throw on them during that epic 2 day long down pour, or the snow storm you can't even walk through, when you're not 100% sure Pookie will stay in his or her shelter like a smart horse. They should also own a cooler - polar fleece or wool,  to help wick sweat away, or serve as an emergency layer under that rain sheet.

The world of blankets is kind of a scary one - like most things in the horse world, it's unnecessarily complicated and everyone has an opinion. Here is my DL.

European cut, or that boxy long sided blanket with the upside down V shoulder gusset is the most common, and tends to fit a lot of horses. It's a good place to start for shape.

Measuring for a blanket goes from the center of the chest, around the widest part of the flank to the point of the buttock. Some brands run long, some run short - read reviews, ask around, try a friend's horses' blanket on yours.

I like belly coverage (no tummy sticking out!) and good coverage around the back, with a tail flap to keep out drafts. The shoulder should fit without binding and watch that it doesn't sit too low in the front, and doesn't catch back on the wither, as that can cause friction-related hair loss or sores on the withers. Knowing that my blankets are a bit off in shoulder fit, and that Foxie gets rubbed easily, she wears a shoulder slinky (a shoulder covering piece of spandex that cuts down on the friction) under most of her blankets.

Blankets come in weights, or warmths, and deniers, which is the toughness of the fabric.
- 600 Denier is the standard material, and it's durable enough for a quiet horse. If you have a playful horse, or one who goes out with a rowdy herd, I would try for a 1200+Denier blanket.
- Warmth wise, there are no fill blankets (usually lined with nylon for coat slicking or mesh for breathe-ablilty), medium weights that run 200 - 240 grams of fiberfill, and heavy weight blankets that run 300 grams or more. I find my rain sheet and my medium to be the most useful, and use my heavy for the coldest days.

I look for blankets with hoods and that are waterPROOF and breathable, as they give me the most forgiveness  Hoods make up for freak cold days when I can't get out to the barn to swap her into a heavy, and the waterproof and breathable qualities keep them dry (try battling rain rot under a blanket - warm and dark and if not breathable, moist... nope.) and the breathable blanket allows for some small sweating without being truly wet under the blanket. Some people can get by with liners (like on the new Amigo line - those are very cool!) but I prefer to have at least one "outside" blanket, as no matter how many liners you have they don't do any good with a ripped up blanket on top of them. I like detachable hoods as you technically have two blankets and that much more flexibility. Rain sheets are hard to find (as are no-fill hoods) so I tend to stick to high neck blankets that help keep cold drips out from underneath the blanket.

As I mentioned with the new Amigo by Horseware Ireland line, liners are a interesting new thing - it means you can wash all of your blankets at home, as a sheet or a liner should fit fine in most washers. I prefer closed front liners, as buckles rubbing on the underside of buckles screams pressure points to me. I also prefer ones, like the SSTACK or Horseware liners, that don't have straps of their own but instead use the outer blanket's existing straps to keep them in place. It means half the unsnapping and resnapping, and more comfort and less bulk for your horse. I prefer them over the fleece "Liners" that companies sell - fleece screams static to me, and static makes (my horse at least) a little nuts. I lost a nice fleece sheet that way, and found my horse all tangled up and in a bad mess. They're useful, but with a grain of salt.

Some horses find blankets that go over their heads scary, and thus I would make sure to blanket with caution until they become a usual thing, just like halters for the head shy horse or touching ears, or the 1,000 other things horses can become afraid of for some reason or another. My flighty girl quickly learned that she likes her blankets - and will help you put one on her by sticking her head in the hole (whether she is actually "helping" is a different question).

More food for thought,

Ashley and Fox

If You're Going To Blanket...

You might as well clip...

I like this news!

I'm a big fan of clipping - it keeps you from spending hours cooling out and keeps you from getting a nice horse steam facial. Yuck. Clipping does take some practice, and it helps to have

This is the Irish Clip. I do a "modified" where I leave the shoulder (to help prevent blanket rubs) and go down between the legs, and then do the belly about that high to taper off. Sometimes I do the whole belly, some times I leave a strip of hair to prevent drafts - its up to you.

Next is the "low trace clip". Foxie's low trace ended up a little... whimsical, but I like the above design. It's softer than mine: 

Foxie's is a little squarer in the shoulder and higher in the hip (hips are hard, ok?) but it does the job pretty stylishly. 

More cute Fox... How can I resist her!

From there you get into the land of the high trace, which is for a horse in heavy, heavy work or for horses with a lot of hair in a warmer climate. Foxie has a pretty minimal hair coat to begin with (and it's heaviest on her belly) so she could easily get away with a lower clip - and while we were indoors, the indoor wasn't heated or insulated. Foxie, because of the wind and her own peculiarities (a particularly stiff neck) also has Weatherbeeta Oricans with the big crazy hoods. They really made a difference and it worked out great last year. 

And from there, we get into blanket, chaser and other various shapes of clip:

If you need to take more hair off than this... I would tread lightly. 

Clipping isn't easy. I got very lucky my first time, and Foxie was a well behaved little star for her torture. Either hire a pro, enlist a friend who is able to make their horse look good or... be prepared to deal with any and all mistakes you make. I use an inexpensive clipper, but Fox doesn't have too much hair. I clipped a friend's TB with much more hair and they struggled but seemed to recover. I suggest clipping early - October or November to give the horse time to grow back in a bit before the real cold begins, and blanketing with a hood to give the horse back the heat-keeping hair that you clipped off. I use a 10 blade (though I have adjustable 10-15-30 blade clippers) and keep a mid-bristle brush, clipper oil and shine spray on hand.

Here's my clipping rules:

Bath time first - try to start with a clean horse that won't dull your blades with dirt and dander. Then apply some shine spray, brush through, and allow to dry. Mark out your clip (chalk or masking tape - or freehand, if you're very brave) and fire up your clippers. I try to go in smooth strokes with the hair to try to not take too much off. Rest/take breaks often, let the clippers cool when they start to get warm. When it gets hard or starts to suck, let it go and finish another day. I'm also fond of the combs we originally bought to clip our dogs - they let me take a heavy coat off in sections so my clippers take less abuse. Extension cords, good lighting and hair-resistant non velcro clothing are a must. 

And a blanket to turn your poor shorn baby back out with his friends :)

Ashley and (the oft clipped/tortured) Foxie