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