Possibly pregnant mare.... Vet says no I say yes....

I purchased a little 16 year old mare a couple months ago, the people supposedly knew very little about her and now the phone is disconnected. She has been bagging up and I had her palpated, vet said no baby (This is not my usual vet for preg checking) Now not even 3 weeks later this mare has a nearly full bag, expressing a yellowish sticky fluid when her nipples are squeezed, edema from the udder to just in front of her girth, lengthening vagina and going in and out of being a loner from her pasture buddy who she is normally stuck at the hip with. Im wondering if maybe she is one of those mares that just has tiny babies and it was able to "hide" from the docs hand? I had one pony mare that we had no clue was ever exposed until the foal was born, maybe the same thing here? I plan to get her an ultrasound ASAP from a different vet as the one she went to said it was hormones in the grass causing her to bag up. Never heard of that before.

Teaching steering and brakes

Things a young horse needs to know BEFORE you jump on his back!

My trainer and I have been working with my younger horse, who just turned three, teaching him what he needs to know before we back him for the first time.  She also helped me start my first horse, who is now seven, so this is the second baby I have gone through the training process with.

A lot of riders don't realize how much work it takes to get a horse ready to be ridden.  You don't just hop on and go -- or, as some cowboy types might think, hop on them and let them buck it out!  As my husband likes to say (and he's not even a horse person), you wouldn't get into a car with no brakes and no steering wheel, especially not if that car was on a hill!  Similarly, before you ever get on a horse's back, he needs to know and understand all the important commands you might need to give him from his back.

Obviously, the very first thing you ought to start with is ground manners. A horse needs to know it's not OK to treat people like other horses.  This means being quiet and respectful and listening for what the person might ask for next and most importantly, no biting, kicking, pulling, crowding or any other dominant behavior a horse might offer to another horse in the pasture.

Ground manners ideally should be established from a young age.  Next is lunging, which teaches a horse the different gaits.  I don't mean that the horse doesn't know how to walk, trot or canter on his own -- obviously he does, but he needs to know which gait you want when you ask him to speed up or slow down.  A horse needs to be able to differentiate between what you are asking, at a finer level than just "walk" or "RUN!"

The other important thing that the horse learns with lunging -- and should be a part of his ground manners, too, for that matter -- is the concept of the whoa.  A horse's brakes are equally as important, if not more so, as his understanding of the commands for the different gaits.

And finally, a horse needs to know what the rein commands mean.  Contrary to what some riders I know seem to think, horses are not born knowing that when you tug on the right side of their mouth, they should turn their whole bodies (and not just their heads) to the right.  The concept of both reins for whoa is a whole new concept, too.  This is typically taught before you ever get on the horse's back via ground driving, which is what my trainer is doing in the picture above.  My horse has a lunge line attached to each side of the bit, just like reins; the lines then go through a D-ring on each side of the surcingle he is wearing around his girth, which ensures that the pressure from the "reins" is always coming from the horse's back, just like if there were a rider there.  Teaching the horse to give to rein pressure in this manner ensures that if he freaks out, you are not only NOT on his back when he does so (remember the car on the hill without steering or brakes), but also a safe distance behind him (too far back to get kicked inadvertently).

Before I hired my trainer to help me start my first horse under saddle, I had no idea how much work goes into training a horse.  Even once you have backed them, there is still lots of fine tuning to do, such as teaching them to bend properly and to move away from leg pressure!


The last word on English saddle fitting

Nine informative videos to help you ensure your saddle fits your horse!

A couple weeks ago I blogged about the importance of finding a saddle that fits both you and your horse.  I also posted a link to a helpful video on doing a wither trace and determining correct saddle fit.

Shortly after blogging about it, I was in a tack shop for something else, and saw an older saddle on consignment for an unbelievably good price.  I took it with me on loan to try it out on both my horses.  (Any good saddle shop will either let you take the saddle on loan, or offer a return policy so that you aren't stuck with a saddle that doesn't fit.)

I was lucky in that the saddle did fit my younger horse, the one with the wider withers, who is currently in training.  It's not a perfect fit, but it doesn't feel like it will pinch or otherwise hurt him, so it will do nicely as a first saddle.

In determining the fit of the saddle, I relied heavily on a series of videos I found on YouTube, which described English saddle fitting more thoroughly than anything I've ever seen before.  There are nine videos, each of which deals with a different aspect of saddle fit:

  1. Balance
  2. Wither clearance
  3. Gullet channel width
  4. Full panel contact
  5. Billet alignment
  6. Saddle length
  7. Saddle straightness
  8. Tree angle
  9. Tree width

And none of this, of course, takes into account whether the seat fits the rider.  Who knew that fitting a saddle to a horse could be so complicated, or that an improperly fitting saddle had so many different ways to hurt your horse?

Why horses need dental work

Having your horse's teeth "floated" regularly helps to keep him healthy!

No, that's not some kind of torture device strapped to my horse's mouth.  It's just a speculum, for holding his mouth open while my vet works on his teeth.  (He's also well sedated, so although I can't say for sure that he enjoyed the experience, I am resonably confident that it wasn't too traumatic for him.)

For some horse owners, the thought of doing dental work on a horse makes them roll their eyes and shake their heads.  "It's just a horse," and all that -- I know, I've heard it before.  But there are actually a few good reasons to have your horse's teeth floated.

First of all, though, if you don't already know, "floating" is when the vet files down a horse's teeth so that they make a nice, smooth grinding surface once again.  Horses' teeth grow constantly, and because of the motion of their chewing, they tend to get sharp points and edges on their teeth.  The uneven grinding surfaces make them unable to chew their food well, for one thing, but it also causes sores in their mouths that can make it painful to eat.

So floating your horse's teeth regularly can make him happier and more comfortable, for one thing.  But if you don't care about your horse's happiness, you at least ought to care that floating can also save you money in the long run.  When your horse can't chew his food well, either because it hurts or because his teeth don't grind together very well, he can't get all of the nutrition out of what he's eating, and some of it therefore passes all the way through unchewed.  (Think about it: What happens if you don't chew your corn very well?)  This can cause problems in keeping weight on a horse, particularly an older horse, and force you to spend more money to supply your horse with more food -- an expensive proposition, especially with what hay prices are lately.

So while some horse owners may scoff at dental work as being unnecessary for horses, the truth is it can actually save you money, not to mention make your horse a heck of a lot happier!

Ensuring correct saddle fit for you and your horse

A saddle needs to fit both you AND your horse correctly!

I've noticed that many people, particularly non-horsey people and people who don't know very much about horses, don't realize how precise saddle fit needs to be.  A saddle needs to fit both you and the horse properly.  If it doesn't fit the horse, he or she could wind up in a lot of pain, perhaps even permanent.  If it doesn't fit you, you could be equally uncomfortable, or at the very least have a hard time staying in a saddle that is too big or too small.

It's been a while since I bought a saddle, but now with a new horse, I need to go saddle shopping again.  Plus, I am thinking of replacing my first horse's first saddle, which he has worn since he was a 3-year-old -- it still fits him great, in fact it probably fits him better since his back lengthened (the picture above was taken when he was three), but I don't like the thickly padded flaps of the all-purpose English saddle.  He isn't very responsive to leg pressure when I'm riding in the saddle, whereas he responds well bareback, so I have been wondering if a close contact saddle would be an improvement for both of us, especially since we are starting to jump a little more now.

Since it seems like my horses aren't going to be able to share saddles -- my new one is a draft cross, and although he is only three now, I have a feeling he is only going to get wider as he grows and fills out -- that means I am currently in the market for not just one, but two saddles.

The first step, of course, will be to do wither traces of both horses, and to measure my first horse's current saddle (I think it's a medium wide tree, but I can't remember for sure).  For help fitting an English saddle, here is a wonderful post on the difference between tree size and gullet width (it's not the same thing), and another helpful page with a template to help you determine tree size.  Keep in mind, of course, that the template given is for Thorowgood saddles and other manufacturers might have different specifications for their tree sizes; but it should at least help you get a general idea of your horse's size.

As for how the saddle fits you -- English saddles will always specify a seat size, which is measured from one of the little nail heads on either side of the pommel, to the center of the cantle (the high point of the very back of the seat).  This is the measurement that needs to fit you -- this has nothing to do with how the saddle will fit the horse!  For instance, the saddle I currently ride in has a 16.5" seat, which fits me well -- 17.5" and even 17" is way too big.  But I'm pretty little, so most adult riders will require a larger seat than what I ride in.

By the way, don't forget that this information is for English saddles -- Western saddles are different.  For instance, the seat is measured differently, so that if you ride in a 17" seat in your English saddle, you may ride in a 15" or 16" in a Western saddle.

Finally, bargain hunting on Craigslist or eBay may help you to get a good saddle for an even better price, but only if you are positive that you have the right size -- otherwise you may end up with a saddle that doesn't fit, and a seller that won't accept returns.  Tack shops and saddle fitters are generally willing to accept returns within a certain time frame if the saddle does not fit your horse, so if this is the first time you have bought a saddle, or the first saddle you've gotten for this particular horse, you may want to stick with a shop that has a return policy!

My Little Pony or Workhorse?

How much should we pamper our horses?

A couple of days ago, I stopped at a tack store to buy a few things for the horses.  A lot of horse people will know what I mean when I say that tack stores are like candy shops to me.  I absolutely can't walk into one without buying something I didn't actually need (and, half the time, forgetting what it was that I did need).

And so I ended up walking out with a brand new purple halter and lead rope for my younger gelding.  My trainer has been harassing me because I decided that purple is his color -- I think it will look the best on him year-round, since his coat changes color with the seasons (he's a roan).  But my response is that he doesn't know purple is supposed to be a girl color -- he's just a horse.

Of course, then I made it even worse by braiding his mane.  A purple halter and a braided mane!  Of course, the braids are for a good purpose -- to train his mane to all go the same way -- but that doesn't make the My Little Pony effect any less obvious.

In my experience, horse owners fall into two camps -- those who take the My Little Pony approach to caring for their horses, and those who prefer the workhorse ideal -- Buster has a job, and it's not to look pretty!  Because after all, it's just a horse!

Of course, from there it's a sliding scale, from the horse who isn't loved and is hardly even appreciated for his hard work, to the primped pony who hardly ever sees the light of day, let alone -- gasp -- precipitation.  I think I exist somewhere in the middle, but with definitely leaning toward the My Little Pony side.  My horses get brushed, bathed, and spoiled with treats and kisses, but I draw the line at vacuuming their coats, painting their hooves, and other such nonsense.

What about you?  Is your horse a pampered My Little Pony, or a workhorse who earns his keep?  Or is he a pasture ornament who doesn't work, but doesn't really get pampered, either?

The Joy of Riding Bareback

Riding bareback is quickly becoming one of my favorite things.  I always wanted to ride bareback, but it has taken me a long time to feel secure on my horse's back without a saddle.  I still do use a pad, but that's mainly because he's so narrow -- it's not a very comfy ride without a pad, for one thing, and for another, there isn't as much margin for error (or time to catch yourself) on a narrow horse as there is on one with a nice wide barrel!

Anyway, I started learning to trot bareback months ago, with the help of a lovely Tacky Too bareback pad with a microsuede seat.  (Keeps both the pad and my butt from sliding around!)  My horse -- who is Arabian and doesn't have a natural grasp on the concept of "slow" -- also had to learn to trot more slowly when I was sans saddle.  But just a few days ago, I made another breakthrough: I cantered bareback.

Just as it took a long time to build up enough confidence to canter in the saddle, it took even longer before I was willing to try it without the saddle.  Part of it is because I was worried about my balance and my riding abilities (even though my trainer assured me that she thought I'd be fine), and part of it was that I was worried about the transition -- my horse tends to want to trot faster until he has no choice to canter (and when he breaks from the canter, he also tends to trot fast initially).

So we've been working on his canter transitions a little lately, and finally I decided to just go ahead and try it bareback.  It took at least half a dozen attempts to cue for the canter before he went directly into a canter instead of bouncing me to death at the trot!  But when we finally got it, I was amazed at how smooth and easy it was.  This was what I was worried about for so long?

Now that I've overcome my fears of cantering bareback, I think I'll be doing a lot more riding without a saddle!

The Down Side of Horse Ownership (well, one of them)

Aside from all the expected costs of owning a horse, sometimes they get hurt or sick and hit you where it hurts the most... your checkbook!

When prospective horse owners are deciding whether they can afford a horse -- or, sometimes, another horse -- what they often forget to take into account is the unexpected expenses, such as emergency vet bills.  Hopefully you don't have any (or at least not many) of these, of course, but it's always good to make sure you can afford even this infrequent but important part of horse ownership for when they do occur.

And why is my mind on this, might you ask?  Because I went through it myself recently, of course.  In fact, the horse in the picture is mine!  On Sunday the barn owner called to tell me my young horse had a two-inch gash on his face.  I went right out to the barn to check on things, and I knew immediately it would require a vet's care ASAP.

The gash was gaping open, and I suspected that my horse had been kicked in the face.  The vet confirmed it when she came.  The split that opened up as a result of the kick was actually quite deep, going all the way down to the bone, and required 9 stitches to close it up.

This was my first after-hours emergency, and my first major vet care for the younger horse -- he was gelded before I got him, so all I'd had done with him so far was shots.  I had no idea how he was going to do for the vet, but I was pleasantly surprised: He held his head low and quite still for her while she cleaned and stitched the wound.  I actually thought he was much more sedated than he actually was, until she corrected my assumption -- she hadn't given him very much, she said, because his heart rate was a little elevated.

In addition to an expensive weekend vet visit, this small accident -- which probably took a split second to do its damage -- also resulted in nearly a week's worth of medicine.  I was at the barn twice a day for most of the week, giving antibiotics and bute (horse aspirin, essentially).  That was an ordeal in and of itself -- I had to find just the right mixture of foodstuff to tempt my horse into eating the antibiotic powder without realizing it, and since he doesn't like applesauce and doesn't particularly care for really sweet stuff, this really was a challenge.  The winning concoction turned out to be strawberries and cream instant oatmeal, made with hot water and molasses, and garnished with oats.

And then there were our battles over the bute.  Although he takes dewormer well (or used to take, I should probably say -- chances are he won't now!), he objected to the bute, I imagine because it tastes rather worse than dewormer.  His way of letting me know he didn't like it was to make his mouth a moving target so that I'd have a harder time getting it into his mouth.  We had to have a new "discussion" about the proper etiquette for taking medicine every day that he got the bute.

Finally, just to add to the ordeal, I will be spending some more money and time next Friday evening when the vet comes to remove the stitches and check the wound to make sure it is healing well.

The injury and all the medicine I had to give sure made it a busy week, what with the initial vet visit and the twice-daily trips to the barn thereafter, but I sure am glad the wound seems to be healing well, and without complications.  Hopefully it will continue to do so -- and hopefully this will be the last unexpected vet expense I have for a while!

Good Horsemanship Means You're Always Learning

Reflections on the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo

I spent today at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, an event that is held every March in Denver.  I discovered this event last year, and was so impressed that I made sure to head out there this year, too.

One of the best things about the expo is the many opportunities it gives for horse people to continue learning about horses and horsemanship.  There are at least four or five presenters every hour, in different locations -- some are lectures, while others are demonstrations on horseback.  Some presenters also allow people to bring their own horses in and ride in the demo, which enables you to see real people and horses working through things, practicing what the presenter is saying to do.  (There are also plenty of fun shows and events, too, like the driving show I photographed.)

For instance, one of the demos I went to today was on teaching your horse to cross obstacles, something that can be kind of scary for horses (and sometimes for riders!).  There were three riders and their horses at the demo, and they practiced on the obstacles while the presenter coached them through it.  Not an ideal training situation, with the crowds and unfamiliar surroundings, of course, but it gave the viewers a better idea of the trainer's approach.

Another demo, on the other hand, was just the presenter and her assistant riding.  The presenter was explaining, in this case, how to perfect the canter, and as she talked she made sure to demonstrate on her own horse what she was talking about.  It sure helps to see it actually being done!

I almost always leave events like this feeling inspired to try new things with my horses, to make an effort to be a better rider and a better horse person in general.  I love learning about horses and horsemanship, and actually, I believe the mark of a good horse person is that they are always interested in learning something new, or learning how to improve their riding and horse handling skills.

If you haven't been to something like the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, I highly recommend looking for events, clinics, and other similar events in your area!  Look for something in line with your personal beliefs and horsemanship style, of course, but also look for something that will challenge your current knowledge by teaching you something new!

An Introduction to Pony Club

This morning I accompanied the little horse-crazy girl I nanny for to a Pony Club clinic at the barn where she takes lessons.  We weren't sure what to expect, not having been to one before, but the clinic was essentially an introduction into Pony Club.  There were various short talks on helmet fitting (since helmets are required), required tack and equipment, required clothing, and the different types of riding such as show jumping and dressage.

I was surprised, hearing the talks, by how involved an undertaking Pony Club obviously is.  The talks were given by some of the older riders in the local Pony Club, and they had all obviously been doing this for a long time.  Instead of shows, Pony Club does rallies, which apparently are like shows except that they are more cooperative (a girl works with her local club or team to score well, take care of the horses, etc.), and place more emphasis on what goes on outside of the ring -- taking care of the horses and that sort of thing.  It all struck me as rather intense.

I suppose there are both good and bad sides to this sort of intense, hyper-involved culture.  The kids definitely learn a lot, and apparently there are lots of clinics given on subjects such as hoof care and anatomy -- things good horse owners should know, although many do not.  But it also seems to me that a super-intense atmosphere like this, where a bunch of girls are working and competing closely with one another, also breeds drama.  Hey, drama even manages to rear its ugly head in the laid-back barn where I board, and where adults ride primarily for fun, so I would imagine a more intense, more competitive atmosphere would be ripe for it.

The parents are thinking about putting this little girl in Pony Club next year -- I certainly think she would learn a lot from it, but I wonder if other elements to it would be good for her.  If anyone has any experiences with Pony Club, positive or negative, please feel free to share in the comments!