They don't call them pests for nothin'! Flies, gnats, mosquitos, stingy things, buzzy bugs, all of them out to make our summer barn time miserable! Ok, ok, they do plenty of good in the world, don't get me wrong, but we can all agree that having flies around the barn is more than just annoying, it can spread disease. Here are some ways to help keep your barn as bug free as possible!
1. Keep your barn clean! A clean barn is a happy barn. Keep stalls clean, at least once daily, and let wet spots air out to dry. Keep water buckets fresh, and disinfected regularly. We dump buckets everyday and scrub them several times a week. Make sure you don't have muddy, dirty build up around drains, or right outside the barn, stall corners, etc. Moisture attracts bugs!
2. Keep your manure pile away from the barn. The further from the barn you can get it, the better, and have it spread or hauled off regularly.
3. Make sure feed is in a sealed container. Open bags of feed are buffets for flies, mice, and other pests!
4. A well ventilated barn doesnt just reduce the number of bugs, but it improves the quality of air for everyone in the barn, too. We love our Barnmaster barns with bars between each stall, wonderful breezeway aisles, and big windows in each stall. Now, obviously we know you cant just go start cutting windows into your barns if you don't already have them but here are some suggestions to help your barn breath and have better air quality.
- Install fans in each stall
- Turn horses out as much as possible. This keeps stalls cleaner and drier.
- Look into installing ceiling fans in barn aisles
5. Install automatic fly spray systems like these found at horse.com
6. Fly Spray! Obvious choice, but there are SO MANY out there! My personal favorites include Ultra Shield Black (which has sunscreen in it, great for black horses), Ultrashield Green (Natural!), Equisect (Natural, and safe to use on dogs too!), and Repel X (it works!). Most of these come in a roll on, or a gel, which is great for horses faces, ears, etc.
7. Fly Masks, Boots, Sheets. These all help keep the pests off your horses. Just make sure they fit properly, and that on hot days your horse isn't sweating underneath them.
8. Fly bands. Fly Armour is one company that makes bands you can strap around your horses legs, on their halter, and more places which are great for trail rides, or horses that stomp their feet to no end .
What about all of these feed-through fly preventatives, and things like fly predators? I have heard nothing but good things about Fly Predators, but it's my understanding that when you use them, you can't use any bug spray, or anything like that because it will kill the predators. We have recently started our horses on Solitude IGR, a feed through supplement (and it's all natural too!), after a recommendation from a friend, and so far I would consider it a success.
Til' next time!
There is one word, above any other, that strikes fear into the hearts of every horse owner out there. Fire. In September and October of 2011, our county of Bastrop, TX played host to the most devastating wildfire in Texas history. Volunteers stepped up in every way, shape, and form to help evacuate countless people, and their beloved horses.
Just this past week, less than two miles from our home at Broken A Ranch, a transformer blew up starting another fire and an all-to-familiar feeling instantly set in. Fortunately, the fire was under control in about two days, and consumed less than 300 acres, and not a blade of grass was touched at our place. Needless to say, with wind blowing our direction, the horses of South Coast were packed up, wrapped up, and ready to go if we had to get out of dodge.
Sadly, he positive thing about horses and wild fire evacuations is that at least with a fire you have some sort of heads up. This isn't the case in thee vent of barn fires, tornados, earth quakes, and several other natural disasters. So how can we keep our horses as safe as possible, and give them the best chance of both surviving, and making it back to us in the event they have to be set free? This list may be long, but these simple steps can very well mean the difference between life and death for your horse.
- Rule Number One BE PREPARED. Have a plan, and practice it until you can not mess up. The added stress of an emergency does not help you get through a plan that you've never practiced before. Would you go to a dressage show without knowing your test? Would you go to a pro rodeo on a horse that has never seen a barrel pattern? Why set yourself up to fail in such a serious situation?
*Have several places to go. Get in contact with local horse owners, big barns, local arenas (The Lost Pines Riding Club in Elgin, TX is pretty much always an option for horses in the Bastrop area), and form a group of places you can take your horses if you need to go. Know what you will need if you take your horses somewhere. A lot of places have a pasture you can use, but your horses may not be the only ones there, and you may need to separate horses. It's best to know if you need round pen panels to due so prior to showing up. Also think about things like buckets, hay, and feed.
*Know how to hook up your trailer, and keep it in good maintenance. Also know who can help you trailer horses if you need to move. If you have 8 horses, and a 4 horse trailer, you have to make two trips. If the closest place you have to move your horses is 30 minutes away, it will take you over an hour to get back for the last 4 horses.
*Know and practice every exit out of your barn. Even doorways that wouldn't normally be used for horses may be your only option if your barn is on fire. Practice going through tight spaces, and under short ceilings so your horse is comfortable with it, and you are confident that he can make it.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in your barn, and make sure it works! We also have industrial sprinklers on both exits from our barn so that will help give us more 'safe zone' to get out.
*Did you know you local fire department can come out and inspect your facility, usually free of charge? They can point out any fire hazards, and give you ideas on how to improve your facility so it's safe for everyone.
- Make sure your horse will load in a trailer! Practice loading in several different trailers besides your own. Load by himself, with other horses, with strange horses, etc. Even horses that normally load just fine can freak out about loading in a high stress situation. Give him the best chance possible.
- Don't wait until the last minute to leave. If you have advanced notice, USE IT.
- If all else fails, let your horse go. Horses are instinctual animals, and if you can't get him to safety, you have to make the decision to get yourself out of harms way and leave him to his own devices.
So what do you do to make sure you and your horse a reunited if you have to let him go, or even if you take him to a place with 100 other evacuated horses. Believe me, no matter how organized everyone tries to be, it will still be a very stressful, scary, chaotic situation for everyone involved - both two legged and four legged.
- Tag EVERYTHING. Every halter should have a name plate with your name, your barn name, and/or your phone number. I recommend leather or break away halters over nylon or rope as they will break if your horse gets caught on something. Use duct tape to put your name and contact information on your horses shipping wraps, fly masks, etc. Use a permanent marker or spray paint pen to write your phone number on your horses feet. I suggest using a metallic or neon color as it stands out a lot better than black. There are also several types of 'pony paints' that you can write your phone number on your horses body. He make look a little ridiculous, but you can wash that off when he gets home!
- Microchip your horse, and keep a record of the number.
- Have up-to-date pictures of your horse. One from each side, a front, and a back, at the minimum. Make sure to get any markings, brands, or blemishes in the pictures. There are a lot of bay horses out there, and sure, YOU can tell which one if yours but not everyone else will unless you give more information.
- I have flyers of each one of my horses pre made, and kept in several places (along with copies of their coggins and registration papers) that have their pictures, their name, my name, and my phone number. Not only can I use these to put up if I had to, but I can hang them on temporary stalls or pastures if need be.
- Have matching equipment. Though this will not save you on it's own, having matching stuff for each horse will make it easier for volunteers (who often have little to no horse experience) keep your stuff and your horses identified.
This list is only a small sample of ways to help you and your horse stay safe, and stay together in the event of an emergency. We would love to hear from you with your tips, comments, or questions, and encourage our readers to post comments to the blog. Remember, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Hopefully you never need this list, but if you do, I hope it helps!
It was a very lucky day for the horses here at South Coast today, because today they got to determine which treats really are the best! The test was simple, offer 5 horses 6 different types of treats, and see what they prefer. Each horse was given a feed pan with 1 Nickerdoodle broken into two pieces, 1 Sierra Sweet, 2 baby carrots, 2 peppermints, 2 pieces of butter scotch, and home made apple sauce (I ran out of apples, and it's all natural) and the rest was up to them. Before we get to the results, lets talk about some quick safety tips and some do's and don'ts on feeding treats.
1. Anytime you hand feed treats, make sure your fingers are together, and your hand is flat. Fingers feel like carrots!
2. It is best to put treats in your horses feed pan rather than hand feeding. Hand feeding treats can cause a horse to get nippy, or impatient. If you feed your horse a treat every day after your ride on the cross ties, chances are the day you run out of treats is the day you will find out you have a pushy, pawing horse.
- Already have a pushy horse? Stop giving him treats all together. When you feel he is ready to be a gentleman about it again, make him work for it! Have him stretch his head around to each side, between his front legs, and his nose all the way out. Also, don't give treats every single time, let it be a surprise!
3. Give your horse small bites. Whole carrots and whole apples can be hard for a horse to properly chew, which in turn can cause them to choke. If you prefer to feed treats like Nickerdoodles, Stud Muffins, Sierra Sweet, Mrs. Pastures, and other wafer-like horse treats, you should break those in to 2 or more pieces as well, as some horses wont chew them at all, and they are the perfect size to cause a blockage.
4. Read the ingredients. Choosing healthy snacks is just as important, if not more so, for our horses as it is for us! High starch, high sugar treats should be fed sparingly. Choosing all natural treats, and ingredients that are already a part of your horses diet will greatly reduce the risk of an upset stomach.
5. MODERATION. Some treats have a daily limit printed right on the box or bag, others you have to kind of guess. One apple, two carrots, or two treats is usually plenty for your horse, and he doesn't need them every single day. Adding too many treats at once can turn into more of a meal, and can really mess up your horses diet.
Alright, after a excruciating afternoon of research, the results are in!
3. Sierra Sweets
6. Apple [sauce] - I will re do the test with Apples and see if it changes.
I tallied the points by the order in which the horses ate the treats. If they didn't eat something within 3 minutes, that treat got counted as 6th place. Each horse had their favorite, and seemed to know right away exactly which one it was. After the third treat, Soda, Bay, and Zip all pretty much slowed down and then eventually took another bite. Dan pretty much shoved the first three in his mouth at once, but left enough scraps to go back and pick them out individually. Vara is the only one who ate all of her treats, one after the other. Even though the carrots came in second, they were the only treat to be chosen first by 2 horses, and the Sierra Sweets were a steady second pick. The Carrots and the Nickerdoodles were also the only treats that every horse ate.
So there you have it folks. Straight from the horses mouth!
A few weeks ago we went over the form and style of a number of bits. We learned about the different types of rings and shanks, different mouth pieces, and where certain bits apply pressure. Now it's time to learn about bit function, and how to choose the right bit for your horse and/or your current riding situation. Please note, this is simply a basic guide, and I do not recommend switching your bit, or any tack for that matter, without first discussing it with your trainer. If you are showing, it is also very important that you check the rule book for your association, and make sure your bit falls within the guidelines they have set up. Lastly, I want to point out that a stronger bit is not always the answer. Often times there is a block missing in the training foundation that is misread as a bitting problem, only to find a few months down the road the rider has to switch to an even stronger bit to fix the same problem. Make sure you are making an honest assessment of what your horse is telling you, and how you, as the rider, may be helping or hindering the specific issue. I also can not stress enough that it doesn't matter how mild or severe a bit is when its hanging on the wall at your local tack shop, its how mild or severe the rider makes it. I would never, ever put a knife edge snaffle or a gag bit of any kind into uneducated hands. You always want to get the job done with the softest bit possible. When I use a stronger bit in certain situations, note that I also only use that bit for 1-3 rides and then I switch back to a plain, ported, or rubber snaffle. OK, now on to the information!
Assessing the situation
This is probably the most complicated part of choosing a bit. There are so many factors that go into deciding what is the right choice. Sometimes there are several options, and you're stuck ruling out pros and cons of each. Let's try and help you narrow it down.
What do you want the bit to do?
If you looking for something that is going to help your horse turn and stop, you would typically look at snaffles as they are directional bits. If you are looking for a bit that will help your horse break at the poll, you would look more into a leverage bit. Either a curb bit, or something with a port. If you are looking for something that will offer more stopping power on a strong horse, as well as leverage, you may consider a gag, or a 3 ring snaffle as well, as they offer even more leverage than most pelhams and kimberwicks. If you have a horse that likes to hang on the bit, you may switch to a loose ring, a slow twist, or in more extreme cases, a Waterford or a knife edge. I will also use a slow twist or a knife edge on a horse with a very hard mouth. Again, note that this is typically only for a few rides, then back into a much milder bit.
Where is your horse in his training?
If a horse is green, you always want to start with the softest option possible. Usually a plain D snaffle, or a full cheek snaffle. I like a full cheek as it can help the horse figure out to turn his head when pressure is applied to the rein. As you come into issues with his training, and you have ruled out that it is due to skipping steps along the line, you may switch to a different bit for a few rides (based off of the issues posted above). Once your horse is soft and accepting of the bit, understands stopping, turning, and stays soft on a bit, you may want to switch to a leverage bit of sorts to extend the horses training. Some horses can go their whole lives in a plain D snaffle, or a ported bit, so make sure you talk to your trainer or other trusted professional before making the switch.
The shape of your horses mouth can also be a deciding factor in what bit you use. When you get your horses teeth floated (which should be done annually), ask the dentist to do an assessment of the shape of your horses mouth, and where exactly the bit sits in his mouth. a thicker tongue or lower roof can drastically change how a bit fits, thus changing its function.
Bit Care and other information
Bits are easy to care for, and should be cleaned after every use. You wouldn't eat off of dirty silverware would you? Everyone has their own method of cleaning bits. I simply let mine soak in a bucket of water while I clean the rest of my tack, and wipe them down with a clean rag afterwards. There are also several companies that make bit wipes that you can use right after riding that work well too. Some are even flavored.
Certain bits require additional pieces of equipment.
Full cheek snaffles use "bit keepers" which are little leather pieces you attatch to the cheek piece, and around the top of your full cheek.
Loose ring snaffles can pinch, and be pulled through a horses mouth in extreme situations, so more often than not you will see them used with bit guards. Bit guards are flat rubber donuts that go on the ends of the mouth pieces. Yes, that's OVER the big rounds rings. I suggest letting them sit in the sun for a while, or in a bucket of very warm water before you try pulling them on.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this weeks 'lesson' and that you can walk away more equipped to tackle the equine world! If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them as a comment!
Let's start off at the very beginning...
What is a bit?
A bit is the piece of our tack that goes in the horses mouth. It is typically made of metal, but can have different materials such as plastic or rubber as the actual mouth piece. Bits range in size from 3 1/2" to 6" (though smaller and larger bits are available), and have many different mouth pieces, weights, and rings.
How to fit a bit?
There are several factor to consider when determining how a bit fits in your horses mouth. The width of the mouth, how tall or shallow the roof of their mouth is, even the thickness of the horses tongue can all effect which bit you will use. That is all getting a little complex, and will really require a vet or equine dentist to assist you, The width, however, is easy to figure out, and is also the most common concern. A properly fitted bit will sit with 1/4" of the actual mouth piece sticking out on each side of the mouth. You measure a bit from the inside of the bars or rings/bars (click the picture below for a larger copy).
Different types of rings?
There are many different types of rings/shanks. The most common types are Snaffles (D Rings, O Ring/Loose Rings pictured above-, Full Cheeks, and Egg butts) and Curb or Leverage Bits (Two or Thee Ring Elevators, Pelhams, Kimberwicks, and Gags). Snaffle bits are more of a directional bit, used for steering and stopping, with no poll pressure when you apply the reins. Curb Bits and Leverage Bits give you the option to move the rein to a higher or lower point, or two use a second rein (known as a curb rein), and are designed for stopping, and, well, gaining leverage on a more advanced horse. They work by increasing and applying the pressure applied by the rider to the horses poll.
Different bit materials?
The mouth piece or the "bars" of the bit are a whole 'nother world, and can be very confusing if you don't know what to look for. Most mouth pieces are made of metal, and various metals can be used. Stainless Steel, Nickle Plated, Copper, and Sweet Iron are most common. Other common materials are rubber and plastic. Stainless steel is most common, and is a strong material that will last a long time. Nickle plated bits are less expensive that steel,but they can flake and rust after time. Copper and Sweet Iron bits are both said to increase the amount of saliva the horse produces, causing them to have a softer mouth. Copper, though, is a softer material, and will wear out over time. Rubber and Plastic are generally thicker than most metal bits, and are thought of to be softer on the horses mouth. Not all horses appreciate the thicker bars though. It is rare to find a bit that has an all plastic or all metal mouth piece. Usually there is a metal piece in the middle. Though rubber and plastic are a softer material that many horses really appreciate, they can wear very quickly.
Types of Mouthpieces?
Now that we've covered every other aspect of the bit design, lets get on tot he fun; and often most confusing; part, the design and shape of the actual bars. To name a few, there are mullen mouths. jointed, French links, rollers, ported, and twisted. There are other types as well, but these are the most common. So, what's the difference?
Single Jointed bits are the most common (pictured above on both D Ring Bits) and apply pressure on the bars of the horses mouth.
Mullen Mouth bits are single bars with a slight curve that sits comfortably in the horses mouth, over their tongue. They are thought to be softer than single jointed snaffles since they don't 'break' in the middle when the reins are applied.
French Link and Dr. Bristol bits are similar, as they both have a peanut shaped, flat, link connecting two bars. The difference is that the link on a dr. Bristol is angled, and slightly longer. Both are considered easier for the horse to carry, however the French link is a fairly soft bit, whereas the Dr. Bristol is considered a fairly harsh bit.
Roller Bits usually come in copper, but are also found in stainless steel. It is said that the copper rollers cause the horse to salivate, thus making him softer and more responsive to the bit. The rollers themselves also give a horse something to play with, and also makes it harder for a horse to hang on the bit.
Ported bits have an upside-down U shape in the center of the bars, and that U is known at the Port. The port can be very high, or very low. Low ports relieve tongue pressure, and the high ports relieve tongue pressure and apply pressure on the horses pallet when the reins are applied. Ports are a nice bit for a more advanced horse, but in strong hands, high ports especially can be very painful and damaging for the horse
Twisted bits range in harshness from a slow twist, to a corkscrew, to a twisted wire. These bits work well for horses that like to hang on the bit, or ignore them all together, but they should only be used by a rider with an educated, soft hand.
Keeping your horse cool, safe, and healthy this summer
We've covered some great tips to keeping yourself sunburn, bug bite, and heat stroke free this summer, so now we will move on to ways to do the same for your horse! It's common misconseption that summer heat problems only effect horses in work, and I want to clear that up first and foremost!
1. Sun Protection: Protecting our horses is just as important as protecting ourselves from harmful UV Rays. Whether you are saving your horses coat from bleaching out, or pretoecting the super sensitive pink skin around eyes and noses, there are a lot of ways you can do it.
- UV Shades and fly masks: There are many fly mask companies now adays that offer UV Protection in their fly masks. Even if your horse doesnt have pink skin on its face, it's a good idea to protect their eyes.
- UV fly sheets: As with masks, a lot of the sheet companies have come out with UV Protective sheets as well.
- Shade/Stalls: Make sure your horse has a lot of options to get out of the sun. Trees and run in sheds outside must be available. If you dont have that option, your next best bet is keeping them in a stall. I am all for turnout 24/7, but it's not fair if your horse cant get out of the heat or the sun.
- Sun Screens: Especially for the pink skin horses, sun screen is a great way of protecting them. There are several companies that have come out with horse-only sun screen, but you may also use people sunscreen too!
2. Hydration! Water is the single most important thing horses need when it's hot out. Always make sure your horse has plenty of clean, fresh water infront of him. If your horse isnt drinking enough, or you are going to a show or event where the water is strange, add some apple juice or gatorade. Some other tips:
- Add electrolyte powder to your horses grain every day to help replenish the nutrients lost while sweating.
- Soak your horses grain. There are many benefits to soaking a horses grain, but just one of them helps ensure your horses is taking in at least some water every day.
-Keep a tube of electrolytes on hand at all times. You never know when you may need it.
3. Bathing: Whenever you bathe your horse, it is important to start at their feet and legs, then work your way up. This gives them a chance to get use to the water temp. It is also important to let your horse dry off in the shed. The water on your horse heats up faster in the sunshine than their skin does, so hosing them down and turning them out can actually make them hotter than they originially were.
4. Keep summer work simple, and work at appropriate hours. As we talked about in part one, its not comfortable for us to ride when its 105, imagine what it's like for our horses. If you must ride during the hot parts of the day, keep your rides short and to the point.
5. Stall bound horses: though your horses may be out of the sun, depending on the barn set up, they may be hotter in a barn than outside. Keeping barn doors open, and stall windows open will provide a cool breeze, even when the wind isnt blowing. Also, hanging box fans in each stall is a great, refreshing way for your horse to beat the heat.
Have any tips of your own? Feel free to post them in the comment box! Happy trails!
Tis the season, and Christmas ponies are on the top of every kids Christmas list. Everyone is trying to find a deal, and craigslist sure has great prices on some horses. I've made up a quick list for things every horse owner (or potential owner) should know and ask before buying a horse or pony.
1. HORSES ARE EXPENSIVE, yes, even miniature horses. Horses require water, which requires buckets ($10-$30) and hay ($7-$13 per bale) every day. Larger horses, and horses in work, may require grain ($15 per bag) or additional supplements as well. Every 4-6 weeks, horses need their feet trimmed ($30), and twice a year horses need their shots($30-$75). They also get their teeth filed once a year ($75-$125), wormed every 6-8 weeks($7-$20), and have a coggins test pulled ($35).
2. JUST BECAUSE THE AD SAYS "KID SAFE" or there is a small child sitting on a horse in a field, does NOT mean the horse is, in fact safe, or even broke for that matter. It is your best bet to hire a trainer or other qualified, experienced horse person to join you when looking for a horse. Some qualities a true kids horse will possess are good ground manners (ties to anything, no dancing around, absolutely no kick or bite), a quiet personality (no spooking, snorting, or bug eyes about anything). A good kids horse is usually older, sometimes into their 20's, and has been there, done that. Yes, that two year old is sooooo cute. NO, it is not the right choice for your child. Always ALWAYS see the horse being ridden before you even think of purchasing it for your child.
3. PROPER ATTIRE SHOULD ALWAYS BE WORN WHEN DEALING WITH HORSES. This includes boots with a 1 - 1 1/2" heel, long pants, and an approved riding helmet. Bicycle helmets are not proper headgear for horseback riding. You can find approved helmets for under $50.00 at your local tack shop. I also highly recommend that you purchase your helmet at a tack store, not the internet, so you can be sure the helmet fits. An ill fitting helmet can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than no helmet.
4. HORSES ARE HERD ANIMALS. If you plan to keep your new horse at home, among other things such as proper fencing, and shelter, horses don't like being alone. If you can not afford or maintain two horses, some horses get along just fine with goats.
5. THIS IS A BIG COMMITMENT. Horses aren't goldfish. You should involve yourself (or your child) in riding or horsemanship lessons before even thinking of buying a horse to determine if it really is the right thing for you. There
are over a hundred lesson barns in the Austin area, and surrounding townships, as well as many that advertise on Craigslist. A quick Google search will start you off in the right direction. Some things to consider when looking for a
1. Just because someone says they have experience, or are a professional, does not mean they are. A professional is over the age of 18, and makes a living training horses and/or teaching lessons. Unfortunately, just because someone is technically a Pro, doesn't mean they know anything at all about horses, so use some common sense, and research some things on your own first.
2. Is this person insured? Insurance policies are not outrageously expensive, and in the even of an accident, you know you or your child will be covered.
3. What are the facilities like? The riding area/arena should be fenced in with wood, or pipe fencing. Wire fencing of any type is not suitable arena fencing. Is the riding area free of clutter an rubble? Is the area rocky? These are all signs of not-so-good riding (or falling!) conditions.
4. How do the horses look? Are they all in good weight, with happy expressions on their faces? Are their feet well shaped, or are they cracked and chipping?
5. What are the trainers goals for you, and how do they compare to your goals?
6. Is tack provided, or will you need your own? Tack is not cheap, and you do get what you pay for.
7. Are there other students you can talk to?
8. In most cases, you get what you pay for. Sure the $20.00 lessons might sound appealing to your wallet, but there are reasons other trainers charge $50.00 or even $100 per lesson. The main reason being experience. You are paying for a service, would you rather learn $20.00 worth of knowledge in an hour, or $60.00 worth of knowledge in an hour? The higher cost trainers also typically have insurance, which is reflected in the cost of the lesson.
Just some food for thought.
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