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Baby, it’s cold outside…. December 5, 2011

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I might actually wear my ski bibs to the barn today. We finally have a day when it’s cold enough. And that has gotten me to thinking (again) about how the weather, and our efforts to mitigate it, can affect our horses.

Expect to see more energy from your horses when the weather is cooler! Have you ever bounced on your toes or swung your arms to keep warm on a cold day? Well, the equine equivalent of that it to do most things a little quicker…be more ready to hop left or right if a leaf blows by…and generally feel a little more “spring loaded”. So don’t go to sleep at the wheel when the weather is nippy!

As soon as it gets cold enough for us to feel it, we have to face the question of blankets for horses. Of course, if you show extensively in the winter and your horse is body clipped, there is NO QUESTION that you are going to blanket your horse. And possibly even double-blanket, as well as keep your horse in the barn on really cold days.

But, what if you aren’t on a heavy show schedule and you have left your horse to grow it’s winter coat in? In that case, your horse doesn’t really need a blanket. He will probably be fine all winter long in nature’s blanket – and you can always keep him in the barn on a really, really cold day or night. However, some of the other reasons we blanket are to keep the hair laying down (to improve our horses look at a winter show) and to keep him cleaner during the constant rain/snow/freeze/thaw mudfest that winter can become.

If beauty and cleanliness are your goals, it’s fine to blanket. Just remember that you will need to TAKE  THE BLANKET OFF on milder days, and put it back on when the deep freeze hits again. Some people use all-weather sheets for milder days, and switch to blankets during the really cold spells.

Anything that your horse is turned out in should be labeled a TURNOUT sheet or blanket. These repel water instead of soaking it up. Stable sheets and blankets soak up water, so if your horse is turned out in one and it starts to rain or snow, he will soon be soaking wet with no way to dry off and warm up. THIS CAN BE A DISASTER FOR YOUR HORSE! And, by disaster I mean that it could be fatal.

If you decide to blanket (and I usually do), remember that you are responsible for making sure that he is wearing the correct type and weight of sheet or blanket at all times.


The Pre-Purchase Exam June 2, 2011

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When you’re looking at buying a horse (or pony), one of the most important steps in the process is the pre-purchase examination. I wish I had a dollar for every seller who’s ever said to me, “There’s no point in doing a pre-purchase exam. I can tell you everything that’s wrong with him…” I would have…well, let’s just say A LOT of dollars.

But, here’s the thing. You don’t do a pre-purchase exam to find out what you already know about the horse. You do one to find out what you (and anyone else) don’t know.

Let’s say the seller has disclosed that the horse has some degeneration in his hocks. You factor that information in to your decision to purchase, and the price you are willing to pay. And, of course, you will plan to radiograph those hocks during your pre-purchase exam to confirm the sellers information and to observe the extent of the joint damage. However, if those x-rays show a large chip in the joint capsule and a complete lack of joint spacing, then you may decide not to purchase that horse. The owner knew the horse had hock issues and rightly disclosed that information to you. However, until they’ were x-rayed, no one knew the true extent of the hock issues and damage the joints may have suffered.

There will be several “decision points” during your pre-purchase involving how far you want to go and how much money you want to spend. All exams begin with a general health exam, and the vets opinion of the horse’s conformation as it relates to its suitability for intended use. You will have spent around $100 to get that information. At that point, a good veterinarian will ask you how much further you want to go with evaluating the horse. It’s not about their opinion of the horse and they shouldn’t offer it at this point unless asked. I always recommend flexion tests – where specific joints are manipulated under pressure and the horses response is noted, on a 0-5 reaction scale, as they trot away from the test. A zero = no reaction to the test and is good. A five = dead-dog lame after the test and is not so good! With joint flexions, you’re approaching $200.

If your veterinarian indicates that your horse is in good overall health, has no conformation issues or blemishes that would hinders its usefulness, and it passes all the flexion tests then there is usually no need to go further and spend any more money. However, here are a couple of instances where you may want to proceed to x-ray some joints, even though flexions were good:

1) You are paying a lot of money for this horse. Remember, the more you pay the more you will want to get when you are ready to sell. When you are the seller and are asking a lot, the potential buyer will probably want x-rays. It helps on resale to have a set of x-rays from when you purchased so that the buyer and his/her vet can use them to compare with current x-rays. Sometimes it not the condition of the joints that is so important, but rather how much the joints have CHANGED over time.

2) You expect this horse to do a difficult job, or last over a long period of time. In those cases, your best insurance is to radiograph the “money” joints (hocks, stifles, fetlocks, navicular – or some combination of those) to make sure there isn’t something going on that may affect this horse down the road.

Any time a joint doesn’t flex well, you have reached another decision point. Do you x-ray the joint to see what’s going on and hope it’s not something serious? Or, do you end the exam and decline to purchase based on the fact that the horse did not “pass” flexion tests? Some questions you might ask to help you make that decision are…how much do you like this horse?…how much are you paying for this horse?…how old is this horse?…how much has this horse been used so far?

If you really, really like the horse, get an x-ray. It may be nothing or very little and you can proceed to purchase with a clear conscience. The horse may have gotten a kick the day before and just be sore, or have twisted something running in the pasture and will be fine with a couple days of rest.

If you’re paying a lot for the horse, get an x-ray. It’s just insurance against the purchase price and your reasonable prospects of recovering some of it on resale!

If it’s an older horse, you may not want to x-ray. Older horses often don’t flex great. If you like the horse and are willing to put up with some creakiness to get an appropriate mount that’s been around the block and can teach your child safely, just note that the joint may need some maintenance and move on.

If it’s a younger horse, get an x-ray. Basically, the younger the horse is the higher your expectations should be regarding it’s soundness. A young horse hasn’t had time to put a lot of wear and tear on it’s joints, so chances are that any soreness is not a result of the normal degenerative changes that come from aging, but rather due to some injury or more serious joint issue.

If the horse has been used very little, get an x-ray. See all the reasons above.

If the horse is in good health and has passed all the flexions (or you have x-rayed and are satisfied with the results), this is a good time to ask your vet their general opinion of the horse. You already know what your trainer thinks – you are pre-purchasing after all! Vets aren’t trainers and their perspectives are different. Your trainer has to live with the horse every day, needs to make the two of you into partners, and wants to make sure you are able to win (if you train hard and do your homework). Your vet needs your horse to stand quietly twice a year when he vaccinates it. However, vets see plenty of horses each day and most have a good feel for when a horse is a decent type or a jerk. I always ask what they think – I don’t always agree!

Buying a horse is a fairly emotional undertaking. We all tend to “love” our horses early and easily. A pre-purchase exam will help to keep you from falling in love with someone who is only gonna’ break your heart.

Whether the weather matters… April 5, 2011

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It does.

But, let me elaborate.

Changes in the weather will affect different horses differently, but there are a few generalizations that it’s safe to make. Most horses will be quieter (slower, duller, more calm…pick your adjective) when the weather is warmer. Conversely, they will be perkier (quicker, brighter, more alert) when the weather is colder. These are not huge personality changes, but rather just overall changes in the horse’s general outlook/responses. They are subtle, gradual (as the seasons change) and easy to adjust for.

It’s harder to adjust for the wild daily weather changes we can experience during Spring in the midwest. Here in Kansas City, it was 90 degrees on Sunday. Yesterday (Monday) the high was 50 degrees with very high winds making it seem much colder. Right now, at 7:30 Tuesday morning, it’s 32 degrees.

Perky horses were quite dull on Sunday. Dull horses were asleep. It was hot, for the first time this year, and horses had not adjusted to warmer temps – and in fact most still have not shed their winter coats. Yesterday, the horses woke up a bit.

Weather is just one of many things you adjust for each time you ride – but you should pay special attention to sudden changes in the weather. Don’t be upset if Poco Pookie Bars is not the same horse today that he was on Sunday. The weather has changed…a lot. Make adjustments and allowances. Increase your warm-up time. Don’t attempt to school any new or difficult concepts or movements. Don’t suddenly decide to take your horse on a trail ride to new territory.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has come to me seriously concerned because their horse was difficult on a certain day, and I think to myself, “Well, duh! The temperature dropped 30 degrees!” I would definitely be rich, as well as beautiful…! There’s a reason we all secretly breathe a sigh of relief on sunny, windless, 80 degree days.

Horses also can respond to changes in barometric pressure (like drops when a storm is coming), windy conditions (welcome to Kansas) and, of course, actual severe weather. Don’t stay home just because of weather issues (unless we’re talking severe weather!) – but you should plan to factor weather conditions in to your ride so that you and your horse will both have a good day.





Spring has sprung…at your horse March 30, 2011

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I’m really glad that spring is arriving.  Or, at least it’s supposed to be arriving…maybe this weekend if the Kansas weather reports can be believed. It means slicker horses, no more Carharts, and feeling your toes again. But, for those of us in the show hunter world, it can also means a move from the indoor arena to the outdoor arena.

I love having access to an indoor arena in the winter and during inclement weather. But, really, I love riding in the outdoor ring. I’m an outdoorsy person, and I just enjoy the air, the sun, the birds…all of it. I think the horses really prefer it, too. They just seem to open up more outside and get more forward. That horizon in the distance makes them think they are free – and it’s much more interesting to look at than four wooden walls. I like a quiet horse as much as the next person but, really, riding hunters is a forward exercise and so I am in favor of anything that makes our horses want to go forward. Respectfully forward.


Remember to make adjustments and allowances during your first few outdoor rides. Your horse will be more “up” and forward and bright. There will be new things to look at – and stare at – and spook at. Unless you’re Mrs. Van-astor-built, your outdoor is probably considerably larger than your winter indoor, so make adjustments for riding longer lines and broader corners. If your horse gets regular turn out, he will have seen all the birds and squirrels and bike riders. He just won’t have seen them from the perspective of the outdoor arena, and believe me, they will look different there! The tractor starting up sounds different from the outdoor ring, and all those horses running and playing in their paddocks are a MAJOR distraction.

If you can, take your horse for a leisurely hack in the outdoor ring once or twice, without worrying about working. Let him see everything from the 2011 perspective and don’t have a lot of expectations. Then, when you do go out to work, you won’t have to feel sorry for him. He’s SEEN it this year…now it’s time to get serious. Horses are funny about new things…even new old things. It may look like the same old outdoor ring from last year to you, but it probably looks new and fresh to your horse.

Hey…the good side of that is that your horse can continue to go to horse shows and jump jumps that look old and boring to you – but fresh and interesting to him. It keeps them jerking their knees for the judges!

How to avoid choking to death while riding… March 10, 2011

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Okay, I admit it. I chew gum. Not constantly, but I keep it in my car and my purse and I indulge on occasion. But it really does NOT mix well with riding. The worse case scenario is falling off and aspirating the gum as you inhale to try to get your breath back. I can probably do the Heimlich maneuver on you, but I’d really rather not!

Now, I know you’re going to tell me that Poco Pookie Bars is the best horse EVER and he would never do anything bad to throw you…and besides that, you are a GREAT rider and, of course, will NEVER fall off. However, think about this. Maybe you don’t fall off…but your horse stumbles a bit and you hitch your breath a little at the unexpected jarring. Gum? Throat.

Also, if you’re at a show, believe me when I tell you that judges notice that sort of thing. Points off, baby.  FYI, they also notice if your coat is unbuttoned, your hair is coming out from under your hard hat, you forgot your gloves, your cell phone is ringing…but those are topics for another day!

I’ve been doing the “horse thing” for almost 50 years…and I think I’ve learned a lot. Some from the people I’ve worked with, worked for, taught, and run screaming away from. Loads more from the horses. I feel like sharing. Or, maybe it’s indigestion. March 8, 2011

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