Your horse will load with ease if he’s trained to listen to you and trusts you as his leader.
“Your horse sees a trailer as a big black box; once he’s trapped inside, he could be attacked and killed by a predator,” notes top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “You’re asking him to go against his instincts.
“You need to train your horse to walk in willingly and without hesitation. To achieve that, you have to make him want to do it.”
Here, Goodnight teaches you how to approach the trailer with confidence.
Equipment/help needed: Outfit your horse in a rope halter and long training lead. Although you wouldn’t want to haul a horse in a trailer in a rope halter, it’s highly effective for training. (Use a comfortable leather or breakaway halter for hauling.) Wear gloves. Prepare a training flag on a training stick. Ask an experienced horse buddy to help you.
Trailer prep: Ideally, use a good-sized stock trailer with a large entryway. Be sure you have enough room to turn your horse around so he can walk out while going forward.
Hook up the trailer to a truck to keep the trailer from tipping; if you can park it in a confined area (next to fences or walls), all the better.
Prepare good trailer footing, with rubber mats and shavings. Finally, prepare a bucket of grain, and be ready to reward your horse in the trailer once he loads.Advertisement
Step #1: Point Him Straight Ahead
Get ready to approach the trailer with your buddy safely placed and ready to help.
Correct your horse’s nose by snapping the rope or pulling his head back to look at the trailer if he starts to look away.
Ask your helper to hold the flag in hand, and wait behind you discreetly and out of your horse’s kick zone.
Start well away from the trailer. As you walk toward the trailer, walk with a purpose, with a demeanor that assumes your horse will walk straight into the trailer. Your confidence will instill confidence in your horse, too.
As you step closer to the trailer, make sure your horse’s nose is pointed straight at the trailer. If he looks (or even glances) away, correct him by bumping the lead rope until his nose is back in front of his shoulders.
Each second that you allow him to look away from the trailer, he thinks he doesn’t have to go toward the dark, spooky place. Teach him that there’s no escape option. His only option is to load up.
If your horse moves away from the trailer, don’t circle him and approach the trailer again, or you’ll train him to avoid instead of approach the entryway.
Step #2: Make Forward the Only Option
Ask your buddy to hold the training flag, staying out of your horse’s sight and out of kick zone. Your buddy’s sole purpose is to keep your horse from backing up.
Your buddy should focus intently on your horse’s feet. Any time your horse moves backward, your buddy should shake the flag vigorously, then stop the instant your horse’s momentum shifts forward. This will make backing up an unpleasant option.
Continue to guide your horse’s nose toward the trailer. Don’t allow side-to-side movements. Pull his nose back to the trailer, or snap the rope.
Step #3: Allow Investigation
Approach the trailer, leading your horse. Walk toward the trailer, taking three to four steps in a purposeful fashion, then ask him to stop. Praise him, and let him stand for a moment and settle.
Starting and stopping help initiate your horse’s investigative behavior. His attention remains on you and what you’re asking of him, and he begins to look ahead wondering what he’s near.
Don’t rush or force your horse into the trailer. Allow him to make up his mind that he has no other choice. Be patient.
Step #4: Load Up
After you’ve worked your way up to the trailer, ask your horse to step in. First, extend the training lead, and step into the trailer in front of him, well out of his way. He may leap into the trailer; you don’t want him jumping on top of you. Also, you don’t want him to think you’re blocking him.
Once your horse resigns himself to the fact that right, left, and back aren’t options, he’ll make up his mind to walk right in. Once he does, give him a small amount of grain from a bucket and lots of praise.
Leave your horse in the trailer for several minutes. This will teach him that the trailer is a safe place to be.
Step #5: Turn and Repeat
Teaching your horse to load into a wide stock trailer helps him to feel less claustrophobic, and allows him to easily turn around and walk out forward, so he gets used to the step. He’ll be more willing to back out once he’s walked out forward a few times.
If your horse tries to rush out backward, don’t pull on his head. Instead, cue him to take one step at a time. Lead him a step forward, then ask him to stop, and praise him. If you need to, use the flag to slow his progress.
Once your horse has slowly exited the trailer, walk him away from the trailer. Then begin your approach again.
Each time you load, it should be a little easier. Once your horse is convinced the trailer is a safe place with tasty feed, he’ll be attracted to it like a magnet.
When your horse walks in willingly, feed him in the hitched trailer, with the back door shut, for about a week. Next, take him on a short drive.
By now, your horse should be eager to load, comfortable riding in the trailer, and happily and safely backing out.Julie Goodnight lives in central Colorado. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She’s also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association. Heidi Melocco is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and top equine photographer based in Mead, Colorado.
There’s much confusion about moisture and hoof health, but one thing is for sure: Wet ground conditions alone won’t cause thrush.
Causes: Thrush is caused by an anaerobic bacterium, meaning that it can live without oxygen. Poorly cleaned stalls, urine-soaked and manure-packed footing, and wet, muddy conditions are major factors that predispose your horse’s hoof to thrush. Additionally, poorly trimmed feet — hooves with contracted heels or overly high heels that trap debris inside the foot and around the frog — also contribute to your horse’s chances of contracting thrush.
But the primary cause of thrush is inadequately cleaning your horse’s feet. Anaerobic bacteria can’t live and multiply in air and light, but if you allow your horse’s foot to become a dark, wet, unsanitary sanctuary for these bacteria, they’ll move in and multiply, even feeding on the frog tissue itself.
Symptoms: Thrush is characterized by a dark, sticky discharge and a foul, rotting smell. The frog may be covered with this discharge, or it may only build up deep in the frog’s grooves. Thrush is usually associated with poor frog growth and disintegration of the frog tissue.
Treatment: If your horse gets thrush, first ask you farrier to trim your horse’sAdvertisement
hooves. He or she can leave the crevices beside the frog wide open, while paring away any obviously infected tissue. Then, pick out your horse’s feet every day, paying particular attention to the frog crevices, until the thrush has cleared up.
Thrush is highly sensitive to air and drying, so trimming and cleaning will cure most early cases. However, if thrush persists, you can treat it with dilute bleach (about 50:50 bleach and water) or hydrogen peroxide. There are also several commercial applications for thrush, but ask your veterinarian for advice — sometimes these chemicals can be too harsh on the tissues.Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD, is a Staff Veterinarian for Uckele Health and Nutrition, Inc., and is the owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, a nutritional consulting firm. An Honors Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, Dr. Kellon completed her internship and residency in Large Animal Medicine and Surgery at the renowned University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center. Her book, Horse Journal Guide to Equine Supplements and Nutraceuticals, is available on HorseBooksEtc.com.
Safe, visible, and sturdy pasture fencing for your horse involves careful planning. Before investing possibly thousands of dollars in materials, put the effort into designing a fencing system that will work for your farm.
- Watch the budget. For large areas, save money by installing fancier fencing at the front and less-expensive fencing in the back.
- Think sturdy. Smaller paddocks/pens need safer, sturdier fencing as horses who play hard — or get spooked — can run into a fence line before they even realize it’s there.
- Determine center length. The standard is to have wood posts on 8-foot centers, but modern fencing materials allow you to extend the centers to 10 and even 12 feet.
- Determine height. Fence height should be 48 to 54 inches — even higher if you have a big jumper or a good escape artist.
- Provide a sight line. Provide a sight line along the top of a wire fence so the horses can see it from a distance. This can be something as simple as colored ribbons every few feet.
- Round the corners. This design will make mowing easier and keep horses low in the pecking order from being trapped in corners by more dominant herd mates.
- Consider a perimeter fence. A perimeter fence around the entire property is a great safety net.
- Fence ponds. Fence around any ponds to keep horses from eroding the banks or walking out on ice.
- Fence trees. Fence around any trees to keep horses from stripping the bark, and killing or disfiguring them.
Once upon a time, there was a limited selection of fencing materials to choose from: wire, wood, maybe pipe. While these are still used extensively, new materials/technology offer us more choices.
- Vinyl. The classic wood “estate fence” is now available in vinyl, but be aware that not all vinyl fencing is horse safe. Some of these rails pop right out of the posts when horses lean on them. They’ve also been known to shatter if hit. Flat, flexible vinyl strips reinforced with cables give a similar look for less money and they’re more forgiving if a horse runs into them.
- Wire options. The thin electric wire of yesterday has given way to thicker, braided wire and narrow, woven mesh tapes that are more visible and less likely to cut a horse who gets spooked and runs through it. Avoid field fence or box wire; the openings are large enough for a horse to put a foot through. Better options are woven wire fences with small openings or diamond mesh. When the wire strands are woven or wrapped rather than welded, it won’t pop apart if a horse runs into it. Look for the words “horse fence” on the label.
- Wood posts. Treated round or square wood posts are still the standard. (Avoid treated landscape ties.) Install them in a drilled hole using a tractor-mounted or hand-held auger. Or, find a contractor who’ll drive them into the ground. Set the posts down far enough to avoid heaving if you live in an area where the ground freezes.
- Metal T-posts. It’s best to avoid metal T-posts, which can impale a horse. If you must use them for budget reasons, cap them with plastic caps. Several cap styles are available.
Fencing depends on the needs of your animals, as well as your own aesthetic tastes. You’re not only investing in your horses’ needs, but you’re also investing significant capital into your real estate. You want to be happy with the results for years to come.
Nancy Butler is an avid horsewoman, long-time journalist, and freelance writer from Delaware.
Have you ever been preparing to ride your horse and notice he’s just not quite right? The first step is to take his vital signs. This will give you insight into his condition and help you decide whether you should call your veterinarian or just keep a close eye on your horse.
It’s also a good idea to take your horse’s vital signs when he’s rested and feeling fine to determine what’s normal for him. Then you’ll have a baseline, which will help you determine any variances.
To learn how to take your horse’s vital signs, watch this instructional video from the Certified Horseman Association, as demonstrated by Michal Kays.
Below are a few guidelines.
What’s normal: A horse’s normal pulse rate is between 30 and 40 beats per minute.
How to check: You can check your horse’s pulse in one of three places, as outlined below. Count the number of pulses; use a stopwatch or your own watch to keep the time.
- Jaw line. Gently place your hand under your horse’s jaw line, allowing the blood to flow through.
- Knee/fetlock. Also using your hand, find the digital pulse on the inside of your horse’s knee or at his fetlock just above the pastern.
- Behind the elbow. Place a stethoscope on your horse’s side, just behind his elbow, and listen for heartbeat.
What’s normal: Normal respiration for a horse at rest is 3 to 16 breaths per minute.
How to check: Watch the movement of your horse’s flanks. You can also check respiration by watching his nostrils, but this isn’t as accurate, because he can snort, and his breath is harder to follow.
What’s normal: A horse’s normal temperature ranges from 99.5 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to check: Check your horse’s temperature rectally, with a mercury or digital thermometer designed equine use. Here’s what to do.
Step 1. Attach a string. Attach a string to the thermometer, so you can retrieve it, if necessary.
Step 2. Prepare the thermometer. Warm up the thermometer with your hand, and use some kind of lubrication, such as Vaseline.
Step 3.Stay out of the kick zone. Stand to the side of your horse’s hindquarters, as shown in the video.
Step 4. Secure the thermometer. Clip or tie the thermometer string to the tail.
Step 5. Insert the thermometer. Lift up your horse’s tail, and insert the thermometer into his anal cavity. A mercury thermometer needs 2 minutes for a reading; the digital ones can be much faster.
Step 6. Move with your horse. Some horses will react when the thermometer is inserted into the rectum. If your horse moves, go with him. Be sure to keep your hand on him and on the thermometer.
Click above for a video from the Certified Horsemanship Association showing how to take your horse’s vital signs.
Here’s a photo gallery of Kent and Charlene Krones’ adventure in the hidden hills of Oklahoma. Photos by Kent and Charlene Krone.
Think Oklahoma is flat as a griddle? Think again! Visit southeast Oklahoma, and discover a world of evergreen- and deciduous-covered hills; clear, flowing streams; and good horse camps.
We set out with our 6-year-old Missouri Fox Trotters, Cowboy and Nate, to explore several horse camps in those Oklahoma hills.
Robbers’ Cave State Park
Robbers’ Cave State Park is located in the beautiful San Bois Mountains five miles north of Wilburton on Oklahoma State Highway 2. Robbers’ Cave has the distinction of being the first equestrian camp in Oklahoma. You can stay in cabins with fireplaces, the View Lodge, or the equestrian campground.
The upscale equestrian campground is intertwined by two loops of paved road and surrounded by large grassy expanses. All campsites feature picnic tables and fire rings; most sites have horse pens, electricity, and water.
Robbers’ Cave is located a few miles from its namesake campground. Several days each week, naturalists provide guided cave tours where you can learn about the area’s geography, plant life, early Native American legends, and outlaw tales.
Adjoining Robbers’ Cave State Park is a wildlife-management area. Together, these two regions provide roughly 60 miles of trails, all accessible from camp.
Park officials can provide you with trail maps. The trails are open year-around, except for a portion of the wildlife-management area, which is closed in the fall for hunting season.
Most trails are in good condition. Horseshoes are recommended, because some trails are quite rocky. In the summer, ticks and chiggers may be out, along with a few poisonous snakes. Autumn brings pleasant temperatures, fewer flies, and a palette of fall colors.Advertisement
Tapestry of Color
To our delight, we rode Robbers’ Cave in the fall when the surrounding tapestry of color was at its peak.
First, we rode the popular Dogwood and Big John trails. When we headed out, thick tendrils of mist wound around trees, and the mountains were still wrapped in a gray shawl. We were in for a good ride!
The Dogwood Trail passes a small pond on the left, goes up a forest-filled gorge, and climbs a ridge. From here, you can cross a road and ride to a panoramic spot that has a picnic table on the bluff overlooking Lake Wayne Wallace.
After pausing at this overlook, you may ride either the Rim Rock Trail or the Big John Trail to a series of switchbacks leading down to Junctions BB and B. We continued on Trail #2 to the northwest section of the lake, where the view and picnic tables make an ideal lunch spot.
On the Wildlife Trail
On another ride, we explored the wildlife-management area. We rode north out of camp and across the road to Junction J. We then proceeded across an overpass to Junction K and beyond.
The wildlife-management area is a region of pine- and deciduous-tree-covered hills. Again, some trails are rocky, but there are also flat, soft stretches.
We spotted deer lurking in the brush but didn’t see any bears, raccoons, opossum, or rabbits, which are also native to this area.
Birdlife is abundant in these Oklahoma hills. In addition to small birds and songbirds, we saw all three types of local woodpeckers on one ride: the redheaded, red bellied, and downy woodpeckers.
One fun feature to check out close to camp is the second largest pine tree in Oklahoma. Take the trail out of the north end of camp to the road. Turn left on the road, and watch on the left for a sign to the tree.
Horse Heaven Ranch
Horse Heaven Ranch is located seven miles east of Talihina on Oklahoma State Highway 63 East. Look for the big entry sign by the highway. Turn onto the dirt road; the ranch is within a mile.
The setting for this ranch is pleasing to the eye. The spacious campsites and tranquil lake are relaxing. The 32 RV campsites, spaced for privacy, have full hookups and two pipe corrals at each unit.
For folks wanting to rent a cabin, there are six luxury cabins, each with its own little horse barn. We enjoyed meeting Lisa Cheney and Emma Moldy, both from Texas, who were renting one of the cabins. They loved their fully furnished cabin, where they could sit on the porch swing and watch their horses in the barnyard.
The campground’s bathhouse is nicely designed. There’s also a full-size arena where you can warm up your horse before a ride.
However, the secret ingredient to making Horse Heaven a success is its smiling, hardworking, animal-loving manager, Elfie Bowling.
Using Horse Heaven's map, we saddled our horses and hit the trail. The map lists four main routes honeycombed with connecting trails.
Horse Heaven Ranch borders the Ouachita National Forest; there are five main entrances straight into the forest. One of these is the 35-mile-long Choctaw National Trail, which crosses Horse Heaven and continues into the national forest.
One of our favorite rides was the 3½-hour B Trail. Since it was fall, our path was lined with festive hues of scarlet and gold.
We meandered up and down the mostly gentle hills. Much of the trail is rocky, with some sandy stretches. Our trail culminated in a beautiful ridgetop view that we enjoyed while eating lunch.
More Oklahoma Horse Camps
A to Z Guest Ranch. A to Z Guest Ranch has it all, with cabins, camping, stalls, and plenty of room to roam. Trails wind over the Kiamichi Mountains, with panoramic views of southeast Oklahoma, water crossings, and more.
A to Z also provides rides for those folks without their own horses. One-, two- and three-hour rides are available. Plus, there’s a special four-hour ride with lunch that travels into the hills for incredible views.
Cedar Lake Equestrian Campground. Cedar Lake Equestrian Campground is nestled in the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. The campground has paved roads, electricity, and water; at some spots, there are pavilions and picket poles. A Cedar Lake Equestrian map is available to guide you through 70-plus miles of trails. Water is easily found on many trails in spring and fall, but less certain in the summer.
Indian Mounds Horse Camp. Besides offering you the peace and beauty of the wilderness, Indian Mounds offers complete camping facilities, including plenty of shady sites for RVs, horse trailers, and tents. Many sites have electrical hookups; restrooms and clean showers are centrally located. There’s also a lighted pavilion for gathering or organized events.
If you don't have your own horse, Indian Mounds will rent you one by the hour or for the day.
Wild Horse Trail Camp. For something a little different, head over to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, and check out the Wild Horse Trail rides. This camp is open for specific multiday rides. Generally, there’s a ride in April to greet spring, a ride over Memorial Day, one in October to view fall colors, and finally, one in early December.Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. During riding season, you can usually find them on the trail, checking out new places to ride.
It’s vital to keep your hardworking trail horse hydrated and cool, especially as the weather warms up this season. Here, endurance champion Lari Shea, owner of California’s Ricochet Ridge Ranch, gives you her top tips to encourage your trail horse to drink water on the trail and after a ride. Then she’ll give you important electrolyte guidelines. Finally, she’ll outline her safe, effective cool-down routine.
- Let him drink on the trail. “Let your horse drink every time you come to water on the trail,” says Shea. “Encourage him to drink out of streams and puddles. Most water sources are fine.” Horses often prefer mud puddles to ice-cold running streams. Even though the stream looks cleaner, puddle water is warmer and contains minerals your horse might find appealing. Other horses prefer running water, as their instincts tell them this water is cleaner.
- Allow him to eat on the trail. Allowing your horse to graze on the trail helps to keep him hydrated, as it encourages thirst during exercise. “Many riders don’t let their horses eat when on a long trail ride, but this is a mistake,” says Shea. “There’s no veterinary reason to keep a horse from eating along the trail. Regularly stop your horse and let him graze a few minutes throughout the ride, especially on long outings.
Allowing your horse to eat will also keep his digestive system moving, which helps reduce colic risk. “The intestinal flora in your horse’s hind gut, which aids digestion, starts to die off two hours after he has last eaten,” notes Shea. Back at camp or at the trailhead, dampen his hay and add water to his grain.
- Allow him to drink after your ride. Voluntary drinking during the early recovery stage after exercise is critical for replacing the water and electrolytes lost through sweat. Discard the notion that allowing your horse to drink his fill will cause him to colic, cramp, or tie-up. “A hot, sweaty horse needs to rehydrate,” says Shea. “If you walk him until he’s cool to the touch without letting him drink, he may lose his incentive to drink.”
- Offer tepid water. Studies have shown that horses will voluntarily drink more within the first hour after exercising if the water is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Monitor water intake. A normal horse of average size will drink 6 to10 gallons of water per day when he’s not working. If he’s working, he’ll need as much as five times more. Monitor your horse’s water intake, so you’ll know he’s drinking enough. To do so, count the swallows. It takes approximately 25 to 30 swallows for your horse to consume one gallon of water.
- Talk to your vet. If your horse has been working hard and sweating a good amount, he might need an electrolyte (salt) supplement to replace the salt lost in sweat. Talk to your veterinarian first. Your vet can tell you whether this is advisable for your horse and, if recommended, how much to give.
- Make your own paste. If your vet gives the go-ahead to give your horse electrolytes, you can make your own electrolyte paste. Combine two parts regular salt (sodium chloride), two parts lite salt (potassium chloride blend), and one part dolomite powder or Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). Mix together. Put two tablespoons of the mixture in a tablespoon of water, then add one or two tablespoons of Maalox or yogurt. Administer by syringe into your horse’s mouth, per your vet’s instructions.
The quip “never let ’em see you sweat” certainly doesn’t apply to horses. Your horse creates a tremendous amount of heat when he’s carrying you on the trail. His body dissipates heat in two primary ways: (1) by sending heat to the blood in his peripheral circulatory system, where it flows near the surface and is cooled; and (2) via evaporative cooling of surface moisture (sweat).
When sweat evaporates, the energy exchange cools your horse. Of course, this works best when air humidity is low. If it’s hot and humid, evaporation doesn’t work as well.
“Sweating in itself isn’t a bad thing,” notes Shea. “What matters is how quickly your horse recovers and whether or not he’s dehydrated.
“If your horse sweats a lot, he’ll lose fluids from every body system that contains fluids. He’ll also lose electrolytes. Every system slows down when he gets dehydrated.”
Your horse also dissipates body heat through by breathing in cool air and exhaling hot air. He loses a great deal of moisture with every breath.
Here’s how to help your horse cool off and stay hydrated.
- Wet him down. You can help your hot horse cool off by wetting him down. Tie to your saddle a sponge and/or scoop cut from a plastic bottle. A one-gallon, zip-close plastic bag will also work. When you get to a stream or lake, apply water to your horse’s body.
- Target the water. Focus on wetting the areas of your horse’s body where blood vessels are close to the skin surface, such as his jugular vein, belly, and his front and inside upper hind legs.
- Scrape it off. After you apply the water, use the side of your hand or scoop to scrape off the water as it heats up. Keep replacing the warm water with fresh, cool water. This will help your horse sweat less, cool off faster, and stay hydrated.
- Allow him to stand in water. On the trail, you can also let your horse stand in a stream or lake to cool down.
His name was Lucky. And lucky he was. Although the gelding was diagnosed with equine Cushing’s disease in his teenage years, he had an owner who truly loved him and did everything possible to manage his disease until he was pushing 30. He continued to compete for several years after his diagnosis, was actively ridden into his 20s, and was happy until the end.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of interest in Cushing’s disease, which can’t be cured. We’re learning more every day about how to diagnose and manage this hormonal disorder that’s one of the most common diseases found in horses over 15. If you haven’t encountered it yet, it’s likely that you will. An estimated 10 percent of horses over 15 have Cushing’s, and with all the improvements in horse health care, horses are living longer and longer. That means there’s a good chance you’ll experience this disease sometime in your horse life.
Just 20 years ago, your Cushing’s horse would’ve been retired in the pasture, but no longer. I’m going to show you how you and your horse can live comfortably with Cushing’s disease, just like Lucky did.Advertisement
The Early Years
Lucky was a successful show horse, and spent his early days on the road, traveling from show to show—working hard and eating well. When he turned 12, his owner noticed that he was slow to shed his winter coat. He seemed to lack energy, and he was getting fat. She started worrying about Cushing’s disease.
Although Lucky was young, relatively speaking, his owner was right: He was showing some early signs of the disease. And she was smart to start asking questions before he developed any more serious symptoms, such as laminitis. The most common signs are a long hair coat that’s slow to shed, lethargy, and weight loss or weight redistribution. The average onset of Cushing’s disease is 19 years of age.
Cushing’s disease originates within the brain. In the normal horse brain, the hypothalamus portion releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine that helps to regulate release of a variety of hormones from the pituitary gland that sits at the base of the brain. One of these hormones, ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), stimulates release of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) from the adrenal glands.
Equine Cushing’s disease (more correctly called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID) is due to hyperplasia (enlargement due to an increased number of cells) of the “intermedia” portion of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland in a horse with PPID can be enlarged up to five times normal size. Historically it was believed that when the pituitary gland is enlarged, it puts pressure on the hypothalamus and causes a reduction in the amount of dopamine released.
Current thought is that the condition is primarily a problem of the hypothalamus. Damage to the hypothalamus results in a reduction of dopamine secretion, which then causes enlargement of the pituitary gland. In either case, dopamine no longer inhibits ACTH release like it should—meaning ACTH levels increase, resulting in increased cortisol in the blood. The signs of Cushing’s disease are attributed to increased cortisol levels.
Testing for Cushing's
Lucky’s vet suggested that he be tested for Cushing’s disease. The first test (ACTH) came back negative, but Lucky’s blood insulin levels were high, suggesting that he was insulin-resistant. Although insulin resistance (IR) doesn’t always correlate with Cushing’s disease (see the sidebar on page 50 for more on this topic), it is considered a risk factor—horses with IR are more likely to develop Cushing’s as they age.
A number of different tests are available to diagnose Cushing’s disease, but none are very sensitive when the disease is just developing. Nevertheless, researchers now believe that early detection and initiation of treatment may be important for slowing progression of the disease-possibly avoiding a devastating laminitis episode. If your horse begins to show symptoms but early tests are negative, consider retesting annually, at least until more sensitive tests become available. If you discover that your horse has insulin resistance, his risk for developing Cushing’s down the road is even higher, so you’ll want to pay even more attention.
The most popular test for Cushing’s currently is resting ACTH. This test requires a single blood sample that can be drawn at any time of day. Blood samples must be handled carefully, as the hormone isn’t very stable in whole blood, but most veterinarians are familiar with the handling requirements and can easily perform the test at your farm.
Testing for Cushing’s in the fall months (August through October) is generally discouraged, because normal hormonal fluctuations during this time of year can make it difficult to interpret results. However, one advantage of the ACTH test is that it often can still be interpreted even during this challenging time of year.
The gold standard for Cushing’s diagnosis is the low-dose dexamethasone suppression (LDD) test. This an overnight test that requires testing a baseline blood sample for cortisol, administering a dose of dexamethasone, and testing an additional blood sample 18 to 20 hours later. In a normal horse, cortisol levels will decrease following the dexamethasone; if your horse has Cushing’s, cortisol levels will remain the same. Because there’s some risk of laminitis after dexamethasone administration, this test should not be used on a horse that has laminitis issues. It also shouldn’t be used in the fall.
Finally, because insulin resistance is common in Cushing’s horses, testing blood insulin/glucose levels is often recommended in conjunction with the Cushing’s test. Insulin is a sensitive hormone, and can elevate significantly with stress, disease, or a high carbohydrate meal. For best results, blood should be drawn first thing in the morning before anything but hay is fed. It shouldn’t be performed if your horse is sick or suffering from a laminitis episode.
No treatment was recommended for Lucky after this first test came back negative, but his vet and owner came up with a plan to manage his insulin resistance. He was put on a low-carbohydrate diet, and to keep weight under control, his work schedule was adjusted to include focused conditioning work in addition to his training for the show ring. They also decided to repeat Cushing’s testing at six-month intervals.
For the first six years of my daughter’s life, we struggled to find out what was wrong with her. Ashton’s chronic allergy symptoms were so severe they sometimes threatened her breathing. Not even steroids, which she began getting when she was just 9 months old, seemed to help.
As she grew, she became timid and withdrawn around strangers, never knowing who would be sticking needles in her next.
At the age of 6, she underwent extensive testing. It took six adults to hold her down to draw 15 vials of blood. Ashton, who couldn’t understand why this was necessary, struggled and screamed and begged me to make them stop. There’s no way to describe the agony of a mother in a situation like that.
The results said Ashton had a blood disorder that compromises her ability to fight off bacterial infections. This explained why her colds often bloomed into sinus infections or pneumonia. Further testing told us she also had chronic rhinitis, sinusitis, and bronchitis, as well as asthma, acid reflux, and a severe dust allergy.
It was a daunting list, but at least now we knew what we were dealing with. The doctors took her off steroids. By this time, the steroid shots had put some unwanted pounds on her, which heightened her self-consciousness.
She was now 7, and though she’d continued to progress in her daily activities, in and out of school, she remained withdrawn and unsure of herself. When other little girls were having playdates, she’d usually been too sick to go, or had opted not to because of the need to avoid this or that foodstuff when we thought allergies were the problem.Advertisement
Over the next year, though, she began to feel better. In June of 2004, three months shy of her 8th birthday, she asked for riding lessons. I myself had ridden as a child. I picked up the phone and scheduled a lesson for the very next week. After three lessons, Ashton asked for two lessons a week. She seemed happy on the lesson horses, but her grandfather, whom Ashton calls “Papa,” thought she should have a horse of her own. So in early November, our family trouped to the Michigan State University Pavilion to attend the Tom Moore Quarter and Paint Horse Sale. I’d studied the sale catalog and had a list of horses I thought might work for Ashton. One of them, Lot 41, was a handsome Quarter Horse gelding. When my dad entered his stall, the horse looked him in the eye, stepped toward him, then gently placed his nose in my dad’s outstretched hand. The gelding didn’t push, nudge, nibble, or lick; he just let out a sigh and stood there, lightly touching Papa’s palm.
Impressed, we asked his owner a few questions, then moved on. As sale time approached, we took our place in the stands. We weren’t sure which horse we wanted to buy, but we couldn’t get number 41 out of our minds.
When at last he stepped into the ring, his rider removed his bridle, then continued to walk, jog, and lope him in both directions. Eventually, the bidding came down to two individuals, and one of them was my dad.
When the gavel came down, the gelding was ours. The seller, who called the horse “Brownie,” told us he’d bought him for his son but had to sell because of divorce. Ashton fell in love with the horse immediately, but didn’t like his name.
“He just doesn’t seem like a ‘Brownie,’” she said. His registered name is A Blazing Image (he’s by Blazing Hot and out of a Zippo Pat Bars mare). I told Ashton a name would come to her as she got to know him better.
We brought him home, and he proceeded to take care of my daughter. Though he’d never been ridden by a child, from the first time she mounted him, he walked slower, stepped lighter, essentially became her babysitter. Over time, he taught her to trust in him—and in herself. Before our eyes, she blossomed into a determined, self-confident young equestrian.
It’s been almost a year now. Ashton recently took her gelding to an open show. They placed first in Western pleasure, English pleasure, and showmanship, and second in two other classes. Ashton now has set goals of showing at Congress and the World.
And what did we wind up calling the horse? “Miracle.” No, not because he helped bring about nearly miraculous changes in my daughter, although that’s surely true. It’s because the day we bought him, we received an e-mail from a woman who’d owned him earlier.
“I’m so glad Miracle has found such a good home,” her message began. “Let me tell you how he earned his barn name....”
She explained Miracle’s dam had been injured late in her pregnancy, but had hung on long enough to deliver her foal prematurely before dying. The foal, who was put with a Belgian nurse mare, struggled to survive, won his battle, and was christened accordingly.
He’s now become Ashton’s Miracle, and I have to think it was meant to be.
Barn name: Dude.
Details: 2003 ApHC gelding by Sonny's Cowboy and out of Miss Blue Smoke, by I Love Willie.
Owned, bred, and trained by: Christy Wood, Three Rivers, California.
H&R: Tell us about the tack Dude's wearing in the photo.
CW: The heritage class is unique to our breed. A long time ago it was called the costume class, but we’ve given it a better name, which is heritage. It’s judged on the authenticity of the regalia that you wear. We’ve collected pieces from the 1870s. The Nez Perce Indians were the ones who developed the Appaloosa breed. The heritage class actually honors the heritage of the Appaloosa horse with the Nez Perce. He’s got over 66 national points in heritage.
He has a medicine collar around his neck which is beadwork on elkhide. It’s a collar that protects his body and his rider from harm. The starburst on his forehead is just part of the geometric design that the Indians used. They used either floral designs (for parades) or geometric designs for everyday use.
In his mouth, he's carrying an 1870s U.S. Cavalry bit, and that is an original. There’s some really neat old pieces I have. It’s hard to see, but he has a neckcollar made of beaver fur that has more beadwork, bells, and deer toes on it.Advertisement
Model: Collapsible panels.
Maker: Carri-Lite Corrals.
Why buy: Sold in sets, each corral comes with eight panels, eight connecting rods, four trailer brackets, and six Velcro building straps.
Cool feature: These travel-ready panels collapse to one-fifth of their expanded length for easy transport.
More info: (888) 337-7787; carrilitecorrals.com.
Price: Horse-height panels' set start at $749.99.
Safety is the No. 1 concern when choosing panels. Here are three things to keep in mind when you shop.
Say no to cattle panels or those with round corners. Panels that are rounded at the corners and have a connector pin, like those designed for cattle, are a huge hazard for horses. If a horse rears up or attempts to jump out of the enclosure, his foot could become stuck in that space, and it’s nearly impossible to release the pin to free the horse’s leg, because the horse’s weight is on the pin. Use panels that are made specifically for horses—and are straight across at the top where each panel connects—to avoid this traumatic situation.
Get panels that match your horse’s stature and how you’ll use them. If you have a big, stout gelding, he’ll make easy work of destroying a corral made of lightweight panels. Also, will you use the panels just for travel, meaning you’ll have to lift them on and off the trailer to transport them? Or will you use them for a permanent round pen?
Check the underside of each rail. Look for a bevel on the underside of each rail on a panel, or for a solid-pipe construction. A rail that’s shaped like an upside-down U is a vet call waiting to happen. If your horse kicks out or darts off, he could clip his fetlock on that unfinished edge, causing serious injury.Advertisement
For this month's Gallop Poll, we're curious if you've ever ridden in parade with your horse. Share your answer in the poll below, and see how many other H&R readers ride in parades in the May 2014 issue!Have you ever ridden your horse in a parade? Yes No, but I'd like to No, not for me
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While much of the country gets blasted with winter storms, here in the Sunshine State, we enjoy some of the best riding weather of the year.
Here in Florida, we’re blessed not only with great year-round riding, but also with a large number of public and privately owned lands that offer riding trails.
Last winter, my friend, Jayne, and I took our horses for a three-day mini-vacation at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, located pretty much right in the middle of the state.
Clermont, known for its natural beauty, is called “the real Florida” by insiders. The area boasts rolling hills, numerous lakes, and fragrant orange groves.
Located off U.S. Route 27, Lake Louisa State Park is easy to get to from the Florida Turnpike. It encompasses nearly 4,500 acres and has six lakes; the largest is Lake Louisa.
Lake Louisa State Park’s equestrian campground is perfect! The camping fee is only $5 per person, and horses stay for free. This fee includes the use of all the trails. We had the place to ourselves.
My Arabian mare, Rain, and Jayne’s Tennessee Walking Horse mare, Sonata, had spacious, partially covered paddocks, each about 10 by 25 feet.
There are six paddock-duplexes situated around the large, pine-tree-lined, grassy campground. You may also bring your own portable corral, HiTies, and highlines.
There are fire rings, picnic tables, nonpotable water, a pavilion, and a self-composting toilet. For an additional fee, you can use the bathhouse, located at the main campground.Advertisement
Even though our girls had their nice paddocks, we also set up a highline so they could enjoy grazing time while ate our breakfast and dinner.
It’s so nice to camp right there with your horse and to have so much room for him to move about, something most equestrian campgrounds lack.
We enjoyed nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s and perfect daytime temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees under sunny, blue skies.
As terrific as our camp was, we came for the fun trails! There are 16 miles of riding trails in the park; nearly all have great footing.
Trails range from lovely pine-tree-lined lanes to scrub palmetto woods to hardwood forests. You can enjoy long trots for miles and miles. Hills made for cantering offer beautiful views of park’s lakes and orange groves.
Lake Louisa State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000- mile-long collection of more than 500 locations where avian habitats are protected.
We saw a lovely Great Egret flying in for landing on the shore of Lake Louisa, and glimpsed Wood Stork, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and songbirds.
There’s also abundant wildlife. While crossing the bridge over Big Creek, we saw white-tailed deer and fox squirrels.
The first day, we arrived midday and enjoyed an eight-mile ride. On the second day, we logged 12 miles. On our final day, we did a quick six-mile ride, then left midday to head home.
Every day, we had a picnic lunch in an orange grove, letting our horses graze while we ate. Rain enjoyed a sampling of oranges, as well. The orange blossoms’ sweet smell enhanced our picnics.
We had such a wonderful time, we’ve decided to make this a yearly vacation.
So come on down, and enjoy the real Florida on horseback!
Budgeting for a horse adventure can be a challenge, but you can enjoy trail-riding adventures near and far by using a little creativity.
Here are 21 tips to help you save money on your next riding adventure, plus eight equine-oriented ways to make extra cash for your trail-travel nest egg.
- Go in the off-season. Do you have your heart set on a vacation at that darling bed-and-barn in a resort area? Call up the owners, ask about their off-season rates, and plan your trip accordingly. You can save hundreds of dollars by vacationing when everyone else is staying home.
- Look for discounts. When planning a riding vacation, find out which destinations are offering discount packages. Call prospective destinations for discount packages, and visit their websites. Plus, do an online search for discounts.
- Form a trail-travel club. Find other trail riders who want to go on a riding adventure, and coordinate your schedules. By going with others, you can share both travel and accommodation expenses. Also, contact several prospective riding destinations to see whether they offer group discounts.
- Offer expertise. If you have expertise in an equine-related field, such as outfitting, horse/mule packing, horse camping, trail training, trailering, hoof care, horsemanship, or roping, offer to give a clinic at your chosen destination in return for a discount.
- Barter for services. Do you have special non-equine skills that you could barter for your accommodation or other fees? The guest ranch where you’ll be staying or the horse motel where you’ll be boarding may need someone to supply legal counsel, design a website, take photographs, or provide another service that may be your specialty.
- Apply for a job. If your schedule allows, get a seasonal job at a guest ranch or other equestrian destination. You’ll ride at your heart’s content and get paid for your trail knowledge.
- Leave your horse at home. There’s nothing like hitting a glorious trail on your own horse. However, riding vacations, where you use the facilities’ horses, can be a blast — and can be cheaper than hauling your own horse, especially if you’re going a long distance or wish to combine your riding adventure with another getaway, as below. This can be your chance to try out a smooth-gaited horse, or try a breed you’re thinking about buying. Be sure to research the horses the prospective facilities offer, and read the online guest reviews.
- Combine a riding adventure with a family getaway. Your family says Disney World. You have your heart set on a beach ride. Get the best of both worlds: You’ll do Disney, as long as you get spend a day or two riding at that great Florida beach-riding destination you’ve been reading about.
- Combine a riding adventure with a business trip. Outside of every major city are trails awaiting exploration. Your company is sending you to San Francisco? Take an extra day or two and ride in the wine country, through the redwoods, or on the beach.
- Skip the luxuries. Instead of booking a vacation at a guest resort in an area where you’d like to ride, consider keeping your horse at a horse hotel in the vicinity, then staying at a nearby motel. You can then ride in the same area as if you were staying at the resort, but at a fraction of the cost.
- Do advance planning. Plan overnight stops for you and your horse in advance to get the best rates. Go online, and search for inexpensive but well-reviewed restaurants for meals along the way. Avoid buying snacks at convenience stores; instead, buy a big bag of your favorite chip or other road-trip snack, and put them in smaller, airtight bags before you go.
- Buy or rent a lightweight trailer. If you plan to bring your own horse on your riding adventure, save money on fuel by trading in your heavy steel trailer for a safe, aluminum-based model. If you’ll be renting a trailer, look for a safe lightweight one to help cut down on fuel costs.
- Rent a living-quarters trailer. Even if you have your own trailer, consider renting a trailer with living quarters for your riding adventure. Going this route may be cheaper than paying for hotel accommodations. You can also save money on a horse motel by keeping your horse next to the trailer in a portable corral. Or, invest in a trailer-tying system that allows him to lie down, such as the HiTie Trailer Tie System, available from EasyCare Inc. (www.easycareinc.com).
- Trade in your tow vehicle. Consider trading in your tow vehicle for one that uses less fuel. A diesel truck or even one of the new hybrids can pay off in the long run when it comes to fuel economy. Caveat: Make sure your new vehicle has enough power to tow your fully loaded trailer, plus everything you plan to throw in the truck.
- Get a smaller horse trailer. Another way to save money on fuel is to trade in your large trailer for a smaller, more economical model. If you’re only towing two horses and you have a three-horse or larger trailer, pare down to a stock trailer or a model that holds just the amount of horses that you plan to transport.
- Camp out. One very low cost way to travel with your horse is by camping in a horse camp with facilities or even a primitive campground. Tent camping with horses can be very rewarding. The best part is waking up in the morning and seeing your horse grazing outside your tent, then enjoying a cup of coffee made over a campfire.
- Use public lands. National, state, county, city, and other public lands offer a variety of incredible riding adventures for little or no fee. Call ahead to find out the policy for equestrians. Some will let you ride on the land, but not camp overnight. Many now require certified weed-free hay or pellets to avoid introducing exotic plant species via the undigested seeds in your horse’s manure.
- Buy used tack. If you need additional tack before you head out on your adventure, consider buying gently used tack. Shop at a tack consignment store near you, or look on eBay (www.ebay.com), Craigslist (www.craigslist.com), and other online spots where used tack is sold. If you prefer new tack, keep an eye on clearance sales at your local tack store and online.
- Shop wisely for camping supplies. If you’ll be camping out with your horse, check out your local dollar store. You’ll find such items as buckets, spare towels, sponges, tack, zip-close bags, rubber bands, snacks, and a whole host of other camping-related stuff for a dollar each or less.
- Buy in bulk. Buy horse-care basics, such as fly spray, coat conditioner, and shampoo, in large bottles, then transfer them to smaller bottles for ease of use. Also, look for concentrated versions of these products, which are economical and easy to store, then add your own water.
- Use pelleted or fine shavings. If you’ll be bringing bedding along for your horse, buy pelleted or fine shavings. This bedding tends to last longer than other bedding types, giving you a bigger bang for your buck.
Earn Extra Cash
Here are eight ways to make extra money in your spare time for your trail-travel nest egg.
- Board horses. If you have extra room on your property, consider boarding a horse or two to bring in extra cash. If you don’t have empty stalls, buy some inexpensive pipe corrals, and set up accommodations for a boarder. Do some research on creating a boarding agreement. Place an ad in the local paper and in your local tack store advertising stalls for rent.
- Half-lease your trail horse. If you’re like most horsepeople, you don’t have time to ride your horse as often as you should. If you half-lease your trail horse, you’ll not only get more exercise for your mount, you’ll also pocket extra cash each month that you can put toward your trail adventures. Advertise your horse for lease by word-of-mouth, and put up a sign, with a photo of your horse, in your local tack store.
- Sell a horse you no longer need. It can be difficult to give up a horse, but if you have one or two that are just hanging out because no one has time to ride them, consider selling them. Not only will you come away with money for your trip, you’ll also save funds on their upkeep.
- Sell spare tack. Get rid of any tack you have laying around that you haven’t used for a long time. Saddles, bridles, halters, and cinches can all bring extra cash. Sell your tack at a local consignment store, or list them on eBay or Craigslist well in advance of your trip, so you have funds in hand when you’re ready to leave.
- www.cha-ahse.org). You can teach people on their own horses, or use your own horse, if he’s suitable for lessons. Be sure you have insurance to cover liability. Become a Certified Riding Instructor. If you like to teach and can see yourself helping others learn to ride, consider becoming a Certified Riding Instructor with the Certified Horsemanship Association (
- Become certified with a natural-horsemanship clinician. Although obtaining a certification as a natural horsemanship clinician requires a commitment of both time and money, it’s well worth it in the end. Certifications are given by Linda Tellington-Jones, John Lyons, Clinton Anderson, Pat Parelli, and others.
- Become an equine massage therapist. If you like working around horses, and think you’d be suitable for body work, study to become an equine massage therapist. This requires schooling, but is an excellent way to earn extra money while also helping horses. You can do therapy work in the evenings and on weekends.
- Become an equine appraiser. Equine appraisers get paid to determine the value of a horse for legal or other reasons. In this profession, you can earn extra money in your spare time. The American Society of Equine Appraisers provides education and certification (www.equineappraiser.com).
Zmudowski State Beach, Monterey County, California
Closest city: Monterey, California.
Travel distance: 25 miles.
Directions: From Monterey, head northwest on Olmsted Rd. Turn left onto Henderson Way. Turn left onto Garden Rd. Take the first right onto California State Route 68 West. Keep right at the fork, and follow signs for California State Route 1 North/Santa Cruz. Merge onto CA-1 North. Turn left onto CA-1/Cabrillo Highway. (You’ll see signs for Watsonville/Santa Cruz.) Turn left onto Struve Rd. Turn left onto Giberson Rd. Giberson Rd. turns right and becomes Zmudowski Beach State Park.
Terrain: The dunes at Zmudowski are mostly free of jagged rocks and ocean debris. The sand slopes gently from the ocean.
History: In 1950, Mary Zmudowski, a local Watsonville schoolteacher, donated the beach to the state of California. Her aim was to share her love of the ocean, fishing, birding, and horseback riding with locals and travelers alike. More recently, a natural preserve was opened to the public at the Pajaro River Estuary. The beach is currently operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.Advertisement
Top ride: Look for Moss Landing from CA-1. This long sandy beach provides riders with access to some of the most glorious coastline views in the world. On this six-mile roundtrip ride, you’ll see a variety of wildlife such as seals, sea otters, and wild birds from the water line. You’ll take in the views along the shoreline, traipsing over sand dunes, and exploring hundreds of acres of artichoke fields.
Amenities: If you can’t bring your own horse, you can still ride on Zmudowski State Beach through Seahorse Equestrian Tours (831/763-7945; www.seahorseequestriantours.com).
Map: >Go to www.californiasbestbeaches.com/dunes/monterey_dunes_beaches.html.
Contact: California Parks and Recreation, (831) 649-2836, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=572.
Copper Canyon Trail
Closest city: Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Travel distance: 50 miles.
Directions: From Santa Fe, take U.S. Route 84/U.S. Route 285 north to Espanola. Follow signs to Abiquiu and Chama. When you get to Hernandez, take 84 toward Abiquiu. After you pass through Abiquiu, look for sign for the elementary school, 1.5 miles north of town. Turn onto the elementary school property. Pass the school, and park on the dirt road. The trailhead is just behind the school.
Terrain: Copper Canyon is a 10-mile-deep box canyon with dramatic rock formations. The canyon bottom is a wide arroyo, lined with steep cliffs in a variety of desert colors. Sage and mesquite are plentiful.
History: Copper Canyon is ancient gorge, created at the same time as the Grand Canyon. Rock formations in Copper Canyon range in age from 25 to 60 million years old. A fossil of the largest prehistoric insect on record was discovered here.
The canyon was given its name for the hand-dug copper mines still visible along the trail. The nearby town of Abiquiu was the home of renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe. More recently, Copper Canyon has been a popular spot with Hollywood filmmakers.
Top ride: The Copper Canyon Trail follows an arroyo that cuts through a 25-million-year-old volcanic ash deposit known as the Plaza Blanca formation. As you ride, you’ll see rock formations that are millions of years old. Once you hit the fault line, the scenery changes to huge cliffs made up of tumbled rocks 500 feet thick, deposited here 40 million years ago in a flash flood. You’ll continue through the arroyo to a 60-million-year-old clay formation. Keep your eyes open for petrified wood, along with five hand-dug copper mines. One of the mines, about 90 minutes into the canyon, provides a good, shady spot to tie your horse and enjoy lunch. Keep riding for a couple more hours, and you’ll come to an artesian well.
Map: You can purchase a map at the United States Forest Service Espanola Ranger District (www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/santafe/recarea/?recid=75442).
Contact: Debbie Spickerman, president of the Backcountry Horsemen of Santa Fe, (505) 753-3531; www.bchnm-santafe.org.
Lady Hawk Farm
Closest city: Tampa, Florida.
Travel distance: 60 miles.
Directions: From South Tampa, take the Florida State Rd. 589 Toll North/Veterans Expressway ramp to Florida State Rd. 60 West/Clearwater. Keep right at the fork, and continue toward Florida 589 Toll North. Merge onto Florida 589 Toll North. Take the exit toward U.S. Route 98 South/Ponce De Leon Blvd. Merge onto US-98 South/Ponce De Leon Blvd. Turn left onto County Rd. 491/Citrus Way. Turn right onto County Rd. 480/West Stage Coach Trail. Turn left onto South Flutter Terrace, which becomes East Ridge Lane. Turn right onto South Forestline Ave. Lady Hawk Farm is located on the left-hand side.
Terrain: Lady Hawk Farm is directly adjacent to Withlacoochee State Forest, which offers 40,000 acres of sandy, wooded, hilly horse trails. The area is known for its rolling hills within a pristine forest locale. The forest is home to an abundance of wildlife, including turkey, deer, tortoise, and a wide variety of birds.
History: The federal government acquired Withlacoochee State Forest from private landowners between 1936 and 1939. The USFS managed the forest until a lease-purchase agreement in 1958 transferred the property to the state of Florida.
Top ride: Lady Hawk Farm offers the five-hour Tillis Hill guided ride for trail riders on their own horses. The ride culminates with inspiring views of the Withlacoochee Forest from Tillis Hill, the third-highest peak in Florida. Stop for a break at the top of the hill, and enjoy your lunch while viewing a rock mine, water and contoured pines.
Amenities: If you prefer to leave your horse at home, the farm offers well-trained horses that suit riders of all experience levels. Facilities include a ranch-house cabin, playground, swimming pool, spa, and barbecue grills.
Map: None available.
Contact: Lady Hawk Farm, 10542 South Forestline Ave., Inverness, FL 34452; (866) 892-4797; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ladyhawkfarm.com.
To give you strategies for dealing with common trail-ride problems. Whether your horse is an experienced trail mount or a show horse in need of a change of scenery, these bothersome scenarios can ruin your fun. Here’s how to avoid or correct them.
Everyone loves a trail ride—except when things go wrong. From my experience as a clinician, I’ve found that certain problems seem to be particularly common. This is because they’re tied to a horse’s natural inclinations to be (1) wary of novel experiences, (2) influenced by their herdmates, (3) reluctant to leave the group, and (4) over-eager to return home.
Here, I’ll explain how to deal effectively with each of these challenges, either through pre- ride preparation or with strategies on the trail. Add these solutions to your problem-solving kit, and you’ll boost the enjoyment factor—and the safety—of your future rides.
1. ‘Tame the tourist.’ When your horse hasn’t been out on the trail in a while, that first big ride can wind up subjecting your horse—and you—to what I call “first-outing misery.” After hanging around at home, your horse is overwhelmed by the abrupt stimulation of being with other horses and experiencing new sights, sounds, and locales. The solution is to go on a few practice rides before venturing out with larger groups. Buddy up with just one or two other riders on familiar horses, keep the jaunts reasonably short, and don’t go too far from home. These easier outings will help prepare your horse’s mind for the stimulation of larger, busier rides.Advertisement
2. Ride with like-minded others. Riding with the wrong group can be a disaster. People who don’t know better than to take off suddenly at a gallop, for example, can cause your horse to become overexcited and hard to contain. The solution is to pick your riding partners carefully, and make a plan. When I oversee large group rides from our ranch, I make it clear from the beginning that we’ll all wait for the most novice rider. We make sure everyone understands our system of shouting up to the front of the ride to stop if someone needs help, and other safety/ courtesy rules. If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for (and fully capable of) a good gallop, then find riders of equal skill and experience, and make them your partners for the day. It’s all about good fit and smart planning.
3A. Find the distance/stay near. Knowing how to ride within a group can help your horse overcome the anxiety of being left behind. Hanging back and fighting with him definitely isn’t the answer, however. Instead, at the beginning of a ride, stay reasonably close to the other horses, as we are here, without resorting to rigid head-to-tail following. Put your horse on his own track—even if only slightly off the track of the other horses—asking him to follow your guiding rather than the footsteps of the horse in front of him. Connect his ears back to you once in a while by asking for a small movement that may require some concentration, like a little sidepass or haunches-in.
3B. Find the distance/spread out. Then after you've been riding for a bit and your horse has settled in, gradually begin guiding him a bit more apart from the group, as the riders are doing here. Swap positions with other riders and spread out. Going up a long hill, where the horses really have to work, is a good place to practice hanging back just a little. Your horse will be busy climbing, and will begin to realize that being back a few extra feet is OK. Build a little separation into his comfort zone over time, and pretty soon your horse will be primarily connected to you—rather than the herd.
4A. Break the loop: the problem. A “loop ride” is where you start at point A, ride out for a while, then turn for home and go right back to point A. It’s the worst training program for a trail horse, as he’ll quickly learn when the turn for home has occurred and begin rushing to get the ride over. Obviously, riding out and then back on a road like this one constitutes a loop ride. If you feel your horse beginning to walk out away from home or the trailer a bit slower than he walks back, you’ll know you need to start breaking things up, which you can do if you…
4B. Break the loop: the solution....become less predictable. Go back a different way from the route you ordinarily take, as the group is doing here. Or, when you arrive back home or back at the trailer, don’t let your horse rest as he’s expecting to. Go back out on the same trail, or a different one, or do some suppling exercises. Keep him guessing, and you’ll eventually convince him he can’t really predict what’s coming next—so he might as well just wait and listen to you.
Jonathan Field of Abbotsford, British Columbia, is a popular clinician at horse expos around Canada and the U.S. He also offers home-study programs, plus clinics and camps at the James Creek Ranch at the base of the Cascade Mountains outside Merritt, British Columbia (jonathanfield.net).
This exercise is all about making the spin the easy part that my horse hunts for. I start with the turn, and then, if he doesn’t complete the spin to my expectations, I make the horse work by sidepassing to the same direction while facing the fence. The combination of the 11⁄4 turn and the sidepass requires your horse to move off your leg, and the fence’s presence eliminates the guesswork—you can feel your horse move off your leg to the side, which should help him move off your leg in the turn, too.
Once my horse is solid with 11⁄4 turns, I’ll add another revolution. It’s especially beneficial for a horse that hangs up or stalls out after a couple turns. The turn becomes the easy part that he seeks, because the lateral movement is a lot more work.
Here, I’m demonstrating the exercise in a snaffle bit and riding with two hands. You can do the drill in any bit your horse finds comfortable, but I do advise always riding with two hands for this tune-up. As you can see, my fence is a solid wall; however, you can complete this exercise alongside a regular arena fence.
Sandy Collier, Buellton, California, was the first and only woman thus far to win the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity open division. She’s a highly respected trainer and clinician, as well as an inductee into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.Advertisement
Many riders are fearful of falling off if their horse were to duck to the side or bolt. And unpredictable equine behavior can happen, even if you’re on the quietest Steady Eddie. A prairie chicken jumps out and presto!—your horse ducks, bolts, or even just stumbles.
If you’re not prepared, you can indeed lose your balance and come off. But you don’t have to. An exercise I use to help my students develop their balance and security in the saddle involves anticipating their horse’s movements. In “mirror riding,” you stop guiding your horse and instead simply concentrate on feeling which way he’s going, or planning to go.
Why it works. Mirror riding enables you to become ultimately connected to your horse. Horses have small, subtle movements they make throughout their body as they begin to turn left, turn right, slow down, speed up—their balance changes in ways you can learn to feel through your seat and legs so you can stay with the movement. Mirror riding teaches you to notice and even anticipate these slight changes—a weight shift here, a bend in the neck there, even the flick of an ear. Each of these changes gives you information you can use to avoid being left behind the motion when your horse moves suddenly.Advertisement
How to mirror-ride. Plan to do this exercise for short periods of time several times a week for best results. Work in a safe, contained area, such as a round pen or a small arena that’s cleared of obstacles and has safe fencing. Mounted, set or otherwise secure your reins on the saddle horn so they give your horse complete freedom of his head and neck. Then place your hands on your horse’s neck and ask him to walk or trot for- ward, without indicating which way he’s to go. Let him choose his path; your job is just to feel and mirror his movements.
Think ‘forward.’ Your goal is to stay with and even a bit ahead of your horse’s movement as he goes this way and that around the enclosure. Think “forward” and feel all the little changes that happen as your horse, say, goes toward the fence, then does a little shuck left before doing a little shuck right. You must feel him to stay with him through your own body, so you do a little shuck left and then right yourself.
Variations and extra credit. As you get more confident mirror riding, try going a bit faster and mixing it up a little. Take your hands away from your horse’s neck and place them out to the side, or over your head. Really concentrate on feeling his movement and intention through your seat and legs. When you’re ready for extra credit, try it bareback, or with just a bareback pad. Stirrupless work will really begin to advance your balance and your connectedness to your horse’s movements, making an “unplanned dismount” something you no longer worry about.
Jonathan Field’s “Inspired by Horses” horsemanship program teaches riders the skills and traits they need to be successful with their mounts. The popular clinician and horse expo star is based in Vancouver, British Columbia (jonathanfield.net).
On a sunny day in March 1992, a shaggy 2-year-old Appaloosa gelding named Slow Down cautiously stepped off a horse trailer and into my life.
I clearly remember his first few minutes on Texas soil. He stood quietly on our gravel driveway, his eyes adjusting to the bright sunlight, his ears flicking back and forth, as he carefully took in the sounds of his new home—including the good-natured ribbing being lobbed my way from the farm help.
I’d laughed with them as I inspected my new Western pleasure prospect’s appearance. Life in a Tennessee pasture had left his mousey brown coat sun bleached, with burrolike markings on his face and legs. His gangly body gave him an awkward look, like that of a teenager between growth spurts. But I knew from the way he moved on the home video I’d seen—and from his bloodlines—that there was more to this youngster than first met the eye.
And there was—much more. I’d eventually discovered that beneath Slow Down’s awkward exterior beat the heart of a world champion. But on the way to that discovery, I’d uncover something disturbing in his mind. Lurking there was a deadly fear, one that when triggered, would endanger me, my husband, Clint, and our help. It was a fear so destructive, it nearly destined the gelding to an uncertain fate, rather than to world-caliber competition. As Clint would later say, Slow Down should have come with a warning label.Advertisement
Slow Down first caught my eye in February ’92, when his breeder sent me a video showing the 21-month-old youngster free-longeing in a round pen. I had a vested interest in this gelding—he was by my world champion Western pleasure and reining stallion, Sun Down Q. Sun Down, whom we lost to colic, had been a personal favorite because of his winning temperament and his talent, both of which he passed to his offspring.
Though the tape—and Slow Down—were a little rough, I liked what I saw. The youngster moved around the pen with balance and coordination, able to maintain a naturally level topline at the walk, jog, and lope. While his jog was merely adequate for Western pleasure, his lope—the cornerstone of a winning performer in that event—was exceptional. He would softly step off into it, maintaining a balanced, cadenced stride with very little knee or hock movement. I knew I could improve his jog with proper training, but a horse is either born a good loper, or he’s not.
Slow Down’s ability to maintain such a lope on a relatively small circle, without breaking down into the trot or speeding up, also meant he was physically strong enough through his back and hindquarters to withstand the tough training schedule necessary to show in 2-year-old Western pleasure futurities. And this colt was born with something else that added to his appeal: a consistently pleasant, ears-up expression, which not only indicated a willingness to work, but also would present a pleasing picture in the show pen. All that, combined with his $1,200 price tag, made me say, “yes.”
What's In A Name?
The shaggy brown gelding (immediately nicknamed Brownie) seemed to have taken his Tennessee-to-Texas trailer trek in stride. I gave him a day to acclimate, watching him closely as I groomed and handled him, to see how much time he needed to settle in. He greeted his new surroundings—and me—with a cautious curiosity, revealing a level-headed, but sensitive, attitude. My years of experience in training youngsters told me that Brownie was ready to go to work, but also clued me in that his cautious approach to life meant he’d need a low-pressure training program designed to slowly build up his confidence. Pushing such a horse before he’s mentally ready can result in a mental “blowup,” akin to a nervous breakdown.
With that strategy in mind, I began Brownie’s training program the following day. His previous owner told me she’d ridden him in a round pen a total of five or six times; I’d assumed from watching him on the video that he’d had a solid foundation of ground work, as well. My plan was to tack him up, then longe him in the round pen, before climbing aboard. To be safe, I’d first ride him in a small, confined, alleylike area, where I could quickly steer him into a corner if he acted up. If all went well there, we’d graduate to the round pen, and from there, to our small arena.
Brownie accepted the tacking up and longeing without a fuss. Confident that he was going to stay quiet, I led him to the first small enclosure, and mounted up. He remained relaxed, trying to understand and respond correctly to my simple start-turn-stop cues. After about 15 minutes, I knew he was ready to graduate to the round pen.
Once there, I kept my hands low and quiet, asking Brownie to move away from my legs at the walk, and to follow my leading-rein cues around large circles and other figures. I then asked him to jog, and finally to lope, immediately feeling the balance and cadence I’d seen on the video.
My husband, reining horse trainer Clint Haverty, had been watching us work, and was impressed with my new prospect. He offered to ride Brownie out in the small arena for m, so I could see the natural ability I was feeling. We had no way of knowing that we were about to see Slow Down live up to his name.
For this month's Gallop Poll, we're curious about what type of fencing you use on your farm. Share your answer in the poll below, and see what types of fencing other H&R readers are using in in the April 2014 issue!Which Fence? Wood PVC Vinyl Metal Pipe Field Fence Wire Non-Climb Mesh Wire V- or Diamond-Mesh Wire High-Tensile, Non-Electric Wire Electrical Wire, Wire Ribbon Electrical Wire/Polyester Braid Other pollcode.com free polls Advertisement
If you’re a camping enthusiast as well as a horse lover, overnight horse camping could be the perfect combination of your interests. If you’re interested in events such as endurance riding or competitive trail riding, horse camping is often a part of the experience.
No matter why you’re hitching up and camping out, the key to having a good time is making sure that both you and your horse are prepared.
Here, seasoned horse campers share their insights on how to have a safe and fun trip with your horse.
Do Your Homework: To find a campsite, talk with your horse friends, ask around at local horse clubs and tack stores, read magazines, and search the Internet, recommends Bonnie Davis, consulting editor for The Trail Rider.
But before you hit the road, it’s important to know everything you can about your campsite.
Find out what types of horse containment the site offers; if there’s a water source, or if you have to bring your own; what types of parking are available; if there are any feed restrictions; and if any specific areas don’t allow horses.
“I’d want to know as much about the site as I could,” says Juli S. Thorson, H&R’s editor-at-large. “Some places provide corrals and others don’t. Also, some national forests have restrictions on hay or bedding from outside areas. In that case, you might use pellets or certified weed-free hay.”Advertisement
Horse Prep: “The most important thing your horse needs for camping is patience,” says Davis. “Many places don’t have corrals or fenced areas. So you highline, picket, or bring your own panels. If your horse has patience and understanding to use those facilities, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
If your horse isn’t used to being tied or confined, work with him in a familiar setting to prepare him.
“If you’re using a portable electric corral, set that up at home and put your horse in it so he understands that the electricity is a barrier,” Thorson stresses. “Same thing with the highline. Practice it at home before you go.”
What to Take: “Make sure you have a current map, as a GPS can fail or not function without a signal,” suggests Davis.
“I always bring a horse first-aid kit and a good instruction manual,” advises Thorson. “I tend not to rely on phone apps—the battery might die or there might not be any Internet or signal. You have to be self-sufficient in terms of taking care of your horse. Anything can happen, and you probably won’t be right down the street from a vet.
“For myself, I make sure I have a first-aid kit, appropriate clothing, food, tent/ shelter, and bedding,” Thorson says.
“Always take at least 10 gallons of water with you, even if there’s water available at the site,” says Davis. “It could be turned off or unavailable when you arrive.
“I have a camp list for horses and a people camp list that I use,” she adds. (Find both lists here.)
Get Started: “Join a group or club like Back Country Horsemen of America (backcountryhorse.com) that does organized horse camping,” Thorson recommends. “They trade information about places to camp, help each other out, and teach newbies the ropes.”
“Go where your experience takes you,” says Davis. “If you’ve never been before, don’t go out in the wilderness. Go someplace with first-class accommodations that offers corrals for your horses, cooks meals for you, and gives you a place to stay. Build on your experiences and, each time, go a little bit further.”