Sign-up for our newsletter to receive news, updates and more from Nanette Levin!

Horse Care

Do horses want a job?

When I was a kid, I dreamed of living among horses in the wild, free as they were to do as I pleased. I figured that unfettered lifestyle would make me happy. Of course, I also imagined I could talk to horses like Dr. Doolittle. It was just me and that herd bonding, sharing and taking care of each other with a rapport and blissful existence of unencumbered pleasure.

I learned a lot when day dreams gave way to reality. Observing horses in what I expected to find euphoria in that freedom to roam taught me something else.    

Even a therapy job helping the elderly have a special day is happy work for horses.
The Halcyon Acres herd greets a bus and the people in it from an assisted living center. Redford, the yearling ready to enter the bus, had special permission (an a personality that allowed for this) to run free.

After decades of running a farm with big acreage pastures, I discovered most domesticated horses would prefer to have job than run free. I learned this lesson on 117 acres with more than 30 of those fenced as pasture. Here, I witnessed the behavior of horses ranging from new born foals and formerly active broodmare competitors to client horses bred for racing or intended for a particular amateur career such as competitive trail riding or the shows.

Granted, they’re not always fit to do what we intend for them, but if you can find their passion, they’ll bolster yours. 

Admittedly, I had a pretty good work ethic starting at a young age. I served as a vet assistant when I was six; my duties were scaled back after I passed out during a surgery assistant role. By age ten, I had a paper route with 60 houses. That took some doing as a girl in the 70s, but I wore down the powers that be with my pestering to finally get them to give me a chance. I was a waitress and bank teller during high school as soon as I was legally old enough for salaried work.

It took me another couple of decades to realize the animals we’ve bred to be our companions and servants for millenniums want a fulfilling job too. Not all of them, of course. Just like people, there are the lazy, unmotivated and takers in the bunch. But my earlier belief that a domesticated horse’s dream life was to be free was shattered after I spent time witnessing horses who loved their job put to pasture.

Some horses get too old or too crippled to continue in a job they seemed to be born for. This includes racers, high level eventers & jumpers, rodeo performers and even some amateur mounts. Even with these aged steeds, they tend to relish an opportunity to find a new career that provides purpose. This could include broodmare, child protector, trail trekker, therapy horse and a whole bunch of other possibilities that allow for less strenuous tasks that fit their nature.

Morrie reminded me of how important it can be to find the right job for an animal we care for. He’s a wiry mutt of the canine variety, but, funny enough, he’s found agility to be his game. It seems the higher the jump or the faster the course the more he enjoys it. Of course, we’re still working on that control thing – funny I’ve had a lot of horses with that issue too – but, his joy for the game turns heads everywhere he goes.

Finding that joy activity with horses is key. If your horse truly relishes what you’re asking him to do, he’ll amaze you with his try.

Planning for horse care before you can’t be there

When you own a farm or are the primary care taker at a horse facility, one of the toughest things to do is to leave. I’m not talking selling the place, I’m talking a vacation or even a celebration day or two with family. Unless you have reliable staff that’s supporting day-to-day operations, finding someone you can trust to show up, do what you ask, and not create a problem is challenging. This is particularly difficult when you live in a remote area.   

Finding good horse help

I spent 20 years running a horse farm at my residence. During that time, I’d be on pins and needles any time I took a trek out of state for holidays or business. It seemed whenever I returned, something was amiss. This included everything from water left on that flooded the barn – not easy to do as this was a BIG barn – to hired help that simply decided not to show up. It boggles the mind.

Things happen when you don’t expect it, so it pays to be ready with qualified help when you need it.

My biggest eye-opener was when I broke my leg. It was a bad break that had me hopping for three months. Less than a week into my recovery, the hired help came knocking on the door. One of my mares was being stubborn, she said. I hobbled out to the barn to find a nail lodged three inches into her hoof. It had been there for days. Apparently, a head bob to the floor didn’t cue her in something was off. It took the horse refusing to move to get her attention.

The mare survived. I figured out how to get down to the barn twice daily to and treat and wrap the wound. That incident, though, made me determined to never put me or my horses in that situation again.

So many of us who care for horses skip vacations, shun travel and assume we’ll always be there to manage the herd. Sometimes, life throws us things we don’t expect and can’t predict. It took almost losing a horse for me to realize I needed a better plan.

So how do you prepare for the unexpected? Better yet, can you create a situation that lets you enjoy holidays and other events without spending every moment away worried? Yes and no. You can never be certain things won’t go wrong while you’re gone. You’ll probably always wonder if your horses are ok in your absence. What you can do, though, is try to set things up ahead of time to reduce issues and stress.

Test drive horse help

The worst time to audition horse care support staff is when you’re not there or are incapacitated. Wondering what you’ll come back to makes any time away filled with angst. You can’t predict everything they may face, but you sure can get a read on whether your intended coverage has any horse sense. You can also get clear on what responsible means to them. This interpretation varies widely, especially with younger adults. It’s almost never what you’d expect.  

Instead, consider paying someone at least weekly to first shadow you for training then do chores independently. There’s no guarantee here either, but at least they’ll know the horses, and visa versa, learned how you like to do things and demonstrated they can show up for more than one day in a row.

It can be really difficult to find help when you’re a distance from populated areas. Although my farm was only a ½ drive from a dense horse area, people seemed to feel 10 minutes was a haul. That made it tough to attract knowledgeable equestrians, no matter how much I was willing to pay. I eventually realized if I wanted reliable and happy help, I’d have to train them. Sometimes that’s better. It takes more time.

Mares with foals can be a a bigger challenge when you need to find the right kind of horse help
Babies come with their own set of concerns when seeking the right kind of horse help.

Consider the benefits of giving yourself a day off a week. Right, that never happens, but if your goal is to pay someone to handle most of the horse chores even just one day a week, you’ll be a lot better off when you need emergency coverage. The time and money you spend training them and keeping them loyal will be worth it. You’ll have more hours to handle neglected farm activities and reduced stress when you must leave the property.   

Watch how they handle things when they think you’re not looking. That will tell you a lot about how they’ll perform when you’re away. If they have a good work ethic, some common sense, and a desire to do the right thing by the horse, this bodes well.

I had a window in my office where all the paddocks and pastures were visible to me but others couldn’t see inside. It was the second story of a garage. This helped a lot in assessing problem-solving skills and an employee’s nature. If you have a spot you can watch from that’s not visible to your help, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.  

Listen to your horses

Horses are great at telling you when something doesn’t feel right. It’s funny, I used to walk into barns at the racetrack and could assess a trainer’s style immediately. That was a good thing because I was getting tossed onto a lot of horses I didn’t know. You could tell which barns pumped up the horses with hormones, which trainers were nervous and afraid of their equines, which shedrows had violent grooms and where the horse was included in the exercise decisions.

You have the advantage of knowing what’s normal for the horses at your barn. If they get anxious, aggressive or agitated when someone walks into the barn, listen. That’s not a good sign. Reconsider if the person you’ve chosen for help is a good fit for your stable care needs.

Guide with flexibility

No one’s ever going to be able to do things exactly the way you do. Sometimes, that’s an opportunity for you to learn too. People with experience have ideas and processes that may offer better approaches you hadn’t considered. Of course, people with experience also like to do things their way.

Training help with little or no horse experience gives you the opportunity to mold someone to do things the way you like them done. It takes a lot more time to work with a novice, but often the results are better.

Either way, it’s unlikely your barn and horses will look the same as when you do the work. That’s OK if horses are comfortable, happy and safe. If you get too focused on everyone doing things just like you, you’ll lose a lot of help and sleep. Realize people need some freedom to do a job the best way they see it.

Try to focus on and encourage the strengths of the staff you engage. You can comment on the items that frustrate you, but if you put heavy focus on this, you’ll discourage your help. Let them have some freedom to come up with solutions that work for them. You might be surprised at how impressive their effort becomes.

Finding help in remote areas

I’ve engaged everyone from neighbors to my vet in horse care coverage. Some worked out better than others.  

I was very fortune to have an equine vet buy a property nearby after years of challenges with the local “go-to” vet for every kind of animal – jack of all trades, master or none – or needing to truck horses to facilities where knowledgeable professionals worked. That’s a rare stroke of luck, I realize, but sometimes there are opportunities to engage the very best available for affordable horse care. I was on the ready to help with her farm emergencies or care needs too.

You might be surprised, though, who is willing to be available if you only ask. Vets, blacksmiths, chiropractors and all sorts of other horse professionals you pay to help you keep your horses healthy and happy might be open to giving you coverage. If they’re horse lovers and owners, chances are they’ve had the same challenges finding someone they trust to jump in when they need help. That kind of quid pro quo can be priceless.

If your tact is to depend on neighbors, make sure you spend a good deal of time “educating” them before you call on their help for solo coverage. That mare with the nail in her hoof – that was missed by a neighbor who had owned horses and claimed to be an experienced caretaker.      

Enjoy some time off  

Finding the right help to give you comfort and ease while you’re away is invaluable. If you spend some time paying and preparing help to properly care for your while you’re away, you’ll find it’s worth it.  

You really do need that occasional relief from farm chores. Whether that’s someone covering morning feeding and turnout or a week while you take that vacation you’ve been putting off for a decade or more, coming back refreshed will serve both you and your horses better.

Consider taking the time now to get someone in place that’s ready, willing and able to give you coverage before you need it. Whether it’s an emergency, family vacation, holiday retreat or just a day a week where you have an extra few hours to devote to things you’ve been neglecting, you’ll appreciate the break.

It takes some planning to be able to do this without angst. Done right, though, even if you’re in a remote area, it’s possible. Think about how much easier your life could be with someone on the ready you trust when you need horse coverage. Get ready before you need the help. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way what happens when it’s done frantically. You don’t want to do that.

Don’t want to say goodbye to your horse? 9 horse care cost reduction tips

Sometimes, a little creativity can reduce your horse costs dramatically. We all face unexpected challenges that cause us to start considering the worst when money problems surface, but there are some easy ways to keep your horse happy and healthy without breaking the bank. Consider these nine horse care cost reduction tips before you decide to say goodbye.

Horse care cost reduction tipsst saving tips.
Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

If he’s still an important part of your life and you have the time to spend with him to prove that’s so, ponder how you might reduce your expense while providing a good home with the following strategies:

  1. Consider a living arrangement with feed options that include quality pasture forage. Of course, if it’s rich pastures, you need be careful with sugar sensitive horses and also acclimate healthy horses slowly, but grazing is how horses eat most naturally. Turnout board (proper shelter is essential – as during the hot, buggy summer months as in the cold, windy winter) can save you money and make your horse a happier critter. Ensure ample fresh water is provided always and necessary supplemental feed is provided when grass is scarce.
  2. Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing. While some horses need shoes, most can adapt to a barefoot life. If hoofs can stay healthy and your horse remains sound without shoes, you can save a good sum opting for trimming over metal plates. It takes a few weeks for a shod horse to adjust to barefoot. Monitor hoofs daily initially for signs of stone bruises, which work up the hoof to become painful abscesses if not treated quickly. Drawing agents are inexpensive and needed as quick treatment. I prefer Epson salts, which are also available as a gel product these days, but some swear by ichthammol. Soaking takes time and should be done a couple of times a day for at least 20 minutes. Epson salt gels and ichthammol can be applied to the sole, packed with cotton, secured by Vetrap and protected from bandage tearing with duct tape.
  3. Do bi-annual fecals (more regularly if counts worm warrant) instead of a regimented regular paste wormer approach. It’s less expensive, healthier for the horse and helps to reduce a big problem we’re now facing with parasite resistance while being kinder to the environment.
  4. If you board, see if there are jobs you can do (stalls, ,turn out, fence repair, tack cleaning, etc.) to help trade some sweat equity for horse housing costs.
  5. Have the horse around the house? Adding more fencing with bigger grazing areas outdoor shelter can reduce feed and bedding costs.
  6. Offer a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs or consider a shared arrangement with a leasing agreement (make sure this is vetted by an attorney and addresses liability and also plan on watching what they do around your horse for a while if you don’t know them well).
  7. Sell or gift your horse to someone you trust who is willing to let you continue the relationship.
  8. Create a bank account where you put all money usually spent on coffee, fast food, lottery tickets, prepared meals, entertainment and other items that are impulse buys. Substitute bought with homemade. You’ll be amazed how quickly this account can grow once you get conscious of unnecessary spending.
  9. Get savvy about seeing and treating issues early. There’s a lot you can do without a vet to doctor little things and prevent them from becoming bigger problems. Giving your horse a good look over daily is a big step toward avoiding costly remedy bills. Cuts, hoof bruises and rubs are little things until neglected. Seeing colic early can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a twisted gut. Learn how to handle basic injuries so you can help prevent them from becoming big problems.

horse care cost reduction tips
Horses aren’t just tools – they’re friends. Photo courtesy of Gesina Smith via Flickr

It’s not that hard to find ways to reduce the cost of keeping a horse. Time is required, though, if you want to get educated about smart solutions. A bad living situation with poor pasture or hazards around the facility can get costly very quickly. Taking the time to understand what makes a good horse environment can save you money and headaches.

Over the years, I learned to doctor most things another would call a vet out to handle. Developing a good relationship with your vet helps. I’d often call to explain what was going on and ask for input – what should I do or is this something you think you need to see? The majority of the time, the vet would say, do what you’re doing (or try this) and call me if it comes to that.

If you really want to keep your horse, there are a lot of ways you can implement these horse care cost reduction tips. As with most things, the question is, do you want to throw time or money at the challenge?

Sometimes saying goodbye to your horse is the right thing to do

When I was a kid, I had a pony. She was my second. The first was banned from Pony Club games and ultimately riding where he was boarded. We donated him to an elite private school (would have enjoyed seeing the first day they threw one of the little darlings aboard).

Bittersweet was incredible. She took care of me as we spent hours doing dumb things in the woods and streams and sand dunes (our moniker – this was actually a privately owned, heavily posted quarry) and on busy streets. We enjoyed shenanigans on the trails including swimming, jumping, riding (sliding) down the immense sand hills, traversing roads with dangerous traffic, buying ice cream cones with our ponies in tow.

It was a different time. Parents trusted we’d stay safe (OK, maybe they trusted our ponies to be smarter than we were). There weren’t abduction concerns or landowner litigation threats that have most privately owned property posted “no trespassing” today. We asked permission of the farmers to cross, who gladly allowed us to relish long rides through thousands of acres unsupervised.

Sadly, the day came when I outgrew Bittersweet. For years, I kept her (for my younger sister – not interested in riding). My parents had bought a small parcel of land, so there weren’t the concerns and costs associated with boarding two.

Ultimately, I realized it wasn’t fair to Bittersweet or the local kid population to hold onto her as a pet. Accepting she needed a new home was a hard lesson and an even harder decision, but it was the right thing to do.

Many years later while teaching at a riding stable after graduating from college, I learned she was still foxhunting. She had to be pushing 30. It was gratifying to know she was still loving life as part of a human/horse pair.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is let go.

Rehoming a horse

If you’ve outgrown your steed, have less time to spend with him or face other life circumstances changing your ability to lavish attention or provide a good home, consider alternatives. Finding another to cherish your friend with hour each day may be the kindest sacrifice you make.

It’s not always possible to place your horse with someone you know. There are options and concerns when dealing with strangers, but there are ways you can influence a great fit.

When I recently sold my New York farm, I had buyers as far away as Oklahoma and Minnesota. It takes time and an understanding of your horse’s tendencies, but a good assessment process works. Admittedly, I did make one horrible decision with two horses that went to New England. It’s one of those things I regretted terribly, but the horses were gone before I realized the mistake and ultimately had to let it go.

Twelve others found ideal homes with people who fell in love with horses able to be what they envisioned. We stay in touch. Most feel comfortable contacting me if challenges arise or their life circumstances change. In fact, Midge needs a new home, so if you’re looking for a handy, little, smart and gusty mare, contact me.

It’s critical to understand your horse’s nature and talents. This can be tough with young stock (we had a number of babies), but not as hard as you may think. You can tell a lot about what will and won’t work for a horse by watching him. Is he brave in the pasture or heartless? Is she out of a strong alpha mare with demonstrated “convince me” behaviors? Does he learn quickly and enjoy training or seem more timid and concerned? Breeding counts too. Your Welsh pony probably isn’t going to be a good fit as a preliminary eventing prospect.

Finding the right human for your horse

rehoming a horse Once you decide it’s time to say goodbye to your horse, there are some easy ways to spread the word.

Work your network: Horse people know horse people. Talk to your vet, blacksmith, trainer, trail riding companions, fellow competitors, trucker, tack shop owner, hay guy, grain supplier and friends. They may know someone who’s an ideal fit.

Social Media: It’s easier than ever to reach people out of your immediate circle. Be careful here – people don’t always present honestly. A “friend” doesn’t mean someone’s vouching for them.

Advertise: Surprisingly, Horse Clicks was the most effective for our stock. You’re not going to sell a Grand Prix competitor here, but I was surprised at the quality and knowledge of buyers surfing this site. There are many similar (some free, some not) options, but we didn’t get buyers from elsewhere.

Breed Associations: If you’re horse is papered, reaching out to group members who enjoy the breed qualities your horse has is smart. Small breed associations may have more sellers than buyers, but you only need one perfect fit. These organization often have newsletters or correspondences that permit advertising or free member news.

Have smart conversations before you finalize a sale (or gift). Most Halcyon Acres horses were bought sight unseen. New owners felt connected with the horse before the trailer arrived because we spent a lot of time discussing needs and expectations to ensure the right horse went to the right home. It wasn’t just buyers assessing me – I made the decision not to proceed in a number of cases. It’s important that both horse and human are a good fit for anticipated riding demands and living conditions.

As for Bittersweet – she went to a fellow Pony Clubber. She changed member hands many times, but was happiest with a constant rider companion. As a perfect kid-safe horse for riders at any level, her life was better after each hard decision to let her get back to kid caretaker role she wanted.

If the cost of keeping the horse you love is an issue for you, come back to the blog next week for easy ideas on how to reduce expenses.

Keeping your horse cool during the summer

Periodically we offer horse care tips on the Horse Sense and Cents® blog. Paisley presented some good tips to get thinking about now it seems like winter might actually leave this year and summer may appear. Chin up – no more chopping ice, climbing through drifts and skating to the barn – get ready for heat, flies and stagnant air but also warmth, good footing and beautiful sunshine. below Paisley offers her suggestions for keeping your horse comfortable and healthy as we move toward summer.

This article is a guest post by Paisley Hansen.

Anyone who has spent time around horses in the summer knows they get just as uncomfortable and miserable in the heat as their human counterparts do. More seriously, though, are the health risks associated with extreme heat. Dehydration and stress-induced diarrhea can lead to colic, perhaps one of the most serious health conditions in a horse. There are steps horse owners can take to alleviate the misery that comes along with the heat of summer.

Alter turn out times

horse care during summer months at
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Turn your horse out during the cooler hours of the day. Overnight is the most ideal as the temperatures are either much cooler or more tolerable. It also provides sufficient grazing time, allowing horses to maintain proper digestive health and also providing them with water in a time they may not be taking enough water in.

Provide shade

If your horse is permanently pastured, it’s essential to ensure she has proper access to shade. A run-in shed is the most ideal as it provides shade that doesn’t shift throughout the day, like shade thrown from a tree. If you have older, weaker, or less dominant herd members, make sure they aren’t being pushed away from the shade and being forced to stand in the hot sun.

Avoid using water buckets

Unless you can refresh the water in a bucket throughout the day, avoid using them. Bucket water easily becomes warm and stagnant, making it unappealing to a horse no matter how hot and thirsty they are. Investing in a fresh water system that circulates the water regularly or only fills when the horse triggers it is a wise investment if you live in especially hot climates.

Good horse care includes providing clean water. Find out more at
Photo Credit: gravity_grave via Compfight cc


If it’s unavoidable to keep your horse in a stall than it’s incredibly important to provide him with circulating air. Stable fans are large enough to circulate enough air to keep the barn from becoming stagnant. Keep doors/windows open if possible to keep a breeze flowing through. Install barn door hardware to keep windows and doors open and prevent them from slamming shut with gusts of wind. If you can, install misting fans near each stall; a combination of moving air and moisture offers a quick cool off.

Always have feed available

Grass is the best feed of choice during hot weather as it has a higher water content than hay or grain. Horses’ bodies are designed to eat constantly and it’s this constant eating that provides their body with the energy to properly regulate their body temperature and help to naturally cool them off.

Proper grooming

Summer coats are relatively thin, but like humans, some horses have thicker hair than others. If your horse gets worked regularly, then clipping their coat can help cool them off more quickly after a ride and help keep them cool when they’re turned out. Keep their mane and tail trimmed to reduce heat build up (every woman knows how miserable it is to have a heavy head of hair when it’s 90 degrees!). If your horse has pink skin, there are shampoos on the market with added sunscreen to help protect against sunburn. Apply sunscreen to the delicate skin on the nose, ears, and around the eyes if your horse is pink or light skinned.

Fly control

Don't let your horse be bothered by flies
Photo Credit: Tatinauk via Compfight cc

If a horse is constantly fighting the battle of the flies, they can waste precious energy they should otherwise be using to stay cool. Keep paddocks, stalls and run ins free of manure and install fly traps around the stable and around paddocks. Fly masks go a long ways towards protecting against flies while fly sheets are dual purposed in that they protect the body from insects and from the sun. Rotate fly sprays to be the most effective at warding off gnats, mosquitoes, and flies.

It may seem like a lot of work to keep your horse cool but most of these horse care tips are already in place in a proper care routine of your equine. Regular vet care, high quality feed, electrolytes, and proper grooming go a long way towards ensuring your horse stays cool and comfortable and most importantly, healthy.

Paisley Hansen is a freelance writer and expert in health, wellness, and animal care. When she isn’t writing she can usually be found reading a good book or playing with her Australian Shepard.


Fun horse tack find

When Natasha Raina of Two Horse Tack approached me, I was intrigued by her claims about her custom tack. What I discovered was a wonderful story and products that have applications for just about any discipline, breed or even one’s imagination.

affordable horse tackWhat first intrigued me were the applications for the Registered Irish Draught horse community. Every week I see owners sending out queries asking where to find tack to fit these odd-sized horses. I realized how useful her company could be to equestrians with mounts that didn’t fit standard sizing norms while standing up to horse shenanigans (RIDs are a mouthy bunch). When she indicated every order was custom-made to given measurements, I had to see what she produced. My driving reins arrived this week. The quality and feel of the product was beyond my expectations.

Natasha has done some incredible things with Two Horse Tack. Her product – and lessons she has learned – should not only have big appeal for the frugal horse owner seeking quality products (her strategy to offer wholesale prices direct to public makes this stuff affordable for anyone) – but also those who are drawn to our Inventing Your Horse Career initiative.

I learned a whole lot about what she’s doing in a recent Skype interview.

Why did you start your business?
custom halter for mule“I like what I do. I’m working two to three times harder than I would at a regular job but I enjoy it. I’ve always tried to work with horses. Working with tack gives me a creative outlet that you don’t normally find with horses. We would like to see people use their horses more.

“We were recently featured on a blog called Snarky Rider. The owner, Robin, and I brainstormed that the best way to do this was to offer as many different things or ways to enjoy your horse as possible. The winter months are especially hard. I’ve always been interested in a sport called Skijorring, where you ski behind your horse. Robin (the owner of the Snarky Rider site) had done it as a kid growing up with a makeshift harness she used. We are working with her to design a safer, more efficient harness. I feel like it’s kind of my duty to do things like this. Your traditional tack companies can’t do it because the market is so small. The market or sport can’t expand because folks can’t find the equipment to give it try. It’s a vicious cycle but one I am determined to break.”

Can you explain what beta biothane is?

(Editor’s note: this is the primary material Natasha uses for most tack orders, but she fills custom leather orders too)

custom harness“It’s a web-coated nylon. It sounds a bit like a miracle product. It’s easy care – you wash it off with soap and water; extremely tough and durable – basically the strongest material available in the equine marketplace and also has a following in mountain climbing, so you know it’s strong. You don’t really sacrifice anything – it has a better feel than leather. It’s an American product, invented and manufactured in the U.S.; no Indian or cheap Chinese knock-off. Biothane has been around for about 20 years. Beta is fairly new. It came out in 2005 and is a wonderful product. When people hear the word biothane they’re thinking of the first biothane – super thin, glossy kind of plastic looking. This is a whole new product but the benefits are the same.”
How do you provide custom tack with your price points?

“We just stock the raw material. There are 70,000 variations at this moment with $7 million worth of inventory. Twelve colors of beta biothane and 13 overlay colors. You can also add rhinestones or bling. We have also recently starting carrying reflective and camouflage biothane. All of these can be made with stainless steel or solid brass hardware.”
How long can buyers expect to wait for their order?

“People hear the word ‘custom’ and automatically assume it will take weeks to receive their purchase. We have fine-tuned and organized our shop so that we are able to get items shipped out amazingly quickly. Most orders are ready to ship in just 1-3 days. The only exceptions are harnesses, which take about 3-7 days. Most folks will receive their order within 3-5 business days, even with our standard shipping option.”

Want to see her recent promotional video (it’s only two minutes – well done and worth the watch):

Check back on Tuesday for the continuation of this interview where we’ll discuss business lessons learned including launch challenges, huge e-bay success, transitioning to a website platform, Natasha’s background and some other fun stuff that came out in our conversation.

Have you always dreamed of a career that kept horses in the mix? Share your dream in the comments below. You might be surprised who chimes in to help you get there.

Horses can have many careers

Roman was a Thoroughbred yearling bought at auction. I can’t recall his registered name as the nickname stuck. People used to ask me if I chose the name as a regal designation. He was a big boy (17.1hh), nice-moving and a striking chestnut color. The truth is, he was Roman-nosed and pig-eyed. The former seemed like a kinder choice for a moniker.

Roman was bought as an intended racer with decent bloodlines and good conformation. What I didn’t know until much later (lesson learned – spend more time researching progeny that didn’t run) is that his stallion had track record of producing bowed tendons.

Would Roman be a superstar?

horse careers can be numerous
This is Gumby – Roman’s former pasture buddy. Gumby went on to become a stalwart event horse for advanced and beginner riders alike – until he hit the Preliminary Level (didn’t have the talent to clear the expanses nor the brains to realize he couldn’t). His next career was as a prized hunter/jumper.

I’m not a proponent of starting horses early. It was dumb to bring Roman to the racetrack in the fall of his three-year-old year. I figured I’d just give him a month or two getting acclimated to the place with light training. The trainer had a different plan. He bowed during his first breeze.

So, I took him back to the farm, did the doctoring, stall rest and reconditioning thing and grew excited as he morphed into a sound and much more substantial four year old.

His workouts from the pole and the gate were inspiring. He easily held his ground from stride one with seasoned company, including sprinters. This is not a common feat for such a big boy, particularly a maiden.

As it came time to enter him in his first race, there was something about the way he was going that bothered me. It was nothing anyone could see, but he just didn’t feel right. One last two-minute-lick (that’s galloping a mile at 30 mph) seemed the right thing to do to verify his soundness prior to entering him with a field of horses where he’d be traveling at a much quicker clip. He bowed both front tendons just past the 7/8th mile mark. I was aboard. Remarkably, he stayed on his feet.

Although others pushed to bring him back to the track (he showed remarkable talent), I decided it was time to find another career for this amiable guy.

Dressage, anyone?

It was amazing to witness his natural balance, cadence and beautiful movement the following year with dressage requests. This big critter easily handled a 20-meter circle at all gates, while staying round without prompting. His new ideal career path became obvious.

A hunter/jumper trainer came out to take a look. Sometimes, the more you discourage people, the more determined they get. I cited the bows, voiced concerns about him holding for a jumping career, reiterated my belief the dressage arena was his calling and required several visits before I’d consider a sale. He wanted this horse for one of his students in the worst way.

Roman spent a good number of years handling a tight indoor sand arena for training lessons over fences and shows that brought him to many different places. The gal who bought him loved him dearly, pampered him and enjoyed their time together immensely. Roman was thrilled to do anything he could to make her happy.

She called me many years later, after he bowed again. She wanted help finding a great home for this horse that had touched her so deeply. She deserved credit for recognizing he enjoyed training too much to spend the remainder of his life in the pasture.

Back to the trails

It’s a small world. Roman’s now three miles from the Halcyon Acres® farm where he lived from age 1-5. The current owner knew him from those days and was very fond of this gelding. He was ready to consider a trail companion replacement for his beloved older horse lost the prior winter.

Roman was a steady, quiet and unflappable mount on the trails during his early training. Bugs drove him nuts, but only for about one month each year when they were bad enough to get his head tossing. That and his annoying penchant for using his water bucket as a manure target were issues I mentioned before the exchange.

Roman still shits in his bucket (and has moved it up a notch to include the pasture water trough). He’s kept off the trails when the bugs are swarming. But, he’s proven to be an awesome trail horse for his gentleman owner and his daughters, with a personality that keeps everyone laughing. This will be his home for the rest of his life. He’s happy.

Just because a horse is no longer able to compete (or maybe never was) in the career you envisioned for him, doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy a different path. Most horses thrive on engagement with humans. Shipping a horse to a rescue, turning him out to pasture or dumping him with the highest bidder isn’t fair to a horse that’s served you well. Holding onto him when you no longer have time isn’t right either (I’ve done it too). You’ll both sleep better if you spend some time thinking about – and exploring – what kind of work (and person) might keep him happy for the next chapter in his life.

Do you have a story to tell about a horse you re-homed? Please tell your story in the comments below. Don’t forget to click on the share buttons to the left of this post if you enjoyed the read. Thanks for taking the time to come visit.

Will your horse drink the water you give him?

Horse owners tend to be most concerned about water during the summer months. Some forget the importance of keeping it clean.

Colic can become a big problem in the winter if a horse does not have constant access to water. Just because there’s no concern for algae, doesn’t mean your trough, bucket or automatic systems stay inviting. Ice forms, critters can fall in and die and, of course, there’s always that pasture pet that delights in the sound of manure splashing into a water source.

We consider ways to ensure a horse will drink new water while on the road, but don’t always pay attention to ensure safe water intake at home. There are so many problems that can arise from contaminated water being ingested or, sometimes worse, not.

good horse care requires fresh water alwaysOne of the benefits of being involved in an equine community on Google+ is the scores of people sharing useful resources. +Anita Lequoia pointed to this video from the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky.

It’s a bit long at 7 minutes, but Dr. Roberta Dwyer does a good job of reminding even seasoned horse handlers about things to think about when making water containers safe.


Do you check your horse’s water throughout the day? Do you pay attention to where you dump disinfected tubs (guilty here of not always thinking that one through)? Do you have tips that have worked well for you in keeping horse water clean? Please share in the comments below.

Horses can surprise you with how they react to moving

It’s been interesting to witness how Remi (my canine mutt) has (or hasn’t) handled a temporary move to the suburbs. While I’m not a proponent of applying dog training techniques to horses, I did find some curious reactions from her that reminded me of odd horse behavior I’ve witness.

Remi’s spent her life (from 11 weeks on) at Halcyon Acres® (the farm). She ran free with Gatsby’s keen and careful supervision and guidance. He kept her safe, taught her the property lines, showed her how to hunt – FAIL , and tried to coach her on farm duties– another FAIL. Remi was born a pet. Gatsby must have come from some serious work dog bloodlines.   

Although Remi’s usually heartless, I was shocked at how she reacted to the move. Interestingly, when I trucked the two remaining Halcyon Acres® horses to new (different) digs, they provided some big surprises as well.

Moving horses to new farms

irish draught sport horse filly
This is Leah during her first ride at her new digs – with a gal aboard she had never met. Want to see more (video)? Go to

I figured the old-steady, Dixie, a former impressive racehorse with a prior history of shipping to many different locations annually, would handle the move with ease. She walked on the trailer like the seasoned champ and kind accommodator she’d always been. All hell broke loose between when I dropped her off and returned an hour later.

Leah, the 4 YO Irish Draught Sport Horse, who had never been off the farm, was my big concern. I thought loading might be tough (it wasn’t) as I had only been able to get her standing on the ramp in schooling time alone. She was uncomfortable being first on, so we simply switched it up so she could follow Dixie. After our first stop (Dixie’s new temporary home) we simply took both off and easily loaded Leah back on alone. Now that she had ridden in this contraption, she seemed to understand the request and realize it was easy. Special thanks to Faith Stiles for providing such a safe and comfortable ride.

The filly shows us how to shine

Faith and I had each scheduled about 3 hours for Leah (we laughed together as we realized how wrong we each were with our private thoughts on the anticipated ordeal). As it turned out, it took about five minutes to load and another ten for us to unload, turn her out, see she was fine and then add her two new pasture mates.  

Faith had smartly brought ‘the girls’ into the barn so Leah could explore and accept her turn-out digs first, then get acquainted with her roomies. No angst, no issues, no big deal. Leah’s old-soul mentality was a factor, but we were still both amazed at how easy it all went. As expected (this wasn’t a surprise), Leah adopted the new routine in less than 24 hours and was a helper once she knew the drill – and continues entertaining the caregivers with her cleverness. 

Challenges with the seasoned mare

[caption id="attachment_3116" align="alignright" width="300"]pretty mare head shot Sweet, beautiful Dixie had a tough a time moving off the farm.

Meanwhile, Dixie, in a panic about being indoors alone in a new locale, busted through the rope/chain strung across the barn door where she was confined. We spent almost two hours trying to separate her from a tight herd of six with a gelding lead horse intent on savaging her. Ultimately, she did settle in, but the first week or so was dicey. How dumb was I to assume this mare would easily transition to a location away from the only place she’d known as permanent?

Fear can look like ferociousness

The things you think wouldn’t be a big deal seem to bother Remi the most (I’ve found this to be the case with horses too).

She has no problem with monster trucks, indoor living (being a couch potato is her new favorite thing), vehicle traffic or leash courtesy.

She’s terrified of cyclists, pedestrians and especially street hockey.

Remi’s always been a very attentive dog. Still, I was surprised to discover how adept she was at recognizing subtle cues from a leash without any prior training. If she’s not on my heels (her choice at the farm), she’s gentle at my side or in front. Animals who put primary focus on you generally strive hard to do what they think you want.  

This (spayed) female dog now lifts a leg and then throws dirt on her spot with considerable zeal. Gatsby never felt a need to mark his turf (he knew he was top dog).

Remi thinks everything is going to kill her so puffs up and sounds vicious with new sights and sounds. Gatsby assumed everything was safe until proved otherwise, rarely barked and felt no need to intimidate. He approached life with an amiable, fun-loving fascination. Of course having a jaw that could crush marrow bones and lightning-fast reflexes made his bite meaningful.

Horses can fool you in a similar fashion. Almost every hostile horse I’ve met is scared. True herd leaders are rarely combative, but instead, gain a following because of their calm and quiet confidence.

Helping horses handle new circumstances

It’s always interesting to watch horses adjust to new situations. Leah’s always been pretty fearless (her mom breeds this through) but has also had a life that’s given her no reason to be afraid. It’s easy to expect a young and inexperienced filly to be reactive. I guess Leah figured I’d never put her in harm’s way before, so there was no need to worry. Plus, she hasn’t been one to form strong peer attachments. She likes company, but doesn’t seem to care much who it is.

Dixie’s never been fearful, but she doesn’t have Leah’s confidence. She develops extremely strong peer bonds. Apparently, the farm provided a continuity she never had previously. Ripping her from that predictable comfort created a lot of angst. In hindsight, it would have been better to either introduce Dixie to one of her new pasture mates at Halcyon Acres® or figured out a way to keep her with Leah.  

Horses will surprise you. Sometimes retrospect provides great vision on equine reactions, but even when you’re keen about paying attention, you don’t see it coming. It’s curious that Dixie’s behavior was described as bad and Leah’s good. Dixie is a kinder horse. Leah’s had an easier life.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the dogs. Remi’s lived the Life of Riley. Gatsby’s suffered abuse and scavenged loose on city streets so long his skin to have grown over the collar on his neck. Genetics can be a wild card with mutts (and unregistered horses).

Still, knowing how to interpret what your horse is trying to tell you – and not making assumptions based solely on behavior, can help both you and your horse understand and adjust. Before you blame a horse for causing trouble, ask yourself what they might be thinking.        




Livery options for your horse

I’ve been getting a lot of requests lately from people or companies seeking a guest post spot on this blog. I’m always happy to consider topics that would interest readers presented in an intelligible fashion. So, if you’d like if you have something useful to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Sadly, so many of these requests come in from some remote subordinate who knows nothing about the topic they’re pitching. That doesn’t bode well.

This one caught my eye though, particularly given the large percentage of UK subscribers and book purchasers. The post below is provided on behalf of Vale Stables, which manufactures and supplies equine buildings. They’re based in Warwickshire but supply throughout the UK, Channel Islands and Europe.  

Which Type of Livery Do I Need For My Horse?

 horse stablin with stallsOwning your own horse can be very rewarding but it also comes with its own set of responsibilities. These include important criteria such as stabling, feeding and exercising. Often choosing a livery isn’t as simple as finding the nearest one. Instead there are many other factors that you might need to take into consideration. Here are the different types of livery stabling available and the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you decide the best option for you.

 Full Livery

 Full livery is the equivalent of a five-star service. For a weekly or monthly fee, prices usually include all hay and bedding, mucking out, feeding, grazing, tack cleaning, box rental and exercise. Many have excellent riding country in close vicinity and some have cross country riding and hacking trails on their land. They generally have a good network of vets, dentists and farriers on hand should your horse need their services. All staff involved in the care of your horse  are generally highly qualified.

  •  Advantages – Full livery offers a hassle-free service that gives the owner peace of mind. It’s an ideal stabling solution if you don’t have much time and simply want to enjoy your horse as and when you can.
  •  Disadvantages – Because of the services on offer, this kind of five star service doesn’t come cheap. Prices can start from around £150.00 per week and are often well in excess of this, depending upon where you go.

 Part Livery

 Another alternative to a full livery service is part livery. With this option the horse enjoys all of the benefits that a full livery service brings such as food provisions, bedding, mucking out, box rental and grazing, but this doesn’t include exercise.

  •  Advantages – The main advantage of this option is the price. Often part livery can be around one third cheaper than full livery and is more hands on.
  •  Disadvantages – Clearly you have to be available to exercise your horse, so you’ll need to make sure that you have the time to do so.

 D.I.Y Livery

livery building solutions for your horseDo It Yourself, or DIY livery stabling, is often the most popular kind of stabling. A field or paddock and stabling are normally provided in the rental price, but the difference is that the owner undertakes all of the horse’s needs. Often DIY liveries will include other services as an add-on such as mucking out or hay provision, but this isn’t included in the price.

  •  Advantages – A DIY livery offers a more affordable way to look after your horse and is good for those that have the time and want to learn or undertake all aspects of horse care management.
  •  Disadvantages – Your horse will require a visit at least twice a day. This may limit the distance you want to travel and therefore your stabling options, whereas distance from your home may not be quite so influential when looking at full or even part livery.

 Grass livery

This is a form of DIY livery in which a field or paddock is provided and sometimes a field shelter, but there is no stabling. The arrangement is similar to the horse owner renting a field or paddock except they aren’t responsible for the upkeep of fencing and other facilities. Fees are also often charged per horse and not by the size of the field or paddock.

  •  Advantages – In terms of cost it’s a much cheaper option and for those who have the time it can be a good arrangement.
  •  Disadvantages – This is often only a viable option during the grass growing season and when the weather is milder. At other times the horses will need to be stabled elsewhere.

 Working Livery

 Another option you may want to consider is a working livery. This form of stabling is particularly common around riding schools and means that the horse owner pays the riding school a discounted livery fee in return for the use of the horse for riding lessons.

  •  Advantages – You receive all the benefits of a full livery service but at a reduced cost. It’s the ideal solution if you don’t have the time to fully look after your horse yourself
  •  Disadvantages – If you’re particular about others riding your horse, then clearly this isn’t a good option. You may have to travel some distance to find a riding school that suits your needs.

 Finding the right livery for your needs and requirements isn’t always easy but by doing your homework and checking out your options, you’re likely to come to an arrangement that suits all parties.

 Vale Stables specializes in luxury stables and shelters in various sizes and designs. Find out more information online at