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Horse Care

Horse vets can be incredible – if you know how to select the right one

Top nine qualities to look for in a horse vet

Over the years at Halcyon Acres®, we’ve struggled with finding the right vet for our needs. Part of the challenge is even though we’re a decent-sized equine facility in the Greater Rochester, NY area, our rural community is beyond the reach of most equine vets. Practices have a geographical boundary they will not cross due to emergency concerns. This initially made it difficult for us to get access to the better groups in the area unless we were willing to truck horses for care. The county facility is focused mostly on cows and their huge turn-over problem. Ultimately, we decided (long, jaw-dropping story) we were better off with no vet than this provider.

So, we set out to find independent practitioners willing to make the trip. The first was a qualified and competent reproductive specialist. Unfortunately, she was certifiable. The angst from mere phone calls, let alone the stress the entire horse population at Halcyon Acres® suffered when she entered the barn became too big a cost to justify.

Our next find was a blessing. In fact, we consult Dr. Janet Wilson on matters previously handled without a vet. The horses light up when they see this little gal because she’s so kind, calm, understanding and patient. I do too. She loves working with horses, enjoys getting to know the animals and goes out of her way to make the people clients feel heard, special and included. Continual learning is a huge focus as she’s often out-of-state attending conferences to absorb the latest discoveries (a drawback if an emergency occurs during her absence, but a risk we’re happy to bear for the benefits). Not surprisingly, she’s not taking on any more clients at this time. Through all this, I’ve learned there’s no reason to put up with a bad equine vet because if you do enough digging, you can find a great one. Here’s a short list of considerations:

  1. Is he eager to supply you with names of other providers who may be able to help your horse (chiropractors, farriers, other vets with specialty knowledge, product manufacturers, etc.) or does he seem focused on protecting his turf and critical of others who have a different perspective? Good vets tend to seek out the wisdom of others to help ensure the best possible solutions for your horse challenges.
  2. Is she a horse owner? Many vets will claim career demands preclude them from owning a horse, but the true horse lovers find a way to pursue their passion with one (or more) of their own.
  3. Does he have a good rapport with your horses? Horses shouldn’t quake when a vet walks into the barn. The right vet takes the time to be quiet about preparing a horse for whatever treatment may be necessary, isn’t afraid of horses and has a calm demeanor that helps his patient relax.
  4. Does she explain issues, treatments, concerns and examinations in a way you can easily understand? Vets too impatient with clients to ensure a clear grasp of what they’re doing and how to proceed to help the horse back to health aren’t worth keeping around. Those who are eager to help you learn, conversely, can provide an invaluable education you’ll retain for the rest of your life.
  5. Is it easy for you to call your vet? Is this something you tend to do as a matter of course when a concern arises in the barn? Or, do you spend time deliberating over the cost, angst and reception you’ll get prior to deciding to bite the bullet? If the latter is the case, no matter how much money you think you’re saving for less expensive visits, the price you’re paying for this service is too high. Quality horse vets have a way with people and horses that make them a trusted and caring resource for concerns. If you can’t rely on your vet to be in your corner when crisis comes knocking, why engage him?
  6. Is she continually learning and willing to spend non-billable time researching the answer to an issue that befuddles her? Or is she settled in a practice that gets defensive when you ask questions and justifies everything with the ‘veterinary medicine is not an exact science’ line. Good vets admit it when faced with a new challenge and welcome brainstorming with others who have the mileage to offer relevant ideas. Bad ones throw their cost of education in your face and never admit when they don’t know what they’re dealing with.
  7. Does he reduce your stress or add to it? If having your vet around is an uncomfortable experience for you, imagine what the combined energy from your nerves and his appearance do to your horse. Look for another with the ability to quell the situation vs. escalate it.
  8. Is she interested in getting to know your horse and working around his issues? We have a gelding at Halcyon Acres® that is phobic about needles (justifiably so, given his history). We told Dr. Wilson about this issue with the history of his fear basis. She spent so much time with him before an injection, his concern has virtually disappeared.

And the most important quality to look for in a vet (OK – the goal was to do this in descending order – any tips to make this so with WP formatting would be much appreciated):

Best Vet Quality: Do you and your horse like him? This might seem like a strange benchmark, but if there’s strife in the mix your money’s not well spent. There are a lot of affable vets that know their stuff.  Look around for a vet that’s a pleasure to have in your barn. More than you imagine have deep knowledge, a love of horses and an ability to make their human clients feel special too.

Potter, NY (the town where our facility is located) has a population of 1830 people with an entire county of 25,000 people. If Halcyon Acres® can find a star provider under these circumstances, you can too. Get creative about engaging your network for an exciting discovery. Your quality of life (and that of your horses’) will improve in an instant.

Horses (and the dumb things people do with them) will make you laugh

If you’re not chuckling about dumb things you’ve done with horses or humorous equine behavior, you’re taking life too seriously. The cast of characters at Halcyon Acres is good for laughs every day. Fortunately, some of the ugly mistakes we make in learning turn to humorous memories over time too.

Horse herd antics will have you shaking your head

There’s always something going on at the farm that serves to straighten out my wrong thinking when it comes to horse sense.

Leah the ice queen

There’s a yearling Irish Draught Sport Horse at Halcyon Acres that I noticed is the main event at the water trough. In the early mornings on particularly cold nights, the herd gathers waiting for her before I appear.  Upon her arrival, the gang parts for her to approach the 100-gallon tub. She’ll lift a front leg over the edge and send it crashing down onto the frozen top layer of water, making easy access for everyone else to quench their thirst. It’s funny how all the older horses wait for this clever young filly to fix their dilemma.

Shelter from onlookers

Recently, we added a number of run-in sheds to the pastures at Halcyon Acres. With a quick and brutal onset to winter and ten of the farm horses relegated to outdoor living, we were feeling guilty about some of the herd being denied access by a couple of bossy mares. Of course, a week after we pulled out the credit card for the building order, the herd decided it was too cold to put up with the posturing and kicked the aggressors out of the gang (and the provided shelter).  It seemed the majority, too, felt the harshness of winter and decided to do something smart about it.

Between the time the sheds were ordered and the buildings arrived, the herd found a spot in the pasture that provided great shelter from the wind and decent protection from driving rain and snow. That’s where they tend to hang when they’re not devouring massive amounts of hay. There have been a couple of mornings when the wind is fierce and the temperatures low that all horses are enjoying the comfort inside the run-ins. Most days, though, a number of herd members have decided these new additions to their living quarters are an ideal lavatory. I’m getting ready to hang signs to re-label all the run-ins ‘outhouses.’

Horses and kids can be a scary combination

A few weeks after I started in a lesson program (I was five), the instructor decided I no longer needed the security and safety of Sam, their former circus performer. Sam was a gem. He focused entirely on the instructor, knew voice commands and was as kind as they come. Pure white and talented, this critter could carry the most ill-equipped rider (in fact, I lost him as my promised first show mount to a handicapped child who won the class) and make it look like they were calling the shots. I placed second on Popsey that day, but hated her from the start. Soon after she replaced Sam as my lesson mount, she unloaded me (I don’t recall how, but it probably didn’t take much). I was hopping mad about my first dump and went running after her to catch her and remount. That day I learned that horses kick. For weeks, I had a hoof imprint on my cheek, shoe nails discernable. At the time, I wasn’t very happy about the experience, but laugh now and feel gratified for learning a hard lesson so early, relatively unscathed, that I will never forget. Somehow, I imagine the instructor was probably shouting to discourage me from my actions, but imagine I was too hot to hear him.

The things we kids did with our ponies could comprise a book of potential disaster stories and make the Thelwell scenarios seem tame (remember these? Fortunately, we all survived. Often, I’m saddened that kids are so sheltered and protected today that they can’t learn from bonding with their horse unfettered. Frankly, it’s amazing we didn’t spend months in the hospital (or jailed), but the dumb things we did taught us valuable life lessons and created a sacred trust with our mounts that can’t be fully understood through words. When there’s no fear, there’s lesser risk. It’s amazing how horses do so much to protect those who don’t take care of themselves. Do you have stories to share of how your horse took care of you? Please do in the comments below.

Adults should know better

I follow a number of horse related Google alerts, and rarely do much more than scan. But Ben Muessig caught my eye with his clever lead-in to an article about a couple of drunken cowboys riding through Austin, TX streets.

“You can lead a horseback-riding cowboy to a watering hole, but you can’t make him drink responsibly. Police in Austin, Texas, arrested two men on charges of drunken driving after they allegedly blocked traffic on East Sixth Street while riding a horse and a mule.”  His lead-in is funnier than the event, but if you want to get the full story, it’s here <>

Horse memories made a New England Christmas

Maybe it’s the time spent in Connecticut and Massachusetts during my youth, the Hallmark presentation of the holiday, beautifully maintained architecture from centuries past, the pastoral views that remain in the area or the fact that family still resides here, but there’s just something about New England that says Christmas. Halcyon Acres is beautiful, but it will never have the charm that surrounds the equine facilities from my youth. Fortunately, as I discovered this year, they’re still there.

Traveling back to horse haunts

This year, I decided to trek back to Granby, CT, specifically the places I spent so much time riding and hanging out during my youth. Our Pony Club had Saturday morning lessons at the Raye’s. Across the street, I boarded my first pony (ultimately banned from the property – a story for another blog post), at a place run by a woman named Eleanor Wells (probably not among us now – she was old and crotchety then, at least through my ten-year-old eyes). Around the corner resided Bill Strange and his family – a horse dealer that carried the usual stigma only shared in whispers among the prouder crowd. Between the boarding facility and Strange’s farm, lived a great friend during my childhood years, Dana Muench. I was there the day after she lived through a horrifying fire in the barn where horses were pulled and ran back in repeatedly after being freed. Her mare suffered from the smoke inhalation and I learned a huge lesson from this event at a very tender age. If I ever face a burning barn, I’ll secure every horse I remove so they don’t run back into the fire.

Dana moved away a long time ago – and so did her mom. Surprisingly, the original barn was still standing and had been given some TLC to fix it up (the inside was gutted by the fire, but the exterior remained solid). The house was still there too – as it was more than three decades ago. The boarding facility was much like I remembered it – although repairs were obviously more of a regimen and a fresh coat of paint made the place look great (yellow was an interesting color choice, but it worked). The Raye’s place, sans some upkeep on the house, reflected my memories. I had forgotten about the Strange family farm, but was impressed to see the family name on the sign and the facilities looking posh by comparison to the old days. What really amazed me was all this (now much more valuable) land had stayed intact over the decades and continued to be allocated to horses.

What shocked me more was that I was able to find my way back there from decades-old memory with road improvements and a good deal of development along the way – on the first try, even. Good thing my long-term memory hasn’t suffered the challenges my short-term has. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane that I’m glad I took. I even managed to later connect with the current Granby Pony Club DC. She’s talking about an alum reunion. What fun!

Connecticut will always be home for the holidays

It just didn’t seem right as a New England Christmas with no snow on the ground. By the time I hit Westfield, there was a dusting at most. Southwick had none. Ditto for all of the towns I traveled through in CT. My nephew said Christmas seemed too early with no snow, and was concerned about Santa’s sleigh ride without the white stuff. This nine-year-old also insisted we leave carrots with Santa’s cookies (I didn’t get it and had to ask) for the reindeer.

Still, I was awestruck to drive through towns that had kept their character – and a good deal of open spaces – that I remembered from my youth. It brought back memories of horse-drawn sleigh rides and our travels with our ponies across miles of farmers’ land for our outings to the ice cream stand (that’s now gone) and then on to what we called the sand dunes (a quarry that’s still operating ).

Most of my family has moved to points south. Still, even though I’ve been gone for a long time, New England beckons me as what home looks and feels like. Even the radio stations from decades gone by were still on the air and working largely from the same play list. That put a big smile on my face.

Get away to horse country

If you’ve never been to New England, it’s worth the trip. This is a bucolic and beautiful area with architectural wonders that have been preserved for hundreds of years. It seems many towns have great zoning boards in place determined to maintain the character and feel of the area while embracing commerce and growth. Those Christmas card scenes aren’t fake – and they still remain. In most other places in the country, the farms, barns and horse places I used to frequent would have been razed for the mighty dollar. It was great to see that this fabulous memory from my youth remained largely the same. New England may not be the first place you think of for horses, but it might be the best. I didn’t see any ‘no trespassing’ signs and from the looks of things (including the horse crossing signs now placed where we used to ride across roads between farmer’s lands), the area hasn’t shirked in fear of lawsuits from allowing riders to enjoy private land.

What are your favorite places to visit?

Do you still have memories you can hold on to with places you can revisit from your youth? How about spots where you can escape with your horse where country kindness prevails? How is going home special for you? Please share your memories and newer experiences in the comments below.

Ten quick tips to help with horse health during winter

If winter means cold, snow, wind and ice in your area of the world, you’re likely in for a doozy this year. Whether your horses are inside or out (or both) there are things you can do to ensure their comfort and health.

Foals especially need protection from wind

1.       Make sure there’s ample water at all times. This means checking buckets and tanks often to ensure they’re not encrusted with ice. Winter months tend to produce more colic cases. The most cited reason is lack of access to water and/or associated guzzling when it is available.

2.       Provide shelter. Whether it’s a run-in or stall, horses need protection from winter winds. While many horses aren’t bothered by snow; cold rains, rain to snow or high winds can get them shivering.

3.       Feed more hay. Hay helps horses stay warm. If your horses are outside, give them enough to heat their bodies – more than you feed in summer months. If inside (or outside) ensure it’s quality hay free of mold and dust and with sufficient nutrients (call your local cooperative extension to test your hay) to get through tough weather.

4.       Let them have their coat. Blankets may seem like a kind intervention, but if your horse will be spending time outside during the winter months, it’s cruel if you put one on before he has a chance to grow his own coat. Some horses will need a blanket no matter what, but at least try to hold off long enough so nature can provide some protection too. If you’re showing during winter months and must clip or discourage a coat, offer shelter at all times. Remove the blanket at least once a day to check for sores or rubbing.

5.       Watch closely for weight loss and adjust feed accordingly. Horses can lose weight quickly when the temperature drops. It’s a lot harder to bring them back to healthy in colder weather. Increase feed rations as soon as you see your horse getting skinnier.

6.       Back off the oats. Feeds that make the horse higher might work well in the summer, but it’s usually better to decrease energy burn food choices when it gets cold. Consider a grain choice that helps heat the horse and offers a mix of balanced nutrients designed to give the horse what he needs for maintenance. Purina now offers a number of feeds designed to provide a complete mix of horse health ingredients with about a three-pound ration per day.

7.       Ample attention can help a horse’s attitude. Sure it’s cold and miserable out a lot of days during the winter. Giving your horse some time and loving can help your horse stay happy and healthy. If you’re cold and cranky, imagine how he feels when you stay away from the barn. Sometimes a little grooming and a pet can make a horse’s day. Show you care by showing up for him.

8.       Pay special attention to the hoofs. With frozen, rutty winter ground, hoof cracks, bruises and chips can be more prevalent. Don’t wait until an issue becomes a problem to call your blacksmith or treat a sole. Early intervention can mean the difference between a quick resolution and a lengthy lay-up.

9.       Pull the shoes. If your horse is going to be turned out or ridden in snow, balling up can be a big issue. If you’re competing and need to keep shoes on, consider pads designed for snowy weather and shoes that provide more traction on ice.

10.   Discover fun things to do with your horse (for him and you) when winter keeps you inside. Even if you’re not riding, your horse will appreciate you keeping his mind engaged and his body attended to. Ground work can be an interesting challenge for both of you and a good way to keep connected. Have a riding issue that plagued you during warmer weather? Consider what you can do in-hand to try to resolve this. Do stall manners need some amending? This is a great time to work on issues that were ignored in your haste to get tacked and riding earlier in the year. Want to introduce him to a new challenge? Sometimes lessons are more easily learned when a horse can see your body language. Why not take this time to learn something new that helps both of you grow?

Do you have ideas that have worked well for you to keep your horse happy and healthy during winter months? Please share in the comments below.

Top ten list of dumb things people do to save money with horses

Today I spent more than five hours trying to get six tons of hay into the barn. The rub was these were 400 Lb. bales.  I didn’t order these bales. They came from a client who wanted to save money on board by supplementing feed costs.

Clearly there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way (actually several), but I recall being told the trucker could get these bales into the barn and responded that if dumped under shelter, I could figure out a way to stack them over time. He showed up unannounced with a flatbed. The moment I saw the rig, I called a friend asking for help. He wasn’t immediately available. The driver and I spent more than an hour with my tractor in play simply trying to get them on the ground. He left them scattered in the yard and barn driveway. Fortunately, the hay provider was a sport, having also misunderstood the circumstances of this delivery (note to self, NEVER again have an intermediary handle delivery communications), and dealt with the challenge in good humor.

Help arrived shortly after the truck left. We spent the next three hours trying to spear these bales with a round bale spike (harder than you might imagine). We ultimately found pushing to be easier. The loft floor really isn’t solid enough to trust it to hold my tractor, so we also spent time (two of us) manually pulling and/or flipping bales to the back of the barn as the weight became too great for the tractor to move. We put 16 bales in the barn and 4 in the pastures, giving up when darkness hit with both of us exhausted. Later, a neighbor showed up with a bucket. We managed to get another 8 bales in the barn with the three of us and flashlights (my friend came back – boy do I owe him now) in the next hour. Of course, the challenge of getting them out of the barn will be left for another day, but at least they’re safe from weather.

Reflecting the events of the day started me thinking about how often horse owners are penny wise and pound foolish.

Here’s my top ten list for costly decisions people make to save money with horses:

10.          Neglecting trimming, shoeing or hoof care to save a few bucks – shop around if your blacksmith is too expensive or unskilled in keeping your horse’s feet balanced and instructing you on how to keep them healthy. Everything above the hoof is affected by what hits the ground. If the foot’s not right, you’ll start seeing problems elsewhere. Save money on bling and attire, but don’t skimp on proper maintenance here if your aim is a sound, happy and safe steed.

9.            Cheap board – you get what you pay for. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consider the care, nutrition support and handling your horse will be getting as you entrust his safety to another. If you don’t know what it takes, read and ask before you delegate another to do this for you.

8.            Buying a horse without input from an experienced trainer or instructor. My first horse was a nightmare for all involved but me (I loved him as a fearless kid that wasn’t bothered by his dangerous behavior – but it was horrid when we were forced to part after the boarding facility, Pony Club and every other place we rode refused to have him on their property). My parents (who had no horse experience) and I went to the stable without seasoned input and bought the first horse I test-rode on the spot. He was obviously drugged. An experienced trainer would have picked up on this and other issues – and required some future visits that weren’t so announced. Lesson learned. Don’t do this.

7.            Shopping for price on starting under saddle services – or worse, not asking around about results prior to shipping your horse off to a facility. Early training sets the foundation for all future requests you’ll make of your horse. Done right, the horse will come to relish training, handle new challenges with ease and be a safe, reliable and happy steed. Unfortunately, there are a good number of people hanging a shingle out there who don’t know what they don’t know and others who will gladly take your money without producing promised results. We get a lot of horses coming to Halcyon Acres already sent to another to be ‘broke.’ Sadly, the owner’s out his investment on the first start attempt, and it’s a lot more expensive (and time consuming) to fix a scrambled brain – if the damage can be undone – than to work with a horse right from the onset.

6.           Feeding crap – it might seem like you’re saving money buying grain from a cow mill or throwing hay to a horse that’s dusty, moldy or devoid of nutritional value, but the fact is, your horse’s health – and weight – requires sustenance doses of vitamins, minerals and quality roughage. Forget about the long-term effects of poor feeding practices, you’ll have to spend a lot more trying to have quantity make up for quality and will still suffer from the results.

5.            Spending money on supplements without assessing your horse’s needs. Instead of buying buckets of product because someone said so without understand what they may be doing to your horse, invest a few bucks in testing the quality of the hay you’re feeding and calling on an individual who’s skilled at determining your horse’s condition and providing nutritional solutions that are specific. Most supplements are a waste of money, particularly when given to horse without investigating their issues.

4.            Assuming a horse is happiest left alone. Whether you think you’re rescuing a horse by putting him out to pasture or think you’ve offered nirvana by dropping him at a posh boarding facility that you rarely visit, the neglect will cost you if you seek a healthy, happy and willing horse. Most domesticated horses are wired to want a job that involves humans. Think again before you decide to save (or own) a horse you don’t have time for. Most will languish if you’re not there to offer life purpose. Feed, vet and care costs will escalate over time.

3.            Failing to check a horse daily for injuries or issues. A small cut can turn into a major infection and huge vet bill very quickly. Horses who start with a mild colic can twist a gut rolling with fatal results. Pastured horses can get stuck in a fence or other obstacle and become seriously injured as they panic to set themselves free. Puncture wounds become nasty very quickly if they’re not treated immediately and often. Don’t assume vendors will notice an injury or issue with your horse. If you own the property where your horse is housed, or board him out, you owe it to him to look in at least once a day to ensure he’s OK.

2.            Skipping vaccinations – they’re relatively cheap and the cost of dealing with herpes, rabies, aborted foals, West Nile and other major equine ailments easily avoided is huge in money and heartache. We’re dealing with an outbreak at an area racetrack now that could have easily been avoided, or at least minimized.

And the number one dumb thing people do to save money with horses:

1.            Jumping with glee over a free horse. It takes just as much money to feed, house and care for a good horse (actually, usually less) than an unsuitable one. Add the hours of frustration with training efforts going nowhere, vet costs of injuries borne by a nutcase, lost quality time trying to reach a horse that isn’t receptive and energy trying to make a horse ill-equipped to do what you ask fit with your envisioned activities. If your aim is to enjoy time with your horse, find one that’s ready and willing to do what you want. This usually involves a purchase price.

There are so many other things horse owners do thinking they’re saving money with practices that actually cost them a lot more in the long-run, but that’s my list for tonight. We’ve all done it. Learning from mistakes it what makes a seasoned equestrian. Have a tip you want to share or a story of a lesson learned? Please post a comment so others can learn from your experience.  Thanks.

Ten quick tips for beating the heat with horses

Much of the United States has been blanketed in stifling humidity and record heat this summer.  In our area of the Northeast, we beat last year’s total number of 90 degree days in early July (August is usually the month for hot, and it’s coming in steamy). Our southern and western neighbors are probably thinking double digits would be a welcome cool spell, but it’s tough to take when you’re not used to it (come on up in January and we’ll giggle as you shiver at balmy days in the 20s). Whether you’re in Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, New England or any other area of the country, you and your horses have probably had it with sweating, sweltering and sun burn.  Take heart – you’re not alone. Get smart to ensure you and your horse can be happy with your time together and both of you stay safe.  Here are some ideas to help you keep your cool (and please add your ideas in the comment section below as others will surely welcome your insight and experience).

  1. School horses early in the morning. On the East coast, it’s light enough at 5:30 a.m. to ride right now and this is the best time to escape the insects, heat and humidity. It takes too much time to cool down in the evening (hours after sunset) and the bugs are brutal. Some go to the health club early in the morning. Why not use your pre-work time for riding exercise instead and use the club for a shower. If you really want to ride the bike, tackle the stairs or lift weights, take advantage of the air conditioning at lunch or after work.
  2. Turn horses out at night and bring them into the barn during the day. Even if you have run-in sheds, they don’t provide enough protection from the bugs and the heat when the weather gets steamy. Well-designed barns are much cooler than sun-drenched pastures.
  3. Pull out the fans to keep the air moving for you and your horse when in the stall.
  4. Go swimming. Most horses really enjoy a lake, river or deep pond respite and riding a horse through water deep enough to have their feet leave the ground can be a lot of fun. Just be careful as those legs get moving with dangerous velocity and force. Iif you manage to get one of your body parts in the way you’ll probably break bones. Always keep your legs in front of the shoulder and make sure you’re stable and balanced enough to stay aboard.
  5. Make sure you and your horse have ample and constant water to stay sufficiently hydrated. In this heat, it’s important to keep drinking water as you work (for you and your horse). No guzzling while you’re working hard – that will cause a belly-ache for both of you and that’s so not good with horses – but make sure you have water available at all times for your horse during rest.  When the heat’s really draining your mount might appreciate a few sips while working. Be very careful how much and how quickly you allow a horse to drink after work, while cooling out. It’s best not to allow more than 10-15 sips every three minutes or so while a horse is still hot and sweaty.
  6. Hit the trails. While bugs can be more prevalent in the woods, it’s usually a lot cooler where the trees are tall and thick. If you do this in the early morning, bugs are not a big factor. Consider using hot weather time to do some conditioning work at slow paces that cover steep hills and various sights and challenges to keep your horse’s body fit and supple while offering an alternative to discipline drilling that keeps his mind engaged and interested. Changing the riding environment can also help you learn more about you, your horse and how to come up with ideas together to make training fun for both of you.
  7. Give you and your horse a day off from the routine.  Sometimes it’s just too hot to discipline train. If you’re facing an unrelenting heat wave, you can still work on activities that help build rapport and understanding, but don’t require tack. Think about what you can do in the stall or in-hand to improve your human-horse communications skills (both ways). Often, lessons learned on the ground are better remembered and easier to accomplish than what you do under tack. Use this time to develop a bond that includes sympathetic responses.  You may find you make great strides in your next ‘real’ lesson that you hadn’t imagined possible.
  8. Make sure your horse has access salt (and ample water – they’ll drink more as they ingest salt) as heat descends. Of course, horses should always have access to free-choice salt, but it’s particularly important in hot conditions.
  9. Shorten lesson time and offer more frequent breaks. When the heat’s too much to stay at full performance as usual, back off a bit. Better to ask for one good response and end on a good note than to push the both of you to exhaustion. Give both you and your horse a break on the perfection scale and allow ‘good enough’ to be the end-game.
  10. Have the heart to cancel a competition appearance if it’s just too dangerously hot. Finger Lakes was the only East Coast race track that didn’t cancel racing several weeks ago when the heat was just too much to bear. Some scratched (good for them), but others continued to run. After so many horses dropped from heat stroke on Monday, you’d think that would be cause for pause for the card on Tuesday. It wasn’t.  Sometimes you need to make the hard call to pull out and forgo the entry costs and possible win money with an eye toward tomorrow.

If you’re struggling with the heat, your horse probably is too. Slow down the pace, reduce the demands, be thoughtful about providing shelter and relief and use the time to get creative about how you can spend new and interesting time together. You might learn something and your horse will likely thank you for the consideration.

How do you beat the heat with your horse? Have you found fun and inventive activities to keep you both cool as you wait out the sauna? Do you have a great story to tell about how you withdrew from an intended event to come out a winner as a result? Please share your comments, ideas, experiences, opinions and stories below. Thanks.

15 Quick Tips for horse pasture management

  1. Cull horses into smaller areas and rotate frequently.
  2. Schedule a rotation management program that gives pastures enough time to regenerate (depends on area, time of year, number of horses, water, etc.).
  3. Mow pastures after moving horses off an area or follow them with livestock (such as cows) that can help manage parasite issues and/or eat what horses will leave.
  4. Use salt instead of pesticides to control unwanted plants (such as growth under an electric fence wire, burdocks or thistles). This will take more time but can be as effective without the potential harm to horses and the environment. Plus, it can be administered to paddocks being currently grazed. It’s also inexpensive in 50 pound bags.
  5. Break up manure piles to kill worms that may be ingested later.
  6. Build gates between paddocks to make transfer to new areas quicker and easier.
  7. Use herd leaders to help move horse groups to other pastures. If you grab one of the herd leaders (this works best if you can pair her with number two as you begin the migration) to encourage the rest of the herd to follow. This isn’t necessarily the horse that is hostile to the herd to get first dibs on feed or water. Watch the herd to see who they follow. It’s usually a kind mare that doesn’t command respect, but is chosen due to confidence and operatives with seeming indifference.
  8. Supply shelter from sun, wind, bugs and cold. There are many affordable run-in sheds available for purchase. We’ve found Wood Tex ( to be exceptional on the quality, price and customer service fronts. In fact, we can’t build a shelter for the price of their delivered units. If you’re building and have an aggressive horse in the herd, an L-shaped shelter works best.
  9. Clean out shelters at least daily. Depending on the usage, bedding may be necessary.
  10. Pick herds to help school young horses. Do you have an arrogant and aggressiveyoung colt that bullies other horses (or humans)? Turn him out with a pregnant mare (or two) for a quick and lasting attitude adjustment. Are you challenged with a young alpha filly that’s torturing and dominating elderly mares? Kick her out with an established younger herd with an established hierarchy. Have a timid or insecure horse? Find a kind mare (or gelding) they can spend time with one-on-one to bond with and build their confidence. Struggling with an aggressive and violent mare that beats the daylights out of other mares she’s introduced to? If you’re determined to attempt socializing her (we go by the two strikes rule with hostile horses – then they’re permanently solo), try putting a young gelding in an adjacent stall first and if they bond, see if pasture companionship works . Watch carefully for signs of aggression and remove the boy if you have time, but don’t get between the two once a battle ensues.
  11. Ensure horses have clean water at all times.
  12. Watch the horses’ weight. Heavy horses can be prone to more problems than skinny ones. Limit grazing for obese horses and supplement as needed with those that are harder keepers.
  13. Stay current on vaccinations. In addition to the standard 4-ways (or 5-ways), we also add West Nile and Rabies. Issues are often geographically-based, so it makes sense to keep apprised of area concerns.
  14. Make salt and/or a mineral block available.
  15. Check each horse daily for abrasions, hoof problems (pick them up to make sure nothing is lodged in the foot and/or the health of the frog and sole is good), eye issues, filling in legs and general health and attitude.

Horse Worming – save money and your horse with less

Last year we started a new worming protocol at Halcyon Acres. In fact, the subject was a blog topic here and included a promise to report back on our findings.  Here they are:

Opting for fecals over standardized worming practices

Basically, we decided to stop systematic worming in deference to a plan that is safer for the horses – both now and into the future. Research is increasingly sounding the alarm about parasite resistance to equine products. Studies have shown horses can be kept healthier and infestations better controlled with customized approaches based on manure examination. The recommended approach is to take fecals twice annually – in the spring and after a good couple of killing frosts in the fall (horses with issues may need to be checked more frequently until they are resolved). The findings determine customized future worming regimens for each horse. The results, including cost savings, were surprising.

Because we tend to get a lot of traffic through the farm with client horses coming in for short-term training, we were pretty aggressive about worming – covering the entire equine resident count monthly with a rotational approach. These wormers ranged from $4 – $15/ horse, per treatment. We stopped all worming about mid-year in 2009 and took stool samples of the twelve horses that were here in April. Three had high counts. All, but one were a surprise. Those we would have expected to be vulnerable came back clean.

The three with high counts were wormed twice, eight weeks apart (in April and June). Given the findings, we were able to use an inexpensive wormer ($4) that addressed the present parasites. There were a number of horses at the farm that were mid-range, and wormed once. All nursing mares will be wormed once after the foals drop, now and in the future. Four of the twelve had such low counts they did not require any treatment.

Surprising findings with the herd

One of the strange revelations in all this was that the healthiest looking horses with the least stress on their systems accounted for two of the three high count critters. The low count horses included our maiden broodmare who suffered a terrible time recovering from injuries, weight loss and despondency after coming home from a live breed fiasco; a two-year-old who’s spent much of his life on antibiotics as an accident magnet; a ship-in client horse that travelled cross country with some existing health concerns; and a mare in training who acts out aggressively with the herd due to some clear confidence issues. The three high counts were all turned out in different areas. Ditto for three of the low counts.

Are you wasting money on your worming program?

While the number of horses are never the same here with the influx and departure of client horses coming in for training, since there were twelve for the April fecals, this serves as an easy figure to work with in determining costs. Each fecal was $25 (this can be done much more cost effectively and with more refined conclusions if you’re willing to do your own collection, labelling and shipping out of state – we’ll probably do this next year). So the total cost this spring (we didn’t do fecals in the fall) was $300 for the service of putting manure under a microscope. We’ve determined our average worming cost per month, per horse is $10. That’s $120 per month to worm twelve, or $1440 a year. Because we had test results in hand, we were able to use a $4 wormer to address the concerns (instead of a $10 or $15 product). We wormed nine once (including a nursing broodmare who did not register a parasite count of concern, but worming was advised to transfer through to the foal’s milk) and three twice, for a worming cost this year through fall of $48. So, assuming costs and results are the same in the fall (it’s likely they will be reduced now that we’re on a knowledge-based treatment plan), that’s $696 for the year, a $744 savings (or more than 50%). Plus, we’re increasing the likelihood of healthy horses, doing our part to reduce future parasite resistance to wormers and probably helping the environment in more ways than we realize.

Take better care of your horse

So, if you’re on the fence about springing for the cost of fecals on your horse, or your herd, think again. It’s likely you’ll save a good deal over the course of the year in funds, stress and potential horse health issues that may arise from unknown parasite residents. We didn’t embrace this new approach blindly or spontaneously. These studies have been going on for years. You should be alarmed at the prospect of parasites in your horse that cannot be controlled. We now have our own success story to add the mix, at least at an anecdotal level on a smarter, safer and visionary approach to horse health maintenance.

What’s been your understanding of worming? Do you have protocols that have worked for you that you’d like to share? Horror stories? Questions? Please comment below with your ideas, resources, concerns, queries and experiences. Thanks.

Irish Draught Sport Horse born at Halcyon Acres

Last night presented a number of surprises and challenges that ultimately had a very happy ending. Our poor maiden mare went into labor around 8 p.m. and dropped the biggest foal ever on the farm (much) later that evening.

Fortunately, we have a wonderful vet (Dr. Janet Wilson) who we were able to reach and get to the farm within minutes when things got dicey. Long story short, the birthing process went on for well over twenty minutes with still no signs of a head. Luckily, our mares are usually predictable, quick and independent with their deliveries, but this was a maiden mare bred to a stud we had not used before and she proved to be all but. It became very apparent why she was having so much difficultly when we finally got the entire monster foal pulled out of her petite body more than an hour later. Remarkably, the foal was not only alive, but proved to be quick to stand, strong, adorable and surprisingly correct out of the womb. There are so many things that should have gone wrong with this difficult mix of circumstances, but a light was shining on the farm yesterday evening and we’re grateful.

This mare couldn’t carry the burden of this foal any longer as she had been trying to founder for the past 48 hours. More time in the womb would have likely created some serious health concerns for the mom. Although the mare was turned out at the time (we decided to leave her there as she was in a fair amount of distress and the dense grass paddock provided a cleaner environment for birthing than a straw stall), we spotted the foal coming immediately and were able to monitor her from the start and recognize the birth was becoming a problem. The incredible size and weight of this foal crammed into a 15.2 dainty mare should have created some leg problems or other issues, but apparently he was positioned perfectly and it didn’t. He was so big, he couldn’t figure out how to make his body lower, neck twist and body angle to grab onto a teat. It was 4 a.m. (as we were gearing up to bottle feed) before he latched on. Blood work apparently came back OK as the vet didn’t call (and indicated she only would if there was an issue). Wow! Luck sure came our way on this one.

Of course, you’re always a little biased about the foals you help bring into the world, but this one is very special. He’s coordinated, smart, strong, friendly, unflappable – and fun.  In fact, one might mistake him for a foal 30 days his senior.

Doubtful? Here he is at 22 hours of age getting a welcome from some of the (canine) farm hands. Our mutts seem to get more excited about foal arrivals than just about anyone. How cool is that maiden mare (and she’s is very protective and possessive of this baby) to allow this?

Can’t catch your horse?

If you’ve been around horses for a while you’ve probably encountered one that decides he’s not interested in being caught. Interestingly, as I’ve moved more toward a natural herd environment, those chosen for riding activities are the most eager to come in (honestly, this isn’t a reaction I expected, but one I do appreciate). Still, even those not engaged in training routines need to be captured periodically for vet calls, trimming, worming, doctoring and other general maintenance demands. Whether it’s a riding horse that is playing hard to get or a retiree that has you spending hours horse chasing when you need to handle him, stop the frustration with some easy ideas to encourage them to come running.

Keep a routine

It’s always easiest on horses and humans if you maintain a routine. Feed at the same times each day, train at a consistent hour when possible, turn-out and bring into the barn on a schedule and keep your horse comfortable with a timetable he can count on. It’s amazing how a simple change in normal activity times can upset an entire herd and make catching a chore. Similarly, if your horse can’t learn to expect you at regular times, he’s more likely to avoid you when you approach.

Educating young horses

Sometimes the young horses that come to Halcyon Acres™ to be started under saddle chose to be difficult about coming when called. Many are not accustomed to turn-out and/or have been taught handling involves a chase and capture. Others are stressed from being in a new environment with a different routine. A few have had virtually no human contact and/or hostile handling and are fearful. Usually we can find an ideal buddy to help guide a new arrival.

For those who simply refuse to cooperate, we don’t chase them or bribe them with treats. We go to the gate at feed time and encourage the horses to come. Most will follow the lead of their chosen pasture companion – one familiar with the farm and associate routines.

For the few who seem to delight in the ‘see-if-you-can-catch-me’ game, we don’t play. These horses are given three opportunities to come to the gate for stall comforts and dinner. One with the companion horse; a second after the rest of the herd is brought in; and a final offer after all are fed. If they don’t want to come, they’re not forced. They’re given ample water and hay, but no grain and no companionship until they choose to come to the gate and be led to the barn. Most change their mind about their freedom quest after their first night spent outside alone. Some take a few days. It’s important not to chase these horses or threaten them in anyway. Just ask for their approach and if they’re not interested, walk away.

Alphas and other controlling horses

We have a mare at the farm that is extremely aggressive with the herd during feed time. She’s also decided of late to refuse to be caught for periodic maintenance activities. Interestingly, when she’s in training, she fights with the herd to be first to be haltered, but it will be a couple more weeks before we can fit her into the schedule. With an eight-foot cotton lead rope, we’ve stopped this attitude on a matter of minutes on every occasion (this is particularly effective at feed time). Basically we send her away and do not allow her to have access to any of the herd members (or the hay piles) until she asks to be caught. Body language is important too, but it works like a charm.

We had one horse in here for starting under saddle training (he was a colt that clearly didn’t need the ball baggage) that periodically refused to be caught. It was actually a funny scene to watch. He had been schooled at liberty in a 60-foot diameter roundpen. He’d run from his catcher, get sent away and would circle around the human relegated to retrieve him the exact perimeter distance of the roundpen, no matter the size of the pasture – always at a cadenced jog. This became part of the training routine – he’d see the human and start his circle. After about ten minutes, he’d approach and follow the handler into the barn. You didn’t even need a lead rope for him to follow.

Loose horse? Grab another steed to lure them home

Invariably, if you have enough horses you’re moving around, considerable land to traverse and that clever mare who’s figured out how to open every gate, stall door and latch you’ve installed to flummox her – to no avail – you’ll find yourself dealing with the challenge of escaped equines. Grain works sometimes to lure them, but generally grabbing a horse that others will follow is a quicker, easier and more effective solution.

Usually, it doesn’t matter if you’re on their backs or have them on a lead, but we did experience one situation where saddled proved necessary. We had two recently weaned foals break out of their paddock at dusk then headed for the back 100-plus acres at a breakneck pace. The challenge of getting them home proved akin to herding cats. We discovered our lead pony mare would have been a great cow horse as she jumped in to help with moves that would have been the envy of anyone witnessing a team penning competition. It was dark before we got them home, but once this gal realized the job requested, no riding cues were necessary for her to crouch, bounce, block and herd these two rollicking brats determined to head for the hills. Cool horse – this was all done with a halter and lead rope on one side of her neck because we were in too much of a hurry to tack.

Communicate with your horse with his concerns in mind

If you have an older horse that doesn’t want to come to you when you go to the paddock or pasture, think about what you may be doing during training or handling that makes him resent it. Try to add some fun activities for the horse in all your encounters, whether you’re riding him or not. Most horses relish training that is responsive and engaging. Maybe he’s ill. Is he hurting and turning sour? It’s not always appropriate (in fact, rarely so) to blame the horse. Think about what you can do to make training happy time.

Show you appreciate him coming to you. Sometimes this can be simply vibes (horses are more perceptive than most give them credit for), but can include a scratch on his favorite spot, a few moments of lush grass grazing or time doing what you’ve discovered he enjoys.

Think about why your horse may not run to you when he sees you. If he’s avoiding you, there’s probably a good reason – in his mind, anyway. You’ll enjoy your horse a lot more if he’s happy when you’re together. Figure out what he likes and you’ll likely have him chasing you to spend time together.