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horse health

Horse boarding facilities – calculating the costs

Horse owners who are struggling in this tough economy seem to be asking the question “why not start my own boarding facility and make gobs of money.” Few who have always relied on others for the care and feeding of their horses realize the costs involved in keeping them healthy, safe and sheltered. The fact is, most facilities profit from add-on services and operate with razor-thin margins on board. Most who offer ‘cheap board’ either haven’t tabulated their real costs, or aren’t taking good care of the facility and/or horses.

Mom and baby are cute, but they cost money to house
Mom and baby are cute, but they cost money to house

Horse breeds effect costs

Of course, certain breeds cost less to feed than others (we deal primarily with Thoroughbreds (TBs) and TB crosses at Halcyon Acres, with higher feed costs, but no sugar or obesity issues, so we can use pastures for nourishment too without the health concerns other breeds face). Horses in training cost about $160/horse/month for hay/grain sustenance and bedding. There’s more to housing horses for others, though, than factoring what you dump in the stall.

There’s more than feed and bedding

Most who haven’t housed horses figure feed and bedding as the only costs. Some enlightened even calculate time into the mix. Maybe you can get by with this if he’s in your backyard and you don’t care about what the place looks like, but the expenses for a boarding facility are generally considerably higher.

Staff costs can be huge, and few consider this as a cost associated with their horse care. If the owner is doing all work themselves, they’re taking time away from other activities that could be earning them (more) money.

Electric tends to be another big ticket item if you have boarders coming into the barn to pet their horse or ride (we had one boarder who doubled our electric bill with just two horses at the barn by leaving lights on and periodically forgetting to turn off the water hydrant – flooding the barn was costly too).

Add driveway and parking lot care, manure storage and removal, stall repairs, fencing and general building and property maintenance to costs that escalate with every horse you add to the mix.

Have you tallied insurance and financing costs?

GallopDownHillWhat few consider is liability insurance and mortgage fees for financing the place. These are usually very high ticket items that need to be amortized across the number of horses the facility holds if true expenses are to be considered. You say they’re building equity in the property so interest on the property loan should not be factored in – not in today’s economy. Liability insurance is a must have for anyone who has horses on their property (even if they’re in your own backyard) and the cost of this increases exponentially if it needs to include others riding on the property.

Turn-out board

Even with turnout board arrangements, unless you have massive acreage, the only way to keep pastures and horses healthy is with rotational grazing. Moving the herd can take a lot of time. Pastures need to be mowed after the horses are moved off and given time to rejuvenate. The labor, gas and equipment costs for this can be considerable, depending on the size of the property (and your mower) and the lay of land. Pastures need to be periodically reseeded if they are to remain useful. Run-in sheds aren’t cheap (weather purchased or built) and these need to be available in all areas where horses are left outside. They also need to be cleaned at least daily and maintained (time and materials). Give a horse something they can sink their teeth into and they’ll find a reason to chew.

No matter how docile and sedate your horse may be, fence repairs are an ongoing chore and expense.

Here, we need to buy water on a daily basis. That means added costs for the truck, trailer, tank, gas, time and money necessary for the water purchase.

Equipment and traffic costs

Farm equipment (truck, tractor, brush hog, manure spreader, etc.) costs money to buy and maintain. With each horse you add, the wear, tear and operating expenses increase.

If you have boarders cleaning their own stalls, expect broken pitch forks, brooms, rakes, wheelbarrows, lead ropes, buckets and snaps as well as stock farm items being used and not replaced.

Paint, lumber, hardware and other costs associated with keeping the property maintained are constant costs few consider as expenses in keeping up the farm for boarders. The more boarders you have, the more you will need to invest in these items.

Of course, you need to equip the barn with medical and doctoring supplies (you don’t want to face an emergency and have the horse wait until the vet arrives or you get back from your trip to the store), which aren’t free – nor generally replaced by boarders who need them.

Here, the cost of boarding horses (this only applies to client horses in for training, so we collect other fees to make it work) is break-even, at best. We’ll be experimenting with turnout board in the coming months (for horses on layup, retired or for other reasons there would be no rider in the mix). It’s still not clear if the additional pasture drain and run-in shed costs will make this a profitable activity, but it’s worth a test.

Expect expensive surprises

Sometimes you don’t see the added costs until after a horse arrives. We’re keeping a horse here for a friend who is facing some health challenges. After she was put on the truck (from the Left Coast) we were informed she had an allergy to alfalfa. Our standard hay is an alfalfa mix. So, we had to procure hay quickly (at a high cost) for her particular needs as she traveled cross-country. Her special hay is not something our usual providers can supply, so we’re constantly spending time and extra money putting custom roughage in the barn for this mare. The initial plan (and at-cost calculation) was a turn-out board situation with the farm herd. She’s on supplements (something we also discovered while the horse was in-transit), so she needs to be brought into the barn twice a day (or reside for half a day) to be fed. We opted to include her in the crew that is housed in the barn and turned out during the day (or night when bugs and heat are an issue). Add bedding, more labor and stall repairs. We tried turning her out with a couple of different mares (one at a time) and she beat the crap out of them (resulting in vet bills for our mares – she was fine). Now, we need to allocate a pasture for a single horse – creating challenges in our rotational grazing plan. Board is late every month, so we’re paying interest on borrowed money to cover the cost of buying hay and blacksmith services if we don’t have reserves to finance the extra unanticipated outflows. Lesson learned – ask all the questions early and plan for the unexpected.

A horse at home is not the same as a boarding facility

There’s a big difference between putting a little barn at your house and running some fence line and shouldering the costs of a boarding facility. Even if you just add a couple of horses and leave the responsibility of their care to the owners, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your costs escalate. Plus, unless you hire help, your schedule will no longer be your own as it will revolve around horse care, feeding, doctoring, etc.. It’s great fun to have a horse around the house, but a lot of work and probably not as inexpensive as you envision. If you can bring your horse home – go for it! The time and money you save commuting to a boarding facility along with the opportunity to go hang with your horse 24/7 is worth it. If you think you’re going to make a million collecting boarding fees, you might want try the lottery for better odds.

If you’ve figured out a way to make a mint boarding horses, please do tell in the comments below. Are you a boarder who has witnessed great ideas that make your experience better and more cost effective? Share what you’ve experienced with others so we can all learn from your knowledge, if you would. Have something to add that has been forgotten in the list above? All will likely welcome your wisdom. Help build this community and others will undoubtedly chime in to help you learn and grow.

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.

What makes a horse too old?

Age in horses is so relative. Many horses continue to work well into their 30s while others are deemed ancient for their initial career at six. Some breeds are best started at a much older age, while some industries are backing horses as yearlings. Of course, much depends on the horse, but the perspective of the humans involved plays a major role.

Keep your horse young with a new career

Just because a horse may be past his prime in one career doesn’t mean he’s ready to be literally turned out to pasture. Few horses seem to enjoy being returned to a wild-type state of unfettered grazing and a dearth of human contact. The current popularity of the ‘forever-home’ concept may do the horse, and the human, a disservice. Sometimes offering a horse a different home with a new career can be the kindest thing to do.

Horses tend to age more quickly when they are idle and bored. They pick up bad habits, are more prone to illness and lose tone.

Equines that relish training and/or are given the opportunity to transition to new and exciting careers seem to stay in their prime for more years than expected.

Help your horse’s head

Like humans, horses seem to thrive on a mix of physical and mental stimulation. Rarely, with domesticated horses, does a natural herd environment alone provide the bliss so many imagine. Instead, those culled out from the herd for training activities that are presented in a fun manner with the horse’s opinions considered in the activity mix appear to be the happiest and healthiest. Training doesn’t always have to involve riding, but the engagement and attention that comes with lessons offers a purpose for the horse that they seem to need. You can play with nursing foals as well as old cripples in ways that help improve their quality of life and yours without stressing feeble bodies.

Talk to your horse about campaigns

The next time you rally behind a cause that advocates forever homes or offers a pastoral return to their wild roots, consider the horse.  If they spoke human, most would say they’d rather have a job. Listen to more subtle cues, though, and you’ll hear their desires.

It seems like so much of the current ‘humanitarian’ effort applied to horses in an effort to ‘protect’ them forgets that we’ve been domesticating horses for millenniums and in so doing, have changed their nature.  If you’ve ever experienced that miraculous moment with a horse when they’re even more excited about excelling at the human-horse partnership challenge than you are, you’ll get this.

Are you making your horse feel old?

So, what makes a horse too old? Usually, it’s what we do to them. Of course, there are genetic and injury issues that can end an active life too early, but more often it comes down to what we do to help our equines live a fulfilling and interesting life. For most horses, that means having a job they can get excited about. Welfare is a wonderful concept – too bad the term has come to mean provider for so many. You might be amazed at how special a horse can become when empowered to give back in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling for both of you (or a new owner who can offer a job). Given the chance, most horses will gladly earn their keep with jobs you request. Those left to languish in freedom get old fast.

Do you have a horse that lit up when you discovered his desired job? Did you make the hard decision to re-home a horse you loved so he could have a more fulfilling life elsewhere? Are you struggling with a horse you just don’t know how to engage? Please share with comments below this blog post. 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 (http://www.woodtex.com) 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 Care – Fifteen Quick Tips for spring

In most parts of the United States, we’re now enjoying warmer temperatures and budding plants. This is also a good time to take stock of your equine needs and issues. Consider how you might ensure a more successful season by attending to the following:

  1. This is the best time to do fecals to check for parasites. This is the time large numbers of eggs are shed and the best season to get a good read on which horses may need worming, particularly in the Northeast. Most contemporary thought leaders are now recommending horse owners move away from standardized and regular worming protocols in preference to individual treatment of only those horses identified as infested.
  2. Check vaccination records and ensure all are up-to-date. Four-way (or five-way) are the typical standard, but most are now also including West Nile Virus and, in any part of the country where it is a concern, rabies.
  3. If you’re going to be competing or travelling with your horse, get a Coggins test now so you have it when you need it.
  4. If you’re expecting foals that haven’t dropped yet, check to make sure your foal kit is complete and easily accessible.
  5. Examine pastures to check for broken boards, downed wire, holes from critters, nails exposed in run-in sheds, dangerous trash that may have blown in during winter or any other hazard your horse is likely to be sucked into if he can find it first.
  6. If turnout is a staple, now’s the time to plan a good rotational grazing program and ensure you have the forage to accommodate the numbers.
  7. Craft a plan for fly and other flying biters early to get a head-start on the pests. If a Fly Predator (Spalding) solution is your choice, it’s usually two to three years before you’re free of the buggers, but it’s a good idea to start thinking about breeding grounds to treat now (moist areas – think watering areas, manure build up locations, under the spreader, etc.
  8. Develop a plan (manual, tractor, vacuum) to break up or eliminate manure piles early and often along with a good pasture management plan to keep the herd healthy. This will reduce the likelihood of parasite re-infestation while reducing the breeding ground for annoying bugs.
  9. Be vigilant about checking, caring for and treating your horse’s feet. Wet ground and emerging rocks can create long-lasting problems if you fail to catch an issue early. Look for stone bruises (iodine is a great way to help toughen the feet and help prevent a stone bruise from becoming an abscess if caught early) and treat them quickly. Make sure the frog is healthy. Protect thin soles as you start a training or conditioning program to avoid lameness problems that tend to come at the worst time.
  10. Check the teeth. Have a skilled professional (contrary to some legislative decisions, some teeth specific professionals can provide a better read and treatment than an area vet who would prefer not to do teeth) look into each horse’s mouth to check for problems. You may find many need no treatment, but those that do will thank you. Don’t cut the budget here if money is tight – you’ll pay exponentially with the extra feed bill for lost and/or poorly digested grain/hay and could send your horse into a state he remembers for many years to come if mouth pain from bad teeth conditions becomes a memory of riding experiences.
  11. Check your tack and any other horse equipment. Make sure it’s safe, solid and fits the horse properly. Clean it too.
  12. Clean sheaths.
  13. Go over each horse to check for heat, swelling, weight loss, abrasions or any other change in appearance or heath to ensure you start the riding season right with a horse ready for the demands. With shedding coats, a keen eye may find issues that weren’t easily apparent under fuzzy coats. Discover and address them early and it may save you heartache later in the season.
  14. Careful with lush spring grass. If your horse isn’t used to it (or has health issues that make it dangerous to have access), you could wind up crying over founder or colic. Starting at and increasing a horse to a half-hour more each a day is a good rule of thumb for the normal horse who isn’t dealing with sugar, obesity or other issues.
  15. Start conditioning training easy. Better to go slow and short to ensure a happy, sound, healthy and engaged horse for the rest of the year.

Twelve quick tips for safer horse boarding

If you’re used to taking care of your own horse, it can be a challenge to place his care in the hands of another. Leaving a horse at a remote facility can be even tougher. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.

Others view boarding as a standard feature of horse ownership and assume the owners of the property or the help they’ve hired have the best interest of the horse in mind. It’s best not to assume in such matters.

Whether you are shipping a horse for breeding or training out-of-state; are considering a permanent boarding arrangement at a stable; need to house you horse elsewhere while you travel; are considering a leasing arrangement where the horse will be moved; or have other reasons that the care of your horse will fall to others for a period of time, it’s smart to do some due diligence prior to loading your horse on a trailer. Here are some ideas and issues to consider:

  1. If at all possible, visit the facility. Don’t just go on the word of a trusted source – they may not be focused on issues that are important to you. Watch what goes on at feeding time (and what’s being fed), turnout routines and scheduled events. Inspect the facilities where the horses are stabled and/or turned out. Are they clean and dry? Safe? Appropriate for your horse’s needs?
  2. Talk to others about their experience with the facility. Ask about health and weight issues, behavior changes, facility maintenance, restrictive policies and/or liberal ones that may reduce the pleasure for you or your horse.
  3. Discuss feeding issues. Does the facility provide ample good quality hay? Do they feed on a regular schedule? Is water available at all times for the horses (don’t just ask – confirm it by looking around)? Are they willing to offer customized feed, supplement or turnout approaches for a horse that may have special needs?
  4. Ask about vaccination, worming and other preventative policies. Stables that do not require routine basic health care for equine residents may introduce your horse to unnecessary issues.
  5. Look at the condition of the horses that are there. Are they skinny? Fat? Long-haired and dull-coated? Cribbing, weaving, stall-walking, digging, hyper, hostile, afraid or anxious? These are warning signs.
  6. Watch the owner and/or staff interacts with the horses and the people in the barn. You’ll get a good sense about rapport and attitude by being a quiet observer.
  7. Read the contract and/or ask about farm policies. If it’s a riding stable – do they have rules about safety equipment, times of access, courteous behavior, outside vendors (including trainers, farriers, vets, etc.)? For breeding and/or boarding only facilities, will they respond to your calls and e-mails and provide updates on your horse’s status and/or health, keep you apprised of medical issues that may arise with your horse, get your permission/input prior to incurring considerable vet expenses on your behalf, offer direct access to their vendors and provide cost estimates up-front? If you don’t ask the questions, the surprises you get are rarely happy ones.
  8. Find out who is going to be responsible for the care of your particular horse and ask if you can talk to them. This will give you a good sense of the knowledge and nature of the caregiver.
  9. If possible, talk to people who have left the facility and find out why they moved.
  10. Google the facility. See how they present themselves, and what others may be saying. If you have the name of the stable owner, even better – you can get a good read on their character by digging into how they choose to behave on the social media front lines. Take it all with a grain of salt, but you may uncover some unexpected insight on what you’re in for.
  11. If the stabling arrangement involves turn-out board (whether this is a breeding operation or a home for a horse that is not being trained for whatever reason), inspect the run-in sheds (or other shelter provided – this is a must) to ensure they are clean, dry and adequate (a single 10 X 12 shed won’t work for three or a dozen horses – one will likely demand occupancy rights and banish the rest). Ask about how often the horses are inspected, fed, watered, handled, etc. Look at the size of the pasture and the number of horses housed there (3-acres per horse is a good rule of thumb if grass feed is a staple – but this requires a smart rotational grazing program that includes mowing,  time, warmth and water for the fields to rejuvenate). Is the pasture all weeds and scrub or seeded with nutritional forage? Is hay/grain provided as a supplement? How much? Are horses fed separately or must they compete for their rations? Is care taken as new horses are introduced to the herd? Does a vet get called if there is an issue or is it ignored and allowed to fester? Will you be contacted immediately with health concerns or issues?
  12. Once you’ve decided on a board situation for your riding horse (or other equine that is your pet), try to visit the stable daily. Even if you just stop in for ten minutes to give your horse a pet and ensure he’s OK, this can go a long way to ensuring he’s happy, healthy and treated fairly. Your horse depends on you to be a companion and protector.

Ten issues to consider for new horse tenants

If you haven’t had a lot of experience with horses moving into your stable, or even if you have, there are some simple things you can do to ease the transition for the new arrival as well as you and your existing herd.

  1. If possible, find out the grain type and amount being fed at the prior barn. It’s best to slowly introduce a horse to new feeds, so if you can buy some of the former feed and transition over to your choice, this will help reduce the risk of colic. If you do not know what the horse was eating, it’s better to start with low amounts and increase over time rather than risk foundering a horse that is not used to a lot of grain.
  2. See if a few bales of hay can be sent with the horse. This way you can introduce him to your hay over time.
  3. Figure out turnout arrangements prior to the horse’s arrival. Usually it’s best, if you’re going to be turning the horse out with others, to pick one horse to test their behavior and temperament that will be firm but fair if they get aggressive.  If possible, introduce a new horse to a herd adding one horse at a time.
  4. Horses that are not accustomed to grass need to be introduced to it slowly. If you will be eventually turning a horse new to your facility out on acreage where good quality and ample grass is readily available, start with ½ hour of grazing and increase daily by ½ – ¾ of an hour each day until you reach six hours.
  5. Have an area on your property where you can isolate new arrivals for about two weeks to ensure they are not carrying illness into the barn that can be spread to others. At least one horse should be in this area with them so as not to add stress to their move, but it’s best to keep them away from the rest of the horses in the barn when possible.
  6. Get vet records on the horse to determine when he was vaccinated and any other issues that have been a factor that you should be aware of.
  7. Determine when the horse was wormed, when his teeth were last checked and when his feet were trimmed/shod.
  8. Be clear about what fees will be covered by the owner and when payment is expected. It’s best to have a written contract, but this isn’t always feasible.
  9. Discuss barn rules prior to arrival if the owner will be coming to care for or ride the horse. Also, have safety policies in place that are enforced to ensure riders, horses and property are protected.  Equine liability insurance is advisable in any situation where you will be allowing others to handle horses on your property.
  10. Keep a close eye on the new horse initially to determine his normal behavior and be able to recognize quickly if something is wrong.

Bringing a new horse into the barn can be an exciting time, especially for the small operation that doesn’t see a lot of traffic. It can also be a nightmare. If you have a good plan in place to address potential challenges before they occur, though, life should be easier for all involved.

Seven Tips for horse health in winter weather

Wednesday Quick Tips

  1. Never leave a horse without water in the cold months (or any other time, for that matter). Colic is very prevalent during the winter and this can often be traced to poor access and/or subsequent gulping of water when finally provided. Make sure ice has not blocked access and all horses have ample water always in stalls and/or pastures.
  2. Provide shelter. While this can be more important in the summer (bugs and baking sun), it’s critical you provide the option to get out of pelting snow and ice, driving winds and harsh elements. Run-in sheds are OK for most (although it’s best to bring horses into a barn when the weather is severe), but you must make sure all herd members have access (with multiple shelters of adequate size where a number of horses share space). Watch the herd as it’s not uncommon for a single horse to deny access to the rest of the residents.
  3. Watch the ice. Horses are usually pretty careful and aware of footing conditions in areas they are familiar with, but don’t expect your equine to stay on his feet as you lead him over frozen water or to be smart about staying sedate if you turn him loose in a glazed-over paddock when he’s fresh. Broken legs usually mean death for a horse.
  4. Monitor weight. Horses can drop pounds very quickly as the temperatures plummet. Winter coats can hide ribs as they begin to show. Keep an eye on the horse’s topline, hips and use your hands to feel what’s going on under that thick coat. Adjust feed immediately as you start to see weight loss. Winter’s a tough time to put weight on a horse so you don’t want to be managing the issues that come with a thin horse during these challenging months.
  5. Help your horse prepare for the elements. If you’re going to be turning your horse out during the winter months, be kind and let him grow a coat (and don’t clip the poor thing). Blankets (and clipping) may save you grooming time, but interfere with a horse’s natural protection mechanism (hair growth), hurts the horse when wet and can get tangled around legs, necks and other body parts. Older horses and those who do not grow a good winter coat may need some extra protection (and make sure it’s a waterproof blanket with good leg straps to hold it in place that you take off regularly to ensure no rubs, leaks, sores, etc.), but most will do better if you allow their natural coat to protect them.
  6. Careful with shoes. If you’re planning on your horse being outside during the winter, whether for riding or turn-out, most shoes are a bad idea. Snow balls up in the hoof effectively putting the horse on stilts, the metal impedes natural traction and most shoes add risk to your’s and your horse’s safety.
  7. Increase hay portions and regularity. Horses are designed to be eating about sixteen hours a day. This roughage is especially important in the winter months. Sometimes increasing grain will actually cause a horse to lose weight (depending on what you are feeding and your horse). Instead, seek out a decent quality first cutting timothy hay or orchard grass that you can feed your horse all day long (assuming you don’t have an obese horse). This will help keep him healthier and happier during the tough winter months.

Horse blogs worth a look

Looking for equine travel vacations?

Check out http://writinghorseback.com/

This gal can write. Nancy D. Brown draws her content mostly from personal experience (and an international array of destinations) with no qualms about recounting great memories along with where her trip fell short of expectations. She’s a professional travel writer, and it shows in this blog. The user-friendly and appealing design includes pictures, a good archive list and enough information for anyone considering a horseback riding travel destination to get pointed in the right direction for what you seek.  It should also give the more spontaneous crowd some good ideas for a new adventure that may not have ever been otherwise considered. She even spices up content a bit with an occasional political feature concerning equine related destination decisions. This is a relatively new blog (started in July 2009, but not launched until September), but she’s provided a good dozen destination posts since then and is keeping it regularly updated.  If you’ve ever thought about including riding as part of your vacation plans, this is a worthwhile site to visit prior to making plans.

Probably more than you wanted to know about hoofs

http://hoofcare.blogspot.com/

This blog includes some technical information, but also easy to understand videos and some opinion pieces. Fran Jurga focuses mainly on hoof care and concerns, but also covers other issues related to horse physiology and other issues. There’s also a lot of interesting videos and other information here that you won’t likely see elsewhere. She updates the blog almost daily and offes a wide range of interesting and educational information for just about any level or discipline equestrian.  This is a fact-filled, interesting, fun and diverse blog that’s definitely worth checking out.

Quick Tips for pasture management

Life is about continuous learning. This year we decided to fence in twenty-six acres. We learned a lot about herd dynamics, best practices, time saving (and depleting) practices, the effects of changing the equine routine and the wishes of horses. Whether your methods involve 24/7stall confinement (a tough life for a horse), a combination of turn-out and stall care or full-time pasture life, you can make it easier on both you and your horse by being smarter about how you decide to make this so.

Ten tips for good turnout strategies

  1. Give your horses shelter. Surprisingly, this is more critical in the summer months with the bugs and the sun then in the cold, windy and snowy season, but it’s a necessary component for comfort and health year-round.  Run-in sheds can be purchased or built, but know that one horse will likely command the space, so ensure there is an overhang or L-shaped construction so that others can get some protection.
  2. Develop a rotation management plan. We had twelve horses on twenty-six acres this year (divided into three herds) and figured such small numbers would make it easy for the acreage to support the grazing demands. We were wrong. It’s important to restrict access and move the herds on a regular basis to ensure good pasture food and maintenance. It was amazing how much the quality of the pasture improved after we took the horses off a particular pasture, mowed the field, and gave it a month or so to regenerate.
  3. Provide an ample, clean water supply. We have water piped to some of the paddocks, but truck it into the rest (with a 325 gallop tank on a trailer that hitches to the back of the pickup). In our area, municipal water (3 miles down the road) is inexpensive and saves wear and tear on our pump and water purification system.  Horses can drink a lot and you never want them to be without water.
  4. Ensure you provide dry, clean and maintained pastures and shelters. Run-in sheds should be cleaned at least daily, preferably more frequently. If you can get one that is mobile, that’s even better as some herds will urinate in the sheds and this creates a very unhealthy condition for the feet. If you can’t move it, fill it with absorbent bedding that is cleaned at least daily. If areas of the paddock tend to get muddy (this will always be the case by the gate and in front of the shelter) see if you can restrict horses access to these areas and reseed.
  5. Stick to a routine. Horses are more comfortable, and stay healthier, if they can plan on a schedule. Try to feed, water, train, bring in and out of the barn, rotate herds, do any doctoring, etc. at the same times each day.
  6. Keep an eye on every horse in your care. Check the feet and eyes daily (small issues here can turn into major problems quickly). Give each horse the once over daily to ensure there are no open sores that may lead to infection, swollen areas, leg concerns or other medical issues that may need attention.
  7. Watch the weight and the manure of each horse. Forage quality can change quickly and you don’t want to be dealing with founder on a horse that has been allowed to get obese or fighting to put  pounds on a horse as winter sets in.
  8. Respect the herd dynamics hierarchy (and make sure you are seen as the leader when among the critters). If you want to move a herd, start with the alpha. Don’t get between horses that can get combative with one another. If you are supplementing with hay, make sure it is set up so that all horses are permitted to eat (multiple locations for placement or an adjustment to the herd groups usually works here).
  9. Set a schedule for the blacksmith, shots, worming, etc. and keep good records. Just because a horse is turned out, doesn’t mean he can go without basic care.
  10. Give your horses a job.  While it may seem idyllic and beautiful for a horses to be grazing freely day and night, most horses aren’t happy being ignored. Even older retired horses can help teach the babies a thing or two and the youngsters love to be challenged with training. Frankly, we were a bit surprised at how much the horses at the farm happily anticipated being put to work. Those in training were the first to come running to be brought into the barn.