March 5, 2011

Take The Time

It is so important to do the little things to keep your horse sound and mentally and physically fit no matter what his job is. Far too easy is it to get lost in the rushing and scheduling and riding that consumes us on a daily basis. But it's those tiny tasks, many that take only seconds, that collectively add up to a well-managed horse. This is what makes a horse(wo)man, not just a rider.

Take the time to palpate your horse's neck, back and haunches before and after a ride to look for tender spots. Just running your fingers down the big muscles with medium pressure can tell you a lot.

Take the time to run your hands down each leg so you know if that knot is new or old.

Take the time to lay a palm on each hoof as you pick them to check the temperature.

Take the time to wiggle each shoe to check for tightness when you lift his feet.

Take the time to really notice the colour, shape and texture of his frog and sole so you know if they change.

Take the time to run your fingers up the back of his pasterns to check for fungus like scratches.

Take the time to take him out on a hack to condition him on hills and uneven ground at the walk and trot, getting him fit the RIGHT way. Don't get trapped in the sandbox.

Take the time to watch him walk away from you as you turn him back out to watch for any stiffness or unevenness.

Take the time to give him a day or two off for a grooming spa or some quiet handgrazing so his body and mind can rest each week.

Take the time to dip his bit in a bucket of water after your ride so there are no sharp-edged crusties next time you tack up (and you don't have to scrub later!).

Take the time to lay out your girth and saddle pad after riding so it can dry and stay mildew and fungus free.

Take the time to glance into his feed bucket -- is he cleaning it up? Sorting out the supplements he doesn't like?

Take the time to watch him eat hay or grass. Is he chewing easily and evenly or does he just mash it and let it fall out of his mouth?

Take the time after you pull his saddle off to curry the matted, sweaty hair, letting air reach the skin and re-fluffing his coat.

Take the time to inspect his manure and watch him pee. Is everything normal coloured? Is the flow and consistency of all his waste the same every day?

I am sure there are others; the take-home message is that these seemingly miniscule things can catch a problem early, saving you potential headaches, vet bills, and missed competitions. They also help make your horse's job more pleasant so he doesn't resent what you ask him to do. Keeping his body and mind fit is 100% vital to keeping him going year after year, not to mention it goes a long way to keeping your maintenance costs down. Fight the urge to rush, be a horse(wo)man, and train yourself to a routine that incorporates getting to know your horse's body and habits so that when something does change (oh yes, we know it will), you will be the first to know. The faster you notice, the faster you can fix it and get Dobbin back on track, which only gives you both more time to enjoy the good stuff!


  1. Yes, I love this post! And don't forget "Know what your horse gets to eat, it's contents, how much, etcetera." There are so many people at the barn that call me or BO when the vet asks what a horse gets (he's acting colicky, etc.) because we fix the feed. Even before I started fixing feed on the weekends though, I could tell you right off the bat what my horse gets and what's in her food. It's something owners should keep in mind in case of emergencies, weight loss/gain, allergies, etc.

  2. Gosh yes, that's a great point, Dressager! As a boarder, I can easily see how a person could not know that if they are not a crazy OCD person who likes to know everything, like me, LOL!

  3. Thanks, y'all! Please feel free to add to the list as well!!!

  4. Great post! I think it is also important to know your horse's ATTITUDE...what is normal and what isn't. What are they usually like when you walk up to the stall? Turn them out? Groom them? Go for a ride when they've had a few days off?

    Good things to know. Sometimes it's a really easy way to tell if they're not feeling right or something is hurting.

  5. Wonderful post!

    I would also add to look in his eyes regularly and in different lighting. My horse has a corporal nigra cyst in is right eye and it took me months to notice it in just the right light. Since then we've had two scratched corneas which were also hard to see until he was in the right lighting.

    Considering ALL the noggin injuries he's had I think I should "take the time" to get him a helmet....

  6. Great post. I also think it's vitally important to take the time to just let your horse be a horse. I have a neighbor who treats her horses like machines. Sure, at first glance they seem well cared for. Her barn/arena is custom built and beautiful. Her horses are never muddy and have short, slick coats. They have expensive blankets. She buys expensive hay, grain and supplements. She pays two different trainers to work the horses twice a week each.

    But....her stallion has ulcers and is attitude is very sour. Her gelding can't keep weight on and can't stay sound.

    My mare on the other hand is kept at a barn where she gets to play all day in a big pasture with 7 other horses. And on days when it's too yucky out, her stall has a big run off it. True, my mare is shaggy, muddy and it takes forever to clean her up before a ride. But she's never been happier or more sound. She greets me each day with a loud whinny.

    My mare is super shiny, despite her impressive winter coat. Her mane and tail are ridiculously long and thick.

    The difference? My neighbor's horses are never allowed to *just be horses*. They get maybe an hour or two a day in small paddock. She only gives them a cursory brush down before saddling them. She rarely walks them out or brushes them after a hard ride. She pays her barn help to bathe them weekly, but can't figure out why their coats are so dry.

    She makes me shake my head in exasperation. True there are moments when I envy her clean, shiny horses. Especially when I arrive at my barn and can't distinguish my black mare from all the bays in the herd because she's covered every square inch of her with mud. But then I remember how unhappy my neighbor's horses are and sigh and grab the curry with a smile.

  7. DEFINITELY true, starrynights! A horse HAS to be allowed to be a horse, I don't care how expensive it is! Having just treated ulcers, no WAY am I going to create any conditions that will make me pay for a resurfacing!!

    I like the eye tip, SP, that's one I hadn't ever thought of before. Considering how much horses rely on their vision, that's a big one!

    And a yes on attitude too, mm. A sweet horse gone crabby can definitely indicate ulcers or other pain. Especially if you have a mare who might have cysts on her ovaries or other painful conditions.

  8. Insightful and excellent!

    Caring observation can go a long way. And once horses know that you are listening, they will try to tell you what they need.

  9. Agreed, Val. More than once Solo has screamed at me.

  10. Yes, a quick shout out to the endurance world. We are world class pee watchers.

    Great post.

  11. Hey, lh, you were the one who trained my OCD eyes to look at pee. Now people probably just think I am staring at their horses' wangs.

  12. Wow, excellent post! I do many of those things, but not all, and you have provided some great suggestions. (I'm not riding my own horse but his mom is fairly open to comments if I notice something) I will definitely do the "muscle test" after riding, and never thought to feel for heat in his feet. Thanks much!
    @Starrynights: I could not agree more. Right behind my house is a barn with a lot of dressage horses. "Turnout" for most of them, if you want to call it that, is an hour spent in a 12' x 15' dirt enclosure. A few lucky individuals get some time in one of two 1/4 pastures. Whoo-hoo. One time, a lady was hand-grazing her horse on a patch of grass near our property line. My dog barked at the horse and he was startled. I hollered an apology, and she called back, "It's okay, he doesn't get out much." No, REALLY?? >:-/ I feel pretty bad for those horses.