Horse-related Spring To-Do’s

Regular deliveries of fly predators will help fly control immensely

In some parts of our horsey world, spring has sprung. Trail riding season is coming and it pays to formulate a spring To Do list and tackle it before the season is upon us. Here are some preliminary suggestions:

  • Consider flies before they show up.

I’ve been using Spalding Labs’ predator flies for the past several years. Their strategy is simple: introduce tiny flies that prey on what us horses and humans consider pesky and irritating flies. It has been incredibly effective; I bought just one bottle of fly repellant last year and didn’t even use all of it.

But here’s the thing: you’ve got to plan ahead. Order now and you will receive your first shipment in May (or earlier, depending on where you live). The proof is in the flies. These little guys will make your summer days exponentially more enjoyable.

Before you load up your equine partner for a fun outing, make sure the carrier of your precious cargo is safe. Ignoring routine maintenance has been known to end tragically. Don’t think that you can just pull it out, hook it up, and take off on your merry way. Read more here.

For years, Bobby Fantarella, owner of Elm City Trailers, has provided us with not just trailers but excellent trailer safety tips. Check them out here.

  • Check and reboot your first aid kit.

Many first aid kit ingredients can go bad over time, especially if they have been frozen or subjected to a wide range of ambient temperatures. You can make up your own or order them.

Here is our check list for what to have for your horses.

Check out Adventure Medical for some excellent human and Me and My Dog kits.

  • Consider Wellness Plans

Invest now, benefit throughout the year. Third Coast Equine has Wellness Plans that can help with planning and optimizing your wallet and your horses’ health.

Snubs and hobbles can help a nervous horse

Scatterbrained horsemanship like mine has a way of leaving holes in training.

That’s ok, I tell myself. Exposed holes get filled and the return to fundamentals makes for an improved horse, an improved rider, and, most importantly, an improved relationship. Read about filling Holes in Training.

Over our 18-month history, Jolene has gotten away from me dozens of times. She has this history of spooking and bolting on the ground (Oddly, she doesn’t have as many issues when I’m on board.)

Jolene, a nervous gal, doing what she liked to do in the early days.

Jolene, a nervous gal, doing what she liked to do in the early days.

A friend reaches out to pat her.


I sneeze.


Sudden burst of wind.


Recently, I introduced some exercises to encourage Jolene to have more tenacity or “staying power.”

The power of a snub

maTo snub is to check the movement of a horse by wrapping the lead line around a post or a tree. A nervous horse who pulls back when its line is around a post will still be able to move, but she won’t get away. It’s a preferable alternative to tying a horse fast and hard or having the horse get loose.

For some time, I had treated Jolene like the sensitive mule she is. I’d move slowly and introduce new objects, new spaces with delicacy. It was time to move on, or as my friend, Kim Stone, related years ago: “If you treat a horse like a glass doll, it will break!”

Now, I had a new plan. After bringing her from the pasture, I find a decent space with a tree and move her with vigor and nnanimation. At first, she tries to bolt, especially when I’m in her right eye. Each time, I act nutty until she pauses. At that moment, I stop.

I switch sides and repeat. Jolene is learning that she can move her feet without leaving me and that I won’t restrict her.

After she’s relaxed with this snubbing exercise, I transition to moving her animatedly without the tree to help me. (see photo at right) She’s finding staying power in a sensible manner.

Another strategy – hobbles

Hobbles are a great way to prepare your horse for any scary situation of leg hobbrestriction – caught in wire, tangled in rope, bound by ground vines, etc. As clinician Craig Cameron explains in this video, “if they’re not hobble-trained, they will panic and get hurt.”

Rick Gore has a great page dedicated to hobbles and hobble training. Click here.

I introduced Jolene gently, with soft, cotton hobbles (not leather or nylon).

Maybe it was too gentle. With her narrow stance and these lengthy hobbles (see right), she was able to step almost normally. Nonetheless, she learned there was no need to panic with something restrictive around her legs. When I approached her with hands up, she moved her haunches over once, then stood still.


Read Amy Skinner’s checklist for first rides.

Read about progress in strange places.

Read about filling Holes in Training.


Groundwork helps fill in holes

Using a rope to stay safe while getting a horse comfortable with hoof lifting

Using a rope to stay safe while getting a horse comfortable with hoof lifting

Recently, I went back to basics with Jolene, the mule. We have a history of holes in our training and I figured it’d be helpful for both of us to review some basic understandings.

Here are two things we worked on over the course of an hour in Raechel’s round pen. Read about the DIY Round Pen here.


  1. Picking up feet.c

I’ve been a bit antsy about picking up Jolene’s hind feet. A few times, she’s felt uneasy, too, and has kicked out. To play it safe, I first had her step into a loop made with a rope. I pulled it snug and asked her to raise her hoof. When she held it there without a fuss, I released immediately, letting her take it back and set it down.

dWe repeated that action several times on both sides.

Gradually, I shortened the rope length. When she was relaxed and comfortable with the action, I simply grabbed her hoof with my hand instead of the rope. Again, when she held it for me without struggle, I let her set her hoof back down. It’s important for me to move slowly when letting go, being careful not to drop the hoof with my release.


Feeling funny pressure. Moving towards the pressure, but away from the rider.

Feeling funny pressure. Moving towards the pressure, but away from the rider.

  1. Feeling funny pressure

Elijah Moore and Chris Lombard showed me this exercise years ago. It involves running a line around the far side of the haunches (alternatively, some folks run it around the horn or cantle of the saddle) and asking the horse to follow 2the pressure. Some horses can worry a bit since the pressure isn’t coming directly from the person. They have to think, not panic. And handlers need to use a gentle, steady pull.3

It’s a wonderful exercise for helping horses understand the feel of pressure and release, as well as allowing a horse think through a process.



To Wear or Not to Wear, that’s the Helmet Question

Culture and vanity vie against common sense and science in plenty of our personal decisions. Take tanning:

This year, the World Health Organization added tanning booths to the list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation. People get skin cancer and die from frequenting tanning booths and eschewing sunscreen. But there are lots of tans folks out there. Society chooses tan over pale nearly every time.

Likewise, evidence overwhelmingly supports wearing a helmet to protect oneself from head injury while horse riding.

emergencyHere are nuggets from several research projects aimed at riding and hurting your head:

  • Head injuries make up 23 percent of riding injuries resulting in Emergency Room visits. Read more.
  • You’re four times more likely to die while riding if you don’t have a helmet. Read more.
  • Most injuries happen in younger and less experienced riders; many occur when working with a young horse. Read more.
  • Most traumatic brain injuries result from falling or being tossed off a horse, but some happen while on the ground (like being kicked in the head).

Helmet wearing seems to be a no brainer.

Yet millions choose not to wear one and suffer no ill consequence during a lifetime of riding. Insurers increasingly mandate helmets at events and facilities. For the rest of us, the freedom, risk, and choice is personal.

And like many personal choices, folks can get downright emotional about it.


Emily Thomas Luciano with helmet

The usually sensible Rick Gore has a long YouTube tirade against wearing helmets: he says they give riders a false sense of security, empower riders to take greater, ill-advised risks and that only helmet companies are advocating for helmet use. It’s silly stuff, but serves to illustrate how polarized the argument for and against helmets has become.

NickerNews and BestHorsePractices are more concerned with providing perspective and less concerned with taking a position. But here’s a middle of the road stance from our Marketing Director, Emily Thomas Luciano. She writes from her home in Florida:

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably should wear a helmet every time I saddle up, but frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to. Maybe I’m having a good hair day or maybe it’s hot. Whatever the reason, I’m not always the poster child for safety.

I do, however, have a few hard-and-fast times when I’m a stickler for wearing one:

  • If I’m putting the first handful of rides on a horse.
  • If I’m hitting the trail alone.
  • Emily Thomas Luciano without helmet

    Emily Thomas Luciano without helmet

    I take the horse into consideration as well: my mustang gelding who can be a bit unpredictable, so I always wear a helmet when riding him. On the other hand, I leave it off when riding my quarter horse mare that I’ve owned for all of her 15 years.

  • Lastly, I try to be a little smarter about helmet usage when my husband is deployed. With family 12 hours away by car, I couldn’t manage a head injury with him gone.

But really, is a head injury something that any of us can afford to manage?

The risk and choice is yours.

Read Anatomy of a Wreck.

Peters on weighty matters

20130201_jbl_WFC_1955Dr. Steve Peters, the neuropsychologist whose collaboration with horseman Martin Black produced Evidence-Based Horsemanship, joined the call for better horsemanship through better personal health with his recent Personal Statement, posted on the Evidence-Based Horsemanship facebook page.

It echoed recent BestHorsePractices posts, which explained research and implored riders to be mindful of the impact their weight and fitness have on their horses. Read research on Rider Weight. Read related blog post.

Reprinted with permission, Peters writes:

Everyday I counsel patients on what we refer to as “Chronic Metabolic Diseases”. The medical field is concerned with the epidemic of obesity and the diseases linked to it such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. I don’t counsel and educate these patients to be demeaning or find fault, but to help them manage their risk factors so that I don’t have to see them in the hospital with a stroke at relatively young age of 50.

This message is one of the few that can actually be life-saving and benefit your horse’s health and well being.

I think many of us fear not being politically correct or do not want to hurt someone’s feelings when we note that they are too large for their horses.

fat3-300x184 To know if you are the right weight use the 20 percent rule which includes you and your saddle’s weight in the formula. This weight combined should not exceed 20 percent of your horse’s ideal weight. This does not mean that simply fattening up your horse helps..It makes it worse. We are talking about the horse at its ideal weight. For example, if I weigh 150 pounds and I have a 50-pound saddle, the combined weight is 200 pounds.Therefore, I should not be riding horses under 1,000 pounds. The wear and tear on their joints and back have been shown to be excessive when we exceed this limit.

I am hoping that more people will begin to consider riding draft crosses. We own a Belgian cross who has become quite agile here in Utah’s mountains and fun for our bigger friends and family to ride.

I would like to challenge you to make some lifestyle changes if necessary to maintain the 20% rule because I want you enjoy your horse into your golden years and to have many happy horse-related days with kids and grandkids.

I wish you healthy days ahead and the best care you can provide your horse.


Dr. Steve Peters


Welcome Elm City Trailer!

We welcome Bobby Fantarella and his company, Elm City Trailer to the NickerNews and BestHorsePractices family!

elm city trailerFor years, Bobby was that friendly, knowledgeable guy I’d visit with at the Equine Affaire. I still have my awesome trailer (a four-horse, gooseneck by Featherlite) purchased from Bobby a few years back. It’s a trailer that has safely hauled my horses from Maine to Utah and many points in between with next-to-no fuss. Plus, the horses love it.

In addition, Bobby has contributed to the NickerNews library with valuable tips on how to maintain your trailer year after year. Read essential tips here.

I asked Bobby how we can get to know him and Elm City Trailer a bit better:

What’s your connection with horses? 

As a kid I worked on a farm and used horses to pick corn, so I’ve been around them for a LONG time! My daughter has been a barrel racer for about 15 years, so between the two of us, we have always had two to three horses on our property.

28386_10150192723010650_4740621_nHow does what you know help your customers?

Well, being around trailers my entire life, as well as horses, I’ve seen a lot of different customer needs. I like to speak with customers about exactly what they ‘do’. (Local hauling, long distance, horse size, tow vehicle, budget, etc.) Then I can match them with a trailer that fits their particular needs.

Thanks, Bobby.

Check out Elm City Trailer’s website or just give him a call (203) 535-0075.

Horse Skeleton offers nightmares, but no answers



For nights after discovering this skeleton, I had trouble sleeping. Couldn’t get the image out of my head. Instead, I extrapolated back to this horse’s final days – it died a pointless and likely painful, drawn-out death, getting tangled in branches by its blankets. Ridiculously, it had on two.

Pep and I found it while bushwhacking in the Oquirrh foothills. Best guess says this poor horse died two winters ago. The carcass has been picked clean and decomposed enough for that time frame, but not longer. There is still hair on its face and other parts.

It was in a dense mass of scrub oak, downhill from ridge leading towards Butterfield Canyon, maybe two miles from the nearest home. After dismounting, I got entangled just getting close enough for photos. It was wearing the horse blankets and shoes on all fours.

scrWhy, oh, why didn’t his owners search harder?

What happened?

Coyotes and cold, perhaps. I’ll never know.

I do know this horse’s fate can serve as a heads-up for all of us horse owners and horse lovers. What would you do if your horse took off, got loose, or disappeared?

What steps can you take to prepare for such a scary scenario?

I look forward to your thoughts!


Fatal Virus is Here

While dry weather is making wildfires a constant concern for horse owners out west, the wet weather is increasing the threat of contracting Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile virus in New England.

This week, EEE was detected in York County (Maine) mosquitoes. It’s a nasty brain infection that’s usually fatal among unvaccinated horses.
Says Dr. Dave Jefferson of Maine Equine Associates:

“We are especially concerned about encephalitis this year.  We’ve had plenty of rain which means standing pools of water with rapid mosquito multiplication.”

In 2009, 15 Maine horses died of the virus. None were vaccinated.

Less often, it can affect humans. Last year, two Vermont men died of EEE.

Bottom line:

  • Get your horses vaccinated.
  • And for yourself: wear bug dope, long shirt sleeves and pants, avoid hanging out in wet areas, especially at dawn and dusk.

Read Burlington Free Press article.
Read Bangor Daily News article.

A Horse’s No Win Situation

That was the tough, take-away message from Dr. Rebecca Gimenez when asked about how to protect your horses in the event of a tornado.

  • Close them in barns and you run the risk of harming them when the barn collapses. You may also stress them severely in taking away their ability to move and use their flight instinct.
  • Leave them in the pasture, they may get hurt, too.

Those in tornado-prone states (Here in Iowa, we’ve had some tornado watches and warnings.) may be tempted to build fortified structures, she said, but these will cost a lot and compromise light and ventilation. (Think concrete bunkers, eh?)

Preventative measures are key:

  • Consider microchipping your horse.
  • Braid contact information into their mane and/or paint it on your horse.
  • Store or get rid of equipment or other things that may become airborne and harm your horse when it goes flying (Think lawnmowers or that old bed frame around back)
  • Take care of yourself, first and foremost. (If something happens to you, you won’t be there for your horses.)

Read more from Gimenez here.

Check out 30-second storm video.
Horses choose to stay out during hurricane.
Chincoteague ponies fine during hurricane.

Disaster Strikes. Do you have a plan?

I met up with friend Rebecca Gimenez a day after the lethal tornado plowed through Moore, Oklahoma.
Dr. Gimenez, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, has seen her share of disasters and has trained thousands how to save horses and other animals from peril. She was giving an awareness course for Iowa agriculture folks at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

Gimenez works with trained horse, Torque, at TLAER course

Gimenez works with trained horse, Torque, at TLAER course

She had strong words for those of us anxious to help: Stay out of the way.
That is, unless you belong to an organized team and are called to deploy, please stay away.

“We call them ‘SUVs,’ – self-deployed, unwanted volunteers,”

Instead, she said:

  • Give money.
  • Give blood.
  • Join a team so you’ll get called next time.

Years ago, Gimenez convinced me of the need to be personally prepared and professionally engaged when it comes to animal rescue. After taking her course, several of us went on to found and/or join County Animal Response Teams and train as First Responders. In today’s world, that makes us much more useful and valuable than Good Samaritans.

As we’ve seen, disasters can strike quickly and randomly.

  • Do you have a plan if you lose water, electricity, or have to evacuate in an hour?
  • Can you trailer load your horses and grab your Go Bag in minutes?

Read about CART team training

Read more about TLAER course, including video

Read what NOT to do

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