How Much Does Your Horse Weigh?

There are many reasons to know how much your horse weighs. Calculating their feed ration starts with knowing their weight. Dosages of medications and dewormers are determined by the horse’s weight. And the guidelines for how much a horse can carry is calculated using its weight.

The only really accurate way to get a horse’s weight is to use a livestock scale. That said, we don’t all have access to this particular piece of equipment. There are alternative methods that are not as accurate, but will at least get you in the ballpark.

Most of us are familiar with the horse height and weight measurement tapes. These will give you the horse’s height in hands on one side, and estimated weight on the other. These tapes are a good place to start.

If you want to refine the technique, there are formulas that use the horse’s length and heart girth to come up with a weight estimate. I found several of these formulas, all similar but with some slight differences, while doing research for this post. I picked the one that gave me the “middle” result.

You will need 2 measurements–your horse’s heart girth, measured around his barrel just behind the withers and just in back of the elbows, and his length, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the butt. For the length, you will just measure the length along his side, unlike measuring for a blanket (where you measure from the middle of the chest to the middle of the tail).

Where to measure your horse to determine its weight

You will need a flexible tape measure at least 80″ long for this. The tape measure I use for sewing, which is the only flexible tape measure I own that gives measurements in inches, is only 60″ long. I used my height/weight tape measure and converted the measurement in hands to inches. If you use your height/weight tape measure and use the height side BE AWARE that you need to measure from the spot marked something like “PLACE TOE HERE” and not from the end of the tape, or you will come up 4 or 5 inches short of the actual measurement! See picture below:

If using your horse height tape to determine it’s heart girth and length, be sure to measure from the line marked “TOE HERE” and not from the end of the tape!

A hand is 4″, so you will need to multiply the hands by 4″ and then add the extra inches to the result. So if you come up with 19:1 for the heart girth, you will multiply 19 by 4 to get 76 and then add the extra inch to get 77 inches. Here’s a handy calculator.

Once you have the measurements in inches, the calculation is: Heart Girth in inches2 x Length / 330 + 50. Or use the calculator below:


That should get you a reasonable estimate of your horse’s weight.

Just a little info for those who may be measuring in centimeters–here’s a converter for that.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

I’ve been meaning to write a post to continue my information series about composting. And I will get to that soon. But In Balance Equestrian is all about supporting those who have, or want to have, horses in their back yard. To that end, I would like to share how yesterday went for me while doing a few routine maintenance chores here on my small acreage. This is just in case you think country life means sipping coffee on the veranda while looking at your lovely ponies grazing green grass in a beautifully manicured pasture.

As usual, I made my list of marching orders for the day, and identified the next three tasks that needed to be done. These included 1) mowing the little pasture behind the house, 2) replacing a broken hinge on the gate leading to that pasture and 3) picking up hay and feed at the feed store.

I decided to start with the hinge, since a freely-swinging gate was going to make getting in and out of that pasture with the tractor a lot easier.

The gate is the ubiquitous kind of livestock gate that is made up of U-channel metal. The hinges are made of strap metal, folded in half and crimped so that, at the bend, it forms a loop that slips over the hinge pin attached to the fence, and the rest of it slides into the U-channel where it is fastened by a bolt that goes through the fence and the hinge. So, in theory, it’s just a matter of removing the bolt, then the pin, and inserting the new hinge, Luckily, I have a spare gate that has perfectly good hinges and I can just swap out the hinges.

Simple as that sounds, I still had a twinge of apprehension that this, like so many other ranch projects, might not go as smoothly as it should, so in addition to my collection of wrenches (I grabbed all of them because I didn’t know what size I would need), I also grabbed a can of Liquid Wrench as there was the odd chance that the bolt would not come off easily.

Ranch Rule #1: “Odd chance” translates to “Dead certainty.”

After some trial and error, I determined that I needed two 9/16” wrenches: one for the bolt head and one for the nut. I doused the whole thing liberally with Liquid Wrench and proceeded with the simple task.

The first hint that this would not go well is that the hinge was so damaged that the two pieces of hinge that were supposed to be snug against each other had separated so much that one side was bulging up against the bolt head, making it impossible to get the wrench over the nut.  Fortunately, one of the wrenches was a combination wrench, with one open end and one closed, and the closed end had sides narrow enough to get at least partially over the bolt. Not ideal, but should work.

The other wrench had to be slid into the U-channel, where the working conditions were cramped and dark. But the end of the wrench finally did get hold of the nut.

The Liquid Wrench apparently had not taken effect just yet because getting that nut to detach from the bolt was like trying to pull up a small tree with your bare hands. It wasn’t budging, and since the wrench’s grip on the bolt head was already precarious, it kept popping off, invariably causing my knuckle to smash against the gate. I’m at the age where any break in the skin causes profuse bleeding, which I was wiping off on my jeans (happily, an old pair of jeans). It didn’t take long before my jeans looked like I had lost a limb instead of scraped my knuckle. Also, the Liquid Wrench was everywhere, including on that knuckle. Not only did it sting, but I was putting that knuckle in my mouth to try to staunch the flow. I don’t know what’s in Liquid Wrench but I suspect it is not healthy to either apply it to an open wound or take it internally.

All this had required several trips back to the garage to get a hammer, pliers and any other tool to try to get this job done.

Ranch Rule #2. Any simple job is going to require multiple trips to the garage and every tool you own.

By now, I had experienced blood, sweat and, yes, tears. I may be willing to tackle just about any task around this place, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be reduced to girly tears when I’m dirty, bloody and sweaty.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

Over the course of the next half hour, I managed to get the nut significantly looser, but not released. The wrench kept slipping off the bolt and eventually, the edges of the bolt rounded off so it was a nearly perfect circle, and at that point the wrench became useless. The bolt declared victory. That hinge was not coming off that gate.

Plan B came into play. Since I had that spare gate, and it was fortuitously the same size and type as the gate with the broken hinge, I could just swap them out. Sadly, the other gate was at the other end of the property. These are ten-foot gates and while they are relatively light-weight, that is not the same thing as actually being light. Also, a ten-foot long, four-foot high gate is an awkward thing to wrestle 200 feet uphill.

This prospect was so daunting that I put it on hold to move on to the next task on the list: mowing the pasture. Since the gate was already off the hinges, I just dragged it off to the side, giving me free access to the pasture that needed mowing.

I always approach my tractor with trepidation. As you may have figured out by now, I’m used to things going not quite according to plan, and to things breaking. But my little John Deere tractor is always up to the challenge. It starts every time, and I haven’t been able to break it yet no matter how hard I try. I do love that tractor, but I’m still always pretty sure that something will go wrong.

Old Reliable

But as always, it started right up and I took it through the barn and up to the area that needed mowing. I engaged the PTO and mower and started cutting grass. When I say “grass,” I really mean the dried-out weeds that the horses won’t eat, that are taller than I am, and are now a fire hazard.

At some point I looked back to check the mower height (this is a rear-mount mower and the height needs to be adjusted constantly to allow for uneven ground, badger mounds, etc.) and was startled to see the PTO shaft spinning. This is supposed to have a safety cover on it and somewhere along the line, that cover apparently came off. Operating that PTO without a cover is dangerous. Anything that gets caught on that spinning shaft is toast.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

I finished up the mowing with the exposed spinning shaft. It was not a good idea and I strongly don’t recommend it but I got through it without damaging anything, including myself, and put “find PTO shaft cover” on the never-ending list of things to do.

It was lunch time by now, so I took a little break to eat and reflect on my bad choices in life, like moving to the country.

Back to the gate. This project could not be put on hold at this stage, since the horses couldn’t be turned out without a gate in place. And I was not up for wrestling one gate up the hill to be put into service, and wrestling the old one back down the hill to be stored.

That meant that my truck was going to be recruited for the job. I did set the pasture up to be accessible by vehicles but that doesn’t mean I made it all that easy. I could either drive it through the barn and then through a gate, or go through Cowboy’s paddock, Cowboy was currently occupying the paddock, and the only place to put him to gain access to the paddock was in the pasture that now had no gate, so the barn access won.

I had not actually driven the truck through the barn before. The tractor goes through all the time, but the truck is a LOT bigger than the tractor. So I took a few minutes to clear the center aisle of the barn, open the doors wide and check out the gate to make sure it would swing open wide enough for the truck. The gophers had built up enough dirt behind the gate that it would open enough for the tractor, but was going to require some major shovel work to open it wide enough for the truck.

Drive-Through Barn

I grabbed the shovel and started clearing out the dirt and weeds that blocked the gate from swinging freely. By now, I was covered with dust from the mowing, with grease and blood from the gate episode, and was wearing an old T-shirt with a flannel shirt over it and a pink ball cap that smashes my hair and causes the sides of my hair to stick straight out from my face. This is how I usually look when doing the dirty work around here but I don’t care because, generally, nobody sees me.

Except today. I carry my cell phone with me in case something goes seriously wrong and I need to call 911. In the middle of clearing the dirt, the phone made an unaccustomed tweeting sound.

I belong to a mentoring group and had set up a Facebook session with another member, who lives in England. I thought it was set up for 1 o’clock on Sunday but apparently the date was not clear because Lisa was trying to reach me. On Facebook Live Chat. That means video.

Normally I wouldn’t answer but if someone is trying to reach me from England, I really feel they deserve a response. I tossed my plans to be impeccably dressed, coifed and poised for the event and answered the call. After a few minutes of explaining and rescheduling, we said our goodbyes. But now Lisa has seen me at my worst.

The truck did squeeze through the barn and the gate and the gate-swapping went pretty smoothly. So far, it’s the only thing that has gone smoothly.

The new gate does have hinges, but it does not have the bolts that attach the hinges to the gate, The hinges are just tucked into that U-channel. Back to the garage to see if I have any bolts the right size for the job.

No, I did not. I found a few that were close, but too short. But that gave me something to take to the hardware store so I can get the right diameter and length.

Ranch Rule #3. Any task is going to require at least one trip to the hardware store. Usually, it requires a minimum of three trips to the hardware store.

Since I was now going to be clearly visible to other people, I got my morning shower in at last (it was now 2:30 p.m.) and put on relatively clean and tidy clothes. I found what I needed at the hardware store. As a bonus, I happened to be there on “Customer Appreciation Day” and am entered in a drawing. I’m looking forward to winning a nice pair of sunglasses. Although I think the drawing was at the end of the day yesterday and I haven’t heard anything yet.

Back to the gate. I got the hinges attached to the gate with a minimum of difficulty and then tried to slip the hinges over the hinge pins. This seems easy but it is not. The gate is ten feet long and the process requires lining both hinges up over the pins simultaneously. After rounding up a collection of small pieces of 2x4s and landscaping timber, I still couldn’t prop up the far end of the gate enough to get the hinges lined up.

Thankfully, a neighbor was now out and about and I finally gave up and called for help. Even with two of us, that gate put up a good fight, but we finally prevailed.

Ranch Rule #4: You are going to need another pair of hands at some point. Plan accordingly.

Success at last! And it only took me from eight in the morning until half past three in the afternoon.

Freshly mowed pasture and new gate

I figured I deserved to kick back and put my feet up but first I checked the to-do list. Dang. I had forgotten that I need to pick up feed. On top of that, it occurred to me that I had not cleaned stalls and paddocks the day before and the mess had reached critical mass. Since I wasn’t completely out of feed, I put that task off until the next day and tackled the stalls and paddocks. I also needed to set up for the next couple of feedings. Which is not the same as kicking back and putting my feet up.

As I write this, it is 9:30 Sunday morning. The feed store opens at 10:00 so I need to leave shortly so I can pick up that hay and feed, unload it, and be ready for that 1:00 meetup with Lisa. With any luck, I can be back to being tidy and put-together enough to undo the impression she got yesterday. The tears today are from allergies brought on by the mowing. The knuckle has stopped bleeding but is threatening infection. Maybe at some point today I will actually ride one of those horses lounging around in his paddock. Another day here at Rancho Rasmussen.

The Importance of Being Compost

This is part of a series of posts about manure management on a small horse property (the property is small, not the horse…)

I’m going to interrupt my series on selecting a manure management system to delve into some of the reasons compost is so important, and add some reasons you may want to consider compost production as the manure management method you select.

Let’s start with a little lesson on soils. For a while, I considered becoming a landscape designer, and as part of the program I took a soils class. I learned that soil (it is NEVER called “dirt”, which is what gets under your fingernails) has both texture and structure. Texture refers to the relative volumes of sand, silt and clay in the soil. These are inorganic materials and have different characteristics.

Sand is the largest particle and is generally round or angular. It has large air spaces that improve aeration, but does not hold water or nutrients well.

Silt is a mid-sized particle. It feels like flour when dry and velvety when wet. It holds water and nutrients well. Like sand, its shape is round or angular

Clay is the smallest size particle. Clay particles tend to be flat. They stick together and do not provide good aeration. It does hold water and nutrients well. Clay forms hard clumps when dry and is sticky when wet.

The percentage of each of these 3 particles in the soil determine the soil texture. There is a Textural Triangle that tells you what type of soil you have based on these percentages. This is based only on the content of sand, silt and clay and ignores any other components of a soil. Here’s the USDA Textural Triangle:

The soil tends to be very sandy where I live. When I was buying the property, a new well needed to be drilled. When you drill a well, you end up with quite a lot of soil, called “tailings”, that is removed during the drilling process. Those tailings need to go somewhere, and in my case they got dumped in what is now part of my garden. That included an impressive amount of clay that was from a layer below the typical sandy soil.

I thought, no problem, we have a lot of sand, the clay will just balance it out, right? WRONG! It doesn’t work that way. Meanwhile, I have a slimy mess in that part of the garden.

A few years later, I found myself in the soils class, and asked the instructor why mixing the sand and the clay didn’t result in some beautiful improved soil mix. That’s where soil structure entered the picture. Soil structure is the way sand, silt and clay form aggregates through a variety of processes and result in a variety of shapes. In my case, I basically got sandstone.

Soil consists of more than sand, silt and clay. Those just determine what soil type you have. In addition, you have water, air spaces and organic matter. When I asked my instructor how to improve my soil, the answer was—add organic matter. Adding organic matter will improve almost any soil. It improves aeration and the ability to hold nutrients, and generally makes it more workable. Guess what compost is? Yep-organic matter. And if you have horses on your property and are dealing with the poop that goes along with that, you have the raw ingredients to magically improve your soil.

Organic matter eventually breaks down and is consumed, unlike the inorganic components of sand, silt and clay, so it needs to be continually replenished. And your horses are happy to oblige. So with a good system of composting horse manure, you can keep your soil happy, healthy, and usable now and in the future.

It is now Spring after a year of heavy rain. I’m finally able to get out in the yard and tackle the weeds. And of course, I started in what is still a clay mud pit. Each weed I pulled came up with a sucking sound and a couple pounds of mud. The area was a sulky blue-gray color and slippery. I trundled off with a wheelbarrow to the one fully composted pile in the pasture and started incorporating organic material into the sticky clay. It’s going to need a lot more, and fortunately more is in the works.  But my motivation to install a better composting system that will result in faster production of higher-quality compost has gotten a new boost.

Manure Management for the Back-Yard Horse Owner, Part 2

Poop happens. Pick it up.

This is Part 2 of a series on Manure Management for back-yard horse owners. In Part 1 https://inbalanceequestrian.com/manure-management-for-the-back-yard-horse-owner/, I covered the challenges of managing the manure produced by horses on a small facility. Here’s a brief recap and list of fun facts about horse manure:

  • The average horse produces 45 pounds of manure each day
  • To store a year’s worth of manure for 1 horse, you would need an are 12 x 12 feet piled 3-5 feet deep (not including any bedding incorporated into the pile)
  • Problems caused by an accumulation of manure include
    • Odor
    • Flies
    • Parasites
    • Waterway pollution from runoff
    • Takes up space
    • Eyesore
  • Considerations when evaluating your options
    • Cost
    • Time
    • Space
  • Options for disposal
    • Have it hauled off
      • Garbage company (expensive)
      • Compost company
      • Local farms or vineyards
    • Spread it on pasture
      • Flies and parasites still a problem
      • Pollution can still be a problem
      • Spotty nutritional composition
      • Requires labor or special equipment
    • Compost it
      • Requires space
      • Must be located to prevent pollution from runoff
      • Requires active management
      • Requires labor for most effective methods
      • Done correctly, kills flies, pathogens and weed seeds
      • Results in a useful and desirable product for farm and garden
  • Composting is often the most desirable method.
    • Doesn’t require transporting the manure
    • Done properly (with heat), kills most pathogens, fly eggs, parasites
    • Results in highly desirable garden or farm product
  •  Facts about composting:
    • Requires 4 things
      • Nitrogen
      • Carbon
      • Oxygen Moisture
    • The ideal carbon:nitrogen ratio is 25:1 or lower
    • Horse manure on its own (sans bedding) is close to that ideal ratio
    • Bedding adds carbon and that tends to make the ratio too heavy on carbon for successful composting. Depending on how much bedding is included in the pile, the ratio can be as high as 75:1 as bedding is almost entirely carbon (C/N ratio 500:1)
    • The heat generated by most methods destroys the flies, parasites and weed seeds
    • Usually there are 3 piles going, in various stages of completion

I’m opting for composting. Actually, I’ve technically been composting by piling it all up in my pasture, which is a form of composting, but not the most effective method.

My great big manure pile

There are several ways to create compost The three most common are:

  • Anaerobic composting (the method I’ve been using).
    • Piling the manure, no active management
    • Least labor-intensive
    • Produces the lowest-quality compost.
    • Manure will, eventually, decompose but:
      •  it takes a lot longer,
      •  it tends to have an unpleasant odor,
      • attracts flies
      • does not kill pathogens, fly eggs, parasites, or weed seeds.
  • Vermicomposting.
    • Adding earthworms to the manure pile (or if you’re lucky, they may just show up on their own).
    • Requires a minimal amount of equipment,
    • Composts faster than the anaerobic method
    • Produces great-quality compost.
    • Needs to be kept aerobic and a proper moisture level maintained.
    • Pathogen reduction may not be as great as in the next method.
  • Aerobic thermophilic.
    • Most highly recommended method
    • Requires more active management than the other methods
    • Results in nice compost
    • The pathogens, fly eggs, parasites, and weed seeds are largely destroyed.
    • The pile is maintained in a way that provides optimal conditions for microbes
      •  that break down organic matter, and
      • generate temperatures up to 160-165 degrees F during the process.
    • Heat is what destroys the undesirable elements.
    • Requires the right mix of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture.
    • To achieve the right temperature, the pile should be at least 3 feet square.

To keep the right oxygen level, the pile must be kept aerated if using the second and third method (the first method is anaerobic (without oxygen), which is why it is the least effective method.  There are a few methods for aerating the pile.

  • Turning manually using a pitchfork (labor intensive. Trust me)
  • Turning mechanically, using a tractor or front loader
  • Using a blower system, either purchased or homemade (aka Aerated Static Compost system)

The system should be covered to prevent drying out in dry weather and getting soggy and anaerobic in wet weather. Covers can be either tarps or a roof.

Also, while I keep saying “Pile” of manure, there is also the option of building bins to contain the manure. This can keep the composting manure tidier and makes it easier to manage.

I’ve been reviving my anaerobic pile by turning it with a pitchfork (since it’s too muddy out there to bring out the tractor) and adding fresh manure. It’s been a lot of work, but that pile is now hot and “cooking”. By the way, a compost pile it is hot will take on a white coating that looks like charcoal briquettes that are ready for the food to go on the grill.  But, while I appreciate the upper body workout, the allure of the blower system is calling to me.

“Cooking” compost

Blower systems come in many forms and consist of ventilated pipes that run through the pile or bin  and are connected to a blower that forces oxygen into the pile. It eliminates the need to turn the pile and, since it is usually connected to a timer that turns the blower on and off at regular intervals, it produces a consistent product.

The lead maker of static aerated systems for small acreage operations is O2 Compost (www.o2compost.com). They have a wide variety of systems, ranging from simple self-assembly boxes to larger, more permanent and more attractive solutions. According to their website, the simplest single- box system starts at $675. They will design a system for you and install it if you like so pricing depends on what you select. They also provide training programs. I saw one of these systems at a local facility and it is on my wish list! But it might not be in my budget since I want something a bit larger and grander than the single-box system.

Plans for build-it-yourself systems are available online, both downloadable PDFs and YouTube videos. Materials vary from systems build from pallets to concrete block bins with a roof.

I’ll be evaluating my composting options and will post my progress as this project continues to take shape.

Manure Management for the Back-Yard Horse Owner

I love having my horses in my back yard. Going out early (very early) every morning to greet and feed them, being able to pop out to the barn for a visit or a ride, being able to monitor their health and well-being on a daily or even hourly basis—it’s all good.

Of course, it doesn’t take much time as a back yard horse owner to figure out that, yeah, poop happens. A lot. The average horse produces about 45 pounds of poop a day, and that adds up fast. If you were to store it, you would need an area 12 x 12 feet, piled 3-5 feet deep, to store a year’s worth if it includes bedding. That’s around 16 cubic yards, and it could be more depending on the horse and how much bedding is used. Multiply that by the number of horses you maintain on your property, and it becomes clear that it’s a lot better to dispose of it than it is to store it.

I have to admit, I’ve been pretty slack about managing the manure supply. I’ve been piling it in a section of the pasture not subject to runoff and crossing my fingers that it will self-compost. Then, a couple times a year, after discovering that it will NOT self-compost, I use the tractor to spread it over another section of the pasture. This, by the way, is not ideal. It makes for an ugly pile, taking up pasture space, and since the horses have free access to it, I avoid adding compost-able items like grass clippings and vegetable waste from the house.

Aside from the aesthetics, horse manure plays host to flies and parasites. In addition, if not stored in an appropriate location, it can pollute local waterways. Local zoning requirements dictate how far away from a waterway manure can be stored, and obviously it should be in a place apart from where water flows through the property during heavy rainfall.

The main options for disposal are:

  • Have it hauled off
  • Spread it on a pasture area
  • Compost it.

There are people who will haul it off. The garbage company, for one. You will need a dumpster and pay to have it emptied. Other options are farmers and vineyards. Many large stables use this option, and it may be an option for the small-parcel horse owner as well. Try contacting local farmers (vegetable or flower farms) or vineyards and see if they are interested, and then work out the logistics (Who hauls it? Who loads it? How often?). Local compost companies may be another option, although the main compost facility in our area doesn’t accept it.

Spreading (aka “land application”) is another option. Spreading an inch or so  over pasture areas can improve the soil quality. As in storing, care should be taken that it does not run off into water sources. It can be spread as it is cleaned from the barn and paddocks, or accumulated and then use a tractor bucket or a manure spreader to spread it later. Nutrient composition can be spotty, and flies and parasites are still a problem.

My favorite, but harder to implement, solution is composting. This is a science unto itself, and I’m going to present a cursory explanation right now. This is the option I’ve selected, and that means I have a lot more research to do. But here are the bare-bones basics:

  • Successful composting requires 4 things:
    • Nitrogen
    • Carbon
    • Oxygen
    • Moisture
  • The ideal carbon:nitrogen ratio is 25:1 or lower
  • Horse manure on its own (sans bedding) is close to that ideal ratio
  • Bedding adds carbon and that tends to make the ratio too heavy on carbon for successful composting. Depending on how much bedding is included in the pile, the ratio can be as high as 75:1 as bedding is almost entirely carbon (C/N ratio 500:1)
  • Oxygen can be added in a couple ways
    • Frequent turning of the pile
    • Static air flow (system of perforated pipes and a blower)

With all those factors present, manure can “hot compost” which will lead to destruction of parasites and their eggs and weed seeds, leaving you with a very desirable garden compost. The desired internal temperature of the compost pile is 131 to 150 degrees F.

Composting can be done with free piles on the ground, or in bins. Either way, there are usually 3 piles or bins, with manure in various stages of completed composting in each pile or bin. Once the compost is finished (broken down), the finished compost can be put on the garden or given away.

There is a lot more information on composting coming up, including descriptions of systems that can either be constructed or purchased, depending on your budget.

Fire and Rain—Are You and Your Trailer Evacuation-Ready?

The latest grim joke here in Sonoma County is that our new theme song is “Fire and Rain”—“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”…

After deadly and devastating wildfires in October 2017, and now massive flooding in February 2019, local residents are getting a bit edgy about natural disasters.  The floods have proven far less deadly than the fires. But in both cases, animal owners were faced with getting their animals out—fast. If you own a horse, that means loading up and heading out. But are you ready?

That’s what I asked myself yesterday while watching the news and social media posts crop up. And the answer is—not really. My trailer has been sitting immobile by the barn for probably nearly a year. I haven’t done much riding, and when I do go out, it’s in my riding buddy’s trailer. But if I needed to get my horses out fast, that trailer would need to be ready to go. My buddy’s trailer will be full of her own horses. That’s something to think about if you don’t own a trailer because you know you can borrow one in a pinch. If it’s an evacuation situation, you may not have one available to you.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to evacuate, or help anyone else evacuate, this time. But today I pulled out my trailer checklist and starting doing a maintenance check. Physically going through that checklist surfaced a few “gotchas”. I’m sharing them here as an example of little things that trip you up, and why it’s best to do this check in a non-emergency mode, because often the most routine tasks don’t go quite as you expected.

An obvious first step is to check the tire pressure. I did finally buy a portable air compressor and had checked the tires when I got it a few months ago, but now I couldn’t remember what the PSI should be. It is on the tire sidewall (maximum recommended at cold temps) but the pressure listed on the sidewall is not necessarily the pressure that is correct for the vehicle—my car tires have a much higher PSI listed on the sidewall than the car manufacturer recommends (my old tires didn’t even list PSI—they listed KPa which means Kilopascal, and I had to look up how to convert it—here’s a link https://www.unitconverters.net/pressure/kpa-to-psi.htm).  I had done research months ago about what the PSI for my trailer should be, but did I put that information anywhere useful? Like in the tack compartment? Apparently not. Finally I remembered that my trailer service guy had told me to inflate them to 50 PSI (sidewall says 65). So lesson 1—know what your tire pressure should be and post it somewhere useful. Today I printed it out on a label maker and stuck it to the inside of the tack compartment—it won’t fade and the label is waterproof. Also (and maybe it’s just me that has trouble with this), make sure you know how to use the pressure gauge and the compressor’s air nozzle. I always feel like I’m letting more air out than I’m getting in. AND remember to check the spare. That was the only tire that needed to be inflated during today’s check.  One thing to look for is missing valve stem caps. It’s a good idea to buy a pack and keep them on hand. This is the one item in the automotive world where one size fits all.

While you’re checking the pressure, give the tires a good looking over. Check for uneven wear, shallow tread depth, and sidewall damage, including sun damage. UV rays can really destroy your tires, causing cracking and breakdown of the rubber. It’s recommended that tires be replaced every 7 years even if the tread is good, mostly because of sun damage. I bought tire covers for mine to protect them from sun damage and hopefully get some extra wear from them.

Check the lug nuts for loose or missing lug nuts. Speaking of which—do you have a lug wrench handy?

On to checking the lights. One of the marker light lenses had blown off. It’s one of the original lenses and wouldn’t stay on when I tried to put it back where it belonged. This isn’t the first time this has happened with this trailer, and finally I bought a 10-pack of both red and amber lenses, so I had one handy. The replacements seem to stay put a lot better than the originals. So think about getting some spares to keep on hand. Even if yours stay on, I’ve had horses damage them if they get a bit squirrely while loading or while tied to the trailer.

Some of my marker lights were out. Interestingly enough, I had checked them last summer and more of them were out then than were out today. Self-healing marker lights, apparently. Three of them were still out. I got one to come back on by removing the lens and tapping the light fixture and jiggling the bulb, and it finally came on and stayed on. The other two seem to be non-operational. My plan is to buy replacement bulbs and see if that does the trick and if not, I’ll have them fixed when the trailer goes in for routine maintenance.

Other things that can go wrong with lights are fuses and wiring. Know where your fuses are and what kind they are and keep some spares on hand. If it’s a wiring problem, well, I leave it to the experts. I can tell a blue wire from a red wire and that’s where my expertise ends.

On to the breakaway brake battery. This is your trailer’s “emergency brake”. A cable gets looped over your hitch and if the trailer comes loose from the tow vehicle, the cable pulls a pin on the trailer that activates a battery operated brake. The batteries tend to go dead if the trailer sits a while (most are hooked into the trailer wiring system and the battery will re-charge when the tow vehicle is running). The battery can be tested with a battery tester. Alternatively, try pulling the pin manually and listen for the click as the trailer brakes go on. You can also pull the pin and then (gently) see if the tow vehicle can move the trailer.

The battery for my system appeared (not surprisingly) to be dead. I was feeling pretty smug because I just got a trickle charger for this purpose. On to the next humbling experience: I had never actually looked at the battery. It’s been either charged up or replaced during the routine maintenance checks but I’ve never looked at it myself. I just assumed it was the same type of battery in my last trailer that could be trickle charged using clamps. But the battery for this trailer has slip on cables and neither of the attachments that came with the trickle charger appear to connect to it. So I still need to figure this one out but the batteries don’t seem to be that expensive so I may just replace it. Or drive around with the trailer empty and see if the battery charges up again–obviously not the best plan

Next step: check the trailer floor. I do this periodically and it’s always been fine, so I was a little surprised to see that the boards were wet under the mats, and in fact had some mud wedged between the mats and the trailer wall. The trailer is aluminum so fortunately there was no rust, and the floor boards don’t seem to have any rot in spite of being wet, but the mats are now pulled up and the floor is airing out. Thankfully the rains have stopped for a couple days so with luck those boards will dry out. Incidentally, if your trailer floor is aluminum, it still needs to be checked. If urine accumulates under the mat, the aluminum can corrode.

Also check the rubber mats on the sides of the trailer and make sure they are secure. I had a horse pull one part way down and rip it, and I know of one person who got to her destination to discover that the side mat had come down sometime during the haul. Fortunately, she had a calm horse who seemed more surprised than concerned, but he did have to straddle it during that trip.

My trailer has an additional “feature” (read: curse) in the form of a crank-up skylight in the tack compartment. Sounds nice, but in fact the plastic cover is definitely not UV resistant and doesn’t seem to last very long. I got it replaced 4 years ago but when I checked it today, sure enough, it has cracks in it, and I have water on my tack compartment floor. Replacement for this cover runs around $350 so that’s where the curse comes in. Note to self: see if it can be replaced with a metal cover. There is a window in the door so the extra light from the skylight isn’t all that significant. When the plastic cracks, it tends to shatter and blow off, so I’d like to spare the driver behind me from having it blown back at him. Plus I’m pretty sure that would get me a ticket.

Tomorrow I’ll be going over the trailer some more, checking the condition of the windows, vents, latches, etc. I leave tasks like packing the wheel bearings and checking the undercarriage to my trailer maintenance specialist.

Of course, your tow vehicle should also be gone over regularly as well. Some handy things to keep in your tow vehicle include a tool kit, flares or, preferably, weighted reflective triangles, extra fuses, hose repair tape, ties, jumper cables (be sure they are rated for your vehicle), flashlights, and chocolate (just seeing if you’re paying attention).

Things to keep in your trailer: extra halters and lead ropes, buckets, tire repair tools (I have a drive-on ramp instead of a jack for the trailer—if a tire goes flat, drive the good tire on the same side up on the ramp for easy changing https://amzn.to/2SChguq), duct tape, first aid kit (check contents regularly), nitrile gloves, baby wipes, a hose, fire extinguisher…the list goes on and on.

That’s just the list of trailer maintenance tasks. Other considerations that are equally important and topics in their own right:

  • Does your horse load willingly and calmly into the trailer? This is not an issue to tackle during an evacuation! Train your horse to do this before it becomes a non-negotiable. People have lost their horses because they couldn’t get them in the trailer in a pinch, or the horse became injured in a frantic scramble.
  • Can you competently maneuver your trailer? I have to admit I’m not really there. I can get the trailer where I want it, but it’s not a pretty process. There’s one for my “Goals” list.
  • Do you and your animals have “go packs” set up and ready to go? Do you have a plan for packing up feed, water, and other necessities?
  • Do you have a plan for identifying your horse if you become separated in an emergency? Microchipping, marking your horse with a livestock crayon, clipping, tagging, etc. I’ve seen examples of people marking their horses hooves with a marking pen, but that can get worn off or covered with mud so have a backup method.

This information sure doesn’t come under the heading of “fun with your horse”, but it does lead to peace of mind, and that’s worth a lot!

Choosing a Horse Blanket

Blankets are on my mind lately, for a few reasons. I live in coastal Northern California, and I don’t show, so the horses only get blanketed when it really gets cold. Like this last week for instance. The blankets had come back from the cleaner’s months ago and had been stored, still in the plastic bags, on a shelf. When I unpacked my thoroughbred, Dublin’s, blanket, it was obvious pretty quickly that I had not gotten Dublin’s blanket back. It was obvious because I’m cheap when it comes to blankets, and the outside of Dublin’s blanket feels a bit like sandpaper, and this blanket had a luxurious cashmere feel to it. Yes, I got a MUCH nicer blanket back. Unfortunately, it seems to belong to some enormous warmblood instead of my short-backed Thoroughbred and is at least 8” too long. (Yes, I put it on him even though it wasn’t mine. It was cold and he needed a blanket and I was out of options.)

Lesson #1: When you get your blanket back from the cleaner’s, do a quick check to make sure it’s the right blanket. I’m sure somebody has really been missing this beautiful blanket for a while now. The cleaner has located my blanket and we’ll be doing a swap.

Lesson #2: It doesn’t hurt to have a spare blanket on hand. This morning I discovered that my Quarter Horse, Cowboy, tore a strap off his blanket and tore the entire side of the blanket in the process. So, handily, when I return the one blanket, I can take Cowboy’s in for repair at the same time. That still leaves me a blanket short.

That gorgeous blanket did, however, open my mind to the possibility that there may be something to paying a little more for a blanket. Yes, I have blanket shame.  In the interest of finding out what kind of bank I can get for my blanket buck, I did some research, and here’s what I found out about selecting a horse blanket.

SIZE MATTERS

First thing to determine is what size blanket your horse wears. It helps to have a friend help you with this because you need to put a tape measure (you’ll need something at least 7’ long) on your horse, with one end in the center of his chest and then measure around the side, over the point of the butt, to the center of the tail. Select that size or the next size up. Some blanket manufacturers size their blankets in even inches (74”, 76”, 78” etc) and some go every 3 inches (72”, 75”, 78”).

TYPES OF BLANKETS

There are basically 3 types of blankets: sheets, stable blankets, and turnout blankets.

  • Sheets provide lightweight coverage to provide a little bit of heat, can protect from sun fade, or help keep a horse clean
  • Stable blankets are designed to provide warmth to a horse kept in a stable. They aren’t waterproof and aren’t designed to protect a horse from the elements. In fact, if they are exposed to rain or snow, they can soak up moisture and make your horse colder.
  • Turnout blankets are the warmest and most durable for horses that are outside and exposed to the elements. The material is generally tougher and usually waterproof. The design is typically a bit roomier and allow more freedom of movement.

WEIGHT

Blankets are commonly described as light, medium or heavy weight. The difference is the amount of “fill”, the stuffing inside the blanket. Light weight blankets have little to no fill, medium weight blankets have around 200 grams of fill, and heavy weight blankets generally have more than 300 grams of fill.

Some guidelines for selecting the right weight:

Termperature Horse with Natural Coat Horse that is Body Clipped
50-60o F Sheet Light Blanket
40-50o F Light Blanket Light/Medium Blanket
30-40o F Light/Medium Blanket Medium/Heavy Blanket
20-30o F Medium/Heavy Blanket Heavy/Medium w/blanket liner
Below 20o F Heavy Heavy w/blanket liner

SHELL STRENGTH (“DENIER”) AND MATERIALS

The strength of the outer shell of the horse blanket is described as “denier”, which refers to the thickness of the thread in the material. The higher the number, the tougher the material.

Nylon is strong, resilient and stain resistant, but expensive. Polyester is more affordable and lighter weight but not as strong. A blend is often a good choice.

Denier Strength
210 Very Light
420 Light
600 Medium
1200 Heavy
1680 Extra Heavy
2100 Super Heavy

STYLE MATTERS, TOO

Once you’ve figured out what size, weight and denier you need, it’s time for style considerations. There are different cuts, hardware and fastening types.

Some features include Teflon coating to repel dirt, shoulder gussets for more freedom of movement, leg arches (also for freedom of movement) taped seams for extra water-proofing, tail flaps, wither relief pad, and reflective strips. You can get detachable neck covers (if you buy a neck cover separately, it should match the blanket so that the attachments are aligned). Front closures include straps, snaps or closed fronts, which need to be slipped over the horse’s head.

And of course, you get to pick the color that complements your horses beauty! Blankets come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Cowboy, for example is stunning in his neon pink-and-purple leopard print blanket. One advantage of picking a unique color is that you are pretty sure you have the right blanket when it gets back from the cleaner.

Blanket hardware isn’t something that seems to get a lot of attention in blanket catalog descriptions but it’s worth paying attention to. Look at the fasteners on the blanket you are considering and decide if that’s a system that will be easy for you.  Snaps should open and close smoothly, buckles should be easy to fasten but not so loose that they come undone, and the “T” style buckles that typically fasten the surcingle straps (under the belly) should be a good weight and rustproof. Make sure the hardware is maintained, not bent, and works well before blanketing your horse. If you have to struggle to put the blanket ON your horse, it’s not going to get any easier by the time you want to take it OFF, and your horse may not be in a cooperative mood by then. Hardware seems to be pretty standard on most blankets, so you’ll need to do your part by keeping it all clean, getting it dry when not in use to avoid rust, and oiling snaps to keep them operating smoothly.

MAINTAINING YOUR BLANKET

Over-washing can damage the integrity of your blanket. During the season, spot cleaning with a stiff brush will usually do. Avoid bleach—it can damage the fabric and the straps. Dry them on a line or over a fence, where sun and wind can help with the drying process. I try to get them out of the sun as soon as they are dry as I’ve found the UV rays can weaken the fabric and the webbing straps.  At the end of “blanket season”, send them out for professional cleaning, where they have the right washing machines and drying tools to avoid damage to both your blanket and the washing machine (I washed a horse blanket in my mom’s washing machine. Once. Never made that mistake again.) These services can also generally make any needed repairs to your blanket.

During the season, when the blanket is being used, it can be stored on a blanket bar, on a rack or hung from a hook to keep them off the ground. Once the season is over, and you have the blanket back from the cleaner, it can be stored in the bag provided by the cleaner (after verifying that it is, indeed, your blanket!) or placed in your own plastic storage bag and placed on a shelf or in a trunk. This will keep it clean and away from critters while it’s not in use.

Replacement hardware and straps are generally available from tack stores, both local and online.

SUMMARY

Hopefully you have found some helpful information here to help you shop for your next blanket. Clearance sales for blankets should be showing up any time, so use this info to figure out what you need and you’ll be ready to pounce on the specials!

MAKING TIME FOR YOUR HORSE HOBBY

One of my biggest horsemanship challenges is actually finding the time to spend with my horses—whether it is maintaining the stable area, tending to their needs, or actually (gasp!) riding.  I won’t say I’ve mastered time management, but I have found a few tricks that make the day go a bit easier.

PLAN AHEAD

This is the biggest time-saving tactic I’ve found. Knowing what needs to be done each day and setting it all up ahead of time helps to make sure it all gets done, and as easily as possible.

I’m not a morning person, but my mornings go a lot easier if everything is ready to go as soon as my feet hit the floor. I have clothes picked out and handy. My coffeepot is set up so I just have to hit the “start” button. I do have a timer on the coffeepot, but since the horses get fed before I do, it’s just as easy to let the coffee brew while I tend to the horses. If you need coffee before doing ANYTHING, then use that timer! The aroma of freshly brewed coffee can be just the thing to get you going.

When I get to the barn, the horses’ meals are set up and ready for them. Hay bags are filled with the morning ration, and I just have to dump them in the horses’ stalls. The grain and supplements are packaged up in covered buckets (old supplement buckets are great for this). The horses get some pelleted feed, so I get that soaking while I weigh out the evening hay and pellets, so that’s ready for the next feeding. A nice feature of this plan is that, if you get in a hurry or have to ask someone to feed for you, everything is set up and ready to go.

Meal planning is another time-saver, and also a great way to eat a lot healthier. I’ve known this, of course, but I always hated meal planning. There are a lot of great tools for this. Personally, I’ve found the Cooking Light Diet to be a lifesaver. I signed up for the weight loss part, which was successful, but the meal planning aspect of it was a big game changer. It creates a shopping list that can be edited, so it makes shopping easier. It also added a lot of needed variety to my diet. So there’s a plug for a tool that worked for me, but of course, there are a lot of tools out there. One of them may work for you.

PRIORITIZING

This goes hand in hand with “Planning”. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to sit down and list out what needs to be done the next day. Then figure out how important each is (you can give each a label based on how high on the priority list they are), how much time each will take, and assign a time slot to it. I find that I don’t always stick rigorously to that plan, but at least I’ve taken a peek at what needs to be done and can make decisions on the fly about making changes, knowing what the consequences will be.

On a higher-level note, take some time to figure out what your “big” priorities are. What are your big goals? Your daily to-do list should not include the little daily tasks that must be done, but also a few things that advance you toward your overall goals. Like your horses, for example. If you plan your day out keeping in mind what you want to accomplish with your horse, you are more likely to set aside a time slot for horse time.

SETTING RULES

I’ve found it helpful to set up some rules governing how my day will go. Some of them are:

-Be showered and dressed by 9 a.m.  Now, that may not sound like something that needs to be stated as a rule, but I work at home, and it’s shockingly easy to start working away and then discover it’s time for lunch and you’re still in your PJs. Hence the rule. It just set me up to feel more productive and put together. It can be difficult to have a serious, professional conversation with a client while you’re still in your jammies.

-On the flip side, by 9 p.m., the dishes must be done, makeup off, and I’m back in my PJs. Of course, that rule gets some leeway if I’ve gone out with friends or someone has stopped by, but most days, that’s the rule.

-Set coffee and breakfast up the night before. See above under “Planning.”

-Either go for a half-hour walk or ride the horse every day. Get some kind of exercise! My day job is very sedentary and I could find myself still at my desk at dinnertime. Bad for the body, bad for the soul.

-Turn off the TV and the computer ½ to 1 hour before going to bed. That’s a tough one for me, but studies have shown that the stimulation and light created by electronic devices can interfere with sleep. Not to mention that inflammatory tweet or email that comes in right before you retire that’s going to keep you fuming for a while. Turn everything off and get your to-do list ready for the next day, then read something soothing or inspirational before nodding off.

-Also for better sleep, no eating for 2-3 hours before bedtime.

You can, of course, make up your own rules that are tailored to your particular needs.

So those are my favorite methods of managing my time to increase the odds that I’ll get some horse time in. Be sure to build flexibility into your schedule! Being clear on your priorities and setting up some rules to add structure help you make decisions when something has to give.

Feel free to share your favorite time management methods and tools!

Ten Winter Horse Activities

Sleigh

The holidays are over, days are short, and spring is nowhere in sight. It’s definitely harder to find riding opportunities in winter.  But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. This is a great time to learn new skills, improve the old ones, catch up on maintenance, and plan for some fun in the warmer months to come. Here are some suggestions to get you started and get the creative juices flowing so you can come up with some of your own horse-y winter activities.

  1. Mix up some treats for your horse. Here are some recipes to try: http://www.simplypets.com/pet-recipes/Horse/Treat. Or better yet, try our Peppermint Horse Treats
  2. Catch up on the books and videos that were gathering dust over the summer. Or shop for some new ones. Pick a skill you’ve been wanting to learn or a horsemanship area you want to improve and invest some time in education
  3. Give your horse a massage. If you’re not sure how, here’s a link to an article that can get you started: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/10502/massage-while-you-groom
  4. Clean your tack.
  5. Practice taking your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR). Get familiar with what’s normal for your horse.
  6. Organize your barn and tack room. Don’t forget your brush bucket! Your grooming tools can use a good cleaning from time to time. Go through your first aid kit and properly dispose of any meds that are out of date, and replace them.
  7. Make your list of horse-related New Year’s Resolutions. Develop a plan of action to help you keep them. Put the action plan on your calendar.
  8. Read up on saddle fit and evaluate your saddle.
  9. Check your horse’s teeth.
  10. Decide on some stable improvements you’d like to make during the coming year. Make a plan and calendar them.

These suggestions can help keep you connected with your horse and bolster your motivation during the cold dark days of winter, and get you better prepared for the warm weather fun that’s on its way!

If you’re a rider bothered by occasional to chronic hip and knee pain, read on. You may have ITBS, or Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

ITBS is a common ailment usually identified with running, probably because more people are runners than horseback riders. Skiers, bicycle riders and horseback riders often develop this problem as well. The knee is usually the first part of the body to complain, although in my case the hip is usually the problem area.

The ITB (Iliotibial Band) is a dense fibrous band running from the pelvis to the outside of the knee. It runs over the bony parts of the hip and the outside of the knee, and the rubbing of the band over bone is what causes the problem. The band can become irritated and inflamed, and the underlying bursa can also become swollen.

ITBS

Some causes are leg length asymmetry, over/under pronation, running on hills and hard surfaces, knee instability, and weak muscles. For horseback riders, improper rotation of the leg can contribute. Riders are often told to point their toes forward–properly, you would rotate your entire leg from the hip until the foot is pointing forward, but not by breaking at the ankle to get the forward direction of the toe, or by twisting at the knee. The bend of the knee required for riding can be a setup for ITBS.

I developed ITBS several years ago while training for a marathon. While knee pain is the most common symptom, I developed pretty severe hip pain, probably as a result of being a bit too overweight for the amount of training I was doing, and running on country roads with no shoulder, which means I was on the banked part of the road, which meant my right leg was constantly higher than my left. The best treatment for ITBS is rest, which of course I didn’t do because I was training for a marathon. I ran the marathon and three days later, I got the more common knee pain in a very acute form–heat, swelling, and the feeling that someone had jabbed a knife in my knee. With the race completed, I got the needed rest, and the knee pain thankfully went away, but I’ve had chronic hip pain ever since.

I’ve recently started taking dressage lessons and in many ways am starting all over with my riding. Nobody would call me a natural athlete, so I’d doing a lot of trial and error in my quest to do this correctly. I’d guess I’m riding 80% incorrectly, and my ITBS has flared up with a vengeance, causing quite a bit of pain from my hip all the way down to my ankle. Yes, the ITB goes from your hip to your knee, but since it pulls on your knee when you have ITBS, a muscle called the peroneals now goes into a spasm, and that runs from your knee to your ankle.

What to do? Prevention, as always, is the best course of action, and that means stretching, maintaining fitness, and being conscious of how your are using your body, maintaining correct alignment and avoiding overstress of your leg and knee. Of course, if you’re reading this, it may be safe to assume that it’s too late for prevention. Rest is the next best step–if you develop symptoms, try to identify what you’re doing to cause the problem, and STOP DOING IT! You may need to discontinue riding for a bit to give your leg a chance to heal. And if it’s too late for that, the traditional measures of ice and anti-inflammatories, combined with rest, will help. The best technique I’ve found, though, is a few forms of self-massage involving a tennis ball and a form roller. You can usually find muscle spasms along the band (press on various parts of the outside of your leg from hip to knee, and it shouldn’t take you long to identify the problem areas). The tennis ball is helpful for hip areas–lie on your side with the tennis ball pressing on the spasm and roll over the ball, helping the spasm to break up. The foam roller is useful for spasms on the outside of the thigh. This is going to hurt, so grit your teeth and do what you can! I’ve found, though, that this is the fastest way to get some relief from the pain and tightness.

Keep in mind that I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR ANY KIND OF MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL and you should check with your medical professional before doing any kind of diagnosis or self-treatment.

Runners World has some good information and stretches on their website: http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/itbs-iliotibial-band-syndrome