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Winter Projects 1

When the weather starts to get bad…and you think it’s too cold to mess with your horse …it really isn’’t but you’ll need to invest in proper clothes and boots.

Before we get down to business, take a moment and evaluate your horse’s winter needs. In the summer plenty of clean, fresh water needs to be available at all times and the same is true in winter. Even if your horse lives inside his water should be kept at a tepid temperature. This encourages the horse to drink more, which is essential to keep horses from binding up and colicking. Next time you go out to feed your horse put a glass of water outside so it can get chilly and hopefully covered with a film of ice. Stay out long enough until you’re more than a bit chilly and then chug that glass of icy water. Now go inside and have a drink of fresh tap water. Which did you find easier to drink and what about the quantity?

To keep your horse healthy in winter, feed plenty of good quality hay. When the mercury drops, it is important to increase the amount and number of times you feed during the day. Many times in sub zero weather we not only feed 4 times a day, but increase the amount. It’’s hay, not grain that keeps horses warm and toasty. Their tummy is like a wood-burning stove… digesting the hay keeps the body temperature up!

Shelter is also important. Although we might think being in a heated barn is ideal, many times horses find standing in a ravine or along a wooded area with a good windbreak preferable to being cooped up. If you do stable your horse, make sure your barn is well ventilated and note the quality of its air supply. If you smell urine while standing, you can be sure your horse is exposed to a dangerous level of the ammonia at floor level. Ammonia is hard on the lungs and can cause upper respiratory problems.

Blanketing pasture horses is an option, but be sure to check the blankets frequently. One doesn’t put the blanket on in October and remove it in late March! Nothing will chill a horse more quickly than a wet blanket… from sweating or soaking up the elements. Blankets made of Gortex and Sympatex are waterproof and breathe as well. Before buying a blanket, also consider the quality and thickness of the materials not just how the blankets rated in tests. Being waterproof does not mean that it is breathable, and just because it’s waterproof and breathable does not mean that it does a good job. Hoods are available as are neck wraps. Neck wraps extend up the neck to just behind the ears, making for a more comfortable alternative to a hood. Even if you get the best blanket in the world it has to come off your horse for routine grooming and monitoring of his condition. And of course it needs to be laundered regularly. Can you imagine putting your long johns on in October and not washing them until you’’re ready to take them off in the spring?

But there’’s still more to proper horse care! Keeping your horse up to date on his deworming and vaccination schedule and a routine fall and spring dental exam by your local vet will ensure that your horse is putting food in his stomach that’s well chewed and ready to be digested and utilized. It is much easier for a horse to maintain weight, than put weight on in the middle of the winter. If your horse is stalled, it is of utmost importance for your horse’s physical and mental well being to have the opportunity to stretch his legs, get a good whiff of fresh air and enjoy social time with his buddies. Nothing is worse than being cooped up, getting out for the hour or two we expect the horse to want to spend with us AND of course be on his best behavior.

Better yet you may want to consider letting him live like a horse. God didn’’t intend for horses to live in 8 by 10 stalls. You may be surprised to find your equine friend is happier, healthier and ready to do his best for you. There are simple fun tasks we can teach our horse that will benefit us in many ways in the future. One of the most basic cues we can teach our horse is a cue to go forward. We teach the horse that if we tap his hip, he is to move forward. Practice this cue until we know the horse connects our focus on his hip with moving his feet forward. We can then practice “loading our horse” into his stall, the wash stall, along the barn wall, etc. Teaching this cue will also give us better control of our horse’s feet.

But for learning sake, lets not focus on the feet, but the shoulders and hips. We want the horse to learn and recognize that when we pick up the lead, to which of six possible directions we want him to move the selected body part. Those six directions are left, right, forward, back, up or down. At this point we will focus on the first four. When we have mastered connecting the lead rope to the parts, we combine this with the go forward cue, we can teach the horse to take as many steps forward, backward or to the side as we want. By practicing this we will be yards ahead when we want to apply this concept to trailer loading.

We can expand this to teaching the horse to move his hips and shoulders left and right off the lead. Then we can practice having our horse stand still while mounting, using counter movement instead of just saying “whoa, whoa” with our voice or reins. When the horse moves forward, we simply say, “move his hip away”. If he moves the hip away, we say, “take the shoulders back”. If he takes the shoulders back, we say, “go forward”, and the horse moves the hips forward.

This same lesson will improve our horse’s farrier skills. We can teach our horse to move over slightly, making it easier for him to pick up a foot for the farrier and us. If your horse needs work holding his foot up or getting comfortable with the hoof stand, we can practice, practice, practice. But remember put the hoof down, before the horse struggles and tries to snatch it away. It’s easier to increase his tolerance this way than convincing the horse that really, we are not keeping his foot forever, after he’s already learned to pull it away from us. If your horse has never been shod, hold an old shoe to his foot and tap lightly with the hammer in a gentle, rhythmic manner. Don’t just haul off and wail on him like you’re nailing up an oak fence board. Tap lightly and put the foot back down. Increase the tapping and the intensity as your horse gets nonchalant about the ordeal.

Using the hip cue we can also teach the horse to turn and face us in his stall. You want to make sure that you’re in a safe position, allowing you to step out of the way if necessary so it’s best to teach this standing in the doorway with the door open. I like to use a long lariat to teach this lesson, but you can use anything that is long enough to reach the horse while keeping your body out of kicking range. The reason we want to stay out of kicking range is simply that if the horse presents his rear to us, it’’s more pragmatic to assume he could kick us and find out he didn’’t, than be surprised and learn just how hard he can (kick). Using my lariat, I cue the hip spot and get the horse to move.

When I feel the horse understands this, I narrow it down that when I cue the hip; I keep cueing it until the horse thinks about looking at me. Then I expand that to looking at me, then onto looking at me and stepping toward me. Every time I approach his stall, I repeat this if he is facing or looking any direction than at me; soon he’’ll begin to look for you when he hears you coming. I use this same cue out in the pasture, teaching it in a smaller area first. Of course, you must always remember to pet and praise your horse after every little try.

Now make the most of those short days and cold nights. Always remember that training a horse requires consistency and repetition…lots and lots of both- so don’t get discouraged!

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Hello! I've been helping horses and horse riders to have a better relationship around the country and at my farm through training, lessons and clinics. I get help from my wonderful horses Caz, Holy Socks, Mouse and Sir Thomas. Recently we have added Caz's cousin Jinx to our little team! The articles on my website are free to read and I encourage you to learn more by calling to set up a riding lesson or to attend one of my clinics.

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