Friday, June 17, 2016

Surviving The Heat

I unfortunately live in Florida. I am not bashful about proclaiming my hate for this state, with its lack of hills, swimming holes that don't contain a gator or two and no fireflies. Born in West Virginia and raised outside of Pittsburgh, I would leave tomorrow if I could. We have two seasons here in Florida: Hot and Warm. We used to have decent winters....heck, it has even snowed a flake or three, but it has been several years since I have had to pull out the really heavy blankets for Tucker. I miss the winter of 2010, when the horses were in blankets for a record 45 days straight. Ah, those were the good old days!
I swear every year that summer comes earlier and earlier, probably because it has been eons since we had a long and decent spring.
We have been experiencing a heat wave this week....temperatures are hitting 92 already by the time I arrive at the barn at 10am and the heat index has been averaging 110. You wouldn't think so, but it actually makes you appreciate the days when it tops out at 92 and the heat index is in the low 100's!
So short of not riding your horse for 4-6 months of the year, how does one cope with horses and heat?
I was hard to convince, but I love long sleeve technical shirts. I am cooler in them because I don't have the sun baking my skin. There are plenty of options to the expensive shirts available at your local tack stores. I found some shirts last year in Target, made by Champion for under $25. Uniglo also makes their airism shirts, which retail for under $20. I don't like that they are super fitted, but I will wear one underneath a lightweight polo or t-shirt to give my arms protection from the sun.
For breeches, I love Devon-Aire's All Pro line. They are available in ribbed or smooth and in a variety of rises and colors. They are much lighter than the Tuff Riders and wear much better and at under $65, they are affordable. The All Pro line is a moisture wicking, high tech fabric, perfect for hot, humid weather. I also wear Devon-Aire's Signature Madrid. They are also a high tech fabric and light weight, but cost a bit more than the All Pro's. At $109, I tend to save them for lesson days and for showing.
I also make sure that I put sunscreen on my face and neck. I wish that I had been more diligent about this when I was younger, but better late than never.
I am a tea drinker. I drink unsweet iced tea all day long. At the barn I bring two containers, one of ice water and one of unsweet tea. I am easily bothered by the heat and my blood pressure drops quickly. It is important that I drink and I snack on Kinds granola. I like the peanut butter variety and I add in dried apricots.
So what about your horse?
It is important that your horse stays cool and comfortable as well. When I was younger and lived to compete and the heat didn't bother me, I thought nothing of riding in the middle of the day during the summer months. That way both my horse and myself were acclimated and were fit to compete. Nowadays, I would rather have a root canal than show in the summer (we volunteer to jump judge instead!) and there is no way that I would ride in the middle of the day. When I was on a different schedule and leased my own barn, I rode before 8 in the morning. Now I don't get on until 10. Tucker has already been out for a few hours and so I hose off his chest and legs when I bring him in (unless he is really hot and sweaty, then he gets a complete rinse off, pre-ride.) Our rides in the summer are short and sweet and to the point. Some days, if it is especially hot and humid, we just walk under the trees and focus on halt halts, leg yields, turn on haunches, etc. I always forget how beneficial it is to just walk and I sometimes feel that I have accomplished more on those days then when we actually add in trot and canter work. If there is a good breeze and I can tolerate it, we do add in more work at the other gaits, but we get to the point and I rarely ride more than 20 minutes.
My horse comes first post ride. Tack is swiftly removed before I remove my helmet or gloves or check my phone for any messages ( I refuse to ride with a phone...that is my time!) Tucker is not much for drinking from a bucket if I offer him after a ride, but he will drink from the hose, so we get to the wash rack, get the water spraying on him and I offer him the hose to drink from. I make sure I rinse under his tail, not only to remove sweat, but that is an area that will help cool down your horse quickly. I was visiting at a high end show barn once and watched horse after horse be rinsed off and not once did anybody ever lift the tail. Yuck!
Tucker is cooled out with some hand grazing under some shade and once I have finished up with him, he is in his stall for the rest of the day, fan on and 2 buckets of cool, fresh and clean water. Some barns prefer night turnout schedules. Due to Tucker's allergies, he only goes out during the day. In the summer, his schedule is shortened due to the heat and storms, but after a light lunch, he is content to nap until his next meal.
I do offer electrolytes to Tucker in his lunch, although for him, he gets them more for his EPSM. Electrolytes help to replenish minerals that are lost during sweating. Once in his stall, he is fed lunch, which is a mash, which is a great way to get water into your horse. He is pretty good about drinking water from his buckets and I usually have to top off his buckets before I leave the barn. And speaking of water, one of my pet peeves is not having cool, clean water available for your horse. When your horse is turned out, dump out the water and fill it with fresh water. This is why I don't like big water troughs, as they are a pain to clean. I prefer using muck buckets for outdoor water troughs, as they are easy to dump and clean. By doing so, you can check for any critters that may have become stranded in the water, and you can keep the algae away. I am always shocked to see barns that do not dump the water daily and the horses are left to drink warm or even hot water. I have seen some barns where the algae was so thick in the trough that one would never know if there was a dead animal contaminating the water. If the water buckets and troughs are not something that you would want to drink out of, what makes you think your horse will? And while you are at it, put a stick or rope into the water, so a wayward squirrel or bird can get themselves out of the water.
Champion high tech shirt & Devon-Aire All Pro breeches, help me deal with the heat!

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's All About the Horse!

(The blog below originally appeared in my other blog, Smart Horse Keeping. In an effort to consolidate my blogs, I am reposting and will be reposting other blogs from that site. You can visit my facebook page,  As you can see, I changed the name on my facebook page! Enjoy!)
Proof that I rode before I walked!
Fresh, cool water....everyday!

It's all about the horse. That is why people run stables. Or at least, that should be the mantra of stable managers and owners, but unfortunately, it isn't in many cases.
The purpose of this blog is to educate not only stable owners and managers about how to properly run a barn, but to educate the boarding horse owner, who should be savvy enough to know how to get the most for their dollar and to make sure that the barn believes that "it is all about the horse." In other words, making sure your horse is getting the best possible care. Unfortunately, many horse owners have no clue as to basic horsemanship and rely on the words of someone who may or may not have an idea of how to run a barn.
What makes me qualified to tackle this topic?
I have been involved with horses my entire life. My grandparents had a 38 acre farm outside of Pittsburgh, and Grandpa always made sure there were horses around for me to enjoy. My grandparents and my mother all rode and my grandfather was my first mentor in the horse world. Many of his remedies are outdated (like giving a horse tobacco to worm him) but other lessons I learned from him still hold true today, such as feeding a better quality feed will save you money in vet bills down the road and horses should have clean and cool water available all the time.
When we moved to Florida, and I was able to get my own horse, since money was very tight, I had to go the partial boarding route, which meant learning how to muck stalls, choosing the right nutrional program and how to keep my horse safe and sound so as to avoid costly vet bills.
Eventually, I could afford full board. But I was never happy with this arrangement. There were always some concession, and it was my horse who paid the price. Cheaper feed, cheaper hay. Limited turnout. No shavings on mats. Services paid for that weren't delivered. And I wasn't the only one. Other people I spoke to were not happy with their boarding arrangements, but due to work, family, etc., they had no other options.
The stories I heard, not to mention my personal encounters, were jaw dropping:
Boarders who paid premium prices, only to have supplements sit unopened on the feed room shelf, never fed to their horse.
Stables who took the liberty of keeping horses drugged to make them easier to handle.
Horses fed the wrong feed.
Colicing and injured horses that owners were never notified of until after the fact.
Stable workers who were abusive to horses.
Boarders who paid for trainers to ride their horses, which never happened.
Water buckets that are never dumped, are full of hot water and slime.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Over the years, I have seen it all. Many of the above examples I personally experienced. Too many people think that having a barn is fun and glamorous and exciting. Then reality sets in. It is hard work. You are on call 24/7. In all kinds of weather. And it is expensive to run a barn. Feed is expensive. Shavings cost money. Things break. Things break ALL THE TIME!
So barn owners start cutting corners. They forget that its all about the horse. They feed cheap feed. Cheap hay. Provide less bedding. And unfortunately, it is the horse that pays the price. They lose weight. Their condition level suffers. Their coat becomes dull. They become injured or sick.
So while the barn owner thinks that they are saving money, in the long run, the owner is losing money, because now their vet bills have increased or they are no longer competitve at horseshows.
It's like the person who puts cheap gas in their car or doesn't bother maintaining it with regular service. In the long run, you will have expensive repair bills. Same theory applies to the care of your horse. Take good care of him now, and you can avoid expensive expenses down the road.
I have managed my own barn, managed barns for others and run a non-profit horse rescue. I have been involved with the United States Pony Club, which is in my opinion, the greatest youth equine association on earth. The lessons learned are endless and I love that they put the emphasis on horsemanship, not competing.
And so, I hope to compile what I have learned, and share it with my fellow horseman, whether you are new to horses or an old pro. We are never to old to learn! Please share your boarding stories with me, either as a manager/owner or a boarder.