Preparing your Horse Property for the winter months ahead…

As the seasons change, Fall has arrived in the Rocky Mountains, bringing beautiful colors and cooler temperatures. Fall is personally my favorite time of year to get out and do some mountain riding.

Riding the mountain tops in Edwards, Colorado on Major Snow with Cody by my side.

It is also a time of year for preparations, especially living in the mountains, where the next snow and freezing temperatures are looming at our doorsteps. This is a discussion on how to prepare your horse property for the winter months ahead.

1. Stock Up On Hay

This is one simple way to make your life a whole lot easier. Get your hay supply for winter season by the fall season to avoid hauling hay during the winter months during bad weather and frigid temperatures. You also eliminate the possibility of running out of hay should there be shortages.

2. Inspect Roofs and Integrity of Buildings

Be sure to inspect roofs and supports in all buildings. Can buildings withstand the potential of heavy snow loads? Set traps for rodents if necessary or close up holes in buildings where rodents may be entering.

3. Inspect All Fencing

I tend to inspect my fence lines regularly, as I use mostly smooth wire fencing on our ranch. Which ever type of fencing you have, it is not a bad idea to give the fence line a walk before winter sets in. If there is any fence lines needing mending or replaced, you want to be certain that this gets done before the snow flys.

4. Check Water Trough Heaters

Make sure trough heaters are out and check that they are working properly before freezing temperatures arrive.

5. Clean All Tack

Hydrate and clean all leather tack, wash blankets/saddle pads, grooming kits and brushes. Clean all wraps/ protective boots. Throw your bits in the dishwasher to make them sparkling clean.

6. Move all liquids, medications/topicals to a warm space to avoid freezing.

I hope this serves as a help to my readers, as an informative piece, a checklist, or a reminder. Please enjoy the beautiful, fleeting fall season while lasts, and Happy Trails!

Basics of Moving a Horse “Off A Feel”

Softness and feel when riding can result in complete harmony with your horse, proper frame, and collection over time.

The concept of moving your horse “off a feel” is often, more times than not, a very abstract idea to most riders and horsemen. The horse is such a sensitive creature, yet many riders still resort to harsh bits and use of spurs to get the response they are looking for, rather than gain connection with the horse. So many folks I see riding today have heavy hands and heavy feet. If you work with your horse using a “soft feel” every time you handle them, it will eventually only take the softest of cues to communicate with your horse, such that eventually your cues will not even be visible to the naked eye or spectator, and hardly any pressure at all will have to be applied to your horse, by rein or heel.

A rider with true connection to his horse should be able to confidently move the horse’s feet, both from the ground, and in the saddle. Moving united, the front feet independent of hind and the hind feet independent of the front.

One should strive to move their horse “on a feel”, where no driving from the rider is required, using a “leading rein”, which we will discuss more later in this blog.

A great place to start working your horse is from the ground. It is also a safe place to start, especially working with unfamiliar horses or starting colts. If you cannot succeed with your horse from the ground, chances are you aren’t going to do much better when you get in the saddle. It is also a great opportunity to check the horse you are working with, and see if they are ready, able, and safe to get on and ride. Bottom Line: practice groundwork routinely, and master the ground exercises. It will better set you up for success when you go to get into the saddle.

Start with the basics, and work your horse with the flag. Keep in mind, while a flag can be used to drive a horse, ultimately we want the horse to work “off a feel” with no driving required by the flag. We do however, want to make sure your horse is “ok” with a flag. To start, wave the flag around, see if your horse gets afraid. We don’t want your horse to be troubled by the flag. If the horse starts to move their feet, simply step toward the hind end of your horse, and roll your horse over their hind end. This makes it difficult for your horse to leave you.

Once you know your horse is not troubled by the flag, ask your horse to simply walk a forward, round circle around you, (full circle exercise) being mindful to offer a leading hand with the lead rope, and your flag in the other hand at the horse’s rear. We always want to “offer” the horse the leading hand first, before resorting to driving from behind. Only use the flag to dive your horse if they do not respond to the leading hand. It’s all about keeping your horse moving. Be sure you are very particular with your horse, making sure there is good forward motion and correct flextion. Your horse should tip the nose slightly to the center of your circle, bending WITH the circle.

Practice backing your horse on a feel as well, by asking the horse to back by simply flicking the lead. Having the ability to back your horse off a feel is a great skill for your horse to have, especially when performing ranch riding and roping.

Another great exercise is to engage your horse’s hind end. Start by using your leading hand to ask for vertical flextion in your horse to the inside. Start walking into your horse’s hindquarters, asking them to step hind leg crossing the other hind leg. You may need to use your flag at first until your horse gets the idea, but in the end you can get your horse to respond simply by walking into their hindquarters and the jiggle of your lead.

Once your horse is walking nice, round circles off a leading hand, we can then take this exercise to the next level by practicing “half-circles.” To perform the “Half-Circle Exercise”, simply get your horse walking a full forward circle with engagement in the hind end. We will then ask our horse to change direction, and “follow through” with the front end, by switching our leading hand and flag hand, pushing the horse’s outside shoulder around. Your horse will engage his hind end and roll around to the opposite direction when performed properly. This exercise cannot be practiced enough, and when mastered is much like “dancing” with your horse, and noticeably will translate into your saddle riding as well.

I hope this inspires riders to understand that there is a always a better way to communicate with the horse. We always have room for improvement in our horsemanship, and room to become better for our horse. Happy Trails!

Gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it. -Buck Brannaman

No Hoof, No Horse: Fundamental Knowledge for Maintaining Hoof Health in your Horse

I would like to have a brief discussion on the importance of maintaining proper hoof health in horses. As horse owners, we all care deeply for the well-being of our horses. Taking proper care of our horses hooves is one of the most important things we can do as horse owners for our horses health.

How exactly can we provide optimal care for our horses hooves so they are happy and healthy?

1. Finding a High Quality Farrier

Not all farriers are created equal. Some are highly trained, and have formal education. They have been in the industry for years. They are knowledgeable in blacksmith techniques, horse anatomy, nutrition, trimming, and shoeing. These folks can be a wealth of knowledge, and provide helpful insights so your horse can feel and perform his/her best.

Other farriers may have learned to tack a shoe on and trim a hoof out of necessity. Sometimes these services can be hard to find, especially in very rural areas, and in emergency situations. While these are good skills to have when in a bind, and may “get you by”, you want to choose a farrier that will provide your horse THE BEST hoof care in the long term, and can provide consistent, and routine trims and shoeing throughout their lifetime. Your relationship with your farrier is typically a long-lasting one. I cannot express the importance of finding a farrier that is a true “master of the trade”.

Don’t be afraid to ask your farrier questions. Where did they learn the trade? How long have they been shoeing horses? Do they have any formal education? How skilled are they with blacksmith techniques? Do they have knowledge of specialty shoes or use of shoes and pads to be used in winter conditions?

Chances are, the reputable farriers in the industry won’t be hard to find, and are widely used and well known in your area. Talk to the local equine community for feedback.

2. Have a regular Trimming and Shoeing Schedule

In the summertime, horse hooves generally need to be trimmed and shod every 6-8 weeks. The horse’s hooves grow more slowly in the winter, and maintenance is generally needed every 6-12 weeks, depending on the horse. Good farriers will more often than not get booked out, especially in the warmer months. Get on your farrier’s calendar, and always book out your next appointment at each visit, so that your horse can be on a reliable, consistent schedule for hoof maintenance. This will minimize problems with your horses feet.

3. A Properly Balanced Hoof

When your horse has a balanced hoof, it moves better, and has less stress and strain on bones, tendons and ligaments. The ideal foot has:

  • A straight hoof-pastern angle
    • A straight line from the pastern down through the front of the hoof wall.
    • This correctly lines up the bones between the pastern and coffin bone.
  • Easy break over
    • The toe is not too long and is squared, rounded or rolled.
    • This allows easier movement with each step.
    • Too much break over can result in health problems.
  • Adequate heel support
    • The shoe extends back to the end of the hoof wall and supports the back of the entire leg.
    • The back edge of the shoe is under a line drawn down the center of the cannon bone.
  • Medial-lateral balance
    • The foot lands evenly from side to side

4. Proper Nutrition

Make sure you are feeding your horse high quality hay and feed. You get out what you put in. Don’t try and save money buying cheap feed for your horse. You may pay for it in the long run. Provide salt licks to your horse so they may get the essential trace minerals needed to maintain ideal health.

5. Proper Hydration

Make sure your horse always has access to adequate, clean drinking water.

I hope this is is helpful and educational to all of those with horses in their lives. Remember, our horses are depending on US to put their best interests in mind. Therefore, we need to put forth our best selves everyday, for them, and for everyone, to make the world a better place. Happy Trails!