How-To

Checking Your Horse's Vital Signs

Every horse owner should be familiar with his or her horse’s “normal” vital signs. Knowing your horse’s healthy, resting temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, capillary refill time, and gut sounds will help you realize when he is unwell. Additionally, in the event of illness or injury to your horse, being able to check and report his vital signs can help indicate to your veterinarian the horse’s present condition.

Blanketing Horses in Cold Weather

Whether you live in the balmier south or frigid northern slopes, you may wonder when, or if, you should provide your horse with equine clothing. Many horses do need a little help, especially when you try to keep their winter hair coat to a minimum.

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No blanket stays waterproof forever. After it's been well used for a few years, the waterproofing will wear off. You'll know it's time to re-waterproof when you notice wetness along the midline of the horse's back and croup.

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When I first began riding lessons over 30 years ago, the horse world that I experienced was staunchly devoted to negative reinforcement training, supported by a limited understanding of equine behaviour and the speed and convenience of force-based forms of horsemanship. I can safely say that the process of shedding those engrained patterns, cemented in my neural pathways by consistent use and a lack of viable alternatives, has been one of the greatest obstacles in my journey with horses. Thankfully, over the last five years, I have been bathing in alternative and less intense waters where horse training is concerned. Positive reinforcement training, known by many as R+ training, has been one of my explorations. This type of training, used commonly with dogs and other animals and now finding its way into more mainstream use with horses, uses clicker training primarily as a means of supporting learning. Clicker training uses a novel noise or word that is easily distinguishable for your horse to mark a desired behaviour, generally followed closely by a reward, typically of food. In this way you are able to shape behaviours and encourage curiousity and creativity in your horse.

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Perhaps because it doesn’t affect one’s mark on the judge’s score card or change a barrel run time, many riders don’t put a lot of thought into teaching their horse to stand still at the mounting block – that is, until it starts to become a bigger problem. Before you find yourself doing a “Butch Cassidy mount-on-the-fly,” spend some time setting boundaries with your horse.

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While it might often be spoken about in artistic, aesthetic, or even philosophical ways, lightness — both of movement and also of communication with horses — is more than an abstract ideal. In many ways, it measures a horse’s current physiological capabilities.

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You’ve just returned from an invigorating winter’s ride, your horse enjoyed prancing through the powdery snow, and with the sun shining you didn’t notice the nip in the air. But now your sweaty horse is steaming and with the sun slipping behind the horizon, winter’s chill is fast returning….After a winter workout, a 10 to 15 minute walk will not only guard against muscle soreness, it is essential to allow the horse’s skin to dry. But one method does not fit all. Your winter cool-out regime will be different depending on a number of factors including whether your horse is clipped, blanketed or “au naturel”; whether he lives inside or outside; and the intensity of your workout.

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Grooming is an enjoyable way to bond with your horse, and most horses love to be fussed over, but cleaning a male horse’s sheath is an unpleasant chore that owners and riders tend to avoid. From potentially being kicked, to lack of knowledge or squeamishness, those with geldings and stallions often shirk the task altogether. However, veterinarians agree that cleaning and inspecting a horse’s sheath is a necessary and regular part of maintaining their health.

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Is it working for or against you and your horse? Let’s unpack our tack. I’ve always found the subject of tack to be very interesting. The tack we use on our horses is in many ways symbolic, marking a rider as English or Western, and beyond that, categorizing them more specifically as hunter, jumper, dressage, reining, cutting, barrel racing, endurance and so on.

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If you have ever owned a horse that had difficulties loading you know how determined a horse can be to not get in the trailer. It is easy to accuse the horse of being stubborn or obstinate, or we can make excuses for them, especially if they have ever been hurt or scared in a trailer. Unfortunately, sympathy will get you about as far as being frustrated will — basically nowhere.

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