HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR VALUABLE TACK, BOOTS & LEATHER ITEMS
Saddles, boots, bridles and other leather items are valuable investments and we want to get the most of our treasured equipment. You’ll want to keep your new boots and saddles wonderful your our older, well-worn-in treasured favorites good-looking and functional for a long time.
With the right care, we can keep them beautiful and functional. Here some tips:
1. Clean off loose dirt and dust before applying any product. Use a rag on smooth surfaces and a small, firm brush for crevices and hard to reach places or stubborn, caked-on dry dirt.
2. Apply leather cleaning product. Effax Cream Soap: Apply a small amount to a lightly damp small sponge and clean leather in circular motion. Effax Leather Combi: Squirt a few squirts on a lightly damp sponge larger sponge and thoroughly wipe item all over.
3. Wipe off dirt and product with a lightly damp rag and let sit to dry off a bit, but not completely. Let the item air dry, but not in the sun or direct heat! (Do not use a blow dryer, do not place in front of radiator, etc.…)
4. Condition: Effax Leather Oil (twice per year): Apply a thin coat with the included brush all over the item. Let sit for half an hour, then dab any excess oil away with a clean soft rag. Let completely dry and polish (I like to wait until the next day). Effax Conditioning Leather Balm (every couple of months): Either use a clean brush to apply to the leather item or – better yet – apply a generous amount to your hands and massage the product into the leather and use a brush to get into nooks and crannies. Let dry and polish (I like to wait until the next day).
STORAGE TIP: Keeping your leather items covered or tucked away in a cubby will help keep them dust-free and low-maintenance. Wipe off sweat and dirt with a little squirt of Effax Leather Combi after every heavy use or if items are sweaty (bridles, breast plates). Use breathable, not water-proof covers to keep away mildew that thrives in moist conditions. (Sometimes, an old sheet will do the trick!) CONDITIONING TIP: Oiling and conditioning with Effax products has a lasting effect! There will be no need to constantly oil or condition your leather items. Heavily used items can be conditioned once a month. It is more important to keep the items in a clean and protected environment than constantly oiling them, which can make the leather too soft if overdone. CLEANING TIP: Clean both sides of the leather! For thorough cleaning, take the saddle or bridle completely apart and clean all nooks and crannies. Reassemble after conditioning and drying. CAUTION: Never apply oil or conditioner to a dirty leather item. Do not overoil your tack! Do not place your saddle in an overly humid or overly dry (near radiators, etc.) environment!
A shiny coat – (almost) every horse owner dreams of a shiny coat. Whether we look at old paintings or photographs, show footage or horses in our environment, a horse with a shiny coat stands out and has always been revered as a symbol for vibrancy and health.
Most of the time, we associate a shiny coat with certain coat colors, especially black, bay, or chestnut. There is nothing like the glow of a dark bay or coppery chestnut horse! But what about our white or grey horses? Can we produce shine in a grey or white horse?
What makes a horse’s coat shine
There are several factors to consider:
Grooming technique and level of cleanliness
My horse Paladin – a dark bay – seems to have the ‘shiny gene’. So there must be certain factors that make dark hair shine. The university of Delaware on (human) hair color: “Hair color is determined by the amount of eumelanin (which is dark brown) and pheomelanin (which is reddish). The amount of eumelanin ranges continuously from very little, producing light-blonde hair, to large amounts, producing black hair. People with large amounts of pheomelanin have red hair, which can range from pale red (“strawberry blond”) to bright red to reddish brown.”
People and horses are mammals, so genetically and as it pertains to hair, the biochemistry is basically the same. The article further explains that certain genetic aspects seem to be associated with one hair color or another, which explains the whole ‘method in the madness’ of breeding.
But does the hair of dark horses actually have a component that creates ‘shine’? No. The simple fact is that smooth, dark surfaces play with light in a different way than smooth light surfaces. Think of a white car and a black car, both equally clean and polished. Which one will seem more shiny?
Grooming technique and cleanliness
And here comes the deciding factor: Smoothness and cleanliness. If the surface is smooth (again think of a car) versus textured (think of a wooden picnic table), there will be more light reflection. So the key is to create a SMOOTH & CLEAN surface.
Adding ‘polish’ (car) just makes the surface smoother and thus more shiny! Where is the polish on the horse? It doesn’t come from a can. Our horses have the polish built right in! It is produced by little oil glands attached to each hair root. The key to a shiny coat lies in
Cleaning the coat
Distributing the ‘polish’ (body oils) over the hair and
Just like in us humans, only a healthy horse will have a healthy coat. Feeding the right amount of essential nutrients and healthy oils will be the precondition for a smooth, healthy, vibrant, and shiny looking coat!
Shiny white and grey horses
Shine on your white or grey horse will not be as obvious. It will be a healthy glow and glisten when the light falls in just right. Just because light surfaces reflect light different than dark. The challenge with white and grey horses is that manure and grass stains show up more than in their darker herd mates, which immediately distracts from an overall good-looking, healthy and clean coat. We will talk more about how to tackle stains in white and grey horses in a different post.
Yes, white and grey horses can shine! But their shine will not be as obvious as that of a darker horse since dark surfaces reflect light differently than light surfaces (again, use the car example). The key to a vibrant looking white or grey horse: Good feed, cleanliness, and proper grooming techniques!
What sounds like a drag to read through, is actually a very well presented wealth of really good, imaginative, practical and downright frugal ideas, covering anything from grooming over tack care and facilities to riding and pasture.
Granted, some of the tips may not be down your alley (not wanting to create a hand-made net?) but many will. One I really liked and that alone would make it worth the purchase: Easy to make stirrup covers that will prevent the stirrups from scratching up your saddle when you put it up. It’s not rocket science, but the point is, I never had the idea!
“Horse Owner’s Essential Tips will quickly find a place in the stable office”.
Yes, indeed. It’s easy to read format and delightful illustrations make it wonderful to have at hand for perusing when you only have a little time to kill (waiting for the vet, for instance). In those 10 minutes of browsing through the book, something will catch your eye that will make a difference to your (horse) life, all while enjoying a well-illustrated book, written in a light and easily digestible style.
It is now a part of our barn library to be enjoyed by all.
Some of my favorite horse tips from the book:
Oil to ‘cure’ chestnuts: Apply sunflower or olive oil to large, dry chestnuts daily until they fall off on their own. (I might add: Apply once or twice weekly afterward to keep them from growing back.) This is a low-cost, easy solution to a common unsightly problem.
Secure blanket clasp: Many horse owners blanket their horses in the winter, only to find that their expensive blanket will not stay on the horse. The problem: The clasp keeps opening. Meyrier suggests an easy solution: Use a rubber gasket such as found on certain beer or lemonade bottles to prevent the clasp from opening. A nifty illustration shows how it’s done.
Dried up tear stains on your horse’s face: Many horses don’t appreciate the feel of a wet sponge around their eyes, especially once you start rubbing. Philip Meyrier had an idea: Use moisturizing make-up remover pads: The dirt sticks to the wipes, it’s easy and the horse seems to like it better! (Of course, you could also use Aspire Natural Tear Stain Remover.)
An enjoyable read, great to keep in the barn or take along on a show or horse camping trip.
A chock full of innovative, imaginative and often frugal and funny tips and tricks to make your horse life easier.
NOTE: This article focuses on “Tempo” (the beat). Precondition for finding tempo is relaxation and RHYTHM (regularity).
Please see an article on Rhythm here.
As we follow the Olympics (or not…) or view Youtube videos of the classic ‘Pas de Deuxs’ of yesteryear or spunky dressage Freestyles of today, we may get the idea of riding to music ourselves. Not a dressage rider? Never done this before? No problem! You do not have to wear any special kind of pants to have fun with music.
For those, who have never tried this and would like to give it a shot, here some tips
1. Getting the ‘horse to move in the beat’
Hmm… this is actually not how it works. It works the other way around! Find your horse’s natural beat (Tempo) in all three gaits and certain exercises (according to your schooling level) by determining Beats Per Minute (BPM). Thanks to modern mobile technology, that’s easy with a Smartphone app such as the Android App BPM Tap. This video shows how it works.
Have someone tap the beat on the Smartphone while you ride and write down the respective bpm for trot, canter, for example.
If you prefer to take a video of your horse under rider and then determine the needed bpm on your desktop, this is the app for you: BPM Online Counter for Desktop
Here the average BPMs – your horse, depending on size and breed – may differ from this!
Walk – between 50-65 BPM
Trot – between 75-90 BPM
Canter – between 95-110 BPM
Passage/Piaffe – between 60-65 BPM
2. Determine the kind of music you like
What type of music do you like? Classical, Pop, Rock, Reggae? Dig around in your CD collection, on your MP3 player, your iTunes, record collection or on Pandora.com.
Unsure? Let your horse guide you! What type of guy or gal is your horse? Daredevil or sensitive flower? What kind of expression do you have as a pair? Serious, sense of humor, goofy, elegant? Have fun with this!
3. Find the songs with your horse’s BPM
Oh my! Just when we thought this was going to be easy. Here a good way to start:
Go to Equimusic.com, a free resource created by Michael Matson, creator of the “Dancing Horse Fund” or to the very comprehensive, searchable BPM Database.
Enter the desired BPM in the search field and ‘enter’ to bring up search results.
Browse the songs and listen to the song (youtube, iTunes, etc.) to develop a feel for the beat.
You can either use the suggested songs or find one with a similar beat in your own collection. In that case, double-check with your BMP tap app.
4. Create a log of suitable music per gait.
A great tool is Evernote. You may just be sitting at Starbucks and hear a song that may work for your horse’s trot, tap the beat, confirm, and want to remember that song later! Evernote will work across all your mobile and desktop devices.
5. Create a first practice routine
Motto: Keep it simple and make it short and sweet! Have fun! Just ride in the arena and experiment, then write down what your’d like to do and practice a few times.
Once your are relatively secure, have a friend time the different sequences or take a video so you can time them yourself.
6. Assign music to sequences
Decide which of your selected pieces would be fun to combine and write down your plan.
7. Be the mix master!
Purchase (if needed) the music and mix to match your routine. A useful tool I like and that is also recommend by Equimusic, is the open source application Audacity.
8. Load and go!
Load your mix on your mobile device, get the ear phones going or hook up to your arena speakers and give it a whirl!
9. Some don’ts…
Do not try and force your horse into a beat just because you like the song!
Your horse has ears, too! Heavy Metal may not be the best choice.
When it comes to speaker volume: As high as necessary, as low as possible.
Mix it up and create built-in walk breaks. Be mindful of your horse’s fitness level!
10. Last not least…
Don’t be surprised if your horse shows a side of his/her personality that you did not know yet. You will feel different and so will your horse!
Riding to music can be addictive. You will never listen to the car radio the same way!
Most of all, make this an activity you BOTH can enjoy and keep in mind that it’s easier to overdo it when you are having fun…
“Riding is not about “riding”. It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block.”
A guest blog article by Horse Behavior Specialist Anita Kush
In my practice as a coach to horse owners and trainers, who seek a more mindful connection with their horse, I come across many, who have become caught up in a vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations, shattered hopes and dreams, disillusionment, and more – albeit adjusted – expectations. The way out of this cycle is to start asking ourselves the right – and perhaps uncomfortable – questions:
When I arrive at the barn, what do I really see?
Is it what is before me? Or is it my vision of what I want to be or achieve? And is my horse – my colleague in this endeavor – a partner or a slave to my ambitions and desires?
Is my goal predicated on a picture in a magazine, a moment frozen in time, a video, an idea, a concept, a wish, a book telling us that – yes – I too can look like and be THIS…if only I will follow a certain method or buy a certain product or gadget…
What is meaningful horse work?
It is work that is considerate, fair, helpful, firm (when necessary) and facilitates long term understanding in relationship of the two parties involved.
What is the difference between “disobedience” and learning?
Is it possible that what we interpret as disrespect or unwillingness to perform certain tasks, may be in reality lack of understanding? The horse showing us what he knows and that he is unable – not unwilling – to fulfill the request? Or that perhaps our question isn’t clear. What is accomplished by demanding that certain things happen – even though it may be physically or emotionally impossible for the horse to comply?
What is the process of learning that we need to understand?
Making mistakes and struggling means: Your horse is trying to figure out a way to accomplish what you are asking. He is not avoiding the question!
“Remember, it is not about the task, it is about how we come to it. Is it with willing cooperation or grudging resentment? The choice is ours.” (Anita Kush)
Riding is not about “riding”. It is about everything that happens before we even get to the mounting block. Getting on is the culmination of the totality of the relationship between you and your horse. No gadget or video can give you the answer. There is no one size fits all method or equipment. See beyond mechanics and arm yourself with deeper knowledge.
The horse has all the answers! Look at the horse in front of you: He’ll always tell you the truth and live up to your expectations. Learn to expect what you want to see – a non-confrontational, cooperative and mindful interaction with your horse!
[If you are interested in a consultation with Anita Kush, please see her bio here or call +1847 791 0494.
There is much talk about the German ‘Training Scale’ in the context of horse training and in many a barns – especially with dressage focus – we’ll find posters, images or signs on the walls, showing the 6 elements of the training scale or training pyramid.
Before we discuss the mental factors of relaxation, let’s remind ourselves of the origins of the German Training Scale:
The Training Scale (Skala der Ausbildung) first appears as a 6-step concept in the 1937 version of the “H. Dv. 12 German Cavalry Manual: On the Training Horse and Rider”. At the same time, Siegfried von Haugk – cavalry officer, head of the remount school Oschatz and co-author of the HDV12 – created an updated version of the army hand book on “Teaching Riding to Recruits”, which contained – for the first time – the description of the 6-step systematic training system in sequence as we know it today. The HDV12 is – essentially – the basis for today’s FN Principles of Riding. The ‘principles’ were altered, however, to meet the needs of today’s recreational riders. In recent years, the panel responsible for the content of these principles has decided on a return to some of the original teachings of the HDV12 to ensure horse welfare.
While ‘Rhythm’ is the first element of the Training Scale and basic foundation in the schooling of the young horse, the late Olympic gold medalist Dr. Reiner Klimke valued Suppleness (Relaxation) above all. We can find suppling exercises in his and his daughter Ingrid’s books (for example Basic Training of the Young Horse: Dressage, Jumping, Cross-country) as well as in the HDV12.
But are there preconditions for even getting to suppleness?
Is there a step before the step?
The answer is YES: We need to embark on a ‘Path to Relaxation/Suppleness’, meaning
Eliminate any factors that cause the horse to brace
Release any existing tension in the horse (and rider!)
Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse
This ‘path’ never ends! It must be introduced before Suppleness can be expected. However, it is not a ‘step’ that we accomplish and then move on. We need to actively and consciously incorporate these three important ‘paths’ into our schooling – and the learning as well as the rewards will never stop.
Let’s look a little closer at these 3 elements on the path to suppleness
1. Eliminate factors that cause the horse to brace
Bracing is a reaction on part of the horse, where the horse protects himself against an external influence causing pain or discomfort. This can also be mental discomfort! In response, the horse will constantly contract muscles, not only fatiguing or even damaging these muscles, but also skeletal elements that these muscles are attached to. Relaxed, supple movement becomes impossible. Here some examples for factors that can cause bracing in the horse:
Incorrect use of spurs
Tightly adjusted bridles
Hard rider hands
Rider seat lacking suppleness
The goal: Identify those factors that cause bracing in your horse. Caution: This is not a ‘one fits all’ process, but a very individualized look at what your horse is expressing and an investigation into possible causes. Then eliminate these factors and replace with something that works for horse and rider, but allows the horse to move freely.
Note: Bracing is not always bad… When catching a basketball, you brace against the impact. The key is to be able to let go afterwards! Constant, habitual bracing is the problem.
2. Release existing tension in the horse (and rider)
Once certain bracing patterns or negative movement habits are established, the horse carries tension that he is unable to release himself. These tense, constantly contracted muscles, muscle spasms, lack of flexibility, limited range of motion translates into lack of suppleness. To get a fresh start on your Path to Performance™, you need to create a ‘clean slate’ by releasing tension and restriction and thus create the possibility of learning new movement or postural habits. For both rider and horse, this can be accomplished by:
Bodywork & massage
The goal: Find areas where tension & restriction resides and release it through various modalities, enabling the body to find a whole new way of moving in a relaxed way.
3. Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse
You are strolling down a busy street on a sunny Saturday afternoon – leisurely shopping pleasure. Suddenly, you hear a loud crash only a few yards away. A car accident! How does your body feel? Without any of your conscious doing, your body will show the typical human stress response posture: tucked in chest and abdominals, shoulders rounded forward, knees slightly bent, head moves forward (basically our modern ‘smart phone’ posture…) – and increased blood sugar and blood pressure, heart rate and sweating.
The horse – as a prey animal – has an even more fine-tuned physical response to stress. These physical responses can be so subtle, that we relatively loud-mouthed, always on the ‘go’ humans, do not even notice. Here a short list of the horse’s physical responses to stress:
Hollowed back or braced back
Holding abdominals tight (sheath makes wind-sucking noise when trotting)
Shallow, fast breath
Overall tension and short-striding
An many more….
The key to avoiding these physical stress responses is to eliminate stress. Easier said than done! Are you causing your horse stress? You may not think so. But once you experience truly non-confrontational dialog with your horse, you will see a difference.
The goal: Creating a relaxed mental platform on which horse and rider and interact productively without the barriers of stress response, which always leads to physical tension.
Got it? Got A-B-C covered? Then off you go, enjoy your success with Suppling Exercises!
Twice every year your horse changes his coat—from thin summer coat to thick winter coat and vice versa. In the spring, our horses are shedding their thick coat and horse owners are working hard with various tools from massage curry , over shedding blade to shedding brushes with soft brass bristles to help their horse through the transition. But is that enough?
Is hair all there is to shedding?
Not at all. As the days get longer, your horse’s organism receives signals to change the coat—and body and metabolism are also experiencing significant changes. The horse has to produce a large number of proteins in order to create the new coat. This is an enormous feat!
Here 5 things you can do to help your horse shed his coat:
Optimize nutrition & add oils
Now that your horse’s body is working hard to not only come up with a complete new coat but also to adjust the metabolism to the changes in temperature, it is even more important to be especially diligent in balancing nutrition: Vitamins, especially biotin; minerals; herbs that stimulate the metabolism and the kidneys. Get in touch with your local horse feed specialist to fine-tune your horse’s nutrition during this important time. Healthy oils and essential fatty acids (such as Eo 3 Omega-3 Supplement For Horses) help your horse grow a healthy new coat. Calculate the right amount and follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Supporting your horse with the right nutrition can help your horse shed his coat.
Consider brewer’s yeast for horses
Brewer’s yeast can help increase feed efficiency and is a supplement that has been fed to horses for hundreds of years. Find a product that is especially formulated for horses or horse feed that already contains brewer’s yeast. (I like Horse Brewers Yeast Supplement – 4 Lbs)
Massage & curry
Support your horse’s change of coat by massaging his coat and skin, not only to remove old and itchy hair and dander, but also to increase blood circulation. This helps your horse feel better and supports the new growth from the bottom up. Use a flexible massage curry that feels good to your horse, such as “New Generation” by Haas .)
Ditch the shedding blade!
If you want to see a really shiny, smooth summer coat, replace harsh shedding blades – which can scratch the skin, damage hair follicles and roughen the soft hair of the new summer coat – with a firm brush or better yet a 50% brass bristle brush. To help your horse shed his coat without rushing the process, use a 50/50 brass bristle brush – such as the HorseHaus ‘Curly’. This brush will gently remove the soft undercoat that is so hard to grab with a shedding blade. At the same time, it removes dirt and dander and leaves the coat clean.
Take it easy
If possible, ask a little less of your horse during shedding time. Your horse’s systems are already quite strained through the effort of changing coats and metabolism. If your horse is a bit on the lazy side during coat change season, let him get away with some of that and lighten the work load, if possible.
In short: When your horse is shedding the winter or summer coat (yes, that needs to shed, too) and grows a new coat, there is much going on ‘behind the scenes’. Taking this into consideration during coat change time will make a big difference to your horse.
In a nut shell: ‘Cinchy’ describes a horse that shows an adverse reaction to the saddle cinch or saddle girth, either during the saddling process or well before – for example when approaching the horse with the saddle.
These adverse reactions can range from subtle (tense facial expression) to aggressive (kicking or biting). Any response apart from a relaxed acceptance must be viewed as a defensive response on part of the horse.
Why is my horse ‘cinchy’ or ‘girthy’?
When looking at anyunwanted behaviors in horses, we are looking at 3 possible scenarios:
An unpleasant physical experience at this moment (pain, discomfort, etc.)
An unpleasant emotional experience at this moment (fear, panic, etc.)
A memory of an unpleasant physical or emotional experience, which is now anticipated (but may not occur…)
A google search shows: Most trainers address a negative reaction to the girth or cinch as a behavior issue. This is an unfortunate misrepresentation. As responsible horse owners, we need to consider physical pain and discomfort first, then rule it out or address it in order to then successfully address the behavior issue or habit that may be associated with this discomfort.
Physical Discomfort as Cause for Cinchy Behavior
Asking ourselves ‘could it be pain?‘, we need to start looking at the girth area, mainly the area of the deep pectoral muscles. Here some tips:
Run your fingers (carefully) from the center of the rib cage (under the horse, sternum) up towards the saddle area, across the ascending pectorals (see image). Look for reactions: Anything from muscle flinching in that area to more volatile reactions like kicking and biting. NOTE: Be careful! Start with very soft touch, take it up a notch only if no reaction from the horse. Never press harder than would be comfortable for you. Practice on your own leg first.
Did you get a reaction? If yes, it is time to investigate girth fit, tightness, material, placement, etc. Your horse is in discomfort!!
More clues: Is your horse ‘short-strided’ or tight in the shoulder? This could be another indicator of discomfort in the deep pectorals.
The detective work in finding out what causes the discomfort in the girth area (meaning in the deep pectorals) does not stop at riding equipment.
You also need to look at feet, any hidden front leg or shoulder discomfort, tightness in the poll, imbalance in self carriage. The underlying problem can also be a subluxation of any of the underlying skeletal structures (vertebrae), often called a ‘rib out’. Contact an equine chiropractor to rule out this very common cause of girthyness. More often than not, it is difficult to find the reason if all factors have been sufficiently addressed and girthy behavior persists. Gentle bodywork that addresses the entire system of the horse’s body and rules out compensation patterns – such as the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork – will often be the key to resolving the hidden causes of girthy behavior.
Reasons for girthy or cinchy behavior can include:
a saddle with a tree that pinches in the whithers
a saddle with protruding screws or knotty, aged flocking
a saddle that does not conform well to the shape of the horses back (bridges or rocks)
Girth/cinch or pad problems:
a saddle pad that bunches
a saddle pad that is too thick, thus making a well fitting saddle fit like a shoe, that is too small
a soiled saddle pad (for example plant debris, sand, old hardened sweat etc)
a synthetic saddle pad that ‘heats up’ during the ride and promises discomfort later on
a pinching girth/cinch or buckle (especially Western cinches with the buckle in the wrong position)
a too tight girth/cinch
Physical problems (sometimes caused by above)
Sore spots, abscess, insect bites or other wounds in the girth or saddle area (infected tick bites)
Back pain: the horse anticipates back pain when being ridden and thus has anxiety around the saddling process (for example: back-pain due to muscle spasms or hock problems).
Sore feet: The abdodimus pectoris muscle can get tender and sore when horses have pain or soreness in their front feet because of the way the horse moves to avoid the pain.
The horse associates the process of being saddled with a stressful experience, such as
feelings of panic or claustrophobia (often caused by starting the young horse in a hurry)
a negative riding experience, either in present or past (former owner, trainer)
unsoundness or painful illness (such as any digestive issues, ulcers, hoof sensitivities) that become very stressful when ridden
Equine massage or body work can help with any muscular issues, whether they may be primary – such as muscle spasm – or secondary – such as sore ascending pectoral muscles due to sore feet.
However, the first recommended course of action is to uncover the root cause, involving professionals such as vet, farrier, equine chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. After the root
cause for the discomfort is remedied, the secondary discomfort and tension due to compensation can often be helped within only a few sessions of equine massage or body work.
Horses have been around for a lot longer than our modern conveniences like horse vacuums and show sheen spray. While we can be grateful to have access to these conveniences, not everything we use today is actually helpful or beneficial. What did experienced stable hands do in the ‘old days’? What can we learn from them?
Sometimes, it’s the simple ‘old-school’ solution that gets the best result.
Here 10 “old-school” grooming and horse care tips:
100 strokes to shine
The German cavalry prescribed a minimum of 100 brush strokes (with a horse hair brush) per horse per day. The recruits had to groom their own horses and were subjected to rigorous inspections. Grooming was not only viewed as a means to clean the horse but also to provide a good massage, increase blood circulation and well being. But the recruits were encouraged to be quick about it: “There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.” (Care of the Troup Horse, 1937)
What’s in an onion?
Apparently something that makes the horse hoof shiny. Cut an onion into half and rub the clean and dry hoof with the raw onion before entering the show ring. It will provide shine without the unwanted side-effect of attracting sand and dirt.
Laurel oil for hoof growth
Laurel oil (bay leaf oil) has been a staple in hoof care for centuries. The thrifty groom would massage the oil into the coronet band, then sparingly spread a thin film over the rest of the hoof wall. Then hoof treatment was applied to the collateral groove and the sole of the hoof, never the frog!
Caring for the sweaty horse after exercise
The hot and sweaty horse appreciates having his eyes and nostrils cleaned with a damp cloth. Then 10-15 minutes of calm walking in hand, in winter or cool weather covered with a simple wool blanket. Follow up with a vigorous rub down with a bunch of clean straw to dry the coat further, then brush the coat smooth with a coarse natural brush.
Caring for the horse’s mane
The knowledgeable old-school groom never combed a mane! Instead, the mane would be finger-combed, the dandruff on the crest would then be brushed off with a horse hair finishing brush, parting small sections with the fingers, and then the groom would smoothen the mane by brushing.
Wherever there are horses, there will be flies… Besides cleanliness, the old-school barn master prescribed a natural ally in the war against the buzzing pest: swallows. Encourage swallows to nest in your barn and you will keep the fly population low.
And another fly repellent…
If you cannot convince the swallows to nest in your barn, try a ‘spiked lemon’. Spike a lemon with cloves and hang it up in your barn.
Keeping leather soft
After cleaning saddle, bridle & other leather accessories thoroughly with saddle soap, the old-school groom would not let the leather dry out completely but instead apply leather conditioner when the leather was still somewhat damp. After letting the conditioner soak in, remove excess fat with a wool cloth, easily made by shrinking an old wool sweater in a hot wash cycle.
Cleaning very sweaty bridles
In order to remove caked on dirt and sweat before cleaning the bridle with saddle soap, take the bridle apart and soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water with a squirt of ammonia. Be sure not to forget the bridle in the bucket! Remove after a few minutes.
Last not least… a tasty snack!
The groom in old times provided his horses with tasty branches from fruit trees, birch trees and hazelnut bushes. This was supposed to be healthy and good for the teeth. If you’d like to take it up a notch, soak some bread in beer, a snack that was (or still is…) supposedly popular in some parts of Germany. (Note: This tip is provided for entertainment purposes. If you would like to try this, please check with your vet first! 😉
Bitting is a complicated topic, but I hope to make it a little easier for you to ask yourself the right questions. The answers to those questions can then be your guide to finding the right bit.
What lies beneath (the muzzle)?
The muzzle is a sensitive, complex part of the horse’s sensory system. In the best case scenario – suitable bit and sensitive, light hands – it is therefore also a perfect ‘communication hub’ between rider hand and horse brain. In the worst case scenario – the wrong bit and rough rein influence – it becomes the scene of torture.
We need to look beneath the muzzle to determine:
How wide is your horse’s lower jaw?
How concave or flat is the cavity of your horse’s palate?
What is the angle/shape of your horse’s ‘bars’ (the toothless lower part where the bit rests)? Is it shaped like a roof, with a small contact area? Or is the contact area flat, wide and fleshy or anything in between?
How thick is your horse’s tongue?
Last not least: Any old injuries/scars/odd tooth arrangement or presence of ‘wolf teeth’?
Lift your horse’s lip, feel around, carefully grab the tongue, stroke over the bars, touch the palate and explore its shape, open your horse’s mouth and observe any visual clues. In other words: familiarize yourself with the landscape of your horse’s mouth.
What does the exterior of the muzzle look like?
After you have explored the inside of your horse’s mouth through palpation and visual exploration, it is time to look at the outside.
How long is your horse’s mouth (meaning the opening, where does the corner of the mouth end relative to the nostril)?
Do you notice any chafing or cracking, warts, or scarring?
How deep is the chin groove?
How fleshy is the muzzle?
These factors – in combination with the factors above – are important when it comes to choosing the right bit and bridle. (E. g.: A horse with a short mouth will not do well with a dropped noseband. A horse with a long mouth does not need ‘2 wrinkles’ to have the bit in the right position.)
What is the horse’s personality?
Energy level: Anything from laid back or ‘pokey’ to forward and energetic. Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest energy level.
Strong-mindedness: Even with the best of training, there are horses, who insist on their own agenda more often than other, more agreeable types. It is important to be realistic about this. (No excuses! Bad training does not count!) Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most strong-minded.
Sensitivity: This plays a bit into the physical make-up and also the history of the horse. A former school horse can be quite dull in the mouth (mentally and physically), another horse has lots of sensitive nerves and reacts to the smallest closing of the hands. Rate your horse from 1-10, with 10 being the most sensitivity.
NOTE: If you are unsure because the horse may be new to you, take your time and enlist the help of a friend or trainer to gently and respectfully explore the respective area with your horse.
What is the horse’s job and training level?
Considering the horse’s riding discipline and training level is key. Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest level that can be attained in your discipline.
What can be expected by the rider?
What type of rider will handle this horse’s reins? Rate the skill level as it pertains to a) independent seat and b) careful and sensitive use of the reins and soft hands, on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being a very balanced rider with skilled, soft hands.
Bits with leverage or double bridles only belong into the mouths of horses with the appropriate training level and under a skilled rider.
Rider safety is first. If you ride competitive trail or endurance, for example, and you have a high-strung animal, you need to take this into consideration. And yes, bits sometimes do stop horses.
A simple snaffle bit of some type will do fine for most applications – from dressage over trail riding to show jumping – if horse and rider are appropriately trained.
Snaffle bits with leverage are especially harsh bits! (This includes the ‘Tom Thumb’ bit!)
The best-fitting bit can become an instrument of torture under a tight noseband.
Broken snaffle bits (French link, for example) are not necessarily gentler. It depends on the horse!
TIP: For horses with difficult mouth anatomy (thick tongue plus narrow jaw and low palate, for example), or horses with learned bit aversions, try a Meroth leather snaffle. Be sure to not purchase ‘copy cat’ products, as they may contain toxic tanning agents. And only the Meroth bit is 100% leather without steel or plastic core, therefore extra gentle.
Write the results of you explorations on a sheet of paper. Also list your concerns and questions, then contact several bit experts and ask what bit they would recommend for your particular horse and situation.
Chose the bit and answer that makes the most sense to you.
Your horse will be the last judge!
As always, be well and enjoy your horse!
There is a general lack of good, reliable resources and information on the topic of ‘bits and bitting’. Here some resourcesyou might want to explore: