Above the Influence: Corners

One of the most important parts of any ride is balancing your horse through a turn.  When your horse rounds a corner, you can help make sure that he is balanced and strong.  It might seem like a minor detail, but being balanced through a turn can mean the difference between a mediocre ride and a fantastic ride whether you are in your backyard or an arena of scrutinizing onlookers.

When your horse is balanced going around a bend, it will give a more powerful, steady ride.  It may take a lot of help and support from you at first, but it will eventually become something your horse does naturally and will increase his strength and self-carriage through all aspects of your riding.  Start off with this exercise at the walk and work up from there.  Keep in mind that if this is something neither you nor your horse are used to doing, it will be a lot of work at the start, but if you work at it a little every time you ride, it will get easier before you know it!

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero

To ride a balanced turn, you first have to find your center of balance over your horse.  You don’t want to be leaning back too far or bent over his neck in front of the saddle.  Your body should be upright and supple.  Next, you need to get your horse to bend around the turn.  I’m not talking about a huge movement here.  Ideally, you want to see the outside corner of his eye as you are rounding the turn.  Don’t over-bend him so he is curled in a ‘U’ around your leg because over-bending him will actually make it impossible to balance.  By getting him slightly bent in the direction of the turn, you can push him in the direction you want to go with your legs and reins.  In order to bend him, you need to have firm contact with the reins.  You don’t have to be pulling his lips off his face, but you want to feel a nice line of connection from your hands, through the reins, to his mouth.  You will be using an inside opening rein to cause his head to tilt inward and allow his front end to move into the turn.  Be prepared with your inside leg to apply pressure at the girth to keep him from drifting into the center of the ring.

This horse has a nice bend and is sure-footed. You can see the power in his hindquarters as he pushes himself around the corner and doesn’t let his rider pull him.

You want to push your horse around the turn, not pull him.  What does that mean? That means, use your legs to push him as you round a bend and move him up into your hand.  The weight (pressure) applied with your legs should be just a little stronger than the weight applied with your hands so that you help hold your horse together and balance him as he turns a corner.  When most of us learn to ride, the easiest way to learn to steer is by using either a direct or leading rein to turn your horse in the direction you want to go.  To ride a truly balanced turn, you need to add leg to the equation.  Use your inside leg to push your horse’s hindquarters through the turn and your outside leg to keep the energy up through the turn.  If your horse is very responsive to your legs, the pressure will be almost even, with a slightly greater weight on your inside leg.  If your horse is not the most responsive your your leg, it might take a little bit of effort at first to help him push his hind end around the corner.   Keep in mind though that you have to be aware of where his hindquarters are going.  You don’t want to push so hard that they end up swinging around the turn and ending up on the outside so he is on an angle when you complete the turn.  If this happens, use a little more pressure with your outside leg, slightly behind the girth.  Be aware of the position you are in though.  If you are walking or trotting, you are putting your legs into the position for cantering, so be prepared to add a little extra weight in your hand to keep your horse from changing gait!

If your horse tends to stumble or trip, especially around corners or circles, I’ll wager a bet that its because he’s not balanced.  If you can help him balance himself as he rounds a bend, you will begin to notice a more sure-footed, energetic horse underneath you.  No matter what your discipline, helping your horse learn to be balanced will make your ride much more enjoyable for everyone involved!

This seems like a big chore for something that seems so insignificant, but if you start thinking about a balanced corner every time you have to turn, you will find that it helps strengthen and support both your horse and yourself and it will create an easier ride every time.

The smaller the turn you make, the greater your contact must be. Keep your eyes up and looking where you want to go. Keeping your head up also helps you stay balanced which positively affects your horse’s balance around the turn.

Lynn Palm, the rider in the second picture also has a great article on this topic, found HERE.


Above the Influence: An Introduction

One thing that my college riding instructor was very good at explaining was why you use certain aids (or cues, for Western people!) to get your horse to move, bend and speed up or down.  If you understand what part of the body your aid is effecting, you can get your horse to do just about anything for you.  So in this series,  I’d like to take some time diving into how we influence our horses from the saddle and explaining the ‘whys’ that go with the ‘hows.’  By understanding how the movements you make in the saddle effect your horse, you can become a much more controlled and effective rider and your skill level will increase drastically.

George Williams rides Rocher during the USEF Selection Trials for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team. (June 19, 2008 - Photo by None/Getty Images North America)

Why is he losing weight?!

It’s never a good feeling for you as an owner to look at your horse and think, How did he get to be that skinny?  If you’ve got a hard keeper, a lot of time and money is spent on making sure he keeps a healthy weight.  But what if your horse has never been a hard keeper and suddenly begins to lose weight?  That can be a frustrating, even scary feeling.  Take a step back and consider some of these possibilities and options for helping you four-legged friend pack on the pounds:

  • If he gets grain, is he getting enough? Make sure that you check the bag of the grain that your horse is getting.  Any reputable brand of horse grain will have a feeding chart on the back for how much to feed based on weight and activity level.  If you are trying to put on weight, feed the high end of the recommended amount.
  • Is his hay or pasture high-quality?  Is the hay that your horse is eating high quality?  You can have your hay tested to make sure that the nutrients he needs are present.  Sometimes even hay that looks like it is high quality is lacking in nutrition and some hay that doesn’t look so great to us will give your horse everything he needs.  For more information on testing forage quality, try the National Forage Testing Association.  Also, if your horse is in a pasture all day or most of the day, just because he’s happily eating lovely emerald green grass doesn’t necessarily mean that he is getting all the nutrients he should.  If  you are concerned about his overall vitamin and mineral intake, try a basic nutrition supplement like Accel, Red Cell, Grand Vite, or Missing Link.
  • Have you tried a weight supplement?  It could be that you just got lucky enough to have a particularly hard keeper.  If  he is getting the highest recommended dose of grain and his hay/pasture is high-quality and he’s still not as fat as you’d like, try adding a weight supplement.  Certain breeds tend to be harder keepers than others.  Thoroughbreds and American Saddlebreds are two examples of breeds in which hard keepers are not uncommon.  Also, sometimes as horses age, they can become harder keepers so think about how old your horse is when you are trying to assess the reason for his weight loss.  If you are looking for a decent weight supplement, try Weight Builder, Fat-Cat, or SmartGain 4.  If you don’t want to supplement with a manufactured product, try adding Beet Pulp to your horse’s diet.  It is high-fiber and helps digestion and is often helpful in putting weight on.
  • When was the last time his teeth were floated?  Horses do not chew the same way that we do.  Humans have a chomping, up & down motion when we chew.  Horses grind their jaw more side to side to pulverize their food.  This is fine except that their lower teeth are narrow than their upper teeth and therefore, when they grind, they do not wear down their teeth evenly.  Sharp points can form on the teeth and making eating more difficult and even painful.  How do you know if your horse might need his teeth floated? Watch him eat.  Does he drop a lot of food out of his mouth as he is eating?  This could mean that his teeth are not even and he can’t chew properly.  Also, is he not eating as much?  If it is painful or difficult to eat, he might not have as much desire to try.  Ultimately, talk to your vet and get a professional opinion about the quality of your horse’s teeth.  If this is the cause of his weight loss, you will see improvement in his weight within a month or two after floating the teeth.
  • When was the last time you dewormed him?  If, in addition to be a bit on the thin side, your horse is also rubbing his tail and/or looks a little dull-coated, he could need to be dewormed.  My experience with the fecal testing that is currently all the rage was not a positive one, as the results came back telling me that GQ only really needed to be given his dewormer twice a year.  After several months, his coat was dull, he’d lost weight and was rubbing his tail like crazy.  Deworming him led to a huge improvement in his coat, as well as stopping the rubbing and helping his weight.  I have since put him back on his old worming schedule of 6 times a year, rotating Zimecterin and Zimecterin Gold and he is shiny and healthier.
  • Talk to your vet!  There is a reason veterinarians go through so much schooling: to deal with the hard stuff! Ask your vet for ideas about why your four-legged friend might not be as rotund as you’d like.  If you’ve tried some of these basic things, there is always more a vet can recommend or work through with you!

SmartDark & Handsome

I have to just take a minute to sing praise for SmartPak’s supplement SmartDark & Handsome.

SmartDark & Handsome

I happened across a little flier for SmartDark & Handsome late last summer that came in one of GQ’s SmartPak shipments.  Not three days prior to that, I had been complaining about how sun-bleached his coat, mane and tail were looking.    Since this supplement was not too expensive (and to be honest, I loved the name! =D) I figured I would give it a try for a month or two and see if there was any improvement.  It was incredible! Within 3 weeks, my dark bay gelding was already getting some of the sleek, dark sheen back in his coat and within 2 or 2 1/2 months, his mane and tail were looking less red and blond and getting back to a darker shade, if not quite all the way black.  He gobbled it up — not that he’s a super picky eater — and looks great!

If you are looking for a product to bring some shine and dark color back to your sun-bleached horse, give this one a try!  This is the description from SmartPak:

SmartDark & Handsome helps bring out a deep, dark shine in black, bay and brown coats. This unique formula provides a rich blend of Omega 3 fatty acids from Fish Oil, Flax Seed and Chia Seed combined with Paprika and Nutmeg. SmartDark & Handsome is not just for the boys – it’s great for mares, too. (We just couldn’t resist the name!)

Note for Competitive Riders: This product contains Paprika, which may contain trace amounts of Capsaicin.  

Have a horse of a different color? We recommend SmartShine Ultra.

Here is a link to SmartDark & Handsome!

The Equine Eye: Color Vision

In my first post about the equine eye (found here), I explained that I think it is important to understand how every part of the horse functions in order to be able to train and work with them efficiently and effectively. So why take so much time talking about the horse’s eye?  The eye is an incredibly complex structure and the way that it functions in horses and humans is vastly different.  If we can’t understand how a horse views the world differently from us, how can we understand how to effectively communicate with him? Therefore, by taking the time to learn about the equine eye, we can become better trainers, riders and handlers.

There has been much debate over the way horses see color, or if they see color at all.  Through many tests and studies however, researchers have made many discoveries about the way that color and light works from a horse’s perspective.  Before delving into the color debate, let’s go over two important parts of the eye:

  • Cones are the part of the eye that distinguish color.
  • Rods are the part of the eye that perceive light intake.

The first item in the color debate is whether or not horses actually see colors and to what extent.  The answer to this is that horses do indeed see color, but not quite as vibrantly as humans do.  Horses have dichromatic vision, which means that they have two types of cones in their eyes.  Humans have trichromatic vision which means that they have three types of cones.  The cones in human eyes perceive blue, green and red.  With these three types of cones, we can see thousands of colors in sharp contrast.  The cones in a horse’s eye perceive blues and greens, although the greens that horses see has more of a yellow hue to it that it does to our vision.  When a horse views red, it appears as a kind of earthy tone with yellow and blue hues.  Certain colors can not be distinguished from one another, similar to when we put a color picture into grayscale and one color has the same gray tone as a different one.  Researchers believe that equine color vision is similar to a person’s vision who has a red-green deficiency where there is very little or no problem with blues and yellows but not  all reds and greens are distinguishable.  The colors a horse sees are washed out in comparison to what we see when looking at the same image and tend to resemble a sepia tone.  Here is an example:

Human trichromatic vision

Equine dichromatic vision

The cones of a horse’s eye are also arranged differently than the cones in a human eye.  Our cones are packed centrally on our retina.  A horse’s cones are spread out along a “visual streak” on the retina that mimics the line where earth and sky meet making it easier for them to scan the horizon.  As a prey animal who needs to be continually aware, this is useful!

Next we come to the function of rods in the eye.  Many horse people, especially avid trail riders, are familiar with the advice to let your horse be the guide if you find yourself stuck out on a ride after nightfall or as it begins to get dark.   This is great advice to follow because horses have much better night vision than us because humans have fewer rods than horses do.  The human cone to rod ratio is 20:1 while the equine ratio is 9:1.  The larger amount of rods, in conjunction with the tapedum lucidum, a reflective coating on the back of the retina, allows for optimum light intake and makes a horse’s scotopic vision (vision in dim light) much better than ours.  The tapedum lucidum bounces light back to be absorbed by the rods that would otherwise be lost.

So, while we can see more color, trust your horse to safely carry you home if you find yourself in the dark!

Winter Weather Beauty Treatment

If you are anything like me, you dread the winter months because of what they do to your horse.  No baths, longer hair, snowy, muddy and messy.  Sometimes just a small beauty treatment can make your winter fuzzball look less like a neglected backyard pet and more like a presentable, well-loved, four-legged friend.

GQ, my handsome guy, doesn’t have the luxury of a stall.  He lives outside all year round and because we get some cold, unpredictable winters, I don’t have the luxury of keeping him clipped and show-ready like I desperately wish I could.  I often find myself telling him, “You look like a hooligan!” and then it gets followed up with a mini winter beauty treatment.  Here are some of the things I do to keep my horse looking presentable during the winter:

Clip those whiskers!  Use your clippers with a light touch to skim off extra long nose whiskers.   Since the hair on his muzzle is a little longer, you don’t want to apply as much pressure as normal or you’ll come away with uneven, goofy looking patches on his nose.   Keeping the clippers moving downwards in the direction of the hair will also reduce your chance of making patches.  Also trim off the long scraggly pieces of his beard under his chin and jaw.  This takes a little more finesse to make look even, but your horse will look so much more put together without 3 inches of hair hanging off his chin and also makes it easier to tighten your nose band for a ride.

Keep a bridle path!  During the winter months when GQ’s coat is long, I use scissors to trim his bridle path.  If your horse does not stand quietly, I do not recommend trying this technique!  I ask him to put his head down, (which is a convenient trick I will address in my next post!) and trim his bridle path until it is even with the coat on either side.  I trim off any obnoxiously long pieces of fuzz and taper it so that there is not a giant divot on his poll where I’ve taken the bridle path down to the skin and left his winter coat long around it.  If you don’t trust your horse to stand nicely for you to use scissors, use your clippers with light pressure and don’t clip all the way to the skin to avoid that divot!

Make that mane even! Since GQ is outside all the time, I don’t want to shorten his mane as much as I would during the show season/warmer months.  However, I still want it to look even and well-maintained.  A long scraggly mane is one of the biggest turn-offs on a horse in my opinion.  Make sure you comb out your horses mane at least once a week and keep it pulled/trimmed to an even level, even if you want to keep it a little longer for some extra warmth. [Make sure to give your horse a good scratch at the crest!  Almost every horse I’ve met gets super itchy there–especially in winter! =D ]

Tidy up the ears! I don’t want to completely expose GQ’s ears to the harsh winter weather, but I do want them to look nice and neat.  To tidy up the ears, I pinch the edges together, which forces the extra long hairs to stick out and I clip those hairs.  It is amazing how such a small action can make your horse look infinitely more presentable.

Whip out the Show Sheen! Actually, any product that says it “conditions” will do.  I actually use Cowboy Magic Super BodyShine because I like the smell a little better than Show Sheen and its a bit cheaper, but they share the same principle: Add shine to your horse’s coat, repel dust and condition the coat.  If your horse wears a blanket, this is especially kind for him because he’ll get pretty static-y and dry under those covers.  Use a spray like one of these to help relieve the static shocks your grooming tools will cause and pull dust out of deep layers of that winter coat.

Cowboy Magic Super Bodyshine

Absorbine Show Sheen

Santa Fe Coat Conditioner

Clean those hooves!  With horse feet, you’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place because lack of moisture in the hot summer months creates problems, but excess moisture in snow and mud can also damage your horse’s feet.  At least once a week, use a stiff brush to get debris off of the hooves and clean them as well as you can.  A lanolin-rich product like Corona can replace some of the nutrients that the excess moisture saps out.  You don’t want to use a sealer though when your horse has been standing in water or mud because you can inadvertently do more harm than good by trapping excess moisture into the hoof.

Corona Ointment (My FAVORITE!!!)

Try some of these tips to keep your horse from looking like a hooligan as you wait out the cold and your horse will look presentable and loved all season long!

Corona Ointment

If someone were to say to me “What is one product you could not live without in your grooming kit?” I would not even hesitate before replying, “Corona Ointment!”  If you aren’t familiar with this product, I’m going to introduce it to you, because it is one of those products that can be used safely for  a wide variety of ailments in your horse.

Corona Ointment is a multi-purpose ointment which is effective in healing minor cuts and scratches, locking in moisture, easing sunburn and chapping, etc.

It is a lanolin-based product.  Lanolin is great for hair, skin and hooves and is gentle on wounds, which makes it an effective, pain-free option for cuts and scrapes.  Although Corona does actually make a hoof ointment which is very high in lanolin-content to lock moisture in hooves, the regular multi-purpose ointment is also a great product to massage into dry or brittle hooves.

GQ, my horse, has typical Thoroughbred feet.  If you aren’t familiar with TB feet, here is the short explanation: They are HORRID.  TB’s tend to have thin hoof walls which makes holding shoes an adventure and predisposes them to a variety of foot issues.  GQ has to go barefoot in the summer because with the flies he will stomp his shoes off within a day.  When he has bare feet, however, they get very dry and short.  At least once a week, 2 or 3 times if possible, I clean his feet off with a stiff brush and moderately damp towel then I massage Corona into the hoof wall, onto the heels and around the coronet band to lock in moisture and keep his feet from drying and cracking.  I am convinced that the Corona Ointment is the only reason I have not had some major lameness issues from cracks that could have occurred due to his hooves drying out.

My other personal accolade for Corona Ointment comes from last summer.  GQ is quite low on the totem pole in any herd situation.  He was bullied by some other horses and ended up need some stitches over his eye and some TLC for a number of scrapes and cuts.  I used corona on the assortment of cuts he had and he healed very quickly and doesn’t have one single scar from the ordeal.

Now, the only con to Corona is that, being an ointment, it will run a little in hot weather and it will attract dirt and debris to it so it needs to be reapplied more often than some other products.  That being said, it is worth the extra effort for the outcome you will see!

So go out and stock up on Corona and you will be prepared for wide variety of issues your horse may face!


The Equine Eye: Monocular vs. Binocular Vision and Focus Issues

I believe that a major part of being an efficient rider is to understand how every part of the horse works.  If you don’t understand why a horse is reacting a certain way, you may end up punishing something the horse truly has no control over or brushing off some uncalled for action that is fully correctable.  One of the biggest issues that really bothers me is when people punish their horse for spooking.  Many of the reasons a horse spooks are found in his biological makeup and cannot be altered.

The equine eye is the largest orb found in any land mammal.  Therefore, the horse has the capacity to take in a large amount of visual information at once.  It also means that a horse’s retina (the part that transfers information to the brain via the optic nerve to form images) is much larger than any other land mammal and because of this any object that a horse sees will look roughly 50% larger to him than it would to us.  This is the first reason many things seem scary to your horse.

Now, as (I believe) is common knowledge, horses are animals of prey.  In the wild, they are the ones that are hunted.   Nature, being the wonderful thing that it is, supplied the horse ways of protecting itself.  One of these ways is having a very large visual field.  While most predators like humans, dogs and cats have 180° vision, horses have almost 350° of sight because of the placement of their eyes widespread on the side of their head instead of close together and in front.  However, the horse’s ability to take in so much visual information at once can also make the world seem like a scarier place.  A horse is made visually aware of something by movement, so trail riding on a windy day can make a horse seem a little more jittery than normal because there is SO much stimulating his sense of sight.

Humans are very used to looking at something and immediately knowing, with clarity, what the object in front of us is.  Our eyes have a sort of ‘auto-focus’ so that whether the object is 10 inches or 10 yards away, we can see it clearly by simply glancing at it.  The simple explanation for this is 2-parted:

  • 1) Our ciliary muscle in the eye is well-developed.  That’s the part that adjusts the shape of the lens allowing us to focus.  It works quickly to let our eye focus immediately.
  • 2) Our retina, like many mammals, is smooth and concave, allowing for even focus in the eye.

The horse has an incredibly underdeveloped ciliary muscle.  This means that it takes much longer for a horse to focus on something than it does for us.  Imagine the speed of using auto-focus on a camera instead of manual focus.  Also, the horse’s retina is concave, but the surface is not smooth.  This means that some parts of the horse’s eye allow for better focus and clarity than other spots, which is why a horse may lower or raise his head, or weave his head side-to-side when he is trying to see something.

Not only does the horse have to work hard to focus, he has to figure out what exactly he needs to focus on.  The human eye sees with binocular vision, meaning that our brain gives us 1 single picture from the information that both eyes take in.  A horse has a small binocular field of vision, but roughly 270° of a horse’s sight is monocular.  This means that the horse’s brain is receiving two images at once because each eye is sending a different picture.  Imagine watching side-by-side television and trying to focus on both pictures at the same time.  It is nearly impossible to clearly see one picture or the other without turning your head to look directly at it.  This is the way a horse’s vision works.  His field of binocular vision begins about 6 inches to a foot from his forehead and extends in front of him.  Keep in mind that those 6-12 inches are a blind spot, which is why a pat between the eyes may elicit a flinch or even full-fledged spook.  His monocular field of vision surrounds nearly the rest of his body, except for a small blind spot just next to his flanks and directly behind him.  By turning his head he can eliminate the blind spot on one side or the other.

The basics of how a horse sees

Knowing how a horse sees affects the way that we work with them.  Don’t get mad at your horse for spooking at something because even though you recognized it right away, it may have taken your horse by surprise and looked scary and fuzzy to him.  Always work from both sides of your horse so that he is used to a motion being performed on each side of him.  Because of monocular vision, an action done on one side will become an entirely new experience on the other side because the brain is getting a whole new set of images from the opposite eye, so don’t expect your horse to be perfect as soon as you change direction or sides.

Patience is key when it comes to effective work with horses.  You and your horse are capable of great things if you take the time to understand him!

Happy Trails

There is nothing more dangerous or annoying than a person who is unaware of proper trail etiquette.  To be fair, there are some things that many people do not think about while having a lovely ride on a sunny day.  Here are some of the basics to remember so that your trail experience is pleasant for both yourself and the people you ride with and encounter on the trail:

  • Stick to the edge of the trail.  Even if you can’t see anybody in either direction, its wise to keep your horse towards they side of the trail.  Bikers and joggers can come up quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.  Avoid collisions or a spooked horse by allowing room for other trail users to pass without issue.
  • Always walk when passing someone.  Whether you are passing another rider, a bike rider, walkers or joggers, take the pace down a notch.  By slowing your horse down to a steady walk, you allow him to evaluate the situation and will have less chance for a negative reaction from him.  If your horse spooks while you are passing someone, it becomes dangerous for both yourself and the other party involved.  Keep it safe by slowing it down.
  • Ride to the ability of the least experienced rider in the group.  If you are in a group of riders, no matter the size, do NOT do anything that any single person in the group is not comfortable with.  For example, a group of 4 riders go out and 3 of them are comfortable doing walk, trot and a little canter if there is a clear patch (which I will address later) but the fourth rider is not comfortable doing more than a little trotting here and there.  Don’t bully the fourth rider into trying to canter.  By asking a member of the group to do something they don’t feel comfortable with, you put everyone in the group at risk .  Ride to the lowest ability level or find a different group to ride with.
  • Along with the previous point, do not be afraid to admit that you don’t want to do something on the trail.   Your group should respect your request and not push you.  Gently remind them that you feel you may compromise the groups safety through a particular action and that you just want everyone to be safe and smart.
  • If you are going to head out on trail in a group, determine the ability and comfort level of the participants BEFORE leaving so that there are no shocks on the trail.
  • Do not canter in groups. Unless you are a very experienced horse person and everyone with you is also very experienced, avoid group canters on trail.  Horses are competitive by nature and will often try to be in the lead.  This can cause matters to get out of hand and cause injury.  If you are alone, and you feel like you just have to get in that one good canter, do it in an area which you can see for a good distance in each direction and only canter if there is no one within sight.
  • If it is starting to get dark when you are on the trail, make sure you have a flashlight and reflective vest so that people can see you.  This is especially important if you have to cross any roads to get to/from your trails.  There are reflective bands that you can put around your horse’s fetlocks as well, which may be useful.
  • Keep your cell phone with you in case of emergency.  Whether you keep your phone in your saddle bag or pocket, let it always be easily accessible in case something comes up.
  • Fly spray your horse and bug spray yourself.  The bugs can be much worse on the trail than anywhere else and I don’t know a single person who wants to be eaten alive while trail riding.  If you are focusing all of your attention on obnoxious bugs it leaves little ability to focus on what is going on around you.
  • Wear a helmet.  I know that it may seem silly on the trail, but you never know what is going to set off your horse and how he will react.  It only takes a fall from 3 feet to make someone a vegetable or kill them.  Protect your head!

I’m sure there are things I missed out on, but think these through and just remember to use your brain on the trail.  If you have to think about whether or not you should do something on the trail, its probably a fairly good indication that you shouldn’t. Best of luck and fun to you all! Happy Trails!

Wash Stall Woes

Even though it is coming down to the end of the summer, there is still a little time to get in that last good bath before hunkering down for the long, bath-less winter. Unfortunately, some horses love that winter period when they aren’t asked to go near that awful wash stall.

What can be done for a horse who doesn’t want to get in the wash rack for a bath? Here are a few tips to try. Depending on how stubborn your horse is, be prepared to spend a good amount of time with these to find one (or a combination of several) that works for you and your horse.

  • For ANY horse that isnt’ keen on jumping right into the wash stall, be certain to stay relaxed and patient and allow him to take his time.
  • Some horses get nervous if the washstall is dark and/or small and confined feeling.  Make sure all of the lights are on, so that the wash stall is as bright as possible and clear as much away from walls and off the floor as you can to make it feel like your horse has a ton of space to manuever.
  • Be willing to let your horse check out the wash stall.  Ask him gently to take a step towards it, then release pressure and let him adjust to the ‘new’ surroundings.  Then ask him to take another step with just enough pressure that he knows you are asking him to move.  Let him take a few minutes to discover that the wash stall is not a pit of doom and that he will be safe.  If you let him investigate, you might be surprised at the willingness to walk into the wash stall that he exhibits when he realizes he won’t be eaten by it.
  • The easiest thing that comes to mind for a horse that is merely apprehensive about the washstall is bribery.  Get a bucket of oats or treats or grab a handful of rich alfalfa and hold it just out of reach in the wash stall for your horse.  Give a small nibble then pull it back a little further, coaxing him further in.  Do this until he is standing with all four feet in the washstall, and give him the rest of the snack.
  • My horse would not walk into a wash stall head first if his life depended on it.  Instead, I turn him around and back him into the wash stall and then he is fine because he does not feel boxed in.   If your horse backs fairly well, this is an easy way to eliminate the feeling of confinement which seems to bother many horses.  Just line him up and back him in!
  • If you and your horse have a relationship built on trust and respect, then he is most likely willing to follow you wherever you lead him.  However, even the most loyal, well-trained horse who never acts up may show resistance to following you into a wash stall.  You can ‘trick’ him into following you in though by blindfolding him.  ***You have to make sure that you are super aware of both you and your horse’s surroundings to make sure that he is not going to trip on a ledge or step, fall in a hole, or run into a wall.  Use a towel tucked into the sides of the halter (don’t EVER tie anything over the horse’s eyes) and practice just walking him up and down the aisle and getting him to trust your leadership.  If he is smart, he’ll know where the wash stall is in relation to where you put on the blindfold, so take a little walk before heading straight in.  Take your time.  It is understandable that your horse may move a little slower than normal since you have suddenly taken away one of his senses.  Once you end your blind walk in the wash stall, reward him with a treat and a calm rub then take off the blindfold.  For one particularly stubborn horse I worked with who would not tolerate being in the wash stall for ANY reason, I actually left the blindfold on when I gave the bath.
  • Use a different water source.  Some barns have a hose outside that is not in a wash stall.  If it is nice outside, find a patch of grass to let your horse munch and just give him a bath out of doors to eliminate the wash stall altogether.
  • If you can have someone help you, you can actually annoy your horse into the wash stall.  One of you should stand in the wash stall, holding the lead rope.  You want to have mild pressure, but not be yanking on the rope.  The second person stands behind (and off to the side) of the horse and uses a longe whip behind the horse.  Some horses just need to see the whip to go forward.  If your horse is not one of those, then take the whip and gently tap the hind legs above the hocks.  The key to this is that the whip is meant to annoy, not harm the horse.  The whip is acting as a guide saying “MOVE.”
  • Some horses might walk into the wash stall, but don’t like turning around.  That’s fine! Give your horse his bath backwards.  At my barn we have a set of rings at the back of the wash stall in case people don’t want to turn their horse around.  Then they can just moved the quick-release cross-ties to the back rings and not have to fuss with trying to get their horse to turn around and face the big open space he could run out into very easily.

Use one or two of these methods and hopefully your horse will be squeaky-clean in no time!

Nothing seems to work?  Email me and I can help you form a specific plan for your horse to help get him in the wash stall:  kristen.wieland10@gmail.com