Hauling Horses: Stay Back and Stay Safe!

Truck and Horse TrailerThe following situation comes from Joanna Russell, a Nutrena sales representative, who enjoys riding eventers and show jumpers.

My father grew up on a farm with cattle and horses, he could back a truck and loaded trailer well before he had a driver’s license. My mother was a registered nurse who took a few years off in her career to drive a semi. Driving a truck and horse trailer is a skill I started learning while I was fifteen and still had my learner’s permit. By the time I graduated high school, I didn’t think anything of loading a couple horses up and going to a friends to ride with them. By the time I graduated from college, I was used to driving my horses several hours at a time on both highways and back roads near home. I had even driven straight from Virginia to Kentucky with one of my mares in tow. And by the time I started working for Nutrena, I was a pretty confident driver, in my car or in a truck and trailer.

Then I had that confidence shaken.  Recently I hooked up my trailer to my truck (we call her Roxanne), and loaded up two of our geldings, Ty and Jack, for a clinic. I didn’t think anything of the three hour, all highway drive. There was light traffic, it was actually a very pleasant drive listening to my favorite CD and keeping an eye on my trailer. About an hour down the road traffic got a little heavier, so I was making sure to keep plenty of space between me and the car in front of me. I was being extra alert, thanks to a hands on defensive driving class I had taken through work. And of course, keeping the cardinal rules of hauling in mind: DO NOT slam your brakes and NEVER swerve.

I was in the passing lane as a car passed me on the right aggressively, so I slowed to give them more space. Suddenly, I saw brake lights and heard tires screeching, all the cars in front of me had their brakes locked up. I broke the Rule. I locked up the brakes on Roxanne and my trailer, I heard them both squealing and knew I wasn’t going to be able to get stopped in time. I knew I had an empty space to my right. I broke the second Rule. I swerved. Hard. I missed the cars in front of me by a hair, while I felt the horses scramble, the trailer shake, and felt cold fear and dread in the pit of my stomach.

There was plenty of space in the right lane, and whatever caused the slowdown was gone—traffic was back to normal speed. The shoulder was narrow, and an exit was only a mile up the road from me so I kept driving slowly with my flashers on. This was the longest moment of my life. Were the horses ok? What would I do if one of them had a broken leg? What about a heavily bleeding wound? I had very basic first aid supplies, but nothing like I feared I might need. I finally got to the exit and pulled in a truck stop. I ran back to the trailer, trying to keep from crying in fear until I knew…

One of the worst moments of fear and dread in my life was followed by the greatest sense of relief. Ty had fallen down, but only had a small scrape on his hock and on his cannon bone. Jack didn’t have a single mark. They were both wide eyed and shaking—not as bad as I was, though. I fed them treats until I stopped shaking and was comfortable to drive again. The rest of our drive was uneventful, and would have been pleasant, save the sick feeling lingering in my stomach.

I thought a 7 second following distance was enough. I was wrong. I will do everything in my power to keep a minimum of a 10 second following distance from now on, longer if possible. Always have a way out in mind, and use “what if” thinking (what if a car slams its brakes in front of me? Where do I go?)—it could save you lives and vet bills. You can bet I will be beefing up my equine first aid kit for my trailer! And a big take away for me: Not everyone will notice or care that you take longer to stop and have living creatures as your load, so plan accordingly.

I am thankful that my employer values my safety enough to have put me through driving training that at very least saved me from having to replace my truck, and at most, saved the lives of myself, my horses, and the drivers around me.

Reconditioning After a Winter Break

Nutrena Warmblood Horse Annick-7120If you live in a state that has cold winters, chances are that even if you have an indoor arena you are taking a break on those dreaded frigid dead-of-winter weeks or months. But when things begin to thaw and your horse begins to shed like crazy, it’s time to get back to it! If your horse has had more than three weeks off, he will need to be worked back into a routine strategically in order to help reduce the risk of over-stressing or injuring him in the process.

As eager as you are to get back to jumping, reining or piaff-ing, it’s best to start slow. Think of how you feel the first day back to the gym after a long break. Now picture yourself about 10x the size that you are now, in the gym, out of shape. It’s exhausting just thinking about it! Your horse might have built up energy and seem to be ready to get right to it, but it’s best to work him up slowly to help avoid an injury that could set you back even further.

Plan on a six to eight week conditioning schedule depending on how much time your horse has had off. Start with low impact hacking for about 15 minutes, working only at the walk. You could also utilize a hot walker if you have one available or hand-walk if you would like. Unless your horse is very obedient on the lunge line, it’s not a recommended way to get him into shape just in case he is extra excitable. Bolting away and galloping in a small circle on the lunge could result in injury to him or even you.

5-7 days after you begin your walking routine add in 5 minutes of trot work each day. After two weeks of solid walk-trot work you can gradually introduce the canter, again working up slowly from 5 minutes just as you did the trot. After thirty days of flat work you can begin to add more strenuous activity to your conditioning program like jumping or speed work (barrels) but work up slowly. Figure in another month to get your horse back to where he was before he took the break. Begin with jumping a single, low fence both directions for the first week, then add in a line and work your way back to a full course. Once you are jumping a course at a smaller height, gradually increase the size of your fences and the complexity of the course.

If you are worried that you or your horse might get bored working on the flat, remember that flatwork is the foundation for your riding no matter what discipline you ride. It’s a good time for you to work on yourself as well, starting you out on the right foot (or hoof) for the season. Work on your position or ride with no stirrups. When your horse is feeling more fit, do some lateral work and get him really listening to your aids so he’s sharp when the time comes to compete.

As far as feed is concerned, as you are reconditioning, the correct feeding program will depend on what your horse’s body condition score is coming out of his break. If he is on the thin side, you will want to increase his feeding rate as you work him harder or include a fat supplement. Make sure to always provide fresh, clean water and free choice hay. If he is on the heavier side of the scale, keep his feeding rate the same but keep an eye on that body condition score as you may need to adjust your feeding rate as he gets back into shape and is working harder.

Creative Reuses for Plastic Feed Bags

Plastic feed bags, also called, poly weave bags, have been on the market for many years now and unlike their paper predecessors, there are many uses of poly feed bags once their job of delivering feed is complete.

Why Poly?

Poly feed bags are made from a recyclable plastic material and generally fall into the #5 recyclable plastic category. Feed manufacturers and retailers alike have embraced the use of poly over paper for the many benefits they offer.  For instance, poly bags reduce or eliminate the need for shrink wrap on a pallet of feed, with the use of special glue that locks the bags into place.

For feeds higher in oil or molasses, traditional paper bags required an extra layer or two (usually plastic)  to keep the oil or molasses from seeping through the bag and compromising the strength of the paper.  In many instances, switching to  poly bags reduces the amount material used for feed bags.

Poly bags also reduce the amount of broken bags during moving in a warehouse or truck therefore, reducing the amount of wasted feed.  And though not waterproof, poly bags hold up better if exposed to rain, snow or other forms of moisture.

Ideas for Reuse

Here are some creative reuses of poly bags:

Container garden

Container garden







Bags as baskets

Bags as baskets







Bags as a tote

Bags as a tote

Bags as a raincoat in a pinch

Bags as a raincoat in a pinch

Bags as a dress

Bags as a dress

What creative ways do you reuse poly bags?

Prepare Your Horse For The Winter Months

Toby Snow 28Throughout the year, tending to your horse’s needs requires you to be prepared for a variety of conditions. When the temperature falls and the winds grow colder, you should be prepared with the proper gear, supplies and accessories to keep your horse healthy and happy during the upcoming months. Learn more about caring for your horse during the winter so you can be prepared well before the first frost.

Water and Food

  • Food for Health and Warmth. Food digestion is a primary source of warmth for your horse, which means your horse’s caloric needs can increase during the colder months. Use quality forage, combined with grain, as recommended by an equine nutritionist to sustain warmth and maintain caloric intake.
  • Wintertime Hydration. Even though your horse might eat snow while it’s outside, fresh water is still important for wintertime hydration. A supply of (non-frozen) water, ideally above 45 degrees, will keep your horse hydrated and aid in digestion.
  • Mouth Health. Healthy teeth and mouth allow your horse to drink and eat without discomfort. It’s wise to have an equine veterinarian check your horse’s teeth and mouth to ensure he can eat comfortably and maintain the right caloric intake for weight maintenance throughout winter.

Comfort and Warmth

  • Your Horse’s Natural Coat. If possible, allow your horse’s coat to grow during the winter months. Its natural thickness provides your horse with the extra insulation needed to keep its body warm as the weather gets colder, as a layer of warm air is trapped below the surface.
  • Provide Extra Warmth. There are times when you must clip your horse’s coat to keep them cool while working in the winter or in preparation for a show . For this reason, or because you’ve got an older horse, extra warmth can increase the horse’s comfort throughout winter. A waterproof, breathable blanket or coat will come in handy for days when your horse needs an extra layer to stay warm.
  • Shelter During Winter. The warmest natural coat isn’t always enough to protect your horse from cold temperatures. A strong wind can cut right through it, and a wet coat can quickly lose its insulating ability. Provide your horse with shelter from wind, snow and rain so it can enjoy pasture time and still have access to an area that will protect it from the elements.
  • Wintertime Riding. When riding your horse during the winter months, be careful to warm them up properly and ensure any sweaty areas are fully dried since this can cause the horse to later become chilled. Likewise, maintain care of horse riding tack and the proper saddle so that it doesn’t become cracked and dry from the cold air, causing it to become less effective.

Tending to Health

  • Controlling Parasites. Consult with the equine veterinarian for wintertime parasite control. Once the first frost has occurred, you may want to give your horse something to kill bot larvae.
  • Barn Pest Control. People and horses aren’t the only creatures that seek warm places in wintertime. Other pests are likely to find their way into the barn. Discourage and control pests by keeping food storage in sealed containers. Likewise, store blankets, leather products and other materials that could be used for nests in sealed storage spaces.
  • Vaccinations. Good health is pivotal to staying comfortable and warm from the first frost until the temperatures begin to rise again. Part of your effort to maintain your horse’s health should include any necessary vaccinations as autumn transitions to winter.
  • Take Care of Hooves. Hoof growth occurs throughout the year. Maintain hoof care year-round. Consider having your farrier use winter studs for traction and snowball pads to keep snow from accumulating inside the bottom of the hoof.

Wintertime Storage

Make it easy to access everything you need throughout the winter months by putting away the seasonal items you won’t need again until spring. By organizing your barn storage space, you can avoid wasting time searching for supplies and spend it grooming or caring for your horse. In conjunction with preparing your horse for winter, you can also be prepared by getting organized and ready to spend quality time with your equine friend this winter.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Summer Barn Room Makeover

Horseshoe on BarnSummertime is an excellent time to give the inside of your barn a fresher, more organized look. If you’re short on space or your barn interior is looking old and tired, these ideas can help you revamp your barn room for summer. To get started and make the most of your efforts, determine the needs and wishes that are most important to fulfill. Ask yourself questions such as: Does my barn need to be organized? Does it need a functional makeover or an eye-appealing makeover? Once you’ve decided the driving force behind your barn revamp, you’ll be able to easily guide yourself through the renovation or redecoration process.

Ideas to Organize and Rearrange Your Barn Room

  • Make the Most of Wall Space. Use mounted shelves, hooks and other creative fixtures to store your horse tack and other items in a tidy manner. Add to the aesthetic appeal by thinking outside the box and using alternative items, such as bent horseshoes for wall hooks.
  • Floor-Based Organization. Not everything can be hung up. Floor bins and lockers are ideal for blankets and items that you use seasonally. Label each bin with the season so you can tuck away the items you won’t need for a while and position the current season’s bin in an easy-to-access location.
  • Saddles and Their Accessories. Saddles and saddle pads must be carefully stored to prevent damage to the leather or fiber. Prolong the life of these investments in your riding experience by using a saddle form and a storage rack. Your horse saddle will be easier to access and will add a beauty of its own to your barn.
  • Don’t Overlook Health and Safety in the Process. As you clean, organize and repurpose barn space, do so with health and safety in mind. One of the most important components of a high-functioning barn environment is proper air ventilation and circulation. Ensure that open windows, during nice weather, allow fresh air to enter the barn. Circulate it with fans, and get rid of stale air with an exhaust system. In addition to keeping the air inside fresh, proper ventilation helps get rid of warm air and moisture, while keeping the barn cool and dry.

Barn Repurposing Ideas

  • Create a Go-To Space for Relaxation. Who says you can’t have a comfortable sofa or armchair in the barn? Turn unused space into a haven for relaxation. A nice place to sit, some natural light and a few other provisions that mean “comfort” to you will provide you with a place near your horses where you can rest and relax after a ride or any other time.
  • A Place for Productivity. Office space in your barn will allow you to be productive while remaining close to your horses. Use this space for horse-related work or your telecommuting career. If you need quiet while you work, choose a space farther away from the location where people and animals will be coming and going throughout your workday.

Give Your Barn a Fresh New Look

Use these ideas to get more out of your barn and put unused and inefficient space to work for you. Start out with organization so you have a clearer picture of the space you have available to work with. Once the mess and clutter has been taken care of, you’ll be free to make changes to the appearance of your barn or revamp unused space.

Give the interior or exterior a fresh coat of paint, and don’t be afraid to use colors that aren’t traditional. Colors that appeal to you are going to make the barn feel more inviting to you. This is especially important if your barn is serving multiple purposes. Use vibrant colors to create a fun atmosphere or subdued and neutral colors for a location where you’ll come to relax.

The changes you make to organize, revamp and refresh your barn this summer can carry over to other seasons, increasing the function and enjoyment of your barn. As a horse-lover who spends a great deal of time there, it’s vital to have a space you look forward to coming to. These ideas can help you get started on the barn space you’ve been dreaming of.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Composting Horse Manure

Compost PileHorses give their owners a lot of joy – and a lot of waste. One horse can create more than 8 ton of manure per year – and that doesn’t include the soiled bedding or uneaten feed! So what do you do with all that waste? If your horse is stalled or in a small paddock, chances are you have, somewhere on your property, a large pile of what your horse has left behind. But is that pile working for you? Is it heating, decomposing and turning into rich organic matter that you can add to your yard or garden, or sell to your neighbors? Composting can help turn that pile of waste into a manageable cache of valuable nutrient matter.

Why Compost? 
Compost has numerous benefits, including:

  1. Fly control
  2. Odor control
  3. Reduced runoff
  4. Less chance of worm re-infestation
  5. Improved relationships with your neighbors (refer #1 and #2!)

How to Compost

  • To get started composting, you want to pick your site. An ideal site is one that is dry and relatively close to your stall or paddock (to make your work easier).
  • Once you’ve selected your site, you can start adding your material. Straw, shavings, manure, left over hay can all go into the compost pile.
  • For the pile to heat appropriately, it needs to be at least 3 ft. square.
  • Keep your pile about as damp as a wet sponge on a continuous basis. You can water the whole pile with a garden hose periodically or water each wheelbarrow load that you add.
  • Ventilation is important. You can turn your pile by hand, but this becomes a real chore as your pile grows each day. Consider placing PVC “chimneys” in the middle of the pile instead. These are lengths of PVC pipe placed vertically with small holes drilled along the length. This will encourage air flow through the pile.

You may want to have more than one compost pile going at a time. One pile could be the one you add to daily, while the second is a completed pile that is resting and decomposing.

How do you know it’s done?

Once your pile reaches the desired size, you want to rest it for a time so that it can completely breakdown. Exactly how long to let it rest will depend on the size of your pile, as well as the season and climate. An average size pile in the warm summer weather may take 2 – 3 months to decompose completely, while the same pile may take up to 5 months in the winter when temperatures are colder and decomposition is slowed. Your composting is complete when, after the allotted amount of time, the material in the pile is crumbly in texture, has an “earthy” scent, and no longer resembles the original material in any way. This rich organic matter is a great soil amendment; you can apply it to your garden or yard, or sell it to help fund your horse habit!

There are lots of great resources for composting. If you’d like more information, you can contact your local extension office or conservation district.

Flash Fred – Our Inherited Horse

We inherited Flash Fred (my daughter has a creative naming process) from a friend of ours. This horse was slowing down in his old age and could no longer keep up with the rigorous lifestyle required on a full scale cattle ranch. In return for a good place to live out his last years we obtained this 20 year old (give or take a few years) sweet and gentle gelding for our girls. For us it was the perfect arrangement.

The horses that help our kids love horses are truly priceless.

Fred arrived in the middle of July and he was in surprisingly good body condition; I rated him about a 4.75. The problem was, we didn’t know anything about what he had been eating or what his previous history was, other than when we picked him up he was in a partial drylot but had just come in off of dryland pasture.

We decided to start Fred off slow. We had some irrigated grass pasture that we wanted to utilize but we didn’t want to turn him loose on it until we saw how he handled feed. For the first week he stayed in a drylot pen at our barn – he had plenty of room to wander around and get used to his new surroundings. We also gave him free choice plain white salt and plenty of clean, fresh water. For feed he got 2% of his bodyweight in medium quality grass hay and a ration balancer with a full vitamin and mineral package. He tolerated all this well (he also tolerated our 2 and 4 year old pretty well, which was great news!), so after the first week we worked on turning him out to pasture.

This was a slow process – many times new horses have a long history that new owners know nothing about: a tendency to colic, a predisposition to laminitis, allergies to certain leaves or weeds,  and the list goes on and on.

We didn’t want to take any chances with Fred, so his first taste of freedom in the irrigated green grass was a measly 20 minutes. He looked at me like I was crazy when I caught him right back up and put him in his pen! The next day he was out for a little bit longer, and gradually as the days went by we increased his time on grass by 20 minute increments until we had a good idea that he was doing well and not having any digestive upsets. To get him on a full day’s turn out took over two weeks – but keeping him healthy was definitely worth it. We continue to make sure that he always has access to clean, fresh water, plain salt and we give him a small flake (about 5 lbs.) of hay when we bring him in at night along with the maintenance ration of balancer. We score his body condition once a month, and so far the grass is agreeing with him! 

Today Fred is thriving – he is enjoying his relaxing grass pasture and our little girls are enjoying him! As the weather turns cold and the grass goes away, we will get him going on a senior type feed – so stayed tuned for that journey!

Keeping Hens and Horses

So you’re in your favorite feed store, buying your horse a few bags of feed, some treats, a bale of…. What is that you hear? The peeping of little chicks?!?!? You follow your ears to the tanks full of fluffy balls of cuteness, all the while listing to yourself the reasons why you can’t have chickens – where would they stay, what would they eat, they couldn’t possibly be good to have around horses…could they?

Chickens enjoy pecking at stray bits of feed

Actually, keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial for you (and your horse)!

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
    One of the best things about raising chickens!
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens are pets with benefits.Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

Transition to Spring Pasture

It is no wonder these guys are asking to be let out onto the lush spring grass after such a long and trying winter.  What horse owner could resist those molten brown eyes and soft whisper-nickers, as if saying ‘Let me out, I’ll be good…I promise!’   

We work hard and do our best to provide our horses what they need; pasture seems all too natural to resist. It’s only when you understand the unique nutritional properties of early spring forage, that you can feel better about saying ‘not yet’!

If your horse survived the winter on hay, a hasty  introduction to ‘rich’ spring grass can cause a shock to his digestive system.  If at all possible, keep your horse off grass during the initial growth period by designating a ‘sacrifice’ area or dry lot.  The size of the dry lot will depend on your available land, but generally should be large enough to allow your horse to move about freely and stretch his legs. The sacrifice area serves to protect your emerging pasture as well as allowing you an opportunity to ease your horse’s digestive tract onto new-growth grass. If he is kept in a dry lot during this time, you may consider hand walking, lunging or additional work sessions to keep him from becoming too fresh. 

So what is different about spring grass that we should heed warning? As the strong spring sun warms the earth, the grass in your pasture emerges from its winter dormant state. The first few blades have a critical job of transforming sunlight into food, a process called photosynthesis, that starts the growth of the plant for the rest of the season.  This food is in the form of plant sugar (fructans) and is essential for the plant to grow into a productive pasture contributor for the remainder of the season. 

When overnight temperatures are cool (generally 40 degrees F) the stored energy created during the day is used to grow additional leaves and roots. Extra food not utilized overnight is stored in the plant tissues.  If overnight temperatures drop below 40 degrees F, the plant will not invest in growth and the sugars will remain in the leaves. This is when the new grass is of concern for horses.

Therefore, it stands to reason that when overnight temperatures remain above 40 degrees F, it is the ideal time to start acclimating your horse to the fresh spring grass, because the level of fructans in the grass are likely to be the lowest.

The transition to pasture should be slow and gradual, starting with a period of 15-20 minutes of grazing.  Gradually increase until you have reached your ideal turnout length of time; this may take the better part of a month.  During this time, it is important to monitor the output of your horse; loose, unformed stools indicate digestive upset likely correlated to the increased fructans. For horses with metabolic issues prone to digestive upsets, transitions should made later in the growing cycle onto mature grasses.  In addition to restricting time on pasture, a grazing muzzle can be used to further control intake.

I probably don’t need to tell you that a pasture full of healthy, green growing grass not only looks wonderful, it is  an investment in your horse’s nutrition. Allowing the early grass to grow and flourish, then gradually transitioning to grazing is an investment in your overall nutrition program. Armed with this information, don’t you feel better telling him to wait?

Poisonous to Horses: Plants

As a horse owner, I have come to realize that horses have an uncanny ability to get themselves into trouble.  Whether it be messing with the fence, making play-things of their stall or breaking into the feed room to grab an extra snack, if we don’t want them to get into it, horses seem to find a way to get into it!  If lucky, the vet doesn’t need to be called, but there is usually some upgrading of hardware, the perpetual fixing of the fence or continuously beefing up security around the feed room.  But what about the things that we as humans haven’t built?  What naturally occurring perils of danger will my horse find and get himself in to? 

Pasture grazing is ideal for horses

Cooper as a yearling, grazes in the pasture

As Winter fades and Spring makes a welcome entrance, thoughts turn from feeding hay to blissfully sunny pasture turnout.  Now is a great time to educate yourself about plants that can harm your horse.

March is poison prevention month and as horse owners, knowing what plants are poisonous to your horse can go a long way in preventing trouble.  To help get you started, here is a good resource of information about poisonous plants that grow in the Midwest, from the University of Minnesota Equine Extension Office.


If you find plants of poisonous varieties where your horse can access them, please work with your local extension office on methods of controlling exposure.  Also remember to check your garden and landscaping as many plants listed are popular decorations.

It is also important to note that plant variety growth varies by geographic region so be sure to check with your local extension office for information specific to the area in which you live.

So while you may not be able to keep them from breaking the fence, breaking into the feed room (despite the keypad lock on the door) or dismantling the components of their stall, you can be aware of and have a plan to manage the poisonous plants that dare grow near your horse.