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My mare, who is 30 years old, but acts like she’s about 20 years younger, loves to be ridden and loves to run up the hills. She has so much energy that she’s hard to keep at a walk especially out on trails, and in the field. She wants to be in the lead and doesn’t like being in the rear or even in the middle of the group. She’s also forgotten how to WHOA when told. So I’m constantly pulling on her to stop (never used to have to do that). I can deal with all that, after all she’s 30! Do horses after a certain age forget things? But, my problem is keeping the saddle and pads in place. They’re always slipping no matter how much I tighten the girth. I also use a breast collar on her. I thought that would help keep the saddle in place. Any suggestion?  Mary

Hi Mary,

Your question reads like a story about aging horses and saddle fit.

When a horse’s back begins to drop (sway) it is almost impossible to keep the saddle up near the vicinity of the withers. Instead, gravity and the rider’s weight cause the saddle to slip down the slope created by the prominent withers (the peak) and the now lower back.

Even if you tighten and re-tighten the cinch, the tendency will be for the saddle and you to slip rearward and settle down in the valley of the horse’s sagging topline.

You’ve tried the logical solution – use a breast collar to HOLD the saddle forward. But alas that just causes extreme pressure on the horse’s chest and shoulders as the weight of the saddle and rider pull against them as the saddle tries to slip back.

Which brings me to the change in behavior in your horse. You say you always have to keep pulling on her to stop her or slow her down now – you didn’t have to do that in the past. That’s because when a horse has back pain from pressure and/or an ill-fitting saddle and when a horse is thrown off balance because of tight tack and pressure, the horse might instinctively do one of several things.

Buck like heck to get rid of the saddle and pain, rub or roll to get the saddle off, or as many trained horses will do, move fast and tense. Part of your mare’s exuberance might be due to her being full of energy, but in so many cases, quick, tense movement is associated with pain and imbalance.

So the solution to everything is finding a saddle that fits. This is something you will need to do locally so that the expert saddle fitter can see your horse in person. Once you get a saddle to fit your mare, you might be surprised to see how you will be able to ride with a looser cinch, how much more comfortable your mare will be and how she will resume her normal gaits.

If you care to reply with the state or area you live in, perhaps someone will write in suggesting a saddle fit expert in your area.

Read more articles on tack and riding here on my Horse Information Roundup.

Best of luck,

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My two sisters live in Texas and even though neither of them are riders, they both have used the phrase “rode hard and put up wet” when they are describing someone who is working too hard and not taking enough time off.

The urban definition has me picturing some overworked city dweller commuting an hour or more to her job, putting in 8-10 hours of repetitious work, then the long commute home during rush hour traffic. Too exhausted to cook or eat, she collapses in her recliner still in the clothes she wore to work.


The phrase, as we horsemen know, was borrowed from the negative description of a rider working a horse to near exhaustion, then jerking the saddle off and turning the sweaty horse out with no grooming. Of course none of us do that but we might be guilty of not taking the time necessary to cool down a horse properly after work.

A cool down is especially important in the cold weather that seems to be blanketing the entire country. I’m hearing 4 degrees in Florida tonight?

When a horse that has grown any sort of winter hair coat is worked hard, he sweats more, has trouble cooling out and drying off so and is set up for chills, muscle stiffness, and overall blahs.

Some things to think about:

Use a quarter sheet to protect the hindquarters during work.

Consider a body clip and blanketing.

Use a body wash or brace to remove sweat before cooling and grooming.

Use a cooler when hand walking a horse to cool him out.

Have a great ride and take care of that good horse,

 

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Cherry,

It has been a miserable winter so far here in New York and even riding indoors is a problem. I’ve heard about quarter sheets but I’m not sure which to choose and how to use them. Help!

Tasha and Gizmo

Choosing and Using a Quarter Sheet

©  2011 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

Quarter sheets, also called exercise rugs, are used while longeing or riding horses during cold weather to keep a horse warm during warm-up and during active work to prevent rapid muscle cooling which can lead to chilling and cramping.  Wet heat loss is 23 times faster than dry heat loss.  If a horse is allowed to become damp during a cooling out period, he will likely lose so much heat as to experience muscle chill.  Blanketed, stabled horses with very short (clipped) coats are prime candidates for quarter sheets.  The sheets are placed under the saddle or affixed around the saddle, depending on the style.

Quarter sheets perform different functions depending on what material is used their construction: they can keep a horse warm, prevent a horse from cooling out too rapidly during strenuous work, minimize moisture build up under the sheet by wicking it away from the horse’s body, and keep a horse dry when being worked in wet weather.

Wool, the traditional fiber from sheep fleece, absorbs moisture vapor from the hair and skin leaving a dry layer of insulating air between the horse’s body and the wool.  The natural crimp of wool fibers make them stand apart from each other which allows air to be trapped between the fibers, further insulating and holding in body heat.  Although wool can absorb moisture vapor, it cannot absorb liquid so it has a good degree of water repellency.  The scales on the outside of wool fibers causes liquids to roll off so it takes quite a bit of moisture for wool to get wet and when it does, it tends to be a comfortable rather than cold and clammy.  Wool allows the body to cool down slowly, thereby reducing the chance of chills.

Wool has a natural elasticity: dry wool can stretch about 30 percent and wet wool between 60-70 percent allowing freedom of movement.  Good quality wool should return to its natural shape when dry.  Wool’s flexibility also makes it durable – the coiled, crimped fibers stretch instead of snap when stressed.

Virgin wool is 100% new wool that has never been processed.  It has a distinctive fluffy crimp to it.  Processed and reprocessed wools are usually more dense and compact.  Often other fibers are added to vary the characteristics of the wool such as acrylic for softness or nylon for wear resistance.

Polarfleece and Polartec are registered trademarks for the original double-faced fleece fabrics made by Malden Mills from 100% Dacron DUPONT polyester.  The warmth of Polartec is comparable to wool with less bulk and weight; it is more durable than acrylic; the double facing makes it soft on both sides.  Polarfleece machine washes well on cold without fading or losing shape, no bleach, hang dry, do not press, iron, or steam.  Fiber absorbs no more than one percent of its weight in water so stays very light and is a very rapid drying fabric.

GoreTex is a windproof and waterproof fabric which means moisture won’t get inside even if pressure is applied to the fabric such as from a saddle.  GoreTex is also breathable which means perspiration vapor is able to pass out through the fabric.  To keep GoreTex at its maximum waterproof/breathable performance, wash and tumble dry the item and occasionally iron using a warm setting.  If professionally dry cleaned, request clear distilled solvent rinse and request spray repellent.

SympaTex is also a windproof, waterproof, breathable fabric with the same properties as GoreTex.  Wash in warm water on gentle cycle using a mild detergent but no fabric conditioner.  Do not use a fast spin.  Allow the garment to drip dry.  Iron at a low temperature.

Quarter sheets, originating in the military, were initially just long saddle blankets which ended at the junction of the loin and croup and had normal length sides.  Many of today’s quarter sheets are cut more like a partial blanket, covering not only the entire back, loin, and croup but the entire side of the horse as well.  The sheets that provide maximum coverage provide warmth and prevent chilling over a large area but if too snugly fitted over the hindquarters and tail, can inhibit movement and if too long on the sides can interfere with leg aids or the use of spurs.  Larger sheets also have a tendency to billow, necessitating a fillet string or tail cord or loop to keep the back of the sheet from flapping.


Traditional Cut:  The traditional cut quarter sheet is a large rectangle that runs from withers to tail, down the shoulders, sides and hindquarters.  The saddle sits on top of the sheet and is secured via girth loops and stabilized with a tail loop.  Girth and saddle must be removed in order to remove the traditional quarter sheet.  The traditional style is either sparse like the original military quarter sheet or fuller like a stable sheet with the front missing.

European Cut:  The European cut features a cut-away section under the girth which helps prevent the sheet from gathering in that area and allows for normal use of leg aids and spurs.  Tack must be removed to remove this style of quarter sheet.

Easy On/Off Style:  There is a cut out area for the saddle and (Velcro) fasteners in front of saddle.  Therefore, the sheet is put on after the horse is saddled and can be removed without removing the girth or saddle.  Usually this type of sheet does not have girth loops and goes over the fastened girth which allows quick removal of the sheet.  This style of sheet usually has a tail tie which, if tied with a quick release knot, makes the sheet easy to take off even while mounted.  If it comes with a tail loop and you expect to take it off during the work, you can opt to not put the loop under the horse’s tail or you can dismount to remove the sheet.  In any event, you don’t have to remove tack to remove the sheet.  This style of sheet can be used under the rider’s leg as a traditional exercise rug or over the rider’s legs to keep the rider warm.  A great bonus use with this type of sheet is for temperatures where a quarter sheet is not needed during warm-up and active work but is beneficial during cool-down – this style of sheet can quickly be put on without removing any tack or even dismounting in some cases.

If a sheet has an English Brace, it refers to a reinforced wither area which offers extra protection in the most vulnerable section of the quarter sheet, directly under the saddle where there is extreme pressure.  A well-made English Brace usually means a longer lasting product.

Sizing is listed several ways.  It is usually expressed as the length from the front edge of the quarter sheet to the rear edge of the sheet in feet and inches, inches, or centimeters.  So, a 4′ 6″ sheet might also be called a 54 (“) sheet or a 137 (cm) sheet or might be called size Medium or Large depending on the manufacturer.  However, each manufacturer determines the actual dimension of their size Large, for example, which can range from 54-57 inches.


Sometimes a quarter sheet size is the horse’s equivalent stable blanket size.  The quarter sheet described above would fit a horse that would wear a size 78 blanket (197 cm) so sometimes the sheet is referred to as a 78, but it is not 78″ or 197 cm long.  All of this varies greatly with sheet design, country of origin, and the manufacturer.

Fit will be dependent on the cut of the pattern, whether there are seams and darts, and the type of material used.  Some materials conform and mold to the horse’s contour better than others.  Sheets with 2 or more pieces and hindquarter or croup darts tend to fit the contours of a horse’s topline better than a single piece drape, thereby staying in place and providing a snug, cozy fit.  However, these same well-fitted sheets could inhibit movement.

Cherry Hill

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Winter Blanketing
©  2011 Cherry Hill
www.horsekeeping.com

Most horses begin shedding their summer hair in August and start growing thicker winter coats. In order to produce a dense, healthy coat, a horse’s diet should provide an adequate quantity and quality of protein. A normal winter coat has as much insulating capacity as most top-of-the-line blankets. The downward growth of the hair coupled with the stepped-up production of body oils makes the winter coat shed water and keeps moisture away from the skin. A dry horse has a much better chance of remaining a healthy horse.

A fuzzy winter coat can be deceiving if a visual inspection alone is used to assess condition. The round teddy-bear look can fool one into thinking a horse is in proper flesh. Feel the rib area for its flesh covering at least once every 30 days throughout the winter to monitor a horse’s condition.

Some horses may require the use of a blanket throughout the winter: the show horse, the clipped horse, the southern horse that moves north during the winter, the old horse, and the horse in severe weather with no shelter. Blanketing is a more expensive and labor-intensive alternative to winter care than the au natural approach but affords some benefits as well.

Miller's Haversham USET Stable Blanket

Good quality blankets are costly and often several must be purchased for each horse. Generally a quilted nylon type is used in the barn. The waterproof canvas-type with wool lining is one of the traditional turnout rugs as it is weatherproof and durable, but is very heavy. There are many tough turnout blanket available today that are lighter weight and easy care.

Rambo Classic Midweight Turnout Blanket

Blankets must be cleaned at least twice during the winter by washing in cold water with a mild soap. Dry cleaning solvents will destroy waterproofing and can shrink the bindings. Blanketed horses must be meticulously groomed on a regular basis to minimize rubbing and rolling. Horses are notorious for inflicting damages to their blankets. Some exterior shells are not tough enough to withstand rubbing, rolling and roughhousing from herdmates. Blanket repair is just a fact of ownership.

Proper blanket fit is paramount. Blankets that are too small can cause rub marks and sore spots on the withers, shoulder, chest, and hips. Extra large blankets have the reputation of slipping and twisting, possibly upside down which can cause the horse to become dangerously tangled. Blanket linings must be of a smooth material to prevent damage to hair, especially the mane near the withers and the shoulder points.

Overheating can be a real problem with blanketed horses. Often horses are turned out to exercise in the same blanket which they wore all night. What is appropriate for low night-time temperatures in a barn is not necessarily desirable for a sunny paddock, even though there still may be snow on the ground. An unblanketed dark horse has the capacity to absorb much of the sun’s energy.

Water-proof blankets do not allow for heat escape from normal body respiration unless they are also breathable. Too many layers can cause the horse to sweat, then chill which lowers the horse’s resistance by sapping the horse’s energy. This is an open invitation for respiratory infections. Check for over-heating by slipping a hand under the blanket at the heart girth area. To allow perspiration to evaporate, choose a breathable blanket for your horse. If he lives outdoors, make sure it is waterproof and  breathable.

Horses that have been body-clipped or trace-clipped must be blanketed. Clipping allows a horse to be more easily worked, cooled out, and groomed in the winter months. The first clip may occur in October and may need to be repeated five to six times throughout the winter and early spring. This will depend on the horse’s work, blanketing, and housing.

If a horse is not clipped and/or blanketed, but is allowed to grow a natural winter coat, a different set of rules comes into play. Grooming a long coat often consists of a minimal “dusting” of the hair ends, or no grooming at all. Vigorously currying a winter coat can disrupt the natural protective layer of oils which is essential for protection from moisture. After riding, rub the coat dry with a cloth or gunny sack or allow the horse to roll in sand or dry snow.

Winter presents unique problems for the horse. Paying attention to the horse’s needs will result in a healthier horse in the spring.

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Does a Horse Need a Bit to Be Broke?

©  2010 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

Horse bucking

Hello Cherry,

I want to say first of all I love your books and look forward to reading more.

Here is my dilemma, I got a new horse about a month ago. He is a 15- yr- old quarter horse gelding, very good conformation, great to work with, great attitude, I mean a all around good horse. I have not noticed any bad vices what so ever, even in a month.

I have had him saddled twice, first time, he would not go forward, only back, I mean would not move only played with the bit. I am a equine massage therapist and he gets body work daily, so I know this is not a issue. Well I examined his teeth and called the dentist immediately and was done three days later. My dentist told me upon exam that he had a injury when he was 4 yrs of age to the mandible but will not affect anything and he is still sound. He was then floated, filed and had a bit seat put in.

I saddled him again tonight for the second time. Keep in mind the horse has not been rode in five or six years, and bucked previous owner off at that time. I proceeded to put the bit {smooth snaffle} in his mouth, he welcomed it nicely too. When I got on him he went plum crazy, bucking and crow hopping, rearing up and backing up.

So I got down and took out the bit, I decided to ride him in just his halter, because he does so well with ground work and yields to nose pressure wonderfully. I got back on him and he loped off like nothing, I had him side-passing, spinning off his front and back end, backing up and much more and all at a very collected gate. He acted as though he has been rode everyday, I was amazed as to the fact he might just make a good cow horse after all { cows all around us too while riding }.

When I told my fiancé he told me that the horse is not broke then if he won’t ride in a bit. I wanted to just go get a bit-less hack and that be that, but he swears that a horse is not broke if you can not ride it in a bit.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillI don’t understand, doesn’t this make for a better more collected horse. I mean not to have all that metal in the mouth. What should I do? Force him to ride in a bit? I am a third generation cowgirl and know how to train and ride very well, and I definitely know a lot about horses {not to sound high on my horse} everyone I know calls me a horse whisperer. My fiancé is great with horses too but we always have different outlooks on this stuff.

I guess my question after the explanation would be… Is a horse broke with or with out a bit? Or does a bit really mean the horse is “dead” broke? Please help me with this, I would really appreciate the advice from one horse woman to another. I look forward to hearing from you. And THANK YOU in advance.

Laura

Hi Laura,

As you have discovered, it is a matter of opinion. All you have to do to make your point to your fiancé is to have him watch Stacy Westfall do her bridleless reining. There is no doubt that her bridleless and sometimes bareback and bridleless riding showcases her finely trained horses. On her website you will find two videos you can watch together: Stacy Westfall videos.

So, on some things, you two can just agree to disagree !

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillI tend to ride the majority of the time in a snaffle bit. I prefer the feel. But I also like riding certain horses in a bosal or a bitless bridle and others in some type of curb bit.

I do not use or advocate the use of a mechanical hackamore because many of them are mainly designed to stop a horse and don’t offer the variety of communication between rider and horse.

But hey, bottom line, if your horse is as well trained as you say with a halter, then it shouldn’t take you long to get him used to a bit or bosal or a bitless bridle. Here is what I am talking about when I say bitless bridle…just so you don’t end up with a mechanical hackamore: Bitless Bridle.

Best of luck !

Cherry Hill horse trainer and author of 30 books and DVDs

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Dear Cherry,

With great pleasure I’m reading your book “Thinking like a horse”. It’s good readable and the drawings and pictures are beautiful.

 

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill in Dutch

 

I saw on your website that you also sell articles. On site 20 from the book there’s a picture from Seeker. The blanket underneath the saddle, do you sell those? So yes, where can I find them on your website?
Specially that one is a very nice one on a red/brown horse like our Quarterhorse mare Ira. She’s so lookalike Seeker!
Can you please answer my mail and if you don’t sell the bankets can you give me another adress?
Best greetings from Harold in the Netherlands

Hi Harold,

First of all, Bravo on your English ! I’m glad you are finding the Dutch translation of my book, How to Think Like a Horse, enjoyable and helpful.

I just now walked back from the barn where my husband, Richard Klimesh, put new shoes on my mare Seeker ! She is my special buddy ! It sounds like Ira is your good buddy too.

We don’t sell western saddle blankets – only a few extra tack items every now and then in our Tack and Attire section.

But if I were looking for a western saddle blanket like the one you saw in my book (How to Think Like a Horse) I’d start by looking at Rods – notice that there are 10 (TEN) pages of western saddle blankets – when you are finished looking at the first page, you can click on more pages at the bottom of the screen.

(Note: I am not connected to or sponsored by any companies. I am only supplying this suggestion as a good place to start.)

Be sure to browse all of the articles I have posted on my Horse Information Roundup, especially in the Tack and Attire category where you can read about saddle pad selection and care.

Best of luck !

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Good Afternoon!

I am a newly developed horse lover and I just wanted to say I read your book “Cherry Hill’s Horsekeeping Almanac”. It was very informative and I enjoyed your insight.  In our Public Library that’s all we had on you and your books.  The horse selection is very old and few on the shelves here.  In the next few years I plan on having a career, or owning a few horses myself.  Thank you so much for writing the book and living the life you wanted.  Your an inspiration to me and all horse lovers a like.  Keep up the great work! Marilyn S.

 

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac

 

Hi Marilyn,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write.  I’m so glad my Almanac has helped inspire you to continue to reach for your dream.  I’m happy to share what I have been fortunate to experience and learn about horses and their care and training. The Almanac, which was published in 2007, was a perfect medium to be able to paint the whole year round picture here at Long Tail Ranch.

And thanks also for your encouragement to keep up the work ! The art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and sometimes that keeps us writers out of the saddle more than we like ! But there are several new books in the works – one which I am just finishing up the final touches on and will be out in a few months.

I’ll post information about the new books when they become available or you can visit Chronology of Books and Videos by Cherry Hill – the newest ones are at the top of the left column.

Keep working toward your dream and best of luck to you,

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I’d like to get a washing machine for horse blankets, can you recommend a particular machine you’ve had good luck with? I don’t want to fry my home machine, ruin the blanket on the agitator, or block up the water supply (top 3 complaints I’ve heard about using home machines which were meant for human laundry).

Thank you! Linda

Hi Linda,

No matter what machine you purchase and use, it helps if you brush and vacuum any horse items before you put them in the machine. That will remove hair, break up any dirt or sweat and decrease the amount of stuff that would block up the drain. And with a dryer, one must be diligent about keeping all screens and vents clean of hair and lint.

I have quite a few articles on horse clothing at my website’s Horse Information Roundup including some on care.

Now to the washing machine. The first washing machine I had for barn laundry was an industrial wringer washer. Advantage was that it didn’t have to be plumbed in – you could fill it with a hose and empty it out in the wash rack drain. It rolled around on wheels so could be stored, then rolled out to use. It did a good job of cleaning barn cloths and small sheets and blankets but because it was an agitator model, even though it had a large capacity tub, it wasn’t the greatest for the big puffy blankets. AND is was very labor intensive to wring out the items, then refill with rinse water, then wring again. And the wringer could be a bugger on some buckles and other hardware. I’ll bet you weren’t even considering a wringer washer but I wanted to mention it just in case. Some people still swear by them but I’d have to say it was great in the experience column but not one I’d recommend.

The next machine I had installed in my tack room was a Sears Kenmore agitator model. When we upgraded our washer and dryer in the house (with another Sears Kenmore Washer Dryer combo), I put the old set in the barn. That was over 15 years ago and both sets are still humming along ! It was the largest capacity at the time of manufacture (pre-1990) so nothing like the large capacity, front load machines today, and yet, it has been completely satisfactory for my needs.

However, if I needed to replace my tack room machine today, it would definitely be a front load since there is no twisting and wringing of blankets with a front load and you can purchase some very large capacity models. But then you probably know all that.

You might have been asking for a brand name recommendation so since I’ve had long standing good luck with Sears Kenmore, I’d start there. I’m not sure how Kenmore stacks up with other models, so I’d have to do some research before I bought.Consumer Reports is always a good source of comments on items like this, so I’d recommend checking their latest review of front load washers.

And I just typed “washing machine reviews” in google and see there are a number of sites with great information and ratings – once you narrow things down, that would be a good place to check on repair history and so on.

So I probably haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know but perhaps by posting this, we will get some comments here from other horseowners who have used machines for barn laundry which is what we both would be very interested in hearing about.

Cherry Hill

 

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If you are going to use a bit when training your horse, the logical choice would be a snaffle bit. Alternatives to using a bit are bitless bridles, bosals, sidepulls, halters and tackless. These topics will be discussed in future posts.

A snaffle is a mechanically simple bit that allows you to communicate with your horse in simple terms.  A snaffle bit transmits pressure in a direct line from your hands on the reins to the rings and mouthpiece of the bit to the horse’s mouth.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

On a snaffle, there are no shanks.  Shanks are the vertical sidepieces on a curb bit to which the reins attach.  Shanks create leverage action.  The snaffle bit operates via direct pressure only. The mouthpiece of a snaffle can be jointed or solid.  The misconception that any bit with a jointed (or “broken”) mouthpiece is a snaffle has given rise to the misnomers: “long-shanked snaffle”, “tom-thumb snaffle”, and “cowboy snaffle”.  All of these are really jointed (or broken mouth) curbs.

The most common snaffle, the jointed O-ring, has four parts: two rings and a mouthpiece comprised of two arms.

A snaffle is customarily used with a brow band headstall that has a throatlatch.  Often a noseband is used with a snaffle.

Snaffle Action The snaffle is useful for teaching a horse to bend his neck and throatlatch laterally so that he can be turned in both directions.  It is also useful for teaching a horse to flex vertically in the lower jaw, at the poll, and at the neck muscles just in front of the withers.  Vertical flexion is necessary for gait and speed control as well as for stopping.

The bars are the flesh-covered portions of the lower jawbone between the incisors and the molars.  This is where the bit lies.  It is the action of the snaffle bit on the bars of the horse’s mouth that produces vertical flexion.

With a regularly configured snaffle, when one rein is pulled out to the side, let’s say the right, the bit will slide slightly through the mouth to the right and the primary pressure will be exerted by the ring on the left side of the horse’s face.  This will cause him to bend laterally and turn right.

When the right line is pulled backward, pressure will be exerted on the right side of the horse’s tongue, the right lower lip, the right corner of the mouth, the right side of the bars and on the left side of the horse’s face.  This will tend to cause the horse to bend laterally and begin to flex vertically so he shifts his weight rearward as he turns right.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

When you pull backward on both lines, pressure will be applied to both corners of the mouth and across the entire tongue and the bit may contact the bars and the lower lips.  This causes a horse to flex vertically, shift his weight rearward, slow down, or stop.

Your hands have the capacity to turn the mildest bit into an instrument of abuse or the most severe bit into a delicate tool of communication.  Above all, good horsemanship is the key to a horse’s acceptance of the bridle.

The introduction of the bit and bridle occur during ground training such as longeing and ground driving.

Longeing and Long Lining the English and Western Horse

Longeing and Long Lining the English and Western Horse

Cherry Hill

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Fly Gear For Horses


A well-fitting fly mask can protect the sensitive areas of a horse’s head from flies or gnats without the use of chemical sprays or creams. Sometimes applying a mask often makes a nervous horse noticeably calmer, perhaps partly because it stops flies and partly because of reduced visual stimuli.

A fly mask can also be used to protect a horse’s eyes from wind-blown objects when trailering a horse in an open trailer or during turnout and from dust and contact when treating an eye for an injury. A mask that blocks more light can give relief to a horse with light-sensitive eyes.

A mask fastener such as Velcro® that will release under strain is preferable over an unyielding snap or buckle for use during turnout or for use on unsupervised horses. If a horse should catch the mask on something and the fastener doesn’t release, it’s likely that either the mask will be damaged or the horse will be injured, or both.

For best results make sure the mask fits properly—horses’ heads vary greatly in size and shape and so do fly masks. A free-form mask made of soft, supple mesh will fit a wide range of head shapes, but the draping material usually lays against the eyes or lashes, which could cause the eyes to weep and lead to irritation and head rubbing. Masks made of stiffer material usually have eye darts formed to hold the material away from the eyes. Darts should center over the horse’s eyes and be peaked to prevent contact with any part of the eye.

© 2010  Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

A fly mask should seal around the horse’s face so flies aren’t able to crawl under the mask. Long, fluffy fleece on the edges allows a good seal without having to adjust the mask uncomfortably tight, but it is a debris magnet and it can cause a horse to sweat—both of which can cause a horse to rub his face on the nearest object. Smooth edging like elastic, vinyl, or polar fleece (synthetic fleece with a very short nap) may not seal as well as long fleece, but it will be less likely to attract debris or cause rubbing.

A mask should protect as much of the furrow under the jaw as possible—this is one place gnats will dig in. But a mask can only encircle the nose so far down without interfering with jaw movement. For additional muzzle protection, choose a mask that has a muzzle guard.

Muzzle Guard

A muzzle guard is either integral to a fly mask or it attaches to a mask, halter or bridle. It protects a horse from those nasty no-see-ums or nose bots that can drive him insane and make him dangerous to handle. A muzzle guard is especially good for a horse that is hypersensitive to flies around his nose.

A muzzle guard should protect the nostrils without interfering with breathing or with the action of the bit. The more opaque the fabric of a muzzle guard, the better it will protect sensitive skin from sunburn.

Neck cover

A neck cover wraps around a horse’s neck and fastens with snaps or Velcro®. Some neck covers are an integral part of the fly sheet while others detach or can be rolled back and fastened out of the way, much like the hood of a jacket. A neck cover protects that sensitive area where the neck and chest join, a spot where crusty scabs often form from feeding flies.

Hood

A hood combines a fly mask with a neck cover. It overlaps and attaches to a flysheet with Velcro® or snaps. It provides more complete coverage than a separate mask and neck cover because it eliminates the space between them.

Applying Fly Gear

Before applying any type of fly gear, make sure the horse is clean and free of loose, shedding hair. Otherwise the horse will be more likely to rub. Also clean all traces of bedding, seeds, or burrs from the fly gear itself, especially from long fleece lining and from Velcro®. This will reduce irritation that causes rubbing and will allow the Velcro® to hold better.

Wearing a fly mask for the first time is no big deal for most horses. But a horse that’s not used to the sound of Velcro® being pulled apart can be frightened by it—sack your horse out to the sound before applying fly gear that uses it.

To prevent injury to the horse and damage to his fly clothing, make sure the horse gets used to wearing an item before leaving him unattended. Any horse that’s wearing fly gear should be checked at least once a day for fit and for signs of irritation and rubbing, and to remove irritating debris.

Breakaway halter

Some fly gear such as a muzzle guard or browband attaches to a halter. It’s not uncommon for a horse turned out wearing a standard halter to suffer injury or even death when he gets the halter caught on a post, a branch, or even his own horseshoe. If your horse needs to wear a halter during turnout, use only a break-away (safety) halter. A safety halter usually has either has a “weak link” or “fuse” of light leather or other material that’s designed to break under stress, or it has a Velcro® fastener that will come undone if the halter gets caught and the horse pulls.

Ear Bonnet

Insects entering your horse’s ears can not only cause annoying and dangerous head shaking but can also cause serious skin infections. An ear bonnet covers the horse’s ears and can be a part of a fly mask or a separate piece held in place by the bridle or halter.

The ear holes in a bonnet should be spaced the same as the horse’s ears and should be large enough so as not to rub or put pressure on the base of the ears. There should be ample room inside a bonnet so that the ears don’t deform and the material should be flexible enough to allow a full range of free ear movement.

Leg wraps and bands

Leg wraps are usually made of the same poly/vinyl fabric as flysheets, and wrap around a horse’s canons to keep flies off. Some models extend down over coronary band and cover the back of the pastern where flies like to bite. Leg bands containing fly repellents are only a few inches wide and are applied around the canons. You can apply fly spray to any leg wraps to increase fly protection.

Don’t apply leg wraps or bands too tightly—you should be able to easily slip a finger behind them. Most models have fleece or vinyl trim to keep flies from getting underneath. As with other fly gear, short fleece or vinyl trim is a better choice if a horse is likely to be exposed to weed seeds or burrs.

Tail bag

A horse’s own best weapon against flies is a long, full, healthy tail. But some horses, for whatever reason, don’t have a full tail and show horses often have their tails braided or wrapped to protect them from damage. A tail bag with a tassel on the end can protect a tail and give it added reach.

Collar

Fly repellent collars containing natural (such as citronella or cedar oil) or artificial insect repellents (such as permethrin) can be used to keep flies and mosquitoes away from a horse’s neck. Some collars are applied snug while others should be loose—follow manufacturer’s instructions.

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