what I learned the hard way about horses


Things I learned the hard way about horses


Ok, this is a tough one to write, it contains some sensitive and heart-wrenching stuff. If you read lots of my articles, you might find that I’m firm on several principles of horsemanship. Take temps! Use shipping boots! Hoof problems are a definite emergency! I also have to balance keeping things upbeat and not making anyone cry when I dispense information.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m a stickler about lots of horse-related things.  My own two eyes (and heart) have learned the hard way about horses.


Things I have learned the hard way about horses:


  • Halters need to be breakaway. Decades ago, a young teenage girl was living her dream with her very own horse. I never met the horse, but I knew this girl in passing at the barn. She was about 15 and absolutely horse crazy. One morning, she found her horse dead. In his nylon halter, stuck on something in his stall, with a snapped neck.


  • Speaking of halters, it only takes a second to latch the throat piece when you are grooming. I’m a stickler about this because the first standing enucleation I watched was a horse that tossed his head around and the unfastened buckle popped him in the eye. And yes, enucleation means eye removal.


nylon halter with leather crownpiece

Make it breakaway. PUHLEEZE.



  • Again, another halter story. I’m at a LARGE barn, private owners and lesson horses. One instructor had tied her youngish horse to a post near the barn for “patience training” as she taught some lessons about 100 yards away in the arena. The water truck backfires as it drives by. The horse spooked and ended up yanking the metal post and concrete plug out of the ground and ran away. The length of the lead rope meant that the concrete plug and metal post were just about under his belly. The vet said that his legs and belly looked like ground meat. They did.


Smart horsemanship can prevent most accidents.  


  • When leading a horse, keep his head in front of your shoulder and his shoulder behind you. He should be next to you. I have the remains of a hoofprint on my shoulder because I slacked off one day. There was a panicked spook, and I was run over. From behind. And yes the horse was “bombproof”. AKA “full of &^%”.



All I see here is a human speed bump.


  • Speaking of “bombproof”, I witnessed a horse running wild through a show grounds with buckets attached to the stirrups. Seems someone didn’t want to carry their buckets, so why not attach them to your horse? This spooked the horse and off he went. The horse eventually stopped, but not before knocking over an elderly gentleman watching his grandchild ride. He died at the hospital. Carry your own buckets, people.


  • Diarrhea in horses is serious and can be deadly. It’s not something you should wait and see about. About six years ago, my horse suddenly developed explosive and skin-burning diarrhea. Three days later he’s in the hospital with colitis, dehydration, and possible organ failure. I ignored my vet’s advice to “wait and see”, he thought my horse ate something bad and would get over it. I found a new vet, who came out immediately and discovered the complications.


Please don’t “wait and see”


  • A horse owner I knew at a barn where I did a bit of freelance work was convinced her horse had two abscesses in his front hooves. Absolutely convinced. She thought she could treat herself with Epsom salt soaks in hot water and bute. She even asked the Farrier to come out and see if he could find the spot to drain things. When she finally called the vet a few days later, he was crippled beyond hope and subsequently euthanized. Laminitis kills, and it often looks like other things.


feel the hoof with your hands

Know how to spot hoof issues early and get the vet out.


  • Always look in your horse’s mouth before you bit up and ride. A friend’s horse was tossing his head about while being ridden. Turns out, one of his front teeth had been partially ripped out and was dangling there. All ended well!


Sometimes you gotta bail.


  • Trust your gut instinct about quality of care. Sure, it’s nice to give 30 days notice if you are moving boarding barns. But, when you arrive one morning to find your horse turned out with another horse that’s NOT his turn-out partner, start to question things. Especially when the horses are trying to kill each other. REALLY start to question things when the Groom thinks the solution is to open the gates to ALL the paddocks so the ALL of the horses sort themselves out and get into their correct paddocks.


Digitial thermometer


  • Take your horse’s temperature. It’s fast, painless, and could save his life, and the lives of his barnmates. I was tending to a horse, acting perfectly normal. Food and water intake and output normal. Attitude normal. Perfectly willing to be groomed and tacked. Temp of 104. Saved his life by getting the vet out pronto, cooling him off, and moving him to isolation. Horses hide things from us, it’s a survival mechanism.


  • Wear a helmet. I’ve whacked my head in a fall. It’s horrible. I’ve witnessed falls, both with and without a helmet. One rider fell without a helmet and showed me what gray matter looks like up close and personal. And yes, gray matter is brain.


dirty black helmet


I often ask vets what they wish their clients would do every day to better take care of their horses.


  • I’ve heard some stories about owners that have learned things the hard way. The blanket that had to be surgically removed from the withers. Or the horse hoof that was rotting from the bottom up because it hadn’t been picked in months. Or any accident involving barbed wire and other verboten fencing. All vets tell me they wish their clients knew what their horse’s “normals” are. Like how much food he gets, how much pasture, temp, pulse, respirations, exercise routines, totally basic and easy stuff.


Be safe out there!


go shopping button for horse products


If you want to shop easily for horse supplies, you can click these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!

ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking

3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803



Leather crown piece to make any halter safer.


This tall boot can be filled with ice or ice packs to help the horse with laminitis.


These affordable boots can be filled with ice to help your horse.

Thank you!