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 many of my articles, you might find that I’m firm on several horsemanship principles. 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.
I’m a stickler about many horse-related things. My own two eyes (and heart) have learned the hard way about horses in more than one instance.
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 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.
Make it break away. 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 yanked 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 show grounds with buckets attached to the stirrups. 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 hospitalized 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 immediately discovered the complications.
Please don’t “wait and see”
- A horse owner I knew at a barn where I did some 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.
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.
- 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 are 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 the brain.
What vets have told me
- I’ve heard some stories about owners who have learned things hard. The blanket that had to be surgically removed from the withers. Or the horse hoof 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, pasture, temp, pulse, respirations, exercise routines, and basic and easy stuff.
Be safe out there, and I hope you have not learned the hard way about horses.
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3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds
Sox for Horses – for any skin funk, fly problems, summer sore, stomping, etc.
Perri’s Standing Bandages, Pack of 4 – so many colors to choose from
Sore No More Liniment Bottle – pick your size
Hoof Wraps Brand Bandage – Affordable wrap for hoof protection
Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot for Horses, Black – thick-soled hoof boot for riding and hoof wrapping.
EasyCare Easyboot Glove Soft Hoof Boot – these boots are designed for riding, not hoof packing, and have a more precise fit.
Intrepid International Hock Shield Protector, Horse – for hock sore prevention and healing