Thursday, February 28, 2013


The last two months articles I have written for the NWHS have been on fear, both the origins and how to manage it. Today as I was riding, it just hit me that if I replaced the word “horse” with the word “men” or “women” it would read just as true. The fear of getting back in the saddle after divorce or heartbreak can be just as paralyzing. The red flags you once missed, start popping up everywhere. You feel panic over old wounds, and as you get older, it gets harder to fool yourself into just trying to ride it out. I talk a lot about fear as an alarm system, and that it can be healthy to protect you. I say that trust is something that is gained, built and earned, and is important in a relationship with your horse to avoid frightening situations.

The phrase that struck me the hardest in my upcoming article was “Of the (fearful) people I talked to, nearly all had a horse that was not suited for them.” and “People have many specifications or limitations when they are horse shopping. Even worse, they often have none. “I fell in love with him” or “the price was right” is not justification for an equine purchase.” (**Chortle**)

How was it that I was so clear all along on what built a good horse/human partnership, but only recently was able to apply it? Life is sure a lesson. So when you read the March and April issues of the NW Horse Source, give it a second read and insert men/women in place of horse. It is like the magic of a reversible jacket, it becomes a whole new article :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feeding the Performance Horse

Five Keys for Ultimate Wellness

Hard working performance horses have high demands on their body. One of the building blocks of the complete horse is their feeding program. There is no one better to talk about equine nutrition than my friend Gina Fresquez, Equine Nutrition Specialist. I trust her with the management of my feeding program and asked what the five most important things are when assessing a feeding program. Forage First. Hay, hay pellets, pasture or beet pulp are all considered forage and are absolutely required for normal and healthy gut function. As for quantity, your horse needs to consume about 1% to 2% of its body weight in forage per day, therefore making up the majority of your horse’s diet. For example, a 1,200 lb. horse needs to consume 12 to 24 lbs. of total forage per day, in addition to any other feeds or supplements. If your horse is overweight, feed towards the 1%; if he is underweight more towards the 2%. Any more than that will cause gut fill and that dreaded hay belly. Keep in mind that forage quality is critical. Choose forage that is green, smells fresh, has a high leaf to stem ratio and is free from mold, dust and debris. Beware that in most cases you “get what you pay for.” If you skimp on forage quality, it will have less nutrition per pound and you’ll need to feed more hay, grain and supplements to maintain your horse compared to feeding higher quality forage.

Evaluate your horse’s condition. The simple way to do this is to get familiar with the Body Condition Scoring System, an objective way to evaluate a horse’s level of condition, or amount of stored fat on the body. The scale runs from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (extremely obese). If you can see the horse’s ribs they are a score of 4 or less. If you cannot see ribs than the horse is scored 5 or higher. Ideally, a good fit equine athlete should be between a 5 and 6. For more detailed information on how to body condition score your horse visit BodyConditionsScoringChart.

Follow feeding directions. It is extremely important for a horse to receive the correct amount of nutrition provided to perform at its best. Many horse owners forget to read the back of the bag or bucket to know exactly how much their horse should be consuming. Feeding directions are there for a reason, to provide your horse with exact nutrients needed for its weight and activity level required by the National Research Council. Of course it’s not an exact science as all horses are individuals, therefore altering a feed recommendation by a pound or two may not be a problem. However, if you find yourself feeding your horse a quantity that is way off from the directions it is probably not the correct feed for your horse. Find another feed that can meet the nutrient requirements at the appropriate level for your horse.

Protein IS important. Don’t be scared of protein in your horse’s diet. Protein makes up many important things in your horse’s body like muscle, hair coat, hooves, skin, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, etc., all needed to promote good health and performance. The key is quality over quantity. The quality of a protein is determined by its amino acid profile rather than its crude protein content (or %). The horse needs 20 amino acids in the diet and the most limiting is lysine. The signs of protein deficiency in a horse will be poor hoof, skin or hair quality, anemia, difficulty building muscle, protruding hips and a weak or thin topline. In some cases you may have a horse with a healthy body condition score but still shows signs of lacking quality protein in the diet. In this case a good ration balancer may be beneficial.

When in doubt, consult an expert. There is so much information on horse nutrition and feed that it can get complicated and overwhelming. If you find yourself confused or have a difficult case get help. Consult your veterinarian, an equine nutritionist, or even specifically the feed or supplement company you use to get clear information on how you should be feeding your performance horse to ensure the best results. NWHS

Gina Fresquez received both her B.S. degree in Equine Business and her Master’s degree in Equine Nutrition from the University of Arizona. In 2004, she was an intern at the Purina Animal Nutrition Equine Research Facility in Missouri, and began working as an Equine Nutrition Specialist in January 2006. Gina works closely with horse
operations testing hay, balancing feed rations, going over nutrition management programs and helping owners with feed-related challenges. Gina has been riding horses since childhood and competed in English, western, endurance, dressage and reining. She loves all breeds and disciplines. Gina can be contacted at 206-743-6453 or at

Monday, February 25, 2013

All About Boots

How to Boot Up Your Horse for Safety and Support

In very physical equine sports, like performance horse competition, leg protection is important. Injury to a horse’s legs can be career ending. There are a lot of types and brands of leg protection and sometimes it is hard to decide what is best for your horse. I asked Brett Mills, of RES Boots, to help outline the types of boots and their uses so you can make an informed decision.

Bell Boots:
These protect the horse’s hoof and heel bulb from overreaching and coronet band from being injured when turning. There are many types from pull on rubber boots, to quick wrap and no-turn boots. I personally use them every time I go down the fence, and with horses that are learning to turn around.

Splint Boots:
These protect the horse’s cannon bone from side impact and brushing of the legs. The advantage to this style of boot is that they have excellent impact protection and are light weight and easy to use. The disadvantage is that they don’t offer any suspensory support. This is my boot of choice for everyday use. I am more concerned about impact damage than I am about suspensory support. I also like the way these fit with a bell boot.

Sport Boots, Tendon Boot, Suspensory Boots:
This style of boot is fitted around the cannon bone with an additional support strap that wraps under the fetlock joint. They provide some suspensory support and more comprehensive fetlock protection than splint boots. They do not offer as much side impact protection, they hold in more heat on the leg and are harder to use. They can be hard to use with bell boots and rub on the horse’s pastern. There are some versions of a bell boot/ suspensory boot that are called a combination boot that avoid this problem.

Polo Wraps:
The key to using polo wraps is wrapping them properly. They can be used on either the front or hind legs. They offer good protection and support, are inexpensive and easy to wash. They are very hard to use and somewhat time consuming, and it is important to note that if you are using them for competition that you tape the top of them so that there is no risk of them coming lose during the run.

Skid Boots , Hind Boots:
These protect the fetlock from burning when the horse is stopping. There are two styles. A traditional leather or neoprene skid boot has straps that go above and below the fetlock and only protects from burning. Hind boots typically have a protective cup for the fetlock as well as a more full coverage protection from side impact for the cannon bone. For reining I usually use a leather skid boot, while for cowhorse, I like the added impact protection of a hind boot. Ballistic nylon is the preferred material for the outer shell of bell boots over a neoprene inside. Another material used in making boots is Kevlar and PVC Material or rubber. Polo wraps are made from a cotton and polar fleece blend, while splint boots use ballistic nylon or UNLB. Sport boots commonly are made of UNLB over neoprene and RES Boots use blended wetsuit material to keep the boot soft.

Knowing how to properly use and adjust your leg protection is extremely important, regardless of the type used. You can sometimes do more damage to tendons by improper wrapping or tightening. It is also important to keep them clean and dry. If your horse is working hard and sweating a lot, you should be sure to take off the boots when you are done working and air out and cool down their legs. If I am just going out to lope a horse, I don’t use any boots, but if I am going to be getting physical on a horse, I always use full boots. Your horse’s performance is affected when they are hurt in a maneuver. The quickest way to get a horse to quit stopping hard is to really burn his fetlocks. There is no reason to take the risk of hurting a good horse when it is preventable. NWHS

Brett Mills is the owner of RES Boots based out of Redmond, OR. A common problem with all brands and boots is Velcro failure. RES boots has addressed this problem by designing and patenting a boot with replaceable Velcro. To learn more visit

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Training for tomorrow

This is true in your horse training as well. Remember that what you do in today's ride, affects the way your horse rides tomorrow. The goal of the horseman is to always be training the horse today, with the idea of the horse you want him to be tomorrow.


"Anybody can be an a$$hole once you make up your mind he is."

This is a quote I have always liked about making perception reality. I giggled about it today as I worked my horses. The sun was shining, I'm a smitten kitten, and all I could think was "man my horses are all soooooooo good" as I petted them and loved on them. "You're the prettiest, most talented horse in the world (don't tell the others.)" It took about 4 horses of that to realize that it is unlikely that they pulled out of their stalls any differently today, than they do any day. However, I was in a bright mood, and they responded. It just reminded me that when I am having less than stellar rides, it is as likely not to be because of the horse at that moment, either. Disposition can be powerful, and even more so when dealing with horses. It is something I have known, but really hit home today. Giddyup!

Conditional Love

There is something very special about the opportunity that horses give us to be the person we were meant to be. If we are fair, consistent and kind to them, in turn, they see us as so. Horses offer us the gift of CONDITIONAL LOVE, returning to us, what we give to them. What a magical thing ♥

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Trainer/Owner Relationship

Seven Tips to Maintaining a Healthy Partnership

The relationship between trainer and owner/client is a very important one. Everyone needs help meeting their horsemanship goals and, for many people, the easiest way to do this is by keeping their horse in training and taking lessons, or having the trainer show the horse for them. This is an expensive game. I see a lot of turnover throughout the industry that I believe would be avoided if there was a better understanding between the trainer and client. I have the unique perspective of being first a non-professional and then a professional trainer, so I know what it is like to be on each side of the equation. If your horse is in training, here are a few tips to help make the experience a positive one.

1.)The horse means the world to an owner who is spending a significant portion of their disposable income on training/boarding — somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000 a month, more if the horse is being shown. However, it is important to remember that only a small portion of the money spent actually makes it to the trainer — approximately $300 a month, after overhead. That does not include other expenses the trainer has such as advertising.

2.)For your trainer, this is their profession. That may seem obvious, but in the horse industry, in particular, people easily blur the lines between friendship and business. This is an expensive activity for both the client and trainer. Years, and time and money have been spent by the trainer to become proficient. Expect to pay for it. Time is valuable and there is never enough of it. Respect that. Be appreciative if you have the sort of trainer who makes time for you, but understand when they can’t use it just shooting the breeze. Most trainers hustle just to keep business afloat in the current economy.

3.)Pay your bill on time. Again, this seems obvious, but to run a training operation the trainer has fixed expenses when there are horses in training. This means that the mortgage/rent, hay, bedding, labor bills come due, and all it takes is a couple of late paying clients to get a trainer in a bind. A financially stressed person is never going to perform as well as they could, and this is true in horse training as well. I have clients who show up at the first of the month with check in hand and love to see those people. I have also had clients drag their feet paying me. When there is a
stack of bills due on my desk, it is challenging to not be resentful toward them.

4.)If you don’t like the way a person trains your horse, or interacts with you, don’t do business with them. That said, this is how they feed their family. You have the right to disagree and/or be unhappy with your experience, but keep “sour grapes” to yourself. Avoid partaking in the gossipy nature of the horse industry and helping to damage a trainer’s career. Do what is best for you and your horse, but be thoughtful about your words.

5.)There is a proper way to leave a barn. As a trainer, having clients sneaking around with other trainers is embarrassing and a bit of a dig on you professionally. If you want to ride with multiple trainers or leave a barn and still maintain a healthy relationship with your former trainer show respect in your departure. Be transparent and let them know what you are doing. Don’t be the sort of client who suddenly shows up at a horse show with a new trainer when the old one had no idea. You can quickly become an undesirable client. In a tight industry, poor communication and sneaky behavior affects everyone.

6.)There is a limit to the number of horses one trainer can maintain on their own, between 10 and 12 for most folks. That is an income of roughly $3000 a month for a decent-sized program. That is not much. To have a better business, trainers hire assistants. This helps, but adds to the overhead. It can be very difficult to keep a training business going for this reason. To make additional income, trainers earn day fees at horse shows, hauling fees and horse sale commissions. These expenses are not robbery, they are honest ways horse trainers make a living. If you can’t afford to do them that is fine, but don’t expect to get these services for free or complain about the cost involved.

7.)Lastly, remember that any trainer will cost you money — the quality one and the hack. Find someone who has a good record, a variety of clients, healthy happy horses, and a way of communicating that suits you. NWHS

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Do-it-yourself Approach to Training

How the Five W’s of Horsemanship Can Help

If you have invited me into your horsemanship journey it is because you are trying to build a better relationship with your horse. You are attempting a “do-it-yourself” project and, much like in home improvement, choosing not to hire a professional and attempting it yourself can be messy. It may take longer, and not turn out perfect, but there is value in the process and in being part of creating something. The most common phrase I hear is “How do I (fill in the blank)?” With the plethora of videos and articles available, our brain often goes straight to the doing portion of the task, and we skip past the understanding. I encourage people to be thoughtful about what they are attempting. If you don’t have a good understanding of what you are planning to ask of your horse, how will you be able to lead him to the correct answer? Think about training your horse as a whole and, before beginning, consider the Five W’s.

Who? This answer is always you, and a given horse. Have a realistic grasp of your abilities and riding level. How has your experience up to this point prepared you for this task? Where is your horse in his training? What potential troubles do you foresee based on your experience with him?

What? What exactly are you asking your horse to do? Have a vision in your head of the precise finished maneuver and what things your horse must accomplish. For example: Collection is your horse driving from the hind end, reaching up and under himself, while staying behind the boundary of the bit and between the boundaries of legs and reins. This results in a horse that has an elevated back and is flexed at the poll. Break down the steps of the maneuver so you can correctly school your horse as well as reward him.

Why? Why can cover a whole host of things. Why are you teaching your horse this cue? Why is it important in the big picture? For example: I want my horse to be able to collect so he is moving in a way that will allow him to be balanced and able to perform even more advanced maneuvers. Why does my horse need to do the things outlined in the What? Why must he be in that particular carriage? For example: My horse must first drive from his hind end to avoid simply dropping on his front end and pulling himself forward. Clear understanding of the What and the Why will keep you from putting the pieces of the puzzle together in the wrong order, or leaving pieces out entirely.

Where? Where does this skill fit into my training program? Is this an end goal maneuver or is it a building block? For Example: I will use collection when I am moving my horse forward, and it will become increasingly important as I teach more complex maneuvers.

When? When are you going to use this skill? Now that you know the What you know that you must give reward to help your horse understand your cue. When are you going to release to reward the correct response? You also need to have a timeline and realistic expectations for how long it may take for your horse to achieve a skill. Training doesn’t become habit overnight. There are steps and stages for accomplishment that fit into your end goal. For example: In the first stage of teaching my horse collection, I am going to release when he is moving forward off my legs and softens his face. Now you can think about the Doing portion of training.

Sometimes, answering the above questions will make the How obvious. Other times you will need to seek out a drill to help. When you are applying drills or trying things you have seen others do, be very thoughtful about breaking down what you are doing and being positive that it fits with your goals. Always remember that you are not just physically training your horse, you are reaching into his brain and teaching him to respond to cues. It is a tall order to be learning at the same time as you are teaching your horse. Be diligent and do your homework before getting in the saddle. NWHS