DIY Horse Toys

Of course you can buy horse toys if you like, but why? There are lots of ways to make horse toys of your own.

• Place pebbles, whole corn, dry beans, or pennies in well-washed half-gallon or gallon plastic milk jugs. Use baling twine to suspend jugs from the ceiling in your horse’s stall or pitch them into his paddock so he can toss them around.

• Traffic cones make great fling-it-around horse toys. Buy them at Lowe’s, Home Depot, or the like – don’t liberate them from roadside construction projects!

• Buy a secondhand tetherball and hang it in your horse’s stall.

• Toss old basketballs, soccer balls, footballs and the like in your horse’s paddock for him to play with. Buy them at yard sales or ask the athletic department at your local school for balls they would otherwise discard.

• Used 55-gallon plastic barrels with the top and bottom still intact and with or without a few stones inside make great toys to push around a paddock. Before buying, make certain they contained food-grade products, not toxic substances.

• Hang a cowbell in your horse’s stall. Don’t do it if you have close next door neighbors.

• Buy plush toy animals at yard sales, remove eyes and anything else your horse could choke on, then tie them together at intervals with strong rope. Hang the toy or simply place it where your horse can pick it up and fling it around.

• Place empty soda cans in a poly feed sack, fold it in half or in quarters. Secure it with a piece of duct tape and let your horse have at it.

• Drop apples in your horse’s water bucket or horse tank and let him bob for apples. Or float a rubber duckie in his bucket or the horse tank—fun!

• A strange one I saw online but that I bet horses would love: buy a large rutabaga (in Britain: a swede), drill a hole all the way through, then run a sturdy piece of rope through the center and suspend it where your horse can knock it around or nibble – his choice.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Storing Hay

Keep expensive hay in the pink by storing it properly.

• Store it under cover in a well-ventilated building that doesn’t leak. Due to the risk of feeding a barn fire, try not to store it in or near a building that houses livestock, even though it’s tempting to use existing overhead space as a hayloft. If you can’t store your hay in a separate building, the next best thing is to keep only small amounts of hay in the barn at one time, to help reduce the risk of barn fires.

Choose a building in an elevated, well-drained area so that stored hay doesn’t soak up moisture from wet soil or standing water. If your storage area is open on one or more sides, or it’s a shed with only a roof, cover the hay with a tarp to keep out weather and light. Sunlight bleaches hay, causing it to lose as much as 20 % of its nutritional value, especially protein and vitamin A.

• If you can get a good deal on hay but don’t have a place to store it, consider buying an inexpensive storage shed from an outlet like Walmart. A 10 x 10 x 8 shed can keep up to 50 bales of hay out of the weather. Enclose it with tarps for added protection.

• Don’t stack hay on bare ground or on concrete floors. Moisture will wick up through the bottom tiers, ruining the hay. Instead, stack hay atop telephone poles, wooden pallets, or old tires.

• Don’t stack new hay in front of older bales. Pull the old bales to the front and feed those first.

• When stacking hay, stack the first tier of bales all pointing in the same direction. Then stack the second layer perpendicular to the first layer so that if the first layer of bales is pointing east and west, the second layer of bales points north and south. Continue alternating layers. This locks the stack in place and makes it more stable.

• Outdoors, cover well dried, not damp, stacked hay with tarps, securing the tarps in place with strong tie-downs. A sloped top created by pyramiding the final layers sheds snow and rain better than a flat one. When covering hay use strong, sturdy tarps. If you have to use more than one tarp to cover the stack, overlap them by 3 to 5 feet to prevent water from seeping in where the tarps meet. Check tarps on an ongoing basis to make sure they’re securely tied down.

Large bales stored outside are prone to spoilage; store them under cover if you can. The outer 4 inch layer of a 6 foot diameter round bale contains about 25 % of total bale volume. Studies indicate that outdoor storage losses range between 5 % to 35 % depending on the amount of precipitation, storage site location, and original condition of the bale. Storage losses are usually reduced by approximately 2/3 with indoor storage.

• It’s best to place round bales so there is at least 1 foot of air space on all sides to allow for circulation. Never store bales under trees; storing hay in damp, shaded environments prevents the sun from drying the hay after a rain and encourages the bottom of the bales to rot.

• Choose densely packed large round bales put up in plastic or net wrap or using plastic twine; these reduce bale sag and help maintain bale shape.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Cleaning Tack

Cleaning tack keeps it looking good and prolongs its useful life. Here are some things to consider.

• Never apply standard cleaners or conditioners to rough out or suede leather, choose commercial suede cleaner instead. Or occasionally renew rough-out western saddles and rough-out saddle seats, as well as the suede padded flaps on English saddles, by lightly sanding them with fine grit (#240) sand paper. Avoid sanding any stitching.

• Caught in a downpour? While your leather gear is still sodden, give it a full-scale cleaning and conditioning. Use lots of conditioner. When your tack dries, it’ll be good as new.

• Spot clean smudges on white leather using a moist cloth dipped in baking powder or a mild household cleanser like Bon Ami.

• Brighten bits and stirrup irons by scrubbing away major grime, then placing them in a knotted pillowcase and running them through 1 cycle in the dishwasher. Use baking soda instead of detergent.

• Save your family’s soft, worn out toothbrushes for cleaning tack. They’re great for getting in to hard-to-reach spots and for cleaning silver plate. Use a toothbrush to crub girth and rein elastic using toothpaste and stirrup treads with dish soap.

• The green gunk you see on brass and nickel silver is oxidation. Use a baby wipe to quickly clean brass and nickel silver hardware after every ride and Brasso for deep cleaning.

• Clean copper bit ports with ketchup. Leave the ketchup on for at least 5 minutes to let it work its magic.

• Some saddlery silver is expensive sterling but most is silver plate (a thin glaze of silver electroplated to copper or another less-expensive metal). Clean both the same, with one caveat: don’t scrub silver plate vigorously and often. It can quickly wear thin.

• Everyday supermarket toothpaste makes a fine, inexpensive silver polish when applied with a moistened soft-bristled toothbrush. Plain baking soda works well, too. Thoroughly rinse cleaned pieces and polish them dry.

• To clean large silver-mounted items such as bits or metal stirrups, or removable saddle, bridle, breast collar, and halter silver, line a pot or baking pan with aluminum foil, and on it, arrange the silver so that no pieces touch. Cover with boiling water and then stir in a small amount of baking soda. The water will foam and fizz. An hour later, remove items one at a time and buff them dry. This process also squeaky-cleans copper and brass bit ports and ornamentation.

• Fittings on most English saddlery, buckles and hardware on better halters and leads, and even quality name plates are usually made of brass or German silver. However, the marriage between these metals, leather, and its cleaners is rarely a happy one. Tarnished brass and German silver fittings ooze a gummy coating of green or black goo that can be removed by scrubbing them with commercial cleaners like Brasso, a mixture of salt and lemon juice, or just plain ketchup. Whichever you chose, use it before you clean the rest of the item. When dry, remove spills from neighboring leather, then buff the fittings with a clean, soft cloth.

• Machine wash most real wool (including felt) saddle pads and blankets using commercial woolen cleaners such as Woolite and the gentlest cold water setting on your washing machine. Immerse the pad or blanket, and then agitate for a minute or so. Switch the machine off and allow the item to soak for as long as needed. You may have to gently hand scrub to loosen stubborn, crusty sweat, or manure stains. When finished, agitate for another minute, then run the item through a single spin cycle. Repeat the process in a washer full of plain, cold water, then lay the pad or blanket flat to dry.

• Before hand or machine washing any saddle blanket or pad, make certain any dyes (especially reds) are colorfast by scrubbing a small, inconspicuous area with plain, cold water.

• Add apple cider vinegar to the rinse cycle when laundering saddle pads, leg wraps, blankets and turnouts, and the like. It helps remove soap residue and removes odors too.

• Hand clean woolen blankets, pads, or the underside of your western saddle by dry-scrubbing with a stiff-bristle brush, then again with a soft brush dipped in a bucket of Woolite-laced cold water. Follow with a clean towel dunked in plain water, then air dry.

• Use a dog slicker brush to gently fluff wooly fleece style saddle pads and the underside of western saddles.

• To keep light-colored leather light, choose only pH-neutral cleaners and conditioners. Apply oils sparingly, if at all, and never use petroleum-based products.

• Avoid using saddle soap on your saddle’s seat and flaps or fenders if you’re wearing light-colored chaps, pants, or breeches because it sometimes rubs off. If you need to use saddle soap, polish your saddle really well using a clean cloth to remove any remaining soap.

• To remove small scratches, moisten a soft cloth with olive oil and rub it into leather using a circular motion until the scratch disappears. Wipe off any remaining oil.

• Drop synthetic headstalls and reins, breast collars, cinches, halters, and other gear into an old pillowcase, knot it shut, and wash it in your washing machine using mild laundry detergent and a cool water setting.

• To prevent your near stirrup leather stretching longer than its mate, switch your leathers right to left and vice versa whenever you clean your English saddle.

• Use a synthetic sponge with a non-abrasive scrubber backing on ground-in sweat and grunge.

• Whenever you clean your gear, check for stress damage like cracks or enlarged holes, especially wherever leather bends or buckles. Examine metal fittings for cracks and bent tongues. Watch for damaged or missing stitching. And check western saddle rigging and English billets and stirrup leathers for stretch and excessive wear.

• Make your own scented glycerin saddle conditioner using this recipe:
1. Break a bar of glycerin soap into chunks and microwave for 30 seconds, then remove and stir; microwave for 30 seconds and stir again, repeating until the soap is melted. A typical bar yields about 2 cups
2. Stir in ¼ cup of milk or cream for each 2 cups of melted soap.
3. Add 4 to 6 drops of your favorite essential oil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
4. Mix everything quickly before the soap re-solidifies and store it in an air-tight container

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver


Spend Tack Horse Care Dollars Wisely

You’ll save a lot of money by buying tack and horse care items wisely and taking care of those things so that they needn’t be replaced right away.

• Before buying something ask yourself:
~ Is it high quality?
~ How many times will I use it?
~ Have I already got one, or something similar I can use instead?
~ Can I borrow one instead of buying, housing, and maintaining this item?
~ Is it worth the time it takes to earn the money to pay for it?
~ Will I still be using this item in 3 months? If you I’ve lived this long without it, do I really need it?

• Buy a quality product. We live in a disposable society but as individuals, we needn’t subscribe to that philosophy, especially when money is an issue. This is especially true regarding durable goods like saddles and other items of riding gear that purchased wisely, have the potential to last a very long time. Examine products carefully before you buy. Shoddy equipment not only falls apart but in the case of items like saddles, tie ropes, and halters, you or your horse can be seriously injured when they fail. Take the higher road and buy the more expensive product and know it will outlast any number of cheap imitations.

• Avoid fads. Although you like the look of the barrel racing saddle with pink, ostrich-embossed seat jockeys and fenders, you might want to sell it or trade it in one day. Fads don’t last forever. When I was a kid, buckstitched saddles were all the rage. Now all-over buckstitching greatly reduces the value of a good used western saddle. Unless you have money to spare and don’t mind using a passé product once its glamour days have passed, stick to the basics and add bling with fashionable accessories.

• Buy used. Consider saddles. A saddle is a major purchase. Unless, however, you have $1500 or more (often much, much more) to spare, you’re unlikely to find a quality leather saddle in your price range. You can, however, buy well-maintained older saddles in the $250 to $1000 price range that were built at a time when better leather, tougher trees, and finer craftsmanship went into saddles as compared with today’s mid-range equipment. They’re a better buy than a shoddy-built new saddle at the same price.

• Fix it. Repair, don’t replace. If you shopped carefully and got good service out of something, don’t assume you have to replace it when it breaks. A good repair shop might be able to restore it to near new condition for less than the cost of a replacement.

• Borrow it. If you need an item for just a short time or you’re not sure you really need it, something like an expensive bit to see if your horse likes it or not, why not borrow someone else’s? When I cleaned out my tack box a few years ago, I found 23 bits I’d accumulated over the years, yet I’d used the same O-ring snaffle, a slotted-dee Kimberwick bit, or short-shanked, mullen mouth curb bit 99% of the time. Some of the other bits were specialty items I’d used no more than 3 or 4 times. What a waste! If you aren’t sure an item is right for you, see if you can borrow one and try it before shelling out money for one of your own.

• Scout out tack swaps and tack consignment sales. I used to buy nearly all of my bridles, saddle blankets, and miscellaneous horse gear at the huge tack consignment sale held in conjunction with the Minnesota Horse Expo, but even small-scale tack swaps can yield treasures at pennies on the dollar. Watch for notices on bulletin boards at tack shops and feed stores, in the classified sections of regional horse magazines, and even in local newspapers.

• Hold your own swap meet. There are no swap meets where you live? Well, organize one! Swap meets are perfect fundraisers for groups like 4-H, Pony Club, and saddle clubs, especially in late winter before show season starts, when horsey folks are looking for something to do. Consigners pay a percentage of their proceeds for consigning goods, usually 5% to 10%, and the hosting group sells chili and sandwiches, chips, and drinks. Everyone wins!

• Shop Craigslist. Craigslist ( is a series of nation-wide online classifieds where people list items for free. There is bound to be one near you; there are 9 craigslists, for instance, in Minnesota alone. Horses and horse items are usually listed under Farm+Garden.

• Try ebay. Ebay ( is another favorite place to buy new and used horse equipment, sometimes at bargain prices. Before bidding, be sure to scope out a seller’s shipping and return policies, and also check his Feedback ratings.

• Join Freecycle. Freecycle ( is a great place to watch for items like cattle lick tubs to use as water troughs, used food service buckets, old freezers to safely store grain in, and used fencing material, all for absolutely free. To access Freecycle groups, follow instructions at the Freecycle website.

• Or try ReUseIt. ReUseIt (RIN) Network ( is a Freecycle alternative active in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. ReUseIt exists to “get things from people who have them but don’t want them to people who want them but don’t have them.”

• Look for used stuff at tack shops. Some riding apparel and tack stores specialize in consignment sales. Regular tack stores often carry used equipment too, particularly used saddles.

• Yard sales, garage sales, barn sales. Note when horse-owning families hold yard sales; they’re usually good picking grounds for used horse equipment. Yard and rummage sales are also the place to buy used shovels, pitchforks, buckets, storage units like old Army footlockers and tool chests, step stools, zippered plastic bags for blanket storage, and so forth at pennies on the dollar.

• Place your own ads. Many online horse communities host classified ads. To find them do an Internet search for horse tack classified ads.

• If you need a specific item, pin notices on bulletin boards in local tack shops, feed stores, veterinary practices, even non-horsey places like grocery stores and laundromats. Chances are, someone has just that item but maybe never thought of selling it until they read your notice.

• Another good place to post wanted ads is in Pennysaver-type classified tabloids serving your area. We do this all the time, sometimes with surprising results. Case in point: the time a nice girl who outgrew her pony saw our wanted ad and gave her to our 6 year old daughter. Brandy, who was already teenaged when we got her, lived with us another 18 years.

• Buy from discount sellers, especially when items are on sale. When looking for reasonably priced equipment, wormers, or vaccines, turn to any of dozens of discount saddleries and horse supplies sellers that are eager to meet your needs. Even mainline saddleries like Dover Saddlery (, Schneider Saddlery (, and State Line Tack ( have sales throughout the year.

• Be sure to factor in shipping prices when buying online, from catalogs, or especially at eBay. Some eBay sellers price goods at eye-catching prices and make up the difference with outlandish shipping costs.

• When buying online, look for clearance sale pages. You may find exactly the item you want. Also watch for discount codes and coupons and sign up for email sales sheets.

• Buy in bulk. Many catalog outlets offer deep discounts when you buy in bulk. Band together with friends to benefit by ordering bulk feed, wormers, and stable supplies.

• Substitute when you can. A person I know from Facebook once said, “If a product says ‘horse’ on the label it will cost 3 times as much as the same product from the grocery store.” She’s right. In most cases you’ll save big money by buying comparable products like shampoos and conditioners designed for humans and they often work better than the horsey brands.

• And substitute everyday items for things from the saddlery store. Like plastic food service buckets for watering buckets, a long-handled toilet brush for scrubbing horse tanks, hangers from Wal-Mart or the dollar store for bridle racks, or a wool cardigan sweater from the used-a-bit shop instead of a fancy little blanket for a newborn foal.

• Or make your own horse supplies. You’ll find hundreds of DIY recipes and projects in my tips book and online.

Then Take Care of Your Stuff

It should go without saying but many people ignore this cardinal rule: take care of your stuff to make it last!

• Organize your gear so you can find an item when you need it. If you can’t find it and can’t borrow it, you’ll waste good money buying another one. Hang strap goods like halters, leads, and bridles neatly on the wall. Buy a tack trunk (military surplus footlockers, large tool boxes, and old steamer trunks make good ones) and organize items within it. Used day packs and book bags make great organizers: one for bits, one for horse boots, and so on.

• Put your stuff on a maintenance schedule and follow it. Clean your boots and leather tack, wash your nylon halters, launder your horse’s clothing, and make repairs as soon as needed. “A stitch in time saves nine” really applies to horse equipment.

• Make your own minor repairs. Most tack shops sell do-it-yourself leather sewing awls. Buy one and learn to use it. Likewise, repair horse blankets, turnouts and the like as soon as you notice a problem. I hand sew patches on my horse clothing. It’s easy. You can do it too.

• Mark your equipment clearly with your name (or your horse’s name) to help misplaced or borrowed items find their way back to you.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Buying and Evaluating Hay

Buying Hay

Hay is a major expenditure for most horse owners and in some parts of America it’s very hard to find good hay. Therefore it’s important to make sure every bale you buy is a good one and worth its price.

• Open several bales so you can evaluate the hay inside. Don’t worry about slight discoloration on the outside because the outside of hay bales can be bleached by the sun in 72 hours from baling time. However, the nutritional value isn’t affected if the inside is green.

• Choose hay that has soft, flexible stems. Hay with tough, thick stems is harder to eat, especially for older horses, and since doesn’t taste as good, there’s more waste.

• Hay stems become tougher and more fibrous and protein and energy levels decrease as the plant matures. Seed heads in the hay and thick stems mean the hay was cut late and it’s therefore a lower grade of hay.

• Leafiness is an excellent indicator of hay quality. Sixty % of the total digestible nutrients, 70 % of the protein, and 90 % of the vitamins are found in the leaves.

• Refuse hay that is over-cured, sun-bleached all the way through, or smells moldy, musty, dusty, or fermented.

• Avoid dirty, weedy, trashy, or debris-filled hay.

Several types of blister beetles

Blister beetle range

• Check hay for signs of insect infestation. Be especially careful to check for dried blister beetles or beetle parts in alfalfa hay if you live where blister beetles are a problem or if you import hay from those regions). Blister beetles produce a toxic compound called cantharadin. Consuming as few as 12 blister beetles can kill a horse. This beetle is rarely found in first-cutting alfalfa. They’re more likely to be found in hay produced in the Southern states or during periods of drought. As shown in this picture, they don’t all look alike, so if in doubt, take a specimen to your County Extension agent for identification.

• Turn down bales that are unusually heavy for their size or that feel warm. Extra-heavy bales are often moldy and warm bales are starting to mold. Warm bales can cause spontaneous combustion and burn down your barn.

• Buy by the ton, not the bale. Without weighing it, it’s hard to tell the difference between a 50 pound bale and a 60 bale. If they’re of comparable quality and you pay the same price per bale, lighter bales are a bad buy.

• Try to purchase enough good hay to last a season. For example, if an 1100-pound horse eats 2 % of his body weight in hay per day for 6 months, plan on buying 2 tons of hay. To preserve its nutritional value, however, buy no more hay than you can properly store.

• To get the best price on hay, consider buying cooperatively with friends. Also consider buying hay directly from the field since it’s usually priced considerably higher once it’s stored.

• When possible, buy hay from a reputable dealer who stands behind his product. Buying from individuals can be frustrating and a very expensive venture. If you do it, be aware of bait-and-switch: you’re shown one product but the seller loads or delivers another. We’ve wasted a lot of money this way since moving to the Arkansas Ozarks where we’ve learned the hard way that honor among hay sellers is not a given. Make sure, up front, that the seller will replace bad hay and then carefully examine bales as they’re loaded on your truck, or if purchased delivered, as they’re unloaded, so you can refuse it if it isn’t what you want.

Evaluating Hay

Since high quality and junk hay often sell for the same prices, learn to evaluate hay before you buy.

• Green hay usually contains plenty of protein and vitamins. Hay that’s yellow or tan all the way through could be sun-bleached or it might have been rained on prior to baling. Rain leaches nutrients from hay and decreases its quality. Dark brown hay overheated because it was baled too moist or it was rained on after baling.

• Hay should smell fresh and sweet. If it smells musty, it was baled while damp or it was stored improperly. Also avoid dusty hay. Dust causes serious respiratory problems like heaves and in some cases the dust is actually mold spores. Shake out a flake of dusty hay. If the “dust” is a grayish-white color, it’s mold. If the flakes are hard or stick together in clumps, the bale is moldy.

Green net wrap makes most big bales of hay look green from the outside. Dig your hand in from the end and evaluate hay from the inside the bale before buying.

• Buy hay free of insects and trash. Sticks and chunks of mud weigh up heavy when buying hay by the ton. Baled-up briars and stickers can injure your horse’s mouth. As mentioned above, blister beetles are extremely toxic to horses. And toxic weeds can be hard to distinguish from non-toxic species once the plant has dried and been baled into hay. Thick stemmed weeds like milkweed that aren’t completely dried prior to baling can also cause moldy areas in the bale.

• Hay with mature weeds in it sheds seeds and if you feed it you’ll soon have crops of weeds established in your pastures. Cheatgrass, broom grass, perilla mint, and bull nettle all came to our farm this way.

• If you find a dried animal like a snake, a mouse, or a rabbit in baled hay, throw the hay away. Horses that eat hay exposed to spoiled carcasses are at risk from botulism.

• If you can, buy tested hay or have large batches of purchased hay tested to be certain that adequate nutrients are being provided to the animals being fed. Your County Extension agent can show you how to collect samples for testing and tell you where to mail them.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Horse Tank Cleaning Tips

Depending on season, ambient temperature, the type of feed eaten (high-fiber diets composed largely of hay increase water consumption, while grazing lush pasture decreases water consumption), and the activities a horse engages in, he or she typically drinks 10 to 15 gallons of water per day. It goes without saying that horses require year ’round, ready access to drinking water. However, if their water is contaminated with algae, feed debris, or other muck they won’t drink as much as they should, which can quickly lead to dehydration and colic. So keep that water clean. Here are some ways to do it.

• Buy a used tennis racquet at a yard sale or used-a-bit shop. To open frozen water tanks, break the ice with your boot or a heavy object (we keep an old axe by our water tank) and dip out pieces using the racquet.

• Use a kitchen strainer, a fish net, or the head end of a pool cleaner to remove leaves and other floating debris from your horse tank.

• Decomposing carcasses in drinking water can cause botulism and in horses, botulism is usually fatal, so immediately empty and thoroughly clean contaminated receptacles using a stiff brush or pressure washer and a cleaning solution made of 1 part unscented chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.

• To help prevent drownings, float short, thin pieces of wood on the surface of your horse tank. That way birds and beasts that fall into the water can get out again.

• When algae is a problem, dump the tank and scrub it using unscented chlorine bleach solution and a long-handled toilet brush or a milk tank cleaning brush from the farm store. Or use baking soda paste made by adding a small amount of water to baking soda (buy it economically in bulk at your feed store) to scrub buckets and horse tanks.

• A power washer makes tank cleaning a breeze. Don’t have one? Load the tank in the bed of your truck and haul it to the car wash.

• Clean off crusted-on algae with a stiff-bristled toilet bowl brush, a putty knife, or metal sweat scraper. It works!

• To cut down on cleaning, try to keep debris out of horse tanks (and if it gets there, skim it off as soon as you can). Don’t place horse tanks under trees in the fall and feed hay and grain in an area away from the horse tank, so horses don’t dribble grain or dunk hay while drinking.

• Many horse owners think bleach solution is too harsh to use for cleaning tanks. Not so, says the University of Minnesota, as long as it’s used in a responsible manner. In their bulletin, “Cleaning Water and Tanks”, Marcia Hathaway, PhD says, “Tanks can be emptied, scrubbed clean, rinsed with a 10 % bleach solution, rinsed twice more with water, and then refilled for immediate use. Alternatively, bleach can be added to existing water in a tank.” She goes on to say that horses shouldn’t drink the water for 1 hour after treatment and 2 hours if the water is cold (less than 50 degrees F.). Only unscented bleach should be used. The publication contains this guide to how much bleach can be safely added:

Gallons of water to disinfect/amount of bleach needed

1 gallon = 2 drops
5 gallons = 11 drops
50 gallons = 1 3/4 teaspoons
100 gallons = 3 1/2 teaspoons
500 gallons = 6 tablespoons

+Produces water with about 2 parts per million of chlorine+

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Reusing Feed Sacks

Nowadays most feed manufacturers and retailers prefer poly weave plastic feed sacks over paper feed sacks for many reasons. For instance, poly sacks reduce or eliminate the need for shrink wrap on a pallet of feed because they hold up better than paper sacks when exposed to rain or snow. Poly sacks also reduce the number of sacks broken during moving, thus saving a lot of wasted feed.

Farm folks have always reused paper feed sacks as garbage bags but today’s poly weave bags bring a host of new possibilities to the table. And face it: if you buy commercial feed, you probably generate a lot of feed sacks in the course of a year. Use them or share them with Freecyclers ( Don’t let this resource go to waste.

• Poly sacks are perfect for storing off-season horse clothing like sheets, blankets, and turnout rugs. After cleaning, simply fold each one, place it in a poly sack, and seal it with duct tape. Slap a piece of duct tape on one side and label it with a permanent marker. They’re also great for storing off-season clothing.

• Both paper and poly sacks are great to use as mulch between plants in the garden. Lay them down, pile on a little dirt to keep them from blowing away, and you’re done. Paper sacks without plastic liners decompose over time but poly bags won’t, so you’ll have to pick them up at season’s end.

• Feed sacks are perfect for picking up after dogs. A poly sack holds a lot of poop without breaking. If you have extra sacks, offer them to a dog rescue for just this purpose; rescue folks will be delighted.

• Going to a show or expo? Cut a hole in the center of the bottom of a poly feed sack and slip it down over your show clothes hangers to protect your fancy duds.

• Transporting your saddle pads in a poly sack makes sense too.

• In a pinch you can cut a moderate-size hole in the side of a poly sack, pack it with hay, and then hang it in your horse’s stall as a single-use hay feeder.

• Stuff some sections of hay in a poly sack if you need to take some on a trip. A partially-filled hay net will usually fit in a poly sack too.

• Here’s how to stuff a hay net with a minimum of fuss: place the sections of hay in a feed sack, place the net over the mouth of the sack, then upend the sack and pull it out of the hay net. So easy!

• If you’re at the barn and your child wants to play in the rain, cut head and arm holes in a poly sack and let her wear it as a pullover raincoat. At home, make coverall art smocks the same way.

• To protect pre-measured bucket rations, cut a large enough square from a poly sack to cover the top and at least 6 inches down the sides, then secure it with baling twine or a bungee cord.

• Be crafty. Wrap gifts for horsey friends using poly or paper feed sacks, using baling twine for ribbon.

• Insert your dog’s bed in a poly sack to keep it clean. Or stuff a poly sack with straw, shavings, sheep’s fleece, or a pillow to create a comfy, water-resistant dog bed. Dog rescues would be thrilled to be given a bunch of these beds. Ask!

• Make a warm bed for barn cats by placing a comfy blanket in a feed sack and laying it on its side.

• Muddy dog? Muddy you? Use cut-open feed sacks to protect your car or truck’s seats and floors.

• Show your horsey daughter how to make schoolbook covers using cut-open poly sacks; they’re so much cooler than brown paper grocery bags!

• Place a feed sack under your horse’s hooves when applying hoof black or any other messy substance.

• Make a saddle cover to protect your saddle by cutting open a poly sack and placing it over your saddle.

• Stuff a poly sack with crumpled-up poly bags, duct tape it shut, and give it to your horse as a toy.

• Use feed sacks for recycling bins at home or the barn.

• Winterize the inside of a drafty building by stapling poly sacks over cracks and holes.

• There are lots of uses for feed sacks at home. Cut them open to use as shelf liners, to protect floors while painting or staining, or as a table cover to ward off canning spills or messy art projects. Protect food that will be in your freezer for awhile by double-bagging it inside of a poly sack. Keep your fireplace or wood stove area tidy by storing burnable paper and kindling in a feed sack.

• Use a cut-open feed sack to create sewing patterns.

• Going camping? Sew a few poly sacks together to make a 3 ½ foot by 6 foot rectangle and use it as a ground cloth under your sleeping bag. Or make a 7 foot by 6 foot rectangle and fold it in half to form the underside and topside of a bedroll to protect you from moisture and wind.

• Use poly sacks to tote heavy loads of garden produce.

• Load a poly sack with manure from your stable, goat or sheep yard, llama pen, rabbit hutch, or chicken coop and give it to friends who garden.

• Grow a feed sack garden. Poke holes in the bottom of poly sacks and fill them part way with potting soil. Roll down the top. Plant peppers, carrots, or what have you, but potatoes grow especially well this way. And to harvest your potatoes, all you have to do is upend the sack. No digging, yay! For complete instructions do a Web search for grow potatoes in feed sacks.

• Use crumpled feed sacks for packing material when shipping packages.

• Make a party beverage cooler. Dump 2 bags of ice in a poly sack and semi-submerge beverages in ice to keep them cool.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Visit my Economical Horsekeeping blog to read and download more how-to items like this one.

Memorializing Horses

Our 31-year-old Standardbred, Maire (Snafu’s Choice), is rapidly failing. Her legs are giving out and we’ll have to have her euthanized before hard winter sets in. She’s been with us for 18 years and she’ll be missed. It’s hard to lose an old friend like Maire.

There are those who would say (and do say far too often when people are grieving) that “it’s just a horse” and “you have lots of others” or “you can buy another horse.” But your horse may have been family, a loved one, and losing him already seems more than you can bear. Yet it’s part of sharing lives with animal friends. It never gets easier, but having mementos of absent friends helps ease the pain of their passing, especially later on when we can see or handle something that brings cherished memories to mind. But having mementos requires advance planning.

Collect keepsakes while you can. Take photos, lots and lots of photos. Start when you get your horse and continue throughout his lifetime. If you don’t know how to shoot good photos, ask photography-minded friends to do it for you (most will be happy to help) or polish up your own photography skills.

• Save your images in one place so they don’t get lost. For digital images, burn a CD or devote a special flash drive to pictures of animal friends. If you still shoot film (yes, some of us do), place prints and negatives or slides in photo albums or storage boxes.

• Compile a scrapbook incorporating photos and special items as show ribbons and snippets of hair. Have any of hundreds of photo-personalized items such as throws, jewelry, mugs, mouse pads, and Christmas ornaments created.

• Select a favorite picture of your horse; have it enlarged, then beautifully framed. Or combine the photo with your horse’s registration papers to be mounted and matted together. Create a shadow box assortment of photos and treasured mementos. Draw or paint a portrait of your horse. Sew a cuddly, stuffed toy horse featuring your own horse’s markings, perhaps tucking a lock of his hair in its stuffing before stitching it up.

• Purchase a journal and record the story of your lives together. Tape or glue photos of your horse on any leftover pages in the journal. Keep it as a remembrance.

• Or compile a memorial video. Using basic video software like Windows Movie Maker, it’s much easier than you think. Windows Movie Maker is free; Google windows movie maker download to access multiple sources. It’s fairly intuitive to use but if you need help, do a search for Windows Movie Maker at YouTube or source downloadable PDFs by Googling windows movie maker filetype:pdf. Here’s a memorial video I made in honor of one of my favorite horses, Kismet Fancy Fire:

Try mementos containing something of your horse himself. The first year we sheared our first pet sheep, we shipped their wool to MacAusland’s Woollen Mills in Canada to be woven into a natural-colored blanket for our bed. You could do something similar with your horse by saving hair when he sheds, then paying a fiber artist to blend it with wool, spin the yarn, and knit a comfy hat or scarf. Or save some mane or tail hair and have a bracelet, necklace, key fob, or jacket pull woven for you by a horsehair craftsperson. Find one by doing a Web search for custom horsehair jewelry.

• Or choose a clay-based paw print kit designed to memorialize your horse. These accept hoof imprints as well. Then when your horse is gone you’ll have memories you can hold in your hands.

– adapted from an article written for and published by Horse Illustrated in the late 1990s.

Hay Alternatives

We live in northern Arkansas, an area often hard-hit by drought. Sometimes hay trucked in from other states is available, sometimes it isn’t. We’ve learned it’s easier and more economical to feed alternatives when long-stem, traditional hay brings astronomical prices.

• Bagged, dehydrated alfalfa or grass hay is usually packaged in 40-pound, plastic-wrapped squares of compressed, chopped hay. To prevent waste, pour enough water over the hay to dampen it. U.S. Alfalfa is the brand we’ve used. It’s good stuff.

• Bagged haylage such as Chaffhaye is semi-wilted grass or alfalfa dried to 55 % to 65 % dry matter as compared to 82 % to 85 % in hay. It’s compressed and sealed in extremely tough plastic wrapping. It’s important to remember that once bagged haylage is opened or the wrapping is accidentally broken, mold spores begin taking over, so after a few days (read the label for specifics), any uneaten feed should be discarded. Due to its palatability and ease of chewing, we feed Chaffhaye (and 14% protein goat pellets) to our toothless 31-year-old Standardbred, Snafu’s Choice.

Alfalfa pellets are fairly finely-ground hay mixed with binders and pressed into ¼ to ½ inch pellets. They’re economical because there’s no waste but they don’t provide enough roughage and should be fed with some long-stem hay.

• Hay cubes, also called range cubes, are made of rough-ground hay with enough binder to allow it to be pressed into cubes. They’re considerably bigger than alfalfa pellets, readily available, and can be used to partially or totally replace baled hay. However, horses sometimes choke on cubes; we’ve had it happen twice, so we don’t feed them any longer. If you use hay cubes, soak them for an hour or so before feeding to reduce them to mush.

• Complete feeds are commercial pelleted feeds formulated to provide both grain and hay in a single feeding. All major feed companies carry a variety of complete feeds for horses. While they sometimes (but not always) provide enough fiber to maintain gut health, horses tend to wolf them down so fast that their urge to chew isn’t met. So, they look for other ways to satisfy that urge like debarking trees or chewing up their stalls. This is neither a healthy situation nor an economical one, factoring in the cost of replacing chewed boards.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Give the Horse a Beer

“Fully one-half of the horses used by the brewers,” said a fat and ruddy driver of one of the big wagons, “are beer drinkers, and there are horses belonging to the company which will not leave the delivery yards without having had their bucket of beer in the morning and at lunch time. They have acquired a taste for the beverage, and they refuse to do their work until they have been supplied. Now, I say the horses acquired a taste for beer, but I guess I am wrong about that, for it is my candid opinion that horses love beer.

“Our horses fatten on beer, and it is a noticeable fact that the ones drinking the most beer keep in the best physical condition and can do the most hard driving. Drivers and horses are allowed a liberal supply of the fluid by the company, and I would go without my mugs before I would see my horses go thirsty.”
– American Carbonator and American Bottler; January 15, 1905.

A beer for your horse? Absolutely! We learned about the health-giving qualities of beer ten years ago when one of our goats got sick. He was off-color, mopey, with no appetite, so I posted about him to a sheep group that I moderated at the time. A Welsh member said, “Give him dark beer.” An elderly Welsh shepherdess turned them on to the digestive benefits of beer quite some time ago, with great results. So we gave our goat 2 beers, 1 in the morning and the other that evening. The next day he was eating again. Since then we’ve dosed sick sheep and goats with beer and we concur with that old Welsh shepherdess: beer works!

Then I started seeing references to beer in old-time horse books, mostly as an appetite booster but also as an all-around tonic. So I ran a Google search with surprising results.

• Horses don’t get drunk from drinking beer because their livers metabolize alcohol much faster than ours do. Also, a pint or so of beer is a comparative drop in the bucket given to a 1200 pound horse (feed less if you’re dosing a mini).

• Many leading racehorse trainers and competition riders in Ireland and Great Britain treat their charges to a pint of Guinness stout after races and competitions to revitalize them. They also feed it to stimulate picky eaters.

• Arkle, the great English Thoroughbred steeplechaser, enjoyed 2 pints of Guinness daily. His trainer used it to soak Arkle’s oats.

• The yeast in Guinness, Saccharomyces cervisia, is a component in better-quality probiotic supplements. Hops are used as a digestive aid and a treatment for intestinal ailments in traditional Chinese medicine; one of the phytochemicals in hops, quercitin, is a powerful, anti-inflammatory antioxidant. The malted barley in Guinness is a fine source of B-vitamins and of the minerals iron, copper, manganese, and selenium.

• Recommended amounts to feed on an ongoing basis, according to Guinness:
High performance horses: 12 ounces (1 bottle) once a day
Moderately active horses: ½ cup once a day
It can also be fed after a hard training session, after a competition, or during periods of high heat or high humidity.

• Trainers also feed a pint of dark beer a day to horses with anhydrosis (anhydrosis means they can’t sweat). If you suspect anydrosis, call your vet, don’t assume a beer will do the trick.

• Not sure how to introduce beer to your horse? You could try this ploy from The Simple Ailments of Horses; Their Nature and Treatment, W.F. (1882):
“Place a quart of ale in the bottom of a pail, then place a whole loaf, with the crust pared off, in the ale leaving the upper side dry. The horse eats the bread down to the beer, and eventually takes the whole, beer also; and will henceforth take kindly to the beer given alone. Beer and loaf is capital in long, tedious cases of extreme weakness, such as continued fevers.”

• In the olden days, folks dosed their horses using a specially made, very thick and strong, long-necked glass bottle. But don’t try to give your horse beer straight from any bottle unless you pad the neck really well and are very, very careful. To give him a taste you could syringe flat beer (fresh beer foams too much to draw into a syringe) into his mouth using a dose syringe or a 60cc or 120cc catheter-tip veterinary syringe. Once he’s tasted it and knows he likes it, he’ll drink it from a bowl or pail.

• Another good way to give your horse beer is in bran mash.
Mix together:
• 8 cups of bran
• 8 cups of oats
• a pinch of sea salt
• hot water
• 1 can of dark beer
Add enough water to thoroughly moisten the ingredients, add salt, mix and let the mixture steep until cool enough to feed.

• Dark beer is the preferred type of beer to give to animals for medicinal purposes. Dark ale is a British type beer combining hops, yeast, and a blend of malts; it’s a chestnut brown color, with a fruity smell and robust character. Stouts, like Guinness, are a type of porter. Stout means strong; enough said. Guinness, the favorite of Irish horse trainers, is made using water, barley, yeast, hops, and roasted malt; it’s the malt that gives stout its dark color. We gave our first sick goat extra-dark bock (German) beer because bock means buck, as in a goat buck. Being non-drinkers, we didn’t know what to choose, so ‘goat beer’ seemed just right. Whatever, it worked, so we’ve dosed using bock beer ever since.

– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver