Choosing and Caring for Nylon Halters

Premium nylon halters are soft and supple, never stiff. Good ones are two or three plies thick. They’re colorful, inexpensive, and easy to care for, making them most horse owners’ favorite everyday halter. Well maintained nylon halters can last for decades. Here’s how to keep them pretty and functional for many years:

• Store nylon halters indoors to prevent the nylon stiffening, which, hung in direct sunlight it will do over time.

• When you buy a new nylon halter choose a strong, soft, high quality item with solid brass or stainless steel fittings. One really good nylon halter, well cared for, will outlast 3 or 4 stiff, poorly made items. Don’t choose a halter with leather linings; with age, they become brutally stiff. Some colors last longer than others and color stability varies from brand to brand. Lighter colored halters are generally easier to re-color should you choose to do so.

• To clean a nylon halter submerge it in a pail of warm water at least overnight, then scrub away grime with a castoff toothbrush. Or saturate the halter with laundry stain remover before knotting it into a pillowcase and laundering it in your washer’s cold or warm setting using laundry detergent. After air drying, trim away “fuzzies” with sharp shears or carefully singe them in a candle flame.

• Faded nylon halters can be partially color rejuvenated by dying them in double strength Rit dye solution. Follow the package instructions exactly. Keep in mind that resulting colors won’t be rich as when the halter was new. Experiment with a single halter to make certain you like the results before committing all of your halters to a Rit makeover.

• Another way to spruce up dull colors is to soak the halter in a strong solution made from acrylic liquid colors, the sort used to decorate t-shirts and other garments. Or carefully daub the nylon with colorful leather dye. Again, don’t expect these colors to look brand new.

• Renew frayed holes by very carefully heating a metal rod or a very large nail in a propane flame and re-burning them. Wear oven mitts! If burning creates jagged plastic build ups, lightly sand their edges with fine grit sandpaper.

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

Buying, Cleaning, and Repairing Blankets, Sheets, and Rugs

Buying Blankets, Sheets, and Turnout Rugs

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to outfit your horse in quality blankets, sheets, and rugs.

*Think ahead and buy winter-weight blankets and rugs in the spring and summer when shops and saddleries are eager to reduce their inventory. And be sure to check the clearance pages at online horse supply outlets where you might be able to buy a closeout top-flight garment for the same price as a cheaper model next fall.

*When buying a turnout rug or sheet, read the tags. Make certain the one you choose is waterproof (not water-resistant) and breathable (never use foam-lined blankets; they don’t breathe). Wearing a non-breathable blanket is to your horse like you wearing an old-fashioned plastic raincoat when it’s hot outside. It’s uncomfortable, and sweating inside of a blanket is as just as bad as getting wet. Keep in mind that turnout rugs with back seams can leak; one-piece designs are best.

*Blankets, sheets, and turnout rugs come in fabrics ranging from 300 to 1680 denier. Denier refers to thickness of threads and closeness of weave. The higher the denier the less likely the garment will snag and tear or your horse will be able to demolish it with his teeth. Buy the highest denier garments you can afford.

*Whether buying a sheet, a blanket for indoor use, or choosing a turnout rug, use a seamstress’ tape to determine the correct size. Hold one end of the tape at the center of your horse’s chest (at the point where his neck meets his chest), then measure along his side to the point where you want the garment to end. I like a roomy blanket; if you do too, measure back almost to the center of his tailbone. That’s the size of blanket he needs. If your horse measures an odd number, round up to the closest even size. For example, if your horse measures 71″, buy a size 72 blanket.

*Choose a blanket or turnout rug suited for your climate. When we lived in central Minnesota, our horses and donkeys wore turnout rugs rated for serious mid-winter cold; here in Arkansas, a waterproof turnout sheet to wear when it rains during the winter does the trick.

*Because they aren’t closely fitted, you can often adjust a slightly oversize turnout rug or sheet to fit your horse. Don’t, however, buy a smaller garment than your horse needs as snug garments rub, especially in the shoulder area.

*Most turnout rugs come with stretchy elastic leg straps to help keep the cover in place. Choose a model with detachable leg straps; you can remove them to launder the rug (otherwise they can get twisted around your washer’s dasher and damage the machine) and replace them if the stretch gives out before the garment itself.

Repairing Blankets and Sheets

It isn’t hard to keep horse garments in tiptop shape but you have to address problems as they occur. If binding pulls loose or you spy a rip, repair it before fixing it becomes a major job.

*It’s fairly easy to hand sew horse garments using a large, sharp needle with waxed dental floss or artificial sinew. Artificial sinew is heavy, flat, waxed linen thread that comes on a spool and easily splits into four separate strands. I wouldn’t be without it. Buy artificial sinew at Tandy Leather, buckskinner and Indian craft stores, at Amazon, or on eBay.

*My favorite needles for making repairs are single-curved glover’s needles or surgical suture needles (if you mail order them, make sure you buy surgical needles with an eye instead of the kind with a length of suture cord attached). These cut through soft to medium-soft leather, and nylon strapping like butter. Double-curved surgical needles work too, but I find them harder to use.

*Repair small rips with a product like Storm Shield Repair Tape or Weatherbeeta Repair Patches, available from most mail-order saddleries, or patch them using fabric from a worn out horse garment or another type of closely woven fabric. Keep in mind that while it helps to spritz patched spots with waterproofing spray, they will leak. Patches, however, prevent a small rip or snag from getting bigger.

*Replace broken chest straps on your favorite stable blanket or turnout rug using a single-ply nylon dog collar. Snip it in two and sew the straps down using artificial sinew or waxed dental floss.

*Places like Dover Saddlery, State Line Tack, and Schneiders Saddlery sell replacement surcingles, surcingle buckles, front closure assemblies, and leg straps. If you trash an old blanket or turnout, be sure to save these items for your replacables cache.

*In a pinch, you can replace broken or overstretched leg straps with wide elastic strapping from a sewing goods store, by measuring the correct length of elastic plus a few inches more, then knotting it to the hardware from your old leg straps.

Cleaning Horse Garments

Keep in mind that good blankets and turnout rugs aren’t cheap, so treat them well and make them last.

*Constant washing diminishes your turnout rug’s water resistance, so launder it only when you really must. Instead, hang it up between wearings, let it dry, and then brush off encrusted hair and grime.

*Restore a turnout rug’s waterproof finish by treating it with products like Nikwax Synthetic Rug Proof or Nikwax Canvas Rug Proof. Most large saddlery stores carry it.

*Few home washers and drainage systems can cope with bulky, hair-encrusted blankets and turnout rugs. Instead of laundering them at home, brush off as much hair, mud, and manure as you can and run them through front-loading commercial washers at your favorite laundromat. Bulky horse clothing needs room to agitate, so don’t overload the washers. If an item is truly filthy, you may need to send it through a second wash. When you’re finished, swab the washer’s interior with a damp cloth, and then run a complete cycle to flush away hair and debris.

*Before machine-washing blankets and turnout rugs, remove detachable leg straps and surcingles that could otherwise wrap around the machine’s agitator. Roll non-removable surcingles up close to the body of the garment and secure the rolls with several strong rubber bands.

*Launder your horse’s blanket or turnout rug in either cold or warm water unless a care tag directs otherwise. Don’t use harsh detergents; they can permanently damage synthetic fabrics and detergent residue irritates many horses’ skin. Fabric softeners and bleach also degrade waterproof breathable coating and shorten the life of a garment. Choose pure soap flakes, pet shampoo, or a commercial horse garment cleaner such as Nature’s Blend Horse Blanket Wash or Rambo Rug Wash.

*Never machine-dry blankets, sheets, or rugs; heat shrinks many fabrics and can damage some synthetics. Line dry or hang blankets and rugs on a fence or stall partition. Indoors, aim a fan at the garment to hasten drying.

*New Zealand-style rugs with canvas exteriors and turnout rugs made of especially bulky materials aren’t washer-friendly. To launder one of these items, hang it on a clothes line, a fence or stretch it out on a clean hard-surfaced floor. Use a plastic curry comb, stiff brush, broom, or shop-vac to remove hair, manure, and muck. Then hose it off and scrub, using any of the above named cleaning solutions. Do the inside of the rug as well, rinse thoroughly, and air dry.

*An easy, inexpensive way to clean a bulky rug is to take it to a car wash. Secure it to the building’s floor-mat clips and power wash away. When the item is saturated, hand scrub it with your favorite soap solution, blanket wash, or animal shampoo. Power rinse, scrub the other side, and then rinse again. To save time and money, dump rugs in an empty horse tank or plastic manure basket, presoak them in lukewarm sudsy water, then power rinse them at the car wash.

*To prevent it from mildewing, never store any type of equine clothing until it’s bone dry. Store blankets and rugs in zippered bed blanket bags, in heavy-duty trash bags with the tops sealed shut, or in covered plastic storage totes; choose the latter if your blankets are stored in the barn or garage, where mice sometimes gnaw through bags or cardboard boxes. Never add mothballs; mothball residue is toxic, it irritates horses’ skin, and moths aren’t attracted to blankets made of synthetic fiber anyway. If your blankets have woolen linings, store them with plenty of mesh or cheesecloth bags of naturally moth-repellent herbs such as bergamot, hyssop, sage, or tansy. Cedar needles or shavings and eucalyptus leaves repel moths too.

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

Beating the Burdock Blues

This is a reworked version of an article I wrote for The Western Horseman back in the early 1990s. We don’t have burdock in our part of the Ozarks and I don’t miss it. However, if it graces your pastures and your horses’ manes and tails, here are some tips you might use.

Photo compliments of Sara Nunnelly

Beating the Burdock Blues

Burdock. From border to border and coast to coast, horse owners detest this pervasive pasture pest. Burdock flourishes throughout most of North America in grazing areas, fence rows, and barn lots, often to the detriment of forage plants. But that’s not why it’s hated. The real reason: from late autumn, throughout winter, and in some areas well into spring, burdock’s pesky Velcro-like burrs latch onto whatever passes by, including pants legs, dogs’ fur, and equine manes and tails.

At one time or another, most of us have dealt with a hopelessly burr-matted mane or tail. It can be a formidable task, and an ongoing one in parts of the country where burdock thrives. Still, there are ploys to help the burr-cursed cope.

Burdock flowers are pretty, but oh, those burrs!

Eliminate the Source

The best way to keep your horses’ manes and tails burr-free is to banish burdock from your grazing areas, but it isn’t easy. Herbicides tough enough to fry burdock are not equine-friendly. Still, persistent horse owners who recognize the plant and are aware of its growth patterns can manually eradicate burdock. Here’s what they need to know.

Burdock leaves superficially resemble garden rubarb

Burdock, also called among other things, clotburr, thorny burr, beggar’s buttons, bardana, and gobo, resembles garden rhubarb. Like rhubarb, its huge, wavy-edged lower leaves (up to three feet long) adjoin reddish stalks; unlike rhubarb leaves, they are wooly and white underneath. In late summer burdock’s reddish-purple thistle-like flowers bloom, after which seed ponds (burrs) form. Its bushy flower stalk included, common burdock grows up to five feet tall and great burdock up to a whopping nine feet tall. Both species were introduced from Asia and Europe as food and herb plants. Now they grow wild throughout most of North America.       

A single plant can produce a lot of burrs. Photo compliments of Sara Nunnelly

Burdock is a biennial. A biennial plant grows from seed during its first growing season, and then goes dormant through the cold winter months. During its second summer its tap root weakens and atrophies even as its aerial growth flourishes and matures seeds of its own. Then the plant dies.

During its first growing season, burdock sends down a thick, parsnip-like tap root capable of boring straight down five or more feet into the earth, even in harsh, rocky soils. This taproot sprouts lateral side branches which hook under stones and other obstructions, anchoring the plant firmly in place. When lopped off or uprooted, first year burdock can grow an entire new plant from any root fragment left behind. Thus first year burdocks must never be dug or pulled because doing so helps them multiply and they’re harmless: first year burdocks don’t produce burrs.

Note the first-year burdock plant at this pony’s front feet Photo compliments of Jen Schurman

However, because a typical second year plant produces up to 400,000 seeds, if you want to control or eradicate burdock, second year plants mustn’t be allowed to mature.

The solution: in mid to late summer, whack off burdock’s emerging flower stalks with pruning shears or a machete. Once is rarely enough; in warmer growing zones as many as three or more choppings may be needed. Persevere. No flower stalks, no burrs, no seeds, no new burdock—and after two seasons of diligent lopping, no burr-matted manes and tails to unsnarl.

Coping with Burrs

There are few tasks more daunting than de-burring a horse’s burdock-matted mane and tail. Some folks pick at stubborn mats for awhile, and then give up. They hack at that hair with a pocket knife or buzz it off with clippers, not realizing de-burring isn’t a hopeless task, if you know how it’s rightly done.

As long as you don’t mind sacrificing some hair, a mat splitter makes the job much easier
  • Tie your horse securely before you begin. Most horses dislike this process.
  • Don’t reef on masses of matted burrs; you can’t jerk them out intact and relentless tugging will irritate your horse. Split large mats into many manageable sections, and then untangle each hank by teasing hair away from the matted burrs, 10 or 12 hairs at a time.
  • Slather a commercial detangling product or baby oil into tangles, spritz on PAM aerosol cooking spray, or sprinkle cornstarch on mats to help loosen them.
  • Especially when dealing with tight mats and major tangles, wear close-fitting leather gloves. Burrs and residue may cling to them but they’ll help preserve your hands.
  • If you’re willing to sacrifice some hair, invest in an inexpensive, sickle-shaped razor knife called a mat splitter. Buy it at pet shops or from some vets. Insert the splitter under major mats with its blade pointing upward, away from your horse. Keeping your fingers out of the way, draw it toward you to split tangled mass into manageable segments, and then proceed as above.
  • If you must divide mats with a knife, hold it like a mat splitter: point up, away from your horse. Be very careful even then, especially when de-burring manes.
  • And don’t drop those burrs! Toss them in a bucket and when you’re done, burn them. Comb your horse’s de-burred mane and tail to remove residue and seeds. Add that to the fire too.
  • Try to keep your horse’s mane and tail burdock-free. It’s easier to remove a few burrs every day than tackle a major, matted mess. And mats shed burrs and seed, so to keep burdock in check, de-burr every horse (and dog) you own.

Restoring a Moldy Oldie

I’m a sucker for McClellan Army saddles. Perhaps because my first saddle, lo those 60 years ago, was a 1904 McClellan in perfect condition, purchased for the grand total of $15? But also because they fit my large standard and Mammoth riding donkeys so well.

A well-used McClellan saddle needing restoration–alas, not mine.

I’ve restored, owned, and ridden in a number of McClellans as well as a British trooper saddle circa the early 1900s, so I’ve always had an interest in restoring old leather goods. Here’s what I wrote about restoring old leather in a sidebar to a tack cleaning article I sold to The Chronicle of the Horse back in the 1980s.

Restoring a Moldy Oldie

No one loves a bargain more than horsefolk. We leave the tack swap or yard sale clutching our mildewed treasures, all smiles and expectations. But should we? The finest cleaners, oils, and conditioners can only go so far toward restoring neglected tack. Old leather is far too often unsafe leather. How to tell?

Yes, that’s me back in the mid-1990s portraying Col. K’Tura Doqro’ of the Klingon HorS Guards, riding my Arabian mare, Ti-Mikki, using a McClellan saddle (that I wish I still owned)
  • Bend several sections of any dry, inflexible, brittle-feeling leather item back upon itself. If the leather cracks, reject that piece. No amount of conditioning will restore its weakened fibers.
  • Soggy, sticky, extra-oily tack may be salvageable or it may not. Since over-oiling rots stitching and stretches strapwork thin, inspect oily tack extra carefully before buying. And slimy gear can ooze for months, so consider those ruined britches before choosing an oily saddle. If the item still appeals, it can often be restored by wiping it with warm water, then scrubbing with homemade vinegar and baking soda paste. Follow with a clean warm water rinse and repeat the steps until you’re satisfied, and then deep clean and condition as usual, omitting the oiling step, if you normally choose it.
  • Mold and mildew look awful but usually aren’t. A vinegar and baking soda paste cleaning will neutralize it or briefly soak mildewed strap work in a weak Clorox and warm water solution, before cleaning and conditioning as usual. Be aware that molds can damage stitching. Always inspect moldy, mildewed items for rot.

Any restorable piece of neglected tack should initially be conditioned more frequently than gear that has never been abused, so apply a layer of conditioner as part of every after-ride tack cleaning until your formerly moldy oldie is as supple and soft as you want it to be.

Cribber? Or Wood Chewer?

This is an updated version of an article I wrote (for which magazine, I can’t recall) that was published in the mid-1990s, back when I had a crew of dedicated wood chewers in my barn. Thankfully, I don’t today because my horses are turned out 7/24–but if you do, or if you have a cribber to contend with, here are some things you might want to know.

Chew on This

A mare lounges by a pine plank fence. Bored, she nuzzles the top board then grasps a mouthful of wood, CRUNCH! Splinters dribble from her mouth while she thoughtfully chews. Is this horse cribbing?

Photo courtesy of Elina Lundahl and Wikipedia.

            Many horse owners might say so, but she’s simply chewing wood. If she were cribbing, she would hook her teeth on the plank, flex her neck, relax her jaw and throat, and then jerk her head down and back, allowing air to rush into her pharynx and upper esophagus. She’d emit a distinctive grunt.

            Cribbing is what behaviorists call a stereotypy. Other equine stereotypies include weaving, head bobbing, pawing, wall kicking, circling, tongue lolling, and flank biting. The horse world calls them stall vices. They are stylized sequences a horse repeats dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of times a day. Until recently, they were greatly misunderstood.

            Studies conducted in Sweden, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have given scientists more insight into these baffling behaviors. The results of the studies are remarkably similar.

            Scientists now believe cribbing is the most common of stereotypical behaviors. In an Australian study of 3009 Thoroughbreds, 5.7% of stabled horses cribbed, as did 3.6% of their pastured mates. An English study followed 218 Thoroughbred foals over a 4 year period; 10.5% cribbed, beginning at a remarkable 20 week median age!

            Other findings: Equines of all breeds, ages and sizes crib. Light horses are most likely to indulge, ponies, drafters, donkeys, and mules more rarely. Stallions are more likely to crib than mares. So are curious, intelligent, high energy horses, but lower ranking, insecure members of a group’s social hierarchy often crib too

            A genetic factor seems involved. Although horses of all breeds crib, certain bloodlines produce more cribbers than others.

            What else makes a horse crib? Boredom, frustration, isolation, and diet are all strongly implicated.

            Horses are social creatures. A wild horse grazes up to 16 hours a day, always in the company of friends. Unless he’s sleeping or dozing, he’s on the go, nibbling grass. His stomach is rarely empty.

            Today’s horse typically spends much of his life in barns where high walls isolate him from his neighbors. Twice a day he’s issued a huge grain meal and a modest portion of hay. Because he’s hungry, he devours it quickly; much of the time his tummy is empty. He’s unhappy, bored and thoroughly frustrated. He needs something to do, so he gnaws on his stall. By chance he discovers sucking air into his throat makes him feel…better. This horse has learned to crib.

            Some though not all researchers believe when a horse engages in stereotypical behaviors such as cribbing, his body produces endorphins that relieve stress and make him feel good. He’s powerfully rewarded for his behavior and he soon becomes addicted. Whatever is at work, all agree that confirmed cribbers are rarely reformed.

            As a preventative, cribbers are often fitted with cribbing collars–straps snugged tightly behind a horse’s ears to prevent throat expansion. But dedicated cribbers may still crib while wearing a collar. Muzzles are sometimes used.           

            Surgery is another deterrent. Since the 1920s, veterinary surgeons have performed Forssell’s Procedure, removing muscles and nerves from a cribber’s neck. Until recently, the operation was disfiguring and often didn’t work. Lasers have changed all that. At the 2001 American Association of Equine Practitioner’s convention, Dr. Daniel J. Burba, associate professor of surgery at Louisiana State University’s school of veterinary medicine, described laser surgeries performed on 14 Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse cribbers. His conclusion: “None of the horses demonstrated cribbing behavior after surgery. All horses returned to previous function”. And laser surgery is more cosmetically correct.           

            However, many equine behaviorists frown on interventions of any sort, believing that unless a cribber’s basic problems are addressed, deterring a cribber only leads to a different expression such as weaving, circling or head slinging. And because ingrained cribbing is so difficult to treat, they stress prevention rather than cure, claiming that when raised in a horse-friendly holistic manner, even genetically predisposed youngsters rarely crib.

  • Horses require social contact, especially during stressful episodes such as weaning or when being introduced to new experiences and surroundings. So wean foals in groups, build stalls so horses can touch noses with compatible neighbors and view activity taking place around them, provide a companion for the isolated stallion, spend time bonding with your brand new horse.
  • If they must be stabled, give horses something to do. Daily ridden exercise, longing or turnouts are a must. Between outings, provide toys and other diversions. A companion–a dog, cat or friendly goat or better, two–helps a lot.
  • Feed high forage, low concentrate rations in a manner closely mimicking a horse’s natural diet. Researchers recommend long-stem grass hay fed at about 1.5% of a horse’s body weight, broken down into at least 3 feedings a day (using slow-feed hay nets works best), with little or no grain added, even to youngsters. Another finding of the English study cited earlier: weanlings fed high concentrate diets are four times more likely to crib than those who aren’t. High concentrate diets and empty bellies can boost gastric and hindgut acidity to harmful levels. Ulcers follow. Cribbers and wood chewers secrete more saliva than other horses. Saliva is a natural acidic buffer. Are they telling us something? It would seem so.
  • Horses need time to wander, relax, and behave like horses. Pastured youngsters rarely learn to crib. Turn your horses out to graze. They’d be glad you did.     

            And that wood-munching mare we discussed earlier–is wood chewing a stereotypy too? Sometimes yes, often no. Wood chewing, also called lignophagia (from the Latin lignum, meaning “wood”, and the Greek phago, meaning “to eat”) can be triggered by the same feeding and management practices that spawn cribbers; in fact many wood chewers learn to crib. But wood chewers might also be teething or need dental work, they could be salt or mineral deficient, and some horses just plain like to eat wood.

            Science tells us wood chewing escalates during wet, cold, stressful weather and during late winter and early spring. Horses prefer soft woods including plywood and particleboard and the bark of many trees. Dedicated wood chewers destroy stalls, devour fences, girdle and kill trees, and generally drive their caretakers bananas. They sometimes swallow splinters, nails and staples or gnaw bark from poisonous trees. And according to a study published in 1999, 11.78% of adult horses chew wood. That’s scary!

            What to do?

  • Watch your horse while he chews wood. Does he close his eyes and blissfully smile, drifting off to his own little world? Does he indulge at set times, under certain circumstances, in much the same manner each time? Then he’s likely a stereotypical wood chewer and could easily progress to cribbing. Change your management practices accordingly–and soon!
  • Rule out physical causes. Call in your vet, have your horse’s teeth evaluated, install a loose salt and mineral feeder where he can nibble whenever he pleases or try adding probiotics or antacid supplement to his diet.
  • Tub minerals and salt blocks give horses something constructive to focus on and chew.
  • Eliminate or protect favorite chewing spots. Cap surfaces with metal stripping or string hot wire over them. Wrap uprights and trees with chicken wire.
  • Paint exposed wood with commercial or homemade no-chew products. Petroleum jelly, cooking oil, and mild dish-washing soap liberally laced with high-octane ground up cayenne pepper works well, won’t injure your horse and they’re environmentally sound. Some horse owners swear by smearing surfaces with Irish Spring bar soap. Why Irish Spring? I don’t know!
  • Lure incurable wood eaters away from staple- and nail-laden wooden fences and buildings by dragging softwood saplings into their pastures and turnout areas. Aspen, other poplars, willows, and birch are delectable choices. Make certain you know your trees: the wilted leaves of red maple as well as the leaves of all members of the cherry family, peach, plum, black walnut, black locust, and all parts of the yew are toxic or poisonous to horses.
  • Build to discourage wood chewing. Choose pipe or wire instead of wooden rail or plank fences. Avoid building with soft woods like pine or poplar. Use oak and other hardwoods instead. Design buildings and enclosures so that horses have minimal access to wooden structures.  Remove the opportunity to chew.
  • In worst-case scenarios, prevent wood chewing with a well-fitted grazing muzzle–but try to eliminate his reasons for chewing before you do.

            While cribbing and wood chewing are distinctly different behaviors, both can be prevented or greatly alleviated. We may have to reevaluate how we keep our horses but it’s worth doing what we must. That’s what responsible horse ownership is about.

Reuse It: Supplement Tubs and Buckets

Anyone who feeds their horses supplements knows that the tubs and buckets they come in pile up, and up and up and up. What to do with them, beyond hauling them to the recycling center? Lots.

*Think outside the box. We’ve used a large, rectangular supplement container as a hamper and to carry wet laundry to the clothesline for over 15 years. It’s tougher than any laundry basket ever made. We love it!

*Use lidded buckets for specialized storage: one for tack cleaning supplies, one for snaps salvaged from broken lead ropes, one for rags, one for horse treats and so on. Slap pieces of white or light-colored duct tape on the top and one side and label them with permanent marker. Stack them labeled side out.

*To make a cooling summertime treat for your horse, fill one half of a supplement container with flavored water (using a big glug of apple juice, Kool-Aid, whatever), then pop it in the freezer with some carrots or halved apples floating on the top. When it’s frozen, top it to the rim with more flavored water. When that’s frozen, run hot water on the outside to loosen the block of ice and place it in a pan for your horse’s enjoyment. Or, make one for your dog by freezing his favorite rubber toys in the block of ice.

*Make your farm sitter’s job easier by measuring each of your horse’s meals into a lidded supplement container, so all she has to do is dump them one meal at a time. The lids will keep mice and flies at bay. If you have more than one horse, label the containers using duct tape and marker.

*If you knit or crochet, take supplement buckets home and pop several balls of yarn in each, threading the ends through holes in the lid.

*On a similar note, cut a 1 ½-inch hole in the bottom of a small supplement bucket and edge the hole with duct tape. Stuff it full of plastic grocery bags, snap on the lid, and hang it by the bail. Then when you need a bag, pull it out through the hole in the bottom. No more tangles!

*All kinds of supplement tubs and buckets make great planters. To spruce them up, lightly rough up the sides with sandpaper and paint them using acrylic paint.

*Supplement buckets are the perfect size to house your kids’ small toys like Legos and Hot Wheels.

*Extension cords can be a pain to keep track of. Stuff each one in a supplement bucket or tub and label the outside.

*If you have a large bag of something, perhaps cat food for your barn cats, keep the big bag at home where mice can’t raid it and bring smaller supplies to the barn in a supplement bucket.

*Small supplement buckets make great water containers for barn dogs and cats. If you have more containers than you can use, contact dog and cat rescues in you area; chances are they they’d appreciate a supply.

*And if you still have too many, think Freecycle ( Lots of folks would love to have your extras.

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

Vintage Horse Books – for Free!

If, like me, you love vintage horse books, check out the Biodiversity Heritage Library where you can download great old horse books for free.

According to their website, “The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL is revolutionizing global research by providing free, worldwide access to knowledge about life on Earth.”

Here you can download books in PDF or text format, or you can read them online through Internet Archive – as many as you like and for absolutely free.

So visit and do a subject search for horse and one for horses (results vary, depending on the word used in each book title).

You can also search using a breed name: Arabians, Oldenburgs, Percherons, Shires, French-Canadians, Morgans, and Thoroughbreds are all represented.

And keep in mind that there are sometimes multiple editions of the same book available, like William Youatt’s classic, The Horse.

Here are a few titles that I’ve downloaded and recommend, but this hardly makes a dent in the bucket. There are hundreds of titles in the catalog.

The Horse

William Youatt

Horse Secrets by A.S. Alexander

1831, London; 450+ pg

A Treatise on the Horse and his Diseases

B. J. Kendall

1899, Burlington, Vermont; 96 pg

Horse Secrets

A.S. Alexander

1909, Philadelphia; 68 pg

The Horse

William S. Tevis, Jr.

Princess Trixie by George L. Hutchin – this one is a charmer!

San Francisco, 1922; 100 pg

The Horse

Isaac Phillips Roberts

New York, 1910; 410 pg

Princess Trixie: Autobiography. An Accurate Account of the Sayings and Doings of the Wisest and Most Highly Educated Horse in the World

George L. Hutchin

Sioux City (IA), 1905; 30 pg

Heavy Horses: Breeds and Management

The Horse Tamer and Trainer by J.C. Jacobs

Herman Biddell

London, 1910; 224 pg

The Family Horse: Its Stabling, Care and Feeding. A Practical Manual for Horse-Keepers

George A. Martin

New York, 1889; 160 pg

Humane Horse-Training

Percy F. Thorne

London, 1922; 300 pg

The Horse in History

The Horse by Youatt – it’s a classic

Basil Tozer

London, 1908; 40 pg

Biggle Horse Book

Jacob Biggle

Philadelphia, 1894; 130 pg.

All of the Biggle books are wonderful. I once resuscitated a newborn lamb using instructions from the Biggle Sheep Book.

You can also search a specific topic. I’ve been interested in the old-time horse tamers since, as a child, I read an article about John Rarey in a late-1950s issue of The Western Horseman. Several of Rarey’s books are in the catalog, along with books by Rarey’s contemporaries like Dennis Magner, Captain Horace Hayes, J.C. Jacobs, Oscar Gleason, M. McGregor, and J.W. Mercer.

Gleason’s Horse Book, the Only Authorized Work by America’s King of Horse Tamers: History, Breeding, Training, Breaking, Buying, Feeding, Grooming, Shoeing, Doctoring, Telling Age, and General Care of the Horse

The Art of Taming Horses by John S. Rarey

Prof. Oscar R. Gleason

New York, 1902; 416 pg

Horse Tamer and Trainer

J.C. Jacobs

Self-published, 1888; 74 pg

Illustrated Horse Breaking

Capt. M. Horace Hayes

London, 1889; 300+ pg

The Art of Taming and Educating the Horse

Dennis Magner

Gleason’s Horse Book by Prof. Oscar R. Gleason

Battle Creek (Michigan), 1887; 1094 pg

The Art of Taming Horses

John S. Rarey

London, 1859; 248 pg

A New System of Horse-Training, or, Horse Educating as Taught by Professor M. McGregor, Oneida, New York

M. McGregor

Trenton, Ontario, 1899; 50 pg

The Eclectic Horse Tamer, Trainer, and Lecturer

J.W. Mercer

Chicago, 1900; 160 pg

You’ll find scores of books about general horse care, old-time veterinary care, farriery, breeding, training, and more. If you love books about horses, don’t miss this fantastic resource. It’s a good one!

DIY Horse Shampoo

Shampoos made specifically for horses are nice but usually fairly expensive. You don’t really need them; there are lots of inexpensive alternatives that do the job equally well.

*Use products formulated for humans, particularly house brands and items from the dollar store. To enhance your horse’s color, choose products formulated for gray haired humans, redheads, or brunettes.

*Buy dog shampoos, conditioners, rinses, and de-tanglers from discount dog grooming suppliers like PetEdge (; these are formulated for animal hair and are very inexpensive. They come in a huge range of products including color enhancing, hypo-allergenic, moisturizing, and deep cleaning shampoos and in gallon jugs as well as smaller sizes. Larger sizes are usually designed to be diluted. For example, a gallon of Groomer’s Edge Ultimate Shampoo from PetEdge that dilutes 50:1 (that’s 50 parts water to 1 part of shampoo) and costs $37.39 is very inexpensive indeed.

*Dawn dishwashing detergent—the original, non-concentrated blue formula that says Simply Clean on the label, not Ultra Dawn—is a great, low-cost horse shampoo.

*Wisk laundry detergent makes an effective whitening shampoo. Mix a capful in a large bucket of water and apply to your wet horse. Rinse well and don’t use this too often as Wisk can be drying to skin. Its built-in optical brighteners reflect light, making your horse look brighter.

*Use commercial baby shampoo or make your own baby shampoo with this recipe:

Homemade Baby Shampoo

1 ounce of liquid castile soap

4 ounces of water

Gently stir together and add 2 to 4 drops of your favorite essential oil for aroma

Important: When using any product not specifically labeled for horses, do a patch test by placing a small amount on your horse’s bare skin, then wait 24 hours to see if he has an allergic reaction. – An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver

Nose Bags 101

A working horse in London circa 1943 enjoys his meal from a bag

Nose bags, also known as nosebags, feedbags, and in the old American West, morales, have been in vogue for thousands of years, and for good reason. Nose bags made it possible for working draft, carriage, and military horses to eat on breaks with no fuss or muss; they eliminate food waste; and with feed bags, every horse in a group gets his fair share. They’ve come in every sort of configuration: flat envelope styles, deep leather cups, bulky cloth bags, baskets woven of cane or twigs, and cylindrical tubes tailored to fit a horse’s face. A recent Google search produced an image of a horse dining from a feed bag made of  a little over half of a basketball. Yes, really!

Today, traditional nose bags are made of heavy canvas or leather and secured to a horse’s head by an adjustable leather or nylon headpiece. You can still buy old-fashioned canvas nose bags from backcountry outfitter suppliers. A newer innovation is the nylon mesh nose bag, sometimes featuring a hard plastic bottom. These, as well as twill and canvas versions, can be purchased at some saddle shops and from horse supply catalogs. But they’re also easy to make, as you shall soon see.

A vintage leather nosebag

Whatever materials they’re made of, nose bags must be washable and built to last. Look inside of any nose bag you’re thinking of buying. Are the edges finished? If not, they’ll unravel when you wash the bag. Examine the headpiece. Is it easily adjustable? If not, is it sized for the horse you’ll use it on? Is the headstall made of sturdy material and is it well attached, but not so sturdy and well attached that it won’t break or rip away from the nose bag if your horse gets hooked on something?

Most important: where is the drain patch located? The drain patch is a perforated leather insert set low and to the center of all good nose bags. If the lower edge of a nose bag’s drain patch is set more than a few inches above the bottom of the bag or worse, there is no drain patch at all, don’t use it.

Courageous Dyan, my Thoroughbred mare, dining from a homemade nose bag

Horses can drown in nose bags. The drain patch helps a nose-bagged horse breathe easier but its main function is to let out water should the need arise. If your horse’s nostrils are situated lower than the drain holes, he’s in deep trouble if he dips his nose in a bucket or horse trough or stream or if he gets caught in a summer downpour. You’ll waste a little grain when it sifts through low-set holes but it’s better to sacrifice some grain than lose your horse.

A World War I cavalry nose bag

No nose-bagged horse should be left unsupervised. If you can’t keep constant watch, check on your horse every five minutes or so and never forget your horse is wearing a bag. Once they’ve finished eating, most horses try to drink, even horses wearing nose bags. And bags or no, once they’ve eaten, pastured horses drift out to “graze”. Besides drowning, an unsupervised horse can snag his nose bag on stall protrusions, trees, and bushes. And if his nose bag is too big for him, he can hook a foreleg inside of it while trying to graze.

And be careful what you feed in a nose bag. Ventilation is limited inside of a nose bag, so feeding dusty grain won’t do. And you don’t want him to aspirate tiny bits of grain, so unless you’re feeding a sweet feed formulated with liquid (not powdered) molasses, it’s wise to mix a little water or vegetable oil with your horse’s grain before bagging him.

This U.S. Forest Service envelope-style bag is similar to my DIY nose bags

If you feed messy additives like oils, expect to launder your nose bags often. Use mild soap to machine wash nose bags. Turn them inside out and stuff them in an old pillow case, knot the end of the pillow case, and drop it in the washer on warm. Hand washing works too. Turn the bag inside out and immerse it in a bucket of warm, slightly soapy water. Soak, slosh, and rinse thoroughly in two changes of warm, clear water. Gloss leather conditioner on your bag’s leather headpiece if it has one. Don’t machine-dry nose bags (some shrink); hang them on a clothesline, inside out.

Before bagging your horse for the first time make sure the nose bag fits him. If it’s too big, sooner or later he’ll get his foot inside. Measured from top to bottom, a properly sized nose bag is long enough to contain the amount of grain you normally feed plus 10-12” above it. And the top shouldn’t be so floppy that it sags around your horse’s face.

Know how to adjust your horse’s nose bag before you hang it on him. The top should come up to a few inches below his eyes. And don’t ratchet the headpiece up so short that your horse’s muzzle is buried in feed.

A Civil War era cavalry nose bag

For his first exposure to the nose bag, it’s best to confine your horse to a safe, semi-confined area. Remove your horse’s halter and show him there’s grain in the nose bag. Let him nibble some grain from the bag while you’re holding it. While he’s nibbling, quietly fasten the headpiece. With one hand on the headpiece and the other on his neck to reassure him, gently swivel his head back and forth a few times so he realizes the bag is hanging on his nose. Then stand back and let him get a feel for the thing. He might sling his head a bit and if he hoists it up too far, spill some grain in his face, but he’ll soon learn to drop the bag and eat from it as if he were eating off the ground. A few individuals panic. If yours does, catch him and remove the bag. For the next few feeds, hold the bag and let him eat from it that way. After three or four feedings, fasten the headpiece and try again.

Nose bags are especially useful for feeding sloppy eaters who waste a lot of grain and for feeding individual horses in a herd setting.

Two more vintage leather nose bags

Aggressive horses that mob a human carrying a bucket usually overlook one carrying a more easily concealed nose bag. If they don’t, at least they cut off their attack once the bag is on your horse’s head. Once bagged, a horse usually drifts to the edge of the pack and since the herd tyrants can’t see or reach his grain, he’s usually left in peace.

 Some horses, especially youngsters, nibble and tug at another horse’s nose bag. If they do, bag ‘em. A handful of grain will keep interlopers occupied for awhile and when it’s gone, their own nose bags prevent them worrying at another’s.

Horses used to eating from nose bags usually drop their heads down low so you can easily slip the bag in place. Don’t, however, ever lean across your horse’s head while bagging him up. If his head shoots up for any reason his bony poll can break your nose. Ask me how I know. It hurts.

The bags at the right are made using heavy-duty fabric tote bags; the one at the left is fashioned from an upper leg portion of a pair of denim jeans

DIY Nose Bags

For each nose bag you’ll need:

  • A heavy-duty cotton or cotton-blend tote bag – denim is a good choice. Nylon will work too.
  • A sturdy leather, nylon, or heavy cotton belt 3/4 to 1” wide and long enough to pass from the near side of the nose bag, up across the top of your horse’s head, and down to the bag’s off side (you’ll need a 36-38” belt or strap for an average horse, shorter for a youngster or a pony). Adjustable straps from backpacks also work really well.
  • A 3 x 5” piece of scrap leather. Heavy deer or elk hide is ideal but a thrift shop purse or worn out boot yields excellent leather too.
  • Strong thread or cord. Button thread (but double it while sewing), waxed dental floss, linen cord from an Awl-for-All, and artificial sinew (get it from a leathercraft store like Tandy Leather or at Amazon) all perform equally well.      
  • A needle. A #4 glover’s needle is best, but any sharp needle with an eye big enough to accommodate the thread you’re using will work almost as well.
  • A standard revolving leather punch.
  • A ballpoint pen. (Optional: a scratch awl or extra sharp nail)
  • Sharp, sturdy scissors. Leather shears work best.

Step 1

I should have used a larger tube to punch the central holes

Draw a nose bag drain patch based on the one in the illustration; cut out this paper template.

Trace the template’s outline onto your scrap of leather and cut out the leather drain patch.

Place the paper template over the leather drain patch and poke a ballpoint pen (or the tip of a sharp awl or nail) through the exact center of each drain hole, marking the leather beneath.

Use your leather punch’s largest tube to punch them out (I didn’t do that with the drain patch in the illustration – my mistake). Then, using the smallest tube, punch sewing holes about 1/8” apart around the drain patch’s perimeter. A scrap of leather held under the drain patch while you punch will result in cleaner holes. Set aside the drain patch for now.

Step 2

Cut your belt or strap in two approximately 5” from its buckle (if it’s an adjustable strap, be sure the adjustment is on its longer segment). Hold the cut end of the 5” piece of belt in place 1-2” down on the inside of the left side of your nose bag.

Sew it in place using a short, tight back stitch. Make several passes. Now do the same with the longer section of belt on the opposite side of your bag.

Carefully snip away the fabric from behind the drain patch, leaving a decent margin at the edges

Step 3

Position the leather drain patch just above the front bottom seam of your nose bag (it can be set vertically or horizontally). Temporarily secure it at its sides, top, and bottom by sewing down through one perimeter hole at each location and up through its neighbor, then loosely knotting that stitch in place.

Sew the drain patch in place using a back stitch through its perimeter holes, then remove any temporary stitches.

A basket nose bag – I’m going to make one!

Turn your finished nose bag inside out and, leaving a 1/2” fabric allowance between the stitching and the hole you’re making, snip away both layers fabric covering the drain patch’s central drain holes. Don’t omit this step.

Turn your nose bag right side out and—it’s finished!

I’ve noticed attractive wickerwork nose bags in vintage photos and wonder how that might work? I’m watching for the perfect, heavy-duty basket as part of my yard sale and thrift shop forays and when I find one, I’ll experiment. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you updated.

DIY Thrush Remedies

A long time ago, in the late 1960s in fact, I was the proud owner of a little Brunk-bred Morgan mare named Confetti. She was a wonderful horse who learned, in her late teens, to excel in western pleasure classes against the best and who was sweet, friendly, and loving besides. She did, however, have one failing: she was predisposed to thrush. In those days with no Internet to help me search for remedies, I simply followed my vet’s advice: treat it with Coppertox and keep her stall as clean as humanly possible. It was an ongoing and often losing battle. If only I knew then what I know today.

About Thrush

            Thrush is a bacterial and/or fungal disease of the hoof involving the frog and sulci (the grooves flanking the frog at both sides and in its center; the center sulci is also called the cleft of the frog), characterized by thick, black smelly discharge and an atrophied frog. It was once thought to be caused by keeping horses in filthy conditions but we now know there are a number of contributing factors and even the best cared-for horses can get thrush.

            A healthy frog is broad and fleshy. Its width at the base should be at least 70% its length. It represents a load-bearing surface that helps absorb concussion. When it comes in contact with the earth it expands, pushing debris out of the sulci at its borders.

            An unhealthy frog is atrophied, recessed, and smaller than it should be, so it has limited contact with the ground. As it atrophies, sulci deepen, allowing dirt and debris to accumulate in the groves, creating the sort of anaerobic conditions in which bacteria and fungi thrive. To learn more, peruse these great resources.

Thrush Diagnosis and Treatment

Hoof Issues Related to Thrush

Treating Thrush

Treatment begins with a farrier trimming away any loose, diseased frog tissue. Deep, serious thrush that bleeds or causes lameness should be seen by a veterinarian but milder cases respond well to DIY treatment. Keep in mind that not all treatments work with every horse, so if the one you’re using doesn’t get results, try something else.

Commercial thrush treatments usually work but there are side effects: many are harsh and kill new, healthy tissue along with bad. If you use a commercial product, follow the instructions exactly. More is not necessarily better.

DIY remedies are generally liquids (easily dispensed using plastic ketchup or mustard squeezers, reused dish soap dispensers, and sprayer bottles), salves, and soaks.

Consistency is important: clean the hoof every day. Dig out all debris, right down to the bottom of the sulci; scrub the bottom of the hoof lightly using a stiff brush; wash and dry the hoof; then apply your treatment of choice. Liquids and salves are usually applied on a daily basis, with soaks administered every few days.

Make your own liquid treatment applicator by wrapping loose cotton firmly around the head of a hoof pick. Soak the cotton in your treatment, then swab the sulci and cleft of the frog as though you were cleaning the hoof. Keep replacing the soiled cotton with new and swabbing until it comes out nearly as clean as when it went in.

A 60cc catheter-tip syringe is great for applying salves

A good way to apply salves is through a disposable syringe or a 60cc catheter tip syringe. Reused paste dewormer tubes work well for especially thick concoctions, as long as the tip reaches the bottom of infected sulci. You’ll usually need to pull out the plunger of any of these items and top load thicker mixtures using a flat utensil like a butter knife, Popsicle stick, or tongue depressor.

Cotton balls saturated with liquid treatments or salves can be packed into the groove of the frog and both side sulci, covered with a disposable diaper secured with duct tape or a boot, and left until the next day’s treatment.

Soaks can be used with other remedies, usually 2 or 3 times a week for 20 – 60 minutes at a time. To administer them, stand your horse’s foot in a Fortex rubber bucket or pan, or use a soak boot.

DIY Remedies

(Keep in mind that I haven’t personally tried some of these; they were gathered by Googling the Web)

  • 50% water mixed with 50% hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar
  • Borax powder paste made by moistening borax powder with water; or create a soak solution by adding 1 tablespoon borax to ½ gallon of water. You’ll find borax powder in the laundry products aisle at the supermarket)
  • Raw honey
  • Over-the-counter fungal cream
  • Cow mastitis cream or salve (Tomorrow® works better than Today® for thrush; both are available at most farm stores and come packaged in easy-to-use applicators)
  • Sugardine paste made by mixing 1 part povidone iodine solution (Betadine® is a good one that you can get from your vet or buy at farm stores or at department stores like Walmart) with 1 part sugar
  • Honeydine; made like sugardine except by replacing the sugar with raw honey
  • Povadone iodine diluted 1 part iodine to 8 parts water
  • Chlorhexidine diluted 4 parts antiseptic to 1 part water
  • A paste made by mixing 1 part athlete’s foot cream (1% Clotrimazole) with 1 part triple antibiotic ointment, Bacitracin, or Neosporin; generics cost less and work just as well
  • Tea tree oil at the rate of 10 drops oil to 16 ounces water
  • Paste made by mixing 1 part zinc oxide cream with 1 part athlete’s foot cream (1% Clotrimazole)
  • Antibacterial mouthwash
  • Soak for 20-45 minutes in 1 part apple cider vinegar and 3 parts water (some horses are sensitive to ACV, so watch for negative reactions)