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What is your input on blanketing a horse or not in the winter and also how cold is too cold to let them out in pasture?

“What is your input on blanketing a horse or not in the winter and also how cold is to cold to let them out in pasture?”-Kimberly M.

I think that there are valid reasons both for and against blanketing horses and each person needs to evaluate what is best for their horse.

StacyWestfall'sfirsthorseI grew up in Maine and we never blanketed our horses. Sometimes the thermometer, without windchill, would go as low as -40…below zero. It got cold. Thankfully the wind didn’t blow when it was that cold and our horses grew thick coats and never shivered. All was good.

My mom still lives in Maine but she has different horses. One horse is in his 20’s and is a hard keeper. He grows a thick hair coat and doesn’t shiver but putting a rain sheet or waterproof blanket on him when it is extremely cold helps him to conserve energy and hold his weight better.

The other is a middle aged mare who is an easy keeper but naturally doesn’t grow much hair. I know because she lived with me for years and we kept her in a pasture with a run-in shed. Each year everyone else in the pasture grew enough hair to stay warm but this mare would only grow an average hair coat and then would shiver. Some people have told me that shivering is ‘natural’, which is obvious in one sense of the word, but whenever I have personally experienced shivering I have found it to be very unpleasant. I am convinced that some horses are ‘naturally’ given to growing more or less hair and as the mare can’t migrate south…I sent my mom a rain sheet and a waterproof blanket.

When I have horses in training that I am riding multiple times per week I keep them blanketed. I do this because if I don’t then they tend to overheat when working…imagine dressing in your best winter overalls and coat and then shoveling snow for an hour straight. Heavy winter wear is not the best when you’re doing heavy work. Every time I make that mistake I end up needing to remove layers, something my horse cannot choose to do if it is hair. By blanketing my horses that I am working I can help them regulate their temperature plus I can help them cool out quicker. A horse with a heavy hair coat that does get soaking wet from a workout can take hours to cool out and dry properly. A horse that has been blanketed can be cooled out in thirty minutes or less with a wool cooler.Luke, I am your father!

The choice to blanket also comes with the responsibility to check and maintain the horses regularly. If I have horses that I am blanketing it is a lot of extra work in the fall and the spring. I have to pay attention to the daytime and nighttime temperatures and change their layers accordingly. For a fully blanketed show horse it is normal to change their layers every ten degrees. I do not choose to blanket horses just for the fun of it…it is far too much work if that is the only reason.

If you don’t need a short hair coat because you are working the horse regularly but want to blanket sometimes then consider only adding below a certain temperature. If you choose to only blanket when the temperature is below ten degrees then your horse will still grow a pretty thick hair coat. Plus by selecting a low temperature like zero or ten degrees you won’t have all of the extra work in the spring and fall.

I prefer to leave horses that aren’t working regularly without blankets and allow them to grow as much hair as possible. I also recognize that some times blanketing can be either helpful, as in the training situation, or best, such as with the hard keeper.

As far as how cold is too cold I think there are different factors to look at. How healthy the horse is, what type of shelter or wind break is available, and how much forage is available are all part of the equation. Keep in mind that a great source of internal heat for horses in the winter is digesting hay and fresh, unfrozen, water is always a must.Mini horses in snow

Each situation will be a little different and I’m sure that many people will leave comments about the temperatures their horses have successfully lived in. Here is a comment following my blog on “How cold is too cold to ride a horse.” 

“Up here in Canada if we don’t ride when it’s “too cold” – we wouldn’t ride for half the year! 😉 At our barn we just make sure we ride the horses according to the temperature. On the really cold days we might just play with some trail obstacles or do ground work in order to not sweat the horses up. Oh, and I’ve discovered that “hot paws” are a girl’s best friend in the winter! They are little heated pads that go inside your gloves and boots. Life savers! (or should I say “digit savers”!)”-Kim

I have more often kept my horses in because of ice or poor footing instead of the weather being too cold. Unfortunately, someone will leave a comment saying that it is totally natural for horses to endure any weather. While it is true that horses live in the wild, they also can suffer in the wild. I have personally seen horses with half their ears because the tops were frozen off…natural, yes, but not something I’m interested in.

While googling for info I found a great article on Discoverhorses.com quoting Dr. Joyce Harman, “There is no temperature where it is too cold for a horse to be ridden or to go outside if they are adapted to it.”

I think each person needs to evaluate their situation. Some places are going to get extreme wind, others extreme snow or ice and still others extreme cold, each brings its own challenges. Keep in mind that sudden or unusual weather won’t allow the horses time to adapt.

Often I have to laugh when I go out in the cold with my horses. Some of my best memories are with my horses in the winter. They tend to be fresh and full of energy and for the most part they seem to handle the cold weather much better than I do.

 
25 Comments

Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Life, Members Question

 

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Video: Horse that falls down to avoid being ridden.

“Stacy Westfall , Have you seen this video? What would you do to fix this?”-Ashley N.

No, I hadn’t seen this video until you posted it here. It was an interesting watch and I think I will answer your question in two parts.

First, if the horse is laying down to avoid being ridden he has learned that there is a reward for lying down. The simplest answer is to either prevent the behavior that leads up to the horse going down or to make it uncomfortable for the horse to stay down. Tapping persistently until the horse chooses to stand up would be enough to make him think about getting up.

My issue with the video is that it looks like this horse was trained to lay down on purpose. I have seen horses trained ‘accidentally’ to lie down. One example of this was when I was in college and I saw a horse get dizzy while learning to spin like a reiner. All was fine during the spin but when the rider said ‘whoa’ and the horse stopped he started wobbling, lost his balance and chose to lie down. It was slow motion and no one got hurt…in fact the girl got off and laughed. Everyone laughed. The horse got a nice break and eventually stood up. Apparently the break was long enough because the next time the girl asked him to spin he started to…but then chose to lie down. Again she laughed and didn’t make him get up. Within a couple of days he would lay down every time she asked him to spin…then she stopped laughing.

The key difference with that horse and the one in the video is that the one in this video doesn’t lie down smoothly like a horse in a pasture would. Horses choosing to lay down usually look like…well, horses choosing to lay down. This one is unnaturally stiff. He does get smoother on the second time but he also backs into it which is also unusual unless trained.

This one looks like it was trained to bow on two knees and then had its head pulled to the side. Notice how stiff the horse is when it collapse to the ground. When is the last time you saw a horse lay down like that on its own? If this horse had thought of this on his own, the odds are he would be smoother. Even if it is trained he will get smoother with practice.

I have trained several horses to lay down. The first few I taught to bow and then lie down and they all had this stiff look shown in the video. I didn’t like the look and the horses had trouble connecting what I wanted so I changed my methods. Now my horses draw their legs together and choose to lay down very smooth the way they do naturally.

Once down most horses do tend to lay very still, almost stiff, when on their sides. I have never tried sticking a carrot in their mouth to see what they would do…but I think I will be buying a carrot and giving it a try with Newt, lol.

Who knows, maybe I am wrong. Maybe this horse did just start doing this stiff fall on his own. Stranger things have happened. Horses are certainly smart enough to connect the dots if they find an easy way out of work.

 

 
18 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Training, Video

 

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Breaking habits, pursuing dreams, wasting time…

“Hello there. I am a 23 year old male living in England, currently trying to find my place in life. I squandered a few years of my life living on benefits and not aspiring to do anything. I got incredibly fat, I had no dreams, no goals and spent every last penny I had just for the sake of spending it.

In January of this year I started to try and improve my life and myself as a whole. I still struggle with confidence but I joined a gym, began walking and started trying to save my money with one end goal in mind…to work with horses in some capacity or another, quite likely as a riding instructor after training for it. I’ve never interacted with them but have always loved them from afar, I can’t afford my own and haven’t had any lessons yet as I’m still too heavy. I was 19 stone (266 lbs) in January and I’m now 14.11 (197 lbs) as of my last weigh in.

Things had been going tremendously well…but then a certain reality hit me, and that’s how hard it is to find vacancies in the industry even if you’re well qualified. I had it in my mind to do courses in the care of horses, riding etc in 2015 but now I’ve been hit with the realization of this. I can still get free tutiton for regular A Level courses at college until I’m over 25 (currently 24) so I would have other options should I pass them. My heart wants to train for a career with horses but my brain is telling me to get those A Levels I never got and if I still have the drive for it then persue the dream, without a student loan hanging over my head. (For the A Levels, not the equine courses)

I feel incredibly lost and I feel like the very aspiration that got me to start turning my life around is slipping away. What am I supposed to do? I want to have a stable future but I know I’ll regret not even trying to live my dream as I get older. What should I do? Persue my dream now or do it in my late 30′s aftet improving my education, having wasted so much time?

I fear going into a tailspin and this right back to where I started.”-Daniel A.

Daniel- The first paragraph shows someone who has thought hard about what they have chosen to do and were not scared to look directly at the issues. The second paragraph shows someone who is willing to work and make changes…and that is impressive. Not easy to do…but that’s why it is impressive. I will try to address some of the questions you had for me. Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait. Thomas Edison

I’m not sure how hard it is to find vacancies if you are well qualified. It is becoming ‘well qualified’ that is difficult and time consuming. You might dream of teaching but you will likely start by shoveling manure, paying for lessons and outworking everyone else around you. This phase could last for ten years or more while you work to become well qualified…the difficult part is remembering that every job you do is an opportunity. An opportunity to show someone how reliable, dedicated, driven, passionate, and hard working you are all while building your skill set. There are often opportunities all around us if we are able to see them.

My kids just showed me this quote by Thomas Edison, “Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait.” I think it applies to most areas of life. You are still young and have many opportunities ahead. Maybe you could begin to look at your prior choices as learning experiences, things you did that you will choose not to do again…which could mean that it wasn’t really wasted time. I’m sure you will encounter difficulties again, we all do, just keep learning and moving forward.

If it were me, I would try for both; aim for the A Level courses that have free tuition and find a way to begin getting experience with horses. If you can’t ride yet I bet someone would let you sit and watch lessons. But don’t stop there. Go watch horse shows, look up equine events you can travel to and take this time to see what areas inside the horse industry appeal to you. Shadow people in as many areas of the equine industry as you can. Spend a day with an Equine Massage Therapist or any other profession that interests you.

I recently wrote a blog listing many of the possible careers with horses, check it out, it may surprise you how much variety there is inside the industry. Who knows, maybe you can make those A Level classes AND the horses combine to become everything you are dreaming of.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Inspiring, Life, Members Question

 

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“How do you decide how long a training session with your horse should be?” -brought to you by Weaver Leather

“How do you decide how long a  training session with your horse should be?”-Cindy M

There are many factors that go into deciding how long a training session should be. Often people decide how much training time by how long they have but it is generally better if we can set the goal to be primarily physical or emotional.

In a training session we are either trying to change something physically or mentally with the horse. Knowing what your focus is will help you determine how long the session will be. For example, in this video I am riding Al, an off the track Thoroughbred that is being retrained as a riding horse. This video is one entire training session and yes, it is only about three minutes long. During this session I was mostly focused on the mental training. Al anticipated hard work so I purposely chose to do some very short rides, even if I rode him once in the morning and once in the evening. My purpose was to change the way he thought about a typical ride.

Al also preferred going to the right instead of the left so I purposely only rode him to the left. I was again trying to plant a mental seed of ‘left’ being the answer.

Also, notice that I didn’t try to accomplish a lot of different things in this time period. I stayed smooth and steady which will help Al have a positive experience.

There have been other horses, on other days where I was trying to accomplish other goals so my rides were drastically different. For example, I have ridden horses with ‘relax’ as the goal, so I spent 2-3 hours riding them but not working them hard. This was planting the seed that neither one of us was going to rush through the process so we should both relax.

Other times I have been working on more physical goals such as improving the spin or the slide. Physical training often requires repetition much like learning to dance and it would be common for me to reward the physical improvement.

We are always training both the physical and the emotional but I have a plan before I head out to ride as to which will be my focus for that day. I am free to end the session if I see any improvement or if I am ‘planting’ a seed. Remember, any improvement should be considered a success.

 
 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review – Questions about teaching a horse to lie down

Hi Stacy Westfall, regarding Episode 36: Is there any ‘age limit’ or health concerns such as arthritis, that would cause you to refrain from teaching a horse to lay down, regardless of how much it may benefit the horse’ s attitude?

I have barrel horses that can sometimes be pretty hot & was wondering what your thoughts were on getting them to lay down. They seem to be very nervous when I try to do it with them but I’m really just starting trying to get their foot up. Love watching you work with Jac.- Lisa Marie B

I consider both the bow and teaching a horse to lie down to be advanced groundwork. This means that your basic groundwork should be very well established including teaching your horse to: lead, turn on haunches, turn on forehand, back up, trot in hand, lunge easily at all gaits, sack out with ‘scary’ objects, stand quietly while whipping with stick n string, etc. Teaching liberty work, working your horse without a halter or lead, should be in the same category as bowing and the lie down.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

By the time you have taught your horse all of the basic groundwork skills listed (and more) you should know your horses temperament very well. This will tell you a lot about how your horse is going to handle the process of learning to lie down on cue. Naturally quiet and submissive horses tend to be the easiest to train. These are the horses that are fine with you walking into the stall while they are napping.

Horses that are more naturally jumpy and nervous tend to be more difficult, which makes sense as they are often making plans on how to leave if things go bad. These horses can be taught to lie down but they require a very solid foundation in the basic groundwork skills. They should be so solid in the basics; whipping around, being sacked out, loping one circle on the lunge line and then standing like they are bored, that they should look like they are NOT hot or nervous. These horses also benefit from learning at least some of the basic liberty skill, off line in a round pen, as shown in Episode 14.

I think that the idea that laying a horse down will change its attitude is largely a myth. I have seen horses that were forced to lie down with ropes and although some of them do get up with a shocked look, I have not noticed it to be a look that I want in my riding horses. I do think that the longer, slow process of teaching the lay down does have a positive effect as you will invest more time getting there.

Someone asked me once how young a horse could safely be taught to bow (without force) and I asked a vet. His opinion was that young horses are more flexible and, as long as it wasn’t forced, would be excellent candidates. If I were working with an older horse I would only do what they were comfortable with. If your older horse has arthritis bad enough to negatively effect his ability to lie down on his own in the stall or pasture then I would personally choose to skip teaching that horse. Many vets recommend that horses with ‘some’ arthritis stay active. I have some arthritis and it is recommended that I also stay active. The best thing to do is to ask the vet who diagnosed the horse for their opinion regarding training the horse to lie down.

 

Some basic liberty skills shown here:

Tips on teaching the bow:

 
 

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Train horses…do accounting…teach…write…

“Hey Stacy, I was just wondering if you ever wanted to do something besides/along with training horses? If training didn’t work out what do you think you would have chosen as an alternate career path?”-Kendall

I always dreamed of working with horses. Growing up I thought the only real options in the industry were; farrier, vet, something to do with racehorses. I actually cried when I grew over five feet tall!

I was a junior in high school when a teacher asked me, “What will you do after high school?”

Jesse and Stacy Westfall

Jesse and Stacy Westfall

I responded, “I dunno, go to school for accounting or something.”

I’m not exactly sure where that answer came from, especially considering that my kids have greater math skills now then I did as a junior in high school.  Maybe it was inspired because it was my math teacher asking the question. I was good with accounting and at least I knew people could do it as a living.

That teacher asked me one of the most important questions anyone has ever asked me, “What do you want to do?”

Without hesitation I answer (full of sarcasm), “I want to ride horses but you can’t go to school for that.” (teenage eye-roll for added emphasis)

He challenged me to go look at the college book…right then. (…pre-internet moment here).

I was shocked that you COULD go to school for that. So I did.

Knowing what I know now, but removing the horses, I would teach and write. Or write and teach. I love the process of learning and teaching goes hand and hand with it.

I also love writing because in general, I get a chance to think about my subject and really study it. Blogging daily is actually hard for me because I don’t have as much time to polish everything the way I wish I could and because there are always critics.

I was so shy when I was young that it is probably a shock to people who knew me that I speak in public like I do. My point in mentioning this little fact is that I never would have guessed that I would speak in public like I do. Life is funny like that, it is strange to think about all of the options it contains.

If you read this post, leave a comment about a career you would love to do…and why you are NOT doing it.

 
74 Comments

Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Life, Members Question

 

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Jac Review Week: Teaching a horse to give to pressure on a halter for leading and tying

A comment came through on my blog this week in reference to Episode 3.

“While I‘m far behind in the series (trying to catch up as I can!) I’m actually re-watching these beginning episodes. I recently got a new horse and while he’s 9 years old and has TONS of trail riding time, I’ve noticed that if something startles him, he whips backward and pulls — regardless of being tied/being held, etc. Not very respectful of pressure. Interestingly enough, you say at ~4:39 on the video that “that’s why I can’t tie him, because when he feels pressure on the halter he pulls back.” I’m wondering just how many horses ACTUALLY learn to give to the pressure on a halter?     Also, how often do people like me buy an older horse that’s “been there done that” but have to go back to baby-beginner-basics and teach things like giving to pressure?-Sarah B.”

It is my opinion that everyone should go back…but few do.The basics are where most problems stem from.

Have you ever tried to lead a puppy on a leash for the first time? Have you noticed that the first reaction to pressure on the leash is rarely to give to the pressure? Sometimes the puppy may coincidentally follow you but for the most part he must be taught how to respond correctly. Some dogs are thoroughly trained and others have spotty training and the same is true for horses.

Horses must be taught to give to pressure. This is usually done when they are young but just like dogs, they will likely need refresher courses throughout their lifetime. Much like a dog, the stronger the training has been at one point, the better the training will stick with the horse.

If the horse has a strong foundation, if he really knows the correct answers…then the refresher goes fast. If you find a weakness, then you are improving the horse. I go back over the basics every winter…even with my top horses.

This question came after Episode 10.

“Hi Stacy, the last pull when Jac response to your pull (6:50), do you redo this again or do you just do it one time before you tie him up? -Melanie C.”

I repeat the lesson over and over again before tying him for the first time. In episode 10 the pull and release shown at 6:50 was the end of that lesson for that day. I like to give horses time to absorb the lesson before I repeat it. Although it was the end of the lesson for that day, I did not tie Jac after it.

If you watch Episode 13 at 13:35 I am repeating the leading lesson again. I explain during this time that the distraction of the bit has caused Jac to regress in this lesson. You can see here that Jac still has not mastered this leading lesson.

It is also important to notice the theory here; that repeating previous concepts while introducing new concepts can make the training stronger. The example here is that the previous concept of leading was repeated as the horse was learning a new lesson, wearing the bit. Can you think of other examples in training where repeating a previous concept while introducing a new one can be beneficial?

 

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