Horses For Dummies book cover

Horses For Dummies

By: Audrey Pavia and Janice Posnikoff Published: 11-19-2019

Updated for today’s beginning horse enthusiasts! 

If you’re just getting into the world of horses, there’s a lot to learn! Horses For Dummies gets beginning-level riders and aspiring first-time horse owners up to speed on all things equine! From selecting the right horse for you to feeding, grooming, and handling a horse, this book covers it all!

Featuring updates on breeds, boarding, nutrition, equipment, training, and riding—as well as new information on various equine conditions—this resource shows you how to keep your horse happy and take your riding skills to the next level.

  • Features updated safety information 
  • Includes more riding disciplines
  • Offers tips for better nutrition for your horse
  • Provides grooming and training recommendations

If you’re crazy about horses, this hands-on guide is all you need to giddy up and go!

Articles From Horses For Dummies

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Horses For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-15-2022

Horses have a charm and beauty unique in the animal kingdom. Horses can’t sit in your lap; on the other hand, you can’t go for a gallop on a kitten! Like any animal, horses need daily care and regular grooming. If you’re buying a horse, you need to know the right questions to ask, and if you own a horse, you need to be able to recognize when your horse is experiencing a health emergency. Horses are a big responsibility, but they are worth it!

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Beyond the Top 10 Horse Breeds: Rare Breeds

Article / Updated 01-13-2020

The world is full of horse breeds, many of them rather rare. Despite their small numbers, a handful of these breeds have managed to capture the hearts of horse lovers everywhere. You frequently see horses of these breeds in motion pictures or at equine fairs and exhibitions around the world. Though their numbers are scarce, they’re important members of the horse community and worth taking a look at. Andalusian The Andalusian horse, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse, is one of the most spectacular studies in horseflesh on the planet. You see this horse in museum pieces and paintings from the Middle Ages: Leonardo da Vinci sculpted this horse, and the winged Pegasus was based on this breed. Because Andalusians have been around for so long, they have been instrumental in the development of other breeds such as the Peruvian, Spanish Mustang, and Lipizzaner. Andalusians have a distinctive look. Their necks are heavy and arched; their manes and tails are long and wavy. With a regalness about them that’s hard to equal, even a relatively untrained eye can easily spot this breed. Andalusians are spirited horses used for showing and pleasure riding. The majority of individual Andalusians in the United States are located in California, although a number of other states have small populations of this beautiful horse. Flip to the color section to see a photo of an Andalusian. Friesian The Friesian horse is hard to miss in a crowd. This regal, all-black equine has been around for centuries, developed first in Holland. The Friesian has had a great influence in the horse world, having been used to create a number of European breeds. Friesians usually stand around 15 to 16 hands in height, although their proud carriage gives the impression that they are taller. Their manes and tails are long and flowing, and they have heavy feathering on their fetlocks. The high-stepping movement of the Friesian is a sight to behold. During the last several years, the Friesian’s numbers have grown in the United States, where the breed now sports around 8,000 individuals. Friesians are being used successfully in dressage and in carriage work. Kiger Mustang The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been rounding up wild horses since 1971 and placing them up for adoption. In 1977, during one of these round-ups in remote Beatty's Butte, Oregon, a BLM official noticed that a number of horses were very similar in color and conformation. The horses were separated from the herd and determined to be of Colonial Spanish origin. In an effort to preserve these horses, Herd Management Areas were set up in southeastern Oregon, where the horses were re-released. This was the beginning of the Kiger Mustang breed. Today, most Kigers are bred in captivity. Kigers are used for a variety of purposes, with trail riding being most common. They are often seen in dun colorations, although all horse colors are possible in the breed. They typically stand between 13.2 and 15.2 hands. Lipizzaner Lipizzaners are among the most well-known of all breeds, thanks to the famous Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna. These highly trained stallions have gained notoriety the world over for their skill at performing classical dressage movements also known as airs above the ground. Lipizzaners originated in Austria as war horses and are now seen mostly in Europe. A handful of Lipizzaners exist in the United States where they are shown and used for exhibitions. Lipizzaner foals are born dark brown or black and mature to a light gray (nearly white). Adult Lipizzaners typically have thick, wavy manes and tails and heavy, arched necks. Lusitano The Lusitano, a Portuguese breed, is closely related to the Andalusian horse. The two breeds had identical histories until modern times, when Portuguese breeders developed the Lusitano into a separate horse from the Andalusian. Although Andalusians typically are seen in a grey coloration, Lusitanos often come in palomino, buckskin, dun, bay, chestnut, and other colors. Lusitanos have a rounder head and body than the Andalusian and are more compact and agile. Lusitanos are seen in shows and exhibitions and are used for dressage and pleasure riding. Spanish Mustang In the 1500s, Spaniards entered what is now the United States through New Mexico, bringing with them a number of their horses to populate the New World. The descendants of these original Spanish mounts are believed to be a breed now known as the Spanish Mustang. Spanish Mustangs once roamed wild in the American West and have come to be exceptionally hardy and intelligent. They tend to be on the small side, measuring around 14 to 15 hands. Known for their endurance, Spanish Mustangs make great trail horses and companions. Wild horse One of the most romantic histories in horsedom belongs to the American wild horse, a creature that still inhabits certain parts of the United States. Believed by many to be escaped descendants of those horses used to build the American West, wild horses are protected by federal law. Consequently, horse wranglers can no longer capture the wild ones and sell them for pet food, a deplorable action that was rampant until the early 1970s, when the Wild Horse Protection Act was passed. Despite official protection, wild horses still are at the center of political controversy. Ranchers who use public lands to graze livestock want wild-horse herds kept to a minimum to allow more cattle to be graze there, but many horse lovers believe the wild horse has first rights to the land. Ranching interests usually win out of late, and the Bureau of Land Management regularly reduces the number of horses present on the land by rounding them up and putting them up for public adoption. Anyone who can prove they have access to proper horsekeeping facilities can pay a small fee to adopt a wild horse. Although young wild horses can be trained in much the same way as domestically born horses, adult wild horses need special handling to adapt to captivity. For that reason, full-grown wild horses that are fresh off the range are not recommended for beginning equestrians.

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Beyond the Top 10 Horse Breeds: Pony Breeds and Warmbloods

Article / Updated 01-13-2020

Besides the most popular horse breeds, some pony breeds and warmblood breeds are popular in the United States. By definition, a pony is a small type of horse standing less than 14.2 hands at the withers. However, a distinction exists between a true pony and a horse that is simply on the short side. Not every horse under 14.2 hands is considered a pony, and not every pony over 14.1 hands is considered a horse. Ponies are members of distinctive pony breeds. In other words, you can’t breed two Thoroughbreds or two Arabians and get a pony. Breeders produce a pony by breeding two ponies, or by breeding a pony to a small horse. In the 1980s, a European type of horse called the warmblood became popular in the United States. Seen for years in international jumping and dressage competitions, the warmblood suddenly became the horse of choice for Americans who wanted to compete in the upper levels of Olympic disciplines like dressage, jumping, combined training (or three-day eventing), and driving. Pony breeds Ponies tend to be hardy little creatures. Most pony breeds developed in harsh European climates with rugged terrain; they had to become durable and levelheaded to survive. Most adults are too big to comfortably ride a small pony (neither the pony nor the adult will be happy), although a smaller adult can do fine with a larger pony. If you want a mount for your child, however, a pony can certainly do the job. The following pony breeds are popular in North America: Shetland: The Shetland pony is the creature people most often think about when they hear the word This breed is one of the smaller ponies around. Shetlands make excellent mounts for young children as long as the ponies — and the kids — are properly trained. American Shetlands are usually around 11 hands high and come in a wide variety of horse colors. Welsh Ponies: These ponies come in four different types: the Welsh Mountain Pony, the Welsh Pony, the Welsh Pony of Cob Type, and the Welsh Cob. Each of these four names represents different heights and conformation types within the Welsh breed. Okay, we know it’s confusing, but stay with us. If you think of each type in terms of its height, it gets a little better: The Welsh Mountain is 12.2 hands or shorter; the Welsh Pony 12.2 to 13.2 hands high; the Welsh Pony of Cob Type is 13.2 hands high or less; and the Cob Type is actually horse-sized at 14 to 15.1 hands tall. All versions of Welsh Ponies make excellent equine companions for children. The taller ones are big enough for some adults. Connemara: The Connemara is a refined-looking pony that excels in jumping. Measuring on the tall side (13 to 14.2 hands), Connemaras make suitable mounts for some adults and for children. Pony of the Americas: The Pony of the Americas, or POA as it is commonly called, originated from crossings with the Appaloosa horse and the Shetland pony. POAs typically have Appaloosa markings, and are good ponies for kids. In fact, the American POA breed association has one of the most extensive youth show programs in the country. POAs typically stand anywhere from 11.2 to 14 hands high. Highland Pony: The Highland Pony is a rugged Scottish breed with roots that go back to the 8th century BCE. Although popular in the U.K., only a handful of Highland Ponies can be found in America. They measure from 13 to 14 hands, and are shown in dressage, eventing and driving, and used for trail riding. Warmbloods Several different warmblood breeds exist, each named for the region it comes from, with its own distinct characteristics. What they all have in common is a large stature, profound athletic ability, and a high price tag. Some of these breeds are common in the United States and Canada, while others are only available in Europe. Here’s a list of the warmblood breeds you see most often in North America: Belgian Warmblood: Averages around 16 hands; good in show jumping, eventing, and dressage Dutch Warmblood (check out one of these horses in the color section): Average around 16.2 hands; known for talent in dressage and jumping Hanoverian: German breed known for abilities in dressage, eventing, and jumping; averages 16 to 17 hands Holsteiner: Developed in Germany; averages 16 to 17 hands; excels in driving, eventing, jumping, and dressage Oldenberg: Hails from Germany; averages 16 hands high; talented jumping, dressage, and eventing horse Swedish Warmblood: Averages 16 hands; used for show jumping, dressage, and eventing Trakehner: German breed used for jumping, dressage, and eventing; averages 16 to 17 hands

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Beyond the Top 10 Horse Breeds: Gaited Horses

Article / Updated 01-13-2020

Gaited horses are those breeds possessing one or more additional gaits in addition to or instead of the usual walk, trot, and gallop found in so-called nongaited horses. These unusual gaits were developed in these breeds by humans to make long-distance riding more comfortable. Equestrians who love gaited horses claim these horses are the most enjoyable mounts to ride. Three-gaited breeds are among the most popular horses in the United States: the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Saddlebred. Other, lesser-known gaited breeds are found in the United States, each with its own fascinating history and characteristics. Although the breeds highlighted in the following sections aren’t as common as the ones that made it to the top ten, they are nonetheless available in many parts of the country. Icelandic Horse The Icelandic Horse is a small but sturdy creature with its roots in Viking history. The breed developed in complete isolation for more than 1,000 years and is believed to be the horse the Vikings used in their mounted exploits. The Icelandic Horse is known for having either four or five gaits. In addition to the walk, trot, and gallop, all Icelandic Horses possess a gait called the tolt, which is similar to the Tennessee Walker’s running walk. Some Icelandics also have a gait called the flying pace, where the legs on each side of the horse move in unison. The Icelandic looks somewhat like a pony and measures only 12.3 to 14 hands in height. However, despite its small size, the Icelandic is considered a horse breed and not a pony breed. Full-grown men can easily ride this rugged little animal. These horses are ridden for pleasure and are good in the show ring. Missouri Fox Trotter The Missouri Fox Trotter was created by Missouri cattlemen in the 1800s to carry riders across long distances of rough terrain and to work cattle. Because the Missouri Fox Trotter was intended to be ridden for long periods of time, a comfortable gaited aspect was bred into this willing horse. As a result, the Missouri Fox Trotter has a special trot exemplified by a four-beat gait instead of the usual two beats found in a typical trot. Missouri Fox Trotters are handsome horses, measuring between 14 and 16 hands. They have easygoing personalities and generally are considered a good horse for beginners to ride and to show. National Show Horse The National Show Horse is a relatively new breed created in the 1980s by crossing Arabians to American Saddlebreds. The resulting horse turned out to be a flashy and refined animal perfect for the show ring. As a result of its Saddlebred heritage, the National Show Horse is trained in two other gaits besides the walk, trot, and gallop. National Show Horses are capable of performing the slow gait and the rack, both four-beat gaits that are comfortable to ride. National Show Horses are on the taller side, standing 15 to 16 hands in height. They come in a variety of horse colors, and tend to be spirited. Their primary use is in the show ring (hence the name), where they can show off their high-stepping gaits. Paso Fino You most often see the Paso Fino breed in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, although it has quite a few fans in the United States, too. Paso Finos originally were created by crossing Spanish Andalusians with the now extinct Spanish Jennets a couple of centuries ago. The Paso Fino gaits include the paso fino, paso corto, and the paso largo. Each gait varies in speed and is a four-beat lateral gait (each foot hits the ground separately, and the legs on each side move in unison) that is extremely comfortable to ride, and covers considerable ground. Some Paso Finos can also canter. Paso Finos typically measure around 14 to 15 hands in height and have a pleasing and distinctive conformation. Paso Finos possess a personality trait known as brio, which means controlled spirit. Horses with brio are full of energy but are completely under the rider’s control. Superb on the trail, Paso Finos also are shown extensively in their special gaits. Peruvians Peruvians (once called Peruvian Pasos) have found a devoted following in the United States. Developed in Peru in the 1800s to carry landowners across vast areas of the country, the breed contains the blood of Spanish Andalusians, Arabians, and Thoroughbreds. Peruvians possess three gaits: the paso llano, the sobreandando, and the huachano. Each of these gaits is a four-beat lateral gait and is designed to be comfortable while covering considerable ground. Peruvian horses that are in top condition can maintain these gaits for hours on end. Peruvians are on the small to medium side, measuring 14.1 to 15.1 hands in height. They have well-muscled necks and long, thick manes and tails. They make excellent trail horses, and are shown under saddle in their natural gaits. You can see a Peruvian horse in the color section. Racking Horse The Racking Horse is not as easy to define as most other breeds of horses. Racking Horses shared a history with the Tennessee Walking Horse until 1971, when a group of Alabama horsemen broke off from the Tennessee Walking Horse breed for political and economic reasons, and started a registry for what they dubbed the Racking Horse. A few years later, in 1975, the House and Senate of the Alabama Legislature named the Racking Horse the official state horse of Alabama. What makes the Racking Horse so special is that it is a gaited breed, able to perform a four-beat racking gait, in addition to a walk and a canter. Racking Horses have graceful builds, with long, sloping necks. Their legs are smooth and their hair finely textured. The typical Racking Horse averages around 15.2 hands, and comes in a number of colors including sorrel, chestnut, black, roan, white, bay, brown, gray, yellow, dun, and palomino. You may also see a pinto coloration, known within the breed as spotted. These horses are willing to work and eager to please their handlers. Riders exhibit Racking Horses in saddle-seat and driving classes that are meant to show off their racking gait, but they also show less flashy individuals in more traditional pleasure classes. Racking horses make good trail horses and are popular for simple pleasure riding.

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Meet the Top 10 Horse Breeds

Step by Step / Updated 01-13-2020

Hundreds of horse breeds exist in the world today, but only a handful of them are among the top ten most popular breeds in the United States. The reasons for the popularity of these breeds can be narrowed down to a couple of factors: Each breed has a strong registering organization that promotes it among the horse-owning public, and each breed has redeeming qualities that a large number of horse people have come to appreciate. Owning or riding one of the top ten breeds has its benefits. Plenty of information and support is available on the animals that make up the breed. Horse shows for the breed also are common and so are an array of sources from which you can learn more about the breed. Additionally, if you want to buy a horse of one of these breeds, you won’t have too much trouble locating one. Fans of lesser-known breeds of horses don’t have these advantages and must fend for themselves in many respects. As you read our breed descriptions, keep in mind that we speak in generalities when it comes to the personalities of different horse breeds. For example, we say that Arabians are friendly horses. However, you may meet one or two Arabians in your travels that are complete grouches. Remember that each horse is an individual, and as you get to know different horses, you’ll find horses that simply don’t match the personalities typically attributed to their breeds. That said, we’re going to take a look at the top ten most popular breeds in the United States. Their popularity is determined by the number of horses that are registered in the breed each year. We list them here in alphabetical order.

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Beyond the Top 10 Horse Breeds: Crossbreds and Draft Breeds

Article / Updated 01-13-2020

Not all breeds have substantial numbers of horses in their ranks. Plenty of smaller, lesser-known breeds exist and are popular among certain factions of the horse world. These types of horses have characteristics that set them apart and make them attractive to people who want something specific from their horses. Crossbreds Although purebreds are the name of the game for many people, some prefer crossbred horses. Crossbred horses possess characteristics from both of the breeds in their parentage, which is why some people prefer them to purebreds. They believe they’re getting the best of two breeds instead of one. Some crossbreds have their own registries, such as the Morab (Morgan/Arabian), Azteca (Andalusian/Quarter Horse), and National Show Horse (Standardbred/Arabian). Others are recognized by the registry of one of the parent breeds, such as the Appaloosa (may have one Quarter Horse, Arabian or Thoroughbred parent), Quarter Horse (may have one Thoroughbred parent) and Paint (may have one or two Quarter Horse parents). Other crossbreds can be the result of experiments conducted by individual breeders and can feature any two breeds that someone decided to put together. Crossbreeding has been a staple of the equine industry for centuries and has resulted in the development of a number of pure breeds. It also results in grade horses, which are the well-loved mutts of the equine world (see the nearby “Making the grade horse” sidebar). Draft breeds Draft horses are living relics of humanity’s agricultural past. Originally bred for hundreds of years to pull heavy loads, draft breeds were used only until recently to work farms around the globe. When motorized tractors replaced draft horses in agricultural society, these magnificent creatures nearly died out. The work and dedication of people who love these horses saved draft horses from sure extinction. Today, draft horses are used mostly for showing and exhibition, although some still are used to work small farms and perform other hauling jobs not suited to trucks and tractors. Draft horses are also ridden, and because of their docile temperaments, make wonderful — if not rather large — companions. Although draft horses still are considered rare, you can find several breeds of them in North America. Each of the breeds in the following sections has an American registry and a good number of devotees in various countries. Belgian American Belgians differ somewhat from their European counterparts. Belgians in the United States are larger, heavier horses than those seen in the breed’s native country. American Belgians stand around 18 hands and are mostly seen in one coloration: sorrel with a flaxen (blond) mane and tail. These days, Belgians are used primarily in the show ring and for pulling contests. Some Midwestern American farmers still use Belgian teams to work their fields, as do many of the Amish in the United States. You can see a Belgian in the color section. Clydesdale The Clydesdale probably is the most well-known of all the draft breeds, thanks to Anheuser-Busch. Clydesdale horses have been pulling the Budweiser beer wagon for decades, and are regularly seen in the company’s TV commercials and in exhibitions around the country. Clydesdales usually come in a bay coloration, although they can also be seen in chestnut, black, brown, and roan. These horses can be anywhere from 16.1 to 18 hands in height. They have wonderful dispositions and are often used for riding as well as pulling. Gypsy Horse The Gypsy Horse is also known as the Gypsy Vanner and the Gypsy Cob, depending on which registry you look at. This stunning, small draft horse traces its roots to the Traveler people of the United Kingdom, who used this horse to pull their colorful wagons from town to town in the 1800s. The breed became known in the U.S. in the 1990s and has become well known for it’s striking markings, long mane and tail, and feathered — that is, hairy — legs. Gypsy Horses make good riding horses because of their smaller size, and they are often used for trail riding, parades, and horse shows. They are most often seen in black and white, but they actually come in a variety of horse colors. Percheron Percherons are seen only in gray or black, and average around 16 hands in height — a little on the short side for a draft horse. What they lack in height, they make up for in bulk. They are strong and stocky horses. You can ride Percherons or use them to pull carts and wagons; this breed is shown extensively in the United States. They’re known for having calm personalities and being trainable. Shire Shires are attractive horses with heavy feathering around their fetlocks (ankles) and long fuzzy beards on their jaws. They are medium height for a draft breed, measuring anywhere from 16 to 17.2 hands. Shires are shown in harness and at halter in the United States and in other countries. The breed is often seen pulling beer wagons at events in Great Britain, and some people still use Shires to haul goods in other parts of the world. Suffolk Punch The Suffolk Punch, or simply Suffolk, is a smaller draft horse, measuring in at around 16 hands. An unusual aspect to the breed is its single color; Suffolks only come in chestnut (which devotees of the breed spell chesnut in the archaic way). Suffolks are still used to do field work and pull wagons for exhibitions, but they’re also shown and ridden.

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Bonds Between Horses and Humans

Article / Updated 12-18-2019

If you want to achieve a profound bond with your horse, always put yourself in your horse’s place and try to comprehend the equine experience. Not only will you come to understand and appreciate your horse, but your horse also will come to view you as a protector and ultimately will grow to trust you with his very life. The dilemma that humans and horses face boils down to a couple of questions: How do humans deal with the horse’s penchant for fear and flight? How do horses deal with this strange world so alien to anything they would have ever encountered in the wild? Because of mankind’s greater brain capacity, the burden of bridging the gap between the reality of the domesticated horse’s world and what a horse’s instincts tell it falls on the human. Communicating to the horse that everything’s really okay, however, requires the human to understand the equine mind and to pay close attention to the horse’s modes of communication. Developing a trusting relationship between horse and human can achieve miraculous results. Many, many horses trust their human caretakers so much that they tolerate all kinds of bizarre situations with minimal fear. Go to any horse show and you can see what we mean. The constant commotion and chaos that is a regular part of many horse shows would otherwise make every horse at the show go nuts. But that rarely happens. Instead, you see scores of horses calmly lounging around, quietly munching their hay, and performing beautifully in the show ring when it’s their time in the spotlight. These horses have grown accustomed to the human-dominated world in which they live and have developed a basic trust in the humans who guide their lives. Other examples of how horse-loving humans have helped horses transcend the gap between primitive equine instinct and the modern human world can be seen everyday in stables and pastures around the globe. There you find horses that greet their caretakers with an obvious joy. Some horses become incredibly attached to just one special person. Even more horses truly love their jobs and are eager to come out of their stalls or pastures and do whatever work is asked of them. The sections that follow cover just a few of the tasks that humans can undertake to develop trust with their horses. Providing companionship Horses are herd animals, and you can’t get around that fact. Just like humans, horses need to have regular interaction with members of their own species to maintain a healthy sense of well-being. For a horse, being alone means being vulnerable — so vulnerable that it can be a matter of life or death. Depriving a horse of regular companionship is inhumane and tantamount to keeping a person in solitary confinement. Some horses can tolerate the situation better than others, depending on the individual personality of the horse. But none enjoy isolation. In fact, a horse deprived of companionship often becomes neurotic and develops stable vices, the equine equivalent to human nail-biting. Every horse needs to have some company, whether it’s on two or four legs. One or more horses for a friend is the best scenario, but many horses can also find solace in the companionship of a goat, sheep, donkey, or other hoofed animal. Human companionship also means a great deal to horses. Some horses — usually ones that were imprinted on humans at birth — actually prefer human companionship to that of other horses. But with most horses, human companionship alone doesn’t fit the bill. Human companionship is better than nothing, however, and needs to be provided often to a horse that has no other comrades. Chowing down Horses evolved on grassy plains, and in nature, horses spend most of their time grazing. The equine digestive system supports almost constant consumption of low-grade grasses. The equine brain also is designed for plenty of foraging and chewing. Grazing for a horse is the human equivalent to working, reading, or watching TV. For a horse, grazing provides not only nutrition, but also mental stimulation. The ideal situation for a horse is to be in a pasture, where he can munch on grass for nearly 18 hours a day. A horse that can do just that is going to be a happy, well-adjusted critter that can give in to the natural urge to chew, chew, chew. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, providing a horse with pasture isn’t always possible. Many horses — especially those in more urban areas — live in small dirt paddocks or tidy box stalls, without access to grass. Sometimes, these grazing-deprived horses develop stable vices because they are bored and frustrated by their inability to express their natural urge to graze. For horses that can’t graze in a field of grass, the next best thing is frequent feeding of roughage, like hay. You must feed horses a minimum of twice a day for basic nutrition. More frequent feedings are even better for their brains and help keep their digestive tracts working properly. Whatever you do, don’t let your horse become overweight. Overweight horses are prone to serious health problems. If your horse is what those in the horse world call an “easy keeper,” talk to your veterinarian about how to keep him at a good weight while still providing him with enough roughage to satisfy his need to chew and digest. Stretching out Just as Mother Nature designed the horse to eat on a nearly constant basis, she also built the horse for nearly constant movement. If you watch a horse grazing out in a pasture, you’ll see that with just about every bite of grass, the horse takes a step. In a 15-minute period, the horse moves quite a few feet from where he originally started nibbling. This regular movement provides exercise for both the horse’s body and mind. Energy is slowly released as the horse moves steadily around the pasture. Take this same horse and put him in a box stall or small paddock, and you have a horse that feels cooped up. For the horse that must live in small quarters without the freedom to move about and graze, daily exercise is of vital importance. Every day, your confined equine needs to be taken out of the stall and walked for at least half an hour, turned out into a larger paddock to run around, or be ridden at least 45 minutes. If the horse doesn’t receive adequate exercise, not only will he be prone to developing leg problems, but he’ll also have plenty of pent-up energy. The horse often expresses his overabundance of energy through stable vices (see the next section) or through misbehavior when he finally does get out of his stall. Taking some stable vice advice Horses that are kept by humans in a way that is very unnatural to how they evolved (cooped up, unable to eat with frequency, lacking mental stimulation) sometimes develop neurotic behaviors. These stable vices, as they are known, are the equine equivalent to nail-biting and hair-twisting. Horses with theses problems need more stimulation in the forms of more frequent feeding, more exercise, more companionship with other horses, and/or more room to move around. After a horse develops one of these habits, it’s hard to break, even with a change in environment, so prevention is key: Cribbing: Cribbing is a bizarre but all-too-common habit, and seems to be the equine version of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The cribbing horse grabs a fence post or barn door in between his teeth, arches his neck, and sucks air into his stomach. This air sucking creates a head rush that becomes addictive. Cribbing is not only a sign of extreme boredom or stress, it can be harmful to the horse’s teeth. Devices exist that are meant to curb this behavior, but in our opinion, you’re better off addressing the source of the problem, which is a lack of stimulation. When it comes to cribbing, prevention is more effective than a cure. Provide your horse with enough exercise and stimulation so that he doesn’t get into the cribbing habit. Wind-sucking: Similar to cribbing, wind-sucking involves the horse taking hold of a horizontal surface between his teeth and sucking air into his stomach. Sometimes the horse doesn’t take hold of anything but just sucks air into his windpipe. Usually the result of boredom, wind-sucking is a hard habit to break. Providing a horse with plenty of roughage (hay or pasture) to eat and daily exercise can discourage the habit. Weaving: A horse that weaves stands in one place, shifting weight from one foot to the other in a rhythmic motion, back and forth, his head swaying from side to side. Weaving horses are pitiful to watch. Weaving is not only a sign of extreme boredom, but can also be a symptom of anxiety. Weaving is almost always a stall problem that usually goes away when the horse is moved to a pasture or a bigger paddock. Pacing: A pacing horse walks endlessly around his stall. Horses that exhibit this behavior usually are showing discomfort with confinement. In most cases, horses that pace are the ones kept in box stalls. Horses in paddocks occasionally pace, too, especially if they have a neighboring horse they don’t get along with. Pacing is a horse’s way of saying “Get me out of here!” Move the horse to a more open environment if possible. Bolting feed: Bolting feed means eating too quickly, something that horses sometimes do when they are feeling overly hungry, anxious about the security of their food, or simply anxious in general. This manner of eating usually happens with hay pellets or commercial feed because these feeds are easier to bolt than hay. That said, some horses are capable of bolting hay, too. It’s not healthy for a horse to bolt his feed, because the food isn’t thoroughly chewed or moistened. This situation can cause a blockage in the esophagus, or in the intestines, where it can lead to colic. Feed the horse more often. Put medium-sized stones in the feeder along with the pellets or commercial feed to slow down his eating (as he’ll have to pick around the stones). If your horse bolts his hay, use a slow-feeder to keep him from being able to take in too much hay at once. Be sure to also create a more secure environment for the horse so that he’s less worried about another horse taking his food.

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All You Ever Wanted to Know About Saddles

Article / Updated 12-17-2019

Each horseback riding discipline not only has its own associated style of riding, but also its own equipment. To function properly in the horse world — and to eventually shop intelligently for your own stuff — you need to know the differences. In the following sections, we get you started with the most important piece of equipment: saddles. Different types of saddles Most people know that a saddle is a big piece of wood or fiberglass covered with leather that goes on a horse’s back. But there’s more to it than that. Saddles come in different styles. The one you buy depends on the type of riding you plan to do. Pay close attention here; the saddle represents one of your biggest investment in your new hobby. Knowing the parts of the saddle that are common to all disciplines helps when you’re shopping for a saddle. They include: Pommel: The front rise of the saddle Cantle: The rear rise of the saddle Seat: The center of the saddle where the rider sits Hunt-seat saddle The hunt-seat saddle (a type of English saddle) was originally designed for fox hunters, those members of the British aristocracy who found pleasure in chasing foxes through the countryside, leaping over fences, logs, and other obstacles in the process. If you plan to ride your horse in the hunt-seat discipline — eventually learning to jump — you need this saddle, because it’s designed to make going over jumps comfortable and secure for the rider. A saddletree, the wooden or fiberglass frame on which the saddle is constructed, determines the fit of the saddle on the horse’s back. A hunt-seat saddle and its parts are shown in the following figure. These same parts also apply to other English saddles. Dressage saddle The dressage saddle is a type of English saddle that is specifically designed for use in the discipline of dressage. It differs from a hunt-seat saddle in that the cantle and pommel are a bit higher, the seat is deeper, and the stirrup irons are longer. Dressage saddles are constructed to put the rider in more of an upright position than you see in a hunt-seat saddle. The rider sits deep in the saddle with her legs underneath her body, providing more contact with the horse. If you want to learn to ride in the dressage discipline, you need a dressage saddle. You can learn dressage in an all-purpose hunt-seat saddle, but this difficult discipline is made easier by using a saddle that’s specifically designed for it. A drawing of a dressage saddle appears in the following figure. The parts of the dressage saddle are identical to the parts of a hunt-seat saddle. The only differences are the nuances of the design of those parts. Show saddle The show saddle is primarily used in American saddle-seat riding to show off flashy, high-stepping horses. Show saddles are designed to keep the rider’s weight off the horse’s front end, so the animal can produce a lot of action in his forelegs. Consequently, the rider sits farther back on the horse with his or her legs farther out in front than with a hunt-seat or dressage saddle. If you ride an American-bred gaited horse, such as an American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, or Racking Horse, and if you plan to show in gaited classes, you need a show saddle. You can also ride on the trail with a show saddle, although this activity is not the show saddle’s primary purpose. To get an idea of what a show saddle looks like and how it differs from other English saddles, see the following figure. The parts of the show saddle are the same as those of a hunt-seat and dressage saddles, except that the show saddle doesn’t have a knee roll. The knee roll is the section at the front of the flap that supports the rider’s knee. Western saddle The western saddle was created out of sheer necessity in the old American West. This quintessential working saddle hasn’t changed very much in design during the past 100 years. If you plan to compete in western events with your horse, or if you’re simply attracted to western riding and want to participate in this discipline strictly for enjoyment, a western saddle is what you need. The western saddle is designed to give you a secure, comfortable ride. The deep seat, high pommel, and high cantle help keep the rider in the saddle when the horse makes sudden maneuvers, making it the saddle of choice for calf roping, reining, cutting, and other western working sports. The long stirrups are meant for greater comfort during long hours in the saddle (see the following figure for parts of the western saddle). Endurance saddle If you plan to spend long hours on the trail, consider an endurance saddle. A cross between an English saddle and a western saddle, endurance saddles combine the best of both worlds. They are light and easy to lift like an English saddle, and thus give the horse less weight to carry around. The seat is deep and comfortable like a western saddle, and some have high pommels and even saddle horns for extra security. These saddles also have more D-rings to secure the kinds of items you need on a long trail ride, such as a water bottle, saddle pack, and lead rope. Endurance saddles come in a variety of designs for a variety of tastes. The following figure shows a typical endurance saddle. Saddle pads Saddle pads protect the horse’s back from rubbing and chafing, and they protect the saddle from sweat. Regardless of whether you’re riding English or western, you need to buy a good saddle pad or two to place underneath your saddle when you ride. Two popular types are: English pads: The type of pad you need depends on the style of English riding you plan to do. Hunt-seat riders typically use white synthetic fleece pads underneath their saddles. Dressage riders usually use white square-quilted cotton pads called dressage pads, and saddle-seat riders typically use either no pad at all or a thin cotton pad. Western pads: For a western saddle, you need a western pad. Most western pads are made from inch-thick (or thicker) synthetic fleece or felt. Many of these pads come in decorative designs. You can also get just a plain white-foam western pad and put a thin Navajo-style blanket on top of it. Whatever type of pad you use, keep it clean by washing it regularly, either in a washing machine or by hand (don’t put it in the dryer unless you want it to shrink). If not kept clean, a dirty pad not only starts to smell bad, but it also is likely to irritate your horse’s back. Buying a saddle the smart way A saddle is a big-ticket item — at least as far as horse equipment goes. That’s why you need to do some homework before you buy. Here’s our advice on buying a saddle: Be certain that you’re comfortable with the discipline you choose before you invest in a saddle. Take some lessons in that type of saddle first to be sure that you like how it feels. Take an experienced horse person with you when you go saddle shopping. You need that person’s expertise to help you make a good decision. Buy your saddle only after you buy or lease your horse, because the saddle needs to fit the horse you’re riding. Buy the best saddle you can afford, because you’re making a long-term investment. Spending money on a quality saddle now pays off later. Research the brand names of saddles made for your discipline. Contact the manufacturers and ask them about the features of their products. Survey other riders in your discipline to see which brands they prefer. Purchase a saddle with a return policy. You need time to try the saddle on your horse before you commit to keeping it (see the following section for more information on fitting a saddle). This practice goes for used saddles and new ones. Have a trainer or independent saddlemaker inspect the saddletree during your trial period whenever you’re buying a used saddle to make sure the frame is not broken. Make sure the saddle fits your rear end. The seats of saddles come in different sizes, measured in inches (a woman of average size and weight typically fits in a 15- to 16-inch seat on a Western saddle, and a 17-inch seat on an English model). Try sitting in the saddle before you take it home (see the next section for more information). Consider having a saddle custom-made whenever you can’t find a saddle that fits both you and your horse. Although you’ll spend more than if you buy a saddle off the rack, it’s worth the money. Contact a local tack store for a referral to a saddlemaker in your area. English saddles do not include the stirrup leathers, stirrup irons, and girths. You need to purchase these items separately. The purchase of a western saddle always includes stirrups and usually includes cinches; however, you may want to upgrade to a better cinch if the one that comes with your saddle isn’t of high quality. Ensure your saddle fits horse and rider Saddle shopping is more than just finding a nice-looking saddle in your price range. You have to make sure that the saddle fits you and your horse before you commit to buying it. Fitting the horse As far as the horse is concerned, a saddle that doesn’t fit correctly can result in sore back muscles, and a corresponding bad attitude to go with it. Finding a saddle that fits your horse takes some work. Even though saddle manufacturers make saddletrees in different sizes (wide, medium, and narrow), each horse is an individual and may not fit into a saddle that corresponds to the apparent width of the horse’s back. For that reason, when you buy a saddle, take it on a trial basis so you can be sure that it fits. During that trial period, follow the steps outlined in the sections that follow to determine the saddle’s fit and enlist an experienced horse person to help you determine the fit of the saddle. Saddle fitting can be tricky, even for the most experienced riders. The true test of whether a saddle really fits your horse is time and usage. Ride the horse in the saddle over a period of time, and periodically check his back for soreness. You do this by using your fingertips to apply medium pressure along the horse’s back as you move your hand along the muscles on either side of the spine. If your horse flinches under the pressure, he may have soreness from the saddle. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian or an equine chiropractor to check him out. English saddles To determine whether an English saddle fits your horse, follow these steps: Put the saddle on the horse without using a saddle pad. Tighten the girth so that the saddle is comfortably secure. Have someone sit in the saddle with his or her feet in the stirrups. Using a flat hand, slide your fingers underneath the pommel, near the horse’s withers (the rise as the base of neck, where it joins the back). Your fingers should fit comfortably between the horse and saddle. Be certain that you can place at least three fingers between the horse’s withers and the arch below the pommel. Have a helper lift the horse’s left foreleg and pull it forward while your fingers are in between the top of the horse’s shoulder blade and the pommel. As the horse’s shoulder moves, make sure the saddle doesn’t impede shoulder movement. Perform the same test on the horse’s right side. Stand behind the horse and look through the saddle (between the underside of the saddle and the horse’s back). If the saddle fits, you should see a tunnel of light shining through. If you don’t see any light, the saddle is too snug. You likewise need to make sure that the saddle isn’t too long for the horse. The seat panel shouldn’t reach past the main part of the horse’s back onto the loins. Western saddles To make sure that a western saddle fits correctly, follow these steps: Place the saddle on the horse’s back with a one-inch thick (or so) saddle pad underneath it. Tighten the cinch so that it’s snug but comfortable. When you try to tighten the cinch, you may find that it’s too short for the horse’s barrel. Don’t reject the saddle simply because the cinch is too short. If you really like the saddle and it fits, you can always buy a longer, replacement cinch. Meanwhile, borrow a cinch that fits so you can continue to try out the saddle. Have a rider sit in the saddle with his or her feet in the stirrups. Be sure that you can fit at least three fingers between the arch of the pommel and the horse’s withers. Examine the width of the saddletree, or frame, as it sits on the horse and compare it with the shape of the horse’s back. On a horse with a wide back and lower withers, the tree needs to be wide. On a narrower back with higher withers, the tree shouldn’t be too wide. Place your fingers sideways (on a flat hand) between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder to help determine the width of the tree. If the fit is so tight that you can’t squeeze your fingers between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder, the tree is too wide for your horse. If you can put your entire hand between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder, the tree is too narrow. Fitting the rider The saddle has to fit the horse, sure, but it also needs to fit you. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable when you ride. The good news is that finding a saddle that suits you is much easier than finding one that suits your horse. The seats of English and western saddles are measured in inches. If you’re taking lessons, or using a friend’s saddle and you like the feel of it, find out the measurement of the seat. Armed with this information, you can rule out saddles that don’t have the same seat measurement. You can also try sitting in different saddles in a tack shop and take note of which size suits you best. English saddles To determine whether an English saddle fits you, try it out in the store or on the horse, whichever is easier. We think you need try several saddles in the store first so that you don’t find one that fits your horse perfectly but doesn’t work for you. Sit in the seat with your stirrups at the length you prefer and gauge how comfortable the saddle feels. You need to have about four inches of saddle in front of your body and four inches behind it. If you like the way the saddle feels and you take it home to try on your horse, check the fit on the horse’s back first. If it fits your horse, then put a pad under the saddle and take it for a spin to see how it feels. Ask a trainer or other person experienced in English riding to watch you and point out any problems with the saddle that he or she may see. Western saddles Western saddles usually are easy to try out in the store, because they’re often displayed on wooden sawhorses. If for some reason you can’t try the saddle on a sawhorse, take it home and try it on your real horse. Make sure that it fits your horse’s back first. Adjust your stirrups to the proper length. Sit in the saddle with your feet in the stirrups, and judge the comfort of the saddle. You need to have about four inches in between the front of your body and the pommel. Your derriere needs to rest against the base of the cantle but not be squashed against the rise of the cantle. If the saddle appears to fit you and your horse upon initial inspection, get on, and ride in it. After half an hour of riding, it still should feel comfortable.

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Where to Find and How to Buy a Horse

Article / Updated 12-17-2019

Unfortunately, buying a horse is more complicated than going to the mall to pick out a new china pattern. The process is complicated by the fact that you can shop in more than one type of place. The best sources of horses for sale are individual sellers, horse dealers, and breeding and training operations. If you’d prefer adopting rather than buying a horse, rescue groups usually have them available and so does the occasional private individual. In the end, although your horse comes from just one of these sources, you don’t have to limit your search to only one. Check out each of the following horse sources as you conduct your quest, and then settle on the ones that feel right for you. Individual sellers Individual horse owners put horses up for sale for any number of reasons. Some of the better reasons (for you, the buyer) include: A teenage daughter who’s gone off to college and left no one to ride the horse A change in financial situation such that the seller can no longer afford to keep the horse The desire to replace a beginner horse with a seasoned show animal A loss of interest in the hobby If you purchase a horse made available by one of these situations, you can end up with a wonderful animal at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, individuals also sell horses for less positive reasons. Some examples include horses that: Are difficult or dangerous to ride Won’t load into a trailer Are sick or have other medical problems Are mean and dislike people Buying a horse from an individual seller rather than from a trainer, breeder, or horse dealer can be a good way to save money, but you need to exercise caution. Individual sellers often advertise online, in local horse publications, and on the bulletin board at your area tack and feed store. Your trainer may also know of someone selling a horse that is a good match for you. Some of the potential advantages of buying a horse directly from an individual are: Getting a bargain: Under the right circumstances, you can get a really good horse for a really good price. For example, if the seller is attached to the horse yet desperate to sell him, she may charge you much less than the horse is worth if she knows you’re going to provide the animal with a good home. Avoiding the middleman: You’ll probably already be paying a fee to a trainer or other expert to help you find the right horse. However, when you buy from an individual, you also avoid paying a middleman — that is, a trainer who is selling a horse on behalf of a client — which ultimately cuts down on the cost of the horse. Obtaining a history: Horses that come from individual sellers often come with a known history. The seller probably can tell you who owned the horse before, what type of work the horse did, whether a mare produced any foals, and more. This information is important, because it helps you get a feeling for what the horse is all about, and if you end up buying the horse, you’ll know something about your new charge. When you know absolutely nothing about your horse’s background, any problems that come up can be frustrating. Conversely, buying from an individual isn’t always the best way to go. Some of the potential disadvantages of buying a horse directly from an individual are: Time-consuming searches: Calling around and visiting horses for sale one at a time can take a great deal of time. Unappealing personalities: If you deal directly with individuals, you may find yourself face-to-face with personalities that are less than appealing to you. You may even run across people who are downright dishonest and try to pull the wool over your eyes, an uncertainty that can add to the frustration of horse shopping. Burgeoning prices: Although you may find a great bargain when looking to buy from an individual, you also stand to pay more for a horse from an individual than you would through a horse dealer, especially if the individual is in no hurry to sell the horse. When you’re thinking about buying a horse from an individual, be sure to bring an experienced horse person with you to see the animal. A person with experience can ascertain any obvious behavioral problems the horse may have. If the horse passes muster in terms of its behavior, a veterinarian can determine any medical problems during a checkup. Horse dealers You can find horse dealers in most areas that have an active horse industry. Horse dealers typically purchase horses at auctions or from individuals and then sell those horses to others at higher prices. In essence, they’re the middlemen of the horse-buying world. You can get a good horse from an honest horse dealer. Most horse dealers are experienced horse people who know how to judge a horse’s disposition, quality of training, and athletic ability. If a trainer or horse expert is helping you with your search, ask whether he or she can recommend a reputable horse dealer. Don’t approach a horse dealer without a recommendation from someone you know well and trust. Horse dealers are much like used car dealers: Some are ethical; others aren’t. Some horse dealers will sell a horse with a guarantee that states you can return the horse within one year for another one if the horse develops medical or behavioral problems. The trouble with this type of guarantee is that, most people understandably become attached to the horse and don’t want to return him to the dealer for fear the horse will end up going to the slaughterhouse. Breeding and training operations Horse breeders and trainers routinely sell horses to individual buyers. In fact, selling horses usually is a large part of their business. Breeders typically deal in purebred horses and sell young stock. The weanlings (horses between 4 and 6 months old) and yearlings (1-year-old horses) most often available from breeders aren’t suitable for a first-time horse owner because they’re so young. However, breeders occasionally offer older horses for sale, possibly a retired show horse or a broodmare that has been trained for riding. Trainers are often good sources for older, trained horses — the kind you need to be looking for. The horse that's for sale may be one with only basic training that the trainer purchased and then schooled to a higher level. The horse may even belong to a trainer’s client, and the client has outgrown the horse, so the trainer has taken on the task of selling the animal. Sometimes, a trainer wants to sell off a lesson horse to a private owner. When healthy and sound (free from lameness), former lesson horses can make good mounts for beginning riders, and for that reason, you need to consider them when you shop. If you’ve taken lessons from and intend to continue working with a particular trainer after you have your own horse, consider buying a horse directly from your trainer. After all, you’ve been working with the trainer, and he or she knows your skill level and personality and may have a horse for sale that is perfectly suited to you. Your trainer can also network with other trainers to help you find the best horse. As with anything else that you buy, the seller’s reputation is important — especially when dealing with breeders and trainers. If you don’t know the breeder or trainer, ask for referrals and find out what other horse people in the area know about them. Make sure that the business or individual has a good reputation before you get involved in any business dealings. You want to make certain you’re dealing with someone who is honest about the horse you’re buying and won’t stick you with a lemon. Horse shows If you are working with a trainer who is helping you find a horse to buy, a trip to a horse show might be in order. If your trainer knows other trainers who are showing at a local event, you can go with your trainer to take a look at one or more horses that may be available. Your trainer will do most of the talking in a situation like this, but you can learn a lot about a horse from watching him at a show. All the commotion of a horse show is a real test of a horse’s disposition. Plus, if you are looking to buy a horse you will compete on, getting to see how the horse looks and acts in the show ring is invaluable. Adoptions You don’t necessarily have to purchase a horse to acquire one. You can adopt a horse for nothing or for a minimal fee through several avenues. Although we like the idea of horse adoption, we want to caution you that it isn’t always the best way to go when you’re a first-time horse owner looking for a horse to ride. Some horses that are available for adoption make great riding horses for beginners, but others are not suited for inexperienced riders. If you want to pursue this option, do so with your horse-shopping expert in tow. Be honest with the rescue about your limited horse experience. Also remember to be rational and critical, the same way you would if you were buying. Don’t take a horse home that isn’t right for you just because he’s free or because you feel sorry for him. If the relationship doesn’t work out (and chances are that it won’t), the results can be disastrous not only for you but also for the horse you’re trying to help. The following sections take you through different kinds of horse adoptions that are available. Rescue groups Horses are beautiful, noble creatures, but sadly, life sometimes deals them a bad hand. Neglect, abuse, and death at the slaughterhouse are problems that plague horses in today’s society. Many people around the world are sensitive to the suffering of horses, and have banded together to help remedy the plight of these horses. The result is a bevy of private rescue and adoption groups that save horses from unfortunate situations. Many of these groups rehabilitate horses and then place them up for adoption. Some rescue groups simply give the horse a quiet place to live out his life. Rescue groups that rehabilitate horses and place them for adoption are the ones you need to explore when you want to adopt a horse. Some of these groups take former racehorses (usually Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds), retrain them for riding, and then adopt them out or sell them at reduced fees. Others simply rehabilitate rescued saddle horses and try to find new homes for them. Before you consider adopting a horse from a rescue group, research the organization. Visit its facilities to find out as much as you can about the group’s work. If the people who run the organization seem responsible, organized, and professional, then pursue the adoption process in the same way that you would when buying a horse. And as always, be sure to have an equine trainer or other horse expert with you when deciding to take on a horse — whether you’re buying or adopting the horse — and have a vet check the horse’s health. You can also ask to take the rescue horse on a trial basis, because most responsible rescue groups have an open return policy on any horse they adopt out. In fact, many rescue groups insist that you take the horse for a trial period while they retain ownership. Some groups even send out inspectors to spot-check your property to make sure that you’re properly caring for the horse. In many cases, the rescue group asks you to sign a contract stating that you must return the horse to the group if and when you decide you no longer want the animal. Wild horse adoption The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regularly rounds up wild horses living in undeveloped regions of the country (mostly in the western U.S.) and places them in holding pens. These horses are put up for adoption at BLM facilities in several states; just about anyone can take one of these horses home for a nominal fee. On the East Coast of the United States, wild ponies rounded up from the Chincoteague and Assateague Islands off the coast of Virginia are also available for adoption in the spring. Only young foals are adopted out, and they are sold by auction. Wild horses are beautiful animals with a wonderful, historical past; however, because these animals have lived their lives with virtually no human contact, they’re generally not suitable for first-time horse owners. Adult wild horses need extensive training before you can even handle them. Young foals are easier to work with, but they’re years away from being ridden and usually too much for a beginning horse person to handle. If your dream is to adopt a wild horse, don’t fret. After you gain considerable experience riding and handling horses, you can always pursue that goal. When that time comes and you want to adopt a wild horse through the BLM, you need to meet certain government-established criteria before you’re allowed to take ownership. You must Provide a minimum 400 square feet (20-feet by 20 feet) enclosure per horse Be at least 18 years of age or older (or have your parents’ cooperation) Prove that you can provide adequate feed, water, facilities, and humane care for the horse The government has specific rules about the types of facilities in which these horses can be kept and charges an adoption fee of less than $200 per horse. Free horses Once in a while, people find themselves in a situation in which someone wants to give them a free horse. Horse giveaways occur for a few common reasons: An owner doesn’t want the hassle of selling the horse. An owner is primarily interested in the horse going to a good home. A horse is such a big pain in the neck that no one will buy him. Unfortunately, the last reason is most common when it comes to free horses. Any beginning rider who takes on a horse that is so difficult or so unsound that no one will buy him is looking for serious trouble. Just because a horse is free doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to fit all the same qualifications as a horse that you’d buy. If someone offers you a free horse, and you want to consider him, jump through all the hoops you would if you were buying: Bring a trainer/expert with you to help evaluate the horse, have a veterinarian examine the horse, and take the horse out on trial basis. You may be wondering why you need to go to all this trouble when the horse is free. It seems as though you have nothing to lose because you aren’t paying anything for him, right? No, wrong! After you take possession, all of the horse’s problems become your problems. And if you’re like most people, you’ll become emotionally attached to the animal and suddenly face some difficult decisions if the horse turns out to have serious behavioral or medical problems. If you’re hoping to save a few bucks by taking any old free horse that someone offers, you are being penny-wise and pound-foolish, as the saying goes. Don’t forget that the initial cost of purchase is not what creates the greatest expense in horse ownership; the training, housing, and veterinary bills make up the larger part of those costs. If you end up with a problem horse, those prices you pay become even greater.

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Horse Bodies: Know Good Conformation from Bad

Article / Updated 12-17-2019

A horse that has a better build, or conformation, is the one most capable of doing the work humans ask of them. If you take time to study a horse’s structure and anatomy, you develop an eye for what horse people call good conformation. Horses with good conformation are the ideal for most horse people. The following sections tell you how to spot both good and bad conformation. Normal conformation Before you can spot the abnormal (covered in the following section), you need an idea of how a horse with normal conformation looks. When viewing a horse’s legs from the front, drop imaginary line from the top center of the leg (at chest level) down to the ground. The centerlines on the legs of a horse with good conformation essentially split each leg in half all the way to the ground and appear to be parallel with each other. Do the same thing when looking at the foreleg from the side. In your mind, draw a line from the top center of the leg all the way to the ground. A horse with good conformation has a centerline that splits the leg to the level of the fetlock (the horse’s ankle), and then falls to the ground just behind the heel. (See the figure for front and side views of straight legs.) When you view the hind leg from the side, imagine a line from the back of the hindquarters to the ground. In a horse with good conformation, this line runs along the back of the cannon bone to the bulbs of the heels. (See the following figure to check out correct hock angles. The hocks are the elbows of the back legs). Although these lines and angles may sound like a lesson from geometry class, they’re important indicators of the effects of concussion, the impact of weight on the ground as it’s felt through the horse’s legs and hooves when it moves. A horse with proper leg angles is able to absorb the concussion more effectively and efficiently, thus placing less stress on its joints than a horse with the wrong angles. A horse with good angles is more likely to stay sound and healthy into old age than a horse with poor angles. Conformation faults No horse is perfect. Every horse — just like every human — has some physical characteristic that is less than pleasing to the eye. In horses, these conformation faults may not only affect the appearance of the horse, but also the horse’s ability to function properly in its work. Just because a horse has some conformation faults doesn’t necessarily make it a bad horse; however, being aware of those faults can help you know your horse’s limitations. Ask a vet, trainer, or wise horsy friend to help you learn to spot these faults. Leg faults are a common problem for horses and can cause performance and health troubles. Spotting conformation faults in horses helps you anticipate a horse’s potential troubles. Here’s a list of some typical leg conformation faults that can affect a horse’s health or ability. You can learn to recognize them by sight. To spot these, view the horse when it’s standing still and alert: Base narrow: Base narrow is the exact opposite of base wide (see next item). When viewed from the front, the distance between the imaginary centerlines of the legs is narrower at hooves than it is at the chest, meaning they tend to point inward from top to bottom. This construction occurs in wide-chested horses and tends to go with toed-in or toed-out hoof conformations. Horses with base narrow legs carry more weight on the outsides of their legs, which means that bruising, sidebone (where cartilage in parts of the foot become bony and hard), and arthritis commonly occur in these horses, affecting the outside of the leg regardless of whether the horse is toed-in or toed-out. Base wide: When viewed from the front, the centerlines of the legs of horses with base-wide conformations are wider at the hooves than they are at the chest, meaning they tend to point outward from top to bottom. This fault tends to show up in narrow-chested horses and usually goes hand-in-hand with toed-out hooves. As a result of this construction, the horse carries more weight on the inside of the leg, so the hooves tend to land on the inside first, creating more strain on the inside of the leg. Horses with this conformation are more prone to problems on the inside of the leg such as bruising, sidebone, and arthritis. Bowlegged: The centerlines of the legs of bowlegged horses, when viewed from the front, arc outward at the knees. If the bow in the legs is severe, the horse may be more prone to developing arthritis in the knees. Calf knee: The forelegs of calf-kneed horses appear to bend backward at the knee, when viewed from the side. When asked to work hard, horses with this problem may suffer from chip fractures of the knee. Knee-sprung: Knee-sprung horses, which also are described as being over at the knee, have forelegs that appear to bend forward, when viewed from the side. If the problem is severe, the horse is prone to developing issues with the sesamoid bone, with resulting lameness. Knock-kneed: The legs of horses that are knock-kneed, when viewed from the front, have knees that appear to come together. If this construction is severe enough, it can cause arthritis in the knees. Sickle hocks: With sickle-hock construction, the horse has too much angulation of the hock and stifle. Sickle hocks are the opposite of being straight behind, and can result in arthritis of the hock if severe enough. Straight behind: The straight-behind build means the horse has very little angle to its hock and stifle. Horses that are straight behind are much more prone to hock arthritis and locking kneecaps. Toed-in: Also called pigeon-toed, this conformation fault results in hooves that point toward each other. The legs usually start to turn inward at the level of the fetlock but may start as high as the point where the leg meets the chest. This conformation causes the hooves to paddle, or swing outward while moving, creating interference between the legs and possible injury. Toed-out: Also known as splayfooted, toed-out hooves point away from each other. Similar to toed-in conformation, the toeing out may start at the fetlock or higher up the leg. Horses with this problem tend to wing, or swing inward while they’re moving. Sometimes the hooves can wing in to the point where they hit each other.

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