The Secrets of a Horse

The Secrets of a Horse - www.theessentialhorse.com

Years ago I had the pleasure of being trained by Linda Tellington-Jones and her sister Robyn Hood in the art of the TTouch method.

The Tellington TTouch helps to relieve tension, fear of contact, soreness or discomfort and transforms nervous, spooky or resistant horses and improve attitude and behavior. With TTouch your horse will enjoy learning and cooperate willingly. TTouch has been used extensively to speed healing and recovery from injury and illness in horses and in all animals, including humans. – From the TTouch website (http://www.ttouch.com/whyTTEAM.shtml)

It is an amazing program that encompasses the horse physically and mentally and gives the owner tools to help even the most difficult horse. One of these tools is a book called “Getting in TTouch, Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality.”

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This book discusses how “your horse’s head is a major expression of his personality.” She goes through the profile, the jowl size, the muzzle shape, the length of the mouth, the shape (or non-shape) of the upper lip, the chin, the nostrils, the size of the eye, the placement of the eye, the size and placement of the ears and the swirls found on the horse’s head and body. It’s a very interesting book and I’ve found it to be spot on. Years ago my mom and I went through our entire herd of horses (which was quite a few horses, Thoroughbreds, a Percheron, Arabians and miniature horses) and found the descriptions to be exactly like each of our horses.

I got the book out the other day when people were commenting on the two swirls on Sky’s forehead after I shared a picture of her getting her teeth floated.

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LOL! Poor Sky. She would be horrified if she knew I shared this picture.

Anyhoo… I wasn’t surprised when I went through all her features. In fact it just supported everything I already know about her. But going back over these things and having them fresh in my mind is always helpful!

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Profile: There are 10 different types of profile.

  • Sky has a straight profile –> uncomplicated and learns easily.

The Jowls: There are 3 types of jowls, large-round jowl, medium jowl, small shallow jowl.

  • I think for her head size she has a medium jowl –> average ability to learn. (Sometimes there are a few conflicting things, but when you are done you will get a good clear picture of your horse’s personality.)

The Muzzle: There are 7 types of muzzles.

  • Sky has a square muzzle –> tends to signify a stable, uncomplicated nature.

The Mouth:  There are 4 types of mouths.

  • I think Sky has a medium mouth with fullness in the area at the top of the mouth –> indicates a stubborn streak. Avoid getting into fights with such horses, as it will only make them more resistant.

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The Lips: There are 10 different types of lips!

  • Sky has a heart shaped lip –> this indicates an expressive, curious and extroverted character… Oh Boy is she!!!
  • Mobile upper lip –> curiosity and the physical need to have contact with humans – sometimes mouthing them for example.
  • Complex lip and chin –> indicates a complex character.

The Nostrils: There are 8 types of nostrils.

  • I think Sky’s are large, moveable and open nostrils –> a sign of a nature that is intelligent, interested and eagerly active… yes yes and yes!
  • Shapely nostrils, fluted at the top –> horses that think a lot can have this type of nostril. If the top of the nostril has a well-defined shape and is firm, they’ll tend to be cooperative if a person is fair and confident. TRUE!

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The Chin: There are 7 types of chins.

  • Sky has a complex chin –> indicates a complex character (here is that word “complex” again!)

The Eyes: There are 15 types of eyes!

  • Sky has a medium sized eye –> this indicates average intelligence

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  • Eyes set high, close to ear –> sometimes slow to learn
  • Eyes set on sides of head –> may appear disinterested in their surroundings. May be fearful or shy at things that ‘appear’ suddenly. She absolutely does this and this is also why I think she likes her blinders. They help shield her from the suddenness of things appearing.

The Ears: There are 11 types of ears.

  • Ears set wide apart at the base –> likely to have a good capacity to learn, steady.
  • Broad ear with little definition –> medium learner, cooperative

Her ears do indicate a steady nature. Though she can be quite complex- once she understands something and is confident- she is as steady as they come! This mare drove in many parades andwas the calm, steady one for the younger horses. She drove in winter parades while wearing bells and lights, after which we merrily trotted around the big city of Missoula Montana bringing cheer to the neighborhoods. She drove in the Homecoming Parade in Missoula with the loud blaring music, the fire trucks blasting their horns and kids rushing out to grab candy as she walked by. She was an excellent parade pony.

Swirls: There are 5 types of swirls with some subcategories mixed in. There are swirls on the face and on the body. (Zorro has a big swirl right in the middle of his withers. How interesting!)

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  • Double swirl side-by-side or one above the other –> these horses tend to be more emotional and over-reactive than average. They tend to become upset without apparent reason and at unexpected moments. Generally horses with this pattern are not ideal for beginners.

Boy is this true! As I said above she was a rock star in parades. However she can not handle driving out in the field because it’s something new. She was trained on the roads in our neighborhood so that is where she is calm and confident. I thought having a mowed track in our field would be an easy place to exercise her, in a relaxed setting, but that is not how Sky sees it! LOL!

Some interesting observations… I’ve had several horses in and out this spring and summer and fall. They would cycle into the herd, stay here until they found a home and then cycle back out. The latest one was a sweet mare named Essie. Essie bossed everyone except Bonnie. And she wouldn’t let Sky into the shed when it was raining or snowing. So Sky went off by herself and stood in the other run in shed. Heart breaking really.

About the time I brought Essie home, Sky started getting very crabby. She walked away when I went to catch her, she wouldn’t whinny at me or snuggle with me. She is a kisser and loves to put her nose up and have you kiss it while she blows on your cheek. But she stopped doing this. She had her ears back most of the time, she quit eating her grain.

This past Saturday I took Essie and Captain Planet to their new home. The next day Sky whinnied at me when I came out to feed. She finished her grain all by herself (Bonnie was disappointed as she had been finishing it!) and started putting her nose on my cheek and asking for kisses and scratches! Sometimes we don’t think about how the horse feels when we bring home new horses or sell horses from the herd, but seeing how Sky handled this has been so interesting! She is so calm on the track again, resting often, laying down flat, completely relaxing. AND I was able to tighten her girth TWO holes today! I haven’t driven her for 3 days and she lost an inch? How interesting!! That is proof to me that stress causes them to gain weight. She doesn’t like change. She clearly didn’t like Essie being here. And I don’t think she misses Captain either. (but Zorro does. Poor baby!)

I felt so bad about selling Essie and Captain until I saw how Sky reacted. Now I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t realize how suffocated I felt with 5 horses, worrying about how to exercise them all, what to feed them, what they all needed, how I was going to afford to buy enough hay for the winter! Now, I have more than enough hay to get through the winter and even into spring and summer. What a relief. And my sensitive, ‘complicated’ Sky is happy again. That is the most important.

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I felt compelled to share TTouch with you. Maybe it will give you something to consider for your horse!

 

The Importance of Body Language

My boys and I mowed a nice big track out in one of our pastures. We also made a smaller, oval track to use as a warm up area. I wanted to mow the track because we have a lot of old irrigation ditches, gopher holes and rocks in our pastures and I want to be able to see these hiding in the tall grass. It also gave me a chance to walk it and pick the best route possible.

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Driving on the small track.

The first time I drove Sky on the small track she did very well. We went around one direction about 6 times, then I had her change direction and we went around 6 more times. It was a decent warm up, took us about 15 minutes and she was walking and trotting nicely, so we moved onto the large track. Once we got about 1/3 of the way around the big track Sky lost it big time. She was hopping forward, front feet off the ground, head held high, bouncing along. Then she could she would power ahead and just basically run away with me. Suddenly the mowed track didn’t seem important at all as I managed her emotions by having her do figure of eights and circle, circle, circle. When a driving horse loses it like this you can’t simply get off and do some ground work. It would have been very dangerous for me to try to unharness her when she was incapable of keeping her feet still or even on the ground! So I held on for dear life, nearly bouncing out of the cart a few times, and wishing with all my heart for my independent suspension kit from Patty’s Pony Place!!! And my footman’s loops as my breeching kept loosening and then slamming tight against her butt as the cart bounced around behind her. This didn’t help her mind at all.

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Driving on the large track. She is fine with this part of the track. Where it curves out there by the fence is where she looses her s-h-i-t.

We finally made it back to the smaller track where we went back to work circling, circling, circling. Finally she calmed down enough to walk a bit and cool off some. She was drenched in sweat and foaming a bit between her legs and under her harness. I was sweating myself! I unharnessed her, cooled her down and let her stand tied for a little while.

Onto day two! It was much the same. The warm up went very well, but once we went out onto the larger track and got about 1/3 of the way around it she lost it again. When she starts to lose it her breathing changes and she makes a roaring sound. She gets super high headed and tight across her top line and she won’t listen to the bit at all. I did several one rein stops, basically circling her until the circle got too tight and she would stop, but she was heaving and not relaxed once stopped so we would move again. When she gets right brained – reactive – like this she is not using the thinking side of her brain but just reacting. The best thing I can do to help her is allow her to move her feet, but in a way that changes the pattern. Hence the figure of eights! This causes her to change direction, change direction and change direction all while allowing her feet to move, until her brain turns back on. It took a few minutes and then she was half way listening so we turned around and headed back towards the small track. It was slow going as I had to keep circling and circling her whenever she started rushing.

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On our way back to the small track.

I found the whole thing very interesting and a little frustrating as I had hoped the track would be a relaxing way to exercise her. Not hard on her joints and close to home. It also means I don’t have to put her boots on every time I drive. But it is not the time for that!

The third day I took her back out on the road, where she was calm and connected the entire drive. No rushing, no losing her mind. She walked and trotted and cantered when I asked and was very happy to be out and about!

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Sky happy to be back on the road again!

I had to laugh as I realized that she was happy to be out because she KNOWS what is going to happen when we drive on the road. She is comfortable with road driving because that is where we have spent most of our driving hours. Even her early years of driving where done on the road. Barking dogs, cars, trucks, tractors, all these are fine because she is familiar with them. Toss in a nice quiet mowed grass track and she looses her s-h-i-t. How interesting!

I have also noticed that she likes wearing bells. She is far less reactive when she has bells on as they tend to drown out the other sounds. Sounds of hoof beats off in the distance and sounds of the grass brushing under the cart.

Some horses like to be able to see all around them when they drive. Not Sky. When I restarted her this spring I started in her a halter and she was like a bomb waiting to blow as we drove down the road. When the horses would run up to the fence she would try to bolt, when the birds flew up from the grass or out from a shed alongside the road, she would shy and spin around to run home. When the sunlight reflected off a mud puddle she would spin that travois around SO FAST that sometimes I barely knew what happened! Then I put her blinders on and everything changed. She didn’t spook at the birds every time. She quit being so reactive to the horses along side the road. She barely glanced at mud puddles. Basically, she had her work suit on and it was time to drive! That’s how it is with the bells. What she doesn’t know about won’t hurt her. She likes to live in oblivion. Some horses don’t like that at all and need to see and hear everything.

Years ago we had a Haflinger that we drove and she went best in an open bridle. If you had blinders on her everything that touched her butt was a mountain lion trying to eat her. Without the blinders anything could touch her butt (except maybe a mountain lion!) and she took it in stride.

I guess what I’m sharing tonight is take the time to learn about your horse. Be flexible. Just because you think driving or riding in a bitless bridle is the best thing for a horse they may feel differently. If your horse goes better with the blinders, then drive with the blinders. If they don’t like the blinders, then drive in an open bridle.

Understand their body language and what they are trying to say. It’s especially important with a driving horse as you can’t feel their muscles tighten or their breathing change as well since you are behind them. You may miss some of the more subtle cues they give if you aren’t aware and listening all the time.

Tonight I drove Sky out on the road again. It was raining a bit and very chilly, but she was happy as could be trotting down the road.

When we got to the two track road her head went up some. I paid attention and started talking with her a bit more using my reins. I knew there must be something down in the ravine off to our right so I began to pay more attention over there. Sure enough about 40 head of antelope started streaming up the side of the ravine and off through a fence to the south of us. Sky’s head went up even more as she heard them moving through the grass so I had her stop and watch. She was keyed up pretty good and thought about bolting once or twice but I was able to keep her there with my voice. After they finished moving off she sighed and licked and chewed then turned and walked off. Her head went up a few more times as the stragglers moved off and then a few deer came up out of the ravine as well, but she was listening to me and not thinking about running off. Then when we went back around that same lane she blew out repeatedly, letting go of more of that anxiety.

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Left: Sky relaxed and connected. Right: Her head is up and she is getting worried about something.

When we circled back to the road she was relaxed and trotted happily down the road and then walked home.

These last few days just really got me thinking about how each horse is an individual and if you understand your horse, see things from their point-of-view, it can really help you, to help them, become more calm and connected.

New Comfy Fit Harness Parts!

New Comfy Fit Harness Parts! - www.theessentialhorse.com

Whoot whoot! My new saddle and bridle and a bigger girth (for my very ‘mature’ mare Sky) came in the mail today! I was so excited. I spent quite a bit of time just sitting and looking them over. I brought in my old harness parts and pieced the harness together, put the bit and the reins on the new bridle and just admired it all. Then I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to go out and try everything on Sky!

Our harness is now 90% Comfy Fit Harness! I bought all my pieces from Chimacum Tack. We have:

All we need is the Comfy Fit Breeching, turn back strap, hold back straps and the crupper and our entire harness will be the Comfy Fit harness. I’ve spend the last year and a half saving up money and buying it one piece at a time!

The first thing I bought was the Deluxe Breast Collar because I knew Sky would be so much more comfortable pulling the cart over our rough terrain with that piece of equipment. That was the #1 piece for us!

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Comfy Fit Deluxe Collar

I noticed that she has had some shoulder and wither discomfort lately and I think that’s due to the treeless saddle that was also a bit too short for her. Since she has gotten so much ‘bigger’ much of her old harness just doesn’t fit her very well anymore. I’m not sure it will fit any of my ponies as they are all bigger than Sky! (I like my minis BIG. An oxymoron, I know.) The short, treeless saddle just creates pressure behind her withers and shoulders and doesn’t help disperse the roughness of our terrain. (Though I am addressing this with the independent suspension kit I have on order from Patty’s Pony Place!! Whoot whoot! It’s all coming together!)

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As you can see the old saddle is way too short. I bought the long pad to go under it trying to help her out some and I think it did help! But I love the new long, wrap around style of the Comfy Fit Saddle. It’s also padded all the way down the sides as well!

I love the look of the Comfy Fit Bridle and knew I had to have one for her as well. And of course after I tried everything on her and took her for a short spin around the yard… I put the flowers on the brow band! The blinders are bigger and round. I love how they are cupped so they won’t rub on her eyelashes. The cheek pieces are sleek and lay flat against her face. The nose band is lined and so soft. The back of the nose band is also padded along her jaw line. The poll strap is contoured to fit behind the ears better and it’s also padded and so soft! It’s just a very pretty headstall and fits the miniature horse head wonderfully!

Old bridle on the left and new Comfy Fit Bridle on the right!

I am so so excited about my harness. It looks so beautiful on Sky and will look just as good on Zorro and Essie as well! I am very happy with my choice to have it lined with brown leather. That look is very striking.

Here is a short video of us playing in the front yard! It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to drive Sky so she was full of it!

She is so cute!

My Tiny Horse Track in the Fall

I thought it was time for another horse track post. We put together the track in May of this year. My dry lot is just so big and was growing too much grass this spring. After Bonnie’s laminitis attacks I just didn’t want the horses on ANY grass until I could determine it was safe. And in my opinion, short, stressed grass – like the kind that grows in the dry lot – is never safe. So my boys and I went out and spent an entire day pounding posts and stringing up electric rope.

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The horses have all been on the track 24/7 all summer and they are looking so great! The biggest change is Captain Planet. Because I hide forage all around the track, they are encouraged to walk and trot around with their heads down, looking for goodies. This has improved Captain’s top line immensely!

The photo on the left was taken this spring before I put in the horse track and roached his mane. The photo on the right was taken later this summer after a few weeks living on the track. And I roached his mane! He is looking so great!!

Just a week ago I found out that my friend and neighbor is planning on moving and is re-homing all her horses. I had given her a mare that belonged to my Grandmother so decided to bring her home. There are now 5 horses living on the track, moving and foraging. I am amazed at how Essie is looking after just one week on the track! I will post a before and after once she’s been out there for a month.

We are experiencing lots of rain and snow already here in Montana so the track is muddy. This isn’t slowing anyone down! In fact, with Essie here, they are all trotting and cantering more than usual. They still have their large gravel area so they can get out of the muck and of course the shed offers shelter when the wind is howling.

I am using one of the stalls in my hay shed row as a run-in shelter as well. I have ordered a tarp for the roof and the boys and I will be putting up wood as a wind break. Then I can put some sawdust in there to help with all the mud.

I made a video today to show how everything is evolving. There will be some changes before winter. The snow piles up around the round pen panels so I have to take them out of the track. I will be replacing them with electric rope, where I can, as well as a few of the 16 foot cattle panels. Hopefully we have a bit more time before the big snow settles in!

I would say the track system has been a big hit around here. I know people either love it or hate it… I am in the “love” it column!!

Morning Feed Routine

Every morning the feed routine is the same. I go out and gather up the feed pans. Sky comes over and goes into her little pen and then everyone waits by the gate for me to come back out.

I go into the garage to my feed mixing station and start mixing up their feed:

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  • Captain Planet gets 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of Timothy grass pellets and one scoop of Remission and 2 Tablespoons of ground flax.
  • Zorro gets 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of Timothy grass pellets and 1/2 a scoop of California Trace minerals and 2 Tablespoons of ground flax.
  • Sky gets 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of Timothy grass pellets, 1 Tablespoon of Crypto Aero PLUS, 2 Tablespoons of ground flax and 1/2 a scoop of California Trace minerals.
  • Bonnie gets 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of Timothy grass pellets, 2 Tablespoons of ground flax, 1 teaspoon of Thyro-L and 1/2 a scoop of California Trace mineral.
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I add water to their feed to help with choking and after I put everything in each pan I give it a stir!

The base feed is always the same, 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero and 1/4 cup of Timothy grass pellets. But the supplements change a bit as the summer goes on. I muscle test everyone to be sure they are getting what they need and if they need more or less of something or something entirely different, then I will make the adjustment. Bodies are an ever changing thing and just feeding the same thing all the time may not be helping the horse as their bodies change and adjust to the weather, the seasons, the differing grasses and hay and even to the supplements offered. As mentioned before I always test my hay. I have spent some time and money testing my grass at different times of day and different times of the spring and summer. I need to know what they are putting in their mouths so I can balance everything – as close as I can anyway.

Then I take the pans out – after stacking them in a particular order so I know which pan goes to which horse – and set them out! Everyone waits their turn, they all stand and eat out of their own pan. Which is a good thing since they all get something different! I have to put Sky in the pen because if she is out with everyone she will eat very fast and sometimes even leave her own pan to go boss everyone away from theirs. She causes so much chaos she is just better off in the pen.

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They all stand at different spots depending on where I have set their pan, but they don’t leave their spot once the pan is down! The photo on the left was taken yesterday (9/8/17). We were drowning in smoke. The photo on the right was taken today. We are MUCH clearer! We even have blue sky!

While the ponies are eating their hard feed I walk over to the hay stack and put out the loose hay. One flake for each pony! Then one at a time they make their way over. Zorro is always first, then Bonnie and Captain come over.

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The photo on the left and in the middle were taken yesterday when we were smoky and the photo on the right was taken this morning!

Then I walk over and let Sky out of her pen.

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Photo on the left taken yesterday in the smoke and photo on the right taken today! She has learned to wait patiently. It’s been so good for her!

Sky will wait for me to come back over, she demands that I scratch her belly for a few minutes, then she will wander around and check all the pans for any left overs.

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Then she makes her way around the track to the forage station.

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Each horse has their own hay pile. Zorro often likes to share and all the ponies will let him share with them. Bonnie can be bossy around the hay, but she settles quickly and lets everyone share with her after a few minutes.

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Photos on the left and in the middle were taken yesterday… smoky! The photo on the right was taken today. Blue skies!!

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I love watching them all eat together. Our morning routine is so soothing to me.

The Breast Collar

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Next up on the list of harness parts is the breast collar. There are a few types of breast collars and I happen to have 3 of them! So I’ll go through each and talk about pros and cons.

First up is the regular ‘straight’ breast collar. This one actually has a little bit of a shape to it, it’s not totally straight, it’s narrow and doesn’t have the buckle in traces, but has the sewn in traces. If you have this type and drive over rough ground it’s a good idea to have a breast collar pad. They are just too narrow for my comfort.

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In this photo you can see there is a relative straight line from the breast collar to the breeching. This breast collar was adjusted as big as I could make it. I do feel this harness is a bit too small for Sky since she is such a ‘mature’ mare now 😉 So ideally I would want to drop that breast collar just one more hole. I don’t because I need it to reach back to the saddle and hook on the water hook (or bearing rein hook) as I explain below.

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The photo collage below shows the breast collar properly adjusted, then adjusted too low and then too high!

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Left: Proper adjustment.  Middle: Adjusted too low.  Right: Adjusted too high.

Also pay attention to the neck strap. That is the piece that goes over the neck and holds the breast collar up. This piece tends to carry some weight if there is ANY balance issue with your cart – and even if your cart is well balanced but you drive over rough ground or hit a bump. If you have a breast collar like this the neck strap tends to be narrow and can put a lot of pressure on a skinny spot across the neck causing discomfort. You can actually see this happening. If you aren’t sure, have someone take a few photos or make a video of you driving so you can clearly see that strap. The best thing to do to help your horse is to hook that neck strap back to the water hook on the saddle. You can buy a little leather piece as shown here or simply use a piece of twine! For years I drove my horses with twine tying that piece back. I actually did that because I got so uncomfortable seeing that strap ‘cut’ into my horses neck. Turns out that was exactly the right thing to do! The saddle will help the horse manage the weight that tends to ride on that strap.

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Next up is my favorite breast collar for most every day driving with the proper line of draft –  the Deep V breast collar! This one is from Chimacum Tack and is called the Comfy Fit Breast Collar Deluxe black with the russet leather lining.

In the photo below you can see the relative straight line from the breast collar to the breeching. I love the fact that this collar has the buckle in traces. Once you have buckle in traces you never want to go back!! They are much more adjustable as far as getting them positioned in the shafts just right. This makes them more user friendly.

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The photo collage below shows the breast collar properly adjusted, then adjusted too low and then too high.

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You need to be sure the breast collar clears the point of shoulder but doesn’t cut into the wind pipe. This can take some adjusting to get it just right.

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I love the fact that it has the double strap neck strap. Again the neck strap has a buckle that goes back to that water hook. This keeps in place. The width of the neck strap helps if any extra weight happens to land there. I do all I can with the balance of my cart to assure there isn’t much weight there. Using the correct collar with the correct line of draft is extremely important for the comfort of your horse, as you’ll see soon!

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And from the front. I love the V as it helps the collar sit at the right spot without interfering with the windpipe.

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Okay now we are going to get into the interesting stuff!!! Breast collars were designed with a certain line of draft in mind. When using your typical breast collar, as shown above, you need to have a line of draft that goes from the breast collar relatively straight back to the front of the cart – with the single tree in line behind the horses rear end.

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If you are using a cart that has a low line of draft, with the single tree below the horse’s rear end then you need to use a different collar, the collar and hames. There is a reason they use these collars for hard working horses that are dragging logs, farm machinery, harrows, and/or fore carts. The collar and hames helps the horse manage the lower line of draft by allowing the horse to pull from the chest and shoulders and NOT the neck strap. When you use a regular collar for a low line of draft most of the weight from behind (the weight of you and your vehicle) ends up on that neck strap. Just flip through some photos online and you’ll see the pressure that ends up on that neck strap!

We set up a little experiment here today and harnessed Sky to my sled and put 3 tires in the sled for weight. I didn’t want her to work too hard as we have so much smoke from the fires all over our state, but I did want to show this! It’s absolutely astounding how much weight ends up in that neck strap when driving with the low line of draft.

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My son took the photo on the right right after we stopped moving and you can see how upset Sky is about this set up. She is not shy about telling me when she isn’t happy or is uncomfortable… plus she is in heat right now so she is even more sensitive! I hope you can see the pressure that is pushing down on her neck strap. Watching her try to pull this wasn’t fun. You’ll see in the video below!

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I talked about this issue with several people over the last year. Trying to understand why this happens and what to do about it. When I showed some photos I found to my Handsome Hubby (who went to college for engineering) he knew what the problem was immediately. He explained to me that the weight from the load behind is traveling up the traces and then hits the Y where the breast collar goes around the chest and over the neck. So the weight tries to disperse across BOTH places. It does not just disperse across the chest. My youngest son, who is my photographer and videographer, doesn’t know anything about horses or harnesses or carts (I know. It’s so sad and breaks my heart a tiny bit.) BUT he could see how hard it was for Sky to pull this load. He said her legs were buckling more with the deep V collar than when we switched to the proper collar and hames. It was so noticeable.

Now we’ll see the proper collar for this low line of draft, the collar and hames! My son took this photo immediately after we stopped and she looks relaxed and happy. The draft collar allows the horse to pull the vehicle weight with the front of their shoulders and their chest. When she was pulling this set up she could lean into the collar. When she was pulling with the deep V collar she didn’t feel able to lean in because of the pinching across her neck.

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I see people driving their beautiful marathon vehicles (or two wheeled vehicles) that have this low line of draft and using a regular style breast collar all the time. I am constantly cruising the internet studying driving photos and videos as I feel I have so much to learn. But when I see these set ups it breaks my heart a tiny bit for the horses. When you can visibly see the weight pressing down on the horse’s neck in photos it just starts to seem so obvious! I hope that this post helps you understand why it’s so important to use the correct breast collar or collar and hames based on your vehicle and it’s line of draft.

Here are a few videos to leave you with. Hopefully they will give you something to think about 🙂

I have permission from Patty at Patty’s Pony Place to share this video:

 

 

How to Determine What Length Shaft You Need For Your Miniature Horse Cart

Knowing what length shaft you need for your miniature horse is very important for the comfort and safety of your horse and yourself! It can feel tricky and confusing. I thought it would be a great topic for my blog. I am not an expert by any means so I asked my friend Patty at Patty’s Pony Place a few questions and will share her answers here. I will also share my thoughts and opinions on this as well -because I am nothing if not opinionated!

There are a few different types of vehicles, the easy entry cart, the marathon cart, the hyperbike, the four wheeled vehicle. Then there are the different shaft types, curved shafts, straight shafts, marathon shafts. Because there are many different variables it can feel like there are many different rules. However you can figure out what length of shaft you need by following a few general rules of thumb.

You want your shafts set so your horse is about 12 inches in front of the single tree. -Patty from Patty’s Pony Place

Of course this is a general rule of thumb as there will be variables. Here is a photo Patty shared with me showing a pony with about 12″ from the back of it’s butt to the single tree which is placed higher for the breast plate line of draft:

In this photo there is about 15″ from the back of the horse’s butt to the single tree. This is because the single tree is placed lower for a buggy collar:

34 inch tall mini…about 15 inches from the front of the cart. Shafts level…cart level…hold backs off breeching straight forward to the front of the horse – perfect line of draft with custom placed singletree for collar and hame harness. – Patty from Patty’s Pony Place (The cart in the photo is a custom Cricket cart)

When you look at these two photos you can see why placing the horse further forward when using a lower line of draft is so important.

In the top photo the pony has about 12″ between the back of it’s butt to the single tree. In the bottom photo the same pony has about 15″ between the back of it’s butt and the single tree that is lower to change the line of draft. The pony is 34″ tall.

In the top photo you can see that his length of stride will help dictate where he should be placed in the shafts. If he was only 12″ from the single tree in the bottom photo he would hit his ankles on the single tree when he really trots out.

The 15 inch distance is due to the location of the singletree. Because it is low, we need the couple more inches to account for his hind legs reaching “under’ where the breast plate harness singletree would be.   -Patty from Patty’s Pony Place

Here’s a photo of Sky in her easy entry cart.

She has more than 12″ between the back of her butt and the single tree. It’s probably closer to the 15-18″ mark.

Another thing to think about when cart shopping is quality. The cart I use is from Kingston Saddlery and is made in China. It was $525 including shipping, so very affordable. It’s a well built cart but has a few issues that bother me. One is the placement of the breeching loops. They are too far back making it difficult to adjust the breeching properly. With the loop this far back the breeching is often looser than I would like. When she is actively pulling there will be complete slack in the breeching and even gaping sometimes. I hate that because if we go down a hill or hit a bump the breeching will “grab” her by tightening suddenly. This can be startling to some horses.

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In the photo below I’ve shown where I would like the breeching loop to be. Patty’s husband, Kelly, is the designer/builder of her carts over at Patty’s Pony Place. He also makes adjustable, slide on, breeching loops! I have an order in and can’t wait to share them when they arrive. I will be able to put these loops exactly where I want them on my shafts.

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There was a discussion on Facebook when someone asked where the shaft loops should sit on the shaft, in front of or behind the tug stops. A friend that I met online at L’il Beginnings shared that the shaft loop should ALWAYS go in front of the tug stop as it acts as a back up to the breeching. If the breeching fails the tug stops are meant to stop the cart from running up on the horse’s rear end. That makes total sense! However my shafts have the tug stop positioned incorrectly. And as I went around the internet looking at other curved shafts I noticed that many of them don’t have any tug stops at all as the curved part of the shaft stops the cart from running up on the horse. So another reason to buy quality whenever you can. I went through many of my old photos and noticed that my old straight shaft carts didn’t have a tug stop at all. That is something you can have welded on.

 

Another annoying thing about this cart is that the shafts are not exactly the same length. They are between 1/4″ and a 1/2″ different. I have worked and worked to get them adjusted so the cart pulls nice and straight and also is well balanced. I know that if I could afford a quality cart from Patty’s Pony Place (such as the Cricket or the Scorpion!) I wouldn’t have to work hard to balance the cart at all. A quality cart will have shafts that are the same length, and adjustable(!!) as well as be easy to balance and will not cause fatigue to the pony pulling it. It will also offer a nice ride. My cart is comfortable on the gravel roads, but I like to go off road a lot and it’s a bit of a rough ride then. I have also ordered a suspension kit from Patty and will share that when I get it as well!

The shafts on my cart are curved shafts. They are adjustable as far as width goes. I just loosen the two bolts on one side and the two bolts on the other side and then I can adjust the shaft width. This also helps with the balance of the cart.

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My shafts are 53″ long. I have the curved part of the shafts just behind her shoulders for balance.

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Here are is a photo of shafts that are too short:

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Too short and what is going on with the shaft loops being so high? This was on eBay and was advertising the harness. Even if the pony was forward in the shafts they would be too short for him. This is probably a goat cart.

And a photo of shafts that are too big:

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These shafts are too long and too wide for this particular mini. You don’t want the end of your shafts sticking out past the shoulder like this. It’s so easy for them to hook a rein and panic.

Hyperbikes are a different story.

Three basic shafts are available :

  • A shaft is 48″ long and features a bend down. It is generally used with equines measuring from 28″ to 32″.

  • B shaft is also 48″ long and is a straight shaft. It is used on equines measuring from 33″ to 37″.

  • C shaft is 56.5″ long and features multiple bends to provide a natural 4″ rise in the shaft set. This shaft is used with equines measuring from 38″ to 44″. -straight from the Hyperbike website

With the Hyperbike your horse is positioned right in front of you. Their butt is within arms length of you sitting in the seat. The single tree is under the front of the seat.

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This mare was 36″ tall. The end of the shaft is still at the shoulder here. If they were shorter they would jab her in the shoulder when she turns. If they were longer she could hook the rein and could possibly jab herself in the neck when turning.

I think technically from the back of the mare’s butt to the single tree under the seat is 12″. It just looks different because of the placement of the horse!

Marathon shafts are different in that they have an enclosed end of shaft. You need a different shaft loop to attach to the marathon shafts and the end of the shaft will end at the saddle, not the shoulder. Typically marathon carts have the lower line of draft meaning they are not meant to be pulled by a breast collar harness AND the distance between the back of the horse and the single tree will be a bit more – 15″ or a little more. Also horses will be galloping when hitched to a marathon vehicle so a little more room is a good idea so they won’t hit their hind legs on the front of the cart.

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This marathon vehicle is a Frey.  You can read more about it HERE.

Another closed marathon shaft:

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This horse seems a bit close to the front of the cart to me. I would prefer a bit more room personally.

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Galloping through water and turning at the same time. The shorter shaft length, ending at the saddle allows for more shoulder movement. The shafts are typically wide at the back as well to allow the horse to really move it’s hind end from side to side which helps it corner better. This is also a Frey carriage.

Hopefully this post helps answer the question of how to determine the length of shaft you need for your miniature horse. If you have any questions or something to add feel free to ask in the comments or email me!

Nicker Nickels!

I found out about Nicker Nickels on Facebook when a friend shared them. I was immediately interested as I am always looking for healthier treats for my ponies. I loved these because they are a nice size, but soft enough to break into smaller pieces. This enables me to know exactly how many treats they are getting and to make one treat stretch over a session. (Since ponies can count I know that one piece of treat just won’t cut it most days!)

They do have molasses in them so I don’t give them to Bonnie but everyone else LOVES them! Surprisingly my ponies are very picky when it comes to treats. There have been quite a few different treats I’ve tried and they just spit them right out. These ones they ate right away!

Nicker Nickels – The Elite Training Treat For Your Horses

These are the faces I see when Zorro thinks I have Nicker Nickels…

“Please give me a Nicker Nickel!! Please please please!”

I just love this nose.

I think your horses will love these treats too. Head on over to their site to order some!

The Bridle

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After my last post there were a few questions about different parts of the harness so I thought I would do a post about them! I’ll start with the bridle.

As I stated in my last post I like to have only one wrinkle at the corner of my horse’s mouth. When I was in 4-H I was told to have 3 wrinkles and I remember the judge checking that! But I was told by an old cowboy friend to do that to myself and see how it felt. It didn’t feel good so I started having only one wrinkle or if the horse will allow, no wrinkle. (No wrinkle means the horse really has to hold the bit. When the bit is this loose they can get their tongue over it and that is very painful for the horse!)

The photo on the left is a close up of one wrinkle. Then I took a photo a bit farther back so you can see how the bridle looks. Not too loose and not too tight!

Photo on the left shows 2-3 wrinkles and a bridle that is much too tight. Not only is the bit too high in the mouth but it would be very difficult to get the horse’s ears into this bridle without bending them in half. You do have to slip the ears into the bridle but needing to cram them under it by bending the ear means everything is just too tight.

I like there to be a bit of space between the corner of my horse’s mouth and the bit. I don’t like the sides of the bit to touch the corner of the mouth.

This bit is from Chimacum Tack and is the 4″ bit. However when you measure it with a soft tape it measures 4 1/4″. Her old bit measures 4″. Even that little bit mattered! When I put this bit in her mouth she completely stopped chewing the bit and was less reactive when turning.

Here is a video of how I bridle Sky:

The horse’s eye should be in the middle of the blinders. Not higher and not lower. This can be tricky to adjust and sometimes you need to put a hole in between the holes on either the upper part or the lower part of the cheek pieces. When we were adjusting this harness for Sky many years ago we realized that Sky’s eyes are actually set quite high on her face. We hadn’t really noticed that before!

You can see that her eye is exactly in the middle of the blinders!

In the above photo you can see that her eye is too high inside the blinders. This means the upper part of the cheek strap needs to be tightened up! But if your bit is sitting just right and you have to tighten the top strap to adjust the blinders, then you need to adjust the lower cheek strap down one hole so your bit doesn’t get too tight.

Hopefully this cleared a few things up for those that had questions. If it brought up more questions please feel free to ask!