Sunday, April 28, 2013

How Do I Get A Horse to Stop Pawing?

Clint, as well as a couple other people, have written to ask how do they get their horse's to stop pawing, which is an issue that has plagued many horses and owners over the years. In the past when I have been asked about pawing my usual response was, "If you get it figured out let me know", because this stymied me for quite a while.

Actually, I have had two horses who had pawing issues. I really don't care, nor respond to a horse that paws when I am entering in the pen or beginning to feed as I just don't see it often enough nor choose to make it a big deal. However, I don't like my horses to paw when they are tied. The reason a horse paws is usually because they are impatient, bored (same thing really) or have some anxiety. It can be associated with pain too, such as a gut ache or colic so you have to eliminate this as a cause.

The reason I don't like pawing when tied and especially when I am saddling is that it shows that the horse is not with you or not paying attention to you. Usually when this happens, I just get the horse's attention or make him move over to distract him. Sometimes as you are moving around getting tack, picking up grooming tools or prepping the trailer, a pawing horse just isn't cutting it.

I feel like I should be embarrased that years ago I tried pawing chains, which may be best described as dog collar like straps with a six inch piece of lightweight chain, which are intended to strap around the horse's hoof at the coronary band so when he paws the chain whip around and make it uncomfortable when he paws. These did not work for me.

I have seen pawing clamps advertised as well. These appear to be "U" type clamps that are placed around the top of the horse's hoof and also designed to make it uncomfortable when the horse paws. I passed on trying these.

One method to try and stop the pawing process is when the horse paws, pick him up and move his feet making it work and then offer him to stand still and tied again.  You want him to get the idea that standing still is a good thing - that's where he gets his rest.  However, the time it takes to untie him and get him moving makes this less effective.  A tie ring that will feed the rope out in a controlled manner can work, so the pawing problem can be addressed much like you would on a horse that can't stand still when tied. 

However, some horses, mine included, will only paw when you are too far away to address it in a timely manner.  For the two horse's of mine who had pawing problems, one of these horse's would usually not paw until I was 30 or 40 feet away doing something else, so I had to resolve this by tieing him and sitting about eight feet away off to the side and behind him with a lunge stick. When they would start to paw I would make a verbal warning and hit the ground with the lunge stick at the same time. This distracted them from pawing by getting attention on the noise I was making. I can't remember how long it took me on the first horse years ago to get him to stop pawing, but the second horse I only had to do this twice, and both times were also helpful for him to learn to stand tied and be patient.

A word or warning - don't start anything with a horse unless you have the time to see it through. I sat on an old tire behind and to the side of my horse, with my lunge stick, and just waited. This actually workd out for both of us....the horse learned to be patient,...we both got a rest,...........and my wife couldn't find me to tell me to do something.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Night Latches on Saddles

I have had a couple e-mails asking me about Night Latches on Saddles and if I have ever used one. A Night Latch is simply a piece of rope or leather strap ran through the gullet of your saddle and provides the rider something to hang onto as the horn of the saddle is tough to grasp - even tougher to hand onto if you have a wide Wade type horn.

The Night Latch got it's name from night riders watching over cattle herds. The rider would sink one of his hands into the night latch, much like a bull rider does on a bull riding rig, primarily so that if he fell asleep he would not necessarily fall off.

Night Latches have use when riding green broke horses as you can wrap your hand around the night latch, palm towards you and your elbow into your side to give you the best chance of riding out a bronc ride.

I have a Night Latch on my colt saddle and would not hestitate using one on any saddle or any horse if I thought I needed it.  The picture at left shows the part you would be holding onto.  I keep it just lose enough so I can rotate it to the other side of the horn, so if I'm riding in a halter using just the lead rope I can flip the lead rope to the other side and change the night latch to the opposite hand.   

I imagine in the old days Cowboys made Night Latches out of ropes, spare leather straps or even a spare belt. The Night Latches I use are from Craig Cameron, who calls his version a Harness Leather Bucking Strap, which is made out of premium harness leather with a quality buckle, visable in the picture at top right, made out of stainless steel I believe.   I had two of them at one time but I loaned one out and haven't got it back yet.  Again, you can use a belt, but you would not be disappointed in this thick harness leather bucking strap.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Riding into Rattlesnake Season

I try to write a annual warning on Rattlesnakes each spring. Much is the same on Rattlesnakes across different geographic areas - such as don't handle Rattlesnakes! - while the predominate species of Rattlesnake may be different across the country, down here in the desert Southwest, we mostly see Western Diamondbacks, Prarie Rattlers and sometimes in the rocky, mountainous areas Rock Rattlers, which are usually much smaller (and harder to see). 

When temperatures begin to warm in April, the rattlesnakes come out of hibernation. They remain near the den entrance for a few days to a couple weeks, hunting at night then moving off usually no more than a few miles from their winter dens.

During the mornings Rattlesnakes will seek the Sun to warm up, moving to shade for the hotter parts of the day, then back out into the Sun at the end of the day before moving off to hunt at night. In periods of higher winds blowing sand and dust, Rattlesnakes will seek protection as they have no conventional eye lids to protect their eyes.

It is a old myth that Rattlesnakes will always rattle if you are close, and always rattle before they strike. Often the first horse and rider, and maybe even the second will pass, before a Rattlesnake may rattle, which is an attempt to warn you off.

A Rattlesnake's young are born alive. The female Rattlesnake doesn't reproduce every year, usually just once every two to three years. An average Rattlesnake litter is anywhere from 4 to 10 babies, usually born as early as late June/early July through as late as September. Born, on average, around 10-12 inches long and without a rattle, only a button, the baby Rattlesnakes are fully venomous and are more dangerous than an adult Rattlesnake since they do not control the load of venom they inject, cannot rattle to warn you off, and are much smaller in size and harder to see.

Rattlesnakes acquire a new rattle each time they shed their skin, called molting. Sometimes this can happen a couple times a year, therefore number of rattles is no indicator of age.

Horses, because they investigate things with their head and nose, are often bitten on their muzzles. One of my horses, years ago, was bitten on the corner of his cheek and jaw which I attributed to his fast but not quite fast enough spook. Being bit on the nose can be life threatening as there is the possibility of the nasal passages swelling shut and cutting off air supply so the horse cannot breath.

I carry a 10 inch length of plastic tubing (nasal-gastric tubing is best but some people use sections of garden hose) so I can keep the air way open is my horse is bit. Ensure that the ends are beveled so as you insert the tubing into the horse's nostrils you won't cut his soft tissue up. Vaseline can be used to coat the tubing. I carry pieces of tubing lightly coated with bag balm and vacuum sealed in a small bag and placed into my saddlebags. If there is a substantial length of time between when the horse was bitten and you accessing some tubing, the nasal passages may be too swollen to emplace the tubes,...or they may not swell very much at all depending upon the amount of venom injected. In any case,...repeat, in any case call your Vet and get him/her enroute to you. I would not hestitate giving any of my horses a dose of banamine, but I suggest if you keep Banamine on hand then to get the advice of a Vet before giving it to your horse.

This will make some reptile lovers mad, but if I encounter a Rattlesnake fairly close to where livestock or people are,....I kill them. If we are far away from civilization, I leave them alone. Last year I did not even see, let alone kill, even one Rattlesnake and I averaged two rides into the desert a week. The year before that I saw and killed two and the year before that 4.

There is a Rattlesnake vaccine available for horses. I have not given it to any of my horses, and don't believe I will in the future. But it is an option. I believe it requires a series of three shots followed by boosters every six months.

Chances are that most people will never encounter a rattlesnake, but there is always the chance, so be careful and have a safe ride.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Equine Neurological Diseases

The only experience I have had with horses and severe neurological disease was with a horse brought into the stables I was managing, and while in quarantine the horse became symptomatic for and diagnosed with West Nile Virus (WNV). This was around 2004 when WNV was spreading throughout the southern United States.

This particular horse, a flea bitten colored grade gelding, was not in the best condition coming into quarantine as he was bought from the local horse auction where most of the horses went to the killer market. After several days in quarantine this horse started showing signs of severe lethargy, walking stiff and having balance problems. Almost falling over when he tried to turn around. This makes you heart sick to see a horse in this condition.

Other symptoms of West Nile could have included: muscle twitches or tremors; behavior that appears to be depression - pushing head into a wall or fence; tongue sticking out seemingly paralyzed.

We got a Vet in to take blood and it was confirmed that the horse has WNV. We weren't too worried about infection of the horses in the main barn since WNV is transmitted by mosquitoes, with symptoms appearing in a horse 5 days to two weeks from when bitten/infected and the barn was mosquitoe free. I also had bug people from the hospital set traps just to make sure.  Plus WNV cannot be transmitted from one horse to another. Still, the fact that our quaratine was 300 yards or more from the main barn and arenas was comforting.

So the only thing we could do was provide supportive care....Bute, Banamine, and placing water buckets at various levels so the horse could drink easier. I also put bucket loads of sand in a quarantine stall we moved him to in case he fell over, which would not be uncommon to a WNV positive horse.

This horse actually recovered. I hauled him to a family with two young boys who adopted him and were eventually team roping off of this gelding.  There is a even chance this horse can live asympamatic the rest of his life.  

This bulletin, below, came from Western Horseman advertising a television presentation on Equine Neurological Diseases. You can receive e-mail notifications from Western Horseman as well through contacting Western Horseman at

Equine neurological diseases have been on the rise over the last few years. Last year, 618 equine cases of WNV were reported, up from 87 in 2011. And in 2011 the infamous EHV-1 outbreak that started in Utah caused significant nationwide concern. Do you know the signs or what to look for if you suspect your horse may be affected? Join us for a one-hour presentation on what you can do to protect your horse from these devastating diseases.

Neurological Diseases: How to protect your horse. On RFD-TV • Monday, April 15, 2013 • 8 p.m. ET.

The show will be broadcast live from Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Weatherford, TX with an in-studio audience. Our experts will discuss:

• Preventing horses from contracting WNV

• Importance of biosecurity to protect against EHV-1

• Diagnosing signs and risk factors of EPM

• Additional neurological diseases

Sponsored by Merck Animal Health, the show features leading experts to answer questions from the studio audience, including:

Joe Manning, D.V.M., M.B.A. Equine Technical Services Veterinarian, Merck Animal Health

Chris Ray, D.V.M., Dipl. ACVS Owning Partner, Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery

and, Reese Hand, D.V.M., Dipl. ACVS Associate, Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Reins to Bit Connections

Austin wrote to say, "I found your site the other day and I have already read a good portion of it. I have read few horse blogs from time to time and I have found yours to be one of the best. You have some very good info and interesting opinions. Mostly though it is your approach that I really like. Anyway I was hoping that you would way in on what if any effect using metal rein clips vs something that doesn't vibrate like slobber straps. Does it bother the horse or affect command input? Or anything else that comes to mind. Thank you and don't squat with your spurs on. - Austin"

Thanks for your comments and the advice about squatting with spurs, Austin. I have done some dumb ass things in my life, but I have yet to impale my butt with a spur rowel.  Even when I was young where I would often hear my Pa say "Boy, you're so smart you must have two brains, the size of a pea and the other a little bitty thing."

Back to your question,.....I don't know if I'm that concerned about vibration, or noise for that matter, coming from metal snaps connecting reins to the bit. I think the biggest reasons people would use metal snaps to connect reins to a bit are that many reins they buy already have them as an attachment, and it is also a matter of convenience.

I would think that the weight of metal snaps connecting reins to a bit would serve as a preparatory signal as the reins are started to be picked up changing the feel of the weight of the bit to the horse. I think that slobber straps serve the same purpose. Look at the picture at top - right showing reins connected to a snaffle bit using metal snaps.  Notice that the reins are loose and the weight of the metal snap allows them to hang down with loose reins.  Once these reins are began to be picked up the weight shift of the metal snaps on the snaffle can be felt by the horse through the bit in his mouth.  So the weight change of the connecting metal snaps hanging down when the reins are loose, then going horizontal as the reins are picked up, would probably be less evident if the rider had really quick hands.    

While I have some reins with snap connectors of various types, they do have springs which eventually get oxidized and sticky, or the spring strength weakens or gets dirty - all of these impacting the integrity of the connection, but fixable with some routine maintenance - a small brush, maybe a can of compressed air and a drop of WD-40 would fix most connector issues.  I wouldn't try to clean my metal snaps with a can of compressed air while they were hooked to the bit in a horse's mouth, though....just saying....  In the picture above you see reins attached using snaps to a curb bit.  In the photo on left the rider has a little contact with the horse and as the reins are picked up the slack in the reins is taken out and the horse begins to collect.  I think the weight provided by metal snaps aids in the subtle signals to the horse.  By the way, that's my lovely wife on the other end of the reins and one of her horses, Charlie, above.

Slobber straps, in the pictures at left are normally used with round reins, like rope reins, or a mecate (also called McCarthy reins), and of course are less quicker to change out than reins with metal snaps. But I prefer slobber straps when I can use them.  You can see in the picture at far left the Slobber Straps are handing down with a loose rein.  Once the reins are picked up, the Slobber strap goes horizontal changing the weight on the bit, which is evident to the horse, so again a preparatory command.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Going Bitless?

Over the last couple of years I have had several people write me with positive comments about riding in a Hackamore or riding bitless like I am some throwback to the pre-industrial age.  And while I have been accused of being a cave man by my wife,... for the record, I have nothing against bits.  I used to ride my primary horse, Junior, in a broken bit with short shanks that some people call an "Argentinian snaffle" but is really not a snaffle because it had shanks, and of course shanks provide leverage.

Junior will never again be ridden in anything by a Hackamore since he cut his toungue several years ago, and while his toungue is fully healed, I just don't have a need to use anything else with him.  In the picture at top left, I am holding a hackamore on the left and on the right, a bridle with a snaffle bit.  In the picture below, on the left I am holding a broken bit, with shanks - this is what some call the Argentinian Snaffle but it is not really a snaffle at all.  The true Snaffle bit is on the right. 

So I am not going bitless with Junior because I have something against bits. In the past I have used several different types of bits. I think excellent horsemen can actually use the differences in bits, of which some are large differences and some just subtle. I ain't one of them.  Years ago I gave up using a correction bit on a horse when I figured it out that I didn't know what I was trying to correct in the first place.

Bits, even spade bit and sliding gag bits, are not by themselves dangerous. Same as a gun,...just a tool. But any bit in the hands of someone who just doesn't know how to use it or is heavy handed, it can hurt a horse and probably ruin him to a bit, or at least have that horse expecting the worst from people when a piece of metal is shoved into his mouth.

Some people believe, me among them, that horses can get stale riding them in the same bit, so the occassional switch to a hackamore or a different bit can be a good thing, as long as you are fair and judicious in using it.  

If your horse is soft in the bit or rig you ride him in and he does what you ask him to, without bracing or head tossing, then there is nothing to say you ever have to ride him in anything different. Some people can get by in a snaffle bit all their life. Throw in a good hackamore with that and I'm one of those people.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sharps Carbine as a Saddle Gun

I was asked recently "what I thought of a Sharps Carbine as a Saddle Gun?"

The Sharps Rifle and Carbine are great rifles with a lot of history particularly in the Old West, replacing muzzle loaders and providing a greatly extended range for hunting which made the Sharps Rifle a favorite of Buffalo hunters. The picture at left is the excellent Uberti reproduction of a Sharps carbine, priced at $1,739.

The Sharps is a single shot rifle, using a lever much like a lever action Winchester, to drop a locking block and exposing the chamber to load a cartridge. The most common chambering or cartridge for the Sharps is in .45-70 also called .45 Government.

In 1874, after 700 Comanche warriors attacked approximately 30 buffalo hunters in the Texas panhandle, at a place called Adobe Wells, the buffalo hunters situated here held off the Comanches for 4 days until re-enforcements arrived. This is the famous fight where Billy Dixon made a reported 1,000 yard+ shot on a Comanche Warrior using his Sharps, believed to be in .50-110. The Comanches warriors were killed at ranges they thought they were safe at.

The Sharps rifles are commonly in 32 to 34 inch barrels, although I have one in a 29 inch barrel length. The Sharps carbine has a 22 inch barrel. Weighing in at around 10.5 lbs, and being a single shot rifle, the Sharps carbine may not be the best saddle gun depending on your need to carry a rifle. Even the U.S. Cavalry carrying a similar type carbine, the single shot Trapdoor Springfield, would primarily use their six shot revolvers or sabres before using the carbine on horseback.

More sources for the Sharps rifle/carbine:

C. Sharps Arms Inc.

Shiloh Sharps Rifles

Cimarron Firearms Company

I have never carried my Sharps rifle on horseback. I prefer a lever action, repeating rifle such as the Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 or a Marlin Model 1895 in .45-70. However, many did carry the Sharps or Springfields while in the saddle, sometimes using the saddle ring to secure the gun with saddle strings, which I'm sure gave way to carrying the rifle horizontally between the rider and the swell of the saddle.