Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What is that?: The things I now own that are still a mystery to me.

Elizabeth's tack trunk which she built with her father.
As a new horse mom you hear about all sorts of gadgets that someone assumes you have but that honestly you've never heard of and you wouldn't know what it was if it fell in your lap. So I thought I'd try to make a list of some of the things we've bought, what they are intended to do and whether or not we got very much use from them. I'll mention some things you vaguely recognize like saddles but tell you the tidbits that somewhat surprised me.

1) Saddles are sold without stirrups and girths. After you buy a saddle you need to get stirrup leathers which are the leather loops which hang from the saddle and hold the stirrup. Buy good leathers. These take the bulk of the wear and tear from daily use and need to be in good shape. You need stirrups. There are lots of options on the market. We didn't get too gimmicky. We bought basic stirrups for dressage and safety stirrups for jumping. The safety stirrups have a thick rubber band called a peacock that attaches to the outside of the stirrup with little leather end pieces. The point of safety stirrups is that the peacock will break before the rider's leg in case of emergency whereas a basic stirrup has steel on the outside.

2) Bridles come in many forms. Some are sold with reins though pretty much every time we have bought one with reins we have bought a separate set of rubber reins which my daughter prefers to ride with. Bridles do not come with bits. Your trainer will be helpful in determining which type of bridle and bit to choose. Bridles are sized by small pony, pony, cob, horse or large horse. These sizes are not always consistent from one brand to another so tack shops are very good about letting you try things on your horse and return them if they don't fit. The basic bridle is called a caveson. Dressage bridles have a flash noseband which is a second loop of leather that goes around the horse's nose below the bit. Figure 8's are often used by eventers and have a lower nose band and another one higher up than that of a caveson. The newer Micklem bridles have a more fitted strap around the jaw rather than a throat latch, a nose band below the bit and are designed to work with a horse's anatomy. Bit's come in inch sizes. The size corresponds to the measurement across the bit inside the cheek pieces. Our pony was a 4 1/2 and our horse is a 5 1/2 or 5 1/4, depending on the bit. There are literally hundreds of bits out there. You need to work with a trainer to determine which type is best for the horse you ride and the sport you pursue. We use a different bit for jumping than we do for dressage.

Quizz donning 5 point breast plate, Dalmar XC boots, safety stirrups,
Micklem bridle, Wonderbit and Mattes pad over an all purpose pad
3) There are lots of specialty reins, martingales and other specialty items out there. Here are the basics.
  • Standing Martingale - this piece of tack has a loop of leather that goes around the horse's chest and has straps connecting it to the girth and the noseband. It basically prevents the horse from lifting it's nose way up in the air.  We used these on the ponies at the hunter barn my daughter used to ride at and they are used in jumping classes but not in flat classes. I think. Don't quote me as an authority on that. I can tell you they are not allowed in dressage or eventing.
  • Running Martingale - this piece of tack is similar to a standing martingale but rather than attaching to the noseband, there are two straps at the front which attach to the reins. It is also used to keep the horse from throwing his head too high. These are often used by eventers when jumping.
  • Breastplate - this is a piece of tack used primarily to hold a saddle in place when jumping.  It shouldn't be necessary if a saddle is well fitted but it looks cool and if you are taking huge jumps it's probably a reasonable piece of tack to use. They come in 3 points and 5 points. 5 points look cooler. Just Sayin'.
  • German Reins or German Martingale - similar to other martingales this is a loop of leather which goes around the horse's chest, has a strap connecting it to the girth on one end and two straps at the front. Different than a running martingale, the two straps on the German martingale loop through the bit and connect to metal rings on the special reins. These are a training tool and help encourage the horse to work with his head down, raising his back and bringing his hind legs under him. They are considered less severe than side reins (see lunging equipment) and are not used in show situations.
4) There is a whole world of boots for horses and apparently we need all of them. I'm resisting but we have already bought quite a few. The equine brands do a great job of marketing so you think you need more than you really do. Here are a few types that come to mind:
  • Bell Boots - these are short little boots, usually made of rubber, which cover the hoof. Horses generally wear them on their front feet though I have seen them on the hind as well. The purpose is to protect the front hooves and especially the shoes of the front hooves when the horse is "tracking up" during movement. Tracking up refers to the hind leg coming forward toward the front leg and sometimes horses over track. If they over track (or overreach) you have some issues to work on but the bell boot falls over the heel just enough so that the hind hoof connects with the boot instead of pulling off the front shoe. We put them on our pony but we actually only put them on our horse during Cross Country.
  • Polo Wraps - these are long, narrow lengths of fleece with velcro at one end. They are wrapped around a horse's legs to provide a bit of warmth and protection during flat work. Honestly, they really aren't used all that much these days. You would never want to use them while jumping or out galloping in case they came undone and tripped the horse. They come in fun colors and patterns and it is easy to make your own. The real value in using polos is in getting practice with wrapping. Wrapping a horse's legs is a delicate process. Pony Club introduces polo wrapping early on as a means of teaching wrapping with something simple the kids can handle before tackling stable bandages.
  • Brushing Boots - these are protective boots used during any type of work. We use the neoprene Woof Boots which come in lots of fun colors and are reasonably priced. We use them on the front legs when lunging and on all 4 when jumping.
  • Open Front Boots - open fronts tend to be more expensive and are popular with jumpers. They have a hard core and are very protective of the sensitive parts of a horse's lower leg but they leave the front portion open. The theory is that you want your horse to feel the pole or the jump as they go over if they aren't tucking up enough. If you put too much protection on their leg some people think they won't really care about brushing and dropping a pole on a jump course.
  • Cross Country Boots - these are super protective. Cross Country obstacles are solid so if your horse's legs hit them, it will hurt. We bought a pair of Dalmar boots for our horse which is a bit over the top but I was so very very glad we did. At my daughter's first show with Quizz they had trouble at the 4th or 5th fence which was a table. I was in the next field but I could hear the hard plastic of her boots hit the jump. The horse was totally fine. The boots did their job. Once Elizabeth was certain Quizz was OK they continued on course and finished a solid round. This is a pair of boots I would buy again. I had thought we didn't really need such fancy stuff at the lower levels but if it protects the horse while she and my daughter are making mistakes together then it is well worth it.
  • Shipping Boots - these are tall, padded boots that protect your horse during transport. They are super awkward for the horses to move in. Our pony hated them. We don't always use them but if the horse is going to be in the trailer for more than an hour we like to do what we can to protect her from herself. The trailer is safe but if she kicks or if we have another horse in the trailer, anything could happen.  
  • Hoof Boots - there are actually many different names for these boots but none really distinguish them sufficiently from other types of boots. We call them sneakers or Quizz's tennis shoes. Most often these shoes are worn by barefoot horses when they go out on a trail ride to protect their hooves from rocks and sticks. We recently bought a pair when Quizz had a hoof bruise. Our vet pulled her shoe so she wore one of these boots for a week during turnout so that she wouldn't have to stay in her stall all day.
  • Soaking Boot - this is just what it sounds like. You buy a size that will fit on the horse with a bit of space left over for the water or whatever it is you are using to soak the hoof. We used one to soak Quizz's hoof and try to tease out an abscess.  I've seen taller versions which people use to soak or ice a horse's legs after hard work such as a big cross country run.
Quizz modeling the 1/4 sheet I made for her from a blanket
called a Chappy Wrap
5) I wrote an entire post on blanketing but I think it is worth mentioning a few of the blanket types you might consider buying.
  • Sheet - a sheet could be anything but there are basically two kinds. First is the stable sheet which is just a thin layer to be worn inside or in the trailer. They can be cotton or wool or anything really. Then there are rain sheets which are, in theory, waterproof. There are also dress sheets which just implies you keep it relatively clean and only use it when going somewhere and trying to look good, sort of like a cocktail dress or pretty high heeled shoes.
  • Stable Blanket - really the same thing as a stable sheet but this one is soft cotton or wool and makes you think blanket. Baker blankets are very popular items in the equine wardrobe.
  • Medium or Heavy - these are insulated like your North Face winter coat. They can be waterproof or not. Heavy or Medium refers to the weight of the fill inside. If you plan to use it for turnout be sure to find one that is waterproof. They can come with high necks or you can buy neck covers to attach to them.  
  • Irish Knit - this is a cotton netting blanket that is great for a wet horse. You put it on a sweaty horse after heavy work or a wet horse after a bath on a cool day to keep the horse a bit warmer during drying. It also absorbs some of the water.
  • Fleece - just like the human version, a fleece is just another layer. Every brand is different but most of the fleece layers are pretty thin. They're great because they don't cause as much blanket rub (the hair on a horse's shoulders and chest can get rubbed off from the pressure of blankets).
  • Surcingle - this is the name of the weird hooky things on the side of most blankets that connects the webbing around the belly to the hook on the side of the blanket.
6) Rope Halters and nylon ropes with "poppers" on the end are tools used in natural horsemanship. The rope halters have knots on them that use natural pressure points to encourage the horse to work with you rather than against you. The popper end of the lead rope can be "twirled" to encourage the horse to move in the direction you determine. We have found the use of natural horsemanship and these tools to be very valuable.

Quizz being lunged with Pessoa and Surcingle
7) Lunging is another area filled with gear. You can lunge a horse with a bridle, lunge line and whip. But there are other tools out there as well.
  • Lunge Line - a lunge line is a long, flat line made of cotton or nylon with a clip on one end which attaches to the horse's head via a rope halter or a lunging caveson. It is sort of like a leash and keeps the horse connected to the person lunging.
  • Lunging Caveson - this is a leather halter that fits like a bridle and has metal rings on the noseband for connecting the lunge line and training tools.
  • Surcingle - not to be confused with the connecting mechanism used on many horse blankets, this surcingle goes around the horse's belly and can be used to connect other tools to the horse for training.
  • Side Reins - these are leather straps designed to connect from a saddle or lunging surcingle to the Caveson or bit. I personally don't know how to use them so have no better explanation. The purpose is to encourage a horse to keep his head down, use his core and bring his hind end under him.  They can also be used under saddle but the saying goes that anyone who is actually qualified to use side reins doesn't need them. Still, they can be a useful training tool.
  • Pessoa - in addition to being a brand of saddle, this is a rope contraption that resembles a torture device. It connects to the bit and surcingle and has a soft tube that sits at the back of the horse's hind end. We use this on our horse and it has been great for her rehabilitation. It encourages her to stretch her head and neck down and to bring her hind end forward under her body. With this device her canter transitions engage her hind end much more. It has helped us build up her strength and the muscles on her top line. This is all good.
  • Lunge Whip - these are much longer than even a dressage whip with a string on the end and are used to drive the horse on the lunge circle.
  • Carrot Stick - this is a shorter whip than the lunge whip with a longer string on the end. Carrot sticks are often used in natural horsemanship. My daughter prefers this to a lunge whip because it is much easier for her to manage.
8) Then we have all the grooming tools.  
  • Curry - plastic, used to loosen dirt and hair
  • Pulling Comb - metal, best with a long, wooden handle, used to pull a horse's mane (rather than cutting the mane to the desired length, you can actually pull the longer hairs from areas where the hair is too thick)
  • Flick - long bristle brush that flicks the dirt up from below the surface
  • Hard and Soft Brush - pretty much what they sound like!
  • Hoof Pick - metal hook with a handle used to pick dirt, ice, sand, etc. out of the horse's hoof. I like the kind with a brush on the other side so you can brush and pick at one time.
  • Cowboy Magic - fabulous conditioning gel that makes it possible to brush a horse's tail
9) Saddle pads are all about personal preference. Size, thickness and materials used in construction are the important factors.
  • All Purpose Saddle Pad - this is the rectangular pad most people use under their saddles. We like the kind with moisture wicking fabric on the underside. The pad should be big enough that the saddle doesn't sit on the horse anywhere there isn't a pad and small enough so that it isn't in the way of the girth.
  • Dressage Saddle Pad - these are much larger since dressage saddles have longer flaps.
  • Hunter Saddle Pad - these are sheepskin pads shaped like the saddle.
  • Shim Pad - these pads have pockets for shims which can be added to adjust the fit of the saddle.
  • Mattes Pad - one brand of sheepskin pad. They come with or without shim pockets and in full or half pad.  A full pad would go underneath the entire seat of the saddle.
  • Thinline Pad - a thin gel pad that comes with or without shim pockets and in full or half pad. You can also buy them built into the rectangular saddle pad.
  • Back on Track - this is a company that makes products using ceramic technology in its fabrics. The ceramic retains the horse's heat and reflects it back to the horse helping to increase blood flow. We like to use a Back on Track saddle pad to help warm up tight muscles in the winter.
10) Stable bandages are leg wraps used either after heavy work to prevent swelling in the legs or after injury to protect the legs.  As the name implies, they are worn in the barn or trailer or while tied after a cross country run. They consist of a quilted pillow like wrap held in place with a firm but stretchy ace bandage type wrap called simply stable bandage. They are also called standing wraps or standing bandages. They can be done with flannel or cotton batting. Everyone has their preference and in the case of injury a vet may have a reason for choosing one type over another.

Elizabeth jumping on Sabrina who is wearing a Quiet Ride
11) Ear bonnets and face masks are items used to protect horses from flies and bugs in the summer. The face masks are made of heavy mesh and stay on all day. They go over their heads and have mesh ear covers. Face masks make a big difference in keeping horses comfortable during summer turnout. Ear bonnets are worn during work. They are usually knit or crocheted and have ear pockets made of breathable fabric. Covering the horse's ears during buggy times can really help them pay attention during work. Ear bonnets are available in fun colors and you can have custom ones made as well. There are also face masks called quiet rides which are lighter weight than the ones we use for turnout. We use them for trail riding in the woods so that the horse doesn't spend the whole ride annoyed by a bug in his eye.

If you take a look at the Dover Saddlery catalog or the SmartPak website you will see there are plenty of items I haven't mentioned. However, this list should help you get a grasp on the basics. There is an endless supply of fun items for the horse obsessed. Equine pursuits are a great choice for gear lovers!

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