You maintain your car. You maintain your home. You maintain yourself. So, what do you do to maintain your horse? Some people think it stops with shoeing and worming, but the truth is, there is a lot more that should be going into maintaining your horses to keep them performing at their top level.
I grew up on a cattle ranch so to us, our horses were tools, not pets. Like expensive machinery, we did the maintenance on them to keep them working properly…they weren’t always the prettiest, but they worked well.
Today, I take a little better care of my horses. Afterall, my horses are not just tools anymore…they are my trusted companions that I have put countless hours on so that together, we can go out and win checks.
Once you find a horse that you like…one that fits you and one that you can win on…one that makes your job easy, you want to keep them around for as long as possible. Here are some tips on how to keep your horse in tip-top shape:
Be Consistent With Your Farrier
I used to hear old cowboys say, “The foot makes the horse.” And really, if you think about it, it can’t be more true. You’ve got 1,000 + lbs running on those feet, so they better be in good condition. When I was growing up, my dad shod all of our horses. He used to tell me all the time, “Marry a farrier so that I don’t have to do this anymore!” Well, I didn’t marry a farrier, but I do put a lot of value in my farrier.
Just like with anything, you get what you pay for. Tire kicking for the cheapest farrier probably isn’t going to guarantee that you get the best shoe job. Trust me when I say, anyone can nail on a shoe…that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be done right.
A poor shoe job can cripple your horses. A hot nail or a bad angle can ruin them and cost you a lot more than an extra $30 would for a farrier that knows what he/she is doing. Find a farrier that you can trust and then stay on the schedule. Most horses require new shoes every 6 weeks. Some can go a little longer to 8 weeks, while others need to go in every 4 or 5 weeks. It really just depends on your horse.
Worming And Vaccinating
Worming and vaccinating is very important. I am horrible with schedules, so I actually set a reminder on my phone. I also have a tendency to ignore my reminders, so I set the reminder to come on every day for a week…it usually annoys me to the point that ignoring it no longer becomes an option.
Growing up in the mountains and in a much colder climate, we only used to worm our horses twice per year, the spring and fall. But, now that I live in the much warmer and humid climate of Texas, I worm 4 times per year.
We also only used to vaccinate with an 8-way vaccine once per year. I now vaccinate twice per year as the warmer, more humid climate tends to generate more mosquitos and the fluctuation in the weather/temperature can really be hard on your horse’s immune system.
***DISCLOSURE*** I am NOT a veterinarian! Always consult with your vet before starting any vaccination and/or worming regime.
Diet And Exercise
I feel like this one that so many team ropers get wrong…myself included. Every horse is different, so knowing your horse is VERY important when it comes to diet and exercise. My horses are turned out on a large pasture, but in the winter I supplement them because the nutrients are not as good in the grass. Some horses can get fat just by looking at grass, while others need a little help. The harder you are using your horse, the more nutrients they require…just like all athletes!
Keeping your horses legged up is essential to their performance and longevity. Just like with all athletes, you have to train to perform and so do your horses. You risk injuring your horse if you pull them out of the stall once a week and then rope 30 head on them. I see a lot of people advertise horses as, “pull him out of the pasture after 3 months and go rope!.” That’s a nice selling point because it means you probably won’t end up in the dirt, but the fact of the matter is, you probably shouldn’t be pulling your horse out of pasture after 3 months and then roping cattle on him. That’s just setting you up for injuring your horse. You wouldn’t sit on the couch eating bon-bons for 8 months and then go out and try to run a marathon, would you? Don’t ask your horses to do the same.
In a recent conversation with Jake Barnes he told me that,”…everyone likes their horses to look fat and pretty. But have you ever seen a fat racehorse?” He mentioned that he likes his horses a little leaner and in really good shape. “It has to be hard for the horse, trying to perform to the level expected of the rider, when you aren’t in the best shape!”
Moral of the story: get to know your horses and what works for them. Provide them with a diet that gives them enough nutrients to be able to perform well and keep them in good condition by exercising them regularly.
This is something I think a lot of horse owners don’t think about until there is a problem. Usually they take their horse to the vet, he looks in the mouth, sees a problem and fixes it. But just like with humans, routine dentistry will help keep your horse in top condition and will help them perform to the best of their ability.
Imagine that you have a molar in the back of your mouth that has a sharp hook on it. Every time you chew, it cuts into your cheek. Now, let’s up the ante. You have a piece of metal in your mouth and someone is tugging on it, trying to make you move this way and that way. You move in whatever direction provides relief, even if it’s not the way that the person in control wants you to go. Sounds pretty painful, right?
Horses with teeth issues not only don’t perform well, but they also can’t eat and absorb nutrients properly.
Make sure that you have your horse’s teeth examined AT LEAST annually, if not biannually. Your horse will thank you!
I am a FIRM believer in chiropractic care for my rope horses. They are running full speed down the arena and towing cattle behind them…they are stopping hard and taking hard jerks from the horn. Routine chiropractic care can help ease a lot of those aches and pains that they can develop over the years.
I keep going back to these scenarios, but you really have to put yourself in your horse’s shoes (no pun intended). We all know what it feels like to move furniture. You are lifting a lot of things that are heavy and it’s hard work. The next day, your back is sore, your legs are sore…you are just sore all over! Now, imagine that someone tells you that you have to move that furniture again…and again…and again. You are too sore and you just can’t do it.
Your horse can feel the same way! Maybe he stops pulling, or gets bad in the box, or quits stopping hard. Maybe he even starts bucking. These are things that are very common issues with rope horses, and a lot of time it can be solved by routine chiropractic care and regular exercise.
I like get my horses worked on at least a few times per year. When you see them go slack and they just relax, you know they appreciate it.
We don’t give our horses a choice to work or not. We just expect them to do what we ask them to. Most of the time, our horses LOVE their jobs…but occasionally they get sore and go on strike. It’s even worse when you have one with such a huge heart, that you never know they are hurting until it’s too late. By keeping our horses on a routine maintenance program, we can eliminate a lot of those aches and pains and keep our horses in their top condition!
There are a lot of ways to maintain your horses. Everything from the basics of vaccination and shoeing, to vibration plates and equine spa therapy! The point is, we rely on our horses to give us a good trip every time, so just like our vehicles, we need to take care of them!