They  Shoe  Horses,  Don't  They?

Ben  unloads  another  load  of  horse  poo.

Copyright  ©2015


Horse lovers are stable people.

One of the last things I ever thought I’d write about is horses. Actually it’s not that foreign a topic since I’ve already written a book about dogs (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dog Care), and horses are similar to dogs in several ways: they can be trained, bathed, petted and groomed; and they will often come to you when you call them. They are not at all like cats, and thank goodness for that. Cats are snobby, finicky, disrespectful little shits who would rather lick their butt than be seen with you. For more information on these annoying little creatures see my book Cats. (Hey, this is my book, so I’ll self-promote if I want.)

I wrote this book because my ex-wife owned a horse while we were married. I started writing it around 2004 (I’m not sure exactly when because my mind was in a haze from all the domestic violence). She pulled me into her hobby so that we could share this wonderful experience together. Never mind that she didn’t involve herself in my hobby (drinking); I had to go to horse shows and help her schlep equipment and risk my life getting on some huge animal’s back because if I didn’t, then I was the worst husband in the history of Man.

Not that I’m bitter. I’m very glad that she broadened my horizons by teaching me about horses. Before we met, I couldn’t tell Seabiscuit from Limp Bizkit. Now I know the difference: one is sweaty and smelly, and the other won a bunch of races.

She also introduced me to the horse community. Yes, there is a whole subculture of trail riding and parades and barns and pastures and hay and outdoorsy people and stores that sell horse-related equipment. Before I found out about all these, my recreational life consisted mainly of beer and cable. Anyway, all her free time was spent with her horse, and my friends used to ask her how she could spend so much time with and get so close to such a smelly, hairy animal. She would always tell them, “Oh, Ben’s not so bad.”

So join me now as I do the literary world yet another injustice by jotting down a bunch of personal views and calling it a “book”.

Chapter 1


A man goes into a bar. Barack Obama is on TV. The man yells, “There’s a horse’s ass.” A guy gets up and punches him. A while later Nancy Pelosi comes on. He yells, “There’s a horse’s ass.” Someone else punches him. He asks the bartender, “Is this Democrat country?” The bartender says, “No. Horse country.”

It has been said that horses sweat, men perspire, and women glow. This is just an attempt to euphemize our bodily functions and, if we’re not careful, it could lead to statements like “You’re glowing buckets.” What does this have to do with horsemanship? Nothing.

Archaeologists tell us that the earliest ancestor of the horse originated on the North American continent more than 60 million years ago. (They also tell us that we evolved from fish, so we might ask ourselves how stupid they think we are.) It was a four-toed creature about the size of a fox. It disappeared from North America about 10,000 years ago, and was reintroduced thousands of years later when the Spanish came to conquer. Many religious people vehemently disagree with this theory because they believe that Earth was created less than 10,000 years ago. (Of course, these people also believe that they can get into Heaven by believing absurd doctrines and claiming to be spiritual while hoarding money and cutting us off in traffic.)

In 1915 there were 20 million horses in the U.S. They were used for farming and for both civilian and military transportation. Then came the combustion engine. Cars, tractors, trucks, etc steadily replaced horses, and by 1960 there were fewer than 3 million of them. (I hope the same happens to lawyers, who right now are about as rare as air molecules.) The past half century has seen a resurgence in horse popularity. Now mainly pleasure rather than work animals, there are upwards of 8 million of them in the U.S. The magnitude of this number is illustrated by the following comparison: there are more than three times as many horses as there are federal government workers. And they’re more productive.

Horses have been extensively used as military vehicles throughout history. For example, Attila the Hun’s army swept across Europe on horseback defeating opposing armies. Attila’s warriors were so skilled that they could ride bareback at full speed and, at the same time, fire off volleys of arrows from over or under their horses’ necks. Their only aid, other than powerful legs and exceptional balance, was a loop of braided or knotted mane through which they might thrust an arm. Contrast this with my riding abilities: I can barely remain upright on a saddle with my feet firmly planted in stirrups. The inability to ride horses is very characteristic of my people. This is why there was never an Attila the Jew.

Chapter 2


The Queen was showing the Archbishop of Canterbury around the Royal Stable when one of the stallions close by farted so loudly that it couldn’t be ignored. “Oh dear,” said the Queen, “how embarrassing. I’m frightfully sorry about that.” “It’s quite understandable,” said the Archbishop. After a moment he added, “As a matter of fact I thought it was the horse.”

The first thing we should do is see what a horse looks like and learn the names of the body parts.

Who made up these body part names? Words like poll, croup, stifle, gaskin, fetlock, cannon and pastern don’t exactly make me feel comfortable. Even worse are the words used to describe horse colors and patterns. Instead of familiar words like brown, green and plaid, horses are described as roan, overo, bay, sorrel, dun, sabino and tobiano. They don’t even sound like colors – they sound more like the seven Mexican dwarfs.

For the first year of life, a horse is referred to as a foal. From birth to two years of age it is called a yearling. A young female is a filly and a young male is a colt. A female senior is a mare. An adult male is a stallion, unless he’s been castrated, in which case he is a gelding. A man that’s been castrated is called a husband.

A horse’s height is measured as the distance from the ground to its withers, which is the part of the spine where the neck meets the back (it sticks up a bit from the rest of the spine). Head height would not be a good way to measure because the animal can raise or lower its head, whereas the withers is stationary. Also, measuring at the withers tells a rider how high he’ll have to climb in order to mount. The unit of measurement is the hand, which is four inches. Hand fractions are denoted by following the number of full hands with a decimal point and the remainder of inches, e.g., a horse that’s 63 inches tall is 15.3 hands, not 15.75 hands as would be the case if true fractions were used (63 inches is 15.75 hands). Thus you’ll hear people say, “My horse is fifteen three.” How they came up with this system is beyond me. I suppose if you don’t have a tape measure, the width of your hand can be used as a unit of measurement, but not every hand has the same width. For example, vigorous use has caused Pee Wee Herman’s right hand to be bigger than his left.

Convention dictates that riders mount horses from the left side. Hence the left is called the “near” side and the right is referred to as the “off” side. This practice started thousands of years ago when warriors would leap on with a sword in their right hand. The custom has carried over to automobiles: the driver’s seat is on the left so we can get in without spilling our beer.

Horses have several types of locomotion, called gaits. There are more than a dozen but I’ll list only the basic ones here. The slowest is the walk, in which the animal puts one foot down at a time, thus making it a 4-beat gait. The order is diagonal: 1) near front, 2) off hind, 3) off front, 4) near hind. The trot is a 2-beat gait in which the legs move in diagonal pairs, i.e., near fore and off hind in unison, then off fore and near hind in unison. The canter, also called the lope, is the most natural horse gait. It consists of 3 beats: 1) one hind, 2) other hind and opposite fore, 3) other fore. The gallop is the fastest movement. The feet hit the ground one at a time as the animal runs at top speed. Racehorses gallop around the track. Well, most of them do. If I bet on a horse, it suddenly develops palsy and crosses the finish line during the following race. In fact, the horses I bet on have three gaits: trip, stumble, and fall.

Various factors make a horse use a particular gait. For example, a horse trots at 7-8 mph. When it gets to about 11 mph, it switches to a canter because the metabolic costs of the trot become too great. Another factor is horse breed. For example, certain breeds have been selectively bred to be fast walkers. Called gaited horses, they can go pretty fast using the 4-beat walking gait. (Gaited horses are explained more fully in chapter 4.) Still another locomotive factor is motivation. For example, a horse gallops away when ordered to by its rider or when it sees Newt Gingrich.

Horses have thin, tight skin that’s sensitive enough to detect flies even though it’s covered with hair. Special epidermal muscles enable the animal to wiggle its skin in order to chase flies away.

Here is how to check a horse’s vital signs. First is temperature. Lubricate the tip of a thermometer with K-Y or petroleum jelly and insert it into the anus (the horse’s, not yours). About two inches deep is all that’s needed. I recommend making the horse stand still and holding onto a string tied to the thermometer in case it goes all the way in or falls out. The temperature should be in the 99-101.5° range. If it’s over 103°, the animal is probably ill and you might need to call a veterinarian. Next is the pulse, which should be between 30 and 44 at rest for an adult and up to 58 for a foal. The best place to take it is the inner surface of the groove under the lower jaw. Last is respiration. This is the number of breaths the animal takes in a minute. It should be between 8 and 16.

A horse should get yearly veterinary check-ups because it might develop a weird condition that only a vet can find. For example, hyperkalemic periodic paralysis is an inherited disease that some stock horses get. Muscle fibers leak potassium into the horse’s blood, which can cause muscle tremors, weakness, convulsions, cardiac arrest and death. There is no cure, but seizures can be prevented with medication. Horses, like dogs, enjoy being petted (stroked, not patted). Shoulders, neck and sides are good places to start; the face and nose should be petted only after the animal has become familiar and comfortable with the person petting it. Horses are very big and strong, so it is not necessary to be gentle with them.

One way in which horses differ from dogs is that the former are prey animals while the latter are predators. As a result, horses spook easily: a loud noise or sudden movement can scare a horse unless it has been “despooked” by repeatedly exposing it to disturbing stimuli. Horses’ first instinct is flight, not fight. Their motto is “Run first, ask questions later.” Sort of like the French. Also, horses cannot see an object that’s directly in front of them unless it’s at least several feet away because, like most prey animals, a horse’s eyes are located on the sides of its head and point laterally in order to provide a wide field of vision so it can detect predators such as wolves and OJ Simpson.

Chapter 3


Cowboy’s motto: “Don’t squat with your spurs on.”

I know it’s a bit early to discuss this topic, but I will start referring to the different types of riding in the next chapter so now would be a good time to learn what they are.

Trail riding is simply riding for pleasure on a trail. It’s a nice, non-competitive pastime that every horse owner should do. Your horse loves to ride along a trail, and going on a group ride can be a lot of fun because you’re socializing with like-minded people.

Hunting used to mean fox hunting. In the olden days a group of rich people would use a pack of dogs to track a fox and ride after it on horseback, and the animal would end up dead from being either ripped apart by the dogs or shot. How manly and respectable those people must have felt! Anyway, it is now against the law to do this to an animal, but the sport is still practiced without an actual fox, which is kind of like playing soccer without an actual ball.

Cutting refers to working a herd of animals (cattle, sheep) by using the horse to make them all go in a certain direction or to separate one or more from the rest of the herd. The only time most of us even see cutting, let alone do it, is when we’re watching sports and a cheesy beer commercial shows a bunch of tough, sweaty men herding cattle. Afterward they all drink swill. Then ignorant consumers delude themselves that they actually identify with these rugged outdoorsmen, when in reality they are fat CPAs and plumbers who spend the better part of their weekend in front of the TV.

Sitting in a cart being pulled by a horse is called driving. It takes a special type of training to make a horse drive. Just like with people, some horses are lousy drivers. Especially female and Asian horses. Combined driving is a competition in which each driver is pulled by one, two, or four horses, and they compete in three events: dressage (pronounced dre-SAHJ), which is a prescribed compulsory test of movements driven from memory in which reinsmanship, obedience, style and other factors are judged; marathon, which is a 22-kilometer course that involves trotting, walking, and some obstacles; and cones, in which the rider negotiates the carriage between cones without touching them.

Eventing is a competition that encompasses three types of riding: show jumping (or simply jumping), cross-country, and dressage. I don’t like eventing because 1) people take credit that belongs to the horses, and 2) I suck at it.

Show jumping involves completing an obstacle course wherein the horse jumps over stuff (fences, water, walls). A woman often wears a black jacket. A man wears a red jacket which, together with his helmet and boots, makes him look like Sergeant Pepper.

Cross-country is sort of like jumping, but it’s more complicated. There is a wide range of obstacles. You might jump off something with your horse landing in water, or jump out of water over a log. Some jumps are sited in awkward positions: at the top and bottom of steep hills, angled across slopes, etc. Some horses and riders fall and get injured or killed, and for this reason I think the sport should be outlawed. This might seem hypocritical when I don’t call for the elimination of other dangerous sports such as NASCAR, but you have to remember that in NASCAR people actually want to see competitors get killed. At least I do.

Dressage is an English form of horse movements. The aim is to execute a series of fairly simple yet difficult movements extremely well. It’s like ballet for horses. You’re judged on how you make the horse do various walks, turns and pirouettes. Personally I think they’re all a bit silly and useless unless you want to teach your horse to square dance. Dressage is very difficult to do, despite the fact that it looks totally gay. You must have style and grace in order to score points, which leaves me out because I possess about as much style and grace as a penguin doing the Macarena. The horse must be agile and supple, know a lot of movements, and obey the rider. Rider outfits are sort of eccentric: top hats, dress jackets and white gloves. This is the kind of attire you’d expect to see on someone holding the door for you at a hotel. It’s probably a holdover from the Victorian era, when snotty rich people who could afford horses acted all hoity-toity. Anyway, dressage is unique in that it is the only sport where a large percentage of the top competitors are middle-aged women. (They might be middle-aged, but riding gives them shapely asses! They look great in britches. Plus, those toned buttock muscles give them certain talents, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.) It requires more skill than strength or conditioning, so in this sense it’s kind of like baseball, the difference being that horseback riders don’t chew tobacco and scratch their balls.

Chapter 4


Never lick a gift horse in the mouth.

So you wanna buy a horse, do you? In case you’re not aware, let me tell you: a horse is a huge, expensive responsibility. It must be fed, groomed, immunized and dewormed. A lot of costly equipment is needed for this hobby; the saddle alone can cost thousands. The horse itself will set you back at least a few thousand. If you plan to haul it to shows or trail rides, you’ll need a trailer and a vehicle to pull it with, each of which can cost more than the horse, and let’s not forget the gas expense. The horse needs to be boarded, which will cost you hundreds every month if you pay for boarding; or if you plan to keep it on your own property you’ll need several acres of land, a shelter of some sort, and a fence. It will need regular veterinary check-ups (and house calls ain’t cheap). Its hooves will need to be trimmed every two months, and if you choose to have it wear shoes, those will have to be changed at each trimming. You’ll need special clothing and accessories (helmet, boots, etc) for yourself. I hope you thoroughly enjoy owning a horse, because you won’t be able to afford anything else.

Renting a horse is certainly cheaper and easier than owning one. Merely paying, say, $75 each time you want to go riding would solve most of the logistical and financial issues. The less often you ride, the more sensible renting becomes. If your child wants to own a horse, you might want to explain to her that you just can’t afford all the expenses of horse ownership and that renting one would be much more practical. Not that explaining will help. If she’s horse crazy, then you’re the worst parent in the world if you don’t sell a kidney in order to finance her dream.

I say “her” because the majority of children who love horses are girls. Boys tend to prefer skateboards and scooters, which are infinitely cheaper and easier to maintain. Of course, boys also play with matches, but even if they accidentally set fire to a portion of your home, it’s still cheaper than owning a horse.

There are certain intangibles that come with horse ownership. If you want a certain breed, color or personality type, or a horse that has had certain types of training, or one that doesn’t spook easily, then you can search and “test drive” in order to find the exact type of horse you want. Years of riding and grooming the same animal will enable you to develop a nice relationship with it. Most rental horses, on the other hand, have had inexperienced or callous riders on their backs, and as a result they might have developed some bad habits. For example, they might try to scrape you off on a tree. This can make your rental ride unpleasant and frustrating. Renting versus owning is like prostitution versus marriage: sure, renting a man or woman to fulfill your desires for an hour might sound like a good deal, but no hooker or gigolo will give you the things that only a meaningful, long?term relationship can provide, such as criticism and in-laws.

How do I know everything I’ve said in this chapter so far? Well, I’ll tell you. Shortly after we got married, my wife announced that she was going to purchase a horse. Several arguments and therapist visits later she was looking at horses on the Web and test riding various candidates. She even rode two male horses on our honeymoon, which of course set ridiculously high standards that I couldn’t possibly live up to. One time when I undressed, she squinted at my non-equine apparatus and said, “No thanks – I don’t smoke.” Anyway, within a few months she (actually we) bought a horse and found a place to board it. “Well, I’m glad that’s over,” I thought. “No more searching and paying for large, costly items. Now that she has her horse, she’ll just enjoy it and our lives will get back to normal.” Boy was I wrong, as I usually was in our relationship. She couldn’t simply ride the horse around the place it was boarded -- she wanted to be able to transport it to various trails and shows. This necessitated even bigger and more expensive things. First we acquired a horse trailer. Then we visited several truck dealerships (I’m sure you know how pleasant automobile salesmen are) and bought a brand new Chevrolet Silverado 3/4-ton pickup truck. These two vehicles brought us two sets of monthly payments that went along nicely with the mortgage. Then of course we had to have a hitch installed in order to link the trailer to the truck. She spent all her free time buying hay and picking up poop and hauling the trailer and riding her beloved animal, and I spent countless hours building her a tack cabinet and unloading hay and installing various items in the barn and learning how to ride. With all the time, effort and money that her hobby cost us, I used to wish that she would have an affair instead.

All right, now that I’ve described the private little hell that was my marriage, I can get back to business. There are plenty of equestrian magazines and Web sites that contain horse ads. You can go to auctions, but my advice is to buy from an individual: at an auction you can’t check a horse for problems or rideability before bidding. Always test ride any horse you’re considering buying, because no matter how good?natured or well?trained someone claims their horse is, you need to find out whether it’s a good fit for you. This can be frustrating if you live in Idaho and you find an ad for a wonderful horse in Kentucky and traveling there isn’t feasible, but forgoing this purchase is better than buying it and paying to have it shipped only to find out that you’re not happy with it. Also make any purchase conditional upon a favorable veterinary check-up so you don’t end up with a diseased animal or one with structural problems. I know that there are people who won’t take this advice. In fact, some folks aren’t even careful about choosing a spouse, let alone a horse. If you ask me (and you didn’t, but I’m gonna tell you anyway), a pre-purchase veterinary exam of a horse is even more important than spousal pre-screening, because you can always divorce a spouse – you don’t have to try to sell it.

What you plan to do with a horse will determine your selection criteria. Do you want to ride for pleasure? Do you want to compete in horse events? Do you want a breeding horse? Do you want a gentle pet? Do you want to make Alpo? Whatever your plans, your horse should have good conformation. Although this refers to its appearance, it helps in determining whether the animal is sound. Things to look for are well-defined muscles, joints and tendons; fine hair and skin; and symmetry. While we’re on the subject of appearance, you will find that some horses have cuter faces than others. This might be a consideration in choosing one, and there is no reason to feel guilty if you pass over a perfectly healthy and well?trained animal merely because it looks like Sarah Jessica Parker.

Unless you are an experienced trainer, buy a trained horse. This raises the price, but it’s better to pay more for a horse that will obey you than it is to deal with a noncompliant animal. For example, when my ex-wife and I first met, I had no relationship training. Had I been previously beaten down by someone else, I would have been a more obedient partner from the day we met. Instead, she had to put me through years of training in order to turn me into the compliant, pathetic tool I am today.

It might be a good idea to insure your horse. As big and strong as they are, horses are fragile animals: they are susceptible to digestive problems that can be life-threatening, they get attacked by all sorts of worms and microorganisms, and their hooves can sustain injuries that render them useless. Even if your horse avoids these problems, it can be stolen or perish in a barn fire or fall and break a leg. Paying a few hundred dollars a year for insurance might be worth it because it protects your multi-thousand-dollar investment. My ex’s horse was insured. In fact, the insurance we paid for horse?related items (horse, trailer and truck) amounted to well over $1000 per year. With all our expenses, we were so poor that if we wanted to eat at a restaurant we had to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and lick other people’s fingers.

You might want to buy a horse of a specific breed in order to get that breed’s particular characteristics. Each breed has a specific set of genes that were selectively bred into it so that it has a distinctive body style or capabilities or color. Once you develop an eye for horses you can look at one and tell which breed it is, just like you can tell whether a dog is a beagle or a poodle. However, it’s not that easy for me. An experienced horseperson can look at a group of horses and see two Thoroughbreds, three Appaloosas, a Morgan and a Quarter Horse; whereas when I look at that same herd of sweaty, grazing, pooping animals, I see a Jenny Craig meeting.

I have described a few horse breeds below. Keep in mind that my descriptions are by no means thorough or even accurate.

Arabian: A good general purpose horse. The foundation breed for all modern breeds, it was developed more than 3000 years ago in the Middle East or North Africa, making it the oldest breed of horse. In fact, it predates Christianity and Islam, and it’s certainly more useful.

Appaloosa: Used for general purpose and show riding, most horses in this breed are spotted.

Belgian: This breed originated in – are you ready? – Belgium. It’s used for draft work and it’s famous for hay rides.

Clydesdale: Beautiful and strong, this breed has “feathered” legs and is used for both farm work and advertisements. It was in the old Budweiser commercials. Remember? Several Clydesdales pulled a beer wagon, which made no sense to me because the kegs were following in the path of anything that came out of the horses’ rear ends. No wonder Budweiser tastes like shit.

Missouri Fox Trotter: Originated in Missouri and Arkansas. Used in the U.S. Forest Service, although I’m not sure exactly what it does for the Forest Service. Stamp out fires? Chase away bears? About the only thing I can figure is it leaves poops on our hiking trails.

Morgan: One of the original breeds. Used for general purpose riding and show, this breed is compact, muscular and refined. In other words, the complete opposite of Roseanne Arnold.

Mustang: This American horse was the original cow pony used by Native Americans. A general purpose breed.

Paso Fino: This Latin American breed gives a very comfortable ride and is good for pleasure riding, parade and show. Also a good working horse.

Quarter Horse: Well-muscled, compact and powerful, it can gain speed in just a few seconds. It originated in the United States and can be used for just about anything, including dog food.

Saddlebred: Originating in Fayette County, Kentucky, this breed has a long and graceful neck and gives a comfortable, easy ride. Has several uses including dressage and pleasure riding.

Shire: This very tall English draft breed has big, strong, long legs with heavy feathering. The Dennis Rodman of horses, except it doesn’t smell as bad.

Tennessee Walker: Gives a very smooth ride and has a calm, docile temperament. Great for pleasure riding and as a pet.

Thoroughbred: A spirited horse that originated in England as a middle-distance racehorse. Known for its long stride. Used for polo, hunting, jumping, racing, general purpose riding, and show.

Donkey (Ass): Smaller than a horse, with shorter hair on its mane and tail. Has longer ears and smaller, deeper hooves. Hardier and less subject to injury than horses. Can carry you on its back or pull you in a cart. A male ass is called a “jack” and a female ass is called “Hillary Clinton”.

Mule: This infertile animal has several uses but is best known for carrying cargo. Stands anywhere from 12 to 17.2 hands tall. The result of breeding a horse with an ass. Its original name was “lawyer”, but that was changed because a bunch of lawyers sued the blind widow who coined the name.

Horses can also be divided into major categories, each one representing a set of purposes.

Stock horses are well-muscled animals that were developed to work cattle or compete in rodeos. Some examples are the Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, Arabian, Paint, and Morgan.

English style horses are lighter breeds that are used for pleasure riding. Saddlebreds, Morgans and Arabians belong to this group, which shows how ridiculous these categories are because Morgans and Arabians are also considered stock horses.

Hotbloods, also called fullbloods, are original stock from the hot deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. They were bred for speed and stamina. Only two breeds belong to this group: Arabians and Thoroughbreds. They often have nasty dispositions, which makes them the F. Lee Bailey of horses.

Coldbloods, also called draft horses and workhorses, come from colder climates. They are large, heavily boned, heavily muscled, placid animals that were bred to perform work such as pulling wagons and plows. They stand 16 hands or taller and weigh over 1600 pounds, like Rosie O’Donnell only more attractive. Some examples are Percherons, Belgians, Shires and Clydesdales.

Sport horses, also known as halfbreds and warmbloods, are a mixture of hotbloods and coldbloods. They are more agile breeds that are used for jumping, dressage, and other activities that require quickness and dexterity. Holsteiner, Trakehner and Hanoverian are members of this group.

Hunters are large, clean-cut horses that have a long stride and are used for cross-country riding and jumping. They are often Thoroughbreds or crossbreds (mutts) that have been selectively bred for stamina, speed and surefootedness.

Gaited horses are known for their ability to carry riders smoothly. Examples are the Paso Fino, Missouri Fox Trotter, and Rocky Mountain Horse. Tennessee Walkers are famous for their “running walk”, which is a four-beat lateral gait. It is similar to the walk of any regular horse except that this breed can keep the gait for long periods at up to 10 miles per hour, resulting in a smooth and rhythmic comfortable ride in which the rider isn’t bounced up and down. This way you don’t spill your beer.

Ponies are smaller breeds that stand 14.2 hands or shorter, which makes them the Frenchmen of the horse world. They have shorter legs in relation to their build than other horses do. Contrary to popular belief, ponies are true horses: they are members of the species Equus caballus, the same as all other horses. Two well?known pony breeds are Shetland and Welsh.

Color breeds are bred for color markings. Pinto, Palomino and Buckskin are a few examples. They look nice but they don’t necessarily perform any useful function, like a stained glass window or Drew Barrymore. Nowadays you can get almost any breed in almost any color, so color breeds are unnecessary.

Chapter 5


New book: Three Months in the Saddle by Major Assburn.

Horse gear is called tack. A store that sells tack is called a saddlery. A person who buys tack at a saddlery and expects to spend less than $500 is called a moron.

There are dozens of different tack items, but I’ll describe only the major ones since listing them all would just make this book even more boring. Keep in mind that all tack should feel comfortable to your horse because it has a large bearing on the animal’s willingness and ability to perform, as well as its understanding of what you want. Furthermore, an uncomfortable horse can have a short temper. A very important part of horsemanship is being in touch with your animal’s state of being. If your horse becomes difficult to manage, check the various pieces of equipment to make sure they’re not too tight or digging into the animal.

The most expensive piece of tack is the saddle, which is what you sit on. There are many different types of saddle for different uses, but the two main categories are western and English. Western saddles were developed for working cattle and riding long distances, so they are good for trail riding. English saddles are designed to conform to a horse’s back and fit very closely so that you have the maximum amount of contact with the horse’s body. This enables you to feel the movement of the animal, which is important in jumping and dressage.

Unfortunately, not every saddle fits every horse. Each horse has its own individual size and shape. Fitting a saddle to a horse is like fitting a pair of pants to a person. For example, a former neighbor of mine didn’t wear the same size or type of pants that I did, so I had a hell of a time putting hers on whenever I’d break in. Her underwear fit all right though. Anyway, your horse should be fitted with a size and style of saddle that will place your weight on the strongest part of its back. Ill-fitting saddles apply too much pressure at certain points instead of evenly distributing your weight, causing the animal soft tissue damage and saddle sores (raw spots where hair and skin have been rubbed away). A saddle that’s too wide will press down on the withers; one that’s too narrow will pinch; one that doesn’t sit level will put undue pressure on one part of the horse’s back. Most saddles seem to be made to fit Quarter Horses because they are the most common breed, so if you own another type of horse you might have trouble finding a saddle that fits. My ex had a difficult time finding a saddle that fit her Tennessee Walker because this breed has a fairly narrow back. She had to search the Web. They say that shopping online saves time because you don’t have to drive anywhere, but that’s simply not true. She spent months in front of the computer when she was shopping for her horse, saddle, boots and other equipment, often staying up until midnight, whereas the mall closes at 9:30.

A saddle pad goes underneath the saddle. It acts as a shock absorber and helps eliminate pressure points, but keep in mind that no amount of padding will compensate for a saddle that doesn’t fit properly. For example, putting a pad under a saddle that is too narrow is like putting on thick socks inside a pair of shoes that are too small: the pressure actually increases. Wool is a good padding material because it is a natural shock absorber, it breathes well, it wicks away moisture, and it dries quickly. Saddle pads need to be washed periodically because accumulated dirt can irritate the animal’s skin and cause sores. Maybe I should start washing my socks.

The position of the saddle and pad on the back is the most critical aspect of saddle fit. When positioning the pad, place it a few inches forward of where you want it to be, then slide it back into position in order to make the hair underneath lie smooth. Place the saddle on top and make sure that it’s level. The most common mistake is to place the saddle too far forward. This puts the rigid underside of the saddle over the top of or too close to the shoulders, which restricts shoulder rotation and makes the gait more bouncy. On the other hand, a saddle that’s placed too far to the rear will put pressure on the horse’s lumbar region, which cannot support a rider’s weight. There is a lot more to know, but I can’t tell you everything about saddling – or anything, for that matter – because I’m lazy and ignorant. Just read my other books if you don’t believe me.

Your horse is not the only one that needs to feel comfortable; you do too. If your saddle is too small for you, it will cause you to bump against the pommel (the front of the saddle) at every stride; if it’s too large, it will have you swimming around trying to maintain your position. New saddles tend to be a bit stiff and squeaky, so for immediate comfort you might try buying a used one that has already been broken in. Used saddles also tend to be cheaper. I encouraged my ex to buy a used saddle in order to save money. I was always coming up with money-saving ideas. For example, on our honeymoon I booked a motel room that cost only $29 a night. It wasn’t a bad place either. They even put chocolate on our pillows. Well, I thought it was chocolate until I tasted it.

All saddles used to be leather, but now synthetic ones are available that are lighter in weight and easier to clean. We’re very fortunate to live in a time when we have choices that were previously unavailable. The very fact that we no longer need to rely on the horse for transportation is a big step. It used to be that one’s “car” was a high-maintenance beast that left the owner with frequent repair headaches or perhaps without any means of transportation. Such is not the case anymore, unless you drive a Yugo.

Always use a clean, dry saddle pad between the saddle and the horse. Store your saddle in a manner that supports its shape (there are special saddle racks designed precisely for this purpose). It should be kept clean with special cleaners and conditioners. For example, saddle soap helps preserve leather. Without proper care your saddle can lose its shape, dry out, crack or rot. Proper care will make it last for the rest of your life.

A girth goes around the underside of the horse and connects to either side of the saddle, thus keeping it (and you) on top of the animal.

A bridle enables you to maintain control of the animal while riding it. A bridle consists of a headstall, a bit, and reins. The headstall goes over the head (the horse’s head, not yours). The bit goes into the horse’s mouth and rests on its tongue and bars (the toothless sections of gum between the incisors and molars). It allows you to control the animal via the reins, which you hold in your hands and are attached to either side of the bit. There are many types of bit and each one has its own name. For example, the English have bit names such as snaffle, Pelham, and kimberwick, which is pretty much what you’d expect from a society that outlaws guns. Some bits are more severe (i.e., uncomfortable) than others. Since the horse’s mouth is sensitive, the bit should be made as comfy as possible. I know how uncomfortable a bit can be: I had braces in my early teens. Puberty was difficult enough with hormones and hair and sadistic classmates; a mouthful of sharp metal hardware just exacerbated the situation. I also had to wear a retainer for several months, as if I wasn’t already suffering enough. The final nail in my psychological coffin was the “headgear” that my orthodontist made me wear. This Nazi contraption was strapped to my head and attached to my braces via two menacing hooks, pulling on them in order to accelerate tooth repositioning and maximize my pain. No wonder I turned out the way I did.

By the way, if you smell your horse’s bridle, you can enjoy its bridle bouquet. Hahahahaha. I figured I’d laugh at that since you probably didn’t.

A halter is used for controlling the horse while you’re on the ground. It goes on the animal’s head and over its ears and allows you to lead it with a lead rope (just an attached rope) or restrain its head with cross ties (two ropes or bungee cords that each attach to one side of the halter and a wall on that side). Do not leave a halter on an unsupervised horse because the halter can catch on a fence post or other object, or the horse can trap its foot in the halter, and the animal can then severely injure itself as it tries to break free. You might wonder how these idiotic things can happen. Remember, horses are dim-witted animals, like government employees except they eat less.

Chapter 6


A cop on horseback came up to me. He said, “Get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.” I was amazed. I had never heard a horse talk before.

Horses are herd animals. Individualism is not their forte; they prefer to follow others of their kind, like religious fundamentalists except not as ignorant. Horses establish pecking orders in herds. Dominant horses bite and kick those of lower rank: they turn their hindquarters toward the target and kick backward, striking with their hind hooves. Horses often form very tight, long-lasting group bonds. They naturally stay with their group and fight off or at least avoid any intruders. It is therefore remarkable how well they get along when a new member is added to the group. However, new members often get mistreated by dominant horses until finally being accepted. When my ex first boarded her horse, a few of the other horses at the stable kicked him, cornered him, and chased him away from the rest of the herd. He had gouges on his legs from being kicked, and lacerations on his hindquarters from backing into barbed wire. One Thoroughbred bullied him the most. Thoroughbreds tend to be spirited and difficult anyway, but this particular one was a real asshole – the Bill O’Reilly of horses.

You might wonder why any horse would put up with being bitten or kicked. Remember that horses are herd-dwelling creatures and are mentally equipped by nature to accept dominance. Of course, there are lots of people who also consent to being controlled. Take me for instance. I’m not into horses, but I helped my ex care for hers, I bought her a truck so she could transport him, and I accompanied her to horse events. This shows what a jellyfish I am. In fact, if I didn’t walk upright I’d have no use for a spine at all.

Cribbing is an activity in which a horse places its front teeth on a horizontal wooden surface, arches its neck, and pulls backwards. Often the animal gulps air in the process. About five percent of domesticated horses crib. Some people say that boredom causes it, because restricting either interaction with other horses* or time outside the barn increases the probability of cribbing, plus horses do not crib in the wild. Restriction of hay raises the likelihood of cribbing, which leads some people to believe that it’s caused by a nutritional deficiency. Horses that are abruptly weaned, or fed grain during or immediately after weaning, are more likely to become cribbers. Whatever the cause, it does not seem to be a learned behavior or due to stress. Cribbing can cause digestive problems, and it can wear down the top incisors so much that the horse’s ability to graze is adversely affected. Trying to alter the animal’s behavior is usually fruitless. An easier way to stop cribbing is to take away access to cribbing surfaces or cover them with soft or bad-tasting materials. You can also try giving the animal something to keep it occupied, like stall toys or a companion such as a goat or cat. Drugs and surgery are sometimes employed, and these drastic measures don’t surprise me at all because we live in a country where folks go under the knife and pop pills in order to cure everything from obesity to general discontentment. It’s a good thing people use our medical resources so wisely and prudently; otherwise they’d have to live with horrible, life-threatening conditions like crow’s feet and small breasts.

* I call interaction with other horses “interhorse”. Hahahahahahaha.

As I mentioned before, horses are easily spooked. Be careful about making sudden movements or loud noises, because horses fight or flee when threatened. Even a good-natured horse might kick, rear (stand up on its hind legs), or take off suddenly, possibly injuring you. Horses do not think; they react instinctively, like Sean Penn except not quite as dangerous.

There are several ways to tell how a horse is feeling. If it’s relaxed it will move its jaws, lick its lips, half close its eyes, or hold its head level with its body. If it’s anxious or frustrated it will swish its tail. If it’s feeling angry or aggressive it will swish its tail even harder or “pin” its ears back. Actually its ears are the best barometer with which to gauge its mental state. Relaxed ears mean a relaxed horse. If it moves its ears, it’s listening. The ears swivel independently, which helps the animal take in sounds from all directions.

In a free environment horses graze for 16 hours a day. This is more time eating than is spent by any human (with the possible exception of Michael Moore). A horse needs to graze not just for energy with which to move and warm itself, but also to occupy its time. Think about it: what else is a horse gonna do all day? Surf the Web? So whenever you see a herd of horses or cows or any other kind of animal just standing around grazing, don’t feel sorry for them; they’re quite contented. Hell, there are people who are satisfied just sitting around eating and being completely passive and mindless. If you’ve ever been to the Motor Vehicle Administration you know what I’m talking about.

This is not to say that horses are always dull and boring. They like to explore their world and they like to play. A new object is cause for investigation and possibly horseplay. Get it? Horseplay? Haha! I slay me!

Horses have a unique way of introducing themselves to each other: they blow into each others’ nostrils. What’s the purpose of this? So each one can determine what the other one has been eating? I can only imagine what they’re saying to each other:

Horse #1: “Hey there.” [Blow]
Horse #2: “Hi. Say, is that hay I smell?” [Blow]
Horse #1: “Yup. And is that smell on your breath hay too?”
Horse #2: “Sure is.”
Horse #1: “Wow! What are the odds?”

Chapter 7


A preacher wanted to buy a horse to enter in races to win money for the church. Horses were too expensive so he bought a donkey instead. He entered it in a race, and it came in third. The headline in the next day’s newspaper was:


The bishop, upon reading this headline, reprimanded the preacher for gambling and made him withdraw the donkey from racing. The next day’s headline was:


Before you ever climb on your horse, you need to teach it how to obey you and behave in a safe manner. Even if your horse has already been “broken”, you need to make sure that it’s a safe animal to handle and ride. After all, not every animal that can be mounted should be mounted. Look at Madonna.

Horses are both strong and temperamental. They can withstand a great deal of physical pressure, but they cannot stand up to mental pressure. The idea when training a horse is to earn its trust so that it will walk, stop and turn when you tell it to and not resist you. Training requires mental rather than physical strength on your part: no human being can overpower a horse, so the only way to get it to do anything is to convince it to do it under its own power. You must also be able to reprimand a horse properly when it misbehaves. My ex was great at this. In fact, she reprimanded horses so well that they became almost as afraid of her as I was.

You can and should develop a close relationship with your horse. The fact that an animal isn’t very intelligent doesn’t mean that you can’t become close with it. (The fact that Nick Lachey became close with Jessica Simpson proves this.) As the two of you get to know each other, you will grow to understand and respect one another and a bond will be forged. It’s like marriage without in-laws, arguments or fights. No wonder my ex got a horse.

A good training aid is a longe line, which is a rope about 20-30 feet long fastened to the halter. (Do not use a small-diameter rope because it can tangle.) Give verbal commands from far away (e.g., call the animal over to you) and when the animal doesn’t obey you, use the line to force compliance. Excess rope should be folded in a figure eight and held in the free hand; do not wrap it around your hand because if the horse bolts (takes off), you can be dragged. A long, light whip can be used as an extension of your hand, but do not hit hard – a light flick on the hindquarters will get results. I know from experience, because my baby-sitter used to train me this way.

Give your horse short but frequent training sessions. Reward it when it does what you tell it to do; this will reinforce the desired behavior. Petting and speaking in a pleasing tone of voice are good, as is feeding it a piece of a carrot. It learns by pleasant and unpleasant experiences how to behave. Contrast this with people, many of who never learn. Their actions might get them into trouble time and time again, but they don’t change their behavior. This is how Reagan, Clinton, Dubya and Obama got re-elected. Anyway, my ex used an effective reward system on me: if I obeyed her, she didn’t beat the shit out of me.

Although horses learn more quickly with positive than with negative reinforcement, they sometimes need quick and unpleasant discipline. If your horse misbehaves, you might have to reprimand it with a hard slap on the body or a yank on the lead rope, as well as a stern voice. Grabbing the ear can be as effective as a slap – and less painful to your hand – but the ear cartilage is very sensitive and can be permanently damaged if the ear is handled too roughly. For this reason ear grabbing is actually illegal in some states (e.g., Colorado). Whatever your disciplinary method, do it immediately; if you wait, the animal will neither understand why you’re displeased nor stop the offending behavior.

Make sure your horse lets you handle it without resistance. You should be able to groom it, pick up its feet, look in its mouth, fit it with tack, etc. A trained horse should already allow these things, but you want to be sure. Additionally, you need to learn how to handle the animal in a horse-friendly way. The key is no surprises: let it know what you intend to do before you do it. For example, when picking up a foot, don’t just grab the foot and lift it; run your hand down the leg to the foot, then lift it. (This doesn’t work with people. I can’t count the number of fat lips and black eyes I’ve gotten from running my hands down women’s legs.)

Look out for your own safety. For example, always let your horse know where you are. A horse can’t see directly behind itself without turning its head, so approach your horse from the side, and speak as you approach so as not to startle the animal in case it hasn’t visually noticed you (a horse’s hearing is very good and it can point its ears in different directions). When walking behind your horse, talk to it and touch its hindquarters so it knows you’re there. (I tried this with my boss, and he didn’t appreciate it very much.) Even with this precaution, you still need to be careful because a biting fly might cause the horse to kick. Therefore if you can’t stay out of kicking range, stay very close to the animal (getting kicked when you’re right next to it isn’t as bad as getting kicked when you’re a few feet away because the foot hasn’t reached full velocity). Also, try not to walk underneath any horse. Under the neck (in front of the forelegs) is fine; under the body (behind the forelegs) is not. You could startle the animal and get injured by a moving leg. A further safety consideration is your attire. Always wear protective footgear whenever you’re working on a horse or inside a barn, because your feet can get stepped on or they can step on something sharp. Additionally, it isn’t safe to wear dangling jewelry around horses because it can catch on halters and other equipment. Of course, if you’re the sort of person who wears jewelry, then what are you doing hanging around a stable? Go back to the mall.

Biting and nipping should not be allowed. Horses sometimes like to mouth each other as well as people, which is all right as long as the teeth aren’t involved, although some people believe that even this activity shouldn’t be permitted because it can lead to biting. I think that it depends on the personality of the horse as well as the dexterity of the person. I let horses mouth my hands and so far I’ve only lost three fingers.

Your horse will sense and “pick up” your mood. Therefore, be calm and confident around it. If you are nervous, it will become nervous too. Perhaps this is why I was so unsuccessful with women in my younger days: they sensed how nervous I was. I remember one date when I took a woman to a restaurant. I was so nervous that I dropped my tray.

When you want to make a horse move, either grab the halter or attach a lead rope and hold it near the halter. Force the animal’s head in the direction you want it to go as you give the command. For example, if you want it to back up, say “back up” while pushing the halter directly back toward the animal. Remember, if you control the head, you control the horse. When leading a horse, stay alongside its head and neck area, not in front of it. Leading is usually done by walking on the horse’s left side, but a horse should be trained to be led from both sides. Extend your elbow toward the animal so that if it bumps into you, it will hit your elbow and not your face.

When tying your horse to something, use a slipknot so you can untie it easily and quickly. Tie the rope about as high as the animal’s head and use a rope that’s not long enough to touch the ground from where it’s tied. The reason is that if the horse gets a leg over the rope and then walks away, its head will be caught and it might injure itself trying to lift its head up. Tying a horse for long periods of time can help teach it to accept restraint, just like being married for several years taught me to accept poverty and subjugation.

Chapter 8


“Jump, you stupid, useless nag!” – Christopher Reeve

Okay, now it’s time to ride. Well, almost. I mean, reading this book doesn’t make you a good horseman any more than reading my 2005 work, How to Raise Children Without Killing Them, makes you a good parent. Hell, I wrote the book and I’m not a good parent. At least that’s what they told me at the trial.

There really is no substitute for experience, but I’ll give you some riding tips anyway because I need to pad the book. In fact, everything between the covers is basically filler.

Don’t ride any horse before it’s two years old, because a horse’s spine doesn’t completely harden until that age. If it’s ridden too soon, the developing spine can be injured. Frequent riding before age two can result in a swayback (concave spine).

Gear up the animal with the appropriate tack (see chapter 5). Your horse will quickly learn that having equipment put on him means that you’re about to take him for a ride, so he’ll come to look forward to it. Dogs are the same way: they love having their leashes or harnesses put on because it means that we’re about to take them for a walk or a run. The only problem is that, in their excitement, they walk around cluelessly bumping into walls, us and each other, apparently in the mistaken belief that acting like Gerald Ford will get them out the door faster. Wear snug clothing that will not catch on the saddle or other equipment, and wear footgear with heels in order to safeguard against your feet slipping through the stirrups.

Hold the reins in your left hand and mount the horse from the left side: put your left foot in the stirrup, brace your knee against the horse to keep you from jabbing the toe of your boot into its side, grab the top of the saddle with your right hand and the mane with your left*, and hoist yourself up. Lift your right leg over the animal’s back, being careful not to kick it, and ease yourself into the saddle (don’t carelessly plop your butt into it). Sit up straight yet relaxed, with the balls of your feet on the stirrup bars, your heels lower than your toes, and your knees slightly bent. This is not easy to do while trying not to look like a total goober.

* You can pull on a horse’s mane and it won’t hurt. I wish the same were true for people – then my girlfriend wouldn’t scream whenever I brush her hair.

To make the horse go, do one or both of the following: 1) press the front of your tongue against the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth and “click” the back sides of your tongue; 2) squeeze your heels into the horse’s sides. To increase speed, keep clicking and/or squeezing. If the horse trots or canters so that its body moves up and down, raise and lower your body in synchronization with the horse so as to make the ride less bumpy. This activity is called posting. Your hips will move up and down and back and forth. Viewed from the side it looks rather sensual. Now I know why women enjoy riding horses.

To stop the horse, pull back on the reins and say “whoa”. I said pull, not yank. Remember that the bit is pressing against the animal’s gums, so excessive pressure is not only not required, but also painful and irritating to the horse.

Backing up is not a natural movement for horses, so do not expect yours to do it with any kind of speed. Pull on the reins and say “back” or “back up”. Some people pull on both reins at once, while others pull one side at a time. The reason for this latter method is that horses back up by moving their legs in diagonal pairs (left front / right rear; right front / left rear). By moving the head to one side you get the horse to shift its weight to that side. Once it has taken a step back, you pull the other rein to make it step back with the other diagonal pair. Again, I am assuming that the horse has had previous training; trying to teach an untrained animal how to back up is almost as difficult as trying to teach Kim Kardashian how to read.

Steering is a simple matter of pulling the rein on the side where you want the horse to go. Again, give a gentle pull, not a solid tug. If the animal doesn’t respond, increase the pressure, but still do not yank. You can also steer by pushing one heel into the horse’s side, which will cause the animal to move its hindquarters away from it and consequently turn its head in that direction, but this takes practice.

When you want to dismount, stop the horse and make sure that it stays. Take your right foot out of the stirrup, throw that leg back over the horse to its left side, put your right hand on the saddle and your left one on the mane, remove your left foot from the stirrup and slide down off the horse. Do not keep your left foot in the stirrup and come down on just your right leg, because if the animal bolts, your foot can remain caught in the stirrup and you can be dragged. Also, never mount or dismount in a barn or near objects such as fences or trees, because you can get hurt if the horse sidesteps or rears. Of course, you can get injured even if you aren’t in a confined space or near immovable objects. Look at Christopher Reeve. By the way, you know the difference between him and OJ Simpson? OJ walked.

Driving is similar to riding, except that it’s totally different. The horse wears a harness and pulls the rider in a carriage. Special training is needed in order to teach a horse how to drive, and I won’t explain it here because I don’t feel like it.

Spurs and whips can be used as training aids, but if used incorrectly they will scare the horse and thereby do more harm than good. In high school I had a girlfriend who used to whip me. One time her mother walked in, and boy was she furious because you don’t touch her things without asking.

Chapter 9


A cowboy and his Indian guide are searching for buffalo. The Indian gets down from his horse, puts his ear to the ground, and says, “Buffalo come.” The cowboy asks, “Really? You can hear buffalo hooves in the distance?” The Indian replies, “No. Ground sticky.”

Now that you know how to ride, you’ll probably want to go trail riding. This enables you to combine the pleasure of riding a horse with the beauty and fresh air of being out in the country. Unless you’re me, in which case trail riding combines the discomfort of bouncing in a saddle with the fear of falling.

You may ride alone or in a group. I prefer to ride in a group so there are others to help me steer the horse, warn me of upcoming obstacles, and provide me with encouragement and psychological support so I’ll stop hyperventilating.

When riding in a group, never ride off until all riders are mounted; otherwise a riderless horse may take off. Remember, horses are born followers, and the instinct to follow another horse might override learned behavior.

If your horse has a tendency to kick, you should tie a red ribbon to its tail as a warning to other riders. A stallion should wear a yellow ribbon because stallions can be very feisty. I think that motorists should use a similar system. For example, old people who drive way under the speed limit should have to display a bumper sticker that says, “WARNING: IF YOU WANT TO GET TO YOUR DESTINATION IN THIS LIFETIME, GO AROUND.” Jerks who cut others off and have flagrant disregard for everyone but themselves should have a bumper sticker that says, “ASSHOLE.”

When passing another rider, give advance warning and pass on the left. Don’t pass on bends; pass only when you can see the other side of the trail. If someone wants to pass you, move to the right in order to make room. If the trail is crowded, the riders in your group should proceed single file.

If you ride at night, wear light-colored clothing, carry a flashlight, and wear reflectors. However, I don’t recommend riding at night. First of all, the horse could step on a rock or in a hole and injure a leg. Second, you might not be able to see overhanging branches that could injure you. Third, all sorts of creatures come out at night that could scare your horse, such as snakes, coyotes, and Janet Reno.

Some horses fight for the lead when they’re in a group, while others are content to follow. It is a good idea to let the horses take turns leading, but do not let your horse think that its efforts to be the leader worked. Hold the animal back and bring it to the front at your command.

When riding in a group, do not “tailgate” a horse that’s in front of you. The reason should be obvious. This safety procedure doesn’t seem to be obvious to millions of motorists who think nothing of getting right on your rear bumper, even when going 75 mph. Don’t you hate that? You’re already going 20 mph over the speed limit, and some asshole behind you is trying to make you go faster. You know what I do when that happens? I go slower. That’s right – I ease my foot off the gas and I don’t apply the brake so the jerk doesn’t get any warning. I can see the schmuck in my rearview mirror getting all upset, and I derive sadistic satisfaction from this revenge.

Do not venture onto any public road with any horse that is not used to motor vehicles, bicycles, etc, because it might bolt or rear when it encounters one, thus injuring you and/or itself. You might be able to “despook” it by keeping it in a pasture that’s next to a main road where it can hear and see cars, but there is no substitute for actually riding it on a traveled road. I suggest having an experienced person “traffic proof” your horse before you ride it on roads.

When crossing a road, all horses in a group should cross at once. Try not to cross at a curve; a straightaway gives motorists more time to see and avoid you. If your horse is reluctant to cross, you might have to dismount and lead it across on foot. Which reminds me: why did the telemarketer cross the road? To sell the horse something it didn’t need.

Some more tips are in order. Before starting your ride, warm the horse up by letting it walk for at least ten minutes (longer in cold weather). Ride on established trails and roads in winter because you can’t see what hazards are lurking under the snow. Go straight up and down hills, not at an angle, because angled climbs and descents increase the chance of falling. Stop at the top of hills to allow your horse to rest; those uphill climbs take a lot of energy. Give the horse water breaks if possible too. Splash water on the animal before and after a long, hot ride. Let riders behind you know when you’re about to change gait. Warn others of upcoming obstacles. Lean forward when the horse jumps over obstacles because as it stretches out its body, its center of gravity goes forward.

Know the signs of heatstroke: weakness, staggering, reluctance to move, pulse greater than 60, respiration greater than 40, and dark red or purple gums. If you suspect that your horse is suffering from heatstroke, immediately dismount. Seek shade and splash any available water on the animal. You can soak a T-shirt with water and hold it against the horse’s jugular veins. If there is a nearby river or stream, try to get the animal to immerse itself in or drink from it. To prevent heatstroke, make sure that the horse is in shape, encourage it to drink before setting out, and don’t ride on very hot days. You might also feed the animal electrolytes beforehand (you can buy them in several forms).

There are many items that it would be wise to carry. A good sturdy knife will cut ropes in case of entanglement. A pair of wire cutters is also a good idea in case the horse becomes entangled in wire. Pliers can remove splinters. A hoof pick will help you remove a stone or other object from the horse’s foot (more on this in the next chapter). Rubber-dipped cotton gloves protect hands from cold and blisters. Large Ziploc freezer bags make good temporary water buckets or wash bowls. Pepper spray can repel menacing creatures such as bears, wolves, and Kanye West. Bandages, antiseptic, baby wipes and a snake bite kit provide first aid for both you and your horse. A lightweight poncho will keep you dry in an unexpected rainstorm and also makes a good picnic blanket. An equine boot can replace a thrown shoe. A pair of shoe pullers can enable you to remove a partially thrown shoe. Bring food and water for yourself. Also bring a condom (hey, you never know).

Wear a helmet! Head injuries account for more than 60 percent of equestrian deaths. Adults as well as kids need a helmet. In fact, more than half of rider injuries happen to people over age 25. It puzzles me why anyone would do any dangerous activity without a helmet. Now before you call me a wimp, I am not one of those overly cautious people who wear a helmet for just about any outdoor activity, including gardening. However, there are certain activities whose risks warrant cranial protection. Take motorcycling for instance. There are people who are so reckless that they would not wear a motorcycle helmet if it weren’t required by law. And don’t for a second think that it’s because they’re tough or anything. I once tested a biker to see how tough he was. He was sitting at a bar with his girlfriend. I pointed at her and said to him, “That’s the ugliest woman in the world.” He looked at her and said, “See? I told you.”

Chapter 10


I took a date horseback riding. It was fun until we ran out of quarters.

The horse world has a well-known saying: “No foot, no horse.” This means that if there is a problem with even one of your horse’s feet, its ability to do what you want it to do will be severely limited or impossible. Proper hoof care is therefore imperative.

Hooves should be trimmed every 6-8 weeks because they are always growing and they do not always wear evenly. Trimming helps keep the horse standing squarely and moving straight. It also helps prevent forging, which is when the back of the forefeet get clipped by the rear hooves. (Sometimes forging is not correctible by hoof trimming because it’s caused by lack of motion synchrony rather than overly long hooves.) If the horse wears shoes, these must be pulled off before trimming and reinstalled afterward. This routine maintenance can be performed only by a farrier, which is someone who specializes in the insensitive structures of the foot. Choose one that’s certified by the American Farrier’s Association. A good farrier is every bit as important as a good vet, because his expertise is needed in order to ensure that each hoof is in balance with the rest of the limb and that shoes are properly installed. Improper trimming and shoeing can put undue pressure on one portion of the hoof and cause it to crack. An incompetent farrier might bang a horseshoe nail in the wrong place, resulting in damage and lameness to your horse and perhaps causing you to spend 25 years in jail because you beat the farrier to death with a horseshoe. And that’s not an easy way to kill someone. Believe me, it takes hours.

Should your horse wear shoes? It depends. Shoes can help prevent excessive foot wear, provide extra traction, and correct gait and lameness problems. If you’re riding or driving your horse on pavement, you might want it to wear shoes with a dot of borium on each heel for added traction. (Borium is a maintenance-free substance that contains tiny chips of super-hard tungsten-carbide steel.) On the other hand, by leaving a horse barefoot, the hooves can expand without being limited by shoes; and the natural functions of shock absorption, traction and biomechanics can perform at their optimum. Shoes occasionally loosen or come off, increasing the risk of injury. And don’t forget that shoes, borium, and the farrier’s labor cost money. I recommend that you tell your farrier how you plan to use your horse, then let him decide by looking at its hooves and considering your input whether the animal should be shoed.

The single most important thing you can do for your horse’s feet is to clean them with a hoof pick. This is a simple matter of scraping out dirt, manure, stones, etc that might be lodged on the bottom. Which reminds me, you know the difference between Bigfoot and Will Ferrell? Bigfoot has less body hair.

You can’t pick a hoof unless you can get it off the ground. I assume that your horse has been trained to pick up its foot when you run your hand down its leg. Sometimes you might have to lean your weight into the horse to make it shift its weight to the other side, then pick the foot up. Rear feet differ from the front in that they should be lifted forward as well as up. Never lift a horse’s leg to the side – horse joints are not made for that sort of movement. Support each foot with your knees or hand or any way you can. Make the bottom of each foot point upward as you work.

Hooves should be picked every day if possible, as well as before and after every ride. Pay particular attention to the cleft between the hoof and the frog. The frog is the triangular structure that extends from the heel toward the toe. It acts as a shock absorber and anti-slip device. It’s considerably softer than the hoof and thus more susceptible to injury. After picking, finish the job with a good stiff brush so that the bottom of the foot is as clean as can be.

While handling your horse’s feet, establish what’s normal so that future problems will be easier to detect. For example, notice their temperature. When everything’s okay, they should feel slightly warm. Also locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of the pastern. You’re interested not in the rate of the pulse, but in its strength under normal conditions. Now, if at some future time one foot has a stronger digital pulse or its temperature is higher than normal, you’ll be able to tell. The cause could be an abscess, and you can get your veterinarian or farrier involved before the condition worsens.

Feel the frog and learn how it feels when it’s healthy. It should be about as firm as a dildo. (Just checking to see whether you’re still paying attention.) Actually its firmness should approximate that of a new rubber eraser. Don’t be alarmed if the frog is peeling off – most horses shed their frogs at least twice a year.

Check for dryness. A frog that has lost some of its elasticity is probably too dry. A dry frog can shrink, which makes the heel contract. If the frog is dry, chances are the hoof is dry too, and this can cause it to crack. Dryness can be prevented with hoof dressing, but it is better if the animal has moist ground to stand on every day.

Hooves that are kept too moist can grow thrush, a disease of the frog that produces a black discharge and a foul smell. It’s caused by prolonged standing in manure and mud as well as failure to clean the hooves regularly. The continual presence of wet filth allows bacteria and fungi to thrive in the frog cleft. If you find evidence of thrush, then pick, brush and rinse the hoof as well as you can. Next, wrap some gauze tightly around the end of your hoof pick. Soak the gauze in a 4:1 water:bleach solution or a 7% iodine solution. Swab down the frog’s sides, cleft, and any other crevices in its surface. The goal is to get into all the cracks where microbes are hiding, so don’t be afraid to apply pressure. Keep changing the gauze as it gets dirty and repeat the process until it comes out clean.

Inspect the foot for puncture wounds. Horses sometimes step on nails or other objects that lodge in their feet. See chapter 14 for puncture wound treatment.

If your horse is shod, make sure that the shoes and the nails that hold them in are tight. Any shoe that you can move with your hand is too loose. Look for nails that have started to come out.

Look for cracks in the hoof. Hoof cracks can be caused by a number of factors including repetitive exercise on hard surfaces, improper shoeing, dryness, and foot imbalance. Small cracks might become big cracks. Then again, they might go away: new hoof is made continuously to compensate for what gets worn off, and the entire hoof wall gets replaced in about a year. Therefore a crack might simply “grow out”. You can assist this process by making sure that your horse is eating properly: studies have shown that the hooves of horses on an optimal diet will grow up to 80% faster than those of horses on a subsistence ration. Some farriers and vets recommend feeding powdered gelatin, but clinical trials have demonstrated that gelatin doesn’t work. The gelatin myth is probably related to the claim that Jell-O will help human nails grow because it contains certain amino acids. However, it only works if you happen to be deficient in precisely those amino acids; if your diet is providing you with complete proteins, then about the only thing Jell-O is good for is making shooters.

Keep an eye on cracks. If any of them keep enlarging, call a farrier. He can stabilize the crack and provide the hoof with a chance to heal by installing corrective shoes or pads; removing a portion of the hoof wall at the crack site; or applying a space-age adhesive that has the texture, strength and flexibility of natural hoof wall and “grows down” with the hoof.

If you haul your horse in a trailer (see chapter 20), protect its hooves with shipping boots, which cover the animal’s feet and legs. Without this protection, it can easily cut a leg with its own hoof or shoe; step on its own feet; or step on the edge of a shoe, pull it partially loose, and spend the remainder of the journey standing on the nails of the sprung shoe.

Check for ice balls on the bottom of feet when your horse has been standing in snow. If left in the foot, ice balls can press against the sole enough to cause bruising.

Hard ground is hard on hooves and joints. Try to ride your horse on dirt trails and grassy fields rather than pavement. Remember, Nike and Reebok don’t make horse sneakers.

Chapter 11


How is it that people who are missing half their teeth can still get fat?

There are dental problems with approximately 25% of horses, which isn’t bad when you consider that there are dental problems with 75% of dogs and 97% of Appalachians. The low rate of tooth decay among equines might be due their being herbivores. However, they do get other types of dental problems.

First let’s look at the life cycle of equine dentition. Like dogs and humans, horses have baby (milk) teeth and adult (permanent) teeth. The milk teeth start to erupt within 10 days after birth, and all 24 of them (12 incisors and 12 molars) appear within a year. As with humans, the milk teeth are smaller and whiter than the permanent teeth. I used to have a beautiful set of milk teeth. The last good picture of me was taken in 1969 when I was in the 2nd grade. My teeth were white and straight, and I displayed them proudly. The following year my permanent teeth reared their ugly heads. They were yellow and crooked, and had huge gaps between them. When I smiled it looked like my tongue was in jail. If you saw my 3rd grade picture you’d swear that my family had moved to West Virginia and that my parents routinely beat me and fed me nothing but sugar and cigarettes.

At about 2 years of age permanent teeth start to erupt, the process completing by 5 years of age. A mature male horse has 40 teeth: 12 incisors, 4 tushes (also called wolf teeth and bridle teeth), and 24 molars. The tushes are located between the incisors and molars where the bit goes, and for this reason they are often removed. Female horses usually have only 36 teeth because they rarely have tushes. Imagine if female humans didn’t have tushes. I mean, can you picture Oprah without a tush? She’d lose 200 pounds.

After all the permanent teeth are in, a horse’s age can usually be judged by the amount of wear on the incisors. In fact, Chinese drawings from as early as 700 B.C. show men looking in horses’ mouths to determine the animals’ ages. This method can be helpful when a horse’s papers get lost and nobody knows exactly when it was born. I do not possess the ability to estimate how old a horse is by this method. When I look at a horse’s teeth, I see nothing but rows of yellow, disgusting blocks that look like ancient piano keys. This is probably how we got the expression, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Unlike human teeth, equine teeth grow continually throughout most of a horse’s life. If a horse is lucky, grinding and chewing wear the teeth down at the same rate that they grow. Teeth grow fastest at up to about 15 years of age. Horses chew in circular motions with their molars. Often this causes uneven wear that results in sharp points that can cut the animal’s cheeks or tongue while it’s eating. This makes chewing difficult and causes the animal to ingest poorly ground food. This in turn results in reduced nutrition and can occasionally cause intestinal blockage. Therefore these points need to be filed down. A vet does this with a rasp. The procedure is called floating. The formation of tooth points is one reason that your horse should be seen by a vet at least once a year.

When horses graze, they cut grass with their incisors and chew with their molars. This allows the incisors and molars to wear at about the same rate. If there is no grass to eat and a horse lives on nothing but hay and grain, the incisors don’t get much wear and they can become overgrown. If so they should be filed down.

It is possible for a tooth to fracture. A fracture that stays above the gumline is usually not a problem because the tooth can simply grow out. However, if it extends down to the root, an abscess can develop. If this happens, either a root canal or an extraction will be needed. The latter is preferable because the former is expensive.

Chapter 12


Two farmers go out to the barn one morning and find their horse lying on the ground. They call a vet. He comes over, and when he sees the horse lying there, he reaches into his bag, pulls out a pipe, shoves it up the horse’s ass, and blows into it. The horse stands right up. The farmers pay the vet and he leaves. The next morning they find the horse lying down again, so one of them goes into the shack, gets a pipe, shoves it up the horse’s ass, and blows into it. Nothing happens. The other farmer says, “Here, let me try.” He takes the pipe out of the horse’s ass, turns it around, and puts it back in. The first farmer asks, “What are you doing?” The other farmer answers, “You don’t think I’m blowing in the same end you did!”

First let’s define the word parasite. A parasite is an organism that lives its life at another organism’s expense. You know, like Congress. There are so many kinds of parasites that can infect horses that it’s a wonder the species has survived this long. Modern medicine has vaccinations and cures for many but not all of them. Horses are still lucky, though – they don’t get married.

Equine influenza (flu), a viral respiratory infection, is most common among 2- to 3-year-olds, but can strike at any age. It is very contagious and can spread rapidly between horses, especially in crowded and stressful conditions such as sales, shows and racetracks. The symptoms and recovery time are similar to those of humans. Complete rest is necessary for a month or two after symptoms occur because horses worked while they have a fever often develop a bronchopneumonia complication or some other permanent heart/lung damage. There are two strains of horse flu (cleverly named “Type 1” and “Type 2”), and there is a vaccine that protects against both.

Rhinopneumonitis, a disease with flu-like symptoms, is caused by a herpes virus. It has three forms. One form causes pregnant mares to deliver dead foals and another form can cause paralysis. It can be prevented with periodic vaccinations.

Equine infections anemia, also known as swamp fever, is a viral infection that has flu-like symptoms accompanied by anemia (reduced red blood cell count) and fluid accumulation in the legs and underside. It can be detected with a Coggins test. It is one of the most feared equine diseases because there is no vaccine or cure, and it is for this reason that many shows and stables require a negative Coggins test before a horse is allowed on the grounds. Travel on interstate highways also requires a negative Coggins test. Because horses that have had a positive Coggins test are lifetime carriers of the disease, most states require that such animals be permanently quarantined or put to sleep.

Strangles (equine distemper) is a severe, contagious bacterial disease affecting the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms are a high temperature (103-104 degrees), nasal discharge, depression, increased respiratory rate, and a dry cough. The lymph nodes in the throat are swollen and painful, which makes the horse less willing to eat. The horse might stand with its neck stretched and head down. Infected horses, buckets, feeders, fences, shoes and waterers can spread the disease, so vaccination is recommended.

Tetanus is caused by a neurotoxin produced by a bacterium. Horses (and people) can get it from puncture wounds. About a week or two after injury, muscles start to tighten. Jaws muscles are among the first to be afflicted, hence the nickname lockjaw. Eventually all the muscle groups tighten and the horse cannot eat or drink and has difficulty moving. Your horse should be vaccinated against this every year.

Equine encephalomyelitis, or sleeping sickness, has three forms, one of which is often fatal. Sleeping sickness vaccination is combined with tetanus and influenza in one dose.

Potomac horse fever, which is transmitted by insect bites, is caused by Ehrlichia risticii. It has several symptoms including profuse diarrhea, and the horse usually dies. Vaccination is available.

Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or possum disease is a debilitating neurologic disease caused by the protozoan Sarcocystis falcatula. It is carried by birds, which are eaten by opossums, which shed the organism into horse feed, water and pasture. Horses ingest it and it settles in their spinal cords. It can be fatal, and fortunately horses cannot transmit the disease to each other. The highest risk of contracting this disease seems to occur between one and five years of age. There is a vaccine.

A rabid animal can bite your horse, transmitting the disease. A yearly rabies vaccination is therefore recommended.

Horses often get worms. In fact, very few don’t. The way it happens is a horse ingests parasite larvae while feeding, and the larvae migrate through the internal organs, eventually settling in or near the intestines, where they rob the horse of nutrients. When they mature, they lay eggs that leave the horse in the manure. When they hatch, the larvae crawl up grass blades to be eaten by other horses. In this way, horses that are kept together constantly reinfest each other.

Worms go by strange names such as ascarids, bots, and strongyles. Some burrow through intestinal walls and go into veins via which they then travel to the liver, lungs or other organs. Some burrow into arterial walls, causing an aneurysm that can cause the horse to bleed to death. An arterial wall can become inflamed, which can plug the artery and stop blood flow, killing the tissue it used to nourish. Infestations can cause many different symptoms, including weakness, stunted growth, tail rubbing (see next page), a dull coat, bloody diarrhea, and weight loss. Worms are the greatest single cause of colic (see chapter 16) in horses and are often a causative or contributing factor in many respiratory, digestive and performance problems. Worms can also carry bacteria that can cause serious infections in any tissues they travel through. For all these reasons, every horse should be dewormed.

The two basic ways to deworm are by a daily substance added to feed, and an oral paste administered periodically (every month or two). The periodic paste seems to be more popular, probably because it saves time. Dewormers (called anthelmintics) usually contain ivermectin or some other agent that kills worms and/or disrupts their life cycle. You can buy these medications without a prescription and administer them yourself. I cannot overstress just how important deworming is. Worms are a part of horse life, and if you fail to deworm you are almost guaranteeing an unpleasant infestation.

Tail rubbing can be a sign of worm infestation. For example, pinworms lay microscopic eggs around the anus. The gelatinous agent that surrounds the eggs causes discomfort, and the animal tries to get relief by backing into something and rubbing. However, other things might cause a horse to rub its tail: insect hypersensitivity, food allergy, lice, and mange.

Horses also get external parasites. Flies have four life stages: egg, larva (maggot), pupa and adult. They can be as irritating as Regis Philbin. (Horses have very sensitive skin that can feel a fly landing. They have muscles that attach to their skin so they can twitch their skin and shoo flies without moving major muscle groups.) Flies can also transmit diseases. Some fly larvae penetrate the skin, forming abscess-like bumps. Others lay eggs that hatch and become internal parasites. For example, bots – a kind of worm – are botfly larvae. There are two basic kinds of fly: biting and lapping. Biting flies pierce the skin and feed on blood. Lapping flies lick fluids such as tears and sweat. The housefly is the main lapping fly that affects horses. It breeds in fresh manure and hangs around horses’ eyes and nose looking for fluid. The deer fly, horse fly and stable fly are biting flies. The stable fly breeds in manure or a stall’s wet, soiled bedding. Flies really are disgusting creatures, aren’t they? And I thought Dr. Ruth Westheimer was bad.

There are several ways to ease the fly problem. Fly capes, which you drape over your horse, keep flies off the body. Fly masks keep flies off the face. Clean the poop out of your horse’s stall every day, and keep the manure pile as far from the barn as possible. Some flies breed in cow manure, so keep the horse away from bovine pastures if possible. Get rid of standing water (many flies and mosquitoes breed in it), and change the animal’s water every day. Put up bird feeders to attract insect-eating birds. Have a bat house for bats, which eat lots of insects. Spray disinfectant in garbage cans to keep attractive smells down. Many flies, especially horse flies, hate the dark, so during fly season put your horse in the barn during the day and out at night. (Of course, mosquitoes come out at night, so either way you’re screwed.) Flies prefer calm air, so a fan in the stall helps. Buy fly traps, catchers and zappers. This is a lot of work, isn’t it? Well, you wanted a horse, and boy did you get it.

A very common fly-fighting method is to apply repellent. Most repellents have insecticides, usually pyrethrins or pyrethroids. You can spray or wipe it on, and I recommend the latter because much of the spray never lands on the horse – it gets wasted and inhaled. Do the whole body, especially the legs and underside, particularly in front of the, uh, pee-pee. Horses can be allergic to certain chemicals, so spot test the repellent on a small area, wait a day and see what happens. You can also make a hypoallergenic fly repellent with two cups of vinegar, one cup of Skin-So-Soft bath oil, one cup of water, and one tablespoon of eucalyptus oil. No, wait, that’s my salad dressing recipe.

Mites (mange or scabies) cause areas of skin to become bald, reddened and inflamed. Intense itching causes the horse to rub or scratch, exacerbating the problem. Lice are uncommon, and they cause the same kind of irritation that mites do. Fungi such as ringworm (not a worm despite its name) cause dermatomycosis, which can result in reddened, bald skin patches covered with scabs, making your horse look like Mikhail Gorbachev.

Chapter 13


New book: Equine Leg Cramps by Charlie Horse

A horse is sort of a combination of a dog and a man, in that it sweats (like a man) and it has hair all over its body (like a dog). Of course, this also describes Rush Limbaugh, but horses differ in that they don’t smell as bad. Grooming your horse reduces filth, shines the coat, stimulates muscle tone, and makes the animal feel good. It gives you an opportunity to check for skin disorders, bumps, scratches, and insect bites. It promotes and spreads the secretion of skin oil, which softens the skin, unclogs pores, and stimulates circulation. Hmmm, maybe I should start grooming myself.

The currycomb is the primary crud remover. It’s a roundish implement with many rows of teeth that loosen just about any kind of foreign matter, including dried mud. Work it in a brisk circular pattern toward the hindquarters. Some horses are particularly sensitive and might not tolerate it. The wimps.

Brushes can be synthetic or natural. Synthetic brushes are cheaper, lighter weight, and easier to clean, but natural brushes are less abrasive and they reduce static buildup.

After currying the animal, sweep away loose hair and crud with a dandy brush. It’s meant for use on the body, not on sensitive bony parts such as legs. Use short, flicking strokes, and clean the brush every few strokes with the currycomb.

Next comes the body brush. Use long, smooth strokes all over the body and legs, and clean it while you groom. It’s important to brush in the direction of the hair. You’d be surprised how many people don’t grasp this concept. Look at Al Sharpton.

If you find small, yellowish dots on your horse, they are probably botfly eggs. Scrape them off with a knife, wipe the knife with a disposable cloth, and dispose of the cloth properly.

Horses are the only animals other than humans that sweat as a primary means of dispersing heat. Horses produce more of a protein called latherin than we do, resulting in a foamy coating after hard exercise. If your horse’s hair is saturated with sweat (or rainwater), you should squeegee it with a sweat scraper before brushing. Just scrape it along the body and watch the dirty fluid run off the animal. (Ewwwwww!) Then wipe it with a towel. If the animal is particularly filthy and you have a hose and some time, bathe it with mild soap and water. Then scrape and wipe.

Don’t let your horse’s coat stay wet because moisture promotes rainrot, which is a crusted, painful, infectious skin inflammation caused by Dermatophilus organisms. It removes hair at its roots.

Mane hair and tail hair usually get tangled. Apply a detangler and comb them until the comb goes through without catching.

Brushes and scrapers should be sanitized by soaking them in a cleaning solution of diluted biodegradable horse-friendly shampoo.

Hoof oil can be applied to the top part of the hooves in order to keep them from drying out.

Horses grow a winter coat and shed it in spring. Removing it in the spring can be a pain. You might invest in a fiberglass grooming block to help with this.

Other grooming aids you’ll probably want to keep handy are alcohol-free baby wipes (for ears, eyes and nostrils) and paint brushes or sponges (for hoof oil, fly lotion, etc).

Clippers or shears can be used for cutting hair, whiskers, etc. I recommend only functional cutting. I would never clip for show purposes because I don’t believe in horse beauty pageants. I don’t believe in dog beauty pageants either. Human beauty pageants are another story. I’m not talking about Miss America; I’m referring to the covers of magazines like Shape and Cosmopolitan that litter supermarket checkout aisles. They give me something nice to look at while the frumpy hausfrau ahead of me writes a check to pay for a Boston cream pie and a bottle of diet Coke.

While grooming, do not drop grooming tools on the ground, because that could cause you to trip over them or the horse to step on them.

By the way, sharing grooming implements, towels, etc among horses is risky because it can spread fungi. Which reminds me of a joke. (What doesn’t?) A mushroom goes into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender says, “Get outta here. We don’t serve your kind.” The mushroom replies, “But I’m a fungi!” (Get it? Fun guy?)

Your horse might try to groom you while you groom it. This is because horses mutually groom each other as a show of affection. Unfortunately they groom by nibbling, which could be painful for you, so if your horse starts to exhibit this behavior, push its head away and make the animal stand still.

I saved sheath cleaning for last. The sheath is the pocket that houses the penis. Obviously this is not found on females, unless the female is Bea Arthur. Dirt and secretions called smegma build up inside the sheath, and it is good practice to remove them. Put on a pair of latex gloves. Use a turkey baster to squirt a pHisoHex or betadine soap solution inside the sheath. Smear one glove with K-Y Jelly (you can use mineral oil or petroleum jelly, but K-Y is preferred because it’s water-soluble). Stick your hand in the sheath and work it around the penis. (I’ve had some dates that ended this way, usually after the woman left.) Extract your hand occasionally to remove debris and/or apply more K-Y. Then use the turkey baster to rinse.

Now comes the fun part. And by “fun” I mean “disgusting”. There is a pouch near the end of the penis on the top side of the urethra, about 3/4 of an inch in. Smegma often accumulates in there and hardens into bean-like lumps. Lubricate your pinky and insert it into the urethra, searching for and removing any lumpy debris. Use plenty of gel and patience.

If the horse gets an erection while you’re cleaning its sheath, and you’re a man, try not to feel inadequate. Remember, horses have much larger members than people have. There are all sorts of products that will purportedly enlarge your love gun, but I think they’re rather dubious. A friend of mine took some penis-enlarging pills for about six months. At his next physical, his doctor said, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that your penis has grown an inch and a half since your last visit.” My friend exclaimed, “That’s great! What’s the bad news?” The doctor replied, “It’s malignant.”

Chapter 14


A husband and his blonde wife are watching an old western on TV. The husband says, “I bet you a dollar that horse right there steps in a gopher hole and they have to shoot it.” She says, “Okay, you’re on.” Sure enough, the horse steps in a hole and they have to shoot it. The husband says, “I have to confess – I’ve seen this movie before.” The wife says, “So have I, but I didn’t think the horse was so stupid that he’d step in that hole again!”

Always make professional help as available as possible. Have several emergency phone numbers handy so that you can call your vet, a backup vet in case yours is unavailable, and the closest equine surgery center. Call the vet if there’s uncontrollable bleeding, sudden lameness, choking, or eye injury. (In the horse, not you).

The most important part of first aid is to prevent further injury to the horse and any injury to you. Horses, like most non-predators, are creatures of fright and flight, and a distressing situation can make them struggle in vain and do nothing more than exacerbate the situation. Your first task is to prevent this. For example, if your horse is caught in a feeder or barbed wire, calm and soothe it before attempting to free it; otherwise it could pull a muscle, lacerate itself, or kick you.

Serious bleeding should be slowed with a pressure bandage. Leg bleeding can be controlled by wrapping an elastic bandage around it just above the wound, but be careful to avoid completely cutting off the circulation because that can cause tissue to die. The bandage should be applied just strongly enough to slow but not completely stop the bleeding. This will buy time until veterinary help is available. Do not treat a laceration with lanolin or petroleum-based products because they’re not water-soluble and they make it very difficult for a vet to clean the wound. Instead, clean the wound with water and organic iodine (not tincture of iodine, which is too strong). Don’t be alarmed if your horse bleeds. An average horse has about 8 or 9 gallons of blood and can tolerate losing up to 25 percent (over 2 gallons) of it. It may lose what looks like a lot of blood but this amount might not be serious. In fact, the large volume of equine blood is the reason that horses are used to make antivenin: they’re given toxins (e.g., snake venom) in gradually increased doses, to which the horses develop antibodies. Eventually the horses are bled and the antibodies are used.

Deep lacerations need to be stitched. The idea is to make the wound heal by “first intention”, which is when the two edges attach themselves to each other. Open wounds heal by “second intention” in which new tissue, called granulation tissue, grows to fill the gap. This takes longer than first intention healing. Additionally, horses tend to form too much granulation tissue, which grows into a raised lump called “proud flesh”. Cuts at or below the knee need special attention because leg movement stretches the skin, pulling the edges apart.

Tendon strains in the legs are signaled by edema and heat. Any swollen area should be iced during the first 48 hours, 3-5 times a day for about 30 minutes at a time. Put an ice pack against the swollen area and secure it with an elastic bandage. You might need a vet to diagnose the problem, because edema and heat could be caused by something other than tendon strain. If the problem is a strain, recovery might take many months of rest. This could mean confinement to a stall, because horses often run in pastures as hard as if they had a rider on their back. If the animal keeps running on the injury, it might worsen and never heal.

The most common injuries to the sole and frog are puncture wounds. If you find a nail or other object stuck in your horse’s foot, you have three options. One is to simply call the vet; by leaving the object in there, the vet can see how deep the wound is via an x-ray and determine whether surgery or medication is needed. However, if you fear that the animal will drive it in deeper, then you can either cut it off as close to the foot as possible or pull it out. In either case, mark the spot with a red indelible marker so the vet can find the wound site later. If you extract the object, save it so the vet can estimate how deep the wound is. Always call the vet for deep puncture wounds because of the possibility of abscess or structural damage.

An abscess can form in the hoof not only from a puncture but also from any breach, such as a hoof crack, that allows bacteria to enter the soft tissue. The hoof cannot expand in order to accommodate the pus, and the result is pain and lameness. Call a vet immediately so he can drain the pus (making an incision if necessary) and administer antibiotics.

Navicular syndrome is a common cause of intermittent forelimb lameness. The navicular bone is a very small bone that sits deep within the hoof. It is shaped like small canoe, which led to the name “navicular”: the prefix “navicu” means “small boat” in Latin. The primary function of the navicular bone is to provide a gliding surface at the point where the deep digital flexor tendon changes angle. Several different problems can lead to pain and lameness in this area. It is nearly impossible for you to diagnose this or any other internal problem yourself, and it is for this reason that you should call the vet for any unexplainable lameness. Treatment for navicular syndrome might include hoof trimming, therapeutic shoeing, anti-inflammatory medication (phenylbutazone, nicknamed “bute”), and/or surgery. Sometimes an anticoagulant called warfarin can assist by lengthening blood clotting time; this prevents new blood vessels formed at the navicular bone from becoming blocked by blood clots. By the way, warfarin is also used as rat poison. So poison can be a good thing. For example, a lot of people call the alcohol I drink a “slow poison”. That’s okay – I’m in no hurry.

Chapter 15


A newly hired farm hand notices that all the workers are men. He asks one of them, “What do the guys do when they want sex?” The man answers, “Use the horse.” He is shocked at first, but figures that if everyone else does it, then it’s okay if he does. He goes into the stable and sees a mare. He stacks a few hay bales behind it, climbs up, drops his pants and starts having his way. Just then the man who he had been talking with earlier walks in, sees what’s going on, and exclaims, “No! I meant you use the horse to ride into town!”

This disorder gets its own chapter because it is such a common ailment and it is so feared by horse owners. In fact, it is almost as ubiquitous and despised as lawyers.

Laminitis is noninfectious inflammation of the sensitive plates of soft tissue (laminae) in the hoof. It most often affects the front feet. Tissues in the hoof wall that keep it attached to the coffin bone (the lowest foot bone) break down. In advanced cases, the bone rotates or falls onto the sole and causes intense pain. When this happens, the condition is called founder. A lot of people use the terms “laminitis” and “founder” interchangeably, but technically founder is worse than laminitis because it is the advanced stage in which a bone sinks (founders) through foot tissue. Laminitis can sometimes be healed but founder is irreversible because there is no way to return the coffin bone to its original position. A foundered horse usually becomes permanently lame and is therefore rendered as useless as Kato Kaelin.

Unfortunately, a horse is often in the acute stage of laminitis before exhibiting signs that would tip off the owner or trainer. Once the acute stage is reached, damage within the hoof happens rapidly. The good news is that if founder does not occur, acute laminitis often begins to heal on its own after a few days.

Chronic laminitis means that a horse must deal with pain and lameness after an initial insult that causes damage. There are several treatments, including special shoes that redistribute weight in order to take pressure off sensitive parts of the foot, but a chronically laminitic horse will never be its old self again.

Several things can cause laminitis, including infections, stress, and foot concussion from running on hard surfaces. The most common cause is diet. Since I have very little else to say about laminitis, I’ll explain in long and boring detail how diet causes it.

The growth and strength of the laminae are regulated by metalloproteinase (an enzyme), the activators and inhibitors for which are produced within the hoof capsule. These activators and inhibitors interact to disconnect and re-connect the dermal/epidermal interface during growth on a cellular level, thus permitting only limited disconnections in any region at one time. When metalloproteinase gets too activated, too many cellular disconnections occur, thus weakening the overall integrity of the bond between the hoof wall and the coffin bone.

But how does metalloproteinase get too activated? When a horse suffers a carbohydrate or sugar overload, such as might occur after gorging on grain or lush spring grass (which is higher in sugars than later-season grass), the gastrointestinal tract becomes overwhelmed and some of the carbohydrates end up being digested fermentatively in the hindgut rather than in the small intestine. Since the digestive microflora in the hindgut are designed to process fiber, not carbohydrates and sugars, they struggle to break down this energy-rich material. The gut pH changes, causing more sensitive species to die off and allowing Streptococcus bovis, a common environmental bacterium, to take over. It releases large amounts of laminitis trigger factors, which break down the gut wall just enough to allow them access to the horse’s bloodstream. From there they quickly travel throughout the horse’s body to the laminae.

So in order to prevent diet-triggered laminitis, limit the intake of grain and lush grass. Horses should get reduced pasture time whenever the grass has undergone a flourish of growth. Even after it has been grazed, the remaining stalk of lush grass is still a hazard because that is where most of the sugars accumulate.

Some breeds are more susceptible to laminitis than others. For example, Quarter Horses and Morgans are more susceptible than Arabians. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is. It’s the same with humans: some are more prone to heart disease than others. A number of people can eat crap, smoke, and sit on their asses for 90 years without a problem; while others eat well, avoid tobacco, and go to the gym regularly, and they croak shortly after Social Security kicks in. It’s in the genes. Nevertheless, lots of folks make futile efforts to prolong their lives. Take me for instance: both my father and his father died in their 50s of heart disease, so I figure I’ve got about two years left. Even so, I exhaust myself in exercise and deprive myself of tasty food. It’s ridiculous. We’ve all got a limited amount of time to enjoy what little life we have, so why torture ourselves eating rice cakes and riding treadmills? Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk!

Chapter 16


How many blondes does it take to water a horse? Three: two to hold its head under water and one to suck on its ass.

Like humans, horses need protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. For information on these, see my book How to Be Healthy Until You Die. (Don’t you just love how I keep plugging my past failures?)

A horse’s digestive tract is 70-100 feet long. The capacity is 35-45 gallons, which is almost as much as Marlon Brando could hold in his later years. Food usually takes 45 to 72 hours to pass through. The small intestine is the longest component and does most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients, but food spends most of its time in the large intestine where microbes digest the food’s fiber (stomach and small intestine enzymes cannot digest it). Fiber is essential for proper gut functioning, and a horse should get at least one percent of its body weight in fiber every day. Our enzymes and microbes cannot digest fiber, which is why it passes through us unchanged, turning a typical Caesar salad into a $6.95 pile of poop.

Before discussing food, we need to become familiar with a condition called colic. Colic is the number one killer of horses. Abrupt changes in feeding practices, overfeeding, stress, parasites, poor feed quality, dehydration, pregnancy, eating sand, or a twisted intestine can cause intestinal membrane inflammation, an impacted or plugged intestine, sand in the cecum, blockage of blood supply to the intestine, or a stretched digestive tract due to gas. The result is severe pain. A colic horse may sweat, become restless, paw the ground, curl its lip, grind its teeth, roll on the ground, get up and down several times, bite at its sides, and/or kick at its belly. (Coincidentally, my friends do these things when they eat my cooking.) If your horse shows signs of colic, call the vet immediately; precious minutes can make all the difference.

The mainstay of your horse’s diet is grass. While ample grazing is important, remember to limit grazing if the pasture has lots of lush grass or else laminitis could result.

Grass provides most of a horse’s nutritional needs. However, since domesticated horses trample and graze the same fields on a regular basis, the amount of available grass is limited. This is one reason that owners feed their horses hay. Hay is basically dried grass, although not all hay is the same. Different types of grass give different amounts of nutrients. For example, alfalfa is too rich in protein and calcium; a diet of nothing but alfalfa increases the likelihood that the horse will develop kidney stones.

When you buy hay, it should be green, leafy and fine-textured, and have a fresh, pleasant aroma. Musty, dusty, or moldy hay is dangerous because horses can breathe in dust and mold, which cause a serious allergy-induced respiratory disorder called heaves (or, technically, chronic pulmonary alveolar emphysema). Symptoms include coughing, loss of stamina, shortness of breath, and flared nostrils. The elasticity of the diaphragm is destroyed, so the horse has to contract its abdominal muscles in order to exhale (hence the term “heaves”). It tends to be permanent, and left untreated it worsens. The best treatment seems to be keeping the horse outdoors 24 hours a day, with a diet of nothing but grass and/or dust-free hay cubes. Another name for this condition is broken wind, which I think is ridiculous. I mean, a fart is broken wind.

If dusty hay must be fed to your horse, first sprinkle it with or dunk it in water. (I’m referring to the hay, not the horse.)

If you store hay, make sure to keep it dry. Wet hay loses nutrients through fermentation. The heat generated can even start a fire through spontaneous combustion. I’ve never understood this: wet hay can ignite a fire, but when I go camping I can’t get a campfire started with dry leaves and a Branch Davidian.

In addition to grass and hay, a horse’s diet may contain concentrates such as corn, oats and barley, which are sometimes coated with sweeteners such as molasses. These grains are lower in fiber and higher in energy than hay and grass, so horses must not eat them in large quantity or else overweight can result. Even worse, much of it will get digested in the small intestine and then spill into the large intestine where microbes eat it, producing large amounts of gas and acid, both of which can cause colic and laminitis. Oats are the safest concentrate because they’re the highest in fiber and lowest in energy. Corn has the highest energy content.

There are all sorts of supplements on the market: vitamins, minerals, oilseed meals, soybeans, linseed (flaxseed) meal, peanut meal, rapeseed (canola), cottonseed, and sunflower seed meal. These products are usually not necessary as long as the animal is getting forage, hay, and some concentrates. One exception is selenium: this mineral is deficient in some areas of the country. Ask your vet or agriculture extension if a selenium supplement is recommended.

The average horse should get about 20 pounds of grass/hay and 3 pounds of grain per day. Age, weight, and activity level will determine the exact amounts. For example, a horse that is worked extremely hard (e.g., a race horse in heavy training) can be given up to 8 pounds of grain, but a horse that spends the day sitting on its ass watching American Idol shouldn’t be given any grain at all.

Plenty of fresh, clean water is a must. A horse drinks 10-20 gallons a day. That’s almost as much as David Hasselhoff. Horses can easily dehydrate and overheat. To test for dehydration, pinch a fold of skin at the shoulder. If a crease is still visible after 3 seconds, the animal is dehydrated. Another way to test is to press the gums just above an upper incisor. This will squeeze the blood out of that spot, turning the normally pink tissue white. When you let go, the pink color will return within 2 seconds unless the horse is dehydrated.

A popular belief is that a hot and sweaty horse should cool down before it is allowed to drink because allowing it to drink while it’s hot will cause colic. This isn’t true. What happens is that the cold water cools the stomach or intestines and blood is diverted to them in order to warm them up, and this can cause temporary cramping.

Carrots make good treats. They’re high enough in fiber and low enough in carbohydrate to be perfectly safe. Other treats such as apples and peppermint should be given sparingly. Always hold a treat in your palm and hold your hand flat. The horse will pick up the treat with its prehensile lips. That is, if you’re lucky. If you’re not so lucky, the horse will end up with a bonus finger.

Horses need salt. You should keep a salt block where your horse can have free access to it. When it gets a hankering for salt, it will lick the block.

Equally important as what you feed your horse is how you feed it. Horses are herbivores whose digestive systems are designed to function on small and frequent roughage meals. The colon’s bacteria need a frequent supply of balanced, high-quality nutrients or else they die in large numbers, leaving too few to carry out digestion. Therefore it is important to give your horse plenty of grazing time. It’s best to maximize forage/hay and minimize grain; the amount of grain fed should be just enough to provide what’s lacking in the forage. (The exceptions are foals, who eat a much higher ratio of concentrates to forage because the hindgut hasn’t developed to the point where it can handle forage.) Grain rations should be divided into as many feedings as possible in order to prevent insulin spikes. A horse should have free access to hay, not “hay meals”. Do not feed hay or grain on the ground because that will cause the horse to pick up sand and dirt, which can cause colic. I’m glad I’m not a horse, eating nothing but grass, hay and grain – I couldn’t imagine living without Chinese food.

How do you tell whether your horse is overweight? Well, until two years of age the ribs should show. After that it should have enough fat that its ribs don’t show, but you should be able to feel the ribs when you run your fingers over them. You can estimate its weight as follows: measure the heart girth (run a tape measure around the chest just behind the forelegs) and body length (from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks). Now multiply the body length by the square of the heart girth, and divide by 330. For example, if heart girth = 74.8 inches and body length = 63 inches, then the horse weighs approximately (74.8 times 74.8 times 63) divided by 330 = 1068 pounds. I estimated my own weight using this formula. My heart girth is 42 inches and my body length from shoulder to buttocks is 23 inches, so according to the equation I should weigh 123 pounds. In reality I weigh 175 pounds, which leads me to believe that the formula was invented by Enron.

Chapter 17


A friend of mine rode his horse through the business section of New York City. Everyone laughed and said that the horse looked stupid, but let me tell you, that horse made a pile on Wall Street.

A horse needs special living arrangements because it can’t live inside your home. Imagine a 900-pound beast clomping around your dining room, eating your houseplants, pooping and snorting, like Michael Moore if he were a vegetarian. (Yes, I know I already made fun of him. He’s just too good a target to use only once.) Actually that doesn’t seem too bad when I compare it to some roommates I’ve had. One of them had an extensive gun collection. He used to encourage me to touch them, which was odd because he used gloves when he handled them.

You can board your horse(s) on your own property if you have the proper facilities; otherwise you’ll have to pay to use someone else’s. How much it costs depends on the particular arrangement. Full board, where the landlord arranges to do all the care, is the most expensive. Partial board, where you have to do some of the care yourself, is cheaper. Self-care board is even cheaper but you have to do all the work. With partial board or self-care board you can often make arrangements with other people who board horses there to share chores so that none of you has to drive there every day. Working board is boarding for a reduced rate in exchange for allowing your horse to be ridden for lessons or for pleasure.

Two things are necessary for a good boarding arrangement. The first is pasture. We’re talking several acres, not your typical suburban back yard. I recommend at least two acres per horse. The other essential item is shelter. It can be a large stable where each horse gets its own stall, or it might be merely a 3-sided “loafing shed” in the pasture under which all the horses kept on the property can huddle.

Let’s look more closely at pasture requirements. The need for vast amounts of land stems from two things: 1) horses trample grass and are selective in grazing, so they make use of only about half of available forage; and 2) horses cover a lot of ground when they play. Have you ever seen horses at play? It’s both wonderful and scary. They run together and chase each other, their hooves pounding the ground as they gallop. Just stay out of their way or else you might get run over. If you ever find yourself in a situation where a speeding horse is coming toward you, wave your arms over your head. This will make it easier for the horse to see and avoid you. Also carry ID so the coroner can identify you.

There should be a large water trough in the pasture, and the water should be changed every day if possible. This is especially important during hot weather when horses sweat more than usual.

The pasture should be free of trees, weeds and other plants that aren’t grasses, because some plants and tree leaves are toxic to horses. For instance, larkspur will cause nausea, rapid pulse and respiration, constipation, and bloating. (These things also happen to me when I eat at Denny’s.) Unfortunately horses cannot purge toxins once they feel sick because they can’t throw up. The only way to make a horse throw up is to show it a picture of Linda Tripp.

The pasture should also be free of potentially injurious items. For example, a horse that’s running after a playmate and not paying attention can run into a piece of farming equipment that’s sitting in the pasture. Holes can be impossible to see, and a horse that steps in one can sprain a foot or break a leg.

A fence around the pasture is a given. No pasture is safe without a fence, because horses can wander off, get hit by cars, or be stolen. That’s right – stolen. The world is full of criminals who will steal just about anything. Stolen horses can be sold to people who either resell them or butcher them for their meat. For this reason all gates leading into the pasture should have a padlock. It doesn’t stop people from jumping the fence, but it does stop them from leading a horse out or pulling a trailer in. The fence needs to be visible to horses so that they don’t accidentally run into (or through) it. An all?wood fence is good, but wire is okay too as long as the posts are close enough together to establish a boundary. Wire fence should be smooth, not barbed, because barbed wire increases the severity of fence injuries. Electric wire is good because a horse that gets shocked is discouraged from touching it again.

As for shelter, a stable is preferable to a loafing shed because it is easier to groom and feed horses if they each have their own stall. (Of course, this also means that you’ll have to clean up poop, as I will explain a bit later.) If the horses don’t have access to their stalls from the pasture, a loafing shed in the pasture would be a good idea. This way they can always be protected from storms and hot sun. Luckily horses do not need heat; they stand up to cold weather very well. However, they do need protection from drafts. The only animal that hates a draft more than horses do is Bill Clinton.

Each stall should be at least ten feet long, ten feet wide, and eight feet high, with a doorway at least four feet wide. It should have plenty of light and ventilation but no drafts. Ventilation is important because urea in horse urine forms ammonia, which can cause respiratory problems. I don’t understand that -- I don’t have any problem with the urine fumes in my house.

The ground inside a stall should contain bedding. This is a material such as sawdust or straw that both gives the horse something soft to stand on and soaks up urine.

Unfortunately horses cannot be “stall trained”, and so one of the more unpleasant horse-related tasks is mucking stalls. This involves removing horse doots and urine-soaked bedding. The refuse can be picked up with a shavings fork (which is a rake shaped like a shovel), loaded into a wheelbarrow, and carted away. Add more bedding in order to maintain a thickness of about 5-6 inches. I suggest removing the horse from the stall before mucking it.

In addition to shelter there should be a barn for storing hay, bedding, etc.

Always consider fire safety. Stables and barns contain combustible materials such as wood, bedding straw, hay, leather, blankets, ropes and oils. If a fire occurs, a horse standing on a bed of straw might as well be standing in a puddle of gasoline. In fact, straw burns three times as fast as gasoline. If a fire breaks out, the horse has only about 30 seconds to escape because stable fires can rage out of control in just a few minutes. A stable should have water-type fire extinguishers, but keep in mind that since stable fires develop rapidly, fire extinguishers are useless if not used in the first minute. If a fire occurs, attempt to extinguish it, but if it looks as though it’s getting out of control, immediately begin evacuating the horses. Call the fire department if you can. It might help to blindfold horses in order to reduce panic.

Fires can start when no people are there, and if that happens, disaster is usually the result. Therefore take the following prevention measures: clean up and dispose of debris; have a detached rather than an attached hay barn; do not allow smoking; dispose of oily rags immediately after use; check electrical wiring periodically; and don’t let Michael Jackson shoot a Pepsi commercial there. Yeah, I know he’s dead. Deal with it. (PepsiTM is a registered trademark. Pepsi: the mild corrosive you can drink!)

The stall door should have a latch of some sort, but never padlock your horse in its stall because other people should be able to remove it during an emergency.

Bird and rodent droppings on hay can spread infections. For this reason, a barn cat is a good idea. I’m glad that we finally found a good use for cats other than target practice.

A stall should have a water bucket that’s hung high enough to prevent the horse from getting a hoof in it. Standing water breeds insects, plus the animal will drop hay and dirt in there, so the water should be replaced every day or two.

Do not feed hay or grain on the ground because that will cause the horse to pick up sand, dirt and dust, which can cause colic or heaves. There should be a hayrack and a grain box, and each should be attached to a wall or corner at about shoulder level. The hayrack should have an open space at the bottom so that chaff and dirt can fall out. A grain box is sometimes called a “manger”, which is where the baby Jesus was kept for a little while. Which reminds me, a lot of people who believe in Him are hypocrites. Once I was at a stoplight behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Honk if you love Jesus.” So I honked. The driver leaned out his window, flipped me the bird and yelled, “Can’t you see the light is still red, you fucking moron?”

Always look for sharp objects in the bedding. A horse can step on a nail or broken glass, which can cause a puncture wound and an abscess. The best time to look is when you’re mucking the stall.

Believe it or not, horses like a good view. A stall can get boring even for a subhuman creature like a horse or government employee, so make sure that yours has the ability to look out from the stall and see a pasture, animals, or something other than the side of a barn.

A nice thing to have in a stable is a tack cabinet in which to store your horsey items. In addition to tack, boots and helmets, it should contain antiseptic, soap, fly repellent, bleach, wound dressings, bandages, towels, sponges, medical tape, scissors, Epsom salts, tweezers, pliers, duct tape, a thermometer, and K-Y jelly. One of the first things I did for my ex when she got her horse was build her a large wooden cabinet with shelves and two saddle racks. I drilled and screwed and sweated for hours. Then I put on my pants and built the cabinet.

Horses enjoy having a stall of their own. They like to be let out to graze and run with others in the pasture, but they also like to have their own shelter to return to. Additionally, they are creatures of habit. Therefore a routine of being let out to the pasture and brought into the stall is comforting. During cold weather they should spend the day in the pasture and the night in the stall. Vice versa for warm weather. Don’t worry about leaving your horse in the dark because horses see very well at night.

Try to board your horse with others. Being part of a herd offers some advantages that human companionship doesn’t provide. Your horse would get more exercise in the pasture because it would have playmates. Having herdmates to help watch for danger would reduce its stress level. Paradoxically, a herd of three can be a problem because two of the horses often pair up and harass the other. A herd of four or more is therefore desirable. A pair of horses is okay too, except that if they are ever separated it will be even more difficult for them than if they had been in a herd.

By the way, you might have noticed that you don’t often see your horse lie down. That’s because the animal’s massive weight causes the ground to put great pressure against the body, thus hindering blood circulation and respiration. It’s actually easier to rest and sleep standing up. Also, horses sleep less than three hours a day. I’m envious of any animal that can sleep less than the Amish, because my brain starts to shut down every evening at about 7:30.

Chapter 18


Why didn’t the mare want to have sex with the stallion?
Because he was hung like a human.

Most horse people merely ride their animals for pleasure or show, and do not breed them. Breeding is nonetheless important because it is how the species keeps going.

Mares usually, but not always, come into heat for about 5 days every 3 weeks during warm weather. However, if people want a foal born in a certain month, the estrus cycle can be artificially altered with hormones or light.

In the wild, a receptive female will approach and interact with a stallion head to head, and the two of them will nuzzle, sniff, nip and vocalize. Sometimes a mare is only half ready and she becomes a tease: she’ll urinate, open and close her vulva, and give the stallion “come hither” actions, but as he approaches, she’ll turn and lash out at him. It reminds me of dating in high school. She will often urinate; the urine at this time has chemicals that transmit a sexually arousing fragrance. It causes the stallion to curl his top lip upward and sniff intensely. This is called the flehman response. He might then circle her in a sort of mating dance, like a man at a discotheque but not as ridiculous. The stallion works his way across her flank to her hindquarters, where he will sniff, lick and nibble her rump and back legs. It’s quite similar to human courtship, but it’s a lot cheaper because you don’t have to buy expensive meals, drinks or jewelry. Eventually he mounts her, and he must be very careful because she might kick backward and injure him. (I’m glad that I’m not a horse. When women reject me the worst I get is a restraining order.) Once he penetrates, he copulates for less than a minute (like I do). When he’s done he wanders off to eat (again like I do).

Domestic breeding is much different. The two horses never get to be head to head; the stallion is forced to mount, do his business, and quickly dismount, as though he’s visiting a prostitute. Typically the mare is restrained or tranquilized so that she will stay still (boy, that brings back college memories). Her hooves are fitted with felt boots in order to minimize damage to the stallion should she kick. (I think this is a great idea, and it’s why I used to make my college girlfriend put mittens on when we had sex.) Sometimes people are needed to “guide” the stallion’s 20-inch love lance. I’d hate to have that job.

Mating horses can give each other STDs just like people can, so they should be checked for microbes beforehand.

With all the kicking and the danger of STDs, stallions sure take a lot of risk for such brief pleasure. Remember, they can’t even shtup for a minute. No wonder mares kick.

Gestation typically lasts for a little over eleven months, but this can vary by a few weeks in either direction. When delivery time comes the mare prefers to be alone. She can control her contractions and delay birth until no one else is around. This is why more than 90% of foals are born in the middle of the night.

The front feet of the foal come out first, followed by the head and the rest of the body. The mare will then spend about a half hour licking the foal in order to clean and stimulate it. This also causes the mare to become attached to the foal’s scent. Do not cut the umbilical cord: the foal is getting a last dose of its mother’s blood, which will help improve its immunity. Eventually the mare will stand and the cord will break. The foal will stand about an hour after being born.

Any part of the placenta that doesn’t get expelled will decompose and become infected, so make sure that it all exits. The thing is, how does one know whether it’s all been expelled? It comes out all messy and yucky, like a Taco Bell burrito.

Chapter 19


I had my plants neutered.

Male horses that are not to be used for breeding are usually gelded. Removal of the testicles eliminates the major hormones that drive male sexual and aggressive behavior, thus making geldings less energetic and strong-willed than stallions.

The scientific name for castration is orchidectomy (“orchid” means “testicle”; “ectomy” means “removal”). Another word for castration is marriage (“mar” means “ruin”; “riage” means “life”).

Castrating before one year of age is usually desired. If a horse is not castrated before it becomes a yearling, learned stallion-like behavior can persist even in the absence of hormones. Furthermore, foals have smaller testicles that are easier to remove, thus reducing the chance of severe post-operative bleeding. An effect of performing this procedure at such a young age is that closing of the growth plates in the legs is delayed, causing the animal to grow taller. Some people therefore choose to wait until the animal is two or three years old before castrating so that its bones and muscles develop normally.

The horse should rest for 24 hours post-operatively. After that, it is imperative that the animal exercise for at least one hour every day in order to keep the incisions draining properly. This is because the castration site needs to heal from the inside out. Lack of movement can make the skin incisions close prematurely, causing serum and blood to accumulate and become infected. If you see severe swelling or a steady stream of blood, call the vet.

You probably won’t see an attitude adjustment immediately after surgery because of residual testosterone in the horse’s body that will last for approximately six weeks.

In some cases the horse has an undescended testicle in the abdomen. This requires abdominal surgery to remove it because it can produce hormones just like a descended one can. A horse with an undescended testicle is referred to as a “cryptorchid”, a “rig”, and “that woman from Weakest Link”.

Chapter 20


I bought a pickup truck. It doesn’t work - I can’t get any women.

If you want to bring your horse to shows or ride it on trails other than those near where it’s boarded, you will have to haul it in a horse trailer. You might have seen one of these contraptions on the highway displaying a horse’s ass with a dark-colored tail hanging down, like Tom Daschle wearing a black tie.

Chances are that your horse has been transported in a trailer; that’s how it got where it is. If you’re lucky it is accustomed enough to trailering to go in and out fairly easily. Otherwise you’re gonna have to do some coaxing. The trick is to make the animal want to go in; whipping or forcing will only make it associate trailers with unpleasantness. Let it sniff and check out the trailer. Lead it up the ramp with a lead rope, and offer a carrot as an enticement or reward.

Make the trip pleasant by hanging a feedbag full of hay in front of the animal. Eating is a comforting activity. I think we all know this. Everyone has their comfort foods. Women have chocolate. Men have beer. Horses have hay. Mike Tyson has ears.

Most trailers hold two or more horses. Two-horse models usually have parallel stalls. In trailers built for three or more, the stalls are slanted because highway lanes are not wide enough to accommodate more than two horse widths. Stall dividers normally stop about six inches above the floor; this allows each horse more foot room than actual stall room. Wrap your horse’s legs and hoof tops in shipping boots in order to protect them from getting banged by the dividers and/or stepped on by its own or its traveling companions’ feet.

The trailer floor should be a non-slip surface such as rubber. If it isn’t, put matting or straw down in order to prevent slipping. Even a non-slip surface doesn’t guarantee good traction because horses often pee or poop while being transported, turning the once clean trailer into an equine port-o-potty.

Being hauled is work for a horse. In one study, transportation used as much energy as walking. Horses can also get “trailer sick” on road trips. Travel times of less than three hours usually don’t cause health problems, but about 12% of horses get sick if they’re on the road for 24 hours. This isn’t as bad as air transportation, which causes 30-40% of horses to become ill. Yes, some horses are flown to their destination. That doesn’t seem right to me. Wouldn’t it weigh down its side of the airplane? Well, I suppose it wouldn’t if Kirstie Alley were sitting on the other side.

Close any side doors while hauling, because flying stones or debris can cause eye injuries if the animal sticks its head out. Leave windows (which should have screens) and roof vents open because a hot trailer makes an uncomfortable and unhappy horse. Insulated and light-colored trailers help deflect heat. If the floor is metal, it can dissipate heat from a hot road into the trailer, so cover the floor with a rubber mat.

A good trailer has a dressing/tack room. This gives you privacy while changing clothes and allows you to store things. Good items to keep in there are medical supplies, buckets, a broom, towels, extra clothing, nonperishable food, a flashlight, a tire pressure gauge, a jack, a tire iron, screwdrivers, pliers, flares, and duct tape. You can never have too much duct tape. It’s useful for repairing things, attaching objects to each other, and silencing annoying people.

Trailers can be made from several different materials, and each has its pluses and minuses. Steel is very strong but it can rust. Aluminum resists rust, but it’s not as strong as steel and it costs more. A wooden floor helps prevent heat buildup but it can rot and the horse can step right through.

Know the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your trailer, which is the maximum weight of the trailer plus its contents. For example, if the trailer weight is 3500 and the GVWR is 7500, don’t carry more than 4000 pounds of horses plus equipment.

A trailer is very much like a car in that it must pass inspection and it must have brakes, lights, and a license plate. This means that you must register it, forcing you to deal with those apathetic morons at the Motor Vehicle Administration who look like they could have been human if they had gotten a better start in life. As for insurance, liability coverage falls under the insurance of the vehicle towing it. However, if you want collision or comprehensive insurance, they must be purchased separately. The trailer should receive yearly maintenance such as brake and bearing lubrication, suspension and electrical connections inspection, tire rotation, etc (there are shops that specialize in trailers). Additionally, the floor should be power washed a few times a year, even if it’s aluminum, because horse urine can corrode it. There is a lot more to know about trailers, but as you’re probably falling asleep by now, I’ll shut up.

No I won’t. I have to tell you about towing. The trailer is useless if you can’t pull it. Before discussing tow vehicles, let’s talk about how to connect a trailer to a tow vehicle. This is accomplished via a towing package. In addition to providing a secure connection, it allows you to control the trailer’s brakes and lights while you drive. The main connector is called the hitch. There are two types of hitch for the two types of trailer: bumper pull and gooseneck. I won’t describe them in detail because if you’re not familiar with hitches, my description will only confuse you. Besides, I’m getting tired of writing. In a nutshell, though, a bumper pull hitch is mounted to the tow vehicle’s frame below the back bumper. (You can get a hitch that connects to the bumper rather than the frame, but that would be stupid. The bumper can be ripped right off the vehicle. Get a frame-mounted hitch.) The trailer is connected to the back of the hitch. A gooseneck hitch is mounted to the frame at the rear axle through a hole in the truck bed, and the trailer extends over the bed and connects to the hitch from above.

A towing package must have a brake controller, which connects your brake pedal to the trailer’s brakes. A trailer has brakes because if you try to stop with only your towing vehicle’s brakes, the trailer can make you skid forward, especially on wet surfaces. Trailers can have electric or hydraulic braking systems, and I suggest electric because that’s what my ex’s trailer had and I don’t feel like researching hydraulic brakes. No, really, an electric trailer brake system has certain advantages, including a breakaway switch that automatically applies the trailer brakes if the trailer ever separates from the towing vehicle while moving. Synchronize the tow vehicle’s braking with the trailer’s electric braking by road testing and making adjustments to the brake controller (which is typically mounted under the tow vehicle’s dashboard). If the trailer brakes are underactivated, they won’t help much in braking; if they’re overactivated, the trailer will stop short and the tow vehicle will jerk to a halt, causing you to spill your beer.

A towing package must also have an electrical hookup. This allows you to activate the trailer’s brakes, brake lights and turn signals, all of which are required by law.

The important thing when selecting a towing vehicle is to make sure that it has enough power. Calculate the greatest amount of weight you will ever pull, as determined by the trailer’s weight, the number of horses, the weight of each horse, and all your equipment. Then get a vehicle whose tow rating is at least that amount. Don’t sacrifice power for gas mileage, because you will occasionally have to go up hills, and you don’t want to get stuck on some country road in a place where the wildlife has a higher IQ than the inhabitants.

During my marriage I discovered two problems with driving a large towing vehicle. First, the sheer size of my -- er, her -- truck made it difficult to maneuver into and out of parking spaces. Second, everyone thought I was compensating for a small penis. Let me just say right now that this is not the case. Sure, I have a small penis, but that had nothing to do with the truck.

Your tow vehicle should weigh more than what it’s pulling so that the trailer doesn’t become the tail that wags the dog: a swaying trailer can cause the towing vehicle to sway, perhaps even forcing it off the road. I also suggest an automatic transmission because a manual transmission can be overworked. At least if I’m driving. I once tried to learn how to drive a manual transmission, and the smell that emanated from underneath the vehicle was reminiscent of a tire fire.

There are other things to consider, such as wheel base, number of engine cylinders, gear-axle ratio, etc, but I’ll spare you all that stuff because it’s confusing and boring and you’re better off discussing it with someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.

Chapter 21


I know someone who’s into sadism, necrophilia, and bestiality. But that’s just beating a dead horse.

Most modern horses live into their 20s and some reach their 30s. Their useful life starts at around age 2 and lasts for 15-20 years. That makes them more useful than dogs and cats, and much more useful than Congress.

Perhaps the most common age-associated equine problem is arthritis, which, like its human form, is progressive joint inflammation due to trauma or wear and tear, leading to erosion of joint cartilage, pain, and loss of function. You can’t prevent arthritis because equine joints almost never get a break. Even standing at rest they’re bearing massive weight on tiny patches of cartilage. However, you can ease the effects of arthritis. Keep exercising your horse throughout its life, because regular exercise increases the circulation of nutrients into and waste products out of joints, strengthens muscles that protect joints from stress, and stimulates cartilage to grow thicker and healthier. Have a child ride the animal if the weight of an adult seems to be too much. If the horse’s gait is stiff and choppy until the joints are warm, then make sure that the animal gets proper warm-up time before you increase its speed. Healing can be encouraged with passive range-of-motion exercises: pick up each leg, gently bend and straighten the affected joints, and repeat several times. Additionally, joints can be directly injected with glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or anti-inflammatory medications. Consult your vet.

Older horses are more sensitive to bad weather. You can ease cold weather problems by giving your horse a blanket to wear. Or you can use the Jewish method: board the animal in Florida.

Tooth growth slows and eventually stops, leaving the animal with stubs instead of full-size teeth. Teeth can also fall out, leaving gaps in the dental arcade. Horses with dentition problems often “quid” their hay, rolling it into balls of wadded up feed that are then dropped onto the ground. This problem can be alleviated by feeding hay cubes, which are more easily chewed than regular hay and can be moistened for easier chewing.

Dietary needs change as horses age. The need for protein and phosphorus increases because 1) the digestive system becomes less efficient (i.e., it absorbs fewer nutrients) due to age and possibly chronic parasite damage; and 2) compromised dentition can cause the horse to swallow poorly chewed food, thus making nutrients less available. You might consider giving the animal one of the “senior” feeds. They’re easy to chew even for a horse with bad teeth, they’re easy to digest, and they’re quite palatable. At least they are to me.


Ben thinks that having a computer and a printer makes him an author. He knows nothing about anything, especially horses. The only experience he has with horses is watching the Kentucky Derby.

So why do we put up with his rubbish? Because if he’s writing at his computer, he’s not outside causing trouble.

Although Ben knows nothing about horses, he does have a few things in common with them: he sweats and smells, he’s covered with flies, and the only difference between a horse’s tail and Ben’s hat is that the horse’s tail covers the entire asshole.