Sunday, May 9, 2010

So when is it time for a new riding helmet?

A student who recently experienced an unplanned dismount and landed on her head said she checked it for cracks and it was fine. (Her helmet, not her head!) Is it, really? Turns out, manufacturers recommend replacement after *any* impact, even if there's no visible damage. While that might sound like a ploy to sell more helmets, there's a good reason to follow their advice.

We all know that safety helmets (for any activity) are designed to reduce the effects of an impact and protect your brain from traumatic injury. How do they do that? Essentially, the materials are designed to break down to absorb and distribute the energy of the impact. In the most extreme cases, this will result in obvious deformations and cracks. When a helmet cracks as the result of an impact, it's not a sign that the helmet failed, it's a sign that it did its job. (And a pretty good indication of what might have happened to your head if you hadn't been wearing one.)

While it's obvious that you need a new helmet if it's split in two or smooshed on one side, the internal structure of the helmet can be compromised by *any* significant impact. Once it's compromised, the helmet's ability to protect your head from future accidents is greatly reduced. And there's no way to tell by looking at a helmet whether or not it's going to work the next time.

This is why manufacturers say that any helmet involved in an accident should be replaced immediately. In fact, motorcycle helmet manufacturers recommend replacing any helmet that has even been dropped on the ground! It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but let's put it in perspective. You've only got one brain. The human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. An average horse walks at about 4 mph, trots at 9 mph, canters at 15 mph, and can gallop at 30 mph. (Quarter horses have been clocked at 50 mph over short distances!)

So you might be patting yourself on the back thinking no sweat, I've had it for years but my helmet's never hit the dirt (or a jump standard, fence, tree, etc.). Not so fast...

How Long Have You Had Your Helmet?

Did you know your helmet has an expiration date? Recommendations vary by manufacturer, but in general you should replace your helmet at least every 5 years, no matter what. The materials break down over time, especially under extreme temperatures.

Do you keep your helmet in your car? You might want to think about replacing it every two or three years, as the high temperatures accelerate the deterioration of the materials that are supposed to protect the jello-like substance that's your brain.

But a New Helmet is Expensive!

Remember that bit about only having one brain? You can get a brand-new ASTM/SEI approved schooling helmet for $25. A super nice, comfy International ATH helmet will set you back about $150. If you really splurge, you can spend up to about $250 for a super-light, high-tech helmet. While it might be a bit more comfortable, there's really no functional difference between the $25 helmet and the $250 helmet. Any properly-fitted, approved helmet serves the same purpose. Which brings up another issue that's probably a topic for another post...

How Do I Know My Helmet Fits?

A good fit is essential--just having a helmet on your head isn't enough! To protect your head, your helmet needs to stay in the proper position even if you're being tossed around like a puppet. First off, you ALWAYS need to secure the harness, and it should be snug without restricting movement or being uncomfortable. However, the helmet should fit close enough around your head that it stays in place without the harness buckled. You should be able to give a sharp nod without the helmet slipping.

That said, you don't want it to be so tight that it gives you a headache! This is where the differences between helmets and manufacturers really stand out. Not everyone's head is the same shape! Many newer helmets are equipped with an adjustable harness system that give more flexibility in the fit. Some manufacturers offer helmets for different-shaped heads, such as round vs. oval. Other manufacturers aim for an "average" shape--which works for some, but more often seems to average out to a poor fit for the majority of riders.

Bottom line? Have your instructor check the fit of your new helmet before you ride in it. Or better yet, ask for their input before you go shopping.

A Few References...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Slithery Friends

When the weather starts to warm up, the local snakes come out of their winter hibernation. You're most likely to see them when the nights are cool and the days are warm, but they are active throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Most "snake sightings" are King Snakes or Gopher Snakes, but this is also Rattlesnake territory. We like ALL of them—they're part of nature's rodent control system.

Rattlesnake Facts
  • Rattlesnakes can strike at distances up to 2/3 their own length.
  • It's possible for a rattlesnake not to have a rattle. Baby rattlesnakes don't have a functional rattle until they molt for the first time and adults occasionally lose theirs.
  • 25% of adult rattlesnake bites are dry, with no venom injected.
  • Baby rattlers are more dangerous because they have less control over the amount of venom they inject.
  • About 800 people in California are bitten by rattlesnakes each year and more than 99% of them survive.
Dos and Don'ts in Snake Territory

The best way to avoid being bitten by a snake (rattlesnake or otherwise) is to LEAVE IT ALONE!
  • NEVER stick your hands or feet anywhere you can't see them! This includes in piles of loose hay and under the pallets.
  • If you see a snake, DO NOT try to move, catch, scare, or kill it. If it's resting someplace where there's lots of foot traffic, let other folks know so they don't accidentally tangle with it.
To make sure you don't accidentally have a close-encounter with one of our slithery friends:
  • Avoid taking shortcuts through tall grass or weeds. Walk or hike in areas where the ground is clear, so you can see where you step or reach with your hands.

  • Make plenty of noise so that they have the opportunity to retreat. Rattlesnakes can sense that we're too big to eat and will only bite a human if they feel threatened.

  • Wear gloves when using your hands to move pallets, jump standards, rocks, or brush.

  • If you're working in the weeds, wear protective clothing such as long, heavy pants and high boots.

If you have small children, it's important to keep a close eye on them and keep them on the main walkways and out of the tall grass and weeds.

Name That Snake...

Have you seen any of these snakes around the barn or your house? Do you know which ones are poisonous?

Not sure? The answers are at the end of this post.

First Aid for Snakebites

If you or someone you're with is bitten by a rattlesnake or suspected rattlesnake, it should be treated as a medical emergency. Call 911 or proceed immediately to the nearest emergency room.

In the meantime:
  • Stay calm. It can be extremely painful, but rarely fatal.
  • Remove any jewelry or tight-fitting clothing that could constrict swelling.
  • Gently wash the bite wound with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the affected area and keep it below the level of the heart.
  • Apply ice
  • Attempt to "suck the venom out"
  • Apply a tourniquet
  • Administer aspirin or other NSAIDs
  • Elevate the affected area
What if my Horse or Dog Gets Bitten?

Horses tend to have a milder reaction to rattlesnake bites than humans. In fact, horses have traditionally been used to produce antivenin. Like with humans, the bite should be treated like a puncture wound. Keep the horse calm, clean the wound, and consult the vet immediately regarding further treatment. Bites on the nose or face can be life-threatening if the swelling impedes breathing. If necessary, 6" pieces of garden hose or hollow tubing can be inserted into the nostrils to keep the airway open.

Reactions vary in dogs (and cats), but rattlesnake bites can be life-threatening. Keep your pet calm and seek veterinary care immediately. (Call ahead to determine the nearest clinic that's prepared to treat snakebites.) It's generally advised NOT to attempt to clean the wound on your own, just head to the clinic. If your pet lives, works, or plays where there are rattlesnakes, ask your vet about the rattlesnake vaccine.

Want to Know More?
Row 1: Mountain King Snake, Ringnecked Snake, Garter Snake, King Snake
Row 2: Gopher Snake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Speckled Rattlesnake
Only the rattlesnakes are poisonous. Note that not all rattlesnakes have the distinctive diamond pattern. The Mountain King Snake is sometimes mistaken for the very venomous Arizona Coral Snake, which is not found in California.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Horse Show Checklist

With Cevalo's annual schooling show on Sunday, it seemed like a good time to review what a rider needs to do to get ready for a horse show. Our onsite events provide an opportunity for our students to gain some show experience in a familiar, low-key environment. Although we keep things pretty casual, riders are still expected to take the event seriously and put forward their best effort.

At any show, looks do matter. A well-groomed horse and a nicely-dressed rider show respect for the judges and demonstrate that you’re taking the competition seriously. On the other hand, a sloppy appearance gives the instant impression that you don’t really care. If you don’t care, why should the judges bother to give you a second look?

While the rider with the fancy gear and the flashy horse without a hair out of place won’t automatically be the one who wins the blue ribbon, the rider with the poorly groomed horse and dirty breeches and boots will have to work twice as hard to overcome the judge’s initial negative impression.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on fancy clothes and special show tack! Show coats are not required for Cevalo’s schooling shows and most other local schooling shows. Your everyday tack will work just fine as long as it’s in good condition and you’ve taken the time to clean and condition it. Do the best you can with what you have available and your effort will shine through and make a positive impression on the judges.

What to wear

At a minimum, you’ll need the following:
  • Light-colored breeches
  • White long-sleeved button-up shirt or plain white polo shirt
  • Riding boots (rubber boots are fine if you don’t have tall leather boots)
  • Helmet
  • Hair net (plain drug-store hair nets are fine, you don’t have to have a special pony-tail net)
Optional items:
  • Belt (if your breeches have belt loops)
  • Gloves (solid black or white)
  • Black velvet helmet cover (if you have a plastic helmet or your helmet is showing it’s age)
  • Show Jacket
  • Stock Tie and Pin
To keep light-colored breeches clean, it also helps to have a pair of sweats to wear over them until it’s time to mount up.

IMPORTANT: Outside shows might have different requirements for allowed clothing and tack. It’s important to familiarize yourself with all of the show rules well before the show so you have everything you need.

Grooming your horse for the show

If you’re going to be braiding, you’ll want to work on pulling the horse’s mane well before the show. Pulling thins the mane and creates a uniform lenghth to work with. It’s easier to do a little bit at a time. It’s also possible to use thinning shears instead of pulling by hand. If you’ve never done this before, team up with someone who has.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT trim manes or tails with scissors of any sort or clip a bridle path unless Diana has given the green light. Some of the horses (particularly Wyck) always go au-naturel.

Give your horse a bath a day or two before the show. If you’ve never bathed a horse before or are unfamiliar with the horse you’ll be bathing, ask Diana to find you someone to team up with. They can show you what you need to do & then you can help them with their horse.

  1. Groom the horse thoroughly before you start bathing to remove as much loose hair and dirt as possible.
  2. Wet him down thoroughly with warm water and wash his body with a mild shampoo to remove the remaining dander and dust. You can use a rubber grooming mitt or plastic curry comb to work the shampoo into his coat. Use an old stiff body brush to remove any mud or manure from his hooves.
  3. To wash the tail, fill a bucket with warm, soapy water and gently pull the tail to the side and dunk it in the bucket to wash it.
  4. Rinse with plenty of water until there are no more suds and the water runs clear.
  5. Use a soft sponge without soap to wash his face.
  6. Use a sweat scraper to remove excess water and rub him down with a towel.
  7. Carefully comb out his mane and tail. Using a small amount of Cowboy Magic helps with the tangles and leaves the hair nice and shiny.
  8. Hand-walk until the horse is thoroughly dry. (If you put him away damp, he’ll be itchy and want to roll, which will undo all of your hard work.)
  9. Before you put him away, make sure his stall is clean and put on a light blanket or sheet to help keep him clean.
The day of the show:
  1. Thoroughly curry and brush your horse. You can use a coat conditioner such as Shown Sheen to help get that shiny glow and repel dust. (Be careful not to get it where the saddle and girth go, it’s very slippery!) This is also a good time to apply some fly spray to keep both of you more comfortable.
  2. Carefully comb out the horse mane and tail, making sure to remove any bits of hay or shavings.
  3. If you’re braiding, now’s the time! You’ll need a braiding comb, a sponge or spray bottle with water to wet down the mane, rubber bands, tape, and plenty of patience.
  4. Pick out the horse’s hooves and clean off any dirt. Top dress the hooves with a coat of polish for a finished look. (Apply the polish with the horse standing on a clean, hard surface or you’ll end up with bits stuck to the hooves.)
  5. Use a soft sponge to wipe around the horse’s eyes and nostrils.

Show checklist

Before the day of the show:
  1. Gather your show clothes. Make sure everything’s clean, ironed if needed, and ready to wear.
  2. Clean and polish your boots. (If they are rubber, wash thoroughly and use
  3. Clean all of your tack—saddle, bridle, girth, and any other pieces you’ll be using.
  4. Wash the saddle pads you’ll be using.
  5. Give your horse a bath.
The day of the show:
  1. Arrive early so you’ll have plenty of time to get you and your horse ready.
  2. Groom your horse to perfection.
  3. Wipe down all of your tack to remove any surface dirt.
  4. Tack up your horse.
  5. Wipe down your boots to remove any surface dirt.
  6. Change into your show clothes. If you have long hair, make sure you have your hair pulled back neatly and covered with a hairnet to keep it from flopping about your face.
  7. Pull your boots on and tuck your shirt in & you’re ready to mount up!
  8. Have a buddy to give your boots a final wipe once you’re in the saddle to remove any dust.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Horse of the Day: Oreo!

OreoOreo is a Leopard Appaloosa mare. She and her mother were rescued from a pasture up near Clear Lake where they had been abandoned to fend for themselves with little food, water or shelter. She must not have had much at all to eat, as we soon discovered that she's an "easy keeper". In fact, she put on so much weight in her first few months at Cevalo, we had the vet check to see if she was pregnant! (She wasn't, she just needed to go on a bit of a diet.)

Oreo has many fans at Cevalo and is a great teacher. She's quiet and patient and loves being fussed over. Her long-time sponsor, Cheryl, dutifully brings her a "salad" every Sunday and makes sure she gets lots of grazing time and extra attention.

Breed: Appaloosa
Age: Mid-teens
Height: 15.3 hh
Sponsor: Cheryl Mitchell

Credits: Artwork by Annie Lingard. Photo by Deb Adair.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Even "Experienced" Folks Need Buddies

You might have noticed that my two previous posts extoll the virtues of the "buddy system" when working with the horses. At Cevalo, we pair up new students with someone who can show them the ropes, and encourage all of our students to help each other out. Not only can having help make things a whole lot easier, it's often the safest way to do things.

Sometimes, those of us who have more experience have a tendency to try to "go it alone" instead of asking for help. Take me last week trying to blanket my very unhappy mare. I've put a blanket on her countless times, but last week she was cold, miserable, and sick of me messing with her. Although she was giving me all the warning signs, I struggled by myself in the rain and mud to get the blanket on--only to realize when it came time to hook the leg straps that she wasn't just threatening to kick, she was fully-prepared to follow through. Fortunately, someone came to my rescue and together we were able to get the blanket secured without anyone getting hurt.

Fast forward a week to another blanketing episode. Except this time, the other experienced person had the good sense to ask for help up front. Like me, she'd seen the warning signs, but wisely chose not to try to go it alone. Good choice. The two of us were able to quickly and easily blanket the horse, reward him for standing still, and avoid giving him the chance to practice any bad behaviors. Opting to use the buddy system from the beginning was far safer for us, and much better for the horse.

Lesson learned. I feel fortunate to be a part of a community where folks are always willing to step in and lend a hand. We all need help sometimes!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tip of the Day: Catching a Reluctant Horse

We’ve all been there. You go to catch a horse in the pasture, and just as you’re nearly close enough to put the halter on, he turns tail and runs away. Maybe it’s been a while since he’s been out and he’s got a little excess energy and wants to play. Maybe one of the other horses drove him away to steal the attention. Or maybe he’s tired from his last lesson. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating, tiring, and time consuming to have to chase him down.

Maybe that’s because that’s exactly what you’re doing: CHASING HIM AWAY

Oops. If you approach from the front and glare at him in frustration, you’re just telling him to get moving. Ditto if you approach from the rear—especially if you’re running after him. And if you’re yelling and waving things in the air, well, you’ll soon have the whole herd going.

So how to you invite the horse to come toward you, or at least stand still while you close the gap?

  1. Adopt a passive body language. Avoid eye contact, keep your head down, and have your arms relaxed at your sides. If necessary, face away from the horse.
  2. Approach the from the side and walk slowly toward the horse’s shoulder. If the horse starts to move away, stop. When the horse stops again, continue walking toward him in a zig-zag pattern, gradually closing the gap. Be aware of your surroundings—if the horse is near an exit, busy road, or other hazard approach from the direction you *don’t* want him to go so you don’t accidentally drive the horse into a dangerous situation.
  3. Use any available helpers as “blockers”. Have your buddies position themselves to cut off the escape routes. If the horse starts to move in their direction, they should step calmly and quietly toward the horse. When he stops, they should stop. There's no need to wave and yell to redirect the horse, it will just get him wound up and more difficult to catch. The goal is to get the horse to stand still while you walk up to him to put the halter on.
  4. Quickly loop the lead rope over the horse’s neck so he knows he’s been caught. Get the halter on right away—don’t dilly-dally and give him a chance to have second thoughts about this being caught thing. (If you can’t put a halter on quickly, you need to practice on a cooperative horse!)

Treats such as grain or carrots should only be used as a last resort, especially in pasture where you’re likely to lure the whole herd and get mobbed. They are more effective when offered as a reward after you’ve caught the horse so he learns to associate being caught with good things.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tip of the Day: Getting a Horse to Move Out of Your Way

I received an email today that brought up a very good question: How do I get the pasture horses away from the gate so I can lead a horse through? The writer knew that just crowding through wasn't safe, but didn't know what to do other than to try to lure the horses away with food.

Now, knowing the horses, I'm pretty sure that her approach worked. Unfortunately, it also rewarded them for exactly the behavior we don't want to encourage--mobbing the gate.

The answer is actually pretty simple--it's exactly what you don't want to do if you want to catch the horse: act like a predator. You should:
  • Look the horse directly in the eye.
  • Make yourself as "big" as possible. (Stand up tall and put your arms up.)
  • March toward him and tell him to "git" like you mean it.
If possible, open the gate into the pasture to help get the horse moving out of your way. Swinging a lead rope in the horse's direction can help encourage him to move, but make absolutely sure you're not in a position where you'll get kicked if he spins away and kicks out. (Watch them interact with each other, this is a very standard response to being driven away.)

The primary concern is creating enough space so you can safely lead your horse through the gate. While a pasture horse might occasionally try to follow your horse out of the pasture, they usually aren't going to make a break for it when you're turning your horse out.

If you're alone, it can be tricky to lead your horse, handle the gate, and move the other horses out of your way. This is one reason we tell our students to use the buddy system--that way, you can focus on your horse while your buddy opens the gate and clears the way.