How to Groom your Horse like a Professional

Imagine yourself watching the practice ring at a horse show. Sitting there gazing at all of the trainers, the coaches, the amateurs, and youth practicing diligently before the show, can you tell which of the horses have been groomed by professionals, and which aren’t? I know I can.  Watching the practice ring at a show is one of my favorite things to do as an equestrian, and if you haven’t tried it, I would highly suggest it.

So how do the pro’s horses stand out?

A professional trainer’s horse is spotlessly clean, with the silkiest manes and tails, the shiniest coats, with the whitest legs, and the most impeccable clip jobs; even in the practice pen.  Horse’s groomed solely by amateurs can sometimes achieve the look of a groomed horse comparable to that of a professional, but it is rare.  Horses cared for by amateurs are typically a bit more dull, with not so perfect clip jobs, and white feet and legs that are just not as sparkly white.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with an amatuer grooming their own horse.  In fact I make all of my lesson kids groom their horses at home and at the show.  It creates a bond between horse and rider, and builds character in both youth and adults.  I would love it if everyone groomed their own horses at shows, which is why I like to write these blogs.

So how do these pros get their horses to look so glossy and perfect at horse shows?

I’ll tell you what the professionals do every day at home, what they do before a show, how they get their horse ready in the practice pen, and how their finish their horse for competition.

 

The routine at home

Feed

Paid professionals take much pride in the way their horses are cared for especially when it comes to their grooming and conditioning, and they start with what a pro feeds their horse.  

In my experience, not only do trainers feed the highest quality feeds to ensure an extremely healthy looking horse, they also tend to feed their horses feeds that are high in fats and oils.  Not only does this keep their horses in a good show weight, but it also makes their coats bloom.  A horse who is healthy and shiney (and frankly a little fat) to begin with makes it easier to create a beautifully clean horse at the show.

 

Blanketing

Whether it’s warm or cold, professional equestrians usually keep their horses blanketed. This is because they want to keep their horses as warm as possible, in order to keep their coats as short as possible.  Sometimes they even opt for two blankets if one isn’t enough.  This is because a horse with shorter coat is a more sleek and polished looking than a horse with a long coat.

Blanketing not only keeps a horse’s coat short, it provides multiple other benefits to their coats.  The next most obvious benefit is that it keeps their coats free from dirt and dust.  I always put a sheet over my horse after giving her a bath before a show to keep her nice and clean.  

In addition to preventing the growth of coat hair, it keeps the coat laying flat against the horse’s skin.  Imagine getting the goosebumps when you are cold; the hair on your arms raise to help trap air against your skin to help insulate you.  This process happens to horses as well, and a horse with a puffed up coat tends to look dull and hairy.  A sheet or blanket will help keep the hair pushed down against your horses skin, but like a helmet will give you helmet hair.  This makes the horse’s coat looking sleek lite satin.

Lastly, a trainer will keep their horse blanketed for a long enough period of time that the natural oils of their horse’s coats will accumulate against their skin making their coat almost slippery.  Much like if you do not shower for a long time and your hair becomes sleek and oily.

There are some cons associated with keeping a horse blanketed all of the time, like a horse overheating, and the possibility of hair rubbing completely off in places; but for a professional, the benefits outway the cons.

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Snoozer was less than impressed with his blanket.

Turn out

Depending on the trainer, and the discipline, full time show horses get limited to no turn out.  While some pros prefer to let their horses out to let off some steam, others prefer to leave them in entirely to safeguard them from any injury they may inflict upon themselves outside.

Your average horse owner typically turns their horses out for the whole day, but let’s face it, horses who go outside, get dirty.  Even if they are brushed every day, horses who go outside will always be dirtier than ones who stay inside, and the horse whose mane and tail are exposed to the elements will always be more brittle, and snap off quicker than the horse who stays in.

You may think, “What if I bathe my horse regularly?”  One would think that would help, but when you bathe a dirty horse who came in from turn out, you are washing away any natural oils in your horse’s coat, making him less shiny than the horse who remained inside.

Personally, this factor is one reason that I know my horses will never be as lacquered looking as the rest of the pros.  I like to turn my horses out about eight hours a day, every day.  Keeping a turn out blanket on your horse will help keep him less dirty, and if you are determined  enough to have your horse shine bright like a diamond, you could bathe him, then leave him in for about a week before the show to try to achieve the professional horse coat all of the trainers have.

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Putting black horses outside can be especially harmful to their coats, as the sun will bleach it and turn it brown.

Every Day Grooming

Horses in the care of a professional, are always groomed twice a day; before and after they are worked.  Whether they are just lunged, or ridden, they are always groomed habitually.  When I groomed for trainers they had a specific regimen they followed.  It went as follows:

  • Curry comb the horse’s coat vigorously
  • Spray diluted moisturizing spray over the entire coat, mane, and tail feathers
  • Brush the body with a soft brush, brushing away loose hair, and brushing in the moisturizing spray
  • Carefully comb through/ detangle the mane and tail feathers
  • Pick the feet
  • Clip any long whiskers or a long bridlepath 

This was all done before any tack or protective equipment was put on the horse,  and it was all done again after the horse had been worked and properly cooled off.  If the horse got too hot and sweaty during his workout session he would get rinsed and sponged with a mixture of special oils and liniments.

An important detail to mention is that if you have groomed your horse properly after you have ridden, your horse should look as if he hadn’t been ridden at all.  That’s right, absolutely no saddle marks.  “IMPOSSIBLE!” you say, but it is more common than you think.  The university from which I graduated had 157 horses in their equestrian program, and every single one was always free of saddle marks.  In fact, you would be called back to groom your horse again if he was left with any sweat marks, because this is how a horse should be groomed.

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This is the specific coat moisturizer that the trainers I worked for used on their horses every day.

Monthly grooming

At home, horses in the care of professionals have their tails wrapped up (you can take a look at my article on caring for a show tail), and redone before each show, or about once every two months.  If the horse has a long mane, pros usually keep them braided (you can look at my caring for a long mane article) to prevent any wind knots and tangles.  Lastly, a good equine professional keeps their horses feet trimmed on a regular basis with proper shoeing on their horse’s feet.

Before leaving for the horse show

Usually, a big name trainer will have an assistant, or paid groom to go through a list to ensure every show horse gets the same treatment before the show.  This list usually entails:

  • Clipping legs
  • Clipping the head
  • Clipping the ears and bridle path
  • A full bath including taking down and washing the tail
  • Putting the tail in a tail bag once dry
  • Sanding Hooves

If the show is in the wintertime, most trainers opt to give their horses a full body clip about two weeks before the show.

I’ve written full articles on how to do most of these  so if you have any questions feel free to browse my older works.

 

In the practice ring at the show

Some trainers can have specific pet peeves about how their horses are presented, even in the practice ring.  The trainers I worked for hated when there were any shavings in the tail feathers of the horse they were working, even if they weren’t about to go into the show ring.   Pet peeves for trainers are understandable because the way their horses look while they and their clients ride are a reflection upon how much effort and care is given to each individual horse.  

Not only is the daily grooming ritual repeated before the horse is worked at the show, extra steps are taken to perpetuate a picture of professionalism and cleanliness on the part of the trainer.  These steps include but are not limited to;

  • Brushing all of the shavings out of the tail feathers, and mane
  • Wiping a thin layer of baby oil on the horses face and forelock
  • Wrapping legs in clean, modest colored polos
  • Wiping any extra boogers out of the horse’s nose
  • Dusting off any dusty tack

 

Speaking of tack…

If you haven’t already noticed, the tack a pro uses to practice in is usually very modest.  Normally, you will see matching plain leather bridles, and saddles with little to no embellishments, and modest colored saddle pads and protective equipment.  They save the bright colors and fancy tack for the show ring.

While practicing pro’s tend to go for a more modest look with solid or muted colored saddle pads and protective equipment because they want to be taken seriously.  Most trainers shy away from polos with crazy designs, halters in neon colors, or sparkly bright saddle pads.  Those eccentric or blingy items of tack are seen as a distraction to them, and the fancy colors or patterns tend to be a passing craze that will go out of fashion before the tack has been used to its full potential.

As an amateur, you can indulge in outgoing pieces of tack and equipment if you want, that’s the beauty of caring for your own horse, but if you want to be seen as someone who really knows what their doing, maybe go for a more modest look.

 

The finishing touches

So, you’ve made it this far and you need to get your horse ready for his class.  Assuming he has already been bathed, is free of saddle marks, and has been groomed at home with all of the earlier steps mentioned these are the next steps that need to be done

  1. Curry comb
  2. Coat conditioner
  3. Brush away loose hair
  4. Pick the feet
  5. Spot clean any dirty white spots
  6. Apply hoof black, or transparent hoof polish to hooves (it is important to do this after you have brushed their coat as to not get any loose hairs stuck onto the wet hooves)
  7. Take down clean tail out of its protective tail bag, and carefully comb through it with detangler and shine.  For a straighter tail, dowse it in showsheen to make it damp, then brush through it to take the kinks out.
  8. Apply detangler and shine to mane and comb through it
  9. Spray showsheen, or a aresoll coat highlighter to your horse’s coat, and wipe in in with a clean towel.
  10. Trim any rouge whisker or bridle path hairs you see.
  11. You may apply a thin layer of baby powder to white legs if they seem yellow, be careful though, because too much baby powder can look tacky, (make sure your horse’s hooves are dry before you apply)
  12. Use baby oil, or hair gel to hold together your horse’s forelock, and to lay rouge mane hairs flat.
  13. Saddle up (but do not tightened all of the way, your horse may be sitting around with the saddle on for a while)Apply face highlighter or baby oil to your horse’s eyes and muzzle for a shiny look
  14. Spray a good layer of fly spray on your horse
  15. Bridle, and go warm up for your class.

*Note; I did not mention any part of braiding or banding manes.  If you need to braid or band your horse’s mane and tail you must also take this factor into consideration, and depending on the type or style of braiding you need to do, you can prepare your horse as early as the day before like in the case of button braids, or you may need to braid right before your class in the case of a running braid.

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Horses in their groom stalls, impeccably turned out for their classes, and awaiting their riders.

Right before competition

When you leave for your class, make sure you have someone who can help you, that has a groom bag prepared.  This groom bag should have

  • A clean rag
  • Fly spray
  • A soft body brush
  • Showsheen
  • Mane and Tail brush
  • Small braiding rubber bands
  • Baby oil
  • A hoof pick
  • A bottle of water
  • Safety pins in case your number falls off.
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Your helper should look similar to this picture of me from my time grooming for a very successful Western Pleasure trainer in 2011.

If you’ve made it through this entire article, then you are now armed with the knowledge to groom your horse like a professional horse person does. Take these steps into consideration if you want your horse to look as clean and polished as those pros.   

A perfectly groomed horse will not ensure you win your class, but a well groomed horse completes a beautiful picture for the judges to watch.  A poorly groomed horse is a distraction and an eye soar.

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My Dream Job Turned Nightmare

My Dream Job Turned Nightmare

It’s been about 6 years since I’ve posted anything to this blog, not because I didn’t want to, but because I graduated college and began trying to make a living.  I’m posting today because I have a story that I’ve been meaning to write down for a while about what happened to me right out of school.  

The story below is not complete, unfortunately more than what I’ve written happened, but I feel like it’s important for me to write at least a part of it down to share my experience.  It was the job of my dreams, but ended up being one of the worst experiences of my life.

My hope is that if you’re reading this, and you’re experiencing similar problems as I did, that this story will serve as a warning.  I hope if you are going through a similar situation, that this will help you decide to get out.

 

In the beginning

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Studies in the spring of 2013.  After school I had no long term jobs lined up. I had a grooming gig in June, and my next door neighbor had given me permission to use her indoor arena to give lessons to the students I didn’t have.  After working for some successful trainers in the past I knew in my heart that I absolutely did not want to be an assistant trainer like most of my classmates did (which is a whole different story) so I was determined that I would be a self employed, struggling young horse trainer.

Near the end of July word got around to me that a big barn only 15 minutes away was looking to hire a head trainer who could also provide lessons, and I knew I had to figure out a way to interview.  One way or another, I received a phone call from one of the owners, let’s call him Toby.  I talked with Toby for a while and found that we were looking for the same thing.  I was looking for a barn to train and give lessons out of, while he was looking for a trainer to elevate his hobby farm into an all inclusive equine facility with training, lessons, and board.  After some time on the phone we set up a time for me to come over to the place for an interview.

When I found the place, I pulled up to a long gravel drive with large white iron gates, leading to an enormous white farmhouse, and beautiful modern looking barn.  The picture was complete with free range chickens, goats, miniature donkeys, peacocks, and of course, horses. It was a great first impression. I met Toby outside, and he introduced me to his husband, let’s call him Randall.  Toby and  Randall proceeded to show me around.

The barn was insulated and heated with about ten modern wooden stalls, an insulated and heated tack room, feed room, and bathroom.  The indoor arena was connected to the barn, and was absolutely enormous.  It was a bit older that the barn was, but had six stalls of its own, a hay loft, a heating strip, and sprinklers attached to the ceiling to water the arena when it got dry.  There was another heated building they would rent out for events like weddings.  It was heated with the main floor being a conference type room, a loft with a gorgeous wooden ceiling they would host parties in, and the basement was a sterile area they would use to milk their goats.  This was the barn of my dreams.

I talked to them about my aspirations, dreams, and goals, and basically nailed the interview. I got the job.

Three months after graduating college I had gotten my dream job.  Head trainer and coach at a beautiful modern barn, just minutes from my home.  I was on cloud nine.

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Above is one of the miniature donkeys running in the pen

Red Flag #1: Where are the clients?

I began by moving the small amount of lessons students I had over to my new barn, and started to train Toby’s horses, along with some of the horses that were already boarded at the barn.  There were already two stable hands, so I didn’t need to clean a single stall, just train and teach.  Needless to say, I did not have enough clients to have enough work to keep me occupied for a full 48 hour work week, so I began advertising.  I created flyers, a facebook page, made my own website, took out an ad in a local horse magazine, etc; but still after about 4 months of advertising, not a single new boarder, or horse owner even attempted to contact me.

“Why?!,” I thought.  Literally the only time I was contacted for board was a scam (which is another story), and not a single person has contacted me for training.  Sure I was training five horses, but two of them were my mom’s, and the others were either Toby’s or existing border’s horses.  My goal was to get at least 10 total because I could handle that amount on my own, which never happened.

I decided that it must just have been my lack of experience, I was fresh out of college, and people who pay for training, want a trainer who has had decades under their belt.  That’s what I thought.  The entirety of time I worked there I only succeeded to bring in one horse in training, whose family I had given lessons to in the past. Nobody wanted to bring their horses to this place.

Red Flag #2: The Help

When I began working at this farm there were two stable hands who did the chores, while I was the trainer and instructor.  After a couple of months one of the stable hands quit, which I saw as an opportunity.  I quickly jumped in and asked to take her spot, which Toby and Randall had no issues with.  This way I could care for the horses the way I wanted, and get a little extra income as well.  

I loved helping run the barn.  I wanted to maintain an image of cleanliness, and professionalism in the barn to help lure in potential clients, and to keep existing ones around.  

After some time the other stable hand left, and a new one came in, then after a few months, he left and another took his place.  Over the course of the year and a half I was there, there ended up being five different stable hands, including me.

That’s right five. In a year and a half.  That’s an average of 3.6 months of work per person.  The turn over rate was unbelievable.

 

Red Flag #3: A Split

That November I found out that Toby and Randall had a huge argument, and that Randall had moved out.  I was shocked.  I came by the barn to talk to Toby because I was scared for my job.  This was a large facility for only one source of income to keep it afloat, especially because we were struggling to get clients.  

He told me not to worry about my job, he was still going to keep the place, but there was going to be changes.  Randall had been in charge of the goats, so Toby told me that he would pay me a commission if I were to sell the herd of goats, and the three goat milking stands.  He also told me he’d like to sell two miniature horses, a mountain of tack, a miniature driving harness and cart, a large cart and harness, a Fjord horse, a rescue horse, and his show horse (which again is a different story). Basically, he needed to downsize in order to keep afloat.

“Sure! I can sell some things!”  I decided that I needed to work on my salesmanship anyway, and this would make me some good money.

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Above is my personal horse meeting one of the mini horses for the first time

Red Flag #4: The Goats

I first inventoried everything that Toby wanted me to sell, and began to price out the things I was familiar with, which was all of the equine things, but I had no clue how to decide what to price these goats at.  

Luckily for me, me best friend had bred and raised goats her entire life, so I called her up and she agreed to come out to help me price out these goats.

The second she saw this herd of goats she froze.  “What is it?” I asked.

She said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t even want to touch these goats.”  I was confused, they looked like your typical herd of goats to me, but I am not a goat person.  She explained that she could tell immediately that these goats had a disease that was extremely contagious. She didn’t want to go near them for fear that she would infect her own herd.

 

WTF was I supposed to do with a diseased heard of goats?!  Did Toby and Randall know they were using diseased goats to make their goats cheese, and soaps that they were selling to people?!

I asked her what she thought these goats were worth.  She said that I could probably get about $75 per goat, but they were basically mutts, with no conformational correctness, and they had an incurable, highly contagious pathogen.  

Great.

I told Toby what my friend had said and he didn’t seemed phased at all.  He liked the idea of selling them for $75 each, and seemed more excited than concerned. A bit confused, I listed them on Craigslist, and I ended up selling them in batches to a couple of different buyers.  

The day before a buyer was scheduled to come, I noticed that one of the goats was laying down during feeding time when normally, the goats are trying to crawl up the walls to get at their feed.  I went inside the pen to check on her, and she wouldn’t get up. I was pushing her, trying to lift her, kicking her, anything to get her up on her feet.  I called Toby and told him the situation, and he said to give her a shot of penicillin and she should be fine.

Now, I’m not a vet, but I know enough about veterinary medicine to know that giving this goat one shot of penicillin, at this stage of her illness, was not going to do anything significant.

Eventually, the other barn worker came into the barn, and he helped me carry her into the heated side of the barn since she was sick, and it was very cold out. I then skeptically gave her the shot of penicillin I was instructed to give her and went home.

The next day was the day a goat buyer was scheduled to arrive, and I was going through my head all of the things I would have to say if the buyer saw this sickly goat. But when I got to the barn that morning, the goat had already passed.  With no time to grieve or think, I quickly asked the stable hand to help me dispose of this goat, and we threw her body into the dumpster out front.

The buyer came and picked up the last of the goats that day without ever knowing that there was a dead goat in the dumpster out front, and I sold the goats for around $25 each instead of $75.

Looking back on this incident still infuriates me.  Not only did Toby allow this goat to die with no remorse, but I was put in a position that went completely against my morals.  I was selling innocent people sickly goats, that would infect their own herds, while hiding the bodies of dead goats in the dumpster out front.  At the time I desperately wanted this job so I did everything that Toby asked of me, and I knew these goats would be going to better homes than what they were living in at the time.  However, if I were in the same situation again, I would refuse to be a part of it.

There are other facets to the goat story, but this was the main story.  I’ll continue.

 

Red Flag #5: The facility

That year there was a propane shortage making the cost of propane skyrocket.  Unluckily for us, the barn was heated with propane.  So, because I live in Minnesota, the pipes in the barn froze when the propane ran out.  This was a big problem because of the plumbing in the bathroom in the barn, and because all of the water was automatic.  Meaning there was no source of water for the horses.

After scrambling to figure out a way to get the horses water, Toby bought a new heater that used gasoline instead of propane, so the barn could be heated.  The problem was, the heater needed to be turned off when there was no one in the barn.  

I’m sure you know what is coming next.

Because of the constant freezing and thawing of the pipes in the barn, that barn flooded.  It flooded almost three times a week. The other employee at the barn was proficient at fixing the leaks that we found, but the flooding became comically consistent.  The tack room was q pond, the stalls were submerged, the feedroom was a swamp.  I have never in my life spent so much time getting rid of water, I felt like I was on a sinking ship, and only had a little bucket to throw the water overboard.

Despite the barn consistently underwater, the footing in the arena was always bone dry.  The sprinklers on the ceiling seemed like a good idea, but only a fraction of the dirt in the arena got wet, and it took hours before there was any noticable difference in the moisture of the dirt.  I would turn the sprinklers on when I arrived, and only turned them off when I needed to ride. The spots in the arena that were not under the sprinklers were always dry enough to suck the moisture out of your lungs, and of course they didn’t work in the winter

The barn never smelled good.  This is a strange complaint, but as many horse owners know, horse barns usually have a good sweet, horsey smell.  Not this barn.  It didn’t matter how often I would clean, there was always a mixed scent of mold, cat poop, chicken poop, and dust.

The stalls were incredibly hard to clean because the floors of the stalls were soft dirt.  Any experienced stall cleaner will tell you that soft dirt is not an ideal footing to create a clean stall.  The dirt would mix with the wood shavings, and would make the wheelbarrow extremely heavy, you could never get all of the urine out because it would soak into the ground, etc.

Lastly turn out pens were dangerous.  Not only were they full of slippery mud, the fences themselves were a danger to the horses.  At one point the horse I would use for lessons eventually ended up tearing a piece of her shoulder that was about a finger length deep, and around 6×6’ wide.

NONE of these problems were EVER fixed, and trust me, I complained to Toby.  The barn was underwater, the arena was a desert, the whole place stank, the stalls were impossible to clean correctly, and turn out for the horses was simply dangerous, but It was as if none of that seemed to matter to him.

 

Red Flag #6: Black Out

One day, while cleaning stalls suddenly all of the lights went out.  After checking, I found that none of the electricity in the barn was working at all.  I immediately contacted Toby and he assured me calmly that the power would be on in about an hour, and sure enough it was.

I happily continued working when the most recent stable hand Pete (who we’ll talk more about later) walked into the barn and exclaimed, “You’ll never believe what just happened!”

“What?’

“I just got back from the electric company and paid $2,000 on an overdue electricity bill!” Pete explained that the only reason he paid the bill for Toby was because he owed him rent money.

As it turned out Toby owed $7,000 on overdue electricity! To power my two bedroom house costs me about $60 per month, which I know is not comparable to an entire equine facility, but 7 grand is absolutely unreal.  Who doesn’t pay their electricity bill?!  Meanwhile, while he owed this much money, he had bought two new horses, was paying me a lot of money per month in training fees, and had other exorbitant expenses, whilst never paying for his electricity.

Red Flag #7: Dogs held Hostage

Pete was employed at the barn the longest out of any of the others, (except for me).  Pete didn’t know anything about horses, but he was an extra pair of hands.  He always was friendly to me, but I could tell that Pete had a temper.  I would often see him completely red in the face fuming about one thing or another, and he would often make me feel uneasy.

For a long time, I directed most of my frustrations about the facility at Pete, and blamed him for the problems with the barn.  I was not wrong in feeling uneasy about Pete, but I was wrong in thinking he was the problem.

The only thing in life that Pete loved were his two big beautiful black Dobermans. They were incredible dogs to behold, and they were his life.

One day I received a text from Toby that basically read “Do not trust anything Pete will tell you, he’s a convicted felon, and con artist.  He cons people for a living, don’t believe anything he tells you.”

Then I received another text from Pete, with pictures of the front gates closed and police cars out front saying, “Toby is holding my dogs hostage.  Help me get my dogs back , hes blackmailing me into giving him money and he has my dogs!”

Umm What?!

I didn’t go out to the barn that day.  There was no way I was getting involved with what was going down, especially because the police were involved.  As it turns out they were both telling the truth.  Pete’s children had contacted Toby to warn him that he was a convicted con artist, and for some reason, Toby felt it necessary to hold Pete’s dogs hostage.

 

The Last Straw

One day shortly after the hostage situation, I heard it through the grapevine, that Toby had listed his farm for sale.  I was not surprised to learn that it was for sale, but astonished that I had failed to learn from my boss that he was selling the farm in which my livelihood depended.  How could someone be so thoughtless?  What kind of person is so delusional that they thought they could sell their farm, without their barn manager, and head trainer finding out?!

I did not confront Toby.  Instead I continued working, as if everything was normal, and in secret I slowly gathered all of the belongings I had at the barn day by day and brought them home.  I brought my old 4H horse from my parents house, to a barn down the road and told my lesson students that I was moving my lessons to a new barn, without telling Toby.

I continued to train the horses he was paying me for while at the same time quietly slipping away from him.

Finally, one day I received a text from Toby.

He texted me a sob story saying how he was giving up on his childhood dreams, that he was too ill to continue to ride horses, and that he was heartbroken to tell me that he that he didn’t need me to come to the barn to train his horses anymore because he could no longer ride, and that he was selling the barn.

He had texted me to fire me, and he wanted me to give him my condolences at the same time.  I didn’t respond.

He chose to fire me via text, so I chose to ghost him.  

I have never spoken to him since.

He has sent me some vicious words via Facebook Messenger since, but I deleted them without reading them.  I refused to indulge in his delusions anymore.  I had already gotten all of my things out of the barn, and I didn’t want his money anymore.  I had no reason to go back, and I didn’t have anything nice to say to him so I decided to not say anything at all.

I felt free.

 

Looking Back

After  a year and a half of working at this hell hole, I finally came to the realization that it didn’t matter how hard I wanted this place to work, it was just not going to.  I realized that the problems with the facility, the help, the goats, the lack of clients, weren’t because I wasn’t working hard enough.  It had stemmed from Toby.  I had so much faith and hope in him and his place, and had so much ambition, that I was blinded by the fact that Toby was the problem.  I finally came to the understanding that if the owner of the business that I wanted to succeed was the reason that it was failing, it didn’t matter how hard I worked at it, it was destined to fail.

After I left, horse people from all around would approach me to tell me how relieved they were that I wasn’t working for Toby anymore.  People who had worked for him in the past, people who saw what had happened to me in the present, people I did and didn’t know.  It was then I knew had gotten out of a bad situation.

Was ghosting him the way I should have handled it?  Probably not.  But I had no problems burning this bridge.

There are other sad and frustrating stories to be told about this place and my time there, but these seem to be the most important.  I hope that by telling these stories, I can help someone else who is having the same issues in their workplace to gain the courage to quit.

 

Look for these red flags when assessing if your place of employment is right for you.

  • No new clients/ no new business
  • A quick turnover of employees
  • A rift or split between owners of the business
  • An amoral or neglectful business practice
  • A facility that keeps breaking down
  • Failure to pay utility bills
  • Employee/coworker drama.
  • Lack of admitting mistakes on the part of the employer

 

A year and a half doesn’t seem like a long time to stay employed in one place, but I am angry at myself for not leaving sooner.  I wore rose colored glasses for too long, and looking back I wish I had gotten myself out of there.

 

Toby eventually did sell the farm, and thankfully it is now owned by a wonderfully competent couple who train Saddlebreds, and have updated and fixed the place up.

 

I have so many other awful stories from my time working at this barn, that if any of you are interested in hearing them, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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One of the many cats that were at the barn

 

Caring for a Long Mane

Ever wonder how some horses like reiners or Friesians have such a beautiful long mane?  There a few reasons.  First is purely genetics; if any horse’s sire or dam has a long mane, then their offspring may have a long mane.  The second is hair maintenance.  Frequent care of any mane will cause it to grow longer and stay tangle free.

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Care of a long mane is simple, although sometimes time consuming.  It consists of washing the mane and putting it into braids at least once every month.  Here are the steps the professionals use to a maintain and grow a beautiful long mane:

First, the hair should be thoroughly washed and conditioned. Take special care to scrub the crest of the neck where the mane grows out of.  This will massage the hair follicles and encourage hair growth.  After washing, be sure to rinse out any remaining soap and conditioner residue.  If there is any soap left on your horse’s skin it will become itchy causing your horse to rub out his mane.

Next, once your horse’s mane is thoroughly rinsed, wait for it to dry.  For a faster dry time you can blow dry your horse’s mane, but be careful that you desensitize your horse to the sound of the blow-dryer beforehand.  Once dry, gently comb through the mane.

Lastly put the mane into braids.  A horse with an average thickness of mane each braid will use four to five inches of mane hair.  This will insure you don’t have a large number of tiny braids to deal with.  When you begin braiding be sure to make the very top of your braids as loose as possible.  If the top of the braid is tight, and your horse puts his head down to graze it will pull a large amount of hair out (this is especially true at the withers).  Once you’ve insured that the top of your braid is loose, the rest of your braid should be tight so that your braids don’t fall out.  Tie off your braids about three inches from the end of the mane hair.

If your horse has very thin hair the product MTG may also be applied to the roots as directed.

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These steps should be repeated ideally once every two weeks, but should be done at least once a month.  The longer the braids are left in the more at risk your horse is to pull out entire braids.

Long manes do not have to be braided like this; however, if they are not, they are at risk of getting wind knots as depicted in the picture below.  Wind knots are very common for long-maned horses and commonly need to be ripped or cut out causingthe mane to be uneven in appearance.

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Cooling Down: the Most Important Part of Your Ride

Many people forget that horses are athletes as well as companions and that they should be treated as such.  Any competitive human athlete always takes the time after their workout, game, or race to bring their heart-rate and body temperature carefully back to normal so that their body has time to repair itself; they do this by staying moving.

The cool-down session of a horse’s workout is the most commonly forgotten part. Because horses are athletes, they too need time to cool down and bring their body back to normal.  Going for a hard ride, then sticking they horse in his stall while he is breathing hard and sweating is harmful to his health in multiple ways!

If it is cold out while your horse’s body is trying to cool down, he will experience a rapid cooling, get the chills, begin to shiver, and become stiff, sore, and sick.  If he has access to food while he is hot and sweaty he will not be able to digest properly because his body is trying to cool off; this could cause him to colic.  If it is extremely hot outside, and you hose him off with ice cold water his muscles can experience shock, or can tie-up.  On the other hand, if it is extremely hot outside and you let him stand in his hot stall he could suffer a heat stroke.

So, how do you properly cool down your horse?  Follow these steps for a proper cool-down:

If it’s COLD outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is sweaty, lay a cooler* over the top of him.  If the cooler becomes soaked with sweat before your horse is dry you will need to replace the old cooler with a fresh one until your horse is dry.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch.  (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body, he does not need to keep walking around, but he does need to maintain a cooler until he is dry.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can be fed or he can go frolic in the pasture.

*A cooler is the common term for a fleece-like blanket designed for horses.  Its purpose is to wick away moisture from the horses body.  It is the only devise that can properly cool down a wet horse in cold weather.

An Unappreciative Horse and His Cooler

If it’s HOT outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is foaming or dripping with sweat, rinse him off with warm water to avoid shock.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch. (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body the sun is a great tool to use to evaporate any sweat.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can go back outside, into his stall, or be fed his favorite snack.

If your horse cannot catch his breath, is panting, lethargic, or just cannot seem recover he may be suffering from HEAT STROKE.

What to do in case of Heat Stroke:

  • Take your horses temperature rectally.  Anything over 101°F is considered abnormal.
  • Keep walking to help your horse catch his breath.
  • Sponge ice water onto the neck, chest, girth, and flank areas to try to cool his blood and organs down.
  • Inform your vet if you suspect heat stroke so he can be ready if your horse is not recovering in a timely manner.
  • Note the time you stopped working your horse to monitor how long it is taking him to recover (the vet will want this information).

Clipping Legs

Clipping your horse’s legs is one of the more straightforward grooming practices done on horses.  It only has a few variations, and almost every seat and discipline do it.  It simply adds to the overall picture of your horse, and if he has white on his legs the white becomes brilliantly bright.  Clipping of the legs should be done at least 2 days before the show.

Supplies:

Clipper blades with a size 10 blade and any clipper cleaning supplies necessary

Before you start:

Vigorously wash your horse’s legs to remove any clipper-clogging hair that is present.  Then wait for the legs to dry completely before you begin to clip.  Also, if your horse is nervous about the sound and feel of clippers, take the time to practice desensitizing him a couple of days before you try to clip him.

Note:

To make your clip job look more professional, be sure that your horse is in a summer coat or has been body-clipped.  Horses whose legs are clipped but have a winter coat look awkward. If you have a draft breed do not clip its legs!

Colored legs:

Colored legs do not need to be clipped very much, they only need to be spruced up.  It is the long hairs on the coronary band, and the long fetlock hairs that will need to be trimmed.  Some horses seem to also grow very long hair on the back of the cannons which should be clipped off too.

Start with the coronary band.  When clipping this part of the foot it is important not to completely press the clippers onto the skin and clip.  This will create an odd looking ring of clipped hairs.  The goal is to only clip the tips of the hairs that are covering any part of the hoof or coronet band.  So, one method to achieve this is to line your clippers up with the coronet with the clipper blades being flat on the hoof, trim upwards until you reach the edge of the coronet, and then veer the clippers outwards towards yourself like the arrow shows in the picture below. Veering the clippers out creates a blended look along the coronary instead of a choppy look

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Fetlocks and the back of the cannon should be next.  The goal here is to trim any long looking hairs without creating an unnatural look.  This can only be done through experimentation and blending. It is not crucial that the hairs be cut as short as possible; only that they are tidy and uniform looking.

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Some people clip with the grain of the hair which works decently.  Other people clip against the grain of the hair like normal, but then blend in the clipped parts with the unclipped parts by clipping around the area with the grain of the hair.  Whatever works best for you, keep into account that the less surface area you clip the easier it is to blend the clip job.  So, try to clip only the region where the ergot grows that the back of the pastern like the picture illustrates below.  Then, you can blend the surrounding areas.

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White legs:

Any part of the leg that is white should be clipped; like socks, stockings, coronets, etc.  All the white needs to be clipped even if it goes above the hocks or knees! In my opinion, clipping white legs is easier than clipping colored legs because you need to blend less.

Simply take your ten blades and trim all of the white hair.  Be sure to run the blades against the grain of the hair to ensure shortness.  Also, if your clippers leave lines on the legs you will need to continue running over the same spot until the lines are gone; also your blades are very dull!

Make sure you clip all of the white hair, and that you miss none!  Leaving long leg hair looks sloppy and unprofessional.  If you are worried you will miss hair, simply clip the leg again and again until you are sure nothing was missed.

If you have a Pinto, and their white goes all the way up the leg into the body, you need to clip the entire leg and blend in the hair around the shoulder muscle and elbow on the front legs, or the on the hind legs.   You do not have to stop at these places, but make sure to always stop in a place that can be easily blended the clipping looks natural Below I have outlined where to stop on the front leg if the white continues upwards.

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Wrapping Polos: the Right Way

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Polo wraps are one of the most common and one of the oldest types of protective equipment.  They were designed to protect the horse’s legs from interference caused by the other legs during work.  Polos are a long piece of fleece cloth that ranges from 4-6 inches wide, and 6-10 feet long.

There is a common misconception that polos are able to provide support to the leg; this is untrue.  Polo wraps do not, and cannot provide support to the leg.  For a leg to obtain support it must be partially or completely immobile.  Polos are a simple piece of cloth and cannot physically immobilize the leg of a 1000+ pound animal.  So, polo wraps provide protection, not support.

Because of this common misconception, many people wrap polos too far up the leg, or too far down onto the pastern.  When wrapping the legs in this manner the polos create interference with movement.

Also note the difference between polo wraps and standing bandages.  Many catalogs and websites switch the names of these two items because they appear very similar, but they have two separate uses.   Just remember that a polo is usually made of fleece or a thick material.  Standing bandages are usually made of cotton or a thinner woven material.  When looking at a picture in a catalog, the polo will appear fatter, while the standing bandage is skinnier when they are rolled up.

Remember: if done improperly, a polo can cause serious harm to a horses leg.  If there is uneven pressure a tendon could possibly bow.  If you do not want to risk this, use a splint boot or sports medicine boot instead.

Before you wrap:

You must first make sure your polo is rolled properly.  The easiest way to remember which way to roll your polo is if you connect your two Velcro pieces together as shown in the picture below.

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Once your Velcro connects to each other, keep wrapping the polo in the same direction.  However, you may need to start at the fold on the top of the wrap making the wrap almost double up in the beginning like in the picture below.  This will make sure that your wrap will start off nice and tight.

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Rolling your polo as tight as possible will make it easier to wrap onto your horses leg. Below is a polo that is wrapped incorrectly because it is too rectangular, and a wrap that is too loose; you will not be able to roll these  onto the leg.  A polo that is rolled up correctly is also pictured.  Notice how it is tight and uniform.

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Wrapping:

Before you begin wrapping run your hand down the leg to wipe away any excess dirt that could cause irritation.

Place the wrap on the inside of the cannon without unrolling it.  If the end of the polo is facing towards the hindquarters while it is resting on the cannon, then the rest of your wrap should be correct.  If the end is facing the hindquarters but is away from the leg you will be wrapping the polo on wrong, and when you are finished your Velcro will be backwards.

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You will always be wrapping inside to outside, and front to back.  So, the left legs will always be wrapped counterclockwise and the right legs will always be wrapped clockwise.

Start in the middle of the cannon and roll the polo downward.  When you do so, you will be wrapping halfway down the previous track of polo.  This way you will never have a gap between polos.

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Once you reach the very top of the pastern, wrap downwards and around the fetlock as to cup the fetlock.  Your polo should just barely be covering the horse’s ergot, and not be covering any of the pastern. This is the beginning of the ‘V,’ which you will be doing twice.

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Next, bring your polo back upwards and roll it around the cannon once. You will notice a shallow inverted ‘V’ shape formed in the center of the front of the fetlock. Now, do the same two motions over again; roll downward and back up over the same ‘V’ shape you had before.  The reason we create the ‘V’ shape twice is because the fetlock is the most vulnerable part of the leg and receives the most amount of impact from the other legs.

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Once you have created the second V then roll the wrap up the rest of the leg.  Keep in mind that your goal is to end with the Velcro at the top of the cannon.  So, if your wrap is extremely long, or your horse’s cannons are very short, you may have to cover more than half of the previous wrapping.  If you reach the top and there is still too much, simply start wrapping downwards again, but keep it in mind for next time.

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Make certain that while you’re wrapping you’re applying even pressure! If parts of your wrap are tighter than others you may bow a tendon!

Additionally, make sure there are as little wrinkles as possible in your wrap.  Wrinkles also cause uneven pressure and are hazardous.

If your Velcro is bad:

If your Velcro seems to not be able to stick to itself then taping the polo on is appropriate.  Masking tape is the most appropriate tape to use because it cannot stretch; stretchy tape will wrap too tight and a leg could become seriously injured.  If you only have stretchy tapes make sure to lay the tape over the leg; do not wrap it around! There are two ways to use the tape as shown in the pictures below.

First is to simply wrap the tape around itself, or you can wrap in a three tier system.  Both are appropriate.

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Like everything in the horse world, learning to wrap polos takes PATIENCE and PRACTICE.  Never settle for an OK wrapping job because you could potentially injure your horse.

Preparing a Show Tail for Pasture

So, your horse has a long show tail or you would like to grow out your horse’s tail, but you would want to put your horse out to pasture.   Follow these simple steps for a horse who can enjoy the pasture while still growing a beautiful, thick show tail.

If your horse already has a long show tail it will be easy to put it up for pasture.  However, if your horse’s tail is not already long enough to reach the middle of his cannons, I would suggest waiting for it to grow naturally before you wrap it up.

Supplies:

  • Braiding bands of any color
  • One roll of Vet-Wrap, or equivalent material
  • 15 strands of bailing twine, or equivalent material
  • Scissors

*You must also know how to braid

Step 1)

Make sure your horses tail has been freshly washed and conditioned so you do not wrap dirt in with the tail.  Also, it is crucial that your horse’s tail is completely dry before wrapping.  If it is not dry the tail could mold and fall out.

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Step 2)

Separate all of the protective feathers from the tail.  These feathers are located at the top and middle of the tail bone.  These feathers never grow quite as long as the longest part of the tail, but they may even be long enough to reach the middle of the cannon.  These feathers are a tool to keep bugs and flies away from the body and must be separated from the main tail.

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Step 3)

Braid the rest of the tail.  Although this may seem simple, this is the trickiest step.  Your braid will start 2-3 inches from the tail bone. If the braid starts too far away from the tail bone, the wrap will act like a pendulum and rip out all the hair. If the braid starts too close and is too tight on the tail bone, blood flow will be lost and the hair will FALL OUT!  That is why it is very important to make sure that the beginning of your braid is loose, while the rest of the braid is tight.  These are the reasons that this step is so crucial.  If done incorrectly the tail will either rip out or completely fall out. You must find the perfect balance between looseness and tightness so you neither loose circulation in the tail bone, nor have all the hair rip out while it is in use. This could require practice.

The tail bone is found at the top side of the thumb demonstrating that the braid starts a few inches lower.  Notice how loose the beginning of the braid is, then it becomes tighter.

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Step 3)

At the top of your braid separate the first two braid strands.  Take the braid and wrap it through the top of the braid to create a loop as shown in the photo below.

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Step 4)

Cut about a foot and a half of vet-wrap from your roll and carefully wrap the loop created in the last step; pictured in the photo below.  This step assures that the bailing twine you will use does not rub against the hairs of the tail and wear them off.

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Step 5)

Carefully tie the bailing twine onto the vet-wrapped loop.  Make sure that the middle of the bundle of twine is tied on the loop so that it is even on both sides.  Tighten the knot as much as possible so it does not loosen later on.

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Step 6)

Unravel the beginning of your vet-wrap about a foot and slip it through the top of the loop where you slipped the braid through.  This will create a makeshift seal for the rest of your wrap and prevent dirt from getting in.  After you have sealed the top simply wrap your vet-wrap up and down the braid loop.  Make sure you wrap every part; from the very bottom of the twine not, to the top of the braid loop.  Do NOT wrap onto the tailbone!  All of your vet-wrap will be used.

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Step 7)

Cut off any access twine that is touching the ground.  Measure this out by pulling the tail straight to the floor and cutting the twine even with the horse’s fetlocks.  Lastly, take down your horse’s feathers and gently comb them out with your fingers.

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Your show horse is now ready for pasture!

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