Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Archive for the category “Horses”

Rocío’s Quiet Transformation From Subordinate to Alpha Mare

First of all, I’d like your input on turnout preferences. I’d love to see how the horse community feels about this issue.

While most things we have introduced Rocío to since her arrival have been new to her, turning her out with another horse was not. She had spent 5 years in a holding pen full of other mustangs, and, for this reason, we were sure that turning her out with another horse at Windflower would be a smooth process.

We chose Tica, Ainslie’s calmest mare, to be the first horse to turn Rocío out with.

“Patriotica,” Ainslie’s Andalusian mare.

We waited until the two had been properly introduced through the fence before introducing them. Additionally, the two had bonded from going out on trail walks together, where Ainslie would lead Tica and Rocío and I would follow.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions, courtesy of Sheridan Studio.

However, it turned out that Rocío’s interaction with Tica was one of the most fascinating bits of herd dynamics I have ever observed.

When we were picking up Rocío from Orange on April 10th, we noticed that she was at the bottom of the pecking order. The other mares pushed her around. As a result, Rocío had gotten used to eating old, muddy scraps of hay because she usually couldn’t reach the good hay. We theorized that this was one of the reasons she had been so skinny when she arrived.

To observe this for yourself, you can take a peek at the pick-up video here. If you skip ahead to 0:27, you’ll see how shy she is compared to the other mares.

This is why we wanted her to be out with Tica specifically. Ainslie’s mare is very aloof in a herd and has “adopted” several of Ainslie’s young horses throughout the seventeen years Ainslie has owned her. She usually dominates but is not aggressive.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

As soon as we were out together, the mares behaved just as we had predicted. Tica, the flashy Andalusian, pranced around the paddock, shooting warning faces at Rocío while Rocío tried to follow her around. In these first few minutes, Rocío accepted her place as subordinate mare very quickly.


Tica bossing Rocío around. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Then, Tica settled down and ate some hay, while Rocío circled her for a few minutes. Tica wasn’t letting her approach the hay, and Rocío’s behavior was odd. She seemed to be approaching and retreating Tica from different angles.

All of a sudden, minutes later, Rocío backed up into Tica and kicked her! With a squeal, Tica backed off from the hay, and before we knew it, Rocío was chasing her around!

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

We were shocked at this quick transformation, and Rocío’s methodical, quiet, relatively drama-free way of switching the dynamic. I’ve seen horses fight for dominance before, and sometimes those fights escalate. Usually, a complete switch from subordinate to alpha mare could be very explosive, but Rocío proved to be extremely calculated.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

The fact that she had been out with her herd in Orange, MA for days and stayed at the bottom of the pecking order told me that she has gained a lot of confidence at Windflower since she has arrived. She became the bold lead mare within twenty minutes or less.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

This made me feel very happy for her, as well as reinforcing my opinion of how intelligent and sensible this little mare is.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

If you like these updates, and haven’t already, please consider donating to our cause so that we can give this mare the best care possible.

Make sure you like our Facebook page!

As usual, I’d like to thank Sheridan Studio and Waxler Imagery for capturing all of these important moments. These photographers are truly gifted.


The Great Helmet Debate


Well, it’s two days until mustang pick-up, and I’m getting increasingly more and more excited.

One thing I’d like to clarify to my readers before I embark on this journey is that I’ll be wearing a helmet 100% of the time. While helmet use has increased within the past few decades, I realize that plenty of people still choose not to wear them.

The first thing I did was create a poll to gauge helmet preferences before I share a personal experience and continue to advocate helmet wearing throughout this story. I will repeat the poll after the competition to see how, and if, preferences have changed.

I’m sure you’ve already heard many stories about why wearing a helmet is important, but I figured that adding one more to your repertoire will only reinforce this.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work. This talented mare belongs to Cynthia Labruzzo.

Three years ago, when I was 17, I took a horse that I believed I knew very well out on trail. I’m going to omit the name and description of this horse to protect her reputation, seeing as the accident was not her fault and she has been doing great.

She was green at the time, but had been fairly reliable. I took her out on trail by myself, and made a giant mistake: I did not bring a cell phone, even though I had been told my entire life by my trainer to bring one out on trail.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

However, I was wearing a safety vest, which you’ll see me wear when I start my mustang under saddle. I was also wearing a helmet, but it was a poorly-fitted, older model. I was really only wearing it because I was always taught to wear something, but I hadn’t bothered to invest in a new, correctly-fitted one in a long time.

Those of you who live and trail ride in New England I’m sure are familiar with the stony trails. Our horses must often pick through paths adorned with huge protruding boulders. It was during one of those especially stony parts of the trail that my seemingly quiet horse threw one of the most extreme bucks I had ever experienced.

There were no warning signs, and at the time there didn’t seem to be any contributing factors. The next thing I remember was waking up on the ground. The memory  is foggy, but one thing I will always remember clearly is the blood pouring down all over the rocks.

The funny thing is that I didn’t feel any pain. I felt like I was floating. The most terrifying aspect of the situation was that I couldn’t remember much about myself or how I’d gotten into the situation. I had a vague sense of direction, so I started walking, but I kept falling over. I remember thinking that if I didn’t reach home soon I was going to have to collapse and scream for help.

I’m not sure whether twenty minutes or thirty seconds passed, but eventually I saw a man walking in close proximity with his dogs. I remember mustering up the last of my strength to run up to him and ask for help. In retrospect, I can only imagine how shocking the situation must have been for him: being on a peaceful walk in the woods with his dogs only to be approached by a bloody, crying, dirt-covered teenager.

Some survival instinct within me must have registered that I had finally found help, because my memory blacks out completely right at that moment. When I woke up, I was still in the woods, but time had passed. Somehow, my trainer Ainslie was there, sitting on the ground comforting me.

It’s hard to describe how my head felt at that moment. There was still no pain, although blood continued to pour from my nose, but my disorientation caused enough fear that I kept repeating the same question to Ainslie: “Am I dying? Am I dying?”

She kept reassuring me that it was just a concussion, and that I was fine. To this day I don’t know if she truly believed it, because by the time the EMTs finally arrived and were able to carry me out of the woods on a stretcher, they skipped Emerson (the closest hospital) and took me straight to Lahey Clinic in Burlington. Lahey has a better head trauma center.

There, I waited for hours in paralyzing fear as my senses returned to me. Doctors scanned my brain to make sure I didn’t need emergency surgery. The hours during which I awaited news were long and dreadful, and I will never forget them.

Thankfully, the results returned: there was no bleeding in my brain, just a bad concussion and a broken nose. There was a lump on the back of my head where I presume it had hit the rocks, and it’s possible I got the broken nose from a kick to the face as the horse ran away (yes, she was shod on all 4 feet). I had been wearing a helmet, and had it been fitted properly, perhaps I would have been fine, I will never know. However, one thing I’m sure of is that if I had not been wearing a helmet, I would be dead.

The doctors said that my safety vest may have saved me from some more serious back damage, and this is the reason I often wear a vest today.

It turns out that I was very lucky in the end. I was lucky I understood the importance of helmets from  a very young age and always remember to wear one. I was lucky I put my safety vest on that day. I was lucky that I recovered very quickly and that I was back on a horse before I knew it.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don't wear helmets, but I'm not one of those trainers.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don’t wear helmets, but not me.

We discovered several months later that the mare I was riding had nerve damage on her back from an accident that occurred when she was younger and there had been no way to prevent or predict the accident. This is why I wear a helmet with every horse . We had no idea that she was having occasional painful spasms in her back.

To get more involved in the issue of helmet awareness, I would recommend checking out the organization Riders4Helmets. They also have a FaceBook page here.

Hours after my accident, I learned that I kept walking and talking to the man with the two dogs even after I blacked out. Apparently, he had asked if I needed to make a call, and I had surprisingly remembered Ainslie’s number. I guess years of calling it has engraved it into my brain. Ainslie tells me that she picked up the phone and heard my voice, sounding distant and vague, saying, “Hey Ainslie. I want you to know that the horse is on her way home.” Ainslie had stayed quiet after this confusing comment, at least until I elaborated: “And I’m going to need an ambulance.”

While I consider myself lucky, the fear associated with the memories from this accident will stay with me forever. I hope that this will encourage those who took the time to read this to stay safe.

Also, if you haven’t already, make sure you like my Facebook page and maybe even donate to our GoFundMe account.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.

Groundwork: Working with a Rearing Horse

By Hadrien Dykiel

The feisty off the track thoroughbred reared once, then twice, and then another time. And then again, and again. By the end of our groundwork session, I lost count of how many times “Lulu” had reared.

In my experience, I have seen horses rear for two main reasons:

1) The horse is feeling trapped and confused


2) The horse is challenging you

There are ways to determine if the horse is just scared or actually belligerent. In both cases, we will address the problem immediately and similarly. However, trying your best to understand the reason behind your horse’s rearing will help you respond more appropriately.

The first factor to consider is how confused might your horse be. This was my second time working with Lulu, and she was still learning what the groundwork exercises meant, such as lunging. At times, a horse may feel trapped and overwhelmed and may try to defend themselves. The best way to rule out confusion is to make sure you have taken the necessary steps to teach new exercises to your horse properly. If I ask a wild mustang to lunge from me, that horse is more likely to misbehave than a horse who already understands the principle of moving away from pressure and trusts me. Fear often accompanies confusion, so look for signs such as wide eyes and frenziness. The truth is, it is necessary to push our horses out of their comfort zones for them to learn new things. There will always be some confusion, especially when introducing a new exercise. How far out of their comfort zone you push your horse has to be reasonable, a little stress improves attention and retention, while too much stress inhibits learning.

Another factor to consider is the horse’s temperament. As it turns out, Lulu has a history of attacking people. “She sizes you up then charges. It’s calculated” her owner tells me. A dominant natured horse is more likely to challenge you, especially the more you ask from them. Some horses are more inclined to lead, while others are more likely to follow. A dominant horse like Lulu is not willing to give up her leadership easily, I had to convince her that I was fit to lead. It is common for aggressive behavior, such as rearing and striking out, to emerge when you are establishing yourself as your horse’s leader via groundwork. In the horse’s eyes, you are positioning yourself as the leader by asking them to move away from you. Some will agree to this with no resistance, while others will test your leadership abilities. For safety, it is absolutely necessary for people to always be in the leadership position. You will find that horses will often find relief in relinquishing their leadership role to you, even if they initially appeared reluctant, because it takes a big responsibility off of their shoulders.

When Lulu reared, I gave her the benefit of the doubt that perhaps she was confused and flustered. You can see how I handled it in the short video clip below by not increasing the pressure more but not backing off either.

Even if confused, rearing is not acceptable behavior. Notice how I ignored the behavior and continued applying pressure with my stick and string by hitting the ground next to her. My goal was to get her to yield her shoulder away from the stick and string. I released the pressure, aka stopped waving my stick and string around, as soon she moved from from the pressure and began lunging. In the past, I would be willing to bet that people unintentionally rewarded Lulu for rearing by releasing the pressure when she would rear. This has taught Lulu that rearing can get her out of doing things. For that reason, it is important to remain consistent and continue applying pressure until she moves away from it and stops fighting it.

At times, a horse may rear more because they are challenging you rather than because they feel a need to defend themselves. Knowing your horse’s temperament and disposition is helpful. Prior to the exercises, did they already show signs of disrespect such as pinning their ears, nipping, or crowding your space? If those behaviors were present, it increases the chance that their rearing is a result of them challenging you more. When you horse rears, notice their expression. Seeing the whites of their eyes may be a sign of fear, while their ears pinned back, striking out, kicking, and even charging are more likely signs of them testing your leadership. In this scenario, especially if the horse understands the exercises, it is appropriate to increase the pressure as much as necessary to drive them away from you. This is similar to two horses in the field challenging each other: Buttercup pins his ears, Pretty Girl bites him, he backs up towards her, and she kicks him away. Each horse escalates their energy levels until one moves away. Make sure you are like Pretty Girl, not Buttercup.

Next time I work with Lulu, I will know that she has respect issues and that she understand the concept of lunging. I can be pretty sure that her rearing is not from fear, but from belligerence. I will respond by increasing the pressure, aka whacking her with my string on her shoulder, until she moves away respectfully. If you are not comfortable with that, get control of her feet somehow. Her owner told me she’s backed Lulu up the entire length of the arena after Lulu reared and hopped forward to strike. Increase the pressure and get the horse to move way from you energetically. Stay consistent, and the horse will learn that there is no point in rearing since you are not going to back down. You can gauge the effectiveness of your training by noticing if the frequency and intensity of the aggressive behavior decreases over time. Remember to continue pushing your horse out of their comfort zone by gradually asking more from them.

Above all, stay safe. A rearing horse can be very dangerous. Always maintain a safe distance between yourself and the horse, which is why I like using the training stick. I would not use something shorter, like a dressage whip, for this kind of situation. Also be aware of the people and horses around you. As you can tell from the video, my friend had to move out of the way while video taping. Please post with comments or questions. You can visit our store for groundwork tools, please get in touch as well if you have any questions.

The Key To A Better Back Up

By Hadrien Dykiel

When I teach people how to back their horses up on the ground, the same question keeps popping up: “How do I back up my horse with more energy?” The nice thing is, most people actually already know how to do this without realizing it.

To back your horse up, first you ask gently by creating a little bit of energy in front of them, such as by wiggling the lead rope. If they do not listen or the back up is too slow, you gradually raise the pressure until your horse responds. As soon as they do, you release the pressure to reward the horse for backing up.

But what if you actually want your horse to continue backing up? Think about how you press down the gas pedal in order to accelerate when you are driving your car. When you want to go faster, most people usually don’t slam the pedal to the metal. Instead, you gradually press it harder until you get the acceleration you’re looking for. Once you’ve reached the speed you want, you don’t just take your foot off the pedal because your car will start to slow again. Instead, you ease off the gas but keep pressing the gas pedal a little bit to maintain your speed. You can do the same with your horse to maintain a quick and energetic back up. Gradually increase the pressure until you get the back up speed you are looking for, the same as if you are giving your car more gas. Once you’ve reached that speed, release the majority of the pressure to reward your horse but continue exerting a little bit of energy, like wiggling the lead rope and walking towards them, to let them know they should keep going. If your horse starts to slow again, do not hesitate to increase the pressure again.

Just like driving a car, it takes some time to get the timing down. Keep practicing, and make sure you do not ask your horse too much too fast. Eventually, your goal should be to have your horse back away from you while you simply march towards them.

Living Relaxed In A Stressful Life

By Hadrien Dykiel

Stress management is a great skill, both for horses and people. With experience and a little help from others to guide us in the right direction, it is a skill that can be practiced and developed over time.

As horse owners and riders, we can help our horses deal with stress in healthy ways. Mojito is a 4 year old rescue horse that came to me last year. He had never been traumatized, simply neglected. He just did not know much. Throughout his training, I helped build up his confidence by pushing him out of his comfort zone gradually.

Horse Crossing Stream

Mojito and Hadrien

Gradually is the key point here. Mojito was scared of crossing the stream when he first saw it. On the first day, he got within 10 yards of it. He was nervous, pawing and snorting. He learned, however, that there was no water monster living in it. He also learned that when scared, it is a better choice to stop and think instead of over-react by bolting to the side or rearing up. On day 2, Mojito got his foot in the water. On day 3, he went through it.

The important point is how Mojito was pushed out of his comfort zone and taught to deal with stress in a productive way. The next time Mojito encountered a stressful situation, a dog who jumped out of the bushes, he turned around to face the dog and stood still. The other horses, who were older and more experienced than Mojito, bolted and ran away. Many parents teach their kids how to handle stress by providing them with tools, such as exercise and constructive communication. You can do the same with your horse, teaching your horse to automatically respond to stress by stopping and thinking instead of bolting and over-reacting. One great way to do this is through desensitizing, which will help your horse develop a safe way to react to stress.

I have to caution you, however, at how much stress we subject our horses to. Too much stress at once can be a bad thing. Mojito was doing really good with his training when one day, he pulled back in the cross-ties. The cross-ties snapped and hit him in the head. He then tried to turn around and ended up running into saddles and grooming boxes in the hallway as he darted out.

Too much stress can lead to negative results. After the little cross-tie incident, Mojito became nervous of the saddle in the cross ties. He associated tacking up with the feeling of fear and distress he felt when he broke the cross-ties. It took a while to rewire his brain to think “relax and think this through” instead of “I gotta get out of here” when tacking up. Mojito’s reaction to tacking up displays the importance of pushing our horses out of their comfort zone gradually and always ending on a good note.

Living in a sheltered bubble, on the other hand, prevents our horses from improving their stress handling skills. A horse who has not practiced those skills will most likely not know how to react when confronted with stressors, like a dog startling them. The same goes for us. Everyone has to deal with stress sooner or later, whether it is taking an exam or losing a loved one. Someone who has not developed strong stress coping skills might have a much harder time dealing with with some of the ugly things in life we all encounter sooner or later. Like horses, we can train ourselves to respond positively to stress.

What are some of your tactics for living relaxed in a stressful life?

Dog On Horse

Mojito with “Bear” the puppy – Photo Credit Alice Adams

Teach Your Horse To Side Pass On The Ground

By Hadrien Dykiel

Have you ever envisioned training your horse to side pass?

If so, follow these 2 step by step exercises and pretty soon your horse will know how to side pass on the ground. In addition to increasing respect and control, teaching your horse to side pass on the ground will make teaching him side passing under saddle a breeze.

Part One: Side Passing on the Ground with a Fence in Front

Part Two: Side Passing on the Ground with no Fence

As with almost any horse training exercise, there are some important principles to remember when training your horse.

1) Break it down – before you learn how to divide, you need to learn addition and subtraction. Horses are the same way. Try to be creative and break down exercises into as many little steps as you can. If you do, gluing the pieces together will be easier for your horse.

2) Increase pressure gradually – use rhythm and be consistent. Make sure you release the pressure immediately as soon as your horse makes an effort.

3) Keep your horse thinking – keep them focused, calm, and interested. Do not overwhelm them. A little bit of stress can help them learn, too much will scare them and turn their mind off.

4) Set them up for success – before asking your horse to perform an exercise, make sure you have taught your horse that exercise in a safe and controlled environment.

To get the same training equipment I was using in the video, go to our store

Best of luck with your training, please feel free to leave us comments or questions!

Rescue Spotlight: Beech Brook Farm Equine Rescue and the Truth About Gaited Horses

sign beech brook farm


            After a thunderstorm and a broken-down car prevented each trip I planned to Beech Brook Farm Equine rescue in CT, owner and president Deborah Finco still took the time to conduct a phone interview in the middle of a day at her full-time job.

How was Beech Brook Farm Equine Rescue founded?

Running a rescue and working full-time cannot be easy, but Deborah still spoke to me passionately about the rescue that she started in 2007 after her horse-crazy daughter wondered: “Mom, what if we helped rescue horses?”

Deborah’s daughter riding one of Beech Brook Farm’s rescues.


Her daughter’s thoughtful suggestion led to them fostering a rescue donkey. When I asked her how this progressed into founding the rescue, a 501c3 non-profit organization, Deborah explained to me that she was not happy with the donkey’s new home and wanted to have more say in the animals’ future.

They started small, with only 2 or 3 horses per year, but the number of volunteers increased, and in 2009 a newspaper article caused the rescue to explode. Deborah told me that the goal of the board now is to adopt out at least 20 horses per year! To date they have saved over 75 horses and place 60 in adoptive homes.

Happy horses at BBF.

However, currently, donations have been down and until this changes the rescue cannot take in any more animals. Therefore, if you are a rescue-crazy equestrian, we hope that you’ll consider donating via at or snail mail at 125 Fishtown Road, Mystic CT 06355.

BBF gets a lot of their horses from the infamous Camelot Auction. Like Save Your Ass Rescue, which was previously featured, BBF has a very distinct quarantine area and guideline. This is necessary as a lot of Camelot horses come in with diseases such as Strangles, which Deborah experienced a recent bad case of.

The Truth About Gaited Horses


            I decided to take advantage of this interview to ask Deborah about gaited horses. BBF will accept any horse and adopts out a lot of donkeys especially, but mostly focuses on gaited breeds such as Tennessee Walkers, Missouri Foxtrotters, Peruvian Pasos, Spotted Saddles, and Paso Finos.

I don’t know much about gaited horses apart from my occasional trail endeavor with a little gaited Spotted Saddle mare. She is one of the most pleasant trail horses I have experienced. She is incredibly forward and responsive without being out of control, but mostly, she is incredibly comfortable.

Juliane Dykiel

Me (Juliane) and gaited mare Sadie



Deborah told me about how gaited horses were bred so that their riders could ride for miles and miles without posting. People overseeing plantation work needed a comfortable horse to help them get through the day. Deborah told me that she has osteoporosis and back pain from a back fracture and, apart from her daughter’s love for gaited breeds, this is part of the reason that she goes with gaited horses.

How about their gaits?


I asked Deborah a little bit more about these comfortable gaits. I’ve heard a lot about the running walk, and the pace, and wanted to know more. Apparently, the “running walk” is what makes gaited horses so comfortable: it is a 4-beat gait that comes after the trot but feels smoother to the rider. The pace, however, is a 2-beat gait, with each side of the horse moving in unison. Deborah described this particular gait as “jarring,” in some horses but comfortable in others. Missouri fox trotters are a bit different in that their special gait (the fox trot which is very smooth) is a diagonal gait.

Gaited horses are not limited to these two gaits, though: they may have a whole spectrum from walk, trot, pace, fox trot or running walk, rack, and canter! Each breed has something different to offer.

What can you do with these horses?

I’ve always wondered if gaited horses can do English disciplines such as jumping and dressage. Most people I know who work with them either trail ride for pleasure, or do competitive trail riding.

Deborah, however, surprised me by telling me that she has a friend whose gaited horse out-jumped all of the horses in a jumping competition!

“They do it all,” she told me, “Dressage, Western, Jumping…”

Gaited Dressage Rescue Horses

Who says gaited horses can’t do dressage? (Cammy, a current BBF adoptable)

However, she also went on to explain that it was harder for a gaited horse to get a good trot in dressage. Also, most people don’t want their gaited horse to trot – the running walk is much more comfortable.

Deborah had mentioned that her daughter used to show gaited horses down South, and I asked if there were different shows for gaited horses.

“There aren’t many up here,” she told me, “which is why most people who adopt our horses want to trail ride.” However, she told me about the shows down South that judge the gaited horses’ different gaits, and I thought about how amazing it would be to see one of those!

Now, for a call to action: if you’re interested in a gaited horse, check out Beech Brook Farm or check back to the Mount Toby Rescue Project regularly. And if you end up adopting, consider AllHorseStuff for your training equipment needs!

Does My Horse Need Shoes?

A few years ago, I asked my friend “Why do we shoe horses?”
The answer seemed simple at the time: we shoe our horses to protect their feet. In this post, I will share with you the advantages as well as disadvantages of horse shoeing that I have discovered through research, interviewing farriers, and trimming my horses.

Running Mustangs

Running Mustangs – Source:

The Wild Horse
Wild mustangs travel over 20 miles a day and are barefoot. Yet, their feet are hard as rock. How is it that their feet do not get destroyed by the harsh terrain? Wild horses actually get their strong feet because of how much they use them. Everyday, their sole, frog, and hoof wall gets packed down into strong, callous material.

Wild Horse Hoof

Wild Horse Hoof – source:

What About My Horse?
If the wild horse does best with no shoes, why do we shoe our domestic horses? Mercedes, a horse that came to us for training just a month ago, arrived barefoot. Her original owner had nice lush pasture with very soft ground. All of a sudden, Mercedes became a little lame. On the trail, she avoided the hard packed ground by walking on the softer edges of the path. Her feet were weak from being unused and the sudden change in footing, from soft ground to hard rocky ground, made her foot-sore. Shortly after, we put front shoes on Mercedes and she became sound again.

To determine whether to shoe or not shoe your horse, think about how strong your horse’s feet are and how much they are ridden on tough terrain. I have found that horses I ride barefoot on a regular basis, almost everyday, will get stronger and stronger feet. On the other hand, a horse who is not ridden as often or is mostly used to soft ground, such as arena sand, will have weaker feet. If a horse with weak feet occasionally goes out on rocky trails, their feet will likely get damaged. For those horses, such as Mercedes, shoeing might be a good option.

A good way to think about this is by taking a look at your own feet. If you are like me, you wear shoes almost everyday. I walked barefoot on my gravel driveway this morning to take out the trash and it hurt… If I walked barefoot everyday, however, my skin would callous and become stronger (Ask any rock climber, the same thing happens to their hands).

In a nutshell, being barefoot makes horses’ feet stronger while shoes actually weaken the hoof. However, not all horses are suited to remain barefoot. Think about the effects of the terrain on your horse’s feet, as well as the frequency of your rides. Although your horse’s feet will not get very strong, shoeing them can help protect the hoof from damage if the terrain and type of riding is too much for your horse to handle.

Horse Hoof Barefoot vs. Shod

3 Steps to Making Your Leather Last Longer

By Hadrien Dykiel

You can make your tack and leather apparel look nice and last longer by cleaning it regularly. Here are some things that you can do to keep equipment in good condition:

  1. Clean it
  2. – Use a damp sponge or towel to clean dirt, salt from sweat, and horse hair from your leather. You can use natural oil-based soaps or some glycerine soaps to help clean that don’t cause the leather to dry out.

  3. Feed it
  4. – The life of your leather comes from the fat inside of it. As your leather gets old, the fat needs to be replenished in order to keep the leather healthy and strong. Oil your leather after cleaning so that it reabsorbs fat. Pure neatsfoot oil is a good choice. Avoid-petroleum based products as they can dry out the leather. Oiling your leather regularly and lightly is better than saturating it once in a blue moon. Also, keep in mind that too much oiling will lead to flabbiness, a greasy feel, and weakened leather. Not enough oiling will lead to dry leather and cracks, like my paddock boots.

    Dried Leather

    My Dried Out Paddock Boots

  5. Protect it
  6. – Heat, dirt, water, and salt will all make your leather age faster. One way to prolong its life is to store your leather articles away from direct sunlight in a place that is neither too humid or too dry. Over a long period of time, leather can become deglazed. When this happens, you can protect it by resealing it with Satin or Super Sheen. It will give the leather a protective covering which helps retain the fat from oiling and helps protect it from all of the things that damage it.

    I hope this will help make your equipment last longer. Visit our store when it’s time for new leather tack!

Hoof Care Tip: When to Use Hoof Dressing

By Juliane Dykiel

I’ve always liked the idea of hoof dressing. Perhaps it’s a girl thing. After all, there are few things more rewarding than polishing our nails with clear polish and enjoying the clean, shiny result. For me, I get the same satisfaction when I grease up my horses’ feet.

However, I’ve always found it controversial. How helpful is it, really?

A lot of horse owners, I’ve noticed, apply it every day, while others say that it does absolutely nothing. Others say that you must only apply it when the hoof is wet, or else it will seal moisture out.

This controversial advice had been driving me crazy, so I set out to find the truth. Had I been wasting my time with hoof dressing, or was it really keeping my horses’ feet moisturized and healthy?

Where to apply it?

First of all, I learned something new in my research: very little affects the hoof wall other than proper trimming. Therefore, the sole and frog are what you should really pay attention to, and apply hoof dressing to, if needed.

When to use it?

A friend’s farrier also gave me a great tip that helps you tell whether or not your horse needs hoof dressing: Pick your horse’s foot, then feel the frog with your thumbnail. Is it spongy, or hard as a rock? Use your nail to test it out.


The frog tells you whether or not you need hoof dressing. This is what Mercedes’ sole looked like when we first got her. The frog was soft. We didn’t put hoof dressing on but might have applied a hoof sealer if we had one.

If the frog is rock hard and the bulbs are cracking, the hoof is too dry. In this case, he told me, slap hoof dressing on liberally until the problem is resolved and the frog is soft again.

If the frog is soft, he told me, there’s no point in using hoof dressing. Interestingly enough, horses’ feet are equally vulnerable to both moisture and dryness. Too much moisture can actually hurt the hoof.

Another product, called a hoof sealer, helps seal out excessive moisture yet preserves natural moisture.

Which products are best?

Pine tar seems to be, by popular opinion, the best product for when the hoof is too dry. There are debates that some other products, particularly petroleum-based ones, might suck natural moisture out.

Hoof sealers are good for softer frogs and wetter environments because they moderate the amount of moisture the hoof gets. Some recommended products are Tuff Stuff Hoof Sealant and Keratex Hoof Gel.

As a result of this research, I decided to go out and get a good supply of pine tar for when my horses’ feet are overly dry. I will use a sealer a couple of times a week as a preventative measure for excessive moisture.


Now, this blog is the result of quite a bit of internet research and the interviewing of several experts. I’m no expert myself, and, while interviewing, have gotten some controversial opinions. Therefore, if you disagree or have something else to share, please comment! Let us know what you think the truth about hoof dressing is, and how we can improve this blog. And if you agree, let us know as well! We’d love to hear from you!

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