Every few months, I trek down to Gardner’s Used Books on Mingo in Tulsa. I bring with me a list of ’70s and ’80s high fantasy and sci-fi novels that aren’t available through my library and spend an hour or so browsing the overstuffed shelves of Oklahoma’s largest used bookstore. Before I leave, I visit the non-fiction section to see if there are any equine-related hidden gems tucked away back there. There’s almost always at least one; I found Modern Showjumping by Count Ilias Toptani there, as well as a book published in the ’70s on horse breeding for amateurs, and a horse owner’s veterinary guide from the ’80s.
Last time I was at Gardner’s, I picked up Practical Horseman’s Book of Horsekeeping for a measly $5. Published in 1983, it’s basically a compendium of articles that appeared in the magazine in its first decade of publication, with some pieces written especially for the book. William Steinkraus wrote the foreward; his sister is the editor of the book.
The book has several sections:
Choosing & buying a horse
Outfitting the horse
Stables & stable management
Solutions to common horse problems
These topics are all thoroughly covered. Here are some highlights from each section:
Choosing & buying a horse
“The ideal combination for a jumper is therefore a small head on a long neck.”
Prominent withers can make a straight shoulder look more sloping. Short, straight pasterns often indicate that the shoulder is also straight.
Experts in hunter/jumpers, eventing, and dressage were consulted about what they looked for when evaluating a horse; they all had different preferences, but all three said they rode the horse on a loose rein when trying it out.
On making mistakes when riding a horse: “…the probability of a horse so suddenly acquiring an enduring bad habit or losing confidence completely is not very likely”
The vets consulted absolutely recommended a pre-purchase exam, and had some good advice on x-rays: “X-rays are often a wise precaution when you’re buying a young horse. They can provide an early warning of trouble to come. In an older horse, x-rays usually show only bony changes the horse has already lived with for a while; if the horse is sound when you x-ray him, he is probably never going to be affected by the changes you find on the film.”
Sign of the times: In a section on horse breeds, the Cleveland Bay is mentioned as a nice all-around horse. When was the last time you saw a Cleveland Bay, or knew someone that had one?! Also, Saddlebreds are mentioned for their great success in the dressage world. While that’s not untrue, I doubt anyone thinks “Saddlebred” when they’re asked about what breed of horse makes a good dressage mount.
Outfitting the horse
Horsemen of 1983 are just like horsemen of 2015: no one can agree on when, how, or why a horse should be bandaged; no one can agree on the use of a standing martingale (or how tight it should be)
There’s a lengthy section on leather care, which includes the following advice: “When I lived in the country, we used skunk grease occasionally as a leather conditioner. It did the same job and was a lot cheaper. Unsalted chicken fat can be used regularly for keeping leather in condition.”
Experts from a variety of disciplines were asked about their favorite bits; the general consensus is some kind of snaffle, followed by a pelham.
Suggested test to see if your horse is uncomfortable in his bit: “Choose a day when he’s relaxed, and put him into a canter in a place where you know he will stop willingly. When he’s going fairly energetically, pull on the reins. If you give your horse no other clue by voice or shift in weight that you want him to stop, you should manage a firm but not extreme pull before he stops. If he throws his head up or shakes it back and forth, pulls against you and keeps going, or in any way shows that he objects to the moderate pressure on his mouth, you can be pretty sure that his bit is causing discomfort.”
Sign of the times: 4 of 7 experts from across disciplines listed Hermès as their favorite saddle brand. (The other three were dressage riders/trainers.) Um, were Hermès a lot less expensive in 1983, a lot more common, or were equestrians raking in way more money?! Bonus: Dorthoy Morkis, dressage trainer, listed the “interesting new custom-made English saddle” County Competitor as one of her favorites.
Very practical advice in this section, from “plant grasses that are native to your area” to “have the county extension service test your soil before you fertilize”.
There’s a helpful breakdown of how to read commercial feed labels.
Some advice on feeding hay: “With good grain, horses don’t need hay. But they need something to combat boredom. The way we treat our horses is atrocious. We keep them in a stall all day and don’t even give them the chance to decide whether they’d like to stand out in the rain or not. If you made a shed available to your horses and let them go in and out at will, chances are you’d see them standing out in the worst weather. I’ve yet to find a horse that has been harmed by this behavior. So we find that we have to give stalled horses some fiber in order to eliminate boredom.”
Recipes for cooked oats, steamed oats, boiled barley, bran mash, linseed jelly, and linseed tea are included!
Sign of the times: Absolutely no mention of beet pulp, or low starch feed. Additionally, the book’s writers seem to assume almost everyone is still mixing their own blend of feed as opposed to buying commercial brands.
“Modern horse owners often don’t have time for a real old-fashioned grooming job. Fortunately, coat gloss comes in a spray can, but there’s still no way to spray on health and muscle tone. There is no shortcut to the physical well-being that good grooming brings about.”
There are detailed instructions on how to construct and use a hay wisp, which is now on my list of things to do.
Tips on shampooing the tail: “Give the horse a soap bath with a gel-like shampoo. Rinse it with a mixture of vinegar and water, about three-fourths of a cup of vinegar to a bucket of water. The rinse cuts the suds and separates the snarls.”
There’s a detailed section on braiding the mane and tail, complete with pictures. (Which I may also attempt.)
Clipping advice: “Whatever style you choose for your horse, remember that clipping can create optical illusions. For example, if you clip a saddle patch slightly smaller than normal, you will make your horse look taller and deeper through the girth. If you cut a straight edge on the front of the saddle patch instead of rounding it, and if you place it slightly to the rear of the withers, you will give the impression of a shorter back and a longer, more sloping shoulder. If you want to make your horse’s forearm and gaskin appear more heavily muscles, leave the stockings higher and fuller than normal.”
Stables & stable management
A half dozen building plans for various styles of barn are provided; as someone who would like to one day develop a horse property, I find this fascinating.
There’s some discussion of the “deep litter” bedding technique: “Deep litter means that you start out with a thick layer of bedding, perhaps three times as deep as you would normally use. Every day, you carefully remove the dropping, preferably at frequent intervals throughout the day. You never touch a wet spot, and you add fresh bedding when necessary.”
Advice on saving money managing a stable basically boils down to purchasing the best quality feed, hay, bedding, and equipment you can afford, because it will cause you less problems and cost you less in the long run.
One of the sections of this chapter gives a lot of information on choosing a boarding stable.
Solutions to common horse problems
Addressing the problem of a horse that bites: “A surefire way to cure horses of biting was claimed to be by firing a revolver whenever the horse made a move to bite. The loud noise allegedly solved the problem.”
How put weight on a thin horse: check for possible health issues, like parasites or bad teeth. Increase grain slowly, feed plenty of good quality hay, and give your horse as much water as he wants. Feed consistently, on a schedule. Make your horse’s life as quiet and stress-free as possible, and give it time.
“If a horse lives in bandages, pretty soon the bandages don’t produce results.”
A possible reason for your horse spooking constantly: “Your horse may be unhappy…or not very bright.”
Danish dressage rider Gunnar Ostergaard has some opinions on spooking: “If you think shying as being caused by a medical problem, you will always be able to find an excuse for your horse’s behavior. I think most shying has an emotional cause. Some horses, if allowed to go too far with it, turn shying into a game.”
“The safest way to ship is without shoes or bandages but with the van well padded to prevent injuries. I believe in bandages only when they are properly applied and do not make the horse uncomfortable.”
Overall, it’s an excellent book with lots of practical advice that’s applicable today! It can be had on Amazon very cheaply- or you could check your local used bookstore!
My parents had horses before I was born. My dad had a chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Tammy; he was always a casual rider, who liked to go on trail rides. (Later in my life, he would serve as an outrider on my cross country schooling jaunts and at horse trials.) My mom had a little gray Arabian gelding named Romeo and took lessons at a hunter/jumper barn. I suppose it made sense to them to find a horse for me so I could ride, too.
My mom found Daisy in the local newspaper classified section and bought her, plus a saddle and bridle for a whopping $350. She was delivered to us on Independence Day, 1991.
Daisy was some kind of Shetland mix and possibly the cutest pony who ever lived. She was also a brat, regularly throwing me off. One memorable time, she bucked me off, bolted off down the road, and was returned to us by our neighbors with her saddle broken. She managed to buck my dad off once or twice; I think she missed her calling in the rodeo.
When we moved to Tennessee, we gave Daisy to one of my kindergarten classmates whose mother ran the local 4-H drill team. He sent me postcard updates on her for several years; his family had her until she died of old age.
Thankfully, my next mount wasn’t quite so enamored with throwing her riders!
Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Here I am on my instructor’s pony Ginger (who you may recall from a previous TBT), learning to jump. This was in 1996 or so, so I’m about 10 years old. My mother, who recently sent me this treasure trove of old pictures, was insistent that it was my first jumping lesson.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate my amazing riding tights, oversized jean jacket, and helmet that was long past its ASTM expiration date (if it ever had one; it was my mother’s old helmet). If I could get those riding tights today, y’all know I would.
In case you can’t see it, here’s a closer view of my terrified face and Ginger’s annoyed lesson pony face. Just think, nearly 20 years later, I’m still making the same face over the same sized jump on a different mare!
I’ve featured Silk Pajamas, or PJ, in a previous Throwback Thursday. She really was a phenomenal mare, who at age 25, helped me earn my very first individual ribbon at the Midsouth USPC Eventing Rally.
I’d hung my team’s third place ribbon and my individual eighth place ribbon on her halter and made my dad take some photos. He snapped this one when I wasn’t paying attention, and it’s one of my favorite pictures of all time.
You can also see that the tie-dyed polo shirt strikes again! (I got a lot of wear out of that thing.)