Ask Horse Journal: 11/00

Avoid Spur Marks
Do you know how to deal with spur marks’ My chestnut gelding either has sensitive skin or may be allergic to the metal in my spurs. The hair becomes darker, and for the past three summers he’s developed bare spots. This year they’re about the size of a silver dollar on the left and a dime on the right. I don’t get these spots in the winter. My legs are quiet, so I don’t think that’s the problem, and it’s just bare, not cut.

-Mary Clemens

Since the spots are unequal in size, you may be causing the problem more than you realize. You should get someone to watch you ride from behind. Your left leg could be stronger and more dominant than your right. You also could be sitting more to the left than the right, and then your right leg would be pulled away from your horse’s side. If your left leg is closer, the same side as the larger bare spot, then your leg motion has to be an important factor. If you wear rowel spurs, even plain dime rowels, the hair can sometimes be caught in the rowel and be broken off.

Chestnuts seem to be more likely than others to react to spur metal and lose hair or even get a rash that can open up and bleed. Of course, the obvious solution is not to wear spurs. However, we’ve seen horses react with rub marks from boots and chaps that have prominent wrinkles, so steady friction is the likely culprit whatever the material. Even when a rider has a quiet leg, there is some rubbing against the horse’s side just from the motion of his stride and the gentle sinking of the heel during each trot and canter step.

Another source of the problem with spur spots that develop in the winter can be bacteria buildup from an unwashed blanket, and clipped horses are more likely to develop problems than those with a full coat. Your horse’s winter coat could be protecting his sides somewhat when the weather turns cold, and you also may not be riding as much.

You should be able to prevent the problem next spring if you dab some petroleum jelly on your horse’s side, under the spur area, before you mount. Do this every time you ride, even when you compete. The petroleum jelly won’t show once he warms up. The spur will just glide over the hair and not cut into it, but it won’t dull your horse’s response to the aid. If your spur spot from this summer lingers into the fall, you might also try applying Mega-Tek Cell Rebuilder (see April 1997) for hair regrowth.


Tired of chopping ice last winter, I put a de-icer into the horses’ water tank, which is an old cast-iron tub. Some of the horses became reluctant to drink, pulling their noses back quickly from the water, but without actually touching the water. Cleaning the tank didn’t make a difference. I watched one horse take a drink, and then another come over to drink but pull away instead. Could they have gotten a shock at some point’

I dipped my fingers into the water several times and felt nothing. I didn’t use an extension cord, and the wire was plugged into a three-pronged outlet, as it should be. The tank is in a large run-in barn, near the open side, so that when the wind blows hard enough a drinking horse could get lightly snowed on, if that might be a factor. The water goes down as much as before, but there are six horses and I’m only there in the evenings, so I can’t monitor an individual horse’s water consumption. Do you have any ideas’

-Melissa Miller
New Hampshire

If you’re positive there’s no chance of electrical shock (it sounds like you’ve checked that thoroughly, but like you, we’re leary of mixing horses, electricity and water) — and since the water level appears to go down at a near-normal level — we would suspect that one of your horses may not like the look of the de-icer in the tank. Perhaps he is simply a worrisome individual. It appears the others initially were wary of the de-icer but have adjusted to it being there. You may also want to check with the manufacturer to see if the de-icer changes the smell/taste of the water.


Pure Aloe Vera
Can you can recommend some brands of aloe vera gel’ I recently bought Fruit of the Earth aloe at Walgreen’s, but I don’t think it’s pure. What should the ingredient list look like’

-Nicki Rosa

The container should be marked “100% pure aloe vera gel” with possible lines like “fragrance free” and “no color added.” The ingredients should only include aloe vera (and it should be first) and preservatives/stabilizers. The color will range from clear (filtered) to a yellowish color (unfiltered). The 100 % pure Fruit of the Earth gel is pure aloe vera.


Saddle Slipping
I have trouble keeping my saddle from slipping. I saw your non-slip English pads article (January 1999), but what about Western’ I barrel race. What kind of pad would you recommend’ Would a certain girth help’

-Cathy LeBouef

Several pads in our English non-slip pad test are available Western. One that was also in our Western orthopedic pad testing (February 1999; several models are available English) had above-average non-slip qualities: Hartmeyer’s No-Slip. (Contact Hartmeyer Saddlery, 800/225-5519 or This pad is relatively thin and made of a synthetic, rubber-like material.

Since you’re barrel racing, you’ll want to choose a lightweight pad, which this is. In general, rounded pads save weight over square ones, and there’s no advantage of a square pad over a round one where slipping is a problem.

You’ll also want to take a close look at your saddle and horse to see if the slipping could be due to saddle fit. We assume you mean that the saddle slips toward his loins. If your horse has low withers, you’re missing a great advantage since the junction of withers and back, properly matched with saddle shape, keeps the saddle in place. No matter what size or shape your horse’s withers are, though, a too-narrow saddle, when viewed from the front, will perch on his back and tend to roll sideways.

Try putting your saddle on the horse without your current pad. You’ll be scrutinizing the bars of the saddle tree (foundation) — the wide, flat areas that run from the horse’s shoulders back toward his loins. The angle of the bars, when viewed from the front, must match the angle of the horse’s back. Run your hand under the saddle to feel whether the full surface of the bars contacts the horse. Too narrow a fit will concentrate the weight on the lower (farthest from the gullet) part of the bars. A correct fit will match the angle of the bars to the angle of the horse’s back at the shoulders and you’ll feel the bars contact the horse evenly from the gullet down.

Even a well-fitting saddle will slip if the pad is too thick, so if you need extra cushion, switch to a thinner pad that still offers good shock absorption. The ThinLine 30” x 30” pad (800/732-7237) is designed to fit between a light, absorbent pad and your saddle. It stayed in place well.

If your saddle slips back (which may also result in it slipping sideways), or for extra lateral stability, add a Y shaped breastplate. The cinch attachment will help keep the breastplate from riding up and restricting the base of your horse’s neck during runs. If your barrel saddle doesn’t include breastplate Ds, get a saddlemaker to add them. Running the upper attachments to the latigos, instead, will restrict the horse’s shoulder motion.

A cinch that feels non-slip against your hand and that conforms to the curves of your horse’s girth area is likely to help. Try a roper-type cinch — shaped and wide for maximum surface contact at the sternum (breastbone). There are textured neoprene girths that may help, but we have not tested them for slippage. In general, fleece isn’t non-slip, but it depends on what it’s attached to.


Longe Line Length
I need a longe line, and I’ve noticed the lengths vary greatly. What length and material do I need’ I don’t want to be tripping over extra line.

-J.T. Danner

Small longe circles can be detrimental to your horse’s soundness, especially a younger horse, stressing his tendons and ligaments, so we recommend that a minimum longe-line length is 30 feet. Longeing on a 60-foot circle is similar to riding the horse on a 20-meter (60-foot) circle.

Be sure to measure the line, since while manufacturers try to ensure a line meets specifications, it may be off by a bit. Keep in mind the way you’ll use the line, too. If you run the line over the horse’s head, you need an even longer line. If you can’t get a long-enough line, you can simply walk a larger circle yourself when longeing the horse instead of standing in place, therefore increasing the size of the longeing circle.

For material, we prefer cotton webbing over nylon as cotton has a better feel. Nylon is also more likely to produce rope burns. We suggest you look for a loop end, as we find rubber-stop ends distracting.


Mineral Supplements
Earlier this summer a friend of mine gave me some free-choice minerals. I was willing to try them because I was concerned about my two horses eating dirt. Since we live on sandy soil, seeing the horses licking soil bothers me, but it doesn’t seem to bother them, they never get sand colic or anything like that.

My horses eat these supplements like candy. If I gave them everyday, it would cost me a fortune. Due to monetary concerns, I give them about two cups of these minerals once a week. My question is whether they are even necessary. My two horses have 24-hour access to a good pasture (25% landino clover and the rest is endophyte-free fescue, orchard grass, timothy and bermuda grass). Every other year the pastures are reseeded with a grass mix from Southern States, landino clover and orchard grass. They are fertilized every other fall, and we keep the manure picked out.

In the summer, my horses need no hay and get little grain. They aren’t worked too much. They both have access to a mineral block, though one horse doesn’t lick it. They also have a plain salt block. I know there are still a lot of questions as to why horses eat dirt, but since I started these supplements I haven’t seen them eat soil. However, I feel these supplements are overdoing it and I wonder if there is a better way to make sure they get what they need.

-Lou McKinney

The only way to really know what your horses might need and/or be seeking from the soil is to have your pasture analyzed for mineral content. But, based on the NRC’s average composition tables and the description of the composition of your pasture, you should be fine on the major-mineral front (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium). The problem likely lies with trace minerals. Zinc, selenium, possibly iodine are probably low. Manganese is likely high and copper OK. The high manganese is coming from the orchard grass. Next time you overseed, use less orchard grass seed. What you may need is a trace-mineral supplement, definitely a vitamin E and selenium supplement.

If you do use a supplement that also has major minerals, find one with a 2:1 calcium:phosphorus ratio. We really can’t suggest any one specific supplement without an analysis of your pasture. (Note: Soil analyses and fertilizer recommendations typically don’t check for trace minerals.) These run from $25 to $45. Check with your agricultural extension agent. Your state university probably does them.

As for the free-choice supplements you now have, they are eating them like candy because the base is likely very palatable.


Ace And Male Horses
An anonymous reader called shortly after publication of our September article on sheath cleaning. She said stallions should never be given acepromazine because they could end up with a “permanent erection.” This reader is not entirely correct, but it’s a common misconception.

In our article, we stated that a low-dose tranquilizer may be necessary to get some male horses to drop their penises for cleaning if all else fails. Ace is a tranquilizer that normally causes relaxation of the retractor muscle in the penis — that’s why you give an uncooperative male horse a little ace. Rare cases have been reported where a tranquilizer caused an irreversible paralysis of the retractor penis muscle, which results in the horse being unable to retract the penis, not a permanent erection.

This side effect doesn’t mean you should never use ace on a stallion or gelding. It means you should be aware of the possibility, use it only when absolutely necessary and only administer minimal dosage recommendations. Plus, as with any prescription drug, ace should only be used under the supervision/advice of a veterinarian. Frankly, most well-managed breeding stallions are so used to their penises being cleaned and handled that using ace is not an issue for cleaning them.

Before you believe those old-groom’s tales you hear in the every barn, educate yourself through reliable sources, such as reputable magazines (we’ll continue to keep you aware), books and your own veterinarian. For equine drugs, especially, we recommend Dr. Eleanor Kellon’s Equine Drugs and Vaccines. This book, written by our technical editor, provides accurate, understandable facts about the multitude of prescription and nonprescription drugs used on our horses (Breakthrough Publications, $56, 800/824-5000).


Long-Term Echinacea
In our article on March 2000 immune stimulants, we reported the echinacea-containing products were effective in aborting early viral infections. They can also be used as a preventative or in horses that have chronic coughs or difficulty resolving respiratory infections. However, there is debate as to whether it should be fed long term or not because some studies suggest the cells can become resistant to its effects. Additional information from the Nutraceutical Alliance (see September 2000) confirms this does occur, and their recommendation is to feed for no longer than four weeks, followed by a 10- to 14-day break before restarting.

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