Ask Horse Journal: 11/02

Dog Attacks
We’re pretty much urban horsemen in our neighborhood but enjoy the use of 150 acres of as-yet undeveloped county woods to ride on. We share this land with walkers, bikers, illegal motorcyclists and people exercising their dogs.

Last week my neighbor was out riding when a young couple drove up and let out their dog to exercise. Their Rottweiler attacked my neighbor’s young horse. They were unable to call off their dog. After staying on as long as possible, my neighbor decided to bail. She was stepped on and injured in the melee. The horse ran home, able to outrun the dog, but suffered numerous slashes and puncture wounds.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what to do in a situation like this. You don’t know if you jump off if the dog will attack you instead of the horse. My friend says she’s going to get a gun and carry it. But even a great shot probably couldn’t get a clear shot at the dog without injuring the horse, and any gun in a high-traffic area is too dangerous.

I thought about pepper spray, but I don’t know how close you would have to be for spray to be effective. I assume it also would affect the horse, and how can you get close enough to spray a dog attacking a horse in the flurry of hooves and teeth’

I just saw an advertisement for a battery powered Ultrasonic Dog Repeller for joggers. It clips on your belt. It emits high frequency ultrasound over a 20-foot range. Would this freak out a horse’

-Merry Rainey

Your best protection is in the training of your horse to listen to you even when he’s freaked out — yes, we know, easier said than done. We disagree with the gun idea. Legality and logistics issues aside, the rider would have to be experienced with firearms and the horse would have to be trained to stand quietly while the gun is fired — not an easy thing to do. Basically, “self-defense” measures only serve to distract you in a crisis situation and take away from your ability to control your horse.

One could carry a whip, but it takes a lot of skill and presence of mind to fend off an attack. It also again takes a horse trained to obey your signals despite the distraction of the whip and dog. Obviously, we wouldn’t expect that level of training in a young horse, such as your neighbor’s, but all riders should include in their training maintaining their horse’s control and attention in horribly distracting situations.

However, as terrible as your neighbor’s situation was, it was an accident. For the most part, dogs don’t “immediately attack,” although there’s always going to be a rare case. Mostly, dogs are trying to get close enough to smell and bark at the horse, and if the horse dances around or runs, the dogs are more than happy to enjoy the chase.

It’s difficult to give anyone an absolute “right way” to deal with a panicky horse. Some horses respond to firmness, some to a strong voice, and some are just so easily freaked out that anything you do only makes things worse.

However, if you just bail off, we think the chance is greater that the horse will get away — likely with the dog chasing it — than the chance that one of you might get bitten if you quietly dismount and calmly face the situation.

We would rather perform a calm, collected emergency dismount, reins in hand, and take our chances with a dog on the ground, especially if the dog owners are there.

In this situation, we suggest you alert the dog owners, dismount, pull the reins over the horse’s head, and stand between the horse and the dog, trying to hold the dog off long enough for its owners to help. Most dog owners will try to pull their dog out of this situation. If you or your horse gets bit or scratched, get the names of the owners and proof that the dog’s rabies vaccine is valid and up-to-date. Don’t take any chances.

Stay alert for dogs when you’re riding on trails, and don’t take for granted that a dog owner has his animal under control or even realizes horses are approaching. Get the people’s attention before the dog sees the horse. When they walk their dogs, few people really pay attention to their dogs, and most will probably thank you for the heads-up.

As for the dog “repellers,” it depends upon the frequency used. Horses do have good hearing in the higher frequencies, up to 25,000 cps, maybe higher. The only way to know for sure if it would bother your horse would be to try it ahead of time.

The bottom line is that your experience and skill level has to come into play as you determine what to do. Some people would be better off on the ground, while others should stay mounted. However, you should think ahead because this sort of thing does happen in the real world.


Senior Feeds For All Horses
I know a lot of owners feeding senior feeds to all-age horses, some only two or three years old. They claim it’s easier to keep weight on and adds a healthy glow. Many of these horses are in training for show or other performance events. I am concerned if this is a nutritionally sound approach to feeding young working horses’

-Sue Baker
New York

Senior feeds vary so much in their calorie and mineral density it’s difficult to answer this question. They do tend to be higher in fat than many other grains, which probably explains the glow. Senior feeds are also more heavily processed to make them more readily digestible, which can boost the calories but also robs them of delicate fats and vitamins. If the horse holds weight better on an equal amount of the senior feed compared to a “regular” feed, it’s a bargain in the digestibility department, but this must be weighed against the loss of natural nutrients. The diet should also be checked to make sure the mineral levels are appropriate for growth, especially for a two-year-old.


Gloves For Larger Hands
Your August 2002 article on riding gloves didn’t address one of my pet peeves and problems.??I have a large hand for a woman, size 8.5 or 9, depending on the cut and style.?? Most manufacturers consider woman’s large to be a 8.?? Men’s gloves are too wide in the palm to be comfortable and the fingers aren’t long enough. If??the fingers are too short, I soon tear out the ends.??I try on gloves at every opportunity, and if I manage to find a pair that fit, I buy them, as I will need them sooner or later.

I can’t think my hands are abnormally large. My feet are size 9.5, and I know they make shoes bigger than that.??Do other people have the same problem’?? I have asked in a number of tack shops, from Vermont to California to South Carolina, and they all say they don’t know of any source for a lady’s riding gloves that are larger than 8.????Most show gloves and one-size-fits-all gloves rely on Lycra inserts, which I soon tear out.??

I enjoyed the article, I just felt it didn’t cover all the complexities of fitting and buying gloves for those like me.?? The Charles Owen Windsor did appear to be suitable for women with long fingers and large hands, but at $42, it was also one of the pricier gloves and didn’t come in black for showing.

-Elizabeth Lamb
South Carolina

Rather than going to the tack stores, we recommend you go directly to the manufacturers. We would start with Fargo Trading, which makes SSG gloves (, and Cashel Co., ( or 800/333-2202) and go on from there. Most manufacturers are likely to have a number of suggestions for you.

SSG bases its sizing on the actual hand measurement, which means that, in comparison to some other manufacturers, there’s a better chance of a size 9 not being big everywhere.??The potential downfall to SSG for you is that the fingers do tend to be a bit short. Cashel may be the best bet, as the gloves are made for women and are available in long.

Unfortunately, the fringe sizes of anything are difficult to find in this industry.??Just ask men.??Even if they are an average size, not all things are available because they are such a small segment of the buyers.?? Not fair, we agree, but it’s the reality. In addition, don’t shy away from trying any glove that fits, regardless of its intended market is.?? If there is a glove made for another purpose but fits and would be suitable for riding, use it.


Hay On Ground
I once read to place hay and water at floor level because the natural head-down grazing posture encourages airway clearance and reduces respiratory problems’ Does this mean hay bags or hay racks would discourage good respiratory health’ Should I feed my horses on the ground’

-Amada Sarafian

Feeding horses in a head-down position, whether straight on the ground or from a low trough, does encourage drainage of the respiratory passages, but it’s no guarantee of respiratory health. Most noninfectious respiratory problems come from a combination of insufficient exercise and exposure to inhaled irritants and allergens from hay and straw.

Many people object to feeding on the ground for fear of exposure to parasites. However, your horse spends a good bit of time nosing around on the ground, not to mention grazing, regardless of how you feed him his hay. With proper stall and paddock hygiene, feeding from the ground is acceptable.


Be Careful With Free-Choice Mineral Supplements
You may see advertisements that recommend allowing your horse to choose his own mineral intake by supplying loose mineral salts in a small feeder, sometimes claiming it’s more “natural.” We see some problems with this method.

First, many horses don’t have a strong “instinctive” or “natural” drive to either recognize or take in what minerals they need, except salt, leading to under supplementation. In addition, many dietary deficits are confined to one or two minerals only, which means free-choice supplementation can lead to over supplementation of other minerals if it’s a mix.

Depending upon the minerals involved, this over supplementation could actually interfere with absorption of those few minerals the horse does need. Instead of feeding “free-choice” minerals, take a good look at your horse’s diet and only supplement what he actually lacks.


Remember Basics: Prevent Girth Galls
Stretching the forelegs after you cinch/girth up is a great habit that contributes to your horse’s comfort. Stretching eases the long hairs out from under your cinch/girth so they don’t get pulled. It makes your horse more comfortable and allows freer movement. It also moves the loose skin behind the elbow forward, preventing galls and rubs.

After tightening the cinch, and before mounting, pick up each forefoot in turn as if to clean the hoof. Move your inside hand behind the horse’s knee and step backward toward his head. Continue, taking the foreleg with you, until the foream is stretched to horizontal.

When you first do this with your horse, it’s safest to continue to hold the hoof so his knee stays flexed. This helps him keep his weight balanced until you’re ready to set it down. You can hold the knee, alone, with one or both hands and let the cannon hang down.

Stretching the forelegs horizontal maximizes the stretch and gets the loose skin ahead of the cinch. This allows the loose skin to move forward and back as the foreleg strides out rather than being stuck under the cinch and getting chafed. Any horse who’s already been galled, or is coming back into work, will particularly benefit from foreleg stretching.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!