Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bells on my horses

"Why do you always have a bell on your stirrup?"

 I get this question fairly often when riding with new people. Nearly every saddle I own has a small bell tied to the right stirrup and its a habit I have kept since I was a teenager.

 My favorite riding instructor, Pam, always had a tiny brass bell on one stirrup. She told me about how it was a bit of superstition to keep the fairies away so they didn't spook your horse. The stirrup bell is pretty much the same idea as a gremlin or guardian bell for motorcyclists and offers a bit of superstitious protection to the rider. I enjoyed her stories so it is a habit I adopted from her.

 While fairies and goblins aren't a problem, the bell does serve a useful purpose. It helps warn other riders or wildlife out on a trail that we are nearby. Should I get dumped and my horse take off in the woods somewhere, the bell sound might make it easier to track them down. I also find it handy to keep track of other riders who might be on our horses with us. If we are out riding in a group and a student is lagging behind on a lazy horse, I can hear them behind me without having to turn around and loose focus on my own mount.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Show me your papers! Coggins Tests and Health Certificates when traveling with horses.

 So you have registered to compete at your first big mounted archery event and paid all your fees. Your horse is trained and you've been practicing so your shots are accurate and your speed loading is coming along well. Exciting, isn't it? With all that work you have put in though, have you remembered to get your Coggins and Health Certificate done in time and given your horse a booster vaccination for equine flu?

 If you are new to horses, you may not know what these things are or why they are required. A Coggins test checks for the presence of antibodies for Equine Infectious Anemia or "swamp fever", which is a disease with no vaccination and no cure. In Texas, you are required to have the test done yearly if your horse is kept with other horses in a boarding facility, attending a horse show, trail ride, training clinic or other equine gathering, or to sell. There are other reasons to do it as well, but these are the most common. for more about the Coggins test and why its necessary, read here:

The organizers for any local horse show or mounted archery competition should always ask to see your Coggins test before allowing the horse to be on the property. Its a fairly standard requirement and I have started keeping a binder with all of our horses' health records and Coggins paperwork together so I can just take the whole thing with me when we load up and hit the road.

Larger events and competitions should be requiring health certificates as well for any horse coming from out of state. This is a legal requirement to cross state lines into Texas with a horse and is also a way to try to minimize the possibility of an EIA infected  or otherwise sick horse coming in contact with and infecting healthy horses. At our first time riding in an international mounted archery competition, all horses were required to have a health certificate done within 30 days of the event, even if they were coming from somewhere in Texas, where the event was held. There were several horses that came from out of state, and the organizers did a great job of making sure everyone knew the paperwork requirements well in advance.

If a large event with horses coming from out of state is not asking for health certificates, I would be hesitant to attend. All that hard work put in to get ready to compete just isn't worth risking the health of my horse. It also shows that the event organizers might not be experienced enough to run a safe event for horses since these are common requirements. For more on health certificates in Texas, see here:

As an extra precaution, I like to give our competition horses a booster shot for equine flu and rhino virus at least 4 weeks before travel. Giving the vaccine annually doesn't provide long term protection and horses that travel often should be boostered every six months by most recommendations.

If I know its going to be an event where horses from other states are attending, I will ask the organizers of the event which states they expect them to be coming from. This way, I can check to see if the core vaccines recommended in their states are the same or different than what we give our horses here in the Gulf Coast area of Texas. For instance, we don't see Potomac Horse Fever here very often, so it is not one of our regular vaccinations. If I knew a horse was coming in from an area where that was more prevalent, I would vaccinate ours well ahead of the competition to lessen the impact of possibly being exposed to it.

We also keep our horses from drinking water from shared troughs or getting too close to strange horses at events to help protect from communicable diseases. Maybe all of my precautions are overkill, but I will happily take a few extra steps to do what I can to protect the health of my horses. If it means skipping an event because the organizers can't or won't provide enough information, so be it. I'd rather miss out on competing than miss my horse that has become such a beloved teammate.

For some extra interest, you can check this website or follow their facebook page to track where equine disease outbreaks are occurring.