Thirty years of horse ownership and traveling to competitions throughout New England have given me plenty of opportunity to pick up helpful, creative ideas for horsekeeping. I've chosen 10 of the best ones to share with you here.
Even if you braid your horse's mane with yarn, or never braid at all, keep a supply of black braiding elastics in your tack room. Store them in an old margarine container to keep them from drying out. Use them on your tack so that your keepers stay in place. (Loose ones tend to slide down leaving a floppy, messy looking strap above.) You can also use them as extra keepers, such as on the back of the noseband when the free end of the strap is very long.
Put a hoof pick on a small carabiner (rock-climbing ring with a screw-open or snap-open section.) Attach the carabiner to the pommel D-ring of your saddle when you go for a trail ride in case your horse gets a rock or other foreign object stuck in his foot. (Usually these wedge firmly between the frog and the shoe, causing a lameness or gait abnormality.)
Baby oil is great to put on hairless scars before you go in the show ring. It darkens the skin, making the scars less noticeable (especially on bay or black horses).
If your horse wears a figure-8 noseband or a cavesson-with-flash attachment, you know how rough and stiff the piece of leather behind his lower lip gets. After a thorough cleaning to remove saliva and bits of hay/grass, rub a small amount of Vaseline into the strap. This makes the leather a bit smoother and softer against your horse's tender skin. If the tack starts to chafe the skin or make bald raw spots, discontinue its use until the area heals. When you put that noseband back on your bridle, rub Vaseline on the strap AND his skin every time that you tack up.
Chunks of missing hoof wall or deep cracks in your horse's foot will only get deeper and larger while you wait for your horse's next regularly-scheduled farrier visit. Dirt, arena sand and other debris erode away at the edges of the defect, and your daily cleaning of the area will only make the hole bigger. Use the edge of your shoeing rasp to make a horizontal notch in the hoof wall above the crack to stop it from going further up the wall. Thoroughly clean all of the dirt out of the defect using an old toothbrush. When the area is dry, fill it in with "wood filler" purchased at your local hardware store. It will be in a small can and consists of ground-up wood/plastic mixed with glue. Press the wood filler in firmly and let it dry thoroughly before your horse goes outdoors or back in his stall. Dry time is 30 to 45 minutes depending on how big the patch is, so give your friend a good grooming on the cross-ties while the patch "sets up."
If you live in an area that has snow in the winter, you know all about snowballs – those big clods of icy snow that get packed into your horse's feet. These can be quite dangerous because the horse can easily slip and fall due to a lack of traction between the hoof/shoe and the ground. He's also at risk for twisting or breaking an ankle because of the instability. Again visit the hardware store, and purchase a paste wax for wood floors. I use Butcher's Wax. It costs a few dollars and comes in a round, flat can. Before you turn your horse out, pick out and brush his feet clean. Using your fingers, generously rub some wax all over the sole and frog, or the hoof pad itself if he has pads on his front feet. The wax really helps the ice clods fall out of the feet. And nothing ever sticks to the treated pads. In between uses, store the wax in a heated room so it remains soft enough to spread (not frozen).
Stop by a camping or outdoor sports store and pick up several nylon mesh bags. They usually have a drawstring around the top to close them. These are super for keeping sponges in, hung from a nail or hook. Buy several so that you can have an assortment of sponges handy in the tack room, wash area and trailer.
Haynets are notoriously awkward to fill and close up, especially if you are alone. The other problem with nets is that the drawstring you use to close and hang the net usually wears out a lot faster than the rest of the net because of repeated pulling and wear when you hand the net from a metal ring. To solve these problems in one easy, inexpensive way, purchase 10 feet of heavy, brightly colored nylon rope at the hardware store. Remove the original drawstring from the little rings at the top of the haynet. Then thread your new rope through in the same manner. Knot and then duct-tape the ends together. My trailer haynet is made of thin blue nylon rope and my "tie-rope" is twice as thick yellow rope. So it's very easy to see where to open the net up for filling and sturdy enough for many years of repeated hangings from the ceiling.
Whether you're traveling to one-day outings or overnight competitions, you'll certainly have a set of tools in your trailer – broom, shovel, pitchfork. The person at the next trailer or stall may have forgotten her tools and borrows yours (with or without asking!). A classy but effective way of identifying your equipment is to put several stripes of colored tape around the handle. Do it in your stable colors. That way, the borrower can't help but notice that the tool belongs to someone else and you are sure to come home with everything that you arrived with.
For convenience, many people tie their horses to the side/back of their trailer while they're tacking up for a ride, or the horse munches hay between classes at a show. No matter how "bombproof" your horse is, something might happen suddenly/loudly nearby that causes him to spook and pull back in panic. Although his tie rope should be secured with a quick-release knot, I've found that sometimes the rope is so taut that it's hard to get untied. Purchase a roll of gauze (pharmacy, veterinarian) and keep it handy in your trailer's emergency kit. Cut a 12-inch piece off and tie it in a loop through the tie ring on your trailer. Then tie your horse's lead rope in a quick-release knot through the gauze loop (instead of the metal tie ring.) In a pull-back panic situation, the gauze will break long before the horse or his halter do. I have seen people use baling twine instead of gauze but, in my experience, twine is quite strong and doesn't "give way" soon enough to safely free the horse. The gauze loop can live on the trailer tie ring until it wears out with use/the elements. Then it's easily replaced with a new one.