10 handy horse-related applications for used toothbrushes

Mushy old toothbrushes can be extremely useful tools at the horse stables. In fact, plenty of equestrians keep cast-off toothbrushes in their horse grooming kits or tack boxes for a host of practical purposes. (No, most of us don’t brush our horses’ teeth.)

Equestrians and horse lovers probably replace personal toothbrushes regularly – just like many dentists instruct us to do. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends individuals toss out old toothbrushes every three months.

Instead of throwing away those soggy old toothbrushes, smart horse lovers hold onto them for use at the barn. Following are ten examples of ways used toothbrushes may come in handy for anyone who cares for horses. Thoroughly cleaned, soft old toothbrushes can be useful barn equipment for many practical purposes.

Adapted by this user from ABSFreePic image.
1. Applying hoof polishes and dressings

Hoof dressings (such as hoof blackeners, oils, pine tar, polishes, and other products) can be quite sticky and messy. An old toothbrush makes the ideal application tool.

2. Mixing equine medications

Equine veterinarians often prescribe medicines and nutritional supplements for horses, and these compounds may arrive in powdered or concentrated form. Some may even be produced in caplets, which must be crushed and diluted with water before administering them to horses. An old toothbrush serves as a super stirring tool for whipping up doses of medicines for equines, as it fits neatly into smaller containers.

3. Stirring up bran mash or beet pulp

If a horse owner wants to treat an equine to a bucket of warm, soupy bran mash or beet pulp, an old toothbrush makes a super stirrer.

4. Cleaning tack

Equestrians invest considerable funds in their bridles, reins, martingales, girths, surcingles and other leather training and horse show equipment. Cleaning and polishing this gear helps to keep these items supple and presentable and to preserve them for long-term use. A soft old toothbrush can be a useful tool for scrubbing oils, sweat, mildew, and debris from buckles, loops, and leather straps on horse tack.
This article originally appeared (in an earlier form) on another publisher’s property, which is now closed. All publication rights reside with the author.

5. Scrubbing bits

After use, a horse’s bit can be grimy and tarnished and covered with gunk. A soft toothbrush is ideal for scrubbing the bit clean. A dab of whitening toothbrush makes this task even easier – and adds a horse-friendly minty taste as well.

6. Conditioning a saddle

A quality leather English or Western saddle is a sturdy investment for any equestrian. Horseback riders tend to guard their saddles carefully, cleaning and conditioning them faithfully. A brand-new leather saddle must be conditioned extensively. Leather saddles need to be treated periodically (after cleaning) with an oil or leather conditioning product. A clean, but extra mushy, toothbrush is handy for applying these products into the many nooks and crannies of a well-crafted equestrian saddle.

7. Cleaning stall buckets

Each horse’s feed and water buckets must be cleaned regularly. Old toothbrushes are great for scrubbing out food residue, slimy stains, and other messes from these containers.

8. Polishing equestrian helmets

A horseback rider’s own head protection gear may become grimy with repeated use. A clean used toothbrush is super for scrubbing stains from an equestrian safety helmet.

9. Polishing boots

Equestrian paddock boots, cowboy boots, and tall leather riding boots can quickly become dusty, muddy or worse at the barn. A ratty old toothbrush is perfectly suited to cleaning and shining riding boots. The bristles fit neatly beneath laces and zippers, into tooling, along insole lines, and under heels.

10. Brushing a barn dog’s teeth.

Dogs tend to be part of the scene at the horse barn. Pet owners often find old, soft toothbrushes useful for cleaning their canine companions’ teeth every once in a while.

Here’s the most important tip, when using old toothbrushes.

It’s important to mark them clearly for their specific purposes. Of course, it’s essential to label used toothbrushes (with stickers or permanent markers), so they will be devoted to their exclusive uses. No one would want to stick a pine tar or saddle soap toothbrush into a food or oral medication container or an animal’s mouth.

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Who works harder, the human or the horse?

“Horseback riding isn’t really exercise. The horse does all the work.”

Oh, boy. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could probably cover my horse’s monthly board.

The horse definitely carries the weight, packing the rider and the saddle and tack around. He walks and trots and canters (or walks and jogs and lopes) circles in the arena or miles on the trail. He leaps over jumps, zips around barrels, or stomps through streams.

But the rider gets a workout too.

This article is copyrighted by The Mane Point: A Haven for Horse Lovers. Unauthorized reproduction or publication is not allowed.

Sure, the most advanced and polished equestrians make horseback riding look effortless. They pilot their athletic mounts as if by mind control alone. The cream of the crop makes it look easy.

But it’s not. If you ride horses, you know better. Those folks are working overtime up there. It’s just imperceptible to the casual observer.

“You’re working too hard,” my own trainer has said (more than once). Curiously, that usually happens when I am already tired, so my riding form and technique is sort of falling apart. At such times, I know in my head how I should be riding, but it doesn’t seem to translate to my extremities. (Maybe you’ve been there.)

Horseback riding does get simpler with practice, but it still takes effort.

It’s not only a matter of improved fitness (in both horse and human), although that’s certainly important.

Most definitely, a rank beginner displays a lot more physical exertion atop the horse, thumping and bumping and bouncing and maybe even hollering in the process. Don’t all of us tend to exaggerate cues when we first practice them? Eventually, as we and our horses build stronger and more sensitive partnerships, we find we can tone things down a bit. A slight seat shift, a soft squeeze of the legs, a harder step in one stirrup, or a gentle tickling of the rein can accomplish much – once we reach that point.

But the rider never checks out.

More than a few veteran trainers have instructed mounted students to “ride every step.” Some of us have high-energy horses that require plenty of half-halts or lots of gait transitions and riding patterns, just to keep their attention. Others have equines that need frequent nudges forward to maintain  forward impulsion and encourage collection. It all counts.

And any seasoned equestrian keeps his or her guard up, even during the most relaxing ride. Anything is possible. (Some of us have emergency room bills to prove it.)

That’s why they call it sport.

And as far as exercise is concerned, a real equestrian exerts plenty while fetching the horse from the pasture, cleaning off all that mud and dust, combing out his mane and tail, lifting and picking out hooves, lugging and putting on the saddle and tack, and performing all sorts of other related tasks. That is, unless the horse happens to reside in a fancy full-service stable, where the equestrian simply pays the bill and rides the polished horse. (Don’t get me started on that.)

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What's most alarming about the recent EIA case?

Most equine owners in Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin have likely learned by now of a couple of recent cases of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), an often deadly retrovirus that attacks equids. One horse has reportedly been euthanized. The other (apparently originating from the same location) may be at large - in our own region or in parts unknown.

Although veterinarians are urging horse owners not to panic, particularly in this season, a few valid concerns seem to linger.

Adapted by The Mane Point from an ABS FreePic image.

This article is copyrighted by The Mane Point: A Haven for Horse Lovers. Unauthorized reproduction or publication is not allowed.

1. The infected horse was apparently diagnosed two months ago (in mid-November), and many local equine professionals and horse owners are only now hearing about it. We have to wonder why no public warning was issued when this first occurred.

2. The infected horse seems to have been removed suddenly and without warning from the stable where it had been housed. According to Illinois Department of Agriculture reports, another horse on the same premises tested positive for EIA and was euthanized. But the first horse supposedly went missing. The USDA is said to be investigating. Is the animal housed in a local stable or in someone’s back pasture perhaps? What happens when far-flying insects bite that equine and then zip over to a nearby horse farm or equestrian facility to nibble on additional horses, ponies, or donkeys? 

3. No one seems to know anything about the horse in question. Sure, privacy laws may prevent specific disclosure, but some sort of hint might be helpful and could put certain fears to read. We have no idea what barn was affected. We don’t know what kind of horse it was. For example, what breed, discipline, age, color, or gender is the horse? We have no clue where the horse may be at this time. We are unaware of whether the horse is even still alive.

4. If local testing of potentially at-risk equines took place, we surely haven’t heard about it. The Illinois State Veterinarian website includes this statement about EIA: “State law also mandates testing of equidae within 1 1/2 miles of a single positive animal and 3 miles of multiple positive animals.” Depending upon precisely where the two affected equines (both the apparently still missing one and the euthanized one) were based when they were diagnosed, their general area could include a whole lot of horse farms.

Psst. Give us a clue, please. Or at least, a timely heads-up.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have some sort of veterinary alert system in place, whereby horse owners – or at least, equine professionals (such as local veterinarians, barn owners/managers, show facility owners/managers, equestrian trainers, and farriers) – shared key details of such instances? Maybe we don’t need the equines’ and owners’ names, but we need to know enough to discern whether our own equines are at heightened risk.

Ideas, folks?

On the plus side …

1. Equine owners whose animals are stabled in reputable facilities will recall that the barn management requires annual current negative Coggins Test results. Solid show facilities do the same. Trainers and clinicians practicing responsible professional standards insist on such documentation for all trailer-in equines. That should provide some assurance, although it’s no guarantee that horses on neighboring and nearby properties (within insect flight range) have been tested.

2. Now in midwinter, area horses may face reduced risk of EIA infection. This virus, though dangerous and currently incurable, is blood-borne. Freezing temperatures in this region have all but eliminated biting insects for a while. However, winter was late in coming this time, so November and early December disease transmission could have taken place.

3. Several horse vets have indicated that the incubation period for EIA is a matter of a few weeks. That means any horses infected by the initial cases would likely (but not always) have shown some symptoms by now. But that does not necessarily include secondary, tertiary, or subsequent generation cases, if those exist.

4. Because we have entered a new calendar year, responsible horse owners are already lining up veterinary appointments for this year’s Coggins Tests. Once we receive our own satisfactory laboratory results, we may rest easier. At the same time, it is certainly possible for a horse to become infected with EIA shortly after the test has been performed and remain undiagnosed until symptoms may arise (or another test is performed).

OK, so we won’t panic. But we’re still watching.

And we’d appreciate a few hints about the infected horse’s identity, location, and current condition. We’re not nosy, and we feel very sorry for the owner/s whose horse/s have been affected or even lost. We just love our own horses and want to sleep better.

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