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Of Minis and Muzzles

Arrowleaf's Astaldo Maximus


Of  Minis and Muzzles…..

The latest farm saga… my Houdini horse



DETERMINATION is the best word I can think of to describe Maximus (aka Max) .  With the grass and the weird spring, I’ve had some trials with my metabolically challenged horses and the best solution was to limit their grass by the use of grazing muzzles.  I hated to do it.  Seemed kind of mean, but happy, healthy horses were more important and this seemed like the only solution.  They hated being confined to barracks with only hay. 

Grazing muzzles are web strap ‘buckets’ that go over their muzzles with a hole in the base that allows the grass to poke through.  Coupled with the web/weave design sides, it enables the horse to continue to graze, but in a real limited fashion….It forces them to savor the grass and nip off small quantities of tiny stalks that nudge through with each step and re-placement.  I discovered 2 main designs…ones that fastened with a series of straps onto the halter (which I hate…I don’t like turning horses out with halters on) or ones that make their own halter, using an over-the-head breakaway strap and a throat latch that snaps close similar to the halters design.  Knowing my horses like I do…the breakaway was the safest way.  I ordered 4 muzzles for the 4 problem children.  So armed with my new purchases, I promised the 4 children that instead of being cooped up in a dry paddock with boring hay all day, that they could go out for the final two hours of each day to graze; eat REAL grass…but with their buckets on.  In theory, it should have worked great….trouble is….no one told Max he had to KEEP the bucket on his head…  And so the battle of wits begins:

I should have known better..Max has always been a garment-get’er-out’er.   At 6 months of age I discovered his adversion to clothes,  Bought him a  winter blanket to keep my cute fuzzy baby dry and warm.  It was one of those cool designs with the double Velcro front that expands as the foal grows.  Big mistake.  

6 mo. old Max removing his blanket...

It soon became apparent that Max wanted to be naked.  The blanket would be on the ground.  How the heck is he getting this off….?  Mystery solved….

I should mention I have the same problem with fly masks on this horse.  Each morning, rather than put it on his head, I might as well just walk the flymask over to his field and chuck it over the fence  onto the ground,  because guaranteed within the hour that’s where it was going to end up anyhow.  Sigh

As Max got older, he improved.  He can wear a rain sheet and keep it on for the most part (not by choice mind you… his record stands at 20 minutes and that was with a brand new one)  Now that’s he’s matured,  I could  bet on his blanket staying put..not so much the flymasks ever, but it was a start.  It’s a joke on our farm….  Ooohh!  Max kept his flymask on for 2 hours today!  Mark on the wall!

Fast forward to this summer and the saga of the grazing muzzle.  Bottom line:  Horse needs restricted grass.  Owner feels guilty that the horse has to stay in dry paddock..spends hard earned money on grazing muzzles.  Max throws down the gauntlet and accepts the challenge.  “Thou shall not prevent me from eating…Watch me!”  (insert diabolical laughter here) says Max. 

What it should look like

Okay.  I have to admit it worked for several days.  He accepted that he had to learn a new way of grazing for optimal quantities each evening….Go to patches of grass longer than 2 inches and shorter than 4…Lift muzzle up squarely and plunk down directly over top of said grass…use slight sideways motion to insure the biggest possible tuft of grass protrudes up through the bottom hole.  Bite off.  Chew… Savor….

Begin to plot a better mousetrap….hmmmm.  Why not just REMOVE the muzzle!  Capital idea ol’ Chap!  Brilliant!  Doesn’t matter that the other 3 horses are seemingly more accepting of the inconvenience of grazing in this fashion…. Stupid horses…. If they’d only just think….

At 4 PM…the other 3 horses are lined up at the gate.  They are nickering for me to hurry.    They KNOW they get to go out and are practically thrusting their faces in their buckets so they can spend every remaining second getting to eat their beloved grass.   All except Max.  He yawns…looks bored….and hangs back and lets the others spill out of the start gate, like thoroughbreds at the track, falling all over each other to be the first.  Max sighs a deep sigh of resignation and lets me put the muzzle on his head and do up the throat snap.  He mosies out the gate, tests it out by snatching a few bites, and then wanders over to the nearest fence post and rips the muzzle of his head and he walks off to graze.  His Thought Bubble would say “I have NO idea why she insists on putting this stupid thing on my head…it makes it hard to eat..she should just leave it in the barn on the nail and not bother….”   Arghh. 

And so it becomes a battle of wits.  There’s Deb in one corner- a right-brained extrovert (standing 5 foot 4inches, reasonable IQ and opposing thumbs ) and in the other corner: Max (standing 34 inches as a left-brained thumbs but ‘terrier-like’ determination)  Statistics would lead you to believe that the human with the logical brain has the greater advantage…. And you would be sadly mistaken.  You’ve never met Max.  Short of a staple gun or a brad nailer….  I simply cannot keep  the muzzle on his face!  In the alloted  two hour grazing time span…it’s NOTHING to have to replace it on his head 6-7 times…


- I have tried 2 different muzzles..thinking one with a small basket might be harder to remove.  Nope

- I have tried adjusting it on ALL the points of adjustment….shorter on the sides, over the head, in the throat and even the connecter strap when he once got it half off and it was in his mouth…

-I have tried putting the fly mask over top of the muzzle and he just gets BOTH off.

-I have sat in a nearby lawnchair and patroled him…  shrieking “Max!  Get away from the fence!!!”

He has hooked it on the fence and ripped open the breakaway Velcro and left it hanging there.

My husband once tried an elastic leg strap off a rain blanket thinking the stretchiness would give and take but still keep it firmly on his head and he’d give up.  Not so.  My neighbor saw him with his foot through the stretchy strap….walking with his head lower to the ground grazing as per normal…he just walked over to the fence and asked her to ‘fix’ him.  You see, the thing with Max is that he rarely gets upset. His Tshirt would read “What?  Me…worry??”  The word “Panic” is not in his vocabulary.

 Surely, the human with the master mind can thwart the miniature horse??   Nope.

I will admit that some methods work for a short time until he analyzes and searches for the remedy.    So just when you are lulled into a false sense of security, he figures it out and knocks the theory out of the ball park.  And Max never gloats..he just walks away and eats grass and hopes you don’t notice.  (usually with his butt out in the open and his head hiding in the shrubs or against the fence. )

Case in point.  After multiple replacements of the muzzle 2 days ago… I tried to braid a lock of his mane under the crown piece of the muzzle  to prevent him from shedding it.  He tried to rub it off, and it didn’t work so he resigned himself to restricted grazing for the day.  I was the one gloating!  Ha!  It worked.  He gave up!

The next day, I went out there at 4 PM and smuggly braided his mane into the strap and turned him out.  It lasted 20 minutes and it was off. What the???  So I braided it again.  Same thing.  Huh?  How is he doing that?  Then I used 2 elastics.  Same thing.  Then I tried a lock of his forelock and 2 of the mane.  Off in 8 minutes.  I must have replaced and re-braided about 6 times…remember this is in a 2 hour period.  You do the math.  Each time he would march over to the fence and slip it off, so each time I would put it back on and re-braid it, I would walk him AWAY from the fence and being rather lazy I figured he would give up and start grazing..he did…but he positioned  HIMSELF around and nonchalantly grazed his way BACK to the fence and slipped it off again.  And Again…And Again.  Grrr   

So yesterday I am out shopping…I see a wide soft nylon dog collar….I had an Ah-Hah moment!  Buy the dog collar, use a snap…run the crownpiece of the muzzle through the snap and hook the other end to the leash ring of the dog collar and buckle the collar loosely around his throat.  No way he can get that off!  Ha!  Off in 10 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  So tighten the collar.  Off in 5 minutes.  Get a shorter snap.  Off in 4 minutes.  Run the throat strap through the dog collar as well so you’ve got 2 points of resistance/restriction.  Off in 7 minutes.  I sat down and laughed out loud.  He’s so smart it’s hard to be mad at him.  You have to know him to fully realize the intelligence going on here.  I catch him with it off or hanging around his neck and stride over to him…he doesn’t even lift his head…but the thought bubble says “Oh crap…here she comes again…Sigh…I wonder when she’s just gonna give up??  Doesn’t she have ANYTHING better to do than nag me? Can’t a guy just eat in peace?” 

Today I thought I would try a strap that goes from the bucket up the center of his head; a lifter strap- thinking that will keep the muzzle more upright on his face and make it harder to flip it down.  Still had to replace it multiple times and chase him away from the fence.  Once it pulled off and sort of caught his noseband in the mesh fencing.  He just stood there until I came back as he knew I was checking him every 10 minutes…..Don’t ask me HOW he did it, but I had to dismantle the WHOLE thing to free him.  Then when I finally had a system working of a DOUBLE strap up his face between his ears (now he looks like Hannibal Lector) he came into the barn and tried to wrestle the carrot bucket off the wall.   Shooed him back outside and about a half hour later I find him BACK in the barn and out in one of the empty runs just standing there.  I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for him…but guess what….the muzzle was STILL on him! 

Let me know if you have any other better ideas….





Flymask off- Muzzle on! Success...sort of!




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Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does Love have to do with it?”

Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does love have to do with it?”

Full siblings JoJo and Sean

A dear friend suggested I carry on with this thread and talk about my observations on the different pairings between mares/mares….mares/geldings…geldings/geldings and even stallions with either of those two.  I can even go one step further and talk about siblings. 

Is there any BEST pairings out there that work the most consistently?  I tend to think not- I believe horses getting along are governed by these factors:

1)      Personality (confidence level)

2)      Safety / Comfort

3)      Need and Want

4)      Learned behavior

5)      Social Skills

6)      Environment

7)      Hormones/DNA

Bobbysox and Ajax - "Trying to see eye-to-eye"


Some horses are just plain easier to get along with than others.  On my farm currently I have both an Extrovert and an Introvert that I can turn out with any newcomer if need be.  These two horses are amiable and easy to get along with.  That’s not to say they don’t have ground rules and won’t kick out if provoked but generally other than the first few meet n’ greet moments I am pretty much guaranteed that peace will reign in very short order.  They are both geldings.  One, River, is very protective and always has been – almost maternal in nature.  I have spotted him many times herding a new horse away from my stallion (that is pastured beside them) until everyone knows each other better. 

River coming between the stallion and the newcomer....protective as always

The other gelding, Breaker, was a long time stallion that USED to have aggression issues towards other horses, and now that he doesn’t have spare parts, he is a trustworthy pasture/paddock mate.  Was his ‘aggression’ testosterone driven?  I would say probably yes.  My very first horse, Mis’tasini (aka “Mem”) was a mare, and she too had this get-along-with-anyone nature that made it easy.  She was a surrogate mother to my warmblood as a foal….she looked after him better than his own mother did.

 Unconfident horses that are easily threatened tend to either be like Lyric (the bully mentality: strike first so no one challenges you) or the complete social misfit that everyone LIKES to pick on because you don’t know the rules.  Flash is sort of that way….If you turn him out with strange horses, you might as well paint a target on his butt.  He’s getting better but I have to be careful with him (we’ll talk about that in #5- Social Skills) 

Safety and Comfort

These two issues are the deciding factor between any pairing in my opinion, because these are innately so important to our horses.  It’s the foundation of how our horses are hard-wired.  Quite simply -this makes or breaks it.  This is the reason they seek out others of their species whenever possible.  This is where you’ll find any successful companionship – whether its mare/mare…mare/gelding… or  gelding/geldings. 


Mem, Andy and Shalann- my first 3 horses


I have seen all these work in harmony because the issue of Safety and Comfort was addressed.  My first two horses were both mares and they got along famously.  Then I added a gelding.  They were for the most part, a very happy threesome.  Andy was the boss, and the mares demurred to that (or at least they let him believe it) Andy was quite introverted and Left brained.  He had the ability to ‘control’ the girls with merely “THE LOOK”.  As mentioned before, Introverts aren’t going to do anymore than necessary and as long as the girls listened to him, there was peace in the valley.  The girls felt safe with him.  Everyone knew their place and all was well. 

My warmblood gelding gets along with horses if he can be the boss because that’s what he needs to feel safe. 

Angel and Lyric

He may not be the BEST boss but the horses that don’t question him or push the envelope whether they are geldings or mares are his best pasture mates.  I have seen him more assertive with a mare when she cycles…He is sexually frustrated?  No, I don’t think so…he’s been a gelding since he was 10 months old.  I believe it’s because the MARE changes and becomes hormonal, that he is uncomfortable with HER change in demeanor and temperament so he has to chase her to prove a point, and to get back his status quo. 


Lyric and Silver




Need and Want

I mention this because I have seen horses band together because they don’t HAVE anyone else and in order to feel safe and comfortable, they bond with a horse that is less than perfect but will do under the circumstances.  Sort of like an arranged marriage, they become close and bond out of need.  Once they establish who the boss is, quite often things can settle down to be a relationship that works.  Maybe they can only be side-by-side (stallion next to a gelding for example) that wouldn’t work normally but a relationship is formed that is strong nonetheless. 

 Learned Behavior

I have seen this become an issue because often foals of dominant mothers (lead mares) become dominant leaders by proxy.  They SEE the herd scatter when Mother walks by, or that SHE gets to choose the hay pile and therefore the foal learns that he/she also is offered the same seniority by association.  Lots of times this can carry out successfully throughout the horse’s life, but all it takes is one horse to question the authority and it could get ugly.  “You aren’t the boss of me”.   I’m just sayin’

Social Skills

This is where we can help when we raise our foals and see that they spend quality time with other compatible horses to learn HOW to be horses.  Case in point:  Flash didn’t know how to mutual groom and it took a very quiet Introvert to patiently teach him the proper protocol…”I scratch you-You scratch me.” Before Robin taught him how, horses would approach Flash and he would feel threatened by the overtures of the other horse to scratch and Flash would get bitten, kicked, or chased because he didn’t respond like a normal horse would. 

Flash paying the price of inappropriate behavior

Why didn’t he learn these skill sets as a youngster…?  Who knows?  But he was a stallion (therefore isolated) for 13 years so he wasn’t turned out with others.  He wasn’t aggressive but his inappropriate responses and body language set him up for failure as a suitable pasture mate.  Like I said, he might as well have a target on his butt.  “Run Forrest- Run!”   My other example of a horse learning social skills late in life is foster child Bobbysox…a horse that spent 14 years as a stallion in a box stall with extremely limited turnout.   Almost like a person in solitary confinement, he had to LEARN how to be a horse on ALL levels.  To this day he does not cope well with change, and in the beginning formed unnatural attachments to ANY horse close enough to touch and would get frantic if they were turned out for the day first.  He’s much better now and he has a new BFF Ajax that was chosen specifically for his easy-going temperament that would temper Bobby’s more off-the-wall behavior.  That bonding took place over several weeks to insure the friendship would be successful. 


I mention this because it ties into the Need and Want.  I have seen unconfident horses bond together BECAUSE of the environment in which they share.  For example: The horse that travels in a trailer with a strange horse to a show that might scream and yell the whole time during the show because the new buddy has disappeared.  They became friends

Horses bonding at a show..gelding Valentino with stallion Lad

because of the situation that thrust them together for the duration.  This is also why horses stick together if they go through some sort of trauma together.  Will this be a lasting relationship?  Hard to say.  Probably  not.  But any port in a storm.  And don’t forget horses in a team or pair….They bond because of the job.    They  might tolerate each other nicely because they are harnessed side by side…but….

 Therefore, use this knowledge and introduce a new potential pairing or group by setting them up for success.  Introduce them over a stall wall or over the fence before turning them in together, whether its 2 horses or 10….The bigger the horses, the more room you need so they can split off into groups that please them within the herd.  I had almost 2 acres to introduce 6 strange miniatures.  The same number of full sized horses would need double that until you know for sure everyone will, for the most part, get along.


There has to be something said about the opposite sexes attracting and forming bonds.  I have seen very successful mare and gelding pairings that endure years of horsey marriage.  I have also witnessed a sibling bonds that go deep. 

Full siblings running as one unit. How cool is this?

I have witnessed both full siblings and half siblings seek each other out and be compatible. Do they know?  Maybe it’s like having a missing twin?  Case in point…My River has two half siblings (same dam / different sire) and he has had the opportunity to either reunite or meet his siblings. 

Reindance and Riverdance - together after 10 years

Rein had not been on my farm or seen by River for 10 years, and yet I turned the two of them out together and they were off grazing within minutes. And when he met his half sister for the first time, there was a bit of a scuffling to see who the boss was, and then they two were side by side grazing.  Did River know they were related?  You tell me. 

Moon(sister) and River (brother)








 And lastly we need to discuss the stallion thing.  I have never believed that stallions should be isolated.  It just isn’t healthy on MANY levels.   I have heard of stallions pastured with both other stallions and also with geldings.  It can be done.  Depends on the stallion. 

Best Buddies- Lad and River

 They are more of a wild card because of the territorial -hormone thing.  It either wells really well or not at all!  Not much grey area.  Having said that, I have always pastured my stallions (a Morgan and a Welsh) beside other geldings (Miniatures).  I like this arrangement.  I admit to having my Morgan stallion Lad pastured with my River mini and it WAS very successful for several weeks until a mare came into season on my property.  Hormones trumped everything and Lad felt threatened by River so it just wasn’t worth the risk.  And yet I handled them together all the time. 

 I know of  stallions pastured with weaned babies and this type of compatibility comes out of the fact that the weanlings aren’t considered threats and therefore easily accepted.  (One of my minis, Max, was pastured with his father to help in the weaning process- Pip was a wonderful babysitter)  I have known of stallions turned out with mares to pasture breed, often with foals at foot and it can work well.  I have heard very successful pasture mates that were stallions turned out with non-fertile mares and then they became like an old married couple. 

Three geldings beside Sky (Welsh stallion)


Canadian stallion Tango and Flash








I guess what I am trying to say is there no guarantee.  As the horse owner, you need to know your horse and his personality.  Then you try to put together successful pairs or groupings depending on what you have found works best.  

Three-way mutual grooming...Now THAT'S teamwork!

And if you are forced to match up less than perfect horses, take your time and introduce over a period of time (Days? Weeks?)  The compatibility might grow nicely out of the familiarity (like Ajax and Bobbysox) and what you find might surprise you.  Generally even numbers in a group works better than un-even so there’s no odd man out, but I have 2 groups of three that have worked nicely.   Years ago, my neighbor wanted to get a second horse for her older Arab gelding.  She tried a couple of different mature geldings and it became obvious quite quickly that this wasn’t going to work.    Her gelding acted aggressively towards ANY male newcomer. Maybe he WANTED to be solo? Then she decided to buy a 2 year old Canadian filly.  It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.  The new horse was a ‘baby’ AND a female.  This is still a successful pairing even though the filly grew up to be a left-brained Introvert dominant mare and the gelding turned into the ‘hen-pecked’ husband… But it works because everyone knows their place.   The mare’s dam was the lead mare and she carried on with her learned behavior and the gelding learned quickly not to question the leadership- and if Ted forgets, Moxie is quick to remind him!

Ahh.  A match made in heaven….

Of Minis and Muzzles

  Of  Minis and Muzzles….. The latest farm saga… my Houdini...
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Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does Love have to do with it?”

Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does love have to do with it?” A dear...
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