The off season is a great time to get organized and handle those little tasks that fall to the wayside during show season. Read on for a how-to guide, and Read Part 1 here!

Seasonally, there are some jobs that need to be done to keep your gear in top shape.  It also makes it much nicer to break out the appropriate gear at the first hint of a change in the weather.  If you can pull that off without putting your hands into an old pocket full of rotten horse treats or a forgotten lip balm that melted onto a hairnet, so much the better.  If you haven’t already, try these ideas:

  • Summer Weight Clothing — Since you’re probably putting these away about now, wash and thoroughly dry all your summer riding clothes.  Store them together so you can put your hands back on them come spring.
  • Winter Weight Clothing — I know you’re breaking this stuff out now.  If you didn’t clean it all before you packed it away at the end of last winter, get on that now.  Start with your vests and scarves because those will likely be used initially as the seasons transition.  You’ll need the heavier things when the polar vortex strikes again.  When you go to put it all away, remember to completely dry these items, especially fleece and heavier weight items.  I dry these things twice:  once on regular heat, and once on low heat.  If they must be air dried (like the ones with the deer skin patches), let them hang for a solid week.
  • Pocket Litter — Organize the stuff that has collected in your pockets.  Throw away the trash.  Separate out the loose change.  Keep the chapsticks, spare hairnets, and other reusable items in a communal bowl so you can find them later on.

Organized at last!

Also seasonally, your horse’s gear needs some attention:

  • Blankets, Quarter Sheets, Coolers, and Other Horse Covers — I sent these out to be cleaned last spring, and have stored them in a blanket bag at home over the summer.  Now that it’s getting cooler, I can pull out the appropriate pieces as the need arises.  If you can, have your blankets, professionally cleaned (and waterproofed where appropriate).  Goodness knows you don’t want the manure clogging up your washer at home if you can avoid it.  If you must, use the commercial grade washer and dryer at a local laundromat.  Check the label on your blanket for guidance on wash water and drying temperatures.  If your label is illegible, err on the side of colder settings and gentler cycles to avoid damaging or shrinking your blankets.  Be sure to connect all buckles and Velcro closure to avoid damaging your horse’s clothes.  Those surcingles can rip a hole in your blankets if they aren’t properly secured before washing.  If necessary, secure your surcingles with a thick elastic hair tie to hold them in place during the wash and dry cycles.
    • Saddle and Bridle — Take the opportunity to completely take apart your saddle and bridle, and thoroughly clean and condition each and every piece individually.  Get into all those little spaces, under flaps, and scrub the stitch lines.  If you’re afraid you won’t remember where every little piece goes, use your cell phone to take pictures, and use the photos to re-assemble things, if needed.  While you’re at it, inspect each part for structural integrity.  For instance, worn stirrup leathers and girths are potential safety hazards.  If yours show wear, they should be replaced immediately.
      • Bits — Bathe all your bits in either Listerine or a dilute bleach solution for 5-10 minutes to disinfect them.  Dry each one with a soft towel, and store them in a hanging position to minimize damage and keep them organized.  I keep all mine sorted by type (loose ring, D-ring, and eggbut), with each group on its own long hook inside my tack locker.  For a polishing, consider a paste of baking soda and water applied with a soft or medium toothbrush.  If you’re really pressed for time, run them through your dishwasher at home with a splash of bleach on a super hot “potscrubber” cycle.

      One of the perpetual challenges we have at our barn is keeping your tack and other equipment from walking off.  To help everyone keep their things together, try these ideas:

        • Standardize — If you’re at a barn with a school program, see if the school horses can be put on a standard color scheme.  Our barn’s school program recently moved to a red color standard.  It’s not completely implemented yet, but now all lead ropes are red, and thus easier for students to spot.  We’re working on adding the red theme to the rest of the school tack.  The idea is that when anyone sees a red piece of tack (lead rope, halter, polo wraps, saddle pad, etc.), they know it is available to be used on any school horse.  This kind of color coding can be very useful, especially with younger riders who may not take the time to read a tag or label.
          • Embroidery — Examine all your horse gear and see what items need to be embroidered with your horse’s name or your initials.  It may have been bought mid-season and put into immediate service, like when we rushed to buy heavy weight blankets just before the polar vortex hit, or the cooler you got on sale.  If it’s not in season now, you won’t miss it for the week or two it may take to get it embroidered.
            • Tags and Labels — Look at your tack to see what tags or labels are on their last legs, and now need to be replaced.  Remember to get a couple of spare ribbon cartridges for your label maker.  If you use the round metal tags, make sure they’re in good condition, not rusted or damaged.  Replace them if you need to.  In fact, think about ordering 5-10 extra tags to keep on hand.  If it’s just the split ring that is worn, get some spares at the hardware store, and keep them in your locker.
            • Colored electrical tape — Charlie Brown’s unique color is orange.  So when we have a piece of equipment that doesn’t lend itself to embroidery, or a tag, or a label, we use the old eventer’s trick of applying a small piece of orange colored electrical tape to it.  Vivid and instant identification.  Your local hardware store has an imaginative collection of non-traditional electrical and duct tapes to choose from.

              Are you ready to be a groom?Take a look at your barn supplies:

              • Medicines — Twice a year (say beginning and end of Daylight Savings Time), inspect any medicines, both prescription and over the counter, and discard any expired stock you may have.  Consult your veterinarian about how best to dispose of your expired prescription medicines.  Now that your remaining barn pharmacy is in good order, what do you need to add to have a well-stocked supply?  Talk to your vet.  Remember to look in both the barn and your trailer.
                • Storage Bags and Totes — Unhook your stall-side storage bag, turn it upside down, and shake out all the dirt, hay, and gunk that have accumulated in it.  Do the same for every tote and bag you have.  To be even cleaner, run through the bottom of each compartment with either a baby wipe or masking tape to pick up the little bits of dirt, lint, and hay that remain.
                  • Tack Cleaning Supplies — Are you running low on saddle soap?  How is your supply of leather conditioner?  Do you need more towels, soft toothbrushes, or other equipment?  Target or Wal-Mart are great places to pick up many of these items, and avoid the saddlery prices.  But keep you eyes open — it’s tent sale time for many tack stores.

                  A little more frequently, you will want to tackle these:

                  • Water and Feed Buckets — Give the horse’s water and feed buckets a super good cleaning in a bleach solution to disinfect.  Do this on a set schedule, whether it’s monthly or quarterly.  Weekly would be nice, but that’s not reality at a lot of barns.  Then rinse and dry the buckets completely.  A clean bucket is much more appealing to your horse.  A dirty bucket may dissuade him from drinking adequately.  And in hot humid areas of the country, this can be a big problem.
                    • Healted Water Buckets — Hopefully you gave your electrically heated water bucket a good cleaning, wound the cord into the storage area at the bottom, and dried it completely before storing it for the summer.  If not, make a special effort to show your heated water bucket some love.  Ours got us through the polar vortex last winter, and I am eternally grateful.  It meant that even in the single digit temperatures we endured, Charlie had at least one bucket of drinkable water at all times, even if his second bucket froze solid.
                      • Grooming Brushes —  Dirty brushes just get your clean horse dirty all over again.  So clean your brushes (all of them, regardless of function) with antibacterial soap and water regularly.  Again, monthly would be nice, but it probably isn’t reality.  I personally aim for quarterly here.  Because my brushes aren’t shared, I have a little more leeway.  If your horse tends to get fungal infections, use a solution of 1/2 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of warm water.  Get down into the nooks and crannies with a scrub brush or toothbrush.  Dry your clean brushes on a towel in the sun.  If you use the bleach solution, remember to wear sacrificial clothes because there will be bleach spots when you’re done.

                      Oh, yeah!  And your horse:

                      • Bath — For that first and last bath of the season, consider using an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal shampoo.  If you have a chestnut or bay horse, you could simply give him a scrubbing with Betadine scrub (NOT solution — it’s too strong, and is intended for hard surfaces, not your horse).  Just remember to get enough to last you the entire bath!  I order by the gallon for the first and last baths.  Remember to wear sacrificial clothes when you do this because Betadine stains.  If you have a lighter, gray, or palomino horse, stick to the regular medicated shampoos.
                        • Conditioner — Remember to condition your horse’s mane and tail thoroughly.  For the first run through of the season, consider picking the tail, especially, with your fingers.  Save the combing for show day.
                          • Mane — Either get your horses mane pulled by someone else, or do it yourself.  If you have a very shaggy mane, like my Friesian cross, don’t try to do it all at once, but take it in stages.  Just do a little bit every day.  It might look funny while you’re getting there, but you won’t test your horse’s patience, and you’ll both be happier for it.
                            • Tail — Regardless of your discipline, remember to bang the tail a little extra short at the end of the season to encourage a fuller tail to grow over the winter months.  My hunter friends cringe when I say this, but trust me, it works.  Then use the off-season to engage in a regimen of treatment with MTG at both the base of the tail, and deep into the dock.
                              • Clipping — Whether you body clip or not, stay up to date with the “vanity clips” over the winter.  These are the fetlocks, bridle path, and goat beard.  It will be much easier to keep them in shape.  Otherwise you may feel like you’re shaving a grizzly bear come spring.

                              Happy cleaning!