Friday, May 11, 2018

Five Takeaways from Anne Kursinski’s Flat Session at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session

Anne Kursinski began the clinic with a flatwork demonstration for the 12 participants.

Five-time U.S. Olympian Anne Kursinski stressed the importance of flatwork at the 12th annual USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Olympic veteran Anne Kursinski started off the first day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in the saddle, giving a flatwork demonstration to the 12 young and talented participants with play-by-play narration of what she believed they should be striving toward.

Once the riders were mounted, Anne put them through their paces, instructing them to work the whole horse with lots of transitions between and within gaits, a healthy dose of lateral work and, of course, no George Morris clinic would be complete without abundant no-stirrup work.

Here are five top tips boiled down from today’s session:

1. Body Awareness and Position is Key

It’s paramount to control body position to speak the horse clearly. The rider’s whole body influences the horse’s whole body to become one unit. “Position, position, position on the flat,” Anne stressed. This will help you to not only use your aids correctly, but also at the right moment. “Horses will try to put you in a place that’s less effective,” she explained. It’s up to the rider to have the discipline and awareness to react appropriately. Anne articulated that correct body awareness and position is so much of what makes a rider successful, using examples of greats like Beezie Madden and McLain Ward.

No-stirrup work was a common theme throughout the two sessions.

2. No-Stirrup Work Increases Effectiveness

Anne had riders work without stirrups in the walk, trot and canter as well as in lateral movements and transitions. She noted that most of the riders’ transitions were better when they didn’t have their stirrups to rely on because they were sitting deeper, with a better feel of the horse. Rider Hannah Loly agreed that she felt more connected to the horse without her stirrups because it forced her to use her whole body.

Anne had all the riders knot their reins to ride with long arms and short reins, encouraging a steadier connection.

3. Knot Your Reins for Better Connection

Anne knotted each rider’s reins, making them noticeably shorter. “Ride with long arms and short reins,” said Anne. This allowed riders to feel a better connection through the bridle and keep their hands steady. Clinic participant Cecily Hayes noted that the shorter reins helped to prevent her horse from evading the bit and for Caitlyn Connors, the knot kept her hands better placed.

Olivia Woodson (foreground) and Alyce Gene Bittar work on circles with Anne watching on.

4. Think Like a Horse

From the moment Anne began teaching, she encouraged riders to learn to communicate with the horse in their language. “Horses won’t ever think like human beings, but human beings can think like horses,” Anne said. The rider must learn to have a two-way conversation with the horse and to work with him, not against him. This includes consistency with aids, developing timing, feeling and learning when to be strong, when to be light and above all to always focus on the horse. The rider should learn their horses inside and out, discover the strengths and weaknesses. “The sign of a great rider is a happy horse,” said Anne.

Hannah Loly (left) and McKayla Langmeier work on half-pass in canter.

5. Think of Flat Sessions as the “Gym” for Your Horse

Throughout the clinic, riders lengthened and shortened gaits, made frequent transitions between gaits and practiced leg-yield, shoulder-in, haunches-in, half-pass and counter-canter. Anne compared flatwork to a horse going to the gym, doing his weight training, yoga, Pilates, even acupuncture. This develops a more athletic, elastic, sounder and stronger horse. Riders can’t expect this to happen overnight, however. Self-carriage and development takes time and consistency.

Above all else, Anne emphasized the importance of always thirsting for education. “There’s so much out there to learn. This is just scratching the surface,” she said. Anne also encourage riders to pay attention to the details. “Always strive to be your best … As George would say, ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’”

 Re-published article with permission from Practical Horseman.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Things you (probably) didn't know about beet pulp

Although the popularity of this fibrous feedstuff continues to grow, misconceptions about it remain.


Chances are you’re pretty familiar with beet pulp. Most of us have scooped and soaked our fair share of this sugar-industry-byproduct-turned-equine-feed. The remains of sugar beets used in the manufacture of sugar, beet pulp is high in digestible fiber and a good source of “safe” structural carbohydrate-based calories, making it a popular horse feed throughout the country and around the world.

Straight from the bag, beet pulp is dried and shredded---almost resembling tobacco---or pressed into solid pellets. Soak either form in water for about a half-hour, and you’ll have a soft, soggy mash.

Yet as simple and easy as beet pulp is to feed, it has long been the subject of myths and misunderstandings in the horse world. Some of these misconceptions are harmless, but others could lead owners to needlessly rule out beet pulp as part of a horse’s diet or, conversely, rely on it too heavily and for the wrong reasons.

To make sure that doesn’t happen at your barn, we’ve compiled a list of three important facts about beet pulp. Read through them so you can make sure your horse gets the greatest benefit from this versatile feed.

Fact 1: Beet pulp provides a type of fiber that offers unique nutritional advantages.

“The main role of beet pulp in a horse’s diet is fiber, just as with hay,” says Pennsylvania State University equine nutritionist Burt Staniar, PhD.  “But the beet pulp fiber is not the same as the fiber in hay. It’s much more easily digested, so it’s processed faster. We don’t think of fiber as providing much energy---and in the human diet it doesn’t---but in horses it’s a significant source of energy. Because the fiber in beet pulp is digested quickly, the energy and the calories it provides are available to a horse much faster than those that would come from hay.”

This, says Staniar, makes beet pulp a useful source of energy for horses who need a boost for athletic efforts or to support other functions, such as lactation. “It’s going to have more benefit for [equine athletes or broodmares] than, say, an easy-keeper gelding who spends most of his day in the field,” he says. “And in cases where horses need more calories, adding beet pulp to a diet may be a better option than adding more hay because of the difference in fiber type.”

For the same reasons, beet pulp is often a good choice for older horses who have trouble chewing or digesting hay. “It can be very beneficial for older horses whose teeth or digestive tracts can’t handle other types of fiber,” says Coverdale. “In fact, many of the senior feeds that are formulated as ‘complete feed’---meaning they include fiber---are beet pulp based.”

Beet pulp fiber provides another advantage: promoting healthy gut flora. “A horse extracts energy from fiber via fermentation in the hind gut,” says Staniar. “That fermentation is done by bacteria, and different types of bacteria ferment at different rates.” A gut that is accustomed to only slow-digesting forage may be overpopulated with that type of bacteria, an imbalance that can lead to digestive upset.

“You want to support all those microbial populations,” says Staniar. “So when your horse has to make a transition in diet or location, he is going to be better able to adapt digestively. A little bit of beet pulp in every diet can help keep the population of fiber-digesting bacteria in the gut balanced so those changes won’t be as disruptive.”

Fact 2: Beet pulp contains very little sugar.

“Plain beet pulp is very, very low in sugar; it isn’t sweet at all,” says Coverdale. “If you pop some in your mouth expecting it to be, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s pretty boring and tasteless.”

In part, beet pulp’s unearned reputation as a high-sugar feed comes from its origins. “The name ‘sugar beet pulp’ is very misleading,” says Staniar. “Remember that this is a byproduct of the sugar industry. By the time it makes it to the feed store, all the sugar has been extracted. That’s what the sugar industry wants, and they just pass along the rest to us.”

In fact, molasses is often added to beet pulp to make it more palatable to horses. But even then, the amount of sugar isn’t enough to worry about unless your horse has a specific sensitivity to sugars. “There’s only about 3 percent molasses in those formulations,” says Wagner, “which doesn’t make a huge difference in terms of energy content, but it does make it tastier. If you have a horse with a history of insulin resistance or metabolic issues, you’ll want to eliminate the molasses because you’re cutting back on all sugars. And horses with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis [HYPP] need to avoid molasses for other reasons [see “For HYPP Horses, Hold the Molasses,” page 48]. But if your horse doesn’t have any of those issues, there’s not enough molasses in the sweetened beet pulp to trigger anything.”

If sugar or molasses in your horse’s diet is a concern, look for “plain” beet pulp, which most feed companies sell in addition to formulations with molasses added. Just check the label. But even if you can’t find unsweetened beet pulp, there’s still a fix: “If you soak, then squeeze beet pulp and drain off the water, you’ll remove most of the molasses,” says Staniar. “That’s an easy way to reduce the sugar content if you can’t find plain beet pulp.”

Fact 3: Beet pulp can help you stretch your hay supply.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may find your hay supply running low, which is obviously a cause for concern. Without a source of roughage, a horse’s digestive system can’t function properly. That’s where beet pulp comes in: It can take the place of hay---at least partially---helping you stretch your supply until you can restock.

“In this area of the country, we go through a drought every so often, and people get very interested in alternative sources of fiber and roughage,” says Coverdale. “Beet pulp is a good option.” The conversion rate is straightforward ---for every pound of forage you take out of the diet, add in a pound of beet pulp. Start this when you know your hay supply might be getting low and you may be able to make it last long enough until you can refill the hay shed. There is a limit to how much substitution you can safely do, however.

“I wouldn’t recommend replacing all the hay in your horse’s diet with beet pulp,” says Coverdale. “Although the fiber content is similar, the vitamin and mineral content of beet pulp is very different than that of hay. When you rely on it too much, you can create some significant nutritional imbalances in a horse’s diet.”

Beet pulp, for instance is low in phosphorus compared to its calcium content. “The calcium/phosphorus ratio is about 10 to 1, which in small amounts isn’t a problem for a mature horse,” says Coverdale. “But in large amounts or in a growing horse or a lactating mare, that could cause issues with bone development.” To prevent such imbalances, she says, the general limit for feeding beet pulp is no more than 10 percent of a horse’s diet by weight, which works out to no more than two to three pounds a day for an average-size horse.”

Wagner cautions against trying to “eyeball” the correct amount of beet pulp to feed a horse. “You’ve got to remember it’s 10 percent by its dry, unsoaked weight,” she says. “You have to weigh the feed, not just consider scoop size. Beet pulp is light and fluffy. A pound of beet pulp is going to look like a lot more than a pound of alfalfa pellets, for instance.” Wagner adds that she keeps a fish scale in her feed room so she can hang a bucket to weigh out rations quickly and accurately.

Coverdale adds that the “scratch factor” of beet pulp may not be high enough to safely replace all the hay in a horse’s diet. “You need to take into account the physical attributes of long-stem roughage,” she says---“the fact that a horse has to chew it and that it provides bulk in the gut. We know this is all-important in ruminant digestion. We need more research into that in horses, but it stands to reason it would be.”

Of course, says Coverdale, there are always exceptions. “In many older horses, particularly those with dental problems, hay isn’t even an option any more,” she says. “In those cases, the rules go out the window and you do whatever you can. Beet pulp might be the only source of fiber an older horse can get. In those cases, I’d recommend a senior feed containing beet pulp that’s designed to be a ‘complete’ feed and replace hay. The nutritionists at those companies will have created a balanced diet, so you don’t need to worry about vitamin and mineral deficits. Trying to come up with your own formulation by mixing beet pulp with regular feeds can be very difficult and is unnecessary these days; the calculations have already been done for you with a commercial feed.”

If all this information has you thinking that you want to add beet pulp to your horse’s diet, check to make sure it isn’t there already. “Beet pulp is already in a ton of commercial grain mixes,” says Staniar. “It’s gotten increasingly popular as we’ve realized its nutritional benefits, and it shows up in all sort of places.”

Specialty feeds are particularly reliant on beet pulp. “Beet pulp is a major component of the high-fiber, low-sugar feeds that are so popular right now,” says Wagner. “It’s really the perfect ingredient for those---a good source of ‘cool’ energy. And if you look at senior feeds, you’ll see it’s a primary ingredient; that’s the reason those feeds soak up water so well. I think there are plenty of people out there who don’t realize they are already feeding beet pulp. And there are probably people thinking they’d never feed beet pulp, for whatever reason, but their horses are already thriving on it.”

 Re-published article with permission from EQUUS Magazine.