Thursday, December 29, 2016

7 Myths About Equine Nutrition

To help you formulate your horse’s diet based on the best information available, we debunk 7 common myths about equine nutrition.

In 2008, veterinarians at Tufts University Hospital for Large Animals conducted a survey of horse owners. A total of 67 people who brought their horses to the facility for treatment answered general equine management questions, as well as four designed to gauge their understanding of proper equine feeding practices.

The results were unsettling: Less than half of the owners knew the daily hay requirements for an average horse, and 69 percent were mistaken about the proper role of complete concentrates in the equine diet.

Misunderstandings about feeding aren’t unique to this group of horse owners, say the Tufts clinicians who wrote up the survey results in a veterinary journal. And they don’t stem from lack of concern---most of us do our best to feed our horses properly. The problem, in part, is that horsekeeping is rooted in tradition and, as a result, outdated ideas tend to persist, even when disproven by modern research. Add to that outright incorrect information, disseminated quickly in an era of Internet search engines and blogs, and it’s easy to mistake myth for fact when it comes to feeding horses.'

To help ensure your horse’s diet is formulated based on the most up-to-date information available, we’ve laid to rest the top seven horse-feeding myths. Armed with the truth, you can do best by your horses when mealtime rolls around.

Myth 1: Concentrates or grain form the foundation of a horse’s diet; hay is secondary. This might be one of the biggest misconceptions out there about feeding horses. Ideally, a horse’s diet will be structured around hay rather than concentrates or grains. In fact, retired horses and those in light work may do fine on a hay- or pasture-only diet. Concentrated energy feeds are necessary only for hardworking equine athletes, lactating mares and other horses with higher energy demands, or when the hay available does not provide sufficient calories.

Nonetheless, in a balanced equine diet, concentrates will never comprise more than half of a total ration’s weight (“How Much Grain?” page 42). Although individual requirements vary somewhat, most horses do well if they receive about 2 percent of their body weight in forage per day. Excess intake of concentrates and grain can lead to obesity, colic and laminitis.

Keep in mind that if you are feeding a “complete” pellet---one that contains roughage---according to the manufacturer’s instructions, your horse gets his daily requirement of forage as part of his concentrate. Although these feeds are helpful for horses who are unable to chew hay or have respiratory conditions aggravated by the dust in hay, they may not be the best choice for horses who do not need them. Not only does munching hay help keep a horse occupied, discouraging stall vices, but the bulk this forage provides helps keep his digestive tract working properly.

Myth 2: Bran mashes have a laxative effect and help keep a horse warm. There’s certainly something satisfying about preparing a bran mash for your horse on a chilly winter’s day. There’s also a certain peace of mind that comes with offering a bran-based slurry to a horse who tends to have digestive troubles. What’s more, most horses relish bran mashes. But modern research has shown that these mixtures have no laxative effect and do not prevent colic. Nor do bran mashes offer a lasting “heating” effect for a horse. In fact, overzealous feeding of bran can do more harm than good, because its high phosphorus content can lead to serious mineral imbalances.

Myth 3: Horses must be fed at the same time every day. Our horses may have helped perpetuate this myth. Anyone who has heard the ruckus horses can kick up five minutes before breakfast is due can be forgiven for thinking feeding times are critical, but in reality they are not. Horses fed at regular intervals are conditioned to expect meals at certain times, but there is no physiological reason to stick to a strict schedule. A horse fed only two meals a day, with restricted forage in between, may be extremely hungry by the time his meal arrives, but he will not be harmed if it’s an hour earlier or later than usual. It’s better, however, to mimic a horse’s natural feeding schedule as closely as possible, by allowing your horse free-choice hay throughout the day. Not only will he more patient if you’re a bit tardy with his dinner, but his gut will function better and his risk of colic and laminitis will be dramatically reduced.

Myth 4: Alfalfa is too “rich” to be safely fed to horses. This seems to be a regional myth: Many horses in Western states happily and safely eat the very alfalfa that some East Coast horse owners are afraid to include in equine rations. Alfalfa does contain more protein, digestible energy and calcium0 than grass hays, but it is usually lower in soluble0 sugars. Its reputation for being “rich” may stem from the highly nutritious leaves, which are more digestible than most hays and can contribute to gastrointestinal upset and even colic if introduced too quickly into a horse’s diet.It’s wise to gradually introduce alfalfa hay to your horse’s diet, just as you would acclimate him to lush pasture grass. Most horses would get obese if fed good quality alfalfa free-choice, so it is usually best fed in limited amounts, supplemented with grass hay that provides adequate “chew time” to ward off boredom.

Alfalfa’s higher protein and calcium content do result in increased urine output (and water intake) but are not at all harmful to a healthy horse’s kidneys. In fact, it has been reported that the addition of alfalfa to rations of horses confined to stalls and fed limited amounts of forage actually protects against ulcers, probably due to the buffering effects of the higher protein and calcium. Finally, contrary to popular belief, research has shown that alfalfa will not cause, and may actually prevent, developmental orthopedic disorders, such as osteochondritis dissecans in young horses.

Myth 5: Weight issues, such as being too skinny or fat, are solely related to how a horse is fed. It’s easy to look to a horse’s ration to explain weight gain or loss, and often that’s where you’ll find the answers. But sometimes a horse’s weight problem isn’t directly related to his feed ration. A horse who is too thin, for example, may have dental problems that prevent him from chewing his food properly. In addition, parasite loads or systemic illness can cause a horse to lose weight even if he is receiving adequate amounts of quality feed. Anytime a horse has trouble holding weight, a complete veterinary exam is needed to determine the cause. Likewise, an obese horse is obviously being fed more calories than he needs, but simply cutting back his ration is only part of the solution. Some horses have a so-called thrifty gene which allows them to “live on air” and gain weight even on sparse, forage-only diets. They may also be more susceptible to metabolic disorders and laminitis. In these cases, the best course is a weight-control program that integrates an exercise regimen---such as active riding four days a week---along with a restricted diet.

Myth 6: Corn is a “heating” feed. The misguided notion that feeding corn helps to keep horses physically warm probably stems from how behaviorally “hot” this ration can make some of them. A quart of corn weighs much more than a quart of oats, so owners may unwittingly be supplying a corn-fed horse with many more calories---and energy---than another feed provides in the same volume. Speaking in terms of temperature, however, any metabolic warmth generated by corn is minimal and short-lived. Corn has its place in the equine diet, but a far better “heating” feed for winter months is hay. This fibrous bulk is digested comparatively slowly, and the bacteria in the gut doing that work produce heat for a longer period of time.

Myth 7: Letting a hot horse drink cold water is dangerous. Although this myth isn’t strictly about feeding, it is so persistent and potentially damaging that it’s worth debunking as often as possible. Research has repeatedly shown that a hot, sweaty horse who drinks cold water is not at a greater risk of colic, cramping or laminitis. How this myth arose isn’t clear, but one expert postulates that years ago, before the physiological effects of exhaustion were fully understood, water intake may have been blamed for laminitis or colic in horses who were simply overworked. Withholding water can lead to dangerous dehydration. In fact, it’s best to allow your horse to drink when he is at his most thirsty, which is probably right after his workout. Waiting until he is “cool” may result in him drinking less, even if he is dehydrated.

This article originally appeared in EQUUS Magazine.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tight Nosebands May Cause Stress

Studies have shown that too-tight nosebands on bridles can cause stress and other health problems for your horse.

By Sushil Dulai Wenholz

The next time you’re tempted to tighten your horse’s noseband just one more hole, you may want to think twice. According to a recent study by an Australian research team, excessively tight nosebands not only could be stressful but even harmful to a horse’s welfare.

The study assessed the relationship of noseband tightness on oral behaviors (licking, chewing, yawning) and stress behaviors (as indicated by heart rate, heart-rate variability and eye temperature). Researchers used a dozen horses of various ages, breeds, heights and gender. The horses wore double bridles with padded crank nosebands, a combination often seen in higher level dressage. A double bridle has both a curb bit and bridoon (a narrow, single- jointed snaffle bit) plus a curb chain. A crank noseband has a leveraged buckle that allows for a tighter fit than a plain cavesson. To avoid the influence of previous exposure, the study used only horses who had never worn a double bridle or a crank noseband before.

During the study, horses were assigned to one of four research groups each day based on tightness of the noseband: unfastened noseband; conventional area under noseband, specifically, two fingers of space; half conventional area under noseband, specifically, one finger of space; or no area under the noseband. Each horse experienced each tightness level once over four consecutive days. A heart-rate monitor girth and a video camera were used to record the horses’ reactions during three 10-minute sessions: baseline (noseband not tightened), treatment (noseband tightened according to horse’s group) and recovery (bridle removed).

Researchers found that horses wearing the tightest nosebands demonstrated stress reactions, including significant increases in heart-rate and eye temperature, a significant decrease in heart rate variability and cessation of licking.

Horses in all groups also showed a post-inhibitory rebound response during recovery. Essentially, this happens when the horse experiences a period of restriction and afterward shows an increase in a behavior compared to baseline. It indicates that a horse’s welfare has been compromised during the period of restriction.

For instance, after showing reduced chewing with nosebands on, the tightest groups showed a significant increase in chewing during recovery. The loosest group showed much less chewing during recovery, suggesting that these horses felt less deprivation during the test phase. Yawning, swallowing and licking all increased during recovery, compared to the baseline, for all groups.

Overall, study results suggest that very tight nosebands may cause stress and/or pain and may prevent a horse from performing normal oral behaviors often associated with comfort. However, researchers noted that horses may have been reacting not only to noseband tightness but also to the unfamiliarity of wearing two bits.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How to Stop Your Horse From Swapping Leads

Learn some tips to keep your horse from swapping his canter leads.

By Kim Williams

Q: I compete in the Adult Amateur hunter division with my 12-year-old Trakehner/Morgan-cross gelding. He places well consistently, but when he swaps his lead in the front it keeps us out of the top ribbons. The swap usually happens off the left lead on a long gallop to a single fence. He will swap leads in front only on the stride before takeoff. Also, when he comes around a turn into a line on the left lead, he will usually hold the lead over the first jump and land on his right lead down the line. He is sound and has regular chiropractic checkups and massages. Please help!


A: It’s perfectly normal for a horse to approach a jump on one lead and land on the opposite lead. However, swapping leads in front, or cross-cantering, is considered a fault in the hunter ring and judges will penalize it as such—some more heavily than others. It can happen for a variety of reasons. In general, when a horse cross-canters in the approach to a jump, he is probably trying to shift his weight away from some source of pain or weakness in his body in preparation for the takeoff. This is a moment that requires a great deal of power, both from the front and hind legs, so your horse may be swapping leads in an effort to transfer the physical burden onto a stronger or more reliable leg.

It sounds like you are diligent about his health and wellness, but it would be worth investigating possible medical sources of the problem a little further. Ask your veterinarian to examine him thoroughly to determine if he is hurting somewhere in his body or legs. The problem could be anything from hoof pain to a sore back, hock or sacroiliac joint.

Also check your saddle fit carefully. (If you don’t know how to do this, ask an experienced horseperson for help or consult an expert saddle fitter.) Is it sitting too low on your horse’s withers? Is it pinching his shoulders? Any discomfort could be contributing to this problem.

If you can’t find a physical cause for the cross-cantering, it might simply result from one-sidedness. Just like humans, many horses have a weak side and a strong side. Your horse may just prefer to take off over jumps from his strong side.

Once you’ve ruled out any source of discomfort, begin to correct the habit by focusing on straightness. In order to produce a good jumping effort, your horse must be straight in his body on takeoff, over the jump and on landing. His weaker side will grow stronger as he becomes straighter in his body, making him less prone to cross-canter.

In your schooling at home, place two ground poles perpendicular to a jump, one on the takeoff side and the other on the landing side. Roll them a few feet to the right of center, close enough to the track that they’ll get your horse’s attention but not so close that he risks stepping on them. This will help to keep him straight before and after the fence. (Note: If you try this exercise at a show, be sure the ground poles are placed at least 9 feet from the jump, per U.S. Equestrian Federation schooling rules.)

Another helpful exercise is to initiate a turn in the air, asking your horse to land on his weaker lead. In this case, ask him to turn left and land on his left lead. Take the exercise one step further by practicing making fairly small circles (about 30 meters in diameter) over the jump, so that he is continuously turning left. This will help to strengthen his weak lead and discourage the swap to his preferred lead.

Practicing over a Swedish oxer will force your horse to center himself in the middle of the jump and keep his body straight in the air. To build one, start with a square oxer set at your normal jumping height. Then lower one front rail jump cup by a few holes. Raise the other front rail jump cup by the same number of holes. Do the same with the back rail, only lowering and raising the opposite cups, so that it is higher on the side that is lower in the front and lower on the side that is higher in the front.

How you address this problem in the show ring depends on your ability level. If you are a novice rider, you may be tempted to pull on the left rein to prevent the lead swap. But this will just make your horse bulge his body to the right even more, creating a more likely cross-canter scenario. It may sound counterintuitive, but you need to pull on the right rein to straighten his body and maintain the lead. Think of your horse’s body as a curved banana, with his head and haunches positioned to the left of the rest of his body. To straighten him, you need to transform the banana into a pencil by pulling on your right rein. Meanwhile, keep your own body very centered over the middle of the saddle and close your outside leg (your right leg, in this case) slightly behind the girth to discourage his body from bulging to the right.

More advanced riders should use the same technique. In addition, they can ride the track strategically to discourage the swap. For example, if there is a left turn to a fence, you could overshoot the turn slightly and then aim to jump at a slight right-to-left angle. This will prevent your horse from shifting his weight in the approach and will thus help to hold the lead.

Hunter/jumper/equitation trainer Kim Williams began her career competing as an amateur owner. She won many top hunter and jumper awards in the U.S. and Europe, including the grand prix in Reims, France, in 1987. Her most successful partner was an Argentinean Thoroughbred named Whadyasay!, with whom she won multiple Amateur Owner Hunter grand championships at top horse shows in the 1980s. Kim turned professional in the early 1990s and founded her full-service show barn, Willow Wood. Now based on a 50-acre farm she leases from Dr. and Mrs. Richard Nessif in Woodbine, Maryland, she prepares adults, juniors, pony and equitation riders for local and rated competitions.

Kim and one of her students, Lindsay Smith, were featured in the 2006 Animal Planet series, “Horse Power: Road to the Maclay.” Kim has also guided her three daughters, Emily, Hannah and Ellie, to successful starts in the show ring.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Secret Lives - Apple

Apple the Morgan

by Pam Gleason

On Saturday, April 23, Lizotte’s Applelonia, a 14.3 hand Morgan mare known to her friends as Apple, celebrated her 30th birthday at a party thrown for her by her owner, Ellie Joos. There were apples, of course, and carrots and carrot cake in the shape of a horseshoe baked by Ellen Hawkins. There were party favors to take home, and a crowd of about a dozen human celebrants who gathered around a picnic table at Billy and Shirl Tronoski’s Chime Ridge Stables in Aiken, where Apple lives. Chit Chat, Apple’s Thoroughbred friend (and Ellie’s other horse) was on hand. Apple herself, dressed up in a party hat with pink ribbons in her mane, took part in all the festivities, clearly enjoying the attention. She had the air of knowing that she deserved it.

Apple came into Ellie’s life 22 years ago as an overweight 8 year- old who had recently had a foal. A lovely dark chestnut born and raised in Vermont, she was most notable for her kind disposition and her willing and eager character.

“My horse had bucked me off for the last time,” says Ellie, who lived in New Jersey at the time. “My boyfriend Bill –now my husband – said it was either the horse or him, so I found a new home for that horse with a more experienced rider and began the quest for my next horse.”

Bill happened to have a friend in the textile industry who knew Apple, and suggested that she would be the perfect match for Ellie because she was sweet and kind and would help restore her rider’s confidence. And so, sight unseen, Ellie bought Apple and had her shipped from Vermont down to the New Jersey stable where Ellie had boarded her last horse.

“As she exited the horse van, I thought ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ remembers Ellie. “Having had a baby the year before, she still looked pregnant, and she was sluggish from the trip. After a few days rest, my trainer, Cindy Canace – who was appalled that I brought this horse down from Vermont sight unseen – and I began to train her. Although she had been backed, she did not know how to steer very well and could barely pick up the left lead canter.”

But despite this unpromising beginning, Apple would soon prove herself to be invaluable. Her outstanding attribute was her desire to please.

“It wasn’t long before I realized that no matter what we asked of her, she was going to try her heart out to give it to us,” says Ellie. “This little mare, only 14.3 hands, was going to prove to us that she was worth it. My trainer at the time was training several horses of her own and remarked that the difference between her one horse and my mare was that if she asked her horse to do something, the mare would go out of her way to do otherwise. If she asked my horse to do something, Apple would try hard to understand and to do it.”

In the following years, Ellie and Apple trained in dressage and went trail riding. Ellie was never into showing, but she felt that the dressage training would bring out the best in her “little horse that could.”

“She loved attention and especially loved going out on trails,” says Ellie. “And best of all, she loved the grandkids and nephews that learned to ride her. She was patient and gentle, never took a wrong step when the kids were on her on the lunge line, learning balance and developing a steady seat, legs, and kind hands on the reins. The kids adored her and could not have had a better learning experience than on this sweet mare.”

When Apple was in her late teens, she began to develop a subtle lameness. “It was nothing serious, just a noticeable misstep here and there. After a number of months with various treatments and rest, I consulted a vet that was known as a lameness specialist in the area. She was diagnosed with articular ringbone in her front right leg. We began daily joint supplements and pain medications to keep her comfortable and this greatly helped,” says Ellie.

Since Apple was no longer up to dressage, Ellie got Chit Chat so she could keep riding and training. Apple continued giving pony rides, riding lessons and trail rides to Ellie and Bill’s grandchildren. In 2013, Ellie and Bill moved down to Aiken. Apple and Chit Chat followed them a month later, and have been installed at Chime Ridge Stable ever since.

“When she was first here, I was still riding her and had engaged the services of Amber Lee to help ride Chit Chat,” says Ellie. “We would ride together around the property of Chime Ridge Stables, and we would switch horses and Amber would ride her as well.”

When Apple was 28, she started stumbling when she was ridden, and so was completely retired. Today, she lives a life of leisure at Chime Ridge, where she has her own stall and is turned out regularly with Chit Chat. Always an easy keeper (“the kind of horse that will inhale grass and gain 100 pounds”) Apple is still in good flesh, though the dip in her back and her many grey hairs betray her age. She is happy, enjoying life, especially getting treats and attention from Ellie and hanging out with Chit Chat.

“The two horses are very close and scream for each other when one is taken away,” says Ellie. “They spend each day outside grazing and come into their stalls early afternoon for lunch. I usually go to the barn late afternoon to take them out for grooming and riding.

“In the 22 years that Apple has been in my life, I never went off her when I was seriously riding her,” continues Ellie. “She was always very careful with her steps and very steady when the kids rode her and they all loved her. She is truly worth her weight in gold.”

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double Life of George Morris

Unrelenting, the book

By Pam Gleason

In his new autobiography Unrelenting, George Morris tells tales and he names names. The book purports to reveal “The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights and my Pursuit of Excellence,” (the subtitle) and it bears this caution between the preface and the first chapter: “Warning: This book is a candid portrayal of my life. Innocents and those faint of heart or closed of mind may wish to proceed no further!”

This warning might seem a bit dramatic for the autobiography of an internationally known showjumping rider, trainer and coach, but for George it is (almost) appropriate. Morris, who recently retired as the chef d’equipe of the United States Olympic showjumping team, is probably the most recognized figure in the hunter/jumper world today. In a career that has spanned seven decades so far, he has also been an equitation rider (at 14, he was the youngest ever to win both the AHSA Medal and the ASPCA Maclay finals in the same year), a member of the U.S. international showjumping team (they won team gold in the Pan American games in 1959 and team silver at the 1960 Olympics in Rome,) the owner of a top hunter/jumper stable and a traveling clinician. He is also known for his writing: his first book, Hunter Seat Equitation, originally published in 1971, is in its third edition and is still considered among the most important books in the hunter/ jumper canon. It is not an exaggeration to say that George Morris, a charismatic figure, has a cult-like following: in some circles he is often referred to as a god, with only a touch of irony.

Over the years, Morris earned a reputation for his excellence in horsemanship, his relentless pursuit of perfection, his critical eye and his biting commentary. He is notorious for his toughness— his clinics have been known to reduce riders to tears. Especially in the past, he was also reputed to have a short fuse, with “a compulsion for control coupled with a tendency to go berserk or become irate for seemingly no reason . . . and sudden, volatile temperamental behavior.” This is according to the preface, written by Chris Kappler, who is his protégé and former business associate as well as an Olympic gold medalist.

Morris’s reputation also includes some other whispered-about aspects, chiefly related to his personal life, although before this book the actual details of that life have not really been common knowledge. Unrelenting shines a light on that life, providing all the gossipy details about the people that Morris dated over the years, both men and women. He explains his relationship with the movie star Tab Hunter – they met at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden when George was 19 and Hunter was 26. He writes about his wild partying life in the 1960s and 1970s when he used to frequent Studio 54 in New York City. He even sometimes went out clubbing directly from a horse show, going so far as to park his loaded horse trailer on a city street while he spent the night partying in a bar. He talks about his drinking, a vice he inherited from his parents. He touches upon his tomcatting adventures while traveling both in America and overseas, and discusses the perception of “alternative lifestyles” and how that has changed over the decades.

Is there anything really astonishing here? Not in 2016, not really. But for Morris, who was born in 1938 and came of age in the 1950s, it probably seems shocking. It is also fair to warn the more traditional of Morris’s devotees that, if they read this book, they might be learning more than they want to know about their hero’s personal life. Some readers have, in fact, objected to the inclusion of so many intimate details, wishing the narrative had stayed in the barn rather than slipping up to the bedroom. In addition, one might wonder if all of the people Morris admits to sleeping with are entirely happy about seeing it all described in print.
Fortunately for those who are not interested in the gossip, the book also includes many genuinely interesting details about George Morris the man, as well as a fascinating history of the horse show world from the 1950s through the 2000s. Morris grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut, in a socially prominent, country-club atmosphere. His father, born in Augusta, Ga., was from the Morris Publishing family, making George a close relative of Billy Morris, publisher of the Augusta Chronicle and the founder of the Augusta Futurity, among other things. His mother’s family owned newspapers and other businesses in the New York City area. George was attracted to horses from the time he was very young, seeing them as his “salvation” in a world that made him so anxious and upset that when he was a pre-teenager his parents pulled him out of school for a year to send him for counseling.

George first rode with the New Canaan Mounted Troop (he studied with Margaret Cabell Self, whose books about horsemanship were once essential reading for students of horsemanship), then went on to the Ox Ridge Hunt Club before transitioning to Gordon Wright’s stable. In the 1940s, the forward seat, which George learned, was still an unusual and cutting edge style. In the 1950s, when George started competing in the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, the show was a society event, written up as such in the New York Times. Spectators wore mink coats, top hats and tails. In the 1960s, when Morris became an equestrian professional, it meant that his days of competing for the U.S, were over: in that era, the Olympics were strictly for amateur riders who were not allowed make their living as equestrians.

Not only did Morris live through many changes in the equestrian world, he also seems to have met, known, ridden with or taught essentially everyone who had an influence on the development of the American style of riding, as well as pretty much anyone who has competed at a top level from the 1950s up to today. Because so much of his career has consisted of traveling to give clinics, this includes horsemen from all over the country, not just the East Coast where he has been based throughout his career. It also includes many riders and trainers with lesser accomplishments and ambitions. If you have ever been serious about horsemanship in the hunter/jumper world, you most likely have a direct connection to George Morris. In fact, one of the guilty pleasures of the book is seeing when and if he mentions someone you know. (Morris even once gave a lesson to Pete Bostwick, one of Aiken’s most versatile and iconic horsemen.)

Another, more straightforward pleasure is hearing about many of the individual horses that George rode, owned and loved through his life. There is Game Cock, the horse that took him to the Medal and Maclay championships in the 1950s; Sinjon, the horse the Harry de Leyer (of Snowman fame) gave him to ride that carried him to the Rome Olympics. There are quirky and sensitive horses, such as Rio, a brilliant jumper who had a tendency to panic and bolt whenever his rider mounted or dismounted. Although the book does not delve into his training methods with these horses, his strong bond and sympathy with them shines through – even if there are moments when he seems to forget about this bond to pursue his other appetites.

Other interesting tidbits include the fact that after the 1960 Olympics, Morris left the equestrian life for a time to study acting, and actually performed in summer stock for two years. His initial discomfort with acting school, in which he was required to dress in a skin-tight leotard, is described in a memorable section – he may not have been happy, but he was nothing if not brave.

The book, which was written with the help of Karen Robertson Terry, is very long. It is divided into seven sections, one for each decade, which gives it logical structure, and it includes many wonderful photographs of George as well as of the people and horses he discusses in the text. It also incorporates over 150 short pieces about George by people who have known him over the years, including his colleagues, students and friends.

Some of these short pieces don’t amount to much more than flattery (“What George is so great at is teaching. . . .” etc.) while others offer insight into his training and teaching methods. Still others reveal bizarre, and even potentially damaging information: There is a description of him giving an entire weekend clinic dressed only in a black string bikini. An international competitor remembers finding an illegal poling device hidden in his manure pile on one of his trips overseas to compete. His niece remembers terrifying riding lessons with him, in which he forced her (at age 6) and her brother (7) to jump a triple combination without reins or stirrups, and blindfolded to boot (“He would hit the pony with a crop and we would jump fences we couldn’t see. If we didn’t do it perfectly, we would have to repeat the exercise over again.” Eventually, the little girl fell off and broke her arm while doing this exercise.) The same niece remembers a mortifying experience at a horse show. George had decided her brother’s horse was tired, and actually went to a stranger’s trailer, unloaded a likely looking animal, tacked it up with a saddle and bridle he found, and had her brother ride this (essentially stolen) horse in the next class instead of his own. After the class, when the irate owner confronted George and the nephew about their unauthorized use of her horse, George merely handed back the reins and angrily told the women her horse was a nag and a loser.

Why, exactly, would George Morris want to include these kinds of stories in his autobiography? He does not explain them, or apologize for them, or reflect on them in any way. Perhaps their inclusion is simply to enhance his image as a “bad boy.” Or perhaps it can be attributed to a certain lifelong lack of judgment and self-awareness that has cast a shadow on his reputation since the 1950s.

This brings up another criticism of the book, which is that it could have benefitted greatly from a more authoritative editorial hand. The writing tends to be loose, burdened with clichés and with terms that are sometimes applied incorrectly. The extreme overuse of exclamation points, especially in the first sections, is distracting to say the least. While for the most part, Unrelenting, is eminently readable, it could have been better (and shorter) if it had been edited more thoroughly.

In all, Unrelenting is an interesting book, especially for anyone who knows George Morris or is a part of the hunter/jumper world. Beyond its exploration of equestrian life, it paints the picture of a complex individual who seems to have lived a double life, pulled one way by his talent, perfectionism and devotion to horses, and another by his Bohemian nature, his attraction to fast living and big city life and a potentially self-destructive compulsion to defy convention. Love him or hate him, George Morris has been an important figure on the equestrian scene for seven decades. This book, for the first time, provides real insight into how he got there and the obstacles that have stood in his way . . . many of them of his own making.

Unrelenting: The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights and My Pursuit of Excellence. By George Morris with Karen Robertson Terry. Trafalgar Square Publishing, North Pomfret, NY. 2016. Hardcover. $35.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ask The Judge

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEF R judge, and a USEF S judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at, or visit her website:

Dear Amy,

I’m planning to enter my first FEI test this summer at a small dressage show. I am going to be riding my first ever Prix St. Georges test and I have a few questions about riding at this level.

1. Are you allowed a reader or a caller for the Prix St. Georges? I am worried that I won’t be able to memorize the test because it is long!

2. I have seen riders in Florida competing in their top hats, but I feel more comfortable in my helmet. Is that OK?

3. My horse goes better in his snaffle bridle than in the double bridle. Is this frowned upon?

4. Are there any other differences that I should know about?

Moving Up

Dear Moving Up,

Congratulations! Moving up to the FEI level is a huge accomplishment that many riders can only dream of. I’d be happy to answer all these important questions so that you will feel more prepared when you come down the center line.

1. Can you have a reader for your test: Unfortunately having your test called in the Prix St. Georges is not allowed. This is why when you observe FEI tests, you never see them being called. According to USEF Rulebook DR.122.1: “All FEI tests, must be ridden from memory.”

It is very important at this level to know your test thoroughly, mostly because you need to be careful about making errors in your test riding. The FEI Prix St. Georges Test has different error deductions than the tests at the national levels. (Training through Fourth Level.) At the national levels, you are allowed to have two errors: for the first error, there is a two point deduction; for the second four points. If you have a third error, you will be eliminated. The point deductions are taken from your total score. For example, if you earned 260 points out of a possible 380 in a national test, and you had one error, your score would then be 258. This means that your final score will go down from 68 percent (260 out of 380) to 67.8 percent (258 out of 380.)

In the Prix St. Georges test, however, you are allowed only one error: if you have two, you are eliminated. For the first error you would deduct two points from your final percentage score. Therefore, if you scored 260 points out of a possible 380 on your Prix St. Georges test and you had one error, your points do not change but your final score will go down from 68 percent to 66 percent.

So I would be sure to practice and memorize the test very well. It may look intimidating, but it is easier than you might think. The Prix St. Georges test has a nice flow and each sequence of movements is repeated in the opposite direction, giving the test a pleasing balance.

2. What about top hats? You may have seen riders competing in their top hats at the FEI Levels. But that would have been in FEI tests conducted under international rules. (There are shows that have both national and international rings going on at the same venue.) The top hat is optional at all FEI levels, Prix St. Georges included, but only at international shows. At a national show, on the other hand, you can ride an FEI test, but you may not wear a top hat: a safety helmet is now mandatory even at this level.

USEF Rulebook DR.120.2 says: “For all tests above Fourth Level, the dress code requires protective headgear.”

So, to answer your question, yes, a helmet is OK. In fact, it is your only option.

3. And your bridle? It is certainly impressive to perform a Prix St. Georges test in a snaffle bridle. This is permitted as long as you are at a national show. USEF Rulebook DR. 121.4 says: “For FEI tests ridden at national competitions, a plain snaffle bridle may be used.” I would encourage you use the bridle that will be most effective for you and your horse; your choice of bridle should not affect your score. But keep in mind that if you compete at an international show, a double bridle is mandatory at this level.

4. Other things you should know: At this level, riding with spurs is mandatory whether in a national or international show, according to USEF Rule DR.120.2.1. Although I am sure you are looking forward to wearing your tailcoat, since this is the first test where tailcoats are permissible, a short riding jacket is also allowed. (DR.120.2). Your horse must be a minimum of 7 years old to compete at Prix St. Georges.

There are also some differences in the scoring you should be aware of. In Fourth Level and below, there are five collective marks. The Prix St. Georges test has only four collective marks. All the levels share a score for Paces (known as Gaits in the lower levels), Impulsion and Submission. In the lower levels there are two scores for Rider Position; at PSG and above, there is only one score, but it has a coefficient of two. In the lower levels, the score for Impulsion has a coefficient of two, while in PSG and above, Impulsion has a coefficient of one.

The Prix St. Georges is a fairly long test, with 26 boxes of required movements. The average horse and rider combination will complete it in five minutes and 50 seconds. The most important movements in the test are those with coefficients of two. These are: the trot half pass, left and right, the collected walk, the extended walk and the canter pirouette, left and right. Be sure you have these movements down, because mistakes here can be costly, not only for the movement itself, but also in the collective marks.

I hope I was able to answer your questions and give you insight into your advancement to the FEI Level. Good luck on your first Prix St. Georges test!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

All About The Team

Christina Kelly’s Aiken Debut

by Pam Gleason, photography by Gary Knoll

When Christina Kelly was still eligible to ride as a junior, her services as a catch rider on Florida’s hunter/jumper show circuit were in such high demand that she routinely competed scores of horses at each show. Over the course of one memorable weekend in Wellington, she got on 31 different horses. “I was off one and then on another one and back into the ring. I don’t think my helmet came off my head the whole weekend,” she says with a laugh. “It was crazy.”

Christina says that her success as a catch rider was mostly due to the fact that the trainers would bring the horses to the ring ready to win so all she had to do was stay out of their way. “I was good at staying out of their way. I was also good at getting on a horse that I had never ridden before and winning on it. In the Classic, you could only ride three horses. I would usually have six, so I would have to pick. It was a good feeling.”

Now 22 and professional rider, Christina is based in Aiken along with her parents, Barbara and Sean Kelly. Barbara is English, Sean is Irish, and Christina, who was born in England, rode for Ireland as a junior. The family moved to Aiken in January 2016, and Christina has been quietly building her own training and sales business at the new farm ever since. Over the winter and spring, she has been competing at Highfields and trucking her horses up to show in Tryon, N.C.

She also made big a splash at the inaugural Aiken Charity Horse show at Bruce’s Field in May. In the first week of the show, she and Kingdom, a 17.3 hand Irish Sporthorse owned by Andrea O’Brien, won the $5,000 Welcome Stakes. In the second week, they won the $25,000 Aiken Charity Horse Show Grand Prix. Not only did they win that class, they were the only horse and rider combination to have a clear round over Scott Starnes’s surprisingly difficulty course.

“I went first and I am glad I did,” says Christina. “I normally hate to go first, but it was good. I walked the course, we went in and I rode it exactly how I walked it. It turned out to ride a lot harder than anyone had expected.”

Christina has been partnered with Kingdom since February. His owner has a horse shipping company in Ireland and had sent Kingdom to another stable in the Northeast for training and to be sold. An animal who needs a lot of attention, he was not thriving at the relatively large sales stable – in fact, they concluded that he did not have promise to jump higher than the 1.30 meter level. And so he was sent to Christina, where there would be a quieter atmosphere and more personal care. The idea was to get him showing and get him sold.

“He has changed a lot since he came,” says Christina. “When I first got him he couldn’t canter in my jumping ring, which is small and a bit hilly. I think the ring helped him learn to react more quickly and be more balanced. He also craves a lot of attention, which he is getting. I love that his personality is coming out. When he first came he was very cold, but now I feel like we’re friends. He trusts me and I trust him, and if I ask him to do something he gives me everything. I love that. I love how much he tries.”

Kingdom stepped up to the Grand Prix level at the Aiken Spring Classic in April, finishing fifth in the first week and third in the second. He was also fourth in the first week at the Aiken Charity Horse Show before going on to win in his following Grand Prix outing. The Welcome Stakes in that first week at Bruce’s Field was the first competition in which Kingdom and Christina had won at that level together.

“It was funny though,” says Christina. “When I rode into the ring for the class, he slammed on the brakes, spun around and galloped out. I went right off. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so a friend grabbed him and threw me up on him, and we went in and went double clear and won. He’d never done anything like that before, so I was pretty shocked.”

Now that Kingdom has proven himself as a Grand Prix horse, his owner has decided to keep him. “I’m excited about that,” says Christina. “He gets better and better, and now I can to keep the ride on him. It’s just brilliant to have a horse like him.”

Christina comes to an equestrian career naturally. When she was very young, her parents owned and ran Wycombe House Stud, one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeding stables in England. In the early 2000s, they relocated their business to the United States, buying a large farm in Ocala, Fla. Although Christina had her own pony, initially she was not interested in riding, preferring to go to school, play soccer and be a “regular person.” The family had a summer home in Sotogrande on the south coast of Spain, and when Christina was 9, they moved there year round. There, at the international school, Christina became friends with a girl who loved horses, and it was only then that Christina became interested in riding.

At 10, she had her first taste of competing, got hooked and there was no turning back. She exhibited on the European circuit, showing and winning in classes up to the Grand Prix level. Competing with and against some of the top riders on the continent by the time she was 12, she made a name for herself as a precocious talent with determination, nerves of steel and a ready smile. When the family returned to Florida in 2008, Christina had nine horses of her own to show. She worked with several different trainers, including Kevin Babbington, Shane Sweetnam and Candice King. But the trainer who had the greatest impact on her was the Olympian Margie Engle, with whom she trained for two years. While she was traveling on the circuit and showing with Margie, Christina and her family fell in love with Kentucky and ended up selling their farm in Ocala to buy one in Nicholasville, near Lexington.

It would be impossible enumerate all of Christina’s many accomplishments as a junior rider, which include both junior and all- age Grand Prix wins, high point awards in Florida and elsewhere and a bronze medal in the Junior World Cup riding for Ireland. Then, in January 2012, she aged out of the junior divisions. She had thought at first that she could compete as an amateur for a while on her own horses, but her amateur status was protested immediately and so she had to turn pro. She quickly discovered that life as a freshly minted, 19-year- old professional rider had its challenges.

“It was a hard transition,” she says. “I went from everyone wanting me to ride their horses to having three of my own and feeling like no one was talking to me. I felt like I had dropped off the face of the earth.” Trainers need young riders to show their horses in the junior divisions, but they generally have less need for adult professionals to compete against them in the open divisions.

Facing that reality, Christina decided to further her professional education and headed off to Ireland for the summer. There she worked and trained with Cian O’Connor, an Irish Olympic medalist who has a farm in County Mead.

“It was probably the best experience I have ever had,” says Christina. “I got to learn so much, see the whole management and groom’s side of it, the care of the horses, everything. I was only going to go for three months, but I ended up staying for six.”

Returning to Florida that winter, Christina began to develop her own business: attracting clients, teaching, training and selling. She also rode for several top stables including Ashland and Raylyn Farms. She was operating mostly out of rented facilities, especially after the family sold their farm in Kentucky. Over the next years, she also had the opportunity to spend more time riding in Europe, both for her education and for her professional career. Meanwhile, her parents, who maintained a home on a lake in Florida, were looking for new place to go with their horses. Kentucky had been too cold in the winter and Ocala was no longer entirely to their tastes. They wanted to be somewhere different.

The Kellys had friends in Aiken, and they had always talked about it as a place where they might want to live. In January of 2016, that idea became a reality when they purchased a 15-acre farm not far from the city limits. There, they have a sweeping view over nearby farms along with a stable, paddocks, riding areas and access to several hundred acres of fields and forest for hacking. This is important to Christina, who feels strongly that show horses need to spend ample time outside the ring.

“I love that our horses can be horses and go out,” she says. “I like them to be happy, and I think they do need time in the paddock.” In fact, Christina is such a strong believer in turnout time that when she was showing downtown in Aiken, she regularly hauled her horses home so they could relax in their paddocks rather than staying in stalls at the showgrounds for the entire weekend.

In addition to competition, sales and client horses, Christina also has a number of young prospects on the farm, most of them products of the Kellys’ own breeding program. One of Christina’s first European show horses was a Holsteiner stallion who is now standing in Kentucky. He is the sire of several young horses on the farm, including two out of Christina’s top show mare Camirage. Christina is excited about the prospect of riding and showing this next generation of her own horses, as well as about the opportunities that she sees in Aiken.

“We love it here; we just appreciate it more and more. I’d love to get a good business going and expand it,” she says, explaining that she has stalls open in her barn now and that they have already selected a site to build another stable when they need accommodations for more horses. In addition to picking up clients, Christina has also attracted sponsorship from several companies, including Champions Choice (“it’s a supplement that I use with all my horses that is really amazing”), Cavalor feed, Der Dau boots, CDW tack, Samshield helmets and Kastel Denmark clothing.

There is no question that Christina has been extremely successful, both as a junior and as a professional, but she has never allowed that success go to her head. In fact, she gives all the credit to her team. These days that team includes her mother Barbara and her father Sean, who is also working as the manager at Mill Race Farm, not far from the Kellys’ new place in Aiken. Today, the Kelly family does all their own horse care (Sean even won the groom’s award for the Best Turned Out Horse after Kingdom’s Grand Prix win at the Aiken Charity Horse Show), though that may have to change if the operation gets much bigger. Christina, along with her mother and father, have always enjoyed taking care of the horses, appreciating the extra opportunity this gives them to bond with the animals.

“I love the horses, that’s the best thing about this business, for sure,” says Christina. “You’re doing what you love and you can travel anywhere with what you do, along with your horses, your best friends. The good days, when you win, when your horses go really well, they make it even better.”

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Aiken's Horse Shows

A Bright Future

By Pam Gleason; Photography by Pam Gleason & Gary Knoll

This spring, Aiken was the site of four consecutive weeks of top rated USEF horse shows. Traditionally, the two weeks of the premier Aiken Spring Classic at Highfields were Aiken’s major draw for hunter and jumper riders, providing a competition for local horsemen that also attracted elite equestrian athletes from across the Southeast region. In years past, after the end of the Aiken Spring Classic Finale, these riders moved on, following the circuit elsewhere in their hunt for ribbons, points and prestige.

This year however, the two weeks of showing at Highfields were followed by two more weeks at Bruce’s Field in the new Aiken Horse Park. This facility, which had a soft opening in the fall of 2015, was the site of the inaugural Aiken Charity Horse Show in May, an event created in honor of Bruce Duchossois for whom the horse park is named.

Each of the four big shows this spring offered a range of classes, including events for children and amateurs as well as Grand Prix jumping and hunter derbies. The level of competition was high, as was enthusiasm for the events themselves, a positive sign for the future of horse shows in the city and an indication that Aiken is gaining a stronger foothold in the hunter/jumper world.

Aiken Spring Classic

Action started at the Aiken Spring Classic Masters, held April 20-24. This four-day affair featured the $7,500 Welcome Stake on Friday, the $15,000 USHJA International Jumper Derby on Saturday and the $25,000 Aiken Spring Classic Grand Prix on Sunday. There was Liza Boyd and Like I Said, International Hunter Derby at the Aiken Spring Classic strong competition and plenty of ribbons and accolades to go around. Although some riders and their organizations had consistent success, no one dominated all the ribbons.

For instance, it was a great weekend for Penny Brennan, a professional show jumping rider and trainer born in England and based in Alabama. Penny won the Welcome, taking the top spot with Cord 11, a 17.1 hand 12-year-old gelding owned by Meco Equestrian. She was also second aboard her own Sun Tzu, a 12-year old Irish Sport Horse. Penny and Sun Tzu are on a roll – this winter they set the Gulf Coast Classic Winter Horse Shows (Mississippi) afire, winning, among other things, the $35,000 Budweiser Grand Prix. Daniel Geitner, one of Aiken’s top professionals, also found success: after finishing second behind Penny in the Welcome, he and Creativo, owned by Lionshare Farm, came back to win the $25,000 Grand Prix on Sunday. Doug Payne, who is better known as an event rider, was second aboard Courtney Young’s Botanja and Daniel picked up third with the Kenwood Syndicate’s Kenwood.

The $15,000 USHJA International Jumper Derby on Saturday was one of the most exciting classes of the weekend. Held on the Dietrich Derby Field, it was presented by Dietrich Insurance and sponsored by Mystery Stables and Brenda and Bill McKay. The International Hunter Derby is a hybrid between a hunter and jumper class. Recalling hunter shows from half a century ago, it features tall, natural fences and its two, independently scored rounds that reward horses for boldness and brilliance over the course.

Liza Boyd, based in Camden, SC, is one of the country’s top riders in the derby, having won countless trophies, as well as the 2013 and 2014 International Hunter Derby Championship aboard Brunello, a horse that is so famous he has his own fan club and even his own Breyer model. This year, Liza had a number of rides in the class, and came out the winner aboard Like I Said, an 8-year-old first year green mare owned by Pony Lane Farm. Liza was also third on Pony Lane Farm’s 6-year-old stallion Coronado. Havens Schatt, Liza’s closest competitor, was second on John Yozell’s Breeze.

The Aiken Spring Classic Finale week was held from April 27 – May 1. Penny Brennan, once again, won the $7,500 Welcome Stake on Friday, beating Aida Sanchez Long on Katie Barnette’s Catalyst and Christina Kelly riding Faith and Bill Stewart’s Zuleika. On Saturday, Daniel Geitner stepped in to win the $5,000 National Hunter Derby aboard Hilary Baylor’s Naddell, and also took second place on Janet Peterson’s Damocles. Christina Jason, a popular Aiken-based trainer, was third on Southland Stables’ End Game.

On Sunday, the final day, riders assembled to take stock of the course set for the $25,000 Carolina Company Grand Prix. Skies were threatening overhead, and there was a brief downpour between the course walk and the first round. The skies cleared, however, as the action started, and everyone jumped in the sunshine. Penny Brennan and Cord 11 won, with Daniel Geitner and Creativo a close second. Christina Kelly, riding Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom was third.

As ever, Rick and Cathy Cram, who own Progressive Show Jumping and put on the Aiken Spring Classic, created a show that catered to the exhibitor, with plenty of social activities for riders and spectators alike. These included brunches each Sunday in conjunction with the Grand Prix, exhibitors’ receptions, breakfasts and barbecues. On Sunday, April 24, the Crams dedicated their new viewing pavilion to Mary Ann Parmelee at the brunch before the Grand Prix. Mary Ann Parmelee was Rick Cram’s mother, and an important figure in the development of the horse show circuit in Aiken.

Aiken Charity Horse Show

After the Aiken Spring Classic Finale, the competitors packed up and moved everything a few miles across town to Bruce’s Field for the Aiken Charity Horse Shows I (May 4-8) and II (May 11-15.) There was a strong buzz about these shows, and competitors were coming from near and far to participate. One reason for this was that everyone wanted to try out the new arenas with their professional GGT Footing. Another was to honor Bruce Duchossois, who died in 2014. Bruce was immensely well known in the horse show world, both as an amateur competitor in the hunter divisions and as a tireless promoter and supporter of all equestrian sports. The show management limited the entries to 500 horses, and had no trouble filling all their stalls.

Throughout the show, there was an emphasis on the exhibitors’ experience. Riders and spectators alike gathered under the ringside pavilion every afternoon to watch the classes and enjoy refreshments that were set out at 4 p.m. Members of Bruce’s family, including his father, also Bruce, were on hand to give out trophies and to honor the younger Bruce’s memory. Bruce senior, who is in his 90s, came all the way from Illinois.

The first featured event of the inaugural week was Friday’s $25,000 Aiken Charity Hunter Classic presented by Cold Creek Nursery. The winner of this class was, appropriately enough, Havens Schatt, who used to be Bruce’s trainer and who came to Aiken specifically to honor to his memory. Havens rode Aristocrat, a gelding owned by Tracy Scheriff- Muser. In an emotional moment after her win, she was presented with a glass trophy box that contained one of Bruce’s trademark velvet helmets. Havens was also third in the class riding John Yozell’s Breeze, while Liza Towell Boyd was second (by half a point) riding Stella Styslinger’s O’Ryan.

Saturday featured the $25,000 Premier Grand Prix, “The Inaugural Cup” presented by the City of Aiken. The winner of this class was Clueless P, owned by Hester Equestrian and ridden by Lauren Hester. Lauren is based in Kentucky, and Clueless P is a 10-year- old Hanoverian mare that has Above: Daniel Geitner; Right: Havens Schatt. International Hunter Derby at Bruce’s Field competed successfully all over the country. Daniel Geitner and Creativo cashed the second place check, while Penny Brennan and Cord 11 were third. Other featured classes included Thursday’s $10,000 Future Hunter Stake (Tosh Hunter riding Betsee Parker’s Liberty Road) and the $5,000 Aiken Saddlery Welcome Stake (Christina Kelly aboard Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom.)

The Aiken Charity Horse Show II took place from May 11-15. On Saturday, May 14, members of Bruce’s family were on hand for grand opening ceremonies that included a ribbon cutting ceremony, a speech by Rick Osbon, who is the mayor of Aiken, and even recorded remarks from Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina.

The opening ceremony was followed by one of the two featured events of the second week, the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby. This was an especially competitive class with such entrants as Harold Chopping, Havens Schatt, Daniel Geitner, Jennifer Alfano and Christina Jason, among many others. But if you are in Aiken and it’s a hunter derby, the favorite always has to be Liza Boyd. Liza had two impressive horses for this class: O’Ryan and Like I Said, coming in off her win in the same class at the Aiken Spring Classic.

After the first round, true to form, Liza was sitting in first on Like I Said and second on O’Ryan. When she returned for O’Ryan’s second round, she rode boldly and made some errors that dropped her down to 11th place. Coming back with Like I Said, and ahead by a comfortable margin, she rode more conservatively, taking most of the high sides, but not cutting too many corners. The mare was letter perfect, earning the win and the Bruce R. Duchossois Cup, presented by Jack Wetzel. Liza only recently took over the ride on Like I Said, who made her debut in the hunter divisions in Florida this year under Kelly Farmer. An athletic mare with a pretty head and a scopey jump, Like I Said and Liza seem destined for great things.

Sunday, the final day of the show, featured the $25,000 Aiken Charity Horse Show Grand Prix presented by First Citizens Bank. The course, set by Scott Starnes, had a number of tight turns, along with some difficult distances. When the riders walked the course they knew it would be a test of handiness and scope, but few probably recognized just how difficult it would prove to be.

Christina Kelly went first on Andrea O’Brien’s Kingdom, a 17.3 hand Irish sporthorse that had just stepped up to the Grand Prix level two weeks earlier at the Aiken Spring Classic. Christina rode with precision and confidence to go clear – Kingdom, who has the power to jump cleanly from a long spot, wasn’t fazed by anything. Then Christina settled in to watch the other rounds while waiting for the jump-off.

But there wouldn’t be one. Horse after horse hit the fences, and rails clattered to the ground. Of the 17 horses that jumped, only Christina and Kingdom went clean to take home the blue. Erin McGuire riding her horse Kasarr had the fastest four-fault round, earning them second place honors. Lauren Hester and Clueless P came in third.

Everyone agreed that the Aiken Charity Horse shows were a resounding success, reflecting the hard work put in by the board of directors of the Aiken Horse Park and staff. The success was also due in great part to the positive attitudes of the exhibitors, who came to the show not just to ride and to jump, but to honor the memory and legacy of Bruce Duchossois. The show benefitted Equine Rescue of Aiken, the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County and Danny and Ron’s Rescue.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How do I get my high-headed hunter to be rounder?

Top trainer Jamie Mann shares tips on how to create a nice frame in the hunter ring.

By Jamie Mann

Q: I have a Quarter Horse/Arab/Paint who excels in the hunter ring over fences, but he isn’t impressive on the flat because he is high-headed. I try to make him rounder by applying pressure with my legs while squeezing and releasing the reins and also training with draw reins though nothing works. He is a really good mover, but his head always gets in the way.


A: Not all horses have the ideal conformation to allow them to travel naturally with the lower head carriage desired in the hunter ring. However, many horses whose conformation produces a high head carriage can be taught to flex and carry themselves rounder in the bridle. Both to appeal to the judge in your under-saddle classes and to progress with the rest of your horse’s education, he must learn to go on the bit. Even a horse who wasn’t taught this fundamental lesson early in his career can still learn it. And knowing how to teach horses this lesson is an essential skill for every rider.

When he is accepting this contact at the walk, repeat the same aids at the trot and then, eventually, the canter. Work through these steps slowly. Always close your legs first, asking him to move forward into the bridle, before closing your fingers on the reins. Remember, as all the great trainers say, the only thing that keeps a horse’s mouth soft is your leg.

The next step is to ask your horse to flex in his poll and jaw and come on the bit. There are two ways to do that. First, you can ask with a direct rein, along the lines of the squeezing and releasing you described in your question. Second, you can ask with an indirect rein by practicing lateral movements. The simplest of these is the shoulder-fore.

Start by going back to square one: getting your horse in front of your leg and finding the corners of his mouth. Spend a lot of time teaching him to accept steady contact between the bit and your hands. First, ask him to walk forward with plenty of impulsion. After that, add just enough leg pressure until he almost trots. Then stop him from trotting by taking a soft feel of both reins to very gently say “no.” This is the light contact you want to feel all the time. Having contact does not mean having a lot of contact, but it also means never having no contact. Even if it’s just half an ounce of pressure, your horse has to learn to accept this feel and never try to throw it away.

Teach your horse the shoulder-fore at the walk. Always start by asking him to go forward. Then use your inside leg to move his inside hind leg slightly to the outside. So, for example, if you’re tracking to the left, squeeze your left leg until his left hind leg moves over just enough to step between the tracks of his front legs. Meanwhile, maintain the proper rein length to allow a light contact on both reins with your hands 2 inches above the mane and 4 to 6 inches apart.

You may not get a reaction from your horse at first. That doesn’t mean you gave the wrong aids. He might need several repetitions to understand the concept. As soon as he does, give him plenty of praise and pats.

Lateral movement can easily destroy forward impulsion, so ask for only a few steps at a time, then immediately go forward again. Repeat: lateral, forward, lateral, forward. Try this in both directions. Reward him whenever he does it right.

Gradually, as your horse learns to move away from one of your legs into the opposite rein, he’ll begin to yield more in the bridle. Don’t try to rush the process by seesawing with your hands, moving the bit right and left in his mouth. This ruins the good contact you’re working so hard to establish. The movement in your hands—and the rocking motion of your horse’s nose—also detracts from the beautiful picture you’re trying to create for the judge. A light, steady contact will help you achieve your main goal in the under-saddle classes: to show off your horse’s movement, cadence and rhythm—as well as a pleasant head carriage—in all three gaits.

Jamie Mann and her mother bought her earliest mounts for around $500 each on the Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico. Primarily self-taught, she says, “I grew up reading Gordon Wright’s book, Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show. It was my bible.” At 17, she rode a 3-year-old appendix Quarter Horse in the Maclay Finals. She then worked at an A-circuit East Coast stable for 10 years. During that time, she co-trained the 1981 ASPCA Maclay champion, Lisa Castellucci, and competed Lisa’s legendary show hunter Touch the Sun (featured in our October 2015 issue). Also a successful grand prix jumper, Jamie won a World Cup qualifier in 1981 and was an alternate for the USET in 1982. She then started a training business, Atlantis Farm, with her mother in California and coached Richard Spooner to a win in the 1988 USET Show Jumping Talent Search Finals–West. Now based in Senoia, Georgia, Jamie is welcoming new clients.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Practical Horseman. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

EQUUS Consultants: Tendon healing

Should a swollen tendon sheath be treated? Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS magazine's medical editor, answers readers' questions.

Tendon Sheath Repeat Question: My daughter's horse has injured his tendon sheath during turnout twice in the last year. The veterinarian did an ultrasound each time and determined that there was no damage to the tendon--only that the sheath was swollen. The sheath is on the left hind leg at the front of the cannon bone. He has not been lame, although each time we have put him on stall rest and started hand walking him to bring him back. He also gets two Bute a day during the recovery and has been injected with cortisone during the second or third week following the injury to bring down the swelling. Is there anything else we can be doing to treat this or prevent it from happening?

Answer: The extensor tendons on the front of the hind and forelegs have a subtle role in the posture of the moving leg as it approaches the "landing" phase of each step. These tendons, however, play essentially no part in support. For this reason, injuries such as the one your daughter's horse has affect only the appearance of the leg, which may affect show use, but not soundness.

A lubricating sheath surrounds a tendon wherever it may bend or rub on constraining ligaments at or near a joint. Irritation causes fluid production, overfilling the sheath and stretching it. Once inflamed, a tendon sheath is more likely to refill after events such as slipping, hanging a leg in a vine or fence or other uncoordinated use of that leg. Treatment is rarely absolutely curative, but persistent filling can be controlled, more or less, by bandaging over the area and/or steroid injections into the sheath. Since your daughter's horse seems unaffected by these episodes I would urge you to do nothing unless he is compromised in his utility by filling in the sheath.
--Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, EQUUS Medical Editor

Have a question about your horse's health, care or traiing? Our experts offer solutions for a range of equine-management problems. Write to EQUUS Consultants, 656 Quince Orchard Rd. #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878; email EQletters@equinetwork.comm.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How to Ride Travers and Half Pass

By Janet Foy

4* dressage judge Janet Foy explains how to judge and ride these required movements.

The travers (haunches-in) is the first movement we teach a horse in which he bends in the direction of the line of travel. Learning travers is a prelude to teaching half pass, which requires quite a lot of lateral suppleness and cadence. These movements are the only two in dressage where the forehand is on the line of travel with the haunches displaced.

I was always taught that half pass was really travers on a diagonal line. In the past, travers was defined as a three-track movement, however, if you stand at C and watch a three-track travers on the diagonal, it looks like the haunches are badly trailing.

Within the past rule-change cycle, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport, and the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), our national organization, changed the definition. Now travers is to be ridden as a four-track movement at approximately a 35-degree angle. (Remember shoulder-in is ridden on three tracks with approximately a 30-degree angle.) To me, this makes much more sense as the horse’s body in travers (and consequently the half pass) should have more bend than it does in a shoulder-in.

Judging Travers and Half Pass

When you judge the travers, keep these points in mind:

l. Willingness. Is the horse willing to displace his haunches? To me the willingness is more important than a four-track angle with resistance and lack
of a quality trot.

2. Consistency of angle. Does the angle vary? At Second Level, it can happen. Perhaps it does not deserve an 8 or above, but again willingness and training going in the right way are important.

3. Rider position. Is the rider’s position making it impossible for the horse to succeed? If so, then I will lower the rider-effectiveness score in the Collective Marks.

When you judge the half pass, keep in mind these questions:

l. Preparation. Does the rider clearly prepare and start with the shoulders leading? Or do they come down centerline and start going sideways as soon as the front legs hit centerline? Haunches leading can rarely score more than 6.

2. Accuracy. Does the rider start and end at the correct location? Remember judges, ending early does not give the rider extra credit. The point is that the rider has control of the lateral movement as well as the forward impulsion and cadence.

3. Rider position. Is the riding correctly influencing the horse or not? We judges now have a score for that.

4. Cadence and submission to the bend are of utmost importance. The well-executed half pass has lateral reach and elevation of the shoulders as well as a correct cadence and uphill balance.

Riding the Movements

Travers. The most common mistake I see is a rider who does not keep the horse’s forehand moving straight down the track. Riders often turn the horse’s shoulders toward the rail, struggling to displace the hindquarters. They also twist their upper bodies, sitting to the outside in an attempt to create more displacement of the haunches with the outside leg.

I feel it is best to teach this exercise in walk. Think about coming straight out of the corner first. Keep the forehand walking straight down the track (the front legs do not cross) with a slight bend in the neck to the inside. Then shift your weight to the inside and move your outside leg slightly behind the girth.

Be aware of and avoid moving your hips to the outside. Don’t put your outside leg too far back either. The horse should be quite sensitive to the outside leg and should move the hindquarters quickly to the inside. If you do not have this reaction, you must go back and get the horse more sensitive to your outside leg aid. Without it, he will never succeed in travers or half pass.

Start with only a few strides as it is quite difficult for the horse to stay forward and supple. When he slows down too much or gets a bit stiff, straighten or walk a 10-meter circle and ask for a few more strides. Reinforce your inside leg as the “go forward” leg. Try not to use both legs actively at the same time. Think about which leg your horse needs to react to more quickly.

Think of this as a stretching exercise, much as you would do if you wanted to touch your toes. You would not succeed the first day. However, you would need to stretch several times a day, every day to succeed. It is always a good idea to go back to the more simple the head-to-the-wall leg-yield exercise, if you have difficulty getting the haunches to react enough.

Remember, in the finished product, your horse’s shoulders and your shoulders are perpendicular to the long side and your outside hip is slightly back with weight in the direction of the bend. A correct rider position will create a lot of stretch through the outside of your body, too.

The finished movement will have the rider using the outside leg to displace the haunches and then the inside leg to ride the horse forward and create cadence. Don’t drive the horse with your outside leg for the entire movement. This will cause many problems in the half pass.

Half pass. The half pass should be moving forward and sideways with the rider always in control of the line of travel. Practice riding different angles so you can test the horse and see if you can go more sideways or if you can go on a longer angle and more forward. Do not let the horse take control because he will learn to fall sideways, usually with the haunches leading, and you will never develop cadence.

For the rider’s position, half pass is a bit easier, and the shoulders and hips will sit in the same position. For me, the most simple explanation about the rider’s position is to think about starting in a shoulder-in (putting the horse’s forehand on the line of travel or pointing the shoulders to the letter where you want to arrive) and then putting your weight to the inside and bringing the horse over with your weight and the outside leg. Always remember the shoulders must lead in the finished product.

A good exercise to test your horse is to start straight on the diagonal line. Then ride a few strides of a three-track travers. Over X, ride a four-track travers. Go back to three tracks and then straight before the corner. I don’t even mind in this exercise if you push the haunches ahead a few strides just to test the reaction to your outside leg. Just remember that in the final product you want to have control of the haunches and the angle in order to produce more cadence.

Personally, I am not a big fan of working a lot of travers on the long side. I feel it can put the horse onto his shoulders quite easily. I prefer to use the half pass or the travers on the circle to make my point. Also remember that the goal is increased lateral suppleness and reach through the shoulders, and therefore, more cadence and expression in trot and canter. If the rider pushes the haunches ahead in the half pass, the result will be the loss of cadence and the benefit of the movement will be lost.

Janet Foy is an FEI 4* and USEF “S” dressage judge and an “R” sport horse breed judge. A member of the USEF international High Performance Dressage Committee, she also teaches judges’ training programs nationwide. Author of the book Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse, she is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Dressage Today. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Practical Horseman | Horse Boots 101

Lightweight, cooling qualities and protective powers dominate today’s horse-boot market.

By Kim F. Miller

Is your hunter regularly overreaching with his hind legs and clipping his front heels? Do your dressage horse’s hooves swing inward—“dishing”—while he’s trotting? Do your pony’s legs interfere with each other?

“If your horse regularly beats up the inside of his pastern and/or fetlock, he needs to wear boots,” states Richard Markell, DVM, who specializes in treating dressage and show-jumping sporthorses at Ranch & Coast Equine Practice in California. “But first, you really need to look at potential lameness issues.” Talk to your veterinarian and farrier to determine whether your horse’s gait irregularities are the result of a soundness problem that is treatable.

From there, you need to consider the type of work your horse is doing and the issues he has while doing it. Our story will help you determine what type of boots will work best for your horse depending on his job.


A boot’s primary purpose is protecting a horse’s lower leg or hoof from impact— either self-inflicted or sustained when a horse knocks down a rail while jumping or while he is covering rough terrain on a trail or cross-country course. Increased protective capabilities are a common denominator in today’s horse-boot market. These include shock-absorbing foams and different strike plates, which cover the inside of the tendon. “We are seeing a lot more technology in boots,” says Maria Trout, SmartPak’s horse-boot buyer.

This protection comes in models that are lighter than ever and are designed to keep a horse’s legs as cool as possible with breathable materials and features such as perforated neoprene and airflow grids. And while the boots don’t actively cool a horse’s legs, anything that can be done to minimize heat buildup in legs and tendons is important. “Cooling the leg down is beneficial as a means of reducing inflammation,” says Dr. Markell.

In addition, increasingly popular hightech synthetics often have the advantage of being easy to care for and clean. Many feature antibacterial properties so they can be used on different horses without fear of spreading germs. Boots made of leather and many of their new plastic-based counterparts, however, are capable of molding to each horse’s leg, helpful for proper fit and to eliminate pressure points. The majority of the high-performance horses Dr. Markell treats have their own boots and don’t share them, largely for that reason.

Claims that boots provide tendon support should be viewed skeptically, Dr. Markell says. With the exception of a difficult-to-apply rundown bandage used on racehorses and an in-development Tendon Buddy boot, both designed to prevent overextension of the fetlock joint, “there is no such thing as a ‘support boot’ available on the market today,” he says.


Open-Front Boots: These offer front-leg protection along the side and back of the cannon bone but are open in the front. They are worn mostly by jumpers to increase their sensitivity to touching the rails. Leather lined with sheepskin are traditional materials, but a variety of flexible and impact- resistant synthetic materials now have a big share of the market.

Splint Boots: Protection is focused on the inside of the cannon bone and fetlock joint. These boots, worn on the front legs, sometimes have more substantial inner tendon protection, like reinforced strike plates, than is found in styles that wrap around the horse’s entire cannon bone. For that reason, they’re a good choice if your horse has a regular interference problem.

Galloping, Brushing, Dressage Sport, All-Purpose Boots: Each discipline has its own names and variations for this form of general protection that encircles the entire cannon bone, from the inside of the fetlock joint to just below the knee or hock. They are often used as an alternative to polo wraps and can be worn on either just the front legs or all four legs. The amount of padding, lining and impact protection varies and closure systems range from simple hook-and-loop fasteners to those that easily click into place. Linings range from fleece and sheepskin to neoprene and shock-absorbing gels.

Hind-Leg Boots: Ankle boots cover just the fetlock area and are often paired with open-front boots and worn in the jumper ring. Tall hind boots protect more of the cannon bone and are used most frequently while schooling dressage horses and on eventers.

Bell Boots: These boots encircle the hoof and protect the heel from overreaching and interference. A pull-on style is considered the most secure, although they can be tough to get on and off. Open bell boots are easier to put on thanks to hook-and-loop fasteners or buckled closures, but there is the downside that these can get clogged with dirt and can be more prone to wear and tear. Features often include fleece-lined cuffs that prevent rubbing at the heel and coronary band and a variety of cuff heights. A no-turn style is fastened high above the coronary band, protecting some of the pastern, and stays in place.

Polo Wraps: These generally provide substantially less protection than boots, and they can be tricky to put on properly. They’re a good alternative when your horse has a skin lesion or boot rub because a wrap will keep a wound bandage in place better than a boot.

Custom Boots: These can be made to protect unusual leg issues. For example, splint-bone fractures often heal with a large, extremely sensitive protuberance.


Some manufacturers have size guides on their websites or product labels. For both leg and hoof boots, sizes are estimated based on a horse’s height, weight and the circumference of his limbs. In a leg boot, small is often suitable for a sizable pony or an Arabian weighing under 1,000 pounds. Medium usually fits Quarter Horses, Morgans and similar-size breeds, while a 16-hand Thoroughbred of average bone typically needs a large. Warmbloods and heavier-boned Thoroughbreds likely need an extra-large. Some horses need a larger-size boot on their hind legs than in front.

Height-wise, the boot needs to cover the length of the cannon bone and inner fetlock without impeding the movement of the horse’s knee or hock.


With 26 years practicing almost exclusively on internationally competitive jumping and dressage horses, Dr. Markell takes boot fit seriously. “I’ll remove a boot to look at the horse’s leg, but I’ll give it back to the groom to be put back,” he says. “Every horse’s boot fits a little differently.”

The general rule is that boots should fit snug with enough room to press a finger between the horse’s leg and the boot. Too tight and you’ll pinch a tendon or restrict the blood flow that is essential during exercise. Too loose and dirt or footing material can sneak inside the boot and become an irritant. Or worse, the boot slips off.

Many boots are marked as a right- or left-leg boot, and fasteners always close on the outside of the leg.

Whatever the fastening device, the key is to distribute the pressure evenly. Dr. Markell frequently sees professional grooms fastening a middle strap first, then adjusting top and bottom straps to match its pressure. Boots should be removed as quickly as possible after exercise to avoid heat buildup, and that’s a good time to check for abnormal hair patterns or other signs of too much or uneven pressure.

Today’s boots can protect horses from many occupational hazards. By assessing your horse’s needs, you can make an informed decision on what boot works best to protect his legs. On the following pages are 15 new boots featuring the latest design trends.

- Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from Practical Horseman.This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Practical Horseman. It is reprinted here by permission.