Monday, December 4, 2017

Education vs. Strength

Use degrees of pressure to get your horse to respond to light aids instead of wearing yourself out with nagging leg and rein aids.

Many riders don’t differentiate between using the leg and using the spur. To them, the two go hand in hand. Soon the horse becomes dead to the nagging leg–spur combination and stops responding.
Are you as strong as your horse? Of course not. Then why do some riders use so much leg until they are completely worn out yet their horses are still not going forward? They use their spurs inadvertently every time they use their legs, sometimes going so far as to make spur marks on their horses.

This is unfortunately quite common. Many riders don’t differentiate between using the leg and using the spur—to them, the two go hand in hand. Soon the horse becomes dead to the nagging leg-spur combination and the result is a lack of response and a spur mark that sometimes can actually draw blood. A bloody spur mark is cause for elimination in a dressage show.

A well-trained horse will move away from the leg, either forward or laterally, whichever is asked for, without exhausting the rider. If your horse will move away only from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leg or the equivalent, then he needs to be trained.

My friend and mentor George Morris is demonstrating the result of the take and give of the hand in elastic, small intervals and the educated use of the leg to encourage the horse’s hind legs to step: a lighter horse and self-carriage.

An Educated Leg

I am in favor of using a spur if applied in an educated way, not indiscriminately. I have never left a spur mark on a horse and would be upset if I did. Instead, I ask the horse to move forward from my leg with light, active pressure. The lower leg, below the knee, is to what I am referring. If the horse responds by going forward, I ease my leg pressure and let him travel forward by himself.

If he doesn’t respond, I use more active leg pressure and add a cluck. The next step, if needed, is a quick prick with a spur as a backup. Still no response? I add a stick behind my leg in conjunction with the leg and the cluck so the horse associates the leg with the cluck, spur and stick as he goes forward. He then should stay in front of the leg with minimal pressure and, if needed, little reminders. I like to teach this supportive leg as opposed to the constant nagging or kicking leg. The horse must be trained to accept these aids.

The end result is balance with the horse in front of the rider’s leg.

I once heard trainer Frank Madden say that he works on the “asking, telling, making” premise. I like that progression and use the terminology often. In this case it is leg, cluck and spur and then the stick in that order. Asking is done with the leg and then adding a cluck. Telling is with the spur, and making happens with the stick. These aids are used consecutively—if one doesn’t work then you go to the next one.

I came across an example of a rider using the wrong leg or misusing the leg recently. I was teaching a beginner and she was unable to keep her horse cantering. He kept breaking to the trot. She squeezed with every bit of strength she had but couldn’t keep the horse going. She had been misusing the leg aid—making it stronger and stronger without getting a response until he eventually tuned her out.

I hopped on and though this rider was many times stronger, I had absolutely no difficulty maintaining the canter. How did I do it? I used my leg lightly yet actively (no spurs) with degrees of pressure while maintaining contact with my leg. I also kept my hands soft and my balance consistently in the middle of the horse. It is more feel than strength.

An Educated Hand

The same goes if your horse pulls you or lays on your hands for support and you continually take hold of his mouth. This numbs his mouth and inevitably, he’ll lean on your hand even more. Or if he’s looking for support and you oblige him, he will expect you to hold him up instead of carrying himself. Working on the knowledge that it takes two to pull, I don’t have to tell you who will win this tug of war.

In the case of pulling, go back to the asking, telling, making method.

Asking translates into closing your hand, telling involves using the hinge in your arm and bringing the closed hand back toward your waist. Making is adding your body weight by bringing the shoulder behind the vertical.

Once your horse responds to any of these steps, you must give or release with your hand, which will reward him for doing the correct thing and encourage him to give the same response the next time.

The Result: Self-Carriage

The result of the take and give of the hand in elastic, small intervals and the educated use of the leg to encourage the horse’s hind legs to step under is a lighter horse and self-carriage. Again, employing degrees of pressure instead of nagging, dull aids will result in a more responsive horse.

Upward and downward transitions are perfect exercises for reminding the horse to respond to legs to go forward and hands to come back. Asking the horse to back up is an additional reminder to respond to hands. This is not to be done in a punishing way but in a nice rhythm in a straight line for about four steps, followed immediately by moving forward into a working walk. Patterns in all of your schooling, such as circles and serpentines, not only keep the work interesting for your horse but they help balance and soften him, encouraging self-carriage.

All of these drills must be trained and practiced with educated hands and legs—not brute strength—and never with temper. The result will be a more highly trained and responsive horse who is eager to please and easier to ride.

Trainer, judge, clinician and author Holly Hugo-Vidal is based in Milton, Georgia, at her farm, Pacific Blue. Growing up in New York, she trained with horseman George Morris, who instilled in her a belief in solid basics and a demand for excellence. With her former husband, Victor Hugo-Vidal, she ran the successful show barn Cedar Lodge Farm in Stamford, Connecticut, learning from Victor’s ability to help anyone with a desire to accomplish his or her goals. Her next mentor was show jumper Rodney Jenkins, who provided her with lessons in reading horses and creating in them a desire to please. She is the author of the book Build Confidence Over Fences! To purchase it, go to www.EquineNetworkStore.com.

This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Practical Horseman. Re-published here by permission.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuning in to Soothe Stressed-Out Horses

Studies have shown that music can help reduce anxiety-related behaviors in horses.
Sushil Dulai Wenholz


Equine-behavior researchers have found that playing classical music can help reduce a horse's stress.

The next time your horse shows signs of anxiety, you may want to turn on some Beethoven. At least that's the implication of a study conducted at the French National Stud at Haras Du Pin.

As much as we love our horses, we often put them in situations that simply aren't natural and that can cause them anxiety from trailering to taking them out of a herd setting, from farrier work to exposing them to unexpected stimuli. And tension can lead not only to dangerous behaviors but also to chronic stress, which itself can create health and behavior problems.

Claire Neveaux, of equine-behavior consulting firm Ethonova, teamed with researchers from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Caen to see if they could identify a simple way to reduce these types of stresses.

Neveaux knew that classical music had proven to create relaxation in other species. And in horses, it had already been shown to regulate heart rate and reduce anxiety-related behaviors during long-term stressful situations. She and the team wondered if it might work for acute (sudden, relatively short-term) stress conditions as well.

The researchers selected 48 horses and separated them into two test groups. One group was trailered for about 21 minutes, while the other underwent farrier work. Each horse was exposed to the stressor under three conditions: with music played through specially designed in-ear headphones, with earplugs and with neither (the control group). During the music test, researchers played Alan Silvestri's score from the movie "Forrest Gump."

The team found that classical music decreased several stress indicators during transport, but had no significant affect during farrier work. (The researchers believe that transport is generally more stressful than farrier work.) The music also appeared to speed heart-rate recovery after both situations.

In short, says Neveaux, the study confirmed that playing classical music can be a simple way to reduce a horse's stress and contribute to his overall welfare.



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tips on Choosing a Riding Instructor with Courtney King-Dye

How to find the best fit
Courtney King-Dye

There's a big difference between choosing a good instructor for you and a good trainer for your horse. If your horse needs a trainer then, of course, you'll want to choose the best rider, but if you want someone to teach you, I suggest evaluating other things.

Ask yourself why you are riding, and choose the instructor who will help you toward that goal. Not everyone wants to go to the Olympics. You may just want to learn the movements and enjoy your horse, and that is absolutely fine. Some instructors happily accommodate this goal, but some (like me) cannot tear themselves away from perfecting the basics before moving on. A good instructor should be able to explain things in a clear, comprehensible way that allows you to progress toward whatever goal you may have.

Choose someone who suits your needs. When I was competing a lot, I knew I couldn't give people a lot of attention and was surprised at how many who despite telling me they wanted a great deal and me telling them I couldn't supply it still wanted to come. I had to turn people down because I knew I couldn't make them happy. Try to make this decision on your own.

Be sure to choose someone you want to be like, both in riding position and in attitude. This is not just to ensure that they teach you the correct things. Even if you don't do it purposely, your brain is telling your muscles to mimic what it sees. The attitude toward the horse is equally as transferable through the eyes. You want to see balance between correction and reward. At the end of a ride, you want to see both the horse and the instructor motivated for the next ride even if they had trouble. So I recommend only watching riders you want to emulate.

It's also important to know how you learn. Some people learn from "yellers," while others get tied up and can't react when someone yells at them. Some people learn from gentle coaxing; others need a kick in the butt. Some instructors are methodological explainers, and there are some who don't know the "why," they just know what to do. There are very few trainers who can adjust their method, so choose someone with a teaching style you can learn from. And remember not to train with someone long-term just because a friend said that person is great. Go and watch a couple of lessons before you decide.

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony's Mythilus and at two World Cup Finals riding Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist (ckddressage.com).




Friday, November 17, 2017

EQUUS Consultants: Proud Flesh

How to prevent proud flesh.

Question:

What is the best way to prevent proud flesh from forming in wounds below the knee? I've been told by some people not to use water on wounds below the knee, but others tell me it is the best thing. Also, my gelding has been licking a wound on my filly. Do you think that might promote proud flesh?

Answer:

Proud flesh is the excessive growth of granulation tissue within a wound that inhibits closure of the skin. In severe cases, proud flesh can protrude well beyond the original wound and become a target of parasites and infection.

Proud flesh is a common complication of wounds at or below the knee and hock, but most heal without incident if they are handled properly at the beginning. This means thoroughly cleaning the wound, taking care to remove irritants such as metal particles, rope fibers and dead tissue (especially bone, tendon or ligament). Beyond that, you can reduce the chances that proud flesh will develop by keeping the wound clean and protecting it from

  • rubbing, licking, biting and contact with pasture vegetation, sand or gravel;
  • disturbance caused by motion that opens and closes the gap in the skin;
  • flies and other creatures that will attempt to feed on or infect the site.Clean water will not cause or worsen proud flesh. In fact, hosing may be the best way to remove surface debris and reduce local wound swelling. Bandaging helps reduce adverse influences but does not speed the healing process or prevent the formation of proud flesh. The best way to prevent proud flesh is to ensure that all of the above criteria are met and if you do notice it forming, call your veterinarian right away to assess the situation before it gets a half-inch or more above the wound edges.If another horse is attracted to a wound as you describe, it usually indicates the presence of aromatic exudate produced in response to a foreign body, dead tissue or parasites. The licking itself is not a big problem, but the reason behind it most certainly is. In most cases, licking indicates the presence of the "summer sore" organism, Cutaneous Habronemiasis. Flies deposit these worm larvae in wounds on the head and lower extremities. They prevent healing, causing the wound to become round in shape and bulge slightly above the surrounding skin. I would suggest having your veterinarian take a look at your filly's wound and then keeping her in a stall or corral until it has healed.
  • Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM, is the EQUUS Medical EditorThis article first appeared in EQUUS, issue 289.




Monday, November 13, 2017

Jim Wofford's Modern Gymnastics: Gymnastic 1

This first gymnastic from Jim Wofford's book introduces your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner.

Gymnastic 1 is designed to introduce your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner. Dressage horses can also benefit from this first gymnastic, because no jumping is involved. Your emphasis here should be on the rhythm of your horse's trot, and the calmness and regularity of his step as he negotiates the cavalletti. Your horse should step over the ground poles with relaxed back muscles, and his head and neck should lower slightly, in order for him to measure his step to the next pole.

The four exercises that comprise Gymnastic 1 will fit comfortably in a 75 x 150-foot (22.8 m x 45.7 m) arena.

After you have warmed your horse up at the walk, trot and canter, then trot into the exercise marked A in the diagram. Cavalletti set at this distance will produce a working trot for most horses. These exercises are all designed for horses with some jumping experience. If your horse is extremely green, he probably should not be attempting this exercise yet. However, if he is slightly inexperienced or is an experienced jumper but has not done much work over cavalletti, you can pull the first and third poles in towards the centerline of the arena. This will produce a 9-foot (2.7 m) distance between two poles. Horses find this exercise easier and will soon become stable and regular at the trot, which is always your goal. You can then put the four poles together as shown in the diagram and work in both directions over four of them on the ground. After you have established your horse's balance and rhythm here, you can proceed to the curved poles in Exercise B.

At the posting trot, proceed on a circle in either direction though B. Keep your horse's direction adjusted so that the length of his step on the curve feels the same as it did over A.

Once you and your horse have become adept at this, you can then start to enter, for example, closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the poles where the distance is shorter, and then let your horse angle away from the center of the circle. This will cause him to go from a working trot to a medium trot or possibly, if your angle becomes too great, even take a couple of steps of extended trot. If your horse takes two steps between the poles or breaks into a canter, you have probably asked too much flexibility from him. Aim closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the curve, and enter B again at the posting trot.

Alternatively, you can enter from the outside of B, where the rails are farther apart. This will cause your horse to take quite a large step at first. Guide your horse toward the 3-foot (90 cm) distance between the last two poles. This will bring your horse back to a working, or even a slightly collected, trot. Having worked in both directions over B, including being able to angle both ways, you can then proceed to Exercise C.

The poles positioned at C will produce the sensation of an extended trot and you may find that your horse cannot reach enough in his fourth step to get out over the last pole without "chipping in" an additional step. Simply remove the last pole and continue. You will find that, after a couple of days' work over cavalletti, your horse gets the message and you can replace the fourth pole. You should work in both directions over the 5-foot (1.5 m) poles at C until your horse can maintain his regularity and length of step.

After a short break, proceed to Exercise D.

These four rails on the ground, set at 4 feet (1.2 m) apart, will produce a collected trot. Although this exercise can be ridden either posting or sitting, you should definitely use a rising trot until your horse becomes adjusted to them. Using rising, rather than sitting, trot encourages your horse to lift his back while he elevates his step. In addition, it will be less complicated and will allow you to work on his cadence, rather than worrying about your position. Again, work both ways through D until your horse is relaxed and steady in his balance and rhythm. He should be able to deal with the rails without any interruption in the flow of his movement, changing only the length of his step to adapt to the various distances that you have put in his path.

After another break, you can now link these four elements together in order to produce various transitions that will be of great benefit in teaching your horse to be flexible. For example, enter A on the right hand in a working trot, where the rails are 4-foot-six (1.35m) apart. As you leave A, turn right in such a fashion that you produce an arc through B that causes your horse to change the length of his step from working to collected trot. In other words, start exercise B from the outside in. This will put your horse into a slightly collected frame. Proceed directly then to C, which will produce an extended trot. After the extended trot at C, turn right and enter the shorter cavalletti at D.

If your horse has difficulty with this, you can do A, B and C as I have described and then, in a posting trot, circle (or repeat a circle until your horse has settled down to a working trot), turn and enter D, thus producing a collected trot. If you have successfully done this, walk, reward your horse and let him relax and consider his effort while you plan your next series of repetitions through these exercises. When you resume the posting trot, work in both directions and vary the relationship between the exercises to improve and confirm your horse's flexibility.

Take a moment to remind yourself of your horse's bad habits. If he tends to rush at the trot, he will not need too many applications of C. He should come from outside in rather from inside out at B, as this will cause him to continually rebalance and collect his step rather than rushing forward. If, on the other hand, your horse is choppy-strided or lazy, a bit more emphasis on and a few more repetitions at B, going from inside out, will teach him to lengthen his step. The total amount of exercise over these rails in any one period should not exceed 45 minutes, including the periods of rest between exercises.





Thursday, November 9, 2017

Find Your Focus in the Dressage Show Ring

USDF gold medalist Kim Herslow explains dressage riding as a mental sport.

Credit: © juiceteam2013 - Fotolia Preparing yourself mentally means staying completely focused on the movie of your perfect test that is playing in your mind. The trick is to avoid letting anything cause the pause button to go on, even when you make a mistake.

Dressage riding is a mental sport. I wish I had known then that preparing oneself mentally helps make your performance more successful in the show ring.

Preparing yourself mentally means staying completely focused on the movie of your perfect test that is playing over and over in your mind. The trick is to avoid letting anything cause the pause or stop button to go on, even when you realize you have made a mistake or executed a few subpar strides. Many amateurs make the mistake of focusing only on riding all the movements, instead of seamlessly blending them together with the steps between the movements, such as setting up a clear transition between extended and collected trot, for which you are scored.

When you focus on your perfect test mental movie, you are always riding as though a magnet is drawing you forward. Always be four seconds ahead of what’s coming up. It makes it easier to block out external distractions, which every dressage rider faces sooner or later—the horse suddenly leaning, an open, scary-looking umbrella, a noise, another horse walking by. Adjust to the situation by having a plan in your head of how to respond to such challenges, like a tool you pull out from your toolbox when a screw becomes loose. If you know your horse well, you know that he will likely cut the next corner. So be prepared before the corner, setting your horse up for the corner to prevent the situation from happening. If you still feel your horse is about to cut the corner and is leaning in, simply adjust him. For instance, brace your back, half halt with your reins and ask him to move off your inside leg.

Include in your plan the possibility that your horse might spook, yet don’t dwell on it. Focus on your movie! If your horse spooks, simply ask him to look away from the ghost and move him toward the spooky object with your inside leg, as you would when increasing the size of a circle, while remaining focused on your mental movie. Then look ahead to the next steps without dwelling on what just happened or how many points you might have lost or how many mistakes you have made.

It is also important to breathe deeply and deliberately throughout your test. Deep breathing prevents tension from creeping into your body and helps you to focus on your mental movie. It also prevents you from getting anxious, nervous or overriding your horse, which often happens when the rider is tense. When your horse spooks, loses his balance or makes some sort of mistake, adjust him while keeping up the deep breathing. You have to be the rock in the ring for him, and a consistent, reliable one at that. If you feed off of your horse’s tension, the tension in both of you will triple. Tension, by the way, makes you top-heavy and stiff, preventing you from feeling your horse, whereas staying relaxed helps you have a stable yet deep seat and keep an elastic connection to the bit.

Dressage riding is a cerebral sport, and you have to be in a good place mentally to be effective and in harmony with your horse, especially in the show ring. Visualizing and feeling your perfect ride while keeping your breathing deep will help you achieve better results.


Kim Herslow is a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. She has won many regional and national awards including a team gold medal at the 2014 Wellington CDIO3* Nations Cup and the 2013 Dutta Corp/USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship. A graduate of Delaware Valley College with a degree in equine science, she trains with noted professionals, including Lars Petersen, Robert Dover, Guenter Seidel, Debbie McDonald, Scott Hassler and Anne Gribbons, and operates Upper Creek Farm, a training facility in Stockton, New Jersey.




Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Blowing Up" a Girthing Myth

Horses do not hold their breath to avoid girth tightening, but it is still important to take steps to ensure your tack is secure.

You were probably told, in your earliest riding lessons, that a savvy school horse might hold his breath to expand his chest and make it difficult to tighten the girth---and that's why it's important to recheck your cinch before mounting.

It's a good idea to check the security of your girth midway through a lesson or ride
While that advice is good, the reasoning behind it is not quite right. For one thing, a horse isn't likely to voluntarily hold his breath. But even if he did, the first 10 ribs, which lie directly under the saddle, are relatively immobile, which makes it nearly impossible for a horse to expand the diameter of his girth area through lung power alone.

That's not to say that some horses don't "puff up" while they are being saddled. But what is happening is that the horse is tensing his abdominal muscles, an action that expands the width of the chest slightly, allowing the cinch to loosen when he relaxes. The tension may come because the horse is anticipating an unpleasant experience or because the act of tightening the girth causes discomfort, but it's more likely just a natural response to the feeling of having something wrapped around his barrel.

The key to "deflating" a horse's belly is relaxation. First, double-check your tack fit to make sure you are not causing him discomfort when you saddle up. You might need to switch to a different type of girth, such as one lined with fleece.

When you go to tack up, first place the saddle on your horse's back and attach the cinch loosely, so it is secure but not tight, then finish grooming him or picking his hooves. Before you mount, tighten the girth a bit more and walk him around until he relaxes, then check it again. Remember that your weight will push the saddle down on his back, so you may need to tighten the cinch one final time after you mount.



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Harnessing the Power of DMSO

Is DMSO a miracle drug or dangerous toxin? Here's everything you need to know about using the power of DMSO safely and effectively.

If you spend much time around horses, sooner or later you'll encounter dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). After all, this pungent, syrupy liquid is used to treat a variety of equine health problems ranging from orthopedic inflammation to neurological injury.

Yet DMSO's route to acceptance in equine veterinary care has been far more circuitous than that of most therapeutic substances. For starters, it was developed not in a pharmaceutical laboratory but from the industrial wastes of paper manufacturing. Initially, it was considered a potential miracle drug: "My first experiences with DMSO were in the 1960s," says Barney Fleming, DVM, of Custer, South Dakota. "At that time it was considered something magic and everyone wanted to stick their finger in it." But within a few years, the use of DMSO ceased entirely, in the wake of safety concerns. In the decades since, especially after it was approved for use in horses in 1970, DMSO has gradually gained renewed acceptance.

"DMSO is not just another medicine; we're looking at a whole new therapeutic principle," says Stanley W. Jacob, MD, of the Oregon Health and Science University medical school, who was the first in the United States to investigate the medical potential of DMSO. "A medicine treats a particular disease. A therapeutic principle is a new method for treating diseases in general."

In other words, DMSO doesn't just have specific effects on the body; its actions can also help other treatments work better. "DMSO is an economical therapy, and many people who have used it over the years swear by it and feel that it is a great help for many medical conditions," says Fleming.

However, DMSO is a powerful agent that must be used with care. "DMSO is a relatively safe product when properly applied, but it can be harmful if misused," says David McCarroll, DVM, DACVIM, of Interstate Equine Services in Goldsby, Oklahoma. "The best thing to do is use it under the direction of your veterinarian."

Solvent to solutions
DMSO's remarkable versatility as a therapeutic agent comes from its molecular structure, which allows it to interact with water in unusual ways. "DMSO is literally water's alter ego," said Jacob in a lecture to the American College for Advancement in Medicine in 1980. Because DMSO and water molecules are similar in shape, size and polarity, they share three important properties:


  • DMSO and water blend together extremely well, at all concentrations. "The DMSO-water bond is 1.3 times stronger than the water-water bond," said Jacob, in his 1980 lecture.
  • Water has two and DMSO has six hydrogen atoms that act like magnets to dissolve and "hold onto" large quantities of complex organic molecules without binding with them or changing their structures.
  • In the body, DMSO can pass through cell membranes as readily as water does without damaging the tissues, and it can replace water molecules within many bodily fluids. And, because DMSO so readily dissolves other molecules, it can also carry them through the cell membranes with it. "DMSO alters cell membrane permeability," says Jacob. "It moves through membranes and substitutes for water so that it pulls substances through cells that ordinarily would not move through them. This is its basic mechanism of action."


An indication of this action lies in that distinct taste DMSO causes in your mouth after it touches your skin: "When applied topically or by IV, DMSO goes into the blood quickly and is excreted through the lungs, giving the breath a garlic or burnt-almond smell," says McCarroll. "People need to be aware of this when they use it, so they won't be surprised."

These properties, along with a few others, account for the ways DMSO is currently used in veterinary medicine.

Anti-inflammatory action
In horses, DMSO is applied as a topical gel or administered in liquid form intravenously or through a nasogastric tube. It is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) because it has antioxidant properties that can interrupt the inflammatory process. DMSO binds readily with hydroxide (OH) and other "free radicals," which are oxygen compounds that can damage or destroy healthy cells. Free radicals are often a byproduct of inflammation, and as they build up, they can stimulate more swelling and inflammation, which produces even more free radicals. Studies have shown that DMSO is a powerful free radical scavenger, and can slow or halt the destructive cascade of inflammatory damage to healthy tissue.

DMSO gel is sometimes applied topically to reduce swelling and inflammation associated with strained muscles and soft tissue injuries. Because the chemical is hygroscopic---meaning it attracts and binds to water molecules---it draws excess fluids out of tissues. "It makes a great sweat for swollen legs because it reduces edema," says Fleming, who frequently uses DMSO in his work with endurance horses. Liquid DMSO injections may also be used to treat bowed tendons and other injuries of dense tissues that are difficult to reach with other drugs.

In addition, DMSO is also often administered orally or intravenously in the early stages of laminitis to arrest inflammation in the soft tissues of the hooves. "The toxic effects that are taking place in the feet of the horse can be relieved considerably by administering a 10 percent solution of DMSO, adding it to the IV fluids," says Fleming. "It enhances the elimination of the toxins and reduces the damaging changes taking place in the foot."

Finally, DMSO is sometimes prescribed to treat brain or spinal inflammation associated with trauma, oxygen deprivation or diseases such as West Nile encephalitis or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). "DMSO does two things; it reduces inflammation, and since it is hydrophilic it also draws moisture from the tissues, reducing edema and swelling in the meninges or spinal cord, or any other tissues," says Marlin C. Baker, DVM, of Alpha Equine Breeding Center in Granbury, Texas.

What more can DMSO do
DMSO also has wide-ranging applications that go beyond the control of inflammation:

Enhancement of drug action. When DMSO penetrates the skin and other membranes, it can readily carry many types of complex molecules with it---and that capability is often harnessed to help carry other drugs deeper into the targeted tissues. "For treating sore muscles, we just add DMSO to dexamethasone or prednisolone or any other drug we want to get inside the tissues as an anti-inflammatory," says Fleming. "When you rub those drugs over the skin they only work topically, but if you add DMSO to them, they go into the tissues and work better."

DMSO can also carry other drugs into tissues that are otherwise difficult to penetrate. For example, some skin infections, such as ringworm, rainrot or scratches can be hard to treat because the infective organisms can be deep under the skin or crusty scurf. DMSO can help other antifungal or antibacterial drugs reach their targets more effectively.

Not all drugs work well with DMSO, depending on their molecular weight, shape and electrochemistry. And DMSO will not carry bacteria or viruses across cell membranes because they are too large.

Pain relief. Research shows that DMSO slows or blocks conduction of impulses along nerve cells, which in effect reduces pain from musculoskeletal injuries, postoperative incisions and other sources. Relief is only temporary---lasting up to a few hours---because as the DMSO dissipates, normal function returns. However, DMSO is also often used in conjunction with other analgesic drugs to produce more long-lasting pain relief. "We also use it as an adjunctive therapy in intestinal surgeries and for analgesia postoperatively," says McCarroll. "Many surgeons use DMSO in postoperative colic cases to improve microcirculation around the bowel. This promotes better healing and also gives some pain relief."

Diuretic action. Because DMSO draws fluids from tissues, it may be administered intravenously in cases where it is necessary to increase the horse's urinary elimination, such as to flush toxins from the system faster. "We use it for cantharidin poisoning [blister beetle toxicity]," says Baker. "In this situation it is given intravenously, to lessen the effect of that toxin on the kidneys and GI tract."

Some veterinarians also routinely administer low levels of intravenous DMSO to horses who are tying up, experiencing massive cramping of the large muscles after exercise. "By giving it intravenously, with fluids, it also helps the horse urinate more," Baker says, which in turn both helps the horse flush out and excrete the waste products from the breakdown of muscle cells and increases blood circulation into the area.

DMSO may be used to draw fluids out of the lungs in cases of acute pulmonary edema. "It is beneficial in respiratory disease because it reduces inflammation and draws some of the fluid/edema out of the lungs," says Baker. "Along with DMSO, we use Banamine or some kind of corticosteroid (to also reduce swelling and inflammation) and sometimes it's hard to tell which one is doing the most good, but they seem to work well together to gain a better response."

Inhibition of microbial growth. DMSO is a bacteriostatic agent, which means it inhibits the reproduction of bacteria but doesn't necessarily kill them outright. Some veterinarians add it in low concentrations to flushes used to rinse out draining abscesses or other infected wounds. Baker uses DMSO when he flushes out guttural pouches: "It's not irritating when it's diluted enough, and it does help liquefy a lot of the heavy, purulent material that is often found in the guttural pouch."

Prudent precautions
Because DMSO carries molecules through the skin and into the body, it's important to make sure the skin is clean and free of any other chemicals that could be inadvertently carried into the bloodstream. Fly sprays, for example, are safe when used as directed on the skin, but they contain chemicals that could become toxic if they are absorbed into the body.

"[DMSO] should not be used in conjunction with any organophosphate or cholinesterase-inhibitor insecticides," says McCarroll. "If a person applies one of these types of fly repellents and uses DMSO, this can have an additive effect and cause toxicity. The insecticide or parasiticide would have been fine used alone, but when combined with DMSO it will potentiate or increase the effects of that drug and make it toxic to the animal."

Many liniments also contain ingredients that are toxic if taken internally. "You don't want to use [DMSO] with certain types of products, such as those that contain mercury salt," says McCarroll. "This would take the mercury into the horse and can cause a fatal mercury toxicity. Iodine is not as toxic to the horse, but could also cause a problem. Certain other drugs like alcohol, insulin, corticosteroids and atropine may be made more powerful if used concurrently with DMSO."

This ability of DMSO to ease absorption of other topical products is also an issue if a horse is to be drug-tested for competition. "There is a relatively new nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug called Surpass that is designed to be used topically," says McCarroll. "When used according to directions it will not cause a positive drug test. But if you combine it with DMSO the drug level will be too high within the body and will cause a positive test."

Because DMSO is a powerful diuretic as well as a vasodilator, it can be harmful when given to dehydrated horses and those in shock. "It can increase loss of fluid via the kidneys and further dehydrate the animal," says McCarroll. "It also dilates the peripheral blood vessels and can thus lower the animal's blood pressure. If the animal is in shock, this would make the condition worse."Repeated or overzealous topical use of DMSO can dry out the skin, leading to scurf and scaling, redness or rash. DMSO produces heat when applied with other solutions, such as water or saline, alcohol or acetone, which can have therapeutic benefits---but too high a concentration can actually burn the skin. "In these instances it will produce a significant amount of heat and can actually cause thermal injury if a person is not careful with it," says McCarroll.

Veterinarians often recommend mixing DMSO with Furacin ointment, which buffers it to reduce burning of the skin. Some horses may be more sensitive to this effect than others. "You also don't want to use it on any individual that has had a bad reaction to DMSO in the past," says McCarroll.

Intravenous administration of DMSO also carries the risk of side effects. If the concentration is too high or the solution is administered too quickly, muscle tremors, diarrhea, colic, seizures and/or other adverse reactions may occur. Large intravenous doses may also destroy red blood cells and inhibit clotting.




Thursday, October 26, 2017

JUMPERS 21 | Training Tips from 3 Olympians

Under the watchful eye of Beezie Madden, Gracie Marlowe and Valdelamadre Centalyon clear a wide liverpool on the second day of the training session. Amy K. Dragoo

Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut share wisdom with young riders at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Anne Kursinski spoke about developing connection and feeling with your horse by establishing a solid position and riding lots of transitions to test responsiveness. Beezie Madden built on Anne’s lessons, focusing on control and adjustability by getting your horse in front of your leg and riding transitions over ground poles. Laura Kraut taught how to ride a successful jumper course by thinking about the time allowed early, creating energy to get over the jumps and never giving up.

The three Olympians shared their knowledge with auditors and 12 young riders, who tackled training on the flat, gymnasticizing and competing their horses in a Nations Cup-style event, at the 2017 USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session, held in January in Wellington, Florida.

The clinic, presented by the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and sponsored by Adequan, Ariat, Practical Horseman and Equestrian Sport Productions, is designed to develop the next generation of U.S. Equestrian Team talent through intensive mounted and unmounted instruction. Athletes earned invitations to the 2017 Training Session through one of three avenues: success in specific U.S. Equestrian Federation competitions, performance at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session or by selection from a competitive pool of wild-card applicants.

The three coaches’ tips and advice, though, can improve the horsemanship skills of riders of all levels.

Anne Kursinski: Connection and Feeling


Anne Kursinski shows Michael Williamson how to sit deeper in the saddle to create a more effective seat and better connection when riding Casco Junior. Amy K. Dragoo

On Day 1 of the Horsemastership Training Session, Anne focused on working on the flat. Anne, a five-time Olympian with two team silver medals, was voted the 1991 Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee. During that year, she claimed individual and team gold medals at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. In 1988 and 1992, she was named the AHSA (precursor to U.S. Equestrian Federation) Horsewoman of the Year and in 1995, she was named AHSA Equestrian of the Year.

1. Rider position, attention to detail and flatwork are key.

Anne is a stickler on rider position and sweating the small stuff while working on the flat. “Self-awareness and position are being supple and elastic but not frozen,” she says. “If you are crooked, your horse will jump crooked. You can really solve most of your jumping problems on the flat.”

Anne instructed the riders to perform numerous transitions without stirrups to help develop a deeper connection, test their balance and be more aware of their position. Emma on Baricello, Caroline Dance on Bizette B and Gracie on Valdelamadre Centalyon perform a halt on a straight line. Amy K. Dragoo

2. Connect your body to connect the dots.

Your legs, seat and back are not separate from your body. Talk to your horse with your aids. Hold him with your seat and back. Remember to keep your arms elastic with short reins. “If you can’t feel your own body, you can’t really feel your horse’s body,” Anne says. “I had a trainer who used to say my hands are in my seat and my hands are in my back, like my legs are in my seat and my legs are in my back.” Ride with your entire body. “My whole body rides the whole horse. McLain [Ward’s] whole body rides the horse. Beezie’s whole body rides the horse. You don’t see them pulling the horse’s head to the side with just their hands.”

3. Be patient and aware.

Be clear, consistent and patient. Never lose your temper. Don’t be overly critical of your horse or yourself. “To be a great rider, you have to be aware of everything—no stone left unturned.”

4. Test your connection—a lot.

Lengthen and shorten the trot and go from posting trot to sitting trot and back again. Do countless transitions. Then balance in two-point position to test if your horse has accepted your seat, legs and reins with lightness. If he has, he will maintain the same balance and rhythm for several steps. Pilot your horse into small circles to test his responsiveness to your aids. You have to put in the time and then test or ask as if you are going to get the right answers.

Another exercise you can use to test his responsiveness is to ride a shoulder-in. When going to the left, keep your hands even and move both of them and your torso slightly to the left. “Take a little and give a little,” Anne advises. “Push with the seat and receive with the hands. Keep the inside leg active.” Lateral work is mental and requires the horse to be respectful of the rider.

5. Sit the saddle.

When you have trouble getting your horse to move forward into the trot without him breaking stride or backing up, drop your stirrups to sit deeper in the saddle. Concentrate on the rhythm by keeping your body back and your hands together. Anne’s oft-repeated mantra is, “Sit the saddle.”

6. Knot the reins for sympathetic contact and connection.

Try tying a knot in your reins “just for fun.” Hold the reins in front of the knot, closest to your horse’s mouth. The knot requires you to have longer arms and use more give and take with the reins. Make a circle and then leg-yield out to encourage your horse to step into the outside rein. You’ll know the exercise has merit when your horse is softer and more responsive. “Connection is key,” Anne says.

Anne knots Madison Goetzmann’s reins to help her lengthen her arm and establish a more supple connection to Prestigious. Anne knotted each rider’s reins and then guided the students through circle and leg-yield exercises to create softer and more responsive horses. Amy K. Dragoo

7. Give when your horse responds.

When your horse reacts positively, give with your hands. “I feel his mouth,” Anne says. “When he stretches down, I give. When he’s flexing, I’m giving and rewarding. As he accepts the contact, I give. I sit the trot to see if he accepts. As he gets it, I keep my seat and my contact. I follow his neck as it goes down. If he roots a little, I resist a little. No sawing. I have a very light hand. When he fusses with his mouth, I close my legs and tickle him with my spurs and make him think about his hind legs.”

8. Isolate the shoulder to move the haunches. Isolate the haunches to gain shoulder control.

Work on turns on the forehand to isolate your horse’s haunches and control the shoulders. If your horse backs up to avoid the exercise, move his hind legs forward by deepening your seat as soon as you feel him back. It’s important to feel in order to gain responsiveness. Try using haunches-in to bend the horse “like a banana” and make him use his hind end. “To be a great and effective rider, you have to be able to do many things. The sign of a great rider is a happy horse.”

Beezie Madden: Control and Adjustability


Day 2 featured Beezie, who built on Anne’s lessons while working on gymnasticizing the horses. Beezie is a three-time Olympic athlete, an individual Olympic bronze medalist and a member of two gold-medal U.S. teams. In 2006, she won both team and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games and in 2014, she returned to the WEG to claim both a team and an individual bronze medal.

1. Control the pace and line while freeing the neck.

Get ready for action by putting your horse in front of your leg and on the outside rein while making sure he doesn’t drop his shoulder to the inside. “If the shoulder [balance] is on the outside, it frees up his neck,” Beezie says. “That’s one of the reasons to have the horse on the outside rein. The other is that the outside rein controls the pace and the line.” No matter what you are doing, feel as if you can jump a fence with enough impulsion so that the horse has spring in his step. Remember: The goal is to make every jump in the middle of your horse’s arc over the jump.

2. Use ground poles for practicing a variety of exercises.

Beezie sets up ground poles in a number of ways to help riders gain the skills to improve their horses before graduating to bigger jumps. Set the poles 45 feet apart and fluctuate the number of strides and different gaits between poles. Work on pace, balance, rhythm and riding with feeling. “They have to stay in your hands so you can control the balance and the stride,” she says. The changes in stride and transitions test and improve your horse’s adjustability.

Madison and Prestigious lead the way through a pole exercise, which Beezie designed in order to improve the horses’ adjustability. Amy K. Dragoo

3. Halt.

Stop your horse in a variety of places to test responsiveness. “I like stopping straight in the corners because horses anticipate turns in a short arena,” she advises.

After completing a jump or a line of jumps, halt your horse instead of turning to slow down. Make sure you halt straight. Use your back by stretching up for strength, not your hands. Your seat needs to stay in the saddle for a downward transition. If your horse backs up instead of halting, leg him up and allow him to walk forward a step or two before halting again. When he fusses, keep your hand above the withers. Try to make the halt smooth and keep your horse on the bit with your shoulders behind your hips.

4. Use leg to create roundness.

You want your horse’s hind legs reaching under your seat and not behind you while he stays up in the bit, creating roundness. You need this activity in the hind end to jump big jumps and your leg is the impetus for getting that roundness. When your horse lengthens his body, the way to shorten it is by thinking of using your leg to your hand. Make a fist and close your fingers on the reins.

Next, pilot your horse in small circles while pushing the haunches out into a bigger circle. For example, as you turn your horse to the right, look to the right, open the right rein and push with the right leg to give the feeling that the leg is bending the horse instead of an indirect rein. To make your horse more supple, be sure and use your inside leg when coming around a turn and not just your outside leg.

Beezie offers advice to Coco Fath after her jumping round with Bart C. Amy K. Dragoo

5. Use your body to slow down.

Make sure your shoulders are behind your hips while slowing your horse. “Your seat needs to stay in the saddle for a downward transition,” Beezie says.

Try riding over a series of ground poles and halt mid-pole with the horse straddling it. The exercise, meant to teach connection, the delicate control between the hand and the leg, and patience, is not easily mastered. “Use your back for strength,” she says, by stretching up. “Do not use your hands. You have to get more independent with your balance. Soft with the hands, soft with the hands, soft with the hands.” If your horse resists, he may not be confused; sometimes it’s an avoidance of the connection. “You’ve got to be strong when they’re resisting and soft when they’re giving,” she says.

6. Don’t zone out while riding.

Make a habit of ensuring that you and your horse are attentive whether walking, cooling out or when you are hanging out and talking to friends while mounted. When riding, if your horse zones out and ignores your request for more energy, first use your calf to remind him to pay attention. If that doesn’t work, turn it up a notch and keep increasing the volume with the spur or the stick until he listens. “Ask and take your leg away,” Beezie says. “When you ask, there has to be a reaction.” Remember, if you want a reaction forward, you have to take the brakes off and not pull on the reins. He should hold the reaction for a stride or two.

Taylor St. Jacques exhibits a strong position as Devine tackles the low course built to help the students focus on fundamentals before moving to the bigger jumps. Amy K. Dragoo

7. Keep weight in your heels.

When your horse hops or bucks to avoid the halt, put weight in your heels. “You have to weight your heels without stiffing him by gripping with the legs,” she says. “There is a fine line. Sometimes you’ve got to push them through something, but you also don’t want to get them so frustrated they can’t concentrate.” Don’t increase your horse’s anxiety by constantly gripping with your legs instead of taking pressure off by weighting your heels.

Laura Kraut: Make the Most of a Course


On Day 3, the 12 riders were divided into teams of four and a Nations Cup-style competition pitted the three teams against each other. Laura gave the riders feedback specific to each competitor after their rides on the Conrad Homfeld-designed course. She cautions that some of the advice is geared to a situation unique to that course and to tailor these tips to your individual circumstances. Laura represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games and came home with a gold medal. She was a member of the 2006 silver-medal World Equestrian Games team at Aachen. She is highly ranked on the All-Time Money list in career earnings with more than 100 grand prix wins.

After finishing her jumping course with Baricello, Emma Marlowe receives feedback from Laura Kraut. Amy K. Dragoo

1. Make judicious use of your time early in the course.

“Something I think about when I’m in a grand prix Nations Cup is if there’s an opportunity in the beginning of the course to go quick before you get to the meat of the course, so you can get rid of the time faults early,” Laura advises.

2. Create energy.

“You have got to put leg on. Help him out. Give him that reach,” Laura says. “When you pull a rail, the first thing that should go through your mind is, ‘I just had a bad rail. I need to kick into gear and get going.’” Don’t slow down. You’ve got to get a reaction. Get over it fast. Make up time. Often the rider’s choices allow the chance for the horse to clear the jump.

Help your horse over the jumps by using your body or applying your legs to give him confidence. If there is a water jump, you need to build momentum and keep that momentum to clear it. If you need to increase energy, do so.

When you approach a water jump, get behind him and sink down in the stirrups. “Never, never, never approach the water with your shoulders out in front.”

Halie Robinson adds leg and a soft following release, which gives Air Force the confidence to jump boldly across a wide oxer on the final day. Amy K. Dragoo
3. Jump the fence like you mean it.

If your horse is running out of energy, don’t lose your focus. “Know that you’re running out of horse. Use this to fight for the jump and lift him over.”

4. Shake off setbacks.

If you have a problem in the warm-up arena, shake it off and move on. “Know that if you have problems in the warm-up area, that is not necessarily translating to the ring,” she suggests. Similarly, when you have a rail down, move on. “When you have a fence down, that’s happened. That’s passed.”

TJ O’Mara plans his next fence aboard Queen Jane after Laura advised riders to make better decisions during courses to avoid frustrating time faults. Amy K. Dragoo
5. Never look back.

If you pull a rail, never, ever look back to check. Never.

6. Never give up.

If your horse refuses a jump, offer a quick reprimand and then confidently go forward again. “It’s about learning, and one of the things you learn is to never give up. You can be tough and make something happen,” Laura says. “When something goes wrong, particularly when [the horses] are afraid and they stop, don’t give up. Re-approach it and give him confidence and give yourself confidence.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Southern Living Magazine; Voting Open To Public


Equestrian tradition, downtown shopping and dining, and storied history are a few of the references Southern Living magazine made when describing Aiken as "one of the South's most beautiful small towns."

After a trip to Aiken, the magazine's senior editor, Valerie Luesse, penned "Springtime in Horse Country," an article that printed in March.

Today, the City of Aiken is up for best small town in Southern Living, a nomination that is essentially an editor's choice of places they've discovered and loved over the past year, according to Jenny Burghardt, tourism supervisor for the City of Aiken.

The City announced the nomination online this week, which is part of the magazine's South's Best Awards, but Aiken will need the public's help to earn the recognition.

The public can vote for Aiken at southernliving.com/southsbestvote. Voting closes on Oct. 8.

The tourism team also says the public can help vote for its partner, The Willcox, which is nominated for the South's best restaurant and hotel.

The Willcox and The Village at Woodside have both had previous recognition from Southern Living, according to Burghardt.

The relationship with Southern Living, from the City's standpoint, goes back to when Burghardt and the tourism department reached out to Luesse a little more than two years ago and invited her to explore Aiken for herself.

"She fell in love and produced a beautiful story about Aiken in March of this year, as well as some shout-outs in roundup articles through their website for places like Cyndi’s Sweet Shoppe, Tres Caminas and Aiken State Park," Burghardt said.

She added the best small town nomination means a lot to the City, "because it shows that people love Aiken."

"It creates great awareness for visitors and potential visitors as Southern Living is a name that people know and trust," Burghardt said. "They don’t have to take our word for it, but someone else is telling our story – giving it great credibility.

"Since the spring article on Aiken came out this year, we've had many visitors tell us they discovered Aiken because of the Southern Living article. We hope this will be another opportunity for people to discover Aiken and fall in love with the charm and beauty that we all have."


Original published ​by Christina Cleveland at AikenStandard.com on Sep 16, 2017. Christina Cleveland is the city government reporter at the Aiken Standard.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Feeding For Weight Gain

Feeding for Weight Gain


When your horse is too thin, whether it’s a short-term aberration or a chronic struggle, careful feeding can help to keep his weight up.


EQUUS
NOV 7, 2014


Overlooking subtle change is easier than it should be. When you care for your horse every day, you may not notice slight variations in his body condition. Then one morning it strikes you: Watching him turn toward you in the paddock, you can see a faint outline of every rib along his sides, and his haunches are looking a little less rounded, too. Clearly, your horse is losing weight. And suddenly the questions are flying through your mind: What’s wrong? Is he sick? Am I not feeding him right?

Take heart. Many thin horses are suffering from nothing more than “agroceroisis---a lack of groceries!” says equine nutritionist Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, DACVN, of Rutgers University in New Jersey. In other words, a horse loses weight simply because his caloric needs are not being met. Either he’s burning more energy than he’s consuming, or somehow he is not utilizing the feed that he does eat efficiently enough.

The next question, then, is Why? A number of underlying issues can cause weight loss in a horse, and to help him regain some pounds, you first need to understand and address what’s going wrong. Only then can you develop a plan to restore him to his proper weight.



Why horses lose weight


A number of factors, mental and physical, can cause a horse to lose weight, and in fact, his difficulties may stem from multiple problems. Of course, some horses seem naturally more prone to weight loss; a “hard keeper” may have a metabolism that requires more than the usual amount of calories for maintenance, or he may readily lose his appetite---and drop pounds---in response to even slight variations in management routine, weather or other factors. Likewise, a horse who is stressed by travel, intense training, herd squabbles or other disruptions may eat less and/or burn more energy and end up losing weight. But if your otherwise robust horse suddenly loses weight without apparent reason, ask your veterinarian to help you investigate the causes. Here are some of the possibilities:

• Illness. A number of diseases can lead to weight loss. Most will be accompanied by other obvious signs, such as diarrhea, colic, fever or lethargy---but in some cases signs of illness might be extremely subtle or nonexistent. “If your horse starts losing weight and his diet has not changed, get the veterinarian out ASAP,” says Ralston. “Check his liver and kidney function and screen for chronic infections.”

During the examination, your vet-erinarian may also suggest a fecal egg count and discuss your deworming schedule. A heavy parasite load can not only rob your horse of calories but also over time it may damage his intestinal tract to the point that it inhibits his ability to extract nutrients from his food.

Your veterinarian will also investigate possible sources of chronic pain, which can put a horse off of his feed. In fact, weight loss is one of the major signs of gastric ulcers, along with tooth grinding, a grumpy attitude and poor performance. Treating any underlying illnesses or injuries will likely be enough to get him gaining weight again.

In addition, the pain of arthritis can interfere with a horse’s feed intake by preventing him from walking to hay feeders or covering enough ground to graze sufficiently. Adding feed stations in strategic spots in larger pastures may make them easier to reach, and horses with pain in the neck or withers will graze more comfortably from a net or rack at shoulder height.

• Dental issues. Problems with a horse’s teeth can affect his ability to eat: Uneven wear can cause hooks, waves and other malformations that inhibit chewing, and cracked, broken or infected teeth can be painful enough to prevent a horse from chewing his food properly. In addition to weight loss, signs that a horse is experiencing dental problems might include dropping partially chewed feeds from the mouth, bad breath, fussiness with the bit and unchewed grains and bits of hay in the manure.

Routine dental exams---annually for most adult horses, or every six months for seniors or those who have had problems in the past---can catch and address any developing problems early, before they affect a horse’s over- all health and body weight. By the time he reaches his late 20s or 30s, a horse’s teeth may wear down completely so that he cannot properly chew coarse feeds or hay. At this point, he’ll need softer foods, such as soaked hay pellets, beet pulp or senior feed, to maintain his weight.

• Social problems. Horses who live in stable herds develop distinct social hierarchies, and those at the bottom of the pecking order---often the very young, the aging or the submissive---may be chased away from the hay feeder and other sources of food. One solution is to bring the low-ranking horse in to a small paddock or stall where he can eat undisturbed. Another option for horses in turnout is to distribute hay around to multiple feeders, or to use one that the horses can access from all sides without getting trapped against a fence, so that everyone gets access to a share.

Don’t forget that a horse’s social status can change over time, and the addition or subtraction of other members can rewrite the whole equation. Keep tabs on conditions in the field to make sure none of the horses are being bullied away from the food or water.

• Personality. We all know them---those busybodies who spend their time running back and forth between window and door, nickering to other horses and soliciting attention from every person. These social butterflies may have a hard time focusing on their meals. It might be best to move them to a quieter location, or offer them their larger meals at night when the barn is more peaceful, so that they can settle down and give their full attention to eating.

Then there’s the picky eater, who pushes his pellets around or picks out the choicest bits of hay and poops on the rest. If this is your horse, you may have to get creative, experimenting with different types of forage or changing its form. Some horses who pick through hay will readily eat pellets or cubes. And sometimes the horse who walks away from an overflowing manger will eat the same quantity if it’s divided up into six smaller meals per day. Slow feeders---hay nets or other devices with small openings that allow a horse to draw out only small amounts of hay at a time---can keep a horse interested in “grazing” longer, with less waste.

• Environmental conditions. Horses burn more calories to stay warm in cold weather, but extreme heat can also cause them to lose interest in food.

In the winter, steps to help a horse who is having trouble keeping on weight include adding blankets and bringing him into the barn when temperatures dip. Make sure pastured horses have access to shelter that will shield them from prevailing winds. Free-choice access to hay will also help a horse to generate internal heat around the clock. Slow feeders can keep the hay clean while helping the ration last longer.

On the hottest summer days, bringing horses into a cool, well-ventilated barn with fans can help them cope with the heat, and deep, shady shelters are essential in turnouts---to provide protection from the sun as well as from biting flies. Horses can expend huge amounts of energy stomping, shaking and running away from pests like horseflies. If biting flies are a problem in your area, protecting your horse with fly sheets, sprays, traps and other measures can help him to focus more on grazing.

Ample fresh water, of course, is essential year-round---loss of appetite is one of the effects of dehydration. Installing heaters or taking other steps to prevent water buckets from freezing in winter is crucial, and in the summer moving some of the outside sources into the shade can help to keep it more palatable. Soaking a horse’s feed can sometimes encourage him to eat more, but never provide more in one meal than he can eat before it either freezes in winter or goes rancid in the summer heat.


Getting started


Once you’ve identified and addressed the most probable reasons for your horse’s weight loss, it’s time to develop a strategy to put the pounds back on. If you’re faced with an extremely thin horse---one whose vertebrae, ribs, and other bones are prominent---call in veterinary help right away. Introducing starving horses to too much food too quickly can cause serious digestive consequences that may be fatal. However, if your horse is only moderately thin, you can probably handle managing his weight gain yourself---just be prepared to call your veterinarian if have any questions or run into difficulties.

First, it’s a good idea to establish a system for measuring your horse’s weight as accurately and objectively as you can. You have several options (see “Two Ways to ‘Weigh’ a Horse,” page 32). Whichever method you choose, record your measurements in a journal, starting with a baseline, to keep track of subtle changes over time. Photographs, taken in good light while your horse is standing on level ground, can be a good supplement to your records. Just don’t rely entirely on your eyes and memory---you may have difficulty recalling details if you need to explain anything to your veterinarian later.

Also establish a good baseline measurement, in pounds, of what your horse currently eats. If you don’t have one already, buy a food scale and weigh out your horse’s normal ration. Even flakes of hay can vary in weight, and if you’re measuring out feed by volume---in a coffee can, for instance---you may discover that you’re feeding substantially less than a manufacturer’s recommended portion, which is usually given by weight. But it’s important to know how much your horse eats up front so that you can begin increasing his feed in an orderly fashion.


If your horse has been inactive, consider implementing a moderate exercise program. It may seem counterintuitive to make a thin horse burn calories to gain weight, but the work will help him to build muscles, and exercise will increase his appetite.

As you develop your plan, keep one rule in mind: Go slowly. All changes to a horse’s diet need to be made gradually. Your horse didn’t become skinny overnight, and he can’t safely gain weight in a hurry, either. Abrupt changes in a horse’s diet can lead to colic, laminitis and other ills.



First, the forage


Before you go shopping for new products, the first step is to gradually increase a horse’s current feed, and of course, the cornerstone of the healthy equine diet is forage. In fact, the average pleasure horse in light to moderate work can maintain a healthy weight on forage alone.

To sustain a healthy weight, a horse needs to consume a daily ration of 2 to 3 percent of his body weight each day; of that, at least 1.5 to 2 percent needs to be some form of forage. That means two pounds of total feed for every 100 pounds that he weighs, or 20 pounds for a 1,000-pound horse just for maintenance---more will be needed for weight gain.

To help your horse gain weight, assuming he was getting restricted amounts of good-quality hay, Ralston suggests increasing his current forage ration until his total feed reaches at least 2.5 percent of his desired body weight. In other words, if your horse currently weighs 1,000 pounds, and you’d like him to be 1,100, then your target would be 2.5 percent of 1,100, or 27.5 pounds of hay.

The quality of the forage matters, too. If your hay and pasture are poor, then your horse is filling his gut with fiber but not getting adequate calories or nutrients. An extension agent can help you assess the nutritional value of your pasture and hay. Since few areas of the country allow for high-quality grazing year-round, most of us must supplement our horses’ diets at least part of the time with hay.

You want to choose the highest quality hay you can find for your thin horse. That means leafy, green hay with a minimum of brown stalks and mature seed heads. One quick test of the quality of hay is to squeeze a handful. Stiff stalks that hurt your palm are not a good choice when you need a higher calorie feed. If you want a more scientific analysis of your hay, you can send a sample off to a laboratory to have the nutritional value assessed.

Blending a flake or two of good-quality alfalfa in with a ration of grass hay is another way to add nutritional value to your forage. Alfalfa is higher in calories and protein than grass hays, which makes it an excellent choice to help to add weight to a thin horse. If your horse tends to be wasteful with his hay, he may eat more when offered alfalfa hay cubes or pellets.

Another fiber supplement is beet pulp, which contains about the same digestible energy as good quality hay. Most horses seem to like beet pulp, and it’s a good matrix for blending in supplements or other feed additives such as oils or rice bran. Introduce it slowly, one pound (dry weight) per feeding, up to 0.5 percent of your horse’s body weight. Although beet pulp is a good source of calories, it is not a complete protein source, and it’s relatively low in vitamins and most minerals, so it works best as an addition to, not a substitute for, your horse’s regular rations.



Fats, for calories


Forage may be the cornerstone of equine nutrition, but it’s not a calorie-dense food, and there’s a limit to how much a horse will eat in a day. If your horse has been consuming all of the forage he wants, and he still is not gaining weight after several weeks, it’s time to add some more calories to the ration.

The safest way to increase the energy in your horse’s ration is to bolster the fat content. While carbohydrates and proteins offer around four calories per gram, fats offer a whopping nine calories per gram. If introduced slowly, horses can adapt to higher fat intakes, and you can reduce the concerns associated with really high starch intakes such as wide fluctuation in blood glucose and insulin levels seen with high-grain concentrates.

You’ll find a number of supplements and feeds on the market formulated to help horses gain weight safely. Most contain high amounts of fat as well as amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help a horse build and maintain muscle. Some of these products can be pricey, however, especially if your hard-working hard-keeper needs to stay on them long-term to keep his weight up.

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to add fat to your horse’s diet is vegetable oil from the grocery store, which can be poured over his regular concentrate ration. Corn oil is palatable to most horses, but you can also use canola, peanut or any other vegetable oil your horse likes. Although you’ll hear debate about the ideal ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in all of these products, when you’re trying to put weight on a horse, all fats are good fats. Like with other dietary changes, oil needs to be introduced slowly, starting with a quarter cup per day, and adding another quarter cup every few days, up to a maximum of two cups for an average size horse---less for small horses and ponies. Too much too fast, and your horse will develop diarrhea and steatorrhea (fatty stools)---his manure will have an oily sheen from undigested oils passing through his system. Another problem with oils is they can go rancid, so be sure to store the bottle in a cool place and give it a sniff before feeding.

Rice bran is another source of fat that most horses love, and it’s also rich in vitamin E as well as fiber. The biggest concern with rice bran is that it is also high in phosphorus, which can inhibit the amount of calcium available in the horse’s body. If you’re feeding a natural rice bran, you might want to add a calcium supplement or another calcium-rich food, such as alfalfa. To be safe, consider purchasing a rice bran product formulated for horses that contains added calcium to balance the ratio of the two minerals.

As with oil, rice bran needs to be added to the diet slowly, starting with about a cup at a time, working up to one or two pounds daily. Follow feeding instructions on the label for serving sizes for any commercial products.



Finally, concentrates


Grains, sweet feeds and other starch- and sugar-based concentrates had long been the high-calorie foods of choice for thin horses, especially those in hard work. They are convenient to use, but the benefits come with a price: Feeds that are high in starch and sugar can pose some health risks if fed in large amounts. When a horse eats more starch in one meal than he can break down in his stomach and small intestine, the undigested molecules ferment in the hindgut, which increases the acidity and throws the microbial population out of balance---not only may the horse’s gut become less efficient at digesting fiber, the resulting changes can lead to colic and crippling acute laminitis. Although some horses seem to be more sensitive to starches than others, says Ralston, “You can induce laminitis in any horse with a sudden grain/starch overload.”

Commercial concentrates, which are formulated for complete, balanced nutrition, can be a valuable source of calories for a thin horse, but they must be used wisely. First, select a product that is formulated for your horse’s stage of life and activity level. Then, follow the instructions on the label to introduce the feed slowly and carefully to his diet.

Never feed more than 0.5 percent of a horse’s body weight of concentrates in a single meal, says Ralston. That’s five pounds for a 1,000-pound horse. If your hard-keeper or athlete needs more than that to gain weight, break his portion up into as many small meals as you can manage, spread throughout the day.

No matter what type of concentrates and added fats you incorporate into your horse’s diet, remember to make sure he always gets at least 1.5, preferably 2, percent of his body weight in forage each day. He needs it to keep his gut functioning at its best.

The basic concept behind fattening up a thin horse is fairly simple: Feed him more calories. But the devil is in the details. It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of forages, fats and concentrates to keep your horse healthy and strong. If you have trouble bringing your horse back to his ideal weight, don’t hesitate to consult with an equine nutritionist. Keeping weight on a perpetually thin horse can be tricky, but the effort will be worth it when you see him moving out across the pasture looking fit, strong and healthy.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #447, November 2014.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Confident Cross-Country Water Jumps


Part 1: Make your horse’s initial education fun and positive to create a solid foundation for life.


MIKE HUBER
MAY 2, 2016

Jumping cross-country water elements is an essential skill for all event horses, but many people don’t realize just how much homework it takes to build a horse’s confidence over this challenging feature and to sustain that confidence throughout his career. | Amy K. Dragoo

One of the most important aspects in an event horse’s training is exposure to cross-country water jumps. With a positive, well-planned introduction, you can avoid the all-too-frequent heartaches that many riders experience when their horses refuse or are eliminated at this inherently challenging element. In this two-part series, I will walk you through the training plan that I follow with both green and experienced horses. This month, I will help you see water jumps through your horse’s eyes and will explain how to overcome his initial fear and hesitation in your first training sessions. Next month, I’ll show you how to teach him to jump fences in combination with water.

Let’s begin by recognizing exactly how difficult this task is. Horses don’t magically go into water without being trained to do so. Most have a natural wariness of it because they cannot easily judge its depth or the quality of the footing underneath it. Even the bravest horses need to be reassured that they will only be asked to tackle safe, doable water jumps.

Building your horse’s trust in you, however, is more than just a matter of getting his feet wet once or twice; it requires multiple, enjoyable, logically progressive schooling sessions. In addition to building his confidence, these sessions must teach him how to approach, enter and exit the water in a steady, balanced, relaxed manner, maintaining the same speed and stride length from beginning to end. These are fundamental skills necessary for safely and cleanly negotiating obstacles into, out of and in the middle of water jumps—challenges he will face as he moves up through the levels.

When you see a horse make a spectacular leap into water, however impressively brave it may seem, he’s actually revealing a lack of education. A well-schooled horse should pop into the water and over each obstacle with minimal fanfare, making it look almost boring.


No Bad Memories


Select a schooling water jump with good footing, shallow water and inviting entrances and exits. A variety of small "in" and "out" jumps will also be helpful later as your horse progresses through his education. | Amy K. Dragoo

Achieving this level of comfort requires a step-by-step, multiday—even multiweek—plan involving a carefully selected venue, uniquely qualified helpers and a patient yet determined attitude. In each schooling session, you must be prepared to spend as much time as necessary to reach a happy conclusion without ever getting mad or frustrated. The goal is to make water fun and easy so your horse never dreads going in. A single bad experience can leave an indelible mark on his memory. If you allow a session to escalate into a battle of wills with excessive whipping, spurring and hollering, every time your horse faces a water jump after that, he’ll have flashbacks to that experience and will think, “Oh no, here’s where I get beaten.”

Even if your horse’s first water school goes well, you must reinforce that success with additional positive memories. Just like a fisherman whose great catch gets bigger every time he retells the story, your horse may mentally exaggerate his first water venture over time. Weeks after coming home to tell his barn-mates, “It wasn’t so bad,” he may begin to remember the water as having been 10 feet deep and terrifying.

That’s why it’s so important to follow the first school with many additional sessions, both in the short term and periodically throughout his career. Even four-star horses with excellent foundations need occasional water schools in between competitions. In fact, the water questions they encounter on course are so challenging that they often need to practice simpler exercises at home to bring their confidence meters up. As is true in so many other areas of horsemanship with horses of all levels, the best rule of thumb is to school water “little and often.”

For many eventers in the U.S. who have limited access to suitable schooling facilities, this may sound like a near impossible task, especially for those based in the West, where even natural water resources are scarce. This is a disadvantage, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Think about how much money you invest in a single competition. Then imagine throwing all that money away by getting eliminated at the water jump. You’ll be much better off spending the same amount of money trailering to a good schooling facility—even if it’s hours away—and hiring a professional to guide you through the process. Making your horse’s water education a top priority will be well worth the investment in the long run.


First Schooling Session: Get His Feet Wet


1. Every water session should begin with a confident, yet relaxed, attitude, as Elizabeth Bohling’s 4-year-old Shannondale Suvio is demonstrating. Before approaching, Elizabeth has established a forward walk and a deep, secure position with her upper body centered, her lower legs closed and her heels down. | Amy K. Dragoo

2. At the water’s edge, Elizabeth gives Suvio time to sniff and paw the water. She sits quietly in the saddle and follows his mouth with her hands but also keeps both legs closed on his sides to make it clear that turning or backing away from the water is not an option. | Amy K. Dragoo

3. When Suvio refuses to go farther into the water, I ride alongside him on a more experienced horse and attach a longe line to his bit. With a good role model and a gentle tug on the rope, he bravely walks in. | Amy K. Dragoo

4. In the middle of the water, I unclip the rope and Elizabeth walks him quietly out the exit ramp. | Amy K. Dragoo

5. In their next approach, I ride alongside again but this time without the rope. Suvio hesitates but then … | Amy K. Dragoo

6. … follows my horse into the water. | Amy K. Dragoo

7. Finally, Elizabeth approaches the water alone again. This time, Suvio walks in confidently. She walks him in a circle, allowing him to continue sniffing the water and familiarizing himself with the new sensation of moving through it. | Amy K. Dragoo


Make a Plan


A young and/or green event horse can be introduced to water as soon as he’s trotting and cantering on the flat and over fences in the ring, hacking outside the ring and going up and down hills under control. Give him this invaluable education before his first competition or clinic to avoid the potentially crippling fear created by a negative experience. Incorporate the following factors into your introductory schooling plan:

1. A suitable schooling facility. Legendary U.S. Eventing Team Coach Jack Le Goff used to say, “It’s possible to teach a horse to jump into a swimming pool—once!” In other words, you will lose your horse’s hard-earned trust if you ask him to do something unreasonable. Be sure that every body of water you ride him into has the following qualities: footing that is firm and level, not muddy or boggy; water no deeper than 24 inches; and overall dimensions of at least 24 feet wide and 24 feet across. Anything narrower than that might invite your horse to jump the entire thing. Finally, your chosen water jump’s introductory-level entrances and exits should be invitingly gradual—no steep Man From Snowy River banks!

Our farm’s water complex has an added benefit of banks on either side of the lower-level entrance, which serve as wings. They help to channel the horse into the water both physically and mentally. We keep the complex filled all the time so it is available for daily schooling year-round.

For riders who don’t have easy access to a water jump specifically built for eventing, think twice before practicing in a nearby creek, stream, pond or lake. Such natural features can actually add to a horse’s fear and distrust if they contain steep, rocky banks; boggy, sticky footing; deep water; strong currents or any other potentially disconcerting characteristics.

2. A good support team. All amateur eventers should introduce their horses to water with the assistance of a knowledgeable, qualified trainer, ideally mounted on a quiet, experienced horse. As I’ll explain later, having a “Steady Eddy” equine companion who can tell your horse, “Hey Dude, it’s no big deal,” while accompanying him into the water is the best way to instill confidence. It’s important that this companion be extremely calm and unflappable, as he may have to tolerate some dramatic behavior on your young horse’s part, such as big “leaps of faith” into the water.

You may also find it helpful to have a ground person with a longe whip willing to stand at a safe distance behind your horse as he approaches the water. This person’s role will merely reinforce your “go forward” message in an encouraging—never abusive—way.

3. Proper equipment. One of the pieces of tack I never go without on cross country is a breastplate with a strap across the withers. This provides you with something to hold on to so you don’t risk pulling on the reins and punishing your horse in the mouth accidentally if he suddenly launches into the water and throws you off balance.

4. Plenty of time. As I mentioned previously, to guarantee your horse a positive experience in the water, you must give him the feeling that there’s no rush. When time is tight, tempers flare and horses quickly pick up on your negative emotions. This is why a clinic is not the best scenario for introducing a horse to water. Clinicians are obligated to spend time on other horses and riders and other cross-country elements. Instead, for your horse’s early water lessons, plan to focus entirely on him and the water jump. Even if you travel a long way to a schooling facility, if you arrive late in the day, don’t try to squeeze in a practice session that evening and risk running out of daylight.



Getting Started


In the beginning of each schooling session, warm up over a few easy, straightforward cross-country fences—logs, coops, etc. The goal is to get your horse feeling confident and in front of your leg (forward and responsive to your leg aids). Be careful not to overdo it, though. Especially when you’ve gone to great logistical and financial lengths to set up a cross-country school, it may be tempting to get your money’s worth by jumping every obstacle on the course. This increases the risk of you and/or your horse arriving at the water jump mentally and physically fatigued, which can drastically reduce your chances of success.

When you feel adequately warmed up, approach the water jump in an active, purposeful walk. Sit squarely and securely in the center of the saddle with your legs wrapped around your horse’s sides, holding the breastplate strap with one hand. In your initial approach, have your lead horse follow several feet behind you so you can see how your horse reacts to the water on his own. This will give you a good reading of his aptitude for the sport. If he walks into the water with little hesitation, that’s a good sign. However, if he hesitates or stops, that’s not necessarily a bad sign. Many top-level horses are cautious about water in the beginning of their careers.

Your reaction to hesitation is critical. Think offense, not defense. Immediately encourage him with a cluck, a nudge of your legs and perhaps a tap with the stick on his shoulder. Be firm and positive but committed to preventing the situation from escalating into a fight. Give him a chance to test the water. Allow him to sniff and paw at it if he wants to. Then gently ask him to step in. Whatever you do, don’t turn him away from the water’s edge. Trying to re-approach from a longer distance or at a faster speed will only get you stuck farther away from the water. Instead, hold your ground and make it clear that his only option is to go forward.

If after a few minutes he is still unwilling to step into the water, ask your companion on the lead horse to walk alongside him and clip a lead rope to his bit. Then ask her to walk her horse calmly forward into the water, simultaneously giving a gentle tug on the lead rope. Nine times out of 10, the green horse will follow the experienced horse into the water. Again, be prepared for a dramatic leap—and ready to praise your horse the moment he takes it.

If he still isn’t willing to enter the water at this point, it may help to have a ground person stand behind him—far enough back to be safe from a kick—slowly waving a longe whip to reinforce your forward aids. She can even lightly tap him on the haunches with the whip. Again, be very careful to keep the mood encouraging, not punishing.

In extremely rare cases, it may be necessary for you to dismount and remove all of your horse’s tack. Your expert on the lead horse can then work directly with your horse to persuade him to enter the water. This can be especially beneficial if you are inexperienced and/or anxious about the situation. With time and patience, even the most stubborn horses can be convinced in this way to overcome their fears.

Once your horse is in the water, he may still want to sniff and paw at it, familiarizing himself with these new sensations. Give him time to do this. Then quietly exit the water and re-approach it in the same positive, forward way you did before. Do this several times until he’s walking into and out of the water confidently.

Throughout this first session and the next several ones, do everything at the walk, asking your horse to maintain the same speed and stride length as he crosses the water. Save trotting—which creates more of a splash and requires more effort to move through the water—for the fourth or fifth schooling session.

If your horse is entering and exiting the water fairly confidently after 10 or 20 minutes, leave the water to do something else briefly—for example, jump a few other types of fences. Then, if he still feels fresh and positive, come back to the water at the end of your ride for one more mini-session. This way, you get two schools in one.

Introduce the Trot

1. When Suvio is really comfortable walking through the water, Elizabeth picks up a balanced, steady trot. | Amy K. Dragoo

2. As they reach the water, she keeps her legs closed on his sides and her shoulders back to encourage him to continue moving forward. At the same time, though, she softens her fingers on the reins so he can stretch his nose down toward the water. | Amy K. Dragoo

3. You can tell by Suvio’s expression that the bigger splashes from his trot are a little disconcerting at first. With repetition, though … | Amy K. Dragoo

4. … he gets used to the splash and trots through the water in a nice rhythm and pace, staying straight and relaxed. | Amy K. Dragoo


Trotting Through Water


Once you’ve gotten your horse’s feet wet for the first time, your job is far from done. Even if he seemed confident, it’s important to follow up with another session to reinforce the lesson and quell any initial worries he had. If you’ve traveled a long distance to a schooling facility, plan to stay there for a number of days to fit in these invaluable follow-up sessions. Otherwise, find a way to get to a water jump again soon—ideally within a few days.

After the first two or three schooling sessions, you should have a good idea of your horse’s comfort level. If he is on the braver end of the spectrum, he may need only occasional refreshers every few weeks or so. If he’s on the more cautious end, he may need to revisit the water daily or near daily for several weeks. When we have green horses sent to us for intensive training periods, we take them down to the water jump almost every day, even in their dressage saddles after a flat school.

As your horse’s confidence grows, follow a logical, step-by-step training process, building on his skills gradually and giving each new challenge time to sink in. After several successful sessions at the walk, try trotting into and through the water. Be prepared for his reaction to the new sensation of water splashing in his face. Also continue to encourage him to regulate his speed and stride length throughout the exercise, just as you did at the walk.

Depending on how much access you have to a good water complex, it may take your horse weeks or even months to graduate from this phase of his training. Give him plenty of time to solidify this foundation. The more confidently he is walking and trotting through a simple water question, the easier it will be to introduce him to the next step: jumping obstacles in combination with water. I’ll explain how to do that next month.

Originally posted on practicalhorsemanmag.com.