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 (

Friday, November 17, 2017

EQUUS Consultants: Proud Flesh

How to prevent proud flesh.


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?


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.