Monday, December 24, 2018

Post-Colic Care for Horses


Knowing how to recognize and manage equine colic is a critical skill for owners, but colic aftercare is just as important to the horse's well-being. If a horse in your care does develop a colic, ask your veterinarian for a detailed post-colic care regime to follow during his recovery. More than likely, it will include the following the suggestions:


Here are 5 things you can do to get your horse back on his feet after a bout of colic.
  1. Watch the droppings. Even after the horse looks comfortable, keep a close eye on the state of his manure. Any change from normal consistency, color or content should be noted; extreme changes, or those that last more than a day after the colic, warrant a call to your veterinarian. Although the horse may not show colic signs, the abnormal manure indicates that his digestive system is still out of sorts.
  2. Forget the grain. Withhold all grain for at least a day, or until his stools look normal. Then return him to his regular feed, starting with just a fraction of his normal grain ration. Gradually increase his grain back toward normal, while observing him closely for trouble signs.
  3. Provide plenty of forage. You can allow a mildly colicky horse to graze as soon as he feels up to it. Grass is easy to digest and palatable. You may also allow him unlimited access to hay if his droppings remain normal.
  4. Turn him out. The movement and selective grazing of continual turnout get a horse's gut moving faster than stall rest. Check on the field-kept horse often to be sure you don't miss signs of returning pain.
  5. Maintain a continuous supply of clean water. Have palatable water available to the recuperating horse at all times. Full hydration is necessary for normal gut function

Monday, December 10, 2018

Time for the Hourglass: Part 1

MICHAEL DOWLINGJAN 10, 2018

In the first section of our two-part series, top hunter/equitation coach Michael Dowling shares a creative jumping exercise for tuning up your position and track-riding skills.


This fun, simple-to-set-up exercise strengthens your (and your horse’s) jumping technique and improves your track-riding, striding and balancing skills.

Looking for a fun, easy way to strengthen your position and improve your jumping rounds? My hourglass exercise is simple to set up and beneficial for any riders with at least some experience cantering small courses and jumping bounces (no-stride combinations). Shaped like an hourglass, with a double bounce in the middle and bending lines to four single verticals in the corners, it will develop and strengthen your basic position and make you a more effective, reactive rider. For example, when your horse jumps into a line on a too-forward stride, you’ll be better at correcting that quickly on the back side of the jump.

The hourglass will also hone your skills for track riding, measuring stride length and balancing your horse. At the same time, it will enhance his jumping technique, tightening his front end and strengthening his hind end while improving his straightness, adjustability and rideability between the fences.

For collegiate athletes, who essentially compete at shows as catch riders, this exercise will improve your ability to build a rapport with unfamiliar horses in a short amount of time. You’ll learn how to develop the trust and confidence essential for successfully bonding with new horses.

One of the best qualities of this exercise is that it challenges riders of different levels in different ways. As I walk you through the steps, I’ll point out the questions it poses for Novice, Intermediate and Open riders (the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association divisions for riders jumping 2-foot to 2-foot-3, 2-foot-6 to 2-foot-9, and 2-foot-9 to 3-foot, respectively).

Whatever your level, it’s critical that you approach the exercise step by step, just as you would with any other gymnastics. Instead of planning to get through the entire lesson in a single day, break it down into easy-to-accomplish steps and confirm that you’ve achieved confidence and proficiency at each before moving on to the next one.

Also keep in mind that making progress is not about jumping big fences. You can achieve much more and also reduce the pounding on your horse’s legs by practicing well-thought-out exercises over small jumps. For this hourglass exercise, I keep both the jump heights and the distances fairly conservative. This encourages horses and riders to focus on good technique rather than fall into the bad habit of galloping through the course and getting long and flat.

Know Your Different Seats

You have four different seat options in hunt seat equitation: full seat, half-seat, light seat and driving seat. For this exercise, you need to be very familiar with the first three:

Full Seat

This is when your entire seat (seat bones and buttocks) are in the saddle, providing maximum connection to your horse's back. It offers the most balance and control, which can be especially useful for rollback turns, lead changes, etc.


Light Seat

In this position, which is between the full seat and the half-seat, your seat bones make light contact with the saddle, but the rest of the backside is still clear of it. This is basically the same position you have during the sitting phase of the posting trot. While offering you some support, it still allows your horse to move freely forward. Much of your riding will be done in this position.


Half Seat, also known as jumping or two point position

Your weight is balanced on just the two points of contact between your legs and and the horse. We use this seat to follow the horse's motion- for example, over a jump - and to encourage him to utilize his body as freely as possible.


Now back to the Hourglass

To set up, study the diagram below. Build a double bounce out of three small crossrails in the middle of the arena on the centerline, separated from one another by about 10 feet. (You can adjust this distance to as short as 9½ feet if your horse has a very short stride or to as long as 12 feet if he has an especially long stride.) After the third crossrail, build a simple vertical 60 feet away on the diagonal to the left. Build another vertical at the same distance on the other diagonal to the right. Add ground lines on both sides of each vertical. I like to keep these verticals simple—no need to fill them with walls, flower boxes, etc.



You’ll ride only half of the hourglass pattern in this first exercise and it may take you more than one session to accomplish all the steps.

If you are a Novice rider, this is all you’ll need. If you’re an Intermediate or Open rider, build two more verticals on the approach side of the crossrails, 60 feet away on the diagonals, so that you create a mirror image of the first two verticals. Set all of the fences so that they can be jumped safely in both directions—and be sure you have plenty of room on the far sides of the verticals to make comfortable turns between them. If your arena is too small to do this, eliminate one of the crossrails, converting the double bounce to a single bounce.

If you’re a more advanced rider, you can change the crossrails to verticals. You could also build this gymnastic in an open field, lengthening the lines between the double bounces and verticals to a standard five- or six-stride distance (72 or 84 feet, respectively).

For riders of all levels, I strongly recommend having a ground person on hand, not just for safety’s sake, but also to reset poles and adjust the distances as necessary.

Warm-up

Before beginning the exercise, do a thorough warm-up on the flat, getting your horse in front of your leg (responding obediently to your leg aids). Include both longitudinal exercises—lengthening and shortening the stride in all three gaits—and lateral exercises—circles, serpentines, etc.—to supple your horse’s entire body. If you’re more advanced and familiar with leg-yield, turn on the haunches, shoulder-in and haunches-in, do a few of these in each direction.

As you warm up, review your four natural aids: legs, hands, seat and voice. Be sure to use all of them for both upward and downward transitions. (One of my favorite questions to ask students who say their horses aren’t listening to them in downward transitions is: “Were you using all four of your natural aids—or just your reins?”) Also practice the three seats you’ll use during this exercise: full seat, half-seat and light seat. (For a more detailed explanation of these, read the “Know Your Different Seats” photo gallery above). Spend a little time on each seat in each gait.

Starting Out

Step 1

Centenary University student Michael Andrade turns Norway onto the centerline in a forward, active posting trot. About 10 feet away from the first crossrail, he stops posting and settles into his light seat. With his eyes up, he’s careful not to tip his upper body forward toward the jump.


Step 2

Because he is an experienced rider, Michael uses a shorter crest release than I’d expect a Novice rider to use. Even so, he’s careful to keep his hands in place on the neck over all three crossrails so Norway can concentrate on doing his job.


Step 3

After the bounces, Michael sinks his weight into the saddle and his heels, lifts tall in his upper body and uses all four natural aids to initiate a downward transition to halt.


Step 4

Norway responds obediently, coming smoothly down to the halt in between the two verticals. They hold the halt for 4 to 6 seconds.


Novice Riders

If you are a Novice rider cantering small courses proficiently, this exercise will improve your ability to stay with your horse’s motion over fences without interfering with him in any way. You’ll also learn how to reorganize after a fence in time to approach the next one straight and in control.

You’ll ride only half of the hourglass pattern, but that will still give you plenty to do. In fact, it may take you more than one session to accomplish all the steps. That’s fine! Always progress at your own pace. This exercise requires a strong base of support (a well-positioned lower leg and deep heel) and lots of core strength (strong abs and back muscles), so if you feel yourself begin to tire at any point, end on a good note and save the rest of the exercise for another day. In the meantime, add more two-point practice into your regular schooling sessions to build up your strength.

Set the crossrails about 2 feet high and the verticals between 2-foot and 2-foot-3. If your horse is green or has trouble with straightness, turn the two verticals into crossrails. If you have never jumped a double bounce before, take the poles out of the first crossrail for the beginning of the exercise, replacing them with a single ground pole about 9 feet from the next crossrail. After you’ve done the single bounce comfortably a few times, put the first crossrail back in.

Start by turning onto the centerline and approaching the crossrails in a posting trot. About 10 feet away from the first one, assume your light seat by lifting some of your weight up out of the saddle while still maintaining light contact with your seat bones. Check that your lower leg is securely positioned at the girth with your heels directly below your hips and your weight down in your heels. Lift your eyes to a high spot in the distance—the top of a tall tree or, if you’re indoors, the top of a window or other visible object.

As your horse takes off over the first crossrail, allow his motion to close your hip angle into a half-seat. Meanwhile, smoothly follow his motion with a long crest release, pressing your hands down against his mane about halfway up his neck. No hands floating above the neck! Maintain this release through the double bounce while keeping your eye on your focal point and staying in your half-seat, letting your hip angle open and close with his motion. Concentrate on staying down in your legs and keeping your weight in your heels. This is very important. Don’t be tempted to sit up or interrupt your rein release in between the crossrails. Wait for him to land all four feet on the ground after the final crossrail before sitting up and feeling the rein contact again.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if he lands trotting or cantering. Either way, keep him straight on the centerline while you reorganize and reestablish your own balance. Then drop your weight in your heels and seat, get very tall in your upper body and use all four natural aids to ask him to come smoothly down to a halt. Ideally, the halt should be straight on the centerline, right between the two verticals, but don’t worry if you don’t get that exactly right the first time. It’s more important that you and your horse stay relaxed and positive from beginning to end.

Ask him to hold the halt for 4 to 6 seconds, just as you would for an equitation test. Then move forward again into the trot and make a wide, sweeping turn back to the centerline so that you approach the bounces in the opposite direction. Ride through them just as you did the other way, asking him to come down to a halt on the straight line again afterward.

Repeat this a few times until you feel confident over the bounces and your horse is responding obediently to your aids. It’s essential that you establish this rideability on the back side of the fences before moving on to the next step.

Now you’re ready to add one of the verticals. Approach the crossrails in the same way as before, only this time, as you ride through them, turn your focus to the left-hand vertical. After your horse lands from the final crossrail, return to your light seat, lift your upper body tall and stretch your heels downward. Then follow a gently bending track to the center of the vertical. In the show ring, this 60-foot distance would typically ride in four strides, but because the jumps are low and the bounces tend to have a compressing, buoyant effect on horses’ canters, this should ride in a quiet five strides.

Over the vertical, apply your crest release and go into and out of your half-seat slowly and smoothly—rather than jerking abruptly into and out of it. Again, allow your horse to complete his jump before sitting up. Then drop the weight into your heels and seat and use your legs, weight and voice in conjunction with your arms and hands to ask him to halt straight on the diagonal track before you get to the corner. This will reinforce the earlier lesson of halting after the double bounce, reminding him to always land and wait for your next signal. Don’t worry about what lead he lands on at this stage. Just try to maintain it until you ask for the halt—in other words, try not to let him anticipate the corner and swap leads automatically. This, too, is good prep for equitation tests.

Repeat this a few times until you can maintain a steady rhythm from the bounces to the vertical with five strides of approximately the same length. If you have trouble fitting in the five strides, stay more on the outside track (ride a wider curve between the bounces and vertical) to make more room.

If you’re still not managing the five, remove all of the poles from the crossrails and vertical. Then place one ground pole between the standards of the vertical and one between the standards of the third crossrail. Practice cantering over these poles, riding as curved a bending line as necessary to produce five—or even six—strides. When that’s going well, replace the jumps and ride the line again. Don’t be afraid to circle whenever you feel your horse rushing. He must be rideable before continuing.

Once you are competently navigating the bounces, vertical and halt, prepare to ride the same exercise without the halt, continuing through the turn instead. To reorganize and balance your horse properly for the turn, sink back into your full seat after the vertical. If your horse landed on the left lead and is properly balanced and educated, he should do a flying change. If he’s not balanced or is green, do a simple change of lead through the trot. Take your time to organize and do it well. Slow down to trot, take a deep breath, then ask him to go forward on the right lead. In the intercollegiate world, simple changes are perfectly acceptable—so long as you do them correctly.

Keep the rhythm consistent around the turn, using plenty of space to ride a nice smooth track. If your horse feels balanced coming out of the turn, go to your light seat and aim for the center of the other vertical. If he doesn’t feel balanced or starts to rush at any point in the exercise, make a circle. Remember, the goal is to do each part of the exercise in balance and control.

After the second vertical, if your horse doesn’t feel rideable enough to continue on to the bounces, drop into your full seat and make a left-hand rollback turn to the rail. Repeat this a few times to teach him not to anticipate the next part of the exercise.

When you feel comfortable and in control after the second vertical, continue cantering on a bending line back to the bounces. As you did before, sit up tall in your light seat and ask for five steady strides. At this point, your horse, having figured out the exercise, might make a beeline for the bounces, trying to get to them in four strides. Be ready for this. Drop your weight in your heels and think of leaning a little away from the bounces. You might even need to ride a wider shape to fit in the five strides comfortably. This is a great lesson in effective equitation. It takes a lot of core strength and balance to create the right outcome.

After riding through the bounces, ask for another straight halt on the centerline before you reach the end of the arena. Then give your horse—and yourself—a pat for a job well done.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Subtle Signs of Lameness in Horses

Sometimes lameness in horses isn't easy to see. Here are a few of the less-obvious indications of unsoundness.

EQUUS 12, 2011



A full lameness exam can help pinpoint subtle signs of unsoundness in horses. A horse who is head-bobbing unsound is easy to spot, but more subtle signs of equine lameness can elude detection. Failing to notice when a horse is only slightly "off" can lead to a worsening of an injury or delay in treatment that makes a problem more difficult to resolve. Consult your veterinarian if you see any of the following signs.

  • A hind leg that doesn't reach as far forward as the other with each stride
  • Overall shorter strides or reluctance to "move out" when asked
  • One hoof that consistently cuts deeper into footing than the opposite foot
  • Resistance to picking up a particular lead
  • Refusing or running out at fences
  • A change in movement or demeanor when you post on a particular diagonal
  • More or less flexion in the joint in one limb
  • A "pecking" movement of the front legs, as if the horse is trying to tiptoe
  • Asymmetrical hips or shoulders
  • A significant change in gait when moving from soft to firm footing and back again
  • Resistance to traveling from on type of footing to another

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ryan Wood: Build Confidence Over Corners - Part 1

JENNI AUTRYJAN 18, 2018



This top eventer shares his four-step plan to safely and successfully introduce this cross-country obstacle to your horse.

When introducing corners, the key to remember is that jumping corners is all about progression. First you need to establish the correct canter on the flat and then work over a simulated corner in the arena before heading out to jump a corner on a cross-country course. Only then will your horse jump it as confidently as Sarah Hughes’ Alcatraz, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, is jumping it here.

Corner fences are a common element seen on nearly every cross-country course in America. Starting at Training level, horses and riders need to be prepared to answer the corner. When introducing riders and young horses to corners, I use the same approach each time, starting by building a simulated corner in the arena to introduce the concept and then move to jumping an actual corner on a cross-country course.

Whether you are training for dressage, show jumping or cross country, there is always a progression. You start with the basics and gradually work your way up, and it is no different when jumping corners. First, you need to have the correct seat, leg and hand aids in place, which I describe in the next section. Then you build confidence by jumping a simulated corner in the arena using a barrel and two standards, which will set you up for success when you leave the comfort zone of the arena and jump a corner on the cross-country course.

Jumping corners confidently starts with having the right canter. A corner is an accuracy test, and for these types of questions I like to tone down the between-the-fences gallop to a slower speed in the approach. You still want a forward, positive canter, but approaching at a slower pace gives your horse more time to see the fence and understand the question. Before working on the corner in the arena, practice this canter, focusing on your aids. The combination of seat, leg and hand aids you use approaching the corner will give your horse every opportunity to confidently jump it

Develop the Correct Canter

Step 1:

You can practice developing the correct canter in the arena or wherever you do your gallops. I start by working in the between-the-fences pace I use while going cross country—galloping forward at a faster speed. You will be in two-point with your seat out of the saddle and your knee at a 110-degree angle. Be sure to shorten your stirrup leathers enough so you can keep your backside off the saddle in your two-point.

Step 2:

Now I start to bring my upper body back and slow Alcatraz from the gallop to a positive, forward canter. This is the canter I establish before a corner. To practice, pick a marker in your gallop field, like a tree or jump. Practice slowing from your gallop to your desired canter by the time you pass the marker. Depending on how quickly you are able to slow and balance your horse, you might need to start well back from the marker. The more you practice, the easier it will be to make that transition.

Step 3:

Then I sit firmly in the saddle in a defensive seat, bringing my upper body back so it is upright. My legs are in a steady, driving contact with Alcatraz’s sides—think Phillip Dutton and his vise-grip legs—which makes it clear to Alcatraz that I want him to go forward confidently. This is the position I use four to five strides in front of the corner.

Step 4:

As I bring my seat closer to the saddle, I move both of my hands several inches wider apart to create a channel for Alcatraz’s shoulders. This is the hand position I use in the approach to the corner to encourage him to hold his line. This hand position and driving leg aid will send him forward and make it very clear that you want him to jump
the corner.

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Practical Horseman

Monday, October 29, 2018

Learn How to Be More in the Moment When Riding

Author and dressage trainer Dominique Barbier offers advice on how to be more focused when working with your dressage horse.

DRESSAGE TODAY FEB 3, 2015

Q: I am trying to be more at one with my horse mentally. I try to be in the moment, but I’m not always successful. Any tips would be appreciated.
Name withheld by request

Dominique Barbier

A: If I may rephrase the question, perhaps it would be better to say, “I would like to be one with my horse. What tips can you offer?” For if we are not in the moment, we cannot be one with the horse, and if we are not in the moment, we cannot be focused. Therefore, the questions should be how to be present, how to be available and how to be capable of being one:

First of all, you need to be one with yourself before you attempt to be one with another being. This is beyond the mechanical, physical aspects of riding. Your mental attitude is more important than your physical attitude. Meditation, breathing, a good understanding of yoga, contemplation—each of these techniques allows you to know yourself better and be able to feel a calmness and a freedom that will allow you to feel closer to a greater consciousness. All this means is that if you are able to breathe correctly with your horse and stay mentally with him, slowly the process will bring you to a common understanding and a greater unity. There is no need to ride, there is only a need to be. Slowly and progressively you will feel a completeness and a union of the mind that will help you to feel closer to your goal.

The simple exercise of longeing and work in-hand will create the foundation for your mental communication and deepen your sense of being together. Later, when you ride with your concentration on very basic points (direction, rhythm, bend, lightness), the use of simple breathing exercises, while on the horse, will help you to put your body in a union with his movement. Then the mind will help you to project your vision through shoulder-in, haunches-in and pirouette at the walk first, then shoulder-in and haunches-in at the trot. By then, if you get a correct (rhythmic and energetic) shoulder-in at the walk and trot and correct haunches-in at the walk and trot, with your horse on the bit and in lightness, you should have a good feel of togetherness with your horse. A horse cannot be in lightness if he is not on the bit. To me, “on the bit” means the horse is 100 percent mentally and physically with you.

Things you should avoid: If you are pushing or kicking your friend in the belly with the leg or using spurs, you have a recipe for separation. If you kick your friend, pull on the reins and tell him mentally what you want to do, you will never be able to fulfill your goal. Riding a horse is strictly communication between beings. If you have any sort of aggressive attitude, mentally or physically, you will not achieve oneness. Happiness and joy are the best ingredients for oneness.

Dominique Barbier is a native of France who trained with the late Nuno Oliveira in Portugal. The author of numerous books, including his latest, Meditation for Two, he and his wife, Debra, run Barbier Farms in Healdsburg, California (dominiquebarbier.net).

Monday, October 15, 2018

Gymnastic Exercise from Kent Farrington at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session

Olympian Kent Farrington instructed riders over a gymnastics course on the second day of the 12th annual USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Current World No. 1-ranked jumper Kent Farrington gave a gymnastics demonstration before teaching two sessions on the subject during the second day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session. After horses and riders warmed up, they worked on different gymnastic exercises, progressively adding an additional exercise each time until the riders were jumping a gymnastics course.
Kent stressed the importance of jumping the least amount possible—just enough to ensure the horse learned the lesson. “I don’t want to jump extra jumps for fun, you’re just beating up on the horse for no reason,” he explained. “The least amount of jumping I can do to accomplish the lesson, that’s my goal.

One of Kent’s exercises was two oxers set side by side on the end of the short side of the ring. A ground pole was placed 18 feet in front of each oxer. Riders cantered in on the right lead over the first ground pole and oxer, circled to the left and approached the other ground pole and oxer on the left lead. Riders then executed a rollback turn to the right after the fence, turning in the opposite direction the horse would anticipate. The theme of rollback turns toward the rail carried over from the warm up and earlier gymnastic exercises.
“The horse sees the corner of the ring he thinks he knows what’s coming next,” said Kent of the landing after the second oxer. “That’s why you want to train him there and circle to the right.”

In every exercise and throughout both sessions, Kent encouraged the participants to take an individualized approach to training their horses. “Use each opportunity you can to make your horse better … you can break apart the exercise any way you like,” he said.
Decisions were left up to the riders—whether to circle and get a more forward canter before the jump; whether to do a downward transition on the landing side of the fence; whether to execute a flying or simple change—the focus was always to work on the weaknesses and to make ensure the horse was not anticipating, but listening to the rider. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Applied genetics

Dozens of genetic tests are now available that can offer insights into equine health, coat color and even performance potential. Here’s what they can and can’t tell you.

ABIGAIL JEFFERIES NOV 17, 2017

Turn on the radio or television and you can’t miss them: Advertisements for genetic testing are almost as common as commercials for laundry detergent and auto insurance. Just a decade or two ago, such ads were unheard of. Yet today, genetic testing services---for animals as well as people---are more numerous, more accurate, more affordable and more convenient than ever.

“What most folks don’t know about genetics is really how advanced it has become,” says Christa Lafayette, CEO of Etalon Inc. of Menlo Park, California. “Genetics is the new smartphone. Think back to when you first heard someone say, ‘There’s an app for that,’ and you had no concept as to what, exactly, an ‘app’ was. Now they are completely taken for granted and just common knowledge. That is where genetics is headed.”

The first genetic tests for horses became available in the 1990s, and for many years they were used only occasionally. Dozens of tests are now available. Most are being used in breeding decisions that will shape future generations of horses, but others offer insights into the health, beauty and potential of horses here today. As genetic tests become increasingly affordable and accessible, the role they will play in the horse world will only continue to grow.

Identifying inheritable diseases

Many inherited diseases result from single gene mutations that cause changes in how the body functions. The mutation is considered dominant if a foal needs to inherit only one copy of the defective gene to be affected by the disease. If the mutation is recessive, the foal needs to inherit two copies of the defective gene, one from each parent, to be affected. A horse with only one copy of the recessive gene is a carrier---he may be completely normal but is capable of producing a foal with the disease when mated to another carrier (see “Basics of Inheritance,” page 40). A mutation is considered incomplete dominant if a horse with one copy of the mu- tated gene is more mildly affected and a horse with two copies is more seriously affected.

Most tests for heritable diseases are breed specific, and some organizations require testing for particular genes prior to registering breeding stallions to limit the prevalence of certain conditions in the population.

Since 2015, for instance, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) has required all registered breeding stallions to undergo a five-panel test for the following genetic diseases:

• glycogen branching enzyme deficiency (GBED), a fatal condition caused by the body’s inability to store glycogen, resulting in progressive weakness and organ failure

• hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA), a connective-tissue disorder which causes fragile skin that tears easily and is so slow to heal and prone to infections that euthanasia is often the most humane option

• hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), which is characterized by episodes of muscle weakness and tremors and, in severe cases, collapse and respiratory or cardiac failure

• malignant hyperthermia (MH), a condition in which extreme stress, exercise or anesthesia triggers muscle rigidity, fever, excessive sweating, shallow breathing and an irregular heart rate

• polysaccharide storage myopathy type 1 (PSSM1), which causes an abnormal accumulation of sugars in the muscles leading to cramping, tremors and characteristic dark urine as the kidneys flush the byproducts of muscle damage. Note: Although testing for PSSM1 is required for Quarter Horse breeding stallions, the disease has been found in more than 20 breeds, including several drafts and warm- bloods with European bloodlines as well as American stock horses.

In addition, a test can determine whether Quarter Horses carry the gene for androgen insensitivity syndrome, which causes males horses to have female physical attributes, but it is not required for registration of breeding animals.

Beginning January 1, 2018, the American Paint Horse Association will require all breeding stallions to undergo the genetic tests in the AQHA five-panel profile, plus one other, overo lethal white syndrome (OLWS), which produces foals who are born almost pure white and have undeveloped nerves in the intestinal tract, making it impossible to process food and pass feces. OLWS appears in Paint Horses as well as mustangs, Spotted Saddle Horses and any other breeds that can show a frame overo coat pattern.

While other registries may not require genetic testing for diseases right now, many other tests for breed-related conditions are available, including:

• congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB), which is limited or no nighttime vision caused by a gene linked to the leopard-spotted coat pattern. Leopard spots are best known as a breed-defining pattern in Appaloosas and Pony of the Americas but can also occur in other breeds such as the Knabstrupper, Noriker and some Spanish mustangs.

• junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB), which inhibits the production of proteins that help adhere the skin to the body, leading to blistering, sloughing of skin and fatal infections. JEB was first discovered in Belgians (Belgian-JEB); a form of the condition is also found in Saddlebreds (Saddlebred-JEB), although the genetic cause is different.

• severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), which inhibits the body’s ability to produce white blood cells that play a vital role in immune functions, and lavender foal syndrome (LFS), which causes several neurological signs. Both of these are found in Arabians, along with cerebellar abiotrophy (CA), which causes the death of neurons in the cerebellum that affect balance and coordination, and is occasionally found in other breeds.

• ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of tumor that appears on the edges of the eyes and on the third eye- lid, in Haflingers

• warmblood fragile foal syndrome (WFFS), which causes fragile skin that tears easily and is slow to heal, lax joints that may prevent standing, and lesions within the mouth.

Knowing a horse’s genetic status can help an owner make more informed management decisions. If you know your horse is susceptible to ocular SCC, for example, you can make sure to protect him from sun exposure with a fly mask and take other precautions to try to prevent the condition or at least catch it early. Genetic testing is also becoming a common part of prepurchase exams.

While horse owners may find genetic tests useful, breeders are their primary users. By identifying stallions and mares with one copy of recessive genes associated with certain diseases, breeders can avoid mating carriers to other carriers to avoid producing affected foals.

But that doesn’t mean carriers can’t be bred at all---in many breeds, removing all carriers from the breeding pool would severely limit genetic diversity. “If we were to eliminate all horses that had one copy of one of the five-panel disorders, we would probably eliminate 30 to 40 percent of all American Quarter Horses, thus greatly reducing the gene pool,” says Arne de Kloet, director of Animal Genetics in Tallahassee, Florida.

By breeding carriers of undesirable genes only to noncarriers, breeders can avoid producing foals with recessive diseases while still preserving other desirable traits these horses may have. “Animal Genetics reports all SCID test results to the Arabian Horse Society,” says de Kloet. “Interestingly, the number of carriers we see is almost the same as it was 15 years ago, but the number of homozygous [horses with two copies of the mutation] positives we see is almost zero. This tells me people have been breeding smart. If I have a stallion that has one copy of SCID, I’ll never breed him to a mare that also has a copy of SCID, and we’ll never have a problem. This enables horses with many great qualities to remain in the breeding program.”

Currently, genetic testing is required only for Quarter Horse breeding stallions, but many breeders are opting to test prospective broodmares of the breed as well. “There is both breeder wisdom and market pressure pushing increased testing of mares,” says Cecilia Penedo, PhD, director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of California–Davis.

Even with the new information that genetic tests can provide, breeding decisions still require a balancing act. “Some mutations have been maintained for advantage,” says Kathryn Graves, PhD, director of the Animal Genetic Testing and Research Laboratory of the Gluck Center at the University of Kentucky. “The PSSM1 mutation may have given working draft horses superior abilities to pull or carry heavy loads. The mutation that has given us the beloved Appaloosa color pattern that can also be associated with night blindness, but do we want a world without Appaloosas? We have to be careful not to make our first response a rush to eliminate all mutations. The irony is that genetic testing is giving us new tools to undo the results of our own selective breeding.”

Colors, patterns and parentage

Genetic analysis isn’t all about health, though. Tests are also available that provide insight into your horse’s coat color, patterns and parentage ---traits that may seem obvious at first, but a peek at your horse’s DNA can reveal surprising or otherwise un-knowable information.

Testing can determine whether a horse carries one, two or no copies of the genes required for more than a dozen coat colors and patterns. These include

• base colors, which will be either black, red or bay.

• dilution factors, which are five testable genes that modify the color of the base coat. These are champagne, cream, dun, pearl and silver.

• patterns, which are genes that eliminate pigment and produce white hairs on the body, including dominant white, gray, tobiano, splashed white, overo, sabino, leopard complex and roan.

Tests for coat colors and patterns are relatively inexpensive, and they can be used by owners who simply want to know what color their horses are. Many coat colors can look very similar ---a palomino, for example, can be hard to distinguish from a silver-dappled bay---and if a horse’s parentage isn’t known, the only way to be certain is by a genetic test.

Mostly, however, genetic tests for coat colors and pattern are used by breeders who want to be able to predict what colors their mares and stallions can produce. This capability has both pros and cons, if too strong a focus on coat colors or patterns outweighs other desirable traits.

“There is a definite danger there,” Graves says. “We have seen this happen in some breeds already. For example, if a registry has strict color requirements and horses of any other color are excluded, the breed runs the risk of becoming inbred, which may bring consequences such as infertility or an increase in the prevalence of other undesirable genetic traits.”

These tests are more critical in the case of the frame overo pattern. Breeders need to identify horses who carry this mutation to avoid producing a foal with lethal white syndrome. One of the splashed white genes may also produce lethal white foals, but that connection has not been proven.

Finally, confirming parentage of a horse was one of the original uses of genetic testing and remains one of the most common. A number of breed organizations require that foals have their parentage confirmed before they can be registered. These tests require the submission of hair samples pulled from the foal as well as from both his sire and dam. If the sire is uncertain, then samples can be submitted from all possible sires.

By comparing inheritable traits in the DNA, these tests can confirm a foal’s parentage with efficacy greater than 99 percent; an incorrect sire can also be excluded with 100 percent certainty. “We compare the genetic profile of the sample of mane or tail hair submitted to our database profiles of the sire and dam,” Graves says. “We verify the parents and send those reports to the registries.” However, these tests do not reveal the breed of an individual horse.

Owners seeking to register their horses are the most common users of equine genetic testing. “The DNA test for parentage verification represents the largest number of samples tested,” Penedo says. “Most horse breed registries now require DNA testing for registration, which translates to hundreds of thousands of horses being tested yearly around the world.”

What lies ahead?

Like many other technologies, genetic testing is becoming faster, more affordable and thus more accessible. “The cost of sequencing a horse’s entire genome is coming down,” Graves says. “Today, this can be done for about $8,000 to $10,000. Soon, perhaps within 10 years, it will cost only about $1,000. At that point, the average horse owner will be able to sequence her horse’s entire genome.”

The challenge, says Graves, will be determining how best to use this information. “We still have a lot of work to do before we will know that,” she says. “We need to create maps of each breed of horse. This will enable us to look for desirable performance traits or for genetic anomalies in a horse that has chronic health problems.”

Could genetically engineered “super horses” appear in the future? Possibly, with a new technology called “gene editing,” which Penedo describes as using “molecular scissors” to insert, remove or replace DNA sequences in the laboratory. “I can envisage that it will be tried in horses, but given the costs it is unlikely to become common practice,” she says. One application of this technology that she does foresee, however, “would be to correct the DNA sequence in an early embryo from highly valuable parents that is affected with a genetic defect, as determined from pre-implantation embryo genetic testing. The expectation is that the defective gene could be replaced by a normal gene, and the ‘edited’ embryo could then be implanted.”

In the meantime, the number of specific tests available---both for diseases as well as other aspects of a horse’s health and physiology---will likely continue to grow as researchers learn more about equine genetics. “It is a constantly evolving field,” de Kloet says. “Just as with human genetics, it’s going to change and evolve in the number of tests available and with regard to how the testing is being done. We have software programs and the computer ability to go through and look at a billion nucleotides in only a couple of days.”

To help with further research, Etalon Diagnostics offers several tests to the public, for conditions such as lordosis (“swayback”), that are in the “discovery stage”---that is, although there is some evidence of genetic factors for these conditions, the results of these specific tests have not been fully validated by research studies. Etalon’s goal is to gain feedback from owners to help support the research.

“Our platform is collaborative, meaning that it relies in part on feedback from horse owners,” Lafayette says. “We look for associations between certain genetic mutations and performance or other health traits based on emerging research data. When we see a pattern that suggests a genetic link, we follow up with horse owners and track the input we receive from them. This leads to the discovery or confirmation of connections between genetic mutations and resulting traits faster than would be possible if we were to go the conventional research grant route.”

Lafayette admits, however, that this approach is still a work in progress: “Since this kind of horse- owner-driven research platform has never been attempted before, the learning curve is steep,” she says. “We have to continually adjust our methods, studies, and the way we approach and present the information.”

The demand for genetic testing is already large and is likely to continue to grow in the coming years as the technology develops and new tests become available. Already, says Lafayette, labs like hers are receiving all kinds of requests from people who want more information about their horses: “Big ones, little ones, wild ones and pocket ponies, all colors, all disciplines. People want to know everything from color and health to speed and gait. Folks are excited to talk and learn more about their horses, as are we.”

This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #379)

SIDEBAR

Performance and personality testing

While genetic tests for diseases, colors and parentage can provide DNA “proof” of a condition, those looking for genes associated with performance-related traits yield less definitive information. How or whether these genes are expressed can be influenced by training, environment and other factors.

For instance, performance testing, aimed primarily at Thoroughbreds, looks at multiple genes to attempt to predict a horse’s speed, stamina and overall potential for success at the racetrack. One factor these tests analyze is the myostatin gene, which controls the amount of muscle mass developed. Other components of the tests may predict a foal’s height at maturity as well as whether he will do better on dirt versus turf tracks.

Gait testing identifies a mutation on the DMRT3 gene that influences a horse’s ability to perform lateral gaits. The mutation is recessive—horses with two copies of the gene are common in Icelandic Horses, Paso Finos, Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited breeds. The effects of carrying only one copy of the mutation varies by breed, but those horses generally perform the lateral gaits with less speed and facility.


Having a particular “performance” gene isn’t a guarantee, however. After all, many a racing phenom has had full siblings who washed out at the track, and every so often a horse with a modest pedigree takes the show world by storm. DNA is only part of the equation.

Another test, described by its manufacturer as “curiosity vs. vigilance,” analyzes a mutation that affects dopamine0 receptors in the horse’s brain. Horses with two copies of the recessive gene are defined as more curious—that is, more inclined to take an interest in and approach new objects. Horses with only one or no copies of the gene are more vigilant, or less inclined to explore their surroundings.

“An oversimplified example of this might be that horses who test positive for ‘curiosity’ might outperform those who do not in, say, a trail competition,” says Christa Lafayette, CEO of Etalon Inc. of Menlo Park, California, who adds that the real utility of the test will only be known once owners begin interpreting the results. “It’s going to be interesting to see what owners say about it and whether or not they find a correlation between curiosity/vigilance and certain types of activity.”

This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #379)

Answers about ancestry

For as much as equine genetic testing has expanded over the years, one type of test isn’t available yet. “We don’t yet have a test that can tell us what breed or mix of breeds is in an individual horse,” says Kathryn Graves, PhD, of the Gluck Center at the University of Kentucky. “We would be very popular if we could offer this test, because we get requests for it several times each week.”

The challenge is that many of our modern breeds descend from the same foundation stock, and researchers don’t yet have enough genetic profiles of individual horses of different breeds to be able to distinguish them. “While breed identification of purebred horses is more easily done, determination of breed contributions in crossbred horses is a far more complex problem,” says Cecilia Penedo, PhD, of the University of California–Davis. “Perhaps in the near future, this limitation may be overcome by careful selection of DNA markers for breed composition tests to become more informative and accurate.”

This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #379)

BY ABIGAIL JEFFERIES

Friday, September 14, 2018

Sharpen Your Course-Riding Skills: Part 1 - Tune Up Your Eye

In Part 1, top trainers Traci and Carleton Brooks will teach you how to tune up your eye.

Getting your horse to produce his best jumping effort over every jump is all about finding the right canter for the approach and using your eyes. Lexi Wedemeyer is demonstrating this perfectly here. She and her horse are both in excellent balance and focused on the jump. She’s already found her distance to the takeoff spot and is just about to raise her eyes to a focal point in the distance.

Amy K. Dragoo



Have you noticed that as you ride around a course, it tends to get harder, rather than easier? That’s because you have a constant stream of variables to tackle, including the questions posed by the course’s turns, jumps and striding options as well as the many aspects of your and your horse’s performance, which can change from one second to the next. Maybe he lands off a jump with too little pace and threatens to break to trot or perhaps your balance tips forward onto your hands. If you don’t address each variable immediately, you won’t be ready to face the next challenge in time, so things can unravel quickly.

Instead of schooling courses over and over again at home, the best way to prepare yourself for these high-pressure situations is by practicing specific exercises that zero in on the most fundamental skills you need on course. We’ll share three of our favorites in this article. Whether you’re a beginner just learning to ride courses or a more seasoned competitor heading to Indoors, these exercises will improve your balance, accuracy, feel and eye (ability to judge the distance to a fence) while improving your horse’s obedience, adjustability, responsiveness, focus, balance, rhythm and straightness.

When you set up these exercises, we recommend using as many solid obstacles as possible—walls, logs, barrels, etc. These give you an actual barrier to jump, which helps you focus and encourages your horse to jump around the fence in a nice round shape. There is no need to make any of them big (even with advanced horses, we don’t go above 3 feet). The purpose of all of these exercises is precision, not jumping high. Beginners can replace any of the fences with small crossrails, cavalletti or ground poles.

We always advocate using both reins to steer so that you’re influencing the largest part of your horse: his shoulders and belly. In general, control your turns by balancing and steadying with the outside rein and leg and guiding with the inside rein and leg. Sometimes you may need to use one rein more than the other, but always keep contact with both.

We’re also big proponents of visualization. Before you begin each exercise, study the diagrams, then ride through it in your mind. This will make your sessions more productive.

Exercise 1 Diagram



Start by picking up the canter on your horse’s better lead and establish a good rhythm, making sure he is between your leg and hand. You should feel him “filling in the reins”—offering equal pressure in each hand—so you know that he’s ready to respond to your aids. Ask yourself, “Does this feel like the right canter? Could I open or compress the stride if I need to?” Then start counting out loud in rhythm with his stride—“One, two, one, two.” As you approach the jump, raise your eyes to a chosen focal point in the distance, parallel to or just above your eye level, while keeping the jump and track to it in your peripheral vision.

Step 1



As you enter the marked lane four to six horse lengths away from the jump, try to judge whether you’re going to arrive too close (deep), too far away (long) or just right. Here, you can see Lexi has entered the lane in a nice medium canter—not so forward that she’s at the end of her horse’s stride, but not short and choppy either. He’s traveling in a good balance and “filling in the reins”—you can see the contact is neither slack nor too tight. Lexi has recognized that she needs to move up to a forward distance, so she’s lightened her seat. However, she’s gotten slightly ahead of the motion. We’d like to see her weight shift back closer to the middle of the saddle, which would open the angle in her elbows more. Lifting her eye and chin would help to accomplish this.

Step 2



In Lexi’s next approach to the jump, the distance to the takeoff spot is a little long, so she opens her inside rein to bring her horse in on the curve slightly. At the same time, she maintains contact with her outside rein and supports him with her outside leg. This controls his belly and shoulders (so he doesn’t bulge his shoulder out), as well as his head, so the shape of his body mirrors the shape of the curve. With this slight adjustment, they’ll jump the fence where you see the white circle. Notice, too, that she’s starting to close her hip angle to be ready to go with the motion when he leaves the ground.

Step 3



This time, Lexi’s distance to the takeoff spot is deep, so she adds pressure with her inside leg and takes both hands to the left to encourage him to fade toward the outside of the lane, aiming to jump the fence where you see the white circle. Again, she’s doing a good job of making the shape of his body mirror the shape of the track (rather than pulling his head to the outside, so his body curves away from the track). Notice how square her shoulders are to the fence. This is easier to achieve if you think of your outside shoulder being the last part of your body to come around the turn. Doing this also helps you to maintain contact on the outside rein and keep your outside leg against the horse’s side to provide support.

Exercise 1: Tune Up Your Eye

Your eyes are the most dominant part of your ride. Where you focus them not only determines where your track will be but also significantly affects your balance, which, in turn, influences your horse’s balance. Keeping your eyes level helps you maintain your balance and stay anchored and safe on the horse. A common issue we see is being ahead of the motion, which can be resolved by raising your eyes.

Choose focal points that are at or above your eye level. If your eyes are 10 feet above the ground, that means your focal point should be 12 to 16 feet high (depending on how far away it is). We all naturally tend to drop our eyes, so it’s always important to raise them slightly higher than the intended focal point before letting them settle down to it. For example, if you’ve chosen a tree outside the arena to focus on, look first at the very top of it—don’t start down at the trunk. This technique is especially useful over fences. Use it to get the idea of “up and over” in your mind and body. That way you won’t be tempted to lead with your shoulders, which tips your balance too far forward, but rather with your chest and the tops of your hips. The idea is to let your horse jump up to you and then you follow, allowing his jump to close your angle.

As you warm up on the flat, choose a focal point outside the ring and practice riding around a bend or half circle that ends on a line heading toward the focal point. As you trot or canter around the bend, raise your eyes above the focal point, then let them settle down to it.

When you get the hang of this sensation, identify more focal points around the ring and do the same with them. This is a great technique to incorporate into your warm-up at shows, too.

Now set a small vertical on one end of the arena, far enough off the long side so you can jump it on a curve from either direction and then end up traveling perpendicular to that small vertical after landing. Jump this a few times on each lead to warm up.

Next, use agricultural lime (available at garden and hardware stores), spray paint, polo wraps or foam poles (or pool noodles—be creative!)—anything a horse can step on safely—to mark the edges of a curved lane starting at the base of the jump and extending several strides away from it in both directions (so you can jump it on both leads). Make sure your horse can travel straight for one or two horse lengths before and after the fence. The result will be a large half-circle interrupted midway through by the jump. Make the width of the lane 9 to 10 feet if you’re a beginner and slightly narrower if you’re more experienced—but no narrower than about 6 feet. Widen the lane by 2 or 3 feet at the base of the jump on both sides. Do not use solid poles for this purpose, as they could injure your horse if he steps on them.

Starting on your horse’s better lead, canter a few circles to establish a good rhythm. Then start counting out loud in rhythm with his stride—“One, two, one, two”—as you enter the lane to the jump. Meanwhile, raise your eyes to a chosen focal point in the distance, keeping the jump and the track to it in your peripheral vision.

Initially aim for the center of the vertical. After your horse lands, keep straight for one or two horse lengths, then make your turn in the next corner slightly more square (closer to a 90-degree angle) while asking him to regather himself for the next straightaway. Then circle across the arena to jump the fence again. After doing this six or seven times, change direction and do the same on the other lead.

Next, approach the vertical with a new plan: When you’re four to six horse lengths away from it, try to judge whether you’re going to arrive too close (deep) or too far away (long). Adjust your track accordingly: If you’re going to be deep, open your outside rein slightly and use some inside leg to encourage your horse to fade toward the outside of the lane. If you’re going to be long, open your inside rein and use some outside leg to bring him in a little.

When you’re jumping on a curve like this, changing your track by as little as 4 inches to the left or right can add or subtract as much as a foot to or from the distance your horse has to travel to the takeoff point, so keep these adjustments very small. Be mindful about his entire body, not just his head and neck, asking him to be perpendicular to the fence one to two horse lengths before and after it.

After doing this six or seven times, change direction and do the same on the other lead.

Developing a good eye takes time, so be patient with yourself. Instead of concentrating on the jump, think of it as just another canter stride. Try to keep the same pace and rhythm throughout the approach, jump and recovery. If you have trouble judging whether you need to fade to the outside or inside in the approach, ask an experienced rider to stand about six lengths in front of the jump (and a few feet to one side, so you don’t risk running him or her over) and give you input as you ride by.

This story was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Increase Your Horse's Responsiveness to Your Aids


Sabine Rijssenbeek explains how to improve this aspect of communication between horse and rider.

SABINE RIJSSENBEEKJUN 28, 2015

Q: My 10-year-old warmblood mare is quite lazy. She does not respond to the whip. She simply ignores it. She never puts her ears back or gets angry. While I love that she hardly ever spooks and is not really excitable, I would like some advice on how I can get her more responsive to the whip. She has excellent breeding, and the vet can’t find anything wrong with her.

Janet Lorenz
Aurora, Illinois

Sabine Rijssenbeek

A: Good communication between a horse and rider is a basic foundation in proper training. The horse’s willingness to move forward is essential. To improve your mare’s response to the whip, I suggest the following procedure. Keep in mind that to develop throughness and good impulsion, the horse needs to respond to the leg aids with the whip as additional support. I have used this procedure successfully many times to develop the desired response between horse and rider.

Step 1: You will first need to longe your mare on a 15-meter circle. The goal is to bring her into a very light frame on the bit. Use a longer-than-normal longe whip with a long lash and simple side reins. The whip needs to be able to reach the haunches of the horse, and the side reins should be long enough that the mare can achieve the desired roundness under saddle with her nose not behind the vertical. She should be able to move freely forward with a light connection. Adjust the size of the circle accordingly. After warming up at the walk, send your mare into a nice forward trot. When she slows down, use the whip at or around her haunches to encourage forward movement. Longe in both directions and do transitions between trot and canter. The goal of this exercise is to get your horse active using the whip, which will be helpful once under saddle.


Step 2: The next step is to bring the horse alongside you, in the middle of the arena, still in side reins. Using an extra-long dressage whip, tap your mare just behind the girth, then move the whip toward her haunches to determine where she is most sensitive. The goal is to get the horse to move sideways away from the whip. If the side reins inhibit sideways movement, remove them. To tap your horse, use a quick double-tap rhythm. An assertive double tap is always more effective than one hard crack of the whip. After completing the exercise in both directions, you should be able to determine where your horse is most sensitive to the whip.

Step 3: Now you will need the help of a trainer or trusted, experienced rider. The rider should be in the saddle, with no side reins and the reins in light connection. The helper on the ground should have the longe line attached to the bit. The helper will double tap your horse (as with Step 2) in the most sensitive area, prompting sideways, not forward, movement. One side will be more sensitive than the other. The goal is to get the hind legs to make quick, almost trot-like steps away from the whip. When your horse responds, the helper will tap her when the inside hind leg is in the process of leaving the ground. This is extremely important. My experience is that horses react better with this exercise when they can move sideways rather than forward. Don’t ask for more than five steps at this point.

Step 4: Next, with the helper still holding the horse from the ground, the rider will use a dressage whip, in the exact same spot and with the same double-tap rhythm and intensity, to get the same reaction. But now she will also incorporate the leg aid. If your horse does not react with the same sideways movement, the helper on the ground will immediately double tap with her whip to get the reaction.

Step 5: Next, the rider and helper will move to the rail and remove the longe line. With the helper positioned at a safe distance at the shoulder of your horse, the rider will again double tap your horse while using leg aids in the same rhythm to get forward movement. Remember that the helper should use the same intensity and rhythm with the whip. If your horse does not immediately move forward, the helper will again double tap her from the ground.

Once your horse moves swiftly forward, both rider and helper should stop right away and praise the horse by using the voice, pats on the neck or treats. Repeat the exercise six or seven times with the helper on the ground to ensure your horse understands and receives praise. The goal is to get your mare to react more quickly each time. Be sure that the rider changes reins and repeats the exercise in the other direction and uses the whip on the opposite side of the horse’s body. Don’t be alarmed if your horse takes quick trot steps—this is exactly the reaction you want.

Step 6: Once your horse understands the exercise, ask again for forward trot from the saddle, but this time do not stop. Instead, double tap the horse again and ask for a quicker tempo. Be sure you are using your other driving aids in the same rhythm of the whip. Every time your horse begins to slow, use the whip and aids to again encourage a quicker tempo. Try to ride as many straight lines as possible during this exercise and don’t change direction until you are certain your horse understands. The reason you need to ride straight lines is that you want your horse to focus only on reacting quickly and moving straight forward in response to the aids. Be sure to keep your horse at the desired pace for at least a few minutes in each direction. Repeat the exercise at the canter going in both directions. Be sure to continue to praise your horse when she responds.

Horses respond well and like routine work. It is extremely important to repeat these exercises over and over again until the forward movement becomes confirmed in your horse.

Sabine Rijssenbeek is a native of the Netherlands and holds a Level 3 International Trainer’s Passport (highest level in the Netherlands). She was short-listed for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and has trained Olympic and Dutch National Championship horses. She is located in California.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bring Out Your Horse's Shine


CHRISTINE BARAKAT WITH MELINDA FRECKLETON, DVMOCT 1, 2017

While grooming trends vary among breeds and disciplines, a shiny horse is a head-turner in any arena. Some horses “bloom” more naturally than others, but there are some steps you can take to bring out the shine in any horse’s coat.

1. Don’t bathe him too often. The deepest shines come from the natural oils produced by your horse’s skin. Bathing too often strips this oil, so while your horse may technically be cleaner, his coat may be left looking dull. Skip the soap when you can, removing dirt with brushes and using only plain water to rinse your horse after a sweaty summer ride.

2. Lay on the elbow grease. Regular, vigorous hand grooming spreads oil throughout your horse’s coat, contributing to shine. Even after visible dirt has been removed, spend another 10 minutes brushing your horse to bring out a sheen. A soft brush works best for this final touch, or you can use a clean hand towel and wipe over your horse in the direction of coat growth using a slight bit of pressure.

3. Feed him right. Good basic nutrition is the foundation of a healthy coat, so ensure your horse is getting the correct amounts of quality feed. From that start you can consider adding a supplement intended to bring out the best in his coat. These supplements typically include some combination of biotin and omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Use a finishing spray. A light spritzing with a “shine” spray can put your horse’s glow over the top. There are many formulations of coat polish to choose from with different ingredients, actions and scents. Some of these sprays can make a horse’s coat slick, however, so be careful when applying it to hair you’ll need to braid later or on areas where tack will sit.

This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #378)

Friday, July 20, 2018

An Inside Look at Top Dressage Show Management

Learn what keeps some of the country’s largest showgrounds ready for competition.

Jennifer Mellace


Credit: Terri Miller The HITS showground in Saugerties, New York, hosts dressage events, including international CDIs.

When you travel to a dressage show for the day or weekend, do you ever wonder what is behind keeping the grounds show-ready? With the cost of high-end footing and the amount of thought that goes into keeping horse and rider safe, it’s no wonder there are only a handful of world-class facilities available for international-level competitions (CDIs). Here are some of the costs and challenges faced by the country’s largest facilities.

Footing is one of the largest investments a showground can make. Dianne Boyd is the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Show Manager at Dressage at Devon (DAD) and manages a number of shows at other facilities. “In general, footing and stabling are the two most expensive components of maintaining a show facility,” she says. “The footing needs to be maintained at least twice a day, weather permitting. Drags may be required more often, depending on specific show requirements [like a regional championship or CDI]. Footing also needs to be prepped before the show management arrives, and this can involve dragging and watering over several days before show setup.”

Although DAD rents the Pennsylvania-based showgrounds, it is responsible for the new footing that has gone in over recent years. Lori Kaminski, president and CEO of DAD, believes that if a showground is going to stay competitive, it must keep its footing up to standards. In 2010 and 2011, DAD replaced the old sand footing in both main arenas with state-of-the-art EuroFelt. After that work had been completed, new USEF rules for footing stated that all CDI horses must be able to warm up on the same footing on which they will be competing. Fortunately, through many generous donations, DAD was able to raise the estimated $300,000 it took to replace the footing in the warm-up arenas to bring it up to the standard of the others.

Glenda McElroy, of Cornerstone Event Management in California, runs many dressage CDIs at public facilities on the West Coast. “Footing is an ongoing issue at most public facilities because so many different types of horse shows want to rent the facilities, and they all have their own requirements for footing,” she says. “While I don’t have to keep up the grounds, many times I do have to pay to tractor and level the ground and then pay to add footing.”

Tenants and owners of showgrounds agree that in order for dressage shows to be successful, the footing must be up to par. “Proper footing is a wonderful investment,” says Ginny Rattner, owner of DevonWood Equestrian Center in Sherwood, Oregon, home to Dressage at DevonWood, one of the largest dressage competitions in the Northwest. “We want our show attendees to know there is no safer place for you and your horse. We haven’t had suspensory problems or other troubles related to poor footing. And we never lacked for attendance even at the worst of times.”

Rattner found a new footing product for her state-of-the-art dressage facility that came from Germany. Even with shipping costs of $45,000, the footing was more cost-effective than if it had been produced in the United States. “In Germany the product is subsidized, helping to make the cost to the end-user less,” explains Rattner. “This was a tried-and-true product [used at the 2008 Olympics] that consists of wall-to-wall rubber matting underneath a layer of sand and geotechnical material. Devonwood was the first American facility to use the product in two of our arenas. It takes terrible abuse without watering, and the ring holds level without much grooming. We spent $100,000 five years ago.”

Fifteen years ago, Rattner was introduced to an ebb-and-flow footing concept while in Aachen, Germany. Once again, she opted to use the model at DevonWood. “The system consists of conduits and pumps that line the arena and keep the water level consistent,” she says. “If it rains, the excess water is drained to the level it needs to be. If the weather is dry, the water isn’t released. It’s like walking on the sand right near where the waves recede back into the ocean. If you go too far into the dry sand, it’s strenuous on your knees and ankles; same if you go too far into the water. This system keeps the constant consistency.” The showground has this system in two rings, including a large arena used for FEI-level competition. The cost was $60,000 per arena, but has lasted 15 years. “We maintain our rings every six months. They are all laser-leveled by an excavator that grooms and aerates the rings. The cost is $500 each time.”

Thomas Struzzieri is the president and CEO of HITS, Inc., the largest hunter/jumper horse-show management company in the United States. In recent years, the Saugerties, New York, location has been rented for dressage events, including international CDIs. Struzzieri admits that there are challenges to running such large show facilities but the benefits far outweigh them.

Credit: Mary Cornelius DevonWood Equestrian Centre in Sherwood, Oregon.

“I’ve owned my show facilities for the past 15 to 20 years,” says Struzzieri. “Being the owner means I control the footing, the schedule, the stabling and everything else that comes with being a show manager. It’s everything I love about my job. Some of the bigger challenges for any facility owner are the maintenance of the grounds, the permanent stabling [HITS facilities have 1,100 permanent stalls], taxes, water and sewer bills—things that many folks who rent showgrounds don’t need to consider. Of course, footing still prevails over the cost of most everything else. It’s the lion’s share of our capital expenditures—I’d say 75 percent,” he explains. “Proper footing is a moving target. We’re constantly reassessing to keep it the same or better. We’ve successfully done this at Saugerties—having the dressage shows renting the grounds is evidence of this.”

While footing remains the largest expense, showground owners and managers face many other issues. In fact, when asked what is the biggest threat to showgrounds today, folks agreed that it’s infectious diseases. “Frankly, I’m terrified of that,” admits Rattner. “We are diligent about keeping our ear to the ground and knowing what is happening. During the herpes outbreak, we didn’t hold shows. We always keep the walls of our stalls sterilized and remain proactive to prevent any problems.”

Struzzieri agrees, noting that not only are the horses’ lives at risk but also the livelihoods of many trainers. “If a disease like equine herpes spreads, we would all lose weeks, if not months, of income. We must have a proactive program with stringent standards set up to protect everyone involved.”

The cost of maintaining an equestrian-use-only facility is another looming problem. “The business model does not have a good profit margin, and most facilities have difficulty covering their operating costs with just equestrian events,” says Boyd. “This low-profit/high-cost model also makes it difficult to acquire and develop new facilities without significant government or donor support.”

Sadly, the threat of being sued is another concern. “We are a litigious society, so we need to protect ourselves,” says Struzzieri. “We [HITS] use the top insurance firms, make sure our grounds are properly maintained and pay attention to the size of the shows, making sure they are appropriate for the particular showground. This helps prevent accidents from happening.”

While many have seen increases in insurance rates, Rattner hasn’t and believes that proper planning has played a large part in this. “Our insurance costs truly haven’t changed much over the years. If anything, they’ve dropped some because we’ve had a great track record for safety. We have planned for everything, from stabling to parking, and have a great relationship with our insurance provider. Prior proper planning has allowed us to cover everything and keep everyone safe.”

In the end, those involved with keeping showgrounds ready for the next event agree that there is no better feeling than seeing everyone enjoy their day. “It’s fascinating to me how well-run the dressage shows are,” says Struzzieri. “There are so many volunteers and competitors who care deeply about the sport.”

Friday, July 6, 2018

Richard Spooner's Cartwheel Bounce Exercise

Kim F. Miller

Top jumper rider Richard Spooner shares one of his favorite bounce exercises. This exercise works for all levels of horses and riders and can help your horse engage his hindquarters and produce a "snappier" shoulder action.

Richard Spooner and his long-time partner Cristallo on their way to winning the $50,000 Las Vegas Classic in 2016.

Richard Spooner is coming in hot for the finalĂ© of the Longines FEI World Cup™ North American West Sub-League, at HITS Coachella February 10. With a win in Las Vegas and top finishes in Sacramento, Calgary and Del Mar, he’s all set, points-wise, for springtime in Paris at the Finals. He doesn’t plan to ride his newest star, Chatinus, whose “can’t touch this” attitude has led to remarkable rounds in their six-month partnership. He’s not sure yet who he’ll ride in the Saturday showdown, but whichever horse he chooses will be familiar with a favorite gymnastic exercises: the cartwheel triple bounce.

It’s a fixture in Richard and Kaylen Spooner’s home arena in the Los Angeles area’s Agua Dulce. For their Grand Prix horses and prospects, its main purpose is teaching or reminding them to stay bent slightly to the inside throughout their jumping effort. The curving track requires the horse to use their hindquarters and produces snappy shoulder action.

The exercise has a lot to teach riders, too, as Richard demonstrated as the head coach in the USHJA’s Emerging Jumper Rider Gold Star clinic in January. It teaches riders to “participate” in the jump by using the leg correctly and maintaining some inside rein while jumping through. Inside bend is a tenet of Richard’s system for suppleness and control, on the flat and on course, and the cartwheel requires it. “Horses have a tendency to creep their ribcages to the inside, so you have to use your leg to keep pushing them to the outside, maintaining the inside bend,” Richard explains. It also underscores his emphasis on leg over hand. “There’s a tendency for riders to just use the hand to find the jump, then during the jump, work very hard with the leg to hold down the stirrup. They should be using it to push the horse to the outside.”

To set a cartwheel triple bounce, use three verticals with the inside standards set six feet apart. The outside standards should be between 12 and 14 feet apart. Plenty was accomplished by riders at a height of two feet during the Gold Star clinic. That’s a good height to start, and the exercise can be raised depending on the horse’s experience and athletic ability, and your goals for it. #FEIWorldCup