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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The challenge of EPM

Early detection and treatment are the keys to helping a horse recover from this neurological disease.

When your previously sure-footed horse starts to stumble regularly…. Or you notice his lip drooping and he’s dropping feed…. Or his gaits just seem to lack that usual smoothness under saddle….

Signs like these may be subtle, especially at first, but it is not good to overlook them. In fact, any persistent change in the way a horse uses his body---including his resting stance, his gaits, how he carries his tail, the pattern of his sweat, generalized weakness, a drooping ear or tilted head---could be a sign that he is developing a neurological disorder.

And one common neurological disease affecting American horses is equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). Horses may develop EPM after ingesting feed or water contaminated with Sarcocystis neurona, a one-celled organism called a protozoan, that is spread by opossums and carried by other animals. Less commonly, a different protozoan called Neospora hughesi may also cause EPM.

Most horses who encounter the organisms that cause EPM put up an immune response that fights off the infection. Sometimes, however---in less than 1 percent of exposed horses---the protozoa cross into the central nervous system and damage the brain and spinal cord. Several drug treatments are available that can curb the protozoal infection, but the damaged nerves will still require up to a year or more to heal, and some horses never recover completely. Relapses are common if the protozoal populations are able to rebound after treatment ends. A horse’s chances of a full recovery are better when treatment is started early, before the damage is too severe.

The most common signs of the disease are weakness and incoordination (ataxia), primarily in the hind limbs. Often, the effects are asymmetrical---one hind leg will be affected more than the other. As the disease progresses, the horse may develop muscle atrophy. In rarer cases, if the disease affects the brain, signs may include facial paralysis, seizures, difficulty swallowing, head tilt and behavioral changes.

Diagnostic difficulties

Determining whether a horse has EPM can be difficult. Because most who are exposed to the protozoa never develop the disease, the presence of antibodies alone is not enough for a diagnosis. A horse who is positive for antibodies to one of the protozoa could still have neurological signs due to some other cause.

That said, however, some of the newer testing methods---an indirect immunofluorescence antibody test (IFAT) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs)---can be used to determine the titer (the concentration of antibodies) in a blood sample. Although these types of test results are not a definitive diagnosis, many veterinarians consider a higher titer, along with neurological impairment, to be evidence of probable EPM.

The most definitive type of testing looks for antibodies to the protozoa in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Evidence that the organisms have penetrated the central nervous system is an even clearer indication that the horse’s neurological signs are attributable to EPM. Finding high titers of anti-bodies in both the blood and the CSF is the best indication of EPM that is currently available. However, even this evidence is not considered definitive proof that the EPM is the cause of any neurological signs. And because obtaining a sample of CSF is a more technically challenging and more in- vasive procedure, many veterinarians proceed on the assumption of EPM based on the blood tests and observation of signs alone.

Treatment and recovery

Three drugs currently have Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment of EPM:
  • Ponazuril (trade name Marquis) is an oral paste delivered once daily for 28 days.
  • Diclazuril (trade name Protazil) is an alfalfa-based pellet that can be fed daily as a top dressing on a horse’s grain for 28 days.
  • Sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine (trade name ReBalance) is an oral suspension administered daily for as long as 270 days.
All of these drugs are antiprotozoal and cross the blood-brain barrier to either kill or inhibit the reproduction of the organisms within the central nervous system. The best choice for your horse depends on several factors, including which is easiest to admini-ster effectively.

Your veterinarian will advise you on special handling for the drugs. For example, some evidence suggests that administering DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) in conjunction with ponazuril may help the drug to reach therapeutic levels faster. Also, especially in more severe cases, a veterinarian may opt to begin the treatment with a “loading dose” of ponazuril, with three to seven times the normal amount, to help the drug reach the central nervous system faster. In a few cases, longer treatment periods are needed.

Preventive measures

Currently, no vaccine is available to protect against EPM. For now, your best bet for preventing EPM lies in limiting your horse’s exposure to the protozoa. And, for the most part, that means taking steps to break the parasite’s life cycle and to prevent opossums from contaminating your horse’s feed and water:
  • Avoid attracting large numbers of scavengers. It is not necessary, or probably even possible, to keep all opossums away from your property. And that’s OK: Opossums eat prodigious numbers of pest species, including mice and ticks, which can also carry diseases. But you do want to keep their numbers to a minimum---and that means closing down the food sources on your farm that would attract opossums and encourage them to stick around.
  • Keep your feed in sealed containers and clean up spills immediately. Use sturdy garbage cans with tight-fitting lids. Pick up uneaten cat and dog food at the end of each day, and clean up fallen seed under bird feeders. If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit. Killing or trapping opossums won’t help---if you’re still providing food sources, more will come.
  • Pick up animal carcasses. Opossums pick up S. neurona by scavenging carcasses of other infected animals---which can be many species, including skunks, raccoons, armadillos and cats. To reduce the risk that local opossums will get infected, remove any dead wildlife you may find on your property.
  • Keep hay and bedding clean. Make an effort to keep any roving opossums away from your horse’s feed and bedding. Store these materials in a secured shed or loft to keep out wild animals, and dispose of any you find that has been contaminated with animal feces. Use feeders to keep hay off of the ground; check them periodically for animal wastes and clean as needed.
  • Seal off the shelters. Clear up brush piles, which can provide shelter for wildlife, and close doors to sheds and other outbuildings, especially at night. Close off access to spaces underneath buildings, too---but first make sure you don’t already have animals in residence. You don’t want to trap them inside.
  • Limit your horse’s stress. Horses who travel frequently and undergo the stresses of training and competing in high-intensity sports are at greater risk of developing EPM, according to a 2000 study from Ohio State University. Your veterinarian can advise you on steps to avoid overtaxing your competition horse and to keep him generally healthy.
For more information, go to “On the Frontlines Against EPM” (EQUUS 451).

The life cycle of sarcocystis neurona

The opossum is the definitive host for Sarcocystis neurona, meaning that the protozoa can mature and reproduce within its body. 1. The opossum excretes the parasite eggs, called oocysts, in its feces. 2. The oocysts release a secondary stage, called sporocysts, which may contaminate feed or water and be consumed by other animals. 3. The horse may ingest sporocysts. Horses are considered aberrant hosts because, so far, no evidence has been found that the protozoa complete their life cycles in horses. 4. In some cases, the protozoa may cross into the horse’s central nervous system and damage the spinal cord and/or brain, causing equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). 5. Other animals—including raccoons, skunks, cats and armadillos—may ingest the sporocysts and become intermediate hosts. 6. Once inside the intestine of an intermediate host, the sporocysts hatch and go through other life stages. Even-tually, they invade the muscle tissue and form sarcocysts, which contain parasite spores. 7. When the intermediate host dies, its carcass may be scavenged by an opossum, which ingests the sarcocysts. The parasites mature in the opossum’s intestine, and the cycle begins again. Note: The life cycle of Neospora hughesi is less understood, but it appears that horses do not have to eat infected food or water to contract it: Mares who carry the organism can pass it to their offspring during gestation. This means that EPM may be a possibility even in areas where opossums are not found.

This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of EQUUS and re-published here with permission.




Friday, June 8, 2018

Ride Your Hunter Round Like a Pro

Wow the judge with this top hunter rider and judge’s show-ring tips. Part 1: Practice pace and turning to a line.

When deciding how to pin hunter classes, judges ask themselves, “Which of these horses would I most like to ride?” With rounds lasting only 90 to 120 seconds, there’s not much time to demonstrate that your horse is the answer to that question. From the moment you enter the ring to the moment you leave, your performance must exude ease and confidence. Communication between you and your horse should be nearly invisible. Nothing should distract the judge’s attention from his round. In fact, the best riders seem to melt into the scenery—all you notice is the horse. Exceptional hunter riders allow the horse’s expression to come through so every obstacle he meets is simple, forward and enjoyable to watch.

How do you produce a round like this? By making a fantastic first impression and demonstrating beautifully consistent rhythm from beginning to end as well as smooth turns and balanced takeoffs and landings. I’ll give you tips and exercises to practice at home to achieve these things. This month, I’ll discuss pace and give exercises on how to practice maintaining it to a jump and through a turn to a line. Next month, I’ll share an exercise on how to turn around a fence to jump another fence on a diagonal and another exercise to turn your head while jumping through a grid to improve your ability to look ahead.

Start the Way You Want to Finish

A winning round starts right from your opening canter and first jump. This is not a warm-up or a freebie jump—it counts. Canter the first fence as if you’ve already cantered four jumps. This sets a tone that you plan on doing this round smoothly and with confidence.

The most frequently used symbol on my judge’s card for the first jump in the Adult Amateur division is the notation I make for slow and close. Riders tend to be hesitant and underpaced. As a result, they end up too deep and/or weak to the first jump. This makes me think, “Do they even want to jump that?” If the feeling you’re presenting is, “I’m not sure I want to be out here right now,” then you shouldn’t expect a great score.

1. To practice riding forward and straight to the fences, I place a simple flowerbox on a quarterline. I put a chair at the far end of the arena in line with the flowerbox so I can focus on it while I make my approach.

2. As I canter Callucci around the turn to the flowerbox, I look beyond it to their chair. When it lines up with the center of the flowerbox, I ask him to go forward. This creates a confidence and rhythm in our approach. You can see he is perfectly straight. As a consequence, I don't need to make any major changes to his stride in front of the flowerbox. Instead, I simply sit up a few make any major changes to this strides away from it and let the "jump" come to me.

3. In the air over the flowerbox, I keep my eye on the chair - where I want us to end up. My job at this point is to let Callucci take care of the jump while I stay quiet and balanced in the saddle.

4. After he lands, my eye is still on the chair. This helps me stay on track without losing my pace or rhythm. Again, Callucci remains perfectly straight, following the cues from my balance and focus on the chair.
Some hesitation comes from nerves. For tips on combating them, see the sidebar, “Keep Your Cool,” below. Some of it is lack of experience. Perhaps the biggest difference between amateurs and professionals is that amateurs “wait until it’s time to go” whereas professionals “go until it’s time to wait.” Professionals are confident going forward to the jumps—even when they have not yet determined a takeoff spot. If you are already going forward and need a small stride increase to get to the jump correctly, it’s available to you. If you need to wait and give your horse an extra fraction of a second to settle the stride, that’s easy to do, too.

However, if you’re overly cautious and don’t go forward to the jump, you won’t have those options. You may see a distance late in the approach and try to attack it. Startled and thrown off balance by this sudden change, your horse will make a mediocre jumping effort and land on the other side disorganized. Worst-case scenario: You approach the jump cautiously and then see the need to slow down even more. At this point even the most athletic horses will struggle to do their job. Without impulsion, straightness and confidence, our kind partners find themselves digging out of holes our backward rides produce right in front of the jump. This can result in an awkward chip, a refusal or crash. Even if the jump isn’t a total failure, you still have created a drastic change in pace, which is a major fault in our sport because of these unsafe scenarios.

Similar errors occur often on single fences with long approaches. For some riders, this is a Pandora’s box. Feeling as if they have too much time and need to be doing something, they get caught up in changing things—sometimes multiple times—whether they are looking for the perfect distance or trying to straighten their horses.

Riders showing in the 2-foot to 3-foot-6 hunter divisions merely need to arrive in the vicinity of a good takeoff spot to give their horses the opportunity to jump a fence well. They don’t need the same precision that riders jumping 4 or 5 feet need. Instead, they should focus on establishing the right rhythm, pace and track, and then relinquish control of the distance.

The following exercises will help you do that. You will need an adjustable horse who is willing to go calmly forward. (Although these exercises are designed primarily for riders jumping at or below 3-foot-6, they’re easy to modify for all levels.)

Homework: Pick up the Pace

Begin by practicing picking up more pace. Get comfortable with the concept of going forward until you see it’s time to do something else, whether that’s calmly and subtly asking your horse to wait or to increase his stride slightly without changing his rhythm. Here’s how:

Place a flowerbox or pole on the ground on a quarterline or on a long approach on a diagonal. The goal is to go from one end of the ring to the other end on a straight track, jumping the obstacle “out of stride”—maintaining the same forward, rhythmic canter the entire way, without making any changes.

As you enter the turn, look where you want to end up. Find something specific to focus on, like a leaf on a tree branch or a knot in the wood of the indoor wall. This is your focal point. The ground pole or flowerbox should just be a part of the straight path to your destination. You can glance at it briefly, but focus primarily on your point beyond the end of the arena. Your body will follow your eye and so will your horse. If he strays from the track, don’t take your eye off of your focal point. Keep looking at that point while using your legs, seat and hands to guide him back on track.

Coming through the turn, go forward. This not only improves your chances of jumping the flowerbox out of stride, but it also helps make your horse straighter. Imagine if you have a loose piece of string on a table in a serpentine-like shape. If I tell you to straighten it by pushing on either side of the string, it will take forever to get it straight. However, if you pull the two ends apart to lengthen the string, it’ll straighten right out. It is the same with your horse. The best way to straighten him is to lengthen him.

Once you’ve established that forward canter, stay on it. Tell yourself that this is no different from any other approach. I hear so many students ask, “What do I do when I don’t know what to do?” Trust that when you don’t see a distance to the pole or flowerbox—whether you’re 20 strides away or two strides away—you have taken care of your pace, rhythm and path. All you have to do is sit up and let the jump come to you. Whatever the outcome, it will be better than a last-minute change coming from panic.

Canter this way over the pole or flowerbox in both directions two or three times. Then go on to other things. Revisit the exercise later in the ride or on another day that week, just to remind yourself about the importance of a consistent pace, path and rhythm. Repeating these consistent approaches will give your “eye”—your ability to judge the distance to a good takeoff spot—a chance to develop. You will never get that chance if you change your canter on every approach.

Make Smooth Turns

Another often-underestimated element in an exceptional hunter round is turns. Done correctly, they make jumping much easier. Done incorrectly, they make jumping much more difficult. If riders turn too early or too late, they usually end up attacking the jump, pulling back on the reins, hoping for more time or trying to move the horse left or right to correct the path belatedly. All of these throw your horse off balance, limiting his ability to jump a square, straight, quality jump.

1. As I canter around the end of the ring, I turn my head to look at the first jump in the line. Meanwhile, I stay balanced in the saddle and connected to Callucci, ensuring that he maintains his nice forward rhythm. I initiate my turn as the standard of the second jump in the line starts to come into view between the standards of the first, as you can see in this photo.


2. Then, as the two fences line up, I focus my eyes on a point beyond the far end of the ring while asking Callucci to go forward to the center of the first jump. You can see that his focus is straight ahead as well.
3. As he jumps the first jump, I keep my eyes focused on that point beyond the end of the ring. Despite the extreme heat (during a mid-summer photo shoot), Callucci is still looking eager and interested in his job. His trajectory stays perfectly straight while we're in the air over the first jump.

4. As we approach the second jump down the line, I drop my weight lighlty into the saddle to support Callucci on takeoff, but I am still concentrating on my focal point.  I know that he is in the best position to jump well because we've maintained a great rhythm, pace and track from start to finish.
Maintaining the same pace around turns is challenging for many riders. They canter to the end of the ring, lose the pace on the turn and then try to find the canter again afterward. In a beautifully smooth hunter round, that canter has to be present and accounted for throughout the entire turn.

Another troublesome habit that ruins turns is riding with “laser vision” between your horse’s ears. Riders who do this usually turn first and then look to see where they are. It’s like shifting lanes in a car: You shouldn’t just turn your car and then see if you ended up in the correct lane.

These mistakes are especially common when the approach to the jump involves going around another obstacle. For instance, having to go around an outside line to get to a single jump on the diagonal seems to really play with people’s eyes. Riders tend to wait until they’re past the first obstacle before planning the turn. By then, they have missed the correct turn and end up on the wrong track to the fence. They spend the next several strides correcting that mistake and re-organizing, which often destroys the jump and the flow of the round not to mention confuses the horse.

The solution to turning problems like these sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy: Look before you turn. Get comfortable turning your head to look where you want to end up - before you start your turn—then bringing your horse into line with where your focus is. Remember, your body and your horse will follow your eyes.

Homework: Maintain Pace Through The Turn

By giving yourself a system to rely on, you can develop quality turns and eliminate erratic and inconsistent approaches from your courses. This next exercise, turning on a line, and the ones I’ll share next month will improve your turns and your ability to look ahead.

Turning on a line builds on the focal-point skills you learned in the previous exercise. Set up two fences in a line down the side of the arena, at least five strides apart (72 to 76 feet, depending on your horse and fence height).

Canter to the end of the ring and squeeze your legs on your horse’s sides while holding enough rein contact to prevent him from going faster. This will engage his hind end with energy and improve his canter. It also will help you maintain the pace through the turn so you have the same canter when you leave it that you had when you entered.

As you canter across the end of the ring, turn your head to look at the first jump in the line. When the second jump comes into view between the standards of the first jump, initiate your turn to the line. As you complete the turn and the two fences line up, ride to the center of each one, focusing your eyes on a point beyond the far end of the ring.

Practice these two exercises until you’re comfortable maintaining your pace to a fence and around a turn to a line. Next month, I’ll give you two more exercises that will build on and enhance those skills.

Keep Your Cool

To begin a round with confidence, make sure you have done your homework, arrived early enough to learn the course and discussed your ride with your trainer. The more times you can get in the show ring, the better your nerves will be. If you are not able to show frequently, find ways to mimic a competition scenario at home or at a friend’s farm. Set up a course in the ring and put a few warm-up jumps in another ring or adjoining paddock. Warm up in this separate area just as you would for a show, then walk into the ring and ride the course as if you were at a horse show with nobody talking you through it. Jump the course just once and tell yourself to live with the results. This “no-second-chances” attitude will help you learn to process your rounds and prepare better for next time.

To perform your best on show day, use the same strategies that schools teach students before tests: Get a good night’s sleep, don’t leave things to the last minute, wake up early enough to eat a good breakfast and stay hydrated. It can be mentally challenging to wait hours for your class at the horse show. Many riders get too nervous to remember to eat or drink, and that really affects their performance. Try to get something in your stomach a few hours before your class, even just small sources of protein, like nuts and grains. Fuel the machine to keep your body performing and your brain firing. If you can, bring a supportive friend to remind you how fortunate you are to have the ability to ride in a horse show. This is all supposed to be fun! Afterward, assess your day as a stepping-stone in a long journey, not the end result.

Practical Horseman thanks Lynn Ellen Rice for providing the facility and horse for the photos in this article.

From IHSA to A-Circuit

Hunter rider, trainer and U.S. Equestrian Federation ‘R’ judge Tom Brennan began his successful career as a member of Stonehill College’s equestrian team. While earning his degree in psychology, he won two individual championship titles at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals and captained his team to the IHSA team championship title in 2002–03. He then joined Tony Workman’s training business, Winter Hill Farm, in Hillsboro, Virginia, as a groom and worked his way up to his current co-trainer position. Along the way, clients such as Lynn Rice helped to partner him with talented horses in the show ring. He qualified for Indoors for the first time on Dividend, then rode Gramercy Park and Purple Heart to multiple major championships. In 2012, Gramercy Park was named the USHJA World Championship Hunter Rider Program Hunter of the Year and Tom was named the WCHR National Emerging Professional Champion.



This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Practical Horseman and is re-published with permission.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Summertime colic risks

Two types of colic can strike as a result of warm weather conditions, and knowing how they occur will help you to prevent them.

The risk of colic in winter is well known, but don’t let your guard down during the summer. Two types of colic can strike as a result of warm weather conditions, and knowing how they occur will help you to prevent them:

• Impaction colic. Dehydration from heavy sweating and/or reduced water intake, combined with dry hay or pasture in a drought situation, can lead to impaction colic. These impactions commonly occur at the pelvic flexure, the location where the large intestine doubles back on itself. A horse with simple impaction colic may seem only mildly uncomfortable, but if the blockage compromises blood supply to the intestine, pain can quickly intensify.

Veterinarians typically diagnose impaction colic with a rectal exam and by noting the absence of reflux (fluid backed up in the stomach) through a nasogastric tube. (If there is reflux, the problem is more serious, and the blockage is probably in the small intestine.) Treatment involves nasogastric fluids, laxatives and possibly intravenous fluids to rehydrate the horse and soften the mass, along with medication to control pain until it passes. In the rare cases when a blockage doesn’t clear on its own, the horse may require surgery.

Prevent summer impaction colic by ensuring your horse has plenty of fresh water at all times. If you’ve provided water but suspect your horse is drinking less than he usually does (most horses drink between five and 10 gallons a day) or if he shows any signs of dehydration, such as dark gums or skin that stays “tented” when pinched, call your veterinarian for advice.

• Gas colic. When grass recovers after a drought-breaking rain, the sugars it contains can ferment in an unprepared digestive tract, leading to gas colic. This is essentially Mother Nature causing the very same sudden dietary shift horse owners are cautioned to not make themselves. Gas colic can be intensely painful as the bubbles work their way through the digestive tract.

Your veterinarian will diagnose this type of colic based on rectal palpation, the absence of reflux when a nasogastric tube is passed and the horse’s response to analgesic medications; gas colics typically respond very quickly to a dose of flunixin meglumine or buscopan. Most gas colics resolve with time, but movement of a large gas bubble can cause an intestine to twist, cutting off the flow of blood. In these cases, medication does not relieve pain and surgery is needed to repair the twist and restore circulation.

To prevent gas colic in the summer, be cautious about how much you let your horse graze during times of pasture growth and regrowth. A grazing muzzle will allow him to enjoy turnout while limiting his grass intake.

 Re-published article with permission from EQUUS Magazine.


Friday, May 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Body Awareness and Position is Key

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

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

2. No-Stirrup Work Increases Effectiveness

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

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

3. Knot Your Reins for Better Connection

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

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

4. Think Like a Horse

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

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

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

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

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

 Re-published article with permission from Practical Horseman.