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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Things you (probably) didn't know about beet pulp

Although the popularity of this fibrous feedstuff continues to grow, misconceptions about it remain.


Chances are you’re pretty familiar with beet pulp. Most of us have scooped and soaked our fair share of this sugar-industry-byproduct-turned-equine-feed. The remains of sugar beets used in the manufacture of sugar, beet pulp is high in digestible fiber and a good source of “safe” structural carbohydrate-based calories, making it a popular horse feed throughout the country and around the world.

Straight from the bag, beet pulp is dried and shredded---almost resembling tobacco---or pressed into solid pellets. Soak either form in water for about a half-hour, and you’ll have a soft, soggy mash.

Yet as simple and easy as beet pulp is to feed, it has long been the subject of myths and misunderstandings in the horse world. Some of these misconceptions are harmless, but others could lead owners to needlessly rule out beet pulp as part of a horse’s diet or, conversely, rely on it too heavily and for the wrong reasons.

To make sure that doesn’t happen at your barn, we’ve compiled a list of three important facts about beet pulp. Read through them so you can make sure your horse gets the greatest benefit from this versatile feed.

Fact 1: Beet pulp provides a type of fiber that offers unique nutritional advantages.

“The main role of beet pulp in a horse’s diet is fiber, just as with hay,” says Pennsylvania State University equine nutritionist Burt Staniar, PhD.  “But the beet pulp fiber is not the same as the fiber in hay. It’s much more easily digested, so it’s processed faster. We don’t think of fiber as providing much energy---and in the human diet it doesn’t---but in horses it’s a significant source of energy. Because the fiber in beet pulp is digested quickly, the energy and the calories it provides are available to a horse much faster than those that would come from hay.”

This, says Staniar, makes beet pulp a useful source of energy for horses who need a boost for athletic efforts or to support other functions, such as lactation. “It’s going to have more benefit for [equine athletes or broodmares] than, say, an easy-keeper gelding who spends most of his day in the field,” he says. “And in cases where horses need more calories, adding beet pulp to a diet may be a better option than adding more hay because of the difference in fiber type.”

For the same reasons, beet pulp is often a good choice for older horses who have trouble chewing or digesting hay. “It can be very beneficial for older horses whose teeth or digestive tracts can’t handle other types of fiber,” says Coverdale. “In fact, many of the senior feeds that are formulated as ‘complete feed’---meaning they include fiber---are beet pulp based.”

Beet pulp fiber provides another advantage: promoting healthy gut flora. “A horse extracts energy from fiber via fermentation in the hind gut,” says Staniar. “That fermentation is done by bacteria, and different types of bacteria ferment at different rates.” A gut that is accustomed to only slow-digesting forage may be overpopulated with that type of bacteria, an imbalance that can lead to digestive upset.

“You want to support all those microbial populations,” says Staniar. “So when your horse has to make a transition in diet or location, he is going to be better able to adapt digestively. A little bit of beet pulp in every diet can help keep the population of fiber-digesting bacteria in the gut balanced so those changes won’t be as disruptive.”

Fact 2: Beet pulp contains very little sugar.

“Plain beet pulp is very, very low in sugar; it isn’t sweet at all,” says Coverdale. “If you pop some in your mouth expecting it to be, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s pretty boring and tasteless.”

In part, beet pulp’s unearned reputation as a high-sugar feed comes from its origins. “The name ‘sugar beet pulp’ is very misleading,” says Staniar. “Remember that this is a byproduct of the sugar industry. By the time it makes it to the feed store, all the sugar has been extracted. That’s what the sugar industry wants, and they just pass along the rest to us.”

In fact, molasses is often added to beet pulp to make it more palatable to horses. But even then, the amount of sugar isn’t enough to worry about unless your horse has a specific sensitivity to sugars. “There’s only about 3 percent molasses in those formulations,” says Wagner, “which doesn’t make a huge difference in terms of energy content, but it does make it tastier. If you have a horse with a history of insulin resistance or metabolic issues, you’ll want to eliminate the molasses because you’re cutting back on all sugars. And horses with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis [HYPP] need to avoid molasses for other reasons [see “For HYPP Horses, Hold the Molasses,” page 48]. But if your horse doesn’t have any of those issues, there’s not enough molasses in the sweetened beet pulp to trigger anything.”

If sugar or molasses in your horse’s diet is a concern, look for “plain” beet pulp, which most feed companies sell in addition to formulations with molasses added. Just check the label. But even if you can’t find unsweetened beet pulp, there’s still a fix: “If you soak, then squeeze beet pulp and drain off the water, you’ll remove most of the molasses,” says Staniar. “That’s an easy way to reduce the sugar content if you can’t find plain beet pulp.”

Fact 3: Beet pulp can help you stretch your hay supply.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may find your hay supply running low, which is obviously a cause for concern. Without a source of roughage, a horse’s digestive system can’t function properly. That’s where beet pulp comes in: It can take the place of hay---at least partially---helping you stretch your supply until you can restock.

“In this area of the country, we go through a drought every so often, and people get very interested in alternative sources of fiber and roughage,” says Coverdale. “Beet pulp is a good option.” The conversion rate is straightforward ---for every pound of forage you take out of the diet, add in a pound of beet pulp. Start this when you know your hay supply might be getting low and you may be able to make it last long enough until you can refill the hay shed. There is a limit to how much substitution you can safely do, however.

“I wouldn’t recommend replacing all the hay in your horse’s diet with beet pulp,” says Coverdale. “Although the fiber content is similar, the vitamin and mineral content of beet pulp is very different than that of hay. When you rely on it too much, you can create some significant nutritional imbalances in a horse’s diet.”

Beet pulp, for instance is low in phosphorus compared to its calcium content. “The calcium/phosphorus ratio is about 10 to 1, which in small amounts isn’t a problem for a mature horse,” says Coverdale. “But in large amounts or in a growing horse or a lactating mare, that could cause issues with bone development.” To prevent such imbalances, she says, the general limit for feeding beet pulp is no more than 10 percent of a horse’s diet by weight, which works out to no more than two to three pounds a day for an average-size horse.”

Wagner cautions against trying to “eyeball” the correct amount of beet pulp to feed a horse. “You’ve got to remember it’s 10 percent by its dry, unsoaked weight,” she says. “You have to weigh the feed, not just consider scoop size. Beet pulp is light and fluffy. A pound of beet pulp is going to look like a lot more than a pound of alfalfa pellets, for instance.” Wagner adds that she keeps a fish scale in her feed room so she can hang a bucket to weigh out rations quickly and accurately.

Coverdale adds that the “scratch factor” of beet pulp may not be high enough to safely replace all the hay in a horse’s diet. “You need to take into account the physical attributes of long-stem roughage,” she says---“the fact that a horse has to chew it and that it provides bulk in the gut. We know this is all-important in ruminant digestion. We need more research into that in horses, but it stands to reason it would be.”

Of course, says Coverdale, there are always exceptions. “In many older horses, particularly those with dental problems, hay isn’t even an option any more,” she says. “In those cases, the rules go out the window and you do whatever you can. Beet pulp might be the only source of fiber an older horse can get. In those cases, I’d recommend a senior feed containing beet pulp that’s designed to be a ‘complete’ feed and replace hay. The nutritionists at those companies will have created a balanced diet, so you don’t need to worry about vitamin and mineral deficits. Trying to come up with your own formulation by mixing beet pulp with regular feeds can be very difficult and is unnecessary these days; the calculations have already been done for you with a commercial feed.”

If all this information has you thinking that you want to add beet pulp to your horse’s diet, check to make sure it isn’t there already. “Beet pulp is already in a ton of commercial grain mixes,” says Staniar. “It’s gotten increasingly popular as we’ve realized its nutritional benefits, and it shows up in all sort of places.”

Specialty feeds are particularly reliant on beet pulp. “Beet pulp is a major component of the high-fiber, low-sugar feeds that are so popular right now,” says Wagner. “It’s really the perfect ingredient for those---a good source of ‘cool’ energy. And if you look at senior feeds, you’ll see it’s a primary ingredient; that’s the reason those feeds soak up water so well. I think there are plenty of people out there who don’t realize they are already feeding beet pulp. And there are probably people thinking they’d never feed beet pulp, for whatever reason, but their horses are already thriving on it.”

 Re-published article with permission from EQUUS Magazine.


Monday, April 9, 2018

What Are the Elements of a Balanced Canter Depart?

Canadian "S" dressage judge explains what is most important about a canter depart.


Q: One of the comments I received in my last test was that my horse shouldn’t jump into the canter. This completely confused me. How is a horse supposed to canter on? How would you like to see an upward transition into the canter?

Jo Barbour
Redmont, Washington

A: It is understandable that you might be confused by the comment “shouldn’t jump into the canter.” The canter is a jumping movement. When the hind legs are sluggish due to a lack of engagement, judges may suggest the quality of the canter would improve with more jump behind.

In response to your question about how I would like to see an upward transition into the canter, I will reference the USEF Rulebook, which reads: “The changes of pace should be clearly shown at the prescribed marker; they should be quickly made yet must be smooth, not abrupt. The cadence of the pace must be maintained up to the moment when the gait or pace is changed or the horse halts. The horse should remain light in hand, calm and maintain correct position.”

There is more to riding a canter transition than just giving the canter aid. It is important to establish a quality trot or walk first. The horse must be working in a steady rhythm with a forward attitude and the degree of suppleness, contact and straightness relative to his level of training. In order to execute a transition with harmony, lightness and ease, you must have a secure, balanced, deep seat and independent hands with the ability to follow the movement.

Preparation is the key to achieving balanced, fluid transitions. In preparation, your horse must respond to a balancing half halt. You should feel a slight shift of weight to the hindquarters with your horse stepping under, rounding his back and lightening his forehand. The horse is now rebalanced, on the aids and capable of a calm, fluid transition.

Half halting is important before every transition you ride. It serves three purposes that directly relate to the section of the Rulebook previously quoted:

1. “Transitions should be quickly made yet must be smooth not abrupt.” Horses hate to be surprised. The half halt acts as a wake-up call, warning the horse that he is about to be asked for a transition. The horse will be ready to respond to a quieter, softer aid, enabling a smooth transition.

Too strong an aid or overriding causes the horse to overreact, resulting in an abrupt transition with the horse hollowing his back and coming above the bit or “jumping into the canter.”

2. “The cadence of the pace must be maintained up to the moment when the pace or gait changes.” The trot quickening or the walk becoming tense and lateral when asked for a canter transition is a common fault. It is important to maintain a balanced, energetic trot or walk without altering the tempo. Balancing half halts will help to regulate the tempo.

3. “The horse must remain light in hand, calm and maintain correct position.” The half halts keep your horse relaxed and create the engagement needed to encourage him to work through his topline, maintain a supple back and flex at the poll with an elastic connection from behind.

In answer to your question about what the judge would like to see in an upward transition into the canter: The quality of the pace before and after the transition must be maintained. The horse’s frame remains supple, the energy comes from well-engaged hind legs and flows up through a round back into the contact, maintaining a soft, elastic connection. The horse shows complete straightness, self-carriage, confidence and acceptance of your aids.

Doreen Horsey is an Equine Canada “S” dressage judge, a USEF “S” judge and a member of Dressage Canada’s Officials Committee. She has won many national awards to Grand Prix and was on Canada’s international long list in 1989 and 1990. She is based in Alberta, Canada.

Re-published article with permission from Dressage Today.




Thursday, March 15, 2018

Why your horse needs vitamin E

An equine diet based solely on hay may be lacking in this essential nutrient.


Hay is almost the perfect food for horses---most varieties offer the right balance of protein, fiber, nutrients and energy to keep the average horse healthy.

The key word there is “almost.” One nutrient that hay may not provide in sufficient quantity is vitamin E. This essential nutrient is present in fresh pasture but begins to degrade as soon as grass and legume plants are harvested. And the longer the hay is stored before it is consumed, the more of its vitamin E is lost.

So for horses whose forage comes primarily from hay, with little or no grazing, vitamin E deficiency is a possibility. And it’s even more likely for horses who are in training with limited turnout because exertion increases the need for this valuable antioxidant. Vitamin E requirements are also higher for aging horses, those who are ill and those with certain health issues.

Vitamin E helps keep a horse’s muscles, nerves and all his internal workings functioning smoothly. And if he’s not getting it naturally in a green pasture, then you’ll need to find a way to add it to his diet. Here’s a look at what vitamin E does and what you can do to make sure your horse gets enough---but not too much.

Vitamin E in nature


“Vitamin E” is a collective name for a group of eight naturally occurring compounds that all have distinctive antioxidant activity. There are four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Each is designated with an alpha-, beta-, gamma- or delta-.

“The most biologically available form is alpha- tocopherol, and this is why we can measure this one in the blood,” says Tania Cubitt, PhD, an equine nutritionist with Performance Horse Nutrition, a consulting firm in Middleburg, Virginia.

Vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means it’s handled quite differently by the body compared to water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, which are not stored and are eliminated in urine if too much is consumed. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the liver and the body’s fatty tissues. This means the horse can keep a supply of the nutrient when it is abundant, and access it when it isn’t. And that’s exactly what he does in nature. Vitamin E is abundant in fresh, green grass, but the amounts diminish as grass matures and dies. Horses who spend the winter foraging on dried grasses will draw on their stored vitamin E; then they will replenish their supplies of the nutrient when the green plants start growing in the spring.

All of which means that a domesticated horse’s lifestyle can work against his receiving enough vitamin E. “The normal horse under natural conditions is able to cope with seasonal fluctuations,” says Cubitt. “We have thwarted this, however, by putting our horses in an artificial environment. About 30 to 80 percent of the vitamin E in hay can be dissipated during the drying for harvest and during storage. If horses are stuck in a stall and not on pasture, they are relying on us to supply most of their vitamin E. I have seen a lot of horses that are actually deficient in vitamin E because of the way they are managed. So today we see a lot of horses being supplemented with vitamin E.”

What Vitamin E does


Vitamin E plays a role in many functions throughout the body, but it is known primarily as a potent antioxidant, meaning it binds with and limits the damage caused by free radicals, which are atoms or molecules with an odd number of electrons. Because they have an unstable electrical charge, free radicals tend to “steal” electrons from other molecules to become stable. But when the original molecule loses its electron, it becomes unstable and in turn tries to steal another electron from somewhere else. All this activity not only damages the molecules that have their electrons stolen, it may inhibit their ability to do their jobs within the body. If there are too many free radicals present in the tissue, this chain reaction can run out of control and injure cell walls, DNA and other vital structures.

Free radicals are a natural byproduct of the utilization of fats, carbohydrates and proteins as fuel. They do have beneficial functions; they can help neutralize bacterial or viral threats, for example. But when the number of free radicals in the tissues climbs too high---such as in the muscles after a horse exercises---the body deploys antioxidants to bind with them, breaking the cascade.

In the case of vitamin E, action centers on the fats that form the structure of cell membranes, where the nutrient remains ready to bind with free radicals that might otherwise damage the cell walls. “It helps protect the cells,” says Carey Williams, PhD, an equine extension specialist with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. “The vitamin E incorporates itself into cell membranes and protects them from oxidative damage.”

A shortage of vitamin E might mean more oxidative damage occurs in cells throughout the body, including those in muscles, nerves and immune cells. In the case of a hardworking horse, outward signs of oxidative injury might be muscle soreness and a slower-than-expected recovery from exercise. And so, when a horse’s workload increases, his need for antioxidants, including vitamin E, also goes up.

“When you damage muscle, for any reason, you have some oxidative stress,” says Paul Siciliano, PhD, of North Carolina State University. “In the cell, when metabolism is taking place, some pro-oxidants are produced. You could equate it to a campfire out in the woods. The fire is producing heat energy and it might send up sparks in the process. As long as the sparks get put out, things are fine. But if one of them starts another fire and it grows, you could have a problem. Vitamin E attaches to the cell membranes and quenches those little fires and keeps things working properly.”

Oxidative damage is most likely to occur in tissues in the immune system, nerves and muscles, because they are more highly metabolic---that is, they “burn” energy faster. “Thus they produce a greater proportion of these pro-oxidants just as a cost of doing business,” Siciliano says. “There is higher likelihood to have a problem in those areas if horses are short on vitamin E.”

How much vitamin E does a horse need?


A horse’s requirements for vitamin E have not been well established. “We have defined these requirements only because we know that horses consuming it at a certain level haven’t had any deficiency symptoms,” Siciliano says. Guidelines in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses from the National Research Council (NRC), last revised in 2007, recommend about 500 IU (international units) daily as a maintenance level for an 1,100-pound horse in light work.

“This isn’t a lot, so if a horse has access to pasture, that horse has plenty of vitamin E, since green pasture is the best source,” says Williams. “Just like your parents always told you to eat your vegetables---because they contain lots of vitamins ---our horses that are out on pasture will have those vitamin needs met.”

The NRC recommendations are higher for hardworking horses and for breeding mares and stallions. “Working horses might need up to 1,000 IU per day,” says Williams. “These figures are the minimums, however. There have been many studies, including some I have done, that have shown that more vitamin E is even better. Most of the studies I did looked at supplementing 5,000 IU per day for the average-size horse on a hay diet and not on pasture. These horses had lower levels of muscle enzymes in their blood, which means less muscle membrane permeability or leakage of material into circulation.”

Higher levels of vitamin E may also be recommended for horses with certain health issues. “The categories that the NRC does not touch on, but which we have anecdotal evidence and research looking at, are guidelines for disease-state horses---horses with allergies, tying up, metabolic0 syndrome, or those that are suffering from or recovering from illness,” says Cubitt. “In horses with allergies, we know that potent antioxidants are effective. One guideline that has been suggested is about 5,000 IU per day. Horses who tie up and have muscle problems can also benefit from 5,000 IU per day. Horses with metabolic syndrome, insulin0 resistance and laminitis should also receive that higher level. Horses recovering from surgery, illness or stress may need 1,500 to 5,000 IU per day, depending on the severity of the illness/stress.”

Given that vitamin E is stored in fat, it’s not surprising that severely underweight horses may also have deficiencies. “These horses have no fat, so they can’t store it, so we have to feed them more vitamin E than the normal requirement; they need about 1,500 to 2,000 IU per day,” Cubitt says.

But it is possible to give a horse too much vitamin E. “A person needs to be careful with high doses of vitamin E, because vitamin E and beta carotene [the building block for vitamin A] have the same absorption pathway,” says Williams. “We found that high levels of vitamin E can actually decrease the level of beta carotene in the body. In one study, 10,000 IU of vitamin E was fed daily, and there was some interference with uptake of vitamin A. You are inhibiting one vitamin by overfeeding another.”

Horses on pasture would probably be getting adequate amounts of vitamin A, because beta carotene is also abundant in green grass. “If they are in stalls being fed hay, however, receiving too much vitamin E could become a problem,” Cubitt says.

Your horse’s vitamin E status


Your horse’s turnout schedule and activity level can provide clues to whether he’s taking in enough vitamin E, but a blood test is the best way to determine with some certainty.

“If your veterinarian tests plasma or serum concentrations for alpha-tocopherol, greater than 2 micrograms per milliliter is considered adequate, 1.5 to 2 micrograms would be considered marginal and less than 1.5 would be considered deficient,” Cubitt says. “If we were able to examine horses in the wild and measure their blood levels seasonally, by the end of winter they might be marginal, but that level would soon increase once the spring grass starts growing.”

If your veterinarian suggests that you increase the amount of vitamin E in your horse’s diet, you have several options. Obviously increasing his access to fresh grass will help---assuming this won’t put him at risk of laminitis or obesity. Grass contains somewhere between 30 to 100 IU of vitamin E per kilogram of dry matter.

You may also want to see if you can get hay that has been cut earlier---grasses cut for hay while young and growing will have higher levels of vitamin E. Exactly how much of the vitamin hay loses, and how quickly, depends on several factors, including the conditions of harvest and the amount of sunlight it is exposed to when drying (sunlight denatures all vitamins). One study found that fresh alfalfa hay lost as much as 73 percent of its vitamin E after just 12 weeks in storage. In addition, some grains, such as corn, oats or barley, contain some naturally occurring vitamin E but only about 20 to 30 IU per kilogram of dry matter. Grains also lose some of their vitamin E over time in storage; dry, dark storage is best for all feedstuffs.

To avoid uncertainty and ensure that their horses receive what they need, many owners opt for supplements, balancer rations and commercial feeds formulated to provide the nutrients required by average horses or those at specific life stages or activity levels.

“Most commercial feed products are fortified with vitamins and minerals,” says Williams. “They usually provide about 100 to 150 IU of vitamin E per pound. So if a horse is eating two or three pounds of grain daily, this will be adequate if at maintenance or light work.” Vitamin E is included in a wide range of supplements, both as the primary ingredient and as an addition to products for joint health, digestive support and other formulas. However, if the goal is for a level of 5,000 IU per day, make sure you are feeding a sole concentrated source of vitamin E. Otherwise there is a risk of over- supplementing the other nutrients in the product to get to that level of E.

When it comes to keeping a horse healthy, often the best approach is the “natural” way---mimicking as closely as possible the way he would live in the wild---despite stalls, trailers and training schedules. When it comes to an essential nutrient like vitamin E, that means letting him graze as much pasture as possible during the warmer months. But when that’s not feasible, taking steps to make sure your horse gets enough of this essential nutrient will help to keep him healthy.

SIDEBAR


Synthetic and natural Vitamin E

Vitamin E can be provided to horses in both natural and synthetic forms.

“Synthetic vitamin E is what we see added to many horse feeds and supplements because it is less expensive,” says Tania Cubitt, PhD, an equine nutritionist with Performance Horse Nutrition, a consulting firm in Middleburg, Virginia. “When you see synthetic vitamin E listed on a label, it will be ‘dl-alpha-tocopherol,’ or some variation starting with a ‘dl.’ Natural vitamin E will be listed as d-alpha-tocopherol or the tocotrienols, without the ‘l.’”

There are differences in how the horse’s body absorbs the two forms. “Specific transport proteins in the liver seem to bind better to the natural form, allowing it to be transported to other tissues,” says Cubitt. “Synthetic forms are excreted faster than the natural form, and they don’t have as much time to get into the tissues where they are needed.” In other words, the horse has to consume more of the synthetic form to achieve the same levels in the bloodstream as the natural form.

However, the natural form costs more. “The natural products are expensive—usually about twice that of a synthetic product, or more,” says Carey Williams, PhD, of Rutgers. “Your choice depends on what you want to do: If you want to feed twice as much of the synthetic product at the cheaper price, you will be getting about the same effect. You can feed less of the natural product or a little more of the synthetic product. In terms of cost, it would end up very similar.”

Other effects are also likely to be about the same, according to Williams. “There’s been a huge debate regarding whether to use the natural or the synthetic products. There are a lot of people who swear by one or the other. I’ve done research with both types, but most of my research has been with the synthetic product, and we got antioxidant benefits.”

With either form, absorption can be improved by adding fat to a horse’s ration. The fats bind with the vitamin E and help to carry it across the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Researchers have also explored other methods to improve the absorption. Some products contain “micellized vitamin E,” which means it has been chemically changed to improve absorption. Another approach is called nanodispersion, which separates the vitamin E into tiny droplets that disperse across a wider range of intestinal wall. Both of these methods have been shown to aid absorption.

SIDEBAR


Diseases of vitamin E deficiency

Several neuromuscular disorders have been linked to vitamin E deficiency:

- Equine motor neuron disease (EMND) is caused by the degeneration of the motor neurons, which control the movement of the large muscles. “This affects the motor neurons and therefore the skeletal muscles,” says Paul Siciliano, PhD, of North Carolina State University. “In a horse with this problem, you’ll see great appetite—eating very well—but these horses waste away, losing muscle mass, and may die without intervention.

“I observed this problem firsthand in a group of blood donor horses maintained at a veterinary hospital,” Siciliano adds. “They were fed the leftover hay from the prior year. It was good hay, not moldy, but it had been stored a long time. Over time, the hay gradually loses the compound that has vitamin E activity. The horses became vitamin deficient and eventually developed motor neuron disease.”

EMND does not develop quickly. “When studies tried to replicate this in an experimental setting—to make horses deficient—it took nearly two years of feeding a low vitamin E diet before any signs occurred,” says Siciliano. “When people see a problem, they immediately wonder what they’ve done to cause this change, but the reality is that the problem occurred because they didn’t change anything—the horse stayed on a deficient diet for a long period of time.”

- Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (EDM) is caused by damage to the nerves in the spinal cord and parts of the brain. It typically develops in younger horses, those who are less than 2 years old, and it causes ataxia (incoordination) and loss of proprioception (the sense of where their body and limbs are located).

EDM seems to run in families, which suggests that the cause is genetic. However, the disease is also characterized by low levels of vitamin E, and supplementing with this nutrient helps horses improve. While low levels of vitamin E do not appear to be a direct cause of EDM, it’s possible that a vitamin deficiency could produce the signs in a horse who is also genetically predisposed to the disease.

- White muscle disease, a degeneration of the skeletal muscles, is caused by a deficiency of selenium, another potent antioxidant. But low levels of vitamin E also seem to play a role in the disease. “Selenium and vitamin E are both important for muscle function and work as antioxidants, but with slightly different jobs,” Siciliano says. Higher levels of one nutrient can help compensate for lower levels of the other, and signs of deficiency are more likely to occur in horses with low levels of both.

- Sporadic exertional rhabdomyolysis (“tying up”) is a severe, painful cramping of the large muscles that can occur during or just after exercise. “Exertional rhabdomyolysis has many causes, but one thought is that it can be caused by inadequate levels of vitamin E,” says Carey Williams, PhD, an equine extension specialist with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. “During research trials in my lab, we had a few horses that were marginal in terms of plasma vitamin E levels. They had more of a tendency to tie up during or after the exercise, or at least be very muscle sore with higher levels of creatine kinase [a muscle enzyme that is abnormally high in the blood when horses tie up]. Many people who have horses who suffer from tying up problems are feeding 5,000 IU of vitamin E, and that does seem to help.”

Why your horse needs vitamin E - Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from EQUUS Magazine.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

We’ve All Been There …

… wondering why we struggle with riding skills. Jim has the secret for getting from THERE to HERE


We’ve all been there, dejectedly sitting in the bleachers after yet another disastrous round as the star du jour rides by, using invisible aids while sitting motionless in the saddle.

“Why is this so HARD?” you ask yourself. The bad news is that riding well is hard to learn. The good news is that every good rider, at one time or another, has been right there with you in the bleachers. The important thing to know is that you can be a better rider—you just have to decide to get better.

First of all, riding well is hard to learn because it is not all about you—your horse is part of it, and probably the main part. If you want to learn how to ride well, you need to understand horses—how they think, how they react to certain situations and how they move underneath you. I say, “learn,” but it’s not like memorizing the multiplication tables from 1 through 12. When it comes to horses, your learning curve will trend upward for as long as you live—that’s the fun part. And while we are busy having fun, I thought I would pass along some of the things I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to repeat my mistakes.


Think Like a Horse


One of the hardest things to learn, especially for redheaded boys (like I was), is that horses don’t wake up in the morning and decide to ruin your day. Horse logic is not always the same as rider logic. As a prey animal, horses are always alert for danger and easily—squirrel!!—distracted. Once you look at the world from their point of view, you can understand why they react the way they do and teach them that you are there to keep them safe.

Their reaction to liverpools and ditches is understandable if you think about it—again, from their point of view. To you, it is a simple ditch, 24 inches wide and 12 inches deep, but to them it is the China Syndrome. Thousands of years ago, one of their potential ancestors was not careful about where he stepped and took himself out of the gene pool. Horses are spooky for a reason: Saber-toothed tigers ate the non-spooky ones a long time ago. Horses are quick to react. You and I may know something is not a threat, but your horse says, “Why take a chance? That plastic bag snagged in the bushes could be about to pounce.”

Once you understand this and learn to think like a horse, it changes your actions when your horse reacts violently to things. If you punish your horse for spooking at a sun spot in an indoor arena, you confirm in his mind that sun spots are something to be afraid of. If you allow him time to look at it in a nonconfrontational way, he will decide that he was wasting his time spooking at it and be willing to accept sun spots as part of his environment.

Staying With the Motion


Being quadrupeds, horses have certain gaits and produce certain sensations when we are (however precariously) trying to remain attached to them. Most of the horses we ride have four gaits with four distinct rhythms: the walk with four beats, the trot with two beats, the canter with three beats and the gallop, a fast canter, with four beats. My point in this is that your horse takes different actions with his body to produce each of his gaits and his actions will change how you perceive his motions and how your body needs to react in order to look as if you’re sitting motionlessly.

Here is one of my favorite examples of this: When your horse trots, his shoulders remain level but his hips move up and down and he swings one hind leg under his body while the other hind leg pushes back to propel his body forward. Ever wonder why sitting the trot smoothly is more difficult to learn than sitting the walk or the canter? This is why: At the walk and the canter, your seat moves back and forth in rhythm with your horse, but at the sitting trot your hips must move alternately up and down in order to follow your horse’s motion correctly. If you understand your horse and his movement better, then the actions you must take with your body to stay with his motion become more understandable.

Your Leg, THEN Your Hand


Improved understanding will lead to better riding. Once you can follow your horse’s movement correctly, you can apply your aids with much more precision. BUT, once again, before you start to apply aids, you need to understand what you are trying to achieve with those aids.

Basically, you use your aids to put your horse’s forces at your disposal—to enable you to move faster than you can run on your own, to jump higher than you can jump and to eventually feel that, in general, the law of gravity no longer applies to you. Like anything else worthwhile, this does not happen easily, nor should it. Beverly Sills, the legendary opera diva, said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As you continue to progress along your learning curve, you will discover that much of riding is counterintuitive. By now, you probably understand that for your horse to strengthen and improve his dressage work, he needs to lower his head slightly, relax the muscles of his back and become stronger and more energetic with his hind legs. However, you are doomed to failure until you also understand this simple rule: You don’t pull your horse’s head down. You push it down.

Once you understand this rule, you have been handed the keys to the kingdom of the horse. The first time you feel your horse step from your inside leg to your outside rein is a supremely important moment in your development as a horseman. Your first experience of this response will usually be at the trot on a circle. Make the circle about 10 meters in diameter. Now increase the size of the circle by closing your inside leg and pushing your horse toward your outside hand. Instead of speeding up, your horse accepts your leg, responds by stepping farther under his body with his inside leg and seeks a connection with your outside hand. In simplistic terms, you now have your horse balanced between the accelerator and the brake. From this point on, you know how to ride from your leg to your hand rather than the other way around. At first intermittently, then consistently and finally, generously, your horse will put his strength at your disposal.


Let Your Horse Do the Jumping


Learning to ride well over obstacles is equally as hard as learning to ride well on the flat. Just as with dressage, I have one very simple rule for you. To illustrate it, during my lessons and clinics and after a few warm-up jumps, I ask riders, especially young teenagers or older riders who are so terrified that they have regressed, the following question: “How many jumps have you jumped today?” The responses will vary widely in numbers and accuracy. Once students have expressed their opinion, I will say, “No, you haven’t jumped any.” You see, that’s my rule—“Your horse does the jumping!” You are just along for the ride. Most horses like to jump, especially if they are unencumbered by the rider’s hands. If a horse truly does not like to jump, there are other jobs he can do, and it is up to us to steer him down the correct career path.

Once we have a horse who likes to jump, we need to stay attached to his motion and ride him in a rhythm. My reasoning is this: It is difficult to ride well—and for him to jump well—if we are continually either left behind the jumping motion or topple forward on landing. Time spent in perfecting your position is never wasted. I have written numerous books and articles on the correct jumping position and you can find a list of some at the end of this article, but my short version is to adjust your stirrups so that you have approximately a 90-degree angle behind your knee when seated. Over small obstacles, your jumping position is the same as the top of your posting trot. Your stirrup leather should form a vertical line and there should be a straight line between your elbow and your horse’s mouth. Remember to follow your horse’s mouth with your elbows, not by closing your hip angle.

Once your position is secure and independent, then ride your horse in a rhythm before, over and after the jump. To help keep the rhythm in the approach, count out loud until your horse leaves the ground. You can tell yourself you had a good jump when you have approached, jumped, landed and departed in the same rhythm. Your rhythm is important because when we hear the rhythm, we hear the balance. When your horse is balanced, he jumps to the best of his ability.

Simple, just not easy. But if it were easy, everyone would do it—and you want to be the one in the saddle someday, riding past while younger, less experienced riders look at how easily you and your horse perform. This time someone new is in the bleachers, saying, “Why is this so HARD? She makes it look so easy!”




Thursday, February 15, 2018

Can Dressage Judges Really be Fair?

USEF "S" dressage judge Kathy Rowse discusses the dedication it takes to be a judge
KATHY ROWSEJAN 29, 2015

Q: Do dressage judges take into account the different ways different breeds are moving? Can a dressage judge be really fair when faced with such a variety of breeds, especially at the lower levels of dressage? It seems to me that the fancy sport horse breeds are always the ones with the best scores. What, in your opinion, makes a good dressage judge?

Katie McIntosh

Newton, Massachusetts

Kathy Rouse


A: A dressage judge always has to judge according to the Training Scale and the standards/criteria set forth by the FEI. It takes most judges our entire career to develop, review and update our scale to both evolve it according to our experience and understanding and then keep it at the highest level. That means that all dressage performances are subject to the same standard, regardless of the breed of the horse, the experience of the rider or the level of the show.

Judges should always evaluate the correctness of the Training Scale (the methodology), and then use this formula of the basics in addition to the criteria of the movements (when you look on your test, it describes how you do certain arena figures and movements) and the modifiers (which includes things that are not in the essence of the movements such as geometry). The more correct and thorough the training is, the higher the score will be.

There is some subjectivity in judging as judges will sometimes see movements a little differently or emphasize certain modifiers more or less than one of their colleagues. This can also happen when a rider is judged by a panel of judges who are viewing a performance from different vantage points around the arena. Evaluating your tests from a variety of judges over an entire show season should give you a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

Dressage judges can be fair and objective when judging a variety of breeds as long as they stick to their standards, which help them to evaluate each performance on its own merits. The “fancy” movers will not score higher if they are demonstrating incorrect training. An “average” mover will score higher if the training standard is demonstrated at a high level. However, it is true that the “exceptional” mover with exceptional, correct training will be rewarded the highest scores.

Remember there are also “non-brilliant” moves in every dressage test, which include halts, rein backs, turns on the haunches and walk pirouettes. These movements get a score and allow the average horse to earn points. The ever-important corners also will show a well-trained horse but by themselves don’t change the score. These moves are mainly dependent on the skill of the rider, not on the brilliance of the horse, and the execution in the ring will tell you a lot about the correct basics of the rider with the horse.

There is a lot required of a good dressage judge. They need experience, a good knowledge of the rules (USDF Rule Book), the basics (the judge has to understand the application of the basics as explained above) and the criteria of each level and of each movement (which tells you what’s expected at each level). They develop and maintain their methodology, they work to improve and they should always be humble. A judge has many responsibilities: to the sport, to horses and riders, to the federation and to the show management. They have to be able to formulate clear, encouraging comments that are useful to guide the rider and address the most important aspect of the movement and the test in a concise manner. The comments must match the scores, and the collective marks must collate to the body of the test they have judged. They place the class in the right order and give appropriate scores for the performance they have evaluated.

It requires a lot of dedication and focus to be a dressage judge. But it gives back to the sport and to the riders, which is well worth the effort.

Kathy Rowse is a USEF “S” dressage judge and has received her USDF bronze, silver and gold medals. A popular clinician active with the FEI Junior and Young Rider programs, she has coached numerous riders to win their USDF medals. She lives in Suffolk, Virginia.




Friday, February 2, 2018

Develop a Strong Galloping Position

A four-star rider explains her key to success—riding in balance.


When someone comes to me as a new student, I usually say, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not going to jump for a while.” Before we work over fences I want my riders to work on position—and their galloping position in particular. Otherwise, we’ll have to come back later and fix the position flaws that become a bigger issue as a rider progresses. This happens because our horses go the way we ride them: Horses want to feel secure, which includes knowing that their riders feel secure. If we’re riding out of balance, our horses go out of balance. At the beginning of every year, even I review my position and determine where improvements can be made.

Some eventing riders take the attitude that if their horses can jump and they can stay on, who cares? “I’m not in the hunters. I don’t care how pretty I look.” But what I teach is not about looking good, it’s about being functionally efficient and correct. The easier you are to carry, the happier your horse is. A happy horse does his job much better. My goal as a rider is to make myself the easiest possible package for my horse to carry, and that’s also my goal for my students.

The job of eventing riders is to maintain proper balance and a secure, efficient galloping position to give their horses confidence and make their jobs easier on cross country. Here, the red line shows how my center of gravity is aligned directly over my base of support, giving me a solid, balanced position while I gallop Escot 6, my 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding.


When Balance Is Lacking


First let’s talk about the position errors I commonly see and how they affect your riding. To secure your leg, riding books and many instructors typically tell you to close your knee. But they don’t specify that you should not close the FRONT of your knee, and that is the part with which most people grip. When you pinch with the front of your knee, you close your inner thigh. Then your lower leg usually swings back and at this point you become a physics problem: If your lower leg goes back, your upper body wants to tip forward. To your horse, this scenario feels as you would trying to give a piggyback ride to a small child who is all over the place—leaning here, leaning there. You lose your focus because you have to rebalance and think about where you’re putting yourself. In the same way, the more motion your horse has on his back, the less he can concentrate on his job.




Over fences, if your grip is wrong, causing your lower leg to swing back and your upper body to tip forward, you either throw your horse off balance or you overcorrect—falling backward and holding on to his face to keep your balance. The result of either situation is that your horse may slow down off the ground or run at the jump.



Even if your lower leg is stable but you’re in the habit of jumping for your horse by leaning forward, you make his job more difficult. Instead, allow his jump to move you. It’s hard at first to allow that to happen. We are all control freaks. We so much want it to go correctly that we make it our job to jump for the horse.

Finding Balance



OK, enough about doing it wrong. Now I’ll explain the position that enables you to stay in balance with your horse and makes you an effective rider in all three phases of eventing. The key is keeping your center of gravity above your base.

Your center of gravity, or center mass, is located just behind your belly button and in front of your spine, centered vertically in your body. And your base is where you grip to keep balance, ideally your lower leg. To keep your center of gravity above this base, you need to achieve what I call the basic balance position: You close your leg by turning your toe out slightly and contacting the saddle with the back of your knee. To find it, locate the hollow at the top inside of the calf muscle—just below where your femur joins the tibia to create the hinge of the knee joint. Contacting the saddle in this way allows you to let go with your inner thigh. I sometimes tell students to imagine there is a tennis ball between the front of their knee and the saddle. This leg position makes it impossible to pinch with your knee and grab with your thigh.

This position lets you use your lower leg and your pelvic girdle—the muscles around your hips and waist—to truly follow your horse’s motion with your hips. Allowing this motion enables you to create energy. But you need to work through this concept because it’s natural to want to grip with your knee and inner thigh. When first learning to canter, most riders try to hold themselves on their horses by gripping incorrectly. For galloping and jumping, you need to use the muscles on the outside of your leg, between your hip and your knee and between your knee and your ankle, to close your legs around your horse like a hinge. My coach and mentor Jim Wofford sometimes tells students to imagine “closing your knees into your horse’s shoulder muscles” when galloping.

In addition to a correct leg position, your core—your abdominals plus the muscles that lie along your spine—is critical to keeping your center mass balanced over your feet. I tell my students that to engage their core they need to consciously push their middle together, imagining that they are creating a more cylindrical feeling in that area. Another technique I teach is “push your stomach muscles and back muscles together as if someone is about to smack you in the stomach and you want to counteract that punch.”

Testing the Balance


Your leathers are the recommended length for galloping and jumping when you take your feet out of the stirrups, letting them hang down, and the tread of the stirrup iron touches your leg at or slightly above your ankle. To introduce students to the new balanced position I described earlier, I have them shorten their stirrup leathers two or three holes above their regular galloping and jumping length. Then I tell them to rise into their two-point galloping and jumping position. As they bend their hip angle, I remind them to “focus on opening your knee and thigh, step down into your lower leg, really engage your core and push your hips back a little,” to keep their center mass over their base.


The reaction is usually immediate—and dismayed. The shortened stirrups make it impossible to pinch with the knee because there’s nothing to pinch against and they enable the riders to perceive exactly which muscles they need to use to maintain a balanced position. These usually are muscles they haven’t used much before. New students often complain that their backs and their knees are really feeling the new challenge. Sometimes I put a neck strap about halfway up the horse’s neck and tell the students they can hook just a finger in the strap for a little help while they learn where their balance is and how to use the proper leg muscles and core muscles to maintain it—without trying to balance on the reins. The strap is also a reminder to shift their weight back a little bit to get their center mass over their feet. If students say their back hurts in the new position, I explain that it’s because they’re using their back instead of their core to hold themselves up. The remedy is for them to pull their stomach in to support their back.

Building New Muscle Memory


Our ultimate goal in this work (and it is work!) is to replace the muscle memory of an ineffective galloping and jumping position and motion with the one that works. This is an important concept because you can’t learn to simply stop doing whatever it is that doesn’t work—unless you are replacing it with a different action. So once my students have gotten used to the feeling of the new position at the standstill and walk, I tell them to trot. (I tend to do most of my clinic teaching at the trot because there are two beats, or motions, within each stride, which requires riders to work twice as hard as at the canter.) Now when they pick up a trot they need to isolate their position from both the up-and-down and the side-to-side motion of the gait. Another advantage is that the trot is not as fast as the canter, so riders feel more in control as they’re trying to make all these changes.


I often have students alternate five or 10 steps in the two-point position with a few strides of posting, building it up until they can hold the two-point for 20 or 30 trot strides. When they can hold the balance position down the long side of the arena at a trot, I put down some ground poles. First we do regular trot poles set at standard striding. Then I put down what I call “pick-up sticks”—some poles are set on a short stride, some on a long stride, some are even set at angles. As horses start to trot through these, riders have to adjust their position to maintain their center mass over their base for the variations. This helps them learn to control their horses while maintaining the new position.

The next step is to set up some simple low (as small as 18 inches) jumping gymnastics. This helps students zero in on where they might have particular challenges over fences. Often when I ask riders, “Can you feel how you fell forward right there?” the answer will be “no.” For their next pass through, I have my cell phone out to video them so I can show them exactly where and how they need to reinforce their position.


As with any change in something riders have been doing a certain way—even if it’s the wrong way—for a long time, riding in the basic balance position feels odd to many new students. As they’re struggling they say, “This feels so unnatural!” So I give them instant feedback: I snap a picture with my phone and when I show them how they look in the new position they say, “That is NOT what it feels like!” The truth is that our bodies lie to us. For instance, if—like many of us—you get used to riding a little crooked in the saddle, it feels as if you’re sitting straight. Then, when you fix it so that you’re sitting evenly, your body tells you you’re tipping. That’s why I encourage students who are working on their position to buddy up. Ride with a friend so you can critique each other or enlist a friend who can stand on the ground and video you with her phone. If you can’t get feedback this way, try riding in an arena with a mirror.

Use Cross-Training—and Music


Some athletic activities other than riding can contribute to a better position. One is skiing because to do it well you have to engage your core, turn your hips, use your pelvic girdle—sound familiar? Another type of exercise that relates directly to riding is almost any type of dance training because the muscle control you learn for dancing is similar to what you need for riding. Yoga, which also entails muscle control and balance, helps as well.

Once you’ve learned to maintain the new position for a couple of minutes at a time, a helpful technique is riding to music. I suggest my students get some music they really love on their personal listening device and begin by trying to hold the new position for the duration of one song, then two songs and so on. I use music myself when doing my gallop sets. It helps me override the voices in my head that are telling me I’ve done enough for the day, I’m as fit as I need to be.

I’m not saying that the basic balance position is the only improvement in your riding that will bring you success. But I do know that most riders recognize, even subconsciously, when they are out of balance. That makes them feel insecure—and insecurity hinders your progress. Fixing your position brings you one big step closer to maximizing you and your horse’s potential as a team and reaching your goals.

Center of Gravity In Dressage


In dressage, you ask your horse to bring his hindquarters under his body, lift his back and withers and take a contact. But when you grip with your knee, causing your leg to swing back and your upper body to tip forward, you block the energy you’re developing from behind. So it’s like driving with the parking brake on. With your lower leg, you’re telling him that you want him to go forward, while your thigh is restricting the energy when it grips to support your upper body’s forward lean. At some point, he stops listening to your subtle cues.


In addition, many riders grip with their legs incorrectly just to try to hold themselves still on their horses for flatwork. A truly “still” rider cannot maintain the proper motion with the horse. Motion you can see is motion against the horse’s motion.

As I discuss in “Finding Balance,” on page 52, for the galloping position, in dressage you want to use your properly positioned lower leg and your pelvic girdle—the muscles around your hips and waist—to follow your horse’s motion with your hips. Dressage balanced position is a much more vertical position than the galloping position. The more core you can develop, the better control you’ll gain over your position. This is what you need to do to sit the trot effectively and as efficiently as possible.

Four-Star Success


Five years after riding her first four-stars (Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event—where she placed 12th—and Burghley) in 2011 with Shiraz, Colleen Rutledge finished second—by 0.4 penalty points—to Olympian Boyd Martin with her homebred Covert Rights, or “CR,” at the Wellington Eventing Showcase in February 2016.

Colleen, who completed a total of five four-stars with Shiraz before his retirement at age 18, was named to the U.S. Equestrian Federation World Class High Performance Training List with CR in June 2015. By then she had already competed CR, then a 9-year-old, at Rolex, where they came in 11th. “I don’t feel like I was named to the list. I feel like I’m sitting on a horse that got me there,” she says. The recognition helped her get to Burghley with CR that fall, where they finished 22nd. “For me, he is exactly the horse I wanted to breed. If I could change anything, the only detail is that I would like him to be a little tidier with his front end.”

Last year, CR won the Pine Top CIC***, was sixth at the Carolina CIC*** and third at The Fork CIC***. Another of Colleen’s Advanced horses, Escot 6, took third place in the Richland Park CIC***, fifth at the Morven Park CIC*** and finished just outside the top 20 at the Fair Hill CCI***. Colleen began her 2017 season with a third aboard Escot 6 in an Advanced division at the Pine Top Horse Trials.