Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eating grass

We all have dealt with it, or still deal with it. So, how do we stop it?

I felt Parelli's take on the situation was great, so I am posting it here (in green):

I often hear people say, "I never let my horse eat grass when I'm riding", and guess what...their horse is one of the worst! He takes every opportunity to lunge at the grass, even unseating the rider to get at it. If we think about it from his point of view, he's surrounded by delicious grass and then gets punished for wanting to eat it. This is just like taking a small child into a candy store and expecting him to have enough self-control to ignore all that candy. It's a pretty tough thing to ask, right? By being more considerate, we could give him some time to eat before asking for his full attention, then allow him to eat it now and then, but only when you invite it. Be sure to give permission rather than just letting him plunge his head down. Invite him by using the Porcupine Game... simply lower his head to the ground when you want him to graze. It's a great way to improve Game #2!

I am of the opinion that respect has a great deal to do with a horse plunging its head down to eat without permission. Remember that whatever you have on the ground is always halved in the saddle, so if you have say ok respect on the ground, you will have little to no respect under-saddle. If you've got an absolutely fantastic level of respect on the ground, that will carry into the saddle. The more often you have that fantastic level of respect on the ground and the more you work to further build it, the more respect you will have under-saddle. On that note, respect is not forced, it is earned. You earn it by representing a firm and assertive leader, but never an aggressive one (if you feel angry, get off and walk away). You get it by way of body language and backing up said body language, but you do not get it by simply using the end of a crop or leadrope. If you create a resentful horse, that resentful attitude will follow you in amongst that grass - the horse won't care that you asked it not to, it's going to eat when it wants, what it wants, and however much it wants! Respect is earned also by being persistent and fair.

Another factor that plays a role in whether or not a horse will be constantly insisting on eating grass is rules and boundaries. If he sometimes gets away with snatching a mouthful here or there, with no rhyme or reason, he'll think he can get away with it other times. Why not?

First off, I always ask people who don't want their horses to eat grass: why not? Sometimes it's that they don't want to have to wash off the bit, sometimes it's that they think the horse will somehow get its legs tangled in the reins (not if you're watching!), and other times they think it will create a disrespectful and rude horse. What I always remind them though, is that this is a partnership.

part·ner·ship (pärtnr-shp)
1. The state of being a partner.
2. a. A legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.
b. The persons bound by such a contract.
3. A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal: Neighborhood groups formed a partnership to fight crime.

Mutual cooperation. To me, I read that as both parties cooperating, and combining the interests of both parties. When working with our horses, that means considering what they want to do as well - after all, they're already doing what you want to do!

This is how things work with our horses:
A horse I do not deem to have a very high level of respect for me yet, is usually not allowed to graze (they're often the type of horse that does not get treats, either, until their overall p.o.v. shifts). Once I have earned a fairly high level of respect from them, they can graze to their little heart's content, provided they abide by my rules:

1. If you feel the need to grab that long, tantalizing strand of grass whilst walking, be my guest, but you are not slowing down to get it. This includes in-hand as well as under-saddle. On the ground, my horses have 12' of rope to play with. If they want to eat, they soon figure out to jog a couple steps ahead, grab a bite or two (by that time I have walked past and they are at the end of the 12' rope), then jog back next to me or ahead of me again, without ever hitting the end of the rope and without ever getting in the way of my path. Under-saddle, it means they are not yanking the reins out of my hand to grab a bite - they work with what they have, and the continue at the pace we were. On the ground, they hit the end of the rope and/or lose their grazing privileges if they do not keep up. Under-saddle, they meet a light squeeze and then (if necessary) a spank if they slow overly or if they stop without permission.

2. If I answer "no" to your question of "may I eat grass now?" (ie. if you bump my hands lightly and I don't give you your head), the answer remains "no" until I dictate otherwise. Don't keep asking, or I will have you working hard so that your focus is on the work at hand in lieu of the grass.

3. If I allow you to eat while stopped (this is where I like Pat's method of telling the horse it is now ok to eat grass, via applying pressure to ask them to lower their head), you may continue to do so until I pick up my reins and energy and squeeze you lightly forward.

The best thing I ever learned about getting a horse to quit eating grass was from John Lyons. He said to spank your horse rather than kick it or pull on the reins. Horses don't like to be kicked (I mean, would you?), and who has reefing on the reins ever worked for anyway?? So from then on, when a horse went to dive their nose down into grass, I simply gently spanked them with my rein ends (rhythmically, swinging my reins from one side of the haunches and across my body to the other side). Never had a problem after that.

Earning a high level of respect from your horse is key though, as is working in partnership with them. If you are working in partnership with them, they might gently ask, every once in awhile, if they can eat grass, but they will do so politely and not every stride. Also, if you are working in partnership with them, you are allowing them to eat grass here and there (take your time coming in from their paddock to work, let them eat while opening a gate, etc), out of consideration for their wants and needs, and so your horse will respect you for that as well. Horses respect a leader who is fair, whose rules they can easily understand. The above three rules are pretty easy for a horse to understand, I find. The other key though is prior and proper preparation (respect, etc), as it prevents a lot of mayhem in the first place.

Personally, any horse I ride is permitted to eat - over the last 6 years or so that I have really developed my horsemanship, I have never had a problem with a horse being excessively rude while eating. If they are a little more rude than I'd like, I revoke their grazing privileges. Once I feel they are again respectful (either during that same ride/walk or during another session altogether), then I return their privileges. My horses are always chomping away happily while still complying with everything I ask. If they are still doing what you ask, what more could you want? Why not allow them to do a little of what they want, while still doing what you want as well?


For anyone curious, this is the Parelli cradle bit. It has been featured in the comments of Shame in the Horse Show Ring (a good blog to consider reading if you want to be aware of what goes on in the ring). For anyone actually interested in reading about it rather than just guessing at its use and effectiveness via photos, check out the bit on the actual Parelli website. It was devised and created by the Parelli's in conjunction with Myler. Essentially it is kind of similar to a Baucher. For basic flat work, you attach the rein to the primary ring. For refinement - collection, higher-level lateral work, etc, you attach the rein to the smaller ring, which provides a little leverage action. Sort of like using a curb, at the appropriate time in your horse's training, for subtler communication. A soft but knotted chin strap sits beneath the jaw, and a knotted nose strap sits right below the noseband; a string attaches to the nosepiece and ties to the browband, keeping the nosepiece from dropping too low. The knots provide something uncomfortable for the horse to lean against and work much the same as the knots in a rope halter. The bit itself is a basic snaffle with sweet iron and a low port (no hard pallet action, but providing some tongue relief), that locks and won't collapse on the horse's tongue. It is a very mild bit but has the ability to be used for refinement work as well. Personally, I currently use it on three of my english horses and have had great success with it. The horses seem to love it and they are happy to engage their behind as the work progresses and encourages it of them. Unlike a lot of the bits out there, this bit was not designed for control a.k.a. torture. It was designed to suit particular horses and to help horse and rider communicate effectively and efficiently. Is it expensive? Heck yea, but, so are a great many quality bits. Do you have to purchase the much-too-expensive-for-my-taste (but really nice!) headstall with it? Nope, the bit goes on any headstall (I actually do not own the Parelli headstalls).

As noted in prior blog entries, you do not NEED any equipment, but certain tools will help you with certain jobs.

So, on to the topic at hand I very briefly wanted to discuss today: stallions. Until I have worked with every single stallion in the world, I will never profess to know all there is about them. Since that is highly unlikely, I will have to say that I will always be learning about them (as goes with all horses). In the mean time, I will admit that my work with stallions so far has been very limited and due to my limited exposure to riding and working with stallions, I cannot propose to hand out advise except to warn and really impress upon people that stallions are not like your typical gelding or mare. I have had stallions sneak in on me when my back was turned, then boom, they are right there, in your face when you turn around - and you are left unable read their expression or intentions. You would never have known what hit you. They will challenge your authority - even the mild-mannered ones, they are meant to do so. They are a huge challenge to your horsemanship to tackle, so please please please, if you are considering raising or keeping a stallion, take a look first at your skills. Gain some experience around a few other stallions first. Stallions should be well-mannered, docile creatures, but just as some geldings and mares are very high energy, so are some stallions. Some have assertive horsenalities or some other factor that will play a role in the management and skill required to keep such an animal well-mannered and docile. Exercise is key, along with as natural a lifestyle as possible and a relationship composed of a high high level of respect coupled with trust. If you can't maintain that respect at a sufficient level, you're going to find yourself in trouble. Trouble is, how do you know what level of respect is "sufficient"? Which is where experience comes in to play. If you haven't got the horse (and preferably, stallion) experience, stay away from stallions and breed to outside studs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do horses need jobs too??

How much do you value giving your horse a job?

I feel a sense of disappointment sometimes when I realize how the world has changed. It used to be that we used horses for our livelihoods - every horse had a job. While there are still a large number of individuals who still use horses for a specific job (plowing fields, working cattle, etc), the proportion of horse people who do so seems to be shrinking. I feel a great number of individuals particularly neglect the benefits of cross-training and giving their horse a job to do outside their competitive discipline.

Personally, I believe that horses, just as humans, need a purpose. They need something to do, and endless circles and patterns in an arena can only do so much. At the very least, the healthiest thing we can do for our horses is to keep them well-rounded and mentally stimulated. Barrel horses should also be out on the trails, team penning, reining, even doing some jumping. Dressage horses should be jumping small courses or heck, even working cattle. When horses have a specific job to do, they tend to focus on that rather than spooky objects, the bit in their mouth, or resisting the rider. They have something to look forward to because they feel like they are accomplishing something important. It also gives them incentive, a reason to perform and to do as their rider asks - they see a valid reason for moving off the rider's leg immediately, or going sideways, etc. Later, the rider takes the horse into the arena and the horse can feel like it is practising for the job that required those same maneuvers. Giving a horse a job builds that horse's confidence and gives them pride in themselves.

As we become more urbanized, our horses consequently do as well. They become accustomed to riding in quiet, flat arenas as opposed to working in unpredictable weather on rough ground and out in the middle of nowhere - something I think does not suit the horse very well (this change, that is). Sometimes we can only do so much, but I really push any clients I return horses to, to give their horses jobs to do. For example, I have been encouraging the owners of a big paint I am currently working to take him out to the hills and put him on the trails. There, he is concentrated on his feet and on navigating bush as opposed to the rider on his back. I put 60 days on another client's horse and advised the client to take it easy, but to take the horse into the mountains to climb steep inclines, cross deep rivers - get that horse thinking and working in partnership. My own horses have unfortunately been stuck working in rolling prairie fields and arenas far to long, due to time and accessibility constraints, with only the odd romp in the mountains. I finally am taking three of them up to Tomahawk, Alberta, to ride miles a day, work cattle, fix fences - whatever need be. Link, a Thoroughbred we picked up off the track last fall, has progressed in leaps in bounds each time I take him out to the mountains. It's like each time I take him out, our partnership blossoms into something new and I come back with a new horse. I can't wait to see our progress after living the simple life for a month.

There is just something about keeping and working a horse in as natural an environment as possible and of giving said horse a job to do, that makes them a better balanced individual more willing to work in partnership with you. Many horses never leave the arena or track though, as for whatever reason a lot of professionals find no need for, or even turn their nose up at, versatility. Dressage horses working cattle??! Hell no! Why not though? I could feel the utter surprise run through Link when he encountered uneven footing in the mountains our first time out. He had no idea what the heck was going on after living in small paddocks at home and in stalls on the track, only ever working on flat surfaces. He adapted quickly though and came out of it all the better. I don't care if we do make it to the international levels in jumping one sunny day, that horse is going to still play in the mountains and work cattle whenever we can.

In my opinion, I think versatility keeps our horses fresh and their minds (and bodies!) healthy and healthy. I think we need to strive to give our horses the same purpose we seek ourselves. I believe it can even make the difference between an "untrainable", "dangerous" horse, and one with a successful career, or even a "great" horse and a superstar.

On another, slightly related note, a show trainer for gaited horses mentioned in Horse Illustrated's most recent issue the need for our horses to get out and play every once in awhile, particularly when they're stalled. She went on to specify though that your horse should be booted up and only turned out in a small area. Obviously this is not the first article to exist to say the same (for any horse, not just gaited). I understand the need for bell boots perhaps, but whatever happened to just allowing our horses to be horses? Are we overprotecting them as we seem to be doing with our kids? When will the day come when we only turn our horses out, in a 10x10 padded paddock, covered in bubble wrap? Anyway, don't underestimate the benefit of turning your horse out and allowing him play time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Using the weather to your advantage

Today I am told we (us Calgarians, that is) reached 31C today. Weather hot enough to melt your socks off (or at least so my socks were convinced), nevermind your horses! A couple of weeks ago we were *ahem* "blessed" with "wonderful" weather - a daytime high of 10C (this is August, don't forget...SUM-MER), rain, rain, and more rain, and just altogether dismal weather. We even experienced hurricane-like weather - torrential rains, 100km/h winds that tore barns down overtop of horses, and golfball-sized hail that pecked at any horse left standing out in the weather.

Most horsemen realize that weather can play a huge role in a horse's willingness, or lack thereof, to work. It seems so minor, yet can have a huge effect on a horse. On one hand, sometimes we have to work a horse regardless of the weather, but if we can be aware of the weather and its effect on our horses, sometimes we can even use the weather to suit us. So, let's briefly discuss how the weather can affect our horses, and thus how we can use it to our benefit.

No horse likes to be worked in the rain, and I think if our Quarab could talk, he would dryly attest to how rain that is pounding down all flashflood-style actually hurts your forehead (his nose intimately meets his chest in any rain that threatens his face). If you've got an experienced horse, by all means, ride away in the rain (though if you don't have to, for your horse's sake, maybe don't). For the horse-in-training though, I have to advise against it (usually), at least when the weather is particularly nasty and the rain is particularly coming down hard. It is one way to quickly make enemies (I mean c'mon, who actually likes working in cold, hard rain!?) and thus really does little positive for your relationship with said horse. If at all possible, save the really rainy day works for the experienced horse who is willing to oblige you thanks to your long-standing relationship. Don't forget too that riding in the rain has the added risk of a slip and fall. On the other hand, sometimes working in the rain just is not avoidable, and in areas where rainfall is a very common event (such as in lieu of snow), horses grow used to it and don't mind it so much.

Same follows for working in the heat - no one really seems to particularly enjoy the art of melting. On the other hand, got a high-energy, excitable horse? Ride her at the hotter times of the day. Riding a horse (lightly if possible, I might add) on a hotter day can increase your chances of a "good" ride and thus progress your training more easily. Horses tend to be calmer and lazier on hot days (just as with any living being) and thus are typically less inclined to raise a ruckus. Just be sure to not work too hard or long in the sun (if possible) and to provide plenty of water.

For the spooky or high energy horse, this can be another day to avoid riding (high winds, that is, not just some light breeze). Sometimes there is just no sense in playing with fire; doing groundwork instead can still allow for progress, at times moreso even than if you had ridden that day (and particularly if you were to have a poor ride). Think of it from the horse's perspective: the sound of the wind can mask a predator creeping up, and the waving grass could hide a lion as it creeps closer. Besides, who doesn't feel frisky in the wind? Obviously, for the experienced horse, wind is not a problem.

Those millions of white snowflakes converged on one spot can provide a fantastic exercise opportunity for your horse - wading through drifts and working through snow is a wonderful way to work off a few excess pounds. Just be cautious of grip (or lack thereof) beneath the snow and keep in mind that your horse may feel pretty good on a cool crisp day as well ;)

Cool days
For the horse who typically lacks motivation, avoid working her at the hottest part of the day and instead work her in the morning or wait until evening. They will be a lot less grumpy with having to work and will be more inclined to follow your direction willingly.

As I said, most horsemen are already aware of the above, but sometimes we is just something so simple yet good to keep in mind. Personally, I do plan my day and which horses are worked when, according to the weather whenever possible. I work the high-energy horses during the hotter parts of the day, and the low-energy horses when it is cooler out, or in a cooler facility (ie. an arena). Might as well take advantage of Mother Nature whenever the possibility arises.

Happy riding!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I figured it was about time to do a blog on bits when I spoke with the owner of one of the horses I currently am working on, asking me why I chose the bit I did to work with him (double-jointed O-ring Happy Mouth). We could get into some long discussion on what-bit-does-what, but I am simply going to leave you with the basics, a few guidelines to consider or remember when choosing a bit. After that, I will leave the research on individual bits up to you.

Double-jointed loose ring Happy Mouth

First, two primary classifications of bits:

Curb bits
Bits that possess shanks. They utilize leverage to create pressure on the poll and under the chin (via a chin strap), and to also exert more pounds of pressure on the horse's mouth than a snaffle would. Each time you pull back on the reins of a curb bit, the pounds of pressure you use is amplified to the horse. The amount of pressure your horse feels is dependent upon the length of the shanks and thus the leverage applied.

In my honest opinion, I believe curb bits are misused much more often than snaffles. It's something called the "bigger bit theory": horse doesn't respond to a gentle bit, so it is put into something harsher, likely a curb bit. He doesn't listen to that, so he goes into an even harsher bit...and so the story continues until one day he's being ridden in a twisted wire single-jointed curb bit with 4 inch shanks. Finally, his owners have control. Or so they think. What people seem to forget is that this is a 1,000+lb animal. You are not going to out-muscle it, and relying on tools to do so will only land you in trouble - if not now, maybe a year down the road.

The only time a curb bit should be used is for refinement purposes, to allow for more intimate communication between horse and rider and to refine vertical flexion as collection progresses and is developed. If you lack control in a snaffle, get your horse into the gentlest bit possible (or even a plain rope hackamore if possible), and re-work the basics. Don't have control there? Work the basics from the ground first. Jonathan Field says "solve the problem on the outside, before going to the inside (the horse's mouth), so that you do not dull the inside", and I feel he is so right. I start any and all horses from the ground up: everyone starts out in a plain rope hackamore (after initially starting out with groundwork). Once I feel I have sufficient "control" (a.k.a. partnership between myself and the horse), I move them up into a snaffle, and finally (eventually), a leverage bit (if it fits with my purpose with that horse). For everyday riding, a horse should be in the gentlest bit possible, or no bit at all. Then you move them into a leverage bit for refinement, to work on more complex maneuvers that require a whole new level of subtle communication between horse and rider.

Snaffle bits
Bits that execute no leverage on the horse's mouth. This means it has no shanks. To clear this one up: snaffle bits are not bits that are broken, with curb bits being bits that are solid mouthpieces!! I'm shocked at the multitude of people who believe this to be the case. Either snaffles or curb bits may have solid or broken mouthpieces. Snaffles are your starter bits, used for the basics and for creating lateral flexion.

The following are some of the notes I took at the Red Deer Mane Event, from Jonathan Field and Bob Myler's demo concerning bits:

Bits do not train the horse! In other words, don't rely on a bit to "train" your horse: ie. don't upgrade to bigger bits when you feel like you lack control. Remedy the control issue without relying on equipment to do it for you.

There are two types of bits:
1- Those used for straightness (stiff bosal or a curb bit)
2- Those used for bend/lateral work/disengagement (snaffle/flexible rope hackamore)

There are numerous different areas in and outside of the horse's mouth that a bit can apply pressure:
- the bars of the horse's mouth
- the pallet
- the lips
- the tongue (the most invasive)
- the cheeks
- the chin
- the poll

Horses who periodically tip their nose up during sustained collection? Think about where your tongue sits when you are just sitting there on the couch, reading this blog. It's raised against the roof of your mouth, right? Well the same goes for horses. Many bits force the horse's tongue down, preventing him from lifting his tongue and swallowing. When a horse tips his nose up, he's likely just trying to swallow!

The angle of the spade on a spade bit determines pallet pressure and therefore headset (take note that in that particular headset then, the spade is applying no pressure). A spade bit is the ultimate level of communication, the ultimate level of intimacy, with a horse. It goes in only with prior and proper preparation, when horse and rider have achieved a high level of communication and training.

The reins are connected to the horse's feet, not the head.

Jonathan has a 5-step program he follows with his horses:
1 - rope halter for groundwork
2 - rope hackamore
3 - solid snaffle with a 1/4'' port ("lift") for some tongue relief
4 - solid snaffle with a 3/4'' lift for more tongue relief
5 - solid snaffle (can swivel around a barrel or such, but you don't want it folding in on itself so that it has a nutcracker effect on the tongue) with a 1'' lift

Keep in mind, a bit will typically not exert pallet pressure until the lift is about 2'' high. You start off with a smaller lift at first though and build bigger, because the higher the lift, the more pressure that is exerted on the bars of the mouth, though the more tongue relief. The lower lift assures that there is some tongue relief but that pressure is more evenly distributed as the horse becomes more accustomed to the action of that bit.

So, back to Equus:

The thicker the mouthpiece, the milder the bit (generally).

Single-jointed mouthpieces will exert a "nutcracker effect", pinching lips, tongue, and bars when pressure is applied to the reins. Double-jointed mouthpieces lack this nutcracker effect, however they exert more bar pressure.

The larger the ratio between the piece of shank above the mouthpiece and the shank hanging below the mouthpiece on a curb bit, the more leverage the bit will apply and thus the more severe the bit will be.

Smooth mouthpieces will exert less pressure/pressure points than a bit with bumps, knots, or twists in it.

Curb straps:
On a snaffle, they serve to keep the bit in the horse's mouth. In my opinion, that is what a full-cheek snaffle is for on a green horse (after transitioning from a rope hackamore). If the bit is coming out of the horse's mouth, I think it's time to re-evaluate how you are asking the horse what you are asking. With a green horse in extreme circumstances, sometimes this is a little unavoidable, but for the most part if the horse is adequately prepared beforehand, the bit will not be sliding out of its mouth.

On a curb bit, the curb strap serves to exert chin pressure and allow for more leverage. Without it, a good chunk of the curb's action is eliminated. Make sure you can fit two fingers in between your horse's chin and the actual strap when fitting.

Twisted wire bits have NO place in a horse's mouth in my books, I really don't care the excuse used. Those are not designed for communication, they are specifically designed to hurt your supposed "partner".

There are more variations to bits than just the simple curb and snaffles, however those are the primary divisions...the rest I leave up to you to investigate.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Horse health

One point first prior to getting to the real meat and potatoes of this post:

I recently learned that electric prod use on the Thoroughbreds at our local (A and B rated) Alberta tracks is common - not even simply a rare event. I did not realise it had such a high incidence. I have no idea how I missed it as a pony rider, but to be truthful, there is so much that goes on at the track and that is carried out in clandestine fashion, that it would take a lifetime to learn of all of it. I just wanted to point out yet another abuse of horses in the horse industry - it is literally everywhere, sad as it is to say.

So, back to the topic, courtesy of Cathy of FHOTD once again (sorry, just she keeps providing me so much fodder).

To her credit, her post today did feature horses who were clearly, for the most part, skinny and in need of some good feed. I have to admit though that I wish Cathy would simply feature horses and use them as an example for an informative post, rather than featuring ads, bashing the sellers, and then allowing her readers, even inadvertently encouraging them to, contact the sellers. I contacted one such seller featured one day (to encourage them in the face of the incoming pile of snarky and harsh emails I was sure would come - and did) to find a very knowledgeable, intelligent, and caring horseperson! As I have said before, there is always two sides to a story. But, back to the topic at hand, Cathy seems to feature a lot of horses she claims too skinny when they are in fact within a healthy weight. I think perhaps I may have finally gotten down to why she - and so many others - do/does so. The following are a few lines that Cathy posted (in purple):

I know a lot of people who are happy as soon as a horse is fat, but a round butt alone doesn't mean perfect health.

Your horse might be hog fat and shiny, but if his feet look like this, he's not healthy.

Since when is "hog fat" healthy for a horse??!! It seems there is a growing trend to keep our dogs, our horses, our cats, ourselves even, fat. Whenever I bring our pup in to the vet each year for her checkups, the techs and vets always nearly lose their marbles in excitement. All I hear for the entire short stay is how healthy our dog looks and how they rarely see dogs so fit. Yet I garnish complaints from passerby's out walking that she's too thin. My goodness, have people lost all concept of what a fit animal looks like?? Please refer to a body condition scoring system to check out what your horse/animal should look like. For humans, we've got our BMI's. The following are two examples of fit horses. The first is of our OTTB Link's Secret - at the time in a stall at the track. He'd been on the track a number of months by that point and was at a pretty fit weight - race weight. The latter photo is of our Quarab Silver - the photo was taken after he had spent a month working on the track.

"Hog fat" leads to conditions such as Insulin Resistance - Diabetes, or Cushing's Syndrome. And for the record, the two conditions are not the same, as Cathy seems to imply in her blog. Here are two sites to get you up-to-date on the info:

Cushing's Syndrome - Recovery Eq

Your Horse and Diabetes -

From the latter site:
Not all horses with Cushing’s disease are insulin resistant, at least initially, but that condition does put them at high risk.

Neither condition are something you want to deal with.

Keeping our horses healthy is not about keeping them fat, it is about keeping them at as healthy a weight as possible. Most beneficial to a horse is not only to be at a healthy weight, but to be muscled accordingly as well (such as the two above photos). This only comes through use and conditioning (or through large pastures - though this only works for horses who will naturally roam a lot). These animals are here because of us, so we owe it to them to at least keep them as healthy as we possibly can.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


So, as promised, the (short) trimming blog. So, when is a horse in need of a trim? Going strictly by a specific timeline of 6-12 weeks is not really always all that accurate, because each horse is an individual in an individual environment. Trimming frequency depends upon weather, season, ground, genetics, use, ground covered daily, nutrition, etc. Hoof growth rate increases in the summer months and slows in the colder months. Wet ground versus dry ground, humid environment versus arid, good hoof genetics versus poor, 40 acres of pastureland covered daily versus stall life - all play roles in hoof growth. We have horses that, through the winter, have gone up to 4 months before they required a trim. Keep in mind all our horses are pastured. Of course if you are not knowledgeable in regards to feet, definitely go by a regular schedule and/or as per the recommendations of your farrier. In the mean time, check out photos online and talk to your farrier to educate yourself as to what your horse's feet should look like. The following is what they should not look like:

Here is what they should look like (or something similar), in terms of length:

On the hoof note, I have to profess that I am an avid fan of allowing horses to go barefoot, as nature intended. While shoes can be beneficial in some situations, for the most part, allowing a horse to go barefoot has been proven to be healthier for the hoof and thus the horse itself. A shoe can allow for contracted heels and does not allow the (albeit minute) expansion of the hoofwall as the hoof makes contact with the ground. A horse's foot acts as four "heart pumps" - the pressure upon making contact with ground pumps blood back up the leg (against gravity) and back to the core. Do your research, and you will find most horses can greatly benefit from going barefoot. The following are a few sites I have found helpful, from my favourites to the newly-discovered-but-look-promising:

Successful Natural Horsecare (check out all the info on barefootedness)
Equine Vet Journal (more input concerning the Strasser Method)
Jaimie Jackson (barefoot expert)
Another Jaimie Jackson website (?)
Pete Ramey (another barefoot prof)

I have to admit to not having read all of the info on all of these sites - there is just so much out there! Now, just to find the time to delve into it all ;) However I felt some of these sites could be helpful, hence their inclusion in this post. Hopefully they can provide others a foundation from which to bounce off of. Just for the heck of it, also check out the history of shoeing horses - it could add insight into barefootdness as well; I definitely found it interesting.

On a personal level, we have kept all of our own current three horses barefoot as long as we have had them (1, 9, and 14 years), save for the odd temporary shod episode under very particular, special, and elite circumstances. We have never had a soundness issue with any of our horses (save for the odd time a farrier trimmed too short or a rare rock bruising). Ever. Despite their various activities. Coincidence? I think not. My personal belief is that nature probably does a pretty good job of providing our horses with the feet they need to survive. Human interference (ie. shoes) is typically not required except in very particular circumstances and/or with certain horses.