Monday, June 29, 2009

Crossbreeds

Why is it that people look down on crossbreds? They're often looked down on, particularly in the show world, like some worthless mutt, without taking the individual horse and its abilities into consideration. For every fugly grade horse someone can dig up, I can also dig you up a hideous registered fugly - bred with just as little thought as that grade horse. Personally, I think more emphasis should be placed on the horse itself - on what it can do. How do you think all the breeds we have today came about?

On the other hand, this isn't to say though that crossbreds should not be carefully thought out and planned; they should be just as carefully thought out as any purebred, perhaps even moreso, because some crosses just do not yield successful results. Also, this is not to advocate for the breeding of every Heinz 57 - by any stretch of the imagination. I strongly believe that you need to do your research when breeding. This includes knowing your horse's background (having a pedigree) - health genetics, conformation faults, etc, as well as examining current crosses on the market, so that you can determine the best cross for your horse. In a world with so many surplus horses (and now, a dismal economy), we owe it to our horses to breed carefully. Breed the best to the best and make sure there's a niche in the market for the type of cross you're breeding (unless you're breeding for your own uses and anticipate on keeping said foal for life).

So, let's take a quick look at just a few of the successful crosses out there (some of my personal favs):

Belgian x QH - These guys can make great cow/ranch horses with nice bone, without being huge horses. I knew one mare that stood only 14.2hh and could cut as well as any cutting-bred QH.



Clydesdale x Thoroughbred - this usually makes for a good sporthorse cross when you cross the athleticism of the TB with the substance and cool-as-a-cucumber brain of the Draft.



Friesian x Thoroughbred - another great sporthorse cross often particularly suited to dressage. Again the focus is on combining the best traits of both breeds - the athleticism of the TB and the brain and movement of the Friesian.


Holsteiner x Westphalen - of course you've got your warmblood x warmblood crosses as we refine and adjust our warmbloods to create better sporthorses to better suit our specific and current needs.


Morgan x Arabian
- these guys make great crosses by toning down the energy of the Arabian, combining the good brain of both breeds, and adding substance to an Arabian/adding more athleticism and a lighter build to a Morgan.


QH x Arabian - another fantastic cross whereby the build of the QH is refined and energy is perhaps even added to the equation, while still maintaining the QH brain and keeping the horse cowy (when bred to cowy QH's).


Warmblood x Thoroughbred - another very popular sporthorse cross, though I hear a rumour Standardbred x Warmblood crosses (when done carefully) can make even better crosses that are perhaps less likely to break down. With this cross you lighten the Warmblood build and perhaps create a quicker, cattier horse with the quieter mind of a WB.



Percheron x Thoroughbred - these guys can be excellent movers and are bred with the intention of creating athletic sporthorses. Sort of a North American emulation of European Warmblood breeding, in its infant stages.


As with any breeding - crosses between breeds need to be done with much deliberation and research.

Last note, here's a site I found with a variety of successful crosses - Benbar Farm. They have a lot of QH/TB/draft crosses that I wouldn't have thought of - they look fantastic! And those studs...*drool* (lol).

Mongol Horse Derby

Quick response to today's FHOTD, since my short, polite and respectful responses offering another pov seem to be deleted quickly after they are posted (actually this time they seem to be staying up, surprisingly - I suppose it is due to their being so many dissenting opinions being posted already?). Frustrating. What is even more frustrating though, was reading another blog by Cathy with no serious research and the author goading her sheep to attack other individuals. Name-calling included. Read the comments though, particularly the eighties onward, for some logic and actual knowledge of the situation.

First off - I am not saying that I agree with the Mongol Derby. To take sides would require much more research than simply reading one article (written by the Long Riders Guild after the coordinators of the Mongol Derby contacted the LRG for advice - as one can see, the LRG took every bit of twistable information available on the MD website and successfully twisted it) and reading the event website - including, preferably, actually being there during the race to assess it (or at the very least, obtaining first-hand accounts from vets, participants, and other professionals involved at the time and visiting Mongolia itself).

However, there were a couple of glaringinly-incorrect points from Cathy's blog. The quotes in quotations are from Cathy's blog, the writing in blue are from the event website. My comments are in green.


"These horses aren't going to be fit for anything like this"
We're going to look after these horses like they have never been looked after before. With an extensive veterinary and feeding program running over the months leading up to the race and vet support vehicles to charge in for any emergencies, these will be some of the fittest horses in Mongolia.

We're working with a American veterinary NGO based in Mongolia to run a program of care for the horses before, during and after the race. This network of vets will be assisted by Mongolia's head equine vet and a vet with 32 years of experience flying to Mongolia from the UK for the Derby.
Local horse experts and professional equine veterinarians will assist with the initial selection of horses, then a comprehensive inspection and care program will be carried out from the point of selection until after the race has finished.
They will be monitoring the horses welfare during the build-up to the start of the race, during the race itself at each of the Urtuu horse stations and after each leg of the race.


The Mongol Derby is being staged in collaboration with some of Mongolia's most renowned and respected horsemen and equine veterinarians. Their expert knowledge combined with the logistics put in place by The Adventurists will ensure the horses are properly looked after throughout the adventure. The Adventurists ordinarily specialise in adventures with no back-up or marked route but the Derby is a unique beast. It includes an emergency system with fully trained expert medical proffesionals for the riders in addition to the extensive veterinary provisions for the horses before during and after the race and a GPS tracking system so we know what is going on along the whole route.

According to the event coordinators, these horses will be very well prepared physically for the race. Now, I realise that what is said and what actually happens are at times two different things, but there is no evidence to contradict what the coordinators say will happen. None was certainly provided by Cathy on her blog during her trashing of the event.


"you're putting non-equestrians on them who wouldn't even recognize that a horse was injured or ill"
The riders taking part in the first ever Mongol Derby are all a very marvelous bunch and have spent their lives around horses.

This is the toughest horse race in the world and you will need to be physically fit, in good health and have a good level of riding ability to take part in the Mongol Derby. This does not mean that you once went on a half-day pony trek when you were twelve. It means you are confident in your knowledge of horses and your ability to ride long distances across difficult terrain. You have ridden regularly, understand how to handle horses in general and have a strong understanding of horse welfare. It is vital that you understand the risks involved in taking on such a huge adventure. If at the pre-race training session in Mongolia it becomes apparent that your riding ability is not as stated in your application, the organisers reserve the right to withdraw you from the Mongol Derby without notice, for your own safety and that of the horses. You will also need a good understanding of horse welfare as you will be responsible for each horse you ride. We will have vets on hand throughout the race to deal with any incidents, but it's you who will need to be able to recognise and report anything untoward with your steed.

Even a quick look at the team members reveals that the riders participating who have any sort of info on their page are clearly avid, experienced riders, having ridden from a young age. Championship eventers or dressage riders to polo players. They also tell of the prep work they have already done/are doing, from serious survival courses to training on polo horses. All riders seem to be experienced in the adventure/survival/endurance aspect of things as well as with horses.


"It is obvious you intend to treat them as disposable and that WILL NOT be tolerated."
However as organisers of the race The Adventurists require a financial deposit from the riders to ensure they follow the horse welfare guidelines issued to them to protect the horses. It's imperative that the horses' welfare comes above any aspect of competition and the riders understand that even a minor injury means the horse must not be ridden until a vet has been able to inspect and assess the horse. See the FAQ page for answers to some common questions about the Derby.

(from the FAQ page)
Responsible riding, sound knowledge of horse welfare and the pre-race training will hopefully mean the horses are not injured. However, if your horse sustains even a minor injury you will need to get off and walk it to the next Urtuu. You will receive training on how to spot injuries and assess their severity before the race in Mongolia. If your horse gets seriously injured there will be veterinary backup to come to its rescue. You will also have an emergency beacon that will enable our vets to locate you and the horse, should you find yourself in a pickle.

We don't want to mollycoddle you but we do want to ensure that the horses are safe. So we will have two jeeps with vets in following the race from a distance. You won't see them unless it is an emergency and you will be carrying a GPS beacon to summon their help if need be.


Please do your research, and please please please refrain from passing judgement on an event without any prior research, other than reading one article. There just isn't the evidence provided in Cathy's blog that this is an event she has psyched it up to be. This is not to say for sure that this is a race humane to its horses, but all the evidence thus far does support this claim - and no contradictory evidence is provided in Cathy's blog. It seems like a very well-organised event with much thought as to all aspects, with professionals involved at every step. Since this is the first Mongol Derby to be run, it's difficult to predict the outcome of the race and the jeopardy to the horses (who, keep in mind, were born and raised in this area), but everyone seems well prepared. On the other hand, what sounds fantastic on paper might not be successful in reality. Hopefully this group has indeed done the preparation that they seem to have done and this race is a successful one. Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cinchy

Yes, that is Viggo Mortensen, hehe
Horses are usually cinchy for one of three primary reasons:

1. Fear. Horses are naturally claustrophobic, so the idea of something wrapped tightly about their barrel isn't exactly at the top of their list. Young horses freshly started under-saddle (or improperly started under-saddle) are particularly prone to this. They freeze and tense up suddenly, and sometimes hump their back in preparation to explode. In my experience, time is the best cure. I'll roundpen a young horse and play all sorts of games with them while they carry a saddle and grow accustomed to the new weight and feel of a saddle and cinch. I'll play around with the cinch, tightening and loosening it and gradually increasing the amount of time the cinch is tight. Desensitizing the horse to the feel of a cinch is the best way to help a fearful horse overcome the fear of having something tightened around her barrel. If your horse is fearful of being cinched, working on gaining her trust on the ground is absolutely essential. Do not get on this horse's back or you run the risk of being bucked off - if she's not comfortable with a saddle, she is not going to be comfortable with a predator on her back.


2. They're annoyed. This is usually the result of a cinch being done up rudely - all at once. This is akin to tightening your belt up to the tightest hole possible, immediately...you wouldn't like it either! First off, while a cinch should be snug, it should never be tight. If your saddle fits correctly and your balance as a rider is good, your cinch should not need to be tightened until the horse stops breathing - the correct fit will keep the saddle in place, as will your balance. On the other hand though, neither should the cinch be flapping wildly in the wind, or you risk the saddle moving too much (particularly with an unbalanced rider or at higher speeds or more complicated movements), creating rubs and sores. When you do do up the cinch though, be respectful towards your horse about it! Do it up in stages, and do it up snug, but never tight. I'll tighten a cinch until it's snug, circle the horse, re-tighten, circle some more, re-check the cinch, then mount-up. If your horse does turn around to nip you at cinch-tightening time, you can do a number of things. First off, keep the horse out of your space, either through tying her up shorter or (preferably) through body language. For the latter, you can earn a horse's respect through playing the same ground games she plays out in the paddock with her herdmates. When your horse comes in to nip, you can play these same games - ie. use body language - to create a "bubble" of personal space your horse stays out of. I use "chicken wings" (lol). If I feel a horse coming in, I'll raise my elbows as if they were chicken wings, flapping. The horse either stays out of my space or runs into my elbow as she comes into my space. This makes it her responsibility to stay out of my space, without faulting me; I'm not coming in and hitting her, she is coming in and running into me - it makes a difference to the horse! Another thing you can do is, every time your horse comes in and swings her head around to nip at you, is to surprise her with something positive, such as a carrot. This way, she comes in with ears laid back and leaves with ears pricked forward and a good attitude. What happens last starts to happen first, and pretty soon you've got ears pricked forward rather than back, with a bad attitude becoming a good one. She learns that being cinched up isn't such a terrible thing after all.


3. Your horse is associating being cinched up with something she dislikes that happens under-saddle. With my Quarab, Silver, he became cinchy when he started associating being cinched up with the pain of working in an ill-fitting saddle that was causing chiropractic issues. Once the chiropractic issue was eliminated and the saddle was fit better, he stopped being cinchy because he enjoyed his work under-saddle! Take a step back and evaluate what you do under-saddle: is the horse over-worked or not warmed up or warmed down sufficiently, resulting in tired, sore muscles after a ride? Does the saddle fit? Are there chiropractic, or other physical issues, going on? How are your hands? Your seat? What your horse has to say about being caught, about being tacked up, about being mounted, among other things - all reflects upon your work under-saddle with him.

Plagues of the gaited breeds


I initially planned on including all the gaited breed (and in particular, Tennessee Walkers) plagues in with a previous blog concerning the atrocities that exist in the everyday show world, however the list grew too long, so I felt it necessary to seperate the gaited atrocities from the rest. Same follows for the racehorse industry, which I have already touched on lightly in another previous blog regarding racehorses (there is so much more there, however I really only know the half of it - unless you work on the track for a number of years and in various trainers' barns, you're only going to see the tip of the secretive iceberg).

Here is what I have dug up on the gaited horse community. It is very limited and only skims the surface - though I have provided a lot of links (bottom) that will enable anyone reading this blog to do their own research. This blog is just meant as a quick little blip to pique one's interest and spread awareness of what is going on out there. Take note that my experience with gaited horses is rather limited to seeing them at expos, talking with breeders at shows I've attended, and riding one beautiful mare in particular (a TNW, Mornin's Miracle aka Mira, from Crystal Star Ranch) last fall at the Harvest Festival up in St.Paul, Alberta when I competed (and won!) at the Trainer's Challenge, so a lot of the following info is based on what I have heard, what I have seen, and what I have researched, but from outside the industry. To gain a proper full perspective, I believe one would have to be involved in all aspects of the industry. So, if you have any experiences of your own, feel free to comment! Anyway, this is what I have found, and my opinion on things:



Chemical Soring
This involves chemicals being rubbed into the sensitive tissues of the coronet band - chemicals such as mustard oil, croton oil, salicylic acid, diesel oil, etc. These agents burn and blister the horse's skin, causing intense pain to the horse, who therefore raises its fronts for the big front end action sought for in the show ring. Furthermore, these chemicals are often carcinogenic and very toxic.

One side-effect of using chemicals is scarring. Therefore a horses' lower legs may be soaked in an acidic bath and left in its stall - likely unable to stand and in excrutiating pain - to recover as its skin desintegrates. The hair later regrows, and in this fashion any soring scars are left invisible.

Another side-effect of soring "stewarding". As horses may be palpated prior to entering a class; a sore horse is likely to flinch when pressure is applied to sored areas. So, prior to a show, a trainer may palpate the horse himself, beating the horse any time he flinches, thus teaching the horse to forego flinching when palpated prior to entering the ring. Another way of avoiding detection is to use a temporary freezing agent over the sored areas.



Mechanical Soring
Chains
Though only 6-ounce chains are permitted in the show ring, much heavier chains are often used in training at home. In addition, the 6-ounce chains hitting against old bruises and sores beneath from heavier chains or chemical means can still cause intense pain to the horse. Not to mention that even a 6-ounce chain, worn consistently, is still going to cause bruising and discomfort (think about how it would feel around your ankles).

Nails/Screws
Another method of mechanical soring is driving nails or screws up into the hoof wall, up against the sensitive white line. These are detectable, if the officials have the correct equipment at the show, and if the owner/trainer does not remove the nails/screws during inspection (then replace them afterwards).

Pressure Shoeing
This practice encompasses filing down the hoof wall to the sensitive quick, then shoeing the horse. Every time the horse places a foot down, he is forced to bear weight on the injured quick, resulting in pain with each step. Pressure points may also be created through using shoes higher on the inside than the outside, using a shoe with a raised metal edge/rim that digs into the hoof, etc. Foreign objects such as golf balls (cut in half), screws, etc may also be placed between hoof and pad to cause pain to the horse. These tools create pressure on the horse's hoof every time he bears weight down on it, resulting in a snappy step with very little time on the ground and more air time.

Road Foundering
This practise involves riding a horse on hard roads until his feet are so sore that he gets that snappy step sought for in the show ring.


Pads/Stacking
These can reach 4-5 inches in height and are akin to platform shoes for humans - which, as we all know, are harmful. So how is it any different for our horses? For one, the angle of the hoof (often with a long toe) is push far beyond nature intended; a variance of over 3 degrees from the norm can be detrimental. Second, the actual height the horse is forced to stand at is...well...also unnatural. Thirdly, the clamp at the front of the shoe (partially missing in this photo), necessary to hold the pads to the horse's hoof, can dig into the horse's pastern and tear up the skin. All of these factors combined result in stressed and damaged tendons and ligaments. As any human with bad feet knows - your feet have a huge impact on your back, knees, hips, etc - your entire body. Horses, surprisingly (insert rolled eyes here), are not exempt.


Alternatives?
All the above practises are by far not necessary to successfully show gaited horses; something I believe a lot of people do realise. On the other hand, there just is not enough manpower to efficiently inspect and thus protect these horses (well, not yet anyways). Corruption within the associations also feeds these vicious practices. Violations continue to be common and many more are not caught, even at the highest levels of competition. Hopefully with work these practices can be erradicated over time. Here is one example of a trainer who has won a World Championship, David Lichman, who works his gaited horses naturally.


Links:

Soring the Gaited Horse This is a highly informative site that includes the history of soring

Stop Soring

Friends of Sound Horses

Soring TWH's Wikipedia

For the Tennessee Walking Horse A blog with information, articles, and up-to-date info on the practices of soring

Natural Horse Talk Source-backed info on gaited practices

One final note: these practices are certainly ot restricted to the gaited world such as Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds. I have personally seen Arabians undergo some of the above methods and I understand Morgans are not exempt either.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Natural horsemanship

John Lyons

Clinton Anderson

Pat Parelli


Aaah natural horsemanship. The receipt of so much criticism as of late. So let's address some of the "issues" people have with natural horsemanship.

"It takes so much time."
Well, consider how much time you put into your horse already. I can assure you (as someone who used to work with horses the "traditional" way) that natural horsemanship, because it uses psychology of the horse, actually takes less time to get what you want. Sometimes it requires you to go back a few steps, so that you can fill in the gaps in your horse and your's partnership, but ultimately it allows for faster progression. The groundwork that we do prior to working under-saddle can be done in the 15 minutes it takes to lead your horse in from the pasture. Anything takes time, and the ideal partnership is certainly worth it.

"But you have to do so much groundwork!"
The foundation of any horse is groundwork. What you have on the ground is always halved in the saddle, from trust to respect, to partnership, so if you achieve a great partnership on the ground, you can have a great partnership under-saddle. Just to give you an idea, when I start your average laid-back 3yo QH, I usually do a week of groundwork. After that initial week, we spend maybe 15 minutes each session before doing our under-saddle work (this is assuming the horse has no previous issues that stall average progression). Is that really all that much groundwork? Groundwork allows you to first introduce concepts and lessons to a horse without a rider on their back (which can have a number of benefits, depending on the horse) and where you are safest.

"You have to use so much equipment!"
Don't you buy martingales, nosebands, saddles, bridles, bits, halters, boots...?? Of course you need tools to do a job, and natural horsemanship is no different. During your typical session, I'll use a saddle and pad, a bridle/rope hackamore, a carrot stick, and a rope and halter. Well I don't know about the next person, but that doesn't really seem like all that much equipment to me. The tools I use help me communicate efficiently with my horses. On that note, you don't have to buy the equipment NH trainers endorse, but do consider, and question, why they use such equipment. Ask them questions about their equipment. For example, Pat Parelli uses the rope halter he does because it encourages the horse to move forward and to release to pressure, rather than push against it (such as with a web halter - read my quip on halters here). He uses the yachting ropes he does because they're heavy and respond faster than your average rope. The weight also enables the horse to feel you picking up the end of the rope and such, easier. Similar concept as weighted reins on a bridle horse. The carrot stick is a rigid, fiberglass rod - it extends your arm and responds accurately according to how you move. It lacks the flexibility of the dressage or longe whip that your horse can ignore, and it has a 6' string at the end to respond just exactly how you flick it. It's not that you need Parelli's equipment to do Parelli, but I can certainly attest to its quality (I have yet to find a replica of similar quality - and I've looked), and it really helps you communicate clearly to your horse, especially to the horse who's new to people and interpreting our body language. Of course some trainers out there are simply making a shitload of money pumping out equipment that really does you no good, but that's where research comes in - for any piece of equipment, "natural" or not. Ask them why they use the equipment they do and how it can help you. On another note, I have yet to buy a figure-8 noseband, a martingale, or any other like piece of equipment, despite preparing horses for competitive purposes, so really I'm not putting out any more money than the next person.

"Horses don't run around with carrot sticks, why should I?"
Your horse also has ears that move better than yours and a long body that communicates horse language better than your human body does. I do not always use a carrot stick, but I have to admit it often makes a huge difference in my communication efficiency with a horse when I do.

"It's so unnatural!"
What's unnatural about looking at things from the horse's perspective, using horse psychology, and playing the same types of games horses play out in the pasture with their buddies? No, the tools aren't natural (neither are any tools out there on the market) - but the partnership is. What's not natural about being able to work with your horse at full liberty and have him want to work with you? Yea, I dunno either.

"I don't have the time!"
If you are riding your horse regularly (or not, even), you have the time. You just don't want to make the time - that's okay, but don't say you don't have the time! It just has not become important enough yet for you to make the time.

"It's so commercialized"
Unfortunately this certainly has become the case - money has a way about things. However that doesn't make the right NH method itself any less great, or helpful, to your horse.

"It's only for newbies who know nothing about horses" or "it's only for people with problem horses"
When I got into NH, I had been involved in the horse industry for 14+ years. I wasn't a newbie by any stretch of the imagination. I'd worked cattle, jumped, done Pony Club, a little dressage, gaming, gone through 4H...etc etc. I'd trained my Quarab from green 30-day'er to accomplished jumper and cow horse. I was currently working out how to train my young Warmblood colt. My WB was a "problem horse", but my Quarab - though we had problems at times - was just your average horse. My WB attacked me. He's what pushed me into NH, and as a result, I picked up knowledge I could then pass on to any horse, problem horse or not. You don't have to be new to horses or have a "problem horse" (there are no problem horses, only problem riders) to do NH; any person can improve the relationship they have with any horse. You can never know everything. What kind of relationship do you have with your horse - can you ride that jump course or do that dressage pattern at liberty? If you can, can you imagine what you can do, what type of control you have, in a bridle?

"It only works for certain horses, not all horses"
Horse psychology is universal - every horse has it. Parelli states that he's never met a horse yet that didn't appreciate natural horsemanship. Neither have I thus far. In my experience, it works for all horses, but not all people.

"NH people are unsafe"
"They ride around bareback in halters or bridleless, they stand on their horses' backs..." Well, what someone does is their prerogative. On the other hand, it's not so unsafe when you're in ultimate partnership with your horse. Your horse isn't going to spook if he's following your direction, and he's going to do what you ask because he wants to - you're working in partnership. Just like a trick rider or vaulter wouldn't do what they do without knowing they were safe on their horse.

"What I do works already"
Great. Just keep an open mind that your way might not be the only way - that there might be something out there that allows you to have an even better partnership with your horse. "Good, better, best, never let it rest." We should be constantly striving for improvement and to better ourselves and our horses. And for crying out loud, don't criticize others because they choose to do something else!

"Well it didn't work on so and so"
Was the individual working with the horse a professional in that particular method? Besides, Parelli (or other NH methods) are designed more for the human than the horse. You can balance out a horse, develop a horse, but after that it's up to the person. Just because a horse is "NH trained" doesn't mean he's going to do all the things with you that he did with the individual who was doing NH with him originally. It certainly makes him a well-rounded horse and sets him up for success with the next person, but the horse is not a pre-programmed computer. If you want a horse to do those things, you have to "talk" to him the same way! I can promise you my Warmblood x will still walk all over you if you don't assert yourself around him. He doesn't do so around me, because I'm assertive! My Thoroughbred won't necessarily work calmly and relaxedly under-saddle for someone else, just because he does so for me! These are animals, not robots. They don't respond robotically when you press a particular button (or at least they shouldn't), they respond according to how you work with them.

"My horse is too old"
I'm working with an 8-9yo APHA gelding at the moment. He's picked it up fabulously. When I started working with my Quarab using NH, he was about that age as well. Horse psychology is horse psychology, regardless of age. Habits may be difficult to change when a horse has done them for a number of years, however it is possible with patience and persistence.

"I don't need to ride my horse bridleless"
Neither do I. It's not about being able to do tricks with your horse, it's about the type of partnership that allows for those types of exercises (such as riding bridleless). If you can ride your horse bridleless, you can negotiate a course with a bridle.


NH is more than a method, it's a way of thinking. It's not about being able to do all these "tricks" with your horse, and it's not about "fixing" a problem horse. It's about creating the ultimate partnership with the horse in hand. It's about teaching your horse a common language the two of you can share (ie. teaching your horse his language in your own words) and being able to "talk" back and forth efficiently and effectively. It's about learning as much as possible and about creating a partnership where ropes are no longer required to "keep" your horse at your side, where the two of you are in harmony - a partnership based on love, language, leadership, with balanced doses of trust and respect. Sure it's become pretty commercialized, but you just have to find the right method that works for you - read trainers' philosophies, watch their demos, see what their students can do. Furthermore, don't let a few bad examples of a method turn you off completely - bad apples are everywhere. Evaluate each method on its own merits, based on the professionals within the system. Above all, have an open mind and be willing to always learn.

ETA: I wanted to add a little more after watching the Nexen Cup Derby at Spruce Meadows on tv today (after seeing the real thing a few weeks ago). At the time of seeing the Nexen Cup - to me, Ian Miller and Redefin had seemed like the best combination (I even blogged about it here). They were fluid, they were relaxed throughout, and they were in perfect harmony within their partnership. There was no sawing on Redefin's mouth, big bits, pumping up in the gym so as to have the arm strength to ride him (*ahem* Beezie on Judgement *cough cough*), or fighting with Redefin. Redefin was calm and relaxed - not rushing fences, bucking, or wringing his tail without relief (*cough* Jeanne Hobbs on Night and Day 8). Miller and Redefin's partnership outranked anyone's by a long stretch. I did not realise though (am I the last to do so?) that Miller does natural horsemanship. The commentator of the competition put it nicely: with that type of partnership, it becomes more about the horse and rider and less about the jumps. Pessoa was eliminated when his horse, Champ 163, refused the Devil's Dyke - twice. Despite practising it at home numerous times. See, it really is not about the jump. You can practise a specific jump until you are blue in the face and your horse is dropping over dead. However if you've got a strong partnership with your horse, your horse is following your leadership - over any jump. Take note this is nothing against Pessoa of course, just an observation of where he was possibly at with that horse that day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Unethical practices in the show ring

"Can you not breed a horse that is just handsome or beautiful without disfiguring their bodies?"
-Bennie Jean Kuehnle, The Animal Institute of Holistic Health

What actually got me started on this blog was reading FHOTD's Oh What a Tangled Web. In it, Cathy mentions an Arabian stallion - Magnum Psyche, having his throatlatch thinned via cosmetic procedure. Which got me thinking about all the other atrocities I hear about, or have heard about in the past, in the show ring. I started doing more research, and here's what I've turned up (I am sure it is just the tip of the iceberg; in the grand scheme of things, this is only a quick blip, or brush-up, on the matter):


A Saddlebred stallion with a manipulated tail

Tail Nicking
Nicking involves slicing the retractor muscles below a horse's tail, then placing the horse's tail in a tail set. New muscle is laid down in between the cut ends to reconnect the original muscle, thereby creating the muscles and ligaments to heal longer than they were initially. Once healed, the tail-set may be removed, though some trainers are reported to put it on their horses during stall time. While wearing a tail-set, horses must be confined...which of course then limits their time outside as nature intended. There are other methods of tail-setting, with this being the most severe form. Proponents of the procedure claim it is "harmless" and "painless". I point to the above quote.


Another Saddlebred stallion, this one with natural tail carriage

Tail Docking

I understand how this practise came about; to prevent the tails of horses ploughing fields from becoming entangled in their harness. However, how many horses with docked tails nowadays are ploughing fields? Furthermore, driving horses compete all the time with full tails. Sometimes *gasp!* they even win! On the other hand, I can understand how a tail could possibly get in the way of a harness. A) if you've done your prep work with your horse, you should have no problem reaching over and untangling the harness, or even leaving the tail a little tangled, until you can get to it (just as an example, all horses under my tutelage learn it's okay to have a rope under their tail or things tangled about their butts). B) if you really have that much trouble with it, simply braid your horse's tail! On the track, we reguarly braided up our horses' tails when working in mud. Took all of...yea maybe 30 seconds. I do admit to not ever haven driven horses though, nor having ever ploughed any fields behind a draft. SO, I admit, perhaps I am missing something and the odd plough horse does require a docked tail so as to work more efficiently. However those horses (perhaps docked for a legitimate purpose) are much more limited than the number of docked tails we see around. Not only is the procedure itself painful, but a horse uses its tail for a variety of purposes - balance, body language, signals, fly-swishing, etc. Our "fashion show" should not trump a horse's natural need for its tail. My theory is that if a horse doesn't need a tail...it wouldn't have one in the first place!

Blocked Tails

Aaah, this one's quite controversial, because there are many who seem to believe nothing is wrong with the practise. After all, it's only temporary, right? In this case, the major motor nerves of a horse's tail are injected with alcohol so as to affect the horse's ability to lift, or even move, it's tail. This is done to prevent a horse from wringing its tail - something a horse will do if experiencing discomfort, pain, frustration, or annoyance. Some horses have it done because their tails are too "natural" looking. Wouldn't want our horses to express themselves now, would we? Of course this has inherent risks to the horse. First off, injecting a horse can introduce infection. Tail circulation is poor (considering) and thus any injuries are slow to heal and infections can persist and spread - into the leg, into the back, etc. Soon, you have a dead horse on your hands. That's just the possible worse-case-scenario. Short-term, the horse loses the ability to move its tail for a few weeks or months...sometimes permanently. As previously mentioned, horses need their tails. That's why they are there. In other scenarios, untargeted nerves are hit mistakenly. There is just so much risk - and for what? A ribbon? I would rather be known for standing above, for refusing to risk the life and best interests of my horses by sinking to the level of competitors who are willing to block their horses' tails.

Chemicals Under the Tail

Chemicals like...ginger salve. It's a chemical irritant that is placed in the horse's rectum and generates heat. I can recall, as a kid, hearing about various substances being placed in horses' rectums at shows so that they held their tail in a permanent "banner" carriage (such as shown above). Ordinarily, a horse will only carry its tail in such a fashion when excited; afterwards, they will of course relax their body - spine included. Since the tail is an extension of the spine, the tail relaxes as well and thus lowers. So, we introduce an irritant. The horse, experiencing irritation and pain, lifts its tail and carries it as such in an attempt at avoiding the discomfort and pain. Cruel?

I fully admit I am unaware as to the appropriate names for these tails...but those look far from natural, even if they are show-winning

Other Tail Procedures

I am not fully aware of all the procedures out there, but manipulation of the Paso Fino tail is apparently a common one as well. I am not sure of how the specific tail shapes are achieved (my theory involves broken bones - anyone care to educate me?), but it can't be in the best interests of the horse.

Drugs

Thanks to drug-testing, I hear that tranq'ing one's horse prior to competition is not as common as it used to be, however it still obviously exists and there are loopholes. Look, if you have to drug your horse for it to perform for you, you've got a problem with your part-ner-ship. The ultimate solution to an overly-excited, unmanageable horse, or a horse that is too fast in the show ring, is prior and proper development - of both the horse and your partnership with said horse. Drugging an animal is neither in the animal's best interests, nor is it in yours.

Tying Heads

I hear this is still rampant, and it most certainly occurred when I was showing in my teens. This is most prevalent on the APHA and AQHA circuits, particularly in the WP classes. In this scenario, horses are left tied in their stall, often overnight. Their heads are tied far high above the level of their withers (the height a horse should normally be tied at) so that their necks are stretched upwards and thus their muscles fatigued. In this fashion, said horse will have a tired neck come morning and will thereby carry it at a more appropriate "show" (read: fashion) level in their class.

Exhausted/Starved/Anemic Horses

I hear the trend of exhausting a horse prior to displaying it to the public is not only occurring in the training world (trainers putting on demos), but also in the show world. People longeing their horse incessantly the morning of a class or riding it heavy the day prior, to ensure a calm horse come showtime. Same as with drugging a horse, if you have to exhaust a horse prior to riding it - perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your partnership with this horse, why it doesn't want to work with you, and your methods of training said horse. Just throwing it out there. Same follows for neglecting to feed or water a horse several days prior to a competition to ensure it lacks fight come show day. Or, drawing blood from a horse prior to a class to cause it to be anemic, and thus tired. Take a good, thorough look at your practices, because there are plenty of individuals out there NOT partaking in these practises who can win, or even who can put on a demo riding their horse bridleless. Horses that were former problem horses or presented their own respective challenges in the past as well. Developing a partnership takes time, and there are no problem horses, only problem riders. One shouldn't have to stoop to these levels to compete on a horse and if someone can do it bridleless, heck, you can definitely do it with a bridle!

Fishing Lines as Draw Reins

I very much doubt this is being done at the higher levels and I imagine it presents a false look to the flat-necked the judges look for. If a horse braces against said "invisible" draw rein, the horse's neck will obviously be rounded and tense. I'll go into more detail on such tools in the future, but personally I see any tool such as draw reins as an unnecessary shortcut and crutch (as a whole, on average). For those who believe they are a useful tool - do your prior and proper preparation so that they are only that - a useful tool to prepare your horse for the show ring or in extreme cases on certain horses. They should not actually accompany you into the ring (as evidenced by...well...rules).

Tongue Ties

In the racehorse world, a tongue tie is used to prevent a horse from getting his tongue over the bit and then swallowing his tongue as the jockey pulls on the bit. In this way, it also gives the jockey more control, because the horse cannot get its tongue over the bit. It is also supposed to help horses that have troubles breathing running because their tongue is inhibiting proper respiration, by keeping the tongue flat against the floor of their mouth. It can consist of any number of materials - we usually simply used vet wrap twisted into long strings. We'd wrap the tongue tie around the horse's tongue once or twice, then tie the ends under the horse's jaw, thus keeping the horse's tongue flat. A horse, just as a human, naturally carries his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, sliding saliva to the back of the throat and allowing for effective swallowing. Obviously a horse with his tongue tied down is somewhat inhibited from doing so. Supporters of the tongue tie claim the tool is absolutely harmless and painless. Well, time for a little experiment. Lower your own tongue flat against the floor of your mouth, and hold it there. See how long it takes before you have to swallow - except, oops, you can't, because you are not allowed to lift your tongue! From my own personal experience with tongue ties, the horses always resisted having them put on, and a good 95 percent or more would have bitten their tongues during the race - due entirely to the tongue tie. The tongue tie would be the first piece of equipment we'd remove, and it was nearly always a bloody mess. Now, I hear that some horses in the show world, such as WP, are wearing some version of tongue ties - a rubber band around the tongue (not tied around the jaw, so not visible to judges), to ensure their tongues lie flat. Obviously this is another contraption designed for our benefit, not the horses'.

De-nerving

Posterior Digital Neurectomy. I understand that humans often undergo this procedure (such as in individuals with Carpal Tunnel Sydrome), however I would be rather suspicious of doing it to a horse who has no choice in the matter. This is often a matter of personal preference though, rather than of ethics. My reason for feeling this way is that if you de-nerve a leg in the event of an incurable lameness, for example, what are you possibly setting your horse up for in the future? If he cannot feel his leg, he cannot possibly avoid some possibly dangerous situations. A parallel example is with a racehorse whose legs have been numbed - he might run until he breaks down. On the other hand, it may permit your horse living a number of additional years, pain free. Yet, are we keeping the horse alive for his sake, or for our own emotional purposes? Personally, I think I would rather have my horse euthanised (I suppose only being in such a situation will truly tell though). Where this matter could cross into a matter of ethics, is when people insist on continuing to compete on a horse who has been de-nerved. Not ethical whatsoever in my books, because a horse in competition is placed at larger risk of injury after a PDN than a horse simply living out his life in pasture. Horses do not desire to show - they do not lust for fame or monetary gain. That is an entirely human trait. If one is having their horse undergo a PDN for the horse's sake, then they should have no problem not competing on said horse - possibly placing the horse at an increased risk - for the horse's benefit.

Saline/Air Pockets

Apparently some individuals find it necessary to inject saline or air beneath their horses' skin so as to fill in sunken-in areas, particularly on older horses. Why can we not simply age naturally, and allow our horses to also do so? Have any of these individuals ever felt what it feels like to have saline or air beneath the skin? Somehow...I doubt it. Just for those wondering minds - saline burns, particularly if you are extra-sensitive, as I am. Large amounts of saline really burn. The amount necessary to inject beneath a horse's skin to appropriately fill in sunken areas would be particularly uncomfortable to a horse. So would air. Hence the reason neither substance is actually found in large quantities beneath the skin (surprise!).

A horse working deep and round

Rolkur

This is a long and in-depth topic, and I would recommend anyone interested as to why and how Rolkur harms the horse, to check out Sustainable Dressage (even if you are not involved in dressage). To sum it up, it essentially involves the rider (some very top level riders included) working the horse "deep and round" - nose to the horse's chest - purposely. It is a method very damaging to the horse physically when used for long periods of time. Another training tool lacking in benefit to the horse.

What is it about human nature that we feel it so absolutely necessary to submit an innocent animal to such abuse? Why must we disfigure and have our horses undergo harsh training methods or tools, for the sake of a ribbon or money? What does that say about us?

I am sure, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, that I am merely nicking the surface. There are a lot of additional abusive practices out there occurring in today's show world (we'll talk about Saddlebred practices in a whole other blog this week). On that note, if you are aware of other practices, please note so below. I understand too that this post may encounter its critics, that the observers of the above traditions and practices believe they are doing nothing wrong. My first motto, however, is "do unto others as you would have done unto you". Imagine yourself experiencing any of the above procedures. Our horses have no choice in these matters, thus it is our responsibility to ensure their best interests are observed, at all times. Furthermore, think for yourself! Just because the pro's are doing it does NOT make it right. The professionals we admire in the horse world are only human too - humans often motivated by money, fame, careers, and winning a class - they are not infallible and are not always looking out for their horses' best interests either. God may have put animals here on this earth for our use, but he most certainly did not condone our abuse of them.

Okay, time to hit the hay before my brain starts malfunctioning on me at such a late (or early?) hour...if it has not done so already (you be the judge). Before I go though, here are a few of the sources and links I found helpful (other than the ones already posted in links throughout the blog):

Tails up or Tails Down?

Born to Perform?

Forum on tail-blocking Response from an individual who is an experienced (including Worlds) AQHA show steward involved in the AQHA world for 55+ years

Wikipedia Saddleseat tail-setting explanations

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Equine Cosmetic Crimes and other Tails of Woe A 2003 report by Sandra Tozzini documenting some of the abuse experienced by show horses; a very well-sourced essay.

The rest are sourced throughout the above blog!

Check 'em out for your own research purposes as well, as I merely touched on the above topics. There is much more information to be found - too much to be listed here. If you're an owner with a horse in full-time training and who is being shown by your trainer, take a vested interest in your horse and DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Tough decisions

On a lot of boards recently (...such as FHOTD...), judgement and criticism is passed on individuals selling their horses, so I wanted to offer up my take - a different position.I do believe that adding a horse - or any animal, for that matter, to your home, is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires much thought and consideration for the pros and cons, as well as the financial responsibility, such a large commitment requires. An example of the costs involved, and note: this is based primarily on what our horses cost, in the Calgary, Alberta area, on a yearly basis - different areas may require different costs, so research the costs in your area before you purchase.

Board: $150-$250/month, depending on the facilities (arena or no). This is based on pasture board with hay provided (no grain). This is the low end of the scale, though many classy facilities may be priced at this end.

Farrier: $35/trim (this is not including shoes - a set of fronts plus a trim runs at about $80+). You can likely count on this having to be done approx. every 6-10 weeks, depending on the horse and depending on the time of year.

Deworming: $20/time, done every 2-6 months, depending on the area your horse is in, the number of horses in the same area, the quality of grazing, etc. Fecal tests may be included in your costs.

Hay (if your boarding facility does not provide it): $4-7/bale (small squares). Your horse will eat, on average, 1-2 percent of his body weight per day - depending on workload, metabolism, weather, etc. Weigh your bales! Use nibble nets or such to prevent waste.

Teeth floating: $150-200. A young horse should have this done every 6-12 months, a horse say over 6 can probably be checked every year and done every year or two - consult your vet.

Saddle: $500-$5000. If you're just doing pleasure riding, the $5000 saddle might not be necessary, but you do get what you pay for, so pay the money it takes to get a saddle that fits both you and your horse (have a professional saddle fitter out). Buying used can save you a lot.

Bridle: $20-$400

Halter/leadrope: $10-$50

Brushes: approx. $50

Other tack: $0-$1000's per year, depending on what you and your horse do, etc.

Lesssons: $20-$150/hour, depending on your discipline.

Horse training (for the young horse): $300-$1000/month.

Chiropractic/massage/acupuncture work (if necessary): approx. $80/session.

Vaccinations: approx. $100-200/year for a full round of shots. Even if your horse does not travel, he should be getting the full round of vaccinations if horses on the property travel to shows and such. Consider doing a blood titre on your horse to assess his level of protection. You can reduce this cost by learning how to do it yourself.

I think I am remembering everything... As you can see, horses are a huge financial responsibility! One that requires a lot of dedication and commitment. They also require a lot of time - count on spending a good hour or more with your horse several times a week.

On the other hand, sometimes people get into horses without full knowledge of the requirements of a horse, and other times, shit just happens. Sometimes we lose a job, illness occurs in the family (or to you!), we undergo some type of financial hardship - and as unfortunate as it is, sometimes it's the horse that has to go. These are not excuses, these are reasons we sometimes have to give up the horses we love when our situation changes unexpectedly. In addition, each individual handles situations differently - some are able to keep their horses through hardships, others are not. Some have different priorities. Regardless, I strongly do not feel that people who can no longer keep their horses are deserving of criticism, or our judgment - they deserve our compassion. I can't imagine losing my horses. The last thing I would need in that situation is someone else tearing me down because of a situation I feel I was forced to make. It just isn't our place to judge - even if that individual in particular does claim financial hardship as the reason they must part with their horse, despite a $50,000 RV trailer sitting in the background. We are not in that individual's shoes and have no idea where they are sitting.

My last related comment is to point out some things to watch out for when selling your horse. I scoped out the horses in the pens of an auction place one day, a couple of hours before the auction was to begin. One little mare caught my eye, not because she was all that much of a looker, but because of what was attached outside her pen. This little bay Quarab mare had a sign attached to her pen, telling of her accomplishments, why she was being sold (her owner had young kids), and listing the owner's hope that her beloved mare would find a good home. In a little town, I was betting that mare was headed for Japan on a nicely-decorated plate. I doubt her owner had those intentions, but that rather she was unaware of the fact that her little mare was likely destined overseas. So my point is this: don't auction off your horse - you have no idea of where your horse is going. If you are going to auction a horse, take them to a specific, reputable auction (such as a western ranch horse sale, or a sporthorse sale, etc) and set a reserve price that will keep your horse away from the kill-buyers. Spruce up your horse and ride her into the ring - show her off as much as possible. Preferably, sell your horse privately, where you can control where she goes. Increase your horse's training level to increase her saleability and her chance of ending up in a good home. Invest in a trainer if you need to. Also, invest in a good ad, complete with good photos, for your horse! Ask the potential buyers lots of questions. Do some research on what to look for and what to watch out for.

Okay, so back to the topic. I've been down to the point where I almost had to sell my horses and it is so easy to end up there. You don't just end up there being an uncaring, undeserving, bum whose first love is the couch and drugs. Good people end up there - good people who have to give up their horses (and sometimes end up on the street). So please do not judge those in a poorer financial position than you, who is forced to give up their horse. Reserve your judgement for your own life and offer up compassion for those enduring tough times.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Equine necessities

Just a quick blog on what our horses need versus what they don't need. In our quest to provide the best for our horses, we sometimes overdo ourselves a little. That and there is so much confusing and conflicting information out there to the individual new to horses. So what do horses need, versus what they do not need?

Room to roam:
Horses in the wild can roam up to 80km in one day - keeping them locked up in a stall is completely unnatural to them. The lack of mental stimulation causes many horses to partake in unhealthy activities such as weaving, cribbing, stall-walking, etc. A lot of the horses who take up such activities will continue to do so later, even if kept in a different, more natural environment - it's a mental cycle difficult to break. Physical factors that develop as a result of stress and vices may continue to contribute to a horse's habits and well-being long-term. Many horses are also "hot" as a result of being cooped up - they've got all this energy and nowhere to put it! When they are finally released from their "prison", they want to release all that pent up energy. Then we reprimand them for doing so! Keeping a horse in as natural a setting as possible is essential to their well-being, regardless of that horse's value. Turnout is not typically enough, and daily work under-saddle is not enough either. Another benefit of a horse out on pasture is improved physical strength and durability. Walking, running, and playing allows for the build-up of muscles and other structures, that ensure a sound, healthy life. Keeping your horse out on pasture is not only usually cheaper, but it is healthier for your horse - both mentally and physically. The walk out there is well worth it to your horse! Constant motion and activity (ie, a horse on pasture) is much better for a horse as it pertains to long-term soundness, as opposed to long periods of inactivity with only intermittent periods of physical stress.

Blankets:
I bang my head on the steering wheel whenever I drive past yet another horse wearing a heavy blanket. In 30C weather!!! A show coat is not worth your horse's comfort! This method of thinking is actually erroneous to start, because a horse's coat will be determined by exposure to light as opposed to being blanketed or not. Horses have their own coats, and for the most part, do not need artificial coats. From Thoroughbred to Quarter Horse, nearly every horse will grow the coat they require for the environment they live in, even despite former conditions they lived in prior years. I have met exceptions for sure (my own Quarab and one of my Thoroughbreds being two), but for the most part, horses do not need blankets. My Quarab shivers in the winter like there is no tomorrow, despite a heavy winter coat. One of our Thoroughbreds spent this last winter blanketed as well due to chiropractic issues and body soreness - we blanketed him in an attempt to keep his muscles warm so he could be more comfortable. He does not stay warm well either. However horses do not automatically need extra warmth in cold weather (yes, even down to -50C), the oils in their coat serves nicely as waterproof protection, and their tails make great fly-swishers. Take it case-by-case whether or not your horse needs added protection on a given day, whether it be a fly sheet or rain sheet or a winter blanket. Sometimes we do blanket our horses for our own sense of security and this can be okay, just so long as the horse's best interests are always served (ie, no heavy blankets in the middle of summer, etc).

Fly masks:
I have to admit we do not flymask our horses much. Personally, I hate having to later look for that same mask out in the pasture! Haha. We have masked the odd horse though that was very sensitive to bugs and that needed the additional protection, and I certainly advocate for the use of masks where necessary. Some individuals even use them for sun protection - as sort of sunglasses - and it seems to not go unappreciated by their horses. In this case, it's not hurting your horse to wear a mask and your horse is probably going to appreciate the mask in many cases. Be careful though to make sure the mask can always come loose (ie. velcro straps) should the need arise. Furthermore, teach your horse to release to pressure and to think through scary situations - that way if he is ever caught, he won't thrash around and hurt himself.

Feed:
Seems every time a horse goes into work, their owner starts shoving immense amounts of grain at him. I'll do a blog on feeds in the near-ish future, but for now, suffice it to say that most horses do not require grain. Make sure - via a vet (preferably a nutritionist) - that your horse's energy needs are being met, but not overdone. Over-feeding can be critical to your horse's health - founder, colic, tying up, excessive energy - all are potential problems that can arise when a horse is overfed concentrates. Start off with top-quality hay - feed little and often (as close to nature as possible). Nibble nets such as these or these or the Nibble Net, might be your friend. Your typical horse requires 10-20 percent of its body weight in roughage; increase the quantity of quality roughage before moving to supplementing for weight gain or increased activity. After that, you can add in fatty foods such as beet pulp, to up a horse's weight (in lieu of more grains). On another note, be aware of your horse, and his nutritional requirements, and do your research. One thing to watch out for, is a horse eating manure. This is often a sign of mineral deficiencies. Our average horse kept out on overgrazed, boarding pasture, is often lacking in nutrients, so look into possibly supplementing with a mineral mix, such as Hoffmans. Ration balancers are great for where your hay is lacking. Keep in mind while soybean meal is a great way of adding weight, that some horses are very sensitive to soy. One other note to be aware of is that turnout on grass needs to be done gradually. Your general rule of thumb is to wait 14 days after a rain before turning out on grass - prior to this time the grass might have an excessively - even fatal - sugar content. When you do turnout, do so sparingly at first and for increasingly longer periods of time. Not doing so could mean a potentially fatal bout of colic, founder, laminitis, etc.

Fly sprays:
Easy on the deet-containing sprays. Hey, and a horse's tail does actually work! There are definitely times though when your horse will appreciate relief from flies. My own personal rule of thumb: don't put anything on a horse that you wouldn't put on your own skin. Myself I typically leave the horses alone unless I notice they seem excessively edgy about the flying critters or they are developing too many bites.

The basics:
Horses need fresh water daily (preferably an unlimited source), hay and/or grass, shelter (trees, artificially-built, windbreak, etc), and room. Plain and simple. They don't need to be stalled. On that note, many horses are also shod unnecessarily. Some horses require shoes for corrective work while others require it for the career they do, but far too many horses are over-shod "just because". A hoof wall constrained by a shoe cannot flex as it should with every step the horse takes and - much of the time, going barefoot is healthier for the hoof and its growth. Keep it in mind and talk to a reputable farrier experienced with barefoot (not just shod) work. My favourite farriers are the ones who know when to shoe, when it is necessary, but who prefer to keep a horse barefoot when or if possible. With most horses, it IS possible.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The worm belly


It seems that time after time on FHOTD, I find, that whenever we see a belly like this (above), it's proclaimed as a "worm belly" - without question. Well there are other factors to a belly like this, and it does not always involve worms. You cannot tell from a simple photo why a horse has a belly such as the one shown above.

Several years ago, my 4yo Warmblood x kept dropping weight, despite all my efforts at getting him extra hay whenever I could, deworming regularly, etc. The owners of the place where I boarded wanted me to start graining him, but I knew that grain wasn't the answer (I'll do a blog on feeds in the near future, including why concentrates are not the best method of weight gain). I ran fecal samples on him to see if worms were the problem. They weren't. Finally I took him to the vet to have his teeth floated, who found his teeth, while needing to be done, were not the cause of his weight loss. He was quite underweight by this time yet had this hay belly - despite exercise. The vet pointed out the likely reason - in our case, for the hay belly. Poor quality hay. When I checked out the hay that was being fed to my horse (and the other 100 or so on the property), it was decent, but certainly not the high quality it used to be (they'd switched to a new hay source). I couldn't get him on better quality hay so eventually I moved him to a place that provided better quality hay, in a roundbale format. He gained weight and the hay belly disappeared. So, what are some possible reasons for a droopy belly?
1. Worms. A horse not on a regular deworming schedule, that is feeding off of short, overgrazed grass in an over-stocked pasture, can pick up worms easily. A worming schedule should depend on the grazing in the area, the amount of space, the number of horses, and the season; it can range from once every 6 months to once every 2 months. Worms will rob your horse of essential nutrients, resulting in the droopy belly you see. You'll also likely see a rubbed-out tail and/or mane, a listless appearance, dull coat, and/or worms in the manure (the last three are in more severe cases). Have a fecal test done (they're cheap!) by your vet if you think worms could be the problem. Deworm your horse at the same time as all the others in his pasture/paddock. Not doing so is essentially the same as not deworming him at all.
2. Poor quality hay. Even hay that is cut past maturity may not have the essential nutrients your horse requires (which depends on breed, age, activity level, etc). Horse hay, especially for young and old horses or breeds that have higher metabolisms (such as Thoroughbreds), needs to be the highest quality possible. Green, fresh-smelling, and non-dusty. Sometimes it is essential to supplement with beet pulp, alfalfa cubes, etc - foods high in digestibility, but the best way is to increase the quality of hay (and quantity of quality hay) first. It depends on a horse's individual need. Here's an article on determining hay quality. 10 tips for choosing hay. Do a hay analysis to be sure of the nutrient content in your hay.
3. Lack of muscling. An under-exercised horse with atrophied topline and abdominal muscles can also have a droopy belly. Once the horse is exercised and develops adequate topline and underline, the belly will tighten up.

Do not simply assume that a droopy belly signifies worms, because that is not always the case. Have an open mind and be open to any and all the possibilities or reasons for a droopy belly, so that you can then treat it effectively. Above all, consult your vet. Remember, you cannot tell the reason for a droopy belly on sight alone. Fecal tests are necessary to rule out worms (unless the signs are very obvious, in a severely-affected case), and hay and exercise should always be evaluated as possible reasons as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Standardbreds

Okay, real real quick I just wanted to toot the horn of the Standardbred!

I've met some real killer lookers in the past few years, but it was not until last week when I finally was blessed with the chance to actually ride a purebred:


This is a 4yo-coming-5yo little Standie filly off the track. She's quite the looker, actually - when I first saw her I couldn't take my eyes off her! She's been off the track for a little while but never started under-saddle - until two weeks ago (so, a week before I rode her). Her trainer handed her to me for the afternoon with a "do whatever you'd like with her." So, we did some ground work - she was a little nervous when I asked her to trot but had a very short flight pattern (no taking off on me, she'd just get nervous and turn and face me, trying to figure out what I exactly wanted) and just wanted so badly to please. Under-saddle, she was a dream! She'd only been with this trainer for a week and so knew all the usual basics. Not only had she been fabulous and comfortable enough for him to start under-saddle right away, but she was great - and smart - when I went to ride her, with only a week under-saddle! I have to admit, it wasn't long before I was perched in the saddle (at a halt), leg over the horn and relaxedly chilling as I watched the goings on in the arena - she felt that safe. Everything I asked, she threw herself into it 100 percent with willingness. She was such a sweet little girl! No spook, either - very brave and smart; if something looks leery to her, she walks right up to it and checks it out. As for the Standardbred gait, she wasn't rough to ride at the trot at all. She wasn't up to learning the canter yet, but her jog was stupendously beautiful. Almost a gaited horse's running walk - that smooth! Her faster-paced trot felt so different from your average horse but it was still pretty good as well. The trainer commented to me that he'd found her to be extremely level-headed, and I couldn't have agreed more! She was the most level-headed 4yo I had ever worked with (that's including QH's!!).

This particular trainer has worked with other off-track Standardbreds as well and told me he'd found the others to be the same - that Standardbreds as a whole were typically more level-headed than the Thoroughbreds we get off the track. I've heard the same from other individuals who work on both Standie and TB tracks, that Standardbreds are so level-headed and calm - moreso even than Thoroughbreds...so I am beginning to suspect there being some fact to the rumour.

I wanted to point out too that Standardbreds can excel at a variety of disciplines, from working cattle to jumping (famous STB jumpers) or dressage (Grand Prix dressage STB)! Check out this forum for some excellent myth-dispelling!

So now I have even more reason to buy a Standardbred, or at least to pull a few off the track and re-train for re-homing! Haha the man is going to be so sorry we ever get a horse property...lol. Interesting too, were the tales I stumbled on about about STB's being crossed successfully (perhaps more successfully than TB's) with Warmblood stallions for Grand Prix jumpers...so that's another cross I am going to have to add to my list to consider.

If there are any additional individuals out there with experience with purebred Standardbreds, particularly off-track Standie's, I'd love to hear from you, particularly if you've worked with both OTSTB's and OTTB's!

Here's a couple of rescues I dug up in the Western Canada area:

Greener Pastures located in BC with some absolutely stunning horses!

Performance Standardbreds in Alberta