Is Your Horse A Happy Horse?

I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with my vet yesterday as she did routine dentals on every horse on the farm.  We believe in prevention here; dentals are done every 6 months – sometimes this means nothing more than a tiny point removed with a hand tool; sometimes that means for an older horse or one whose mouth has not been cared for properly his whole life quite a bit more work to keep things comfortable.  After their teeth get done they are chiropractically adjusted within a week or so to realign their necks, jaw and poll as well as an entire body check.

Why do we keep the horses on such a strict schedule?  Because like most flight or fight animals, horses will hide symptoms of pain in order to not appear vulnerable.  What that means as a rider is that your horse might act perfectly normal on the ground and then when you bridle him, engage in all sorts of evasive behaviours that appear to be related to any number of things.  This is just one example; saddle fit can provoke the same issues, as can orthopedic and soft tissue issues.  The point is that eliminating anything that could be an issue BEFORE it becomes an issue makes for.. a happy horse.

We had some time to talk after her work was done and she expressed to me a dismay over the lost art of horsemanship.  We talked about what it means for a horse to be happy; and how when people put their desires and ambitions over the happiness of their horse how they are set up to fail because an unhappy horse will never perform for you.  He will never trust you, he will never be willing to partner with you.  You must begin where they are, do the important physical and mental work and always put their welfare first.

They are, after all, horses.  Not people.

What are the signs of a happy horse?  One comment she made was she wants to see them head down  and eating or resting.  This is an interesting point because when a horse is high headed and animated, he is experiencing adrenaline flow and this is counterproductive to relaxation, which is where all good work with horses begins.  This lead to a discussion about turnout and how so much unwanted behavior in horses results from them not being in a natural setting that allows them to develop relationships with other horses and to wander about for hours a day, building inherent fitness into tendons and ligaments.

If you are new to the idea of tending to your horses needs in a comprehensive way, you are not alone.  I am old enough to remember when horse keeping and care was either what was called “backyard” or they were in a “program”.  Now we have a lot of variety in between and that is a good thing – people want to keep their horses at home AND learn how to give them the best possible care.  At one time you could only get that from putting your horse in a program with a barn manager and a a trainer and grooms who did all that work for you.  Now you CAN learn to do it yourself.  Do you want to commit to having a happy horse?  Think about it.  If your horse is happy you can build on that and achieve just about anything. If your horse is NOT happy you will struggle in ways that are only not acceptable, but were avoidable.  If you want help getting to happy, contact me.

 

Nyquist Wins The Kentucky Derby! Let’s Talk Thoroughbreds.

So Nyquist strolled down the field today and won the Kentucky Derby. I have to admit that I missed it; I was on a horse. One that is 3/4 TB (see above photograph of him and my lovely daughter)  so not quite exactly the “real deal” but he might as well be. I’ll catch the replay later.

TB’s and OTTB’s have always been my horse of choice. I love the way they think; give them a question and they try to answer. The answers might be eclectic but they sure try. Being patient with their method is key. I love the way they want to work, and work hard. The trickiest thing in getting a TB fit is to NOT overwork them; I have to remind myself of this constantly. Doing too much on a horse who feels good today makes a sore horse tomorrow, which can begin a vicious cycle. It’s hard though when they keep insisting that an extension here would be a really great idea!

I grew up riding them. I learned to train on them. My training philosophies evolved from working with horses who were forward, who were sensitive, who wanted to please and wanted to understand but wouldn’t tolerate being held on to or overly controlled. It taught me how to create a partnership through freedom and showing the horse how joyfully we could create movement together. TB’s like to move. Tap into that and you’re going to have fun.

It has always bothered me to hear the stereotype that TB’s are crazy. Sure, there are outliers in every breed. But I’ve found my TB’s to be the most sensible horses I’ve ever trained and ridden. I sincerely believe that the reason so many TB’s struggle to accept training, to be able to be calm, to be able to focus on work, is because they are being fed a diet that simply doesn’t work for them.

Growing up we fed hay. Lots and lots and lots of hay. We fed oats. Then sweet feed came along, and then pelleted feeds. I wish I had been observing closer but I can say that it seems like the arrival of the crazy TB started around then. Until then, that’s all we rode and some were hotter and some were calmer but for the most part, they did it all – hunters, jumpers, dressage, eventing – and when I lived out west, they barrel raced and even cut cattle and did ranch work.

Today I read constantly about how quirky they are. How hot they are, how untrainable they are, how all the want to do is run. And yet, I don’t have that experience with mine. I sincerely believe that TB’s are being made nutty by being fed incorrectly. It makes me sad because this is an incredible breed with amazing drive and heart and so many of them are like kids on sugar highs – too much energy being generated. The “hard-keeper” concept drives this. Give them more food because they need more calories because they are thin. So the calories go in, the energy goes up and the horse burns even MORE calories, resulting in the “hard-keeper” phenomena. I don’t believe it. No matter what condition a horse is in when it gets here, we feed it for nutrition first. Once you sort out what the deficiencies are (and yes, OTTB’s come from the track very nutrient depleted) most horses calorie requirements – even in average to moderate work – are covered by forage.

Feed companies are in the business of selling feed. If they can convince the consumer that their horse needs 12 lbs of whatever-it-is, they have succeeded in their job of selling feed. Remember this has nothing to do with the well-being of the horse. My opinion, based on a lot of fact, is that TB’s are being made to feel crazy by what they are fed. In general, horses want to be quiet and relaxed in their lives. If your horse is not please consider that perhaps what he is being fed is not in his best interest. Going back to basics and reevaluating what your horse really needs to eat to thrive is the first thing you should do if you don’t have a quiet, willing partner.

A Little Bit on Feet and Trimming

The reason my business is called The Whole Horse is obvious – nothing works in exclusion.  In addition to the other horse services I provide, I am also a barefoot trimmer.  I’d like to clarify the context of that a bit here; as I’ll be taking on a limited number of new clients this summer.

I was always a fan of the foot.  I love the shape, the function, the symmetry and… the puzzle.  When I ran a sales barn I was blessed with the very best farrier in the area; he routinely worked magic on the horses that came in.  No left lead?  Let’s look at how this horse stands.  Doesn’t want to use the shoulders?  Let’s consider why.  The list went on and on but he always began from the bottom up.  This was my initial education on a proper trim and shoe job, even though I didn’t know it was happening.

When I moved to my farm, I was out of his travel range.  This was when things got a little weird, so to speak. I met and worked with a number of farriers but they were never able to achieve the seemingly effortless work he had done and my horses began to subtly suffer the consequences.  Training problems.  Joint issues.  Back problems, hock problems.

At the same time I was receiving great encouragement from my new hoof care providers to take things into my own hands. I had a yearling who snapped off a toe; I was handed a rasp and taught to keep his heels level. I’m proud to say he does not have a club foot – not because I was particularly skilled but because I was given the knowledge and tool to prevent it by a generous farrier who didn’t feel threatened by my interest.

Then I had a horse with a laminitis episode.  Again, out came the rasp and an earnest conversation about how if I kept his heels level and short the outcome could be very different than getting into a shoeing package. I was asked to have a little faith, ride it out and monitor it closely with him.  The outcome was fantastic; the horse never rotated, had very little hoof distortion and recovered completely.

I was intrigued.  I began studying.

The next horse came with a bucking problem.  Four shoes, four sheared heels, four contracted feet.  Off came the shoes and he handed me the rasp again.  Once his feet were fixed, he stopped bucking. It was that simple.

My personal horses.. off came the shoes.  Sometimes things were hit or miss. I was studying Pete Ramey and Jamie Jackson’s work and some of it made sense and in practicality worked and some of it didn’t.  I kept what worked, filed the rest for possibility and kept going.

At this point my personal horses and sale horses were now all barefoot and sound.  Of course I had also began feeding them differently.  The elements were coming together.

I began riding with farriers. A pivotal moment was when I was asked by one to draw a picture in the dirt of an ideal foot.  He nodded at my little dirty sketch and said “yes, you see it”. I am deeply grateful for the time, interest and effort the people I have worked have given me.

The foundered horses and ponies came POURING in.   I learned to cast; a skill I am particularly proud of as I can keep a cast on a horse for 4-6 weeks and use them to create nearly any situation without damaging the foot or causing pain by nailing an already sore foot.

I kept studying.  Anatomy, physiology, practical purpose.  KC LaPierre’s dissections. Fran Jurga.

Along the road I learned that the battle between barefoot trimming and shoeing is not productive at all and I refuse to engage in it.

I will continue to hope for a better dialogue about what is best for the horse at any given time; but the people I work with don’t seem to be interested in anything else.  I refer horses  to farriers often when I believe that the horse would benefit from shoes.  I often rehabilitate a horse for a client with the goal of making a foot that is easy for the farrier to shoe and maintain.  I never have been and never will be anti-shoe.

I like the problem feet, I like solving the puzzle. I love to rehabilitate a horses feet and watch the other issues evaporate, just as my original farrier showed me so many years ago.

The journey of fixing a horses feet is often long. In consult with my vet over a horse a few months ago she commented that it takes a year to grow a new hoof entirely but the process of healing the inside is much longer than that.. the second year is when you develop sole depth, stabilized internal structures, strengthened collateral and medial ligaments, and the tendons and ligaments in the leg regain their correct support systems.

I’ve always been a fan of the Thoroughbred and hate that most hoof problems in them are blown off as being breed inherent.  Sometimes this is true; my personal horse has thin walls that he inherited from his TB mom.  He’s sound barefoot as he has excellent internal structure. Occasionally I cast him for extra wall support.  However, I trim many many TB’s and OTTB’s that have excellent feet in every way.  The idea that all TB’s have crappy feet and will be hothouse flowers on them is always a time bomb ticking.  No hoof, no horse is true.  Horses need to stand on four balanced feet in order to have sound upper body structures.  Putting a bandaid on a horses hoof problems will only lead to unsoundness in the rest of the horse.  The time you take working on the bottom saves you time and money working on the top and isn’t that what we want?  A sound horse.

If your horse has problem feet, consider thinking out of the box and looking at solutions that are customized to YOUR horse.  Nutrition, management, expectation during rehabilitation and proper trimming and/or shoeing is a package deal.   Find someone who is interested in your whole horse.  If that’s me, great. If it’s someone else who can do the work, that’s great – it’s the horse that matters.  I wish for you all and your horses four happy feet.  If you’d like to contact me about your horses feet, fill out this form. I’ll be adding limited clients in the Garner/South Raleigh NC area this summer and some in the Chapel Hill/Mebane/Durham areas.

 

Herbs and Other Medicinals – A Return Back To The Good Old Days?

 

I first began on this journey with a horse who was severely metabolic.  This was over ten years ago; there was virtually no information available as to why this guy couldn’t gain muscle, had fat pads, was unhappy in his own skin and had become laminitic for no known reason. In spite of it all I liked the horse; I bought him for a dollar and decided to see what I could do for him.  I figured anything I could do was better than ending up in a kill pen.

At that time I was still feeding processed feeds.  He was thin – or so it seemed, after all,  his ribs showed!  So I began “feeding him up”.  Oh, how I poured the groceries to that horse.  “Quality” feeds – and oil, and beet pulp, and all the good quality hay he could eat.  He became laminitic again.   Clearly feeding a horse simply to make them FAT was not a good idea (keep this in mind as it’s a recurring theme in horse nutrition) so it was back to the drawing board.

I cut out all his processed feeds, simply because I wasn’t sure where else to begin.  I kept the beet pulp as a carrier, added a source of quality protein and.. chaste tree berry. Why?  Because I read that it offered metabolic and adrenal support.  He ate it, so I kept feeding it. I added kelp. I added.. a lot of things.

What I didn’t fully understand at the time was that I had REMOVED inflammatory feed stuffs from his diet; and that was probably the most profound thing I had done for him.  Slowly.. and I do mean slowly… he began to blossom.  Eventually he became rideable and then he was restored to his former glory – a horse no one could take their eyes off of and everyone wanted to ride.

Since then I’ve learned a lot more about metabolic disorders, how they are caused and what you can do to cure them.  Yes, often they can be reversed.  I’ve recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a company who distributes quality herbs and spices and I’m going to begin offering them as part of my nutritional services.   Please inquire as to what will be available and how they should be used.  As always, consult your vet if you have any concerns about feeding your horse herbs or spics.

Expect more information coming on this subject, as not only are herbs and spices helpful for metabolic issue but also can address inflammation and hormonal problems very effectively without the unfortunate side effects of NSAIDS, steroids and artificial hormone manipulation.