Dr. Getty’s Tip: Too Much Iron Can Be Detrimental To The Insulin Resistant Horse

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Are you adding a supplement to your horse’s diet that contains iron? You may want to consider changing it if your horse is overweight, diagnosed with insulin resistance, or suffers from equine Cushing’s disease. Studies have shown a direct correlation between iron intake and insulin levels in the blood, making it an important factor in managing the diet for these horses.

Forages (pasture, hay, hay pellets or cubes) are already high in this mineral; therefore, supplementation is not necessary. Iron deficiency anemia is rare and too much iron can potentially lead to laminitis, as well as create an imbalance with other minerals.

Forages grown from acidic soils will be higher in iron. If you grow your own hay, or can discuss this issue with your hay provider, consider increasing the pH of the soil through lime application.  To protect your horse, have your hay analyzed and choose a vitamin/mineral supplement that does not include iron. Calculate the total iron intake in the diet; though an upper tolerable limit for all horses is 500 ppm, it should be far less for sensitive horses.  Soaking hay can remove much of the iron, but will also remove other minerals. Balance iron with zinc and copper:  iron should not be more than 5 times the level of zinc, and the zinc to copper ratio should range from 3:1 to 5:1.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide American and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com–buy it there and have it inscribed by the author. Or get it at Amazon (www.Amazon.com) or other online retail bookstores. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

This spring! On May 2, 2015, hear Dr. Getty address issues in horse nutrition at the Kirkland House Foundation in Delta, British Columbia, sponsored by “Hay…Girl!” For more information on this event, contact Pam Janssen at precioushaygirl@gmail.com or call 604-961-7265.

Equine Author Announces 2015 Book Tour

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Sharon Miner, the author of the Beloved Horses series, will be traveling from her home in Tampa to the Mid-Atlantic region in early May for her 2015 Beloved Horses Book Tour. She will be the featured guest at an equine Spring Bazaar & Yard Sale at Shining Stars Therapeutic Ministries on Saturday, May 16th from 8am to 4pm. She will be signing her ten books at a discounted price and also have a horseshoe craft and door prizes. Shining Stars is located on the grounds of the Freedom Valley Worship Center, 3185 York Road, Gettysburg, PA. This is an indoor event and one of the horses, Hochie a Paint Horse, is featured in the fourth book of the series, Beloved Horses in Second Careers. See their site at http://www.shiningstarstr.com/

Sharon Miner has five books in the Beloved Horses series. They are illustrated collections of true short stories that are amazing, humorous and inspirational and read by horse lovers of all ages. She also has two Beginner Reader books about her former Irish Terrier, Woogie. Her three teen mystery novels are not about horses or dogs but include those animals in the plot. Visit her website to learn more about the author and her books at http://SharonMiner.com

Miner will be traveling from May 5 to May 17, 2015. Other stops by Miner are posted on her blog: http://authorevents.blogspot.com/

Contact: Sharon Miner, sharonminer@yahoo.com or 814-937-0704 to request a jpeg of book cover

Obesity. The Real Cause. The Real Fix.

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Obesity is an epidemic problem with domesticated horses. Although we most easily attribute the problem to overfeeding concentrates combined with too little exercise, the underlying cause is much less apparent. It has to do with the horse’s brain and his response to stress — a chronic low-grade, inflammatory stress.

Stress tells the horse that he is not safe

Discomfort, from any source, induces a biochemical response in the brain that triggers the horse to do whatever he can to survive. Research with a variety of species has repeatedly shown[i] that stress tells the body to hold on to fat; the chemical changes that occur are similar to those produced during a famine. This is based on a primitive need to feel safe. Therefore, stress “tricks” the horse’s body into gaining weight just to survive.

Stress can come from many sources – stall confinement, isolation from buddies, sleep deprivation, change in environment, travel to strange locations, excessive training and performing, pain and illness, exposure to toxins, and the most stressful of all – not being allowed to graze on forage at all times. Forage restriction is incredibly stressful.[ii]  Putting the horse on a “diet” by limiting the amount of hay he can have will create a chain of chemical reactions that prevent the very outcome the “diet” was meant to ensure. Let’s look at more specifics…

Stress, cortisol, insulin, and leptin

Stress causes the adrenal gland to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol tells the tissues to ignore insulin’s attempts to get glucose into the cells.[iii] So insulin increases to try to overcome this, but not very successfully. When insulin is elevated, the cells hold on to body fat. And when body fat increases, it releases a hormone called leptin. Normally, leptin is a good thing, but not in this case.

The brain can become resistant to leptin. Under normal circumstances, leptin (secreted from fat tissue), goes to the satiety center in the hypothalamus portion of the brain to tell it that the horse has had enough to eat and is satisfied.[iv] This is the body’s way of maintaining normal weight: fat increases, leptin rises, the brain says the body has had enough to eat, and weight comes down.

The excess body fat of obese horses promotes inflammation through its secretion of substances known as cytokines.[v] Cytokines can damage the areas within the hypothalamus that recognize leptin.[vi] Leptin is high, but the brain is not responding to it. The result? The appetite does not decrease; instead the horse keeps on eating, getting more obese, producing more cytokines, increasing inflammatory damage to the hypothalamus, resulting in greater leptin resistance.

Perhaps you’ve had your horse’s cortisol level checked and it is normal. You assume that stress is therefore not an issue. But this can lead to a false assumption. Cortisol can actually be elevated inside the cell and not in the bloodstream, due to the overexpression of an enzyme called 11-beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase-1, present in fat, liver and brain cells that produces active cortisol. This has been shown in several species, including horses,[vii] and leads to the vicious cycle resulting in hypothalamic damage.

The over-use of thyroid medication

Elevated cortisol can reduce T4 levels leading one to believe that thyroid medication is necessary. But reduced T4 under this circumstance is not an indication that the thyroid gland is underactive, nor is it an indication that more thyroid medication is needed to help the horse lose weight. Furthermore, adding T4 to the diet will not do any good if the horse is stressed, simply because excess cortisol interferes with the conversion of T4 to T3, the active hormonal form.

Horses with a history of long-term forage restriction

Some horses have suffered from forage restriction for so many years that their metabolic rate has become severely impaired. For these, modest, short-term weight gain can be a consequence of free-choice feeding. Be patient. The transition can take several months. Allow your horse time to become accustomed—both physically and psychologically—to this new way of eating. Healthy weight loss takes time. When fed following the steps outlined below, the large majority of horses, even those grossly overweight, will adjust, lose weight and in time, arrive at a healthy body condition.

Is your horse leptin resistant?

The leptin resistant horse will, first and foremost, have excess body fat. His appetite will seem insatiable and he will rarely lift his head from eating. His metabolic rate is sluggish, causing him to pack on the pounds very easily. He is reluctant to move and his energy level is low.

The fix

Reduce inflammation! Three factors to consider:

1) Stress reduction will calm down the cascade of hormonal events that tell the body to hoard fat.

2) Less body fat will create fewer inflammatory substances. Insulin (an inflammatory hormone) will also decline.

3) Less inflammation will help the hypothalamus return to a normal leptin response.

Important to understand: Once the horse loses body fat, the brain will initially remain leptin resistant, making the horse very hungry so he could gain back all the weight. Therefore, the approach must be to heal the inflammatory signaling in the hypothalamus.

To do this:

  • Never let your horse run out of forage, not even for a few minutes. Not only is free-choice forage feeding critical to your horse’s overall health[viii] , it also increases the metabolic rate.[ix] Feed appropriate hay and/or pasture that is low in calories, sugar, and starch.[x]
  • Add a comprehensive vitamin/mineral supplement to hay-based diets. It fills in nutritional gaps and reduces overeating to simply obtain enough nutrients.
  • Avoid processed foods. These can contain inflammatory preservatives and omega 6 fatty acids (typically from soybean and corn oils).
  • Feed whole foods free of additives and toxins.[xi] Whole foods can include non-GMO beet pulp, alfalfa, hay pellets, copra meal, split peas, hemp seeds, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, blue-green algae, and various fruits and vegetables. Limit soybean meal — the long term impact of isoflavones (the phytoestrogen found in soy) on the thyroid gland is controversial.
  • Feed a variety of protein sources by mixing grasses and adding whole foods. When only one or two sources of protein are fed, the excess amino acids can be converted to glucose, potentially increasing insulin.
  • Eliminate excess sugar and starch. These include sweetened feeds, cereal grains, wheat middlings, and rice bran. They raise insulin as well as triglycerides. Triglycerides can bind to leptin in the blood stream and prevent it from signaling satiety to the brain.[xii]
  • Avoid high-omega 6 oils. They are highly inflammatory (e.g., soybean, vegetable, corn, wheat germ, and safflower oils).
  • Increase omega 3s. Feed ground flaxseeds or chia seeds. Fish oils can be included in cases of high levels of inflammation.
  • Add antioxidants. These include vitamins E and C, beta carotene (vitamin A), lipoic acid, grapeseed extract, green tea extract, spirulina,  as well as herbs including turmeric, boswellia, and ashwaghanda (which is particularly useful in combatting stress).[xiii]
  • Avoid prolonged use of H2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors. They can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and create rebound acid production upon removal.
  • Add a probiotic for digestive health. Horses who graze on pasture will naturally consume a variety of microbes. Hay-based diets, however, may not offer enough microbes for proper digestion of forage.  Stress can also disrupt the horse’s normal microbial flora.
  • Allow for movement. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and lessens inflammatory cytokines.[xiv] It has also been shown to directly reduce hypothalamic inflammation.[xv]
  • Limit grazing muzzles. They can defeat the purpose if they cause stress. They should be limited to no more than 3 hours per day because the digestive tract needs more forage than they allow.
  • Consider slow feeders. Not all horses require them, but they are helpful initially to allow for slowing down intake.[xvi]
  • Keep stall confinement to a minimum, if at all. Horses who have room to roam can be as fit as those who receive daily focused exercise, and they are under far less stress.

Free-choice hay costs less

Many barn owners are reluctant to feed hay free-choice because of the apparent expense involved in purchasing more hay. But in actuality, horses who are permitted to self-regulate their intake will eat less. It’s only when several hours lapse between feeding that they eat very quickly and consume everything in sight. But when they get the message that hay is always available, that they can walk away from it and it will still be there when they return – then, and only then will they eat just what their bodies need to maintain a healthy weight. They will actually eat less than before.

Can your horse ever graze on fresh pasture again?

Absolutely! Living, healthy grass is the best whole food around. Grazing in the open air is the best stress reducer your horse can experience. The amount of grazing depends on your horse’s individual condition. Yes, pasture can be high in sugar and starch but it can vary depending on the month, the time of day, level of rainfall, sunlight, etc. Get to know your pasture grasses.

Bottom line

Turn off the body’s fat-hoarding response by taking measures to reduce stress. Combine this with an anti-inflammatory diet and increased movement, and your horse’s brain will regain its ability to respond properly to leptin. Taking off weight will become much easier.

For permission to reprint this article, in part or in its entirety, please contact Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide American and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com–buy it there and have it inscribed by the author. Or get it at Amazon (www.Amazon.com) or other online retail bookstores. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

This spring! On May 2, 2015, hear Dr. Getty address issues in horse nutrition at the Kirkland House Foundation in Delta, British Columbia, sponsored by “Hay…Girl!” For more information on this event, contact Pam Janssen at precioushaygirl@gmail.com or call 604-961-7265.

[i] Block, J.S., He, Y., Zaslavsky, A.M., et. al., 2009. Psychosocial stress and change in weight among U.S. adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 170, 181-192. Also, Gabriel, J., 2008. The Gabriel Method. Atria Books.

[ii] Getty, J.M. 2014. Restricting forage is incredibly stressful. Choose a different method to help your horse lose weight. http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/library/restrictingforageisincrediblystressful.htm

[iii] Tiley, H.A., Geor, R.J., and McCutcheon, L. J., 2007. Effects of dexamethasone on glucose dynamics and insulin sensitivity in healthy horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 68(7), 753-759.

[iv] Freidman, J., and Halaas, J., 1998. Leptin and the regulation of body weight in mammals. Nature, 395, 763-770.

[v] Wisse, B., 2004. The inflammatory syndrome: The roles of adipose tissue cytokines in metabolic disorders linked to obesity. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 15(11), 2792-2800.

[vi] De Git, K.C., and Adan, R.A., 2015. Leptin resistance in diet-induced obesity: The role of hypothalamic inflammation. World Obesity, (16(3), 207-224.

[vii] Farias, F.H.G., 2007. 11Beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity in feline, equine, and Ossabaw swine adipose tissue. Master of Science Thesis, University of Missouri-Columbia. Also, Morgan, S.A., Sherlock, M., Gathercole, L.L., et al., 2009. 11Beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Type 1 regulates glucocorticoid-induced insulin resistance in skeletal muscle. Diabetes, 58(11), 2506-2515.

[viii] Getty, J.M., 2014. Equine Digestion – It’s Decidedly Different. http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/TeleSeminars/TeleseminarBooks/SpotlightonEquineNutritionTeleseminarSeries.htm

[ix] Lestelle, LR., Earl, L.R., Thompson, Jr., et.al., 2011. Insulin-glucose dose response curves in insulin sensitive and insensitive mares and effect of overnight and long-term feeding regimen. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31, 285-286.

[x] Getty, J.M., 2015. Do you need to analyze your hay? http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/library/doyouneedtoanalyzeyourhay.htm

[xi] Berkseth, K.E., Guyenet, S.J., Melhorn, S.J., et. al., 2014. Hypothalamic gliosis associated with high-fat diet feeding is reversible in mice: A combined immunohistochemical and magnetic resonance imaging study. Endocrinology, 155(8), 2858-2867.

[xii] Banks, W.A., Coon, A.B., Robinson, S.M., et. al., 2004. Triglycerides induce leptin resistance at the blood-brain barrier. Diabetes, 53(5), 1253-1260.

[xiii]Schell, T., DVM, 2015. Reducing the effects of stress and anxiety of health with ashwaghanda. Nouvelle Research www.nouvelleresearch.com

[xiv]Liburt, N.R., Fugaro, M.N., Wunderlich, E.K., et. al., 2011. The effect of exercise training on insulin sensitivity and fat and muscle tissue cytokine profiles of old and young Standardbred mares. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31(5-6), 237-238.

[xv] Yi, C.X., Al-Massadi, O., Donelan, E., et. al., 2012. Exercise protects against high-fat diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation. Physiology & Behavior, 106(4), 485-490.

[xvi] Getty, J.M., 2014. The correct way to use slow-feeders. http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/library/thecorrectwaytouseslowfeeders.htm

Dr. Getty’s Tip: Calculating With PPM In Two Easy Steps

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The trace mineral content of most feeds and supplements is provided in terms of parts per million (ppm). A ppm is the same as mg/kg (1 mg is a millionth of a kg).

To do calculations, you need to convert lb or oz to kg using the following conversions:

  • 1 lb equals 0.454 kg
  • 1 oz equals 0.0284 kg

Example #1: Your hay contains 140 ppm of iron.  How much iron is in 20 lbs of hay?

Step 1: 20 lb X 0.454 kg/lb = 9.08 kg

Step 2: 9.08 kg X 140 mg/kg = 1271 mg of iron

Example #2: Your supplement contains 12 ppm of selenium in each ounce and you are feeding 2 ounces per day. How much selenium are you feeding?

Step 1: 2 X .0284 kg/oz = 0.057 kg

Step 2: 0.057 kg X 12 mg/kg = 0.68 mg of selenium

Formulas to remember:

  • Convert lb or oz to kg: lb X 0.454 = kg; oz X 0.0284 = kg
  • Calculate to find mg: kg X ppm (or mg/kg) = mg

About Dr. Juliet M. Getty
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements. Hear Dr. Getty address issues in horse nutrition at the Kirkland House Foundation in Delta, British Columbia, sponsored by “Hay…Girl!” on May 2, 2015. For more information, contact Pam Janssen at precioushaygirl@gmail.com or call 604-961-7265.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, as well as from Amazon (www.Amazon.com) and other online book retailers. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are also available at her website (where Dr. Getty offers special package pricing) and from Amazon (in print and Kindle versions) and from other online retailers. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for horse-loving friends.

Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, offers a generous stock of free, useful information for the horseperson. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

Do You Need To Analyze Your Hay?

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Many horses rely entirely on hay for their forage needs. Is hay nutritious? Not very. Hay is dead grass; it no longer contains many of the vitamins, omega 3s and omega 6s it once had as living pasture. It does, however, contain protein, carbohydrates, and minerals, and is a significant source of energy. But does it have enough to maintain health? Testing will help remove the guesswork out of diet planning.

Feasible approaches to testing

It is best to have at least 2 month’s supply of hay, but you may not have enough space to store that much. Or you may board your horse where a new supply is brought in every week, often from different growers.

Consider recommending testing to your barn manager or hay provider. Hay brokers who test their hay and sell it along with a guaranteed analysis often find that customers are willing to pay slightly more for each bale. If the providers are not willing to do this, you might consider offering to pay for the test; it will help you as well as other horse owners.

Knowing the nutrient content of your hay is the first step in evaluating any health concerns

While a vitamin/mineral supplement is necessary for filling in the nutritional gaps that exist in hay, there are several components of the hay analysis report that you should pay attention to, depending on the health of your horse. Of particular importance are those horses who are prone to developing laminitis. The feed value of your hay can also influence body weight, immune function, and overall body condition. The table below shows relevant indicators when interpreting your hay analysis report.

 

 Hay Analysis Values that Impact Horse Health 
Digestible Energy DE provides you with the number of calories your horse is getting from the hay, expressed as Mcals/lb or Mcals/kg. DE should be no more than 0.88 Mcals/lb (1.94 Mcals/kg) on an as-fed basis, if the horse is overweight.
Crude Protein CP tells you how much protein (nitrogen) is in the hay but tells you nothing about the variety and proportion of amino acids (which influence quality). To boost protein quality, feed a variety of grasses, and add more protein sources (e.g., ground flax, chia seeds, split peas, hemp seeds, alfalfa, beet pulp, etc.)
NDF Neutral detergent fiber measures water-insoluble, structural components within the cell wall: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin; it does not include water-soluble fibers (pectin and mucilage). As plants mature, NDF increases, providing more bulk and less digestibility. Digestible energy and voluntary intake decreases.NDF greater than 60% is worthwhile for overweight horses since it is lower in calories. Lower NDF hays are softer and more digestible, making them appropriate for maintaining body condition of hard keepers, growing horses, and those with higher energy needs.

 

ESC + Starch Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates include simple sugars and short strands of sugars. These, along with starch, are easily digested in the foregut (small intestine) down to glucose, which signals insulin secretion.Insulin elevation promotes body fat storage and increases the risk of laminitis. Insulin resistant horses require low ESC + Starch, which should ideally be less than 10% on an as-fed basis, and less than 11% on a dry-matter basis. This also applies to horses suffering from PPID and PSSM.

 

Warm season grasses and alfalfa tend to be lower in ESC and higher in starch than cool-season grasses. Grain hays (such as oats, wheat, rye) can develop seed heads which are very high in starch.

WSC + Starch = NSC Water soluble carbohydrates mainly include ESC along with polysaccharides known as fructans which are fermented by the microbial population in the hindgut (cecum and large colon). Too much fructan fermentation reduces hindgut pH, leading to cecal acidosis, endotoxemia, and a cascade of events culminating in laminitis.[i]WSC + Starch equates to the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) indicator. NSC that is considerably larger than ESC + Starch, indicates high fructans in the hay. Elevated fructans can be problematic for any horse, regardless of health. Cool-season grasses accumulate fructans, whereas warm-season grasses and alfalfa do not.

 

An NSC percentage less than 12% on an as-fed basis (13% on a dry matter basis), is a favorable target for the insulin resistant horse or one who is prone toward laminitis.

Ca:P Ratio Ideally, there should be twice as much calcium as phosphorus in the diet. Most grasses match this ratio. Alfalfa, however, has considerably more calcium. If you feed large amounts of alfalfa, choose supplements that are designed for alfalfa-based diets (they are low in calcium).
Ca:Mg Ratio Ideally, the calcium to magnesium ratio should be 2:1. Magnesium supplementation assists with muscle spasms, “sensitive” behavior, and insulin resistance.
Fe:Zn Ratio Most hays are high in iron so additional supplementation is not necessary. Too much iron exacerbates insulin resistance. Furthermore, iron competes with zinc for absorption. Therefore it should not be more than five times the level of zinc. Zinc deficiencies can lead to depressed immune function and poor wound healing.
Zn:Cu Ratio Excess zinc can interfere with copper absorption. Ideally, zinc should be between 3 and 5 times more than copper. Copper is required throughout the body, including healthy red blood cells, and melanin production in hair coat color.
Nitrates High nitrates can be toxic, interfering with red blood cell’s ability to transport oxygen. Test if your hay has been exposed to excessive fertilization or contains large amounts of weeds. Values should never be higher than 0.44%.

 

How to test your hay

Your goal is to obtain a representative sample, since hay bales can differ, especially if they contain mixtures of forages. Use a hay probe or pull clumps of hay from the inside of 15 to 20 bales. Mix together in a dry bucket. Then pull from the mixture enough to stuff a quart-size freezer bag. Equi-Analytical Labs is an excellent choice for your analysis[ii].

Establish a relationship with your hay producer

If you know the person who actually cuts the grass, discuss environmental factors that can significantly impact the NSC level:[iii]

  • NSC content is lowest before sunrise.
  • Cool nights (less than 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) will promote NSC storage and grass should not be cut the day following a cold night.
  • Grass that is shaded will have a lower NSC level.
  • NSC content increases during drought conditions.
  • Cuttings later in the season will be lower in NSC.
  • More mature grasses will be lower in calories, and more coarse due to a higher indigestible fiber content.
  • Grass that has gone to seed will be higher in starch.

Remember, forage 24/7 is the foundation for any horse

You can have the most expensive, most nutritious hay available, but it must be flowing, non-stop, through your horse’s digestive tract. There are many physiological and hormonal reasons for this; read more in the Getty Equine Nutrition Library[iv], as well as in Dr. Getty’s book, Equine Digestion – It’s Decidedly Different.[v]

About Dr. Getty
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements. Hear Dr. Getty address issues in horse nutrition at the Kirkland House Foundation in Delta, British Columbia, sponsored by “Hay…Girl!” on May 2, 2015. For more information, contact Pam Janssen at precioushaygirl@gmail.com or call 604-961-7265.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, as well as from Amazon (www.Amazon.com) and other online book retailers. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are also available at her website (where Dr. Getty offers special package pricing) and from Amazon (in print and Kindle versions) and from other online retailers. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for horse-loving friends.

Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, offers a generous stock of free, useful information for the horseperson. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

[i] Longland, A.C., and Byrd, B.M., 2006. Pasture nonstructural carbohydrates and equine laminitis. Journal of Nutrition 136: 2099S-2101S.

[ii] Equi-Analytical Labs www.equi-analytical.com, a division of Dairy-One, is a reputable laboratory that concentrates on analyses applicable to horses. Their Equi-Tech test (#601) is economical ($28) and comprehensive, offering an excellent amount of information.

[iii] Watts, K.A., 2004. Forage and pasture management for laminitic horses. Clinical Techniques in Equine Practice, 3(1), 88-95.

[iv] Click on “Library” at www.gettyequinenutrition.com

[v] One of seven volumes in the Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Series: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/TeleSeminars/TeleseminarBooks/SpotlightonEquineNutritionTeleseminarSeries.htm

Horses Need Horses

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Relationship Fix Series

 

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

 

Top trainer Julie Goodnight discusses how horses gain a sense of calm and necessary interaction with the herd—and how their time with other horses can benefit your time together.

 

Horses Need Horses

Do you want your horse to be happy, relaxed and ready for your next ride? For your horse to feel his best, he needs time with other horses when you can’t be around.

Horses need the herd. They are social animals and they only exist in natural settings in a herd—horses are never alone for long in the wild. They depend on the herd for social stimulation as well as a sense of security.

Horses actually depend on the herd for a feeling of wellbeing. In the herd, they exist cooperatively: they stand head to tail to help keep pests away; they guard one another so that they can feel safe enough to sleep. If a horse is alone, he may never fully relax. He’ll always be the one that has to watch the horizon— constantly on guard.

When horses are alone, their behaviors can change and they are often depressed. They may begin repetitive stress behaviors—such as weaving or pacing in a stall.

While not all horses can always be with a herd, you can make housing and turnout choices to include his socialization needs. If you have a small property, a performance horse that needs to be kept safe, or a horse with health or behavior issues, you may need to keep alone for part of the day. That’s OK, as long as you do your best to provide natural elements.

A horse would rather be with other horses (envision how mustangs live in the wild as what your horse would choose for himself). A horse wants wide-open spaces so that at any moment he can flee from a predator. While humans think that a small, warm space with high walls is comforting, horses are comforted by seeing the horizon and accessing open spaces. Your horse wants turnout time outside with other horses. It’s time to think like a horse and think about how your horse wants to live.

Horses Home Alone

If your horse is an only horse, I think you have a responsibility to provide 24-hour-a-day companionship. At the very least, your horse will feel more comfortable if he can see other horses. If possible, make sure your horse shares a safe fence line with a neighboring horse. However, he will be most comfortable if he can touch another horse. Touching, nipping, grooming, swishing tails and even being able to bite is important to a horse’s overall well being.

If you are the only one your horse has, make sure to enrich his life. In addition to riding, stimulate his mind and occupy his time with long walks. You may also give him obstacles and novel items to interact with in his paddock.

Ideally, getting a buddy horse is the best answer. A miniature donkey or even a goat can be a great companion. I’ve even seen a horse bond with a duck or a cat! Your horse can even bond with a dog, but that doesn’t work if you take your dog inside. Your horse can get companionship from any animal and that companionship is best provided by another horse or a similar species.

Horse Boarding Choices

My horses are together outside all day then come into stalls with runs in the evening. That separation time works for us because that’s how we feed separately and manage their different supplement and diet needs. At that time, they can all see one another, touch each other through openings in the dividers and access their outdoor runs so that they can see the horizon. They are all ready to go out first thing in the morning. They don’t tend to stay in their stalls unless they are seeking shelter from rain or snow.

If you board your horse, the most ideal scenario is having your horse turned out with other horses. Choose as much outdoor access and herd time turnout as possible.

Horses can learn to like their stalls, but I say learn purposefully. If your horse is stalled, choose a stall with a window that allows him to see the horizon. New, high-class barns have indoor walls made of mesh so that horses can see one another and even touch through the walls. That is more preferable to a solid wall.

Choose an attached run so he can move in and out –to see other horses. That is preferable to a stall that is dark and inside only.  A long and narrow run is preferable to a square pen. A long run is designed for the horse’s benefit because he wants to play and act out his flight response and run in a straight line. A square pen that only allows him to run in a circle is not satisfying to the horse.

No matter where your horse lives, take a moment to evaluate his interaction with others and his ability to see the horizon. Build in as many natural views and interactions as possible and you’ll have a healthy horse—and a healthier relationship with your relaxed and calmer riding partner.

Master Each Gait

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TTR JULY/AUGUST 2015 ~ FEATURE

Master Each Gait
What can you do to speed up a slow-walking horse and slow down a horse that’s too fast at the trot? And should you ever canter on the trail? Follow top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight’s advice to master each gait and ensure that your horse is responsive and always travels at the speed you choose.
By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight — Photos by Heidi Melocco

You and your horse should be prepared to walk, trot and canter when you’re riding on the trail. While the walk and trot will be your primary “go-to” gaits, it’s important to know that you can feel confident and in charge no matter the speed.
“The walk is your primary trail gait when walking in unfamiliar terrain and tumultuous footing–and to cover long distances, the posting trot is the best way to ride,” Goodnight says. “You may canter on some flat and well-groomed trails and you want to know that you can control the faster gaits in case your horse does spook and bolt.”

Here, Goodnight provides tips to help you stay in control at each gait. She’ll help you understand how to
cue your horse to travel at the speed you dictate and to listen to your body cues no matter how fast you choose to travel.

If you’re helping young children learn to ride, Goodnight also shares teaching tips. She’ll help your young rider learn to walk and trot on command using patterns to help prepare for the upward transition to the trot.

Walk Out
Your horse is packing you around at this slow but most-used gait. Make sure that you are balanced in the saddle. Double check that your saddle’s horn is aligned with the middle of your horse’s neck and back and that your weight is equally balanced from side to side.

Make sure to sit up straight and avoid riding with your legs out in front of you. You may be comfortable at this gait, but you’ll make it easiest on your horse if you are balanced as he carries you over the trails.

When it comes to how fast your horse walks, there are two kinds of horses: those with too much whoa and those with too much go.

“If your horse walks like he’s going to his own funeral, you want to speed up,” Goodnight says. “If the horse is ready to go all the time and prances and is jiggy, you need to know how to slow him down. Either way, if your horse isn’t going at the speed you dictate, he’s being disobedient. You need to set the speed and take charge.”

Too Much Slow: Goodnight reminds you that you can’t make a slow and steady Quarter Horse keep up with a Tennessee Walking Horse that walks faster than he trots. That’s an unrealistic expectation.

However, if you are walking with other horses that should match your horse’s speed and only your horse is walking too slowly, it’s time to evaluate your cues and make sure that you’re in charge.

“Horses are clever,” Goodnight says. “If it’s a horse who already is on the lazy side and he’s pointed in a direction he doesn’t want to go, he will walk slower and slower until he’s almost halting between every step.”

That’s the horse that can train you to “pedal” or constantly re-cue for the gait you’re already riding. When a horse has trained the rider, he continually threatens to stop and the rider continually cues him to go. It’s a workout for the rider and it is a disobedient and manipulative act on behalf of the horse.

“That’s not a healthy relationship—he’s threatening disobedience and you’re enabling him by constantly re-cueing,” Goodnight says.”

An obedient horse goes at the speed you dictate when asked and until another cue is provided. If you have already asked for the walk, your horse should keep walking without prompting. If the horse slows down, it’s time for a verbal admonishment or a tap with the bight of your reins or a crop.

Often one admonishment and a reminder to “straighten up” is all it takes for a trained horse to move out and know that you are in charge.

“Keep in mind that one firm correction with the reins or a stick is much kinder to the horse than constantly nagging him by kicking and cueing after each stride.”

If you want to increase the speed of the walk, increase the rhythm in your seat and legs, reach forward and drive the horse forward. Once you have reached the pace you want, he should maintain that speed without prompting. It’s up to you as the leader to decide what the best and possible speed is. If he does slow down on his own, address that with admonishment instead of simply cueing him to move forward again.

Too Much Go: If your horse walks too fast and often steps into the trot on his own accord, that is also an act of disobedience.

“Many times, I see riders who just start to ride the trot if the horse chooses the gait on his own,” Goodnight says. “As soon as you start to ride the trot, you’ve told the horse that his actions are OK.”

If your horse speeds up without a cue, you must immediately and abruptly correct him and slow him down to the speed you have dictated. Take hold of the reins hard, sit back and verbally admonish your horse for breaking gait with a “whoa.”
Trot On

You can ride the trot sitting, posting or standing with weight in the stirrups. Most of the time on the trail, you’ll want to post or lift your seat slightly by transferring weight to the stirrups. A slow, sitting jog trot isn’t useful on the trail as it’s harder on your horse’s back and it isn’t the form of the gait that helps you cover ground quickly. If you’re trotting on the trail, you’re probably trying to get somewhere!

The posting and standing trots are the most comfortable for your horse. As you post or stand, you are balanced over your horse’s center of gravity and it allows your horse to move easily beneath you.
Posting is not just for English riders—all riders should know how to post. Posting is the best way to ride the long trot, the extended, ground-covering version of the trotting gait.

How should you post? Posting is a forward and backward motion, using the lift in your horse’s back. It’s the same motion you need to start to get up out of a chair. Notice what it takes to move up and out of a chair (without support from your arms) then sit down immediately. First you rock forward, then back to sit down once more. That’s the same motion you’ll need in the saddle.

Make sure not to post by pushing off the stirrups; the motion comes from rocking your pelvis forward and rise from your thighs, not from pushing off the stirrups.

If your horse has a rough trot, standing slightly to lift weight off yoru seat bones, while keeping your joints and muscles relaxed will be most comfortable for you, too. Standing the trot is commonly seen on endurance rides. It helps your move easily and it is a great test of your balance.
Trot Troubles: Your horse should only trot when you ask for the gait—not because the other horses you’re riding with are starting to trot. If your horse speeds into the trot without your approval and without a cue, immediately correct him and start over.

Canter and Whoa
Cantering will cover ground quickly, but a horse can trot greater distances than canter. Plus on some trails, cantering isn’t an option because of the steep or rocky terrain.

“Here in the Rocky Mountains, I can’t imagine cantering on some of our trails,” Goodnight says. “It’s too rocky and steep.”

That said, Goodnight recommends that all riders know how to sit and control the canter—even if it isn’t a gait you would usually use on the trail.

“Any horse is capable of spooking and bolting when you’re on a ride. If you’re riding in an uncontrolled environment, you should have the ability to ride every gait—in case you do need to control a horse who canters away when spooked.”
If your trail is level and well groomed or you know of a flat and low-cut meadow where cantering can be safe, it can be a fun choice to canter on your ride. Check out the footing and conditions before you ask for this gait.

If your group decides to canter, make sure to have an established signal so that all riders know when the group will start and stop the faster gait and that the groupd stays together. No single rider in the group should canter without approval from the entire group. All the horses will want to canter if one begins. If even one rider doesn’t want to canter, no one in the group should speed up to the faster gait. Always ride to the level of the least-skilled irder in your group.

Canter Concerns: Make sure not to canter down a hill and make sure not to canter back toward the barn. Cantering downhill makes it too difficult for a horse to control his balance with a rider aboard.
Cantering away from the barn can help control speed because a horse most likely won’t want to move quickly as he heads away from home. If a horse knows that he’s headed for home and becomes spooked, he can increase speed easily and make the gait too difficult to control.

JUST FOR KIDS
Trot Transitions
When you’re teaching a young rider to cue the horse for a trot, make sure that your teaching is precise and the rider and horse learn to do the right thing. Here, we want to teach a young rider to trot for the first time. You’ll teach the trot by talking to the rider about the cue—what she’ll do when she asks for the trot. Then you’ll help the rider understand that the horse must keep the new gait until he’s asked to do something else. Finally, you’ll help her slow the horse down after a short trot.

Use cones or some visual marker to help the rider know where and when to cue for the trot then the walk. Set up two cones about 20 feet apart. With a halter and lead line under the horse’s bridle, the young rider will have control and you can lead the horse loosely to make sure all goes smoothly. You don’t want the young rider to stop the horse inadvertently by pulling back on the reins too soon.

Teach the Cue
First you reach forward with your hands and say “trot”…
Then you shift your weight forward…
Then bump with your legs…
At the Cone
When you reach the first cone, it’s time to apply the newly learned sequence.
Ride the Trot
Encourage the rider to keep her hands forward and her eyes forward so that she doesn’t inadvertently cue the horse to stop before the second cone.
End Cone
When you reach the end cone, sit back, relax and allow the horse to walk.
In this simple exercise with just two cones, you’ll teach three great skills: cueing, maintaining speed and the downward transition.

Eddie’s New Saddle – How Saddle Fit Changes Over Time

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IMG_5913julieduallyeddie
I bought Eddie in the spring of his 3 year old year; he was a handsome and sensible youngster with a great pedigree. A very ‘typey’ stock horse, he stood 14.2 hands and weighed in at about 950; now he is seven years old, 14.3 hands, 1200 pounds and counting. He has matured from a gawky adolescent into a beefcake (think line-backer) —having filled out more than up in the last couple years. And with all these physical changes, he managed to outgrow his saddle this year.

Eddie as a 3 year old
Eddie as a 3 year old

A horse’s body shape changes drastically every year, especially when they are young. If you think about how the human body changes from birth to old age, you know that our bodies change a lot over time as well. But the horse’s body changes three times as fast. If you’ve ever raised foals, you know that it if you sit still and watch long enough, you could practically see them grow.

Growth, stage of life, condition, weight and conformation can all affect saddle fit. What fits your horse today may not work next year, so it is important to analyze your horse’s saddle fit regularly. For the last three years, I’ve ridden Eddie in my favorite ranch saddle, with a regular sized, rigid tree and it fit him well. Until the day it didn’t. Perhaps I was a little slow to notice the subtle changes in his performance as his saddle became uncomfortable, but when the tell-tail white hairs started appearing below his withers, I knew it was time for a change.

Horses are instinctively stoic animals and may work day-in and day-out in discomfort, without much complaint. There may be subtle clues of discomfort in watching the horse work and some horses will let you know if they are uncomfortable, but many will remain silent. Eddie, true to his ranch horse heritage, is very stoic. My other horse, Dually, not so much. If there is so much as a hair out of place, he will be sure to let you know.

For decades I have been traveling around the country and around the globe to help people with their horses. I have often seen horses in my clinics that are hollowed out and inverted (arching their backs and star-gazing instead of rounding) simply because the saddle was causing them discomfort. Lots of things can cause inversion, including the rider, but an ill-fitted saddle can make it downright impossible for a horse to round its back. Adjusting tack, mitigating the fit with pads (when possible) or changing saddles (when it’s not) can often have an immediate and dramatic effect on a horse’s performance.

In Eddie’s case, he had filled out so much (as horses do between 6 and 7), and he had developed heavy muscling over the shoulders and below the withers. Eddie is a classic stock horse type—short, stout and heavily muscled. Sired by Sixes Pick, the world champion ranch horse stallion from the 6666 Ranch, Eddie has taken on the handsome and rugged looks of this classic Quarter Horse. When it comes to tree size, the only part of the horse that matters is from the withers, about 7 inches down; in Eddie’s case, this was the culprit.

The height of the horse or even the width of the horse’s back doesn’t matter much—it’s only what’s going on at the withers, and this is an area that changes a lot over time. Age, fitness and body score (fat deposits) can make a big difference in what the withers looks like. Do not be lulled into thinking that because you have a wide or heavy horse, like a draft or draft cross, that you automatically need a wide tree. Many big horses have prominent, V-shaped withers and need a regular tree. Height and body width aren’t the issue.

There’s lots of confusion on tree sizes in Western saddles, which is one reason why saddle makers are getting away from the baffling terms like ‘Semi quarter horse’ and ‘Full quarter horse bars,’ and instead call them Regular and Wide trees. It matters not at all whether you have a quarter horse, a Haflinger or a gaited horse.

Looking at the front of the saddle, under the pommel at the bars of the tree, the regular tree is generally a 90 degree angle and the wide tree is usually 92 degrees. That’s not a lot of difference to see (or try and measure) but it can make a huge difference in fit. If the saddle tree is too narrow, it will perch on top of the shoulders instead of sitting ‘in the pocket’ behind the shoulders and put undue pressure at the top of the shoulder blade (where white spots often appear). Although a majority of horses, even Quarter Horses, fit in a regular sized tree, some horses will need the extra width. If the tree is too wide, the saddle may sit down too low and there may not be enough clearance at the withers.

When I bought Eddie as a 3 year old, I did not buy a saddle for him, since I already had a tack room full of saddles that I loved. For the past three years, I’ve been using my Rocky Mountain Ranch saddle (a working saddle designed by me and made by Circle Y) with a wooden, Kevlar reinforced, regular size tree, which fit him well. Until the day it didn’t. It’s a beautiful and functional saddle which looked very handsome on my honcho ranch horse.

Eddie as a 5 year old in the Rocky Mountain Ranch Saddle
Eddie as a 5 year old in the Rocky Mountain Ranch Saddle

If I had bought the saddle just for Eddie, I would’ve bought a wide tree, knowing there was a very good chance that he would need it in the future, given his type. When in doubt, it is not a bad idea to go with a wide tree, because if it is a little too big, you can usually pad out the fit. But if your tree is too small, there’s no fixing it. It’d be like wearing a pair of shoes that were too small and then putting on extra thick socks to try and fix the discomfort.

Once it became clear that Eddie had outgrown the regular tree, and I was going to have to buy a new saddle for him, I decided to switch him to the Circle Y Monarch Arena/Trail saddle with a Flex2 tree in a wide size. I designed this saddle for comfort, balance and close-contact communication with your seat and legs. It helps center the rider and has a narrow twist with memory foam in the seat. I’ve been riding my other horse, Dually, in this same saddle (regular tree) since I designed it, nearly a decade ago.

On my very first ride on Eddie in the Monarch, I was astounded at the change and wished I had switched sooner. With the right size tree and the additional comfort that the flexible tree provides, Eddie was immediately more relaxed, lengthening in the neck and lifting his back. Not only that, his rough gaits were significantly smoother, not only because he was relaxing and rounding more but also because the Flex2 tree provides shock absorption that is easily felt by both horse and rider.

I’ll admit, Eddie is definitely more handsome in the ranch saddle, as is befitting of his heritage. But I will trade that for comfort and performance any day of the week. The Monarch is also a beautiful hand-tooled saddle that any horse looks great in and once I am up there, it only matters how it feels—to both my horse and me!

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

Stupid Human Tricks

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Relationship Rescue with Julie Goodnight
Stupid Human Tricks: Unsafe Mistakes We Make Around Horses

If you get too comfortable around a horse (even one that you have a great relationship with), you may put yourself in an unsafe zone. The result? What I like to call “Stupid Human Tricks.” These are the moves and injuries that could end up on America’s Funniest Videos, but really didn’t need to happen at all. While you’re more likely to be safe around a horse that you know well, it’s also easy to forget your manners and do things you would never do around a horse that was new to you.

If you operate with awareness and with safety in mind, you’re less likely to be hurt. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a horse without a flight response. Something can spook a horse that you may have no control of.

If you ever have the voice of consciousness in your head asking “Should I do this?” you probably shouldn’t do it. It only takes a few added seconds to do things the right way—and if you choose the safe way you’ll have an overall and longer relationship with your best buddy.

I’m not naïve enough to think that you will never again do anything on this list. However, it’s important to know that these moves are risky. It’s up to you to know the possibilities and choose how much risk to take. Here are my top “Stupid Human Tricks” and details about why you really shouldn’t perform them….

Ducking Under: Don’t duck under a lead rope when a horse is tied and never lead another horse under the cross ties beside a horse that’s tied. If you duck under the horse and the horse spooks or pulls back, it’s easy to get trapped between your horse and a wall. Why do we do it? It’s just an instance of being lazy. You’re in his blind spot when you are under his neck. Even a horse who usually minds his step might not know where you are. Plus, if the horse is tied loosely, he could drop his head quickly and bat into you when he moves. You don’t want to be so close to a horse’s head and in a compromising position.

Not Taking Time to Halter: Just because your horse will stand still while you put on or take off a blanket, it doesn’t mean that it’s good to do. If at any time the horse is startled while you’re in the middle of a task, you have no way to control him. What happens? He gets caught up in the blanket, tears the blanket, or just learns that he can get away whenever he wants to. If what you’re doing could remotely be uncomfortable to the horse, he may learn that he can run away when he wants. That is a hard lesson to un-learn. Personally, I’d rather spend time riding and doing fun events with my horses instead of working through a behavior issue that I caused. Take the extra time to confine your horse with a halter before you pick his feet, put on or take off a blanket or before you get to work.

Sitting or Kneeling: It’s easy to put a knee down when you bandage a horse or if you’re just waiting. Don’t do it. This one is near to my heart. When I was 14, my friend sat down in the pasture after our ride—just to watch the horses eat. My horse came up and tried to take the grain away. The horses picked a fight and she was in the way—and sitting with her legs crisscrossed. She couldn’t get out of the way in time and was kicked in the abdomen. She bled to death. There is a tried and true rule for this—you should be at least two horse lengths away from a horse before putting a knee down. The average horse is 8 feet long—so that means no sitting within 16 feet. It’s all about how fast you can get up. If you can’t get to your feet, you can’t get out of the way. It’s just a lazy move and it’s not worth it. I might be guilty of ducking under a lead rope now and then when I trust the horse, but this isn’t one that I ever put up with.

Holding the Halter: If you’re leading a horse with a halter on, there should be a lead rope attached. A horse can toss his head quickly—think of how quickly he can reach back to bite at a fly. If your hand is in the halter and he shakes his head, you may not have time to let go and you’ll injure your fingers. Your arm is up and in an awkward position when you grab a tall horse’s halter—it’s too easy to dislocate a shoulder or get pulled on and cause a severe shoulder injury. Worse, your arm could be pushed through the halter and then you’ll be attached to a horse that will likely spook at having you move with him. People lose fingers when the strap or dee-ring on the halter suddenly is tight (as a related safety note, when you do use a lead line, make sure that it never wraps around your hand). Plus, if you could let go of the horse when he jerks away, you have no way to confine him and you’ll teach the horse that it’s easy to pull away from you. This move can mean losing a digit or facing a long re-training session for your horse.

Dropping the Reins: Single loop rope reins may not break if the horse steps on them. You should never allow your rope reins to hang down from your horse’s bridle. If you’re saddling up, lay the reins over your arm. If you’re planning to ground tie in the middle of a ride, leave the loop reins over your horse’s neck; use a halter and lead if you need a line on the ground. You can ground tie your horse in split reins with the reins hanging down, but never with loop reins. If the horse steps through the loop, he’ll get tangled and hurt his mouth. You hurt your horse’s mouth and you’ll probably break your bridle. With a loop rein, keep the reins over your horse’s head and secure around the saddle horn (in a Western saddle) or through a stirrup leather (in an English saddle).

Flip Flops at the Barn: When I see people leading a horse in flip flops, I think “clearly that person has never had their foot mashed by a horse before.” In the best circumstances with the best horses, it’s just too easy to get your feet close to the horse’s feet. It’s not hard to fix—go put on shoes. Tennis shoes are OK if you’re on the ground around a horse but I choose a smoother and more protective covering like leather. And when you’re riding, there’s no choice except boots and a smooth sole and ½ or 1” heel. How many of these “Stupid Human Tricks” have you done in the past? Now that you know the risks, take a moment and do things the right way. You’ll spare yourself and your horse pain and you’ll be ready to go have fun!

Julie Goodnight shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her Monday night RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at http://tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and horse expos.
Heidi Melocco (www.whole-picture.com) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.

Saddle Fit Guide

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RIDE RIGHT WITH Julie Goodnight

Saddle Up

By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight — Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

When did you last check your horse’s saddle fit? Many horses change body shape and therefore saddle fit frequently; changes in your horse’s fitness and shape can make a saddle that fit at the start of the season be ill-fitted just a few months later. Make sure to check your saddle’s fit often with these tips from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

 

Trail horses often log many miles and work hard as they travel up and down hills. Saddle fit is so important for trail riders because that hard-working horse needs to feel comfortable and have optimum weight distribution throughout those challenging rides. Saddle fit isn’t just about your comfort in the saddle’s seat—be sure to think about the top (your side) as well as the bottom (the portion that fits your horse). The saddle must fit your horse’s back first and foremost.

“As riders, we often think most about how we feel—and have to make time to think about how the horse is feeling on the trail,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “When it comes to saddle fit, your horse is a silent partner; it’s your job to remember to check out his saddle fit and make sure he is moving in comfort. Each year your horse’s body shape can change as he matures, changes condition or gains or loses weight. Your horse can’t tell you in words if he has a problem with his saddle. It’s up to you to be a detective and make sure that your saddle fit is a good fit.”

Saddle fit is something to check constantly. If your horse has not worked for a while, he may be out of shape, not toned and have excess fat. Your usual saddle may not fit a horse that is currently out of shape. When the horse gains muscle during the riding season, he loses fat and changes shape. With these fast changes in body type, a horse’s shape and therefore saddle needs can change within the riding season. Saddle fit also changes as a horse ages. Just as you probably don’t wear the same clothing and belts you wore in high school, your horse’s body shape can change over time.

What can you do to ensure good saddle fit when your horse is constantly changing? Here, Goodnight will explain what your horse’s body may be telling you about his saddle’s fit. Then she’ll help you analyze your saddle fit and provide tips to help fix common saddle fitting struggles.

 

Bad Fit Signs

Your horse may not speak, but his body can give you clear signs of his saddle fit woes. Start by looking at your horse’s back while he’s resting or in the pasture. Have you ever seen a solid colored horse with white marks on his back? Some people think those are color markings, but they’re really formed from pressure points that cause the hair follicles to stop producing color. Those white spots can appear quickly if there’s a saddle fit issue. If they just appeared, you may be able to correct your saddle fit before the hair permanently changes color. If the horse has had a pressure point for many years, it’s possible that the hair will stay white –even with a saddle fit change. Worse, those permanent white marks may mean that the horse has experienced pain for long periods.

Look at your horse’s back after he’s been ridden. If your horse was sweating, you should see an even sweat mark from front to back in the area where the saddle tree contacts the back. Make sure that there’s a dry area over your horse’s spine—that area should have airflow as you ride. If you see dry marks under the tree, it indicates that there was pressure in that place. Also, if you pull the saddle after a ride and see that the horse’s hair is roughed-up, note that your saddle may have been moving around more than it should. That’s another sign that the fit isn’t right and the saddle is rubbing.

Goodnight says she sees horses “speak” with their bodies through these visible marks and by making agitated movements.

“In my clinics, I often see horses that should be standing still and resting with a rider on their back. The horses that aren’t comfortable with their saddle fit will begin shifting their weight and rocking from side to side–attempting to move the saddle’s pressure points,” Goodnight says. “In the worst cases, horses try to communicate their pain by acting out. I’ve seen horses bolt, spook and buck because of poor saddle fit. If your horse is in constant pain as you ride, he will be spookier. He’s already at his limit so he’s on guard to spook more. Almost any behavior problem could be attributed to saddle fit. If the saddle doesn’t feel good to the horse, he won’t be able to do his best and move his best. It’s always good to check saddle fit and rule that out before addressing any training issue.”

 

Frequent Check Ups

Goodnight says there are two types of horses when it comes to saddle fit—the average horse that is easy to fit and the horse you know will be a saddle-fitting challenge.

For both horses, you’ll need to check the saddle from front to back and top to bottom—ensuring that the horses have room to move and clearance from the tack in all places except where it should conform to the back along the bars of the tree.

First, make sure that there’s enough clearance under the saddle’s pommel—allowing your hand to fit above your horse’s withers and below the pommel. This area, called the gullet, shouldn’t sit down on your horse’s withers. If there is only room for one finger, or the bottom of the gullet is touching the horse’s withers, the tree may be too wide to fit the horse.

By the time you sit in the saddle and compress the pad, the saddle will move down onto the horse’s back. Make sure there’s plenty of clearance to allow for this compression while still leaving room to clear the horse’s withers.

Also check the horse’s shoulder blades. Make sure that the forward point of the saddletree doesn’t interfere with the horse’s shoulder. If the saddle’s tree digs into the horse’s shoulder, he won’t be able to move forward without pain. Feel beneath your saddle’s skirt at the horse’s shoulder.

Behind the shoulder and below the wither is called the “pocket” in saddle fit terms. That’s where you want the saddle to sit to avoid impeding the shoulder’s range of motion.

There’s a screw in both western and English saddles below the pommel that shows where the forward point of pressure from the tree of the saddle is. When you place the saddle on your horse’s back without a pad in place, you can tell where that screw is and make sure it’s behind the shoulder blade, in the pocket. This is a common area to see white marks on a horse—that happens when the tree places pressure onto the shoulder.

Also make sure to look at the rear configuration of the saddle. Make sure that the horse’s spine is protected from pressure from the saddle. The saddle’s skirt shouldn’t put pressure into his loins or cause the saddle to dig into his hip as he moves. The back of the skirt should sit in front of his hip, with enough room for the horse to bend and turn without his hip running into the skirt. You can opt for a saddle, such as Circle Y Saddle’s Wind River, that has a rounded skirt to keep the saddle from hitting the hip. If your horse is very short backed, you may opt for a gaited horse saddle or an Aussie saddle that is made with a short tree.

Now step back and note the saddle’s position and levelness. The saddle seat should look level to the ground while on the horse’s back. If the saddle looks uphill, it may be too far forward; if it looks downhill, it may be too far back.

 

The Challenges

If your horse is a known saddle fit challenge, he may have conformation issues that affect saddle fit. This doesn’t mean that your horse has bad conformation, Goodnight says. Many great horses have conformation that makes saddle fit a challenge. If your horse has asymmetry in his shoulders or hips, has a short back or has a slight sway in his back, you may find saddle fit more of a challenge.

With these conformation types, bridging is a common problem. Bridging happens when there’s excessive pressure on the front and back of the saddle and no pressure being applied in the middle of the horse’s back. That creates pressure and white marks below the withers or chafing at the horse’s hip. That means that the saddle’s tree isn’t touching along your horse’s entire back.

Custom saddles can be wonderful for some horses and riders, but many horses change shape so often that a custom saddle won’t fit for more than a season or two. In general, saddle trees are made to fit average horses. If your horse is not average or has asymmetry, no saddle is made to fit that body type. That’s when you find the best fit you can and pad out the best with specially made bridge pads.

 

Tree Size and Shape

When you have a bigger seat size in your saddle, you also have a longer saddle tree. That means that there’s more room to distribute weight along the bars of the tree. If you are concerned about the amount of weight your horse is carrying (with the saddle, bags and the rider), make sure that you chose a seat size that is correct for you and made to distribute weight.

Western saddles offer more weight distribution for a horse than an English saddle or a saddle with a short tree. If you start a young colt with a Western saddle then switch to an English saddle, you often see a little crow hopping when the horse feels a higher concentration of pressure on his back.

In addition to having room to distribute weight, the saddle must have bars angled to match the angle of the horse’s anatomy. You’ve probably heard of a “regular” or “wide” tree. The different tree sizes refer to the angle of the tree’s bars that sit under the saddle skirt and along the horse’s spine. The difference between a regular tree and wide is only 2 degrees, but that difference in angle can mean a totally different fit for the horse.

If the saddletree is too narrow for the horse, it cannot be helped with pads. A tree that is too narrow for a horse will perch on top of the horse’s withers and cause pinching to his withers and spine. A saddletree that is too wide will sit down too far on the horse’s back and cause pressure to the horse’s topline.

Possible Solutions

“Switching to a saddle that fits is an instant relief for the horse,” Goodnight says. “If I found a saddle that fit, I would never ride the horse in the ill-fitting saddle again.”

But how do you find the best saddle and fit for your horse? If you checked your horse’s saddle fit and found that his current saddle isn’t fitting, consult a professional. Your local tack shop may suggest a professional saddle fitter who can try several saddles on your horse to see what fits best.

If a new saddle is out of the question or your horse usually fits in his saddle but just had time off, adding a bridge or shim pad can be a helpful answer. Asymmetry or bridging issues can be helped by adding a special pad that is designed to fill in areas where the saddle tree needs support. It means adding a therapeutic pad in a precise area—not adding a bulky pad under the entire saddle. Too much padding is never good and only accentuates saddle fit problems when horses are pinched beneath an ill-fitting saddle and a thick pad.

Choosing a saddle with a flexible tree (a current model instead of the first “trial” models of this unique tree) can help alleviate pressure points and help a horse move easily beneath a tree that is strong yet slightly flexible. For horses with a slight bridging problem, often the flexible tree is all you need.

“My horse, Dually, performs much differently in a Flex 2 tree versus a solid tree. With the flexibility of the saddle, he relaxes his back and uses his hindquarters more. He doesn’t keep any discomfort a secret. He is much more fussy in a rigid tree saddle. You can ride him, but he is more fussy.”

You can also affect your saddle fit by changing how you “rig” it to the horse. The saddle’s rigging is how the saddle is strapped on to the horse. The dee ring where the latigo attaches can be positioned in different ways. A “full” rigging is attached directly under the pommel. A 7/8th rigging brings the pressure slightly farther back along his spine and a ¾ rigging attaches the farthest back, closer to the center of the saddle. In a flexible tree, if you attach the saddle farther back the horse will have more room to move through his shoulders. If your horse is sway backed, attaching the saddle with a center fire rigging or a 3/4 rigging could help conform that saddle to the horse’s back.

Check your saddle’s fit often and learn more about fitting options at JulieGoodnight.com/saddles for more tips and PDF guides.

“We owe it to the horse to make sure that he’s as comfortable as possible when we ride,” Goodnight says. “Just by changing the saddle, you can see an instant difference. It is worth it to find the saddle that your horse feels good and moves well in.”

 

Sidebar

Should You Ride Bareback?

Riding bareback can be a fun balance exercise for the rider. It helps you feel how the horse move and improves your balance. However, on the trail, you may be asking your horse to move athletically over varying terrain. The saddle’s main job is to distribute weight over the horse’s back. If there’s no saddle, there’s no weight distribution. That said, if you choose to ride bareback, you probably won’t ride the horse as hard or ask as much.

If you’re just learning to ride, I recommend starting in a saddle. Riders who began riding bareback often have habits that are tough to break once they ride in a saddle. They often grip with their lower legs and perch forward. If you ride in a saddle first, you’ll learn to balance without gripping then can apply your balance skills to bareback riding.

 

Choosing A Children’s Saddle

You want the saddle that you’re teaching a child to ride in to help promote balance and life-long riding postures.

There are many kids saddles on the market—but buyer beware. Make sure that the saddle you choose has a tree that is made for the size of horse that will carry it. A saddle made for a pony may not fit a full size horse. Many small children’s saddles are made with inexpensive materials. You don’t want a saddle to sit down, flat on the horse’s spine—even with extra padding the tree must fit!

Make sure that the saddle you choose has a good tree that will fit your horse. Look for the best quality small saddle then mitigate the stirrup length for a child. A saddle with a 13-inch seat that is designed for a horse will fit your horse well and allow a child to use the saddle for a long time. Choosing a seat that is a little too big will allow the child room to grow and help with your saddle budget (rather than purchasing a new saddle every few years).

You may opt to add short stirrups (the saddle shown from Circle Y can be purchased with semi-custom short stirrup fenders that may be replaced later). You can also get kid’s stirrups that attach over the pommel with webbing or replace the Western stirrup fenders with English stirrup leathers that can be easily adjusted to a short length. That’s a great way to help teach balance.

Trail Tips: When To Water, Lead Across Obstacles, Don’t Allow Your Horse To Eat With A Bit

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Trail Tips: When to water, lead across obstacles, don’t allow your horse to eat with a bit

Take Water Breaks
Horses should have access to clean water at least twice a day. Normally, a horse will drink 8-12 gallons of water a day, but that can increase to as much as 20 on a hot day. Planning the daily riding schedule so that horses can drink along the trail will reduce the amount of time spent watering horses in camp.

Riders should not stop to water along the trail whenever they feel like it, thus holding up the rest of the ride. Other horses will want to rush to catch up. If possible pick a safe, designated watering spot with good footing. Excerpted from the Certified Horsemanship Association Trail Guide Manual (available at cha-ahse.org).

Get Off and Lead
It’s okay to dismount and lead your horse when you come to difficult situations on the trail. In fact, it’s the right thing to do when safety and control are at stake, such as when crossing a bridge. In a precarious situation, it’s better to have a safe, successful outcome than to fight with your horse, putting you both at risk of an injury.

You’ll have more confidence on the ground. And your horse will gain courage when he sees you crossing the obstacle safely ahead of him. As herd animals, horses naturally follow other horses and feel safer if another horse is in front of them.

By leading your horse, you’ll accomplish the immediate goal of safely crossing the obstacle. You can then address the training issue in a safe environment.

Lead your horse from the side, if possible, in case he rushes forward. If he’s skittish, use the lead rope to keep him from pushing into your space. He might try to jump into your space out of fear, thinking that the spot in which you’re standing as the only safe place.

Slowly lead your horse across the problem obstacle, one step at a time. Then mount up, and continue on your way.
— Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com)

Remove the Bit
When you stop for lunch along the trail, take an extra few minutes to remove the bridle and bit, and allow your horse to graze wearing just a halter.

Even if the bit you’re using allows your horse to swallow and relax as you ride, the bit isn’t made to allow him to eat comfortably. The forage has to get past the bit — and his tongue is already filling his mouth and palate.

Plus, your horse could step on the reins while grazing (if you ground-tie with a split rein), then pull up on the bit, damaging his mouth.

Have a halter underneath the bridle, take a halter with you in your saddlebags, or invest in a halter-bridle that allows you to drop out the bit, and you’ll avoid causing your horse discomfort.
— Dale Myler, Myler Bits

First Aid For Horses

I’ve been taking care of horses for half a century and during that time I’ve seen hundreds of injured horses, from mild scratches to cuts that need stitches to deep-tissue lacerations, punctures and impalements. As most experienced horse owners know, some horses could get hurt even if they were locked in a padded stall.

Over the decades I’ve gotten pretty good at basic first aid for horses—knowing what injuries I can handle myself, when I need to call the vet and whether or not it is truly an emergency. I’ve nursed horses for months on end through the most horrific, seemingly career-ending injuries, and seen the horse come back to full health with barely a scar. Over the decades I’ve learned what supplies, medications and tools to keep on-hand, and how to deal with the typical injuries that horses get.

Recently, on one of the first blustery winter days, I saw the horses running around like their tails were on fire, across the fields and the through the thicket of trees. Later, as I brought the horses in for the evening, I gave each of the horses a good visual once-over, as we do each morning and evening, looking for any signs of injury or illness. It was then that I noticed the blood on Eddie’s muzzle. Once the horses were secured in their stalls for the night, I grabbed a flashlight and clean rag and headed to his stall to investigate.

With my rag damp, I wiped away the dried blood from his muzzle and discovered no injury there. Not surprising, since horses often rub or scratch wounds with their muzzles. Running the flashlight beam up and down his legs, it didn’t take me long to find the cut, up high on his right forearm. It was a jagged, one inch laceration with a puncture wound that looked like it could be deep and/or have some debris in there. No doubt, he ran into the stub of a broken branch when running pell-mell through the trees earlier.

The injury itself will often give evidence as to the cause or “mechanism of injury.” In this case, the jagged puncture and location high on his forearm were common clues to that type of injury, caused by tree branch. Looking at a wound—from minor to serious—may help you discern the cause, and hopefully eliminate it. The mechanism of injury may also be a clue as to how serious it is and/or how it should be treated. A wire cut or metal cut may have cleaner edges and a deeper laceration; a puncture wound might only have a small opening but swelling below could be a clue to a deeper problem.

Like many experienced horse owners, at my ranch we treat most minor injuries without calling the vet. But everyone that works for me knows, when in doubt, call the vet. I’d way rather have a small vet bill than a big problem later on. When I am evaluating the wound, to see if I need to call my vet, my main concerns are suturing, the potential for infection, joint damage and/or lameness. If tranquilizing is required to clean, suture, flush or drain the wound, or the wound is near a joint or involves lameness, I call the vet.

If infection is a concern and I think I might need antibiotics, I call the vet. I prefer to use oral antibiotics, even though they are more expensive, in order to reduce the number of injections the horse may need and I get that from my vet. If the wound is fresh and has clean edges and it is located in a place where stitches would hold and/or where it could be wrapped, suturing may be useful, so I call the vet.

Fortunately, on this day, it was an injury I could easily handle myself. Over the past 5 decades, I have had many opportunities to treat puncture wounds on horses. I suppose their flight response has something to do with the frequency of puncture wounds seen in horses. Equally fortunate was the fact that my horse Eddie was very well-mannered, trained to stand still when asked and very easy to handle from the ground. Tranquilizers would not be needed—just someone that would hold and distract him while I cleaned and flushed the wound.

I headed to the barn to get the supplies I needed—betadine solution, a handful of gauze sponges for scrubbing, scarlet oil, a small pail of warm water, some clean dry rags, a towel, the mastitis needle and irrigation syringe and the cordless clippers. While my assistant haltered Eddie, I laid out my supplies on the clean towel and got them ready, in the order in which I would need them.

With any wound that has fully penetrated the skin, I like to clip away the hair from the area to make it easier to clean and to prevent the hair from being matted in the wound. I use a mild diluted betadine solution (about the color of iced tea) for cleaning wounds initially, whether it is a puncture or open laceration, but the first order of business is to scrub away any scabbing, debris or matted hair that may be covering the wound and expose the edges fully.

With any kind of puncture, there is always the possibility of foreign matter inside the wound which can cause infection and abscessing. The critical issues for treating puncture wounds are to flush the wound daily, allow it to drain for as long as needed, and keep the outside of the wound open to allow it to heal from the inside out. After scrubbing the outside of the wound and probing and flushing the inside with the mastitis needle (a blunt ended irrigating needle), I then squirt a little scarlet oil deep into the wound to keep it draining and to help prevent infection. Every day, until it is healed, I will clean away scabbing and flush the puncture again and monitor the amount of drainage. When the drainage stops, the wound is usually ready to heal and close.

Whether or not to bandage a wound can be an easy decision—there are many places on a horse that cannot effectively be bandaged. I prefer to keep puncture wounds un-bandaged to promote drainage as it heals. Indeed, in many instances, wounds will heal better when exposed to air and sunlight but there are many extenuating circumstances with horses—how clean the wound will stay, how easily it will reopen, whether or not there sutures to protect, can the scar be minimized, will insects or foreign matter be a problem, will the bandage stay put? I like to err on the side of keeping a non-puncture wound clean and protected, so I will bandage the wound when I can.

Bandaging wounds on horses requires some skill and know-how, since mostly we are talking about legs– keeping it on without cutting off circulation and causing additional damage can be a challenge. Changing the bandage, cleaning and redressing the wound will have to be done on a regular schedule, again, by someone that knows what they are doing. I always keep plenty of bandaging supplies on hand—vet wrap, rolled gauze, trauma pads, cotton batting (necessary for cushioning to allow for circulation when wrapping legs), polo wraps and duct tape. I like to keep a package of disposal newborn baby diapers in my first aid kit, which can come in handy for wound dressing and saddle sores. A large box of disposable medical gloves, sharp bandage scissors and good clippers are must-haves.

When it comes to ointments and medications for treating wounds, I like to keep it simple and all-natural when possible, so I use a lot of Redmond First aid clay as a topical ointment when I need protection from the elements in a minor wound that will go un-bandaged. It will act as a drying agent and will form a protective layer over the wound to keep out insects and debris. For un-sutured wounds that will be bandaged and do not need to drain, I will pack the wound in the clay and it will stay moist because of the bandage and help the wound heal. I also use the clay mixed as a mud poultice for bruises and swelling on the legs and for packing feet.

Sometimes a medicated ointment is needed to prevent infection in a wound—let your vet decide what is needed, but be careful what you use, because some of the most common medicated ointments traditionally used on horses have carcinogens in them (check the label). Make sure you always use gloves when treating wounds of any kind, to protect yourself from infection and from harsh chemicals.

Keeping the “dry” supplies on-hand and plentiful is a good investment and a no-brainer—they will not expire and will be there when and if you need them, if stored well. I prefer to avoid having a lot of medications sitting around that get old and expire—I will get them from my vet when needed. Redmond First Aid ointment and pure coconut oil get the most use around my barn on a daily basis, but we also keep betadine, scarlet oil and blue lotion on hand. A smaller first aid kit will all the basics is kept in an airtight container in my horse trailer for when we are on the road.

Of course, my hope is that my first aid supplies will never be needed. But after a lifetime with horses, I know that sooner or later, one of them is going to get in a wreck. It pays to be prepared!

On The Rail: Teaching Horse Behavior To Youth Q And A

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On the Rail: Teaching Horse Behavior to Youth

By Julie Goodnight

 

Q: Dear Julie, I am a big believer in natural horsemanship and how effective it is to handle horses with an understanding of their natural behaviors. I’d like to instill these principles into my teaching and I wonder if you have any ideas for getting my youth students interested in studying horse behavior? Seems like all they want to do is ride! ~ Mary

 

A: Dear Mary, I applaud your efforts to instill good principles in your students and an awareness of what life is like from the horse’s point of view. I have found it fascinating to study horse behavior even as a child when I had no idea I was studying it. Learning behavior through observation is a valuable tool but I think there are lots of ways to stimulate their interest. One of my most popular demonstrations is about reading the language of horses and I think that once you give people (and for the record, I don’t teach kids much differently than adults) clues to look for in understanding and “reading” a horse’s language, they love it. Even non-horse people enjoy watching horses when they have a basic understanding how they communicate. Horses communicate primarily with postures, gestures and body language; however, some of their communication is an audible language. I find that once people become aware of this almost anyone, regardless of their experience level, can start understanding the horse’s language. Just by pointing out a few basics your students can observe a group of horses and start calling out the communications they see; “Back off!”, “Gee that looks interesting”, “Warning, warning!”, “Come here and feed me!”, “Stay away from me”. “Do you want to be friends?”.  I have written much about behavior and the Training Library on my website has hundred of articles that elaborate on both the instinctive and learned behaviors of horses. A few of the fundamentals I would teach before playing this basic observation game with your students include postures, gestures and audible expressions. A horse’s head is entirely indicative of his emotional state—when the head goes up he is tensing, when the head lowers he is relaxing. As you ride and as you observe horses, watch their head level for indicators on how they are feeling. The same thing is true of his tail—all the way up shows excitement/flight/prideful behavior; a cowering horse will tuck his tail like a dog. Horses have numerous gestures—some of them we may not want to know about! The head drop/bob shows submission, ears back shows anger, baring teeth is a threatening gesture. Horses gesture a lot with their feet— cocking a foot can be a kick threat; pawing means “I’m frustrated and I want to be moving”; stomping feet means “that makes me mad!”.  A toss of the head with the nose moving in a circular motion is a defiant gesture that teenagers would get in trouble for doing. Horses have many gestures that have meaning if you know what to look for. Horses are limited to just a few audible expressions that they use to communicate; the squeal, whinny, nicker, and snort. Each has a specific meaning and I find students of all ages and even non-horse people are interested to learn about these behaviors and interpreting them as they watch horses.

  • Squeal: The squeal is a high-pitched outcry, which acts as a defensive warning or threat. It tells another animal to be ready for a stronger reaction if further provoked. Squeals are typical during aggressive interactions between horses, during reproductive encounters when the mare protests the stallion’s advances, and when a pre- or early-lactating mare objects to being touched anywhere near her sore teats.
  • Nicker: A nicker is a guttural, low-pitched pulsating expression that means “come closer to me”. It occurs most often just prior to being fed and announces the horse’s presence and anticipation. Stallions will also nicker at mares during a reproductive encounter and seems to signal the stallion’s interest in the mare. Mares typically give a third type of nicker to their young foals when the mare is concerned about the foal.
  • Whinnies or Neighs: Whinnies or neighs are high-pitched calls that begin like a squeal and end like a nicker. It is the longest and loudest of horse sounds and is distinctive for each horse (you can learn to recognize the sound of your horse’s whinny). The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance. It’s a form of individual recognition and most often occurs when a foal and mare or herd peer companions are separated or when a horse is inquisitive after seeing a horse in the distance.
  • Snorts and Blows: Snorts and blows are produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound, but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicate alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses. The snort may also be given when a horse is restless but constrained; in this case, it should be taken seriously as a sign that the horse is feeling trapped and alarmed and may become reactive.

Getting your students started on understanding the horse’s communicative behavior is a good place to begin. Once they are engaged, the sky’s the limit on the lessons you can teach and the lessons that horses offer us every day. Studying their emotional behaviors, the seven categories of instinctive behaviors of horses, doing groundwork exercises to build a better relationship with the horse and studying the herd dynamics we see every day will be as interesting to your students, as it is to you.

 

Tricks Of The Trade

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Lingo – Ventral Edema
A horse showing signs of ventral edema may have compromised health. Swelling is typically seen on the ventral midline of the horse’s belly and is characterized by puffiness, bumps or fluid build-up. Often in geld- ings, sheath swelling or puffiness can also be seen. These signs can be indicators that a horse is fighting infection (maybe from an unseen puncture wound), having metabolic issues– allergies, snake/insect bite, or toxic reactions, circulatory issues, parasites, Potomac Horse Fever and other issues.

Monitor the edema, check vital signs (checking for signs of fever) and look for other signs that may indicate the horse’s health and vigor such as appetite, soreness and alertness. Inspect the horse from nose to tail for signs punctures or sores. Exercise the horse lightly to see if the edema is reduced after exercise. If the horse shows signs of fever or other signs of sickness, if the edema persists over a long period or gets worse, call the vet.

Herd – the frog sloughs!
The frog of the hoof grows continuously and is an important structure of the foot. Traditionally, farriers would trim the frog back, keeping it very neat and trim, but increasingly farriers are leaving the frog natural so that it provides better cushioning and support for the foot and better circulation. When left natural, the frog will periodically slough off, either in many little pieces or in one frog-shaped piece. The sloughing is perfectly normal, but may be alarming to people that have never seen the frog in its natural state.

Tack–cheek piece
For many horses, particularly in the winter when the hair coat is very thick, pulling the bridle over the ears is a tight fit and can cause a lot of momentary discomfort in the horse’s mouth. If you drop the cheek piece down a few holes before you bridle, it is much easier to pull the headstall over the ears and then it can be adjusted back up to the right place. It only takes a few seconds to loosen then readjust the cheek piece but it can make a huge difference in the horse’s comfort and may help prevent bridling problems.

Teach –Ride at Will During a Lesson
Riding lessons are all about imparting information and developing rider skill, but sometimes students are over-loaded with information. It’s helpful to plan practice time in each lesson– either at the end of the lesson for about 10 minutes or after each topic or exercise. During this time, your students can ride at will, practicing the things you worked on in their lesson. Often this is when questions arise, as students process the information on their own. I always tell riders at the end of each session to practice on their own, ask questions if they have them and that I will just watch and offer suggestions as needed. I think this “soak in” time is really important in the learning process.

By Julie Goodnight

Fear Management

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Fear Management
By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

Top trainer Julie Goodnight discusses how to regain confidence and overcome fear to help you enjoy riding once again.

What do you do if you have ridden successfully in the past but a scary incident or injury replaced fun with fear? I hear from many riders who were once confident and after an accident or a life change suddenly have a new sense of fear around horses.

In moderation, fear can help keep you safe and know your limits. But if fear is keeping you from doing what you like to do, it’s time to make a mental shift and return to riding with goals that allow for small, but meaningful changes.

It’s easy to feel a sense of loss when an activity that you once loved is suddenly a burden to even think about. It’s a grieving process. Grief leads to guilt that you should be doing something more—riding more, visiting the barn more.

Grieving the Fun
If this sounds like you, you have not permanently lost your ability to enjoy horses. Your sense of grief may be unfounded because you still have the ability and knowledge you once had (of course, once healing and doctors’ orders are obeyed if you had an accident). You haven’t lost the skill, you’ve just temporarily misplaced it because fear is overwhelming.

Psychologists often say that fear plus grief equals debilitation. It’s too much to handle the emotions of fear and grief. Remind yourself of what you have done in the past and what you are capable of doing. Read some books about riding or watch videos—say to yourself “I can do that!”

The Plan Against Fear
Fear can be overwhelming and can make you feel like you have lost skills. I know hundreds of riders who say they have worked on their fear and overcome it. To be successful, you have to have a plan, think ahead and work slowly and meticulously on your plan.

How do you put a fear-conquering plan into action? Control your thoughts. There’s a mind-body-spirit connection. One part of the trilogy affects all the others. Once the emotion of fear takes over, there are physical affects in your body and your mind devolves into negative thoughts.

If you allow yourself to think “what if he falls,” or “he’s going to spook,” you’re focusing on the negative. That’s allowing fear to take over. Instead of allowing your mind to pollute, sing a song, or visualize what you want your ride to be like. If you have video of yourself riding in the past, watch that. Or watch a favorite rider and notice how confidently they sit the canter. Get those wonderful images in your mind to replace the negative.

Once your mind is in check, you’ll have more access to consciously direct your body. If your body is stuck in fear, you may subconsciously ride in a forward, hunched and gripping position. Once you can calm your thoughts, you can choose to take a breath and control your posture. If the fear can’t control your mind or your body, it can’t affect your whole life.

Comfort Zone
When you visit the barn, target the exact moment you become fearful. Start to notice your body’s reactions to even the idea of riding. You may think you’re fearful of cantering, but do you really feel your body shake when you saddle up?

Once you know the point that causes your fear, also identify your comfort zone. You may feel peaceful when you catch your horse, but when you saddle him, that’s the moment fear enters. Stay in the comfort zone as long as you need–for days, weeks or months. Repeatedly walk out to catch your horse then groom and let him go.

Soon you’ll be ready to do a little more—maybe saddle and walk. Just do a little more when you feel like it and celebrate your successes. Small ventures outside your comfort zone will help you move on. Don’t push and always feel okay about staying within your comfort zone to build confidence.

If you have a setback, go back to a known comfort zone and start creeping ahead again. Soon, you’ll find that you want to do more as long as you build up to it in small increments. At some point, you’ll feel your old comfort level and your old confidence pop back in and your desire to ride will return.

Don’t let anyone else prompt you to do more than what you want. Don’t push yourself because of peer pressure.

Healthy Habits
When you do reach a new level, share with friends and take a moment to praise yourself. Mastering fear is a lot of work; make sure to treat yourself well. Eat right and get in better shape—it will really help! What you do to make yourself healthier, build strength and improve balance, will help your confidence in general.

Pay attention to how you’re feeling emotionally before you approach your horse. If your day is already going downhill, don’t push yourself on your fear-mastering plan. On those days, take your horse on a walk or do some groundwork. If you’re feeling good and the weather is great, those are the days to push yourself a little more and consider stepping out of your comfort zone—and toward your long-term goal of enjoying your horse once more.

Surviving First Canter Lessons

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Teaching Techniques

Surviving First Canter Lessons
By Julie Goodnight

Canter: Sometimes, the mere mention of the word is enough to send riding students into panic and cause high blood pressure in the instructor. And it usually isn’t much fun for the school horses either. But there is a great allure to cantering, whether the rider is mortified of it or not, and it is the stuff of their dreams– cantering off into the sunset with their trusted steed.

Before even thinking about introducing your students to the canter, consider this age-old wisdom of classical horsemanship: the best way to improve the canter is to improve the trot. I tell this to riders in my clinics all the time. Don’t get in a hurry to canter; keep working at the trot until you are ready. When the rider can ride the trot well; posting, sitting and standing; circling and going straight; making effortless transitions up and down; it is time to introduce the canter.

There are many different opinions on how to teach the first canter and there is no one right way (although there are many wrong ways, like starting them all at the same time). After 30 years of teaching and working with thousands of riders, I have come up with some dos and don’ts that have served me well over the years.

First and most important Do–always check the cinch or girth before starting any canter work. In normal circumstances at the canter (with an experienced rider) the rider’s weight shifts into the outside stirrup (when the horse is on the correct lead) and the saddle can get crooked. Add to that equation a loose cinch and an off-balance rider and it is highly likely someone is going to eat dirt.

Although I know of instructors that have had success teaching the canter on a longe line, personally I would never do it that way. learning to ride the canter on a straight line is much easier than turning. Where you tend to lose riders is in the corners or on the turns. Even on a straight line at the canter, the rider’s weight is shifting to the outside if the horse is on the correct lead. The centrifugal energy created by putting the horse on a longe line exacerbates his problem. Many beginner school horses don’t have the training and conformation to canter a small circle in a balanced way, making it ever harder for the rider to learn. It’s not to say that it can’t be done safely; it can– with the right horse and a suitable environment. But for me, I like to keep them on the straight away at first.
I think it is really important to prepare your students well before their first canter. I like to talk about how it is different from the walk and trot, talk about what suspension is and how the gait feels and how your body moves at each gait, particularly the differences between the trot and canter (more vertical–up and down movement at the trot and more pumping/circular motion at the canter).

“I like the beginner riders to only canter the long straight line of the arena and to bring the horse back to trot before the corner.”

The single biggest mistake beginner riders make is leaning forward and closing the pelvis at the canter, causing them to get thrown up and out of the saddle in a posting motion each time the horse comes into suspension. So I really emphasize sitting back, even slightly behind the vertical. This is why “pushing the swing” is such an effective analogy for the canter.

I think it is critically important to have a good demonstration of what it looks like to ride the canter, before they do it, so they have a good visual image of how to ride the canter. I also think it is important in the demonstration to show what happens
to the horse’s head as he canters (moving down with each stride) and especially how far he drops his head on the very first stride as he is launching his entire body weight off the ground. I spend a lot of time explaining what happens to the horse if the rider does not give an adequate release and causes the horse to slam his mouth into the bridle. This is a particular concern for fearful riders who may flinch and suck up on the reins when the horse first starts to canter. When this happens, the rider is punishing the horse for doing something she asked the horse to do. That is very unfair to the horse and at best will prevent the horse from cantering and at worst will make the horse fear the canter departure and distrust the rider.

How you set up your riders for the first canter depends a lot on the number of riders in the group, the horses, the size of arena, and how much help, if any, that you have. There are many acceptable ways to do it– each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Do you keep the horses in the middle and put them out to the rail one or two at a time? Do you line them
up on the rail and proceed around one at a time to the end of the line? Do you keep the line moving and play “catch up”?

For me, since I teach in the clinic setting, with 15 riders of varying ability levels, some very advanced and some having never cantered, I have certain parameters I must work within to keep all the riders active and happy. I like to keep all the horses on the rail, moving at a walk or trot, and ask two or three horses at a time to canter, coming to the inside track while all the other horses stay glued to the rail. I start with the advanced riders first so that the newbies can watch and so that their horses can see that horses are cantering and start thinking about it.

I like the beginner riders to only canter the long straight line of the arena and to bring the horse back to trot before the corner. This helps them stay better balanced and in control. Trying to canter the turn rarely works for the first time anyway because the rider tends to pull back with both reins to turn causing the horse to break gait. Cantering around the turn is a great next goal, once the rider is getting the feel of the canter.

Cantering short distances seems to work well at first. often you’ll see riders sit the canter pretty well for the first few strides then they gradually tense up and start bouncing, which leads to more tension and a downward spiral. Instead, I have them just go a few strides down the long side then come back to trot and get their composure back before trying it again. Besides, another important classical wisdom is that all of training occurs in transitions, so they are learning greater control at the same time.

“Always use gate gravity to your advantage.”

Riders that are nervous about cantering have a hard time convincing the horse that is what they really want. Their hesitancy and ambivalence is clear to the horse and since the horse probably doesn’t want to canter anyway, he’ll side with the part of the rider that says she doesn’t really want to canter. Also, most beginner horses have been hit in the mouth by the rider at the canter, so they aren’t all that enthusiastic about it anyway.

To mitigate this problem, I often set up the horses the first couple of times at the opposite end from the barn or gate, so at least the horse is headed in a direction he wants to go. If the horse is more energetic and eager to canter or might go too fast, I set them up to canter away from the gate. Always use gate gravity to your advantage.

If a horse has not been asked to canter in a while, he has long since stopped thinking about it and may be difficult to transition into the canter. In this instance, and in the instance of a fearful rider, it often helps if I get on the horse and ask it to canter a few times. This puts the cue and the thought of cantering fresh in the horse’s mind and is often reassuring to the fearful rider that the horse can indeed canter without the horse running off or pitching a bucking fit. But no good deed goes unpunished because sometimes I end up being asked to canter almost every horse in the clinic, which is time consuming, not to mention tiring!

The main things I don’t do at the first canter, is have everyone go all at once or push a rider to canter when they are reluctant. Even when I know most of the riders in my clinic are experienced and comfortable at the canter, I want to watch them each closely the first time to make sure all is as it should be. once I am comfortable that the riders and horses are in control, I’ll let them canter as a group. I also don’t worry too much about leads– that comes later, as we work on control at the canter and better cueing.

like all things with horses, the more experience you have, the easier it becomes. An experienced instructor can even keep track of the horses behind her back, unconsciously listening to the footfalls to let her know when the horses are traveling at a slow steady speed or when the footfalls sound suspicious.

As Mark Twain said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Proceed cautiously and learn from the mistakes of others, so you keep your bad judgments to a minimum.