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

The Secret? Keep It Simple!

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
www.GettyEquineNutrition.com
July 30, 2015

The Secret? Keep It Simple!
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

We know they’re out there. Horses who are enjoying life. Horses who are brimming with health – strong muscles, shiny coats, hard hooves, good digestion, normal metabolism, strong immune function – just plain healthy! How does this happen? What is it about their care and feeding that gives them such wellbeing?

We’re always searching for answers. Our typical approach is to study sick horses. But that only helps us to understand disease. We look at fat horses to understand fat horses. We look at horses with pain, metabolic problems, and digestive ailments to understand those who are experiencing the same hardships. While such research is worthwhile, wouldn’t it also make sense to evaluate fit, hearty horses so we can strive to make our own horses be more like them? Shouldn’t we be looking at what healthy horses experience?

Here’s the basic “recipe” for a healthy horse:

Avoid feeding excess calories. Obesity is a real problem and it comes from piling on the calories, combined with lack of physical activity. Forage should be the dietary staple and it should flow steadily throughout the horse’s entire gastrointestinal tract. Pounds and pounds of concentrated feeds can shorten a horse’s life.

Prevent winter weight gain by imitating nature. In a natural setting, feed would be sparse during the winter months. The horse would graze continually, but on fewer calories, so he wouldn’t become overweight. Then, when the spring grasses come, he enjoys them without the risk of developing laminitis because his body has not been unnaturally put in a state of insulin resistance (through too much body fat). To imitate this cycle, the horse should be helped to stay trim by being fed all the quality, varied forages he wants, and only enough concentrates to meet his supplemental needs. Keep up with your horse’s exercise regimen throughout the winter—think of it as substituting for the way a horse in the wild will move over large expanses in search of winter food.

Keep stress to a minimum. The hormonal response to stress is capable of doing terrible things to a horse’s body – making it more likely to develop infections, allergies, and skin disorders, and to become insulin resistant. Stress produces free radicals that potentially damage every tissue in the body, including the brain, blood vessels, hooves, eyes, skin, and digestive tract. Stress also contributes to a horse’s poor attitude. Limiting stressors helps prevent ulcers, laminitis, and colic, and promotes an amiable, willing attitude. So a horse should be able to eat when he wants, and not be bound (stressed) by the owner’s schedule. Forage (preferably fresh grasses) should be available all throughout the day and night so the horse can self-regulate his intake of grasses according to his instincts, which include an innate need to graze, roam, socialize, and eat a variety of plants. He should be unencumbered by contraptions that inhibit his natural way of living. And he should have company. Companionship protects him against threats (real and perceived), keeping him calm, allowing his digestion to work properly, and permitting him to truly rest.

Be an educated owner. Learn the details about the equine digestive system and why forage must flow continually through the horse’s system.

Fill the nutritional gaps and build a strong immune system. Grass when dried for hay loses nutritional value, so supplement a hay diet by giving the proper vitamins and minerals as well as omega 3s. Feed a variety of protein sources to supply a large enough amino acid pool for the body to produce and repair tissues, keep blood proteins where they need to be, and naturally fight off disease.

Make movement a part of the horse’s daily life. Confinement is stressful and debilitating. The horse’s sense of safety depends in large measure on being able to move in response to fear. Furthermore, standing in one place wreaks havoc on his body. If stall housing is necessary, make sure the horse gets plenty of exercise every day – exercise keeps the digestive system healthy and without it, the horse can develop ulcers and colic; his hooves can become weak and thin; his joints deteriorate; and his overall natural healing ability is diminished. Movement also inhibits weight gain; exercise not only burns calories, but it makes the cells more receptive to insulin, allowing the body to burn fat.

Meet the horse’s evolving needs as he ages. Exercise maintains muscle and protects aging joints, so the wise owner encourages movement and feeds enough quality protein, vitamin C, and omega 3s to slow down the progression of arthritis. Care for your horse’s teeth and check his blood for proper kidney and liver function. Since saliva production diminishes with age, moisten your horse’s food so he can chew better, and feed at ground level to help prevent choking, a common problem with aged horses.

Variety is the key to balanced nutrition. Eating the same thing day in and day out, even if it is nutritious, can lead to nutritional imbalances. A pasture that is thick with one type of grass is not going to keep a horse healthy. To thrive, the horse needs different types of grasses, lots of weeds, bushes, berries, flowers, and trees; this is the ideal, to which all you would need to add is water and salt. Most of us do not have this amount of land to offer our horses, and must rely on hay. Choose a mixed grass hay, but realize that hay provides only basic forage for a healthy digestive tract; it is missing so many key nutrients that you must also feed a good vitamin/mineral supplement and provide a source of omega 3 fatty acids. You may also need to improve the protein quality by adding other protein sources.

Keep it simple

We are so busy micromanaging our horses’ lives and their diets that we have forgotten the basics: Fresh air, water, companionship, freedom to move, and fresh grasses and plants. Your horse will thank you. And you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are giving your horse a lifetime of vibrant health.

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 U.S. 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.

Ponying With Confidence

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Simply put, ponying means to lead a horse alongside the horse you’re riding. On the trail, the task comes in handy when you’re training a new horse and helping him get used to obstacles and familiarizing him with the trail. When a horse follows another horse, his natural herd instincts kick in and he’s apt to follow his leader through terrain that might otherwise seem intimidating. While ponying, a horse that’s never crossed water may walk straight in or a horse that’s never left the arena can head out into the ever-changing scenery without nervousness. The best part is that the new horse can learn and experience spook-inducing, wide-open country before a rider accompanies him on the journey.

You might also pony a horse that’s carrying supplies to a campsite, a horse that a child is riding (as a means to have a little extra control in addition to the child’s reins), a horse who’s been injured and needs exercise to recover, or a horse who’s owner experienced an accident or injury during a ride. There are countless scenarios where ponying comes in handy. In each case, you’ll need to know how to pony a horse safely–how to keep you, your horse and the ponied horse safe. It’s a complex task to carefully ride your own horse and pay attention to another, and all while holding your reins in one have and an extra rope in the other. But because it’s natural for horses to travel at speed while close to one another (imagine mustangs speeding across the plains), horses don’t mind the proximity. Once you know how to handle the ropes, ponying can be a natural and easy way to travel.

Here, top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight will teach you how to pony a horse safely, avoiding the common pitfalls. You’ll know how to hold a rope and reins at the same time and what to do if the horse being led moves into an unsafe position. You’ll also gain tips to keep the ponied horse moving along at the requested speed.

Before you begin, make sure your pony horse—the saddle horse you’ll ride—is comfortable with other horses riding nearby. Ask yourself if your pony horse pins his ears or turns away from other horses when rides in a group. If he does, he might not be a candidate to lead another horse. Your pony horse should be easily controlled with one hand on the reins. If you have to reach down or two hand your pony horse when you ride alone, you won’t have an extra hand to hold onto the pony horse’s rope. Your pony horse should be a safe and reliable mount that doesn’t spook and is easily controlled, also he should allow ropes to touch his legs and tail without startling and should be good at dragging logs without spooking at the object that’s following him. These skills will ensure that your pony horse won’t be bothered by the proximity of another horse and the ponied horse’s rope.

The horse you’ll pony should be halter broke and lead well when you’re on the ground. If you need help with either horse’s manners, consult a professional horseman and find educational DVDs to assist. To be safe, both horses must have good ground manners and know not to interact with other horses when a human is present.

Exercise Prep
Natural-horsemanship lesson: Learn how to safely pony a horse beside you as you ride.
Why you need it on the trail: Ponying a young horse can help expose him to new scenes and experiences before he totes a rider. He’ll learn to brave new feats while following a trusted and reliable leader and follow along more willingly than if he were alone. It’s also good to make sure that your usual mount will accept another horse close to him and allow you to pony another horse in case you need to help out a child or injured friend during a long ride. If you plan long pack trips, you’ll find it helpful for an extra horse to carry needed gear or maybe you need to take along an extra horse. There are many reasons to pony, but it’s important to learn the safe techniques before you try.
What you’ll do: You’ll learn to how to handle the ponied horse’s rope, how to cue the ponied horse to move forward, how to teach the ponied horse to stay in position, and how to approach new obstacles while ponying.
What you’ll need: A saddle with a rigid tree (not a flexible tree that may apply pressure unevenly across your horse’s back if the ponied horse pulls) and a bridle for the horse you’ll ride, a rope halter and 12-foot rope lead for the horse you’ll pony. Make sure you wear a pair of gloves to keep your hands free from rope burns if the ponied horse pulls.

Step #1. Know How to Hold

Outfit your pony horse and the horse you are leading—the ponied horse–in the tack listed above. With the horse you are leading standing on the right side of your pony horse, mount up while holding the lead rope and your reins in your left hand. As soon as you’re in the saddle, you’ll take the reins with your left hand and hold the ponied horse’s rope in your right. Always hold the pony horse’s rope in a way that you can easily drop it if one horse slips or spooks—never tie or knot the two horses together.

Before you ask either horse to walk, make sure the ponied horse’s rope is doubled over—never wrapped around your hand—so that you can easily lengthen and shorten the rope. If the rope is safely doubled, you’ll see a loop in front of your knee as your hand rests on your leg. Notice the doubled rope in Goodnight’s left hand in photo 1A. The rope nearest to her pinky finger is attached to the horse and lies next to the rope’s end. The rope you see extending from her thumb and forefinger is doubled. You can also see that she’s relaxed and ready to cue her pony horse by neck reining.

Make sure not to hold the rope too far behind you as in photo 1B. With this hold and without a doubled-over rope, too much slack allows the pony horse to fall far behind the pony horse—precisely in kicking position. The loose rope can also tangle in the pony horse’s legs or slip under his tail, potentially causing a big wreck. Simply keeping your hand on your leg and maintaining the correct hold on the rope will help you start safely before you take a step.

Goodnight will hold this rope and rein position as long as she’s working with a young horse. By holding—instead of fully dallying the rope around the saddle horn—she can cue the pony horse to move forward or back. She also ensures that the horses won’t be connected if the new pony horse spooks. Once she knows that the pony horse is obeying and compliant, Goodnight says she often loops her rope lead one-half time around the saddle horn. This allows her to relax her grip and hold only one piece of the rope. The rope isn’t knotted and can quickly be released from the horn.

Step #2. Moving In Position

Ask your pony horse to walk on with your usual rein and leg aids. Make sure to include a voice command so that the ponied horse also hears the cue. With your right hand holding the rope and a place on your leg, allow the ponied horse to feel the rope’s gentle pull as you begin to walk. Because your pony horse is halter broke, he should understand the same go-forward cue.

If the horse being led doesn’t come, don’t try to pull him forward with your arm—you don’t have enough strength and it could wrench your back or pull you off your horse. Get in the habit of stopping your pony horse anytime the horse being led balks. To teach him to move forward with you, take a half-wrap on the saddle horn, holding both ends of the rope in your right hand, down against your leg. Cue the pony horse forward and let his body weight pull the ponied horse forward. It’s pretty easy for the horse being led to pull against you but he won’t pull long against the weight of the pony horse. Caveat: at times like this, you are essentially riding two horses, so you need to have the skill and concentration to being dealing with two horses at once—asking one to slow down or turn while you’re asking the other horse tom come forward. Not all riders are ready for this kind of challenge. Goodnight says that the mistake she hears about most often is forgetting to stop the pony horse and getting pulled of your horse by a spooky horse. If you lead a young or unseasoned horse out, make sure you’ve first practiced the position an your rope and rein holds with a calmer, more easy going mount.

Goodnight recommends keeping the ponied horse at your pony horse’s hip—close in without room for the horses to step in different directions around a young tree or other obstacle.

Practice walking while maintaining your rope and rein hold. Begin by walking straight ahead, then gradually add turns to the right. Turn to the right before the left until you’re comfortable handling the rope and trust the ponied horse to follow. When you turn to the right, you’ll turn toward your pony horse, allowing the rope to stay in position easily. Turns to the left are tricky if the ponied horse isn’t keeping up to speed. Make sure the ponied horse is in the correct position before you turn left; if he falls behind, his rope can droop (as we saw in photo 1B), touch your pony horse’s tail and even slide up under it, causing your pony horse undue stress and a possibly creating a spook. If this were to happen, always turn your pony horse back to the right, to prevent the rope from wrapping around you; drop the lead rope if necessary.

Step #3. Correcting Poor Position

If your pony horse falls behind (as we first showed in 1B when talking about a poor rope holding position) simply gather your fingers along your doubled rope to shorten the line and pull him forward with a bumping action. Because the ponied horse knows how to lead on the ground, he should respect the same correction while you’re riding.

Make sure you don’t allow the ponied horse to move forward so much that he’s in front of your knee (as seen in photo 3A). You don’t have leverage to control him when he’s in the lead and he can start to lead the herd instead of naturally following your pony horse. If the horse you are leading moves too fast and too forward, pick up your rope-holding hand and jerk back, pointing the rope toward where you’d like your pony horse to be. A quick bump from your rope halter’s knot will correct your horse just like during groundwork sessions.
Goodnight says the best pony horses are often good teachers. Her horse, Dually, knows right where the ponied horse should be and will turn his neck and threaten the ponied horse with his teeth if he moves up too far.

Step #4. Changing Pace and Scenes

Once the ponied horse is following along in formation, moving with your pony horse and doesn’t need constant corrections, begin asking both horses for gait changes. Put your horses to work as they transition from walk (photo 4A) to trot (4B). Each time you give a cue to your pony horse, make sure to use your verbal cue or a bump of the rope to spur on the horse you’re leading. Soon, your ponied horse will keep pace and easily stay in position as he moves in step.

Condition For Long Rides

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Condition for Long Rides
Q
I’m planning ahead for summer, when I plan to go on daylong trail rides. I haven’t been riding much, because I work full-time. I want to make sure my horse is in shape and conditioned by summer. How should I safely build up his stamina?

A
This is an important question, Roni. I’m so glad you’re planning ahead.
While it’s difficult to ride regularly during the busy workweek, it’s important to avoid riding your horse hard only on the weekends. This can lead to a sore, stiff horse. It’s much better to find a conditioning routine that fits your schedule and gets your horse in shape.
A horse in average condition can usually handle a one- to two-hour trail ride on the weekends without too much stress. But for longer rides, you’re right — you need to plan ahead and start a conditioning routine.
When my horses are in conditioning programs, I like to think of ways I can boost my fitness, too. If you start walking, jogging, dancing, and just plain moving more, you’ll feel much better after the daylong rides, too.
Horses, like people, must train to build strength and endurance. Here’s what I recommend.

Get Him Trail Hardened
Your horse needs to become “hardened” to the saddle, tack, saddlebags, and your weight.
Like breaking in a new pair of shoes, your horse will need time to get re-acclimated to the rub and feel of the saddle, breastcollar, and cinch. It’s not painful, but there’s some toughening that takes place.
Your horse will also need increasingly longer periods of time with you in the saddle. Weight-bearing conditioning helps him improve his balance and stamina, and helps get him in shape much more quickly than round-pen exercise or longeing.
You’re building up to a long trail [ITAL]rides[ITAL], so you’ll need to [ITAL]ride[ITAL] to get your horse in shape.
If you’ll be riding your horse in the mountains, you’ll also have to condition him to hills, as well as walking on shifting rocks and through other challenging terrain.

Look for sandy areas to condition your horse. Sand builds condition and strength more than does solid ground. However, stay at a walk to avoid tendon injury.

Start Slow
Schedule at least 90 calendar days of conditioning before your first big daylong ride.

It usually takes 30 calendar days of a conditioning program before you’ll see physical changes in your horse. At that time, you can see how he’s looking and feeling, and raise your training goals.

You say you have a busy schedule, so start by riding your horse three days per week for the first 30 days. I suggest two weekdays (say, Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday) and one weekend day.
Alternate aerobic (oxygen-based) and strength conditioning, and work to get your horse “hardened” for the trail with increasingly longer weekend rides.

You’ll know your horse is working hard when you can see his nostrils dilate; stop and flex his neck to the side so that you can see.
When your horse starts to breathe hard, push him just a little, then give him a break. You have to push so that you’ll get past what’s easy for your horse and make sure you’re progressing.

During the week. Start by riding for one hour on each of the two workweek days. Begin riding at a marching walk on even ground. Alternate walking and trotting. (Long trotting is the best conditioning gait.)
If you and your horse are really out of shape, start by walking for 50 minutes and trotting for 10. You can even break up the trotting time. As you progress increase your trotting time as much as you feel you safely can.

Be sure to plan a day of rest between rides — both you and your horse will need the recovery time.
On the weekend. On your third riding day — a weekend day — plan a two-hour ride. Build in some strength conditioning. Ride up and down sloping hills; plan an easy trail ride with friends. If you can, ride on similar trail terrain you plan on tackling this summer.

Increase Training Time
After your first 30 days is up, I suggest adding in a fourth riding day if your schedule allows.
On Day 1, ride for an hour and long trot. On Day 2, I’d suggest one hour of hill work (trotting or walking up and down — both directions are beneficial).
On Day 3, go back to long trotting on the flat. On Day 4, gradually increase your time on the trail; ride on varying terrain for two to three, then three to four hours.

By the end of 90 days, I’d expect a horse to be able to trot for almost the entire hour when we’re working on the flat. With that amount of ride time to boost his aerobic, strength, and weight-bearing conditioning, he should be ready for longer rides.
Of course, you know your horse best and know when to ask for more.
You’re doing the right thing by having a workout plan and working toward a riding goal. If you don’t have time to condition your horse as much as is suggested, think about planning some shorter rides.
You and your horse can find a beneficial conditioning plan that will fit your schedules and be enjoyable for all.

For your horse to build up condition for long summer rides, he’ll need increasingly longer periods of time with you in the saddle, notes Julie Goodnight (shown). Weight-bearing conditioning helps him improve his balance and stamina.

If you’ll be riding your horse in the mountains, you’ll have to condition him to hills, as well as walking on shifting rocks and through other challenging terrain, says Julie Goodnight.

When To Geld Colt

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Ask Julie Goodnight:
When Should You Geld a Colt?

Hi Julie,
I am planning on buying a yearling stallion. I do want to geld him, but I’m not sure at what age is it ok to geld. Also, is it ok to put a yearling stallion in a field with older horses? Is it true the longer you wait to geld the “prettier” he’ll be (a longer mane, more muscular)? What’s the best practice to help him on his way to being the best horse? Thank you for your time,
Karli

Answer: Karli,
Great questions! And one of the few topics I haven’t already written about in my Training Library. This is a good time to talk about gelding colts since many people are dealing with youngsters this time of year.
First, it is important to recognize that almost all colts should be gelded. Few horses have the breeding, temperament and conformation to warrant becoming a breeding stallion, especially in these days of growing numbers of unwanted horses, a glut of horses on the market and the lack of owners interested in breeding. And since it is rarely if ever feasible to have a stallion, it is wise to geld your colt.

I have worked many years throughout my career on breeding farms and raised quite a few colts myself. Many breeders will geld at a young age, as soon as the testicles descend or around the six month mark. It is my personal preference to geld as a yearling, after weaning and after his first year of growth, which is the year he grows the most. This will generally be before the fly season, thus reducing the chance for infection. At the same time, we will remove his wolf teeth if he has them and we’ll generally follow-up the surgery with lots of groundwork and exercise to help in the healing and begin his training for ground manners.

No matter when I gelded him, I would want my young colt to be out with other horses for the socialization that will take place—there is an article in my Training Library about this, http://juliegoodnight.com/questionsNew.php?id=37. Even if you left him a stallion, you’d want him to stay with other geldings and learn how to get along. Preferably with a more dominant, older “uncle” gelding who will keep him in his place. When I geld the colt, I will keep him by himself for a week or so until he is healed from the surgery—too much frolicking and sparring could be dangerous for him right after the surgery.

Research does not indicate that a colt will grow bigger, stronger or prettier if he is left in-tact. However, it is true that a stallion will have certain “stallion characteristics” that are a result of more hormones floating around his system if he is left in-tact. These characteristics are more obvious in a mature horse and include bulging muscles around the jowl, over the eyes and in the neck and body. A mature stallion will have a certain presence that geldings rarely have. But these characteristics do not appear until the colt is a few years old; it is not worth the extra headaches of having a young stallion and they will disappear as soon as he is gelded. I have not noticed that the mane or tail will grow longer in a stallion.

My husband’s horse was a mature breeding stallion when we bought him. He does have an exceptionally thick mane and tail and the stallion characteristics were very prevalent. The day after we gelded him I could see the bulging jowl and eyebrow muscles deflating but his mane and tail have remained fuller than ever. He is still a gorgeous well-muscled horse, just not as extremely muscled as before we gelded him.

And he is much happier to be living with other geldings without a big fight. There’s no real benefit to keeping a colt in-tact when you know you are going to geld him eventually and I would suggest between 6 months and a year is a good time, depending on your weaning schedule and the seasons. Like dogs and cats, once a horse develops breeding behaviors (like teasing and mounting mares) he doesn’t forget them just because he is gelded. That’s why we have lots of “randy” geldings that will act like stallions when mares come into heat. I have written about this subject too- http://juliegoodnight.com/questionsNew.php?id=148.

Good luck with your colt and thanks for asking these important questions!
Julie

When To Geld My Colt

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Question: Hi Julie,

I am planning on buying a yearling stallion. I do want to geld him at what age is it ok to geld, also is it ok to put a yearling stallion in a field with older horses? Is it true the longer you wait to geld the “prettier” he’ll be ( a longer mane, more muscular)?

Thank you for your time,
Karli

Answer: Karli,

Great questions! And one of the few topics I haven’t already written about in my Training Library. This is a good time to talk about gelding colts since many people are dealing with youngsters this time of year.

First, it is important to recognize that almost all colts should be gelded. Few horses have the breeding, temperament and conformation to warrant becoming a breeding stallion, especially in these days of growing numbers of unwanted horses, a glut of horses on the market and the lack of owners interested in breeding. And since it is rarely if ever feasible to have a stallion, it is wise to geld your colt.

I have worked many years throughout my career on breeding farms and raised quite a few colts myself. Many breeders will geld at a young age, as soon as the testicles descend or around the six month mark. It is my personal preference to geld as a yearling, after weaning and after his first year of growth, which is the year he grows the most. This will generally be before the fly season, thus reducing the chance for infection. At the same time, we will remove his wolf teeth if he has them and we’ll generally follow-up the surgery with lots of groundwork and exercise to help in the healing and begin his training for ground manners.

No matter when I gelded him, I would want my young colt to be out with other horses for the socialization that will take place—there is an article in my Training Library about this, http://juliegoodnight.com/questionsNew.php?id=37. Even if you left him a stallion, you’d want him to stay with other geldings and learn how to get along. Preferably with a more dominant, older “uncle” gelding who will keep him in his place. When I geld the colt, I will keep him by himself for a week or so until he is healed from the surgery—too much frolicking and sparring could be dangerous for him right after the surgery.

Research does not indicate that a colt will grow bigger, stronger or prettier if he is left in-tact. However, it is true that a stallion will have certain “stallion characteristics” that are a result of more hormones floating around his system if he is left in-tact. These characteristics are more obvious in a mature horse and include bulging muscles around the jowl, over the eyes and in the neck and body. A mature stallion will have a certain presence that geldings rarely have. But these characteristics do not appear until the colt is a few years old; it is not worth the extra headaches of having a young stallion and they will disappear as soon as he is gelded. I have not noticed that the mane or tail will grow longer in a stallion.

My husband’s horse was a mature breeding stallion when we bought him. He does have an exceptionally thick mane and tail and the stallion characteristics were very prevalent. The day after we gelded him I could see the bulging jowl and eyebrow muscles deflating but his mane and tail have remained fuller than ever. He is still a gorgeous well-muscled horse, just not as extremely muscled as before we gelded him. And he is much happier to be living with other geldings without a big fight. There’s no real benefit to keeping a colt in-tact when you know you are going to geld him eventually and I would suggest between 6 months and a year is a good time, depending on your weaning schedule and the seasons. Like dogs and cats, once a horse develops breeding behaviors (like teasing and mounting mares) he doesn’t forget them just because he is gelded. That’s why we have lots of “randy” geldings that will act like stallions when mares come into heat.

Good luck with your colt and thanks for asking these important questions!
Julie

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

What’s The Difference In Longeing And Lead Line Circling?

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Question: Julie,

I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?

Thanks,
G

Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work , done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.
As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader.
Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard. The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually light weight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship-building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.

There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise. Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!
Julie

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