2016 February Blog – It’s About Time

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

It’s About Time
Most things in life that are important, take an investment of time—an education, a career, a relationship. Mastering a skill or a sport, starting a new business, overcoming setbacks; none of this comes quickly. Horses are not the best sport for instant gratification. It takes time to set your goal then to work diligently to identify all the steps necessary to work up to the bigger dream. Whether you’re working on a riding goal or to condition your horse, one thing’s for sure: it takes time.

With horses, after about 30 days of daily work, you start seeing physical changes in the horse’s fitness level—a flatter underline, more muscle definition, more energy. After 90 days, your horse is looking pretty fit and after 120 days your horse is ripped like a body builder.

Thirty-day increments of training are standard in the horse industry, whether we are talking about fitness levels, the time needed for the horse to perfect skills or for the cost of training. Many trainers, myself included, would say that 90-days is minimum to accomplish much of anything with a horse and we are talking about years of training for the truly finished horse.

Our society’s fast-paced, on-demand culture seems to sprinkle over into horse training. We want it all fast and right away. I hear this need-for-speed from riders, too. When looking through the applications for my TV show, Horse Master, I often see riders who want to work on flying lead changes. However, the horse they are riding is young or they themselves haven’t mastered the canter departure yet. Many skills precede flying lead changes—like haunches–in, leg-yielding, head-to-tail body control, halt-to-canter departures, counter-canter, then master the simple lead change, then learn the principles of the horse’s movements and how to cue for a change on the fly.

We want the end result—the pretty, finished picture—and we want it now. But to honor the horse, we must allow time and we must break down our lofty goals into smaller, attainable, slow steps.

Breaking down the training process
When my young horse Eddie, was very green, we struggled with leads at the canter. He always seemed to over-think it and he second guessed himself a lot (pick up the correct lead, switch to the wrong, then switch back—all in three strides). He got tense and hollow whenever it was time for a canter transition and needed some extra time to understand. I started breaking things down more and more, working more on haunches-in at walk and trot, sequencing my cues more clearly, giving lots of pre-signal and setting him up very definitively for the correct lead. Fortunately, I had no deadline or reason to rush through his training; I just asked for a little more each day. For months, I only asked for one departure on each lead a day, and by taking the time he needed and preparing him as best I could, he became very solid on his leads and his walk to canter transitions were great by the time he was four.

Whatever time it takes, is what it takes for a horse to learn something and while Eddie eventually did learn flying lead changes, none of it came easy—especially the next step. Once Eddie and I had a clear understanding of which lead I was asking for and he was batting a thousand with his leads, I thought it was a good time to introduce the counter-canter (going intentionally on the wrong lead)—a very important obedience and cueing exercise in preparation for lead changes. It blew his mind so badly he thought surely the world was ending. It was almost comical how wrong Eddie thought the counter-canter was and once again, it took a long time to convince him otherwise. Months, not hours.

Allowing recovery time
Healing takes time too. Lots of it and usually more than you think. Whether it’s from an injury or illness to you or your horse, or from a broken heart or a tragic loss; healing takes time and it should not be rushed. I’ve known of many horses that have been able to make big comebacks from terrible injuries or sickness, because their owners were willing to invest time and resources and have waited patiently for adequate healing to occur. Sadly, I have known many more horses that have been rushed back into training and performance, with predictable and disappointing results.

When my horse, Dually, torqued his back, I called in all the possible help. He had chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, a full veterinary exam, pharmaceuticals and nutra-ceuticals, physical therapy, and I doubled the healing time that was recommended. I wanted to make sure he was ready to return to work before asking him to perform. This was not as easy task as this is a horse who wants to work! He hated when I would walk into the pen and halter Eddie instead of him. When he did return to work, he was ready to go even though I knew I wanted to have a safe and steady plan for his re-entry to arena and performance work.

When it was time for him to return to exercise, I started by turning him loose in the arena and watching closely as he moved around voluntarily. Dually is never shy about letting you know if he hurts. Good results there, so I started ponying him from my other horse and just letting him walk it out. After a few days we added the trot; after a week or so, we started longeing over ground poles and backing him up in-hand, to get him to stretch and lift his back. After a few weeks, as Dually got stronger, he also got more confidant and energetic and soon I started riding again—but bareback. I spent four months riding bareback, to be easier on his back and so I would not stop and turn as hard. All told, it was about a year and a half before we were back to pre-injury levels.

Anyone who has ever suffered an injury from riding or handling horses already knows that well beyond the physical healing, it also takes time to rebuild confidence when it’s been lost. Whether we are talking human flesh or horse flesh, confidence can be lost in an instant, but takes a long time to rebuild. The same thing could be said of trust; it takes time to build it but you can lose it in a heartbeat. Trusting a horse, the horse trusting you, trusting that you can not only survive the situation, but control it—these things take time to reconstruct.

It has been said many times, when it comes to horses (and life), patience is a virtue. Having realistic long-term goals, slow and steady plans to get you there, investing the time, being patient, not afraid of failure and committed to the outcome, will almost certainly insure your success—both in life and with horses.

Julie Goodnight

ABC’s Volume 2 Care And Maintenance

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

First Aid

 

Sometimes it seems like a horse could hurt himself even if you locked him in a padded stall. Running and playing with other horses keeps your horse happy but may mean he occasionally gets scuffed up. Being flight animals and very social animals, means that wrecks and injuries can happen. With time and experience, you will learn how to deal with minor first aid issues and you’ll know when it is important to call the vet. When daily care and treatment is required, your vet will show you what needs to be done, but there are a few skills that are important for horse owners to have.

First Aid Supplies:
Make sure you have all the first aid supplies on hand that you might need, before you need them. Here’s what I like to keep on hand, readily available in my barn:

Betadine surgical scrub and Hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds

Witch hazel (a cleaning stringent that does not sting)

Alcohol and cotton balls (for cleaning implements and for use with injections)

Saline solution (for irrigating eyes or any mucus membranes)

Skin ointment like Corona, for minor scrapes

Medicated ointment like furason (for cuts and wounds)

Blue lotion (spray or liquid, for scrapes and small cuts)

Lubricating gel, Vaseline

4×4 sponges (or gauze pads) for cleaning and dressing wounds

Bandaging supplies: cotton, rolled gauze, vet wrap, Duct tape
Disposable diapers (infant size; great for girth sores or foot bandages)

Disposable gloves

Large syringe and mastitis needle (for irrigating puncture wounds)

Digital thermometer

Bandage scissors

Clippers

Stethoscope

Drugs (issued by vet): bute, banamine

Scrapes—losing a bit of hair but not breaking the skin happens all the time as horses bite and kick each other or run into branches or fences and you shouldn’t worry too much about it. Keep the scrape clean and rub a little ointment on the skin to help encourage the hair to grow back. If there’s an abrasion but not through the full thickness of the skin, I might use Blue Lotion to help dry it up and protect the skin.

Cuts—first determine if the cut is deep enough for sutures or in a place where it needs suturing, like the face or lips. When in doubt, call the vet. To treat cuts, wash the wound with a mild disinfectant soap like betadine (diluted to the color of iced-tea). Scrub around the edges of the wound (you might need to clip away hair) briskly to encourage good blood flow and make sure all foreign matter and scabs are washed away. After it dries, use a medicated ointment like furason and keep the cut dry and clean and exposed to the air when possible. Bandaging is sometimes required to keep the wound clean, but it should be done by someone that knows how. If the wound needs sutures, your vet will give you treatment instructions.

Puncture wounds– are really common, like for instance when a horse runs into a branch and jabs a stick into his flesh. Punctures may be hard to recognize since from the outside the wound is very small but on the inside it could be big. Puncture wounds must heal form the inside out—to be kept clean and irrigated to keep a scab from forming. If a puncture wound is not kept clean and draining, it can turn into an abscess. Look for signs of a puncture wound which may be small on the outside but deep or bigger on the inside and may have debris inside. Wash thoroughly, clip away all hair from the edges of the wound and try to prevent a scab from forming over the opening. Use a mastitis needle and syringe with a mild betadine solution to irrigate the wound daily to insure that it heals from the inside out. Consult your vet if you suspect foreign matter may be in the wound or if the horse may need antibiotics.

Hoof abscesses are common in horses, particularly in wetter/warmer climates. They are characterized by sudden, acute lameness where the horse may not even be weight bearing on the affected foot and/or is pointing his toe. Always consult your vet on lameness but if it is thought to be a hoof abscess, you may need to soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salt a couple times a day for a few days, until the abscess bursts and drains—which should give the horse immediate relief of pain. In some cases, the hoof may need bandaging after the abscess comes out, to prevent further infection. Always follow your vet’s advice.

Cleaning, dressing and bandaging wounds: Usually it’s best to keep wounds clean, dry and exposed to air and sunlight. But sometimes wounds are really hard to keep clean and they may need to be bandaged to promote better healing—let your vet decide. Bandaging horses is tricky and if done incorrectly, the bandage may come off or, in worst case scenarios; the bandage could cause discomfort or further injury to the horse if it gets too tight and cuts off circulation.

Wounds should be cleaned, dried and medicated before bandaging. Only some places on the horse can be effectively bandaged and the most common place is the feet and legs. All bandages on the legs should be padded so as not to disrupt circulation and they should be wrapped well above and well below the injury. Make sure there is an even tension all the way around on the wrap—not too tight. Usually you will have to wrap all the way to the foot to keep the bandage from slipping down. Sometimes a ballistic layer needs to be added at the end to keep the bandage from ripping or being torn off by the horse. Duct tape can be handy. Consult your vet on how often the bandage should be changed and what medications to use.

For your own safety, always keep in mind that a sick or injured horse may be more dangerous or react in ways that aren’t typical for that horse—so use extra caution. Always wear disposable gloves for your own protection from chemicals, medications and infection.

When To Geld Colt

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

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

Wrong Therapy Horse

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Dear Miss Julie Goodnight,
I am a Wounded Warrior at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, and have sustained spinal injuries in Iraq. I have had surgeries and now am left using a cane due to nerve damage in my legs. I have waited 15 years to have a horse of my own. I was recently given a quarter horse that is about 7yrs old. I was told he would be a great therapy horse. He was abused, and prefers women. He is a lover, but has a very suborn side and is very spooky. I can saddle him without issue and lead him with a saddle on, but once in the pen and I’m on him he won’t budge. He has thrown my sister off while I was leading him with her on him. I was hoping to teach him voice commands, but am now a little leery. I cannot afford a professional trainer at this time due to my disability. Am I biting off more than I can chew? I don’t want to give someone else his problems.
Thank you for your time,
SGT Barbara

Dear SGT Barbara,
First, let me join all my readers in thanking your for your courageous and selfless service to our country and acknowledge the personal sacrifices you have made for others, both in Iraq and here at home.
Secondly, let me go on record as saying that horses can be a powerful tool in healing—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well and I am so glad to hear that you are started down this path. But given your circumstances, I think it is critical that you start down this road with a safe and reliable horse. You cannot afford another injury at this time—who among us can? Furthermore, you deserve to have a horse that will help you heal and grow stronger, not take away your confidence and possibly cause you to get hurt.
This horse has some serious issues that probably need to be addressed by a professional trainer. My guess is that his problems are not insurmountable for someone more qualified, but it does not sound like an appropriate horse for you at this time. Who knows what led him to this state but the fact that he was given to you could be a red flag. It is true that there is no such thing as a free horse and yes, you should always look a gift horse in the mouth.
Believe it or not, the purchase price on any horse is the least amount of money you will spend—their upkeep and maintenance is where the real expense lays. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a horse that you are not equipped to deal with and moving forward—it is the best decision for both you and the horse. No horse is worth getting hurt over and besides, this horse will be better off in more capable hands.
If possible, I would try to return this horse to the person that gave it to you. If that will not work, I would suggest contacting a horse rescue group for assistance in finding this horse a more appropriate home. Just because you are not in a situation to deal with this horse, does not mean that there are others out there that can’t. As long as you are honest and up front about the horse, you are not passing the buck but simply doing the right and sensible thing for your own personal safety and for the good of the horse.
You deserve a horse that is safe and steady and that you can start enjoying and progressing with right away—you’ve spent a long time waiting for this and you need it—but you want to start out right. These days, with the unprecedented glut of unwanted horses, I am confident that there are plenty of horses out there that would better suit your needs. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that right now, there are people reading this article that have a suitable horse for you that they would be thrilled to see put to such good use. If so, perhaps they could contact me and I could put them in touch with you.
I’d like to see you with an older horse, say 16 or over, that has “been there, done that.” Even a horse in his 20s will have a lot of usefulness left in him and the value of that life experience is huge. You know exactly what you’re getting with a horse of that age. They are set in their ways and generally there are no big surprises.
Whatever horse comes your way, you should evaluate him as if you were paying $10,000 for him, even if he is free. Have a trainer or a very experienced friend ride the horse and give you their opinion before you make a decision. Have a vet examine the horse to make sure he is sound and healthy. As you’ve seen already, just because a horse is free or low cost, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal if it costs you a fortune in training and vet bills; not to mention the cost of one trip to the emergency room.
Perhaps you can put it out on the Internet and at websites like dreamhorse.com that you are looking for a horse to help you recover from the wounds you sustained in Iraq. I feel confident that there are lots of people with more suitable horses that would love to help you.
Again, thank you for your selfless service and I hope that you find the horse of your dreams to help you grow strong again.
All the best,

–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer