“Show” Us Your True Colors!

April 22nd, 2016

If you have ever been to an English show, e.g. dressage, hunters or show jumping, you probably noticed that the competitors looked like a sea of dark navy and black show coats.  The dress code for equestrian sports is defined in the USEF (formerly AHSA rule book).   “That’s the way it’s always been,” is the reason you most often get when you ask why everyone dresses alike.  “The judge won’t give me a high score if I show up in something other than dark navy or black.”

The first reason is true.  That IS the way it’s always been since the USEF’s inception in 1917.  But at a time when equestrian sports is fighting for their share of media attention and sponsorship money, isn’t it time they look at the success of some of the other popular sports like tennis, golf and ice skating?

Here’s an example of the evolution of dress in tennis:

Tennis 1917

Tennis 1917

serena williams tennis 2016

Tennis 2016

Now here’s what’s changed in equestrian sports.

mary chapot 1st shpw jum[ing cleveland grandprix 1917

Show Jumping 1917

McLain ward 2016

Show Jumping 2016

Virtually nothing, right? So what can you do?  First, let’s look at the actual USEF rules.

DRESSAGE:  The dress code for all Dressage tests and classes through Fourth Level is a short riding coat of conservative color.

However, it goes on to say: At all test levels, riders may wear jackets in other colors within the international HSV color scale, as described in FEI Dressage Regulations, Art. 427.1. Contrast coloring and piping is allowed. 

While the USDF may have a different rule, it is generally accepted that the USEF rule supersedes other association rules.

HUNTER: Riders are required to wear scarlet or dark coats; white shirts with white stock; white, buff or canary breeches and protective headgear.

JUMPER:   Coats of any color are required.

12743757_585442604943719_1770476604144405770_nThe rules only restrict jackets to “dark colors” for Hunters and Dressage and no restriction or Jumpers. But what’s this HSV Color Scale?  Every color has a numerical color so you artists and others don’t get the colors confused.  For  the link to the HSV color scale, click HERE.   The limit for the color is a “V” value (the level of darkness vs. lightness of the color) of 32.  If you enter the number 32 in the box, it will bring up all the colors that are acceptable in that range.  You can click on different options along the side. As long as the lightness number is 32 or less, it is considered a color appropriate for dressage.

So, yes, this year you CAN wear a hunter green or chocolate or even teal jacket.  Check out Cavalliera and Spooks to see what’s new for this show season.  And don’t be afraid to stand out in the crowd!


Coping With Choke

April 14th, 2016

horse eating grainUnlike choking in people, choke in horses does not interfere with his breathing.  It typically occurs when an obstruction, usually feed or hay, blocks the horse’s esophagus.  If the blockage isn’t removed, it can cause damage to the esophagus.  With its inability to swallow, it becomes difficult for horse’s to drink water and they can become dehydrated.  Even more dangerous, the feed can spill into the horse’s pharynx, trachea and lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.

Common signs of choke are coughing, stretching or straining of the neck, frequent attempts to swallow and dribbling of food or saliva from the nostrils.  While it is distressing to watch your horse struggle, in mild cases of choke where the horse stands quietly, eventually the naturally produced saliva will soften the mass enough to enable swallowing the lump.  If your horse seems restless, consider giving him a sedative what will also help relax the esophageal muscles.  Make sure additional food is removed from his stall as this will only compound the problem.

In more severe cases, a veterinarian may carefully flush water into the esophagus through a stomach tube to soften the mass.  Though it rarely happens, the mass may prove too stubborn to be safely cleared at the barn and a trip to the hospital may be indicated.  Once the excitement if over, keep  monitoring your horse to see if he develops a cough, fever or runny nose up to a few days after the episode.  This can be a sign of aspiration pneumonia.  After an instance of choke, a horse’s esophagus may still be sore – feeding a bran mash is an option.

The most common cause of choke is due to a horse not chewing his food completely.  This can be done by a horse with a badly formed mouth or by one with poorly maintained teeth.  In both cases, the horse is unable to completely masticate his food, leaving it in big chunks that can get caught in his throat.  The best prevention is to have your horse’s teeth checked frequently by your veterinarian (bi-annually for most horses, yearly for senior horses).

Some horses become excited or fearful during feed time, perhaps having had an experience where other horses rushed to the food, especially grain, and he was pushed out and had to go hungry.  Even though your horse may now be fed in his stall, that fear of missing out on his food can still cause him to rush and gulp his grain.  There are several ways to prevent this. The first is to always feed your horse some hay first before feeding grain.  Forage will help take the “edge” off his hunger and he may be more willing to eat his food slowly.

Another option is to feed on the ground in a flat feeder pan.  Put big rocks in the pan and then add grain.  The rocks will force your horse to eat more slowly as he picks his way around the rocks.  There are also feeder pans especially designed with rubber “nubs” that simulate the rocks.  Do NOT, however, ever feed your horse grain while he is having a farrier visit or riding in a trailer.  Some people think that having something to eat will help keep the horse calm, but he may still be too nervous to properly chew his food.

If your horse has a hard time chewing or if the hay or grain is especially coarse, you can wet  or soak the food to soften it.  You still have to make sure your horse isn’t bolting the food, but the pieces can be more easily chewed when wet.  For hay, you can also use chopped hay products to make chewing easier.

Finally, if you know your horse is susceptible to choke, be careful when feeding treats.  Large chunks of apples and carrots can just as easily lodge in his throat and are more difficult to swallow.  Cut these and make sure that all treats are no larger than your thumb.  Cut thick treats like carrots lengthwise, too.   Caution others or put a sign up in your horse’s stall to not feed him treats.

Whenever you feed your horse, as a precaution keep an eye on him for a few minutes to make sure he has completely chewed and swallowed his hay, grain and/or treats.

Spring Shots To Consider

April 7th, 2016

horse getting shotIt’s hard to believe that it’s finally spring (in most places).  However, no matter what the weather, it’s time for your horse to get his spring shots.  While many shots can be done by the owner, it’s always a good idea to have your vet administer them.  Not only is it a great opportunity for them to examine your horse, but they are well versed in giving injections with the least possibility of reaction.

Influenza (Flu) and Rhinopneumonitis (Rhino) are often thought of as one disease, although there are differences. Flu has many strains and it can be difficult for one vaccine to catch them all. Flu is highly contagious and is most likely to occur where horses are exposed to new horses a lot, such as travelling to shows or new horses arriving. Flu can cause high fever, lethargy, nasal discharge and coughing.

Rhino is caused by Equine Herpes Virus (EHV). It is divided in to subtypes EHV-1 and EHV-4. It is highly contagious between horses through nasal secretions and can live in the environment for more than two weeks. It can cause acute neurologic disease and upper respiratory disease

Due to the highly contagious nature of the disease, and the fact that the vaccine may not provide long-lived protection, a flu-rhino vaccine twice a year is recommended.  However, depending on the amount of exposure to other horses your horse may have, more frequent vaccinations may be recommended.

Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE) and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE) are two closely related diseases that affect the horse’s nervous system. They are both caused by an alphavirus, but EEE typically occurs in the South and East while WWW occurs in the West.  However, there have been several instances where each occurs outside its normal area. Both are spread by birds and mosquitoes, but horses cannot pass it on to other horses. The vaccine contains inactive versions of both viruses that stimulate the immune system to create antibodies.

West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of arbovirus encephalitis in horses and humans in the United States. The virus is transmitted from avian reservoir hosts by mosquitoes (and infrequently by other bloodsucking insects) to horses, humans and a number of other mammals. West Nile virus is transmitted by many different mosquito species and this varies geographically.  Since 1999, more than 25,000 cases of WNV encephalitis have been reported in the United States, with horses representing 96.9% of all reported non-human cases.

Two vaccines to also consider are those for Potomac Horse Fever and Strangles. Administering these shots should be based on the risk factors of the disease in your area or an area where your horse may be travelling.  Discuss these with your veterinarian.

CAUTION: Spring Grass Ahead

March 31st, 2016

Caution spring grass

With the long winter we’ve recently had, it’s tempting to turn out your horses to graze on pasture as soon as you see the first grass shoots appearing.  However, as luscious as it looks, this might not be best for your horse.  Like any time you change your horse’s feed, it should be done gradually over a period of time.  This is good not only for your horse’s digestive system, but for the health of your pasture as well.

First, hold off turning out your horses to graze until the grass reaches 6-8″ in height.  This gives the new grass time to establish itself and take it some of the nutrients it needs to stay green all season long.

Second, introduce grazing slowly.  Start with just 15-30 minutes and increase the amount of grazing another 15-30 minutes until they are up to 4-5 hours of continuous grazing.  You may notice that your horse’s manure is a bit soft during these first days of grazing.  This is usually due to the amount of water in spring grass and will go away, but keep an eye on it to be sure it’s not from another issue.  While your horse is getting used to grazing on pasture, continue to supplement their diet with hay.  It’s a good idea to feed your horse a ration of hay before turnout to help avoid the mad dash and frantic intake of all that yummy new grass.

milbourn equine laminitic horse

photo credit: melbournequine.com

Here’s where the “caution” comes in.  Not all horses should be out grazing on spring grass.  Horses, similar to people, can suffer from underlying endocrine or hormonal diseases that can make them more sensitive to the carbohydrate (or sugar) content in feeds and forage. These are sometimes called non-structured carbohydrates (NSC).This can result in a number of medical issues, including laminitis. Because these horse can’t handle the increased sugar content of spring grass, a laminitic episode can result.

Laminitis is a painful condition caused by inflammation of the laminae, the tissues that secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. This inflammation is caused by disruption of blood flow to the laminae and can lead to permanent disruption in the bond causing the coffin bone to rotate and or sink. Symptoms can be varied depending on the limbs affected and the degree of inflammation. It can strike in one, both front and all four legs.

While there are many causes of laminitis, e.g. infection, concussion, the two most common causes are found as a result of spring grass:

  1. high intake of sugars and starches;
  2. obesity.

In some cases, it can be obvious which horses are at risk, but in others it can be difficult because the clinical signs of the disease are less obvious. All pony breeds, Arabians, Quarter horses, and American Saddlebreds seem to have a higher incidence of laminitis, as do overweight horses of any breed.  The best way to determine if your horse is at risk is to discuss with your veterinarian if testing is warranted.

So what can you do if you can’t resist turning your horse out in pasture this spring?  While recommendations vary by location, temperature and the amount of sunlight available usually dictate the best times to do so (i.e. the lowest amount of sugar in the grass).  According to equine nutritionist. Juliet Getty, PhD, of Getty Equine Nutrition, generally speaking in moderate climates, it’s safest before dawn, until approximately 10:00 am, and then again at night, starting at around 11:00 pm.  However, with our ever-changing weather patterns, conditions for high NSC grass can occur at other times of the year.  To be safe, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • When the night temperature is below 40 degrees F, the grass is too high in NSC.
  • Once it gets above 40 degrees F at night, the lowest NSC level is before the sun rises.
  • The NSC level is highest in late afternoon, after a sunny day.

Laminitis is a very painful and and can be a crippling disease. Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Adding Retirement Care To Your Boarding Stable

March 24th, 2016

2horse noses jpegIf you are a boarding stable owner (or even if you have a few acres on your home property) and are interested in bringing in some extra income, consider boarding and caring for senior or retired horses. NOTE:  This is NOT being a horse rescue.  Horse owners still pay board.

Horses are living longer lives because of improvements in food, supplements, dental and vet care.  It can be expensive to board your horse in a training facility, especially in big cities where land is hard to come by.   While their horse may no longer be competitive, many owners still want to continue their riding careers with a new horse at their training facility while still having great care for their old horse. Finding a boarding facility specializing in the care of retired horses is a wonderful alternative to these owners. Rates are usually lower than most training barns and total care for the horse is typically provided. Your facility becomes a place for those “golden oldies” to just be horses and enjoy being with other horses while still getting the great care they’d received at their show boarding stable.

Caring for older horses can be different than regular horse care, which is why it’s important to learn what older horses need. Most senior horses who are retired don’t process their feed as they did when younger. Typically the horses are on a senior feed. Older horses are much more susceptible to cold and wet so, while many younger horses can get along just fine without blankets, it’s more important to make sure older horses are protected from the elements.  Many older horses have arthritis so are not able to move around as much to generate their own heat. Therefore, they burn calories to try to keep warm and that often results in weight loss on these older horses. All horses should have access to shelter, plus a couple of waterproof blankets of different weights that can put on/take off based on the temperatures.  Finally, you need to keep them on regular vaccination, deworming and dental schedules.  It helps to have a vet and farrier that support your work with retired horses.

CEE stalls on pasture shelter

Many of the same barn products available through Classic Equine Equipment will work just fine with retirement boarders.  Using a stall front on a pasture shelter is a great option that gives them lots of room to visit with friends, but provides cover in inclement weather as well.  If your retirees live on the “back 40,” you might want to consider one of the new IFeed automatic feeders to save you time and effort to drag grain out to their stalls.  Automatic waterers (especially heated ones) are another time and worry-saver, ensuring your older horses always have fresh water.

If you consider providing retirement care, there are several things you should think about:

  • What sort of services do you want to offer?  There is some confusion between rescue and retirement.  Initially you may get some from people who just want to get rid of their horse and will give it to free, but don’t want to pay board.  Those are hard to say “no” to, but stick to your business plan.
  • Do you want just senior horses or retirees of any age? The owner of a 10 year old may want to retire her horse due to injury, but a youngster may too much to handle or didn’t fit in with the rest of the easy-going herd. However, an easy-going 12 year old retiree may fit in perfectly. Know the horse.
  • Think of the practical elements of boarding. Most people are looking for their horses to be out much as possible. Will you do daily turnout? Will they be in a stall at night or in inclement weather?  Will they live in the pasture with run-in sheds? Will you accept stallions? How will you handle mares and geldings – turned out together? Separate?
  • How much do you want to charge and what will that include – blanketing, deworming, medications as separate charges? You can charge a flat fee that includes most everything but vet care and supplements, or charge for every service (both items and time) separately.
  • What type of client do you want? Talk to the owners – some people may want to come out and occasionally ride their horse or bring their grandkids to visit. If your farm is part of your home, you may have to decide just what boundaries to put on when people come out. The best clients are usually those owners who are involved in a new horse and trust you to provide the best care for their old partner. In return, keep them regularly updated with emails and pictures on how their horse is doing, any funny stories about their horse, etc.

Caring for seniors or retirees can be an “add on” to your already existing boarding business, but remember that with this type of senior care, you are probably going to have TOTAL responsible for this horse, from medications to grooming to being there at the end of his life.  Retirement boarding is not a “money-maker.”  You really have to love these oldies and want to treat them like your own. It’s a big undertaking, but well worth it.

Ireland’s Gift to the Horse World: The Irish Draught

March 17th, 2016
Bridon Beale Street www.lonetreefarm.net

Bridon Beale Street

St. Patrick’s Day seemed like a good time to discuss one of Ireland’s best exports – their horses.  Along with the Connemara and the Gypsy Vanner, the Irish Draught is becoming increasingly popular for riders looking for a bold horse with an easy-going disposition.

First, let’s clear up some confusion in terminology. The breed is called the Irish Draught.  It is sometimes referred to as an RID for Registered Irish Draught.  An offshoot of this breed is the Irish Draught Sport Horse, the Irish Sport Horse or the Irish Hunter.  These horses are Irish Draught breeds that have been crossed with another breed, most often Thoroughbred.  They are not “pure” Irish Draughts, but definitely have Irish Draught blood in them and, therefore, some of the Irish Draught characteristics.

According to the legends, it was the god Lugh who brought the horse to Ireland.  He was and Irish god viewed as a   hero and High King of Ireland’s distant past.  Lugh’s special festival, Lughnasa, was celebrated at harvest time in early August. As a means of reinforcing tribal bonds, Lughnasa was a time for meeting, for settling arguments – and for horseracing.

The Irish farmer needed a horse that could do more than just plow the field.  Like the Connemara, the Irish Draught can work all week, successfully go fox hunting on Saturdays, and drive the family in their cart to Church on Sunday.  During the Great European Wars, they were used as army artillery horses.  Despite their size, they are relatively “easy keepers” and do well on just the basics of feed.  They are also intelligent, willing and gentle and are known for its common sense.

Unfortunately, it is because of all these desirable characteristics that true Irish Draught Horses are becoming rarer.  They are popular as “foundation” animals for the production the cross-breeding for sport horses.  Many Irish Draught mares (who pass on the bone, substance and sensible temperament) may never be bred to product Irish Draughts.  Therefore, the Irish Draught is considered an “endangered maintained” breed by the Food and Agriculture Committee of the United Nations.

The Irish Draught Horse Society of North America (IDHSNA) was formed in 1993 to foster an understanding and appreciation of both the Irish Draught and the Irish Draught Sport Horse.  The IDHSNA is a non-profit corporation that strives to assist in the conversation of the breed throughout the world.  They also maintain the studbooks for qualified Irish Draught and part Irish Draught in North America.  They continue to promote horses with sound conformation, great stamina and an exceptional jumping ability, as well as the versatility to compete in dressage and driving events.

Liam Irish sport horse jump

Irish dréacht capaill a dhéanamh ar fad
“Irish Draughts Do It All”

Photo credit: Lone Tree Farm



Cleaning Your Horse’s “Private Parts” – It’s Not Just For The Boys

March 10th, 2016

Cleaning mares unmentionables graphicWhile some people will debate whether it’s necessary to clean a gelding’s sheath on a regular basis, most will agree that it’s a good idea that it at least be checked for any sign of infection the infamous “bean” (a build-up of the smegma from the secretion of sebaceous glands.)

But did you know that mares should have their udders inspected and possibly cleaned as well?  Mares also have sebaceous glands within the skin of their udders. Normal secretions mixed with sweat and dirt cause the accumulation of brownish black material that is found between the teats. This buildup can make the mare extremely itchy.

Cleaning a mare’s udder is similar to that of cleaning the gelding’s sheath. You may prefer to use Latex gloves for this procedure.  Wear hard-toed boots to protect your feet in case you get stepped on. Do not wear tennis shoes or open-toed sandals.  If your mare is new to the process, start slowly and have someone available to hold her head.  Take proper safety precautions to avoid getting kicked during the cleaning.

Often, horse owners just use warm water without soap.  Don’t us a dishwashing or other strong soap as they can alter the normal bacterial flora that is present and could cause an infection.  Many people use the same product that they would use to clean a gelding’s sheath, e.g. Excalibur or Equi-Spa.  Simply apply, wait for a few minutes to let it soften up, and then thoroughly rinse.  If your horse will tolerate it, you can use any hose to rinse, although most horses would prefer warm water. If your mare is at all skittish, use a few squares of gauze or sheet cotton from your first aid kit to remove both the product and the accompanying “gunk.”Most horses can “air dry,” you may want to use a soft cloth to dry off the area.

While usually reserved to mares that are being bred or getting ready to foal, it’s not a bad idea to periodically wash the mare’s vulva and the area just below the vulva.  You can again use just water or your preferred cleaner.  Remember to use the product externally, never inside, and work around the vulva only. When going from the udder to the vulva (or vice versa) always remember to use clean tools, including buckets of water.   Finally, you can clean her dock (the area underneath her tail).

There  -  now your mare’s underside is as clean as the rest of her outside!


Photo credit:  Horse and Man

3 Commands Every Barn Dog Should Know – and Obey!

March 3rd, 2016

Wizard, Riley & Bailey

Many of us who own a horse also own a dog and love to combine our two best friends together.  But not all dogs are welcome at barns or on trails and, unfortunately, those few disobedient ones can make it hard for the rest of us to convince barn owners and other riders that are dogs are not a threat.


Just like different horses of the same breed can have different personalities, so can dogs.  Many people think that all Thoroughbreds are spooky and “hot,” while the ones I have known have been virtually bombproof. When considering bringing your dog to the barn or on the trail,  be sure to note what the breed was originally bred to do.  This can help you avoid potential problems.  Many breeds were developed to chase and bring down large game (sighthounds) , hunt and kill vermin (terriers) or flush game in the field (sporting dogs).  Other have a strong instinct to herd groups of animals through barking or nipping at their heels (herding dogs). These can all cause issues with horses, other dogs, barn cats and animals on the trail.


The American Kennel Club (AKC) started the Canine Good Citizen program in 1989 as a way to protect  dogs from dangers and the public from unruly dogs.   There are ten tests in the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program.  If your dog passes them all, he/she is awarded a certificate.  Courses and testing are held at most dog training programs throughout the year.  Any breed (or mix of breeds) at any age can participate.  For more information, visit the AKC Canine Good Citizen web page.


While completing the entire program is a great way to build a bond with your dog and become an ambassador for your breed(s), we’ll focus on the “big 3” commands.  These are:

  1. Come
  2. Stay
  3. Leave it


Being able to have your dog come to you when called EVERY TIME is the key to being accepted at the barn on the trail.  Loose dogs at either place are often accidents waiting to happen.  Note that your dog must return to you EVERY TIME you call, no matter when, where or under what circumstances.  This is sometimes called a “really reliable recall” and requires a lot of practice in a variety of situations.  Many dogs are great when they are on your home property or at the local dog park, but if they spy a rabbit on the trail or a cat at the barn, it can be a whole other story.  If you don’t trust your dog to come back to you EVERY TIME you call, do not take him/her off a leash until he/she does.


Not all horse people want their dogs with them when they ride, but do want them at the barn.   Some people simply leave their dog in the car – something I never, ever advocate.  Even with windows open, cars can overheat, putting your dog in danger.  Teaching your dog to stay will allow you to concentrate on your riding while your dog is safe and secure.  Some people use the tack room while others keep their dog outside the arena.  Note: your dog MUST stay without wandering off, without jumping on anyone who comes by, and without incessant barking.


Commanding your dog not to touch something or “leave it” can literally save your dog’s life, especially on the trail.   Case in point: While walking my dog on a trail, I noticed that she had stopped up ahead and was staring intently at something.  As dogs sometimes do, she cocked her head back and forth as through trying to figure out what it was.  Since I couldn’t see what she’d found, I immediately starting saying “leave it, leave it, leave it.”  When I got close enough, I saw she had found a baby rattlesnake that was curled up 2 feet from her and ready to strike. Luckily she did not touch it and I was able to call her back to me and avoided a disaster.  This works well with skunks, found chocolate or possibly tainted food.


Lastly, remember that dogs are pack animals, especially when there’s a potential “hunt” going on.  So even if your dog is well-trained on his/her own, be aware that if there are other dogs at the barn or on the trail, it is possible for your dog to get caught up in excitement of other dogs and forget every command. So practice, practice, practice so your dog will be safe, happy and welcome at your barn or on the trial.

Interested in training  your dog to become a Canine Good Citizen?  Find a qualified trainer through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. 

Simple Tasks for a Better Pasture For Your Horses

February 25th, 2016

Guy and Chelsea

Spring is coming!  And it’s the best time to prepare your pasture for grazing the rest of the year. Here are some simple steps you can take this spring that can help keep your horses healthy and happy in their pasture all summer long.

Clean it - Pick up and/or harrow any manure.  Look for nails, boards or other items lying around that can cause injury.  Mark any holes or other uneven areas that could cause your horse (or you!)  To trip.  Don’t forget to walk and repair your fence line.

Level it – Fill in any of the holes you’ve discovered.  If there are some rough patches on which you ride, add dirt and rake smooth.

Spray it – Use a good pre-emergent to help control weeds.  Continue using a weed control product and/or to keep poisonous or other unwanted plants out.

Aerate it – Horses walking and farm equipment driving over your pasture can compact the soil, making it hard for water and other nutrients to get down into it and inhibiting pasture growth.  Aeration (whether manually or by machine) make holes in the top layers so those essential water & nutrients can get in.

Fertilize it – If you haven’t had soil testing done on your pastures recently, now is a great time to do it.  This is the best way to be sure that your pastures are getting the nutrients they need and that you aren’t paying for something it doesn’t.  You’ll also check the soil’s pH level – you may need to add lime to be sure it is at the right level to absorb your fertilizers nutrients.

Reseed it – Thick grass is the best protection against unwanted weeds and other plants.  Check for bare spots in your existing pasture and seed with a good pasture grass.  You can also create other areas not previously used for grazing – remember to water well and keep horses off these new areas until the grass is established.

Rotate it – Consider setting up a rotational grazing program this year.  Section off your pasture into several areas and let your horses graze on that one area before moving them to the next area – usually one-two weeks per section, depending on the size.  After they are off one section, harrow the manure and mow the pasture and let it rest for several weeks before letting the horses on it again.  Rotational grazing makes it easier to take care of your pasture – you are only dragging and mowing one section every one-two weeks instead of doing the whole thing each time.

With these simple steps, you can have a perfect pasture and also help protect the environment by controlling weeds and water runoff.

Conditioning Your Horse After A Layoff

February 18th, 2016

In an interview with Dr. Jennifer Smallwood, an equine veterinarian and event rider, we discussed a common issue with riders and their horses – how tohorse on layup condition their horses back  to competitive level after a layoff.  Just like with human athletes, horses must be conditioned properly when returning to work after a long hiatus, whether due to injury, foaling or inclement weather . Below are a few tips from Dr. Smallwood sfor helping your equine partner return to the show ring safely and efficiently after the winter break.

Dr. Smallwood recommends concentrating on aerobic exercise first.  Start with low intensity exercise preferably in short multiple sets per day. This will help build cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone/muscle memory while guarding against fatigue of tendons, ligaments, muscle, and joints.  A good place to start with a horse that has been laid off for 2-3 months would be:

  • A 15 minute walk session – the longer walk warm up gives the horse plenty of time to stretch and get accustomed to the weight of a rider again.
  •  A 5 minute uncollected trot set – this allows the horse to build cardiovascular fitness.
  • 10 minute cool down
  • Do once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Five minutes of uncollected trot and the five minute cool down allows the rider ample time to evaluate the horse’s fitness level by measuring the length of time it takes the heart rate to return to an acceptable level.  If the heart rate remains elevated for longer than five minutes after the trot set, decrease the length of the trot to build up fitness. These short sessions limit the wear and tear on the horse and allow for two sessions per day so fitness is increased faster.

To build up aerobic fitness, the target heart rate is 150 bpm or greater.  Normal resting heart rate of a horse is 32-44bpm.  Normal heart rates vary between breeds and individuals. Knowing your horse’s normal rate is paramount.  Fitter horses will have lower resting heart rates just like human athletes. Use the values to guide length of trot time during the starting stages of your exercise regimen.  Then gradually add in canter work.

Heart rate response is the most accurate method to determine fitness. Heart rate monitors are commercially available, but can be costly.  Using the help of someone on the ground, your horse’s heart rate can be easily measured. Using an index and third finger, a pulse can be easily felt under the mandible.  Count for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to calculate beats per minute (bpm). Calculations made from counting for only 10-15 seconds produce greater error.  In addition to heart rate, respiratory rate, gum color and texture, presence and amount of sweat, and rectal temperature are all good parameters to measure.

In addition to cardiovascular fitness, it is also important to remember your horse will be building musculoskeletal fitness. Short periods of cyclical loading like multiple short duration sessions of moderate intensity exercise are best.  This type of work reduces the incidence of stress fractures and reduces the strain on boney structures.

Finally, Dr. Smallwood is a big fan of “two a day” workouts. Short workouts twice a day are great for increasing aerobic fitness quickly while limiting the stress on the musculoskeletal system.  They also allow the horse’s epaxial (back) muscles to get used to carrying an actual load again. Remember over the winter your horse has lost some of his topline. His muscles have changed, check saddle and pad fit carefully. The fit will more than likely change once or twice during all of this conditioning so be prepared to make tack changes as the need arises.

Dr. Jennifer Smallwood graduated from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003 and holds active veterinary licenses in the states of Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Illinois.  She has been a veterinarian in active practice for over ten years, completing an  internship on the racetrack in Lexington, KY, practicing a year as an Associate Veterinarian in North Texas and spening three years at a full-service equine hospital in Versailles, KY. From 2008 through 2013 I owned and operated my own veterinary practice in Lexington, KY ultimately relocating to Dallas, TX.  In addition, she 2006 she completed the Chi Institute Acupuncture Program in 2006 and is certified Veterinary Acupuncturist by the Chi Institute and the China National Society of Acupuncture.