Horses have been around for a lot longer than our modern conveniences like horse vacuums and show sheen spray. While we can be grateful to have access to these conveniences, not everything we use today is actually helpful or beneficial.
What did experienced stable hands do in the ‘old days’? What can we learn from them?

Sometimes, it’s the simple ‘old-school’ solution that gets the best result.

Here 10 “old-school” grooming and horse care tips:

  1. 100 strokes to shine

pferdepflegeThe German cavalry prescribed a minimum of 100 brush strokes (with a horse hair brush) per horse per day. The recruits had to groom their own horses and were subjected to rigorous inspections. Grooming was not only viewed as a means to clean the horse but also to provide a good massage, increase blood circulation and well being. But the recruits were encouraged to be quick about it: “There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.” (Care of the Troup Horse, 1937)

  1. What’s in an onion?

Apparently something that makes the horse hoof shiny. Cut an onion into half and rub the clean and dry hoof with the raw onion before entering the show ring. It will provide shine without the unwanted side-effect of attracting sand and dirt.

a healthy horse hoof
Treating a horse’s hoof with a hoof conditioner with Bay Leaf Oil.
  1. Laurel oil for hoof growth

Laurel oil (bay leaf oil) has been a staple in hoof care for centuries. The thrifty groom would massage the oil into the coronet band, then sparingly spread a thin film over the rest of the hoof wall. Then hoof treatment was applied to the collateral groove and the sole of the hoof, never the frog!

  1. Caring for the sweaty horse after exercise

The hot and sweaty horse appreciates having his eyes and nostrils cleaned with a damp cloth. Then 10-15 minutes of calm walking in hand, in winter or cool weather covered with a simple wool blanket. Follow up with a vigorous rub down with a bunch of clean straw to dry the coat further, then brush the coat smooth with a coarse natural brush.

  1. Caring for the horse’s mane

The knowledgeable old-school groom never combed a mane! Instead, the mane would be finger-combed, the dandruff on the crest would then be brushed off with a horse hair finishing brush, parting small sections with the fingers, and then the groom would smoothen the mane by brushing.

  1. Fly prevention

catch_flyWherever there are horses, there will be flies… Besides cleanliness, the old-school barn master prescribed a natural ally in the war against the buzzing pest: swallows. Encourage swallows to nest in your barn and you will keep the fly population low.

  1. And another fly repellent…

If you cannot convince the swallows to nest in your barn, try a ‘spiked lemon’. Spike a lemon with cloves and hang it up in your barn.

  1. Keeping leather soft

After cleaning saddle, bridle & other leather accessories thoroughly with saddle soap, the old-school groom would not let the leather dry out completely but instead apply leather conditioner when the leather was still somewhat damp. After letting the conditioner soak in, remove excess fat with a wool cloth, easily made by shrinking an old wool sweater in a hot wash cycle.

  1. Cleaning very sweaty bridles

In order to remove caked on dirt and sweat before cleaning the bridle with saddle soap, take the bridle apart and soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water with a squirt of ammonia. Be sure not to forget the bridle in the bucket! Remove after a few minutes.

  1. Last not least… a tasty snack!

The groom in old times provided his horses with tasty branches from fruit trees, birch trees and hazelnut bushes. This was supposed to be healthy and good for the teeth. If you’d like to take it up a notch, soak some bread in beer, a snack that was (or still is…) supposedly popular in some parts of Germany. (Note: This tip is provided for entertainment purposes. If you would like to try this, please check with your vet first! 😉

horse skull

5 Questions that help make the right choice.

Bitting is a complicated topic, but I hope to make it a little easier for you to ask yourself the right questions. The answers to those questions can then be your guide to finding the right bit.

  1. What lies beneath (the muzzle)?

The muzzle is a sensitive, complex part of the horse’s sensory system. In the best case scenario – suitable bit and sensitive, light hands – it is therefore also a perfect ‘communication hub’ between rider hand and horse brain. In the worst case scenario – the wrong bit and rough rein influence – it becomes the scene of torture.

We need to look beneath the muzzle to determine:

  • How wide is your horse’s lower jaw?
  • How concave or flat is the cavity of your horse’s palate?
  • What is the angle/shape of your horse’s ‘bars’ (the toothless lower part where the bit rests)? Is it shaped like a roof, with a small contact area? Or is the contact area flat, wide and fleshy or anything in between?
  • How thick is your horse’s tongue?
  • Last not least: Any old injuries/scars/odd tooth arrangement or presence of ‘wolf teeth’?

Lift your horse’s lip, feel around, carefully grab the tongue, stroke over the bars, touch the palate and explore its shape, open your horse’s mouth and observe any visual clues. In other words: familiarize yourself with the landscape of your horse’s mouth.

  1. What does the exterior of the muzzle look like?
Explore the external muzzle.
Explore the external muzzle.

After you have explored the inside of your horse’s mouth through palpation and visual exploration, it is time to look at the outside.

  • How long is your horse’s mouth (meaning the opening, where does the corner of the mouth end relative to the nostril)?
  • Do you notice any chafing or cracking, warts, or scarring?
  • How deep is the chin groove?
  • How fleshy is the muzzle?

These factors – in combination with the factors above – are important when it comes to choosing the right bit and bridle. (E. g.: A horse with a short mouth will not do well with a dropped noseband. A horse with a long mouth does not need ‘2 wrinkles’ to have the bit in the right position.)

  1. What is the horse’s personality?
  • Energy level: Anything from laid back or ‘pokey’ to forward and energetic. Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest energy level.
  • Strong-mindedness: Even with the best of training, there are horses, who insist on their own agenda more often than other, more agreeable types. It is important to be realistic about this. (No excuses! Bad training does not count!) Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most strong-minded.
  • Sensitivity: This plays a bit into the physical make-up and also the history of the horse. A former school horse can be quite dull in the mouth (mentally and physically), another horse has lots of sensitive nerves and reacts to the smallest closing of the hands. Rate your horse from 1-10, with 10 being the most sensitivity.

NOTE: If you are unsure because the horse may be new to you, take your time and enlist the help of a friend or trainer to gently and respectfully explore the respective area with your horse.

  1. What is the horse’s job and training level?

Considering the horse’s riding discipline and training level is key. Rate your horse on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest level that can be attained in your discipline.

  1. What can be expected by the rider?

What type of rider will handle this horse’s reins? Rate the skill level as it pertains to a) independent seat and b) careful and sensitive use of the reins and soft hands, on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being a very balanced rider with skilled, soft hands.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • A young horse and/or a horse with little training should have the gentlest bit possible. The Herm Sprenger Dynamic RS snaffle bit, for example, can be a good choice.
  • Bits with leverage or double bridles only belong into the mouths of horses with the appropriate training level and under a skilled rider.
  • Rider safety is first. If you ride competitive trail or endurance, for example, and you have a high-strung animal, you need to take this into consideration. And yes, bits sometimes do stop horses.
  • A simple snaffle bit of some type will do fine for most applications – from dressage over trail riding to show jumping – if horse and rider are appropriately trained.
  • Snaffle bits with leverage are especially harsh bits! (This includes the ‘Tom Thumb’ bit!)
  • The best-fitting bit can become an instrument of torture under a tight noseband.
  • Broken snaffle bits (French link, for example) are not necessarily gentler. It depends on the horse!

TIP:  For horses with difficult mouth anatomy (thick tongue plus narrow jaw and low palate, for example), or horses with learned bit aversions, try a Meroth leather snaffle. Be sure to not purchase ‘copy cat’ products, as they may contain toxic tanning agents. And only the Meroth bit is 100% leather without steel or plastic core, therefore extra gentle.

Write the results of you explorations on a sheet of paper. Also list your concerns and questions, then contact several bit experts and ask what bit they would recommend for your particular horse and situation.

Chose the bit and answer that makes the most sense to you.

Your horse will be the last judge!

As always, be well and enjoy your horse!

bio2

Stefanie Reinhold

There is a general lack of good, reliable resources and information on the topic of ‘bits and bitting’. Here some resources you might want to explore:

A guest blog article by Connie Johnson Hambley

We’ve all seen it.

The perfectly executed Grand Prix course or the fastest barrel racing time. The rider thinks and the horse moves. Mind and body meld and it’s not a human on a horse, but one team. One unit.

Closing the gap between horse and rider is essential at the highest levels of the sport, but the skill is important for all riders. Not only do I ride as often as I can (which is not nearly as often as I’d like), I volunteer as a horse handler at a therapeutic riding center assisting people with disabilities learn to ride. A handler’s role is to ensure safety first and to allow the rider as much support toward independent riding as possible. Seeing horses settle and adjust to a new rider provides a window into a world without words. Everything shrinks to cues and responses, cause and effect, and the intuition that guides the horse/human connection. It’s a privilege to witness this and my respect for these horses has skyrocketed.

Consider the special needs rider from the horse’s point of view. The horse has had years of training to understand the physical cues on its mouth, sides, and balance. Then it carries a rider whose impaired body provides sporadic, confusing, or delayed cues because neither the rider’s mind nor body can process the physical commands effectively. Think of it as static on a radio obscuring a clear signal to the horse. I use the same technique for handling as I do for my own riding–I empty my thoughts of everything outside the ring and focus on what the horse is trying to process. As a horse handler, I try to be very aware of the moment the horse decides who to tune in. The rider on its back or the handler at its head?

Your horse is very aware of you. Is your rapid breathing and tight grip on the reins because you’re not pleased with it? You might know you’re keyed up because you had a rough day at work or a fight with your spouse, but your horse has no clue. All the tension you hold is static stopping your clear signal from being transmitted to the horse. The flip side of this is also true. If your horse is reacting to your tension, then its raised head or failure to bend could lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to over corrections and bigger problems. Did you misinterpret your horses signals? Did you even sense it?

It’s not easy to be completely present each time you ride. Draining your mind of everything but the rhythm of the horse becomes a form of meditation and is a skill built over time. Many refer to this as ‘mindfulness.’ Once mastered, ‘equestrian mindfulness’ can be applied in other areas of your life and there are even books written on ‘horsefulness.’

As a writer, my days are spent “inside my head” searching for the right combination of words. But, when I’m at the barn, I can just be. No words are needed–just a rhythm and a focus on my physical space as well as my mental space. If I’m too much in my own head when riding, I won’t be aware enough of the horse.

To strike this delicate balance, I allow myself a transition from my “other” life to my “horse” life. For me, immersing into the sights, sounds, smells of the barn trigger a relaxation response. I encourage my horse to join me in this transition by performing a greeting ritual. Neck rubbing, treat offering, and forehead snoodling are important steps before grooming and tacking.

These consistent actions help me relax and bring my horse into closer communication with me.

After all, we’re a single unit. We’re a team.

About the author:

IMG_3960Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a small dairy farm just north of New York City and was a child when an arsonist burned her family’s barn to the ground. Memories from that experience grew the stories that have become The Charity and The Troubles.

Hambley uses every bit of personal experience to create a story that is as believable as it is suspenseful. Hambley writes about strong women from their perspective in situations that demand the most from them. No special powers, no gadgets, no super human abilities. Just a woman caught up or embroiled in something that she has to get out of, hopefully alive.

Interviews include: Boston’s Literati Scene TV Show; Hallie Ephron’s guest on Jungle Red Writers: Ireland, Horses and Senseless Fire; Hank Phillippi Ryan’s guest on Femmes Fatales; Pawling Public Radio; Blog Talk Radio; Rounded Corner of the Writing World; (Australian Author) Penny de Byl’s Five Minute Profile; and Poughkeepsie Journal In Minutes, A Generation’s Work Destroyed by Flames.

Hambley writes page-turners and The Charity is the first in a series. Its sequel, The Troubles was published May 2015. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for updates and information.

Social:

Website: www.conniejohnsonhambley.com

Blog: http://thecharitythriller.blogspot.com

Twitter: @conniehambley

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thecharitythriller

While generalizing is always a bad idea – I’ll start with a little generalizing in order to keep this blog post at a manageable size. The topic – as you well know – fills many a book!

Fritz Stecken riding according to HDV12
Fritz Stecken on Noble. Perfect Lightness!

After, what seems, several decades of lots of pushing, prodding, pulling, and bracing in main stream equestrian sports – namely dressage – the general consensus seems to be getting back to a more classical approach, i. e. Lightness! Luckily for our horses, there has been increased buzz around classical riding websites and Facebook pages (such as Silvia Loch’s Classical Riding Club or the HDV12 German Cavalry Training Manual. as demonstrated so wonderfully here by Fritz Stecken on Noble). Along with that goes more awareness around so-called ‘modern’ riding techniques that cause bracing, tension and hyperflexion with the respective public criticism (e. g. “Rollkur” type of techniques or tense “circus-like” dressage performances).

But what’s the hype about?

Why Lightness is Necessary

And here King William on a noble steed on a loose rein!

Lightness is to touch what whispering is to voice. Just as pushing, pulling, prodding is to touch what shouting is to voice. As we become more enlightened about the nature of the horse, we learn that our silent, sensitive partners respond better to whispering than to shouting. As ‘loud’ interaction (whether via touch or voice) creates bracing in our horses, ‘soft’ interaction is the key to suppleness. Suppleness is the highest goal and basis for any schooling of the horse, no matter the school (French, Spanish or German).

So we (those of us, who put the horse’s wellbeing first) are looking for ways to become lighter. Lighter in our aids, lighter in our influences, lighter in our interactions with our sensitive equine partners.

Where Does Lightness Start?

Most riders spontaneously think of the reins. Indeed, sensitive, light rein contact is an expression of lightness. However, lightness starts at a deeper level: The mental and physical relaxation and suppleness of the rider, which can then find its expression in riding in lightness, developed through careful and systematic training (and ‘un’training!).

Getting Started With Lightness – Before Climbing in the Saddle

You don’t have to wait until you sit on the horse to work on your lightness. As a matter of fact, once you climb aboard, it’s hard to work on yourself. Mental & physical suppleness, which finds its expression in lightness, is best started in our every day activities.

5 Tips on How To Develop Lightness

  1. Practice Mindfulness – While this sounds like something out of a Buddhist retreat manual, it’s rather simple. 10 minutes a day of focusing on the ‘here & now’ won’t turn you into a meditation expert, but can do much for your ability to relax and be in the presence, a useful skill for riders living in the information age. Do this at home, at the office (but not while driving!)  (Resources: The UCLA offers free online meditation audio OR Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program from Jon Kabat-Zinn)
  2. Use Mental Imagery – day-dreaming with a purpose! Research shows that what we mentally train, we have an easier time realizing in ‘real life’. So day-dream away, but with a plan! Imagine yourself riding, then imagine yourself riding in lightness. Isolate various areas of your body, then put the picture together. Tackle anxiety, confidence issues, and limiting beliefs, we well. Do this while waiting at the doctor’s office or on an airplane, for example. (Resources: More about mental imagery for athletes here OR The Art of Mental Training: A Guide to Performance Excellence (Collector’s Edition))
  3. A Little Stretching – goes a long way! Find a good time of day to incorporate some stretching exercises. 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night can make all the difference! Many stretching exercises can be done during breaks at work, too! (Resources: Free fitness videos by FitnessBlender OR The Anatomy of Stretching, Second Edition: Your Illustrated Guide to Flexibility and Injury Rehabilitation)
  4. Improve Mobility – suppleness starts with your mobility. Overcome aches and restrictions that we accumulate through our every day or work activities. (Resources: Speak to someone at your gym about foam rolling OR The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body)
  5. Last not Least – ditch unnecessary stress! Mental stressors cause tension in the body. Take a conscious look at what stresses you in your life and see what you can eliminate (e. g. the dog walker, who is always late; the hairdresser, who just can’t get it quite right; possible overcommittments, etc.)

Hope you will feel inspired to create Lightness in your life. It’s bound to make Riding with Lightness so much easier!

Enjoy your horse & be well!

A light touch in all your interaction with your horse.
Have a light touch in all your interaction with your horse.

Stefanie Reinhold

“Does Dressage Need a Makeover to Attract a Mass Audience?”

Rider
Felix Bürkner – classically correct in ‘fancy pants’. The occasion: A costume ball in the 1920’s. Image courtesy of equivox.de.

This headline appeared in social media this morning, linking to an article by a British horse magazine. Below it, a young rider in a purple dressage coat, lavender pants, horse decked out in matching colors. Frankly, I don’t remember what exactly the horse looked like, apart from the colorful accessories.

Now, thinking about that question again, all I remember in my mind is the rider’s flamboyant outfit. Reading through the ‘yeah’ and ‘nay’ comments and opinions of others, I simply can’t come up with an intelligent answer, in spite of sipping on a decaf soy latte.

But, wait a minute… Is this even the right question to ask?

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Whenever there is the need for analysis, there is a need to ask the right questions and confirm the definition of the substance at stake (IT project managers will agree here).

In other words, if we want to determine whether a change needs to be made, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. What exactly are we talking about? DRESSAGE, you will say.

What Exactly Is Dressage?

And where do we find the correct definition?

Logically, we would turn to the ‘rules we ride by’. The ‘rules’ are the FN Principles of Riding, which in turn are based on the pure and unadulterated classic German riding theory and source of today’s “Training Scale”, the HDV12 German Cavalry Manual, last edition of 1937. Let’s see how the HDV12 defines dressage:

“In order to be able to fulfill all requirements that military duty demands of a war-ready cavalry horse, the green horse’s body needs to be systematically developed by means of gymnasticizing, and the horse needs to be carefully educated. Both elements combined are called dressage.” (HDV12 German Cavalry Manual for Training Horse & Rider, 1937)

This makes a lot of sense. So Dressage is a means to an end, not an end itself. Horsemen, mostly in the cavalry, culminated practical knowledge over centuries, learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating an able and willing equine partner, documented this and it in the form of an Army Regulation.

“…The goal of dressage is to school the horse to the optimum performance level and to make it obedient. This goal can only be achieved if the horse—while maintaining and developing its natural [mental and physical] disposition—is brought into a form and posture in which it can fully develop its potential. In such form and posture, the horse will be able to prove equal to the demands of service for a long time.” (HDV12/1937)

Aha! So the goal is to create an willing and able equine athlete, who will stay healthy and usable for a long time! In 2015 speak: ROI (Return On Investment), folks!

In the context of preparing the horse for a partnership in military service (end), dressage was the systematic schooling (means) needed to create this able military steed. Not an end in itself.

Dressage competitions, in turn, are merely benchmarking events. Here is where riders show how far they have come in their schooling of their horse, here is where this schooling is judged not against the performance of other riders, but according to the governing parameters: the Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).

Let’s recap:

  • The original question was: “Does dressage need a makeover to attract a mass audience?”
  • We asked the question: What are we talking about? What is dressage?
  • We discovered the correct definition of dressage as a systematic schooling of the horse to create an able and willing all around equine athlete.
  • Dressage competitions are benchmarking events, where we are judged against the ‘rules we ride by’, which are the FN Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).

Final Thoughts on Dressage, Right Questions, Mass Audiences & Fancy Pants

The ‘makeover’ question raises a lot of other questions in my mind.

Why do we need mass audiences? Why does dressage need to appeal to mass audiences? Who benefits from making some of the proposed changes or even making these concerns priorities?

First and foremost, dressage is or should be about the horse. The real question is a different one. It is time to take the officials by the horns and ask more relevant questions:

Are you or are you not basing the rules we ride by on the classical guidelines (HDV12)?

“Today’s FN Guidelines—the Principles of Riding, the official instruction manual of the German National Equestrian Federation—were developed on the basis of the H. Dv. 12, whereby the 1937 edition provided the main orientation.” Eckart Meyners in his foreword to the English edition of the HDV12/1937

The answer is therefore officially – see FN Principles of Riding – yes! That means it’s time that

Then, an unlimited number of athletes and spectators can enjoy dressage, knowing we are doing right by the horse. No matter what color your fancy pants…

Enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold
Stefanie Reinhold
horses hoof hooves

 brushing a horse's hoofBrief Hoof Care 101

The old saying ‘no hoof no horse’ gains special significance in the winter, when elements, cold temperatures and wetness can contribute to hoof decay. Here in the Midwest, this is a big concern. 
In warmer climates, dryness and exposure to sand and rough terrain can also take a toll. Here a summary of factors that determine the condition of your horse’s hooves:

  • Genetics
  • Nutrition
  • Trim
  • Environment
  • Exercise

With these variables, there is much we can do to support healthy hooves in our horses. But one solution does not fit all…

What is a hoof?

a horse's hoof
The horse’s hoof

The horse’s hoof is the equivalent of the last two digits of the human middle finger, encapsulated by horn layers. When caring for our horse’s hoof, we are concerned with the outer layers: the wall, the sole, the frog, and also the coronary band.

The coronary band: The equivalent of our cuticles. This is where hoof growth starts.

The wall: The wall is between 5 and 10 mm thick and consists of three layers. The outer layer of dense horn acts as a barrier to the inner layers. If the outer layer is healthy and maintained properly, it prevents dehydration of the inner layers.

The sole: The sole can grow up to 10 mm thick. Its Keratin* is more easily worn down than that of the hoof wall.

The frog: Keratin in the frog and bulb is also softer than in the hoof wall. With every step, the horse’s weight expands the frog, which in turn presses the hoof wall outward. This is called the ‘hoof mechanism’, a healthy and necessary function of a natural hoof.

[Keratin: a fibrous protein forming the main structural constituent of hair, feathers, hoofs, claws, horns, etc.]

How a hoof stays healthy

With the three elements wall, sole and frog having distinct functions that interlace into one mechanism, there is a balance that we’d like to maintain:

  • The wall should stay hard and strong but resilient and not brittle.
  • The sole should be dry and somewhat flexible, but not crumbling or too dry and hard (think expansion).
  • The frog needs to be elastic and resilient but not soggy or rock hard to maintain a healthy hoof mechanism.

Care for your horse’s hooves to keep them healthy and resilient:

Step 1 – Determine the “Current State”

When striving to create and maintain a healthy hoof in our horse, it is first of all important to determine the current state:

  • Is the hoof soft and brittle?
  • Is the hoof hard and brittle?
  • Is the hoof dry and rock-hard?

Then we can decide what measures to take to help our horse maintain a healthy hoof. (For more important external and internal factors that determine hoof health see below.)

Soft and brittle hooves

soft and brittle hoof
An extreme case: A soft brittle hoof along with other problems

This is what is looks like: A soft brittle hoof will visibly disintegrate. Pieces of horn break of the hoof wall. The hoof is described as “crumbly”. If shod, the farrier will have a hard time keeping a shoe on this hoof.

Causes: Too much exposure to wetness without proper ‘barrier’. Exposure to manure/urine/wet bedding/mud. Hoof horn possibly genetically somewhat soft.

Repair: Avoid wetness! Dry bedding, dry lot without puddles. Clean hooves thoroughly with water and brush, dry with a towel, then treat hooves daily with a hoof ointment or oil without petroleum-based ingredients (no vaseline).

Maintain: Keep horse’s environment dry and clean hooves daily. Treat several times per week with a natural hoof treatment.

Hard and brittle hooves

dryhoof
A dry and brittle hoof with vertical cracks.

This is what it looks like: A hard and brittle hoof has lost its resilience and elasticity by allowing too much of the moisture of the inner layers to evaporate through the outer protective layer, mainly the hoof wall. It will show up as a hard, dry looking hoof with vertical cracks.

Causes: The outer layer of the hoof wall and sole does not act as a protective barrier and is stripped of its natural defenses. Harsh hoof treatments, harsh chemicals (shampoos, soaps), very dry environmental conditions, very cold environmental conditions. Hoof genetically predisposed to hardness/dryness meets unfavorable conditions.

Repair: A horse with a dry and brittle hoof can benefit from a bit more moisture. Standing in a puddle, hosing, soaking, spraying CLEAN bedding with a little water. Clean hoof daily with water and hoof brush, then dry thoroughly with a towel and apply a moisturizing, protective hoof conditioner (NO petroleum-based products!).

Hosing the hoof can help moisturize.
Hosing the hoof can help moisturize.

Maintain: Clean and condition daily or at least several times per week to maintain the outer layer’s ability to lock in moisture. Monitor the hoof for signs of dryness and soak or hose when needed.

Dry and hard hooves

This is what it looks like: Dry and hard hooves (hooves like a ‘rock’) are often mistaken for healthy hooves. If you examine your horse’s hoof and the sole and frog present rock-hard and inflexible, this is–while it looks so clean and healthy–not a good thing when we think about the hoof mechanism. A healthy hoof mechanism requires a resilient and elastic frog and bulb and some elasticity in the sole and wall.

Causes: Horses with dry and rock-hard hooves are mostly kept in clean stalls, are shod, and generally well cared for. Genetics also play a role. That said, this is a clean, but not a healthy picture!

cleaning a horse hoof
Cleaning feet regularly is important.

Repair: Evaluate the horse’s trim. Is the horse carrying weight on the hoof wall, the bars and the frog? If not, consult with your (or another…) farrier. A shod horse can still have a healthy hoof mechanism to some extent! If possible, apply a nourishing hoof conditioneron the clean hoof several times per day. Spray clean bedding with a little water.effol_hoofoil

Maintenance: Clean hooves daily and apply a nourishing hoof oil several times per week. Soaking in water, standing in puddles, turnout in pasture and hosing can support hoof health for a hard and dry hoof.

Tips and Tricks

Soaking Hooves

To provide some moisture for dry hooves, cut a thick piece of felt in the shape of your horse’s hoof, soak it in water, place it in a horse boot (Easy Boot Trail, for example, or any therapeutic boot) and let the horse stand in it while you are grooming.

The low-tech version is to cut 4 pieces of an old wool blanket to size, big enough to wrap and tie around your horse’s feet. Soak in water, wrap and tie around your horse’s feet while grooming. (Be sure this doesn’t scare your horse and tie the pieces securely.)

Applying hoof oil

Laurel oil has been a staple in old-school hoof care for centuries and is ideal for the maintenance and to support growth of a healthy hoof. Massaging the oil into the coronary band and then down will improve the effect. You can use an old tooth brush to massage the oil into the hoof.

Hoof health from the inside

There are several internal factors that determine the horse’s hoof quality:

  • Nutrition – Adequate nutrition, roughage, minerals/vitamins, balanced rations are crucial for healthy hoof growth.
  • Genetics – Certain breeds tend to have certain types of hooves or typical hoof problems. Individuals also have their special genetic ‘hoof make-up’. Again, there is no one-for-all solution!
  • Laminitic changes and other health factors – The insulin-resistant horse, the Cushings horse, a horse that has foundered in the past or is prone to laminitis is also a horse with possible hoof problems. Consult with your vet and farrier, care and hoof treatments can support your horse but not ‘fix’ the problem.

Hoof health from the outside

External factors determine your horse’s hoof health to a great extent. These are factors that you can control:

  • Manure – manure disintegrates the outer layer of the hoof and can lead to brittle, cracking hooves or to fungal/bacterial conditions. Keep the horse’s environment as clean as possible.
  • Trim/shoeing – consult with your farrier to determine the best possible trimming/shoeing solution for your horse. If your farrier applies a ‘one for all’ solution, look for a different farrier.
  • Weather/environmental – While you cannot change the weather, you can change the way you maintain your horse’s hooves (above).
  • Exercise – The ‘equine couch potato’ will have a hard time maintaining a healthy hoof. Adequate exercise is one of the important factors when it comes to healthy hoof growth.

Maintenance – Clean hooves and apply a conditioning hoof care treatment. This is the equivalent of using hand lotion, cuticle oil, hair conditioner, etc. It is not the ‘fix all’ but a necessary component of good care.

a healthy horse hoof
A healthy hoof takes care.

As always, enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

horse taking wormer

How to give wormer, medication, or electrolytes without battling the horse

Battling the horse for any reason is never a good idea. Even if we manage to muscle our way to goal achievement, both horse and human are left with a bad taste in their mouth, wormer or not. Any interaction between horse and human should be one of mutual understanding and cooperation, whenever possible.

Even the most well-meaning horse people, however, cave under the task of giving their horse an oral dose of wormer. Even for those, who practice fecal testing, it does become necessary to administer the foul-tasting chemical to the animal from time to time. No, I don’t buy the ‘apple flavor’! My horse’s face tells me that the stuff is not equine Godiva…

Over time, I have observed the following futile attempts to get the horse to accept the syringe and swallow the wormer:

  • Ear twitching (very, very dangerous to the horse’s ear cartilage!!!)
  • Tongue twitching (danger of fracturing small bones inside and connected to tongue!!!)
  • Use of nose twitch (while not downright dangerous, should be reserved for real emergencies)
  • Desperately hanging on to the halter (will help you spread wormer all over your new shirt)
  • Spreading the wormer over food (will entice the horse to spread the food all over the ground, this used to be my method of choice…)
  • and other similarly ineffective or drama-soaked techniques.

But what to do? The endurance riders among you probably already do it: You need to give your horse electrolytes during rides and probably practiced that with well-tasting syringe contents first. The trick is: Get your horse to happily accept syringes before approaching with the ill-tasting stuff!

apple sauce and syringe
An empty syringe and some apple sauce.

This is the solution that will solve the problem in the long run and make worming ‘a piece of cake’:

What you need:

  • Empty syringes (farm supply store)
  • Unsweetened apple sauce (individual serving cups work well)
  • Any type of halter
  • A little patience

Every time you see your horse, find an opportunity to fill a syringe with apple sauce and gently move your hand with the syringe around the horse’s mouth. In the beginning, your horse may react unfavorably, thinking you are approaching with the wormer.

apple sauce in syringe
Fill the syringe with apple sauce—several times, if needed.

Don’t insist that your horse look at the syringe, simply make it available around the horse’s head. Curiosity will eventually lead the horse to take a sniff and let you touch his lips with the syringe. While your goal is to eventually be able to squirt the contents into your horse’s mouth, take your time and plan for several sessions.

horse with wormer
For day 1, a soft eye around the syringe is a good goal.

Tips:

  • Don’t ‘push’ the syringe on the horse. Hold it near the horse’s mouth and let it be the horse’s idea to approach it.
  • Be satisfied with small progress. A soft eye, not moving away from the syringe, may be a good goal for the first day.
  • Don’t have an agenda. Your horse will tell you when he is ready to give this a try.
  • Let the horse think that it is his idea to take the syringe into his mouth.
  • From then on, it’s smooth sailing!

There will be some disappointment after the first time the syringe does not contain apple sauce, but you can remedy this by squirting apple sauce into the horse’s mouth right after the wormer. He’ll take his chances with you again.

Let me know how this worked for you and leave a comment!

Enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

horse taking wormer
Let it be the horse’s idea!

We humans are amazing animals. With our consciousness, drive, intelligence and stamina, as well as our ability to conceptualize and plan, we accomplish great things and have thus made our mark on the planet (for better or worse…).

Yet, we still feel puzzled by our horses.

  • Why can we not achieve our training goal?
  • What is the reason for the ‘mystery lameness’ or
  • simple unwillingness of the horse to perform to the best of his abilities?

Being the true humans that we are, goal-oriented can-do attitude and all, we usually turn up the ‘chatter’, involve different or more specialists, various techniques or gadgets and DO, DO, DO, DO…

What is my point? I believe the answer to the above questions can—many times—lie in a different mode of operation. As retired Professor for Physics at the University of Oregon, Dr. Amit Goswami, puts it: “Don’t just DO, remember to BE! Change your mode from DO-DO-DO to DO-BE-DO!”

What does this have to do with our horses? The “BE” is time we simply spend with our horses. Togetherness in stress-free situations, meaning away from training/conditioning scenarios, vet visits and other activities with an agenda, can yield incredible results.

horses relaxing together
Horses like to just hang out and relaxed together.
We can do the same, without agenda!

What kind of “BE”-activities are we talking about?

  • Going for walks (you walking with, not riding on the horse…)
  • Conscious grooming (without agenda, moving slowly, paying attention to the horse’s responses, letting him guide you through the process)
  • Taking your horse along when you want to chat with your barn buddy, simply stand there with him, relax and have your chat. He/she can ‘participate’. Same goes for watching someone else’s training (if environment is safe and appropriate).
  • Very slow and soft body exercises, such as lowering the head as described in “True Horsemanship through Feel” (Bill Dorrance 1998) or “Beyond Horse Massage” (Jim Masterson with Stefanie Reinhold 2011), followed by just sitting or standing together.

In short: Involve your horse in as many low-stress activities as possible. If you do it in a relaxed way, you can even get the mail together!

Caution: DO NOT INVOLVE FOOD OR SNACKS in any of those activities.

What are the benefits of such “BE”-time together?

  • By shutting out the chatter and the agenda that is usually attached to our every day activities, even with our horses, we become attuned to the horse. This can answer the question: “What does the horse think?” (In a very down-to-earth way, reading his responses.) This way we notice very subtle changes in his expression and learn to interpret our silent friend’s body language better. In turn, we can practice our own body language and level of relaxation and see how the horse responds to that.
  • We may become aware of physical areas of concern that the horse may have. Why so? As trust grows between you through simply doing what horses do together—hanging out—your horse may feel free to express unwellness or discomfort. One example would be a horse that suddenly stands on three legs, lifting the right front, for example, instead of putting weight on it.
  • Trust, as mentioned, is a big factor here. As you go for walks and engage in other simple ‘togetherness’ exercises, you get to know each other better and trust grows both ways. Trust is the basis for relaxation, which is the basis for wellness. In that alone, this type of “BE”-time can contribute to make the horse feel safe and relaxed around you, which may eliminate stress-related health problems like ulcers and muscular tension due to emotional stress.

Conclusion:

  • Do you want you and your horse to be ‘attached at the hip’?
  • Do you want to learn how to read your horse’s slightest responses, body language and signs of unwellness?
  • Do you want to enjoy the benefits of ‘accidental meditation’ by quieting your mind in soft and stress-free activities with your horse?

>>>Then you are ready for “BE”-time!

To learn more about what kind of activities that can easily be incorporated in your every day interaction with your horse, drop me a line or visit my seminars page at. I’d love to meet you and share experiences in one of my 1-day seminars for horse owners.

Enjoy your horse and remember to DO-BE-DO-BE-DO!!!

Stefanie Reinhold