carrot stretch horse

Stretching with the aid of a treat – usually carrots – is a great way to keep your horse flexible without causing any damage. So-called “Carrot Stretches” can be found all over YouTube and the internet. However, it is important to do it right to get a real benefit.

“Carrot Stretches” are active or dynamic stretches, meaning the horse needs to perform the stretch. In comparison, there are ‘passive’ stretches, where the handler effects the stretch, usually by applying a pulling force to the respective limb.

Please note this important difference:

  • Active or dynamic stretches – like the ones shown below – can be performed any time with a cold horse. The horse will never injure himself, you cannot overdo it!
  • Passive stretches can cause damage to soft tissues if performed on a cold horse and —if unintentionally overdone— even on a warm horse.

Therefore, I DO NOT RECOMMEND PASSIVE STRETCHING as it can result in injury.

Carrot Stretches – Safe, Fun, Effective!

Here my tips for safe & fun, basic carrot stretches that help keep your horse flexible and supple:

The Horse Situp

  • Your goal is to encourage the horse to raise the back by stimulating a reflex when stroking across the gluteal muscles.
  • Have a relaxed horse and stand sideways behind the horse or place a hay bale between you and the horse’s hind end.
  • Use your stiff thumbs or a safe tool like a quarter coin to apply some pressure to the left and right of the sacrum.
  • When you see a slight reaction from your horse – lifting the back or tensing muscles without showing a pain response – glide down the gluteals toward the ‘poverty groove’, attempting to elicit a response where the horse raises the back (see image 2).
  • Practice this with a safe horse. Once you experience the amount of pressure you need, it will come easier.

To the girth line

  • Hold the treat by the girth line. The horse should reach for it, stretching the muscles around the wither area.
  • Your horse may need some help in understanding what is asked. Patience is the key!
  • In image 3 you see Paladin ‘cheating’. He is a little club-footed in the left front and wanted to minimize the stretch. Ideally, the horse will keep the legs straight.

To the outside of the front foot

  • Images 4 and 7 show how this is done correctly.
  • The horse stretches the opposite side of the neck and shoulder and brings the back up.
  • Note: Paladin once again ‘cheated’ a little in image 4. Do not insist on correctness, rather work towards it slowly.

To the point of hip

  • Image 5 shows how nicely Paladin can reach for the point of hip.
  • I started by the shoulder and guided him toward the hip, rewarding him with the carrot once this position is reached.
  • Tip: If you can let your horse eat the carrot slowly, you will maximize the benefit.

Forward down

  • On images 6 and 8 you see how different horses solve this challenge according to to their ability.
  • The paint horse made it easy for himself by stepping forward with the left front, even on several attempts.
  • Start easy with what the horse can do and build up over time.

To the elbow

  • Image No. 9 shows how the horse is reaching for the treat by the elbow or lower shoulder.

TIPS

  • Schedule your carrot stretches twice weekly.
  • Cut the carrots into manageable pieces, not too long (‘snatchers’ like Paladin will munch the entire carrot at once…) and not too small (save your fingers!).
  • Always aim for what your horse can do, then take it up a notch next week.
  • Do the stretches on both sides. Every time…
  • Smile!

IMPORTANT:   Dynamic mobilization stretches, or “carrot stretches,” should be performed on level, non-slip footing in an enclosed area, with the horse standing square and balanced. Encourage the horse to hold each position for several seconds, followed by a moment to allow them to relax their muscles and return to neutral before the next attempt. (Comment provided by CaveCreekEquine.com)

 

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Relaxation: The mental factor

There is much talk about the German ‘Training Scale’ in the context of horse training and in many a barns – especially with dressage focus – we’ll find posters, images or signs on the walls, showing the 6 elements of the training scale or training pyramid.

GermanTrainingScale_RelaxSupple

Before we discuss the mental factors of relaxation, let’s remind ourselves of the origins of the German Training Scale:

The Training Scale (Skala der Ausbildung) first appears as a 6-step concept in the 1937 version of the “H. Dv. 12 German Cavalry Manual: On the Training Horse and Rider”.  At the same time, Siegfried von Haugk – cavalry officer, head of the remount school Oschatz and co-author of the HDV12 – created an updated version of the army hand book on “Teaching Riding to Recruits”, which contained – for the first time – the description of the 6-step systematic training system in sequence as we know it today.  The HDV12 is – essentially – the basis for today’s FN Principles of Riding. The ‘principles’ were altered, however, to meet the needs of today’s recreational riders. In recent years, the panel responsible for the content of these principles has decided on a return to some of the original teachings of the HDV12 to ensure horse welfare.

While ‘Rhythm’ is the first element of the Training Scale and basic foundation in the schooling of the young horse, the late Olympic gold medalist Dr. Reiner Klimke valued Suppleness (Relaxation) above all. We can find suppling exercises in his and his daughter Ingrid’s books (for example Basic Training of the Young Horse: Dressage, Jumping, Cross-country) as well as in the HDV12.

But are there preconditions for even getting to suppleness?
Is there a step before the step?

The answer is YES: We need to embark on a ‘Path to Relaxation/Suppleness’, meaning

  1. Eliminate any factors that cause the horse to brace
  2. Release any existing tension in the horse (and rider!)
  3. Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse

This ‘path’ never ends! It must be introduced before Suppleness can be expected. However, it is not a ‘step’ that we accomplish and then move on. We need to actively and consciously incorporate these three important ‘paths’ into our schooling – and the learning as well as the rewards will never stop.

Let’s look a little closer at these 3 elements on the path to suppleness

1. Eliminate factors that cause the horse to brace

Bracing is a reaction on part of the horse, where the horse protects himself against an external influence causing pain or discomfort. This can also be mental discomfort! In response, the horse will constantly contract muscles, not only fatiguing or even damaging these muscles, but also skeletal elements that these muscles are attached to. Relaxed, supple movement becomes impossible. Here some examples for factors that can cause bracing in the horse:

  • Ill-fitting tack
  • Incorrect use of spurs
  • Tightly adjusted bridles
  • Hard rider hands
  • Rider seat lacking suppleness
  • Inconsistent aids
    RTEmagicC_11_31_Losgelassenheit3.gif
    This horse is bracing in the head-neck junction and the upper neck.

    And more…

The goal: Identify those factors that cause bracing in your horse. Caution: This is not a ‘one fits all’ process, but a very individualized look at what your horse is expressing and an investigation into possible causes. Then eliminate these factors and replace with something that works for horse and rider, but allows the horse to move freely.

Note: Bracing is not always bad… When catching a basketball, you brace against the impact. The key is to be able to let go afterwards! Constant, habitual bracing is the problem.

2. Release existing tension in the horse (and rider)

037small
A simple Masterson Method exercise to release tension in the hind end.

Once certain bracing patterns or negative movement habits are established, the horse carries tension that he is unable to release himself. These tense, constantly contracted muscles, muscle spasms, lack of flexibility, limited range of motion translates into lack of suppleness. To get a fresh start on your Path to Performance™, you need to create a ‘clean slate’ by releasing tension and restriction and thus create the possibility of learning new movement or postural habits. For both rider and horse, this can be accomplished by:

  • Bodywork & massage
  • Guided exercises
  • Active stretching
  • Myiofascial release

And more…

The goal: Find areas where tension & restriction resides and release it through various modalities, enabling the body to find a whole new way of moving in a relaxed way.

3. Create mental relaxation through a non-confrontational dialogue with the horse

You are strolling down a busy street on a sunny Saturday afternoon – leisurely shopping pleasure. Suddenly, you hear a loud crash only a few yards away. A car accident! How does your body feel? Without any of your conscious doing, your body will show the typical human stress response posture: tucked in chest and abdominals, shoulders rounded forward, knees slightly bent, head moves forward (basically our modern ‘smart phone’ posture…) – and increased blood sugar and blood pressure, heart rate and sweating.

whataface
This rehab horse had a tense facial expression upon arrival.

The horse – as a prey animal – has an even more fine-tuned physical response to stress. These physical responses can be so subtle, that we relatively loud-mouthed, always on the ‘go’ humans, do not even notice. Here a short list of the horse’s physical responses to stress:

  • Hollowed back or braced back
  • Holding abdominals tight (sheath makes wind-sucking noise when trotting)
  • Shallow, fast breath
  • Grinding teeth
  • Tight-lipped muzzle
  • Overall tension and short-striding

An many more….

The key to avoiding these physical stress responses is to eliminate stress. Easier said than done! Are you causing your horse stress? You may not think so. But once you experience truly non-confrontational dialog with your horse, you will see a difference.

The goal: Creating a relaxed mental platform on which horse and rider and interact productively without the barriers of stress response, which always leads to physical tension.

Got it? Got A-B-C covered? Then off you go, enjoy your success with Suppling Exercises!

If you have questions or would like to dive into these topics a little deeper, I recommend my seminar “Path to Performance™ I – Releasing Tension & Restriction”.

Here some more resources:

The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book

Basic Training of the Young Horse: Dressage, Jumping, Cross-country

Beyond Horse Massage: A Breakthrough Interactive Method for Alleviating Soreness, Strain, and Tension

H. Dv. 12 German Cavalry Manual: On the Training Horse and Rider

As always – be well and enjoy your horse!

bio2
Stefanie Reinhold

Reasons & Remedies for Saddling Sensitivity

by Stefanie Reinhold

What is ‘cinchy’?

In a nut shell: ‘Cinchy’ describes a horse that shows an adverse reaction to the saddle cinch or saddle girth, either during the saddling process or well before – for example when approaching the horse with the saddle.

These adverse reactions can range from subtle (tense facial expression) to aggressive (kicking or biting). Any response apart from a relaxed acceptance must be viewed as a defensive response on part of the horse.

Why is my horse ‘cinchy’ or ‘girthy’?

When looking at any unwanted behaviors in horses, we are looking at 3 possible scenarios:

  • An unpleasant physical experience at this moment (pain, discomfort, etc.)
  • An unpleasant emotional experience at this moment (fear, panic, etc.)
  • A memory of an unpleasant physical or emotional experience, which is now anticipated (but may not occur…)

A google search shows: Most trainers address a negative reaction to the girth or cinch as a behavior issue. This is an unfortunate misrepresentation. As responsible horse owners, we need to consider physical pain and discomfort first, then rule it out or address it in order to then successfully address the behavior issue or habit that may be associated with this discomfort.cinchy_girthy_horse

Physical Discomfort as Cause for Cinchy Behavior

Asking ourselves ‘could it be pain?‘, we need to start looking at the girth area, mainly the area of the deep pectoral muscles. Here some tips:

  • Run your fingers (carefully) from the center of the rib cage (under the horse, sternum) up towards the saddle area, across the ascending pectorals (see image). Look for reactions: Anything from muscle flinching in that area to more volatile reactions like kicking and biting. NOTE: Be careful! Start with very soft touch, take it up a notch only if no reaction from the horse. Never press harder than would be comfortable for you. Practice on your own leg first.
  • Did you get a reaction? If yes, it is time to investigate girth fit, tightness, material, placement, etc. Your horse is in discomfort!!
  • More clues: Is your horse ‘short-strided’ or tight in the shoulder? This could be another indicator of discomfort in the deep pectorals.

The detective work in finding out what causes the discomfort in the girth area (meaning in the deep pectorals) does not stop at riding equipment.

You also need to look at feet, any hidden front leg or shoulder discomfort, tightness in the poll, imbalance in self carriage. The underlying problem can also be a subluxation of any of the underlying skeletal structures (vertebrae), often called a ‘rib out’. Contact an equine chiropractor to rule out this very common cause of girthyness. More often than not, it is difficult to find the reason if all factors have been sufficiently addressed and girthy behavior persists. Gentle bodywork that addresses the entire system of the horse’s body and rules out compensation patterns – such as the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork – will often be the key to resolving the hidden causes of girthy behavior.

a bridging dressage saddle
Looks nice, but doesn’t fit. This saddle bridges and slides back under the rider. A torture instrument for the horse.

Reasons for girthy or cinchy behavior can include:

  1. Saddle problems

    • a saddle with a tree that pinches in the whithers
    • a saddle with protruding screws or knotty, aged flocking
    • a saddle that does not conform well to the shape of the horses back (bridges or rocks)
  2. Girth/cinch or pad problems:

    1. a saddle pad that bunches
    2. a saddle pad that is too thick, thus making a well fitting saddle fit like a shoe, that is too small
    3. a soiled saddle pad (for example plant debris, sand, old hardened sweat etc)
    4. a synthetic saddle pad that ‘heats up’ during the ride and promises discomfort later on
    5. a pinching girth/cinch or buckle (especially Western cinches with the buckle in the wrong position)
    6. a too tight girth/cinch
  3. Physical problems (sometimes caused by above)

    1. Sore spots, abscess, insect bites or other wounds in the girth or saddle area  (infected tick bites)
    2. Back pain: the horse anticipates back pain when being ridden and thus has anxiety around the saddling process (for example: back-pain due to muscle spasms or hock problems).
    3. Sore feet: The abdodimus pectoris muscle can get tender and sore when horses have pain or soreness in their front feet because of the way the horse moves to avoid the pain.
  4. Emotional problems

    scared-horse-200x132
    An expression of fear has no place in the saddling process.
    1. The horse associates the process of being saddled with a stressful experience, such as
      • feelings of panic or claustrophobia (often caused by starting the young horse in a hurry)
      • a negative riding experience, either in present or past (former owner, trainer)
      • unsoundness or painful illness (such as any digestive issues, ulcers, hoof sensitivities) that become very stressful when ridden

Equine massage or body work can help with any muscular issues, whether they may be primary – such as muscle spasm – or secondary – such as sore ascending pectoral muscles due to sore feet.

However, the first recommended course of action is to uncover the root cause, involving professionals such as vet, farrier, equine chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. After the root
cause for the discomfort is remedied, the secondary discomfort and tension due to compensation can often be helped within only a few sessions of equine massage or body work.

So here again in a nutshell:

  • Check Saddle Fit
  • Check girth/cinch placement and material
  • Check for wounds, bruises or muscle pain
    (see above)
  • Involve an equine chiropractor or vet (or both)

Resolve the problem, then release any tension resulting from compensation through gentle bodywork. (You can learn basic equine bodywork techniques yourself.)

Only then is it time to replace the problematic and now habitual behavior in the horse through training measures.

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

In the last two parts of “The Horse’s Back”, we talked about how to recognize that your horse may be experiencing back problems and what are some of the reasons that a horse may get a sore back. So you now already know some of the symptoms and causes for back pain in horses.

Today, let’s look at some no-fail/no-harm steps you can take to help your horse recover from back soreness or maintain a healthy, strong and pain free back.

Eliminate External Factors

First, before we get into hands-on bodywork or gymnasticizing for horses, we will want to remind ourselves that we need to eliminate any external factors identified in part 2 of this article series. Among those were saddle fit and rider influence. Again, investigate thoroughly, then eliminate these external factors before moving on to help the horse overcome his back soreness.

Identify and alleviate Internal Factors

We also touched on internal factors, such as pain/discomfort/restriction in other areas of the horse’s body. Another possible underlying cause for back soreness can be any type of hind end lameness, such as stifle problems or arthritic hocks. Discuss this possibility with your vet and take any steps your vet may recommend before addressing your horse’s back discomfort. Fear, worry, and anxiety—another big contributor to tightness and pain in the horse’s back—should also be identified and alleviated. Examples are an overly assertive pasture mate, ‘heavy metal’ music blaring from the barn workers radio or an irregular feeding schedule.

Now that you know the ‘what’ and ‘why’, here is how you can help your horse reclaim a pain-free back:

1.      Bodywork and active stretches

I mention this as the first item, since I find it most important. Whatever else you may want to do with your horse—hopefully plenty of beneficial exercising and possibly some changes to tack, etc.—releasing tension is the precondition for building muscle in the right places.

Exercise 1—Rolling the ball

The long back muscle is an important player in your horse’s movement. He uses these muscles with every step. If they are permanently contracted and cannot release, your horse’s movement will be restricted and the back will be sore. Release tension and stimulate blood flow in these muscles with a simple exercise, no massage skills required: Take a normal tennis ball and roll it around on your horse’s long back muscle all over the saddle area. Do this before you ride. Pay close attention to your horse’s reactions and be sure it feels good to the horse. Stay off any bony areas (shoulder blade, withers, spine) and concentrate on the muscle (see image). Stop at the last rib.

Exercise 2—The horse ‘sit-up’

This exercise is well known but many people don’t bother with it. But it is indeed a very effective exercise. When it comes to horses, I found that most things that are very beneficial are simple, not rocket science… This exercise creates motion in the most flexible junction in your horse’s back: The sacrolumbar junction. This is the only spot in your horse’s back that is really flexible. All other parts of the back are relatively rigid. For this exercise, you will need to use quite a bit of pressure with some horses: Stand behind the horse and find a point midway between the point of hip and the sacrum that is relatively sensitive to the touch. Use your thumbs to initiate a movement reflex in the horse by pushing down firmly, then pulling your thumbs down toward the poverty groove on both sides. Ideally, your horse should now lift his back, tuck in his abdomen and tilt his pelvis (as in a ‘sit-up’). If your horse is not that sensitive, use two quarter coins instead of your thumbs. Caution: Be safe behind the horse! Don’t do this exercise more than 3 x per session and no more than 3 x per week. This is a reflex point and will numb if overdone.

Exercise 3—The active tail pull

Yes, horse people pull on their horse’s tails all the time, with mixed results ;-). This exercise is a bit different, in that you will want to actively engage the horse in this exercise and make him use his abdominal muscles. Here is how to do this with your horse: Stand behind your horse and hold on firmly but carefully to his tail with both hands. Then pull back (you can even lean back a bit) until you find a point of resistance and the horse actively resists the pull, meaning you cannot pull him back any further, he is leaning forward. Then SUDDENLY let go. It’s important to do this quickly! Observe your horse’s abdominal muscles and area around the sacrum when you do this. He should quickly engage his abdominals and tuck in his pelvis just a tad. You will also see muscles around the sacrum engage when he recovers his balance. Do this two or three times before riding.

Exercise 4—The good old carrot stretch!

Active carrot stretches are great for the horse since he determines the amount of stretch and you cannot do anything wrong. They are fun and will make you really popular with your horse since he will anticipate the treat. Folks who don’t like to feed treats, don’t worry! You are feeding the treat within the framework of a predictable exercise. The horse will quickly learn that this is the only time he gets treats. For carrot stretch instructions see my previous article on carrot stretches with horses.

If you are interested in learning more about your horse’s back and how to keep it healthy, please visit my seminar page. You may also enjoy learning more about equine bodywork. I recommend Jim Masterson’s book Beyond Horse Massage: A Breakthrough Interactive Method for Alleviating Soreness, Strain, and Tension.

2.      And now… the ‘G’-word: GYMNASTICIZING

When you google ‘gymnasticizing’, you will see that the word mainly pops up in the context of dressage training. However, we don’t all ride dressage. Do we still need to ‘gymnasticize’ our horse? And what does it mean?

The answer is YES, we all need to gymnasticize our horses, no matter what type of activity we engage in with our animal. The reason: We are asking him to perform unnatural things like carrying a rider or pulling a cart. So what does gymnasticizing mean? It simply means to build maintain the horse’s muscles and self-carriage to an extent that will allow him to stay SOUND and well while performing the activities we ask of him.Since ALL of the horses back muscles are locomotion muscles…(!!!), it is important to ensure that they can release and contract. This can be achieved by regular targeted exercise, targeted to the needs of your horse.

Sounds complicated, but it’s not at all. For most recreational riders, the effort will be rather small. If you horse is an active athlete and you compete, you will need to think about gymnasticizing a bit more than the average rider.

Here some basics:

Longing

Longing is not simply mindless running about on a circle or tiring your horse to let off ‘steam’. It can be a very meaningful way to gymnasticize your horse.

My tip: Get a good book such as “Horse Training In-Hand: A Modern Guide to Working from the Ground: Long Lines, Long and Short Reins, Work on the Longe” and glean some tips and try some techniques. If it gets overwhelming, stick to some basic longing techniques. Stay away from auxiliary reins! They can be necessary in special cases, but generally cause more harm than good. How much? 3 x 20 minutes per week can work wonders.

Cavaletti

Cavaletti and ground poles are a wonderful and low-tech tool to improve your horse’s fitness, rhythm and mental focus. Whether you are a Western rider, a dressage Queen or a trail enthusiast… your horse will benefit from these basic techniques. Great teachers in this area (and very compassionate horsemen) are Reiner Klimke and Walter Zettl. Again, I recommend to get a good book, such as Reiner Klimke’s book Cavalletti: Schooling of Horse and Rider over Ground Rails or a DVD or even VHS (you can find good deals on ebay).

Last not least: A good hack!!!

I will call the outdoor activity or hitting a trail with your horse ‘hacking out’ here, versus ‘trail riding’. The reason: Trail riding is often understood to be a leisurely activity, spending time with your horse and fellow riders in the great outdoors and….mostly keeping the horse at a walk. This is counterproductive for what we’d like to do: strengthen the horse’s back.

Your horse’s back will be strengthened by a nice, fresh tempo on the trail. A forward walk, then a bit of brisk trotting, a nice walk, followed by a brief canter, etc. Tackling hills and slopes at various gaits will also help your horse. Important: Post the trot and be in a two-point in the canter! Enable your horse to move freely and stay within his limits. A tired, sweaty horse or a horse that ties up after exercise is NOT what we are after. It’s better to ride for 2 hours at a doable pace than race about the park for an hour! Give your horse at least 15 minutes of brisk walk at the start of your ride to warm up before you start picking up the pace.

So, you see, it’s not all that complicated. Once you know

You can apply a few simple techniques to make great strides in getting your horse’s back into shape. I hope that these pointers inspire you to get on the path to your horse’s wellness and enable your horse to perform at his personal best.

Be well and enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

If you read The Horse’s Back (part 1)How to detect back problems in your horse”, you already know whether you suspect your horse to suffer from discomfort in the back. And you already know that symptoms may be anything from an unwillingness/inability to step under to bucking and rearing, in extreme cases.

So now that you know how to spot some back issues, you will want to know what to do about them. We could now get into gymnasticizing, horse massage, equine bodywork, liniments, supplements, Jägermeister or Guinness in horse feed (;-)… But whoa! First let’s look at possible causes. Only if we identify possible causes will we be able to address them effectively—not just tinker around with the symptoms.

According to my experience, the following are the three major root causes for back discomfort in horses:

SADDLE FIT

Saddle fit is the number one concern when we look at a horse’s back health. Here, we need to consider two equally important aspects:

1)      How does the saddle fit the horse?

2)      How does the saddle fit the rider?

If the saddle fits your horse but not you, you will be unbalanced in the saddle, which is just as uncomfortable to the horse as an ill-fitting saddle. A saddle that is comfortable for you but doesn’t fit the horse is a torture instrument for the horse.
Tree size, length, ‘rock’, balance, rigging, all these are elements that need to be considered in Western and English saddles.

a bridging dressage saddle
Looks nice, but doesn't fit. This saddle bridges and slides back under the rider. A torture instrument for the horse.

Tree size

Too small – pinches around the area of upper edge of scapular cartilage (the soft cartilage around your horse’s shoulder blade) RESULT: restricted range of motion, ‘laziness’, stumbling, falling

Too large – saddle sits too low on the withers, saddle tilts forward, takes rider out of balance (pain in the withers) RESULT: ‘laziness’, reluctance to being saddled, doesn’t want to trot or canter, rushing, rearing

You say: “No problem, my horse’s saddle does not have a tree!” Please recheck the fit: Treeless saddles are the perfect solution for some breeds or horse/rider combinations, but NOT for all.

Length

Too short – only if the saddle is too small for the rider RESULT: rider gets out of balance, uncomfortable for the horse, horse holds his back tight and doesn’t round

Too longHea ye, hear ye! This is THE main cause of saddle related back problems I see in my practice. The weight bearing area of the horse’s back ENDS with the last rib. Anything beyond that causes a myriad of problems RESULT: not stepping under, tightness in lumbar, not taking left/ride canter leads, hops during transitions, goes against the bit, grinds teeth, sweats quickly under the rider but not on the lunge line…. The list goes on.

‘Rock’

Too much rock – pressure points due to unevenly distributed weight and rider’s imbalance in the seat RESULT: rushing, flighty and nervous behavior, hollows back, lifts head

Not enough rock – saddle is too straight and ‘bridges’. This is a problem often found in modern Western saddles. Not sure, who designs these saddles, but a horse’s back is NOT straight like a workbench. The result is pressure in the front of the saddle and in the back, with no or insufficient contact in the middle. RESULT: hollows back, lifts head, rushes, bucks or in more agreeable types: gets lazy or collapses. Main cause of ‘cold back’.

Rigging

A very important, often overlooked element. Here, you will need to differentiate between English and Western saddles and the respective various types (dressage or jumping, reining or trail, for example). This discussion would go too far here, please see this article for resources.

If you feel this is an old hat and you got it all covered, please make sure that this is really the case. Regrettably, we sometimes get advice from ‘subject matter experts’ that steer us in the wrong direction, even those that are certified and especially those, who’d like to sell us a saddle. I would like to encourage you to do your own research.
Here some resources:

Article: “How saddle fit contributes to your horse’s soundness”. This article contains a number of videos about English saddle fit, presented by Jochen Schleese. These contain good basic information about saddle fit and are not a sales pitch, worth watching. In this article, you will also find some links to recommended books and videos.

Here a word about “Mismatched” equipment: The horse does not care whether you ride in a brown bridle and a black saddle. But he does care whether you want to ride dressage in a jumping saddle, for instance, or do endurance in a dressage saddle. Your saddle has to fit the purpose. One example I encounter frequently: A rider has a multi-purpose saddle with focus on jumping, such as the good old Stubben Siegfried VSS I learned to ride on.

a multi purpose jumping saddle
This saddle is ideal for jumping, hacking out, hunting, rising trot and two-point seat.

This is an excellent saddle if you… hack out a lot in the two-point seat, hunt, jump, if you post the trot and ride the canter in two-point. This saddle is NOT suitable for dressage or for any rider, who would like to actually sit in the saddle most of the time. It is not designed to distribute the weight accordingly and will make your horse’s back hurt, if you use it as it was not intended. Please take your time to research this further by means of the resources mentioned in my article above.

THE RIDER

Yes, this is a touchy topic. Imbalance, heavy hands, hollowed backs, bracing, using stirrups incorrectly, using the dressage whip incorrectly (giving impulses at the wrong time), sitting heavy during the down-phase of the rising trot, imbalances in the rider’s anatomy, an unfit or overweight rider, all can contribute to a horse’s back discomfort. Rider fitness, confidence, riding technique and balance are important factors that all influence the horse’s back health. It is hard to take a good look at yourself. I know that from experience. However, you will reap the rewards if you do and so will your horse. Identify your goal, whether it’s getting in shape, overcoming some confidence challenges, losing a few pounds or brushing up on your riding skill and find a knowledgeable coach to take you to the next level.

THE HORSE’S MOVEMENT HABITS

We all have movement habits, and so do our horses. Your horse may have learned a certain inefficient self-carriage at some point in his life, either during early training or being ridden by a former owner, as a result of an old injury or a formerly ill-fitting saddle etc. This movement habit now needs to be identified and then actively ‘unlearned’ or rather replaced with a better, more efficient and more comfortable self-carriage. Recognizing a movement habit is a bit tricky. This involved a few steps from ruling out all other possible causes to seeing the horse is motion and under saddle. Postural re-education is a process that takes patience and knowledge and should be done with the help of a skilled equine professional or trainer.

And then there is also

  • Compensation – for pain/discomfort/restriction in other areas of the horse’
  • Conformation – not all horses are created equal!
  • And the ‘Fear Factors’ – pain, worry, anxiety manifest as back problems.

If you read to this point, you almost read a novel about ‘back problems’ and I thank you for your interest. There is a lot to consider and ponder, to learn and to evaluate. If you need help thinking things through or if you’d like someone to help you sort through some of these questions, please drop me a line stef@reinholdshorsewellness.com

Until next time, when we will take a look at “How to help your horse overcome back problems”.

Be well and enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

If you are like me, you’ve come to appreciate practical things that make your interaction with your horse easier. One of those little gadgets is the ‘snap hook’ or ‘carabiner’. Friends at the barn introduced to me to the handy little hook, that allows you to attach the reins to the bit and detach them quickly if needed. This seemed to be a sensible solution and soon you could see clinicians in advertisements sporting the practical snap-hook, like the one on the image below, taken from a recent advertisement in a national equine magazine.

Practical for the rider—discomfort for the horse?

In his book “Sporthorse Conformation” (Kosmos Publishing, will be available in the US soon), veterinarian and certified FN trainer Christian Schacht describes the popular snap-hook as an often overlooked contributor to behavior and performance problems in horses that stem from discomfort caused by the metal on metal effect when snap-hook attaches to the metal bit.

Let’s take a look at what actually goes on in the horse’s mouth and head: The metal bit rests on the tongue and has contact with the bars (bones of the lower jaw). We then attach the metal snap-hook to the rings of the metal bit. Since the horse moves, metal now rubs on metal with every step and head movement, even on a loose rein. This can result in considerable irritation or discomfort for the horse. Let’s see how this works:

The physics of the tuning fork—pre-programmed tension headache!

The metal bit in combination with the metal hook and the head of the horse produce the ‘tuning fork’ effect, meaning the metal on metal produces vibration that is then transmitted to a body. A tuning fork works by oscillating metal (hook and bit) and connecting it with a resonance box (horse’s head). While I don’t claim that you can tune your piano by aid of your poor horse’s head, the principle of the tuning fork clearly applies (here a Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuning_fork).

You can therefore imagine, that Dr. Schacht has a point when he claims that metal snap-hooks on reins, attached to metal bits produce oscillation that can potentially be extremely annoying or even painful to your horse. Head tossing, teeth grinding, tension in the poll, going against the bit, general flightiness/spookiness, unpredictable behaviors, etc. can all have their origin in or be aggravated by this tuning fork effect.

But, but…it was sooo practical. Where to go from here?

horse with a leather snaffle and snap hooks
No harm done! A snap-hook in combination with a leather snaffle.
  1. If the snap-hooks have become an indispensable item for your equine activity of choice, do your horse a favor and use a rubber or leather bit. This will prevent the oscillation from transferring to your horse’s head.
  2. If you like your metal bit, do your horse the favor of removing the snap-hooks and switch to a leather or rope connection (the old fashioned way…).

You may see some immediate improvement in the way your horse responds or a change in behavior/temperament.

If you have any thoughts on the topic, I would love to hear from you! stef@reinholdshorsewellness.com

Be well and enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

Stefanie Reinhold and a client horse
In order to detect back problems, we need to pay close attention to our horse.

Most horses I work on in my equine bodywork practice are healthy horses with normal restrictions as a result of their athletic activity. There is a good percentage, however, that has recurring—often unexplained—performance or lameness issues. Owners often embark on an odyssee of farrier work, alternative healing modalities and bodywork. In my estimation, at least 8 out of 10 ‘problem horses’ have undetected issues in the back that—directly or indirectly—affect their performance and well-being. (Please note: Any advice given in this article does not replace proper veterinary care.)

In this 3-part article I’d like to share some pointers with you in regard to

  1. Detecting back issues,
  2. identifying possible reasons for back issues and
  3. what to do about it (once the vet determines there is no underlying medical issue!).

How to detect back problems in your horse

As so often in life, the obvious is not always the cause, but rather the symptom. This holds especially true in case of back problems in horses. Often, the obvious symptoms in horses with back problems look—at first glance—like vices or behavior/training problems. Back problems in horses can be quite easily spotted, once you know what to look for. Does your horse display any of the following behaviors or reactions? Then this could be a sign of discomfort in the back:

Does your horse

  • stomp his foot, pin his ears, jerk up the head, swish his tail, hollow the back, kick or bite when you are grooming the back or saddling?
  • let his back ‘sag’ (think hammock) or tense his back during leading, lunging or riding?
  • have sticky, choppy, disharmonious (different lengths of strides, out of rhythm) movement when ridden?
  • rush when ridden, is extremely hasty, runs away when ridden?
  • lack impulsion, not step under?
  • not sufficiently accept the rider’s aids, especially the driving aids?
  • lack fluidity or suddenly and unexpectedly blocks the rider’s aids?
  • has a tendency to carry his head high when ridden?
  • grind his teeth, shake or jerk his head, tilt in the poll when ridden?
  • display extreme behavior challenges such as rearing, bolting, bucking or
  • unexplained recurring lameness not traceable to issues in the legs?
  • lack impulsion?
  • Is your horse restless when being mounted or does he bite, kick or (in extreme cases) throw himself on the floor or run off?
  • Do your horse’s back muscles feel hard and/or cold to the touch, is there a pronounced dip behind the withers/shoulderblades?
  • Do your horse’s back muscles flinch as you lift the saddle towards the back?

Any of these signs can point to discomfort in the back. Considering that the long back muscle (longissimus dorsi), located right under the rider’s saddle and seat,  in the horse is a locomotion muscle that needs to move with every step, you can imagine that pain and discomfort in this muscle will lead to

  1. shortened strides and restriction range of motion and
  2. a considerable amount of discomfort for the horse.

The ‘cold backed’ horse – a clarification

“My horse is just ‘cold backed’…”, some horse-owners tell me. Being cold-backed (being especially sensitive when first saddled and ridden, possibly bucking, needing to be ‘warmed up’ for a considerable time) is not an innate quality of a horse, like having a white sock on the left hind. It’s a man-made problem, needs to be taken seriously and remedied thoroughly.

The remedy for back problems in any horse depends on the underlying root cause. This needs to be thoroughly analyzed and many factors come into play. In our part 2 of this article series, we will take a closer look at “What are the causes of back problems in horses?”.

Until then, I will be happy to respond to any questions. Just drop me a line (email: info@reinholdshorsewellness.com)!

Be well and enjoy your horse!

Stefanie

Stefanie Reinhold
Interactive Bodywork for Horses

paint horse in winter
winter is here

It’s that time of year again here in the Midwest and elsewhere… hard, frozen ground exascerbates the impact on the horse’s limbs, joints and hooves with every step. During bodywork sessions in the winter, I find a lot more soreness in the muscles supporting and balancing the front limbs, in particular. While we cannot change the fact that the ground is hard and frozen, we can support our horses in maintaining flexibility in their natural ‘shock absorbing’ mechanisms by releasing tension in front limbs and shoulders.

Here a few ‘no fail’ exercises you can do with your horse.

During the winter months, I often find the ascending pectorals—the muscles passing right under the horse’s girth line behind the elbow—especially reactive, compared to the warmer seasons. This particular area is also known as ‘the foot point’, since reactivity in the ascending pectorals often points to discomfort in the front limb or foot. These muscles—part of the horse’s intricate system of front limb and shoulder attachment to the body—are responsible for balancing the horse’s front limb and can get sore if the horse tries to avoid discomfort. As balancing across hard and frozen ground is a fact of life for horses here in the Midwest, I have come to accept this. However, there is something we can do to help our horses be more comfortable and to keep the horse’s shoulder appartus—it’s “shock absorber”, if you will—as functional as possible.

Here a few exercises that are easily done and can become part of your winter grooming routine:

The front leg drop (example: left front limb)

  1. Place yourself in front of your horse, facing backward
  2. Gently get a hold of your horse’s leg, right hand behind fetlock, left hand further up
  3. Ask—don’t tell—your horse to bring his leg forward in a relaxed fashion
  4. Imagine a plum line from you horse’s knee to the ground and aim to set the hoof there
  5. Don’t pull, let the horse drop the leg and shoulder!
  6. Once your horse has dropped his leg on that spot, encourage him to stay in this position a bit longer by gently stroking the leg.

    leg drop technique
    gently ask the horse to drop the leg

Do’s and don’ts:

  • Again – dont’ pull!! If the horse pulls away, go with him, then gently ask again.
  • Look for relaxation and release down, this is NOT a stretch.

What this does: The horse releases tension in the shoulder apparatus and thus gains improved “shock absorber” function. This is an easy exercise, once you get the feel for it. For those of you, who are interested in learning more about this particular exercise or other Masterson Method exercises, I recommend Jim Masterson’s book “Beyond Horse Massage” or his new DVD with the same title.

The hoof wiggle

  1. Hold your horse’s hoof up as if you were to clean it.
  2. Keep holding it, gently moving with the horse, if he resists, until your horse relaxes the hoof in your hand.
  3. Then gently wiggle and rotate within the natural range of motion of fetlock and knee joints.
  4. Do this for a minute or two—all the while in a relaxed state—then gently place the hoof on the ground.

    the hoof wiggle
    wiggle the knee and fetlock joint (shown: the knee wiggle)

What this does: Releases tension in functional elements of the front limb (muscles, tendons, ligaments) and thus eases strain on the structural elements (joints, bones).

Other pointers:

  • Clean your horse’s hoof daily, especially if he is shot. Ice buildup can cause discomfort.
  • For the shod horse, discuss ‘winter options’ with your farrier.
  • When riding in snow, consider wrapping your horse’s legs to avoid irritation from harsh snow and having him wear boots instead of shoes in the winter (for example “Easy Boots”). Your farrier will be able to advise you on fit and model.

Enjoy your horse and enjoy your winter activities!