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.
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.
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.
From Stone Age to Rocket Age, humans have been practicing collective and individual gratitude (e.g. Thanksgiving Holiday, Thank You cards, Prayers and Offerings, etc.) and there is good reason for it: Gratitude is Good Medicine!
Gratitude is Good Medicine
Have you ever felt warm around the heart when expressing gratitude to someone? Then you did it right! That’s the kind of heart-felt gratitude that feels good to you when expressing it and to the receiver – whether human or not…
No Lip Service, please!
In our brain-centered, head-heavy world, we tend to rationalize, organize, streamline, multi-task – all brain-based ‘surface modes’ that do not get to the core of feelings. To express gratitude so that YOU & the RECEIVER FEELS IT, please let it come from the heart.
Let it come from the heart!
Try this exercise at home:
Stand in front of a mirror (or talk to your dog or an imaginary friend 😉 and say “Thank you for [fill in the blank].” How do you feel?
Now let’s try that again: Feel you heart area. Really direct your consciousness to this area. Then imagine, you heart had lips. Relax you shoulder, soften you gaze, smile a little and say (with your heart lips) “Thank you for [fill in the blank].” How was that?
In step 3, you ‘lip synch’ with your heart. If you do it right, you will feel your heart area and other parts of you body – perhaps your hands – warm and feel pleasant. This is the kind of FEELING you want to convey when expressing gratitude.
5 Ways to Show Gratitude in the Barn & Beyond
Simply say ‘Thank you for […]’ whenever you feel there is something to be grateful for. Example: I say “Thank you for providing such caring help to Regalo.” to my helper and friend Bettie – either in person or even via text! Important: You must look the person in the eye (when in person), smile, and ‘lip synch’ with your heart. Then it’s a real gift!
Leave a little note. That can be a sticky note with a smiley! Example: I have a little book that my dog walker and I use to communicate. I draw little smileys next to my thank yous and often say “I really appreciate that you….”. Find opportunities to express your thanks to others with little notes they find in unexpected places.
Share a little. Baking something? Got a little too much of something? You certainly have experienced an overabundance of something. Instead of putting it in the freezer or the cupboard, why not attach a little ribbon and a thank you note and express gratitude by sharing. You can find plenty of opportunity! Example: When I buy a big bag of Forage First horse treats, I put a few in a little bag and leave it for a helpful barn friend’s horse with a little thank you note.
Picture that! You may have a smartphone or a phone that takes pictures. These can be easily shared. Taking a picture of something someone else loves or has helped you with and sending it to them with a ‘Thank You’ is a great way to show gratitude. Example: Take a picture of your friend’s horse (“Thank you for […]. I saw your horse in the pasture and thought you’d like to this picture.”)
Book it! Accidentally bought the same horse book twice? You may have done this before, if you are like many horse people on a horse book buying binge… This book will be someone else’s treasure! Write your heartfelt thanks into the cover and give it to or leave it for your helpful barn friend.
You got this!
These are just some ideas. You know best who to thank and how to do it. Practice is key! Here some tips:
Practice heartfelt thank yous at home – you may be in ‘brain mode’ and give ‘lip service’ without realizing it!
Grow your gratitude vocabulary – create a little collection of terms and phrases that express your gratitude. Write them on a card or in a journal. Soon, they will be anchored in your gratitude tool box!
Say less – mean more! A simple heart-felt ‘Thank You’ is better than a stream of words that come from the ‘head’.
Be grateful! For everything. Food, air, your old paddock boots, a cup of Joe, fair weather, YOUR HORSE!
Hope you find this helpful. Please share this article, if you do!
Twice every year your horse changes his coat – from thin summer coat to thick winter coat and vice versa. Right now, our horses are shedding their thick coat and horse owners are working hard with various tools from massage curry, over shedding blade to shedding brushes with soft brass bristles to help their horse through the transition. But is that enough?
Is hair all there is to shedding?
Not at all. As the days get longer, your horse’s organism receives signals to change the coat – and body and metabolism are also experiencing significant changes. The horse has to produce a large number of proteins in order to create the new coat. This is an enormous feat!
Here 5 things you can do to help your horse through shedding time:
Optimize nutrition & add oils
Now that your horse’s body is working hard to not only come up with a complete new coat but also to adjust the metabolism to the changes in temperature, it is even more important to be especially diligent in balancing nutrition: Vitamins, especially biotin; minerals; herbs that stimulate the metabolism and the kidneys. Get in touch with your local horse feed specialist to fine-tune your horse’s nutrition during this important time. Healthy oils and essential fatty acids (such as Eo 3 Omega-3 Supplement For Horses) help your horse grow a healthy new coat. Calculate the right amount and follow manufacturer’s recommendations.
Consider brewer’s yeast for horses
Brewer’s yeast can help increase feed efficiency and is a supplement that has been fed to horses for hundreds of years. Find a product that is especially formulated for horses or horse feed that already contains brewer’s yeast. (I like Horse Brewers Yeast Supplement – 4 Lbs)
Massage & curry
Support your horse’s change of coat by massaging his coat and skin, not only to remove old and itchy hair and dander, but also to increase blood circulation. This helps your horse feel better and supports the new growth from the bottom up. Use a flexible massage curry that feels good to your horse, such as “New Generation” by Haas.)
Ditch the shedding blade!
If you want to see a really shiny, smooth summer coat, replace harsh shedding blades – which can scratch the skin, damage hair follicles and roughen the soft hair of the new summer coat – with a firm brush like a coco fiber brush or better yet a 50% brass bristle brush. A 50% brass bristle brush – such as the Haas ‘Mustang’ – will gently remove the soft undercoat that is so hard to grab with a shedding blade. At the same time, it removes dirt and dander and leaves the coat clean.
Take it easy
If possible, ask a little less of your horse during shedding time. Your horse’s systems are already quite strained through the effort of changing coats and metabolism. If your horse is a bit on the lazy side during coat change season, let him get away with some of that and lighten the work load, if possible.
In short: When your horse is shedding the winter or summer coat (yes, that needs to shed, too) and grows a new coat, there is much going on ‘behind the scenes’. Taking this into consideration during coat change time will make a big difference to your horse.
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 anyunwanted 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.
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.
Reasons for girthy or cinchy behavior can include:
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)
Girth/cinch or pad problems:
a saddle pad that bunches
a saddle pad that is too thick, thus making a well fitting saddle fit like a shoe, that is too small
a soiled saddle pad (for example plant debris, sand, old hardened sweat etc)
a synthetic saddle pad that ‘heats up’ during the ride and promises discomfort later on
a pinching girth/cinch or buckle (especially Western cinches with the buckle in the wrong position)
a too tight girth/cinch
Physical problems (sometimes caused by above)
Sore spots, abscess, insect bites or other wounds in the girth or saddle area (infected tick bites)
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).
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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))
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!
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:
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?
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
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
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!).
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!!
WARNING: This article was posted 4 years ago. Experience now proves that this article may send some readers into a flying rage or emotional outburst, which is then expressed in very long emails or comments to this post. All comments to this post are approved by me and I will gladly approve differing opinions, but not negativity and outbursts. PLEASE read this article with an open mind. Its basic message is: Rope halters, hackamores, bitless bridles are generally NO more gentle nor ‘natural’ to the horse and can – just like a bit – cause injury, pain, discomfort, stress in the horse. The solution: Learn how to ride with a light hand and an independent seat to do right by your horse. Learn proper training techniques that work without pain coercion. Please also note (and see picture): I DO USE A ROPE HALTER when indicated, on both my horses and rehab horses in the past.
As the horse world is evolving and people across all disciplines are striving for a generally more humane approach to horsemanship—focusing on relationship and gentlenss—there has been a shift from traditional halters, bits and bridles to alternative solutions that are perceived to be more ‘natural’.
Apart from the fact that I don’t believe there to be anything ‘natural’ about riding, driving or otherwise using horses for our purposes in the first place, I want to question the ‘naturalness’ and also the humanenessss or gentleness of some of these devices.
Let’s do a bit of semi-scientific investigation of halters, bridles and other tools commonly used to restrain and control our horses or to simply ‘keep him in the neighborhood’.
The ‘rope halter’
The rope halter is made of rope of various thickness or flexibility. It features strategically placed knots that send ‘signals’ to the horse and in that aid the handler in controling the animal. Here a description of a ‘Be Nice Halter’—a certain type of rope halter—on the website of a well-known equine supply retailer: “The halter for complete control every time you handle a horse. When the animal resists, the halter tightens and pressure is applied to nerve areas on the head. As the animal relaxes, pressure is instantly relieved, rewarding good behavior.” (Note: Not all rope halters tighten, this is an extremely harsh halter.)
1773 users give this halter 5 stars. Excellent! We can conclude that the halter keeps its promise: Absolute control via pressure on sensitive facial nerves results in desired results for the handler.
What does it mean for the horse?
The horse’s face is lined with a network of sensitive nerves that exit the skull around the middle of the face and extend into the muzzle. There is also an abundance of nerves right behind the ears, a very sensitive area. Note: This is where stallions bite during their stallion fights, they know it hurts!
Let’s embark on a little practical experiment to understand what this may feel like: Find an area of your own body that is bony, meaning having little flesh between bone and skin, and has a lot of nerves, for example your shin. Sit comfortably on a chair and put your leg up on another chair. Now take a rope halter with the knot on your shin and and attach a weight of about 2-3 pounds (about the weight of a 22′ longe line with brass buckle) on it for about 30 minutes. Keep tugging on it to simulate the effect of a handler adding some pressure to the weight of longe line and brass buckle. If you have a 22′ longe line with brass buckle, feel free to weigh it before the experiment, just to make sure we get it right. Do the exact same thing on the exact same spot the next day and the day after.
Feeling good? Probably not. But you may just have discovered a way to get your teen to take the trash out: “Get that bag out there or I’ll pull out my rope halter!”
By nature—due to the roundness of the rope and the resulting thin area of contact with the horse’s skin—the rope halter puts a lot of focal pressure on the horse’s facial nerves in the area of the knots and also, aided by gravity, behind the ears and on the front of the face. Combine small area of contact with a heavy brass buckle and a 12-22′ longe line (together, weighing close to 3 pounds), add the effects of gravity, consider the super sensitive nerves in the horse’s face and behind his poll and the result is a formula that can result in pain induced
negative movement habits
unwillingness and other behavior issues
an ‘upside down’ horse
numbing of nerves, muzzles or facial areas
chronic tension in the poll and TMJ.
My thoughts:There may be a place for the short-term, responsible application of rope halters in combination with an attached, light-weight lead rope without buckle (I purchased such a halter in Montana in 2007 and still use it on occasion.) For every-day use, a flat nylon webbing halter with leather break-away head piece or a flat leather halter is the humane method of handling your horse.
If you horse does not respect this connection, you have a training issue, not an equipment issue. A rope halter should never be used during
a) bodywork or b) longing.
A) It will cause occasional discomfort and distract the horse from the bodywork.
B) Unless in cases of extreme behavior challenges and for short-term, special-case application, you will want to use a flat halter, a longe caveson or even a bridle with a gentle bit for longing. All this is more pleasant to the horse and will enable him to move freely without pain.
A hackamore works along the same principles as a rope halter. It puts strong focal pressure on very sensitive areas of the horse’s face. It is NOT a more humane solution than any kind of bit. Rather, it’s meant for a skilled and knowledgable rider/trainer, who can work with this tool to increase the responsiveness of a horse. If you don’t have ‘breaks’ on your horse, a hackamore will NOT be a good solution, only a very painful fix for a deeper training issue. If you are not experienced in the use of a hackamore, get an experienced trainer’s input and advice, to see if you and your horse are ready for a hackamore.
The bitless bridle
Even though softer and with less focal pressure, the bitless bridle works along the same lines as above. In addition, some styles constrict the horse’s head, a feeling that is so unpleasant to the horse that it will strive to be obedient to avoid this feeling. If you are planning to use a bitless bridle, observe your horse carefully. If the desired effect (obedience) comes with wide eyes and a raised head, it’s not working for your horse.
The horse’s face, head and poll area is lined with ultra-sensitive nerves.
Rope halters, hackamores and some bitless bridles enable the handler to use a pain response to control the horse.
Pain-based control tools can result in behavior and physical issues (see examples above).
They seem to temporarily solve control problems, but your horse will pay the price in the long run.
Re-examine the tools you are currently using.
Don’t rely on trainers, marketers, fellow horse-people or even literature (including this article!) to make
decisions around the use of so-called ‘natural’ tools.
Put yourself in your horse’s shoes, visualize or physically try the tool on yourself and then restrategize, if needed.
There is no substitute for proper training. If you feel you need more control, find a trainer that is in line with your own general philosphy, even if it’s against the ‘popular belief’.
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 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.
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.
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 long – Hea 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, when we will take a look at “How to help your horse overcome back problems”.