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

Wind puffs worry many horse owners, especially if they appear rather suddenly and for no particluar reason. You will always want to check with your vet, whether there is an underlying medical problem or injury that needs to be addressed. If your vet assures you that there is nothing to worry about, there are still a few things you can to do help minimize ‘wind puffs’.

What are ‘Wind Puffs’ or ‘Wind Galls’ in horses?

Wind puffs is a common term do describe an unsightly swelling in the hind fetlock joints. The swelling is commonly a sign of fluid accumulation in the joint.

We need to differentiate between two types of wind puffs: A) Swelling that occurs as an accute response to stress, hard work or injury (when palpated, the swelling feels soft and ‘bounces back’ to the touch, there can be heat and the horse is clearly uncomfortable, expressed by gait abnormalities and/or sensitive when palpated) – or – B) Swelling that occurs as a result of old injury (stretched tissues, years of hard work, insufficient turn out) and feels just like the first type, but is cold to the touch and does not seem to present discomfort to the horse.

You will need your vet’s help to determine, whether your horse’s wind puffs are type A) or type B) (Note: these type names only serve to simplify this article, your vet will not know what “Stefanie’s type A) wind puff” is ;-).

What causes wind puffs?

Regarding type A) described above (accute injury), please speak to your vet, especially if the swelling occurs suddenly and is accompanied by other symptoms like lameness. We will only talk about type B) here, which is usually caused by old injury to the fetlock joint or digital flexor tendon sheaths, years of  hard work and stress to this anatomical structure, for instance to work on hard surfaces (police horses, for example), often combined with a lack of turnout. In this case, the swelling will tend to become chronic even long after the original injury is healed.

What you can do to minimize unsightly wind puffs:

Even though it is assumed that there is no discomfort in “type B)”, you may feel the need to reduce the swelling and help your horse look as good as he feels.

Every Day: Simply allow your horse to get as much turnout as possible. Standing in a stall will exacerbate the problem. If this is not possible – for instance due to weather conditions such as Blizzard etc. – allow your horse to get sufficient daily exercise, preferably free lunging, in an indoor arena.

Before a show: Start to cold-hose the fetlocks a few days before the show and gently bandage the legs at night after applying an ointment containing Horse Chestnut Extract. (I like this product, but do not endorse it or guarantee it’s efficacy or suitability for your purpose http://www.smallflower.com/klinge/venostasin-creme-50g-cream-12798)

A note about chronic wind puffs: Some types of chronic wind puffs can harden and then again become the cause for certain problems. While this is rare, you will want to address this question with your vet, if you feel that your horse’s wind puffs have been hardening over time.

Most of all: Don’t worry. If your vet says, there is nothing to worry about, you can be sure it’s more of a cosmetic problem.

[I do not currently have a good photograph of a horse with wind puffs. Please feel free to submit one to stef@reinholdshorsewellness.com , thank you.]