Thursday, March 25, 2010

Advanced Jumping: XC

So a huge part of the fun of XC is the variety of things you get to see:
you've still got your standard verticals (usually stone walls, fencelines, or something like that) and oxers (esp logs. You will get to jump lots and lots and lots of logs throughout your XC career).

banks: up and down, and of course steps -- which are really multiple banks on a related distances. Up banks tend to be very easy. They require a lot of power on the part of the horse, but for the rider all you have to do is keep your leg on and your upper body out of the way and you're good to go. The key to jumping down is balance. Both for the horse AND the rider. Keep in mind also that young horses will tend to launch out as much as down when going off banks for the first time.

table: essentially a solid oxer that's wide and flat.

corner: this is a table that is super wide on one side and very skinny on the other. The trick to riding this is accuracy -- if you drift too far one way the jump becomes impossibly wide, while if you drift too far the other way it invites an easy runout.

ditches: technically the most easy thing out there. It's literally a canter stride. Nothing to it. Except that ditches house horse-eating monsters. Really scary ones. In the wild, a running horse who steps in a ditch is likely to end up dinner for the lion that's chasing them -- do you see now why your horse might not be overly inclined to jump it when they could so easily go around? As with everything else, this should be introduced gradually and in a non-threatening fashion. Make sure your horse doesn't see a ditch for the first time ever in competition. Or you may very well end up in it! Keep your nose behind the pommel coming into this!

coffins: just the name alone inspires fear. Gotta love xc! A coffin is a combo of fence, ditch, fence on related distances, usually with the ditch down lower than the two jumps (so jump at top of the hill, down two strides to a ditch, up two strides to another fence). The fences are also often both skinny. This is all about technical riding. The horse gets to the first fence, sees the ditch on the landing side and quits. Or jumps that fence and goes around the ditch. Or manages the first two but then runs out of the third. The possibilities are endless. The key to riding coffins successfully is to have all the pieces well schooled to begin with. Is the horse cool with ditches? Jumping up and down hill? Holding a line? Triple combinations? When you can do all that, the coffin will be a non issue. Theoretically >;-P These are usually ridden with a nice bouncy reasonably collected canter (recognizable to all eventers as the "coffin canter" -- creatively named eh?). Flying at something this technical at top speed would be a very bad idea.

ski-jumps: look pretty much like, well, ski jumps :) An angled fence at the top of the hill where you land significantly lower than you took off. These are tricky in that you jump the first part like a normal fence and then you have to bring your body back a bit as per a drop fence to survive the landing. If you jump ahead on these you will, at best, land alone. The trick for the horse is regaining their balance after the drop -- esp as you're usually going downhill at that point.

brush fences: these are good gallop fences. They're sloping and are stuffed with brush which sticks out the top. These can be higher than competition height because theoretically you can go through the brush.

water: horses often don't like jumping into water because they can't judge either the depth or the footing for the landing. As with ditches, introduce the concept easily in a confidence building environment so that by the time they actually have to do it in competition it's all fun :) Keep in mind that the horse will feel the drag of the water when they jump in and be prepared for that as you ride it. At the lower levels you usually get to run in and just jump out. And even that can be exciting some days :) Keeping up the impulsion through the water can be more difficult, so remember that any out jump will ride as though it were bigger than it actually is.

Everything you had to consider while walking stadium, also applies to XC:
  • terrain is likely to be far more dramatic on XC and also more likely to change. Uphill, downhill (sometimes both in the same combination!), water (be sure you walk *through* the water yourself so you know what the footing is like), changes between dirt, gravel, wood chips, grass, and anything else!
  • shadows often play far more of a role on XC, especially when jumping in/out of tree-lines or in the woods. Be aware if the shadows will cast a false groundline or make the landing seem inhospitable -- either of those things can lead to a stop at an otherwise easy fence.
  • jump judges will be found in the vicinity of every fence. The best ones manage to blend in to their surroundings or be far enough away not to matter, but every once in a while they'll be right before or right after a fence and your horse could well be startled by them so make sure you ride accordingly and keep the horse focused on the fence.
  • cows and other related monsters. Suffice to say if you have a city horse, cows are equivalent of alien beings; and decidedly unfriendly ones at that. Llamas and sheep are also in that category. So if the farmer next door has any of these turned out, consider how your horse may react to jumping next to the fenceline!
  • fencelines: we spend all our lives teaching horses to stay inside fences, so asking them to jump one often leads to a very confused pony.

Now when you're actually out on course, not only do you have to remember where you're going, how you're going to navigate the various terrain and obstacles, but you also have to be aware of pace. Every course will have an optimum time -- you must come in within 30 seconds of that time. If you are more than 30 seconds earlier than the time, every second is a penalty; slower than the time you have a then .4 penalty for each second. (ie, if the stated time is 5 minutes, you must come in somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00. 4:29 will have 1 penalty added, 5:01 will have .4 of a penalty added -- make sense?) And to make this even more challenging at the low levels (@ least in Canada) you cannot wear a watch. So you need to know, by feel, how fast you are going AND how fast you *should* be going :) The easiest way to learn this is to measure off set distances, and time it. Gallop the distance and figure out how fast you were going. (ie if you're aiming for 400 mpm - meters per minute - and it only takes you 45 seconds to go 400m, you're going too fast! Likewise if it takes you 90 seconds to get there, you're too slow.) Adjust until you get the pace you should be doing. Then practice till it feels normal and you can accurately hit the time regularly. Keep in mind when you're riding the actual course though that there will be places that you'll have to slow down, so that time will have to be made up elsewhere. Always remember though that safety outweighs time -- if it's not safe to go fast enough to meet the time, don't.

And now the fun part -- some of the masters from a couple decades ago. First, just watch it and enjoy! Then watch it again. Look for the different types of fences. Watch which fences they take at speed, and which fences they balance and slow down before they jump. Note also how they change their body positions based on whether they're going up or down hill and how they slip and regain their reins as necessary to allow the horse to jump freely.


Intermediate Jumping: Stadium

The trick to riding a good stadium round isn't so much the jumps themselves as the flat work inbetween. Dressage with speedbumps. Can you get the "right" quality of canter; that is, the canter that combines the ideal combination of speed (neither too fast nor too slow), balance (rocked back on the hindquarters), and impulsion (power!)? Can you turn? Can you turn without losing your speed, balance or impulsion? (hmmmm tricky I know :), Can you hold a straight line? Can you adjust your stride? And can you do this all while going downhill? Uphill? On an excited horse? Because that's what'll be required in competition! Once you can do all that, then we can consider adding speed-bumps to the equation.

So you have basically two types of jumps in stadium: verticals and oxers.

Verticals have no width (well negligible width, if there was no width you wouldn't be able to see it. Maybe THOSE are what Zel used to jump in dressage w/u?!?!?! hahaha sorry - lightbulb moment. It took me nearly four years, but I finally figured it out! Those of you who knew my last horse @ age 4 will know what I'm talking about :). Ok back to our regularly scheduled program. Verticals -- straight up and down, one set of standards.

Oxers, conversely, have lots of width :) Or @ least some. They can be a variety of styles:

ascending: the friendliest type of oxer, the back rail is slightly higher than the front, which helps the horse to judge where the highest point of his arch should be. Triple-bars are an often seen version of these that use three sets of rails instead of two. A rider fence (as in one that freaks out the rider but not the horse), they often *seem* quite intimidating, but in reality they usually ride really well.

square: these are when the back rail is in line with the front rail (theoretically creating a square with the ground -- or a rectangle depending how wide/tall the jump is :) These are by far the most common in competition. A green horse will tend to way overjump these, putting the highest part of the arch over the back rail rather than the middle, but once they learn to size them up accurately it's all good :)

swedish: this looks like a giant floating X. The top rails are angled, so the front rail has the left side higher and the back rail has the right side higher (or vise versa). These can be intimidating since the "official" height is where the two rails cross -- meaning the sides could actually be higher than competition height. These can be jumped right in the center, in which case they ride like a square oxer (personally I find them slightly easier than a square oxer, but that might be just me :), or slightly off-center to the side where the back rail is higher, creating an ascending oxer. - fan - this has one standard on one side and several (usually three) on the other. The trick to these is to find the line you want to ride and hold it. If you can do that (remember the whole steering thing above?) you're set.

So you're at the show. There are people walking around the course. Maybe you should walk around too? It's a nice day out, what else is there to do? hahaha but why are you walking? Well to memorize the pattern of course! Well yes, that is true. But eventually you get really good at memorizing patterns from the beautiful little sketch posted near the in-gate. My suggestion would be memorize the course BEFORE you walk it. So that you know where you're walking and can focus on other things.

What other things? Ah now there's the question of the day. What things should you be considering while walking the course?
  • where you're going: Not just the *order* of the fences. Admittedly that's step one, but not nearly enough. Exactly where are you going to turn, how wide is the turn going to be, where you're going to take off, where you're going to land, where you're going to be looking while doing each of those things. You need to have a plan. Then you need to ride the plan. But if the plan only states "jump fences 1-12 in order" or even "jump fences 1-12 in order, on the first try" you're still not likely to have a brilliant round.
  • how you're going to get there: what is the correct speed/balance/impulsion to approach that fence. An uphill oxer away from home may require a very different ride from a downhill vertical towards home.
  • what's the footing like: common sense here. If it's slippery, slow down. Check for any rocks, holes, hazards etc. Does it change throughout the course (esp grass to dirt, hard to soft, etc). Depending on the conditions it might be worth considering putting studs in too (see shoeing)
  • what spooky items are out there: is there a path just the other side of the ring? Where are the spectators? Where is the judge? Where are the shadows (and keep in mind these can change between when you walk and when you ride!)? Are there any dirt patches that are a strange colour?
  • what are the "trappy" fences: on angled terrain? oddly spaced related distances? really flat cups on a maxed out vert? optical illusion (esp when combined w/ light/shadows)? skinny fence off a tight turn on a half stride? All things you should be aware of and have a plan to ride.
  • what's the striding on any combinations: not much to say about this. Know the distance. Know what that means for your horse. Ride accordingly. Ie) short strided horse, away from home, uphill, to a really long two -- you're either going to really gallop or really collect and do it in three. Either could work, but you need to know before you go out which you're going to do. A long strided horse, downhill, towards home, to a short one -- I'd strongly recommend coming in in a reasonably collected and very balanced canter. Triple combinations become even more fun as the distances between each pair of obstacles work together to make it easy or not to clear the combo.
  • terrain: uphill, downhill, across-hill, flat... How does the land lie? And what are you going to do about it? Remember we want a good combination of speed, balance and impulsion. Going downhill, horses tend to loose their balance (falling on the forehand) and often pick up speed -- your ride needs to account for this. Uphill speed and/or impulsion are more likely to be lost. It does no good to get to the fence if you don't have enough power to jump it!
  • towards/away from home: not rocket science here -- most horses accelerate towards home (and home is almost always the in-gate) and decelerate away. Keep it in mind as you're planning your ride.
  • how are you going to enter: gate's open, now what? What gait will you enter in? Are you trying to energize your horse -- if so, power canter it is! If you're trying to chill them out a quiet trot or even a walk might be appropriate (the walk may not be ok if you have to go a long way to the judge because you'll waste everybody's time). Where will you stop to salute? Can you strategically trot by the really scary fence on the way so your horse can see it? Think it through.
  • how to ride the first fence: the hardest one because you're really not in the zone yet and still have ALL the rest of the course spinning through your mind. How are you going to approach? What gives you the best line? How much time/space do you need to establish your canter before that? Where are the start flags (make sure you go through them!)?
  • how to finish: you've cleared the last fence AND gone through the finish flags (important!) Now what? Just galloping out the gate is not exactly recommended both because it's incredibly unsafe and because it's poor training. Where can you circle or stop safely?

So now you see why I suggest you memorize the course before walking it? :)

Now lets see how the best in the world do it. Notice him showing his horse a scary fence and some of the spooky things (ummm people :) before he starts. Look at the different types of fences and see how the ride changes -- from sitting way up and balancing to a tall, skinny vertical, to letting the horse get longer and more forward to a wide liverpool or an oxer.


Review Beginner Jumping: Gymnastics

What's it called when you do gymnastics on horseback?

What are three reasons you might choose to school gymnastics?

What is the standard distance in this gymnastic:

. . . X | ||

Which would you rather jump:
| 21' | 24' ||

| 21' || 24' |


|| 21' | 24' | Why?

My answer to that last question here :)

Beginner Jumping: Gymnastics

Ok gymnastics. No I don't mean handstands on your horse -- that would be vaulting, which is a sport all in itself and is an absolute ton of fun, if you ever get the chance try it :)... But that's not for today.

Today's gymnastics involve a series of jumps or poles in quick succession (often, but not always, in a straight line).

Here we have the most traditional gymnastic ever; I suspect you've seen it before:

. . . X | ||

Three trot poles, an X, one stride, a vertical, one stride, an oxer. Numbers, cause everybody loves numbers: 4'5" between each of the trot poles, 9' between the last pole and the X, 18' between the X and the vert, and 21' between the vert and the oxer. That's your text-book basic gymnastic. Learn those numbers. Esp if you're ever planning to jump without a coach present OR take any of the RiderLevel/PonyClub exams. It's a pretty standard question.

Now that you've made the effort to learn what it *should* be, you have to know the types of fences and the striding between them can vary in endless ways depending on:
  • your riding ability
  • your horse's level of training
  • your horse's strength
  • the purpose of the gymnastic/the effect you're trying to achieve

So why bother? Gymnastics are good for all sorts of things:
  • focus on the rider. An experienced horse will jump through a well set gymnastic like there's nothing to it. It basically idiot-proofs the whole jumping concept; just get to the first fence and let the horse do the rest. This enables the rider to focus entirely on their position and their body's response to jumping. It's also good for learning to fold and go with the motion of a jump, because while you may be able to fake it over a single fence, multiple in a row will clearly show if there's a lack of stability of timing.
  • to teach the horse to think. The horse has to figure out the striding, what to do with their feet, and to jump, land, balance, and jump again. When they're good at this, there's a much better chance they'll be able to help you if you get to that less-than-perfect distance on course.
  • to try going a little bit higher. Because the gymnastic, set properly, will ensure the horse gets to the right take-off spot, this is often used as a method for having either horse OR rider jump "a little higher" successfully. Higher than what? That'd be higher than whatever's easy.
  • to build strength in the horse. This is the equine equivalent of running hurdles. It takes a LOT of power and is good for building hind-end muscles.
    to slow a rushing horse down. Used with caution by an experienced trainer, a gymnastic can be used to back a rushing horse off a bit and get them to think about what they're doing.
  • to improve jumping form -- particularly for the horse who prefers to jump long and flat, strategically place poles on take-off and landing can encourage the horse to get closer to the base and jump rounder. Again requiring strength and balance. The pole on the landing side also conditions the horse to think about the landing (useful for that bounce into water!)

What gymnastic you'll use, depends on what you're trying to achieve. If you're fixing the rider, set a very simple one (like above) and adjust the striding to be easy for the horse. Then away you go :)

Bounces (where the horse lands and takes off again with no striding inbetween) are good for teaching coordination. These (especially if you have multiple in a row) get tiring fast so be sure to be aware of what your horse is telling you.

Changing the distances around adds another level of both thought and elasticity required. To go from a short one to a long one the horse has to land, collect, jump, then have enough power to land stretch out and still clear the last fence. Arguably harder is the long one to a short one where the horse has to rebalance and shorten on landing or risk pulling the rail of the third fence. Changing between verticals and oxers will also have a similar affect -- a vert to an oxer (esp if the dis is long) is generally technically easier than an oxer to a vert (esp if the dis is tight).

Gymnastics don't have to involve fences. Poles flat on the ground (or cavelleti) can have just as powerful an effect. 4 canter poles each 12' apart is a great way to evaluate rhythm and stride length. The horse should be able to canter through those easily -- but you'd be amazed at how many tries it'll take the first time you try it!

There are hundreds of different types of gymnastics out there for all sorts of scenarios -- particularly when you get into jumping on a bending line or on angles. Check out the books in the Reference section for lots of ideas!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review Int/Adv Preventative Care

What are three things you can do other than deworming to help control parasites?

What are four signs your horse may have a parasite infestation? How can you find out for sure?

How often should you deworm your horse? Why is it important to rotate dewormers?

What are three things you can vaccinate against?

What do you need to prove your horse is not a carrier of EIA? Why does it matter?

What is quidding? What causes it? How can you fix it?

Int/Adv Preventative Care

Preventative care includes the things we do to avoid the horse getting sick in the first place. There are four important preventative care considerations: parasite control, vaccinations, teeth, and introducing new horses.

Parasite Control:

All horses have parasites. Let me repeat that: All horses have parasites. Since most cause problems and we do everything we can to eradicate them. There are a few things you can do to help control parasites:
  • De-worm your horse (more on this next paragraph :)
  • Avoid overgrazing pasture
  • Avoid keeping too many horses in one pasture
  • Rotate pastures (horse parasites won't live in cattle and vise versa)
  • Keep hay and grain away from manure

So deworming -- horses should be dewormed every 8-12 weeks (most people seem to do once/season). Different dewormers kill off different parasites in different phases of their life-cycles. It is important to rotate dewormers so as to eliminate a wide variety and to help prevent any of the worms developing an immunity to the dewormer. Some of the common worms include:
  • Large Strongyles: these can cause serious damage. A blocked mesenteric artery (which supplies the intestine) can lead to severe colic, or a blocked iliac artery (which supplies the hind legs) can cause lameness or paralysis.
  • Small Strongyles: also cause serious damage. Signs include weight loss, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and colic.
  • Ascarids: most common in foals. These are disgustingly large worms. Signs include: poor coat, coughing, diarrhea, lack of appetite, pot belly, apathetic behaviour, and stunted growth.
  • Bots: these are less harmful and among the easier to avoid. They lay their eggs on the horse's legs, chest, etc where they get licked off and swallowed. They look like little yellow dots, and if you make a point of removing them when they appear you'll help cut down significantly on the bot population. They can cause sores in the mouth, and sometimes stomach ulcers.
  • Pinworms: not overly harmful in itself, but a sign that your strongyles dewormer probably isn't working overly well since they're killed off by the same thing. Pinworms lead to the horse rubbing its tail and sometimes you can see gray or yellow eggs around the anus. Pinworms are very rare in horses that live outdoors 24/7.

You'll notice the signs for most of these are similar. In general, any combination of inexplicable weight loss, poor coat condition, rubbing the tail, lethargy, and constipation or diarrhea should have you de-worming your horse or at very least having a fecal test done. Colic is also a sign of parasites gone horribly wrong (really you should catch it before then), but since it can be caused by so many other things may not be a sign in itself.

In areas with winter, the only things you'll really be able to kill after the frost are small strongyles -- so a Moxidectin based dewormer is best used in the winter months. This should be followed with an Invermectin based wormer in the spring to kill off any adult strongyles that survived the winter. Through spring/summer/fall you can alternate between Ivermectin-based and Pyrantel-based. There are multiple brands and types of each of these. Twice a year a Praziquiantel (which is a relatively new super-wormer) is a good idea.

So just for the curious, here's a sched for one horse as an example for the year. This is a 5yo TB mare in good health who lives in Ontario and will be competing from May though Sept. Keep in mind this is just a sample -- your plan should be created in consultation with your vet.


Like people, horses can be vaccinated against common diseases. Most vaccinations need to be boosted -- some annually, some more often. What you vaccinate against will depend, among other things, where you live and how much contact your horse has with outside horses. If you have a private farm with two back-yard ponies who never go anywhere, they're far less likely to catch something than a competitive horse at a large boarding barn where they get shipped to multiple shows, all obviously with other horses, AND all the ones they live with at home are doing the same thing. Anybody could bring something home and spread it.

Some of the common ones include:
  • Tetanus -- aka Lockjaw. Just as with people, this disease affects the nervous system. Usually caused by a dirty would, signs include stiffness of the head, neck and hind end, muscle spasms of the jaw, and the appearance of a third eyelid. There is an 80% mortality rate. Annual boosters are required. If you are working on a farm you would be smart to make sure YOUR tetanus vaccination is also up-to-date (although requires far less often booster).
  • Rabies -- affects attitude and behaviour. Rabid horses will become violent -- biting, striking and rolling. It is almost always caused by a bite from an infected animal. This is also one of the few diseases that is transmissible to humans. Usually fatal.
  • Encecphalitis (Eastern: EEE, Western: WEE, Venezuelan: VEE) -- a viral disease often transmitted by mosquitoes. 50-90% mortality rate. Booster shots annually if you have winter, every 6 mths if not.
  • Influenza -- same concept as with people. Highly contagious but rarely fatal viral disease characterized by a high fever, cough, nasal discharge, depression and loss of appetite. Bi-annual vaccine, usually given spring and fall.
    Rhinopneumonia -- a highly contagious viral infection with signs much like flu. This is most common in young horses.
  • Potomac Horse Fever -- believed to be carried by ticks (uncommon in this area). Signs include depression, loss of appetite, profuse watery diarrhea, distended abdomen, severe colic and sometimes laminitis. May be fatal. Annual vaccination.
  • Strangles -- highly infections viral infection which affects the lymph nodes in the upper respiratory and cheek mucous membranes. This has been going around Ontario for the last few years, so be very aware if you're in this area and showing at all, you might want to consider this vaccination seriously. Signs are inflammation of the throat and cheeks, a fever of 39.5-41C (103-106F), reluctance to eat, and a moist cough. Annual Vaccination.
  • West Nile -- a mosquito-spread neurological infection. Symptoms include listlessness, muscle twitching, weakness or paralysis in limbs, sometimes a fever. Can be fatal or have permanent complications. Annual booster.
  • Equine Infections Anemia (EIA) -- aka Swamp Fever. Very serious, and any horse who survives it could become a carrier (who looks and acts normal while infecting the rest of the barn). Highly contagious, signs include a really high fever (40.5-41.2C, 105-106F0, rapid weight loss, anemia and hemorrhages of the mucous membranes. There is no cure, and most provinces require any horse that tests positive for EIA to be humanely destroyed. Most farms require proof that a horse is EIA negative before allowing any horse on the property. This proof is in the form of a Coggins test -- a simple blood test done by your vet. An annual coggins test is required for horses showing on most recognized circuits. There is no vaccination or cure for this disease.

As always, check with your vet about what they would recommend in your area.


Horses teeth continually grow. A horse's upper-jaw is wider than his lower-jaw. When they graze, the jaw moves in a side-to-side motion, and the molars wear out unevenly causing sharp points ("hooks") to appear on them. These can hurt. So every six months they should be checked and the sharp points need to be "floated" or filed. This is not a painful procedure but it is awkward and some horses really don't like the noise.

If a horse's mouth seems sore (particularly evident when the previously accepting horse starts flipping their head with any bit contact), or if they start quidding (which is when food dribbles out the side of their mouth as they're eating) they should absolutely be checked.

More on teeth another Thursday :)

New Horses:

When a new horse comes to a facility, proof of negative coggins should always be required. They should also be quarantined until their health is assured and introduced to the other horses slowly. Similarly, when bringing your horse away (ie to a show) it is important to keep them from the other horses. No rubbing noses, no sharing water buckets, food, or brushes. Little things that will keep your horse much healthier in the long run!


Review Beginner Preventative Care: TPR

So what does TPR stand for?

Honestly, if you don't know the answer to that first question go back and reread. A few times. Then try again.

What are three "normals" you should know about your horse?

What should a resting horse's temperature be?

What should a resting horse's pulse be?

What's the next logical question?

What's the answer to the next logical question?

How do you check capillary refill time? What is the acceptable time-range?

Where are two places you can take the pulse?

Got all that? Great! Now go find out what all the normals are for your horse!

Beginner Preventative Care: TPR

Not as many pictures today... Sorry about that. Hope you enjoy anyways! On the plus side, no diagrams to memorize :)

Preventative care includes everything we do to keep our horses healthy before they get sick. At the beginner level the most important thing you can do is know what is normal. That sounds so obvious, but it's the little details that count.

In order to judge if something's wrong, you must first know what is normal. For instance, if your gelding usually loves being groomed and is all happy when you brush him, and then one day is suddenly really snarky, nipping and pinning his ears when you brush him, there's probably something wrong. Or if your mare always pays attention to what's going on, comes over to see you when you open the stall door, watches people in the hall way, and then one day is standing with her head in the far corner of the stall not looking at anybody, odds are good she's not well. What's important here is knowing what is *normal*. Some horses are ALWAYS grouchy when they're groomed, so it's not a worry sign. Some horses ALWAYS ignore the world, again that's just fine. It's when there's a sudden change in behaviour that there's reason for concern. And to know the change, you have to know what is normal.

Some examples of behaviour you should know about:
  • How does he react to people/horses/environment around him?
  • Does she always eat all her food?
  • How much water does he usually drink?
  • Does she usually lie down in her stall?
  • How much manure is normal in his stall?
  • How clean is her stall?
  • What are some you can think of?

Horse's are creatures of habit; when something changes in their habit, you have to be aware of it. A horse who is usually neat and suddenly has a messy stall has probably been pacing or kicking -- either she doesn't like her new neighbour or she's not feeling well.

Another series of important normals to know are your horse's TPR. TPR stands for Temperature, Pulse and Respiration and is one of the first things the vet will want to know when you call. A horse's temperature at rest (when they haven't been exercising) should be between 98.5 - 101 F or 37.5 - 38.5 C. You should know what normal is for your horse. To find the temperature (btw please do NOT try this on your own the first time -- make sure you have an experienced horse-person with you!) you need a rectal thermometer that has a string tied to one end. Dip the thermometer in vaseline. If you're using an "old-fashioned" thermometer (that'd be non-digital, mercury based) make sure you shake it a few times -- hold the top and flick your wrist down -- so the mercury is in the right place. Stand at your horse's hind end, slightly off to the side, tie the string to your horse's tail, lift the tail and slide the thermometer in. Be sure to pay attention as some horses (understandably!) don't care for this and may kick out! Leave the thermometer in for a few minutes then slide it out. Wipe it off on the towel (not running it under water!) and read the number. Make sure after you're finished you clean and disinfect the thermometer! A horse who has just finished exercising, is eating, or is stressed will have a higher temperature, so it's always best to take their temperature when they're at rest. A horse at rest with a temp around 39C (102F) has a mild fever, 39.5-40 (103-104) is moderate (call the vet), and above 40 (104) high (definitely call the vet now!). A horse whose temperature drops lower than normal is likely in shock. Also call the vet.

So TPR is Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration. The Temperature should be 37.5-38.5C (98.5-101.5F). Next in the list is P: Pulse. The pulse at rest should be between 32 and 40 beats per minute. This too will be elevated after exercise or with stress (just think of how fast your own heart beats if you're excited -- so does your horse's!) You should know what the normal resting pulse is. You should also for conditioning purposes take the pulse during and after work -- once you know what the normals are there, you'll be able to tell if your horse is working too hard or is stressed. For those who event, the vet will sometimes check your horse's pulse after XC; if it doesn't return quickly enough to normal, your horse will be deemed unfit and you'll be out. To take the pulse you use two fingers (not the thumb) and feel inside the lower jaw -- there's an artery there that you press gently against the bone. You have to press firmly enough to feel it and lightly enough not to cut off the pressure. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 2 (at least if you're doing the EC test. Everybody will give you a different number for their favourite counting methodology). The other place you can find it (harder with fingers, but easier with a stethoscope) is at the top of the front leg on the inside, right in front of the elbow. There is also technically a digital pulse (digit = limb... the digital pulse is felt at the back of the pastern. Remember where that is? If not, review Theory Thursday 1 - Anatomy) but if you can feel that it's a pretty safe bet your horse has laminitis (more on that another day!). So it's not a good place to be checking when you really just want the pulse.

So TPR is Temperature, Pulse and Respiration. The resting temperature should be 37.5-38.5 (99.5-101.5); pulse should be 32-40, and then we have the third item -- respiration. Respiration is breathing rate and should be 10-14 beats/minute (at rest -- just like when you run you end up huffing and puffing, so does your horse! And just like you, one of the signs of fitness is how quickly their breathing returns to normal. But for you to know how they're doing, you have to know what normal is!). The easiest way to check the respiration is by watching the horse's flanks. The breaths should be even and regular and at rest are reasonably shallow. Remember in and out counts as one!

The other random that a vet will often ask for along with TPR is the capillary refill time (particularly if you're calling about colic!). To check this you need to turn up your horse's lip and press on his gums (over the teeth). This will change them white where you've put pressure. When you let go they should turn back to pink in under 2 seconds. If not, circulation is not what it should be.

One other thing that doesn't really fit here, but is easy and important to know is the wrinkle test. Horses require a lot of water and dehydration can be fatal. The wrinkle test is a quick way of ascertaining if your horse is dehydrated. All you do is pinch the skin on the neck -- if it takes more than two seconds to snap back into place, it's not a good sign...

That was a reasonable amount of Very Important Information to take in. Did you get it all?


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Advanced Shoeing

Ok so first off, Keg shoes are your standard "off the rack" shoes that can be heated, shaped and modified. (see Beginner for parts of :) These come in a variety of sizes and styles and can be used for many horses.

However, horses with movement related issues may need therapeutic shoes. Changes to the shoe (ie weight, shape, angle, etc) can make a critical difference to how the foot breaks over (by adding a roll), it's flight pattern, and how it lands. Here are some of the more interesting shoes that can be used for corrective purposes:

1. Trailer Shoe - this has one heel extended; used to help a foot that naturally twists land straight.

2. Square Toe - these are sometimes used on hind feet to limit forging and over-reaching (see Movement)

3 and 7 Rolled Toe - used for horses that stumble or trip often as it aids in the breakover phrase of the stride (see Movement). Aka Rocker toe.

4. Bar Shoe - therapeutic shoe used to remove or apply pressure to different parts of the foot.

5. Heart Bar Shoe - particular bar shoe often used for horses with laminitis (more on this another Thursday!).

6. Egg Bar Shoe - another standard therapeutic shoe, often used for horses with navicular (more on this another Thursday!)

Other Shoe-Related Items:

Pads - these are often added between the foot and the shoe. Can provide protection to the sole (esp if your horse has super-sensitive feet), help reduce concussion, and help treat some issues. There will be oakum (traditionally - less common now) or some other substance (the blue foamy stuff is particularly entertaining) packed between the pad and the shoe.
  • Pads are leather (traditionally) or synthetic (more often). Regular ones are of an even thickness and cover the whole hoof.
  • Cut-out pads (aka rim pads) have a hole cut-out of the middle, so they go around the rim of the hoof. We're back to the creative naming system. These cover the heels and the edge of the foot, but some of the frog and the sole are still exposed. These are used to help adjust the angle of the hoof.
  • Wedge pads (aka degree pads) raise the heels. They are used to change the angle of the hoof while providing the same protection as regular pads. Used for horses with iffy confirmation (ie low heels). They are also often used for horses with navicular.

Studs are used for added traction. The shoes must have holes tapped into them and then a variety of studs are available to screw in based on footing. Generally pointed studs for hard footing and rounded for muddy.

Road studs - are small (usually square) and used for hard surfaces (including firm dry grass footing)

Bullets - are used for ground that is reasonably firm but has loose footing on top.

Blocks - these tend to be quite substantial and are used for deep muddy footing.

Others - as with everything in riding there are many "specialty" items for everything you can imagine.

Studs can do serious damage if incorrectly used. Remember these basics:
  • Always use studs in pairs
  • Use the smallest studs possible for the footing.
  • Remove the studs as soon as you're done riding.
  • Never turn a horse out with studs (could injure himself or another horse).
  • Put protective boots on your horse when she's wearing studs
  • Never trailer a horse with studs in


Intermediate Shoeing

The farrier is the person who shoes your horse (as opposed to a blacksmith who works with metal in general -- and in older times often shoed horses as well). He'll use several tools in this process:

1. Rasp - used for, well, rasping. Think of it as a horse-sized nail-file.

2. Clinch cutter - I'd say the use is fairly self-explanitory. At least if you know that the clinches are the part of the nail that pokes out (and is folded over) at the top of the hoof.

3. Pritchel - This is a scary looking metal spike that the farrier uses to hold the hot shoe. Also used in forging to create the nail holes in the shoes.

4. Toe Knife - once-upon-a-time used for trimming the hoof; now rarely seen as preference seems to be for the specialized tools of the drawing knife and the hoof trimmer.

5. Drawing Knife - used to trim the frog or pare away excess sole. This knife is easily recognizable because it has a hook on it.

6. awww comeon, you don't really need me to tell you what this is do you? What's it look like? Yes, it's a Hammer.

7. Shoe Puller -- used for... yup, pulling shoes. Also sometimes called Pincers

8. Hoof Trimmer -- yet another inventive name. Also sometimes called Nippers

9. Clincher -- for closing the part of the nail that sticks out, thereby making the clinches.

Now that you know what tools your farrier will be using, how about what he's going to do?

1. Remove the old shoe. This has a few steps in itself:
  • Open the clinches
  • Either extract nails or use shoe-pullers to pull shoe (always pull toward the frog; both heels, then toe, repeat till off)
  • Remove any remaining nails

2. Evaluate the hoof (the farrier will check wear patterns, balance, shape and symmetry).

3. Trim the hoof.

4. Select a shoe and reshape it to fit the hoof (it's important that the shoe be fit to the hoof not the hoof to the shoe!)

5. Nail on shoe. Amazing how the simplest instructions arguably requires the most skill.

6. Set and file clinches.

7. Farrier may choose to apply hoof sealer or fill in old nail holes.

And then once that's done, how do you know if your farrier has done a good job?
  • the shoe should fit the hoof (shoe reaches heels - or possibly past if necessary)
  • the shoe is held on by six to eight nails
  • the toe and heel of each pair of feet should match (ie one front foot should look like the other)
  • the bulbs of the heels should be even
    clenches should be even; they will usually be about cm from the bottom of the foot
  • when moving the feet should land evenly
  • angle of the hoof matches the angle of the pastern
  • **the frog should touch the ground - this one gets a couple stars because depending which paper you read or which farrier and/or vet you talk to, you'll get a different answer. All agree it should touch the ground when the horse is moving, but there's debate over whether it should be in contact when standing still. Reasonable in-between seems to be yes if on soft ground but not necessarily if on hard ground.


Beginner Shoeing

My horse gets new shoes considerably more often than I do. Why? Because she wears them out. But horses in the wild don't have shoes, why does yours need them? Well, there's a couple reasons for that. Horses hooves continually grow -- much like your finger nails; in the wild, they wear out at about the same rate as they grow while the horse wanders around grazing. In a domestic environment though, a horse who's ridden is required to carry more than their natural weight (tack and rider!), and work on non-hoof-friendly surfaces than they would in the wild and so their hooves get worn faster. The other issue is that in the wild evolution kicks in and over time, horses with stronger feet are going to survive. People, however, have focused breeding on other traits (such as speed) leaving some breeds with less than ideal hooves. We put shoes on to counteract this issue. Shoes also allow us to add studs for traction when necessary. Note that shoes are *not* necessary for all horses. Some, particularly sturdy ponies, can go barefoot their whole lives.

Ok short version. Why shoe?

  • Protection: work on hard surfaces will wear the hoof faster than it can grow.
  • Traction: shoes with corks can help prevent slipping, esp on slippery surfaces.
  • Improving Movement: changing the weight, shape, balance of the shoe can significantly alter the horse's movement.
    Soundness: horses with issues such as laminitis or navicular can be helped by special shoes.

If your horse needs shoes, you need to know about them! They'll need to be reset or replaced every 5-8 weeks. Resetting is when they take the shoes off, trim the hooves, and put the same shoes back on. You can usually do this once, sometimes twice, before new shoes are needed.

So how do you know when your horse needs the farrier?
  • Regular appointment time - your horse should be on a regular schedule, usually once somewhere between 5 and 8 weeks.
  • Missing, thin, bent or twisted shoe - particularly in the case of a bent or twisted shoe call the farrier right away as that can cause problems with their legs (by stressing tendons, ligaments, etc) and their feet (bruised sole).
  • Shoe is loose - you'll hear a noticeable clicking sound when the horse walks and can wiggle or move the shoe.
  • Toes are long - you can see this by looking; the toe seems to grow past the shoe. If they're really long the horse will start to trip as he travels.
  • If the shoe rests on the soul of the foot.

And because I know how much you really want something to memorize... The parts of the shoe:

Not noted here but worth being aware of are clips. Clips stick up either one at the toe, or two - one on either side (think 10 and 2 position). These are called, not surprisingly, toe or quarter clips, and are used particularly for horses involved in high-impact sports, to stop the shoe from twisting or shifting.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Advanced Movement

So you know how your horse *should* move, but one day, they're just not quite right. What could be causing the issue?

Pain - as you don't move perfectly when you're not feeling well, neither does your horse. Very serious lameness will have the horse's hooves seemingly glued, unable to move at all. If forced to move, the lameness will be brutally evident. Call the vet. However, far more common is the "maybe/maybe-not" lameness which is best evaluated at the trot. The lame leg will break-over faster because they don't want to put pressure on it. A horse who's very lame will be head-bobbing. As in, when he trots, his head bobs up and down (conversely, a sound horse's head moves very little). Front leg lameness is the easiest to evaluate -- the head will go UP when the lame leg hits the ground. Try this yourself -- pretend you have a sore foot and hobble around a bit (don't worry -- the Intermediate group had to make fools of themselves too!) As you avoid putting weight on the sore foot your head will go up. If the lameness is in the hind end, the head will go DOWN as the sore foot hits the ground (because they're using their head and neck as a counter-weight to avoid putting pressure where it hurts). Sometimes the lameness is more evident on corners or going one direction over the other.

Rider Imbalance - this one is often discounted, but if the rider is out of balance, it's hardly fair to expect the horse to move properly. Consider how you shift your balance when you're carrying a heavy backpack on one shoulder -- especially if it's the "wrong" shoulder.

Shoeing - shoeing can influence movement in both positive or negative ways. It can be used carefully over the long term to help correct certain issues, or incorrect shoeing can cause a previously sound and even horse to develop problems. More on shoeing another Thursday!

Footing - just like you would change the way you moved were you on pavement, in deep sand, or on ice, so too does your horse. If the footing is deep it requires significantly more effort. If it's slippery, the horse is likely to take a shorter stride or move more cautiously. If it's packing snow, the horse may get snowballs in their shoes causing them to walk very carefully (this is quite dangerous -- it's best to avoid riding when the snow conditions are likely to cause this condition).

Traction - this goes along with footing; if the horse is sliding every time her foot hits the ground, obviously her movement will be affected.

Age - young horses, like kids going through growth spurts, often don't seem to know exactly where all their limbs are -- especially at speed. Older horses, as with older people, may be stiffer or arthritic and their movement will be affected accordingly.

Training - a big part of training is building the strength and balance required to move straight and forward.

Tack - poorly fitting tack can restrict the horse's movement (more on fitting tack another Thursday). If it pinches it can stop them from reaching out fully through the shoulder. An unbalanced saddle will be have the same result as an unbalanced rider. Pressure points can cause pain for your horse, made worse with the addition of a rider's weight. A saddle that bounces when the horse moves will add stress to the horse's back. All in all, ensuring your horse has properly fitting tack will make things much easier all-round for the horse.

PMS - if your mare is seriously pmsy, talk to your vet. As with people, there are things that can help :) On a much lesser scale, this also applies to just having a stiff day (comeon, you know you have days like that, why shouldn't your horse? Mare, stallion or gelding). Esp if she's been stuck inside all day, or the extreme opposite of having been playing a *little* too hard out in the field, she may start out a little stiff or a little uneven. The difference is, usually they work out of this type of unsoundness by the time a normal warm-up is complete.


Intermediate Movement

Each stride can be broken into five phases:

1. Landing - when the foot hits the ground

2. Loading - when the foot bears weight; usually the fetlock is at its lowest position

3. Stance - the fetlock raises to the point it's at when the horse is standing at rest.

4. Breakover - lasts from when the heel begins to leave the ground until the toe leaves the ground. The heel lifts and the knee or hock begins to flex.

a. start - heel leaving ground
b. finish - toe leaving ground
5. Swing - the time the foot is in the air.
Movement Faults:

Now that you know the basic beats and how the stride works, it's time to realize it's not a perfect world *sigh*. I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you. >;-P And since it's not a perfect word, not all horses move correctly. So when you find a horse who's movement is creative, you need to be able to evaluate the risks of this and decide whether it's something you want to deal with.

Normal (or @ least ideal) is that the horse will be able to walk a straight path, with each foot staying equal distance from an invisible centre line. Let's be honest, this section is only here so that pictures of the next three examples make sense!

Winging is when the leg travels on an arch in toward the centre instead of on a straight line. This is often connected with horses that toe-out (more on that on conformation day :) Try it yourself -- turn your toes out ballet style and try to walk, you'll find your legs naturally swing toward each other. Seriously -- get up from the computer and go for a walk. You'll feel foolish, but you'll remember it :) Winging can cause a horse to kick himself (see brushing below), and may place extra stress on the inside of the horse's leg as the hoof hits the ground.

This fault also leads to brushing (when one foot hits the other leg, usually @ fetlock level, while moving). This can also be caused by poor shoeing. Horses that brush should wear boots.

Paddling - the opposite of winging in that the legs move away from the center line. To remember which is which, picture paddling a canoe - your paddle would go out of the boat and back towards it. Paddling is often caused by toe-in conformation. This too you can try without your horse. Point your toes toward each other and try to walk. Have fun :)

Plaiting - is when both front feet travel on the centre line (almost directly in front of each other). Horses that plait are often prone to tripping.

Over-reaching is when the toes of the hind foot hits the back of the front foot (injuring usually the heels). Horses that over-reach should wear bell boots. Over-reaching is seen most often in high-energy sports (jumping, xc, etc)

Forging is when the hind shoe strikes the front shoe as the horse trots. This is less dangerous than over-reaching but may cause shoes to be pulled or your horse to trip. This occurs when the hind leg moves too quickly or the front leg too slowly. Often seen in green or tired horses.


Beginner Movement

Most horses have four natural gaits (there are, of course, exceptions to this -- you can't be surprised about that! :).

The walk is a four-beat gait. Which means each foot hits the ground independently of the others. The order of the legs is: inside hind, inside fore, outside hind, outside fore.

The trot is a two-beat gait. The legs move in diagonal pairs. This is what gives the up-down rhythm that makes posting so successful :)

The canter is a three-beat gait. The horse version of waltzing. The important thing to remember in the canter is the outside hind is the one that strikes-off. The order of the legs is: outside hind, diagonal pair (inside hind with outside fore), inside fore.

The gallop is a four-beat gait followed by a moment of suspension (all four legs off the ground). It is essentially an accelerated canter, but the diagonal pair hits separately. The order of the legs is: outside hind, inside hind, outside fore, inside fore.

(note the moment of suspension and how the diagonal pair from the canter is broken)

And now, what you've all been waiting for, the exceptions! Not necessary to know these at this level, but they're arguably more interesting so I thought I'd include them. There are many exceptions which are found in specific breeds (collectively referred to as "gaited"). There are pacers (a two-beat gait like the trot, where the legs on one side move together), the "running walk" is a favourite of the Tennessee Walking Horse where the legs follow the pattern of a walk, but much faster and smoother. The Icelandic horses (whom I've not yet had the opportunity to ride, but I'd very much love to some day :), have the "tölt" which is a four-beat gait slightly faster than a trot.