Thursday, October 28, 2010

Intermediate: Lunging

Lunging (or longing) is the art of standing in the middle of a circle with a long rope that your horse, attached to the other end, goes around the outside of a circle. Nothing to it!

Why would we bother with such an activity?
- to improve the horse's way of going. Rhythm, balance and coordination are all easier to master without a rider!
- to observe the horse from the ground (either checking for soundness or watching movement etc)
- to take relax or warmup a tense horse before riding
- to work the horse without riding
- to teach voice commands
- to start a young horse before backing them
- to strengthen the horse
- to enable a rider to focus solely on their position

Ok so maybe it is a useful tool after all. So what's required to do this?
- rider: should be wearing a helmet and gloves. Must not be wearing spurs (and if you're doing Pony Club/EC exams you will be penalized if you do! Reason being if you trip while lunging things can get very bad very quickly...)
- horse: boots all around. They are more likely to hit themselves on the lungeline, so should be appropriately booted. May be tacked up or not. If they have a saddle, make sure the stirrups are run up and knotted so they don't come loose and bang unfairly against the horse. If they have no saddle, a lunging surcingle is often used (essentially a large girth that goes all the way around the horse and has rings that side reins can be attached to).


Likewise a lunging cavesson (looks like a big halter with a very thick noseband, a throat latch, and some extra rings on it) can go over either a halter or a bridle to attache the lunge line. In most exam scenarios this is preferred.
- lunge line (think extra-long lead line) should be held by the rider and done up to either the cavesson or the bridle.

Lunging Cavesson

Note that there are a lot of lunging gadgets (for lack of a better word) that in the hands of somebody who really knows what they're doing can be used to help train a horse through a variety of issues. However, it is incredibly easy to do a ton of harm with these and not so easy to get the truly good results so use them with great caution and only under the instruction of a qualified coach.

Side reins are the most commonly used. These run straight from bit to the side of the girth (although some people choose to attach them to the d-rings instead). Done correctly this can teach a horse to bring their hind end underneath them, their back up, and to stretch down into the contact very much as we want them to do when we're riding. Similarly by shortening the inside one slightly it can help create the correct bend. Done incorrectly you can have a horse who leans on them (and later your hands) with their hind end trailing way out behind them, or overtucks their chin to their chest to avoid the contact altogether, or in extremely bad cases (ie too tight too fast on a green horse) who'll rear and flip over. So while very useful and often applied, make sure you know what you're doing before you choose to use them! For the PC and EC exams you will be expected to use side reins correctly.

Side reins

A similar idea but one that strives to avoid allowing the horse to lean is the chambon martingale which makes a triangle from between the horse's legs through the bit up to the pole and back again. Note that this should never be ridden in! (There's the Degauge martingale if you need essentially the same effect mounted). There's also a variation out now that involves ropes going around the hocks to get them to tuck their hind end under. The idea's theoretically not half bad but the practical reality is a little dodgy. And definitely not to be attempted by an amateur. To put this in perspective, every classical trainer I know will avoid this entire paragraph (although they do all use sidereins from the above).

One of many gadgets

Ok so how do you attach the lungeline to the horse?
- first option is to use a lunging cavesson and attach the lungeline to one of the rings (either centre or on the inside of your circle). The cavesson must be tight enough that when the horse is lunging it doesn't slip (or the cheekpiece on the outside will go over their eye).
- second option is to attach to the inside bit ring. This is seriously frowned upon in all testing scenarios. Reason being you can, in fact, pull the bit through the horse's mouth with this method. Both unpleasant and ineffective.
- third option is the "Barnum" method where the lungeline goes through the inside bit ring, runs parallel to the cheek piece, over the crown piece, and down the cheek piece on the outside to do up to the outside bit ring. This is my personal favourite as it avoids the bit-through-the-mouth issue entirely, allows you to use both reins together (as you would while riding) and has the added benefit of putting pressure on the pole. The down side to this method is that when you switch direction, which you should do often, it's a pita to unhook and reconnect. Should the horse shy or bolt when you're in the middle of setting it up, this would be very bad. In an exam situation, stick with the cavesson.
- another option is to wrap the lungeline once around the cheekpieces and noseband on the inside, go over the noseband, wrap around the cheekpieces and the noseband on the outside, and do it back up to itself underneath. This has the benefit of not using the bit at all and applying pressure to the nose, but is a serious pita to set up and judging just the right length of lungeline to begin wrapping with is a bit of an art in itself. I have seen this used and done it once or twice to try it, but I don't know anybody who uses it as their primary method.

Alright, all tacked up and ready to go! Now what?
You want to make a triangle, with you at the centre of the circle as the point, the lunge line to the horse's head one side, horse's body the second side, and the lungewhip from you pointing toward the horse's tail as the third point.

Neutral position: Dark blue - lunge line, dotted blue - where your body should point, green - where the whip should point

The lungewhip acts as your leg -- point it to the back of the horse to encourage forward; point it to his girth area to keep him out; lower it (or in extreme cases put it behind you) to chill the horse out. Your shoulders can also seriously impact the horse's performance. Remember the horse is a prey animal and will instinctively go away from you. Your neutral and most frequently used position should have your body facing the horse's shoulder. Angling yourself so you're slightly behind him, with the shoulder on the direction he's going slightly back (so your body is facing almost the direction he's going) and he'll accelerate in that direction. Stand slightly ahead and turn that same shoulder in to him (so you're facing more towards the hind end) and you'll find they slow down. In general though, you want to stand in the middle of the circle with your body pointing at the girth. Simple right? hahaha go try it -- it's usually the hardest thing novice lungers find to master. They generally end up ahead of the horse trying to lead him -- resulting in (as noted above) him stopping. Quite amusing from the sidelines but very frustrating for the person who doesn't understand exactly what's going on!

Oops! One of the most common mistakes from a novice lunger is to get ahead of the horse... This usually results in the horse stopping and/or turning in to the middle. Note also that by this point they are no longer anywhere near the middle of the circle.

Important things while lunging:
- if you're inexperienced, make sure somebody is supervising and avoid lunging a green horse till you've practiced with one who knows its job! Remember, you wouldn't've wanted to ride an TB fresh off the track for your first ever riding lesson, so don't try lunging something challenging until you know what you're doing either.
- make sure all tack fits appropriately
- never put a rider on with sidereins done up (although you can replace them once they're on). Don't lunge a rider till you've got mountains of experience with everything else on here.
- always wear gloves
- it's a good idea to always lunge in an enclosed space. Not always possible, but if you have the option. . .
- never let the lunge line touch the ground (and officially same goes for the whip -- if you're in an exam scenario practice this! It takes a fair amount of skill to change direction on the lunge w/o putting down the whip :)
- likewise never all the lunge line to get wrapped around your hand, arm or leg. This mistake can be fatal should the horse bolt. Take it very seriously.
- keep your lunging sessions short - 20 minutes on a lunge line is close to an hour of riding in a larger ring.
- always keep your eye on the horse. Both to make sure you're with-it when the squirrel darts across the ring and spooks your horse who spins and is suddenly running the wrong direction w/ the lungeline over his neck, AND to pay attention to what he's telling you. They will get tired much faster on the lunge than you'd expect. Keep in mind that muscle tired and adrenaline do not always play well together. A spun horse will keep galloping long after their body should've told them to stop. It's your responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen.
- once you get the hang of lunging, get somebody to teach you to longline. Between the two, you can teach the horse all sorts of cool things :)


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Intermediate: Lunging

Coming tomorrow night :)

Advanced: Nutrients

Alright so it’s been a while since I’ve done a really good advanced level TheoryThursday so I figured I’d do about a month’s worth in one :) Enjoy!

As always note that this is simply an FYI. Your horse’s diet should be discussed with your vet and equine nutritionist – not concocted off the Internet. This is just so you can sound intelligent when you go to talk to the experts!

There are six types of essential nutrients:
  • Water – essential part of every cell

  • Protein - building blocks of cells, for growth, repair and maintenance of body

  • Vitamins - support vital body functions

  • Minerals - build and maintain tissue

  • Carbohydrates - used for energy and digestion

  • Fatty Acids/Lipids - produce extra energy (backup system for carbs) and used to digest vitamins.


is the most important nutrient in the horse's body. The horse should drink about 12 gallons of water daily -- obviously more in the very hot weather or when in serious work. Water makes up 65% of the horse’s body weight (closer to 80% for foals). Among other things, their bodies use water for:
  • Digestion: aids swallowing, provides fluid for food to pass along digestive tract, basis for digestive juices.

  • Blood: fluid containing blood cells and nutrients, carries waste from tissues

  • Lymph: drains tissue and maintain balance of body fluids

  • Urine: excrete waste, regulate levels of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes

  • Faeces: supply fluid to aid excretion

  • Body – regulate body temperature

  • Skin – regulate body temperature (ie remove excess heat as sweat)

  • Eyes and nostrils: tears and mucus as a lubricant

  • Joints: lubricate

  • Milk: 91% of milk of lactating mares.


are the building blocks of the cells, and as such are particularly critical for young, growing horses. They create new tissue and repair the old. These are found in oilseed (esp soybean oil – which is about 50% protein), oats, barley, corn and alfalfa. Proteins are made up of amino acids, whose job is to translate plant protein (that the horse has just eaten) into animal protein (that his body can use). There are a whole variety of these amino acids (24 actually :) – of which the two most important are lysine and methionine. They are the most important because the horse needs those two to make use of the other ones.


Vitamins are organic substances needed in small amounts by the body. There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble (which is carried in water, and tends to exit the body fairly rapidly) and fat-soluble (which is carried in fat and can be stored for when the body needs them).

The fat-solubles are Vitamins A, D, E, and K. This is why it is important to have at least a certain percentage of body mass as fat -- if your horse doesn't have enough fat, she can't utilize these correctly.

Vitamin A:
Is made from carotene which is found in green pasture grasses and good quality hay. Is responsible for night vision, important for reproduction and embryo creation, helps improve the immune system, and keeps eyes/skin/hair/nerves/hooves/etc healthy. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness; toxicity can cause fragile bones or overgrowth of bones and/or pregnancy issues (ie malformed foetus).

Vitamin D:
Found in sunlight or a little bit in sun-cured hay. Helps regulate calcium levels (hence why most calcium supplements include Vitamin D :). Vitamin D deficiency is rarely a concern due to the fact that horses need very little of it but in extreme circumstances can cause rickets (as w/ people, causes bone deformities). Vitamin D toxicity is incredibly rare since the body only makes as much D as it needs; were it to happen it would result in calcification of soft tissues.

Vitamin E:
Found in forage – note that Vitamin E is lost when feed is heated during processing or over time. Older plants have less E than younger ones. It is necessary for fertility, production of red blood cells and ability to carry oxygen in teh blood. Deficiency will result in muscle issues (esp when combined w/ selenium deficiency -- hence why vit E and Selenium supplements are often sold combined). These issues would display as constant shifting of weight or lying down, no ability to keep muscle tone, trembling, etc. Vitamin E toxicity is essentially a non-issue. In people it can cause impared bone calcification, but doesn't seem to happen in horses. Note though that too much selenium (see minerals) which is often combined with the E supplement IS a concern.

Vitamin K:
Found in forage, vitamin K helps with blood clotting. Deficiency is very rare, usually only caused if mouldy hay is fed (as it actively works against vitamin K) and would result in blood not clotting properly. Toxicity is also very rare (the "safe" rate is something like 1000 times the daily recommended intake) although has occasionally be caused by injection resulting in renal/kidney failure.

Ok so those are the ones that can be stored in your horse’s body. The water soluble vitamins include all the B vitamins (cause it’s easier to remember a bunch of Bs then to give them each their own letter!) as well as C. These are usually flushed out of the system through the horse’s urine and so are rarely toxic, but by the same token, deficiencies are noted much more quickly.

Vitamin B6:
Is required to allow the amino acid tryptophan to be used. This is found in most feeds and has no known deficiency or toxicity issues.

Vitamin B12:
Is created in the horse’s digestive tract (and requires the mineral Cobalt for this to happen!) B12 is used in the metabolism of faty acids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Also helps prevent anemia. It has no known deficiency or toxicity issues.

Vitamin B3 - aka Niacin
Found in forage and produced by the horse's digestive system, Niacin is required for metabolism. It has no known deficiency or toxicity issues.

Vitamin B1 - aka Thiamine
Found in cereal grains, Thiamine aids in carbohydrate digestion and is required for appetite. Toxicity is a non issue but deficiency can cause:
- nervous system issues (incl pain, swelling and lethargy)
- loss of appetite
- muscle twitching
- slow heartbeat
- lack of coordination
Note that deficiency is usually not an issue due to it being so available in the horse's diet. However, should the horse eat a large amount of Bracken Fern, it will block the B1 resulting in the deficiency.

Vitamin B2 - aka Riboflavin
Found in leguemes and grass hays; a moderate amount can also be produced in the digestive system. Riboflavin helps make coenzymes which are essential for energy release and the proper functioning of the nervous system. Toxicity is very rare and would cause weight loss. Deficiency is a non-issue.

Vitamin C
Is generally synthesized from glucose in the horse’s intestines. This is an anti-oxidant with no known deficiency or toxicity issues. (Although in people vitamin c deficiency produces scurvy)

Alright – you got all that? You’re half way through now! Hahaha I did warn you it was an intense one :) So we’ve done water, proteins and vitamins. And the vitamins are divided into fat soluble (A, D, E, K) and water soluble (various Bs and C).

And now we’re on to...


Minerals are inorganic substances (as opposed to the organic vitamins we just discussed) that are required in tiny amounts but are absolutely critical for a healthy horse – 90% of the skeleton is made up of minerals. Note that overfeeding minerals is likely to cause more harm than overfeeding vitamins.
There are two types of minerals, macrominerals (aka major minerals) and microminerals (aka trace minerals).

  • Potassium maintains PH and fluid levels in the cells. This is used every time your horse uses a muscle. Found in forage. May need to be supplemented (ie electrolytes) in a horse who is exercising heavily for a long period of time without eating (esp endurance horses) in hot humid weather

  • Chlorine (salt ) is important for cell function. Found in salt.

  • Sodium (salt) similar to potassium but arguably even more important. Hard to find in normal diet but a primary component of salt which is why it is recommended to have free choice salt always available (particularly loose salt as some have trouble with the blocks). If your horse is randomly licking odd things (esp your sweaty hands!) the odds are good he needs more loose salt.

  • Calcium is important for bone development and maintenance. 90% of calcium in the body is found in the bones. Comes from legumes. Amount must be carefully balanced with phosphorus.

  • Phosphorus is also important in bone formation and maintenance as well as creating cell energy (ADP/ATP). 80% of phosphorus in the body is found in the bones. Comes from plants. Amount must be carefully balanced with calcium.

  • Magnesium is important in skeletal development, muscles, and nervous tissue. Lots of "de-stress" horse products use magnesium to help chill out the horse as magnesium deficiency can lead to being very tense and high strung. Found in most feeds, but often not sufficient to meet horse's daily needs.

  • Sulfur is involved in just about every substance in your horse's body. Critical component of key amino acids (which make up protein structure) and important to both insulin (sugar regulator) and biotin (hoof growth) as well as many others. Found in forage.

No less important than macrominerals, but required in tiny amounts.
  • Iron is important for blood transportation around the body; iron deficiency can result in a weak or anemic horse.

  • Zinc is important in bone development, blood clotting, coat quality and reproduction.

  • Manganese is important in cartilage and bone development and mineral utilization.

  • Copper is important in bone and cartilage development and iron utilization. Molasses is particularly high in bopper.

  • Iodine regulates thyroid activity and aids metabolism. Also particularly important for pregnant mares. . Iodine is usually supplemented by feeding iodized salt.

  • Cobalt is important for blood cell formation and the synthesis of vitamin B12 (see above :)

  • Selenium is important to reproduction, growth, and the immune system. Note that too much selenium can cause all sorts of problems from abdominal pain and lethargy to hair loss, blindness and laminitis.

Note that there are two ratios you must be aware of for minerals:
  • Calcium: Phosphorus -- roughly 2:1. Should it drop too low, the horse won't be able to absorb the calcium, resulting in deficiency and weaker bones. Note that hay and grasses are high in calcium, low in phosphorus while grain is high in potassium and low in calcium.

  • Zinc: Copper -- this one isn't set because it'll change dramatically from horse to horse, but it seems the higher the ratio, the more likely problems will occur.


Carbohydrates are plant starches that your horse uses for energy. They are found in hays, grains and grasses and are the most usual source of energy. Note that excess energy will be stored as fat so be careful to feed the right amount for the amount of work he’s doing!

Fatty Acids/Lipids

Fatty acids are used to carry certain vitamins through the bloodstream and are essential for metabolism. They also affect skin and hair condition and the rate of growth of young horses. Fats provide roughly 2.5x the amount of energy as carbs and are an “emergency backup system” for use when your horse’s body is stressed (be it from too much work, illness, or missing his weekly trip to the psychiatrist!) The best source for these are wheat-germ oil (or if you’re on a budget, corn oil :) Note that high-fat feeds tend to spoil quickly so be careful if you choose to feed them.

And now you know far more than you ever wanted to about nutrients :) Congratulations.


Beginner: Colours

So just as the Inuit have some ridiculous number of words for "ice" and the English language has an equal number of words for "idiot" so too does the horse world have a variety of ways of describing "brown". And then a few other colours for good measure.

Before you can identify your horse's colour you have to know what his points are. The points are main, tail, and legs. These are part of how you identify your horse's colour.

There's the true brown horse, who's well... brown. Complete with brown points.

But be careful, because a horse who looks black, and has a gorgeous black mane and tail may well also be brown (true black is not entirely common). Check the muzzle or the hair by the flank -- if it's brown, the horse is brown. If it's black, you're good to go with black. Got that?

So if a black horse with brown points is brown, what's a brown horse with black points? That would be bay. A bay horse is brown with black mane and tail.

Ok now if you have a reddish brown coloured horse with no black on it and a mane/tail that is the same colour as the body or lighter, that'd be a chestnut.

How about that gorgeous white horse in the field? Yeah, it's probably not white, it's probably grey. True white horses are incredibly rare; a white horse will have white hair and unpigmented (aka pink) skin. These horses are born white, often with blue eyes, and remain white for life. Conversely, Grey's can be born any colour and the coat often starts quite dark (steel grey) and lightens with age - sometimes to completely white (just to confuse things!).

Got all that?

Ok now for some fun colours.

Buckskin - is a golden colour with black points.

Dun - is a buckskin that also has a dorsal stripe (black line running along his spine). May also sometimes have faint zebraish markings (esp on the legs)

Palomino - technically a chestnut horse, a palomino will have a yellow or golden coat with flaxen or white mane and tail.

Pinto - the horse who couldn't decide what to wear in the morning! Has large patches of either brown and white (aka skewbald) or black and white (aka piebald). Note that a Paint is a breed of horse with pinto markings, not a colour.

Roan - is when the horse has white hairs interspersed with the natural body colour. Unlike grey horses, their coat doesn't change colour as they age.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Intermediate/Advanced Aids

So you know by now that your natural aids consist of legs, seat, weight, hand, voice. But how do you use them effectively?

There are five different type of rein aids:

  • Direct: this is what you'll be most used to. Your hand comes straight back to your hip, and the horse turns their head in that direction. Used to create flexion, turn, slow down, stop, and reverse.

  • Indirect (aka rein of opposition): Your hand comes toward the withers (but should never cross!) Mostly used to help take the weight off of the shoulder on the side you're using. Sometimes used on the outside to make a tight turn at speed.

  • Opening: this is when you bring your hand off the neck to one side. Used to encourage the shoulders to move in a particular direction, esp when starting a young horse, introducing lateral work, and jumping. Also sometimes called a "leading" rein or a "guiding" rein.

  • Neck: most often used in western riding, the rein lies against the neck on the opposite side of the intended movement (ie, so when you want the horse to go left, the rein lies against the right side of his neck) Usually both reins will go left to turn left, both reins go right to turn right (easily done in western where both reins are in one hand). In english riding you mostly see it being used to facilitate turns while jumping. Also occasionally (ummm mostly only in text-books and random exam questions :) called the bearing rein.

  • Pully: an emergency stopping aid, one hand with a short rein gets buried in the withers, while the other the rein comes up and back quite sharply. This aid is very harsh and should only be used if you're being seriously run away with (and are about to go off a cliff or crash into something dangerous! Otherwise remember, you can ride as fast as they can run :) If you use this properly the horse *will* stop -- and often spin the direction of the rein you used, so be sitting back and prepared for that.

Now you never use a rein aid without using a leg aid. And while the leg aids don't usually get names, consider the different ways you can use them:

  • one leg at the girth - Active: encourages the horse to move forward and to bend around it. Preventative: stop the horse from cutting that direction

  • one leg behind the girth - Active: moves the hindquarters. Preventative: stop hindquarters from swinging.

  • two legs together: asks the horse to speed up or move forward

  • closing a thigh against the saddle - Active: encourages horse to bend correctly rather than lean. Preventative - helps stop the shoulder from dropping (esp out on a turn)

Now consider the many possible combinations of these:
- One leg says go, opposite rein says "not faster", end result = lengthened stride. - Reins and inside leg say "go straight", Outside leg says "bring hindquarters in", end result = traverse.
- etc etc etc
This is, of course, all very simplified. But then, riding is really simple. It's just not always easy >;-P There are hundreds of "how-to" books if you want more about this... But the best thing to do would be ask your coach :)

Seat? What can I do with my seat? Seat is really a combination of your literal seat with your abs and back muscles (technically the back is controlled by the abs too, but for most of us non-anatomy-specialists it helps to think of the back as a separate entity :). Depending on how you choose to sit, you can shift your horse's balance significantly. Shift your weight forward, and his weight will be on the forehand. Sideways and he'll step sideways under you. Turn your hips left, odds are that's what direction you'll go.

You can use your seat with the motion -- your hips follow the movement and it encourages the horse to move freely, or against the motion - where you tighten your abs and back and tuck your seat under you a little bracing slightly. This has the effect of shifting the horse's weight back and will often slow or stop him.

Is your weight in your heels, your thighs, or your seat? It'll make a difference to your horse. Along with weight - where are you looking? This is important because your head is relatively heavy -- your horse can feel the shift in your weight. Note that in the beginning, the seat is rarely focused on -- beginner riders have enough to worry about figuring out their reins, legs and basic balance. But in the end, the top dressage riders will use their seat as their primary aid. It gets it's power out of its subtlety, but requires a great deal of skill to use.

And what's left? Oh yeah, the voice. Mostly a supplementary aid (and illegal in dressage) a cluck or a growl can be that little extra encouragement necessary to get a hesitating horse over a fence while a quiet "steady" or "woah" might help relocate the brain of a panicked bolting horse.

Now the tricky part to riding is to use only the aids you intend to use and none of the ones you don't! It's very easy to accidentally give the horse conflicting signals which can lead to a confused horse and a frustrated rider. When something's not working the first thing to do is stop and think through your aids -- what *exactly* are you asking him? Did your leg bump his sides (go) at the same time you closed your hand (stop)? Did your reins say turn left while your weight said turn right? Always remember your horse can feel a fly land on him -- he can feel what you're telling him, even if you don't *know* you're telling him something!


Beginner: Aids

This post started with position and was getting ridiculously long - even by my standards. So it's been divided into several weeks' worth of posts (losing the original topic entirely!) and consequently made much more reasonable :) Enjoy!

Aids are how we communicate with the horse. Much as we'd like to, just giving the horse the course map and saying "go there" usually isn't going to be entirely successful. So we use a variety of aids to communicate. The natural aids are: leg, seat, hand, voice. (sidenote -- sometimes people will add in weight or body to that list -- otherwise those are all lumped in with "seat"). Where and how you combine these things leads to everything from convincing your horse to stop and go, to tempi-changes and pirouettes. When you're first learning to ride you'll rely primarily on your leg and hand, with perhaps a little help from your voice. As you progress, this will change so that you rely mostly on your seat with a little help from the leg and hand.

When you're applying your aids, remember "ask, tell, demand" -- just like you wouldn't want to be shouted at without being asked first, nor is it fair to "yell" at your horse using strong aids before "asking" him first with soft ones. For instance, when you want him to go first give a gentle squeeze with both legs. Then if that doesn't work, a kick. And if that *still* doesn't work you might go to a stronger kick or use of a crop. This escalation has to take place within three seconds for the horse to make the connection and the aids MUST be given in order. If the first time doing an exercise, they don't get it on the softest aid, you should redo the exercise immediately after they've done it until they do get it from the soft aid. (so if the first time you have to kick to make your horse trot. Trot a few strides, then come back to the walk and repeat the transition. If you were quick enough in your aids the first time, the next time you should be able to get it from a squeeze. Most horses learn this very quickly when it's applied consistently.)

Your natural aids (remember: leg, seat, hand, voice) are always in one of three states: active, passive, or preventing.
  • An active aid is one that is telling the horse to do something, for instance squeezing your legs to make your horse go faster.

  • A passive aid is one that is there, but relaxed, such as a leg that is touching the horse, but not squeezing or telling him to do anything.

  • A preventing aid is one that is stopping the horse from doing something they want to do (that you haven't asked them too!). An example of this might be pulling back on the reins when a horse is going to fast.

To supplement the natural aids are artificial aids: a crop (or a dressage whip) or spurs. These are not meant to hurt the horse but to enable the experienced rider to refine and clarify the natural aids. Spurs should never be used by a novice rider since if your leg slips (a normal thing when you're learning), you'll unfairly jab your horse. Also, if you happen to be studying for the EquineCanada exams, note that they consider the martingale (which could be either standing or running - see "tack") to be an artificial aid. Most other examination systems I'm aware of (BHS, PC etc) do not. So if you're writing a test, make sure you know whose book you should be reading!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Intermediate/Advanced Blankets

So you bought your first horse this spring and had a great season with her. But now it's getting cold :( Time to think about blankets! Why? That's discussed in the beginner section of today's post -- feel free to read it :) In this post, what to know before you buy: size, weight, care, hoods, fit

So you realize you need a blanket and duitifully go to the tack store to purchase one... And are greeted with a whole wall of choices. And absolutely no idea what it is you should be buying. You randomly look at a tag. After cringing at the price you note some other information. Three numbers. No idea what they mean. Great. With Google's help, you end up here :)

I'm not going to discuss brands -- everybody has their own favourites and their own budget. However, there are some things that will be required throughout: size, weight, and care. And for those who *really* want the short version the numbers refer to size, shell and insulation. The end :)

For the long version...:

If your horse is going outside in it, it should be waterproof. Since most waterproof items don't allow sweat to evaporate either, it can lead to overheating which is almost worse than being cold. For this reason you should look for blankets that are both waterproof AND breathable. Harder to find and slightly more expensive, but definitely worth it for your horse's sake. You can always check your horse for overheating by putting a hand between the blanket and the chest or by the girth. If they're overly warm or sweating you've got them over-blanketed. This can happen even when it's cold out -- particularly if it's sunny.


Size is the first number you'll usually see on the tag. It is measured in inches and will range anywhere from about 66" (smaller for foals of course - think baby-clothes) to about 88" (I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a 90" and I don't think I have -- but it doesn't mean they don't exist, it just means I don't work with many HUGE horses :) The usually go up in increments of 2" with always being even numbers, but not always since my ottb is currently wearing a 75" so clearly somebody felt the need to defy the rules *g* Or offer more variety :) Anyways - how do you know what size you'll need?
  1. Grab a tape measure and, if you have one, a friend :) Can be done with one person, but much easier with two.

  2. Make sure horse is standing square on a flat surface.

  3. Have your friend hold the end of the tape at the point where your horse's neck meets the center of his chest.

  4. Take the other end of the tape along the side of the horse all the way around to the middle of his hindquarters (will be usually a little less than 1' below where the tail meets the body). Make sure when you're doing this that the tape measure crosses the widest part of the shoulder or your blanket will be too small. Also make sure it's taut (if it's loose your blanket will be too big). Note the measurement. Multiply by 2 and you're good to go.

Now when you're shopping if you're on a half-size go up one. Also, as with people's clothing, different brands and styles fit differently, so while you may technically be a 74, for some brands you may need a 76 or a 72. Well trained sales staff will be able to tell you how the various blankets usually fit.


Just like you're not going to wear your heavy down-filled parka on a day that's 5deg (ummm that'd be about ..... to our US friends :) it's important that you dress your horse according to the weather as well. Other considerations include activity level, indoor temperature, the length of your horse's hair, and metabolism (a horse that's hard to keep weight on may need a warmer blanket). To this end we have not one but TWO numbers regarding the weight. The second number (after size) you'll usually see on the tag is for the shell (outter layer) and has to do with the weight of the fibers in the fabric. The lower the number, the finer and lighter the fabric (think silk). The higher the number, the coarser and heavier it'll be.

The last number refers to the insulation. Anything below 175 is considered a Light-weight. This could be anything from a rainsheet with no insulation to a stable sheet. A midweight will be in the 175-250 range. A heavyweight is 250+ (up to about 500). Note that realistically the numbers are just guidelines -- anything that's within about 50 of a boundary could switch levels based on the type of fabric used for the shell and the lining. Pretend you have a fleece vest for your "insulation" and you put it over a t-shirt and under a light spring jacket. Now take that same fleece but put it over a sweatshirt and under a heavy leather rain jacket. Technically you've got the same level of insulation, but to a very different result. So you have to consider the overall package not just any one number on its own.


For me, care is once or twice a year making a giant pile of all the blankets and sending them to our wonderful blanket lady who, for a reasonable fee, returns them cleaned and repaired -- complete w/ smilie face stickers indicating all the repairs. However, for those who are a little more ambitious than I...

Most blankets now are made machine washable (yeah!) -- they do tend to be hard on the washers though (and most laundromats will kick you out :) so be forewarned (you might get away with it if you go to a city laundromat where they don't know any better :). They also make a lot of noise since the metal buckles fly around. Generally just follow the instructions -- can't tell you much more than that. Usually wash in warm, rinse in cold. Don't use bleach and don't dry-clean (the chemicals effect the waterproofing and are not particularly good for your horse). The big thing to remember is don't use the dryer as that will undo the waterproofing.

Obviously tears should be stitched, straps must be in good repair, and the inside @ least should be reasonably clean of mud, hair, dirt, etc.


Some blankets come with hoods (essentially neck-warmers :) These add time and a bit of a pita to the daily routine, but if your horse has a full-body clip you should seriously consider one (if they have their natural coat on the neck, I don't worry about it). Note that there are some blankets now which do not have hoods but seem to have a little "extra" piece that comes over the withers and just a bit up the neck. These are great in theory. However, in practice I've noticed that since that extra piece doesn't really lie ON the neck so much as over it, there's a tendency for snow and other miserable weather elements to get in there (esp if the horse's head is down) ending with a very wet and very cold horse. Be aware though that's only my personal experience. It's enough that I don't use them any more, but there might be some out there for which that's not an issue.


Once you've bought your blanket (or blankets as the case usually is) bring them home, groom your horse, and then try them on. It should cover from the withers to the dock (most have little tail flaps now -- great addition!) It should fit reasonably closely -- anything that moves too much, or conversely is too tight, will rub, leaving bare patches on your horse's skin. Check particularly the points of the shoulder and hip as well as by the withers. The blanket should go just past the belly. If it's down near the knees it's way too long and the horse will risk getting tripped up by the straps that attach underneath. Anything that's too big will be subject to twisting and getting tangled. Straps are pretty well always adjustable. They should be loose enough to not be touching the horse (it's not a girth!) but not so loose that they dangle. The chest straps should be snug enough that the blanket is not moving around.


Beginner Blankets

Why do you have to put a blanket on her? Horses in the wild didn't have blankets. (post includes: why, how and types)

True enough, but horses in the wild also don't live the way my horse does. When you change their environment you must take responsibility for ensuring you do no damage. For one thing, there weren't too many wild thoroughbreds running around Canada. Ever. (not that there aren't a bunch who pretend to be!) The climate is just too
harsh. There are some breeds particularly well adapted to winter conditions (Icelandic, Shetland, etc) -- they tend to be of the short, stocky, hairy kind -- all items that dispose them well for winter. If the average domestic horse were permitted to get nice and fat, grow a thick fur coat that's rarely groomed so it maintains
all its weatherproofing-oils, have enough space to move around and keep warm, and shelter from the nastier elements, they'd probably be just fine outside, naked, in the winter.

BUT we tend to stable most of our horses. Interference number one. That means the temperature will change differently than it would if they were always outside (may be significantly warmer indoors than out) -- which the horses' bodies don't adapt to well. Remember when you or I walk into a nice warm room from the bitter cold outside, we take off half a dozen layers and are then good to go. Your horse doesn't have that option. So he either grows a think winter coat and then comes in and sweats and makes himself ill, or he doesn't, and then goes out and spends all day shivering -- making him more prone to various illnesses and serious weightloss. By blanketing him, you
remove the need to grow the winter coat and thus keep him comfortable indoors and out. Some people will start blanketing in late Aug or early Sept, before it's *really* necessary, so that the horse really doesn't grow any winter coat at all.

Some of us also *gasp* ride all winter! This means the horse is expending energy she wouldn't in the wild. Energy that could otherwise be used for keeping her warm. Before riding, the horse is usually groomed - for health and safety - but this removes natural oils from the coat that are essential to "waterproofing" her. And
while being ridden, she will likely sweat - requiring long cooling periods and messing around with the natural coat oils. Often, to avoid the long cooling out periods, people will clip their horses. If your horse is clipped, she must be blanketed. Period.

Just like jackets, blankets (or rugs if you happen to be in the UK or Australia :) come in all different types, sizes, styles, etc. Your basics are:

  • Coolers: usually a big rectangular piece of fabric, with two strings that can be used to tie around the chest and a strap that goes over the ears. Coolers are only used under supervision. They are used on a wet (either from sweat or because somebody just gave them a bath) horse to allow enough air circulation for the horse to
    dry, but slows the rate of drying so the horse doesn't become sick. Picture when you work out in the winter: you get all hot and sweaty, then you stop and are fine for a couple minutes. But slowly you start shivering -- the wet from the sweat becomes cold, and if you don't do something about it you'll end up sick. Same goes for your
    horse. Walking them with a cooler on and making sure they are *never* put away wet will help. Also, do not just put on one of their other blankets while they're wet -- the blanket will get wet on the inside, thereby making it completely ineffective. (essentially like wearing a wet jacket). You can also now get coolers that
    actually have front straps and sometimes belly straps to help hold it in place while you're cooling the horse out. Just make sure it's of a fabric that is going to take the sweat away from the horse -- fleece does not work well!

  • Sheets: usually cotton, these blankets are very lightweight and not waterproof. They are meant to be worn indoors by stabled horses -- particularly on cool fall nights when blankets are not *quite* necessary yet, but it still gets chilly in the barn.

  • Rain sheets: lightweight blankets that are essentially a waterproof shell with no insulation. May or may not have a liner.

  • Light-weight, Mid-weight, Heavy-weight blankets: the weight referenced here is the amount of insulation, not the physical weight of the blanket (which may be quite light even for a heavy-weight :)

  • Quarter-sheet: this is used while riding to keep the horse's hindquarters warm. Particularly if they're going to have to stand still for any length of time. It has straps for the girth to go through and one at the back for the tail. These stop it from sliding backwards or sideways.

So you get to the barn for your weekly lesson and discover your horse is wearing a blanket. Great! But ummmm.... How do you get it off to tack him up??? When taking a blanket off, the first thing you need to do is undo all the straps. Start at the back end of the horse; this is an important safety issue -- if something should
happen that resulted in sudden movement and gravity, you don't want the blanket on the ground tied around the horse's legs. The chest straps must always be done up if any leg straps are -- therefore, leg straps get undone first. There may be straps between his hind legs (these are optional, but common), if they're there, unclip them.
Then move to the side (almost always the left side) there will be one or two buckles. These straps may be straight (perpendicular to the ground) or on an angle. Undo these (be careful not to let them hit the horse's legs as they fall!) Then go to the front of the horse and undo the chest straps. Now that all buckles are undone, hold
the blanket where it crosses the withers, and fold it back to the tail (so the blanket is now folded in half). Do that once more from the middle to the back (blanket now folded in quarters, sitting on the horse's hindquarters). Then slide the whole thing off the back and fold it width-wise and hang it up or put it somewhere out of the way. It is important to take it off this way for a couple reasons:
  • when folded like that it's much easier to put back on

  • much safer as it avoids spooking the horse and there are no random straps flying everywhere as you try and pull it off

  • much easier to manipulate (these blankets are big and oddly shaped!)

Now of course there IS an exception. Some blankets don't have chest buckles -- the chest area is sewn shut. In this case you fold backwards (butt to withers) and then slide the whole thing up and over his head. These blankets require care when using and are a bit of a pita to deal with so I'd recommend avoiding unless absolutely
necessary. Why would it be necessary? Sometimes for fit and sometimes because you own an escape artist who undoes the buckles :)

And putting it back on? Well that's just the reverse process. Lay the blanket on the hindquarters, unfold it up to the withers. Do up the chest straps FIRST (note this is the opposite of taking it off when they're the last thing done. Remember the reason for this is that if only one thing is done up, it should be the chest. That way,
should the horse bolt or shy or any other horse-type behaviour, the blanket won't end up tied around his legs. Never have leg or belly straps tied when the chest straps are not done up!) After that the belly straps. If the straps are perpendicular to the ground, they do up straight (ie the strap at the front on the right, buckles to the
strap at the front on the left). If the straps are on an angle, they cross when you do them up (ie the strap at the front on the right does up to the strap at the BACK on the left). Then the leg straps -- two options here, either cross them (left strap attaches to right buckle). Or do them up each to their own side, but when you do up
the second strap loop it through the first one. The reason for this is two fold -- first it's a little more effective at stopping the blanket from twisting and second it stops the straps from rubbing on the horse's hind legs.

And after all that, why do you sometimes see horses wearing blankets in the summer??? These are actually fly sheets -- meant to keep the flies off, deflect sunlight to keep the horse cool, and stop the horse's coat from bleaching (which matters in some sports).


Season 2 of TheoryThursday

TheoryThursday is back! I have good intentions of keeping the posts much shorter this time around, but we shall see :) Anybody who reads
my other blog will know that brevity isn't my usual style *g* That
and really, who has time to write a short post? That requires
editing! It's definitely not going to happen on the first week :)
We'll consider it more of a long-term goal...

So since it's starting to get cold (well that and because somebody
requested it :) we'll start the season with blanketing!