Cracked hooves = nightmare! So, to help you manage them effectively we’ve got some handy tips and advice.Read More
Your horse’s eyes aren’t just there to help him find food, but he relies on his sight to keep him and the others in the herd safe and to help move around his environment.Read More
Hoof care is one of the most overlooked areas of horse health, so experienced farrier Reubin Underwood explains how to help you keep your horse’s hooves in top condition.Read More
If you prefer a full tail, when it comes to show-time a top-notch tail plait will set you above the competition – read on for our easy-to-follow guide
On the morning of your event, to get started on your perfect tail plait first brush out your horse’s clean tail – you might find it easier to plait if you washed it a couple of days ago.
Smooth down any straggly hairs with a damp sponge or a small amount of styling product – your hairspray or gel will both work well. Then follow our step-by-step guide for the perfect plait.
1. Gather small matching sections of hair from either side of the top of his dock, as high up as you can
2. Cross one over the other in the centre of his dock, then take another section of hair from underneath on one side and pass it into the middle
3. Starting from the opposite side, alternate taking small pieces of hair from each side and merge into the existing sections of hair as you plait
4. Continue adding in hair until you’ve plaited to about three-quarters of the way down the dock
5. Stop adding hair and plait to the end of the tail. Sew up the end of the plait, double it up and sew into place. Hairspray down any loose hairs, or trim them off. Protect your plait during travelling with a tail bandage and you’re good to go!
The most important thing you can do for your horse’s hooves is have him shod on a regular basis. It’s also important that you know what’s normal for him so keep an eye on his hooves, pick them out daily and if you think something’s not quite right, contact your farrier.
Signs your horse needs a visit from the farrier include;
· The clenches have risen away from the hoof wall
· The hoof has visibly overgrown the shoe at the front or sides
· The shoe's become worn and thin
· The shoe is twisted or has become loose
In addition to every day general care, here are some tips to help you keep your horse’s hooves in good condition:
1. A good, balanced diet will aid horn growth.
2. Supplements can help give your horse the vitamins and minerals he needs. This can be especially important if your horse has limited turnout and may be lacking the natural, hoof-friendly vitamins found in grass.
3. Ensure you regularly check and wash your horse’s frogs with salt water to help prevent infection, and make the effort to apply hoof dressing a couple
of times a week. This will help to keep the hoof wall in good condition and protect it from the elements.
4. One of the most important things is to maintain a good relationship with your farrier, as they will be able to help you the most if you’re worried about your horse’s hoof health.
Spot the signs of a well-shod foot
Do you know what this should look like? Here are some pointers;
1. When your horse is stood square and on level ground, look at his front feet. Both hooves should look as though they’re the same length, and the coronary bands should be parallel to the floor. Then look at the back feet for the same signs.
2. Pick up each foot and examine the shoe. It should be smooth with no kinks or bumps, and nicely rounded towards the front. Pointed shoes are never a good sign and will impact on your horse’s break-over movement.
3. Look at your horse’s heels on his fore feet. Every horse is different, but as a general rule if his heels are upright, his shoes will need to stick out less at the back as his heels won’t need as much support as a horse with an under-run heel. However, heel support on the back feet tends to be different, as this is where the horse gets his speed and power from. To help with this, your farrier may leave more shoe sticking out the back of the foot to better support the heel, in turn helping him with his movement.
Help him stay sound
You’ll often hear farriers refer to a balanced hoof, and this is critical in order to maintain soundness. In a nutshell, it refers to the way your horse’s hoof strikes the floor (all his hooves must do this with equal impact). If your horse’s footfall is uneven, for example if one heel strikes before the other heels, it will cause uneven stress within the foot and lower limbs. This, in turn, will affect your horse’s gait and limit his mobility.
The signs of a balanced hoof
The pastern and the front of the hoof should run at the same angle to one another. If you look at the hoof side-on there should be a straight line from the fetlock joint down to the bottom of the hoof. The foot should also land on the ground evenly, not one side before the other.
Break-over is the moment your horse’s hoof starts to leave the ground in walk, with his heel rising first before his toe.
If his hooves are unbalanced, he’ll struggle with this movement and may become unsound. This is usually the result of your horse’s toes becoming too long, or the shoe no longer fitting properly. This is why it’s important your horse has regular visits from your farrier to keep his hooves well balanced. Your farrier will shape your horse’s hoof in a way that aids its break-over, usually by rounding or squaring it off.
It's vital that your horse's heel is suppoerted correctly by his shoe. If his shoe doesn't extend to the back of his heel, there's no support for the bones, tendons and ligaments in the back of his leg and, again, this puts stress on other parts of the limb, limiting his movement.
In addition to being overweight, there are other possible triggers of laminitis. We list what you should look out for...
- A dietary ‘insult’ that has changed the fermentation in your horse’s hind gut (eg a very large meal of starch)
- Badly shod feet, uneven weight bearing, or repetitive trotting on hard ground. These all affect blood flow to the foot over time. Traumatic causes could be thought of as being similar to persistently hitting your thumb with a hammer, and the resultant blood blister and inflammation; mechanical causes could be thought of as similar to getting pins and needles because
of ill-fitting shoes
- Starch overload, post-colic surgery and liver problems which all cause inflammation in the body. This may result in endotoxaemia, which affects blood flow rapidly, often within 12 to 48 hours – the onset of laminitis is then dramatic and sudden
- Physiological stress caused by being cold or in pain. Latest research suggests laminitis is strongly connected with hormones. If a horse or pony is under stress, his cortisol levels go up, and this rise, over a long period, can cause insulin resistance. This, together with him being ‘comfortably cuddly’ will make him more susceptible to laminitis
Not sure about horse passports? Here a re a few handy hints:
- A horse may not be transported without his passport – this includes travelling to shows or even a few miles for a hack. Movement ‘on foot’ is fine. Anyone without a passport has three hours to produce it!
- Owners of horses without passports face a fine
- It’s a legal requirement to return your passport to the Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) when your horse dies. They may return it, overstamped, for a fee
- A passport is not proof of ownership – if you’re buying a horse, make sure you verify ownership yourself and get a receipt
- All horses requiring a passport after 1 July 2009 need to have a microchip implanted by a qualified vet. This applies to foals and to adult horses who need a new passport
- If you buy a horse you have only 30 days to register yourself as the new owner, or face prosecution
- Livery or other yard owners will need to make arrangements with horse owners for passports to be available within the three-hour time limit in the event of an inspection
- Your horse's passport also states whether your animal can be used for food at the end of its life. You can declare that your animal isn’t intended for human consumption by filling in the appropriate section of the passport. This can’t be changed later.
For more information visit www.gov.uk/horse-passport/overview
Show horse producer, rider and trainer Jo Bates shows us how to plait a mane using the good old-fashioned sewing technique.
1 Wet the mane Start by wetting the mane and combing it through. I like to use Quic Braid from Exhibitor Labs, a non-sticky spray that gives extra grip and helps to stop the plaits coming out once secured. Using a dab of gel is also useful for keeping the plaits in place and any stray hairs at bay.
2 Work in sections Separate the mane into sections depending on the number of plaits you’ll need and start plaiting – be sure to pull the plaits as tight as you need to and keep a firm hold.
3 Securely does it With your needle and thread, push the needle through the middle of the plait at the end and wind the thread around. Repeat this process.
4 Tidy the ends To secure the plait, fold the end under and sew around it once more, pulling it tight.
5 Start sewing Fold the end of your plait under and up to the base of the mane, bringing the needle and thread up through the base. Then snake the needle down through the middle of the plait a few times until you reach the end.
6 Size matters Fold the plait under, in half, once more bringing the needle and thread up through the base. Tie the plait off on top of the plait to create a plait with a large base (plait 1) or bring the thread around the plait and secure to create a plait with a small base (plait 2).
You can use as many plaits as you like on your horse but traditionally, an ideal number is about 10 to 12. If he’s short in the neck then a greater number of smaller plaits will help to accentuate his neck.
Sewn plaits are neater and stronger than elastic band plaits and have more shape. However, rubber plaiting bands can be used as an acceptable quick and easy alternative and are often used in hunting.
Plaiting will not damage the hair, but be careful when you remove them.
The strategy of simply worming your horse when faecal worm egg counts reach a certain level may be used with some horses to reduce the use of wormers. However, faecal worm egg count tests do have their limitations. As the name of these tests clearly states, they can only detect the presence of eggs in the horse’s droppings, and are limited to detecting a few roundworm species: small redworm, large redworm and large roundworm.
So even if you get a low egg count reading, your horse may be harbouring a high and potentially fatal number of larvae, which don’t produce eggs. With this approach, you’ll at the very least need to worm your horse in the late autumn/winter against encysted small redworm larvae, and in the spring and autumn against tapeworm.
So the answer isn’t a straightforward decision between worming and faecal worm egg count tests. To ensure the health of your horse, it’s advisable to use the faecal worm egg count tests as an integral part of your worm control programme.
What happens to your sample at the lab?
When using the Faecal Worm Egg Counts (FWEC) approach requires you, the horse owner, to supply a poo sample from your horse. When your horse's sample arrives at the lab, this is what happens:
STEP 1: First 3g of faecal sample is weighed out and then diluted, with 42ml of saturated salt solution.
STEP 2: Using a pestle and mortar (that’s right people a pestle and mortar!) the sample is ground up with the solution. Emma tells me the solution acts a ‘floatation medium’ - translation: something for the eggs to float to the top of!
STEP 3: Next the solution is sieved using…a tea strainer. This removes all the debris leaving just the liquid and eggs (if there are any).
STEP 4: With a pipette the solution is put into a McMasters Chamber, a small device broken up into counting chambers. These chambers are used as a guide to work out how out the egg count.
STEP 2: Finally the solution can be looked at under a microscope. If eggs can be seen in the chambers they’re counted then multiplied by 50 to get the total egg count. For example if there are eight eggs in the two chambers that gives you a worm count of 400eggs per gram which indicates that the horse needs worming.
Essentially no one can sell your horse without notifying you but if your horse has escaped you will need to claim ownership within four working days.
The law (legislation) is “The Control of Horses Act 2015”. This came into force on 26 May 2015 for horses in England. The act has brought together several different laws that were quite complex. There were also many loopholes in these laws that that were exploited by less than honest horse owners. The Control of Horse Act 2015 has safeguards in place to protect responsible owners and includes the following:
- Allows land owners to remove a horse left on their land to a safe place immediately
- Police and owners of the horse must be notified by the land owner within 24 hours of the horse being removed
- If no one claims ownership of the horse in four working days, the land owner can then decide what to do with the horse (this includes selling)
- If you realise your horse is missing you should contact your local police (using their non-emergency number) so you can be reunited
What cover do you really need to know when buying horse insurance? Here we break down the key things to consider:
Sum insured vs. purchase price
On the outset these may look like they require the same answer, however both have very different meanings and will greatly affect how much you pay for your policy. The purchase price of your horse is as stated, exactly how much you paid to take home your new steed. However the difference comes when answering the question of how much you would like the sum insured to be.
The sum insured can normally be changed after around 16 months of owning your horse and is included for when you win a competition, which will add to his value, or if he gets injured and reduces his market value.
If your horse is a new purchase, this should match the price of how much you paid for him, however, as I experienced with a few of the companies I called, they advised that I could lower this sum to reduce how much the policy would cost (one even based all my quotes on a lower price without informing me until the end, so be sure to ask in advance what they’re quoting you on). This sounds like a great idea in the short term as you’ll have more money in your pocket - until something goes wrong. In the unfortunate incident of your horse’s death, your insurance company will pay out based on the price you gave to them under sum insured. If you’ve set this at less than the price you paid for him then you’ll lose out, at the end of the day it’s a risk and one that may not pay out. Listen carefully and make notes while on the phone so that you can’t be tripped up, be sure to know exactly you’re your policy involves before you buy.
Permanent loss of use
Loss of use is one of the options people won’t take out in order to save money as it’s an added extra that will only benefit if you have a horse you compete regularly. The way loss of use works is if your horse suffers an accident or injury that means he’s unable to participate in one of the activities you have him
There are two points to consider when selecting veterinary fees, the first is the amount of cover you’d like to take it out for. This is an option specific to what you think you’ll need for your horse and premiums can range from £2,000 to £5,000. After this there are further options of how much excess you’d like to select. The higher the excess you set the lower your policy will be, however as with sum insured if you set an excess that you can’t afford, you’ll find yourself stuck in the event of a claim. The excess can range from £135 to £500 with options in between. One insurance company told me that the most popular option was £250.
There may be an age limit set on veterinary fees as horses will generally need more treatment as they age. When asked I found that one company stated that if you renewed your policy with them each year they would insure your horse up to the age of 25, so this is worth asking if adding this on to your policy.
Some companies will offer a separate extra which enables you to maintain a low excess but in the event of a claim you’d be liable to pay out a percentage of the veterinary bills. This is great if you want to keep the price of your policy low, but make sure you have funds available in the event of needing to claim.
This is also known as third party liability and is cover for your horse if he damages anything that isn’t yours, for example, if he kicks out at a car or escapes and damages land or property and even covers death. As with other options there are different levels of cover to choose from ranging from £1million to £5million.
If you’re not a member of the British Horse Society and aren’t part of a riding school which already covers you for personal accident it may be worth considering getting this included in your policy. The different levels include different elements and some of the higher options will cover you for dental injuries and disability costs. Check with different insurers to see what there cover includes.
All year round
ROUNDWORM Routine roundworm control, once the preserve of the grazingseason, should now be
undertaken all year round, even if your horse is only at grass for short periods of time during the winter months. This is due to climate changes, with milder and wetter winters meaning horses are at risk of accidentally eating infected larvae late into the year. The most common roundworm, andmost common and harmful parasite to infect horses today, is the small redworm.
Treatment Dosing intervals for roundworm are based on the active ingredient of wormer: moxidectin every 13 weeks, ivermectin every eight to 10 weeks, pyrantel every four to eight weeks, fenbendazole every six to eight weeks, or mebendazole every six weeks. When planning your routine roundworm worm control, it’s important to not use wormers against which there is known resistance. With resistance inhorses to benzimidazole-, pyrantel- and ivermectin-based wormers, you may want to seek guidance from your vet prior to their use.
Suggested treatment time - all year round. Depending on the active ingredient used for routine roundworm control, additional treatments may be needed at certain times of the year if not covered as part of routine treatment.
TAPEWORM With treatment for tapeworm recommended every six months, treatment should be repeated in the spring.
Treatment Single dose of praziquantel-based wormer or double dose of pyrantel-based wormer.
Suggested treatment time March, April or May.
TAPEWORM Exposure to tapeworm is greater during periods of prolonged grazing, so treatment should be undertaken in the autumn following summer turnout. Treatment for tapeworm is recommended every six months.
Treatment Single dose of praziquantelbased wormer or double dose of pyrantelbased wormer.
Suggested treatment time September, October or November.
ENCYSTED SMALL REDWORM Treat your horse against encysted small redworm larvae to reduce the burden of these lifethreatening encysted larvae that have accumulated in his gut wall as he grazes.
Treatment A single dose of a moxidectin based wormer or five-day course of fenbendazolebased wormer.
Suggested treatment time November.
BOTS Treat your horse after the first frost when the adultflies die off, and prior to the larvae maturing and emerging from your horse in the spring.
Treatment A single dose of a moxidectin or ivermectin-based wormer.
Suggested treatment time November, December or January.
ENCYSTED SMALL REDWORM Treat your horse in late winter against encysted small redworm, which are hidden in the horse’s gut wall. These will typically emerge from your horse’s gut wall in late winter or early spring. This mass emergence of encysted small redworm, known as larval cyathostominosis, is potentially fatal.
Treatment A single dose of moxidectinbased wormer or five-day course of fenbendazole based wormer.
Suggested treatment time February.
With confirmed resistance in horses tomany worming products, ensuring that the worms in our horse are effectively controlled means that the choice of wormer for your horse is important. Here’s how to resist the resistance!
1 If you’re rotating wormers each grazing season, ensure you change the active ingredient – don’t just switch brand names.
2 Don’t rotate between wormers that belong to the same chemical family. There’s no point rotating between ivermectin and moxidectin-based wormers as both belong to the same chemical family. Worms develop resistence to moxidectin more slowly than ivermectin, so moxidectin-based wormers should be your first choice when choosing a wormer from this family.
3 Check with your vet that there’s no confirmed resistance in your area to the active ingredient you plan to use.
4 Give your horse the correct dose according to his bodyweight. Weight can be assessed by means of a weightape or weighbridge.
5 Reduce usage of wormers by worming less frequently. This can be achieved in two ways: firstly by using wormers with longer dosing intervals; moxidectinbased wormers have a 13 week dosing interval. Secondly, by using faecal worm egg counts and only treating horses when the worm egg count in the horses’ droppings reaches a certain level, normally above 200 eggs per gram.
6 Poo pick. By removing horse droppings from your pasture you’re removing most of the worms that have managed to survive your horses’ worming treatment. These worms are the ones that are – or have the potential to become – resistant to the active ingredient that was used at the time of treatment. By removing these worms, they are unable to reinfect your horse, and so are not able to complete their life cycle, nor produce resistant offspring.
Insurance is a service offered to protect you against unpredictable costs. With any luck you’ll never need the cover you’ve paid for, and you could argue that putting all those premiums in the bank instead would leave you with a handy sum to fund the occasional setback. But, in the worst-case scenario, a single catastrophe could bankrupt you.
Whether you choose to insure or not, or opt for a basic or a ‘belt-and-braces’ policy, the key is to decide just how much risk you’re happy to live with and, before you get lost in piles of leaflets and internet downloads, take a minute to identify exactly what you need. Here are our top tips:
- Ask to see the terms and conditions before taking out your policy, if there’s anything you don’t understand, call them up for further explanation.
- Have your horse’s passport number and new yard details to hand as you may be asked for this information.
- Ask what the different options of your policy cover as this can differ between companies.
- When taking out vet bill cover check to see if hospitalisation fees are covered or if this is an added extra.
- Some insurers add a fee of 10% on to the policy if you choose to pay monthly so check to see if yours does this.
- Online discounts apply so if you need anything explaining before buying online call who to get your questions answered first, then go online to take the policy out.
Who to insure with?
There are lots of reputable insurance companies and here are juts a few. Be sure to ring round to find the right deal for your horse.
Petplan – www.petplanequine.co.uk
SEIB – www.seib.co.uk
KBIS – www.kbis.co.uk
NFU Mutual – www.nfumutual.co.uk
Shearwater – www.shearwater-insurance.co.uk
Horse & Rider – www.hrid.co.uk
E&L – www.eandl.co.uk
Equi cover – www.equicover.co.uk
Our horses’ backs have to carry our weight while they walk, trot, canter and jump, so keeping this key area supple and strong is vital if we’re going to get the best from them. Here our expert, Emily Graham - a McTimoney animal therapist, helps you support your horse’s spinal region.
Easy back checks
Before you even think about hopping on board it’s important to do some routine checks of your horse’s back. These include…
- Looking for any misalignments or asymmetry, e.g. where one set of muscles is built up higher than its opposite set
- Your horse’s saddle fit – check it’s fitted correctly and is comfortable, and seek the expert advice of a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter if you suspect there might be a problem (visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk for a list of local fitters). Pro-lite pads are excellent for adding extra padding, but again take advice on this
- Foot balance – are your horse’s feet the correct shape and healthy, and does he need any corrective shoeing?
- Routine health check – e.g. his teeth and mouth where he takes the contact because this will affect the way he works over his back
“It’s so important to do these checks before you even start his training process,” explains Emily. “If you try to train your horse before you’ve done these checks and something’s not right, you’re going to create a bigger problem.”
Assess him on the ground
Once you’ve done your initial health checks, you can begin with some ground assessments. By lungeing your horse you should be able to assess the following…
- How does he move?
- Does he track up with both hind legs?
- Does he flex his lower back?
- Can he bend in the canter?
Common problems that you might see…
- Hollowing through his back
- Head tossing
- Pulling with his shoulder (i.e. not driving himself forward and using his hind legs properly)
Once problems are identified, you can then begin to put a work programme in place with the help of a therapist. Every horse is different and will have different issues so your therapist and vet will be able to tell you the best ways to correct any problems. There are many factors to take into account, such as your horse’s age, conformation, fitness, history etc.
It’s important to know that sometimes, depending on the problem, it may take quite some time to reach your goals and you may need to take several steps back in order to move forwards. But this is crucial to make sure your horse is in good condition before starting his training.
These procedures and checks are particularly important if you’re re-training your horse for another discipline or re-training an ex-racer. When any horse has a change of discipline he will be using different muscle groups so training should be gradual.
What you can do to spot telltale signs of pain
“Grooming your horse from head to tail is the best way to spot sensitive areas. You’ll get to know your horse’s body and what’s normal for him. Take your time over the saddle area to really see how he reacts. Signs of discomfort include…
- Ears back
- Kicking out
- Twitching muscles
- Bearing teeth
- Tail swishing
- Other signs include moving away from his tack and disapproval of the girth
Ridden warnings include:
- Out of rhythm
- Head tossing
- Bucking in transitions
- Refusing to bend
If you spot any of the above signs, it’s time to call your vet.
Try this useful exercise
Carrot stretches are a fantastic way to help test the range of motion through your horse’s back and help him remain supple and strong. It’s also another way to check for signs of pain or to see if your horse is lopsided. These can be used from the ground by using a carrot as a reward for the stretch, and then progressed to when you’re on board using the release of contact as a reward for stretching. “If your horse is one sided and better on one rein than the other (as most horses are), take care to work him more on the rein he’s stiffest on, as tempting as it is not to because it doesn’t look or feel as nice,” says Emily.
More about our expert
McTimoney animal therapist Emily Graham uses McTimoney treatment combined with massage, mobilisations, stretching and laser therapy to help horses and dogs suffering from musculoskeletal discomfort. Find out more at www.emilygraham.co.uk
Finding your horse has filled legs can be worrying, but in most cases it’s a simple enough problem to resolve – read on to find out more
Filled legs is the term used to describe a condition where the length of a horse’s legs (more commonly the hind pair) appear swollen. It’s often the result of the horse standing in his stable for longer than normal and not doing enough exercise.
What causes filled legs?
The veterinary term for filled legs is oedema, and it’s basically an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body’s tissues. Horses are prone to this ‘stocking up’ as they have relatively poor circulation in their legs. When a horse is moving, the action of his legs and his feet hitting the ground acts like a pump and sends blood and lymphatic fluid back up from his limbs. However, if he stands still things slow down, allowing fluid to leak out of the blood vessels and reducing the return of lymph.
Do you need the vet?
In most cases, although filled legs can cause a horse to be a little stiff it’s not serious and will usually resolve after exercise or the use of stable bandages. If it doesn’t resolve within XX hours, call your vet for advice.
It’s also vital that you check your horse for other symptoms of illness – if he’s suffered a cut, is showing signs of pain or lameness, appears depressed or is running a temperature it could mean he’s suffering an infection, so call your vet straight away.
Filled legs can also be a sign of other health conditions, including problems with the efficiency of a horse’s heart and conditions which result in low blood protein levels – there’ll usually be other signs of illness, so always call your vet to investigate further.
How to deal with filled legs
When a horse has developed filled legs due to inactivity, walking him out and placing stable bandages on the legs can help reduce the swelling. Magnetic boots can help some horses, as they are believed to help improve circulation.
Applying stable bandages
Stable bandages are wider than exercise bandages, and should always be used over padding, such as Gamgee or Fybagee. Before you apply stable bandages, tie your horse up and make sure his legs are clean. When applying bandages, always stay to the side of his leg, squat rather than kneel and keep your fingers off the floor so he can’t step on them. See our illustration below for an easy-to-follow-guide.
Whether your horse is a competition jet-setter or more at home in the field, it’s vital he stays well hydrated over the spring and summer months in order to function as nature intended. Here we share some simple tips to help you keep him hydrated.
STEP 1: Encourage him to drink
The average horse will drink around 10 to 12 gallons of water a day, though just like us their thirstiness levels will vary (you only have to look at the water buckets in a typical yard to see some horses will drain two big buckets overnight, while others will hardly have touched theirs).
To be on the safe side, it’s best to follow the old Pony Club mantra that ‘fresh, clean water should always be available’, and scrub out water troughs and buckets regularly. It can also be a good idea to take water with you to a show or event, as some fussy horses don’t like the taste of ‘strange’ water and will refuse to touch it out of a different tap or hose.
If you’re worried your horse isn’t a big drinker, tips to encourage him to drink include adding apple juice or sugar beet water to his bucket, or using a product such as Horse Quencher – a natural supplement that can tempt fussy horses to take a sip.
STEP 2: Replace lost minerals
If your horse is working hard he’ll lose vital minerals – called electrolytes – in his sweat and urine, and water alone can’t replace them. Salt (or sodium chloride to give it its technical name) is the most important of all the electrolytes – others include magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, chloride and potassium – and electrolyte supplements will contain a mix of some or all of these minerals in a bid to restore the horse’s natural balance.
Electrolyte supplements work in two ways: they replace lost salts and other minerals, and help prevent dehydration by encouraging the horse to drink.
It’s very important that electrolytes are given alongside sufficient levels of water. Feeding them in a concentrated form, without the water, can actually further dehydrate the horse. So whether you give them in a very sloppy feed or dissolve them in a bucket of water, it’s important your horse always has plenty to drink.
The easiest way to give vital minerals is via a salt or electrolyte lick in the field or stable so your horse has free access. You don’t need to ‘load them up’ prior to peak exercise, but if your horse is working hard and sweating up regularly, or if we ever get a decent summer and there’s a lot of hot weather, it’s beneficial to give electrolytes as a matter of course.
A horse’s normal diet doesn’t provide enough salt as it’s impossible to put sufficient levels in a bagged feed. So generally, we recommend feeding normal salt day to day, ideally in lick form. You can then ‘upgrade’ to the electro-salts (or electrolytes) at peak times after exertion. If he won’t use a lick, you can add salt to his diet at a rate of around 25-30g a day for a 500kg horse.
STEP 3: Spot the signs of dehydration
The first signs of dehydration are often reduced stamina and loss of performance, before further health problems step into the fray. “A ‘pinch test’ will reveal early signs of dehydration. Simply pinch the skin and if, when you let go, it doesn’t immediately go back to being flat, this is an indication of dehydration.
If you allow this to continue without putting it right you’re looking at side-effects like poor recovery from exercise, muscle damage and tying up (or azoturia), which is linked to low levels of salt. Long-term, repeated dehydration could result in serious problems, such as bone and tissue damage within the system, but in the short-term lethargy and poor recovery from exercise are the most common signs.
For many riders, back twinges are part and parcel of life with horses. But could your actions now end up playing havoc with your back in the future, and what can you do to avoid problems? Read on for some simple tips to help you avoid back pain when riding, handling and working with horses.
Doing stretches and light exercise before we ride is important. Try hamstring stretches, squats and walking your horse briskly for a few minutes before going out on a ride, as this will loosen you both up. Warming up only seems strange because it’s not something we think about when we get to the yard. But it’s only what you would do before beginning any other form of exercise. So take a few minutes to prepare yourself.
When mucking out try to use tools that are long enough, as there’s nothing worse than using a fork or broom where the handle is too short. You end up having to bend over, putting unnecessary strain on your body. Always use the right tool for the job instead of making do. Also, every now and then, try to muck out from the other side. We all muck out the same way out of habit, but just a subtle change – even once a week – can help to even out muscle strength and balance.
Perfect your techniques
Try to avoid opening gates from the back of very big horses, as you have to lean right over, putting your back in an unstable position to lift heavy hinges, etc. It’s better to allow those on smaller horses to work the gates. If that’s you, then take the time to train your horse to stand and manoeuvre around gates. Alternatively get off and do them, or hack out with a friend who is happy to leap off and open the gates for you!
Saddles and posture
A different type of saddle may help with posture/back problems. There are many different types available, so it may be a question of trying some at your local saddlers to see if changing makes a difference.
A highly recommended form of exercise for horse riders is Pilates. It’s a very effective method of muscle strengthening, especially inner, core muscles. You will need a good instructor and ideally have one-to-one instruction before joining a class.
This video shows a simple Masterson Method yoga-style exercise which can help release tension in your horse’s neck, shoulder and withers. Jim Masterson demonstrates how it should be done and the responses to look out for, using his unique method of bodywork that recognizes and follows the visual responses of the horse to touch.
The pilates concept was invented nearly 100 years ago by a man called Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara. They developed the series of exercises to improve flexibility, core strength and body awareness while working with ballet dancers.
Since then the regime has received worldwide acclaim and you will, no doubt, find there’s a pilates class advertised at your local gym. More recently, classes specifically aimed at horse riders have become popular so the next logical step was to develop a course for the horse himself.
The exercises have been adapted by two experts in equine biomechanics on the back of a great deal of scientific research and are proving popular with equine physiotherapists across the country who have continued to develop the programme on offer to horses.
It was Grand Prix dressage rider and equine vet Hillary Clayton who first applied pilates to horses, with the help of physiotherapist Narelle Stubbs.
We speak to ACPAT chartered physiotherapist and equine pilates practitioner, Celia Cohen, who advises how you can give some mobilising exercises it a go:
Before you start these stationary, mobilising exercises, have your horse in a headcollar and leadrope and make sure he’s standing square. If your horse cheats and moves his feet when performing any of the exercises, don’t reprimand him, just put him back so he’s standing square and try again. You’ll be surprised how quickly he gets the hang of what he has to do.
1. Chin to fetlock
Using the temptation of a succulent carrot, ask your horse to reach down to the outside of his fetlock. Let him nibble on the carrot for five seconds so that he holds the position. Only take your horse down as far as he’s willing to go.
Over time you’ll find he’ll gradually become more flexible, but don’t be in a hurry to get him down to the ground too soon. Repeat this rounding exercise an equal number of times on both sides of your horse.
“Some people ask their horses to reach straight down between their legs,” says Celia, “but I like to incorporate a little sideways bend because horses are always stretching straight down when grazing out in the field, so it seems a bit pointless to do it as an exercise.”
2. Chin to girth
Stand at your horse’s shoulder and ask him to bend toward his girth around you, again using the lure of a carrot. By standing inside your horse’s neck you should be able to control the angle of the bend – you want to try to get a rounded curve all the way along your horse’s neck.
To do this make sure his ears stay straight – if he’s tilting his head he’ll be bending from his poll rather than through his neck.
If this is the case, your horse is probably struggling, so try asking for less bend.
This lateral bending exercise lifts the abdominals and should be performed to the left and to the right an equal number of times.
3. Chin toward hock
Next ask your horse to bend round towards his hock. Take a couple of steps back away from your horse before you encourage him to stretch round and down. If you stand too close you’ll find you get too much movement at the base of the neck.
Once again, what you’re aiming for is a nice even curve.
This exercise targets the main abdominal muscles, paraspinal muscles, hip flexor and pelvic stabiliser groups.
4. Reaching up
By asking your horse to extend his neck up and forwards you’re opening his poll. This is very important for horses who spend a lot of time working in a rounded outline.
As well as being a mobilising exercise, this also helps strengthen the pectoral muscles, which play a crucial role in allowing the horse to carry himself through downward transitions and when landing after a fence. When a horse has weak pectoral muscles, he’ll lean on the rider’s hands for support – if this sounds familiar you need this exercise.