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The PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee is hosting monthly webinars on Equine Care & Welfare for Therapy Horses. Please join us! You can find dates for these webinars on the PATH Intl. website and in the PATH Intl. eNews. To sign up for the webinars, log in to the PATH Intl. website and go to the PATH Intl. online Store then “purchase” the webinar (at no cost!) and you will be sent an email with information on how to sign in to the webinar you “purchased.” Please note: There are a limited number of attendee spaces available for each webinar, so if you do not see the monthly webinar you wish to “purchase” listed in the store, this means that particular webinar is full.
As the assistant manager of a thoroughbred breeding farm, one of my most enjoyable (and most challenging) responsibilities was working with the foals and weanlings. I learned what does work from a great manager, a few amazing barn hands, a wonderful farrier, an extraordinary vet, and of course – from the horses themselves. Equally as important, I learned what doesn’t work from some ignorant owners and a few self-proclaimed “experts”. After watching one of those “experts” chase, terrify and intimidate the foals as she cornered them and wrestled the pastewormer into their clamped-shut mouths, my first thought was that she may have managed to get the stuff into them THIS time, but how would they react the NEXT time they saw her approach with tube in hand? There had to be a better way.
About a month after the “deworming rodeo,” I took an oral syringe, filled it with warm water flavored with a little molasses, and brought it with me to the grooming stall. As I was handling and grooming one of the more high-strung weanlings, I quietly picked up the syringe, brought it up along his neck, slid it (parallel and close) down the cheek piece of his halter (remember horses can’t see their cheeks), and as I dipped the end into the corner of his mouth, I squirted a little molasses water between his lips. Then I stood quietly, waited till he licked and chewed, lowered his head, softened his eyes, and relaxed his ears, and then I squirted a bit more directly into his mouth. Within a few minutes, I could pick up the syringe, walk right up to his head, and position it as I would a tube of paste wormer, while he stood patiently waiting for the sweet liquid to be released. Success!!! I repeated the procedure on every one of our foals and weanlings, about once a week, with similar results. When it came time to deworm the herd – it worked like a charm.
This method is effective on resistant, scared and previously traumatized horses. For your first attempt, it’s best to have the horse on a lead line (and not on cross ties), in a safe, enclosed space. Just remember to go easy and take your time with the molasses water, and repeat several times on several different occasions, until the horse is totally accepting of both your approach and the actual insertion of the tube deep into his mouth.
We’d love to hear your feedback on this method – please join the Equine Welfare Group on Community Connections and share your experiences with us.
Ahhhh……turnout! Hopefully, most PATH Intl. Centers are able to provide their EAAT horses with turnout, whether in a large herd over massive acreage, in small, individual dirt paddocks or somewhere in between. Keeping really small “playpen” paddocks clean is not much more difficult than cleaning a stall. In huge open fields, however, the prospect of wandering around, manure fork in hand, in search of manure piles, is impractical at best. Of course, some horses have a preferred “potty place” within the paddock, which makes cleanup that much easier. There are those very fortunate centers (I taught at one of them) who are the proud owners of a “poop-vac” (this is my term), which can operate off the back of a Gator or farm vehicle and magically vacuums up the manure into a receptacle to be emptied when full.
For those of us without a poop-vac, one very simple, very low cost option for medium-small to medium-large paddocks is the tire drag, pictured and described below. This can be constructed in under an hour with 6 used tires of similar size. I used one for years, taught many people to use it, and always found it to be effective and indestructible. It breaks up the clumps and balls of manure, and spreads it enough for it to dry and break down very quickly. This reduces the concentration of acidity so the grass under the pile is not yellowed, dramatically minimizes parasite infestation by exposing eggs and larvae in the manure to sunlight, and will markedly reduce the fly population in your paddocks. It can be dragged behind any farm vehicle, even a golf cart, and it does not damage the grass at all. If you drive a tractor the way I do, and get yourself too deep into a corner, simply unhitch the drag, manually reposition it, and clip it back onto the vehicle. This tire drag bounces off fence posts and doesn’t get stuck on rocks or roots. It works as well on snow and ice as it does on grass or dirt.
If your center carefully mounds, alternates and turns your manure piles and uses the finished product for soil enrichment, this drag may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you find yourself spending vast amounts of time and resources managing the 35-50 pounds (yes….50!!!) of manure the average horse produces in one day (that’s 350 pounds of manure per week per horse!!!!), you may just find this to be one of the greatest inventions around!
(Credit for the invention, drawing and instructions of this drag to horseman Jim Franklin)
One of the most important things we teach at our center’s orientation for new volunteers is how to see from the horse’s perspective.Noticing where the horse is looking and whether he is using one eye (monocular vision) or both eyes (binocular vision) is an important skill to learn. Knowing that only about 70% of information will transfer from one eye to the other means that you will need to allow your EAAT horses to see new objects first out of one eye and then switch sides and show the new object from the the other side.
As a prey animal their eyes are located on either side of the head, giving them good peripheral vision. The lens of the horse’s eye does not change shape as quickly as our does. Instead, a horse aids his ability to focus by lowering or raising its head. Asking a horse to lower his head requires the horse to trust the leader with his safety. Program horse handlers need to be continuously aware of their surroundings and in communication with their equine partners. A program horse that notices nothing can be just as much of a potential risk as the hypervigilant horse. Success comes in knowing how your equine partner will respond to your leadership and to his environment.
Can you list six blind spots around your horse? Consider these six blind spots: directly in front (about 6 feet), directly behind, above their back, below their belly and chin, and about a few inches out at the left and right flank. Learning how, why, and when to move in and out of your horses blind spots is a skill that should be taught to all horse handlers.
Remember that the horse relies on all his senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, and sixth sense to decide if what he is doing “feels safe”. Always consider the feelings of your horse as they pertain to his safety and your leadership. Please consider what you “see” when you are the leader or teaching leadership to others.
It is my hope in writing this that it stretches your imagination and inspires you to learn to look at life through the eyes of your horse.
Does tightening your horse’s girth cause him to:
• Hold his breath?
• Pin his ears?
• Bite the air, or worse, bite you?
If your EAAT horse has developed any of these behaviors then he is trying to tell you something. Put your detective hat on and figure out the where and when the behavior began.
Be mindful of who is tacking the horse and tightening the girth. How are volunteers and staff reacting to the unwanted behavior? If he is moving, wait for him to stand still. If he is holding his breath, wait for him to exhale or use touch to encourage him to relax. If he is biting then he will need to learn to relax before saddling begins. You need something to go back to that he enjoys. When asking a horse to perform a specific behavior, like standing quietly to have his girth tightened, it is necessary to have an understanding of what motivates him and how to use both positive and negative reinforcements.
• REWARDING the horse for OFFERING the correct behavior is positive.
• A CORRECTION to an UNWANTED behavior is negative.
• Using both positive and negative reinforcement is necessary to create clear communication.
• Remember timing is important. For the signal to be clearly understood by the horse, it is necessary to respond within a few seconds.
• Look closely at how the horse is rewarded or corrected. If you are reading your horse well and your timing is good you will be using more rewards than corrections.
Before you even think of putting on the saddle consider the following:
• Check for pain and discomfort by running your hand over your horse, paying special attention to the saddle and girth area.
• Check how many hours or weeks in a row your horse has been working. A reward could be time off or even a trail ride.
• Tack must be properly fitted for each horse. Seek the advice of a Master Saddler. Many will give a discount to TP programs.
Tighten the girth one hole at a time. When working with a horse that has never been saddled we will watch his breath and smoothly lift up on the girth as he EXHALES. This is the method I teach to my volunteers. I never completely tighten the girth on a horse that is cross tied.
• Horses are oval not round. The best place to check the tightness of your girth is at his chest between his front legs. ( Certified Horsemanship Association Manual )
• Touch should be enjoyable to our horses. Touch can be used to prepare our horses for work and relax after work. Learn methods of touch such as Linda Tellington Jones – TTouch or Jim Mastersons body work. Alternative healing modalities offer many solutions to increase relaxation that aid in eliminating unwanted behaviors. Many practitioners will share their services for the animals for free or for reduced fees.
• If your girthy horse sees food as a reward, it can be an effective motivator that allows a horse to relax and learn a new skill with ease. When a horse is chewing he is relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain. When he is braced he is moving into fight/ flight mode and learning shuts down. Be careful to not use food as a bribe or a lure.
If you are unfamiliar with any of these methods, I encourage you to find someone in your area with experience and understanding of Equine behavior and physiology and investigate further.
Please share your thoughts on girthy horses and all equine welfare issues on Community Connections Equine Welfare Group. We all learn by sharing our experiences.
At first I did not think that the two were related, but as I organized our volunteer appreciation picnic I realized that they could be one and the same.
I was counting up years of service that some of our long-standing volunteers have put in leading and sidewalking, and I was trying to think of a way to include the horses in our celebration. Suddenly I realized that our seven therapy horses are our most valuable volunteers! They put in the most hours of all.
So after feeding the 50 wonderful two-legged volunteers who came to the picnic, we gathered seven horse handlers and had a parade of our seven horses. Each horse was given an award for his or her service. They ranged from "most handsome" to "gives the best hugs." Our volunteers and participants were asked to tell us what each horse was best at and share how they felt about their favorite therapy horse.
The horses were brought forward one at a time and presented with their awards, and a brief story was shared of how they had earned their awards. Our little herd proudly trotted by the gathering for a group picture then returned to their grass after a productive morning of therapeutic lessons.
All volunteers and participants received their awards, ate more food and left with their hearts, stomachs and emotions filled with their accomplishments of being of service and sharing what they love best. All of us felt enriched by the experience.
The Equine Welfare Committee is putting together stories about ways we “enrich” the lives of our EAAT horses and stories of longevity in EAAT horses. How do you keep that spark in your horse’s eye?
How do you keep your horses so that they happily enter the arena for two years, 10 years or more?
How would you describe “enrichment” for therapy horses?
How do you enrich the lives of your therapy horses?
Why do I consider this necessary for equine wellbeing?
Did you know that other organizations, such as zoos, are required to have enrichment programs for the animals?
Emotional wellbeing is the refinement of our other skills. After we have created sound, healthy horses that are having all their needs met physically and handled respectfully, how do we enrich their lives as a true partner? There needs to be more than just work and food. What do we do for fun? What do we do that is new? What do we do in our own lives?
Please join this conversation by going to PATH Intl. Community Connections and participate in the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Community Connections Group.
With great admiration for all our four-legged friends, Cathy Languerand
(PLEASE NOTE: The term ”NSC(s)” refers to the ‘starch’ plus the ‘sugar’ (including the fructans) located in the bottom part of the stem of the forage plant.
Finally – the last of the snow has melted away, the mounds of hair surrounding your horses after using your shedding blade are noticeably smaller, and the seas of mud are beginning to recede. Along with the growth of new spring grass comes numerous health considerations for your horses. All horse owners/caregivers should be aware that any sudden change in a horse’s diet can predispose that horse to an episode of colic. After a long winter of a dried forage diet, even the healthiest horses should be introduced gradually to fresh grass pastures, beginning with an hour or less per day, and gradually increasing to full turnout over a period of several weeks.
Overweight horses, some older horses, and all horses prone to laminitis, PPID (Cushings Syndrome), EPSM/PSSM, Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance (as well as several other less common conditions) are at risk for serious health problems as they transition from a hay-based diet to a diet of fresh pasture grass. There are numerous reasons for this increased risk, and some precautions that can be taken - this article will touch on several of them.
The nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) content (which includes sugars, starches and fructans) in pasture varies with different types of grass. It also fluctuates dramatically with weather/ambient temperature , rainfall/drought, different soil type/conditions and the height of grass. At first, it might seem counter-intuitive that grass stressed by drought, cold temperatures, poor fertilization or by being eaten down or mowed extremely short will have much higher sugar content than grass that looks lovely and green (lush) and is over 6” tall. This is an extremely important point, because well-meaning horse owners can inadvertently expose susceptible horses to higher levels of NSCs in their efforts to avoid lush grass, by grazing them on very short grass, apparently dying or dead grass, or weedy pastures. Certain weeds (among them dandelion, plantain and thistle) are very high in NSCs.
To fully understand this seemingly contradictory information, it might be helpful to think about it from the point of view of the survival mechanisms in the grass plant. Grass stems contain higher NSC than grass leaves, since the stem base serves as the sugar storage area for the plant. This adaptation allows the grass plant to retain reserves for regrowth after the top of the plant has been eaten. The increased sugar in the base of the plant may explain why most horses prefer to eat shorter grass when taller more lush appearing grass is readily available. Very high levels of NSCs are also found in the mature seed head, or flower. Any sort of stress to the plant may slow its rate of growth (respiration), but not its rate of photosynthesis, allowing sugars to accumulate. Lack of adequate fertilization (particularly nitrogen and phosphorous) inhibits the grass’ ability to assimilate sugars being produced. Rather than being used for growth, sugars accumulate in the grass plant, thereby increasing its sugar concentration.
Horse owners often ask what time of day is “safer” for at-risk horses to be out on pasture. Unfortunately, there are many variables, so the short answer is, “it depends”! The explanation will make sense if you think of it from the grass’ point of view. When night time temperatures are very cool (around 40 degrees or less), the grass stops growing, thereby not using up the ‘stored’ sugar that was produced all day. This happens in the autumn as well as the spring, and is the exception to the “usual” rule of summertime. Three or four cold nights followed by dry, warm, sunny days can DOUBLE or even TRIPLE the NSC content of grass! So in situations such as this, the next day the plant will have dramatically higher sugar content, and therefore would be the most dangerous time for a susceptible horse to be grazing. Sugars not used up for growth during cold nights, i.e. frost, remain in the bottom of the plant stem, and this is one of the reasons so many horses founder while on pasture in the spring and fall of the year. Horses with “metabolic issues” and/or a history of laminitis should be taken off pasture until there are 3 to 5 nights of above 45 degree temperature, to give the grass time to use up the extra stored sugar.
Now dredge up your basic plant science knowledge (remember photosynthesis?) and recall that the amount and intensity of sunlight directly influences the plants’ energy production, i.e. sugar. So – in dry weather with many hours of bright sunlight, sugar production dramatically increases. On sunny summer days, sugar is made all day (photosynthesis) and the plant stores the sugar in the lower part of the stem. The amount of sugar increases throughout the daylight period, and would be the highest at sunset. In that case, the most dangerous time for an at-risk horse to graze would be midafternoon to sundown, because the sugars have been accumulating all day. At night, the sugar is used up as the energy source to support the plants’ growth (respiration), so the lowest amount of sugar is found in the plant in the morning hours just before sunrise. Under these conditions, the safest time to graze would be between 5 AM and 9 AM.
To sum up: pasture grass that appears “lush” – that is well fertilized, regularly watered, grows at a steady rate, and is mowed to not less than 6’ in height, tends to be lower in NSCs than grass that is stressed. Stressors to spring (and autumn) grass include cold nights followed by warm sunny days, over grazing or mowing too short, drought, nutrient-poor soil, and flowering heads, all of which increase the NSC concentration and thus the risk to vulnerable horses. In the simplest possible terms: if (due to any type of stress) grass produces more sugars that it can use to grow, the excess sugars accumulate and are stored in the plant, posing a danger to susceptible horses. And, as in so many things in life, “timing is everything." Armed with this knowledge, the responsible horse owner can make more informed choices to keep the horses in his/her care safe and happy.
Many thanks to Don Kapper, Equine Nutritionist and consultant to the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee, for his generous review of and input for this article.
Burnout and sour conditions of equines are a common concern in equine-assisted activities and therapies and other programs working with equines. One reason for burnout may be consistent under-stimulation. Offering novelty in programming invites a different experience for equines, participants and programs. Novelty may offer suggestions to concerns regarding stressors of programming and conditions of burnout and sour across the many programming modalities working with equines. A greater understanding of your individual equines and stressors in programming can offer guidance for incorporating novelty so that stressors aren’t overlooked or amplified.
Novelty is defined as new and different. Novelty in programming offers stimuli different from the “norm” for equines, resulting in states of curiosity and cognitive thinking triggered for some equines. Too much novelty in programming can be too much stimuli, resulting in frustration and unpredictable behaviors. Also, too much of the same “novelty” will become familiar, perhaps routine, and no longer novel. A keen awareness and understanding of novelty and equine behavior is helpful.
Examples of novelty in programming can include: trying different programming exercises, change of place, different handlers, incorporating unfamiliar objects, changes to tack, unfamiliar expectations of physical engagement of the equines, behavioral enrichment, and more. Explore what works best for your program and ways your horses respond to novelty. Consider incorporating participants into implementation of novelty as well. Options are only limited by human creativity; participants can offer creative sparks when the creative flames of staff and volunteers run low.
Incorporating novelty in programming also affects staff and volunteer experiences. As human animals, new and different stimulates a variety of reactions amongst individuals. For some, these reactions may be welcomed, positive and refreshing. For others, new and different may result in adverse reactions. Communicate clearly and discuss ideas thoroughly with all staff and volunteers. If incorporating novelty isn’t a fit for your program, don’t implement it.
Burnout and sour conditions of equines are a common concern. Burnout and sour can result from various reasons, including:
working and living in restrictive environments,
working with many different handlers and participants,
consistent under-stimulation, and
dislike of programming for the equines.
For some horses, prospective reasons are observable. In some situations, the prospective reasons may not be observable and are harder to improve. Offering your equines choice and exploring novelty in programming can be strategies in detecting these situations.
Please add your thoughts on the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Community Connections group.
How to maximize your equine partner’s career at your therapy center is a challenging topic. Our herds are usually comprised of donated horses that are not able to continue a previous job or horses that are purchased from a tight budget. We all know that not every horse is suited for the work at a therapeutic riding or horsemanship center. This two-part article will address ideas to maximize your herd’s longevity at a center. In this article, we will discuss how growing your program offerings can lead to a happier and healthier herd.
Common problems with our equine partners include becoming back sore, overloading their front end, personality problems with leaders and sidewalkers, nervous behavior with mounts to name a few. When a horse starts displaying concerning behavior, there are a few good questions to ask yourself: is he sound (body, feet, teeth)? Does he have proper turn out? Does he have adequate recreational riding to keep him engaged and mentally stimulated? I would like to argue there is another important question to ask yourself, can you grow your program offerings to offer more novelty, variation, and training in their schedule? Let’s take a closer look at ESMHL (Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning)and Interactive Vaulting and how adding these programs may improve your herd while simultaneously adding depth to your center.
To start, you will be able to offer a wider variety of classes and the ability to rotate horses so they do not have as many therapeutic riding hours per week. With equine-assisted learning, your participants are working on the ground with the horse, taking time off their backs and giving the horses an opportunity to bond with the participants. An interesting technique is to discuss the challenges the horse might be having and problem solve with your participants. If your EFL participants also partake in therapeutic riding, this can make them more cognizant of the horse as a living, breathing animal with pain and anxieties that deserves care and respect. It is very interesting to see how horses in the herd can love groundwork and by allowing those to participate can improve their behavior and physical tolerance in therapeutic riding.
It’s important to consider the following when selecting an equine for groundwork: mouthy or restless during grooming; catching from a paddock; herd dynamic if doing free-work in arena (think about the pros and cons of pairing a specific horse with a specific rider); benefits of letting participants pick their horse from the herd (no height/weight/movement/conformation limitations). Your program team could discuss including a few ground classes during a riding term, offering a ground-only program (especially with riders over the height or weight limit), and giving instructors the ability to say today we are going to do half ground and half riding if horses seem to need a break. Hopefully, ground session will be viewed as beneficial as mounted work.
Interactive vaulting is an equally interesting program to add to your center to benefit your participants and to give some options and flexibility to your herd. A wonderful facet of IV is the training that needs to be put into your instructors and their equine partners. Your instructors and herd will need to become well versed with the techniques of lunging (and I would recommend adding long line exercises to their training schedule). The horse will build up their hind end and topline. Further, the horse should become more responsive and respectful of verbal commands and tones of voice. Your instructors will also become more in tune with the horses’ personality and triggers. When participants are on the horse they will have the opportunity to work on balancing without relying on the horse’s mouth or reins. Similarly, the horse will benefit since they will have a break from rough transitions, sharp commands, and a heavy or unsteady hand.
Think of the horses at your center that are having some of the following challenges: behavior with leaders/sidewalkers; disrespecting the bit or rein aids; back sore; weak hind end compounded by a sore front end… these could be candidates for IV. Don’t forget about your “steady eddy” horse – the one that never looks sideways at their volunteers and never pins their ears or grits their teeth. Don’t forget about them when you are giving horses the opportunity to succeed in a less physically taxing discipline.
My goal for this article is to point out opportunities for your equine partners to excel and extend their productive time at your PATH Intl. Center. These opportunities will also benefit your students and further educate your staff. Stay tuned for part two of this article to tackle the omnipresent topic of ways to prevent burnout.
Please share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas with us in our PATH Community Connections group discussions.
Make sure your equine first aid kit is in a clearly marked container and that it’s routinely checked and the used/contaminated supplies replaced (monthly). Make sure it’s placed in a designated, easily accessible location; in a controlled room temperature environment when possible.
A few things that you will want to have on hand:
Horse first aid manual
Rectal Digital thermometer (and Vaseline or other lubricant)
Twitch (you don’t know how your horse will react to certain conditions when stressed)
Topical antibiotic ointment (suggest triple antibiotic such as Neosporin)
Wound spray (suggest Vetricyn or similar product)
Topical Ointment for wounds
Disinfectant – Chlorahexadine and Betadine
Wound bandaging material:
Compression bandages to stop bleeding
4X4 Gauze sponges
Sterile Telfa pads
Roll of Cotton
Adhesive Tape (Elasticon for example) 1”, 2” and 3”
Emergency #’s: Vet, farrier, personnel (and owners if applicable)
Extras: Thrush remedy, Epsom salts, poultice, leg wraps, leg quilts, and ice packs
Bute and Banamine paste as prescribed by your vet
If you have properly trained personnel you might also be equipped with injectable Banamine with sterile syringes and needles.
When do you call the vet?
At our barn we take the time to know each horse and their habits. If you notice unusual behavior or something that is uncharacteristic then closely monitor the situation. Reasons to call the vet; Excessive thick saliva/drooling (choking), suspected colic, puncture wounds, gaping wounds, eye injuries, disorientation or incoordination, major/unusual swelling, High Temperature, signs of respiratory distress, any sign of infection (redness, green/yellow discharge-foul smelling, suspected abscess, etc.)
Always go for safe rather than sorry, and DON’T GUESS. I am not a vet and if I feel uncomfortable with the situation I always call the vet!
Know your Basic Equine Vitals:
• Pulse – 24-36 up to 40 on older horses, beats per minute. Check it by finding a main blood vessel which is in the throat latch area or use the stethoscope behind the left elbow. Take the horses pulse count the beets for 15 seconds then multiply by 4.
• Respiration – 12-24 breaths per min. watch your horses barrel – makes sure to count one inhalation and one exhalation as ONE breath. If a horse will not stand still for long enough look at their nostrils.
• Temperature – should be between 99.5 and 100.5 F is the normal range. It can be up to 101 on warm days- use a rectal thermometer with petroleum jelly or other lubricant – be careful not to lose it!
• Capillary return – check by applying thumb pressure on the gum line. Press down on the gum area for two seconds – normal return is one to two seconds. You are checking for dehydration
• Mucus membranes:
Moist pink - normal
Pale pink - capillaries are restricted (blood loss, fever, or anemia)
Bright red - capillaries are enlarged (sign of shock or toxicity)
Gray/ blue - severe shock, depression, or severe illness
Bright yellow - possible liver illness
• Borborygmus (gut noise) should have “normal” gurgling on both sides of the abdomen back near the flanks.
• Hydration state – skin turgor test: if it snaps back quickly the horse can be considered adequately hydrated. Any delay is suspect. Note of caution: older horses with collagen breakdown or young horses with high elasticity should be considered when doing the PINCH test!
Now that you have found a new horse for your center, what should you do next?
The Equine Welfare Committee would like to hear your stories and questions concerning your therapy horses. Please join us in the PATH Intl. Community Connections Equine Welfare Group at PATH Intl.
Your PATH Intl. Center has decided it’s time to adopt a new equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) horse—what should you do next?
• Have a clear understanding of the needs of your center. Do you have the finances, staff, time and skills to add a horse to the herd? Is rescue or rehabilitation an option, or do you need a horse that is currently in work?
• What jobs will this horse be expected to perform? Will he need to drive, ride, vault, have smooth or bouncy gates, narrow or wide conformation? Do you have the volunteers to sidewalk next to a 16.2-hand horse? What are your needs?
• Consider your current herd. Do you have the space to add another horse or will you need more pasture space. Will you split the groups or make them bigger? Will you combine mares and geldings or keep them separate?
• Ask your vet to help you find a potential new EAAT horse. They are a great resource for horse donations looking for a good home. Spread the word that you are looking.
• Will you be adopting, purchasing, leasing or free leasing the horse? Your center will need to have a written agreement for any of these transactions. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each of these options.
• You will also need to budget the time to evaluate suitable horses offered for lease or adoption. We ask owners to send a current video of the horse being groomed, tacked and ridden.
• You will need a form to organize this new horse information. Start a file, make a list and organize your information. This is a very important decision for everybody! Carefully list the qualifications you are looking for. If your center does not have a form or you want to compare your list, ask other centers to share what they are using.
• After considering age, sex, health and conformation, the new horse’s personality, behavior, training and experience need to be carefully examined. I put tolerance and patience at the top of my list of personality traits I am looking for. If you don’t know how to tell the difference between a burned-out horse and a patient horse, ask your vet or someone more experienced in reading equine behavior to assist you with your evaluations.
You can find a Potential Therapy Horse Evaluation sheet in PATH Intl. Community Connections resources by Andrea Gibson, Chasing Rainbows, Aug. 2012.
Please share your thoughts with us on the PATH Intl. Community Connections Equine Welfare Group.
Equine worming recommendations have significantly changed over the past several years and your veterinarian should be consulted for appropriate advice for your horses and your area. The AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) website www.aaep.org is also a very good resource for suggested worming protocols.
Because of built up resistance to anthelmintics (dewormers), veterinarians have most recently been recommending doing rotational worming throughout the year versus daily worming. General schedule recommendations are based on previous scientific findings of appearance of certain worm infestations during seasonal changes. Some examples of sample anthelminic schedules (see tables below – consult dosing on labels and/or your veterinarian for dosing amounts):
Pyrantel pamoate (Strongid)
Oxibendazole or Fenbendazole
Oxibendazole or Fenbendazole
As with all medications, you should consult with your veterinarian on the safety of any anthelmintic for your particular horse(s). Considerations should be made for age, medical conditions, other medications and/or supplements your horse may be taking and possible interactions/side effects.
Share your thoughts, questions, ideas about equine worming on the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Community Connections page! We would love to hear from you!
In order to understand stress in our horse, we need to look at how horses would live naturally without human interference. They would live in a herd, eating little and often as they grazed on pasture. We would see them using fight or flight as a means of protection against predators.
When we change this environment in any way that restricts their freedom or diet, we create stress. In order to live and work in partnership with our horses it is necessary to create changes and set boundaries. As we train them to our wishes, build barns, put up fences and feed concentrates, we need to look for the signs of balance, both physical and behavioral in all aspects of our horse care.
Some common causes of stress are:
Stress can promote personality changes in your horse including aggressiveness and depression. Some behavioral signs of stress include:
Some physical signs of stress include:
By studying equine personalities you will be able to recognize each horse's stress coping methods. Methods of managing equine stress:
Humane living conditions that promote equine well being along with a clear understanding of equine psychology is what we all are working toward. When we make learning fun and rewarding we are able to lower their stress. When we understand each horse’s unique style of learning and personality, we lower their stress. When we know, understand and meet their physical needs we lower their stress.
By giving thanks for this wonderful and unique partnership that our horses offer us, we lower their stress and our own.
Sources: Equine Science Center at Rutgers University, Carey Williams, PhD, Equine Management and Assistant Director.
University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Shoes, shoe-less, hoof boots, trimmers, farriers, staff members, regular maintenance -- therapeutic and learning programs have many choices of hoof care practitioners and hoof care methods. Hooves are designed to thrive in their own ways, and consistently mediocre hoof care programs can be detrimental to the equine and cost-ineffective for the program. In designing a hoof care program tailored for the equines' well-being and program management, consider these suggestions: explore options of hoof care; try various methods per individual equine; monitor and document tries; and involve significant people throughout this process.
Each hoof care method is built upon philosophies (or concepts) supporting reasoning for, beliefs about, and ways to implement. In the equine-assisted field alone, many variations of hoof care methods and philosophies exist. Some programs regularly trim or re-set shoes every 4-6 weeks or 6-8 weeks, and some programs call on a farrier or trimmer irregularly (like when hooves have excessive growth, a hoof problem is suspected, the equine loses a shoe, or an event or program nears). A number of programs prefer to keep horses without shoes during slow programming times and then choose natural balance shoes, synthetic shoes, hoof boots, or a more traditional shoe to help maintain soundness and usability of the equine. A portion of programs consider the terrain in paddocks, stalls, and pastures influencing hoof wear and care when deciding on a method or philosophy to adapt. A therapeutic riding program in the northeast that practices natural hoof care with a track system design of pastures as suggested in Jamie Jackson's Paddock Paradise. Their manager noted the adaptability and strength when faced with programming demands. Another program in the southwest did maintenance trims every one to two weeks to take off excessive hoof growth the hooves couldn't naturally wear off. By trimming every one to two weeks, the internal and external structures of the hooves never fluctuated much. Both programs
had trimmers on staff. Point being, program have many methods and variations of methods to choose from.
Each individual equine may thrive under more than one hoof care method. Thus, a variation from your current hoof care program may offer equally (or more) suitable results. Talk to your vet, consult with your hoof care practitioner, reach out to other hoof care practitioners, challenge your personal thoughts and beliefs, ask questions, consider change, and welcome suggestions by others. Then, try! Try a different trim, hoof care schedule, changing up the terrain where equines travel, a different shoe, using shoes, going “barefoot,” and try working with another hoof care
practitioner. Allow time for outcomes and changes and expect to alter your tries multiple times. Proceed with caution. If at any time you suspect a detrimental effect to the hoof or equine, consult a veterinarian (or two).
Regularly monitor and document current, shifts, and changes in hoof measurements, angles, hoof-health issues (thrush, abysses, cracks, diseases/disorders, etc.) wear patterns, the equine's over-all body soreness, footfalls and movement, over-all demeanor as related to movement, and general equine health and nutrition. Take pictures and videos, make notes, and keep organized records. Research what you're monitoring and review notes frequently. Empower others in this documentation process and in all other and conversations about equine hoof health. Different staff members, regular volunteers, trusted practitioners, managers, and directors may all have varied perspectives and philosophies. Considering all is one step closer to thriving hooves and thriving hoof care programs.
Continuing with our focus on hoof care, this edition of Equine Tips will focus on quarter cracks. A quarter crack is a full wall thickness defect that originates at the coronary band and has the potential to run the length of the hoof wall. Quarter cracks are different than most other hoof cracks in that they start on the inside of the hoof and eventually break through the hoof wall. The typical first sign of an impending quarter crack is a bulge on the affected quarter of the coronary band. Be careful that a quarter crack is not misdiagnosed as an abscess.
The quarter crack itself is not always painful. Lameness usually occurs due to infection or instability in a severe crack. Quarter cracks will never resolve themselves and it is recommended to work with both your veterinarian and your farrier to make sure everyone is on the same page with treatment protocol.
“The main cause of quarter cracks is dysfunctional heel structure. When the heel position is underrun, it pushes the hoof wall up proximally and interferes with the collateral cartilage, which is probably how quarter cracks occur [mechanically],” explained Dr. Scott Morrison, equine podiatrist and co-owner of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY. “In a normal foot, every time it hits the ground and bears weight, the collateral cartilages, which are right above the hoof in the quarter region, adduct or open up.”
As Dr. Morrison explains, quarter cracks are usually caused by a conformational flaw in the horse that is exacerbated by an abnormal and unbalanced landing pattern when the foot strikes the ground. In rare occasions, quarter cracks are due to a trauma to the coronary band or an infection beneath the hoof wall.
Below is a list of warning signs to be on the outlook for with your own herd or when assessing a potential new horse:
If you suspect a quarter crack or are dealing with a quarter crack, discuss the appropriate course of action with your farrier and veterinarian. This e-tip does not presume to replace their expertise, but rather to, equip with you with knowledge to allow a more well-informed conversation. Important points to discuss are:
As the saying goes, no feet no horse. Quarter cracks can be a headache and if not addressed appropriately can become a chronic problem. It is critical to address the root of the problem – the conformation of the foot. With corrective shoeing and proper trimming, horses are able to return to their jobs without a recurrence.
Laminitis … the word can cause fear in the strongest of horse people. The cause of the condition is often unknown. Some common culprits are high sugar intake from early spring grass or late summer grass, over consumption of grain or new feed, concussion or Cushing’s syndrome.
So why does it strike such fear? Laminitis is the weakening of the connective tissue between the hoof wall and the internal structures of the hoof causing the coffin bone to rotate downward towards the sole of the hoof. So in a very non-technical description, imagine having your fingernail pull away from your finger. We’ve all done it and realize just how painful it is. Now imagine having to bear all of your weight on it … ouch. Imagine just how long it will take before it is no longer painful! So that’s your mild version of laminitis.
So how do you diagnose laminitis or founder?
You notice that your horse seems to be parking out to take weight off of his toes, shifting his weight a lot, or even laying down more than normal.
There is heat in one or more hooves
X-rays to confirm
Once you notice it, what do you do?
Is laminitis manageable in a therapeutic riding facility? Each center needs to make that decision on a case by case situation. The key to successful recovery from a laminitic event is early diagnosis and good communication between the equine caretaker, your veterinarian, and your farrier! The things you will need to consider are:
The reason it strikes such fear is because if this separation is not halted the coffin bone can rotate down in to the sole of the hoof. Horses have even “walked out” of their hoof wall. At this severity the horse often has to be euthanized.
It is often a concern that once a horse has foundered, it will founder again, but this is not necessarily the case.
Most of us have probably heard the old horseman’s saying, “no hoof, no horse.” Almost every aspect of your equine partner’s life will affect his feet, from his conformation to his feed to the surfaces he rests, plays and works on, and, conversely, the condition and health of his feet will affect every aspect of his life. There are numerous problems that can affect your horse’s hooves, and this article will list some of the more common ones, and focus on thrush. Future articles will discuss other frequently encountered hoof problems.
The first consideration in minimizing hoof problems begins with the selection of your program horses. It is vitally important that your horse stand and travel in a well-balanced manner. To assess a horse’s hoof balance, have him stand squarely on a flat surface and check each hoof from the front, back and sides. Looking from the side, compare the angle of the toe to the angle of the pastern. Ideally, these angles should be parallel. Observe whether the horse tends to toe in or out; in a well-balanced horse, all four feet are parallel to each other. Imbalances in the hooves put excessive stress on the limbs and certain structures of the feet, and often result in lameness. Particular conformation flaws, such as a club foot, long toe/low heel, sheared or contracted heels, very narrow, deep sulci (grooves of the frog), thin hoof walls and flat soles can predispose a horse to a number of hoof problems, including Navicular Syndrome, thrush, hoof cracks, sole bruises and abscesses. Your veterinarian and farrier can advise you on which imbalances can be corrected, which can be minimized and managed, and which might likely result in serious and enduring problems. Other frequently seen problems that affect the hooves include laminitis, white line disease and gravels.
Thrush is a common anaerobic bacterial infection of the horse’s hoof tissue and is readily identifiable by the thick, dark colored, foul-smelling material that is generally found in the sulci, or deep grooves, of the frog. Mild cases of thrush do not cause lameness, but severe cases can affect other sensitive areas of the hoof, including the white line and sole, and if left untreated, may cause extreme damage and permanent lameness. Contrary to popular belief, thrush is not caused solely by neglect and poor hoof hygiene. In fact, it is more common in stalled horses, even if the stalls are clean and well-kept. The horse’s hoof has an innate “self-cleaning” mechanism that results from the expansion and contraction of the structures of the foot during weight bearing. The action of the sole flattening and the frog expanding helps expel foreign matter from the bottom of the horse’s hoof. Horses with narrow, deep sulci and/or contracted heels are more likely to develop thrush because this self cleaning mechanism is not as effective in those cases. Movement also enhances circulation in the feet, which becomes very sluggish when the horse’s activity is limited. As with any horse health issue, a well-functioning immune system is essential to the equine’s ability to resist and/or recover from a bout of thrush. Along with a well-balanced diet consisting of free choice quality forage, a balanced supplement ration, and free choice balanced minerals, adequate exercise is a crucial factor in preventing thrush. Other important considerations in preventing and treating thrush are: unlimited fresh, clean water, regular hoof cleaning, quality farrier care, access to dry ground, and early diagnosis. Most thrush organisms are readily killed by antibacterial solutions, and there are numerous commercial products sold to combat thrush. One method that I have found to be very effective in eradicating thrush is the following readily available and low-cost option:
• Throughly clean and dry the affected hoof
• Draw up a large syringe of Oxytetracycline (an injectable antibiotic)
• Remove the needle, and – holding the affected foot up and with the sole horizontal - slowly squirt the Oxytetracycline well into the sulci, around the frog and over the surrounding area.
• Keep the horse on dry ground for at least several hours after treatment, and if possible, until the thrush is eliminated.
Most cases are cured with one treatment – repeat in a day or so if evidence of thrush remains. As with any serious concern, consult your farrier and veterinarian if the thrush is not resolved.
Good, basic equine husbandry practices can go a long way in preventing many hoof problems. Frequent, careful picking out of your horses’ hooves can help prevent problems by removing soil, manure and small rocks or gravel, and by giving you the opportunity to identify a potential concern early. Regular trims by a competent farrier help to keep a horse’s hooves balanced and excess frog tissue trimmed. Last, but certainly not least, ample turnout and exercise are essential not only for good hoof health but for the overall well-being of our equine partners.
Have you ever wondered how your equines use paddock areas in the winter? Where they travel, with what frequency and why? Snow is great for tracking travel patterns and gaining insight to these questions, and locations without snow can also track travel patterns by observing wear patterns of forages and ground substrates. In this article, I describe my experience and insights after observing snow disturbance in the paddock of my two equines. Try a similar observational exercise specific to your organization. The results may only be speculation, but a perspective on equine travel patterns can lead to insights on equine behavior, well-being and property use.
For three mornings after a fresh snow (it snowed before the fourth), I observed, took notes and took pictures of a paddock where my two equines (geldings, both 18 years old at the time) resided. The paddock was large, rectangular shaped and connected to the barn by a short corridor (approximately 10 yards in length) extending off one end of the rectangular paddock. The barn offered water and shelter, and feeding typically occurred close to the barn. These pictures are accessible in the Snowy Pattern Travel Experiment album, through the Growing PEAs Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GrowingPEAs.
In these pictures, I saw heavy disturbance of snow in the corridor between the barn and paddock and first third of the paddock. Lighter snow disturbance in the middle section of the paddock and little disturbance of snow in the far third of the paddock (approximately 10 distinct tracks in large continual circular patterns were evident). Taking into consideration dogs and other critters disturbing snow, I speculated the snow disturbance suggested equine travel and camping mostly in the area closest to the barn, some travel and camping in the middle and little travel (one or both equines) through the far end.
After this, I started spreading feed throughout the entire turnout space and observed more balanced snow disturbance throughout the paddock, more frequent muscle engagement and more foraging behaviors of the equines. Options to explore depend on available space, resources and ability to influence space. In future paddock designs, I intend to explore barriers, obstacles or structures limiting camping and increasing travel throughout the paddock area or around perimeters.
The insights I gained from this experience influence equine management practices, design of paddock spaces, equine well-being and prevention of conditions like mud from the spring thaw or overgrazing of turnout areas. I had also been tracking changes in fitness levels and joint stiffness of both equines in the winter months, and see a possible connection between these and the amount of their daily travel. Snow can be helpful in observing and documenting how equines use paddock areas in the winter, yet not necessary in doing so. Speculation or not, gaining insights from such an exercise can be beneficial for organizations and equines.
Taking care of the older horse can be difficult; special diets, maintaining body condition, and keeping them happy and sound can be a full time job. The horses in the equine-assisted activities and therapies industry are usually older and can have a pretty stressful, yet rewarding, job.
At the facility where I work, we are always looking for ways to keep our horses happy and comfortable so that our therapy horses don't become burnt out. Let’s face it: when we have to teach students to post on a grumpy, sore horse, nobody benefits—especially the volunteer dangling at the end of the lead rope dodging teeth.
In the past three years that I have been the equine coordinator at a facility of more than 30 horses, we have tried many different techniques in hopes of keeping our horses happy—chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture—but the most successful treatment so far has been light therapy.
Light therapy stimulates at a cellular level to promote blood flow, and it can also aid in healing injuries faster. We use the two part BioScan System that utilizes the BioFind to pinpoint muscle differences or blocked energy points and then the BioPack with two red LED and infrared LED light clusters to treat the spots or injured area.
Light therapy can help treat many different types of things: muscle, tendon, bone, and many other injuries. It can also help the horse self-adjust chiropractic wise and help relax the muscles that pull the skeletal structure out of balance.
You may ask, do the horses feel it when you’re using the lights?
Sure! Horses show reaction of licking and chewing, stretching, passing gas and big deep breaths when there is a release of energy or when you put the lights on just the right spots.
There are certified "light therapists" if you will, in the area and you can contact www.photopuncture.com to see if there is someone in your area or to find out more about the technology and certification. It usually costs about as much as a chiropractic adjustment or acupuncture at $100 per visit, depending upon the practitioner.
Besides light therapy, if we are noticing problems with our herd (stiffness, lameness, arthritis, etc.) we will also use a chiropractor, massage therapy and, in some cases, acupuncture. Of course we try to supplement our horses to maintain their health, but when the injections and vitamins don't seem to help much we will pull out the lights and see if there is anything we can find.
I have seen horses move freer after treatment and become more comfortable so that the volunteer can get a little closer, or that the horse can be groomed without reaching around and trying to tell you something hurts. So before you decide to call it quits on the grumpy old mare that has been doing lessons for years and has just started biting your volunteers, try some alternative treatments to see if they may help her feel a little better. It certainly can't hurt! I know if I got a massage after a week of teaching lessons I may be less likely to bite the volunteers as well, and I do think I'm speaking for all instructors out there!
Disclaimer: Use of alternative medical treatments for your equine should not replace sound advice from your veterinarian regarding significant physical or behavioral issues. Please ALWAYS consult with your veterinarian and/or other credentialed equine practitioner before introducing alternative medical treatments!
When evaluating a horse, an experienced eye should assess for balance, structural correctness and type. These are the fundamentals on which conformation is built and enables proper and smooth movement and a greater chance for a sound horse. It is important to evaluate a horse standing correctly from the sides, front and back and then watch the horse walk. Watch the horse walk away from you, walk toward you and, lastly, watch the horse walk from the side.
Proper balance takes into consideration proportions and angles of an equine, from side to side, top to bottom, and front to back. The gross amount of weight does not affect balance; rather, it is the distribution of weight and muscle that is critical to proper balance and thus, sound movement.
Structural correctness is closely related to balance. Only with structural correctness can an equine achieve proper balance. The legs are the most critical part of the horse when discussing structural correctness. Similar to the entire body, legs should be assessed from the sides, front, and back. If a horse does not have structural correctness, it is more likely to have chronic lameness and blemishes due to poor distribution of weight and unbalanced support on joints. It is important to first analyze the structure of the legs and then watch the horse walk to understand how what you see as structural flaws translates to movement.
Lastly, type needs to be understood. Type refers to what the ideal conformation is for the specific breed of horse. Saying a horse is “typey” means that said horse is a good representative of the breed. Understanding the breed-specific type is critical, especially in therapeutic riding, since a herd is usually made up of a wide range of breeds to suit a wide range of needs.
Discussing conformation with our peers and other experts in the equine field is a wonderful way to continue to train your eye. Vets, farriers, chiropractors are able to assess conformation and are an invaluable resource. Below is a quick conformation check list:
Angles and Ratios and Why We Care:
• Equal measurements are desirable (1:1:1:1 neck : shoulder : back : hip) – Ex: Horses with long backs are likely to become back sore; this problem can be exacerbated by unbalanced riders
• Topline (withers to croup) needs to be shorter than underline (point between front legs to point even with stifle) – if topline is not shorter it is a sign of a long back
• Level of hip and withers should be even. If this line is uneven it will cause a horse to be “uphill” or “downhill”. Low withers or “downhill” horses are more likely to have lameness in front legs and feet. Also, “downhill” horses encourage riders to lean forward and result in a more challenging time finding correct alignment. “Uphill” horses will not be typey, however, they are more likely to stay sound than “downhill” horses and give our riders a greater sense of security since the neck is higher in front of the rider and can be used for balance with greater ease.
• Shoulder angle is measured by drawing a line down the slope of the shoulder (withers to point of shoulder) and a line through withers down to the ground. Ideal shoulder angle is 45 degrees. Shoulder angle correlates to stride length and smoothness. A more acute angle leads to a short, choppy stride and more concussion on joints. If a choppy horse is a herd requirement for your center, try to find a horse with a steep shoulder angle that has structurally correct legs. This will give you a greater chance of keeping your horse sound.
• The shoulder angle also affects the horse’s neck. An acute shoulder angle often has forward withers and a short neck (thus having a long back). Shorter necks are less flexible, tied in too low on the chest, and are more likely to develop in an inverted manner. They also cause a horse to be too heavy on their forehand, which can lead to tripping and encouraging riders into an anterior tilt.
• The hip angle or “slope” should match the shoulder angle. The haunches are a horse’s engine, so the better shaped the hip the more power the horse will have. Beware of a steep hip; the horse will lack range of motion and ability to engage from the hindquarters. This will shift the balance towards the front of the horse, encourage an anterior tilt in our riders, and putting our horses on their forehand leading to more difficult transitions.
• Front leg viewing from the front: vertical line should run from point of shoulder and fall through center of knee, cannon bone, pastern and foot. You can use chalk or equine safe paint to paint this on your horse so you can see this more clearly!
• Front leg when viewed from side: vertical line should run from shoulder and fall through elbow and center of foot. Pastern to hoof angle should be 45 degrees.
• Hind leg when viewed from back: vertical line should run from point of buttock and fall in center of hock, cannon bone, pastern and foot.
• Hind leg when viewed from the side: vertical line from point of buttock down to the ground. Line should fall at the back of the hock and down the back of the cannon bone.
• Structural deviations affect movement: horses that toe out will wing in when tracking; horses that toe in will wing out when tracking; horses that are base narrow will rope walk and horses that are base wide will travel wide.
Thank you to the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for providing published material on Evaluating Horses Conformation. You can find more in depth material on this topic on their website.
Environmental enrichment focuses on creating stimuli in a given space with five categories of enrichment: nutritional, physical, occupational, sensory and social (FASS, 2010). There are many creative ways to re-purpose traditional seasonal items into environmental enrichment for horses and other animals. The following seasonal enrichment ideas fall into at least one of the five enrichment categories (if not more). Use discretion when implementing, modify to your liking, be aware of all risks, seek approval by veterinarians, supervise, and document throughout the implementation process.
The flavor and aroma of peppermint can be classified as both sensory and nutritional enrichment.
• Dissolve candy canes in water buckets. Be sure to wash and rinse thoroughly afterwards.
• Make peppermint-flavored ice cubes to place in water or hide in snowy paddocks.
• Place peppermint oil on items that can be removed to avoid overstimulation and/or loss of novelty.
Do participants at your program ever make snow sculptures like snowmen, forts or simple snow balls? Like leaves, snow offers unique opportunities for enrichment. Keep an eye out for dirty and polluted snow, snow-turned ice, and effects of a warmer weather thaw.
• Make a whole village of snow people in paddock and pasture spaces as obstacles for horses to navigate around.
• Create snow mounds for horses to step over.
• Use apple chunks and carrot noses for the snow people in pasture spaces.
• Box up food and treats and bury the box in a snow pile.
• Create a snow structure with lots of spaces to hide hay and treats in paddock areas.
• Make blocks of snow and ice flavored by low-sugar drink mixes.
• Create snow walls as wind blocks so horses have more choices about where to stand out of the wind.
Trees (and other greens)
Many greens and trees are toxic to horses and other animals; make sure to check before offering them as pasture/paddock ornaments.
Sounds of the season may be lovely and enriching for horses and other animals, maybe for a short time, or maybe just the opposite. Add sounds with this in mind; maybe play for a short time or offer animals the choice to move away from the sounds.
• Caroling for the critters
• Music in the barn
• Jingle bells hanging on doors or blowing in the wind
Holiday Decor, Characters
Anything out of the ordinary can be enriching until the novelty wears off.
Have fun and remember, no response from horses and other animals is still a response. Take pictures and share!
FASS (Federation of Animal Science Societies). 2010. Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Research and Teaching, 3rd edition. Federation of Animal Science Societies: Champaign, IL. http://www.fass.org.
Although most PATH Intl. Centers have rules, guidelines and limits for a rider’s weight, this has long been a sensitive and potentially controversial topic and represents a concern we all share. The solution does not lie in a predetermined chart or a preset formula but rather in the understanding and careful consideration of many complex factors.
Some of these factors include the horse’s conformation, health, level of fitness, general condition, age, temperament and gaits. Other factors are the weight and fit of the tack used (for both horse and rider), the terrain, slope, duration and pace of the ride and the overall work schedule of the individual horse. Additional considerations are the rider’s position and coordination, his or her ability to maintain dynamic balance and to accommodate to the horse’s movement, his or her level of skill and fitness, and the ability and willingness to demonstrate concern for the horse’s well-being. External factors, such as altitude, temperature and humidity also play a role in a horse’s ability to comfortably carry a particular rider.
Two horses of identical height and weight might have totally different conformation and load-carrying abilities. Horses with sturdy, short, well-muscled backs, strong, wide loins and thick cannons typically have greater weight-carrying ability than tall, narrow, long-backed horses, but each horse must be looked at individually. A sound, healthy, relatively youthful horse, with optimum muscling and body weight, in regular work and with balanced gaits will certainly be able to carry more weight than one lacking in any of these characteristics. In what initially seems to be counterintuitive thinking, studies have shown that large draft horses may be less able to comfortably carry a heavy, unbalanced rider than a shorter, stockier horse of the above description. In a quote from the well-regarded book Principles of Conformational Analysis by Deb Bennett, PhD, of the Equine Studies Institute, she writes, "Few tall horses--over 16 hands--are broad enough while at the same time staying within the ideal weight limit ... Potential soundness goes way down as weight exceeds 1,450 pounds.” Bennett presents compelling arguments against massive size being the best criterion for determining the weight-carrying capacity of horses. She writes, "Draft horses (are not) particularly adapted to bearing weight; huge size does not confer weight-carrying ability. Although they have increased the animal's weight through selective breeding, draft-horse producers have been unable to obtain a proportional increase in bone." Bennett provides very precise details about the specific points of equine conformation best suited to weight carrying.
Properly fitting tack is essential to the well-being of our equine partners and becomes critically important when working with heavier and/or less balanced riders. The weight of the saddle, leathers, irons, girth, and padding must be considered in determining the total weight that a horse is able to comfortably carry. While English style saddles often weigh less than 25 pounds, some Australian, Western and adaptive saddles weigh more than 50 pounds. A saddle that appears to fit a horse well may become an instrument of torture under the weight of a heavy rider who is not able to maintain dynamic balance while the horse is moving, or who leans or twists in the saddle. Good saddles are made to distribute the weight of the rider evenly across the carrying surface of the horse’s back. If the rider is too large or too heavy for the saddle, sits crookedly, rocks or shifts in the saddle or lands heavily on the horse’s back, that can create severe pressure, pain and physical damage to the fragile and sensitive areas of the horse’s back. Treeless saddles may not be a good option for a heavy unbalanced rider, as the rider’s entire weight is concentrated in a relatively small area of the horse’s back, and the positioning of the saddle can shift if the rider sits off balance. Check all tack regularly for safety, correct fit and any condition that might cause discomfort or harm to your horse. Saddles that once fit a horse well may need to be reflocked as the horse’s back changes and as the flocking packs down.
An obvious consideration when selecting a mount for the large and unstable rider is the ability of side-walkers to comfortably keep the rider safe and balanced during mounting, dismounting and riding movements. It is advisable for all riders, but particularly those who are less agile and on the heavier side, to be guided (or assisted if need be) in mounting and dismounting from/to a tall, stable mounting block. This helps prevent discomfort, pain, injury or possibly serious damage that can occur with the huge stress of sudden weight, pressure and force on one side of a horse’s back and withers.
A 180-pound rider who is fit, balanced, skilled and considerate can be easier for a horse to carry than a 120-pound rider who is unfit, unbalanced, rocks or shifts around in the saddle and/or is inconsiderate. Of course, the footing, duration of the ride, slope of the terrain and gait at which the horse is asked to work are important considerations in the determination of rider/horse appropriateness. Working on straight lines or in large figures is less physically stressful on horses (and on unbalanced riders!) than working in tight circles or small patterns. A horse that could comfortably carry a heavy rider on level, good footing for ½ hour at a walk, might suffer significantly if asked to carry the same rider for a longer period of time, and/or on uneven footing, and/or up or down an incline, and/or for periods of trot or canter. As noted by Patricia de Cocq, DVM, MSc, equitation scientist in the experimental zoology group at the Animal Sciences Group in Wageningen, in her review of equine biomechanics technology presented at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands, “The effect of a rider's weight can actually triple during certain phases of the sitting trot as compared to the rider's weight at the walk.” When the effect of this force is added to the impact of the horse’s own weight during movements with suspension, the magnitude of force on the horse’s back and limbs is enormous. As horses age, their conformation inevitably changes. Often their backs begin to “drop,” muscling along their topline diminishes, and the cumulative effects of long-term work become more evident. It is prudent to adjust older horses’ weight limits and workloads as needed.
Each Center should have clear guidelines and limits in place for conditions such as altitude, humidity and temperature extremes. It is obviously much more physically demanding for horses carrying heavier riders to work under very humid, very hot, or extremely cold conditions.
We as EAAT professionals have the responsibility to safeguard our horses’ well- being, even if – at times – it means refusing to allow a client to ride a certain (or any) horse. (This can always be done with tact and sensitivity.) Centers might consider having a scale available, and posting their rider-weight policy where it is readily visible to clients. Wording such as, "For the comfort and safety of the horse and rider, weight limitations are in effect, at the discretion of management" might be used. Horses who are asked to carry heavy or unbalanced riders might be given a shorter workday and/or more time in turnout.
Many horses, whether because of a particularly generous or stoic nature, or because of past mistreatment, will endure pain, discomfort and injury, and will suffer without protest. Pay close attention to your horses; watch them carefully for any signs of discomfort, distress, pain or injury before, during and after work. Be aware of any changes in your horse’s respiration, heart rate, way of going, attitude, reaction to being caught, led, saddled, mounted, etc. Carefully monitor your horses’ hydration, the angles, condition and balance of their hooves, and overall physical condition. It is unlikely that a horse will suffer permanent damage from a single session with a heavy or unbalanced rider. It is almost inevitable, however, that over the long-term, cumulative chronic injury to bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments and/or joints will result. Our responsibility as EAAT professionals is to recognize potentially harmful situations for our equine partners and to take measures to prevent them whenever possible.
For those still looking for a “formula,” I will take a risk and say that a therapy horse should not be asked to carry more than 20% of his body weight (including actual weight of fully garbed rider and all tack) under any conditions. A reasonable “ceiling” for the combined tack/rider weight of an unbalanced, uncoordinated rider and/or one who moves around while on the horse’s back should be no more than 15% of the horse’s body weight. The EAAT professional should be aware that weight tapes are not an accurate means of determining a horse’s weight, as a short fat pony could have the same measurement as a large draft horse.
Remember, as our horses’ advocates, we must make well informed, compassionate decisions about rider weight limits, and take seriously our responsibility for the short and long term welfare of the horses in our care.
Welcome back from what I hear was yet another terrific National Conference! For those of you who attended, apologies for my absence this year – I really did miss seeing all of you! We did, however, have representation by 4 of our Equine Welfare Committee members whom I truly hope you had a chance to meet – Patty D’Andrea, Jayna Wekenman, Cathy Languerand and Brittany Aspen. Thank you, ladies, for your outreach for our equine partners at pre-conference through the equine welfare community presentation and contacts you made throughout conference!
So, for our PATH Intl. members and those who attended the Equine Welfare Community pre-conference – WE HEAR YOU! Some ideas from YOU for topics of discussion for the EW Community, as well as future topics for PATH Intl. eNews “tips,” PATH Intl. Strides articles, and suggestions you and members of our EWC made include:
Lots of food for thought here, folks! Thank you so much for your input – the Equine Welfare Committee meets via conference call once a month and we will be sure to start working on your topics and suggestions!
The Equine Welfare Committee has been and will continue hosting monthly webinars on Equine Care & Welfare for Therapy Horses. Please join us! Please note: We will be taking the month of November and December off for the holidays but will resume the webinars again monthly starting in January 2013.
You can find dates available for these webinars on the PATH Intl. website and in the PATH Intl. eNews. To sign up for the webinars, log in to the PATH Intl. website and go to the PATH Intl. online store then “purchase” the webinar (at no cost!) and you will be sent an email with information on how to sign in to the webinar you “purchased.” Please note: There are a limited number of attendee spaces available for each webinar, so if you do not see the monthly webinar you wish to “purchase” listed in the store, this means that particular webinar is full.
We are working diligently to enhance our future webinars as we receive interest in topics from all of you – AND we are going to have our EW committee member presenters team up with veterinarians across the country who are AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) to host our future webinars in 2013 and going forward!
Kristin Mason, EWC Chair
Here are some quick tips on equine dental care:
1. All horses should have an annual dental examination to monitor: a) development of sharp enamel points which occur secondary to their side to side chewing motion and, b) formation of any malocclusion [tall teeth] that occurs due to uneven eruption of the upper and lower cheek teeth. The sharp enamel points can abrade the horse's cheek and tongue which are painful. Tall teeth put excessive pressure on the opposing teeth. Food often starts packing in these areas. The combination of excessive forces and food stagnation can weaken the structures holding that tooth within the socket.
2. More frequent (every six months) examinations are recommended for horses up until five years of age when they have all of their permanent teeth. Examinations during this time period focus on making sure that the upper and lower deciduous (baby) teeth are being lost (shed/exfoliated) at the same time.
3. Horses' teeth erupt, not grow, throughout their lives. They are born with a tooth that is between 3-4 inches in length and these teeth will become shorter and shorter as they are worn due to normal mastication. At some point horses wear their teeth down enough that they will have trouble eating long stem hay.
4. Horse's teeth normally become yellow, darkly stained with age. The teeth are covered with a porous material called cementum that picks up the stain from the grass and soil.
5. Horses should be fed with their head down. The horse's lower jaw (mandible) moves forward when the head is in the grazing position promoting the most normal alignment of the incisors and cheek teeth.
In order to understand stress in our horses, we need to look at how horses would live naturally without human interference. They would live in a herd, eating small quantities and often as they grazed on pasture. We would see them using fight or flight as a means of protection against predators.
When we change this environment in any way that restricts their freedom or diet, we create stress. In order to live and work in partnership with our horses it is necessary to create changes and set boundaries. As we train them to understand and respond to our commands, house them in barns, contain them with fences and feed them processed feeds, we need to look for the signs of balance, both physical and behavioral, in all aspects of our horse care.
By carefully observing and studying equine personalities and behavior, you will be able to recognize each horse’s stress level and coping methods.
Some common causes of stress are:
• Physical pain or discomfort
• Weather: extreme heat, cold, high winds, rain or snow
• Adding or removing a horse from a herd group
• Relocation: new home, new pasture, new owner
• Training: learning new skills
• Changes in living conditions: crowded, unclean, poor footing, insufficient turn out, not enough food, not fed at regular times, lack of exercise
• Changes in routine
• Human stress
Some behavioral signs of stress include:
• Shying or shaking
• Loss of sleep or appetite
• Head tossing, swishing tail, pawing the ground, tight lips, narrowed nostrils, ears laid back
• Change of attitude
• Personality changes, including aggressiveness, nervousness and depression
Some physical signs of stress include:
• Constipation, diarrhea, ulcers or colic
• Dull, dry coat
• Sore muscles and joints
• Eczema or hair loss
• Weight loss
Long-term exposure to stress will lower your horse's immune system. Here are some methods of managing equine stress:
• Turn horses out, and let them de-stress in a natural setting. Add regular and varied exercise, mixing ring work, hills and trails.
• Prepare your horse for travel or change; introduce all change gradually, whenever possible.
• Find toys or objects that redirect your horse’s mind from stress to play.
• Balance your horse’s diet with appropriate amounts of grain, forage, vitamins, salt and minerals.
• Use soothing touch such as massage or energy work.
• Probiotics can help reduce physical stress in the gut.
Humane living conditions that promote equine well being along with a clear understanding of equine psychology is what we all are working toward. When we make learning fun and rewarding we are able to limit or reduce the stress levels in our equine partners. When we understand each horse’s unique personality and style of learning, we are able to determine the most effective ways to lower their stress. When we recognize, understand and meet the physical needs of our horses, we lower their stress.
By continuing to improve our knowledge and understanding of horses and of the unique nature of our equine/ human partnerships, we find that our interaction reduces not only our horses’ stress levels, but also our own.
As the temperature and humidity rise, special care must be taken to ensure our equine partners’ well-being. This can be done by making sure horses have adequate water, by taking care of the facilities and by managing pesky insects.
On average, horses drink between five and 10 gallons of water a day. Their need for fresh, clean water can increase dramatically during hot and humid weather, so be sure to check buckets and troughs regularly. Always provide your horses with a readily accessible salt block. If your region is particularly hot and humid and your horses have a heavy work schedule, consider adding electrolytes to your horses’ regimen to replace vital salts and minerals lost through sweat. Electrolytes are available in various forms, including powder that can be added to feed or dissolved in water buckets, and in paste form in a preloaded oral syringe. Follow directions carefully. Overdosing a horse with electrolytes can be dangerous.
Limit your horses’ work schedule during the hottest part of the day, and carefully monitor them for signs of overheating (rapid breathing, increased heart rate, dehydration, lethargy, reluctance to eat or drink, etc.) It’s a good idea to know your horse’s typical temperature and to take his temperature after a hot weather work out. Anything over 103 degrees is reason for immediate concern.
Many horses appreciate a refreshing hosing after work; be sure to begin with the feet and legs to allow the horse’s body to acclimate, and hose the large muscles of the hindquarters last.
In the barn, be sure there is plenty of ventilation, not only in the aisles, but in the horses’ stalls as well. Consider securing a box fan on the outside of the stall bars, making sure that all wires, plugs and cords are safely out of the horse’s reach.
When horses are turned out, be sure they have access to a shaded area, whether under trees or in a shelter. If possible, place troughs out of direct sunlight to help keep the water cooler and to limit the rapid growth of algae. A small section of untreated wood floating in the trough can serve as a “life raft” for a small critter who may have been looking for a drink and took a swim instead. Regularly check structures for wasp, hornet and/or yellow jacket nests and eliminate them safely (usually after dark) with the horses well out of range. Some facilities choose to turn horses out at night, when it’s usually cooler and biting insects are less active.
Use fly spray or wipe daily and repeat after a heavy rain. Good horse-sense dictates avoiding the ears and eye area with spray. Instead, spray a cloth or mitt with repellent and wipe the substance on the inner and outer ear surfaces and around the eye area. Another option is to use a roll-on repellent in those areas or swab on a product intended to protect wounds from insects. To prevent eye irritation, apply the fly repellent in a “U” shape under and around the eye, so sweat doesn’t carry it into the horse’s eyes. When a horse is being worked, it’s wise to spray him after his saddle (or pad and surcingle) is in place to avoid irritation and possible chemical burns from the repellent. Well-fitting fly masks are also an option, and – in cases where insect activity is particularly heavy or the horse is particularly sensitive – consider fly sheets and/or fly leg wraps. Inside barns, fly traps and/or fly paper (kept safely out of reach of horses and people) can be used.
With proper care and reasonable precautions, your horses can be kept happy, healthy and safe through the hotter months.
In an ideal world, each horse would have a “wardrobe” of his/her own tack, and that tack would change over time as the horse’s weight and muscling fluctuate. In the real world, however, it’s the rare PATH Intl. Center that has that luxury, and most of us do our best to fit the tack we already own to the horses in our program. There are many factors in the selection of tack for the therapy horse, including what is available, what fits the horse, appropriateness for the abilities and limitations of the rider and suitability for the lesson plan. In this article, we will address fitting a basic English style bridle and a saddle. Subsequent “Tips” article will discuss additional points about tack options and tack-fitting. Please share your thoughts, ideas and experience regarding tack fitting as well!
FITTING AN ENGLISH BRIDLE
Assuming that you already own a bridle and bit that are appropriate for your horse, here are a few tips to assure a correct fit. The crownpiece (the part that sits behind the horses’ ears) should lie flat, far enough behind the horse’s ears so as not to touch or rub the sensitive base of his ears. A well-trimmed bridle path will help assure this fit. The brow band should rest comfortably below the front of the horses’ ears, and should be long enough that the cheek pieces fall well beyond the outside edge of the horse’s eyes. The regular cavesson type noseband should fall about 2 fingers below the horse’s cheekbones, and should allow space enough for 1 to 2 fingers inserted between it and the horses face when fastened correctly. When properly fastened, the throatlatch should have space for 4 fingers to be inserted horizontally between it and the horse’s jawbone, allowing enough room for the horse to flex at the poll comfortably.
There are too many varieties of bits to go into each one here, but a few important considerations are placement and fit with regard to the size and shape of the horse’s mouth and lips, and the height of his palate inside his mouth. The bit should rest on the bars (the area without teeth) of the horse’s lower jaw, which usually means that about 2 wrinkles are visible at the corners of his mouth. It is extremely important that the horse’s lips not be pinched when pressure is put on the bit with the reins, and that a jointed snaffle type bit does not hurt the horse’s palate when rein pressure is applied. If the horse has flaccid skin at the corners of his mouth, it is necessary to make sure that skin is not pinched where the ring of a loose ring snaffle passes through the mouth piece. Care should be taken so that the bridle fits equally on both sides of the horse.
A good quality, properly fitted and well maintained saddle will have a positive effect on both the horse and rider. Things to consider: material, craftsmanship, use, fit to the horse, fit to the rider, maintenance and cost. Saddle fit with your horse standing square, on a level surface. A saddle needs to sit well balanced on the horse and help the rider to be balanced. When a saddle is placed on a horse’s back without padding, the saddle should sit level with about 2 or3 fingers of clearance between the gullet and the horse’s withers. The clearance and level should not change with tightening the girth or weight of the rider.
The deepest point of the saddle should be in the center of the seat, parallel to the ground with the stirrups hanging under the seat. Stirrup bars should be recessed and placed back from the pommel for the riders comfort and balance. Stirrup bars should always be in the open position. The best solution to a saddle that does not fit is to find another saddle.
Tack needs to be cleaned and conditioned on a regular schedule. All stitching must be in good repair and all leather free of dirt and dry rot. Check the saddles tree by flexing it to check for a broken tree. Remember that stirrup leathers can stretch, becoming thin and worn. Replace them. Stirrup size should be one inch larger than the rider’s boot.
The goal of saddle fitting is to create even pressure over the entire contact surface of the saddle on the horse’s back. Uneven pressure can be indicated by finding spots sore to groom, lumpy or hard to the touch, or a dry spot surrounded by an otherwise sweaty contact surface. The points or bars of the tree should rest behind the shoulder blades and not inhibit freedom of movement. The width of the tree is vey important. Too wide will put pressure on the withers or spine; too narrow will force the points of the tree down into the horse’s back, causing a pressure point. The saddle will also roll back and forth on top of the horse’s back. The correct size tree will have bars that match the slant of the horse’s back. The gullet should be large enough to keep the saddle from touching the spine. The panels are filled with wool, synthetic material or even air panels. They can be checked by slowly running your hand, palm side up, under the front of the saddle, feeling the contact between the horse and the panel all the way to the cantle.
When tacking, place the saddle in the “right spot” on the horse’s back. Set it directly behind the withers, still allowing freedom of the shoulder blades. This should place the girth just slightly back from the horse’s elbow. Saddle pads should be clean and slightly larger than your saddle to avoid creating a pressure point. Tucking them up into the gullet takes pressure off the spine. When attaching the girth to the billets, depending on the shape and type of girth, use the first and third billet. The proper size girth will allow for at least two holes above and at least one below the buckle when tightened. All parts of the girth must be in sound condition including the leather, elastic, buckles and stitching with no cracks, dirt, or rough areas that could break or rub. Girths for English saddles come in all types. Most common are leather, fleece and synthetic girths. Dressage saddles have a different type of billet and you will need to use a dressage girth. Some girths have elastic at both ends; some only at one end. Putting the elastic end on the near side of the horse makes it easy to mount and adjust the girth on the same side. Remember that horses are oval and not round so checking the girth between the front legs gives you a better feel for the tightness of the girth. When attaching the girth to the billets make sure that they are at the same height on both sides of the saddle, not low on one and high on the other. Be careful when tightening a girth with elastic at both ends that it is not too tight! Tighten your girth slowly so that the experience to the horse is less invasive, checking the girth several times both before and after mounting.
Remember that the Instructor is responsible for everyone’s safety– student, horse, and volunteer. Be knowledgeable and confident with your tack. This will increase your level of safety in the lesson. Once you and/or your rider(s) are safe then the riding and fun begins!
By Sherri Velte, Equine Welfare Committee
Spring is just around the corner. So are longer, brighter, warmer days that bring lush, green pastures back to life for our horses to frolic around in. Spring also means it’s time to think about feed changes. Now is a good time to ask a few questions. Does my horse have some winter weight to shed? Will my horse’s work load be increasing? What is the best way to introduce my horse to the new spring grass in his pasture? This tip will give you some ideas why and how to help your horse adjust slowly to spring grass.
We all want to make our equine partners happy and give them everything they deserve - after all, they do so much for us. But, don’t be fooled, turning a horse loose and letting him graze to his heart’s content does your horse a disservice. This is a time when common sense must prevail; it is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to our horse’s health. In this case, as with all feed changes, holding back and introducing grass gradually is the best thing we can do for our equine partners. An abrupt change in feed can increase the chances of different types of health problems for your horse.
One of those problems is pasture-associated laminitis, or grass founder. This is a preventable, crippling foot condition that is seen commonly when horses are granted unrestricted access to new spring pastures. In laminitis, the blood vessels inside the foot become engorged with blood and the horse becomes very lame. The inner structure of the foot begins to tear away from the wall of the hoof at the laminae. This tearing can be mild or so severe as to cripple. In extreme cases it can kill a horse if he can’t walk. A horse crippled by laminitis is said to have foundered.1 Over-consumption of starches or fructans (a sugar) stored in pasture plants can cause laminitis. Fructans are the primary reserve carbohydrate stored in grass during the cool season. That sugar content is highest in early spring and summer when cool nights and sunny days stimulate new, rapid re-growth.
While spring and early summer grass poses the biggest danger, caution should be taken after a hard freeze, during drought conditions and during a wet, mild autumn as well. Some ponies, overweight horses, older horses and horses who have a history of founder may be more susceptible to pasture-associated laminitis or grass founder, but all horses are at risk if they are allowed too much too quickly. So, if your horse has been eating hay all winter, introducing new grass should be done with extreme care. If your horse has been grazing in the pasture throughout the winter and through the time when the ground thaws in the spring, it’s possible he will be introduced to the new grass naturally. Be careful not to overgraze those pastures, as the lowest stems will contain the highest amounts of sugar.
Now for some good news: Preventing pasture-associated laminitis or grass founder is simple: limit your horse’s access to lush pasture and introduce him to his new food source gradually. Horses that are most susceptible are best kept off the new pasture until the grass is more mature, then they can be slowly introduced to grazing. Because the sugar production in the grass is stimulated by cool nights and warm, sunny days, the grass is considered safest in the evening when sugar levels are on the decline. The later the better.
Here are some ways to help keep your horse healthy and prevent him from over-indulging:
• Start by allowing your horse to graze for a half-hour each day and slowly increase the time spent grazing by 10 minutes daily until your horse can tolerate a few hours.
• Hand-graze your horse for 10-15 minutes each day, gradually increasing the time until you can safely turn him out on his own.
• Avoid grazing your horse on pastures that have been grazed very short during the winter and are growing rapidly in the spring.
• Feed your horse hay before turnout; it may prevent him from gorging himself on the new grass.
• Fence off a small area of the pasture to restrict roaming and prevent overeating.
• Use a grazing muzzle. Grazing muzzles allow the horse to eat some grass and drink water.
It can be tempting to turn your horse out on grass in the spring and watch him romp, graze and enjoy himself. You may even feel like you’re depriving him by keeping him off the lush green pasture. But rest assured, if your horse does founder, he could be suffering for the rest of his life. As was mentioned earlier, pasture associated laminitis or grass founder can be easily prevented. Know your pasture, have a plan for gradually introducing your horse to the lush green grass and be consistent. When the health and welfare of our equine partners is at risk, it will be worth that extra time and attention.
1CHA Composite Horsemanship Manual
By Marcie Ehrman, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee
Horses living outdoors year round and grazing on quality pasture seldom suffer from chronic respiratory problems. By stalling our horses, feeding baled, stored forage and processed feeds, and working them on prepared footing, we create challenges to maintaining their optimum respiratory health. Good husbandry practices include ensuring adequate ventilation and air exchange in barns and indoor arenas, minimizing exposure to dust, mold and ammonia, and consistent monitoring of their forage, processed feeds, arena footing and bedding in stalled areas.
What You Can Do to Maintain the Respiratory Health of Your EAAT Horses (With Added Benefits for Your Staff, Volunteers and Students)
• Allow horses as much time outdoors as weather, program and practicality allow.
• Provide adequate barn and indoor arena ventilation and air flow, even in the coldest winter weather.
• Avoid using a blower to clean the barn when horses are present.
• Provide low dust shavings or bedding material in stalls; if dusty bedding is unavoidable, consider lightly dampening it, turning it to be sure it’s dampened all the way through.
• Ensure that bedding in stalls is picked clean regularly and thoroughly. Although we may all have inhaled a whiff of ammonia in the barn at some point, it may be surprising to learn that high levels of ammonia can be extremely harmful to the respiratory system of horses. By the time the human nose can detect ammonia in the air, the levels are already 2 to 3 times higher than the recommended safe threshold of 10 ppm or less. Studies have shown that inhaling ammonia creates inflammatory conditions in equine airways, increasing mucus production, adversely affecting the immune response and interfering with the action of cilia that line the airways and help to prevent dust and small particles from entering deeply into their respiratory tracts. Consider using an ammonia adsorbent that will minimize ammonia levels in the stall.
• It is best to clean a stall when the horse is not in it; if that’s not possible, pick out the wet spots and manure and avoid tossing or turning the bedding while the horse is present.
• Regularly check your hay storage area for leaks and water seepage; keep bales stored off the ground, preferably in a way that allows air circulation all around the bales. Storing hay directly on a cement surface will draw moisture that can cause molds to develop. Ideally, hay should not be stored above stalled horses, as dust and small particles often find their way through cracks and into the stalls. If hay needs to be dropped down from an overhead storage place, it should not be done while horses are present.
• As each bale of hay is opened, “fluff” and smell each flake before feeding it to your horses. (This often yields interesting surprises, like bits of barbed wire, dehydrated snakes or parts of small wild animals that can cause botulism poisoning or other potentially harmful items.) It is important not to fluff hay when horses are present, as this will increase dust and fine particles that can irritate the horses’ airways. If you detect excessive dust or mold in the hay, immediately dispose of that flake and check the rest of the bale carefully. Be sure that your staff and volunteers are all taught to recognize dusty and/or moldy hay.
• Be mindful of the fact that although it is convenient for people to feed hay in hay nets and elevated feeders, it is best for horses to eat with their heads down, which minimizes inhalation of dust and foreign particles and allows their nasal passages to drain.
• If a veterinarian determines that a horse is adversely affected by allergens in hay, thoroughly soaking that horse’s hay will alleviate the largest source of allergens that are inhaled while he eats. If a horse has been diagnosed with COPD (also called RAO - recurrent airway obstruction) or respiratory allergies, dengie is a good forage alternative; it's a dust-and-mold-free processed hay product of consistent quality that is actually quite cost effective since it's totally digestible. Feeding pelleted forage or soaked hay cubes virtually eliminates the dust while still providing fiber. Any change in diet should be nutritionally balanced by your feed company and approved by your
• Store processed feeds in dry, closed containers, and check frequently for signs of mold, dampness or fine dust. Thoroughly clean all remnants of old feed out of the container before adding new feed. Clean buckets and feeders daily.
• Ensure that your arena footing is as dust free as possible. Dampening dusty outdoor footing goes a long way toward minimizing inhaled dust, and adding magnesium chloride to your indoor footing can effectively control dust and prevent freezing and clumping.
• Be observant; know each horse’s typical breathing patterns, and be alert to any changes. Watch for atypical flaring of nostrils, a recurrent cough, excessive or non-clear nasal discharge, rapid, labored or shallow breathing and any abnormal abdominal movement associated with respiration. Because breathing is part of a horse’s cooling mechanism, be alert to any increases in your horse’s body temperature beyond his normal range, particularly in hot weather. Be able to detect any enlargement of the horse’s mandibular lymph nodes.
• Immediately isolate and have your veterinarian check a horse that exhibits any of the warning signs mentioned in the prior bullet point.
All PATH Intl. centers should ensure that their program has standards and procedures in place to keep their therapy horses in optimum respiratory health. With knowledge, mindfulness and good husbandry practices, many respiratory problems in horses can be minimized, prevented or remedied.
Special thanks to Dr. Grant Myhre, Dr. Dorothy Ainsworth and Don Kapper, Equine Nutritionist, for their professional input on this equine tip!
The technique of desensitizing our equine partners is a great tool to build confidence and trust in each other and is a wonderful way to start learning more about our equine partners' likes, dislikes and comfort zones.
Start in a quiet place. Stay relaxed and casual, and watch your horse’s behaviors. Add music to the mix and again just watch. You can tell their likes and dislikes by watching their ears, tail, head set and even verbalization. Change the style of music. Does your horse like classical, jazz, rock and roll or rap? What a great way to start bonding with your horse!
Now that you are starting to pay attention to your horse’s body language, you can start adding some "pressure." This is not intended to frighten but rather to build confidence and trust, so that when something out of the ordinary is around when you are riding, your horse has confidence in you and in himself that he is going to be kept safe. It’s also important to know what your horse’s triggers are.
Make sure your horse is haltered and is in a small area such as a stall or a round pen. Start with a neutral colored washcloth or something that doesn’t make much noise and rub it all over your horse. Does he have any ticklish spots (this may be very valuable to know since our side walkers may brush on that ticklish area)? Add more pressure by “patting” that same cloth gently all over his body including his legs. No negative reaction? Great! Try adding a little bit more pressure by using bigger arm movements. Try changing the color of the cloth to see if your horse has a color preference. Most importantly, progress only as quickly as your horse is comfortable. If you see discomfort, reduce the pressure until he is again confident and trusting. Watch for his body language of licking lips, soft eyes, relaxed body, lowered head, swiveling ears.
You can add sounds and more movement by introducing pompoms, plastic bags and feed bags. Start by letting your equine partner smell each object. Rub it all over him and then try rhythmically patting the object all over your horse. If it is an object that you really want to incorporate into a lesson, and your horse still is not crazy about it, try putting his feed in it or on it so that he can gain confidence in a very positive setting that it won’t hurt him.
Harder noisy objects like bells and rattles should only be rubbed on your horse. Moving noisy objects tends to cause more of a fear reaction. Try to start out using these objects like grooming tools. Flags, balls, umbrellas or steamers should never be tossed at a horse. Standing in the middle of a round pen, wave the strange object at a distance that your partner is not frightened of. Have a friend circle him around you, gradually getting closer and closer. Go both directions since horses have monocular vision.
Playing with your horse provides a break from the more serious interactions with humans, provides time to explore new experiences thus discovering likes and dislikes, but there must be ground rules. Your horse can lick, chew, bite or paw the object, but NOT you! You provide the toy, he plays with it. Some fun interactive game ideas might be dressage on the ground. See if your horse will follow you through a w/t pattern. Or you could play the flag game, by encouraging him to pick up flag, rag, bag around the arena and then let him decide what to do next (run with it, paw at it, throw it in the air). Let him be the leader in the game. Kickball is a fun game where you roll the ball toward the horse and see what he does. Again let him lead the game and how it is played. Just like kids, horses will have toy preferences. Remember this is play. It is not intended to be scary, so make sure that you introduce each new toy gradually and very methodically. Don’t take shortcuts!
To learn more about desensitizing your horse, read Lisa Wysocky’s My Horse My Partner.