Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Show me where it hurts

The title for this post comes from a line which was used in response to a rant posted by my husband Johnie Rotten. "JR, show us on the doll, where it really hurts." That cracked us up then and we do use it from time to time and laugh about it still. To whomever it was that posted that, Thank you! Also seemed appropriate to use it, since his Birthday is TODAY! Happy Birthday Mr. Rotten!

While giving credit where it is due, I also have to mention he is the one who taught me how to check their back for soreness. Not one of the farms I have worked at over the years, Not one of the 'big name' or so called 'trainers' in any discipline, ever did it themselves or bothered to show me or the other grooms how... Nope! I learned it from him. I have also learned a lot of other things, but this is one of the simplest and most important things, as a rider, when it comes down to the horses comfort.

In looking for pictures (so I don't have to take my own and make everyone wait for that too!) I found this series-

Thank you Equisearch! Yes the link is to the article which also has a bit more information as far as checking your saddle fit too. I highly recommend the read and consider the information with an open mind. Their website has a lot of articles and helpful information for all levels of experienced horse people.

The one minor difference in how we check our horses backs is that we start up near the withers with a finger on one side and thumb on the other side of the spine- right about where either side of the saddles' gullet area would lay. We gently push down on the back as we slide our finger and thumb from the withers back to the hip while watching for any twitching, flinching or reaction from the horse. We apply gentle pressure at first, then a little more the second time. If there is a sore spot- your horse will feel it and you will see their response. Then as the article states we move the 'line' down to where the thumb has made a line as pictured above.

Check from both sides as you may not see a response on the right while standing on the left. Check before and after each ride. Checking before the ride can be done while you are brushing them off. Checking after, just after you have pulled the saddle and are looking for dry spots under the pad anyways. Checking after the ride is a good time to do so, as the muscles will be warm from work, but also because if there is any soreness from the pressure of the saddle and a riders weight- your horse will certainly react. It will be 'fresh' soreness, not something that has become just a dull ache, which they may have developed a tolerance of.

If minor soreness is found before a ride, I recommend doing the stretches previously discussed and then groundwork for the day. Lunge the horse, letting them warm up the muscles, relax and going around at an easy pace. Afterwards, do a few more stretches and check for soreness again. If it is minor, then perhaps the horse just needs a little extra work that is focused on stretching and relaxing that area. Maybe they just slept on the wrong side of the stall? Give them a few days of this and keep checking for an improvement.

I do not recommend saddling them during this time, simply because if the saddle is causing the pain then it may just keep putting pressure on that area and likely no improvement will be made. If the issue 'resolves itself' through this process, then start just by saddling the horse and lunging them a few days, continuing to do the stretches and checking before and after their workout. If the soreness does not reoccur, then proceed to move on to riding again- still stretching and checking before and after rides.

The minor soreness may have been a one time deal or may be caused by the saddle, but without a riders weight- not enough weight to apply pressure to that spot. If the soreness comes back, then checking your saddle and pad are certainly one place to start as well as having your horse evaluated for chiropractic care. A massage would also be something to consider as well as having their hoof care and shoeing re-evaluated for proper balance. Finding the true cause of the pain can take some effort, but once it is found and resolved, your horse will certainly be grateful.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gotta go with what ya know...

The subject of what is best for our horses back has brought up a few things for discussion. One of them being saddle pads. There are about as many different types, brands and materials being used to make them as anyone would care to imagine.

But one of the best pad manufacturers I have found yet, hands down, is 5 Star. Give this article on their website a read and then ask yourself, which pad would I want on MY back, if things were the other way around?

The beauty in the 5 star pads, is they are made from natural fibers for one, they allow moisture to be wicked away from the horses back, the wool has a higher compression rating and tensile strength and they have nailed down the most honest part of all- if the saddle doesn't fit, extra padding is just a cover-up or temporary fix, but the problem still remains.

And they do make a line of English pads for hunter, jumper, dressage, walking horse and jockey saddles. By 'walking horse' I am guessing they mean all gaited breeds or maybe they are referring to saddleseat perhaps?

The only thing I question about the pads, is the leather strip alone the top, where the horses spine is. I question how much breath ability the leather allows or prohibits. On the English version, with the pad pushed up into the gullet area of the saddle- this is relatively not an issue. Western saddles don't often offer much room for this though. Add the thickness of what most western pads come in and this might raise a few eyebrows.

Now some may argue that their pads are expensive. And sure, a couple hundred dollars for a pad can be viewed that way. In comparison shopping though, plenty of others are around the same price, some costing even more, yet providing you with less. The main question is, how much value do you place on the comfort of your horse? What is that worth to you?

Consider how much use your pad will get, how easy it is to care for, how long it will last and what level of comfort and relief it provides. Divide the price by all of that and you may find, the the initial cost is actually pretty reasonable.

Wanna do the math? I have seen the pads for sale for anywhere around $189-$240. If I ride 3 times a week for one year- that is 156 rides. Divide $240 by 156 and you get around $1.54 per ride. So $4.62 per week or $18.48 per month. That is just for one year. I know a few of us have pads that have lasted longer than that.

By the way, 5 Star is stating their pads last 1500-2000 rides or uses. At the 3 rides per week average- the pad should last you a little over 9.5 YEARS! Just to reach the 1500 ride/use mark. Go with the 2000 ride/use claim and you are looking at 12.8 YEARS of use! I think the pad would have easily, more than paid for itself by then. You may have changed the 'color' you like a few times over those years.

If you wish to take it one step further- how much will you save, by buying a cheap pad that doesn't hold up? One that you have to keep replacing? How frequently does it need to be replaced, and over time, what has that cost you? Better yet- what has that cost your horse?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ouch, Pop, Ahhhhh!

In recent posts we have discussed the different effects a saddle can have on a horses back. I have mentioned my mares withers getting rubbed raw in one spot from the saddle pad, but there are a few other things that come into play when considering your horses back.

For everything to be right in your horses world, optimally there should be no pain involved. If there is any level of pain, the horse will compensate and it will show. If their hooves are not trimmed or shod in a way that provides a balanced way of standing or traveling, it could affect a lot of things. That is another discussion in and of itself, that will be later addressed on it's own.

When a horse feels pain though, what happens then? The muscles will tend to contract in that area and tighten. There may be some inflammation, tension, resistance to move, flex or give in that direction, the 'symptoms' may be slightly noticeable or blatantly obvious. Muscles that have contracted can inadvertently 'hold' things out of place. Horses, like us humans, can benefit from chiropractic care and having an adjustment and things realigned.

In looking for pictures I came across this one from Bits & Bytes Farm, which shows Dr. Lance Cleveland doing crossing over exercises with a horse. In reading further, on this page of the B&B website, I feel there are a lot of good things to say!

If you scroll down to just above the picture I featured here, there is a link to a pdf file that you can print, that lists and explains a few stretches you can do with your horse, to help keep them limber, flexible, supple and their muscles relaxed. They also help strengthen the muscles and 'hold' the adjustment, essentially keeping things in place. One that I missed seeing on there was where you lift the front leg and bring it forward, allowing the horse to reach out and down, maybe leaning forward into it or back a bit and stretching along their top line.

This photo is from an article on Natural in the UK, from Pat Ki Therapy where equine massage is another way of helping out the horse. Massage feels good because it helps to relax the muscles in the area, improve circulation and can often allow the horse to move more freely. Sometimes they move in a way that they may 'adjust' and realign themselves. This can happen while rolling, bucking and also sometimes while being massaged and stretching.

Weakened muscles can let things 'slip' out of place. The muscles contract from the pain and hold them there. Stretching and massage helps to relax those muscles and allow things to 'pop' back into place where they belong. Strengthening work helps the muscles keep things there. It all works in a lot of the same ways on us too. I feel better when things are where they belong, everything is stretched and relaxed, tension released... and I have yet to see a comfortable horse complain.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I pledge allegiance, to my horse

... to do the best for them that I can. And by taking them in, my promise to them, is to provide adequate food, water, shelter and see to their needs as if they were my own. If at any time, for any reason, I cannot keep my word, it is my full intent, that my horses shall be placed with someone else who can. ***

If only it were that simple in life.

Being as how the American Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, and those involved hoped for a better way of life for those who would come under their 'care', I feel this is a great day to draw your attention to another group. Currently a small group of people, who have come together in an attempt to bring better things into the life of horses, through the people who already own them.

A few of you may have noticed their website in the "Links" section on mine. Also their blog is listed on mine. A few of you may also know one of the main people involved as she has been blogging alongside the rest of us for quite some time...

A few of you may know Sassysmom, others may not. If not, please consider this your introduction. She has been volunteering for some time, at a rescue local to her and has seen numerous horses go through the cycle. One owner neglects them and the horse either ends up at the auction or dumped at a rescue. From there they may get adopted, but when things don't work out, they end up back at the rescue, where for the horse, it starts all over again. One slip, one crack, and the horse falls victim to the circumstances surrounding them.

The Back In The Saddle Project is trying to break that cycle. They are working towards helping to teach new horse owners how to take care of their horse, in an effort to prevent the horse from becoming another case of neglect or abuse, where the owners just don't know- what to feed? How much to feed? That they need their hooves at least trimmed and how often? How proper tack fit and training can make riding their horse enjoyable- which is most likely why they bought the horse to begin with!

But their efforts are not just aimed at 'new horse owners' they are trying to also help current horse owners. People who may have a few too many to support by themselves, people who just cannot afford to put down their old horse, so they keep feeding them, while the horse stands around possibly suffering from age related issues or injuries.

Debra, Jamie and Aurora are trying to make a difference. Instead of fighting with others and passing judgement on those in need, they are offering to help instead. They want whatever is best for the horses involved. In many cases, the owners do too. But in stepping forward to ask, they face being 'blacklisted' or labeled as any number of things- none of which have a good feeling or presence surrounding it.

Ladies, you have my support! Who knows? Maybe in a couple hundred years, your efforts now, will have made a huge change in things to come. A good change. One that is clearly beneficial to the horses. Here's hoping so!!!

*** The "Pledge of allegiance, to my horse" appearing at the top of this post is an original. If anyone seeks permission to use it, please contact me for information to do so. ***

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not all spots come from breeding

How many of us have seen a horse with white spots on their back? Ever had someone tell you the horse is a Paint, Appaloosa or part of either breed because they have spots? Many people do not know the spots are a result of poor saddle fit at some time in the horses life.

This photo is of a horse named Jack from the website Horses With Amie, that I found online by looking for "Saddle Sores". None of our horses have these type of spots, so I had to go in search of a photo showing them.

This picture is a great example of the resulting 'white spots' where the saddle has pinched the horses back and reduced the circulation in that area. Over time and with continued use of an ill fitting saddle, these white spots will appear.

If you wish to go all out and check your saddle fit with an image like the one above, by all means go ahead and do so. This one is from Infrared Survey.Com and available for those of you in the Charlotte, NC area for $100 per horse.

However, there really isn't the need to spend any extra money to check saddle fit. Just tack the horse up and lunge them as usual, long enough to build up a sweat under the saddle. Pull the saddle off and check for dry spots. If there are any, you have a few issues to resolve before things get worse. Run your fingers down their back, along the spine from the withers on back to their hips. Press down gently as you do so. If there are any sore spots the horse will give you a noticeable reaction.

If the dry spots are left as is and the same saddle is continued to be used, over time those white spots will develop. They usually start as a few white hairs, before they end up as a definite 'spot'. The nerves are being pinched and causing soreness. There is also a decreased amount of circulation in that area. The size of the spot will be in relation to the size of the area being effected.

I had a gelding ages ago, who started to develop these spots. The saddle was pinching him near his withers but the dry spots were not so noticeable. What was noticeable was his behavior changes when wearing that saddle. He would occasionally buck, dive on the bit and a few other not so wonderful things. I began noticing white hairs appearing near his withers... They began to multiply and the white haired area was growing. Saddle fit was the direct cause.

I sold the saddle causing my horses spots and bought another that fit him. I also started to focus on currying that area a bit more to regenerate the circulation and restore feeling. What happened? The grey hairs went away and the normal dark ones came back. When riding him, he no longer bucked or dove on the bit. His resulting bad behavior was gone too. Hooray!

Now to some degree, these spots *can* be reduced in size or disappear altogether. This of course depends on how long the spots have been there and if the same saddle is still being used. It also depends on how much extra currying you are willing to do to help bring back the circulation in the area. By checking their back before and after each ride for soreness, this will help you catch things, long before they have gone that far.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is this really necessary?

Back when I was first starting out in the Arabian horse industry, neck sweats seemed to be the newest thing and latest trend. We used a neoprene sweat while lunging horses of all ages to shrink down the size of their neck. One gelding, we used a multiple layer of sweats on as well as wiping him down with glycerin based goop that was supposed to produce better and lasting effects.

The horses were slathered with goop, sweats were applied, they were put on the hot walker for 10-15 minutes, lunged, then put back on the hot walker for another 10-15 minutes, bathed, put back on the hot walker until dry and then finally brought in to go back to their stall. Of course they were put away wearing another neck sweat.

These were usually adjusted pretty tightly and I can only figure they caused some level of stress as they constantly put pressure on the horses throat and poll. Their only form of relief would come from always keeping their head down.

**All of the sweats as pictured, are available from Four Winds Saddle & Tack Store in Ft. Collins, CO. The glycerin is available from Schneider's.**

While I know there are people who do still use these and believe they produce results and make a difference... Maybe they will reconsider things after reading this.

The sweats and glycerin are used with the belief that they will shrink the fat cells in the area they are applied. But do they?

When looking at a horse who is being worked and brought into shape or conditioning, they may have excessive fat cells in the throat latch area or along their neck. Some do, but generally it is in addition to the excessive fat cells that cover their entire body. The overweight or obese horses will display fat globules in certain places- along the crest of the neck, around their shoulder area, in the girth area, along the spine and sometimes near the base of their tail. These can also be signs of other things, but for now, I will leave that for another discussion.

This picture is from Horse Rescue United.

When looking at a horse who is fit, in good shape and overall good condition, you will not see the pockets or places of built up fat cells. Similar to humans, when you are working out and in great shape- the fat cells will have been reduced in size, over the entire body. As your muscle tone increases, the fat cells are 'used up' and they shrink. Sure there will be more sweat produced in places where multiple layers or non breathable materials are used and the sweat cannot escape or evaporate away, but the sweat is not what is shrinking the fat cells. The horses body and muscle development is, as it gets in better shape and in condition. Focusing on and working one particular area, builds up the muscle there and increases the size of that area.

Genetics and heritage can also play a part in how a horse is built. If they come from a breed or line of horses known for having a thick neck and jowls, don't expect a glopping of glycerin, a thin layer of neoprene or a thick woolly sweat to whisk it away for you. Besides, the neck is not the only part of your horse a judge looks at.