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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

The Women & Horses Newsletter - April 2005
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The Wonder of Horses
By Mary D. Midkiff

Questions & Answers | Joint Injections | We All Have Bad Days | New Products

Questions & Answers

I have been taking notes on questions and issues that I’ve heard from you and around the horse community for awhile and created a new section on my website called “Questions of the Month”. I am not going to use any names but will rephrase the questions and provide the answers to be helpful to everyone.

Here are samples of a few of the questions but there are many more waiting to be added to my website, so check back often.

Q: How far up to the knee should any exercise wrap or boot extend?

A: The answer is a wrap or boot should not come up any further than one inch below the knee groove or where the knee cap narrows down into the cannon bone. Flex or bend the horse’s knee with the wrap on and there should be no interference with any of the tendons and ligaments at the back of the knee or with the knee joint itself. I see many people wrapping polos up to the knee which will eventually damage the flexing tendons.

Q: I do not own a horse and am in a lesson program situation with different horses each week. What can I do to make the horse always feel happy and enjoy its time while working together with me?

School horses are the saints on this planet. They put up with so much. Because school horses have different people riding them everyday, they can easily become confused and frustrated. Each rider sends messages differently and the horse that you are on that particular week may not understand what you are asking or how you are asking for it. Also mares can be touchy and extra sensitive during their menses cycle. Spring is breeding season for horses and mares are heavily in heat every 21 days. A mare may not want you to kick or even touch her during the few days when she is cycling. Many programs don’t take this into consideration.

My advice on trying to make an unfamiliar horse happy is to check everything out before you get on. Make sure the saddle is sitting correctly on the horse’s back, the saddle pad has plenty of air underneath it to allow for ventilation and movement through the spine, check the fit of the bridle and make sure it is not fastened too tightly or too loosely, check the hooves and make sure they are free of mud, dirt, grass, rocks, sticks and debris, talk to your horse even though you don’t know them well and stroke the neck firmly but softly. In between riding sessions give your horse plenty of good massages in front of the saddle on their withers and when you are done take the time to towel off the horse’s back with a little massage.

Q: What can I do to help calm my horse down while I apply salve to his sore wounds from surgery?

The right approach is to always take it slow and make it a rewarding and pleasant experience. Listen to him and work with him as he goes through some discomfort. Before fooling with the wound at all practice some acupressure and give him a drop of calming essential oils under his nostrils. Take your hand to the top of his neck behind one ear and follow it down just below the mane line until you feel an indentation or a hole about the size of a nickel in the muscles. It will be located around 4-5 inches behind the ear as you follow the top of his neck. Press one or two fingers into that hole with firm pressure for about a minute and see what happens. If it is sensitive it just means that his system is a little hyper right now working on healing the wound. Stay with it and talk to him while you are applying the pressure. After a few seconds he should show signs of relaxation and release. Rolling his eyes, yawning, licking, chewing, lowering his head, shaking his head, etc. Once you have this kind of response then go do something like take the bandage off and come back and do the acupressure again. When you get the release response go and clean the wound and come back to the neck again. The last step will be to medicate the wound and re-bandage. You may give him another little massage around his withers and a treat in his feed tub when you put him back in his stall or turn him out.

When you are performing the acupressure you are releasing endorphins, chemicals into the nervous system to help relax him through this stressful event. It may take a little more time but in the future the horse will always think of you as a friendly, helpful caregiver instead of the lady that causes a lot of pain. It may make the difference in how well he will allow you to work with him in training as well.

Q: What are some general rules about feeding horses?

A: The ideal for feeding horses is to feed little and often. This rule, however, does not usually fit in with everyone’s schedules. Barn managers are faced with many problems when it comes to daily feeding in regard to money, time, labor and convenience.

If none of those things mattered horses would be self-regulating their feed and ask that they be fed little amounts every 2-3 hours during the daylight hours and a couple of times at night or just to graze at will. Horses would ask that they always be fed low to the ground with plenty of good fresh hay, grass, a mineral salt block and water. We have added in the grain because we work and use horses and this gives horses the fuel they need to be active and in work and training with us. Grain is also given to provide extra warmth in the winter during extreme weather conditions.

I am going to address pleasure and performance horse feeding programs, other horses who are breeding or in retirement or laid off due to injury will have a different approach.

Most horse management set ups whether it be large or small feed grain twice per day and hay three times per day, unless there is lush pasture and little hay is needed. The first feeding should consist of grain and hay first thing in the morning; the mid day feeding, hay only; and the third feeding in the evening around 5 p.m. grain and hay again. Some barn owners will throw a flake of hay to the horses before they go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. which is a real bonus. If the horse is also on pasture during the Spring, Summer and Fall months you will not have to feed the hay in the middle of the day. The third feeding of hay is only necessary during the winter months or if there is no grass available such as horses that live or are turned out in dry lots.

How much to feed your horse is purely an individual consideration. Some horses (like some people) have slower metabolisms and are called “easy keepers”. Others (like some people) metabolize food quickly and are called “hard doers.” You have to find out what kind of metabolizer your horse is and adjust it according to the time of year, his age and his level of activity. For instance, if your horse is in regular work and becomes injured and is laid up for awhile back off of his feed by at least half. When he goes back into work gradually increase it over a few weeks time. Be aware of the amount of protein in grains, unless you are racing your horse, generally you do not need to feed anything with more than 14% protein in the ingredients. Feed the smallest amount possible to maintain your horse’s weight and energy levels.

Make sure the hay you are feeding is of the highest quality you can afford and has no mold or sticks or debris in the bales. Horse’s get most of their nutritional needs from pasture and hay. A good grass hay such as Timothy hay and orchard grass is the most desired. Many people in the western part of the U.S. feed alfalfa hay which is extremely rich and packed full of minerals such as calcium. The amount of alfalfa you feed must be carefully regulated as many horses become very high and hyper from eating it and can colic due to sensitivity in the digestive system.

Some horse people I have visited recently have switched to the large round bales of hay for their horses. Talk to your veterinarian first before you make this decision. I have an adverse reaction to using the large round bales because of my training in Agriculture school. We were taught that the big round bales were suitable for cattle and ruminates only due to the conditions inside the bale for mold and rot over time. I would stick to clean, dry, properly stored rectangular bales for horses. Horses die everyday from colic, why take any chances?

Note: A Clarification on Feeding

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Joint Injections

As you can see, I could probably write a book on some of these questions but I hope to provide everyone with helpful information in the new section of my website. Our horses deserve the best we can give them for what they give us in joy and partnership every day.

I have also had some questions I felt I need to address to all of you about joint injections. I've noticed that some horse people and most non-horse people are either offended or uneducated about the use of joint injections. Most veterinarians will inject Hyaluronic Acid or a mixture of HA to lubricate the joint and give the horse comfort in movement, especially in activities where pushing off from behind as in Dressage or jumping or reining work are demanded. I think people who have been around performance horses for many years understand that it is ethical and safe to use injections in the joints if the horse is showing signs of pain. I would also clarify this by saying it is only fair to give an older athlete the support they need to be happy, comfortable and stay active in performance or useful as a pleasure horse.

If your horse is young, let’s say under 10 and is having hock or fetlock or back issues I would have them radiographed and checked over by a veterinarian to find out what the cause of the problem is before any decision on injections is made. If his conformation is the cause of the problems, then you have a serious maintenance issue ahead of you for the rest of the horse’s active life if he can even stay sound. If it is simply inflammation due to jumping or hard work you can change the amount of work, the type of work, change his job and give the horse joint support through an IM injection or in his feed.

Some people (including some vets), I believe, carry the injections too far and begin injecting any joint that is sore such as sore lower backs. The hock and fetlock, even knee injections I can understand and feel okay about on a limited basis, but when you start messing with giving back injections near and around the spinal cord for pain there are serious repercussions. Swelling can happen as a result of the injections in and around the sacrum and pelvic region pressing on sensitive nerves and muscle groups, soft tissue scarring can accumulate in these areas, all leading to chronic sore back situations.

First you must look at what is causing the back to be so sore. Usually it is a poor saddle fit, a misalignment of the spine and pelvic region, training methods, or dare I say, tight riders, that are straining the back too much. All of these causes can be taken care of through time and change, something a lot of horse people aren’t happy about. Check the saddle fit at all times, horse’s backs change with the seasons, with age and with work. Have a chiropractor check the horse’s back for any misalignment from head to tail, revisit your training methods and begin to evaluate your (if you are the rider) physical and mental contribution to the problem and do something about it. Give the horse some time off, use massage and liniment rubs before you even consider injecting the back, and I hope you never will consider injecting that area.

When you are buying a horse I feel comfortable about the seller telling me the horse has had his or her hocks injected if they are an older performance horse. I am almost glad in some cases because I know the horse has been well maintained through work and the joints are healthy to continue for many years ahead. I always have radiographs taken in any case but I would not turn a horse down because of hock injections. If you take something occasionally for your joints so that you can continue an active lifestyle you will understand. It is when injections are given too often, too young or abused that you should raise the red flag of precaution.

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We All Have Bad Days

Bad days with horses are like bad days for any of us. If you have a bad day with your dog or cat would you consider getting rid of him or her? If you have a bad with your best friend is the first thing that crosses your mind to dump them? If you have a bad day with your goldfish is the first thing you do flush it? Anyway, you get the idea.

Horses, like any living being, have good and bad days. This is hard to remember sometimes when we are in training situations. We are always looking for progress, for improvement for a glimmer of brilliance, for a breakthrough moment of success whenever we are working with our horses to achieve goals. I know I feel that way most of the time and I have to rethink my partnerships with horses because I know this outlook is not realistic or fair.

If you have a day when you cannot come to an agreement with your horse, your horse is misbehaving for no apparent reason, your horse has no focus for his work that day his mind is somewhere else and you just cannot connect, your horse is anxious or worried, your horse is too dull and checked out, your horse knows the basics and yet can’t seem to get anything today; regroup, turn your horse out for a couple of days, pamper yourself, read a great book, pick up a few magazines with ideas for Spring, go to a flower nursery and enjoy the beauty of everything that is blooming, go for a long hike and get tired, get on the internet and look at all the new Spring colors and fashions for you and your horse, change it up in someway!

The next time you ride your horse do something different than before. Put down some poles and practice going in and out of them, over them, around them, make a puzzle out of it all, take your horse for a walk, talk to your instructor about doing something different that day and at the end of your session or the next day try your problem areas again.

If your horse persists in the same problem over and over you will have to look into the situation seriously and make changes in equipment or check the horse out for soreness or misunderstanding in cues and aids. You can always go back to the round pen and re-establish communication.

If you are typically an English rider and have some troubles or are bored, contact a natural horsemanship trainer and do some different mental work with your horse. Of if you are a typical western rider, take a couple of lessons with a jumper trainer and have some fun over various poles low to the ground (while always wearing a helmet).

Horses have bad days just like we all do but it does not mean it is the end of the world, it does not mean the horse is bad or expendable, it does not mean give up, it does not mean it can’t be better the next day. We all are creatures of nature and subject to its constant changes. Horses are even more in touch and on a deeper level with natural instincts than we are. Allow and accept where you and your horse are at the moment and know that you can always enjoy each other on the most basic of levels.

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I will be sending out a Pre-Launch announcement soon about my new line of Women & Horses™ Essential Oils for Horse and Rider. The oils are being formulated and tested as I write this newsletter. I will also be including my line of books, videos, ball and band and in the near future a series of beautiful art note cards for you and your friends to review and purchase in advance of the public release.

Happy Riding,

~ Mary

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