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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 - January-February 2004

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Hello Everyone and Happy New Year! I hope it is starting out well for you and your horse partners.

I am in the middle of preparing my next book proposal, becoming anti-social and hiding in libraries to get this accomplished. My next book, if accepted by a publisher, will be about a woman of 1910. She was a cowgirl, a rodeo star, a dancer, sharpshooter, archer, world champion lariatist and a horsewoman. I plan on spending the next two years involved with this project so I won't be as public or traveling as much as I usually do.

Just this past week I had an incident that I think all of you should know about and be aware of for your own horse's safety. I came back from vacation with my family on December 29 and checked in on my mare, Anna. She had been fine when I rode her three days earlier.

I noticed a tiny white dot on her left eye and noticed she was tearing more than usual. I called my vet and she came out the next morning. The vet put a dye solution in her eye to isolate the ulcer and get a better look at it through magnified lenses. Something either punctured her eye, such as a tall piece of dried grass, or a foreign object had gotten into her eye from the high winds we had experienced that weekend and scratched the cornea causing an infection. Either way, my vet recommended that we treat it with antibiotics and topical drops and ointments.

I carried out her orders and for one week twice per day we medicated her and kept a fly mask on her to protect the eye. The white spot changed and began breaking up and thinning out but it did not go away. My vet and I agreed to call in an equine eye specialist. We are so lucky to have specialists and alternative resources here, I am always grateful for that.

Dr. Steve Roberts came on Wednesday, January 7 and cultured the ulcer. Much to our great surprise, it was a fungal infection and had to be removed immediately or we would chance loosing the eye. Out here in the west it is so dry that there is hardly ever a fungal infection issue. In the eastern part of the U.S. it is common and the vets know how to handle it right away. But in our case, my vet told me she has seen only two other fungal infections in a horse's eye for over 10 years.

Dr. Roberts crew called several surgery clinics in the area to have Anna scheduled in that afternoon. We got Anna up to a private clinic in Laporte, Colorado and the surgery commenced at 3 p.m. Dr. Roberts cut out the infected area and grafted a piece of conjunctiva tissue back into the corneal crater the ulcer had caused. He also threaded a piece of tiny tubing into her upper eyelid, over her ears and into a bulb pump that is taped to her neck. The pump sends a constant slow drip of several medications into her eye alleviating the need for me to medicate her manually several times per day.

She is to wear the pump and tubing for 8-9 days and stay in her stall and run to let the eye heal. So far, all is going well but we will not know for sure how the eye is healing for a few days yet. Otherwise, Anna is happy, healthy and eating well.

Several vets have told me that you never try to take care of a horse's eye by yourself. Always call a vet or eye specialist in right away. The cornea of the eye does not have enough tissue to fight any kind of an infection, especially a fungus, and ultimately can fail without recovery. You risk loosing the eye in any case.

I also want to stress again the importance of recognizing and altering your horse's nervous system issues. I have written about this before but I keep coming across people with horses they don't understand or know what to do with. Consider the nervous system on a scale of 1-10, 1 being so dull and malnourished that they are near death to 10 where they are so high strung and nervous they are dangerous and life threatening to those around them. Where is your horse living?

Ideally, it should be around 5-6. If he's sick or not feeling well he may drop to 3-4, on the other hand if he is scared or unsure of something he may spike to an 8-9. This is normal but they should all return to 5-6 on a regular basis. Arabians and Thoroughbreds are the breeds that normally run the hottest. They can easily maintain around an 8 but that doesn’t mean it is safe or healthy. These two breeds and breeds that share their blood need the most attention to their nervous system in order to be a fun, safe and reliable riding horse. They often "leave their body" and go elsewhere with their focus, when this happens it becomes a dangerous situation for you as the rider or handler. They are no longer thinking of their feet, their weight, their place in space and time or of you. They are focusing on something else. When that "something else" decides to move or rattle or shake or snap or bark or flap in the wind, the horse responds reflexively without a split second of thought first.

By bringing a horse into his or her nervous system and teaching them to "stay in their body" you are teaching safety, responsibility and focus on you. You always need to have the ability to bring a horse back to you in any situation, no matter how scary.

There are many ways to access and calm the nervous system. First, however, I must ask that you think about what your horse is eating because this will have an effect. How much work is he or she getting in comparison to how much protein and fiber her or she is getting? Most basic performance horses do not need a feed containing more than 14% protein and do well on grass hay and pasture.

Once you have your feed program balanced with the amount of work the horse is getting then you can begin on helping the horse tune in and shift his nervous system. There are mouth massage techniques, acupressure points above the eyes in the sockets, around the ears and in the upper part of the neck, massage techniques throughout the body to find stiff and sore spots of "holding and tension." Acupuncture and myofascial techniques can also help with this process, and of course, a chiropractic alignment is a good idea on occasion.

In training, there are a great deal of in-hand exercises that will work beautifully to begin to access and calm the nervous system. In most horses, no amount of equipment, "wearing them down" work or punishment will change or alter behavior. You have to access the nervous system before any positive result can be realized.

One exercise is described in words and in photos in my book Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian. It is called "S"ing your horse in hand. With a snug fitting halter, place your index and middle fingers under the T junction of the halter or where the noseband meets the cheek piece. This should be a snug fit. The other hand should be holding the lead rope. While you are standing by his head start the S by sending his head slowly away from you and back toward you with a soft elbow movement. After a few of these he should start relaxing and lowering his head. Anytime he shows signs of chemical release and relaxation such as yawning, chewing, licking, rolling his eyes, snorting, shaking his head or dropping his head, reward him and tell him how good he is. Give him a minute or two to think about what just happened and begin the process again.

Once he starts demonstrating the signs of release while you are standing with him you may advance this exercise into motion.

Start the same way with your two fingers under and grasping the T joint of the halter with the other hand holding the lead rope but this time take one step with your movement of sending the head away from you. If you are standing at his left side with your right hand under the T joint, then take a step toward the right (about 2 o'clock on a watch) and send his head away, then stop and take a step to the left and bring his head toward you. Once he starts walking with you do this technique all the way around the arena. Your feet should be pointing in the direction you are sending his head. You ultimately are making a long series of "S" shapes around the arena.

At first you will ask the horse to S with you for about 10 strides then give him his head and let him walk with you and think about what has just happened. Then try it again and remember to reward him when he shows signs of relaxation. After awhile you will be able to S the horse a few times and get the results immediately. This technique is very useful at horse shows, the racetrack, on trail rides or in the vet box at an event for getting the horse to focus and listen to you and himself before you mount.

I plan to continue learning about accessing the horse's nervous system as much as possible. If you have any questions or comments please write and I would be glad to share what might work for you and your horse.

I am in the process of scheduling a few clinics for 2004 and will post them as they are contracted. If you are interested in having a clinic in your area, please write me and we can discuss dates and the program that will best fit your horse community.

Happy Riding,

Mary D. Midkiff

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Women have a special magic with horses... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Copyright 2004 Women & Horses. All rights reserved. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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