August Reflections

September is here; with it the cooler days, the shorter evenings and a little more time to reflect on recent publications.
Three items particularly caught my eye recently, the first being an article discussing the merits and demerits of booting horses; the second was what is termed these days an ‘advertorial’, part of an apparent series on gastric ulcers, promoting a feeding system. The third item, also an advertorial, was for a joint-care product .

Boots and Protective Bandages

Horse and Hound 14 August 2020

This article, written by Professor Roger Smith FRCVS and Professor Michael Schramme, discusses the pros and cons of boots and bandages for exercising. It starts on a somewhat divisive note, stating ‘…some kind of protection is largely seen as essential…’ but does go on to impart some justifiable –myth-busting– information: namely that bandages afford no support whatsoever to the fetlock in an attempt to prevent over-extension. It is stated that research has shown that a well-layered bandage can be of some help in young foals and very small ponies but has no effect on the adult horse. They go on to debunk the idea of flexor-tendon support explaining that a cloth bandage could never compete with kinetic forces of around a tonne.

They then go on to explain that protection against overreach –where the rear foot collides with the front leg– is also very limited when using bandages. They may afford some protection against a light blow (and will also afford protection of the skin in such a situation; ed.) but the blunt trauma of anything more forceful will only be prevented by rigid boots ‘…which can be life-saving.’

At this point, the authors begin to return to the divisive: ‘Limb coverings may also help with a horse’s proprioception… It is thought that bandages might offer sensory “cues” …which can be helpful – especially when the horse is tired.’ Furthermore, they say that ‘Swelling of the legs is common…because of…the length of the leg…gravity and the slow movement of blood back up the limb. Bandaging legs for work will not help…but applying bandages in the stable can be effective in reducing or preventing puffiness.’

The rest of the article discusses the dangers of restricted circulation and hyperthermia in the bandaged/booted limbs, of skin injury from chafing, ventilation and the weight of boots.

Although the article begins by stating that ‘…some kind of protection is largely seen as essential…’ and talks of overreach as being the only justifiable reason, at no point do the authors explain why a horse overreaches. And how to prevent it.

The horse’s legs act like a pendulum. Their length determines their period –the time needed to swing from rear to front and, theoretically, back to the rear. The period is completely independent of the weight of the end of the pendulum. At a walking pace, the pendulum effect does not really come into play since the leg-action is minimal and remains almost completely under muscular control. However, when the horse trots or gallops, it makes use of the pendulum effect to ‘fling’ the hoofs forward, gaining momentum without using a great expense of energy. This action is involuntary since, at this point, it is the laws of physics and not the horse that dictates.

Although the period remains the same, irrespective of the weight, the amplitude or the distance travelled by the end of the pendulum –the hoof, in this case– is related to the weight and when we add weight to the hoof in the form of horseshoes, hoof boots, or even protective boots, we increase the amplitude and the inherent kinetic energy of the leg. This means that the horse will have to physically decelerate the rear leg to avoid a collision with the front which, itself, is hampered in its acceleration away from the rear by the excess weight of the horseshoe. It is extremely rare that an unshod horse taps regularly the rears against the fronts –obviously there are exceptions and often these horses have been shod at some stage in their lives causing a certain loss of coordination, but the effects are minimal.

One thing is certain, to eliminate such catastrophic trauma, the answer is not boots nor bandages, but to avoid shoeing the horse in the first place. And not having the horse shod prevents all manner of other injuries and traumas…but that is another discussion.

Finally, the last comment regarding the application of bandages in the stable brings us again to the well-being and physical needs of the horse. Clearly, if the horse needs bandages in the stable to prevent puffiness, then we are doing something wrong. If the horse is at liberty, then it will be able to move and puffiness is also avoided — locking it up clearly considerably impairs its ability to move…

iFeed

TheHorse.com 31 August 2020

This ‘article’ was written by one of TheHorse.com’s editorial staff as a so-called product review. It is in fact marked up as sponsored content!

It proposes is a ‘natural’ and regular way of feeding your horse — mechanically… In fact, it is a miniaturised version of a HiT Active stable only with a different name. There is little good that can be said of either the article or the system. The article begins with an editor’s note that We…are horse owners like you…and we want to share our experiences with you. These select products are ones we use and love every day.

The writer then goes on to explain the problems of her morning ritual and how she had to get up at 05:00 to feed and muck out her horses… And obviously, this device has revolutionised her life (well, apart from the mucking out).

It goes by the unfortunate name of iFeed Naturally. There is nothing whatsoever natural about it. All it is, is a labour saving device for the traditional horse owner, eliminating the two- or three-feeds-a-day routine by mechanising the whole process. What it does not do, is feed the horse as the horse is intended to feed. Grain or cereal is not a natural nor a correct feed for the horse. But what is even more surprising is that a ‘veterinary nutritional specialist’ recommends frequent small portions over two or three large portions and yet the author still only gives two rations a day… Apparently the units were not cheap but they do make life easier — if you really want to make life easier, don’t lock up your horses and don’t feed them expensive and inappropriate cereals.

Hyaluronex Joint

TheHorse.com various dates

So to the last item, a wonder product for protecting those over-stressed joints.
The photograph used in the advert alone says enough about why this is all wrong…

The respective articles can be found here:

Boots and Protective Bandages

iFeed Naturally

Hyaluronex (pdf)

This article first appeared on 4 September 2020 on the Equine Independent website

Human ⥈ Horse : the balance : Part Three

The final instalment in a series of three

Last week, we looked at horse centricity and making life better.This week we round off with making the change and looking at where the problems lie.

Making the change

Maybe you are already well established in a good horse-human relationship. Maybe you feel the relationship between you and your horse is good but could be better. Or you know that it is far from ideal but you want to achieve something better – what to do…

 

Where problems lie…

As we mentioned earlier, many –if not most– riders / owners fall into the trap of saying that they agree with an idea or philosophy but their horse…is somehow different. For them, there is no realisation that the problem does not lie with the horse. Yes, the horse may need to learn, to adapt, but treated correctly the horse is a willing partner.

Perhaps a fundamental example of this is shown by a recent study into the reactions of horses to grooming. A shocking 80%-90% of horses in livery and riding schools shows some form of aggression during grooming, usually directed towards the groom. (It may also be worth noting at this point that an earlier study also suggested that 80%-90% of all horses suffered from stomach ulcers. Whether there is a link, this would need to be the subject of another study.) Personal experience shows that when we look at horses that are managed more naturally, the reverse is generally the case — the horse actually asks to be groomed. This is further underlined when we look at horses that have shown a clear aggressive manner when managed traditionally; when the living environment changes for the better –large paddocks, no stabling, no unnatural feedstuffs, less forced and more complicit activities, other companion horses– the attitude of the horse also changes substantially for the better.

The Wilful Horse

Many an owner will define certain behaviours as ‘wilful’ — the horse ‘getting its own back’ for whatever reason. The horse in the arena the stops (often at the same place) and refuses to move – but yesterday he had no problem; the horse that refuses to cross a bridge or pass a gate that yesterday posed no problem… The horse is not wilful. Any refusal —in fact, any dissonant behaviour— need analysing with the logic that the horse lives in the here and now and is incapable of wilful behaviour based upon an incident that happened last week.

In the case of the arena, has something changed? Is there a shadow or a stream of sunlight? Has someone placed an object in the field of view of the horse (remember that a horse has potential 360º+ vision, depending upon proximity)? Or is the horse uncomfortable? It could be that he has pulled a muscle or overstretched but in general movement is not experiencing any real discomfort; however, the rider is now asking for a tighter turn or an uncomfortable tempo…

The bridge or gate problem is similar. It could be a branch, a ray of sunshine or a shadow. It could even be something as ‘silly’ as approaching from the wrong angle. It could be a genuine fear. Or an uncertainty caused by the behaviour of the rider. We all think we act the same under the same circumstances but it is rare, if not impossible, that our reactions are exactly the same – and the horse feel this. Never underestimate the sensitivity of the horse. The rider’s emotions transmit themselves very rapidly to the horse and the horse reacts to these minute signals instinctively just as he does to the signals of his fellow horses.

Communication

Fundamental to the behaviour of the horse with respect to the rider is communication. When the horse does not do what is asked of him, it is almost always because he has not understood the request. The rider wants the horse to turn right but the horse keeps going straight-on, or even turns left…the rider should examine his own actions. If the rider is distracted by something to the left, his whole body will reflect this and unless the horse is completely accustomed to such conflicting information, he will only do that what he thinks he is being told.
humour_ferrage
But just as communication from rider to horse is important, so it is from horse to rider. Traditionally horse-riding was based upon dominance; input from the horse was not welcome. But today, the horse is no longer a military disciplined machine, it is our companion. Even in competition, it is a partner and not a tool. If your horse ‘fails’ you in competition, it is not the fault of the horse. Either you asked too much of him, or you did not communicate clearly with him. Proper communication is not taught in riding schools – only ‘good old-fashioned’ discipline. And yet, if we learned to communicate and work correctly with our horses, then we would not need to resort to discipline and force. How often when ‘leading’ a horse does he try to bite? In almost every case, this is because he is being led wrongly. In riding schools, we learn traditionally to walk at the shoulder of the horse. This is wrong! In this position, it is the horse that is leading us since we have taken up the position of the foal… The horse is telling us to stay in our place when it should be us telling the horse. Riding schools very rarely teach the three leading-zones : ahead, at the shoulder, and behind. Only the first and the last are ‘dominant’ positions, either leading literally or leading by propelling. These are the positions of the leading horses in a group and we can easily make effective use of them.

Mindset

For the horse, everything that has just been explained is natural. He has no need to learn it. But as a rider, often we have been drilled for years with traditional techniques and we expect things of our horse which are not in his nature. This traditional mindset is the enemy of a truly good relationship with the horse. We demand things which are both mentally and physically challenging and damaging.

Aside the general atrocities of daily management (stabling, inappropriate feeding, turn-out) probably the most physically damaging for the horse is the horseshoe or the hoof boot. Both of these deprive the horse of essential feeling of the ground he is crossing. The feet of the horse are like the fuse or the circuit-breaker in the fusebox; they show when the maximum load has been exceeded. By applying horseshoes or hoof boots, we are effectively short-circuiting the fusebox and creating a potential fire further up in the circuit.

Many riders complain that their horse, if barefoot, will only walk with difficulty on certain surfaces — mostly stones or gravel — while shod, they have no difficulty. This is fundamentally true. But the reasoning is flawed. The barefoot horse can feel the surface under its feet and therefore goes carefully to avoid injury. The shod or booted horse feels little or nothing and consequently risks injury. Riders complain that their horse, barefoot, prefers the grass verge to the rocky path; what they never reason is that they too would prefer grass verge to rocky path – often even when wearing shoes! A shod or booted horse can be likened to a marathon runner is steel-toed safety boots…

It is this mindset that needs changing to accommodate the needs and comfort of the horse. Accept that the horse prefers the verge…you can steer him around the low hanging branches. Accept that stony paths are not the place to trot or galop.

After the shoes, the next major problems revolve around food, saddles and bits. A horse does not need feeding. Three meals a day is wrong. The horse eats 12 to 15 times a day. Allowed to do this correctly, he has absolutely no need of commercial feed. Not even such ‘quality natural products’ as Thunderbrooks or Agrobs, to name but two. The simple fact that the horse is being ‘fed’ is an aberration in his natural rhythm.

People spend a fortune on saddles — or not. Scrimping on a saddle from the local equestrian store is doing your horse no favour. But at the same time, spending a fortune on a saddle albeit fitted by a Master Saddle Fitter, or just an expensive job ‘off the shelf’ does not do the horse any more justice. A traditional saddle with a tree needs to be adjusted, or at least checked, by a Master Saddle Fitter; it needs to be checked and adjusted at least three times a year, if not more often. Remember that the shape of the horse changes over the seasons. And yet very few people do this. The only saddle that does any justice to the horse is a treeless saddle. This allows for seasonal changes in the shape of the horse and it allows for lateral flexibility. The treeless saddle is just as supportive of the rider as traditional treed saddle, without the disadvantages of a tree that, at its extremities, puts pressure on the horse’s back. Riders will often claim that they sit correctly in the saddle but the rider that sits perfectly does not exist. The bad rider is almost static and will be like a sack of potatoes, but even a good rider, dynamic and compliant with his horse, will transfer his weight forwards, backwards and from side to side, increasing the pressure on the extremities of the tree at the same time.

The bit is the most misunderstood bit of kit in the riders armoury. Every argument for the use of a bit is flawed. The bit will not stop a runaway horse; the bit is not a means of subtle communication; there is no such thing as being ‘light in the hands’; no horse ‘prefers’ the bit.

The expression ‘the bit between the teeth’ does not exist for nothing! The bars, the part of the gums where the bit is laid, are very thin skinned and the bone of the jaw under that thin skin is very sharp. Just putting a bit into the horse’s mouth is creating discomfort. And that is before the reins are picked up. A bit might stop a runaway horse but it is through the application of pain; however, the effect can very easily be the reverse with the horse running to try to escape the pain.

The correct communication with the horse is through the sit and the legs, not through the bit. Even in dressage. This can be augmented by the gentle application of the reins against the neck.

Although the application of pressure on the reins varies from person to person, from gentle to rough, and although rough use of the reins will cause great discomfort for the horse, light use of the reins is still an important source of discomfort and even pain. It is not necessarily the hands, although these will always move and be constantly altering the position of the bit, but the bit itself resting on the bars is sufficient on its own.

Anyone who truly considers that their horse prefers the bit is not thinking of the horse. Try walking around for five minutes with a pencil in your mouth… Often the argument is that the horse is ‘reassured’ by the presence of the bit; that without it he won’t advance. This is all a matter of conditioning and learning the signals without bit.

Summary

Most important of all, learn what the horse’s true needs are : correct accommodation, correct feed, companionship etc.

Accept that the horse is an individual too. With good days and bad days; with fears; with aches and pains…

Accept that he can make decisions for himself regarding where to walk and how. If he prefers to walk than to trot, let him — he has good reason even if you do not see it. If he prefers the verge to the roadway, let him use the verge.

Accept that he is slower on stones barefoot than shod — remember that it is less likely to lead to expensive veterinary bills.

Remember that sand in the arena is far less abrasive than the concrete floor leading to it…he does not need shoes or boots to compete on sand.

If his feet really start to wear down too much (forget it, they won’t) then you are asking too much of your horse. He is not a military animal; he is not pulling a coach to a timetable; he is your companion. Love him, but above all, respect him.

This article is also available on the Equine Independent website

Human ⥈ Horse : the balance : Part Two

an article in instalments. Part Three will be published on 15 July.

Last week, we finished by discussing dogma-driven, ego-driven and horse-centric. The dogma-driven rider is the one who, often under peer-pressure, resorts to the age old (mis-)conceptions of the horse in the traditional riding-world. The thoughts are with the horse, only tradition has put misguided human values on the lifestyle of the horse.

The ego-driven rider will often declare a love for the horse and claim care and responsibility; however, it is all to one end, that of the rider’s own performance and prestige. The poor horse is little more than a well-oiled machine.

Finally, we looked at the horse-centric approach. The appreciation of the real needs of the horse, as opposed to the human-perceived needs.

What is horse-centricity?

When we look at what we can do to make life better for our horse, from accommodation through feeding to tack and riding, the traditionalists will aways try to defend their actions with a series of what are becoming very tired arguments. Possibly the most cited is that ‘the horse was never meant to be ridden in the first place…’ So the first thing we need to do when defining horse-centricity is to dispense with the worst of these arguments.

  1. The horse was never meant to be ridden…Very true. There is no counter argument to this statement. However, despite the horse being more than capable of rejecting mans attempts to tame and ride him, he has shown a clear complicity with man; a complicity not found, for instance, in the zebras (we see a similar complicity with the wolf Canis lupus, from which developed the domestic dog Canis [lupus] familiaris, but not with the fox Vulpes).
  2. Today’s horse is not the early horse…Again, true; 50 million years of evolution has gone into making the horse what it is today. The modern horse first appeared around 5 million years ago and was found across the whole of the Northern hemisphere over 15,000 years ago. However, Equus was first domesticated a mere 5,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, if the total existence of the horse can be compressed into the past 50 years, the modern horse arrived on the scene some 5 years ago and had populated the whole of the Northern hemisphere by about 5½ days ago; domestication happened during the last 44 hours and the application of horseshoes as we know them, started less than 5 hours ago. Few people reading this will have started to ride a horse more than half-an-hour ago!Clearly, there was a great deal more evolution before man’s intervention than has come after. Obviously with breeding programmes there has been an improvement, or more often degradation, in certain physical traits, but one thing remains, the horse is practically unchanged from the animal first domesticated less than two days / 5000 years ago.
  3. My horse prefers…(fill in owner’s preferences here)Your horse is fundamentally no different from any other horse. Even if you would prefer him to be! And his natural traits are really unchanged when compared with the early domesticated horse (see point 2). Almost invariably, it is the owner’s preferences which prevail, not those of the horse. The power of anthropomorphism is severely underestimated. We like to read something human into the behaviour of our horse in order to apply human values. Or we believe that human values and equine values are the same and try to enforce the former on our horses. Or simple ignorance; we know how we as humans react to certain conditions and so we expect our horses to be the same.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of arguments, but these three are probably the most expounded on the nature of the horse.
Boxed Horses Overview

Making life better

Many riders / owners make token gestures towards making life better. Riders / owners who are proud to have gone barefoot (praiseworthy in itself) but still stable their horses at night; ride bitless but still feed concentrates and bread… If we are to make the lives of our horses better, we must start with the fundamentals and work up.
21479C7E-AD93-41F4-82E9-A9C4BE57159C_1_105_c
  • Accommodation
    An oft uttered phrase is ‘my horse wants to go into his stable at night’. However, when we analyse this statement, we find that the horse is fed (concentrates) which, in effect, lure him into the stable. The real test is whether he stays in the stable with the door open when he has finished eating – highly unlikely.Another comment is ‘my horse gets restless when it gets dark’ and so the owner feels that he must bring his horse in. If we study the general behaviour of horses at dusk, we see that far from indicating a desire to seek shelter, it is a moment of general heightened activity. Horses that have never know a stable or shelter exhibit exactly the same behaviour. And it continues through a good part of the night.

    Coupled with the horse’s increased activity at dusk, is the owner’s own, human, fear of the dark. We are used to hunkering down, closing blinds, curtains and shutters when darkness falls; closing out the perils of the night. Reflect for a moment on this poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth:

On A Night of Snow

Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.

You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,

little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.

Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, do not go.

See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,

I will bring you a saucer of milk like a Marguerite,

so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet –

stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,

strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,

and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light,

on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar –

Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,

and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!

Given a true choice, it is very rare that a horse should remain in an (open) stable for any amount of time; likewise, the horse will often shun the ‘comfortable’ bed of straw. The idea that the horse needs a good night’s sleep like we do, still permeates the equestrian world; in fact, a horse ‘sleeps’ somewhere between 2 and 2½ hours in every 24 – and rarely a night. Owners will cite the instance that their horse is ‘still’ lying down —sleeping…— when they come into the stable in the morning. Again, the reality is very different; the 2 to 2½ hours is never in one go. The maximum a horse will actually sleep, lying down, in one go, is about 25 minutes. And for the most part, the other 2 hours is made up of a few minutes snatched here and there, often standing. The preferred time for this long sleep is the morning –just the moment when the owner arrives and says ‘look!!!’. We can also pose the question, why should the horse, and animal of open spaces, be happy cramped in a space that for him is little more than a telephone cell? Why should the horse, a gregarious animal that also uses companionship as a defence, be happy to spend the long hours of the night alone with nothing more for company than his own excrement? Again, many owners cite that the modern horse has ‘adapted’ to this sort of life. Again, I would say, open the stable door, give the horse free rein and see what he choses himself. There will be very few horses that stay in and bed themselves down for the night. The horse has not adapted; in his 50 million years of evolution, he has not had enough time to – it is not in his nature; it is man who forces this perceived adaptation.
The original reason for stabling horses was simply a question of military logistics. For a mounted regiment, catching all the horses before preparing them for action was a time-consuming action clearly contrary to military precision and preparedness. The order to leave in 30 minutes would have been impossible to fulfil if the horses had to be caught first. Thus stabling. But today, we don’t need to be saddled-up and ready in 30 minutes. We have time; those of us that don’t should seriously consider their relationship with the horse and whether they are suited or not. A frequently seen result of this forced adaptation is the stable vice: the crib-biter, the air-sucker, the head-shaker; the horse that appears aggressive whenever anyone approaches. Another result, less seen but certainly felt by the horse, is the stomach ulcer; it is reckoned that around 80% of all horses suffers from stomach ulcers – the vast majority being those stabled. This problem is further exacerbated by incorrect feeding (routines); more of that later. So our horse should be outside. All the time. ‘But he will destroy his field…’ then he needs more space. And if it cannot be provided then maybe consideration should be given to the question, hard as it may be, of whether it is fair to keep a horse at all. But often, much can be resolved with good management. One of the biggest problems related to perceived lack of space is that often horses get small paddocks due to the owner’s —and at times the livery yard’s— reluctance to put more than one or two horses together in a field. Lack of acceptance of another horse is often cited as the reason. Logical, if you are forced to live with someone you don’t get on with, you too would show a lack of acceptance. For this reason, the minimum number of horses together in one enclosure is three; this provides for a greater group dynamism since rarely is there a single dominant, and even less so when there is at least one mare involved. Ideally, up to twenty horses could be grouped together in one field and will naturally form two to three groups. And disagreements will be minimal because the groups will be self-defined and not forced. Advocating the lack of a stable does not mean advocating a complete lack of shelter. But shelter does not need necessarily to be covered shelter. Very often, horses with covered shelter will be found outside in the driving wind and rain…but more often than not, up against a protective hedge or, particularly in hot weather, under the shelter of a tree. So goes the old story of the horses out in the snow. A passer-by remarks that the poor horses are being neglected, left out in the cold…to which the owner responds ‘is there snow on their backs?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ replies the passer-by, ‘at least 5 centimetres…’ ‘Oh, that’s alright then.’ replies the owner. ‘They’re obviously not losing any body heat…!’
  • Feed

    Another subject of anthropomorphism. We eat two or three times a day (better three but there will always be someone who says that they cannot face that most important meal of the day, breakfast…); so we consider that our horses should too. So we feed them concentrates morning and evening – but not shortly before we ride because that can cause colic. A handful of hay should keep them going in between meals, particularly at night when locked up in the stable. But this is not what nor how the horse feeds. The horse has a relatively small stomach which obliges it to eat regularly – twelve to fifteen times a day. It needs this regularity both to keep the fires stoked and to protect the stomach. The protective lining of the horse’s stomach is only partial. Two-thirds of the stomach wall is not protected and vigorous activity on an empty stomach will cause splashing of stomach acid onto the unprotected lining. This in turn can lead to ulceration. Feeding concentrates does give an energy boost —although we will see that this is short-lived and counter-productive— but it does not satisfy the hunger nor does it provide any protection for the stomach lining. What it does do, is work like a drug, or equine Red Bull. Research done by the University of Bordeaux in November 2007 showed that sugar is 96% more addictive than cocaine. And in concentrates, there is a large quantity of sugar in the form of starch; this is excluding the many feeds that also contain molasses… Like humans, the horse has an appendix; only in the case of the horse, it is a sack called the cæcum and is, relatively, much larger. This appendix is one of the major powerhouses of the horse’s digestive system. It contains vast numbers of bacteria with the principle role of breaking down the cellulose in the horse’s —normally— grassy diet. From this, sugars are slowly liberated giving energy to the horse in a regulated and almost constant manner. The pH or acidity level of the cæcum is ±7 or neutral. When we feed pure sugars, in the form of molasses or starch-rich grain, these are liberated far more rapidly, giving the horse a rapid energy boost – similar to Red Bull – but also one which dissipates as rapidly as it is built up – again, similar to Red Bull – creating a yoyo effect. Furthermore, these directly accessible sugars alter the pH level of the cæcum, raising the acidity to ±3 killing off the natural bacteria that would normally break down cellulose. This has a serious deleterious effect upon the natural endurance capabilities of the horse. Now we have an animal that is stressed, suffering from ulcers, reliant upon shots of rapid sugars for short bursts of energy and suffering lethargy the rest of the time.

Again, we must look to the military for the answer to why we feed our horses such a poorly adapted diet. Quite simply, it is far easier to transport sufficient quantities of concentrates to feed a mounted regiment than to transport forage. If we care for our horse, we will ditch the concentrates† and move over to a correct, adapted diet. But this is not just a field full of grass; the horse needs variety just as we do. There should be access to different grass sorts, to thistles, dandelions, even leaves on the trees and bushes – ash, oak and brambles are particularly liked. Care must be taken with yew and sycamore. Yew is highly toxic and certain varieties of sycamore carry a fungus which causes atypical myopathy. Also ragwort and St John’s Wort should be regulated. Generally, the horse will not eat these plants, their toxicity often being paired with an unpleasant taste, but should nothing else be available or, in the case of the sycamore, or the ragwort when dried and mixed in hay, the horse may accidentally ingest these plants. Ragwort in small quantities will have little effect but its toxin is cumulative. It is also an invasive plant and if not kept under control can take over a field in a couple of seasons.
Sometimes horses will intentionally eat something that they normally would not, in order to purge themselves : fern is generally seen as toxic but horses are known to purge themselves of worms by ingesting small amounts of fern. Finally, many owners consider that their horses need supplements – extra vitamins, trace elements etc. This is a huge marketing trick by the bio-industry. With a correct diet —see above— they should want for nothing. All the vitamins they need, they either get from their food or they synthesise; trace elements likewise. If your horse starts licking earth, then a mineral block or salt-lick can be given (do not bother with pink salt, it is certainly no better than ordinary salt and may even be worse – certainly it is not environmentally responsible since it has to be transported from the Himalayas) but is not really essential. Giving other supplements is not advisable since they are likely to disrupt the general balance of elements. It should be realised that too much of certain elements inhibits the take-up of others; and iron should never be given unless under veterinary advice. So, in summary, no concentrates, no supplements; access to natural varied grazing 24/7.

† a change of diet must never be done instantly; the transition from a concentrates diet to a correct herbivorous diet must be done gradually over a period of at least 4 weeks.

  • Activities

    As many an ego-driven rider / owner says, the horse was never meant to be ridden…so why do we insist upon riding? I’m not advocating complete abstinence but surely there is more to the horse-human relationship than brushing-down, saddling-up, getting-on and riding-off! A recent French survey showed that over 90% of horses in riding schools hated being groomed to the point that some were violently aggressive. This cannot be right. Grooming should be that moment of intimate contact with the horse, a moment of relaxation. But for that 90% of horses, it is a sign that they were about to be put to work. Having spent hours locked up in a 9m² box, the new prospect is to be ‘locked-up’ under a saddle, with a bit in the mouth and heels kicking in the ribs, being bored to tears in the ring for the next hour. And what then, a quick brush-down, if we are lucky, a hose-down if we are really lucky, and back into the box for a few more hours… What a life!

Horses are naturally curious, they like change – even if only for a short while, to return to the group afterwards. They also like to go unridden at times. This is yet another moment of intimacy that the rider / owner and horse can share. Confidence in each other but without the need to perform. The horse, reassured, following its owner – maybe even without a lead-rope – being allowed to eat the grass from the verge along the way. A horse that is not incarcerated will generally be more complicit but giving the horse the pleasure of freedom will only enhance his complicity the next time you want to ride out. Especially if the ride is relaxed and outside. And if you take your horse for a walk, don’t worry about the comments that he should be ridden, the questions whether he is tired or ill…it is not just owners that are ignorant of the horse’s needs. Explain… Maybe even more important than walking your horse, is not walking or riding him if he clearly does not want to. The horse is an individual too. You may have arrived at the wrong moment; he may be feeling a little off colour. Why should he be any different from us? We do not always ‘feel like it’. It will not be every time. Tradition says that you should never allow a horse to refuse. If he refuses to jump, to cross a bridge, to ford a stream etc. then you must not give up until he does, otherwise he will have won. And if he wins, he will continue to refuse… This is another myth. The horse is not an unwilling partner. If he refuses, there is a reason. There is no point in forcing him against his will, or possibly his fear. That is more likely to make him continue to refuse.
Next week, the final instalment looking at how to put horse-centricity into practice. Publication on 15 July 2020.
This article is also available on the Equine Independent website

Human ⥈ Horse : the balance : Part One

an article in instalments. Part Two will be published on 7 July.

For most of us, confinement is behind us, albeit there are still restrictions in place for many. It has been a complicated time, probably because of its simplicity and lack of choices — stay in; don’t mingle; keep your distance.

Right at the start of confinement, I wrote an article Coronavirus and the Horse; it was an article of high hopes. I must admit that I knew at the time that they were just that, nevertheless, even now, hope remains that things have changed for the better for some horses.

However, I am just as certain that for the majority of horses, nothing has changed. Which is sad, particularly when I hear the tales of yard owners telling how owners, unable to visit due to strict lockdown regulations, were suddenly complaining that their horses were locked up for too many hours a day. Ultimately, it was, and is, the choice of the owner and it is a good moment to reflect upon that choice.

Many decisions made on horse maintenance are born of pure ignorance — a term that can be very loaded, so maybe it needs explaining : ignorance is notstupidity; ignorance is that lack of knowledge of facts pertinent to a particular subject or situation; the mathematician who cannot quote a single line of Shakespeare or the Doctor of English who has no idea about E=MC². These are the people who feed their horses inappropriately because everyone else does; these are the people who stable their horses at night because it is dark, the horse needs to sleep and is safe in its little bed of straw; these are the people who shoe their horses believing that the hoofs will wear out otherwise.

Often it is dogma-driven. The majority of riders started their life with horses in a traditional riding school or possibly livery yard. These places are hotbeds of tradition : we have always done it that way, there is no reason to change now… Questions are poorly tolerated should they call into doubt the reasoning behind the status quo, let alone its correctness.

But often, it is ego-driven. For many riders, the world revolves ultimately around their own performance, with the horse —in the end— being little more than an accessory to that performance. I am not denying that they shell out (tens of) thousands on their horses, according them every conceivable ‘luxury’, care and (pseudo)protection; they will tell you, with a straight face, that they love their horse…and no doubt they do…only love and respect are not always the bedfellows they should be.

We can place almost any situation into one or more of three categories : ignorance; arrogance; the horse. Thus the dogma-driven situation, obliging the horse simply through ignorance; the ego-driven situation, obliging the horse through arrogance; the horse-centric situation that responds much closer to the horse’s own needs. Let’s look at each category individually:

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Dogma-driven

This is possibly the worst of the negative categories. Ignorance has never been an excuse in the eyes of the law and neither should it be in the management and use of horses. The power of tradition has lead to an ignorance of just that which is central to the subject – the horse. We have always stabled / fed / shod / mounted / dismounted / led / ridden…like that. Why do you want to make trouble and change what we have always done? Well, just maybe, we should be looking at the original reasoning behind these practices:

A few simple questions; see if you know the answers before checking the explanations in the next article…

Why do we stable horses?Think of war-horses
and why particularly at night?think of human fears
Why do we feed horses grain / concentrates?Think again of the war-horse and feeding it in battle
Why do we shoe horses?Think of the military demands upon the horse
Why are we always told to mount /dismount / lead from the left side of the horse?What would be worn, and by whom, that would prevent leading and mounting from the right
Why should the horse never be allowed to eat while being ridden?Indeed, why not?
Why should we keep our heels down (particularly in English style riding)?Think saddles, stirrups and cinching up

Ego-driven

Much the basis of (higher) competition, the ego is what pushes us along; demanding, dominating, forcing – irrespective of any other exigence, the obligation to do exactly that what is required by the rider and the heck with the horse.

A short anecdote: some years ago, accompanying my young neighbour to the local covered riding ring there we encountered a ‘girl’ of around 19 or 20 riding exercises in the ring. Every so often, her horse halted and refused to move. Clearly there was something bothering him. She kept dismounting, dragging him further, remounting and repeating the exercise – each time with the same result, the horse blocked. It could simply have been that he was bored to tears with the exercise; it could have been the light at that point in the ring that was bothering him; most likely, it was discomfort. But whatever the reason, the scene that followed was the perfect example of ego-centric horsemanship.

The horse was led outside and, on a lunge line, whipped repeatedly to a faltering trot. When I challenged the girl about her (atrocious) behaviour, it was clear that as far as she was concerned, all the blame lay with the horse that was doing its best to annoy her…after all, during the past six weeks, he had not shown any problems, so why now?

Indeed, why now? What had changed? What was bothering him? In her mind, nothing; she was only thinking of herself, not her horse.

It is the same ego-centricity that drives the ‘cavalier attitude’ that, when riding out, the horse should go exactly where and how the rider demands. Never mind the horse preferring the comfort of the verge, it is the rider ‘in charge’ that insists on galloping over the stoney path…and to hell with the horse’s health! Because it is the horse’s health; a twisted ankle or, worse, a torn tendon is far more likely when the horse is forced to do that which he would not voluntarily do than when left to his own devices. The insanity of the situation is that the rider would never consider running over rocky ground in safety shoes, and yet that is what he demands of his horse.

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Next week, we look at horse-centricity. Part Two, 7 July 2020.

This article is also available on the Equine Independent website

one side of the horse - Ronald Searle

Further Hoof Care

Following up on last week’s post about Simple Hoof Care, this week a short film on further hoof care. The method shown here is still relatively simple but this time we look at the use of conventional trimming tools and techniques.

The video lasts just over six minutes. 

bottom of hoof

Simple Hoof Care

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is causing COVID-19 casualties around the world, is disrupting all walks of life and many activities we took for granted have ground to a halt. Not least of these is the horse world and all associated with it. Some countries have put severe restrictions upon leaving the house/property. Other countries have banned horse-riding altogether –even in private– since an accident would add yet another problem to the already overburdened medical services.

Clearly, whatever the local situation, horses are getting less exercise but their hoofs are still growing. And the farriers and hoof care specialists are hanging up their tools for the duration with many equestrian centres closing, or being obliged to close, their doors and ‘unnecessary’ work being suspended.
For many owners, this is a hand in hair situation – what to do now.

For this reason, we have compiled a short video showing how you can maintain your horses hoofs in an acceptable condition until your hoof care specialist is back out and about…

Lucky Luke

Prior knowledge of hoof care is not a pre-requisite and you will not damage your horse’s feet nor cripple him. You will need access to some basic equipment but it is advisable to obtain a proper farriers’ hoof rasp. These cost between €30 and €60 (£25 & £50) and can be bought at any online farriers suppliers (check Google for your nearest stockist). When buying a rasp, make sure it is a 14 inch double-edged rasp (one side will be rough, the other fine). Smaller models and multi-faced models are not easy to use because they do not allow a flowing motion; larger models are unwieldy. Do not buy a Riders Rasp™; this is of little use other than to cosmetically pretty-up the edge of the hoof and certainly has no place is proper hoof care.

4-edge hoof rasp

The multi-faced rasp, far left, and the Raid Riders Rasp, left.
Two tools of very limited used and best avoided.

So, here is the video. It is only five minutes long (±675mb). We hope it will be informative and help you out in these trying times. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to mail us at info@sabots-libres.eu

Stay safe.

Coronavirus and the Horse

For many of us, it is a trying time and, with more and more countries implementing a lock-down, a complicated one. Equestrian centres are closed and, in many cases, even owners are being turned away from visiting their horses. A time to reflect on the welfare of the incarcerated horse…

Boxed Horses Overview

A great many owners consider keeping their horses stabled —incarcerated— as being normal; but now it is the owners themselves that are incarcerated in their own homes. However, they are lucky; they still have some space to move in, unlike the horse, cramped up in what amounts to a telephone box. The owners have the luxury of a separate toilet, unlike the horse, standing —involuntarily— in his own excrement for much of the time. The owners can still eat when they want —and feel the need— to; the horse, with a digestive system adapted to much more frequent replenishment, 12 to 16 ‘meals’ in every 24 hours, is restricted to just two meals a day – and then food for the most part completely unsuitable for his digestive system.

Clearly there is little that can be done at the moment for those horses suffering such incarceration; hopefully, when this period of crisis is passed, owners will reflect on the misery they inflict on their horses simply through their ignorance. Owners in general consider that they are doing the best for their animals but all too often, their best is little better than a purgatory since the owners perceptions are based upon human needs and desires and not on those of their animals.

Remember that if you are under lock-down and your horses are not being tended to by an equestrian centre or similar, you are still responsible for their welfare. That means you have derogation to tend to your animals’ welfare provided you respect all other regulations in force. Horses (and other domestic animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, rodents etc.) are not vectors for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

This article was also published in The Equine Independent on 23 March 2020