Does your horse say NO?

I am a true believer that a horse is not intentionally out to get us. I do not believe they are in their stable conjuring up how they will get us back at our next ride. It could be that your horse is in some sort of pain, maybe it’s related to diet, I am also a true believer of diet and the effects it has on inflammation not only in us humans but our animals as well. If only they could talk sometimes. Below may give you a heads up on starch and sugar and also some tips on what you can do if your horse just says NO!

When Behaviour May Be Related to Digestive Health

We all know how it feels to have to perform work when we aren’t feeling our best. Whether it’s from pain, illness, hunger, or other deficiencies we just aren’t capable of our very best – and may even get grumpy about it. Why would our horses be any different?

Starch in Concentrates May Cause Sugar Highs and Lows

Performance horses have higher energy requirements which often lead us to add a grain or other starchy concentrated feeds to their diet. Concentrate meals move through the fore-gut in a matter of hours, where starches and other simpler carbohydrates are broken down in the stomach and small intestine, and absorbed through the wall of the small intestine.

The influx of concentrates into the system in a short amount of time can cause a “sugar high”, followed by the subsequent crash, exactly like when it happens to us. The body produces insulin in response to the influx of sugar, and this insulin then creates the crash. These sugar highs and lows can have a negative impact on a horse’s attitude. Sugar imbalances may cause horses to be high-strung and unpredictable or lazy and lethargic, both of which can be expressed through resistant behaviours.

Feeding Concentrate Meals Hard on the Hindgut

In most stables, concentrates are fed twice a day. Often, this is too large a volume of grain feed for the horse to digest and absorb properly in the fore-gut. That means undigested sugars and starches can reach the hind-gut, where they are fermented by the bacteria there to produce high levels of lactic acid. This can lead to hind-gut acidosis, and a whole array of potential hind-gut health problems, that can leave a horse off its game, to say the least.

Digestive Discomfort Displayed in Resistant Behaviours

Low-grade digestive issues may be much more common in horses than you think. Some horses may be stoic when faced with pain, and others may be in the early stages of digestive distress. As a result, these horses may display their discomfort in their behaviour rather than through the typical clinical, physical symptoms.

A Healthy Horse is a Happy Horse

If you could keep your horse turned out to graze on quality pasture, and you had the ability to rotate pasture from time to time, there would be few demands on the horse’s digestive system. Your horse would most likely get all the nutrition and care it needs. But in the performance world, this is not practical.

A horse whose digestive tract is healthy and functioning properly won’t be in pain (at least not in the gut) and will also be more capable of receiving nutrition and energy properly from his food. Address digestive health and management of possible causes of resistant behaviours, and you may see improvements in your horse’s willingness to perform under saddle.

Or, if you and your veterinarian evaluate your horse’s digestive system and find it healthy, you’ve checked one potential cause off the list and can pursue other reasons for resistance.

Resistance under saddle is a training issue, is it? Maybe, maybe not. Poor behaviour may be related to training, riding, tack, or lameness issues. However, it’s quite common that the slightest issue in the equine hind-gut may have the ability to negatively impact behaviour and performance.

In summary, don’t always assume that your horse is just being a stubborn old bugger that is testing you, I truly believe that a horse 99.9% of the time only goes to the trouble is disobeying us because there is something not right health or fitness wise. I observed many clients horses I had in training go from downright “pigs” (so I initially thought) to awesome show horses simply by finding and fixing their health issue, many of them being dentistry related even though the owner had not long had their teeth “done”! Many also gut related, ulcers for example, some, you have to go deeper with and get x-rays done on their feet and joints to help find the problem. There are also many memories of horses I had that had such terrible feet issues.

There usually is a legit reason why they give us a hard time when riding them. Mostly very fixable. The other .1%? Can be man made by perhaps choosing the wrong trainer and they do exist! Or, even the owners, riders that may be allowing their horse to “rule the roost”. Horses pick up bad habits just as easily as good ones, it just takes a matter of a few times him stopping for whatever reason in his head, they stand there, we pat them, tell them he’s/she’s a good boy/girl and not to worry or be frightened. Next thing we know, they begin to play us.

I have had horses come to me, I have had young horses try me out by baulking, even backing without any cues from me to do so. I have had horses of all ages think they’ve had enough for the day and point blank refuse to go forward, even attempted a little lift off the ground threatening to rear if I continued to try and ask for forward.

Some things you can try to unlock your horse

The best way I have found to unlock this baulking habit when they stop and refuse to go forward is to turn their head around to either side, it doesn’t matter which side you choose, just get their head around and with your opposite leg push them over to the direction you have them facing, this gets them off balance and forces them to take a step in that direction, once you get that first step, keep going, if they try to stay grounded, again, pull them around in the opposite direction and repeat, this should get them moving. The wrong thing you could do is just sit there kicking them to move forward, especially once they realise they are in charge. Get them off their line of tracking and change direction, not slightly, but definitely!

If you do have one that wants to leave the ground with his front end, before it turns into an out of control rearing session on you every time he feels like it and if you are brave enough, wait until he lifts his front end and while he’s up there, you need to bump him fairly hard with your legs (don’t use your spurs), if you have spurs on, turn your toes in toward your horse to ensure the sides of your heels are going to land on him, not your spurs or you may find yourself on the ground quick smart. Repeat this thump on his sides two or three times quickly. This move is something most horses don’t expect while they are rearing up on you, it can startle them and it does put them back in line. If you feel you’re not ready for this, have someone like a professional breaker do it for you to get them out of it.

An Old Timer tip

When I was a young teenager, I had a chestnut mare that reared up all the time on me. I was with a group of friends riding our horses down the beach, my mare did a few of her virticle rears, this old guy came sauntering up to me and said “Get a plastic bag, fill it with warm (body temperature) water, leave the top open and just hold it shut, when she goes up on you, you break that plastic bag on the top of her head and smack the top of her head with the flat of your hand enough to make her think you have whopped her one, between her ears, when you open your hand the water will come out everywhere, I guarantee you, she won’t rear again”! After I laughed for a bit, I asked him what he was on about, he told me that she would think that it was blood running down her head and that if I put some effort into the open handed whop she wouldn’t rear again, thinking that I had cracked her skul open and made her bleed. Tell you what, it worked! She stopped rearing.

If you have any questions on this article or just want to leave me a comment you are more than welcome!

Until next time…

“Let’s Ride”!

Success! You're on the list.

Look after your horse’s hooves

Under normal conditions, a horse’s hooves should maintain a natural moisture balance. However, sometimes they can get extra dry, cracked, and brittle in cold or dry weather. In this case, it’s a good idea to help your horse’s hooves maintain an ideal moisture level by applying hoof oil. You can easily make it at home using a few simple ingredients. Apply homemade hoof oil to protect your horse’s hooves from excessive moisture or prevent them from drying out.

Continue reading Look after your horse’s hooves

Tis the season for Lice

I received a question the other night – “How do you get rid of Lice?”

Strangely, I was putting this weeks article together…about lice in our horses, how funny.

So anyway here it is…

I usually find that nearing the end of winter into spring is when I find lice appearing on horses. Believe me, it doesn’t matter how well cared for a horse is, they still get lice…some worse than others.

Lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in the hair coat of horses. Lice are species-specific, meaning that bird lice generally won’t live on people or dogs, horse lice don’t typically infect people. You’re not likely to get lice from your horse or pass them on to your cat. Lice infestations can be but are not necessarily an indication of poor care and/or poor nutrition. They can be common in stables like training stables and racing stables, where close quarters and shared equipment make the spread of lice easy. They can also be found on our horses that are turned out for the winter in the paddock, they don’t have to be stabled to pick up lice and they simply love dwelling on a hairy, rug covered horse, lice are not partial to sunlight, the darker and hairier the better for them.

Continue reading Tis the season for Lice

Conformation – The forelimb.

Be it for showing under saddle, racing, reining, or riding for pleasure, a horse needs to be put together properly; but does a horse need to be put together perfectly?

Which limb defects matter and which don’t?

Since horses’ domestication, humans have been scrutinizing equine legs in an attempt to judge which horse will perform best in a given situation. Be it for any discipline, a horse needs to be put together properly; but does a horse need to be put together perfectly? Given that some poorly conformed horses surprise us and go on to be champions begs the question: Is conformation really all that important?

What is Conformation

Conformation simply refers to the physical appearance or ‘outline’ of a horse.”

Conformation is more or less defined by the horse’s bones, muscles, associated soft tissues, and how they all fit together. If all horses were created equal and used for the same purpose, then judging conformation would be easy. Alas, this is not the case. Every classification of horse (i.e., draft, light, or pony) has a different “normal” conformation and its own set of conformation traits defined by the breed and type of work the horse is intended to do. For example, sport, stock, hunter, pleasure, race, and show horses are all types of light horses, and each has its own accepted standard of conformation.

Conformation assessment involves a fine eye, patience, and a bit of luck. The horse is usually examined with four key functional components in mind: the head and neck; the forelimbs; the barrel and the hind limbs. Ideally, the forelimbs are evaluated from the front and sides.

Forelimb Conformation

A horse’s forelimbs should match and bear weight equally. Both toes are expected to point forward, and when the horse stands square the feet should stand as wide as the limbs are at their origin (i.e., the chest). If a straight line is drawn from the point of the shoulder, it should course perfectly down the front of the limb to the middle of the foot.

Continue reading Conformation – The forelimb.

Equine Health, Five Tips For A Healthy Horse

If you own a horse, you are probably aware of the time and money needed to properly care for this amazing creature. Since horses have a longer life than do most animals, keeping them healthy can be somewhat of a challenge. Still, there are several things you can do to help ensure your horse stays healthy. Below are five tips that will help you get started down the right path.

Continue reading Equine Health, Five Tips For A Healthy Horse

Strengthening your horse’s hind end


Many horses that have soundness challenges or general “hind end weakness” I see it alot during lessons and training. The majority of these horses are in the prime years of their life. At 10-15 years old, they still have many good years ahead if we can assist them in developing better balance and strength. Conformation issues can slow some horses down, but many are able to live comfortably and carry a rider if some time is spent focussing on building up their bodies.

Continue reading Strengthening your horse’s hind end

Why do horses shake their heads?

What triggers a horse to flip his head uncontrollably, sometimes to the point of endangering him and his rider?

The amazing thing about horses is how such large, powerful animals can be so sensitive and aware of the slightest sensation, such as a fly on its back or face. Rippling of skin or an occasional head shake is a normal response to the tickling trigger of nerve endings. But, there are times when a horse can’t stop shaking or tossing its head to a seemingly in-apparent sensation; such incessant behaviour is known as head shaking.

Continue reading Why do horses shake their heads?

Obsessive-compulsive habit in horses

This is an obsessive-compulsive habit in horses that is likely caused by boredom, stress, or possibly stomach acidity that can lead to equine ulcers. It is a behavioral disorder, and like any other harmful addiction, a cribber needs help controlling itself.

Continue reading Obsessive-compulsive habit in horses

Hives in horses

Many owners see those telltale bumps and attribute them to insect bites when, in reality, they’re hives—the end result of a complicated allergic response.

A case of hives also referred to as urticaria, can be frustrating for the horse, the owner and the treating veterinarian. Hives can show up minutes to hours to days after exposure to an inciting agent, may or may not be itchy and can appear nearly anywhere on a horse’s body.

Although hives are one way allergies can manifest in the horse, hives are not always caused by allergies. What makes hives particularly challenging is that many, many things can cause hives, such as insects, inhaled pollens, ingested foods, administered medications, direct contact with a wide variety of substances, and even hot or cold temperatures, pressure and exercise.

Though they can occur during any season, equine hives, or urticaria is a common problem with horses during the summer months. Hives present as circular bumps covering large areas of the body. They are sometimes accompanied by itching. Hives are a sign of disease, not a specific disease itself.

Sometimes contact with a substance or material such as a fly spray or bedding may cause hives. There are so many possibilities that finding the cause is often difficult. It is helpful to note if any product or care changes brought the hives on. Removing potential elements one at a time and waiting a minimum of 1 – 2 weeks to see a difference is a time consuming and unrewarding method of determination. For the one-time occurrence of hives, you might never discover the incriminating source. However, if hives recur, you might be motivated to track the allergen. Start by mentally reconstructing any changes in diet, environment, medications, vaccinations, or stress factors that occurred in recent months. Provide your veterinarian with a list of suspicious items or events. Another diagnostic technique, albeit expensive and time-consuming, uses intradermal allergy testing to try and isolate an allergic source from pollens (plants, bushes, and trees), molds, grasses, weeds, dust mites, insects, and farm plants. The horse should be pulled off medications (steroids or antihistamines) at least 10-30 days prior to testing.

Managing horses with hives includes:

Your first plan of attack should be to make the horse as comfortable as possible, which might require use of medications such as steroids and antihistamines, supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and MSM, and a skin-care regimen such as cool rinses. Next, it is necessary to determine the initial cause of the hives. In some situations, skin eruptions can be linked to a recent deworming, antibiotic administration or similar event. This acute reaction may resolve on its own and, if the product is avoided in the future, might never return. In other situations, a horse will break out with no obvious changes in his lifestyle or management and improve as long as he receives dexamethasone or prednisone, only to have bumps and welts re-appear as soon as the medication is discontinued.

Nutting out the cause

Consider: Is it now bug season? Did you use a new bedding? Has the turnout program changed? Was the horse bathed with a new shampoo? Your veterinarian might suggest avoiding or reducing exposure to insects, fly spray, a certain brand of shavings, a specific grass lot or a brand of topical product while the horse’s skin recovers. Then, you may like to re-apply the possible cause of the hives under controlled circumstances by adding one possible cause at a time. If hives immediately recur, this process of elimination worked. If not, it will be necessary to cast a wider net and keep searching for the culprit, even if it requires keeping a daily journal of observations.

In addition, the vet may need to perform diagnostic tests such as skin scrapings, cultures, impression smears and biopsies to rule out conflicting skin conditions such as infections.

Success! You're on the list.

Chewing on the bit

I had a someone contact me the other day with a question on chewing on the bit:

She was asking why her horse was chewing at the bit and whether she should go from the snaffle to a shank. I explained that I would lean toward the wolf teeth first before I would think about what sort of bit was being used.

Wolf teeth, not to be confused with Canine teeth – Canine teeth are usually found only in the mouths of male horses, including stallions and geldings. Also referred to as ‘tusks’, ‘tushes’ or ‘bridle teeth’, the lower canine teeth normally erupt at age four, with the upper canine teeth following at age five.

 Canine teeth appear in the mouth for the purpose of fighting — as stallions compete for mares during breeding season. However, they also play a role in chewing, whereas wolf teeth do not. Interestingly, canine teeth do appear in up to 20% of mares, but they are usually very small.

What to do if your horse has wolf teeth

It makes sense to remove these potentially troublesome teeth before you attempt any serious work with your young horse. You don’t want your horse to associate any discomfort or pain in his mouth with being worked. Horses can develop bad habits such chewing on the bit or head shaking, lunging their head and neck down toward the ground and twisting their heads through having long term pain, associating that pain with being ridden, creating anxiety in the horse which can go on for years before it is diagnosed as never having their wolf teeth extracted. These bad habits and anxiety can take a long time to retrain those bad habits out of the horses mind. Wolf teeth are on the bars of the mouth and where the bit may settle. For this reason alone, they may need to be removed.

Continue reading Chewing on the bit