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TIPS ON ESTABLISHING RHYTHM
By Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett
Dressage Department Head, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
Rhythm and relaxation create an endless information loop that is the basis of everything else we do with our horses, either as trainers or riders. You need both to communicate clearly with your horse and you cannot have one without the other. Think about how this combination feels in your body as you ride. Relaxation makes it easier to set rhythm, and rhythm makes it easier to relax. On the flip side, tension in either horse or rider disrupts rhythm.
Our responsibility as riders and trainers is to learn to lead this dance rather than merely following along with whatever the horse offers. In the beginning, riders start out on reliable, goldie oldie school horses that offer a predictable ride so the rider can relax as she learns to balance over the horse’s center of gravity, apply aids, and eventually coordinate those aids into horse-logical corridors of pressure using an independent seat. Leading the dance means that a relaxed rider with an independent seat can set the working rhythm for any horse, young or old, green or grand prix, mellow or nervous. And that rhythm helps create relaxation in the horse and there we are at the best starting point for everything else we do with the horse.
Even though rhythm and relaxation are a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum, rhythm is at the base training tree because that is our point of entry as leaders in the partnership with our horse. Working from the ground, our rhythmic movement sets the patterns and feelings of shapes that become familiar to the horse. This familiarity helps the horse relax. He knows what to expect. When we ask a green horse for these familiar patterns and shapes under saddle for the first time, their familiarity helps the horse assimilate the new feeling of someone on his back. Later on in his training, as we begin asking the horse to push from his hindquarters with greater energy into our guiding hand, rhythmic patterning helps him work with elastic, ‘relaxed’, muscular tension rather than with tight, bunchy muscles.
FROM THE GROUND
Simple daily routines on the ground are the start of a rhythmic relationship with your horse. Greet your horse, halter him, and groom him following the same routine each day. Become aware of working with your horse in rhythmically as you speak, breathe, touch and move around him. Type A personalities find this very difficult and must train themselves to become rhythmic. Rhythmic movement makes you a predictable presence and, as your horse finds he can depend on you as that predictable presence, he will find it relaxing to be around you. Then you can carry that rhythmic, relaxed rapport over to your work under saddle. The more nervous or reactive your horse, the more important it is to build this relationship through groundwork before you saddle up and ride.
Continue using routine, especially with a young or nervous horse, when you start working him under saddle. Move the horse from the stall to the arena a consistent way. Take him for a walk around the arena each time to check things out, paying full attention to your horse, and setting a rhythm as you walk, turn, check your girth and mount.
Once in the saddle, make it part of your routine to check your position. You set the rhythm of the ride with your seat. Until you achieve a truly independent seat, you need to check your position at the beginning of every ride and several times during the ride to make sure your position makes it possible to communicate the rhythm you want to the horse.
If you are slouching in a chair seat with your leg out in front of your seat bones a bit, you will fall behind the horse’s motion, encourage him to scoot or run, and interrupt his rhythm. If you are collapsed in your mid-section or tilting your head and shoulders forward, you will be ahead of his motion, blocking good rhythm. With your upper body centered over the horse’s center of gravity and firm core muscles, check whether your back, buttock and thigh muscles are completely relaxed so they can follow the horse’s motion easily or whether they are holding any tension that will interrupt a rhythmic seat that moves with the horse.
CONNECTED AT THE HIP
Besides sitting in the correct position, riders need to have a full range of hip motion in order to set rhythm with their seat. Many riders confuse range of hip motion and the speed with which they open and close their hip angles.
Trying to slow a horse down by limiting the range of your hip motion does not work. Opening and closing your hips less than your horse is opening and closing his joints puts you behind the horse’s motion. This creates a pushing feeling that makes a horse, especially a tense horse, scoot faster. While following the horse’s motion, you need to open and close your hip angles the same amount but more slowly to slow him down.
Working to develop a feel for this distinction between speed and range of motion is partly an issue of strength in your core muscles and legs. Some people like to sing nursery rhymes that are rhythmical to help them set the speed and rhythm of their hips. I sometimes think of riding in slow motion through deep water to help me slow my hips on a horse that is getting too fast, while others might benefit from a metronome to help keep the rhythm in their seat.
If you are riding a lazy horse that will not go forward, you might try speeding your hip up with the full range of motion. This will allow the horse to feel free to move out from under you, especially if you were tightening and blocking with your seat in the first place. Even though you really want your horse to move off your leg not your seat, making sure your seat is not blocking is key to moving a lazy horse forward.
It takes a lot of saddle time for riders to progress from sitting with rhythm and relaxation on the back of a goldie oldie to confidently setting the rhythm on a green, nervous youngster or a green, lazy youngster. Finding someone to longe you regularly on a rhythmic horse helps immensely to develop the correct feel for rhythmic motion and relaxed muscles. Challenge your ability to set the rhythm for the horse by riding different horses—different size horses with different gaits and different temperaments. Always keep in mind that rhythm is the mother of all the other training skills your horse must master. So when your ride starts going badly, rhythm is the ‘reset button’ you can use to put things right again.
Duett Deutsche Sattlerei Introduces The "Bravo"
November 2012—Press Release from Duett Deutsche Sattlerei
Duett Deutsche Sattlerei, the wide saddle specialist, introduces a new close contact model, the Bravo, available immediately in many seat and tree sizes. The Bravo, along with other models from Duett, fills a persistent gap in the market, able to fit medium to very wide horses of all breeds with a high quality, handsome saddle at a reasonable price. This new model is the latest addition to Duett’s extensive line of saddles for wide horses, which include several dressage models, trail, all purpose and jump models. In design development by saddle fitters and manufacturers for six months, it features French independent, wool flocked panels, a generous channel, attractive keeper, embossed logo, and moveable knee and calf blocks.
Right Dorsal Colitis
Right dorsal colitis (RDC) is a disease that is complicated and the pathophysiology poorly understood, but there is a relationship between RDC and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine). Most NSAIDs are not specific and therefore inhibit both good and bad prostaglandins. The good prostaglandins protect the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Right dorsal colitis occurs when ulcerations develop in the specific area of the large intestine (right dorsal colon) which causes a decrease in nutrient absorption and an increase in protein loss. Although inadvertent overdose of or prolonged therapy with these drugs is a definite cause of RDC, many horses are sensitive to NSAIDs and develop signs of RDC with appropriate dosing. The unique blood supply to the right dorsal colon is one thought as to why horses develop this disease associated with NSAIDs.
Right dorsal colitis can be associated with high doses of or prolonged therapy with NSAIDS, but other predisposing factors include stress, immune-mediated response, infection and genetics. Ponies and younger horses that are showing are at a higher risk of developing this disease. Clinical signs include complete loss of or decreased appetite, lethargy, mild colic, diarrhea and weight loss. On bloodwork specific abnormalities include anemia, low protein levels, low albumin levels and low calcium levels and occasionally elevated kidney levels.
Diagnosis is made based on clinical signs, history of NSAID use, laboratory blood tests indicating low protein and low albumin, and ruling out other diseases that cause low protein including maldigestion/malabsorption, kidney disease, peritonitis, and inflammatory/infiltrative bowel disease. Diagnostic tests such as abdominal ultrasound, abdominal tap with fluid analysis, urinalysis, and intestinal absorption tests help to rule out other causes of protein loss. In some cases of RDC, thickening and edema of the large intestine wall can be imaged with ultrasound on the right side of the abdomen. A definitive diagnosis can be made on histopathology by right dorsal colon biopsy during an exploratory surgery.
Initial treatment consists of medical therapy and dietary management. In most cases changing the diet to an easily digestible, low bulk, pelleted, complete feed decreases the workload on the ulcerated large intestine and helps manage the signs of colic and diarrhea. Misoprostol is a synthetic prostaglandin that is used in cases of RDC to promote colonic mucosal ulcer healing. It is thought to stimulate increased secretion of mucus that lines the GI tract and increase mucosal blood flow thereby providing some mucosal protection in the large intestine. All other gastroprotectants (omeprazole, sucralfate, ranitidine) have not been proven to work outside of the stomach, however they are commonly used in treatment of RDC as NSAIDs can also cause gastric ulceration. Other treatments include the use of psyllium to possibly increase the amount of omega 3 fatty acids, a natural anti-inflammatory, within the colon.
Horses with severe clinical signs and very low protein levels may need supportive therapy including IV fluids, plasma, and other types of pain management to treat RDC. In the most severe cases, exploratory surgery and right dorsal colon resection may be considered.
One of the most important aspects in prevention of RDC is the judicious use of NSAIDs. Consulting with your veterinarian when NSAIDs are needed to treat your horse’s illness or injury, being accurate about dosing on body weight when your equine friend is a pony or a miniature horse, and following your veterinarian’s recommendations for the length of time needed for NSAID therapy, are ways to be sure NSAIDs are being administered judiciously. Using more specific NSAID drugs such as firocoxib, (Equioxx) if your horse is sensitive to NSAIDs, also helps to decrease the chances for adverse reactions. In some horses, the concurrent use of ulcer prevention therapy during NSAID therapy can decrease the possibilities of adverse reactions. Most importantly, talk to your veterinarian and ask questions!
If you have any questions regarding RDC or any other equine health issues, please discuss them with your veterinarian or contact the veterinarians at NEEMSC.
Kimberly Brothwell, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM
Equine Energy Healer Ginger Krantz to Speak at Upcoming Animal Wellness Conference
Ginger Krantz of Earth Horse Healing will be one of the featured speakers at The Conference on Complementary Animal Healing, to be held at The Holiday Inn in Boxborough, MA on November 11-12, 2012. The inaugural two-day event is sponsored by Animal Translations; dogs are welcome.
In her New Jersey-based equine therapy practice, Ginger Krantz uses gentle, non-invasive energy healing techniques to speed horses’ recovery from illness, disease, and surgery. With 22 years of training and experience, Ginger is also able to ease stress-related disorders and resolve behavioral problems by freeing blocked energy within a horse’s body and enabling it to flow, opening the channels for recovery and release.
Ms. Krantz’s presentation, to be delivered at the Conference on Monday morning, November 12, is entitled, “Healing the Horse through the Integration of Mind, Body, and Spirit.”
In addition to Ginger Krantz, The Conference on Complementary Animal Healing will feature Denise Bean-Raymond, author of The Illustrated Guide to Holistic Healing for Horses; noted animal Reiki educator Kathleen Prasad, co-author of Animal Reiki; Shirley Moore, founder of Save A Dog Humane Society ; Nan Martin, an expert in the use of therapeutic essential oils with animals; Dr. Randy Caviness of the Integrative Animal Health Center; and Sally Morgan, a canine and equine physical therapist..
Conference participants may register for one day ($159) or both days ($298). For more information, visit AnimalHealingConference.com.
PLAN YOUR WARM UP BEFORE SHOW DAY
By Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett
Dressage Department Head, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
Winning rides depend on a pre-class warm up specifically tailored for the individual horse. At the very least, a warm up routine establishes rhythm and relaxation while creating a connection to the aids. Trainers and seasoned competitors understand that one of the best ways to win classes is to plan the right warm up. Put another way, a poorly planned and executed warm up risks losing a class before they even go through the in gate.
Professionals plan their winning warm up before they leave home. They understand that weather, equine unpredictability, schedule changes and other factors out of their control can mess up the best laid plans. So well ahead of show day they load the odds of a smooth warm up in their favor by preparing and planning. Here are a few points to consider before you leave the barn so you have a warm up plan that maximizes your horse’s performance and reduces your show jitters.
KNOW YOURSELF, KNOW YOUR HORSE
This sounds so obvious. But how many times have you seen someone longeing their horse for hours to tire him out enough so they can feel comfortable getting on his back for a class? Or endlessly drilling on movements until their horse loses its edge before they go through the in gate? These are rider confidence issues and no warm up routine can fix them. Work at home to find better ways to deal with your energetic horse or to feel confident using and coordinating your aids before you start penciling shows on your calendar.
Knowing your horse means understanding his personality, particularly his activity drive. Activity drive is like money in the bank when you are showing horses. Horses with high activity drive have lots of energy to spend. Think of a barrel horse or event horse waiting to explode from the starting box. Horses conditioned to a high level of athleticism usually have a high activity drive that must be managed in their warm ups. Nervous, hyper horses may appear to have a high energy drive. But if it is just a show of nerves rather than a display of athletic conditioning, a heavy duty warm up routine may use up their energy and leave them with nothing to spend in their class. Then there are the horses with naturally low activity drive. Label them laid back or lazy, you do not want to spend too much of this horse’s energy in your warm up. Warm his muscles check that he is on the aids, and save the rest for his arena performance.
Your horse’s personality affects his reaction to trailering, to the new horses he finds around him at a show, to all the stimuli at the show grounds that he does not experience at home, and how well he eats and sleeps away from home base. Consider how all these environmental changes may affect your horse as you plan your show schedule. The warm up you ride at a show may or may not be very different from the one you ride before training sessions.
Does gender affect how you plan to warm up for classes? It might. Is your gelding a worrier or a stoic who may lose focus under stress? Your stallion who behaves perfectly at home may become ADHD as he tries to figure out where he fits among all the new horses he sees and smells. You may need to plan a longer warm up or a different routine to bring his attention back to you. Mare moods change as they go in and out of season. Do you know your mare’s pattern? Will she get to the show and undergo a personality change?
You also need to factor physical issues into your warm up. What is your horse’s current fitness level? What is his current training level? Do you have a geriatric horse that needs a gentle warm up for stiffer muscles and aging joints?
CHOOSE APPROPRIATE SHOWS AND CLASSES
Your horse’s age, training level, condition and energy drive will determine how many classes a day he can handle. For a weekend show, ideally you arrive on Friday to allow your horse time to work the travel kinks out of his muscles, settle down in the new environment, and return to as normal a pattern of eating, working, and resting as possible.
Be realistic about how much your horse can do each day. I am most familiar with dressage competitions so I will use them as an example. Lower level dressage horses that are building ring experience might do two tests the first day, with the tests spaced out to allow the horse time to rest and recuperate before warming up and working again. Then, because the horse will be more tired, I would schedule just one test on the second day before loading up and heading home. At the higher levels where much more collection and engagement are required, I like to limit a horse to one competition each day.
This is a schedule appropriate for horses that are showing infrequently. If you head to a show every weekend, your horse’s experience and physical condition may allow you to do more before your horse’s energy drive is spent. Another consideration in how many classes I may enter on a given day is whether I can schedule rest breaks and a proper warm up between the classes. This planning is easier for dressage riders than it is for, say, hunter competitors but do the best you can when entering. Know your horse and his fitness level.
Horses are creatures of routine. Develop routines at home and follow them as closely as possible when you reach the show grounds. We teach our students of habit of approaching and working with their horses we call heeding. Heeding is a system of methodically applied horse pressures that create a feel in the horse of something you want him to do. Students use heeding when they open the stall door to greet their horse, while they groom, as they tack up, as they lead the horse to the arena, as they mount, and as they apply their riding aids. Establish consistent routines at home for all theses daily activities then continue to follow this same routine when you show. Your horse will settle in more easily and be ready to work more quickly despite all the distractions at the show grounds.
Build warm up routines into your training sessions then make them part of your show ring warm up. Have a plan and stick to the plan. The familiarity will help your horse relax and focus on your aids more easily. Even better, if you get caught short of time, running through even a shortened version of your full routine will feel familiar to the horse and help him get into ‘the zone’ before he enters the arena. Your warm up routine should stay with the familiar, with what the horse already knows. This is not the time for schooling (even though some disciplines refer to the ‘schooling ring’). Try not to focus on your surroundings, just focus on yourself and your horse.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
Develop warm up routines at home but be ready for circumstances like weather or class cancellations that can abruptly change the best laid plans. If your class is called early, be ready with a ‘short program’ warm up routine you can do in 5 to 10 minutes and be ready to go. However, stay calm and do not let the changed circumstances create a sense of anxiety that you transmit to your horse. Incorporate bending, leg yielding, walk-to-halt transitions, transitions within the gait, (collecting, then extending, then collecting again) and other exercises that can help your particular horse quickly ready his mind and body for the class.
If you are just starting to show a horse, it may take a few shows until you figure out the warm-up routine that best suits a particular horse. Plan your show routines but also plan to blow a show or two until you figure out what works for you and your horse. Remember that the most important thing is to have fun with your horse and enjoy the journey.
© 2012 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett has earned numerous United States Dressage Federation horse awards including Bronze and Silver Medals on horses she has trained. She competes her horses at Training through FEI levels. As a Certified Riding Instructor she brings over 20 years of experience to her position as Head of the Dressage Department at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (147 Saddle Lane, Waverly, WV 26184; 800-679-2603; www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.
Causes of chronic weight loss
Chronic weight loss can be multi factorial and a list of possible diagnoses can be
haunting to the owner. A methodical evaluation along with focusing on the most
common causes is the recommended approach to determining the inciting cause of
the weight loss.
Common causes of chronic weight loss in horses include reduced caloric intake,
inability to utilize nutrients, or increased exercise with more metabolic demands
(increasing work load). Careful monitoring of eating habits daily is a good way to
rule out caloric intake problems. If your horse seems to have a good appetite and
still continuously shows significant weight loss, the next approach is to evaluate
feeding management issues, such as quality and/or quantity of the feed offered.
Having hay tested for nutrients is one way to evaluate this. It is also important to
remember that horses belong to a social hierarchy and in some feeding situations
the horse that is lower in the social order may have difficulty getting all the calories
needed while getting chased away from the food source.
The next common cause of chronic weight loss is dentition problems. If the horse in
unable to chew efficiently or comfortably, his/her caloric intake may be decreased.
Having your horse’s teeth checked routinely will aid in ruling out dental issues as a
common cause of weight loss.
Decreased ability to utilize nutrients effectively results from conditions that alter
absorption or digestion of nutrients. Common examples of this include parasitism,
chronic diarrhea, and infiltrative disease altering absorption in the gastrointestinal
Increased metabolic demand, a cause of weight loss, also results from normal
conditions such as growth, exercise, pregnancy, and lactation, as well as illnesses.
Initial evaluation of the horse should be conducted by your veterinarian. A
thorough history from the owner is helpful in pointing the veterinarian in the right
direction. Information that is important includes de-worming protocol, feeding
environment, amount and type of feed including supplementation and medications.
A complete physical exam including an oral exam is helpful in ruling our your most
common problems. Blood work and a fecal parasite analysis are important tests
to have performed to obtain all information regarding overall health status of the
Routine blood work help recognize originators of weight loss and issues secondary
to poor body condition. A complete blood count (CBC) can determine if there is
evidence of infection or inflammation as can abnormalities found on physical exam.
Biochemistry parameters are used to assess liver and kidney function, altered
protein levels, muscle disorders, and electrolyte abnormalities.
If the initial tests do not appear abnormal, additional diagnostic tools are
recommended. The following are additional tests that are performed in no specific
order. These tests help analyze portions of the GI system that may be affected.
Abdominocentesis (sampling of abdominal fluid) and cytologic evaluation of the
sample can identify the health of the fluid within the abdomen and determine if
peritonitis (infection within the abdomen) or cancer is present. Rectal mucosal
biopsy samples can be analyzed by histopathology (looking at the architecture
of the tissue to further characterize infiltrative disease of the GI tract). Glucose
absorption tests can be performed to evaluate gastrointestinal absorption. A
veterinarian administers a specific quantity of glucose orally and tests blood
samples to identify the glucose levels over a period of time. Decreased absorption
is consistent with malabsorptive or infiltrative intestinal disease. Additional
blood testing can be done to further evaluate liver function, kidney function and to
diagnose metabolic disease. Vitamin E and selenium and other muscle tests may also
be considered when there is muscle wasting and increased muscle enzymes present
on the biochemistry panel.
If diagnostic tests and evaluations in the field fail to yield a diagnosis, more
extensive testing is recommended. Referral to a large animal veterinary practice
for advanced testing using gastroscopy, abdominal radiography, ultrasonography,
echocardiography, and organ biopsies for histopathology is recommended. An
attentive diagnostic approach to most chronic weight loss cases will reveal a cause,
although some cases will remain undiagnosed even after extensive testing.
If you have questions regarding weight loss or other medical problems in general
or affecting your horse, please discuss them with your veterinarian or with the
veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center.
Katy Raynor, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM