Thursday, December 31, 2009

Horses are Like Chocolate: Costly in Some Ways but So Good for You

They say eating chocolate is like a time warp. It lasts only a second on the lips but an ETERNITY on the hips! That's why some of us stay away from chocolate.

Yet nutritionists now tell us that chocolate is good for us. When we eat good quality dark chocolate we get the benefits of a happy mood, reduced blood pressure, a rich source of minerals, and a boost in the "good" HDL cholesterol. So chocolate, though it can be costly in terms of fat, is also good for us in many ways.

I say the same goes for horses, at least for us horse addicts. Without a doubt, horses can be expensive hay burners who are expensive to feed. And yet, the benefits of being around horses are undeniable. I just came in from feeding my herd of five horses. The temperature was a chilly three below zero, and the wind was howling. I hauled and tossed hay, fixed a little fence, and de-iced the water tank. I FEEL GREAT!

My conclusion? Horses, like chocolate, can be costly but are sooooo are good for you! But don't take my word for it, take the word of scientists and researchers who have studied exactly how and why horses are good for us.

3 Ways Horses Benefit Humans
You have probably read about the use of horses as therapy for the handicapped. The benefits for people are easy to see in that situation. But horses are great for everyday horse addicts, too. Here are three ways horses benefit us humans.

#1: Horses Assist Physically Disabled Humans
You have probably heard about "hippotherapy," which is the use of the horse's natural movement to help physically-disabled people. Researchers at the Washington University Program in Occupational Therapy studied the effects of this kind of therapy on children with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, and concluded that it works. Specifically, they proved that the rhythm of the horse's gait "improves both head and trunk stability and upper extremity function" in these children. See? Horses are good for humans.

OK, but what about if you don't have a physical challenge. Can you still say that horses, like chocolate, are good for you? Yup. Keep reading.
#2: Horses as Mirrors for Humans
Have you ever gone out to catch your horse in pasture only to have her run from you? After 45 minutes of chasing your horse while soothingly murmuring, "Come here, you little #$**&@!," did you suddenly realize that you started out in a bad mood? Have you ever busted out laughing after realizing this? Your horse, who sensed your mood immediately (probably before you ever opened the pasture gate), wanted nothing to do with your "bad vibe," and ran.

If you are a student of the Law of Attraction, then you know that the happier you feel, the better your life works. By showing you that you've got a bad vibe going, your horse is doing you a favor. And by persisting in not being caught, even though you are cussing her out (in a soothing tone of voice, of course), your horse really tries to reflect your state of being back to you. That's a big favor ... how many humans do you know would do you this kind of favor while you're cussing them out?

Many addiction rehab places are now using horses as therapy for this very reason. Members of the program are asked to enter an arena with a halter and catch a loose horse. The horse mirrors the person's attitude and vibration by walking away, turning his back, or allowing himself to be caught. Many times the person can't catch the horse at all, and the event becomes a starting point for discussing the person's way of approaching another being, and so forth.

So horses tell us when we have a lousy vibe in no uncertain terms. I ask you: would you rather have your horse tell you this or pay a shrink to tell you this? I'll take a view of my horse's butt speeding off into the sunset any day!

#3: Horse Care and the Cortisol Connection
You have probably heard about the negative effects of cortisol on our physical health. Cortisol is a hormone released in our bodies when we are stressed, and it increases blood sugar and blood pressure. Back in the cave man days, cortisol was what allowed the "fight or flight" reflex to occur, so that we could escape from predators.

These days, we get flooded with cortisol just by living life. Studies have shown that our everyday lives are truly that stressful. That's a bummer because studies show that this hormone breaks down muscle tissue, compromises immunity, and plays a role in many chronic health conditions. Oh yes, it can also make you fat!

The good news? If you personally take care of your horse everyday, meaning you lug bales of hay around or muck out your horse's pen, you are reducing the levels of cortisol in your body. Scientific studies demonstrate that exercise decreases cortisol in the body produced by stress.

So see? Your horse is truly physically beneficial to your health. It's a scientific fact!

Horses Just Make Us Happy
At the end of the day, horses just make us happy. There's really no need to explain it ... and in fact explaining it takes away from the joy of it, in some ways. One of the better known aphorisms of the esoteric philosopher Gurdjieff may explain it best:

"Practice love on animals first; they react better and more sensitively."

The human world is often complicated and fraught with multiple conflicting motivations. Horses are deeply sensitive and yet very direct. When I practice love on horses (or dogs or cats) I am immediately rewarded. I am made happy. I am blessed with inner peace.

So whether there is wind or ice or snow or sleet, I'll be out there with my horses, throwing hay over the fence (and having it blown right back at me), de-icing water tanks, and generally having a great time. It costs a bundle to care for my horses, but they ARE truly good and good for me. You agree?

End Note: Reducing the Cost of Horse Health Care
Just as an end note, let me add that I'm always on the look out for ways to reduce my horse health care and management bill. Some of the ways I've come up with include:

Feeding Tips for a Skinny Horse
Horse Goo: The Horse Health Care Stuff That Covers All Bases
Healing Your Horse with a "Hands On" Approach
Cheap Horse Activities in a Cruddy Economy (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Footing the Bill with Multiple Streams of Income (email me for details on this one)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit: Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Horse Health Care for Roach Back Horses

Fezzywig, my gentle giant adopted warmblood gelding with the roached back, is definitely feeling much better. He has had a ton of bodywork and been given my special Horse Goo until it's coming out the other end (yes, during the cleansing process he is a bit "methane-powered").

He's also running around like a wild man with my other gelding, Walker, and doing flying lead changes with ease in the pasture. Oh yes, and he also managed to take down the gates twice and cruise our little town once. But being the gentleman that he his, he came right home on his own!

Horse Health Care: 3 Things to Do for the Roach Backed Horse
So Fezzywig is definitely feeling better, but he's nowhere near totally healed, and I have learned a lot about the horse health care needs of these kinds of horses. I have been in constant communication with my veterinarian, good friend, and font of holistic horse care wisdom, Dr. Madalyn Ward. Between my consults with her and my daily interaction with Fezzywig, I've learned the following:

1. Roach Back Horses Don't Use Their Backs Properly
This is no big surprise because their backs aren't formed properly. A horse with a roach back has some developmental difficulties. For instance, Fezzywig hates to have his stifles adjusted with Bowen-type moves, or any kind of serious physical maneuvers. He loves energy work on his stifles, which doesn't involve moving any parts of his stifle around. He has also started getting "stuck" in his stifles occasionally, where it takes him a minute to figure out how to move his back leg from straight to bent. Dr. Ward tells me this is because the bodywork is changing the way his spine and haunches are formed, so he has to "relearn" how to use various parts of his body.

Because Fezzywig has not been using his back muscles and hindquarter properly because of his roach back, he has probably been propelling himself around using his hind legs from the stifles down. In other words he was not using his back muscles or his rump. This explains why he is having so much trouble with his stifles. They are probably perpetually sore. In addition, when he move his back legs, his joints make a sound like similar to that of sticky tape being "unstuck" from something. It is most likely that all that improper use of his hind legs has affected those joints.

To help alleviate the pain in his stifles and hind leg joints, I've been doing the following:

- feeding him extra wheat sprouts, which are great for joint issues - beefing up his mangosteen juice and blue-green algae to speed healing - rubbing DMSO and castor oil on his leg joints - doing a little energy work on every hind leg joint at each feeding

He seems to like all of this extra care and his stifles are already less sore. In case you are wondering, castor oil is an old Edgar Cayce remedy that works well on joints. I have to mix it with DMSO because castor oil is very thick and does not penetrate through hair and skin very well. The DMSO helps it penetrate.

2. Roach Back Horses Might Have Bony Backs So They Need Backing
When I knew I was going to bring Fezzywig home, I immediately went online and did a bunch of research on roach back horses. Most of the horses I saw had the typical roach, a humped back, but that was it. I didn't see a single picture of a horse with a bony back, a back where the lumbar vertebrae literally stick up, like pointy spires (those are his "spires" above). Yikes, what does that mean?

I posted frantic requests for help to the Horse Health Forum. I wanted to know what all those spiny ridges meant. The answer? It means that Fezzywig does not have any muscle development over those vertebrae because (surprise, surprise) he hasn't been using his back or hindquarter properly. Whew!

To take care of this and help Fezzywig develop proper muscle over his hindquarters and spine, I have started backing him on the advice of Dr. Ward. Backing him, she said, would help him learn to use his hindquarter properly, and will also help him develop muscle in the right places. She suggests that I eventually back him in circles to develop some lateral muscles as well. We've already started the backing exercises. He has no trouble with them although he has no clue why we keep doing it! Luckily, he's a pretty willing fellow, and will do almost anything for food.

3. Horses Who Have Suffered Trauma Need Special Help to Heal
My last question to Dr. Ward was this: Fezzywig has been in his roach backed pose for so long ... what I more can I do to help him shift out of this paradigm and into a healthy stance?

Her answer? Eleviv. This new herbal product apparently helps horses who have suffered trauma (physical, mental, or emotional) to "break the mold" and shift into a new healthier paradigm. In scientific terms, it helps them shift out of the sympathetic nervous system. A horse like Fezzywig has basically been in a traumatized roach back state for so long he has been operating from his "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system, which does not promote healing. The Eleviv will help him shift back into his parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with healing, rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

So Fezzywig is now getting, in addition to the beefed up Horse Goo, two capsules of Eleviv a day. Fezzywig loves it. He tries to eat the syringe. I take that as a good sign.

So that is what I have learned so far about the best horse health care methods for roach back horses. Fezzywig's posture continues to improve, and he is running and playing more than ever (as evidenced by the cruise around the neighborhood).

If anyone else has a roach backed horse and has advice, I'd love to hear it. I understand that many roach back horses are sound and compete. Do you have that experience? If so, please holler!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Horse Health Care: Do You Use Everything But the Kitchen Sink? Whoa There Cowboy

What do you do when your horse is sick? Do you run and grab every homeopathic remedy, feed supplement, drug, new horse feed, and bodywork manual on your shelves? Do you drive your horse straight the vet and hope the bill isn't going to kill you? Do you call up every horse-loving friend you have and ask for advice?

In short, do you throw everything but the kitchen sink at your horse and hope that SOMETHING works?

Horse Health Care: The Beauty of One Thing at a Time
When I first began working with holistic veterinarian Dr. Madalyn Ward and learning about subjects like herbs, homeopathy, nutrition, and bodywork, one of the first lessons she taught me is this:

"When treating a horse for any condition, try one thing at a time otherwise you won't know what works and what doesn't."

That's a really hard lesson for horse owners to learn, especially when it comes to their own horses. We all hate seeing our horses in pain, whether it be from hurting hooves, an ouchy ulcer, or an oozing abscess. We want it fixed and we want it fixed now!

But often times throwing every remedy but the kitchen sink at your horse only confuses the situation ... and ends up costing you more money.

A Weight Loss Example
For instance, suppose your horse is losing weight this winter. This could happen for a number of reasons, including:

- he's not getting enough food
- he's not digesting his food well because of ulcers or other issues
- he's shivering off all the calories you feed him
- he's not getting the right kind of food
- he's in with a group of horses who move him around too much

This is just a short list. There are all kinds of other reasons in the horse health care sphere that could explain why he is losing weight, but this covers the basics.

So everyday you go out to feed this horse and he's cold, he's lost weight, he's shivering, and he looks totally miserable. I've known people who react by doing all the following:

- blanket the horse
- feed him more grain AND more hay
- add beet pulp and corn oil to his diet
- stop riding him
- move him away from other horses
- put him on Stomach Soother in case he has an ulcer

Wow, that's a lot of "doing"! It does cover a lot of horse health issues in a "just in case" kind of way, but it's a costly way to do things. Instead of doing all of the above, it makes more sense to figure out why the horse is losing weight, then make one or two changes at a time and see what happens. You can ask yourself some questions to help you figure out what's going on. Here are some examples.

1. Is the horse being pushed off his feed or moved around all the time by other horses?
If this is case, then putting him in with another gentle horse who shares well can help your horse get more feed and conserve more energy. Often times, older horses or horses with a quiet disposition make good companions.

2. Does the horse eat his feed well or does he take breaks in-between to just stand or to lie down?
This usually indicates an ulcer of some kind. If this is the case, you can try adding Stomach Soother to his diet to see if this helps. Acidophilus, bifidus, and enzymes are also good options.

3. Has he had his teeth floated recently?
If it has been more than a year since he's had a float, you might consider taking him into the equine dentist. A horse with sharp points and hooks on his teeth is likely to develop ulcers in his mouth, making eating painful. This often accounts for weight loss.

4. Does he shiver in the cold?
If so, add fiber rather than grain to his diet. Fiber is digested in a horse's hindgut and produces a lot more warmth than grain, which is digested in the small intestine. If your horse is quite thin, putting a blanket on AND adding more hay to his diet is probably a good combination.

5. Is he in pain?
If you have ever had to deal with an abscessed tooth, migraine headaches, or any other kind of chronic painful conditions, then you know that pain can eat up your body's physical resources faster than running a marathon. If your horse is in undiagnosed pain, he may be using up all his calories just to deal with pain. If your horse has a stoic personality, he may not tell you he is in pain (learn more about horse personality types at Horse Harmony). Consider taking your horse to the vet to get a once-over before making a decision about what and how to remedy the situation.

Horse Health Care and the Conservative Approach
In an article of this length, it's not possible to cover all the questions that you might have to ask yourself about your horse to figure out what's wrong, but you get the picture. If you have a hard time figuring out what's going on in your horse's body and brain, check out these two resources:

Holistic Horsekeeping
(has a wealth of horse health care resources)
Herbs and Animals (a great animal communication site)

Also, as insurance, consider my special Horse Goo. It's a nutritional goo I mix up at my kitchen table that acts as a "cover all bases" health care program. I feed it daily, it costs very little, and it works like a charm. During the time I've used it, my horses have had very little colic and other usual ailments.

Horse Goo Recipe

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Horse Health Care: There Is Nothing That Cannot be Healed

According to Chinese Medicine, there is no ailment that cannot be cured. I believe that aphorism to be true, whether applied to humans or horses. At least, when it comes to horse health care, I believe that any condition can be improved, made healthier, and made more harmonious.

Fezzywig: A Bodywork Example of Horse Health Care
A prime example of this is my new Holsteiner warm blood gelding Fezzywig. He came to me with a severely roached back, meaning he has a hump in his back where several vertebrae stick up and out of his spine in his lumbar region. His roach back had been getting worse over time, and his former owner did not know how to help him. Hence, he came to me.

Fezzywig has been with us for a while now, and he receives bodywork every single day. I do "Bowen" type bodywork as well as passive stretches, acupressure, and network chiropractic on him. The improvement in less than 3 weeks is noticeable to me, even if not to the casual observer.

Here is a picture of Fezzywig when he first came to me. We believe he developed his roach back as a result of jumping out of a 6-foot tall paddock as a youngster.

Here is another picture of Fezzywig, 4 days after I got him:

Here he is again, this time about 18 days after he came to me.

Here's the most recent picture

While he definitely still has a hump in his back, to me his whole body structure looks more relaxed. In addition, his top and bottom lines look more harmonious. He looked "pot bellied" and seriously hunched over in his earlier pictures. Now he has more tone to his belly and his withers have risen up so they are closer in height to his rear.

What's the Point? Horse Health Care and Hope
The point of this article isn't to talk about specific bodywork conditions, but to point out that there is always hope for every horse ailment out there, be it ulcers, roached backs, or lameness issues. Maybe not every horse can be made perfect, but the quality of every horse's life can be improved.

More importantly, I believe that horse owners can be totally active participants in the horse health care process. Nine years ago I learned some basic bodywork techniques, which I have used every week since and continue to refine. Nine years ago I also learned to trim my own horse's feet. I couldn't quite figure out how to learn to do horse dental work (that's beyond my capabilities), but I do just about everything else.

When it comes to horse health care, there's always hope. My list of horses kind of looks like a cast of characters from a freak show:

Valentine: mustang mare who had a golf-ball sized tumor under her jaw and choked frequently
Reyacita: mustang mare with COPD, or heaves, when stressed and eating hay
Walker: quarter horse gelding with poor feet and ulcers
Samantha: mustang mare with an overly long back and a pulled groin muscle
Fezzywig: warmblood gelding with a roached back

Frightening isn't it? And yet, with the help of daily doses of my homemade "horse goo," regular bodywork, occasional help from a local vet, and a lot of help from Holistic Horsekeeping, these horses have achieved the incredible:

Valentine: Jumper Champion and Jumper Horse of the Year
Reyacita: eats hay, team sorts, and learning to be a rope horse
Walker: recovered from ulcers with probiotics, algae, and enzymes, beginner rope horse, gentle enough for an infant to ride
Samantha: Hunter Champion
Fezzywig: vast improvement in his roached back

Your Participation in Horse Health Care
Obviously, each horse lover is going to be different when it comes to how much "hands on" work they do for horse health care, and how much work is done by professional veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists, and bodyworkers. However, the more active a role you take in learning about horse health care, the better your horse's health will be, regardlesss of whether you do "hands on" work on not.

In this day and age, when money is tight and horse health care is expensive, I encourage every horse lover out there to learn to do as much "hands on" health care as possible. It's ultimately less expensive, empowers you to help your horses immediately, and helps you make better decision about your horse's management. A good place to start, with many free resources as well as ebooks and products, is the Holistic Horsekeeping website. Another great resource is Herbs and Animals. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Horse Lovers Beware: Your Horse Knows What You Know

Are you thinking about attending a horse bodywork seminar? Perhaps going to a tack fitting clinic? Or how about participating in an animal communication workshop?

If so, good for you. And also, beware!

Once you have learned something new that will improve your horse's life, your horse will know. Your horse will know what you know. A previously forgiving horse who patiently put up with an ill-fitting saddle will likely buck you off after the tack fitting clinic.

The swaybacked horse who has always come right up to you in pasture will now kick up her heels and run the other way when she sees you coming if you don't plan on doing bodywork that day.

And the horse unhappy in his job but doing it well? He's likely to make an ass of you at your next horse show ... especially since you went to an animal communication workshop but refuse to hear his pleas for a new career.

What the Heck is Going on Here?
Unfortunately, many a horse lover has had to discover the hard way that our horses are telepathic, and they know what we know. Somehow most horses are willing to forgive us in our ignorance, but the minute we learn something that will make their life better, they expect us to use that knowledge ... right now!

So if you are planning on opening the door of knowledge for better horse health care, better horse feed, and better horse management, beware! Once that door is opened, it can never be slammed shut again. Your horse will make sure of it! Leta Worthington, an excellent animal communicator (find her at Herbs and Animals online and her blog) has often noticed that people who communicate with their animals, and then fail to take action based on the resulting conversation tend to pay a big price. Whether it's the dog peeing on the carpet to indicate that he's "pissed off" or it's the horse going into a bucking frenzy, forgiveness isn't the picture.

Marcus Aurelius: One Example for Illustration
My horses have shown me this process over and over again. Marcus, my first big-time jumper horse (pictured above), was hugely forgiving and easy to ride when he first came to me. We did well at shows, won championships all over the place, and I thought we had a great relationship. Unfortunately, Marcus was a cribber, which affected his teeth, spine, and performance. Thinking that cribbing was bad, I used to try all kinds of techniques to stop him from cribbing. Nothing worked. He continued to crib but he never seemed to resent my efforts to stop him.

Then I had the brilliant idea to try animal communication. During the conversation I asked Marcus what it would take for him to stop cribbing. His reply was short and sweet: "How about if I asked you to give up eating?" In other words, he was telling me that cribbing was an essential part of his nature and his life.

Despite hearing this, I continued to try to stop him from cribbing. Now he definitely resented my efforts. He started turning his butt to me when I went to catch him, and broke as many objects in his stall as possible. He issued his strongest complaint, though, by refusing to jump at the shows. Neither my trainer nor I could get him to jump around courses reliably, even on courses he used to love.

Back to the animal communicator we went. Marcus made his demands clear: "Let me crib or forget showing, and count on having to replace everything in my stall often!" Wow, was that clear or what? So thereafter, we let him crib. He started doing his job again and loving it.

He now lives with my former trainer, Sally Francis, in Texas, has his own cribbing tree, and a couple of cribbing buddies. They are such cute little equine addicts! Marcus cribs a couple of times, then turns to his buddy and says, "You're turn dude, take a toke!" His buddy cribs, and then they both turn to the mare and say, "Go ahead miss, take a hit!" Then it's Marcus' turn to crib again. These days he is one happy cribbing camper. He still takes adult amateurs and small children around three foot courses and, as long as he's allowed to crib, all is right in the world with him. Yes, his teeth suck but he's very happy!

I've had similar experiences with almost all of my horses, especially the mustangs. They are more forgiving to start with (when I'm ignorant) and much less forgiving later. They have elephantine memories, which they use often. But once you give then what they want, they will also work harder and better for you than most domestic horses.

In any case, consider this article a "buyer beware" to the horse lover who wants to learn more about horse health care. Maybe it should be "body worker beware" or something like that ... I'm all for it. Definitely go for it. Learn as much as you can. Just be prepared to use what you learn or you'll pay, pay, and pay!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Barefoot Trimming and Booting: Review of the Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot

In this article I review the Cavallo Hoof Simple Boot. I think it's important to write about my experiences because it took a lot of research to figure out how to fit this boot to my quarter horse gelding, Walker, who is currently in transition from shoes to barefoot living. If I had not done the research, I would have ended up with boots that were the wrong size, not to mention ultimately detrimental to Walker's progress.

Walker's Barefoot Trimming Situation
Walker is a 4-year-old quarter horse gelding I purchased as a reining prospect. The moment I brought him home I immediately yanked his shoes off. His feet were typical of an overly-bred quarter horse: thin walls, hoof wall separation (giving his toes that lovely long "ski" look), and a thin sole. I figured this was no big deal, as I had had a lot of experience transitioning horses out of shoes. Plus, Walker had only worn shoes for about four months.

I was wrong. Walker, being a Shao Yin personality type (read more about this and other horse personality types on Dr. Madalyn Ward's Horse Harmony site), was a hot house flower. With every barefoot step he took he winced. He limped. He looked totally pathetic. Worst of all, he was totally unrideable. I live in rough country, where rocks, gravel, and rough terrain abound. Walker, in total contrast to my mustang mares, could not hack a single step.

I tried to tough out the situation for a couple of months. I tried several different barefoot strategies. I tried taking off less flare with each trimming and using a severe mustang roll. This only caused the hoof wall to separate more. I tried taking off all the flare. Walker, in contrast to his name, could not walk. I tried trimming every few days. No dice. Same with going a long time between trimmings. Ditto with all kinds of hoof paint, iodine, and other remedies. The nutritional aspect, with my home made "horse goo" of mangosteen juice and algae, was helping him grow much better hoof wall, but that was way up at the top of his hoof. In the meantime, he was trying to walk on the crummy lower portion of his hooves. Ouch!

Cavallo Simple Hoof Boots
I finally broke down and decided that my boy needed some artificial help; I either had to slap shoes back on him (makes me wince) or buy him some boots. Since the boots cost exactly double the cost of a shoe job (about $145), I opted for boots. In my experience they last longer and cost less in the long run.

In the past, I've often used Old Macs, especially on my bigger horses. I love the Old Macs and have taken them everywhere, but they are fairly large and clunky. Walker is small (not quite 15 hands) and has slender legs and tiny quarter horse hooves. Instead, I opted for the Cavallo Simple Hoof Boots, which have a much slimmer profile and looked easy to put on and take off.

I got online and researched a bunch of reviews, as well as visiting the Cavallo site for their sizing chart and instructions. According to those instructions, I measured Walker after a fresh trim. Using their sizing chart, Walker was a size 2. I was all ready to hit the "buy" button for a pair of size 2 boots when I decided to read through a few more user reviews. Here's what I learned based on the user reviews:

1. Order one size smaller boot than the sizing chart suggests

2. If your horse's hoof has a lot of flare, measure the hoof after a fresh trim in which you take off all the flare

3. These boots stretch with use so buying one size smaller makes sense

4. In order to ensure a better fit, buy a few of the pad inserts in case you need them

5. You want the fit to be snug (with Walker, I put the boot halfway on and then he has to put his full weight on the boot to get his hoof in). With a snug fit you prevent rotation and rubbing (the inserts also help with this)

6. When you first get the boot, wrap a plastic bag around your horse's hoof and around the boot to try the boots for fit. This prevents the boots from getting dirty and allows you to exchange the boots if necessary

7. Let your horse break the boots in slowly to prevent rubbing and sores (20 minutes the first day, an hour the next, and so forth)

Walker's Experience with the Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot
Walker loves his Simple Hoof Boots. The first day I put them on and rode him, he literally galloped down our gravel drive. This is the same gravel drive he literally could not limp across barefoot. He wore the boots for a short 20 minute ride the first day, then for a longer hour ride the next day. Over time, we've increased the amount of time he wears them.

One day I decided to let him wear the boots all day in his pasture. He was mostly sound in his pasture barefoot, but occasionally he would hit a rough spot and limp. Plus, I noticed that he rarely ran or bucked with Fezzywig, his pasture buddy. I also noticed that he had become quite swaybacked and had been working to remedy that with bodywork. The day he wore his boots all day in pasture, he ran and bucked like a maniac. He also didn't look as swaybacked. To understand what has happening to his body, I got down on my hands and knees and tried to imitate a sore-footed stance. In that stance, I noticed that I rocked back on my knees and dropped my back down to avoid putting weight on my hands. Hmmm, not exactly rocket science but pretty nifty nonetheless.

Walker now wears his boots all day and has them off at night. We live in a dry climate, the high desert of Colorado, so he can get away with wearing his boots for long stretches without any moisture buildup. This is important since the goal is to develop a hard, dry, tough hoof, and moisture buildup tends to soften the hoof (especially the sole). Depending on where your horse lives most of the time, you may wish to do keep boots on him for many hours at a time, or to just put them on when you are riding him.

Finally, in addition to his new Simple Hoof Boots, Walker loves his extra doses of Omega Sun Algae, which is unparalleled when it comes to building strong hoof wall. We are about four months away from him actually walking on his new hoof wall (you can see a line that separates the old hoof from the new growth), but I can tell that the algae is producing a much thicker and stronger wall. Can't wait for him to actually be able to walk on it!

I hope this article helps those of you who are considering buying the Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot. It's a high quality boot and well worth the investment for those who want to transition their horses to barefoot but need a little "help"!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Horse Health Care: Natural Horse Feed Supplements for the Nervous Horse

Does your horse get nervous before a competition, trailering, or learning something new? I have a couple of horses who are strung kind of tight, and I've found that there are a number of natural horse feed supplements that really help calm them down.

Not all of these are legal for all competitive events, so if you do consider using any of these, be sure to check with your discipline's governing body to see what's legal and what isn't.

Horse Feed Supplement #1: Homeopathic Chamomile
Homeopathic chamomile is a wonderfully simple solution for many nervous horses. This vibrational remedy will not make a horse calmer than his normal temperament, but can restore a horse's mental balance so that he can think clearly. For instance, if your horse is normally calm but gets bouts of diarrhea before trailering, giving him a dose of Chamomile 30x before he try loading him might help him stay calm. You can purchase this homeopathic remedy at most health food stores.

Horse Feed Supplement #2: Eleviv
Eleviv is relatively new on the market and is a potent combination of four herbs that really seems to help horses remain calm. I've used this supplement on my mustang mare, who gets the heaves (or COPD) when she gets nervous. When she starts getting that distinctive rattle in her chest, I empty two capsules of Eleviv into spring water, mix with a juice mixer, and then put it in a syringe. I syringe the mixture into her mouth, and then wait 30-45 minutes. Within that time, the rattle in her chest goes away and she is restored to her normal relaxed state.

Being a Metal horse personality, she loves routine and gets nervous whenever she thinks we are going to do something totally new (read more about horse personalities here). She then flips into the sympathetic nervous system, which for horses is the equivalent of "fight or flight," and heaves are the result. Eleviv has the effect of restoring her to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the one associated with rest and relaxation. The beauty of Eleviv is that it can be fed daily or only as needed. The effects are also fairly immediate, making Eleviv a crucial part of any first-aid kit.

Horse Feed Supplement #3: Probiotics of Acidophilus and Bifidus
Probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus are the beneficial bacteria that live in your horse's gut. The reason probiotics help to calm a nervous horse is because the beneficial bacteria produce B12. The B vitamins, especially B12, produce a natural calming effect on the body. If your horse has diarrhea when he gets nervous, bifidus is especially useful since it tends to soak up excess fluid in the bowel and restore normal stool consistency. I've found the best probiotics are made by Simplexity Health, although you can also get good quality probiotics at most feed stores in the form of Fasttrack Paste. Adding probiotics to your regular horse feed regimen will help in general, and giving oral probiotics before any event that might make your horse nervous will help in the moment.

Horse Feed Supplement #4: Equilite Relax and Relax Her Blend
Relax Blend and RelaxHer Blend, two horse feed supplements from Equilite are also excellent for calming the nervous horse. These supplements are made from a combination of natural herbs, and can be added to your horse feed regimen on a daily basis. Best of all, these supplements come in a Valerian-free formula, which makes them legal to feed to most show horses.

Horse Feed Supplement #5: Omega Sun Blue Green Algae
Omega Sun blue-green algae is what I call "brain food." It is blue-green algae (from Simplexity Health) that has been processed in way that removes the cell wall, leaving only the "heart" of the algae. This form of algae contains vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals in particles that are small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. The blood brain barrier, as the name implies, is a barrier in the brain that separates the cerebral spinal fluid from the circulating blood. This barrier prevents foreign invaders like bacteria from entering the brain, but also prevents most vitamins and minerals from entering the brain as well.

Many nervous horses suffer from under-nourished brains, and many a nervous thoroughbred or flighty horse has been calmed when Omega Sun blue-green algae is added to their horse feed. It's definitely worth checking out, especially as it is also useful for building strong hoof walls and is legal for show horses.

Well, this is just a short list of horse feed supplements that can help the nervous horse become calm again. If you have any other supplements that you have found useful, please leave me a comment or drop me a line. I love learning about horse nutrition, and sharing what I know!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Horse Just Slapped Me Like Gibbs on NCIS

I am a horse addict and I collect horses. There's no doubt about it. There's also no doubt that my horses live up to their reputation as "hay burners" and eat through my budget like biblical locusts.

Nevertheless, they are cheaper than shrinks and they provide me more therapy than any licensed psychiatrist ever could.

How's that for rationalization?

Horse Therapy from Walker, My Hothouse Flower
If you have read a few of my past blog posts, then you know that I have a quarter horse gelding named Walker, whom I jokingly refer to as my "hothouse flower." Compared to the rest of my herd, mostly mustangs, Walker is just a high-maintenance dude.

I'm a true believer in the barefoot approach, and Walker's feet are as soft and ouchy as clay. He's super-talented at reining, but the least little scratch and his whole body swells up like a balloon. Get the picture yet?

So I've been wondering what to do with Walker. He doesn't fit into my herd of "tough girls" (though he and Fezzywig, my other gelding, are now getting along well in a pen by themselves) and I've been putting about feelers to people who might want to buy him. In the meantime, he gets supplements out the wazoo (my special horse goo times two), bodywork almost daily, and lots and lots of food.

I have been rather disappointed because I bought Walker, at quite a high price, as kind of a "reward horse" for myself. The rest of the time I start mustang colts, who are quite the challenge and mostly not built for reining. Well, come to find out reining isn't really my thing. Hence putting out the feelers to see if the perfect home for Walker might appear.

Walker Pulls an NCIS "Gibbs" Maneuver on Me!
Well, the strangest thing happened yesterday. Walker did the equivalent of slapping me upside the back of my head, kind of like Jethro Gibbs does to his team on the show NCIS. I had done some bodywork on Walker and was sitting on a stool next to him, thinking about selling him. Walker proceeded to put his head down and bop me on the back of my head with his nose. He then put his nose right in my face and blew snot on my face, about 10 times in a row.

I've taken a few animal communication classes in my time, but I don't excel at it (for excellent animal communication resources, check out Leta Worthington's Herbs and Animals website and blog). Nevertheless, the message was clear. Walker was saying,

"Hey, you keep thinking that I'm here for you, that I'm supposed to serve you as your 'reward horse'! Not to mention the fact that you keep thinking about selling me. Well I have got news for you -- you are supposed to be here for me, too. You are supposed to help me, you know! We weren't brought together just so I could be your dream horse. You are supposed to be my dream person, too!"

Wow! Now from a Shao Yin horse personality (read more about horse personalities here), that's a strong statement. Mostly Shao Yin horses want to please people, want to get along. Yowza! Now I'm going to have to rethink the whole deal with Walker.

I've always felt that my horses had to "earn their keep," meaning they had to be good at their discipline and tough enough to stand up to a competitive show horse lifestyle. Be it penning, sorting, roping, jumping, or trail riding, my horses are working horses.

Walker's message was clear: he wants to work and he wants to stay with me, at least for now. When a Shao Yin makes such a strong statement, I'm forced to slam on the brakes and think about this. My thought was that Walker wasn't tough enough to hack it around here so he was outta here. His thought is that he needs the healing I can provide for him, so he wants to stay.

What's a zen cowgirl to do? If I were a straight, non-spiritual cowgirl, I'd say, "Tough patooties! You gotta go." But being a spiritual kind of cowgirl, I'm going to have to rethink this. I'm going to have to buy the boy some boots. I'm going to have to find room in my heart and my "regimen" for a horse who isn't tough but who really wants to be here.

Oh boy ... another freakin' growth opportunity! Gotta love those! Oh well, everything happens for a reason, right?

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Horse Health Care: Can a Roach Backed Horse Be Fixed?

Ah yes, it is truly the season to be merry, to give thanks, and to give gifts. This year I got to pick out my own Christmas gift: a baby Hughie of a horse named Moose.

To make a long story short, Moose (now named Fezzywig) is a 16.2 hand Holsteiner warmblood horse, a 3 year-old gelding, who developed a roach in his back. I had inquired about him early in the year, when he was for sale rather than for adoption, and passed him up.

Then he became available for adoption, his former owner not being able to help him with his roached back, and I just had to take him. I think I can help him, roached back and all.

Case Study: Moose (a.k.a. Fezzywig), the Roach-Backed Horse
So here is Fezzywig in all his giant glory. As you can see, the hump in his back is pretty significant, although it does not seem to interfere with his gaits, soundness, or movement. Other than that, he seems to have no other health issues or vices.

Based on my conversation with his former owner, I believe that he developed this roach as a result of jumping out of a six-foot tall round pen. He probably sustained some injury after that leap, and I believe his roach back developed as a result of that injury and subsequent internal adhesions.

Fezzywig's bump, or roached back, is not tender at all, even when you palpate the area with firm pressure. However, he is sensitive on his flanks and abdomen. His last rib is very close to his pelvis on both sides of his body, and I believe this is caused by the roach in his back. Also, his abdomen is very distended and tense, which leads me to believe that when he jumped from the corral, he perhaps tore some muscles and ligaments in his belly, causing his internal organs to "fall down." This in turn puts pressure on his abdomen, causing it to sink and pulling his pelvis close to his last rib. Hence, the roached back.

Fezzywig's Treatment Plan
In terms of horse health care, my goal with Fezzywigis release his internal adhesions, raise his belly, and shift his pelvis back, thus relieving the roach in his back. I also aim to free up his withers, which are lower than his hind end and a bit bound up. To that end, I am doing network chiropractic sessions on him once a week, and Bowen sessions (also called Equine Touch) on him two to three times a week. I'm lucky that I learned these techniques since I would not be able to pay a veterinarian to work on him that often!

Fezzywig responds very quickly and well to the bodywork, although he is sensitive and often moves away from my hands. When he moves away from me, he's telling me, "That's enough. I need to process this change." He licks and chews and yawns frequently during these sessions, which are all signs that his body is processing the changes.

In terms of diet, Fezzywig is getting my regulation "horse goo" made of antioxidant fruit juice, blue green algae, probiotics, and enzymes. He also gets extra enzymes to help him flush out the toxins generated by released adhesions. So far, he's not too keen on the goo, but is willing enough to eat it.

The Veterinarian's Report
I've checked in with Dr. Madalyn Ward, a fabulous holistic horse veterinarian and osteopath, and she feels that Fezzywig can be made healthy again, although he may never fully lose that "roached" look. That's fine by me. There are tons of roach-back horses who live useful working lives, and I feel that Fezzywig can definitely be helped in that direction. Also, you can read more about internal adhesions here.

I have not yet assessed Fezzywig's horse personality type on the Horse Harmony Test website, but I plan to as soon as I get to know him a bit better. This will help me better assess how to restore his health, what to feed him, and how best to manage his care. You may want to check out the Horse Harmony Test website, along with all of Dr. Ward's horse health care websites:

Horse Harmony Test
Holistic Horsekeeping
Horse Harmony
Dr. Ward's Blog

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

eHarmony for Horses: If I Knew Then What I Know Now

I have been pretty lucky in my selection of horses ... until now. Starting out, I had trainers who helped me pick the best horses for my temperament. My temperament can be summed up in a single phrase: "I want to win!"

Luckily, my trainer helped me pick out a good match for my first real long-term equine partner: Marcus (he's the one in the picture). Marcus didn't necessarily want to win, but he did want to please. In wanting to please me, we won a lot. Marcus had an Earth horse personality, so he was always willing to please as long as I brought treats, plenty of treats. Earth type horses work for food.

Next, I had a couple of geldings I did fine with, and then I moved into the big adventure of training mustangs. When you go to pick out a mustang to adopt, unless you are planning to adopt one that has already been halter-broke or started under saddle, you basically get to choose your horse from a distance.

Mustangs: A Whole New World

I get all of my mustangs from the Canon City facility in Colorado, where BLM and the inmates at the prison facility work together to house, maintain, and train a bunch of mustangs (soon to number around 3,000). When I want to adopt a mustang, I drive 6 hours to facility on a scheduled adoption day, join a group of adopters, and wander through this giant facility.

Most of the mustangs are fairly wild, so mostly you stand outside a pen that holds between 30 and 500 mustangs, and you try to "pick" one that you think you would like. I've been lucky. My first mustang mare was Bella (you can read about her here), a gentle mare with an Earth horse personality. Again, as long as food was present, everything was fine.

My next mustang mare, Valentine, had a Wood horse personality. Her motto, "I will win!" matches mine pretty well. As long as we both want to win at the same event, we are unbeatable. On the events where we don't agree, forget it. You can't "make" Valentine do anything she doesn't want to do. But generally, I "ride the horse in the direction she's going," and we get along fine.

After that came three more mustangs, all with suitable horse personalities. All of them had strong personalities and could withstand some fairly tough training in multiple events. We do everything from team penning and sorting, to hunter/jumper and barrel racing. Fun stuff.

Along Came Walker
Then I got interested in the sport of reining, and I was told in no uncertain terms that my mustangs had neither the conformation nor genetic background to be reining horses. So I bought Walker, my first "expensive" luxury-model horse in a very long time (it costs only $125 to adopt a mustang). Wow, Walker was genetically and conformationally built to spin, stop, and lope circles. He was the perfect reining horse.

The only problem was that Walker was not the perfect reining horse for me. He and I do not have matching personality types. I have to admit that Walker was an impulse buy and that I never stopped to consider his horse personality type before I bought him. It turns out that Walker is a Shao Yin (Fire/Water) horse personality, which means that he is eager to please but also among the most fragile of all the personality types.

When Walker gets a small cut on his leg, his entire leg swells up like a balloon. When one of my mustang mares gets a cut, they don't even notice it. When Walker gets a stone bruise, he limps like he needs hit foot amputated. When the mustangs get a stone bruise, they lope a little slower on trail but otherwise don't care. When Walker gets his feelings hurt, he doesn't react outwardly, but immediately develops some kind of earth-shattering ailment. When the mustangs get upset, they have great fun refusing to be caught. Are you starting to see the difference here?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with Walker. He is a dream horse for most people. He will try his heart out for me and I love him dearly for his kindness, gentleness, and sweetness. I'm just not used to dealing with horse personality types that are "hothouse flowers." Had I known Walker was a Shao Yin before I bought him, I would have never bought him because I know that I am not the nurturing type. I'm a no-holds-barred tough zen cowgirl who needs a horse just as tough.

The Moral of This Story

So, while Walker and I are learning to get along together, I thank him for teaching me a valuable lesson:

Always test the personality of the horse you are about to buy before you buy him.

The test, which is the equivalent of eHarmony for horses, is free at You can read short summaries about the different horse personality types on the Horse Harmony website. Better yet, get the full scoop by reading the Horse Harmony book (order online here).

Figure out what type best suits your personality, the discipline in which you ride, and the management style you have. Pick the right type and you'll have a match made in heaven. Pick a type that's a little bit of a mismatch, and you may be looking for a different horse within a short period of time. So take the test (you can test yourself as well as any potential horse) and learn something about you, your existing horse, or a future horse. It's fun, it's free, and it's a learning experience!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue: The Art of Listening to the Body

My body is smarter than the rest of me, at least when it comes to healing from adrenal fatigue. It tells me when to rest and when I have plenty of energy. The problem is that most of the time, I tend to ignore these signals from my body because I have "deadlines" and "stuff to do." This is all well and good until my batteries run out of juice and I literally crash!

The Beach and the Art of Listening to My Body

Luckily, even though I am usually quite deaf to my body's requests to rest, I spend five weeks each year in Cancun, Mexico (where I am right now). During these five weeks, I do very little work, focusing instead on recharging my batteries, relaxing, and rejuvenating.

Having recently discovered that I've run down my batteries so much that I now have adrenal fatigue, this latest trip down to Mexico has been most interesting. Adrenal fatigue occurs when we push ourselves to "keep going," no matter how tired or stressed we feel. Our bodies compensate for this by producing more adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones so that we can keep going. The problem is, after a few years of living in overdrive, the adrenal system burns out because it is one of the most sensitive organ systems in the body. Then we have symptoms like constant tiredness, burnout, weight gain or loss, or depression.

That sounds like me to a tee. I recently started on an adrenal support supplement, Eleviv, and the results are quite interesting. Eleviv not only supports the adrenal system and other bodily systems so that I sleep more restfully and awaken more refreshed, but it also seems to enhance my body's requests for rest.

Adrenal Fatigue Recovery on the Beach
Down here I spend whole days lying on a beach chair under a palapa, reading a book or just staring at the ocean. Usually, being a very active zen cowgirl, I can't stand this level of inactivity, but having cleared my calendar and taken my Eleviv faithfully, I am beginning to "hear" the messages from my body. And I can honor those messages with very little trouble. I can sit quietly for hours at a time without feeling the need to be a human "doing" instead of a human "being."

With other people, adrenal support supplements like Eleviv tend to have the opposite effect. People who are often depressed or low-energy feel vibrant and energized, and are more willing to engage in activity instead of being inactive because of depression. It's pretty interesting how our bodies are each wired differently, and how adrenal support creates different effects in each of us.

Three Things You Can Do to Prevent Adrenal Fatigue

So there you have it. The beach report on adrenal fatigue. And in case you can't take five weeks to rejuvenate your body, don't worry. You can still alleviate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue in many ways.

1. Support your adrenal system with herbs like Eleviv.

2. Listen to your body.
If your body is sending messages that you are tired, don't override the message with artificial stimulants like caffeine. Instead, try to muddle though as best you can until you can take a break. Even a 10 minute power nap is better than slamming a few cups of coffee.

3. Regulate your schedule as much as you can.
The more you can get your body on a regular schedule, the less you will need to call on your adrenal system to go into "overdrive" to accommodate unexpected emergencies. Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time each day. Leave work at the same time each day if possible. A regular routine keeps us from overworking the adrenal system.

I hope that helps. Adrenal fatigue isn't fun, and it can take up to two years for your body to recover if you have a severe case. Lying on the beach and staring at waves for a few weeks is my recovery method of choice.

Care to join me? I'd love to show you how. Eleviv is only part of the equation ... drop me a line to learn more.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roping on the Beach and Beginner Blisters: Ouch!

I am in Cancun, Mexico right now, practicing my roping techniques with my brand-new lariat. Beach chairs beware! Yup, that's right, I've been roping every inanimate object in sight, from beach chairs to banana peels (I kid you not). And I've got the blisters to show for it. Ouch!

But hey, I'm in Cancun for five weeks and the series of roping clinics I've been planning together with my pro-roper friends Dusty Healey and Mary Duke (of Stirrup Cup Farm) will start right when I get back to Colorado, so I want to be prepared.

I brought my lariat with me and I have been practicing for about 20 minutes a day. It's fun, and I get more than my fair share of comments, sniggers, and outright stares! Oh well, being a zen cowgirl isn't about being "normal" in any sense of the word!

Lessons of the Lariat
I'm big into learning (my hubby calls it staying out of trouble). Learning keeps my mind and body agile, both of which are important around horses. And if it's cheap learning, all the better. So what are the "lessons of the lariat" that I've learned down here in Cancun so far? Well ...
  • A lariat is a cheap horse activity (when you take the horse out of the equation, of course)
  • You can give yourself rope burn in all kinds of places when you first start out, especially if you are wearing a bathing suit!
  • Your hand-eye coordination improves at a rate directly proportional to the number and painfulness of your rope burns
  • The arm can only stand this kind of work for about 20 minutes (thus far, anyway)
  • Blisters are a fact of life so get used to 'em
  • There's immediate satisfaction in roping something (can you say instant gratification?)
  • I'm finding a "sweet spot" on my rope, a definite place where the loop is just the right size, the rope is balanced just so, and I don't hit myself or others in the head.
All of this, of course, can be translated into some priceless life learning opportunities. Roughly translated, the lariat lessons above equal:
  • Save money where you can
  • Learning can be painful
  • Painful learning can speed up the process
  • The tortoise approach is often necessary to success
  • Life sometimes sucks, be prepared for that fact
  • Immediate gratification is a necessary counterpoint to tortoise-like patience
  • There's a sweet spot in every part of life ... you just gotta look for it!
So who knows how these lariat life lessons will evolve as time goes on, but I've got at least four-and-a-half more weeks here on the beach in Cancun, so I'll be sure to report on my progress, if for nothing else than entertainment value.

And by the way, if any of you are wondering how the hell a zen cowgirl gets to spend five weeks on the beach in Mexico during the recession, drop me a line. I'd love to chat about it, swap stories, share secrets ... the whole nine yards.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Horse Feed and Supplements: Trusting Native Instinct

Have you ever been surprised at how your horse instinctively knows what to eat and what not to eat? I have. I've done a lot of research and study into what and how to feed my horses, and although I know a lot about horse feed, my horses know a lot more about what is healthiest for them.

Reyacita and Walker: Two Case Studies
My two younger horses, Reyacita and Walker, provide excellent case studies attesting to a horse's instinctive wisdom about horse feed and supplements. Both of these horses, brought home early this year, arrived with health issues that I immediately set about treating with supplements and nutrition. In both cases, the horses clearly "chose" which supplements and horse feeds they wanted, and rejected others.

For instance, when Walker, the quarter horse gelding I jokingly refer to as my "hot house flower," lost a lot of weight this summer due to detoxification, abscesses, and stomach ulcers, I immediately thought to put him on Eleviv, which had done wonders for me.

Eleviv is a new combination of herbs that has just come on the market that provides adrenal and kidney support. It is known for helping horses who have undergone some kind of trauma shift into a healing and relaxing mode (also called the parasympathetic nervous system). I thought it would be perfect for Walker.

Walker didn't think Eleviv was right for him at all. He spit out the little green capsules no matter how I tried to feed them. I offered them free choice from my hand ... forget it! I put it on his feed, so he carefully ate everything but the Eleviv. I tried syringing it into his mouth, which he bore, but spat out as soon as I was done. So I ended up giving no Eleviv to Walker.

However, Walker did indicate, by eating any sort of dried stalk or weed on the property, that he had a hankering for hay. I finally (duh!) got the message and started bringing him into a stall during the day for several flakes of hay. He regained almost his full weight within a few short weeks, something he could not seem to do on a full free-choice pasture. I was stunned at how much smarter he was than me when it came to his horse feed.

Reyacita's case was even more pronounced. She suffered from heaves, or COPD, so I started her on Eleviv as well. She ate the Eleviv willingly for about 3 weeks, after which her symptoms disappeared. About that time, she also started refusing to eat the Eleviv. She would leave the two capsules in her feed bucket every single time, while cleaning up every other morsel of feed. She refused to eat the Eleviv for a couple of months until the COPD symptoms returned. At that point, she gulped down the Eleviv herbal supplement again for two weeks. Once the symptoms cleared up again, she no longer wanted the herbs.

Horse Feed: Today Versus "Back Then"
When I think about how much my horses know about what they need nutritionally, I am horrified at the way I used to feed. Of course, back then I kept my horses in a general boarding facility rather than at home at liberty in pasture. Every horse got dished the same kind of feed: Equine Senior. Having no choice, my horses ate whatever they was given.

These days, I understand that my horses know more about what kind of horse feed works for them than I do, so I offer up what I think is right and let them choose. That system works much better, and there's much less chasing 'round the pasture to try to syringe some unwanted supplements down a horse's throat.

Do you have the same kinds of experiences with your horses or are my horses just smarter than the average bear?

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I am Awestruck by This Level of Horse Training

Have you seen the details of the Extreme Cowboy Association's events originated by Craig Cameron? This new challenge in horse training leaves me breathless and awestruck. I used to think my horses were pretty broke and that my horse training techniques were pretty solid ... until I saw the myriad details of this challenge. If you think ranch horse versatility is challenging, just wait until you look at this deal.

What's in an Extreme Cowboy Association Event?
The variety of tasks that this horse training challenge demands is incredible. Your horse has to be able to do everything from work regular "trail" obstacles (gates, bridges, poles, and backing around obstacles) to cowboy mounted shooting, penning and sorting cows, and jumping. If you thought ranch horse versatility was difficult, imagine having to do any number of these obstacles:

Archery shooting
Backing up and down hills

Bareback riding with one or two riders

Jumping barrels or running barrels

Sorting cows

Keyhole race

Leading your horse blindfolded or across water


Ponying another horse

Mounted shooting

Riding over a teeter totter

Standing up in the saddle and hitting a tennis ball

Ride through deep and shallow water

... and that's just a short section of the list! You can read the complete list here.

Extreme Cowboy Association Events: Not for Every Horse
Of course, this challenge isn't meant for every horse and rider. After all, it's called the Extreme Cowboy Association for a reason. However, even if you have no intention of competing in these events, the format provides a great roadmap and blueprint for horse training. If you can get your horse calm and broke enough to do even one-tenth of these obstacles, then your horse will be far more broke for any discipline you choose.

Many of the horse trainers I have ridden with have told me that it's not the most talented horse that usually wins at the show, but the most broke horse that wins. I agree. The most broke horse will be more consistent more often than the merely talented horse. The talented horse may have more ability, but often extreme talent is paired with an extreme personality, making the talented horse a challenge to ride.

In Pursuit of Inexpensive Horse Activities
As always, the blueprint of activities listed in the Extreme Cowboy Association event excites me because it gives me yet one more tool to add to my toolbox of inexpensive horse activities to pursue while the economy is floundering around. I don't know where your focus is this year for horse training, but my goal is to get my four horses as broke as possible so that they can easily enter any event, be it team penning and sorting, jumping, roping, cowboy mounted shooting, or plain old trail riding.

I've already gotten started with my two new activities: shooting and roping. Whether or not I decide to ever pursue cowboy mounted shooting or roping, I figure that any horse is going to be more broke, more useful, and more valuable if you can rope and shoot from his back.

I'm always looking for new ways of horse training that are inexpensive, fun, and productive. The quest continues ...

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Photo credit: Extreme Cowboy Association

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horse Training for Free or Cheap: Three Methods

Free and cheap are both excellent words that make me sit up and listen in this economy, especially when those words relate to horse training. I'm not the best horse trainer in the world, but I do love to school my own horses and learn more about horse training if I can.

So, it being a totally cruddy economy, I've been stretching my brain as to how to get more horse training for less money. Here are three ideas I've come up with.

#1: Auditing Lessons and Clinics

I can't claim credit for this one because my friend Karen started it, but this one is great. When I'd drive up for lessons with a local reining trainer (about 50 miles away), my buddy Karen would come along and watch the lesson. Since I went up every couple of weeks or so, Karen got to watch lessons every couple of weeks or so. And since my horse was definitely a beginner reiner, Karen learned a lot of the basic techniques "from the ground up," so to speak, that she could use on her own horse.

Now the reining trainer could have gotten testy if he wanted to, but Karen had two things going for her that kept her in his good graces. First, Karen attended a couple of his weekend clinics, which were not very expensive but did give her a "feel" for the techniques she was learning by watching.

Second, by saying she wanted to come watch me in my lesson she was able to justify her continued presence at my lessons. It works great for her, and I've since started doing that here and there with a few of my buddies. I ask permission from the trainer, and have never been told "no." I also try to give back to the trainer by recommending him or her to people I meet who are interested in their discipline.

#2: For Kids 4-H Works Great
Now you definitely can't do 4-H if you are an adult because it's for kids only, but if you have a kid interested in horse training or riding, 4-H is definitely one inexpensive and useful way to go. My neighbor just started taking her son to the local 4-H club and, because she sits with him the whole time, is learning a lot about horsemanship and horses, in general. Her son is learning tons, too.

So far the club is only doing bookwork, since it is winter, but come spring her son will get riding lessons as well. 4-H is a great part of any horse community, and if you have a local club and a kid interested in riding, I'd definitely suggest participating in this group!

#3: Have a Trainer Sit on Your Horse
This doesn't always work, but sometimes it can be an inexpensive horse training technique. I had my reining trainer sit on my jumper mare, just once, and it did wonder for her. The mare, Valentine, is a well-broke mustang but she was stiff to the left. I couldn't work out that "kink" by myself, so I had the reining trainer sit on her. In just one session, he was able to loosen up her left side and put some new gears on her.

As I said, this won't work for every horse, but sometimes having a horse trainer sit on your horse once every 6 months can advance you and your horse by leaps and bounds. In this case, it was worth spending the $45. Not every horse trainer will sit on a horse just once, but if you have a relationship with that trainer, chances are good that he or she will be willing to do so. Might be something to think about!

Do you have any ideas for free or cheap horse training? Care to share?

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Photo credit: Free Digital Photos

Horse Health Care: Treating Horse COPD or Heaves

If you have ever seen a horse suffering from symptoms of COPD, also called heaves, then you know that the picture is not pretty. The horse can't breathe properly, respiration is high, nostrils are flared, and then there's the heave line, a sure sign of respiratory distress.

Although this used to be a horse health care condition that affected mostly older horses, today it has become common in younger performance horses or horses under stress. While it has always been assumed that COPD or horse heaves is caused by an allergy to hay, dust, mold, or other allergens, I recently discovered that this condition can also be simply a sign of stress.

Reyacita: A Case Study
Reyacita (above) is a four-year-old mustang mare I adopted about 8 months ago. She had a rattle in her chest when I brought her home, and the rattle always sounded louder when she was under stress (such as when I started her under saddle).

A few months after she came home, the rattle in her chest developed into a full-blown case of heaves, or COPD. She had difficulty breathing, and coughed deeply and constantly. She was clearly suffering.

Since this happened in late winter, I could not put her on pasture. Instead, I took her off hay and began feeding her soaked beet pulp and a senior pelleted feed. I also offered her grass hay cubes that had been soaked.

I supplemented this diet with antioxidant fruit juice, blue-green algae, enzymes, and probiotics to help heal her lungs. Within two weeks, the coughing had stopped but the rattle in her chest always reappeared when Reyacita was stressed. A prime example is when I rode her through our small town for the first time. Although she showed no other signs of stress, when we reached an intersection that had traffic, she put her head down and rattled with each breath. As soon as we turned around and headed for home, the rattle disappeared.

The Veterinarian's Diagnosis
When I consulted veterinarian Dr. Madalyn Ward about Reyacita's case, she told me that I was on the right track with the mare's diet and supplements. She asked me to find out Reyacita's horse personality type by taking the online test at Horse Harmony. Reyacita turned out to be a Metal personality type, whose typical physical weakness is the lungs, so her bout with COPD or heaves was not surprising.

Recent Changes
Once spring arrived I was able to turn Reyacita out on pasture, although I continued to syringe the mix of mangosteen juice and other supplements into her mouth daily. Her health improved to such a point that the rattle in her chest disappeared, even when she was under stress. Everything went well until she started eating hay again this fall.

I wanted to try feeding her hay again to see whether she had truly conquered her COPD or whether she was truly allergic to hay. For the first 4-5 days, she ate the hay and showed no signs of coughing. Then one day I began training all the horses for cowboy mounted shooting. This involved firing a small revolver at a pretty good distance (about 500 yards) from the horses so they could become accustomed to the noise.

None of the horses showed much alarm, they just all moved to the far end of the pen. However, Reyacita immediately developed a cough. The noise from the revolver stressed her enough that her physical weakness, her lungs, immediately showed the effects. When I discussed her situation with Dr. Ward, she pointed out that when Reyacita heard the sound of the pistol, she probably immediately flipped from the parasympathetic nervous system (the one we use in normal life conditions) to the sympathetic nervous system (used when horses are in fight-or-flight mode). Once the sympathetic nervous system kicked in, Reyacita's immune system became compromised and she started to have heaves again.

Not convinced that Reyacita's COPD symptoms were due to a hay allergy, Dr. Ward suggested I supplement the mare with Eleviv, an herbal product that supports the adrenal system and helps restore the parasympathetic nervous system. I fed Reyacita 2 capsules of Eleviv the first day but gave her no hay. The Eleviv calmed the COPD symptoms within a few minutes, and she improved more during the course of the day. On the second day, I fed her 2 more capsules of Elviv and offered her a few flakes of hay. Reyacita was able to eat the hay without any COPD symptoms. The third day was the same.

This indicates that Reyacita's COPD is the result of stress rather than a hay allergy. While many horses with COPD or heaves are assumed to have hay or dust allergies, this may or may not be the case. As with Reyacita, these horses may simply be under too much stress, and their weakest physical link may be their lungs, hence the COPD.

It would not surprise me to discover that many performance horses operate primarily off their sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, which depresses the immune system and prevents healing. Bringing this horse back around to the parasympathetic nervous system, as I did by giving Reyacita the adrenal-supporting Eleviv, may allow these horses to not only heal but also to feel a great deal more comfortable.

If you have some experience with helping horses with COPD or heaves, please do share. You may also want to check out this informative article on heaves on Dr. Ward's website here.

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