Got Good Topline? Why Your Horse Wants One. 3 DIY Topline Improvement Exercises and Stretches (part one of a two part series on the topline)
The topline of the horse is a term used to describe the area of the horse including the withers, back, loin and croup as pictured below. So, what’s all the hoopla about having a good topline…. and what is a good topline?
The shape of the topline varies greatly from horse to horse. There are many factors that can affect the topline including conformation, feet issues, nutrition, saddle fit, age, exercise level and type, riding ability and pregnancy status. A healthy horse with a “good topline” will typically have excellent muscle tone and suppleness, move well, and display athleticism. That is why riders would like their horse to have a good topline (and why horses want one too! :) )
What is a good topline? A picture is worth a thousand words.
This blog post is part one of a two part series discussing 3 DIY exercises you can do from the ground to improve your horse’s topline regardless of your riding ability. All of the exercises assume you and your horse are healthy. Next week, we will have a guest blogger, European and Olympian-trained USDF Bronze medalist, Rebekah Larimer, discussing how you can improve your horse’s topline while riding.
One final word before jumping into the exercises and stretches. Every horse is unique. Some horses may be older and have sway backs (back with a big dip.) Other horses may have conformational challenges. The good news is that assuming your horse is healthy, you can improve your horse’s topline by strengthening and stretching the topline muscles and your horse’s core or abdominal muscles supporting it. It is not about comparing your horse to the ideal topline, but rather helping your horse achieve the best topline they can have given the myriad factors affecting the topline mentioned above.
A Quick Anatomy Primer
Horses have a superficial and a deep layer of muscles just like humans. (Some anatomists characterize the muscles as superficial, intermediate and deep.) Improving the topline requires stretching and strengthening the muscles of the topline AND the core or abdominal muscles as well!
The names and locations of the major muscles of the topline (and the horse in general) are depicted in the diagrams below. Please refer to the diagrams as we discuss the exercises and stretches. Think of them as horse pilates and horse yoga!
3 Topline Improvement Exercises & Stretches
1) Belly Lift aka horse sit ups! (# 9 in the Stretch Your Horse App)
(The #s in parenthesis next to each muscle name below refer to the muscle charts above.)
You may have heard of the belly lift which is both a stretch for the withers, back and loin muscles and a strengthening exercise for the core aka abdominal muscles. For anatomy geeks like me, the specific muscles of the topline stretched are the trapezius(#4), serratus ventralis (#30), spinalis (#31), longissimus dorsi (long back muscle) (#32), and the intercostal muscles of the ribs (#14). The abdominals (#15 and #16) and the pecs (#13) are also strengthened as they engage to create the lift of the topline.
I have found that many riders are not doing the belly lift correctly, so their horse is not getting all the incredible benefits of this exercise. Many also give up as it can sometimes take 1-2 months for some horses to fully respond to the cues to do this exercise. It is important to stay with it! Success will come. And, as you and your horse get more experienced, eventually you may need to only touch your horse’s abs with one fingertip to signal your horse to do the belly lift.
Here is a link to the Belly Lift stretch contained in the Stretch Your Horse App. This free sample link will only remain active for a short period of time, so be sure to watch it now! It explains the entire exercise and stretch step by step. It also provides some tricks for those of you with long fingernails so you can do the exercise without poking your horse!
Fingertips wiggle and press up on the abdominal groove, never moving more than 1/3 down the horse's abs. Starting position is with arm closest to the leg touching the horse's elbow. Do not move arms until lift is achieved in starting position. You are not playing the piano and moving fingertips up and down the groove.
2) Chin to Chest Stretch (#16 in the Stretch Your Horse App)
(The #s in parenthesis next to each muscle name below refer to the muscle charts above.)
The Chin to Chest stretch is an excellent stretch for the trapezius (# 3 and 4) cervical rhomboids (#22) and splenius (#1) muscles of the topline. Also, one the cool things about this stretch is that most horses will also engage and strengthen the muscles in the withers pocket and even some in the back itself when doing it. Also, once you and your horse are proficient doing this stretch, you can do variations such as chin between the knees to increase muscle suppleness and strength.
Here is a link to the Chin to Chest stretch contained in the Stretch Your Horse App. This free sample link will also only remain active for a short period of time, so be sure to watch it now! It explains the entire stretch step by step.
The Chin to Chest Stretch involves safely holding a treat and using it to gently guide (well ok, entice) your horse to move its chin to the center of their chest and stretch the neck, withers and back. Ensuring the chin stays in the center is key. If your horse has tight neck muscles on one side, for example, they may move their chin toward that side and lose the benefits of this stretch.
3) Tail Pull/ Tail Circles Stretch (#9 in the Stretch Your Horse App)
(The #s in parenthesis next to each muscle name below refer to the muscle charts above.)
This is both an exercise and stretch for almost every muscle in the horse’s topline. When done properly, the horse's tail is gently pulled back and the horse pulls it's body forward so the topline muscles are stretched and strengthened.
Here is a link to the Tail Pull and Tail Semi-Circle stretch that is contained in the Stretch Your Horse App. This free sample link will also only remain active for a short period of time, so be sure to watch it now! It explains the entire exercise and stretch step by step.
Because this stretch involves pulling on the tail, if your horse clamps their tail or the tail is very tight, you may have to do to Tail Semi-Circles for a week or two to loosen up the tail. The video explains how to do Tail Semi-Circles.
The Bottom Line…. Or Should I Say the Topline….
Every horse is special and unique. Any healthy horse can reap the benefits of an improved topline whether they are a competitive sport horse, a horse that is ridden on leisurely traiI rides or in an arena, or a retired horse playing in the pasture with their buddy! A strong and supple core and topline is really a combination of yoga and pilates which we all know are highly beneficial for everyone!
Get Your Horse Stretch On!
What do you do to improve your horse's topline? Join the conversation on the Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
The Stretch Your Horse App costs $2.99 and comes with 3 videos. Each additional instructional video costs only $1.99. Buy only the videos your horse needs at a fraction of the the price of one riding lesson, not to mention the cost of a vet or bodywork bill! And, once you download the videos, you can watch them as many times as you want right at your horse's side to be sure you are doing them correctly! No cell or wi-ci connection needed.
There are many ways a saddle can cause back soreness, tight muscles, muscle spasms and even lameness in both the horse and rider. One often overlooked cause are saddle panels in need of reflocking or refoaming. If the saddle panels are not in good condition, the overall safety, fit and functionality of the saddle is compromised. Rider and horse back pain are often the result.
What Is a Saddle Panel and Where Is It?
In an English saddle, the panels are the part of the saddle that is underneath the seat and knee/thigh block area. The panels keep the tree (the "frame" of the saddle) off your horse's back and help absorb concussion. They are also an integral part of saddle fit and rider balance.
If you flip your saddle over, the panels are the part of the saddle that have "stuffing" in them as seen in the picture below. The stuffing can be natural or synthetic wool, which is often referred to as flocking, or foam. A small number of saddles have a combination of both. Panels can also be filled with air. (Air panels will be discussed in a future blog post.) Unfortunately, unscrupulous saddle makers and reflockers sometimes put matches, wood chips, old carpet fibers and even tampons in the panels, often putting high quality wool at the entrance to the flocking ports (holes) to give the illusion that wool was used to flock the entire saddle.
What is Saddle Reflocking and Refoaming? How Do I Know If My Saddle Needs To Be Reflocked or Refoamed?
There are two types of saddle reflocking. 1) Spot reflocking refers to making a small adjustment to the wool by adding or removing some of it to address a specific localized issue. 2) Full saddle reflocking is the process by which all the old wool (or other materials) inside the saddle panels is removed and new wool is placed inside the panels. This can be done via small slits in the saddle panels called “flocking ports” or by removing the panels from bottom of the saddle, opening them up and then restitching and re-attaching them.
The picture below is a saddle panel that is detached from the top part of the saddle where the seat is. The panel has been cut open so you can see the wool inside the panel.
Regardless of whether your saddle needs spot or full reflocking, flocking irons (pictured below) are the tools used during the reflocking process to ensure the wool is uniformly placed throughout the panel or in the correct location in the case of spot reflocking.
Refoaming a panel usually involves making a new panel because the foam is attached to the panel via adhesives and felt. An entirely new piece of foam needs to be utilized in this process. There are a small number of fitters that will remove foam panels, open them up, and shave the foam, but this is somewhat risky due to the unforgiving nature of foam. Once it is shaved, it cannot be glued back on….and millimeters can make a difference.
In either case, it is very important that reflocking and refoaming is done in a skilled manner so the panels are symmetrical side to side, the saddle remains balanced front to back and the panels are not too hard or too soft. If not, the rider may be pitched forward or backward or tip to one side. This will impair the horse’s ability to move correctly and freely resulting in back pain, soreness and possibly lameness for both horse and rider as well as riding difficulties.
Whether your saddle panels contain wool or foam, eventually they will need to be reflocked or refoamed. This is an often overlooked cause of rider and horse back pain, even by many highly talented vets, human and equine bodyworkers and chiropractors.
Key signs it is time to reflock or refoam include:
Will a Newly Refloocked or Refoamed Saddle Automatically Fit My Horse?
Saddle reflocking or refoaming and saddle fit are two distinct but related items riders need to understand. Reflocking and refoaming the panels does not automatically guarantee saddle fit. Generally speaking, reflocking and refoaming restore the panels to their original shape. If a saddle fundamentally does not fit your horse, because, for example, the tree is curved and your horse’s back is straight, refoaming or reflocking will not make it fit. Additionally, if the panels on your saddle have become very thin, it is possible your saddle may be too narrow once the panels are restored to their normal size and shape. In that case, the saddle may need to be widened.
Can Panels Be Flocked to Match the Shape of My Horse to Fit Better?
One of the advantages of wool flocking is that the panels will mold, somewhat, to the shape of your horse’s back. Also, spot flocking can sometimes be used to account for small asymmetries or other issues. But, there are limitations on the use of spot flocking. If too much flocking is added, the panel can become hard and cause pain. Each situation should be carefully evaluated to determine if shims are a better option, which is often the case when larger areas need customization. Shims can be created in many different sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. For example, I have 15 different shoulder shims alone. Shims are also easier for the rider to maintain as they can easily be removed if no longer needed due to muscle development.
The Bottom Line on Saddle Panels and Back Pain
One important thing riders can do to help themselves and their horse stay pain-free and move to the best of their ability is to become educated about what is in their saddle panels, the condition of the panels, and the impact their saddle panels have on their horse and themselves. Work with a saddle fitter who is trained in both saddle fitting and saddle reflocking to help ensure your saddle panels are helping you and your horse enjoy every ride.
How often do you check your saddle panels? Did you know this was necessary? Did you check them out after reading this blog and watching the video? What did you discover? Tell us your story! Share here or on our Facebook page.
“Sit up straight.” “Roll your shoulders back.” “Don’t drop or round your shoulders.” “Arch your back just a tiny bit.” “Don’t arch your back so much.” “Lengthen the front of your body from your rib cage to your hips.”
We have all heard these directions from our trainers, from friends trying to help us, and/or read about the need to start or stop doing these things. Often they are easier said than done! But what is common thread among these things, and why are they important? Is it just to look professional or “pretty” when we ride?
The answer is good posture. This blog post will explore why correct rider posture is a very important aspect of helping your horse perform to best of their ability in a safe and comfortable manner. Correct rider posture can also reduce rider back and neck pain.
Horse Movement Fundamentals
Let's take a step back and look at a few fundamentals regarding how a healthy horse moves. The horse moves from back to front. With each step taken by the hind legs, energy is transmitted up the horse’s legs, through the horse’s back and the ring of muscles, and toward the horse's front end including the neck and head.
This forward energy can be blocked by the horse themselves simply due to the lateral (side to side) motion of their ribcage or the degree to which their back is not lifted (hollow) or feet issues. Other things such as poor saddle fit can also block this energy.
But, did you know that incorrect or poor rider posture is one of the major causes of blocked forward energy? Poor posture will impede your horse's performance and can cause back, neck, ribcage, and TMJ pain and tightness in your horse.
My good friend and excellent trainer Rebekah Larimer summed it up best, "It is the rider’s responsibility to learn how to get out of their horse’s way, not block their forward energy, and be able to properly influence them and work in partnership."
What is Correct Posture?
As seen in image C of above, correct rider posture requires sitting with a neutral spine so your back is neither overarched nor completely flat but rather has a slight natural concavity. The shoulders, hips and heels are all aligned on the vertical. This means that if a vertical line was drawn between these three areas, it would intersect all 3 areas. The head, neck, shoulder and back are in a neutral position. They are not tipped back or slouched forward. The rider feels “solid from the base” and has relaxed hands, arms and fingers. Correct posture enables the horse’s natural back to front motion to be transmitted through its body in a relaxed manner.
In case you are panicking, don’t. This is easier said than done, but with practice AND the correct stretching and strengthening exercises, you can make great strides (no pun intended) toward achieving correct posture.
Three Common Postural Challenges…and Some Remedies
1) The Base: Let's Talk Pelvis
The first two common posture issues are a pelvis that is tipped too far forward (image A) or too far backward (image B) . To test your pelvis, stand up (on level ground), and place your hands on your hip bones. Tilt your hips backward so the top of your hip bones move back toward your spine. You should feel your back flatten and your hips tuck under you. Then do the opposite. Move your hips forward so the top of the hip bones move toward the front of your body and your back arches. Do this several times and then find your natural resting position. Is your back overarched or too flat?
Do the same thing next time you are sitting in your saddle getting ready to ride. Is your pelvis in neutral, tipped forward or tipped back?
Another way to assess your pelvis is to do a rudimentary test of the curvature in your spine. Stand with your back up against a wall making sure your heels and upper back are firmly touching the wall. Assess the position of your lower back. Is it flat against the wall? Is there a pronounced arch? Is your spine in a neutral position with a just a slight curvature? Can you push your shoulders against the wall without arching your lower back?
Impact to Your Horse of Overarched Back/Pelvis Tipped Forward (anterior)
If your back if overarched, this means your seat bones point backwards toward the horse’s back legs. Rider’s with overarched backs tend to appear stiff or tense and tend to have stiff or locked hip joints making it hard to follow the horse’s motion. So, guess where the horse’s energy is sent in this scenario? Yup. You got it. Toward the hind end. An overarched back makes your horse work extra hard to keep the forward energy moving forward. It is like a salmon swimming upstream. It can also cause your horse to hollow their back. As you may recall, at the very beginning of this blog post, we said that a horse with a hollow back blocks the flow of energy forward. So, this is sort of double whammy!
I will discuss the impact of the backward (posterior) tipped pelvis in the next section since that is often accompanied by rounded shoulders.
2) Rounded Shoulders/Jutting Chin
This is the third common postural challenge many rider’s struggle with.
Many of us work at computers all day. Some of us like myself work on horses. Both of these activities can cause posture problems. Specifically, it can cause your shoulders to round forward, your neck to curve excessively when looking up and your head to be forward with a jutting chin. This is often accompanied by a pelvis that is tipped backward (posterior.)
Impact to Your Horse of Round Shoulders/ Jutting Chin/ Pelvis Tipped Back
Rounded shoulders are often accompanied by pelvis tipped toward the back of the body. This causes the rider’s weight to be distributed unevenly. The top of the rider’s body is usually slightly forward, the upper back is back behind the vertical, and the bottom of the rider’s body pushes down on the last third of the horse’s thoracic spine. The leg usually also moves forward. This causes the rider to be behind the motion, and imbalance in the horse. It pushes the horse onto the forehand and blocks the forward energy.
The other interesting thing that often happens to the round shouldered/ backward (posterior) tipped pelvis rider is that when rider tries to move their leg back into the correct position, it can cause the knee and ankle to hike up. This can cause loss of the stirrup (my own personal nemesis) and/or result in less effective leg aids.
In order to select the correct remedy for your posture problem, it is important to get an accurate evaluation of all of the aspects of your posture including your feet, legs, hips, pelvis, back, shoulders, ribs, chest, neck and head position. I suggest you see a physical therapist or chiropractor who is specifically skilled in postural assessment and treatment. Familiarity with riding is a big plus! Be sure they do not just treat you, but also teach you how to do the specific exercises to address your posture challenge.
That said, there are many do-it-yourselfers out there.
So, here are a few stretches and exercises that can potentially be beneficial. (Here comes the legal disclaimer.) These exercises are being provided for informational purposes only. This should not be construed as any type of medical advice. These exercises may or may not be appropriate for your individual situation and could cause harm if done incorrectly or if contraindicated. This is why I suggest seeking professional medical assistance as a first step.
For those who are round-shouldered like myself because I work on horses and at computer so I am in terrible ergonomic positions most of the day every day, lying over a roll with your arms in “stick ‘em up” is a great stretch for the pecs, upper back and neck muscles and the spine.
This stretch stretches the pectoral muscles in the front of your body which have become shortened due to being constricted and helps relieve the tension in the muscles in your upper back that have become overstretched.
I prefer to keep my legs straight when doing this stretch. However, then you must be careful that your back does not 'hollow out. " Start out with a rolled up towel under your back horizontally and gradually increase the size of the roll.
Here is a link that has great illustrations of the muscles the stick ‘em up stretch targets as well as more detailed instructions such as making sure you keep your chin slightly tucked so you are not arching your neck.
If your back is overarched, that means the muscles in front of your hips, aka the hip flexors, are probably tight. The hip flexors can also become tight from doing a lot of sitting in front of a computer all day. Tight hip flexors and an overarched back can also cause lower back pain.
This article provides a detailed explanation of the relationship between an overarched back and tight hip flexors as well as some stretching exercises to release the tension. Also, here is a link to a “brutal stretch” for the hip flexors.
There are pluses and minuses to doing “brutal stretches” versus more gentle, gradual stretches. I leave that choice to you and your health care professional.
The Bottom Line….
There is a direct correlation between your posture and your horse’s movement and performance. Correcting your posture challenges is not easy and takes dedication. However, if you commit to an improvement program, both you and your horse will enjoy even greater success and a more relaxed ride no matter what your riding discipline.
What is your posture challenge? What are you doing to correct it? Share your story here or on our Facebook page.
It is summer in many parts of the world, and riders are out and about enjoying riding their horse. Whether riding in shows and competitions, enjoying trail rides, taking lessons in an arena, sorting cows, racing at the track or feeling the thrill of a fast canter along the beach, there is no better time to own a horse!
However, summer’s high temperatures can pose a serious, sometimes deadly, risk to your horse. Heatstroke aka overheating or heat stress can occur not just from riding, but also from trailering, being in a hot stuffy stall or even being out in the field with the sun blaring down and no shade. I believe every rider should know the 5 key signs of heatstroke and what to do if this occurs. Equally important, every rider should know how to prevent it!
What is Heatstroke, and What Can It Cause?
Heatstroke is not a stroke in the conventional sense of how you may think about a human having a stroke. Rather, it is the horse’s inability to cool him or herself down and get rid of excess heat. Like humans, horses have a natural cooling process in their body. This involves sweating and purging heat from nasal breathing/respiration (much like a dog may pant). But, in some cases of exposure to high heat levels, the horse may be unable to cool themselves. To try and compensate, the horse may sweat excessively, increase its respiration rate, and even redirect blood flow closer to the skin to aid in the cooling process. However, excess sweating can cause dehydration and loss of electrolytes, and redistributing blood flow closer to the skin can cause the brain and other organs to receive less oxygen. Left untreated, this can cause colic, seizures, severe muscle cramps and even death.
What Are the Signs of Heatstroke?
Here are 5 key signs.
What are the Treatments for Heatstroke?
The best treatment is actually not a treatment. It is prevention. Here are some prevention tips.
The Bottom Line….
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be prudent about the duration and intensity of your ride so you can enjoy the whole summer with your horse and many more seasons together!
Have you ever had or known a horse that suffered from heatstroke? What happened? Comment here and share your story on our Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
The question of which vaccines your horse needs and how often to vaccinate him/her is complex. There is a growing debate on this important topic. Are horse’s being over vaccinated, and is this causing harm?
Last week’s publication of a research study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), (a world renowned hospital and research center), suggested that adults only need a tetanus shot every 30 years, not every 10 years as is current practice. In their paper, the researchers stated there was very little data to prove or disprove the current “every 10 years” practice. Study data indicated adults remain protected for at least 30 years.
This research study and the fact that there are few, if any, vaccines that are recommended annually for humans (and equine and human immune systems function the same way) got me thinking, once again, about all equine (and canine) vaccinations, not just tetanus. Why are most horses vaccinated annually for the “core 4” if not more? Is there data to support this vaccination schedule?
Let’s take a step back. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) guidelines suggest most horses should be vaccinated annually for Tetanus, Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies and West Nile Virus. Additional risk-based vaccines may also be given such as Strangles, Flu, EHV and Potomac Fever to name a few. Of course, the AAEP guidelines state that vaccine decisions should be made in consultation with the owner’s vet, though a majority of horse owners and vets follow the AAEP recommended guidelines.
How Do Vaccines Work?
Here is a quick, high level and easy to understand overview of how vaccines work provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
1) What is Immunity?
When disease germs enter your body, they start to reproduce. Your immune system recognizes these germs as foreign invaders and responds by making proteins called antibodies. These antibodies’ first job is to help destroy the germs that are making you sick. They can’t act fast enough to prevent you from becoming sick, but by eliminating the attacking germs, antibodies help you to get well.
The antibodies’ second job is to protect you from future infections. They remain in your bloodstream, and if the same germs ever try to infect you again — even after many years — they will come to your defense. Only now that they are experienced at fighting these particular germs, they can destroy them before they have a chance to make you sick. This is immunity. It is why most people get diseases like measles or chickenpox only once, even though they might be exposed many times during their lifetime.
2) Vaccines to the Rescue
Vaccines offer a solution to this problem. They help you develop immunity without getting sick first.
Vaccines are made from the same germs (or parts of them) that cause disease; for example, polio vaccine is made from polio virus. But the germs in vaccines are either killed or weakened so they won’t make you sick.
Vaccines containing these weakened or killed germs are introduced into your body, usually by injection. Your immune system reacts to the vaccine the same as it would if it were being invaded by the disease — by making antibodies. The antibodies destroy the vaccine germs just as they would the disease germs — like a training exercise. Then they stay in your body, giving you immunity. If you are exposed to the real disease, the antibodies are there to protect you.
Why Are Vaccine Boosters Needed?
A single dose of some vaccines provides lifelong immunity to most people, while other vaccines require additional doses, i.e. a booster, in order to maintain immunity. Sometimes boosters are needed because the immune response “memory” weakens over time. A booster is like a reminder to the body’s immune system.
Vaccines can cause reactions in humans and in horses. Reactions to vaccines can range from very minor to severe and life-threatening. Equine vaccine reactions can include, but are not limited to:
Are Annual Boosters Needed For Horses? What is the Scientific Data Supporting This Schedule?
Many vets firmly believe that annual vaccination is necessary. However, there is curiously little research data to support this schedule which is unfortunate. More research funding is needed.
In recent years, there has been a small but growing number of vets (and horse owners) that are rethinking the annual vaccine protocol. This is due to mounting evidence that over vaccination is a problem due to the increasing number of negative side effects, some of which can be permanent, broadly called vaccinosis.
Here are links to 4 articles from vets who are rethinking the annual vaccination protocol.
Rethinking Vaccines, By Dr. Joyce Harman
Vaccination Protocol, By Dr. Mark Depaulo
Rethinking Vaccines, By Dr. W. Jean Dodds (article part one) (article part two)
Each article offers a detailed explanation regarding how vaccines work, as well as the benefits, risks and side effects. They all also discuss the lack of data supporting the annual guidelines and suggest alternative ideas regarding the timing of vaccines, which vaccines to vaccinate for and titers testing. Titers testing is a laboratory test measuring the existence and level of antibodies to a disease in the blood. Antibodies are produced when an antigen (like a virus or bacteria) provokes a response from the immune system. This response can come from natural exposure or from vaccination. The amount and diversity of antibodies correlates to the strength of the body's immune response. That said, titers teting has limitations and a positive or negative titers test is not a clear cut answer as to whether your horse or dog is protected.
Some Questions to Consider When Deciding on A Vaccination Schedule and Consulting with Your Vet
My purpose in writing about current common vaccine practices and thoughts is to enable a healthy debate and free exchange of information so each horse owner can make an informed decision about what is best for their horse’s health and well-being. Vaccines can be a very beneficial tool to fight disease. I am in no way suggesting that horse owners should stop vaccinating their horses.
There is no one size fits all answer as to how often your horse needs to be vaccinated and with what vaccines. Sadly, there is little research on this complex issue. So, stay informed on this topic and talk to your vet and other vets too!
What is your opinion? Do you think horses are being over vaccinated? Why or why not? Has your horse ever had a bad reaction to a vaccine?
It is time for your horse’s vaccinations. A vet is coming to the barn in the morning to vaccinate your horse and many others in the barn. You plan to go out to the barn in the evening knowing your horse may be a bit under the weather, but not expecting anything serious. When you arrive, you find your horse standing in the corner with his head hung low. When he turns around, you see a white stringy substance oozing from his eyes, and they are bloodshot and glassy. He is hot to the touch and just looks generally miserable. You decide to take his temperature. It is 102.9 degrees F (Fahrenheit). Since horses can have a normal resting temperature range of 99-101 degrees F, is this a high fever?
You go out to the pasture to get your horse and bring her in for the evening. As you approach, you notice a cut on your horse’s chest and a fair amount of blood though the wound does not appear to be bleeding too much at the moment. Your horse does not really want to move, but eventually she starts to walk back to the barn with you. You call the vet. She asks: What is your horse’s heart rate? Do you know why your vet asked what your horse’s heart rate is? Do you know how check your horse’s heart rate? (Technically pulse and heart rate are two related but different vital signs, but for most people they are referring to the same thing.)
In Scenario #1, you will only know if this is a high fever if you have previously taken your horse’s temperature at rest when he/she was healthy. If your horse’s normal resting temperature is 99 F, then 102.9 F is a lot more cause for concern than if your horse’s normal resting temperature is 101 F.
In Scenario #2, the answer is your vet is concerned about shock. Shock essentially means that something is preventing your horse’s body from delivering adequate blood supply to the tissues. This can be the result of an acute trauma and resultant blood loss. Also, a horse that has been sick for several days can go into shock. While the signs and symptoms of shock can vary, a rapid heart rate is usually present.
These scenarios are unfortunately not uncommon. There are many more common scenarios as well such as colic, getting a limb stuck in a fence, equine influenza, and trailering related accidents, including loading and unloading, just to name a few. Also, for some reason, things often seem to happen at 10pm in the evening, so your call to the vet starts with, “I am so sorry to bother you this late at night, but my horse…..”
It is extremely helpful to your vet when your description of the situation includes your horse’s vital signs. It can help him or her assess the severity and urgency of the situation, and potentially literally save your horse's life!
In short, I believe it is essential that every horse owner, including teenagers, know how to take their horse’s temperature, heart rate (pulse), and respiration rate as well as know how to listen for gut sounds and assess their horse’s mucous membranes to look for additional signs of shock and/or illness.
Here is chart of the common equine vital signs and how to take them. This chart is also available in a free downloadable PDF on the Holistic Horse Bodyworks/Stretch Your Horse Helpful Links page.
Common Mistakes in Taking Vital Signs
Be aware of these common errors that can occur when taking your horse's vitals.
Practice taking your horse’s vital signs often so you know what is normal and so that taking them becomes second nature to you. Doing so can literally save your horse’s life!
Be sure to download, print out and bring the free PDF Equine Vital Signs chart to the barn. Post it where everyone can see it. Spread the word that knowing your horse's vitals.... and how to take them.... is vital!
Have you ever taken your horse's vitals? How often do you take them?
Comment below or post your comments on the Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
Have You Thought About How Hard Your Horse's Amazing Leg's Work? Do-It-Yourself Rejuvenation Leg Treatment
Sea Salt Is A Rock Star....
Everyone could use a rejuvenating spa treatment and stretches for their own legs. Now you can do this for your horse! Here’s how….
You don’t have to search hard on the web to find many articles and a study by the National Institutes of Health singing the praises of Sea Salt Therapy in humans. In fact, it is one of the hottest spa trends. Even the mainstream media is reporting on the benefits of sea salt therapy including: relief of muscle cramps, anti-inflammatory properties leading to decreased arthritis symptoms, skin and dental benefits, and asthma relief just to name a few. Guess what?? Hippocrates (the father of medicine) discovered the benefits of sea salt back in 460 BC. (NOTE: There is a big difference between organic sea salt and processed white table salt. Processed white table salt has almost no beneficial minerals left in it. Do NOT use it for the treatment discussed below.)
So, what does this have to do with horses? A lot! Read on….
Did you know that 65-70% of your horse’s weight is carried by the front legs? Have you ever stopped and thought about how amazing all 4 of your horse’s relatively small legs are? They carry around 1000-1400 pounds on average (horse + rider) and jump, navigate obstacles, do sliding stops and spins, cow sort, navigate hills and trails, perform dressage moves and so much more! That’s pretty impressive! All this hard work and stress can cause the legs to have small (or not so small) amounts of inflammation, become tired and build up toxins. The legs are also prone to injury.
Give your horse's hard working legs the TLC and special attention they deserve! Say THANK YOU to your horse. Here’s an easy Do-It-Yourself Deluxe Leg "sea salt spa treatment” designed especially for horses!
**Use sea salt for even more benefit than the rock salt mentioned in the article
In addition to the deluxe sea salt leg treatment, there are also 3 great leg stretches you can do with your horse. They are:
Here is a picture and description of each stretch. (Muscle names provided for anatomy geeks, but you don't need to know the names to learn to do these stretches.)
These stretches are all available as individual instructional videos also known as “in app purchases” in the Stretch Your Horse Mobile App. The App costs only $2.99 and comes with 3 videos. Each individual stretching video costs only $1.99. So, for only $11, you can learn to safely and effectively stretch your horse’s legs any time, any where even if you do not have cell service or an internet connection. This is less than half the cost of the average bag of grain and a fraction of the cost of a vet or bodyworker bill!
If you have never bought an app, don't worry! Contact Support@StretchYourHorse.com and we will guide you through the easy process.
#RejuvenateHorseLegs and Get Your Horse Stretch On!
Tell us your spa treatment and leg stretching stories! Comment here or on our Facebook page.
Is Your Horse Girthy or Cinchy? Top Reasons and Key Girth/Cinch Selection Considerations and Solutions
There is no single correct way to load the dishwasher. That probably seems like an odd way to start a blog post regarding how to help solve the problem of the girthy or cinchy horse. Translated, it means that like all things horse related, there is no single girth or cinch solution that works for every horse. A girth or cinch that works for one horse will not work for another horse. I have no doubt that some riders will agree with the information and tools provided here and others will disagree and post contrary experiences. That is all good! Let’s get the discussion going and solve this painful problem!
My goal in writing this blog post is threefold:
When fastening and tightening the girth/cinch, the most common symptoms of pain are**:
There has been a tendency to write these symptoms off as "bad behavior." In most cases, it is not. The horse is in real pain. Horses are smart. They know pain coming when they see it, and they know it when they feel it. Humans are no different. When was the last time you had a medical or dental procedure you knew would hurt or it was hurting and you sat there calmly without exhibiting any outward sign of concern, dread or pain?
I have been privileged to help many owners/riders solve this problem, and these symptoms are the ones that most commonly present. I often hear stories of riders being concerned about these symptoms, sometimes for years, but they do not know what to do about it. So, let’s dive into this further and learn some causes and solutions.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Girth/Cinch Pain?
While there is no set of 100% conclusive scientific data regarding what causes a horse to be girthy or cinchy, based on my experience and observations and those of fellow bodyworkers, saddle fitters and vets I have discussed this with, I believe the most common causes are:
The good news is that most of these causes can be addressed. The key to fixing the problem is taking a three pronged approach: 1) Select the right girth/cinch for your horse; AND 2) Address any muscular and skeletal issues that have been caused by the “offending” girth/cinch; AND 3) Tighten the girth/cinch correctly. Without addressing all 3 prongs, you may not be 100% successful in solving this very real and very painful problem. NOTE: If you believe your horse has an underlying medical issue such as ulcers, that must be addressed first. Contact your vet for assistance. Otherwise, you will not get a true read when you select a different girth/cinch.
Selecting the Right Girth/Cinch For Your Horse
There are 4 main factors to take into account when selecting a girth/cinch for your horse. These include:
Here are some specific considerations and questions so you can assess your current girth/cinch and start to look for a new one if needed:
Proper Girth/Cinch Tightening
This is very simple. Slowly tighten the girth/cinch. Do not “yank it up” all in one swift motion. Buckle it loosely at first. Hand walk your horse a bit, and then SLOWLY tighten it. Do not make it too tight. I have actually seen a horse fall down and almost “pass out” when girth was fastened too tight and too swiftly. Of course you want to ride safely, but a girth/cinch that is too tight is not safe for your horse. It also may be a sign that you are compensating for poor saddle fit or an incorrect saddle pad, both of which can cause girth/cinch pain.
Selecting A Different Girth/Cinch
As I said at the beginning of this is blog post, there is no single correct answer. Every horse is different. You may have to try a few different girths or cinches. In general, my advice is that if your horse is girthy or cinchy, padded leather and natural fleece are good options to try. But, you must be sure you cannot feel the buckles, seams or lumps and bumps when you pinch the girth/cinch between your thumb and fingers and run your hands down it. Even new ones must be tested.
How Can I Get More Information About How to Check Out My Girth/Cinch and Find A Solution?
The Stretch Your Horse Mobile App contains a video on Tips and Solutions For the Girthy Horse and a video on Tips and Solutions For the Cinchy Horse. Each of the videos contains an extensive discussion of the following items:
What kind of girth or cinch are you using? Share your girth and cinch experiences by commenting here or visiting our Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.
Saddle Shims: What and Why…. A Quick Explanation
A saddle shim is a piece of material, typically felt or foam, that is used to help ensure proper saddle fit. Ideally, shims are not necessary because the saddle fits without them. However, in reality, horses, like humans, have various muscular and skeletal asymmetries, curves in their back, conformational issues, or are “downhill.” This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the saddle to fit properly without a shim.
One Size Does Not Fit All
When I am fitting saddles and open up my large gym bag full of shims, my 2 legged clients are often surprised, and my 4 legged clients are very happy to see the large variety. I have shoulder shims, center shims and rear shims (and combination shims such as center/rear.) I have multiple thicknesses for each shim and multiple shapes (length and width.) For example, I have over 12 different shoulder shims as depicted in the image below! This is important because the shim thickness, shape and the material it is made from must be taken into account to ensure the saddle fit issue is addressed and no new issues are created.
Think about buying an orthotic for your shoe. First, an analysis of your foot must be done. Then, the orthotic's size, shape, contour and thickness is determined.
Determining what type of shim is needed is similar. The saddle fit issue must be carefully and methodically analyzed. Then, I select the correct shape, thickness and shim material. Finally, I test it by having the rider ride with it in place.
3 Very Common Shim Use Cases (Among Many!)
1) Did you know that 60-70% of horses have asymmetrical shoulders? This means one shoulder is shaped differently than the other. It does not mean the horse is “defective.” (It is similar to the fact that one leg is often longer than the other in humans.) Check out our Facebook post from March 1st to learn how to check out your horse’s shoulders. While exercises can be done to try to address shoulder asymmetries and the hooves should also be checked, most of the time, a shim is needed on the sloped or less developed shoulder so the saddle stays level and does not tip to one side. If a shim is not used, this can cause pain, muscle damage and even lameness for the horse AND the rider! Also, the horse will not move forward freely and easily and have difficulty doing his/her job.
2) Use of a center shim to address bridging, meaning where is a gap in contact along the mid-back, is also not uncommon. This can occur on one or both sides. If the bridge is large, a better fitting saddle with a different tree shape is often well advised.
3) Rear shims may be an option if the saddle is not level and needs to be raised a small amount in the back. (This should not be confused with the saddle rocking front to back and not having even contact across the horse's back for English saddles. Shims usually cannot fix this.)
Again, for each shim use case, correct shim shape, thickness and material is critical for success.
Where Should the Shim Be Placed, and How Does It Stay in Place?
The shim needs to be placed in the specific area(s) needing attention. That often means a specific type of saddle pad is needed that can accommodate different shim sizes, shapes and materials. The pad also needs to keep the shim in place so it does not move. Some saddle pads do not have pockets or an envelope that can accommodate shims. Others have pre-formed and pre-placed pockets that may or may not be in the right place for your horse. Skito pads are an excellent choice when shims are needed (and even if shims are not needed.)
The bottom line… Shims are a very important and useful tool to help ensure proper saddle fit. Used correctly, they can be invaluable. However, they are not a magical cure for an improperly fitting saddle. My suggestion is to seek assistance from an experienced saddle fitting professional. Check out our saddle fitting page for additional saddle fitting information and key questions to ask when hiring a saddle fitter.
Please take our anonymous 4 question short shim survey:
Results will be published on our Facebook page and website.
Tell us…. Do you use a shim(s) and why?
We all know that our leg is a key method of communication with our horse. Our seat, hands and fingers are very important too.
Ilene Nessenson, JD, Certified Equine Bodyworker, is the creator of the Stretch Your Horse App. She has been an equine bodyworker, saddle fitter, and saddle reflocker for over 11 years.
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