Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Six Steps To A Fit Horse

Although the weather in Georgia continues to frustrate me trying to get my horses fit for the upcoming show season, or in the case of the youngsters, ready for serious training, a concentrated effort to avoid injuries is a must.

This year I am showing an older horse, 14 yrs old, in some fairly serious NRHA competition.  It is a balancing act between having  him able to compete with the 5 and 6 yr olds, and keeping him sound.  He has fused hocks and also can be stiff and sore from Osteoarthritis everywhere else!  The best treatment for osteo is to keep the joints moving gently.

The aim with my youngsters is to have their still developing joints and muscles able to tolerate the extreme stresses reining puts on them, while advancing their training ready to compete, without causing damage that will lead to the problems my older horse suffers from.

I have developed a 6 steps program that helps both these categories, as well as any horse expected to compete seriously.

1.  Feed and Supplements:  Access your horse's body weight and start a program that will make sure he is not too fat or too thin..  Horses need muscle mass, and only an adequate feeding program designed around a good quality feed will accomplish this.  I feed Nutrena's Safe Choice to everyone on the farm.  It is a high fat (7%), moderate protein (14%) all in one feed that has all the vitamins and minerals needed.  It has very low carbs which if too high can cause horses to 'heat up' temperament wise.  The slightly greater costs is worth the peace of mind that they are getting everything they need and actually works out less expensive than feeding allot of low quality feed.  I also add a small amount of a rice bran and flax seed supplement called Empower to boost fat content allowing for more slow release energy and endurance.  It is most important to continually adjust the amount of feed depending on work level and condition.  And I mean DAILY if necessary!

2.  Other Vitamins and Supplements:  Every horse on the place gets Electrolytes added to their feed summer and winter.  In winter it keeps them drinking, in summer it keeps them from losing too much condition from sweating.  I then access each horse's need for further supplementation.  For instance the older guy gets a joint supplement to help his osteo.  Another horse gets a mixture that controls his skin allergies.  The show horses, or anyone under stress through illness, get pro- and prebiotics.  I use Smart Packs, which make it easy to be sure every horse is getting exactly the right dose, and they auto ship so I never run out.

3.  Start Slowly!  I always estimate that it takes approximately six weeks to fitten the average horse ready for the show ring.  If he is too fat or too thin it will take longer as his condition needs to be fixed first.  You can't decide on Wednesday that you are going to show your horse on Saturday and expect to get away without a combination of poor performance and possible injury.  The first week I concentrate on walking and long trotting, combined with flexing exercises.  The second week I had some loping, about a half mile each way.  By the 4th week I want to be able to lope at a fairly good rate of speed for 2 miles.  I break it into a mile on each lead, with a 10 minute break between to allow the horse to get his air.  Muscles need oxygen!
One way to measure this is drive the route you are taking and measure it, or if working in an arena get a human jogging meter that measures distance.  I downloaded an app for my phone which tells speed and distance!

4.  Be Consistent:  It is no good riding only on Sat and Sunday and letting them sit in the field all week.  With your work schedules it can be hard to get in the saddle this time of year during the week.  Try to fix your schedule to allow a few minutes of conditioning work either early in the morning or evening.  Set up some lights...a few outdoor lights at the top of plumbing pipe of 15-20 ft at each corner of your arena works great!  15 or 20 minutes of fittening work is all that is needed.  A good walk and long trot around the pasture is better than nothing.  Attempt to ride at least 4 times a week, preferably 5.  Like us, they do need time off to allow any minors aches and pains to heal. 

5.  Get Yourself Fit:  We all could do with being a bit fitter ourselves, and for the sake of our horses we should strive to lose those few extra winter pounds to lighten the load.  Most fit, well built Quarter Horses can safely carry 230 lbs.  This includes tack!  So if you and your tack are over this do everything you can to achieve this goal.  Regardless of your weight, your horse will thank you for establishing a balanced seat, and satisfactory muscle tone to stop you bouncing around on his back.  Barn chores, walking and swimming are ideal exercises to get us more supple and lose those few pounds.  Spend some time each ride doing a few exercises while mounted.  Riding without stirrups, pulling your legs up and balancing on your butt, stretching forward, back and to each stirrups will help us achieve a more balanced seat.

6.  Warm up!  This means you and your horse.  Don't just mount up and gallop off into the sunset!  Do some simple stretching before mounting to loosen up.  After mounting spend at least 5 minutes walking your horse on a loose rein, then another 5 min. long trotting allowing him to stretch forward and down.  You will soon get a feel for when you are both ready to get to some serious work.  Asking a horse to do a spin before warming up is asking for injury and mental breakdown. It is an advanced movement that puts allot of stress on mind and body!  At the end of your ride spend another 5 minutes letting his mind and body recover walking on a long rein.  You will both finish with a feeling of accomplishment and joy no matter how the rest of the ride went!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

My RA is not Your (or your friend's) RA

Steve, my husband, and I have been talking allot about our frustrations with this disease lately.  We both are working along our own steps toward acceptance, and it is a hard frustrating experience.

One stumbling block that we have both encountered is the fact that RA doesn't seem to follow a set list of symptoms or progress the same for every sufferer.  If you break your leg, chances are the doctor will xray it, operate on it, set it, and over the next 6-8 weeks it will heal along well known progression of steps.  The antibiotics and the pain killers are usually effective in treating the pain and infection.  In other words, it does what it says on the box!

When I was first diagnosed, (as an adult), I believed that the medicines they advertise on the TV would 'fix' this or at least make life tolerable.  After a few months of researching I began to understand that it is not quite that easy.  The doctors and insurance companies have a tier of care that they treat this disease with, but the disease doesn't realise it needs to cooperate.  I was put on a Biologic; it didn't do anything.  They started me on MTX (chemotherapy) and I am still waiting for some benefit and not just side effects; shortly I'll be on another Biologic---maybe this one will work.  Basically my RA is not responding well to the treatments attempted so far.  Frustrating? What do you think? 

Steve, too, believed the hype of the ads and in the course of his business, has run across others who suffer with RA.  One in particular seems to lead a normal life from the outside!  She was diagnosed almost 10 yrs ago and is well controlled on MTX and predisone.  She works in the family business, at her home, and is always cheerful and happy to the customers who enter her shop.  On the other hand his wife, on the same drugs, cries out in the night in pain, is grumpy when he gets home from work, can't tie her own shoe laces and isn't responding to these drugs.  How can this be?

This is because MY RA IS NOT YOUR RA!  Every patient seems to be affected differently.  For instance, it is believed that RA primarily effects the hands first.  But when you read the onset stories on RA  you see that this is not actually the case.  It is now understood that different components of our immune system are effected by RA and therefore the different Biologic drugs target different aspects of the immune system to suppress.  It is a lottery to figure out which one works the best for each individual.

I also believe one of the biggest causes of confusion is the misunderstanding of the differences between RA and OA. Osteoarthritis (OA) is what your Granny has.  It is caused by wear and tear on the joints.  Most of us will have OA by the time we reach our 50s.  Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that destroys the lining of the joints.  It can affect you at any age.  I was originally diagnosed at 6 yrs old. 

I hope that in the near future I will find the perfect combination of treatment that will prevent days like yesterday.  In the mean time please remember that just because that cream worked for your granny, it may not work for me.  I try to keep my disease in perspective.  By belonging to an online RA community I am very aware that there are folks that are not as badly affected and there are many many more who are allot worse than me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Today I decided to carry on the conversation taking place on another blog, RA Warrior.  Many people diagnosed with a chronic illness like RA suffer from feeling of guilt due to their disease.  This guilt usually stems from feelings of not being productive enough in their lives, and letting down children, spouses and friends.

Of course, logically we know that this disease is not our fault.  But society has set a standard that we have to live up to, and having RA means that rarely can we make the grade.  It is very frustrating to go from being a successful business woman, active mother and prize winning athlete to needing a disabled parking badge to do the weekly grocery shopping.

Those both living with a chronic illness and friends and family supporting them should ask a simple question of themselves.  Did we (or they) ask for this disease?  Of course not!  So why should you feel guilty?  Or why should you make someone you love feel guilty?  If you were diagnosed with cancer would you feel guilty?  Sad, angry, frustrated and frightened, perhaps.  

Do I feel guilty about having RA?  No, not really.  The further down this road I travel, the less guilt I feel.  Being made to feel guilty by my family and friends is what I battle against everyday.  Almost from the first I have had to defend myself with statements like "This is not my fault" or "I didn't ask for this".
I feel frustration that I can not achieve the things I want to achieve and anger that all my plans for the future are not possible.

My real friends understand, whether they have RA or not.  Allot of the anger expressed by those who do not is frustration on their part, and something they will have to come to terms with, or walk away.

I say to myself a hundred times a day....I'll do what I can, and what doesn't get done, oh well, maybe
tomorrow will be better.

Love and guilt free days to you all...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cold Weather Care For Your Horses

Down here in sunny Georgia we rarely have to worry to much about very cold weather and snowy icy conditions.  Today is an exception though, and this is what makes it dangerous for our four legged friends.

Most horses, except the old, very young or ill, can cope with cold temperatures provided that they have grown warm woolly coats.  The danger comes when it is also wet.  Snow, freezing rain and sleet bring a whole new game to the ballpark.  If you have a stable or run in shed bring your horses in.  I don't have enough stalls for all my guys, so I have even doubled some up to keep them out of this weather.  The two colts are sharing, and Zero and Hochie, who love each other are sharing the run in shed.

If you don't have access to a stall or shed get to Tractor Supply and buy them a waterproof blanket.  You will need to get their coats as dry as possible before putting it on but this will help keep them from getting chilled.  If you put a blanket on a wet coat you could cause fungal skin conditions to develop, as fungus loves warm wet conditions to grow.  Dry them with old towels and handfuls of hay or straw to draw out the moisture.  A quick way to do this is pack loads of hay under a fleece throw and put the waterproof on top.  After an hour or so remove the now damp fleece.

The most important thing is to remember WATER!  Most of the hay we feed does not have a high moisture content and needs allot of water to keep it from impacting in their gut. Once an hour go out and break the ice off of the troughs and buckets.  Invest in a safe water trough heater if you have access to electricity.  Topping off the troughs and buckets with warm water from the house, and even adding molasses to it, will encourage them to drink.  I also add electrolytes to their feed to keep them wanting to drink.  If you don't have electrolytes, add 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to their feed.  Don't trust they are going to use their salt or mineral blocks this time of year.  Most horses that colic in the winter do so because they don't drink enough water to keep their guts hydrated!

Check that you are feeding good quality horse hay.  The hay should be sweet smelling, green and long stemmed.  Short stemmed hay adds to the impaction risk.  Having free range hay to munch on also keeps horses warm by keeping their metabolism active.  Feeding large round bales is ok if you have a hay ring to stop them urinating and defecating on it.  Otherwise feed it by unrolling it and giving it to them.  This prevents allot of wastage and makes sure they are eating clean hay.  If you have minis, foals or donkeys, or calves make sure you lay the round roles on their sides!!!  Every year numerous small equines are crushed by bales falling over on them as they eat from the bottom!!

Everyone stay warm and safe and look after those babies in this nasty weather!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bridless Riding

I have had the privilege to spend the last 3 days at Darling Farm in Princetown, KY, hosted by NRHA Professional Horseman Keith Tidmore, his fiance Michelle, and the rest of his fantastic team.  They have recently relocated to the old Hilldale Farm, and under the new ownership of Ricky Darling, are in the process of developing a training and breeding establishment that will be the envy of the horse world.

The highlight of my stay was the chance to see ridden and to ride the AQHA stallion Tuckers Lil Playboy.  He has earned over $40,000 NRHA and 24 AQHA points.  He is by Elans Playboy out of  Pocita Senorita by Smart Chic Olena.

After being warmed up by Michelle, they asked if I would like to ride him.  Despite the fact that I was in extreme pain with inflammation from RA, I immediately took them up on the offer.  After loping a few fast and slow circles, backing up and turning him around (spins), Keith asked if I was really, really brave.  Well, in reality, I'm not!  In fact up until earlier last year I wouldn't have dreamed of mounting a horse that I hadn't ridden a 1000 times.  Thanks to RA my attitude has changed though, because who knows if I will ever get the opportunity to do these things again.  Better do it today because tomorrow I may not be able to. So I lied, and said I was really, really brave! 

Keith stepped up and removed his bridle!  He hung it on the saddle horn and handed me a rein passed under Playboys neck.  He instructed me to ride with my legs and weight and do all the same things I had just done.  I walked off, then stopped him and backed him to make sure I could, then we were off into a fast lope!  What an exhilarating feeling to trust the horse so much!  He could have done anything he wanted but he loped circles like he was on rails.  Slid to a stop, backed 20 steps and spun right and left like the Champion he is!

I will never forget that feeling as long as I live.  Thank you Keith and Playboy for opening my eyes to both my ability and confidence which lurks somewhere underneath! 

Allie has ridden Trigger Bridleless before, and who knows, maybe I'll give it a go on him.  Here I come Stacy Westfall!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Controversial! Why do you REALLY want to rehome your dog?

Working in the pet industry really opens my eyes to the selfishness of people! (I warned you this was controversial!)  Every day I see something about people who need to rehome their dogs for a variety of reasons.  Number Uno seems to be moving.  Why?  I worked in real estate for 3 years and am very familiar with the laws and rules some rental properties have for pets, but with a bit of effort you can find accommodation that allows pets of all shapes and sizes.  Sure, most will require a pet deposit, and you might have to spend some money on a fence, but a dog (or cat) is for life not just a whim.  They consider themselves part of your family (pack), and will be heartbroken to be banished from their family.  They do have feelings, maybe not human feelings, but feelings nonetheless. 

When you choose to bring a dog into your home and make it part of your family you should consider the future, not just today or tomorrow.  Just like having a human baby.  Do you rehome your child because it will mess up the carpets in the fancy home you want to move to? 

Spend some time and effort when hunting for a new home for yourself.  Make sure your whole family will be comfortable there.  Maybe it is 5 minutes further from work, or has laminate floors instead of carpet.  But accommodating a dog when you move is the deal you made with that dog when you rescued it, bought it, were given it, etc.  You should have thought of that before you said yes.  Now you have a responsibility to provide it with a home, not destroy it's trust in human kind by dumping it on someone else, or worse yet dumping it at the pound!

No one HAS to move to one particular place, unless you just joined the Marines!  Stop, look, and rent a place that will allow your pet!

Peanut's Story

We had 8 dogs, the last thing we needed was another one.  Until I spotted Peanut.  While traveling to the hospital to visit my son on a chilly Sunday morning I first saw a small puppy running up and down the verge of the highway on the opposite side of the road about a 100 yards in front of me.  I just knew he was going to run across the road in front of me so I started slowing down.  Coming in the other direction was a Dodge pickup truck, and despite flashing my headlights at him he never slowed down.  Just as the truck drew even with the puppy he darted out under the wheels.  I was horrified and closed my eyes because I was convinced he was going to be squashed right in front of me.  By this time I was nearly level with the truck, braking hard.  Lo and behold, the little puppy came out from under the wheels straight to my now open door!  I scooped him up and he was shaking and crying.

So here I was with a 8-10 week old Jack Russell mix sitting in the middle of the road.  I started hugging him and looked for a turning to get off the road while deciding what to do.  A few yards further was a turn to a neighborhood.   I knew Steve would not be overjoyed at welcoming another one of my rescues into our already overcrowded home, so I decided to look for his owners.  Maybe this was a much loved puppy who had gotten out of his yard.  Except when I examined him he was skinny with a wormy pot belly and crawling with fleas.  Not 'much loved'!  I drove up and down the neighborhood looking for someone looking for their dog, but no one was about.  I could see no dogs behind the few fenced yards on the road.  Then a lady came toward me in a car and I flagged her down.  On being shown the puppy she said she had seen three children walking toward the road being followed by this puppy and a few others. The children did not acknowledge the dogs or the danger they were putting them in.

My mind was made up!! I rang Steve, who just sighed when I promised I would find him a home, and carried on to the hospital.  I left Peanut sitting in the passenger seat while I went in to see the doctor.  An hour later he was still sitting right where I left him.  On arrival at the house, he was immediately dumped into the kitchen sink and scrubbed with flea shampoo, which I don't normally recommend for such a young puppy, but he was so infested I had no choice.  I also stuffed a tiny piece of Heart Guard down his throat and gave him a 7 in 1 shot.  Poor guy was shaking and scared to death but seemed to know we were trying to help him.  After settling him in a cage wrapped in a blanket he slept all day and ate loads.

He was immediately house trained, in fact he was scared to come onto the porch.  He looked like he had been chased off the porch and made to stay away from the house.

Two months later...he sleeps between his Mummy and Daddy cuddled up to one of us, right above Tilly, another Found dog.  He talks to us in little  squeaky noises and catches at least a mouse a day!  I have been told by someone familiar with the breed that he is a Feist.  It is a Southeastern type of dog bred to hunt squirrels.  All I know is he is adorable and sweet and so thankful to have people who love him. 

So now we have 9 dogs!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What I Learned Yesterday!

Training in earnest started this week on Mitch, my Quarter Horse gelding , who turned 3 yrs old yesterday.  All horses have their birthday on Jan. 1st, so although Mitch's real birthday isn't until April, he will be competing this year in the NRHA Futurities held throughout the Southeast.

Up until Monday he had been ridden in a snaffle for is basic training as a 2 year old but it is now time to advance to a shanked snaffle to prepare him for a curb bit later this year.  In two days he went from being the calmest most accepting colt I have ever had the joy to work with into a stubborn head shaking demon that scared the heck out of me!  Although Allie, his jockey, felt we could work through the problem, I was envisioning having to sell him!  He would bend easily to the right but would throw a major tantrum if asked to bend left in a turn around and start pitching his head and almost rearing.  When we got back to the barn Friday evening I was hugging him and looked down and saw a welt and blood on his lip just where the bit rests!

I checked the bit and realised that where the mouth piece of the snaffle met the shanks was very narrow and not completely smooth.  It was obviousely pinching him on the left side. Poor baby!  Yesterday we went back into the snaffle and had no problems at all.  He was happy to bend both ways, ears forward and very relaxed. And boy can he spin!

So LESSON OF THE DAY!  If a horse suddenly starts acting out of character check for pain first! Check your tack and his body for the problem before you blame his behaviour!  I know THIS, yet I didn't check!!
and NEVER try to save money by buying the cheapest!