Archive for Body

Just “Be”

Just "being" themselves.

Just “being” themselves.

Rehabbing retired senior horses can easily become a full-time job. Being such large animals, the average horse weighs 1000 – 1200 lbs., and needs a lot of space. They eat 20 lbs. of hay per day and pass 10 manure piles per day. Everything about them is on a large scale.

When a horse reaches maturity, they are incredibly powerful animals. It’s no accident that they talk about “horse power” in a car. Over the centuries they have done many jobs for humans, from farming and transportation to war. Today they’re even being used to help humans in emotional and physical therapy.

They are so versatile, and can do so many things for us. Because of that, one important question is easy to overlook: Who are they?

I recall a story of a woman who had been involved with horses for 30 years, riding different disciplines. Not until she took in a “grumpy” retired service horse did she realize she did not know what to do to help him. He was always unhappy, pinning his ears. Desperate to find a solution to his unhappiness, she stepped outside her box of 30 years and found a body work practitioner who had a different skill set.

After this horse’s body work session she learned some techniques to do with him to help him feel better in his body. Over time, this horse’s demeanor completely changed. His happiness returned. He no longer pinned his ears.

The experience changed her life. She said that in all of her 30 years of experience with horses, she never knew them, until now. A door had been opened into the world from the horse’s point of view.

With everything horses do for us, whether riding or therapy work, it’s easy to forget that they are sentient beings who have their own horse life that is different than ours.

The next time you see your horse, take a moment and pause in the midst of everything you need to do and just be. Experiment with a few minutes of doing nothing and just being in the presence of your horse. I’d love to hear what you learn.

Reading the Ears

If a horse pins its ears, that is, lays them back against its head, what is the first thought that comes to your mind? Is he angry? Grumpy? Annoyed? Feels crowded?

While we may make judgments about what we think the horse is saying, the fact is, we really don’t know for sure, and we don’t know why he’s saying whatever it is he’s saying. Solving this communication mystery, without judging the horse, will open doors to a whole new world.

I recently did a horse camp for my 8 year-old niece, and before she got on to ride, I asked Chaco, my horse, to circle me at the walk a few laps each direction. He was responsive, so then I asked for the trot. The moment he picked up the trot he laid his ears back, and they stayed back.

I stopped and walked over to my niece and asked, “What happened to his ears when I asked for the trot?”

“They went back?” she asked.

“Yes, they did. What does that mean?”

“He’s unhappy?”

“That could be. Something isn’t right, and he’s letting us know. The mystery is we don’t know what it is. The only way to find out is to try different things until his ears don’t go back anymore. He could just be stiff, and maybe after a few more circles of trot he’ll loosen up and his ears will go back to a forward position. Let’s see what happens.”

I sent him again a few laps each way, stopped and then walked over to my niece.

“What did you see?”

“His ears were still back.”

“What do you think he’s trying to tell us?”

With a quizzical look on her face and thinking really hard as to what it could be, she said hesitantly, “It’s too fast.”

“That’s a great idea. Let’s try having him walk out and see what happens.”

So I sent Chaco in a forward walk a few laps each way, and then stopped and went back to my niece.

“What did you see?”

“He liked it. His ears were forward.”

“Congratulations! You figured out what Chaco was trying to communicate to you. His trust in you to listen to him just went up.”

With Chaco being 33 years old it was completely reasonable that the trot on that small of a circle was uncomfortable for him.

The rest of the day went so well that when she went to leave, Chaco was so relaxed that he ignored his hay and kept both eyes on her. She probably spent at least 15 minutes saying good-bye and giving one more hug several times, and he welcomed them all. It was confirmation for me that she read him correctly when she stuck with the walk.

Because horses spend so little time talking with their vocal chords, it’s imperative to learn to read their primary mode of communication: body language. It’s a silent language, but so powerful. As you start to get the hang of it, a whole new world opens up.

 

Need to Gain Weight? Try Hay Pellets

I recently read an article from www.TheHorse.com, where it mentioned that the drawback to feeding your horse hay pellets was a higher feed utilization. While this may be a drawback for an easy keeper, it is a major plus for a senior horse who is a hard keeper.

With my senior horse coming out of winter slightly underweight on quality hay and pasture alone for the first time in 33 years, I knew he needed some help. As horses age it’s not uncommon for them to not be as efficient with chewing hay, which can also affect digestion and feed utilization.

While my horse was not quidding hay and could still chew hay, the mere fact that he was slightly underweight coming out of winter told me that he needed a little extra help. I also knew that to gain weight, he needed more than the maintenance amount of forage every day.

Since hay pellets have a high feed utilization, I decided to give them a try and added them to his diet. I added 3 lbs. of soaked hay pellets twice per day to his usual hay and pasture. (I soak hay pellets for senior horses because I have had two different seniors choke on non-soaked hay pellets probably due to aging teeth).

My horse enjoyed his soaked pellets. Within one month his ribs had more fat cover, and he was looking much better.

While there are many grain-based feeds on the market for senior horses, sometimes just soaked plain hay pellets are all that’s needed to give a horse the forage they need, in a format they can easily digest, to gain weight.

Please note: If your horse is severely underweight, consult your veterinarian for a specialized re-feeding program. Emaciated horses have special medical needs that a veterinarian can address.

Chronic Stress and Skeletal Maturation

Like people, horses are living, breathing, dynamic creatures. Occasional stress is a part of being alive. We will never be rid of it. Nor do we want to be. It keeps us functioning optimally. But when does stress cross over into being too much and becoming detrimental to our health or our horse‘s health? How do you know? When does it first begin to be a problem?

The following article is a fascinating look at skeletal maturation in horses and its relationship to riding and training methods:  Timing and Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.

When I take in a senior horse to rehab, I usually have no idea what their initial training was like, and how young they were ridden. Many things can be improved or reversed in older horses, but what if the damage was never done in the first place? How much longer would our horses be able to do work if we waited to ride them until they were skeletally mature?

Rehab Timeline

In my ideal world there would be no need for God’s Window Senior Horse Rehab. All horses that spent their lifetime serving humans would get to retire in full health and continue to thrive until they died a natural death.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many senior horses. By the time they come to God’s Window, they are typically run down emotionally and physically. All the decisions, whether good or bad, that were made about their care earlier in their life usually catch up with them, either to help them thrive or to bring about their demise.

The good news is that good nutrition and a natural living environment will do wonders for stopping and reversing the downward spiral. As long as the body is alive, it wants to heal. The question, however, for a run down senior horse is, “Will they live long enough to see full health restored?”

With my first senior horse, yes, he is still going and in good health. When he first came several years ago at the age of 26, everything fell apart in his first year of rehab. The second year he put his body back together. The third year he thrived. He continues to thrive today, and he is 33 years old.

With my second senior horse, no, he died before his full health was restored. While we resolved his chronic diarrhea immediately, it took 3½ years for his coat to no longer be sticky. Arthritis set in in his last 1-2 years of life. Thankfully we found a joint supplement that made a difference, and we saw steady improvement over six months. However, we ran out of time. He died before we saw his complete return to full health.

No matter how old your horses are, or what purpose they serve for you, take a moment and consider how you want their senior years to be. Decisions you make today about their living environment, exercise, hay quality, nutrition, dentistry, chiropractic and any other healing modalities will have a profound impact on their quality of life in their senior years.

The good news is that given the right environment, senior horses can thrive in their golden years. You have the power to make a difference in your senior horse’s life today. If you need help with your senior horse, please contact us.

Underweight Horses

As horses age, so do their needs. What once worked well, may not work anymore. You may be feeding the same as you always have, but suddenly your senior horse isn’t maintaining his weight. Winter is coming and you don’t know if he’ll make it through. Assuming nothing is medically wrong, what can you do?

Horses can consume 1 ½ % – 2% of their body weight per day in forage. For a 1000 lb. horse that’s 15-20 pounds of hay/pasture per day. If your horse is underweight, weigh his hay and make sure he is consuming enough. Sometimes an underweight horse is just not eating enough hay.

If your horse lives in a herd, you may need to separate him at feeding time so you can monitor how much hay he is eating.

In addition, consider high quality hay for your senior horse. As they age, they don’t have the same wiggle room they had when they were younger.

One senior horse I have came to me with his ribs beginning to show. I took him off all grain, and put him on 20 pounds of high quality hay per day. (He is 1100 lbs.) It’s been several years now, and he has been able to maintain his weight on hay and pasture alone.

Another senior horse I have can no longer chew hay, so he gets soaked hay pellets. Again, I feed him 15 pounds of pellets per day. (He is 1000 lbs.). He also maintains his weight well.

While there are other ways to help a horse put on weight, I prefer to start with high quality forage at 1 ½ – 2 % of their body weight. Once this need is met, it’s amazing to see how senior horses respond. Sometimes that’s all they needed.

Sample Diet

“Nutrition plays a role in every equine health condition, and the horse’s diet can either support or hinder healing and inflammation.”  – Dr. Doug Herthel, founder of Platinum Performance

My first senior horse, Chaco, came to me cribbing constantly and underweight. He had a history of difficulty keeping weight on.  I knew a good diet was critical to having a chance at the cribbing going away and him being able to maintain his weight.

My first horse the day I picked him up. 26 years old.

My first horse the day I picked him up. 26 years old.

Here’s his daily diet before I owned him:

1. 3 scoops of soaked beat pulp
2. 1 scoop of soaked alfalfa cubes
3. A few scoops of senior horse feed
4. Local western Washington hay
5. Some pasture turnout in summer

Here’s his daily diet I switched him to when I got him:

1. 20 lbs. timothy/orchard grass mix hay (from eastern Washington)
2. 2 lbs. eastern Washington alfalfa hay
3. 24/7 pasture turnout
4. Mineral supplement
5. Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation during the non-growing season

 

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Six years in to his new diet. Age 32.

 

*I got rid of the local western Washington hay. It had a poor nutritional profile.

*I got rid of the senior horse feed. It was grain based. Not only did grain cause Chaco to crib, but grain is related to numerous health disorders in horses.

*I got rid of the beat pulp. While beat pulp can be a source of fiber, I wanted to see if just feeding him high quality hay would take care of his nutritional needs.  (It did).

*I added a powdered mineral supplement to balance the nutritional profile of the hay.

*I supplemented omega 3 fatty acids in the non-growing season.  During the growing season, grass has omega 3 fatty acids. If the horse doesn’t have grass, then supplement the omega 3 fatty acids.  Sunflower seeds, ground flax seed, flax oil or hemp oil all have omega 3 fatty acids.

Today, his constant cribbing has stopped.  He can maintain his weight on hay and pasture alone.  And an added bonus is his silky soft coat. It is so soft and luxurious I can’t get enough of it. What’s the secret? The diet.

Are you having health problems with your own horse?  Take a close look at the diet. Good nutrition will only support your horse’s overall health.

 

Skin and Coat Issues

A bare spot covering half of his ear, a winter coat that shed leaving bare spots of skin because the summer coat was slow to come in. My first year of horse ownership was full of surprises. I had know this 26 year-old gelding for several years before I owned him, and I didn’t recall these odd skin and coat issues.

 

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Bare spot on ear.

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Summer coat slow to come in behind shedding winter coat.

 

 

 

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Moth-eaten appearance around head.

 

 

My holistic vet assured me to not read too much into these coat issues because I had just dramatically improved his diet, changed his environment to a herd on acreage, and gave him regular exercise. For the first time in a long time this horse’s needs were put first and being met. With those changes alone, his body needed time to adjust and respond to the improvements. It’s also not uncommon for a body to unwind old patterns before making new ones.

She suggested I let a full year play out and see if the bare spot on his ear goes away on its own, and if he sheds more normally next spring. In addition, other than his moth-eaten appearance, he seemed to be in good health. His eyes were bright. He had energy, and got along well with his pasture mate.

Sure enough, the following spring he shed normally. The summer coat was right behind the winter coat as it shed. The following winter the bare spot on his ear completely filled in and was normal.

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No more bare spot on ear two winters later.

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No more bare spot on his ear the following winter.

Does your horse have odd skin and coat issues going on? If so, for a long-term solution, look at the quality of the diet first, along with the environment he lives in and the exercise he gets. All of these areas contribute to the overall health of a horse. If any of these areas are lacking, it’s not uncommon for skin and coat issues to show up.

How do you know for sure if that’s the cause? You don’t, until you make the changes and then see what happens over the course of the next 1-2 years. If the problem is still there, then something else is going on. However, as in the case of my first horse, a year later the skin problems were gone, and all I had changed was his diet, along with environment and exercise.

Like anything worthwhile, there are no short-cuts. It is an investment of time and money. When your horse feels better and better as he ages, and you both are still around to enjoy each other’s company, it’s worth every penny.  Take a chance. Invest in a high quality diet for your horse.  Evaluate his living environment and exercise.  You only have something wonderful to gain.

Hair Coat Color and Nutrition

100_0642Have you ever seen a black horse with reddish colored hairs in its mane or tail?  Or how about a black horse with areas in its coat where instead of black, it is faded and brown?  What’s going on?

Typically, these coat color changes are associated with nutritional deficiencies.  A healthy coat on a black horse will be all black with no “faded” areas.

The picture on the right is an example of fading in a black coat.  Also notice the reddish hairs in the tail.  If I see this in a horse, I want to take a close look at the diet to make sure the horse is getting all the nutrients it needs.  (Sometimes the horse is being fed a nutritionally balanced diet, but another problem is going on and the body can’t absorb all the nutrients).

As long as a body is alive it wants to heal itself.  Proper nutrition supports the body in this endeavor.  When a horse lacks good nutrition the body will use whatever nutrients it does have where it is most needed for its survival.  The coat is the last place the body will spend nutrients.  A really healthy horse has enough nutrients to go around to maintain a spectacular coat as well.

Senior horses can thrive in their golden years, but it requires a good diet.  Taking a nutrition class or consulting an equine nutritionist is well worth the effort.  If you are short on time, Platinum Performance offers quality supplements.  They have an equine nutritionist on staff and advisors to answer your questions.    Your horse will thank you, and you will have more wonderful years to spend with your horse.