Monday, January 29, 2018

In Response to a Bad Ride

We all think that we are doing right by our horses, according to our own individual training philosophies. When we train with an equine professional in a sport that is reputed as having high standards and intense, standardized tests, we feel comforted that we are "on the right track" and that, if and when we make mistakes, we will at the very least be called out on our ways by official judges and set right again. 
Even trainers and riders who ride without the close supervision of a clinician or coach will nearly always compete, and when it comes down to it competition is just a way of checking in to say "Look at what I can do, correctly and well!" to which a judge can simply reply, through means of scores, either with an affirmative, or a definitive "not so much..." 

After seeing Ms. Browning's videoed ride and name being dashed against the rocks of internet criticism this week, I can't help but offer my two cents. 

We are all in this for the connection we find with our horses, whether it is in great feats of a string of nine tempis down the centerline that you and your horse complete with harmony, to music, in front of an FEI judge, or in the soft nuzzle of greeting that your muddy horse offers you when you go to their field in the morning. It feels so good to achieve a connection and bond with our horses no matter where it takes us. 

When bullying occurs to the level that I witnessed on the internet this week, I have to ask: what are those who are doing the bullying, criticizing and sideline judging actually doing to change the system so that this kind of riding can no longer happen? 

How many of them are quietly paying their dues to organizations that don't respond accordingly when a national level event displays a rider in such disharmony? Ms Browning went home with a score of 51.765% and a second place ribbon at Intermediare 2. Her next two rides apparently were eliminated and scratched, for reasons undisclosed. She struggled through her test, as the lovely Axel Steiner provided kindly critical commentary for those watching at home. You could hear the measure in his voice, and the careful choosing of words as he tactfully navigated describing a test that one might have called "choppy waters" at best. There were many moments I found myself scowling, or cringing, but more than anything I felt an overwhelming sadness. 

I am sad because we have no one to blame but ourselves for being a part of a sport that glamorizes the upper levels, like they are the be-all and end-all of dressage. I am sad because the horse, and yes the rider, have suffered along - presumably striving for the upper levels, and perhaps dreaming of a USDF gold medal - and along the way her trainers, judges and comrades have obviously supported her in one way or another. 

The desire to succeed, and the widely accepted image of a rider or trainer only succeeding if they make it to these FEI levels, is often the downfall of our sport. Should not we be putting emphasis on the development of feel and skill in the correct basics? The term dressage actually translates, in a way, to the training or dressing of the horse. Think about that for a moment; the actual name of our sport refers to training, not competition or exhibition. 

Perhaps the bullying witnessed is not just a example of typical internet garbage. Perhaps it highlights that the problem with Ms Browning's ride this past week stems from a fundamental problem within the dressage world, and even the equestrian world. 

We should be in this for the deep, trustful connection we form with our horses, and for the joy and harmony that stems from that - for both parties involved. Because we are often competitors in addition to equestrians, we are often faced by our own inadequacies, and, as humans often do, when we are insecure, we lash out. We climb up onto our pedestals as soon as we see an error (or many errors) in another rider, and we exclaim wildly "Well, I never!" 

So I challenge you, today, to think on the overall culture of our sport. Are you the kind of rider who would take to the streets to batter and beat upon a woman for which the system has failed? Or are you the kind of rider to look on with recognition - to see a rider who is struggling outwardly in ways that we often struggle inwardly? I am in no way condoning the treatment of Vorst D in his televised ride this past week, but neither am I condoning the apparent desire of half the dressage queens in the country to jump up and down and shake their fists at the rider. 

What can we do? We can write to our officials; we can pay attention to judges that you see who are lenient on poor riding and seek competitions who utilize other judges; most of all we can strive to do better, and be better examples ourselves. 

Harmony should be the basis of riding, but it should also be the basis for the culture of our sport, and ultimately for life. 
Without harmony, all is lost. 

(If you have not seen the video of Ms Browning's ride, you don't have to seek it out... Just accept that things need to change in our sport.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

It's C-c-c-cold! Making the Most of your Mash

Do you make warm mashes for your horses when the temperatures drop? If not, your horses are really missing out!

A warm mash is a combination of warm water and horse-friendly ingredients, usually fed to them in times of cold weather or other distress (colic, injury, etc.) This sloshy goop can help your horse get some much-needed additional hydration, fiber and supplements any time they might be out of sorts!

The usual base-ingredients for warm mash are brans (such as oat, wheat or rice), hay pellets (such as alfalfa or timothy) and beet pulp. Some people just make a mash with their horse's usual feed, and many people add oils or supplements! As with all nutrition, each ingredient has its own pros and cons.

Here are four ways you can improve your warm mash:
  • Add salt or electrolytes to the mash to improve your horse's hydration!
    I add sea salt to my horses' feed daily when the weather is cold, but adding a bit more to their mash will encourage them to hydrate even more.
  • Make a hot pot of your favorite horse-friendly herbal tea and use that for your mash!
    My favorite herbs for this are: Chamomile, Peppermint, Cleavers, Rose hips and Nettles, but you can try any number of herbs. Just make sure they're safe for equine consumption before feeding them. 
  • Add sources of omega-3 fatty acids to your mash, without going too heavy on the omega-6's.
    My favorites for this are flax seed and chia seed, but there are others. There are even companies that make fish oil for equine consumption; I've used Kentucky Performance Product's "Contribute" oil for rehab horses with great success. I do occasionally give my horses a handful of black oil sunflower seeds because they are high in vitamin E, but they are also high in omega-6, so I keep it to a handful or so.
    Here is a great wikipedia article containing information on Omega 3 and 6 ratios in common foods:
  • Do a bit of reading on the ingredients in your mash.
    A few of my school horses have tummy troubles, so I make their mash out of organic alfalfa pellets (no glyphosates as with the GMO alfalfa) with a handful of Oat Bran (available by special order in 50lb bags from my local bulk store) because it has soothing properties on the foregut. The oat bran can upset the hindgut if used in high quantities, so I do tend to add some chia and a pre/probiotic supplement with yeasts to help support the hindgut. 
Feeding your horses mash is a great way to improve their morale (and yours) in this cold, cold, cold weather.

What are some other ways you use to stay positive during the winter doldrums? 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Having Faith in the Horse Beneath You

This past weekend I was working on flying changes with my young gelding, Bertie. I had an introduction to them earlier this year, under the supervision of a talented clinician, and have felt a bit nervous to get to work on them. I can become so paralyzed by the fear of messing up a nice young horse, at times, so I admit I've been sticking to my comfort zone a bit. Flying changes, with grace, are still a bit of a "big kid" move, and I feel like I mentally set myself at the little kids table all too often.

Warm up went smoothly, and I felt we had really synced up for the ride so I decided this was it; it was time to really get down to business on the changes.

The first time I asked for it I expected some difficulty, as we hadn't touched them in nearly 2 months. I took him across the diagonal, felt no change, and started to do a fairly strong half halt on the outside rein as I swung my outside leg back with all the tact of a neanderthal.

Just as I committed to my ridiculously loud aides, I glanced down and my darling boy had actually switched his lead cleanly and so nicely that I hadn't even felt it. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course by then I had committed to my barbaric aides and could not stop them. My ever-patient partner's only response was to swish his tail and lay his ears back briefly as if to say "I've already done it, dummy!" I apologized and praised and went on with my ride to get two more clean changes (and a couple of fumbles on my part) but since then I have had the phrase "YOU NEED TO HAVE MORE FAITH IN YOUR HORSE" bouncing around in my head in bold type.

Pardon the language, but Hell-Yes I need to have more faith in my horse! He's a star, as are so many horses in our lives. We just need to figure out how to stay out of their way and let them get on with being the incredible, nobel beasties they are. And so, I am going to make "have more faith in your horse" my mantra, this week and try to remember:

A good horse can handle himself, even under a fool of a rider.

--- The Mindful Rider, November 2017 ---

Monday, August 29, 2016

Oil and Glue: Arch Enemies

Did you know that you can remove those pesky little splotches of glue on your leatherwork by dabbing them with oil and wiping them away?  Somewhere along the way I picked up this handy little tidbit for leather working, and it’s worked well any time I’ve had to use it. 

But what happens when too much oil comes in contact with important areas of glue? 

Nothing good, that’s for sure.

I once had a friend bring me a lovely dressage bridle for repair. Some of the stitches were loose on the mass-produced (however high-end) reins and noseband, and she basically wanted me to tidy the whole thing up a bit. When she presented me with the bridle I immediately noticed a shiny goo coating much of the noseband. When I asked her about it, she said that it had been consistently leaking glue ever since she’d gotten it. 

I admit at first I was stumped. I had thought maybe they’d used the wrong type of contact glue when constructing the bridle, or perhaps the heat from being in the car had melted it. Perhaps some overzealous chap had slathered on just a little too much glue, or maybe the padding in the noseband was reacting poorly with the chemical makeup of the adhesive. 

Alas, after some more discussion, I learned that she had soaked the bridle in oil after receiving it from the manufacturer. This is a common practice in the horse world, and often it’s not an issue - apart from loosening and stretching the leather fibers and weakening the integrity of the bridle (but that’s a whole other can of worms!) 

In this case, however, the manufacturer had used lots of glue to make sure their bridle was well constructed and strong. The noseband was a complex design of many layers of leather and foam, all of which had to adhered to one another just-so, in order to stitch up correctly. I'm not opposed to this, especially when laying down several layers, but unfortunately when this newer practice of using lots of glue meets with the older practice of soaking new tack in oil a serious problem arises. 

You see, oil likes to break down polymers and act as a solvent, and many of the glues used in leather working are solvent-based, which means they are polymers suspended in a quickly-evaporating solvent. This is why they give off such a terrible smell when wet; the nasty solvent is actually evaporating into the air you're breathing. Delicious! 

Because oil acts as a solvent to many polymers, when it comes in contact with these "fast drying" adhesives it begins to re-distribute the now-dry adhesive throughout the oil. Worse than this, the oil actually begins to break down the polymer chains, creating less and less stable adhesive until finally it gives way to goo. Fascinating, and unfortunately a recipe for a sticky mess! 

So hopefully you've stumbled across this point before it's too late, though I suspect a high percentage of readers will find this as a result of searching the internet for "Help! Bridle leaking glue!" 

What do I do when I first bring home a new bridle or piece of leather? If it is stiff and dry, I oil it in light coats with a sponge, layer by layer, until the oil begins to absorb more slowly. That's the leather's way of saying "No thanks! I'm full!" Then I leave it to sit for a few days and finish it off with a layer or two of protective leather balm - something beeswax-based and not glycerin-based (I make and sell my own small-batch leather balm - shameless self plug!) 

To be honest, if I bring home a piece of tack that is soft and supple, I tend to just slap a coat of leather balm on it and leave it at that. Oil is good for leather that is starved of moisture, such as old stuff in danger of developing cracking, but apart from that it actually softens and weakens the leather so I don't use it much! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Holistic Horse: Bertie's White Line Disease - part 2

In my last post I discussed Bertie's white line disease and how he had to have a moderate resection of his front hooves to help eradicate the infection. This resection left his hooves unstable and sore, and so Bertie was put on stall rest until we could find a way to help stabilize his hooves. Part of the problem with this is that by being stalled, Bertie is getting significantly less blood flow to his hooves than if he were out and moving around. Less blood flow means that it is more likely that his infection will reoccur, since the body's defenses are limited.

Our equine podiatrist is always finding the coolest new naturopathic remedies. Her latest find has been "Artimud" which is a green-clay based hoof putty that includes anti-microbial ingredients to keep the surface of the hoof free from fungal and bacterial infection. We discussed the possibility of packing his resected areas with clay and then casting them with a breathable cast to see if that helped keep him sound while his hooves grew out. Neither of us really knew if it would work, but it was certainly worth a try! Check out the photos below for the various steps of the process. Before she arrived, I re-soaked and wrapped his hooves with CleanTrax to assure there was no nook or cranny hiding fungal or bacterial infection. I then gave his hooves a quick rinse and some time to dry out. 

The first thing she did was clean up the resected area and made sure the only tissue exposed was healthy tissue.

Then, she packed the hole with Artimud clay, taking care to push it into all the irregular edges of the hole.

She then wrapped the hooves in a breathable cast (which you can see on his white leg). This cast had to be set up with a heat gun because of the cold temperatures, and Bertie was a champ and only balked at it once! 

After this, I stuck him back in his stall and crossed my fingers...

Two days later I thought I'd take him to the indoor arena for a spin. First I walked him in hand and then lunged him lightly, and when he appeared sound I figured it was time to cut the apron strings and let him run!

Posted by Emily Jenkins Bastian on Friday, January 22, 2016

Time will tell if this is actually a solution for his hooves while they re-grow. One potential roadblock that I think I've found a solution to is that while walking through the snow to the arena we are introducing wet conditions into his hooves again. Not only is this bad for eliminating the infection, it may cause the clay to soften and seep. My solution? Since Bertie is an incredibly tolerant and level-headed boy, I've been putting ziplock baggies on his hooves for our walk to the indoor arena. No, he can't be turned out in them, but he can make it to and from the arena without issue! 

Posted by Emily Jenkins Bastian on Friday, January 22, 2016
Fingers (err... hooves?) crossed! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Holistic Horse: Bertie's White Line Disease - part 1

When I bought Bertie, it was on a bit of a whim. I had bought a simply stellar horse from the seller the previous year, so I watched her facebook page for other diamonds-in-the-rough. She gets horses in from all over the place, and often puts a bit of shine on them and finds them new homes. Bertie was one of these horses. I saw him pop up in some photos on her page and immediately liked what I saw. His conformation looked like it could pack one helluva punch, once he matured. When I brought him home I saw he was all that I'd hoped and more, as he has the brain to match his body.

A few weeks after bringing him home, however, he came up slightly off. At first we thought he looked to be favoring a front hoof, but then it looked like both, and then neither... and then both. I soaked his hooves and poulticed them for abscesses, to no avail. Then one evening I noticed a bit of flaking tissue along his white line. As I scraped away, I realized that the tissue had been disguising a deep chasm in his white line. The white line is the soft connective tissue between the horse's hoof wall and the rest of his hoof. By the time I had dug it out, I was more than an inch deep and still not to the end of it. My heart sank, and my mind raced instantly to those horrible photos of hoof resections that I had seen online.

Bertie has White Line Disease, or WLD. WLD is an anaerobic (prefers lack of oxygen) infection in the white line that slowly creeps its way up and up, under the hoof wall. From what I have read about WLD studies, current science believes that horses must be predisposed to WLD in order to contract it. In many cases this has been linked to copper and zinc deficiencies which aid in growth of elastic tissues. When the elasticity of the white line is compromised, it becomes somewhat porous, allowing bacterial and fungal infection to enter. This infection eats away at the vulnerable laminae, and in order to begin healing the tissue must be exposed to oxygen. Our equine podiatrist came out a few days later and began the nerve-wracking process of resecting his hoof wall. She exercises a strict "Do No Harm" policy, so she was conservative in what she removed, but it still left both of his front hooves looking fragile and deformed.

With that much of his toes missing, I was very concerned about the stability of his hoof and the strain it would put on the structure of his internal foot. We opted to put Bertie in a stall, and I soaked his hooves once with CleanTrax (a chemical that produces a chlorine gas that permeates the hoof) and then every other day with a mixture of organic apple cider vinegar (with "the mother") and tea tree oil. It's important to note that some horses are very sensitive or allergic to tea tree oil, so test your horse before soaking his hoof in it!

Three weeks later, Bertie's hooves showed no sign of further infection, but he was still considerably sore because of the lack of stability in his hoof, and the holes in his hooves had to be flushed multiple times a day.

Be sure to check out my next post on the super cool things our podiatrist is trying on Bertie to stabilize his hoof and bring him comfort while he heals!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Riding in Posture vs Frame

One of the most common, and in my opinion cringe-worthy, phrases in the horse world is to "frame up your horse." This phrase, unfortunately brings to mind (at least to my mind) a horse in restricted carriage. When I think of framing a horse, I picture draw reins, cranked flash nosebands and lots of tension.

If you were simply given the word "frame" out of context, what would first come to mind? Most people would say a picture frame. Four solid sides, bordering a picture or piece of art. The purpose of a frame is to provide a static border in which to put something.

In fact, the word's official definition is:

  1. 1.
    a rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something such as a door or window.

    "a picture frame"
  2. 2.
    a basic structure that underlies or supports a system, concept, or text.
    "the establishment of conditions provides a frame for interpretation"

True, the second definition implies a conceptual structure, but even in this definition there is still a feeling of stationary placement - a lack of movement.

I propose that we begin to use the word "posture" instead of frame. I recently read a facebook post about how posture is not a static thing, regardless of if you're speaking of humans or horses. The word "posture" actually encompasses the body's mechanical ability to produce balance and stability.  

Posture is a dynamic.

When a horse is in a "correct posture" the phrase reflects lifting abdominals, stabilized spine, suppleness in the poll, et cetera. Conversely, you can use the description "slouching posture" or "hollow posture" to describe a horse who is resisting, under educated, or not using their core effectively. Either way, you are allowing the phrase to describe the engagement and balance of the horse's body, not the "shape" as you would imply with the word "frame."

Posture relates directly to the body's ability to maintain tone and flexibility in correct amounts to produce a biomechanically sound dynamic between the various parts of the horse's body. 

So how about it, horse world? Can we ditch the restrictive phrasing and introduce something more likely to invoke thoughts of swinging gaits and balance? 


Can anyone else think of words that we could change to add empathy and flow to our equestrian language?