I am regularly asked to recommend supplements for horses, and there are many, many excellent supplements out there for a range, of preventative and curative functions, but it got me to thinking, if a horse could speak what would he tell us that he wants.
For me I have always felt, that horses need to be horses. cue the Rows over cut up paddocks in the winter, That need significant work to restore them in the spring. From a commercial point of view, I have always thought that a happy horse is much, much more likely to perform well. My example of this is, Valegro, - Goes out wins world cup , goes home, goes out the field, wins olympic medals, goes on a a hack with a veteran rider.... It clearly works for them, so I ask my self , why do we ignore the horses basic needs before we reach for that supplement or device to stop them in their bad habbit tracks.
So what is this need, this ultimate supplement, to make your horse happy and healthy ? Even the BHS exams as comprehensive didn't cover this ( as far as i can remember). We had lovely rules, like feeding , clean water, lovely clean banked beds but the best supplement and the biggest need your horse has , is just to be a horse. It may not always be possible, especially in livery yards but even trying to introduce even small amounts of the 3 items below will improve your horses life.
Years of research means we are aware that good nutrition makes a significant impact on the health and performance of our horses. Ensuring the horse has his nutrient requirements provided for is a key part of ensuring peak performance, but it’s only one part of the whole nourishment formula.
The no 1 missing ‘nutrient’ or supplement does not come in a box …its allowing the horse to be a horse.
Many equine behaviour and nutritional problems are largely man-made problems, brought about by altering natural behavior.
Millions of years of evolution has not removed some of the hard wired behaviours that horses posess, despite domestication.
When we prevent horses from acting on these behaviours in his every day life, largely thorugh traditional feeding and stabling, it causes stress. If this stress continues long term it can have a negative impatce on wellness, nutrition and prerformatce. - this cannot be balanced out by anything in a box or a bag.
So what do they really need ? Research has shown that horses primary behavioural needs to be eating, locomotion and social contact.
The horse is an herbivorous hind-gut-fermenting, eating machine dedicating about 60-70% of his daily time budget to grazing a diverse array of fresh green stuff. His drive to eat is his number one motivator.
As a trickle feeder the horse relies on a constant flow of forage through his gastrointestinal tact (GI) and researchers have identified they eat to maintain a high gut fill. This keeps his tummy and guts working well.
It’s important to remember that it’s not primarily the horse we are feeding. It’s the microbial population of bacteria, protozoa & fungi that in turn feed the horse. The healthier, happier we keep his resident micro-flora the healthier happier and nutritionally balanced our horses are.
The horse is an herbivore and when it comes to gut health and well-being, there is NOTHING that can replace good quality forage available 24/7
Stomach acid is constantly secreted in the horse, unlike us where it starts up in the presence of food. He relies on saliva to help him buffer the stomach acid, and saliva is only produced when the horse chews. Forages require a lot more chewing than concentrates resulting in more saliva production and is critical in ulser prebention.
Left without anything to munch on for even surprisingly short periods of time creates a stress response in the horse. Stress produces cortisol (as well as other stress hormones) which in turn raises insulin that can seriously derail hormone and metabolic processes. Insulin also tells the body to hold onto fat as the horse perceives a food shortage that puts him into starvation mode. This is why restricting forage for overweight horses actually makes the problem worse and we recommend grazing muzzles in preference.
Within about two hours of forage deprivation, the stomach becomes acidic enough to cause physical discomfort and sets the scene for health issues such as gastric ulceration, colic, unwanted behavior and impaired performance. This is further compounded when he’s required to exercise with this high acid buildup.
Constant access to high fibr forages is not only important for proper functioning and digestion of foods it’s also critical for nourishing his mind. Grazing with his head down for hours each day, helps the back muscles develop correctly.
2. FRIENDSHIP (Social contact)
As prey animals, horses get by with a lot of help from their friends! They form very strong bonds, often lasting a lifetime, and have quite the elaborate friends and family social network. Mares and stallions maintain long term relations and along with other siblings and peer groups, play an important role in the social and nutritional development of foals.
Gestural communications between horses is complex and subtle. They remain in constant visual contact with each other sending non-verbal messages back and forth. Having herd mates around has numerous benefits including safety from predators, sourcing and selecting food, play-mates, grooming, rest and REM sleep, thermoregulation
University studies cite social isolation as one of the greatest causes of stress to social animals. When we restrict the horse from being with other herd members, they are much more likely to become succumb to develop stereotypic coping behavior like box walking, crib biiting etc
3. FREEDOM (Movement or Locomotion)
The horse is a prey animal and with no other form of defense, he relies primarily on flight mechanism for survival. Every fibre of his body is primed to get-him-the-hell-out-of-here! His whole physiology and psychology is evolved to live in the open range and his innate intelligence is constantly telling him to put as much space between himself and any threat…perceived or real.
Horses are nomadic in nature, wandering on average 20-30 miles per day and have been recorded as roaming up to 100 miles when given the freedom on mooors or commonage. Compare this to horses in the domestic setting where an australian study recorded 4.5 miles of travel in 40 acre paddock and only 0.6 miles day for stalled horses turned out in an exercise paddock.
While movement is primarily motivated by protection and resources – food, water, mates, shelter etc., studies have shown it protects against lameness by improving bone, tendon and muscle structure as well as keeping joints lubed. Movement also keeps the digestive system flowing and metabolic issues at bay, the respiratory system clear and well-oxygenated mind and body that lives in a state of contentment.
FORAGE FRIENDSHIP FREEDOM FOR A HEALTHY HAPPY HORSE
Deepening our appreciation of the true nature of horses helps connect us to what they really need and how we can better provide for that in our world.
So while we have a huge array of supplements for every aspect of your horses life, and training aids for "bad habits" maybe its time to first ask our selves, is there something more basic that will make my horse the best he can be ?
Inspired and Adapted from an article on https://www.riderfitness.com with studies and references from
Hampson, B.A. and Pollitt, C.C. (2008) GPS tracking of domestic horses. Australian Equine Science Symposium. Gold Coast, Australia.
Getty JM (2010). Feed your horse like a horse. USA: Dog Ear Publishing
Mills, DS, McDonnell SM (2005). The Domestic Horse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.The Domestic Horse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
As a general Rule, I only fit Prestige saddles, as while I have been trained by Prestige, I am not a "Qualified Saddle Fitter" & only people who have passed the QSF Exams should use that term, however I do try and help people and will come out with saddles , when i can. In the last few weeks, I have seen a number of horses with "muscle atrophy" thats wasted muscles to you and me or put simply a dip behind the withers. Now for me these horses are a worry, hard to fit a saddle to, and always the though that they have damage from a previously bad fitting saddle, but It got me thinking - how can we fix it?
I spotted this wonderful picture from http://www.herzenspferde.de/ and showed it to a few people, in general the reaction was "top horse is fat bottom horse is in good shape".... but look closer.. The top horse is certainly carrying more condition, but he's got a completely different muscle development. Horse on top will be much better capable of working in an outline, engage his hind end better and be much easier to fit a saddle to.
So if your horse looks like the bottom horse , or more like the bottom horse, than the top one, is it a done deal? Not at all, It is possible, to get your horse from bottom picture to top picture. Is it easy, no, fast, no & are their other things to consider ?
Yes older horses may never get to the top horse shape, but the important thing is they can improve. The benefits of this are horse becomes stronger through their backs, which will help with soundness, help with working better, in a better outline , and hopefully better results in the ring. Over all you should end up with a happier, healthier, stronger horse that performs better.
So why has he got like this ? Most likely reason is a bad fitting saddle. However you might have seen young horses like this? True, Horses who have been hungry as a youngster and not received much feed or protein might be lacking in top line.
Older horses can loose muscle tone as they age, and an injury which affects how the horse carries himself can also be a cause. There are also veterinary conditions, which can cause muscle wasting, but for this blog Im only going to assume its one of the above causes
For this article I consulted with Catherine from Wild Atlantic Rider blog, who is a BHSAI qualified riding instructor and Competes her own horses, and Susanne Hehle, Equine Physio and regular western Riding competitor, in order to get different points of view.
1. If you haven't already done so, its worth getting a good equine physio to give your horse the once over - especially before you start any new exercise program or change of work or if your horse has been wearing a saddle that didn't fit that well. They can advise of the current state of your horses back and help show you anything that might need special attention.
2. Feed a balancer that promotes good topline. (I personally Highly recommend Blue Chip, tried and tested and Horse first Also have a new muscle supplement just launched which helps with Muscle development - Muscle Gro - Anne-Horseworld)
3. Work the horse long and low - however for this the rider needs an independant seat, keep the horse moving forward.
5. Carrot Stretches ( Alternatives like Horslyx Mini Licks can also be used )
* The Side Stretch
* Take a bow
* The Chest Stretch
Catherine Meenaghan BHSAI & Author of "Wild Atlantic Rider" Blog
If your horse is suffering from muscular atrophy you can improve his strength, suppleness and muscle tone by ensuring correct flatwork training for both horse and rider, as well as correctly fitted tack. This is essentially the key to ensuring healthy and correct muscular development.
Horses, unlike humans, have no collar bone. Their shoulders are supported by muscles which cross inside and outside the shoulder joint. The shoulder blade (scapula) and the humerous form the shoulder joint which flexes and extends with the movement of the foreleg. The foreleg is attached to the rest of the body by the serratus muscles, which in turn, are attach to the lower neck, the sides of the chest, connecting to the outside of the scapula. In order to build the shoulder muscles up you must incorporate exercises which first engage them.
In my opinion, there is no “quick fix” and no one exercise can “fix” muscular atrophy of the shoulder. However, once you have your horse riding in a correct frame, properly engaging his hind quarters the rest will follow accordingly (think of the chain!). Be sure to have a knowledgeable eye on the ground to help guide you and ensure that your horse is properly working “through” his back. “Pulling your horse in” or the incorrect use of training aids “to get his head down” are basically causing restriction, having a negative effect on the muscular chain by “blocking” the correct and natural movement of the muscles.
Once your horse has established a correct frame on the flat you can begin to incorporate some exercises and lateral movements in order to engage the shoulders. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Figures of 8 – in trot ride two perfectly round circles on a figure of 8 without the straight line in the middle for the change of rein. This will help to improve suppleness as well as discourage your horse from depending on the rein for balance and collapsing his shoulder on the change.
- Trotting poles and cavelletti – help to keep your horse focused and interested on his work as well as encourage him to stretch, improve his suppleness and athleticism. They also help rider’s fine tune their rhythm and contact.
- Leg yielding – engages the horses hindquarters and lightens the forehand. Start by riding down the 3 quarter line and leg yield towards the track. Play with the exercise by leg yielding away from the outside track. If you feel your horse tensing or anticipating, try leg yielding half way down the 3 quarter line onto a circle in order to rebalance and refocus the exercise.
- Shoulder in – engages the hocks and “frees up” the shoulders by taking the weight on the hindquarters and increasing the flexion of the haunches.
- Lunging – I cannot stress enough the benefits of correct lunging. You can incorporate transitions and pole work all while the horse is working without the influence of the weight of the rider.
- Hacking – Finally, incorporate some hacking into your schedule. It’ll make a welcome change from the school for both horse and rider, help with fittening and if you incorporate some hill work it will surely engage the muscle chain and get your horse using his hind end and shoulders.
Incorporating a variety of exercises such as those mentioned will help to improve muscle tone. Be sure to have a good coach or trainer on the ground to guide you. Ensure the work you’re doing is suitable for your horse’s age and ability and that he is getting the correct feed for him to cope with his work load. It’s no harm to research what feeds or supplements are available to help with muscle recovery.
Finally, remember that prevention is always better than cure and that by firstly ensuring that your saddle fits well is the best and cheapest method of keeping your horse, strong and supple and avoid issues such as muscular atrophy.
Great Advice there from Suzanne & Catherine - Huge thanks for their time and suggestions.
By following the tips, stretches and riding exercise above, you can ensure that your horse is in the best muscle shape that he can be !
NB: The Above advice is the subjective opinion of the author and contributors and is not intended to replace a Vet or Physio and we recommend you consult them before starting any training regime, if in any doubt. If your horse does not improve you may need to consult a vet to rule out other conditions.
“What is that on your horse?” is common question I get when visitors to the sho see one my beautiful but rotund Warm blood mare wearing a grazing muzzle.
While she may look like she is auditioning for a part as Hannibal Lecter, a grazing muzzle is a very helpful device if your horse is overweight or at risk for developing laminitis. Gone are the days when laminitis was associated with small round ponies on lush grass, its now the second-leading medical killer of horses, a grazing muzzle may just your horse’s life or prevent suffering or insulin resistance in later life.
The grazing muzzle is attached to something that looks like a head collar. It has a small hole which allows for drinking and some grazing, but your horse won’t be able to ‘pig out’ while they have it on.
While they may look cruel, In my experience I’ve found that my horses grow used to them very quickly and manage to only loose a little weight or maintain their weight in them. I can only imagine what they would be like without them. It would be far more cruel to let them develop insulin resistant or developed laminitis. The sugars in grass are highest during the day time (remember secondary school science & photosynthesis?), so if you are really serious about weight management, stabling during the day and out at night is best.
I use the Green Guard Grazing Muzzle on my lady which we do to order, but she also uses the shires comfort one,for a change. The Shires Standard one is also pretty good. I’ve found that the muzzles will last a year or two, but then need to be replaced.
So What does the science Say?
Grazing muzzles have been shown to reduce the pasture intake of animals by about 80% by significantly reducing bite size and intake. Horses fitted with grazing muzzles may spend more time engaging in foraging and eating than their non-muzzled counterparts, yet the majority either lose weight or at least don't put any more one..
The new research using four mature ponies was conducted by the Waltham Equine Studies Group in collaboration with Dr Annette Longland of Equine and Livestock Nutrition Services (ELNS) in Wales. Their dry matter (DM) and water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) intakes were measured in spring, summer, and autumn pastures on four, three-hour occasions per pony per season when fitted with or without a grazing muzzle. In addition ponies, with and without muzzles, were allowed to take 10 bites of swards maintained at different heights.
When wearing grazing muzzles pasture intake was reduced by 77% during spring and summer and by 83% during the autumn.
Water soluble carbohydrate levels in the sward were similar across the seasons although they were slightly higher in autumn. However, once muzzled the ponies’ intake of WSC wasn’t significantly different across the seasons; strengthening the evidence that the use of grazing muzzles is effective.
Equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot, the research and development manager at feed manufacturer Spillers, said: “While Care should be taken to provide an accessible grass length, grazing muzzles remain an effective weight management tool. They allow turnout over large areas, increasing exercise and allow slow “trickle” feeding, to control weight gain and reduce the risk of obesity-related disorders, without significantly compromising the natural behaviour and well being.”
Grazing muzzles must be used with care, should be properly fitted and horses and ponies should be adapted gradually to wearing them. Group and individual behaviour should be monitored closely to observe any potential concerns caused by changes to the herd dynamics. Muzzled horses and ponies should be confident in drinking and eating through their muzzles before turning them out for prolonged periods, and the devices should not be used for more than 10 hours per day. Total exclusion muzzles are not advised. Regular weight monitoring is recommended as some individuals can still gain weight when muzzled.
Top Tips for using a Grazing Muzzle
- Introduce the muzzle gradually and make wearing it a positive experience by gradually introducing the muzzle for short periods in the stable and rewarding your horse with a treat through the hole in the muzzle each time you put it on and take it off. As you progress outside with your horse wearing the muzzle, feed grass through the hole so your horse gets the idea that he can still eat. Initially leave the muzzle on for short periods gradually building up the time your horse grazes with the muzzle on.
- Make sure that your horse is comfortable drinking with the grazing muzzle on. Try this in the stable, first by offering a bucket of water directly to your horse in hand and you will find they are quick to investigate, especially if you have been offering treats through the hole in the muzzle!
- Make sure the muzzle fits correctly as this will help prevent your horse removing it!
- Don't leave the muzzle on 24/7. Most manufacturers recommend up to 12 hours. Although you may be trying to restrict your horse's intake it is vital that enough fibre is supplied to maintain your horse's digestive health, so bring your horse into the stable when not at grass and supply low calorie/low sugar forage and feeds Your horse or pony needs to eat up to 1 - 1.5% of their body weight in fibre each day.
- When your horse is not wearing the grazing muzzle bring them in off the grass as when they are able to graze freely they may try to compensate for the restriction earlier in the day. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING DO NOT "FEEL SORRY " FOR THEM AND LET THEM OUT FOR A FEW HOURS WITH OUT IT The study show they can eat 75% of a days intake in 3 hours !!
Rembember the Falsterbo fork is now available to purchase on our website.
Have to admit its been a struggle, to find a really, really fabulous pair of Breeches, for under the €100 mark for my customers. We all know that Schockemohle, Libras, Pikeur Priscas, and Equilines are Just fabulous, but at the price for most of us they are a luxury or a rare treat.
Shires have taken this challenge seriously and have came up with the Camden Breech, Available in four colours this has all the attributes of a premium Breech without the Premium Price Tag. These come in at the steal price of €84.99 ( add any thing else to your basket and you get free delivery & returns!).
Shires have taken high performing fabrics to ensure these sporty breeches keep the equestrian athlete comfortable in the saddle.
They have a self-fabric ( not suede) contour seat, clarino knee patches with silicone gel engineering for extra grip, stretch ankle cuffs and flat lock seams all enhance the rider's experience.
Additional features include stylish embroidery, jeans style pockets, belt loops and secure slide button.
Ive tried a pair and as a good Uk14 the 32" waist was fine for me, so they don't seem overly small fitting. They have had 4 washes and still look perfect , retaining their shape - although I do always wash my breeches inside out and never tumble dry no matter what the label says ! They are extremely comfortable and fit well on the waist not sliding down. Id be happy to wear these to lessons or to to a show.
These are Selling out FAST , so if you want to get your hands on a pair, don't delay and click here Camden Breeches to go straight to them !
Check out the Latest Blog Post from Our Wild Atlantic Rider , where she reviews the Horseware Riding Tights.