There are ten main reasons that I see horses with health problems and 10 ways that you can reduce your vet bills!
You already know how crappy your own body feels when you are nervous. That tightness, that tension – the way your joints feel kind of tight and jarring, the way your feet hit the ground harder, the gritting of your teeth or grinding of your jaw. And if you haven’t noticed this already, then just decide that you want to notice how your body feels next time you feel nervous.
Well, the same kind of body changes happen to our horses when they are nervous. And these body changes cause damage.
It is reversable damage, specially when you use this approach to horse and human happiness, but it’s often big damage none the less. We are talking about serious stuff here – the kind of damage that threatens your horses career and even their life eventually and in the mean time can cost you thousands of dollars in vet bills.
When our horse is out of his comfort zone (i.e. nervous – even a little bit) he lifts his head in the air and hollows his back to varying degrees. This hollowness translates into whopping impact on the front legs, eventually causing serious and career threatening injuries. The sagging of his back under our weight in these circumstances, eventually makes spinal bones themselves come out of alignment. The hind legs don’t work underneath them as well as they should and the pelvis, specially the joint where the pelvis meets the spine eventually gets compromised.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. You can have your horse starting to work in self carriage, with his back starting to curve – on its way to becoming beautifully strong to carry you – in just days once you’ve learned with our way of being with horses.
You can learn more about this approach, the comfort zone, how to avoid the physical impact of nervousness on you AND your horse (because nervousness eventually damages YOUR body too) and a whole heap of other things in the completely free gift lesson set The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse. Click here for those.
Even more awesome is that in this gift lesson set, I also show you how to release old nervousness that has already caused damage. That’s the 7th key to Happiness. 🙂
That curved back will enable your horse to carry your weight joyfully and easily – no matter what style of riding you do.
It means a racehorse who is able to use his body calmly and efficiently for long periods of injury free racing – maximum speed with less effort. It means a trail or endurance horse who can eventually go for kilometre after kilometre carrying their human strong and efficiently. It means a dressage horse who has the back strength and curvature and softness just begging for collection as the next step. Ditto for the show horse. It means a western performance horse who is so finely balanced over his feet that he can give you whatever you ask for when you ask for it.
We didn’t know how important it was to our horses health to ride them without them being nervous – but we do know that now. The wonderful thing is that when you learn how to ride your horse with out having them nervous, you get to enjoy your horse more. You don’t need to throw away everything that you already know and do – you just add this approach to what you already do with your horse.
Here’s the next most important way to avoid vet bills with your horse.
Many, many horses are overfed on over rich food – too much grain for the amount of work that they are doing or too much grain for the amount of roughage that they are getting. Simple well grown, properly harvested grass hay is an excellent base for a horse’s feed, with just a very little grain for when they are working. Properly harvested means well dried, no mouldy bits AT ALL, still with seed on, little or no clover.
Many horses are mineral deficient from the use of phosphates in their pasture and feeds and this can have dramatic effects on their muscles, their bones, their nervous systems and their overall health. Pat Coleby has done some excellent work in this area. I can recommend her book “Natural Horse Care”.
The Kentucky Equine Research Centre did some excellent research that tells us that it is ESSENTIAL for our horse’s health for them to continually graze roughage – hay or dry’ish grass
This is a simplistic explanation of their research, which has huge implications for stabled horses and for horses kept in small paddocks or fields where there is little or no grass.
As the horse chews the hay or dry grass fibres, the fibres create a “bed” in the bottom of the stomach that slows down the progress of the grain and softer grasses and “filters” the rest of the stomach contents, giving them a chance to be digested effectively.
These hay and/or rough grass fibres stay in the stomach until they are “pushed out” by the next lot of hay or rough grass fibres.
If the hay or rough grass fibres are in the stomach for too long (which happens if the horse is not continually eating dry’ish grass or hay), they rot and create an acid, which leads to all sorts of health problems, including stomach ulcers in stressed or performance horses.
Kentucky Equine research Centre, scoped a large group of horses with healthy stomachs and a second scope after 4 hours of no hay – a measly 4 hours! – they had the lesions of stomach ulcers developing.
Wow that is some eye opener for stabled horses and horses kept on bare dirt and in yards!
Stomach ulcers cause discomfort as they develop and eventually pain, sometimes a dull coat, not thriving as well as they should on the feed and lower performance. Whether they show full blown symptoms or not – they WILL develop other health problems from that acidity causing problems in other parts of the body as well.
This is SUCH a big deal, that Gaye Waterhouse, Australia’s top lady trainer of thoroughbred race horses, has a stable rule that any strapper whose horse in their care is seen to be without hay is instantly dismissed from her employment.
Before the research centre’s work, a shocking 97% of racehorses tested had stomach ulcers! Not having access to hay constantly was the reason.
And here is another big contribution to vet bills.
Teeth need attention pretty much every year, for the horse to be comfortable eating and for him to get the best benefit from his feed. The dentist also needs to be one who pays attention to the last tooth at the back of the jaw (and some don’t!), or eventually they end up grinding on their jaw bone itself when they eat (like mine were even though I had their teeth done every year.) Good teeth can save you a fortune in feed and vet bills and frustration.
Feet shape is incredibly important to the way our horse can use his body. If you think of all those leg and hip bones as levers, a small amount incorrectly trimmed at the feet puts huge pressures at the hip and sacral joints. The sacro-iliac joint is where the spine meets the pelvis and is commonly damaged in horses that I see. And then we sit on their back which is reflecting the strain of all these lever actions!
I like the overall health benefits of properly barefooting my horses (which is QUITE different to just having no shoes on.) Whether you show your horses or have them barefoot, educate yourself as to the proper angles of the foot necessary for the horse to move at their best – because after all, no matter what we do with them, their movement is critical.
There is a wonderful amount of information about feet on http://www.barefoothorse.com
Saddle fit is a huge issue for your horses health. A saddle needs to fit both the horse and the rider. A poorly fitting saddle means that your horse can’t use his body properly, his muscles go into painful spasm and wither away. Even after the saddle is taken off, the horse lives in various degrees of pain when we ride with an ill fitting saddle. It surprises me sometimes at the painful and badly fitting saddles that some horses are generous enough to put up with.
But it costs you – when your horse cannot lift their back properly to carry you with strength, all the health problems that we talked about in the rider relationship section apply here too.
Rug fit is usually not as serious as saddle fit (although it CAN be), but if you’ve got a horse who needs to use his whole body effectively as an athlete, then spending 22 hours a day unable to move freely is going to have an adverse effect on his performance. If the rug rubs, then it probably does not fit.
I often put gussets into the shoulders of rugs to get decent shoulder movement. There are rugs out there with short gussets which do not do anything to allow for free and natural shoulder movement, that seem to be purely for decoration.
And, like the poor soul in this photo, I have seen some particularly nasty injuries come from rugs whose “ill-fitting-ness” allow the rug to slide back and jam over the top of the wither. I’ve actually seen a rug that was embedded in the wither all the way to the bone… shudder… If your horse is rugged, someone needs to be checking that horse twice a day!
And the rug needs to come off for the sunshine and absorption of Vitamin D – a vitamin from the sun that is essential to absorption of calcium and strong bones and other good health!
Lactic acid is a by product of anaerobic work (fast work where they can’t get enough oxygen from breathing to fuel the muscles, so they take it from their body storage). For most horses, work at the canter and gallop is anaerobic work and causes a build up of lactic acid. Lactic acid is toxic and binds up the muscles if not gotten rid of.
All it takes to get rid of lactic acid is a fast walk or very slow trot to cool them down at the end of the work out.
The results of lactic acid building up can be life threateningly serious – tying up, colic, laminitis, cramping, some muscles withering away are just some examples.
As a muscle therapist, I have used Bowen muscle therapy as an excellent method of helping get rid of excessive lactic acid – although there is no substitute for good husbandry!
The muscle needs to be warm with some light exercise before we ask our horse to exert himself, otherwise we risk tendon and ligament damage or muscle strain or even muscle tearing.
Not fit enough for the work
When I see horses who are not fit enough for the work they are being asked to do, it makes me feel sad because it is sooo… avoidable. When our horse is not fit enough for the work that we are asking them to do, it causes muscle, tendon, ligament and bone problems.
That means preparing our horse for that big trail ride in the high mountain country or that great big day at pony club! It means deliberately developing back muscles to carry us cheerfully for longer periods by starting off with short periods to strengthen the back. There is an excellent article about how to do this here on this website. And it means doing that in their comfort zone so that their back CAN actually get strong.
Too much exposure to drugs and chemicals
Over worming, over medicating, using drugs like BTZ’s as a substitute for good horse husbandry. I am constantly reversing the sometimes dramatic side effects of unnecessary drugs and chemicals. Often people don’t realize what caused the problem because the damage of the side effects are not noticeable until several months later.
Worms cause damage and need attention, there is no argument about that. I also understand why most people need the reassurance of using a chemical worming. Every now and again, amongst my natural methods, even as passionate as I am, I do a chemical worming.
But most good horse owners vastly over worm their horses unnecessarily and accumulation of these chemicals can cause damage to your horses bodies. You can get worm counting kits and CHECK whether your horse needs worming, so that you don’t expose them to more chemicals than they need.
Also on this website there is some other articles about eliminating worms without chemicals that will reduce your need to use these chemicals. Put “worms” in search this site at the top of the side bar.
I hope you enjoy making your horse’s life more comfortable and enjoy reducing your vet bills with these ten tips!
And of course don’t forget the biggest vet bill reduction of them all – listen to your horse.
Find out how to listen to your horse with this no force, gentle approach that you and your horse will both love – click here for the Training page – where you’ll also find the completely FREE lessons The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse
You can also read more about the two awesome horse books Zen Connection with Horses and Bobby’s Diaries – Straight From the Horse’s Mouth to You at the bookshop, click here.
jenny pearce January 2012