Ex­pert Tips For Healthy Horse­keep­ing

Dres­sage rid­ers with ev­ery­day ac­cess to vet­eri­nary ex­per­tise share their strate­gies.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Kim F. Miller

Dres­sage rid­ers with ev­ery­day ac­cess to vet­eri­nary ex­per­tise share their strate­gies

As a dres­sage rider, be­ing a vet­eri­nar­ian or be­ing mar­ried to one seems to of­fer an un­fair ad­van­tage in the daily ef­fort of main­tain­ing a happy, healthy, peak-per­form­ing equine part­ner. Not many fit that de­scrip­tion, but Dres­sage To­day found five who were happy to share their strate­gies for things all own­ers can do or pro­vide for their steeds.

“The first and most im­por­tant thing for ev­ery­one to re­mem­ber is that horses, just like peo­ple, are in­di­vid­u­als,” notes Me­lanie Burn­ley, DVM, a vet­eri­nar­ian and Grand Prix com­peti­tor. “The most im­por­tant thing that a rider can do is get to know her horse as an in­di­vid­ual and then treat him as such. Ev­ery­thing else is just sug­ges­tions.” She and her hus­band and fel­low FEI trainer and rider, JT Burn­ley, own Wren­wood Dres­sage in Ful­ton, Ken­tucky.

No “cake-baking” in the feed room, “psyl­lium Sun­days” and a stim­u­lat­ing sta­ble life are among the prac­tices most own­ers can in­cor­po­rate into their horses’ daily rou­tine. Read on for more ex­pert ideas on fit­ness, nu­tri­tion and main­tain­ing di­ges­tive, joint and res­pi­ra­tory health, plus tips for healthy sta­ble keep­ing.


“Never let horses get com­pletely out of work,” rec­om­mends Carolyn Simme- link, DVM, who jug­gles her Red­ding, Con­necti­cut, prac­tice with keep­ing and rid­ing two horses at home. Her herd con­sists of an 18-year-old “pos­si­bly Trakehner” she res­cued and com­peted through Novice level event­ing, and a 9-year-old Con­nemara/Thor­ough­bred cross who events at Be­gin­ner Novice. Both also do lots of dres­sage. Down­time from the show cir­cuit is great, says Sim­melink, but it should in­clude reg­u­lar phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and work. With the ex­cep­tion of the few horses who give them­selves a good work­out dur­ing turnout time, she sug­gests at least two days a week of de­lib­er­ate ex­er­cise even dur­ing time off from reg­u­lar work. Twice-weekly work is re­quired to main­tain mus­cle, she notes, and four times a week is needed to build it.

For Sim­melink, a North­east­erner with­out an in­door ring, that of­ten means jump­ing on her horses bare­back and rid­ing up and down the driveway in the snow. “It’s a half-mile driveway on a hill, so it’s great con­di­tion­ing while also pro­vid­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from arena work.

“It doesn’t have to be ded­i­cated train­ing work,” she con­tin­ues. “Forty­five min­utes of walk­ing will do or 20 min­utes of re­fresher ex­er­cise like tran­si­tions. The horses just need to be re­minded of how their mus­cles need to move and what’s ex­pected of them.

“I think it’s re­ally healthy for the horse to do trail rid­ing, get out of the ring or do some gym­nas­tics or small jumps in­side the arena. Peo­ple are afraid of things like that and al­ways want to work in per­fectly groomed rings. If the horse has never seen un­even ter­rain or, heaven for­bid, a bit of a dip in the arena, he won’t know how to han­dle it.”

She notes that rid­ers in Eng­land are known for trot­ting horses on hard­sur­face roads for a few min­utes as part of their daily con­di­tion­ing pro­gram, a prac­tice proven to strengthen bones.

If you de­cide to in­cor­po­rate road work into your pro­gram, Sim­melink stresses that rid­ers should start the prac­tice grad­u­ally if the horse is new to it or get cre­ative with other ways to mix up the rou­tine. “Some va­ri­ety is good, men­tally and phys­i­cally,” Sim­melink says. “If they do the same thing on the same foot­ing, they don’t know how to adapt to other cir­cum­stances. Horses are amaz­ingly adapt­able if we pre­pare them for what their body is go­ing to have to do.”

Cor­rect train­ing is crit­i­cal to fit­ness and sound­ness, notes vet­eri­nar­ian and am­a­teur rider Sara Bartholomew, DVM, whose mo­bile prac­tice, Capi­tol Equine Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices, is based in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia. “As an am­a­teur, it takes six times as long as a pro­fes­sional to pro­duce the same re­sult in terms of col­lec­tion and through­ness,” she says. She makes a point of lesson­ing dur­ing the four days a week her rounds en­able her to ride, but she also has both her horses in full train­ing with trainer Ra- chel Wade. “Sound­ness is hugely re­lated to cor­rect rid­ing,” she ex­plains. “Just like weight-lift­ing on the hu­man side, it’s im­por­tant to have a pro­fes­sional help us along the way.” Full train­ing also en­sures that Bartholomew’s horses get worked well and reg­u­larly when she can’t ride her­self, a fre­quent oc­cur­rence given the de­mands of her pro­fes­sion.

Nu­tri­tion & Di­ges­tion

Good-qual­ity for­age is a feed­ing pri­or­ity. “From there, de­cide if your horse needs ad­di­tional nu­tri­tion,” says Sim­melink. “Ev­ery­body thinks of grain when they think nu­tri­tion, but it should start with hay.” Ap­pro­pri­ate body weight, mus­cle con­di­tion and coat qual­ity are the main in­di­ca­tors of suf­fi­cient nu­tri­tion. A 5 score on the Body Con­di­tion Scor­ing Sys­tem is ideal in her view. She ac­knowl­edges that many dres­sage own­ers pre­fer the look of 7s and 8s, even though that’s less healthy. Ribs that can be felt but not seen char­ac­ter­ize a 5 while the “fleshy” and “fat” 7 and 8 scale-points in­clude enough fat to feel it be­tween the ribs, pos­si­ble fat de­posits near the withers and/or a crease along the spine of fleshy hindquar­ters. “Equine meta­bolic syn­drome is al­most an epi­demic among horses, on par with heart dis­ease in peo­ple,” she notes. “Keep­ing the Body Con­di­tion­ing Score Lower helps with that.” A lit­tle ex­tra weight on an older, re­tired horse is OK, she adds, be­cause it coun­ters win­ter weight dips that are typ­i­cal in that equine de­mo­graphic.

If grain is called for to add weight, it should be small amounts fed fre­quently, not large amounts all at once, and prefer­ably with low-car­bo­hy­drate but high-fat con­tent. Large amounts of car­bo­hy­drate-rich grains are a cul­prit in ul­cers and other gut prob­lems, she says. Sim­melink‘s two horses live on high-qual­ity grass pas­ture hay and re­ceive Pu­rina En­rich, a sim­ple, low­fat sup­ple­ment.

“Psyl­lium Sun­day” is a mnemonic phrase Sim­melink uses to re­mind

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