Bob Avila’s Win­ning In­sights: Show-horse care at home.

Your com­pet­i­tive mount re­quires spe­cial at­ten­tion at home be­tween shows to op­ti­mize your suc­cess.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Bob Avila, With Jen­nifer Paul­son Pho­tos by Marc Lax­ineta, DVM

Acom­pet­i­tive ath­lete’s suc­cess on the field or court starts with his pro­gram be­tween games and matches. The same goes for your horse. The pro­gram you fol­low (or don’t) at home dic­tates your horse’s abil­ity to do his job when called on. My tips here fo­cus on the show horse, but the truth is this can be ap­plied to a recre­ational horse, one used for rop­ing or speed events, and even your child’s les­son mount. A horse that’s well-cared-for at home does bet­ter in any job.

Weekend war­riors, heed my ad­vice to save your­self vet bills and higher main­te­nance costs af­ter your horse re­cov­ers from an in­jury that could’ve been pre­vented with proper at-home care.

Fit­ness First

Of all the el­e­ments for proper home care of a show horse, fit­ness is the most im­por­tant. A fit young horse can with­stand the pres­sure of pre­par­ing to com­pete early in his career. Your aged or se­nior horse will re­quire less ve­teri­nary main­te­nance such as hock in­jec­tions and other treat­ments if he’s fit and in good shape. The bot­tom line is that a fit horse per­forms bet­ter, has gas in the tank when you call on him for more, more eas­ily bounces back from the strain of com­pe­ti­tion, and has longevity for his career in the show pen.

If you can’t ride your horse reg­u­larly but want to go hard on the week­ends at shows and other events, con­sider putting your horse in train­ing dur­ing your busiest rid­ing sea­son. The price you pay for reg­u­lar rid­ing and care could be much less than the cost of treat­ing a se­ri­ous in­jury and the sad­dle time you lose dur­ing re­cov­ery.

Fit­ness sounds sim­ple, but it en­com­passes each of the re­main­ing top­ics I’ll ad­dress that are es­sen­tial to keep your mount at his phys­i­cal best.

Nu­tri­tion and Feed­ing

My feed­ing pro­gram takes high pri­or­ity and is a main com­po­nent of over­all fit­ness. The over­ar­ch­ing theme is con­sis­tency. When we’re at shows or trav­el­ing be­tween them, my horses are fed at about the same time each day, re­gard­less of time zone. Flex­i­bil­ity is re­quired if a class falls dur­ing a cus­tom­ary meal pe­riod, but we stick to a sched­ule. If you eat break­fast around 7:30 each morn­ing, you’re prob­a­bly get­ting hun­gry by 7:45; by 8:00, you’re on the road to hunger-in­duced rage. A reg­u­lar feed­ing sched­ule helps mod­er­ate those men­tal states in your horse, too.

The feed­ing sched­ule doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not pro­vid­ing qual­ity hay and feed to fit your horse’s needs. I work with my vet and a nu­tri­tion­ist from time to time, but the most im­por­tant com­po­nent is treat­ing each horse in­di­vid­u­ally. If a horse has a quar­ter crack, we in­crease his bi­otin in­take to help it grow out. In­di­vid­u­al­ized at­ten­tion can help fend off pos­si­ble prob­lems be­fore they be­come big chal­lenges.

One ex­tra I swear by is oil. All of our horses get it, and we al­most never deal with im­paction colic. As a side ben­e­fit, our horses’ coats gleam. It’s as sim­ple as pour­ing corn oil you buy at the store over a daily ra­tion or us­ing an oil de­signed for horses. →

Clean Hous­ing

A clean, well-ven­ti­lated barn pre­vents res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions and other ill­nesses and in­juries. I’m metic­u­lous about my barn’s clean­li­ness, from air cir­cu­la­tion to dis­in­fect­ing stalls to mon­i­tor­ing new horses that come to my place car­ry­ing con­ta­gious prob­lems.

We’re tak­ing al­most ev­ery horse in the barn to a 10-day show com­ing up, so my help will strip all the stalls and spray them with dis­in­fec­tant. (It’s even eas­ier for you to do at home with only one or two stalls to treat.) When we get to that show, all of the rented stalls will be sprayed, too, so we can en­sure that we don’t bring home any ill­nesses or skin con­di­tions. Con­ta­gious con­di­tions are eas­ily avoided by stay­ing home or keep­ing in­fected an­i­mals out. If there’s a disease out­break in an area you’re trav­el­ing to, stay home. If you’re tak­ing in a new horse, check him over for any­thing he might bring into your barn. Quar­an­tine him away from your other horses to be on the safe side. If I have a horse come in with a skin con­di­tion, I ride him in his own tack, from his head to his splint boots, and he’s groomed with his own brushes un­til his prob­lem has cleared. Then any­thing that’s touched him is dis­in­fected or thrown away if it can’t be ad­e­quately cleaned to pre­vent trans­mis­sion to other horses.

At-Home Main­te­nance

In ad­di­tion to the three main pil­lars listed, I use at-home ther­a­pies that help horses re­cover af­ter vig­or­ous work. The most ac­ces­si­ble one is cold/ice. I rely on cold ther­apy more than any other sup­ple­men­tal treat­ment. That can be as sim­ple as run­ning a cold hose over a horse’s legs or ap­ply­ing ice boots or wraps. (You can read more about my thoughts on cold ther­apy in “Ode to Ic­ing” on Horse­

There are some high-tech gad­gets out there for at-home ther­apy, too. You can find them in some train­ing barns and at larger horse shows. Game Ready in­te­grates cold and com­pres­sion for post-train­ing re­cov­ery and when heal­ing from in­juries. Vi­bra­tion ther­apy with a de­vice like the Ther­aPlate can also aid in pre­ven­tive care and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. (I even get on it to help with my back pain.) These types of im­ple­ments are help­ful if you have ac­cess to them, but they can’t make up for poor fit­ness, nutri­tional short­com­ings, or un­san­i­tary liv­ing con­di­tions.


Ther­aPlate can pro­vide sup­ple­men­tal ther­apy for a show horse at home, but it re­ally comes down to three pil­lars: fit­ness, nu­tri­tion, and a san­i­tary barn.

LEFT: I’m a big pro­po­nent of ic­ing for re­cov­ery and rehab. Ice boots make it easy to use cold ther­apy at home at a low cost. RIGHT: Cut­tingedge cold ther­apy is also avail­able in tech­nol­ogy like a Game Ready unit. It uses com­pres­sion and cold to help soft tis­sues re­cover.

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