Waking up to no horses in the pasture is not a great way to start the day.
All five were gone when I peeked out in the pre-dawn hours. Somehow a gate had become unfastened. I pulled on boots and coat and raced out in pj’s. Grabbing rope halters in the barn, I noticed they’d tipped over the grain bin and helped themselves to about 15 pounds of Hay Stretcher before moving on.
Thankfully, we caught them up quickly. (I think the lack of pasture options deterred them from traveling far. They were looking at snow, snow everywhere afterall!)
And thankfully, I reflected, they hadn’t consumed 15 pounds of sweet feed or some other grain.
Hay Stretcher is part of their forage-based diet. It’s basically pelletized grass. The horses like it and recognize it as a treat. But they don’t love it, so they don’t tend to overindulge if the opportunity arises. And even if they do, they aren’t as susceptible to colic as they would be if they broke into traditional grains.
I was talking with Chris Lombard the other day about horsemanship. The dictionary calls it the ‘skill of riding horses.’
But we know it as the relationship with the horse and the skills around that relationship.
“It’s not only how to handle horses,” said Lombard. “But how to be around them.”
So often, he said, we can get caught up in “This guy says this. That guy says that. Who do you believe?” It can be an exhausting search for answers in all the wrong places.
The thing that really matters, he said, is not your connection to a trainer. It’s your connection to your horse.
When Lombard works with horses, he’s giving them something that’ll last a lifetime. Sounds high-minded, but we all do it.
Treatment – good or bad – can be as indelible as a tattoo. Just ask anyone with a rescued horse or one with a troubled past.
Kyla Pollard knows this from starting scores of colts in New Brunswick and British Columbia, Canada.
“The different way you work through the process will create a different horse,” said Pollard, who has worked with Martin Black and Jonathan Field.
Recently, Lombard met horses who’d spent time with Kris and Nik Kokal, the New Hampshire brothers whose impressive horsemanship was highlighted in the mustang documentary, “Wild Horse, Wild Ride.”
How did he know they’d been with the Kokals?
“I could feel it,” he said.
“Believe yourself,” suggested Lombard. “People have gone clinician crazy instead of thinking for themselves. You have to get back to feeling it on the inside. ”
Then perhaps find the talented horseman or woman who can help improve with your ‘relationship.’
Researching the Lyme article provided some new perspective into:
- How the animal science business at universities is still business.
- How beating down the disease can have a crippling side effect.
First, the business side effect:
Cornell University and the University of Connecticut are obviously affiliated with their labs, the Animal Health Diagnostic Center and the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, respectively. AHDC has the Multiplex test; CVMDL does the Western Blot. We hear about pros and cons of one over the other, but both firms agree getting specific antibody levels is crucial.
But is it?
Sounds irreverent and wrongheaded, I know.
As consumers, we tend to hold universities and their labs beyond reproach. But Dr. Mark Reilly of South Shore Equine mentioned to me that these labs have a vested interest in making money by running tests, even when it might not be the most economical, expedient, or pragmatic diagnostic tool.
IDEXX Laboratories, a public company traded on NASDAQ, has a Snap test that simply gives you a yea or nay on Lyme.
Reilly uses it, treats accordingly, and then uses it again to test the antibiotics’ effectiveness.
The program, he says, works better than the more laborious, conventional testing.
“My practice is evidence-based,” said Reilly. “The evidence is there. You have to be willing to read it.”
It’s called the Herxheimer effect. (Named after Karl Herxheimer, a German doctor who discovered it while developing a treatment for Syphillis before being murdered by the Nazis.)
Herx-ing happens when the antibiotics do their job and kill off lots of the targeted bacteria (In Lyme cases, this would be Borrelia burdorferi.)
But then the bug die-off has a toxic impact. The waste-eliminating organs (kidney, liver) have to work overtime to rid the body of the die-off and detoxify.
In humans, patients feel crappy, with bad headaches and flu-like symptoms. They feel even worse than they felt before being treated.
In horses, a Herxheimer reaction will be similar to humans but it can have a potentially devastating effect on the laminae.
Laminae are tiny features that secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. When they swell or become irritated, all hell breaks loose. If these comb-like structures get really inflamed, the coffin bone will separate from the hoof wall.
No one wants a foundered horse.
Monitoring your horse as it responds to treatment is vital, Bushmich said.
When I see haltered horses in a field I cringe and then make two presumptions:
- Their owner can’t “catch” them.
- It’s only a matter of time before those horses hurt themselves.
Good owners invest time working with their horses so they like being around humans. It doesn’t need to be warm and fuzzy. But at the very least, one should be able to approach the horse without much fuss. Read about Not Catching Your Horse.
There are as many training techniques for approach and ‘catchability’ as there are clinicians, but most ideas come down to what Elijah Moore taught me years ago:
Horses seek comfort. If you can offer it to them on a reliable basis, they’ll come to you or at least let you come to them.
I used to think “field safe” or leather halters were ok. That was before I did a little research and came to the conclusion that any halter can get horses in trouble. Photo at left is featured on the home page of a major New England veterinary clinic (Proof that vets don’t know everything.)
Here’s a test:
- Take the plastic ring from a milk jug cap or a cheap bangle from your jewelry collection (sorry, guys!). Let those rings represent the rings on each side of a typical halter.
- Walk your field and scrutinize your barn space with these rings, running them across surfaces and sticking them everywhere, from ground level to over your head.
- Do they stick or get caught anywhere?
Chances are your fencing alone represents a big enough hazard for haltered horses.
The practice of cross-tying and using halters in the pasture are two good ways to hurt a horse and two of my pet peeves.
A horse might find it can escape pressure by going up, but that can yield tragic results.
It’s not hard to see why even calm horses can panic in crossties. Crosstie mechanics don’t allow the horse to investigate things by adjusting its head and putting both eyes on the pressure sources.
Last week I talked with a big time director in the horse world. She told me how sad she was at having to put down her faithful, steady trail horse after he injured himself on crossties. Argh.
Here’s what Julie Goodnight says about crossties:
Cross ties can be one of the most dangerous ways to tie a horse…According to the dictionary as written by the horse, cross ties are a gymnastic apparatus.
Never medicate, treat, fly spray or anything else that might cause a horse discomfort or alarm when he is tied hard and fast. Especially not in cross ties, which are after all, an apparatus for doing back flips. That would be dangerous and could initiate a catastrophic chain of events.
Warwick Schiller cautions that like horse trailers and spade bits, they’re no good for unprepared horses. I’d like to think tie bars would be a safer alternative. He talks about them in this YouTube video.
Schiller uses cross ties but prepares and teaches the horse about them first.
“The cross tie itself is not the problem, but a lack of preparation,” said Schiller. “Just like with most issues people have with their horses, their lack of preparation causes the issue, not the “thing” itself – trailer, lead change, cross ties, tie pole, collection, standing still, etc. etc.”