Post surgery care is vital

In the USA, 90% of the sales of Equiband are with recommendation from a vet. The value in the Equiband for horses in rehabilitation from surgery, in particular Kissing Spine surgery, is particularly note-worthy. With horses, as in humans, the results from surgery are so very often down to how well the exercises recommended post-operatively are carried out. By ensuring that we give our horses the best post-surgery care, we increase their chances of a full and complete recovery. If the Equiband can help with this, then, for that alone, this system is priceless.

The Equiband system is ideal for use across a range of ages, and conditions of horses, not just for those in post-surgery rehab. The eventer Elena Hengel, 2016 USEA North American Junior & Young Rider Eventing Championships CICY2* participant who currently trains with Will Coleman, uses the Equiband system extensively; “While I ordered the band with a particular horse in mind, I now use it on all of my horses.”

Due to the design of the Equiband and how it clips onto the saddlecloth, it can be used for a period of time during work and then removed. Though it is important to dismount before removing the bands.  It is not designed to be used all the time, but instead to be used consistently as part of a program to improve the conditioning of the muscles. The use can then be reduced over time, as the back becomes stronger. It is suitable for the old or the young. The competition horses and the pleasure rides. It has been developed to help improve muscle function, and for this purpose it is perfect across an incredible range of scenarios.

The Equiband system is a unique system that has to ability to help build and maintain your horse’s muscular structure, so that he can optimise his movement and comfort. Due to the design it is not possible for the horse to “cheat” in anyway, so that he will be able to build good muscles, and good habits in the use of his body. This time spent correctly conditioning the horse’s back, will pay dividends over the years, giving you many hours of pleasure with your happy and healthy horse.

If you can’t warrant the expense of the Equiband system, but would like to be able to develop your horse’s core strength, then the exercises in the book and DVD by Hilary Clayton Activate Your Horse’s Core, will help you to achieve this.

To order your Equiband, please click here!

Socks and bags…how comfy are yours?

I read an interesting article recently and discussed it in an online study group. The writer drew an analogy between correctly fitting walking boots and correctly fitting saddles. There followed a discussion about the role of numnahs and socks, and whether they should be thick or thin. The learning point from this was that if your saddle/walking boots have been fitted with thin socks/numnahs don’t them wear them with thick ones! A useful point to remember, and one I could have done with learning before I gave myself blisters through not following that advice.

The other point that came out of the analogy for me, was the use of footwear as the analogy. We all know understand that a good farrier is worth is weight in gold. Indeed, a story from a William Fox-Pitt lecture tells of a horse his mother bought that had failed the vetting, “what did it fail on?” came a question from the floor. “Navicular” he replied. There was a pause, after which he added, “we had a very good farrier. He was sound and eventing till 16 years old.” Need one say more?

But in fact, in my mind the comparison to the saddle is the backpack that you choose to carry when walking. Now, this is something that people don’t think about, or they buy the cheapest, or the brand they know, or the pink one…However, walking any distance with an ill-fitting backpack will reduce your back to a seething mass of painful muscles, and that is only carrying the fraction of the weight that a rider represents to a horse.

The problem with pain is that we can’t see it. We can feel our own pain, but not that of others. But anyone who has had to walk any distance with blisters will remember how very sore it is. There is no point buying the most expensive walking boots, if you then carry everything in a poorly fitting backpack. You must see the whole picture. Yet how many people are guilty of ensuring their horse’s feet are well-maintained and then riding it in a saddle that does not fit. It is our responsibility as horse owners to ensure that we provide good care for our horses and all the areas this encompasses.

So, the next time you are wondering whether it is worth getting the saddler out, put a cheap backpack on your back, fill it and go for a long walk….

What does your horse do when you do his girth up?

Is your horse happy when you do his girth up? If the answer is yes, then good, but make sure you know what to do should that no longer be the case. It is all too easy for our horses to slip, or spin in the field, or simply turn awkwardly and strain a muscle. You might not see this, you might not know, until you go to girth up your horse and he puts his ears back. Equally you might have a horse that has always put his ears back, and you have simply accepted it as part of his behaviour.

Remember your horse is only capable of communicating with you through his behaviour, it is up to us to make sure that we are listening. We always recommend that you begin with the eliminating the possibility that the horse is in pain before you begin to alter the behaviour. There is no point is challenging your horse’s behaviour till you are confident that it is not a pain response. All you are doing if you do that, is cutting off the opportunity for the horse to communicate with you.

Your horse may have always put his ears back, or started doing it recently, either way you can start to resolve this problem. Have a good professional check your horse over, so that you can rule out whether the behaviour is a pain issue. This may include a physio or osteopath, a saddle fitter, a dentist. Remember pain can be referred, so don’t assume it must be a problem with the girth.

Once you have thoroughly investigated and are confident that the horse is not in pain, then two things will happen. Either the behaviour will stop, as the horse realises he is not in pain, or it will continue, as a learnt response. The horse has learnt the association between the girth being done up and pain. Their behaviour is a response that has been learnt from the pain reaction. It is possible to re-train the horse not to respond in this way.

Begin the re-training by breaking down the process into small pieces and re-training each part of the process. Identify where the horse’s reaction begins. Does he start to fidget when you pick up the saddle, or does he only flinch when you actually do the girth up? Dependent on the severity of the reaction, it will take a proportional length of time to correct the training.

Remember to spend time on each stage of the process, rewarding the desired response with praise, or some action that your horse enjoys, such a scratch on the withers. Be wary of simply using food as a reward, as this can lead to further problems. Once each stage of the process has been broken down and worked on, you will be able to join them together and be able to saddle and girth up your horse, while he remains happy and relaxed.

Does your saddle fit?

You know what it is like to walk around in shoes that don’t fit, so it is easy to imagine how uncomfortable a poorly fitting saddle must be.

The problems caused by a poorly fitting saddle are well documented, including pain for the horse, behavioural problems that are labelled as “naughtiness” and poor performance. In our book “Understanding Horse Performance Brain, Pain, or Training?” we help people to identify the causes of their horse’s problems and whether the problems are caused by brain, pain, or training.

While the majority of riders understand the need for  correctly fitting saddles, the practicality of ensuring this can be challenging. Saddles are notoriously expensive  and if you have just purchased a new saddle and then your horse changes shape, the tendency is to make do. Do make sure you seek out a professional saddle fitter to come and assess you and your horse. There is no point having a saddle that fits your horse, if it doesn’t fit you. Do make sure that you have a good instructor to help you achieve and maintain a good position. Even getting a friend to video you riding can help to develop a correct position.

We understand that everyone wishes to keep their horses happy and healthy, but the logistics of doing so can be hard. So make sure you schedule the time to have your horse’s saddle checked by a competent professional, and should ridden problems, such as bucking, develop make sure that checking the fit of your saddle is one of the actions that you take. For a great guide on saddle fitting and what you should look for, take a look at this guide which has been put together by the Animal Health Trust in association with World Horse Welfare, click here to view the guide.

In hand exercises and how they can help

The NICE guidelines for osteoarthritis, the leading cause of stiffness in humans and horses, include appropriate exercise. Exercise is recommended by doctors to tackle a whole range of health conditions in humans, and the same principles can be applied to our horses. We know that general exercise, even if only for 20 minutes a day can have impressive results on our health and the same is true of our horses.

In an ideal world, all horses would have access to grazing and the freedom to move around. Failing this, we try to go some way to replicate this natural process to maintain the health of our horses. Whether your horse is young or old, in full health or in rehabilitation, a series of simple exercises can do wonders for his general health.

Just as we know that our own core strength is vitally important to maintain health and performance, so the same applies to our horses.  Stubbs and Clayton (2008) state “One of the best ways to both prevent and to treat back pain in horses is through the regular use of core training exercises”1.

Dr Narelle Stubbs and Dr Hilary Clayton devoted years of research to building a series of exercises to improve core musculature in horses. The exercises shown in the book and DVD “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field trials, as quoted in the Equine Veterinary Journal: “Research has shown that regular performance of dynamic mobilization exercises over a period of three months stimulated hypertrophy (enlargement) of the muscles that stabilize the horse’s back.”2

But it is not simply their work that has been examined under research. Other studies have taken place at leading centres of science and research showing that using the correct exercises can greatly benefit your horse. “Exercises to increase Multifidus cross sectional area (CSA) have been shown to reduce the amount and reoccurrence of back pain in humans. Similarly, dynamic mobilisation exercises have led to an increase in multifidus cross sectional area in horses on box rest.”3

Here the study has focused on horses on box rest.  This is important, as bringing horses back into after work after injury can be a daunting and difficult process, and one that can be improved if you can maintain some level of strength and flexibility during the box rest. A further study discusses the effect of exercises on asymmetries in horses. As asymmetry can contribute to further problems at a later date, exercises to balance out the difference between the left and the right hand side can only be a good thing. “Between the initial evaluation and final evaluation m. multifidus cross sectional area increased significantly at all six spinal levels on both right and left sides. Asymmetries in m. multifidus cross sectional area between the right and left sides decreased between the initial and final evaluations.”4

And finally, research suggesting that mobilisation can improve the quality of your horse’s paces: “Gymnastic exercises performed three times per week improved stride quality at walk.”5 So wherever you are with your horse, you can safely say that simple mobilisation exercises will benefit your horse.

References:

  1. Stubbs, N. and Clayton, H. (2008). Activate your horse’s core. Mason MI: Sport Horse Publications.
  2. Stubbs, Narelle & Kaiser, LeeAnn & Hauptman, J & Clayton, Hilary. (2011). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of multifidus. Equine veterinary journal. 43. 522-9. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00322.x.
  3. Tabor, G. (2017). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Pearl.plymouth.ac.uk. Available at: https://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/handle/10026.1/3320
  4. Stubbs NC, e. (2017). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21496085
  5. de Oliveira, K., Soutello, R., da Fonseca, R., Costa, C., de L. Meirelles, P., Fachiolli, D. and Clayton, H. (2017). Gymnastic Training and Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Improve Stride Quality and Increase Epaxial Muscle Size in Therapy Horses.