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AlphaHorse News

 

AlphaHorse News - June 2005

Greetings (Subscriber),

Well, the summer is now here in New England, and as normal nothing is ever typical about New England weather. One week we're experiencing humid 90-degree heat waves that would make any horse (and rider!) cranky, and another week we're back to comfortable dry low 70's temperatures. But I should stop griping about the crazy weather since it's something most of us deal with no matter what part of the world we live in.

Since we have now entered the uncomfortable realm of hot sticky weather, persistent flies and other summer trials, that will be the focus of this issue of AlphaHorse News.

So sit back, relax and enjoy this issue of AlphaHorse News.

Jeffrey Rolo

In This Issue:


bulletSummer Horse Workouts
bulletFlies: The Bane of Horses
bulletIntensity and Activity

Summer Horse Workouts

Preparing your horse properly for a summer workout is essential not only for his comfort, but quite possibly his health and well-being. Most horse owners are pretty good at watching over their equine partner's health and needs during cold winter months; for example, how many of us would even consider asking our horse to ride on sheer ice? It would be lunacy, and we can all agree on that. Unfortunately the summer poses dangers of its own… dangers that many horse owners overlook since they aren't as readily evident as ice or snow.

One of the keys to fostering a healthy horse-owner relationship is lending your horse the same respect you would like to be afforded. Or to put it more bluntly, put yourself in your horse's shoes before making an unreasonable request of him. If you are uncomfortable in the sweltering heat, you can bet your horse is too.

Here are some general rules to keep in mind when it comes to working your horse during the summer months:

bulletWork your horse during the early mornings or evenings if at all possible. Temperatures and humidity levels are usually significantly lower during those time periods.
bulletHumidity is the enemy. It's healthier to work in 95-degree dry heat than it is to work in 85-degree humid heat.
bulletIf horseflies plague your area make sure you spray your horse down with some fly spray. It's not entirely effective, unfortunately, but anything we can do to protect our horses from those pests is worth it. If a horsefly has ever bitten you then you know how much it can hurt!
bulletKeep the intensity of your workouts down during the hot periods. Even professional athletes that overwork themselves during hot and/or humid days can accidentally kill themselves.
bulletYour horse will almost assuredly develop a sweat during the hot months, but be attentive to his state at all times. If he appears strained, out of breath or is sweating excessively then either reduce the intensity of the workout or call it to a close.
bulletIntense workouts should always be followed by a cool-down period, where you slowly and leisurely walk your horse for several minutes before getting off and unsaddling him. This is even more important in the hot summer heat – do not skip this step!
bulletIf possible, wash your horse down with clean water before releasing him back to his stall or grazing area. Start at the feet and take it particularly slow if the water is cold, since frigid water will shock a hot horse as much as it would shock us in the same circumstances.
bulletDo not allow your horse to eat or drink until he is fully cooled down. Before your horse is reintroduced to food or water, make sure he is no longer actively sweating and that his chest no longer feels hot to the touch.
bulletIt's a good idea to keep an eye on your horse for the next hour or so to make sure there are no signs of colic, particularly if you worked your horse particularly hard or took a shortcut on any of the aforementioned steps. Just take a quick look at him each 15-30 minutes or so during the first hour as you pass by to make sure there are no signs of discomfort or distress.

I personally do not work my horses in the extreme heat – evening training and work sessions are the rule of the day for me during the summer months. But if morning or evening workouts are not possible for you, adhering to all the other rules of thumb listed above should reduce your horse's discomfort and help ensure he remains healthy and happy.

Flies: The Bane of Horses

Flies. The one thing that both our beloved horses and we despise. It doesn't matter if your region has to deal with the common mosquito, the painful horsefly or the barely visible sandflies – or all of the above! – there is one thing all the above share in common: the ability to inflict irritation, pain and even severe diseases to humans and horses alike.

Although there is no way to remove the problem of flies and insects altogether, there are ways that you can minimize the level of abuse they inflict as well as control their populations around your horses. Throughout this article we'll cover some of the more common flies that horses must face and briefly discuss what should be done to limit their wrath.

Blackflies

Sometimes confused with the common housefly, blackflies are actually biting insects that target the interior of your horse's ears where they feed upon your horse's blood. Persistent targeting of the ears can result in discomfort, irritation, pain and scabbing. Although blackflies favor the ears, they can also target other areas of your horse, particularly the underside of the horse.

The best form of defense against blackflies is to protect your horse's sensitive ears in the following ways:

bulletUnless your horse is a show horse, do not clip your horse's ears. Although the hair is not an insurmountable barrier for flies, it does provide light protection as opposed to virtually hairless clipped ears.
bulletThe best defense is the use of ear nets. They might not be visually appealing, but your horse will likely appreciate the barrier they present.
bulletIf the ears must be left exposed, use repellents and also apply a layer of petroleum jelly to your horse's ears.

Horseflies

Horseflies and their cousins (deerflies) feed on your horse's blood, but unlike the blackfly they do not target any specific areas. They have a powerful and painful bite and can ambush your horse anywhere on his body, resulting in extreme discomfort and even the development of nodules.

The use of repellents is the only really effective direct defense against these nasty flies since they don't discriminate in which body areas they target. While repellents do provide some protection, they shouldn't be viewed as a bulletproof shield since horseflies will often ignore repellents. Test various brands and see which you have the best results with.

While there aren't perfect shields for horseflies, you can minimize their appearance by knowing what landscapes they favor. Horseflies prefer wooded areas, which is why they can be a particularly nasty nuisance during trail rides – when we ride through wooded trails we're entering their territory! If your horse's pasture is grassy and clear he probably will not be exposed to a significant level of horseflies.

If it's not possible to pasture your horse in open, exposed locations then consider stabling him during their prime feeding times: early evening.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are equal opportunity offenders, all too happy to target us as quickly as they will target our horses! Repellents can provide a nice defense against these pests, but as is the nature of repellents they aren't 100% effective.

The best way to minimize mosquito assaults is to try and control their population. Mosquitoes favor hot, humid and swampy locations, so unfortunately putting a stop to them entirely may be impossible for some of us depending on the climate and landscape where we live. That having been said, one common mistake that many horse owners commit is leaving standing water sources nearby.

Mosquitoes take to stale standing water like a fly to dung. If your pasture or property contains a small pond or pool of water, try to keep your horse as far away from that water as possible! If your fields get partially flooded with water during spring or after serious rainfall, try to find ways to drain the water out of the area. Finally, never allow water troughs to become old and stagnant – make sure your horse receives fresh water daily.

Houseflies

The good news is houseflies are the only type of insect within this article that doesn't actually bite your horse. The bad news is they are still nuisances that can distract and annoy your horse, as well as pass on diseases.

Houseflies target your horse's eyes since they feed upon the liquid secretions of the eye. As such the best defenses are:

bulletClean your horse's eyes regularly. Why provide a full course buffet for houseflies if we don't have to?
bulletUse a face mask whenever possible.

Repellents can be somewhat effective, but I discourage their use for housefly defense since you can accidentally expose your horse's eyes to the repellent if you're not careful. If you do choose to use repellent, never directly spray repellent around your horse's face or eyes. Instead spray some on your hand or on a cloth and carefully wipe the repellent around your horse's face and eyes. Don't apply the repellent so close to the eyes that they might cause irritation.

Sandflies

These are the tiny flies that incessantly swarm around your horse's neck, mane and tail, causing no end of irritation to your equine partner. Their bites, while not nearly as painful as that of a horsefly, can still cause discomfort and a great deal of itching. Often horses will furiously rub their manes or tails in response to this itching, thereby causing hair loss and even raw, bleeding skin.

Sandflies primarily feed around dusk, so the best defense against these pests is stabling your horse during their prime feeding time. Providing your horse a box fan in his stable can also help assist him in keeping these tiny pests away, not to mention help him cool down during those hot summer months.

Controlling all of the above flies is not simply a matter of our horse's comfort, though as responsible owners we should certainly do anything we can to alleviate our horse's discomfort anyways. Controlling the exposure of our horse to these flies is also a matter of health and longevity since the insects are notorious hosts of diseases.

Although it's not possible to remove flies from the equation entirely during the summer months, as you can see there are ways to help our horse and combat each of the main offenders.

If you're interested in purchasing various repellents or masks that can help you combat the flies mentioned in the preceding article, consider doing so through StateLineTack.com. Not only are they one of the oldest and most reliable horse stores available, they offer a wide selection and good prices.

Intensity and Activity

Never do anything to frighten a horse to gain control. Swear pressures or avoidance pressures can create activity in an animal but activity should not be mistaken for learning. A high level of activity can sometimes limit the amount of learning. If a horse is reacting to frightening situations, it is not responding to your aids.

Many people think that a horse isn't working very hard if the horse isn't reacting in an "active" way- trying to avoid a punishment that will surely come if it doesn't perform correctly. Avoidance situations create more activity than approach situations. An avoidance situation is stronger in that it creates more reaction. You create about five times as much negative feeling with an avoidance situation as you can create positive feeling with an approach situation.

People often use avoidance pressures because they stir the horse up so much and so quickly and these so called trainers think that activity indicates learning. It does not, necessarily. So whenever these people come to the end of their knowledge about how to enforce training positively, they often resort to avoidance pressures. That means pop that sucker, jerk him, jab him. Jabbing, jerking or excessive spurring are not going to produce a high level of trust in the horse.

Calm concentration teaches the horse more than frantic confrontation. The mental effort of straightening things out in his own mind and then repeating that effort over and over is the important part of training. And that's working pretty hard work. You don't want the horse to do anything from fear because if does, you're going to get the wrong result.

What you want to do first when training a horse is to get rhythm and relaxation first, to keep that rhythm and relaxation throughout the training session, and to gradually build up the amount of energy that is used while you are working.

If a horse has been enjoying himself throughout his training and then something happens that frightens him, it takes the fun out of the game for awhile. As soon as he gets back to playing the game with you and feeling like he's got some input again, he'll be alright. A good trainer will notice when the horse stops having fun. This is not unusual during any training program. The horse may lose its sparkle, even get a little depressed.

If you are the kind of person that believes in breaking horses rather than training them, then this horse version of the blues is what you're looking for--you want ten times this. Because most people think that a horse that walks around with his head down, appearing clam, is really doing right. But that isn't necessarily so if there is no spark. Spark is what makes winning horses.

Don't get greedy and force your horse on the days when he loses his spark or seems a little bit depressed. There's no good reason to push. If you do, he'll be doubly disinterested or depressed tomorrow. When your horse loses interest in the program, you have to back off your training schedule and help him find something to be interested in again. I'm not saying that you should stop working a horse every time everything isn't going right. I'm saying that you should never get so hung up on procedure that you forget about the horse's input.

You should always be thinking about progress. At higher levels of training and when you are more in the horse's mind you can sometimes push harder than you can with a young horse. But you don't want to create a situation that's anything other than fun for the horse. You want him to do everything with enthusiasm because without enthusiasm you are not going to get any rhythm and relaxation. You should always give your horse two to three days off in a week to rest mentally and physically. Those days do not necessarily have to be consecutive.

Activity drive builds from three to five days. That means with super horses like finished cutting horses or grand prix jumping horses or grand prix dressage or whatever, you want the work cycles to be within the three to five days as much as possible. You never want to skip more than three to five days. But you always want to have some one or two or three day breaks for the activity drive to build back up. Activity drive is what keeps these horses really enthusiastic about what they're doing and it is satisfying for them to spend their activity drive.

Horses are willing to put so much energy into a moment but because of the way their digestive systems work they have a limited amount of energy at any one time. So you have to either teach them to monitor it out or you have to get them in better and better shape. Horses can put out energy at a tremendous rate but not over a long period of time. They function more like a capacitor than a battery.

Everybody thinks that the healthiest thing for a horse is to be running around out in a field. But if you have a well-trained, tremendously valuable horse, you want to give it the actual best care regardless of cost. In this case, YOU will control 90 percent of its exercise. You don't take a horse to a very high level of athletic capability that he doesn't understand, let his activity drive build up and then turn him loose. He'll hurt himself.

If things are going really well for you, the horse should appear as lazy as you ask for and become as energetic as you ask for. No change in his actual excitement level. Most of the time, changes in the excitement level come from being frightened or uncomfortable or insecure. Changes in activity level should occur relative to the whole situation that you establish as trainer.

© 1997-2002 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved. All rights reserved.

Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.

Rt. 1 Box 66
Waverly, WV 26184
(800) 679-2603

Thanks again for making AlphaHorse one of the premiere sources for horse enthusiasts. As always, we welcome your contributions and thoughts on how to further ensure AlphaHorse exceeds your expectations.

Sincerely,
--The Team at AlphaHorse



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