Ask Horse Journal: 09/99

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Carrot Exercises Help Stiff Neck
I have a 10-year-old Thoroughbred that I have owned for two years. I have been training four or five times a week with him, but I can’t seem to get him on the bit and collected. I longe him once or twice a week with side reins and do a lot of circles, serpentines, figure 8s, etc. His neck is always so stiff that, when I try to get him more flexible, he stiffens up and gets confused by my aids.

I had him in a thick, round-ring snaffle and changed him to a thinner D-ring snaffle, but there was no progress. His mouth is already hard, and I’m afraid I’ll only make it worse if I start to use a harsher bit. Or should I use any other training devices (like the gogue, chambon), or am I just not doing the correct exercises' What would you recommend'

-Yasmin Kocur
San Diego, CA

When it comes to bits, the old saying of “less is more” usually holds true. If a problem originates with tension, then a more-severe bit will make the problem worse rather than better. There is a range of gentle bits available that may help address your problem, such as Happy Mouth bits or a mouthpiece covered with rollers. You may want to borrow a couple of such bits, assuming they would fit your horse, and see if they help, although a plain, thick snaffle is usually best.

A D-ring or full-cheek snaffle is a good idea on a horse with neck tension since the bit won’t slide too far through the horse’s mouth. On the other hand, if the horse gets really heavy, he can’t lean as easily on a loose-ring bit. There are the options of a loose-ring eggbutt and a loose-ring full-cheek (a “Fulmer”), although they’re harder to find.

Whatever bit you choose, you should always keep the same feel on both sides of your horse’s mouth. For example, if you use a leading rein on one side, you need to follow the increased bend of the horse’s neck with your hand on the other side. You shouldn’t feel more weight in one hand no matter how much (or how little!) your horse’s neck is bent.

As for “devices,” you should probably stay away from them unless you’re well educated in their appropriate remedial use. The one “device” that might help is a set of sliding side reins used during longeing, instead of fixed side reins, which could help develop flexibility along your horse’s topline.

The exercises you’re describing are all good ones. It’s not what you do that matters so much as how you do it. Many riders equate bend with what happens in the horse’s neck, when it’s really what happens in the horse’s body. So don’t become fixated with the neck. Instead, concentrate on getting a response under your inside leg. Think about going a little sideways at the same time that you are going forward.

Teach your horse to leg-yield on a circle. Make every corner another leg-yield by cutting in slightly and then leg-yielding out. When you straighten for the long side, try to keep your horse in “shoulder-fore,” using your outside leg and hand to keep the horse bent slightly around your inside leg. When the horse contracts the inside of his body and stretches the outside, he’ll also soften through his neck.

You may also experiment with using a leading rein at the walk. Don’t pull back on the inside rein. Take it straight out from the side and then back toward your knee, while following with your outside hand to maintain an even feel on the bit and using an active inside leg. If the horse responds by softening his jaw, then return to the normal position and pat him (with your inside hand!). If he stiffens, add more inside leg and really ask him to go sideways. Any softening at all should be rewarded.

You cannot pull a horse’s head into position. Try it and he’ll just pull right back. Instead, keep your reins short so you can feel his mouth, ask for the bend with your leg and then follow with your hand so the contact stays the same. You’ll need to repeat this request dozens or even hundreds of times in each session before he’ll become consistent.

To establish flexibility before you tack up, there’s an exercise that both you and horse will enjoy called “carrot tricks.” Break several carrots into small pieces. Stand back by your horse’s side and offer him a piece of carrot with your hand near his shoulder. Tease him into extending his neck as far as he can without moving the rest of his body. Eventually, you may have him reaching as far back as his croup. Repeat several times on each side. You may be surprised how flexible he can be without a rider on his back. You may also learn his degree of flexibility and whether it’s significantly different on either side.

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Bearded Wheat
This year’s hay field was last year’s wheat field. Some volunteer wheat came up with the hay, necessitating an early first cutting to get the wheat before it made grain and got too coarse. It was bearded wheat, and although there is no grain in the hay, there are some beards on the green wheat plants. The hay does not have a very high percentage of wheat in it, but it is there. A friend told us that she had heard bearded wheat is dangerous to horses. Is it'

-Paul and Florence Butler
Malta, IL

Your friend was probably thinking of a bearded wheat look-alike, called Bearded Darnel (aka Ray Grass, Drake, Cheat, Zirwan, Ivraie, Poison Rye Grass). It is a weed grass that so closely resembles wheat it can be indistinguishable until the seed heads begin to form. The seeds may be infected with a toxic fungus. This fungus is the same as that known to cause problems in cattle and in pregnant mares.

With the stage of cutting you describe, this shouldn’t be a problem even if the “wheat” is not true bearded wheat. Wheat (the grain) itself is not inherently dangerous. It does have a high carbohydrate content, which leads to concerns about carbohydrate overload, acid in the cecum and possibly founder with overeating, but the main problem with wheat is its extremely hard covering that horses have trouble breaking.

The young growth mixed in with your hay should pose no danger. By the way, wheat hay has about the same caloric value as timothy but a much lower level of calcium and phosphorus. Its vitamin A content is almost double that of timothy.

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Kicking Oldenburg
Last year I purchased a four-year-old Oldenburg mare in Germany and then she stayed with my trainer for six months. I shipped her to the United States in November. There was nothing unusual during the shipping or quarantine.

When she arrived, the first thing we noticed was that she would kick in the stall, primarily at an older mare next to her and primarily at feeding time. When told to stop, she would respond immediately. However, the kicking escalated when nobody was around, so she was moved to an end stall.

She continues to kick and has broken boards in the stall. I can’t relate the kicking to feeding. However, she is now given her grain in a stall while the other horses are out and then moved to an outdoor run for her hay and a few hours of sunshine.

I do not think her kicking is always at another horse. There are kick marks all around her stall. Most of the kicking happens in late afternoon or night when no one is around. The damage is seen in the morning. The stable owners are considering eviction.

I am concerned about the damage she can do to herself and, of course, the property. Her cannon bones are swollen. I had kick pads made and lined two walls of her stall. Her run is 12’ x 50’ with pads hanging where she tends to kick the most. I tried different stalls with no success. I rented a dog electric-shock collar for eight days and taped it to her hind leg and gave her a shock if she kicked. It helped temporarily.

She is ridden or turned out in the arena to play daily for an hour. For a while the owner allowed h orses to be turned out in pairs in a small pasture. She didn’t kick there and got along with the other horses. It helped, but the tendency to kick when she is upset or excited is still there. The owner wants me to hobble three legs, but the vet said this is too dangerous and she could cast herself in the stall.

She is not on any “hot” foods (two pounds of sweet feed a.m. and p.m. and grass hay). She gets a small flake of alfalfa midday. I think this may be a combination of confinement and stress of being imported. Can you help me'

-Carol Bailey
Rapid City, SD

Your interpretation of the problem is probably correct???a reaction to stress and confinement. However, exactly what the aggravating factor might be is far from clear. A few hours outside in the sun should help tremendously, assuming she has enough room to run around, etc. and the run is not too confining. Is she showing any other signs of mental stress such as change in appetite, change in personality, resistance to work'

The kicking at feeding time or at other horses is annoying but not uncommon. Demolishing stalls in the middle of the night or kicking into thin air, however, is unusual. We can’t tell you there is anything to cure this aside from a major management change???i.e. keeping her outside in a field most of the time. We know horses that kick more in a stall with no window. Does she have a large Dutch-door window where she can actually stick her head outside'

There may be changes in her diet that are not immediately obvious. One that comes to mind is a drop in magnesium content. The major symptom of this is irritability. Many other countries strive to keep magnesium much higher than we do in the United States. You could check on this with your German trainer and also ask if she was receiving any particular supplements she may not be getting now, especially B vitamins.

Far less likely, but worth considering given the excessive nature of her kicking, is that the mare is being bothered by an unpleasant (pain) or “odd” (neurological) sensation that she reacts to by kicking. The report of kicking for no apparent reason and kicking worse at night (when there are no distractions to make her forget about the sensation) suggest this could be the case. We know of a mare who does exactly the same thing (although not as violently) as a reaction to acupuncture treatments for a chronic back problem.

Check her hindquarters and back legs carefully for any sign of increased sensitivity or “touchiness.” If you suspect a problem, get an examination from a veterinarian with a specialty in large animal neurology, even if you have to travel to get there.

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Aloe Belongs In Your Tack Room
Aloe is not a hit-or-miss folk remedy. It works. Aloe is a gentle, effective treatment for:

• Skin problems
• Lacerations
• Burns (including sunburn)
• Rashes
• Superficial infections
• Insect bites/stings
• Swellings
• Loosening hard collections in the sheath
• Soothing sensitive irritated tissues after sheath cleanings
• Bruised vaginal tissues after foaling.

Aloe can also be safely and effectively used for any irritation or injury around the mouth or eyes.

The human aloe-vera skin preparations (usually gels, but cremes can be OK for some problems, too) found in virtually any drug store also work well on horses. Always a favorite of alternative/natural medicine proponents, aloe can be traced back to 1550 BC.

The aloe plant has long, fleshy, thick, spike-like leaves, similar to a cactus. The tough, outer part of the leaf is an intestinal irritant and has been used since ancient times in multiple cultures as a purgative. Of primary interest is the inner pulp and sap of the plant, which has a natural thick and gel-like consistency. Aloe is being heavily researched for its potent immune-stimulating effect, and it has successfully encouraged the healing of chronic wounds and ulcers.

Research has confirmed that aloe vera extracts do improve the speed and strength of wound healing by stimulating the production of collagen. It also contains an antiviral chemical. Aloe also has antibacterial, antifungal and general immune-stimulating activity as well. Enzymes in aloe can ease pain in inflammed areas and can inhibit histamine release. Pain relief is also provided by the salicylic acid (aspirin) in aloe and plant sterols, which give it potent anti-inflammatory activity.

When choosing an aloe for horses, use a clear gel or aloe sap/liquid extract with minimal-to-no added ingredients. Any irritation from aloe products is usually traced back to added substances rather than the aloe itself (although rare cases of sensitivity have been reported in people). Even top-of-the-line aloe preparations are relatively inexpensive, so be sure to find one that has been cold-processed. The use of high heat in manufacturing of aloe products can destroy many of the beneficial substances.

Aloe can be found in different sections of a store. We’ve seen it in the skin-care section, the sunburn section and the cosmetics section.

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Bute And Joint Nutraceuticals Don’t Mix
People with arthritis often do not respond as quickly to joint nutraceuticals as horses. This may in part be due to differences between the type of arthritis present. However, it may also be because humans are more likely to be on high dose, regular intake of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, most of which can interfere with cartilage metabolism. If your horse has been on regular anti-inflammatory therapy prior to starting joint nutraceuticals be patient and allow more time (up to four weeks) for results to become apparent.

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Mark Your Polo Wraps
When you’ve collected polos over some time, they no longer match even though they may start out the same color. Polo mates are easier to identify if you leave a Velcro “tail” out when you roll them up. You can also keep your polos from walking away to someone else’s laundry pile by putting your initials on the non-Velcro ends with an indelible marker. The initials won’t show once the wraps are on your horse.