Ask Horse Journal; August Letters

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I feed electrolytes every day with a meal because my mare sweats in her stall during summer heat and humidity. In addition, I give a scoop after I ride if sHe's worked hard. Another woman in my barn said she?d heard that feeding electrolytes can lead to ulcers. Have you heard anything about this'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller DVM responds:


It seems that no matter what we try to do to improve and protect our horse's health, some kind of research shows up saying it may have a negative impact. Such is the case with electrolytes.

A study published in 2005 in the

Electrolytes will make your horse drink more water.

Electrolytes will make your horse drink more water.

Equine Veterinary Journal showed that giving electrolytes to 14 test horses increased the prevalence of gastric ulcers in those animals. However, this study was small and followed a specific electrolyte-dosing regimen used for endurance horses during competition. The conclusion suggested that, at least in that particular dosing scenario, electrolytes can aggravate ulcers. The study also pointed out that several of the horses had ulcers initially and worsened in the test.

Equine electrolytes consist of concentrated mixtures of major minerals such as calcium, sodium, chloride, potassium and, in some cases, magnesium and phosphorous. To increase their palatability, sugar (dextrose) is sometimes added.

We've fed electrolytes to our own horses for decades, but we do so considering this endurance-horse research about their connection to gastric ulcers.

Gastric ulcers plague all types of horses, regardless of age, breed or riding discipline. In fact, a 2010 study shows an estimated 60% of U.S. horses have some gastric ulceration. So why use electrolytes'

Research also proves that electrolyte supplementation in horses will result in a significant increase in water intake. This can be a big help for horses that seem to colic chronically, endurance horses that resist drinking on rides, and horses that tend to have impaction problems.

The endurance-horses research involved several electrolyte doses given in frequent intervals over a relatively short period of time, a practice not followed by most horse owners. Occasional use of electrolytes in smaller doses is most common, and so far no research is available to show if this dosing regimen will result in ulcer formation.

Marigolds at The Barn

In ?Call Out The Natural Guard? (June 2011), marigolds are suggested for natural insect control. Are marigolds toxic for horses if the horses ingest them'

Contributing Writer Beth Benard responds:


Marigolds are considered non-toxic. For humans, the flowers have been compounded into an oral herbal remedy for stomach upset, and marigolds are approved by the FDA as a feed additive. We could find no studies on possible toxic ingestion in horses. A really bored or starved horse might sample them once, but our horses, not known to be discriminating, consistently avoid them.

Dominant Hand

A friend told me the other day that my right hand is dominant over my left because my horse's bit (a loose-ring snaffle) is usually pulled through his mouth to the right. I've tried using my left hand with the same amount of contact as the right but it's not working. Do you have any ideas for a fix'

Associate Editor Margaret Freeman responds:


If a snaffle bit is constantly placed more to one side of the mouth, it may be the bit itself causing the problem, not your hand. The bit may be too large so that the joint(s) poke up into the palate.

The horse will use his tongue to maneuver the bit to where it's comfortable and then clamp his teeth to keep it there. If the bit stays firmly out one side of the mouth when the reins are released, or you can't slide the bit through the mouth at all, check to be sure bit fit and size are correct.

Many riders do have a dominant hand.

Many riders do have a dominant hand.

But many riders do have a dominant hand. The effect of this is noticed more with a full-cheek than loose-ring snaffle because the nose will usually go more to one side or be tilted. One way to fix this is to ask yourself whether you have the same amount of ?feel? on both corners of the mouth, no matter how much bend there is through the neck and body.

Practice widening the less-dominant hand away from the withers rather than bringing it back toward your body. Play with a slight counter-bend to the left when tracking right to release your dominant right hand and arm.

Finally, most people tend to carry their whip in their dominant hand. Put it in your left hand and leave it there, no matter which direction you're going.

Is ?Soft? Wrong'
I ride with a very soft hand, wiggle fingers to drop the head, support by closing the leg. As soon as the head comes down, I release. I do a lot of two-point cantering with a loopy rein, letting the horse find its distance as much as possible.

My trainer tends to hold the horse, use a ton of leg and only softens when the horse gives. It worked well on my most recent horse, but she got very heavy and, eventually, I had a terrible time stopping her. I don't have the leg strength to support that kind of riding.

The other day, I went to see a potential new horse with some police training. He, too, was used to constant contact. I had a terrible time riding that horse! About 15 minutes into the ride, the trainer said I was starting to understand the horse. But I wasn?t! I was figuring out how they wanted me to ride.

I can't hang on a horse's mouth. These people are professionals and wonderful horse people, but we have a fundamental difference in how we approach riding.

My first horse was super light. Although she was sensitive, I believe it was also because I was so light in my aids. Am I doing something wrong' Should I change my methods or just keep searching for a horse trained the way I ride'

Performance Editor John Strassburger Responds:


I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, ?there's more than one way to skin a cat.? Well, that pretty much describes your situation.

Almost everyone wants their horse to go with the lightest aids possible, but that lightness is a matter of degree. What feels like heavy contact or strong aids to you may feel light to another rider.

And you can't perform successfully at any of the three Olympic disciplines on a loopy rein. The impulsion and immediate response that they require demands a well-defined, constant connection between the hindquarters and the bit. The horse must be ?on the aids,? and a horse cantering around on a loopy rein is simply not fully on the aids. That light, ?doing-it-on-his-own? feeling and more a goal of show hunters.

Also, for a horse to be light on his forehand (and, thus, light in your hand), he must be holding himself in balance with his hindquarters. Some horses are well-balanced enough to do that naturally, but most need their riders to create the impulsion necessary to hold themselves. Perhaps what you're experiencing is a horse who needs you to create more impulsion (with your legs and seat) than you're used to doing.

So, no, it doesn't sound as if you're doing anything wrong, for the type of riding that you do. But you are looking for a different type of ride than the people around you. There is no reason you shouldn?t l
ook for another horse on whom you feel comfortable, a horse who is well-balanced enough to go as softly as you like, if you don't want to change the way you ride.

Back Or Hock'

How can you tell the difference between symptoms of hock pain and lower back pain' Are there signs when standing or hand-walking that may indicate one or the other'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb M. Eldredge, DVM responds:


Many horses will stand or walk fairly normally with mild hock or back pain. You may notice only a slight shift of weight off the bad leg and onto the good leg with a hock problem. The back problem might be an initial reaction to the saddle.

The best way to distinguish between these two problems is palpation. Carefully feeling the entire hock joint, then properly flexing and extending it carefully should indicate any soreness there. Compare the suspect hock to the other one for differences.

On the back, carefully palpate with some pressure down along the spine with your fingers. Most horses will drop away under your hand when you hit a painful area.

Remember that a horse is ?off? because it hurts somewhere. When you're searching for the painful spot, you may cause some transient pain. Be careful. Ideally, do this with someone else present to observe and to help you if need be.