Ask Horse Journal: October Letters

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Trail Rides Become Races

My horse gets horribly strong when we go trail riding, especially if we're in a group of horses. He loves to run, and it seems he feels he should be in front! I hate to constantly yank on his mouth. What can I do to help him go along more quietly' I don't want to ride him in a stronger bit.

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds:


You may have to ride him in a stronger bit, at least initially. But you shouldn't feel badly about it ? a stronger bit may be the best way to keep your horse, you and your companions safe, and it may be the most effective way to break the grip of whatever has caused this behavior.

Both you and your horse will suffer less aggravation if you can lightly use a stronger bit than if you have to constantly yank on a snaffle. A stronger bit (perhaps a Pelham or a three-ring snaffle) doesn't necessarily signal a training failure; consider it a training aid. If retraining succeeds, you can go back to a milder bit.

To start retraining your horse, I'd do a lot of walking on the trail ? no trotting or galloping. And then do even more walking and halting. You want to convince him that the trail just isn?t that exciting. Something, or someone, has caused this anxious behavior, and you have to convince him that it's not necessary to gallop off or to always be in front. That will take time and patience.

First, take him trail riding alone. Does he act barn sour ? dawdling going away from the barn and then rushing to get home' If so, make him walk energetically away from the barn and then make him circle or halt repeatedly heading back toward the barn, only letting him head toward home when he walks.

When He's OK riding alone, add another horse. And do lots more walking, alternating between leading and following. If he tries to get too close to the other horse or to charge ahead, in a calm and patient manner, use your leg and seat aids, in conjunction with your reins, to slow him down. Make circles, and do frequent halts. (Both your horse and the other horse must circle and halt at the same time ? if the other horse keeps walking on, it will just add to your horse's anxiety.)

If he improves with one other horse, add a second horse and do the same types of exercises. Then add a third if you want.

You can also practice patience riding in the ring. Follow behind one to three horses, again using your seat and leg aids in conjunction with your reins to keep him behind them. Think of it as ?group dressage.?

The key is you have to always remain calm and patient. This retraining will take time, especially if the horse is older and has been acting this way for years.

Snaffle vs. Kimberwick

I was sent a video of a sale horse, and it wasn?t in a snaffle. I asked why. The woman said she always starts a horse with a Kimberwick because it doesn't pinch the mouth and that she finds snaffles to be harsher, creating a hard mouth. Is a snaffle harsher than a Kimberwick' Will it make the mouth hard'

Associate Editor Margaret Freeman replies:


A snaffle is much milder than a Kimberwick if it fits the horse's mouth. Any bit that causes pain will make a horse resist, toss its head and brace down. For example, a snaffle with a single joint worn by a horse with a low palate may cause that horse to root down or even run away so that the joint is pulled out of the palate. A very thin snaffle, or a snaffle with a twisted surface, will also cause discomfort. A Kimberwick has a smooth, wide surface, so it shouldn't pinch, but the port and chain can cause other problems, such as bracing through the poll. it's a compromise between a snaffle and a shanked curb without any of the real advantages of either.

An ideal starting bit is a fairly thick, smooth snaffle with two joints that is roughly a half inch wider than the horse's mouth. There should be no place on the bit that will pinch, rub or poke.

This kind of snaffle, adjusted properly and used by an educated rider, will help teach the horse to relax its poll and work with a steady connection. Horses that eventually work and show with a more sophisticated bit like a curb bit, such as reining horses and dressage horses, are started with a snaffle. The curb is for refinement, not for stopping power or to bring the head down. you'll hear many trainers say that a horse should never graduate to a curb until it can do all its required work first in a snaffle.

Worried About Tripping

I have a 30-year-old Russian Warmblood. He is mostly retired, but I still trail ride him and my daughter, who is 7, does walk-trot with him. He has navicular syndrome, but his X-rays were clean. He is shod on time every time, by a great farrier. However, he still trips, even when he is free in the paddock.

I try to ride him with more energy, so he picks his feet up in front. I am now afraid to put my daughter on him in the fear that his next trip may end up with her injured. Is there anything more I can do'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller, DVM, responds:
I can empathize with you about your horse, because my own beloved horse suffered from the same problem. You?ve already solved a big piece of the puzzle in treating the condition by finding a good farrier, since the way a navicular horse is trimmed and shod can instantly improve the way he moves.

However, if your horse is still tripping, that means that He's still uncomfortable in his front heels. If He's tripping badly enough to make you fear for a rider?s safety, then please listen to your instinct and stop riding him until you can get the condition under control.

You may wish to research the following options for treating navicular syndrome, since I have had tremendous success with all three in my practice:

Previcox
This tiny little tablet is fed to the horse once daily, and it can work wonders on making him sound. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is designed for long-term use. it's no secret that other NSAIDS (like bute and banamine) can cause gastric ulcers and colon issues if given over the long term, so Previcox was invented to provide a good anti-inflammatory effect without the harmful gastrointestinal side effects. I have given it to horses for years at a time, and it has really helped with reducing the stumbling and tripping associated with navicular pain.

Tildren
This medication was originally developed to combat osteoporosis in women. It comes in an injectable form and generally is administered once every one to two years. It works by strengthening bone by making it resorb extra calcium from the blood stream. It is labeled specifically for use in navicular horses. Sounds too good to be true, right' Well, here is the catch: it's not available in the United States. Your veterinarian would need to import it from another country. Start calling around and you may be surprised. Many vets are using Tildren in their practices, and most veterinary schools have it as well. One treatment will probably set you back about $1,200 and it takes about two months to work, but believe me, it's worth waiting for.

Acupuncture
This therapy is famed for controlling ongoing pain associated with degenerative conditions. Although results vary tremendously among horses, many vets and horse owners across the country are experiencing helpful results with ongoing use of acupuncture to treat conditions l
ike navicular syndrome.