Ask Horse Journal Questions and Letters: Warm Up: Stiff Side First'

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My horse is stiffer going to the left than to the right, especially when I first start riding. Is it better to warm up starting on her stiffer side first or to start with her better side' Or does it really not matter'

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds: I prefer to start warming the horse up on the side that's less stiff, so I'd probably start off to the right.

But then I'd work the horse more to the left (the stiff side) than to the right?roughly 60 percent to the left and 40 percent to the right.

Why' THere's a mental and a physical reason. The mental reason is that, if you start off on the side that's easier for a horse, he'll, generally, be more cooperative in whatever work you're doing for the rest of the session. Since your horse is a mare, I'd definitely start on the softer side.

The physical reason is if you start off on the soft side, you'll loosen up and stretch her muscles, usually making it a bit easier for her to start to work on the stiff side. Then, work more on the stiff side to try to develop suppleness and strength in the muscles that allow her to go forward and bend in that direction.

Like us, every horse is stronger and suppler in one direction than the other. But if your horse is highly different?if He's almost like riding two different horses?that's a sign you?ve got a serious issue to solve. Start with her teeth and the bit. Does she have sharp hooks that make her unwilling to turn one way' Is the bit pinching or rubbing her mouth' Check your saddle fit?could it be pressing unevenly on her back'

In January, I wrote a Commentary urging horse owners to use both traditional veterinary medicine and chiropractic therapy. I'd strongly suggest that, if your horse is dramatically different from side to side or is otherwise vehemently uncooperative, that you consult your veterinarian or an equine chiropractor. She probably has a soreness or stiffness in her neck, shoulder/withers, back, hip or hind leg. If you address it, she'll go much better and you'll be much happier.

DIETARY CHANGES

We're supposed to be so careful and gradually change the horse's diet, but it doesn't seem to count in supplements. We're told to immediately feed a loading dose, then taper it down after the 2-week loading period. However, my newest choice of supplement makers said to start feeding his product slowly with a 1/2 scoop start, building up to the loading dose over the course of a week, then loading for two weeks, then dropping to maintenance. This sounds much safer and more logical to me, but is he right'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge DVM responds: You are right to be confused, but the directions for both options could be correct. Depending on the individual supplement, jumping right in and feeding it or using a ?loading dose? may be correct.

With a vitamin/mineral supplement you can usually go right to the full dose, even if switching supplements. With a joint supplement, many work best with a loading dose for the specified initial period, then dropping to maintenance.

For more clear-cut examples, if your horse needs an antibiotic, you start right in with the full dose. If your horse needs to gain weight, you gradually add more feed. The dietary changes associated with feed are more significant due to the volume than changing a one-ounce serving of a supplement.

However, the bottom line is to follow the directions carefully?there is generally a good reason for the dosing schedule.

Concern About Trailer Comments

In reference to Margaret Freeman?s commentary on the cost of towing (May 2012), if you don't have an arrangement to share a trailer with a close neighbor in an emergency, how will you get your horse to a vet' We live five hours from the university hospital and two hours from the local clinic. A twisted gut might not happen, but if it did, we want to be prepared.

Kathy Ethier,? Oregon

Editor?s Note: The full article on the cost of towing (July 2010) listed the availability and reliability of local commercial haulers as one of your first considerations.

PASTURE VACUUMS

I have a question about the Ask Horse Journal response to pasture vacuums. For me, cleaning pastures is a major chore. The major issue is a weed called chamber bitter (or catclaw mimosa). I use 2,4-D/dicamba with mowing and it still spreads. I hate herbicide, but it's the only thing that slows it down. It begins in heavy manure areas where the grass is killed, so for me, cleaning pastures is mandatory. It takes me an hour a day with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Mary Farr,? Florida

Contributing Writer Lee Foley responds: We like PBI/Gordon?s Pasture Pro as a weed herbicide in our pastures. It works well for us and doesn't have a wait period for grazing. You could weigh the cost of the small pasture vacuum vs. your time. They run $4,000+.? we'd also consider a chain drag to break up the piles and promote even grazing (once the pile lands on the ground, it's already released any worm eggs) vs. picking it up. Much of this depends upon the size of your property, too, of course.