EQUINE MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING - Fred and Rowena Cook
Retraining Racehorses, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Schooling
Email: Enquiries@equinetraining.co.uk or call 01780 740773
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the National Hunt season. Spanning four days over the St Patrick’s Day week, over 250,000 spectators travel to Prestbury Park to watch some of the best racehorses in the business compete at the highest level.
The showpiece race at the meeting is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Taking place on the fourth and final day, the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of jumps racing and punters will already have one eye on ante-post betting odds ahead of The Festival. Without further ado, let’s take a look at a few of the leading Gold Cup contenders:
Runner-up in 2018, Might Bite can reverse the form next year. Nicky Henderson’s stable star is one of the best jumps horses in training and he will be difficult to beat on top form.
He is the ante-post favourite for a reason and victory in the Betfair Chase will only cement his status as the leading Gold Cup candidate.
Might Bite is one of the most consistent jumpers around and his form around Cheltenham is solid. Back the 2017 RSA Chase winner to emerge victorious in the upcoming Gold Cup.
Sizing John has struggled to cope with his fair share of injury issues in recent years and the Jessica Harrington-trained star may find it tough going to get back to his brilliant best.
On his day, the 2017 Gold Cup winner has the stamina and speed to prevail once again and his knowledge of the Cheltenham course is second to none.
Punters will be keeping a close eye on news regarding Sizing John’s seasonal reappearance – he is yet to feature after a wind operation. Write Sizing John off at your peril.
Presenting Percy has won at each of the last two Festivals and he will be right in the mix to win the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup if trainer Patrick Kelly gets his preparation correct.
A dominant winner of the 2018 RSA Chase by an incredible seven lengths, horse racing tips from Betting.Betfair show Presenting Percy at 6/1 to win the biggest show on turf.
He has finished in the top three in 12 of his 17 races and Presenting Percy ticks all the right boxes to win a Gold Cup. 2019 could be his year to take centre stage at Prestbury Park.
The 2018 winner will be back to defend his crown and Colin Tizzard will be quietly confident of forming a perfect campaign for Native River to follow ahead of Cheltenham.
Capable of winning on any type of ground, Native River is one of the most versatile horses in the business. He will take some stopping if he hits top form.
You need to be a special thoroughbred to win back-to-back Gold Cups and Native River is an extremely talented horse. He could come out on top in another nail-biter with Might Bite.
Whllst most people are finally aware of gastic ulcers and EGUS, there are still many to whom mention of similar issues in the hindgut is unknown territory. For those who have horses that do have hindgut issues it can be virtually impossible to know exactly what the problem is and where it lies as there is no real definitive way of diagnosing what is going on, with in the majority of cases being given a "coverall" cause of acidosis, With a unknown cause, treatment really has been on a trial and error basis to treat very real symptoms but not accurately diagnose - UNTIL NOW THAT IS ........
.... thanks to the Equibiome Team which comprises a team of biochemists, equine microbiologists and geneticists, all with a history of working with some of the UK's top racing trainers.
We can at last get to find out exactly what is going on in the hindgut of our horses - exactly what bacteria (microbes) are in there - are they the good guys or the bad guys, and what are they getting up to - so no longer any guesswork!
The Equibiome test produces accurate and relevant data, with therapies to detect, restore and rehabilitate poorly performing horses and those with dysbiosis [microbial imbalance] which lies behind acidosis, colics, colitis and all the nasties that occur as a result of disruption to the hindgut; and what was thought to be an intolerance to a certain food may not be the case at all r rather it can be resolved so that such intolerance no longer exists.
Equibiome is the first equine dedicated laboratory service, specialising in the identification of the equine hind gut microbial population and its relationship to health and performance. Equibiome uses the latest MiSeq Next Generational Sequencing technology to produce a snapshot of the internal microbial population, identifying imbalances, inflammation, pain, poor immunity and reduced gut wall integrity.
Gastric problems in racehorses are very common, the gastrointestinal tract and microbial community are altered by poor diet, fatigue, stress, use of antibiotics, long periods in the stable and the use of NSAID’s. Hind gut imbalances can alter the temperament, make the horse more prone to colic and make him uncomfortable to ride. As many imbalances have been established for a long time, this type of horse doesn’t respond to a change of diet or medication, occasionally some improvement is seen but long- term relief is difficult to establish.
It can be almost impossible to find a suitable diet for a horse with hind gut problems and there is much conflicting nutritional advice, however as the Equibiome faecal test identifies thousands of microbes within the hind gut, this takes the guess work out of the what, why and how to feed your horse.
Seventy percent of the energy is produced in the hind gut, the type and ratio of energy produced is vital for immunity, temperament and health of the gut wall. Managing the hind gut has never been possible before the development of next generational sequencing of the bacteria DNA. The test is so accurate that it can identify water contamination (arsenic/nitrate/nitrite), dietary deficiencies, mineral and vitamin imbalances, acidosis, antibiotic resistant bacteria and emerging pathogens.
The test provides in depth, accurate and relevant information on the type of diet that can restore health and stability to the whole horse. Each horse is given a personalized and easy to understand dietary and health report.
So why not join us and others who have already elected to have their horses tested; we have done so not because there are problems but we want to prevent anything from presenting. Having access to this test is yet another piece of kit in our tool bag to help us resolve behavioural and performance issues.
PLEASE NOTE: this test is not the preserve of the racehorse or ex-racehorse - it is available to ALL owners.
Please visit the Equibiome website for more information and to order your test kit: www.equibiome.org
We are very pleased to be supporting the "Time it Right" campaign to raise awareness about encysted redworm larvae.
Owners are aware that horses can need treatment for worms and due to growing resistance in recent years to chemicals traditionally used, following active promotion of this fact, more and more owners do use 3-monthly worm counts to decide whether their horse needs treating or not. This of course is a great step forward but worm counts cannot monitor encysted small redworm, as being larvae and hence immature, there are no eggs.
Why are encysted small redworms a concern?
The small redworm has the capacity to reproduce in extremely large numbers. Of all the worm burdens found in horses, the highest rate is attributed to this type of worm. What makes these worms even more of a health threat to your horse is that fact that the larvae actually burrow into the gut wall which in itself is damaging, but when the larvae re-emerge in the spring as tiny worms there are literally millions of them and this mass emergence can cause severe digestive upsets such as diarrhoea and colic - and even cost your horse its life!
Worms counts done in late Spring through to Autumn will of course show up small redworms but not the larvae so even though a worm count may not indicate any issue with small redworms because you have followed a sound targeted worming programme (and by this we mean worming with the correct product when a worm count - including testing for tapeworm - has indicated the need) this does not mean that there will not be some larvae that have successfully made themselves comfortable in your horse's gut wall.
At present there is no test to detect the offending larvae so it is better to be safe than sorry and treat your horse for the encysted larvae over the winter (an annual treatment is quite sufficient) so as to prevent their Springtime re-emergence as tiny worms.
There are two options available to you: Either use a wormer which contains MOXIDECTIN such as Equest Praemox or FENBENDAZLE which is available via a 5-day course of Panacur Equine Guard.
Please visit the HORSE DIALOGUE website for further information.
Having been introduced to Thinline a few years ago and then losing them a year or so later due to the UK importer withdrawing from retail, we were desperate to find a viable alternative rather than keep sending to the USA. During their absence from the UK we tried so many other products produced here, in Europe and the USA but nothing matched the incredible concussion absorbing properties and comfort for horse and rider that Thinline provided.
So when we were able to persuade - and then support - the decision of the late Janet Wilkes to become the UK importer, we were understandably very relieved as we really didn't know which way to turn. We hit another stumbling block in the Autumn of last year consequent upon the American company imposing certain restrictions which really made it impossible for Janet's business to continue with importation. However after another lull we are now bringing Thinline into the UK via Thinline Europe.
These pads are perfect for any horse but a must for horses that have back issues especially kissing spine and they do not compromise saddle fit.
Historically, equine products work on a compression basis, meaning they compress then spring back or, like gel, move away from pressure.
What makes ThinLine unique is its technology. ThinLine is an open-cell foam which moves shock, weight, and heat laterally along the pad, boot, or girth. Beginning as a liquid, microscopic cells are poured into a mold then polarized so each cell lies end to end creating a tunnel. Another layer is poured in the mould and polarised in a new direction. In each ThinLine pad, this process is repeated hundreds of times creating a honey comb matrix. This structure allows ThinLine to move shock, heat, and weight laterally, much like the ripple effect of throwing a stone into water. ThinLine products also carry tensile strength so that pressure is actually distributed. Behind every pressure point there is always a hollow point. ThinLine products work to relieve pressure points by adding to the hollow points.
Impact moves across ThinLine producing a completely different ride your horse will love. Open cell technology transfers recoil off the horse’s back laterally rather than directly up into the base of the rider’s spine. The magic lies in the way ThinLine absorbs shock but allows the rider to truly feel the horses back. Motion is reduced by the rider and the horse and rider can work together in unison
Integrity and softness allow ThinLine to flex and stretch over high withers, around bones and splints (in the case of splints), girths or saddle pressure points without bottoming out (like memory foam, or moving, like gel). They provide a secure saddle fit thus preventing saddle slippage.
When warmed to body temperature ThinLine conforms to the horse supporting tendons, muscles; relieving pressure and impact. When returned to room temperature 75° F, it rebounds to its original shape allowing ThinLine products to mould every day and to every horse.
Thinline pads also provide comfort for the rider.
Of course all horses gain or lose a bit of weight depending on work load, time of year and so on or may lose some muscle tone for some reason.
These changes can warrant the need for temporary shims to ensure saddle fit remains correct. With this in mind Thinline have made pads that have shim pockets.
Depending on exact requirements there are 3 position options - front, centre and rear or if a horse is really under-developed on one side of its spinal single shim that is the entire length of the pad can be fitted into the pocket.
Thinline is also available in a half pad with or without sheepskin rolls.
These pads are designed with a "spine free channel" i.e. - the Ultra Thinline lays either side of the spine so there is absolutely no pressure on the spine.
The pads shown on the left are termed the "Trifectra" is shimmable at the front, centre (for bridging) and at the rear in the same way as the full pad (as illustrated above).
The shims obviously come in pairs - front or back as well as for bridging and are available in ultra thinline thickness or standard thickness.
The shims are shaped and fit neatly into the pockets of the pad. Once in place they do not move.
Very conveniently if you have an ultra thinline half pad and wish to increase the thickness to standard full length inserts are also available. These inserts can be used with any of the shimmable pads and are particularly useful for horses with significant atrophy especially on just one side.
If you have a horse which changes shape summer to winter or you use one saddle on more than one horse, then the use of shims can help ensure the fit is correct for each horse.
Or if you you are not a half pad fan just use a Thinline or Ultra Thinline pad. These pads can be used directly under the saddle but if you prefer there is no compromising of saddle fit, comfort or effect if you elect to use a thin saddle cloth next to the skin.
These are the pads we use here at Equine Management and Training for everyday working as we are not fans of half pads; the reason for this being that depending on a horse's build and shape, the edge of a half pad can sit on the rib heads and be a source of annoyance and/or discomfort.
Thinline also produce a range of reins, girth and boots and it is their Cobra Sports " Medicine Boots" which are in our tackroom.
These boots not only provide excellent impact protection but also invaluable support making them the perfect choice for us when bringing horses that have any kind of leg injury back into work. The uniquely designed suspensory strap stretches with each stride, allowing full movement and helping to eliminate hyper extension of the fetlock.
Cobra boots are extremely slim compared to traditional Sport Medicine Boots, so look neat and and not at all bulky. Being pliable they are very comfortable and as Thinline vents heat legs stay cool; the exterior ventilated neoprene conforms to your horse, allows heat and moisture to escape, and keeps your horse cool,comfortable and performing at it’s best. And being breathable the boots promote healthy skin. The boot provides 360 degrees of protection, safeguarding the cannon bone, tendons and soft tissue, and is proven to absorb energy from hoof impact.
To read more about Thinline please visit www.thinlineglobal.com.
The website for the UK is www.thinlineglobal.eu where you can view all products available; prices are in GBP.
We can offer Thinline products to our clients at a very competitive rate via our E.M.T. Discount Scheme.
Please contact us for pricing information.
We had used Equissage for more years than we care to remember and had always been convinced of its benefits. Indeed we had worked as Consultants to the company for a few years so that is testament that we believed in the product.
However as we became more and more involved in rehabilitation work particularly in relation to leg injuries we realised that we needed a system that offered more options and flexibility than sadly Equissage could offer us.
So our quest to find an alternative began.
We researched and investigated but the there were only really two other products that warranted serious consideration- those from FMBS and Cyclossage. However as the latter product offered no direct treatment for leg injuries and also seemed rather awkward to fit, it really was a one-horse race - there was only one product which could be of assistance to the health and well-being of the horses in our care. We found the product, or rather products, which could match, and indeed surpass, that which we had been using for so many years.
We contacted FMBs Therapy Systems; after all so many of the country's leading riders and racehorse trainers would not be using this company's products if they were not any good! The Managing Director paid us a visit and 4 hours down the line we became owners of the Activo-Med Combi Pro, a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy and massage rug; once we saw the benefits for ourselves, leg wraps, pecdominal pad, hoof boots and laser soon followed. The benefits were so apparent, far beyond what we had been experiencing - we could see why so many Professionals were switching over to products from the FMBs Therapy Systems range.
That the products offer not just massage but also pulsed electromagnetic therapy is what makes them so good, doing exactly as promoted.
What is Pulsed Electromagnetic Therapy?
Electromagnetic Field (EMF):
“Electric and magnetic fields are invisible lines of force that surround any electrical device that is plugged in and turned on. EMFs are made up of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together (radiating) through space. Electric fields are produced by electric charges and magnetic fields are produced by the flow of current through wires or electrical devices
Definition: PEMF uses electrical energy to direct a series of magnetic pulses through injured tissue whereby each magnetic pulse induces a tiny electrical signal that stimulates cellular repair. Many studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of PEMF in healing soft-tissue wounds; suppressing inflammatory responses at the cell membrane level to alleviate pain, and increasing range of motion. The value of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been shown to cover a wide range of conditions.
PEMF is a reparative technique which uses electrical energy to direct a series of magnetic pulses through injured tissue whereby each magnetic pulse induces a tiny electrical signal that stimulates cellular repair. This technique is not only of great benefit in aiding bones to repair but also very effective in healing soft-tissue wounds; suppressing inflammatory responses at the cell membrane level to alleviate pain, and increasing range of motion. The value of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been shown to cover a wide range of conditions, with well documented trials carried out both in human and veterinary medicine. Magnetic Field Therapy (MFT) permeates all cells enhances ion exchange, normalizes circulation, and increases the oxygen utilisation of the cell.
Thus Pulsed electromagnetic therapy (PEMT) can help with:
and so helps relax and soothe muscles and aids recovery of tendon and ligament injuries as well as helping bone to repair and regenerate.
It is not known definitively quite how PEMT works but presently one of the most adhered to reasons for its effectiveness is due the the calcium ion movement within the body that an electrical field causes to happen. There is electrical activity going on in the horse's body all the time - all body tissues including the blood contain electrically charged ions - but PEMT triggers natural anti-inflammatory processes and production of endorphins to occur more rapidly. In a succession of processes involving calcium ions the body naturally produces Nitric Oxide, a natural anti-inflammatory, which promotes the healing process - reducing pain and swelling, increasing circulation, etc. as well producing cGMP a molecule which helps in cell regeneration so is important in the repair process. .
And of course the benefits of massage are extremely well documented:
Having a combination of the two therapies in one rug is a perfect tool which is invaluable for us generally but particular for our rehab work as both therapies serve to improve the blood supply; an improved blood supply increases oxygen pressure which in turn activates and regenerates cells, And by improving calcium transportation around the body, absorption is increased [in the bones] and there is notable improvement in the quality of cartilage in joints.
And being non-invasive that sits well with our ethos.
In the short time we have had the Activo-Med Combi Pro rug we have been really pleased with the results: whilst we will not deny that Equissage does help the muscles with the combination of PEMT with massage we have already seen a much more significant softening and loosening of muscles,something which is of paramount importance in our line of work. And since magnetic fields permeate all materials we can use the leg wraps over thick bandaging and even plaster casts. The rug is great to pre and post exercise use before exercise; and being able to set programmes for specific horses and their individual needs is such a boon.
We are also finding the horses are very relaxed during their treatments with some actually nodding off!
That the Activo-Med rug has numerous different programmes and settings (the latter for altering the electrical frequencies) allows easy adjustment of treatment durations and treatment for specific conditions. It seemed a bit tricky at first but after a few times, it became really easy.
One of the immediate benefits is that this rug is so quiet whilst running. There is nothing to hear during the PEMT phase and only a slight "hum" during the massage phase which has already enabled us to leave a horse tied up unattended during his treatment session whereas previously during Equissage treatments, whilst he did accept the Pad, not sufficiently so for him to be left alone.
We just love the way all the products can worked using the same control box; the use of splitters allows the system to be really flexible as the rug or pecdominal pad can be used with 4 leg wraps at the same time. However we have opted to have each piece of equipment as stand-alone versions so that several horses can have their daily therapy at the same time.
The Pecdominal Pad is another excellent piece of kit from the FMBs Activo-med stable. It can be used alone or with the rug, as well as 2 or 4 leg wraps.
The PEMT and massage combination makes it the perfect pre-exercise warm-up and cool-down tool for horses that are prone to tightness in the shoulder and/or chest areas and for helping target-treat muscle injuries and bruising incurred through falls or hitting fences. It is also very useful for horses that have had gastric ulcers but still present sensitivity when girthed. As with all FMBs products, there is the flexibility of a range of settings to suit the individual and as it runs off the standard control box we can use leg wraps or boots at the same time. The Pecdominal Pad is another valuable addition to our tackroom
These also come with options of just massage, just PEMT or both. 2 or 4 boots can be run from the rug or as a stand-alone piece of equipment to suit individual needs.
The leg wraps fit superbly; no slippage downwards or around the leg even if the horse moves around. The cable length from the boots for the control box is amply long enough even for the largest of horses and therefore allows freedom of movement during a treatment without risk that cabliing is being stretched or strained.
Some leg boots are heavy or have a very uneven weight distribution which is not ideal for certain leg injuries. These boots - or leg wraps as FMBS refer to call them - are very lightweight and have an even weight distribution.
What a great innovation these are for aiding in conditions ranging from bruising and concussion to degenerative conditions and injuries to the tendons and ligaments within the hoof capsule.
Available as a stand alone piece of equipment with its own control unit, the boots can be used as an add-on to the rug. And again with a generous cable length to permit movement during treatment.
The boots have a sturdy rubber base which provides support and protection to the sole and are suitable for use with both the shod and unshod horse.
The boots can be used for mild or recovering laminitic cases to help the circulation.
As is typical of the FMBs range this Wave Light Pulse (WLP) product with a built-in Pulsed Electromagnetic spool also has options in that there is a version that allows for massage at the same time.
The intensity and frequency can be adjusted (along with the time) to suit the injury being targeted.
The laser is ideal for working on a specific injury site where a more intense form of therapy is required, Although it has to be hand-held the laser is great when time is short as a therapy session just takes minutes.
This product runs off the same control box as the rugs, etc.
The benefits of using magnets to manage and relieve pain have been acknowledged for centuries so FMBS offer this stand-alone therapy in a mesh rug.
18 pockets on the rug allow magnets to be placed in the common areas where problems arise namely the shoulders, hindquarters, withers, along the back and over the hips.
For additional therapeitic benefits hot and cold inserts for the pockets are also available.
For more information of the range of products available from FMBs Therapy Systems which includes dry and water-treadmills, spas and vibrating floor pads, please visit the website www.fmbs.co.uk as there is much on offer - and there are finance packages available as well as ty-before-you-buy and rental options.
Our clients regularly ask for feeding advice and whilst we will happily discuss the many available options it is only logical that we will recommend what works for us. No-one can dispute that every horse that passes through this yard leaves looking an absolute picture of health with a wonderful skin, a bright eye, superb feet and is clearly very content.
We base our feeding regime on what nature intended for the horse - and that means "Feeding Fibre First". .
We believe in keeping feeding as simple as possible and working with nature. This means basing a horse's feed on fibre as it is fibre that a horse is designed to digest.
There is a huge range of fibre based products on the market but one stands out above them all - Dengie.
Love Fibre, Love Your Horse, Love Dengie
But why do we choose Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is the best and most valuable plants you could feed your horse, whatever its size, breed and level of activity.
Alfalfa ("Medicago sativa", literally translated meaning "medicinal cultivated plan"), was recognised by ancient civilisations as being of great benefit to human health and the Persians, Greeks and Romans similarly realised this but also fed it to their cavalry and chariot horses to provide strength and stamina.
Today, it is once again being recognised that Alfala (also known as Lucerne) should form the basis of the feed of every horse whatever its age, breed or workload.
So what is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is a very leafy, bushy crop with leaves similar to clover and grows up to 3 feet (1m) in height. Related to the pea and bean family alfalfa is what is known as a "perennial legume". It has very deep, penetrating roots which can be many feet long. In these roots are "nitrogen fixing" microbes which enables the alfalfa to take nitrogen from the air and convert it to protein, negating the need for nitrate fertilizers to be applied to the growing crop. Vital minerals and trace elements essential for the plant's survival and taken up by the roots are passed on in a natural and available form to any animal which then consumes it.
A quick look at the horse’s digestive system
There are many benefits to feeding Alfalfa but first we very briefly examine how the horse has been designed to better understand such benefits:
Nature designed the horse as a herbivore, i.e. to eat fibrous vegetation of some sort, a trickle feeder i.e. eating over long periods of time and to ingest foods that were relatively low in nutritional value i.e. fibrous foods; so fibre is the most important constituent in a horse's diet after water - a horse's diet must be based around fibre intake.
A horse continually produces stomach acid for the digestion of food regardless of whether it is eating or not, but unlike us, it does not continually produce saliva to neutralise the acid; so when a horse is not eating (chewing promotes saliva production) acidity can build in the stomach which then can do harm. Fibre also soaks up the acid produced in the stomach helping to protect the vulnerable region of the stomach that doesn’t have its own built-in defence system. Hence the importance that a horse does not have long periods of time without eating something.
But why feed fibre?
It is thought that grass is actually the best, natural form of fibre a horse can have but this is not necessarily the case as grass can contain too much of certain nutrients, sugar for example, that it can cause as much harm as it can do good. Improved, lush pastures can contain high energy levels leading to weight gain and over-excitability and high sugar levels can result in laminitis. Thus some horses have to have their grazing restricted and so an alternative source of fibre is needed to keep the digestive system healthy.
The digestion of fibre takes place in the hindgut but in order to do this effectively and efficiently the horse relies of many millions of friendly bacteria which break down the fibre. This is because the horse, like other herbivores such as sheep and cattle, doesn't naturally produce the enzymes required to do this.
As a consequence of the break down of fibre the bacteria produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which the horse is able to utilise as a [slow-release] energy source, or they can be stored as fat. When fed a diet which is high in fibre the VFAs produced are weaker acids so the gut is kept within an acceptable range of acidity. However when starch (e.g. from cereals) reaches the hind gut its digestion produces much stronger acids which is not a happy environment for the micro organisms and they can die off potentially resulting in problems such as colic and laminitis.
A valuable result of the fermentation process is that B vitamins are generated so a horse that is receiving plenty of fibre in his diet should not need any supplementation of these vitamins unless they are under a lot of stress or may have a compromised ability to digest the fibre such as veterans.
The digestion of fibre also produces heat so a horse can literally have his own internal central heating system providing he gets enough fibre; hence the reason why in cold weather conditions it is so important for horses that are mainly or fully out at grass, to receive plenty of fibre so that they can keep warm. .
Fibre is also important for proper gut function. We all remember learning about peristalsis in our biology lesson at school, but this process of contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the digestive tract is vital to maintain health.
As fibre is the most natural feed for a horse to have, it does not overload the digestive system in the same way that cereal-based feeds do and so can be fed safely in larger quantities.
Fibre takes longer to chew than cereals and a greater chew time is very beneficial, given the horse is designed to eat up to 18 hours a day.. Not only does this fulfil the horse’s natural desire to chew, the saliva produced is an acid-buffer for the stomach acid and helps to keep the gut functioning normally. This can also help to reduce the risk of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome; a particularly common problem in current and ex-racehorses.
So why feed Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is probably most commonly recognised as a source of fibre for horses however it provides so much more:
1. A source of quality protein
As alfalfa can manufacture protein, it is only to be expected that it contains good amounts of quality protein, protein being made up of amino acids, some of which must be supplied in the diet and hence are known as “essential”.
All horses require protein, particularly breeding stock and youngsters, but the working horse also has a requirement to enable it to build muscle and have good muscular function.
Protein often gets bad press for making horse overly excitable, badly behaved, etc. but it is actually high levels of starch and sugars (which provide quick-release energy) that are to blame.
2. Low in sugars and starch
Alfalfa naturally has very low levels of starch and water-soluble carbohydrates (i.e. sugars). This makes it an excellent feed for any laminitis prone horse/pony or those that have to watch their waistlines - the good doer.
3. Mineral and Vitamin content
Calcium - is a major requirement in any horse's diet, it being necessary for strong bones and hooves, studies have proved that alfalfa helps to improve the quality and growth of horn (thus good for horses with poor quality feet or those being transitioned to barefoot). It is also of particular importance for breeding mares and growing youngsters. A diet that is deficient in calcium will result in the body seeking a source from elsewhere - usually its own bones! Over time this can of course lead to a decrease in the density of bone.
Alfalfa is an excellent source of calcium actually containing up to 3 times as much as grass. And far better to let a horse obtain calcium naturally rather than by feeding it in a supplement.
Cereal crops, whilst having a high phosphorous content, are low in calcium, so a cereal-based diet can lead to an imbalance of the all-important calcium/phosphorus ratio. The inclusion of alfalfa in the diet can correct this imbalance as it has a 5:1 (C:P) ratio thus helping to achieve the ideal ratio of 2:1 in the diet as a whole.
Vitamins A and E and the B vitamins Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic acid, Biotin and Folic acid are found in plentiful quantities in alfalfa. And cobalt (a trace element) which is important for the absorption and utilisation of iron and enables the synthesis of Vitamin B12, is contained in alfalfa at good levels.
4. A source of energy
Contrary to popular belief fibre is actually a very effective, excellent energy source, not just a constituent to the diet to "bulk it out", "fill a horse up". Such is the energy content that it can easily meet the requirements of the properly working horse i.e. , working here meaning horses that are regularly training for and competing in dressage or show jumping, eventing (2-day), etc.
5. An acid buffer
Feeding cereals increases the acidity of the horse's gut contributing to causing to gastric ulcers, colic and laminitis as well as behavioural problems. However research has proven that feeding alfalfa can neutralise such acidity - and indeed more effectively than 24 hour access to grass.
6. Improved behaviour
As we know in the wild a horse would spend many hours a day roaming around and more or less constantly eating. So when we restrict this natural activity it is only to be expected that unless a horse is kept occupied by other means and has his other psychological needs met, he is going to come up with something to do.
Research currently suggests that an increase in stomach acidity due to reduced saliva production (i.e. a horse not having constant access to food) can cause windsucking and cribbing to develop – hence why when antacids are given, this behaviour lessens or ceases in some cases.
Box-walking, weaving, chewing, etc. are also symptomatic of the stressed horse.
It is realised that there are genetic elements which play a part as obviously not all horses, although under the same management regime, develop bad habits. Of course it is not possible for every horse to live out 24/7 or be turned out many hours a day; and indeed there are those horses which actually do prefer to be in.
Fibre creates slow-release energy; it is the digestion of starches and sugars which creates the fizz effect.
So, in short, put fibre first in your horse’s diet and see the benefits for yourself – it is essential for his health and well-being both physically and psychologically.
So why Dengie?
The alfalfa used in Dengie products is grown by Dengie here in the UK and is non-GM.
Dengie is also the leading manufacturer of fibre-based horse feeds in the UK Indeed there are 13 different fibre products in the Dengie range making it the most extensive on the market. So whether your horse is a good doer or one that needs extra conditioning, Dengie have something to suit. For those with horses/ponies prone to laminitis there is 6 products within the range that are approved by The Laminitis Trust.
Coatings are applied to the alfalfa products which improves palatability as alfalfa is naturally bitter. When dried the leafy part of the alfalfa becomes very brittle and can break up into very tiny bits (giving a dusty appearance) so a coating helps to prevent this. Whilst the original Dengie product - Alfa A Original [in the yellow bag] - has a molasses coating, the coating only gives a sugar content of 10% so no more than grass thus it is ok to feed with fear of increasing excitability etc. (although not to be fed to the laminitic or cushingoid horse/pony].
For other Dengie products the coating is rape seed oil. Soya is no longer used as the company could not guarantee a GM free supply, This is important because with some of the products being approved by The Laminitis Trust and organic holdings being supplied, its non-GM status had to be protected. As the world wide demand for soya increases, this is leading to more and more deforestation which in turn is having a detrimental effect on the indigenous flora and fauna as well the environment so Dengie elected to change to rape seed oil which is grown in the UK.
Dengie also have a range of supplements to compliment their fibre products so you can formulate the right diet for your horse or pony whatever their breed, age or work load. And if you need help they have a friendly, efficient Helpline too as well as equally friendly regional representatives. .
By feeding fibre products from Dengie Horse Feeds we are assured that we are feeding the best quality from guaranteed GM-free sources.
For more information on the Dengie range please visit www.dengie.com.
Training aids should be just so – an aid – to help teach a horse what is expected of him or to encourage use of correct muscles, and so on. Thus we do not see its use, nor would we advocate its use, as any form of “short-cut” to taking the proper time to let a horse develop as he gradually builds up the right muscles in the right places.
Ultimately the truly supple and engaged horse is lifting its abdomen and using its core muscles which in turn promotes softness and suppleness through the back as well as correct locomotion.
One of two training aids we recommend to clients is the EquiAmi. We like the concept of how the Lunging Aid works - and indeed have endorsed it - and the riding aid works in a very similar way, that of encouraging the horse to work in a lowered, round and soft outline which leads him to become more accepting of the hand and then work into the contact properly. It is important however, as with any lunging aids, that the horse is moving forwards so as to promote engagement of the hindquarters.
The EquiAmi is quite unique in terms of equine training aids. It is very quick and easy to fit and is so simple, yet incredibly effective; it's effectiveness lies in its simplicity. Designed to work with the horse, letting him work things out for himself, it is a aid that can greatly assist those who are less skilled in the art of training horses enabling them to achieve something positive.
How EquiAmi training aids work and why they are different.
When we ride our horse, we ride it in a loop. This loop consists of our right arm, right shoulder, left shoulder, left arm, left hand, left rein, the bit, the right rein, the right hand and back to the right arm. This loop gives and takes with the horse as he lengthens and shortens and moves with the horse around turns and circles to keep a soft, consistent contact. We are taught that, in order to have softness and acceptance in the horse, we need to keep a soft, consistent contact with the horse via this communication loop.
No other training aids incorporate both of these properties.
Most training aids work by pressure or restraint. In our experience, horses tend to respond better to working inside a loop than to any type of restriction or pressure and riders are generally rewarded by a new level of balance, consistency, relaxation and harmony in their horse’s work.
The pulley system works off the hind legs; whenever the horse's hind legs go back, the bit is activated on that side. Thus, the bit is essentially see-sawed back and forth by the horse's own movement.
In our opinion the pessoa doesn't teach true softness, suppleness or relaxation. It just yanks and pulls all over the horse making it more confused. The horse's only choice really is to put its head down. Just because a complicated rope system is forcing a horse into a frame does not make it good. Horses may well muscle up and they may indeed soften over the back but they do not develop lateral suppleness because the pulley system does not allow for such flexion.
The horse in this photograph may appear to be working correctly but in fact he is not.
The Equiami Lunge Aid
The EquiAmi lunge aid differs from the Pessoa in two main ways.
Firstly with the EquiAmi lunge aid, the whole aid is a loop therefore there is equal tension (or freedom) all the way round. This makes it unnecessary to alter anything for direction changes as it self-centres and is always equal. When adjusting the size of the loop you don’t need to adjust both sides as there are not really any ‘sides’ as it is a self-centering loop.
Secondly the fact that the loop moves with the horse as he moves means that there is no fixed point therefore the horse cannot lean on it so they work lighter and in more self carriage rather than becoming downhill (which can happen in a Pessoa as the front section is fixed to the roller). This brings much more softness, lightness and swing into the horse’s work.
It is very easy to put on and feels little different (to a horse) to a fillet string on a rug so is often more acceptable to many horses especially if they dislike pressure or restraint. I can put one on in 40 seconds (horse has roller, boots and bridle on) but I reckon about two minutes for the first couple of times for a new user. The leather chest piece attaches to the roller and the rope is in two colour coded sections that fit around the horse and join together to form a loop. For a horse that is skittish I would be inclined to put it on and let him get the feel of it in the stable for a few minutes, but generally horses accept it very kindly, even those who throw themselves about or have a strop when they feel they are under pressure.
What we do on the lunge should be more comparable to what we do under saddle which is why the loop is so successful as we ride in a loop with our arms/reins/hands and bit and ask our horses to become soft in response to communication through this loop. Lungeing them in a similar loop promotes topline and engagement but also induces softness and swing through the contact. If a horse has nothing to lean on, he starts to carry himself properly. It is as simple as that really.
The EquiAmi lunge aid is of particular assistance to ex-racehorse owners, or indeed anyone who is having difficulty encouraging their horse to work propel from behind, engage the core muscles and lift through the shoulders, withers and ultimately the back.. Despite popular belief, the racehorse needs teaching to use his hindquarters and carry weight on his hind legs. Too often new owners, in their eagerness to get on board do not spend enough time building the necessary muscles for the horse to carry himself, let alone the weight of a rider. Whilst the EquiAmi must not been seen or used as a shortcut, its use can undoubtedly help teach a horse to work correctly and so more comfortably, thus creating a horse that is happy and content in his work.
With many so-called training aids, when a horse does respond positively, he doesn't actually receive a reward for doing so. When riding, we should always reward with a slight release of the hands or a removal of the leg aid, etc. and it should be no different when using a training aid, whether from the ground or under saddle.
With the EquiAmi Lunge aid, when a horse begins to do all the right things it loosens completely, and all that is required is for the trainer to continue to lunge correctly i.e. keep the horse moving actively forward [but not rushing] into the bridle. An "aid" which fixes the head has a completely negative effect on the correct development of muscles and actually encourages the horse onto the forehand - leaning - rather than taking weight behind.
When used properly the EquiAmi encourages horses to lower their heads and start working their backs; this in turn leads to a rounding of the outline as they gradually step under more with the hindquarters; as training continues horses develop engagement, gradually taking more and more weight behind and so start to carry themselves but in a soft and relaxed manner.
The Equi-ami Riding Aid - how does it work?
The EquiAmi does not work by creating any pull whatsoever on the horse's mouth as it is not fixed to the bit. It's unique design places the horse inside a self-centering loop which runs over the head/neck which is connected to a chest strap which fits on the girth. As the horse adopts a more rounded outline, it is immediately rewarded by the training aid becoming looser. When the training aid is working at its best it is applying absolutely no pressure and the horse is working in a relaxed manner. The loop is self-centering and is not fixed so the horse is unable to lean on the aid so has to learn to balance and carry itself.
The rider has to ride the horse forward into the loop to promote engagement of the hindquarters and the training aid encourages the horse to soften, accept the hand and come into a rounder outline. Immediately the horse responds to the training aid it is rewarded by the aid becoming looser.
With this Aid, designer Hilary Bentley, has found produced a very unique, but incredibly simple piece of equipment which helps to promote the correct way of going without force.
We elect not to ride horses in training aids as we believe in letting a horse develop his balance under the weight of a rider naturally without any outside influence, Also we wish to be able to detect the most subtle of changes in a horse's way of going (positive or negative) as such changes tell us much, enabling us to adjust the working programme accordingly, call in a chiropractor, etc. if necessary and so on. Training aids work to influence a horse's way of going but if a horse is compensating in some way, something that is often difficult to detect at the best of times, then this can be masked when using a training aid.
However we appreciate and understand that in certain situations, with certain horses, the use of a training aid for ridden work can be of great assistance particularly for the less experienced rider training a novice horse or one that needs correcting.
There is the chicken-and-egg situation where riding position is not helped by a horse that for example is throwing its head about but yet is may be poor rider position (as well as riding) which is contributing (if not wholly the cause) to the head tossing (etc). In these instances the use of a training aid which allows the rider to think more about their position can be invaluable. Whilst a training aid should not be used to mask or correct any evasion - as the cause of the evasion should be established and eliminated - another situation where its use can be of benefit is for horses which have got into the habit of (e.g) hollowing perhaps from a previously ill-fitting saddle, poor riding in the past, discomfort from another cause and so on,by helping them realise that they can indeed lower their heads so that muscles begin to be used more correctly. A lot of riders, whist riding well, do not have the necessary experience or expertise to ride a horse into better outline. So rather than have weeks and indeed months of frustration and a worsening scenario, what simpler than to use a training aid in the short term.
Riders often don't know what they should be feeling or how to achieve that feeling but by using the EquiAmi Riding Aid, they can learn what they should be feeling - and importantly, how to achieve it for themselves and ultimately dispense with the aid altogether.
We are happy to recommend the EquiAmi Riding Aid because it does not force a horse into an outline, yet he cannot lean so he has to learn to carry himself thereby developing his balance and his ability to take weight behind. Nor does not create any kind on unnatural pull on the mouth. It is an aid which works in harmony with the horse rather than by using pressure to promote submission.
The EquiAmi Riding Aid is very easy to fit and can be used for polework but not jumping. It comes complete with an
The EquiAami Improves Stride Length
We were approached by Hilary Bentley, the lady who designed the EquiAmi, to ask some racehorse trainers if they would take part in an EquiAmi trial. We explained that this was not really feasible as trainers, as a general rule, would not wish to interrupt training programmes to trial a product that in the realms of the racing industry was unheard of and unproven. Thus we approached Carol Clarkson who is Veterinary Administrator and Manager of the Centre for Racehorse Studies based at the British Racing School, Newmarket and is was agreed that 4 horses could take part in a stride-length trial.
Even during one training session the EquiAmi can have positive effect (as illustrated above) On the left the hind leg is not as active as in the photograph on the right. Visually, on the left, the horse creates a nicer picture because of how he is holding his neck/head, but he is not taking much weight behind. In the right-hand photograph the lower hindquarters indicate weight is being taken although, due to his lack of balance (stage of training) he has pushed his neck out to help him balance. This also illustrates the importance of a training aid being fitted correctly so as not to restrict the natural movements of the horse.
CRS Trial - For Improved Stride Length
4 horses were selected and Georgina Owen, who helps to run the CRS unit, carried out the necessary lunge work, twice a week, over a 6 week period.
Unfortunately one week before the end of the trial, Horse No.1 had to be taken out of the study due to a severe behavioural change. This was investigated but established as not being directly related to being part of the study, but due to a physical issues which the work brought to a head. Until his removal from the study it was noted that he had become more balanced and was over-tracking well. His canter had also improved.
Horse No.2, a lovely well-behaved individual but not one to exert himself if not necessary! His trot work improved considerably with over-stepping increasing as the trial period progressed; Georgina believed more could have been achieved over a longer period. this horse's canter also improved and when ridden the "push" coming from the hindquarters was clearly apparent; he worked with a better outline and regular napping behaviour markedly reduced too.
Horse No.3, a stallion, although having a good walk, over-tracking by about 10 inches, his trot was very poor with short steps in front and a shuffle behind. Following working in the EquiAmi, his trot improved considerably. From a horse that dragged his hind toes on the ground he began over-stepping and at the end of the 6 week trial period, he was over-tracking in trot by about 4 inches so a great improvement in a short space of time. Again, his canter improved, becoming much more balanced and rhythmical.
Horse No.4 was the star of the trial. He was always disunited in the canter with rider always struggling to get him on the correct lead. At the end of the trial he could readily sustain 3 canter circuits on the lunge with the correct lead on both reins. An exuberant horse, he would regularly buck when ridden but became the perfect gent to ride. His trot work showed an improved overstep of 4-6 inches and he generally carried himself much better.
From the above it can clearly be seen that the EquiAmi was of benefit to all the horses, even Horse No.1 who was removed from the trial. Given that the trial period was only weeks due to restrictions at the CRS, significant improvements were seen particularly in the balance each horse displayed.
The results of the trial were subsequently used in a dissertation to demonstrate that use of the EquiAmi does improve the length of stride a horse talks in walk, trot and canter.
If you have any questions regarding EquiAami application please do not hesitate to contact us
or visit the EquiAmi website: www.equiami.com.
If you are contemplating purchasing an EquiAmi, do contact us as you may well be eligible for our E.M.T. discount.
Three brothers have transformed the way many people view the art of correctly bitting a horse. If you've not seen the demo, bought a bit or even the book, that's bad enough but you have at least heard of them? Of course we are talking about the Myler bits.
With these bits being all the rage, I thought it appropriate to say a little about the horse's mouth and bits in this edition of Horsetalk, although it is such a vast subject that I can really only touch the surface.
This article is intended to provide practical advice on the correct fitting and usage of bits so I do not propose to go through what bits to use in different situations or how to cure various problems as each horse and situation is different and needs individual study.
"No foot no horse" is of course absolutely true, but so is "No mouth, no brakes, no steerage, etc. etc."
The factors to be considered in relation to bitting are:
A horse must be comfortable in his mouth if he is to be expected to work to the best of his ability, so firstly we'll take a look at the mouth and what aspects have to be taken into consideration regarding the fitting of a bit, regardless of what type of bit your horse actually needs or what you consider he needs and then we'll consider the different actions of bits and the basics types.
2 of, one on each side of the mouth, skin covered, i.e. gums (the gap between the front and back teeth). The bit sits on these.
They vary in type, something which is usually overlooked; they can be broad, flat, v-shaped, sharp, thin or thick skinned.
The type of bar affects how the bit fits and how sensitive the horse is to its action.
Varies in thickness and width. The larger the tongue, obviously the less room for the bit. All bits rest on the tongue to some degree. The tongue is where horses first start to develop resistances.
i.e. the roof of the mouth. Although this curves slightly upwards, it is important to know palate height. Also, if your horse has a shallow jaw, the tongue will be pushed higher up in the mouth thus reducing bit space.
When a bit is correctly there should be a small wrinkle in the lips. The lips are extremely sensitive and damage over a sustained period will result in a loss of that sensitivity.
Incisors (those at the front of the mouth), canines/tushes (which sit just behind the incisors but in front of the bars - usually only present in the male) and the molars or cheek teeth. The wear on teeth is often uneven leaving sharp edges which can cut into the sides of the horse's mouth. Problems with the first of these teeth (premolars) will accentuate any bitting difficulties as the bit rests against these.
Wolf teeth are small teeth which sit directly in front of the first teeth or premolars - just were the bit sits. They can be a source of great aggravation and when sufficiently through the gum need removal.
Also called the chin groove is where a curb chain fits.
The length of the mouth has also to be taken into consideration, particularly if considering using a bit with a lever action, as does the width - bits do not want to be pressing too hard against the sides of the horse's mouth nor do they want to be hanging out at the sides.
Some bits also act on the poll. This can be a strong pressure and care should be exercised in the use of these. The choice of noseband also comes into play, different styles of noseband altering the action of bits. For example, the use of a dropped noseband with a snaffle bit increases the pressure on the bars creating a more downward pressure whereas the bit used alone creates an upward pressure on the mouth corners. Be mindful though not to resort to using a noseband as a means of resolving bitting problems without first ensuring there are no other causes. A horse that is fussy in the mouth (chewing chomping, etc) does not necessarily need a noseband to keep his mouth closed; more likely that the bit in use is not allowing enough tongue room.
Basically bits come in three designs of mouthpiece - straight, jointed and mullen (or curved). Then of course there are ported mouthpieces (curbs), all the variations of links and joints, rollers and chains, pelhams, gags, double bridles, hackamores - there's quite a list!
So often bits are used without a proper understanding of how they work and what can be achieved by using them. Very briefly:-
Straight mouthpieces act on the tongue, bars and lips. If the rider's hands are held too high or once the horse throws his head up, the bit slides up in the mouth and acts on the corners of the mouth as well.
Jointed mouthpieces work with a nutcracker action and act on the corners the mouth as well as the bars, tongue and lips. Action on the corners has a head-raising effect.
Mullen mouthpieces, being curved, puts more pressure on the tongue but eases bar pressure and so are milder in their action.
Ported mouthpieces create additional pressure on the roof of the mouth as a lever action is applied which raises the mouthpiece as well as acting on the poll.
Double bridles create poll and curb pressure through the inclusion of a curb bit which is used in conjunction with a jointed snaffle or "bridoon". The action of the rein of a curb bit is a pincher effect; the bit squeezes against the bars of the mouth and the curb chain acts on the chin groove. The upper cheeks of the curb bit bring pressure to bear on the poll. Wherever the head is positioned or wherever the rider's hands are, this action is not released unless the rider relaxes the hands.
Gags have a rein which is attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle, passes through the ring of the bit and is attached to the reins. They act on the corners of the mouth and on the poll when increased pressure is applied to the reins. A correctly used gag has the effect of raising the horse's head and encouraging flexion.
Pelhams are really two bits in one; the top rein being the snaffle rein the bottom the curb. Working the reins independently, the action is of each bit of a double bridle but many people use "D's" so that they only have one set of reins, so from a schooling point of view nothing can really be achieved but having said that some horses are very happy in them.
Hackamores although having no mouthpiece create a pressure on the horse's nose. Depending on the style, this pressure can be very extreme so care must be taken - your seat needs to be completely secure and independent of your hands, which must be "soft" in order to achieve the correct outline and way of going.
Incorrect use of bits in conjunction with rough hands can result in damage to the mouth which is irrepairable. Cuts and sores will heal but nerves do not recover their sensitivity; mental scares are another issue altogether.
The thickness of the mouthpiece is a very important factor
The thicker the mouthpiece, the milder the bit because of the greater bearing surface, but it's all very well using a thick mouthpiece if your horse has a thick tongue or a small mouth.
Common sense must prevail.
Rubber is obviously the softest and cushions the mouth but mouthpieces tend to be quite thick, again not suitable for a small mouth; Nathe bits are harder than rubber but are very flexible and of a thickness which is ideal in most situations but unfortunately they can be chewed through; vulcanite, which is a very hard rubber, tends to be rather bulky and horses will readily lean on them; metals used are stainless steel (the most common, hard wearing, rust-proof), copper and sweet iron, which are softer and encourage salivation.
A smooth finish creates less friction on the tongue but some bits have a twisted mouthpiece which "digs" into the tongue, bars and mouth corners. Others have rollers, the movement of which encourages the horse to salivate; wheels have a more severe effect. Links reduce the nutcracker action, allow more tongue room and encourage salivation; they can be curved/rounded (as in the French link) and so the action is milder than that of the Dr. Bristol where the link is flat and narrow therefore increasing it's severity. Then there are Waterfords.
A waterford bit which look like a chain and many people see them and think that they are a severe bit but in fact they are quite mild - there is no nutcracker action and being so flexible, encourage mouthing and help prevent a horse from "leaning" on the bit.
Available with as a Fulmer and in a variety of other bits e.g. Pelham, Dutch Gag
Bits with cheeks, apart from Fulmers which are to prevent the bit from sliding through the mouth and aid turning, particularly in the young horse, vary considerably. Some just have upper cheeks, some just lower, but most have both. The longer the length of the cheeks (upper or lower), the greater the leverage, therefore the more severe the bit.
There is the choice between loose and fixed rings, the former encouraging play and salivation whilst the latter keep the bit more still in the mouth.
Other factors to consider
Your horse may only require a rubber bit but if he is a chewer then you have no option but to use a steel bit unless you have the bit covered with something else, so a hollow mouthed bit is a good alternative as it lightweight and not heavy on the tongue. Some horses object to a jointed bit, whilst others are not happy with a straightbar; then you, or rather your horse has the choice of fixed or moveable mouthpieces. The actual internal structure of the mouth is the primary factor but you may have to think about such things as a parrot mouth, etc. too. Remember too that the horse has to be able to move its tongue in order to swallow properly and has to be able to do this effectively and comfortably whatever is in his mouth. You must act upon the signals your horse gives you to ensure you have him happily bitted - he can only react by resisting.
So what are riders trying to achieve?
The ultimate is a horse which goes in the correct outline with the right degree of flexion (remember that in order to flex at the poll the horse has to be able to move its lower jaw - it slides forward - so think about how tight your lip strap is - though preferably do not use one at all), not behind or over the bit, not over bent, hocks well engaged and going forward with impulsion, is light in the hand and is obedient to the aids. The mouth will be moist to varying degrees - ranging from little saliva on the lips to looking like someones's been let loose with a can of shaving foam - but never dry. A moist mouth is a soft mouth. The aim is to achieve this with mildest, simplest bit.
Of course, this 'ultimate' does not happen overnight - that's what training is all about. It takes several years to turn Anky Dobbin into Anky Bonfire. Sadly for most horses, they are often not broken or started correctly as youngsters, an unnecessarily severe bit is used too early in its educational (and usually without good reason at any stage), through incorrect or rough training evasions develop (which are then put down to bad habits and behaviour of the horse, not the rider) and too many people try to train their horses without enough knowledge and guidance from someone who has more experience. A good, effective rider, whilst extremely capable, is not necessarily good at training a horse in its early stages. Many people can drive a car but how good are they at teaching someone-else. The use of double bridles should not be seen as a short cut to achieving "schooling success" just because the horse can be forced to bend/flex by excessive use of the curb rein.
Why are there so many varieties of bits?
In reality many bits work basically in the same way (because of the there being the three fundamental mouthpieces - straight, jointed, mullen) but because of the evasions horses develop (crossing the jaw, throwing of the head, leaning on the bit, actually grabbing the bit with its teeth, drawing its tongue over the bit, dropping the bit/going behind the vertical, dropping the shoulder, barging, opening the mouth etc.) for whatever reasons, riders chop and change bits as the means of overcoming something rather than trying to get to the cause of the evasion to start with. Obviously the development of certain types or styles seems logical progress in the world of bit evolution such as the curved mouthpieces of the JK bits (and the Myler bits) which provide more room for the horse's tongue and lessen the nutcracker effect, the use of sweet iron because it's texture encourages the horse to salivate.
The horse world is fashion conscious, whatever is seen being used at The HOYS, etc. is on half the nation's horses within a week regardless of the fact that people do not know why the bit was used or even how it works in the first place! If "Joe Bloggs uses it on Top Nag then it must be good for me and Dobbin".
Certain bits have become de rigeur, again, because of fashion - horse pulls hard, use a Pelham, horse does this so use that. Never mind about finding out why the horse pulls hard in the first place. Of course there are those individuals who will always break the rules and no amount of schooling will stop Dobbin wanting to overtake the Master out hunting, so, yes a bit that gives the rider control is absolutely necessary in the interests of safety and etiquette! And some horses are very enthusiastic when jumping and the rider needs to jump fence 5 after fence 4, not go straight to fence 7! But remember the more severe the bit, the more danger there is of the horse evading it and so the problem is exacerbated. Problems are resolved by reverting to a milder bit and plenty of schooling.
The design, action and smoothness.
The bits are designed to provide a "comfort zone; it is what the Mylers call "pinch and restrict with release" - the bits pinch the bars and restrict the tongue when pressure is applied via the reins.
As soon as the horse gives i.e relaxes at the poll to relieve that pressure, the bit ceases to exert any pressure thus creating what is called the "comfort zone". The bits are very, very smooth so there is no friction on the tongue and the mouthpieces are all curved to allow plenty of tongue room and therefore aid swallowing.
The unique feature of the bits is that many of them have an independent sideways movement allowing the rider to literally work on one side of the horse (brilliant if your horse has a tendency to drop a shoulder) without affecting the other. With traditionally designed bits, whatever you do with your left hand, the pressure is exerted on both sides of the mouth thus in reality sending a mixed, confusing message to the horse.
There are three different levels of Myler bit depending upon the stage of training of the horse. There is a huge range of mouthpieces all available with the cheek style of your choice - loose ring, eggbutt, fulmer, with or without hooks (i.e. slots for the reins to go in); the combination bits also come with a wide choice of mouthpieces and, as with the hackamores, come with the choice of short or long shanks.
As the range is so diverse, it is recommended that you study the Myler Bit Book* which explains in detail all the different bits and their application and then seek advice from a Bitting Clinician such as Hilary Vernon** who will provide you with invaluable advice and information regarding suitably bitting your horse; indeed she will be able to pay you a visit..
The art of bitting is a complex subject and you should think carefully about what you are using and why, and Dobbin's reactions, but hopefully I have enlightened you a little more about what you should be thinking about when deciding upon which bit to use. Ultimately it is the welfare of your horse which is parmount and he deserves to be happily bitted.
Remember, if you horse is misbehaving (as opposed to being over enthusiastic because he's being over-fed) he is trying to communicate to you in the only way he knows how that all is not well. If in doubt seek professional advice.
TO READ MORE ABOUT MYLER BITS AND THE SCIENCE BEHIND THEIR DESIGN AND ACTION PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK.
*A Whole Bit Better by Dale, Ron & Bob Myler
** Hilary Vernon is a Myler Bit Specialist as well as being a general bitting clinician.
Please visit her website www.equestrianknowledge.co.uk for more information.
But have you thought about not using a bit at all?
If so the following may prove to be very inspirational
The bit is to blame for numerous problems in the horse including headshaking and upper respiratory obstruction according to Dr Robert Cook, Surgery Professor Emeritus at Tuft`s University in Massachusetts.
Dr Cook is widely respected for his research into the upper respiratory tract of the horse for over 30 years. For the past five years he has been concentrating on the adverse effects of the bit and the advantages of controlling the horse without using a bit. He has developed a new type of bitless bridle that differs from hackamores and other existing bitless bridles. The bridle (marketed as “the Bitless Bridle”) works by applying mild pressure at the poll, along the side of the cheek, under the chin and across the bridge of the nose. “Its action can best be described as a benevolent headlock or whole head hug” he explains.
The Bitless Bridle has received an enthusiastic welcome in the USA, where it received the Equitana Enterprise Award for the most innovative equine tack product in 2000. Dr Cook points out that, although the award was for the period from 1999, “realistically the new bridle is the first major innovation in tack since the curb bit was introduced in the fourth century BC.”
So why after a distinguished academic career has Dr. Cook turned to promoting an item of tack? “In recommending the Bitless Bridle I can help more horses and riders than I ever did during my years at the University” he declares.
Apparently horses, and riders, adapt quickly to the bridle. Feedback from owners who have used it suggests that the benefits are more wide ranging than had been expected. Horses with problems as diverse as headshaking, dorsal displacement of the soft palate and pulmonary haemorrhage have improved with the use of the Bitless Bridle. In fact, Cook now recognises 95 problems related to the bit that affect the horse and at least 10 more that affect the rider.
“The ease with which a horse can be switched, overnight, from its regular bit to the new bitless bridle has served to highlight many problems that had not previously been recognised as being caused by the bit” he says.
Cook's research suggests that the most common cause of headshaking is trigeminal neuralgia caused by the bit. The trigeminal nerve supplies sensory nerves to most of the head. It has three branches. One supplies the lower jaw, its teeth, and the related soft tissues such as the tongue, gums and salivary glands. The second branch supplies the bone, teeth and soft tissues of the upper jaw and palate. The third branch supplies the eye and surrounding soft tissues.
Dr Cook suggests that the bit triggers a pain response along the trigeminal nerve. The signal may be transmitted directly to the brain, producing pain at the bars of the mouth. Or a phenomenon known as referred pain may come into play, in which case the pain may appear to originate from anywhere that is supplied by branches of the trigeminal nerve.
As further evidence for the potential of the bit to cause damage, Cook quotes the findings of his survey of jawbones from 65 horses five years old or older. He found bone spurs at the bars of the mouth in 49 (75%). Feral horse had no bone spurs; neither did he find any bone spurs in 35 zebra skulls. “It is easy to imagine how excruciatingly painful it must be for a horse with bone spurs on the bars of its mouth to be `controlled` by a steel bit” he adds.
He points out that not only does the bit cause pain, it also interferes with the horse's ability to breathe at exercise. “As in all mammals the horse has evolved to eat or exercise. It cannot carry out both activities simultaneously. Yet by placing a bit in its mouth this is precisely what man expects it to do.”
“In a horse running free, the lips are closed. There is no air in the mouth; the immobile tongue occupies the entire space within the cavity of the mouth and the digestive part of the throat under the soft palate; and salivation is in abeyance.”In contrast, in the horse exercising with a bit in its mouth, “the seal of the lips is broken; the jaw may be frankly open; air enters the mouth and the digestive part of the throat; the tongue is constantly on the move; and salivation is stimulated.”
The presence of air below the soft palate can have a significant effect on breathing, It lifts the soft palate, which may billow upwards and restrict the airway. The soft palate may even become displaced from its position around the larynx. Cook suggests that obstruction of the upper airway have knock-on effects on the lower airway, leading to problems such as small airway disease and pulmonary bleeding.
He has produced a questionnaire for owners that highlights the problems that can be caused by the bit. A sample of twelve completed questionnaires revealed that each horse displayed an average of 23 problems. After using the new bridle for periods ranging from 4 days to six months (average 42 days) 38% to 94% of the problems disappeared. On average 67% of the problems were solved by the Bitless Bridle. “When more than two-thirds of a horse's problems can be eliminated in 42 days, simply by removing one or more steel rods from its mouth, it serves to emphasize the merit of the whole-head-hug method of communication.”
“Riders who banish the bit have found they own a much better horse than they thought” he concludes. “Elimination of bit-induced problems enhances the welfare and performance of their horse and makes riding simpler, safer and much more satisfying.”
"Pressure on one rein (yellow arrow) pushes inoffensively but persuasively on the opposite half of the head (red arrows).
Horses respond better to being pushed than pulled and where the head goes the horse follows. "
More details can be found at: www.bitlessbridle.com
This article has been reproduced by the kind permission of Mark Andrews, Equine Science Update and the photos are courtesy of Dr. Cook.
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