EQUINE MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING - Fred and Rowena Cook
Retraining Racehorses, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Schooling
Email: Enquiries@equinetraining.co.uk or call 01780 740773
A HORSE cannot properly and happily perform what is asked of him if his physical and/or mental welfare is not being addressed and he is being denied the very basics of what his natural comforts should be. Equine management is a vitally important and integral part of his training - as without a fit, healthy and happy horse, trouble-free training will not be sustained.
IT IS commonly accepted that when a person is not eating or sleeping well, has an ache or pain somewhere or is just not feeling quite 100%, their behaviour may change and their work can be affected; it is no different with horses. However in the cases of horses, in an alarmingly short period of time so much can go wrong from deterioration in performance, loss of condition and the development of so-called "stable vices" such as weaving, box-walking, etc. and the onset of poor behaviour such as napping and aggression. .
THE only way horses can communicate any discomfort or unhappiness, whether of a physical or mental nature, is through their behaviour and the way they interact with us i.e. using their body language. As times passes the unhappy or stressed horse has to "shout" a bit louder for his voice to be heard if his physical, psychological and/or physiological needs are being ignored. So many times a horse's distress signals fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, but surely out go the cries from an owner that a horse is being naughty or deliberately difficult and stubborn.
ENOUGH emphasis cannot be placed on ensuring that there are no physical problems that could give rise to misbehaviour (or so-called bad behaviour) before embarking on any form of training regardless of the horse's age. A young horse can just as easily have sore spots and tensions within its body as an older horse in need of further training work or re-schooling.
THE MOMENT a horse walks into the yard the assessment process begins. The power of observation is a very powerful tool; not even a flick of the eye misses our attention!
HOW a horse reacts and responds during his rest and play time, ground training or ridden work is very important as this assists in determining the presence of any sort of physical ailment, physiological disorder or management issue which needs addressing. Watching a horse at leisure is when we can learn so much about the way they behave and react during training sessions. Any change in behaviour, however small, should be noted as this could be a sign of things to come whether as a handling, ridden or veterinary matter.
HORSES cannot be kept wrapped up in cotton wool but many owners are concerned when they see their horse racing around the field or having a buck on the lunge as understandably they fear an injury. For the shod horse we always recommend the use of boots during both exercise and play time; however they must fit well and be adequately breathable whilst also affording good protection. .
WHILST there can be some heart-stopping moments horses must be allowed the freedom to do whatever they want - to be a horse. And better too that they do this without a rider!. Letting off steam is a wonderful tonic and prevents sourness and nappiness setting in. However it is another good time to observe as you can learn so much from watching exactly what your horse does and how he uses, or avoids using, parts of his body.
MANY of the horses that arrive here exhibit incorrect or even abnormal muscle structure due to having been worked in an enforced outline (as opposed to just being overbent), particularly at a young age. Working a horse in this way can not only damage the muscles and create stresses and strains throughout the body (because the body as a whole is not correctly toned and aligned) but also can readily result in stress related conditions - all matters which have to be corrected before the real training or re-training work can be commenced.
IT MAY BE that there has been an injury of some sort from which the horse has not either fully recovered or appropriate physiotherapy has not been carried out to tone and strength weakened muscles, tendons and ligaments. As we work with a considerable number of ex-racehorses we are well-used to seeing a wide range of physical issues ranging from muscle atrophy, stress fractures, tendon injuries, pelvic and sacroiliac issues to broken withers and so on.
OUR vast experience allows us to readily pinpoint sources of discomfort and recognise:
WHEN deemed necessary (with veterinary approval) appropriately qualified practitioners, all specialists in their field, are called upon to help us resolve such issues. Of course if at any time we consider veterinary intervention is required (or at an owner's request) we not only have two very well-equipped local Equine Clinics, but can call upon the services of leading Newmarket vets.
FROM the look on the face, to its reactions, of all the contributory factors to ensure that a horse is in as physically good shape as can be expected, taking into account his age, type/breed, any known physical problems he may have had or is continuing to experience and the initial reasoning behind his stay with us.
HORSES that have been under mental or physical stress for whatever reason usually display signs of physiological disorders albeit they are often very subtle and so usually go unnoticed by even the most diligent of owners. However we know exactly what to look for and can readily address these once we have had the chance to fully assess each horse.
WE use a variety of treatments to correct any issues which manifest combined with lymphatic drainage, massage, suppling and stretching exercises, alongside tailored schooling exercises as well as working with Specialists when warranted.
EMMA OVEREND has a very valuable role to play here at Equine Training and is a tremendous asset to the yard.
AS a McTimoney Spinal Practitioner, a Sports Massage and Bio Light Therapist, and both Practitioner and Instructor of Equine Touch. These skills provide us with a great package for addressing and correcting physical issues alongside our training, coupled with veterinary and veterinary physiotherapy intervention when warranted. Emma's experience, vast knowledge and attention to detail allows her to pick up of the most subtle of signs that all is not as is should be.
PLEASE visit www.equinetouchcourses.co.uk
VETERINARY THERMAL IMAGING can detect subtle changes within structures of the body up to three weeks before any visible sign of damage becomes evident.
HENCE for the horse that is not performing or responding to training as he should, the use of VTI allows us to take a look what is going on and decide exactly what Practitioner we need to be calling in or whether veterinary investigation is warranted. VTI is also an excellent way of monitoring healing to an injury or surgical sites.
OUR Activo-Med is an absolutely invaluable piece of equipment and we would not be without it. We use our Activo-Med daily for the benefit of all the horses in the yard, whether they be youngsters here for backing, horses for schooling or those with us for rehabilitation of one form or another.
HORSES benefit so much from therapeutic effects of FMBS products so we also have leg wraps, hoof boots, a pecdominal pad and a laser for use within our rehabilitative programmes and of course the therapy compliments so well the work that Emma does.
HOWEVER horses love a good massage so if we cannot personally provide one manually we have these wonderful to do it for us! . Please visit www.fmbs.co.uk
OUR philosophy does not favour the use of chemically based products so we avoid them where ever possible preferring alternatives as they do not upset the horse's delicately balanced digestive system. Obviously we will only use proven products that are truly effective and endorsed as being non-GM, wholly vegan, and of course are approved by the FEI and Jockey Club. We will be pleased to discuss these products in more detail.
PROBLEMS in the mouth can result in a horse not eating properly and so contribute to various health issues such as digestive disorders and weight loss. Such pain or discomfort can also be the main cause of: .
HOWEVER it must also be borne in mind that such behavioural manifestations are not necessarily wholly caused by a problem in the mouth as they can be due to:
FOR any horse the experience of having its teeth done should be one that does not cause stress or discomfort; problems are usually caused by the speculum not being released often enough and rough use of floats. We regularly check the teeth and mouth in general as part of our management routine.
TOM PHILLIPS [registered and certified with BEVA and BVDA as well as being a BAEDT Member] is another important member of the team that keeps Equine Training operating a optimum efficiency..
WE have used Tom's services for many years now and cannot speakly highly enough of him. Not only is he extremely sympathetic and patient, he is very competant in the handling horses that are not too pleased about having their teeth attended to for whatever reason.
FOOT problems can simply be caused by:
or more seriously, problems within the actual structure of the foot. Sometimes it may be that some form of remedial shoeing is required to correct a minor conformation defect such as a twisting joint.
HOOF imbalance can be the cause of back pain as well as lower limb lameness. So whilst we prefer to keep shoes off for as long as possible sometime remedial shoeing is required to correct such imbalances or provide valuable heel support. It is not at all uncommon to come across horses that appear to have something quite wrong with them when all they need is some shoes to protect thin soles from hard or uneven ground!
IN the wild horses are constantly on the move, trickle feeding for up to 16 hours each day. They are forage (grasses) feeders with a digestive tract evolved to readily cope with fibre. Fibre is broken down very slowly in the hind gut so the consequential energy produced is released slowly. With this in mind, it is little wonder so many horses behave in an undesirable manner or suffer from digestive disturbances (eg: colic, loose droppings, etc ) when their diet is packed with high levels of starch!
YOUR feeding regime may be a contributory factor behind digestive disorders, the cause of excitable behaviours, the cause of poor performance or of poor physical condition. and whilst everyone is aware (or certainly ought to be) that adjustments should be made to take account of sudden changes in the exercise routine be that due to the weather, lameness and so on, how many people really consider the effect certain feed stuffs may have on temperament, take account of possible food allergies/intolerances, provide a feed that is of correct nutritional benefit for the individual and indeed, is actually appetising and enjoyable to eat?
HORSES have differing nutritional requirements throughout their lives. This is not just as a consequence of growing and developing from babyhood through to maturity and then into their veteran years, but also the amount and type of work they are doing has to be taken into consideration.
THE physiological make-up of the individual is also a major part of the nutritional equation. For example, two thoroughbred horses can be fed exactly the same diet, be kept under the same conditions and be doing the same amount of work, but they will not necessarily be carrying the same amount of bodyweight or have the same energy requirements.
A HORSE can be underweight for a number of reasons:
THERE is a huge range of feedstuffs on the market these days and it can be very confusing, but we believe in keeping feeding simple, following as much as possible the pattern nature intended thus preferring traditional feedstuffs over compound mixes and ensuring that all feeds are pure, of good quality, non-GM and are strictly vegetarian.
FOR the horse that has access to grass, grazing should not be relied up to provide all the nutrition that a horse requires; just because a field looks green does not necessarily mean that the grass is good. Also, for example, mares with foals at foot will require a pasture different to an older, laminitis-prone pony.
IT is important to keep grazing land in tip-top condition. And in order to achieve this it is important that grassland is rested, harrowed, rolled, sprayed, fertilised and topped; it is not just a case of a bit of re-seeding here to repair the damage done during the winter months.
THE grazing patterns and the nutritional requirements of the horses grazing the land have to be taken into consideration.
DO SEEK the advice of an agricultural consultant on how to best care for your particular grassland as soil types and ground structures are influential factors.
UNFORTUNATELY however diligent an owner is regarding their horse's worming programme, it is still possible for the horse to be carrying a worm burden. This is usually because of resistance by the worms to the product used but can also be due to the dosage being incorrect or the use of the wrong wormer at the wrong time of year. We recommend worm counts as being the best method to ascertain what your horse requires.
THE CORRECT care and management of horses, irrespective of their age, is paramount to ensuring that a horse leads a happy life.
MOST people are aware that a horse's age should be taken into account regarding the amount of work he is asked to do as the young horse cannot be expected to work for as long or as hard as his older counterpart; however once a horse reaches his veteran years the work-load should be carefully monitored to ensure that he is not putting undue stress on tired limbs and muscles. Young horses mature at different rates just as older horses are affected by the symptoms of old age at different stages of their lives; some horses seem old at 15 years whilst others are as active at 20 as they were at 10 years. This is another situation where it is so important to view each horse as an individual.
THE VETERAN should be correctly managed whether he be still active or enjoying a happy retirement. He should be constantly monitored for signs of "old age" such as arthritis, cushings and so on. The older horse has very specific needs especially regarding his nutritional requirements. As a horse ages absorption rates are not so efficient so these elements of the diet need to available in higher quantities to make sure that an adequate supply is maintained.
WORMING and dental needs do not fall by the wayside either - if fact these are very important in keeping the older horse in peak condition. And with possible joint problems setting in, farriery must not be neglected either.
SADDLERY which is incorrectly fitted or indeed, inappropriately used, is one of the most significant causes of poor performance, misbehaviour, sourness or just a generally unhappy demeanour. All items of saddlery must be comfortable for the horse and not interfere with its movement by way of restriction or constriction;and that includes such items as protective boots, stable and turnout rugs.
A SADDLE that does not fit properly, apart from causing discomfort, also affects how a horse moves; in many instances it can prevent a horse being able to engage itself properly and be the reason behind head-carriage issues and the inability to move correctly. So by removing or eliminating back tenderness/pain and establishing that a saddle does not restrict movement we can progress our work happy in the knowledge that the horses are not impeded by their saddle.
THE conformation of the horse is also a very important issue as different breeds have such differing bone structures. For example, Friesian horses are very upright in front and have large scapulas which can make ensuring a good saddle fit quite hard whereas Cob types have well sprung ribs which can cause a saddle to "roll"; thoroughbreds invariably have "long withers" and a wider fit than initially anticipated is often required in order to ensure there is no pressure from the [stirrup] bars. And of course the saddle has to be the correct fit (and be comfortable) for the rider too otherwise its balance can be affected which in turn affects the horse's way of going.
SOPHIE ALICE ROGERS of Express Equine is charged with the responsibility of ensuring correct saddle fit and so is another important member of the Team.. As a dressage rider herself, Sophie's only too aware of the importance of saddle comfort for both horse and rider. We value her judgement, knowledge and experience very highly.
WE will only use saddles from the Harry Dabbs and fortunately Sophie is a trained fitter for the company. We love the freedom of movement these saddles allow as well as the design flexibility which ensures such great fit and comfort.
WHILST the use of some form of saddle pad or numnah is good as an aid to general comfort especially for horses which tend to be quite sensitive over the back such as thoroughbreds, they should not be used to counteract the effects of an ill-fitting saddle other than in the short-term. It is the Thinline pads from the United States which we use as the concussion absorbing properties are second to none.
THE bridle itself also needs correct fitting to ensure maximum comfort especially around tender and delicate areas. A bridle that fits too tightly can be the source of great discomfort; think how you feel if your riding hat fits a bit too snuggly, especially on a warm day!
EVERYONE has their own preference regarding the types of bits used, etc. but we let the horse decide - what he is happiest in, we work him in. A horse may not necessarily show his discomfort of a bit by visibly resisting through inversion, head-tossing, dropping a shoulder, running through the bit, being over-active in the mouth, etc. Often the signs are quite subtle as some horses are not as demonstrative as others and so suffer in silence but the negative effects are just the same.
THE bit should lie comfortably in the horse's mouth so to this end the conformation of the mouth has to be taken into consideration when selecting a bit. For example, a thicker bit is milder but no good to the horse with a small mouth or a thicker tongue! Of course it does not matter what bit you have if you do not have a soft, rewarding hand and an independent seat to go with it! Often an unsuitable bit is used to mask other problems and difficulties so when a horse arrives for schooling usually the first thing we do is change the bit. Bitting is a far more complex subject than many people realise. If a horse is particularly difficult to bit for whatever reason (e.g. the conformation of its mouth) then we will call in a Bitting Clinician.
WE do not like the current trend of the use of tightly fastened nosebands particularly the crank nosebands which seems to be a absolute-must in the dressage world these days. It is alarming just how tightly some riders fasten the noseband yet such tightness affects the horse's ability to come on to the bit - something by their very training the rider is trying to achieve! Sadly though, in too many instances a problem which should be resolved by correct schooling, is being masked, the tightened noseband being a "fix" to compensate for the rider's inability to address the issue. Granted, lightly closing the mouth can be useful during early training to ensure a young horse does not learn to get his tongue over the bit or to keep the bit more stable in the mouth with a horse that is tentative in the contact. Generally it is our policy to work horses in simple cavesson nosebands but we will ascertain whether anything different is required during the course of the training period.
ALL too often nosebands are set too low.
MARTINGALES are usually fitted too tightly as well therefore being unduly and unnecessarily restricting; whilst they most definitely should not be used as an alternative to correct schooling or to mask other behavioural issues, often when jumping an enthusiastic horse, they can help the rider maintain contol.
WE always boots or bandage horses for work and again care should be taken as to their fit so as not to interfere with joint flexion.
WITH correct schooling and a properly managed diet the majority of horses should be able to be ridden in the simplest of bits and nosebands.
UNDERSTANDING the temperament and character of each individual is vital in order to be successful in their training. But also to get the best out of a horse, he needs to be happy in his environment and in his daily routine; he needs to be relaxed and comfortable in his surroundings so attention needs to be paid to even the most seemingly minor of details if it means that a horse is kept happy. Our experience allows us to quickly build up a "case book" of each horse so that we can be aware of even the slightest change a horse may exhibit. We get to know more about the horses than their owners do!
STEREO-TYPICAL behavioural displays only occur when there are faults within the daily management programme. Whilst it is obviously preferable that all horses do have some degree of daily turnout, there are perhaps specific reasons why this cannot always be the case. So under a proper management programme the stabled horse can be kept stress-free and relaxed whilst also maintaining mental stimulation.
THERE is absolutely no reason why the horse that is primarily stabled-kept cannot be kept happy and content; if a horse has to have a prolonged period of box rest for any reason, then what? Generally horses actually cope with box-rest very well - far better than their owners do.
HOWEVER there are factors that must to be taken into consideration when keeping the stabled horse a happy horse; it is not just the case of taking care of the feeding and exercise programmes – matters such as stable construction and bedding material also play an important role. There is a vast array of bedding materials on the market these days so there is something to suit everyone but obviously much depends on individual circumstances such as ease of muck disposal. Stables should be light and airy [good ventilation is important for lung health] but not draughty with good "viewing" from the stable door. If at all possible stables should have windows at the back too - and if these can be opened when the weaher permits you will have an even happier horse.
THE aim of management is have a horse that is relaxed and content in his surroundings and in the peak of health. So a horse that is found laying down during the day is a sure sign that he is indeed a happy horse; many will not feel at ease enough to do this until after dark, just as some will not eat until the yard has stopped for the day. However course it is important to be familiar with the characteristics and behaviour of each horse so that it can be readily ascertained whether it is laying down because in fact all is not well.
REMEMBER too, that just because a horse is turned out, it does not necessarily equate to him being the epitome of contentment; stress factors can also comeinto play such as lack of companionship, bullying by others, inadequate grazing, lack of shelter, etc
MARES and gelding can be successfully turned out together provided you go about it the right way.
These two ex-racehorses have now become firm friends, but this was not always the case as the chestnut gelding actually used to chase the filly with teeth bared! By re-establishing their relationship with a structured management programme that problem has evidently been successfully overcome.
HORSES are naturally very sociable, easy-going creatures, so evidence of 'temperament' is an indication that all is not well, as the horse has no other means of communicating its feelings to us. And of course, it must be remembered that fear, apprehension and natural instinct play a big part in how a horse behaves and reacts to the challenges of life put before it. Also it is important to recognise that a horse may be bad tempered as the result of previous rough handling or physical abuse (in which case his confidence will need to be restored over a period of time), from the prolonged use of poorly fitted saddlery or the requirement to work when it has possibly been suffering from a physical ailment whether that be say a bad back, gastric ulcers or something more subtle such as a food intolerance.
HORSES are not naturally aggressive or confrontational so there is no reason why, when correctly directed during their initial training (at whatever age this is commenced), that they should not be well-mannered and polite. But if a handler is inexperienced, lacks confidence or is rough, misunderstandings and misbehaviour can be the result. Whilst it is easy to take liberties with horses that are naturally amenable, handlers should be experienced in the correct understanding and application of handling procedures.
STALLIONS need their turn-out and freedom as much as mares and geldings; in fact probably more so because of their physiologicial make-up. What can start off as a bit of fun, letting off steam, can very easily turn into inappropriate behaviour through no fault of the horse if he is not correctly managed. High spirits are acceptable, allowed and of course completely natural but signs of aggression or assertiveness must be nipped in the bud. Whilst all horses need clear boundaries, this is particularly important in the case of stallions; there is no in-between. This does not mean that they should be over disciplined unnecessarily - too many stallions are too harshly handled; it just that the little bit of leeway that might be given to mares and geldings, can soon be taken advantage of by a stallion.
THE physical and welfare needs of the unridden equine are just as important as those of his ridden counterparts and should be addressed in exactly the same way.
ATTENTION to teeth and feet must not be neglected (nor can a proper worming programme) although sometimes it can be a little tricky finding someone prepared to go onto bended knee!
WHETHER a horse is in work, at rest or retired he needs properly looking after. Yes, sometimes it can seem difficult to get to the balance of, say, feeding correct or source the cause of a change in demeanour but it is absolutely paramount that everything that affects a horse's quality of life is addressed.
ONCE all the physical and practical aspects of equine management have been addressed it is time to turn our attention to the training. So please click through to the next section.