So it’s the time of year that our horses often come in wet and muddy! Time is precious so how many of us do the quick flick where the tack goes before we ride? I am definitely guilty of it!
So it got me thinking about why grooming is so important, especially in the winter!
Naturally in the wild, horses groom each other. Domesticated horses that don’t have that option specifically need more attention in that sense. Horses are social animals and love the contact.
The ground is slippy, horses become hungry and this can cause inter-herd arguments in the field, as well as horse becoming distressed at bringing in times. Slips and kicks can cause low grade pain or discomfort in the horse that often goes undetected by owners when workload decreases during the winter months
We often find we swap one rug for the other in the dark without fully considering the well being of the whole horse!
Varying weight patterns during the winter months can also be responsible for poor saddle fit, some horses gain with being stabled, whilst others will lose through stress or the colder climate.
So I thought I would have a think about why it is beneficial to groom our horses.
Daily health check
- Looking for any new lumps, bumps, kicks or swelling
- Checking for physical signs of discomfort (breathing, abdominal pain, heave line)
- Looking for any signs of rubbing caused from rugging
- Increase blood flow to the skin surface and muscles
Improving blood flow to the tissues will help keep muscles functioning effectively.
- Often horses can lose their topline and muscle bulk during winter when stabled for long periods, or with reduced work.
Brushing the horse can highlight any areas of spasm or soreness
- You may find a sensitive area or the horse may dip away when brushing their back.
- This could be the result of a low grade lameness, where the horse is compensating by bracing through their back.
- There could be pain around the withers or where the back of the saddle fits caused by the saddle.
- Or could even be the result of a slip or fall in the field, where the horse is sore through their back or hindquarters.
Improves the bond with your horse
Ensures that they are used to ‘hands on’ from yourself, your vet or your therapist.
Alternative to ridden work – It’s a great time to incorporate some ground exercises, dynamic mobilisation exercises or range of movement exercises.
- Research has proven that simple dynamic mobilisation exercises (carrot stretches) work to stabilise the intervertebral joints by activating specific muscles.
- Joint stabilisation is important for both improving athletic performance and preventing back injury.
- Research has shown that performing regular dynamic mobilisation exercises over a period of 3 months stimulated enlargement of the muscles that stimulate the horse’s back.
- Dynamic mobilisations can be performed on a cold horse, whereas passive range of movement exercises should only be carried out after exercise.
If they are rugged through the winter dead skin and hair can build up which can cause discomfort and skin problems, a bit of time unrugged can allow the skin to breathe.
So next time you go get to your horses stable in the pouring rain,
spend some quality time with them one to one.
Why not try to make a once or twice weekly full groom part of your winter routine?
Hello Winter! The season we all dread as horse owners, cold, rain, ice and even snow!! Well lets hope Winter 2016/2017 is a mild one!
Over the last few weeks I have seen more and more horses on restricted Winter turnout, if you are lucky enough to have your horses living out then your main worry will be correct rugging and making sure they have enough forage/hay to eat during the day and night!
Many of my clients are now on restricted grazing of some description, every yard has different rules and it is important to find a yard that suits both you and your horse. Every horse owner has a different priority list of what they look for in terms of location/facilities/cost/turnout.
As we know horses tend to lose ‘topline’ and ‘condition’ over the winter, I often find that horses stabled for prolonged periods of time are the ones most affected. This has got me thinking what can you as an owner do to try and help keep your horse in the best shape over winter.
We all know correct feeding is an important factor, I had a lecture from independent Registered Equine Nutritionist Claire McLeod whilst I was studying at Hartpury. One thing that I personally took away from her talk was that a good quality feed balancer is key! This is the only way (bar having your hay tested) that we know the horse is getting all their key vitamins and minerals needed for their diet. This is something that I always pass on to my clients, if you are not feeding a balancer, or the recommended amount of feed for the horse then why are you feeding at all?
In humans it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength new research indicates. In that relatively short period of time, young people lose about 30% of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Meanwhile, active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25% of their strength.
So think about the stabled horse… in the wild horses graze 16-18 hours a day and travel up to 100 miles a day during a 24hr period! Yes I know that our horses have been domesticated and are now far removed from their wild ancestors. Horses also naturally only stand still to sleep, and move to graze typically every 3-5 seconds.
So what can we do to try and recreate a more natural environment when stabled? We can make sure the horse has access to forage; being without food for even a few hours can lead to frustration, behavioural problems and even risk gastric ulcers!
- Try to feed a choice of different forages at ground level
- I’m not a great fan of haynets, but they can be useful when placed at different heights and locations around the stable to encourage the horse to move and add variety and interest.
- Place the water bucket away from the hay to encourage movement away from the haynet.
Stretches to maintain suppleness
- Carrot stretches are not over-rated, they also do not need to involve carrots!
- A little tip is to fill a small plastic mug with some nuts to keep your horse interested,
- Bring the horse round to their hip,
- Round to their hind fetlock and
- Down between their knees –
- Be careful not to allow the horse to lift a leg or bend at the knee to compensate, only work to the point that your horse can achieve comfortably.
- Remember if your horse is on restricted turnout they may benefit from a walk around the yard, or a hand graze for even 15 minutes a couple of times a day to allow them to stretch their legs out of their stable. If you are able to turn them out in the ménage take the opportunity whilst you muck out!
- Riding/lungeing regularly will also maintain fitness and maintain muscle bulk
Stable toys are a great idea..
- Treat balls
- Hanging a swede in the stable is easy to do
- Even try a toy box filled with horse safe toys – large dog toys are ideal
- Stable mirrors can be great for some horses
And lastly, ensure that your stable is big enough for your horse to lie down comfortably, horses generally do not sleep well unless they feel safe in a her environment, in the wild they will have their equine friend stand over them to guard from any potential danger.
Did you know that to achieve REM sleep horses need to be able to lie flat on their side?
Roll on Spring!!