Friday, February 26, 2010

Science Vs tradition: Myths

"Myths? Like Pegasus?"

This weeks questions came from various people and some I just thought might interest you.

Heres a few, not in any particular order.

Myth: I will get a better saddle fit with a better saddle pad.

The truth here is if your saddle slips, is too narrow, too wide, pinching or pressure points you need a new saddle.

Ladies will know what I am talking about when I say a saddle is like a pair of shoes.
Imagine having a pair of high heel dress shoes. They were expensive, they look gorgeous but they are too narrow and friggn hurt your feet! You get sour about wearing them and want to toss them in the back of a closet.
How would you deal with this shoe pain? I can bet you wouldn't put on a pair of wool socks.
If you had a shoe that was too wide you can put on 10 pairs of socks but your foot is still going to slop around all over the place and cause blisters. The same should be for your saddle.
If it is too narrow don't put extra padding it's like that wool sock and the dress shoe. Even if you use less padding it is still going to restrict your horses movement with the tree being solid and narrow (think tight shoes and attempting to wiggle your toes)
If it is too wide don't use more padding. It's like the shoe thats too big. It is still going to be sloppy.
Of course if you have a saddle that truely fits the technology of good saddle pads can indeed aid a good fit.

Myth:My horse needs shoes to stay sound

Have you ever heard the saying treat the cause and not the symptoms? This is no different.
A lot of people shoe their horse because he seems lame or off. Shoes often cover up the real reason a horse is having issues wile barefoot.
Why do I use shoes? Because in the warmer seasons our horses wear off more hoof than they grow. We are on pavement, gravel and rough ground a lot more than your average horse doing many, many, many times the miles most horses do in a year under saddle or harness. We can't not shoe our horses. Hoof boots just don't work. They come off or offer too much grip on the pavement.

We always take off shoes when we are not on the roads (About December-ish to April-may-ish) We have never had a horse that has to be shod to stay sound.
I have discarded metal shoes in our horses regime. After a season of using easywalker plastic horse shoes I am hooked. Not only did they last longer than metal shoes on the road (we could actually re-set them once!), they gave us more grip for the carriage horses and flexed with the natural foot unlike metal shoes that are rigid and can slip on pavement without caulks or boron spots.

Sadly a lot of horse owners are looking for a cheap, quick fix. Going barefoot requires a farrier that is maintaining the hoof for the surfaces your horse will be riding on, not maintaining the hoof like he/she was going to shoe it. It may take some time to grow out a new hoof and uncover what is really making ol clip-clop iffy on those toes.

Myth: My horse has a "vice"

I need to get this one strait right here, right now. Vices are described as something that is inconvenient. The thing is that horses cribbing, weaving, pacing or pawing (etc etc) are inconvenient to us, not the horse. The horse finds it perfectly acceptable and convenient to express his lack of a natural behaviour in these sometimes destructive ways. These are known scientifically as a "stereotypy" because the horse is exhibiting stereotypical behaviors. They can basically be categorized as oral (cribbing, wood chewing) and locomotory (weaving, pacing, stall kicking, pawing)

Myth: A horse will eat dirt, feces, chew wood or other horses tails when he is lacking some mystery nutrient in his diet or be deficient in something.

I commented on a blog today about horses lacking minerals.
This one makes me want to bang my head on my desk since no one can seem to explain (even vets) what mystery X mineral the horse is missing. It's just some mineral.

First off, horses DO NOT have nutritional wisdom.
In fact I compared a horse to a young baby who we clearly know does not have some mystery mineral deficiency detector built in.
A baby will drink from a bottle when it is hungry. Once baby is done drinking and full he will suck his thumb or passifier. Does this mean the baby is still hungry?
Studies have shown that babies suck their thumb more often when fed further apart. It seems to release endorphins and lessen tension. Sucking on a bottle feeds an instinct for milk.

A horse will graze almost continuously if the forage is there. Sixteen or more hours a day a horse will chew, rip, nibble and in general eat forage. By putting him in a domesticated environment we often eliminate this by not having suitable land for grass or having the resources and money to feed free choice hay. What will a horse do? Eat wood, chew tails, ingest dirt and poop and god knows what else. Is he lacking some mineral? No hes doing what instinct tells him to do, graze! Even if that might mean grazing the wooden fencing.

Of course a lot of us that do have grass pastures irrigate them. This may mean there truely is not enough fiber content out there to meet the grazing needs.

Lisa from Laughing orcha ranch posted the wonderful thing she did with a hockey net to keep her horse grazing all day on the limited hay she feeds. It's a wonderful idea that brings a horse a little closer to what nature intended.

A horse knows no more about his body not having minerals than a baby does. What they both do know is instinct and that instinct is to suckle and graze.

If you are really concerned about your horse lacking mystery mineral X, get your hay tested!. Guessing what your horse might be lacking is a risky game. Your going to waste money on supplements and possibly cause problems long term for your horses health.

Of course horses in a paddock with grass always appreciate some dry matter to chew on. The best idea I seen was a very large old stump, roots and all. The horses scratched and chewed the stump to their hearts content. What a great idea.

Horses will also chew on things to explore, like a child will put things in his mouth. Some wood on barns may taste good. It may be habitual. Consider how your horse was weaned and raised. A lot of horses that were weaned suddenly from their mothers and put into stalls, introduced to concentrates early etc. are scientifically proven to have more incidence of developing a stereotypy.

They may be also doing it out of frustration. An ideal herd to a horse is many horses, not one other equid, not two and maybe not even five or more. Many so that every horse can interact and have a different place in the social vine. Again we cannot always provide that.

Myth: My horse gets the minerals he needs from his salt block.

Salt blocks. They are solid and come normally in blue, white and brownish red.
Salt blocks are durable. They keep a horse occupied, true.
Salt blocks are also what they are, solid blocks.
Have you ever noticed a horse will bite his salt block, or eat it in one sitting.
This is due to the fact that a horses salivary glands are activated by chewing, not licking. Having said this, a horse (and even cows and other livestock) simply cannot get the minerals they need simply by licking a salt block. They do not create the saliva necessary to consume what their body needs and their taste buds desire.

There is a very simple solution to this. Offer free choice, loose salt. It's cheaper to get a big bag (50 pounds is normally $20) and lasts longer. I still have a solid salt block in Indigo's shed. It hasn't been touched in months because they have been eating the loose salt which I have to replace every month or so. It's in a dish thats fastened to the wall of the shed next to the old salt block.
Indigo would constantly be scraping her teeth on the solid block. Now she hasn't touched it because she can lick up the loose salt to her hearts content.
Mr.Pony would eat a salt block in a day and it worried me he was going to make himself sick. He was bored, not lacking some mineral. Again I added loose salt and he takes a couple weeks to finish what I give him, not one sitting.

If you can't put loose salt out for your horses at all times you can add it to their feed once a day. Of course knowing what type of salt you need to give your horse depends on the hay's nutritional analysis.

Myth: My horse will not stop bitless.

I hear this one so often it's crazy and 99.9% of the people who say this haven't even given bitless a try. When they do try it they are often very surprised to find yes you can control a horse bitless and a lot of the time stop way better, quicker and with less resistance than in a bit.

In my opinion a horse should stop because you asked and he wants to.
Does your horse slow to a stop or even slam on the breaks for the rowdy western riders out there when you WOAH! at him?
Do you have to pull or haul back with force on the reins to get him to change gears?
Or can you do it at a suggestion in your fingers or even better, your seat.

I find if I have a horse that wants to take off or not slow down he has a big hole in his training.
A lot of the time riders cover this hole with a bit or even worse, a bigger bit. In the case of harsher methods a horse is responding to pain, not the willingness to fulfill your request.

To shut a horses motor down make him change directions. Disengage his hip. Pulling back on both reins when a horse wants to run is going to give him something to brace against. He is many times your weight, if he wants to brace against your hands you need to give him something he can't brace against. Use one rein at a time, get his feet moving in another direction. I find with a horse that doesn't stop and progressively gets worse to stop, collect, extend etc goes hand in hand with a rider that snatches up the reins the second a horse speeds up. If you read my last science vs tradition post on training aids. A horse should flex to the bridle in all directions when asked before ever asking him to do a transition at any speed.

Myth: If the bit length is right it is a good fit for my horse.

Most riders are like this and I can admit to it at one point I did it too. They start their horse in a snaffle just like every horse before them. It's the same bit. True a lot of people use the same bit but your not all riding the same horse.

Not many riders look into their horses mouthes when selecting bits. Even before I went bitless I was constantly looking into a horses mouth. I don't mean needing their teeth floated (though minimum once a year maintenance should be done, bitless or bit alike!) or teeth pulled. I am talking about their tongue, lips, jaw and hard palate.

So far in the bitless revolution we are still a baby. A very small revolution that is indeed taking the horse world by storm. We sometimes need to use bits if we intend to show our horses so we can do the kindest thing and buy a bit for the horses mouth, not just assume every bit fits every horse mouth mold.

I won't get too far into this because I could talk all day on bit and bridle fit but I'll go over basics.

Measure your horses mouth. Put something like a wooden dowel in his mouth and mark it off. If clip-clop is between sizes go for the next one up.

Look at your horses tongue. Is it thick, is it thin? Does it have scars? Thick tongues will require a thinner bit (not wire thin, just thinner) maybe even a slight curve or mullen mouth to allow that tongue to rest properly in the oral cavity. A bit that restricts a thick tongue is going to be uncomfortable even with no pressure on the reins.
If your horses tongue is thin you want to use a thicker bit to distribute that pressure over a bigger area and avoid pinching it bad between metal and the bars.

Look at the hard palate (roof of the mouth). Is it low? You might want to try something with a very mild joint such as something that doesn't have a join like a mullen or a french link that has two joints. A horse with a very low hard palate will have a very short distance between you putting pressure on the reins and a single jointed bit poking like an upside down V into the hard palate. Not comfortable.
If you have a high hard palate a single jointed bit may be just fine. It may take quite the bit of pressure for that joint to hit the hard palate. A double jointed (such as a french link) may create two pressure points that are very small and be uncomfortable in this type of mouth.

The jaw. Try putting a fist between your horses cheeks (near his throat but between his big ol cheeks) a standard horse (14-16 HH) normally you can just barely fit your fist between the cheeks. If you have a lot of room you got a wide jaw. If you can't get anything you have a narrow jaw. This will also influence what type of jointed bit and thickness you will need.
Have you ever noticed some horses, no matter the length of bit it seems to wrap around their jaw? Thats where you might want to check the jaw width.

So having said this, like saddles bits are never one size fits all.

Keep those questions coming.

I'll leave you with something to chew on that a good friend of mine said the other day: "A horse has to be moving forward even to back up."


Pony Girl said...

Interesting and good post!
Do you offer table salt as your free salt? Any ideas on how do you keep it clean for a horse that is not stalled, but is in a pasture?
The need to forage as a reason for horses to chew is good. I never thought it about it that way!

Sydney said...

I don't use table salt I just buy a bag of the livestock white and a bag of cobalt (blue) and mix them. They will be at your feed store. My horses are not in stalls but I nailed a little container to the inside of the run in for them to use. It is out of the weather.

JeniQ said...

Wow.. I just stumbled upon your blog and it's full of great facts. I learned something about bit selection as this has always mind boggled me. Thank you!!! I have one request - the "Jaw" measuring - a photo or diagram would be helpful. I'm trying to picture exactly where to put my fist.

Also I've been a bit of "biteless" rider before - using a Bosel which I didn't like much because it seemed very harsh and if not used correctly could cause considerable pain. So I much to the trainer at the time's dismay - I threw the bosel away and found a new trainer.

My Rosie was rode regularly in a biteless sidepull before I purchased her, and my test rides on her were with the sidepull. The only thing I didn't like is she had learned from her previous owner that it was ok to stop and graze anytime you want. Don't know about you, but I can't pull a 1800 to 2000 lb horses head up LOL!

I would love to buy one for both of my horses but I don't know anyone around my area who can help with fitting and making sure it's being used correctly. Any sights?

Meghan said...

Oh, man, I really hate the "you can fix a crappy saddle with an expensive corrective pad" myth. Arrrrrggggh. Drives me nuts. Just get a good saddle already!

I definitely agree that you shouldn't rely on a bit to stop your horse. I try to use seat aids primarily. Of course, sometimes when your horse is hot, distracted or otherwise not listening to a "polite" aid you do have to get up in their face a little. But a response to a light aid at all times is definitely my goal.

My mare has loose salt and a Himalayan salt lick in her stall, and she actually seems to prefer the salt lick. At first she licked it constantly, like she had a deficiency in something or other. But she is kind of a weird horse, and she likes to lick more than any other horse I know.

Good post! I have to go back and read the training aids one. Haven't had enough time to read my blogs lately, argh!

Carroll Farm said...

I always learn so much from your blog! I am thinking that we will try the salt, we use a mineral block - and they all go through spurts of licking nonstop then not touching it for weeks.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Interesting post. Thanks.

Ummm, I wouldn't say I limit my horse's hay using the hay net at all. I keep it filled 24/7. It's just that it does seem to last longer, compared to leaving an entire bale open on the ground, like I've done in the past.

I also wanted to reply to the comment you left on my blog about Morgans being created by Tennessee Walkers, just thought you might like to read the following:

The stamina and spirit of the Morgan, combined with its build and way of traveling, contributed to the formation of other American breeds.
such as the Standardbred, Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and American Saddle Horse. The first Morgan Horse Register was published in 1894.
While the The Tennessee Walker registry was formed in 1935.

As America grew so did the feats of the Morgan. New England men answered the call of gold and headed for California on Morgans.
In the Civil War, the famed Vermont Cavalry was mounted on Morgan horses. Not only did the Union's General Sheridan ride his
Morgan Rienzi, Stonewall Jackson rode his Morgan, 'Little Sorrel,' for the Confederacy as well! In the Indian Wars, the only survivor
in the Battle of the little Big Horn was Keogh's Morgan-bred horse Comanche. If the pathways of history are paved with the bones of
the horse, surely America's are paved by Morgans.

While the offspring of Justin Morgan were taming the wilderness and building the country, they were also creating the standards by which other American breeds would become known. The stamina and vigor of the Morgan together with his excellent conformation and way of going helped make other American light horse breeds what they are today. The great speed of today's racing Standardbreds was produced by crosses to the fastest Morgan blood. in the 1860s, the Morgan stallion Shepherd F. Knapp was exported to England where his trotting speed became a byword. Today, many English Hackneys carry his name in their pedigrees. In American Saddlebreds, such famous champions as Edna May, Bourbon King,
Rex Peavine, and Wing Commander trace to Justin Morgan. The foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking horse, Allen F-1, was a grandson of the Morgan stallion Bradford's Telegraph. In addition, many good Morgan mares were sent to Texas only to lose their breed identity in Quarter Horse bands, and to make the breed greater for it. The oldest of all American breeds the Morgan was strong enough to contribute greatly to almost every other American light horse breed while retaining its own identity across two centuries.

The Quarter horse stallion Joe Bailey was a son of Headlight Morgan. Jubilee King, a famous Morgan, was also registered under the Quarter Horse name of Yellow Jacket. Yet another well-known Quarter Horse sire, Joe Hancock, was sired by Redolent, a son of the Morgan Red Oak.

Ninety-percent of today's Saddlebreds carry Morgan blood. Tennessee Walking Horses owe much to early Morgan blood.


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Hey Sydney,

I just found this:

Unofficial breed estimates states that from 10 to 20% of all Morgans perform some sort of intermediate gait! History shows that there were many Morgans used in the Calvary remounts breeding program by government stables. A good percent of these were smooth traveling, coveted singlefooters. General Stonewall Jackson's favorite horse was a ground covering, smooth gaited Morgan, "pacer" which was often a term used at that time for a singlefooter. The Morgan Horse has contributed to the formation of most American gaited breeds.

The Morgan Horse is a source of the gait gene. The intermediate gait is well documented in the history of the Morgan horse.

Due to the recessive nature of the gene, it will never be lost. It is in every family of the Morgan breed and can crop up unexpectedly; to the delight of some and to the horror of others.

In the past, this has confused some Morgan owners, breeders and trainers, but rest assured there is a place for the Gaited Morgan. The singlefoot is there, and has been since the first generation of Morgans.

Lauren said...

Great post. Definitely agree with most of what you said.

The only thing I disagree with is the shoeing. Your horses can go barefoot, regardless if they are on rocks, asphalt, grass, or sand. Putting shoes on them is just as bad as putting a bit in their mouth, even if the shoe is not metal. The trick is finding a barefoot trimmer who trims horses after the wild horse model, such as Jaime Jackson, Pete Ramey, etc. Mustangs travel on much worse terrain than our domestic horses do. Check out and the AANHCP.

Sydney said...

We did have a barefoot trimmer that was I do believe after the Jamie Jackson person. Unfortunately we may be traveling 15-20 miles at a time or more pulling a large carriage on asphalt. Theres no way to prevent the wear and tear. We need more grip than the bare hoof but less than a boot. This is why we have been using the easywalkers. We found at the end of an event compared to other carriage horses ours were less tired.

jane augenstein said...

Hey Sydney, Great Post!! I have been told by a lot of people that when horses chew, even kids that there is a mineral deficiency, well, I sure don't know???!!! LOL Gilly didn't chew when he was by himself for two years before Pokey came along. When Pokey started chewing so did Gilly, like you have said I guess they just want to chew. They will do it in the summer time too even when here is plenty to eat. We will be putting up a strand of electric around to stop the destruction.

Gilly is barefoot and it has taken all his life. I ride the gravel roads some, not a lot but he seems to be fine with it. He has wonderful hard feet. My trimmer has studied under Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey and does an excellent job. But the owner has to play a part in helping the horse keep a good foot by supplying some stoney ground, stone in the field somewhere so that can build a callous on their feet. Wild horses do this themselves by the terrain they travel on daily. Also the food they eat plays into how their feet are too. Gilly and Pokey get salt, a small amount of raw oats and good grass hay. We have some wonderful hay called "World Feeder Bermuda Grass". I did feed them Omega Horse Shine that has flax meal and vitamins and minerals but only about half of what was called for. It makes their coats shiny and they shed off better in the spring. I eat flax meal too coat isn't shiny! LOL

We are also bitless, Dr. Cook's bridle, love it and also have a bitless noseband that came from a woman in Australia. It's really nice too, both work very well. I can also ride Gilly with just a rope halter. He stops with your seat, saying whoa or using the one rein stop. I always hear from people "How do you stop him, you don't have a bit in his mouth??!!"

Oh, well....I guess bitless and barefoot isn't for everyone. But it works great for me and my horse.

Sydney said...

Thats another thing that we also have. Our barnyard (there the horses spend the night) is cement. Our paddock also has an extreme amount of rocks in it. There is a large bit of sheet rock under the farm and every spring the frost heaves up the stone. You should see me trying to eliminate them. Crazy. We just do a lot more miles than a wild horse would in days.

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