AERC American Endurance Ride Conference Training Plan Cliff Notes

AERC: American Endurance Ride Conference Training plan for Endurance rides

Cliff notes on the AERC Training Plan

Chapter Six

In conditioning, the ultimate goal is to develop to maximum potential whatever natural athletic ability any given individual possesses. The object of this chapter is to acquaint the reader with the basic principles of conditioning and to suggest some methods and time frames appropriate for preparing a horse for competition in an endurance test. Each horse is an individual and each horse’s ideal conditioning program should be tailored to the horse and to its environment. For example, horses running each day on 50 acres of hilly pasture will need far less conditioning under saddle than a horse kept in a 15’ by 20’ corral most of the time. 

Know your horse: Trainers concern themselves with more than pulse rates and blood counts, although these things are surely important. The best trainers have developed an intuitive “feel” for how the horse is doing overall. They know the difference between the horse being lazy or being bored, between being eager or actually being fearful. They know if the horse likes his work—and if he doesn’t they worry about how to get him to like it. “Know your horse” is the best piece of advice you’ll probably ever get. You should also occasionally ask yourself what your horse thinks of you.

Schedule: If you skip one day you can’t make it up by riding twice as hard the next. If you are serious about what you are doing, you must maintain your momentum, and balance this with patience.

Horse Physiology: The horse’s ability to oxygenate muscle and its overall cardiovascular system are far superior to a human’s. Be leery of some of the older literature on training programs for endurance horses. These were basically attempts to adapt human running programs and probably called for far too much mileage and not enough rest for the horse.

Determine Your Goal:  If your goal in endurance riding is to find a companion that can carry you quietly across the miles while you enjoy the beauty of the countryside, your needs will be quite different from the ambitious individual who plans to win next year’s national championships or to try out for the international team. It takes at least three years to get a horse ready to do a top quality 100. Rushing this process is just asking for injury. Decide honestly what you want to do and choose your horse and your conditioning program accordingly.

Your Fitness: If you are in satisfactory health, you should consider some type of exercise other than riding to improve your own fitness, because when you become fatigued you will not ride as well. Someone who is off-balance or tense from pain will adversely affect the performance of the horse, causing him to tighten or twist his back, or compensate in other ways. 

Aside from developing your overall fitness, cross-training can also acquaint you with how it feels to work hard physically. It gives you a much better empathy with your horse when you are both undergoing the same remodeling. Lack of time is no excuse because you can walk or run alongside your horse as you warm him up every day. However, just as with the horse, your exercise program should be carefully constructed and implemented. Consult a knowledgeable person to help you get started with a schedule appropriate to your present state of fitness.

Riding: Excellent balanced riding really helps the endurance horse and poor riding really hurts. If you are a skilled rider, great. If not, seriously consider lessons so that you can ride with rhythm, balance, and alignment. And consider equitation lessons for your horses. Joggers tend to get stiff. The same holds true for endurance horses. More and more of the leading riders use dressage training for themselves and their horses.

Teaching your horse to jump a small course of fences or cavallettis can also be beneficial. Like dressage, it helps the horse learn to use his body in different ways and to handle himself better. Besides, you are bound to encounter obstacles on endurance rides from time to time.

Before you begin any conditioning program, be sure your horse has been recently wormed and has his feet in good working order. 

Start by riding two or three miles at about 5 mph. If you have already been riding the horse on a fairly regular basis for some time, then you can probably double the beginning mileage.

Many people prefer to work an endurance horse three days a week, allowing for several rest days, particularly if the horse is has lots of pasture to run in. For horses confined to small corrals or with limited turnout, some work five days a week may be appropriate but several of those days should be light. 

All of your work for the first two to three months will be slow, rarely faster than a trot. 

Depending on your personal preferences you may want to ride trails, make some rounds in a field, or hack down a country road. Don’t forget to do a certain amount of basic arena schooling for about 20 or 30 minutes twice a week incorporated into the other work will be of great benefit. 

Concentrate on teaching transitions from one gait to another, prompt (but smooth and calm) reactions to the aids, lateral and longitudinal bending, etc.

Offer as much variety as you can in your training program. Riding over hills is excellent exercise, requiring somewhat different muscular effort than flat terrain. The more places you can go to work, the better. At these early stages, take it easy, young, unfit horses have neither the balance nor the strength to negotiate difficult terrain well. Be especially conservative as you tackle downhill grades; they are very destructive to juvenile joints.

On days that you add distance to your mileage, compensate by cutting back on the speed you usually travel. On days when you go a little faster than the previous day, cut back on the total mileage. If you go for a tough, hilly ride, don’t make it the longest distance your horse has ever attempted. Just use common sense whenever you up the ante.

Taking the Pulse: The most accurate single indicator of condition is the horse’s pulse rate, and this is why endurance riders are so preoccupied with their stethoscopes and heart monitors. A necessary first step in learning to condition a horse is in learning to take his pulse. To use your stethoscope (which you can purchase at most drugstores or through your veterinarian), stand on the left side of the horse and put the round flat piece behind and slightly above the elbow. Some individuals are easy to hear; others are more difficult. If you cannot pick up the ticking sound with your horse at rest, exercise him and try again. Exercise will make the beat louder and faster. Most horses will have a resting count of 32 to 44 beats per minute (bpm). By contrast, the working trot for a horse over level terrain and excellent footing may be anywhere from 90 to 140 while horses at a full gallop may have a heart rate well over 200. (Note that you will only be able to observe these rates with an on-board heart monitor.) As you listen you will hear a “lub-dub” sound. This counts as one beat, i.e., lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub = three counts.

Many endurance riders use heart monitors both when they condition at home and when they compete. These monitors cost $125 and up, but they can be very useful. They are a big step up in determining working rates, because by the time you stop your horse, dismount, and get out your stethoscope and watch, the rate will have already dropped significantly—in fact, it may have dropped in half. A heart monitor is also essential if you want to do interval training later on (see Phase II).  The working heart rate and the heart rate recovery as you change paces, go uphill and downhill, change footing and in general change the stress levels is one the best indicators of how your horse is doing.

One should do a “mini-vet exam” at the end of each workout, that is, trot the horse for soundness, check the metabolic factors—particularly for dehydration, check for any signs of injury, and check the pulse. See Chapter Twelve for the factors examined in a vet exam. An experienced person can perform this exam in a couple of minutes. 

How quickly the heart rate drops when you stop work reflects the capacity of the horse to perform at that level. In general, no matter what the horse has been doing he should be able to recover to the low 70s within ten minutes of the time he finishes his exercise. However, during a competition, you should expect to recover to the low 60s within ten minutes of coming into a vet check. If it takes you much in excess of ten minutes to recover to the low 70s on a ride, then you are going faster than you should. If you do not recover during a ride within 30 minutes of the time you arrive in a check, you will be eliminated. Aside from overwork, a poor recovery can indicate pain from illness or injury. If your horse usually recovers to a certain heart rate within ten minutes of a particular workout, and then one day hangs at eight beats or more higher, you’d better try to determine why.

When you begin conditioning your horse, you should have at least one place to ride where you know exactly how far you are going. Experiment and see how long it takes your horse to cover the distance at different gaits. Does he walk at 3 mph.? Does he trot at 8 or 12 mph.? How slowly can he canter? How fast is his hand gallop? You must develop a feel for times and distances so that you can pace yourself in competition. You should also check your horse’s pulse reactions at various times. Become so familiar with how they work that you can accurately estimate what the rate will be. It’s all part of knowing your horse.

The basic principle in conditioning is called progressive loading. It means systematically exposing the horse to small but steadily increasing levels of demand. Once complete adaptation to a particular level has been achieved, no further training effect can be expected of that level. Only increased demands will result in further progress. Your job each day is to determine how much more difficulty to add, and to recognize when adaptation has been achieved. Keep in mind that while you want to constantly challenge the horse’s metabolic upper limits, if you go too far too fast, constructive stress becomes destructive strain. Breakdowns usually occur after a series of strains finally overpowers the body’s ability to adapt.

The backbone of any conditioning program is Long Slow Distance (LSD) work. LSD is a working trot for horses with occasional walking breaks, involving use of a steady rate of energy expenditure over increasing distances. It is aerobic work, meaning that the body is able to perform at that level without going into oxygen debt. LSD teaches the body to use more oxygen, increasing both its ability to carry oxygen to the cells and also to extract it once it gets there. The fitter the horse becomes, the faster he can go without becoming fatigued.

In the beginning, the “S” in LSD will be about 5 mph. Gradually you will be able to increase this to around 10 mph, depending on your horse, the terrain, footing, and weather. Distances will also increase, starting with two or three miles and moving to 15 or so. Aside from speed and distance, you can increase the difficulty of LSD work by increasing the difficulty of the terrain.

Throughout the first three months of work, the primary objective is to lay down a solid foundation for developing not only the cardiovascular and muscular systems, but also the bony frame (including the tendons, ligaments and cartilage).

Always be on the alert for signs of excessive stress. If a normally eager horse becomes dull, if he goes off his feed, or if his stride becomes a little shorter than usual, you should be on full alert. Most horses express how they feel very honestly. Your logical response to these signs is to give a few days off and then come back with more modest demands. Drop back to whatever level of work the horse can comfortably accommodate.

Before getting into serious training, it is highly recommended that you seek the guidance of an experienced endurance rider who can mentor you.
After two or three months of long slow distance rides, you can begin to incorporate an occasional day, but no more than once a week, of more strenuous work into your program. The object is to increase the horse’s anaerobic threshold, or the point at which his system must go into oxygen debt to perform (pulse of 150 or so). If you train at this level twice a week for half an hour, it will dramatically increase your horse’s cardiovascular proficiency.

Hill work is a great way to do this if you have long uphill climbs available. You can work the horse up the hills and then walk down the hills to minimize stress on the legs. If you have no hills then look for areas of softer footing such as sand, although sand conditioning requires care due to the strain on the tendons and ligaments.
If you have neither hills nor sand, start off with very easy gallops and gradually increase the level of difficulty by adding to the length and number of repetitions. 
-For example, on the first day you might want to do two miles of warm-up, then gallop one-third of a mile. Follow with two-thirds of a mile of easy canter to allow for partial pulse recovery. Repeat the gallop-canter sequence a couple more times for a total of four miles. Finish by trotting a mile or two to allow for gradual cooling off. By the end of the a couple of months you might have worked up to six gallop sets, utilizing the format of half-mile easy gallops and half-mile canters. Remember you are not training a race horse for the track, you are training an endurance, hopefully for a long career.

Another term frequently used in sports medicine is “fartlek.” Roughly translated from Swedish it means “speed play.” It involves a random assortment of stresses at the anaerobic level (sprints, hill work, galloping), intermixed with periods of aerobic recovery (target pulse = 80). Almost any kind of trail ride or venture across country can be adopted to fartlek conditioning. You can also use these opportunities to expose your horse to as many different types of footing as possible. Trot down a gravel road, canter up a hill, walk down the other side, gallop across a field; pick your way through a bog, trot down a narrow forest path, etc. Aside from the cardiovascular benefits of this work, you will learn a lot about your horse’s personality. Different individuals have different preferences and talents. Some like to pick their way through the woods; others like to gallop down long stretches of dirt roads. Some can handle mud but not rocks; others are like mountain goats but hate to get their feet wet. It’s part of the fascination of the sport to see what each horse enjoys or dislikes.

As you condition you will simultaneously be training your horse to take natural obstacles, like logs and creeks, in stride. You should also make sure he has been introduced to cattle and other farm animals, as well as to traffic, joggers, dirt bikes, and motorcycles. Riding with an older, quiet companion is the best way to introduce your youngster to the terrors he will encounter once he is away from the security of home.

Towards the end of the first six months of training you can begin to trot down some moderate hills. Go carefully, however, because this type of activity is still very stressful to joints. Practice only until you are comfortable that you and your horse can manage to maintain control. Later on, in competition, you can use this skill to gain ground. Some horses are naturally well balanced and are easily able to scamper down a hill like deer. Others, probably due to conformation, never get really good at it. However, lessons that teach your horse to properly how to carry himself can be quite helpful. Just don’t ask the horse to do more than he is capable of doing downhill as this can lead to lameness.

As you experiment with times, distances, and training techniques, always bear in mind that it is of no use to have a cardiovascularly fit horse if he is not also a mechanically sound one. The longer and harder you ride, the more careful you must be about watching out for signs that anything out of the ordinary is going on. You should memorize the way your horse’s legs feel when you run your hands down them. Is there a small filling there today that wasn’t there yesterday? Does one leg feel a little warmer then the others? Do the hooves show signs of unusual stress? Does the stride seem a little choppy or uneven? Is the appetite failing off? Does he play with his companions in the pasture, or is he too tired to bother? Do the CRI numbers show a brewing problem? Even if you can’t point your finger to anything specific, when your “horseman’s intuition” tells you something is about to go sour, give your horse and yourself a few days off.

Experiment with all the tools of conditioning—hill work, sand work, easy gallop sets, fartleks, heart monitors, blood counts, etc. It’s fun and fascinating, but it’s also very easy to get so wrapped up in charts and monitors that you lose touch with your horse. Be aware of the methods, but be conservative in their use: one day a week of intense work is enough, even with a veteran athlete. Rest days are very important for the horse, even more so than for human athletes. No matter where you are in your conditioning program, rely heavily on LSD. Also, once a horse has achieved a certain level of conditioning and started competing, you will be approaching the point at which rest can be more beneficial than more work.

If your horse ever develops a lameness problem, consult a good equine veterinarian. If you question the diagnosis, get a second opinion. Give the horse whatever time off is recommended, and when you resume work, start back gradually. Don’t get discouraged when you encounter some “down time.” Everyone goes through a certain amount.

Remember to be flexible and imaginative in tailoring a program to your individual horse. Everyone is different. Some horses thrive on a heavy work schedule. Others can’t handle it and don’t need it. Some horses don’t show much of an aptitude for endurance work at first, but eventually come around and develop into real stars. Remember that the “eye of the trainer” makes all the difference.

Extremes in weather pose special hazards to horses in a strenuous conditioning program, and as such deserve to be noted separately. The effects of a combination of high heat and humidity, especially early in the spring when the body has not yet had a chance to adapt, can be devastating. Even veteran riders are sometimes shocked by the extent to which these factors can influence performance. Any time that the combined temperature and humidity total 150 or more, you should consider conditions to be dangerous. If you notice that you horse’s breathing is becoming very rapid (130 breaths per minute or more), he might be overheating. Take his temperature, and if it is 104°F or more, you’d better quit whatever you are doing. A temperature much above this is getting dangerous, and you should take steps to remedy the situation as fast as possible. Cold water, even ice water, applied to the veins of the legs and neck, is usually an effective course of action.
If you have a horse that is unfit, overweight, heavily muscled or thick-bodied, or if he is a “senior citizen,” be especially careful when the heat season comes around. Make sure that your horse has an ample supply of water and salt at his disposal at all times, but especially in the hot weather. You will also want to supplement the free choice salt with extra electrolytes in the feed.

The other side of the coin is wet, cold weather, and this also requires some special precautions. Warm up and cool down more carefully under these conditions. When you get back to the barn, if your horse is still steaming, cover him up and walk him dry. Keep in mind that stress from the extremes of conditioning can make the endurance horse more prone to chills and colds. Give him the extra consideration he has earned when the weather is extreme.

After about six months of steady conditioning you should be ready to scout out a fairly undemanding 25 mile competition. The object of the mission will be to see how your horse handles the unfamiliar situation, as well as the distance. You’ll want to see how he behaves in company, whether he will eat and drink away from home, etc. Relaxation, even boredom, is your goal. No matter what happens, don’t speed up or lose your temper. Perhaps your horse is perfectly capable of covering this particular 25 miles in two hours, but that isn’t the issue. You are teaching him that endurance riding is a nonthreatening situation, that he can trust you to keep him safe, and that it doesn’t matter what is going on around him. The ideal scenario is to find someone who plans to go slowly and is on an old veteran endurance horse. Pace with them, and your horse will probably calm down as the day unfolds. Plan to start after the lead group goes out, ideally several minutes behind them.

If your horse goes ballistic at the beginning of the ride, you might have to let the herd get out of sight before you even mount up. Once you get started down the trail keep everything as low-key and as relaxed as possible. This is not to say that you should dawdle along, however. On the contrary, be businesslike. Aim to keep your horse trotting at a steady rate. Gauge it so that when you arrive at the vet check the horse’s pulse will be right on target. If you have been practicing at home, you will know just how fast to go to do this. If your horse has not recovered to normal ranges within the rest period, you’ve been going too fast.

You can expect that things will be a little rough at first. Perhaps your horse will shy at everything in the woods. Perhaps he will whinny at night at camp and keep everybody awake. Perhaps he will view every creek crossing as a threat to his life. Just be patient. Remember that it’s all new to him. Give him a chance to understand how you expect him to behave. On the other hand be alert to issues that can cause serious problems such as not drinking properly. It may take only a few rides, or it may take a lot, but until you feel like you have the situation under control you should not try to move up to the more taxing 50 milers.

If your horse is now 5 years old by the calendar, and you have given him nine to 12 months of steady conditioning and three or four novice rides, you should probably be able to handle an easy 50 miler, both physically and emotionally. However, at this point it would be wise not to have any fixed aspirations as to your placing. Be very aware of how your horse feels after he completes a ride; that will be your signal about how soon to do it again and whether you can be more demanding next time.

While some naturally athletic horses have done their first 100s as 6 year olds, you should probably plan on doing your first 100 with your horse after at least two full years of conditioning. And that first 100 should be a slow, steady 100. Upon completing that first 100 in good shape you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You have now arrived as a real endurance rider and proved your competence as a horseman.

Once you let your horse go out of training at the end of the season, the first thing he will begin to lose is his speed. Studies have shown that this process begins to take place after about the first three weeks. Within about four to six weeks he begins to lose muscle tone, and between three and six months his endurance will have begun to decline.

To bring the horse back into a work program after he has already been fully conditioned at some previous time, you should schedule 30-45 days of LSD for gradually building back up, and another 30-45 for coming back into full performance mode.

Endurance Riding Equipment and Preparation: What to wear, take, and use

My current setup is a Bob Marshall trail saddle, Dixie Midnight no sweat vent pad and a Skito pad. I use a biothane bridle for easy clean up. I will upload a picture of my saddle and padding situation. After a few rides with this setup, I noticed my mare was getting some grey hair on her back, I am going to swap out the Dixie Midnight pad for a inexpensive vent pad which had surprisingly high reviews on various sites. The one I am ordering is at Chicks Saddlery for about $13. As for boots, I use the renegade boots, but would love to upgrade to the Renegade Vipers. I haven't found anything else that sticks to her feet as well. I have tried the Easyboot Trails, and was very disappointed, after about 10 miles total, the seems began coming apart, now they are my emergency back ups.

A really good article on tips can be found by clicking this link. An exerpt from the article:

"Apparel secret #1: Ditch street jeans. For every trail rider who's ever gawked at an endurance rider in a pair of brightly colored tights, there's an endurance rider cringing and muttering, "I can't believe that person is riding in blue jeans. Most tights designed for long-distance riding are made of a cotton/spandex blend specifically designed for saddle comfort. The fabric keeps you warm in inclement weather, cool on hot days, wicks moisture, and, most important, doesn't chafe or rub. Riding tights made by Carousel Action Wear, Inc., for example, are durable, breathable, and fast-drying, because they're made from a Dryflex cotton/poly/Lycra Tactel fabric. Other popular brands with endurance riders are Irideon, Kerrits PowerStretch, and Saddle Bums. (Guys, if you just can't bring yourself to don tights, then consider wearing them under your jeans.)"

"Tack secret #2: Buy biothane. One reason endurance riders appoint their horses in brightly colored tack is because they can. Biothane, which is what most endurance tack is made from, comes is more colors than a rainbow. Why biothane? This man-made material lasts virtually a lifetime and is easy to clean; you simply hose it off or dunk it in water. Or, to make it look sparkling new again, throw it in the dishwasher, bit and all. Biothane also doesn't chafe your horse or become stiff. Endurance riders especially like biothane halter-bridle combinations. "Combo halter-bridles allow you to unclip the bit, leaving you with a halter," notes endurance rider Terre O'Brennan. "Together with a single long rein, you can tie your horse, which is far superior to tying by the reins or bit (gasp!) or having to pack a halter." 

"Tack secret #6: Find a good saddle pad. While it's true that no saddle pad can make an ill-fitting saddle fit better, a proper saddle pad is important. For long hours in the saddle, a pad that wicks heat and moisture, distributes weight evenly, protects pressure points and is easy to keep clean is a must for endurance riders. Top on the list is the Skito Pad from Carousel, which can be custom-ordered to fit any saddle. Supracor pads also receive high marks from endurance riders."

On-trail secret #2: Carry a safety kit. Endurance rider Karla Perkins recommends always carrying an Easyboot, a hoof pick, a knife, Vetrap, and a small roll of duct tape. "I have been on rides when all of this stuff has been used, and not necessarily by me," she says.An Easyboot - or other top-quality temporary hoof boot - is a necessity if your horse has the misfortune of losing a shoe. Duct tape comes in handy for just about anything you need to fix, and also works well to help keep on the Easyboot; just wrap it a few times round the hoof, avoiding the coronet band, before applying the boot. The teeth inside the boot will grip the tape.
"With Vetrap or duct tape you can spell words out on the ground," Perkins says. "I did that during the Pony Express endurance ride. The famous Dave Rabe and Holy Toledo got stuck in mud. None of us noticed. With the Vetrap, Laura Hayes and I spelled out 'NO' in bright colors, so those after us didn't make the same error."

Another fellow rider, uses a very similar liner to the one at Chicks, and an Equipedic pad. She is a professional trainer and endurance rider. She has a really nice endurance saddle, I am unsure of the brand, and also uses a biothane bridle and a snaffle bit, along with Renegade boots.

Another long time endurance rider I ride with occasionally uses a variety of saddles, but mostly sticks to Bob Marshall and her Skito pad along with a biothane bridle and Renegade boots.

I plan to continue to add to this list, just to get an idea of which setups people have. Granted, I have seen people riding endurance in their dressage saddles with a nice wool pad and a leather headstall, and others in very heavy rawhide tree saddles. There really is no wrong or right, but just finding what is comfortable for you and your horse

DMSO, Analgesic, Epsom Poultice; When to Use Them

There are so many products on the market today, I felt like some clarification could be used to determine how to treat your horses injury.

First off, you must identify which leg is lame. Have somebody else lead the horse at a trot towards you. in a straight line on level ground. Watch the front legs, The head will bob DOWN on the sound leg, and up on the lame leg.

If you suspect it is a hind leg, then have somebody trot the horse away from you, and watch the hips, determine which one hikes up higher than the other. That is the lame leg. If you have a difficult time determining which leg, you can use white tape on the horses buttock to help you determine which side is lifting. "Heat on one side indicates possible inflammation. To assess tendons (on the back of the lower portions of the legs), flex the leg and feel the layers of tendons (should be three) for any bumps, sources of heat or breaks." (Read more at : ).

Now for the meds:

DMSO is a powerful free radical scavenger that acts to remove many of the harmful byproducts of inflammation. It has great membrane permeability and passes readily through the skin. It also has the ability to carry topical drugs along with it, and is frequently used for this purpose along with topical corticosteroids. It should not be used on open wounds. 

DMSO rapidly absorbs moisture and becomes diluted with water if left open to the air. When applied to the skin, it draws moisture from the deeper tissue, which explains why it is effective in treating swelling caused by contusions and hematomas. It is not an antibacterial and should not be used for cellulitis.
There are a number of ways of applying topical DMSO. The choice depends on the location of the injury and the reasons for using it. It is best to obtain directions from your vet.

Because DMSO carries other agents along with it, it should be used with caution on skin containing antiseptics, antibacterials, and other chemicals. In addition, wear rubber gloves when handling DMSO to prevent skin contact. Signs of toxicity caused by absorbed DMSO absorption include headache, dizziness, dermatitis, and an oyster like taste in the mouth"

Liniments are also used for “setting up” horses that experience minor stiffness after a heavy workout. Setting up involves applying an analgesic liniment on all four legs and then lightly wrapping after a hard day’s workout.
Liniments are designed to provide temporary relief for minor aches and pains often associated with arthritis and overworked muscles. Active ingredients typically generate heating or cooling effects (think Ben-Gay for horses). Poultices usually provide temporary “cold” therapy for inflamed tissues and are commonly clay-based.
Antiseptic, analgesic or something in between, all topical liniments are not created equal. Generally speaking, a liniment is a liquid or semi-liquid preparation that is applied to the skin to provide pain relief. Many liniments are marketed as “topical antiseptics,” meaning they are generally safe to use on superficial scrapes and cuts to help prevent infection. Some antiseptic liniments are also designed to provide temporary relief for muscular soreness, stiffness or swelling caused by overwork or exertion. Some are even purported to benefit arthritic equines by relieving pain and swelling in the joints.
Both cold and hot therapies have their place in veterinary medicine. “Through time, a lot of veterinarians and horsemen out there have gone back and forth between hot and cold, trying to get the best out of each,” says Dr. Earl Gaughan, DVM, Diplomate ACVS, associate professor of equine surgery at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “I can’t argue with this, as sometimes a horse benefits from a little bit of both.”


Liniments and Poultices for Sore Horses

The hot and cold of liniments and poultices.

By Toni McAllister | 2/18/2004

Understanding Cues With your Horse: Part One

Most riders know the basic cues to ask a horse to to do something. But once you have the basics down, it can be difficult to increase your riding skills without hiring a trainer, taking lessons or seeking guidance of a more experienced rider. So I am here to give you a few tips. 

We have three ways in which we can communicate with horse while riding them, our legs, our seat, and our hands. 

Our legs have three positions, each of them is used to ask the horse to do different things. Later I will discuss combining cues, but let's start with leg cues for now. We have the middle leg position, which some call on the cinch or girth, but it is actually behind the girth, where your leg falls when you are seated properly and your ears, shoulders, hips and heel all align. In addition to middle position, we have in front of of the girth and behind the girth, which really mean in front of middle position and behind middle position.
Now, it is important to remember that horses respond to pressure and release. So when you apply pressure at the front position, you are asking the horse to move its front end away from the pressure. Also remember your lower legs will be used either actively, passively, or in a yielding manner. Active is squeezing, bumping, kicking or spurring. Passive has contact, but does not give commands, yielding is temporarily used when teaching a horse something new and you need to counteract or counterbalance the horse. Some examples of how leg pressure and placement can be used are below:

When turning a horse to the right, use your inside (or right) leg with moderate activity in the middle position to create a "post" to turn around. You might need left leg in middle position to passively ask them to maintain forward motion. 
If he does not bend properly when turning to the right, perhaps his hip swings out, you can use left leg in middle position to encourage him to carry his rear in a collected manner. 
If he is stiff through his shoulder, use left leg in front position to ask him to pick up his shoulder. If you need more leg on the left, holding a whip in middle position can assist. 
Outside leg is used passively in turns, corners and circles. If the leg comes off, the horse will become unbalanced. Be sure to maintain your leg placement in a canter, as it can be very challenging to hold proper position. 
If you have a hard time staying in your seat during a canter your stirrups might be too long or too short. 

Bits and Selecting a Bit

Before we talk about types of bits, lets talk about parts of the bit, so we can understand how it works.
D- Ring- This, like other snaffles, should be used to start a horse. Once they are well into their training, they should move to a different bit in order to refine the training.
Lifter Bit- This gives more leverage for a junior, but well-broke horse. It works great for faster speeds, and gives the horse more flex, collection and lifts the shoulder. It has a lot of purchase as you can see, which helps the horse figure out how to break at the poll and flex his nose. Most western horses tend to like this bit, but if he doesn't understand it, he will be nervous.

Chain Bit- commonly used on calf horses because it gives you a lot of control, specifically lateral control at high speeds. It can also help to soften a hard-mouthed horse. If the rider is soft in the hands, after using this for awhile, you can drop back to a lifter bit. The rider should be able to tell if the horse is getting softer, as they will become more sensitive and they might flip their nose up when you pick up the reins. 

Gag bits- there are many types of gag bits, basically, it means that the mouth piece slides up and down on the shank which can be either rope or round steal. This helps to lift the shoulder in the turns on a barrel horse. The lifter, or leverage effect of the shank depends on the distance between the mouthpiece and the headstall. The more distance, the more lift you get on the shoulders and the more stop, or hindquarter control. 


Ports- The higher and more narrow the port, the more severe it is. If it is higher than 1.5 inches, the port hits the roof of the mouth, which is then used as another pressure point. A higher port will require a tight curb chain, and a good understanding of how the bit works. It can be good to finish a horse, but should never be used on a green horse. A wider port can give the tongue relief from the pressure, but that is not how most ports are designed. 

Non-ports or straight mouthpieces- These can be more severe than ported bitters because of the pressure put on the tongue.

Shanks- The longer the and straighter the shank, the more severe the bit, unless it has a long purchase. A 3 inch shank and a 3 inch purchase means a 1:1 Ratio. Curved shanks put less pressure on the jaw, while S-shaped shanks have a quicker release of pressure, which helps a horse learn faster- this is called signal time. Long shanks with a snug curb strap = shorter signal time, while a long shank with a loose crb strap - long signal time. Forward or straight shanks - quick release of pressure, S-shaped= quick signal and quick release, good for a finished horse. 

New Biothane Bridles for Sale

I know my blog is mostly informative, but I have found some products that I truly love and want share the opportunity for you to have the products as well. These bridles are cold weather resistant and stay soft and supple in cold weather. I can have them made in any color combination that you would like, currently I have the following- the set includes a headstall with noseband, and matching reins for $50 -$60 plus shipping costs:

Hoof Abcess

A combination of a significant amount of rain and rocky terrain helped my mare find her way into a situation where she managed to cut the bottom of her hoof. I saw that she was limping and cleaned out her hooves only to see a cut and some blood. I cleaned her hoof up the best that I could, and put some Neosporin on the wound, I then cut up a diaper and duct taped it to her hoof. She is currently on stall rest, but when she got antsy, I put a large hoof boot over the concoction and let her roam the field with her herd for a little bit. I will provide updates, but the dressing held up overnight in the stall, so hopefully this will work out.

UPDATE: After much healing and limping, and everything else. I determined that this was most likely an abscess that finally came out after about 2 months after a stone bruise.

Basics of Horse Training

Many people think that training horses to act a certain way is an extremely challenging and time consuming endeavor. However, the theories behind training horses are quite simple really, and surprise most people who are not involved in the horse industry. Although there are several theories and guidelines that allow humans to be able to teach an animal 8 times their weight respond to simple cues with minimal struggle and restraint, they truly are quite simple, as horses are simple creatures. If they are scared, they run; they are prey, not predators as are most herbivores.

Of utmost importance is having the horses undivided attention. All distractions should be removed before attempting any training, as well as ensuring that the horse is relaxed, not scared of anything, nor should he be full of energy. The horses energy level is extremely important. If he was in a stall all day and unable to exert energy prior to training attempts, the attempts will likeliy be unsuccessful. If the situation is not ideal, he will not be able to learn. The trainer must consider the environment where they are teaching and where the horse is most comfortable.

After ensuring the environment is adequate and the situation is ideal, the trainer needs to look at how they feel. A good trainer is relaxed, calm and walks into a ring with patience. The horse will take his cues from the trainer. If the trainer is excited or nervous, the horse will be the same. It is important to remember that the horse mimics the trainer when it comes to energy levels, tension and relaxation. Besides attitude, body language is extremely important and accounts for a large part of a horses reaction to a person. According the Gene and Sandy Miller, "A good trainer will give a horse a cue and then give the horse enough time to figure out the response the trainer is looking for."

Reading a Horses Body Language

Horses will give you signs indicating how he is doing, feeling and what he is thinking. A good trainer will be able to pick up on these signs and adjust their training. Some common indicators include:

Ø  A relaxed eye- indication that he is understanding what you are asking.
Ø  Head up, white of eyes showing, snorting, ears perked, frozen body - fear, scared, spooked
Ø  One ear pinned back - confusion or anger, if the rider doesn't pick up on this and make a change, he may buck
Ø  Both ears pinned back - anger and frustration, change something quickly

By understanding his body language, you can avoid confrontation and training pitfalls, but most importantly, keep an eye on his eye.

How Horses Learn
Ø  Small Steps
Ø  Repetition
Ø  Consistency
Ø  Make the right thing right
Ø  Correct bad behavior immediately

            Horses learn in small simple steps. Trying something too complex will only create a frustrated and even scared horse. This is the most challenging aspect of training a horse from a human’s perspective. We are not used to breaking a small task into even smaller and smaller tasks, but once we have mastered the art, we can become better trainers. It is important to remember that if it sounds like a confusing task for you, it is guaranteed to be confusing to the horse unless it is broken down into small enough steps. If a horse gets frustrated, confused or mad, it is usually because the steps are too big. The trainer should go back to the last thing that the horse understood where he is relaxed and continue training but using smaller steps. Small steps will allow for faster learning and less confusion.

             Repetition is also extremely important in the training process. The trainer must ask the horse for the same thing by using the same exact manner each time. He can tell where your hands and legs are, keep this in mind when you are training and creating a cue. If the trainer is not consistent, they will be teaching the horse the same thing over and over again. If the trainer can maintain using the exact same cue, the horse will only need to learn the cue once. A good trainer is able to control their entire body including arms, legs and seat when establishing cues. If the cue should only use hands, the trainer needs to make sure that is what they are doing. Horses can feel flies; they can feel every movement a person makes. If the horse understands and responds to a cue one day, but does not respond the next day, it is safe to assume that the trainer is not asking using the same exact cue, now the horse must be taught the cue again.

In addition, consistency is also important in any type of training, including horses. Horses need rules, guidelines and parameters. Having consistency will let the horse know what is acceptable versus unacceptable and when certain behaviors are acceptable. Horses will quickly learn that when they enter an arena, they are expected to learn and work, while they might know that when they go a different direction, they are being taken out to graze. They should know when it is okay to become excited.

The most important part of training a horse is the use and release of pressure. This is all trainers have to tell a horse what it should do. By applying pressure, the trainer is asking the horse to move away, once the horse moves away from the pressure, the pressure is released, which is their reward. They quickly learn what the trainer is asking and how to do it as well as what the reward is. It is important to be sure to release pressure once the horse exhibits the behavior or demonstrates an understanding of what is being asked. If the horse finds a way to get away from the pressure in a way that you did not want, he has still learned how to get the “reward”. When applying pressure, the trainer should use the least amount of pressure required to get the horse to respond. The pressure should always stay the same until he does what the trainer is asking. If the trainer is asking him to move his head right, the pressure should not be released if he moves his head up and down, but only when he moves his head to the right.  If the pressure is released when the head is thrown up, he will think that is what is being asked of him.

Lastly, if the trainer is experiencing difficulty, they should think the problem through. If the horse continues to fight, tie his head around and let him fight himself until he relaxes. If the horse is trying to take off, he should be brought into small circles, eventually he will learn that it is a lot easier to slow down than it is to take off. As trainers, it is important to think about why a horse is doing what he is doing. Make the right thing easy, and the wrong thing hard and be sure the horse has enough time to figure it out and be sure that bad behavior is corrected within one or two seconds.