6 Winter Horse Care MUST DO’s

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

As winter is now in full swing with cold and rain and snow, it is time that we turn our attention to some very important winter health care concerns for horses. Here are five MUST DO’s to make sure your horse stays healthy.

1) Keep your horse’s feet properly trimmed.  A balanced foot packs in less snow and mud.  Sometimes when people are not riding or they are a bit short on funds they push-off the scheduled appointment for the farrier.  Your horse’s feet are critical and need good care all year-long.  This is a winter health care must for your horse.

2) If you blanket, check under the blanket daily. If you blanket your horses, either you or someone you trust must look under the blanket each day to make sure your horse’s skin, hair and body weight are in good shape.

3) If you live in areas that get muddy when it rains — get the mud off the feet and legs. We all know there are some therapeutic benefits to a mud bath (so I have been told) but it is critical that you make sure the mud does not cake on in pounds on your horses feet, tail and legs.  Get that mud off every few days to make sure your horse does not developed cracked skin or bruises from the rough edges of the mud.  This also applies to the snow.  The Equine Hydro-T is great for helping get the mud off your horses feet.

4) Exercise your horse every few days at least. Take your horse for a walk on his halter.  Make sure he keeps his feet moving.  A horse needs to move its feet to make sure it is getting good circulation in the legs.

5) Clean the urine soaked stalls daily.  If your horse tends to stay inside during the winter, high levels of ammonia from the urine can irritate the horses nasal passage and lungs.  Make sure you keep those wet spots cleaned up in the stalls.  Those wood stove pellets make for a great absorbent material (better than shavings) when you need to get that urine moisture out of a stall.

6) Keep the barn ventilated.  You may think keeping everything locked up is great so that it keeps your horse warm.  This is true but you need to make sure to get fresh air in daily if the horses do not have a winter turnout plan.

These are just a few ideas and I am sure you all can add more (and look forward to you doing so). You are the primary caregiver for your horse and it is important to make sure they receive just as much (if not more) care during the winter as compared with your Spring, Summer, and Fall seasons.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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Keeping Horse and Rider in Shape for the Winter

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Winter is a time where we might sit down to a few extra-large meals and have fewer hours of riding. So how do we help keep ourselves and our horse in shape during the winter.  I will admit to struggling with this each in my past once the rain comes and turns the dirt to mud here in California but over the last few years I have developed some routines that I follow to make sure that my horse and I are staying in shape.  It is not just the physical aspect but also the mental part of horsemanship that needs to stay fine tuned.

Many of you may ride out in the snow and rain but sometimes safety trumps the ride and we still want to spend quality time with our horses so these activities can fill this need as well.

Here are six suggestions and in some cases they work for both the horse and rider.

1) Ground work for physical and mental. This can be done in a stall or in the breezeway of the barn. All you need is a small area (6 feet by 6 feet will work, 10 x 10 is better). Work on side passing. Walk forward, back…do all this very slowly and deliberately. Disengage the hips or do a few turns on the forehand. It is amazing how 10 minutes of ground work will keep you and your horse in tune and burn a few calories to boot.

2) Controlling footfalls. On the ground or in the saddle, during winter when maybe we cannot ride beyond a walk because of the conditions of the terrain…working on footfalls is something good for both the rider and horse. Feel the footfalls, control the footfalls (aide to footfall timing), ride in time with the footfalls or walk in time with the footfalls.  Wait a minute you say — walk in time with the footfalls. Yes…everyone who shows halter should do this.  When your horse’s right front foot takes a step, your right leg takes a step.  We call this poetry in motion.

3) Ride at a local covered arena for a fee. If you are without a covered arena…budget for a once a month trip to a local arena that you can ride in for an hour of time.

4) Study the anatomy of the horse. This is not so much for the horse but how many of you can name all the muscles and parts of a horse. Spend your winter time standing in the barn with your anatomy books and learn the horse inside and out. This is valuable because it can help you understand how a horse moves and this will help you think about how to better time your aides based on the feel of the horse.

5) Rider exercise. Take a yoga class, pilates class, practice Tai Chi, or use some exercise equipment. Many of us who ride/coach/train do not need to take on extra “exercise” in our busy riding season. Think about your winter plans and how you are going to stay in shape and at your good weight for riding. Let us not have the horse carry extra unbalanced weight when spring rolls around.

6) Take your horse for a walk. On those days where you may not be inspired to do ground work…take your horse out for a good long (30 minute or so) walk. This will be good for you and the horse and helps in relationship building. Sometimes just a walk together (rider leading instead of being mounted) can offer physical as well as mental stimulation for both horse and rider.

I hope at least one of these is of help to you and your horse this winter and I look forward to your additional suggestions.  May you all have a wonderful Christmas season.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

The Horse No Longer Needed

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We live in a very consumer driven society.  Buy what you need, use it until it no longer suits your purpose, and then dispose of the item.  People do this with cars, clothes, cell phones (get your newest iPhone today since your old one most likely is not “good enough”), and any number of other items.

Sadly…and most painfully I all to often see this with horses.  There is the horse that was not good enough for dressage, not good enough for cowhorse, not good enough for a rope horse, and not good enough for a trail horse.  Maybe the horse was the wrong color…maybe it was to tall, not athletic enough, maybe it just did not respond to the owner in the best possible way.  You have heard the stories…and I hope if you are reading my blog you have never disposed of a horse just because it was not perfect.

Two ladies that I met this past year have stories well worth sharing.  Both ladies have really nice horses.  One has a bit of an issue relating to soundness and the lady wrote me a great message when she shared this issue with me.  She said “My horse has some lameness issue and it has me concerned.  He may not make it as that Western Dressage Horse that I had planned on having but my goal is to help him get back to being sound enough that we can go down the trail together.”  WOW — here is a lady that really gets it — the relationship with the horse is more important than a goal she set for competition or in her mind….she took the time to adjust and work with the horse.  I actually think she just might make it back to the Western Dressage Arena since she has the right attitude and the horse she owns has some magic inside of him — how do I know — his eyes show it to all you look.

The second lady has an Off The Track Thoroughbred.  Her Dressage coach met the horse once and termed him “fractious” and told her that she would have to get another horse since this one was no good.  Well this second lady has taken her time and made a success of this horse.  She has walk, trot, jog, canter, passage, side passing, backing, haunch turns, rollbacks, turns on the forehand…and any number of other accomplishments.  A few weeks back I met up with her and we had a session and I asked her to work on making her circles more of a consistent size.  She stopped and said to me — “You are right and I will work on it but can I tell you I am just so happy to have achieved such a level of connection with my horse that we are working at the walk, trot, jog, canter, and all those other moves.  For two years I kept hearing that this horse was worthless….but I am so proud of him now…I am so glad I did not give up.”

In both of these examples these ladies could have easily given up and found another horse..it is so easy to do this in our consumer driven society…and perfectly acceptable in many barns across the country.

“The Horse No Longer Needed” is better referred to as “The Horse that No Longer Makes ME Shine”.

Horses require effort and time and patience.  Horses need to be heard.  If you stop and listen the horse might just be able to help you realize his or her full potential.  Sure — the horse may not be what you dreamed he/she would be, maybe he/she will not win each time in the event of your choice — but maybe if you take a risk and follow the horse — the journey will be more rewarding.

There are so many ways to evaluate what a horse can do…take the time to evaluate, then build the foundation for success and take the journey with your four-legged partner — you might be glad you did.  Many years ago I read a work by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” and the last lines do remind me of the journey with each horse — it is unique and the journey is the reward.

Although I am not as skilled as Robert Frost — my life is full of horses and I share with you a Poem that I wrote to celebrate those of you who take the time to get to know the potential of your horse.

My New Owner

I was born in the very early light of day,

To a home with horses and asses that bray,

But little did I know I would not stay.

One day I was traded for some feed,

To a man who did not have much speed,

Yet I walked away with him on my lead.

After a few months with him,

I started to get a bit slim,

And then I hurt my hind limb.

The veterinarian said I was likely no good,

He would do for me what he could,

All of a sudden I felt lost where I stood.

Next day a girl came to my field,

She watched me with her eyes peeled,

Then proclaimed that she could get me healed.

The man who got me back when,

Had some papers and a ball point pen,

The girl signed with the word Madeleine.

Down the road we walked,

All along this girl talked,

Til we reached a barn she unlocked.

Day after day I was tended,

Rubbed with things that were blended,

With the goal of being mended.

At last my leg was improved,

The veterinarian even approved,

He smiled and said he was disproved.

Today I am very glad,

With this New Owner that I have,

Cause I know things will never be bad.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

What is true collection? Is it a headset or is there more to Collection? How do I get collection?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

I have received a few questions about Collection and one of my Horsemanship mentors, Charles Wilhelm from Castro Valley California, suggested I blog about the topic of Collection.

Many people think collection is a headset or a particular frame that you put the horse into BUT this is the wrong idea.  Collection is increased engagement of the hind feet having them step further under the body (belly) of the horse.  The front end of the horse rises ever so slightly so that the rear legs can easily step under and forward. For some people a horse in this position is referred to as being “on the bit” or “stepping through.” With collection, we are moving the weight of the horse and rider onto the muscled hindquarters of the horse thereby making the load on the forehand of the horse a little bit lighter.  Collection is the highest degree of self-carriage we can ask a horse to give.

T achieve TRUE collection, the rider must be aware of the footfalls of the horse and ride the entire horse and come to a point of rider and horse becoming ONE.

So how do you start to get collection with your horse?

First, teach your horse to move forward in each gait.  Build a strong foundation of forward movement at the walk and it will give you the basis for correctness and success at the trot and lope.

Once your horse moves forward at the walk, trot and lope, ask for a walk with light contact on the reins.  Then ask your horse for impulsion by using your leg and seat aides to urge him to step forward and under the belly with the hind legs.  These are light seat and leg aides and light hands, not poking, prodding, or pulling with your legs or hands.

While keeping the impulsion, apply light contact onto the horse’s mouth. This light contact on the mouth will help the horse lift up his front end ever so slightly.  As you drive the rear end forward and hind legs reach under his belly, you develop a balance between the front and rear of the horse.  This balance with a light front end and hind legs stepping under the belly is collection.

It is important that you ask for collection for only a few strides at a time as you teach your horse.  I must EMPHASIZE this point.  Riding in collection, especially in the beginning, is the wrong way to work your horse.  Begin gradually achieving collection for short periods of time.  Once you get a few steps of collection, release and let your horse walk freely, then repeat the above process.  Soon you will feel him elevating his back. It will feel like you are riding uphill.

With your younger horses, it is critical that you first teach them to go forward with purpose and energy while riding with the lightest rein contact possible.  Once the horse can move at the walk, trot (or jog), and lope with good impulsion and straightness and balance, only then should you begin to ask for collection.  For those who have spent time studying the Training Scale embraced by the dressage world, Collection, is the pinnacle/top most portion of the training scale and relies on a strong foundation of the elements that precede Collection to be achieved by horse and rider.

Now that we have spoken about the horse element of collection…it is very important to speak to the rider portion.  A rider must have control of his or her body in order to help guide the horse to achieve collection.  Riders who bounce, flap their arms like a chicken, pull and poke and prod in every which way effect the balance of the horse.  Without balance…there can be no collection.  Without rider balance — there can be no horse balance.

So next time you step out to the barn to work on Collection with your horse….take a look at yourself as a rider and make sure you are there to help the horse achieve the goal.  Many riders are not prepared for the mental, physical, and emotional work it takes to achieve collection with the horse.  Shortcuts, headset, training gimmicks….all these can help you achieve false collection — True collection comes with many hours of hard work and finding harmony and balance with the horse.  So when you want to achieve true collection — work for it and realize it will take time.

One final aspect to consider.  When you seek to achieve collection with your horse — realize the potential of your horse, understand the physical abilities of the horse (confirmation, injury, etc.) and work to achieve the collection that he/she can give you.  If you think that every horse you ride WILL and MUST achieve the same level of collection — you are sadly mistaken and a pretty darn poor horseman/horsewoman.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

The Geometry of Riding

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Recently I was giving a riding lesson and I asked the young lady to walk then trot then lope a circle with her horse.  Well she started out and I noticed her walk circle was not very uniform, her trot circle was even less so and finally when she reached the lope circle, it looked more like a “D.”  So I stopped and I asked her how she planned her circle.  She told me that she set out to “kinda go around a cone or dirt clod and try to make the horse work around that in a circle.”

I smiled and asked her why she thought it was necessary to use the words “kinda” and “try.”  She responded that it did not seem important to ride the shape perfectly.  So I logged that in my brain for a few minutes and asked her to ride a square and then ride in a triangle.  All three of her primary figures were not crisp, not even sided, not even close to what we all learned back when we played with blocks and shapes.

Just as a refresher for our discussion here — circle is represented by blue, green is our triangle and red is our square.

Slide1

This next panel shows us all some of the circles I have seen ridden over the course of my career.

Slide2

The lesson continued with the pursuit of getting a nice circle (and we succeeded).  I reminded this student that circles must be circles and they are not squares, not octagons, not ovals or any other shape.  So we put out some cones and I drug my feet and made a nice circular line with the student holding a rope at a fixed point and I kept the rope tight  and made the “impression to follow.”

Now when this student and I worked on the perfect circle some really cool things happened.  Her consistent circle (shape and size being the same) helped her get the horse into a nice bend, and achieve rhythm and relaxation.  The horse started to pay attention to the rider because she was giving good aides and had set the horse up for success by asking for consistency and taking the guesswork out of the riding.

This client told me one issue she was having with the horse was that the horse liked to drop its shoulder, charge through the center of the reining pattern, and anticipate lead changes, sometimes changing leads when it was not the correct time.  So I asked the rider to keep her circle consistent and change to a trot….and we did this for a few minutes — then I asked her to lope and she did so.

Some great things happened:

1) Horse quit dropping its shoulder

2) Horse quit rushing/charging through the center

3) Horse quit trying to make lead changes without the rider aide

I then asked the rider to go back to her old ways of riding a “D” type circle and immediately the horse charged, dropped its shoulder and made a guess as to when to change leads.   Good circles and success verses “D” circles and failure all happened in the span of 5 minutes.  The rider stopped and asked me — “Why were we good just a few minutes ago and all of a sudden we got so awful again?”

I gave her two answers —   1) When she reverted to her old “circle,” she also picked up her old habits of not being consistent with the aides, not looking ahead of where she was riding, not planning and talking (“connecting”) with the horse through the reins and she quit using her seat and leg aides; and 2) the horse had learned some really bad habits when the rider did not actively ride and as soon as the rider “reverted” the horse went back to her old ways.

Success in riding can come from practicing good geometry so next time you ride, keep your circles as circles, squares as squares and triangles as triangles and notice how your horse begins to listen to you and respond to your aides rather than trying to guess what you want.  So the moral of this story is that consistency can help you achieve a better connection with your horse and that by having that connection, the horse learns to wait on your aides and listen for and to your guidance.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Heat Stroke and Cooling your horse

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

This past weekend I was at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento California.  On Saturday I was working with a team of excellent horsewomen (Sher, Alison, Linda, and Karen) demonstrating Western Dressage.  The temperature reached 108 F and of course we kept our demonstration short since we were focused on keeping the horse from being overheated.

As we unsaddled and worked on cooling the horses out we discussed some of the important lessons around cooling and bathing horses as well as dealing with the heat.

1) Never leave the water sitting on the skin as you are bathing or cooling your horse.  We saw a few people dousing their horses with water and then not slicking that water off.  Sure water can help cool but if it is left on the skin, it serves as an insulator and keeps that heat on the horse.  You can actually overheat a horse who is soaking in water when the temperatures outside are hot to extremely hot.  Water is a pretty good insulator and has the capacity to retain heat so get the water off and that thin layer left on the horse will evaporate and help in the cooling.

Spray your horse with cool water — beginning with his legs first — to help lower his body temperature. Scrape excess water off quickly because it soon rises to the temperature of the over-heated horse.

2) Make sure stalls are well ventilated with cross breezes (air can move in and out of the stall) or make sure your horse can move out of the stall on his/her own free will.

3) Keep your horse from standing in the direct sunlight on these extremely hot days.

4) Another reminder is that if you use cool/cold water, do not apply this directly to large muscles that have just finished a rigorous workout.  Lukewarm water is better.  A sudden burst of cold water on large muscles can shock those muscles and cause the horse either stress, pain or injury.

5) If you suspect heat stress with your horse — call your veterinarian immediately.  Always consult your veterinarian for any medical emergencies.

Some signs of Heat Stroke include

  • Temperature above 104 degrees F. (A normal temperature is 99-100.8 degrees F.)
  • Rapid heart and pulse rates that do not recover within 10 or 15 minutes after exercise.
  • Rapid breathing that does not slow down after exercise.
  • Less sweat than expected.
  • Hot skin (might progress to cold if skin circulation shuts down).
  • Signs of dehydration, including loss of skin elasticity, sunken eyes, tacky membranes and cessation of urination.

You can learn more about some of the professionals Dr. Mike worked with this past weekend by clicking on the name here — Sher Bell Boatman

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

AWARE — Important for Trail Riding with your Horse

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Be AWARE on the trail

Acquaint yourself with the trail and the area where you are riding
Watch the trail/weather for unsafe and changing conditions
Actively ride your horse, do not just be a passenger
Respect other riders/bikers/hikers on the trail
Enjoy the ride

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).