Thursday, February 28, 2008

France: Review of French Equine Research Provided at Event - Full Story

by: Christa Lesté-Lasserre
February 28 2008, Article # 11416

More than 200 researchers, veterinarians, breeders, and other equine professionals participated in the 34th annual French Equine Research Day held Feb. 28 in Paris, France. The event, sponsored by the French National Stud, provides a forum for presentation and discussion of the most recent equine research in the country.

This year's program addressed three major subject areas: sociology and economy, infectious pathologies, and equine genetics. The 25 topics presented included behavior studies, grazing patterns, comparative research on various turfs and their effects on joints and tendons, herpesvirus, influenza, and the use of molecular markers in genetic selection. Particular emphasis was given to the discussion of the management of the 2007 equine viral arteritis (EVA) outbreak in France and measures to reduce EVA risks worldwide...


The Criollo horse, handiness and endurance - Full Article

By Gérard Barré, webmaster of

The chosen mount of legendary Gauchos, the Criollo horse is the symbol of equestrian cultures in Latin America. This hardy little horse is exceptionally easy-handling. To invoke its name is to fuel dreams of adventure…

The Horse of Conquistadores : Heritage

The Criollo horse or breed, literally "creole", has no actual name of its own. It is the direct descendant of horses brought to the New World since the arrival of Columbus, imported by Spanish conquistadores during the XVIth century and notably by Don Pedro Mendoza, founder of Buenos Aires, in 1535. Many of these war horses escaped or were abandoned, and rapidly returned to a more primal state in an environment perfect for their development, the Pampa. For the next four centuries, the Criollo breed adapted itself to the vast South American plains through the pitiless process of natural selection. This adaptation to the rude conditions of life on the Pampa was determined by selective factors acting on wild populations, which permitted them to develop qualities of physical hardiness and resistance to diseases.

The indigenous people became riders upon contact with the Spanish military and colonialists, and began raising these horses in semi-liberty in the vast plains. Much as the Gauchos would later do, they transformed the horse into their mode of transportation, their hunting or working companion, their partner in games. Since then, the Criollo has always been a cattleworking horse for the Gauchos or peones.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Simple Biosecurity Techniques Help Protect Horses from Disease Threats

Basic Biosecurity Procedures Critical for Horse Health

New York, NY -- In recent years, the months of the show season have included news of disease outbreaks that can pose a threat to the health of performance horses. More and more, horse owners are searching for simple and effective techniques to help protect their horses from these threats year round.

Knowledge and practice of basic biosecurity has become critical for horse health. Whether traveling, accepting new horses into a facility, or performing day-to-day tasks around the farm, an eye to sanitation and disinfection -- as well as proper vaccinations and veterinary care -- will help assure a healthy environment.

“When traveling, owners should be sure to maintain proof of vaccination for all of their horses, as well as an up-to-date Coggins test,” said Robert Holland, DVM, PhD, Senior Veterinarian at Pfizer Animal Health. “It’s also a good idea to keep daily temperature logs for your horses -- particularly if they show signs of upper respiratory infections or other disease markers.”

When at show ground or events, attendees should avoid taking their horses to common water or feed areas and sharing water buckets, lip chains, feed tubs, halters or other items that might touch a horse’s mouth, nose or eyes. If you have to share items, be sure to follow proper sanitation and disinfection techniques first. In addition, any horse that shows signs of being unwell should be isolated as quickly as possible.

In order to properly disinfect equipment and tack, it’s important to first remove all excess debris or dirt from them. Then, wash the equipment in a detergent, such as laundry or dish soap and rinse with clean water. Follow this by filling a bucket with properly mixed, commercially available disinfectant -- such as Roccal(R)-D Plus -- and dipping the items into the disinfectant solution. Be sure to rinse them with clean water at least twice after disinfection. Keep in mind that disinfection may be needed on items such as halters, lip chains, grooming equipment, shovels and pitchforks. Stall walls and flooring can be treated in the same manner as needed.

A simple disinfection solution in a shallow basin as a foot bath can also allow staff to clean their shoes when entering or leaving the barn area. Hand sanitizers can help to curb the cross contamination that often occurs between horses as staff move from one horse to another during the day.

Of course, a carefully designed vaccination program, created in cooperation with a veterinarian, is one of the best means of helping horses remain healthy during the show season, and throughout the year. For example, Rhinomune(R) is a vaccine that aids in preventing respiratory disease caused by equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1). Rhinomune is a modified-live vaccine that triggers an effective immune response.

Pfizer, Inc. (NYSE: PFE), the world’s largest research-based biomedical and pharmaceutical company, also is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping horses and pets to live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer’s portfolio of equine products, visit

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Horse-breeding the French way - Full Story

In France, the national stud farms [Les Haras nationaux], founded by Colbert in 1665, are responsible for promoting and developing horse-breeding and activities related to horses, in partnership with other public and private bodies.
By Alix Maupin, journalist

In the area of breeding, rigorous conservation of breeds, expertise in animal care and technical progress through the collection and processing of economic information are riding high. This is not excessive in order to manage about 500,000 members of the horse family in France (which is eight for every 1,000 inhabitants) among which 41 breeds of horse, donkey and ponies are recognized and bred.

Determination to preserve breed diversity

The national stud farms make their skills permanently available to horse breeders and users in every region. They contribute to a policy of balanced national land management by providing high quality technical support services. They have devised a system of identification and information and meet the needs expressed by breeders’ associations in the area of genetic improvement, notably through public standardization," explains their managing director, Christian Ferte.

Since its creation, this institution has constantly evolved, often working against the tide of fashion of the day, with the determination to preserve breed diversity and the specific features of French horse-breeding...


Friday, February 22, 2008

Akhal-Tekes in Russian Endurance Ride

An old video of an endurance ride from Ashkhabad to Moscow in 84 days over 4,300km... from many years ago.

Notice the spectators handing off... not water bottles, but flowers to the riders!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spirit of 2010: volunteering - Full story

By Jim Jordan

Volunteers from 49 states and 46 countries have signed up to work at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, the foundation organizing the event said Wednesday.

The missing state is North Dakota, also the last state to have residents reserve tickets for the Games during a test sale in November.

The World Games 2010 Foundation said nearly 4,000 new volunteers have registered since Jan. 30 when its new Web-based volunteer registry system was activated.

More than 1,300 are from Kentucky and an additional 700 from nearby states, the foundation said. About 400 live in other countries...


Monday, February 11, 2008

Straight Talk About Strangles - Full Story

Debunk the four biggest myths about the highly contagious disease strangles.

By Eliza R.L. McGraw

Maybe it's the name that amplifies the dread horsepeople tend to feel when the grapevine rumors a neighborhood infection. Certainly, no one who's had to nurse a horse through to recovery wants a repeat experience, and anyone who's read John Steinbeck's The Red Pony about a young boy's first exposure to death and loss can't help but expect the worst of the disease. Yes, strangles has a terrible name and a worse reputation. Horses who come down with a Streptococcus equi infection get an ugly kind of sick, and they seem to be knocked out of training forever.

"People have definitely gotten more panicked about strangles over the years," says George Sengstack, manager of Callithea Farm, a 60-horse boarding stable in Potomac, Maryland. "Fourteen years ago, before we had horses trailering in and out, I had a horse who got strangles. We kept him away from the other horses in a round pen and were really careful [about using separate equipment]. He got better, and it wasn't a big ordeal."


Thursday, February 07, 2008

And They Call Us Horse Lovers - Full Article

By Robert M. Miller, DVM

The Nation was shocked when Barbaro broke down shortly after leaving the gate at the Preakness. I saw the repaired fractures in TIME magazine. What I think happened is that the sesamoid bone fractured, a common injury. As a result, the fetlock collapses causing the pastern bone to explode into multiple fragments, probably with the next stride or two.

The last time the general public was exposed to a racetrack tragedy like this was when the great filly, Ruffian, fractured; the injury eventually resulting in her death.

The news media focuses on great champions like these, but what most people don't realize is that such injuries are relatively common occurrences in horse racing.

Part of the cause is that we have bred athletic power into our racing breeds far exceeding what nature requires for the horse to survive in its natural environment. All wild horses need to do is outrun a big cat. We have selectively bred for speeds that the anatomy of the horse cannot always cope with.

In addition, we train and race them long before they are mature. The immature are often capable of spectacular athletic performance. Every time I watch an Olympics and I see gymnasts as young as 13, 14 or 15 years of age, I wince at the thought of the damage I know is occurring to some of their bodies. I started a year of gymnastics at 17 years of age, and I wasn't very good, but I still managed to do damage that manifested itself many years later. Fortunately, I was drafted into the Army at 18, which ended my gymnastic career.

Half a century ago, when I was cowboying, "colts" were started at four years of age or older...


Donna Snyder-Smith's Mechanics of Movement: Part II - The Horse

Seminar Presentations by Donna Snyder-Smith
2008 PNER Conference January 26 2008

Article © Nancy R. Skakel 1/08

Donna Snyder-Smith, noted riding instructor and trainer, presented a day long seminar at the 2008 Pacific Northwest Endurance Rides Conference in Pasco, Washington. Her morning lecture dealt with the rider's posture and how being out of balance in our own bodies affects our horses. The four hour afternoon session, held in the commodious arena at the Trac Arena, focused on the horse and rider partnership with six demonstration riders. Three of the riders were accomplished 100-milers "of a certain age," another a young rider 17 years old; all average riders. The horses were primarily endurance mounts. Arabian or Arab cross, and one older appaloosa western pleasure horse.

As the riders warmed up their horses in the arena, one horse became more and more anxious, frequently calling and getting more and more skittish and difficult to control. Snyder-Smith had the rider dismount, and remove the reins from the bit. She put the horse on an indirect lunge line. This was a 25 foot half-inch rope tied to the girth just above stirrup height, then run through the bit ring from inside to the outside, and to the trainer's hands. This was a mature horse and a 100-mile campaigner so she was able to start lunging him on a fairly small circle (perhaps a 15 foot radius). She cautioned that you would only use this technique with a horse that already understands walk-trot-halt on the lunge, and is at least 4 years old in order to not over stress immature joints. Her goal in this exercise was to achieve a rhythmic trot, maintaining tempo with a relaxed longitudinal stretch. By teaching the horse to trot in this manner on the lunge you can encourage the same relaxed trot on the trail and stabilized, rhythmic gait has a calming effect on a horse's emotional state.

Each time the horse became distracted and threw his head up to whinny, she shortened the radius of the circle and gently encouraged the horse to keep trotting. This caused the horse to work harder by having to step under his body with his inside hind leg, and required the horse to focus on the work instead of worrying about his buddy. As the horse gradually started paying more attention to the work his head would come down and he would slow to a walk. Each time he walked Snyder-Smith would quietly push him back into the trot. As he maintained better rhythm and stretch she allowed him to work on a larger circle. When his attention wandered or he tried to avoid working, she gently pushed him on in a smaller circle to refocus his mind.

After ten or twelve minutes of this work the horse started to settle and work more consistently. She then changed the lunge to his weaker direction and moved the center of the circle (where she was standing) closer to the scary bleacher wall. The horse tried to evade by stopping and facing the handler with his neck thrown high and back hollow. Again, she gently encouraged him to trot on. With this lunge line arrangement if he threw his head up he would pull against himself, an instantaneous self-correction. "He is just going to have to deal with it," was Snyder-Smith's comment. She kept up a running lecture during all this work. She described an escalating level of distraction. If his attention wandered, he sped up, or threw his head up, she would shorten the line working him on a smaller and therefore more demanding circle. At one point she asked him to halt and his attention immediately went elsewhere. "He's gone," Snyder-Smith noted and added that she often observes a similar lack of focus in endurance horses.

This exercise is not effective if the trainer walks around as the horse circles. "If you walk around to much, the horse does not learn to give to the rein or achieve a steady tempo, and much of the suppling effect is lost," she noted. As the horse strengthens his inside hind (both hind legs get equal attention by working in both directions,) you teach the horse to carry himself with his hindquarters under his body. The same effect can be more difficult to achieved on a standard lunge line attached directly to the horse's head because the horse can easily evade the work by leaning on the inside shoulder while its haunches drift out.*

Picture the horse's body as a teeter-totter. Going on the forehand tips the teeter-totter one direction. Shifting the power and driving force to the hindquarters evens or slightly tips the teeter-totter the other, desirable direction. The belly muscles have to shorten to bring that hind leg under which causes the shoulders of the horse to rise, allowing more freedom of movement in the horse's front end allowing for better control of the horse and less concussion over the miles on the horse's front legs as well. We can encourage the strengthening of the abdominal muscles by asking the horse to contract those muscles by doing belly lifts (as seen in the TTEAM work). Do them frequently, while grooming, tacking up, untacking, hanging out, petting. You can also ask the horse to tighten his buttock muscles to strengthen the lumbo-sacral joint. Keeping flexibility in this joint is important to insure the horse's access to his natural stride length capability.

It is natural for the horse to contract his back muscles, "dropping" or "hollowing" his back when a saddle is placed on him. Many western trainers address this by asking for long backing movements or rollbacks, riding the horse close to the fence and asking for a pivoting turn, forcing the horse back on to his hindquarters. While these tools work, it is rather aggressive and must be used with good judgment because it puts a lot of strain on a horse's hocks which can cause injury to the joint.
We have to remember that the body parts are integral, and the pastern, hock, stifle, sacrum, and the back all work together. In order to confirm new movement patterns in the horse, the horse needs to learn and practice training exercises in a relaxed, calm state of mind and perform them quietly and consistently repeatedly, over time. Remember that the rider's aids, legs, weight, torso, and reins, are our tools to have a conversation directing how the horse moves.

After about 15 minutes this particular demonstration horse had calmed down and had his mind on the work at hand. The lunge line was removed, the bridle reins replaced, and he was asked to do some work in hand. Standing by his head with light contact on the inside rein, she used an in-hand whip to tap lightly on his flank, asking him to step under his body while she controlled his forward movement. It took the horse a few moments of worry before he made an effort in the desired direction. Snyder-Smith remained calm and relaxed, gently asking for the step under his body. "Let him experiment until he gets it right." When he made a good effort he was rewarded by walking straight forward a few steps, then was asked to repeat the exercise.

Once he understood what he was being asked to do, he was asked to two-track on the quarter line. "With this exercise you can place that hind foot wherever you want it." She advised that if the horse evades by walking around the trainer, be patient, set him up, and ask again. If he tries to push into you, raise your hand to keep him out of your space. Notice that controlling the head with the bit does not control the horse. To control the front end you have to control the shoulder, so step into the shoulder to move it over as you are asking the hind leg to step under (control of the hind end.). Controlling the exercise so the horse performs it one step at a time, teaches the horse discipline, strengthens the joints, and encourages him to carry more of his weight over his hind legs. He also learns to listen to and gains respect for the trainer/handler. The result will be an improved, forward trot that floats down the trail instead of one where most of the horse's weight is landing on his front feet in a ground pounding mannor. With consistent work a horse will eventually be able to trot downhill with his body level and no change in cadence.

Snyder-Smith had the owner take over and continue the in-hand work. She corrected him to not ask for too much angle (by placing too strong contact on the inside rein,). If the horse is asked to step on the diagonal while over bent the longitudinal stretch is lost and may cause interfering in front. Straighten him out a bit and he can lift his feet up and over. After a few minutes the owner mounted the horse and it was clear the groundwork had transferred to work under saddle. He had stopped whinnying, his back was more relaxed, and he was ready to go for a ride. All this took less than a half hour.

Watching the six demonstration riders circle the arena, Snyder-Smith had the audience observe the horses for unevenness. One stepped short on the left hind, another was short on the right hind, another was short on both hind legs, and one was significantly hollow and inverted in his whole frame. Muscles that are under or over developed result in a minimum of striding up (the hind foot stepping into the print left by the fore foot.) To assess a horse she recommends looking closely at the horse. Are the shoulders muscled equally? Is the length of stride even? Some of this is influenced by conformation. The length of the bones and their relationships to each other dictates the possible length of stride. Muscular development, strength, suppleness, and being right or left dominant can also influence stride length, but it is the rider's job to work with his or her horse until the horse moves evenly and in balance.

The first horse was a small freckled Arab with a very short, choppy stride in front. The head and neck were carried high and tense. The rider's hands were constantly, gently seesawing on the reins, asking the horse to drop her head. She tended to hold her hands too low and with the fingers very open but constantly flexing, annoying the horse. Snyder-Smith asked the rider to quiet and relax her hands and the horse's nose dropped. This was an ingrained habit with this rider and she was reminded throughout the afternoon to relax her hands. (Sound familiar?) "Only pick up the reins to help the horse." While you want to maintain even contact it needs to be with a soft, following hand. The constricted neck, resulting in the short strides, was evidenced by the way the horse's ears bobbed back toward the rider instead of forward toward the ground as it walked. When she relaxed, the head movement altered, going more forward, toward the ground and the horse also exhibited a slightly longer stride in the trot as well.

The next horse and rider pair was the older appaloosa. This horse had the western pleasure shuffle, neck carried very low, with very little energy in its gaits. The rider was very relaxed and did not ask the horse for much effort. Snyder-Smith asked her to shorten the reins and pick up contact, then ask with her leg for more engagement and to step up. The horse did not want to work that hard and leaned on the bit to pull the reins back to their usual position. Snyder-Smith encouraged the rider to not give up the contact, to keep it steady, and to let the horse find its own position of comfort in self-carriage. Again, the very low, open hand allowed the horse to pull the reins, so she had to set her hand and ask the horse to carry itself with increased energy. If you pull the horse's head up you get an inverted, tense neck, and the horse will tend to drop or hollow its back.

The left hind on the compact chesnut Arab came down more quickly than the right hind. The stride was a little short, but mainly quicker. The right hind needs to extend all the way back, bearing the weight as the left hind swings forward. Donna's assessment was that the horse's left hind was coming down quickly to protect its right hind leg from having to extend completely. The rider posted the rhythm of the horse's short trot. She was encouraged to free up her pelvis, open her hip joints and allow her pelvis to float forward, staying up out of the saddle bit longer in the rise. The hip joint closes and the knees bend slightly like shock absorbers as you sit. If you sit too soon, the horse shortens its stride to match the rider's posting rhythm. By slowing your own posting rhythm by staying up longer in the rise, you allow the horse to complete its natural reach, lengthening its stride and many times helping the horse to find its natural suspension; the time the horse hangs for a moment in mid-air, between strides, with no feet touching the ground. You have a lot of influence on your horse's trot rhythm.

The badly inverted horse had warmed up enough to begin to relax a bit, allowing its back to rise slightly. The rider was using a hackamore and Snyder-Smith notes that she feels the usefulness of the hackamore is limited, and that even the western trainers that start out in a bosal graduate to a snaffle and eventually a curb bit as the horse's training advances.

Now she had the riders go on a 20-meter circle around her. She had traffic cones set up and encouraged the riders to guide the horses close to the cones to maintain the round circle. Then she assessed the riders individually. Most of the riders had the typical posture with the pelvis tilted forward and the back swayed and hollow. The motion of the horse leaves the rider behind, causing them to make an effort to catch up. The horse has to tilt its pelvis back in order to bring the hind legs under the body, lifting the loin. A rider with a forward tilted pelvis drives the seat bones into the horse's back like sticks jabbing its back. Rider's were shown how to take their feet out of their stirrups, grab the pommel, and pull their seat forward, rocking the top of their pelvis backward to help position their seat bones correctly on the horse's back and then eventually allowing their pelvis to settle into the saddle on a vertical line from bottom to top, right over their feet.

One saddle had the stirrups set way too far back, impeding the rider's ability to put their leg where it belonged on the girth. Snyder-Smith had her pull herself more forward in the saddle, and flatten the small of her back. She had the rider place her own hand in the small of her back and pull her belly button into her hand. She described how the trochanter on the head of the femur makes distance between our legs wider than the width of our pelvis. Tightness in the groin reduces that space. To sit deeply on our horse's back, especially if they have a wide barrel, we have to rotate the femur at the hip joint, accessing all of the potential width available in that area, and allow our leg to hang in a relaxed manner down the side of the horse's rib cage. Donna showed how you can even grab your pant leg behind the thigh to pull the leg back under you. When she asked the rider how that felt, she replied. "It feels deeper." The trick is not to grip. Donna recommended practicing riding without stirrups as an exercise to deepen a rider's seat, but only on a horse which was reliable and safe. Snyder-Smith said that the Chinese have shown that it takes 2000 repetitions to train our muscles to a new movement. Another study indicated that it takes 21 days to create a habit.

Another saddle was much too small for the rider. When the rider rocked her pelvis forward and lengthened her leg, she was jammed against the pommel with barely two finger widths between her buttocks and the cantle (it should be 4 finger widths.) Donna cautioned, "the saddle must fit both the horse and the rider!" The rider's seat is a combination of physical ability and the saddle. The youngest rider had the easiest time to open her thigh and rotate her hip, draping her leg around the horse. She was reminded to use the inside of her calf against the horse's ribs, rather than twisting her leg at the knee in order to kick at the horse's side with the back of her heel.

The national show horse was used to going in a very inverted frame. When the rider "fixed" the horse, the horse would "fix" the rider and revert to its habitual form. The rider sat with his torso behind his legs. He tried to keep his knees bent, but the horse's head would come up, his back hollow, and the rider would brace his legs, his back curved forward to compensate for the imbalance. This re-inforced the horse's posture and his excitement level would escalate. Being out of balance, and tense is not a position of authority and strength for the rider, and the horse responds with increased anxiety. Upon examination Donna found that the horse's saddle was tight over the withers. She noted that when a horse hollows its back, a saddle which might fit the back when the muscles are lifted, rides down into the hollow caused by the contracted muscles, and pinches behind the withers, this in turn prevents the horse from wanted to "lift" its back muscles into the discomfort of the "pinch;" setting up a vicious cycle. The rider had a secure seat and usually sat the trot. She complemented him on having elasticity in his hip and thigh joints, and a flexible lower back. However, she also noted that he could better activate the hind legs of his horse by using the posting rhythm. She had him drop his stirrups one hole and slide forward in the saddle without leaning back. After lengthening the stirrup she had him tighten his right hip, then his left hip, unlock his knees, and lift his toe into the stirrup. The longer leg, with Achilles tendon extended and the foot flat, the toe level or slightly above the heel, allows for a more flexible ankle and better shock absorption.

She said usually endurance riders tend to have their stirrups too long, resulting in less support but less strain on the joints. They avoid the shorter stirrup because of cramps and pressure on the ball of the foot. A shorter stirrup is appropriate for the top ten endurance riders who rides quite a bit at canter or gallop. She advised against assuming the forward two-point position of the jumping rider, because, unless it is biomechanically accurate, it weights the horses's forehand. Instead, she suggested, endurance riders should learn to ride in what she calls a "light seat," which is the seat that was used by the U.S. Cavalry.

Next she had the riders, still on the 20-meter circle, ride voltes (smaller circles) to the center. If the rider or the horse leans in on the bend it places more concussion on the lateral edge of the hoof. The rider needs to bring the inside hip slightly forward and advance their outside shoulder slightly to mirror the desired position of the horse's body from ears to tail on a curve. It is very important not to lean. When riding a curve, it is a good exercise to try to keep the horse's head, neck and shoulders evenly between both reins, with the reins held with even contact and of even length. This will limit your tendency to pull too much on the inside rein during a turn, pulling your horse out of balance and onto its inside shoulder. Do not cross your hands over the horse's neck. Frequent, small adjustments are needed to keep the horse flexed and bent on the circle. If you thrust your hip to the outside and lean inward with your torso or shoulders, your horse will do the same. Don't nag your horse with your aids, but use them occasionally to correct and guide the horse.

The riders struggled with this simple exercise. Stored kinesthetic sense told them that their habitual postures; for example weighting the left hip more than the right hip on a circle to the right, felt "normal". When you actually get centered in your body your brain will make you feel unbalanced at first. Riding without stirrups and exercises to open the groin will help to re-educate our mind-bodies.

Giving the horses a rest, Snyder-Smith demonstrated the use of a mini-trampoline to both assess and treat a biomechanical problem in one of the riders. This rider complained of a lot of tension in her back. Snyder-Smith had her jog lightly on the trampoline. She could see that one leg was tighter, not allowing the rebound of the trampoline to flow through the body. Holding hands with the jogger, Snyder-Smith encouraged her to relax her arms and shoulders. With slightly increased energy she had her bend her knees more and rhythmically touch her right knee with her left hand. After a few moments of that, she switched to the opposite knee and hand. Lastly she had her continue to jog, holding hands with Snyder-Smith, torso bent forward with a flat back, letting go of the tension in her neck and shoulder. Snyder-Smith talked about allowing the rebound energy to flow unrestricted, without tension.

Next Snyder-Smith had the riders trot four caveletti. It took several times through for the horses to maintain a true trot through the course. Each horse and rider pair had their own issues to deal with. Preparation as they approached the obstacle, gaining trust, maintaining energy and rhythm in the trot, posting to aid the horse, keeping the eyes up and forward. As the pairs improved in their rounds the audience enthusiastically rewarded the correct efforts with applause. We could all see the results of their concentration.

Next she had the riders trot their horse between to poles set about 4 feet apart on the ground, then ask for a square halt. Again, this seemingly simple exercise proved to be a real challenge, requiring quiet, supportive aids, balance, timing, preparation, and relaxation. Again, we saw some improvement each go 'round, with coaching, but really only one square halt during this exercise.

Running short on time, the last exercise was a set of six traffic cones set in line with about one stride spacing between cones. The riders were instructed to trot a serpentine through the cones. This was the most athletic exercise of the afternoon, asking the horse and rider to balance and change bend (and diagonal!) between each pair of cones. Cones were missed, run over, and a few slalomed through the line with a minimum of bend. I'll bet some of those riders will go home and set up some of these exercises in their home arenas to work on what they had learned in this seminar. I look forward to getting on my own horses to try some of these exercises with correct biomechanics in mind.

Note: Donna Snyder-Smith reviewed and approved this article.

Donna Snyder-Smith's Mechanics of Movement: Part I - The Rider

Seminar Presentations by Donna Snyder-Smith
2008 PNER Conference January 26 2008

Article © Nancy R. Skakel 1/08

The 2008 Pacific Northwest Endurance Rides Annual Conference was held in Pasco, Washington. The TRAC Arena and convention facilities are very well suited to equestrian gatherings. The large, open convention halls are spacious and comfortable, and the huge indoor arena is inviting for any equestrian sport demonstration, exhibition, or competition. The arena bleachers are comfortable and offer excellent viewing of all the arena activities. The sound system for both the conference halls and arena provide clear amplification allowing the presentations to be easily heard by all the attendees.

I rode the train up the Columbia River and a friend met me in Pasco. We arrived at the Conference just after Donna Snyder-Smith began her morning lecture. Snyder-Smith is nationally known Level III Centered Riding instructor and the author of The Complete Book of Endurance Riding and Competition . She has had over 45 years experience as both a competitor and instructor in several equestrian disciplines, including hunters, dressage, eventing, and her favorite sport, endurance. She is an accomplished speaker, incorporating interactive demonstrations to illustrate the principles of biomechanics she is describing.

The morning two-hour lecture addressed the improvement of the rider through increased awareness of posture and knowledge of how the mechanics of the rider effect and influence the horse. The afternoon session moved to the arena with five demonstration riders and horses, and ran four hours. I believe she kept her audience engrossed throughout both sessions. I know she had me hooked!

The first demonstration she had a volunteer stand with a five-pound weight held shoulder high and at arm's length. Snyder-Smith continued talking about the importance of balance. When the volunteer's arm began to droop, she was admonished to hold the weight up. After several minutes the volunteer was allowed to relax, then asked how that felt. She replied, "It got heavier!" This shows how even a small imbalance gets harder and harder to bear over time. If we are unbalanced as riders, our horses have to work harder and harder to compensate while carrying us over distance.

I recommend that as you read this you try some of these simple exercises for the insight they offer for your own posture and for what our horses must do to carry us. Stand with feet slightly apart, arms at your sides, back relaxed. Now lock your knees, and then relax them. Repeat this several times until you are comfortable in the feel of your unlocked knees. Do not bend your knee, just tighten and relax the joints. Much of what Snyder-Smith worked on throughout the day was geared to reprogramming neuropathways. If we habitually grip our horse with a bent knee while leaning to the left with a collapsed hip joint, that posture feels "normal". Correct posture may feel unfamiliar or "wrong" at first, but through slow repetition we can re-educate what Donna calls our "mental map" so we assume a correct position. She really emphasized the importance of going through the exercises slowly to allow your body to recognize and assimilate the new alignment(s) and the corrected mechanics of efficient movement. Doing the exercises and corrections quickly will not accomplish this re-education. It is like forcing a horse into a false head carriage instead of taking the time to develop the muscles for self-carriage. Several volunteer demonstrators commented on how subtle these corrections are. You will know you have it right when it takes less effort to maintain the correct/balanced posture.

Now point to your hip joint. Most of us will point to a spot on the outside of our hips between our legs and just below our waist. Wrong. That spot is the top of the femur, the big thighbone. The actual ball and socket hip joint is found by running your fingers down the groove at the top of your thigh, down toward your groin. Your fingers will pass over a tendon and drop into a small hollow. Now point your finger almost straight back and you will be pointing at the hip joint. When your riding instructor tells you to rotate your leg from the hip down, if your mind tries to carry out the command by rotating from your "false known" thighbone location, you will require many more muscles to accomplish the desired movement. When you correct your mental map so you are aware of the true location of your hip joint, that same action can be accomplished by involving the use of significantly less muscles! The result is an increase in efficiency and a significant savings of energy. Now, doesn't that sound good when you are contemplating a 100-mile ride? This same principle applies to many more biomechanical practices. Blocking energy is inefficient.

Now, standing with feet slightly apart, knees unlocked, being aware of your hip joint, allow your torso to "float" forward until your upper body is positioned directly over your feet. This is subtle. It is not a big movement. Remember, you will know when it feels right, comfortable and effortless.

What a rider does in their body, a horse tends to mirror in his body. If a rider is aligned incorrectly using tension to maintain balance, his or her horse will carry more tension in its body throughout a ride. Try this exercise. She had a couple of volunteers get down on their hands and knees (like a horse would stand) and, allowing their tummies to sag toward the floor, she told them to move forward like a horse would do if it were walking. Very awkward. Then she had them shorten their abdominal muscles, lifting their bellies and flattening their backs. Crawling forward instantly became easier. This demonstrates how hard it is for a horse to carry us with a hollow, tight back and weak abdominal muscles.

Again, standing comfortably, knees relaxed, place the back of one hand in the small of your back. Now pull your belly button gently into your hand. Snyder-Smith says she sometimes imagines a big dragon tail weighting the tailbone, keeping it grounded. When one of the volunteers got into this balanced, correct posture, she cried out, "Slip a horse under me!" She was so excited by the feel of her own good posture. We could all see the light bulb going on over her head.

Snyder-Smith reminded us that it is a psychological fact that the known is comfortable, and that is why in the beginning it is a struggle to find and hold correct posture. We have to practice, exercise and condition our own bodies, do frequent checks and corrections until the new, better posture becomes habitual. Another psychological fact is that our body parts are interlocking, and that we often develop actions that our brain may associate even though there is no rational reason for the actions to be associated. (For example, sitting in a chair and tapping a foot; a habit, but no real reason why the foot has to tap.) Many of us, especially women, think that if our hips move backwards we have to contract our back muscles creating a hollow back. But try this - stack your spine over unlockeded knees, push your hips back but keep your lower back flat and bend your torso forward without hollowing your back. This posture as well as the stacking exercise is shown in clear detail on her DVD, "Partners, the Art of Mounted Body Language," (available on the Synergist Saddle web site or directly from Donna.) This takes some strength of abdominal and back muscles, but it is not difficult to do. If we condition ourselves properly most post-ride pain is not necessary, barring traumatic injury.

The next one was a fun exercise. We all paired off, one person standing behind the other. The person in front was the "horse", the person behind the "rider". The rider placed her hands on the ribcage of the "horse", simulating the rider's legs, and we "rode" the horse around the hall for a bit, gently guiding the horse with pressure from our palms. We halted and Donna told us that our "horse" was now a green four year old that's been kept in a stall for a few days and we are going out for a ride on a brisk, breezy day. What is the natural reaction of the rider? Grip to hang on for dear life! The "horses" took off frisking around the hall while the riders gripped and got flung all around. Nobody was balanced or in control. Sigh... we just have to learn to sit that colt without gripping! The "horses" said that the soft steady palms (legs) communicated clear instructions and they felt connected and relaxed. The riders said they felt confident, comfortable, and "riding" was effortless. The gripping palms felt stiff, restricting, causing over reactions, annoying, even scary.
There may be emergency situations that require the rider to grip, but we need to learn to ride in balance and without gripping. Horses communicate with each other largely through body language. The herd signal for alarm is throwing the head up in a tense, alert stance. If the lead mare ignores or chides the head-up horse, the herd goes back to grazing. But if the herd leader responds with tension, the urge to bolt in flight overtakes the whole herd. Horses cannot think, "Humans are a different species so my equine social rules do not apply." If we communicate tension, the horse responds by being on alert. They cannot understand that the rider has just lost her balance.

Given the horse's physique, being longer than they are wide, they are easily thrown off balance laterally. Habitual unbalanced riding or training will result in unbalanced muscling. This is also influenced by conformation and saddle fit. Horses, like humans, are naturally right or left dominant (80% right dominant). They will stay on the trot diagonal that favors their stronger side, bumping the unaware rider back on to that diagonal when their attention lapses. The stronger side will have more stress resulting in increased likelihood of injury. Then the weaker side will compensate, but will become injured even more quickly because it is weaker. Sitting on your horse bareback (or stand on something to give you that view) and look down at the withers. If your horse shows evidence of one side having an over developed shoulder muscle, while the other side appears distinctly flatter and less muscled, you horse is moving in an unbalanced way. This often leads to saddle fit problems where the saddle moves and shifts to the less muscled side. This can cause pressure sores evidenced by white hairs on the withers and shearing of hair over the loins. Learning to post the trot correctly and change the posting diagonal frequently is a good way to help your horse develop its lateral balance. Remember you are on the left diagonal when you rise from the saddle as your horse's left front shoulder and leg swing forward and his right hind comes forward. If you rise with this motion you will sit as that right hind comes down to become the weight bearing foot. Posting the left diagonal will strengthen the right hind. Horses don't like to change to their weaker diagonal, so pay attention. It may take 90 days or several years, but one of your training goals should be to equalize the strength of your horse's hind legs. A question was asked about riding in a two-point position. Snyder-Smith said that unless you are exceptionally well balanced in your own body, the two-point position (standing in your stirrups) requires much more energy to maintain. At best it is neutral in its effect on the horse, but cannot make a positive contribution to balance the horse's use of the weaker, non-dominant legs.

Her next volunteers got a real work out. Snyder-Smith brought out a two-step mounting block. She had several volunteers come up and stand very close alongside the lower step, feet parallel to the step, then slowly and steadily step up and down with the foot closer to the mounting block ten times, keeping the feet flat and in line with the shoulders (not placing the foot forward or backward as you step up and down), and without hopping. It was clear that on the weaker side the hip would protrude as they stepped up. She encouraged people to work out with this step exercise to strengthen and equalize their legs. As you get fit you can increase the difficulty. Add a five to eight pound weight to the outside hand as you step up. Have a friend spot for you, to make sure that you are maintaining good alignment in your posture without leaning forward or protruding your hip. Don't lock your knees. Step lightly and in rhythm. A wobbling balance indicates weakness. Remember to keep it slow. A stairstepper machine with its quick repetition does not accomplish the same balancing and strengthening of lateral torso muscles. If your knees hurt, check your toe position - no twisting of the feet.

All exercise should be incremental. As you gain strength and consequently balance, move over to the higher side of the mounting block and step up higher. Don't bounce to lift yourself up. Next, again on the lower side, step up and hop on the foot on the step, then step down. When you are ready, work up to doing the same exercise on the higher step. When you can do the step up and hop on the higher step while carrying a weight for ten repetitions on both sides, your leg muscles will be fit enough to stand up to a 100-mile ride.

The last exercise she taught us is to stand on one foot on your strong side with a five-pound weight in the opposite hand, elbow bent, wrist straight, hand and weight close to shoulder. Raise the weighted hand above your head and then return to the starting position. In the beginning, you may have to touch your toe to the floor to keep your balance, especially when you are lifting the weight while standing on your weaker side. Eventually you will be able to do the exercise on either foot without losing your balance and without needing to touch the floor or your supporting leg with your elevated foot.

The key to these exercises is to actually do them! Set up a routine and be persistent. Remember to keep your motions slow and rhythmic, be aware of your body position and posture, and watch your riding improve. Your horse will like the changes too!

Note: Donna Snyder-Smith reviewed and approved this article. Part II is next.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Chloride – The Neglected Electrolyte

NRC - Nutrient Requirements of Horses
Excerpt, posted by Eleanor Kellon

Chloride - The Neglected Electrolyte

Chloride has always been a bit of a stepchild in nutrition circles. Until the 2007 NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses was released last year, we didn't even have a recommended feeding level for this element. It was assumed that horses receiving supplemental sodium chloride to meet their sodium needs would also get enough chloride. Thanks to the meticulous work of Dr. Manfred Coenen in Germany, we now how reasonable feeding guidelines to go along with the previously documented losses of chloride in sweat.

Hypochloremia (low blood chloride) and the metabolic alkalosis that results is the prevalent electrolyte disturbance found in exercise lasting 2 hours or longer. Hypochloremia inevitably results in metabolic alkalosis. This is explained by the anion gap equation:

[Sodium + Potassium] - [Chloride + Bicarbonate]

Alkalosis occurs when bicarbonate is present in the blood in higher than normal amounts. The horse's body works very hard to maintain the anion gap in a narrow range (11 to 16 mEq/L by most laboratories) to keep the blood and extracellular fluid at electrical neutrality. Chloride ions represent 56.9% of the electrolytes lost in sweat. As chloride drops because of sweat losses, bicarbonate inevitably rises, making the horse alkalotic.

The horse is more susceptible to significant chloride losses during endurance exercise for several reasons. As mentioned, more chloride is lost in sweat than sodium and potassium combined. At the same time, the total amount of chloride contained in the body and the intestinal contents is less than sodium and potassium. Sodium is efficiently conserved by both decreased urine production during exercise and increased reabsorption in the kidney. More potassium is excreted but the reduced rate of urine production helps to counterbalance this, and potassium can be released from exercising muscle, which is where the bulk of the body's potassium resides.

Most discussions of chloride revolve around the alkalinizing effect of hypochloremia, but this ion does much more than participate in acid base balance. Every cell of the body is equipped with chloride channels. Movement of chloride through these channels facilitates key functions such as maintaining normal fluid balance in the cell, maintaining electrolyte balance, movement of nutrients and wastes across cell membranes. Chloride channels also play a role in the stability of "excitable" tissues - skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, smooth muscle (including the intestinal tract) and nerves.

The alkalosis that accompanies hypochloremia can cause it's own secondary problems. Both ionized calcium and ionized magnesium may be bound and inactivated when bicarbonate concentrations are high. When combining the potential direct effects of hypochloremia with the secondary problems related to low ionized calcium and magnesium, it becomes very easy to see why a hypochloremic, alkalotic horse could show symptoms of thumps, muscular cramping or poor gut function.

To fully understand the impact of hypochloremia is going to take much more formal research under a variety of exercise conditions, fitness levels, feeding conditions and ionized calcium and magnesium levels. For now, it is becoming very clear that simply “assuming” a horse is getting adequate chloride is probably not wise – and supplementing to match sweat losses alone might not be enough.

Previous editions of the NRC nutrient requirement guidelines did not pay any attention to chloride levels in the diet. The 2007 version now lists them for common hays and feeds. Maintenance requirements for chloride have now been set at 0.08 grams per kg of bodyweight per day, so an 800 pound (364 kg) horse requires 29 grams of chloride a day at baseline. The baseline sodium requirement is 0.02 grams/kg, only 7.28 grams or 18.2 grams of salt. If you supplement with the required 18.2 grams of salt, you will also be providing 10.7 grams of chloride, or about 37% of the actual requirement. That's a pretty hefty deficit. Grains, beet pulp, brans and seed meals are very poor sources of chloride. Hays range from 0.45% for early cuttings to 0.9% for very late stages of growth. If we use a middle ground figure of 0.75% for good quality hay, every kg (2.2 pound) of hay provides 7.5 grams of chloride. Our 800 pound horse would need to consume about 2.5 kg, or 5.5 pounds of hay to meet his chloride needs just loafing around. If this same horse is not getting the required amount of salt, he would need to eat 8.5 pounds of hay. This is certainly doable for maintenance

On race day, the total electrolyte requirements are a sum of maintenance needs plus sweat and urine losses. The kidneys are working against the horse when chloride is lost because priority will be given to attempting to lower the rising bicarbonate, leading to higher chloride losses in urine. Considering the horse will be losing anywhere from 11.2 to over 44 grams of chloride per hour in sweat, and may not be consuming sufficient high chloride forage to even meet maintenance chloride requirements on a race day, paying more careful attention to this pivotal ion may soon provide a lot of insight into problems frequently encountered by endurance horses.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Control of Equine Influenza Requires Diligence

(On behalf of the Equine Research Coordination Group)

The 2007 outbreaks of equine influenza (EI) in Japan and Australia are a jolting reminder that influenza viruses use simple but very effective strategies for their own survival, and that our lack of attention allows this virus to create epidemics. One of those strategies is very high contagiousness, with the capacity to infect large numbers of horses quickly within stables or across continents. Another is the ability to cause sub-clinical infections in partially immune animals.

Equine influenza is a common upper respiratory disease, which prevents the horse from being exercised. Typical clinical signs include fever, nasal discharge and a dry, hacking cough. Outbreaks can produce significant problems for horse industries by disrupting exercise and horse transport.

Equine influenza is enzootic in the USA, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and South America (enzootic means constantly present though affecting only a small number of animals at any one time). Most other parts of the world have seen repeated outbreaks. The historic exceptions were Australia, New Zealand and Iceland. Australia and New Zealand, which import and export horses, have mandatory vaccination and quarantine systems designed to stop the viral disease, whereas for horses entering the United States, there are no specific regulations regarding EI.

Where influenza is enzootic, its level of morbidity (relative severity of disease) can range from severe to inapparent, depending on the animal's prior exposure. But even in previously unexposed horses, with the exception of young foals, fatalities are rare. Once horses are infected by EI, opportunistic bacterial invaders can cause secondary infections that produce more severe complications.

The EI outbreak in Japan started on Aug. 15, 2007, and was largely under control within about one month, although scattered cases persisted through the autumn. The number of horses affected and severity of disease during the outbreak were markedly less than Japan experienced in its most recent previous outbreak in 1971-72. The Japan Racing Association attributed the decrease to its long-standing requirement for twice-annual EI vaccinations. The virus isolated was highly similar to a known reference strain of EI, Wisconsin/03.

In the Australian EI outbreak, clinical signs of the index or earliest documented case were first observed on Aug. 17, 2007, in horses newly imported from Japan, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the U.S.A. that were quarantined in Sydney. These horses remained in quarantine, but on Aug. 22, other cases were observed elsewhere in Sydney. How the virus got past the quarantine may never be known. The virus was most likely transmitted on clothing or equipment of persons who had contact with the imported horses, or on a contaminated horse trailer. It appears that EI was unknowingly transmitted to at least one resident horse that carried it to an event held 100 miles away at Maitland on Aug. 18-19. Once there, it spread to many other horses and, in short order, EI was distributed to hundreds of premises in the states of New South Wales and Queensland in eastern Australia.

Unlike Japan, resident horses in Australia were never vaccinated for EI. Thus, the population was highly susceptible, and once introduced, EI was able to spread very rapidly. Movement restrictions on all horses were rapidly instituted, restricting the spread to eastern New South Wales and southeastern Queensland. No cases were identified elsewhere in Australia. Within the affected areas, over 50,000 horses contracted EI. Some fatalities were reported and though the actual number is unknown, it appears to be very low.

The Australian government has pursued a goal of eradication and return to EI-free status. It instituted a strategic vaccination program on Sept. 17. However, the government's aim is to stop vaccinating once the outbreak has burned itself out. The last known cases were reported on Dec. 24.

Influenza is a moving target-the viruses mutate and gradually change so that the vaccinated horse's immune system no longer recognizes them. Vaccines need to be updated to keep up with the changing virus.

The Australian EI virus (Sydney/2007) is also very similar to the Wisconsin/03 strain. Vaccine strain recommendations since 2004 include a Wisconsin/03-like strain, so these latest outbreaks do not change the recommendations. At present, no EI vaccine has a strain more recent than 2002. The USDA has recently adopted a policy to streamline the updating of EI vaccines, so it is to be hoped that vaccines with strains similar to Wisconsin/03 and Sydney/07 will appear in short order.

What do we know?
· Horses transported internationally and not obviously infected themselves can spread diseases.
· Horse owners, workers and veterinarians should always be conscious of the danger of transmission of EI or other contagious diseases by passive transfer on objects such as clothing, equipment, horse trailers or unwashed hands.
· The EI virus particle is easily killed by soap or common disinfectants, but it can survive for hours or days in the environment and even longer if kept cool and moist.
· Vaccines by themselves do not provide absolute protection.
· Prompt diagnosis of equine respiratory diseases by testing of nasal swabs is essential if outbreaks are to be controlled or, even better, avoided.
· Effective quarantine is the best prevention against the introduction of the disease.
· Vigilance against the spread of influenza viruses on contaminated materials or unwashed hands is an essential part of quarantine.
· Research is needed to understand EI and other infectious diseases to help prevent and treat infection.

Infectious respiratory diseases constitute one of the major health and economic threats to the horse industry and therefore need to be a high priority for research. The veterinary community needs your assistance to increase funding for research on influenza and other equine diseases. Please contact the Grayson Jockey-Club Research Foundation -, American Quarter Horse Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation, the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation, or your favorite veterinary school to make a contribution.

Contact the AAEP Foundation ( for information about making a donation for equine research, or call 1-800-443-0177 (within the U.S.) or 859-233-0147. This is just one of the many efforts that the AAEP is coordinating on behalf of the industry through the Equine Research Coordination Group (ERCG), which is comprised of researchers and organizations that support equine research. Formally organized in 2006, the ERCG has a mission of advancing the health and welfare of horses by promoting the discovery and sharing of new knowledge, enhancing awareness of the need for targeted research, educating the public, expanding fundraising opportunities and facilitating cooperation among funding agencies.

By Thomas M. Chambers, PhD

The ERCG is a group comprised of researchers and organizations that support equine research. Participants in the ERCG include equine foundations and multiple university research representatives. Current participants include: AAEP Foundation, American Horse Council, AQHA Foundation, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, Morris Animal Foundation, Havemeyer Foundation, United States Equestrian Federation Foundation and university researchers: Rick Arthur, DVM (University of California-Davis), Noah Cohen, VMD, PhD (Texas A & M University), Greg Ferraro, DVM (University of California-Davis), Eleanor Green, DVM (University of Florida), Joan Hendricks, VMD, PhD (University of Pennsylvania), Dick Mansmann, VMD, PhD (North Carolina State University), Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD (Colorado State University), Jim Moore, DVM (University of Georgia), Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD (The Ohio State University), Corinne Sweeney, DVM (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Nat White DVM (Virginia Tech). For more information about the ERCG, please visit online at and click on the ERCG link.