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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Questions & Answers

I have been taking notes on questions and issues that I’ve heard from you and around the horse community for awhile and created a new section on my website called “Questions of the Month”. I am not going to use any names but will rephrase the questions and provide the answers to be helpful to everyone.

Here are samples of a few of the questions but there are many more waiting to be added to my website, so check back often.

Q: How far up to the knee should any exercise wrap or boot extend?

A: The answer is a wrap or boot should not come up any further than one inch below the knee groove or where the knee cap narrows down into the cannon bone. Flex or bend the horse’s knee with the wrap on and there should be no interference with any of the tendons and ligaments at the back of the knee or with the knee joint itself. I see many people wrapping polos up to the knee which will eventually damage the flexing tendons.

Q: I do not own a horse and am in a lesson program situation with different horses each week. What can I do to make the horse always feel happy and enjoy its time while working together with me?

School horses are the saints on this planet. They put up with so much. Because school horses have different people riding them everyday, they can easily become confused and frustrated. Each rider sends messages differently and the horse that you are on that particular week may not understand what you are asking or how you are asking for it. Also mares can be touchy and extra sensitive during their menses cycle. Spring is breeding season for horses and mares are heavily in heat every 21 days. A mare may not want you to kick or even touch her during the few days when she is cycling. Many programs don’t take this into consideration.

My advice on trying to make an unfamiliar horse happy is to check everything out before you get on. Make sure the saddle is sitting correctly on the horse’s back, the saddle pad has plenty of air underneath it to allow for ventilation and movement through the spine, check the fit of the bridle and make sure it is not fastened too tightly or too loosely, check the hooves and make sure they are free of mud, dirt, grass, rocks, sticks and debris, talk to your horse even though you don’t know them well and stroke the neck firmly but softly. In between riding sessions give your horse plenty of good massages in front of the saddle on their withers and when you are done take the time to towel off the horse’s back with a little massage.

Q: What can I do to help calm my horse down while I apply salve to his sore wounds from surgery?

The right approach is to always take it slow and make it a rewarding and pleasant experience. Listen to him and work with him as he goes through some discomfort. Before fooling with the wound at all practice some acupressure and give him a drop of calming essential oils under his nostrils. Take your hand to the top of his neck behind one ear and follow it down just below the mane line until you feel an indentation or a hole about the size of a nickel in the muscles. It will be located around 4-5 inches behind the ear as you follow the top of his neck. Press one or two fingers into that hole with firm pressure for about a minute and see what happens. If it is sensitive it just means that his system is a little hyper right now working on healing the wound. Stay with it and talk to him while you are applying the pressure. After a few seconds he should show signs of relaxation and release. Rolling his eyes, yawning, licking, chewing, lowering his head, shaking his head, etc. Once you have this kind of response then go do something like take the bandage off and come back and do the acupressure again. When you get the release response go and clean the wound and come back to the neck again. The last step will be to medicate the wound and re-bandage. You may give him another little massage around his withers and a treat in his feed tub when you put him back in his stall or turn him out.

When you are performing the acupressure you are releasing endorphins, chemicals into the nervous system to help relax him through this stressful event. It may take a little more time but in the future the horse will always think of you as a friendly, helpful caregiver instead of the lady that causes a lot of pain. It may make the difference in how well he will allow you to work with him in training as well.

Q: What are some general rules about feeding horses?

A: The ideal for feeding horses is to feed little and often. This rule, however, does not usually fit in with everyone’s schedules. Barn managers are faced with many problems when it comes to daily feeding in regard to money, time, labor and convenience.

If none of those things mattered horses would be self-regulating their feed and ask that they be fed little amounts every 2-3 hours during the daylight hours and a couple of times at night or just to graze at will. Horses would ask that they always be fed low to the ground with plenty of good fresh hay, grass, a mineral salt block and water. We have added in the grain because we work and use horses and this gives horses the fuel they need to be active and in work and training with us. Grain is also given to provide extra warmth in the winter during extreme weather conditions.

I am going to address pleasure and performance horse feeding programs, other horses who are breeding or in retirement or laid off due to injury will have a different approach.

Most horse management set ups whether it be large or small feed grain twice per day and hay three times per day, unless there is lush pasture and little hay is needed. The first feeding should consist of grain and hay first thing in the morning; the mid day feeding, hay only; and the third feeding in the evening around 5 p.m. grain and hay again. Some barn owners will throw a flake of hay to the horses before they go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. which is a real bonus. If the horse is also on pasture during the Spring, Summer and Fall months you will not have to feed the hay in the middle of the day. The third feeding of hay is only necessary during the winter months or if there is no grass available such as horses that live or are turned out in dry lots.

How much to feed your horse is purely an individual consideration. Some horses (like some people) have slower metabolisms and are called “easy keepers”. Others (like some people) metabolize food quickly and are called “hard doers.” You have to find out what kind of metabolizer your horse is and adjust it according to the time of year, his age and his level of activity. For instance, if your horse is in regular work and becomes injured and is laid up for awhile back off of his feed by at least half. When he goes back into work gradually increase it over a few weeks time. Be aware of the amount of protein in grains, unless you are racing your horse, generally you do not need to feed anything with more than 14% protein in the ingredients. Feed the smallest amount possible to maintain your horse’s weight and energy levels.

Make sure the hay you are feeding is of the highest quality you can afford and has no mold or sticks or debris in the bales. Horse’s get most of their nutritional needs from pasture and hay. A good grass hay such as Timothy hay and orchard grass is the most desired. Many people in the western part of the U.S. feed alfalfa hay which is extremely rich and packed full of minerals such as calcium. The amount of alfalfa you feed must be carefully regulated as many horses become very high and hyper from eating it and can colic due to sensitivity in the digestive system.

Some horse people I have visited recently have switched to the large round bales of hay for their horses. Talk to your veterinarian first before you make this decision. I have an adverse reaction to using the large round bales because of my training in Agriculture school. We were taught that the big round bales were suitable for cattle and ruminates only due to the conditions inside the bale for mold and rot over time. I would stick to clean, dry, properly stored rectangular bales for horses. Horses die everyday from colic, why take any chances?

More Thoughts on Feeding | More Q&A

female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Midkiff Horse Training, PO box 24395, Lexington KY 40524
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