Monthly Archives: March 2014

Introduction to Equine Therapy

As an equine therapist, people often look at me like I have three heads when I tell them what I do for a living. This look is getting less common as time goes and people are recognizing the benefits of providing this type of care for their horses. As equine therapy becomes more popular, there are more and more modality options available to horse owners. Here I will try to answer a few basic questions about equine therapy.

How do I know if my horse would benefit from equine therapy?

jody5Most horses, just like most people, have some sort of imbalance or pain somewhere. Anyone who has owned a horse knows that they can be accident prone. Injuries will create imbalances and patterns of compensation throughout the body. Our horses also work hard! We ask them to perform athletic manoeuvres while carrying our weight, and there isn’t a horse out there that is perfectly symmetrical.

In addition there are many aspects of a horses life that are not exactly natural for them; stall life, the tack we use, carrying our weight, wearing shoes, different feeds, and so. While we do all of these things with our horses best interests in mind, it is important to remember that there can be undesirable consequences in addition to the benefits. So with these factors, and then considering the potential of having ill-fitting tack, unbalanced riders, improper shoeing or trimming, equine therapy may be a good consideration for your horse. Different modalities will have different goals and benefits, however most are aimed at relieving pain, improving performance, and overall general well being of the horse.

What Modalities are available for my horse?

jody3Well, chances are if it’s available for humans, it’s available for your horse. Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, osteopathy, red light therapy, aromatherapy, energy work and many others are all options for horses. Some practitioners specialize in one particular modality, whereas others have training in various modalities and will use several of them in each session, depending on what is happening with each particular horse.

How do I choose a practitioner for my horse?

jody1If you have decided that you’d like to book an appointment for your horse you need to select a practitioner. Doing some searching online can turn up potential options for you, and often talking to other horse people will give you an idea of who is working in your area. Once you have a few options you will want to call each of your options to find out some additional information, as well as take into consideration what modalities you feel would benefit your horse the most. Here is a list of things to ask a potential equine therapist to get you started.
How long have you been an equine therapist?

Which modalities do you use and what will my horses session be like?
What sort of training did you do in order to become an equine therapist? This is an important one, as in most areas there are currently no regulations for becoming an equine therapist. This means that someone can take a two year course, a two day course, or no course at all and still call themselves an equine therapist. It is your job to act as your horses advocate, so make sure you decide to use someone that you feel good about.
Do you belong to any professional associations? This may or may not be relevant for your area as associations are not available everywhere yet. The benefits of belonging to a professional association can include things like continuing education requirements, a place to take any complaints you may have, and practitioners carrying liability insurance.
Do you keep records of each session? This shows a degree of professionalism.
Something else to keep in mind is that you want an equine therapist who is willing to be a part of the whole team of people that surround your horse. This means that they are open and willing to communicate and work together with your veterinarian, farrier, barn manager, other therapists and of course you.

How often should I have my horse worked on?

jody2This depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, your horses current state, work load, housing, past incidents, your goals, and so on; and of course your budget. Make sure you discuss this with your therapist so that you are both on the same page. For myself, I always tell clients that they know their horses best and to call me when they feel they need to. I have clients that I see once a year for a tune up and I have clients that I see once a month for a regular maintenance program. Just make sure that your expectations of the results match up with what you are doing!
Another important thing to keep in mind is that your therapist will only see your horse for an hour or two every however often you book. The things that happen between sessions have a much greater impact on your horse than the work the therapist will do; therefore there may be things in your horses life that need to be addressed despite having equine therapy work done on him. For example, if your horses saddle does not fit, you could have his back massaged on a daily basis and it would still be tight and sore. Most therapists are there to help your horse be the best that he can be, so be willing to consider your therapists concerns.
Equine therapy can be a great tool to help keep your horse happy, healthy, sound, and performing at his best.

March 30, 2014

Horsemanship for your English Trail Horse

Is your horse only ridden in the arena?  Too valuable to be ridden outside? Only a show horse ? Too spooky to ride outside?

While it is crucial to have your horse gymnastically trained over jumps or dressage, your horse also benefits greatly from real world riding as I like to call it. This may entail working with cows, trails or just riding out on the ‘Back 40’. Great horsemanship entails all of the horse in all environments.

If you answered affirmatively to any of the questions above, you’re not alone. There is a general perception that English riders only ride in the arena. I think we can change this. Buy why ? Lets look at some advantages to training and riding outside the arena – an English trail horse.

Value:

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While I believe all horses are personally valuable to their owner or rider, there is a monetary value on the highly bred types. But your horse does not know how much he is worth in human dollars.

If you have spent a sizeable amount of money on your horse you, may be afraid to take him outside as you think he may hurt himself. If your horse is confident and happy in his work, there is a much lower risk of injury. A tight horse, no matter what his dollar value will be much more prone to injury.

Arena training can transfer to the real world. Is your horse tense in the arena? A focus on training the mind to be relaxed and still, is transferable to all breeds. While a hotter horse may perform with more extravagant movement the relaxed horse will have beautiful flow and self carriage in theirs.

A horse that has a foundation of stretch, rhythm and looseness will outlast and perform his counterparts. This looseness and rhythm is the tell of a still mind.

Your Show Horse

Your horse will encounter countless situations at these shows that are potential spooks. There are tables with cloths, potentially hiding monsters under them, children – very unpredictable at times, dogs, flower pots, people with papers in hand and who knows what else. Your horsemanship skills are put to the test at these show venues.

So your horse may deal with these mini crises but is he dealing with them positively?

Horsemanship in training may entail bringing in the potential spooky situations into the arena. Use things you already have for your training. Got a tarp, sheets or flags? Use your imagination. Put these in the arena and see how your horse reacts. Let him investigate. Be cool. Have positive calming thoughts and breathe. Taking on a worried mindset will not be beneficial for your horse. He needs you to be an energetic positive horse-person.

‘Outside of the Box’ Training

You may have had some positive experiences with spooky things in arena. Now take it outside. Start by hand walking him and stay in the comfort zone. If you sense him near the edge of his comfort zone, stay calm and breathe. Your emotional strength is what your horse draws from. Walk at the edge of this zone until your horse is more relaxed, then return to his comfort zone.

Then repeat. It is crucial you build on the positive mindset. Try not to overwhelm yourselves as this will be detrimental to success. You can recover an overwhelming moment by returning to the edge of the comfort zone and re-establish the calm mind set.

Your horsemanship skills are what the horse is counting on. Listen to what he is telling you with his expressions and posture. If he is tight with big eyes then he needs your help to be calm.

English Trail Horse

Hitting the trail with your English tack and English horse is a ton of fun. When you go out take a friend with you who has an experienced and calm horse. This will help you both be successful. Keep it short and positive the first time out. Horsemanship skills are crucial to observing when your horse is in a still state of mind and returning to the comfort zone in this state of mind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are very good horsemanship trainers out there who can help you and your horse. Work with one who has experience in helping people and horses. We all need professional support and it is well worth the reward of riding out on the trail.

Your arena horse can benefit tremendously by riding outside of the box. The trail is mentally stimulating and can be physically demanding. Your horse will strengthen his muscles and the variety of terrain will help him become more confident and surefooted. Cross-training is essential for all athletes no matter what level.

Now go out there, feel the wind in your hair and enjoy your horse – he will enjoy the change too.

Linda Fitzpatrick
March 25, 2014

A Life with a Horse

Years ago I participated in an annual historical ride near Thermopolis Wyoming.  I had my mare, Belle, who was about five years old at the time.

Each night we camped at a different location along the trail, fed and watered our horses, set up our tents and had dinner.  At several spots we had entertainment which included a dance, demonstrations and even historians making presentations on the local history.

One Native American fellow caught my attention.  Tall, gaunt and with a long ponytail. He rode his paint horse bareback.  He wasn’t using a bridle or halter, simply a length of soft rope with a small loop at one end.  I wouldn’t swear by it, but I’m not sure in the two days he was with us that he ever got off of that horse. Curiosity got the best of me and I wandered over and had a chat with this fellow.  He told me that he has had the horse since a foal, and the horse was now 18 years old. Life with a horse.

Napping on horseback.

Comfortable place to nap.

There are many whose riding is more like a poetic dance – it’s impressive to watch. But this fellow had something going on that was much more than just ‘partnership in motion’. The dance didn’t stop when the ride was over. It was as if he and the horse shared a mental connection – not only while riding – but all the time. When this fellow took a nap, he would stretch out on the horse and sleep.  The horse slept then too.

As I watched them, I got to thinking about where the future would take my mare and me.  She was young and I’d only owned her for a few months.  She can be a complete cow to other horses and to other people, but my relationship with her is special. There is something there that is more than just trust. I know what she’s thinking and what she is going to do before she does it, and I’ll put money down that she has me figured out just as well, and probably even better. I have put many miles on that horse in the mountains now.  We’ve traveled, camped, and explored together. Our relationship is very comfortable.

Partners with a horse.

Scott and Belle taking a break.

In 2010, Belle had the better part of the summer off to spend with her foal. I rode my other horses, in particular my paint horse, who was new to me then. I enjoy all the time I spend with him – working, playing or sleeping.  However with him I have to focus on the little things. I have to be sharper and be aware on a different level.  With Belle I don’t.  When I weaned the foal, I took Belle for a solo ride in the mountains. I swear she had a smile on her face the whole time. I sure did. I didn’t have to do any work and she just enjoyed herself.

Some horses come, some horse go, but some horses stay. So what does the future hold? How long will my equine friends live? How long will my relationship last with them? Who knows?Those same thoughts ran though my mind when I first gazed upon my little foal.? As I knelt down and stroked the golden mane of this newborn horse, I wondered what the future would bring for us.? Where will we be in ten years? Twenty?

Life with a horse.

So I got to thinking about the age of a horse.?  The Department of Agriculture states that the average age of a horse is 28+/-5 years.  There are many factors of course: breed, health, etc. The Guinness Book of World Records cites the oldest reliably recorded horse as 62 years old.  That is extreme, no argument there.? But if you even search on the internet for what owners feel is an old horse,  you’ll find many horses in the mid 30’s and in good health.
I can’t find the reference, but a couple years ago I read an article about a female endurance rider in her seventies that had won a competition with her horse, which I believe was 35. Just imagine the kind of relationship you can have with a horse after 35 years.

Several months later I stood with my colt and I thought, If this horse lives to be 35…….Well I don’t need to give away my age but let’s say I will be in my seventies as well.

Nearly half of my lifespan partnered with a horse.

Life with a horse.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.