Tag Archives: horse

Senior Horses

Winter is here and in the back of our minds we all have that little worry about our oldest horses. Will they be ok? Will they make it through another winter? How can I keep them feeling their best through the harshest weather? These questions especially arise when we think of the senior horses that are now pushing 30 years old. Obviously they have lived this long because of your amazing care in the first place, but how can we make sure they keep going strong for their last years? And why are we dealing with these issues now? Horses have been around for a very long time. Shouldn’t this all be old news?

Well, truthfully, horses have never lived as long as they do now for several reasons. Geriatric or senior horses are becoming much more common due to improved husbandry, new knowledge in nutrition and feeding, improved veterinary and farrier care and improved knowledge in fitness, conditioning and work for the horse. 30 years ago it was rare for a horse to outlive its teeth, but now, senior horses can live for several years comfortably with no teeth at all. A rise in the geriatric population can also be attributed to better understanding of behavioral psychology and management, changing functions of horses in today’s society and increased personal attachment of horse owners. It is also more economically feasible to prolong the useful lifespan of a horse as well.

So what can we do to keep these horses around so they can teach our grandkids how to ride? The first and probably most important is nutrition. Older horses fall into 1 category or another, fat or skinny. Both of these categories can be tricky at times to manage. The skinny horse is always a larger concern than the fat horse. Some older horses do not utilize their feed as well as younger horses do and for this reason they may need more feed, higher quality feed, or a supplement to help keep their weight at a good level. One of the easiest ways to increase caloric intake in a senior horse is feed a senior feed and add a vegetable oil to the feed to increase fat levels. When fed grain such as oats, this may give your horse more expendable energy but it doesn’t help increase body condition as well as soaked beet pulp or vegetable oils. Also make sure the younger horses are not bullying or pushing the older horses away from the feed as this can lead to decreased caloric intake as well. If your older horse is being bullied, consider feeding them separately or in a different pen with supplements to ensure they are getting enough good quality feed.


The opposite can also happen, the older horse is often less active and turned out to pasture where exercise is limited but calories are not. Obesity can lead to certain metabolic disorders and adds stress to the feet and legs of the horse. Just like in people, most horses have some arthritis and extra or excessive weight doesn’t help with inflammation or joint pain.

Vaccinations are still very important in the older horse just like in the younger horse. Due to a lifetime of exposure, geriatric horses may be less susceptible to Influenza or Strangles but they can be just as susceptible or more susceptible to diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, Tetanus, EEE and WEE due to a weaker immune system. They can also be carriers of Influenza and Strangles and may not get sick but shed the virus which exposes younger more susceptible horses. Vaccinating has been proven to decrease or eliminate viral shedding and can help protect younger horses through vaccination of older horses.

As mentioned before, it never used to be an issue that horses would outlive their teeth, but from 20+ years of grazing, grinding and chewing, teeth may be warn short enough to make chewing ineffective or may be missing all together. This can create an uneven wear pattern and cause pathologic conditions such as wave mouth or step mouth which prevents the horse from grinding its feed and utilizing it. Annual dental exams and possible treatment is just as important as good nutrition.

Some metabolic diseases that old horses can develop are PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) more commonly known as ‘Cushings’, and Metabolic Syndrome. It is unknown at this time if these two disorders are linked or connected with each other but both decrease the immune function of the horse and both increase the occurrence of laminitis. PPID can be successfully managed with Pergolide, a medication that was formerly used in humans with Parkinson’s disease, while Metabolic syndrome is managed with exercise, weight loss and carbohydrate restriction.


Older horses, just like older people tend to develop orthopedic disease such as arthritis. The cartilage wears out and arthritis develops in joints with the most use. Unfortunately this is an irreversible change but we can do a lot for the horse in terms of managing pain and maintaining the range of motion of the affected joints. Keeping extra weight off and having regular balanced farrier hoof care reduces strain on the bones and joints. Exercise increases range of motion which maintains flexibility and lubrication of the joint which decreases the pain from arthritis. And lastly, anti-inflammatory drugs are quite useful. While there is a lot of abuse of drugs out there, especially drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute), appropriate use can make and older horse much more comfortable and even workable again. Geriatric horses are fast becoming a more common part of our riding community. Those old sturdy steeds are invaluable when it comes to people who are beginners and don’t ride often and for those children who are just learning to care for horses and starting to ride. If we keep these old friends feeling good and staying healthy, they can serve us happily for many many more years.

-Dr. Stacey


Dirty Words for Hoof Practitioners – Thrush

There are several words for hoof conditions that Practitioners don’t like to tell horse owners that their horses have. Here is a review of some common terminology.

  • Thrush: Infection in the Frog
  • White Line Disease: Infection in the White Line (This is not a disease)
  • Seedy Toe: Split/Crack between the inner and outer wall
  • Abscess: Infection within the hoof capsule. There are two types of Hoof Abscess:
    Coronary Abscess ??? Exits out the Coronary Band??(Mild Discomfort)
    Subsolar Abscess ??? Exits out the sole of the hoof (Very Painful)
  • Laminitis: Swelling of the Laminae (Discomfort to Lameness)
  • Founder: Separation of the Laminae (Extremely Painful and Beyond Lameness)

Now that you have these definitions under your belt, lets look at what these mean to you and more importantly, your horse. Due to all the rain and muddy conditions, lets start with thrush.

horse frog no thrush

This frog has no thrush. There are no loose flaps for bacteria to grow.

Thrush is a bacterium that thrives in moist dark areas, therefore the frog is a perfect breading ground. It begins with just a tiny nick in your horses frog. Dirt / manure gets trapped in this little nick and begins to compost. If the horse is unable to stay out of muck and mire the infection soon spreads and deterioration of the frog begins.

Thrush can be as minor as slight discoloration of the frog with little to no smell or as serious as the frog literally being eaten away by the infection.

As the bacteria spreads, the frog becomes sensitive. In most cases the odor is noticed as soon as the hoof is picked up. When picking dirt out of the frog it may bleed. This is a serious case of thrush and needs to be treated immediately.

horse frog with thrush

This is a mild case of thrush. Notice how black and gooey the frog looks. When cleaning, the smell is quite pungent.
At this stage there is no discomfort when picking out the area.

Horses with extreme cases of thrush cannot bear weight on the infected caudal (back) hoof. In these circumstances the thrush has moved beyond the frog and into the Digital Cushion (DC). The DC is inside the hoof structure and once this happens, you have a long tough road to recovery, for now.  It isn’t only  the frog that needs to regenerate, but also the DC.




Suggestions to prevent thrush:

  • Be diligent and check your horses-feet on a regular basis.
  • Cut off ANY loose flaps that could trap dirt.
  • When you see even the smallest amounts of thrush treat it.
  • When cleaning my horses feet (whether they have signs of thrush or not), I spray their feet with Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar with approximately 20 drops of Tea Tree Oil in it. This helps kill any bacteria that may be lurking in the hard to reach places of the frog.

Suggestions to rid your horse of thrush:

  • Minimal to Mild Thrush-Spray bottle with Apple Cider Vinegar and Tea Tree Oil daily.
  • Mild to Serious- Check out your local Agro/livestock Store for available products and treat accordingly. We use White Lightening in a spray bottle for most cases.
  • Extreme – Product from Agro/Livestock Store or ask your vet. We again use White Lightening and soak the hoof every two days and use the Apple Cider Vinegar mix in between, keeping the hoof either booted or wrapped to keep dirt out.

In any degree of thrush if there is a crevasse in the frog, we soak a cotton make-up pad with Tea Tree Oil and pack the frog, changing the pad every 2-3 days. This serves a dual purpose of preventing dirt from entering and providing an anti-bacterial agent (Tee Tree Oil) that kills the thrush.

Your Hoof Practitioner should always inform you if your horse has thrush to any degree. Taking care of the issue before it escalates is always the best course of action. Your horse will thank you for it!

Sharon Leney

Happy Hoof Inc.


I work with many great folks and their horses. I’ve observed a commonality we are all prone to: frustration. This might be frustration with the horse, frustration with yourself or frustration with a particular exercise or event. Here’s a helpful thought, one that may just help you with more than just your horse:

Frustration is simply a product of your expectations.

Frustration isn’t something imposed upon you, it’s something you create for yourself. Put another way, frustration is a result of a path you chose to go down.

Unless you enjoy being frustrated, and who does? – then a way to eliminate frustration in horse training is to change your expectations. Don’t confuse this with lowering your expectations, because our goal is still to produce a clear, concise attempt that leads to a successful result. Instead, ensure that your expectation is realistic within the context, the moment and the situation.

tyroneAnother way of thinking of this is:

Always set up a situation for success.

It can be risky and even pointless to attempt an action without some confidence at succeeding. If there is a huge question mark over whether or not something will work, then step back and evaluate. Every exercise you do and every movement your horse makes has several prerequisite movements that must be executed at some degree of consistency before you can introduce something more complex. Eventually, when you do introduce the next maneuver, be aware that the proficiency with which it can be executed depends entirely on the proficiency you or your horse have attained at those prerequisite steps. Consider that next step as only a test of how well you built the foundation. This way, you don’t end up setting yourself up for failure…and frustration.

I recently helped a student that was having difficulty with a side-pass on a horse she’d recently purchased. We quickly determined that the horse was unable to move his hind because he was bracing from the feel of the rein and the learned expectation that he would get kicked or spurred.

The following unfortunate scenario seems to be common.
 Here’s how it goes:
  1. The trainer asks something of the horse.
  2. The trainer elevates the pressure of their request because the horse didn’t get it.
  3. The only possible response the horse has is to brace (not move) or flee (move but not yield). Elevating pressure is a negative reinforcement that will teach your horse to brace against you and dull your aids.
  4. The trainer realizes the horse isn’t responding and, out of frustration, elevates the pressure even more or resorts to pain as a motivator.

It’s much more rewarding and beneficial to your leadership to produce a fluid, connected yield. A more realistic method is simple:

  1. Recognize the mental state of the horse. What’s really going on in his mind? Is he braced because he is scared ? Is he trying, but confused because he doesn’t know if his tries are correct? Is he frustrated because the current request is beyond his (or your) current ability?
  2. Ensure both you and your horse are starting from a clear, calm state of mind. Achieve release.??
  3. Consider steps that will support your horse in the exercise; steps that will allow him to progress – with obvious success.
  4. Assist the horse in that progression.

Supporting the horse and showing him how to succeed is such a better way.



So what did we do? We started with the very basics of release, yield, space and energy – every step intended to show the horse a better way to succeed…and we eventually connected the rein to the hind.

Now here’s the kicker: my student was no longer frustrated. Why? Because we changed our expectations to those we had a great chance at succeeding at. When we started working with her horse, there was a tremendous amount of licking, chewing and even yawning as he let go of all his tension. Success! Now we were in a good spot to progress to the next step. We continued to work through progressions, praising the horse and really feeling we achieved something with each small step. Frustration eliminated for my student AND her horse.

It’s a different way to look at things. If you set up every situation for a reasonable chance of success you’re starting off on the right foot. Now, rather than focus on the ultimate success, focus on the try; on the attempt. This is how your horse is going to learn he’s on the right track. His tries might be small, but it’s important you recognize and reward them.

Trailer loading. Anyone experience frustration here?

Trailer loading. Anyone experience frustration here?

It has been my experience that when you start looking at things like that, you basically eliminate failure and frustration because they simply don’t exist in that context. It’s a powerful, motivational way of thinking. It doesn’t just apply to horses; it can apply to how you handle everything in your life.

Again, frustration is a product of expectations in a situation that you created. It’s not going so well? Then evaluate and create another situation that will. In a team comprised of you and your horse, you are the leader. Leadership comes with responsibility and accountability.

You are responsible for providing an environment where you and your horse succeed. You are ultimately accountable for his success. You can never blame or punish the horse for his response in a situation you created – to do so is forsaking your role as a leader.

Our clinics at Amazing Horse Country revolve around several key principles. One of them is consistently setting up successful situations for our horses.  In addition to having a great time with friends and horses, we view our 60+ obstacle course simply as a way to evaluate:

  1. Where our horses are at; and
  2. What we need to work on.

We focus on the positive. We focus on your success. We focus on FUN. Thus our horses learn the value in trying and we eliminate frustration.

Scott Phillips, March 2016

Compensation – What horses do when they hurt.

Anyone who’s ever injured themselves has likely experienced the effects of compensation. Sometimes these effects are even more uncomfortable than the initial injury, and if not dealt with can be very long lasting.

So what is compensation ?  As an equine sports therapist I would define it as any adaptation, in the form of soft tissue tension, the body makes for a disturbance to its normal state of equilibrium. This disturbance might be an injury, poor fitting tack, an internal imbalance or anIMG_8505 emotional state. All of these things can result in contraction of muscles which alter the body’s normal posture.  Think about what you do when you have an upset stomach. Most people hunch forward, tightening their abdominal muscles. Now imagine what would happen throughout your body if you stayed in that position for a week or two while going through your normal routine.? Likely you would be sore in many areas that have no direct connection to your stomach.

With my clients I have found that there may be common patterns of compensations through the body, but there is also a great variation between individuals that may have similar initial disturbances. It is my belief that the individuals compensatory pattern develops based on a number of factors.  These may include things like past injury, conformation, what has been done to support the body throughout the horses life, and personality.   For example, two horses could horses compensationhave similar injuries to their right front limb, one horse may lean on the left front more, and the other may refer weight to the hind end more due to a previous injury to the left front.  While both horses are adapting differently, they will both contract different sets of muscles than they normally would in order to support the posture they are using to cope.  As these muscles aren’t used to working so hard, they become fatigued and sore. This may result in differences in the horses movement and more layers of compensation in other areas, long after the initial disturbance has healed. Another example would be of two horses with similar injuries placed on stall rest, but one horse is very sensitive and excitable, while the other horse is very calm and quiet.  The calm horse might develop a pattern of compensation based on his postural changes while standing still. The sensitive horse might be moving non stop, even in the confinement of the stall, and so might build a pattern of compensation based on how he adapts his movement.

My own experience with compensation occurred after an injury to my foot. It wasn’t long before my opposite hip was sore, and eventually areas in my neck and shoulders, injured over ten years prior, became aggravated again. Symptoms similar to those I had experienced at the time of that injury reignited, which I had believed long since healed.  While the experience wasn’t fun, I found it very interesting to track the changes through my own body, thinking about the patterns that I have as a result of my life, and that an injury to my foot ultimately resulted in tension at the complete opposite end of my body.

One of the reasons the effects of compensation can be so wide reaching is due to a type of tissue in the body called fascia. Fascia is a three dimensional spider web that is saran wrapped around all of the body’s cells. Due to the fact that this is one continuous tissue, restriction in one area may spread anywhere else in the body.  A good visual of this is idea is to pinch an area of your shirt and twist.  Lines of tension radiate outwards from the site of the initial disturbance. If you had a patch in your shirt, this area is less flexible and more likely to be one of the areas the tension increases, which then pulls on strands radiating outwards from there as well.

So what can be done to help break this cycle?  Awareness of the compensation is the first step. Realistically, every horse has had some sort of injury or imbalance at some point in their life, so they will each have their own unique compensatory pattern, with varying degrees of severity and symptoms. Regularly checking the ranges of motion your horse has, or having a stretching protocol will help you identify when something has changed for your horse. Once we are aware, we need to look at what factors might be contributing. If there was an injury that is healed, then we can just begin working through the tension left behind. If there is an ongoing concern like stomach ulcers, an imbalanced rider, or poor fitting tack, these need to be dealt with. If these concerns are not addressed the tension will repeatedly show up, despite our best efforts to IMG_6494remove it. The horse may temporarily feel better, but in a very short period of time the tension will reappear.  After identifying and addressing the areas of greatest concern with some body work, the horses owner or rider can start doing specific stretches and exercises to further help the horse. What many people don’t realize is that the homework left by the body worker is often much more important in helping the horse than the body work itself! Stretching helps elongate the muscles, and exercises can target and help correct adaptive movements. Done on a consistent basis, these are powerful tools to assist your horse in returning to a more balanced state.

Compensation is great in that it allows us to continue functioning when we have suffered some sort of injury or imbalance. However, once we have dealt with that imbalance, addressing the compensation that resulted is vital to helping our horses return to their optimal comfort and performance level.



In the context of horse training, we often hear the word release when it’s associated with pressure. For example: you pressure the horse and when he responds, you release so he knows he got it right. That is a simplistic example which would require a much more detailed qualitative description in order to determine it’s acceptability within a horsemanship perspective: said pressure could be anything from a feather weight (a signal) on a rein to a whip in the butt (pain). Regardless, the pressure or signal you present to a horse is designed to elicit an expected response. When he responds the pressure stops; you then release the pressure.

There is another definition of release though, that when recognized has much more profound implications in your horse training regime.

This release is not one you provide the horse. Rather it is one that the horse experiences. One that is caused by you.

Pretend for a minute that you work in a small cubicle in a busy city office building. Your phone rings nonstop because you work in a complaints department. You want nothing more than a different job. At the end of the day, simply due to the stress, your neck and shoulders hurt. You have a headache. You are tense. Taking the bus home you’re frustrated at having to stop at every red light. Someone on the bus asks you a question but you’re so stressed you can’t even consider an answer.

This isn’t a far fetched scenario. I was recently listening to a radio program while driving to train some horses, and the topic was how commuting office-types have the highest incidences of stress-related illness.

horse panic

A stressful day at the office.

Keep pretending with me here. You get home. Upon opening the door your spouse is right there. He or she recognizes the state you’re in, takes you by the hand and sits you down on the couch. They then stand behind you and give you the best neck / shoulder massage you’ve ever had. Within seconds, you start to relax. The tension you’ve been holding in your muscles evaporates. The apprehension and negativity that’s been clouding your thoughts like a thunderstorm gives way to a bright sunny day. You could easily imagine yourself on a tropical beach with no cares in the world. When you get up, you’re able to think clearly; to focus. When you walk to the kitchen, your neck and shoulders don’t hurt; you move with freedom. To quote the phrase: it feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

You are experiencing a mental and physical release.

Some time ago I was working with a student. I was introducing the concept of release as it pertains to a horse; the initial steps of asking for and recognizing tiny releases in her mare. At one point she blurted, “But he’s not doing it!”

This comment spurred this article. Of course, when we ask a horse for something, we expect to see or feel something happen. For beginners, sometimes the thing we need to see or feel has to be somewhat exaggerated. And that’s OK. Our horsemanship senses become honed with experience, and that comes with time and practice. However, many times what the horse does is very minute. So honing this skill is going to require a bit of guesswork. Consider using this adage: If you think the horse did it, they probably did. If you got it wrong, no big deal. But what if their response was very minute and you missed it? Your horse would think their try was incorrect. Better to err in the other direction.

Go back to our scenario again. Say you’re the one giving the massage. How do you know if you’re being effective? Most likely you will sense the person becoming calm. There will be obvious physical signs: relaxing of muscles, closing of eyes perhaps… What if this scenario repeats itself a couple of times per week with your spouse? Soon, you’re going to know by feel – both physical and empathic – how he or she is responding to your touch. And it might take less, each time.

This is the same with horses. To hone our senses, we try to observe and feel the minuscule. To produce this not only requires a light touch, but it also requires that we are relaxed as well. It’s impossible to feel small things if you’re tense, for example, pulling on the lead rope.

horsemanship release

Belle – Ready to Ride

So back to our hypothetical situation. You know when your spouse has relaxed. An observer might not, simply because they’re looking for overt physical moves. In the horse world, this could be a lowering of the head; a common response when a horse relaxes. Consider two things:

  1. A lowering of the head does not necessarily mean the horse has relaxed. They can put their head down and be tense, angry or scared. It’s simply a movement.
  2. A horse relaxing may lower his head. He may not. Depending on what the situation is, his head might already be in a perfect vertical position.

Before we go any further I’ll clear one thing up – I’m not advocating sitting your horse down on the couch and giving him a massage. Although he’d love it, I’m certain your couch would not. Taking a horse to a state of release is a skill we can learn over time. As the trainer and horse gain experience and build their relationship, that time is lessened. Ultimately the horse releases on the feel of the rein or simply your energy and the space you create around him.

horse peaceful spaceTy is the herd leader. Years ago, I keyed into something he does and began teaching myself to emulate it. This was before I’d taken any ‘formal’ training on release.

Generally, the herd follows Ty and does what he does. Go for a drink. Eat, Sleep. Play. I’ve been given the gears for pictures of me stretched out in the grass, under the sun, with a sleeping horse.

But I find complete peace in that space: I can take 5 minutes and not think about work, training a horse, paying bills or the other items on my to-do list. I believe it’s truly health for us to spend some time like that each day. I can step into the pasture with a lot on my mind, and leave with a smile on my face.

A long time ago I realized what draws me is the energetic space that horses create around themselves when they relax. I observe this from a scientific point of view as well: when Ty relaxes, the other members of the herd migrate closer to him and relax. I have witnessed, countless times, Ty standing…with every other horse sleeping in the grass around him.

The question I had was, “Can people create this for a horse?”

Part of this I view as common sense. If my goal is to be a leader for a horse, then my goal is to have them follow me not only in motion, but in thought and energy. This isn’t any different than a good boss in an office of cubicles. We have work to do, but when the boss comes in with a smile and radiates positive energy, it changes the whole feel in the office.

I’ve seen a couple tests of my theory. I’ve taken Ty out of the herd several times for therapeutic massage. Obviously this feels good to him and he releases. What happens next? Slowly other horses drift closer to him. They’ll stand a few feet away, with their heads lowered, eyes half closed…just taking it in.

The answer to the question, then, is “yes.” From the perspective of a horse, it’s simply a basic leadership quality. And just like Ty, in order to cause a horse to be at peace, you first have to create it in yourself.

What I was starting in on with my student was asking the horse to release at the poll. Lets quickly differentiate between the horse moving and the horse releasing. A movement is simply that; a release is both:

  1. The ‘turning off’ of certain muscles: those that are used to brace against or in expectation of something negative;
  2. The release of mental tension.

Just the same as your response to the massage would be both physical and mental.

My answer to the student was, “You’re not looking for him to make a big movement. Think of his release as a place he’s going to versus a thing he does.” I believe a release is the absence of tension, both mental and physical. It’s not a thing they do, it’s a state they’re in. So how do you know it’s happening?

Like I mentioned, this is a skill that you hone. There are some very minute signs that are obvious to me: relaxation of facial muscles, particularly those around the eye and jaw. Movement and positioning of they eye and ear. Sometimes a lowering of the head but certainly a relaxation of certain??muscles. More than all of that, though, it’s something I feel, empathically and energetically, from the horse. Often when I feel them release, particularly when working with a horse new to experiencing this with people, it’s simultaneous with a sigh or licking and chewing.

And what’s left? From a mental perspective: Clarity. Peace. From the physical: the ability to move freely without inhibition from tense muscles. The entire objective is to set the stage for them to learn and move with freedom.

horsemanship release wildie

Judy and her wildie mare, Shakti. Notice how relaxed the horse is and how fluid she is moving.

Why is this important? I believe it’s more than important, it’s absolutely fundamental. A horse is not an animal that can multi-task high level thought processes. Humans can, with training. For example, a soldier is trained to think while in battle instead of panic and run. That requires a clarity of thought. It requires the ability to sort through multiple inputs and make sound decisions. In my previous career as an airline pilot, our training involved the worst scenarios; training to think under pressure. That thinking must originate from a place of mental clarity. ‘Freaking out’ does not result in proper actions or decisions.

In most cases and assuredly in training – taking a horse to a place of release is the prerequisite to asking them to try anything. It’s in that place that what you ask actually means something to them because they’re mentally prepared to accept and learn, and physically able to move freely.

I often use the following analogy: consider standing on the deck of a ship in a raging ocean. You toss a pebble into that rough sea. What difference will it make? None. Now consider a totally calm lake. So calm you can see the reflection of the clouds above you with perfect clarity. Toss a pebble into the lake. You’ll see the ripples for a long distance and for a long time.

Your horse’s mind is the water. Is it a raging ocean or a calm lake? If it’s storming between his ears: he’s scared, tense, apprehensive, offensive, focused on some important herd thing or what not, then he’s not in a mental state to learn or perform. Your responsibility is to recognize this, particularly if you’re the one that created it. Your next action is to get him to release…to relax and let go.

Your ability to consistently achieve this will prove to him that you are a capable herd leader. He’ll learn that when with you, you’ll take care of his issues. The products of this are enormous: trust, try and connection on the deepest level.

amazing horse country - horsemanship

Helping Jet to release.

You might be thinking, “Well, this doesn’t apply to me because I participate in [insert high-energy equine sport here].” On the contrary it’s fairly important. Consider an Olympic sprinter. High energy? You bet! But are they panicking and flailing around in the starting block? Are they so tense they can hardly move? Not likely. They’ll be focusing with a clear mental picture. Their muscles will be ready to move, but not locked up. They are physically and mentally prepared to achieve the utmost of their athletic ability. The great thing is, it can be the same with your horse. He’s the athlete, you’re the coach. Set him up to win.

What happened with my client and her horse? Her gelding, tension no longer a factor, was much more attentive and in tune with her owner’s space and energy. He moved with fluidity. At the end of the session my student said, “Look at how proud he is!” I had to agree.

And like most things horse, it’s both a matter of common sense and choice. Common sense tells us that if we ignore our horse’s concerns, the horse might end up physically doing what we want, but we’ve missed the deepest and most enduring part of our training. Common sense also says that if we take the time to consider our horse’s mental state and work with that to produce athletic ability, we’re going to end up with a fine horse. And the choice is up to you.

If you’re interested in advancing your horsemanship, learning about equine bio-mechanics or having fun on our huge obstacle course, check out our calendar of events.

Goodbye to a Horse

In a discussion I once had regarding losing horses I was told, “Sometimes I wonder how we continue to bear loving horses. It seems they have so many ways to break our hearts.”  True enough, but the opposite side of the coin is that they have the ability to fill our hearts with passion, excitement and appreciation for life. Personally, the reward I get out of working with, riding and owning horses surpasses anything else I have ever done.

A good friend of mine called me today after returning from a vacation. She informed me that shortly after her return a few days ago, she lost a good friend: her main riding horse. Her horse had developed an intestinal tumor resulting in a colic. She was rushed to the vet for emergency surgery; unfortunately the surgeon wasn’t able to correct the problem, and the horse was lost.

My friend and I are similar in many aspects when it comes to our philosophy on horses and horsemanship. We develop intimate mental bonds with them. We have the ultimate respect for them as intelligent animals. They are a part of our daily lives and even more than that, they define our lives and who we are.  Our horses provide us with knowledge, incentive, motivation and happiness. They are responsible for our laughter, fun, adventure and so many incredible experiences.

In 2010 I wrote an article called A Life With a Horse. As the title implies, the article is about how horses become part of our lives. In that article I mentioned that the average lifespan of a horse is 28 +/-5 years.  However I know many people who have ridden and are still riding healthy horses in their 30s. Considering that the average lifespan of a human in Canada is slightly over 80 years, the odds dictate that we are going to outlive our equine friends. What really strikes me about these numbers is this:

It is entirely possible to be partners with the same horse for more than 50% of your adult life.



That really is something to think about, isn’t it ? If you’re like most people, you have moved a few times and accept that friends come and go. We lose touch with family that we don’t have daily contact with.? It’s true that a relationship based on daily, personal, one-on-one interaction is stronger than any other. Therefore our relationship with a horse is unique, because the only other relationship that that we can describe in those terms is that with a spouse or child.  And children eventually leave the nest, at least we hope!

And so, while our relationship with a horse may not be as strong as that with a spouse, it certainly has the potential to rank right behind it. Regardless, the horse has the potential to have one of the strongest relationships you share with any other living being.

Unfortunately, due to their shorter lifespan, at some point we will have to say goodbye to an equine friend. That is not easy to do. We have all lost friends and family members…we know what that feels like.

A few years ago, I spent a week riding in the mountains up the Elbow River. On the return ride my mare cut her front leg.  It wasn’t a mortal wound by any stretch, but I did clean it up when we got back to the trailer. While I was doctoring her, a fellow rider walked by and said, “if you love her, she will die.” At the time I thought it was a fairly shallow and insensitive remark. Considering it now, however, it contains a lot of meaning. It could easily be reworded to say, “You have become attached to that horse. If you lose her, it’s going to hurt.”

I am however, addicted to becoming attached to horses. I don’t think I’m alone in this. As a trainer, its part of my philosophy; I strive to attain that intense mental connection when working with a horse. It is in the ability to bring a troubled mind to a state of peace and then go forth with try to produce something tangible, that the horse and I find success; there are many euphoric moments. Horses have an innocence; a method of communication which is incredibly moving and passionate when you open yourself up to it. They have a pure spirit and life that we humans can and should envy…and thankfully can share.

Think about it: a horse is a greater-than-thousand-pound animal that permits us  a born predator – to sit on his back and share his space. Hopefully we are in that space because we have earned it: he trusts us to be there as a true leader. And in being there, that animal gives us speed. He gives us strength. He gives us a passion and an experience unlike any other. On the back of our horses, we fly. We experience courage, trust and partnership. With that and through our mutual learning and our shared experiences we have the potential to develop an intense empathetic connection.One that is special, intimate and unlike the bond we share with other animals and even people.

Thus the horse becomes part of us; we a part of the horse. And in losing a horse, we feel that a part of us is lost too. It’s inevitable. It’s tough. But it happens. The converse, but positive part, is to look at what we gained. What we have learned from our horses, the fun and enjoyment that they provided…how we have grown and changed simply by experiencing the horse. It’s an empathetic and spiritual sharing that, while shaping them as horses, also shapes us as human beings. Thus our horses live on in us through what they individually have enabled us to become.

Nothing can ever take that away; they are a part of us.


RheaYes, horses can break our hearts.

Is it worth it?

Without a doubt.

Because if we, as horse-people, don’t go down that road of exploring a true connection with a horse, we have missed out on one of the most incredible experiences that life has to offer a human being.

Goodbye Rhea.

You will be missed.

Scott Phillips

August 2015

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Pelvic Anatomy 101

The sacro-iliac joints, or “SI’s” for short, are a commonly discussed area of the horse. But where exactly are they, what do they look like, and why are they so important??? Read on to find out more!

Joints are always formed between two bones, in this case, the sacrum and the ili008um, which is a term used for part of the pelvis, hence “sacro-iliac” joint.  The sacrum is a part of the spine, and sits just behind the lumbar or low back vertebrae.  It’s normally made up of five fused vertebrae, but variations may occur in up to 30% of horses according to studies done at MSU. If you look closely you will notice a variation in the one pictured here.

The pelvis is made up of three different areas, one being the ilium, which is the large flat area that forms the joint with the sacrum. On the picture below it is the broad flat part between the tuber sacral and the tuber coxae.


To help you orientate yourself, the horses tail would be hanging down on the right side of this picture. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that the point of the hip is not actually the true hip joint, the femur fits into the round shaped hip socket further to the right of the picture.

So, as mentioned previously, a joint is formed between two bones…now we need to stick them together!



This is a top view of the pelvic and low back area. Here the lumbar or low back vertebrae have been added. Normally a horse has six lumbar vertebrae, but you will notice that this horse only has 5…perhaps we’ve discovered where the extra sacral vertebra came from!

So now that we have an idea of how the sacro-iliac joints are put together, lets talk a little bit about a few interesting points on the area in the live horse. First of all, this is the connecting point between the hind limb, which as we all know provides the horses impulsion, and the spine. This means that all of our impulsive forces are going to be transferred forward through this area. Secondly, the rest of the spine is attached to the sacrum.  This means that the spine is literally “hanging” off the bottom of the pelvis…yes, the same spine that we as riders sit on. Of course there is a lot of soft tissue that helps to connect and support this area outside of the sacro-iliac joint, however this is the only place that connects the spine to the limbs (there is no bony attachment of the front limb to the spine or trunk of the body). The last point to consider is that the with the hind limb attached to the pelvis, there is a constant upward force on the pelvis from the horses weight.  These things not only make these joints very important, but can also mean they are vulnerable to injury.


The green arrows indicated the weight of the spine, connected tissues and the rider’s weight pushing downwards on the SI joint. The blue arrow indicated the force travelling up the horses limb from its own weight. These opposing forces push the SI joint apart, not together.

Lastly to help you place all of this into a live horse, see the picture below.




Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

I’m pretty sure that each of us taking part in the Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS has either taken a ride in the STARS helicopter or know someone who has. We all feel the ripple effects when someone is transported via the Air Rescue System, whether through being directly involved in the accident or seeing the red helicopter fly through the sky.

One of our riders, Deb Dombowsky, experienced the ride first-hand last summer when riding in the mountains west of Calgary.  She shares her story…

“It was a beautiful morning in the mountains in my favourite camping spot, Little Elbow Equestrian campsite. The sun was just breaking over the mountains with the promise of a warm day. I saddled up my young horse, Secret, for what I thought was going to be a quiet, short ride down to the river.

We set out just behind the campsite and I was pondering where I would take my brother when he got up there later in the morning. It was maybe a half hour into the ride when we came around a bend in the trail and were met with a black bear.

ABC Race for STARS

ABC Race for STARS

My horse stopped hard and the bear took off into the bush with my dog in pursuit. It happened so fast, when my horse jammed on the brakes I clinched my legs and unfortunately stuck her pretty hard with my spurs.  And then we were off to the races so to speak!

Next thing I know I’m out of the saddle, onto her neck, and then sailing through the air and right into a tree. I lay there on the side of the trail trying to breathe.  When I hit the tree I collapsed my lung and broke 10 ribs (5-11 were flail), broke my collar bone, and fractured my scapula in three places.

At some point I knew I needed to get out to the road if I was to get any help, so off I crawled.  I was very lucky to have a young man come along and he went to the camp attendants to get help.  Jim and his wife were with me right up until I was transported by STARS.  They kept my dog and horse safe until they could be brought back home. I am forever grateful for their help.

I heard the helicopter landing right there on the road and I thought, ‘how many times have I heard and seen STARS in the sky and never dreamed I would be in it one day.’ The crew was so fast and efficient, I truly believed them when they said, ‘you are going to be okay.’  As we made our way to Foothills hospital the voice that came through my headset kept reassuring me and walked me through all they were doing for me.

As I write this I need to include that it was barely a year ago that I watched STARS take my grandson, Tyson Hirbnak. We were camping in the backcountry in Dutch Creek and had a propane explosion which badly injured my grandson and my husband.  You can read about Ty’s story in the January 2014 STARS calendar. You can watch a STARS video featuring Ty here: http://articles.amazinghorsecountry.com/uploads/video/dombowsky1.mov

STARS has made a huge imprint in the lives of our family. Now when I hear and see STARS in the sky I have a flood of emotions, but mostly a deep gratitude in my heart for them and all they do.

Thank you STARS.

Deb resides in Calgary Alberta.