Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Equine business rises on changes, trends

Things looked grim for a while. After hitting a peak of about 25 million horses in the U.S. in the 1950s, the equine population went into a steep decline, hitting the bottom in the 1970s at an estimated 2.5 million.

"That's only one-tenth of the peak population of horses," said Robert Miller, leading equine veterinarian and father of the imprint method of training.

Historic changes affecting horse business.

Speaking at the recent Equestrian Lifestyle Expo, Miller explained that by the 1950s the full effect of mechanized agriculture, transportation and industry had made horses obsolete.

But several curious things have since happened.

The number of horses has slowly made a comeback.

"Today there's an estimated 9 million horses in the country," he said. "It's different now. Most of the horses in the country are used for recreation. Very few horses are used for work."

Adding to the comeback in equine interest are education, mass communication and women.

"For the first time in human history, women dominate the horse industry," Miller said. "Why is that important? Because most women have strong nurturing feelings and are inclined to adopt new methods of learning and training."

Education and mass communications play into the rise of the horse business too. The majority of horse owners today are educated, Miller said, something that wasn't true historically when everyone had to have a horse to get around, work the farm and haul cargo.

Methods of mass communications have made it possible to share new techniques quickly among an educated group of horse owners.

The concept of "natural horsemanship" has also come into play.

Miller said he has spent his entire career in the equine business, and he believes more horses than ever are being humanely trained.

"There have always been people in the population who understood a horse's mind," Miller said, "but the common methods of training were very harsh. We'd call people in the ranch business ‘bronc busters' with all the implied violence that term has. Training horses that way wasn't because people were necessarily cruel, but we just didn't know any better."

Miller said new, more humane methods of training horses began to spread based on the rise of a more educated audience inclined to learning, the ability to distribute new methods of training widely through new media and the surge of women taking over the equine business.

"Of all the species of animals, there are only a dozen or so humans have domesticated," Miller said. "Of the domesticated animals, the horse is one of the only animals with a flight instinct as its primary defense mechanism. Its inclination is to run away."

Yet, of all the animals, a human can take a completely wild horse and in a few hours be on the animal's back. But to safely and successfully train a horse requires the rider to understand how the horse thinks, he said.

The arrival and growing acceptance of natural horsemanship based on the understanding of what makes a horse tick instead of brute force has significantly improved the safety and enjoyment of the horse, he said.

"I quit my veterinary practice in 1987 to spend all of my time working with and talking about natural horsemanship," he said. "And I'm still going strong."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Equine liability laws go only so far

Yvonne Ocrant

Forty-six states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, have equine liability statutes. The laws are intended to shift many of the responsibilities of taking part in equine activities away from stable owners and back to the participants.

States value the social and economic benefits of equine pursuits, so laws are on the books to protect and enhance horses businesses, said Yvonne Ocrant, attorney with Chicago law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson.

But states' love for horse businesses goes only so far.

"What the state gives, the state can take away," Ocrant said during a seminar at the recent Equestrian Lifestyle Expo in Grayslake, Ill. "While the equine liability law shifts risk to participants, there are exceptions. It's not a zero-liability law."

A hallmark feature of the law is its signage requirement. Signs must be posted where they are clearly visible and where equine activities are taking place. The language, explaining that participants ride at their own risk, must be the exact words of the law and posted with one-inch black letters, she said.

"There's really not much ambiguity about the signage posting requirement," Ocrant said. "Saying ‘the horse ate the sign' isn't going to cut it."

Everything in the law also is subject to interpretation. If there's trouble, defining an equine activity can become an issue. Who is doing what and where can become suddenly important.

"Is mom standing by the door watching her daughter take a lesson a ‘participant' in an equine activity?" Ocrant said. "The law generally doesn't apply to spectators or bystanders."

Owners and managers of equine stables and businesses are encouraged to have contracts with all participants, clients, spectators and anyone else using their property for any reason. A properly drafted and executed written liability release can reduce liability exposure.

There are five major exceptions to liability protection for stable owners: Faulty tack or equipment, mismatched horse and rider, dangerous or latent conditions, willful or wanton disregard, and intentional acts.

"You're required to keep your tack and equipment in good working order," Ocrant said. "It's a good idea to have a schedule of equipment maintenance. Keep a record of when the tack is cleaned and examined and replaced."

Equine professionals have to properly match horse and rider. A poor or inexperienced rider paired with a horse known to have a bad attitude is a liability wreck waiting to happen.

"And if someone falls off a horse and gets hurt you're probably going to learn about this exception," Ocrant said.

Dangerous or latent condition exceptions are difficult to define. Snow piles up on the arena roof; it warms up during the day and then during youth lessons slides off with a loud crash. What happens next can introduce you to the nuances of the dangerous and latent condition clause, she said.

"And willful and wanton disregard?" Ocrant said. "Act reasonably."

Contracts and proper insurance are the best way to extend risk management for the operator of an equine business. A legal contract should contain the exact wording of the equine liability law in every case. Additional details are then spelled out based on the nature of the business covered by the contract.

"Insurance is important to be sure even if you win your case you don't lose the farm," Ocrant said. "You're still going to have to pay legal costs and attorneys' fees to defend yourself."

Seek some professional legal help when selecting insurance and writing contracts, she advised. Often the best defense is preparation and awareness of potential risks and using the resources available to minimize risk exposure.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Staying sane in the horse boarding business

Not only do you have to know about horses, you better have the people skills and self preservation instincts to successfully manage a boarding facility. If you can keep the boarders from driving you nuts, you stand a pretty good chance of making it in the business.

Sports psychologist, Ann S. Reilly, said there are two tricks to staying sane in the horse boarding and lesson business: do your best to screen potentially troublesome boarders at the start and then learn to build a protective "bubble" around your own self interests.

"Develop a professional relationship," she said. "Start out with a screening interview when you’re considering new clients. Make sure you understand their expectations and that you carefully explain your own stable policies."

It’s perfectly acceptable to ask prospective clients about their reasons for considering your stable and it’s also good to follow up with references and other professional contacts. "Barn hoppers," people who frequently change stables, are often an immediate concern and you do have the right to decline service.

"You can just tell people right at the start that you don’t think they are a good fit for your barn," Reilly said. "And keep in mind the kind of operation you want. If you have a specialty, then you need to keep that in mind when screening potential new clients."

In tough economic times it’s tempting to accept any new client that shows up. But Reilly cautions that having a negative experience in the barn can cost you far more than keeping a stall empty for a period. "Have some faith that a good boarder will come along. One bad boarder can drive other good customers away," she said.

Go over your written contract policies in person. Make sure all financial policies are explained and understood. Point out your policies on behavior and expectations for conduct while people are using your stable. If you have business hours and are closed one day a week, make it clear to the new boarder there only are exceptions in case of emergencies.

"How important is horsemanship and courtesy to your operation? Spell it out as much as possible right down to use of such things as cross ties," Reilly said.

The relationship with a new boarder then tends to go through phases: the honeymoon when everything is wonderful, a middle phase where the relationship is working day to day, and finally an end phase when a boarder begins to think about leaving.

"The ending phase, if frustration has set in, is sometimes like a divorce," Reilly said. "From a psychological standpoint, you need to manage the ending phase so it goes as smoothly as possible."

While it’s probably not practical to think you can treat each boarder the same, you should have a standard of treating each customer with the same level of fairness. Fairness includes not talking about your clients with other boarders and maintaining standards for boarders and people using your barn to do the same.

"Avoid ‘triangle’ situations. Go talk to someone else about your frustrations and don’t confide in one of your boarders," Reilly cautioned.

 "If you have a situation with a boarder, have a private, professional conversation with the person. Listen actively if you have a boarder come to you with a compliant but keep these issues to yourself," Reilly advised.

Troublemakers in a barn generally fall into several personality categories as described by Riley: The border line personality, the narcissist, the obsessive compulsive, the dependent type, and the negative personality. "Try to limit the number of each in your barn as much as you can,""she said.

A border line client has a crisis all the time and everything is a crisis. The narcissist cares only about themselves and has limited regard for the feelings of others. An obsessive compulsive worries about everything and seeks perfection that’s always out of grasp. The dependent will follow you around always seeking assurance. A negative personality is just plain negative about everything.

"Once you recognize one of these you need to build a personal ‘bubble’ around yourself. Remember, you need to take care of yourself. Take a day a week off and stick to it. Some people can just suck the energy right out of you," Reilly said.

Dealing with each personality type takes some coping mechanisms. The main piece of advice is to not get caught up in the personal issues of each client. If a behavior becomes an issue for the rest of your clients, then Reilly suggested having that personal chat with the person in question and reminding them of your policies and rules.

"A verbal battle usually isn’t productive," Reilly said. "It’s perfectly acceptable to point out that if the person isn’t happy in your barn perhaps it’s not a good fit."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Emerging equine market female, older, affluent

In a numbers and reality presentation, Lisa Kemp and Martha Thompson-Hoyt laid out the dynamics of the fastest growing opportunity for stable owners and coaches. Services and activities geared toward women ages 45 and up are rapidly becoming an important part of managing a successful horse business

Lisa Kemp, Kemp Equine, a Chicago area equine marketing consultant, laid out the numbers during a seminar at the recent Equestrian Lifestyle Expo. In a survey conducted on behalf of the horse industry in 2009, it was discovered that 89 percent of all horse owners are female. Out of the 89 percent, 60 percent of the female horse owners are more than 45 years old, Kemp shared.

"And additional surveys have indicated that these women own an average of five horses and that they actually intend to increase spending on this activity," Kemp said. People tend to overlook the economic impact of the equine business generally, she added. The recent World Equestrian Games in Kentucky generated an estimated $200 million in spending. "And what percent of that total do you suppose came from women?" Kemp asked.

Changing social demographics are behind the growth in female-centric equine marketing. The woman entering her mid-40s can share a series of common characteristics: Has or has had an independent career; has adult children, frequently college educated, has had multiple marriages; has a busy social life and seeks more social outlets; and has a lifetime of various experiences, Kemp listed.

"Many may also have some ongoing physical issues such as weight or knee or hip replacements," Kemp mentioned. "It’s very different market than your youth programming."

Martha Thompson-Hoyt, Palos Hills Riding Stable, Palos Hills, Ill., a second generation stable owner, laid out the reality for stable owners and managers from her experiences.

"The riding business is always up and down so I’m constantly reinventing myself and the business," Thompson-Hoyt said. "The economic crash hit us like everyone but it looks like mid-life women have recouped from the recession and are looking for new outlets."

"As people get older and their children grow their social networks often begin to shrink," she said. "So you have fewer people who you can commiserate with. They’re looking for new activities that they may not have had time for in the past"

Many women already are connected to animals as cat and dog owners and are disposed toward animal activities and will enjoy the company of horses. While some may like a competitive outing such as horse showing, others only want to saddle up and go for a ride and others will only want occasional riding lessons.

"But you have to be smart with what you offer in services to this group," Thompson-Hoyt said. "Look at what you have and what you think you can do. We segregate riding lessons. Middle aged women probably don’t want to take lessons with your youth group."

Keep in mind the potential health issues such as injuries, knees, hips, arthritis, and weight because those issues do affect the riding experience. Taller mounting blocks are essential and you should have someone around all the time to offer a helping hand if needed, she said.

"Even a returning rider will find muscles they hadn’t thought about for 25 or 30 years," Thompson-Hoyt said. "And most importantly it has to be fun. You want them to leave the barn feeling good not beaten so you better treat them like gold if you want to keep them coming back."

Provide your middle aged rider with an appropriate horse. They do not want animals that may buck or bolt. There often are issues of balance and stability with older riders that mean providing solid, gentle animals for the lessons or riding.

"The horses you use for a lesson, or the horses you offer for purchase, should be bomb proof so you need to keep that in mind," she said. "And work your older riders up slowly so they can gain experience and build their endurance."

Finally, not all older women are going to ride. Some may want to spend time at the barn grooming animals or even cleaning pens but not have the physical ability to ride. In those cases, Thompson-Hoyt suggests introducing these women to driving. "It’s easier to get someone into a cart or buggy than into a saddle," she added.

How do you tap into the middle aged market? Kemp suggests investigating professional organizations for women, local social groups and even youth organizations where women may congregate. Make sure you have a web site and consider social media avenues such as FaceBook and Twitter as means to generate interest and build relationships.

Thompson-Hoyt said they often host events at the stable and then pay attention to the new people who may show up. The stable also has women-centric events such as all women trail rides followed by wine and cheese tasting, for example.

"Once you have people through the door, you need to make the experience as positive as possible so they keep coming through the door," Thompson-Hoyt said.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Equestrian lifestyle expo focuses on education

60,000 square feet of holiday equine shopping!
With more than 50 hours worth of educational programming lined up, it's Dr. Robert Miller that has the organizers of the Chicagoland Equestrian Lifestyle Expo and Holiday Market most excited.

"Dr. Miller is 83 years old and an icon in the horse and veterinary world," said Joy Meierhans, expo manager. "We're just blown away that he'd come. At 83 he's as sharp and quick and funny as ever."

Miller retired after 30 years in practice to devote his full time to teaching horse behavior and providing scientific reasons why natural horsemanship techniques work in a non-technical, refreshingly easy-to-understand way. He is known as the father of "imprint training," the revolutionary system of training newborn foals now used all over the world. At the expo, Miller will guide attendees through understanding the horse's mind and explain how to use that knowledge to solve horse problems.

"He even draws cartoons and has written several books," Meierhans said. "He'll be speaking, and Saturday evening he'll do a book signing before we have to take him to the airport so he can get to another event in San Antonio."

Several other notable equine experts share the spotlight with Miller at the event, hosted by the Illinois Horse Council Nov. 19-20 at the Lake County Expo Center halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee in Grayslake, Ill. The lineup includes equine communicator Charles Wilhelm, three-time Olympic coach Jane Savoie and internationally known sports psychologist Ann S. Reilly.

"All together we have 32 presenters in two days offering about 56 total hours of educational opportunities," Meierhans said. "The main mission of the Illinois Horse Council is education."

Charles Wilhelm is known for his skills in communicating and motivating people and his natural abilities with horses. His relaxed, warm and amusing character has made him a great favorite at clinics and expositions where attendees take home solid, practical knowledge, enabling them to be successful with their own horses - seeing results right away.

Jane Savoie is an international competitor, author and highly entertaining speaker. As a member of the United States Equestrian Team since 1991, she has represented the U.S. in competitions in Germany, Holland, France, Belgium and Canada. She returns to the expo with new presentation topics after being rated 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 by packed audiences enthused with her presentations last year. Although a dressage coach and competitor, Savoie's approach crosses all breed and discipline lines.

Reilly has led the equestrian world in sport psychology training for more than 25 years. Through her applied work with riders, as well as athletes from all sports, she has developed the skills to assist riders in overcoming obstacles that have held them back from attaining peak performance in competition. In addition to her expo presentations on winning the competition mind game and overcoming fears, Reilly will be available for private consultations.

In addition to headliners, the expo features leading trainers, nutritionists, animal scientists, legal consultants, saddle fitting experts, veterinary specialists and researchers in the forefront of equine understanding such as the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and Southern Illinois University's four-year equine science program. The event also features roundtables with intimate access to the speakers (think speed dating with your choice of experts).

Sunday's ProTrack seminar series for stable and farm managers will cover legal, environmental and marketing subjects in addition to sessions on worker's compensation and understanding client personality types and how to work effectively with each type.

Holiday Horse Parade returns after one-year weather delay

The parade was over and costume awards were being handed out when Oregon Horse Association President Barb Waters alerted the winners, "The trophies all say 2010 and not 2011. We couldn't have a parade last year so we saved them."

With a 56-degree high, a breeze and partly sunny skies, weather conditions this season were favorable for the long-running Holiday Horse Parade in downtown Oregon. Snow, slush, wind and ice canceled the 2010 parade.

Each year the Oregon Horse Association and the Oregon Chamber of Commerce sponsor and coordinate the community event, which begins and ends at the high school and works its way through downtown on Main Street.

Oregon is the self-proclaimed "Horse Capital of Wisconsin" and the annual parade is a tribute to the area's healthy equine business.

The Oregon Horse Association is led by Waters, Vice President Kari Smith, Secretary Carrie Waters-Schmidt and Treasurer Meg White. Its mission is simple: "A nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting horses, horsemanship, leadership, good sportsmanship and wholesome fun with horses."

Association activities include monthly meetings, an educational clinic in support of local 4-H, an annual Memorial Day open horse show, the Oregon Summer Fest parade in June, a spring and fall trail ride, a summer pizza party, Adopt-a-Highway highway litter clean-up, a holiday fun get-together and a winter potluck party in January to start it all over again, Waters said on the group's website.

This year, riders from the Country View Veterinary Clinic earned the prize for best group costume with a native American/pilgrim/Thanksgiving theme, complete with a costumed turkey.

"That's two years in a row for Country View," Waters said. "They're going to be hard to beat in the future."

Best Holiday Costume went to Ashlyn Madrigal, Best Costume went to Judy Jones and Most Creative Costume was awarded to Rachel Buszka, all from the southern Wisconsin area.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mare milking simplified

Buck Wheeler demonstrates UdderlyEZ
If you go to the expense and risk of breeding and foaling a mare, skimping on solid management practices could set you back. A universally accepted rule of having a healthy foal is making sure it gets its mother's first milk, or colostrum.

"Every foal should have colostrum milk as soon after birth as possible," said Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison extension equine specialist. "Foals should nurse within at least 24 hours of birth to help them get their immune systems going."

Colostrum is the first milk produced by a mare and is loaded with important antibodies and nutrients that jump start the entire system and help the baby fend off disease.

Sandberg said most of the time, a foal is born, gets up and successfully finds its way to the mare's udder as has happened for millions of years, but once in a while there's a delay or problem.

To maximize your chances of having a healthy foal, R.C. "Buck" Wheeler, founder of Wheeler Enterprises, a family-owned animal products business based in Ellendale, Minn., suggested getting colostrum into the newborn directly after clearing breathing passages, applying iodine to the naval and letting the mare have a chance to get up and lick her foal to start the bonding process.

Getting fresh colostrum into the foal before it stands up means you have to milk the mare.

At large breeding stables, harvesting colostrum from the mare is routine practice, Wheeler said. However, there are a series of challenges with milking a mare and then getting the colostrum into the foal.

Milking a mare by hand, getting the milk into a container and then feeding it to the foal each present unique problems.

"At first we used a modified large 60cc syringe," Wheeler said. "Cut the needle end off, invert the plunger so the flanged end went over the teat, then slowly draw and hope not to spill," he said.

Even if you got the syringe filled you had to pull a nipple of some sort over the end or get it into a bottle and then try to get the foal to nurse.

"I kept thinking about this," he said. "I lost some sleep trying to figure something out."

The result of his sleepless nights was an invention Wheeler named the "Udderly EZ Milker." The milker is fully patented and has been on the market six years.

"I sat down with some engineers at a plastics molding firm in Albert Lea, Minn., and we worked out a prototype on the extractor tubes for the milker" Wheeler said. "The first one they made worked."

Wheeler demonstrated the mare milker during the recent World Clydesdale Show in Madison. Slip the hand-held pump over a teat, pump for some gentle vacuum and an attached eight-ounce bottle is quickly filled with mare's milk.

"I want to give a foal 8 ounces of fresh colostrum right away," Wheeler said. "They get the antibodies right away, and I think that warm milk helps to warm their bodies. The sooner you give them the colostrum and the sooner they get the antibodies the quicker they can develop immunities."

If you plan to milk the mare, Sandberg suggested washing the udder and teats with a milk soap and warm water. Wash and dry the udder to avoid contaminating the milk.

If using the Udderly EZ Milker apply a small amount of bag balm to the teat first. This helps set the seal for the vacuum pump.

"You can also bank colostrum," Sandberg said. "It can be frozen and used later if you have an orphan or if a foal won't nurse for some reason. You can keep it in a freezer two or three years."

The Udderly EZ Milker has a freezer-safe bottle attached. Each unit sells for about $165 and includes the pump, two extraction cylinders, 1-pint colostrum/milk collection bottle with cap, two 8-ounce colostrum/milk collection bottles with caps, bottle nipple, udder wipes, manual and a free instructional DVD.

There also are simple tests available to check the quality of the colostrum by measuring density. The more dense the colostrum, the higher the colostrum quality.

"After a while you can tell a lot by just looking at it," Wheeler said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dairy farmers take hobby to World Clydesdale Show

Dustin and Brian Brooks
Grandpa liked the horses. So does Dad. No wonder then that Dustin and Brian Brooks have continued the tradition of breeding Clydesdale horses from their dairy farm near Sparta. Four years ago the brothers began to prepare for the World Clydesdale Show recently held in Madison.

The preparation paid off in the World Show competition. With Dustin handling the reins, Brookside Farm Clydesdale gathered an impressive display of ribbons including more than one first-place class finish. Considering the level of competition at the World Clydesdale Show, the Brooks brothers were enjoying the satisfaction that comes with being a serious hobby operation in an arena full of professionals.

"There's a real sense of accomplishment competing with some of these other farms," Brian said of the World Clydesdale Show. "And there's the tradition with Clydesdales."

The tradition began with their grandfather, who purchased a pair of Clydesdale horses to do farm work, and he fell in love with the breed. Today, the farm is home to 10 head and is set to grow.

"We got rid of all of our geldings to concentrate on working with mares for this show," Dustin said. "Five of them are pregnant."

The orange barn colors are a deliberate choice too. Brian noted that the family wanted something different and in looking around the business, the Brooks didn't see any other orange colors. Orange also stands out vividly in the show-ring.

Hobbies can get out of hand, especially a big hobby like Clydesdale horses. Brookside Farm competes all season long, but they have some limits.

"About the farthest we go is northern Illinois. We go to the Boone County Fair in Belvidere and we do some parades, exhibitions and once in a while a wedding," Dustin said. "We go about as far as we can on a tank of gas. That's kind of the limit."

The occasional prize winnings, a few paid gigs and the sale of horses help cover expenses. Since Clydesdale horses are so large and take expensive equipment, it's no wonder markets recently have softened. Brian said more people are looking at the breed for riding and there's growing interest in crossbreeding to create animals that compete in events such as dressage and jumping.

"We're also seeing more people who look to buy a mature team they can take home, hitch up and go for a drive," Brian said. "They might only drive a couple of times a year for a family hay ride or ride around the farm so they aren't interested in high-strung show horses."

Dustin does most of the driving in competition. He said he prefers the challenge of driving teams with a single lead horse. A team is two horses side by side pulling a wagon. Add a third horse hitched in front of the first two and you have a hitch called a unicorn with a single lead horse.

"When you have horses hitched side by side they have each other. If one decides to do something on its own it has to convince the other horse too so they tend to keep each other together," Dustin said. "When you have a single horse in the lead, if it decides to turn around or do something, all kinds of things can start to happen."

Managing the herd of Clydesdales sounds much like managing dairy cows.

"Every day their pens are cleaned, they're brushed and exercised, fed and worked with," Brian said. "After the season we'll pull the shoes and they'll go out on pasture and we let them have some time off."
Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes and a Clydesdale hobby falls into the larger side of the ledger.

"It's like a full-time job on top of a full-time job," Dustin says. "But this is our vacation and time off. This is our boat."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Clydesdales gather in Madison for world show

Photo furnished by Clydesdale USA
Four years ago, Clydesdale Breeders of the USA decided to hold a "world" show. The first-of-its-kind show was a success, drawing together not only Clydesdale breeders from around the world but also turning out a significant public attendance.

"You may only get to see this kind of thing once in a lifetime," said Cathy Behn, association secretary in Pecatonica, Ill. "There are 600 head of Clydesdale horses signed up this time from all around the United States and Canada."

The equine spectacle is set for Oct. 20-23 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, with a complete schedule of events, activities, competitions, seminars and a trade show. The famous Budweiser Clydesdales are scheduled for daily exhibition during the world show, Behn said.

"Most of the Clydesdales in the United States are concentrated in the Midwest," Behn said. "But Madison is centrally located for breeders everywhere, and it's a good location for our Canadian breeders."

A Clydesdale breeder in British Columbia, Canada, may be making the longest trip. The journey for that particular breeder is a community event, Behn said, with the entire county chipping in sponsorships and support in exchange for photo and video updates.

"Right now we're expecting visitors from seven different countries," Behn said. "There's growing interest in China for the breed, and we'll have some people here from Scotland where the breed originated."

Prior to 2007, there hadn't been an international Clydesdale gathering in more than 100 years. Such an event is a huge undertaking, Behn said, but the association was hoping to create something very special for the breed and make a public impression.

"We have our various regional shows around the country, but we wanted to have a very high-level event where everyone could see the results of their work," Behn said. "And really, from a breeder's perspective it takes time. Four years is about right to see results in a breeding program."

To draw the public out to the Alliant Energy Center, Behn said they have worked hard to make the whole show family friendly. There are hands-on activities for children in case parents need a break, and there is a model horse competition for youth.

The real stars of the world show are the horses themselves. For visitors interested in having a look, Behn said that the schedule has something for everyone. Mornings are generally for halter classes and are probably of the greatest interest to breeders and Clydesdale enthusiasts. Afternoon and evenings are for the shows the public may enjoy. Hitch shows with the Clydesdales pulling carts and wagons are impressive to everyone, Behn said.

For those unfamiliar with the breed, a short history is found on the association website: "The Clydesdale is a breed of heavy draft horse developed in the early nineteenth century by farmers in the Lanarkshire (previously Clydesdale) district of Scotland. It was bred to meet not only the agricultural needs of the local farmers, but also the demands of commerce for the coalfields of Lanarkshire and for all the types of heavy haulage on the streets of Glasgow. Due to its fine reputation, use of the breed soon spread throughout the whole of Scotland and northern England."

A Clydesdale can weigh more than a ton and stand 19 hands tall. The most common body color is bay, followed by black, brown and chestnut. The roan trait (solid body color with white hairs throughout the coat) may be found in all the colors.

"The Clydesdale World Show is really the Olympics of our business," Behn said.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lamplight lights up for fall jumper show

WAYNE, Ill. - You can get close enough to get sprayed with flying arena footing. Close enough to hear the rider whisper to the horse. Close enough to smell the exertion. Close enough to see the expressions of horse and rider: determination, anticipation, concern, sometimes fear.

The sprawling Lamplight Equestrian Center is host to many high-end horse shows during its April-to-October season, including the recent Showplace Fall Classic Championship. The Classic is a series of hunter/jumper competitions ranging from junior and pony level events to sanctioned regional finals for the top horses and riders in the Midwest.

There's prize money at the top. Winning a single class can earn a $25,000 cash prize. A slim 1/100 of a second can determine the difference between the $25,000 first-place award and a second-place finish with much less for a prize. To reach for that fraction of a second requires horse and rider to fly.

Jumps are set at 5-plus-feet heights in a pattern each team navigates as fast as it can with as few errors as possible. In the instant rider and horse leave the earth, there's quiet, near silence. If the next sound is that of a soft thud and grunt, the jump was cleanly cleared. But if you hear the clatter of hooves striking poles, then the jump is wrong, time to the finish increased, poles knocked over creating errors or the chance of something much worse.

While the jumps are lower and the prizes smaller, junior events at Lamplight are no less intense than the professional classes. Young riders complete courses set to the age and experience levels of the specific class. Learning to fly with your horse is clearly an acquired interest with some apparent addictive qualities.

You're more likely to see fear creep into faces in the junior arenas.

There are reasons Lamplight is what it is where it is, said manager Tom Moxley. The curious should use the Internet to search for Oaklawn Farm, the Dunham family and Wayne, Ill., he suggested.

In 1835, Marc Dunham purchased land in Wayne and began to import and breed French Percheron horses for sale to expanding transportation and agricultural interests. According to Wikipedia, Oaklawn Farm was at one time home to at least one-fifth of all imported French horses and stabled more than 1,300 head on the 1,700-acre property.

Dunham got fabulously wealthy with his enterprise and built a castle made from rock mined near Racine, but over time, cars and trucks and tractors replaced horses on the landscape. For Wayne, Ill., the pattern of an equine community was established.

The area is one of the oldest and largest equine communities in the country. A showplace such as the Lamplight Equestrian Center that's now more than 50 years old is part of the community fabric.
At Lamplight you can choose what you want to see. If you can't make up your mind, sit between two arenas and watch both. From some spectator areas you can watch two arenas at once and keep tabs on a third all while seated right next to a jump.

To understand how Lamplight works requires a grasp of scale. During the Fall Classic, officials reported more than 400 riders at all levels were competing. To pull that off, space is needed. The grounds of the center cover more than 50 acres.

There are 450 permanent stalls in attractive barns. In addition to the barns, another 1,000 stalls are kept under large Camelot-style tents. Everything is wired and plumbed plus there are 46 stalls devoted to washing horses.

To make large shows move along, Lamplight has six hunter/jumper arenas, seven dressage arenas and four warm-up rings each with compacted limestone base and surface, according to its website.

Lamplight boasts that it's located in the center of one of the oldest equestrian communities in the country and is home to many champion riders, horses and competitions. Extensive remodeling and landscaping over the years have helped to make spectators part of each event.

For people seeking, if even for a moment, to touch and feel the grace, elegance and competitive pressures of big-time horse events, the Lamplight Equestrian Center can place you squarely in the center of the action.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Prairie du Chien historic mansion grounds home to authentic Victorian-era equine event

There's the prime rib dinner with 350 of your friends as the sun seeps into the Mississippi River. But dinner Saturday evening is getting ahead of things. A major sanctioned carriage driving event held on the grounds of a signature historic Victorian mansion, on an island in the Mississippi River, on the site of a frontier fort, add up to one of the most unique equine experiences in the nation.

By definition, carriage driving is hitching horses to vehicles by means of a harness. The Carriage Classic, held Sept. 9-11, is a driving competition with 11 classes covering a range of activities, all emphasizing the dress, styles and vehicles common to the 19th century.

Villa Louis was built in 1871 with the fur trading and investment fortunes of Hercules Dousman and left to his son Louis.

"It's not often you can put together a historic site like Villa Louis with a historically compatible event like the Carriage Classic," said Michael Douglass, Wisconsin State Historical Society site director. "The classic is our biggest visitor day of the year."

Louis Dousman also jumped into the horse business, buying into the first of the American Standardbred breed, founding the Artesian Stock Farm, and building a half-mile racetrack in front of the mansion.

"Louis probably thought he was getting into something on the ground floor. Who knows where it might have gone if he hadn't died suddenly in 1886," Douglass said. "His widow dispersed the horses."

Today, the 25-room mansion and grounds is in the hands of the state historical society. The historic site became the focus of some fresh attention 31 years ago as several community leaders brainstormed about the local economy.

"Prairie du Chien is a tourist town," said Dean Achenbach, a Carriage Classic founder. "Jay Hauser owned the Country Kitchen at the time and he asked me one day, ‘Dean, what can we do to extend the tourist season past Labor Day?' "

A driving competition might not sound like a big economic development plan, but Achenbach pointed out there were still a lot of farmers in the area with driving horses and he had his own interest in driving. Plus, the city had a top-notch historic site with an interest in period-based events.

"That first year there were three of us. We did some goofy things over the years to get participation. One year we sent an invitation out to all the farmers we knew offering them $10 for gas if they'd bring their horses into town. I don't know if it was the $10 or just that they had an invitation, but they sure showed up," Achenbach said.

Eventually the show needed some rules and became an American Driving Society sanctioned event. Adding rules changed the tone of the classic, Achenbach said. Local drivers were surprised by some rules at first, but the ADS sanction also increased the number of people interested in participating.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the event and the Wisconsin State Historical Society developed. Everything the Carriage Classic buys for the event such as arena fences and gates, public address systems, and driving course equipment is donated to the historical society. Much of it is used for other events and activities on the grounds.

"It's an unusual partnership," Achenbach said. "They trust us to take good care of the grounds."

As for economic development, the Carriage Classic brings people to town. More than 100 drivers registered to compete. On Sept. 10, about 700 people had paid admission to the driving event and more than 400 people took mansion tours, said curator Susan Caya-Slusser.

"On a busy day in the summer we may have 100 people on tours. (Sept. 10) we had a tour leaving every 15 minutes all day," Caya-Slusser said.

The carriage events place visitors in a time gone by. A class special to the Carriage Classic is the "Picnic." Exhibitors prepare their horses and carriages as if going out for a country drive and a picnic. All the competitors drive their rigs around in the arena and then go to a shady spot on the mansion lawn. Once at the picnic site, horses are unhitched and the picnic is spread.

Judging is based 20 percent on performance, manner and way of going; 20 percent on condition, fit and appropriateness of harness and vehicle; and 60 percent on overall impression including presentation of the picnic. Spectators may also cast a ballot resulting in an official winner and a popular choice.

About 14 years ago, Mike Rider took over as chairman of the event from Achenbach.

"Dean said it was time for someone else so I talked it over with my family and we've been doing it ever since," Rider said. "I like driving and I like the people."

The Saturday night prime rib dinner is only one of the more mouth-watering parts of the Carriage Classic. The rest of the event is as authentic a replication of the Victorian age anyone can hope to see.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Comforting touches: Practice helps relieve stress in animals

Tami Parr
You've probably had a stiff neck that hurt so much you had to turn your shoulders to look around. Horses can develop "stiffness" in muscles and joints too, and there's nothing as comforting as working out the tension with touch point releases and gentle passive range-of-motion movements, said Tami Parr of Equine a.t. Parr of Beaver Dam.

"Bodyworks is what it's called," Parr said. "It's not always what people think."

The practice of bodywork may include some rubs and stretches as part of the process, but the difference is in the touch and response technique, she said. While a massage works on the muscles, the bodyworks approach begins by identifying tension points in the animal's body.

"What I do is move my hands along and look for a response from the horse. Usually I look for responses in the eyes, the face and from expressions the horse may have in response to finding a point of tension," Parr said.

Once a point is discovered by a blink of the eye, a tilt of an ear, or a shift on its feet, the point is held with gentle pressure until a "release" is felt or noticed. Release is often in the form of licking and chewing, a change in breathing or yawning. The applied pressure may be held and let go a number of times to get the horse to release.

Horses often develop injuries and muscle pulls and stoically continue on by compensating for the change with another part of the body. More weight may get shifted to one side or the other or the horse will move in a slightly different way to protect the sore spot.

"Over time, the horse can build layers of tension, and that can change the way it moves," she said. "As the rider, you'll begin to notice little things. Maybe the horse won't always pick up the proper lead, or they'll refuse certain moves."

As an example, Parr said a barrel racer came to her with a well-trained, experienced 8-year-old Quarter Horse. The rider asked the horse for circles and was instead provided ovals.

"As I worked with the horse to find any restrictions it may have had, I discovered a muscle spasm," Parr said. "We were able to work with the horse over time and got it back into performance condition."

In cases of a performance horse being used to race or jump or work, a bodywork session may become part of the overall training program. Other times, complete bodywork is needed only once in a while.

"I'll teach people a handful of common moves to help their horse and to extend the time between complete bodyworks," Parr said. "And knowing how to do some of these techniques helps bring a new depth to the relationship owners have with their horse."

Veterinarians also are beginning to find a role for bodyworks as a recovery tool for horses post-surgery and following other medical treatments. Using a bodyworks therapy is especially useful for horses on stall rest, she said.

"The horse standing in a stall day in and day out can really begin to build up tension, especially a horse that normally has a lot of exercise and activity," Parr said. "Bodywork for a horse on stall rest reduces muscle restrictions and stress. The process also helps release endorphins, a natural pain and stress-reducing substance produced by the horse."

Veterinarians have to focus on the immediate medical needs of the animal and often rely on Parr to deliver the time intensive hands-on therapy. When involved in a medical recovery process, Parr said she is part of the team, keeping notes, sharing information and watching for changes. She'll spend up to two hours focused on muscle and movement, noting restrictions and documenting progress.

"Owners should never use bodywork as a substitute for veterinary care," Parr said. "Bodywork is a comfort and movement therapy, not the kind of medical care provided by a veterinarian.

"Regardless of the situation, handling your horse with an eye for tension and restrictions can help improve the riding and relationship experience. Often preventing restrictions will remove roadblocks before they become problems."

Friday, September 09, 2011

To shoe or not to shoe? That is not the question.

Rick Burten, Master Ferrier from Urbana, Ill., is a man on a mission. "There isn’t a single ounce of scientific evidence that shows shoeing a horse is harmful," Burton said. "But people hear things like ‘shoeing makes the hoof go numb’ and it seems to make sense to them so they believe it."

Along with the mission, Burten may also have a small chip on his shoulder. "People say, ‘sure you want to shoe horses. That’s how you make money.’ Really? If it was about making all the money I could, I’d quit shoeing horses and stick to just trimming hooves," Burten said.

What Burten advocates is doing the right thing for your horses. Maybe the right thing includes shoes or perhaps not. Speaking at the recent Horse Days event, Burten tried to dispel a few common myths about horse hoof care. Of special interest is a group of people advocating for the "shoeless" horse.

"There are horses that don’t need shoes," Burten said. "And if your horse doesn’t need shoes then you shouldn’t put shoes on him. It’s not barefoot (unshod) versus shod. It’s doing the right thing for your horse."

A trustworthy ferrier understands the differences between horses and making sure the animal gets proper care. The ferrier will work with you as part of a team that can include a veterinarian and a nutritionist and any other providers and handlers.

Since no two horses are the same, each animal needs a complete evaluation that should include consideration of what the owner needs, how the animal is being used, the kind of horse, and its living conditions. "I have an intake protocol," Burten asserted. "I watch the horse on hard surface and soft surfaces. I ask the owner a series of questions including the horse’s hoof-health history."

When considering hoof care and finding the right ferrier for your horse, Burten said it’s important for you to be the voice for your horse. Someone who refuses to have pictures taken of the hoof work probably isn’t going to work well with the team, for example.

"No two horses are the same and no two feet are the same either," Burten said. "If a ferrier works only by a formula they can screw the horse up. The idea isn’t to make all the hooves ‘even’ it’s to create the optimal position for each hoof."

Another common myth, Burten said, is that steel shoes can increase concussion/impact-type injuries. The first clue it’s a myth is the existence of so many different kinds of shoes. Burten explained that you match the type of shoe you use to the horse and what the horse needs. "And a recent study looked at concussion injuries and the use of steel shoes and discovered concussion injuries were actually reduced with steel shoes in performance horses," he said.

The horse business community ends up dealing with issues that are not truly controversial because of beliefs and values that have nothing to do with taking the best possible care of a horse, Burten said. Just because one person has good luck not shoeing a horse isn’t proof positive that no horse should ever have shoes put on, he added.

"There are cases when a horse should have shoes for a specific time and use and then may be fine without shoes the rest of the time. There are times when you may only need shoes on two hooves," Burten said. "Yes. There are horses that don’t need shoes."

Do what’s best for the horse is his final advice.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Soft" touch means responsive horse

It’s easy to get a reaction out of a horse but a lot harder to get a response, contended Mike Branch, a trainer and equine coach from Blaine, Tennessee. The process of achieving "soft" response is built on trust and incremental steps.

"It doesn’t take much thought to create a reaction in a horse," Branch said during the recent Horse Days event in Belvidere, Ill. "But it takes a lot of thought to create a response."

Groundwork, or lunging a horse, is a key element in many successful training programs including techniques used for centuries in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. The lunge is considered the first and most important phase of training as taught to him by a graduate of that school, Branch said.

When starting a new or young horse, Branch explained he goes through four steps to begin to create a response: suggest, ask, tell, and insist. Working from the ground is the best way to introduce an animal to you and prepare for the day when you want to begin to add tack.

"I want the horse to begin to feel me and begin to respond," he said.

To demonstrate the four steps, Branch used a young horse he’d worked with earlier. To get the horse to back, Branch leaned at the animal to create the suggestion of backing. The response was the animal’s ears coming up and rocking slightly back.

"That’s a positive response to a suggestion. I’ve got him thinking about what I want," Branch said. "But the response I’m looking for is to get him to back at my suggestion."

Then Branch "asked" the young horse to back by wiggling the lunge line. Finally, he "told" the young horse to back by stepping forward and shaking the lunge line slightly more. The "insisting" step was a more assertive move toward the horse. By then the horse had taken a step or two back.

"I’m looking for a transition in the horse’s mind as well as in his body," Branch said. "You use pressure to motivate and the release of pressure is the reward."

Because horses drive from their rear legs, Branch suggests keeping your position in the lunge circle so your energy is directed toward the rear of the horse. On the line in the demonstration, the horse always worked slightly ahead with Branch’s shoulders squared to the back of the horse.

Branch described what he was working toward as a "soft" response. A soft response is a smooth, and immediate response to a deliberate, subtle suggestion to do something be it back up, walk, trot, canter, or any command.
"Again, it’s easy enough to get a horse to react. But what you want is a soft response to your suggestions," Branch said.

Softness also is a characteristic of the way a horse carries itself when ridden or handled. A "soft" set to the head and neck helps the horse carry the weight of a rider by properly preparing the back. As an example, Branch said you’d never carry a backpack with your head thrown back. Instead, you lean forward with your head down to arch your back into the load.

"You can work on all of this early with groundwork," he said. "Lunging will help you and your horse prepare for the time when you ride."

One of the common glitches with lunging routines is working one side more than the other. It’s natural to start a routine the same direction each time and it’s natural to always start with the easiest side first, Branch pointed out.

"You’re always inclined to start in the direction where you’re getting the soft responses," Branch said. "Then you and the horse are both a little run out by the time you change direction. Start out on the side of your horse that isn’t as easy until you begin to get soft responses."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New "Horse Days" event gathering steam

If shear enthusiasm leads to a successful first event, the upcoming Horse Days August 19-21 at the Boone County Fairgrounds in Belvidere, IL should pass the grade. Horse Days executive coordinator and promoter, Brian Lamb is near breathless describing the undertaking.

"There was a group of us who wanted to do something like this and we’d been talking about it," Lamb said. "So finally, I got everybody together for a brainstorming session. I left that meeting with more than 60 pages of notes."

At the end of the road started on a year ago is the inaugural Horse Days. Lamb said he and his spouse, Christine, have been in the horse business for years but had never been involved planning a large horse and trade show. "We agreed from the start that we wanted to have an affordable, family-friendly event where people could have fun as participants or spectators," Lamb said.

Daily admission is $7.00 for adults and the three day pass is $18.00. Children 14 and under are free, seniors over 65 are free and both active duty and military veterans are free. People interested in the grandstand events pay $12 each or $35 for the whole show. Parking is free.

What do you get for your admission? Early on, Lamb said they decided to forego the traditional breed and stallion reviews and concentrate on having more events. For grandstand events, Horse Days landed a PRCA sanctioned rodeo for Friday and Saturday nights. To add to the diversity in front of the grandstand and to have daytime activity, Horse Days was able to attract IHPA sanctioned horse pulling and sanctioned UHCA ultimate trail course events.

"This has turned into one of the largest horse pulls in Illinois," Lamb said. "We have teams coming from as far away as Mississippi."

This is a good place to take a deep breath. If you’re not interested in the grandstand shows, Horse Days has lined up the Wisconsin Open Horse Show Association to present two days worth of competition on Saturday and Sunday. Two judges will place the classes with first place earning a 40 percent payback. Classes include the full range of disciplines in Western and English styles.

"There’ll also be stadium jumping, driving, barrel racing," Lamb said, trying to work through everything. "We have a Little Boots rodeo for kids between three and 12 years old. They can try 10 events and at the end the winners get to go on stage and have their names read as top cowboy or cowgirl."

Another goal of Horse Days organizers was to have plenty of educational opportunities. To achieve the educational goal there are three days worth of seminars, clinics and demonstrations. Look for clinics on trailer loading, equi soccer, showmanship, barrel racing, driving, equitation and trick riding.

Seminars and demonstrations will cover such issues as nutrition, composting, trailer backing and equine emergencies. "We thought the trailer backing demonstration would be a good touch. There’s a lot of people pulling trailers around and do just fine until they have to back it up," Lamb said. "So people will be able to take some lessons on backing both gooseneck and bumper hitch trailers."

Since every horse owner and stable is known to also have an interest in dogs, Lamb pointed out they decided to have a few canine activities. If you have a herding type dog there’s a "herding instinct" evaluation clinic. You can check out the "Iron Dog" competition where dogs compete in races, tugs and pulling events.

"We’ve also got about 120 trade show exhibitors," Lamb said. "And each morning starting at 6:00 we’ll have a donation-based pancake breakfast with the donations going to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital," Lamb said. "We wanted something like that to support the community."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Ringbone” a bane to performance horses

Under the broad umbrella of arthritis ailments is “ringbone,” an affliction most likely seen in performance horses such as those used for events like cutting and reining. Ringbone is typically set off by an “inside event” near the vulnerable joints.

Dr. Jacob Goodin, Morrie Waud Equine Center, UW School of Veterinary Medicine, explained that ringbone is a progressive osteoarthritis of either the pastern or coffin bone joints. There are high and low variations of ringbone with the high ringbone affecting the pastern joints and the low ringbone affecting the joints associated with the coffin bone in the hoof.

“It can start with repeated stress or a small chip or fractures near the joint,” Goodin said. “Ringbone is a progressive osteoarthritis and if left unmanaged it can progress quickly. If you catch it early you often can manage ringbone but you can’t stop it”

In addition to an event, there are a series of things which contribute to ringbone development. Repeated tension and trauma to the joints contribute to ringbone development but poor conformation of the feet and legs or poor shoeing also are important factors, Goodin said.

“A horse with a more upright leg is probably more predisposed to ringbone. But it has more to do with what a horse does than genetics alone. Good confirmation means the horse is going to be less prone to such injury,” Goodin stated.

Diagnosis begins with a lameness exam. Radiograph images will reveal the growths and pinpoint the exact locations of the osteoarthritis. The exams will determine the severity of the ringbone and start the decision making process. Ringbone near a joint generally has a worse prognosis for the horse's continued use than one found farther from a joint. A rapidly progressing ringbone also has a poorer prognosis.

“How you manage ringbone depends on the severity of the condition, the owner and how the horse is used,” Goodin said. “We’ll look at it differently for a high value performance horse that needs to get back to work right away compared to a horse ridden infrequently for pleasure.”

There are three tiers of ringbone management. The first level is pain management with a substance such as bute (phenylbutazone). Caught early, an anti inflammatory medication and activity therapy may do the trick for a mild case of ringbone.

On the next management level are steroid injections. The injections reduce inflammation and pain and can help get the horse back to work. A final tier in the process is surgery. Surgery fuses the bones to eliminate the friction of movement.

“Before doing surgery we have to consider the goals of the owner and how the horse is used,” Goodin said. “Surgery is invasive and carries some risk. It’s also expensive running in the area $5,000 to $6,000. Ringbone is an arthritic condition so in all cases it’s best to keep the animal as active as possible. Stall rest won’t fix it. We can’t stop ringbone but we can manage it.”

Horses not being used for strenuous activity, such as jumping or cutting, often can be ridden successfully for a long time. Whether or not your horse can continue to compete in intense sports will depend on the specifics of the case.

Goodin added that ringbone management, including surgery, is now reasonably effective. A horse diagnosed with ringbone stands a good chance of being able to return to a productive life. It’s a matter of finding the problem early, using the right level of management and maintaining vigilance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stretches: Good for you, good for your horse!

If you think of your horse as an athlete, then the idea of a good stretching routine makes sense. Stretching a horse is helpful for you and the animal on a couple of levels regardless of the amount or intensity of activity.
"Stretching can maintain and improve the horse’s range of motion and flexibility," said Dr. Michelle Krusing, an equine veterinarian in Madison.

And it helps you as a horse owner or rider to be aware of changes in your horse.

Think about safety before doing anything, however. Not every horse likes being handled especially if they’re not used to it. Be aware of your animal and your body position to avoid being kicked or bitten and to not strain yourself when performing the stretches, she said. It’s best to work with a trained veterinarian before trying equine stretches on your own.

"Usually I teach people how to do some of these stretch exercises as part of a therapy program for the horse," she said. "But routinely handling a horse this way can often help you find something that’s not right early so you can address the problem before it becomes a big issue."

Krusing said each person will develop individual twists to the process but she bases her techniques on knowledge of the structural features of the horse and how the animal is used. There are some breed differences and differences between what race horses may need, compared to what older pasture horses may require.

Some of the basic equine stretches include stretches to the forelegs and rear legs, side-to-side and between the front legs neck stretches known as "carrot stretches," a "belly lift" to stretch the back and finally a tail pull also for the back.. There are more stretches but you may not use all of them anyway.

The neck stretches involve encouraging the horse to reach its head around and touch its withers on each side. Krusing said. It’s good to have the animal try to reach toward lower and higher points each time to for improved range of motion. Stretches having the horse reach down between its front legs rounds out the neck stretch set. A treat is used to make the horse reach and stretch its neck hence the term "carrot stretches."

“These stretches are based on motions a horse should do naturally," Krusing said. "But not all horses have the same opportunities for stretching motions if they’re kept in a stall or used in certain ways."

Leg stretches involve gentle lifts and pulls of the front and rear legs. "The leg stretches may not look like much," Krusing said. "But that’s not to say the stretches aren’t beneficial. It stretches the shoulders and all the soft muscle tissues in the rear."

A "belly lift" is really a stretch for the back. You reach under the horse’s belly and rub or scratch so the animal humps up. The humping up motion stretches all the top line muscles. Another stretch for the back is pulling the horse’s tail. You hold the tail and gently pull back until you feel the horse rock forward.

"You better know your horse and know what you’re doing before you go pulling its tail," Krusing cautions.

The benefits of stretches are numerous and include: improved suppleness, better flexibility, enhanced length of stride, stimulates circulation, help improve muscle tone, and can help develop trust between horse and human.

"Before you start doing anything like this I encourage people to get some training and help. You should know your horse well and make sure it’s warmed up before doing any stretches," Krusing said.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

July pastures

Are you road ready with your horse?

Taking your horse or horse and buggy down the road is a good way to get from one place to another. Going down the road also involves knowing the “rules of the road” and a large dollop of plain old “horse sense.” Otherwise a jaunt down the road can become messy or even tragic.

  “look both ways before you cross.”
Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison extension equine specialist encourages people who ride on the road to know their animals. If your horse is well conditioned to disruptions, noises and sudden movements you’re better able to safely ride on the road than if your horse is unruly or “skittish.”

“You need to know that your horse can handle situations where there’s sudden movement and noises. Drivers will sometimes honk as they approach a horse or buggy. Is your horse comfortable with that kind of situation?” Sandberg said. “A tractor coming down the road makes a different impression than a car.”

When you ride on the road, having control of your horse also is a legal issue. People have a legal “duty” to exercise reasonable care when either riding or driving on a public road, explained Phil Harris, UW-Madison ag law specialist.

“You have a right to ride a horse on a public road – similar to a snowmobile – but you have a duty to use reasonable care not to damage property,” Harris said. “You should know your horse well enough to know how it may behave. Knowingly riding an unruly horse on the road may be seen as a breach of duty in the event of a collision.”

Since collision avoidance is a good thing for everyone on the road take all the steps possible for a safe ride. Always wear a helmet and think about visibility, Sandberg said. Visibility should include the use of reflective materials for both horse and rider. Equip buggies with the SMV reflective triangle.

“You should try to avoid riding on the road at dusk and dawn and after dark,” Sandberg said. “It’s harder for people to see you at those times of the day even if you have reflective materials. And remember, it’s harder for you to see what’s around after dark, too.”

If possible, avoid riding in high traffic areas and during peak travel times, Sandberg continued. The daily “rush hour” brings increased traffic to even the sleepiest rural roads and that increases encounters with vehicles.

Horses may not have good traction on a paved surface either, especially horses with shoes, she said. A slippery surface makes it hard for you and the horse to make quick moves when needed.  “Look both ways and leave yourself lots of time between cars if you’re crossing the road,” Sandberg said. “If you make a dash for it and your horse starts slipping around on the pavement you could get in trouble in a hurry.”

People riding horses on the road also are encouraged to use hand signals to indicate their intent. Ride with traffic and stay to the side of the road so traffic has a chance to move around you. You do have a right to the road but it’s safe and courteous to move aside.  And if you dismount the rules change because a dismounted rider becomes a pedestrian.

“If you’re riding on the side of the road or in the ditch, be aware of what’s around you,” Sandberg said. “Riding into a culvert might not be the best thing for you and your horse.”

Vehicle operators have responsibilities, too, Harris said. A driver coming up on a horse and rider or buggy has the same duty to exercise reasonable care not to damage property or hurt someone. Drivers are supposed to stop if they encounter a horse and rider in an obviously distressed situation.

“But there’s not much you can do about drivers,” Sandberg said. “The best you can do is take care of your side of the equation.”

For more information:
Wisconsin State Horse Council “Horses have Road Rights”