Ground Work & Handling

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One of the many reasons that the words “colic surgery” tend to strike fear into a horse owner’s heart is the question of whether their horse will be able to return to their previous level of performance (or even return to performing at all). A recent research study by Dr. Holcombe and her team at Michigan State University looked at specific ways that a horse owner can influence the likelihood of this return to performance after colic surgery (1).

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One pole? There is still plenty to do - Simple exercises can sometimes be the most effective because riders are apt to practice them more consistently. And when it comes to movement and fitness, consistency matters above all. I often use the following single pole exercises in clinics because they offer an easy way to derive the postural benefits of pole work without the logistics and effort involved in setting up more complex routines. When you are short on time or dealing with poor weather, these exercises offer a convenient way of ensuring you do not miss the calisthenics your horse needs.

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You are who your friends are. That adage can apply to horses, too. How we treat them will often be reflected right back at us - for good or bad. Sometimes the difference between a harsh cue and an appropriate one can be subtle. Pressure can be effective, but intensity and timing can make all the difference.

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If you’ve ever walked your horse, even with a saddle on, down a trail and past people, you know how it feels. You’re enjoying your horse time and minding your own business, when someone asks Why aren’t you riding that horse? Or someone jokes about taking your “very large dog” for a walk. I had one barn neighbour show her friend on video chat “the girl that doesn’t ride her horse” (me) as we were walking by. It would be awkward if it wasn’t so common. Horses and riding are synonymous in the human psyche, and any departure from this norm is considered very odd indeed, despite the fact that some horses don’t benefit from riding and some humans really don’t enjoy riding.

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4 Key Principles - As the shorter, colder winter months settle in, brief but purposeful groundwork sessions become critical for a horse’s physiology. Granted, fitness-based groundwork will not keep a horse at peak performance level, but it will prevent total erosion of neuromuscular and metabolic fitness during times of abbreviated schedules.

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In a surprising number of cases, unhealthy hooves are not due to heritable weakness but instead to avoidable lifestyle factors. As hard as it is to admit, our daily horsekeeping decisions are sometimes the cause of our horses’ sore feet. The primary factors that have weakened modern horses’ feet include lack of movement, ground surfaces, diet and supplements, and practices related to weaning and early development.

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Just get on and ride! Leaving the lunge line in the tack room seems logical when time is of the essence. Skipping extra steps is compatible with our instant society. For many riders, lunging seems like an unnecessary step, an awkward feeling of having less control than just getting on and “riding the bugs out.” For others, lunging is just plain boring. A misbehaving horse on the lunge is embarrassing at a horse show and a menace to others sharing the arena. And isn’t lunging stressful for the horse’s legs?

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If you have ever owned a horse that had difficulties loading you know how determined a horse can be to not get in the trailer. It is easy to accuse the horse of being stubborn or obstinate, or we can make excuses for them, especially if they have ever been hurt or scared in a trailer. Unfortunately, sympathy will get you about as far as being frustrated will — basically nowhere.

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3 Rules to Maximize Time Off - Periods of downtime come as realistic parts of horse ownership, although how a rider uses these stretches of poor weather or busy schedules contributes profoundly to a horse’s long-term soundness and performance. Recent data from biomechanics researchers and veterinary schools shows that large vacillations in fitness can be detrimental to overall health, particularly for horses past their mid-teen years. Most notably, periods of lesser activity lasting over a month can weaken deep postural muscles and supporting soft tissue.

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Rebuilding After Setbacks - The end of the horse show season is time for evaluation. What went well? What would you like to change? Competitors entering the next horse show without reflection often revisit mistakes like a Groundhog Day time loop.