Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How's your school looking?

Researchers Evaluate Riding School Horse Health | TheHorse.com

This is a great time of year to assess the health and well-being of those long-suffering, (mostly) kind-hearted lesson horses hanging around your barn and pastures.  Read the linked article first, then we'll get to the nitty of your gritty.  This doesn't only apply to school horses, as there are some shoddy-looking privately-owned show horses around here that could use a fresh pair of eyeballs.  So go read.

I'll wait...........................................................................................................................

So the first question is, how old are you?  You needn't lie.  The computer can't hear you, and I really don't care.  If you read the article, you know why I'm asking.  Part of the problem with the failing health of school horses is the failing health of the lesson barn owners that keep them.

I don't mind admitting to being over 30  50......okay, I'm on the dark side of the moon now and fading fast.  Are you happy?  I also am able to say without a doubt that I am not half the caretaker I used to be.  My back hurts.  My arm hurts.  My shoulder hurts.  I sweat more in the heat, and the cold makes my bones ache.  I'm not agile by any stretch (and no matter how much I stretch).  So when the old geezer former school horse in my barn, the ever-patient Leo, didn't get his shoes pulled in time for the recent snow, I wrestled him into boots for turnout just twice before my back gave out.  If you're close to my age, you know that snapping sensation--the silent sound you can feel, not hear--and dread it for the lengthy recovery period that will follow.
Classic case of "the shoer only
had one shoe the right size".
Note the right shoe is set back
behind the toe to compensate.

So by the third day I was leaving Leo in his stall more often and resorting to spraying his feet with cooking spray to make the ice balls fall out.  They didn't.  I've tried that dozens of times over the years with the same dismal result, so I'm fully subscribed to the "doing the same thing and expecting different results" cult of the similarly-aging, gosh dang it!

Then came another back-breaking effort to smear petroleum jelly on his soles while he staunchly refused to pick up his feet.  Whatever back healing had begun ended right then.

But the easy parts I'm right on top of.  Leo's teeth have flat-lined.  The dentist showed me.  It's true. They're still in place, but barely above the gum line.  If you're not clear on how horses' teeth age, here's a link for you.  And while you're at it, here's a nice article on why what we do with horses tends to be bad for their dentition.

I'm sad to confirm that my horses endured a bad dentist for several years because I didn't know better.  Now I do.  Find a good dentist.  The extra cost of a Master Equine Dentist is worth every penny as poor dentition leads to fun endgames like colic, tooth abscesses, and starvation.

Moving out of the horse's mouth, the rest of the problem lies in the age-related laziness (or ignorance, if you're on the very young side) of the barn manager (how old do you have to be before you'd rather sit on the couch than be out in the field poking at horses?) and in the experience (or, more to the point, inexperience) of the trainers and other employees who work with and use the school horses.  I know of several who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near horses, let alone in charge of their well-being.  Nothing wears out a school horse like overwork and a lack of consideration for his needs.  I've recently seen photos of smiling trainers and students with school horses bearing the scars and sad, worried expressions of animals on the edge of abuse and smack in the middle of neglect.  If the horse looks bad, the trainer looks bad and the barn manager looks worse.
Good dentistry makes
happy horses!

So with the holidays upon us and students taking a hiatus to participate in pageants and family stuff, this is a great time to pull out those school horses and look them over carefully.  The thin ones can be carefully brought back into condition with a judicious application of supplements.  They can all get a once-over from the vet and the equine dentist. And don't forget the farrier.  I've seen school horses with shoes twisted, the wrong size, worn so badly they could slice cheese, and even one or more missing.  If you're in a 4-seasons part of the world, pulling shoes for the winter is a big plus as by spring those feet will look gorgeous and ready for a new season of schlepping beginners over bad footing.

And how about that footing?  And those stalls?  And that pasture?  It's not the season for a lot of groundwork, but spread some seed just ahead of the next snow, and that will perk up your pastures when the thaw comes with little more effort on your part.  Just toss it out there by hand, no equipment necessary.  Use pasture blend (Tractor Supply has one that works fine) so they get the mix of grasses and legumes and woody plants that horses love to pick through.

Your school horses deserve the best you can manage.  Go forth and manage it!
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