Our latest guest blog is by Alice Cuff , founder of Instinctively Equine - Equine Massage and Holistic Therapy. Alice explains what Equine Craniosacral Therapy is and how it can massively benefit your horse!
Horses face many traumas in their life, these are not just physical, and as their owners / riders we must also consider the impact of their psychological health. Working with a therapist that takes a holistic approach to their treatments can have a larger impact on your horse’s overall wellbeing.
Equine Craniosacral therapy is on the increase in the UK, it’s an energy based therapy which releases restrictions in the fascial and musculoskeletal system. Craniosacral therapy was developed by an Osteopath, William Sutherland in the early 20th century. Sutherland discovered that the skull was not fixed and in fact there was a rhythm to the movement of the cranial bones. As a practitioner the focus is on the cranial bones and the sacrum, following the course of the spinal column, looking to restore the natural ‘Craniosacral Rhythm’ which impacts a horse’s entire body. This is done by releasing any restricted movement of the bones. There is no physical manipulation as it’s an energy based therapy and works by applying your hands gently to specific areas, allowing the horse’s body to adjust in it’s own time. The therapy works on the fascial tissue as when this becomes tight and restricted it applies pressure to the bones and can cause them to shift. Working to release these areas returns the body to alignment. Certain restrictions can cause your horse to have a lack of concentration, nervousness and restlessness as well as many physical symptoms.
Releasing the fascial tissue and improving the craniosacral rhythm helps improve the horse’s overall wellbeing. It can be beneficial to certain conditions such as issues with the TMJ and has been known to help some cases of head shaking. When the fascial tissue becomes restricted it has an effect not only on the bones but also the muscles as it’s the connective tissue that creates a network through the entire body. By working on the horse’s body as an entirety and restoring it’s natural balance it is enabling the horse to move better, improving their overall flexibility and range of movement and improve their mental wellbeing, reducing anxiety and increasing concentration. All of this can help prevent further injuries and improve the overall partnership of you and your horse.
If you would like to know more with regards to holistic therapies please do not hesitate to contact Alice via her website or her facebook page, links are below!
Ever wondered what your horse is really thinking? In our latest guest post Yolanda Noble, from Olson Timber Buildings, talks to us about how to read your horses facial expressions and body language to make life a little easier down at the yard!
Humans have had a close association with horses for hundreds and thousands of years. Over the long period of time, attempts have been made by many to understand the nature of horses by studying their behavior in different circumstances.
However, only in the recent times it has been discovered that horses also use a wide range of facial expressions and body language to communicate with others. Horses are predominantly visual creatures and therefore it is not surprising that they make use of a wide range of facial expressions to communicate with other horses and humans as well.
Revelations found in new horse behavior studies
The innate ability to use different types of complex facial expressions for conveying emotions is not really unique to humans. They are also used by chimpanzees, cats and dogs for expressing a wide range of emotions.
In the recent times, many scientists have discovered that horses also make use of a lot of facial expressions to express their feelings. In a newly conducted study, professional psychologists from University of Sussex in UK have found that the horses employ numerous muscular movements for creating dynamic facial expressions which are sometimes almost identical to the ones made by humans. This has led to a renewed interest in studying horse facial expressions more closely.
Researchers have compiled an extensive directory of different types of horse facial movements that offer a fine glimpse into the diverse and complex nature of socio-emotional aspects of the horses’ lives. A doctoral researcher working with University of Sussex has reportedly told that horses are typically animals with a varied form of emotional responses.
However, the nature and depth of their feelings along with the ways they use their facial expressions to express them is not yet known. Further studies are now being conducted to analyze the facial cues of horses and the ways in which such enhanced knowledge of horse behavior and moods can be used to interact with them.
Distinct elements of horse facial expressions
It has been noted that in a wide range of social situations, the horses move muscles present in their faces to express their emotions. These movements can either be subtle or distinctly noticeable on an immediate basis. In most cases, the muscles present around lips, eyes and nostrils are moved to create different types of expressions that can be used for communicating information to the other horses nearby.
While humans make use of almost 27 different types of facial expressions to express their thoughts and emotions, researchers have identified about 17 different horse facial expressions that are used for communicating information. These are often used alongside horse body language and movements to fully convey a message.
Some of the common facial expressions used by horses include “tongue show,” “eye white increase,” “ears forward” and “lip presser”. Typically, horses combine these different movements to express their inner thoughts.
Importance of studying horse facial expressions
The facial signs and expressions that are used by horses are highly dynamic and many of them are still not properly understood. Even professionals who spend a lot of time with the horses and take care of them are not fully sure about the expressions that they see from time to time. Investigating the nature of these facial expressions of horses can prove to be quite invaluable to veterinary doctors who deal with horses as well as horse training experts who help to use them in movies and performance arts.
Notable facial expressions used by horses and their meanings
Here are some of the most common horse facial expressions and what they mean:
Inner brow raiser
In many instances, horses raise their inner eyebrows when they are experiencing any undesirable emotional circumstances that might lead to an expression of fear or sadness. Human beings and dogs are also known to make use of similar facial expressions when they are feeling sadness, surprise and fear.
Lip corner puller
The lip corner puller, also referred to as “snapping,” is basically a subtle movement that is usually thought be a sign of submission in the horses. With humans, a key aspect of the smile is pulling the corner portions of the lips. Such an expression is also widely noted in cats, dogs and primates.
Upper lip raiser
The upper lip raiser can serve as a mien indicating fear in the horses. It is frequently noticed with widening of eyes which helps to increasing perceptibility of white portions of the eyes. It has been seen that cows also make use of similar facial expressions to deal with tense situations.
The revelation of the meaning of horse’ facial expressions can really be a great advancement of animal studies and it certainly going to open up new doors for anyone who is looking to work with horses and understand what makes a horse happy or otherwise. It is due to this reason that animal scientists are now trying to uncover more about horse’s facial expressions and body language and what they indicate about their inner nature.
In our latest guest blog Nicola shares her story with her ex-racehorse turned successful dressage horse, King of Chav's. It's not been an easy journey, but it just shows patience really does pay off to make an exceptional team! x
Some 10 years ago I set out on the search for my first horse. I had ponies while growing up but in the spring of 2008 I took the plunge and bought my first HORSE. To this day I don’t know what it was that made me want this little ginger ex-racehorse so much, but I felt he was something special. My new horse was a 5 year old, chestnut, thoroughbred who went by the name of King Of Chav’s, yes you did read that correctly!
Having always had mares I thought a gelding would be much easier, but how wrong was I?! Chav is more chestnut mare than any actual chestnut mare I’ve met. He can be spooky, sharp and is extremely sensitive, not forgetting his amazing ability to self harm! There were times in the beginning when I thought I’d taken on too much.
Chav’s biggest ‘quirk’ is his spook. He is just so good at it and it always takes me by surprise. He has an amazing ability to go from perfect toe pointing dressage pony to leaping sideways across the arena in a millisecond, you only realise what has happened when you are facing the wrong way! I would say my stickability has been well and truly tested. I have tried numerous things to try to stop his spooking, I have even tried calmers but he was more unpredictable on them. As time has gone on and the trust in each other has grown, his spooking has lessened; I don’t think it will ever completely stop because that is a part of him. I have regrettably learned to live with the spooks, I hope that I now cope with them better than I did at the beginning. I used to tell him off but that upsets him and makes him tense, resulting in more spooking. I try not to anticipate a spook and not to react if he does spook, just carry on with the next movement because that one spook with only affect one mark and I can make that up elsewhere. If I do react then he becomes tense and the rest of the test is ruined. He isn’t being malicious when he spooks, he doesn’t want to see me on the floor, he just likes to check I am paying attention up top.
A friend said to me recently “as much as I love Chav I could never have him, he is just too high maintenance”, and she is right! Chav is not only accident prone but he lives on his nerves. I have come to realise that routine is massively important to Chav, he thrives on it, and this probably stems from his early life in a race yard. If we stick to the same daily routine he is much more relaxed, this takes the uncertainty away about what is happening next and allows him to just be horse. He is also extremely vet phobic; my vet even called him one of the worst she has ever had to treat. He even ran head first into his stable wall when trying to run away from a vet with a needle, which is extremely embarrassing when you are a veterinary nurse, oh the shame!
Another problem I have encountered is the fact that Chav is quite noise sensitive, if a venue is playing music or someone lets a door bang we will know about it. Even at home a dog walker is enough to turn Chav into a snorting mustang! About 6 months ago I decided to try him in an acoustic fly bonnet and wow what a difference. It’s not a complete fix but it is definitely my favourite item of horse paraphernalia.
It is not all doom and gloom, when it all goes to plan my little ginger ex-racehorse can strut his stuff with the Warmbloods. He proved this by winning the Petplan Area Championships last year and took me to the nationals at Hartpury. I knew he was something special!
So when the hard work pays off we are rewarded with sashes and trophies, and when it all goes wrong there is always wine. My fridge is well stocked!
There are plenty of ways to help keep your horse cool during the rising summer temperatures. Keeping your horse cool and well hydrated can prevent many health conditions such as rhabdomyolysis, colic and can greatly reduce the risk of heat stroke. Your horse may find the heat very uncomfortable and it’s important to know that young, old or ill horses may find it more difficult to cope with.
Shade is a great way to keep your horse out of direct sunlight, especially if you aren't around to bring them back inside their stable during the midday heat. Make sure your horse has access to shaded spots at all times and allow them to rest in them especially after any kind of activity.
Spraying your horse with a cool hose will help to lower the body temperature. It’s best to start by spraying your horses lower legs and chest area before covering the whole body.
Ensure that your horse has access to a supply of clean and fresh water at all times. Make sure that you refresh your horse’s water daily, if not more regularly.
Some horses won’t drink enough to keep themselves hydrated, even if water is provided. If you are having problems trying to get your horse to drink, try spraying a small portion of your horse’s hay with salt water to encourage them. Alternatively you can try soaking your horse’s feed in water to increase their water intake.
If you are away from home and your horse is refusing to drink, adding a palatable flavour to their water can sometimes work, you may want to introduce your horse to the taste a couple of days before going away. Some horses develop a taste for their own home water, and usually bringing water in a large container from home will do the job.
Horses also lose electrolytes when they sweat. Electrolytes help regulate the horse's body temperature. They play a vital role so it’s important that you replace them. They are made up of Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium.You can find electrolyte additives in most equine stores and they will help replenish your horses electrolytes.
Some people will clip their horses all year round, and others prefer not to. Clipping your horse in the summer months can also help in keeping your horse a little cooler in the heat. For more information on how to clip your horse correctly, head over to Horsemart’s ‘Horse Clipping Tips and Advice’ page.
If you have tried all of the above points and you are still worried about the wellbeing of your horse, we recommend you seek further assistance and advice from an equine vet.
Now, if you've followed my blogs for a while you'll know I write about Crunchie an awful lot! It's not because he's brilliant and it's not because he's rubbish either! It's more that he's tricky and he likes to test both my patience and my ability as a rider (it's a good job he's cute!). So today's topic is catered towards those horses (exactly like Crunchie) who lack impulsion, are perhaps a little lazy and who are not 'in front of the leg'!
So what do we mean by 'in front of the leg'? Your horse should respond quickly to the lightest of leg touches i.e. a slight squeeze of the calf and respond to this with an appropriate amount of impulsion (or 'energy'). You will find if your horse is not 'in front of your leg' you will have issues with the contact, rhythm and straightness (enter a wibbly, wobbly mess!). It is so much more difficult to ride a horse which is lacking impulsion, so here's some top tips to help you get your horse in front of your leg:
1. Walk- Trot- Walk Transitions: These are best done on a 20 metre circle, preferably away from the safety of the arena walls! Ideally, you should ride a minimum of two transitions per circle. Remember to not go guns blazing straight away! Ask gently first, with a light touch, if he doesn't respond immediately, quickly ask again with a no-nonsense attitude until you get the reaction you feel is appropriate!
2. Pole work: This can be really useful to help 'spice' things up a bit! I find pole work, either trotting poles or canter poles give Crunchie a bit more enthusiasm when training so we automatically get that forward thinking vibe! #whoop
3. Transitions within the pace: These are a good test to see if your horse is in front of the leg, it also keeps him on his toes! Transitions in and out of the pace can usually be anticipated. Transitions within the pace are a little more tricky to predict. Be clear with your instructions and remember once you get the appropriate reaction, stop nagging! Sitting quietly is his reward for doing a good job!
4. Lighten your seat: This can help your horse to understand you want that extra impulsion, especially if your horse is very green. In canter, ask for a slight extension and lighten your seat. This gives a clear explanation to your horse that you want him to move forward. As he starts to understand your aid more you can start to 'quieten' this action .
5. Re-test: Lazy horses will always be lazy, it's definitely in Crunchies character to put as little effort in as possible and it will never be a quick fix! You have to re-test this day-in, day-out and always keep it in the forefront of your mind. It will get easier, but they will always test you, asking 'do you really mean that?', you have to be there to immediately say 'YES!'.
Remember, you have to be firm but fair. Don't let them 'run' it has to be a good transition! Once you have obtained it, do not nag or they won't be rewarded and you'll just end up making him more 'dead to your leg'! Make sure you focus and mean business and it should result in a much nicer ride!
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I know, I quite often feel like I'm riding a plank of wood too. It's funny how one minute your horse is as stiff, tense and rigid as a lump of metal but the next minute he's 'passaging' his way to a Grand Prix test because there's a single sheep in the field next door. So maybe he's not that stiff, eh?
Suppleness can be really difficult to achieve and quite often if your stiff, your horse is too. So it's important to remember whilst attempting the exercises mentioned below you consciously think about how your sitting in the saddle and how supple you are as it can be an influencing factor!
According to British Dressage, under the scales of training, the aim is that the horse’s muscles have tone and are free from resistance, his joints are loose and he does not tighten against the your aids. The test of whether a horse is supple and working ‘through’ the back and neck is that when the rein contact is eased (as in a free walk) the horse wants to stretch forward and down and not try to hollow and lift his head.
So how do you know if your horse is lacking suppleness? Check out our handy guide below!
So what can you do to help your horse become more supple? Well.. lateral work is key, but that doesn't mean it has to be complicated! Keep things basic and refrain from doing them endlessly. Practice each one a couple of times during your training sessions, with breaks in between.
Exercise no. 1: Shoulder-in. This can be done on a circle or in a straight line. It is best to do this in walk to begin with so it's easier for your horse to understand. Keep your inside leg on the girth to create the impulsion and bend. Place your outside leg slightly behind the girth and remember it's your outside rein that controls the angle of the shoulder in. Keep it easy to begin with, as your horse becomes more supple you'll find you can increase the angle. If your horse loses the rhythm and impulsion it's a sign the angle is too steep, for now. Perhaps ask someone to video you whilst your doing the exercise (we aren't all fortunate enough to have mirrors!).
Exercise no. 2: Leg-yield. Many people always ride this movement from the centre of the school to the track, but this often causes horses to fall out through the shoulder. It's often more helpful to use the wall initially to help keep your horse straight and ask him to move away from the track onto the 3/4 line. After the corner flex your horses head to the outside and apply some pressure with your outside leg just behind the girth, use your inside rein and inside leg to maintain impulsion and straightness. Try to ask for three strides then take two or three strides to straighten out of it. You don't have to overdo it, a few strides is enough to supple him up!
Exercise no. 3: Spiral in and out on a circle. This sounds like an easy movement to perform, however it can be quite tricky to keep the circle even and controlled. It's important you don't take the circle too small, usually starting at 20 metres and reducing this down to 15 metres is enough. You want to feel your horse stepping under and the rhythm must not change. See... it's not that easy is it?
Remember it's important not to overdo the exercises and you must work your horse evenly on both reins. All horses are more supple on one side than the other so you might find you have to make the exercise on the more difficult rein easier to begin with. Not only do these exercises improve suppleness, they also help to improve balance and they keep your horse thinking. Always riding a 20 metre circle, because it's easy, gets you nowhere and becomes boring for your horse. By regularly testing your horses suppleness you will soon see the rewards!
*Remember it's essential that you warm your horse up correctly prior any training, read about how to do this >HERE<