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Calming Your OTTB
Image curtesy of Courtney Due (@idteventing)
I don’t think many of us have gone through life without meeting at least one anxious horse. They may not even be an ex-racehorse, but OTTB’s are renowned for being a little, well… stressed out at times.
20 years ago if you had of asked me how to calm an OTTB I would have said just to hang on and wait it out and even though I have evolved as a rider and a horsewoman I can tell you that frame of mind still rings true at times.
Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of it though… Why are OTTB’s so stressed out?
Imagine your daily life is waking up in a stable, being asked to run then being put back in a stable all day. You would take your opportunity to exercise when you were out of that stable wouldn’t you?
That’s why they are so excited and anxious, because they have spent so much time cooped up in a small space and horses in the wild graze and roam. It is not a normal situation to them and so they have anxiety and stress from being locked up. Other times they are asked to get on a truck and go to a race track and run, then get back on the truck and head home and be put in the stable. If you look at it this way, the only time they can enjoy themselves or run is when they are under saddle and so this creates a behavioural pattern.
Then their days on the track are over and they find a new home. We want our OTTB to go to Dressage or Eventing and even though we understand what we are asking them to do, they see it as a change in their daily lifestyles and habits. Horses, much like humans are creatures of habit and changes, even small ones, can cause anxiety.
It’s not that OTTB’s are naturally crazy, as I have heard some people say, it’s that they have been taught to behave the way that they do. Once you undo this pattern of behaviour you will have a quiet horse that can perform, but you need to put the time in, and that is my first tip; Time.
You have to bond with your OTTB in order to be able to rely on this connection if you are at a show. Don’t ask too much of your OTTB to begin with, perhaps think of a small show to attend once you have spent 6 months at home working on the basics.
The best way to have a calm OTTB at a show is to build your solid foundations at home. You then put these lessons you have taught them at home into practice in that stressful situation, this creates comfort for your OTTB at the show and you should be able to get their attention.
At the show do exactly the same warm up routine you would at home as this creates consistency and a place of safety in the OTTB’s mind. If you are doing the same routine as at home, then they will relate the show to being at home and will feel a lot calmer.
Next, you have to have some aces up your sleeve at your show just in case things don’t go to plan.
Even though you have the same warm up routine, things can happen that can spook your OTTB. Perhaps your OTTB has never seen an umbrella before or a car parked at the end of a dressage arena? These new items can spook your horse.
Try to see it from their point of view. Imagine if you walked into your house this afternoon and there was a green car in the middle of your dining room, wouldn’t that spook you a little? Would you stop and stare at it or maybe run out of the room? Of course you would. You would be wondering how it got there and why it was there? Always try to see things through the eyes of your OTTB and then reassure them that it will be okay by giving them a pat as they face that demon.
At home you should have practiced your leg aids and some lateral work such as a shoulder in and leg yielding. This will mean at the show you have better control over your horse and you can direct their shoulders and hindquarters towards the direction you wish them to go.
If your OTTB spooks at a show turn them to face the thing they are spooking at. A horse has a natural instinct to freeze, fight or flight (run away) if they sense danger.
If your OTTB chooses to freeze, as long as they are facing the object, allow this for a few minutes while you pat them and they have a big look at it.
If your horse chooses to run away, this is where your leg yielding and shoulder in will come in handy as you can stop them running off by using these aids and redirecting the front of your horse to look at the object they are spooking at.
Now patiently try to walk them towards it, each time they take a step towards the scary object you give them a pat. If they try to run away, start from the beginning and keep getting them to move towards it until they can walk towards it.
I now ask my horse to walk and trot around and toward the object. You will notice after a few times your OTTB will realise that they are not going to be hurt and they will get on with it.
The next trick I have is to get your OTTB’s attention. It’s pretty basic but if I am walking and my OTTB is jogging, I trot. I put them into a good forward working trot and get them to think about working and not think about other things.
Working is a good way to get rid of anxiety too. If you are in working trot and they are not listening then push them into a canter. Lots of circles and lots of transitions into canter and back down to trot and eventually you will see those ears flick back at you as you talk to your OTTB. That means you have their attention.
It’s only a few basic exercises but these ones really work for me. I find that if I just remember to be positive, brave and understanding over time things will improve. You need to remember that horses respond to a leadership hierarchy within their own herd so make sure you have established rules and respect before you take them anywhere.
Your OTTB is allowed to be scared and spooked about things but rearing, bucking and bolting should be out of the question by the time you get to a show. Do the work at home and your success at calming them at a show will be so much easier.
Also, never get mad, never get angry and never ever hit your horse. Not only is it unnecessary and bad behaviour, horses do not respond to being hit. They do not understand it and they do not respect a rider that hits them.
Use precise aids and use them firmly if needed, but never hit and yell at your horse. Be a place of comfort for your horse and they will turn to you when they need help to be calm or if they are scared.
Most of all give them time.
Time to Ditch the Itch
Photo by EqStyleTheory photographer, Brooklyn Gregory (@bmgphotography_)
To Scratch or to Not Scratch, that is the problem… We’ve all seen it or heard of it – The itchy horse! The itchy horse isn’t just the type that has a little scratch every now and again. We are talking about a horse that is labelled “the itchiest horse in the world” or “the horse that breaks tree branches and moves fence posts because he/she scratches on everything!” No matter what you do they are still itchy and you have the receipts to prove it. This itchiness not only drives you bonkers, it drives your horse bonkers too. Your horse can’t sleep, eat, play, be ridden, and is miserable because of this horrible itch. You have also perhaps built multiple electric fences or contraptions around trees to stop them scratching, but no matter what they find a way to damage property in the process of their obsessive scratching.
So, let’s treat the itch rather than close off the scratch points, because the Itch is the problem.
My horse Freddy is a horse with the Itch. When I first enquired into buying him in 2011, I was sent a picture. I thought he had rolled in mud, but the girl told me he had bald patches on his body because he has the Itch. I had not come across this before, so I took him on not knowing how it would drive me bonkers. I tried every product I could find and spent hundreds of dollars in trying to find a way to fix his itch. Finally, I started talking to a knowledgeable pharmacist. She told me to try the items they use for Nappy Rash and Eczema. I was puzzled; Fred didn’t have Nappy Rash or Eczema. Never the less, I was so desperate for a solution that I ended up buying the items. I went home positive and ready to give it a go, mainly because it was so cheap and to be truthful, I was at my wits end. So off I went to visit Fred with Pinetarsol Solution (it comes in a bath oil but I used the solution), Sudocrem and Bepanthen Nappy Rash cream in hand. These items had cost me less than $50, so I was smiling as I drove with gusto to his paddock the next day. I had done some research on the items the night before and found out the following:
Pinetarsol Solution is an item made from Pine Tar. It is used to relieve itchiness and inflammation while cleansing the skin. It is said to be used for many skin conditions including: Dermatitis, Eczema, Psoriasis, Chicken Pox, Nappy Rash, Sunburn, Prickly Heat, Hives, Insect Bites and other itching. It is a concentrate that has to be diluted with water or it can irritate the skin so please always read the instructions and heed this warning.
Sudocrem is a Zinc based ointment that soothes the skin as it is applied. It is mainly used to treat Nappy Rash. It was also designed for the treatment of Cuts, Grazes and minor Burns. I have it as a staple in my First Aid Kit for my horses. It is water-repellent so the Sudocrem will remain no matter the weather and will stay applied even if your horse is paddock-kept. My horses are paddock-kept and the cream does stay on.
Bepanthen Nappy Rash Cream helps fight off Nappy Rash while keeping the skin hydrated. It is also waterproof much like Sudocrem so again it will not wash off in the weather. It also contains Pro-Vitamin B5 which helps the skin to heal; which is why I use both Sudocrem and Bepanthen in this treatment of the Itch.
The final item you will need is a Cotton Sheet/Rug. Your horse has to be covered in order for this treatment to work. Here are a few reasons why:
The itch is caused from the bite of midges and insects. It is an allergic reaction to the saliva of the insect. If you do not cover your horse with a rug, the insects can continue to bite and cause the reaction to the allergy. This means that if you treat the issue without taking away future bites you will be fighting a never ending battle. If you cover your horse (and mesh rugs often do not work as the holes are too big and the midges can get through) then you can treat the allergy and stop future bites from occurring.
Once I knew this I understood the need for my horse to be covered from Head to Toe 24/7. Please invest in a rug that covers their ears, neck and entire body. Your horse will not rip the rug as they will not be scratching anymore. I also have a fly veil/mask on 24/7 so the insects will not bite their eyes at night. If you do this you will see results within days. Remember to also wash their rug each fortnight so that it can remain clean for your horse.
It took some tweaking, but the way I treat Itch seems to work. I have recommended this treatment to friends and it has also worked. I strongly believe in this treatment and provided you follow the steps, you will see instant results.
The Pinetarsol will stop the skin from feeling itchy so immediately your horse will feel relief. Then they can get the much needed relief and rest. Their mood will improve overnight and their skin will follow if you are diligent. You cannot apply this treatment one time and expect your horse to instantly be better. Also, you cannot stop the treatment altogether once your horse appears to be “back to normal”. The allergy to the insect bites or the Dermatitis skin condition will always be there, if you keep the treatment up the horse’s skin will stay healthy.
At first you will have to apply this treatment every second day, eventually you can apply the Pinetarsol and Creams once a week and it will be sufficient.
Rinse the horse thoroughly first, a full shower in all their little nooks and crannies. Leave them wet, do not scrape or towel dry the horse.
Mix a splash (approximately 30ml) into a bucket of water (warm or cold it doesn’t matter) and it will foam into a green solution. Get a sponge and sponge it all over, be really generous with this part.
I often use two buckets of solution for Freddy, he is a big horse. It’s a cheap product and the more you use the better.
Be sure to get this solution everywhere. The tail, mane, and shoulders are a known itchy part so you will see where the horse has been scratching. The head is also a known itchy spot, so be sure to get this solution behind the ears, into the forelock, and around the eyes. Please be careful not to get the solution into their eyes.
I always have a dry towel handy so I can quickly wipe the eyes or nostrils if I need to.
Do not wash this solution off. You need to leave it on the skin. Ensure that your horse is in the shade, not in direct sunlight. The sun can be painful and damaging if they have the itch.
Treatment Part 2 – the Creams.
Once the Pinetarsol has dried, you can apply the Bepanthen Nappy Rash Cream/Sudocrem. Apply it generously, it is not an expensive item and using a lot of it is beneficial.
Your horse will now look hilariously funny with big lots of white cream all over them and perhaps the odd green tinge to the fetlocks; but they will no longer be itchy. Your horse will be happy and able to rest, rather than scratching all the time. Your horse will not cut themselves from scratching on trees or posts.
Lastly, and most importantly, your horse will be healthier and that’s the goal when owning one of these beautiful animals.
Happy Riding & Keep Smiling
– Mel x
Choosing the Right Horse for you and your Lifestyle
Whenever I hear people say they are buying a new puppy, they always talk about choosing the right dog for their lifestyle. They discuss how big their yard is, how many times a week will have to walk it, what puppy schools can they attend, and how much time they have for the puppy. So much effort goes into this life-changing decision. I’m the kind of person that believes owning a pet (of any sort) is a huge commitment- one not to be taken lightly. Once you take on a new pet, you become responsible for their physical and emotional well-being from that moment onward.
When people are considering purchasing a horse, quite often you hear them say “I want a horse that can jump” or “I want to do dressage” but the conversations don’t seem to go into any more depth than that; hence this article. Knowing what you want to do when you ride is such a small amount of actually owning a horse. There is a myriad of decisions to be made and so much more to consider. Factors such as age, size, breed and temperament are only the beginning. The majority of decisions for buying the right horse rely on your riding ability, finances, and adjustment options. All of these will play a part in what horse will suit you and your lifestyle.
You also need to consider the giant elephant in the room: Time. How often can you ride per week? How often can you see your horse per week? Be honest with how much time you think you have and then split it in half. This is a more realistic figure then what you first calculated. A lot of horse owners are time poor; after all this is one of the most expensive sports on the planet, and not just in dollar bills! If you work full-time, commute for 2 hours per day, and have a family to cook for, then you simply may not have the time to own a horse. Being realistic with your lifestyle and the time you have for a horse is necessary. Our Equine friends are a huge commitment and unlike many other sports, this expensive pastime of ours involves a living breathing animal that relies on you 24/7. You cannot just leave a horse by itself for a week without any kind of care. It’s not like a set of golf clubs where you can put them in the shed and next Sunday they will be there waiting for a hit.
When people say I am lucky as I do not have children I say “Oh Contraire`, I have three horses – They are my children!” You will be gobsmacked at how much time and effort owning a horse actually is if you have never owned one before.
If the truth is that you do not have time to own a horse, that doesn’t mean you cannot ride. You can still enjoy this magical hobby at one of the many riding schools nearby. These schools allow lessons on one of their horses, which negates the commitment of ownership, and if you are lucky you may be able to ride the same horse each week. There are also half lease and full lease options at most barns. If not, riding different horses is a fabulous way to learn how to ride different styles and seats. It also hones in your riding skills and keeps you on your feet.
The next thing to consider is your riding ability. What do I mean by that? Consider what you are like as a rider and what your riding abilities are. Be honest with yourself and your capabilities. This is not a time to pretend you are a Grand Prix dressage rider if you are not (even though we all do this at times). This is a time to admit to yourself what type of horse you are capable of owning and riding.
If you are a Beginner, do not purchase a horse that is green, unbroken or requires further training. It can be downright dangerous if you are a beginner rider and you attempt to start a horse that doesn’t have basic training. Lots of green and unbroken horses are free on the Internet. A free horse may seem like a good idea if you do not have much in the way of finances, but generally these horses are free for a reason and they usually require re-training. Many people are injured because they wanted to “learn with their horse”. Please do not do this as you could be injured and fatally so. Try to find what I call a “been-there-done-that” horse. A “been-there-done-that” horse is a horse that has already competed, attended Pony Club, or been to many shows and is desensitized to such stressful environments. They are trained, well behaved, and essentially “bomb proof”. The horse should be easy to catch, tack up, etc. “Bomb proof” horses are perfect mounts for beginners who may not have the riding skills to handle a spooky horse. These horses also will come with a ton of information from the seller and will make owning them so much easier, especially if this is your first horse.
The seller will be able to tell you if they prefer to be in a stable or in a large paddock, and how much feed they require to maintain a healthy weight and what types. These types of a horse will quite often be advertised as a “Schoolmaster”.
Now it is the time to consider what you would like to do with your new horse? Do you want to compete in showjumping or dressage? Do you want a horse to go trail riding with friends on the weekend? Would you like to attend Pony Club or competitions? If you know what you would like to do with your new horse, this will immediately narrow down your choices. You wouldn’t pay money to purchase an experienced show jumper if you want to go trail riding on the odd weekend with friends as that would be a waste of money.
Information on what you would like to use your horse for will also help you narrow down the next consideration: Age. You wouldn’t purchase a 20 year old horse if you want to start doing cross country over long distances as the horse wouldn’t be able to cope with the physical exertion. You also wouldn’t purchase a horse that is 3 years old and needs to be started if you want a horse you can compete on without issues.
Age and Experience do not automatically go hand-in-hand when it comes to horses. There are horses that are 8 years old and have competed at the Olympics. There are also horses that are 20 and have never left the back paddock. Do not get stuck on thinking that if a horse is middle aged (approximately 8-16 years) then they are a “been-there-done-that” horse.
The most important item on the list is to find a horse that you like. Find a horse you think you can get along with. Find a horse that suits your riding abilities. Find a horse that is a fit for you and your lifestyle. It’s much like choosing a spouse. You wouldn’t pick a spouse who wants to go to the beach every day if you can’t stand the sand. We pick partners with similar interests and personalities we can get on with. Choosing an equine partner is much the same. It needs to be a fit or it will not work. Always do a “test drive” and vet check whenever you’re looking at a horse, this is how you learn their quirks. Make sure to bring an experienced rider or trainer to make sure your four legged friend is safe and healthy.
Purchasing a horse is big decision and whilst we need the horse to be able to do what we would like to do, they have to suit us and our lifestyle or they will be a chore instead of a hobby. Horses can bring so much joy, happiness and peace to your life, but if you purchase the wrong horse it can be very stressful and expensive.
So to wrap-up, remember to set a budget, calculate if you have the time to own a horse, and assess your riding ability first and foremost. After these decisions have been made, decide what you would like to do with your horse and where you will keep him/her. Afterward, it’s the fun part- Finding your very own Unicorn and riding on rainbows!
Happy Riding & Keep Smiling…