By Chris Bates, Equine Therapist and Lecturer at London College of Animal Osteopathy (LCAO)
There is an old saying, “It takes an army to raise a child”. Any horse owner will tell you that it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say the same can be said for keeping horses.
Owning a horse is a huge responsibility but one that pays off big time when you do it right. Horses need a lot of very specialist care, from farrier to vet, trainer to saddler. In addition to hiring the best available professionals for your horse, owners also need to know what those experts need from them.
No Foot, No Horse
We take our feet for granted, but horses’ feet (at least domesticated horses) need to be regularly checked and trimmed/shod. The regularity a farrier needs to visit will depend on several factors including seasonal hoof changes, remedial shoeing and even breed of horse.
During the warmer, drier months, horses’ feet will grow faster to accommodate harder ground and the natural wearing of the foot.
During these warmer times your farrier might recommend using a hoof moisturizer to help maintain suppleness in the hoof wall and sole, this can help avoid foot soreness and cracking.
Another easy trick to help your horse’s feet when it’s very dry is to submerge the foot into water (in a safe rubber bucket is best) for around 5-10 minutes twice a week.
When winter comes around, hoof growth can slow considerably meaning that in some horses they may go longer between visits. However the damp conditions can raise the risk of bacterial hoof infections and hoof wall separation.
Always ensure hooves have been picked out correctly to avoid breeding grounds for infection. Some antibacterial gels and sprays can be useful if mild infection occurs.
Always call your vet if signs of inflammation or lameness are present. For safety, there should always be adequate space for the farrier to work on flat, even ground if possible.
Although some farriers will not mind the horse tied, it might be safer to have a handler holding the horse during the visit.
Ideally the foot should be clean and dry when the farrier arrives, this might not always be possible but catching field kelp horses early to allow any mud to dry and get brushed off is a good practice.
If you need to hose the horses legs prior to the farrier coming, then try to dry them with a towel as wet feet are slippery and risk accidents when shoeing and trimming.
Try to ensure the area is quiet and undisturbed by other horses as distractions can lead to fidgeting and this only makes the job harder.
As an equine therapist, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve turned up to treat and the horse is fresh out of the rain and covered in thick wet mud.
You wouldn’t go for a massage straight after doing a military assault course- you would take a shower first. For any therapy where either a hand or a machine is going to be applied, the horse needs to be clean and dry.
Electro-therapies won’t be as effective through a layer of muck. Hands can't palpate effectively. It's not expected that your horse should be freshly bathed and free of dust, even the cleanest of horses still have natural oils and exfoliated skin in the coat. However, your horse will benefit most from the visit if they are dry and groomed. It’s important that someone is there to handle the horse. This is for the safety of everyone involved and to help keep the horse happy during the session.
The therapist will likely need to see the horse walk and trot up to assess movement and so have a space where this is possible.
Ideally, the trot up area should be a straight flat area giving about 15-20 meters. However, shorter space is often adequate.
If the area is free of distractions, then even better. This allows the horse to move naturally without looking around as movement will change the body.
The handler needs to use a sufficient length of rope to let the horse carry their own forehand and not interfere with their way of going. The treatment space can be a stable or wash down area, as long as there is protection from the elements.
Generally, it is best to have only the handler and therapist in the vicinity as this gives safety space and calms the horse. Take out haynets and any other items that might get in the way or be a distraction.
If treating in a stable then having the door unbolted means that the handler or therapist can get out in an emergency easily. Also, make sure the stable is clean so your therapist can work without standing in muck.
The therapist is likely to ask about feeds and medications/supplements, so be sure you know what the horse is taking daily and details about their daily regime.
Many therapists prefer that the horse be ‘cold’ for its evaluation. This means that the horse has been resting in its stable for at least an hour and not just after being ridden or having just come off the horse walker.
This will help the therapist make the most accurate evaluation of the horse as the muscles haven’t stretched out or been warmed up, which can sometimes give a biased feel or look.
Stay tuned for Part II of “Preparing for Your Equine Professional” coming soon! For more information on how to become an Equine Osteopath, click here