'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Archive for March, 2014

I’ve tried everything but nothing has worked!

I’ve tried everything but nothing has worked!

From freefoto.com

From freefoto.com

When a new client makes an exclamation like this, a therapist’s response may vary from “well I won’t be able to help you either” – through a range of thoughts – from seeing this client as their next great challenge and/or wanting to be competitive with the series of therapists the client has seen; and any where in-between these responses.

It will depend on how this exclamation is made to me as to what my response is on that day. So in today’s blog I am just throwing around some ideas for pondering upon. I am happy if anyone wants to comment or discuss some of these points.

Because healing is multidimensional and mercurial in nature, it is often difficult to make such a claim. Often what the client has tried, has worked in some way.

Many of us on a mass consciousness level have been indoctrinated into a ‘quick fix’ mentality where we believe an aspirin will take away every ill and dis-ease. Healing is not like that, it is an evolving process that needs to be adjusted as each horse responds to what is being done to rectify an issue.

For example with massaging a horse: A client may have had another therapist seeing to that horse for a period of time, but they identified different issues. Just because I come along and then identify another area, does not make either of us wrong. The previous therapist may have addressed one area, and rightly so. If they had not massaged the area they had, I may not have been able to identify the next area to address.

On a bad day a practitioner of any ilk, may be a little off with their approach. They may not have listened fully to the client or they may have their own attitudes and belief systems they hold strongly too.

Have you told the practitioner everything, sometimes what you think is of no consequence may just be the key to unlocking the solution.

I believe the key to effective healing is finding the practitioner who is the best fit for you and your horse at whatever stage you are at. Don’t make the mistake that if you had a bad massage experience, a bad veterinary diagnosis, or a weird energy healer that all practitioners working under that banner are going to also be ‘bad’.

A truly gifted healing experience may comes down to the intention of the practitioner and/or the client, and no matter what modality they used on the day, it was simply to conjute to achieve the result.

I’ve sometimes thought my own practitioner’s have walked on water one week, and then the next week had that illusion shattered quite dramatically. The alchemy between you, the practitioner and your horse are vital to any healing process. If you or your horses don’t meld with the practitioner, negative thoughts can block or inhibit any healing process.

Then there are life’s lessons. If your horse is not responding to treatment, is your horse supposed to? What do you have to learn from this experience? Many good practitioners found their passion when they couldn’t help one of their own horses the traditional way, it began a life long quest of their own, that many now get to benefit from.

Sometimes it may be the practitioner who needs to learn humility or be tested outside of their comfort zone. Arrogance can manifest at any time.

What could the karma between you and that practitioner be? Have you ever had a friend rave about their farrier, think he is the only one to ever touch a horse’s hoof and then you book that farrier and he cripples your horse? Could you be repaying a karmic debt for something you did to that farrier a few lifetimes ago, or could it be that your friend had a better karmic relationship with the farrier?

With acute and life threatening issues, your veterinarian is always the primary practitioner. In some parts of the world it is mandated by law that your veterinarian is the primary practitioner for any condition. Unfortunately in some cases even deemed the only legal entity. That’s another story for another blog.

A well worn analogy in most healing circles is to ask the client to see their horse (and themselves) as an onion, with layers, and that there is a progression where the onion needs to be peeled away, each layer after each layer, until you get to the root cause of the discomfort and address it.

Another example that was a theme over the last few weeks has been clients coming to me and saying that their horse had been on a certain medication and that the medications had not worked. Now, I will often mentally probe this. They may have worked, but not met the client’s expectation. Then they try the herbs I suggest, and fantastic, the infection or cough or whatever goes away. But, would the herbs have worked so well if the medication their veterinarian had prescribed had not been given first?

I don’t know.

I do know that if I have a serious issue, I want a veterinarian to make the call as to what that issue is (ie provide the diagnosis), and then if there is a need, the horse be given the first level of treatment. Yes, your horse may get sensitivity from the drugs, but after the medication has helped the horse begin the healing process the herbs can then help re-balance the body and continue the process. You may not completely ‘fix’ (oops there is that need for a quick fix again) initially, but you have saved your horse’s life or spared yourself months of long term repair identifying the issue quickly so that you understood what you were trying to heal.

Be cautious about being adamant that your horse has a certain condition and refuse to contact your veterinarian for a diagnosis. This can either make the ‘real’ issue worse; or damage a friendship because you took the advice of a well meaning friend and that advice had negative consequences. If you are not feeling right about a diagnosis, you can also seek a second opinion.

Often when you think something has not worked, it is worth going back to that practitioner and discussing this with them. Your expectations may have been unrealistic. When you go back to that practitioner, as you discuss the issue, more information may be exchanged and together you find a solution.

Hopefully not, but it may be that the practitioner thinks that what they are doing is working because they never hear from their clients and get the feedback they need, they may continue with poor practices.

And sometimes – it is a bad mesh for whatever reason, and you do need to get a second opinion or move on to another therapy.

Even practitioners in the same field will have a different approach – that is part of the art of healing. I will have studied different herbal philosophies to another practitioner, that does not make one of us any better than the other. What I encourage with my students is they take what I am teaching as a foundation, and then what they make of it and create from that – is their approach. The ones who end up being successful have really stepped into their own expression of what I have given them.

 Because healing is such a dynamic process, you cannot afford to be rigid.

I may be completely wrong. I may look back on this blog in 6 months or 6 years time and cringe at my thoughts. But today as I hit the send button, they are valid for me.

 

written by Catherine Bird

Advertisements

Repelling Insects, Naturally

Lily peering through her fly mask from Katy Wicks

Lily peering through her fly mask from Katy Wicks

Bugs, flies, midges, mosquitoes; why are our horses plagued by them? Whether we like it or not, insects are just another part of nature. But each horse that is pestered by these little beasties can, thanks to nature, also enjoy some relief. Essential oils (natural aromatic essences from flowers and plants) provide a unique approach and are chosen to complement the individual. Also helpful are herbs and supplemental nutrients.

While no horse will be – or should be – totally free from biting insects, a healthy horse tends to be less tasty and appealing to them. A healthy horse is also less susceptible to the problems these pests could cause. So your first line of defence is to keep your horse’s insides working properly. If your horse is not at his optimum health, he can give off detectable odours that attract bugs, similar to how odors of decay alert and attract bugs.

It is important to minimise the intake of feeds high in chemical residues and unnatural feed supplements; these slow the horse’s metabolism. The topical use of cortisone based drugs eventually weakens the skin and leaves horses even more vulnerable to attack. You may have to use them in an emergency, but long term use is best avoided.

Rosehips are a very versatile herb, and adding the granules to your feed daily can assist your horse to be less attractive. Rosehips are high in vitamin C in a form that assists the liver to detoxify, which in turn encourages a clean internal system. They are also high in copper, and one theory developed by Pat Coleby (author of Natural Horse Care) suggests a copper deficiency is more likely in darker horses, so if your horse is attracting a few too many bugs this summer, he may benefit from supplementing rosehips.

Coleby goes on to say “Horses receiving the correct amount of copper and other minerals do not have trouble with bots, and in most cases they do not even lay eggs at all.” Other herbs that are rich sources of copper are skullcap, sage leaves, white oak bark, yucca root and gotu kola. Some of these herbs could also be utilised in an herbal strip along your horse’s fence line.

Two other supplements that can be useful as feed additives that are high in copper and useful when your intention is to repel bugs are brewers yeast and pumpkin seeds. You can also add apple cider vinegar to help balance your horse’s pH levels and it can also be added to a wash or spray as an external repellent.

Garlic is another popular herb people use to repel bugs. It is high in sulphur which has its health benefits and sometimes less desirable side effects. When giving garlic many owners give too much, and in some cases when they give garlic at the same time as drugs prescribed by their vet, or they have been giving large doses long term, a vulnerable horse can develop a sensitivity to this herb. With that in mind, I find a heaped tablespoon every second day is usually sufficient with most horses to achieve a bug repelling scent from your horse’s pores. In the situation where you inherit a horse with a lice infection, you can increase this dose up to two tablespoons a day (providing the horse does not have ulcers in his gut) to help get rid of the lice, and then return to the recommended dose.

Itch from midges is one infestation that is almost impossible to help. The owner with a horse with sweet itch has to vary the approach as the bugs seem to figure out the strategy very quickly and soon return in many cases. Herbs that help the skin, worth trialing, are cleavers, nettles, burdock, pau d’arco, astragalus, seaweed, or echinacea. Your horse’s reaction to the midges is a simple allergic reaction, so your focus in dealing with this issue is to build a healthy immune system with the use of alterative herbs such as these.

Robert McDowell (author of Natural Horsekeeping) suggests aloe vera to relieve itches and stinging bites. You can use the inside of the cut fresh plant or buy a pure gel from a health food store. Dock leaves are acidic and will neutralise alkaline stings such as that of a wasp to crush a fresh leaf in your hand then rub onto the bite, whereas bee stings are acidic and are relieved by alkaline substances such as bicarbonate of soda. For itchy skin, he suggests rubbing in freshly crushed chickweed or the use of a chickweed balm.

Topical application leads us to the use of aromatherapy. In most cases, quality essential oils are safe, but their effectiveness depends upon the individual horse. How much the horse sweats and the scent of his own sweat can have a bearing on how long the scent of the essential oil continues to repel an insect, and in some cases what repels a fly on one horse may attract the same fly on a different horse. Whether it be the scent of your horse, his tasty blood chemistry or his environment, what works for your horse may not work well for your neighbour’s horse.

Some people do mix up generic chemical products and use the ‘fools’ measure, that extra sloosh just for luck, and this is where you can get toxicity problems or skin reactions. Do not add essential oil blends to chemical or other fly repellents; this can also cause horses to get sick or have severe reactions.

You don’t need a lot of the essential oil; a 3 to 5% dilution of essential oils in your carrier is enough. However the evaporation rate is fairly quick with essential oils, which leads to the necessity of regularly applications. Sometimes adding a little shampoo or vegetable oil to the liquid will slow down the evaporation rate of your essential oil blend. As each essential oil has its own evaporation rate, some evaporate in ten minutes while others may take up to four hours. This is where the art of blending can extend the life of your application. Some people like to use balm rather than a spray to also slow down the evaporation rate.

A horse’s olfactory sense does not fatigue like ours does, so your repellent mix will be inhaled by your horse constantly and smelling for its duration, so it is polite to ask the horse if he likes it.

Caroline Ingraham (author of Aromatherapy for Animals) makes an interesting observation with horses and flies. She observed that flies would hang around the area of the horse that had stagnant energy, if flies gravitate to the stomach area she looks at clearing blocks in the stomach meridian; if they are mainly around the eyes she connects this with the liver and offers the horse essential oils to support the liver. This further supports the individuality of horses, and why one essential oil may work on one horse and not on another.

She noted that horses treated with aromatics, either orally (please only do so under a trained aromatherapist’s supervision) or by inhalation that flies would often disappear.

Essential oils with repelling qualities include any of your citrus essential oils (but be careful if exposing your horse to sunlight as most of these are photosensitive); eucalyptus and lavender, or an essential oil high in sharp tones like basil, geranium, marjoram, frankincense, palmarosa, and any your horse selects to balance his internal health that day. Keep your selection simple as you may have to vary your application each day.

I don’t use citronella; there are too many contraindications such as photosensitivity and skin reactions in susceptible horses and in some cases blistering. I suggest if you choose to include citronella in a blend to repel insects that you keep the dilution much lower than is seen in many blends shown on the internet for instance; often 20 drops in a pint of carrier is sufficient.

Tea tree essential oil is one to keep handy if your horse does get bitten by bugs. It is anti pruritic, which means it will take the itch out of most annoying skin irritations. Don’t overuse this essential oil – a 1% dilution is often enough to bring relief. For the more cautious owner, chamomile tea washed over the affected area will bring relief.

Joey is the Appaloosa and Lily, managing flies with their masks from Katy Wicks

Joey is the Appaloosa and Lily, managing flies with their masks from Katy Wicks

Finally, good management deters biting insects. In some cases we may have to compromise the ideal and rug our horse with a light mesh rug when the bugs are excessive in the biting season; some owners also make up a shade-cloth boot for their horses’ legs. It is essential to clean manure from the paddock or yard to discourage flies from breeding. Plant herbs like garlic, tansy, citrus scented geraniums, lavender, rue and wormwood around your barn.

First published – Natural Horse Magazine Vol 8 Issue 3  written by Catherine Bird

 

 

 

Subtle Abuse: When Aids Become Weapons.

I liked this blog so much I decided to reblog – training or healing – so many parallels, especially in today’s quick fix ‘aspirin’ society.

Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

WMreinaidMy client’s mare is lovely; a very well-bred athletic horse. When my client bought her, the previous owner suggested my client get a cowboy to ride her at first, she needed spurs all the time and the horse was ‘mare-y‘, whatever that means. I get a little mare-y myself at the suggestions.

My client decided the best course of action was working on the fundamentals. That’s where I came in. My initial feeling was that the young mare was pushed hard and fast. She needed some decompress time and although she looked for the familiar spur pain, we took a slow approach to give her time to notice the fighting had stopped.

The mare was absolutely terrified of plastic bags and oddly, because it was an out-of-context fear compared to her wonderful, smart personality in general. She was not at all spooky.

One day my client sent me…

View original post 743 more words

Herbs, Oils and a Pinch of Love

Catherine BirdOur horses become a very special part of our lives. With the speeding up of time we are busy rushing here and there, looking for quick fixes and generally compounding any issue we have in our lives due to our own haste. When we start to look within and spend quality time with our horses, the insights we can learn from them can open up a new exploration of the world around us.One way to take time is to look at how we can work with our horses naturally. With domestication and our hectic routines our horses are close to losing touch with their ancient roots. We can reintroduce into their lives a selection of herbs and aromas from essential oils that will help all of us get back to a natural state of being.

Herbs

Herbs can be traced back to their use with several American Indian tribes and the Romani Gypsies of Europe. Both these cultures had accomplished horsemen and women who combined their training methods with the use of herbs. Even using herbs can be seen in the works of Xenophon in his book The Art of Horsemanship where is notes the importance of adding herbs to horses bran of an evening.

The use of herbs for me conjures up a romantic image, of times gone by where we were more connected with the earth, and its cycles. When I read veterinary or stock care books from the 1880s their training methods were severe. I tend to wonder if it was because the natural products they relied upon in these texts contributed to the horses behaviour so severe handling was needed. The use of opium and cannabis-based products was high.

Today the herbalists avoid herbs such as these or those that require a more than heroic effect to endure so one heals. The use of cathartic or purgative herbs is limited and rarely used with horses. We have gone back to the use of gentle herbs, when used wisely are unlikely to have adverse effects.

These are quite often the herbs that you would find growing across paddocks or along roadsides. Where in the past horses that had free-range of a healthy grassed paddock could graze upon if the need arose. These days to get the benefit of herbs we need to supplement. You dont necessarily have to give your horse buckets full of herbs to get this benefit, often a combination of cut and sifted herbs can have an effect within the body in cupful doses. If the herbs are powdered you may not need to use more than two tablespoons to help the body heal itself.

Aromatherapy

With many of our horses being stabled and not able to get out often due to our land restriction, essential oils can bring a touch of brain sunshine into their lives.

Aromatherapy is a relatively new therapy. The use of essential oils can be documented throughout the ages, but its modern application is less than one hundred years. The beauty of aromatherapy is your horse can assist you with the selection of what he considers is most appropriate.

Essentials have a special quality where they can act on the body when inhaled. Some of the constituents can then enter the bloodstream via the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and the scent can be read by the olfactory receptors, which in turn has a cascade effect throughout the body. Emotions and memories can be accessed that have been stored within the limbic system and neurochemicals get releases through out the body to help instil a state of wellbeing.

When using aromatherapy with your horse, you also gain the benefits from inhaling the essential oils that your horse selects while using them with him or her. That way if some of the emotional issues your horse needs to clear from his body belong to you, you are less likely to regenerated that particular tone and keep stocking him up with your imbalances.

The Pinch of Love

These therapies are useful in their own right, however when they are done with love and intention the increased effect can be ten-fold.

There is an energetic interaction between a horse and their human. The day to day working together sees an interesting mingling of energies. Over the years the original use of the horse to help us plough our fields, fight our wars, and even provide us with a meal has no longer been needed. However the genetic memory held in his body triggers him into being of service to us in some way.

This unconditional love sees him often take on the energy of our illnesses or emotional and mental imbalances and if we are wise enough to spot when an issue is truly ours and take responsibility for it and address it, then our horse has served us and can heal.

In a way when we take the time to help him with herbs and essential oils the act of caring for our horses with natural means completes the cycle.

This does not mean that herbs and essential oils replace veterinarian care. They simply give the owner and the horse is more intimate way of relating and accessing a healing on a deeper level. I tend to prefer that veterinarian care be administered first to deal with what has developed in the physical body safely and with supervision. Then once the process has began then introduce the herbs and essential oils to facilitate healing on the mental and emotional levels so the physical manifestation is less likely to develop again.

 

written by Catherine Bird

Stretches for Your Horse

Sometimes a simple stretch can help your horse with a movement that may be a bit ‘sticky’.

Simple stretches can assist your horse with movement

Simple stretches can assist your horse with movement

Before you stretch your horse, warm the muscles. You can do this by walking your horse for ten minutes, or massage the area you intend to stretch. Ensure your horse is squared up behind and on balanced ground before picking up the foreleg. It is important your horse relaxes into the stretches because if he tenses you will find it difficult to achieve the desired results.

Your stretches should always be slow and gently moving into a slight resistance. Do not tie a horse for these stretches, having a handler is better so they can also guide your direction and help the horse keep his balance. A handler will help you stretch your horse in his natural line of movement. As a guide, begin with a 10 second hold when stretching your horse, as your horse gets used to being stretched you can extend this to 15 seconds, eventually as he accepts the stretch hold for 30 seconds. Keep the stretches short in durations and small in size to begin with.

Stretches to Help the Front End and Foreleg

Girth stretch

Begin by picking your horse’s leg up as if you were going to clean out his feet, gently support his fetlock in one hand and do small circles or give the leg a light jiggle to help him relax. Then have your inside hand come in between his front legs and rest your hand above the knee behind the fold. Stand up straight and let his knee rest against your inside knee, meet his resistance, take a breath and then take up the slack towards your belly. Hold the limb for the required time and if the horse wants to stand down on you, raise the knee slightly. Ideally the radial and ulna bones are parallel to the ground. When you are first teaching your horse you may want to give him a break by returning his leg to the ground between each stretch. As he learns what you are asking of him you can do three gentle stretches in one session. When a horse is restricted in his movement here he may become resentful when being saddled, and if the deeper pectoral muscles has become tense and painful it can appear as heaviness or to be on the forehand.

Elbow Stretch

You can then continue into a triceps or shoulder flexor stretch by cradling your arms behind the knee and gently lift upwards until you meet his slight resistance, as he relaxes you can lift slightly higher to complete the stretch. The triceps is a three-headed muscle with three places of origin that work in combination to extend the elbow joint, flex the shoulder during its swing phase of the stride and also play an important part in stabalising the forelimb.

Return to the beginning of the girth stretch position and then step to the side of the horse and towards his tail and rest his knee against your thigh/hip is resting on the radial and ulna bone, ease your hip towards his chest and again meet the resistance and take up the slack, this stretch is good for the lateral muscles, especially for the horse just beginning to learn lateral movements.

Whenever stretching your horse’s legs, do not fully extend the leg. You do not want to hyperextend any joints. You may have noticed your veterinarian stretch your horse’s foreleg out fully, this is not a stretch for you to perform because the leg is not able to be moved into a stretch affectively. Your veterinarian is doing this for diagnostic purposes. It can also teach your horse to bear down on you with his weight.

Shoulder Stretch

One of my favourite stretches assists the biceps brachii that branches over the point of shoulder. Pick up the foreleg and have the fetlock resting in your hand, this hand is simply to support the leg. Make sure the cannon bone is parallel to the ground and avoid closing the limb any further so as not to over flex. Let the leg relax and bring your hand in front and above the knee and gently guide it back towards his rear.

When a horse is restricted here the biceps brachii in conjunction with the brachialis muscle is not able to lift the foreleg forward while flexing the elbow, I often find horses with limited extension respond to this stretch. These stretches are simple and can be added to your weekly routine. I often recommend to clients stretch a body area once a week. Each session includes a series of stretches such as those above, and you only need to do three (3) of each stretch in a session to help your horse’s muscles.

Never force your horse to do any of the stretches, you simply meet the resistance of the muscle and guide the muscle to open up to your request. This will achieve more results than a ‘yank’ or forced move. If your horse continues to resist a particular stretch you may need a specialist bodywork therapist or your veterinarian to assess your horse’s muscles in this area.

Stretches For Your Horse’s Back

From some point in history, man looked at the shape of the horse’s back and decided to sit on it. It is, after all, a particularly inviting shape, a sensual shape, a shape that is unique in the animal kingdom ~ Sarah Wyche

Your horse’s back can become sore if he has slipped, caught his hip on a gate latch, pulling back on a lead rope when tied, been cast in his box, pulled his leg through a fence, ridden over a change of surfaces, had an accident in a float, or suffered from poor shoeing or an ill fitting saddle. There are a number of signs to look for to indicate if your horse’s back may be sore.

Your horse may not want to move straight along the long side of the arena, he may become unbalanced in the canter, be unable to change diagonals easily at the trot on a circle, may go wide when asked to lengthen at the trot, have difficulty walking in a straight line down an incline, unable to track up, unwilling to lower his head and accept the bit. You as a rider may feel a loss of contact with one side of your seat, tension in your horse’s back or feel like you are riding ‘downhill’, feel twisted in the saddle or one of your stirrups feels longer than the other when it isn’t. Also consider your horse’s back is sore if your back is sore after riding.

Flexing the Back

Rock the horse gently with your hands over the spine to start to relax your horse’s back. With this stretch we are assessing where there may be resistance to bending his back in either direction. The muscles you are targeting here are the para spinal muscles by encouraging contraction in the opposite side of the spine using our fingers in a crescent stretch. Rock the horse to use the momentum. Lay the pads of your fingers on the opposite side pressing gently to get a contraction on that side and have him bend around your fingers.

This will give you a stretch in the muscles on the side you are on and also give you an indication if there is any muscle spasm causing your horse discomforted if the contraction under your fingers is resistant.

Lifting the Back

Use both sides with your hands close together with your arms close to your sides and your knees bent. Place your fingers pointing up and along the midline beginning just below the elbow and run your hands back to where the texture of the coat changes. Stand up holding as he lifts his back and try to make him lift his back in a slow controlled manner. Then hold for ten seconds. Then tickle him just behind the wither so he drops his back again and repeat the stretch. I find three belly stretches from each side of his body helps with the strengthening and development of the longissimus dorsi muscle.

The longissimus muscle connects the sacrum to the wither and runs the length of the back. This muscle helps stabilise the spine during movement and allows the limbs to swing through the phases of contraction and retraction. This muscle needs to be strong, yet subtle, so the rider is able to bring the forward movement from the hindquarters through to the neck.

The intention with these stretches is not to manipulate, they are to increase the range of mobility and have a horse able to carry you with ease. If your horse’s sore back or riding issues persists, please consult a professional.

Your veterinarian, saddle fitter, or body worker will be able to assist you. The longer an issue has been within the body, the more time you need to address the muscles. A soreness that has been present for a week will melt away almost immediately, but one that has been there for months or years will need to peeled away a layer at a time. For any stretches of the back make sure all your horse’s legs are square. This way you will be able to target the muscle groups you desire with ease.

Keeping Flexibility in the Neck and Poll

The horse’s neck is his main balancing mechanism. The horse often goes into co- contraction as a protection against loss of balance, and in doing so may create tightness in his neck that does not relax when he does. This can affect your carriage when asking for your horse to come onto the bit, and if long term in its nature, the ability of your horse to collect and come through from behind.

As a rider you may notice your horse is resistant to flexions of the poll and neck, your horse may not ‘settle down and feel like he is jarring in the front, become defensive to your hands, or develop limited extension as the trapezius and rhomboids tighten in response to the tension in the neck. When you are ready to stretch the neck, it is preferable that your horse has a relaxed neck.

Do not force any of these stretches. A simple technique to relax the neck is called jostling. This technique involves cupping your hands over the crest of your horse, placing your thumbs at right angles, and then rolling the crest towards your thumbs. This can be done with a light pressure to begin with, and can become a stretch in its own action if held where you find any resistance.

Opening the Poll

Place one of your hands over the poll to stabilise the joint before your begins and one hand underneath the chin where it is comfortable for the horse. Keeping your arms close to your body for support lift the chin hand to relax in a rocking motion.

You will feel him give and relax. It is important your horse is relaxed for this stretch so once he is go and stand in front of him and move the curve of his chin on to your shoulder.

Place the one hand behind the poll and ears and the other on the halter to keep his head from swinging into you. Once he gives his weight, encourage him to extend his nose by leaning away from him, this will have him lowering his poll and neck.

You may have to step back to accommodate the movement. This is a wonderful stretch for the poll flexors and the ventral neck muscles. It is like giving your horse a big hug and I find it very effective when I am massaging a horse that is tight in the poll.

Carrot Stretches

Using a carrot as the target is not ideal but sometimes unavoidable when teaching a horse a new stretch. The horse tends to give you a ballistic contraction rather than a slow controlled stretch. If you practice these stretches often, you will find your horse will do them willingly for a scratch or tickle.

To stretch the neck to the side it is easier to do the nose to barrel stretch with someone acting as a wall or against a wall so the horse can’t swing out. Place your back and shoulders against his so he has to move his neck out further first and then around you to the carrot. Place one hand on the halter and guide him to the carrot. Hold for the desired time. Then wait to give him the reward after his stretch when his head comes back to the front. (Chewing with your head to the side is uncomfortable and if your horse eats the carrot in the stretch he will also be uncomfortable.)

To stretch your horse’s neck and back you can ask the horses nose to come to the ground. Place the carrot between the legs below the knees and ask him to reach through, if he steps back he has not completed the stretch so do not reward him and ask him to do it again.

As well as getting him to touch low in front of his legs you can also ask for a lateral stretch where you place the carrot on the outside of his cannon bone or as he becomes more flexible the outside edge of his hoof. It is very important with this should be placed well below the knee, if you ask your horse to reach between his legs above the knee you may risk doing damage to the vertebral column. With these carrot stretches, two or three times in each session is sufficient and make sure you work side to side when stretching the neck. This is more effectively than one side only.

If you use stretches in your weekly routine with your horse you will assist him to give you what you ask of him athletically.

I would like to thank Debranne Pattillo of Equinology Inc for introducing me to this concept of stretching.

For further reading one book I have found useful in understanding how muscles affect movement is The Horse’s Muscles in Motion by Sara Wyche and Understanding the Horse’s Back by Sara Wyche.

If your horse develops any neck stiffness after a fall or accident, please have your veterinarian assess your horse to ensure there is no damage to the vertebral column or other underlying disease states.

written by Catherine Bird

Winter Hints for Horse and Human

For the Horse

Cindy Daigre shared Ferrell Hollow Farm-Senior Horse Sanctuary's Henry

Henry from Ferrell Hollow Farm-Senior Horse Sanctuary in the snow Feb 2014

Winter is a time when your horse will expend more energy to keep warm. How you assist him with this will vary with your local conditions, but there are a few simple things you can do wherever you have a definite “winter” season.

If your horse is still reluctant to drink during the cold weather you can add celery seeds to his feed to encourage your horse to drink more. It is also a good winter supplement as a digestive tonic and assisting with stiffness from arthritic joints in older horses.

A long coat is the horses first line of defence against cold weather. If a horse is rugged or blanketed or kept in a warm barn, he will not grow an adequate length of coat to protect him against the elements. If given the opportunity horses will huddle together and run around to keep warm . Care does have to be taken if your horse has come from a warmer climate and not yet acclimatised or if he gets wet. A wet coat will make it more difficult to stay warm and maintain comfort.

To warm your horse from the inside out, Ginger is my favourite wintertime herb. It brings warmth to both you and your horse when given in feed to warm the gut, and generate warmth that permeates throughout the body. Ginger is also indicated for most illnesses that can be traced back to exposure to a draft or coldness in the body, any respiratory tract imbalance, to musculoskeletal issues.

Fenugreek seeds help keep condition on a horse. They are an appetite stimulant as well as well as helping with any imbalance in the respiratory tract. You only need to add a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds to a feed, however as the seeds are difficult to digest unassisted, steep the seeds in boiling water to soften before adding the seeds and the water to your horse’s feed.

Chamomile is another herb that helps with condition. It helps regulate the immune system in a gentle way, however when it comes to body condition it supports the muscles in the body.

Your horse will appreciate the scent of aromatherapy if stabled in a closed environment. They help cheer up the barn sour horse and also act as negative ion generators to inhibit the spread of airborne pathogens. Grapefruit essential oil is referred to as “brain sunshine” and simply wafting the uncapped bottle under your horse’s nose will lift his spirits. Eucalyptus and Bergamot are antiviral and can be used in the same way to help build your horse’s resistance to ‘cold’ viruses.

The herb rosehip, when added to the feed of a stabled horse will also help to build his resistance to disease and improve recovery time after illness that may have been your reason for accommodating him in a barn.

When working horses in cold weather, warm horses up slowly before asking for serious work. It would also be of benefit to both yourself and your horse to give your horse a good brisk massage to warm you both up before even saddling. Sweeping effleurage and circular frictions will generate heat and warm up the muscles.

Most importantly when you are finished and unsaddled dry your horse off. Your horse needs to be cooled down thoroughly and brushed to stand the hair up so the fluffy hair traps air and keeps your horse warm Flat wet hair clings to the body and lets body heat escape.

One first aid remedy to have handy throughout winter at the first sign of any illness is the biochemic tissue salt Ferr Phos. Remembering the importance of veterinary care, this tissue salt can be administered easily and quickly directly into the mouth at the first sign of fever or runny nose. Garlic is another preventative herb and a tablespoon every second day is enough to bolster the immune system through the colder months, and Echinacea root brewed into a decoction is often good to start your horses on, especially if your horse is new to a cold environment or had a history of respiratory complaints.

Other herbs useful during the winter months are Nettles, Yarrow and Hawthorn Leaf as they improve the circulation to the most parts of the body and provide extra nutritional basics.

A little common sense goes a long way.

During the colder months respiratory tract infections tend to be an issue. Herbs such as Elder, Yarrow, Elecampane and Mullein, Echinacea, and Astragalus are all herbs you need to know how to get hold of if your horse needs this sort of support.

Elder flowers contain tannins and mucilage which are very soothing to irritated mucosal tissue. Elecampane and Mullein are two herbs to consider if your horse is afflicted with a cough. Elecampane while it soothes the respiratory tract also strengthens its ability to eliminate congestion from the lungs. It is very useful for the horse who is irritated by dust in their feed. Mullein is more for the wet coughs, where there is persistent dampness, or where your horse may be sore and irritated in the respiratory tract.

Yarrow helps to dilate the peripheral blood vessels that become contracted in the cold, to assist the body to maintain a healthy warmth as well help address mild fevers or minor circulatory congestion.

If your horse has been unfortunate and fallen to an illness during the colder months you can use herbs to rebuild his immune system and strengthen him for the coming year. Astragalus is a herb that will help strengthen the whole body, and another that is becoming popular is the Bulgarian grown Tribulus. Using either of these herbs or combining them with traditional western herbs such as Licorice will help your horse recover with more strength from within. If this is an approach you need, find a herbalist who can supply you with a blend of the liquid extracts.

The most effective use of herbs with horses is simple and usually three or four herbs in a daily regimen will combine with a nice synergy to help your horse overcome most obstacles the cold weather creates within the body.

For the Human

No matter where you are in the world, the winter months can be a little wearing on the rider, especially when it comes time to get out of bed in the dark to get to your horse and stables, or to go down after a day’s work in the dark, or to try to be cheerful with icy cold hands and feet.

Dried Out Hands

The cold air always seems to dry out and roughen skin more than usual, no matter how much water we drink to stay hydrated. Olive oil can be warming to the body and is a simple moisturiser for the skin. For hands that get dry and rough, try a simple scrub of olive oil and half a teaspoon of white sugar in the palm of your hand. Lightly rub your hands together, then rinse off the sugar. Any residual oil can be worked into your hands. It is one of the simplest ways to help remove dead skin cells from your tired hands and moisturise them. You can add a drop or two of your favourite essential oil to help lift your spirits above the winter blues. (Abraded or irritated skin may be sensitive to strong EOs so try a small test spot first.)

Your Own Brew of Herbs

One of the best ways to stay warm in winter is by warming yourself from the inside. Brew up a warming tea of ginger, peppermint and elder flowers and take it with you to sip throughout the day. It will stay warm for hours in a well-managed thermos.

In the evening, you can make your own mulled wine – add a variation of herbs such as the sweet and fragrant mix of whole pieces of allspice, cassia, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, mandarin peel and cloves to a red wine. Combine the spices and citrus in red wine or a non-alcoholic beverage. Sweeten to taste (up to 1/4 cup sugar). Heat this through for at least 15 minutes, but don’t boil.

Your Daily Cheerful Tissue

Also carry a magic tissue with you throughout the day. The scent of essential oils added to a tissue can help create a barrier by acting like a personal negative ion generator, making it more difficult for viruses to pass through the air and make contact with you.

Bergamot is particularly effective if there is a viral infection going around your area and you have to travel to and from work or the stables on public transport.

Atkinson’s Kick-a-Germ Joy Juice

One old remedy to mix up, if you feel the beginnings of a cold or flu coming on, is this juice. Be warned it is for the heroic ones amongst us, but when I have been brave enough to cook up the ingredients, it has always helped push the bugs out of my system.

(Ref: Modern Naturopathy and Age Old Healers by Russell Frank Atkinson):

“Take four large cloves of garlic. Dice or crush them and put in a stainless steel or ceramic pot with one litre of water (1 ½ pints). If the cloves are not large and fat, make it six. Add three whole lemons, diced, that is skin, pith and all, one teaspoon of ginger and one teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, one nasturtium leaf and stem and let it simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring. Be careful not to let it boil. While cooling, add a dessertspoon or two of raw honey and stir it in. This is then strained and half a cup is taken each few hours. This is a natural antibiotic with no adverse effects, apart from garlic breath.”

A Curry or Composition Powder

For those of you less brave, a simple Thai or Indian curry will suffice. I like this option as it soothes my digestion as well as my soul when I am feeling vulnerable to all the bacteria and viruses waiting out there to take advantage in the cold weather. It follows loosely on from the use of composition powder by the physiomedical herbalist Samuel Thompson. He formulated this blend of herbs in 1846 and it contains barberry bark, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, prickly ash bark, and cloves.

It also makes an enlivening additive to soups during winter. Simply add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon depending on the size of your pot, and enjoy.

Bedtime

Marjoram is a warming essential oil and very sedative. It can be a useful one to inhale as you drift off to sleep, to help you let go of the worries of the day. If your body clock has trouble adjusting to the shorter days during winter, supplementing low doses of chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus) helps the body with the manufacture of its own melatonin and enables the body to readjust quickly. Taking a small dose before bed for a week or so should be sufficient to assist you. Do not take this herb if you are taking hormone replacement therapy.

Stay Warm

Most nasty bugs that thrive during winter thrive on cold, while the human body becomes more vulnerable when it is cold. Wear plenty of layers and keep your body warm so there is less opportunity for viruses and bacteria to invade your personal space.

A Little Morning Sunshine

During the shorter, damper days, the essential oil of grapefruit is considered a little drop of brain sunshine. When you first get into your morning shower, cover the drain hole with your foot, and simply drop three or four drops of this essential oil into the pooling water. This will help lift any dampened mood and start your day with a special brightness that will help you deal with any unwanted exposures – thoughts, pathogens, or otherwise.

Herbs for waterlogged horses

Dealing with flood waters

When a flood hits an area, there is not always enough warning to get horses out of the way of rising floodwaters.

flood-horse-feed-food-sick1

Firstly don’t panic, a horse can go without feed for a long period of time, and most floodwaters will recede in a couple of days.

Floodwaters often contain sewerage and other pathogens, so it is important once waters do recede you need to be stringent about cleanliness. Disinfect water containers and feed bins, stables need to be hosed out thoroughly.

Some horses may have injuries or wounds from debris that has been in the water, so thoroughly clean any open wounds. Herbs like calendula and rosehips can be added to feed to help build immunity and make the lymphatic system more effective at this time. Calendula made into a tea and used to wash infected cuts and scratches can be very effective.

If your horse develops mud fever, add clivers to your horse’s feed.

A course of probotics would be worth considering in case your horse has ingested a nasty bacteria while standing in water, this will help your horse reestablish healthy gut bacteria.

Horses have been known to suffer hypothermia if left standing in flood waters, so monitor them closely. This is when a thermal blanket comes in handy if available.  One teaspoon of ginger powder added to any feed after standing in chilly water; or a slice or two of fresh ginger root added to a water bucket will also help the older horse warm from within.

If your horse has been without feed for several days, introduce a soft feed slowly. Sometimes without feed horses can develop a sensitive gut, or even esophageal ulcers, so a warm bran mash or softened pellets will not irritate your horse. If the experience has stressed your horse, chamomile flowers added to the soften feed will help with settling his nerves and soothing the gut.

The most important thing is to not hesitate to contact your veterinarian. A local veterinarian will often have seen many horses by the time you call, and will have a good local strategy worked out to assist you.