Archive for February, 2010

We have a bit of the ice crust going here with the recent bout of snow followed by a warming sun. I had fun watching my corgi/beagle mix as she would trot happily on top of the crust only to have a hind leg or two slip down into the snow on occasion. Slowed her pace and brought my attention to her hind feet.

A dewclaw long over due

“Damn, I forgot to trim her dewclaws again.”  TC has big, prominent dewclaws. I remember reading that high-speed video has shown the dog’s dewclaw comes into action when it is running at top speeds. The theory is that the claw helps grab the ground for increased traction or helps stabilizes the ankle.

Relating everything to the horse is an easy leap for me. Naturally, I started wondering about ergots. I think of them as the dewclaw of the horse. Ergots are described as just a vestige of a finger no longer used­­–– or is it? Does the ergot play a part in stabilizing an ankle in snow, muck or deep footing? Does a jumper with an ergot (because the flexion is going to take that ergot all the way to the ground) have less or more injury then a jumper without one. Does an ergot have any impact on the speed going around a jump course? How does the ergot affect a horse sliding? It might slow it in competition, but in real life, would it help the animal navigate a slippery slope? Here are some high-speed videos of a race horse, polo field and sliding cow pony. As you watch the flexion think about what a prominent little nub at the back of the ankle might do.

These polo ponies don’t have ergots, but what if they did, how would it affect their movement when their fetlock is touching the ground? Would it have any affect on the hind foot hitting the front pastern?

And what about the effect of the foot sliding, would an ergot dig in and slow the action down?

We don’t work with our animals the way we did a hundred years ago so attributes that we don’t see come into play we don’t see a function for. These little dried up twigs at the back of the horse’s ankle aren’t particularly attractive either.

The Ergot is "B"

The majority of horses entering a show ring will have the ergots removed. My own two boys have feathers that cover the ergots so I’m pretty much oblivious to them. But I do wonder about them and if they still might not have an effect on the horse’s movement. Ergots have become very curious things for me.


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We still have snow on the ground here, the days are above freezing and the nights dip below the ice mark. Perfect weather for the sap to run for maple syrup. Perfect weather for putting a nice crust of ice on the snow. For those of you who don’t live in a snowy climate, think of the chocolate “dip” on a soft ice cream cone: it hardens over the soft sweetness underneath.

This environmental condition makes it tough on walking for man or beast. In fact, with a lot of snow on the ground and multiple warm/cold cycles you can end up with a half-an-inch or more of ice on top of the snow. That amount of ice supports the weight of a human and resists the initial weight of a horse. The result is an ice rink where everyone starts flying. The danger to us is often after the snow and hard cold of winter, it rests in the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of spring.

During one particularly bad year I had an “ah-ha” moment while walking my Icelandic across his paddock. Those little short-strided, up-and-down steps had him crashing through the ice crust in complete safety. In fact, I found myself following behind to walk in his footsteps. My Thoroughbred, with the beautiful flick of her foot couldn’t go out until the paths were totally cleared and sanded, and then it was walking around the prepared trail, not at liberty in the “ice field.”  She would place her foot down and then start to load the shoulder over it. The lag of the shoulder weight over the hoof allowed the lightly weighted foot enough time to slide forward on the ice and, well, you don’t want to be watching a horse do a split on ice. It stood as an excellent reminder to me to appreciate the aspects of each individual breed instead of trying to make my breed fit a cog in a discipline wheel. He may not be that lovely gaited horse in a show ring, but he doesn’t slip and slide on a trail. I contend that a good part of that trail stability is due to his short, up-and-down stride. The “sewing machine”  action is very stable on ice; also, these horses have “ice studs” on as well.

It is interesting to look at the shift of weight and leg movements on different breeds and even the horses within those breeds. The length of stride; foot, knee and shoulder action; even the set of the neck and the use of the head will interact with the way the horse moves. And what it does. Great game for young 4-H and Pony Club members: show a photo or video of a horse breed and ask what type of terrain, climate, job the horse would be good for. Check out this slow-mo video of racing.

We forget, it was less than 100 years ago when we needed horses to be more work-functional than beautiful. Even today a lot of  “cart” horses have an up-and-down leg action where as the racehorse has a forward-and-out leg action. Each animal needs to be respected for its breed’s original characteristics, but each should be used appropriately. It saddens me to see breeds who brought in the harvest, got it to market, worked cattle on hot plains and dragged logs through granite trails filled with snow- that these animals are dismissed in today’s general society. Today’s vogue is for flash and fancy footwork, that holds up only under very expensive prepared, ground conditions. Here’s a look at how we used to get wood for our houses.

Oh, back to the snow. Some of you may be wondering about the ice crust scratching the pasterns of the animals. Absolutely happens. Which is why you might see an old gum bell boot around a horse in snow, flipped up like a flower opening to the sun. It offers some practical protection, as does the natural feathers of many cold climate breeds.

flipped up and ready to protect the pastern against ice

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Eliminating the pencil with applications

I’m a gadget girl. No I don’t need them, but I like them and I use them and I justify them by thinking of all the people I help keep employed when I buy a new gadget.

This past holiday I got an iTouch, my newest gadget. I had asked for one because I am intrigued by the applications you can get for them. I need a dictionary everywhere I go. I need a Spanish dictionary half the places I go. I need a way to keep track of what it is I’m suppose to be keeping track of. I need my contacts with me because I’m always at the post office sending stuff and missing zip codes or whole street numbers. (What “Janine in Boston” won’t get it there?)

Imagine my dismay when I found only a few apps. for horses! There’s this one for training to a tempo, great for dressage or endurance. http://www.equiapps.com/equitempo/

This app has a lot of extra features, all the FEI dressage tests, animated diagrams and ability to record the movements to match your particular horses strides. Check out the explanation on YouTube.

Being OCD about the geldings’ health I was looking for a nice equine first aid app. but only came up with ones for veterinary terms and this one (of several) for medication information: http://www.avettool.com/

Actually, it looks pretty good if you are a vet student or recent grad. There are a number of apps. for veterinary terminology, mostly flash card format. The largest number of equine or horse apps. are for racing and figuring out odds and picking winners.

But the equine community is missing a lot of apps that could do the horse world good. Hay, oops, Hey, here’s a great opportunity for some equine income for any enterprising, computer savvy, individuals, and you don’t have to be in an office and forego riding time to make these buggers.

Since I (hopefully) have inspired someone, here are my app. requests.

  1. Equine first aid; based on the Hands on Horse Care book from Horse and Rider. One of the best first aid books because it is sequential and gives practical advice, if  you need a vet  and what to do while waiting for a vet. But, hey folks, I’ll take any equine first aid app. How many of us really have the book with us in the aisle way- but an app on a mobile device is apt to be on my belt.
  2. A Nutrition App. The NCR tables (our tax payer dollar paid for them, why can’t we have access to them?). List of sources of nutrients (protein- alfalfa, whey, ect). An enterprising feed mill could develop an app. that guides the user through nutrition needs for their horse and then offers the recommended feed and amounts to be feed.
  3. A forage App.  Show me pictures of stages of hay, describe good quality, describe stages of growth and likely protein, carb and sugar content. Describe different types of hay, growing seasons, restrictions, pros, cons, etc.
  4. Equine toxic weeds. Show me pictures, and tell me the symptoms and what to do, if I should be concerned and how to rid it in my pasture.
  5. My very own equine health calendar with reminders (and cute icons- very important to have cute icons) for deworming, farrier visits, veterinary visits, vaccines, health record,  training and travel dates.
  6. A Budget App. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Those are the horse care Apps. I’d love to see. I’ll bet those of you who show, train, trail ride, ship have a few requests of your own. I’d love to hear about them.

I’d love to be able to join in the equine cocktail conversation with, “There’s an App. for that!”

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Horse Park of NJ

It’s pretty cold outside, here in the Garden State, and I am inclined to “let my fingers do the walking” for anything I need. Rather than using the telephone, which birthed that phrase, my fingers walk over my computer keys. I started looking at trails to ride when my tech-savvy son introduced me to Google Earth. Wow, pretty nifty, I can get the lay out of a show grounds before I arrive as well as learn the best route to take, whether there are hills, lakes, and shade in the area. Check out the Horse Park of New Jersey. I’m guessing those back fields are where cross-country fences go.

Hmm, do I want to board here

Oh, I like this. I then wandered to some advertised barns, hmm, that one doesn’t really have much pasture space, this one looks like a dry lot, Nice ring, hey, trailer parking! But do I really want my horse living here?

All of this information is gleaned from a bird’s eye view from the Satellites above Google Earth (e-gads, I’m assigning ownership to the earth, what’s wrong with me!)

Check it out while you are planning your riding adventures, be they trails or shows.

I get excited about the picture value of things like this. I’m an information junkie. But after the first hour of “ah-ha” moments, another side of my brain starts knocking on the door. That little suspicious grey matter always arrives in my room when I am at the height of gaiety.

It’s a privacy issue. Short of the military or government, we can’t tell the satellite it isn’t allowed to look down on us or take a picture of us. That big house behind the gate, just get an address close by and you can look in.  Who said it was okay in the first place? It’s a moot point; it isn’t going to change.

Enter the world of algorithms. I neither know, understand or like numbers, but I admit that just about all of life can be described, analyzed and saved as a set of numbers. I know that computer programs exist with facial recognition and it is an algorithm that works these wonders. How long do you think it will be before the Department of Environmental Protection has a computer program developed to look at satellite photos of farms and analyze where are the manure piles, what’s the animal count, is the water fenced off, where is the erosion control, do the permits match up with what has been done.

I don’t think this will happen in the next 10 years. But year 11? You know it’s going to happen. Perhaps it is happening now and we don’t even know about it.

Now, aside from the privacy issue, we shouldn’t get too concerned if we have been good stewards of our land and animals and are following the rules applicable to us. (Another plug to work to make sure we get rules we can actually follow.) But I’ve worked on horse questionnaires. There is a large percentage of owners who never answer these questionnaires because they are afraid of the government coming  on to their land and snooping. Turns out you can snoop from the skies

So in the end, will Google Earth lead to more people answering questionnaires. After all, if I can’t hide anything anymore, might as well stand up and be counted.

Down by the shore

Hey, hey, hey,  what’s behind the fence of the house I wondered about last year. WOW!

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