The Ugly: Blue Tongue Drama Comes To An End?

Here is a link to the time line of events concerning the horse Akeem Foldager and internationally acclaimed Danish rider, Andreas Helgstrand.

I’ve got a few things to say about this whole debacle.  First, what a debacle!  As in what an utter ludicrous failure to get it right.  Now, before going further on my rant I want to be perfectly clear on some points.  I can’t read (or speak) Danish (or any other related dialect, tongue or language), so I can only rely on the translations and interpretations by others who can.  I also want to acknowledge that the media often gets it wrong, slants it, twists it, whatever it takes to get the views, the clicks, the attention.  Still…

From the article:

20 April 2014

Andreas Helgstrand releases a statement admitting that it was ”completely unacceptable” for Akeem Foldager’s tongue to turn blue. He blames the bridle, which he says must have been incorrectly adjusted. He says he has contacted the bit manufacturer to find a more suitable bit.

Is Mr. Helgstrand the Cole Trickle of Dressage?   ‘They told me to get on the horse and ride, and I could ride.’ *shrugs shoulders and frowns* ‘But I don’t know anything about how horses or horse tack works.’  I’m nobody in the horse world scheme of things, and yet one of the first things I learned from my mentor thirty years ago was to check the tack BEFORE you work the horseIs there any excuse for a rider of this level to ever get on a horse without doing a quick once over?  Does he also put his foot in the stirrup before checking the girth?  Fine, let’s say his groom/stablehand/equine caregiver is Lou Ferrigno, who gives 110% every time, and it was an act of God (or the Devil) that the bridle became incorrectly adjusted just this one time (because surely the horse has been ridden in this bit and bridle prior to this clinic!?).  Why, oh why, do we suddenly contact the bit manufacturer for a more suitable bit!?

11 May 2014

Following claims that Andreas Helgstrand was being unfairly treated because of a photo representing a single moment in time…

Let’s talk ‘a moment in time’:  Yep, a photo is a snapshot of what’s happening in that exact moment.  However, it also tells you what happened before AND after that select moment.  For instance, a horse that is hollow, over bent and behind the vertical, mouth gaping and tongue blue was doing the same thing just before and just after the picture was taken.  Could have been more so, or less so, but certainly was not exhibiting something contrary to the photo.

And the rest of quote from 11 May 2014:

…50 photographs as they came to Epona.tv from the anonymous photographer (Epona.tv is aware of the identity of this person) are made available via a Dropbox link for anyone who wants to download and examine them more closely.

FIFTY photos (and a NINE minute video) of this horse is more than fifty moments in time, but is at least one hundred and fifty moments in time, and thus a pattern is made. No longer a ‘rare’ bad moment, but a whole bucket full of bad moments in a single ride by an international rider AND coached at the time by Olympic rider and international Dressage trainer Morten Thomsen.   Go look at the fifty photos.  The horse is very obviously behind the vertical in every single photo. The horse is very obviously gaping its mouth in every single photo.  Plus being heavy on the forehand and hollow in most shots.  A moment in time? **** ** ***!

Thanks to Lisa for sending this story along and making my day, not.  🙂

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The Balance Of Feet

Unbalanced feet are an epidemic in the horse world. It’s an area where most owners ‘leave it to the professionals’ and don’t give it a second thought. Unfortunately, the professionals aren’t always doing a good job. Those unbalanced feet lead to all sorts of issues; navicular disease, mechanical founder, uneven gaits, sore muscles, fractures, abscesses, quarter cracks, WLD, behavior issues, arthritic changes, sore feet, bruised soles, and so on.

Please take the time to read the following short article on the rehabilitation of the feet of a foundered horse. There are a couple of really important points made in the article that all should take note and understand, as well some excellent pictures that we can use for reference and comparisons, even against non-foundered horses.

“Trim: whether you leave the horse barefoot or apply a hoof boot or shoe, realigning the coffin bone with the hoof capsule is critical to healing.”

“Our goal with trimming a foundered horse is realigning the hoof capsule with the coffin bone.”

If you get nothing else out of this article, understand the following:  Those are contradictory statements and it’s unfortunate they were used suggesting an interchangeability. The first is incorrect, but it’s the way most people think horse’s feet work in founder situations; that the coffin bone rotates within the hoof capsule.

It does not.

If the coffin bone were to truly rotate within the hoof capsule, the horse would be in unbearable, excruciating, writhing pain with hoof and leg ‘guts’ falling out of the bottom of the foot and blood squirting everywhere. The hoof would literally be torn to shreds.

What really happens in foundered horses is that the hoof capsule grows unevenly, specifically the heels grow more rapidly than the toe. In more extreme cases the toe stops growing all together. This happens because the heels continue to be supplied by blood and nutrients, while the toe experiences a significant reduction of blood and nutrient supply because of the die off of the laminae. This uneven growth puts further stresses on the inner workings of the hoof and a vicious cycle is born. The x-rays then seem to show a coffin bone that has rotated, but it’s really the hoof capsule that has rotated via its uneven growth. That means the coffin bone is always ‘right’. Trim the hoof capsule balanced and voila!

As a point of reference to help you see that the coffin bone hasn’t rotated but rather the hoof capsule, look at the joint of P1 (coffin bone) and P2 (short pastern).  If the coffin bone had truly rotated within the hoof capsule that joint would have been ‘closed’ in the first radiograph, having pushed the navicular bone closer to the back of P2, and then progressively become more ‘open’, having dropped the navicular bone further from the back of P2.  Instead, everything stays the same throughout.

FounderProgressXrays

When looking at the subject’s feet..

Founder1bFounder1

…the first thing most people will notice is the dished toes.  But the first thing you should notice is the heels.  Just as we should be riding the horse back to front, we should be examining and trimming feet heel to toe (back to front).  The heels of this horse are way too long, in part due to typical founder growth.  Those long heels run forward and push the toe (and breakover point) forward.  Because the toe doesn’t grow an equal amount and is weakened by dying/dead laminae, accelerating the stretching of the white line in a foundered horse, the toe also begins to turn up, unlike in a typical low heel, long toe (LHLT) situation.

Here is a classic LHLT foot.  The heel on this horse is just as long as (arguably even longer) than the foundered horse’s heel in the article, but because the toe of the foot isn’t compromised by dying/dead laminae it remains structurally strong and doesn’t dish.  Instead, the heel compresses and collapses under the stress.  Both horses suffer from equally distorted foot imbalances.

LowHeelLongToe

Below is an x-ray of a LHLT foot.  Note that the coffin bone also looks rotated just as in the foundered horse.

LowHeelLongToeXray

From the bottom we see that the foundered hooves have become oval shaped instead of round.  (Back feet are less round than front feet, naturally.)  The heels (red) are clearly not located at the widest part of the frog (yellow) as they should be, and instead are significantly forward.

FounderBottom1FounderBottom1b

FounderBottom1MarkedFounderBottom1bMarked

And on the LHLT foot, which has also become elongated and therefore oval in shape:

LowHeelLongToeMarked

Seven months later the foundered hooves are round, heels and breakover point pulled back, frogs considerably healthier and more substantial, and white line stretching significantly reduced, showing nice tightness at the toe.

Founder1bBottomBalanced Founder1BottomBalanced

Founder1bBottomBalancedMarked Founder1BottomBalancedMarked

FounderProgress

Your horse’s feet don’t have to be this bad for it to be suffering from an imbalance, and there are lateral imbalances that are just as crippling to the horse.  It’s time owners paid more attention to their horse’s feet and learned what’s good to see and what’s not.  Like all things, some individuals are more sensitive and vulnerable to imbalances, showing lameness at the slightest, while still others can go years with foot imbalances before suddenly succumbing.  Good leg and body conformation can often ‘absorb’ the stresses of imbalanced feet, but not forever.  The weakest link eventually gives out.

One final note; feet are so important to the horse’s long term health and soundness that poor genetic feet should be a deal breaker for breeders and buyers.  Including but not limited to; small feet, flat soles, clubbed or shelly feet.  It does not matter if a horse has super sonic track speed or can jump the moon if its feet can’t function as intended, comfortably propelling it forward and absorbing the concussion of landings.  It’s of no benefit to the horses to pass on, serving only to weaken the species and make man look selfish and stupid.

Breaking Bad

As much fun as it would be to talk about Walter White and his adventures – wrong blog. Instead it’s time to talk about the adventures of bad behaviors in our horses. Many will immediately think about the horse that bucks, rears, kicks or bites. But there are many more subtle behaviors that are just as unwanted and usually easily fixed.

Unwanted behaviors typically get a foothold in horses for the same reason they do in people – they’ve been rewarded. The child who throws a temper tantrum in public knowing full well the parent will eventually give in and give them what they want. The horse that paws in the ties until the owner walks over to give them the attention they desire, maybe even a cookie, a pat, or a ‘good boy/girl’.

Once a behavior is established it becomes harder to break. The longer a behavior exists the harder it becomes to break. The easiest, least time consuming method of training is to not let a behavior start in the first place, followed by nipping it in the bud the moment there’s a hint. This means we have to be attentive AND prepared to counter at a moment’s notice. Those who have limited experience are more likely to miss the first opportunity or make the wrong decision in the moment. Don’t be disheartened. Horses are very forgiving, generous and teachable, more so than most people.

If you’ve missed a chance to correct and can’t think fast enough on your feet, stop. Evaluate what just happened. Come up with a Plan A (and a Plan B). Sometimes the best approach will be to ignore the behavior, sometimes it’ll be to repeat the set of circumstances right away to get an opportunity to make a correction, occasionally avoidance can be an excellent tactic (for a period of time until other prerequisite training can be executed), and sometimes it will be to go on your merry way but armed with a readied plan should the behavior repeat. Again, experience teaches us which is the best approach for the issue. Draw from life experience, not just horse experience. And feel free to employ a good amount of common sense.

Making a break for it: I’ve heard seasoned competitors turned TV commentators and analysts mention during Grand Prix events the difficulty of a jump because of its placement facing the outgate. I sigh and roll my eyes every time. How can one have gotten a horse to that level of performance and not know how to train it so that it doesn’t try to leave (or think about leaving) the arena simply because of the placement of a jump? And yet, it’s a constant worry for many such that course designers do it on purpose.

I’ll concede that some horses have every right to attempt to leave, and I won’t blame them for that. Let’s assume that we aren’t dealing with that kind of a case. So, when and where does this behavior start? It starts the very first time you take your horse through a gate/door and away from ‘home’ (their stall/the barn/the paddock). Very quickly a pattern is established for the horse. Therefore the first step is to make leaving and arriving pleasant experiences for the horse. If every time the horse is pulled from its stall it’s a bad experience, or every time the horse enters a ring it’s a bad experience, it won’t take long for the horse to associate each side of the gate/door as good or bad.

Early on (with horses that don’t have an established bad behavior) I like to ‘tempt’ the horse by leaving the gate wide open. I go about my business as though it doesn’t exist and is a solid wall. While I won’t specifically work at the gate, I won’t avoid it either. At the first sign of the horse thinking about ‘leaving’ (ear flick toward the gate, drifting, dropping onto the gate side shoulder, getting sticky off the leg on the gate side, sucking back and getting behind the aids), I’ll make a correction that involves more work for the horse; a transition, a change of direction, a circle, a loop. Then I’ll be on my merry way. On the next lap by, I’ll pretend nothing unusual happened last time, but I’ll be prepared to up the ante if the horse’s attention wanders again toward the gate. Most times it doesn’t, but for those who are extremely determined it can be beneficial to make the request BEFORE the horse thinks about making an attempt.

Over the course of the horse’s training I’ll make the gate more tempting. I’ll change direction and trot right at it, later cantering at it, always checking in with the horse to see what he/she is thinking. Sometimes I’ll change direction again, or do a circle long before getting to the gate. Sometimes I’ll ride very forward toward the gate only to transition and change direction, or halt, or, or, or. Mixing it up keeps the horse’s attention on the rider, rather than on the gate. Soon the gate ceases to exist.

If you’re planning on jumping, don’t start by jumping at the gate. Start by doing groundpole and cavelletti work towards it on the line and then under saddle, particularly if you’re having to retrain the horse.

It’s nice if an arena/ring/field has more than one gate by which to enter and leave. Don’t always ride out, sometimes dismount and handwalk the horse out. I’ve even backed a horse out of a ring mounted and on the ground. And lots of times I’ve continued to work the horse outside of the ring, so that there’s not a specific association like: I leave the ring and I’m done. It can even be helpful to leave the ring and then turn right around, reenter, and work a bit longer.

That was just one example. Take a moment to think about what unwanted behavior you’d like to change in your horse, and then honestly evaluate how much of a role you’ve played in creating or encouraging it. It’s common for people to make excuses for behaviors in their horses: ‘My horse doesn’t like to do this or that because…’, ‘My horse won’t do this or that because…’. Once you’ve accepted your responsibility, make a plan of sequential baby steps to fix it.

Breaking bad behaviors starts with you.